But though he refrained from saying more upon this occasion, the cashier brooded long and deeply upon the conduct of his niece’s music-mistress: and one chilly September
evening, when Miss Wentworth was not expected at Clapham, he walked across Wandsworth Common, and went straight to the lane in which Godolphin Cottages sheltered themselves
under the shadow of the sycamores.
Margaret had very few intervals of idleness, and there was a kind of melancholy relief to her in such an evening as this, on which she was free to think of her dead father, and
the strange story of his death. She was standing at the low wooden gate opening into the little garden below the window of her room, in the deepening twilight of this September
evening. It was late in the month: the leaves were falling from the trees, and drifting with a rustling sound along the dusty roadway.
The girl stood with her elbow resting upon the top of the gate, and a dark shawl covering her head and shoulders. She was tired and unhappy, and she stood in a melancholy
attitude, looking with sad eyes towards the glimpse of the river at the bottom of the lane. So entirely was she absorbed by her own gloomy thoughts, that she did not hear a
footstep approaching from the other end of the lane; she did not look up until a man’s voice said, in subdued tones —
“Good evening, Miss Wentworth; are you not afraid of catching cold? I hope your shawl is thick, for the dews are falling, and here, near the river, there is a damp mist on
these autumn nights.”
The speaker was Clement Austin.
Margaret Wilmot looked up at him, and a pensive smile stole over her face. Yes, it was something to be spoken to so kindly in that deep manly voice. The world had seemed so
blank since her father’s death: such utter desolation had descended upon her since her miserable journey to Winchester, and her useless visit to Portland Place: for since that
time she had shrunk away from people, wrapped in her own sorrow, separated from the commonplace world by the exceptional nature of her misery. It was something to this poor girl
to hear thoughtful and considerate words; and the unbidden tears clouded her eyes.
As yet she had spoken openly of her trouble to no living creature, since that night upon which she had attempted to gain admission to Mr. Dunbar’s house. She was still known in
the neighbourhood as Margaret Wentworth. She had put on mourning: and she had told the few people about the place where she lived, of her father’s death: but she had told no
one the manner of that death. She had shared her gloomy secret with neither friends nor counsellors, and had borne her dismal burden alone. It was for this reason that Clement
Austin’s friendly voice raised an unwonted emotion in her breast. The desolate girl remembered that night upon which she had first heard of the murder, and she remembered the
sympathy that Mr. Austin had evinced on that occasion.