Uncle Silas/Chapter LXI
I had passed a miserable night, and, indeed, for many nights had not had my due proportion of sleep. Still I sometimes fancy that I may have swallowed something in my tea that helped to make me so irresistibly drowsy. It was a very dark night—no moon, and the stars soon hid by the gathering clouds. Madame sat silent, and ruminating in her place, with her rugs about her. I, in my corner similarly enveloped, tried to keep awake. Madame plainly thought I was asleep already, for she stole a leather flask from her pocket, and applied it to her lips, causing an aroma of brandy.
But it was vain struggling against the influence that was stealing over me, and I was soon in a profound and dreamless slumber.
Madame awoke me at last, in a huge fuss. She had got out all our things and hurried them away to a close carriage which was awaiting us. It was still dark and starless. We got along the platform, I half asleep, the porter carrying our rugs, by the glare of a pair of gas-jets in the wall, and out by a small door at the end.
I remember that Madame, contrary to her wont, gave the man some money. By the puzzling light of the carriage-lamps we got in and took our seats.
'Go on,' screamed Madame, and drew up the window with a great chuck; and we were enclosed in darkness and silence, the most favourable conditions for thought.
My sleep had not restored me as it might; I felt feverish, fatigued, and still very drowsy, though unable to sleep as I had done.
I dozed by fits and starts, and lay awake, or half-awake, sometimes, not thinking but in a way imagining what kind of a place Dover would be; but too tired and listless to ask Madame any questions, and merely seeing the hedges, grey in the lamplight, glide backward into darkness, as I leaned back.
We turned off the main road, at right angles, and drew up.
'Get down and poosh it, it is open,' screamed Madame from the window.
A gate, I suppose, was thus passed; for when we resumed our brisk trot, Madame bawled across the carriage—
'We are now in the 'otel grounds.'
And so all again was darkness and silence, and I fell into another doze, from which, on waking, I found that we had come to a standstill, and Madame was standing on the low step of an open door, paying the driver. She, herself, pulled her box and the bag in. I was too tired to care what had become of the rest of our luggage.
I descended, glancing to the right and left, but there was nothing visible but a patch of light from the lamps on a paved ground and on the wall.
We stepped into the hall or vestibule, and Madame shut the door, and I thought I heard the key turn in it. We were in total darkness.
'Where are the lights, Madame—where are the people?' I asked, more awake than I had been.
Tis pass three o'clock, cheaile, bote there is always light here.' She was groping at the side; and in a moment more lighted a lucifer match, and so a bedroom candle.
We were in a flagged lobby, under an archway at the right, and at the left of which opened long flagged passages, lost in darkness; a winding stair, barely wide enough to admit Madame, dragging her box, led upward under a doorway, in a corner at the right.
'Come, dear cheaile, take your bag; don't mind the rugs, they are safe enough.'
'But where are we to go? There is no one!' I said, looking round in wonder. It certainly was a strange reception at an hotel.
'Never mind, my dear cheaile. They know me here, and I have always the same room ready when I write for it. Follow me quaitely.'
So she mounted, carrying the candle. The stair was steep, and the march long. We halted at the second landing, and entered a gaunt, grimy passage. All the way up we had not heard a single sound of life, nor seen a human being, nor so much as passed a gaslight.
'Viola! here 'tis, my dear old room. Enter, dearest Maud.'
And so I did. The room was large and lofty, but shabby and dismal. There was a tall four-post bed, with its foot beside the window, hung with dark-green curtains, of some plush or velvet texture, that looked like a dusty pall. The remaining furniture was scant and old, and a ravelled square of threadbare carpet covered a patch of floor at the bedside. The room was grim and large, and had a cold, vault-like atmosphere, as if long uninhabited; but there were cinders in the grate and under it. The imperfect light of our mutton-fat candle made all this look still more comfortless.
Madame placed the candle on the chimneypiece, locked the door, and put the key in her pocket.
'I always do so in otel said she, with a wink at me.
And, then with a long 'ha!' expressive of fatigue and relief, she threw herself into a chair.
'So 'ere we are at last!' said she; 'I'm glad. There's your bed, Maud. Mine is in the dressing-room.'
She took the candle, and I went in with her. A shabby press bed, a chair, and table were all its furniture; it was rather a closet than a dressing-room, and had no door except that through which we had entered. So we returned, and very tired, wondering, I sat down on the side of my bed and yawned.
'I hope they will call us in time for the packet,' I said.
'Oh yes, they never fail,' she answered, looking steadfastly on her box, which she was diligently uncording.
Uninviting as was my bed, I was longing to lie down in it; and having made those ablutions which our journey rendered necessary, I at length lay down, having first religiously stuck my talismanic pin, with the head of sealing-wax, into the bolster.
Nothing escaped the restless eye of Madame.
'Wat is that, dear cheaile?' she enquired, drawing near and scrutinising the head of the gipsy charm, which showed like a little ladybird newly lighted on the sheet.
'Nothing—a charm—folly. Pray, Madame, allow me to go to sleep.'
So, with another look and a little twiddle between her finger and thumb, she seemed satisfied; but, unhappily for me, she did not seem at all sleepy. She busied herself in unpacking and displaying over the back of the chair a whole series of London purchases—silk dresses, a shawl, a sort of lace demi-coiffure then in vogue, and a variety of other articles.
The vainest and most slammakin of women—the merest slut at home, a milliner's lay figure out of doors—she had one square foot of looking-glass upon the chimneypiece, and therein tried effects, and conjured up grotesque simpers upon her sinister and weary face.
