A CANADIAN HEROINE.
THE AUTHOR OF "LEAVES FROM THE BACKWOODS."
"Questa chiese Lucia in suo dimando, E disse: Or ha bisogno il tuo fedele Di te, e 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. VOL. I.
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.
Mrs. Costello had felt it a kind of reprieve when she heard from Mr. Strafford that they might delay their journey safely for a month. The sober middle age which had come upon her before its time, as her life rolled on out of the anguish and tumult of the past, made home and quietness the most desirable things on earth to her, and her health and spirits, neither yet absolutely broken, but both strained almost to the extent of their endurance, unfitted her for the changes and excitements of long travel. So she clung to the idea of delay with an unacknowledged hope that some cause might deliver them from their present terrors, and yet suffer them to remain at Cacouna.
In the meantime all went on outwardly as usual. The duties and courtesies of every-day life had to be kept up,—the more carefully because it was not desirable to attract attention. Besides, Mrs. Costello felt that an even flow of occupation was the best thing for Lucia, whom she watched, with the keenest and tenderest solicitude, passing through the shadow of that darkness which she herself knew so well. Doctor Morton brought his wife home most opportunely for her wishes. A variety of such small dissipations as Cacouna could produce, naturally celebrated the event; and Lucia as principal bridesmaid at the wedding could not, if she would, have shut herself out from them. She had, indeed, dreaded the first meeting with Bella, but it passed off without embarrassment. To all appearance Mrs. Morton had lost either the sharpness of observation or the readiness of tongue that had formerly belonged to her, for the change which Lucia felt in herself was allowed to remain unremarked.
Mrs. Bellairs had long ago got over her displeasure with Lucia. She had watched her narrowly at the time of Percy's leaving, and became satisfied that there was some trouble of a sterner kind than regret for him now weighing heavily upon her heart.
Although Mrs. Bellairs told her sister of the intended journey of Mrs. Costello and Lucia, the preparations for that journey were being made with as little stir as possible, and except herself, her husband, and Mr. Leigh, few persons dreamed of such an improbable event. Bella even received a hint to speak of it to no one but her husband, for Mrs. Costello was anxious to avoid gossip, and had taken much thought how to attain the juste milieu between secrecy and publicity. In the meantime there was much to be done in prospect of a long, an indefinitely long, absence, and the needful exertion both of mind and body was good for Lucia. Under no circumstances, perhaps, could she have sat quietly down to bewail her misfortunes, or have allowed herself to sink under them, but, as it was, there was no temptation to indolent indulgence of any kind. Bitter hours came still—came especially with the silence and darkness of night, when her thoughts would go back to the sweet days of the past summer and linger over them, till some word, or look, or trifling incident coming to her memory more distinctly, would bring with it the sudden recollection of the barren, dreary present,—of the irreparable loss.
In all her thoughts of Percy there was comfort. He had loved her honestly and sincerely, and if his nature was really lower than her own, she was not likely to guess it. She had acted, in dismissing him, on a kind of distrust, she would have said, of human nature; more truly, of him; but even this distrust was so vague and so disguised that it never shadowed his character in her eyes. So, though she had parted from him, she took comfort in the thought of his love, and kept it in her heart to save herself from the overwhelming sense of degradation, which took possession of her in remembering why she had sent him away from her.
It was this feeling which, in spite of her courage and her pride, had brought to her face that look of real trouble of which Mrs. Bellairs had spoken. It was a look of which she was herself entirely unconscious, more like the effect of years of care, than like that of a sudden sorrow. With this change of expression on her face, and sobered, but cheerful and capable as ever in her ways and doings, Lucia made her preparations for leaving the place which was so dear and familiar to her.
Mrs. Costello's spirits had risen since their plans were settled. The burden which was new to Lucia had been her companion for years, and, except when the actual terror of falling once again into her husband's hands was upon her, she had come to bear it with resignation and patience. She had, of late years, endured far more on her child's account than on her own; and to find that Lucia met her share of suffering with such steady courage, and still had the same tender and clinging love for herself, was an inexpressible relief. She had faith in the words she had said on the night when the story of her life had been told, she believed that a better happiness might yet come to that beloved child than the one she had lost. So she lived in greater peace than she had done for years before.
But her greatest anxiety at this moment regarded Mr. Leigh and Maurice. She had waited for news of Maurice's arrival in England and reception by his grandfather, before writing to him, as she had promised to do. For she wished him to be able to decide, on receiving her letter, what was the best plan for Mr. Leigh's comfort, in case he should himself be detained in Norfolk. The accounts which the first mail brought showed plainly that this would be the case. Mr. Beresford had immediately taken a fancy to his grandson, and would scarcely spare him out of his sight. Mrs. Costello, therefore, wrote to Maurice, telling him that the time she had half anticipated had really arrived, and that she and Lucia were about to leave Canada. At the same time she had a long conversation with Mr. Leigh, describing to him more of her circumstances and plans than she wished any other person to know, and expressing the regret she felt at leaving him in his solitude. A question, indeed, arose whether it would not be better for him to leave his large solitary house, and remove into the town, but this was soon decided in the negative. He would remain where he was for the present. Maurice might yet return to Canada; if not, possibly next year he might himself go to England. One circumstance made Mrs. Costello and Lucia more inclined to favour this plan—the old man's health had certainly improved. Whether it was the link to his earlier and happier life, which had been furnished by the late relenting of his wife's father, or from some other cause, he seemed to have laid aside much of his infirmity, and to have returned from his premature old age to something like vigour.
A fortnight yet remained before the cottage was to be deserted, when Doctor Morton and his wife returned home. The gossip of the neighbourhood which, as was inevitable, had been for a little while busy with Mr. Percy and Lucia, was turned into another channel by their coming, and people again occupied themselves with the bride. Lucia was obliged to visit her friend, and to join the parties given on the occasion, and so day after day slipped by, and the surface of affairs seemed so unchanged that, but for one or two absent faces, it would have been difficult to believe in all that had happened lately.
But, of course, it did at last become known that Mrs. Costello was going away. She and Lucia both spoke of it lightly, as an ordinary occurrence enough; but it was so unlike their usual habits, that each person who heard the news instantly set himself or herself to guess a reason, and, connecting it with the loss of Lucia's gay spirits, most persons came naturally to one conclusion.
It did not matter whether they said, "Poor Lucia!" with the half-contemptuous pity people give to what they call "a disappointment," or "What else could she expect?" "I told you so!" or any other of the speeches in which we express our delight in a neighbour's misfortunes—every way of alluding to the subject was equally irritating to Mrs. Bellairs, who heard of it constantly, and tried in vain to stop the tongues of her acquaintance. She could not do it; and what she feared most, soon happened. Lucia came, in some way, to be aware of what was going on, and this last pain, though so much lighter than those she had already borne, seemed to break down all her pride at once. In her own room that night she sat, hour after hour, in forlorn wretchedness—her own familiar friends, the companions of her whole life, were making her misery the subject of their careless gossip. They knew nothing of the real wound which she had suffered, but they were quite ready to inflict another; and the feeling of loneliness and desertion which filled her heart at the thought was more bitter than all that had gone before. She remembered Maurice, and wondered drearily whether he too would have misjudged her; but for the moment even her faith in him was shaken, and she turned from her thoughts of him without comfort.
But this mood was too unnatural to last long. Before morning her courage had returned, and her strong impulse and desire was to show how little she felt the very sting which was really torturing her. She stood long before her glass that morning. The face which had grown hateful to herself was still beautiful to others. She studied it in every line. She wanted to see what there could be in it to give people the idea of love-sickness. She wanted to force back into it the old light and gaiety. Impossible! With a shudder she covered it with her hands. Never again could she be a child. She had passed through the storm, and must bear its traces henceforward. But, at least, it had been the thunderbolt of heaven, and not the hand of man, which had wounded her. Her very sorrow was sacred. She lifted up her head again, and saw that there was a calm upon her face, which was better than pride. Instinctively she knew that none but idiots could look at her with contempt, or the pity which is so near it; and she went out into her little world again, sad at heart, but steadfast and at peace. So the days passed on, and grew into weeks, and the time for their leaving Cacouna came very near. It had been delayed more than a week beyond the month on which Mrs. Costello had first counted for security; but on the very eve of their departure she had overcome her anxiety, and was secretly glad to make the most of every little excuse for lingering yet another and another day at the cottage.
It was now Monday evening, and on Wednesday they were to start. A letter from Maurice had arrived that morning—the first which he had written after receiving news from home, and it contained an enclosure to Mrs. Costello, which Lucia wondered her mother did not show her. But she would have wondered more, perhaps, if she had known why, in spite of the easily-read wistfulness in her glance, that note was so carefully withheld from her. It alluded, in fact, too plainly to the conversation in which, for the first time, Maurice had, just before going away, spoken to Mrs. Costello of herself and his affection for her. He said now, "My father has sent me an account of Miss Latour's wedding, which he said he made Lucia describe to him for my benefit. But I have a curiosity to hear more about it, or rather about her. To tell the truth, I am longing for a letter from you, not only to bring me news of my father, but to satisfy me that all my hopes are not being built upon an impossibility. Is Percy still at Cacouna? Don't laugh at me. My occupations here leave me plenty of time to think of you all, and I depend upon you not to let me be left quite in the dark on the subject to which I cannot help giving most of my thoughts."
