A CANADIAN HEROINE.
A CANADIAN HEROINE.
THE AUTHOR OF "LEAVES FROM THE BACKWOODS."
"Questa chiese Lucia in suo dimando, E disse: Or ha bisogna il tuo fidele Di te, ed io a te lo raccomando."—Inferno. Canto II.
"Qu'elles sont belles, nos campagnes; En Canada qu'on vit content! Salut o sublimes montagnes, Bords du superbe St. Laurent! Habitant de cette contree Que nature veut embellir, Tu peux marcher tete levee, Ton pays doit t'enorgueillir."—J. Bedard.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
LONDON: TINSLEY BROTHERS, 8, CATHERINE STREET. STRAND 1873.
[All rights Reserved.]
PRINTED BY TAYLOR AND CO.,
LITTLE QUEEN STREET, LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS.
A CANADIAN HEROINE.
Mr. Leigh was in a very depressed and anxious mood. His late conversations with Mrs. Costello had disturbed him and broken up the current of his thoughts, and even to some extent of his usual occupations, without producing any result beneficial to either of them. She had told him a strange and almost incredible story of her life; and then, just when he was full of sympathy and eagerness to be of use to her, everything seemed suddenly to have changed, and the events that followed had been wholly, as it were, out of his reach. He thought over the matter with a little sensation, which, if he had been less simple and generous a man, might have been offence. Even as it was, he felt uncomfortably divided between his real interest in his old friends, and a temptation to pretend that he was not interested at all. He remembered, too, with a serio-comical kind of remorse, the manner in which he had spoken to Mrs. Costello about Maurice. He was obliged to confess to himself that Maurice had never said a word to him which could be taken as expressing any other than a brotherly feeling of regard for Lucia; he had certainly fancied that there was another kind of affection in his thoughts; but it was no part of the old soldier's code of honour to sanction the betrayal of a secret discovered by chance, and he felt guilty in remembering how far the warmth of his friendship had carried him. He considered, by way of tormenting himself yet further, that it was perfectly possible for a young man, being daily in the company of a beautiful and charming girl, to fancy himself in love with her, and yet, on passing into a different world and seeing other charming girls, to discover that he had been mistaken. It is true that if any other person had suggested that Maurice might have done this, Mr. Leigh would have been utterly offended and indignant; nevertheless, having proposed the idea to himself, he tried to look upon it as quite natural and justifiable. After all, this second theory of inconstancy rested upon the first theory of supposed love, and that upon guesses and surmises, so that the whole edifice was just as shadowy and unsubstantial as it could well be. But then it is curious to see how much real torment people manage to extract from visionary troubles.
While his neighbours were still at Moose Island Mr. Leigh received two letters from Maurice. The first not only did not contain the usual note enclosed for Mrs. Costello, but there was not the slightest message to, or mention of, either her or Lucia. Mr. Leigh examined the letter, peeped into the envelope, shook the sheets apart (for Maurice's writing filled much space with few words), but found nothing. The real explanation of this was simple enough. Maurice had written his note to Mrs. Costello, and then, just as he was going to put it in the envelope, was called to his grandfather. In getting up from the table he gave the note a push, which sent it down into a wastepaper basket. There it lay unnoticed, and when he came back, just in time to send off his letters, he fancied, not seeing it, that he had put it into the envelope, which accordingly he closed and sent to the post without it. But of course Mr. Leigh knew nothing about this.
The second letter was equally without enclosure or message, though from a very different cause. It was scarcely a dozen lines in length, and only said that Mr. Beresford was dying. Maurice had just received Mrs. Costello's farewell note; he was feeling angry and grieved, and could think of no better expedient than to keep silence for the moment, even if he had had time to renew his expostulations. He had not fully comprehended the secret Mrs. Costello entrusted to him, but in the preoccupations of the moment, he put off all concerns but those of the dying man until he should have more leisure to attend to them. Thus, by a double chance, Mr. Leigh was allowed to persuade himself that Maurice had either never had any absorbing interest in the Costellos, or that his interest in them was being gradually supplanted by others. In this opinion, and in a curiously uncomfortable and contradictory humour, his friends found him when they came back from the island.
Mrs. Costello, on her part, had been entirely unable to keep Maurice out of her thoughts. As Christian's death, and all the agitation consequent upon it, settled back into the past, she had plenty of leisure and plenty of temptation to revert to her old hopes and schemes. Half consciously she had allowed herself to build up a charming fabric of possibilities. Possibly Maurice might write and say, "It is Lucia I love, Lucia I want to marry. It matters nothing to me what her father is or was." (Quixotic and not-to-be-counted-upon piece of generosity!) Possibly she herself might then be justified in answering, "The accusation brought against her father has been proved false—my child is stainless—and you have proved your right to her;" and it was impossible, she believed, that Lucia, hearing all the truth, should not be touched as they would have her.
These imaginations, built upon such ardent and long-indulged wishes, acquired a considerable degree of strength during her visit to Mr. Strafford; and although a little surprised at not receiving, during her stay there, the usual weekly note from Maurice which she had calculated would cross her last important letter on the way, she came home eager to see Mr. Leigh, and to hear from him the last news from England.
But when she had paid her visit to her old neighbour, she came back puzzled, disappointed, and slightly indignant. There was an air of constraint about Mr. Leigh, especially when he spoke of Maurice, which was so entirely new as to appear a great deal more significant than it really was; and this, added to the fact that two letters had been received, one written before, and the other after the arrival of hers, neither of which contained so much as a message for her or Lucia, suddenly suggested to Mrs. Costello that she was a very foolish woman who was still wasting her wishes and thoughts on plans, the time for which had gone by, instead of following steadily, and without hesitation, what her reason told her was the best and most sensible course. She so far convinced herself that it was time to give up thinking of Lucia's marriage to Maurice, as to be really in earnest both in completing her preparations for leaving Canada, and in rejoicing at the receipt of a letter from her cousin expressing his perfect approval of her decision to return to Europe.
This letter even Lucia could not help acknowledge to be thoroughly kind and kinsmanlike. Mr. Wynter proposed to meet them at Havre, and, if possible, accompany them to Paris.
"If you are travelling alone," he said, "I may be of service to you; and since you have decided on going to France, I should like to see you comfortably settled there. By that means, too, we shall have plenty of time to talk over whatever arrangements you wish made with regard to your daughter. However, I have great hopes that when you find yourself away from the places where you have suffered so much, and near your own people, you will grow quite strong again."
There were messages from his wife and daughters, in conclusion, which seemed to promise that they also would be ready to welcome their unknown relatives.
"Blood is thicker than water." Mrs. Costello began to feel that the one secure asylum for Lucia, in her probable orphanhood, would be in the old house by the Dee.
The next time she saw Mr. Leigh, she told him her plans quite frankly. She did so with some suspicion of his real feelings, only that in spite of their long acquaintance she did him the injustice to fancy that he would, for reasons of his own, be glad that Lucia should be out of Maurice's way if he returned to Canada. She supposed that he had, on reflection, begun to shrink from the idea of a half-Indian daughter-in-law, and while she confessed to herself that the feeling was, according to ordinary custom, reasonable enough, she was at heart extremely angry that it should be entertained.
"My beautiful Lucia!" she said to herself indignantly; "as if she were not ten times more lovely, and a thousand times more worth loving, than any of those well-born, daintily brought up, pretty dolls, that Lady Dighton is likely to find for him! I did think better of Maurice. But, of course, it is all right enough. I had no right to expect him to be more than mortal."
And Lucia went on in the most perfect unconsciousness of all the troubled thoughts circling round her. She spoke honestly of her regret at leaving Canada when, perhaps, Maurice might so soon be there, though she kept to herself the hopes which made her going so much less sad than it would have been otherwise. She was extremely busy, for Mrs. Costello, now that she thought no more of returning to the Cottage, had decided to sell it; all their possessions, therefore, had to be divided into three parts, the furniture to be sold with the house, their more personal belongings to go with them, and various books and knickknacks to be left as keepsakes with their friends. It was generally known now all over Cacouna that Mrs. Costello was going "home," in order that Lucia might be near her relations in case of "anything happening,"—a thing nobody doubted the probability of, who saw the change made during the last few months in their grave and quiet neighbour. They were a little vague in their information about these relations, but that was a matter of secondary importance; and as the mother and daughter were really very much liked by their neighbours, they were quite overwhelmed with invitations and visits.
So the days passed on quickly; and for the second time, the one fixed for their journey was close at hand. One more letter had arrived from Maurice, containing the news of his grandfather's death. It was short, like the previous one, and almost equally hurried. He said that he was struggling through the flood of business brought upon him by his accession to estates so large, and till lately so zealously cared for by their possessor. As soon as ever he could get away, he meant to start for Canada; and as the time of his doing so depended only on his success in hurrying on certain affairs which were already in hand, his father might expect him by any mail except the first after his letter arrived. There was no message to Mrs. Costello in this note, but, on the other side of the half sheet which held the conclusion of it, was a postscript hastily scrawled,
"Tell Mrs. Costello to remember the last talk we had together, and to believe that I am obstinate."
