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THE ACCIDENT AT BELFORD.
Early in the morning Mirabel set forth for Redwood Hall, in one of the vehicles which Mrs. Delvin still kept at "The Clink" for the convenience of visitors. He returned soon after noon; having obtained information of the whereabout of Mrs. Rook and her husband. When they had last been heard of, they were at Lasswade, near Edinburgh. Whether they had, or had not, obtained the situation of which they were in search, neither Miss Redwood nor any one else at the Hall could tell.
In half an hour more, another horse was harnessed, and Mirabel was on his way to the railway station at Belford, to follow Mrs. Rook at Emily's urgent request. Before his departure, he had an interview with his sister.
Mrs. Delvin was rich enough to believe implicitly in the power of money. Her method of extricating her brother from the serious difficulties that beset him, was to make it worth the while of Mr. and Mrs. Rook to leave England. Their passage to America would be secretly paid; and they would take with them a letter of credit addressed to a banker in New York. If Mirabel failed to discover them, after they had sailed, Emily could not blame his want of devotion to her interests. He understood this; but he remained desponding and irresolute, even with the money in his hands. The one person who could rouse his courage and animate his hope, was also the one person who must know nothing of what had passed between his sister and himself. He had no choice but to leave Emily, without being cheered by her bright looks, invigorated by her inspiriting words. Mirabel went away on his doubtful errand with a heavy heart.
"The Clink" was so far from the nearest post town, that the few letters, usually addressed to the tower, were delivered by private arrangement with a messenger. The man's punctuality depended on the convenience of his superiors employed at the office. Sometimes he arrived early, and sometimes he arrived late. On this particular morning he presented himself, at half past one o'clock, with a letter for Emily; and when Mrs. Ellmother smartly reproved him for the delay, he coolly attributed it to the hospitality of friends whom he had met on the road.
The letter, directed to Emily at the cottage, had been forwarded from London by the person left in charge. It addressed her as "Honored Miss." She turned at once to the end--and discovered the signature of Mrs. Rook!
"And Mr. Mirabel has gone, "Emily exclaimed, "just when his presence is of the greatest importance to us!"
Shrewd Mrs. Ellmother suggested that it might be as well to read the letter first--and then to form an opinion.
Emily read it.
Edinburgh, Sept. 26th.
"HONORED MISS--I take up my pen to bespeak your kind sympathy for my husband and myself; two old people thrown on the world again by the death of our excellent master. We are under a month's notice to leave Redwood Hall.
"Hearing of a situation at this place (also that our expenses would be paid if we applied personally), we got leave of absence, and made our application. The lady and her son are either the stingiest people that ever lived--or they have taken a dislike to me and my husband, and they make money a means of getting rid of us easily. Suffice it to say that we have refused to accept starvation wages, and that we are still out of place. It is just possible that you may have heard of something to suit us. So I write at once, knowing that good chances are often lost through needless delay.
"We stop at Belford on our way back, to see some friends of my husband, and we hope to get to Redwood Hall in good time on the 28th. Would you please address me to care of Miss Redwood, in case you know of any good situation for which we could apply. Perhaps we may be driven to try our luck in London. In this case, will you permit me to have the honor of presenting my respects, as I ventured to propose when I wrote to you a little time since.
"I beg to remain, Honored Miss,
"Your humble servant,
Emily handed the letter to Mrs. Ellmother. "Read it," she said, "and tell me what you think."
"I think you had better be careful."
"Careful of Mrs. Rook?"
"Yes--and careful of Mrs. Delvin too."
Emily was astonished. "Are you really speaking seriously?" she said. "Mrs. Delvin is a most interesting person; so patient under her sufferings; so kind, so clever; so interested in all that interests me. I shall take the letter to her at once, and ask her advice."
"Have your own way, miss. I can't tell you why--but I don't like her!"
Mrs. Delvin's devotion to the interests of her guest took even Emily by surprise. After reading Mrs. Rook's letter, she rang the bell on her table in a frenzy of impatience. "My brother must be instantly recalled," she said. "Telegraph to him in your own name, telling him what has happened. He will find the message waiting for him, at the end of his journey."
The groom, summoned by the bell, was ordered to saddle the third and last horse left in the stables; to take the telegram to Belford, and to wait there until the answer arrived.
"How far is it to Redwood Hall?" Emily asked, when the man had received his orders.
"Ten miles," Mrs. Delvin answered.
"How can I get there to-day?"
"My dear, you can't get there."
"Pardon me, Mrs. Delvin, I must get there."
"Pardon me. My brother represents you in this matter. Leave it to my brother."
The tone taken by Mirabel's sister was positive, to say the least of it. Emily thought of what her faithful old servant had said, and began to doubt her own discretion in so readily showing the letter. The mistake--if a mistake it was--had however been committed; and, wrong or right, she was not disposed to occupy the subordinate position which Mrs. Delvin had assigned to her.
