‘Oh, it won’t be—it won’t be—Oh no!—never!—it could not be!’ And in this stunned state Madame found me on her return.
But the valley of the shadow of death has its varieties of dread. The ‘horror of great darkness’ is disturbed by voices and illumed by sights. There are periods of incapacity and collapse, followed by paroxysms of active terror. Thus in my journey during those long hours I found it—agonies subsiding into lethargies, and these breaking again into frenzy. I sometimes wonder how I carried my reason safely through the ordeal.
Madame locked the door, and amused herself with her own business, without minding me, humming little nasal snatches of French airs, as she smirked on her silken purchases displayed in the daylight. Suddenly it struck me that it was very dark, considering how early it was. I looked at my watch; it seemed to me a great effort of concentration to understand it. Four o’clock, it said. Four o’clock! It would be dark at five—night in one hour!
‘Madame, what o’clock is it? Is it evening?’ I cried with my hand to my forehead, like a person puzzled.
’Two three minutes past four. It had five minutes to four when I came upstairs,’ answered she, without interrupting her examination of a piece of darned lace which she was holding close to her eyes at the window.
‘Oh, Madame! Madame! I’m frightened,’ cried I, with a wild and piteous voice, grasping her arm, and looking up, as shipwrecked people may their last to heaven, into her inexorable eyes. Madame looked frightened too, I thought, as she stared into my face. At last she said, rather angrily, and shaking her arm loose—
‘What you mean, cheaile?’
‘Oh save me, Madame!—oh save me!—oh save me, Madame!’ I pleaded, with the wild monotony of perfect terror, grasping and clinging to her dress, and looking up, with an agonised face, into the eyes of that shadowy Atropos.
‘Save a you, indeed! Save! What niaiserie!’
’Oh, Madame! Oh, dear Madame! for God’s sake, only get me away—get me from this, and I’ll do everything you ask me all my life—I will—indeed, Madame, I will! Oh save me! save me! save me!’
I was clinging to Madame as to my guardian angel in my agony.
‘And who told you, cheaile, you are in any danger?’ demanded Madame, looking down on me with a black and witchlike stare.
’I am, Madame—I am—in great danger! Oh, Madame, think of me—take pity on me! I have none to help me—there is no one but God and you!’
Madame all this time viewed me with the same dismal stare, like a sorceress reading futurity in my face.
’Well, maybe you are—how can I tell? Maybe your uncle is mad—maybe you are mad. You have been my enemy always—why should I care?’
Again I burst into wild entreaty, and, clasping her fast, poured forth my supplications with the bitterness of death.