In the first place, he simply and entirely refused to believe in the truth of the assertion; it was a fancy, an exaggeration at the least, and in itself, not a thing to be troubled at; but allowing that the idea could not have existed in her mother’s mind without some foundation, what could that foundation be? To consider with the most anxious investigation everything he knew of the Costellos, their life, their characters, their history, brought him some comfort, but no enlightenment. He supposed, as all Cacouna did, that Mrs. Costello was the widow of a Spaniard, and that her husband had died when Lucia was an infant, but how to make any of these scanty details bear upon the fact that now, lately, since he himself had left Cacouna, something had happened, either unforeseen, or only partly foreseen by Mrs. Costello, which brought disgrace and misery upon her and her child, he did not in the least understand. Personal disgrace, the shadow of actual ill-doing, resting upon either mother or daughter, was too utterly improbable a thought ever even to enter his mind; but what the trouble could be, or whence it came, he seemed to be less and less capable of imagining, the more he thought and puzzled over the matter. And the hint that by-and-by the mystery might be unravelled, not only to him, but to the whole world, was far from giving him comfort. Rather than have Lucia’s name dragged out for vulgar comment, he would have been content to let her secret remain for ever undiscovered; and besides, this unwelcome revelation promised to come too late, when the Cottage was empty and its dearly loved occupants were gone far away out of his very knowledge.
Fortunately for Maurice, Mr. Beresford was later than usual in leaving his room that day, so that he had two hours in which to grow at least a little accustomed to his new perplexities before he had to attend his grandfather in the library. Even when he did so, however, he found it impossible to force his thoughts into any other channel, and his brain worked all day painfully and fruitlessly at schemes for finding out Mrs. Costello’s secret, and demonstrating to her that far from its being a reason for depriving him of Lucia, it was an additional reason for giving her to him.
Maurice tried to relieve his impatience by spending the very first half hour when he was not required to sit with his grandfather, in writing to Mrs. Costello. If the Atlantic telegraph had but been in operation she might have been startled by some vehement message coming in immediate protest against her decision; but as it was, the letter which could not, at the very best, reach her in much less than a fortnight, was full of fiery haste and eagerness. As for reason or argument, it made no attempt at either. It began with a simple unqualified declaration that what she had said was, as far as it regarded Maurice himself, of no value or effect whatever, that he remained