Mrs. Costello smiled to herself as she read; but she put off Lucia's questioning with a very unfaithful summary of the contents of the note. It was certainly strange how much vague comfort she took in the knowledge of Maurice's love for her child. It might have seemed that the same causes which had parted Lucia from Percy, and which she had said would part her from the whole world, would be just as powerful here; but the mother had at the bottom of her heart a kind of child-like confidence that somehow, some time, all must come right, and in the meantime she loved Maurice heartily, and wished for this happy consummation almost as much for his sake as for her daughter's.
There was a good deal of difference in the aspect of the country above and below Cacouna. Below it the river bank was high; and cultivated and fertile lands stretched back for a mile or two, till they were bordered and shut in by the forest. Above, the bank was low. Just beyond the town lay the swamp, which brought ague to the Parsonage and its neighbours. On the further side of this was the steam sawmill, and a few shanties occupied by workmen; and higher still, a road (called the Lake Shore Road, because, after a few miles, it joined and ran along the side of the lake) wound its way over a sandy plain, studded with clumps and knots of scattered trees or brushwood. Rough, stubbly grass covered a good deal of the sand, but here and there the wind had swept it up into great piles round some obstacle that broke the level, and on these sand-hills wild vines grew luxuriantly, covering them in many places with thick and graceful foliage, and small purple clusters of grapes. There were pools, too, in some places, where water-lilies had managed to plant themselves, and where colonies of mud-turtles lived undisturbed; and there were shady places by the sides of the pools, where the brown pitcher-plant held its cups of clear water, and the ghost-flower glimmered spectrally among the dead leaves of last year. But the plain generally was hot and sunny in summer, and very dreary in winter; for the larger trees which grew upon it were oaks, and when they were bare of foliage, and the sand-hills and the pools had a deep covering of snow, the wind swept icily cold over its wide space. In September the oaks were still in leaf, and the grass green, and, though they were but stunted in size and coarse in texture, both were pleasant to look at. The sunshine was no longer hot, but it was serenely bright, and there was as lovely a blue overhead as if the equinox were months away.
A light waggon came winding in and out with the turnings of the road—now crossing a wooden bridge, now passing through the shadows of a dozen or more oaks which grew close together. Sometimes, when the ground was clear, the waggon went straight through one of these groups. Sometimes it turned aside, to avoid the thick brushwood underneath. The "waggon," which was neither more nor less than a large tray placed upon four wheels, and having a seat for two people, was occupied by two young men, Harry Scott and George Anderson. They were coming down from their homes, two farms which lay close together some little distance up the lake, and were going first to the sawmill and then to the town. But they were in no particular hurry, and the afternoon was pleasant, so they let their horse take his own time, and came jogging over the sand at a most leisurely pace.
They had passed that very piece of land which had given Dr. Morton so much trouble lately; it was natural enough, therefore, that their chat should turn to speculations as to his success in ejecting Clarkson from his house, and the Indians from their fisheries.
"More trouble than it's worth," said George Anderson; "there is not a tree on the land that will pay for cutting down."
"Very likely not; but the land may not be bad; and it is a capital situation. I only wish it were mine," answered Harry, who had his own reasons for wishing to be a little more independent in circumstances.
"Tell you what," said George, making a knot on the end of his whip-lash, "my belief is, that it is quite as much for pleasure as profit that the Doctor is so busy about his land."
"Yes. Do not you see any pleasure in it? By Jove, I asked him something about Clarkson the other day; and if you'd seen his face, you'd believe he enjoyed the fight."
"Well, that's not unlikely. He's a great brute, that Clarkson. I should not mind pitching into him myself."
"I should, though," said George laughing; "the chances of his pitching into me in return would be too strong."
Harry shrugged his shoulders. "He has a queer character certainly; but of the two, I think I should be more afraid of disturbing the Indians, especially if I had to ride about the country at all hours. It would not be very difficult to waylay the Doctor; and I dare say some of them are savage enough to do it, if they had a serious grudge against him."
"I don't believe they have pluck enough to do anything of the kind. Look what miserable fellows those are that Dawson has at the mill now. They look as if all the spirit had been starved out of them."
So they went on talking until they caught glimpses of the mill before them, whenever their way lay over the open ground; and then George Anderson touched the horse with his whip, and they began to get over the remaining distance more quickly. They were trotting briskly round the side of a low thicket of brambles, when suddenly a horse, which was grazing on the further side, raised its head and looked at them. There was nothing remarkable in that, certainly, for horses were not unfrequently turned out there; but what was remarkable, was that this one had a bridle on. George involuntarily tightened his reins; and the next moment the animal, which seemed to have been disturbed by their coming, trotted slowly across the road in front of them. It was bridled and saddled, and the saddle was a little on one side, as if it had been dragged round. Harry sprang from the waggon. He followed the horse, and in a minute or two caught and led it back to where George, who had also dismounted, was now tying his to a tree.
They both recognized the runaway. Harry said one word as he led it up, "Doctor Morton!" and with a horror-struck face pointed to a dark wet stain partly on the saddle, partly on the horse's neck.
George darted round the thicket, and in a moment a cry called Harry to the same place. A bridle path, more direct than the road, ran close beside the thorn bushes, and there, half hidden in branches and leaves, lay something—something that had once been human and living. Dark pools of blood lay about it, and there were horrible gashes and wounds as if the murderer had been unable to satisfy his rage, and had taken a frantic pleasure in mutilating his victim.
The two young men stood and looked at each other and at the ghastly heap before them. Silently with white faces they questioned each other what to do? To touch what lay there seemed almost impossible, and any thought of succour was hopeless; but something must be done. They both drew away from the spot before they spoke. Then Harry said in a low voice, "There are plenty of men at the mill; you might fetch some of them."
George went towards the waggon without a word; but just as he was going to get in he turned round,
"No, Harry, you must go. Somebody must take the news on to Cacouna, and that can't be me."
Harry was in the waggon instantly, and away. His first errand was quickly done. In a very few minutes George could see, from the place where he kept watch, that the men began to hurry out of the mill, and come towards him in a confused throng. Some, however, stayed to bring a kind of dray with them, and then, when these also had started, he could see Harry Scott moving slowly off in the waggon towards the town.
The dray came lumbering over the sand, and the men gathered round the dreadful heap under the brambles which must be lifted up and laid upon it, yet which no one seemed ready to be the first to touch. But, at last, it was done; the distorted limbs were smoothed and the wounds partially covered; and some semblance of humanity came back to the dead form as it was carried slowly away towards home. When this had been done, there was time for another thought—the murderer?
Perhaps every one present had already in his heart convicted one person, but even in the excitement of horror some one had sense enough to say, "There ought to be a search made—there may be some trace."
Nor was it difficult to find a trace. At a very little distance from the spot itself there appeared marks upon the grass as if footsteps, heavy, and wet with dark-coloured moisture, had trodden there. They followed the tracks, and came to a place where many low bushes growing close together formed a kind of thicket. Almost buried in this, the figure of a man lying upon the ground filled them for a moment with a new consternation—but this was no lifeless body. They dragged it out—a squalid, miserable object, with bleared eyes and red disfigured face, a drunken, half-imbecile Indian.
He was so overcome, indeed, with the heavy sleep of intoxication that even when they made him stand up, he seemed neither to see anything nor to hear the questions of the men who knew him and called him by his name. But there were answers to their questions in another shape than that of words. The hatchet that lay beside him and the stains of blood still wet upon his ragged clothing were conclusive evidence.
They led him away, after the little procession which had gone on with the dray and its load, but he neither resisted, nor indeed spoke at all. He seemed not to understand what was going on; and the men about him were for the moment too full of horror, and of that awe which belongs to the sight of death, to be much disposed to question him.
So they took murderer and victim both to the sawmill, and there waited, dreading to carry their ghastly load into the town till such warning as was possible had been given.
Meantime Harry Scott, with his mind full of his mission, drove towards Cacouna. He saw nothing of the people he passed, or who passed him; he saw only the sight he had just left, except when there rushed into his recollection for a moment the wedding-day scarcely six weeks ago, and the certainty of happiness which then seemed to wait both bride and bridegroom. And now? "Poor Bella!" broke from his lips, and he shuddered as he fancied, not Bella, but his cousin Magdalen crushed down in her youth by such a blow as this. But the momentary, fanciful connection of the two girls, did but make him the more tender of the young widow. "Widow!" he said the word half aloud, it seemed so unnatural, so incredible. But while he thought, he was drawing very near his destination; for he had at once decided that the proper thing to do was to find Mr. Bellairs, and leave him to carry the news as he might think best to his sister-in-law. At the door of the lawyer's office, therefore, the reluctant messenger stopped, and went in with his face still full of the strange excitement and trouble of his mission.
A few words can tell the happiest or the saddest news life ever brings us; all that Harry knew could be told in two sentences, and, half announced as they were by his looks, Mr. Bellairs instantly understood the message, and why it was brought to him. He took his hat, and before Harry was quite sure whether he had made him understand what had really happened, he was halfway to his own house.
An hour later, the dray, now more carefully arranged and covered, brought its load to the door of the house which had been so lately prepared for the bride's coming home. For convenience' sake they carried the body into a lower room, and laid it there until its burial, while Bella sat in her chamber above, silent and tearless, not understanding yet what had befallen her, but through her stunned and dreary stupor listening from habit for the footsteps which should have returned at that hour—the footsteps which death had already silenced for ever.
