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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Flight Of The Shadow - Chapter 23. Letter And Answer
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The Flight Of The Shadow - Chapter 23. Letter And Answer Post by :Websmartbiz Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :826

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The Flight Of The Shadow - Chapter 23. Letter And Answer

CHAPTER XXIII. LETTER AND ANSWER

We did hear of her before long. The next morning a letter was handed to my uncle as we sat at breakfast. He looked hard at the address, changed countenance, and frowned very dark, but I could not read the frown. Then his face cleared a little; he opened, read, and handed the letter to me.

Lady Cairnedge hoped Mr. Whichcote would excuse one who had so lately come to the neighbourhood, that, until an hour ago, she knew nothing of the position and character of the gentleman in whose house her son had, in a momentary, but, alas! not unusual aberration, sought shelter, and found generous hospitality. She apologized heartily for the unceremonious way in which she had sent for him. In her anxiety to have him home, if possible, before he should realize his awkward position in the house of a stranger, she had been inconsiderate! She left it to the judgment of his kind host whether she should herself come to fetch him, or send her carriage with the medical man who usually attended him. In either case her servants must accompany the carriage, as he would probably object to being removed. He might, however, be perfectly manageable, for he was, when himself, the gentlest creature in the world!

I was in a rage. I looked up, expecting to see my uncle as indignant with the diabolical woman as I was myself. But he seemed sunk in reverie, his body present, his spirit far away. A pang shot through my heart. Could the wicked device have told already?

"May I ask, uncle," I said, and tried hard to keep my voice steady, "how you mean to answer this vile epistle?"

He looked up with a wan smile, such as might have broke from Lazarus when he found himself again in his body.

"I will take it to the young man," he answered.

"Please, let us go at once then, uncle! I cannot sit still."

He rose, and we went together to John's room.

He was much better--sitting up in bed, and eating the breakfast Penny had carried him.

"I have just had a letter from your mother, Day," said my uncle.

"Indeed!" returned John dryly.

"Will you read it, and tell me what answer you would like me to return."

"Hardly like her usual writing--though there's her own strange S!" remarked John as he looked at it.

"Does she always make an S like that?" asked my uncle, with something peculiar in his tone, I thought.

"Always--like a snake just going to strike."

My uncle's face grew ghastly pale. He almost snatched the letter from John's hand, looked at it, gave it back to him, and, to our dismay, left the room.

"What can be the matter, John?" I said, my heart sinking within me.

"Go to him," said John.

I dared not. I had often seen him _like that before walking out into the night; but there was something in his face now which I had not seen there before. It looked as if some terrible suspicion were suddenly confirmed.

"You see what my mother is after!" said John. "You have now to believe _her_, that I am subject to fits of insanity, or to believe _me_, that there is nothing she will not do to get her way."

"Her object is clear," I replied. "But if she thinks to fool my uncle, she will find herself mistaken!"

"She hopes to fool both you and your uncle," he rejoined. "The only wise thing I could do, she will handle so as to convince any expert of my madness--I mean, my coming to you! My reasons will go for nothing--less than no-thing--with any one she chooses to bewitch. She will look at me with an anxious love no doctor could doubt. No one can know _you do not know that I am not mad--or at least subject to attacks of madness!"

"Oh, John, don't frighten me!" I cried.

"There! you are not sure about it!"

It seemed cruel of him to tease me so; but I saw presently why he did it: he thought his mother's letter had waked a doubt in my uncle; and he wanted me not to be vexed with my uncle, even if he deserted him and went over to his mother's side.

"I love your uncle," he said. "I know he is a true man! I _will not be angry with him if my mother do mislead him. The time will come when he will know the truth. It must appear at last! I shall have to fight her alone, that's all! The worst is, if he thinks with my mother I shall have to go at once!--If only somebody would sell my horse for me!"

I guessed that his mother kept him short of money, and remembered with gladness that I was not quite penniless at the moment.

"In the meantime, you must keep as quiet as you can, John," I said. "Where is the good of planning upon an _if_? To trust is to get ready, uncle says. Trust is better than foresight."

John required little such persuading. And indeed something very different was in my uncle's mind from what John feared.

Presently I caught a glimpse of him riding out of the yard. I ran to a window from which I could see the edge of the moor, and saw him cross it at an uphill gallop.

He was gone about four hours, and on his return went straight to his own room. Not until nine o'clock did I go to him, and then he came with me to supper.

He looked worn, but was kind and genial as usual. After supper he sent for Dick, and told him to ride to Rising, the first thing in the morning, with a letter he would find on the hall-table.

The letter he read to us before we parted for the night. It was all we could have wished. He wrote that he must not have any one in his house interfered with; so long as a man was his guest, he was his servant. Her ladyship had, however, a perfect right to see her son, and would be welcome; only the decision as to his going or remaining must rest with the young man himself. If he chose to accompany his mother, well and good! though he should be sorry to lose him. If he declined to return with her, he and his house continued at his service.

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