Lucia’s head lay upon her mother’s knee. Mrs. Costello’s touch on the soft hair, her tone of gentle reproof, and the thoughts her words called up, brought tears, fast and thick, to her child’s eyes. Lucia had shed few tears in her life. Until lately she had known no cause for them; and lately they had not come. With dry eyes and throbbing temples she had gone through the most sorrowful hours; but now the spell seemed broken, and a sense of calm and relief came with the change. Mrs. Costello went on,—
“There is another reason why we must appear as we have always done. Suspicion is not proof. Margery’s story, and more, may be true, and yet it may be that, three months hence, all, as regards ourselves, will be just as it has been. We must not, through a blind fear of one calamity, put ourselves in the way of another. Neither of us can look much at the future to-night; but we must not forget that there is a future. So it is still the old task which is before us, to keep our secret.”
The voice had been very steady until the last word; but as that was spoken, it faltered and failed so suddenly that Lucia looked up. She sprang to her feet, but just in time. The over-tried strength had given way, and Mrs. Costello had fallen back in a deep fainting fit.
Lucia dared not call Margery to her assistance. The consciousness of having something to conceal made her dread the smallest self-betrayal. She hastened, therefore, to do alone all that she could do for her mother’s recovery; but it was so long before she succeeded that she grew almost wild with terror. At last, however, the deathly look passed away, and with the very first moment of returning animation, the habit of self-control returned also. Mrs. Costello smiled at her daughter’s anxious face.
“I am afraid,” she said, “that you will have to get used to these attacks. Do not be frightened; you see they pass off again.”
“But you never used to have them?”
“No; but youth and strength cannot last for ever.”
“Mamma! you are not old; you are not much more than forty yet.”
“Forty-two in years; but there are some years that might count for ten.”
“It is this horrible pressure upon you; you are being tortured to death!”
“Hush, my child. What I suffer is but the just and natural consequence of what I did. Be patient, both for me and for yourself. By-and-by we shall see that all is right.”
Hard doctrine! and only to be learnt by long endurance. Lucia rebelled against it, but she could not argue with her mother’s pale face and faintly spoken words to oppose her. She busied herself softly in such little offices as her anxiety suggested, and they spoke no more that night of the subjects nearest to their hearts.