Chapter III

The Plotters

When Dorothy awoke she had no idea whether it was still nighttime or whether day had dawned. She sat up in bed and listened, but the vague sounds that came to her ears told her nothing. The feeling of hunger, however, rather inclined her to believe that dawn had broken, and slipping out of bed, she groped her way to where she believed was the secret entrance.

Encountering the wall she softly tapped it, but a dull sound was the only result. She tried another part, and this time she rather fancied that there was a difference in the sound.

Feverishly she pressed her fingers up and down the woodwork. The sensation of being a prisoner was stronger than ever. A vague memory of some dream still lingered​—​a dream heavily charged with peril, the details of which she could not recollect. Yet it had left her dreadfully uneasy, and although she was now wide awake she could not banish the influence of the vision.

“There is danger here,” she thought. “I trust neither the old man nor his daughter.”

And then with startling suddenness the thing she hoped for happened. She felt the panel she was pressing move, and the next moment a draught of air fanned her face. She had opened the secret door!

She gave a huge breath of relief as she stepped through the opening and saw the pale daylight streaming in from the narrow slit of a window.

From this her eyes went to the door, and she flitted across to it, gently pulled it, and it opened. The next moment she was in the passage.

Here for a couple of minutes she lingered in doubt; for, after all, she thought, her suspicions were only suspicions.

A sudden noise in the street below, of many people running by, awoke all the echoes, and hardly had these died away than a door opened somewhere downstairs and old Bachelor’s voice came clearly to her ears.

“Now the Good Hope has come to anchor,” he said. “It is only a question of hours.”

Dorothy thrilled at the words. Her father’s ship had arrived!

“Good! Good!” broke in another man’s voice. “You must hasten, Master Bachelor, and let him know that his daughter is here.”

The very first words uttered told Dorothy the identity of him who spoke. It was her guardian, Sir Wilfred Hawkes!

In a flash Dorothy knew that her worst fears were realised. The Bachelors were hand-in-glove with Sir Wilfred, and she had been sent here so that her father could be decoyed and captured. Old Bachelor’s next words proved this conclusively.

““My good Sir Wilfred,” he said, with a satisfied chuckle, “you can rest assured that your cousin, James Gresham, will be in this house by nightfall, and you can then capture him at your leisure. Five hundred guineas you will pay, you say, sir knight? Well, well, six would be better value for my service​—​but your worship knows best.”

“You are being overpaid as it is,” grunted Dorothy’s guardian. “Five hundred guineas is the price agreed, and not one copper more will you get from me. If anyone should be rewarded it is the girl Betty Compton, who persuaded Dorothy Gresham to seek shelter here.”

“Nay, nay​—​you well know that was my doing,” chuckled old Bachelor. “Betty is my niece, and when she came here that night and told me how her young mistress was ill-treated​—​saving your worship’s presence​—​it was I who suggested that Mistress Dorothy should come to this house. It was I, too, who was able to tell you that Captain Gresham was returning to London, and on these things to form this pretty little plot. The credit’s mine, sir, and the money is as well earned as any I have had from you during the many years we have worked together in this old City of London.”

Dorothy clenched her fists. The “pretty little plot,” as old Bachelor termed it, was as plain as daylight, and the only consolation Dorothy got was the fact that Betty Compton’s part in the affair had been an entirely innocent one.

But what was she to do, Dorothy wondered.

Old Bachelor’s next words decided her.

“Ann! Ann!” she heard him call out. “’Tis time to take up the food. Have a care, now, with that sharp tongue of yours. She must suspect nothing.”

“Ay, grandfather, I’ll be as sweet as butter,” came Ann’s thin voice in reply. “Yet I’d dearly love to put her in her place. Oh, she’s mild-spoken enough, I grant you, but anyone can see she considers that she is the grand lady and I am only the servant. Ah! ’twill be a different tale to-night.”

Dorothy waited to hear no more. Swiftly she regained the room and closed the secret door. Then she groped about in the darkness and discovered the whereabouts of the bed just as the sound of a footstep was heard.

The secret door swung open, and Ann appeared, bearing a tray.

“Give you good morrow, Mistress Dorothy,” cried Ann in a most friendly way. “The night passed without any visit from your cruel guardian, so all is well. Here is milk, and bread, and honey. Simple fare for a grand young lady such as you; but we be poor, struggling folk.”

“I thank you,” replied Dorothy, pretending to yawn as if she had only just awakened.

“You slept well?” asked Ann, with every show of the keenest anxiety on the point.

Dorothy nodded. She could not trust her voice to answer this deceitful girl. She felt that if she spoke she would denounce Ann for the part she was playing.

“Your father’s ship has arrived,” said Ann. “If it were safe I would let you come into the next room and peep through the window. But we must be cautious, Your guardian’s spies are everywhere.”

“Yes,” nodded Dorothy. “In that I believe you are right. They are indeed everywhere!

Ann, little knowing how her duplicity was found out, gave a huge sigh of pretended sympathy.

“Everywhere!” she echoed; and then added: “You did well to leave Crosby House. I hear tell of a huge fire that has broken out near there. Burning all night, they say, and fifty dwellings destroyed. Well, well, we who live on the bridge can laugh at fires with old Father Thames so handy. You have nothing to fear.”