He was pacing the floor hurriedly now, but stopped suddenly, and standing before Edith, said: “Edith Hastings, you are somewhat to blame in this matter. Before I knew you I only shrank from having people talk of my matters sooner than was absolutely necessary. But after you became my pupil, the desire that you should never see Nina as she is, grew into a species of madness, and I have bent every energy to keeping you apart. I did not listen to reason, which told me you must know of it sooner or later, but plunged deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of attempted concealment. When I found it necessary to dismiss Mrs. Johnson, if I would keep my affairs to myself, I thought of the old family servants at Sunnybank. I knew they loved and pitied Nina, and were very sensitive with regard to her misfortune. It touches Phillis’ pride to think her young mistress is crazy, and as hers is the ruling mind, she keeps the others in subjection, though old Judy came near disclosing the whole to you at one time, I believe. You know her sad story now, but you do not know how like an iron weight it hangs upon me, crushing me to the earth, wearing my life away, and making me old before my time. See here,” and lifting his brown locks, he showed her many a line of silver. “If I loved Nina Bernard, my burden would be easier to bear.”
“Oh, Mr. St. Claire,” interrupted Edith, “You surely do love her. You cannot help loving her, and she so beautiful, so innocent.”
“Yes,” he answered, “as a brother loves an unfortunate sister. I feel towards her, I think, as a mother does towards a helpless child, a tender pity which prompts me to bear with her even when she tries me almost beyond endurance. She is not always as mild as you see her now, though her frenzied moods do not occur as frequently as they did. She loves me, I think, as an infant loves its mother, and is better when I am with her. At all events, since coming to Grassy Spring, she has been unusually quiet, until within the last two weeks, when a nervous fever has confined her to her room and made her somewhat unmanagable. Griswold said she would be better here, and though I had not much faith in the experiment, I see now that he was right. Griswold is always right, and had I followed his advice years ago, much of my trouble might have been averted. Edith, never conceal a single act, if you wish to be happy. A little fault, if covered up, grows into a mountain; and the longer it is hidden, the harder it is to be confessed. This is my experience. There was a false step at first, and it lies too far back in the past to be remedied now. No one knows of it but myself, Griswold, Nina, and my God. Yes, there is one more whose memory might be refreshed, but I now have no fear of him.”
Edith did not ask who this other was, neither did she dream that Richard Harrington was in any way connected with the mystery. She thought of him, however, wondering if she might tell him of Nina, and asking if she could.