The Legacy of Cain HTML version

38. The Girls' Ages
Had the Minister's desire to see me been inspired by his daughter's betrayal of what I had
unfortunately said to her? Although he would certainly not consent to receive her
personally, she would be at liberty to adopt a written method of communication with him,
and the letter might be addressed in such a manner as to pique his curiosity. If Helena's
vindictive purpose had been already accomplished--and if Mr. Gracedieu left me no
alternative but to present his unworthy wife in her true character--I can honestly say that I
dreaded the consequences, not as they might affect myself, but as they might affect my
unhappy friend in his enfeebled state of body and mind.
When I entered his room, he was still in bed.
The bed-curtains were so drawn, on the side nearest to the window, as to keep the light
from falling too brightly on his weak eyes. In the shadow thus thrown on him, it was not
possible to see his face plainly enough, from the open side of the bed, to arrive at any
definite conclusion as to what might be passing in his mind. After having been awake for
some hours during the earlier part of the night, he had enjoyed a long and undisturbed
sleep. "I feel stronger this morning," he said, "and I wish to speak to you while my mind
is clear."
If the quiet tone of his voice was not an assumed tone, he was surely ignorant of all that
had passed between his daughter and myself.
"Eunice will be here soon," he proceeded, "and I ought to explain why I have sent for her
to come and meet you. I have reasons, serious reasons, mind, for wishing you to compare
her personal appearance with Helena's personal appearance, and then to tell me which of
the two, on a fair comparison, looks the eldest. Pray bear in mind that I attach the greatest
importance to the conclusion at which you may arrive."
He spoke more clearly and collectedly than I had heard him speak yet.
Here and there I detected hesitations and repetitions, which I have purposely passed over.
The substance of what he said to me is all that I shall present in this place. Careful as I
have been to keep my record of events within strict limits, I have written at a length
which I was far indeed from contemplating when I accepted Mr. Gracedieu's invitation.
Having promised to comply with the strange request which he had addressed to me, I
ventured to remind him of past occasions on which he had pointedly abstained, when the
subject presented itself, from speaking of the girls' ages. "You have left it to my
discretion," I added, "to decide a question in which you are seriously interested, relating
to your daughters. Have I no excuse for regretting that I have not been admitted to your
confidence a little more freely?"