‘Oh yes, so it was;’ and then there was an abstracted pause. ’I have been writing to Lord Ilbury, your trustee,’ he resumed. I ventured to say, my dear Maud—(for having thoughts of a different arrangement for you, more suitable under my distressing circumstances, I do not wish to vacate without some expression of your estimate of my treatment of you while under my roof)—I ventured to say that you thought me kind, considerate, indulgent,—may I say so?’
I assented. What could I say?
’I said you had enjoyed our poor way of living here—our rough ways and liberty. Was I right?’
Again I assented.
’And, in fact, that you had nothing to object against your poor old uncle, except indeed his poverty, which you forgave. I think I said truth. Did I, dear Maud?’
Again I acquiesced.
All this time he was fumbling among the papers in his coatpocket.
‘That is satisfactory. So I expected you to say,’ he murmured. ’I expected no less.’
On a sudden a frightful change spread across his face. He rose like a spectre with a white scowl.
‘Then how do you account for that?’ he shrieked in a voice of thunder, and smiting my open letter to Lady Knollys, face upward, upon the table.
I stared at my uncle, unable to speak, until I seemed to lose sight of him; but his voice, like a bell, still yelled in my ears.
’There! young hypocrite and liar! explain that farrago of slander which you bribed my servant to place in the hands of my kinswoman, Lady Knollys.’
And so on and on it went, I gazing into darkness, until the voice itself became indistinct, grew into a buzz, and hummed away into silence.
I think I must have had a fit.
When I came to myself I was drenched with water, my hair, face, neck, and dress. I did not in the least know where I was. I thought my father was ill, and spoke to him. Uncle Silas was standing near the window, looking unspeakably grim. Madame was seated beside me, and an open bottle of ether, one of Uncle Silas’s restoratives, on the table before me.
‘Who’s that—who’s ill—is anyone dead?’ I cried.
At last I was relieved by long paroxysms of weeping. When I was sufficiently recovered, I was conveyed into my own room.
LADY KNOLLYS’ CARRIAGE
Next morning—it was Sunday—I lay on my bed in my dressing-gown, dull, apathetic, with all my limbs sore, and, as I thought, rheumatic, and feeling so ill that I did not care to speak or lift my head. My recollection of what had passed in Uncle Silas’s room was utterly confused, and it seemed to me as if my poor father had been there and taken a share—I could not remember how—in the conference.
I was too exhausted and stupid to clear up this horrible muddle, and merely lay with my face toward the wall, motionless and silent, except for a great sigh every now and then.