’And talk to him, listen to him, smile on his suit with a lie in my heart? Never?’ she cried. Then with a new strange pride, a faint touch of stateliness in her tone, ‘You forget who I am, Mr. Fishwick,’ she said. ’I am as much a Soane as he is, and it becomes me to—to remember that. Believe me, I would far rather resign all hope of entering his house, though I love him, than enter it with a secret in my heart.’
Mr. Fishwick groaned. He told himself that this would be the last straw. This would give Sir George the handle he needed. She would never enter that house.
‘I have not been true to him,’ she said. ‘But I will be true now.’
‘The truth is—is very costly,’ Mr. Fishwick murmured almost under his breath. ‘I don’t know that poor people can always afford it, child.’
‘For shame!’ she cried hotly. ‘For shame! But there,’ she continued, ’I know you do not mean it. I know that what you bid me do you would not do yourself. Would you have sold my cause, would you have hidden the truth for thousands? If Sir George had come to you to bribe you, would you have taken anything? Any sum, however large? I know you would not. My life on it, you would not. You are an honest man,’ she cried warmly.
The honest man was silent awhile. Presently he looked out of the carriage. The moon had risen over Savernake; by its light he saw that they were passing Manton village. In the vale on the right the tower of Preshute Church, lifting its head from a dark bower of trees, spoke a solemn language, seconding hers. ‘God bless you!’ he said in a low voice. ‘God bless you.’
A minute later the horses swerved to the right, and half a dozen lights keeping vigil in the Castle Inn gleamed out along the dark front. The post-chaise rolled across the open, and drew up before the door. Julia’s strange journey was over. Its stages, sombre in the retrospect, rose before her as she stepped from the carriage: yet, had she known all, the memories at which she shuddered would have worn a darker hue. But it was not until a late hour of the following morning that even the lawyer heard what had happened at Chippenham.
The attorney entered the Mastersons’ room a little before eleven next morning; Julia was there, and Mrs. Masterson. The latter on seeing him held up her hands in dismay. ‘Lord’s wakes, Mr. Fishwick!’ the good woman cried, ’why, you are the ghost of yourself! Adventuring does not suit you, that’s certain. But I don’t wonder. I am sure I have not slept a wink these three nights that I have not dreamt of Bessy Canning and that horrid old Squires; which, she did it without a doubt. Don’t go to say you’ve bad news this morning.’
Certain it was that Mr. Fishwick looked woefully depressed. The night’s sleep, which had restored the roses to Julia’s cheeks and the light to her eyes, had done nothing for him; or perhaps he had not slept. His eyes avoided the girl’s look of inquiry. ‘I’ve no news this morning,’ he said awkwardly. ‘And yet I have news.’