Certainly within five, I had the inexpressible satisfaction of seeing her - from the point we had sat on, and to which I had returned - half supported and half carried up some rude steps notched in the cliff, by the figure of an active man. With that figure beside her, I knew she was safe anywhere.
I sat alone on the rock, awaiting Mr. Slinkton's return. The twilight was deepening and the shadows were heavy, when he came round the point, with his hat hanging at his button-hole, smoothing his wet hair with one of his hands, and picking out the old path with the other and a pocket-comb.
'My niece not here, Mr. Sampson?' he said, looking about.
'Miss Niner seemed to feel a chill in the air after the sun was down, and has gone home.'
He looked surprised, as though she were not accustomed to do anything without him; even to originate so slight a proceeding.
'I persuaded Miss Niner,' I explained.
'Ah!' said he. 'She is easily persuaded - for her good. Thank you, Mr. Sampson; she is better within doors. The bathing-place was farther than I thought, to say the truth.'
'Miss Niner is very delicate,' I observed.
He shook his head and drew a deep sigh. 'Very, very, very. You may recollect my saying so. The time that has since intervened has not strengthened her. The gloomy shadow that fell upon her sister so early in life seems, in my anxious eyes, to gather over her, ever darker, ever darker. Dear Margaret, dear Margaret! But we must hope.'
The hand-carriage was spinning away before us at a most indecorous pace for an invalid vehicle, and was making most irregular curves upon the sand. Mr. Slinkton, noticing it after he had put his handkerchief to his eyes, said;
'If I may judge from appearances, your friend will be upset, Mr. Sampson.'
'It looks probable, certainly,' said I.
'The servant must be drunk.'
'The servants of old gentlemen will get drunk sometimes,' said I.
'The major draws very light, Mr. Sampson.'
'The major does draw light,' said I.
By this time the carriage, much to my relief, was lost in the darkness. We walked on for a little, side by side over the sand, in silence. After a short while he said, in a voice still affected by the emotion that his niece's state of health had awakened in him,
'Do you stay here long, Mr. Sampson?'
'Why, no. I am going away to-night.'
'So soon? But business always holds you in request. Men like Mr. Sampson are too important to others, to be spared to their own need of relaxation and enjoyment.'
'I don't know about that,' said I. 'However, I am going back.'
'I shall be there too, soon after you.'
I knew that as well as he did. But I did not tell him so. Any more than I told him what defensive weapon my right hand rested on in my pocket, as I walked by his side. Any more than I told him why I did not walk on the sea side of him with the night closing in.
We left the beach, and our ways diverged. We exchanged goodnight, and had parted indeed, when he said, returning,
'Mr. Sampson, MAY I ask? Poor Meltham, whom we spoke of, - dead yet?'
'Not when I last heard of him; but too broken a man to live long, and hopelessly lost to his old calling.'
'Dear, dear, dear!' said he, with great feeling. 'Sad, sad, sad! The world is a grave!' And so went his way.