Chapter LXXIX.

Nearly eight months had now elapsed without a letter from George. Susan could no longer deceive herself with hopes. George was either false to her or dead. She said as much to her false friend. This inspired him with an artifice as subtle as unscrupulous. A letter had been brought to him by Jefferies, which he at once recognized as the planned letter from Crawley to another tool of his in Farnborough. This very day he set about a report that George was dead. It did not reach Susan so soon as he thought it would, for old Merton hesitated to tell her; but on the Sunday evening, with considerable reluctance and misgivings, he tried in a very clumsy way to prepare her for sad news.

But her mind had long been prepared for bitter tidings. Fancy eight weary months spent in passing every possible calamity before her imagination, death as often as any.

She fixed her eyes on the old man. "Father, George is dead!"

Old Merton hung his head, and made no reply.

That was enough. Susan crept from the room pale as ashes. She tottered, but she did not fall. She reached her room and locked herself in.