I had been on the point of writing to Lady Knollys on this odious subject, when, happily, it was set at rest by the disclosure of yesterday; and being so, I could have no difficulty in acceding to my uncle’s request. He was conceding so much that I could not withhold so trifling a concession in return.
‘I hope Monica will continue to be kind to poor Milly after I am gone.’
Here there were a few seconds of meditation.
’Maud, you will not, I think, refuse to convey the substance of what I have just said in a letter to Lady Knollys, and perhaps you would have no objection to let me see it when it is written. It will prevent the possibility of its containing any misconception of what I have just spoken: and, Maud, you won’t forget to say whether I have been kind. It would be a satisfaction to me to know that Monica was assured that I never either teased or bullied my young ward.’
With these words he dismissed me; and forthwith I completed such a letter as would quite embody what he had said; and in my own glowing terms, being in high good-humour with Uncle Silas, recorded my estimate of his gentleness and good-nature; and when I submitted it to him, he expressed his admiration of what he was pleased to call my cleverness in so exactly conveying what he wished, and his gratitude for the handsome terms in which I had spoken of my old guardian.
AN ODD PROPOSAL
As I and Mary Quince returned from our walk that day, and had entered the hall, I was surprised most disagreeably by Dudley’s emerging from the vestibule at the foot of the great staircase. He was, I suppose, in his travelling costume—a rather soiled white surtout, a great coloured muffler in folds about his throat, his ‘chimney-pot’ on, and his fur cap sticking out from his pocket. He had just descended, I suppose, from my uncle’s room. On seeing me he stepped back, and stood with his shoulders to the wall, like a mummy in a museum.
I pretended to have a few words to say to Mary before leaving the hall, in the hope that, as he seemed to wish to escape me, he would take the opportunity of getting quickly off the scene.
But he had changed his mind, it would seem, in the interval; for when I glanced in that direction again he had moved toward us, and stood in the hall with his hat in his hand. I must do him the justice to say he looked horribly dismal, sulky, and frightened.
’Ye’ll gi’e me a word, Miss—only a thing I ought to say—for your good; by ——, mind, it’s for your good, Miss.’
Dudley stood a little way off, viewing me, with his hat in both hands and a ‘glooming’ countenance.
I detested the idea of either hearing or speaking to him; but I had no resolution to refuse, and only saying ’I can’t imagine what you can wish to speak to me about,’ I approached him. ‘Wait there at the banister, Quince.’