“I must commence at the beginning,” he said, “and tell you first of Nina’s father—Ernest Bernard, of Florida. I was a load of fourteen when I met him in Richmond, Virginia, which you know as my former home. He was spending a few weeks there, and dined one day with my guardian, with whom I was then living. I did not fancy him at all. He seemed even to me, a boy, like a bad, unprincipled man, and I afterward learned that such had been his former character, though at the time I knew him he had reformed in a great measure. He was very kind indeed to me, and as I became better acquainted with him my prejudices gradually wore away, until at last I liked him very much, and used to listen with delight to the stories he told of his Florida home, and of his little, golden-haired Nina, always finishing his remarks concerning he with, ’But you can’t have her, boy. Nobody can marry Nina. Had little Miggie lived you might, perhaps, have been my son-in-law, but you can’t as ‘tis, for Nina will never marry.’”
“No, Nina can never marry;” and the golden curls shook decidedly, as the Nina in question repeated the words, “Miggie can marry Arthur, but not Nina, no—no!”
Edith blushed painfully, and averted her eyes, while Arthur continued:
“During Mr. Bernard’s stay in Richmond he was attacked with that loathsome disease the small pox, and deserted by all his friends, was in a most deplorable condition, when I, who had had the varioloid, begged and obtained permission to nurse him, which I did as well as I was able, staying by him until the danger was over. How far I was instrumental to his recovery I cannot say. He professed to think I saved his life, and was profuse in his protestations of gratitude. He was very impulsive and conceived for me a friendship which ended only with his death. At all events he proved as much by the great trust eventually reposed in me,” and he nodded toward Nina, who having tired of the buttons and the chain, was busy now with the bunch of keys she had purloined from his pocket.
“I was in delicate health,” said Arthur, “and as the cold weather was coming on, he insisted upon taking me home with him, and I accordingly accompanied him to Florida—to Sunny-bank, his country seat. It was a grand old place, shaded by magnolias and surrounded by a profusion of vines and flowering shrubs, but the most beautiful flower of all was Nina, then eleven years age.”
Nina knew that he was praising her—that Edith sanctioned the praise, and with the same feeling the little child experiences when told that it is good, she smiled upon Arthur, who, smoothing her round white check, went on:
“My sweet Florida rose, I called her, and many a romping frolic we had together during the winter months, and many a serious talk, too, we had of her second mother; her own she did not remember, and of her sister Miggie whose grave we often visited, strewing it with flowers and watering it with tears, for Nina’s attention for her lost sister was so touching that I often wept with her over Miggie’s grave.”