All this passed in rapid review before his mind while his lips uttered the words which had so delighted Richard, and when he saw the shadow on Edith’s face, his poor, aching heart throbbed with a joy as wild and intense as it was hopeless and insane. This was Arthur St. Claire with Edith present, but with Edith gone, he was quite another man. Eagerly he watched her till she disappeared from view, then returning to the library he sat down where she had sat—laid his head upon the table where her hands had lain, and cursed himself for daring to dream of love in connection with Edith Hastings. It would be happiness for a time, he knew, to hang upon her smile, to watch the lights and shadows of her speaking face, to look into her eyes—those clear, truthful eyes which had in them no guile. All this would be perfect bliss, were it not that the end must come at last—the terrible end—remorse bitterer than death for him, and for her—the pure, unsullied, trusting Edith—ruin, desolation, and madness, it might be.
“Yes, madness!” he exclaimed aloud, “hateful as the word may sound.” And he gnashed his teeth as it dropped from between them. “No, Edith, no. Heaven helping me, I will not subject you to this temptation. I will not drag you down with me, and yet, save Griswold, there lives not the person who knows my secret. May be he could be bought. Oh, the maddening thought. Am I a demon or a brute?” And he leaped from his chair, cursing himself again and again for having fallen so low as to dream of an act fraught with so much wrong to Edith, and so much treachery to one as fair, as beautiful as she, and far, far more to be pitied.
Arthur St. Claire was, at heart, a noble, upright, honorable man, and sure, at last, to choose the right, however rugged were the road. For years he had groped in a darkness deeper, more hopeless than that which enshrouded the blind man, and in all that time there had shone upon his pathway not a single ray of daylight. The past, at which he dared not look, lay behind him a dreary waste, and the black future stretched out before him, years on years it might be, in which there would be always the same old cankering wound festering in his soul. He could not forget this plague spot. He never had forgotten it for a single moment until he met with Edith Hatings, who possessed for him a powerful mesmeric charm, causing him in her presence to forget everything but her. This fascination was sudden but not less powerful for that. Arthur’s was an impulsive nature, and it seemed to him that he had known Edith all his life, that she was a part of his very being. But he must forget her now, she must not come there any more, he could not resist her if she did; and seizing his pen he dashed off a few lines to the effect that, for certain reasons, the drawing lessons must henceforth be discontinued.