“It’s true enough,” said the miller, with keen enjoyment. “I heard it from the police-sergeant. He says it was so sudden that there’ll have to be an inquest. I’m sorry for the widow and orphans though. It’ll fall a bit hard on them.”
“Good heavens!” said Jeff again. “Good heavens!”
And then very abruptly he turned and left the mill.
“What’s the matter with the boss?” asked the miller’s underling. “Did the Colonel owe him money too?”
“That’s about the ticket,” said Jim Dawlish cheerily. “That comes of lending, that does. It just shows the truth of the old saying, ’Stick to your money and your money’ll stick to you.’ There never was a truer word.”
“Wonder if he’s lost much?” said the underling speculatively.
Whereupon Jim Dawlish waxed suddenly severe. He never tolerated idle gossip among his inferiors. “And that’s no concern of yours, Charlie Bates,” he said. “You get on with your work and don’t bother your pudden head about what ain’t in no way your business. Mr. Ironside is about the soundest man within fifty miles, and don’t you forget it!”
“He wasn’t best pleased to hear about the poor old Colonel though for all that,” said Charlie Bates tenaciously. “And I’d give something to know what’ll come of it.”
If he had known, neither he nor Jim Dawlish would have got through much work that morning.
It was nearly a fortnight after Colonel Elliot’s death that Jeff Ironside went to the stable somewhat suddenly one morning, saddled his mare, and, without a word to anyone, rode away.
Granny Grimshaw was the only witness of his departure, and she turned from the kitchen window with a secret smile and nod.
It was an autumn morning of mist and sunshine. The beech trees shone golden overhead, and the robins trilled loudly from the clematis-draped hedges. Jeff rode briskly, with too set a purpose to bestow any attention upon these things. He took a short cut across his own land and entered the grounds belonging to the Place by a side drive seldom used.
Thence he rode direct to the front door of the great Georgian house and boldly demanded admittance.
The footman who opened to him looked him up and down interrogatively. “Miss Elliot is at home, but I don’t know if she will see anyone,” he said uncompromisingly.
“Ask her!” said Jeff tersely. “My name is Ironside.”
While the man was gone he took the mare to a yew tree that shadowed the drive at a few yards’ distance and tied her to it. There was an air of grim resolution about all his actions. This accomplished, he returned to the great front door.
As he reached it there came the sound of light, hastening feet within, and in a moment the half-open door was thrown back. Doris herself, very slim and pale, but withal very queenly in her deep mourning, came forth with outstretched hand to greet him.