It is easy to imagine how, in so small a community as Cacouna, the news of a frightful crime committed in their very midst, would spread from mouth to mouth. How groups of listeners would gather in the streets, round every man who had anything of the story to tell. How the country people who had been in town when the murdered man was brought home, hurried along the solitary roads with a kind of terror upon them, and carried the news out to the villages and farms around. As to the murderer, there was a strange confusion in the minds of many of the townspeople. Doctor Morton's feud with Clarkson had been so well known that, if there had been any signs of premeditation or design about the crime, suspicion would have turned naturally upon him. But there was no such appearance, nor the smallest reason to suppose that Clarkson had been within half a mile of the spot that day. On the contrary, no reasonable doubt could exist that the real murderer was the Indian who had been found among the bushes. The men who knew him spoke of him as passionate, brutal, more than half-savage—there was perfect fitness between his appearance and character, and the barbarous manner of his crime. And yet while everybody spoke of him as undoubtedly guilty, almost everybody had a thought of Clarkson haunting his mind, and an uneasy desire to find out the truth, entirely incompatible with the clearness of the circumstantial evidence.
It was already nearly nine o'clock when Margery going from the Cottage to Mr. Leigh's, on some errand to his housekeeper, brought back with her the story which a passing acquaintance had carried so far. She came into the parlour full of the not unpleasant sensation of having a piece of strange and horrible news to tell.
Mrs. Costello had left the room for a moment and Lucia was alone, sitting rather drearily looking into the fire, with her work fallen into her lap, when Margery came in.
"Miss Lucia, there's an awful thing happened."
"What, Margery?" Lucia half smiled, for Margery loved marvels, and made much of them.
"Doctor Morton is dead."
"Impossible! Hush, don't say it."
"It is true, miss. This afternoon."
"But how? It is incredible."
"He was found, Miss Lucia, lying dead by the roadside a piece beyond Dawson's mill. And they found the man that did it."
"You don't mean to say that he had been—" she stopped, shuddering.
"Murdered. Yes," and Margery went into all the details she had heard from her gossip.
Mrs. Costello, attracted by the tone of their voices, had come to the door between the parlour and her bedroom, and stood there listening. Both she and Lucia, who, like every one else except perhaps his wife, had heard of the doctor's proceedings against Clarkson, thought only of him as the murderer until Margery finished her recital with—
"It all comes of having them savages of Indians about. I never could abide the sight of them."
Lucia caught a glimpse of her mother's face. She felt her own muscles stiffen with fear. With desperate strength she steadied her voice.
"What do you mean about Indians?" she said.
"It is an Indian as done it," Margery answered half indignant. "There's no white man, let him be ever such a brute, would have chopped the body up like that."
"You said they had taken the murderer?"
"They took him, and he's in gaol. Dawson's men knew him. He has been working for Dawson lately. They say he comes from Moose Island. Mr. Strafford would know him most like."
There was nothing further to be asked, and Margery went out of the room, seeing no more than the natural horror on those two white faces of mother and daughter, which dreaded to meet and read the thought, in each other's eyes.
It was for this, then, that they had delayed their journey. Neither doubted for a moment the guilt of the wretched creature who was the haunting terror and misery of their lives; and it was not strange that, overwhelmed with the stronger and more personal interest, they should forget to wonder or lament over the dead, cut down in the very beginning of life, or to think of the desolate and widowed bride meeting her first grief in the unnatural guise of murder.
Mrs. Costello came back to her chair by the fireside. She could no longer take her fears and anxieties into the solitude of her own room, and hide them there. There was both pain and comfort in knowing that Lucia now shared with her every additional weight—even this last, which she scarcely yet comprehended. But it was some time before either spoke. Each was trying to gauge the new depth which seemed to have opened under their feet—the wife and daughter of a murderer! The old ignominy, the old degradation, had been all but intolerable. How then should they bear this? And their secret, must it not be known now? become the common gossip of the country, of the people who had called them friends? Each felt instinctively that their thoughts were running on in the same channels, each shrank from words. Yet, it was needful to consult, to ask each other the question, "What shall we do?"
At last Mrs. Costello roused herself.
"We must put off our journey," she said, with a smothered sigh, which, indeed, had nearly been a groan.
Lucia looked up.
"It may not be true," she answered, knowing that there was no need to say what "it" was—the idea which had seized upon both their minds with so deadly a grasp.
"It may not, God grant it! But we must know; and if it is, I ought to be here."
"Mother, you cannot. It will kill you."
Mrs. Costello smiled, the wan smile of long-taxed patience.
"No," she said, "I think not. Life is hard for both of us, hardest perhaps for you, darling, just now, but I have no thought that it is over yet for either of us."
Lucia came and knelt down in her old place by her mother's side. It always seemed as if thus close together, able to speak to each other as much by caresses as by words, they were both stronger, and could look more calmly at the calamities which threatened them with every evil except that of separation.
"You will write to Mr. Strafford?" Lucia asked.
"Yes; but first we must know certainly."
"And how to do that?"
"There will be no difficulty to-morrow. Mr. Leigh is sure to hear the particulars. I will go and ask him about them."
"You do not mean to tell him?"
"No; it will be easy enough without that, to ask about a subject which every one will be talking of."
"Mamma, I can go to Mr. Leigh as well as you. I can go better, for I shall not suffer as you will, and I can bring you home a faithful account of what I hear."
"Darling, all this is new to you. I have had to serve a long apprenticeship to learn self-restraint."
Lucia laughed bitterly. "See the advantage of my Indian blood," she said. "Trust me, mother, I will be as steady as those ancestors of mine who bore torture without flinching."
Mrs. Costello bent down and kissed her child's forehead.
"Yours is a better heroism, Lucia; for mental pain is harder to bear than physical, and you would suffer to save me."
"We suffer together, mamma. I must take my share. To-morrow I shall go, as usual, to Mr. Leigh's, and bring back all I can learn. But he will wonder to see me, and still more if he hears that we are not going away."
"You must simply tell him our journey is put off. He will ask no questions, and only think I am very dilatory and changeable. No one else is likely to think of us at all for a day or two to come."
They were silent again for a little while. Lucia's thoughts, relieved from the first heavy pressure on them by the very fact of having spoken, began to turn from the criminal to the victim; from their own share in the horror to that of others. One thing seemed to stand out clear and plain from the confusion which still enveloped all else. She, the daughter of the murderer, could never again meet the wife of the murdered man as a friend. If the punishment of the father descended to the children, did not their guilt descend too? Already she seemed to feel the stain of blood upon her hand, and to shrink from herself, as all innocent persons ought to do, henceforward. And Bella, her old companion and friend, must shrink from her most of all; the very spirit of the dead would surely rise up to forbid all intercourse between them.
Lucia had not boasted of her self-command without reason. A mind naturally strong, and supported both by pride and affection, had enabled her to meet with courage the bitterness and misery of the past weeks. But she was only a girl still, and had not learned to rule her thoughts as well as her looks and words. So if they grew morbid, and her dreary imagination sometimes tortured her uselessly and cruelly, it was no great wonder. She could suffer and be silent; but she had not yet learnt so to rule her spirit as to save herself needless suffering.
Thus the very intensity of her sympathy for Bella only reacted in loathing and horror of herself; and she had begun to try to devise means for carrying out that avoidance of all most nearly connected with the dead, which seemed to her an imperative duty, when she was startled by her mother's voice.
"If it is he," she said—and it seemed that they both shrank from any plainer expression of their thoughts than these vague phrases—"if it is he our hardest task is before us. How will you bear, Lucia, to meet them all again?"
"Mother, I cannot! Surely you do not think of it. How can we"—she shuddered as she spoke—"how can we go again among any innocent people?"
"My child, we must. More than that, we must keep our secret, if we can, still."
"But Bella? Mother, how can I look at her—a widow—and know who I am, and who has done it?"
"Listen to me, Lucia. My poor child, your burden has been heavy lately; do not make it heavier than it need be. The crime and the horror are bad enough, but we have no share in them. No; think of it reasonably. The wife and child of a criminal, even where there has been daily association between them, are not condemned, but rather pitied. No mind, but one cruelly prejudiced, would brand them with his guilt. Do not punish yourself, then, where others would acquit you. But, indeed, I need not tell you how our very separation is a safeguard to us—to you especially. Think of these things; and do not suffer yourself to imagine that there is a bar between you and Bella just now, when I know you love her more than ever."
Lucia's head lay upon her mother's knee. Mrs. Costello's touch on the soft hair, her tone of gentle reproof, and the thoughts her words called up, brought tears, fast and thick, to her child's eyes. Lucia had shed few tears in her life. Until lately she had known no cause for them; and lately they had not come. With dry eyes and throbbing temples she had gone through the most sorrowful hours; but now the spell seemed broken, and a sense of calm and relief came with the change. Mrs. Costello went on,—
"There is another reason why we must appear as we have always done. Suspicion is not proof. Margery's story, and more, may be true, and yet it may be that, three months hence, all, as regards ourselves, will be just as it has been. We must not, through a blind fear of one calamity, put ourselves in the way of another. Neither of us can look much at the future to-night; but we must not forget that there is a future. So it is still the old task which is before us, to keep our secret."
The voice had been very steady until the last word; but as that was spoken, it faltered and failed so suddenly that Lucia looked up. She sprang to her feet, but just in time. The over-tried strength had given way, and Mrs. Costello had fallen back in a deep fainting fit.
Lucia dared not call Margery to her assistance. The consciousness of having something to conceal made her dread the smallest self-betrayal. She hastened, therefore, to do alone all that she could do for her mother's recovery; but it was so long before she succeeded that she grew almost wild with terror. At last, however, the deathly look passed away, and with the very first moment of returning animation, the habit of self-control returned also. Mrs. Costello smiled at her daughter's anxious face.
"I am afraid," she said, "that you will have to get used to these attacks. Do not be frightened; you see they pass off again."
