‘I am ready, my dear; I weel accompany you,’ said the smirking phantom, hurrying after me.
‘Very well,’ was my reply; and threading our way, with a few hesitations and mistakes, we reached and descended the stairs, and in a minute more stood at my uncle’s door.
My uncle looked hard and strangely at us as we entered. He looked, indeed, as if his temper was violently excited, and glared and muttered to himself for a few seconds; and treating Madame to a stare of disgust, he asked peevishly—
‘Why am I disturbed, pray?’
‘Miss Maud a Ruthyn, she weel explain,’ replied Madame, with a great courtesy, like a boat going down in a ground swell.
‘Will you explain, my dear?’ he asked, in his coldest and most sarcastic tone.
I was agitated, and I am sure my statement was confused. I succeeded, however, in saying what I wanted.
‘Why, Madame, this is a grave charge! Do you admit it, pray?’
Madame, with the coolest possible effrontery, denied it all; with the most solemn asseverations, and with streaming eyes and clasped hands, conjured me melodramatically to withdraw that intolerable story, and to do her justice. I stared at her for a while astounded, and turning suddenly to my uncle, as vehemently asserted the truth of every syllable I had related.
’You hear, my dear child, you hear her deny everything; what am I to think? You must excuse the bewilderment of my old head. Madame de la—that lady has arrived excellently recommended by the superioress of the place where dear Milly awaits you, and such persons are particular. It strikes me, my dear niece, that you must have made a mistake.’
I protested here. But he went on without seeming to hear the parenthesis—
’I know, my dear Maud, that you are quite incapable of wilfully deceiving anyone; but you are liable to be deceived like other young people. You were, no doubt, very nervous, and but half awake when you fancied you saw the occurrence you describe; and Madame de—de—’
‘De la Rougierre,’ I supplied.
’Yes, thank you—Madame de la Rougierre, who has arrived with excellent testimonials, strenuously denies the whole thing. Here is a conflict, my dear—in my mind a presumption of mistake. I confess I should prefer that theory to a peremptory assumption of guilt.’
I felt incredulous and amazed; it seemed as if a dream were being enacted before me. A transaction of the most serious import, which I had witnessed with my own eyes, and described with unexceptionable minuteness and consistency, is discredited by that strange and suspicious old man with an imbecile coolness. It was quite in vain my reiterating my statement, backing it with the most earnest asseverations. I was beating the air. It did not seem to reach his mind. It was all received with a simper of feeble incredulity.
He patted and smoothed my head—he laughed gently, and shook his while I insisted; and Madame protested her purity in now tranquil floods of innocent tears, and murmured mild and melancholy prayers for my enlightenment and reformation. I felt as if I should lose my reason.