Read CHAPTER XXV - MISSING AGAIN. of Fenton Quest, free online book, by M. E. Braddon, on

Gilbert Fenton was very glad to have made his escape from Lidford at last, for his mind was full of anxiety about Marian.  Again and again he had argued with himself upon the folly and uselessness of this anxiety.  She, for whose interests he was so troubled, was safe enough no doubt, protected by a husband, who was most likely a man of the world, and quite as able to protect her as Gilbert himself could be.  He told himself this; but still the restless uneasy sense that he was neglecting his duty, that he was false to the promise made to old Jacob Nowell, tormented and perplexed him.  He felt that he ought to be doing something-that he had no right to remain in ignorance of the progress of Marian’s affairs-that he should be at hand to frustrate any attempt at knavery on the part of the lawyer-to be sure that the old man’s wealth suffered no diminution before it reached the hands of his heiress.

Gilbert Fenton felt that his promise to the dead bound him to do these things, and felt at the same time the weakness of his own position with relation to Marian.  By what right could he interfere in the conduct of her affairs? what claim could he assert to defend her interests? who would listen to any romantic notion about a promise made to the dead?

He went to Queen Anne’s Court upon the night of his return to London.  The silversmith’s shop looked exactly the same as when he had first seen it:  the gas burning dimly, the tarnished old salvers and tankards gleaming duskily in the faint light, with all manner of purple and greenish hues.  Mr. Tulliver was in his little den at the back of the shop, and emerged with his usual rapidity at the ringing of the door-bell.

“O, it’s you, is it, sir?” he asked in an indifferent, half-insolent tone.  “What can I do for you this evening?”

“Is your late master’s granddaughter, Mrs. Holbrook, here?” Gilbert asked.

“No; Mrs. Holbrook went away on the morning after my master’s death.  I told you that when you called here last.”

“I am quite aware of that; but I thought it likely Mrs. Holbrook might return here with her husband, to take possession of the property, which I suppose you know now belongs to her.”

“Yes, I know all about that; but she hasn’t come yet to take possession; she doesn’t seem in such a desperate hurry about it.  I daresay she knows that things are safe enough.  Medler the lawyer is not the kind of party to be cheated out of sixpence.  He has taken an inventory of every article in the place, and the weight and value of every article.  Your friend Mrs. Holbrook needn’t be afraid.  I suppose she’s some relation of yours, by-the-bye, sir, judging by the interest you seem to take in her affairs?”

“Yes,” Gilbert said, not caring to answer this question directly, “I do take a warm interest in Mrs. Holbrook’s affairs, and I am very anxious to see her placed in undisputed possession of her late grandfather’s property.”

“I should think her husband would see after that,” Mr. Tulliver remarked with a sneer.

Gilbert left the court after having asked a few questions about Jacob Nowell’s funeral.  The old man had been buried at Kensalgreen, followed to the grave only by the devoted Tulliver, Mr. Medler, and the local surgeon who had attended him in his last illness.  He had lived a lonely friendless life, holding himself aloof from his fellow-creatures; and there were neither neighbours nor friends to lament his ending.  The vagabond boys of the neighbourhood had clustered round the door to witness the last dismal ceremony of Mr. Nowell’s existence, and had hung about the shop-front for some time after the funeral cortege had departed, peering curiously down into the darksome area, and speculating upon the hoards of wealth which the old miser had hidden away in coal-cellars and dust-bins, under the stone flags of the scullery, or in the crannies of the dilapidated walls.  There were no bounds to the imagination of these street Arabs, who had been in the habit of yelping and whooping at the old man’s heels when he took his infrequent walks abroad, assailing him with derisive epithets alluding to his miserly propensities.  Amongst the elders of the court there was some little talk about the dead man, and the probable disposal of his property, with a good deal of argument and laying down of the law on the part of the graver and wiser members of that community; some people affecting to know to a sixpence the amount of Jacob Nowell’s savings, others accrediting him with the possession of fabulous riches, and all being unanimous in the idea that the old man’s heir or heirs, as the case might be, would speedily scatter his long-hoarded treasures.  Many of these people could remember the silversmith’s prodigal son; but none among them were aware of that gentleman’s return.  They wondered a good deal as to whether he was still living, and whether the money had been left to him or to that pretty young woman who had appeared in the last days of the old man’s life, no one knowing whence she had come.  There was nothing to be gained from questioning Luke Tulliver, the court knew of old experience.  The most mysterious dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition, the secret chambers under the leads in Venice, were not closer or deeper than the mind of that young man.  The court had been inclined to think that Luke Tulliver would come into all his master’s money; and opinion inclined that way even yet, seeing that Mr. Tulliver still held his ground in the shop, and that no strangers had been seen to enter the place since the funeral.

