“Dear me, yes,” murmured the vicar, “a most delicate matter. Poor lady!”
“Poor lady!” echoed the squire. “But I suppose it must be done.”
“Oh yes—we cannot do otherwise,” answered Mr. Ambrose, still hoping that his companion would volunteer to perform the disagreeable office.
“Well then, will you—will you do it?” asked Mr. Juxon, anxious to have the matter decided.
“Why not go together?” suggested the vicar.
“No,” said Mr. Juxon firmly. “It would be an intolerable ordeal for the poor woman. I think I see your objection. Perhaps you think that Mrs. Ambrose—”
“Exactly, Mrs. Ambrose,” echoed the vicar with a grim smile.
“Oh precisely—then I will do it,” said the squire. And he forthwith did, and was very much surprised at the result.
It was late in the afternoon when Mr. Juxon walked down towards the cottage, accompanied by the vicar. In spite of their mutual anxiety to be of service to Mrs. Goddard, when they had once decided how to act they had easily fallen into conversation about other matters, the black letter Paracelsus had received its full share of attention and many another rare volume had been brought out and examined. Neither the vicar nor his host believed that there was any hurry; if Goddard ever succeeded in getting to Billingsfield it would not be to-day, nor to-morrow either.
The weather had suddenly changed; the east was already clear and over the west, where the sun was setting in a fiery mist, the huge clouds were banked up against the bright sky, fringed with red and purple, but no longer threatening rain or snow. The air was sharp and the plentiful mud in the roads was already crusted with a brittle casing of ice.
The squire took leave of Mr. Ambrose at the turning where the road led into the village and then walked back to the cottage. Even his solid nerves were a little unsettled at the prospect of the interview before him; but he kept a stout heart and asked for Mrs. Goddard in his usual quiet voice. Martha told him that Mrs. Goddard had a bad headache, but on inquiry found that she would see the squire. He entered the drawing-room softly and went forward to greet her; she was sitting in a deep chair propped by cushions.
Mary Goddard had spent a miserable day. The grey morning light seemed to reveal her troubles and fears in a new and more terrible aspect. During the long hours of darkness it seemed as though those things were mercifully hidden which the strong glare of day must inevitably reveal, and when the night was fairly past she thought all the world must surely know that Walter Goddard had escaped and that his wife had seen him. Hourly she expected a ringing at the bell, announcing the visit of a party of detectives on his track; every sound startled her and her nerves were strung to such a pitch that she heard with supernatural