’I can do no more than tell you that Joseph James Snowdon was my younger son,’ replied the old man simply. ’I’ve come back to spend my last years in England, and I hoped—I hope still—to find my son. I wish to take his child into my own care; as he left her to strangers—perhaps he didn’t do it willingly; he may be dead—he could have nothing to say against me giving her the care of a parent. You’ve been at expense—’
Mrs. Peckover waited with eagerness, but the sentence remained incomplete. Again the old man’s eyes strayed about the room. The current of his thoughts seemed to change, and he said:
’You could show me those letters you spoke of—of my son’s writing?’
‘Of course I could,’ was the reply, in the tone of coarse resentment whereby the scheming vulgar are wont to testify to their dishonesty.
’Afterwards—afterwards. I should like to see Jane, if you’ll be so good.’
The mild voice, though often diffident, now and then fell upon a note of quiet authority which suited well with the speaker’s grave, pure countenance. As he spoke thus, Mrs. Peckover rose, and said she would first go upstairs just to see how things were. She was absent ten minutes, then a little girl—Amy Hewett—came into the kitchen and asked the stranger to follow her.
Jane had been rapidly transferred from the mattress to the bedstead, and the room had been put into such order as was possible. A whisper from Mrs. Peckover to Mrs. Hewett, promising remission of half a week’s rent, had sufficed to obtain for the former complete freedom in her movements. The child, excited by this disturbance, had begun to moan and talk inarticulately. Mrs. Peckover listened for a moment, but heard nothing dangerous. She bade the old man enter noiselessly, and herself went about on tip-toe, speaking only in a hoarse whisper.
The visitor had just reached the bedside, and was gazing with deep, compassionate interest at the unconscious face, when Jane, as if startled, half rose and cried painfully, ’Mr. Kirkwood! oh, Mr. Kirkwood!’ and she stretched her hand out, appearing to believe that the friend she called upon was near her.
‘Who is that?’ inquired the old man, turning to his companion.
‘Only a friend of ours,’ answered Mrs. Peckover, herself puzzled and uneasy.
Again the sick girl called ‘Mr. Kirkwood!’ but without other words. Mrs. Peckover urged the danger of this excitement, and speedily led the way downstairs.
GLIMPSES OF THE PAST