From Queen Anne’s Court Gilbert Fenton went on to the gloomy street where Mr. Medler had his office and abode.  It was not an hour for a professional visit; but Gilbert found the lawyer still hard at work at his desk, under the lurid light of a dirty-looking battered old oil-lamp, which left the corners of the dingy wainscoted room in profound obscurity.  He looked up from his papers with some show of surprise on hearing Mr. Fenton’s name announced by the slipshod maid-of-all-work who had admitted the late visitor, Mr. Medler’s solitary clerk having departed to his own dwelling some hours before.

“I must ask you to excuse this untimely call, Mr. Medler,” Gilbert said politely; “but the fact of the matter is, I am a little anxious about my friend Mrs. Holbrook and her affairs, and I thought you the most likely person to give me some information about them.  I should have called in business hours; but I have only just returned from the country, and did not care to delay my inquiries until to-morrow.  I have just come from Queen Anne’s Court, and am rather surprised to find that neither Mrs. Holbrook nor her husband has been there.  You have seen or heard from them since the funeral, I suppose?”

“No, Mr. Fenton, I have neither seen nor heard of them.  I wrote a formal letter to Mrs. Holbrook, setting out the contents of the will; but there has been no answer as yet.”

“Strange, is it not?” Gilbert exclaimed, with an anxious look.

“Well, yes, it is certainly not the usual course of proceeding.  However, there is time enough yet.  The funeral has not been over much more than a week.  The property is perfectly safe, you know.”

“Of course; but it is not the less extraordinary that Mr. Holbrook should hang back in this manner.  I will go down to Hampshire the first thing to-morrow and see Mrs. Holbrook.”

“Humph!” muttered the lawyer; “I can’t say that I see any necessity for that.  But of course you know best.”

Gilbert Fenton did start for Hampshire early the next morning by the same train in which Marian had travelled after her grandfather’s death.  It was still quite early in the day when he found himself at Malsham, that quiet comfortable little market-town where he had first discovered a clue to the abode of his lost love.  He went to the hotel, and hired a fly to take him to Crosber, where he left the vehicle at the old inn, preferring to walk on to the Grange.  It was a bright November day, with a pale yellow sunlight shining on the level fields, and distant hills that rose beyond them crowned with a scanty fringe of firs, that stood out black and sharp against the clear autumn sky.  It was a cheerful day, and a solitary bird was singing here and there, as if beguiled by that pleasant warmth and sunshine into the fond belief that winter was still far off and the glory of fields and woods not yet departed.  Gilbert’s spirits rose in some degree under the influence of that late brightness and sweet rustic calm.  He fancied that there might be still some kind of happiness for him in the long years to come; pale and faint like the sunlight of to-day-an autumnal calm.  If he might be Marian’s friend and brother, her devoted counsellor, her untiring servant, it seemed to him that he could be content, that he could live on from year to year moderately happy in the occasional delight of her society; rewarded for his devotion by a few kind words now and then,-a letter, a friendly smile,-rewarded still more richly by her perfect trust in him.

These thoughts were in his mind to-day as he went along the lonely country lane leading to the Grange; thoughts which seemed inspired by the tranquil landscape and peaceful autumn day; thoughts which were full of the purest love and charity,-yes, even for his unknown rival, even if that rival should prove to be the one man in all this world from whom a deep wrong would seem most bitter.

“What am I, that I should measure the force of his temptation,” he said to himself, “or the strength of his resistance?  Let me be sure that he loves my darling as truly as I love her, that the chief object of his life has been and will be her happiness, and then let me put away all selfish vindictive thoughts, and fall quietly into the background of my dear one’s life, content to be her brother and her friend.”

The Grange looked unchanged in its sombre lonely aspect.  The chrysanthemums were all withered by this time, and there were now no flowers in the old-fashioned garden.  The bell was answered by the same woman who had admitted him before, and who made no parley about letting him in this time.

“My young missus said I was to be sure and let her know if you came, sir,” she said; “she’s very anxious to see you.”

“Your young mistress; do you mean Mrs. Holbrook?”

“No, sir; Miss Carley, master’s daughter.”

“Indeed!  I remember the young lady; I shall be very happy to see her if she has anything to say to me; but it is Mrs. Holbrook I have come to see.  She is at home, I suppose?”

