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Wilkie Collins



THE WOMAN IN WHITE

 

 

 

 

THE STORYBEGUN BY WALTER HARTRIGHT
(ofClement's InnTeacher of Drawing)

 

This isthe story of what a Woman's patience can endureand whata Man'sresolution can achieve.

If themachinery of the Law could be depended on to fathom everycase ofsuspicionand to conduct every process of inquirywithmoderateassistance only from the lubricating influences of oil ofgoldtheevents which fill these pages might have claimed theirshare ofthe public attention in a Court of Justice.

But theLaw is stillin certain inevitable casesthe pre-engagedservant ofthe long purse; and the story is left to be toldforthe firsttimein this place.  As the Judge might once have hearditso theReader shall hear it now.  No circumstance ofimportancefrom the beginning to the end of the disclosureshallbe relatedon hearsay evidence.  When the writer of theseintroductorylines (Walter Hartright by name) happens to be morecloselyconnected than others with the incidents to be recordedhe willdescribe them in his own person.  When his experiencefailshewill retire from the position of narrator; and his taskwill becontinuedfrom the point at which he has left it offbyotherpersons who can speak to the circumstances under notice fromtheir ownknowledgejust as clearly and positively as he hasspokenbefore them.

Thusthestory here presented will be told by more than one penas thestory of an offence against the laws is told in Court bymore thanone witnesswith the same objectin both casestopresentthe truth always in its most direct and most intelligibleaspect;and to trace the course of one complete series of eventsby makingthe persons who have been most closely connected withthemateach successive stagerelate their own experiencewordfor word.

Let WalterHartrightteacher of drawingaged twenty-eight yearsbe heardfirst.

 

II

 

It was thelast day of July.  The long hot summer was drawing to aclose; andwethe weary pilgrims of the London pavementwerebeginningto think of the cloud-shadows on the corn-fieldsandthe autumnbreezes on the sea-shore.

For my ownpoor partthe fading summer left me out of healthoutofspiritsandif the truth must be toldout of money as well.During thepast year I had not managed my professional resourcesascarefully as usual; and my extravagance now limited me to theprospectof spending the autumn economically between my mother'scottage atHampstead and my own chambers in town.

TheeveningI rememberwas still and cloudy; the London air wasat itsheaviest; the distant hum of the street-traffic was at itsfaintest;the small pulse of the life within meand the greatheart ofthe city around meseemed to be sinking in unisonlanguidlyand more languidlywith the sinking sun.  I rousedmyselffrom the book which I was dreaming over rather thanreadingand left my chambers to meet the cool night air in thesuburbs. It was one of the two evenings in every week which I wasaccustomedto spend with my mother and my sister.  So I turned mystepsnorthward in the direction of Hampstead.

Eventswhich I have yet to relate make it necessary to mention inthis placethat my father had been dead some years at the periodof which Iam now writing; and that my sister Sarah and I were thesolesurvivors of a family of five children.  My father was adrawing-masterbefore me.  His exertions had made him highlysuccessfulin his profession; and his affectionate anxiety toprovidefor the future of those who were dependent on his labourshadimpelled himfrom the time of his marriageto devote to theinsuringof his life a much larger portion of his income than mostmenconsider it necessary to set aside for that purpose.  Thanksto hisadmirable prudence and self-denial my mother and sisterwere leftafter his deathas independent of the world as theyhad beenduring his lifetime.  I succeeded to his connectionandhad everyreason to feel grateful for the prospect that awaited meat mystarting in life.

The quiettwilight was still trembling on the topmost ridges ofthe heath;and the view of London below me had sunk into a blackgulf inthe shadow of the cloudy nightwhen I stood before thegate of mymother's cottage.  I had hardly rung the bell beforethe housedoor was opened violently; my worthy Italian friendProfessorPescaappeared in the servant's place; and darted outjoyouslyto receive mewith a shrill foreign parody on an Englishcheer.

On his ownaccountandI must be allowed to addon mine alsotheProfessor merits the honour of a formal introduction.Accidenthas made him the starting-point of the strange familystorywhich it is the purpose of these pages to unfold.

I hadfirst become acquainted with my Italian friend by meetinghim atcertain great houses where he taught his own language and Itaughtdrawing.  All I then knew of the history of his life wasthat hehad once held a situation in the University of Padua; thathe hadleft Italy for political reasons (the nature of which heuniformlydeclined to mention to any one); and that he had beenfor manyyears respectably established in London as a teacher oflanguages.

Withoutbeing actually a dwarf for he was perfectly wellproportionedfrom head to foot Pesca wasI thinkthe smallesthumanbeing I ever saw out of a show-room.  Remarkable anywhereby hispersonal appearancehe was still further distinguishedamong therank and file of mankind by the harmless eccentricity ofhischaracter.  The ruling idea of his life appeared to bethathe wasbound to show his gratitude to the country which hadaffordedhim an asylum and a means of subsistence by doing hisutmost toturn himself into an Englishman.  Not content withpaying thenation in general the compliment of invariably carryinganumbrellaand invariably wearing gaiters and a white hattheProfessorfurther aspired to become an Englishman in his habitsandamusementsas well as in his personal appearance.  Finding usdistinguishedas a nationby our love of athletic exercisesthelittlemanin the innocence of his heartdevoted himselfimpromptuto all our English sports and pastimes whenever he hadtheopportunity of joining them; firmly persuaded that he couldadopt ournational amusements of the field by an effort of willpreciselyas he had adopted our national gaiters and our nationalwhite hat.

I had seenhim risk his limbs blindly at a fox-hunt and in acricket-field;and soon afterwards I saw him risk his lifejustasblindlyin the sea at Brighton.

We had metthere accidentallyand were bathing together.  If wehad beenengaged in any exercise peculiar to my own nation Ishouldofcoursehave looked after Pesca carefully; but asforeignersare generally quite as well able to take care ofthemselvesin the water as Englishmenit never occurred to methat theart of swimming might merely add one more to the list ofmanlyexercises which the Professor believed that he could learnimpromptu. Soon after we had both struck out from shoreIstoppedfinding my friend did not gain on meand turned round tolook forhim.  To my horror and amazementI saw nothing betweenme and thebeach but two little white arms which struggled for aninstantabove the surface of the waterand then disappeared fromview. When I dived for himthe poor little man was lying quietlycoiled upat the bottomin a hollow of shinglelooking by manydegreessmaller than I had ever seen him look before.  During thefewminutes that elapsed while I was taking him inthe airrevivedhimand he ascended the steps of the machine with myassistance. With the partial recovery of his animation came thereturn ofhis wonderful delusion on the subject of swimming.  Assoon ashis chattering teeth would let him speakhe smiledvacantlyand said he thought it must have been the Cramp.

When hehad thoroughly recovered himselfand had joined me on thebeachhiswarm Southern nature broke through all artificialEnglishrestraints in a moment.  He overwhelmed me with thewildestexpressions of affectionexclaimed passionatelyin hisexaggeratedItalian waythat he would hold his life henceforth atmydisposaland declared that he should never be happy againuntil hehad found an opportunity of proving his gratitude byrenderingme some service which I might rememberon my sidetothe end ofmy days.

I did mybest to stop the torrent of his tears and protestationsbypersisting in treating the whole adventure as a good subjectfor ajoke; and succeeded at lastas I imaginedin lesseningPesca'soverwhelming sense of obligation to me.  Little did Ithinkthenlittle did I think afterwards when our pleasantholidayhad drawn to an endthat the opportunity of serving mefor whichmy grateful companion so ardently longed was soon tocome; thathe was eagerly to seize it on the instant; and that byso doinghe was to turn the whole current of my existence into anewchanneland to alter me to myself almost past recognition.

Yet so itwas.  If I had not dived for Professor Pesca when he layunderwater on his shingle bedI should in all human probabilitynever havebeen connected with the story which these pages willrelateIshould neverperhapshave heard even the name of thewoman whohas lived in all my thoughtswho has possessed herselfof all myenergieswho has become the one guiding influence thatnowdirects the purpose of my life.

 

III

 

Pesca'sface and manneron the evening when we confronted eachother atmy mother's gatewere more than sufficient to inform methatsomething extraordinary had happened.  It was quite uselesshoweverto ask him for an immediate explanation.  I could onlyconjecturewhile he was dragging me in by both handsthat(knowingmy habits) he had come to the cottage to make sure ofmeeting methat nightand that he had some news to tell of anunusuallyagreeable kind.

We bothbounced into the parlour in a highly abrupt andundignifiedmanner.  My mother sat by the open window laughing andfanningherself.  Pesca was one of her especial favourites and hiswildesteccentricities were always pardonable in her eyes.  Poordear soul!from the first moment when she found out that thelittleProfessor was deeply and gratefully attached to her sonshe openedher heart to him unreservedlyand took all hispuzzlingforeign peculiarities for grantedwithout so much asattemptingto understand any one of them.

My sisterSarahwith all the advantages of youthwasstrangelyenoughless pliable.  She did full justice to Pesca's excellentqualitiesof heart; but she could not accept him implicitlyas mymotheraccepted himfor my sake.  Her insular notions ofproprietyrose in perpetual revolt against Pesca's constitutionalcontemptfor appearances; and she was always more or lessundisguisedlyastonished at her mother's familiarity with theeccentriclittle foreigner.  I have observednot only in mysister'scasebut in the instances of othersthat we of theyounggeneration are nothing like so hearty and so impulsive assome ofour elders.  I constantly see old people flushed andexcited bythe prospect of some anticipated pleasure whichaltogetherfails to ruffle the tranquillity of their serenegrandchildren. Are weI wonderquite such genuine boys andgirls nowas our seniors were in their time? Has the great advanceineducation taken rather too long a stride; and are we in thesemoderndaysjust the least trifle in the world too well broughtup?

Withoutattempting to answer those questions decisivelyI may atleastrecord that I never saw my mother and my sister together inPesca'ssocietywithout finding my mother much the younger womanof thetwo.  On this occasionfor examplewhile the old lady waslaughingheartily over the boyish manner in which we tumbled intotheparlourSarah was perturbedly picking up the broken pieces ofa teacupwhich the Professor had knocked off the table in hisprecipitateadvance to meet me at the door.

"Idon't know what would have happenedWalter" said my mother"ifyou had delayed much longer.  Pesca has been half mad withimpatienceand I have been half mad with curiosity.  TheProfessorhas brought some wonderful news with himin which hesays youare concerned; and he has cruelly refused to give us thesmallesthint of it till his friend Walter appeared."

"Veryprovoking: it spoils the Set" murmured Sarah to herselfmournfullyabsorbed over the ruins of the broken cup.

Whilethese words were being spokenPescahappily and fussilyunconsciousof the irreparable wrong which the crockery hadsufferedat his handswas dragging a large arm-chair to theoppositeend of the roomso as to command us all threein thecharacterof a public speaker addressing an audience.  Havingturned thechair with its back towards ushe jumped into it onhis kneesand excitedly addressed his small congregation of threefrom animpromptu pulpit.

"Nowmy good dears" began Pesca (who always said "good dears"when hemeant "worthy friends")"listen to me.  The timehascomeIrecite my good newsI speak at last."

"Hearhear!" said my motherhumouring the joke.

"Thenext thing he will breakmamma" whispered Sarah"will bethe backof the best arm-chair."

"I goback into my lifeand I address myself to the noblest ofcreatedbeings" continued Pescavehemently apostrophising myunworthyself over the top rail of the chair.  "Who found me deadat thebottom of the sea (through Cramp); and who pulled me up tothe top;and what did I say when I got into my own life and my ownclothesagain?"

"Muchmore than was at all necessary" I answered as doggedly aspossible;for the least encouragement in connection with thissubjectinvariably let loose the Professor's emotions in a floodof tears.

"Isaid" persisted Pesca"that my life belonged to my dearfriendWalterfor the rest of my daysand so it does.  I saidthat Ishould never be happy again till I had found theopportunityof doing a good Something for Walterand I have neverbeencontented with myself till this most blessed day.  Now"cried theenthusiastic little man at the top of his voice"theoverflowinghappiness bursts out of me at every pore of my skinlike aperspiration; for on my faithand souland honourthesomethingis done at lastand the only word to say now isRight-all-right!"

It may benecessary to explain here that Pesca prided himself onbeing aperfect Englishman in his languageas well as in hisdressmannersand amusements.  Having picked up a few of ourmostfamiliar colloquial expressionshe scattered them about overhisconversation whenever they happened to occur to himturningtheminhis high relish for their sound and his general ignoranceof theirsenseinto compound words and repetitions of his ownand alwaysrunning them into each otheras if they consisted ofone longsyllable.

"Amongthe fine London Houses where I teach the language of mynativecountry" said the Professorrushing into his long-deferredexplanation without another word of preface"there isonemighty finein the big place called Portland.  You all knowwhere thatis? Yesyescourse-of-course.  The fine housemygooddearshas got inside it a fine family.  A Mammafair andfat; threeyoung Missesfair and fat; two young Mistersfair andfat; and aPapathe fairest and the fattest of allwho is amightymerchantup to his eyes in golda fine man oncebutseeingthat he has got a naked head and two chinsfine no longerat thepresent time.  Now mind! I teach the sublime Dante to theyoungMissesand ah!my-soul-bless-my-soul!it is not in humanlanguageto say how the sublime Dante puzzles the pretty heads ofall three!No matterall in good timeand the more lessons thebetter forme.  Now mind! Imagine to yourselves that I am teachingthe youngMisses to-dayas usual.  We are all four of us downtogetherin the Hell of Dante.  At the Seventh Circlebut nomatter forthat: all the Circles are alike to the three youngMissesfair and fatat the Seventh Circleneverthelessmypupils aresticking fast; and Ito set them going againreciteexplainand blow myself up red-hot with useless enthusiasmwhena creak ofboots in the passage outsideand in comes the goldenPapathemighty merchant with the naked head and the two chins.Ha! mygood dearsI am closer than you think for to the businessnow. Haveyou been patient so far? or have you said to yourselves'Deuce-what-the-deuce!Pesca is long-winded to-night?'"

Wedeclared that we were deeply interested.  The Professor wenton:

"Inhis handthe golden Papa has a letter; and after he has madehis excusefor disturbing us in our Infernal Region with thecommonmortal Business of the househe addresses himself to thethreeyoung Missesand beginsas you English begin everything inthisblessed world that you have to saywith a great O.  'Omydears'says the mighty merchant'I have got here a letter frommy friendMr.'(the name has slipped out of my mind; but nomatter; weshall come back to that; yesyesright-all-right).So thePapa says'I have got a letter from my friendthe Mister;and hewants a recommend from meof a drawing-masterto go downto hishouse in the country.'  My-soul-bless-my-soul! when I heardthe goldenPapa say those wordsif I had been big enough to reachup to himI should have put my arms round his neckand pressedhim to mybosom in a long and grateful hug! As it wasI onlybouncedupon my chair.  My seat was on thornsand my soul was onfire tospeak but I held my tongueand let Papa go on.  'Perhapsyou know'says this good man of moneytwiddling his friend'sletterthis way and thatin his golden fingers and thumbs'perhapsyou knowmy dearsof a drawing-master that I canrecommend?' The three young Misses all look at each otherandthen say(with the indispensable great O to begin) "Odear noPapa! Buthere is Mr. Pesca'  At the mention of myself I can holdnolongerthe thought of youmy good dearsmounts like blood tomy headIstart from my seatas if a spike had grown up from thegroundthrough the bottom of my chairI address myself to themightymerchantand I say (English phrase) 'Dear sirI have theman! Thefirst and foremost drawing-master of the world! Recommendhim by thepost to-nightand send him offbag and baggage(Englishphrase againha!)send him offbag and baggageby thetrainto-morrow!'  'Stopstop' says Papa; 'is he a foreigneroranEnglishman?'  'English to the bone of his back' I answer.'Respectable?'says Papa.  'Sir' I say (for this last question ofhisoutrages meand I have done being familiar with him'Sir!theimmortal fire of genius burns in this Englishman's bosomandwhat ismorehis father had it before him!'  'Never mind' saysthe goldenbarbarian of a Papa'never mind about his geniusMr.Pesca. We don't want genius in this countryunless it isaccompaniedby respectabilityand then we are very glad to haveitveryglad indeed.  Can your friend produce testimonialslettersthat speak to his character?'  I wave my hand negligently.'Letters?'I say.  'Ha! my-soul-bless-my-soul! I should think soindeed!Volumes of letters and portfolios of testimonialsif youlike!''One or two will do' says this man of phlegm and money.'Let himsend them to mewith his name and address.  AndstopstopMr.Pescabefore you go to your friendyou had better takea note.''Bank-note!' I sayindignantly.  'No bank-noteif youpleasetill my brave Englishman has earned it first.'  'Bank-note!'says Papain a great surprise'who talked of bank-note? Imean anote of the termsa memorandum of what he is expected todo. Go on with your lessonMr. Pescaand I will give you thenecessaryextract from my friend's letter.' Down sits the man ofmerchandiseand money to his peninkand paper; and down I goonce againinto the Hell of Dantewith my three young Missesafter me. In ten minutes' time the note is writtenand the bootsof Papaare creaking themselves away in the passage outside.  Fromthatmomenton my faithand souland honourI know nothingmore! Theglorious thought that I have caught my opportunity atlastandthat my grateful service for my dearest friend in theworld isas good as done alreadyflies up into my head and makesme drunk. How I pull my young Misses and myself out of ourInfernalRegion againhow my other business is done afterwardshow mylittle bit of dinner slides itself down my throatI knowno morethan a man in the moon.  Enough for methat here I amwith themighty merchant's note in my handas large as lifeashot asfireand as happy as a king! Ha! ha! ha! right-right-right-all-right!"Here the Professor waved the memorandum of termsover hisheadand ended his long and voluble narrative with hisshrillItalian parody on an English cheer.

My motherrose the moment he had donewith flushed cheeks andbrightenedeyes.  She caught the little man warmly by both hands.

"Mydeargood Pesca" she said"I never doubted your trueaffectionfor Walterbut I am more than ever persuaded of itnow!"

"I amsure we are very much obliged to Professor PescaforWalter'ssake" added Sarah.  She half rosewhile she spokeasif toapproach the armchairin her turn; butobserving thatPesca wasrapturously kissing mymother's handslooked seriousandresumed her seat.  "If the familiar little man treats mymother inthat wayhow will he treat ME?" Faces sometimes telltruth; andthat was unquestionably the thought in Sarah's mindasshe satdown again.

Although Imyself was gratefully sensible of the kindness ofPesca'smotivesmy spirits were hardly so much elevated as theyought tohave been by the prospect of future employment now placedbeforeme.  When the Professor had quite done with my mother'shandandwhen I had warmly thanked him for his interference on mybehalfIasked to be allowed to look at the note of terms whichhisrespectable patron had drawn up for my inspection.

Pescahanded me the paperwith a triumphant flourish of the hand.

"Read!"said the little man majestically.  "I promise you myfriendthe writing of the golden Papa speaks with a tongue oftrumpetsfor itself."

The noteof terms was plainstraightforwardand comprehensiveat anyrate.  It informed me

FirstThat Frederick FairlieEsquireof Limmeridge House.Cumberlandwanted to engage the services of a thoroughlycompetentdrawing-masterfor a period of four months certain.

SecondlyThat the duties which the master was expected to performwould beof a twofold kind.  He was to superintend the instructionof twoyoung ladies in the art of painting in water-colours; andhe was todevote his leisure timeafterwardsto the business ofrepairingand mounting a valuable collection of drawingswhichhad beensuffered to fall into a condition of total neglect.

ThirdlyThat the terms offered to the person who should undertakeandproperly perform these duties were four guineas a week; thathe was toreside at Limmeridge House; and that he was to betreatedthere on the footing of a gentleman.

Fourthlyand lastlyThat no person need think of applying forthissituation unless he could furnish the most unexceptionablereferencesto character and abilities.  The references were to besent toMr. Fairlie's friend in Londonwho was empowered toconcludeall necessary arrangements.  These instructions werefollowedby the name and address of Pesca's employer in PortlandPlaceandthere the noteor memorandumended.

Theprospect which this offer of an engagement held out wascertainlyan attractive one.  The employment was likely to be botheasy andagreeable; it was proposed to me at the autumn time ofthe yearwhen I was least occupied; and the termsjudging by mypersonalexperience in my professionwere surprisingly liberal.I knewthis; I knew that I ought to consider myself very fortunateif Isucceeded in securing the offered employmentand yetnosooner hadI read the memorandum than I felt an inexplicableunwillingnesswithin me to stir in the matter.  I had never in thewhole ofmy previous experience found my duty and my inclinationsopainfully and so unaccountably at variance as I found them now.

"OhWalteryour father never had such a chance as this!" said mymotherwhen she had read the note of terms and had handed it backto me.

"Suchdistinguished people to know" remarked Sarahstraighteningherself inthe chair; "and on such gratifying terms of equalitytoo!"

"Yesyes; the termsin every senseare tempting enough" Irepliedimpatiently.  "But before I send in my testimonialsIshouldlike a little time to consider"

"Consider!"exclaimed my mother.  "WhyWalterwhat is the matterwith you?"

"Consider!"echoed my sister.  "What a very extraordinary thing tosayunderthe circumstances!"

"Consider!"chimed in the Professor.  "What is there to considerabout?Answer me this! Have you not been complaining of yourhealthand have you not been longing for what you call a smack ofthecountry breeze? Well! there in your hand is the paper thatoffers youperpetual choking mouthfuls of country breeze for fourmonths'time.  Is it not so? Ha! Againyou want money.  Well! Isfourgolden guineas a week nothing? My-soul-bless-my-soul! onlygive it tomeand my boots shall creak like the golden Papa'swith asense of the overpowering richness of the man who walks inthem! Fourguineas a weekandmore than thatthe charmingsociety oftwo young misses! andmore than thatyour bedyourbreakfastyour dinneryour gorging English teas and lunches anddrinks offoaming beerall for nothingwhyWaltermy dear goodfrienddeuce-what-the-deuce!forthe first time in my life Ihave noteyes enough in my head to lookand wonder at you!"

Neither mymother's evident astonishment at my behaviournorPesca'sfervid enumeration of the advantages offered to me by thenewemploymenthad any effect in shaking my unreasonabledisinclinationto go to Limmeridge House.  After starting all thepettyobjections that I could think of to going to Cumberlandandafterhearing them answeredone after anotherto my own completediscomfitureI tried to set up a last obstacle by asking what wasto becomeof my pupils in London while I was teaching Mr.Fairlie'syoung ladies to sketch from nature.  The obvious answerto thiswasthat the greater part of them would be away on theirautumntravelsand that the few who remained at home might beconfidedto the care of one of my brother drawing-masterswhosepupils Ihad once taken off his hands under similar circumstances.My sisterreminded me that this gentleman had expressly placed hisservicesat my disposalduring the present seasonin case Iwished toleave town; my mother seriously appealed to me not tolet anidle caprice stand in the way of my own interests and myownhealth; and Pesca piteously entreated that I would not woundhim to theheart by rejecting the first grateful offer of servicethat hehad been able to make to the friend who had saved hislife.

Theevident sincerity and affection which inspired theseremonstranceswould have influenced any man with an atom of goodfeeling inhis composition.  Though I could not conquer my ownunaccountableperversityI had at least virtue enough to beheartilyashamed of itand to end the discussion pleasantly bygivingwayand promising to do all that was wanted of me.

The restof the evening passed merrily enough in humorousanticipationsof my coming life with the two young ladies inCumberland. Pescainspired by our national grogwhich appearedto getinto his headin the most marvellous mannerfive minutesafter ithad gone down his throatasserted his claims to beconsidereda complete Englishman by making a series of speeches inrapidsuccessionproposing my mother's healthmy sister'shealthmyhealthand the healthsin massof Mr. Fairlie andthe twoyoung Missespathetically returning thanks himselfimmediatelyafterwardsfor the whole party.  "A secretWalter"said mylittle friend confidentiallyas we walked home together."I amflushed by the recollection of my own eloquence.  My soulburstsitself with ambition.  One of these days I go into yournobleParliament.  It is the dream of my whole life to beHonourablePescaM.P.!"

The nextmorning I sent my testimonials to the Professor'semployerin Portland Place.  Three days passedand I concludedwithsecret satisfactionthat my papers had not been foundsufficientlyexplicit.  On the fourth dayhoweveran answercame. It announced that Mr. Fairlie accepted my servicesandrequestedme to start for Cumberland immediately.  All thenecessaryinstructions for my journey were carefully and clearlyadded in apostscript.

I made myarrangementsunwillingly enoughfor leaving Londonearly thenext day.  Towards evening Pesca looked inon his wayto adinner-partyto bid me good-bye.

"Ishall dry my tears in your absence" said the Professor gaily"withthis glorious thought.  It is my auspicious hand that hasgiven thefirst push to your fortune in the world.  Gomy friend!When yoursun shines in Cumberland (English proverb)in the nameof heavenmake your hay.  Marry one of the two young Misses;becomeHonourable HartrightM.P.; and when you are on the top ofthe ladderremember that Pescaat the bottomhas done it all!"

I tried tolaugh with my little friend over his parting jestbutmy spiritswere not to be commanded.  Something jarred in mealmostpainfully while he was speaking his light farewell words.

When I wasleft alone again nothing remained to be done but towalk tothe Hampstead cottage and bid my mother and Sarah good-bye.

 

IV

 

The heathad been painfully oppressive all dayand it was now aclose andsultry night.

My motherand sister had spoken so many last wordsand had beggedme to waitanother five minutes so many timesthat it was nearlymidnightwhen the servant locked the garden-gate behind me.  Iwalkedforward a few paces on the shortest way back to Londonthenstopped and hesitated.

The moonwas full and broad in the dark blue starless skyand thebrokenground of the heath looked wild enough in the mysteriouslight tobe hundreds of miles away from the great city that laybeneathit.  The idea of descending any sooner than I could helpinto theheat and gloom of London repelled me.  The prospect ofgoing tobed in my airless chambersand the prospect of gradualsuffocationseemedin my present restless frame of mind andbodytobe one and the same thing.  I determined to stroll homein thepurer air by the most roundabout way I could take; tofollow thewhite winding paths across the lonely heath; and toapproachLondon through its most open suburb by striking into theFinchleyRoadand so getting backin the cool of the newmorningby the western side of the Regent's Park.

I wound myway down slowly over the heathenjoying the divinestillnessof the sceneand admiring the soft alternations oflight andshade as they followed each other over the broken groundon everyside of me.  So long as I was proceeding through thisfirst andprettiest part of my night walk my mind remainedpassivelyopen to the impressions produced by the view; and Ithoughtbut little on any subjectindeedso far as my ownsensationswere concernedI can hardly say that I thought at all.

But when Ihad left the heath and had turned into the by-roadwherethere was less to seethe ideas naturally engendered by theapproachingchange in my habits and occupations gradually drewmore andmore of my attention exclusively to themselves.  By thetime I hadarrived at the end of the road I had become completelyabsorbedin my own fanciful visions of Limmeridge Houseof Mr.Fairlieand of the two ladies whose practice in the art of water-colourpainting I was so soon to superintend.

I had nowarrived at that particular point of my walk where fourroadsmetthe road to Hampsteadalong which I had returnedtheroad toFinchleythe road to West Endand the road back toLondon. I had mechanically turned in this latter directionandwasstrolling along the lonely high-roadidly wonderingIrememberwhat the Cumberland young ladies would look likewhenin onemomentevery drop of blood in my body was brought to astop bythe touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly on myshoulderfrom behind me.

I turnedon the instantwith my fingers tightening round thehandle ofmy stick.

Thereinthe middle of the broad bright high-roadthereas ifit hadthat moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from theheavenstoodthe figure of a solitary Womandressed from head tofoot inwhite garmentsher face bent in grave inquiry on mineher handpointing to the dark cloud over Londonas I faced her.

I was fartoo seriously startled by the suddenness with which thisextraordinaryapparition stood before mein the dead of night andin thatlonely placeto ask what she wanted.  The strange womanspokefirst.

"Isthat the road to London?" she said.

