And youre not surprised to hear this, Varden? said Mr Haredale. Well! You and she have always been the best friends, and you should understand her if anybody does.
I ask your pardon, sir, rejoined the locksmith. I didnt say I understood her. I wouldnt have the presumption to say that of any woman. Its not so easily done. But I am not so much surprised, sir, as you expected me to be, certainly.
May I ask why not, my good friend?
I have seen, sir, returned the locksmith with evident reluctance, I have seen in connection with her, something that has filled me with distrust and uneasiness. She has made bad friends, how, or when, I dont know; but that her house is a refuge for one robber and cut-throat at least, I am certain. There, sir! Now its out.
My own eyes, sir, are my witnesses, and for her sake I would be willingly half-blind, if I could but have the pleasure of mistrusting em. I have kept the secret till now, and it will go no further than yourself, I know; but I tell you that with my own eyesbroad awakeI saw, in the passage of her house one evening after dark, the highwayman who robbed and wounded Mr Edward Chester, and on the same night threatened me.
And you made no effort to detain him? said Mr Haredale quickly.
Sir, returned the locksmith, she herself prevented meheld me, with all her strength, and hung about me until he had got clear off. And having gone so far, he related circumstantially all that had passed upon the night in question.
This dialogue was held in a low tone in the locksmiths little parlour, into which honest Gabriel had shown his visitor on his arrival. Mr Haredale had called upon him to entreat his company to the widows, that he might have the assistance of his persuasion and influence; and out of this circumstance the conversation had arisen.
I forbore, said Gabriel, from repeating one word of this to anybody, as it could do her no good and might do her great harm. I thought and hoped, to say the truth, that she would come to me, and talk to me about it, and tell me how it was; but though I have purposely put myself in her way more than once or twice, she has never touched upon the subjectexcept by a look. And indeed, said the good-natured locksmith, there was a good deal in the look, more than could have been put into a great many words. It said among other matters Dont ask me anything so imploringly, that I didnt ask her anything. Youll think me an old fool, I know, sir. If its any relief to call me one, pray do.
I am greatly disturbed by what you tell me, said Mr Haredale, after a silence. What meaning do you attach to it?
The locksmith shook his head, and looked doubtfully out of window at the failing light.
She cannot have married again, said Mr Haredale.
Not without our knowledge surely, sir.
She may have done so, in the fear that it would lead, if known, to some objection or estrangement. Suppose she married incautiously it is not improbable, for her existence has been a lonely and monotonous one for many yearsand the man turned out a ruffian, she would be anxious to screen him, and yet would revolt from his crimes. This might be. It bears strongly on the whole drift of her discourse yesterday, and would quite explain her conduct. Do you suppose Barnaby is privy to these circumstances?
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