’You’ll excuse my not rising, dear Maud, I am so miserably ill this evening.’
I expressed my respectful condolence.
‘Yes; I am to be pitied; but pity is of no use, dear,’ he murmured, peevishly. ’I sent for you to make you acquainted with your cousin, my son. Where are you Dudley?’
A figure seated in a low lounging chair, at the other side of the fire, and which till then I had not observed, at these words rose up a little slowly, like a man stiff after a day’s hunting; and I beheld with a shock that held my breath, and fixed my eyes upon him in a stare, the young man whom I had encountered at Church Scarsdale, on the day of my unpleasant excursion there with Madame, and who, to the best of my belief, was also one of that ruffianly party who had so unspeakably terrified me in the warren at Knowl.
I suppose I looked very much affrighted. If I had been looking at a ghost I could not have felt much more scared and incredulous.
When I was able to turn my eyes upon my uncle he was not looking at me; but with a glimmer of that smile with which a father looks on a son whose youth and comeliness he admires, his white face was turned towards the young man, in whom I beheld nothing but the image of odious and dreadful associations.
‘Come, sir,’ said my uncle, we must not be too modest. Here’s your cousin Maud—what do you say?’
‘How are ye, Miss?’ he said, with a sheepish grin.
‘Miss! Come, come. Miss us, no Misses,’ said my uncle; ’she is Maud, and you Dudley, or I mistake; or we shall have you calling Milly, madame. She’ll not refuse you her hand, I venture to think. Come, young gentleman, speak for yourself.’
‘How are ye, Maud?’ he said, doing his best, and drawing near, he extended his hand.’ You’re welcome to Bartram-Haugh, Miss.’
’Kiss your cousin, sir. Where’s your gallantry? On my honour, I disown you,’ exclaimed my uncle, with more energy than he had shown before.
With a clumsy effort, and a grin that was both sheepish and impudent, he grasped my hand and advanced his face. The imminent salute gave me strength to spring back a step or two, and he hesitated.
My uncle laughed peevishly.
’Well, well, that will do, I suppose. In my time first-cousins did not meet like strangers; but perhaps we were wrong; we are learning modesty from the Americans, and old English ways are too gross for us.’
‘I have—I’ve seen him before—that is;’ and at this point I stopped.
My uncle turned his strange glare, in a sort of scowl of enquiry, upon me.
’Oh!—hey! why this is news. You never told me. Where have you met—eh, Dudley?’
‘Never saw her in my days, so far as I’m aweer on,’ said the young man.
‘No! Well, then, Maud, will you enlighten us?’ said Uncle Silas, coldly.
‘I did see that young gentleman before,’ I faltered.