"If you will look at Mrs. Rook's letter again," Emily replied, "you will see that I ought to answer it. She supposes I am in London."
"Do you propose to tell Mrs. Rook that you are in this house?" Mrs. Delvin asked.
"You had better consult my brother, before you take any responsibility on yourself."
Emily kept her temper. "Allow me to remind you," she said, "that Mr. Mirabel is not acquainted with Mrs. Rook--and that I am. If I speak to her personally, I can do much to assist the object of our inquiries, before he returns. She is not an easy woman to deal with--"
"And therefore," Mrs. Delvin interposed, "the sort of person who requires careful handling by a man like my brother--a man of the world."
"The sort of person, as I venture to think," Emily persisted, "whom I ought to see with as little loss of time as possible."
Mrs. Delvin waited a while before she replied. In her condition of health, anxiety was not easy to bear. Mrs. Rook's letter and Emily's obstinacy had seriously irritated her. But, like all persons of ability, she was capable, when there was serious occasion for it, of exerting self-control. She really liked and admired Emily; and, as the elder woman and the hostess, she set an example of forbearance and good humor.
"It is out of my power to send you to Redwood Hall at once," she resumed. "The only one of my three horses now at your disposal is the horse which took my brother to the Hall this morning. A distance, there and back, of twenty miles. You are not in too great a hurry, I am sure, to allow the horse time to rest?"
Emily made her excuses with perfect grace and sincerity. "I had no idea the distance was so great," she confessed. "I will wait, dear Mrs. Delvin, as long as you like."
They parted as good friends as ever--with a certain reserve, nevertheless, on either side. Emily's eager nature was depressed and irritated by the prospect of delay. Mrs. Delvin, on the other hand (devoted to her brother's interests), thought hopefully of obstacles which might present themselves with the lapse of time. The horse might prove to be incapable of further exertion for that day. Or the threatening aspect of the weather might end in a storm.
But the hours passed--and the sky cleared--and the horse was reported to be fit for work again. Fortune was against the lady of the tower; she had no choice but to submit.
Mrs. Delvin had just sent word to Emily that the carriage would be ready for her in ten minutes, when the coachman who had driven Mirabel to Belford returned. He brought news which agreeably surprised both the ladies. Mirabel had reached the station five minutes too late; the coachman had left him waiting the arrival of the next train to the North. He would now receive the telegraphic message at Belford, and might return immediately by taking the groom's horse. Mrs. Delvin left it to Emily to decide whether she would proceed by herself to Redwood Hall, or wait for Mirabel's return.
Under the changed circumstances, Emily would have acted ungraciously if she had persisted in holding to her first intention. She consented to wait.
The sea still remained calm. In the stillness of the moorland solitude on the western side of "The Clink," the rapid steps of a horse were heard at some little distance on the highroad.
Emily ran out, followed by careful Mrs. Ellmother, expecting to meet Mirabel.
She was disappointed: it was the groom who had returned. As he pulled up at the house, and dismounted, Emily noticed that the man looked excited.
"Is there anything wrong?" she asked.
"There has been an accident, miss."
"Not to Mr. Mirabel!''
"No, no, miss. An accident to a poor foolish woman, traveling from Lasswade."
Emily looked at Mrs. Ellmother. "It can't be Mrs. Rook!" she said.
"That's the name, miss! She got out before the train had quite stopped, and fell on the platform."
"Was she hurt?"
"Seriously hurt, as I heard. They carried her into a house hard by--and sent for the doctor."
"Was Mr. Mirabel one of the people who helped her?"
"He was on the other side of the platform, miss; waiting for the train from London. I got to the station and gave him the telegram, just as the accident took place. We crossed over to hear more about it. Mr. Mirabel was telling me that he would return to 'The Clink' on my horse--when he heard the woman's name mentioned. Upon that, he changed his mind and went to the house."
"Was he let in?"
"The doctor wouldn't hear of it. He was making his examination; and he said nobody was to be in the room but her husband and the woman of the house."
"Is Mr. Mirabel waiting to see her?"
"Yes, miss. He said he would wait all day, if necessary; and he gave me this bit of a note to take to the mistress."
Emily turned to Mrs. Ellmother. "It's impossible to stay here, not knowing whether Mrs. Rook is going to live or die," she said. "I shall go to Belford--and you will go with me."
The groom interfered. "I beg your pardon, miss. It was Mr. Mirabel's most particular wish that you were not, on any account, to go to Belford."
"He didn't say."
Emily eyed the note in the man's hand with well-grounded distrust. In all probability, Mirabel's object in writing was to instruct his sister to prevent her guest from going to Belford. The carriage was waiting at the door. With her usual promptness of resolution, Emily decided on taking it for granted that she was free to use as she pleased a carriage which had been already placed at her disposal.
"Tell your mistress," she said to the groom, "that I am going to Belford instead of to Redwood Hall."
In a minute more, she and Mrs. Ellmother were on their way to join Mirabel at the station.
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