“I don’t know nought about that. There was Rebecca came down here a-cryin’ ’cause she’d ordered her out of her room. Oh, she’s mistress of the house—there’s no doubt about that. She’ll be a-givin’ of us all the sack presently.”
Girdlestone relapsed into silence, but his face showed that he was puzzled by what he had heard.
Kate slept a sound and dreamless sleep that night. At her age trouble is shaken from the young mind like water from the feathers of a duck. It had been all very gloomy and terrible while it lasted, but now the dawn of better days had come. She woke cheerful and light-hearted. She felt that when once she was free she could forgive her guardian and Rebecca and all of them—even Ezra. She would bury the whole hideous incident, and never think of it or refer to it again.
She amused herself that morning by reckoning up in her mind what the sequence of events would be in London, and how long it would be before she heard from her friends. If Mrs. Scully had telegraphed, news would have reached them last night. Probably she would write as well, giving all the particulars about her. The post came in about nine o’clock, she thought. Then some time would elapse before the major could find Tom. After that, no doubt they would have to consider what had best be done, and perhaps would go and consult with Dr. Dimsdale. That would occupy the morning and part of the afternoon. They could hardly reach the Priory before nightfall.
Ezra would be down by that time. On the Saturday before he had arrived between five and six. A great dread filled her soul at the thought of meeting the young merchant again. It was merely the natural instinct of a lady shrinking from whatever is rough and coarse and antagonistic. She had no conception of the impending danger, or of what his coming might mean to her.
Mr. Girdlestone was more gracious to her than usual that morning at breakfast. He seemed anxious to efface the remembrance of his fierce and threatening words the day before. Rebecca, who waited upon them, was astonished to hear the way in which he spoke. His whole manner was less heavy and ungainly than usual, for now that the time for action was at hand he felt braced and invigorated, as energetic men do.
“You should study botany while you are down here,” he said blandly. “Depend upon it, one cannot learn too many things in one’s youth. Besides, a knowledge of natural science teaches us the marvellous harmony which prevails throughout the universe, and so enlarges our minds.”
“I should very much like to know something of it,” answered Kate.
“My only fear is that I should not be clever enough to learn it.”
“The wood here is full of wonders. The tiniest mushroom is as extraordinary and as worthy of study as the largest oak. Your father was fond of plants and animals.”
“Yes, I can remember that,” said Kate, her face growing sad as her mind travelled back to years gone by. What would that same father have thought, she wondered, had he known how this man opposite to her had treated her! What did it matter now, though, when she would so soon be out of his power!
“I remember,” said Girdlestone, stirring his tea thoughtfully, “when we lived in the City as ‘prentice lads together, we shared a room above the shop. He used to have a dormouse that he was very fond of. All his leisure time was spent in nursing the creature and cleaning its cage. It seemed to be his only pleasure in life. One night it was running across the floor, and I put my foot upon it.”
“Oh, poor papa!” cried Kate.
“I did it upon principle. ‘You have devoted too much time to the creature,’ I said. ‘Raise up your thoughts higher!’ He was grieved and angry, but in time he came to thank me. It was a useful lesson.”
Kate was so startled by this anecdote that she remained silent for some little time. “How old were you then?” she asked at last.