“My child, this is your father.”
The broad clear light of sunshine upon snow had begun to soften towards twilight when Lucia came.
Mrs. Bellairs brought her, but stayed below, that that meeting might have no witnesses. A trembling hand upon the lock warned Mrs. Costello, and she met her daughter at the door and brought her in.
Lucia had been struggling all day—ever since she knew that she was, at last, to see her father—to forget the one moment when they had met before; and all her efforts had been worse than useless. She came in, agitated and distressed, with the vision of that night clear and vivid before her recollection. So it was at the threshold. Her mother led her to the bedside, and the vision fled. Her eyes fell upon a face, little darker than her own, where not the slightest flush even of life-like colour remained, where a perfect calm had given back their natural nobleness to the worn features, and where scarcely a line was left to show the trace of life’s sins or sufferings. She stood for a moment half bewildered. She knew that what she saw was but the faintest shadow of what had been, and, turning, she threw her arms about her mother’s neck, and whispered,
“Ah, mamma! I understand all now.”
Mother and daughter watched for some time in silence. At last Lucia whispered, “May I go and tell Mrs. Bellairs that I shall remain with you?”
“Is she here, then? Go, rather, and ask her to come to me for a moment.”
Lucia went, and came to Mrs. Bellairs with such strange gladness in her face that she looked as she had not done for months past.
“Will you go up to mamma?” she said. “My father seems to be asleep, and she wishes to see you.”
And the two went upstairs together without further words. Mrs. Bellairs feared lest another strange face at the bedside might disturb the dying man; she lingered, therefore, at a little distance, but she, too, looked with wonder at the silent figure lying there in a kind of peaceful state, all unlike the vagrant Indian—the supposed criminal—she had heard of. Mrs. Costello came to her, and Lucia sat down in her mother’s place.
“I brought you a message from William,” Mrs. Bellairs said. “The order for his release is come. He is free. Is it too late?”
“Come a little nearer and see for yourself. You will not disturb him. Yes, dear friend, it is too late for any release but one to reach him now.”
Mrs. Bellairs’ lip trembled. “Ah, how cruel it seems!” she said. “How can you forgive us?”
“Forgive you? Why?”
“It seems as if we were to blame, because it was my poor Bella’s loss that brought this on him.”
“It was Clarkson’s wickedness, nothing else. But do not let us talk of that. Some good has come out of the evil, as you see.”
The eyes of both the friends rested on the father and daughter so strangely brought together. The strong likeness between them was unmistakable, yet Lucia’s beauty had never been more vivid and striking than now when she watched her dying father, with the light of such varied emotions flickering on her face.