“Shall you consider it your duty to seek out or advertise for Percival Nowell?” asked Gilbert.
“I shall be in no hurry to do that, in the absence of any proof of his daughter’s death. My first duty would be to look for her.”
“God grant you may be more fortunate than I have been! There is my card, Mr. Medler. You will be so good as to let me have a line immediately, at that address, if you obtain any tidings of Mrs. Holbrook.”
“I will do so.”
A hansom carried Gilbert Fenton to the Temple, without loss of time. There was a fierce hurry in his breast, a heat and fever which he had scarcely felt since the beginning of his troubles; for his lurking suspicion of his friend had gathered shape and strength all at once, and possessed his mind now to the exclusion of every other thought.
He ran quickly up the stairs. The outer and inner doors of John Saltram’s chambers were both ajar. Gilbert pushed them open and went in. The familiar sitting-room looked just a little more dreary than usual. The litter of books and papers, ink-stand and portfolio, was transferred to one of the side-tables, and in its place, on the table where his friend had been accustomed to write, Gilbert saw a cluster of medicine-bottles, a jug of toast-and-water, and a tray with a basin of lukewarm greasy-looking beef-tea.
The door between the two rooms stood half open, and from the bedchamber within Gilbert heard the heavy painful breathing of a sleeper. He went to the door and looked into the room. John Saltram was lying asleep, in an uneasy attitude, with both arms thrown over his head. His face had a haggard look that was made all the more ghastly by two vivid crimson spots upon his sunken cheeks; there were dark purple rings round his eyes, and his beard was of more than a week’s growth.
“Ill,” Gilbert muttered, looking aghast at this dreary picture, with strangely conflicting feelings of pity and anger in his breast; “struck down at the very moment when I had determined to know the truth.”
The sick man tossed himself restlessly from side to side in his feverish sleep, changed his position two or three times with evident weariness and pain, and then opened his eyes and stared with a blank unseeing gaze at his friend. That look, without one ray of recognition, went to Gilbert’s heart somehow.
“O God, how fond I was of him!” he said to himself. “And if he has been a traitor! If he were to die like this, before I have wrung the truth from him—to die, and I not dare to cherish his memory—to be obliged to live out my life with this doubt of him!”
This doubt! Had he much reason to doubt two minutes afterwards, when John Saltram raised himself on his gaunt arm, and looked piteously round the room?
“Marian!” he called. “Marian!”
“Yes,” muttered Gilbert, “it is all true. He is calling his wife.”