Chapter XXXI: A Crisis at Eccleston Square

The Firm of Girdlestone

“Silence!” the old man cried hoarsely. “You forget your position in this house. You are presuming too much upon my kindness. As to this girl’s fancy of yours, you may put all thought of it out of your head. I am still your guardian, and I should be culpably remiss if I ever allowed you to see this man again. This afternoon you shall come with me to Hampshire.”

“To Hampshire?”

“Yes. I have taken a small country seat there, where we intend to spend some months of the winter. You shall leave it when you have reconciled yourself to forget these romantic ideas of yours—but not till then.”

“Then I shall never leave it,” said Kate, with a sigh.

“That will depend upon yourself. You shall at least be guarded there from the advances of designing persons. When you come of age you may follow your own fancies. Until then my conscience demands, and the law allows, that I should spare no pains to protect you from your own folly. We start from Waterloo at four.” Girdlestone turned for the door, but looked round as he was leaving the room. “May God forgive you,” he said solemnly, raising his lean hands towards the ceiling, “for what you have done this day!”

Poor Kate, left to herself, was much concerned by this fresh misfortune. She knew that her guardian had power to carry out his plan, and that there was no appeal from his decision. What could she do? She had not a friend in the wide world to whom she could turn for advice or assistance. It occurred to her to fly to the Dimsdales at Kensington, and throw herself upon their compassion. It was only the thought of Tom which prevented her. In her heart she had fully exonerated him, yet there was much to be explained before they could be to each other as of old. She might write to Mrs. Dimsdale, but then her guardian had not told her what part of Hampshire they were going to. She finally came to the conclusion that it would be better to wait, and to write when she had reached her destination. In the meantime, she went drearily to her room and began packing, aided by the ruddy-cheeked maid, Rebecca.

At half-past three a cab drove up to the door, and the old merchant stepped out of it. The boxes were thrown upon the top, and the young lady curtly ordered to get in. Girdlestone took his seat beside her, and gave a sign to the cabman to drive on. As they rattled out of the square, Kate looked back at the great gloomy mansion in which she had spent the last three years of her life. Had she known what the future was to bring, it is possible that she would have clung even to that sombre and melancholy old house as to an ark of safety.

Another cab passed through Eccleston Square that evening—a cab which bore a pale-faced and wild-eyed young man, who looked ever and anon impatiently out of the window to see if he were nearing his destination. Long before reaching No. 69 he had opened the door, and was standing upon the step. The instant that the cab pulled up he sprang off, and rang loudly at the great brass bell which flanked the heavy door.

“Is Mr. Girdlestone in?” he asked, as Rebecca appeared at the door.

“No, sir.”

“Miss Harston, is she at home?” he said excitedly.

“No, sir. They have both gone away.”

“Gone away!”

“Yes. Gone into the country, sir. And Mr. Ezra, too, sir.”

“And when are they coming back?” he asked, in bewilderment.

“They are not coming back.”

“Impossible!” Tom cried in despair. “What is their address, then?”

“They have left no address. I am sorry I can’t help you. Good night, sir.” Rebecca closed the door, laughing maliciously at the visitor’s bewildered looks. She knew the facts of the case well, and having long been jealous of her young mistress, she was not sorry to find things going wrong with her.

Tom Dimsdale stood upon the doorstep looking blankly into the night. He felt dazed and bewildered. What fresh villainy was this? Was it a confirmation of the German’s report, or was it a contradiction of it? Cold beads stood upon his forehead as he thought of the possibility of such a thing. “I must find her,” he cried, with clenched hands, and turned away heartsick into the turmoil and bustle of the London streets.

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