But; at present, it wanted at least half an hour of sunset. There was plenty of time for her walk before the short twilight would begin. She strolled on, rather pleased to be alone, and in no hurry to traverse the space of lonely road which intervened between Mr. Leigh's and the first houses of the town. As she had expected, there was not a single passenger on the way, nor did she see any one until, just as the first roof began to be visible in front of her, she perceived lying by the roadside what looked like a large bundle of old clothes. Coming nearer, she found that it was a man apparently fast asleep, his head hidden by his arms. Suspecting him, from his attitude, to be tipsy, she felt for a moment inclined to turn back, but her hesitation seemed so foolish that it was immediately conquered, and, keeping on the opposite side, she walked quietly past. She had scarcely done so, however, when a loud discordant shout was heard from the river, and the sleeper, awakened by it, suddenly raised his head, and began to scramble as quickly as he could to his feet. Lucia hurried on, but in a moment, hearing unsteady footsteps coming fast behind her, and a thick inarticulate voice calling, she turned to look. Scarcely three yards from her, staggering along, and muttering, as if he thought the call which had awakened him was hers, was an Indian, his dark face bloated and brutalized by drink. As she turned, he came nearer and tried to catch her dress. Happily, he was so much intoxicated that she easily evaded his hand, and with a cry of terror fled along the road. But the Indian still pursued, and she was hurrying blindly on, only conscious of that horrible face behind her, and of the failing of her strength from excess of terror, when a voice she knew cried "Lucia!" and she found Mr. Percy by her side.
In another moment her agony of alarm was over; she was standing, still trembling violently, but feeling safe and supported, with her hand drawn firmly through his arm, while her pursuer seemed to have slunk away at the sight of a third person, and was now reeling towards the river bank, whence the same voice as before could be heard calling.
Mr. Percy did not attempt to question or comment. He waited patiently till Lucia's panic had subsided and she found voice to say, "Oh! I am so glad you came."
"So am I. What a brute! Yes, I am glad I came just then."
He was so earnest, so shaken out of his usual listless manner, that she was almost startled. It flashed into her mind too how he had cried "Lucia" in a tone which she had heard in her terror without remarking.
"Are you able to walk on now?" he asked, looking at her with real solicitude and anxiety.
"Oh! yes," she answered, and they went on slowly.
"But how did you come?" she inquired after a minute's silence. "The road seemed quite deserted just before."
"I came up from the landing below there. Bellairs persuaded me to go out fishing with him this evening, and as we came back I caught sight of a figure I thought was yours, and made him land me—happily just in time."
"Happily indeed. I did not even see your boat."
"We were too close under the bank most of the time. At the landing, there was a canoe lying, with a man in it, most likely waiting for that brute. You see he is gone down towards it."
Lucia shuddered. "I think I should have fallen down in another minute. I looked round once, and saw such a horrible face, red and swollen and frightful, with the hair all hanging about it. I shall never forget it."
"Don't speak of it at present. You see it is not safe for you to go about alone."
"But I never was frightened before. Now, I believe I shall be, always."
"And I shall not be here again. I was coming to-night to tell you that I am summoned home."
They stopped involuntarily, and their eyes met. There was an equal trouble in both faces. Lucia was the first to recover herself; she made a movement to go on, and tried to speak, but felt instantly that her voice could not be trusted.
Mr. Percy's prudence failed utterly. "I meant to say good-bye" he said, "but it is harder than I thought. I can't leave you here, after all. Lucia, you must come with me."
He was holding her hand, forcing her to stop and to look at him, and finding in her beautiful, innocent face the sweetest excuse a man could have for such madness. Madness it must have been, for he had wholly forgotten himself, and all his life had taught him; and for the moment felt that this girl, who loved him, was worth more than everything else in the world would be without her.
That night Lucia saw nothing of the sunset. Dusk came on, and the fireflies began to flit round them, before the two, who were so occupied with each other, came to the Cottage gate. When they did so, they had yet a few last words to say.
"What will mamma say?" Lucia half whispered. "I am almost afraid to see her."
"Will you tell her or shall I? Which shall you like best? I will come in the morning."
"I shall not sleep to-night if she does not know. I suppose I must tell her, if you will not come in now."
"Not now. I must arrange my thoughts a little first. After all, Lucia, you don't know how little I have to offer you."
"What does that matter?" she asked simply. "Mamma will not care—nor I."
"You will not, of course. You would be content to live like a bird, on next to nothing; but then you know nothing of the world."
"No, indeed. I am nothing better than a baby."
"You are a million times better than any other woman, and will make the best and dearest of wives—if you had only a luckier fellow for a husband."
"Are you unlucky, really? Are you very poor?"
"Poor enough for a hermit. My father is not much richer; and as I have the good fortune to be a younger son, the little he has will go to George, my elder brother, not to me."
Lucia was silent a moment, thinking.
"Are you frightened?" he asked her. "You did not know things were quite so bad?"
"I am not frightened," she answered. "But I was considering. Mamma has some money; she would give me what she could, but I am not like Bella, you know. I have not any fortune at all."
Mr. Percy laughed, "Do not puzzle yourself over such difficulties to-night, at any rate. Leave me to think of those. I will tell you what you must do. Make up your mind to be as charming as possible when you see my father, and fascinate him in spite of himself; for, I assure you he will not very readily forgive us for deranging his plans. Good-night now, I shall be here early to-morrow."
He went away up the lane, while she lingered yet for a moment, looking after him, trying to understand clearly what had happened—to realize this wonderful happiness which was yet only like a dream. How could she go out of the soft summer darkness into the bright light of the parlour and its every day associations? But as she retraced every word and look of the past hour, she came back at last to the horrible recollection of the Indian who had alarmed her. That hideous besotted face seemed to stare at her again through the obscurity, and, trembling with fright, she hurried through the garden and up the verandah steps.
Mrs. Costello was sitting at work by the table where the light fell brightly, but Lucia was glad that the lamp-shade threw most of the room into comparative darkness. Even as it was, she came with shy lingering steps to her mother's side, and was in no hurry to answer her question, "Where have you been loitering so long?"
"I have been at the gate some time," she said. "It is so pleasant out of doors."
"I went to the top of the lane to look for you a long time ago, and saw you coming with, I thought, Mr. Percy."
"Yes. He met me. Mamma, I want to tell you something about—"
Mrs. Costello laid down her work.
"What?" she said almost sharply, as something in her child's soft caressing attitude, and broken words struck her with a new terror.
Lucia slid down to the floor, half kneeling at her mother's feet. "About myself—and him," she murmured.
Mrs. Costello raised her daughter's face to the light, and looked at it closely with an almost bitter scrutiny.
"Child," she said, "I thought you would have been safe from this. I did him injustice, it seems."
A new instinct in Lucia's mind roused her against her mother. She let her clinging arms fall, and raised her head.
"I do not understand you, mother," she answered, and half rose from where she had been kneeling.
"Stay, Lucia," and her mother's hand detained her. "I have tried to save you from suffering. I see now that I have been wrong. But tell me all."
Awed and startled out of the sweet dreams of a few minutes ago, Lucia tried to obey. She said a few almost unintelligible words, then came to a sudden pause. She had slipped back again to her old place after her little burst of anger, and now looked up pleadingly to her mother.
"But, indeed, I don't know how it was," she said; "only it was after the Indian went away."
Mrs. Costello started. "What Indian?" she asked.
And then the story came out, vivid enough, but broken up as it were by the newer, sweeter excitement of that other story which she could only tell in broken words and blushes. As she spoke her eyes were still raised to her mother's face, looking only for the reflection of her own terror and thankfulness; but she saw such deadly paleness and rigidity steal over it, that she started up in dismay.
Mrs. Costello signed to her to wait, and in a moment was again so far mistress of herself as to be able to say,
"Sit down again. Finish your story, and then describe this man if you can."
Her voice was forced and husky, but Lucia dared not disobey. She had only a few words to add, but her description had nothing characteristic in it, except the utterly degraded and brutal expression of the countenance, which had so vividly impressed her.
