The men clambered on to the wood-pile. It was getting visibly lower by this time, and the top of the window was to be seen. Ellen watched with breathless anxiety, forgetting that her husband might be dying under the poplars. He was not alone there; she had sent Mrs. Tadman to watch him.
Only a few minutes more and the window was cleared. A pale face could be dimly seen peering out through the dusty glass. William Carley tried to open the lattice, but it was secured tightly within. One of the firemen leapt forward upon his failure, and shattered every pane of glass and every inch of the leaden frame with a couple of blows from his axe, and then the bailiff clambered into the room.
He was hidden from those below about five minutes, and then emerged from the window, somehow or other, carrying a burden, and came struggling across the wood to the ladder by which he and the rest had mounted. The burden which he carried was a woman’s figure, with the face hidden by his large woollen neckerchief. Ellen gave a cry of horror. The woman must surely be dead, or why should he have taken such pains to cover her face?
He brought his burden down the ladder very carefully, and gave the lifeless figure into Ellen’s arms.
“Help me to carry her away yonder, while Robert gets the cart ready,” he said to his daughter; “she’s fainted.” And then he added in a whisper, “For God’s sake, don’t let any one see her face! it’s Mrs. Holbrook.”
AFTER THE FIRE.
Yes, it was Marian. She whom Gilbert Fenton had sought so long and patiently, with doubt and anguish in his heart; she whose double John Saltram had followed across the Atlantic, had been within easy reach of them all the time, hidden away in that dreary old farm-house, the innocent victim of Percival Nowell’s treachery, and Stephen Whitelaw’s greed of gain. The whole story was told by-and-by, when the master of Wyncomb Farm lay dying.
William Carley and his daughter took her to the Grange as soon as the farmer’s spring cart was ready to convey her thither. It was all done very quickly, and none of the farm-servants saw her face. Even if they had done so, it is more than doubtful that they would have recognised her, so pale a shadow of her former self had she become during that long dreary imprisonment; the face wan and wasted, with a strange sharpened look about the features which was like the aspect of death; all the brightness and colour vanished out of the soft brown hair; an ashen pallor upon her beauty, that made her seem like a creature risen from the grave.
They lifted her into the cart, still insensible, and seated her there, wrapped in an old horse-cloth, with her head resting on Mrs. Whitelaw’s shoulder; and so they drove slowly away. It was only when they had gone some little distance from the farm, that the fresh morning air revived her, and she opened her eyes and looked about her, wildly at first, and with a faint shuddering sigh.