The widow was a great mystery to the gossips of Sandy Cove; for there are gossips even in the most distant isles of the sea. Some men (we refer, of course, to white men) thought that she must have been the wife of an admiral at least, and had fallen into distressed circumstances, and gone to these islands to hide her poverty. Others said she was a female Jesuit in disguise, sent there to counteract the preaching of the gospel by the missionary. A few even ventured to hint their opinion that she was an outlaw, “or something of that sort,” and shrewdly suspected that Mr. Mason knew more about her than he was pleased to tell. But no one, either by word or look, had ever ventured to express an opinion of any kind to herself, or in the hearing of her son. The latter, indeed, displayed such uncommon breadth of shoulders, and such unusual development of muscle, that it was seldom necessary for him—even in those savage regions and wild times—to display anything else in order to make men respectful.
While our three friends were doing justice to the bacon and breadfruit set before them by Widow Stuart, the widow herself was endeavoring to repress some strong feeling, which caused her breast to heave more than once, and induced her to turn to some trifling piece of household duty to conceal her emotion. These symptoms were not lost upon her son, whose suspicions and anger had been aroused by the familiarity of Gascoyne. Making some excuse for leaving the room, towards the conclusion of the meal, he followed his mother to an outhouse, whither she had gone to fetch some fresh milk.
“Mother,” said Henry, respectfully, yet with an unwonted touch of sternness in his voice; “there is some mystery connected with this man Gascoyne that I feel convinced you can clear up—”
“Dear Henry,” interrupted the widow, and her cheek grew pale as she spoke, “do not, I beseech you, press me on this subject. I cannot clear it up.”
“Say you will not, mother,” answered Henry, in a tone of disappointment.
“I would if I dared,” continued the widow. “The time may come when I—”
“But why not now,” urged the youth, hastily. “I am old enough, surely, to be trusted. During the four visits this man has paid to us, I have observed a degree of familiarity on his part which no man has a right to exhibit towards you; and which, did I not see that you permit it, no man would dare to show. Why do you allow him to call you ‘Mary?’ No one else in the settlement does so.”
“He is a very old friend,” replied the widow, sadly. “I have known him from childhood. We were playmates long ago.”
“Humph, that’s some sort of reason, no doubt; but you don’t appear to like him, and his presence always seems to give you pain. Why do you suffer yourself to be annoyed by him? Only say the word, mother, and I’ll kick him out of the house, neck and crop—”
“Hush, boy; you are too violent.”