“Bobby! Damned waster! God knows what he’ll do next.”
“He’s young, Uncle Silas, and too popular.”
He brushed aside her customary defence. As he continued speaking she noticed that always his voice shook as his fingers shook, as his stooped shoulders jerked spasmodically.
“I ordered Mr. Robert here to-night. Not a word from him. I’d made up my mind anyway. My lawyer’s coming in the morning. My money goes to the Bedford Foundation—all except a little annuity for you, Katy. It’s hard on you, but I’ve got no faith left in my flesh and blood.”
His voice choked with a sentiment a little repulsive in view of his ruthless nature, his unbending egotism.
“It’s sad, Katy, to grow old with nobody caring for you except to covet your money.”
She arose and went close to him. He drew back, startled.
“You’re not fair, Uncle.”
With an unexpected movement, nearly savage, he pushed her aside and started for the door.
“Uncle!” she cried. “Tell me! You must tell me! What makes you afraid?”
He turned at the door. He didn’t answer. She laughed feverishly.
“It—it’s not Bobby you’re afraid of?”
“You and Bobby,” he grumbled, “are thicker than thieves.”
She shook her head.
“Bobby and I,” she said wistfully, “aren’t very good friends, largely because of this life he’s leading.”
He went on out of the room, mumbling again incoherently.
She resumed her vigil, unable to read because of her misgivings, staring at the fire, starting at a harsher gust of wind or any unaccustomed sound. And for a long time there beat against her brain the shuffling, searching tread of her uncle. Its cessation about eleven o’clock increased her uneasiness. He had been so afraid! Suppose already the thing he had feared had overtaken him? She listened intently. Even then she seemed to sense the soundless footsteps of disaster straying in the decayed house, and searching, too.
A morbid desire to satisfy herself that her uncle’s silence meant nothing evil drove her upstairs. She stood in the square main hall at the head of the stairs, listening. Her uncle’s bedroom door lay straight ahead. To her right and left narrow corridors led to the wings. Her room and Bobby’s and a spare room were in the right-hand wing. The opposite corridor was seldom used, for the left-hand wing was the oldest portion of the house, and in the march of years too many legends had gathered about it. The large bedroom was there with its private hall beyond, and a narrow, enclosed staircase, descending to the library. Originally it had been the custom for the head of the family to use that room. Its ancient furniture still faded within stained walls. For many years no one had slept in it, because it had sheltered too much suffering, because it had witnessed the reluctant spiritual departure of too many Blackburns.