'And you,' she answered smiling. 'Your kind heart has brought you here again. Nothing will keep you at home, I know of old, if there are friends to serve or comfort, out of doors.'
'Tut, tut,' returned the locksmith, rubbing his hands and warming them. 'You women are such talkers. What of the patient, neighbour?'
'He is sleeping now. He was very restless towards daylight, and for some hours tossed and tumbled sadly. But the fever has left him, and the doctor says he will soon mend. He must not be removed until to-morrow.'
'He has had visitors to-day--humph?' said Gabriel, slyly.
'Yes. Old Mr Chester has been here ever since we sent for him, and had not been gone many minutes when you knocked.'
'No ladies?' said Gabriel, elevating his eyebrows and looking disappointed.
'A letter,' replied the widow.
'Come. That's better than nothing!' replied the locksmith. 'Who was the bearer?'
'Barnaby, of course.'
'Barnaby's a jewel!' said Varden; 'and comes and goes with ease where we who think ourselves much wiser would make but a poor hand of it. He is not out wandering, again, I hope?'
'Thank Heaven he is in his bed; having been up all night, as you know, and on his feet all day. He was quite tired out. Ah, neighbour, if I could but see him oftener so--if I could but tame down that terrible restlessness--'
'In good time,' said the locksmith, kindly, 'in good time--don't be down-hearted. To my mind he grows wiser every day.'
The widow shook her head. And yet, though she knew the locksmith sought to cheer her, and spoke from no conviction of his own, she was glad to hear even this praise of her poor benighted son.
'He will be a 'cute man yet,' resumed the locksmith. 'Take care, when we are growing old and foolish, Barnaby doesn't put us to the blush, that's all. But our other friend,' he added, looking under the table and about the floor--'sharpest and cunningest of all the sharp and cunning ones--where's he?'
'In Barnaby's room,' rejoined the widow, with a faint smile.
'Ah! He's a knowing blade!' said Varden, shaking his head. 'I should be sorry to talk secrets before him. Oh! He's a deep customer. I've no doubt he can read, and write, and cast accounts if he chooses. What was that? Him tapping at the door?'
'No,' returned the widow. 'It was in the street, I think. Hark! Yes. There again! 'Tis some one knocking softly at the shutter. Who can it be!'
They had been speaking in a low tone, for the invalid lay overhead, and the walls and ceilings being thin and poorly built, the sound of their voices might otherwise have disturbed his slumber. The party without, whoever it was, could have stood close to the shutter without hearing anything spoken; and, seeing the light through the chinks and finding all so quiet, might have been persuaded that only one person was there.
'Some thief or ruffian maybe,' said the locksmith. 'Give me the light.'
'No, no,' she returned hastily. 'Such visitors have never come to this poor dwelling. Do you stay here. You're within call, at the worst. I would rather go myself--alone.'
'Why?' said the locksmith, unwillingly relinquishing the candle he had caught up from the table.
'Because--I don't know why--because the wish is so strong upon me,' she rejoined. 'There again--do not detain me, I beg of you!'
Gabriel looked at her, in great surprise to see one who was usually so mild and quiet thus agitated, and with so little cause. She left the room and closed the door behind her. She stood for a moment as if hesitating, with her hand upon the lock. In this short interval the knocking came again, and a voice close to the window--a voice the locksmith seemed to recollect, and to have some disagreeable association with--whispered 'Make haste.'
The words were uttered in that low distinct voice which finds its way so readily to sleepers' ears, and wakes them in a fright. For a moment it startled even the locksmith; who involuntarily drew back from the window, and listened.