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Mrs. Little slipped out, and soon after put her head into the dining-room to the gentlemen, and whispered to them "YES." Then she retired to talk it all over with Jael.
At that monosyllable Mr. Raby was very much discomposed.
"There goes a friend out of this house; more fools we. You have lost her by your confounded folly. What is the use spooning all your days after another man's wife? I wouldn't have had this happen for ten thousand pounds. Dissolute d.i.c.k! he will break her heart in a twelvemouth."
"Then why, in heaven's name, didn't you marry her yourself?"
"Me! at my age? No; why didn't YOU marry her? You know she fancies you.
The moment you found Grace married, you ought to have secured this girl, and lived with me; the house is big enough for you all."
"It is not so big as your heart, sir," said Henry. "But pray don't speak to me of love or marriage either."
"Why should I? The milk is spilt; it is no use crying now. Let us go and dress for dinner. Curse the world--it is one disappointment."
Little himself was vexed, but he determined to put a good face on it, and to be very kind to his good friend Jael.
She did not appear at dinner, and when the servants had retired, he said, "Come now, let us make the best of it. Mother, if you don't mind, I will settle five thousand pounds upon her and her children. He is a spendthrift, I hear, and as poor as Job."
Mrs. Little stared at her son. "Why, she has refused him!"
Loud exclamations of surprise and satisfaction.
"A fine fright you have given us. You said 'Yes.'"
"Well, that meant he had proposed. You know, Guy, I had told you he would: I saw it in his eye. So I observed, in a moment, he HAD, and I said 'Yes.'"
"Then why doesn't she come down to dinner?"
"He has upset her. It is the old story: he cried to her, and told her he had been wild, and misconducted himself, all because he had never met a woman he could really love and respect; and then he begged her, and implored her, and said his fate depended on her."
"But she was not caught with that chaff; so why does she not come and receive the congratulations of the company on her escape?"
"Because she is far too delicate;" then, turning to her son, "and perhaps, because she can't help comparing the manly warmth and loving appreciation of Mr. Richard Raby, with the cold indifference and ingrat.i.tude of others."
"Oh," said Henry, coloring, "if that is her feeling, she will accept him next time."
"Next time!" roared Raby. "There shall be no next time. I have given the scamp fair play, quite against my own judgment. He has got his answer now, and I won't have the girl tormented with him any more. I trust that to you, Edith."
Mrs. Little promised him d.i.c.k and Jael should not meet again, in Raby Hall at least.
That evening she drew her son apart and made an earnest appeal to him.
"So much for her spite against you, Henry. You told her to decline Richard Raby, and so she declined him. Spite, indeed! The gentle pique of a lovely, good girl, who knows her value, though she is too modest to show it openly. Well, Henry, you have lost her a husband, and she has given you one more proof of affection. Don't build the mountain of ingrat.i.tude any higher: do pray take the cure that offers, and make your mother happy, as well as yourself, my son." In this strain she continued, and used all her art, her influence, her affection, till at last, with a weary, heart-broken sigh, he yielded as far as this: he said that, if it could once be made clear to him there was no hope of his ever marrying Grace Carden he would wed Jael Dence at once.
Then he ordered his trap, and drove sullenly home, while Mrs. Little, full of delight, communicated her triumph to Jael Dence, and told her about the five thousand pounds, and was as enthusiastic in praise of Henry to Jael, as she had been of Jael to Henry.
Meantime he drove back to Hillsborough, more unhappy than ever, and bitter against himself for yielding, even so far, to grat.i.tude and maternal influence.
It was late when he reached home. He let himself in with a latch-key, and went into his room for a moment.
A letter lay on the table, with no stamp on it: he took it up. It contained but one line; that line made his heart leap:
"News of G. C. RANSOME."
