the long classes, and paced them fast to keep myself warm—fortunate if the moon shone, and if there were only stars, soon reconciled to their dim gleam, or even to the total eclipse of their absence. In summer it was never quite dark, and then I went upstairs to my own quarter of the long dormitory, opened my own casement (that chamber was lit by five casements large as great doors), and leaning out, looked forth upon the city beyond the garden, and listened to band-music from the park or the palace-square, thinking meantime my own thoughts, living my own life, in my own still shadow-world.

This evening, fugitive as usual before the Pope and his works, I mounted the staircase, approached the dormitory, and quietly opened the door, which was always kept carefully shut, and which, like every other door in this house, revolved noiselessly on well-oiled hinges. Before I saw, I felt that life was in the great room, usually void. Not that there was either stir, or breath, or rustle of sound, but Vacuum lacked, Solitude was not at home. All the white beds—the lits d’ange, as they were poetically termed—lay visible at a glance. All were empty; no sleeper reposed therein. The sound of a drawer cautiously slid out struck my ear. Stepping a little to one side, my vision took a free range, unimpeded by falling curtains. I now commanded my own bed and my own toilet, with a locked work-box upon it, and locked drawers underneath.

Very good. A dumpy, motherly little body, in decent shawl and the cleanest of possible nightcaps, stood before this toilet, hard at work, apparently doing me the kindness of “tidying out” the meuble. Open stood the lid of the workbox, open the top drawer; duly and impartially was each succeeding drawer opened in turn. Not an article of their contents but was lifted and unfolded, not a paper but was glanced over, not a little box but was unlidded; and beautiful was the adroitness, exemplary the care with which the search was accomplished. Madame wrought at it like a true star, “unhasting yet unresting.” I will not deny that it was with a secret glee I watched her. Had I been a gentleman, I believe madame would have found favour in my eyes—she was so handy, neat, thorough in all she did. Some people’s movements provoke the soul by their loose awkwardness; hers satisfied by their trim compactness. I stood, in short, fascinated; but it was necessary to make an effort to break this spell—a retreat must be beaten. The searcher might have turned and caught me. There would have been nothing for it then but a scene, and she and I would have had to come all at once, with a sudden clash, to a thorough knowledge of each other. Down would have gone conventionalities, away swept disguises, and I should have looked into her eyes, and she into mine; we should have known that we could work together no more, and parted in this life for ever.

Where was the use of tempting such a catastrophe? I was not angry, and had no wish in the world to leave her. I could hardly get another employer whose yoke would be so light and so easy of carriage; and truly I liked madam for her capital sense, whatever I might think of her principles. As to her system, it did me no harm. She might work me with it to her heart’s content; nothing would come of the operation. Loverless and inexpectant of love, I was as safe from spies in my heart-poverty as the beggar from thieves in his destitution of purse. I turned, then, and fled, descending the stairs with progress as swift and soundless as that of the spider which at the same instant ran down the banister.

How I laughed when I reached the schoolroom! I knew now she had certainly seen Dr. John in the garden; I knew what her thoughts were. The spectacle of a suspicious nature so far misled by its own inventions tickled me much. Yet, as the laugh died, a kind of wrath smote me, and then bitterness followed: it was the rock struck, and Meribah’s waters gushing out. I never had felt so strange and contradictory an inward tumult as I felt for an hour that evening. Soreness and laughter, and fire and grief, shared my heart between them. I cried hot tears—not because madame mistrusted me (I did not care twopence for her mistrust), but for other reasons. Complicated, disquieting thoughts broke up the whole repose of my nature. However, that turmoil subsided; next day I was again Lucy Snowe.

On revisiting my drawers, I found them all securely locked; the closest subsequent examination could not discover change or apparent disturbance in the position of one object. My few dresses were folded as I had left them; a certain little bunch of white violets that had once been silently presented to me by a stranger (a stranger to me, for we had never exchanged words), and which I had dried and kept for

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.