‘Mr. Dudley,’ I whispered, with a terrified emphasis, not daring to turn my head as I spoke.
‘Lawk, Miss!’ remonstrated honest Quince, with a protracted intonation of wonder and incredulity, which plainly implied a suspicion that I was dreaming.
’Yes, Mary. When we went into that dreadful room—that dark, round place—I saw his foot on the ladder. His foot, Mary I can’t be mistaken. I won’t be questioned. You’ll find I’m right. He’s here. He never went in that ship at all. A fraud has been practised on me—it is infamous—it is terrible. I’m frightened out of my life. For heaven’s sake, look back again, and tell me what you see.’
‘Nothing, Miss,’ answered Mary, in contagious whispers, ’but that wooden-legged chap, standin’ hard by the door.’
‘And no one with him?’
‘No one, Miss.’
We got without pursuit through the gate in the paling. I drew breath so soon as we had reached the cover of the thicket near the chestnut hollow, and I began to reflect that whoever the owner of the foot might be—and I was still instinctively certain that it was no other than Dudley—concealment was plainly his object. I need not, then, be at all uneasy lest he should pursue us.
As we walked slowly and in silence along the grassy footpath, I heard a voice calling my name from behind. Mary Quince had not heard it at all, but I was quite certain.
It was repeated twice or thrice, and, looking in considerable doubt and trepidation under the hanging boughs, I saw Beauty, not ten yards away, standing among the underwood.
I remember how white the eyes and teeth of the swarthy girl looked, as with hand uplifted toward her ear, she watched us while, as it seemed, listening for more distant sounds.
Beauty beckoned eagerly to me, advancing, with looks of great fear and anxiety, two or three short steps toward me.
‘She baint to come,’ said Beauty, under her breath, so soon as I had nearly reached her, pointing without raising her hand at Mary Quince.
’Tell her to sit on the ash-tree stump down yonder, and call ye as loud as she can if she sees any fellah a-comin’ this way, an’ rin ye back to me;’ and she impatiently beckoned me away on her errand.
When I returned, having made this dispositions, I perceived how pale the girl was.
‘Are you ill, Meg?’ I asked.
’Never ye mind. Well enough. Listen, Miss; I must tell it all in a crack, an’ if she calls, rin awa’ to her, and le’ me to myself, for if fayther or t’other un wor to kotch me here, I think they’d kill me a’most. Hish!’
She paused a second, looking askance, in the direction where she fancied Mary Quince was. Then she resumed in a whisper—
’Now, lass, mind ye, ye’ll keep what I say to yourself. You’re not to tell that un nor any other for your life, mind, a word o’ what I’m goin’ to tell ye.’