’I was to demand to Mr. Ruthyn the permission to go to Feltram, and I think he will allow. He want to speak to you.’
With Madame I entered my uncle’s room. He was reclining on a sofa, his back towards us, and his long white hair, as fine as spun glass, hung over the back of the couch.
’I was going to ask you, dear Maud, to execute two or three little commissions for me in Feltram.’
My dreadful letter felt lighter in my pocket, and my heart beat violently.
’But I have just recollected that this is a market-day, and Feltram will be full of doubtful characters and tipsy persons, so we must wait till to-morrow; and Madame says, very kindly, that she will, as she does not so much mind, make any little purchases to-day which cannot conveniently wait.’
Madame assented with a courtesy to Uncle Silas, and a great hollow smile to me.
By this time Uncle Silas had raised himself from his reclining posture, and was sitting, gaunt and white, upon the sofa.
‘News of my prodigal to-day,’ he said, with a peevish smile, drawing the newspaper towards him. ’The vessel has been spoken again. How many miles away, do you suppose?’
He spoke in a plaintive key, looking at me, with hungry eyes, and a horribly smiling countenance.
‘How far do you suppose Dudley is to-day?’ and he laid the palm of his hand on the paragraph as he spoke. Guess!’
For a moment I fancied this was a theatric preparation to give point to the disclosure of Dudley’s real whereabouts.
‘It was a very long way. Guess!’ he repeated.
So, stammering a little and pale, I performed the required hypocrisy, after which my uncle read aloud for my benefit the line or two in which were recorded the event, and the latitude and longitude of the vessel at the time, of which Madame made a note in her memory, for the purpose of making her usual tracing in poor Milly’s Atlas.
I cannot say how it really was, but I fancied that Uncle Silas was all the time reading my countenance, with a grim and practised scrutiny; but nothing came of it, and we were dismissed.
Madame loved shopping, even for its own sake, but shopping with opportunities of peculation still more. She she had had her luncheon, and was dressed for the excursion, she did precisely what I now most desired—she proposed to take charge of my commissions and my money; and thus entrusted, left me at liberty to keep tryst at the Chestnut Hollow.
So soon as I had seen Madame fairly off, I hurried Mary Quince, and got my things on quickly. We left the house by the side entrance, which I knew my uncle’s windows did not command. Glad was I to feel a slight breeze, enough to make the mill-sails revolve; and as we got further into the grounds, and obtained a distant view of the picturesque old windmill, I felt inexpressibly relieved on seeing that it was actually working.