“O dear no, sir; Mrs. Holbrook has left, without a word of notice, gone nobody knows where.  That is what has made our young missus fret about it so.”

“Mrs. Holbrook has left!” Gilbert exclaimed in blank amazement; “when?”

“It’s more than a week ago now, sir.”

“And do none of you know why she went away, or where she has gone?”

“No more than the dead, sir.  But you’d better see Miss Carley; she’ll be able to tell you all about it.”

The woman led him into the house, and to the room in which he had seen Marian.  There was no fire here to-day, and the room had a desolate unoccupied look, though the sun was shining cheerfully on the old-fashioned many-paned windows.  There were a few books, which Gilbert remembered as Marian’s literary treasures, neatly arranged on a rickety old chiffonier by the fire-place, and the desk and work-basket which he had seen on his previous visit.

He was half bewildered by what the woman had told him, and his heart beat tumultuously as he stood by the empty hearth, waiting for Ellen Carley’s coming.  It seemed to him as if the girl never would come.  The ticking of an old eight-day clock in the hall had a ghastly sound in the dead silence of the house, and an industrious mouse made itself distinctly heard behind the wainscot.

At last a light rapid footstep came tripping across the hall, and Ellen Carley entered the room.  She was looking paler than when Gilbert had seen her last, and the bright face was very grave.

“For heaven’s sake tell me what this means, Miss Carley,” Gilbert began eagerly.  “Your servant tells me that Mrs. Holbrook has left you-in some mysterious way, I imagine, from what the woman said.”

“O, sir, I am so glad you have come here; I should have written to you if I had known where to address a letter.  Yes, sir, she has gone-that dear sweet young creature-and I fear some harm has come to her.”

The girl burst into tears, and for some minutes could say no more.

“Pray, pray be calm,” Gilbert said gently, “and tell me all you can about this business.  How did Mrs. Holbrook leave this place? and why do you suspect that any harm has befallen her?”

“There is every reason to think so, sir.  Is it like her to leave us without a word of notice, knowing, as she must have known, the unhappiness she would cause to me, who love her so well, by such a step?  She knew how I loved her.  I think she had scarcely a secret from me.”

“If you will only tell me the manner of her departure,” Gilbert said rather impatiently.

“Yes, yes, sir; I am coming to that directly.  She seemed happier after she came back from London, poor dear; and she told me that her grandfather had left her money, and that she was likely to become quite a rich woman.  The thought of this gave her so much pleasure-not for her own sake, but for her husband’s, whose cares and difficulties would all come to an end now, she told me.  She had been back only a few days, when I left home for a day and a night, to see my aunt-an old woman and a constant invalid, who lives at Malsham.  I had put off going to her for a long time, for I didn’t care about leaving Mrs. Holbrook; but I had to go at last, my aunt thinking it hard that I couldn’t spare time to spend a day with her, and tidy up her house a bit, and see to the girl that waits upon her, poor helpless thing.  So I started off before noon one day, after telling Mrs. Holbrook where I was going, and when I hoped to be back.  She was in very good spirits that morning, for she expected her husband next day.  ’I have told him nothing about the good fortune that has come to me, Nelly,’ she said; ’I have only written to him, begging him to return as quickly as possible, and he will be here to-morrow by the afternoon express.’  Mr. Holbrook is a great walker, and generally walks from Malsham here, by a shorter way than the high-road, across some fields and by the river-bank.  His wife used always to go part of the way to meet him when she knew he was coming.  I know she meant to go and meet him this time.  The way is very lonely, and I have often felt fidgety about her going alone, but she hadn’t a bit of fear; and I didn’t like to offer to go with her, feeling sure that Mr. Holbrook would be vexed by seeing me at such a time.  Well, sir, I had arranged everything comfortably, so that she should miss nothing by my being away, and I bade her good-bye, and started off to walk to Malsham.  I can’t tell you how hard it seemed to me to leave her, for it was the first time we had been parted for so much as a day since she came to the Grange.  I thought of her all the while I was at my aunt’s; who has very fidgety ways, poor old lady, and isn’t a pleasant person to be with.  I felt quite in a fever of impatience to get home again; and was very glad when a neighbour’s spring-cart dropped me at the end of the lane, and I saw the gray old chimneys above the tops of the trees.  It was four o’clock in the afternoon when I got home; father was at tea in the oak-parlour where we take our meals, and the house was as quiet as a grave.  I came straight to this room, but it was empty; and when I called Martha, she told me Mrs. Holbrook had gone out at one o’clock in the day, and had not been home since, though she was expected back to dinner at three.  She had been away three hours then, and at a time when I knew she could not expect Mr. Holbrook, unless she had received a fresh letter from him to say that he was coming by an earlier train than usual.  I asked Martha if there had been any letters for Mrs. Holbrook that day; and she told me yes, there had been one by the morning post.  It was no use asking Martha what kind of letter it looked, and whether it was from Mr. Holbrook, for the poor ignorant creature can neither read nor write, and one handwriting is the same as another to her.  Mrs. Holbrook had told her nothing as to where she was going, only saying that she would be back in an hour or two.  Martha let her out at the gate, and watched her take the way towards the river-bank, and, seeing this, made sure she was going to meet her husband.  Well, sir, five o’clock struck, and Mrs. Holbrook had not come home.  I began to feel seriously uneasy about her.  I told my father so; but he took the matter lightly enough at first, saying it was no business of ours, and that Mrs. Holbrook was just as well able to take care of herself as any one else.  But after five o’clock I couldn’t rest a minute longer; so I put on my bonnet and shawl and went down by the river-bank, after sending one of the farm-labourers to look for my poor dear in the opposite direction.  It’s a very lonely walk at the best of times, though a few of the country folks do go that way between Malsham and Crosber on market-days.  There’s scarcely a house to be seen for miles, except Wyncomb Farmhouse, Stephen Whitelaw’s place, which lies a little way back from the river-bank, about a mile from here; besides that and a solitary cottage here and there, you won’t see a sign of human life for four or five miles.  Anybody might be pushed into the river and made away with in broad daylight, and no one need be the wiser.  The loneliness of the place struck me with an awful fear that afternoon, and from that moment I began to think that I should never see Mrs. Holbrook again.”

