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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