“My life is almost ended,” she thought, “and the secret shall go with me to my grave. Margaret will be happier without it, and it shall not be revealed.”
Thus she reasoned on that rainy afternoon, when she sat waiting for Maggie, who, she heard, had returned the day before. Slowly the hours dragged on, and the night shadows fell at last upon the forest trees, creeping into the corners of Hagar’s room, resting upon the hearthstone, falling upon the window pane, creeping up the wall, and affecting Hagar with a nameless fear of some impending evil. This fear not even the flickering flame of the lamp, which she lighted at last and placed upon the mantel, was able to dispel, for the shadows grew darker, folding themselves around her heart, until she covered her eyes with her hands, lest some goblin shape should spring into life before her.
The sound of the gate latch was heard, and footsteps were approaching the door—not the bounding step of Maggie, but a tramping tread, followed by a heavy knock, and next moment a tall, heavy-built man appeared before her, asking shelter for the night. The pack he carried showed him at once to be a peddler, and upon a nearer view Hagar recognized in him a stranger who, years before, had craved her hospitality. He had been civil to her then; she did not fear him now, and she consented to his remaining, thinking his presence there might dispel the mysterious terror hanging around her. But few words passed between them that night, for Martin, as he called himself, was tired, and after partaking of the supper that she prepared he retired to rest. The next morning, however, he was more talkative, kindly enlightening her with regard to his business, his family, and his place of residence, which last he said was in Meriden, Conn.
It was a long time since Hagar had heard that name, and now, turning quickly towards him, she said, “Meriden? That is where my Hester lived, and where her husband died.”
“I want to know!” returned the Yankee peddler. “What might have been his name?”
“Hamilton—Nathan Hamilton. Did you know him? He died nineteen years ago this coming summer.”
“Egzactly!” ejaculated the peddler, setting down his pack and himself taking a chair, preparatory to a long talk. “Egzactly; I knowed him like a book. Old Squire Hampleton, the biggest man in Meriden, and you don’t say his last wife, that tall, handsome gal, was your darter?”
“Yes, she was my daughter,” answered Hagar, her whole face glowing with the interest she felt in talking for the first time in her life with one who had known her daughter’s husband, Maggie’s father. “You knew her. You have seen her?” she continued; and Martin answered, “Seen her a hundred times, I’ll bet. Anyhow, I sold her the weddin’ gown; and now, I think on’t, she favored you. She was a likely person, and I allus thought that proud sister of his’n, the Widder Warner, might have been in better business than takin’ them children away as she did, because he married his hired gal. But it’s as well for them, I s’pose, particularly for the boy, who is one of the fust young men in Wooster now. Keeps a big store!”