Chapter L: Winds up the Thread and Ties Two Knots at the End

The Firm of Girdlestone

Great was the excitement of the worthy couple at Phillimore Gardens when Kate Harston was brought back to them. Good Mrs. Dimsdale pressed her to her ample bosom and kissed her, and scolded her, and wept over her, while the doctor was so moved that it was only by assuming an expression of portentous severity and by bellowing and stamping about that he was able to keep himself in decent control.

“And you really thought we had forgotten you because we were insane enough to stop writing at that villain’s request?” he said, patting Kate’s pale cheeks tenderly and kissing her.

“I was very foolish,” she said, blushing prettily and rearranging her hair, which had been somewhat tumbled by her numerous caresses.

“Oh, that scoundrel—that pair of scoundrels!” roared the doctor, shaking his fist and dancing about on the hearth-rug. “Pray God they may catch ‘em before the trial comes off!”

The good physician’s prayer was not answered in this case, for Burt was the only criminal who appeared in the dock. Our friends all went down to the Winchester Assizes to give evidence, and the navvy was duly convicted of the death of Rebecca Taylforth and condemned to death. He was executed some three weeks afterwards, dying as he had lived, stolid and unrepenting.

There is a little unpretending church not far from Phillimore Gardens, in which a little unpretending clergyman preaches every Sunday out of a very shabby pulpit. It lies in Castle Lane, which is a narrow by-way, and the great crowd of church-goers ebbs and flows within a hundred yards of it, but none know of its existence, for it has never risen to the dignity of a spire, and the bell is so very diminutive that the average muffin man produces quite as much noise. Hence, with the exception of some few families who have chanced to find their way there, and have been so pleased with their spiritual welcome that they have returned, there is a poor and fluctuating congregation. So scanty is it that the struggling incumbent could very well weep when he has spent the week in polishing and strengthening his sermon, and then finds upon the Sunday how very scanty is the audience to whom it is to be addressed.

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Chapter XLIX: A Voyage in a Coffin Ship

The Firm of Girdlestone

The early part of the voyage of the Black Eagle was extremely fortunate. The wind came round to the eastward, and wafted them steadily down Channel, until on the third day they saw the Isle of Ushant lying low upon the sky-line. No inquisitive gunboat or lurking police launch came within sight of them, though whenever any vessel’s course brought her in their direction the heart of Ezra Girdlestone sank within him. On one occasion a small brig signalled to them, and the wretched fugitives, when they saw the flags run up, thought that all was lost. It proved, however, to be merely some trivial message, and the two owners breathed again.

The wind fell away on the day that they cleared the Channel, and the whole surface of the sea was like a great expanse of quicksilver, which shimmered in the rays of the wintry sun. There was still a considerable swell after the recent gale, and the Black Eagle lay rolling about as though she had learned habits of inebriation from her skipper. The sky was very clear above, but all round the horizon a low haze lay upon the water. So silent was it that the creaking of the boats as they swung at the davits, and the straining of the shrouds as the ship rolled, sounded loud and clear, as did the raucous cries of a couple of gulls which hovered round the poop. Every now and then a rumbling noise ending in a thud down below showed that the swing of the ship had caused something to come down with a run. Underlying all other sounds, however, was a muffled clank, clank, which might almost make one forget that this was a sailing ship, it sounded so like the chipping of a propeller.

“What is that noise, Captain Miggs?” asked John Girdlestone as he stood leaning over the quarter rail, while the old sea-dog, sextant in hand, was taking his midday observations. The captain had been on his good behaviour since the unexpected advent of his employers, and he was now in a wonderful and unprecedented state of sobriety.

“Them’s the pumps a-goin’,” Miggs answered, packing his sextant away in its case.

“The pumps! I thought they were only used when a ship was in danger?”

Ezra came along the deck at this moment, and listened with interest to the conversation.

“This ship is in danger,” Miggs remarked calmly.

