’I think, Cousin Monica, I would wish to see him once more. Shall we go up?’
’Unless you really wish it very much, I think, darling, you had better not mind it. It is happier to recollect them as they were; there’s a change, you know, darling, and there is seldom any comfort in the sight.’
‘But I do wish it very much. Oh! won’t you come with me?’
And so I persuaded her, and up we went hand in hand, in the deepening twilight; and we halted at the end of the dark gallery, and I called Mrs. Rusk, growing frightened.
‘Tell her to let us in, Cousin Monica,’ I whispered.
‘She wishes to see him, my lady—does she?’ enquired Mrs. Rusk, in an under-tone, and with a mysterious glance at me, as she softly fitted the key to the lock.
‘Are you quite sure, Maud, dear?’
But when Mrs. Rusk entered bearing the candle, whose beam mixed dismally with the expiring twilight, disclosing a great black coffin standing upon trestles, near the foot of which she took her stand, gazing sternly into it, I lost heart again altogether and drew back.
‘No, Mrs. Rusk, she won’t; and I am very glad, dear,’ she added to me. ‘Come, Mrs. Rusk, come away. Yes, darling,’ she continued to me, ’it is much better for you;’ and she hurried me away, and down-stairs again. But the awful outlines of that large black coffin remained upon my imagination with a new and terrible sense of death.
I had no more any wish to see him. I felt a horror even of the room, and for more than an hour after a kind of despair and terror, such as I have never experienced before or since at the idea of death.
Cousin Monica had had her bed placed in my room, and Mary Quince’s moved to the dressing-room adjoining it. For the first time the superstitious awe that follows death, but not immediately, visited me. The idea of seeing my father enter the room, or open the door and look in, haunted me. After Lady Knollys and I were in bed, I could not sleep. The wind sounded mournfully outside, and the small sounds, the rattlings, and strainings that responded from within, constantly startled me, and simulated the sounds of steps, of doors opening, of knockings, and so forth, rousing me with a palpitating heart as often as I fell into a doze.
At length the wind subsided, and these ambiguous noises abated, and I, fatigued, dropped into a quiet sleep. I was awakened by a sound in the gallery—which I could not define. A considerable time had passed, for the wind was now quite lulled. I sat up in my bed a good deal scared, listening breathlessly for I knew not what.
I heard a step moving stealthily along the gallery. I called my cousin Monica softly; and we both heard the door of the room in which my father’s body lay unlocked, some one furtively enter, and the door shut.
‘What can it be? Good Heavens, Cousin Monica, do you hear it?’