Uncle Silas

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter LVIII

Next morning—it was Sunday—I lay on my bed in my dressing-gown, dull, apathetic, with all my limbs sore, and, as I thought, rheumatic, and feeling so ill that I did not care to speak or lift my head. My recollection of what had passed in Uncle Silas's room was utterly confused, and it seemed to me as if my poor father had been there and taken a share—I could not remember how—in the conference.

I was too exhausted and stupid to clear up this horrible muddle, and merely lay with my face toward the wall, motionless and silent, except for a great sigh every now and then.

Good Mary Quince was in the room—there was some comfort in that; but I felt quite worn out, and had rather she did not speak to me; and indeed for the time I felt absolutely indifferent as to whether I lived or died.

Cousin Monica this morning, at pleasant Elverston, all-unconscious of my sad plight, proposed to Lady Mary Carysbroke and Lord Ilbury, her guests, to drive over to church at Feltram, and then pay us a visit at Bartram-Haugh, to which they readily agreed.

Accordingly, at about two o'clock, this pleasant party of three arrived at Bartram. They walked, having left the carriage to follow when the horses were fed; and Madame de la Rougierre, who was in my uncle's room when little Giblets arrived to say that the party were in the parlour, whispered for a little with my uncle, who then said—

'Miss Maud Ruthyn has gone out to drive, but I shall be happy to see Lady Knollys here, if she will do me the favour to come up-stairs and see me for a few moments; and you can mention that I am very far from well.'

Madame followed him out upon the lobby, and added, holding him by the collar, and whispering earnestly in his ear—

'Bring hair ladysheep up by the backstairs—mind, the backstairs.'

And the next moment Madame entered my room, with long tiptoe steps, and looking, Mary Quince said, as if she were going to be hanged.

On entering she looked sharply round, and being satisfied of Mary Quince's presence, she turned the key in the door, and made some affectionate enquiries about me in a whisper; and then she stole to the window and peeped out, standing back some way; after which she came to my bedside, murmured some tender sentences, drew the curtain a little, and making some little fidgety adjustments about the room; among the rest she took the key from the lock, quietly, and put it into her pocket.

This was so odd a procedure that honest Mary Quince rose stoutly from her chair, pointing to the lock, with her frank little blue eyes fixed on Madame, and she whispered—'Won't you put the key in the lock, please?'

'Oh, certainly, Mary Queence; but it is better it shall be locked, for I think her uncle he is coming to see her, and I am sure she would be very much frightened, for he is very much displease, don't you see? and we can tell him she is not well enough, or asleep, and so he weel go away again, without any trouble.'

I heard nothing of this, which was conducted in close whispers; and Mary, although she did not give Madame credit for caring whether I was frightened or not, and suspected her motives in everything, acquiesced grudgingly, fearing lest her alleged reason might possibly be the true one.

So Madame hovered about the door, uneasily; and of what went on elsewhere during that period Lady Knollys afterwards gave me the following account:—

'We were very much disappointed; but of course I was glad to see Silas, and your little hobgoblin butler led me up-stairs to his room a different way, I think, from that I came before; but I don't know the house of Bartram well enough to speak positively. I only know that I was conducted quite across his bedroom, which I had not seen on my former visit, and so into his sitting-room, where I found him.

'He seemed very glad to see me, came forward smiling—I disliked his smile always—with both hands out, and shook mine with more warmth than I ever remembered in his greeting before, and said—

'"My dear, dear Monica, how very good of you—the very person I longed to see! I have been miserably ill, the sad consequence of still more miserable anxiety. Sit down, pray, for a moment."

'And he paid me some nice little French compliment in verse.

'"And where is Maud?" said I.

'"I think Maud is by this time about halfway to Elverston," said the old gentleman. "I persuaded her to take a drive, and advised a call there, which seemed to please her, so I conjecture she obeyed."

'"How very provoking!" cried I.

'"My poor Maud will be sadly disappointed, but you will console her by a visit—you have promised to come, and I shall try to make you comfortable. I shall be happier, Monica, with this proof of our perfect reconciliation. You won't deny me?"

'"Certainly not. I am only too glad to come," said I; "and I want to thank you, Silas."

