In silence on his part, Moody laid an open sheet of paper on the table. The paper quivered in his trembling hand.

Lady Lydiard recovered herself first. “Is that for me?” she asked.

“Yes, my Lady.”

She took up the paper without an instant’s hesitation. Both the men watched her anxiously as she read it.

The handwriting was strange to her. The words were these:—

“I hereby certify that the bearer of these lines, Robert Moody by name, has presented to me the letter with which he was charged, addressed to myself, with the seal intact. I regret to add that there is, to say the least of it, some mistake. The inclosure referred to by the anonymous writer of the letter, who signs ‘a friend in need,’ has not reached me. No five-hundred pound bank-note was in the letter when I opened it. My wife was present when I broke the seal, and can certify to this statement if necessary. Not knowing who my charitable correspondent is (Mr. Moody being forbidden to give me any information), I can only take this means of stating the case exactly as it stands, and hold myself at the disposal of the writer of the letter. My private address is at the head of the page. — Samuel Bradstock, Rector, St. Anne’s, Deansbury, London.”

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Lady Lydiard dropped the paper on the table. For the moment, plainly as the Rector’s statement was expressed, she appeared to be incapable of understanding it. “What, in God’s name, does this mean?” she asked.

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The lawyer and the steward looked at each other. Which of the two was entitled to speak first? Lady Lydiard gave them no time to decide. “Moody,” she said sternly, “you took charge of the letter — I look to you for an explanation.”

Moody’s dark eyes flashed. He answered Lady Lydiard without caring to conceal that he resented the tone in which she had spoken to him.

“I undertook to deliver the letter at its address,” he said. “I found it, sealed, on the table. Your Ladyship has the clergyman’s written testimony that I handed it to him with the seal unbroken. I have done my duty; and I have no explanation to offer.”

Before Lady Lydiard could speak again, Mr. Troy discreetly interfered. He saw plainly that his experience was required to lead the investigation in the right direction.

“Pardon me, my Lady,” he said, with that happy mixture of the positive and the polite in his manner, of which lawyers alone possess the secret. “There is only one way of arriving at the truth in painful matters of this sort. We must begin at the beginning. May I venture to ask your Ladyship a question?”

Lady Lydiard felt the composing influence of Mr. Troy. “I am at your disposal, sir,” she said, quietly.