“Strange!” muttered Gilbert.
He was wondering about that letter: what could have been the lure which had beguiled Marian away from the house that day; what except a letter from her husband? It seemed hardly probable that she would have gone to meet any one but him, or that any one else would have appointed a meeting on the river-bank. The fact that she had gone out at an earlier hour than the time at which she had been in the habit of meeting her husband when he came from the Malsham station, went some way to prove that the letter had influenced her movements. Gilbert thought of the fortune which had been left to Marian, and which gave her existence a new value, perhaps exposed her to new dangers. Her husband’s interests were involved in her life; her death, should she die childless, must needs deprive him of all advantage from Jacob Nowell’s wealth. The only person to profit from such an event would be Percival Nowell; but he was far away, Gilbert believed, and completely ignorant of his reversionary interest in his father’s property. There was Medler the attorney, a man whom Gilbert had distrusted from the first. It was just possible that the letter had been from him; yet most improbable that he should have asked Mrs. Holbrook to meet him out of doors, instead of coming to her at the Grange, or that she should have acceded to such a request, had he made it.
The whole affair was encompassed with mystery, and Gilbert Fenton’s heart sank as he contemplated the task that lay before him.
“I shall spend a day or two in this neighbourhood before I return to town,” he said to Ellen Carley presently; “there are inquiries that I should like to make with my own lips. I shall be only going over old ground, I daresay, but it will be some satisfaction to me to do it for myself. Can you give me house-room here for a night or two, or shall I put up at Crosber?”
“I’m sure father would be very happy to accommodate you here, sir. We’ve plenty of room now; too much for my taste. The house seems like a wilderness now Mrs. Holbrook is gone.”
“Thanks. I shall be very glad to sleep here. There is just the chance that you may have some news for me, or I for you.”
“Ah, sir, it’s only a very poor chance, I’m afraid,” the girl answered hopelessly.
She went with Gilbert to the gate, and watched him as he walked away towards the river. His first impulse was to follow the path which Marian had taken that day, and to see for himself what manner of place it was from which she had so mysteriously vanished.
Adela Branston found life very dreary in the splendid gloom of her town house. She would have infinitely preferred the villa near Maidenhead for the place of her occupation, had it not been for the fact that in London she was nearer John Saltram, and that any moment of any day might bring him to her side.