The words were meet, for never Hagar in the desert, thirsting for the gushing fountain, suffered more than did she who sat with covered face and made no word of answer. Maggie was unusually happy that day, for but a few hours before she had received Henry’s letter making her free—free to love Arthur Carrollton, who she well knew only waited a favorable opportunity to tell her of his love; so with a heart full of happiness she had stolen away to visit Hagar, reproaching herself as she came for having neglected her so long. “But I’ll make amends by telling her what I’m sure she must have guessed,” she thought, as she entered the cottage, where, to her surprise, she found her weeping. Thinking the old woman’s distress might possibly be occasioned by her neglect, she spoke again. “Are you crying for me, Hagar?”
“Yes, Maggie Miller, for you—for you!” answered Hagar, lifting up a face so ghastly white that Maggie started back in some alarm.
“Poor Hagar, you are ill,” she said, and advancing nearer she wound her arms around the trembling form, and, pillowing the snowy head upon her bosom, continued soothingly: “I did not mean to stay away long. I will not do it again, but I am so happy, Hagar, so happy that I half forgot myself.”
For a moment Hagar let her head repose upon the bosom of her child, then murmuring softly, “It will never lie there again,” she arose, and, confronting Maggie, said, “Is it love which makes you so happy?”
“Yes, Hagar, love,” answered Margaret, the deep blushes stealing over her glowing face.
“And is it your intention to marry the man you love?” continued Hagar, thinking only of Henry Warner, while Margaret, thinking only of Arthur Carrollton, replied, “If he will marry me, I shall most surely marry him.”
“It is enough. I must tell her,” whispered Hagar; while Maggie asked, “Tell me what?”
For a moment the wild eyes fastened themselves upon her with a look of yearning anguish, and then Hagar answered slowly, “Tell you what you’ve often wished to know—my secret!” the last word dropping from her lips more like a warning hiss than like a human sound. It was long since Maggie had teased for the secret, so absorbed had she been in other matters, but now that there was a prospect of knowing it her curiosity was reawakened, and while her eyes glistened with expectation, she said, “Yes, tell it to me, Hagar, and then I’ll tell you mine;” and all over her beautiful face there shone a joyous light as she thought how Hagar, who had once pronounced Henry Warner unworthy, would rejoice in her new love.
“Not here, Maggie—not here in this room can I tell you,” said old Hagar; “but out in the open air, where my breath will come more freely;” and, leading the way, she hobbled to the mossy bank where Maggie had sat with Arthur Carrollton on the morning of his departure for Montreal.
Here she sat down, while Maggie threw herself upon the damp ground at her feet, her face lighted with eager curiosity and her lustrous eyes bright as stars with excitement. For a moment Hagar bent forward, and, folding her hands one above the other, laid them upon the head of the young girl as if to gather strength for what she was to say. But all in vain; for when she essayed to speak her tongue clave to the roof of her mouth, and her lips gave forth unmeaning sounds.