This postscript, however, Mr. Leigh in his excitement and joy at the prospect of so soon seeing his son, never found out. He read the letter twice over, and then put it away in his desk, without even remembering at the moment, to wonder at Maurice's continued silence towards his old friends. The thought did strike him afterwards, but he was quite certain that he had read every word of the letter, and was only confirmed in the ideas he had begun to entertain. He sighed over these ideas, and over the loss of Lucia, whom he loved with almost fatherly affection; but still, even she was infinitely less dear to him than Maurice; and if Maurice really did not care for her, why then, sooner than throw the smallest shadow of blame upon him, he would not seem to care for her either.
So Mrs. Costello learned that Maurice was coming, and that he had not thought it worth while to send even a word to his old friends.
"He is the only one," she thought, "who has changed towards us, and I trusted him most of all."
And she took refuge from her disappointment in anger. Her disappointment and her anger, however, were both silent; she would not say an ill word to Lucia of Maurice; and Lucia, engrossed in her work and her anticipations, did not perhaps remark that there was any change. She made one attempt to persuade her mother to delay their journey until after Maurice's arrival, but, being reminded that their passage was taken, she consoled herself with,
"Well, it will be easy enough for him to come to see us. I suppose everybody in England goes to Paris sometimes?"
And so the end came. They had not neglected Maurice's charge, though Maurice seemed to have forgotten them. Whatever was possible to do to provide for Mr. Leigh's comfort during his short solitude they had done. The last farewells were said; Mr. Strafford, who had insisted on going with them to New York, had arrived at the Cottage. Mrs. Bellairs and Bella had spent their last day with their friends and gone away in tears. All their life at Cacouna, with its happiness and its sorrow, was over, and early next morning they were to cross the river for the last time, and begin their journey to England.
Maurice had full opportunity for the exercise of patience during the last weeks of his grandfather's life. It was hard to sit there day after day watching the half-conscious old man, who lay so still and seemed so shut out from human feelings or sympathies, and to feel all the while that any one of those hours of vigil might be the one that stole from him his heart's desire. Yet there was no alternative. His grandfather, who had received and adopted him, was suffering and solitary, dependent wholly on him for what small gratification he could still enjoy. Gratitude, therefore, and duty kept him here. But there, meanwhile, so far out of his reach, what might be going on? He lived a perfectly double life. Lucia was in trouble—some inexplicable shadow of disgrace was threatening her—something so grave that even her mother, who knew him so well, thought it an unsurmountable barrier between them—something which looked the more awful from its vagueness and mystery. It is true that he was only troubled—not discouraged by the appearance of this phantom. He was as ready to fight for his Una as ever was Redcross Knight—but then would his Una wait for him? To be forcibly held back from the combat must have been much worse to a true champion than any wounds he could receive in fair fight. So at least it seemed to Maurice, secretly chafing, and then bitterly reproaching himself for his impatience; yet the next moment growing as impatient as before.
To him in this mood came Mrs. Costello's last letter. Now at last the mystery was cleared up, and its impalpable shape reduced to a positive and ugly reality. Like his father, Maurice found no small difficulty in understanding and believing the story told to him. That Mrs. Costello, calm, gentle, and just touched with a quiet stateliness, as he had always known her, could ever have been an impulsive, romantic girl, so swayed by passion or by flattery as to have left her father's house and all the protecting restraints of her English life to follow the fortunes of an Indian, was an idea so startling that he could not at once accept it for truth. In Lucia the incongruity struck him less. Her beauty, dark and magnificent, her fearless nature, her slender erect shape, her free and graceful movements—all the charms which he had by heart, suited an Indian origin. He could readily imagine her the daughter of a chief and a hero. But this was not what he was required to believe. He had read lately the description of a brutal, half-imbecile savage, who had committed a peculiarly frightful and revolting murder, and he was told to recognize in this wretch the father of his darling. But it was just this which saved him. He would believe that Christian was Mrs. Costello's husband and Lucia's father, because Mrs. Costello told him so herself and of her own knowledge—but as for a murder, innocent men were often accused of that; and when a man is once accused by the popular voice of a horrible crime, everybody knows how freely appropriate qualities can be bestowed on him. So the conviction which remained at the bottom of Maurice's mind, though he never drew it up and looked steadily at it, was just the truth—that Christian, by some train of circumstances or other, had been made to bear the weight of another person's guilt. As to the other question of his giving up Lucia, Maurice never troubled himself to think about it. He was, it must be confessed, of a singularly obstinate disposition, and in spite of his legal training not particularly inclined to listen to reason. Knowing therefore perfectly well, that he had made up his mind to marry Lucia, provided she did not deliberately prefer somebody else, he felt it useless to complicate his already confused ideas any further, by taking into consideration the expediency of such a connection. There was quite enough to worry him without that; and by some inconceivable stupidity it never entered his head that, while he was really so completely incapable of altering his mind, other people should seriously think he was doing it.
Yet as he read Mrs. Costello's letter over a second time, he began to perceive something in its tone which seemed to say clearly—"Don't flatter yourself that the matter rests at all with you. I have decided. I am no longer your ally, but your opponent." At this a new element came into play—anger.
He had been rather unreasonable before—now he became utterly so. "A pretty sort of fellow she must think me, after all," he said to himself. "I suppose she'd be afraid to trust Lucia to me now. However, if she thinks I mean to be beaten that way, she'll find that she is mistaken."
He was walking up and down his room, and working himself up into a greater ill-humour with every turn he made.
"If I could only get to Lucia herself," he went on thinking, "I should see if I could not end the matter at once, one way or the other—that fellow is clear out of the way now, and I believe I should have a chance; but as for Mrs. Costello, she seems to think nothing at all of throwing me over whenever it suits her."
Poor Maurice! he sat down to write to his father in a miserable mood—Mr. Beresford had become suddenly and decidedly worse. The doctors said positively that he was dying, and that a few days at the utmost would bring the end. Maurice had stolen away while he slept, but his angry meditation on Mrs. Costello's desertion had taken up so much of his time, that Mr. Leigh's note was short and hurried. Ill-humour prevailed also to the point of the note being finished without any message (he had no time to write separately) to the Cottage.
His packet despatched, he returned to his grandfather's room. Lady Dighton, now staying in the house, sat and watched by the bedside; and by-and-by leaving her post, she joined Maurice by the window and began to talk to him in a low voice. There was no fear of disturbing the invalid; his sleep continued, deep and lethargic, the near forerunner of death.
"Maurice," Lady Dighton said, "I wish you would go out for an hour. You are not really wanted here, and you look worn out."
"Thank you, I am all right. My grandfather might wake and miss me."
"Go for a little while. Half an hour's gallop would do you good."
Maurice laughed impatiently.
"Why should I want doing good to? It is you, I should think, who ought to go out."
"I was out yesterday. Are you still anxious about your father and Canada?"
Lady Dighton's straightforward question meant to be answered.
"Yes," Maurice said rather crossly. "I am anxious and worried."
"You can do no good by writing?"
"I seem to do harm. Don't talk to me about it, Louisa. Nothing but my being there could have done any good, and now it is most likely too late."
She saw plainly enough the fight that was going on—impatience, eagerness, selfishness of a kind, on one side—duty and compassion on the other. She had no scruple about seeing just as much of her cousin's humour as his looks and manner could tell her, and she perceived that at the moment it was anything but a good or heroic one. She thought it possible that it would have been a relief to him to have struck, or shaken, or even kicked something or somebody; and yet she was not at all tempted to think the worse of him. She did not understand, of course, the late aggravations of his trouble; but she knew that he loved loyally and thought his love in danger, and she gave him plenty of sympathy, whatever that might be worth. She had obtained a considerable amount of influence over him, and used it, in general, for his good. At present he was in rather an unmanageable mood, but still she did not mean to let him escape her.
"He looks dreadfully worried, poor boy!" she said to herself. "Being shut up here day after day must be bad for him. I shall make Sir John take him out to-morrow."
But when to-morrow came, and Sir John paid his daily visit to his wife, she had other things to think about. He found the servants lingering about the halls and staircases in silent excitement, and in the sick room a little group watching, as they stood round the bed, for the old man's final falling asleep.
He had been conscious early in the morning, and spoken to both his grandchildren; but gradually, so very gradually that they could not say "he changed at such an hour," the heavy rigidity of death closed upon his already paralysed limbs, and his eyes grew dimmer. It was a very quiet peaceful closing of a long life, which, except that it had been sometimes hard and proud, had passed in usefulness and honour. And so, towards sunset, some one said, "He is gone," and laid a hand gently upon the stiffening eyelids.
