The roads even then were good, and very good horses the posting-houses turned out; so that by dint of extra pay the rapid rate of travelling undertaken by the servant was fully accomplished in the first two or three stages.
While Lady Walsingham was continually striking her repeater in her ear, and as they neared their destination, growing in spite of herself more anxious, her sister’s uneasiness showed itself in a less reserved way; for, cold as it was, with snowflakes actually dropping, Lady Haworth’s head was perpetually out at the window, and when she drew it up, sitting again in her place, she would audibly express her alarms, and apply to her sister for consolation and confidence in her suspense.
Under its thin carpet of snow, the pretty village of Golden Friars looked strangely to their eyes. It had long been fast asleep, and both ladies were excited as they drew up at the steps of the George and Dragon, and with bell and knocker roused the slumbering household.
What tidings awaited them here? In a very few minutes the door was opened, and the porter staggered down, after a word with the driver, to the carriage-window, not half awake.
“Is Lady Mardykes well?” demanded Lady Walsingham.
“Is Sir Bale well?”
“Are all the people at Mardykes Hall quite well?”
With clasped hands Lady Haworth listened to the successive answers to these questions which her sister hastily put. The answers were all satisfactory. With a great sigh and a little laugh, Lady Walsingham placed her hand affectionately on that of her sister; who, saying, “God be thanked!” began to weep.
“When had you last news from Mardykes?” asked Lady Walsingham.
“A servant was down here about four o’clock.”
“O! no one since?” said she in a disappointed tone.
No one had been from the great house since, but all were well then.
“They are early people, you know, dear; and it is dark at four, and that is as late as they could well have heard, and nothing could have happened since—very unlikely. We have come very fast; it is only a few minutes past two, darling.”
But each felt the chill and load of their returning anxiety.
While the people at the George were rapidly getting a team of horses to, Lady Walsingham contrived a moment for an order from the other window to her servant, who knew Golden Friars perfectly, to knock-up the people at Doctor Torvey’s, and to inquire whether all were well at Mardykes Hall.
There he learned that a messenger had come for Doctor Torvey at ten o’clock, and that the Doctor had not returned since. There was no news, however, of any one’s being ill; and the Doctor himself did not know what he was wanted about. While Lady Haworth was talking to her maid from the window next the steps, Lady Walsingham was, unobserved, receiving this information at the other.