The Legacy of Cain HTML version

34. The Lively Old Maid
A perfect stranger to the interior of the house (seeing that my experience began and
ended with the Minister's bedchamber), I descended the stairs, in the character of a guest
in search of domestic information.
On my way down, I heard the door of a room on the ground floor opened, and a woman' s
voice below, speaking in a hurry: "My dear, I have not a moment to spare; my patients
are waiting for me." This was followed by a confidential communication, judging by the
tone. "Mind! not a word about me to that old gentleman!" Her patients were waiting for
her--had I discovered a female doctor? And there was some old gentleman whom she was
not willing to trust--surely I was not that much-injured man?
Reaching the hall just as the lady said her last words, I caught a glimpse of her face, and
discovered the middle-aged stranger who had called on "Miss Jillgall," and had promised
to repeat her visit. A second lady was at the door, with her back to me, taking leave of her
friend. Having said good-by, she turned round--and we confronted each other.
I found her to be a little person, wiry and active; past the prime of life, and ugly enough
to encourage prejudice, in persons who take a superficial view of their fellow-creatures.
Looking impartially at the little sunken eyes which rested on me with a comical
expression of embarrassment, I saw signs that said: There is some good here, under a
disagreeable surface, if you can only find it.
She saluted me with a carefully-performed curtsey, and threw open the door of a room on
the ground floor.
"Pray walk in, sir, and permit me to introduce myself. I am Mr. Gracedieu's cousin--Miss
Jillgall. Proud indeed to make the acquaintance of a gentleman distinguished in the
service of his country--or perhaps I ought to say, in the service of the Law. The Governor
offers hospitality to prisoners. And who introduces prisoners to board and lodging with
the Governor? --the Law. Beautiful weather for the time of year, is it not? May I ask--
have you seen your room?"
The embarrassment which I had already noticed had extended by this time to her voice
and her manner. She was evidently trying to talk herself into a state of confidence. It
seemed but too probable that I was indeed the person mentioned by her prudent friend at
the door.
Having acknowledged that I had not seen my room yet, my politeness attempted to add
that there was no hurry. The wiry little lady was of the contrary opinion; she jumped out
of her chair as if she had been shot out of it. "Pray let me make myself useful. The dream
of my life is to make myself useful to others; and to such a man as you--I consider myself
honored. Besides, I do enjoy running up and down stairs. This way, dear sir; this way to
your room."