"But you never used to have them?"
"No; but youth and strength cannot last for ever."
"Mamma! you are not old; you are not much more than forty yet."
"Forty-two in years; but there are some years that might count for ten."
"It is this horrible pressure upon you; you are being tortured to death!"
"Hush, my child. What I suffer is but the just and natural consequence of what I did. Be patient, both for me and for yourself. By-and-by we shall see that all is right."
Hard doctrine! and only to be learnt by long endurance. Lucia rebelled against it, but she could not argue with her mother's pale face and faintly spoken words to oppose her. She busied herself softly in such little offices as her anxiety suggested, and they spoke no more that night of the subjects nearest to their hearts.
But when Mrs. Costello was alone, she began to think of Maurice. She felt, even before she began to think, that something which had been a stay and prop to her hitherto had suddenly been snatched away, and she had now to realize that this support was her confidence in him. For a long time she had grown accustomed to rest upon the idea that a safe and honourable future was secured for her child, and this had made present trials and difficulties endurable. She had seen Percy's courtship with bitter disappointment, although she had miscalculated its issue, and through all her sympathy with Lucia, she had secretly rejoiced at his dismissal; she had felt no scruples in hearing from Maurice, at the very moment when his prospects had suddenly changed and brightened, the assurance of his attachment, and she had received his note that very day with a joy which almost resembled that which a girl feels who hears from his own lips that her absent lover is faithful to her. To this mother, cut off from every tie but that of motherhood, her child was the one only absorbing interest; she had loved Maurice, but she knew now that she had loved him chiefly as the representative of Lucia's future safety and happiness. It had never occurred to her that her own strange marriage, that the race or the character of her husband, which had been recognized by both mother and daughter as insuperable obstacles in Percy's case, would estrange the nobler and truer nature. The whole miserable story would have to be told, she had thought, when the time came, but she had neither feared its effect on Maurice nor felt any compunction at the idea of his carrying into an honourable family a wife whose parentage was her terror and disgrace.
But now that the disgrace had grown immeasurably darker, now that her story might have to be told, not privately and with extenuation, but in coarse hard words, and to the whole of the little world that knew her; now that every one who would, might be able to point at her as the daughter of a murderer,—how would it be?
With the feeling that at length she was indeed left alone and helpless, Mrs. Costello put from her the last fragment of her dream. There was still, it is true, the want of positive knowledge that Christian was the criminal, but in her own heart she had already accepted the evidence against him, and it seemed to her that all which remained to be done with regard to Maurice was to write and tell him, not all the truth—there was no need for that, and he might hear it soon enough from other sources—but that the hopes they had both indulged in had deceived them, and must be laid aside and forgotten.
And when her long meditation came to an end, she said softly to herself,
"Thank God, she does not know. And I have been ready to complain of the very unconsciousness which has saved her this!"
Mr. Leigh was surprised, as Lucia had expected, when she went next day, just as usual, to pay him her morning visit. He was easily satisfied, however, with the slight reasons she gave him for their delay, and glad of anything that kept them still at the Cottage.
There was no need for her to ask any questions about the event of yesterday. All that was known by every one had been told to Mr. Leigh already by an early visitor, and he, full of horror and sympathy, was able to tell the terrible story over again to a listener, whose deep and agonizing interest in it he never suspected.
But to stay, after the certainty she sought for was obtained; to talk indifferently of other matters; to regulate face and voice so as to show enough, but not too much, of the tumult at her heart, was a task before which Lucia's courage almost gave way. Yet it was done. No impatience betrayed her, no sign of emotion beyond that of natural feeling for others was allowed to escape her; only her hands, which lay quietly clasped together in her lap, gradually tightened and contracted till the pressure of her slight fingers was like that of iron.
At last she was released; and exhausted as if with hard physical exertion, she came back to the Cottage with her news.
There was no need to tell it. The hopeless look which, when she dared be natural, settled in her eyes, told plainly enough that there was no mistake of identity. Only one hope remained, and that so feeble that neither dared to acknowledge it in her heart, though she might speak of it as existing—the hope that after all the prisoner might be innocent.
Mrs. Costello wrote that day to her faithful friend and counsellor, Mr. Strafford.
"I am in a terrible strait," she said, "and it is to you only in this world that I can look for aid. My whole life, as you know, has been given to my daughter—for her I have thought and planned, and in her I have had my daily consolation. But now I begin to remember that I am not a mother only, but also a wife. Have I a right to forget it? Can anything excuse a wife who does so? Tell me what I ought to do; for if ever I am to think of my husband it must be now.
"Yet it seems to me that, for Lucia's sake, I must still, if possible, keep my secret. I long to send her away from me, at this moment, but she has no friends at a distance from Cacouna, and besides, our separation would certainly excite notice. I might, indeed, send her to England; my cousin, I believe, would receive her for a while; but there, you know, I cannot follow her, and a long parting is more than I have courage to think of. So I come back to the same point from which I started. I am almost bewildered by this new wretchedness that has fallen upon us; and I wait for your sympathy and counsel with most impatient eagerness."
She had not, however, to wait long. The country post, always irregular, for once favoured her anxiety, and only two days afterwards came a hurried note, bringing the best possible answer. Mr. Strafford wrote,
"The fact of one of my people being in such trouble would bring me to Cacouna if I had no other reason for coming. I shall be with you, therefore, the day after you receive this. No one, I should think, need, for the present at least, know of any connection whatever between your family affairs and my visit. My errand is to try what can be done for the unhappy prisoner, and, as an old friend, I shall ask your hospitality during my stay. Then I will give you what advice and help I can; of my truest and warmest sympathy I know I need give you no assurance."
To both mother and daughter this note brought comfort, though Lucia had no knowledge whatever of the many thoughts regarding her father which had begun to occupy her mother's mind. To her, strange and unnatural as it may seem, he was simply an object of fear and abhorrence. She hated him as the cause of her mother's sufferings, of their false and insecure position, and of the self-loathing which possessed her when she thought of their relationship. The idea of any wifely duty owing to him could never have struck her, for what visions of married life she had, belonged to a world totally unlike that of her parents' experience, and she regarded what she knew of that as something beyond all reach of ordinary rules or feelings.
Yet much as she would have wondered had she known it, her mother's thoughts were coming to be hour by hour more occupied with that long unseen and dreaded husband, who had indeed been her tyrant, but who was still bound to her by ties of her own weaving, and who was the father of her child. A strange mixture of feelings had taken the place of her old fear and disgust; there was still horror, especially of the new guilt which separated him more than ever from her purer world, but there was a deep and yearning pity also. She felt sure, before Mr. Strafford arrived, that he would tell her she was right; that Christian—even by the very act which had put him out of the ranks of ordinary men, out of the place, low and degraded as it was, which he had filled among his own people—had recovered a claim upon her, and that she must not fail to give him in his need what succour might be possible. She was right, and Lucia heard with dismay that their secret was about to be betrayed to the very person from whom most of all it had hitherto been kept.
Nothing, however, was to be done rashly. Mr. Strafford arrived late in the evening, and next day he proposed to go to the jail to see Christian, which he knew there would be no difficulty in doing, and to bring back to Mrs. Costello such an account as would enable her to judge how far her interference might or might not be useful. There was still a chance that it might be useless, and to that hope Lucia clung with a pertinacity which added to her mother's anxieties.
In the three days which had now passed since the murder, the minds even of those most nearly concerned had had time to rally a little from the first shock, and to begin to be conscious of the world around them going on just as usual in spite of all. Doctor Morton had been to a singular degree without relatives. An old and infirm uncle, living a long distance from Cacouna, was almost the only person connected with him by blood; it was to her own family alone, therefore, that Bella had to look for the deepest sympathy. But the whole neighbourhood had known her from a child; and in her great grief every one seemed ready to claim a share. All the kindness and goodness of heart which in ordinary times was hidden away under the crust of each different character, flowed out towards the young widow, and as she sat in her desolate house, sorrow seemed to invest her with its royalty, and to transform her old friends into loyal subjects, eager to do her but the smallest service.
And in the midst of this universal impulse of sympathy, and of the reverence which great suffering inspires, it was impossible for the Costellos to remain apart. Their own share in the misery did not prevent them from feeling for the others who knew nothing of their partnership; and Lucia forgot to accuse herself of hypocrisy when she was admitted into the darkened room, where her once gay companion sat and watched with heavy eyes the passing of those first days of widowhood. No one would have recognized Bella Latour now. She sat, wan and half-lifeless, caring for nothing except now and then to draw round her more closely a great shawl in which she was wrapped, as if the only sensation of which she was still capable were that of cold. Hour after hour she neither spoke nor moved, until her sister, alarmed, and anxious by any means to arouse her from her stupor, implored Lucia to see her, to try to make her speak or shed the tears which, since she had seen the body of her husband, seemed to be frozen up.
Mrs. Bellairs had not been mistaken in hoping for some good result from Lucia's visit. At the sight of her a flood of colour rushed to Bella's deathlike face, and she half rose to meet her; but when she felt the long tender kiss which had a whole world of tender pity in its silent language, she turned suddenly away, and throwing herself upon a couch, sobbed with the passionate vehemence of a child. From that moment she was eager to keep Lucia with her. She did not care to speak, but the sight of one so associated with her lost happiness seemed a consolation to her; and thus, with her own heavy weight of uncertainty and distress, the poor girl had to take up and bear patiently such share as she could of her friend's. After the first, too, there came back such a horrible sensation of being a kind of accessory to the crime which had been committed, that the mere sight of Bella's face was torture to her.
