“Ah!” he ejaculated, with a quick scowl of impatience. “He has returned?”
“Yes! Charity was my informant. He looks very ill, so the wench says: he has been down with fever, it appears, all the while that he was in prison, and was only discharged because they feared that he would die. He contrived to work or beg his way back here, and now he is staying in the village.... I thought you would have heard.”
“No! I never speak to the old woman ... and Adam Lambert avoids me as he would the plague.... I see as little of them as I can.... I had to be prudent these last, final days.”
“Heaven grant he may do nothing fatal to-day!” she murmured.
“Nay! my dear Editha,” he retorted with a harsh laugh, “’tis scarcely Heaven’s business to look after our schemes. But Lambert can do us very little harm now! For his own sake, he will keep out of Sue’s way.”
“At what hour does Master Skyffington arrive?”
“In half an hour.”
Then as he saw that she was putting into effect her former resolve of going out, despite the rain, and was once more readjusting her hood for that purpose, he opened the door for her, and whispered as he followed her out:
“An you will allow me, my dear Editha, I’ll accompany you on your walk ... we might push on down the Canterbury Road, and perchance meet Master Skyffington.... I understand that Sue has been asking for me, and I would prefer to meet her as seldom as possible just now.... This is my last day,” he concluded with a laugh, “and I must be doubly careful.”
Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy was vastly perturbed. Try how he might, he had been unable to make any discovery with regard to the mysterious events, which he felt sure were occurring all round him, a discovery which—had he but made it—would have enabled him to apply with more chance of success, for one of the posts in my Lord Protector’s secret service, and moreover, would have covered his name with glory.
This last contingency was always uppermost in his mind. Not from any feeling of personal pride, for of a truth vanity is a mortal sin, but because Mistress Charity had of late cast uncommonly kind eyes on that cringing worm, Master Courage Toogood, and the latter, emboldened by the minx’s favors, had been more than usually insolent to his betters.
To have the right to administer serious physical punishment to the youth, and moral reproof to the wench, was part of Master Busy’s comprehensive scheme for his own advancement and the confusion of all the miscreants who dwelt in Acol Court. For this he had glued both eye and ear to draughty keyholes, had lain for hours under cover of prickly thistles in the sunk fence which surrounded the flower garden. For this he now emerged, on that morning of November 2, accompanied by a terrific clatter and a volley of soot from out the depth of the monumental chimney in the hall of Acol Court.