“Edith,” said Mrs. Atherton, who had seen her coming, and hastened out to meet her, “you were gone a long time, I think.”
“Yes’m,” answered Edith, spitting out the bonnet strings she had been chewing, and tossing back the thick black locks which nearly concealed her eyes from view. “Yes’m; it took me a good while to talk to old Darkness.”
“Talk to whom?” asked Grace; and Edith returned,
“I don’t know what you call him if ’taint old Darkness; he kept muttering about the dark, and asked “where Charlie was.”
“Ole Cap’n Harrington,” said Rachel. “They say how’t he’s allus goin’ on ‘bout Charlie an’ the dark.”
This explanation was satisfactory to Grace, who proceeded next to question Edith concerning Mrs. Richard Harrington, asking if she saw her, etc.
“There ain’t any such,” returned Edith, “but I saw Mr. Richard. Jolly, isn’t he grand? He’s as tall as the ridge-pole, and—–”
“But what did he say to the flowers?” interrupted Grace, far more intent upon knowing how her gift had been received, than hearing described the personal appearance of one she had seen so often.
Edith felt intuitively that a narrative of the particulars attending the delivery of the bouquet would insure her a scolding, so she merely answered, “He didn’t say a word, only kissed them hard, but he can’t see them, Mrs. Atherton. He can’t see me, nor you, nor anybody. He’s blind as a bat—”
“Blind! Richard blind! Oh, Edith;” and the bright color which had stained Grace’s cheeks when she knew that Richard had kissed her flowers, faded out, leaving them of a pallid hue. Sinking into the nearest chair, she kept repeating “blind—blind—poor, poor Richard. It cannot be. Bring me some water, Rachel, and help me to my room. This intensely hot morning makes me faint.”
Rachel could not be thus easily deceived. She remembered an old house in England, looking out upon the sea, and the flirtation carried on all summer there between her mistress, then a beautiful young girl of seventeen, and the tall, handsome man, whom they called Richard Harrington. She remembered, too, the white-haired, gouty man, who, later in the autumn, came to that old house, and whose half million Grace had married, saying, by way of apology, that if Richard chose to waste his life in humoring the whims of his foolish father, she surely would not waste hers with him. She would see the world!
Alas, poor Grace. She had seen the world and paid dearly for the sight, for, go where she might, she saw always one face, one form; heard always one voice murmuring in her ear, “Could you endure to share my burden?”
No, she could not, she said, and so she had taken upon herself a burden ten-fold heavier to bear—a burden which crushed her spirits, robbed her cheek of its youthful bloom, after which she sent no regret when at last it disappeared, leaving her free to think again of Richard Harrington. It was a terrible blow to her that he was blind, and talk as she might about the faintness of the morning, old Rachel knew the real cause of her distress, and when alone with her, said, by way of comfort,