In this way the day of Mr. Strafford's arrival and the next one, that of his first visit to the jail, passed with Lucia. It was not until quite evening that she could leave the closed-up house and its mistress; and never had a road seemed so long to her as that from Cacouna to the Cottage. Her mind, roused into feverish activity, recurred to the night when she had met Percy on that very road; she saw again, in imagination, the figure of the Indian—of her father, as she now believed—rising up from the green bank. She saw Percy, and heard his words, and then remembered with bitter shame and anger that the brutal creature from whom he had saved her, had nevertheless had power to separate them for ever. And to this creature her mother thought herself still bound! She grew wild with impatience to know the result of Mr. Strafford's mission.
Lucia came with flushed cheeks and beating heart into the presence of her mother and Mr. Strafford. She longed to have her question answered at once, yet dreaded to ask it. They were waiting tea for her; and the bright cheerful room, with its peaceful home-look, the table and familiar tea-service, the perfectly settled and calm aspect of everything about, struck upon her disturbed fancy with a jarring sense of unfitness. But in a very little while the calm began to have a more reasonable effect; and by the time tea was over, she was ready to hear what had been done, without such an exaggerated idea of its importance, as she had been entertaining during her long hours of suspense.
Yet still she did not ask; and after a little while, Mrs. Costello said,
"Mr. Strafford has been all the afternoon in Cacouna. I have scarcely had time yet to hear all he had to tell me."
Lucia glanced at her mother and then at their friend; she was glad the subject had been commenced without her, and only expressed by her eyes the anxiety she felt regarding it.
Mr. Strafford looked troubled. He felt, with a delicacy of perception which was almost womanly, the many sided perplexities increasing the already heavy trial of Mrs. Costello's life. He grieved for the child whom he had known from her birth now plunged so young into a sea of troubles, and as he saw how bravely and steadily she met them, his desire to help and spare her grew painfully strong. If he could have said to them both, "Go, leave the miserable wretch to his fate, and find a home where you will never need to fear him again," he would have done it with most genuine relief and satisfaction; but he could not do so—at least, not yet; and duty was far from easy at that moment.
"Yes," he said as cheerfully as he could, in answer to Lucia's glance. "I have been in Cacouna for some hours to-day and I shall be there again to-morrow. I own, Lucia, I have not unlimited faith in circumstantial evidence."
Lucia started, and her heart seemed to give a great leap—could he mean that the prisoner was innocent? A week ago she would have said that the burden of disgrace lay upon them too heavily to be much increased by anything that could happen, and now she knew by the wild throb of hope how its weight had been doubled and trebled since the shadow of murder had been hanging over them. But the hope died out at once, for there was nothing in her mind to feed it, and she had sunk back into her enforced quiet before she answered,
"Will you tell me what the evidence is, if you have heard at all exactly, and what you have seen to-day?"
There was nothing of girlish excitement or agitation in her words or tone. Mr. Strafford wondered a little, but at once did as she asked.
"The evidence appears to be very simple and straightforward. From the way in which the crime was committed and the body found, there is no reason to suppose that it had been planned beforehand. The mode in which death was inflicted showed, on the other hand, that it was not the result of a hasty or chance blow—but really a murder, though unpremeditated. Quite near to the place where the body lay, a man was found hidden among the bushes. His hands and clothes were marked with blood; he had by him a hatchet which had all the appearance of having been used to inflict the wounds on the murdered man, and a heavy stick which might well have given the first blow. His being but clumsily hidden is accounted for easily, for he was evidently intoxicated; and lastly, he is known to have been connected with a party of smugglers who used to land their goods on Beaver Creek, and who had reason to dislike Doctor Morton."
A deeper breath, a slight relaxing of the closed lips, were the only signs from either mother or daughter how this brief and clear account, riveting as it did upon their minds the certainty of guilt, had been endured as people endure the necessary torture of the surgeon's knife. Neither spoke, but waited for what was to follow.
Mr. Strafford's tone changed. "I have told you what you will have to hear from others," he said; "and, without doubt a stronger case would be difficult to find. Unless something new should come to light, I do not think many people will even feel the least uncertainty on the subject. But I do."
He paused, and then went on; not, however, without keeping an anxious watch on the faces opposite to him, lest his touch, however gentle, should press too hardly upon their quivering nerves.
"In the first place it appears that there is a man on whom, if this prisoner could be cleared, suspicion would naturally fall. This man, Clarkson, I dare say you know by repute far better than I do, who never heard of him till to-day; but he appears to have so bad a character that no one would be shocked or surprised to hear that he was the murderer. He had also a much stronger ill-will against Doctor Morton than any one else, either Indian or white man, can be shown to have had. But yet there is such an entire absence of any proof whatever that he did commit the crime, that unless I wanted you to understand all my reasons for uncertainty, I would not speak of him even here in connection with it.
"My next reason seems almost as shadowy as this; but it has considerable weight with me, nevertheless. It is, that I believe the man who is in prison for the murder has neither strength of body nor of nerve to have committed it."
He stopped as Mrs. Costello uttered a broken exclamation of surprise.
"You would not know him," Mr. Strafford said gently, answering her look. "He has changed so much since I saw him not many weeks ago, that even I scarcely did so. They tell me that he has had an attack of fever while he was in the bush, and that he was but half recovered from it when he came back with the rest of the gang, a week ago."
"And since then," Mrs. Costello asked, "where has he been?"
"Not where he was likely to regain much strength. He and the other Indians have been living in one of the shanties close to the mill. It is extremely swampy and unhealthy there, and besides that, he seems to have been almost without food, living upon whisky."
Lucia shuddered still; but the wretched picture softened her, nevertheless. A feeling of compassion for the first time stole into her heart for the miserable creature who was her father.
"But that day," she said; "do you know anything of that day?"
"He seems to have been doing nothing—indeed I believe he had been incapable of doing anything—for two or three days. That morning his companions went out and left him lying on his bed asleep; they did not see him again till after he was in custody."
"Did you question him? What does he say?"
"He says nothing. He remembers nothing. He seems to me to have been suffering that day from a return of his fever, and besides that, he had had some whisky—very little would overcome a man in his condition—so that if he crawled out into the sunshine, and finally lay down among the bushes to sleep, it is perfectly credible that the murder might have been committed close to him without his knowing anything about it."
"But the hatchet? Was it not his?"
"Yes. But he denies—whatever his denial may be worth—that the heavy stick which was found by him, ever was his; and though it is a hard thing to say, it can be imagined that the very things which fasten suspicion on him may have been arranged for that purpose by another person."
"He does say something on the subject then, since he denies the stick being his? Did he talk to you willingly on the subject?" asked Mrs. Costello.
Mr. Strafford answered her question by another.
"Have you courage and strength to see him?"
"Yes; if you think it well for me to do so."
Lucia caught her mother's hand.
"You have not, mamma, you must not go! Mr. Strafford, she cannot bear the exertion."
"You do not know what I can bear, my child. Certainly this, if it is needful or advisable."
"You will find it less trying in some ways than you perhaps expect," Mr. Strafford went on, "and in others more so. There is nothing in the man you will see to remind you of the past, and yet my great reason for thinking it well for you to see him is a hope that you may be able to recall the past to him, so as to bring him back to something like clearness of comprehension. It seems as if nothing less would do so."
"What do you mean? Does not he know you?"
"I can scarcely tell. I do not know why I should not tell you plainly the truth, which you will have to hear before you see him. His mind is either completely gone, or terror and imprisonment have deadened it for the time. The other men who have been working with him say that he was sane enough when he was sober up to the time of the murder. Certainly he is not sane now. But that may well be a temporary thing caused by his illness and the confinement."
Mrs. Costello had covered her face with her hands.
"And you think," she said, looking up, "that the sight of me might bring back his recollection. But is there anything to be gained by doing so if we succeed? Is not his insanity the best thing that could happen?"
"I think not in this case. People seem to have made up their minds that he was sane enough, on that day, to be accountable for what he did; and if we could only recall him to himself, he might be able to give us some clue to the truth."
"I will go then," she answered; and Lucia saw that it would be only inflicting useless pain, to make any further objections. But she was not satisfied.
Mr. Strafford saw her concerned and uneasy look, and said,
"It is an experiment worth trying, Lucia. If it does not succeed, I promise that I will not recommend it to be repeated."
"But, Mr. Strafford, all Cacouna will know of my mother's going to the jail—she who never goes anywhere."
"That has been the great difficulty in the way, certainly, but I think we can manage it. The jailer, Elton, is a good man, and truly concerned about the condition of his prisoner. He talked to me to-day about him so compassionately, that I asked whether it would be possible for any one residing in the town to be allowed to visit him. He said any one I chose to bring with me should see him, and therefore there need be no gossip or surprise at your mother going, first of all."
There was no more to be said; and each of the three was glad to let the conversation drop and try to turn their thoughts to other and less painfully absorbing subjects. But to mother and daughter all other subjects were but empty words; memory in the former, and imagination in the latter were busy perpetually with that one who, by the laws of God and man, ought to have been the third at their fireside—who had been for years a vagrant and an outcast, and was now the inmate of a murderer's cell. Innocent perhaps—and it was strange how that possibility seemed slowly but surely to grow in both their minds; shadowing over, and promising by-and-by to dim in their remembrance the hideous recollections of the past.