Sir John took his wife away to her room, and there she leaned her head against his shoulder and cried, not very bitterly, but with real affection for her grandfather. Maurice went away also, very grave, and thinking tenderly of the many kind words and deeds which had marked the months of his stay at Hunsdon. And yet within half an hour, Lady Dighton was talking to her husband quite calmly about some home affairs which interested him; and Maurice had begun to calculate how soon he could get away for that long-deferred six weeks' absence.
But, of course, although they could not keep their thoughts prisoners, these mourners, who were genuine mourners after their different degrees, were constrained to observe the decorous, quiet, and interregnum of all ordinary occupation, which custom demands after a death. Lady Dighton returned home next day, hidden in her carriage, and went to shut herself up in her own house until the funeral. Maurice remained at Hunsdon, where he was now master, and spent his days in the library writing letters, or trying to make plans for his future, and it was then that the letter with his lost message to Mrs. Costello was sent off.
Yet the space between Mr. Beresford's death and his funeral was to his heir a tedious and profitless blank. He had till now been kept here by living powers, gratitude and reverence; death came, and handed his custody over to cold but tyrannous propriety. Now he rebelled with all his heart, and spent hours of each solitary day in pacing backwards and forwards the whole space of the great dim room which seemed a prison to him.
The day before the funeral broke this stillness, two or three gentlemen, distant relations or old friends of his grandfather, came to Hunsdon, and towards evening there arrived the family solicitor, Mr. Payne. At dinner that day Maurice had to take his new position as host. It was, as suited the circumstances, a grave quiet party, but still there was something about the manner of the guests, and even in the fact of their being his guests, which was unconsciously consoling to Maurice as being a guarantee of his freedom and independence. Next morning the house was all sombre bustle and preparation. Lady Dighton and her husband arrived. She, to have one last look at the dead, he to join Maurice in the office of mourner; and at twelve o'clock, the long procession wound slowly away through the park, and the great house stood emptied of the old life and ready for the commencement of the new one.
The new one began, indeed, after those who had followed Mr. Beresford to the grave had come back, and assembled in the great unused drawing-room to hear the will read. Lady Dighton shivered as she sat by one of the newly-lighted fires, and bending over to Maurice whispered to him, "For heaven's sake keep the house warmer than poor grandpapa used to do."
"Used" already! The new life had begun.
There was nothing in the will but what was pretty generally known. Mr. Beresford had made no secret of his intentions even with regard to legacies. There was one to his granddaughter, with certain jewels and articles which had peculiar value for her; some to old friends, some to servants, and the whole remainder of his possessions real and personal to Maurice Leigh, on the one condition of his assuming the name and arms of Beresford.
It was a very satisfactory will. Maurice, in his impatience, thought its chief virtue was that it contained nothing which could hinder him from starting at once for Canada. He told Mr. Payne that he wished to see him for a short time that evening; and after the other guests had gone to bed, the two sat down together by the library fire to settle, as he fancied, whatever small arrangements must be made before his going.
He soon found out his mistake. In the first place the solicitor, who had a powerful and hereditary interest in the affairs of Hunsdon, was shocked beyond expression at the idea of such a voyage being undertaken at all. Here, he would have said if he had spoken his thoughts, was a young man just come into a fine estate, a magnificent estate in fact, and one of the finest positions in the country, and the very first thing he thinks of, is to hurry off on a long sea-voyage to a half-barbarous country, without once stopping to consider that if he were to be drowned, or killed in a railway accident, or lost in the woods, the estate might fall into Chancery, or at the best go to a woman. Mr. Payne mentally trembled at such rashness, and he expressed enough of the horror he felt, to make Maurice aware that it really was a less simple matter than he had supposed, and that his new fortunes had their claims and drawbacks. Mr. Payne followed up his first blow with others. He immediately began to ask, "If you go, what do you wish done in such a case?" And the cases were so many that Maurice, in spite of the knowledge Mr. Beresford had made him acquire of his affairs, became really puzzled and harassed. Finally, he saw that a delay of a week would be inevitable; and the solicitor, having gained the day so far, relented, and allowed him to hope that after a week's application to business, he would be in a position to please himself.
Next day Maurice was left alone at Hunsdon. He wrote his last letter to his father, and being determined to follow it himself so shortly, he sent no message to the Costellos. Then he set to work hard and steadily to clear the way for his departure.
One day Maurice rode over to Dighton, and told his cousin he was come to say good-bye. She was not, of course, surprised to hear that he was really going, but she could not help expressing her wonder at the lightness with which he spoke of a journey of so many thousand miles.
"You talk of going to Canada," she said, "just as I should talk of going to Paris—as if it were an affair of a few hours."
"If it were six times as far," he answered, "it would make no difference to me, except that I should be more impatient to start; and yet most likely when I get there I shall find my journey useless."
Somehow or other there had come to be a tolerably clear understanding, on Lady Dighton's part, of the state of affairs between Maurice and Lucia—she knew that Maurice was intent upon finding his old playfellow, and winning her if possible at once. She naturally took the part of her new favourite; and believed that if Lucia were really what he described her, she would easily be persuaded to come to Hunsdon as its mistress; for, of course, she knew of no other barrier between the young people than that of Maurice's newly acquired importance. She thought Mrs. Costello had acted in a prudent and dignified manner in wishing to separate them; but she also thought, in rather a contradictory fashion, that since Maurice was intent upon the marriage, he ought to have his own way. So she was quite disposed to encourage him with auguries of success.
"They are not likely to be in any hurry to begin a sea-voyage such weather as this," she said, shivering. "Two ladies, even if they are Canadians, can't make quite so light of it as you do."
"I wish you may be right," he answered; "but if I should not find them there, I shall bring my father to England and then go off in search of them. A pretty prospect! They may lead me all over Europe before I find them."
Lady Dighton laughed outright.
"One would suppose that telegraphs and railways were not in existence," she said, "and that you had to set out, like a knight-errant, with nothing but a horse and a sword to recover your runaway lady-love."
Maurice felt slightly offended, but thought better of it, and laughed too.
"I shall find them, no fear," he answered; "but when? and where?"
Next morning he left Hunsdon, and went to London. The moment he was really moving, his spirits rose, and his temper, which had been considerably disturbed lately, recovered itself. He scarcely stopped at all, till he found himself that afternoon at the door of the solicitor's office, where he had some affairs to attend to.
He got out of his cab and to the lawyer's door, as if everything depended on his own personal speed; but just as he went up the steps, the door opened, and a clerk appeared, showing a gentleman out. Even in the midst of Maurice's hurry, something familiar in the figure struck him; he looked again—it was Percy. They recognized each other; at the same moment, by a common impulse, they saluted each other ceremoniously and passed on their different ways.
Maurice was expected, and he found Mr. Payne ready to receive him. Instead, however, of plunging at once into business as, a minute ago, he was prepared to do, he asked abruptly. "Is Mr. Percy a client of yours?"
"I can hardly say that," the lawyer answered, surprised by the question.
"I met him going out," Maurice went on.
Mr. Payne rubbed his hands.
"It is no secret," he said; "I may tell you, I suppose. He called about some points in a marriage settlement."
Maurice felt his heart give a great leap.
"Whose?" he asked sharply.
Mr. Payne again looked surprised.
"His own, certainly. He is going to marry a daughter of the Earl of C——, and I had the honour of being employed by the late Countess's family, from whom her ladyship derives what fortune she has. It is not very large," he added, dropping from his dignified tone into a more confidential one.
Maurice was silent for a minute. His sensations were curious; divided between joy that Lucia was certainly free in this quarter, and a vehement desire to knock down, horsewhip, or otherwise ill-use the Honourable Edward Percy. Of course, this was a savage impulse, only worthy of a half-civilized backwoodsman, but happily he kept it down out of sight, and his companion filled up the pause.
"The marriage is to take place in a week. The engagement has been hastily got up, they say, at last; though there was some talk of it a year ago. He does not seem particularly eager about it now."
"What is he marrying her for?" was Maurice's next question, put with an utter disregard of all possibilities of sentiment in the matter—the man whom Lucia might have loved could not but be indifferent to all other women.
"It's not a bad match," Mr. Payne answered, putting his head on one side as if to consider it critically. "Not much money, but a good connection—excellent."
Whereupon they dismissed Percy and his affairs, and went to work.
Late that night, for no reason but because he could not rest in London, Maurice started for Liverpool. The steamer did not sail till afternoon, and there would have been plenty of time for him to go down in the morning; but he chose do otherwise, and consequently found himself in the streets of Liverpool in the miserable cold darkness of the winter dawn. Of course, there was nothing to be done then, but go to a hotel and get some breakfast and such warmth as was to be had. He felt cross and miserable, and half wished he had stayed in London.
