Did she say so?'
'She meant, to make myself so blest and honoured in your love,' was his wife's answer, as he held her in his arms.
'Hear me, my dear!' he said. - 'No. Hear me so!' - and as he spoke, he gently laid the head she had raised, again upon his shoulder. 'I know why I have never heard this passage in the letter, until now. I know why no trace of it ever showed itself in any word or look of yours at that time. I know why Grace, although so true a friend to me, was hard to win to be my wife. And knowing it, my own! I know the priceless value of the heart I gird within my arms, and thank GOD for the rich possession!'
She wept, but not for sorrow, as he pressed her to his heart. After a brief space, he looked down at the child, who was sitting at their feet playing with a little basket of flowers, and bade her look how golden and how red the sun was.
'Alfred,' said Grace, raising her head quickly at these words. 'The sun is going down. You have not forgotten what I am to know before it sets.'
'You are to know the truth of Marion's history, my love,' he answered.
'All the truth,' she said, imploringly. 'Nothing veiled from me, any more. That was the promise. Was it not?'
'It was,' he answered.
'Before the sun went down on Marion's birth-day. And you see it, Alfred? It is sinking fast.'
He put his arm about her waist, and, looking steadily into her eyes, rejoined:
'That truth is not reserved so long for me to tell, dear Grace. It is to come from other lips.'
'From other lips!' she faintly echoed.
'Yes. I know your constant heart, I know how brave you are, I know that to you a word of preparation is enough. You have said, truly, that the time is come. It is. Tell me that you have present fortitude to bear a trial - a surprise - a shock: and the messenger is waiting at the gate.'
'What messenger?' she said. 'And what intelligence does he bring?'
'I am pledged,' he answered her, preserving his steady look, 'to say no more. Do you think you understand me?'
'I am afraid to think,' she said.
There was that emotion in his face, despite its steady gaze, which frightened her. Again she hid her own face on his shoulder, trembling, and entreated him to pause - a moment.
'Courage, my wife! When you have firmness to receive the messenger, the messenger is waiting at the gate. The sun is setting on Marion's birth-day. Courage, courage, Grace!'
She raised her head, and, looking at him, told him she was ready. As she stood, and looked upon him going away, her face was so like Marion's as it had been in her later days at home, that it was wonderful to see. He took the child with him. She called her back - she bore the lost girl's name - and pressed her to her bosom. The little creature, being released again, sped after him, and Grace was left alone.
She knew not what she dreaded, or what hoped; but remained there, motionless, looking at the porch by which they had disappeared.
Ah! what was that, emerging from its shadow; standing on its threshold! That figure, with its white garments rustling in the evening air; its head laid down upon her father's breast, and pressed against it to his loving heart! O God! was it a vision that came bursting from the old man's arms, and with a cry, and with a waving of its hands, and with a wild precipitation of itself upon her in its boundless love, sank down in her embrace!
'Oh, Marion, Marion! Oh, my sister! Oh, my heart's dear love! Oh, joy and happiness unutterable, so to meet again!'
It was no dream, no phantom conjured up by hope and fear, but Marion, sweet Marion! So beautiful, so happy, so unalloyed by care and trial, so elevated and exalted in her loveliness, that as the setting sun shone brightly on her upturned face, she might have been a spirit visiting the earth upon some healing mission.
Clinging to her sister, who had dropped upon a seat and bent down over her - and smiling through her tears - and kneeling, close before her, with both arms twining round her, and never turning for an instant from her face - and with the glory of the setting sun upon her brow, and with the soft tranquillity of evening gathering around them - Marion at length broke silence; her voice, so calm, low, clear, and pleasant, well-tuned to the time.