‘Ah, yes, Maud, my dear child—my dear child.’
He turned, and with the candle in his hand, smiling his silvery smile of suffering on me. He walked more feebly and stiffly, I thought, than I had ever seen him move before.
‘Sit down, Maud—pray sit there.’
I took the chair he indicated.
’In my misery and my solitude, Maud, I have invoked you like a spirit, and you appear.’
With his two hands leaning on the table, he looked across at me, in a stooping attitude; he had not seated himself. I continued silent until it should be his pleasure to question or address me.
At last he said, raising himself and looking upward, with a wild adoration—his finger-tips elevated and glimmering in the faint mixed light—
‘No, I thank my Creator, I am not quite forsaken.’
Another silence, during which he looked steadfastly at me, and muttered, as if thinking aloud—
‘My guardian angel!—my guardian angel! Maud, you have a heart.’ He addressed me suddenly—’Listen, for a few moments, to the appeal of an old and broken-hearted man—your guardian—your uncle—your suppliant. I had resolved never to speak to you more on this subject. But I was wrong. It was pride that inspired me—mere pride.’
I felt myself growing pale and flushed by turns during the pause that followed.
’I’m very miserable—very nearly desperate. What remains for me—what remains? Fortune has done her worst—thrown in the dust, her wheels rolled over me; and the servile world, who follow her chariot like a mob, stamp upon the mangled wretch. All this had passed over me, and left me scarred and bloodless in this solitude. It was not my fault, Maud—I say it was no fault of mine; I have no remorse, though more regrets than I can count, and all scored with fire. As people passed by Bartram, and looked upon its neglected grounds and smokeless chimneys, they thought my plight, I dare say, about the worst a proud man could be reduced to. They could not imagine one half its misery. But this old hectic—this old epileptic—this old spectre of wrongs, calamities, and follies, had still one hope—my manly though untutored son—the last male scion of the Ruthyns. Maud, have I lost him? His fate—my fate—I may say Milly’s fate;—we all await your sentence. He loves you, as none but the very young can love, and that once only in a life. He loves you desperately—a most affectionate nature—a Ruthyn, the best blood in England—the last man of the race; and I—if I lose him I lose all; and you will see me in my coffin, Maud, before many months. I stand before you in the attitude of a suppliant—shall I kneel?’
His eyes were fixed on me with the light of despair, his knotted hands clasped, his whole figure bowed toward me. I was inexpressibly shocked and pained.
‘Oh, uncle! uncle!’ I cried, and from very excitement I burst into tears.