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The Master of Silence: A Romance, a novel by Irving Bacheller

Chapter 15

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Mr. and Mrs. Earl met us at the station of the Southwestern Railway in London, and we were driven at once to their home. Hester came to breakfast with us, but Mrs. Earl would not let her go to Liverpool that day, ship-worn and fatigued as we all felt after the voyage.

"You resemble your father, sir, when he was of your age," said Mr. Earl, addressing my cousin, as we were eating. "But you are larger, much larger, than he was."

"You were my father's friend when he was a young man, I believe?" said Rayel.

"Yes, he and his brother were my best friends in those days. I tried to induce him to study law, but he was more inclined to medicine."

Rayel had found a man quite after his liking and the two were on the best of terms at once. Indeed, he seemed to talk with my benefactor as freely as he ever talked with me. I found Mrs. Earl very much as I had imagined my mother to have been--a full-faced, ruddy-cheeked woman; with a sweet voice and gentle manners. She greeted me as if I were her own son returned from a long journey, and when we sat down to talk after breakfast, I felt the joy and peace of one who has found a home after much wandering.

I spent the afternoon with Mr. Earl in his library, and he listened with deep interest to the complete story of my life since the night we parted in Liverpool.

He had many questions to ask me touching the attempt upon my life, and my replies were jotted down in his memorandum-book. After I had told him all that I was able to tell he sat for some moments thoughtfully turning the pages of the book, stopping now and then to read some of the memoranda.

"It looks pretty bad for them, doesn't it?" said he calmly, looking up at me over his spectacles. "But we'll bring this matter to a climax very soon," he continued. "We haven't seen the last act of the play yet. You need not have any further fear for your safety--I will look after that. You may feel quite free to go and come as you please in this part of the city. Above all things we must avoid letting them know that we suspect anything; it might defeat me in getting hold of the last bit of evidence that is necessary to complete our case."

I nodded, and waited for him to proceed.

"Let us go carefully until we're sure of our ground," he continued. "Your stepmother knows you are in London, of course. You must go and see her. Take your cousin with you, and--well, you will know how to treat them. After all, you must bear in mind that in the eye of the law every man is innocent until he is proven guilty. Adopt that view of the case yourself. You needn't fear anything from Cobb or his wife. Only be reasonably prudent."

"I've no fear that they will try to do us any harm," said I; "and I would greatly enjoy visiting the old house. Perhaps we could go to-morrow."

"The day after. You'd better go down to Liverpool to-morrow with the young lady, and return by the night train."

That day saw the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship between Hester and Mrs. Earl. When we left next morning to go to Hester's home in Liverpool, she promised to return soon for a long visit. By ten o'clock we were well out of smoky London, on the way that I had already traversed once before, with a cheerful heart most creditable to me under the circumstances. Mrs. Chaffin was waiting for us at the gate when we alighted in front of the old wood-colored cottage--that haven of weary legs in days gone by. Phil (who had lengthened noticeably in the service of Valentine, King & Co.) was there, too, and all the rest of the Chaffin household in Sunday clothes. Mrs. Chaffin was quite beside herself with joy.

"Dear-a me!" said the good lady, after the salutations were over. "Dear-a sakes! How you've growed! I didn't think you'd ever live to get s' big. I thought as 'ow som' 'arm 'd come to ye when ye went away, an' Hester--"

"Mamma!" exclaimed Hester, with a reproving glance. "Don't tell him."

"I'm that fidgety I don't know what I'm sayin'. The Lord bless us, but ye must be hungry!" said the good woman, as she spread the table for dinner. She had guessed rightly, and Hester bustled about, helping her mother get the dishes on the table, with a critical eye to all the arrangements. Rayel was much amused by the children, the youngest of whom had climbed upon his knee and was taking liberties with his cravat. He was wholly unaccustomed to the pranks of children, and we frequently rallied to his defence. He seemed to enjoy them, however, and was soon involved in a spree at which both Hester and I laughed heartily.

"This herring ain't extra good, sir, but I 'ope it won't go ag'in' ye," said Mrs. Chaffin to Rayel, as we sat down to the table.

He seemed in doubt for a moment as to what it would be proper to say in reply to this well-intended remark.

"I have never eaten a herring, madam," said he, gravely, "but I have no doubt it will be good."

"I 'ope so, sir--indeed, I 'ope so; but I dare presume to say that it will taste bad enough to the likes of you."

Mrs. Chaffin (good soul) had evidently concluded that my cousin was a man entitled to extra politeness. Hester had adroitly side-tracked the herring question and started another train of speculation, when her mother's misgivings were again excited respecting the tea, which Rayel had just tasted.

"Murky, sir?" she asked, with a glance of alarm. "I 'ope it don't taste murky."

Mrs. Chaffin's solicitude respecting the tea and the herring reminded me of the first time I had stretched my tired legs under that hospitable board at Phil's invitation; of those big, wondering eyes that stared at me across the table; of the songs and stories which beguiled the evening hours.

The candles were lit before dinner was over, and when we rose from the table it was to gather about the warm fire and exchange memories, while Rayel listened with deep interest. Phil had been promoted from a pair of legs to a pair of hands, and was now third bookkeeper for the firm. Our carriage came for us at nine o'clock. Hester had decided to stay a day or two with her mother, but it was necessary for Rayel and me to return to London that night, as we were to make an important call the next day. _

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