Mr. Strafford's words had thus already begun to bear fruit. As for himself, the doubt he had expressed was merely a doubt—a matter of speculation, not of feeling. Still, while it remained in his mind, it was a sufficient reason for using every possible means of discovering the truth, and scarcely needed the additional impulse given by his warm regard for Mrs. Costello and Lucia, to induce him to devote himself, as far as his other duties would allow, to the unfortunate Christian. He was anxious to bring the long separated husband and wife together, not merely for the reason he had spoken of, but because he thought that if their meetings promised comfort or benefit to the prisoner, it would be his wife's duty to continue them; while if they proved useless, she might be released from all obligation to remain at Cacouna.
The change which had taken place in the fortunes of Maurice Leigh was one that might have dazzled him a little, if he had not had a strong counteracting influence in the thought of all he had left in Canada. He found himself, without hesitation or difficulty, but with a suddenness which was like the transformations in a fairy tale, changed from a Backwoods farmer's son into an important member of an old and wealthy family. Only the other day he had been working hard and holding up to himself as the reward of his work, the hope of becoming a successful provincial lawyer; now he was the heir, and all but the actual possessor, of a splendid fortune and an estate which gave him a foremost place among English country gentlemen.
His arrival at Hunsdon, his grandfather's house, had been a moment of some embarrassment both to him and to Mr. Beresford. Each had some feeling of prejudice against the other, yet each felt that it was only by having a mutual liking and regard that they could get on comfortably together. Happily their very first meeting cleared up all doubts on the subject. Mr. Beresford instantly decided that a grandson who so strongly resembled his own family, and who even in the backwoods had managed to grow up with the air and manner of a gentleman, would be, in a year or two, quite qualified to become Squire of Hunsdon, and that in the meantime he would be a pleasant companion.
Maurice, on the other hand, forgot his grandfather's former harshness, and reproached himself for his unwillingness to come to England, when he saw how solitary the great house was, and how utterly the feeble and paralytic old man was left to the care and companionship of servants. He wondered at first that this should be so, for the rich generally have no want of friends; but the puzzle soon explained itself as he began to know his grandfather better. Mr. Beresford had been a powerful and very active man; he had been proud of his strength and retained it to old age. Then, suddenly, paralysis came, and he was all at once utterly helpless. His son was dead, his granddaughter married, and away from him; his pride shrank from showing his infirmity to other relatives. So he shut the world out altogether, and by-and-by the loneliness he thus brought upon himself, growing too oppressive, he began to long for his daughter's children.
The moment Maurice came, and he was satisfied that he should like him, he became perfectly content. His property was entirely in his own power, and one of his first proceedings was, rather ostentatiously, to make a will which was to relieve him of all future trouble about its disposal; his next to begin a regular course of instruction, intended to fit his grandson perfectly for the succession which was now settled upon him.
In this way, two or three weeks passed on, and Maurice grew accustomed to Hunsdon and to the sober routine of an invalid's life. It was not a bright existence, certainly. The large empty house looked dreary and deserted; and the library to which Mr. Beresford was carried every morning, and where he lay all day immovable on his sofa, had the quiet dulness of aspect which belongs to an invalid's room. There had been some few visitors since Maurice's arrival, and what neighbours there were within a reasonable distance seemed disposed to be as friendly as possible; but still the monotony of this new life left him enough, and more than enough, leisure for speculations on the past and future, which had a large mixture of disturbing and uneasy thoughts to qualify their brightness. He waited, too, with considerable curiosity for the return of his cousin, who, with her husband, was away from home when he arrived. She had married a neighbouring baronet, and when at home was a frequent visitor at Hunsdon; and this was all that Maurice could learn about her.
But one morning, as he sat with Mr. Beresford, and the usual daily conversation, or rather lecture, about some affairs connected with the management of the estate was in full progress, a pony-carriage swept past the windows and stopped at the door.
"It is Louisa," said Mr. Beresford, and the next minute the door of the room opened, and a little woman came in. She was so very little, that if she had chosen, she might have passed for a child; but she had no such idea. On the contrary, she had a way of enveloping herself in sweeping draperies and flowing robes that gave her a look of being much taller and infinitely more dignified than Nature had intended. She came in, in a kind of cloud, through which Maurice only distinguished an exceedingly pretty bright face, and a quantity of fair hair, together with a sort of soft feminine atmosphere which seemed all at once to brighten the dull room as she went straight up to her grandfather's sofa, and bent down to give him a kiss.
"So you are come back?" Mr. Beresford said. "But you see, I have somebody else now. Here is your cousin Maurice."
Lady Dighton turned round and held out her hand. "I am very glad to see my cousin," she said. "It was quite time you had somebody to take care of you."
She had a gay, careless manner, but her smiling eyes took a tolerably sharp survey of the stranger nevertheless, and she was not ill satisfied with the result. "He is very good-looking," she said to herself, "and looks nice. Of course he must be very countrified, but we will help him to rub that off." So she took him under her patronage immediately. She said no more to him, however, at present, but occupied herself with her grandfather, asking a great many questions, and telling him of the places and people she and her husband had seen during their two months' tour. Mr. Beresford was interested and amused; the little lady possessed one decided advantage over Maurice, for she and her grandfather belonged entirely to the same world, though to two different generations, and could enter into the same subjects and understand the same allusions. While they talked, Maurice had an opportunity of looking more deliberately at his cousin. He liked her small graceful figure, her tiny hands, and bright sunshiny face, with its frame of almost golden hair arranged in full soft puffs; he liked the air of daintiness and refinement about her dress, and the musical sound of her voice as she talked. He admired her the more, perhaps, because she was quite unlike the type of woman which was, in his thoughts, beyond admiration. But it did occur to him how lovely Lucia would look, with the same advantages of wealth and station as Lady Dighton, and a delicious vision swept past him, of the old house brightening up permanently, under the reign of a beautiful mistress.
He had not many minutes, however, for fancies; the most important news on both sides having been exchanged, the other two were coming to subjects in which he could join, and went on smoothly and pleasantly enough till luncheon. After that meal Mr. Beresford always went to sleep; it was generally Maurice's holiday, when he could ride or walk out without fear of being missed, but to-day he only strolled out on the long portico in front of the house, while Lady Dighton went to have a chat with the housekeeper.
Presently, however, a gleam of bright colour appeared at the hall door, and Maurice went forward and met her coming out.
"Shall I get you a shawl?" he said; "it is not very warm here."
"No, thank you; I like the cool air. I want to come out and talk to you, for grandpapa takes up all my attention when I am with him."
They began walking slowly up and down under the stone colonnade, which had been added as a decoration to the front of the dark red brick house, and Lady Dighton went on talking.
"I was so glad when I heard you were here. Ever since poor papa's death I have felt quite uncomfortable about grandpapa. I came over to see him as often as I could, but, of course, I had to think of Sir John."
"And Dighton is a good way from here?" Maurice said. He had not been quite sure whether his cousin would not regard him as an interloper, coming between her and her inheritance; and he was still sufficiently in the dark, to feel the subject an awkward one.
"Only six miles, fortunately. I say fortunately, now, because I hope we are going to be very good friends, but till I saw you, I was not sure whether it was fortunate. It is so disagreeable to have near neighbours whom one does not like, especially if they are relations."
Her frankness was amusing, but not very easy to answer. However, the two or three words he found for the occasion did perfectly well.
"You are exactly like the Beresfords," she went on, "and that I know must please grandpapa. He never liked me because I am like my mother's family. I don't mean that he is not fond of me in one way; I only mean that my being like the St. Clairs instead of like the Beresfords is one reason why he would never have left Hunsdon to me when there was anybody else to leave it to."
Maurice felt a little relieved and enlightened. His cousin then had never expected to inherit Hunsdon; he took courage on that, to ask a question.
"But as he could not have thought until lately of making a child of my mother's his heir, who was supposed to stand next in succession to my uncle?"
Lady Dighton gave a little sigh to the memory of her father.
"Grandpapa always wished him to marry again," she said. "Mamma died six years ago; then I was married, and from that time I know perfectly well that grandpapa was continually looking out for a new daughter-in-law. He was disappointed, however; I do not think myself that papa would have married. At any rate he did not; and then, nearly two years ago, he died."
"And has my grandfather been alone ever since?"
"Yes. For some time he was too much grieved to trouble himself about the future—and then he was paralysed. Perhaps you have found out already that Hunsdon is a great deal more to him than so many acres of land and so much money? He loves it, and cares about it, more I believe than about any living creature."
"Yes; I can understand that the future of his estate is quite as important as the future of a son or daughter would be."
"Quite. He never could have borne the idea of its being joined to, or swallowed up by another. Therefore, I do not think, in any case, he would have left it to me. It was necessary he should have an heir, who would be really his successor, and I am very glad indeed that he found you."
Maurice did not quite understand the slight unconscious sadness of the tone in which Lady Dighton said, "in any case;" he did not even know that the one baby who had been for a little while heir of Dighton, and possible heir of Hunsdon, had died in her arms when the rejoicings for its birth were scarcely over. But he felt grateful to her for speaking to him so frankly, and his new position looked the more satisfactory now he knew that no shadow of wrong was done to any one by his occupying it.
Lady Dighton understood this perfectly well. She had a quick perception of the character and feelings of those she associated with; and had talked to Maurice intentionally of what she guessed he must wish to hear. She had a great deal more to say to him, still, about her grandfather and her husband, and the country; and wanted to ask questions innumerable about his former home in Canada, his mother, and everything she could think of, the discussion of which would make them better acquainted. For she had quite decided that, as she said, they were to be very good friends; and, to put all family interest and ties on one side, there was something not disagreeable in the idea of taking under her own peculiar tutelage a young and handsome man, who was quite new to the world, and about entering it with all the prestige which attends the heir of fifteen or twenty thousand a year.
