“Warner, Warner!” interrupted old Hagar, the nameless terror of the night before creeping again into her heart. “Whose name did you say was Warner?”
“The hull on ’em, boy, girl, and all, is called Warner now—one Rose, and t’other Henry,” answered the peddler, perfectly delighted with the interest manifested by his auditor, who, grasping at the bedpost and moving her hand rapidly before her eyes, as if to clear away a mist which had settled there, continued, “I remember now, Hester told me of the children; but one, she said, was a stepchild—that was the boy, wasn’t it?” and her wild, black eyes had in them a look of unutterable anxiety, wholly incomprehensible to the peddler, who, instead of answering her question said: “What ails you woman? Your face is as white as a piece of paper?”
“Thinking of Hester always affects me so,” she answered; and stretching her hands beseechingly towards him, she entreated him to say if Henry were not the stepchild.
“No marm, he warn’t,” answered the peddler, who, like a great many talkative people, pretended to know more than he really did, and who in this particular instance was certainly mistaken. “I can tell you egzactly how that is: Henry was the son of Mr. Hampleton’s first marriage—Henry Hampleton. The second wife, the one your darter lived with, was the Widder Warner, and had a little gal, Rose, when she married Mr. Hampleton. This Widder Warner’s husband’s brother married Mr. Hampleton’s sister, the woman who took the children, and had Henry change his name to Warner. The Hampletons and Warners were mighty big-feelin’ folks, and the old squire’s match mortified ’em dreadfully.”
“Where are they now?” gasped Hagar, hoping there might be some mistake.
“There you’ve got me!” answered Martin. “I haven’t seen ’em this dozen year; but the last I heard, Miss Warner and Rose was livin’ in Leominster, and Henry was in a big store in Wooster. But what the plague is the matter?” he continued, alarmed at the expression of Hagar’s face, as well as at the strangeness of her manner.
Wringing her hands as if she would wrench her fingers from their sockets, she clutched at her long white hair, and, rocking to and fro, moaned, “Woe is me, and woe the day when I was born!”
From everyone save her grandmother Margaret had kept the knowledge of her changed feelings towards Henry Warner; and looking upon a marriage between the two as an event surely to be expected, old Hagar was overwhelmed with grief and fear. Falling at last upon her knees, she cried: “Had you cut my throat from ear to ear, old man, you could not have hurt me more! Oh, that I had died years and years ago! But I must live now—live!” she screamed, springing to her feet—“live to prevent the wrong my own wickedness has caused!”
Perfectly astonished at what he saw and heard, the peddler attempted to question her, but failing to obtain any satisfactory answers he finally left, mentally pronouncing her “as crazy as a loon.” This opinion was confirmed by the people on whom he next called, for, chancing to speak of Hagar, he was told that nothing which she did or said was considered strange, as she had been called insane for years. This satisfied Martin, who made no further mention of her, and thus the scandal which his story might otherwise have produced was prevented.