“In danger!” cried Ezra, looking round the clear sky and placid sea.
“Where is the danger? I did not think you were such an old woman,
Miggs.”

“We will see about that,” the seaman answered angrily. “If a ship’s got no bottom in her she’s bound to be in danger, be the weather fair or foul.”

“Do you mean to tell me this ship has no bottom?”

“I mean to tell you that there are places where you could put your fingers through her seams. It’s only the pumpin’ that keeps her afloat.”

“This is a pretty state of things,” said Girdlestone. “How is it that I have not been informed of it before! It is most dangerous.”

“Informed!” cried Miggs. “Informed of it! Has there been a v’yage yet that I haven’t come to ye, Muster Girdlestone, and told ye I was surprised ever to find myself back in Lunnon? A year agone I told ye how this ship was, and ye laughed at me, ye did. It’s only when ye find yourselves on her in the middle o’ the broad sea that ye understan’ what it is that sailor folk have to put up wi’.”

Girdlestone was about to make some angry reply to this address, but his son put his hand on his arm to restrain him. It would never do to quarrel with Hamilton Miggs before they reached their port of refuge. They were too completely in his power.

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Chapter XLVIII: Captain Hamilton Miggs sees a Vision

The Firm of Girdlestone

Ezra Girdlestone had given many indications during his life, both in Africa and elsewhere, of being possessed of the power of grasping a situation and of acting for the best at the shortest notice. He never showed this quality more conclusively than at that terrible moment, when he realized not only that the crime in which he bad participated had failed, but that all was discovered, and that his father and he were hunted criminals. With the same intuitive quickness which made him a brilliant man of business, he saw instantly what were the only available means of escape, and proceeded at once to adopt them. If they could but reach the vessel of Captain Hamilton Miggs they might defy the pursuit of the law.

The Black Eagle had dropped down the Thames on the very Saturday which was so fruitful of eventful episodes. Miggs would lie at Gravesend, and intended afterwards to beat round to the Downs, there to await the final instructions of the firm. If they could catch him before he left, there was very little chance that he would know anything of what had occurred. It was a fortunate chance that the next day was Sunday, and there would be no morning paper to enlighten him as to the doings in Hampshire. They had only to invent some plausible excuse for their wish to accompany him, and get him to drop them upon the Spanish coast. Once out of sight of England and on the broad ocean, what detective could follow their track?

Of course upon Sampson’s return all would come out. Ezra reckoned, however, that it would be some time before the fisherman got back from his journey. What was a favourable wind going would be dead in his teeth coming back. It might take him a week’s tacking and beating about before he got home. By that time Ezra hoped to be beyond the reach of all danger. He had a thousand five pound Bank of England notes sewn into the back of his waistcoat, for knowing that a crash might come at any moment, he had long made provision against it. With this he felt that he could begin life again in the new world, and with his youth and energy he might hope to attain success. As to his father, he was fully determined to abandon him completely at the first opportunity.

Through the whole of that wintry night the fishing-boat scudded away to the eastward, and the two fugitives remained upon deck, drenched through with rain and with spray, but feeling that the wild turmoil around them was welcome as a relief to their own thoughts. Better the cutting wind and the angry sea than the thought of the dead girl upon the rails and of the bloodhounds of the law.

Ezra pointed up once at the moon, on whose face two storm wreaths had marked a rectangular device.

“Look at that!” he cried. “It looks like a gallows.”

“What is there to live for?” said his father, looking up with the cold light glittering on his deep-set eyes.

“Not much for you, perhaps,” his son retorted. “You’ve had your fling, but I am young and have not yet had a fair show. I have no fancy to be scragged yet.”

“Poor lad!” the father muttered; “poor lad!”

“They haven’t caught me yet,” said Ezra. “If they did I question whether they could do much. They couldn’t hang three for the death of one. You would have to swing, and that’s about all.”