They were still talking busily when Mr. Beresford's man came to say that his master was awake. They went in together and sat with him for the rest of the afternoon, until it was time for Lady Dighton to go. When she did, it was with a promise from Maurice, not to wait for a visit from Sir John, who was always busy, but to go over and dine at Dighton very soon; a promise Mr. Beresford confirmed, being in his heart very glad to see such friendly relations springing up between his two grandchildren. Maurice, on his side, was equally glad, for not only did his new friendship promise pleasure to himself, but he had a secret satisfaction in thinking how well his cousin and Lucia would get on together if—
But then the recollection that he had left Cacouna in possession of Mr. Percy came to interrupt the very commencement of a day dream.
Maurice paid his visit to Dighton—paid two or three visits, indeed—and his cousin came to Hunsdon still oftener, so that in the course of a few weeks, a considerable degree of intimacy grew up between them. Sir John was, as his wife said, always busy; he was hospitable and friendly to his new connection, but in all family or social matters he was content, and more than content, to drop into the shade, and let Lady Dighton act for both; so that Maurice, like the rest of the world (always excepting his constituents and tenants), very soon began to consider him merely as an appendage, useful, certainly, but not of much importance to anybody.
In the progress of their acquaintance it was natural that the cousins should often speak of Canada. Lady Dighton understood as little, and cared as little, about the distant colony as English people generally do; but she had considerable curiosity as to Maurice's past life; and in her benevolent efforts to improve and polish him, she was obliged to recognize the fact that, loyal Englishman as he was by birth, education and association, he might have said truly enough,
"Avant tout, je suis Canadien."
She had no objection whatever to this; on the contrary, she had enough romance in her disposition to admire all generous and chivalric qualities, and her cousin's patriotism only made her like him the better; but in spite of his frankness in most things, she had no idea that this affection for his native country was linked to and deepened by another kind of love. Lucia's name had never passed his lips, and she had no means of guessing how daily and hourly thoughts of one fair young Canadian girl were inseparably joined to the very roots of every good quality he possessed. This ignorance did not at all arise from want of interest. Her feminine imagination, naturally fertile on such subjects, soon began to occupy itself with speculations in which every eligible young lady in the country figured in turn. It was not to be supposed that the heir of Hunsdon would find much difficulty in obtaining a wife; the really embarrassing task for his mentors was to see that he looked in the proper direction. And in this matter Mr. Beresford was not wholly to be trusted. So, as it happened, Lady Dighton began to take a great deal of perfectly useless thought and care for Maurice's benefit, at the very time when he, all unconscious of her schemes, was beginning to consider it possible that he might confide to her the secret of his anxious and preoccupied thoughts.
It happened that Mr. Leigh, unaware of the deep interest his son took in the movements of Mr. Percy, only mentioned him in describing Bella Latour's wedding, and omitted to say a word about his leaving Cacouna. Thus it was not until three weeks after his arrival in England that a chance expression informed Maurice that his dangerous rival was gone away, without giving him the satisfaction of knowing that he had been dismissed and was not likely to return. The same mail which brought this half intelligence, brought also a letter from Mrs. Costello, which spoke of her own and Lucia's removal as a thing quite settled, though not immediate, and left the place of their destination altogether uncertain. These letters threw Maurice into a condition of discomfort and impatience, which he found hard to bear. He was extremely uneasy at the idea of his father being left without companion or nurse. This uneasiness formed, as it were, the background of his thoughts, while a variety of less reasonable, but more vivid, anxieties held a complete revel in the foreground. He had not even his old refuge against troublesome fancies; for work, real absorbing work, of any kind was out of the question now. His attendance on his grandfather, though often fatiguing enough, was no occupation for his masculine brain. If he had been a woman, he would have had a far better chance of imprisoning his mind as well as his body, in that sober, undisturbed, sick room; but though he could be almost as tender as a woman, he could not school himself into that strange kind of feminine patience, which even Lucia, spoiled child as she was, instinctively practised and grew strong in, while she tended his father.
He found himself perpetually losing the thread of some relation or dissertation which was intended for his benefit, and that of Hunsdon under his rule; he ran serious risk of displeasing Mr. Beresford, and finally he became so weary of thinking incessantly of one subject, but never speaking of it, that he made up his mind to take his cousin to some degree into his confidence. To some degree only—it could be a very small degree indeed, according to his ideas, for he could not tell her all, even of the little he knew, about the Costellos, and he had no intention of speaking much about Lucia, only mentioning her as an old playfellow of his sister's; quite forgetting that he would have either to change his own nature, or to dull Lady Dighton's ears and eyes, before he could talk of her, and not betray himself.
But a good opportunity for this confidence seemed hard to find, and whenever one did really occur Maurice let it slip, so that time passed on, and nothing was said; until at last, a new trouble came, so heavy and incomprehensible as entirely to eclipse the former ones.
One morning, about six weeks after his arrival at Hunsdon, there arrived for Maurice two Canadian letters and a newspaper; the letters from his father and Mrs. Costello, the newspaper addressed by Harry Scott. Maurice dutifully opened Mr. Leigh's letter first; he meant just to see that all was well, and then to read the other; but the news upon which his eye fell, put everything else for the moment out of his head. He glanced half incredulously over what his father said, and then tore open the newspaper to seek for its confirmation. He had not far to seek. Two columns of the thin provincial sheet were scored with black crosses, and bore the ominous heading, "Dreadful Murder!" in the largest capitals. He read the whole terrible story through, and thought, as well as he could, over it, before he remembered the second and still unopened letter.
But no sooner had he opened and read this, than the news which had just before seemed to bring the most fearful realities of life and death so near to him, faded away almost out of his recollection to make way for the really personal interest of this calamity. Mrs. Costello wrote,
"I have done wrong; and I should feel more difficulty, perhaps, in asking you to forgive me, if I did not, with you, have to regret the bitter disappointment of my hopes and wishes. You and Lucia must not meet again, unless, or until, you can do so without any thought of each other except as old playfellows and friends. This sounds cruel, I know, and unreasonable,—all the more so after the confidence there has been between us lately; but you must believe me when I say that I have tried, more than I ought, to keep for myself the consolation of thinking that my darling would some day be safe in your care, and that this consolation has been torn from me. But what can I say to you? My dear boy, only less dear to me than Lucia, I know you will, you must, blame me, and yet it is for your sake and for that of my own honour that I separate you from us. You have a right that I should say more, hard as it is. My daughter, whom you have known almost all her innocent life, would, if you married her, bring, through those most nearly and inseparably connected with her, a stain and a blot upon your name; no honourable man can ever make her his wife, and the best prayer that can be made for her is, that she may remain as unconscious of all earthly love as she is now of yours. We are going away, not just yet, but very soon, to try to lose ourselves in the world; very possibly an explanation of much that I have not courage to tell you may soon become so public that even in England you may hear of it, and thank me for what I have written."
The letter broke off abruptly, but there was a postscript reminding him that no one, not even his father, knew more, or, indeed, as much as he did, of her secret, and bidding him not betray her; this postscript, however, remained at first unnoticed: there was enough in the letter itself to bewilder and stupefy its unfortunate reader. He went over it again and again, trying, trying to understand it; to make certain that there was not some strange mistake, some other meaning in it than that which first appeared. But no; it was distinct enough, though the writing was strangely unsteady, as if the writer's hand had trembled at the task. The task of doing what? Only of destroying a hope; and hope is not life, nor even youth, or strength, or sense, or capacity for work, and yet when Maurice rose from his solitary breakfast-table, and carried his letters away to his own room, although he looked and moved, and even spoke to a passing servant just as usual, he felt as if he had been suddenly paralysed, and struck down from vigorous life into the shadow of death. He sat in his room and tried to think, but no thoughts came; only a perpetual reiteration of the words, "You and Lucia must not meet again." Over and over, and over again, the same still incomprehensible sentence kept ringing in his ears. It was much the same thing as if some power had said to him, "You must put away from you, divorce, and utterly forget, all your past life; all your nature, as it has grown up, to this present time; and take a different individuality." The two things might equally well be said, for they were equally impossible. He laughed as this idea struck him. His senses were beginning to come back, and they told him plainly enough that any separation from Lucia, except by her own free choice and will, was as impossible as if they were already vowed to each other "till death us do part." There was so much comfort in this conviction that at last he was able to turn to the latter part of the letter, and to occupy himself with that mysterious yet terrible sentence, which said that Lucia, his purest and loveliest of women, whom all his long intimacy had not been able to bring down from the pedestal of honour and tender reverence on which his love had placed her, would bring a blot upon her husband's name.
In the first place, he simply and entirely refused to believe in the truth of the assertion; it was a fancy, an exaggeration at the least, and in itself, not a thing to be troubled at; but allowing that the idea could not have existed in her mother's mind without some foundation, what could that foundation be? To consider with the most anxious investigation everything he knew of the Costellos, their life, their characters, their history, brought him some comfort, but no enlightenment. He supposed, as all Cacouna did, that Mrs. Costello was the widow of a Spaniard, and that her husband had died when Lucia was an infant, but how to make any of these scanty details bear upon the fact that now, lately, since he himself had left Cacouna, something had happened, either unforeseen, or only partly foreseen by Mrs. Costello, which brought disgrace and misery upon her and her child, he did not in the least understand. Personal disgrace, the shadow of actual ill-doing, resting upon either mother or daughter, was too utterly improbable a thought ever even to enter his mind; but what the trouble could be, or whence it came, he seemed to be less and less capable of imagining, the more he thought and puzzled over the matter. And the hint that by-and-by the mystery might be unravelled, not only to him, but to the whole world, was far from giving him comfort. Rather than have Lucia's name dragged out for vulgar comment, he would have been content to let her secret remain for ever undiscovered; and besides, this unwelcome revelation promised to come too late, when the Cottage was empty and its dearly loved occupants were gone far away out of his very knowledge.
