"Rather left the others behind, haven't we, Miss Custance?" said the captain, looking back to the gate and the larchwood.
"I'm afraid we have, Captain Knight. I hope you don't mind very much, do you?"
"Mind? Delighted, you know. Sure this damp air isn't bad for you, Miss Custance?"
"Oh, d'you think it's damp? I like it. Ever since I can remember I've enjoyed these quiet autumn days. I won't hear of father's going anywhere else."
"Charmin' place, the Grange. Don't wonder you like comin' down here."
Captain Knight glanced back again and suddenly chuckled.
"I say, Miss Custance," he said, "I believe the whole lot's lost their way. Don't see a sign of them. Didn't we pass another path on the left?"
"Yes, and don't you remember you wanted to turn off?"
"Yes, of course. I thought it looked more possible, don't you know. That's where they must have gone. Where does it lead?"
"Oh, nowhere exactly. It dwindles and twists about a lot, and I'm afraid the ground is rather marshy."
"You don't say so?" The captain laughed out loud. "How awfully sick Ferris will be. He hates crossing Piccadilly if there's a bit of mud about."
"Poor Mr. Ferris!" And the two went on, picking their way on the rough path, till they came in sight of a little old cottage sunken alone in a hollow amongst the woods.
"Oh, you must come and see Mrs. Wise," said Miss Custance. "She's such a dear old thing, I'm sure you'd fall in love with her. And she'd never forgive me if she heard afterwards that we'd passed so close without coming in. Only for five minutes, you know."
"Certainly, Miss Custance. Is that the old lady there at the door?"
"Yes. She's always been so good to us children, and I know she'll talk of our coming to see her for months. You don't mind, do you?"
"I shall be charmed, I'm sure," and he looked back once more to see if there were any appearance of Ferris and his party.
"Sit down, Miss Ethel, sit down, please, miss," said the old woman when they went in. "And please to sit down here, sir, will you be so kind?"
She dusted the chairs, and Miss Custance enquired after the rheumatism and the bronchitis, and promised to send something from the Grange. The old woman had good country manners, and spoke well, and now and then politely tried to include Captain Knight in the conversation. But all the time she was quietly looking at him.
"Yes, sir, I be a bit lonely at times," she said when her visitors rose. "I do miss Nathan sorely; you can hardly remember my husband, can you, Miss Ethel? But I have the Book, sir, and good friends too."
A couple of days later Miss Custance came alone to the cottage. Her hand trembled as she knocked at the door.
"Is it done?" she asked, when the old woman appeared.
"Come in, miss," said Mrs. Wise, and she shut the door, and put up the wooden bolt. Then she crept to the hearth, and drew out something from a hiding-place in the stones.
"Look at that," she said, showing it to the young lady. "Isn't it a picture?"
Miss Custance took the object into her fine delicate hands, and glanced at it, and then flushed scarlet.
"How horrible!" she exclaimed. "What did you do that for? You never told me."
"It's the only way, miss, to get what you want."
"It's a loathsome thing. I wonder you're not ashamed of yourself."
"I be as much ashamed as you be, I think," said Mrs. Wise, and she leered at the pretty, shy-faced girl. Their eyes met and their eyes laughed at one another.
"Cover it up, please, Mrs. Wise; I needn't look at it now, at all events. But are you sure?"
"There's never been a mishap since old Mrs. Cradoc taught me, and she's been dead for sixty year and more. She used to tell of her grandmother's days when there were meetings in the wood over there."
"And you're quite sure?"
"You do as I tell you. You must take it like this"; and the old woman whispered her instructions, and would have put out a hand in illustration, but the girl pushed it away.
"I understand now, Mrs. Wise. No, don't do that. I quite see what you mean. Here's the money."
"And whatever you do, don't you forget the ointment as I told you," said Mrs. Wise.
"I've been to read to poor old Mrs. Wise," Ethel said that evening to Captain Knight. "She's over eighty and her eyesight is getting very bad."
"Very good of you, Miss Custance, I'm sure," said Captain Knight, and he moved away to the other end of the drawing-room, and began to talk to a girl in yellow, with whom he had been exchanging smiles at a distance, ever since the men came in from the dining-room.
That night, when she was alone in her room, Ethel followed Mrs. Wise's instructions. She had hidden the object in a drawer, and as she drew it out, she looked about her, though the curtains were drawn close.
She forgot nothing, and when it was done she listened.