When she ceased speaking, both remained for some minutes silent and without moving. Then Mrs. Costello rose, and began to walk slowly up and down the room. She felt that she had made a mistake in the affair nearest to her heart. She knew that Lucia had a girl's fancy for Mr. Percy; he had done all he could to awaken it, and it was not likely that the poor child would have been entirely untouched by his efforts; but she had believed that it was only for the amusement of his leisure that he had been so perseveringly blind to her own coldness, and that he was too thoroughly selfish to be guilty of such an imprudence as she now saw had been committed. That Lucia could ever be his wife, she knew was utterly impossible. She had thought that the worst which could happen, was that when he had left Cacouna his memory would have to be slowly and painfully eradicated from her heart, but now it had become needful to cause this beloved child a double share of the trouble, which she had so dreaded for her. All these thoughts, and with them the idea of an added horror overhanging herself, seemed to press upon her brain with unendurable weight. Yet, suffer as she might, time must not be suffered to pass. Night was advancing, and before morning Lucia must know all the story, which once told, would shadow her life, and throw her new-born happiness out of her very recollection.
She stopped at last in her restless walk. She went up to the chair where Lucia sat, and putting her arms round her, kissed her forehead.
"You are very happy, my child?" she said tenderly.
"Mamma, I don't know. I was happy."
"You will be again—not yet, but later. Try to believe that, for it is time you should share my secret and my burden, and they are terrible for you now."
"You will be happy again!" Did any one of us in the first dull pain of a new, inexplicable suffering, ever believe such words as those? Lucia read her mother's face, tone, gestures too well to doubt that she regarded this long-kept secret as something which must separate her from Percy—must separate her, she therefore fancied, from all that was best and sweetest in life. It was hard that she should have been suffered to taste happiness, if it was instantly to be snatched from her. She felt this half resentfully, shrinking into herself, and cowering before the unknown trial, which, when fully understood, her natural courage would enable to meet with energy. She sat with her head resting on her hands, while Mrs. Costello left the room, and came back carrying a small, old-fashioned desk, which she placed upon the table. This desk, which she knew had been her mother's when a girl, and which contained many little treasures, attracted Lucia's attention. Obeying a sign from Mrs. Costello, she came forward, and watched while it was opened, and the many familiar objects taken out. Underneath all, where she had always thought the desk remained empty, the pressure of a spring opened another compartment, in which lay a few papers and a likeness.
"You have often asked me to show you your father's likeness, Lucia," Mrs. Costello said with slow painful utterance. "There it is. Take it, and you will know my secret."
Lucia put out her hand, but as it touched the portrait lying there face downwards, she involuntarily drew it back, and glanced at her mother.
"Must I see it? Must I know?" she whispered tremblingly.
She lifted the picture and looked, but the lines swam before her eyes. As they steadied and came out clearly she saw a tall figure with black hair, dressed in a gaily striped shirt and blanket, and leaning on a spear—an Indian. She threw the likeness from her with a cry, "Impossible! It is not true," and with clasped hands tried to shut out the hateful sight.
Shudder after shudder swept over her, and still she cried in her heart, "I will not believe it," but she said no more aloud. Her father! All her lifelong terror of his race, all that she had known of them up to the encounter of that very evening, which now seemed years ago, surged through her mind; and, as if mocking her, came above all, her own face with the dark traits which she had believed to be Spanish, but which she could now trace to such a different origin. In a moment, and for ever, her girlish vanity fell from her. She felt as if her beauty were but the badge of degradation and misery. And then there came the keen instinct of resentment—it was to her mother, whom she loved, that she owed this intolerable suffering. Crouching down and shivering, as if with cold, she yielded to the storm of thought which swept over her, yielded to it in a kind of blind despair, from which she had neither wish nor power to rouse herself.
But this mood, which seemed to paralyse her, lasted in reality but a few minutes; she was roused by her mother's voice and touch. She looked up for a moment, but with hard tearless eyes and set lips, and only to put away from her the hand that had been softly laid on her shoulder. Mrs. Costello drew back; she returned to her chair, and sat down to wait, but the long deep sigh which unconsciously escaped her, as she did so, reached Lucia's heart. A strong impulse of love and pity seemed to break through all her misery; she felt that, at least, she did not suffer alone, and with a quick self-reproach she threw herself at her mother's feet, and encircled her waist with her arms. For a moment neither spoke. They held each other fast, and one, at least, thanked God silently that the most bitter pang was averted, since they could still so cling to each other.
But after a while, Mrs. Costello said, "I have much to tell you, my child. Can you bear to hear it now?"
"Yes, mother. I must know all now."
Lucia rose, and bringing a footstool, sat down in her old childish attitude at her mother's feet; only that her face, which was worn and pale, was quite hidden.
"I am ready," she said. "Explain all I cannot understand."
No human being, perhaps, could tell his or her own story with perfect truth; still less could tell it so to the hearer the most passionately loved, and whose love seems to hang in the balance. It would be apt to be a piece of special pleading, for or against, as egotism or conscience happened to be strongest. Best, then, not to try to reproduce the words spoken that night—spoken in the tuneless, level voice, which, in its dull monotony, is a truer indication of pain than any other; but to repeat only the substance of all that Lucia then heard for the first time.
To her, the old house by the Dee was already familiar ground; she knew, dimly, the figure of a lady who died there in her youth, and left a desolate child, well cared for, but little loved, to grow up alone; and she knew, more familiarly, but with a sense of awe which was almost dislike, the child's father, her own grandfather, a man saddened, silent, unsympathetic. These, and various relations and servants who had surrounded her mother in her childhood, she had already heard of a thousand times. The story, new to her, began in Mary Wynter's fifteenth year.
At that time Mr. Wynter's family consisted of four persons—himself, his daughter, her governess, and a nephew, George Wynter, who was, in fact, an adopted son. The governess had been lately and hastily added to the household, on the discovery of Mary's amazing ignorance; and her selection had been a mistake. She and her pupil were at open warfare, she endeavouring to teach, Mary determined not to learn. The poor lady was very conscientious, and very well instructed, but she was not judicious. She never found out that her pupil would have been an absolute slave to affection, but was altogether hardened to severity, and when she failed in herself enforcing her authority, she made the great and most unlucky mistake of appealing to George Wynter. Mary, up to that time, had had no dislike to her cousin. He was nearly twenty years older than herself, an excellent man, who took everything au pied de la lettre, and who, perceiving that what Miss Smith said was reasonable, thought duty and common sense required him to "speak to" her unreasonable pupil. He never discovered his mistake—nor Miss Smith hers; but things grew more and more uncomfortable. Miss Smith tired of her struggles, and sought more manageable pupils; and Mary, immediately after her fifteenth birthday, was sent to school.
Removed to a new atmosphere, no longer chilled by loneliness or embittered by the consciousness of perpetual disapproval, the girl began to bloom sweetly and naturally. For the first time she was fortunate in her surroundings. Companionship made her gay, and emulation woke keen and successful ambition. Nearly three years passed, and, in place of ignorance and insubordination, she had gained a bright intelligence and a becoming submission. At seventeen she returned home, a girl who would have brought to a mother both pride and anxiety.
But there was no mother to receive her. At the sight of her, her father was a little shaken out of his accustomed thoughts and habits. He tried to imagine what his wife would have done or counselled for their child's good, but his imagination was unpractised and would not help him much. He made one great effort for her sake. He took her abroad, and for a whole year travelled about, showing her much that was best worth seeing in the south of Europe—but seeing places chiefly, people seldom. In all this time she saw nothing of her cousin George—he had almost fallen out of her acquaintance, and taken the place of a disagreeable memory. But when she and her father came home, he was there to receive them, and she began to realize that his presence was to be an essential part of her home life. More than that, she now perceived how distinctly he stood between her and her father—a fact she had forgotten while they were together without him. The acquaintance and sympathy between them, which had been slowly growing up during their year of travel, froze to death now that he was there; and Mary, at eighteen, found herself completely isolated.
