“Come up to the fire, my dear,” said the old woman. “Take off your cloak and warm yourself.” She held her own shrivelled arms towards the blaze, as though her short exposure to the night air had chilled her. Glancing at her, Kate saw that her face was sharp-featured and cunning, with a loose lower lip which exposed a line of yellow teeth, and a chin which bristled with a tuft of long grey hairs.
From without there came the crunching of gravel as the wagonette turned and rattled down the avenue. Kate listened to the sound of the wheels until they died away in the distance. They seemed somehow to be the last link which bound her to the human race. Her heart failed her completely, and she burst into tears.
“What’s the matter then?” the old woman asked, looking up at her.
“What are ye crying about?”
“Oh, I am so miserable and so lonely,” she cried. “What have I done that I should be so unhappy? Why should I be taken to this horrible, horrible place?”
“What’s the matter with the place?” asked her withered companion.
“I don’t see nought amiss with it. Here’s Mr. Girdlestone a-comin’.
He don’t grumble at the place, I’ll warr’nt.”
The merchant was not in the best of tempers, for he had had an altercation with the driver about the fare, and was cold into the bargain. “At it again?” he said roughly, as he entered. “It is I who ought to weep, I think, who have been put to all this trouble and inconvenience by your disobedience and weakness of mind.”
Kate did not answer, but sat upon a coarse deal chair beside the fire, and buried her face in her hands. All manner of vague fears and fancies filled her mind. What was Tom doing now? How quickly he would fly to her rescue did he but know how strangely she was situated! She determined that her very first action next morning should be to write to Mrs. Dimsdale and to tell her, not only where she was, but all that had occurred. The reflection that she could do this cheered her heart, and she managed to eat a little of the supper which the old woman had now placed upon the table. It was a rough stew of some sort, but the long journey had given an edge to their appetites, and the merchant, though usually epicurean in his tastes, ate a hearty meal.
When supper was over the crone, who was addressed by Girdlestone as Jorrocks, led the way upstairs and showed Kate to her room. If the furniture of the dining-room had been Spartan in its simplicity, this was even more so, for there was nothing in it save a small iron bedstead, much rusted from want of use, and a high wooden box on which stood the simplest toilet requisites. In spite of the poverty of the apartment Kate had never been more glad to enter her luxurious chamber at home. The little carpetless room was a haven of rest where she would be left, for one night at least, to her own thoughts. As she lay in bed, however, she could hear far away the subdued murmur of Girdlestone’s voice and the shrill tones of the old woman. They were in deep and animated converse. Though they were too far distant for her to distinguish a word, something told her that their talk was about herself, and the same instinct assured her that it boded her little good.