Chapter I.
 

"There is a book of record in your mind, Edwin," said an old man to his young friend, "a book of record, in which every act of your life is noted down. Each morning a blank page is turned, on which the day's history is written in lines that cannot be effaced. This book of record is your memory; and, according to what it bears, will your future life be happy or miserable. An act done, is done forever; for, the time in which it is done, in passing, passes to return no more. The history is written and sealed up. Nothing can ever blot it out. You may repent of evil, and put away the purpose of evil from your heart; but you cannot, by any repentance, bring back the time that is gone, nor alter the writing on the page of memory. Ah! my young friend, if I could only erase some pages in the book of my memory, that almost daily open themselves before the eyes of my mind, how thankful I would be! But this I cannot do. There are acts of my life for which repentance only avails as a process of purification and preparation for a better state in the future; it in no way repairs wrong done to others. Keep the pages of your memory free from blots, Edwin. Guard the hand writing there as you value your best and highest interests!"

Edwin Florence listened, but only half comprehended what was said by his aged friend. An hour afterwards he was sitting by the side of a maiden, her hand in his, and her eyes looking tenderly upon his face. She was not beautiful in the sense that the world regards beauty. Yet, no one could be with her an hour without perceiving the higher and truer beauty of a pure and lovely spirit. It was this real beauty of character which had attracted Edwin Florence; and the young girl's heart had gone forth to meet the tender of affection with an impulse of gladness.

"You love me, Edith?" said Edwin, in a low voice, as he bent nearer, and touched her pure forehead with his lips.

"As my life," replied the maiden, and her eyes were full of love as she spoke.

Again the young man kissed her.

In low voices, leaning towards each other until the breath of each was warm on the other's cheek, they sat conversing for a long time. Then they separated; and both were happy. How sweet were the maiden's dreams that night, for, in every picture that wandering fancy drew, was the image of her lover!

Daily thus they met for a long time. Then there was a change in Edwin Florence. His visits were less frequent, and when he met the young girl, whose very life was bound up in his, his manner had in it a reserve that chilled her heart as if an icy hand had been laid upon it. She asked for no explanation of the change; but, as he grew colder, she shrunk more and more into herself, like a flower folding its withering leaves when touched by autumn's frosty fingers.

One day he called on Edith. He was not as cold as he had been, but he was, from some cause, evidently embarrassed.

"Edith," said he, taking her hand--it was weeks since he had touched her hand except in meeting and parting--"I need not say how highly I regard you. How tenderly I love you, even as I could love a pure and gentle sister. But--"

He paused, for he saw that Edith's face had become very pale; and that she rather gasped for air than breathed.

"Are you sick?" he asked, in a voice of anxiety.

Edith was recovering herself.

"No," she replied, faintly.

A deep silence, lasting for the space of nearly half a minute, followed. By this time the maiden, through a forced effort, had regained the command of her feelings. Perceiving this, Edwin resumed--

"As I said, Edith, I love you as I could love a pure and gentle sister. Will you accept this love? Will you be to me a friend--a sister?"

Again there passed upon the countenance of Edith a deadly palor; while her lips quivered, and her eyes had a strange expression. This soon passed away, and again something of its former repose was in her face. At the first few words of Florence, Edith withdrew the hand he had taken. He now sought it again, but she avoided the contact.

"You do not answer me, Edith," said the young man.

"Do you wish an answer?" This was uttered in a scarcely audible voice.

"I do, Edith," was the earnest reply. "Let there be no separation between us. You are to me what you have ever been, a dearly prized friend. I never meet you that my heart does not know an impulse for good--I never think of you but--"

"Let us be as strangers!" said Edith, rising abruptly. And turning away, she fled from the room.

Slowly did the young man leave the apartment in which they were sitting, and without seeing any member of the family, departed from the house. There was a record on his memory that time would have no power to efface. It was engraved too deeply for the dust of years to obliterate. As he went, musing away, the pale face of Edith was before him; and the anguish of her voice, as she said, "Let us be as strangers," was in his ears. He tried not to see the one, nor hear the other. But that was impossible. They had impressed themselves into the very substance of his mind.

Edwin Florence had an engagement for that very evening. It was with one of the most brilliant, beautiful, and fascinating women he had ever met. A few months before, she had crossed his path, and from that time he was changed towards Edith. Her name was Catharine Linmore. The earnest attentions of Florence pleased her, and as she let the pleasure she felt be seen, she was not long in winning his heart entirely from his first love. In this, she was innocent; for she knew nothing of the former state of his affections towards Edith.

After parting with Edith, Edwin had no heart to fulfill his engagement with Miss Linmore. He could think of nothing but the maiden he had so cruelly deserted; and more than half repented of what he had done. When the hour for the appointment came, his mind struggled awhile in the effort to obtain a consent to go, and then decided against meeting, at least on that occasion, the woman whose charms had led him to do so great a wrong to a loving and confiding heart. No excuse but that of indisposition could be made, under the circumstances; and, attempting to screen himself, in his own estimation, from falsehood, he assumed, in his own thoughts, a mental indisposition, while, in the billet he dispatched, he gave the idea of bodily indisposition. The night that followed was, perhaps, the most unhappy one the young man had ever spent. Days passed, and he heard nothing from Edith. He could not call to see her, for she had interdicted that. Henceforth they must be as strangers. The effect produced by his words had been far more painful than was anticipated; and he felt troubled when he thought about what might be their ultimate effects.

