Page:Court Royal.djvu/189

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must lead to mutual estrangement. It would end Saltcombe’s friendship for Beavis, whom he would always regard as the evil adviser who had brought him into hateful bonds. Beavis opened his house door noiselessly, and as noiselessly entered the hall. He wore goloshes over his patent leather boots, and his steps were soundless on the kamptulicon floorcloth. To his surprise he saw that the office door was ajar, and that there was a light within.

He walked down the passage and entered.

He saw the girl Joanna at his father’s writing-desk, seated on the stool asleep, her head reposing on her arm upon the desk. A candle was burning beside her. The book-cupboard or press, in which the ledgers were kept, was unlocked and open. The bunch of his father’s keys was there, hanging in the lock. On the desk were some of the ledgers, open.

Beavis stepped up to the girl in great surprise, and saw that under her hand was a small account-book, in which, as far as he could see, without removing her hand, was a series of extracts from the ledger; of particulars of rents, payments, incumbrances, neatly written, not in his father’s hand.

‘Joanna!’ he called, and laid his hand on her shoulder. Instantly she sprang to her feet, looked at him in a bewildered manner, gathering her senses with difficulty, put her hand firmly on the account-book, and with the other knocked the candle over. It was instantly extinguished on the floor.

‘What is the meaning of this?’ asked Beavis, confronting her in the dark.

‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ answered the girl; ‘I am sorry. I fell asleep whilst sitting up to open when you came home. I thought you might want some hot water and sugar and the whisky. I’m sorry the light has gone out. If you’ll please to excuse me a moment, I will fetch a candle from the kitchen.’

She was fumbling with her hands whilst speaking.

‘What are you about?’ asked Beavis sharply.

‘Please, sir, I can’t find the candle where it has fallen.’

‘Never mind the candle. Go fetch another.’

She slipped away, but not at once, as bidden. Presently she returned, holding a bedroom candle alight. She looked sleepy, her eyes were dull, her hair tangled.

‘Joanna,’ said Beavis, looking at the desk, ‘I must know the meaning of this.’

‘I told you I was sitting up,’ she answered. ‘In the kitchen I might not have heard, and I made so bold as to come in here,