"Did Mr. Harmer say anything when you gave him the letter?" the Doctor asked, anxiously.
A sharp pang of pain passed over the wounded man's face.
That visit of ours to Harmer Place was a very memorable one, and exercised not a little influence upon my fortunes, although certainly I little dreamt at the time of our return that evening, that it had done so. To Polly and I it had been simply an extremely pleasant day. We had rambled about the garden with Sophy Needham, and had taken tea in the summer-house, while papa and Mr. Harmer were at dinner. We had then gone into desert, and, that over, had again rambled out, leaving the gentlemen over their wine. It was while thus engaged, that a conversation took place, which I did not hear of for more than a year afterwards, but which entirely altered my worldly prospects. It was began by Mr. Harmer, who had been for some time sitting rather silent and abstracted.
"No, my dear," papa said, "none at all."
However, the moment she came in, I saw that she had something very important to tell. Her bright face was quite pale with excitement, and her whole figure was in a nervous tremble.
After they had gone there was a long and animated debate; but the conclusion at which they most reluctantly arrived, under the advice of the lawyer who had drawn up the will, was, that there was at present nothing to do, but to leave Mr. Herbert Harmer in possession, and then, if upon deliberation and further advice it should be thought right to bring the case to trial, to do so. And so they all went away, and Mr. Harmer took possession of the home of his father; but not immediately, for his sisters asked him to leave them a week to make their arrangements. He begged them to stay there as long as they wished, and indeed pressed them to make it their home. This, however, they refused to do. By the will of their brother they were amply provided for, and they intended to travel, and perhaps finally to enter a religious house on the Continent.
"Yes sir, I have. From the time I found the first spring at Christmas, I have never ceased looking for another one. I had felt every knob on the fireplace and chimneypiece, and every stone up the chimney as far as I could reach. You know, sir, it is only in the half hour I get of a morning by being up before the other servants that I can try; indeed I only have half that time, for I must get some of the shutters open and appear to have began to do something to account for my time. Well, sir, at last I really seemed to have tried everywhere, and I almost gave up all hope of finding it, although I had quite made up my mind to go on searching as long as I stayed there, even if it was for ten years. Well, sir, yesterday morning I quite got out of temper with the thing, and I sat down on the ground in the great fireplace quite out of heart; my face was quite close to the great iron dogs, so I said, "Drat you, you look for all the world as if you were putting out your long tongues at me;" and I took hold of the tongue nearest to me, and gave it a twist, and do you know, sir, it quite gave me a turn to find that the tongue twisted round in my hand. I twisted and twisted till the tongue came out in my hand, then I touched the spring behind the mantel, but nothing moved; then I tried the tongue of the other dog, and that came out too; but still nothing moved. Just then I heard the cook moving in the kitchen, so I had to put the tongues back again and go to my work; but all day I hardly knew whether I stood on my head or my heels, I wanted so much to see whether anything would come of it. Well, miss, this morning I got up quite early, and unscrewed the dogs' tongues, and looked in the places they had come out of, but could not see anything. Then I pushed the sharp end of the tongue into the hole, and twisted and poked about, but I could not find anything moved; then I put that tongue in again, and tried the other, and directly I pushed the sharp end in, I felt something give way, and then I heard a click. I jumped up and pushed the knob in the chimney, and directly something creaked, and the whole of the left hand side of the fireplace swung open like a low door, about four feet high, and beyond it was a little flight of stone stairs. I was so excited, sir, when I saw the door and the steps, and knew I had found the place I had been looking for so long, that I had to lean against the wall to support myself. After a little while I pushed the door back again, and heard it close with a click. Then I screwed the tongue into the mouth again, and went about my work, but all day I have hardly known whether I stood upon my head or my heels."