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“I think I shall manage better with Moody, if your Ladyship will permit me to see him in private,” the lawyer said. “Shall I go downstairs and speak with him in his own room?”

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“Why should you trouble yourself to do that?” said her Ladyship. “See him here; and I will go into the boudoir.”

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As she made that reply, the footman appeared at the drawing-room door.

“Send Moody here,” said Lady Lydiard.

The footman’s answer, delivered at that moment, assumed an importance which was not expressed in the footman’s words. “My Lady,” he said, “Mr. Moody has gone out.”

WHILE the strange proceedings of the steward were the subject of conversation between Lady Lydiard and Mr. Troy, Moody was alone in his room, occupied in writing to Isabel. Being unwilling that any eyes but his own should see the address, he had himself posted his letter; the time that he had chosen for leaving the house proving, unfortunately, to be also the time proposed by her Ladyship for his interview with the lawyer. In ten minutes after the footman had reported his absence, Moody returned. It was then too late to present himself in the drawing-room. In the interval, Mr. Troy had taken his leave, and Moody’s position had dropped a degree lower in Lady Lydiard’s estimation.

Isabel received her letter by the next morning’s post. If any justification of Mr. Troy’s suspicions had been needed, the terms in which Moody wrote would have amply supplied it.

“DEAR ISABEL (I hope I may call you ‘Isabel’ without offending you, in your present trouble?)— I have a proposal to make, which, whether you accept it or not, I beg you will keep a secret from every living creature but ourselves. You will understand my request, when I add that these lines relate to the matter of tracing the stolen bank-note.

“I have been privately in communication with a person in London, who is, as I believe, the one person competent to help us in gaining our end. He has already made many inquiries in private. With some of them I am acquainted; the rest he has thus far kept to himself. The person to whom I allude, particularly wishes to have half an hour’s conversation with you in my presence. I am bound to warn you that he is a very strange and very ugly old man; and I can only hope that you will look over his personal appearance in consideration of what he is likely to do for your future advantage.

“Can you conveniently meet us, at the further end of the row of villas in which your aunt lives, the day after to-morrow, at four o’clock? Let me have a line to say if you will keep the appointment, and if the hour named will suit you. And believe me your devoted friend and servant,

“ROBERT MOODY.”

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The lawyer’s warning to her to be careful how she yielded too readily to any proposal of Moody’s recurred to Isabel’s mind while she read those lines. Being pledged to secrecy, she could not consult Mr. Troy — she was left to decide for herself.

No obstacle stood in the way of her free choice of alternatives. After their early dinner at three o’clock, Miss Pink habitually retired to her own room “to meditate,” as she expressed it. Her “meditations” inevitably ended in a sound sleep of some hours; and during that interval Isabel was at liberty to do as she pleased. After considerable hesitation, her implicit belief in Moody’s truth and devotion, assisted by a strong feeling of curiosity to see the companion with whom the steward had associated himself, decided Isabel on consenting to keep the appointment.

Taking up her position beyond the houses, on the day and at the hour mentioned by Moody, she believed herself to be fully prepared for the most unfavorable impression which the most disagreeable of all possible strangers could produce.

But the first appearance of Old Sharon — as dirty as ever, clothed in a long, frowzy, gray overcoat, with his pug-dog at his heels, and his smoke-blackened pipe in his mouth, with a tan white hat on his head, which looked as if it had been picked up in a gutter, a hideous leer in his eyes, and a jaunty trip in his walk — took her so completely by surprise that she could only return Moody’s friendly greeting by silently pressing his hand. As for Moody’s companion, to look at him for a second time was more than she had resolution to do. She kept her eyes fixed on the pug-dog, and with good reason; as far as appearances went, he was indisputably the nobler animal of the two.

Under the circumstances, the interview threatened to begin in a very embarrassing manner. Moody, disheartened by Isabel’s silence, made no attempt to set the conversation going; he looked as if he meditated a hasty retreat to the railway station which he had just left. Fortunately, he had at his side the right man (for once) in the right place. Old Sharon’s effrontery was equal to any emergency.