My maid Price was present at this interview, and hardly had Alma left the boudoir when she was twitching at my arm and whispering in my ear:
“My lady, my lady, don’t you see what the woman wants? She’s watching you.”
My husband was the next to go.
He made excuse of his Parliamentary duties. He might be three or four weeks away, but meantime Alma would be with me, and in any case I was not the sort of person to feel lonely.
Never having heard before of any devotion to his duty as a peer, I asked if that was all that was taking him to London.
“Perhaps not all,” he answered, and then, with a twang of voice and a twitch of feature, he said:
“I’m getting sick of this God-forsaken place, and then . . . to tell you the truth, your own behaviour is beginning to raw me.”
With my husband’s departure my triumphal course seemed to come to a close. Left alone with Alma, I became as weak and irresolute as before and began to brood upon Price’s warning.
My maid had found a fierce delight in my efforts to assert myself as mistress in my husband’s house, but now (taking her former advantage) she was for ever harping upon my foolishness in allowing Alma to remain in it.
“She’s deceiving you, my lady,” said Price. “Her waiting for a steamer indeed! Not a bit of her. If your ladyship will not fly out at me again and pack me off bag and baggage, I’ll tell you what’s she’s waiting for.”
“She’s waiting for . . . she thinks . . . she fancies . . . well, to tell you the honest truth, my lady, the bad-minded thing suspects that something is going to happen to your ladyship, and she’s just waiting for the chance of telling his lordship.”
I began to feel ill. A dim, vague, uneasy presentiment of coming trouble took frequent possession of my mind.
I tried to suppress it. I struggled to strangle it as an ugly monster created by the nervous strain I had been going through, and for a time I succeeded in doing so. I had told Martin that nothing would happen during his absence, and I compelled myself to believe that nothing would or could.
Weeks passed; the weather changed; the golden hue of autumn gave place to a chilly greyness; the sky became sad with winterly clouds; the land became soggy with frequent rains; the trees showed their bare black boughs; the withered leaves drifted along the roads before blustering winds that came up from the sea; the evenings grew long and the mornings dreary; but still Alma, with her mother, remained at Castle Raa.
I began to be afraid of her. Something of the half-hypnotic spell which she had exercised over me when I was a child asserted itself again, but now it seemed to me to be always evil and sometimes almost demoniacal.
I had a feeling that she was watching me day and night. Occasionally, when she thought I was looking down, I caught the vivid gaze of her coal-black eyes looking across at me through her long sable-coloured eyelashes.