“Why, no,” answered Maggie, beginning to grow a little mystified. “The dead have nothing to do with it. You tried to poison me when I was a baby, and that’s what makes you crazy. Isn’t it so? Grandma thought it was, when I told her how you talked last night.”
There was a heavy load lifted from Hagar’s heart, and she answered calmly, but somewhat indignantly, “So you told—I thought I could trust you, Maggie.”
Instantly the tears came to Maggie’s eyes, and, coloring crimson, she said: “I didn’t mean to tell—indeed I didn’t, but I forgot all about your charge. Forgive me, Hagar, do,” and, sinking on the floor, she looked up in Hagar’s face so pleadingly that the old woman was softened, and answered gently: “You are like the rest of your sex, Margaret. No woman but Hagar Warren ever kept a secret; and it’s killing her, you see!”
“Don’t keep it, then,” said Maggie. “Tell it to me. Confess that you tried to poison me because you envied grandma,” and the soft eyes looked with an anxious, expectant expression into the dark, wild orbs of Hagar, who replied: “Envy was at the bottom of it all, but I never tried to harm you, Margaret, in any way. I only thought to do you good. You have not guessed it. You cannot, and you must not try.”
“Tell it to me, then. I want to know it so badly,” persisted Maggie, her curiosity each moment increasing.
“Maggie Miller,” said old Hagar, and the knitting dropped from her fingers, which moved slowly on till they reached and touched the little snowflake of a hand resting on her knee—“Maggie Miller, if you knew that the telling of that secret would make you perfectly wretched, would you wish to hear it?”
For a moment Maggie was silent, and then, half laughingly, she replied: “I’d risk it, Hagar, for I never wanted to know anything half so bad in all my life. Tell it to me, won’t you?”
Very beautiful looked Maggie Miller then—her straw flat set jauntily on one side of her head, her glossy hair combed smoothly back, her soft lustrous eyes shining with eager curiosity, and her cheeks flushed with excitement. Very, very beautiful she seemed to the old woman, who, in her intense longing to take the bright creature to her bosom, was, for an instant, sorely tempted.
“Margaret!” she began, and at the sound of her voice the young girl shuddered involuntarily. “Margaret!” she said again; but ere another word was uttered the autumn wind, which for the last half-hour had been rising rapidly, came roaring down the wide-mouthed chimney, and the heavy fireboard fell upon the floor with a tremendous crash, nearly crushing old Hagar’s foot, and driving for a time all thoughts of the secret from Maggie’s mind. “Served me right,” muttered Hagar, as Maggie left the room for water with which to bathe the swollen foot. “Served me right; and if ever I’m tempted to tell her again may every bone in my body be smashed!”