’You are a very secrete family, you Ruthyns—you are so coning. I hate the coning people. By my faith, I weel see Mr. Silas Ruthyn, and ask wat he mean. I heard him tell old Wyat that Mr. Dudley is gone away to-night. He shall tell me everything, or else I weel make echec et mat aussi vrai que je vis.’
Madame’s words had hardly ceased, when I was again watching Meg Hawkes on the steep road, mounting, but never reaching, the top of the acclivity, on the way to Elverston, and mentally praying that she might be brought safely there. Vain prayer of an agonised heart! Meg’s journey was already frustrated: she was not to reach Elverston in time.
Madame revisited her apartment, and returned, not, I think, improved in temper. She walked about the room, hustling the scanty furniture hither and thither as she encountered it. She kicked her empty box out of her way, with a horrid crash, and a curse in French. She strode and swaggered round the room, muttering all the way, and turning the corners of her course with a furious whisk. At last, out of the door she went. I think she fancied she had not been sufficiently taken into confidence as to what was intended for me.
It was now growing late, and yet no succour! I was seized, I remember, with a dreadful icy shivering.
I was listening for signals of deliverance. At ever distant sound, half stifled with a palpitation, these sounds piercing my ear with a horrible and exaggerated distinctness—’Oh Meg!—Oh cousin Monica!—Oh come! Oh Heaven, have mercy!—Lord, have mercy!’ I thought I heard a roaring and jangle of voices. Perhaps it came from Uncle Silas’s room. It might be the tipsy violence of Madame. It might—merciful Heaven!—be the arrival of friends. I started to my feet; I listened, quivering with attention. Was it in my brain?—was it real? I was at the door, and it seemed to open of itself. Madame had forgotten to lock it; she was losing her head a little by this time. The key stood in the gallery door beyond; it too, was open. I fled wildly. There was a subsiding sound of voices in my uncle’s room. I was, I know not how, on the lobby at the great stair-head outside my uncle’s apartment. My hand was on the banisters, my foot on the first step, when below me and against the faint light that glimmered through the great window on the landing I saw a bulky human form ascending, and a voice said ‘Hush!’ I staggered back, and at that instant fancied, with a thrill of conviction, I heard Lady Knollys’s voice in Uncle Silas’ room.
I don’t know how I entered the room; I was there like a ghost. I was frightened at my own state.
Lady Knollys was not there—no one but Madame and my guardian.
I can never forget the look that Uncle Silas fixed on me as he cowered, seemingly as appalled as I.
I think I must have looked like a phantom newly risen from the grave.
‘What’s that?—where do you come from?’ whispered he.