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'And you're not surprised to hear this, Varden?' said Mr Haredale. 'Well! You and she have always been the best friends, and you should understand her if anybody does.'
'I ask your pardon, sir,' rejoined the locksmith. 'I didn't say I understood her. I wouldn't have the presumption to say that of any woman. It's not so easily done. But I am not so much surprised, sir, as you expected me to be, certainly.'
'May I ask why not, my good friend?'
'I have seen, sir,' returned the locksmith with evident reluctance, 'I have seen in connection with her, something that has filled me with distrust and uneasiness. She has made bad friends, how, or when, I don't know; but that her house is a refuge for one robber and cut-throat at least, I am certain. There, sir! Now it's out.'
'My own eyes, sir, are my witnesses, and for her sake I would be willingly half-blind, if I could but have the pleasure of mistrusting 'em. I have kept the secret till now, and it will go no further than yourself, I know; but I tell you that with my own eyes--broad awake--I saw, in the passage of her house one evening after dark, the highwayman who robbed and wounded Mr Edward Chester, and on the same night threatened me.'
'And you made no effort to detain him?' said Mr Haredale quickly.
'Sir,' returned the locksmith, 'she herself prevented me--held me, with all her strength, and hung about me until he had got clear off.' And having gone so far, he related circumstantially all that had passed upon the night in question.
This dialogue was held in a low tone in the locksmith's little parlour, into which honest Gabriel had shown his visitor on his arrival. Mr Haredale had called upon him to entreat his company to the widow's, that he might have the assistance of his persuasion and influence; and out of this circumstance the conversation had arisen.
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