I lookedattentively at heras she put that singular question tome. It was then nearly one o'clock.  All I could discerndistinctlyby the moonlight was a colourlessyouthful facemeagre andsharp to look at about the cheeks and chin; largegravewistfully attentive eyes; nervousuncertain lips; andlight hairof a palebrownish-yellow hue.  There was nothingwildnothing immodest in her manner: it was quiet and self-controlleda little melancholy and a little touched by suspicion;notexactly the manner of a ladyandat the same timenot themanner ofa woman in the humblest rank of life.  The voicelittleas I hadyet heard of ithad something curiously still andmechanicalin its tonesand the utterance was remarkably rapid.She held asmall bag in her hand: and her dressbonnetshawland gownall of whitewasso far as I could guesscertainly notcomposedof very delicate or very expensive materials.  Her figurewasslightand rather above the average heighther gait andactionsfree from the slightest approach to extravagance.  Thiswas allthat I could observe of her in the dim light and under theperplexinglystrange circumstances of our meeting.  What sort of awoman shewasand how she came to be out alone in the high-roadan hourafter midnightI altogether failed to guess.  The onething ofwhich I felt certain wasthat the grossest of mankindcould nothave misconstrued her motive in speakingeven at thatsuspiciouslylate hour and in that suspiciously lonely place.

"Didyou hear me?" she saidstill quietly and rapidlyandwithoutthe least fretfulness or impatience.  "I asked if that wasthe way toLondon."

"Yes"I replied"that is the way: it leads to St. John's Woodand theRegent's Park.  You must excuse my not answering youbefore. I was rather startled by your sudden appearance in theroad; andI ameven nowquite unable to account for it."

"Youdon't suspect me of doing anything wrongdo you? have donenothingwrong.  I have met with an accidentI am very unfortunatein beinghere alone so late.  Why do you suspect me of doingwrong?"

She spokewith unnecessary earnestness and agitationand shrankback fromme several paces.  I did my best to reassure her.

"Praydon't suppose that I have any idea of suspecting you" Isaid"orany other wish than to be of assistance to youif Ican. I only wondered at your appearance in the roadbecause itseemed tome to be empty the instant before I saw you."

Sheturnedand pointed back to a place at the junction of theroad toLondon and the road to Hampsteadwhere there was a gap inthe hedge.

"Iheard you coming" she said"and hid there to see whatsort ofman youwerebefore I risked speaking.  I doubted and fearedabout ittill you passed; and then I was obliged to steal afteryouandtouch you."

Stealafter me and touch me? Why not call to me? Strangeto saythe leastof it.

"MayI trust you?" she asked.  "You don't think the worseof mebecause Ihave met with an accident?" She stopped in confusion;shiftedher bag from one hand to the other; and sighed bitterly.

Theloneliness and helplessness of the woman touched me.  Thenaturalimpulse to assist her and to spare her got the better ofthejudgmentthe cautionthe worldly tactwhich an olderwiserandcolder man might have summoned to help him in thisstrangeemergency.

"Youmay trust me for any harmless purpose" I said.  "Ifittroublesyou to explain your strange situation to medon't thinkofreturning to the subject again.  I have no right to ask you foranyexplanations.  Tell me how I can help you; and if I canIwill."

"Youare very kindand I am veryvery thankful to have met you."The firsttouch of womanly tenderness that I had heard from hertrembledin her voice as she said the words; but no tearsglistenedin those largewistfully attentive eyes of herswhichwere stillfixed on me.  "I have only been in London once before"she wentonmore and more rapidly"and I know nothing about thatside ofityonder.  Can I get a flyor a carriage of any kind?Is it toolate? I don't know.  If you could show me where to get aflyand ifyou will only promise not to interfere with meand tolet meleave youwhen and how I pleaseI have a friend in Londonwho willbe glad to receive meI want nothing elsewill youpromise?"

She lookedanxiously up and down the road; shifted her bag againfrom onehand to the other; repeated the words"Will youpromise?"and looked hard in my facewith a pleading fear andconfusionthat it troubled me to see.

What couldI do? Here was a stranger utterly and helplessly at mymercyandthat stranger a forlorn woman.  No house was near; noone waspassing whom I could consult; and no earthly right existedon my partto give me a power of control over hereven if I hadknown howto exercise it.  I trace these linesself-distrustfullywith the shadows of after-events darkening the verypaper Iwrite on; and still I saywhat could I do?

What I diddowas to try and gain time by questioning her.  "Areyou surethat your friend in London will receive you at such alate houras this?" I said.

"Quitesure.  Only say you will let me leave you when and how Ipleaseonlysay you won't interfere with me.  Will you promise?"

As sherepeated the words for the third timeshe came close to meand laidher handwith a sudden gentle stealthinesson my bosoma thinhand; a cold hand (when I removed it with mine) even onthatsultry night.  Remember that I was young; remember that thehand whichtouched me was a woman's.

"Willyou promise?"

"Yes."

One word!The little familiar word that is on everybody's lipsevery hourin the day.  Oh me! and I tremblenowwhen I writeit.

We set ourfaces towards Londonand walked on together in thefirststill hour of the new dayIand this womanwhose namewhosecharacterwhose storywhose objects in lifewhose verypresenceby my sideat that momentwere fathomless mysteries tome. It was like a dream.  Was I Walter Hartright? Was this thewell-knownuneventful roadwhere holiday people strolled onSundays?Had I really leftlittle more than an hour sincethequietdecentconventionally domestic atmosphere of my mother'scottage? Iwas too bewilderedtoo conscious also of a vague senseofsomething like self-reproachto speak to my strange companionfor someminutes.  It was her voice again that first broke thesilencebetween us.

"Iwant to ask you something" she said suddenly.  "Doyou knowmanypeople in London?"

"Yesa great many."

"Manymen of rank and title?" There was an unmistakable tone ofsuspicionin the strange question.  I hesitated about answeringit.

"Some"I saidafter a moment's silence.

"Many"shecame to a full stopand looked me searchingly in theface"manymen of the rank of Baronet?"

Too muchastonished to replyI questioned her in my turn.

"Whydo you ask?"

"BecauseI hopefor my own sakethere is one Baronet that youdon'tknow."

"Willyou tell me his name?"

"Ican'tI daren'tI forget myself when I mention it." She spokeloudly andalmost fiercelyraised her clenched hand in the airand shookit passionately; thenon a suddencontrolled herselfagainandaddedin tones lowered to a whisper "Tell me which ofthem YOUknow."

I couldhardly refuse to humour her in such a trifleand Imentionedthree names.  Twothe names of fathers of familieswhosedaughters I taught; onethe name of a bachelor who had oncetaken me acruise in his yachtto make sketches for him.

"Ah!you DON'T know him" she saidwith a sigh of relief.  "Areyou a manof rank and title yourself?"

"Farfrom it.  I am only a drawing-master."

As thereply passed my lipsa little bitterlyperhapsshe tookmy armwith the abruptness which characterised all her actions.

"Nota man of rank and title" she repeated to herself.  "ThankGod! I maytrust HIM."

I hadhitherto contrived to master my curiosity out ofconsiderationfor my companion; but it got the better of me now.

"I amafraid you have serious reason to complain of some man ofrank andtitle?" I said.  "I am afraid the baronetwhose nameyouareunwilling to mention to mehas done you some grievous wrong?Is he thecause of your being out here at this strange time ofnight?"

"Don'task me: don't make me talk of it" she answered.  "I'mnotfit now. I have been cruelly used and cruelly wronged.  You willbe kinderthan everif you will walk on fastand not speak tome. I sadly want to quiet myselfif I can."

We movedforward again at a quick pace; and for half an houratleastnota word passed on either side.  From time to timebeingforbiddento make any more inquiriesI stole a look at her face.It wasalways the same; the lips close shutthe brow frowningthe eyeslooking straight forwardeagerly and yet absently.  Wehadreached the first housesand were close on the new Wesleyancollegebefore her set features relaxed and she spoke once more.

"Doyou live in London?" she said.

"Yes."As I answeredit struck me that she might have formed someintentionof appealing to me for assistance or adviceand that Iought tospare her a possible disappointment by warning her of myapproachingabsence from home.  So I added"But to-morrow I shallbe awayfrom London for some time.  I am going into the country."

"Where?"she asked.  "North or south?"

"NorthtoCumberland."

"Cumberland!"she repeated the word tenderly.  "Ah! wish I wasgoingthere too.  I was once happy in Cumberland."

I triedagain to lift the veil that hung between this woman andme.

"Perhapsyou were born" I said"in the beautiful Lake country."

"No"she answered.  "I was born in Hampshire; but I once went toschool fora little while in Cumberland.  Lakes? I don't rememberanylakes.  It's Limmeridge villageand Limmeridge HouseIshouldlike to see again."

It was myturn now to stop suddenly.  In the excited state of mycuriosityat that momentthe chance reference to Mr. Fairlie'splace ofresidenceon the lips of my strange companionstaggeredme withastonishment.

"Didyou hear anybody calling after us?" she askedlooking up anddown theroad affrightedlythe instant I stopped.
"Nono.  I was only struck by the name of Limmeridge House.  Iheard itmentioned by some Cumberland people a few days since."

"Ah!not my people.  Mrs. Fairlie is dead; and her husband isdead; andtheir little girl may be married and gone away by thistime. I can't say who lives at Limmeridge now.  If any more areleft thereof that nameI only know I love them for Mrs.Fairlie'ssake."

She seemedabout to say more; but while she was speakingwe camewithinview of the turnpikeat the top of the Avenue Road.  Herhandtightened round my armand she looked anxiously at the gatebefore us.

"Isthe turnpike man looking out?" she asked.

He was notlooking out; no one else was near the place when wepassedthrough the gate.  The sight of the gas-lamps and housesseemed toagitate herand to make her impatient.

"Thisis London" she said.  "Do you see any carriage I canget? Iam tiredand frightened.  I want to shut myself in and be drivenaway."

Iexplained to her that we must walk a little further to get to acab-standunless we were fortunate enough to meet with an emptyvehicle;and then tried to resume the subject of Cumberland.  Itwasuseless.  That idea of shutting herself inand being drivenawayhadnow got full possession of her mind.  She could thinkand talkof nothing else.

We hadhardly proceeded a third of the way down the Avenue Roadwhen I sawa cab draw up at a house a few doors below uson theoppositeside of the way.  A gentleman got out and let himself inat thegarden door.  I hailed the cabas the driver mounted theboxagain.  When we crossed the roadmy companion's impatienceincreasedto such an extent that she almost forced me to run.

"It'sso late" she said.  "I am only in a hurry becauseit's solate."

"Ican't take yousirif you're not going towards TottenhamCourtRoad" said the driver civillywhen I opened the cab door."Myhorse is dead beatand I can't get him no further than thestable."

"Yesyes.  That will do for me.  I'm going that wayI'm goingthat way."She spoke with breathless eagernessand pressed by meinto thecab.

I hadassured myself that the man was sober as well as civilbefore Ilet her enter the vehicle.  And nowwhen she was seatedinsideIentreated her to let me see her set down safely at herdestination.

"Nonono" she said vehemently.  "I'm quite safeandquitehappynow.  If you are a gentlemanremember your promise.  Lethim driveon till I stop him.  Thank youoh! thank youthankyou!"

My handwas on the cab door.  She caught it in herskissed itand pushedit away.  The cab drove off at the same momentIstartedinto the roadwith some vague idea of stopping it againI hardlyknew whyhesitated from dread of frightening anddistressinghercalledat lastbut not loudly enough to attractthedriver's attention.  The sound of the wheels grew fainter inthedistancethe cab melted into the black shadows on the roadthe womanin white was gone.

 

Tenminutes or more had passed.  I was still on the same side ofthe way;now mechanically walking forward a few paces; nowstoppingagain absently.  At one moment I found myself doubtingthereality of my own adventure; at another I was perplexed anddistressedby an uneasy sense of having done wrongwhich yet leftmeconfusedly ignorant of how I could have done right.  I hardlyknew whereI was goingor what I meant to do next; I wasconsciousof nothing but the confusion of my own thoughtswhen Iwasabruptly recalled to myselfawakenedI might almost saybythe soundof rapidly approaching wheels close behind me.

I was onthe dark side of the roadin the thick shadow of somegardentreeswhen I stopped to look round.  On the opposite andlighterside of the waya short distance below mea policemanwasstrolling along in the direction of the Regent's Park.

Thecarriage passed mean open chaise driven by two men.

"Stop!"cried one.  "There's a policeman.  Let's ask him."

The horsewas instantly pulled upa few yards beyond the darkplacewhere I stood.

"Policeman!"cried the first speaker.  "Have you seen a woman passthis way?"

"Whatsort of womansir?"

"Awoman in a lavender-coloured gown"

"Nono" interposed the second man.  "The clothes we gaveherwere foundon her bed.  She must have gone away in the clothes shewore whenshe came to us.  In whitepoliceman.  A woman inwhite."

"Ihaven't seen hersir."

"Ifyou or any of your men meet with the womanstop herand sendher incareful keeping to that address.  I'll pay all expensesand a fairreward into the bargain."

Thepoliceman looked at the card that was handed down to him.

"Whyare we to stop hersir? What has she done?"

"Done!She has escaped from my Asylum.  Don't forget; a woman inwhite. Drive on."

 

V

 

"Shehas escaped from my Asylum!"

I cannotsay with truth that the terrible inference which thosewordssuggested flashed upon me like a new revelation.  Some ofthestrange questions put to me by the woman in whiteafter myill-consideredpromise to leave her free to act as she pleasedhadsuggested the conclusion either that she was naturally flightyandunsettledor that some recent shock of terror had disturbedthebalance of her faculties.  But the idea of absolute insanitywhich weall associate with the very name of an AsylumhadI canhonestlydeclarenever occurred to mein connection with her.  Ihad seennothingin her language or her actionsto justify it atthe time;and even with the new light thrown on her by the wordswhich thestranger had addressed to the policemanI could seenothing tojustify it now.

What had Idone? Assisted the victim of the most horrible of allfalseimprisonments to escape; or cast loose on the wide world ofLondon anunfortunate creaturewhose actions it was my dutyandeveryman's dutymercifully to control?  I turned sick at heartwhen thequestion occurred to meand when I felt self-reproachfullythat it was asked too late.

In thedisturbed state of my mindit was useless to think ofgoing tobedwhen I at last got back to my chambers in Clement'sInn. Before many hours elapsed it would be necessary to start onmy journeyto Cumberland.  I sat down and triedfirst to sketchthen toreadbut the woman in white got between me and my pencilbetween meand my book.  Had the forlorn creature come to anyharm? Thatwas my first thoughtthough I shrank selfishly fromconfrontingit.  Other thoughts followedon which it was lessharrowingto dwell.  Where had she stopped the cab? What hadbecome ofher now? Had she been traced and captured by the men inthechaise? Or was she still capable of controlling her ownactions;and were we two following our widely parted roads towardsone pointin the mysterious futureat which we were to meet oncemore?

It was arelief when the hour came to lock my doorto bidfarewellto London pursuitsLondon pupilsand London friendsand to bein movement again towards new interests and a new life.Even thebustle and confusion at the railway terminussowearisomeand bewildering at other timesroused me and did megood.

 

Mytravelling instructions directed me to go to Carlisleand thento divergeby a branch railway which ran in the direction of thecoast. As a misfortune to begin withour engine broke downbetweenLancaster and Carlisle.  The delay occasioned by thisaccidentcaused me to be too late for the branch trainby which Iwas tohave gone on immediately.  I had to wait some hours; andwhen alater train finally deposited me at the nearest station toLimmeridgeHouseit was past tenand the night was so dark thatI couldhardly see my way to the pony-chaise which Mr. Fairlie hadordered tobe in waiting for me.

The driverwas evidently discomposed by the lateness of myarrival. He was in that state of highly respectful sulkinesswhich ispeculiar to English servants.  We drove away slowlythroughthe darkness in perfect silence.  The roads were badandthe denseobscurity of the night increased the difficulty ofgettingover the ground quickly.  It wasby my watchnearly anhour and ahalf from the time of our leaving the station before Iheard thesound of the sea in the distanceand the crunch of ourwheels ona smooth gravel drive.  We had passed one gate beforeenteringthe driveand we passed another before we drew up at thehouse. I was received by a solemn man-servant out of liverywasinformedthat the family had retired for the nightand was thenled into alarge and lofty room where my supper was awaiting mein aforlorn mannerat one extremity of a lonesome mahoganywildernessof dining-table.

I was tootired and out of spirits to eat or drink muchespeciallywith the solemn servant waiting on me as elaborately asif a smalldinner party had arrived at the house instead of asolitaryman.  In a quarter of an hour I was ready to be taken upto mybedchamber.  The solemn servant conducted me into a prettilyfurnishedroomsaid"Breakfast at nine o'clocksir"looked allround himto see that everything was in its proper placeandnoiselesslywithdrew.

"Whatshall I see in my dreams to-night?" I thought to myselfasI put outthe candle; "the woman in white? or the unknowninhabitantsof this Cumberland mansion?" It was a strangesensationto be sleeping in the houselike a friend of thefamilyand yet not to know one of the inmateseven by sight!


VI

 

When Irose the next morning and drew up my blindthe sea openedbefore mejoyously under the broad August sunlightand thedistantcoast of Scotland fringed the horizon with its lines ofmeltingblue.

The viewwas such a surpriseand such a change to meafter mywearyLondon experience of brick and mortar landscapethat Iseemed toburst into a new life and a new set of thoughts themoment Ilooked at it.  A confused sensation of having suddenlylost myfamiliarity with the pastwithout acquiring anyadditionalclearness of idea in reference to the present or thefuturetook possession of my mind.  Circumstances that were but afew daysold faded back in my memoryas if they had happenedmonths andmonths since.  Pesca's quaint announcement of the meansby whichhe had procured me my present employment; the farewellevening Ihad passed with my mother and sister; even my mysteriousadventureon the way home from Hampsteadhad all become likeeventswhich might have occurred at some former epoch of myexistence. Although the woman in white was still in my mindtheimage ofher seemed to have grown dull and faint already.

A littlebefore nine o'clockI descended to the ground-floor ofthehouse.  The solemn man-servant of the night before met mewanderingamong the passagesand compassionately showed me theway to thebreakfast-room.

My firstglance round meas the man opened the doordisclosed awell-furnishedbreakfast-tablestanding in the middle of a longroomwithmany windows in it.  I looked from the table to thewindowfarthest from meand saw a lady standing at itwith herbackturned towards me.  The instant my eyes rested on herI wasstruck bythe rare beauty of her formand by the unaffected graceof herattitude.  Her figure was tallyet not too tall; comelyandwell-developedyet not fat; her head set on her shoulderswith aneasypliant firmness; her waistperfection in the eyesof a manfor it occupied its natural placeit filled out itsnaturalcircleit was visibly and delightfully undeformed bystays. She had not heard my entrance into the room; and I allowedmyself theluxury of admiring her for a few momentsbefore Imoved oneof the chairs near meas the least embarrassing meansofattracting her attention.  She turned towards me immediately.The easyelegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soonas shebegan to advance from the far end of the roomset me in aflutter ofexpectation to see her face clearly.  She left thewindowandI said to myselfThe lady is dark.  She moved forwarda fewstepsand I said to myselfThe lady is young.  Sheapproachednearerand I said to myself (with a sense of surprisewhichwords fail me to express)The lady is ugly!

Never wasthe old conventional maximthat Nature cannot errmoreflatlycontradictednever was the fair promise of a lovely figuremorestrangely and startlingly belied by the face and head thatcrownedit.  The lady's complexion was almost swarthyand thedark downon her upper lip was almost a moustache.  She had alargefirmmasculine mouth and jaw; prominentpiercingresolutebrown eyes; and thickcoal-black hairgrowing unusuallylow downon her forehead.  Her expressionbrightfrankandintelligentappearedwhile she was silentto be altogetherwanting inthose feminine attractions of gentleness andpliabilitywithout which the beauty of the handsomest woman aliveis beautyincomplete.  To see such a face as this set on shouldersthat asculptor would have longed to modelto be charmed by themodestgraces of action through which the symmetrical limbsbetrayedtheir beauty when they movedand then to be almostrepelledby the masculine form and masculine look of the featuresin whichthe perfectly shaped figure endedwas to feel asensationoddly akin to the helpless discomfort familiar to us allin sleepwhen we recognise yet cannot reconcile the anomalies andcontradictionsof a dream.

"Mr.Hartright?" said the lady interrogativelyher dark facelightingup with a smileand softening and growing womanly themoment shebegan to speak.  "We resigned all hope of you lastnightandwent to bed as usual.  Accept my apologies for ourapparentwant of attention; and allow me to introduce myself asone ofyour pupils.  Shall we shake hands? I suppose we must cometo itsooner or laterand why not sooner?"

These oddwords of welcome were spoken in a clearringingpleasantvoice.  The offered handrather largebut beautifullyformedwasgiven to me with the easyunaffected self-reliance ofahighly-bred woman.  We sat down together at the breakfast-tablein ascordial and customary a manner as if we had known each otherfor yearsand had met at Limmeridge House to talk over old timesbyprevious appointment.

"Ihope you come here good-humouredly determined to make the bestof yourposition" continued the lady.  "You will have tobeginthismorning by putting up with no other company at breakfast thanmine. My sister is in her own roomnursing that essentiallyfemininemaladya slight headache; and her old governnessMrs.Veseyischaritably attending on her with restorative tea.  MyuncleMr.Fairlienever joins us at any of our meals: he is aninvalidand keeps bachelor state in his own apartments.  There isnobodyelse in the house but me.  Two young ladies have beenstayingherebut they went away yesterdayin despair; and nowonder. All through their visit (in consequence of Mr. Fairlie'sinvalidcondition) we produced no such convenience in the house asaflirtabledanceablesmall-talkable creature of the male sex;and theconsequence waswe did nothing but quarrelespecially atdinner-time. How can you expect four women to dine together aloneevery dayand not quarrel? We are such foolswe can't entertaineach otherat table.  You see I don't think much of my own sexMr.Hartrightwhich will you havetea or coffee?no woman doesthink muchof her own sexalthough few of them confess it asfreely asI do.  Dear meyou look puzzled.  Why? Are youwonderingwhat you will have for breakfast? or are you surprisedat mycareless way of talking? In the first caseI advise youasa friendto have nothing to do with that cold ham at your elbowand towait till the omelette comes in.  In the second caseIwill giveyou some tea to compose your spiritsand do all a womancan (whichis very littleby-the-bye) to hold my tongue."

She handedme my cup of tealaughing gaily.  Her light flow oftalkandher lively familiarity of manner with a total strangerwereaccompanied by an unaffected naturalness and an easy inbornconfidencein herself and her positionwhich would have securedher therespect of the most audacious man breathing.  While it wasimpossibleto be formal and reserved in her companyit was morethanimpossible to take the faintest vestige of a liberty withherevenin thought.  I felt this instinctivelyeven while Icaught theinfection of her own bright gaiety of spiritsevenwhile Idid my best to answer her in her own franklively way.

"Yesyes" she saidwhen I had suggested the only explanation Icouldofferto account for my perplexed looks"I understand.You aresuch a perfect stranger in the housethat you are puzzledby myfamiliar references to the worthy inhabitants.  Naturalenough: Iought to have thought of it before.  At any rateI canset itright now.  Suppose I begin with myselfso as to get donewith thatpart of the subject as soon as possible? My name isMarianHalcombe; and I am as inaccurate as women usually areincallingMr. Fairlie my uncleand Miss Fairlie my sister.  Mymother wastwice married: the first time to Mr. Halcombemyfather;the second time to Mr. Fairliemy half-sister's father.Exceptthat we are both orphanswe are in every respect as unlikeeach otheras possible.  My father was a poor manand MissFairlie'sfather was a rich man.  I have got nothingand she hasafortune.  I am dark and uglyand she is fair and pretty.Everybodythinks me crabbed and odd (with perfect justice); andeverybodythinks her sweet-tempered and charming (with morejusticestill).  In shortshe is an angel; and I am  Trysome ofthat marmaladeMr. Hartrightand finish the sentenceinthe nameof female proprietyfor yourself.  What am I to tell youabout Mr.Fairlie? Upon my honourI hardly know.  He is sure tosend foryou after breakfastand you can study him for yourself.In themeantimeI may inform youfirstthat he is the late Mr.Fairlie'syounger brother; secondlythat he is a single man; andthirdlythat he is Miss Fairlie's guardian.  I won't live withoutherandshe can't live without me; and that is how I come to beatLimmeridge House.  My sister and I are honestly fond of eachother;whichyou will sayis perfectly unaccountableunder thecircumstancesand I quite agree with youbut so it is.  You mustpleaseboth of usMr. Hartrightor please neither of us: andwhat isstill more tryingyou will be thrown entirely upon oursociety. Mrs. Vesey is an excellent personwho possesses all thecardinalvirtuesand counts for nothing; and Mr. Fairlie is toogreat aninvalid to be a companion for anybody.  I don't know whatis thematter with himand the doctors don't know what is thematterwith himand he doesn't know himself what is the matterwith him. We all say it's on the nervesand we none of us knowwhat wemean when we say it.  HoweverI advise you to humour hislittlepeculiaritieswhen you see him to-day.  Admire hiscollectionof coinsprintsand water-colour drawingsand youwill winhis heart.  Upon my wordif you can be contented with aquietcountry lifeI don't see why you should not get on verywellhere.  From breakfast to lunchMr. Fairlie's drawings willoccupyyou.  After lunchMiss Fairlie and I shoulder our sketch-booksandgo out to misrepresent Natureunder your directions.Drawing isher favourite whimmindnot mine.  Women can't drawtheirminds are too flightyand their eyes are too inattentive.Nomattermy sister likes it; so I waste paint and spoil paperfor hersakeas composedly as any woman in England.  As for theeveningsI think we can help you through them.  Miss Fairlieplaysdelightfully.  For my own poor partI don't know one noteof musicfrom the other; but I can match you at chessbackgammonecarteand (with the inevitable female drawbacks) even atbilliardsas well.  What do you think of the programme? Can youreconcileyourself to our quietregular life? or do you mean toberestlessand secretly thirst for change and adventurein thehumdrumatmosphere of Limmeridge House?"

She hadrun on thus farin her gracefully bantering waywith nootherinterruptions on my part than the unimportant replies whichpolitenessrequired of me.  The turn of the expressionhoweverin herlast questionor rather the one chance word"adventure"lightly asit fell from her lipsrecalled my thoughts to mymeetingwith the woman in whiteand urged me to discover theconnectionwhich the stranger's own reference to Mrs. Fairlieinformedme must once have existed between the nameless fugitivefrom theAsylumand the former mistress of Limmeridge House.

"Evenif I were the most restless of mankind" I said"I shouldbe in nodanger of thirsting after adventures for some time tocome. The very night before I arrived at this houseI met withanadventure; and the wonder and excitement of itI can assureyouMissHalcombewill last me for the whole term of my stay inCumberlandif not for a much longer period."

"Youdon't say soMr. Hartright! May I hear it?"

"Youhave a claim to hear it.  The chief person in the adventurewas atotal stranger to meand may perhaps be a total stranger toyou; butshe certainly mentioned the name of the late Mrs. Fairliein termsof the sincerest gratitude and regard."

"Mentionedmy mother's name! You interest me indescribably.  Praygo on."

I at oncerelated the circumstances under which I had met thewoman inwhiteexactly as they had occurred; and I repeated whatshe hadsaid to me about Mrs. Fairlie and Limmeridge Housewordfor word.

MissHalcombe's bright resolute eyes looked eagerly into minefrom thebeginning of the narrative to the end.  Her faceexpressedvivid interest and astonishmentbut nothing more.  Shewasevidently as far from knowing of any clue to the mystery as Iwasmyself.

"Areyou quite sure of those words referring to my mother?" sheasked.

"Quitesure" I replied.  "Whoever she may bethe woman wasonceat schoolin the village of Limmeridgewas treated with especialkindnessby Mrs. Fairlieandin grateful remembrance of thatkindnessfeels an affectionate interest in all surviving membersof thefamily.  She knew that Mrs. Fairlie and her husband wereboth dead;and she spoke of Miss Fairlie as if they had known eachother whenthey were children."

"YousaidI thinkthat she denied belonging to this place?"

"Yesshe told me she came from Hampshire."

"Andyou entirely failed to find out her name?"

"Entirely."

