‘Safe enough, I should think,’ said the clergyman.
’What I mean is that she has no dangers to fear such as my poor wife has encountered. Whomever I think of now I cannot but compare them to ourselves. No woman surely was ever so ill-used as she, and no man ever so unfortunate as myself.’
‘It will be all over in August.’
’And where shall I be? My own lawyer tells me that it is too probable that I shall be in prison. And where will she be then?’
Early on the Tuesday morning Hester came down into the breakfast parlour at Puritan Grange, having with difficulty persuaded herself that she would stay the appointed hours in her mother’s house. On the previous evening her mother had, she thought, been very hard on her, and she had determined to go. She would not stay even with her mother, if her mother insisted upon telling her that she was not her husband’s wife. But during the night she was able to persuade herself to bear what had been already said,—to let it be as though it had been forgotten. Her mother was her mother. But she would bear no more. As to herself and her own conduct her parents might say what they pleased to her. But of her husband she would endure to hear no evil word spoken. In this spirit she came down into the little parlour.
Mrs. Bolton was also up,—had been up and about for some time previous. She was a woman who never gave way to temptations of ease. A nasty dark morning at six o’clock, with just light enough to enable her to dress without a candle, with no fire and no hot water, with her husband snoring while she went through her operations, was to her thinking the proper condition of things for this world. Not to be cold, not to be uncomfortable, not to strike her toes against the furniture because she could not quite see what she was about, would to her have been to be wicked. When her daughter came into the parlour, she had been about the house for more than an hour, and had had a conference both with the cook and with the gardener. The cook was of opinion that not a word should be said, or an unusual bolt drawn, or a thing removed till the Wednesday. ’She can’t carry down her big box herself, ma’am; and the likes of Miss Hester would never think of going without her things;—and then there’s the baby.’ A look of agony came across the mother’s face as she heard her daughter called Miss Hester;—but in truth the woman had used the name from old association, and not with any reference to her late young mistress’s present position. ’I should just tell her flat on Wednesday morning that she wasn’t to stir out of this, but I wouldn’t say nothing at all about any of it till then.’ The gardener winked and nodded his head, and promised to put a stake into the ground behind the little wicket-gate which would make the opening of it impossible. ’But take my word for it, ma’am, she’ll never try that. She’ll be a deal too proud. She’ll rampage at the front door, and ‘ll despise any escaping like.’ That was the gardener’s idea, and the gardener had long known the young lady. By these arguments Mrs. Bolton was induced to postpone her prison arrangements till the morrow.