To her disappointment Dr. Woodford was not willing to take alarm. He did not think so ill of Sedley as to believe him capable of such a secret act of murder, and he had no great faith in Ralph’s sagacity, besides that he thought his niece’s nerves too much strained by the long suspense to be able to judge fairly. He thought it would be cruel to the grandparents, and unjust to Sedley, to make such a frightful suggestion without further grounds during their present state of anxiety, and as to the boy’s safety, which Anne pleaded with an uncontrollable passion of tears, he believed that it was provided for by watchfulness on the part of his two constant guardians, as well as himself, since, even supposing the shocking accusation to be true, Sedley would not involve himself in danger of suspicion, and it was already understood that he was not a fit companion for his little cousin to be trusted with. Philip had already brought home words and asked questions that distressed his grandmother, and nobody was willing to leave him alone with the ex-lieutenant. So again the poor maiden had to hold her peace under an added burthen of anxiety and many a prayer.
When the country was ringing with the tidings of Sir George Barclay’s conspiracy for the assassination of William III, it was impossible not to hope that Sedley’s boastful tongue might have brought him sufficiently under suspicion to be kept for a while under lock and key; but though he did not appear at Fareham, there was reason to suppose that he was as usual haunting the taverns and cockpits of Portsmouth.
No one went much abroad that winter. Sir Philip, perhaps from anxiety and fretting, had a fit of the gout, and Anne kept herself and her charge within the garden or the street of the town. In fact there was a good deal of danger on the roads. The neighbourhood of the seaport was always lawless, and had become more so since Sir Philip had ceased to act as Justice of the Peace, and there were reports of highway robberies of an audacious kind, said to be perpetrated by a band calling themselves the Black Gang, under a leader known as Piers Pigwiggin, who were alleged to be half smuggler, half Jacobite, and to have their headquarters somewhere in the back of the Isle of Wight, in spite of the Governor, the terrible Salamander, Lord Cutts, who was, indeed, generally absent with the army.