I knew that the sure way to prolong this worry was to express my uneasiness under it, so I bore it as quietly as I could; and at last fell fast asleep with the gaunt image of Madame, with a festoon of grey silk with a cerise stripe, pinched up in her finger and thumb, and smiling over her shoulder across it into the little shaving-glass that stood on the chimney.
I awoke suddenly in the morning, and sat up in my bed, having for a moment forgotten all about our travelling. A moment more, however, brought all back again.
'Are we in time, Madame?'
'For the packet?' she enquired, with one of her charming smiles, and cutting a caper on the floor. 'To be sure; you don't suppose they would forget. We have two hours yet to wait.'
'Can we see the sea from the window?'
'No, dearest cheaile; you will see't time enough.
'I'd like to get up,' I said.
'Time enough, my dear Maud; you are fatigued; are you sure you feel quite well?'
'Well enough to get up; I should be better, I think, out of bed.'
'There is no hurry, you know; you need not even go by the next packet. Your uncle, he tell me, I may use my discretion.'
'Is there any water?'
'They will bring some.'
'Please, Madame, ring the bell.'
She pulled it with alacrity. I afterwards learnt that it did not ring.
'What has become of my gipsy pin?' I demanded, with an unaccountable sinking of the heart.
'Oh! the little pin with the red top? maybe it 'as fall on the ground; we weel find when you get up.'
I suspected that she had taken it merely to spite me. It would have been quite the thing she would have liked. I cannot describe to you how the loss of this little 'charm' depressed and excited me. I searched the bed; I turned over all the bed-clothes; I searched in and outside; at last I gave up.
'How odious!' I cried; 'somebody has stolen it merely to vex me.'
And, like a fool as I was, I threw myself on my face on the bed and wept, partly in anger, partly in dismay.
After a time, however, this blew over. I had a hope of recovering it. If Madame had stolen it, it would turn up yet. But in the meantime its disappearance troubled me like an omen.
'I am afraid, my dear cheaile, you are not very well. It is really very odd you should make such fuss about a pin! Nobody would believe! Do you not theenk it would be a good plan to take a your breakfast in your bed?
She continued to urge this point for some time. At last, however, having by this time quite recovered my self-command, and resolved to preserve ostensibly fair terms with Madame, who could contribute so essentially to make me wretched during the rest of my journey, and possibly to prejudice me very seriously on my arrival, I said quietly—
'Well, Madame, I know it is very silly; but I had kept that foolish little pin so long and so carefully, that I had grown quite fond of it; but I suppose it is lost, and I must content myself, though I cannot laugh as you do. So I will get up now, and dress.'
'I think you will do well to get all the repose you can,' answered Madame; 'but as you please,' she added, observing that I was getting up.
So soon as I had got some of my things on, I said—
'Is there a pretty view from the window?'
'No,' said Madame.
I looked out and saw a dreary quadrangle of cut stone, in one side of which my window was placed. As I looked a dream rose up before me.
'This hotel,' I said, in a puzzled way. 'Is it a hotel? Why this is just like—it is the inner court of Bartram-Haugh!'
Madame clapped her large hands together, made a fantastic chassé on the floor, burst into a great nasal laugh like the scream of a parrot, and then said—
'Well, dearest Maud, is not clever trick?'
I was so utterly confounded that I could only stare about me in stupid silence, a spectacle which renewed Madame's peals of laughter.
'We are at Bartram-Haugh!' I repeated, in utter consternation. 'How was this done?'
I had no reply but shrieks of laughter, and one of those Walpurgis dances in which she excelled.
'It is a mistake—is it? What is it?'
'All a mistake, of course. Bartram-Haugh, it is so like Dover, as all philosophers know.'
I sat down in total silence, looking out into the deep and dark enclosure, and trying to comprehend the reality and the meaning of all this.
'Well, Madame, I suppose you will be able to satisfy my uncle of your fidelity and intelligence. But to me it seems that his money has been ill-spent, and his directions anything but well observed.'
'Ah, ha! Never mind; I think he will forgive me,' laughed Madame.
Her tone frightened me. I began to think, with a vague but overpowering sense of danger, that she had acted under the Machiavellian directions of her superior.
'You have brought me back, then, by my uncle's orders?'
'Did I say so?'
'No; but what you have said can have no other meaning, though I can't believe it. And why have I been brought here? What is the object of all this duplicity and trick. I will know. It is not possible that my uncle, a gentleman and a kinsman, can be privy to so disreputable a manouvre.'
'First you will eat your breakfast, dear Maud; next you can tell your story to your uncle, Monsieur Ruthyn; and then you shall hear what he thinks of my so terrible misconduct. What nonsense, cheaile! Can you not think how many things may 'appen to change a your uncle's plans? Is he not in danger to be arrest? Bah! You are cheaile still; you cannot have intelligence more than a cheaile. Dress yourself, and I will order breakfast.'
I could not comprehend the strategy which had been practised on me. Why had I been so shamelessly deceived? If it were decided that I should remain here, for what imaginable reason had I been sent so far on my journey to France? Why had I been conveyed back with such mystery? Why was I removed to this uncomfortable and desolate room, on the same floor with the apartment in which Charke had met his death, and with no window commanding the front of the house, and no view but the deep and weed-choked court, that looked like a deserted churchyard in a city?
'I suppose I may go to my own room?' I said.
'Not to-day, my dear cheaile, for it was all disarrange when we go 'way; 'twill be ready again in two three days.'
'Where is Mary Quince?' I asked.
'Mary Quince!—she has follow us to France,' said Madame, making what in Ireland they call a bull.
'They are not sure where they will go or what will do for day or two more. I will go and get breakfast. Adieu for a moment.'
Madame was out of the door as she said this, and I thought I heard the key turn in the lock.