Breckon approached with his map, and her mother gasped, thinking how terrible such a thing would be if it could be; Ellen smiled brightly up at him. “Will you take my chair? And then you can show momma your map. I am going down,” and while he was still protesting she was gone.
“Miss Kenton seems so much better than she did the first day,” he said, as he spread the map out on his knees, and gave Mrs. Kenton one end to hold.
“Yes,” the mother assented, as she bent over to look at it.
She followed his explanation with a surface sense, while her nether mind was full of the worry of the question which Ellen had planted in it. What would such a man think of what she had been through? Or, rather, how would he say to her the only things that in Mrs. Kenton’s belief he could say? How could the poor child ever be made to see it in the light of some mind not colored with her family’s affection for her? An immense, an impossible longing possessed itself of the mother’s heart, which became the more insistent the more frantic it appeared. She uttered “Yes” and “No” and “Indeed” to what he was saying, but all the time she was rehearsing Ellen’s story in her inner sense. In the end she remembered so little what had actually passed that her dramatic reverie seemed the reality, and when she left him she got herself down to her state-room, giddy with the shame and fear of her imaginary self-betrayal. She wished to test the enormity, and yet not find it so monstrous, by submitting the case to her husband, and she could scarcely keep back her impatience at seeing Ellen instead of her father.
“Momma, what have you been saying to Mr. Breckon about me?”
“Nothing,” said Mrs. Kenton, aghast at first, and then astonished to realize that she was speaking the simple truth. “He said how much better you were looking; but I don’t believe I spoke a single word. We were looking at the map.”
“Very well,” Ellen resumed. “I have been thinking it all over, and now I have made up my mind.”
She paused, and her mother asked, tremulously, “About what, Ellen?”
“You know, momma. I see all now. You needn’t be afraid that I care anything about him now,” and her mother knew that she meant Bittridge, “or that I ever shall. That’s gone forever. But it’s gone,” she added, and her mother quaked inwardly to hear her reason, “because the wrong and the shame was all for me—for us. That’s why I can forgive it, and forget. If we had done anything, the least thing in the world, to revenge ourselves, or to hurt him, then—Don’t you see, momma?”
“I think I see, Ellen.”
“Then I should have to keep thinking about it, and what we had made him suffer, and whether we hadn’t given him some claim. I don’t wish ever to think of him again. You and poppa were so patient and forbearing, all through; and I thank goodness now for everything you put up with; only I wish I could have borne everything myself.”