A look passed between the two friends, and the wife moved to a little distance from her husband, where she was out of his sight.
“I wish,” Mr. Strafford said, “you could tell me exactly what you were doing the day they brought you here.”
“I was sleeping,” Christian answered. “I lay under the bush, and went to sleep; and then they came and woke me, and brought me here. I want air!” he cried, suddenly changing his tone, and springing up, he rushed to the grated window, and seemed to gasp for breath. The small lattice stood open, but the prisoner, devoured by fever, could not be satisfied with such coolness as came in through it. He seized the iron bars with trembling hands and tried to shake them; then finding it useless, went back to his chair, and covering his face, burst into tears.
Mrs. Costello was instantly at his side. In her strange, short married life she had given no caresses to her tyrant; now, upon this miserable wreck, she lavished all the compassionate tenderness of her heart. Mr. Strafford stood by helpless, yielding to the woman her natural place of comforter. For a moment, as she held his head upon her bosom and laid her cool soft hand upon his burning forehead, Christian seemed to recognize her; he looked up into her face piteously, and once or twice repeated to himself, “Mary, Mary,” but memory would not help him further. She soothed him, however, much as if he had been some wretched sick child, and after a time persuaded him to lie down on his bed, where, almost immediately, he fell asleep.
So they left him, and in going out, heard from the jailer that he often slept thus for hours together—rarely eating, and asking only for water and air.
One thing had been effected by their visit. From the moment when the prisoner, powerless henceforward to hurt or terrify her, was supported by his wife’s arms, and soothed by her voice, she began to believe, completely and for ever, in his innocence of the crime of which he was accused, and to be ready to fight his battle with all her energy and all her resources. Only the recollection of Lucia prevented her from instantly avowing the relationship so long concealed; and in the first warmth of a generous reaction, she almost regretted that she had not sent her child away, even to England, that she might now be free to devote herself to Christian. On their return to the Cottage they found Lucia watching with feverish anxiety for their coming and their news; but it was not until mother and daughter were shut up together in Mrs. Costello’s room that all could be told. Nor even then; for the wife’s heart had been too deeply touched; and not even her child could see into its troubled tender depths. But, nevertheless, Lucia caught from her mother the blessed certainty that, though man’s justice might not clear the prisoner of murder, heaven’s did; and they rejoiced together over this poor comfort, as if all the rest of their burden were easy to bear.