"Miss Halcombe, ma'am, has not left Blackwater Park, either."
When I heard that astounding answer, all my thoughts were startled back on the instant to my parting with Lady Glyde. I can hardly say I reproached myself—but, at that moment, I think I would have given many a year's hard savings to have known four hours earlier what I knew now.
Mrs. Rubelle waited, quietly arranging her nosegay, as if she expected me to say something.
I could say nothing. I thought of Lady Glyde's worn-out energies and weakly health; and I trembled for the time when the shock of the discovery that I had made would fall on her. For a minute, or more, my fears for the poor ladies silenced me. At the end of that time, Mrs. Rubelle looked up sideways from her flowers, and said, "Here is Sir Percival, ma'am, returned from his ride."
I saw him as soon as she did. He came towards us, slashing viciously at the flowers with his riding-whip. When he was near enough to see my face, he stopped, struck at his boot with the whip, and burst out laughing, so harshly and so violently, that the birds flew away, startled, from the tree by which he stood.
"Well, Mrs. Michelson," he said, "you have found it out at last, have you?"
I made no reply. He turned to Mrs. Rubelle.
"When did you show yourself in the garden?"
"I showed myself about half an hour ago, sir. You said I might take my liberty again, as soon as Lady Glyde had gone away to London."
"Quite right. I don't blame you—I only asked the question." He waited a moment, and then addressed himself once more to me. "You can't believe it, can you?" he said mockingly. "Here! come along and see for yourself."
He led the way round to the front of the house. I followed him; and Mrs. Rubelle followed me. After passing through the iron gates, he stopped, and pointed with his whip to the disused middle wing of the building.
"There!" he said. "Look up at the first floor. You know the old Elizabethan bedrooms? Miss Halcombe is snug and safe in one of the best of them, at this moment. Take her in, Mrs. Rubelle (you have got your key?); take Mrs. Michelson in, and let her own eyes satisfy her that there is no deception, this time."
The tone in which he spoke to me, and the minute or two