‘I tell ye what ye’ll do. Write a bit o’ a note to the lady yonder at Elverston; an’ though Brice be a wild fellah, and ’appen not ower good sometimes, he likes me, an’ I’ll make him take it. Fayther will be grindin’ at mill to-morrow. Coom ye here about one o’clock—that’s if ye see the mill-sails a-turnin’—and me and Brice will meet ye here. Bring that old lass wi’ ye. There’s an old French un, though, that talks wi’ Dudley. Mind ye, that un knows nout o’ the matter. Brice be a kind lad to me, whatsoe’er he be wi’ others, and I think he won’t split. Now, lass, I must go. God help ye; God bless ye; an’, for the world’s wealth, don’t ye let one o’ them see ye’ve got ought in your head, not even that un.’
Before I could say another word, the girl had glided from me, with a wild gesture of silence, and a shake of her head.
I can’t at all account for the state in which I was. There are resources both of energy and endurance in human nature which we never suspect until the tremendous voice of necessity summons them into play. Petrified with a totally new horror, but with something of the coldness and impassiveness of the transformation, I stood, spoke, and acted—a wonder, almost a terror, to myself.
I met Madame on my return as if nothing had happened. I heard her ugly gabble, and looked at the fruits of her hour’s shopping, as I might hear, and see, and talk, and smile, in a dream.
But the night was dreadful. When Mary Quince and I were alone, I locked the door. I continued walking up and down the room, with my hands clasped, looking at the inexorable floor, the walls, the ceiling, with a sort of imploring despair. I was afraid to tell my dear old Mary. The least indiscretion would be failure, and failure destruction.
I answered her perplexed solicitudes by telling her that I was not very well—that I was uneasy; but I did not fail to extract from her a promise that she would not hint to mortal, either my suspicions about Dudley, or our rencontre with Meg Hawkes.
I remember how, when, after we had got, late at night, into bed, I sat up, shivering with horror, in mine, while honest Mary’s tranquil breathing told how soundly she slept. I got up, and looked from the window, expecting to see some of those wolfish dogs which they had brought to the place prowling about the court-yard. Sometimes I prayed, and felt tranquillised, and fancied that I was perhaps to have a short interval of sleep. But the serenity was delusive, and all the time my nerves were strung hysterically. Sometimes I felt quite wild, and on the point of screaming. At length that dreadful night passed away. Morning came, and a less morbid, though hardly a less terrible state of mind. Madame paid me an early visit. A thought struck me. I knew that she loved shopping, and I said, quite carelessly—
’Your yesterday’s shopping tempts me, Madame, and I must get a few things before we leave for France. Suppose we go into Feltram to-day, and make my purchases, you and I?’