Nearly a year had elapsed since the sailing of the Fair Emily, and Binchester, which had listened doubtfully to the tale of the treasure as revealed by Mr. William Russell, was still awaiting news of her fate. Cablegrams to Sydney only elicited the information that she had not been heard of, and the opinion became general that she had added but one more to the many mysteries of the sea.
Captain Bowers, familiar with many cases of ships long overdue which had reached home in safety, still hoped, but it was clear from the way in which Mrs. Chalk spoke of her husband and the saint-like qualities she attributed to him that she never expected to see him again. Mr. Stobell also appeared to his wife through tear-dimmed eyes as a person of great gentleness and infinite self-sacrifice.
“All the years we were married,” she said one afternoon to Mrs. Chalk, who had been listening with growing impatience to an account of Mr. Stobell which that gentleman would have been the first to disclaim, “I never gave him a cross word. Nothing was too good for me; I only had to ask to have.”
Mrs. Chalk couldn’t help herself. “Why don’t you ask, then?” she inquired.
Mrs. Stobell started and eyed her indignantly. “So long as I had him I didn’t want anything else,” she said, stiffly. “We were all in all to each other; he couldn’t bear me out of his sight. I remember once, when I had gone to see my poor mother, he sent me three telegrams in thirty-five minutes telling me to come home.”
“Thomas was so unselfish,” murmured Mrs. Chalk. “I once stayed with my mother for six weeks and he never said a word.”
An odd expression, transient but unmistakable, flitted across the face of the listener.
“It nearly broke his heart, though, poor dear,” said Mrs. Chalk, glaring at her. “He said he had never had such a time in his life.”
“I don’t expect he had,” said Mrs. Stobell, screwing up her small features.
Mrs. Chalk drew herself up in her chair. “What do you mean by that?” she demanded.
“I meant what he meant,” replied Mrs. Stobell, with a little air of surprise.
Mrs. Chalk bit her lip, and her friend, turning her head, gazed long and mournfully at a large photograph of Mr. Stobell painted in oils, which stared stiffly down on them from the wall.
“He never caused me a moment’s uneasiness,” she said, tenderly. “I could trust him anywhere.”
[Illustration: “Her friend gazed long and mournfully at a large photograph of Mr. Stobell.”]
Mrs. Chalk gazed thoughtfully at the portrait. It was not a good likeness, but it was more like Mr. Stobell than anybody else in Binchester, a fact which had been of some use in allaying certain unworthy suspicions of Mr. Stobell the first time he saw it.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Chalk, significantly, “I should think you could.”