It did not occur to her father that she ought to go into society, or that she needed a chaperone. Society had lost all its charms for him; and he intended to marry his daughter early, and so give her the best of protection. Neither did it seem necessary to him that she should be consulted in any way about her marriage. However insubordinate she might as a child have been to others, to him, whenever they were brought into direct contact, she had always been perfectly submissive, and he expected her to continue so. To such a length had his confidence in the success of his plans gone, that he had never in any way hinted them to his daughter—the thing was settled, and had become a part of the course of nature, in no way requiring to be discussed. Under these circumstances, Mary spent two years of grown-up life at home. They were very wearisome and depressing years, partly from her position, partly from her strong, and always growing, dislike to the cousin, who was so much more to her father than she was. She saw very few people; now and then she went with her father to a dinner-party where most of the guests were "grave and reverend seigniors" like himself; now and then to a dance, where people were civil to her, and where some stranger in the neighbourhood would occasionally show signs of incipient admiration, pleasantly exciting to a girl in her teens. And now and then she had to receive visitors at home, feeling constrained and annoyed while she did so, by the invariable presence of George. There were neighbours who would gladly have been good to her. It was common for mothers to say to each other, "Poor Mary Wynter! I should like to ask here more, but I really dare not, Mr. Wynter is so odd,"—and Mary had even a certain consciousness of this goodwill and its suppression; but there were other sayings, common as household words, among these same people, of which she had no suspicion. It would, perhaps, have changed the whole story of her life, if she had known that the reason why she lived as much apart from the whole region of lovemaking or flirtation as if she had been a staid matron of fifty, was, the general belief that she was engaged, and before long to be married to the one man in the world whom she cordially hated. If she had known it then, she might, perhaps, have found a substitute for her cousin among her own equals and countrymen, but her entire unconsciousness, which they could not suspect, so deceived every possible lover as to make them believe her utterly out of their reach.
The only real enjoyment which brightened these dull years, came to Mary when she visited an old school-friend. There were two or three with whom she had kept up affectionate intercourse; and one, especially, whose house was her refuge whenever she could get permission to spend a week away from home. This girl had married at the very time of Mary's leaving school—she lived much in the world, and would have carried Mary into the whirl of dissipation if Mr. Wynter had allowed it. But he had restricted his daughter's visits to those times of the year when Helen Churchill and her husband were in the country, fatigued and glad of a few weeks of quiet; there Mary went to them, and found their quiet livelier than the liveliest of her home-life.
But in the spring of her twenty-first year, leave, often refused, was granted, and she joined the Churchills in London. The first week passed in a delightful confusion—whether her new dresses, or her unaccustomed liberty, or the opera, or the park, or the companionship of Helen, or the absence of George, were the most delightful, she would have been puzzled to say. The next week her head steadied a little—everything was delightful, but it was London, and not fairyland; it could not be denied that the rooms were hot, and that one came down rather tired in the morning. Mrs. Churchill, however, had a remedy for that. She had a pretty pair of ponies which carried her well out of London almost every morning, into fresh air and green lanes, and she took Mary with her. After breakfast they used to start, and make their expedition long or short, according to the day's engagements.
One morning they had completely escaped from town, and were driving along a pleasant road, shady and quiet, where, in those days, no suburban villas had sprung up, but where a park paling was overhung by trees on one side, and on the other, fields stretched away upon a gentle slope. They had lately met but few people, and Helen, never a very careful driver, had been letting her ponies do pretty much what they liked. At last the lively little animals, perhaps out of pure wilfulness, chose to take fright at something by the roadside; they made a sudden rush, and their mistress all at once found herself quite unable to hold them. There was no immediate danger, the road being both good and clear, but as they went on, their pace, instead of subsiding, seemed to increase. The carriage was not of the low build of these days, and the servant hesitated to risk a jump from his perch at the back. Meantime a corner was in sight, which it would be hazardous to turn at this pace. Mary sat, pale and terrified, only just sufficiently mistress of herself not to scream when suddenly, two men appeared coming towards them round the dreaded corner. In another moment the adventure was over—the ponies had been stopped by one of the two strangers, and were standing panting but subdued; and Helen, recovering her self-possession the moment she was out of danger, was leaning forward to pour out thanks and explanations.
Mary, having less to do, had more leisure to look at the new-comers. They were both young, and dressed like English gentlemen, but they had both something foreign and unusual in their appearance. But there was this difference—that the foreign aspect was of a kind singularly attractive in the one, and unattractive in the other. One might have been a Frenchman of mauvais ton, but that he spoke English like an American. The other, who resembled a very handsome Spaniard, spoke with a slight French accent, and in a remarkably musical voice. The handsome one, indeed, spoke very little—it was he who had first stepped into the road and caught the runaway ponies; but having done so, he left his companion to take the lead in replying to Mrs. Churchill's civilities. And when she finally begged to know their names, in order that her husband might also express his gratitude, it was the unprepossessing one who produced his card, and, having written an address upon it, gave it to her, saying that it would serve for both. He and his friend were fond of long walks, he added, neither of them being used to London life, and that was the cause of their being so fortunate as to have been of use to the ladies. He ended this little speech with an elaborate bow, his companion raised his hat, and they parted.
The ponies went home quietly enough, and Helen took care to look after her driving. She handed the card to Mary, who read on it, "Mr. Bailey," and an address, which Helen said was probably that of a lodging.
"I should like to know who the other is," she added; "he was very much the nicest looking. I must get my husband to call to-morrow, and then we shall know more about them."
Mary did not say much on the subject. Love at first sight may be fairly owned as a possibility, but it would be ridiculous to say that Mary Wynter had proved its reality. The thin end of the wedge, perhaps, had wounded her, and a succession of blows would easily drive it deep into her heart, or her fancy, as the case might be. Perhaps, too, it was more tempting to think of a stranger so attractive without being able to give him a name, than it would have been if he had to be recognized as Mr. Thomas Brown or Mr. John Robinson.
However that might be, she did not find her enjoyment of the day at all interfered with by the morning's incident. She and Helen paid some visits, then dined out, and finally arrived rather late at a house where there was a great evening gathering. This house was one at which she had not before been a guest, and she was full of lively curiosity about the people she was to meet there. The hostess was fond of collecting together all sorts of stray oddities, and of trying to further a scheme of universal brotherhood by mixing up in her drawing-room a most motley crowd, including all classes, from the ultra fine lady to the emancipated slave. It was not, perhaps, very amusing to the portion of her guests who found themselves lost in a sea of unknown faces, through which no pilot guided them; yet people went to her, partly because she was grande dame, and partly as to a lion show. Mrs. Churchill thought her country girl would be amused by one visit to this lady, and Mary was delighted at the prospect of seeing the possessors of various well-known names.
The rooms were very full when they arrived; and when, after considerable exercise of patience and perseverance, they had struggled in and got to a corner where they could breathe, and speak to each other, Helen said,
"Well, my dear, I hope you will find the sight worth the scramble—it is fuller than usual to-night, I think; and if I followed my own inclinations, I should try to slip round to a little room I know, where there are seldom many people, and rest there. But that would not be fair to you."
"Indeed it would," Mary answered. "Do let us go; we can perhaps move about a little, later, and I positively cannot breathe here now."
They worked their way accordingly to the little boudoir Helen spoke of. Their progress was not without incidents—now an acquaintance, now a celebrity, now a woolly-haired princess, now a jewelled Oriental, met them as they went; but at last they turned out of the crowd and passed into a room nearly dark, quite empty, and cool. "Nobody has found it out yet," said Helen, sinking into a chair with a sigh of relief.
They remained silent, enjoying the quiet and fresh air. A large window opening on a balcony occupied the greater part of one side of the room, and a glimmer of reflected light, and a murmur of voices, came from the windows of the great drawing-room which also opened to the balcony. But both light and sound were subdued to the pleasantest softness, and the night-air was still and sweet; Mary's seat was beside the window, Mrs. Churchill sat further back towards the middle of the room.
Presently there was a sound of steps on the balcony. Helen moved impatiently. "Somebody coming," she murmured.
Mary involuntarily raised her hand as a sign that she should be silent; a voice had begun to speak which she recognized with surprise. It was that of their acquaintance of the morning. He was speaking in French, with a bad accent, and a voice which sounded even more disagreeable than it had done when he spoke to Helen.
"Bah! one can breathe here. What a crowd! And, my good friend, allow me to remind you that you are not doing your duty. If you don't look a little more sharply after our interest we shall quarrel."
