“There is no more skating now,” said John. “What do you do to amuse yourselves?”
“I am studying history with mamma,” answered Nellie, “and that takes ever so much time, you know. And then—oh, we are beginning to think of the spring, and we look after the violet plants in the frames.”
“It does not feel much like spring,” remarked John.
“No—and mamma has not been well lately, so we have not done much of anything.”
“Has she been ill long?” asked John.
“No—oh no! Only the last two or three days, ever since—” Nellie stopped herself. Her mother had told her not to mention the tramp’s visit.
“Ever since when?” asked John, becoming suddenly interested.
“Ever since the last time the Ambroses came to tea,” said Nellie with a readiness beyond her years. “But she looks dreadfully, does not she?”
“Dreadfully,” answered John. Then, leaning back and turning his head he spoke to Mrs. Goddard. “I hope you are quite warm enough?” he said.
“Quite—thanks,” answered she, but her voice sounded tremulous in the night. It might have been the shaking of the dog-cart. In a few minutes they drew up before the door of the cottage. John sprang to the ground and almost lifted Mrs. Goddard from the high seat.
“Where is Mr. Juxon?” she asked anxiously.
John looked round, peering into the gloom. A black cloud driven by the strong east wind was passing over the moon, and for some moments it was almost impossible to see anything. The squire was nowhere to be seen. John turned and helped Nellie off the back seat of the dog-cart.
“I am afraid we must have passed him,” he said quietly. Formerly Mrs. Goddard’s tone of anxiety as she asked for the squire would have roused John’s resentment; he now thought nothing of it. Reynolds prepared to move off.
“Won’t you please wait a moment, Reynolds?” said Mrs. Goddard, going close to the old man. She could not have told why she asked him to stay, it was a nervous impulse.
“Why?” asked John. “You know I am going to the Hall.”
“Yes, of course. I only thought, perhaps, you and Mr. Juxon would like to drive up—it is so dark. I am sure Mr. Ambrose would not mind you taking the gentlemen up to the Hall, Reynolds?”
“No m’m. I’m quite sure as he wouldn’t,” exclaimed Reynolds with great alacrity. He immediately had visions of a pint of beer in the Hall kitchen.
“You do not think Mr. Juxon may have gone on alone, Mr. Short?” said Mrs. Goddard, leaning upon the wicket gate. Her face looked very pale in the gloom.
“No—at would be very odd if he did,” replied John, who had his hands in his greatcoat pockets and slowly stamped one foot after another on the hard ground, to keep himself warm.
“Then we must have passed him on the road,” said Mrs. Goddard. “But I was so sure I saw nobody—”
“I think he will come presently,” answered John in a reassuring tone. “Why do you wait, Mrs. Goddard? You must be cold, and it is dangerous for you to be out here. Don’t wait, Reynolds,” he added; “we will walk up.”