However the fire burnt up, breakfast came, and the dingy fog began to roll away a little from before the windows. He went out and walked about the city. He stared at the public buildings without seeing them; then at the shop-windows, till he suddenly found himself in front of a jeweller's, and it occurred to him that he would go in and buy a ring which would fit a slender finger in case of need. He went in accordingly, and after looking at some dozens, at last fixed upon one. He knew the exact size, for he had once taken a ring of Lucia's and tried to put it on his little finger; it would not go over the middle joint, but persisted in sticking fast just where the one he bought stopped. It was a magnificent little affair—almost enough to bribe a girl to say "Yes" for the pleasure of wearing it, and Maurice congratulated himself on the happy inspiration. Being in a tempting shop, he also bethought himself of carrying out with him some trifling gifts for his old friends; and by the time he had finished his selection, he found to his great satisfaction that he might return to the hotel for his luggage, and go on board ship at once.
The small steamer which was to carry the passengers out to the 'India' was already beginning to take on her load when Maurice arrived. The fog, which had partially cleared away in the town, lay heavy and brown over the river; the wet dirty deck, the piles of luggage, and groups of people were all muffled in it, and looked shapeless and miserable in the gloom. Hurry and apparent confusion were to be seen everywhere, but only for a short time. The loading was soon completed, and they moved away into the river.
Then came another transfer—passengers, trunks, mail-bags all poured on to the 'India's' deck. Last farewells were said—friends parted, some for a few weeks, some for ever—the great paddles began to move, and the voyage was begun.
As they went down the river, snow began to fall. It filled the air and covered the deck with wet, slowly moving flakes, and the water which swallowed it up all round the ship looked duller and darker by contrast. Everybody went below, most people occupied themselves with arranging their possessions so as to be most comfortable during the voyage; Maurice, who had few possessions to arrange, took out that morning's Times, and sat down to read.
The first two or three days of a voyage are generally nearly a blank to landsmen. Maurice was no exception to the rule. Even Lucia commanded only a moderate share of his thoughts till England and Ireland were fairly out of sight, and the 'India' making her steady course over the open ocean. Then he began to watch the weather as eagerly as if the ship's speed and safety had depended on his care. Every day he went, the moment the notice was put up, to see what progress they had made since the day before, and, according as their rate of movement was slower or faster, his day and night were serene or disturbed.
The number of passengers was small. With what there were he soon formed the kind of acquaintance which people shut up together for a certain time generally make with each other. Everybody was eager for the conclusion of the voyage, for the weather, though on the whole fine, was intensely cold, and only the bravest or hardiest could venture to spend much time on deck. Down below every device for killing time was in requisition; but in spite of all, the question, "When shall we reach New York?" was discussed over and over again; and each indication of their voyage being by a few hours shorter than they had a right to expect, was hailed with the greatest delight.
One day when they were really near the end of their voyage, Maurice and a fellow-passenger, a young man of about his own age, were walking briskly up and down the deck, trying to keep themselves warm, and talking of Canada, to which they were both bound. A sailor who had come for some purpose to the part of the deck where they were, suddenly called their attention to a curl of smoke far off on the horizon; it was something homeward bound, he said—he could not tell what, but they would most likely pass near each other.
The two young men had been thinking of going down, but the idea of meeting a ship of any kind was sufficient excitement to keep them on deck. They continued their walk, stopping every now and then to watch the smoke as it grew more and more distinct. Presently the steamer itself became visible, and other persons began to assemble and guess what steamer it could be and how long it would be before they passed each other. Meanwhile the stranger came nearer and nearer; at last it could be recognized—the 'Atalanta,' from New York to Havre. Maurice borrowed a glass from one of the officers, and, going a little apart from the group on the deck of the 'India,' set himself to examine that of the 'Atalanta.' A sudden feeling of dismay had seized upon him. He had no more reason to suppose that Lucia was on board this steamer than he had to believe that she had sailed a week ago, or that she was still at Cacouna, and yet a horrible certainty took possession of him that, if he could only get on board that ship, so tantalizingly close at hand and yet so utterly inaccessible, he should find her there. He strained his eyes in the vain effort to distinguish her figure. He almost stamped with disappointment when he found that the distance was too great, or his glass not sufficiently powerful, for the forms he could just see, to be recognizable; and as the two steamers passed on, and the distance between them grew every moment greater, he hurried down to his cabin, not caring that any one should see how disturbed he was. He threw himself upon his little sofa, thinking.
"I wonder if she suspected I was so near her. I wonder whether she looked for me as I looked for her. Not as I did, of course, for she is everything to me, and I am only an old friend to her; but yet I think she would have been sorry to miss me by so little.
"What an idiot I am! when I have not even the smallest notion whether she could be on board or not. Very likely I shall find them still at the dear old Cottage."
But after his soliloquy he shook his head in a disconsolate manner, and betook himself to a novel by way of distraction.
Two more days and they reached New York. They got in early in the morning, and Maurice, the moment he found himself on shore, hurried to the railway station. On inquiry there, however, he found that to start immediately would be, in fact, rather to lose, than to gain time. A train starting that evening would be his speediest conveyance; and for that he resolved to wait. He then turned to a telegraph office, intending to send a message to his father, but on second thoughts abandoned that idea also, considering that Mr. Leigh already expected him, and that further warning could do no good and might do harm.
He spent the day, he scarcely knew how. He dined somewhere, and read the newspapers. He found himself out in the middle of reading with the greatest appearance of interest an article copied from the Times which he had read in England weeks before. He looked perpetually at his watch, and when, at last, he found that his train would be due in half an hour, he started up in the greatest haste, and drove to the station as if he had not a moment to spare.
What a Babel the car seemed when he did get into it! There were numbers of women and children, not a few babies. It was bitterly cold, and everybody was anxious to settle themselves at once for the night. Everybody was talking, sitting down, and getting up again, turning the seats backwards and forwards to suit their parties, or their fancies, soothing the shivering, crying children, or discussing the probability of being impeded by the snow. But when the train was fairly in motion, when the conductor had made his progress through the cars, when everybody had got their tickets, and there was no more to be done, all subsided gradually into a dull sleepy quiet, broken occasionally by a child's cry, but still undisturbed enough to let those passengers who did not care to sleep, think in peace.
Maurice thought, uselessly, but persistently. He thought of the past, when he had been quite happy, looking forward to a laborious life with Lucia to brighten it. He thought of the future which must now have one of two aspects—either cold, matter-of-fact and solitary, in the great empty house at Hunsdon without Lucia, or bright and perfect beyond even his former dreams, in that same great old house with her. He meant to win her, however, sooner or later, and the real trouble which he feared at present was nothing worse than delay.
Mrs. Costello and Lucia found their journey from Cacouna to New York a very melancholy one. They had gone through so much already, that change and travel had no power to stimulate their overstrained nerves to any further excitement; the time of reaction had begun, and a sort of languid indifference, which was in itself a misery, seemed to have taken possession of them. Even Lucia's spirits, generally strong both for enjoyment or for suffering, were completely subdued; she sat by the window of the car looking out at the wintry landscape all day long, yet saw nothing, or remembered nothing that she had seen. Once or twice she thought, "Perhaps in a few days more, Maurice will be passing over this very line; he will be disappointed when he reaches home and finds that we are gone;" but all her meditations were dreamy and unreal—her mind acted mechanically. A kind of moral catalepsy benumbed her. Afterwards when she remembered this time, she wondered at herself; she could not comprehend the absence of sensation with which she had left the dear home and all the familiar objects of her whole life, the incapability of feeling either keen sorrow at the parting, or hope in the unknown future. The days they spent in hurrying hour by hour further away from Canada, always remained in her recollection little more than a blank, and she scarcely seemed to recover herself until Mr. Strafford touched her gently on the shoulder, late in the evening and said,
"New York at last, Lucia."
She got up then, in a hurried, confused way, and looked at her mother helplessly.
Mrs. Costello, though to some degree she had shared Lucia's stunned feeling during their journey, had watched her child with considerable anxiety, and was glad of any change in her manner. She hastened to leave the train, thinking that the few hours' rest they would have before going on board the steamer would be the best remedy for this strange torpor. They found, however, when they reached the Hotel and went to bed, that weary as they were, they could not sleep. The unaccustomed noise of the city—the mere sensation of being in a strange place, kept them both waking, and they were glad to get up early, and go down to the vast empty drawing-room where Mr. Stafford could join them for the last time, and talk of the subjects which were near the hearts of all three. And yet, after all, they did not talk much. Those last hours which are so precious, and in which we seem to have so much to say, are often silent ones.
The great house, like a city in itself, with its wide passages and halls, and groups of strangers passing constantly to and fro, had something dismal and desert like about it. Even the drawing-room was so large and so destitute of anything like a snug corner where people could be comfortable, that there was little chance of forgetting that they were mere wayfarers. When the gong had sounded, and everybody assembled for breakfast, the vast dining-room, coldly magnificent in white and gold, and all astir with white jacketed waiters, seemed stranger and more unhomelike still. Everything was novel, but for once novelty only wearied instead of charming.