"What am I to do?" another voice answered, and this time the accent was perfect, and the tones marvellously harmonious. "You bring me here, into this horrible crowd, where I am stifled, and I do not see what I can do except answer everybody who speaks to me, and try to look as if I were not longing to get away."
"Do?" repeated the first. "Why, pose a little. I wish I had made you come in paint and feathers. I believe my lady would have liked it better."
They had been drawing nearer as they spoke, and now stepped into the room. Bailey, who was first, passed Mary without seeing her, but the gleam of Mrs. Churchill's dress caught his eye, and he paused abruptly.
Helen rose and moved a step towards him.
"Mr. Bailey," she said graciously, "you must allow me to introduce myself to you now that chance has given me the opportunity. I am Mrs. Churchill, and I am glad to be able to repeat my thanks for the service you did me this morning."
Upon this Bailey came forward; he had had time to make himself pretty certain that nothing serious could have been overheard, and was ready to receive with rather florid politeness all the acknowledgments and civilities offered.
Mary alone seemed to remember that the ponies had really been stopped, not by Bailey, but by the man who now stood silent near to her. She in turn rose, and spoke with some diffidence. "I should like to offer my thanks too. I think I was too frightened to say anything this morning, but indeed I thank you."
The stranger bowed. "You make too much of a very small matter," he answered; "the ponies would most likely have become quiet of themselves, only it did not seem certain they would have turned the corner quite safely."
"I am sure they would not; they were quite unmanageable, and we had not met anybody for a long time. That road is so quiet."
Mary went on talking, fascinated by the charm of the voice that replied to her, until other people did come in, and the spell was broken. But when Helen moved back into the larger rooms, and she was obliged to follow, she went dreamingly until they found themselves beside their hostess. Upon her Helen seized, and assailed her with questions. Who were these two men? But of all the amazing announcements Lady Deermount had ever had to make respecting her guests, the most amazing perhaps was in her reply.
"He is an Indian Chief, your hero, a true, genuine Uncas, only educated; and the other is an American."
An Indian Chief! These were the days when Cooper's novels were the latest fashion, and many a girl's head was turned by visions of splendid heroes—stately, generous, brave, and beautiful—capable of everything that was grandest, noblest, and most fascinating. Here was one in propria persona; and one, too, who, in addition to all the heroic virtues, could speak excellent French and English, and dress like an English gentleman.
What wonder if that night mischief was done never to be undone, however long, however bitterly repented?
It would be too tedious to continue the story in detail. Lady Deermount had constituted herself the patroness of many adventurers, but never of one cleverer than Bailey. She absolutely believed and duly repeated the story he told her, which was briefly this:—His companion, whose many-syllabled Indian name he taught her, but who, in England, found his baptismal one of Christian more convenient, was the chief of a tribe once powerful, now fallen into decay. To raise this tribe again was his one idea, his fervent ambition. He had himself been educated by the French Jesuits, but, when fully informed, had seen the errors of their faith, and now earnestly desired to found among his people, English civilization and the Protestant religion. Money was needed; for this he had consented to come to England, accompanied by about a dozen men and women of his tribe, hoping that the sight of these poor creatures in all their native savagery would prevail upon the rich and generous to help him in his work of education.
What could be more interesting? As a matter of fact, considerable assemblies did gather, daily, to see the Indians perform their dances, or sing their songs, or to hear one of them relate their legends, which Christian translated into musical and fluent English. Bailey explained his own connection with the party by saying that they required some one to look after the more practical matters of lodging, food, etc., which Christian, a stranger in Europe, could not well do, and professed himself to be a mere hired accessory. It was Christian who was the soul of all, the hero, who, for a noble purpose, endured a daily mortification of his legitimate pride. And with Christian, Mary Wynter fell deeply in love. Everything helped her—nothing hindered. Did no other girl ever fall in love with a creature as purely of her imagination? A good many wives, perhaps, know something about it, and a good many old maids also—who are the better off.
When the visit to London ended, and she went back to the old solitary life, everything had changed to her. Her days, which had been empty, were full of dreams, her heart grew tender, glad, hopeful, with a sweet unreasonable content. Even George seemed less disagreeable to her; she began to think she had been often ill-tempered, and must try to make amends. Christian had found means—or Bailey had found them for him—to make her believe herself as much to him as he was to her. She knew that the whole party had left London, and were moving from place to place. By-and-by they would come to Cheshire, and then she would see or hear of them. Christian had not proposed to her to marry him, nor had she deliberately considered such a possibility—she loved him, and he would soon be near her again, that was enough for the present.
In this mood she passed the rest of summer, and the early autumn. Mr. Wynter and George spent most of the day together, and she saw little of them until dinner-time. The evenings were social, after a fashion. Sometimes Mary played or sung—sometimes George read aloud. Mr. Wynter liked to be amused, but he did not care to talk. Thus, even the hours they spent together led to no acquaintance between father and daughter—each was altogether in the dark as to the thoughts, feelings, and projects of the other.
One November morning Mary was sitting alone as usual. She had intended to go out, but it was grey and cheerless out of doors, and the attraction of a bright fire, and a new book, proved too strong for her. The book was one of her favourite Indian stories, and she lost herself in the delightful depths of the "forest primeval" with an entire and blissful forgetfulness of England and common sense. But she roused herself, with a start of no little surprise, when her father suddenly walked into the room.
"Papa!" she cried, jumping up and letting her book fall, with a sudden conviction that something important indeed, must have brought so unusual a visitor.
"Sit down, my dear," he answered kindly; "I have something to say to you. It did not seem necessary to say anything about it before, but now you are nearly twenty-one, and that is the time I have always fixed upon."
"Fixed upon for what, papa?" she said, utterly at a loss.
"For your marriage, my dear. It is a good age, quite young enough, and yet old enough for a girl to have some idea of her duties. I wish you to be married in February. A month after your birthday."
Mary looked at him in complete bewilderment. Her very marriage-day fixed, and where was the bridegroom? She almost laughed, as she thought that she could not even guess at any person who as likely to propose for her—except one.
"But who is it?" she managed to ask, at last. "Nobody wants to marry me."
"Who is it?" Mr. Wynter repeated in surprise. "George, of course."
"George!" she stopped a minute to recover breath.
Mr. Wynter remained silent. He had said all that was needful. She was going to say, "Papa, you must be joking," but she looked at his face and could not. He was too much in earnest—she perceived that with him the thing was settled—and therefore done. She took courage from the despair of the moment; "Papa," she said deliberately, "I will never marry my cousin George."
For one moment, his face seemed to change. Then he got up, as calm and assured as before.
"You are surprised, I see," he answered. "I supposed you must have guessed my intentions. I will speak with you about it again to-morrow."
So he went out, and left her stunned, but by no means beaten. And, from that day a struggle began—if indeed it could be called a struggle, where the one party had not the slightest comprehension of the resistance of the other. At Christmas, Mary, by this time driven almost frantic, heard of the arrival of Christian at Chester. They met by Bailey's contrivance, and Mary came back home pledged to marry her hero. Delay, however, was necessary. The marriage could not take place until just before the Indians sailed for Canada, which would be in March, and Mary could obtain delay, only by a kind of compromise. She made her cousin himself the means of obtaining this, by reminding him that the least he could do for her, was to give her time to reconcile herself to so new an idea. He, not the least in love, and far from suspecting a rival, asked that the marriage might be put off for three months. This was all that was needed. On the night of the 16th March, Mary left home, and travelled under Bailey's guidance to Liverpool. There Christian met her. All had been arranged, and they were married, and started for Ireland. After a week or two of honeymoon, they went to Queenstown, and there joined the ship, which was carrying the rest of the party to Quebec.
It was during the two or three weeks spent in Ireland, and still more completely during the voyage, that all the fair fabric of the young wife's delusions fell to pieces.
