“Do I speak to Mrs. Pendean?” asked Brendon; but the old woman shook her head.
“No, sir. I’m Mrs. Edward Gerry, widow of the famous Ned Gerry, for twenty years Huntsman of the Dartmoor Foxhounds. Mr. and Mrs. Pendean were—are—I mean she is my lodger.”
“Is she ready to see me?”
“She’s cruel hard hit, poor lady. What name, sir?”
“Mr. Mark Brendon.”
“She hoped you’d come. But go gentle with her. ’Tis a fearful ordeal for any innocent person to have to talk to you, sir.”
Mrs. Gerry opened a door upon the right hand of the entrance.
“The great Mr. Brendon be here, Mrs. Pendean,” she said; then Brendon walked in and the widow shut the door behind him.
Jenny Pendean rose from her chair by the table where she was writing letters and Brendon saw the auburn girl of the sunset.
THE PROBLEM STATED
The girl had evidently dressed that morning without thought or care—perhaps unconsciously. Her wonderful hair was lifted and wound carelessly upon her head; her beauty had been dimmed by tears. She was, however, quite controlled and showed little emotion at their meeting; but she looked very weary and every inflection of her pleasant, clear voice revealed it. She spoke as one who had suffered much and laboured under great loss of vitality. He found this to be indeed the case, for it seemed that she had lost half herself.
As he entered she rose and saw in his face an astonishment which seemed not much to surprise her, for she was used to admiration and knew that her beauty startled men.
Brendon, though he felt his heart beat quicklier at his discovery, soon had himself in hand. He spoke with tact and sympathy, feeling himself already committed to serve her with all his wits and strength. Only a fleeting regret shot through his mind that the case in all probability would not prove such as to reveal his own strange powers. He combined the regulation methods of criminal research with the more modern deductive system, and his success, as he always pointed out, was reached by the double method. Already he longed to distinguish himself before this woman.
“Mrs. Pendean,” he said, “I am very glad that you learned I was in Princetown and it will be a privilege to serve you if I can. The worst may not have happened, though from what I have heard, there is every reason to fear it; but, believe me, I will do my best on your account. I have communicated with headquarters and, being free at this moment, can devote myself wholly to the problem.”
“Perhaps it was selfish to ask you in your holidays,” she said. “But, somehow, I felt—”
“Think nothing whatever of that. I hope that what lies before us may not take very long. And now I will listen to you. There is no need to tell me anything about what has happened at Foggintor. I shall hear all about that later in the day. You will do well now to let me know everything bearing upon it that went before this sad affair; and if you can throw the least light of a nature to guide me and help my inquiry, so much the better.”