“Whose child is that?” asked the gentleman, in a voice that thrilled to the heart of Salome.
She forgot herself, and looked up quickly, but the form of Sister Francoise, standing, concealed the figure of the speaker, who seemed to be stooping over the child.
“Ay! wha’s bairn is it?” inquired another voice, that fell with ominous familiarity on her ear, as she turned her head a little and saw the female visitor, a tall, handsome blonde, with bold, blue eyes and a cataraet of golden hair falling on her shoulders.
Sister Francoise did not understand the language of the woman, and turned with a helpless and appealing look to the gentleman, who still speaking French with the slightly defective English accent, replied:
“Madame asks whose child is that?”
“Oh, pardon! We do not know, Monsieur. It was left at our doors on the eighteenth of December last,” replied Sister Francoise.
“A very fine child! Its name?”
“‘Marie Perdue?’ What? ‘Marie Perdue?’ What’s ‘Perdue?’” querulously inquired the tall, blonde beauty.
“‘Thrown away,’ ‘lost,’ ‘abandoned,’” answered the gentleman, in a low voice.
As he spoke he stood up and turned around.
Salome uttered a low, half-suppressed cry, and covered her face with both hands.
The abbess impulsively looked up to see what was the matter, and—echoed the cry!
There was dead silence in the room for a minute, and then Salome lifted up her head and cautiously looked around.
The visitors had gone, and the children, who with child-like curiosity had suspended their play to gaze upon the strangers, were now re-commencing their noise with renewed vehemence.
Salome still trembling in every limb, turned toward her companion.
The abbess sat with clasped hands, lowered eyelids, and face as pale as death.
Salome, too much absorbed in her own emotion to notice the strange condition of the abbess, touched her on the shoulder and eagerly whispered:
“Mother, did you observe the visitors?”
“Yes,” breathed the lady, in a very low tone, without lifting her eyelids.
“Did you notice—the man?” Salome continued.
“I did,” murmured the abbess, in an almost inaudible voice, as she devoutly made the sign of the cross.
“Do you know who he was?”
“He was like our Christmas visitor in the chapel! He was the Duke of Hereward!”
“Nay,” said the abbess, in a stern solemn voice. “He was not the Duke of Hereward. He was one whom I had reckoned as numbered with the dead full twenty years ago!”
THE ABBESS’ STORY.
“‘Not the Duke of Hereward!’” echoed Salome, astonishment now overcoming every other emotion in her bosom.