We walked for some time, slowly and in silence.
You know, I attacked her suddenly, if you dont intend telling me anything, you must say so distinctly, and then, of course, it shall be final. But I wont play at delicacy. I ask you point-blank for all the details.
She smiled faintly at my threatening tone.
You are as curious as a child.
No. I am only an anxious old man, I replied earnestly.
She rested her glance on me as if to ascertain the degree of my anxiety of the number of my years. My physiognomy has never been expressive, I believe, and as to my years I am not ancient enough as yet to be strikingly decrepit. I have no long beard like the good hermit of a romantic ballad; my footsteps are not tottering, my aspect not that of a slow, venerable sage. Those picturesque advantages are not mine. I am old, alas, in a brisk, commonplace way. And it seemed to me as though there were some pity for me in Miss Haldins prolonged glance. She stepped out a little quicker.
You ask for all the details. Let me see. I ought to remember them. It was novel enough for aa village girl like me.
After a moment of silence she began by saying that the Château Borel was almost as neglected inside as outside. It was nothing to wonder at. A Hamburg banker, I believe, retired from business, had it built to cheer his remaining days by the view of that lake whose precise, orderly, and well-to-do beauty must have been attractive to the unromantic imagination of a business man. But he died soon. His wife departed too (but only to Italy), and this house of moneyed ease, presumably unsaleable, had stood empty for several years. One went to it up a gravel drive, round a large coarse grass-plot, with plenty of time to observe the degradation of its stuccoed front. Miss Haldin said that the impression was unpleasant. It grew more depressing as one came nearer.
She observed green stains of moss on the steps of the terrace. The front door stood wide open. There was no one about. She found herself in a wide, lofty, and absolutely empty hall, with a good many doors. These doors were all shut. A broad, bare stone staircase faced her and the effect of the whole was of an untenanted house. She stood still, disconcerted by the solitude, but after a while she became aware of a voice speaking continuously somewhere.
You were probably being observed all the time, I suggested. There must have been eyes.
I dont see how that could be, she retorted. I havent seen even a bird in the grounds. I dont remember hearing a single twitter in the trees. The whole place appeared utterly deserted except for the voice.
She could not make out the languageRussian, French, or German. No one seemed to answer it. It was as though the voice had been left behind by the departed inhabitants to talk to the bare walls. It went on volubly, with a pause now and then. It was lonely and sad. The time seemed very long to Miss Haldin. An invincible repugnance prevented her from opening one of the doors in the hall. It was so hopeless. No one would come, the voice would never stop. She confessed to me that she had to resist an impulse to turn round and go away unseen, as she had come.
Really? You had that impulse? I cried, full of regret. What a pity you did not obey it.
She shook her head.
What a strange memory it would have been for one. Those deserted grounds, that empty hall, that impersonal, voluble voice, andnobody, nothing, not a soul.
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