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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