Mr. Ambrose could say nothing. There was nothing to be said. He rose and took his hat—the old tall hat he wore to his parishioners’ funerals. They were very primitive people in Billingsfield.
“I will go at once,” he said. “Believe me, you have all my sympathy—I will do all I can.”
Mary Goddard thanked him more by her looks than with any words she was able to speak. But she was none the less truly grateful for his sympathy and aid. She had a kind of blind reliance on him which made her feel that since she had once confided her trouble and danger nothing more could possibly be done. When he was gone, she sobbed with relief, as before she had wept for fear; she was hysterical, unstrung, utterly unlike herself.
But as the vicar went up towards the Hall he felt that he had his hands full, and he felt moreover an uneasy sensation which he could not have explained. He was certainly no coward, but he had never been in such a position before and he did not like it; there was an air of danger about, an atmosphere which gave him a peculiarly unpleasant thrill from time to time. He was not engaged upon an agreeable errand, and he had a vague feeling, due, the scientists would have told him, to unconscious ratiocination, which seemed to tell him that something was going to happen. People who are very often in danger know that singular uneasiness which warns them that all is not well; it is not like anything else that can be felt. No one really knows its cause, unless it be true that the mind sometimes reasons for itself without the consciousness of the body, and communicates to the latter a spasmodic warning, the result of its cogitations.
To say to the sturdy squire, “Beware of a man in a smock-frock, one Goddard the forger, who means to murder you,” seemed of itself simple enough. But for the squire to distinguish this same Goddard from all other men in smock-frocks was a less easy matter. The vicar, indeed, could tell a strange face at a hundred yards, for he knew every man, woman and child in his parish; but the squire’s acquaintance was more limited. Obviously, said Mr. Ambrose to himself, the squire’s best course would be to stay quietly at home until the danger was passed, and to pass word to Policeman Gall to lay hands on any particularly seedy-looking tramps he happened to see in the village. It was Gall’s duty to do so in any case, as he had been warned to be on the look-out. Mr. Ambrose inwardly wondered where the man could be hiding. Billingsfield was not, he believed, an easy place to hide in, for every ploughman knew his fellow, and a new face was always an object of suspicion. Not a gipsy tinker entered the village but what every one heard of it, and though tramps came through from time to time, it would be a difficult matter for one of them to remain two days in the place without attracting a great deal of attention. It was possible that Walter Goddard might have been concealed for one night in his wife’s house,