Too much amazed at first to speak, Alice sat motionless, then she said to Lulu.
“I am sorry that you told me this. It was wrong in you to listen, and you must not repeat it to any one else. Will you promise?”
Lulu gave the required promise, then with terror in every lineament of her face she said:
“But, Miss Alice, must I be Miss ’Lina’s waiting maid? Will Master Hugh permit it?”
Alice did not know Hugh as well as we do, and in her heart there was a fear lest for the sake of peace he might be overruled, so she replied evasively. It was no easy task to sooth Muggins, and only Alice’s direct avowal, that if possible she would herself become her purchaser, checked her cries at all, but the moment this was said her sobbing ceased, and Alice was able to question Lulu as to whether Hugh had read the letter.
“He must be rational,” she said, “but it is so sudden,” and a painful uneasiness crept over her as she recalled the look which several times had puzzled her so much.
“You can go now,” Alice said, sitting down to reflect as to her next best course.
Adah must go to Terrace Hill at once, and Alice’s must be the purse which defrayed all the expense of fitting her up. If ever Alice felt thankful to God for having made her rich in this world’s goods, it was that morning. Only the previous night she had heard from Colonel Tiffton that the day was fixed for the sale of his house and that Nell had nearly cried herself into a second fever at the thoughts of leaving Mosside. “Then there’s Rocket,” the colonel had said, “Hugh cannot buy him back, and he’s so bound up in him too, poor Hugh, poor all of us,” and the colonel had wrung Alice’s hand, hurrying off ere she had time to suggest what all along had been in her mind.
“It does not matter,” she thought. “A surprise will be quite as pleasant, and then Mr. Liston may object to it as a silly girl’s fancy.”
This was the previous night, and now this morning another demand had come in the shape of Muggins weeping in her lap, of Lulu begging to be saved from ’Lina Worthington, and from ’Lina herself asking Hugh for the money Alice knew he had not got.
“But I have,” she whispered, “and I will send it too.”
Just then Adah came up the stairs, and Alice called her in, asking if she still wished to go to Terrace Hill.
“Yes, more than ever,” Adah replied. “Hugh is rational, I hear, so I can talk to him about it before long. You must be present, as I’m sure he will oppose it.”
Meantime in the sickroom there was an anxious consultation between mother and son touching the fifty dollars which must be raised for Nellie Tiffton’s sake.
“Were it not that I feel bound by honor to pay that debt, ’Lina might die before I’d send her a cent,” said Hugh, his eyes blazing with anger as he recalled the contents of ’Lina’s letter.
But how should they raise the fifty? Alice’s bills had been paid regularly thus far, paid so delicately too, so as a matter of right, that Mrs. Worthington, who knew how sadly it was needed in their present distress, had accepted it unhesitatingly, but Hugh’s face flushed with a glow of shame when he heard from his mother’s lips that Alice was really paying them her board.