'They little know father who talk like that!'
('She takes it,' thought Miss Abbey, 'very quietly. She takes it with extraordinary quietness!')
'And perhaps,' said Lizzie, as a recollection flashed upon her, 'it is some one who has a grudge against father; some one who has threatened father! Is it Riderhood, Miss?'
'Well; yes it is.'
'Yes! He was father's partner, and father broke with him, and now he revenges himself. Father broke with him when I was by, and he was very angry at it. And besides, Miss Abbey!--Will you never, without strong reason, let pass your lips what I am going to say?'
She bent forward to say it in a whisper.
'I promise,' said Miss Abbey.
'It was on the night when the Harmon murder was found out, through father, just above bridge. And just below bridge, as we were sculling home, Riderhood crept out of the dark in his boat. And many and many times afterwards, when such great pains were taken to come to the bottom of the crime, and it never could be come near, I thought in my own thoughts, could Riderhood himself have done the murder, and did he purposely let father find the body? It seemed a'most wicked and cruel to so much as think such a thing; but now that he tries to throw it upon father, I go back to it as if it was a truth. Can it be a truth? That was put into my mind by the dead?'
She asked this question, rather of the fire than of the hostess of the Fellowship Porters, and looked round the little bar with troubled eyes.
But, Miss Potterson, as a ready schoolmistress accustomed to bring her pupils to book, set the matter in a light that was essentially of this world.
'You poor deluded girl,' she said, 'don't you see that you can't open your mind to particular suspicions of one of the two, without opening your mind to general suspicions of the other? They had worked together. Their goings-on had been going on for some time. Even granting that it was as you have had in your thoughts, what the two had done together would come familiar to the mind of one.'
'You don't know father, Miss, when you talk like that. Indeed, indeed, you don't know father.'
'Lizzie, Lizzie,' said Miss Potterson. 'Leave him. You needn't break with him altogether, but leave him. Do well away from him; not because of what I have told you to-night--we'll pass no judgment upon that, and we'll hope it may not be--but because of what I have urged on you before. No matter whether it's owing to your good looks or not, I like you and I want to serve you. Lizzie, come under my direction. Don't fling yourself away, my girl, but be persuaded into being respectable and happy.'
In the sound good feeling and good sense of her entreaty, Miss Abbey had softened into a soothing tone, and had even drawn her arm round the girl's waist. But, she only replied, 'Thank you, thank you! I can't. I won't. I must not think of it. The harder father is borne upon, the more he needs me to lean on.'
And then Miss Abbey, who, like all hard people when they do soften, felt that there was considerable compensation owing to her, underwent reaction and became frigid.
'I have done what I can,' she said, 'and you must go your way. You make your bed, and you must lie on it. But tell your father one thing: he must not come here any more.
'Oh, Miss, will you forbid him the house where I know he's safe?'
'The Fellowships,' returned Miss Abbey, 'has itself to look to, as well as others. It has been hard work to establish order here, and make the Fellowships what it is, and it is daily and nightly hard work to keep it so. The Fellowships must not have a taint upon it that may give it a bad name. I forbid the house to Riderhood, and I forbid the house to Gaffer. I forbid both, equally. I find from Riderhood and you together, that there are suspicions against both men, and I'm not going to take upon myself to decide betwixt them. They are both tarred with a dirty brush, and I can't have the Fellowships tarred with the same brush. That's all I know.'
'Good-night, Miss!' said Lizzie Hexam, sorrowfully.