The necessity which had previously existed of leaving the ghastly evidence of the murderous deed undisturbed,—the presence of the mangled corpse,—the bustle of the inquest, at which her attendance was required,—all these circumstances produced a harrowing effect upon the young girl’s imagination. But when all was over, a sorrowful calm succeeded, and, if not free from grief, she was tranquil. As to Thames, though deeply and painfully affected by the horrible occurrence that had marked his return to his old friends, he was yet able to control his feelings, and devote himself to the alleviation of the distress of the more immediate sufferers by the calamity.
It was Sunday evening—a soft delicious evening, and, from the happy, cheerful look of the house, none would have dreamed of the dismal tragedy so lately acted within its walls. The birds were singing blithely amid the trees,—the lowing of the cows resounded from the yard,—a delicious perfume from the garden was wafted through the open window,—at a distance, the church-bells of Willesden were heard tolling for evening service. All these things spoke of peace;—but there are seasons when the pleasantest external influences have a depressing effect on the mind, by painfully recalling past happiness. So, at least, thought one of two persons who were seated together in a small back-parlour of the house at Dollis Hill. She was a lovely girl, attired in deep mourning, and having an expression of profound sorrow on her charming features. Her companion was a portly handsome man, also dressed in a full suit of the deepest mourning, with the finest of lace at his bosom and wrists, and a sword in a black sheath by his side. These persons were Mr. Kneebone and Winifred.
The funeral, it has just been said, took place on that day. Amongst others who attended the sad ceremony was Mr. Kneebone. Conceiving himself called upon, as the intimate friend of the deceased, to pay this last tribute of respect to her memory, he appeared as one of the chief mourners. Overcome by his affliction, Mr. Wood had retired to his own room, where he had just summoned Thames. Much to her annoyance, therefore, Winifred was left alone with the woollen-draper, who following up a maxim of his own, “that nothing was gained by too much bashfulness,” determined to profit by the opportunity. He had only been prevented, indeed, by a fear of Mrs. Wood from pressing his suit long ago. This obstacle removed, he thought he might now make the attempt. Happen what might, he could not be in a worse position.
“We have had a sad loss, my dear Winifred,” he began,—“for I must use the privilege of an old friend, and address you by that familiar name,—we have had a sad loss in the death of your lamented parent, whose memory I shall for ever revere.”
Winifred’s eyes filled with tears. This was not exactly what the woollen-draper desired. So he resolved to try another tack.