Their conversation had begun under cover of the music which I was making, and now they were too much engrossed to perceive its discontinuance. The first sentence I heard seized my attention; my father had closed the book he was reading, upon his finger, and was leaning back in his chair, as he used to do when at all angry; his face was a little flushed, and I knew the fierce and glassy stare which expressed pride, surprise, and wrath.
’Yes, Lady Knollys, there’s an animus; I know the spirit you speak in—it does you no honour,’ said my father.
‘And I know the spirit you speak in, the spirit of madness,’ retorted Cousin Monica, just as much in earnest. ’I can’t conceive how you can be so demented, Austin. What has perverted you? are you blind?’
’You are, Monica; your own unnatural prejudice—unnatural prejudice, blinds you. What is it all?—nothing. Were I to act as you say, I should be a coward and a traitor. I see, I do see, all that’s real. I’m no Quixote, to draw my sword on illusions.’
’There should be no halting here. How can you—do you ever think? I wonder if you can breathe. I feel as if the evil one were in the house.’
A stern, momentary frown was my father’s only answer, as he looked fixedly at her.
’People need not nail up horseshoes and mark their door-stones with charms to keep the evil spirit out,’ ran on Lady Knollys, who looked pale and angry, in her way, ’but you open your door in the dark and invoke unknown danger. How can you look at that child that’s—she’s not playing,’ said Knollys, abruptly stopping.
My father rose, muttering to himself, and cast a lurid glance at me, as he went in high displeasure to the door. Cousin Monica, now flushed a little, glanced also silently at me, biting the tip of her slender gold cross, and doubtful how much I had heard.
My father opened the door suddenly, which he had just closed, and looking in, said, in a calmer tone—
’Perhaps, Monica, you would come for a moment to the study; I’m sure you have none but kindly feelings towards me and little Maud, there; and I thank you for your good-will; but you must see other things more reasonably, and I think you will.’
Cousin Monica got up silently and followed him, only throwing up her eyes and hands as she did so, and I was left alone, wondering and curious more than ever.