The Legacy of Cain
37. The Shameless Sister
For some reason, which my unassisted penetration was unable to discover, Miss Helena
Gracedieu kept out of my way.
At dinner, on the day of my arrival, and at breakfast on the next morning, she was present
of course; ready to make herself agreeable in a modest way, and provided with the
necessary supply of cheerful small-talk. But the meal having come to an end, she had her
domestic excuse ready, and unostentatiously disappeared like a well-bred young lady. I
never met her on the stairs, never found myself intruding on her in the drawing-room,
never caught her getting out of my way in the garden. As much at a loss for an
explanation of these mysteries as I was, Miss Jillgall's interest in my welfare led her to
caution me in a vague and general way.
"Take my word for it, dear Mr. Governor, she has some design on you. Will you allow an
insignificant old maid to offer a suggestion? Oh, thank you; I will venture to advise.
Please look back at your experience of the very worst female prisoner you ever had to
deal with--and be guided accordingly if Helena catches you at a private interview."
In less than half an hour afterward, Helena caught me. I was writing in my room, when
the maidservant came in with a message: "Miss Helena's compliments, sir, and would you
please spare her half an hour, downstairs?"
My first excuse was of course that I was engaged. This was disposed of by a second
message, provided beforehand, no doubt, for an anticipated refusal: "Miss Helena wished
me to say, sir, that her time is your time." I was still obstinate; I pleaded next that my day
was filled up. A third message had evidently been prepared, even for this emergency:
"Miss Helena will regret, sir, having the pleasure deferred, but she will leave you to make
your own appointment for to-morrow." Persistency so inveterate as this led to a result
which Mr. Gracedieu's cautious daughter had not perhaps contemplated: it put me on my
guard. There seemed to be a chance, to say the least of it, that I might serve Eunice's
interests if I discovered what the enemy had to say. I locked up my writing--declared
myself incapable of putting Miss Helena to needless inconvenience--and followed the
maid to the lower floor of the house.
The room to which I was conducted proved to be empty. I looked round me.
If I had been told that a man lived there who was absolutely indifferent to appearances, I
should have concluded that his views were faithfully represented by his place of abode.
The chairs and tables reminded me of a railway waiting-room. The shabby little bookcase
was the mute record of a life indifferent to literature. The carpet was of that dreadful drab
color, still the cherished favorite of the average English mind, in spite of every protest
that can be entered against it, on behalf of Art. The ceiling, recently whitewashed; made
my eyes ache when they looked at it. On either side of the window, flaccid green curtains
hung helplessly with nothing to loop them up. The writing-desk and the paper-case,