I saw that his eyes were fixed on me with a dismal scrutiny. I think he divined the nature of my agitation; but he determined, notwithstanding, to press me while my helpless agitation continued.
’You see my suspense—you see my miserable and frightful suspense. You are kind, Maud; you love your father’s memory; your pity your father’s brother; you would not say no, and place a pistol at his head?’
’Oh! I must—I must—I must say no. Oh! spare me, uncle, for Heaven’s sake. Don’t question me—don’t press me. I could not—I could not do what you ask.’
’I yield, Maud—I yield, my dear. I will not press you; you shall have time, your own time, to think. I will accept no answer now—no, none, Maud.’
He said this, raising his thin hand to silence me.
’There, Maud, enough. I have spoken, as I always do to you, frankly, perhaps too frankly; but agony and despair will speak out, and plead, even with the most obdurate and cruel.’
With these words Uncle Silas entered his bed-chamber, and shut the door, not violently, but with a resolute hand, and I thought I heard a cry.
I hastened to my own room. I threw myself on my knees, and thanked Heaven for the firmness vouchsafed me; I could not believe it to have been my own.
I was more miserable in consequence of this renewed suit on behalf of my odious cousin than I can describe. My uncle had taken such a line of importunity that it became a sort of agony to resist. I thought of the possibility of my hearing of his having made away with himself, and was every morning relieved when I heard that he was still as usual. I have often wondered since at my own firmness. In that dreadful interview with my uncle I had felt, in the whirl and horror of my mind, on the very point of submitting, just as nervous people are said to throw themselves over precipices through sheer dread of falling.
SARAH MATILDA COMES TO LIGHT
Some time after this interview, one day as I sat, sad enough, in my room, looking listlessly from the window, with good Mary Quince, whom, whether in the house or in my melancholy rambles, I always had by my side, I was startled by the sound of a loud and shrill female voice, in violent hysterical action, gabbling with great rapidity, sobbing, and very nearly screaming in a sort of fury.
I started up, staring at the door.
‘Lord bless us!’ cried honest Mary Quince, with round eyes and mouth agape, staring in the same direction.
‘Mary—Mary, what can it be?’
‘Are they beating some one down yonder? I don’t know where it comes from,’ gasped Quince.
’I will—I will—I’ll see her. It’s her I want. Oo—hoo—hoo—hoo—oo—o—Miss Maud Ruthyn of Knowl. Miss Ruthyn of Knowl. Hoo—hoo—hoo—hoo—oo!’
‘What on earth can it be?’ I exclaimed, in great bewilderment and terror.