There was a knock at the door. Mr. Juxon drew the key from his pocket and opened it. Holmes the butler stood outside.
“Mr. Short has come back, sir. He asked if you wished to see him.”
“Ask him to come here,” replied the squire, to whom the tension of keeping his solitary watch was becoming very irksome. In a few moments John entered the room, looking pale and nervous.
John Short was in absolute ignorance of what was occurring. He attributed Mrs. Goddard’s anxiety to her solicitude for Mr. Juxon, and if he had found time to give the matter serious consideration, he would have argued very naturally that she was fond of the squire. It had been less easy than the latter had supposed to take her home and persuade her to stay there, for she was in a state in which she hardly understood reason. Nothing but John’s repeated assurances to the effect that Mr. Juxon was not in the least hurt, and that he would send her word of the condition of the wounded tramp, prevailed upon her to remain at the cottage; for she had come back to consciousness before the dog-cart was fairly out of the park and had almost refused to enter her own home.
The catastrophe had happened, after eight and forty hours of suspense, and her position was one of extreme fear and doubt. She had indeed seen the squire at the very moment when she fainted, but the impression was uncertain as that of a dream, and it required all John’s asseverations to persuade her that Mr. Juxon had actually met her and insisted that she should return to the cottage. Once there, in her own house, she abandoned herself to the wildest excitement, shutting herself into the drawing-room and refusing to see anyone; she gave way to all her sorrow and fear, feeling that if she controlled herself any longer she must go mad. Indeed it was the best thing she could do, for her nerves were overstrained, and the hysterical weeping which now completely overpowered her for some time, was the natural relief to her overwrought system. She had not the slightest doubt that the tramp of whom John had spoken, and whom he had described as badly hurt, was her husband; and together with her joy at Mr. Juxon’s escape, she felt an intolerable anxiety to know Walter’s fate. If in ordinary circumstances she had been informed that he had died in prison, it would have been absurd to expect her to give way to any expressions of excessive grief; she would perhaps have shed a few womanly tears and for some time she would have been more sad than usual; but she no longer loved him and his death could only be regarded as a release from all manner of trouble and shame and evil foreboding. With his decease would have ended her fears for poor Nellie, her apprehensions for the future in case he should return and claim her, the whole weight of her humiliation, and if she was too kind to have rejoiced over such a termination