When supper was over, and Mrs. Hall had left them, Mr. Strafford began to ask Mrs. Costello for particulars of the arrangements made for the removal of Christian’s remains, and when they would probably arrive at the island.
Mr. Bellairs had had some difficulty, she told him, in finding means of transport, but the matter had been finally settled by his engaging a sailing-boat belonging to a fisherman. The coffin had been put on board early in the morning, and the boat started at once. It ought, therefore, to reach the island early to-morrow.
“All here is ready,” Mr. Strafford said. “I suppose three o’clock in the afternoon will do to fix for the funeral; the boat is sure to be here long before that.”
“Oh! yes, long before. Do the people know?”
“Yes, I suppose most of them do. There are not very many who remember you, but Mary Wanita will be here in the morning to see you. Shall you dislike it?”
“On the contrary, I shall be very glad. Mary was a true friend.”
They talked a little longer, sitting round the fire, when the great logs began to break through in the middle and fall down on the hearth outside the andirons, sending up clouds of sparks as they were put back into the fire. The night was very still; and in the pauses of their talk they could hear the mournful wash of the river as its steady current pressed against the landing-place below. To the two elder people, who said nothing to each other of their fancy, another presence, shadowy and silent, seemed to take its place among them at the fireside—a fair, serene presence, matronly and gracious, which had passed away from human eyes years ago. And they paused and thought of her as she had been that winter night when she took the fugitive mother and child into her kindly home, and gave them all her womanly pity and help. What lonely years had passed here since then!
By some instinctive sympathy their eyes met, and each knew what the other’s thoughts had been. Mr. Strafford rose.
“To-morrow,” he said, “we shall have time for a long chat; to-night you must be tired. I hope Mrs. Hall has done what she could to make you comfortable.”
There could be no doubt about that. For two or three days nothing had occupied the good woman’s thoughts but this strange and wonderful arrival of strangers—of ladies, too—at the house where so few strangers ever came; and she had exerted all her backwoods’ ingenuity to repair what deficiency of comfort there might be.
They were in no humour either to be critical; and Lucia was soon asleep, while her mother lay listening to the sound of the river, and thinking of the many things which this very room brought so freshly to her mind.