’Dr. Bryerly will ask you about that key, and what it opens; you show all that to him, and no one else.’
‘But,’ I said, for I had a great terror of disobeying him in ever so minute a matter, ‘you will then be absent, sir—how am I to find the key?’
He smiled on me suddenly—a bright but wintry smile—it seldom came, and was very transitory, and kindly though mysterious.
’True, child; I’m glad you are so wise; that, you will find, I have provided for, and you shall know exactly where to look. You have remarked how solitarily I live. You fancy, perhaps, I have not got a friend, and you are nearly right—nearly, but not altogether. I have a very sure friend—one—a friend whom I once misunderstood, but now appreciate.’
I wondered silently whether it could be Uncle Silas.
’He’ll make me a call, some day soon; I’m not quite sure when. I won’t tell you his name—you’ll hear that soon enough, and I don’t want it talked of; and I must make a little journey with him. You’ll not be afraid of being left alone for a time?’
‘And have you promised, sir?’ I answered, with another question, my curiosity and anxiety overcoming my awe. He took my questioning very good-humouredly.
’Well—promise?—no, child; but I’m under condition; he’s not to be denied. I must make the excursion with him the moment he calls. I have no choice; but, on the whole, I rather like it—remember, I say, I rather like it.’
And he smiled again, with the same meaning, that was at once stern and sad. The exact purport of these sentences remained fixed in my mind, so that even at this distance of time I am quite sure of them.
A person quite unacquainted with my father’s habitually abrupt and odd way of talking, would have fancied that he was possibly a little disordered in his mind. But no such suspicion for a moment troubled me. I was quite sure that he spoke of a real person who was coming, and that his journey was something momentous; and when the visitor of whom he spoke did come, and he departed with him upon that mysterious excursion, I perfectly understood his language and his reasons for saying so much and yet so little.
You are not to suppose that all my hours were passed in the sort of conference and isolation of which I have just given you a specimen; and singular and even awful as were sometimes my tete-a-tetes with my father, I had grown so accustomed to his strange ways, and had so unbounded a confidence in his affection, that they never depressed or agitated me in the manner you might have supposed. I had a great deal of quite a different sort of chat with good old Mrs. Rusk, and very pleasant talks with Mary Quince, my somewhat ancient maid; and besides all this, I had now and then a visit of a week or so at the house of some one of our country neighbours, and occasionally a visitor—but this, I must own, very rarely—at Knowl.