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PAGE 3

The Honourable Laura
by [?]

‘There certainly is or was a young couple staying in the hotel; but I could not pronounce on the compass of the gentleman’s voice.’

‘No, no; of course not. I am quite bewildered. They arrived in a basket- carriage, altogether badly provided?’

‘They came in a carriage, I believe, as most of our visitors do.’

‘Yes, yes. I must see them at once. Pardon my want of ceremony, and show us in to where they are.’

‘But, sir, you forget. Suppose the lady and gentleman I mean are not the lady and gentleman you mean? It would be awkward to allow you to rush in upon them just now while they are at dinner, and might cause me to lose their future patronage.’

‘True, true. They may not be the same persons. My anxiety, I perceive, makes me rash in my assumptions!’

‘Upon the whole, I think they must be the same, Uncle Quantock,’ said the young man, who had not till now spoken. And turning to the landlord: ‘You possibly have not such a large assemblage of visitors here, on this somewhat forbidding evening, that you quite forget how this couple arrived, and what the lady wore?’ His tone of addressing the landlord had in it a quiet frigidity that was not without irony.

‘Ah! what she wore; that’s it, James. What did she wear?’

‘I don’t usually take stock of my guests’ clothing,’ replied the landlord drily, for the ready money of the first arrival had decidedly biassed him in favour of that gentleman’s cause. ‘You can certainly see some of it if you want to,’ he added carelessly, ‘for it is drying by the kitchen fire.’

Before the words were half out of his mouth the old gentleman had exclaimed, ‘Ah!’ and precipitated himself along what seemed to be the passage to the kitchen; but as this turned out to be only the entrance to a dark china-closet, he hastily emerged again, after a collision with the inn-crockery had told him of his mistake.

‘I beg your pardon, I’m sure; but if you only knew my feelings (which I cannot at present explain), you would make allowances. Anything I have broken I will willingly pay for.’

‘Don’t mention it, sir,’ said the landlord. And showing the way, they adjourned to the kitchen without further parley. The eldest of the party instantly seized the lady’s cloak, that hung upon a clothes-horse, exclaiming: ‘Ah! yes, James, it is hers. I knew we were on their track.’

‘Yes, it is hers,’ answered the nephew quietly, for he was much less excited than his companion.

‘Show us their room at once,’ said the old man.

‘William, have the lady and gentleman in the front sitting-room finished dining?’

‘Yes, sir, long ago,’ said the hundred plated buttons.

‘Then show up these gentlemen to them at once. You stay here to-night, gentlemen, I presume? Shall the horses be taken out?’

‘Feed the horses and wash their mouths. Whether we stay or not depends upon circumstances,’ said the placid younger man, as he followed his uncle and the waiter to the staircase.

‘I think, Nephew James,’ said the former, as he paused with his foot on the first step–‘I think we had better not be announced, but take them by surprise. She may go throwing herself out of the window, or do some equally desperate thing!’

‘Yes, certainly, we’ll enter unannounced.’ And he called back the lad who preceded them.

‘I cannot sufficiently thank you, James, for so effectually aiding me in this pursuit!’ exclaimed the old gentleman, taking the other by the hand. ‘My increasing infirmities would have hindered my overtaking her to-night, had it not been for your timely aid.’

‘I am only too happy, uncle, to have been of service to you in this or any other matter. I only wish I could have accompanied you on a pleasanter journey. However, it is advisable to go up to them at once, or they may hear us.’ And they softly ascended the stairs.