"Verystrange.  I think you were quite justifiedMr. Hartrightin givingthe poor creature her libertyfor she seems to havedonenothing in your presence to show herself unfit to enjoy it.But I wishyou had been a little more resolute about finding outher name. We must really clear up this mysteryin some way.  Youhad betternot speak of it yet to Mr. Fairlieor to my sister.They areboth of themI am certainquite as ignorant of who thewoman isand of what her past history in connection with us canbeas Iam myself.  But they are alsoin widely different waysrathernervous and sensitive; and you would only fidget one andalarm theother to no purpose.  As for myselfI am all aflamewithcuriosityand I devote my whole energies to the business ofdiscoveryfrom this moment.  When my mother came hereafter hersecondmarriageshe certainly established the village school justas itexists at the present time.  But the old teachers are alldeadorgone elsewhere; and no enlightenment is to be hoped forfrom thatquarter.  The only other alternative I can think of"

At thispoint we were interrupted by the entrance of the servantwith amessage from Mr. Fairlieintimating that he would be gladto see meas soon as I had done breakfast.

"Waitin the hall" said Miss Halcombeanswering the servant formein herquickready way.  "Mr. Hartright will come outdirectly. I was about to say" she went onaddressing me again"thatmy sister and I have a large collection of my mother'slettersaddressed to my father and to hers.  In the absence ofany othermeans of getting informationI will pass the morning inlookingover my mother's correspondence with Mr. Fairlie.  He wasfond ofLondonand was constantly away from his country home; andshe wasaccustomedat such timesto write and report to him howthingswent on at Limmeridge.  Her letters are full of referencesto theschool in which she took so strong an interest; and I thinkit morethan likely that I may have discovered something when wemeetagain.  The luncheon hour is twoMr. Hartright.  I shallhave thepleasure of introducing you to my sister by that timeand wewill occupy the afternoon in driving round theneighbourhoodand showing you all our pet points of view.  Tilltwoo'clockthenfarewell."

She noddedto me with the lively gracethe delightful refinementoffamiliaritywhich characterised all that she did and all thatshe said;and disappeared by a door at the lower end of the room.As soon asshe had left meI turned my steps towards the hallandfollowed the servanton my wayfor the first timeto thepresenceof Mr. Fairlie.

 

VII

 

Myconductor led me upstairs into a passage which took us back tothebedchamber in which I had slept during the past night; andopeningthe door next to itbegged me to look in.

"Ihave my master's orders to show you your own sitting-roomsir"said the man"and to inquire if you approve of thesituationand the light."

I musthave been hard to pleaseindeedif I had not approved ofthe roomand of everything about it.  The bow-window looked outon thesame lovely view which I had admiredin the morningfrommybedroom.  The furniture was the perfection of luxury andbeauty;the table in the centre was bright with gaily bound bookselegantconveniences for writingand beautiful flowers; thesecondtablenear the windowwas covered with all the necessarymaterialsfor mounting water-colour drawingsand had a littleeaselattached to itwhich I could expand or fold up at will; thewalls werehung with gaily tinted chintz; and the floor was spreadwithIndian matting in maize-colour and red.  It was the prettiestand mostluxurious little sitting-room I had ever seen; and Iadmired itwith the warmest enthusiasm.

The solemnservant was far too highly trained to betray theslightestsatisfaction.  He bowed with icy deference when my termsof eulogywere all exhaustedand silently opened the door for meto go outinto the passage again.

We turneda cornerand entered a long second passageascended ashortflight of stairs at the endcrossed a small circular upperhallandstopped in front of a door covered with dark baize.  Theservantopened this doorand led me on a few yards to a second;openedthat alsoand disclosed two curtains of pale sea-greensilkhanging before us; raised one of them noiselessly; softlyutteredthe words"Mr. Hartright" and left me.

I foundmyself in a largelofty roomwith a magnificent carvedceilingand with a carpet over the floorso thick and soft thatit feltlike piles of velvet under my feet.  One side of the roomwasoccupied by a long bookcase of some rare inlaid wood that wasquite newto me.  It was not more than six feet highand the topwasadorned with statuettes in marbleranged at regular distancesone fromthe other.  On the opposite side stood two antiquecabinets;and between themand above themhung a picture of theVirgin andChildprotected by glassand bearing Raphael's nameon thegilt tablet at the bottom of the frame.  On my right handand on myleftas I stood inside the doorwere chiffoniers andlittlestands in buhl and marquetterieloaded with figures inDresdenchinawith rare vasesivory ornamentsand toys andcuriositiesthat sparkled at all points with goldsilverandpreciousstones.  At the lower end of the roomopposite to methewindows were concealed and the sunlight was tempered by largeblinds ofthe same pale sea-green colour as the curtains over thedoor. The light thus produced was deliciously softmysteriousandsubdued; it fell equally upon all the objects in the room; ithelped tointensify the deep silenceand the air of profoundseclusionthat possessed the place; and it surroundedwith anappropriatehalo of reposethe solitary figure of the master ofthe houseleaning backlistlessly composedin a large easy-chairwith a reading-easel fastened on one of its armsand alittletable on the other.
If a man'spersonal appearancewhen he is out of his dressing-roomandwhen he has passed fortycan be accepted as a safeguide tohis time of lifewhich is more than doubtfulMr.Fairlie'sagewhen I saw himmight have been reasonably computedat overfifty and under sixty years.  His beardless face was thinwornandtransparently palebut not wrinkled; his nose was highandhooked; his eyes were of a dim greyish bluelargeprominentand ratherred round the rims of the eyelids; his hair was scantysoft tolook atand of that light sandy colour which is the lasttodisclose its own changes towards grey.  He was dressed in adarkfrock-coatof some substance much thinner than clothand inwaistcoatand trousers of spotless white.  His feet wereeffeminatelysmalland were clad in buff-coloured silk stockingsand littlewomanish bronze-leather slippers.  Two rings adornedhis whitedelicate handsthe value of which even my inexperiencedobservationdetected to be all but priceless.  Upon the wholehehad afraillanguidly-fretfulover-refined looksomethingsingularlyand unpleasantly delicate in its association with amanandat the same timesomething which could by nopossibilityhave looked natural and appropriate if it had beentransferredto the personal appearance of a woman.  My morning'sexperienceof Miss Halcombe had predisposed me to be pleased witheverybodyin the house; but my sympathies shut themselves upresolutelyat the first sight of Mr. Fairlie.

Onapproaching nearer to himI discovered that he was not soentirelywithout occupation as I had at first supposed.  Placedamid theother rare and beautiful objects on a large round tablenear himwas a dwarf cabinet in ebony and silvercontainingcoins ofall shapes and sizesset out in little drawers linedwith darkpurple velvet.  One of these drawers lay on the smalltableattached to his chair; and near it were some tiny jeweller'sbrushesawash-leather "stump" and a little bottle of liquidallwaiting to be used in various ways for the removal of anyaccidentalimpurities which might be discovered on the coins.  Hisfrailwhite fingers were listlessly toying with something whichlookedtomy uninstructed eyeslike a dirty pewter medal withraggededgeswhen I advanced within a respectful distance of hischairandstopped to make my bow.

"Soglad to possess you at LimmeridgeMr. Hartright" he said inaquerulouscroaking voicewhich combinedin anything but anagreeablemannera discordantly high tone with a drowsily languidutterance. "Pray sit down.  And don't trouble yourself to movethe chairplease.  In the wretched state of my nervesmovementof anykind is exquisitely painful to me.  Have you seen yourstudio?Will it do?"

"Ihave just come from seeing the roomMr. Fairlie; and I assureyou"

He stoppedme in the middle of the sentenceby closing his eyesandholding up one of his white hands imploringly.  I paused inastonishment;and the croaking voice honoured me with thisexplanation

"Prayexcuse me.  But could you contrive to speak in a lower key?In thewretched state of my nervesloud sound of any kind isindescribabletorture to me.  You will pardon an invalid? I onlysay to youwhat the lamentable state of my health obliges me tosay toeverybody.  Yes.  And you really like the room?"

"Icould wish for nothing prettier and nothing more comfortable"Ianswereddropping my voiceand beginning to discover alreadythat Mr.Fairlie's selfish affectation and Mr. Fairlie's wretchednervesmeant one and the same thing.

"Soglad.  You will find your position hereMr. Hartrightproperlyrecognised.  There is none of the horrid Englishbarbarityof feeling about the social position of an artist inthishouse.  So much of my early life has been passed abroadthatI havequite cast my insular skin in that respect.  I wish I couldsay thesame of the gentrydetestable wordbut I suppose I mustuse itofthe gentry in the neighbourhood. They are sad Goths inArtMr.Hartright.  PeopleI do assure youwho would haveopenedtheir eyes in astonishmentif they had seen Charles theFifth pickup Titian's brush for him.  Do you mind putting thistray ofcoins back in the cabinetand giving me the next one toit? In thewretched state of my nervesexertion of any kind isunspeakablydisagreeable to me.  Yes.  Thank you."

As apractical commentary on the liberal social theory which hehad justfavoured me by illustratingMr. Fairlie's cool requestratheramused me.  I put back one drawer and gave him the otherwith allpossible politeness.  He began trifling with the new setof coinsand the little brushes immediately; languidly looking atthem andadmiring them all the time he was speaking to me.

"Athousand thanks and a thousand excuses.  Do you like coins?Yes. So glad we have another taste in common besides our tastefor Art. Nowabout the pecuniary arrangements between usdotell mearethey satisfactory?"

"MostsatisfactoryMr. Fairlie."

"Soglad.  Andwhat next? Ah! I remember.  Yes.  Inreference totheconsideration which you are good enough to accept for givingme thebenefit of your accomplishments in artmy steward willwait onyou at the end of the first weekto ascertain yourwishes. Andwhat next? Curiousis it not? I had a great dealmore tosay: and I appear to have quite forgotten it.  Do you mindtouchingthe bell? In that corner.  Yes.  Thank you."

I rang;and a new servant noiselessly made his appearanceaforeignerwith a set smile and perfectly brushed haira valetevery inchof him.

"Louis"said Mr. Fairliedreamily dusting the tips of hisfingerswith one of the tiny brushes for the coins"I made someentries inmy tablettes this morning.  Find my tablettes.  AthousandpardonsMr. HartrightI'm afraid I bore you."

As hewearily closed his eyes againbefore I could answerand ashe didmost assuredly bore meI sat silentand looked up at theMadonnaand Child by Raphael.  In the meantimethe valet left theroomandreturned shortly with a little ivory book.  Mr. Fairlieafterfirst relieving himself by a gentle sighlet the book dropopen withone handand held up the tiny brush with the otherasa sign tothe servant to wait for further orders.

"Yes. Just so!" said Mr. Fairlieconsulting the tablettes."Louistake down that portfolio." He pointedas he spoketoseveralportfolios placed near the windowon mahogany stands."No. Not the one with the green backthat contains my RembrandtetchingsMr. Hartright.  Do you like etchings? Yes? So glad wehaveanother taste in common.  The portfolio with the red backLouis. Don't drop it! You have no idea of the tortures I shouldsufferMr. Hartrightif Louis dropped that portfolio.  Is itsafe onthe chair? Do YOU think it safeMr. Hartright? Yes? Soglad. Will you oblige me by looking at the drawingsif youreallythink they are quite safe.  Louisgo away.  What an assyou are. Don't you see me holding the tablettes? Do you suppose Iwant tohold them? Then why not relieve me of the tabletteswithoutbeing told? A thousand pardonsMr. Hartright; servantsare suchassesare they not? Do tell mewhat do you think of thedrawings?They have come from a sale in a shocking stateIthoughtthey smelt of horrid dealers' and brokers' fingers when Ilooked atthem last.  CAN you undertake them?"

Althoughmy nerves were not delicate enough to detect the odour ofplebeianfingers which had offended Mr. Fairlie's nostrilsmytaste wassufficiently educated to enable me to appreciate thevalue ofthe drawingswhile I turned them over.  They wereforthe mostpartreally fine specimens of English water-colour art;and theyhad deserved much better treatment at the hands of theirformerpossessor than they appeared to have received.

"Thedrawings" I answered"require careful straining andmounting;andin my opinionthey are well worth"

"Ibeg your pardon" interposed Mr. Fairlie.  "Do youmind myclosing myeyes while you speak? Even this light is too much forthem. Yes?"

"Iwas about to say that the drawings are well worth all the timeandtrouble"

Mr.Fairlie suddenly opened his eyes againand rolled them withanexpression of helpless alarm in the direction of the window.

"Ientreat you to excuse meMr. Hartright" he said in a feebleflutter. "But surely I hear some horrid children in the gardenmy privategardenbelow?"

"Ican't sayMr. Fairlie.  I heard nothing myself."

"Obligemeyou have been so very good in humouring my poornervesobligeme by lifting up a corner of the blind.  Don't letthe sun inon meMr. Hartright! Have you got the blind up? Yes?Then willyou be so very kind as to look into the garden and makequitesure?"

I compliedwith this new request.  The garden was carefully walledinallround.  Not a human creaturelarge or smallappeared inany partof the sacred seclusion.  I reported that gratifying factto Mr.Fairlie.

"Athousand thanks.  My fancyI suppose.  There are nochildrenthankHeavenin the house; but the servants (persons born withoutnerves)will encourage the children from the village.  Such bratsohdearmesuch brats! Shall I confess itMr. Hartright?Isadly wanta reform in the construction of children.  Nature'sonly ideaseems to be to make them machines for the production ofincessantnoise.  Surely our delightful Raffaello's conception isinfinitelypreferable?"

He pointedto the picture of the Madonnathe upper part of whichrepresentedthe conventional cherubs of Italian Artcelestiallyprovidedwith sitting accommodation for their chinson balloonsofbuff-coloured cloud.

"Quitea model family!" said Mr. Fairlieleering at the cherubs."Suchnice round facesand such nice soft wingsandnothingelse. No dirty little legs to run about onand no noisy littlelungs toscream with.  How immeasurably superior to the existingconstruction!I will close my eyes againif you will allow me.And youreally can manage the drawings? So glad.  Is thereanythingelse to settle? if there isI think I have forgotten it.Shall wering for Louis again?"

Beingbythis timequite as anxiouson my sideas Mr. Fairlieevidentlywas on histo bring the interview to a speedyconclusionI thought I would try to render the summoning of theservantunnecessaryby offering the requisite suggestion on myownresponsibility.

"Theonly pointMr. Fairliethat remains to be discussed" Isaid"refersI thinkto the instruction in sketching which I amengaged tocommunicate to the two young ladies."

"Ah!just so" said Mr. Fairlie.  "I wish I felt strongenough togo intothat part of the arrangementbut I don't.  The ladies whoprofit byyour kind servicesMr. Hartrightmust settleanddecideand so onfor themselves.  My niece is fond of yourcharmingart.  She knows just enough about it to be conscious ofher ownsad defects.  Please take pains with her.  Yes.  Isthereanythingelse? No.  We quite understand each otherdon't we? Ihave noright to detain you any longer from your delightfulpursuithaveI? So pleasant to have settled everythingsuch asensiblerelief to have done business.  Do you mind ringing forLouis tocarry the portfolio to your own room?"

"Iwill carry it there myselfMr. Fairlieif you will allow me."

"Willyou really? Are you strong enough? How nice to be so strong!Are yousure you won't drop it? So glad to possess you atLimmeridgeMr. Hartright.  I am such a sufferer that I hardlydare hopeto enjoy much of your society.  Would you mind takinggreatpains not to let the doors bangand not to drop theportfolio?Thank you.  Gently with the curtainspleasetheslightestnoise from them goes through me like a knife.  Yes. GOODmorning!"

When thesea-green curtains were closedand when the two baizedoors wereshut behind meI stopped for a moment in the littlecircularhall beyondand drew a longluxurious breath of relief.It waslike coming to the surface of the water after deep divingto findmyself once more on the outside of Mr. Fairlie's room.

As soon asI was comfortably established for the morning in myprettylittle studiothe first resolution at which I arrived wasto turn mysteps no more in the direction of the apartmentsoccupiedby the master of the houseexcept in the very improbableevent ofhis honouring me with a special invitation to pay himanothervisit.  Having settled this satisfactory plan of futureconduct inreference to Mr. FairlieI soon recovered the serenityof temperof which my employer's haughty familiarity and impudentpolitenesshadfor the momentdeprived me.  The remaining hoursof themorning passed away pleasantly enoughin looking over thedrawingsarranging them in setstrimming their ragged edgesandaccomplishingthe other necessary preparations in anticipation ofthebusiness of mounting them.  I oughtperhapsto have mademoreprogress than this; butas the luncheon-time drew nearIgrewrestless and unsettledand felt unable to fix my attentionon workeven though that work was only of the humble manual kind.

At twoo'clock I descended again to the breakfast-rooma littleanxiously. Expectations of some interest were connected with myapproachingreappearance in that part of the house.  Myintroductionto Miss Fairlie was now close at hand; andif MissHalcombe'ssearch through her mother's letters had produced theresultwhich she anticipatedthe time had come for clearing upthemystery of the woman in white.

 

VIII

 

When Ientered the roomI found Miss Halcombe and an elderly ladyseated atthe luncheon-table.

Theelderly ladywhen I was presented to herproved to be MissFairlie'sformer governessMrs. Veseywho had been brieflydescribedto me by my lively companion at the breakfast-tableaspossessedof "all the cardinal virtuesand counting for nothing."I can dolittle more than offer my humble testimony to thetruthfulnessof Miss Halcombe's sketch of the old lady'scharacter. Mrs. Vesey looked the personification of humancomposureand female amiability.  A calm enjoyment of a calmexistencebeamed in drowsy smiles on her plumpplacid face.  Someof us rushthrough lifeand some of us saunter through life.Mrs. VeseySAT through life.  Sat in the houseearly and late;sat in thegarden; sat in unexpected window-seats in passages; sat(on acamp-stool) when her friends tried to take her out walking;sat beforeshe looked at anythingbefore she talked of anythingbefore sheanswered Yesor Noto the commonest questionalwayswith thesame serene smile on her lipsthe same vacantly-attentiveturn of the headthe same snugly-comfortable positionof herhands and armsunder every possible change of domesticcircumstances. A milda compliantan unutterably tranquil andharmlessold ladywho never by any chance suggested the idea thatshe hadbeen actually alive since the hour of her birth.  Naturehas somuch to do in this worldand is engaged in generating sucha vastvariety of co-existent productionsthat she must surely benow andthen too flurried and confused to distinguish between thedifferentprocesses that she is carrying on at the same time.Startingfrom this point of viewit will always remain my privatepersuasionthat Nature was absorbed in making cabbages when Mrs.Vesey wasbornand that the good lady suffered the consequencesof avegetable preoccupation in the mind of the Mother of us all.

"NowMrs. Vesey" said Miss Halcombelooking brightersharperandreadier than everby contrast with the undemonstrative oldlady ather side"what will you have? A cutlet?"

Mrs. Veseycrossed her dimpled hands on the edge of the tablesmiledplacidlyand said"Yesdear."

"Whatis that opposite Mr. Hartright? Boiled chickenis it not? Ithoughtyou liked boiled chicken better than cutletMrs. Vesey?"

Mrs. Veseytook her dimpled hands off the edge of the table andcrossedthem on her lap instead; nodded contemplatively at theboiledchickenand said"Yesdear."

"Wellbut which will you haveto-day? Shall Mr. Hartright giveyou somechicken? or shall I give you some cutlet?"

Mrs. Veseyput one of her dimpled hands back again on the edge ofthe table;hesitated drowsilyand said"Which you pleasedear."

"Mercyon me! it's a question for your tastemy good ladynotfor mine. Suppose you have a little of both? and suppose youbegin withthe chickenbecause Mr. Hartright looks devoured byanxiety tocarve for you."

Mrs. Veseyput the other dimpled hand back on the edge of thetable;brightened dimly one moment; went out again the next; bowedobedientlyand said"If you pleasesir."

Surely amilda compliantan unutterably tranquil and harmlessold lady!But enoughperhapsfor the presentof Mrs. Vesey.

 

All thistimethere were no signs of Miss Fairlie.  We finishedourluncheon; and still she never appeared.  Miss Halcombewhosequick eyenothing escapednoticed the looks that I castfromtime totimein the direction of the door.

"Iunderstand youMr. Hartright" she said; "you arewonderingwhat hasbecome of your other pupil.  She has been downstairsandhas gotover her headache; but has not sufficiently recovered herappetiteto join us at lunch.  If you will put yourself under mychargeIthink I can undertake to find her somewhere in thegarden."

She tookup a parasol lying on a chair near herand led the wayoutby along window at the bottom of the roomwhich opened onto thelawn.  It is almost unnecessary to say that we left Mrs.Veseystill seated at the tablewith her dimpled hands stillcrossed onthe edge of it; apparently settled in that position forthe restof the afternoon.

As wecrossed the lawnMiss Halcombe looked at me significantlyand shookher head.

"Thatmysterious adventure of yours" she said"still remainsinvolvedin its own appropriate midnight darkness.  I have beenall themorning looking over my mother's lettersand I have madenodiscoveries yet.  Howeverdon't despairMr. Hartright. Thisis amatter of curiosity; and you have got a woman for your ally.Under suchconditions success is certainsooner or later.  Thelettersare not exhausted.  I have three packets still leftandyou mayconfidently rely on my spending the whole evening overthem."

Herethenwas one of my anticipations of the morning stillunfulfilled. I began to wondernextwhether my introduction toMissFairlie would disappoint the expectations that I had beenforming ofher since breakfast-time.

"Andhow did you get on with Mr. Fairlie?" inquired Miss Halcombeas we leftthe lawn and turned into a shrubbery.  "Was heparticularlynervous this morning? Never mind considering aboutyouranswerMr. Hartright.  The mere fact of your being obligedtoconsider is enough for me.  I see in your face that he WASparticularlynervous; andas I am amiably unwilling to throw youinto thesame conditionI ask no more."

We turnedoff into a winding path while she was speakingandapproacheda pretty summer-housebuilt of woodin the form of aminiatureSwiss chalet.  The one room of the summer-houseas weascendedthe steps of the doorwas occupied by a young lady.  Shewasstanding near a rustic tablelooking out at the inland viewof moorand hill presented by a gap in the treesand absentlyturningover the leaves of a little sketch-book that lay at herside. This was Miss Fairlie.

How can Idescribe her? How can I separate her from my ownsensationsand from all that has happened in the later time? Howcan I seeher again as she looked when my eyes first rested onheras sheshould looknowto the eyes that are about to seeher inthese pages?

Thewater-colour drawing that I made of Laura Fairlieat an afterperiodinthe place and attitude in which I first saw herlieson my deskwhile I write.  I look at itand there dawns upon mebrightlyfrom the dark greenish-brown background of the summer-housealightyouthful figureclothed in a simple muslin dressthepattern of it formed by broad alternate stripes of delicateblue andwhite.  A scarf of the same material sits crisply andcloselyround her shouldersand a little straw hat of the naturalcolourplainly and sparingly trimmed with ribbon to match thegowncovers her headand throws its soft pearly shadow over theupper partof her face.  Her hair is of so faint and pale a brownnotflaxenand yet almost as light; not goldenand yet almostasglossythat it nearly meltshere and thereinto the shadowof thehat.  It is plainly parted and drawn back over her earsand theline of it ripples naturally as it crosses her forehead.Theeyebrows are rather darker than the hair; and the eyes are ofthat softlimpidturquoise blueso often sung by the poetssoseldomseen in real life.  Lovely eyes in colourlovely eyes informlargeand tender and quietly thoughtfulbut beautiful aboveall thingsin the clear truthfulness of look that dwells in theirinmostdepthsand shines through all their changes of expressionwith thelight of a purer and a better world.  The charmmostgently andyet most distinctly expressedwhich they shed over thewholefaceso covers and transforms its little natural humanblemisheselsewherethat it is difficult to estimate the relativemerits anddefects of the other features.  It is hard to see thatthe lowerpart of the face is too delicately refined away towardsthe chinto be in full and fair proportion with the upper part;that thenosein escaping the aquiline bend (always hard andcruel in awomanno matter how abstractedly perfect it may be)has erreda little in the other extremeand has missed the idealstraightnessof line; and that the sweetsensitive lips aresubject toa slight nervous contractionwhen she smileswhichdraws themupward a little at one cornertowards the cheek.  Itmight bepossible to note these blemishes in another woman's facebut it isnot easy to dwell on them in hersso subtly are theyconnectedwith all that is individual and characteristic in herexpressionand so closely does the expression depend for its fullplay andlifein every other featureon the moving impulse ofthe eyes.

Does mypoor portrait of hermy fondpatient labour of long andhappydaysshow me these things? Ahhow few of them are in thedimmechanical drawingand how many in the mind with which Iregard it!A fairdelicate girlin a pretty light dresstriflingwith the leaves of a sketch-bookwhile she looks up fromit withtruthfulinnocent blue eyesthat is all the drawing cansay; allperhapsthat even the deeper reach of thought and pencan say intheir languageeither.  The woman who first giveslifelightand form to our shadowy conceptions of beautyfillsa void inour spiritual nature that has remained unknown to ustill sheappeared.  Sympathies that lie too deep for wordstoodeepalmost for thoughtsare touchedat such timesby othercharmsthan those which the senses feel and which the resources ofexpressioncan realise.  The mystery which underlies the beauty ofwomen isnever raised above the reach of all expression until ithasclaimed kindred with the deeper mystery in our own souls.Thenandthen onlyhas it passed beyond the narrow region onwhichlight fallsin this worldfrom the pencil and the pen.

Think ofher as you thought of the first woman who quickened thepulseswithin you that the rest of her sex had no art to stir.Let thekindcandid blue eyes meet yoursas they met minewiththe onematchless look which we both remember so well.  Let hervoicespeak the music that you once loved bestattuned as sweetlyto yourear as to mine.  Let her footstepas she comes and goesin thesepagesbe like that other footstep to whose airy fallyour ownheart once beat time.  Take her as the visionary nurslingof yourown fancy; and she will grow upon youall the moreclearlyas the living woman who dwells in mine.

Among thesensations that crowded on mewhen my eyes first lookeduponherfamiliar sensations which we all knowwhich spring tolife inmost of our heartsdie again in so manyand renew theirbrightexistence in so fewthere was one that troubled andperplexedme: one that seemed strangely inconsistent andunaccountablyout of place in Miss Fairlie's presence.

Minglingwith the vivid impression produced by the charm of herfair faceand headher sweet expressionand her winningsimplicityof mannerwas another impressionwhichin a shadowywaysuggested to me the idea of something wanting.  At one timeit seemedlike something wanting in HER: at anotherlikesomethingwanting in myselfwhich hindered me from understandingher as Iought.  The impression was always strongest in the mostcontradictorymannerwhen she looked at me; orin other wordswhen I wasmost conscious of the harmony and charm of her faceand yetat the same timemost troubled by the sense of anincompletenesswhich it was impossible to discover.  Somethingwantingsomething wantingand where it wasand what it wasIcould notsay.

The effectof this curious caprice of fancy (as I thought it then)was not ofa nature to set me at my easeduring a first interviewwith MissFairlie.  The few kind words of welcome which she spokefound mehardly self-possessed enough to thank her in thecustomaryphrases of reply.  Observing my hesitationand no doubtattributingitnaturally enoughto some momentary shyness on mypartMissHalcombe took the business of talkingas easily andreadily asusualinto her own hands.

"LookthereMr. Hartright" she saidpointing to the sketch-bookon thetableand to the little delicate wandering hand that wasstilltrifling with it.  "Surely you will acknowledge that yourmodelpupil is found at last? The moment she hears that you are inthe houseshe seizes her inestimable sketch-book looks universalNaturestraight in the faceand longs to begin!"

MissFairlie laughed with a ready good-humourwhich broke out asbrightlyas if it had been part of the sunshine above usover herlovelyface.

"Imust not take credit to myself where no credit is due" shesaidhercleartruthful blue eyes looking alternately at MissHalcombeand at me.  "Fond as I am of drawingI am so consciousof my ownignorance that I am more afraid than anxious to begin.Now I knowyou are hereMr. HartrightI find myself looking overmysketchesas I used to look over my lessons when I was a littlegirlandwhen I was sadly afraid that I should turn out not fitto beheard."

She madethe confession very prettily and simplyandwithquaintchildish earnestnessdrew the sketch-book away close toher ownside of the table.  Miss Halcombe cut the knot of thelittleembarrassment forthwithin her resolutedownright way.

"Goodbador indifferent" she said"the pupil's sketches mustpassthrough the fiery ordeal of the master's judgmentandthere's anend of it.  Suppose we take them with us in thecarriageLauraand let Mr. Hartright see themfor the firsttimeunder circumstances of perpetual jolting and interruption?If we canonly confuse him all through the drivebetween Natureas it iswhen he looks up at the viewand Nature as it is notwhen helooks down again at our sketch-bookswe shall drive himinto thelast desperate refuge of paying us complimentsand shallslipthrough his professional fingers with our pet feathers ofvanity allunruffled."

