“I think I have at last found some trace of Gorton. There’s a man of that name in the criminal calendar here, down for trial to-morrow; I shall see then whether it is the same, but the description tallies. Should it be our Gorton, I think the better plan will be to leave him entirely alone: a man undergoing a criminal sentence—and this man is sure of a long period of it—has neither the means nor the motive to be dangerous. He cannot molest you whilst he is working on Portland Island; and, so far, you may live a little eased from fear. I wish—”
Mr. Carr’s was a close handwriting, and this concluded the first page. She was turning it over, when Lord Hartledon’s voice on the stairs caught her ear. He seemed to be coming up.
Ay, and he would have caught her at her work but for the accidental circumstance of the old dowager’s happening to look out of the drawing-room and detaining him, as he was hastening onwards up the stairs. She did her daughter good service that moment, if she had never done it before. Maude had time to fold the letter, put it back, lock the cabinet, and escape. Had she been a nervous woman, given to being flurried and to losing her presence of mind, she might not have succeeded; but she was cool and quick in emergency, her brain and fingers steady.
Nevertheless her heart beat a little as she stood within the other room, the door not latched behind her. She did not stir, lest he should hear her; and she hoped to remain unseen until he went down again. A ready excuse was on her lips, if he happened to look in, which was not probable: that she fancied she heard baby cry, and was listening.
Lord Hartledon was walking about his dressing-room, pacing it restlessly, and she very distinctly heard suppressed groans of mortal anguish breaking from his lips. How he had got rid of his visitor, and what the visitor came for, she knew not. He seemed to halt before the washhand-stand, pour out some water, and dash his face into it.
“God help me! God help Maude!” he ejaculated, as he went down again to the drawing-room.
And Lady Hartledon went down also, for the interruption had frightened her, and she did not attempt to open the cabinet again. She never knew more of the contents of Mr. Carr’s letter; and only the substance of the other, as communicated to her by her husband.
CROSS-QUESTIONING MR. CARR.
Not until the Sunday morning did Lady Hartledon speak to her husband of the stranger’s visit. There seemed to have been no previous opportunity. Mr. Carr had arrived late on the Friday night; indeed it was Saturday morning, for the trains were all detained; and he and Hartledon sat up together to an unconscionable hour. For this short visit he was Lord Hartledon’s guest. Saturday seemed to have been given to preparation, to gaiety, and to nothing else. Perhaps also Lady