But the light was there alone. Nobody was present to reap its benefit or to answer intruders. Lucy knocked pretty loudly on the counter without bringing forth any result. Apparently she was not heard; perhaps from the fact that the sound was drowned in the noise of some fizzing and popping which seemed to be going on in the next room—Jan’s bedroom. Her consideration for Mrs. Verner put ceremony out of the question; in fact, Lucy was not given at the best of times to stand much upon that; and she stepped round the counter, and knocked briskly at the door. Possibly Lionel might be in there with Jan.
Lionel was not there; nor Jan either. The door was gingerly opened about two inches by Master Cheese, who was enveloped in a great white apron and white oversleeves. His face looked red and confused as it peeped out, as does that of one who is caught at some forbidden mischief; and Lucy obtained sight of a perfect mass of vessels, brass, earthenware, glass, and other things, with which the room was strewed. In point of fact, Master Cheese, believing he was safe from Jan’s superintendence for some hours, had seized upon the occasion to plunge into his forbidden chemical researches again, and had taken French leave to use Jan’s bedroom for the purpose, the surgery being limited for space.
“What do you want?” cried he roughly, staring at Lucy.
“Is Mr. Verner here?” she asked.
Then Master Cheese knew the voice, and condescended a sort of apology for his abruptness.
“I didn’t know you, Miss Tempest, in that fright of a bonnet,” said he, walking forth and closing the bedroom door behind him. “Mr. Verner’s not here.”
“Do you happen to know where he is?” asked Lucy. “He said he was coming here, an hour ago.”
“So he did come here; and saw Jan. Jan’s gone to the ball. And Miss Deb and Miss Amilly are gone to a party at Heartburg.”
“Is he?” returned Lucy, referring to Jan, and surprised to hear the news; balls not being in Jan’s line.
“I can’t make it out,” remarked Master Cheese. “He and Sir Edmund used to be cronies, I think; so I suppose that has taken him. But I am glad they are all off: it gives me a whole evening to myself. He and Mr. Verner went away together.”
“I wish very much to find Mr. Verner,” said Lucy. “It is of great consequence that I should see him. I suppose—you—could not—go and look for him, Master Cheese?” she added pleadingly.
“Couldn’t do it,” responded Master Cheese, thinking of his forbidden chemicals. “When Jan’s away I am chief, you know, Miss Tempest. Some cases of broken legs may be brought in, for anything I can tell.”
Lucy wished him good-night and turned away. She hesitated at the corner of the street, gazing up and down. To start on a search for Lionel appeared to be as hopeful a project as that search renowned in proverb—the looking for a needle in a bottle of hay. The custom in Deerham was not to light the lamps on a moonlight night, so the street, as Lucy glanced on either side, lay white and quiet; no glare to disturb its peace, save for some shops, not yet closed. Mrs. Duff’s, opposite, was among the latter catalogue: and her son, Mr. Dan, appeared to be taking a little tumbling recreation on the flags before the bay-window. Lucy crossed over to him.