The bailiff nodded assent, and dropped the bag into his pocket with a sigh of relief. And then the two men went on smoking their pipes in the usual stolid way, dropping out a few words now and then by way of social converse; and there was nothing in Mr. Whitelaw’s manner to remind Ellen that she had bound herself to the awful apprenticeship of marriage without love. But when he took his leave that night he approached her with such an evident intention of kissing her as could not be mistaken by the most inexperienced of maidens. Poor Ellen indulged in no girlish resistance, no pretty little comedy of alarm and surprise, but surrendered her pale lips to the hateful salute with the resignation of a martyr. It was better that she should suffer this than that her father should go to gaol. That thought was never absent from her mind. Nor was this sacrifice to filial duty quite free from the leaven of selfishness. For her own sake, as much as for her father’s, Ellen Carley would have submitted to any penalty rather than disgrace. To have him branded as a thief must needs be worse suffering than any life-long penance she might endure in matrimony. To lose Frank Randall’s love was less than to let him learn her father’s guilt.
“The daughter of a thief!” she said to herself. “How he would despise himself for having ever loved me, if he knew me to be that!”
Possessed with a thorough distrust of Mr. Medler and only half satisfied as to the fact of Marian’s safety, Gilbert Fenton lost no time in seeking professional aid in the work of investigating this perplexing social mystery. He went once more to the metropolitan detective who had been with him in Hampshire, and whose labours there had proved so futile. The task now to be performed seemed easy enough. Mr. Proul (Proul was the name of the gentleman engaged by Gilbert) had only to discover the whereabouts of Percival Nowell; a matter of no great difficulty, Gilbert imagined, since it was most likely that Marian’s father had frequent personal communication with the lawyer; nor was it improbable that he would have business with his agent or representative, Mr. Tulliver, in Queen Anne’s Court. Provided with these two addresses, Gilbert fancied that Mr. Proul’s work must needs be easy enough.
That gentleman, however, was not disposed to make light of the duty committed to him; whether from a professional habit of exaggerating the importance of any mission undertaken by him, or in perfect singleness of mind, it is not easy to say.
“It’s a watching business, you see sir,” he told Gilbert, “and is pretty sure to be tedious. I may put a man to hang about this Mr. Medler’s business all day and every day for a month at a stretch, and he may miss his customer at the last, especially as you can’t give me any kind of description of the man you want.”