“What of her husband?  He was expected on this particular afternoon, you say?”

“He was, sir; but he did not come till the next day.  It was almost dark when I went to the river-bank.  I walked for about three miles and a half, to a gate that opened into the fields by which Mr. Holbrook came across from Malsham.  I knew his wife never went farther than this gate, but used to wait for him here, if she happened to be the first to reach it.  I hurried along, half running all the way, and calling aloud to Mrs. Holbrook every now and then with all my might.  But there was no answer.  Some men in a boat loaded with hay stopped to ask me what was the matter, but they could tell me nothing.  They were coming from Malsham, and had seen no one along the bank.  I called at Mr. Whitelaw’s as I came back, not with much hope that I should hear anything; but what could I do but make inquiries anywhere and everywhere?  I was almost wild with fright by this time.  They could tell me nothing at Wyncomb Farm.  Stephen Whitelaw was alone in the kitchen smoking his pipe by a great fire.  He hadn’t been out all day, he told me, and none of his people had seen or heard anything out of the common.  As to any harm having come to Mrs. Holbrook by the river-bank, he said he didn’t think that was possible, for his men had been at work in the fields near the river all the afternoon, and must have seen or heard if there had been anything wrong.  There was some kind of comfort in this, and I left the farm with my mind a little lighter than it had been when I went in there.  I knew that Stephen Whitelaw was no friend to Mrs. Holbrook; that he had a kind of grudge against her because she had been on some one else’s side-in-in something.”  Ellen Carley blushed as she came to this part of her story, and then went on rather hurriedly to hide her confusion.  “He didn’t like her, sir, you see.  I knew this, but I didn’t think it possible he could deceive me in a matter of life and death.  So I came home, hoping to find Mrs. Holbrook there before me.  But there were no signs of her, nor of her husband either, though I had fully expected to see him.  Even father owned that things looked bad now, and he let me send every man about the place-some one way, and some another-to hunt for my poor darling.  I went into Crosber myself, though it was getting late by this time, and made inquiries of every creature I knew in the village; but it was all no good:  no one had seen anything of the lady I was looking for.”

“And the husband?” Gilbert asked again; “what of him?”

“He came next day at the usual hour, after we had been astir all night, and the farm-labourers had been far and wide looking for Mrs. Holbrook.  I never saw any one seem so shocked and horrified as he did when we told him how his wife had been missing for more than four-and-twenty hours.  He is not a gentleman to show his feelings much at ordinary times, and he was quiet enough in the midst of his alarm; but he turned as white as death, and I never saw the natural colour come back to his face all the time he was down here.”

“How long did he stay?”

