That afternoon Mrs. Costello and Lucia went together into Cacouna, taking with them some small comforts for the invalid, but Lucia was not yet permitted to see him. She parted from her mother at the prison door, and went to pay a visit to Mrs. Bellairs and Bella, the last time she was ever likely to see them on the old frank and intimate footing. Even now, indeed, the intimacy had lost much of its charm. She loved them both more than ever, but the miserable consciousness of imposture weighed heavily upon her, and seemed to herself to colour every word she uttered. She did not stay long; and making a circuit in order to pass the jail again, in hopes of meeting her mother, she walked sadly and thoughtfully through the winter twilight towards home. In passing through the town she noticed an unusual stir of people; groups of men stood in the streets or round the shop doors talking together, but it was a time of some political excitement, and the inhabitants of Cacouna were keen politicians, so that there might be no particular cause for that.
Mr. Strafford was more than half expected at the Cottage that evening. The boat might be in by five, and it was nearly that time when Lucia reached home, so she took off her walking-things, and applied herself at once to making the house look bright and comfortable to welcome him, all the while listening with some anxiety for the sound of her mother’s return. But Mrs. Costello did not come, and Lucia began to think that she must have gone to the wharf to meet Mr. Strafford, and that they would arrive together. She made Margery bring in the tea-things, and had spent no small trouble in coaxing the fire into its very brightest and warmest humour, the chairs into the cosiest places, and the curtains to hang so that there should not be the slightest suspicion of a draught, when at last the welcome sound of the gate opening was heard, and she ran to the door; there indeed stood Mr. Strafford, but alone.
Lucia forgot her welcome, and greeted him with an exclamation of surprise and disappointment; then suddenly recollecting herself, she took him into the bright sitting-room and explained why she was astonished to see him alone.
“I came straight from the wharf,” he said, “and have seen nothing of Mrs. Costello, but I will walk back along the road and meet her.”
This, however, Lucia would not hear of.
“Margery shall go a little way,” she said; “mamma cannot be long now.”
So Margery went, while Mr. Strafford questioned Lucia as to all she knew of Christian’s condition. She told him, with little pauses of listening between her sentences, for she was growing every moment more uncontrollably anxious. At length both started up, for the tinkle of sleigh bells was heard coming up the lane. Again Lucia flew to the door, and opened it just as the sleigh stopped.
“Mamma!” she cried, “are you there?” and to her inexpressible relief she was answered by Mrs. Costello’s voice.