Cousin Monica made a sound of acquiescence—her lips closed and a nod, frowning hard at the bars.
‘It is very odd!’ she said; ‘how people can be such fools!’ Here there came a little pause. ‘And what sort of person is she—do you like her?’
’Very well—that is, pretty well. You won’t tell?—but she rather frightens me. I’m sure she does not intend it, but somehow I am very much afraid of her.’
‘She does not beat you?’ said Cousin Monica, with an incipient frenzy in her face that made me love her.
‘Nor ill-use you in any way?’
‘Upon your honour and word, Maud?’
‘No, upon my honour.’
’You know I won’t tell her anything you say to me; and I only want to know, that I may put an end to it, my poor little cousin.’
’Thank you, Cousin Monica very much; but really and truly she does not ill-use me.’
‘Nor threaten you, child?’
‘Well, no—no, she does not threaten.’
‘And how the plague does she frighten you, child?’
’Well, I really—I’m half ashamed to tell you—you’ll laugh at me—and I don’t know that she wishes to frighten me. But there is something, is not there, ghosty, you know, about her?’
’Ghosty—is there? well, I’m sure I don’t know, but I suspect there’s something devilish—I mean, she seems roguish—does not she? And I really think she has had neither cold nor pain, but has just been shamming sickness, to keep out of my way.’
I perceived plainly enough that Cousin Monica’s damnatory epithet referred to some retrospective knowledge, which she was not going to disclose to me.
‘You knew Madame before,’ I said. ‘Who is she?’
’She assures me she is Madame de la Rougierre, and, I suppose, in French phrase she so calls herself,’ answered Lady Knollys, with a laugh, but uncomfortably, I thought.
’Oh, dear Cousin Monica, do tell me—is she—is she very wicked? I am so afraid of her!’
’How should I know, dear Maud? But I do remember her face, and I don’t very much like her, and you may depend on it. I will speak to your father in the morning about her, and don’t, darling, ask me any more about her, for I really have not very much to tell that you would care to hear, and the fact is I won’t say any more about her—there!’
And Cousin Monica laughed, and gave me a little slap on the cheek, and then a kiss.
‘Well, just tell me this——’
’Well, I won’t tell you this, nor anything—not a word, curious little woman. The fact is, I have little to tell, and I mean to speak to your father, and he, I am sure, will do what is right; so don’t ask me any more, and let us talk of something pleasanter.’
There was something indescribably winning, it seemed to me, in Cousin Monica. Old as she was, she seemed to me so girlish, compared with those slow, unexceptionable young ladies whom I had met in my few visits at the county houses. By this time my shyness was quite gone, and I was on the most intimate terms with her.