The truth of Bailey's history was very different from what he said of himself. He had been long the disgrace and torment of his own relations in the United States, and at last, after years of every kind of vice, had been obliged to fly from his country under strong suspicions of forgery. He went to the north, and for a year or two lived a wild life full of adventure; during which he occupied himself diligently in becoming acquainted with the Indian tribes, learning some of their dialects, and trying by every means to ingratiate himself with them. Probably at first, this was only for amusement, but after awhile, he seems to have entertained the idea of making a profit of his new associates. He soon found, however, that the more independent and uncivilized tribes, though they might form the most piquant exhibition, were too unmanageable for his purpose. He came down therefore to Canada, to seek for more promising materials. Here he met with exactly the opposite difficulty—most of the tribes were more or less civilized, and had, at any rate, advanced so far in knowledge of the world as to be unwilling to put themselves into his power. He soon saw that the best way of securing such a party as he wished, would be to find one Indian, whom he might make to some degree a confidant and partner in the enterprise, and who would naturally possess a stronger influence with the rest, than he could himself obtain. It was a long time before he succeeded in doing this; but when he did, it was to perfection. An island about fifty miles from Cacouna, called Moose Island, was then, and still is, occupied by a settlement of Ojibways. A Jesuit mission, established on the Canadian bank of the river, had been devoted to the conversion of these people, with so much success that nearly all of them were nominal Christians. For the rest, they lived in their own way, providing for themselves by hunting and fishing, and keeping their national customs and character almost unchanged. In the mission-house, however, a few children were brought up by the priests with the greatest care,—probably because it was by means of these boys, that they hoped more effectually to civilize the whole tribe. At any rate, they taught them all that they could have taught Europeans; having them completely in their own hands, there was no difficulty about this, and the more intelligent among them became good scholars. There was one boy, however, who distinguished himself above the rest, and was naturally the pride and favourite of the mission. He was an orphan, whom they had named Christian, and whom they were turning expressly for a priest. But when Christian was about sixteen, the mission was for the first time disturbed. Some Protestant missionaries invaded the island itself, and built their house close to the Indian wigwams. They spoke the language sufficiently to be understood, and took every means of making themselves acceptable to the people. They were men of great fervour and earnestness, and to the Indian senses, their religion, with its abundant hymns, and exclamatory prayers, had an attraction greater than that of the more decorous service to which they were accustomed. One by one, the so-called converts left the Jesuit church, and were re-converted with great acclamation. But when the infection reached their own pupils, their own particular and beloved flock, the priests were in despair; and the very first of their children to leave them, was Christian. He had been, for some time, tired of the sober and self-denying life which he was obliged to lead; and having gained all the advantages the priests could give him, and knowing that his profession of Protestantism would be hailed with the greatest joy by the new missionaries, he went to them, and so succeeded in persuading them of his sincerity, that he became as great a favourite as he had before been with his old teachers. The Jesuits, soon after, finding themselves almost entirely abandoned, gave up their mission and left the field to their opponents. How Christian spent the next few years it is not easy to tell. From the missionaries he learned to speak English perfectly well, and was for a time master of a school, which they established for the Indian children; but he lost their favour by the very same means by which he gained it. He was insincere in everything, and as he frequently visited both banks of the river, and was trusted to execute commissions for them, he had many opportunities for deceiving them. At last, he left the island altogether and joined a party of smugglers. With them he must have remained some time; but he had left them also and returned to the island, when Bailey came to the neighbourhood. They soon became acquainted; and Bailey, finding how exactly Christian suited his purpose, spared no pains to persuade him to join in collecting a sufficient number of his people for the expedition. In this he succeeded; but Christian was not to be imposed upon, and refused to stir in the matter, without an engagement from Bailey to pay him a considerable sum, on their return to Canada. Bailey was obliged to yield, and the agreement was signed, with a fixed determination to avoid keeping it, if possible. The other Indians were found without much trouble among those on the island, who, in spite of their change of teachers, were still in the same half-savage or more than half-savage state. A bad hunting season had reduced them to great misery, and a dozen of them were willing enough to undertake the voyage under the guidance of Christian, whose education had given him a kind of ascendancy to which he had no other claim, for the chieftainship, with which Bailey chose to invest him, was purely imaginary. Christian was a natural actor. Bailey understood perfectly what would suit the popular idea of an Indian chief, and the story which he intended to tell, so that, together, they succeeded admirably. They made a profitable tour, and their success culminated in London when they began to count leaders of fashion among their dupes.
It was at this moment of their success, that accident threw in their way a girl who was evidently well-born and susceptible, and whom a few inquiries proved to be an heiress. At first, Bailey had had some thought of himself winning this prize; but he had wit enough to see that he would not succeed, and that Christian might, which would be equally to his advantage. Christian cared little about it, but he let Bailey guide him, and so the prey fell into their hands.
So far, the story told had been intensely personal, and of the kind which must inevitably be coloured by the teller. From this point, Mrs. Costello was no longer leading her daughter through places and scenes entirely strange. She paused, and faltered, yet began again with a sense of having surmounted her greatest difficulties, and from hence is perhaps the best narrator of her own life.
"When I found out," she went on, "how different the reality was from my dreams, I took no care to hide, either from Bailey or my husband, the horror I began to feel for them both. Christian took my reproaches carelessly—his education had not prevented him from regarding women as other Indians do—to him I was merely his squaw, the chief and most useful of his possessions, and it made no difference to him whether I was contented with my position or not. But Bailey was not quite so insensible; and when I spoke to him with the same bitterness as to my husband, he retorted, and took trouble to show me how my own folly had been as much to blame as their schemes, in drawing me into such a marriage. He explained to me precisely how, and why, I had been entrapped, and made me perceive that I was utterly helpless in their hands. There came, about the middle of our voyage, a time when I sunk into a kind of stupor; worn out with the misery of my disappointment, I gave up my whole mind to a gloomy passiveness. Morning after morning I crept out on deck, and sat all day leaning against the bulwarks, with a cloak drawn round me, seeing nothing but the waves and sky, and indifferent to wind or rain, or the hot sun which sometimes shone on me. All this time I had taken no notice of the Indians, who for their part avoided me, and left me a portion of the deck always undisturbed. But one day as I sat as usual vacantly looking out to sea, I was disturbed by the cries of a child. The babies, although there were four or five in the party, were usually so quiet that the sound surprised me. I looked round, and saw the women gathered together in a group, consulting over the child, which still cried as if in violent pain. At last I got up, and went to the place, where I found that the poor little creature, a girl of about a year old, had fallen down a hatchway and broken her arm. She had lost her mother in England, and was in the care of an elder sister, who hung over her in the greatest distress, while the other women were preparing to bandage the arm. I had had no idea till then how wretchedly these poor creatures were huddled together, without even such comforts as they were used to; but when I found that it was impossible for the sick child to be cared for in the miserable place where they lived, I began to come to myself a little, or rather to forget myself, and contrive something to help others.
"The child's sister, Mary, spoke a little French, so that we could manage to understand each other; and with shawls and pillows, we made a comfortable little bed, in an unoccupied space close to my cabin. There we nursed the poor little creature, which got well wonderfully soon, and Mary became my firm and faithful friend. It was she whom you saw a few weeks ago, when she came, hoping to bring me a useful warning.
"We were six weeks at sea; and when we reached Quebec, and had to take the steamboats, a new kind of misery began for me. I shrank from the sight of our fellow-passengers, for I felt that wherever we went, they looked at me curiously, and sometimes I heard remarks and speculations, which seemed to carry the sense of degradation to my very heart. But Mary and her little sister had done me good. I had already lost some of my pride, and began to remember that, however I might repent my marriage, I had entered into it of my own will, and could not now free myself either from its ties or duties. My husband seemed pleased with my change of manner towards him; he was not unkind, and I hoped that perhaps when we reached his own tribe, and I had a home to care for, my life might not yet be so hopelessly wretched as it appeared at first.
"The last part of our journey was made in waggons. When we were within a few hours' distance of Moose Island the others went on, while Bailey, Christian, and I, remained at a small wayside tavern. It was a wretched place, but they gave me a small room where I could be alone, and try to rest. The one adjoining it was Bailey's, and late in the evening I heard him and Christian go into it together. The partition was so thin that their voices reached me quite distinctly, and I soon found that they were disputing about something. From the day when, on board ship, Bailey had told me how they had entrapped me simply for the money to which I was entitled, there had never been any allusion made, in my presence, to the profit they expected to make of me. I could hear now, however, as their voices grew louder, that this was the cause of their dispute. I caught only broken sentences, and never knew how the quarrel ended, for in the morning Bailey was gone, and I had learned already that it was useless to question Christian. I had written from Quebec to my father. The only answer I received was through his solicitor, who formally made over to me all my mother's fortune; but, of course, this did not happen until some weeks after our arrival at Moose Island.
