Lucia had been listening with painful intenseness; Mr. Strafford’s fears confirmed her own.
“There are four Indians employed now about the Mills at the other end of the town,” she said. “Two of them, I think, are quite young; the third I have hardly seen, but the fourth—” she stopped and then went on steadily, “the fourth looks an old man. He is a wretched object, drunken and half idiotic.”
Mr. Strafford looked at her in wonder and trouble. How could he say to a daughter, “You have described your father?” But he felt sure she had done so; and he saw that she guessed it also.
Mrs. Costello had covered her face with her hands; and there was a minute’s silence. She was the first to break it.
“We must go at once then,” she said. “But how to get away from here without a little delay I do not know.”
They wondered that she should speak so, knowing how great her terror of discovery was; but she was thinking of Maurice, and of their last conversation, of his father left in her charge, and of his grief and perplexity if they should go away out of his knowledge, while he was absent, and trusting to them.
Mr. Strafford saw, though he did not understand her hesitation.
“It may be worth while,” he said, “for me to run the risk of being seen, and go to-morrow to the employer of these men. Nobody thinks of questioning my right to make any inquires I please about Indians, so that I can easily find out the truth, if you are willing to face the possibility of my meeting Christian, and drawing his attention to you.”
Mrs. Costello thought for a moment.
“I thank you,” she said. “I wish very much for a little delay if possible. At the worst, if you do meet him, it will be only hasty flight. Can you be prepared for that, Lucia?”
“In an hour, mamma, if necessary. I only wish now to be far away from here.”
Her mother’s look rested on her sadly. “I do but ask for the delay of a week or two,” she said.
But next day, when Mr. Strafford made his inquiry, he brought back news that three or four weeks’ delay might be perfectly safe. Christian was, indeed, in the lumberer’s employ, but the gang to which he was attached had started for the woods, and would not return for a month. By that time it would be easy to leave the Cottage without hurry, and without attracting unnecessary attention.
“Going away? Nonsense, Elise; you are joking. The very idea of Mrs. Costello going away from Cacouna!”
“She is going at any rate, to my sorrow, she and Lucia both; for six months at least, they say.”
Mrs. Bellairs and her sister were together again, and Bella, though she was getting used to be called Mrs. Morton, and to see the wedding-ring on her finger, was not at all sobered yet by her matronly state, but might have passed perfectly well for Bella Latour. She and her husband, who had no leisure for a long wedding-tour, had come back to Cacouna the evening before, and were dining to-day at her brother-in-law’s. The two ladies were sitting in Mrs. Bellairs’ room, and Bella was beginning to hear what little news there was in Cacouna since she went away.