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Chapter XLVII: Law and Order

The Firm of Girdlestone

The ruffian Burt was so horror-stricken at the sight of the girl whom he imagined that he had murdered, that he lay grovelling on the railway lines by the side of his victim, moaning with terror, and incapable of any resistance. He was promptly seized by the major’s party, and the Nihilist secured his hands with a handkerchief so quickly and effectively that it was clearly not the first time that he had performed the feat. He then calmly drew a very long and bright knife from the recesses of his frock-coat, and having pressed it against Burt’s nose to ensure his attention, he brandished it in front of him in a menacing way, as a hint that an attempt at escape might be dangerous.

“And who is dis?” asked Baumser, lifting up the dead woman’s head, and resting it upon his knee.

“Poor girl! She will niver spake again, whoever she may have been,” the major said, holding the lantern to her cold pale face. “Here’s where the cowards struck her. Death must have been instantaneous and painless. I could have sworn it was the young lady we came afther, if it were not that we have her safe down there, thank the Lord!”

“Vere are those oders?” asked Von Baumser, peering about through the darkness. “If dere is justice in de country, dey vill hang for the work of dis night.”

“They are off,” the major answered, laying the girl’s head reverently down again. “It’s hopeless to follow them, as we know nothing of the counthry, nor which direction they took. They ran like madmen. Hullo! What the divil can this be?”

The sight which had attracted the veteran’s attention was nothing less than the appearance at the end of the lane of three brilliant luminous discs moving along abreast of one another. They came rapidly nearer, increasing in brilliancy as they approached. Then a voice rang out of the darkness, “There they are, officers! Close with them! Don’t let ‘em get away!” And before the major and his party could quite grasp the situation they were valiantly charged by three of those much-enduring, stout-hearted mortals known as the British police force.

It takes courage to plunge into the boiling surf and to carry the rope to the breaking vessel. It takes courage to spring from the ship’s side and support the struggling swimmer, never knowing the moment at which a flickering shadow may appear in the deep green water, and the tiger of the deep turn its white belly upwards as it dashes on its prey. There is courage too in the infantryman who takes a sturdy grip of his rifle and plants his feet firmly as he sees the Lancers sweeping down on his comrades and himself. But of all these types of bravery there is none that can compare with that of our homely constable when he finds on the dark November nights that a door on his beat is ajar, and, listening below, learns that the time has come to show the manhood that is in him. He must fight odds in the dark. He must, single-handed, cage up desperate men like rats in a hole. He must oppose his simple weapon to the six-shooter and the life-preserver. All these thoughts, and the remembrance of his wife and children at home, and of how easy it would be not to observe the open door, come upon him, and then what does he do? Why, with the thought of duty in his heart, and his little cudgel in his hand, he goes to what is too often his death, like a valiant high-minded Englishman, who fears the reproach of his own conscience more than pistol bullet, or bludgeon stroke.

Which digression may serve to emphasize the fact that these three burly Hampshire policemen, having been placed upon our friends’ track by the ostler of the Flying Bull, and having themselves observed manoeuvres which could only be characterized as suspicious, charged down with such vehemence, that in less time than it takes to tell it, both Tom and the major and Von Baumser were in safe custody. The Nihilist, who had an unextinguishable hatred of the law, and who could never be brought to understand that it might under any circumstances be on his side, pulled himself very straight and held his knife down at his hip as though he meant to use it, while Bulow, of Kiel, likewise assumed an aggressive attitude. Fortunately, however, the appearance of their prisoners and a few hurried words from the major made the inspector in charge understand how the land lay, and he transferred his attention to Burt, on whose wrists he placed the handcuffs. He then listened to a more detailed account of the circumstances from the lips of the major.

“Who is this young lady?” he asked, pointing to Kate.

“This is the Miss Harston whom we came to rescue, and for whom no doubt the blow was intended which killed this unhappy girl.”

“Perhaps, sir,” said the inspector to Tom, “you had better take her up to the house.”

