In the old days there had been a sort of antagonism between Bella Latour and Maurice Leigh. They had necessarily seen a great deal of each other, and liked each other after a certain fashion; but Maurice had thought Bella too flighty, and inclined to fastness; and Bella had been half-seriously, half-playfully disposed to resent his judgment of her. But now, either because of the complete change in her character which the last few months had wrought, or from some other cause, Mrs. Morton and Maurice fell into a kind of confidential intimacy quite new to their intercourse. It was only for two days, certainly, but during those two days, and in spite of Maurice’s occupations, they had time for several long and very interesting conversations.
In the first of these, which had begun upon some indifferent subject, Bella surprised Maurice by alluding, quite calmly and simply, to the imprisonment of the unfortunate Indian, Lucia’s father. He had naturally supposed that a subject so closely connected with her own misfortunes would have been too deeply painful to be a permitted one, and had, therefore, with care, avoided all allusion to it. In this, however, he did not do her full justice. The truth was, that in her deep interest in the Costellos, she had quietly forced herself to think and speak of the whole train of events which affected them, without dwelling on its connection with her own story. She never spoke of her husband—her self-command was not yet strong enough for that—nor of Clarkson; but of Christian, as the victim of a false accusation, she talked to Maurice without hesitation.
Up to that time there had been no very vivid idea in his mind either of Christian himself, or of the way in which he had spent the months of his imprisonment, and finally died. Indeed, in the constant change and current of nearer interests, he had thought little, after the first, about this unknown father of his beloved. He had considered the matter until it led him just so far as to make up his mind, quite easily and without evidence, that Clarkson was probably the murderer, and that Christian, whether innocent or guilty, was not to be allowed to separate him from Lucia, and then, after that point, he ceased to think of Christian at all. But now, he received from Bella the little details, such as no letters could have told him, of the weeks since her husband’s death—chiefly of the later ones, and there were many reasons why these details had a charm for him which made him want to hear more, the more he heard. In the first place she spoke constantly of Lucia, and it scarcely needed a lover’s fancy to enable him to perceive how in this time of trial she had been loving, helpful, wise even, beyond what seemed to belong to the sweet but wilful girl of his recollection. He listened with new thoughts of her, and a love which had more of respect, as Bella described those bitter days of which Lucia had told her later, when neither mother nor daughter dared to believe in the innocence of the accused man, and when, the one for love, the other for obedience, they kept their secret safe in their trembling hearts, and tried to go in and out before the world as if they had no secret to keep.