‘That’s all, Miss.’
‘Won’t you shake hands, Doctor Bryerly, before you go?’ I said, eagerly approaching him.
Without a smile, with the same sad anxiety in his face, with his mind, as it seemed to me, on something else, and irresolute whether to speak it or be silent, he took my fingers in a very cold hand, and holding it so, and slowly shaking it, his grave and troubled glance unconsciously rested on Uncle Silas’s face, while in a sad tone and absent way he said—
From before that sad gaze my uncle averted his strange eyes quickly, and looked, oddly, to the window.
In a moment more Doctor Bryerly let my hand go with a sigh, and with an abrupt little nod to me, he left the room; and I heard that dismallest of sounds, the retreating footsteps of a true friend, lost.
’Lead us not into temptation; if we pray so, we must not mock the eternal Majesty of Heaven by walking into temptation of our own accord.’
This oracular sentence was not uttered by my uncle until Doctor Bryerly had been gone at least five minutes.
’I’ve forbid him my house, Maud—first, because his perfectly unconscious insolence tries my patience nearly beyond endurance; and again, because I have heard unfavourable reports of him. On the question of right which he disputes, I am perfectly informed. I am your tenant, my dear niece; when I am gone you will learn how scrupulous I have been; you will see how, under the pressure of the most agonising pecuniary difficulties, the terrific penalty of a misspent youth, I have been careful never by a hair’s breadth to transgress the strict line of my legal privileges; alike, as your tenant, Maud, and as your guardian; how, amid frightful agitations, I have kept myself, by the miraculous strength and grace vouchsafed me—pure.
‘The world,’ he resumed after a short pause, ’has no faith in any man’s conversion; it never forgets what he was, it never believes him anything better, it is an inexorable and stupid judge. What I was I will describe in blacker terms, and with more heartfelt detestation, than my traducers—a reckless prodigal, a godless profligate. Such I was; what I am, I am. If I had no hope beyond this world, of all men most miserable; but with that hope, a sinner saved.’
Then he waxed eloquent and mystical. I think his Swedenborgian studies had crossed his notions of religion with strange lights. I never could follow him quite in these excursions into the region of symbolism. I only recollect that he talked of the deluge and the waters of Mara, and said, ’I am washed—I am sprinkled,’ and then, pausing, bathed his thin temples and forehead with eau de Cologne; a process which was, perhaps, suggested by his imagery of sprinkling and so forth.
Thus refreshed, he sighed and smiled, and passed to the subject of Doctor Bryerly.