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Chapter XLVI: A Midnight Cruise

The Firm of Girdlestone

If ever two men were completely cowed and broken down those two were the African merchants and his son. Wet, torn, and soiled, they still struggled on in their aimless flight, crashing through hedges and clambering over obstacles, with the one idea in their frenzied minds of leaving miles between them and that fair accusing face. Exhausted and panting they still battled through the darkness and the storm, until they saw the gleam of the surge and heard the crash of the great waves upon the beach. Then they stopped amid the sand and the shingle. The moon was shining down now in all its calm splendour, illuminating the great tossing ocean and the long dark sweep of the Hampshire coast. By its light the two men looked at one another, such a look as two lost souls might have exchanged when they heard the gates of hell first clang behind them.

Who could have recognized them now as the respected trader of Fenchurch Street and his fastidious son. Their clothes were tattered, their faces splashed with mud and scarred by brambles and thorns, the elder man had lost his hat, and his silvery hair blew out in a confused tangle behind him. Even more noticeable, however, than the change in their attire was the alteration in their expression. Both had the same startled, furtive look of apprehension, like beasts of prey who hear the baying of the hounds in the distance. Their quivering hands and gasping breath betrayed their exhaustion, yet they glanced around them nervously, as though the least sound would send them off once more upon their wild career.

“You devil!” Ezra cried at last, in a harsh, choking voice, taking a step towards his father with a gesture as though he would have struck him. “You have brought us to this with your canting and scheming and plotting. What are we to do now—eh? Answer me that!” He caught the old man by the coat and shook him violently.

Girdlestone’s face was all drawn, as though he were threatened with a fit, and his eyes were glassy and vacant. The moonlight glittered in them and played over his contorted features. “Did you see her?” he whispered with trembling lips. “Did you see her?”

“Yes, I saw her,” the other answered brusquely; “and I saw that infernal fellow from London, and the major, and God knows how many more behind her. A nice hornets’ nest to bring about one’s ears.”

“It was her spirit,” said his father in the same awe-struck voice.
“The spirit of John Harston’s murdered daughter.”

“It was the girl herself,” said Ezra. He had been panic-stricken at the moment, but had had time during their flight to realize the situation. “We have made a pretty botch of the whole thing.”

“The girl herself!” cried Girdlestone in bewilderment. “For Heaven’s sake, don’t mock me! Who was it that we carried through the wood and laid upon the rails?”

“Who was it? Why that jealous jade, Rebecca Taylforth, of course, who must have read my note and come out in the other’s cloak and hat to hear what I had to say to her. The cursed fool!”

“The wrong woman!” Girdlestone muttered with the same vacant look upon his face. “All for nothing, then—for nothing!”

“Don’t stand mumbling to yourself there,” cried Ezra, catching his father’s arm and half dragging him along the beach. “Don’t you understand that there’s a hue and cry out after you, and that we’ll be hung if we are taken. Wake up and exert yourself. The gallows would be a nice end to all your preaching and praying, wouldn’t it?”

They hurried along together down the beach, ploughing their way through the loose shingle and tripping over the great mats of seaweed which had been cast up in the recent gale. The wind was still so great that they had to lower their heads and to put their shoulders against it, while the salt spray caused their eyes to smart and tingled on their lips.

“Where are you taking me, my son?” asked the old man once.

“To the only chance we have of safety. Come on, and ask no questions.”

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Chapter XLV: The Invasion of Hampshire

The Firm of Girdlestone

When Tom and the major arrived at Waterloo Station, the latter in the breathless condition described in a preceding chapter, they found the German waiting for them with his two fellow-exiles. The gentleman of Nihilistic proclivities was somewhat tall and thin, with a long frock-coat buttoned almost up to his throat, which showed signs of giving at the seams every here and there. His grizzly hair fell over his collar behind, and he had a short bristling beard. He stood with one hand stuck into the front of his coat and the other upon his hip, as though rehearsing the position in which his statue might be some day erected in the streets of his native Russia, when the people had their own, and despotism was no more. In spite of his worn attire there was something noble and striking about the man. His bow, when Baumser introduced him to the major and Tom, would have graced any Court in Europe. Round his neck he had a coarse string from which hung a pair of double eye-glasses. These he fixed upon his aquiline nose, and took a good look at the gentlemen whom he had come to serve.

