For a few minutes I felt quite distracted; but I bethought me that I must now, if ever, control my terrors and exert whatever faculties I possessed.
I stood upon a chair and examined the oak-work. I thought I detected marks of new chiselling here and there. The screws, too, looked new; and they and the scars on the woodwork were freshly smeared over with some coloured stuff by way of disguise.
While I was making these observations, I heard the key stealthily stirred. I suspect that Madame wished to surprise me. Her approaching step, indeed, was seldom audible; she had the soft tread of the feline tribe.
I was standing in the centre of the room confronting her when she entered.
‘Why did you lock the door, Madame?’ I demanded.
She slipped in suddenly with an insidious smirk, and locked the door hastily.
‘Hish!’ whispered Madame, raising her broad palm; and then screwing in her cheeks, she made an ogle over her shoulder in the direction of the passage.
’Hish! be quiate, cheaile, weel you, and I weel tale you everything presently.’
She paused, with her ear laid to the door.
’Now I can speak, ma chere; I weel tale a you there is bailiff in the house, two, three, four soche impertinent fallows! They have another as bad as themselve to make a leest of the furniture: we most keep them out of these rooms, dear Maud.’
‘You left the key in the door on the outside,’ I retorted; ’that was not to keep them out, but me in, Madame.’
‘Deed I leave the key in the door?’ ejaculated Madame, with both hands raised, and such a genuine look of consternation as for a moment shook me.
It was the nature of this woman’s deceptions that they often puzzled though they seldom convinced me.
’I re-ally think, Maud, all those so frequent changes and excite-ments they weel overturn my poor head.’
‘And the windows are secured with iron bars—what are they for?’ I whispered sternly, pointing with my finger at these grim securities.
’That is for more a than forty years, when Sir Phileep Aylmer was to reside here, and had this room for his children’s nursery, and was afraid they should fall out.’
’But if you look you will find these bars have been put here very recently: the screws and marks are quite new.’
‘Eendeed!’ ejaculated Madame, with prolonged emphasis, in precisely the same consternation. ’Why, my dear, they told a me down stair what I have tell a you, when I ask the reason! Late a me see.’
And Madame mounted on a chair, and made her scrutiny with much curiosity, but could not agree with me as to the very recent date of the carpentry.
There is nothing, I think, so exasperating as that sort of falsehood which affects not to see what is quite palpable.
’Do you mean to say, Madame, that you really think those chisellings and screws are forty years old?’