Continuing his walk, he moved slowly along the shore until he came abreast the spot where the cabin had stood, and on the opposite side of the island from the landing. There was no need for him to go any farther. The women were nowhere in the vicinity, he was sure. They must have been drowned!
But perhaps they had been overtaken by the fire in their rush to the water, and their charred bodies even now might be lying among the trees. It was a fearful thought, which paled his burnt cheeks, and caused him to tremble violently. Should he search for them? he asked himself.
“I can’t do it!” he groaned. “Oh, God! this is terrible!”
He buried his face in his hands, and sank down upon the ground, his soul writhing with the agony of an overwhelming despair.
IN THE NICK OF TIME
“What a lovely place this is!”
Jess was standing close to the water looking across at the opposite shore. Mrs. Hampton, seated upon the bank, thought she had never beheld a more beautiful picture of grace and maidenly charm. Her heart thrilled as she watched her standing there. She was her own child, and no one had any right to take her away. Her face, however, became grave as she thought of Henry Randall. He was a determined man, she was well aware, and he would exert every effort, and spend money without stint to get control of the girl he believed to be his daughter. She felt that affairs were nearing a crisis now. But she would fight, and, if necessary, divulge the story of her own wretched sin. It would be a startling revelation to the two young people, she was certain, but she fondly cherished the hope that they would readily forgive her for her dark deed of the past.
“Do you think John will come back early?” Jess asked, as she came and sat down by Mrs. Hampton’s side.
“He will return just as soon as he can, you may depend upon that,” Mrs. Hampton smilingly replied. “I hope he won’t neglect his work to get here.”
“And will he go home every day?”
“He will have to, so long as we remain here.”
“Why can’t we stay here all the time?” Jess impulsively asked.
“How could we live, dear?” and Mrs. Hampton looked fondly upon the girl’s animated face. “You have never worked for a living, so have no idea what it means. If we stay here long without caring for the place, we shall all starve, and that would be worse than going back to your—your parents, would it not?”
“But it is so nice here, and I am very happy.” Jess gave a sigh of contentment, and looked out over the water. “I wish we had a boat,” she continued, “so we could go for a row. The lake is like a mirror, and how wonderfully the trees are reflected in the clear depths. It is all like pictures I have seen.”