“But ought I to take it up-stairs, Sir? only tell me that!”
“It is not for me to say. All interest or share on my part, Susan, in what she—in what your young mistress receives, is at an end.”
“I’m very sorry to hear you say that, Sir; very, very sorry. But what would you advise me to do?”
“Let me look at the letter once more.”
On a second view, the handwriting produced the same effect on me as before, ending too with just the same result. I returned the letter again.
“I respect your scruples, Susan, but I am not the person to remove or to justify them. Why should you not apply in this difficulty to your master?”
“I dare not, Sir; I dare not for my life. He’s been worse than ever, lately; if I said as much to him as I’ve said to you, I believe he’d kill me!” She hesitated, then continued more composedly; “Well, at any rate I’ve told you, Sir, and that’s made my mind easier; and—and I’ll give her the letter this once, and then take in no more—if they come, unless I hear a proper account of them.”
She curtseyed; and, bidding me farewell very sadly and anxiously, returned to the house with the letter in her hand. If I had guessed at that moment who it was written by! If I could only have suspected what were its contents!
I left Hollyoake Square in a direction which led to some fields a little distance on. It was very strange; but that unknown handwriting still occupied my thoughts: that wretched trifle absolutely took possession of my mind, at such a time as this; in such a position as mine was now.
I stopped wearily in the fields at a lonely spot, away from the footpath. My eyes ached at the sunlight, and I shaded them with my hand. Exactly at the same instant, the lost recollection flashed back on me so vividly that I started almost in terror. The handwriting shown me by the servant at North Villa, was the same as the handwriting on that unopened and forgotten letter in my pocket, which I had received from the servant at home—received in the morning, as I crossed the hall to enter my father’s room.
I took out the letter, opened it with trembling fingers, and looked through the cramped, closely-written pages for the signature.
It was “ROBERT MANNION.”
Mannion! I had never suspected that the note shown to me at North Villa might have come from him. And yet, the secrecy with which it had been delivered; the person to whom it was addressed; the mystery connected with it even in the servant’s eyes, all pointed to the discovery which I had so incomprehensibly failed to make. I had suffered a letter, which might contain written proof of her guilt, to be taken, from under my own eyes, to Margaret Sherwin! How had my perceptions become thus strangely blinded? The confusion of my memory, the listless incapacity of all my faculties, answered the question but too readily, of themselves.