’Come, come, be reasonable, Dudley, dear boy. There’s nothing to fear but your own folly. You won’t make a noise?’
‘Oh, oh, my God!’ said Dudley, hoarsely, and wiped his forehead with his open hand.
‘There now, you’ll be all well in a minute,’ continued the old man.
’You said ’twouldn’t hurt her. If I’d a known she’d a screeched like that I’d never a done it. ’Twas a damn lie. You’re the damndest villain on earth.’
‘Come, Dudley!’ said the old man under his breath, but very sternly, ’make up your mind. If you don’t choose to go on, it can’t be helped; only it’s a pity you began. For you it is a good deal—it does not much matter for me.’
‘Ay, for you!’ echoed Dudley, through his set teeth. ‘The old talk!’
‘Well, sir,’ snarled the old man, in the same low tones, ’you should have thought of all this before. It’s only taking leave of the world a year or two sooner, but a year or two’s something. I’ll leave you to do as you please.’
’Stop, will you? Stop here. I know it’s a fixt thing now. If a fella does a thing he’s damned for, you might let him talk a bit anyhow. I don’t care much if I was shot.’
’There now—there—just stick to that, and don’t run off again. There’s a box and a bag here; we must change the direction, and take them away. The box has some jewels. Can you see them? I wish we had a light.’
‘No, I’d rayther not; I can see well enough. I wish we were out o’ this. Here’s the box.’
‘Pull it to the window,’ said the old man, to my inexpressible relief advancing at last a few steps.
Coolness was given me in that dreadful moment, and I knew that all depended on my being prompt and resolute. I stood up swiftly. I often thought if I had happened to wear silk instead of the cachmere I had on that night, its rustle would have betrayed me.
I distinctly saw the tall stooping figure of my uncle, and the outline of his venerable tresses, as he stood between me and the dull light of the window, like a shape cut in card.
He was saying ‘just to there,’ and pointing with his long arm at that contracting patch of moonlight which lay squared upon the floor. The door was about a quarter open, and just as Dudley began to drag Madame’s heavy box, with my jewel-case in it, across the floor from her room, inhaling a great breath—with a mental prayer for help—I glided on tiptoe from the room and found myself on the gallery floor.
I turned to my right, simply by chance, and followed a long gallery in the dark, not running—I was too fearful of making the least noise—but walking with the tiptoe-swiftness of terror. At the termination of this was a cross-gallery, one end of which—that to my left—terminated in a great window, through which the dusky night-view was visible. With the instinct of terror I chose the darker, and turned again to my right; hurrying