"We remained three or four days at the tavern, and then removed to the island, where a small log-house had been got ready for me. It was clean and neat, though not better than the cottages of many farm-labourers in England, and I was so humbled that I never thought of complaining. It stood on a small marshy promontory at one end of the island, at a considerable distance from the village, and was more accessible by land than by water.
"In that house, Lucia, you were born; but not until three years of solitude, terror, and misery had almost broken my heart.
"As soon as ever we were settled in our home, which I tried to make comfortable and inviting according to my English ideas, Christian returned to the wandering and dissipated life he had led in the last few years before his journey to England. He was often away from me for many days without my knowing where he was, and I only heard from others, vague stories of his spending nights and days, drinking and gambling, on the American side of the river. At first, he always came back sober, and in good humour, and never left me without sufficient money for the few expenses which were necessary; but within six months this changed, and I began to suffer, not only from ill-usage, but from want.
"The missionaries, of whom I told you, were still on the island when I arrived there; but although they pitied, and were disposed to be kind to me, I could not bear to complain to them, or to make my story a subject for missionary reports and speeches. You see I had a little pride still, but I do not know whether it would not have yielded to the dreadful need for a friend of my own race, if events had not brought me one whom you know, Mr. Strafford.
"Although the island was large enough to have maintained the whole Indian population by farming, it remained, when I came there, entirely uncultivated, and hunting and fishing were still the only means the people had of supporting themselves. The consequence was, that at times they suffered greatly from scarcity of provisions, and this naturally brought disease. The year after my marriage was a bad one, and the women and children especially felt the want of their usual supplies. A great many of them left the island, and tried to find food by begging, or by selling mats, and baskets, at the nearest settlements. The misery of these poor creatures attracted attention, and people began to wonder why, since they were Christians, and had received some degree of teaching, they were still so ignorant of the means of living. The answer was easy. The missionaries who had taught them were as ignorant as themselves of these things; and, indeed, had not thought it necessary to civilize while they Christianized them. Mr. Strafford had then lately arrived in the country. He held different views to those of the missionaries, and, pitying the forlorn condition of the islanders, he offered to come and help them. Almost the first sensation of gladness I remember feeling, from the day I left my father's house, was when I heard that a clergyman of our own Church was to be settled among my poor neighbours."
"Mr. Strafford had been some little time on the island before he saw me. I had seen him, however, and I dare say you will understand how the expression of his face, the honest, manly, kindly look you have often admired, filled me with indescribable consolation, for I felt that there would be near me, in future, a countryman on whose counsel and help I could rely, if I should be driven to extremity. I waited without any impatience for the visit which he was sure to pay me. Mary, my best friend, had lately married a young Indian, who had spent much of his life among Europeans, and who was now employed by Mr. Strafford to teach him the Ojibway language, and, in the meantime, to act as interpreter for him. Through Mary and her husband, Henry Wanita, I knew he would hear of me and be sure to seek me out. I was right; he came one day when I was, as usual, alone, and before he left I had told him as much of my story as I could tell to any one, except to you. I expected that he would pity me, and that his pity would have a little contempt mixed with it, and I had made up my mind to endure the bitterness of this, for the sake of establishing that claim upon his advice and aid, which I was certain, after the first shock of such a confession, my wretchedness would give me. But he had not one word of reproof to say; either he had heard, or he guessed that my fault had brought its full measure of punishment, and that what I needed was rather consolation than reproach. He went away and left me, as he often left me afterwards, with courage and patience renewed for the hard struggle of my life.
"My husband had lately been more than ever away; and though in his absence I had often the greatest difficulty to obtain food, or any kind of necessaries, yet I was thankful for the peace in which I could then live. I learned to embroider in the Indian fashion, and was able to repay the kindness I received from Mary, and some of the other squaws, by drawing patterns for them, and by teaching them how to make more comfortable clothes for themselves and their children. After Mr. Strafford had been a little while on the island, he proposed to establish a school for this kind of work, and I became the mistress. The women and girls came to me more readily than they would have done to a stranger, and I soon had a good number of pupils.
"Several months passed, after Mr. Strafford's coming, without anything new occurring. Then Christian returned from the States, where he had been for a longer time than usual. He came late at night, and so intoxicated that I was obliged to go myself and fasten the canoe, which would have floated away before morning. When I followed him into the house he was already fast asleep, and it was not till the next day that I knew what had brought him home. Then he told me. What I understood—for he said as little as possible on the subject—was, that he had been for the last few weeks in the company of a party of gamblers, to whom he had lost everything he possessed, and, finally, that having found means of raising money upon the security of the whole fortune to which I was entitled, he had lost that too, and consequently we remained penniless. This much I heard with indifference; the money he received had never benefited me, and had only given him the means for a life you cannot imagine, and which I could not, if I would, describe to you; but when he ended by telling me that, as all my relations were rich, I must contrive to get fresh supplies from some of them, my patience gave way altogether. Even my fear of him yielded to my anger; for the first time since our arrival in Canada I spoke to him with all the bitterness I felt. A horrible scene followed—he threatened to kill me, and I believe would have done it but for the hope of yet obtaining money by my means. I tried to escape, but could not; and, at last, when he was tired of torturing me, he took off a long red sash which he wore, and tied me to the bed. There, Lucia, for four-and-twenty hours he kept me a prisoner, standing in a constrained attitude, without rest or food. How I endured so long without fainting, I do not know; fear of something worse must have given me unnatural strength, for he never left the house, but spent the early part of the day in searching all my cupboards and boxes for money or anything worth money, and the later part in drinking. Mr. Strafford had gone over to the Canadian shore, or probably, missing me from the school, he would have come in search of me. Mary did come, but at the sight of my husband, she went away without knowing anything of me. All night he sat drinking, for he had brought a quantity of whisky home some time before, and towards morning he lay down for a while, but so that I could not move without disturbing him. After two or three hours' sleep he got up and went away, leaving me still tied, and telling me I had better think of what he had said, and make up my mind to get money in some way. When I heard the sound of his paddle, and knew that he was really gone, the force that had sustained me gave way; I fainted, and in falling, the sash happily broke, though not until one of my wrists was badly sprained. The pain of my wrist brought me back to consciousness. As soon as I could, I wrapped myself in a shawl and went to Mary's cottage, to ask her to bandage it for me, and to take my excuses to the school, where I was quite unable to go that day.
"No one, not even Mr. Strafford, knew the cause of my sprained wrist, or the conduct of my husband that day and night, but it was impossible that when such scenes were repeated again and again, they should not become known. And they were repeated so often and so dreadfully, that only the feeling that I endured the just penalty of my own conduct, enabled me to bear the perpetual suffering. At last, even Christian saw that I could not live long if I had not some respite. Perhaps he had a little pity for me; perhaps he only thought still of gain. At any rate, he became less cruel, and my health returned. Again something like a calm came over my life, and I began to feel hopeful once more. The next spring you, Lucia, my light and comfort, were born, and from that time I had double cause both for hope and fear. The birth of a daughter, however, is no cause of joy to an Indian father; if you had been a boy you would have been (or so I fancy) far less consolation to me, but to Christian you would have been more welcome. He was with me when you were born, but the very next day he left the island for three or four weeks, and from the time of his next return all my former sufferings recommenced. Often in terror for your life, I carried you to Mary Wanita and implored her to keep you until your father was gone; and even in his absence I scarcely dared to fall asleep with you in my arms, lest he should come in unexpectedly and snatch you from me.
"When you were about a year old Mr. Strafford married. His wife, who had already heard of me before her marriage, became the dearest of friends to me; with her I could always leave you in safety, and with her I began to feel again the solace of female society and sympathy. She is dead, as you know, long ago, and her little daughter died at the same time, of a fever which broke out on the island two or three years after we left it.
"Two years passed after your birth, and things had gone on in much the same way. My husband never ceased to urge me to try to obtain money from England, and in the meantime he continually took from me the little I could earn by my work, for which Mrs. Strafford found me a sale in different towns of the province.
