I sat still, listening and wondering, and wondering and listening; but I ought to have known that no sound could reach me where I was from my father’s study. Five minutes passed and they did not return. Ten, fifteen. I drew near the fire and made myself comfortable in a great arm-chair, looking on the embers, but not seeing all the scenery and dramatis personae of my past life or future fortunes, in their shifting glow, as people in romances usually do; but fanciful castles and caverns in blood-red and golden glare, suggestive of dreamy fairy-land, salamanders, sunsets, and palaces of fire-kings, and all this partly shaping and partly shaped by my fancy, and leading my closing eyes and drowsy senses off into dream-land. So I nodded and dozed, and sank into a deep slumber, from which I was roused by the voice of my cousin Monica. On opening my eyes, I saw nothing but Lady Knollys’ face looking steadily into mine, and expanding into a good-natured laugh as she watched the vacant and lack-lustre stare with which I returned her gaze.
’Come, dear Maud, it is late; you ought to have been in your bed an hour ago.’
Up I stood, and so soon as I had begun to hear and see aright, it struck me that Cousin Monica was more grave and subdued than I had seen her.
‘Come, let us light our candles and go together.’
Holding hands, we ascended, I sleepy, she silent; and not a word was spoken until we reached my room. Mary Quince was in waiting, and tea made.
‘Tell her to come back in a few minutes; I wish to say a word to you,’ said Lady Knollys.
The maid accordingly withdrew.
Lady Knollys’ eyes followed her till she closed the door behind her.
‘I’m going in the morning.’
’Yes, dear; I could not stay; in fact, I should have gone tonight, but it was too late, and I leave instead in the morning.’
‘I am so sorry—so very sorry,’ I exclaimed, in honest disappointment, and the walls seemed to darken round me, and the monotony of the old routine loomed more terrible in prospect.
‘So am I, dear Maud.’
‘But can’t you stay a little longer; won’t you?’
’No, Maud; I’m vexed with Austin—very much vexed with your father; in short, I can’t conceive anything so entirely preposterous, and dangerous, and insane as his conduct, now that his eyes are quite opened, and I must say a word to you before I go, and it is just this:—you must cease to be a mere child, you must try and be a woman, Maud: now don’t be frightened or foolish, but hear me out. That woman—what does she call herself—Rougierre? I have reason to believe is—in fact, from circumstances, must be your enemy; you will find her very deep, daring, and unscrupulous, I venture to say, and you can’t be too much on your guard. Do you quite understand me, Maud?’
‘I do,’ said I, with a gasp, and my eyes fixed on her with a terrified interest, as if on a warning ghost.