When the boat stopped at the wharf, there were happily few people about. Maurice left his portmanteau, and taking the least public way hurried off homewards. It was too late—that was his only thought; to see his father, to know when they went, and if possible whither—his only desire. He strode along the road, seeing and thinking of nothing but Lucia. There was one chance, they might not yet have left Canada. But then that ship, and the curious sense of Lucia’s nearness which he had felt when they passed it; she must have been on board! He felt as if he should go mad when he came to his father’s gate and saw all looking just as usual, quite calm and peaceful under the broad wintry sunshine. He had only just sense enough at the very last minute to remember that his father was an invalid to whom the joy of his coming might be a dangerous shock. As he thought of this he turned round the corner of the house, and in a moment walked into the kitchen where Mrs. George, the old housekeeper, was busy washing up the breakfast-things.
“Law, Mr. Maurice!” cried Mrs. George, and dropped her teacup and her cloth together—happily both on the table.
Coming into the familiar room, and seeing the familiar face, brought the young man a little to himself. He held his impatience in check while he received Mrs. George’s welcome, answered her questions, and asked some in return. Then he sent her in to tell his father of his arrival, and began to walk up and down the kitchen while she was away.
In a minute or two she came out of the sitting-room, and he went in. Mr. Leigh had had his own troubled thoughts lately, but he forgot them all when he saw his son. Just at first there was only the sudden agitating joy of the meeting—the happiness of seeing Maurice so well—so thoroughly himself and yet improved—of seeing him at home again; but then came trouble.
“So they are gone?” he said almost interrupting the first greetings, and the old man instantly knew that all his fancies had been a mistake, and that Maurice had come back to find Lucia.
And they were gone; and he himself had been a coward and a traitor, and had distrusted his own son and let them go away distrusting him! He saw it now too late. A painful embarrassment seized him.