Chapter XLI: The Clouds grow Darker

The girl stood her ground as though she intended to brazen it out, but Kate swept towards her with so much honest anger in her voice, and such natural dignity in her bearing, that she sank her bold gaze, and with a few muttered words slunk away into her own room. Kate closed the door behind her, and then, her sense of the ludicrous overpowering her anger, she laughed for the first time since she had been in the Priory. It was so intensely ridiculous that even the most foolish of mortals should imagine that she could, under any circumstances, be desirous of seeing Ezra Girdlestone. The very thought of him brought her amusement to an end, for the maid was right, and to-morrow would bring him down once more. Perhaps her friends might arrive before he did. God grant it!

It was a cold but a bright day. From her window she could see the snow-white sails of the Hampshire fishing-boats dipping and rising against the deep blue sea. A single barque rode amongst them, like a swan among ducklings, beating up against the wind for Portsmouth or Southampton. Away on the right was the long line of white foam which marked the Winner Sands. The tide was in and the great mudbanks had disappeared, save that here and there their dun-coloured convexity rose above the surface like the back of a sleeping leviathan. Overhead a great flock of wild geese were flapping their way southward, like a broad arrow against the sky. It was an exhilarating, bracing scene, and accorded well with her own humour. She felt so full of life and hope that she could hardly believe that she was the same girl who that very morning had hurled away the poison bottle, knowing in her heart that unless she destroyed it she might be tempted to follow her guardian’s sinister suggestions. Yet the incident was real enough, for there were the fragments of glass scattered over the bare planks of her floor, and the insidious odour of the drug was still so strong that she opened the window in order to dissipate it. Looking back at it now, it all seemed like some hideous nightmare.

She had no very clear idea as to what she expected her friends to do.
That she would be saved, and that speedily, she never for one instant
doubted. She had only to wait patiently and all would be well.
By to-morrow night, at the latest, her troubles would be over.

So thought Girdlestone too, as he sat down below, with his head bent upon his breast and his eyes looking moodily from under his shaggy brows at the glowing coals. To-morrow evening would settle the matter once and for ever. Burt and Ezra would be down by five o’clock, and that would be the beginning of the end. As to Burt’s future there was no difficulty about that. He was a broken man. If well supplied with unlimited liquor he would not live long to trouble them. He had nothing to gain, and everything to lose by denouncing them. Should the worst come to the worst, the ravings of a dipsomaniac could do little harm to a man as respected as the African merchant. Every event had been foreseen and provided for by the old schemer. Above all, he had devised a method by which even a coroner’s inquiry could be faced with impunity, and which would do away with all necessity for elaborate concealment.

He beckoned Mrs. Jorrocks over to him, for he had been sitting in the large room, which was used both as a dining-room and as a kitchen.

“What is the latest train to-morrow?” he asked.

“There be one that reaches Bedsworth at a quarter to ten.”

“It passes the grounds at about twenty to ten, then?”

“That reg’lar that I could set my clock by it.”

“That’ll do. Where is Miss Harston?”

“Upstairs, sir. She came back a-laughin’ and a-jumpin’ and as sassy as you please to them as was old before she was born.”

“Laughing!” said Girdlestone, raising his eyebrows. “She did not seem in a laughing mood this morning. You don’t think she has gone out of her mind, do you?”

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