Bulow, of Kiel, was a small, dark-eyed, clean-shaven fellow, quick and energetic in his movements, having more the appearance of a Celt than of a Teuton. He seemed to be full of amiability, and assured the major in execrable English how very happy he was to be able to do a service to one who had shown kindness to their esteemed colleague and persecuted patriot, Von Baumser. Indeed both of the men showed great deference to the German, and the major began to perceive that his friend was a very exalted individual in Socialistic circles. He liked the look of the two foreigners, and congratulated himself upon having their co-operation in the matter on hand.

Ill luck was in store for the expedition, however. On inquiry at the ticket-office they found that there was no train for upwards of two hours, and then it was a slow one which would not land them until eight o’clock at Bedsworth. At this piece of information Tom Dimsdale fairly broke down, and stamped about the station, raving and beseeching the officials to run a special, be the cost what it might. This, however, could by no means be done, owing to the press of Saturday traffic. There was nothing for it but to wait. The three foreigners went off in search of something to eat, and having found a convenient cookshop they disappeared therein and feasted royally at Von Baumser’s expense. Major Tobias Clutterbuck remained with the young man, who resolutely refused to leave the platform. The major knew of a snug little corner not far off where he could have put in the time very comfortably, but he could not bring himself to desert his companion even for a minute. I have no doubt that that wait of two hours in the draughty station is marked up somewhere to the old sinner’s credit account.

Indeed, it was well that day that young Dimsdale had good friends at his back. His appearance was so strange and wild that the passers-by turned back to have another look at him, His eyes were open and staring, giving a fear-inspiring character to his expression. He could not sit still for an instant, but paced up and down and backwards and forwards under the influence of the fierce energy which consumed him, while the major plodded along manfully at his side, suggesting every consideration which might cheer him up, and narrating many tales, true and apocryphal, most of which fell upon heedless ears.

Ezra Girdlestone had four hours’ start of them. That was the thought which rankled in Tom’s heart and outweighed every other consideration. He knew Kate’s nature so well that he was convinced that she would never have expressed such fears to Mrs. Scully unless she had very assured reasons for them. In fact, apart from her own words, what could this secrecy and seclusion mean except foul play. After what he had learned about the insurance of the ships and the manner in which the elder Girdlestone had induced him to cease corresponding with Kate, he could believe anything of his partners. He knew, also, that in case of Kate’s death the money reverted to her guardian. There was not a single link missing in the chain of evidence which showed that a crime was in contemplation. Then, who was that butcher-like man whom Ezra was taking down with him? Tom could have torn his hair as he thought of his present impotence and of his folly in losing sight of young Girdlestone.

The major has put it on record that those two hours appeared to him the longest that ever he passed in his life, and Tom, no doubt, would endorse the sentiment. Everything must have an end, however, and the station clock, the hands of which seemed several times to have stopped altogether, began at last to approach the hour at which the Portsmouth train was timed to depart. Baumser and his two friends had come back, all three smoking cigarettes, and looking the better for their visit to the cookshop. The five got into a first-class railway carriage and waited. Would they never have done examining tickets and stamping luggage and going through all sorts of tedious formalities? At last, thank God! comes the shrill whistle of the guard, the answering snort from the engine, and they are fairly started upon their mission of rescue.

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Chapter XLIV: The Shadow of Death

The Firm of Girdlestone

This conversation with Rebecca had suggested to Ezra that he might still have influence enough with his father’s ward to induce her to come out of doors, and so put herself within the reach of Burt. He had proposed the plan to his father, who approved of it heartily. The only weak point in his scheme had been the difficulty which might arise in inducing the girl to venture out of the Priory on that tempestuous winter’s night. There was evidently only one incentive strong enough to bring it about, and that was the hope of escape. By harping skilfully upon this string they might lure her into the trap. Ezra and his father composed the letter together, and the former handed it to Mrs. Jorrocks, with a request that she should deliver it.

