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The lawyer made a last effort to hold off the coming disclosure a little longer. “Mr. Moody will be here directly,” he said. “Mr. Moody requested me to prepare your Ladyship —”

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“Will you ring the bell, Mr. Troy, or must I?”

Moody had evidently been waiting outside while the lawyer spoke for him. He saved Mr. Troy the trouble of ringing the bell by presenting himself in the drawing-room. Lady Lydiard’s eyes searched his face as he approached. Her bright complexion faded suddenly. Not a word more passed her lips. She looked, and waited.

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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.”

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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.”

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.

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.”