"Ihope Mr. Hartright will pay ME no compliments" said MissFairlieas we all left the summer-house.

"MayI venture to inquire why you express that hope?" I asked.

"BecauseI shall believe all that you say to me" she answeredsimply.

In thosefew words she unconsciously gave me the key to her wholecharacter:to that generous trust in others whichin her naturegrewinnocently out of the sense of her own truth.  I only knew itintuitivelythen.  I know it by experience now.

We merelywaited to rouse good Mrs. Vesey from the place which shestilloccupied at the deserted luncheon-tablebefore we enteredthe opencarriage for our promised drive.  The old lady and MissHalcombeoccupied the back seatand Miss Fairlie and I sattogetherin frontwith the sketch-book open between usfairlyexhibitedat last to my professional eyes.  All serious criticismon thedrawingseven if I had been disposed to volunteer itwasrenderedimpossible by Miss Halcombe's lively resolution to seenothingbut the ridiculous side of the Fine Artsas practised byherselfher sisterand ladies in general.  I can remember theconversationthat passed far more easily than the sketches that Imechanicallylooked over.  That part of the talkespeciallyinwhich MissFairlie took any shareis still as vividly impressedon mymemory as if I had heard it only a few hours ago.

Yes! letme acknowledge that on this first day I let the charm ofherpresence lure me from the recollection of myself and myposition. The most trifling of the questions that she put to meon thesubject of using her pencil and mixing her colours; theslightestalterations of expression in the lovely eyes that lookedinto minewith such an earnest desire to learn all that I couldteachandto discover all that I could showattracted more of myattentionthan the finest view we passed throughor the grandestchanges oflight and shadeas they flowed into each other overthe wavingmoorland and the level beach.  At any timeand underanycircumstances of human interestis it not strange to see howlittlereal hold the objects of the natural world amid which welive cangain on our hearts and minds? We go to Nature for comfortintroubleand sympathy in joyonly in books.  Admiration ofthosebeauties of the inanimate worldwhich modern poetry solargelyand so eloquently describesis noteven in the best ofusone ofthe original instincts of our nature.  As childrenwenone of uspossess it.  No uninstructed man or woman possesses it.Thosewhose lives are most exclusively passed amid the ever-changingwonders of sea and land are also those who are mostuniversallyinsensible to every aspect of Nature not directlyassociatedwith the human interest of their calling.  Our capacityofappreciating the beauties of the earth we live on isin truthone of thecivilised accomplishments which we all learn as an Art;andmorethat very capacity is rarely practised by any of usexceptwhen our minds are most indolent and most unoccupied.  Howmuch sharehave the attractions of Nature ever had in thepleasurableor painful interests and emotions of ourselves or ourfriends?What space do they ever occupy in the thousand littlenarrativesof personal experience which pass every day by word ofmouth fromone of us to the other? All that our minds can compassall thatour hearts can learncan be accomplished with equalcertaintyequal profitand equal satisfaction to ourselvesinthepoorest as in the richest prospect that the face of the earthcan show. There is surely a reason for this want of inbornsympathybetween the creature and the creation around ita reasonwhich mayperhaps be found in the widely-differing destinies ofman andhis earthly sphere.  The grandest mountain prospect thatthe eyecan range over is appointed to annihilation.  The smallesthumaninterest that the pure heart can feel is appointed toimmortality.

We hadbeen out nearly three hourswhen the carriage again passedthroughthe gates of Limmeridge House.

On our wayback I had let the ladies settle for themselves thefirstpoint of view which they were to sketchunder myinstructionson the afternoon of the next day.  When theywithdrewto dress for dinnerand when I was alone again in mylittlesitting-roommy spirits seemed to leave me on a sudden.  Ifelt illat ease and dissatisfied with myselfI hardly knew why.Perhaps Iwas now conscious for the first time of having enjoyedour drivetoo much in the character of a guestand too little inthecharacter of a drawing-master.  Perhaps that strange sense ofsomethingwantingeither in Miss Fairlie or in myselfwhich hadperplexedme when I was first introduced to herhaunted me still.Anyhowitwas a relief to my spirits when the dinner-hour calledme out ofmy solitudeand took me back to the society of theladies ofthe house.

I wasstruckon entering the drawing-roomby the curiouscontrastrather in material than in colourof the dresses whichthey nowwore.  While Mrs. Vesey and Miss Halcombe were richlyclad (eachin the manner most becoming to her age)the first insilver-greyand the second in that delicate primrose-yellowcolourwhich matches so well with a dark complexion and blackhairMissFairlie was unpretendingly and almost poorly dressed inplainwhite muslin.  It was spotlessly pure: it was beautifullyput on;but still it was the sort of dress which the wife ordaughterof a poor man might have wornand it made herso far asexternalswentlook less affluent in circumstances than her owngoverness. At a later periodwhen I learnt to know more of MissFairlie'scharacterI discovered that this curious contrastonthe wrongsidewas due to her natural delicacy of feeling andnaturalintensity of aversion to the slightest personal display ofher ownwealth.  Neither Mrs. Vesey nor Miss Halcombe could everinduce herto let the advantage in dress desert the two ladies whowere poorto lean to the side of the one lady who was rich.

When thedinner was over we returned together to the drawing-room.AlthoughMr. Fairlie (emulating the magnificent condescension ofthemonarch who had picked up Titian's brush for him) hadinstructedhis butler to consult my wishes in relation to the winethat Imight prefer after dinnerI was resolute enough to resistthetemptation of sitting in solitary grandeur among bottles of myownchoosingand sensible enough to ask the ladies' permission toleave thetable with them habituallyon the civilised foreignplanduring the period of my residence at Limmeridge House.

Thedrawing-roomto which we had now withdrawn for the rest oftheeveningwas on the ground-floorand was of the same shapeand sizeas the breakfast-room.  Large glass doors at the lowerend openedon to a terracebeautifully ornamented along its wholelengthwith a profusion of flowers.  The softhazy twilight wasjustshading leaf and blossom alike into harmony with its ownsober huesas we entered the roomand the sweet evening scent oftheflowers met us with its fragrant welcome through the openglassdoors.  Good Mrs. Vesey (always the first of the party tosit down)took possession of an arm-chair in a cornerand dozedoffcomfortably to sleep.  At my request Miss Fairlie placedherself atthe piano.  As I followed her to a seat near theinstrumentI saw Miss Halcombe retire into a recess of one of thesidewindowsto proceed with the search through her mother'sletters bythe last quiet rays of the evening light.

Howvividly that peaceful home-picture of the drawing-room comesback to mewhile I write! From the place where I sat I could seeMissHalcombe's graceful figurehalf of it in soft lighthalf inmysteriousshadowbending intently over the letters in her lap;whilenearer to methe fair profile of the player at the pianowas justdelicately defined against the faintly-deepeningbackgroundof the inner wall of the room.  Outsideon theterracethe clustering flowers and long grasses and creeperswaved sogently in the light evening airthat the sound of theirrustlingnever reached us.  The sky was without a cloudand thedawningmystery of moonlight began to tremble already in theregion ofthe eastern heaven.  The sense of peace and seclusionsoothedall thought and feeling into a raptunearthly repose; andthe balmyquietthat deepened ever with the deepening lightseemed tohover over us with a gentler influence stillwhen therestole uponit from the piano the heavenly tenderness of the musicofMozart.  It was an evening of sights and sounds never toforget.

We all satsilent in the places we had chosenMrs. Vesey stillsleepingMiss Fairlie still playingMiss Halcombe still readingtill thelight failed us.  By this time the moon had stolen roundto theterraceand softmysterious rays of light were slantingalreadyacross the lower end of the room.  The change from thetwilightobscurity was so beautiful that we banished the lampsbycommonconsentwhen the servant brought them inand kept thelarge roomunlightedexcept by the glimmer of the two candles atthe piano.

For halfan hour more the music still went on.  After that thebeauty ofthe moonlight view on the terrace tempted Miss Fairlieout tolook at itand I followed her.  When the candles at thepiano hadbeen lighted Miss Halcombe had changed her placeso astocontinue her examination of the letters by their assistance.We leftheron a low chairat one side of the instrumentsoabsorbedover her reading that she did not seem to notice when wemoved.

We hadbeen out on the terrace togetherjust in front of theglassdoorshardly so long as five minutesI should think; andMissFairlie wasby my advicejust tying her white handkerchiefover herhead as a precaution against the night airwhen I heardMissHalcombe's voiceloweagerand altered from its naturallivelytonepronounce my name.

"Mr.Hartright" she said"will you come here for a minute? Iwant tospeak to you."

I enteredthe room again immediately.  The piano stood about half-way downalong the inner wall.  On the side of the instrumentfarthestfrom the terrace Miss Halcombe was sitting with thelettersscattered on her lapand with one in her hand selectedfrom themand held close to the candle.  On the side nearest totheterrace there stood a low ottomanon which I took my place.In thisposition I was not far from the glass doorsand I couldsee MissFairlie plainlyas she passed and repassed the openingon to theterracewalking slowly from end to end of it in thefullradiance of the moon.

"Iwant you to listen while I read the concluding passages in thisletter"said Miss Halcombe.  "Tell me if you think they throw anylight uponyour strange adventure on the road to London.  Theletter isaddressed by my mother to her second husbandMr.Fairlieand the date refers to a period of between eleven andtwelveyears since.  At that time Mr. and Mrs. Fairlieand myhalf-sisterLaurahad been living for years in this house; and Iwas awayfrom them completing my education at a school in Paris."

She lookedand spoke earnestlyandas I thoughta littleuneasilyas well.  At the moment when she raised the letter to thecandlebefore beginning to read itMiss Fairlie passed us on theterracelooked in for a momentand seeing that we were engagedslowlywalked on.

MissHalcombe began to read as follows:

 

"'Youwill be tiredmy dear Philipof hearing perpetually aboutmy schoolsand my scholars.  Lay the blameprayon the dulluniformityof life at Limmeridgeand not on me.  Besidesthistime Ihave something really interesting to tell you about a newscholar.

"'Youknow old Mrs. Kempe at the village shop.  Wellafter yearsof ailingthe doctor has at last given her upand she is dyingslowly dayby day.  Her only living relationa sisterarrivedlast weekto take care of her.  This sister comes all the way fromHampshirehername is Mrs. Catherick.  Four days ago Mrs.Catherickcame here to see meand brought her only child withherasweet little girl about a year older than our darlingLaura'"

 

As thelast sentence fell from the reader's lipsMiss Fairliepassed uson the terrace once more.  She was softly singing toherselfone of the melodies which she had been playing earlier intheevening.  Miss Halcombe waited till she had passed out ofsightagainand then went on with the letter

 

"'Mrs.Catherick is a decentwell-behavedrespectable woman;middle-agedand with the remains of having been moderatelyonlymoderatelynice-looking.  There is something in her manner and inherappearancehoweverwhich I can't make out.  She is reservedaboutherself to the point of down-right secrecyand there is alook inher faceI can't describe itwhich suggests to me thatshe hassomething on her mind.  She is altogether what you wouldcall awalking mystery.  Her errand at Limmeridge Househoweverwas simpleenough.  When she left Hampshire to nurse her sisterMrs.Kempethrough her last illnessshe had been obliged tobring herdaughter with herthrough having no one at home to takecare ofthe little girl.  Mrs. Kempe may die in a week's timeormay lingeron for months; and Mrs. Catherick's object was to askme to lether daughterAnnehave the benefit of attending myschoolsubject to the condition of her being removed from it togo homeagain with her motherafter Mrs. Kempe's death.  Iconsentedat onceand when Laura and I went out for our walkwetook thelittle girl (who is just eleven years old) to the schoolthat veryday.'"

 

Once moreMiss Fairlie's figurebright and soft in its snowymuslindressher face prettily framed by the white folds of thehandkerchiefwhich she had tied under her chinpassed by us inthemoonlight.  Once more Miss Halcombe waited till she was out ofsightandthen went on

 

"'Ihave taken a violent fancyPhilipto my new scholarfor areasonwhich I mean to keep till the last for the sake ofsurprisingyou.  Her mother having told me as little about thechild asshe told me of herselfI was left to discover (which Idid on thefirst day when we tried her at lessons) that the poorlittlething's intellect is not developed as it ought to be at herage. Seeing this I had her up to the house the next dayandprivatelyarranged with the doctor to come and watch her andquestionherand tell me what he thought.  His opinion is thatshe willgrow out of it.  But he says her careful bringing-up atschool isa matter of great importance just nowbecause herunusualslowness in acquiring ideas implies an unusual tenacity inkeepingthemwhen they are once received into her mind.  Nowmyloveyoumust not imaginein your off-hand waythat I have beenattachingmyself to an idiot.  This poor little Anne Catherick isa sweetaffectionategrateful girland says the quaintestprettiestthings (as you shall judge by an instance)in the mostoddlysuddensurprisedhalf-frightened way.  Although she isdressedvery neatlyher clothes show a sad want of taste incolour andpattern.  So I arrangedyesterdaythat some of ourdarlingLaura's old white frocks and white hats should be alteredfor AnneCatherickexplaining to her that little girls of hercomplexionlooked neater and better all in white than in anythingelse. She hesitated and seemed puzzled for a minutethen flushedupandappeared to understand.  Her little hand clasped minesuddenly. She kissed itPhilipand said (ohso earnestly!)"Iwillalways wear white as long as I live.  It will help me torememberyouma'amand to think that I am pleasing you stillwhen I goaway and see you no more." This is only one specimen ofthe quaintthings she says so prettily.  Poor little soul! Sheshall havea stock of white frocksmade with good deep tuckstolet outfor her as she grows'"

 

MissHalcombe pausedand looked at me across the piano.

"Didthe forlorn woman whom you met in the high-road seem young?"sheasked.  "Young enough to be two- or three-and-twenty?"

"YesMiss Halcombeas young as that."

"Andshe was strangely dressedfrom head to footall in white?"

"Allin white."

While theanswer was passing my lips Miss Fairlie glided into viewon theterrace for the third time.  Instead of proceeding on herwalkshestoppedwith her back turned towards usandleaningon thebalustrade of the terracelooked down into the gardenbeyond. My eyes fixed upon the white gleam of her muslin gown andhead-dressin the moonlightand a sensationfor which I can findno nameasensation that quickened my pulseand raised aflutteringat my heartbegan to steal over me.

"Allin white?" Miss Halcombe repeated.  "The mostimportantsentencesin the letterMr. Hartrightare those at the endwhich Iwill read to you immediately.  But I can't help dwelling alittleupon the coincidence of the white costume of the woman youmetandthe white frocks which produced that strange answer frommymother's little scholar.  The doctor may have been wrong whenhediscovered the child's defects of intellectand predicted thatshe would'grow out of them.' She may never have grown out ofthemandthe old grateful fancy about dressing in whitewhichwas aserious feeling to the girlmay be a serious feeling to thewomanstill."

I said afew words in answerI hardly know what.  All myattentionwas concentrated on the white gleam of Miss Fairlie'smuslindress.

"Listento the last sentences of the letter" said Miss Halcombe."Ithink they will surprise you."

As sheraised the letter to the light of the candleMiss Fairlieturnedfrom the balustradelooked doubtfully up and down theterraceadvanced a step towards the glass doorsand thenstoppedfacing us.

MeanwhileMiss Halcombe read me the last sentences to which shehadreferred

 

"'Andnowmy loveseeing that I am at the end of my papernowfor thereal reasonthe surprising reasonfor my fondness forlittleAnne Catherick.  My dear Philipalthough she is not halfso prettyshe isneverthelessby one of those extraordinarycapricesof accidental resemblance which one sometimes seesthelivinglikenessin her hairher complexionthe colour of hereyesandthe shape of her face'"

 

I startedup from the ottoman before Miss Halcombe could pronouncethe nextwords.  A thrill of the same feeling which ran through mewhen thetouch was laid upon my shoulder on the lonely high-roadchilled meagain.

Therestood Miss Fairliea white figurealone in the moonlight;in herattitudein the turn of her headin her complexioninthe shapeof her facethe living imageat that distance andunderthose circumstancesof the woman in white! The doubt whichhadtroubled my mind for hours and hours past flashed intoconvictionin an instant.  That "something wanting" was my ownrecognitionof the ominous likeness between the fugitive from theasylum andmy pupil at Limmeridge House.

"Yousee it!" said Miss Halcombe.  She dropped the uselessletterand hereyes flashed as they met mine.  "You see it nowas mymother sawit eleven years since!"

"Isee itmore unwillingly than I can say.  To associate thatforlornfriendlesslost womaneven by an accidental likenessonlywithMiss Fairlieseems like casting a shadow on the futureof thebright creature who stands looking at us now.  Let me losetheimpression again as soon as possible.  Call her inout of thedrearymoonlightpray call her in!"

"Mr.Hartrightyou surprise me.  Whatever women may beI thoughtthat menin the nineteenth centurywere above superstition."

"Praycall her in!"

"Hushhush! She is coming of her own accord.  Say nothing in herpresence. Let this discovery of the likeness be kept a secretbetweenyou and me.  Come inLauracome inand wake Mrs. Veseywith thepiano.  Mr. Hartright is petitioning for some more musicand hewants itthis timeof the lightest and liveliest kind."

 

IX

 

So endedmy eventful first day at Limmeridge House.

MissHalcombe and I kept our secret.  After the discovery of thelikenessno fresh light seemed destined to break over the mysteryof thewoman in white.  At the first safe opportunity MissHalcombecautiously led her half-sister to speak of their motherof oldtimesand of Anne Catherick.  Miss Fairlie's recollectionsof thelittle scholar at Limmeridge werehoweveronly of themost vagueand general kind.  She remembered the likeness betweenherselfand her mother's favourite pupilas something which hadbeensupposed to exist in past times; but she did not refer to thegift ofthe white dressesor to the singular form of words inwhich thechild had artlessly expressed her gratitude for them.Sheremembered that Anne had remained at Limmeridge for a fewmonthsonlyand had then left it to go back to her home inHampshire;but she could not say whether the mother and daughterhad everreturnedor had ever been heard of afterwards.  Nofurthersearchon Miss Halcombe's partthrough the few lettersof Mrs.Fairlie's writing which she had left unreadassisted inclearingup the uncertainties still left to perplex us.  We hadidentifiedthe unhappy woman whom I had met in the night-time withAnneCatherickwe had made some advanceat leasttowardsconnectingthe probably defective condition of the poor creature'sintellectwith the peculiarity of her being dressed all in whiteand withthe continuancein her maturer yearsof her childishgratitudetowards Mrs. Fairlieand thereso far as we knew atthat timeour discoveries had ended.

 

The dayspassed onthe weeks passed onand the track of thegoldenautumn wound its bright way visibly through the greensummer ofthe trees.  Peacefulfast-flowinghappy time! my storyglides byyou now as swiftly as you once glided by me.  Of all thetreasuresof enjoyment that you poured so freely into my hearthow muchis left me that has purpose and value enough to bewritten onthis page? Nothing but the saddest of all confessionsthat a mancan makethe confession of his own folly.

The secretwhich that confession discloses should be told withlittleeffortfor it has indirectly escaped me already.  The poorweakwordswhich have failed to describe Miss Fairliehavesucceededin betraying the sensations she awakened in me.  It isso with usall.  Our words are giants when they do us an injuryand dwarfswhen they do us a service.

I lovedher.

Ah! howwell I know all the sadness and all the mockery that iscontainedin those three words.  I can sigh over my mournfulconfessionwith the tenderest woman who reads it and pities me.  Ican laughat it as bitterly as the hardest man who tosses it fromhim incontempt.  I loved her! Feel for meor despise meIconfess itwith the same immovable resolution to own the truth.

Was thereno excuse for me? There was some excuse to be foundsurelyinthe conditions under which my term of hired service waspassed atLimmeridge House.

My morninghours succeeded each other calmly in the quiet andseclusionof my own room.  I had just work enough to doinmountingmy employer's drawingsto keep my hands and eyespleasurablyemployedwhile my mind was left free to enjoy thedangerousluxury of its own unbridled thoughts.  A periloussolitudefor it lasted long enough to enervatenot long enoughto fortifyme.  A perilous solitudefor it was followed byafternoonsand evenings spentday after day and week after weekalone inthe society of two womenone of whom possessed all theaccomplishmentsof gracewitand high-breedingthe other allthe charmsof beautygentlenessand simple truththat canpurify andsubdue the heart of man.  Not a day passedin thatdangerousintimacy of teacher and pupilin which my hand was notclose toMiss Fairlie's; my cheekas we bent together over hersketch-bookalmost touching hers.  The more attentively shewatchedevery movement of my brushthe more closely I wasbreathingthe perfume of her hairand the warm fragrance of herbreath. It was part of my service to live in the very light ofher eyesatone time to be bending over herso close to herbosom asto tremble at the thought of touching it; at anothertofeel herbending over mebending so close to see what I wasaboutthat her voice sank low when she spoke to meand herribbonsbrushed my cheek in the wind before she could draw themback.

Theevenings which followed the sketching excursions of theafternoonvariedrather than checkedthese innocenttheseinevitablefamiliarities.  My natural fondness for the music whichshe playedwith such tender feelingsuch delicate womanly tasteand hernatural enjoyment of giving me backby the practice ofher artthe pleasure which I had offered to her by the practiceof mineonly wove another tie which drew us closer and closer tooneanother.  The accidents of conversation; the simple habitswhichregulated even such a little thing as the position of ourplaces attable; the play of Miss Halcombe's ever-ready railleryalwaysdirected against my anxiety as teacherwhile it sparkledover herenthusiasm as pupil; the harmless expression of poor Mrs.Vesey'sdrowsy approvalwhich connected Miss Fairlie and me astwo modelyoung people who never disturbed herevery one of thesetriflesand many morecombined to fold us together in the samedomesticatmosphereand to lead us both insensibly to the samehopelessend.

I shouldhave remembered my positionand have put myself secretlyon myguard.  I did sobut not till it was too late.  All thediscretionall the experiencewhich had availed me with otherwomenandsecured me against other temptationsfailed me withher. It had been my professionfor years pastto be in thisclosecontact with young girls of all agesand of all orders ofbeauty. I had accepted the position as part of my calling inlife; Ihad trained myself to leave all the sympathies natural tomy age inmy employer's outer hallas coolly as I left myumbrellathere before I went upstairs.  I had long since learnt tounderstandcomposedly and as a matter of coursethat mysituationin life was considered a guarantee against any of myfemalepupils feeling more than the most ordinary interest in meand that Iwas admitted among beautiful and captivating women muchas aharmless domestic animal is admitted among them.  Thisguardianexperience I had gained early; this guardian experiencehadsternly and strictly guided me straight along my own poornarrowpathwithout once letting me stray asideto the righthand or tothe left.  And now I and my trusty talisman were partedfor thefirst time.  Yesmy hardly-earned self-control was ascompletelylost to me as if I had never possessed it; lost to meas it islost every day to other menin other criticalsituationswhere women are concerned.  I knownowthat I shouldhavequestioned myself from the first.  I should have asked whyany roomin the house was better than home to me when she entereditandbarren as a desert when she went out againwhy I alwaysnoticedand remembered the little changes in her dress that I hadnoticedand remembered in no other woman's beforewhy I saw herheard herand touched her (when we shook hands at night andmorning)as I had never seenheardand touched any other womanin mylife? I should have looked into my own heartand found thisnew growthspringing up thereand plucked it out while it wasyoung. Why was this easiestsimplest work of self-culture alwaystoo muchfor me? The explanation has been written already in thethreewords that were many enoughand plain enoughfor myconfession. I loved her.

The dayspassedthe weeks passed; it was approaching the thirdmonth ofmy stay in Cumberland.  The delicious monotony of life inour calmseclusion flowed on with melike a smooth stream with aswimmerwho glides down the current.  All memory of the pastallthought ofthe futureall sense of the falseness and hopelessnessof my ownpositionlay hushed within me into deceitful rest.Lulled bythe Syren-song that my own heart sung to mewith eyesshut toall sightand ears closed to all sound of dangerIdriftednearer and nearer to the fatal rocks.  The warning thataroused meat lastand startled me into suddenself-accusingconsciousnessof my own weaknesswas the plainestthe truestthekindest of all warningsfor it came silently from HER.

We hadparted one night as usual.  No word had fallen from mylipsatthat time or at any time before itthat could betray meor startleher into sudden knowledge of the truth.  But when wemet againin the morninga change had come over hera changethat toldme all.

I shrankthenI shrink stillfrom invading the innermostsanctuaryof her heartand laying it open to othersas I havelaid openmy own.  Let it be enough to say that the time when shefirstsurprised my secret wasI firmly believethe time when shefirstsurprised her ownand the timealsowhen she changedtowards mein the interval of one night.  Her naturetoo truthfulto deceiveotherswas too noble to deceive itself.  When thedoubt thatI had hushed asleep first laid its weary weight on herheartthetrue face owned alland saidin its own franksimplelanguageIam sorry for him; I am sorry for myself.

It saidthisand morewhich I could not then interpret.  Iunderstoodbut too well the change in her mannerto greaterkindnessand quicker readiness in interpreting all my wishesbeforeothersto constraint and sadnessand nervous anxiety toabsorbherself in the first occupation she could seize onwheneverwe happened to be left together alone.  I understood whythe sweetsensitive lips smiled so rarely and so restrainedly nowand whythe clear blue eyes looked at mesometimes with the pityof anangelsometimes with the innocent perplexity of a child.But thechange meant more than this.  There was a coldness in herhandthere was an unnatural immobility in her facethere was inall hermovements the mute expression of constant fear andclingingself-reproach.  The sensations that I could trace toherselfand to methe unacknowledged sensations that we werefeeling incommonwere not these.  There were certain elements ofthe changein her that were still secretly drawing us togetherand othersthat wereas secretlybeginning to drive us apart.

In mydoubt and perplexityin my vague suspicion of somethinghiddenwhich I was left to find by my own unaided effortsIexaminedMiss Halcombe's looks and manner for enlightenment.Living insuch intimacy as oursno serious alteration could takeplace inany one of us which did not sympathetically affect theothers. The change in Miss Fairlie was reflected in her half-sister. Although not a word escaped Miss Halcombe which hinted atan alteredstate of feeling towards myselfher penetrating eyeshadcontracted a new habit of always watching me.  Sometimes thelook waslike suppressed angersometimes like suppressed dreadsometimeslike neitherlike nothingin shortwhich I couldunderstand. A week elapsedleaving us all three still in thispositionof secret constraint towards one another.  My situationaggravatedby the sense of my own miserable weakness andforgetfulnessof myselfnow too late awakened in mewas becomingintolerable. I felt that I must cast off the oppression underwhich Iwas livingat once and for everyet how to act for thebestorwhat to say firstwas more than I could tell.

From thisposition of helplessness and humiliation I was rescuedby MissHalcombe.  Her lips told me the bitterthe necessarytheunexpectedtruth; her hearty kindness sustained me under the shockof hearingit; her sense and courage turned to its right use aneventwhich threatened the worst that could happento me and toothersinLimmeridge House.

 

X

 

It was ona Thursday in the weekand nearly at the end of thethirdmonth of my sojourn in Cumberland.

In themorningwhen I went down into the breakfast-room at theusualhourMiss Halcombefor the first time since I had knownherwasabsent from her customary place at the table.

MissFairlie was out on the lawn.  She bowed to mebut did notcome in. Not a word had dropped from my lipsor from hersthatcouldunsettle either of usand yet the same unacknowledged senseofembarrassment made us shrink alike from meeting one anotheralone. She waited on the lawnand I waited in the breakfast-roomtillMrs. Vesey or Miss Halcombe came in.  How quickly Ishouldhave joined her: how readily we should have shaken handsand glidedinto our customary talkonly a fortnight ago.

In a fewminutes Miss Halcombe entered.  She had a preoccupiedlookandshe made her apologies for being late rather absently.

"Ihave been detained" she said"by a consultation with Mr.Fairlie ona domestic matter which he wished to speak to meabout."

MissFairlie came in from the gardenand the usual morninggreetingpassed between us.  Her hand struck colder to mine thanever. She did not look at meand she was very pale.  Even Mrs.Veseynoticed it when she entered the room a moment after.

"Isuppose it is the change in the wind" said the old lady. "Thewinter iscomingahmy lovethe winter is coming soon!"