It chanced, however, that Rebecca, keenly alive to any attempt at communication between the young merchant and her mistress, saw the crone hobbling down the passage with the note in her hand.

“What’s that, mother?” she asked.

“It’s a letter for her,” wheezed the old woman, nodding her tremulous head in the direction of Kate’s room.

“I’ll take it up,” said Rebecca eagerly. “I am just going up there with her tea.”

“Thank ye. Them stairs tries my rheumatiz something cruel.”

The maid took the note and carried it upstairs. Instead of taking it straight to her mistress she slipped into her own room and read every word of it. It appeared to confirm her worst suspicions. Here was Ezra asking an interview with the woman whom he had assured her that he hated. It was true that the request was made in measured words and on a plausible pretext. No doubt that was merely to deceive any other eye which might rest upon it. There was an understanding between them, and this was an assignation. The girl walked swiftly up and down the room like a caged tigress, striking her head with her clenched hands in her anger and biting her lip until the blood came. It was some time before she could overcome her agitation sufficiently to deliver the note, and when she did so her mistress, as we have seen, noticed that her manner was nervous and wild. She little dreamed of the struggle which was going on in the dark-eyed girl’s mind against the impulse which urged her to seize her imagined rival by the white throat and choke the life out of her.

“It’s eight o’clock now,” Ezra was saying downstairs. “I wonder whether she will come?”

“She is sure to come,” his father said briefly.

“Suppose she didn’t?”

“In that case we should find other means to bring her out. We have not gone so far, to break down over a trifle at the last moment.”

“I must have something to drink,” Ezra said, after a pause, helping himself from the bottle. “I feel as cold as ice and as nervous as a cat. I can’t understand how you look so unconcerned. If you were going to sign an invoice or audit an account or anything else in the way of business you could not take it more calmly. I wish the time would come. This waiting is terrible.”

“Let us pass the time to advantage,” said John Girdlestone; and drawing a little fat Bible from his pocket he began to read it aloud in a solemn and sonorous voice. The yellow light illuminated the old merchant’s massive features as he stooped forwards towards the candle. His strongly marked nose and his hollow cheeks gave him a vulture-like aspect, which was increased by the effect of his deep-set glittering eyes.

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Chapter XLIII: The Bait on the Hook

The Firm of Girdlestone

The grey winter evening was beginning to steal in before the details had all been arranged by the conspirators. It had grown so chill that Kate had abandoned her attempt at gardening, and had gone back to her room. Ezra left his father and Burt by the fire and came out to the open hall-door. The grim old trees looked gaunt and eerie as they waved their naked arms about in the cutting wind. A slight fog had come up from the sea and lay in light wreaths over the upper branches, like a thin veil of gauze. Ezra was shivering as he surveyed the dreary scene, when he felt a hand on his arm, and looking round saw that the maid Rebecca was standing beside him.

“Haven’t you got one word for me?” she said sadly, looking up into his face. “It’s but once a week, and then never a word of greeting.”

“I didn’t see you, my lass,” Ezra answered. “How does the Priory suit you?”

“One place is the same as another to me,” she said drearily. “You asked me to come here, and I have come. You said once that you would let me know how I could serve you down here. When am I to know?”

“Why, there’s no secret about that. You do serve me when you look after my father as you have done these weeks back. That old woman isn’t fit to manage the whole place by herself.”

“That wasn’t what you meant, though,” said the girl, looking at him with questioning eyes. “I remember your face now as you spoke the words. You have something on your mind, and have now, only you keep it to yourself. Why won’t you trust me with it?”

“Don’t be a fool!” answered Ezra curtly. “I have a great deal to worry me in business matters. Much good it would do telling you about them!”

