Lucia heard, and shared in arranging all these plans. She was still ignorant that they were not intended to include herself, and Mrs. Costello shrank from embittering the last months of their companionship by the anticipations of parting. Thus they continued to live in the tranquil semblance of their former happiness, while winter settled in round them, and the time which must inevitably break up the calm drew nearer and nearer.
Mrs. Bellairs and her sister came back from their visit. Bella was still silent and pale—still had the look of a person whom some sudden shock has benumbed,—but she no longer shut herself up; and as much as their deep mourning would allow, the household returned to their former hospitable, cheerful ways. Mrs. Bellairs again came frequently to the Cottage. She saw now, after her absence, a far greater change than she had before realized, in both mother and daughter; and thinking that variety and cheerful society were the best remedies, if not for both, certainly for Lucia, she did all she could to drag the poor girl out, and to force her into the company of those she most longed, but did not dare, to avoid. There was one comfort; wherever Bella was, no allusion to the murder could be made; but wherever she was not, Lucia constantly heard such sayings as these:—
“Yes, it has been mentioned in the Times even, such a peculiarly horrid thing, you know, poor man.” “Just like a savage. Oh! it’s all very well to talk of Indians being civilized, but I am quite convinced they never are, really. And then, you see, the real nature breaks out when they are provoked.”
Some more reasonable person would suggest, “But they say that at Moose Island Mr. Strafford has done wonders;” and he answered,
“Ah! ‘they say.’ It is so easy to say anything. Why, this very man, or brute, comes from Moose Island!”
“Does he? But, of course, there must be some bad. Let us ask Miss Costello. She knows Mr. Strafford.”
And Lucia would have to command her face and her voice, and say, “I only know by report. I believe Mr. Strafford’s people are all more or less civilized.”
Sometimes she would hear this crime used as an argument in favour of driving the Indians further back, and depriving them of their best lands, for the benefit of that white race which had generously left them here and there a mile or two of their native soil; sometimes as a proof that to care for or instruct them, was waste of time and money; sometimes only as a text whereon to hang a dozen silly speeches, which stung none the less for their silliness; and it was but a poor compensation for all she thus suffered when some one would speak out heartily and with knowledge, in defence of her father’s people.
She said not a word to her mother of these small but bitter annoyances; only found herself longing sometimes for the time when, at whatever cost, her secret might be known, and she be free. In the meantime, however, Mrs. Bellairs guessed nothing of the result of her kindness; for Lucia, feeling how short a time might separate her for ever from this dear friend, was more affectionate than usual in her manner, and had sometimes a wistful look in her beautiful eyes, which might mean sorrow, either past or future, but had no shadow of irritation.