Mr. Juxon was delighted to find that the difficult task of putting Mrs. Ambrose in possession of the facts of the case had been accomplished in the ordinary, the very ordinary, course of events by her own determination to find out what was to be known. In an hour she might be at Goddard’s bedside, and Mrs. Goddard would be free to see her husband. He despatched a note at once and redoubled his attentions to the sick man whose condition, however, showed no signs of changing.
Mrs. Ambrose kept her word and arrived with the vicar before nine o’clock, protesting her determination to take care of poor Goddard, so long as he needed any care. Mr. Juxon warned her that John did not know who the man was, and entreated her to be careful of her speech when John was present. There was no reason why John should ever know anything more about it, he said; three could keep a secret, but no one knew whether four could be as discreet.
The squire took Mrs. Ambrose and her husband to Goddard’s room and telling her that Doctor Longstreet was expected in an hour, by which time he himself hoped to have returned, he left the two good people in charge of the sick man and went to see Mrs. Goddard. He sent John a message to the effect that all was well and that he should take some rest while the Ambroses relieved the watch, and having thus disposed his household he went out, bound upon one of the most disagreeable errands he had ever undertaken. But he set his teeth and walked boldly down the park.
At the turn of the avenue he paused, at the spot where Goddard had attacked him. There was nothing to be seen at first, for the road was hard and dry and there was no trace of the scuffle; but as the squire looked about he spied his hat, lying in the ditch, and picked it up. It was heavy with the morning dew and the brim was broken and bent where Goddard’s weapon had struck it. Hard by in a heap of driven oak leaves lay the weapon itself, which Mr. Juxon examined curiously. It was a heavy piece of hewn oak, evidently very old, and at one end a thick iron spike was driven through, the sharp point projecting upon one side and the wrought head upon the other. He turned it over in his hands and realised that he had narrowly escaped his death. Then he laid the hat and the club together and threw a handful of leaves over them, intending to take them to the Hall at a later hour, and he turned to go upon his way towards the cottage. But as he turned he saw two men coming towards him, and now not twenty yards away. His heart sank, for one of the two was Thomas Gall the village constable; the other was a quiet-looking individual with grey whiskers, plainly dressed and unassuming in appearance. Instinctively the squire knew that Gall’s companion must be a detective. He was startled, and taken altogether unawares; but the men were close upon him and there was nothing to be done but to face them boldly.