She had become very intimate with Alice latterly, and as her health improved with the coming of spring, almost every fine day found her at Riverside Cottage, where once she and Mrs. Johnson stumbled upon a confidential chat, having for its subject John and Alice, Anna said nothing against her brother. She merely spoke of him as kind and affectionate, but the quick-seeing mother detected more than the words implied, and after that the elegant doctor was less welcome to her fireside than, he had been before.
As the winter passed away and spring advanced, he showed no intentions of leaving Snowdon, but on the contrary opened an office in the village, greatly to the surprise of the inhabitants, who remembered his former contempt for any one who could settle down in that dull town, and greatly to the dismay of old Dr. Rogers, who for years had blistered and bled the good people without a fear of rivalry.
“Does Dr. Richards intend locating permanently in Snowdon?” Mrs. Johnson asked of her daughter as they sat alone one pleasant spring evening.
“His sign would indicate as much,” was Alice’s reply.
“Mother,” she said gently, “you look pale and worried. You have looked so for some time past. What is it, mother? Are you very sick, or are you troubled about me?”
“Is there any reason why I should be troubled about my darling?” asked the mother.
Alice never had any secrets from her mother, and she answered frankly: “I don’t know, unless—unless—mother, why don’t you like Dr. Richards?”
The ice was fairly broken now, and very briefly but candidly Mrs. Johnson told why she did not like him. He was handsome, refined, educated, and agreeable, she admitted, but still there was something lacking. The mask he was wearing had not deceived her, and she would have liked him far better without it. This she said to Alice, adding gently: “He may be all he seems, but I doubt it. I distrust him greatly. I think he fancies you and loves your money.”
“Oh, mother,” and in Alice’s voice there was a sound of tears, “you do him injustice, and he has been so kind to us, while Snowdon is so much pleasanter since he came.”
“Are you engaged to him?” was Mrs. Johnson’s next question.
“No,” and Alice looked up wonderingly. “I do not believe I like him well enough for that.”
Alice Johnson was wholly ingenuous and would not for the world have concealed a thing from her mother, and very frankly she continued:
“I like Dr. Richards better than any gentleman I have ever met. I should have told you, mother.”
“God bless my darling, and keep her as innocent as now,” Mrs. Johnson murmured. “I am glad there is no engagement. Will you promise there shall not be for one year at least?”
“Yes, I will, I do,” Alice said at last.
A second “God bless my darling,” came from the mother’s lips, and drawing her treasure nearer to her, she continued: “You have made me very happy, and by and by you’ll be so glad. You may leave me now, for I am tired and sick.”