"Do not misjudge me, Lucia. I tell you these things only to justify what I did later, and my long concealment even from you of the truth of my history.
"But when you were about two years old your father left the island, and did not return. The longest stay he had ever made before was a month, and when two passed, and I neither saw nor heard of him, I began to feel uneasy. Mr. Strafford made many inquiries for me, but we only heard of his having been seen shortly after he left home, and quite failed in learning where he had gone. Time went on, and, after the first anxious and troubled feelings passed off, I allowed myself to enjoy the undisturbed quiet, and to be happy as any other mother might be with her child. I had a whole year of such peace; you grew hardy and merry, and were the pet and plaything of the whole village, learning to talk the strangest mixed language, and showing at that time none of the terror of Indians which I have seen in you since then.
"But at the end of a year our respite ended. One day when I had been at the school, and you with me, I was surprised on my return home to see the door of the house open, and some men sitting at my table. I hurried on, and walked into the room before they were aware of my coming. There were four of them, two Indians and two who were either white or of mixed race; but it was only by his voice, and that after a moment's pause, that I could recognize my husband. My husband! never till then had I known the full horror that word could convey. Remember that long ago I had been charmed, had fallen in love, as girls say, with one who seemed to represent the very perfection and ideal of manly beauty; that this beauty and stateliness of outward form had been so great that I took it for the truthful expression of such a nature as I thought most heroic—remember this, and then think of what I saw after this year of absence. A bloated, degraded, horrible creature—not even a man, but a brute, raving half deliriously, and still drinking, while his companions, little more sober than himself, made him the subject of their jests and jeers. I held my little innocent child in my arms while I saw this, and for the first time, and for her sake, I felt a bitter hatred rise up in my heart against her father."
A strong shudder crept over Mrs. Costello; she covered her face with her hands for a moment, while Lucia drew more closely to her side. Presently she went on. "A cry from you, my child, drew the men's attention to us. 'Here's your squaw,' one of them said to Christian, who tried to get up, but could not. I saw that it was useless to speak to him, and turned to leave the house, intending to ask shelter from Mrs. Strafford or Mary, but before I could pass the door one of the strangers shut and bolted it, while another seized and held me fast. They made me sit down at the table; they tried to drag you out of my arms, and failing in that, to make you swallow some of the whisky they were drinking. I defended you as well as I could. In my terror and despair I watched for the time when they should all become as helpless as the miserable creature who had brought them there; but it was long to wait. Lucia, those hours when I saw myself and you at the mercy of these wretches were like years of agony. They saw my fear, however I might try to disguise it, and delighted in the torment I suffered. They tried again and again to take you from me; they threatened us both with every imaginable horror; till I thought night would have quite closed in before their drinking would end in complete intoxication. At length, at length, it did. One had fallen asleep; the other two were quarrelling feebly, when I ventured to move. They tried to get up, to stop me; but I drew the bolt, and fled into the darkness where I knew they could not follow.
"I reached Mr. Strafford's door, and we were received with all kindness; but the fright, the sudden exposure to cold night air, after being for so many hours shut up in a stifling room, and perhaps, added to all a few drops of spirit which had been forced into your mouth, brought on you a sudden, and to me most terrible, illness. It was your first; I had never seen you suffer, and I thought you would die; that God would take you from me as the last and crowning punishment for my disobedience. In the great anguish of this idea, I wrote to my father—wrote by your bedside while you slept, and confessing all my folly, implored his forgiveness, as if that would preserve my child's life. You recovered, and in my joy I almost forgot that the letter had been written. While you lay ill, the Straffords concealed from me that my husband had been to the house demanding my return home; but when you were almost well, they told me not only this, but that he had declared in the village that he would punish us both for our flight. It was then that Mr. Strafford recommended me to think seriously of a final escape.
"'It is evident,' he said, 'that you neither can, nor ought, to put yourself and your child again into his power—while you remain on the island it must be here; but I strongly advise you to return to England, or conceal yourself from him in some way.'
"I gratefully accepted his invitation to remain for a little while at his house—the rest of his plan could not be hastily decided upon; and while I deliberated, a letter arrived from England. Mr. Strafford, on hearing of the scene which ended in your illness, had carried out an idea which, he afterwards told me, he had long entertained, and written to my cousin George. The letter which now arrived was in answer to this, though it contained an enclosure for me. My appeal to my father had been made just in time; it reached him on his deathbed, and he forgave me. He did more than that; he altered, at the very last, a will made many years before, and left me an equal sum to that I had before inherited from my mother, but with the condition that I should never return to England. You understand now why, loving the dear old country as I still do, I have always told you I should never see it again—to do so would be to forfeit all our living, and more even than that, it would be to disobey my father's last command. My cousin's note was as kind and brotherly as if he had never had the least reason to complain of me. He told me that he had married some years before a good woman who, I have since thought, might have been his first choice if regard for my father's wishes had not influenced him. At any rate, they were and, I hope, still are happy together, filling my father and mother's places in the old home.
"These letters made my way clearer. It was settled that I should take advantage of Christian's absence (for he had again left the island) to remove with you to the most secure hiding-place we could find, and as a large town always offers the best means of concealment, we decided upon Montreal. So after a residence of six years on the island, I left it at last, carrying you with me and calling myself a widow. It was then that I took the name of Costello. It was my mother's family name, and is really, as you have always supposed, Spanish—my great-grandfather having been a Spaniard. I gave you the name at your baptism, so that it is really yours, though not mine.
"For six months we remained in Montreal; but I had been so long used to the silence and free air of the island that my health failed in the noisy town. I was seized with a terror of dying, and leaving you unprotected, and therefore determined to try whether I could not remain concealed equally well in the country. A chance made me think of this neighbourhood, which, though rather too near my old home, was then very retired, and not inhabited at all by Indians. I came up, found this place for sale and bought it. There was only a very rough log-house upon the ground, but I went into that until this cottage was ready, and here you can remember almost all that has happened."
Lucia raised her head as her mother finished speaking.
"But—my father!" she said hesitatingly.
"I forgot." Mrs. Costello resumed. "Mr. Strafford kept me informed of his movements for some time. He came back shortly after we had left the island, and on finding us gone, he tried all means to discover where we were. He actually traced us to Montreal, but there lost the clue, and came back disappointed. For some years he continued to live much as he had done ever since his return from England, frequently staying two or three weeks on the island, and never forgetting to make some effort to trace us. The perpetual terror I suffered during those years never subsided. I feared to go outside of my own garden lest he should meet and recognize me. At last Mr. Strafford sent me word that he had gone to the Hudson's Bay Territory.
"After that I began to feel that I was free, and from the time you were nine until you were sixteen I had little immediate anxiety; then, as I saw you growing up, I knew that the time when you must know your own birth and my history drew very near, and the idea weighed on me constantly. Other anxieties came too, and finally, worst of all, news that Christian had returned."
"And now," Lucia asked, "do you know where he is?"
"No. But I have been warned that he is seeking for us. They say that we have more reason than ever to fear him, and that he is looking for us in this part of the province."
Mrs. Costello's voice sunk almost to a whisper. She seemed to fancy that the man she had so long escaped might be close at hand, and Lucia caught the infection of her terror. They remained silent a minute, listening fearfully to the light rustling of the leaves outside, as the breeze stirred them.
"Mother," Lucia said at last, "how soon can we leave here?"
"I have thought much of that," Mrs. Costello answered, "but we have ties here too strong to be broken suddenly; and, indeed, a hasty removal might but draw upon us the very notice we wish to avoid."
"We must go soon though, as soon as possible. Oh! mamma, I could not bear to stay here now."
It was a cry of impatience—of acute pain—the child had suddenly turned back from her mother's story to her own trial and loss. Love, happiness, two hours ago clasped to her heart, and now torn from her pitilessly; for a moment she was all rebellion at the thought—she, at least, had not sinned, why should she suffer? Yet in her heart she knew that she must; she saw the one path clear before her, and felt that the time for acting was now; the time for grieving must come after. She rose, and walked up and down the room, gathering her strength and courage as she could.
At last she stopped in front of her mother's chair. Her face was pale, but so steady and composed that its girlishness seemed gone—she looked, what she would be from that time, a woman able to endure, and resolute to act.
