‘You seem surprised, Monsieur de Laval,’ said he.
‘For God’s sake,’ said I, ’do not trifle with me any further! Who are you, and what is this place to which you have taken me?’
For answer he broke into one of his dry chuckles, and, laying his skinny brown hand upon my wrist, he led me into a large apartment. In the centre was a table, tastefully laid, and beyond it in a low chair a young lady was seated, with a book in her hand. She rose as we entered, and I saw that she was tall and slender, with a dark face, pronounced features, and black eyes of extraordinary brilliancy. Even in that one glance it struck me that the expression with which she regarded me was by no means a friendly one.
‘Sibylle,’ said my host, and his words took the breath from my lips, ’this is your cousin from England, Louis de Laval. This, my dear nephew, is my only daughter, Sibylle Bernac.’
‘I am your mother’s brother, Charles Bernac.’
‘You are my Uncle Bernac!’ I stammered at him like an idiot. ’But why did you not tell me so?’ I cried.
’I was not sorry to have a chance of quietly observing what his English education had done for my nephew. It might also have been harder for me to stand your friend if my comrades had any reason to think that I was personally interested in you. But you will permit me now to welcome you heartily to France, and to express my regret if your reception has been a rough one. I am sure that Sibylle will help me to atone for it.’ He smiled archly at his daughter, who continued to regard me with a stony face.
I looked round me, and gradually the spacious room, with the weapons upon the wall, and the deer’s heads, came dimly back to my memory. That view through the oriel window, too, with the clump of oaks in the sloping park, and the sea in the distance beyond, I had certainly seen it before. It was true then, and I was in our own castle of Grosbois, and this dreadful man in the snuff-coloured coat, this sinister plotter with the death’s-head face, was the man whom I had heard my poor father curse so often, the man who had ousted him from his own property and installed himself in his place. And yet I could not forget that it was he also who, at some risk to himself, had saved me the night before, and my soul was again torn between my gratitude and my repulsion.
We had seated ourselves at the table, and as we ate, this newly-found uncle of mine continued to explain all those points which I had failed to understand.
‘I suspected that it was you the instant that I set eyes upon you,’ said he. ’I am old enough to remember your father when he was a young gallant, and you are his very double—though I may say, without flattery, that where there is a difference it is in your favour. And yet he had the name of being one of the handsomest men betwixt Rouen and the sea. You must bear in mind that I was expecting you, and that there are not so many young aristocrats of your age wandering about along the coast. I was surprised when you did not recognise where you were last night. Had you never heard of the secret passage of Grosbois?’