'"For what?" said he.

'"For wishing to place Maud in my care. I am very much obliged to you."

'"I did not suggest it, I must say, Monica, with the least intention of obliging you," said Silas.

'I thought he was going to break into one of his ungracious moods.

'"But I am obliged to you—very much obliged to you, Silas; and you sha'n't refuse my thanks."

'"I am happy, at all events, Monica, in having won your good-will; we learn at last that in the affections only are our capacities for happiness; and how true is St. Paul's preference of love—the principle that abideth! The affections, dear Monica, are eternal; and being so, celestial, divine, and consequently happy, deriving happiness, and bestowing it."

'I was always impatient of his or anybody else's metaphysics; but I controlled myself, and only said, with my customary impudence—

'"Well, dear Silas, and when do you wish me to come?"

'"The earlier the better," said he.

'"Lady Mary and Ilbury will be leaving me on Tuesday morning. I can come to you in the afternoon, if you think Tuesday a good day."

'"Thank you, dear Monica. I shall be, I trust, enlightened by that day as to my enemies' plans. It is a humiliating confession, Monica, but I am past feeling that. It is quite possible that an execution may be sent into this house to-morrow, and an end of all my schemes. It is not likely, however—hardly possible—before three weeks, my attorney tells me. I shall hear from him to-morrow morning, and then I shall ask you to name a very early day. If we are to have an unmolested fortnight certain, you shall hear, and name your own day."

'Then he asked me who had accompanied me, and lamented ever so much his not being able to go down to receive them; and he offered luncheon, with a sort of Ravenswood smile, and a shrug, and I declined, telling him that we had but a few minutes, and that my companions were walking in the grounds near the house.

'I asked whether Maud was likely to return soon?

'"Certainly not before five o'clock." He thought we should probably meet her on our way back to Elverston; but could not be certain, as she might have changed her plans.

'So then came—no more remaining to be said—a very affectionate parting. I believe all about his legal dangers was strictly true. How he could, unless that horrid woman had deceived him, with so serene a countenance tell me all those gross untruths about Maud, I can only admire.'

In the meantime, as I lay in my bed, Madame, gliding hither and thither, whispering sometimes, listening at others, I suddenly startled them both by saying—

'Whose carriage?'

'What carriage, dear?' inquired Quince, whose ears were not so sharp as mine.

Madame peeped from the window.

Tis the physician, Doctor Jolks. He is come to see your uncle, my dear,' said Madame.

'But I hear a female voice,' I said, sitting up.

'No, my dear; there is only the doctor,' said Madame. 'He is come to your uncle. I tell you he is getting out of his carriage,' and she affected to watch the doctor's descent.

'The carriage is driving away!' I cried.

'Yes, it is draiving away,' she echoed.

But I had sprung from my bed, and was looking over her shoulder, before she perceived me.

'It is Lady Knollys!' I screamed, seizing the window-frame to force it up, and, vainly struggling to open it, I cried—

'I'm here, Cousin Monica. For God's sake, Cousin Monica—Cousin Monica!'

'You are mad, Meess—go back,' screamed Madame, exerting her superior strength to force me back.

But I saw deliverance and escape gliding away from my reach, and, strung to unnatural force by desperation, I pushed past her, and beat the window wildly with my hands, screaming—

'Save me—save me! Here, here, Monica, here! Cousin, cousin, oh! save me!'

Madame had seized my wrists, and a wild struggle was going on. A window-pane was broken, and I was shrieking to stop the carriage. The Frenchwoman looked black and haggard as a fury, as if she could have murdered me.

Nothing daunted—frantic—I screamed in my despair, seeing the carriage drive swiftly away—seeing Cousin Monica's bonnet, as she sat chatting with her vis-à-vis.

'Oh, oh, oh!' I shrieked, in vain and prolonged agony, as Madame, exerting her strength and matching her fury against my despair, forced me back in spite of my wild struggles, and pushed me sitting on the bed, where she held me fast, glaring in my face, and chuckling and panting over me.

I think I felt something of the despair of a lost spirit.

I remember the face of poor Mary Quince—its horror, its wonder—as she stood gaping into my face, over Madame's shoulder, and crying—

'What is it, Miss Maud? What is it, dear?' And turning fiercely on Madame, and striving to force her grasp from my wrists, 'Are you hurting the child? Let her go—let her go.'