Late as it was, Little went to the Town-hall directly. But there, to his bitter disappointment, he learned that Mr. Ransome had been called to Manchester by telegram. Little had nothing to do but to wait, and eat his heart with impatience. However, next day, toward afternoon, Ransome called on him at the works, in considerable excitement, and told him a new firm had rented large business premises in Manchester, obtained goods, insured them in the "Gosshawk," and then the premises had caught fire and the goods been burned to ashes; suspicions had been excited; Mr. Carden had gone to the spot and telegraphed for him. He had met a London detective there, and, between them, they had soon discovered that full cases had come in by day, but full sacks gone out by night: the ashes also revealed no trace of certain goods the firm had insured. "And now comes the clew to it all. Amongst the few things that survived the fire was a photograph--of whom do you think? Shifty d.i.c.k. The dog had kept his word, and gone into trade."
"Confound him!" said Little; "he is always crossing my path, that fellow. You seem quite to forget that all this time I am in agonies of suspense. What do I care about Shifty d.i.c.k? He is nothing to me."
"Of course not. I am full of the fellow; a little more, and he'll make a monomaniac of me. Mr. Carden offers L200 for his capture; and we got an inkling he was coming this way again. There, there, I won't mention his name to you again. Let us talk of what WILL interest you. Well, sir, have you observed that you are followed and watched?"
"I am glad of it; then it has been done skillfully. You have been closely watched this month past by my orders."
This made young Little feel queer. Suppose he had attempted anything unlawful, his good friend here would have collared him.
"You'll wonder that a good citizen like you should be put under surveillance; but I thought it likely your advertis.e.m.e.nt would either make the lady write to you, or else draw her back to the town. She didn't write, so I had you watched, to see if any body took a sly peep at you. Well, this went on for weeks, and nothing turned up. But the other night a young woman walked several times by your house, and went away with a sigh. She had a sort of Protestant nun's dress on, and a thick veil. Now you know Mr Carden told you she was gone into a convent.
I am almost sure it is the lady."
Little thanked him with all his soul, and then inquired eagerly where the nun lived.
"Ah, my man didn't know that. Unfortunately, he was on duty in the street, and had no authority to follow anybody. However, if you can keep yourself calm, and obey orders--"
"I will do anything you tell me."
"Well, then, this evening, as soon as it is quite dark, you do what I have seen you do in happier times. Light your reading-lamp, and sit reading close to the window; only you must not pull down the blind.
Lower the venetians, but don't turn them so as to hide your face from the outside. You must promise me faithfully not to move under any circ.u.mstances, or you would be sure to spoil all."
Little gave the promise, and performed it to the letter. He lighted his lamp, and tried to read book after book; but, of course, he was too agitated to fix his attention on them. He got all Grace's letters, and read them; and it was only by a stern effort he kept still at all.
The night wore on, and heart-sickness was beginning to succeed to feverish impatience, when there was a loud knock at the door. Little ran to it himself, and found a sergeant of police, who told him in a low voice he brought a message from the chief-constable.
"I was to tell you it is all right; he is following the party himself.
He will call on you at twelve to-morrow morning."
"Not before that?" said Little. However, he gave the sergeant a sovereign for good news, and then, taking his hat, walked twenty miles out of Hillsborough, and back, for he knew it was useless his going to bed, or trying to settle to any thing.
He got back at ten o'clock, washed, breakfasted, and dozed on two chairs, till Ransome came, with a carpet-bag in his hand.
"Tell me all about it: don't omit any thing." This was Little's greeting.
"Well, sir, she pa.s.sed the house about nine o'clock, walking quickly; and took just one glance in at your window, but did not stop. She came back in half an hour, and stood on the opposite side of the way, and then pa.s.sed on. I hid in a court, where she couldn't see me. By-and-by she comes back, on your side the way this time, gliding like a cat, and she crouched and curled round the angle of the house, and took a good look at you. Then she went slowly away, and I pa.s.sed her. She was crying bitterly, poor girl! I never lost sight of her, and she led me a dance, I can tell you. I'll take you to the place; but you had better let me disguise you; for I can see she is very timid, and would fly away in a moment if she knew she was detected."