How often he has sat in this room, and told me over and over again he was sorry for it! - the last time, only yesterday, when you were out. How often he has sat in this room, and talked to me, hour after hour, about one thing and another, in which he made believe to be interested! - but only for the sake of the days that are gone by, and because he knows she used to like me, Ben!'
'Why, how did you ever come to catch a glimpse of that, Clem?' asked her husband: astonished that she should have a distinct perception of a truth which had only dimly suggested itself to his inquiring mind.
'I don't know, I'm sure,' said Clemency, blowing her tea, to cool it. 'Bless you, I couldn't tell you, if you was to offer me a reward of a hundred pound.'
He might have pursued this metaphysical subject but for her catching a glimpse of a substantial fact behind him, in the shape of a gentleman attired in mourning, and cloaked and booted like a rider on horseback, who stood at the bar-door. He seemed attentive to their conversation, and not at all impatient to interrupt it.
Clemency hastily rose at this sight. Mr. Britain also rose and saluted the guest. 'Will you please to walk up-stairs, sir? There's a very nice room up-stairs, sir.'
'Thank you,' said the stranger, looking earnestly at Mr. Britain's wife. 'May I come in here?'
'Oh, surely, if you like, sir,' returned Clemency, admitting him.
'What would you please to want, sir?'
The bill had caught his eye, and he was reading it.
'Excellent property that, sir,' observed Mr. Britain.
He made no answer; but, turning round, when he had finished reading, looked at Clemency with the same observant curiosity as before. 'You were asking me,' - he said, still looking at her, - 'What you would please to take, sir,' answered Clemency, stealing a glance at him in return.
'If you will let me have a draught of ale,' he said, moving to a table by the window, 'and will let me have it here, without being any interruption to your meal, I shall be much obliged to you.' He sat down as he spoke, without any further parley, and looked out at the prospect. He was an easy, well-knit figure of a man in the prime of life. His face, much browned by the sun, was shaded by a quantity of dark hair; and he wore a moustache. His beer being set before him, he filled out a glass, and drank, good-humouredly, to the house; adding, as he put the tumbler down again:
'It's a new house, is it not?'
'Not particularly new, sir,' replied Mr. Britain.
'Between five and six years old,' said Clemency; speaking very distinctly.
'I think I heard you mention Dr. Jeddler's name, as I came in,' inquired the stranger. 'That bill reminds me of him; for I happen to know something of that story, by hearsay, and through certain connexions of mine. - Is the old man living?'
'Yes, he's living, sir,' said Clemency.
'Since when, sir?' returned Clemency, with remarkable emphasis and expression.
'Since his daughter - went away.'
'Yes! he's greatly changed since then,' said Clemency. 'He's grey and old, and hasn't the same way with him at all; but, I think he's happy now. He has taken on with his sister since then, and goes to see her very often. That did him good, directly. At first, he was sadly broken down; and it was enough to make one's heart bleed, to see him wandering about, railing at the world; but a great change for the better came over him after a year or two, and then he began to like to talk about his lost daughter, and to praise her, ay and the world too! and was never tired of saying, with the tears in his poor eyes, how beautiful and good she was. He had forgiven her then. That was about the same time as Miss Grace's marriage. Britain, you remember?'
Mr. Britain remembered very well.
'The sister is married then,' returned the stranger. He paused for some time before he asked, 'To whom?'
Clemency narrowly escaped oversetting the tea-board, in her emotion at this question.
'Did YOU never hear?' she said.