’I remain, my dear niece, your most affectionate uncle and guardian,
’P.S.—Pray present my respects to Lady Knollys, who, I understand, is sojourning at Knowl. I would observe that a lady who cherishes, I have reason to fear, unfriendly feelings against your uncle, is not the most desirable companion for his ward. But upon the express condition that I am not made the subject of your discussions—a distinction which could not conduce to your forming a just and respectful estimate of me—I do not interpose my authority to bring your intercourse to an immediate close.’
As I read this postscript, my cheek tingled as if I had received a box on the ear. Uncle Silas was as yet a stranger. The menace of authority was new and sudden, and I felt with a pang of mortification the full force of the position in which my dear father’s will had placed me.
I was silent, and handed the letter to my cousin, who read it with a kind of smile until she came, as I supposed, to the postscript, when her countenance, on which my eyes were fixed, changed, and with flushed cheeks she knocked the hand that held the letter on the table before her, and exclaimed—
’Did I ever hear! Well, if this isn’t impertinence! What an old man that is!’
There was a pause, during which Lady Knollys held her head high with a frown, and sniffed a little.
’I did not intend to talk about him, but now I will. I’ll talk away just whatever I like; and I’ll stay here just as long as you let me, Maud, and you need not be one atom afraid of him. Our intercourse to an “immediate close,” indeed! I only wish he were here. He should hear something!’
And Cousin Monica drank off her entire cup of tea at one draught, and then she said, more in her own way—
‘I’m better!’ and drew a long breath, and then she laughed a little in a waggish defiance. ’I wish we had him here, Maud, and would not we give him a bit of our minds! And this before the poor will is so much as proved!’
’I am almost glad he wrote that postscript; for although I don’t think he has any authority in that matter while I am under my own roof,’ I said, extemporising a legal opinion, ’and, therefore, shan’t obey him, it has somehow opened my eyes to my real situation.’
I sighed, I believe, very desolately, for Lady Knollys came over and kissed me very gently and affectionately.