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- Will Warburton - 40/52 -


"Vera, Vera," he again murmured. How came the place to be so called? The word seemed to mean _true_. He mused upon it.

He dined at the village inn, then drove at dusk back to Hendaye, down the great gorge; crags and precipices, wooded ravines and barren heights glooming magnificently under a sky warm with afterglow; beside him the torrent leapt and roared, and foamed into whiteness.

And from Hendaye the train brought him back to St. Jean de Luz. Before going to bed, he penned a note to Mr. Coppinger, saying that he was Unexpectedly obliged to leave for England, at an early hour next day, and regretted that he could not come to say good-bye. He added a postscript. "Miss Elvan will, of course, know of her sister's marriage to Norbert Franks. I hear it takes place to-morrow. Very good news."

This written, he smoked a meditative pipe, and went upstairs humming a tune.

CHAPTER 38

Touching the shore of England, Will stamped like a man who returns from exile. It was a blustering afternoon, more like November than August; livid clouds pelted him with rain, and the wind chilled his face; but this suited very well with the mood which possessed him. He had been away on a holiday--a more expensive holiday than he ought to have allowed himself, and was back full of vigour. Instead of making him qualmish, the green roarers of the Channel had braced his nerves, and put him in good heart; the boat could not roll and pitch half enough for his spirits. A holiday--a run to the Pyrenees and back; who durst say that it had been anything else? The only person who could see the matter in another light was little likely to disclose her thoughts.

At Dover he telegraphed to Godfrey Sherwood: "Come and see me to-night." True, he had been absent only a week, but the time seemed to him so long that he felt it must have teemed with events. In the railway carriage he glowed with good fellowship toward the other passengers; the rain-beaten hop-lands rejoiced his eyes, and the first houses of London were so many friendly faces greeting his return. From the station he drove to his shop. Allchin, engaged in serving a lady, forgot himself at the sight of Mr. Jollyman, and gave a shout of welcome. All was right, nothing troublesome had happened; trade better than usual at this time of year.

"He'll have to put up the shutters," said Allchin confidentially, with a nod in the direction of the rival grocer. "His wife's been making a row in the shop again--disgraceful scene--talk of the 'ole neighbourhood. She began throwing things at customers, and somebody as was badly hit on the jaw with a tin of sardines complained to the police. We shall be rid of him very soon, you'll see, sir."

This gave Warburton small satisfaction, but he kept his human thoughts to himself, and presently went home. Here his landlady met him with the announcement that only a few hours ago she had forwarded a letter delivered by the post this morning. This was vexatious; several days must elapse before he could have the letter back again from St. Jean de Luz. Sure that Mrs. Wick must have closely scrutinised the envelope, he questioned her as to handwriting and postmark, but the woman declared that she had given not a glance to these things, which were not her business. Couldn't she even remember whether the writing looked masculine or feminine? No; she had not the slightest idea; it was not her business to "pry" and Mrs. Wick closed her bloodless lips with virtuous severity.

He had tea and walked back again to the shop, w ere as he girt himself with his apron, he chuckled contentedly.

"Has Mrs. Cross looked in?" he inquired.

"Yes, sir," answered his henchman, "she was here day before yes'day, and asked where you was. I said you was travelling for your health in foreign parts."

"And what did she say to that?"

"She said 'Oh'--that's all, sir. It was a very small order she gave. I can't make out how she manages to use so little sugar in her 'ouse. It's certain the servant doesn't have her tea too sweet-- what do _you_ think, sir?"

Warburton spoke of something else.

At nine o'clock he sat at home awaiting his visitor. The expected knock soon sounded and Sherwood was shown into the room. Will grasped his hand, calling out: "What news?

"News?" echoed Godfrey, in a voice of no good omen. "Haven't you heard?"

"Heard what?"

"But your telegram--? Wasn't that what it meant?"

"What do _you_ mean?" cried Will. "Speak, man! I've been abroad for a week. I know nothing; I telegraphed because I wanted to see you, that was all."

