This oracular sentence he spoke, having stopped me in the hall; and then saying, ‘We shall see,’ he left me as abruptly as he appeared.
Did he apprehend any danger to me from the vindictiveness of Madame?
A day or two afterwards, as I was in the Dutch garden, I saw him on the terrace steps. He beckoned to me, and came to meet me as I approached.
’You must be very solitary, little Maud; it is not good. I have written to Monica: in a matter of detail she is competent to advise; perhaps she will come here for a short visit.’
I was very glad to hear this.
’You are more interested than for my time I can be, in vindicating his character.’
‘Whose character, sir?’ I ventured to enquire during the pause that followed.
One trick which my father had acquired from his habits of solitude and silence was this of assuming that the context of his thoughts was legible to others, forgetting that they had not been spoken.
’Whose?—your uncle Silas’s. In the course of nature he must survive me. He will then represent the family name. Would you make some sacrifice to clear that name, Maud?’
I answered briefly; but my face, I believe, showed my enthusiasm.
He turned on me such an approving smile as you might fancy lighting up the rugged features of a pale old Rembrandt.
’I can tell you, Maud; if my life could have done it, it should not have been undone—ubi lapsus, quid feci. But I had almost made up my mind to change my plan, and leave all to time—edax rerum—to illuminate or to consume. But I think little Maud would like to contribute to the restitution of her family name. It may cost you something—are you willing to buy it at a sacrifice? Is there—I don’t speak of fortune, that is not involved—but is there any other honourable sacrifice you would shrink from to dispel the disgrace under which our most ancient and honourable name must otherwise continue to languish?’
‘Oh, none—none indeed, sir—I am delighted!’
Again I saw the Rembrandt smile.
’Well, Maud, I am sure there is no risk; but you are to suppose there is. Are you still willing to accept it?’
Again I assented.
’You are worthy of your blood, Maud Ruthyn. It will come soon, and it won’t last long. But you must not let people like Monica Knollys frighten you.’
I was lost in wonder.
’If you allow them to possess you with their follies, you had better recede in time—they may make the ordeal as terrible as hell itself. You have zeal—have you nerve?’ I thought in such a cause I had nerve for anything.
’Well, Maud, in the course of a few months—and it may be sooner—there must be a change. I have had a letter from London this morning that assures me of that. I must then leave you for a time; in my absence be faithful to the duties that will arise. To whom much is committed, of him will much be required. You shall promise me not to mention this conversation to Monica Knollys. If you are a talking girl, and cannot trust yourself, say so, and we will not ask her to come. Also, don’t invite her to talk about your uncle Silas—I have reasons. Do you quite understand my conditions?’