I HAVE only the most indistinct recollection of what happened at Hotherstone's Farm.
I remember a hearty welcome; a prodigious supper, which would have fed a whole village in the East; a delightfully clean bedroom, with nothing in it to regret but that detestable product of the folly of our forefathers-- a feather-bed; a restless night, with much kindling of matches, and many lightings of one little candle; and an immense sensation of relief when the sun rose, and there was a prospect of getting up.
It had been arranged over-night with Betteredge, that I was to call for him, on our way to Cobb's Hole, as early as I liked--which, interpreted by my impatience to get possession of the letter, meant as early as I could. Without waiting for breakfast at the Farm, I took a crust of bread in my hand, and set forth, in some doubt whether I should not surprise the excellent Betteredge in his bed. To my great relief he proved to be quite as excited about the coming event as I was. I found him ready, and waiting for me, with his stick in his hand.
`How are you this morning, Betteredge?'
`Very poorly, sir.'
`Sorry to hear it. What do you complain of?'
`I complain of a new disease, Mr. Franklin, of my own investing. I don't want to alarm you, but you're certain to catch it before the morning is out.'
`The devil I am!'
`Do you feel an uncomfortable heat at the pit of your stomach, sir? and a nasty thumping at the top of your head? Ah! not yet? It will lay hold of at Cobb's Hole, Mr. Franklin. I call it the detective fever; and I first caught it in the company of Sergeant Cuff.'
`Aye! aye! and the cure in this instance is to open Rosanna Spearman's letter, I suppose? Come along, and let's get it.'
Early as it was, we found the fisherman's wife astir in her kitchen. On my presentation by Betteredge, good Mrs. Yolland performed a social ceremony, strictly reserved (as I afterwards learnt) for strangers of distinction. She put a bottle of Dutch gin and a couple of clean pipes on the table, and opened the conversation by saying, `What news from London, sir?'
Before I could find an answer to this immensely comprehensive question, an apparition advanced towards me, out of a dark corner of the kitchen. A wan, wild, haggard girl, with remarkably beautiful hair, and with a fierce keenness in her eyes, came limping up on a crutch to the table at which I was sitting, and looked at me as if I was an object of mingled interest and horror, which it quite fascinated her to see.
`Mr. Betteredge,' she said, without taking her eyes off me, `mention his name again, if you please.'
`This gentleman's name,' answered Betteredge (with a strong emphasis on gentleman), `is Mr. Franklin Blake.'
The girl turned her back on me, and suddenly left the room. Good Mrs. Yolland--as I believe--made some apologies for her daughter's odd behaviour, and Betteredge (probably) translated them into polite English. I speak of this in complete uncertainty. My attention was absorbed in following the sound of the girl's crutch. Thump-thump, up the wooden stairs; thump-thump across the room above our heads; thump- thump down the stairs again--and there stood the apparition at the open door, with a letter in its hand, beckoning me out!
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