"Confound it! I hoped you knew the worst. Strangwyn is dead."

"He's dead? Well, isn't that what we've been waiting for?"

"Not the old man," groaned Sherwood, "not the old man. It's Ted Strangwyn that's dead. Never was such an extraordinary case of bad luck. And his death--the most astounding you ever heard of. He was down in Yorkshire for the grouse. The dogcart came round in the morning, and as he stood beside it, stowing away a gun or something, the horse made a movement forward, and the wheel went over his toe. He thought nothing of it. The next day he was ill; it turned to tetanus; and in a few hours he died. Did you ever in your life hear anything like that?"

Warburton had listened gravely. Towards the end, his features began to twitch, and, a moment after Godfrey had ceased, a spasm of laughter overcame him.

"I can't help it, Sherwood," he gasped. "It's brutal, I know, but I can't help it."

"My dear boy," exclaimed the other, with a countenance of relief, "I'm delighted you can laugh. Talk about the irony of fate--eh? I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the paragraph in the paper yesterday. But, you know," he added earnestly, "I don't absolutely give up hope. According to the latest news, it almost looks as if old Strangwyn might recover; and, if he does, I shall certainly try to get this money out of him. If he has any sense of honour--"

Will again laughed, but not so spontaneously.

"My boy," he said, "it's all up, and you know it. You'll never see a penny of your ten thousand pounds."

"Oh, but I can't help hoping--"

"Hope as much as you like. How goes the other affair?"

"Why, there, too, odd things have been happening. Milligan has just got engaged, and, to tell you the truth, to a girl I shouldn't have thought he'd ever have looked twice at. It's a Miss Parker, the daughter of a City man. Pretty enough if you like, but as far as I can see, no more brains than a teapot, and I can't for the life of me understand how a man like Milligan--. But of course, it makes no difference; our work goes on. We have an enormous correspondence."

"Does Miss Parker interest herself in it?" asked Will.

"Oh, yes, in a way, you know; as far as she can. She has turned vegetarian, of course. To tell you the truth, Warburton, it vexes me a good deal. I didn't think Milligan could do such a silly thing. I hope he'll get married quickly. Just at present, the fact is, he isn't quite himself."

Again Warburton was subdued by laughter.

"Well, I thought things might have been happening whilst I was away," he said, "and I wasn't mistaken. Luckily, I have come back with a renewed gusto for the shop. By the bye, I'm going to keep that secret no longer. I'm a grocer, and probably shall be a grocer all my life, and the sooner people know it the better. I'm sick of hiding away. Tell Milligan the story; it will amuse Miss Parker, And, talking of Miss Parker, do you know that Norbert Franks is married? His old love--Miss Elvan. Of course it was the sensible thing to do. They're off to Tyrol. As soon as I have their address, I shall write and tell him all about Jollyman's."

"Of course, if you really feel you must," said Godfrey, with reluctance. "But remember that I still hope to recover the money. Old Strangwyn has the reputation of being an honourable man--"

"Like Brutus," broke in Warburton, cheerfully. "Let us hope. Of course we will hope. Hope springs eternal--"

Days went by, and at length the desired letter came back from St. Jean de Luz. Seeing at a glance that it was from his sister, Will reproached himself for having let more than a month elapse without writing to St. Neots. Of his recent "holiday" he had no intention of saying a word. Jane wrote a longer letter than usual, and its tenor was disquieting. Their mother had not been at all well lately; Jane noticed that she was becoming very weak. "You know how she dreads to give trouble, and cannot bear to have any one worry about her. She has seen Dr. Edge twice in the last few days, but not in my presence, and I feel sure that she has forbidden him to tell me the truth about her. I dare not let her guess how anxious I am, and have to go on in my usual way, just doing what I can for her comfort. If you would come over for a day, I should feel very glad. Not having seen mother for some time, you would be better able than I to judge how she looks." After reading this Will's self-reproaches were doubled. At once he set off for St. Neots.

On arriving at The Haws, he found Jane gardening, and spoke with her


Will Warburton - 40/52

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