“Poor Mrs. Sheppard!” sighed Winifred, as she contemplated the beautiful wreck before her,—“Poor Mrs. Sheppard! when I see her thus, and think of all she has endured, of all she may yet have to endure, I could almost pray for her release from trouble. I dare not reflect upon the effect that her son’s fate,—if the efforts to save him are ineffectual,—may have upon her enfeebled frame, and still worse upon her mind. What a mercy that the blow aimed at her by the ruffian, Wild, though it brought her to the brink of the grave, should have restored her to reason! Ah! she stirs.”
As she said this, she drew a little aside, while Mrs. Sheppard heaved a deep sigh, and opened her eyes, which now looked larger, blacker, and more melancholy than ever.
“Where am I?” she cried, passing her hand across her brow.
“With your friends, dear Mrs. Sheppard,” replied Winifred, advancing.
“Ah! you are there, my dear young lady,” said the widow, smiling faintly; “when I first waken, I’m always in dread of finding myself again in that horrible asylum.”
“You need never be afraid of that,” returned Winifred, affectionately; “my father will take care you never leave him more.”
“Oh! how much I owe him!” said the widow, with fervour, “for bringing me here, and removing me from those dreadful sights and sounds, that would have driven me distracted, even if I had been in my right mind. And how much I owe you, too, dearest Winifred, for your kindness and attention. Without you I should never have recovered either health or reason. I can never be grateful enough. But, though I cannot reward you, Heaven will.”
“Don’t say anything about it, dear Mrs. Sheppard,” rejoined Winifred, controlling her emotion, and speaking as cheerfully as she could; “I would do anything in the world for you, and so would my father, and so would Thames; but he ought, for he’s your nephew, you know. We all love you dearly.”
“Bless you! bless you!” cried Mrs. Sheppard, averting her face to hide her tears.
“I mustn’t tell you what Thames means to do for you if ever he gains his rights,” continued Winifred; “but I may tell you what my father means to do.”
“He has done too much already,” answered the widow. “I shall need little more.”
“But, do hear what it is,” rejoined Winifred; “you know I’m shortly to be united to your nephew,—that is,” she added, blushing, “when he can be married by his right name, for my father won’t consent to it before.”
“Your father will never oppose your happiness, my dear, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Sheppard; “but, what has this to do with me?”
“You shall hear,” replied Winifred; “when this marriage takes place, you and I shall be closely allied, but my father wishes for a still closer alliance.”
“I don’t unterstand you,” returned Mrs. Sheppard.
“To be plain, then,” said Winifred, “he has asked me whether I have any objection to you as a mother.”