’It will be worth more than that to you to bring me face to face with Jack Poynter, or to give me any news of him,’ I continued. ’You do not know where he lives, for example?’
’No: we are none of us his mates, except Fowler and Dunn, and they don’t know where he lodges: “Gentleman Jack” keeps himself close. But he’ll be here sure enough by and by, and then I will let you know,’ and with this I was obliged to be content. I was terribly vexed with myself. I felt I had managed badly. I ought to have confronted him in the empty house, where he could not have escaped me so easily. Would he come back again? As I recalled his terrified expression, his agitated words, I doubted whether he would put himself within my reach. I was so worried and miserable that I was obliged to own myself ill and to beg that I might be left in quiet. I had to endure a good deal of petting from Jill, who would keep coming into my room to see how my poor head was. Happily, one of my windows commanded an uncovered corner of the balcony. I could see without going down if any scrap of paper lay there. It was not until evening that I caught sight of an envelope lying on one of the seats.
I rang my bell and begged Draper to bring it to me at once. She thought it had fluttered out of my window, and went down smilingly to fulfil my behest.
It was a blank envelope, closely fastened, and I waited until Draper was out of the room to open it: the slip of paper was inside.
‘Jack has not been here all day,’ was scrawled on it, ’and the governor is precious angry. I doubt Jack has got into some trouble or other.—Your obedient servant, Joe Muggins.’
I COMMUNICATE WITH JOE MUGGINS
Of course I knew it would be so; Eric had escaped me; but I could not help feeling very down-hearted over the disappointment of all my hopes.
I longed so much to comfort Gladys, to bring back peace and unity to that troubled household. I had nourished the secret hope, too, that I might benefit Mr. Hamilton without his knowledge, and so return some of his many kindnesses to me. I knew—none better—how sincerely he had mourned over the supposed fate of his young brother, how truly he lamented his past harshness. If I could have brought back their young wanderer, if I could have said to them, ’If he has done wrong he is sorry for his fault; take him back to your hearts,’ would not Mr. Hamilton have been the first to hold out his hand to the prodigal? Here there was no father; it must be the elder brother who would order the fatted calf to be killed.
I had forgotten Miss Darrell. The sudden thought of her was like a dash of cold water to me. Would she have welcomed Eric? There again was the miserable complication!
All the next day I watched and fretted. The following evening Clayton told me, with rather a supercilious air, that a workman calling himself Joe Muggins wanted to speak to me. ’He did not know your name, ma’am, but he described the lady he wanted, so I knew it was you. He said you had asked him a question about a man named Jack Poynter.’