Lucina’s mother came to the door and put her hand on the girl’s head. “You must come in,” she said; “your hair feels quite damp. You will take cold. Your dress is thin, too.”
Lucina rose obediently and followed her mother into the sitting-room, where sat Squire Eben and Colonel Lamson in swirling clouds of tobacco smoke.
Lucina’s cheeks had a wonderful clear freshness of red and white from the damp night air. There were no traces of tears on her sweet blue eyes. She came into the bright room with a smiling shrinking from the light, which gave her the expression of an angel. Both men gazed at her with a sort of passion of tenderest admiration, and also a certain sadness of yearning—the Squire because of that instinct of insecurity and possibility of loss to which possession itself gives rise, the Colonel because of the awakening of old vain longings in his own heart.
The Squire reached out a hand towards Lucina, caught her first by her flowing skirt, then by her fair arm, and drew her close to his side and pulled down her soft face to his. “Well, Pretty, how goes the world?” he said, with a laugh, which had almost the catch of a sob, so anxiously tender he was of her, and so timid before his own delight in her.
When she had kissed him and bade him good-night, Lucina went up to her own chamber and her mother with her.
“Abigail follows the child, since she came home, like a hen with one chicken,” the Squire said, smiling almost foolishly in his utter pride of this beautiful daughter.
The Colonel nodded, frowning gravely over his pipe at the opposite window. “She makes me think a little of my wife at her age,” he said.
The Squire started. It was the first time he had ever heard the Colonel mention his wife. He sighed, looked at him, and hesitated with a delicacy of reticence. “It must have been a hard blow,” he ventured, finally.
The Colonel nodded.
“Any children?” asked the Squire, after a little.
“No,” replied Colonel Lamson. He puffed at his pipe, his face was redder than usual. “Well, Eben,” he said, after a pause, during which the two men smoked energetically, “I hope you’ll keep her a while.”
“You don’t think she looks delicate?” cried the Squire, turning pale. “Her mother doesn’t think so.”
The Colonel laughed heartily. “When a girl blossoms out like that there’ll be plenty trying the garden-gate,” said he.
The Squire flushed angrily. “Let ’em try it and be damned!” he said.
“You can’t lock the gate, Eben; if you do, she’ll open it herself, and no blame to her.”
“She won’t, I tell you. She’s too young, and there’s not a man I know fit to tie her little shoes.”
“How’s young Prescott?”
“Young Prescott be damned!”
The Colonel hesitated. He had seen with an eye, sharpened with long and thorough experience, Jerome Edwards and Lucina the night of the party. “How’s that young Edwards?”