An old, old theme. Mother and daughter had talked about England, the far-away Mother Land, many many hours full of pleasure to both; to one the subject had all the enchantment of a fairy tale, to the other of the tenderest and sweetest recollections. Lucia had heard, over and over again, each detail of the landscape, each incident in the history, of her mother’s birthplace; she knew the gentle invalid mistress and the kind stern master, her grandfather and grandmother; she had loved to gather into her garden the flowers which had grown about the grey walls of the old house by the Dee; the one wish she had cherished from a child was to see with living eyes all that was so familiar to her fancy. But to-day, though she said, “Talk about England,” it was not of all this she wished to hear; and an instinctive feeling that it was not, kept Mrs. Costello from speaking. She laid her hand gently upon her child’s head and remained silent. Lucia was silent, also. She wanted her mother to talk, yet hesitated to ask her the questions she wanted answered. At last she said abruptly,
“Mamma, did you ever gossip?”
Mrs. Costello laughed.
“Do you think I never do now, then? I am afraid I cannot say as much for myself.”
“I never hear you. But when you were a girl, you must have heard things about people.”
“No doubt I did. And I suppose that, as I lived in almost as quiet a neighbourhood as this, I must have been curious and interested about a new-comer, much as you are.”
Lucia turned her head a little, and smiled to herself.
“And then?” she said.
“Then most likely I asked questions, and found out all I could about the new-comer, which, I suppose, you have been doing about Mr. Percy. Bella Latour ought to be a good authority.”
“I have not asked any questions. I thought perhaps you might know something about him, or at least about his family.”
“About him I certainly know nothing. It is twenty years since I left England, and he would then be only a child. His father I have seen two or three times. Mr. Percy resembles him extremely.”
“Was he a handsome man, then?”
“Very handsome. And Lady Lastingham was said to be a most beautiful woman.”
“You never saw her?”
“No, she died young. Lord Lastingham married her, as people said, for love; that is to say, her great beauty tempted him. They were very poor, and he was not of a character to bear poverty. She was good and amiable, but he wearied of her, and scarcely pretended to feel her death as a loss.”
“Oh! mamma, how could that be possible? if he married her for love?”
“For what he called love, at least. There are men, my child, and perhaps women also, whose only kind of love is a fancy, like a child’s for a toy. They see something which attracts them; they try their utmost to obtain it. If they fail, they soon forget their disappointment; if they succeed, they are delighted for the moment, until, the novelty having worn off, they discover that they have paid too dearly for their gratification, and throw aside their new possession in disgust.”