“This is precisely what I have been saying to myself,” answered Katrina, sighing. “If his mother is living what frightful anguish the poor woman must have endured, in believing that her infant was drowned. I put myself in her place, and imagine that we had lost Otto in this manner. We would never have been consoled.”
“It is not thoughts of his mother that trouble me, for according to all appearances, she is dead,” said Hersebom, after a silence broken only by their sighs.
“How can we suppose that an infant of that age would travel without her, or that it would have been tied to a buoy and left to take its chances on the ocean, if she had been living?”
“That is true; but what do we know about it, after all. Perhaps she also has had a miraculous escape.”
“Perhaps some one has taken her infant from her—this idea has often occurred to me,” answered Hersebom. “Some one might be interested in his disappearance. To expose so young a child to such a hazardous proceeding is so extraordinary that such conjectures are possible, and in this case we have become accomplices of a crime—we have contributed to its success. Is it not horrible to think of?”
“And we thought we were doing such a good and charitable work in adopting the poor little one.”
“Oh, it is evident that we had no malicious intentions. We nourished it, and brought it up as well as we were able, but that does not prevent me from seeing that we have acted rashly, and the little one will have a right to reproach us some of these days.”
“We need not be afraid of that, I am sure. But it is too bad that we should feel at this late day that we have done anything for which we must reproach ourselves.”
“How strange it is that the same action regarded from a different point of view, can be judged so differently. I never would have thought of such a thing. And yet a few words from the doctor seems to have turned my brain.”
Thus these good people talked during the night.
The result of their nocturnal conversation was that Mr. Hersebom resolved to call upon the doctor, and ask him what they could do to make amends for the error of which they had been guilty.
Dr. Schwaryencrona did not revert to the conversation which had taken place the previous evening. He appeared to regard the visit of the fisherman as simply an act of politeness, and received him cordially, and began talking about the weather and the price of fish.
Mr. Hersebom tried to lead the conversation toward the subject which occupied his mind. He spoke of Mr. Malarius’ school, and at last said plainly: “Doctor, my wife and I have been thinking all night about what you said to us last evening about the boy. We never thought that we were doing him a wrong in educating him as our son. But you have changed our opinion, and we want to know what you would advise us to do, in order to repair our fault. Do you think that we still ought to seek to find Erik’s family?”