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- Recalled to Life - 20/30 -
cogent arguments why I couldn't go alone to the one village saloon--a mere whisky-drinking public-house, they said, of very bad character,--that in the long run I was fain almost to acquiesce in their kind plan for my temporary housing. Besides, after my horrid experience at Quebec, it was such a positive relief to me to meet anybody nice and delicate, that I couldn't find it in my heart to refuse these dear people. And then, perhaps it was best not to go quite on to Palmyra at once, for fear of unexpectedly running against my father's murderer. If I met him in the street, and he recognised me and spoke to me, what on earth could I do? My head was all in a whirl, indeed, as to what he might intend or expect: for I felt sure he expected me. I made one last despairing effort.
"If I stop at your house, though," I said, half ashamed of myself for venturing to make conditions, "there's one promise you must make me--that I sha'n't see Dr. Ivor unless you let me know and get my consent beforehand."
Jack, as I called him to myself, answered gaily back with a rather curious smile:
"If you like, you need see nobody but our own two selves. We'll promise not to introduce anybody to you without due leave, and to let you do as you like in that and in everything."
So I yielded at last.
"Well, I must know your name," I said tentatively.
And Jack, looking queerly at me with an inquiring air, said:
"My sister's name's Elsie; mine's John Cheriton."
"And yours?" Elsie asked, glancing timidly down at me.
My heart beat hard. I was face to face with a dilemma. These were friends of Courtenay Ivor's, and I had given myself away to them. I was going to their house, to accept their hospitality--and to betray their friend! Never in my life did I feel so guilty before. Oh! what on earth was I to do? I had told them too much; I had gone to work foolishly. If I said my real name, I should let out my whole secret. I must brazen it out now. With tremulous lips and flushed cheek, I answered quickly, "Julia Marsden."
Elsie drew back, all abashed. In a moment her cheek grew still redder, I felt sure, than my own.
"Oh, Marsden!" she cried, eyeing me close. "Why, I thought you were Miss Callingham!"
"How on earth did you know that?" I exclaimed, terrified almost out of my life. Was I never for one moment to escape my own personality?
"Why, they put it in the papers that you were coming," Elsie answered, looking tenderly at me, more in sympathy than in anger. "And it's written on your bag, you know, that Jack put up in the rack there... That's why we were so sorry for you, and so grieved at the way you must have been hustled on the quay. And that's also why we wanted you to come to us... But don't be a bit afraid. We quite understand you want to travel incognita. After the sort of reception you got at Quebec, no wonder you're afraid of these hateful sightseers!... Very well, dear," she took my hand with the air of an old friend, "your disguise shall be respected while you stop at our house. Miss Marsden let it be. You can make any inquiries you like about Dr. Ivor. We will be secrecy itself. We'll say nothing to anyone. And my brother'll take your ticket at Sharbot Lake for Adolphus Town."
I broke down once more. I fairly cried at such kindness.
"Oh, how good you are!" I said. "How very, very good. This is more than one could ever have expected from strangers."
She held my hand and stroked it.
"We're not strangers," she answered. "We're English ourselves. We sympathise deeply with you in this new, strange country. You must treat us exactly like a brother and sister. We liked you at first sight, and we're sure we'll get on with you."
I lifted her hand to my lips and kissed it.
"And I liked you also," I said, "and your brother, too. You're both so good and kind. How can I ever sufficiently thank you?"
MY PLANS ALTER
The rest of that day we spent chatting very amicably in our Pullman arm-chairs. I couldn't understand it myself--when I had a moment to think, I was shocked and horrified at it. I was so terribly at home with them. These were friends of Dr. Ivor's--friends of my father's murderer! I had come out to Canada to track him, to deliver him over, if I could, to the strong hand of Justice. And yet, there I was talking away with his neighbours and friends as if I had known them all my life, and loved them dearly. Nay, what was more, I couldn't in my heart of hearts help liking them. They were really sweet people--so kind and sympathetic, so perceptive of my sensitiveness. They asked no questions that could hurt me in any way. They showed no curiosity about the object of my visit or my relation to Dr. Ivor. They were kindness and courtesy itself. I could see Mr. Cheriton was a gentleman in fibre, and Elsie was as sweet as any woman on earth could be.