In herheart and in mine it had come already!

Ourmorning mealonce so full of pleasant good-humoureddiscussionof the plans for the daywas short and silent.  MissFairlieseemed to feel the oppression of the long pauses in theconversationand looked appealingly to her sister to fill themup. Miss Halcombeafter once or twice hesitating and checkingherselfin a most uncharacteristic mannerspoke at last.

"Ihave seen your uncle this morningLaura" she said.  "Hethinks thepurple room is the one that ought to be got readyandheconfirms what I told you.  Monday is the daynot Tuesday."

Whilethese words were being spoken Miss Fairlie looked down atthe tablebeneath her.  Her fingers moved nervously among thecrumbsthat were scattered on the cloth.  The paleness on hercheeksspread to her lipsand the lips themselves trembledvisibly. I was not the only person present who noticed this.MissHalcombe saw ittooand at once set us the example ofrisingfrom table.

Mrs. Veseyand Miss Fairlie left the room together.  The kindsorrowfulblue eyes looked at mefor a momentwith the prescientsadness ofa coming and a long farewell.  I felt the answeringpang in myown heartthe pang that told me I must lose her soonand loveher the more unchangeably for the loss.

I turnedtowards the garden when the door had closed on her.  MissHalcombewas standing with her hat in her handand her shawl overher armby the large window that led out to the lawnand waslooking atme attentively.

"Haveyou any leisure time to spare" she asked"before youbeginto work inyour own room?"

"CertainlyMiss Halcombe.  I have always time at your service."

"Iwant to say a word to you in privateMr. Hartright.  Get yourhat andcome out into the garden.  We are not likely to bedisturbedthere at this hour in the morning."

As westepped out on to the lawnone of the under-gardenersamereladpassed us on his way to the housewith a letter in hishand. Miss Halcombe stopped him.

"Isthat letter for me?" she asked.

"Naymiss; it's just said to be for Miss Fairlie" answered theladholding out the letter as he spoke.

MissHalcombe took it from him and looked at the address.

"Astrange handwriting" she said to herself.  "Who canLaura'scorrespondentbe? Where did you get this?" she continuedaddressingthe gardener.

"Wellmiss" said the lad"I just got it from a woman."

"Whatwoman?"

"Awoman well stricken in age."

"Ohan old woman.  Any one you knew?"

"Icanna' tak' it on mysel' to say that she was other than astrangerto me."

"Whichway did she go?"

"Thatgate" said the under-gardenerturning with greatdeliberationtowards the southand embracing the whole of thatpart ofEngland with one comprehensive sweep of his arm.

"Curious"said Miss Halcombe; "I suppose it must be a begging-letter. There" she addedhanding the letter back to the lad"takeit to the houseand give it to one of the servants.  AndnowMr.Hartrightif you have no objectionlet us walk thisway."

She led meacross the lawnalong the same path by which I hadfollowedher on the day after my arrival at Limmeridge.

At thelittle summer-housein which Laura Fairlie and I had firstseen eachothershe stoppedand broke the silence which she hadsteadilymaintained while we were walking together.

"WhatI have to say to you I can say here."

With thosewords she entered the summer-housetook one of thechairs atthe little round table insideand signed to me to taketheother.  I suspected what was coming when she spoke to me inthebreakfast-room; I felt certain of it now.

"Mr.Hartright" she said"I am going to begin by making afrankavowal toyou.  I am going to saywithout phrase-makingwhich Idetestorpaying complimentswhich I heartily despisethat Ihave comein the course of your residence with usto feel astrongfriendly regard for you.  I was predisposed in your favourwhen youfirst told me of your conduct towards that unhappy womanwhom youmet under such remarkable circumstances.  Your managementof theaffair might not have been prudentbut it showed the self-controlthe delicacyand the compassion of a man who wasnaturallya gentleman.  It made me expect good things from youand youhave not disappointed my expectations."

Shepausedbut held up her hand at the same timeas a sign thatsheawaited no answer from me before she proceeded.  When Ienteredthe summer-houseno thought was in me of the woman inwhite. But nowMiss Halcombe's own words had put the memory ofmyadventure back in my mind.  It remained there throughout theinterviewremainedand not without a result.

"Asyour friend" she proceeded"I am going to tell youatoncein my ownplainbluntdownright languagethat I have discoveredyoursecretwithout help or hintmindfrom any one else.  Mr.Hartrightyou have thoughtlessly allowed your-self to form anattachmentaserious and devoted attachment I am afraidto mysisterLaura.  I don't put you to the pain of confessing it in somanywordsbecause I see and know that you are too honest to denyit. I don't even blame youI pity you for opening your heart toa hopelessaffection.  You have not attempted to take anyunderhandadvantageyou have not spoken to my sister in secret.You areguilty of weakness and want of attention to your own bestinterestsbut of nothing worse.  If you had actedin any singlerespectless delicately and less modestlyI should have told youto leavethe house without an instant's noticeor an instant'sconsultationof anybody.  As it isI blame the misfortune of youryears andyour positionI don't blame YOU.  Shake handsI havegiven youpain; I am going to give you morebut there is no helpforitshake hands with your friendMarian Halcombefirst."

The suddenkindnessthe warmhigh-mindedfearless sympathywhich metme on such mercifully equal termswhich appealed withsuchdelicate and generous abruptness straight to my heartmyhonourand my courageovercame me in an instant.  I tried tolook ather when she took my handbut my eves were dim.  I triedto thankherbut my voice failed me.

"Listento me" she saidconsiderately avoiding all notice of myloss ofself-control.  "Listen to meand let us get it over atonce. It is a real true relief to me that I am not obligedinwhat Ihave now to sayto enter into the questionthe hard andcruelquestion as I think itof social inequalities.Circumstanceswhich will try you to the quickspare me theungraciousnecessity of paining a man who has lived in friendlyintimacyunder the same roof with myself by any humiliatingreferenceto matters of rank and station.  You must leaveLimmeridgeHouseMr. Hartrightbefore more harm is done.  It ismy duty tosay that to you; and it would be equally my duty to sayitunderprecisely the same serious necessityif you were therepresentativeof the oldest and wealthiest family in England.You mustleave usnot because you are a teacher of drawing"

She waiteda momentturned her face full on meand reachingacross thetablelaid her hand firmly on my arm.

"Notbecause you are a teacher of drawing" she repeated"butbecauseLaura Fairlie is engaged to be married."

The lastword went like a bullet to my heart.  My arm lost allsensationof the hand that grasped it.  I never moved and neverspoke. The sharp autumn breeze that scattered the dead leaves atour feetcame as cold to meon a suddenas if my own mad hopeswere deadleaves toowhirled away by the wind like the rest.Hopes!Betrothedor not betrothedshe was equally far from me.Wouldother men have remembered that in my place? Not if they hadloved heras I did.

The pangpassedand nothing but the dull numbing pain of itremained. I felt Miss Halcombe's hand againtightening its holdon my armIraised my head and looked at her.  Her large blackeyes wererooted on mewatching the white change on my facewhich Ifeltand which she saw.

"Crushit!" she said.  "Herewhere you first saw hercrushit!Don'tshrink under it like a woman.  Tear it out; trample it underfoot likea man!"

Thesuppressed vehemence with which she spokethe strength whichherwillconcentrated in the look she fixed on meand in thehold on myarm that she had not yet relinquishedcommunicated tominesteadied me.  We both waited for a minute in silence.  Atthe end ofthat time I had justified her generous faith in mymanhoodIhadoutwardly at leastrecovered my self-control.

"Areyou yourself again?"

"EnoughmyselfMiss Halcombeto ask your pardon and hers.Enoughmyself to be guided by your adviceand to prove mygratitudein that wayif I can prove it in no other."

"Youhave proved it already" she answered"by those words. Mr.Hartrightconcealment is at an end between us.  I cannot affectto hidefrom you what my sister has unconsciously shown to me.You mustleave us for her sakeas well as for your own.  Yourpresencehereyour necessary intimacy with usharmless as it hasbeenGodknowsin all other respectshas unsteadied her andmade herwretched.  Iwho love her better than my own lifeIwho havelearnt to believe in that purenobleinnocent nature asI believein my religionknow but too well the secret misery ofself-reproachthat she has been suffering since the first shadowof afeeling disloyal to her marriage engagement entered her heartin spiteof her.  I don't sayit would be useless to attempt tosay itafter what has happenedthat her engagement has ever had astronghold on her affections.  It is an engagement of honournotof love;her father sanctioned it on his deathbedtwo yearssince; sheherself neither welcomed it nor shrank from itshe wascontent tomake it.  Till you came here she was in the position ofhundredsof other womenwho marry men without being greatlyattractedto them or greatly repelled by themand who learn tolove them(when they don't learn to hate!) after marriageinsteadofbefore.  I hope more earnestly than words can sayand youshouldhave the self-sacrificing courage to hope toothat the newthoughtsand feelings which have disturbed the old calmness andthe oldcontent have not taken root too deeply to be ever removed.Yourabsence (if I had less belief in your honourand yourcourageand your senseI should not trust to them as I amtrustingnow) your absence will help my effortsand time willhelp usall three.  It is something to know that my firstconfidencein you was not all misplaced.  It is something to knowthat youwill not be less honestless manlyless consideratetowardsthe pupil whose relation to yourself you have had themisfortuneto forgetthan towards the stranger and the outcastwhoseappeal to you was not made in vain."

Again thechance reference to the woman in white! Was there nopossibilityof speaking of Miss Fairlie and of me without raisingthe memoryof Anne Catherickand setting her between us like afatalitythat it was hopeless to avoid?

"Tellme what apology I can make to Mr. Fairlie for breaking myengagement"I said.  "Tell me when to go after that apology isaccepted. I promise implicit obedience to you and to youradvice."

"Timeis every way of importance" she answered.  "You heardmerefer thismorning to Monday nextand to the necessity of settingthe purpleroom in order.  The visitor whom we expect on Monday"

I couldnot wait for her to be more explicit.  Knowing what I knewnowthememory of Miss Fairlie's look and manner at thebreakfast-tabletold me that the expected visitor at LimmeridgeHouse washer future husband.  I tried to force it back; butsomethingrose within me at that moment stronger than my own willand Iinterrupted Miss Halcombe.

"Letme go to-day" I said bitterly.  "The sooner thebetter."

"Nonot to-day" she replied.  "The only reason you canassign toMr.Fairlie for your departurebefore the end of your engagementmust bethat an unforeseen necessity compels you to ask hispermissionto return at once to London.  You must wait till to-morrow totell him thatat the time when the post comes inbecause hewill then understand the sudden change in your plansbyassociating it with the arrival of a letter from London.  It ismiserableand sickening to descend to deceiteven of the mostharmlesskindbut I know Mr. Fairlieand if you once excite hissuspicionsthat you are trifling with himhe will refuse toreleaseyou.  Speak to him on Friday morning: occupy yourselfafterwards(for the sake of your own interests with your employer)in leavingyour unfinished work in as little confusion aspossibleand quit this place on Saturday.  It will be time enoughthenMr.Hartrightfor youand for all of us."

Before Icould assure her that she might depend on my acting inthestrictest accordance with her wisheswe were both startled byadvancingfootsteps in the shrubbery.  Some one was coming fromthe houseto seek for us! I felt the blood rush into my cheeks andthen leavethem again.  Could the third person who was fastapproachingusat such a time and under such circumstancesbeMissFairlie?

It was areliefso sadlyso hopelessly was my position towardsherchanged alreadyit was absolutely a relief to mewhen theperson whohad disturbed us appeared at the entrance of thesummer-houseand proved to be only Miss Fairlie's maid.

"CouldI speak to you for a momentmiss?" said the girlinrather aflurriedunsettled manner.

MissHalcombe descended the steps into the shrubberyand walkedaside afew paces with the maid.

Left bymyselfmy mind revertedwith a sense of forlornwretchednesswhich it is not in any words that I can find todescribeto my approaching return to the solitude and the despairof mylonely London home.  Thoughts of my kind old motherand ofmy sisterwho had rejoiced with her so innocently over myprospectsin Cumberlandthoughts whose long banishment from myheart itwas now my shame and my reproach to realise for the firsttimecameback to me with the loving mournfulness of oldneglectedfriends.  My mother and my sisterwhat would they feelwhen Ireturned to them from my broken engagementwith theconfessionof my miserable secretthey who had parted from me sohopefullyon that last happy night in the Hampstead cottage!

AnneCatherick again! Even the memory of the farewell evening withmy motherand my sister could not return to me now unconnectedwith thatother memory of the moonlight walk back to London.  Whatdid itmean? Were that woman and I to meet once more? It waspossibleat the least.  Did she know that I lived in London? Yes;I had toldher soeither before or after that strange question ofherswhenshe had asked me so distrustfully if I knew many men ofthe rankof Baronet.  Either before or aftermy mind was not calmenoughthento remember which.

A fewminutes elapsed before Miss Halcombe dismissed the maid andcame backto me.  Shetoolooked flurried and unsettled now.

"Wehave arranged all that is necessaryMr. Hartright" she said."Wehave understood each otheras friends shouldand we may goback atonce to the house.  To tell you the truthI am uneasyaboutLaura.  She has sent to say she wants to see me directlyand themaid reports that her mistress is apparently very muchagitatedby a letter that she has received this morningthe sameletternodoubtwhich I sent on to the house before we camehere."

Weretraced our steps together hastily along the shrubbery path.AlthoughMiss Halcombe had ended all that she thought it necessaryto say onher sideI had not ended all that I wanted to say onmine. From the moment when I had discovered that the expectedvisitor atLimmeridge was Miss Fairlie's future husbandI hadfelt abitter curiositya burning envious eagernessto know whohe was. It was possible that a future opportunity of putting thequestionmight not easily offerso I risked asking it on our wayback tothe house.

"Nowthat you are kind enough to tell me we have understood eachotherMiss Halcombe" I said"now that you are sure of mygratitudefor your forbearance and my obedience to your wishesmay Iventure to ask who"(I hesitatedI had forced myself tothink ofhimbut it was harder still to speak of himas herpromisedhusband)"who the gentleman engaged to Miss Fairlie is?"

Her mindwas evidently occupied with the message she had receivedfrom hersister.  She answered in a hastyabsent way

"Agentleman of large property in Hampshire."

Hampshire!Anne Catherick's native place.  Againand yet againthe womanin white.  There WAS a fatality in it.

"Andhis name?" I saidas quietly and indifferently as I could.

"SirPercival Glyde."

SIRSirPercival! Anne Catherick's questionthat suspiciousquestionabout the men of the rank of Baronet whom I might happento knowhadhardly been dismissed from my mind by Miss Halcombe'sreturn tome in the summer-housebefore it was recalled again byher ownanswer.  I stopped suddenlyand looked at her.

"SirPercival Glyde" she repeatedimagining that I had not heardher formerreply.

"Knightor Baronet?" I askedwith an agitation that I could hideno longer.

She pausedfor a momentand then answeredrather coldly

"Baronetof course."

 

XI

 

Not a wordmore was saidon either sideas we walked back to thehouse. Miss Halcombe hastened immediately to her sister's roomand Iwithdrew to my studio to set in order all of Mr. Fairlie'sdrawingsthat I had not yet mounted and restored before I resignedthem tothe care of other hands.  Thoughts that I had hithertorestrainedthoughts that made my position harder than ever toendurecrowded on me now that I was alone.

She wasengaged to be marriedand her future husband was SirPercivalGlyde.  A man of the rank of Baronetand the owner ofpropertyin Hampshire.

There werehundreds of baronets in Englandand dozens oflandownersin Hampshire.  Judging by the ordinary rules ofevidenceI had not the shadow of a reasonthus farforconnectingSir Percival Glyde with the suspicious words of inquirythat hadbeen spoken to me by the woman in white.  And yetI didconnecthim with them.  Was it because he had now becomeassociatedin my mind with Miss FairlieMiss Fairlie beinginher turnassociated with Anne Cathericksince the night when Ihaddiscovered the ominous likeness between them? Had the eventsof themorning so unnerved me already that I was at the mercy ofanydelusion which common chances and common coincidences mightsuggest tomy imagination? Impossible to say.  I could only feelthat whathad passed between Miss Halcombe and myselfon our wayfrom thesummer-househad affected me very strangely.  Theforebodingof some undiscoverable danger lying hid from us all inthedarkness of the future was strong on me.  The doubt whether Iwas notlinked already to a chain of events which even myapproachingdeparture from Cumberland would be powerless to snapasunderthedoubt whether we any of us saw the end as the endwouldreally begathered more and more darkly over my mind.Poignantas it wasthe sense of suffering caused by the miserableend of mybriefpresumptuous love seemed to be blunted anddeadenedby the still stronger sense of something obscurelyimpendingsomething invisibly threateningthat Time was holdingover ourheads.

I had beenengaged with the drawings little more than half anhourwhenthere was a knock at the door.  It openedon myanswering;andto my surpriseMiss Halcombe entered the room.

Her mannerwas angry and agitated.  She caught up a chair forherselfbefore I could give her oneand sat down in itclose atmy side.

"Mr.Hartright" she said"I had hoped that all painfulsubjectsofconversation were exhausted between usfor to-day at least.But it isnot to be so.  There is some underhand villainy at worktofrighten my sister about her approaching marriage.  You saw mesend thegardener on to the housewith a letter addressedin astrangehandwritingto Miss Fairlie?"

"Certainly."

"Theletter is an anonymous lettera vile attempt to injure SirPercivalGlyde in my sister's estimation.  It has so agitated andalarmedher that I have had the greatest possible difficulty incomposingher spirits sufficiently to allow me to leave her roomand comehere.  I know this is a family matter on which I oughtnot toconsult youand in which you can feel no concern orinterest"

"Ibeg your pardonMiss Halcombe.  I feel the strongest possibleconcernand interest in anything that affects Miss Fairlie'shappinessor yours."

"I amglad to hear you say so.  You are the only person in thehouseorout of itwho can advise me.  Mr. Fairliein his stateof healthand with his horror of difficulties and mysteries of allkindsisnot to be thought of.  The clergyman is a goodweakmanwhoknows nothing out of the routine of his duties; and ourneighboursare just the sort of comfortablejog-trotacquaintanceswhom one cannot disturb in times of trouble anddanger. What I want to know is this: ought I at once to take suchsteps as Ican to discover the writer of the letter? or ought I towaitandapply to Mr. Fairlie's legal adviser to-morrow? It is aquestionperhapsa very important oneof gaining or losing aday. Tell me what you thinkMr. Hartright.  If necessity had notalreadyobliged me to take you into my confidence under verydelicatecircumstanceseven my helpless situation wouldperhapsbe noexcuse for me.  But as things are I cannot surely be wrongafter allthat has passed between usin forgetting that you are afriend ofonly three months' standing."

She gaveme the letter.  It began abruptlywithout anypreliminaryform of addressas follows

 

"Doyou believe in dreams? I hopefor your own sakethat you do.See whatScripture says about dreams and their fulfilment (Genesisxl. 8xli. 25; Daniel iv. 18-25)and take the warning I send youbefore itis too late.

"Lastnight I dreamed about youMiss Fairlie.  I dreamed that Iwasstanding inside the communion rails of a churchI on one sideof thealtar-tableand the clergymanwith his surplice and hisprayer-bookon the other.

"Aftera time there walked towards usdown the aisle of thechurchaman and a womancoming to be married.  You were thewoman. You looked so pretty and innocent in your beautiful whitesilkdressand your long white lace veilthat my heart felt foryouandthe tears came into my eyes.

"Theywere tears of pityyoung ladythat heaven blesses andinstead offalling from my eyes like the everyday tears that weall of usshedthey turned into two rays of light which slantednearer andnearer to the man standing at the altar with youtilltheytouched his breast.  The two rays sprang ill arches like tworainbowsbetween me and him.  I looked along themand I saw downinto hisinmost heart.

"Theoutside of the man you were marrying was fair enough to see.He wasneither tall nor shorthe was a little below the middlesize. A lightactivehigh-spirited manabout five-and-fortyyears oldto look at.  He had a pale faceand was bald over theforeheadbut had dark hair on the rest of his head.  His beardwas shavenon his chinbut was let to growof a fine rich brownon hischeeks and his upper lip.  His eyes were brown tooandverybright; his nose straight and handsome and delicate enough tohave donefor a woman's.  His hands the same.  He was troubledfrom timeto time with a dry hacking coughand when he put up hiswhiteright hand to his mouthhe showed the red scar of an oldwoundacross the back of it.  Have I dreamt of the right man? Youknow bestMiss Fairlie and you can say if I was deceived or not.Read nextwhat I saw beneath the outsideI entreat youreadandprofit.

"Ilooked along the two rays of lightand I saw down into hisinmostheart.  It was black as nightand on it were writteninthe redflaming letters which are the handwriting of the fallenangel'Without pity and without remorse.  He has strewn withmisery thepaths of othersand he will live to strew with miserythe pathof this woman by his side.' I read thatand then therays oflight shifted and pointed over his shoulder; and therebehindhimstood a fiend laughing.  And the rays of light shiftedonce moreand pointed over your shoulder; and there behind youstood anangel weeping.  And the rays of light shifted for thethirdtimeand pointed straight between you and that man.  Theywidenedand widenedthrusting you both asunderone from theother. And the clergyman looked for the marriage-service in vain:it wasgone out of the bookand he shut up the leavesand put itfrom himin despair.  And I woke with my eyes full of tears and myheartbeatingfor I believe in dreams.

"BelievetooMiss FairlieI beg of youfor your own sakebelieve asI do.  Joseph and Danieland others in Scripturebelievedin dreams.  Inquire into the past life of that man withthe scaron his handbefore you say the words that make you hismiserablewife.  I don't give you this warning on my accountbuton yours. I have an interest in your well-being that will live aslong as Idraw breath.  Your mother's daughter has a tender placein myheartfor your mother was my firstmy bestmy onlyfriend."

 

There theextraordinary letter endedwithout signature of anysort.

Thehandwriting afforded no prospect of a clue.  It was traced onruledlinesin the crampedconventionalcopy-book charactertechnicallytermed "small hand." It was feeble and faintanddefaced byblotsbut had otherwise nothing to distinguish it.

"Thatis not an illiterate letter" said Miss Halcombe"and atthe sametimeit is surely too incoherent to be the letter of aneducatedperson in the higher ranks of life.  The reference to thebridaldress and veiland other little expressionsseem to pointto it asthe production of some woman.  What do you thinkMr.Hartright?"

"Ithink so too.  It seems to me to be not only the letter of awomanbutof a woman whose mind must be"

"Deranged?"suggested Miss Halcombe.  "It struck me in that lighttoo."

I did notanswer.  While I was speakingmy eyes rested on thelastsentence of the letter: "Your mother's daughter has a tenderplace inmy heartfor your mother was my firstmy bestmy onlyfriend."Those words and the doubt which had just escaped me as tothe sanityof the writer of the letteracting together on mymindsuggested an ideawhich I was literally afraid to expressopenlyoreven to encourage secretly.  I began to doubt whethermy ownfaculties were not in danger of losing their balance.  Itseemedalmost like a monomania to be tracing back everythingstrangethat happenedeverything unexpected that was saidalwaysto thesame hidden source and the same sinister influence.  Iresolvedthis timein defence of my own courage and my ownsensetocome to no decision that plain fact did not warrantandto turn myback resolutely on everything that tempted me in theshape ofsurmise.

"Ifwe have any chance of tracing the person who has writtenthis"I saidreturning the letter to Miss Halcombe"there canbe no harmin seizing our opportunity the moment it offers.  Ithink weought to speak to the gardener again about the elderlywoman whogave him the letterand then to continue our inquiriesin thevillage.  But first let me ask a question.  You mentionedjust nowthe alternative of consulting Mr. Fairlie's legal adviserto-morrow. Is there no possibility of communicating with himearlier?Why not to-day?"

"Ican only explain" replied Miss Halcombe"by entering intocertainparticularsconnected with my sister's marriage-engagementwhich I did not think it necessary or desirable tomention toyou this morning.  One of Sir Percival Glyde's objectsin cominghere on Mondayis to fix the period of his marriagewhich hashitherto been left quite unsettled.  He is anxious thatthe eventshould take place before the end of the year."

"DoesMiss Fairlie know of that wish?" I asked eagerly.

"Shehas no suspicion of itand after what has happenedI shallnot takethe responsibility upon myself of enlightening her.  SirPercivalhas only mentioned his views to Mr. Fairliewho has toldme himselfthat he is ready and anxiousas Laura's guardiantoforwardthem.  He has written to Londonto the family solicitorMr.Gilmore.  Mr. Gilmore happens to be away in Glasgow onbusinessand he has replied by proposing to stop at LimmeridgeHouse onhis way back to town.  He will arrive to-morrowand willstay withus a few daysso as to allow Sir Percival time to pleadhis owncause.  If he succeedsMr. Gilmore will then return toLondontaking with him his instructions for my sister's marriage-settlement. You understand nowMr. Hartrightwhy I speak ofwaiting totake legal advice until to-morrow? Mr. Gilmore is theold andtried friend of two generations of Fairliesand we cantrust himas we could trust no one else."

Themarriage-settlement! The mere hearing of those two words stungme with ajealous despair that was poison to my higher and betterinstincts. I began to thinkit is hard to confess thisbut Imustsuppress nothing from beginning to end of the terrible storythat I nowstand committed to revealI began to thinkwith ahatefuleagerness of hopeof the vague charges against SirPercivalGlyde which the anonymous letter contained.  What ifthose wildaccusations rested on a foundation of truth? What iftheirtruth could be proved before the fatal words of consent werespokenand the marriage-settlement was drawn? I have tried tothinksincethat the feeling which then animated me began andended inpure devotion to Miss Fairlie's interestsbut I haveneversucceeded in deceiving myself into believing itand I mustnot nowattempt to deceive others.  The feeling began and ended inrecklessvindictivehopeless hatred of the man who was to marryher.

"Ifwe are to find out anything" I saidspeaking under the newinfluencewhich was now directing me"we had better not letanotherminute slip by us unemployed.  I can only suggestoncemorethepropriety of questioning the gardener a second timeandofinquiring in the village immediately afterwards."

"Ithink I may be of help to you in both cases" said MissHalcomberising.  "Let us goMr. Hartrightat onceand do thebest wecan together."

I had thedoor in my hand to open it for herbut I stoppedon asuddentoask an important question before we set forth.

"Oneof the paragraphs of the anonymous letter" I said"containssomesentences of minute personal description.  Sir PercivalGlyde'sname is not mentionedI knowbut does that descriptionat allresemble him?"

"Accuratelyevenin stating his age to be forty-five"

Forty-five;and she was not yet twenty-one! Men of his age marriedwives ofher age every dayand experience had shown thosemarriagesto be often the happiest ones.  I knew thatand yeteven themention of his agewhen I contrasted it with hersaddedto myblind hatred and distrust of him.

"Accurately"Miss Halcombe continued"even to the scar on hisrighthandwhich is the scar of a wound that he received yearssince whenhe was travelling in Italy.  There can be no doubt thateverypeculiarity of his personal appearance is thoroughly wellknown tothe writer of the letter."

"Evena cough that he is troubled with is mentionedif I rememberright?"

"Yesand mentioned correctly.  He treats it lightly himselfthough itsometimes makes his friends anxious about him."

"Isuppose no whispers have ever been heard against hischaracter?"

"Mr.Hartright! I hope you are not unjust enough to let thatinfamousletter influence you?"

I felt theblood rush into my cheeksfor I knew that it HADinfluencedme.

"Ihope not" I answered confusedly.  "Perhaps I had noright toask thequestion."

"I amnot sorry you asked it" she said"for it enables me to dojustice toSir Percival's reputation.  Not a whisperMr.Hartrighthas ever reached meor my familyagainst him.  He hasfoughtsuccessfully two contested electionsand has come out ofthe ordealunscathed.  A man who can do thatin Englandis a manwhosecharacter is established."

I openedthe door for her in silenceand followed her out.  Shehad notconvinced me.  If the recording angel had come down fromheaven toconfirm herand had opened his book to my mortal eyestherecording angel would not have convinced me.

We foundthe gardener at work as usual.  No amount of questioningcouldextract a single answer of any importance from the lad'simpenetrablestupidity.  The woman who had given him the letterwas anelderly woman; she had not spoken a word to himand shehad goneaway towards the south in a great hurry.  That was allthegardener could tell us.

