“I believe I have.”
“Precisely. Therefore no possible good could come of an encounter between him and me, and I shall be glad if you will keep my name dark.”
“As you please, though I can see no reason for secrecy in the matter.”
“It is not a question of secrecy, but only of prudential reserve.”
“It may be as you wish,” answered the old man, carelessly. “Good-night.”
He shook hands with his son, who departed without having broken bread in his father’s house, a little dashed by the coldness of his reception, but not entirely without hope that some profit might arise to him out of this connection in the future.
“The girl must be found,” he said to himself. “I am convinced there has been a great fortune made in that dingy hole. Better that it should go to her than to a stranger. I’m very sorry she’s married; but if this Holbrook is the adventurer I suppose him, the marriage may come to nothing. Yes; I must find her. A father returned from foreign lands is rather a romantic notion—the sort of notion a girl is pretty sure to take kindly to.”
ON THE TRACK.
Gilbert Fenton saw no more of his friend John Saltram after that Sunday evening which they had spent together in Cavendish-square. He called upon Mrs. Branston before the week was ended, and was so fortunate as to find that lady alone; Mrs. Pallinson having gone on a shopping expedition in her kinswoman’s dashing brougham.
The pretty little widow received Gilbert very graciously; but there was a slight shade of melancholy in her manner, a pensiveness which softened and refined her, Gilbert thought. Nor was it long before she allowed him to discover the cause of her sadness. After a little conventional talk upon indifferent subjects, she began to speak of John Saltram.
“Have you seen much of your friend Mr. Saltram since Sunday?” she asked, with that vain endeavour to speak carelessly with which a woman generally betrays her real feeling.
“I have not seen him at all since Sunday. He told me he was going back to Oxford—or the neighbourhood of Oxford, I believe—almost immediately; and I have not troubled myself to hunt him up at his chambers.”
“Gone back already!” Mrs. Branston exclaimed, with a disappointed petulant look that was half-childish, half-womanly. “I cannot imagine what charm he finds in a dull village on the banks of the river. He has confessed that the place is the dreariest and most obscure in the world, and that he has neither shooting nor any other kind of amusement. There must be some mysterious attraction, Mr. Fenton. I think your friend is a good deal changed of late. Haven’t you found him so?”
“No, Mrs. Branston, I cannot say that I have discovered any marked alteration in him since my return from Australia. John Saltram was always wayward and fitful. He may have been a little more so lately, perhaps, but that is all.”