Maggie had frequent tidings through her mother, or aunt Glegg, or Dr. Kenn, of Lucy's gradual progress toward recovery, and her thoughts tended continually toward her uncle Deane's house; she hungered for an interview with Lucy, if it were only for five minutes, to utter a word of penitence, to be assured by Lucy's own eyes and lips that she did not believe in the willing treachery of those whom she had loved and trusted. But she knew that even if her uncle's indignation had not closed his house against her, the agitation of such an interview would have been forbidden to Lucy. Only to have seen her without speaking would have been some relief; for Maggie was haunted by a face cruel in its very gentleness; a face that had been turned on hers with glad, sweet looks of trust and love from the twilight time of memory; changed now to a sad and weary face by a first heart-stroke. And as the days passed on, that pale image became more and more distinct; the picture grew and grew into more speaking definiteness under the avenging hand of remorse; the soft hazel eyes, in their look of pain, were bent forever on Maggie, and pierced her the more because she could see no anger in them. But Lucy was not yet able to go to church, or any place where Maggie could see her; and even the hope of that departed, when the news was told her by aunt Glegg, that Lucy was really going away in a few days to Scarborough with the Miss Guests, who had been heard to say that they expected their brother to meet them there.
Only those who have known what hardest inward conflict is, can know what Maggie felt as she sat in her loneliness the evening after hearing that news from Mrs. Glegg, — only those who have known what it is to dread their own selfish desires as the watching mother would dread the sleeping-potion that was to still her own pain.
She sat without candle in the twilight, with the window wide open toward the river; the sense of oppressive heat adding itself undistinguishably to the burthen of her lot. Seated on a chair against the window, with her arm on the windowsill she was looking blankly at the flowing river, swift with the backward-rushing tide, struggling to see still the sweet face in its unreproaching sadness, that seemed now from moment to moment to sink away and be hidden behind a form that thrust itself between, and made darkness. Hearing the door open, she thought Mrs. Jakin was coming in with her supper, as usual; and with that repugnance to trivial speech which comes with languor and wretchedness, she shrank from turning round and saying she wanted nothing; good little Mrs. Jakin would be sure to make some well-meant remarks. But the next moment, without her having discerned the sound of a footstep, she felt a light hand on her shoulder, and heard a voice close to her saying, "Maggie!"
The face was there, — changed, but all the sweeter; the hazel eyes were there, with their heart-piercing tenderness.
"Maggie!" the soft voice said. "Lucy!" answered a voice with a sharp ring of anguish in it; and Lucy threw her arms round Maggie's neck, and leaned her pale cheek against the burning brow.
"I stole out," said Lucy, almost in a whisper, while she sat down close to Maggie and held her hand, "when papa and the rest were away. Alice is come with me. I asked her to help me. But I must only stay a little while, because it is so late."
It was easier to say that at first than to say anything else. They sat looking at each other. It seemed as if the interview must end without more speech, for speech was very difficult. Each felt that there would be something scorching in the words that would recall the irretrievable wrong. But soon, as Maggie looked, every distinct thought began to be overflowed by a wave of loving penitence, and words burst forth with a sob.
"God bless you for coming, Lucy."
The sobs came thick on each other after that.
"Maggie, dear, be comforted," said Lucy now, putting her cheek against Maggie's again. "Don't grieve." And she sat still, hoping to soothe Maggie with that gentle caress.
"I didn't mean to deceive you, Lucy," said Maggie, as soon as she could speak. "It always made me wretched that I felt what I didn't like you to know. It was because I thought it would all be conquered, and you might never see anything to wound you."
"I know, dear," said Lucy. "I know you never meant to make me unhappy. It is a trouble that has come on us all; you have more to bear than I have — and you gave him up, when — you did what it must have been very hard to do."
They were silent again a little while, sitting with clasped hands, and cheeks leaned together.
"Lucy," Maggie began again, he struggled too. He wanted to be true to you. He will come back to you. Forgive him — he will be happy then — — "
These words were wrung forth from Maggie's deepest soul, with an effort like the convulsed clutch of a drowning man. Lucy trembled and was silent.
A gentle knock came at the door. It was Alice, the maid, who entered and said, —
"I daren't stay any longer, Miss Deane. They'll find it out, and there'll be such anger at your coming out so late."
Lucy rose and said, "Very well, Alice, — in a minute."
"I'm to go away on Friday, Maggie," she added, when Alice had closed the door again. "When I come back, and am strong, they will let me do as I like. I shall come to you when I please then."
"Lucy," said Maggie, with another great effort, "I pray to God continually that I may never be the cause of sorrow to you any more."
She pressed the little hand that she held between hers, and looked up into the face that was bent over hers. Lucy never forgot that look.
"Maggie," she said, in a low voice, that had the solemnity of confession in it, "you are better than I am. I can't — — "
She broke off there, and said no more. But they clasped each other again in a last embrace.