“It’s more than that,” said Rebecca doggedly. “Who is that man who has come down?”

“A business man from London. He has come to consult my father about money matters. Any more questions you would like to ask?”

“I should like to know how long we are to be kept down here, and what the meaning of it all may be.”

“We are going back before the end of the winter, and the meaning of it is that Miss Harston was not well and needed a change of air. Now are you satisfied?” He was determined to allay as far as possible any suspicions that the girl might have previously formed.

“And what brings you down here?” she asked, with the same searching look. “You don’t come down into this hole without some good reason. I did think at first that you might come down in order to see me, but you soon showed me that it wasn’t that. There was a time when you was fond of me.”

“So I am now, lass.”

“Ay, very fond! Not a word nor a look from you last time you came.
You must have some reason, though, that brings you here.”

“There’s nothing wonderful in a man coming to see his own father,”

“Much you cared for him in London,” she cried, with a shrill laugh. “If he was under the sod you would not be the sadder. It’s my belief as you come down after that doll-faced missy upstairs.”

“Dry up, now!” said Ezra roughly. “I’ve had enough of your confounded nonsense.”

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Chapter XLII: The Three Faces at the Window

The Firm of Girdlestone

Late in the afternoon Ezra arrived at the Priory. From one of the passage windows Kate saw him driving up the avenue in a high dog-cart. There was a broad-shouldered, red-bearded man sitting beside him, and the ostler from the Flying Bull was perched behind. Kate had rushed to the window on hearing the sound of wheels, with some dim expectation that her friends had come sooner than she anticipated. A glance, however, showed her that the hope was vain. From behind a curtain she watched them alight and come into the house, while the trap wheeled round and rattled off for Bedsworth again.

She went slowly back to her room, wondering what friend this could be whom Ezra had brought with him. She had noticed that he was roughly clad, presenting a contrast to the young merchant, who was vulgarly spruce in his attire. Evidently he intended to pass the night at the Priory, since they had let the trap go back to the village. She was glad that he had come, for his presence would act as a restraint upon the Girdlestones. In spite of her guardian’s amiability at breakfast, she could not forget the words which he had used the morning before or the incident of the poison bottle. She was as convinced as ever that he meant mischief to her, but she had ceased to fear him. It never for one moment occurred to her that her guardian’s machinations might come to a head before her rescuers could arrive.

As the long afternoon stole away she became more and more impatient and expectant. She had been sewing in her room, but she found that she could no longer keep her attention on the stitches. She paced nervously up and down the little apartment. In the room beneath she could hear the dull muffled sound of men’s voices in a long continuous monotone, broken only by the interposition now and again of one voice which was so deep and loud that it reminded her of the growl of a beast of prey. This must belong to the red-bearded stranger. Kate wondered what it could be that they were talking over so earnestly. City affairs, no doubt, or other business matters of importance. She remembered having once heard it remarked that many of the richest men on ‘Change were eccentric and slovenly in their dress, so the new-comer might be a more important person than he seemed.

She had determined to remain in her room all the afternoon to avoid Ezra, but her restlessness was so great that she felt feverish and hot. The fresh air, she thought, would have a reviving effect upon her. She slipped down the staircase, treading as lightly as possible not to disturb the gentlemen in the refectory. They appeared to hear her however, for the hum of conversation died away, and there was a dead silence until after she had passed.

She went out on to the little lawn which lay in front of the old house. There were some flower-beds scattered about on it, but they were overgrown with weeds and in the last stage of neglect. She amused herself by attempting to improve the condition of one of them and kneeling down beside it she pulled up a number of the weeds which covered it. There was a withered rose-bush in the centre, so she pulled up that also, and succeeded in imparting some degree of order among the few plants which remained. She worked with unnatural energy, pausing every now and again to glance down the dark avenue, or to listen intently to any chance sound which might catch her ear.