Thevillage lay southward of the house.  So to the village we wentnext.

 

XII

 

Ourinquiries at Limmeridge were patiently pursued in alldirectionsand among all sorts and conditions of people.  Butnothingcame of them.  Three of the villagers did certainly assureus thatthey had seen the womanbut as they were quite unable todescribeherand quite incapable of agreeing about the exactdirectionin which she was proceeding when they last saw herthesethree bright exceptions to the general rule of totalignoranceafforded no more real assistance to us than the mass oftheirunhelpful and unobservant neighbours.

The courseof our useless investigations brought usin timetothe end ofthe village at which the schools established by Mrs.Fairliewere situated.  As we passed the side of the buildingappropriatedto the use of the boysI suggested the propriety ofmaking alast inquiry of the schoolmasterwhom we might presumeto beinvirtue of his officethe most intelligent man in theplace.

"I amafraid the schoolmaster must have been occupied with hisscholars"said Miss Halcombe"just at the time when the womanpassedthrough the village and returned again.  Howeverwe canbut try."

We enteredthe playground enclosureand walked by the schoolroomwindow toget round to the doorwhich was situated at the back ofthebuilding.  I stopped for a moment at the window and looked in.

Theschoolmaster was sitting at his high deskwith his back tomeapparently haranguing the pupilswho were all gatheredtogetherin front of himwith one exception.  The one exceptionwas asturdy white-headed boystanding apart from all the rest ona stool ina cornera forlorn little Crusoeisolated in his owndesertisland of solitary penal disgrace.

The doorwhen we got round to itwas ajarand the school-master'svoice reached us plainlyas we both stopped for a minuteunder theporch.

"Nowboys" said the voice"mind what I tell you.  If Ihearanotherword spoken about ghosts in this schoolit will be theworse forall of you.  There are no such things as ghostsandthereforeany boy who believes in ghosts believes in what can'tpossiblybe; and a boy who belongs to Limmeridge Schoolandbelievesin what can't possibly besets up his back againstreason anddisciplineand must be punished accordingly.  You allsee JacobPostlethwaite standing up on the stool there indisgrace. He has been punishednot because he said he saw aghost lastnightbut because he is too impudent and too obstinateto listento reasonand because he persists in saying he saw theghostafter I have told him that no such thing can possibly be.If nothingelse will doI mean to cane the ghost out of JacobPostlethwaiteand if the thing spreads among any of the rest ofyouImean to go a step fartherand cane the ghost out of thewholeschool."

"Weseem to have chosen an awkward moment for our visit" saidMissHalcombepushing open the door at the end of theschoolmaster'saddressand leading the way in.

Ourappearance produced a strong sensation among the boys.  Theyappearedto think that we had arrived for the express purpose ofseeingJacob Postlethwaite caned.

"Gohome all of you to dinner" said the schoolmaster"exceptJacob. Jacob must stop where he is; and the ghost may bring himhisdinnerif the ghost pleases."

Jacob'sfortitude deserted him at the double disappearance of hisschoolfellowsand his prospect of dinner.  He took his hands outof hispocketslooked hard at his knucklesraised them withgreatdeliberation to his eyesand when they got theregroundthem roundand round slowlyaccompanying the action by shortspasms ofsniffingwhich followed each other at regularintervalsthenasal minute guns of juvenile distress.

"Wecame here to ask you a questionMr. Dempster." said MissHalcombeaddressing the schoolmaster; "and we little expected tofind youoccupied in exorcising a ghost.  What does it all mean?What hasreally happened?"

"Thatwicked boy has been frightening the whole schoolMissHalcombeby declaring that he saw a ghost yesterday evening"answeredthe master; "and he still persists in his absurd storyin spiteof all that I can say to him."

"Mostextraordinary" said Miss Halcombe "I should not havethought itpossible that any of the boys had imagination enough tosee aghost.  This is a new accession indeed to the hard labour offormingthe youthful mind at Limmeridgeand I heartily wish youwellthrough itMr. Dempster.  In the meantimelet me explainwhy yousee me hereand what it is I want."

She thenput the same question to the schoolmaster which we hadaskedalready of almost every one else in the village.  It was metby thesame discouraging answer Mr. Dempster had not set eyes onthestranger of whom we were in search.

"Wemay as well return to the houseMr. Hartright" said MissHalcombe;"the information we want is evidently not to be found."

She hadbowed to Mr. Dempsterand was about to leave theschoolroomwhen the forlorn position of Jacob Postlethwaitepiteouslysniffing on the stool of penitenceattracted herattentionas she passed himand made her stop good-humouredly tospeak aword to the little prisoner before she opened the door.

"Youfoolish boy" she said"why don't you beg Mr. Dempster'spardonand hold your tongue about the ghost?"

"Eh!butI saw t' ghaist" persisted Jacob Postlethwaitewith astare ofterror and a burst of tears.

"Stuffand nonsense! You saw nothing of the kind.  Ghost indeed!Whatghost"

"Ibeg your pardonMiss Halcombe" interposed the school-master alittleuneasily"but I think you had better not question the boy.Theobstinate folly of his story is beyond all belief; and youmight leadhim into ignorantly"

"Ignorantlywhat?" inquired Miss Halcombe sharply.

"Ignorantlyshocking your feelings" said Mr. Dempsterlookingvery muchdiscomposed.

"Uponmy wordMr. Dempsteryou pay my feelings a greatcomplimentin thinking them weak enough to be shocked by such anurchin asthat!" She turned with an air of satirical defiance tolittleJacoband began to question him directly.  "Come!"shesaid"Imean to know all about this.  You naughty boywhen didyou seethe ghost?"

"Yestere'enat the gloaming" replied Jacob.

"Oh!you saw it yesterday eveningin the twilight? And what wasit like?"

"Arlin whiteas a ghaist should be" answered the ghost-seerwith aconfidence beyond his years.

"Andwhere was it?"

"Awayyanderin t' kirkyardwhere a ghaist ought to be."

"As a'ghaist' should bewhere a 'ghaist' ought to bewhyyoulittlefoolyou talk as if the manners and customs of ghosts hadbeenfamiliar to you from your infancy! You have got your story atyourfingers' endsat any rate.  I suppose I shall hear next thatyou canactually tell me whose ghost it was?"

"Eh!but I just can" replied Jacobnodding his head with an airof gloomytriumph.

Mr.Dempster had already tried several times to speak while MissHalcombewas examining his pupiland he now interposed resolutelyenough tomake himself heard.

"ExcusemeMiss Halcombe" he said"if I venture to say that youare onlyencouraging the boy by asking him these questions."

"Iwill merely ask one moreMr. Dempsterand then I shall bequitesatisfied.  Well" she continuedturning to the boy"andwhoseghost was it?"

"T'ghaist of Mistress Fairlie" answered Jacob in a whisper.

The effectwhich this extraordinary reply produced on MissHalcombefully justified the anxiety which the schoolmaster hadshown toprevent her from hearing it.  Her face crimsoned withindignationsheturned upon little Jacob with an angry suddennesswhichterrified him into a fresh burst of tearsopened her lipsto speakto himthen controlled herselfand addressed the masterinstead ofthe boy.

"Itis useless" she said"to hold such a child as thatresponsiblefor what he says.  I have little doubt that the ideahas beenput into his head by others.  If there are people in thisvillageMr. Dempsterwho have forgotten the respect andgratitudedue from every soul in it to my mother's memoryI willfind themoutand if I have any influence with Mr. Fairlietheyshallsuffer for it."

"IhopeindeedI am sureMiss Halcombethat you are mistaken"said theschoolmaster.  "The matter begins and ends with the boy'sownperversity and folly.  He sawor thought he sawa woman inwhiteyesterday eveningas he was passing the churchyard; andthefigurereal or fanciedwas standing by the marble crosswhich heand every one else in Limmeridge knows to be the monumentover Mrs.Fairlie's grave.  These two circumstances are surelysufficientto have suggested to the boy himself the answer whichhas sonaturally shocked you?"

AlthoughMiss Halcombe did not seem to be convincedshe evidentlyfelt thatthe schoolmaster's statement of the case was toosensibleto be openly combated.  She merely replied by thankinghim forhis attentionand by promising to see him again when herdoubtswere satisfied.  This saidshe bowedand led the way outof theschoolroom.

Throughoutthe whole of this strange scene I had stood apartlisteningattentivelyand drawing my own conclusions.  As soon aswe werealone againMiss Halcombe asked me if I had formed anyopinion onwhat I had heard.

"Avery strong opinion" I answered; "the boy's storyas Ibelievehas a foundation in fact.  I confess I am anxious to seethemonument over Mrs. Fairlie's graveand to examine the groundabout it."

"Youshall see the grave."

She pausedafter making that replyand reflected a little as wewalkedon.  "What has happened in the schoolroom" sheresumed"hasso completely distracted my attention from the subject of theletterthat I feel a little bewildered when I try to return toit. Must we give up all idea of making any further inquiriesandwait toplace the thing in Mr. Gilmore's hands to-morrow?"

"Byno meansMiss Halcombe.  What has happened in the schoolroomencouragesme to persevere in the investigation."

"Whydoes it encourage you?"

"Becauseit strengthens a suspicion I felt when you gave me theletter toread."

"Isuppose you had your reasonsMr. Hartrightfor concealingthatsuspicion from me till this moment?"

"Iwas afraid to encourage it in myself.  I thought it was utterlypreposterousIdistrusted it as the result of some perversity inmy ownimagination.  But I can do so no longer.  Not only theboy's ownanswers to your questionsbut even a chance expressionthatdropped from the schoolmaster's lips in explaining his storyhaveforced the idea back into my mind.  Events may yet prove thatidea to bea delusionMiss Halcombe; but the belief is strong inmeatthis momentthat the fancied ghost in the churchyardandthe writerof the anonymous letterare one and the same person."

Shestoppedturned paleand looked me eagerly in the face.

"Whatperson?"

"Theschoolmaster unconsciously told you.  When he spoke of thefigurethat the boy saw in the churchyard he called it 'a woman inwhite.'"

"NotAnne Catherick?"

"YesAnne Catherick."

She puther hand through my arm and leaned on it heavily.

"Idon't know why" she said in low tones"but there issomethingin thissuspicion of yours that seems to startle and unnerve me.I feel"She stoppedand tried to laugh it off.  "Mr.Hartright"she went on"I will show you the graveand then goback atonce to the house.  I had better not leave Laura too longalone. I had better go back and sit with her."

We wereclose to the churchyard when she spoke.  The churchadrearybuilding of grey stonewas situated in a little valleysoas to besheltered from the bleak winds blowing over the moorlandall roundit.  The burial-ground advancedfrom the side of thechurchalittle way up the slope of the hill.  It was surroundedby aroughlow stone walland was bare and open to the skyexcept atone extremitywhere a brook trickled down the stonyhill-sideand a clump of dwarf trees threw their narrow shadowsover theshortmeagre grass.  Just beyond the brook and thetreesandnot far from one of the three stone stiles whichaffordedentranceat various pointsto the church-yardrose thewhitemarble cross that distinguished Mrs. Fairlie's grave fromthehumbler monuments scattered about it.

"Ineed go no farther with you" said Miss Halcombepointing tothegrave.  "You will let me know if you find anything toconfirmthe ideayou have just mentioned to me.  Let us meet again at thehouse."

She leftme.  I descended at once to the churchyardand crossedthe stilewhich led directly to Mrs. Fairlie's grave.

The grassabout it was too shortand the ground too hardto showany marksof footsteps.  Disappointed thus farI next lookedattentivelyat the crossand at the square block of marble belowitonwhich the inscription was cut.

Thenatural whiteness of the cross was a little cloudedhere andtherebyweather stainsand rather more than one half of thesquareblock beneath iton the side which bore the inscriptionwas in thesame condition.  The other halfhoweverattracted myattentionat once by its singular freedom from stain or impurityof anykind.  I looked closerand saw that it had been cleanedrecentlycleanedin a downward direction from top to bottom.  Theboundaryline between the part that had been cleaned and the partthat hadnot was traceable wherever the inscription left a blankspace ofmarblesharply traceable as a line that had beenproducedby artificial means.  Who had begun the cleansing of themarbleand who had left it unfinished?

I lookedabout mewondering how the question was to be solved.No sign ofa habitation could be discerned from the point at whichI wasstandingthe burial-ground was left in the lonelypossessionof the dead.  I returned to the churchand walkedround ittill I came to the back of the building; then crossed theboundarywall beyondby another of the stone stilesand foundmyself atthe head of a path leading down into a deserted stonequarry. Against one side of the quarry a little two-room cottagewas builtand just outside the door an old woman was engaged inwashing.

I walkedup to herand entered into conversation about the churchandburial-ground.  She was ready enough to talkand almost thefirstwords she said informed me that her husband filled the twooffices ofclerk and sexton.  I said a few words next in praise ofMrs.Fairlie's monument.  The old woman shook her headand toldme I hadnot seen it at its best.  It was her husband's businessto lookafter itbut he had been so ailing and weak for monthsand monthspastthat he had hardly been able to crawl into churchon Sundaysto do his dutyand the monument had been neglected inconsequence. He was getting a little better nowand in a week orten days'time he hoped to be strong enough to set to work andclean it.

Thisinformationextracted from a long rambling answer in thebroadestCumberland dialecttold me all that I most wanted toknow. I gave the poor woman a trifleand returned at once toLimmeridgeHouse.

Thepartial cleansing of the monument had evidently beenaccomplishedby a strange hand.  Connecting what I had discoveredthus farwith what I had suspected after hearing the story of theghost seenat twilightI wanted nothing more to confirm myresolutionto watch Mrs. Fairlie's gravein secretthat eveningreturningto it at sunsetand waiting within sight of it till thenightfell.  The work of cleansing the monument had been leftunfinishedand the person by whom it had been begun might returntocomplete it.

On gettingback to the house I informed Miss Halcombe of what Iintendedto do.  She looked surprised and uneasy while I wasexplainingmy purposebut she made no positive objection to theexecutionof it.  She only said"I hope it may end well."

Just asshe was leaving me againI stopped her to inquireascalmly asI couldafter Miss Fairlie's health.  She was in betterspiritsand Miss Halcombe hoped she might be induced to take alittlewalking exercise while the afternoon sun lasted.

I returnedto my own room to resume setting the drawings in order.It wasnecessary to do thisand doubly necessary to keep my mindemployedon anything that would help to distract my attention frommyselfand from the hopeless future that lay before me.  Fromtime totime I paused in my work to look out of window and watchthe sky asthe sun sank nearer and nearer to the horizon.  On oneof thoseoccasions I saw a figure on the broad gravel walk undermywindow.  It was Miss Fairlie.

I had notseen her since the morningand I had hardly spoken toher then. Another day at Limmeridge was all that remained to meand afterthat day my eyes might never look on her again.  Thisthoughtwas enough to hold me at the window.  I had sufficientconsiderationfor her to arrange the blind so that she might notsee me ifshe looked upbut I had no strength to resist thetemptationof letting my eyesat leastfollow her as far as theycould onher walk.

She wasdressed in a brown cloakwith a plain black silk gownunder it. On her head was the same simple straw hat which she hadworn onthe morning when we first met.  A veil was attached to itnow whichhid her face from me.  By her side trotted a littleItaliangreyhoundthe pet companion of all her walkssmartlydressed ina scarlet cloth wrapperto keep the sharp air from hisdelicateskin.  She did not seem to notice the dog.  She walkedstraightforwardwith her head drooping a littleand her armsfolded inher cloak.  The dead leaveswhich had whirled in thewindbefore me when I had heard of her marriage engagement in themorningwhirled in the wind before herand rose and fell andscatteredthemselves at her feet as she walked on in the palewaningsunlight.  The dog shivered and trembledand pressedagainsther dress impatiently for notice and encouragement.  Butshe neverheeded him.  She walked onfarther and farther awayfrom mewith the dead leaves whirling about her on the pathwalked ontill my aching eyes could see her no moreand I wasleft aloneagain with my own heavy heart.

In anotherhour's time I had done my workand the sunset was athand. I got my hat and coat in the halland slipped out of thehousewithout meeting any one.

The cloudswere wild in the western heavenand the wind blewchill fromthe sea.  Far as the shore wasthe sound of the surfswept overthe intervening moorlandand beat drearily in my earswhen Ientered the churchyard.  Not a living creature was insight. The place looked lonelier than ever as I chose mypositionand waited and watchedwith my eyes on the white crossthat roseover Mrs. Fairlie's grave.

 

XIII

 

Theexposed situation of the churchyard had obliged me to becautiousin choosing the position that I was to occupy.

The mainentrance to the church was on the side next to theburial-groundand the door was screened by a porch walled in oneitherside.  After some little hesitationcaused by naturalreluctanceto conceal myselfindispensable as that concealmentwas to theobject in viewI had resolved on entering the porch.A loopholewindow was pierced in each of its side walls.  Throughone ofthese windows I could see Mrs. Fairlie's grave.  The otherlookedtowards the stone quarry in which the sexton's cottage wasbuilt. Before mefronting the porch entrancewas a patch ofbareburial-grounda line of low stone walland a strip oflonelybrown hillwith the sunset clouds sailing heavily over itbefore thestrongsteady wind.  No living creature was visible oraudiblenobird flew by meno dog barked from the sexton'scottage. The pauses in the dull beating of the surf were filledup by thedreary rustling of the dwarf trees near the graveandthe coldfaint bubble of the brook over its stony bed.  A drearyscene anda dreary hour.  My spirits sank fast as I counted outtheminutes of the evening in my hiding-place under the churchporch.

It was nottwilight yetthe light of the setting sun stilllingeredin the heavensand little more than the first half-hourof mysolitary watch had elapsedwhen I heard footsteps and avoice. The footsteps were approaching from the other side of thechurchand the voice was a woman's.

"Don'tyou fretmy dearabout the letter" said the voice.  "Igave it tothe lad quite safeand the lad he took it from mewithout aword.  He went his way and I went mineand not a livingsoulfollowed me afterwardsthat I'll warrant."

Thesewords strung up my attention to a pitch of expectation thatwas almostpainful.  There was a pause of silencebut thefootstepsstill advanced.  In another moment two personsbothwomenpassed within my range of view from the porch window.  Theywerewalking straight towards the grave; and therefore they hadtheirbacks turned towards me.

One of thewomen was dressed in a bonnet and shawl.  The otherwore along travelling-cloak of a dark-blue colourwith the hooddrawn overher head.  A few inches of her gown were visible belowthecloak.  My heart beat fast as I noted the colourit waswhite.

Afteradvancing about half-way between the church and the gravetheystoppedand the woman in the cloak turned her head towardshercompanion.  But her side facewhich a bonnet might now haveallowed meto seewas hidden by the heavyprojecting edge of thehood.

"Mindyou keep that comfortable warm cloak on" said the samevoicewhich I had already heardthe voice of the woman in theshawl. "Mrs. Todd is right about your looking too particularyesterdayall in white.  I'll walk about a little while you'reherechurchyards being not at all in my waywhatever they may bein yours. Finish what you want to do before I come backand letus be sureand get home again before night."

With thosewords she turned aboutand retracing her stepsadvancedwith her face towards me.  It was the face of an elderlywomanbrownruggedand healthywith nothing dishonest orsuspiciousin the look of it.  Close to the church she stopped topull hershawl closer round her.

"Queer"she said to herself"always queerwith her whims andher waysever since I can remember her.  Harmlessthoughasharmlesspoor soulas a little child."

Shesighedlooked about the burial-ground nervouslyshook herheadasif the dreary prospect by no means pleased heranddisappearedround the corner of the church.

I doubtedfor a moment whether I ought to follow and speak to heror not. My intense anxiety to find myself face to face with hercompanionhelped me to decide in the negative.  I could ensureseeing thewoman in the shawl by waiting near the churchyard untilshe camebackalthough it seemed more than doubtful whether shecould giveme the information of which I was in search.  Theperson whohad delivered the letter was of little consequence.The personwho had written it was the one centre of interestandthe onesource of informationand that person I now feltconvincedwas before me in the churchyard.

Whilethese ideas were passing through my mind I saw the woman inthe cloakapproach close to the graveand stand looking at it fora littlewhile.  She then glanced all round herand taking awhitelinen cloth or handkerchief from under her cloakturnedasidetowards the brook.  The little stream ran into thechurchyardunder a tiny archway in the bottom of the walland ranout againafter a winding course of a few dozen yardsunder asimilaropening.  She dipped the cloth in the waterand returnedto thegrave.  I saw her kiss the white crossthen kneel downbefore theinscriptionand apply her wet cloth to the cleansingof it.

Afterconsidering how I could show myself with the least possiblechance offrightening herI resolved to cross the wall before meto skirtround it outsideand to enter the churchyard again bythe stilenear the gravein order that she might see me as Iapproached. She was so absorbed over her employment that she didnot hearme coming until I had stepped over the stile.  Then shelooked upstarted to her feet with a faint cryand stood facingme inspeechless and motionless terror.

"Don'tbe frightened" I said.  "Surely you remember me?"

I stoppedwhile I spokethen advanced a few steps gentlythenstoppedagainand so approached by little and little till I wasclose toher.  If there had been any doubt still left in my mindit musthave been now set at rest.  Therespeaking affrightedlyforitselfthere was the same face confronting me over Mrs.Fairlie'sgrave which had first looked into mine on the high-roadby night.

"Youremember me?" I said.  "We met very lateand I helpedyou tofind theway to London.  Surely you have not forgotten that?"

Herfeatures relaxedand she drew a heavy breath of relief.  Isaw thenew life of recognition stirring slowly under the death-likestillness which fear had set on her face.

"Don'tattempt to speak to me just yet" I went on.  "Taketime torecoveryourselftake time to feel quite certain that I am afriend."
"Youare very kind to me" she murmured.  "As kind now asyou werethen."

Shestoppedand I kept silence on my side.  I was not grantingtime forcomposure to her onlyI was gaining time also formyself. Under the wan wild evening lightthat woman and I weremettogether againa grave between usthe dead about usthelonesomehills closing us round on every side.  The timetheplacethecircumstances under which we now stood face to face intheevening stillness of that dreary valleythe lifelonginterestswhich might hang suspended on the next chance words thatpassedbetween usthe sense thatfor aught I knew to thecontrarythe whole future of Laura Fairlie's life might bedeterminedfor good or for evilby my winning or losing theconfidenceof the forlorn creature who stood trembling by hermother'sgraveall threatened to shake the steadiness and theself-controlon which every inch of the progress I might yet makenowdepended.  I tried hardas I felt thisto possess myself ofall myresources; I did my utmost to turn the few moments forreflectionto the best account.

"Areyou calmer now?" I saidas soon as I thought it time tospeakagain.  "Can you talk to me without feeling frightenedandwithoutforgetting that I am a friend?"

"Howdid you come here?" she askedwithout noticing what I hadjust saidto her.

"Don'tyou remember my telling youwhen we last metthat I wasgoing toCumberland? I have been in Cumberland ever sinceI havebeenstaying all the time at Limmeridge House."

"AtLimmeridge House!" Her pale face brightened as she repeatedthe wordsher wandering eyes fixed on me with a sudden interest."Ahhow happy you must have been!" she saidlooking at meeagerlywithout a shadow of its former distrust left in herexpression.

I tookadvantage of her newly-aroused confidence in me to observeher facewith an attention and a curiosity which I had hithertorestrainedmyself from showingfor caution's sake.  I looked atherwithmy mind full of that other lovely face which had soominouslyrecalled her to my memory on the terrace by moonlight.I had seenAnne Catherick's likeness in Miss Fairlie.  I now sawMissFairlie's likeness in Anne Cathericksaw it all the moreclearlybecause the points of dissimilarity between the two werepresentedto me as well as the points of resemblance.  In thegeneraloutline of the countenance and general proportion of thefeaturesinthe colour of the hair and in the little nervousuncertaintyabout the lipsin the height and size of the figureand thecarriage of the head and bodythe likeness appeared evenmorestartling than I had ever felt it to be yet.  But there theresemblanceendedand the dissimilarityin detailsbegan.  Thedelicatebeauty of Miss Fairlie's complexionthe transparentclearnessof her eyesthe smooth purity of her skinthe tenderbloom ofcolour on her lipswere all missing from the worn wearyface thatwas now turned towards mine.  Although I hated myselfeven forthinking such a thingstillwhile I looked at the womanbefore methe idea would force itself into my mind that one sadchangeinthe futurewas all that was wanting to make thelikenesscompletewhich I now saw to be so imperfect in detail.If eversorrow and suffering set their profaning marks on theyouth andbeauty of Miss Fairlie's facethenand then onlyAnneCatherickand she would be the twin-sisters of chance resemblancethe livingreflections of one another.

Ishuddered at the thought.  There was something horrible in theblindunreasoning distrust of the future which the mere passage ofit throughmy mind seemed to imply.  It was a welcome interruptionto beroused by feeling Anne Catherick's hand laid on my shoulder.The touchwas as stealthy and as sudden as that other touch whichhadpetrified me from head to foot on the night when we first met.

"Youare looking at meand you are thinking of something" shesaidwithher strange breathless rapidity of utterance.  "What isit?"

"Nothingextraordinary" I answered.  "I was only wondering howyou camehere."

"Icame with a friend who is very good to me.  I have only beenhere twodays."

"Andyou found your way to this place yesterday?"

"Howdo you know that?"

"Ionly guessed it."

She turnedfrom meand knelt down before the inscription oncemore.

"Whereshould I go if not here?" she said.  "The friend whowasbetterthan a mother to me is the only friend I have to visit atLimmeridge. Ohit makes my heart ache to see a stain on hertomb! Itought to be kept white as snowfor her sake.  I wastempted tobegin cleaning it yesterdayand I can't help comingback to goon with it to-day.  Is there anything wrong in that? Ihope not. Surely nothing can be wrong that I do for Mrs.Fairlie'ssake?"

The oldgrateful sense of her benefactress's kindness wasevidentlythe ruling idea still in the poor creature's mindthenarrowmind which had but too plainly opened to no other lastingimpressionsince that first impression of her younger and happierdays. I saw that my best chance of winning her confidence lay inencouragingher to proceed with the artless employment which shehad comeinto the burial-ground to pursue.  She resumed it atonceonmy telling her she might do sotouching the hard marbleastenderly as if it had been a sentient thingand whispering thewords ofthe inscription to herselfover and over againas ifthe lostdays of her girlhood had returned and she was patientlylearningher lesson once more at Mrs. Fairlie's knees.

"Shouldyou wonder very much" I saidpreparing the way ascautiouslyas I could for the questions that were to come"if Iowned thatit is a satisfaction to meas well as a surprisetosee youhere? I felt very uneasy about you after you left me inthe cab."

She lookedup quickly and suspiciously.

"Uneasy"she repeated.  "Why?"

"Astrange thing happened after we parted that night.  Two menovertookme in a chaise.  They did not see where I was standingbut theystopped near meand spoke to a policeman on the otherside ofthe way."

Sheinstantly suspended her employment.  The hand holding the dampcloth withwhich she had been cleaning the inscription dropped toher side. The other hand grasped the marble cross at the head ofthegrave.  Her face turned towards me slowlywith the blank lookof terrorset rigidly on it once more.  I went on at all hazardsit was toolate now to draw back.

"Thetwo men spoke to the policeman" I said"and asked him ifhehad seenyou.  He had not seen you; and then one of the men spokeagainandsaid you had escaped from his Asylum."

She sprangto her feet as if my last words had set the pursuers onher track.

"Stop!and hear the end" I cried.  "Stop! and you shall knowhowIbefriended you.  A word from me would have told the men whichway youhad goneand I never spoke that word.  I helped yourescapeImade it safe and certain.  Thinktry to think.  Try tounderstandwhat I tell you."

My mannerseemed to influence her more than my words.  She made aneffort tograsp the new idea.  Her hands shifted the damp clothhesitatinglyfrom one to the otherexactly as they had shiftedthe littletravelling-bag on the night when I first saw her.Slowly thepurpose of my words seemed to force its way through theconfusionand agitation of her mind.  Slowly her features relaxedand hereyes looked at me with their expression gaining incuriositywhat it was fast losing in fear.

"YOUdon't think I ought to be back in the Asylumdo you?" shesaid.

"Certainlynot.  I am glad you escaped from itI am glad I helpedyou."

