CHAPTER THE FIFTY-FIFTH.
THE SIGNS OF THE END.
THE servant, appearing the next morning in Anne’s room with the breakfast tray, closed the door with an air of mystery, and announced that strange things were going on in the house.
“Did you hear nothing last night, ma’am,” she asked, “down stairs in the passage?”
“I thought I heard some voices whispering outside my room,” Anne replied. “Has any thing happened?”
Extricated from the confusion in which she involved it, the girl’s narrative amounted in substance to this. She had been startled by the sudden appearance of her mistress in the passage, staring about her wildly, like a woman who had gone out of her senses. Almost at the same moment “the master” had flung open the drawing-room door. He had caught Mrs. Dethridge by the arm, had dragged her into the room, and had closed the door again. After the two had remained shut up together for more than half an hour, Mrs. Dethridge had come out, as pale as ashes, and had gone up stairs trembling like a person in great terror. Some time later, when the servant was in bed, but not asleep, she had seen a light under her door, in the narrow wooden passage which separated Anne’s bedroom from Hester’s bedroom, and by which she obtained access to her own little sleeping-chamber beyond. She had got out of bed; had looked through the keyhole; and had seen “the master” and Mrs. Dethridge standing together examining the walls of the passage. “The master” had laid his hand upon the wall, on the side of his wife’s room, and had looked at Mrs. Dethridge. And Mrs. Dethridge had looked back at him, and had shaken her head. Upon that he had said in a whisper (still with his hand on the wooden wall), “Not to be done here?” And Mrs. Dethridge had shaken her head. He had considered a moment, and had whispered again, “The other room will do! won’t it?” And Mrs. Dethridge had nodded her head—and so they had parted. That was the story of the night. Early in the morning, more strange things had happened. The master had gone out, with a large sealed packet in his hand, covered with many stamps; taking his own letter to the post, instead of sending the servant with it as usual. On his return, Mrs. Dethridge had gone out next, and had come back with something in a jar which she had locked up in her own sitting-room. Shortly afterward, a working-man had brought a bundle of laths, and some mortar and plaster of Paris, which had been carefully placed together in a corner of the scullery. Last, and most remarkable in the series of domestic events, the girl had received permission to go home and see her friends in the country, on that very day; having been previously informed, when she entered Mrs. Dethridge’s service, that she was not to expect to have a holiday granted to her until after Christmas. Such were the strange things which had happened in the house since the previous night. What was the interpretation to be placed on them?