In the course of her work she chanced to look up at the Priory. The refectory faced the lawn, and at the window of it there stood the three men looking out at her. The Girdlestones were nodding their heads, as though they were pointing her out to the third man, who stood between them. He was looking at her with an expression of interest. Kate thought as she returned his gaze that she had never seen a more savage and brutal face. He was flushed and laughing, while Ezra beside him appeared to be pale and anxious. They all, when they saw that she noticed them, stepped precipitately back from the window. She had only a momentary glance at them, and yet the three faces—the strange fierce red one, and the two hard familiar pale ones which flanked it—remained vividly impressed upon her memory.

Girdlestone had been so pleased at the early appearance of his allies, and the prospect of settling the matter once for all, that he received them with a cordiality which was foreign to his nature.

“Always punctual, my dear son, and always to be relied upon,” he said. “You are a model to our young business men. As to you, Mr. Burt,” he continued, grasping the navvy’s horny hand, “I am delighted to see you at the Priory, much as I regret the sad necessity which has brought you down.”

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Chapter XLI: The Clouds grow Darker

The Firm of Girdlestone

When Kate had made a clean breast of all her troubles to the widow Scully, and had secured that good woman’s co-operation, a great weight seemed to have been lifted from her heart, and she sprang from the shed a different woman. It would soon be like a dream, all these dreary weeks in the grim old house. Within a day she was sure that either Tom or the major would find means of communicating with her. The thought made her so happy that the colour stole back into her cheeks, and she sang for very lightness of heart as she made her way back to the Priory.

Mrs. Jorrocks and Rebecca observed the change which had come over her and marvelled at it. Kate attempted to aid the former in her household work, but the old crone refused her assistance and repulsed her harshly. Her maid too answered her curtly when she addressed her, and eyed her in anything but a friendly manner.

“You don’t seem much the worse,” she remarked, “for all the wonderful things you seed in the night.”

“Oh, don’t speak of it,” said Kate. “I am afraid that I have given you a great fright. I was feeling far from well, and I suppose that I must have imagined all about that dreadful monk. Yet, at the time, I assure you that I saw it as plainly as I see you now.”

“What’s that she says?” asked Mrs. Jorrocks, with her hand to her ear.

“She says that she saw a ghost last night as plain as she sees you now.”

“Pack of nonsense!” cried the old woman, rattling the poker in the grate. “I’ve been here afore she came—all alone in the house, too—and I hain’t seen nothing of the sort. When she’s got nothing else to grumble about she pretends as she has seen a ghost.”

“No, no,” the girl said cheerily. “I am not grumbling—indeed I am not.”

“It’s like her contrariness to say so,” old Mrs. Jorrocks cried hoarsely. “She’s always a-contradictin’.”

“You’re not in a good temper to-day,” Kate remarked, and went off to her room, going up the steps two at a time with her old springy footstep.

Rebecca followed her, and noticing the change, interpreted it in her own narrow fashion.

“You seems cheerful enough now,” she said, standing at Kate’s door and looking into her room, with a bitter smile on her lips. “To-morrow is Saturday. That’s what’s the matter with you.”

“To-morrow Saturday!” Kate repeated in astonishment.

“Yes; you know what I mean well enough. It’s no use pretending that you don’t.”

The girl’s manner was so aggressive that Kate was astonished.
“I haven’t the least idea of what you mean,” she said.

“Oh no,” cried Rebecca, with her arms akimbo and a sneer on her face. “She doesn’t know what I mean. She doesn’t know that her young man is coming down on the Saturday. She does not know that Mr. Ezra comes all the way from London on that day just for to see her. It isn’t that that makes you cheerful, is it? Oh, you double face!” The girl’s pretty features were all distorted with malice as she spoke, and her two hands were clenched passionately.

“Rebecca!” cried Kate energetically, “I really think that you are the most complete fool that ever I met in my life. I will trouble you to remember that I am your mistress and you are my servant. How dare you speak to me in such a way? Leave my room this instant!”

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