By-and-by, the time came for the Pullman saloon to be transformed for the night into a regular sleeping-car. All this was new to me, and I watched it with interest. As soon as the beds were made up, I crept into my berth, and my new friend Elsie took her place on the sofa below me. I lay awake long and thought over the situation. The more I thought of it, the stranger it all seemed. I tried hard to persuade myself I was running some great danger in accepting the Cheritons' invitation. Certainly, I had behaved with consummate imprudence. Canada is a country, I said to myself, where they kidnap and murder well-to-do young Englishmen. How much easier, then, to kidnap and murder a poor weak stray English girl! I was entirely at the mercy of the Cheritons, that was clear: and the Cheritons were Dr. Ivor's friends. As I thought all the circumstances over, the full folly of my own conduct came home to me more and more. I had let these people suppose I was travelling under an assumed name. I had let them know my ticket was not for Palmyra but for Kingston, where I didn't mean to go. I had told them I meant to change it at Sharbot Lake. So they were aware that no one on earth but themselves had any idea where I had gone. And I had further divulged to them the important fact that I had plenty of ready money in Bank of England notes! I stood aghast at my own silliness. But still, I did NOT distrust them.
No, I did NOT distrust them. I felt I ought to be distrustful. I felt it might be expected of me. But they were so gentle-mannered and so sweet-natured, that I couldn't distrust them. I tried very hard, but distrust wouldn't come to me. That kind fellow Jack--I thought of him, just so, as Jack already--couldn't hurt a fly, much less kill a woman. It grieved me to think I would have to hurt his feelings.
For now that I came to look things squarely in the face in my berth by myself, I began to see how utterly impossible it would be for me after all to go and stop with the Cheritons. How I could ever have dreamt it feasible I could hardly conceive. I ought to have refused at once. I ought to have been braver. I ought to have said outright, "I'll have nothing to do or say with anyone who is a friend or an acquaintance of Courtenay Ivor's." And yet, to have said so would have been to give up the game for lost. It would have been to proclaim that I had come out to Canada as Courtenay Ivor's enemy.
I wasn't fit, that was the fact, for my self-imposed task of private detective.
A good part of that night I lay awake in my berth, bitterly reproaching myself for having come on this wild-goose chase without the aid of a man--an experienced officer. Next morning, I rose and breakfasted in the car. The Cheritons breakfasted with me, and, sad to say, seemed more charming than ever. That good fellow Jack was so attentive and kind, I almost felt ashamed to have to refuse his hospitality; and as for Elsie, she couldn't have treated me more nicely or cordially if she'd been my own sister. It wasn't what they said that touched my heart: it was what they didn't say or do--their sweet, generous reticence.
After breakfast, I steeled myself for the task, and broke it to them gently that, thinking it over in the night, I'd come to the conclusion I couldn't consistently accept their proffered welcome.
"I don't know how to say NO to you," I cried, "after you've been so wonderfully kind and nice; but reasons which I can't fully explain just now make me feel it would be wrong of me to think of stopping with you. It would hamper my independence of action to be in anybody else's house. I must shift for myself, and try if I can't find board and lodging somewhere."
"Find it with us then!" Elsie put in eagerly. "If that's all that's the matter, I'm sure we're not proud--are we, Jack?--not a bit. Sooner than you should go elsewhere and be uncomfortable in your rooms, I'd take you in myself, and board you and look after you. You could pay what you like; and then you'd retain your independence, you see, as much as ever you wanted."
But her brother interrupted her with a somewhat graver air:
"It goes deeper than that, I'm afraid, Elsie," he said, turning his eye full upon her. "If Miss Callingham feels she couldn't be happy in stopping with us, she'd better try elsewhere. Though where on earth we can put her, I haven't just now the very slightest idea. But we'll turn it over in our own minds before we reach Adolphus Town."
There was a sweet reasonableness about Jack that attracted me greatly. I could see he entered vaguely into the real nature of my feelings. But he wouldn't cross-question me: he was too much of a gentleman.
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