So I threw my arms about her neck, clasping her very close, and we kissed one another, I crying like a frightened child—and indeed in experience of the world I was no more.
THE OPENING OF THE WILL
Perhaps the terror with which I anticipated the hour of one, and the disclosure of the unknown undertaking to which I had bound myself, was irrational and morbid. But, honestly, I doubt it; my tendency has always been that of many other weak characters, to act impetuously, and afterwards to reproach myself for consequences which I have, perhaps, in reality, had little or no share in producing.
It was Doctor Bryerly’s countenance and manner in alluding to a particular provision in my father’s will that instinctively awed me. I have seen faces in a nightmare that haunted me with an indescribable horror, and yet I could not say wherein lay the fascination. And so it was with his—an omen, a menace, lurked in its sallow and dismal glance.
‘You must not be so frightened, darling,’ said Cousin Monica. ’It is foolish; it is, really; they can’t cut off your head, you know: they can’t really harm you in any essential way. If it involved a risk of a little money, you would not mind it; but men are such odd creatures—they measure all sacrifices by money. Doctor Bryerly would look just as you describe, if you were doomed to lose 500_l_., and yet it would not kill you.’
A companion like Lady Knollys is reassuring; but I could not take her comfort altogether to heart, for I felt that she had no great confidence in it herself.
There was a little French clock over the mantelpiece in the school-room, which I consulted nearly every minute. It wanted now but ten minutes of one.
‘Shall we go down to the drawing-room, dear?’ said Cousin Knollys, who was growing restless like me.
So down-stairs we went, pausing by mutual consent at the great window at the stair-head, which looks out on the avenue. Mr. Danvers was riding his tall, grey horse at a walk, under the wide branches toward the house, and we waited to see him get off at the door. In his turn he loitered there, for the good Rector’s gig, driven by the Curate, was approaching at a smart ecclesiastical trot.
Doctor Clay got down, and shook hands with Mr. Danvers; and after a word or two, away drove the Curate with that upward glance at the windows from which so few can refrain.
I watched the Rector and Mr. Danvers loitering on the steps as a patient might the gathering of surgeons who are to perform some unknown operation. They, too, glanced up at the window as they turned to enter the house, and I drew back. Cousin Monica looked at her watch.
‘Four minutes only. Shall we go to the drawing-room?’