But he was already in the hall, ordering fresh saddle-horses for himself and his man. My lady heard the order, and stood listening. Mr. Thomasson heard it, and stood quaking. At any moment the door of the room in which the girl was supping might open—it was adjacent to the hall—and she come out, and the two would meet. Nor did the suspense last a moment or two only. Fresh horses could not be ready in a minute, even in those times, when day and night post-horses stood harnessed in the stalls. Even Mr. Dunborough could not be served in a moment. So he roared for a pint of claret and a crust, sent one servant flying this way, and another that, hectored up and down the entrance, to the admiration of the peeping chambermaids; and for a while added much to the bustle. Once in those minutes the fateful door did open, but it emitted only a waiter. And in the end, Mr. Dunborough’s horses being announced, he strode out, his spurs ringing on the steps, and the viscountess heard him clatter away into the night, and drew a deep breath of relief. For a day or two, at any rate, she was saved. For the time, the machinations of the creature below stairs were baffled.
It did not occur to Lady Dunborough to ask herself seriously how a girl in the Mastersons’ position came to be in such quarters as the Castle Inn, and to have a middle-aged and apparently respectable attorney for a travelling companion. Or, if her ladyship did ask herself those questions, she was content with the solution, which the tutor out of his knowledge of human nature had suggested; namely, that the girl, wily as she was beautiful, knew that a retreat in good order, flanked after the fashion of her betters by duenna and man of business, doubled her virtue; and by so much improved her value, and her chance of catching Mr. Dunborough and a coronet.
There was one in the house, however, who did set himself these riddles, and was at a loss for an answer. Sir George Soane, supping with Dr. Addington, the earl’s physician, found his attention wander from the conversation, and more than once came near to stating the problem which troubled him. The cosy room, in which the two sat, lay at the bottom of a snug passage leading off the principal corridor of the west wing; and was as remote from the stir and bustle of the more public part of the house as the silent movements of Sir George’s servant were from the clumsy haste of the helpers whom the pressure of the moment had compelled the landlord to call in.
The physician had taken his supper earlier, but was gourmet enough to follow, now with an approving word, and now with a sigh, the different stages of Sir George’s meal. In public, a starched, dry man, the ideal of a fashionable London doctor of the severer type, he was in private a benevolent and easy friend; a judge of port, and one who commended it to others; and a man of some weight in the political world. In his early days he had been a mad doctor; and at Batson’s he could still disconcert the impertinent by a shrewd glance, learned and practised among those unfortunates.