A maid entered.
’A letter, please, ‘m,’ she said, handing it to me.
‘For me,’ snarled Madame, snatching it.
I had seen my uncle’s hand, and the Feltram post-mark.
Madame broke the seal, and read. It seemed but a word, for she turned it about after the first momentary glance, and examined the interior of the envelope, and then returned to the line she had already read.
She folded the letter again, drawing her nails in a sharp pinch along the creases, as she stared in a blank, hesitating way at me.
’You are stupid little ingrate, I am employ by Monsieur Ruthyn, and of course I am faithful to my employer. I do not want to talk to you. There, you may read that.’
She jerked the letter before me on the table. It contained but these words:—
’30th January, 1845.
’MY DEAR MADAME,
’Be so good as to take the half-past eight o’clock train to Dover to-night. Beds are prepared.—Yours very truly,
I cannot say what it was in this short advice that struck me with fear. Was it the thick line beneath the word ‘Dover,’ that was so uncalled for, and gave me a faint but terrible sense of something preconcerted?
I said to Madame—
‘Why is “Dover” underlined?’
’I do not know, little fool, no more than you. How can I tell what is passing in your oncle’s head when he make that a mark?’
‘Has it not a meaning, Madame?’
‘How can you talk like that?’ she answered, more in her old way. ’You are either mocking of me, or you are becoming truly a fool!’
She rang the bell, called for our bill, saw our hostess; while I made a few hasty prepartions in my room.
’You need not look after the trunks—they will follow us all right. Let us go, cheaile—we ‘av half an hour only to reach the train.’
No one ever fussed like Madame when occasion offered. There was a cab at the door, into which she hurried me. I assumed that she would give all needful directions, and leaned back, very weary and sleepy already, though it was so early, listening to her farewell screamed from the cab-step, and seeing her black cloak flitting and flapping this way and that, like the wings of a raven disturbed over its prey.
In she got, and away we drove through a glare of lamps, and shop-windows, still open; gas everywhere, and cabs, busses, and carriages, still thundering through the streets. I was too tired and too depressed to look at those things. Madame, on the contrary, had her head out of the window till we reached the station.
‘Where are the rest of the boxes?’ I asked, as Madame placed me in charge of her box and my bag in the office of the terminus.
’They will follow with Boots in another cab, and will come safe with us in this train. Mind those two, we weel bring in the carriage with us.’