‘Have you any idea, Maud, darling, what this service may be?’ she enquired, with a grave and anxious curiosity in her countenance.
’None, Cousin Monica; but I have thought long over my undertaking to do it, or submit to it, be it what it may; and I will keep the promise I voluntarily made, although I know what a coward I am, and often distrust my courage.’
‘Well, I am not to frighten you.’
’How could you? Why should I be afraid? Is there anything frightful to be disclosed? Do tell me—you must tell me.’
’No, darling, I did not mean that—I don’t mean that;—I could, if I would; I—I don’t know exactly what I meant. But your poor papa knew him better than I—in fact, I did not know him at all—that is, ever quite understood him—which your poor papa, I see, had ample opportunities of doing.’ And after a little pause, she added—’So you do not know what you are expected to do or to undergo.’
‘Oh! Cousin Monica, I know you think he committed that murder,’ I cried, starting up, I don’t know why, and I felt that I grew deadly pale.
’I don’t believe any such thing, you little fool; you must not say such horrible things, Maud,’ she said, rising also, and looking both pale and angry. ’Shall we go out for a little walk? Come, lock up these papers, dear, and get your things on; and if that Dr. Bryerly does not turn up to-morrow, you must send for the Rector, good Doctor Clay, and let him make search for the will—there may be directions about many things, you know; and, my dear Maud, you are to remember that Silas is my cousin as well as your uncle. Come, dear, put on your hat.’
So we went out together for a little cloistered walk.
SOMEBODY IN THE ROOM WITH THE COFFIN
When we returned, a ‘young’ gentleman had arrived. We saw him in the parlour as we passed the window. It was simply a glance, but such a one as suffices to make a photograph, which we can study afterwards, at our leisure. I remember him at this moment—a man of six-and-thirty—dressed in a grey travelling suit, not over-well made; light-haired, fat-faced, and clumsy; and he looked both dull and cunning, and not at all like a gentleman.
Branston met us, announced the arrival, and handed me the stranger’s credentials. My cousin and I stopped in the passage to read them.
‘That’s your uncle Silas’s,’ said Lady Knollys, touching one of the two letters with the tip of her finger.
‘Shall we have lunch, Miss?’
‘Certainly.’ So Branston departed.
‘Read it with me, Cousin Monica,’ I said. And a very curious letter it was. It spoke as follows:—
’How can I thank my beloved niece for remembering her aged and forlorn kinsman at such a moment of anguish?’
I had written a note of a few, I dare say, incoherent words by the next post after my dear father’s death.