'I weel let her go. Wat old fool are you, Mary Queence! She is mad, I think. She 'as lost hair head.'

'Oh, Mary, cry from the window. Stop the carriage!' I cried.

Mary looked out, but there was by this time, of course, nothing in sight.

'Why don't a you stop the carriage?' sneered Madame. 'Call a the coachman and the postilion. W'ere is the footman? Bah! elle a le cerveau mal timbré.'

'Oh, Mary, Mary, is it gone—is it gone? Is there nothing there?' cried I, rushing to the window; and turning to Madame, after a vain straining of my eyes, my face against the glass—

'Oh, cruel, cruel, wicked woman! why have you done this? What was it to you? Why do you persecute me? What good can you gain by my ruin?'

'Rueen! Par bleu! ma chère, you talk too fast. Did not a you see it, Mary Queence? It was the doctor's carriage, and Mrs. Jolks, and that eempudent faylow, young Jolks, staring up to the window, and Mademoiselle she come in soche shocking déshabille to show herself knocking at the window. 'Twould be very nice thing, Mary Queence, don't you think?'

I was sitting now on the bedside, crying in mere despair. I did not care to dispute or to resist. Oh! why had rescue come so near, only to prove that it could not reach me? So I went on crying, with a clasping of my hands and turning up of my eyes, in incoherent prayer. I was not thinking of Madame, or of Mary Quince, or any other person, only babbling my anguish and despair helplessly in the ear of heaven.

'I did not think there was soche fool. Wat enfant gaté! My dear cheaile, wat a can you mean by soche strange language and conduct? Wat for should a you weesh to display yourself in the window in soche 'orrible déshabille to the people in the doctor's coach?'

'It was Cousin Knollys—Cousin Knollys. Oh, Cousin Knollys! You're gone—you're gone—you're gone!'

'And if it was Lady Knollys' coach, there was certainly a coachman and a footman; and whoever has the coach there was young gentlemen in it. If it was Lady Knollys' carriage it would 'av been worse than the doctor.'

'It is no matter—it is all over. Oh, Cousin Monica, your poor Maud—where is she to turn? Is there no help?'

That evening Madame visited me again, in one of her sedate and moral moods. She found me dejected and passive, as she had left me.

'I think, Maud, there is news; but I am not certain.'

I raised my head and looked at her wistfully.

'I think there is letter of bad news from the attorney in London.'

'Oh!' I said, in a tone which I am sure implied the absolute indifference of dejection.

'But, my dear Maud, if't be so, we shall go at once, you and me, to join Meess Millicent in France. La belle France! You weel like so moche! We shall be so gay. You cannot imagine there are such naice girl there. They all love a me so moche, you will be delight.'

'How soon do we go?' I asked.

'I do not know. Bote I was to bring in a case of eau de cologne that came this evening, and he laid down a letter and say:—"The blow has descended, Madame! My niece must hold herself in readiness." I said, "For what, Monsieur?" twice; bote he did not answer. I am sure it is un procès. They 'av ruin him. Eh bien, my dear. I suppose we shall leave this triste place immediately. I am so rejoice. It appears to me un cimetière!'

'Yes, I should like to leave it,' I said, sitting up, with a great sigh and sunken eyes. It seemed to me that I had quite lost all sense of resentment towards Madame. A debility of feeling had supervened—the fatigue, I suppose, and prostration of the passions.

'I weel make excuse to go into his room again,' said Madame; 'and I weel endeavor to learn something more from him, and I weel come back again to you in half an hour.'

She departed. But in half an hour did not return. I had a dull longing to leave Bartram-Haugh. For me, since the departure of poor Milly, it had grown like the haunt of evil spirits, and to escape on any terms from it was a blessing unspeakable.

Another half-hour passed, and another, and I grew insufferably feverish. I sent Mary Quince to the lobby to try and see Madame, who, I feared, was probably to-ing and fro-ing in and out of Uncle Silas's room.

Mary returned to tell me that she had seen old Wyat, who told her that she thought Madame had gone to her bed half an hour before.


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