By noon they were on board the steamer. Mr. Strafford went on board with them and stayed till the last minute. But that soon came. The final good-bye was said; the last link to Canada and Canadian life was broken. They stood on deck and strained their eyes to watch the fast disappearing figure till it was gone, and they felt themselves alone. Then the vessel began to move out of the harbour, and night seemed to come on all at once.
They went down together to their cabin, and seated themselves side by side in a desolate companionship. After a minute Lucia put her arms tightly round her mother, and laying her head upon her shoulder, cried, not passionately, but with a complete abandonment of all self-restraint. Mrs. Costello did not try to check those natural and restoring tears. She soothed her child by fond motherly touches, kissed her cheek or smoothed her hair, but said not a word until the whole dull weight that had been pressing on her had melted away. There was something strangely forlorn in their circumstances which both felt, and neither liked to speak of to the other. Leaving behind all the friends, all the associations of so many years, they were going alone—a feeble and perhaps dying woman, and a young girl—into a strange world, where every face would be new, and even their own language would grow unfamiliar to their ears. Even the hope which had brightened this prospect to Lucia's eyes, looked very dim, now that the time for proving it was at hand; and of all others, the person who occupied her tenderest if not her most frequent thoughts was the one who best deserved that she should think of him—Maurice Leigh.
Two days of their voyage passed without events. They began to feel accustomed to their ship-life, and to make some little acquaintance with other passengers. In spite of the cold, Lucia spent a good many hours on deck. She used to go with Mrs. Costello every morning for a few quick turns up and down, and then, when her mother was tired, she would wrap herself up in the warmest cloaks and shawls that she could find, and take her seat in a quiet corner, where she could lose sight of all that went on about her and, with her face turned towards Canada, see nothing but the boundless sea and sky. On the third day she was sitting in this manner. There were a good many persons on deck but she was left tolerably undisturbed. Occasionally a lady would stop and speak to her—the men, who were not altogether blind to her beauty, would have liked perhaps to do the same, if her preoccupied air had not made a kind of barrier about her, too great to be broken through without more warrant than a two days' chance association; but she was thinking or dreaming, and never troubled herself about them.
The day was very bright, and there was a ceaseless pleasure in watching the ripples of the sea as they rose into the cold silvery sunlight and then passed on into the shadow of the ship; or in tracing far away, the broad even track marked by edges of tiny bubbles, where the vessel's course had been. Gradually she became aware through her abstraction of a greater stir and buzz of conversation on the deck behind her; she turned, and seeing everybody looking in one direction, rose and looked too. A lady standing beside her said,
"It is the Cunard steamer for New York. We think there are some friends of ours on board, but I am afraid we shall not pass near enough to find out."
"Oh, how I wish we could!" Lucia answered, now thoroughly roused, for the idea that Maurice also might be on board suddenly flashed into her mind.
She leaned forward over the railing of the deck, and caught sight of the 'India' coming quickly in the opposite direction, and could even distinguish the black mass of her passengers assembled like those of the 'Atalanta' to watch the passing vessel. But that was all. Telescopes and even opera-glasses were being handed from one to another, but she was too shy to ask for the loan of one, though she longed for it, just for a moment. Certainly it would have been useless. At that very time Maurice, standing on the 'India's' deck, was straining his eyes to catch but one glimpse of her, and all in vain. Fate had decided that they were to pass each other unseen.
But this little incident made Lucia sadder and more dreamy—more unlike herself—than before. The voyage was utterly monotonous. In spite of the season, the weather was calm and generally fine; and they made good progress. The days when an unbroken expanse of sea lay round them were not many, and on the second Sunday afternoon land was already in sight. That day was unusually mild. Mrs. Costello and Lucia came up together about two o'clock, and, after walking up and down for some time, they sat down to watch the distant misty line which they might have thought a cloud on the horizon, but which was gradually growing nearer and more distinct.
While they sat, a single bird came flying from the land. Its wings gleamed like silver in the sunlight, and as it came, flying now higher, now lower, but always towards the ship, they saw that it was no sea-bird, but a white pigeon—pure white, without spot or tinge of colour, like the glittering snow of Canada. It came quite near—it flew slowly and gracefully round the ship—two or three times, it circled round and round, and at last alighted on the rigging. There it rested, till, as the sunlight quite faded away and the distant line of land disappeared, it took flight again and vanished in the darkness.
Perhaps the strong elasticity of youth and hope in Lucia's nature had only waited for some chance touch to set it free, and make it spring up vigorously after its repression. At any rate she found a fanciful omen in the visit of the snow-white bird; and began to believe that in the new country and the new life, there might be as much that was good and happy as in the old one. The last hours, full of excitement and impatience as the voyage drew to a close, were not unpleasant ones. Very early one morning a great commotion and a babel of unusual sounds on deck awoke the travellers, and the stewardess going from room to room brought the welcome news,
"We are at Havre."
Lucia was up in a moment. The stillness of the vessel, after its perpetual motion, gave her an odd sensation, not unlike what she had felt when it first began to move; but she was quickly dressed and on deck. There were a good many people there, and the water all round was alive with boats and shipping of every description, but Lucia's eyes naturally turned from the more familiar objects to the unfamiliar and welcome sight of land.
A strange land, truly! The solid quays, the masses of building, older than anything (except forest-trees) which she had ever seen, the quaint dresses of the peasants already moving about in the early morning, all struck her with pleased and vivid interest. For the wider features of the scene she had at first no thought. Nature is everywhere the same, through all her changes. To those who love her she is never wholly unrecognizable, and when we meet her in company with new phases of human life, we are apt to treat her as the older friend, and let her wait until we have greeted the stranger. At least, Lucia did so. She had indeed only time for a hurried survey, for their packing had to be completed by her hands; and she knew that the arrival of the ship would soon be known, and that if Mr. Wynter had kept his promise of meeting them, he might appear at any moment. She went down, therefore, and found Mrs. Costello dressing with hurried and trembling fingers, too much agitated by the prospect of meeting her cousin, after so long and strange a separation, to be capable of attending to anything.
All was done, however, before they were interrupted. They wrapped themselves up warmly, for the morning was intensely cold through all its brightness, and went up on deck together. Lucia found a seat in a sheltered place for Mrs. Costello, and stood near her watching the constant stream of coming and going between the ship and the shore. They had nothing to do for the present but wait, and when they had satisfied themselves that, as yet, there was no sign of Mr. Wynter's arrival, they had plenty of time to grow better acquainted with the view around them.
The long low point of land beside which they lay; the town in front, with a flood of cold sunlight resting on its low round tower, and the white sugar-loaf shaped monument, which was once the sailor's landmark—the lofty chapel piously dedicated to Notre Dame de Bons Secours now superseding it—the broad mouth of the Seine and the Norman shore, bending away to the right—all these photographed themselves on Lucia's memory as the first-seen features of that new world where her life was henceforth to be passed.
At last, when nearly all their fellow-passengers had bidden them good-bye and left the ship, they saw a gentleman coming on board whom they both felt by some instinct to be Mr. Wynter. He was a portly, white-bearded man, as strange to Mrs. Costello as to Lucia, for the last twenty years had totally changed him from the aspect she remembered and had described to her daughter. Perhaps his nature as well as his looks had grown more genial; at any rate, he had a warm and affectionate greeting for the strangers, and if he had any painful or embarrassing recollection such as agitated his cousin, he knew how perfectly to conceal them. He had arrived the day before, but on arriving had heard that the 'Atalanta' was not expected for twenty-four hours, so that the news of her being in port came to him quite unexpectedly. He explained all this as they stood on deck, and then hurried to see their luggage brought up, and to transfer them to the carriage he had brought from his hotel.
Lucia felt herself happily released from her cares. She had no inclination to like, or depend upon, her future guardian; but without thinking about it, she allowed him to take the management of their affairs, and to fall into the same place as Mr. Strafford had occupied during their American journey.
Only there was a difference; she was awake now, and hopeful, naturally pleased with all that was new and curious, and only kept from thorough light-heartedness by her mother's feeble and fatigued condition.
Mrs. Costello seemed to grow stronger from the moment of their landing. Mr. Wynter decided without any hesitation that they should remain at Havre, at least until the next day. In the evening, therefore, they were sitting quietly together when the important question of a future residence for the mother and daughter came to be discussed.
"I should like Lucia to see something of Paris," Mrs. Costello said, "and to do that we should be obliged to stay a considerable time; for, as you perceive, I am not strong enough to do much sight-seeing at present."
"I see," Mr. Wynter answered, nodding gravely. "We might get you a nice little apartment there, and settle you for the winter; that would be the best plan. I suppose you don't mind cold?"
"That depends entirely on the sort of cold. Yes; I think we should settle in Paris for a time, and then move into the country. Only I have a great fancy not to be more than a day's journey from England."
"In which I sympathize with you. It will be very much more satisfactory to me to know that you are within a reasonable distance of us."