“He only left yesterday.  He was travelling about the country all the time, coming back here of a night to sleep, and with the hope that we might have heard something in his absence.  The river was dragged for three days; but, thank God, nothing came of that.  Mr. Holbrook set the Malsham police to work-not that they’re much good, I think; but he wouldn’t leave a stone unturned.  And now I believe he has gone to London to get help from the police there.  But O, sir, I can’t make it out, and I have lain awake, night after night thinking of it, and puzzling myself about it, until all sorts of dreadful fancies come into my mind.”

“What fancies?”

“O, sir, I scarcely dare tell you; but I loved that sweet young lady so well, that I have been as watchful and jealous in all things, that concerned her as if she had been my own sister.  I have thought sometimes that her husband had grown tired of her; that, however dearly he might have loved her at first, as I suppose he did, his love had worn out little by little, and he felt her a burden to him.  What other reason could there be for him to keep her hidden away in this dull place, month after month, when he must have seen that her youth and beauty and gaiety of heart were slowly vanishing away, if he had eyes to see anything?”

“But, good Heavens!” Gilbert exclaimed, startled by the sudden horror of the idea which Ellen Carley’s words suggested, “you surely do not imagine that Marian’s husband had any part in her disappearance? that he could be capable of -”

“I don’t know what to think, sir,” the girl answered, interrupting him.  “I know that I have never liked Mr. Holbrook-never liked or trusted him from the first, though he has been civil enough and kind enough in his own distant way to me.  That dear young lady could not disappear off the face of the earth, as it seems she has done, without the evil work of some one.  As to her leaving this place of her own free will, without a word of warning to her husband or to me, that I am sure she would never dream of doing.  No, sir, there has been foul play of some kind, and I’m afraid I shall never see that dear face again.”

The girl said this with an air of conviction that sent a deadly chill to Gilbert Fenton’s heart.  It seemed to him in this moment of supreme anguish as if all his trouble of the past, all his vague fears and anxieties about the woman he loved, had been the foreshadowing of this evil to come.  He had a blank helpless feeling, a dismal sense of his own weakness, which for the moment mastered him.  Against any ordinary calamity he would have held himself bravely enough, with the natural strength of an ardent hopeful character; but against this mysterious catastrophe courage and manhood could avail nothing.  She was gone, the fragile helpless creature he had pledged himself to protect; gone from all who knew her, leaving not the faintest clue to her fate.  Could he doubt that this energetic warm-hearted girl was right, and that some foul deed had been done, of which Marian Holbrook was the victim?

“If she lives, I will find her,” he said at last, after a long pause, in which he had sat in gloomy silence, with his eyes fixed upon the ground, meditating the circumstances of Marian’s disappearance.  “Living or dead, I will find her.  It shall be the business of my life from this hour.  All my serious thoughts have been of her from the moment in which I first knew her.  They will be doubly hers henceforward.”

“How good and true you are!” Ellen Carley exclaimed admiringly; “and how you must have loved her!  I guessed when you were here last that it was you to whom she was engaged before her marriage, and told her as much; but she would not acknowledge that I was right.  O, how I wish she had kept faith with you! how much happier she might have been as your wife!”

“People have different notions of happiness, you see, Miss Carley,” Gilbert answered with a bitter smile.  “Yes, you were right; it was I who was to have been Marian Nowell’s husband, whose every hope of the future was bound up in her.  But all that is past; whatever bitterness I felt against her at first-and I do not think I was ever very bitter-has passed away.  I am nothing now but her friend, her steadfast and constant friend.”

“Thank heaven that she has such a friend,” Ellen said earnestly.  “And you will make it your business to look for her, sir?”

“The chief object of my life, from this hour.”

“And you will try to discover whether her husband is really true, or whether the search that he has made for her has been a blind to hide his own guilt?”

“What grounds have you for supposing his guilt possible?” asked Gilbert.  “There are crimes too detestable for credibility; and this would be such a one.  You may imagine that I have no friendly feeling towards this man, yet I cannot for an instant conceive him capable of harming a hair of his wife’s head.”

“Because you have not brooded upon this business as I have, sir, for hours and hours together, until the smallest things seem to have an awful meaning.  I have thought of every word and every look of Mr. Holbrook’s in the past, and all my thoughts have pointed one way.  I believe that he was tired of his sweet young wife; that his marriage was a burden and a trouble to him somehow; that it had arisen out of an impulse that had passed away.”

“All this might be, and yet the man be innocent.”

