’We must not talk of ghosts now. You are a superstitious little woman, you know, and you shan’t be frightened.’
And now Cousin Monica grew silent again, and looking briskly around the room, like a lady in search of a subject, her eye rested on a small oval portrait, graceful, brightly tinted, in the French style, representing a pretty little boy, with rich golden hair, large soft eyes, delicate features, and a shy, peculiar expression.
’It is odd; I think I remember that pretty little sketch, very long ago. I think I was then myself a child, but that is a much older style of dress, and of wearing the hair, too, than I ever saw. I am just forty-nine now. Oh dear, yes; that is a good while before I was born. What a strange, pretty little boy! a mysterious little fellow. Is he quite sincere, I wonder? What rich golden hair! It is very clever—a French artist, I dare say—and who is that little boy?’
’I never heard. Some one a hundred years ago, I dare say. But there is a picture down-stairs I am so anxious to ask you about!’
‘Oh!’ murmured Lady Knollys, still gazing dreamily on the crayon.
’It is the full-length picture of Uncle Silas—I want to ask you about him.’
At mention of his name, my cousin gave me a look so sudden and odd as to amount almost to a start.
‘Your uncle Silas, dear? It is very odd, I was just thinking of him;’ and she laughed a little.
‘Wondering whether that little boy could be he.’
And up jumped active Cousin Monica, with a candle in her hand, upon a chair, and scrutinised the border of the sketch for a name or a date.
‘Maybe on the back?’ said she.
And so she unhung it, and there, true enough, not on the back of the drawing, but of the frame, which was just as good, in pen-and-ink round Italian letters, hardly distinguishable now from the discoloured wood, we traced—
‘Silas Aylmer Ruthyn, AEtate viii. 15 May, 1779.’
’It is very odd I should not have been told or remembered who it was. I think if I had ever been told I should have remembered it. I do recollect this picture, though, I am nearly certain. What a singular child’s face!’
And my cousin leaned over it with a candle on each side, and her hand shading her eyes, as if seeking by aid of these fair and half-formed lineaments to read an enigma.
The childish features defied her, I suppose; their secret was unfathomable, for after a good while she raised her head, still looking at the portrait, and sighed.
‘A very singular face,’ she said, softly, as a person might who was looking into a coffin. ‘Had not we better replace it?’
So the pretty oval, containing the fair golden hair and large eyes, the pale, unfathomable sphinx, remounted to its nail, and the funeste and beautiful child seemed to smile down oracularly on our conjectures.