MADAME DE LA ROUGIERRE
On a sudden, on the grass before me, stood an odd figure—a very tall woman in grey draperies, nearly white under the moon, courtesying extraordinarily low, and rather fantastically.
I stared in something like a horror upon the large and rather hollow features which I did not know, smiling very unpleasantly on me; and the moment it was plain that I saw her, the grey woman began gobbling and cackling shrilly—I could not distinctly hear what through the window—and gesticulating oddly with her long hands and arms.
As she drew near the window, I flew to the fireplace, and rang the bell frantically, and seeing her still there, and fearing that she might break into the room, I flew out of the door, very much frightened, and met Branston the butler in the lobby.
‘There’s a woman at the window!’ I gasped; ‘turn her away, please.’
If I had said a man, I suppose fat Branston would have summoned and sent forward a detachment of footmen. As it was, he bowed gravely, with a—
And with an air of authority approached the window.
I don’t think that he was pleasantly impressed himself by the first sight of our visitor, for he stopped short some steps of the window, and demanded rather sternly—
‘What ye doin’ there, woman?’
To this summons, her answer, which occupied a little time, was inaudible to me. But Branston replied—
‘I wasn’t aware, ma’am; I heerd nothin’; if you’ll go round that way, you’ll see the hall-door steps, and I’ll speak to the master, and do as he shall order.’
The figure said something and pointed.
‘Yes, that’s it, and ye can’t miss the door.’
And Mr. Branston returned slowly down the long room, and halted with out-turned pumps and a grave inclination before me, and the faintest amount of interrogation in the announcement—
‘Please,’m, she says she’s the governess.’
‘The governess! What governess?’
Branston was too well-bred to smile, and he said thoughtfully—
‘P’raps,’m, I’d best ask the master?’
To which I assented, and away strode the flat pumps of the butler to the library.
I stood breathless in the hall. Every girl at my age knows how much is involved in such an advent. I also heard Mrs. Rusk, in a minute or two more, emerge I suppose from the study. She walked quickly, and muttered sharply to herself—an evil trick, in which she indulged when much ’put about.’ I should have been glad of a word with her; but I fancied she was vexed, and would not have talked satisfactorily. She did not, however, come my way; merely crossing the hall with her quick, energetic step.
Was it really the arrival of a governess? Was that apparition which had impressed me so unpleasantly to take the command of me—to sit alone with me, and haunt me perpetually with her sinister looks and shrilly gabble?