"Mother," she said quietly, "Mr. Percy is coming to-morrow morning. He is coming to see you, but I would rather speak to him myself. There is no need that he should know anything whatever—of my father, or of what you have told me—we shall never see him again."
Except once, there was neither hesitation nor faltering in her voice, but her meaning could not be misunderstood. For a moment Mrs. Costello felt her convictions and her judgment shaken; if, after all, this love, which Lucia was about to lose, should be true and perfect? if Percy should be capable of knowing all, and yet cherishing and prizing her? Ought pride, ought her own opinion of him, to stand between her child and possible happiness and safety?
But she saw in Lucia's face that underneath all her love, the same feeling, that his would not stand this shock, lay deep in her heart, and the doubt died away as suddenly as it had risen.
"Do as you will, my child," she said. "But think well first. I, who have failed where I most desired to succeed, cannot venture now to advise you."
Lucia bent down and kissed her. "Poor mother!" she said tenderly, "you have thought too much for me, and I have never known what a burden I was to you. But we shall do better in future—when we are far away and have begun life again."
The hopeful words sounded very dreary in the sweet young voice, which seemed to have changed its tone, and taken the low mournful intonation of her Indian race; but she moved calmly away, replaced the contents of the desk with care, and closed and locked it. Then she gave the key to her mother, and bent over her again to say good-night.
There were no more words spoken between them. A long kiss, and they separated. But for the first time Mrs. Costello did not visit her daughter's room—she guessed that a battle had to be fought there in solitude, and that hers was not the only vigil kept that night. So the two watched apart; and the dawn, which was not far distant when they bade each other good-night, came in and found them both looking out with sleepless eyes at the grey sky and the familiar landscape, from which they were each planning to escape for ever.
But as the sky reddened, Lucia remembered that her sleepless night would leave traces which she wished to avoid, in her pale cheeks and heavy eyes. She lay down therefore, and at last fell asleep. Her over-excited brain, however, could not rest; the most troubled and fantastic dreams came to her,—her mother, Mary Wanita, Percy, Maurice, and many other persons seemed to surround her—but in every change of scene there appeared the shadowy figure of her father, constantly working or threatening harm. Sometimes she saw him as he looked in his portrait, and shrank from him as a kind of evil genius, beautiful and yet terrible—sometimes like the Indian who had met her by the river, a hideous, scarcely human object. Then, last of all, she saw him distinctly, as the scene her mother had described, the last time when she had really seen him, came before her, not by the power of imagination but of memory. For, waking up, she knew that, impressed upon her childish recollection by terror, that scene had never been entirely forgotten. Having no clue to its reality, she had always supposed it to be a dream; but now as it came back with some degree of vividness, she saw plainly the face which was neither that of the likeness nor that of her assailant, but might well be a link between the two—the same face in transition.
The idea was too horrible. She rose, and tried by hurried dressing to drive it from her mind; but it returned persistently. She went, at last, to her looking-glass and looked into it with a terror of herself. Never was ugliness so hateful as the beauty she saw there. For there could be no doubt about this, at least; except for the softening into womanly traits, and for a slightly fairer complexion, the picture her glass showed her was a faithful copy of that other, which she had seen for the first time last night. What beauty her mother had ever possessed had been thoroughly English in its character—hers was wholly Indian. She turned away with a feeling of loathing for herself, and a fearful glance into her heart as if to seek there also for some proof of this hateful birthright.
When Mr. Percy left Lucia standing at the gate, and began his solitary walk back to Cacouna, he was almost as happy as she was. A kind of intoxication had swept away out of his very recollection the selfishness and policy of his habitual humour,—all that was youthful, generous, and impulsive in him had sprung suddenly to the surface, and so for the moment transformed him, that he was literally a different man to what he had ever been before. He pictured to himself the lovely bright face of the young girl as his daily companion—a Utopian vision of a small home where he was to be content with her society, and she with his, and where by some magic or other everything was to be arranged for them with an elegant simplicity which he, for that moment, forgot would be expensive to maintain, rose before his eyes; and he had almost reached his cousin's house, before this extraordinary hallucination began to yield a little, and his dreams to be interspersed with recollections of an empty purse and an angry father.
Alas! the wife and the home were but visions—the empty purse and the angry father were realities. That very morning a letter from the Earl had brought him a severe lecture on the folly of his delay in Canada; there was a sharp passage in it too about Lady Adeliza, who seemed to be in danger of deserting her truant admirer for one more assiduous. But indeed it was useless to think of Lady Adeliza now, for whatever might happen he was pledged to Lucia, and it would be well if her ladyship did really relieve him by accepting somebody else. Whether she did or no, however, he felt that his conduct towards her would furnish his father with sufficient cause for a quarrel, even without the added enormity of presenting to him a penniless daughter-in-law, who had not even family influence for a dower.
Poor Mr. Percy! he went into the house in grievous perplexity. Very much in love, more so than anybody, even himself, would have supposed possible, but very much doubting already whether the doings of the last hour or two had not been of a suicidal character, he tried to solve his difficulties by laying the whole blame upon fate. But to blame fate is not enough to repair the mischief she may have done; and though he succeeded in putting off his anxieties, so as not to let them be evident during the remainder of the evening, they returned with double force as soon as he was alone.
Mr. Percy naturally hated thinking; he hated trouble, and it was troublesome to think. Perhaps it was more troublesome to him than to other people; for, to confess the truth, he had not more than a very ordinary allowance of brains, and those he had were not accustomed to have sudden calls upon them. So he sat and pondered slowly, starting from the one or two points which were clear to him, and trying, without much success, to make out a map of the future from these slight indications. First of all, if was clear and evident that he was engaged to Lucia; he stopped a moment there to think of her, and that she was certainly a prize in the lottery of life, so beautiful, gracious, and devoted to him as she was; but he had not the smallest uncertainty about Mrs. Costello's consent, so never glanced towards any possible missing of the prize. That was all very well, very well, at present, though undeniably it would have been better if Lucia could have had Lady Adeliza's advantages. Ah! that was the next step. There was Lady Adeliza to be got rid of—if she did not herself, take the initiative—and that was not a pleasant affair. He had only been extremely attentive to her, that was the utmost anybody could say; but then there was his father—the two fathers, indeed, for he had good reason to believe that the Earl had not urged him to pay his suit to the lady without pretty good cause for counting on the approval of her family. It was a dreadful bore; and then there could be no doubt that by displeasing at a blow his own father and Lady Adeliza's, he was forfeiting his best if not his only chance of success in life. Altogether, the more he looked at the prospect the gloomier it grew, and at last he got up impatiently and put an end to his cogitations.
"I shall have to turn backwoodsman at once," he said to himself, "or miner, like those fellows we saw at the Sault."
In spite of his confidence in himself and in Lucia, it was not without a little tremor that Mr. Percy walked up to the Cottage next morning. He began to feel that there really might be some difficulty in persuading a mother to give up her only child to the care of a man who was not only poor, but likely to remain so, who could not even give her the hope of independence such as might fall to the lot of the backwoodsman or miner. But he kept up his courage as well as he could, and was very little disturbed out of his usual manner when he followed Margery into the small parlour. The room was empty; and in a little surprise—for he expected Lucia would have prepared her mother for his coming—he walked to the window and looked out on to the verandah. There was no one there, nor in the garden, but the sound of a door opening made him turn round, as Lucia, instead of Mrs. Costello, came in.
As they met he saw a change in her. A crimson colour had rushed to her face for a moment when she came in, but in a moment faded to the most complete pallor. There was not a sign of her usual shy grace or timid welcome: she was cold, erect, and composed, nothing more.
She gave him her hand, and said,
"My mother is not well. I must speak to you for her, Mr. Percy, and for myself."
"But Lucia!" he cried. "What is this? What is the matter? Have you forgotten last night?"
Her quiet was shaken for a moment.
"No, indeed," she answered. "No. I shall never forget last night."
"You have surely forgotten what I came for this morning then," he said placing a chair for her. "Sit down and tell me what is wrong, for something is." His tone, his look, so utterly unsuspicious of anything that could come between them in this trouble of hers, were hard to bear. But she had to speak.