“He might be-yes, sir.  It is a hard thing, perhaps, even to think him guilty for a moment.  But it is so difficult to account in any common way for Mrs. Holbrook’s disappearance.  If there had been murder done” (the girl shuddered as she said the words)-“a common murder, such as one hears of in lonely country places-surely it must have come to light before this, after the search that has been made all round about.  But it would have been easy enough for Mr. Holbrook to decoy his wife away to London or anywhere else.  She would have gone anywhere with him, at a moment’s notice.  She obeyed him implicitly in everything.”

“But why should he have taken her away from this place in a secret manner?” asked Gilbert; “he was free to remove her openly.  And then you describe him as taking an amount of trouble in his search for her, which might have been so easily avoided, had he acted with ordinary prudence and caution.  Say that he wanted to keep the secret of his marriage from the world in which he lives, and to place his wife in even a more secluded spot than this-which scarcely seems possible-what could have been easier for him than to take her away when and where he pleased?  No one here would have had any right to question his actions.”

Ellen Carley shook her head doubtfully.

“I don’t know, sir,” she answered slowly; “I daresay my fancies are very foolish; they may have come, perhaps, out of thinking about this so much, till my brain has got addled, as one may say.  But it flashed upon me all of a sudden one night, as Mr. Holbrook was standing in our parlour talking about his wife-it flashed upon me that he was in the secret of her disappearance, and that he was only acting with us in his pretence of anxiety and all that; I fancied there was a guilty look in his face, somehow.”

“Did you tell him about his wife’s good fortune-the money left her by her grandfather?”

“I did, sir; I thought it right to tell him everything I could about my poor dear young lady’s journey to London.  She had told him of that in her letters, it seemed, but not about the money.  She had been keeping that back for the pleasure of telling him with her own lips, and seeing his face light up, she said to me, when he heard the good news.  I asked him about the letter which had come in the morning of the day she disappeared, and whether it was from him; but he said no, he had not written, counting upon being with his wife that evening.  It was only at the last moment he was prevented coming.”

“You have looked for that letter, I suppose?”

“O yes, sir; I searched, and Mr. Holbrook too, in every direction, but the letter wasn’t to be found.  He seemed very vexed about it, very anxious to find it.  We could not but think that Mrs. Holbrook had gone to meet some one that day, and that the letter had something to do with her going out.  I am sure she would not have gone beyond the garden and the meadow for pleasure alone.  She never had been outside the gate without me, except when she went to meet her husband.”

“Strange!” muttered Gilbert.

He was wondering about that letter:  what could have been the lure which had beguiled Marian away from the house that day; what except a letter from her husband?  It seemed hardly probable that she would have gone to meet any one but him, or that any one else would have appointed a meeting on the river-bank.  The fact that she had gone out at an earlier hour than the time at which she had been in the habit of meeting her husband when he came from the Malsham station, went some way to prove that the letter had influenced her movements.  Gilbert thought of the fortune which had been left to Marian, and which gave her existence a new value, perhaps exposed her to new dangers.  Her husband’s interests were involved in her life; her death, should she die childless, must needs deprive him of all advantage from Jacob Nowell’s wealth.  The only person to profit from such an event would be Percival Nowell; but he was far away, Gilbert believed, and completely ignorant of his reversionary interest in his father’s property.  There was Medler the attorney, a man whom Gilbert had distrusted from the first.  It was just possible that the letter had been from him; yet most improbable that he should have asked Mrs. Holbrook to meet him out of doors, instead of coming to her at the Grange, or that she should have acceded to such a request, had he made it.

The whole affair was encompassed with mystery, and Gilbert Fenton’s heart sank as he contemplated the task that lay before him.

“I shall spend a day or two in this neighbourhood before I return to town,” he said to Ellen Carley presently; “there are inquiries that I should like to make with my own lips.  I shall be only going over old ground, I daresay, but it will be some satisfaction to me to do it for myself.  Can you give me house-room here for a night or two, or shall I put up at Crosber?”

“I’m sure father would be very happy to accommodate you here, sir.  We’ve plenty of room now; too much for my taste.  The house seems like a wilderness now Mrs. Holbrook is gone.”

“Thanks.  I shall be very glad to sleep here.  There is just the chance that you may have some news for me, or I for you.”

“Ah, sir, it’s only a very poor chance, I’m afraid,” the girl answered hopelessly.

She went with Gilbert to the gate, and watched him as he walked away towards the river.  His first impulse was to follow the path which Marian had taken that day, and to see for himself what manner of place it was from which she had so mysteriously vanished.