"Yesyesyou did help me indeed; you helped me at the hardpart"she went on a little vacantly.  "It was easy to escapeorI shouldnot have got away.  They never suspected me as theysuspectedthe others.  I was so quietand so obedientand soeasilyfrightened.  The finding London was the hard partandthere youhelped me.  Did I thank you at the time? I thank you nowverykindly."

"Wasthe Asylum far from where you met me? Come! show that youbelieve meto be your friendand tell me where it was."

Shementioned the placea private Asylumas its situationinformedme; a private Asylum not very far from the spot where Ihad seenherand thenwith evident suspicion of the use to whichI mightput her answeranxiously repeated her former inquiry"Youdon't think I ought to be taken backdo you?"

"OnceagainI am glad you escapedI am glad you prospered wellafter youleft me" I answered.  "You said you had a friend inLondon togo to.  Did you find the friend?"

"Yes. It was very latebut there was a girl up at needle-work inthe houseand she helped me to rouse Mrs. Clements.  Mrs.Clementsis my friend.  A goodkind womanbut not like Mrs.Fairlie. Ah nonobody is like Mrs. Fairlie!"

"IsMrs. Clements an old friend of yours? Have you known her alongtime?"

"Yesshe was a neighbour of ours onceat homein Hampshireandliked meand took care of me when I was a little girl.  Yearsagowhenshe went away from usshe wrote down in my Prayer-bookfor mewhere she was going to live in Londonand she said'Ifyou areever in troubleAnnecome to me.  I have no husbandalive tosay me nayand no children to look afterand I willtake careof you.' Kind wordswere they not? I suppose I rememberthembecause they were kind.  It's little enough I rememberbesideslittleenoughlittle enough!"

"Hadyou no father or mother to take care of you?"

"Father?Inever saw himI never heard mother speak of him.Father?Ahdear! he is deadI suppose."

"Andyour mother?"

"Idon't get on well with her.  We are a trouble and a fear toeachother."

A troubleand a fear to each other! At those words the suspicioncrossed mymindfor the first timethat her mother might be theperson whohad placed her under restraint.

"Don'task me about mother" she went on.  "I'd rather talkofMrs.Clements.  Mrs. Clements is like youshe doesn't think thatI ought tobe back in the Asylumand she is as glad as you arethat Iescaped from it.  She cried over my misfortuneand said itmust bekept secret from everybody."

Her"misfortune." In what sense was she using that word? In asensewhich might explain her motive in writing the anonymousletter? Ina sense which might show it to be the too common andtoocustomary motive that has led many a woman to interposeanonymoushindrances to the marriage of the man who has ruinedher? Iresolved to attempt the clearing up of this doubt beforemore wordspassed between us on either side.

"Whatmisfortune?" I asked.

"Themisfortune of my being shut up" she answeredwith everyappearanceof feeling surprised at my question.  "What othermisfortunecould there be?"

Idetermined to persistas delicately and forbearingly aspossible. It was of very great importance that I should beabsolutelysure of every step in the investigation which I nowgained inadvance.

"Thereis another misfortune" I said"to which a woman may beliableand by which she may suffer lifelong sorrow and shame."

"Whatis it?" she asked eagerly.

"Themisfortune of believing too innocently in her own virtueandin thefaith and honour of the man she loves" I answered.

She lookedup at me with the artless bewilderment of a child.  Nottheslightest confusion or change of colournot the faintesttrace ofany secret consciousness of shame struggling to thesurfaceappeared in her facethat face which betrayed every otheremotionwith such transparent clearness.  No words that ever werespokencould have assured meas her look and manner now assuredmethatthe motive which I had assigned for her writing theletter andsending it to Miss Fairlie was plainly and distinctlythe wrongone.  That doubtat any ratewas now set at rest; butthe veryremoval of it opened a new prospect of uncertainty.  TheletterasI knew from positive testimonypointed at Sir PercivalGlydethough it did not name him.  She must have had some strongmotiveoriginating in some deep sense of injuryfor secretlydenouncinghim to Miss Fairlie in such terms as she had employedand thatmotive was unquestionably not to be traced to the loss ofherinnocence and her character.  Whatever wrong he might haveinflictedon her was not of that nature.  Of what nature could itbe?

"Idon't understand you" she saidafter evidently trying hardand tryingin vainto discover the meaning of the words I hadlast saidto her.

"Nevermind" I answered.  "Let us go on with what we weretalkingabout. Tell me how long you stayed with Mrs. Clements in Londonand howyou came here."

"Howlong?" she repeated.  "I stayed with Mrs. Clementstill weboth cameto this placetwo days ago."

"Youare living in the villagethen?" I said.  "It isstrange Ishould nothave heard of youthough you have only been here twodays."

"Nononot in the village.  Three miles away at a farm.  Doyouknow thefarm? They call it Todd's Corner."

Iremembered the place perfectlywe had often passed by it in ourdrives. It was one of the oldest farms in the neighbourhoodsituatedin a solitarysheltered spotinland at the junction oftwo hills.

"Theyare relations of Mrs. Clements at Todd's Corner" she wenton"andthey had often asked her to go and see them.  She saidshe wouldgoand take me with herfor the quiet and the freshair. It was very kindwas it not? I would have gone anywhere tobe quietand safeand out of the way.  But when I heard thatTodd'sCorner was near Limmeridgeoh! I was so happy I would havewalked allthe way barefoot to get thereand see the schools andthevillage and Limmeridge House again.  They are very good peopleat Todd'sCorner.  I hope I shall stay there a long time.  Thereis onlyone thing I don't like about themand don't like aboutMrs.Clements"

"Whatis it?"

"Theywill tease me about dressing all in whitethey say it lookssoparticular.  How do they know? Mrs. Fairlie knew best. Mrs.Fairliewould never have made me wear this ugly blue cloak! Ah!she wasfond of white in her lifetimeand here is white stoneabout hergraveand I am making it whiter for her sake.  Sheoften worewhite herselfand she always dressed her littledaughterin white.  Is Miss Fairlie well and happy? Does she wearwhite nowas she used when she was a girl?"

Her voicesank when she put the questions about Miss Fairlieandshe turnedher head farther and farther away from me.  I thought Idetectedin the alteration of her manneran uneasy consciousnessof therisk she had run in sending the anonymous letterand Iinstantlydetermined so to frame my answer as to surprise her intoowning it.

"MissFairlie was not very well or very happy this morning" Isaid.

Shemurmured a few wordsbut they were spoken so confusedlyandin such alow tonethat I could not even guess at what theymeant.

"Didyou ask me why Miss Fairlie was neither well nor happy thismorning?"I continued.

"No"she said quickly and eagerly"oh noI never asked that."

"Iwill tell you without your asking" I went on.  "MissFairliehasreceived your letter."

She hadbeen down on her knees for some little time pastcarefullyremoving the last weather-stains left about theinscriptionwhile we were speaking together.  The first sentenceof thewords I had just addressed to her made her pause in heroccupationand turn slowly without rising from her kneesso asto faceme.  The second sentence literally petrified her.  Thecloth shehad been holding dropped from her handsher lips fellapartallthe little colour that there was naturally in her faceleft it inan instant.

"Howdo you know?" she said faintly.  "Who showed it toyou?" Thebloodrushed back into her facerushed overwhelminglyas thesenserushed upon her mind that her own words had betrayed her.She struckher hands together in despair.  "I never wrote it"shegaspedaffrightedly; "I know nothing about it!"

"Yes"I said"you wrote itand you know about it.  It was wrongto sendsuch a letterit was wrong to frighten Miss Fairlie.  Ifyou hadanything to say that it was right and necessary for her tohearyoushould have gone yourself to Limmeridge Houseyoushouldhave spoken to the young lady with your own lips."

Shecrouched down over the flat stone of the gravetill her facewas hiddenon itand made no reply.

"MissFairlie will be as good and kind to you as her mother wasif youmean well" I went on.  "Miss Fairlie will keep yoursecretand not let you come to any harm.  Will you see her to-morrow atthe farm? Will you meet her in the garden at LimmeridgeHouse?"

"Ohif I could dieand be hidden and at rest with YOU!" Her lipsmurmuredthe words close on the grave-stonemurmured them intones ofpassionate endearmentto the dead remains beneath.  "Youknow how Ilove your childfor your sake! OhMrs. Fairlie! Mrs.Fairlie!tell me how to save her.  Be my darling and my motheronce moreand tell me what to do for the best."

I heardher lips kissing the stoneI saw her hands beating on itpassionately. The sound and the sight deeply affected me.  Istoopeddownand took the poor helpless hands tenderly in mineand triedto soothe her.

It wasuseless.  She snatched her hands from meand never movedher facefrom the stone.  Seeing the urgent necessity of quietingher at anyhazard and by any meansI appealed to the only anxietythat sheappeared to feelin connection with me and with myopinion ofherthe anxiety to convince me of her fitness to bemistressof her own actions.

"Comecome" I said gently.  "Try to compose yourselforyouwill makeme alter my opinion of you.  Don't let me think that theperson whoput you in the Asylum might have had some excuse"

The nextwords died away on my lips.  The instant I risked thatchancereference to the person who had put her in the Asylum shesprang upon her knees.  A most extraordinary and startling changepassedover her.  Her faceat all ordinary times so touching tolook atin its nervous sensitivenessweaknessand uncertaintybecamesuddenly darkened by an expression of maniacally intensehatred andfearwhich communicated a wildunnatural force toeveryfeature.  Her eyes dilated in the dim evening lightlikethe eyesof a wild animal.  She caught up the cloth that hadfallen ather sideas if it had been a living creature that shecouldkilland crushed it in both her hands with such convulsivestrengththat the few drops of moisture left in it trickled downon thestone beneath her.

"Talkof something else" she saidwhispering through her teeth."Ishall lose myself if you talk of that."

Everyvestige of the gentler thoughts which had filled her mindhardly aminute since seemed to be swept from it now.  It wasevidentthat the impression left by Mrs. Fairlie's kindness wasnotas Ihad supposedthe only strong impression on her memory.With thegrateful remembrance of her school-days at Limmeridgethereexisted the vindictive remembrance of the wrong inflicted onher by herconfinement in the Asylum.  Who had done that wrong?Could itreally be her mother?

It washard to give up pursuing the inquiry to that final pointbut Iforced myself to abandon all idea of continuing it.  Seeingher as Isaw her nowit would have been cruel to think ofanythingbut the necessity and the humanity of restoring hercomposure.

"Iwill talk of nothing to distress you" I said soothingly.

"Youwant something" she answered sharply and suspiciously."Don'tlook at me like that.  Speak to metell me what you want."

"Ionly want you to quiet yourselfand when you are calmertothink overwhat I have said."

"Said?"She pausedtwisted the cloth in her handsback-wards andforwardsand whispered to herself"What is it he said?" Sheturnedagain towards meand shook her head impatiently.  "Whydon't youhelp me?" she askedwith angry suddenness.

"Yesyes" I said"I will help youand you will soon remember.I ask youto see Miss Fairlie to-morrow and to tell her the truthabout theletter."

"Ah!Miss FairlieFairlieFairlie"

The mereutterance of the loved familiar name seemed to quiet her.Her facesoftened and grew like itself again.

"Youneed have no fear of Miss Fairlie" I continued"and nofearof gettinginto trouble through the letter.  She knows so muchabout italreadythat you will have no difficulty in telling herall. There can be little necessity for concealment where there ishardlyanything left to conceal.  You mention no names in theletter;but Miss Fairlie knows that the person you write of is SirPercivalGlyde"

Theinstant I pronounced that name she started to her feetand ascreamburst from her that rang through the churchyardand mademy heartleap in me with the terror of it.  The dark deformity oftheexpression which had just left her face lowered on it oncemorewithdoubled and trebled intensity.  The shriek at the namethereiterated look of hatred and fear that instantly followedtold all. Not even a last doubt now remained.  Her mother wasguiltlessof imprisoning her in the Asylum.  A man had shut herupand thatman was Sir Percival Glyde.

The screamhad reached other ears than mine.  On one side I heardthe doorof the sexton's cottage open; on the other I heard thevoice ofher companionthe woman in the shawlthe woman whom shehad spokenof as Mrs. Clements.

"I'mcoming! I'm coming!" cried the voice from behind the clump ofdwarftrees.

In amoment more Mrs. Clements hurried into view.

"Whoare you?" she criedfacing me resolutely as she set her footon thestile.  "How dare you frighten a poor helpless woman likethat?"

She was atAnne Catherick's sideand had put one arm around herbefore Icould answer.  "What is itmy dear?" she said. "Whathas hedone to you?"

"Nothing"the poor creature answered.  "Nothing.  I'm onlyfrightened."

Mrs.Clements turned on me with a fearless indignationfor whichIrespected her.

"Ishould be heartily ashamed of myself if I deserved that angrylook"I said.  "But I do not deserve it.  I haveunfortunatelystartledher without intending it.  This is not the first time shehas seenme.  Ask her yourselfand she will tell you that I amincapableof willingly harming her or any woman."

I spokedistinctlyso that Anne Catherick might hear andunderstandmeand I saw that the words and their meaning hadreachedher.

"Yesyes" she said"he was good to me oncehe helped me"Shewhispered the rest into her friend's ear.

"Strangeindeed!" said Mrs. Clementswith a look of perplexity."Itmakes all the differencethough.  I'm sorry I spoke so roughto yousir; but you must own that appearances looked suspiciousto astranger.  It's more my fault than yoursfor humouring herwhimsandletting her be alone in such a place as this.  Comemydearcomehome now."

I thoughtthe good woman looked a little uneasy at the prospect ofthe walkbackand I offered to go with them until they were bothwithinsight of home.  Mrs. Clements thanked me civillyanddeclined. She said they were sure to meet some of the farm-labourersas soon as they got to the moor.

"Tryto forgive me" I saidwhen Anne Catherick took her friend'sarm to goaway.  Innocent as I had been of any intention toterrifyand agitate hermy heart smote me as I looked at thepoorpalefrightened face.

"Iwill try" she answered.  "But you know too muchI'mafraidyou'llalways frighten me now."

Mrs.Clements glanced at meand shook her head pityingly.

"Good-nightsir" she said.  "You couldn't help itI know but Iwish itwas me you had frightenedand not her."

They movedaway a few steps.  I thought they had left mebut Annesuddenlystoppedand separated herself from her friend.

"Waita little" she said.  "I must say good-bye."

Shereturned to the graverested both hands tenderly on themarblecrossand kissed it.

"I'mbetter now" she sighedlooking up at me quietly.  "Iforgiveyou."

She joinedher companion againand they left the burial-ground.I saw themstop near the church and speak to the sexton's wifewho hadcome from the cottageand had waitedwatching us from adistance. Then they went on again up the path that led to themoor. I looked after Anne Catherick as she disappearedtill alltrace ofher had faded in the twilightlooked as anxiously andsorrowfullyas if that was the last I was to see in this wearyworld ofthe woman in white.

 

XIV

 

Half anhour later I was back at the houseand was informing MissHalcombeof all that had happened.

Shelistened to me from beginning to end with a steadysilentattentionwhichin a woman of her temperament and dispositionwas thestrongest proof that could be offered of the seriousmanner inwhich my narrative affected her.

"Mymind misgives me" was all she said when I had done.  "Mymindmisgivesme sadly about the future."

"Thefuture may depend" I suggested"on the use we make of thepresent. It is not improbable that Anne Catherick may speak morereadilyand unreservedly to a woman than she has spoken to me.  IfMissFairlie"

"Notto be thought of for a moment" interposed Miss Halcombeinher mostdecided manner.

"Letme suggestthen" I continued"that you should see AnneCatherickyourselfand do all you can to win her confidence.  Formy ownpartI shrink from the idea of alarming the poor creaturea secondtimeas I have most unhappily alarmed her already.  Doyou seeany objection to accompanying me to the farmhouse to-morrow?"

"Nonewhatever.  I will go anywhere and do anything to serveLaura'sinterests.  What did you say the place was called?"

"Youmust know it well.  It is called Todd's Corner."

"Certainly. Todd's Corner is one of Mr. Fairlie's farms.  Ourdairymaidhere is the farmer's second daughter.  She goesbackwardsand forwards constantly between this house and herfather'sfarmand she may have heard or seen something which itmay beuseful to us to know.  Shall I ascertainat onceif thegirl isdownstairs?"

She rangthe belland sent the servant with his message.  Hereturnedand announced that the dairymaid was then at the farm.She hadnot been there for the last three daysand thehousekeeperhad given her leave to go home for an hour or two thatevening.

"Ican speak to her to-morrow" said Miss Halcombewhen theservanthad left the room again.  "In the meantimelet methoroughlyunderstand the object to be gained by my interview withAnneCatherick.  Is there no doubt in your mind that the personwhoconfined her in the Asylum was Sir Percival Glyde?"

"Thereis not the shadow of a doubt.  The only mystery thatremains isthe mystery of his MOTIVE.  Looking to the greatdifferencebetween his station in life and herswhich seems toprecludeall idea of the most distant relationship between themit is ofthe last importanceeven assuming that she reallyrequiredto be placed under restraintto know why HE should havebeen theperson to assume the serious responsibility of shuttingher up"

"In aprivate AsylumI think you said?"

"Yesin a private Asylumwhere a sum of moneywhich no poorpersoncould afford to givemust have been paid for hermaintenanceas a patient."

"Isee where the doubt liesMr. Hartrightand I promise you thatit shallbe set at restwhether Anne Catherick assists us to-morrow ornot.  Sir Percival Glyde shall not be long in this housewithoutsatisfying Mr. Gilmoreand satisfying me.  My sister'sfuture ismy dearest care in lifeand I have influence enoughover herto give me some powerwhere her marriage is concernedin thedisposal of it."

We partedfor the night.

 

Afterbreakfast the next morningan obstaclewhich the events oftheevening before had put out of my memoryinterposed to preventourproceeding immediately to the farm.  This was my last day atLimmeridgeHouseand it was necessaryas soon as the post cameintofollow Miss Halcombe's adviceand to ask Mr. Fairlie'spermissionto shorten my engagement by a monthin considerationof anunforeseen necessity for my return to London.

Fortunatelyfor the probability of this excuseso far asappearanceswere concernedthe post brought me two letters fromLondonfriends that morning.  I took them away at once to my ownroomandsent the servant with a message to Mr. Fairlierequestingto know when I could see him on a matter of business.

I awaitedthe man's returnfree from the slightest feeling ofanxietyabout the manner in which his master might receive myapplication. With Mr. Fairlie's leave or without itI must go.Theconsciousness of having now taken the first step on the drearyjourneywhich was henceforth to separate my life from MissFairlie'sseemed to have blunted my sensibility to everyconsiderationconnected with myself.  I had done with my poorman'stouchy prideI had done with all my little artist vanities.Noinsolence of Mr. Fairlie'sif he chose to be insolentcouldwound menow.

Theservant returned with a message for which I was notunprepared. Mr. Fairlie regretted that the state of his healthon thatparticular morningwas such as to preclude all hope ofhis havingthe pleasure of receiving me.  He beggedthereforethat Iwould accept his apologiesand kindly communicate what Ihad to sayin the form of a letter.  Similar messages to this hadreachedmeat various intervalsduring my three months'residencein the house.  Throughout the whole of that period Mr.Fairliehad been rejoiced to "possess" mebut had never been wellenough tosee me for a second time.  The servant took every freshbatch ofdrawings that I mounted and restored back to his masterwith my"respects" and returned empty-handed with Mr. Fairlie's"kindcompliments" "best thanks" and "sincereregrets" that thestate ofhis health still obliged him to remain a solitaryprisonerin his own room.  A more satisfactory arrangement to bothsidescould not possibly have been adopted.  It would be hard tosay whichof usunder the circumstancesfelt the most gratefulsense ofobligation to Mr. Fairlie's accommodating nerves.

I sat downat once to write the letterexpressing myself in it ascivillyas clearlyand as briefly as possible.  Mr. Fairlie didnot hurryhis reply.  Nearly an hour elapsed before the answer wasplaced inmy hands.  It was written with beautiful regularity andneatnessof characterin violet-coloured inkon note-paper assmooth asivory and almost as thick as cardboardand it addressedme inthese terms

"Mr.Fairlie's compliments to Mr. Hartright.  Mr. Fairlie is moresurprisedand disappointed than he can say (in the present stateof hishealth) by Mr. Hartright's application.  Mr. Fairlie is nota man ofbusinessbut he has consulted his stewardwho isandthatperson confirms Mr. Fairlie's opinion that Mr. Hartright'srequest tobe allowed to break his engagement cannot be justifiedby anynecessity whateverexcepting perhaps a case of life anddeath. If the highly-appreciative feeling towards Art and itsprofessorswhich it is the consolation and happiness of Mr.Fairlie'ssuffering existence to cultivatecould be easilyshakenMr. Hartright's present proceeding would have shaken it.It has notdone soexcept in the instance of Mr. Hartrighthimself.

"Havingstated his opinionso farthat is to sayas acutenervoussuffering will allow him to state anythingMr. Fairliehasnothing to add but the expression of his decisioninreferenceto the highly irregular application that has been madeto him. Perfect repose of body and mind being to the last degreeimportantin his caseMr. Fairlie will not suffer Mr. Hartrightto disturbthat repose by remaining in the house undercircumstancesof an essentially irritating nature to both sides.AccordinglyMr. Fairlie waives his right of refusalpurely witha view tothe preservation of his own tranquillityand informsMr.Hartright that he may go."

I foldedthe letter upand put it away with my other papers.  Thetime hadbeen when I should have resented it as an insultIacceptedit now as a written release from my engagement.  It wasoff mymindit was almost out of my memorywhen I wentdownstairsto the breakfast-roomand informed Miss Halcombe thatI wasready to walk with her to the farm.

"HasMr. Fairlie given you a satisfactory answer?" she asked as weleft thehouse.

"Hehas allowed me to goMiss Halcombe."

She lookedup at me quicklyand thenfor the first time since Ihad knownhertook my arm of her own accord.  No words could haveexpressedso delicately that she understood how the permission toleave myemployment had been grantedand that she gave me hersympathynot as my superiorbut as my friend.  I had not feltthe man'sinsolent letterbut I felt deeply the woman's atoningkindness.

On our wayto the farm we arranged that Miss Halcombe was to enterthe housealoneand that I was to wait outsidewithin call.  Weadoptedthis mode of proceeding from an apprehension that mypresenceafter what had happened in the churchyard the eveningbeforemight have the effect of renewing Anne Catherick's nervousdreadandof rendering her additionally distrustful of theadvancesof a lady who was a stranger to her.  Miss Halcombe leftmewiththe intention of speakingin the first instanceto thefarmer'swife (of whose friendly readiness to help her in any wayshe waswell assured)while I waited for her in the nearneighbourhoodof the house.

I hadfully expected to be left alone for some time.  To mysurprisehoweverlittle more than five minutes had elapsedbeforeMiss Halcombe returned.

"DoesAnne Catherick refuse to see you?" I asked in astonishment.

"AnneCatherick is gone" replied Miss Halcombe.

"Gone?"

"Gonewith Mrs. Clements.  They both left the farm at eighto'clockthis morning."

I couldsay nothingI could only feel that our last chance ofdiscoveryhad gone with them.

"Allthat Mrs. Todd knows about her guestsI know" Miss Halcombewent on"and it leaves meas it leaves herin the dark.  Theyboth cameback safe last nightafter they left youand theypassed thefirst part of the evening with Mr. Todd's family asusual. Just before supper-timehoweverAnne Catherick startledthem allby being suddenly seized with faintness.  She had had asimilarattackof a less alarming kindon the day she arrived atthe farm;and Mrs. Todd had connected iton that occasionwithsomethingshe was reading at the time in our local newspaperwhich layon the farm tableand which she had taken up only aminute ortwo before."

"DoesMrs. Todd know what particular passage in the newspaperaffectedher in that way?" I inquired.

"No"replied Miss Halcombe.  "She had looked it overand hadseennothing in it to agitate any one.  I asked leavehowevertolook itover in my turnand at the very first page I opened Ifound thatthe editor had enriched his small stock of news bydrawingupon our family affairsand had published my sister'smarriageengagementamong his other announcementscopied fromthe Londonpapersof Marriages in High Life.  I concluded at oncethat thiswas the paragraph which had so strangely affected AnneCatherickand I thought I saw in italsothe origin of theletterwhich she sent to our house the next day."

"Therecan be no doubt in either case.  But what did you hearabout hersecond attack of faintness yesterday evening?"

"Nothing. The cause of it is a complete mystery.  There was nostrangerin the room.  The only visitor was our dairymaidwhoasI toldyouis one of Mr. Todd's daughtersand the onlyconversationwas the usual gossip about local affairs.  They heardher cryoutand saw her turn deadly palewithout the slightestapparentreason.  Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Clements took her upstairsand Mrs.Clements remained with her.  They were heard talkingtogetheruntil long after the usual bedtimeand early thismorningMrs. Clements took Mrs. Todd asideand amazed her beyondall powerof expression by saying that they must go.  The onlyexplanationMrs. Todd could extract from her guest wasthatsomethinghad happenedwhich was not the fault of any one at thefarmhousebut which was serious enough to make Anne Catherickresolve toleave Limmeridge immediately.  It was quite useless topress Mrs.Clements to be more explicit.  She only shook her headand saidthatfor Anne's sakeshe must beg and pray that no onewouldquestion her.  All she could repeatwith every appearanceof beingseriously agitated herselfwas that Anne must gothatshe mustgo with herand that the destination to which they mightbothbetake themselves must be kept a secret from everybody.  Ispare youthe recital of Mrs. Todd's hospitable remonstrances andrefusals.It ended in her driving them both to the neareststationmore than three hours since.  She tried hard on the wayto getthem to speak more plainlybut without success; and sheset themdown outside the station-doorso hurt and offended bytheunceremonious abruptness of their departure and theirunfriendlyreluctance to place the least confidence in herthatshe droveaway in angerwithout so much as stopping to bid themgood-bye. That is exactly what has taken place.  Search your ownmemoryMr. Hartrightand tell me if anything happened in theburial-groundyesterday evening which can at all account for theextraordinarydeparture of those two women this morning."

"Ishould like to account firstMiss Halcombefor the suddenchange inAnne Catherick which alarmed them at the farmhousehoursafter she and I had partedand when time enough had elapsedto quietany violent agitation that I might have been unfortunateenough tocause.  Did you inquire particularly about the gossipwhich wasgoing on in the room when she turned faint?"

"Yes. But Mrs. Todd's household affairs seem to have divided herattentionthat evening with the talk in the farmhouse parlour.She couldonly tell me that it was 'just the news'meaningIsupposethat they all talked as usual about each other."

"Thedairymaid's memory may be better than her mother's" I said."Itmay be as well for you to speak to the girlMiss Halcombeassoon as weget back."

Mysuggestion was acted on the moment we returned to the house.MissHalcombe led me round to the servants' officesand we foundthe girlin the dairywith her sleeves tucked up to hershoulderscleaning a large milk-pan and singing blithely over herwork.

"Ihave brought this gentleman to see your dairyHannah" saidMissHalcombe.  "It is one of the sights of the houseand italwaysdoes you credit."

The girlblushed and curtseyedand said shyly that she hoped shealways didher best to keep things neat and clean.

"Wehave just come from your father's" Miss Halcombe continued."Youwere there yesterday eveningI hearand you found visitorsat thehouse?"

"Yesmiss."

"Oneof them was taken faint and illI am told.  I supposenothingwas said or done to frighten her? You were not talking ofanythingvery terriblewere you?"

"Ohnomiss!" said the girllaughing.  "We were onlytalking ofthe news."

"Yoursisters told you the news at Todd's CornerI suppose?"

"Yesmiss."

"Andyou told them the news at Limmeridge House?"

"Yesmiss.  And I'm quite sure nothing was said to frighten thepoorthingfor I was talking when she was taken ill.  It gave mequite aturnmissto see itnever having been taken faintmyself."

Before anymore questions could be put to hershe was called awayto receivea basket of eggs at the dairy door.  As she left us Iwhisperedto Miss Halcombe

"Askher if she happened to mentionlast nightthat visitorswereexpected at Limmeridge House."

MissHalcombe showed meby a lookthat she understoodand putthequestion as soon as the dairymaid returned to us.

"OhyesmissI mentioned that" said the girl simply.  "Thecompanycomingand the accident to the brindled cowwas all thenews I hadto take to the farm."

"Didyou mention names? Did you tell them that Sir Percival Glydewasexpected on Monday?"

"YesmissI told them Sir Percival Glyde was coming.  I hopethere wasno harm in itI hope I didn't do wrong."

