Touched with pity by her worn, haggard face, Madam Conway answered, “Yes, take some of her common ones,” and, choosing the cambric robe which Hester had worn on the morning when the exchange was made, Hagar dressed the body for the grave. When at last everything was ready, and the tiny coffin stood upon the table, Madam Conway drew near and looked for a moment on the emaciated form which rested quietly from all its pain. Hovering at her side was Hagar, and feeling it her duty to say a word of comfort the stately lady remarked that it was best the babe should die; that were it her grandchild she should feel relieved; for had it lived, it would undoubtedly have been physically and intellectually feeble.
“Thank you! I am considerably comforted,” was the cool reply of Hagar, who felt how cruel were the words, and who for a moment was strongly tempted to claim the beautiful Maggie as her own, and give back to the cold, proud woman the senseless clay on which she looked so calmly.
But love for her grandchild conquered. There was nothing in the way of her advancement now, and when at the grave she knelt her down to weep, as the bystanders thought, over her dead, she was breathing there a vow that never so long as she lived should the secret of Maggie’s birth be given to the world unless some circumstance then unforeseen should make it absolutely and unavoidably necessary. To see Maggie grow up into a beautiful, refined, and cultivated woman was now the great object of Hagar’s life; and, fearing lest by some inadvertent word or action the secret should be disclosed, she wished to live by herself, where naught but the winds of heaven could listen to the incoherent whisperings which made her fellow-servants accuse her of insanity.
Down in the deepest shadow of the woods, and distant from the old stone house nearly a mile, was a half-ruined cottage which, years before, had been occupied by miners, who had dug in the hillside for particles of yellow ore which they fancied to be gold. Long and frequent were the night revels said to have been held in the old hut, which had at last fallen into bad repute and been for years deserted. To one like Hagar, however, there was nothing intimidating in its creaking old floors, its rattling windows and noisome chimney, where the bats and the swallows built their nests; and when one day Madam Conway proposed giving little Maggie into the charge of a younger and less nervous person than herself she made no objection, but surprised her mistress by asking permission to live by herself in the “cottage by the mine,” as it was called.
“It is better for me to be alone,” said she, “for I may do something terrible if I stay here, something I would sooner die than do,” and her eyes fell upon Maggie sleeping in her cradle.