In about an hour John was ready, and Mrs. Hampton stood at the gate watching the car as it sped down the road. She was really glad to be alone, for the events of the afternoon had been of a disturbing nature. She thought of Hettie and her trials. How astonished the poor woman would have been had she known the truth about Jess! She went back again in memory to that night at the hospital almost twenty years ago. Hettie was a buxom girl then, full of life and animation, not much like the thin dragged-out creature of to-day. Twenty years! And the two babies, innocent pawns in the unscrupulous bargain, had again drifted together as ardent lovers. What would they think if they knew the truth? In what light would they consider the woman who had taken part in the transaction? Her mind was in a tumult. She felt that it would be fatal to tell them. And yet she did want to claim the girl as her very own, that she might know a real mother’s love.
Going back into the house, she took from a drawer the roll of bills Mrs. Grimsby had given her. She held it in her hand for a few minutes. It was a part of the money she had paid for silence, and now it had come back. Hettie’s honesty and nobleness of soul touched her deeply. With the crying needs of a large family how many a woman would have kept and used the money? What a temptation! Mechanically she counted the bills—seventy-five dollars. Gabe Grimsby must have been very drunk when he overlooked such a sum. How great would be his anger when he found that the money was not in the house upon his return from the city.
Replacing the roll in the drawer, Mrs. Hampton attended to some household duties. Then she went out upon the verandah to await the young people’s return. She was glad to lean back in the chair and rest, for she was tired. The sun had gone down beyond the distant hills, and the long twilight was slowly waning. It was a beautiful evening, and the gentle breeze of the afternoon had sunk to rest with the sun. The smooth surface of the river caught and reflected the glory of departing day, while the trees along the shore stood clearly silhouetted against the silent river. There was peace upon water and land, broken only by the sweet song of a vesper sparrow, and the tingling of a bell from a distant pasture.
But to the woman sitting alone upon the verandah there was no peace. Her heart and mind were in a tumult of conflicting emotion. She was thinking of the girl who had come so unexpectedly into her life and home. The silence and restraint of long years had at last reached their climax. A mother’s passionate love possessed her soul, and an intense affection for the child of her womb swept like an overmastering current through her very being. The girl was hers, she must keep her, and she was determined that no power on earth should take her from her.