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The Mill Mystery

19. A Fatal Delay
Would'st
thou
have
that
Which
thou
esteem'st
the
ornament
of
life,
And
live
a
coward
in
thine
own
esteem,
Letting
"I
dare
not,"
wait
upon
"I
would,"
Like
the
poor
cat
i'
the
adage?
--MACBETH.
He was to all appearance immediately forgotten. As with mutual consent we all
turned and faced each other, Mrs. Pollard with a stern, inexorable look in her
dark eye, which, while it held me enchained, caused me to involuntarily lay my
hand upon the document which I had hidden in my breast She noticed the
movement, and smiled darkly with a sidelong look at her son. The smile and the
look affected me strangely. In them I seemed to detect something deeper than
hatred and baffled rage, and when in a moment later her son responded to her
glance by quietly withdrawing from the room, I felt such revolt against their
secrecy that for a moment I was tempted to abandon an undertaking that
promised to bring me in conflict with passions of so deep and unrelenting a
nature.
But the impression which the pain and despair of my dead friend had made upon
me was as yet too recent for me to yield to my first momentary apprehensions;
and summoning up what resolution I possessed, I took my leave of Mrs. Pollard,
and was hastening towards the door, when her voice, rising cold and clear,
arrested me.
"You think, then, that it is your duty to carry this paper from the house, Mr.
Barrows?"
"Yes, madam, I do," was my short reply.
"In spite of my protest and that of my son?"
"Yes, madam."
"Then upon your head be the consequences!" she exclaimed, and turned her
back upon me with a look which went with me as I closed the door between us;
lending a gloom to the unlighted halls and sombre staircases that affected me
almost with an impulse of fear.
I dreaded crossing to where the stairs descended; I dreaded going down them
into the darkness which I saw below. Not that I anticipated actual harm, but that I
felt I was in the house of those who longed to see me the victim of it; and my
imagination being more than usually alert, I even found myself fancying the
secret triumph with which Guy Pollard would hail an incautious slip on my part,
that would precipitate me from the top to the bottom of this treacherous staircase.
That he was somewhere between me and the front door, I felt certain. The
deadly quiet behind and before me seemed to assure me of this; and, ashamed
as I was of the impulse that moved me, I could not prevent myself from stepping
cautiously as I prepared to descend, saying as some sort of excuse to myself:
"He is capable of seeing me trip without assistance," and as my imagination
 
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