“’Taint that—’taint that,” muttered Phillis, jerking herself from the room, “but how’s the disgrace to be kep’ ef everybody sees her.”
“Disgrace!” and Edith glanced inquiringly at Arthur.
She could not believe that Nina was any disgrace, and she asked what Phillis meant.
Crossing the room Arthur sat down upon the sofa with Nina between himself and Edith, who was pleased to see that he wound his arm around the young girl as if she were dear to him, notwithstanding her disgrace. Like a child Nina played with his watch chain, his coat buttons, and his fingers, apparently oblivious to what was passing about her. She only felt that she was where she wished to be, and knowing that he could say before her what he pleased without the least danger of her comprehending a word, Arthur, much to Edith’s surprise, began:
“You have seen Nina, Miss Hastings. You know what is the mystery at Grassy Spring—the mystery about which the villagers are beginning to gossip, so Phillis says, but now that you have seen, now that you know she is here, I care not for the rest. The keenest pang is over and I am beginning already to feel better. Concealment is not in accordance with my nature, and it has worn on me terribly. Years ago you knew of Nina; it is due to you now that you know who she is, and why her destiny is linked to mine. Listen, then, while I tell you her sad story.”
“But she,” interrupted Edith, pointing to Nina, whose blue eyes were turned to Arthur. “Will it not be better to wait? Won’t she understand?”
“Not a word,” he replied. “She’s amusing herself, you see, with my buttons, and when these fail, I’ll give her my drawing pencil, or some one of the numerous playthings I always keep in my pocket for her. She seldom comprehends what we say and never remembers it. This is one of the peculiar phases of her insanity.”
“Poor child,” said Edith, involuntarily caressing Nina, who smiled up in her face, and leaning her head upon her shoulder, continued her play with the buttons.
Meanwhile Arthur sat lost in thought, determining in his own mind how much he should tell Edith of Nina, and how much withhold. He could not tell her all, even though he knew that by keeping back a part, much of his past conduct would seem wholly inexplicable, but he could not help it, and when at last he saw that Edith was waiting for him, he pressed his hands a moment against his heart to stop its violent beating, and drawing a long, long sigh, began the story.