Chapter XXXVI: The Incident of the Corridor

The Firm of Girdlestone

Ezra Girdlestone hardly went through the formality of greeting Kate next morning when she came down to breakfast. He was evidently ill at ease, and turned away his eyes when she looked at him, though he glanced at her furtively from time to time. His father chatted with him upon City matters, but the young man’s answers were brusque and monosyllabic. His sleep had been troubled and broken, for the conversation of the night before had obtruded unpleasantly on his dreams.

Kate slipped away from them as soon as she could and, putting on her bonnet, went for a long walk through the grounds, partly for the sake of exercise, and partly in the hope of finding some egress. The one-eyed gate-keeper was at his post, and set up a hideous shout of laughter when he saw her; so she branched off among the trees to avoid him, and walked once more very carefully round the boundary wall. It was no easy matter to follow it continuously, for the briars and brambles grew in a confused tangle up to its very base. By perseverance, however, she succeeded in tracing every foot of it, and so satisfying herself finally that there was no diminution anywhere in its height, no break in its continuity, save the one small wooden door which was securely fastened.

There was one spot, however, where a gleam of hope presented itself. At an angle of the wall there stood a deserted wooden shed, which had been used for the protection of gardeners’ tools in the days when the grounds had been kept in better order. It was not buttressed up against the wall, but stood some eight or ten feet from it. Beside the shed was an empty barrel which had once been a water-butt. The girl managed to climb to the top of the barrel, and from this she was easily able to gain the sloping roof of the shed. Up this she clambered until she stood upon the summit, a considerable height above the ground. From it she was able to look down over the wall on to the country-road and the railway line which lay on the other side of it. True that an impassable chasm lay between her and the wall, but it would be surely possible for her to hail passers-by from here, and to persuade some of them to carry a letter to Bedsworth or to bring paper from there. Fresh hope gushed into her heart at the thought.

It was not a very secure footing, for the planks of, which the shed was composed were worm-eaten and rotten. They cracked and crumbled beneath her feet, but what would she not dare to see a friendly human face? As she stood there a couple of country louts, young lads about sixteen, came strolling down the road, the one whistling and the other munching at a raw turnip. They lounged along until they came opposite to Kate’s point of observation, when one of them looking up saw her pale face surmounting the wall.

“Hey, Bill,” he cried to his companion, “blowed if the mad wench bean’t up on the shed over yander!”

“So she be!” said the other eagerly. “Give me your turnip. Jimmy, an’
I’ll shy it at her.”

“Noa, I’ll shy it mysel’,” said the gallant Jimmy; and at the word whizz came the half of a turnip within art inch of Kate’s ear.

“You’ve missed her!” shrieked the other savage. “‘Ere, quick, where be a stone?” But before he could find one the poor girl, sick at heart, clambered down from her exposed situation.

“There is no hope for me anywhere,” she sobbed to herself. “Every man’s hand is against me. I have only one true friend, and he is far away.” She went back to her room utterly disheartened and dispirited.

Her guardian knocked at her door before dinner time. “I trust,” he said, “that you have read over the service. It is as well to do so when you cannot go to church.”

“And why should you prevent me from going to church?” she asked.

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