On the fifth day, as the young man was walking with Catharine Linmore, he came suddenly face to face with Edith. There was a change in her that startled him. She looked at him, in passing, but gave no signs of recognition.

"Wasn't that Miss Walter?" inquired the companion of Edwin, in a tone of surprise.

"Yes," replied Florence.

"What's the matter with her? Has she been sick? How dreadful she looks!"

"I never saw her look so bad," remarked the young man. As they walked along, Miss Linmore kept alluding to Edith, whose changed appearance had excited her sympathies.

"I've met her only a few times," said she, "but I have seen enough of her to give me a most exalted opinion of her character. Some one called her very plain; but I have not thought so. There is something so good about her, that you cannot be with her long without perceiving a real beauty in the play of her countenance."

"No one can know her well, without loving her for the goodness of which you have just spoken," said Edwin.

"You are intimate with her?"

"Yes. She has been long to me as a sister." There was a roughness in the voice of Florence as he said this.

"She passed without recognizing you," said Miss Linmore.

"So I observed."

"And yet I noticed that she looked you in the face, though with a cold, stony, absent look. It is strange! What can have happened to her?"

"I have observed a change in her for some time past," Florence ventured to say; "but nothing like this. There is something wrong."

When the time to part, with his companion came, Edwin Florence felt a sense of relief. Weeks now passed without his seeing or hearing any thing from Edith. During the time he met Miss Linmore frequently; and encouraged to approach, he at length ventured to speak to her of what was in his heart. The young lady heard with pleasure, and, though she did not accept the offered hand, by no means repulsed the ardent suitor. She had not thought of marriage, she said, and asked a short time for reflection.

Edwin saw enough in her manner to satisfy him that the result would be in his favor. This would have made him supremely happy, could he have blotted out all recollection of Edith and his conduct towards her. But, that was impossible. Her form and face, as he had last seen them, were almost constantly before his eyes. As he walked the streets, he feared lest he should meet her; and never felt pleasant in any company until certain that she was not there.

A few days after Mr. Florence had made an offer of his hand to Miss Linmore, and at a time when she was about making a favorable decision, that young lady happened to hear some allusion made to Edith Walter, in a tone that attracted her attention. She immediately asked some questions in regard to her, when one of the persons conversing said--

"Why, don't you know about Edith?"

"I know that there is a great change in her. But the reason of it I have not heard."

"Indeed! I thought it was pretty well known that her affections had been trifled with."

"Who could trifle with the affections of so sweet, so good a girl," said Miss Linmore, indignantly. "The man who could turn from her, has no true appreciation of what is really excellent and exalted in woman's character. I have seen her only a few times; but, often enough to make me estimate her as one among the loveliest of our sex."

"Edwin Florence is the man," was replied. "He won her heart, and then turned from her; leaving the waters of affection that had flowed at his touch to lose themselves in the sands at his feet. There must be something base in the heart of a man who could trifle thus with such a woman."

It required a strong effort on the part of Miss Linmore to conceal the instant turbulence of feeling that succeeded so unexpected a declaration. But she had, naturally, great self-control, and this came to her aid.

"Edwin Florence!" said she, after a brief silence, speaking in a tone of surprise.

"Yes, he is the man. Ah, me! What a ruin has been wrought! I never saw such a change in any one as Edith exhibits. The very inspiration of her life is gone. The love she bore towards Florence seems to have been almost the mainspring of her existence; for in touching that the whole circle of motion has grown feeble, and will, I fear, soon cease for ever."

"Dreadful! The falsehood of her lover has broken her heart."

"I fear that it is even so."

"Is she ill? I have not seen her for a long time," said Miss Linmore.

"Not ill, as one sick of a bodily disease; but drooping about as one whose spirits are broken, and who finds no sustaining arm to lean upon. When you meet her, she strives to be cheerful, and appear into rested. But the effort deceives no one."

"Why did Mr. Florence act towards her as he has done?" asked Miss Linmore.

"A handsomer face and more brilliant exterior were the attractions, I am told."

The young lady asked no more questions. Those who observed her closely, saw the warm tints that made beautiful her cheeks grow fainter and fainter, until they had almost entirely faded. Soon after, she retired from the company.

In the ardor of his pursuit of a new object of affection, Edwin Florence scarcely thought of the old one. The image of Edith was hidden by the interposing form of Miss Linmore. The suspense occasioned by a wish for time to consider the offer he had made, grew more and more painful the longer it was continued. On the possession of the lovely girl as his wife, depended, so he felt, his future happiness. Were she to decline his offer he would be wretched. In this state of mind, he called one day upon Miss Linmore, hoping and fearing, yet resolved to know his fate. The moment he entered her presence he observed a change. She did not smile; and there was something chilling in the steady glance of her large dark eyes.

"Have I offended you?" he asked, as she declined taking his offered hand.

"Yes," was the firm reply, while the young lady assumed a dignified air.

"In what?" asked Florence.

"In proving false to her in whose ears you first breathed words of affection."

The young man started as if stung by a serpent.

"The man," resumed Miss Linmore, "who has been false to Edith Walter, never can be true to me. I wouldn't have the affection that could turn from one like her. I hold it to be light as the thistle-down. Go! heal the heart you have almost broken, if, perchance, it be not yet too late. As for me, think of me as if we had all our lives been strangers--such, henceforth, we must ever remain."

And saying this, Catharine Linmore turned from the rebuked and astonished young man, and left the room. He immediately retired.