Why was Madame here? Why was Dudley concealed about the place? Why was I a prisoner within the walls? What were those dangers which Meg Hawkes seemed to think so great and so imminent as to induce her to risk her lover’s safety for my deliverance? All these menacing facts stood grouped together against the dark certainty that never were men more deeply interested in making away with one human being, than were Uncle Silas and Dudley in removing me.
Sometimes to these dreadful evidences I abandoned my soul. Sometimes, reading Cousin Monica’s sunny letter, the sky would clear, and my terrors melt away like nightmares in the morning. I never repented, however, that I had sent my letter by Tom Brice. Escape from Bartram-Haugh was my hourly longing.
That evening Madame invited herself to tea with me. I did not object. It was better just then to be on friendly relations with everybody, if possible, even on their own terms. She was in one of her boisterous and hilarious moods, and there was a perfume of brandy.
She narrated some compliments paid her that morning in Feltram by that ‘good crayature’ Mrs. Litheways, the silk-mercer, and what ‘’ansom faylow’ was her new foreman—(she intended plainly that I should ‘queez’ her)—and how ‘he follow’ her with his eyes wherever she went. I thought, perhaps, he fancied she might pocket some of his lace or gloves. And all the time her great wicked eyes were rolling and glancing according to her ideas of fascination, and her bony face grinning and flaming with the ‘strong drink’ in which she delighted. She sang twaddling chansons, and being, as was her wont under such exhilarating influences, in a vapouring mood, she vowed that I should have my carriage and horses immediately.
’I weel try what I can do weeth your Uncle Silas. We are very good old friends, Mr. Ruthyn and I,’ she said with a leer which I did not understand, and which yet frightened me.
I never could quite understand why these Jezebels like to insinuate the dreadful truth against themselves; but they do. Is it the spirit of feminine triumph overcoming feminine shame, and making them vaunt their fall as an evidence of bygone fascination and existing power? Need we wonder? Have not women preferred hatred to indifference, and the reputation of witchcraft, with all its penalties, to absolute insignificance? Thus, as they enjoyed the fear inspired among simple neighbours by their imagined traffic with the father of ill, did Madame, I think, relish with a cynical vainglory the suspicion of her satanic superiority.
Next morning Uncle Silas sent for me. He was seated at his table, and spoke his little French greeting, smiling as usual, pointing to a chair opposite.
‘How far, I forget,’ he said, carelessly laying his newspaper on the table, ‘did you yesterday guess Dudley to be?’
‘Eleven hundred miles I thought it was.’