Lucia sat and listened very contentedly to the talk of the elder people. To her, whose only experience of relationship, beyond her mother, was painful and mortifying, there was something she had not anticipated of novelty and comfort in this new state of affairs. Her cousin's tone of kinsmanship and friendliness was so genuine and unforced that she and her mother both accepted it naturally, and forgot for the moment that, to a little-minded man, such friendliness might have been difficult and perhaps impossible.
They decided to start for Paris next morning, Mr. Wynter saying that he had arranged for a week's absence from England, and therefore would have plenty of time to see them fixed in their new residence before he left. Then the conversation glided to other subjects, and Lucia losing her interest in it, began to wonder where Percy was—whether they were again on the same continent—whether he would hear, through the Bellairs, of their movements—whether he thought of her. And from that point she went off in some indescribable maze of dreams, recollections, and wishes, through which there came, as if from a distance, the sound of voices talking about England—about Chester—about her mother's old home and old friends—and about her young cousins, the Wynters, and a visit they were to make to France when spring should have set in.
In the midst of all, the sound of a great clock striking broke the stillness of the snowy streets, and, just after, a party of men passed, singing a clamorous French song, and stamping an accompaniment with their heavy shoes. Lucia smiled as she listened, and then sighed. In truth this was a new life, into which nothing of the old one could come except love and memory.
Of course, they could not sleep that night. They missed the motion of the ship, which had lately lulled them; they could not shake off the impression of strangeness and feel sufficiently at home to forget themselves; and to Lucia, used to the healthy sleep of eighteen, this was a much more serious matter than to one who had kept as many vigils as Mrs. Costello. They appeared, therefore, in the morning to have changed characters; Lucia was pale and tired, Mrs. Costello seemed bright and refreshed.
The rapid and uneventful journey to Paris ended, for the present, their wanderings. When, on the following day, they started out in search of apartments, Mrs. Costello looked round her in astonishment. More than twenty years ago she had really known something of the city; now there only seemed to be, here and there, an old landmark left to prove that it was not altogether a new and strange place. Lucia was delighted with everything. She no sooner saw the long line of the Champs Elysees than she declared that there, and nowhere else, their rooms must be found.
"In the city, mamma," she said, "you could not breathe; and as for sleeping, you know what it was last night; and if we went further out, we should see nothing."
Mrs. Costello was too pleased to see her daughter looking and speaking with something of her old liveliness to be inclined to oppose her fancies, only she said with a smile,
"The Champs Elysees is expensive—remember that, Lucia—and I am going to make you keeper of the purse."
"Very well, mamma, if it is too dear, of course there is no more to be said; but you don't object to our trying to get something here, do you?"
"Decidedly not. Let us try by all means."
They found apartments readily enough; but to find any suited to their means was, as Mrs. Costello anticipated, anything but an easy matter. Lucia began, before the morning was over, to realize the fact that their L400 a year, which had been a perfectly comfortable income in Canada, would require very careful management to afford them at all a suitable living in Paris.
"It is only for a little while, though," she consoled herself. "In summer we shall be able to go into the country and find something much cheaper."
So they continued their search, and at last found just what they wanted; though to do so, they had to mount so many stairs that Lucia was afraid her mother would be exhausted.
"I do not think this will do, mamma," she said. "I should never dare to ask you to go out, because when you came in tired, you would have all this fatigue."
But the rooms were comfortable and airy, and the difficulties of living "au cinquieme" were considered on the whole to be surmountable; so the affair was settled. Then came the minor considerations of a new housekeeping, and Margery was heartily regretted; though what the good woman would have been able to do where she could neither understand nor make herself understood, would not have been easy to say. Even Mrs. Costello, who, in her youth, had had considerable practice in speaking French, found herself now and then at a loss; and as for Lucia, having only a sort of school-girl knowledge of the language, she instantly found her comprehension swept away in the flood of words poured upon her by every person she ventured to speak to. "Never mind, I shall soon learn," she said in the most valiant manner; but, alas! for the present, she was almost helpless, and Mrs. Costello had to arrange, bargain, and interpret for both.
They wound up their day's business by a little shopping, which, like everything else, was new to Lucia. The splendid shops, lighted up in the early dusk of the winter afternoon, were as different as anything could be from the stores at Cacouna. A sudden desire to be possessed of a purse full of money, which she might empty in these enchanted palaces, was the immediate and natural effect of the occasion on the mind of such an unsophisticated visitor. She became, indeed, so completely lost in admiration, that her mother made her small purchases without being able to obtain anything but the vaguest and most unsatisfactory opinions on such trifling affairs.
Mr. Wynter derived considerable amusement from watching his young cousin and future ward. He told his wife afterwards that he had begun the day's work entirely from a sense of duty towards poor Mary; but that for once he had found that kind of thing almost as amusing as women seemed to do. The young girl with her half-Indian nature, and wholly Canadian—ultra Canadian—bringing up, was so bright, simple, and naive, that she was worth watching. Her wonderful beauty, and the unconscious grace of her father's people, kept her from ever appearing countrified or awkward; her simplicity was that of a lovely child, and was in no way discordant with the higher nature she had shown in the bitter troubles and perplexities of the past year. She felt safe now and hopeful, inconceivably, absurdly hopeful—yet there was this difference between the happiness of long ago and the happiness to-day, that then she could not believe in sorrow, and now she only would not.
They went back to their hotel for another night. Next day they moved to the apartment they had taken, and submitted themselves to the ministrations of Claudine, their French version of Margery. Submitted is exactly the right word for Lucia's behaviour, at any rate. Claudine appeared to her to have an even greater than common facility of speech; it only needed a single hesitating phrase to open the floodgates, and let out a torrent. Accordingly, until her stock of available French should increase, Lucia decided to take everything with the utmost possible quietness. She would devote herself to her mother, and to becoming a little acquainted with Paris, and give Claudine the fewest possible occasions for eloquence.
Before the two days which Mr. Wynter spent with them in their new dwelling were over, they had begun to feel tolerably settled. In fact, Lucia's spirits, raised by excitement, were beginning to droop a little, and her thoughts to make more and more frequent excursions in search of the friends from whom she was so widely separated. She thought most, it is true, of Percy, and her fancies about him were rose-coloured; but she thought, also, a little sadly, of the dear old home, and the Bellairs and Bella, and even Magdalen Scott, who had been an old acquaintance, if never a very dear friend. She had many wondering thoughts, too, about Maurice. Was he still in England? or was he in Canada? was he at sea? would he come over to see them? would he even know where to find them if he came? Of these last subjects she spoke freely to her mother, only she kept utter silence as to Percy. So it happened that Mrs. Costello, knowing her own estimate of her daughter's lover, and strangely forgetting not only how different Lucia's had been, but that in a nature essentially faithful, love increases instead of dying, through time and absence, comforted herself, and believed that all was now settled for the best. Neither Percy nor Maurice, it was evident, would ever be Lucia's husband. Nothing could be more satisfactory, therefore, than that she should have become indifferent to the one, and have only a sisterly affection for the other. And yet, with unconscious perversity, she was not satisfied. She allowed to herself that Maurice's conduct had been reasonable enough. He had accepted the common belief that Christian was the murderer of Dr. Morton; and the conclusion which naturally followed, that Christian's daughter, beautiful and good though she might be, was not a fit mistress for Hunsdon; to have done otherwise, would have been Quixotic. Yet in her heart she was bitterly disappointed. If he had but loved Lucia well enough to dare to take her with all her inherited shame, how richly he would have been rewarded when the cloud cleared away! Where would he find another like her? And now, since Maurice could change, who might ever be trusted?
No doubt these meditations were romantic. If Mrs. Costello had been the mother of half-a-dozen children—a woman living in the midst of a busy, lively household, where motherly cares and castle-buildings had to be shared among three or four daughters—she would not have had time to occupy herself so intensely with the affairs of any one. As it was, however, this one girl was her life of life; she threw into her interests the hopes of youth and the experience of middle age. As Lucia grew up, she had watched with anxiety, with hope, and with fear, for the coming of that inevitable time when, either for good or evil, she must love. It had been her fancy that, if Lucia loved Maurice, all would be well; if she loved any other, all would be ill. But time had passed on, and brought change; not one thing had happened according to her anticipations. And she tried to believe that she was glad that it was so, while a shadow of dissatisfaction lay at the bottom of her heart.
When Mr. Wynter left Paris, he did so with the comfortable conviction that his cousins were happily settled; and with the persuasion that, as they both appeared to have a fair share of common sense, they would soon forget their past troubles, and be just like other people.
"I don't like Mary's state of health at present," he said to his wife; "and, if I am not mistaken, she thinks even worse of it than I do; but still, rest of mind and body may do a great deal; and now she is really a widow, and quite safe from any further annoyances, I dare say she will come round."
"And her daughter?" asked Mrs. Wynter rather anxiously. "Do you think she would get on with the girls?"
