“Of course, dear,” she said; “I wasn’t thinking of us.”
“We’ve no secrets,” said the good-natured grocer, as he took down his hat and coat from behind the door. “Our hearts are open like them clocks, with all the works outside, eh, Lucy, my dear?” Laughing at his own simile, he kissed her again.
“If you’ll take care of the shop,” he went on, as he opened the door, “I’ll just run over to Richmond for those jams and things. Old Tucker’s cart is going over, and he’ll lend me a hand.”
“Get along, then,” replied his wife, “and don’t forget we want some more spices.”
“Right you are,” said the husband, and with a wave of his hand to her he went down the path, the two children running to meet him.
Lucy Ashford stood at the door and looked after him wistfully.
“Poor John,” she murmured, as she went back to clear away the tea-things. “What would he do to me, if he knew?”
Her thoughts went back to the great secret of her life. It was that which caused her strange nervousness. She had repented of the past truly enough, and no better wife could have been found throughout the kingdom; but the secret had eaten into her life. She strove now to put it away from her; for she knew she was in reality safe enough. Only her father and Mr. Vermont knew—and the latter she had not seen for years.
Now, therefore, she put away her cups and saucers and called gaily to the children, as they came running back. The girl who had been playing with them came too; and as she approached the cottage she raised her head and smiled. Lucy Ashford stooped to kiss the children, then said kindly to Jessica—for it was indeed she:
“I expect you are tired with them now, my dear. Come and sit down with me for a little while.”
Jessica raised her dark eyes gratefully.
“No, ma’am, thank you. I’m not tired. I love the children; they are so good to me.”
Lucy’s eyes shone. What mother does not believe that her children are the best in the world? She had been like an angel of mercy to the tired girl when her husband had brought her into the little home. She had put her to bed, fed her, and clothed her in old things of her own; and she had neither questioned nor worried her since.
Jessica, only too thankful to find a home for the present, and realising the hopelessness of her strange passion for Adrien Leroy, had done what she could to repay her benefactress by helping her in the little shop, and playing with and taking care of the children. Now, at their request, she took them back to the river side again, while Lucy sat down at the table before a pile of sewing.
Meanwhile, Adrien’s skiff was moored at the landing-place of an old inn, some distance further up the river. Under a rustic porch Lady Merivale was finishing her tea, while her companion enjoyed a cigarette.