Fortunately for Maurice, Mr. Beresford was later than usual in leaving his room that day, so that he had two hours in which to grow at least a little accustomed to his new perplexities before he had to attend his grandfather in the library. Even when he did so, however, he found it impossible to force his thoughts into any other channel, and his brain worked all day painfully and fruitlessly at schemes for finding out Mrs. Costello's secret, and demonstrating to her that far from its being a reason for depriving him of Lucia, it was an additional reason for giving her to him.
Maurice tried to relieve his impatience by spending the very first half hour when he was not required to sit with his grandfather, in writing to Mrs. Costello. If the Atlantic telegraph had but been in operation she might have been startled by some vehement message coming in immediate protest against her decision; but as it was, the letter which could not, at the very best, reach her in much less than a fortnight, was full of fiery haste and eagerness. As for reason or argument, it made no attempt at either. It began with a simple unqualified declaration that what she had said was, as far as it regarded Maurice himself, of no value or effect whatever, that he remained in exactly the same mind as when he left Canada, and that nothing whatever would alter him, except Lucia's preference for some other person. He went on to say that he could still wait, but that as the strongest purpose of his life would be to give Lucia the choice of accepting or refusing him as soon as he had a home to offer her, it was needless unkindness to try to conceal her from him. Wherever she might be, he should certainly find her in the end, and he implored her mother to spare him the anxiety and delay of a search. Finally he wrote, "I cannot understand in the least what you can mean by the reason you give for casting me off, but you seem to have forgotten that if any disgrace (I hate to use the word), either real or imaginary, has fallen upon you, it is the more and not the less needful that you should have all the help and support I can give you. That may not be much, but such as it is I have a right to offer it, and you to accept it."
The letter wound up with the most urgent entreaties that she would answer it at once, and give up entirely the useless attempt to separate him from Lucia; and when it was finished and sent off, quite regardless of the fact that it would have left England just as soon if written two days later, he began to feel a little comforted, and as if he had at any rate put a stop to the worst evil that threatened him.
But the relief lasted only a few hours. By the next day he was tormenting himself with all the ingenuity of which he was capable, and the task of amusing Mr. Beresford was ten thousand times harder than ever. He did it, and did it better than usual, but only because he was so annoyed at his own anxiety and absence of mind that he set himself with a sort of dogged determination to conquer them, or at any rate keep them out of sight. The more, however, that he held his thoughts shut up in his own mind, the more active and troublesome they became, and an idea took possession of him, which he made very few efforts to shake off, though he could not at first see clearly how to carry it into execution.
This idea was that he must return to Canada. He thought that one hour of actual presence would do more for his cause than a hundred letters—nay, he did not despair of persuading Mrs. Costello to bring Lucia to England, where he could keep some watch and guard over them both; but, at any rate, he had a strong fancy that he might at once learn the secret of her distress himself, and help her to keep it from others. He calculated that six weeks' absence from Hunsdon would enable him to do this, and at the same time to make arrangements for his father's comfort more satisfactory than the present ones. The last inducement was, of course, the one he meant to make bear the weight of his sudden anxiety, and after much deliberation, or what he thought was deliberation, he decided that the first thing to be done was to interest his cousin in his plans and try to get her help.
But as it happened, Lady Dighton was just at that moment away from home. She and Sir John were staying at a house which, though nearer to Hunsdon than to their own home, was a considerable distance for morning visitors, even in the country. Still Maurice, who had some acquaintance with the family, thought he might ride over and see her there, and take his chance of being able to get an opportunity of explaining the service he wanted her to do him. However, a slight increase of illness in Mr. Beresford prevented him from getting away from home, and he was obliged to wait with what patience he could for her next visit to Hunsdon.
Mr. Beresford's health appeared to return to its usual condition, and grateful for the comfort Maurice's presence had been to him during his greater suffering, he seemed to be every day more satisfied with and attached to his heir. The disadvantage of this was that he required more and more of Maurice's company, and seemed to dislike sparing him a moment except while he slept. This was not promising for the success of any scheme of absence, but, on the other hand, there was so much of reason and consideration for his grandson, mixed with the invalid's exactions, that it seemed not hopeless to try to obtain his consent.
After an interval of more than a week, Lady Dighton reappeared at Hunsdon, and Maurice's opportunity arrived. It was during their invariable tete-a-tete while Mr. Beresford slept that the wished-for conversation took place, and Lady Dighton unconsciously helped her cousin to begin it by telling him laughing that she had been looking out for a wife for him, and found one that she thought would do exactly.
"You must contrive by some means or other," she said, "to get away from Hunsdon a little more than you have been doing, and come over to Dighton for a day or two, that I may introduce you."
"I wish with all my heart," he answered quickly, "that I could get away from Hunsdon for a little while, but I am afraid I should use my liberty to go much further than Dighton."
She looked at him with surprise.
"I did not know," she said, "that you had any friends in England except here."
"I have none. What I mean is that I want to go back to Canada for a week or two."
"To Canada! The other side of the world! What do you mean?"
"Nothing very unreasonable. I am very uneasy about my father, who is almost as great an invalid as my grandfather, and has no one but an old housekeeper to take care of him. I should like to go and bring him to England."
It was very well for Maurice to try to speak as coolly as possible, and even to succeed in making his voice sound perfectly innocent and natural, but he was of much too frank a nature to play off this little piece of dissimulation without a tell-tale change of countenance. Lady Dighton's sharp eyes saw quite plainly that there was something untold, but she took no notice of that for the present, and answered as if she saw nothing.
"Have you worse accounts of his health?"
"No; not worse. But he will be quite alone."
"More alone than when you first left him? I do not quite understand."
"Yes; some very near neighbours—old friends of his and my mother's—are going to leave Cacouna. I had no reason to be uneasy about him while they were there. Do you think my grandfather could be persuaded to spare me for six weeks?"
"Not willingly, I think. Could not my uncle come home without your going?"
Maurice felt as if he were caught in his own trap, but he recollected himself in a moment.
"There would be many things to do," he said. "Affairs to settle, the farm to sell or let, and the household, small as it is, to break up."
Lady Dighton laughed outright.
"And you imagine that you could do all that, and carry your father off besides, in the space of a fortnight, which is the very utmost you could possibly have out of your six weeks! Really, Maurice, I gave you credit for more reasonableness."
"I have no doubt I could do it," he said, a little vexed, "and of course I should try to get back as quickly as possible."
"Well, let me see if I cannot suggest something a little more practicable. Is there no person who would undertake the management of the mere business part of the arrangements?"
"Yes," Maurice answered a little reluctantly. "I dare say there is."
"As for the breaking up of the household, I should think my uncle would like to give the directions himself, and I do not see what more you could do; and for anything regarding his comfort, could not you trust to those old friends you spoke of?"
Maurice shook his head impatiently.
"They are going away—for anything I know, they may be gone now. No, Louisa, your schemes are very good, but they will not do. I must go myself; that is, if I can."
"And the fact of the matter is that you want me to help you to persuade grandpapa that he can spare you."
"Will you help me? I know it will be hard. I would not ask him if I were not half wild with anxiety."
Lady Dighton looked at her cousin's face, which was indeed full of excitement.
"What a good son you are, Maurice," she said slowly.
Maurice felt the blood rush to his very temples.
"I am a dreadful humbug," he said, feeling that the confession must come. "Don't be shocked, Louisa; it is not altogether about my father, but I tell you the truth when I say that I am half wild."
She smiled in a sort of satisfied, self-gratulatory way, and said, "Well," which was just what was needed, and brought out all that Maurice could tell about the Costellos. He said to himself afterwards that he had from the first been half disposed to confess the whole story, and only wanted to know how she was likely to take it; but the truth was that, being as utterly unskilful as man could be in anything like deception, he had placed himself in a dilemma from which she only meant to let him extricate himself by telling her what was really in his mind.
So Lady Dighton made her first acquaintance with Lucia, not, as Maurice had dreamed of her doing, in bodily presence, but through the golden mist of a lover's description; in the midst of which she tried to see a common-place rustic beauty, but could not quite succeed; and half against her will began to yield to the illusion (if illusion it was) which presented to her a queenly yet maidenly vision, a brilliant flower which might be worth transplanting from the woods even to the stately shelter of Hunsdon. It was clear enough that this girl, whatever she might be, had too firm a hold upon Maurice's heart to be easily displaced; and his cousin, not being altogether past the age of romance herself, gave up at once all her vague schemes of match-making in his service, and applied herself to the serious consideration how to obtain from her grandfather the desired leave of absence.
She did not, of course, understand all the story. The impression she derived from what Maurice told her was that Mrs. Costello, after having encouraged the intimacy and affection between her daughter and him up to the time of his great change of position and prospects, had now thought it more honourable to break off their intercourse, and carry her child away, lest he should feel bound to what was now an unequal connection. This idea of Lady Dighton's arose simply from a misconception of Maurice's evident reserve in certain parts of his confidence. He thought only of concealing all Mrs. Costello would wish concealed; and she dreamt of no other reason for the change of which he told her, than the very proper and reasonable one of the recent disparity of fortune.
Maurice was so delighted at finding a ready ally that the moment his cousin signified her willingness to help him, he began to fancy his difficulties were half removed, and had to be warned that only the first and least important step had been taken.