"I don't know, I'm sure, my dear. She is not much like them, certainly, or, indeed, like any English girl. She is wonderfully pretty, but quite Indian in looks."
"Poor child! what a pity!"
"I am not sure about that. She seems a good girl, and Mary says is the greatest comfort to her, so I suppose she is English at heart; and as for her black eyes, there is something very attractive about them."
Mrs. Wynter sighed again. Lucia's beauty, of which it cannot be said that Mr. Wynter's account was overdrawn, lost all its advantages in her eyes by being of an Indian type. She could never quite persuade herself that her husband had not been walking about the streets of Paris with a handsome young squaw in skins and porcupine quills.
Poor Maurice! He came up the river early one glorious morning, and standing on the steamboat's deck watched for the first glimpse of the Cottage. His heart was beating so that he could scarcely see, but he knew just where to look, and what to look for. At this time of year there was no hope of seeing the fair figure watching on the verandah as it had done when he went away, but the curl of smoke from the chimney would satisfy him and prove that his darling was still in her old home. He watched eagerly, breathlessly. Everything was so bright, that his spirits had risen, and he felt almost certain he was in time. There, the last bend of the river was turned, and now the trees that grew about the Cottage and his father's house were visible—now the Cottage itself. But suddenly his heart seemed to grow still—there was the house, there was the garden where he and Lucia had worked, there was the slope where they had walked together that last evening—but all was desolate. No smoke rose from the chimney; and on the verandah, and on every ledge of the windows snow lay deep and undisturbed; the path to the river was choked and hidden, and by the little gate the drift had piled itself up in a high smooth mound. Desolate!
When the boat stopped at the wharf, there were happily few people about. Maurice left his portmanteau, and taking the least public way hurried off homewards. It was too late—that was his only thought; to see his father, to know when they went, and if possible whither—his only desire. He strode along the road, seeing and thinking of nothing but Lucia. There was one chance, they might not yet have left Canada. But then that ship, and the curious sense of Lucia's nearness which he had felt when they passed it; she must have been on board! He felt as if he should go mad when he came to his father's gate and saw all looking just as usual, quite calm and peaceful under the broad wintry sunshine. He had only just sense enough at the very last minute to remember that his father was an invalid to whom the joy of his coming might be a dangerous shock. As he thought of this he turned round the corner of the house, and in a moment walked into the kitchen where Mrs. George, the old housekeeper, was busy washing up the breakfast-things.
"Law, Mr. Maurice!" cried Mrs. George, and dropped her teacup and her cloth together—happily both on the table.
Coming into the familiar room, and seeing the familiar face, brought the young man a little to himself. He held his impatience in check while he received Mrs. George's welcome, answered her questions, and asked some in return. Then he sent her in to tell his father of his arrival, and began to walk up and down the kitchen while she was away.
In a minute or two she came out of the sitting-room, and he went in. Mr. Leigh had had his own troubled thoughts lately, but he forgot them all when he saw his son. Just at first there was only the sudden agitating joy of the meeting—the happiness of seeing Maurice so well—so thoroughly himself and yet improved—of seeing him at home again; but then came trouble.
"So they are gone?" he said almost interrupting the first greetings, and the old man instantly knew that all his fancies had been a mistake, and that Maurice had come back to find Lucia.
And they were gone; and he himself had been a coward and a traitor, and had distrusted his own son and let them go away distrusting him! He saw it now too late. A painful embarrassment seized him.
"Yes," he said hesitatingly. "They went a week ago."
"By New York?"
"In the 'Atalanta' for Havre?"
"Yes. How did you know?"
"I did not know. I only guessed. Where are they gone?"
"I do not know. Mrs. Costello said their plans were so uncertain that she could not tell me."
"Yet I should have thought, sir, that so old a friend as you might have had a right to be told what her plans were?"
"She told no one—except that they would not stay long in any one place at present."
Maurice walked to the window and sighed impatiently.
"A pleasant prospect!" he said, "They may be at the other end of Europe before I can get back."
He stood for a minute looking out, and tapping impatiently with his fingers on the window-sill, while Mr. Leigh watched him, troubled, and a little inclined to be angry. When he turned round again he had made up his mind that it was no use to get out of temper, a pretty sure proof that he was so already, and that the first thing to do was to find out exactly what his father and everybody else knew about the Costellos. He sat down, accordingly, with a sort of desperate impatient patience, and began a cross-examination.
"Did they leave no message for me?"
"Nothing in particular. All sorts of kind remembrances; Lucia said you would be sure to meet some day."
"Did they never speak of seeing you in England?"
"Never. On the contrary, my impression is that they had no intention of going to England."
"That is strange; yet if they had they would scarcely have gone by Havre, unless to avoid all chance of meeting me."
"Why should they do that?"
Maurice said nothing, he only changed his position and looked at his father. Mr. Leigh had asked the question suddenly, with the first dawn of a new idea in his mind, but at his son's silent answer he shrank back in his chair breathless with dismay. So after all he had been a traitor! With his mistaken fancies about change and absence, he had been doing all he could to destroy the very scheme that was dearest to him, and which he now saw was dearest to Maurice also. And he knew now that there had been something in Mrs. Costello's manner lately less friendly to Maurice than was usual. He had done mischief which might be irreparable. Guilty and miserable, he naturally began to defend himself.
"If you had only told me!" he said feebly.
"I had nothing to tell, sir. I went away, as you remember, almost at a moment's notice, to please you and my grandfather. I could not speak to Lucia then, because—for various reasons; but I know that Mrs. Costello was my friend. Afterwards she wrote to me when poor Morton was killed, and told me some story I could not very well make out, but which of course made no difference to me. Then came another letter with all the truth about her marriage, which she seemed to think conclusive, and which wound up by saying that she meant to take Lucia away—hide her from me in fact. My grandfather was very ill then, and I had no time to write to her, but my message just after his death was plain enough, I thought—what did she say to it?"
Mr. Leigh dropped his eyes slowly from his son's face, and put his hand confusedly to his head.
"What was it?" he said. "I can't remember."
"Only two or three words. Just that all she could say did not alter the case, or alter me."
This was rather a free rendering of the original message, but it was near enough and significant enough for Mr. Leigh to be quite sure he had never heard such words before. They would have given him just that key to his son's heart which he had longed for.
"You must be mistaken," he answered. "I never received such a message as that."
"It was a postscript. I had meant to write to her and had not time."
"You must have forgotten. You meant to send it."
"I sent it, I am certain. Have you my letters?"
"Yes. They are in that drawer."
Maurice opened the drawer where all his letters had been lovingly arranged in order. He remembered the look of the one he wanted and picked it out instantly.
"There it is, sir," he said, and held out to his father those two important lines, still unread. Mr. Leigh looked at the paper and then at Maurice.
"I never saw it," he replied. "How could I have missed it?"
"Heaven knows! It is plain enough. And my note, which came in the letter before that; it was never answered. That may have miscarried too?"
"There was no note, Maurice, my dear boy; there was no note. I wondered there was not."
"And yet I wrote one."
Maurice was looking at his father in grievous perplexity and vexation, when he suddenly became aware of the nervous tremor the old man was in. He went up to him hastily, with a quick impulse of shame and tenderness.
"Forgive me, father," he said. "I forgot myself and you. Only you cannot know the miserable anxiety I have been in lately. Now tell me whether it is true that you are stronger than when I left?"
He sat down by the easy-chair and tried to talk to his father as if Mrs. Costello and Lucia had no existence; but Mr. Leigh, though he outwardly took courage to enjoy all the gladness of their union, was troubled at heart. It was a grievous disappointment, this coming home of which so much had been said and thought. No one could have guessed that the young man had been out into the world to seek his fortune, and had come back laden with gold, or that the older had just won back again the very light of his eyes.
Anxious as Maurice had been to avoid notice at the moment of his arrival at Cacouna, he had been seen and recognized on the wharf, and the news of his coming carried to Mr. Bellairs before he had been an hour at home. So it happened that while the father and son sat together in the afternoon, and were already discussing the first arrangements for their return to England, a sleigh drove briskly up to the door, and Mr. and Mrs. Bellairs came in full of welcomes and congratulations.
"I knew we might come to-day," Mrs. Bellairs said, still holding her favourite's hand and scanning his face with her bright eyes. "We shall not stay long, but it is pleasant to see you home again, Maurice."
"Don't say too many kind things, Mrs. Bellairs," he answered, "or you will make me want to stay when I ought to be going."
"Going! You are surely not talking of that yet?"
"Indeed I am. We hope to be away in a fortnight."
"Oh! if you hope it, there is no more to be said."
"If you knew how I have hoped to be here, and how disappointed I have been to-day, you would not be so hard on me."
They had both sat down now and were a little apart, for the moment, from the others. Mrs. Bellairs was surprised at Maurice's words, though she understood instantly what he meant. He had never before given her a single hint in words of his love for Lucia, though she had been perfectly aware of it. She guessed now that his grandfather's death had changed his wishes into intentions, and that since he was in a position to offer Lucia a share of his own good fortune, he no longer cared to make any secret of his feelings towards her.
