My mother was crushed. Her lips moved again, but she said nothing aloud, and my father turned on his heel, and left the room, shaking the floor at every step under the weight of his sixteen stone. At the next moment, Aunt Bridget, jingling her keys, went tripping after him.
Hardly had they gone when my mother broke into a long fit of coughing, and when it was over she lay back exhausted, with her white face and her tired eyes turned upwards. Then I clasped her about the neck, and Father Dan, whose cheeks were wet with tears patted her drooping hand.
My darling mother! Never once have I thought of her without the greatest affection, but now that I know for myself what she must have suffered I love best to think of her as she was that day—my sweet, beautiful, timid angel—standing up for one brief moment, not only against Aunt Bridget, but against the cruelty of all the ages, in the divine right of her outraged motherhood.
My mother’s submission was complete. Within twenty-four hours she was busy preparing clothes for my journey to Rome. The old coloured pattern book was brought out again, material was sent for, a sewing-maid was engaged from the village, and above all, in my view, an order was dispatched to Blackwater for a small squirrel-skin scarf, a large squirrel-skin muff, and a close-fitting squirrel-skin hat with a feather on the side of it.
A child’s heart is a running brook, and it would wrong the truth to say that I grieved much in the midst of these busy preparations. On the contrary I felt a sort of pride in them, poor innocent that I was, as in something that gave me a certain high superiority over Betsy Beauty and Nessy MacLeod, and entitled me to treat them with condescension.
Father Dan, who came more frequently than ever, fostered this feeling without intending to do so, by telling me, whenever we were alone, that I must be a good girl to everybody now, and especially to my mother.
“My little woman would be sorry to worry mamma, wouldn’t she?” he would whisper, and when I answered that I would be sorrier than sorry, he would say:
“Wisha then, she must be brave. She must keep up. She must not grieve about going away or cry when the time comes for parting.”
I said “yes” and “yes” to all this, feeling very confidential and courageous, but I dare say the good Father gave the same counsel to my mother also, for she and I had many games of make-believe, I remember, in which we laughed and chattered and sang, though I do not think I ever suspected that the part we played was easier to me than to her.
It dawned on me at last, though, when in the middle of the night, near to the time of my going away, I was awakened by a bad fit of my mother’s coughing, and heard her say to herself in the deep breathing that followed:
“My poor child! What is to become of her?”