‘Come, Maud,’ said Madame, encircling but not hurting my arm with her grip; ‘let us go, my friend.’
I did go, you will wonder, as well you may—as you may wonder at the docility with which strong men walk through the press-room to the drop, and thank the people of the prison for their civility when they bid them good-bye, and facilitate the fixing of the rope and adjusting of the cap. Have you never wondered that they don’t make a last battle for life with the unscrupulous energy of terror, instead of surrendering it so gently in cold blood, on a silent calculation, the arithmetic of despair?
I went upstairs with Madame like a somnambulist. I rather quickened my step as I drew near my room. I went in, and stood a phantom at the window, looking into the dark quadrange. A thin glimmering crescent hung in the frosty sky, and all heaven was strewn with stars. Over the steep roof at the other side spread on the dark azure of the night this glorious blazonry of the unfathomable Creator. To me a dreadful scroll—inexorable eyes—the cloud of cruel witnesses looking down in freezing brightness on my prayers and agonies.
I turned about and sat down, leaning my head upon my arms. Then suddenly I sat up, as for the first time the picture of Uncle Silas’s littered room, and the travelling bags and black boxes plied on the floor by his table—the desk, hat-case, umbrella, coats, rugs, and mufflers, all ready for a journey—reached my brain and suggested thought. The mise en scene had remained in every detail fixed upon my retina; and how I wondered—’When is he going—how soon? Is he going to carry me away and place me in a madhouse?’
‘Am I—am I mad?’ I began to think. ‘Is this all a dream, or is it real?’
I remembered how a thin polite gentleman, with a tall grizzled head and a black velvet waistcoat, came into the carriage on our journey, and said a few words to me; how Madame whispered him something, and he murmured ‘Oh!’ very gently, with raised eyebrows, and a glance at me, and thenceforward spoke no more to me, only to Madame, and at the next station carried his hat and other travelling chattels into another carriage. Had she told him I was mad?
These horrid bars! Madame always with me! The direful hints that dropt from my uncle! My own terrific sensations!—All these evidences revolved in my brain, and presented themselves in turn like writings on a wheel of fire.
There came a knock to the door—
Oh, Meg! Was it she? No; old Wyat whispered Madame something about her room.
So Madame re-entered, with a little silver tray and flagon in her hands, and a glass. Nothing came from Uncle Silas in ungentlemanlike fashion.
‘Drink, Maud,’ said Madame, raising the cover, and evidently enjoying the fragrant steam.
I could not. I might have done so had I been able to swallow anything—for I was too distracted to think of Meg’s warning.