There was something authoritative in her manner, and Hagar obeyed, whispering incoherently to herself, and thus further confirming her mistress’ suspicions that she was partially insane. During the ceremony she stood tall and erect like some dark, grim statue, her hands firmly locked together, and her eyes fixed upon the face of the little one who was baptized Margaret Miller. As the clergyman pronounced that name she uttered a low, gasping moan, but her face betrayed no emotion, and very calmly she stepped forward with the other child upon her arm.
“What name?” asked the minister; and she answered, “Her mother’s; call her for her mother!”
“Hester,” said Madam Conway, turning to the clergyman, who understood nothing from Hagar’s reply.
So Hester was the name given to the child in whose veins the blood of English noblemen was flowing; and when the ceremony was ended Hagar bore back to her room Hester Hamilton, the child defrauded of her birthright, and Maggie Miller, the heroine of our story.
Hester and Maggie.
“It is over now,” old Hagar thought, as she laid the children upon their pillows. “The deed is done, and by their own hands too. There is nothing left for me now but a confession, and that I cannot make;” so with a heavy weight upon her soul she sat down, resolving to keep her own counsel and abide the consequence, whatever it might be.
But it wore upon her terribly,—that secret,—and though it helped in a measure to divert her mind from dwelling too much upon her daughter’s death it haunted her continually, making her a strange, eccentric woman whom the servants persisted in calling crazy, while even Madam Conway failed to comprehend her. Her face, always dark, seemed to have acquired a darker, harder look, while her eyes wore a wild, startled expression, as if she were constantly followed by some tormenting fear. At first Mrs. Miller objected to trusting her with the babe; but when Madam Conway suggested that the woman who had charge of little Theo should also take care of Maggie she fell upon her knees and begged most piteously that the child might not be taken from her. “Everything I have ever loved has left me,” said she, “and I cannot give her up.”
“But they say you are crazy,” answered Madam Conway, somewhat surprised that Hagar should manifest so much affection for a child not at all connected to her. “They say you are crazy, and no one trusts a crazy woman.”
“Crazy!” repeated Hagar half-scornfully; “crazy—’tis not craziness—’tis the trouble—the trouble—that’s killing me! But I’ll hide it closer than it’s hidden now,” she continued, “if you’ll let her stay; and ’fore Heaven I swear that sooner than harm one hair of Maggie’s head I’d part with my own life;” and taking the sleeping child in her arms she stood like a wild beast at bay.