“I must own that things look bad for me,” he said. “I can’t offer any explanation that would satisfy you and could not expect you to take my word that I mean well. All I can do is to frighten off Daly and then find Lawrence, and I’m going to try.”
“It doesn’t matter much about Daly now. But if you can find Lawrence, you will clear yourself.”
Alice turned to her father with an angry sparkle in her eyes. “That’s a very grudging concession for us to make. We will not blame Mr. Foster when he has proved that it’s impossible for him to be guilty!”
The tension was too great for any of them to be much surprised by her outbreak and Featherstone said dully, “It’s logical.”
“Logical!” Alice exclaimed in a scornful tone. “Do you expect Mr. Foster to be satisfied with that, after what he has borne and the risks he has run for us? Now, when things look bad for him, is the time for you to show your trust and knowledge of character.”
“You imply that your judgment is better than mine?” Featherstone rejoined, but without heat.
“I know an honest man,” Alice said quietly, with some color in her face.
There was silence for a few moments and by an effort of self-control Foster kept his face unmoved. He did not mean to let the others see the exultant satisfaction the girl’s statement had given him. Featherstone brooded with knitted brows and a troubled look. Then he said:
“You will understand, Mr. Foster, that this has been a painful interview to my wife and me. You were our guest and my son’s friend; but I do not know what has happened and we have no news of him. If you can bring him back, I will ask your forgiveness for all that I have said.”
“I will do my best and get to work to-morrow,” Foster answered. Then he bowed to Mrs. Featherstone and Alice, and the girl gave him a look that made his heart beat as he went out of the room.
Shortly afterwards he entered the hall, wearing his damp walking clothes, and met Mrs. Featherstone, who protested against his leaving them at night. Foster answered that he had no time to lose and beckoning Pete, who was waiting, went out. Alice had not come down to bid him good-by, but after all he had not expected this; the meeting would not have been free from embarrassment. He had much to say to her, but must wait until he had kept his promise.
He did not blame Featherstone and rather sympathized with him, but could not stay at the Garth or come back there until he had cleared up the mystery about his comrade’s silence. Pete did not grumble much when they went down the drive, but said he had no friends in the neighborhood and it was a long way to the nearest inn.
THE RIGHT TRACK
It was a clear night and although the moon was low its light touched the wet road as Foster walked down the dale. He had much to think about and tried to fix his mind on his main object. It would have been delightful to dwell upon Alice’s interposition on his behalf, but he must not attach too much importance to this yet; after all she might have been actuated mainly by a love of justice. Besides, the sooner he kept his promise, the sooner he would be able to ask her what she had meant.