I was crying and wringing my hands, and turning from side to side, at my wits’ ends, and honest Mary Quince in vain endevoured to quiet and comfort me.
A MIDNIGHT VISITOR
The frightful warnings of Lady Knollys haunted me too. Was there no escape from the dreadful companion whom fate had assigned me? I made up my mind again and again to speak to my father and urge her removal. In other things he indulged me; here, however, he met me drily and sternly, and it was plain that he fancied I was under my cousin Monica’s influence, and also that he had secret reasons for persisting in an opposite course. Just then I had a gay, odd letter from Lady Knollys, from some country house in Shropshire. Not a word about Captain Oakley. My eye skimmed its pages in search of that charmed name. With a peevish feeling I tossed the sheet upon the table. Inwardly I thought how ill-natured and unwomanly it was.
After a time, however, I read it, and found the letter very good-natured. She had received a note from papa. He had ’had the impudence to forgive her for his impertinence.’ But for my sake she meant, notwithstanding this aggravation, really to pardon him; and whenever she had a disengaged week, to accept his invitation to Knowl, from whence she was resolved to whisk me off to London, where, though I was too young to be presented at Court and come out, I might yet—besides having the best masters and a good excuse for getting rid of Medusa—see a great deal that would amuse and surprise me.
‘Great news, I suppose, from Lady Knollys?’ said Madame, who always knew who in the house received letters by the post, and by an intuition from whom they came.
‘Two letters—you and your papa. She is quite well, I hope?’
‘Quite well, thank you, Madame.’
Some fishing questions, dropped from time to time, fared no better. And as usual, when she was foiled even in a trifle, she became sullen and malignant.
That night, when my father and I were alone, he suddenly closed the book he had been reading, and said—
’I heard from Monica Knollys to-day. I always liked poor Monnie; and though she’s no witch, and very wrong-headed at times, yet now and then she does say a thing that’s worth weighing. Did she ever talk to you of a time, Maud, when you are to be your own mistress?’
‘No,’ I answered, a little puzzled, and looking straight in his rugged, kindly face.
’Well, I thought she might—she’s a rattle, you know—always was a rattle, and that sort of people say whatever comes uppermost. But that’s a subject for me, and more than once, Maud, it has puzzled me.’
‘Come with me to the study, little Maud.’
So, he carrying a candle, we crossed the lobby, and marched together through the passage, which at night always seemed a little awesome, darkly wainscoted, uncheered by the cross-light from the hall, which was lost at the turn, leading us away from the frequented parts of the house to that misshapen and lonely room about which the traditions of the nursery and the servants’ hall had had so many fearful stories to recount.