"You did not expect that our friends would be gone," she asked in a tone which expressed the sympathy she felt and yet could not be taken as inquisitive. As for Maurice, he wanted to speak out his trouble to somebody, and was glad of this result of his little impetuous speech.
"I was altogether uncertain," he answered; "I wanted to start from England a week sooner, and if I had done so, it seems, I should have found them here; but I was hindered, and for some reason or other, they chose to keep me in the dark as to their intentions."
"Lucia often talked of you and of her regret at going away just when you were expected."
"She did? Do you know where they are?"
"No; and that is the strangest thing. I believe their plans were not quite fixed; but still Mrs. Costello was not a woman to start away into the world without plans of some kind, and yet no one in Cacouna knows more than that they sailed from New York to Havre."
"It is incomprehensible, except on one supposition. Did you ever hear Mrs. Costello speak of my return?"
"Not particularly. Don't be offended, Maurice, either with her or with me, but I did fancy once or twice that she wished to be away before you came. Only, mind, that is simply my fancy."
"I have no doubt you fancied right; but I have a thousand questions to ask you. Tell me first—"
"Maurice," interrupted Mr. Bellairs from the other side of the room, "what is this your father says about going away immediately? You can't be in earnest in such a scheme!"
"I am afraid I am," Maurice answered, getting up and standing with his arm resting on the mantelpiece, "at least, if my father can stand the journey."
Mr. Leigh, full of self-reproach and secret disturbance, vowed that the journey would do him good; that he was eager to see the old country once again. He had resolved, as the penance for his blunder, that he would not be the means of hindering his boy one day in his quest for Lucia. Nevertheless, the discussion grew warm, for Mr. Bellairs having vainly protested against a winter voyage for the Costellos, had his arguments all ready and in order, and had no scruple in bringing them to bear upon Maurice. Of course, they were thrown away, just so many wasted words; the angry impatient longing that was in the young man's heart would have been strong enough to overthrow all the arguments in the universe. Only one reason would have been strong enough to keep him—his father's unfitness for travel; and that could not fairly be urged, for Mr. Leigh was actually in better health than he had been for years, and would not himself listen to a word on the subject.
Just before the visitors left, Maurice found an opportunity of asking Mrs. Bellairs one of his "thousand questions."
"Mr. Strafford, of Moose Island, was Mrs. Costello's great adviser, does not he know?"
"No; I wrote to him, and got his answer this morning. He only knew they would probably stay some time in France."
She was just going out to get into the sleigh as she spoke. Suddenly with her foot on the step she stopped,
"Stay! I have the address of a friend, a cousin, I think, of Mrs. Costello's in England. Mr. Strafford sent it to me."
"Thanks, thanks. I shall see you in the morning."
Maurice went back joyfully into the house. Here was a clue. Now, oh, to be off and able to make use of it!
Before going to bed on the very night of his arrival, Maurice found the list of steamers, and with his father's approbation fixed upon one which was advertised to sail in a few days over a fortnight from that time. It happened to be a vessel the comfortable accommodation of which had been specially praised by some experienced travellers, his fellow-passengers in the 'India,' and the advantages of going by it being quite evident, served to satisfy what small scruples of conscience Mr. Bellairs had been able to awaken. He wrote, therefore, to secure berths and put his letter ready to be taken into Cacouna next morning, when he should go to pay his promised visit to Mrs. Bellairs.
It was early when Maurice awoke; he did so with a sense of having much to do, but the aspect of his own old room, so strange now and yet so familiar, kept him dreaming for a few minutes before that important day's work could be begun. How bare and angular it seemed, how shabby and poor the furniture! It never had been anything but a boy's room of the simplest sort, and yet it had many happy and some few sad associations, such as no other room could ever have for him. He recalled the long ago days when his brother and he had shared it together, and their mother used to come in softly at night to look that her two sons were safe and well,—the later years, when mother and brother were both gone, and he himself sat there alone reading or writing far into the night. He thought of the many summer mornings when he had opened his window to watch for the movement of Lucia's curtain, or for the glimpse of her girlish figure moving about under the light shadows of the acacias in the Cottage garden.
But when he came to that point in his meditation, he sprang up impatiently, and the uncomfortable irritating feeling that he had been unfairly dealt with, tricked, in fact, began to take possession of him again. However, it only acted as a stimulant. He began to feel that he had entered into the lists with Mrs. Costello, and, regarding her as a faithless ally, was not a little disposed to do battle with her a l'outrance, and carry off Lucia for revenge as well as for love.
Directly after breakfast he had out the little red sleigh in which last winter he had so often driven his old playfellow to and from Cacouna, and started alone. He had many visits of friendship or business to pay, but he could not resist going first to Mrs. Bellairs.
After all, now that the first sharpness of his disappointment was over, it was pleasant to be at home and to meet friendly faces at every turn. He had to stop again and again to exchange greetings with people on the road, and even sometimes to receive congratulations on being a "rich man now," "a lucky fellow"—congratulations which were both spoken and listened to as much as if the lands of Hunsdon were a fairy penny, in the virtues of which neither speaker nor hearer had any very serious belief. In fact, there was something odd and incredible in the idea that this was no longer plain Maurice Leigh, the most popular and one of the poorest members of this small Backwoods world, but Maurice Leigh Beresford, of Hunsdon, an English country gentleman rich enough, if he chose, to buy up the whole settlement.
Maurice went on his way, however, little troubled by his new dignity, and found Mrs. Bellairs and Bella expecting him. They had guessed that he would not delay coming for the promised address, and Mr. Strafford's note containing it lay ready on the table; but when he came into the room their visitor did actually for the moment forget his errand in seeing the sombre black-robed figure which had taken the place of the gay Bella Latour. He had gone away just before her wedding, he had left her happy, bright, mischievous,—a girl whom sorrow had never touched, who seemed incapable of understanding what trouble meant; he came back, full of his own perplexities and disappointments, and found her one so seized upon by grief that it had grown into her nature, and clothed and crowned her with its sad pre-eminence. There was no ostentation of mourning about the young widow, it is true, but none the less Maurice in looking at her first forgot himself utterly, and then remembered his impatience and ill-humour with more shame than was at all agreeable.
To Bella also the meeting was a painful one. Of all her friends, Maurice was the only one who was associated with her girlish happiness, and quite dissociated from her married life and its tragic ending. The sight of him, therefore, renewed for the moment the recollections which she had taught herself to keep as much as possible for her solitary hours, and almost disturbed the calm she had forced upon herself in the presence of others.
Mrs. Bellairs, however, used to her sister's calamity and ignorant of Maurice's feelings, did not long delay referring to the Costellos.
"Here is Mr. Strafford's note," she said. "I wrote and begged of him to tell me by what means a letter would be likely to reach them, and this is his answer."
It was only a few lines, saying that Mrs. Costello had told him expressly that she should remain for some time in France, and would write to her Canadian friends as soon as she had any settled home, but that in the meantime he believed her movements would be known by her relative, Mr. Wynter, whose address he enclosed.
Maurice, whose anxiety was revived by the sight of this missive, examined it with as much care as if he expected to extract more information from it than in reality the writer possessed, but he was obliged to content himself with copying the address and giving the warmest thanks to Mrs. Bellairs for the help he thus gained.
"I suppose," she asked smiling, "that I may entrust you with a message for Lucia?"
Maurice looked rather foolish. He certainly did mean to follow up the clue in person, but he had not said so, and he fancied Mrs. Bellairs was inclined to laugh at him for his romance.
"I will carry it if you do," he answered, "but I do not promise when it will be delivered."
"You are really going to England at the time you spoke of last night?"
"And from England to France is not much of a journey?"
"No; and I have not seen Paris yet."
"Ah! well, you will go over and meet with them, and rejoice poor Lucia's heart with the sight of a home face."
"Shall I? Will they be homesick, do you think?"
"They? I don't know. She will, I think—do not you, Bella?"
"At all events, she went away with her mind full of the idea that she would be sure to see you before long."
Perhaps this speech was not absolutely true, but Maurice liked Bella better than ever as she said it. He got up soon after, and went his way with a lighter heart about those various calls which must be made, and which were pleasant enough now that he saw his way tolerably clear before him with regard to that other and always most important piece of business.
When he got home he set himself to consider whether it were better to write boldly to Mr. Wynter and ask for news of the travellers, or whether to wait, and after taking his father to Hunsdon run over himself to Chester, and make his request in person. There was little to be gained by writing, for Mr. Wynter's answer, even if it were satisfactory, would have to be sent to Hunsdon, and there wait his arrival, while Mrs. Costello would have plenty of time to hear of his application, and to baffle him if she wished to do so. He quickly decided, therefore, to do nothing until he could go himself to Chester, and from thence direct to the place, wherever that might be, where Lucia was to be found.