She spoke proudly, haughtily, and her eyes, usually so soft in their expression, had in them a black look of anger, which pierced Arthur’s very soul. He could not part with her thus, and grasping the hand reached out to take its gauntlet, he held it fast, while he said, “What are we doing, Edith? Quarrelling? It must not be. I suggested your giving up the lessons because I thought the arrangement might be satisfactory to you, and not because I wished it, for I do not; I cannot give up the only source of happiness left to me. Forget what I said. Remain my pupil and I’ll try to be more cheerful in your presence. You shall not help to bear my burden as you bear that of Collingwood’s unfortunate inmates.”
Edith never liked to hear her relations to Richard referred to in this manner, and she answered quickly,
“You are mistaken, Mr. St. Claire, in thinking I bear any burden either here or elsewhere. No one ever had a happier home than I, and there’s nothing on earth I would not do for Richard.”
“Would you marry him, Edith?” and Arthur scanned her closely. “Would you be his wife if he demanded it as his right? and I think he will do this sometime.”
Edith trembled from head to foot, as she answered,
“Not if he demanded it as a right, though he might well do that, for I owe him everything. But if he loved me, and I loved him.”
She paused, and in the silence which ensued the tumultuous beating of her heart was plainly audible. No one before had suggested to her the possibility of her being Richard’s wife, and the idea was terrible to her. She loved him, but not as a wife should love her husband. He loved her, too; and now, as she remembered many things in the past, she was half convinced that she to him was dearer than a sister, child, or friend. He had forgotten the Swedish baby’s mother. She knew he had by his always checking her when she attempted to speak of Eloise. Out of the ashes of this early love a later love had sprung, and she was possibly its object. The thought was a crushing one, and unmindful of Arthur’s presence she laid her head upon the table and sobbed,
“It cannot be. Richard will never ask me to be his wife. Never, oh never.”
“But if he does, Edith, you will not tell him no. Promise me that. It’s my only hope of salvation from total ruin!” and Arthur drew so near to her that his arm found its way around her slender waist.
Had he struck her with a glittering dagger he could not have hurt her more than by pleading with her to be another’s wife. But she would not let him know it. He did not love her as she had sometimes foolishly fancied he did; and lifting up her head she answered him proudly,
“Yes, Arthur St. Claire, when Richard Harrington asks me to be his bride I will not tell him no. Are you satisfied?”
“I am,” he said, though his white lips gave the lie to the words he uttered, and his heart smote him cruelly for his selfishness in wishing to save himself by sacrificing Edith; and it would be a sacrifice, he knew—a fearful sacrifice, the giving her to a blind man, old enough to be her sire, noble, generous and good, though he were.