The Legacy of Cain HTML version

35. The Future Looks Gloomy
My ever-helpful guide led me to my room--well out of Mr. Gracedieu's hearing, if he
happened to be awake--at the other end of the passage. Having opened the door, she
paused on the threshold. The decrees of that merciless English despot, Propriety, claimed
her for their own. "Oh, dear!" she said to herself, "ought I to go in?"
My interest as a man (and, what is more, an old man) in the coming disclosure was too
serious to be trifled with in this way. I took her arm, and led her into my room as if I was
at a dinner-party, leading her to the table. Is it the good or the evil fortune of mortals that
the comic side of life, and the serious side of life, are perpetually in collision with each
other? We burst out laughing, at a moment of grave importance to us both. Perfectly
inappropriate, and perfectly natural. But we were neither of us philosophers, and we were
ashamed of our own merriment the moment it had ceased.
"When you hear what I have to tell you," Miss Jillgall began, "I hope you will think as I
do. What has slipped Mr. Gracedieu's memory, it may be safer to say--for he is
sometimes irritable, poor dear--where he won't know anything about it."
With that she told the lamentable story of the desertion of Eunice.
In silence I listened, from first to last. How could I trust myself to speak, as I must have
spoken, in the presence of a woman? The cruel injury inflicted on the poor girl, who had
interested and touched me in the first innocent year of her life--who had grown to
womanhood to be the victim of two wretches, both trusted by her, both bound to her by
the sacred debt of love--so fired my temper that I longed to be within reach of the man,
with a horsewhip in my hand. Seeing in my face, as I suppose, what was passing in my
mind, Miss Jillgall expressed sympathy and admiration in her own quaint way: "Ah, I
like to see you so angry! It's grand to know that a man who has governed prisoners has
got such a pitying heart. Let me tell you one thing, sir. You will be more angry than ever,
when you see my sweet girl to-morrow. And mind this--it is Helena's devouring vanity,
Helena's wicked jealousy of her sister's good fortune, that has done the mischief. Don't be
too hard on Philip? I do believe, if the truth was told, he is ashamed of himself."
I felt inclined to be harder on Philip than ever. "Where is he?" I asked.
Miss Jillgall started. "Oh, Mr. Governor, don't show the severe side of yourself, after the
pretty compliment I have just paid to you! What a masterful voice! and what eyes, dear
sir; what terrifying eyes! I feel as if I was one of your prisoners, and had misbehaved
I repeated my question with improvement, I hope, in my looks and tones: "Don't think me
obstinate, my dear lady. I only want to know if he is in this town."