Maud stood fixed to the spot. Darkness had closed in around her, and she clung to the banisters to save herself from the gulf which seemed to yawn before her feet. The ringing of a bell, the drawing-room bell summoning Mrs. Enderby’s maid, brought her back to consciousness, and with trembling limbs she regained her room. It was as though some ghastly vision of the night had shaken her soul. The habit of her mind overwhelmed her with the conviction that she knew at last the meaning of that mystery of horror which had of late been strengthening its hold upon her imagination. The black cloud which lowered above the house had indeed its significance; the voices which wailed to her of sin and woe were the true expression of things amid which she had been moving unconsciously. That instinct which made her shrink from her mother’s presence was not without its justification; the dark powers which circled her existence had not vainly forced their influence upon her. Her first impulse was to flee from the house; the air breathed pestilence and death, death of the soul. Looking about her in the anguish of conflicting thoughts, her eyes fell upon the pages she had written. These now came before her as a proof of contagion which had seized upon her own nature; she tore the letter hastily into fragments, and, striking fire with a match, consumed them in the grate. As she watched the sparks go out, there came a rustling of dresses past her door. She flung herself upon her knees and sought refuge in wild, wordless prayer.
A fortnight after this Maud went late in the evening to the room where she knew her father was sitting alone. Paul Enderby looked up from his papers in surprise; it was some time since Maud had sought private conversation with him. As he met her pale, resolute face, he knew that she had a serious purpose in thus visiting him, and his look changed to one of nervous anticipation.
“Do I disturb you, father?” Maud asked. “Could you spare me a few minutes?”
Paul nodded, and she took a seat near him.
“Father, I am going to leave home, going to be a governess again.”
He drew a sigh of relief; he had expected something worse than this. Yet the relief was only for a moment, and then he looked at her with eyes which made her soul fail for very compassion.
“You will desert me, Maud?” he asked, trying to convey in his look that which he could not utter in words.
“Father, I can be of no help, and I feel that I must not remain here.”
“Have you found a place?”
“This afternoon I engaged myself to go to Paris with a French family. They have been in England some time, and want to take back an English governess for their children.”
Paul was silent.
“I leave the day after to-morrow,” she added; at first she had feared to say how soon she was to go.
“You are right,” her father said, shifting some papers about with a tremulous hand. “You are right to leave us. You at least will be safe.”