The Rector of St. Marks (Chapter 10, page 1 of 2)


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Chapter 10

She had one, years before, but, since the summer day when she sent
from her the white-faced man whose heart she had broken, it had been
hardening over with a stony crust which nothing, it seemed, could
break. And yet there were times when she was softened and wished that
much which she had done might be blotted out from the great book in
which she believed.

There was many a misdeed recorded there against her, she knew, and
occasionally there stole over her a strange disquietude as to how she
could confront them when they all came up against her.

Usually, she could cast such thoughts aside by a drive down gay
Broadway, or, at most, a call at Stewart's; but the sight of Anna's
white face and the knowing what made it so white was a constant
reproach, and conscience gradually wakened from its torpor enough to
whisper of the only restitution in her power--that of confession to
Arthur.

But from this she shrank nervously. She could not humble herself thus
to any one, and she would not either. Then came the fear lest by
another than herself her guilt should come to light. What if Thornton
Hastings should find her out? She was half afraid he suspected her
now, and that gave her the keenest pang of all, for she respected
Thornton highly, and it would cost her much to lose his good opinion.

She had lost him for her niece, but she could not spare him from
herself, and so, in sad perplexity, which wore upon her visibly, the
autumn days went on until at last she sat one morning in her
dressing-room and read in a foreign paper: "Died, at Strasburgh, August 31st, Edward Coleman, aged 46."

That was all; but the paper dropped from the trembling hands, and the
proud woman of the world bowed her head upon the cold marble of the
table and wept aloud. She was not Mrs. Meredith now. She was Julia
Ruthven again, and she stood with Edward Coleman out in the grassy
orchard, where the apple-blossoms were dropping from the trees and the
air was full of insects' hum and the song of matin birds. She was the
wealthy Mrs. Meredith now, and he was dead in Strasburgh. True to her
he had been to the last; for he had never married, and those who had
met him abroad had brought back the same report of "a white-haired
man, old before his time, with a tired, sad look upon his face." That
look she had written there, and she wept on as she recalled the past
and murmured softly: "Poor Edward! I loved you all the while, but I sold myself for gold,
and it turned your brown locks snowy-white, poor darling!" and her
hands moved up and down the folds of her cashmere robe, as if it were
the brown locks they were smoothing just as they used to do. Then came
a thought of Anna, whose face wore much the look which Edward's did
when he went slowly from the orchard and left her there alone, with
the apple-blossoms dropping on her head and the wild bees' hum in her
ear.

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