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My heart began to beat violently; but I kept
my resolution, and searched, first the boat-
house, and then the ground in front of it, for
any signs which might show me whether Laura
had really reached the place or not. No mark
of her presence appeared inside the building;
but I found traces of her outside it, in footsteps
on the sand.

I detected the footsteps of two persons
large footsteps, like a man's, and small footsteps,
which, by putting my own feet into them
and testing their size in that manner, I felt
certain were Laura's. The ground was confusedly
marked in this way, just before the boat-house.
Close against one side of it, under shelter of
the projecting roof, I discovered a little hole in
the sanda hole artificially made, beyond a
doubt. I just noticed it, and then turned away
immediately to trace the footsteps as far as I
could, and to follow the direction in which they
might lead me.

They led me, starting from the left-hand side
of the boat-house, along the edge of the trees,
a distance, I should think, of between two and
three hundred yardsand then, the sandy ground
showed no further trace of them. Feeling that
the persons whose course I was tracking, must
necessarily have entered the plantation at this
point, I entered it, too. At first, I could find
no pathbut I discovered one, afterwards, just
faintly traced among the trees; and followed it.
It took me, for some distance, in the direction
of the village, until I stopped at a point where
another foot-track crossed it. The brambles
grew thickly on either side of this second path.
I stood, looking down it, uncertain which way
to take next; and, while I looked, I saw on one
thorny branch, some fragments of fringe from a
woman's shawl. A closer examination of the
fringe satisfied me that it had been torn from a
shawl of Laura's; and I instantly followed the
second path. It brought me out, at last, to my
great relief, at the back of the house. I say to
my great relief, because I inferred that Laura
must, for some unknown reason, have returned
before me by this roundabout way. I went in
by the court-yard and the offices. The first
person whom I met in crossing the servants'-
hall, was Mrs. Michelson, the housekeeper.

"Do you know," I asked, " whether Lady
Glyde has come in from her walk or not?"

"My lady came in, a little while ago, with Sir
Percival," answered the housekeeper. " I am
afraid, Miss Halcombe, something very distressing
has happened."

My heart sank within me. " You don't mean
an accident!" I said, faintly.

"No, nothank God, no accident. But my
lady ran up-stairs to her own room in tears; and
Sir Percival has ordered me to give Fanny
warning to leave in an hour's time."

Fanny was Laura's maid; a good, affectionate
girl who had been with her for yearsthe only
person in the house, whose fidelity and devotion
we could both depend upon.

'' Where is Fanny?" I inquired.

"In my room, Miss Halcombe. The young
woman is quite overcome; and I told her to sit
down, and try to recover herself."

I went to Mrs. Michelson's room, and found
Fanny in a corner, with her box by her side,
crying bitterly.

She could give rne no explanation whatever
of her sudden dismissal. Sir Percival had
ordered that she should have a month's wages,
in place of a month's warning, and go. No
reason had been assigned; no objection had
been made to her conduct. She had been
forbidden to appeal to her mistress, forbidden even
to see her for a moment to say good-by. She
was to .go without explanations or farewells
and to go at once.

After soothing the poor girl by a few friendly
words, I asked where she proposed to sleep that
night. She replied that she thought of going
to the little inn in the village, the landlady of
which was a respectable woinan, known to the
servants at Blackwater Park. The next morning,
by leaving early, she might get back to her
friends in Cumberland, without stopping in
London, where she was a total stranger,

I felt directly that Fanny's departure offered
us a safe means of communication with London
and with Limmeridge House, of which it might
be very important to avail ourselves. Accordingly,
I told her that she might expect to hear
from her mistress or from me in the course of
the evening, and that she might depend on our
both doing all that lay in our power to help her,
under the trial of leaving us for the present.
Those words said, I shook hands with her, and
went up-stairs.

The door which led to Laura's room, was the
door of an ante-chamber, opening on to the
passage. When I tried it, it was bolted on the inside.

I knocked, and the door was opened by the
same heavy, overgrown housemaid, whose
lumpish insensibility had tried my patience so
severely, on the day when I found the wounded
dog. I had, since that time, discovered that
her name was Margaret Porcher, and that she
was the most awkward, slatternly, and obstinate
servant in the house.

On opening the door, she instantly stepped
out to the threshold, and stood grinning at me
in stolid silence.

"Why do you stand there?" I said. " Don't
you see that I want to come in?"

"Ah, but you mustn't come in," was the
answer, with another and a broader grin still.

"How dare you talk to me in that way?
Stand back instantly!"

She stretched out a great red hand and arm
on each side of her, so as to bar the doorway,
and slowly nodded her addle head at me.

"Master's orders," she said; and nodded

I had need of all my self-control to warn me
against contesting the matter with her, and to
remind me that the next words I had to say
must be addressed to her master. I turned my
back on her, and instantly went down stairs to
find him. My resolution to keep my temper
under all the irritations that Sir Percival could