The days went by, and brought Gilbert Fenton no reply to his advertisement. He called at the post-office morning and evening, only to find the same result; and a dull blank feeling, a kind of deadness of heart and mind, began to steal over him with the progress of the days. He went through the routine of his business-life steadily enough, working as hard as he had ever worked; but it was only by a supreme effort that he could bring his mind to bear upon the details of business—all interest in his office-work was gone.
The advertisement had appeared for the sixth time, and Gilbert had framed a second, offering a reward of twenty pounds for any direct evidence of the marriage of Marian Nowell; when a letter was handed to him one evening at the post-office—a letter in a common blue envelope, directed in a curious crabbed hand, and bearing the London post-mark.
His heart beat loud and fast as he tore open this envelope It contained only a half-sheet of paper, with these words written upon it in the cramped half-illegible hand which figured on the outside:
“The person advertising for Marian Nowell is requested to call at No. 5, Queen Anne’s Court, Wardour Street, any evening after seven.”
This was all. Little as this brief note implied, however, Gilbert made sure that the writer must be in a position to give him some kind of information about the object of his search. It was six o’clock when he received the communication. He went from the post-office to his lodgings with his mind in a tumult of excitement, made a mere pretence of taking a hasty dinner, and set off immediately afterwards for Wardour Street.
There was more than time for him to walk, and he hoped that the walk might have some effect in reducing the fever of his mind. He did not want to present himself before strangers—who, no doubt, only wanted to make a barter of any knowledge they possessed as to Marian’s whereabouts—in a state of mental excitement. The address to which he was going mystified him beyond measure. What could people living in such a place as this know of her whom he sought?
He was in Wardour Street at a quarter before seven, but he had considerable trouble in finding Queen Anne’s Court, and the clocks of the neighbourhood were striking the hour as he turned into a narrow alley with dingy-looking shops on one side and a high dead wall on the other. The gas was glimmering faintly in the window of No. 5, and a good deal of old silver, tarnished and blackened, huddled together behind the wire-guarded glass, was dimly visible in the uncertain light. There was some old jewellery too, and a little wooden bowl of sovereigns or gold coins of some kind or other.
On a brass plate upon the door of this establishment there appeared the name of Jacob Nowell, silversmith and money-changer.