“‘Oh, lass, you’re a hard woman,’ was all he said. And they were his last words. Thomas and I carried him back to his room, but the breath was gone from him before we ever got him there.
“Well, Master, Kilmeny was born a month afterwards, and when Margaret felt her baby at her breast the evil thing that had held her soul in its bondage lost its power. She spoke and wept and was herself again. Oh, how she wept! She implored us to forgive her and we did freely and fully. But the one against whom she had sinned most grievously was gone, and no word of forgiveness could come to her from the grave. My poor sister never knew peace of conscience again, Master. But she was gentle and kind and humble until—until she began to fear that Kilmeny was never going to speak. We thought then that she would go out of her mind. Indeed, Master, she never was quite right again.
“But that is the story and it’s a thankful woman I am that the telling of it is done. Kilmeny can’t speak because her mother wouldn’t.”
Eric had listened with a gray horror on his face to the gruesome tale. The black tragedy of it appalled him—the tragedy of that merciless law, the most cruel and mysterious thing in God’s universe, which ordains that the sin of the guilty shall be visited on the innocent. Fight against it as he would, the miserable conviction stole into his heart that Kilmeny’s case was indeed beyond the reach of any human skill.
“It is a dreadful tale,” he said moodily, getting up and walking restlessly to and fro in the dim spruce-shadowed old kitchen where they were. “And if it is true that her mother’s willful silence caused Kilmeny’s dumbness, I fear, as you say, that we cannot help her. But you may be mistaken. It may have been nothing more than a strange coincidence. Possibly something may be done for her. At all events, we must try. I have a friend in Queenslea who is a physician. His name is David Baker, and he is a very skilful specialist in regard to the throat and voice. I shall have him come here and see Kilmeny.”
“Have your way,” assented Janet in the hopeless tone which she might have used in giving him permission to attempt any impossible thing.
“It will be necessary to tell Dr. Baker why Kilmeny cannot speak—or why you think she cannot.”
Janet’s face twitched.
“Must that be, Master? Oh, it’s a bitter tale to tell a stranger.”
“Don’t be afraid. I shall tell him nothing that is not strictly necessary to his proper understanding of the case. It will be quite enough to say that Kilmeny may be dumb because for several months before her birth her mother’s mind was in a very morbid condition, and she preserved a stubborn and unbroken silence because of a certain bitter personal resentment.”
“Well, do as you think best, Master.”
Janet plainly had no faith in the possibility of anything being done for Kilmeny. But a rosy glow of hope flashed over Kilmeny’s face when Eric told her what he meant to do.