At this moment a loud, flustering, angry voice was heard calling from the stairs, and Richard leaped up as if he had been shot. His door—not the one leading to the room of Miss Carlyle—opened upon the corridor, and the voice sounded close, just as if its owner were coming in with a hound. It was the voice of Mr. Justice Hare.
“Carlyle, where are you? Here’s a pretty thing happened! Come down!”
Mr. Carlyle for once in his life lost his calm equanimity, and sprang to the door, to keep it against invasion, as eagerly as Richard could have done. He forgot that Joyce had said the door was safely locked, and the key mislaid. As to Richard, he rushed on his hat and his black whiskers, and hesitated between under the bed and inside the wardrobe.
“Don’t agitate yourself, Richard,” whispered Mr. Carlyle, “there is no real danger. I will go and keep him safely.”
But when Mr. Carlyle got through his sister’s bedroom, he found that lady had taken the initiative, and was leaning over the balustrades, having been arrested in the process of dressing. Her clothes were on, but her nightcap was not off; little cared she, however, who saw her nightcap.
“What on earth brings you up in this weather?” began she, in a tone of exasperation.
“I want to see Carlyle. Nice news I have had!”
“What about? Anything concerning Anne, or her family?”
“Anne be bothered,” replied the justice, who was from some cause, in a furious temper. “It concerns that precious rascal, who I am forced to call son. I am told he is here.”
Down the stairs leaped Mr. Carlyle, four at a time, wound his arm within Mr. Hare’s, and led him to a sitting-room.
“Good-morning, justice. You had courage to venture up through the snow! What is the matter, you seem excited.”
“Excited?” raved the justice, dancing about the room, first on one leg, then on the other, like a cat upon hot bricks, “so you would be excited, if your life were worried out, as mine is, over a wicked scamp of a son. Why can’t folks trouble their heads about their own business, and let my affairs alone? A pity but what he was hung, and the thing done with!”
“But what has happened?” questioned Mr. Carlyle.
“Why this has happened,” retorted the justice, throwing a letter on the table. “The post brought me this, just now—and pleasant information it gives.”
Mr. Carlyle took up the note and read it. It purported to be from “a friend” to Justice Hare, informing that gentleman that his “criminal son” was likely to have arrived at West Lynne, or would arrive in the course of a day or so; and it recommended Mr. Hare to speed his departure from it, lest he should be pounced upon.
“This letter is anonymous!” exclaimed Mr. Carlyle.
“Of course it is,” stamped the justice.
“The only notice I should ever take of an anonymous letter would be to put it in the fire,” cried Mr. Carlyle, his lip curling with scorn.