"Ohnono harm.  ComeMr. HartrightHannah will begin to thinkus in thewayif we interrupt her any longer over her work."

We stoppedand looked at one another the moment we were aloneagain.

"Isthere any doubt in your mindNOWMiss Halcombe?"

"SirPercival Glyde shall remove that doubtMr. HartrightorLauraFairlie shall never be his wife."

 

XV

 

As wewalked round to the front of the house a fly from therailwayapproached us along the drive.  Miss Halcombe waited onthedoor-steps until the fly drew upand then advanced to shakehands withan old gentlemanwho got out briskly the moment thesteps werelet down.  Mr. Gilmore had arrived.

I lookedat himwhen we were introduced to each otherwith aninterestand a curiosity which I could hardly conceal.  This oldman was toremain at Limmeridge House after I had left ithe wasto hearSir Percival Glyde's explanationand was to give MissHalcombethe assistance of his experience in forming her judgment;he was towait until the question of the marriage was set at rest;and hishandif that question were decided in the affirmativewas todraw the settlement which bound Miss Fairlie irrevocably toherengagement.  Even thenwhen I knew nothing by comparison withwhat Iknow nowI looked at the family lawyer with an interestwhich Ihad never felt before in the presence of any man breathingwho was atotal stranger to me.

Inexternal appearance Mr. Gilmore was the exact opposite of theconventionalidea of an old lawyer.  His complexion was floridhis whitehair was worn rather long and kept carefully brushedhis blackcoatwaistcoatand trousers fitted him with perfectneatnesshiswhite cravat was carefully tiedand his lavender-colouredkid gloves might have adorned the hands of a fashionableclergymanwithout fear and without reproach.  His manners werepleasantlymarked by the formal grace and refinement of the oldschool ofpolitenessquickened by the invigorating sharpness andreadinessof a man whose business in life obliges him always tokeep hisfaculties in good working order.  A sanguine constitutionand fairprospects to begin witha long subsequent career ofcreditableand comfortable prosperitya cheerfuldiligentwidely-respectedold agesuch were the general impressions Iderivedfrom my introduction to Mr. Gilmoreand it is but fair tohim toaddthat the knowledge I gained by later and betterexperienceonly tended to confirm them.

I left theold gentleman and Miss Halcombe to enter the housetogetherand to talk of family matters undisturbed by therestraintof a stranger's presence.  They crossed the hall ontheir wayto the drawing-roomand I descended the steps again towanderabout the garden alone.

My hourswere numbered at Limmeridge Housemy departure the nextmorningwas irrevocably settledmy share in the investigationwhich theanonymous letter had rendered necessary was at an end.No harmcould be done to any one but myself if I let my heartlooseagainfor the little time that was left mefrom the coldcruelty ofrestraint which necessity had forced me to inflict uponitandtook my farewell of the scenes which were associated withthe briefdream-time of my happiness and my love.

I turnedinstinctively to the walk beneath my study-windowwhereI had seenher the evening before with her little dogandfollowedthe path which her dear feet had trodden so oftentill Icame tothe wicket gate that led into her rose garden.  The winterbarenessspread drearily over it now.  The flowers that she hadtaught meto distinguish by their namesthe flowers that I hadtaught herto paint fromwere goneand the tiny white paths thatledbetween the beds were damp and green already.  I went on tothe avenueof treeswhere we had breathed together the warmfragranceof August eveningswhere we had admired together themyriadcombinations of shade and sunlight that dappled the groundat ourfeet.  The leaves fell about me from the groaning branchesand theearthy decay in the atmosphere chilled me to the bones.  Alittlefarther onand I was out of the groundsand following thelane thatwound gently upward to the nearest hills.  The oldfelledtree by the waysideon which we had sat to restwassoddenwith rainand the tuft of ferns and grasses which I haddrawn forhernestling under the rough stone wall in front of ushad turnedto a pool of waterstagnating round an island ofdraggledweeds.  I gained the summit of the hilland looked atthe viewwhich we had so often admired in the happier time.  Itwas coldand barrenit was no longer the view that I remembered.Thesunshine of her presence was far from me-the charm of hervoice nolonger murmured in my ear.  She had talked to meon thespot fromwhich I now looked downof her fatherwho was her lastsurvivingparenthad told me how fond of each other they hadbeenandhow sadly she missed him still when she entered certainrooms inthe houseand when she took up forgotten occupations andamusementswith which he had been associated.  Was the view that Ihad seenwhile listening to those wordsthe view that I saw nowstandingon the hill-top by myself?  I turned and left itI woundmy wayback againover the moorand round the sandhillsdown tothebeach.  There was the white rage of the surfand themultitudinousglory of the leaping wavesbut where was the placeon whichshe had once drawn idle figures with her parasol in thesandtheplace where we had sat togetherwhile she talked to meaboutmyself and my homewhile she asked me a woman's minutelyobservantquestions about my mother and my sisterand innocentlywonderedwhether I should ever leave my lonely chambers and have awife and ahouse of my own? Wind and wave had long since smoothedout thetrace of her which she had left in those marks on thesandIlooked over the wide monotony of the seaside prospectandthe placein which we two had idled away the sunny hours was aslost to meas if I had never known itas strange to me as if Istoodalready on a foreign shore.

The emptysilence of the beach struck cold to my heart.  Ireturnedto the house and the gardenwhere traces were left tospeak ofher at every turn.

On thewest terrace walk I met Mr. Gilmore.  He was evidently insearch ofmefor he quickened his pace when we caught sight ofeachother.  The state of my spirits little fitted me for thesociety ofa stranger; but the meeting was inevitableand Iresignedmyself to make the best of it.

"Youare the very person I wanted to see" said the old gentleman."Ihad two words to say to youmy dear sir; and If you have noobjectionI will avail myself of the present opportunity.  To putitplainlyMiss Halcombe and I have been talking over familyaffairsaffairswhich are the cause of my being hereand in thecourse ofour conversation she was naturally led to tell me ofthisunpleasant matter connected with the anonymous letterand ofthe sharewhich you have most creditably and properly taken in theproceedingsso far.  That shareI quite understandgives you aninterestwhich you might not otherwise have feltin knowing thatthe futuremanagement of the investigation which you have begunwill beplaced in safe hands.  My dear sirmake yourself quiteeasy onthat pointit will be placed in MY hands."

"Youarein every wayMr. Gilmoremuch fitter to advise and toact in thematter than I am.  Is it an indiscretion on my part toask if youhave decided yet on a course of proceeding?

"Sofar as it is possible to decideMr. HartrightI havedecided. I mean to send a copy of the letteraccompanied by astatementof the circumstancesto Sir Percival Glyde's solicitorin Londonwith whom I have some acquaintance.  The letter itselfI shallkeep here to show to Sir Percival as soon as he arrives.Thetracing of the two women I have already provided forbysendingone of Mr. Fairlie's servantsa confidential persontothestation to make inquiries.  The man has his money and hisdirectionsand he will follow the women in the event of hisfindingany clue.  This is all that can be done until Sir Percivalcomes onMonday.  I have no doubt myself that every explanationwhich canbe expected from a gentleman and a man of honourhewillreadily give.  Sir Percival stands very highsiran eminentpositiona reputation above suspicionI feel quite easy aboutresultsquiteeasyI am rejoiced to assure you.  Things of thissorthappen constantly in my experience.  Anonymous lettersunfortunatewomansad state of society.  I don't deny that therearepeculiar complications in this case; but the case itself ismostunhappilycommoncommon."

"I amafraidMr. GilmoreI have the misfortune to differ fromyou in theview I take of the case."

"Justsomy dear sirjust so.  I am an old manand I take thepracticalview.  You are a young manand you take the romanticview. Let us not dispute about our views.  I live professionallyin anatmosphere of disputationMr. Hartrightand I am only tooglad toescape from itas I am escaping here.  We will wait foreventsyesyesyeswe will wait for events.  Charming placethis. Good shooting? Probably notnone of Mr. Fairlie's land ispreservedI think.  Charming placethoughand delightfulpeople. You draw and paintI hearMr. Hartright? Enviableaccomplishment. What style?"

We droppedinto general conversationor ratherMr. Gilmoretalked andI listened.  My attention was far from himand fromthe topicson which he discoursed so fluently.  The solitary walkof thelast two hours had wrought its effect on meit had set theidea in mymind of hastening my departure from Limmeridge House.Why shouldI prolong the hard trial of saying farewell by oneunnecessaryminute? What further service was required of me by anyone? Therewas no useful purpose to be served by my stay inCumberlandtherewas no restriction of time in the permission toleavewhich my employer had granted to me.  Why not end it thereand then?

Idetermined to end it.  There were some hours of daylight stilllefttherewas no reason why my journey back to London should notbegin onthat afternoon.  I made the first civil excuse thatoccurredto me for leaving Mr. Gilmoreand returned at once tothe house.

On my wayup to my own room I met Miss Halcombe on the stairs.She sawby the hurry of my movements and the change in my mannerthat I hadsome new purpose in viewand asked what had happened.

I told herthe reasons which induced me to think of hastening mydepartureexactly as I have told them here.

"Nono" she saidearnestly and kindly"leave us like afriendbreakbread with us once more.  Stay here and dinestay here andhelp us tospend our last evening with you as happilyas like ourfirsteveningsas we can.  It is my invitationMrs. Vesey'sinvitation"she hesitated a littleand then added"Laura'sinvitationas well."

I promisedto remain.  God knows I had no wish to leave even theshadow ofa sorrowful impression with any one of them.

My ownroom was the best place for me till the dinner bell rang.I waitedthere till it was time to go downstairs.

I had notspoken to Miss FairlieI had not even seen herallthat day. The first meeting with herwhen I entered the drawing-roomwasa hard trial to her self-control and to mine.  Shetoohad doneher best to make our last evening renew the golden bygonetimethetime that could never come again.  She had put on thedresswhich I used to admire more than any other that shepossessedadark blue silktrimmed quaintly and prettily withold-fashionedlace; she came forward to meet me with her formerreadinessshegave me her hand with the frankinnocent good-willof happierdays.  The cold fingers that trembled round minethepalecheeks with a bright red spot burning in the midst of themthe faintsmile that struggled to live on her lips and died awayfrom themwhile I looked at ittold me at what sacrifice ofherselfher outward composure was maintained.  My heart could takeher nocloser to meor I should have loved her then as I hadneverloved her yet.

Mr.Gilmore was a great assistance to us.  He was in high good-humourand he led the conversation with unflagging spirit.  MissHalcombeseconded him resolutelyand I did all I could to followherexample.  The kind blue eyeswhose slightest changes ofexpressionI had learnt to interpret so welllooked at meappealinglywhen we first sat down to table.  Help my sisterthesweetanxious face seemed to sayhelp my sisterand you willhelp me.
We gotthrough the dinnerto all outward appearance at leasthappilyenough.  When the ladies had risen from tableand Mr.Gilmoreand I were left alone in the dining-rooma new interestpresenteditself to occupy our attentionand to give me anopportunityof quieting myself by a few minutes of needful andwelcomesilence.  The servant who had been despatched to traceAnneCatherick and Mrs. Clements returned with his reportand wasshown intothe dining-room immediately.

"Well"said Mr. Gilmore"what have you found out?"

"Ihave found outsir" answered the man"that both thewomentooktickets at our station here for Carlisle."

"Youwent to Carlisleof coursewhen you heard that?"

"Ididsirbut I am sorry to say I could find no further traceof them."

"Youinquired at the railway?"

"Yessir."

"Andat the different inns?"

"Yessir."

"Andyou left the statement I wrote for you at the policestation?"

"Ididsir."

"Wellmy friendyou have done all you couldand I have done allI couldand there the matter must rest till further notice.  Wehaveplayed our trump cardsMr. Hartright" continued the oldgentlemanwhen the servant had withdrawn.  "For the presentatleastthewomen have outmanoeuvred usand our only resource nowis to waittill Sir Percival Glyde comes here on Monday next.Won't youfill your glass again? Good bottle of portthatsoundsubstantialold wine.  I have got better in my own cellarthough."

Wereturned to the drawing-roomthe room in which the happiesteveningsof my life had been passedthe room whichafter thislastnightI was never to see again.  Its aspect was alteredsince thedays had shortened and the weather had grown cold.  Theglassdoors on the terrace side were closedand hidden by thickcurtains. Instead of the soft twilight obscurityin which weused tositthe bright radiant glow of lamplight now dazzled myeyes. All was changedin-doors and out all was changed.

MissHalcombe and Mr. Gilmore sat down together at the card-tableMrs. Veseytook her customary chair.  There was no restraint onthedisposal of THEIR eveningand I felt the restraint on thedisposalof mine all the more painfully from observing it.  I sawMissFairlie lingering near the music-stand.  The time had beenwhen Imight have joined her there.  I waited irresolutelyI knewneitherwhere to go nor what to do next.  She cast one quickglance atmetook a piece of music suddenly from the standandcametowards me of her own accord.

"ShallI play some of those little melodies of Mozart's which youused tolike so much?" she askedopening the music nervouslyandlookingdown at it while she spoke.

Before Icould thank her she hastened to the piano.  The chairnear itwhich I had always been accustomed to occupystoodempty. She struck a few chordsthen glanced round at methenlookedback again at her music.

"Won'tyou take your old place?" she saidspeaking very abruptlyand invery low tones.

"Imay take it on the last night" I answered.

She didnot replyshe kept her attention riveted on the musicmusicwhich she knew by memorywhich she had played over and overagaininformer timeswithout the book.  I only knew that shehad heardmeI only knew that she was aware of my being close toherbyseeing the red spot on the cheek that was nearest to mefade outand the face grow pale all over.

"I amvery sorry you are going" she saidher voice almostsinking toa whisperher eyes looking more and more intently atthe musicher fingers flying over the keys of the piano with astrangefeverish energy which I had never noticed in her before.

"Ishall remember those kind wordsMiss Fairlielong after to-morrow hascome and gone."

Thepaleness grew whiter on her faceand she turned it fartheraway fromme.

"Don'tspeak of to-morrow" she said.  "Let the music speakto usofto-nightin a happier language than ours."

Her lipstrembleda faint sigh fluttered from themwhich shetriedvainly to suppress.  Her fingers wavered on the pianoshestruck afalse noteconfused herself in trying to set it rightanddropped her hands angrily on her lap.  Miss Halcombe and Mr.Gilmorelooked up in astonishment from the card-table at whichthey wereplaying.  Even Mrs. Veseydozing in her chairwoke atthe suddencessation of the musicand inquired what had happened.

"Youplay at whistMr. Hartright?" asked Miss Halcombewith hereyesdirected significantly at the place I occupied.

I knewwhat she meantI knew she was rightand I rose at once togo to thecard-table.  As I left the piano Miss Fairlie turned apage ofthe musicand touched the keys again with a surer hand.

"IWILL play it" she saidstriking the notes almostpassionately. "I WILL play it on the last night."

"ComeMrs. Vesey" said Miss Halcombe"Mr. Gilmore and I aretired ofecartecome and be Mr. Hartright's partner at whist."

The oldlawyer smiled satirically.  His had been the winning handand he hadjust turned up a king.  He evidently attributed MissHalcombe'sabrupt change in the card-table arrangements to alady'sinability to play the losing game.

The restof the evening passed without a word or a look from her.She kepther place at the pianoand I kept mine at the card-table. She played unintermittinglyplayed as if the music washer onlyrefuge from herself.  Sometimes her fingers touched thenotes witha lingering fondnessa softplaintivedyingtendernessunutterably beautiful and mournful to hear; sometimestheyfaltered and failed heror hurried over the instrumentmechanicallyas if their task was a burden to them.  But stillchange andwaver as they might in the expression they imparted tothe musictheir resolution to play never faltered.  She only rosefrom thepiano when we all rose to say Good-night.

Mrs. Veseywas the nearest to the doorand the first to shakehands withme.

"Ishall not see you againMr. Hartright" said the old lady. "Iam trulysorry you are going away.  You have been very kind andattentiveand an old woman like me feels kindness and attention.I wish youhappysirI wish you a kind good-bye."

Mr.Gilmore came next.

"Ihope we shall have a future opportunity of bettering ouracquaintanceMr. Hartright.  You quite understand about thatlittlematter of business being safe in my hands? Yesyesofcourse. Bless mehow cold it is! Don't let me keep you at thedoor. Bon voyagemy dear sirbon voyageas the French say."

MissHalcombe followed.

"Half-pastseven to-morrow morning" she saidthen added in awhisper"I have heard and seen more than you think.  Your conductto-nighthas made me your friend for life."

MissFairlie came last.  I could not trust myself to look at herwhen Itook her handand when I thought of the next morning.

"Mydeparture must be a very early one" I said.  "I shallbegoneMissFairliebefore you"

"Nono" she interposed hastily"not before I am out of myroom.I shall bedown to breakfast with Marian.  I am not so ungratefulnot soforgetful of the past three months"

Her voicefailed herher hand closed gently round minethendropped itsuddenly.  Before I could say "Good-night" she wasgone.

 

The endcomes fast to meet mecomes inevitablyas the light ofthe lastmorning came at Limmeridge House.

It wasbarely half-past seven when I went downstairsbut I foundthem bothat the breakfast-table waiting for me.  In the chillairinthe dim lightin the gloomy morning silence of the housewe threesat down togetherand tried to eattried to talk.  Thestruggleto preserve appearances was hopeless and uselessand Irose toend it.

As I heldout my handas Miss Halcombewho was nearest to metook itMiss Fairlie turned away suddenly and hurried from theroom.

"Betterso" said Miss Halcombewhen the door had closed"bettersoforyou and for her."

I waited amoment before I could speakit was hard to lose herwithout aparting word or a parting look.  I controlled myselfItried totake leave of Miss Halcombe in fitting terms; but all thefarewellwords I would fain have spoken dwindled to one sentence.

"HaveI deserved that you should write to me?" was all I couldsay.

"Youhave nobly deserved everything that I can do for youas longas we bothlive.  Whatever the end is you shall know it."

"Andif I can ever be of help againat any future timelongafter thememory of my presumption and my folly is forgotten "

I couldadd no more.  My voice falteredmy eyes moistened inspite ofme.

She caughtme by both handsshe pressed them with the strongsteadygrasp of a manher dark eyes glitteredher browncomplexionflushed deepthe force and energy of her face glowedand grewbeautiful with the pure inner light of her generosity andher pity.

"Iwill trust youif ever the time comes I will trust you as myfriend andHER friendas my brother and HER brother." Shestoppeddrew me nearer to herthe fearlessnoble creaturetouched myforeheadsister-likewith her lipsand called me bymyChristian name.  "God bless youWalter!" she said. "Wait herealone andcompose yourselfI had better not stay for both oursakesI hadbetter see you go from the balcony upstairs."

She leftthe room.  I turned away towards the windowwherenothingfaced me but the lonely autumn landscapeI turned away tomastermyselfbefore I too left the room in my turnand left itfor ever.

A minutepassedit could hardly have been morewhen I heard thedoor openagain softlyand the rustling of a woman's dress on thecarpetmoved towards me.  My heart beat violently as I turnedround. Miss Fairlie was approaching me from the farther end ofthe room.

Shestopped and hesitated when our eyes metand when she saw thatwe werealone.  Thenwith that courage which women lose so oftenin thesmall emergencyand so seldom in the greatshe came onnearer tomestrangely pale and strangely quietdrawing one handafter heralong the table by which she walkedand holdingsomethingat her side in the otherwhich was hidden by the foldsof herdress.

"Ionly went into the drawing-room" she said"to look forthis.It mayremind you of your visit hereand of the friends you leavebehindyou.  You told me I had improved very much when I did itand Ithought you might like"

She turnedher head awayand offered me a little sketchdrawnthroughoutby her own pencilof the summer-house in which we hadfirstmet.  The paper trembled in her hand as she held it out tometrembledin mine as I took it from her.

I wasafraid to say what I feltI only answered"It shall neverleavemeall my life long it shall be the treasure that I prizemost. I am very grateful for itvery grateful to youfor notletting mego away without bidding you good-bye."

"Oh!"she said innocently"how could I let you goafter we havepassed somany happy days together!"

"Thosedays may never returnMiss Fairliemy way of life andyours arevery far apart.  But if a time should comewhen thedevotionof my whole heart and soul and strength will give you amoment'shappinessor spare you a moment's sorrowwill you trytoremember the poor drawing-master who has taught you? MissHalcombehas promised to trust mewill you promise too?"

Thefarewell sadness in the kind blue eyes shone dimly through hergatheringtears.

"Ipromise it" she said in broken tones.  "Ohdon'tlook at melike that!I promise it with all my heart."

I ventureda little nearer to herand held out my hand.

"Youhave many friends who love youMiss Fairlie.  Your happyfuture isthe dear object of many hopes.  May I sayat partingthat it isthe dear object of MY hopes too?"

The tearsflowed fast down her cheeks.  She rested one tremblinghand onthe table to steady herself while she gave me the other.I took itin mineI held it fast.  My head drooped over itmytears fellon itmy lips pressed itnot in love; ohnot inloveatthat last momentbut in the agony and the self-abandonmentof despair.

"ForGod's sakeleave me!" she said faintly.

Theconfession of her heart's secret burst from her in thosepleadingwords.  I had no right to hear themno right to answerthemtheywere the words that banished mein the name of hersacredweaknessfrom the room.  It was all over.  I dropped herhandIsaid no more.  The blinding tears shut her out from myeyesandI dashed them away to look at her for the last time.One lookas she sank into a chairas her arms fell on the tableas herfair head dropped on them wearily.  One farewell lookandthe doorhad closed upon herthe great gulf of separation hadopenedbetween usthe image of Laura Fairlie was a memory of thepastalready.

 

The End ofHartright's Narrative.

 

 

THE STORYCONTINUED BY VINCENT GILMORE(ofChancery LaneSolicitor)

 

I

 

I writethese lines at the request of my friendMr. WalterHartright. They are intended to convey a description of certaineventswhich seriously affected Miss Fairlie's interestsandwhich tookplace after the period of Mr. Hartright's departurefromLimmeridge House.

There isno need for me to say whether my own opinion does or doesnotsanction the disclosure of the remarkable family storyofwhich mynarrative forms an important component part.  Mr.Hartrighthas taken that responsibility on himselfandcircumstancesyet to be related will show that he has amply earnedthe rightto do soif he chooses to exercise it.  The plan he hasadoptedfor presenting the story to othersin the most truthfuland mostvivid mannerrequires that it should be toldat eachsuccessivestage in the march of eventsby the persons who weredirectlyconcerned in those events at the time of theiroccurrence. My appearance hereas narratoris the necessaryconsequenceof this arrangement.  I was present during the sojournof SirPercival Glyde in Cumberlandand was personally concernedin oneimportant result of his short residence under Mr. Fairlie'sroof. It is my dutythereforeto add these new links to thechain ofeventsand to take up the chain itself at the pointwhereforthe present only Mr. Hartright has dropped it.

 

I arrivedat Limmeridge House on Friday the second of November.

My objectwas to remain at Mr. Fairlie's until the arrival of SirPercivalGlyde.  If that event led to the appointment of any givenday forSir Percival's union with Miss FairlieI was to take thenecessaryinstructions back with me to Londonand to occupymyself indrawing the lady's marriage-settlement.

On theFriday I was not favoured by Mr. Fairlie with an interview.He hadbeenor had fancied himself to bean invalid for yearspastandhe was not well enough to receive me.  Miss Halcombe wasthe firstmember of the family whom I saw.  She met me at thehousedoorand introduced me to Mr. Hartrightwho had beenstaying atLimmeridge for some time past.

I did notsee Miss Fairlie until later in the dayat dinner-time.She wasnot looking welland I was sorry to observe it.  She is asweetlovable girlas amiable and attentive to every one abouther as herexcellent mother used to bethoughpersonallyspeakingshe takes after her father.  Mrs. Fairlie had dark eyesand hairand her elder daughterMiss Halcombestrongly remindsme ofher.  Miss Fairlie played to us in the eveningnot so wellas usualI thought.  We had a rubber at whista mereprofanationso far as play was concernedof that noble game.  Ihad beenfavourably impressed by Mr. Hartright on our firstintroductionto one anotherbut I soon discovered that he was notfree fromthe social failings incidental to his age.  There arethreethings that none of the young men of the present generationcan do. They can't sit over their winethey can't play at whistand theycan't pay a lady a compliment.  Mr. Hartright was noexceptionto the general rule.  Otherwiseeven in those earlydays andon that short acquaintancehe struck me as being amodest andgentlemanlike young man.

So theFriday passed.  I say nothing about the more seriousmatterswhich engaged my attention on that daythe anonymousletter toMiss Fairliethe measures I thought it right to adoptwhen thematter was mentioned to meand the conviction Ientertainedthat every possible explanation of the circumstanceswould bereadily afforded by Sir Percival Glydehaving all beenfullynoticedas I understandin the narrative which precedesthis.

On theSaturday Mr. Hartright had left before I got down tobreakfast. Miss Fairlie kept her room all dayand Miss Halcombeappearedto me to be out of spirits.  The house was not what itused to bein the time of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Fairlie.  I took awalk bymyself in the forenoonand looked about at some of theplaceswhich I first saw when I was staying at Limmeridge totransactfamily businessmore than thirty years since.  They werenot whatthey used to be either.

At twoo'clock Mr. Fairlie sent to say he was well enough to seeme. HE had not alteredat any ratesince I first knew him.  Histalk wasto the same purpose as usualall about himself and hisailmentshis wonderful coinsand his matchless Rembrandtetchings. The moment I tried to speak of the business that hadbrought meto his househe shut his eyes and said I "upset" him.Ipersisted in upsetting him by returning again and again to thesubject. All I could ascertain was that he looked on his niece'smarriageas a settled thingthat her father had sanctioned itthat hesanctioned it himselfthat it was a desirable marriageand thathe should be personally rejoiced when the worry of it wasover. As to the settlementsif I would consult his nieceandafterwardsdive as deeply as I pleased into my own knowledge ofthe familyaffairsand get everything readyand limit his sharein thebusinessas guardianto saying Yesat the right momentwhyofcourse he would meet my viewsand everybody else's viewswithinfinite pleasure.  In the meantimethere I saw himahelplesssuffererconfined to his room.  Did I think he looked asif hewanted teasing? No.  Then why tease him?

I mightperhapshave been a little astonished at thisextraordinaryabsence of all self-assertion on Mr. Fairlie's partin thecharacter of guardianif my knowledge of the familyaffairshad not been sufficient to remind me that he was a singlemanandthat he had nothing more than a life-interest in theLimmeridgeproperty.  As matters stoodthereforeI was neithersurprisednor disappointed at the result of the interview.  Mr.Fairliehad simply justified my expectationsand there was an endof it.

Sunday wasa dull dayout of doors and in.  A letter arrived forme fromSir Percival Glyde's solicitoracknowledging the receiptof my copyof the anonymous letter and my accompanying statementof thecase.  Miss Fairlie joined us in the afternoonlookingpale anddepressedand altogether unlike herself.  I had sometalk withherand ventured on a delicate allusion to SirPercival. She listened and said nothing.  All other subjects shepursuedwillinglybut this subject she allowed to drop.  I beganto doubtwhether she might not be repenting of her engagementjust asyoung ladies often dowhen repentance comes too late.

On MondaySir Percival Glyde arrived.

I foundhim to be a most prepossessing manso far as manners andappearancewere concerned.  He looked rather older than I hadexpectedhis head being bald over the foreheadand his facesomewhatmarked and wornbut his movements were as active and hisspirits ashigh as a young man's.  His meeting with Miss Halcombewasdelightfully hearty and unaffectedand his reception of meupon mybeing presented to himwas so easy and pleasant that wegot ontogether like old friends.  Miss Fairlie was not with uswhen hearrivedbut she entered the room about ten minutesafterwards. Sir Percival rose and paid his compliments withperfectgrace.  His evident concern on seeing the change for theworse inthe young lady's looks was expressed with a mixture oftendernessand respectwith an unassuming delicacy of tonevoiceandmannerwhich did equal credit to his good breeding andhis goodsense.  I was rather surprisedunder thesecircumstancesto see that Miss Fairlie continued to beconstrainedand uneasy in his presenceand that she took thefirstopportunity of leaving the room again.  Sir Percival neithernoticedthe restraint in her reception of himnor her suddenwithdrawalfrom our society.  He had not obtruded his attentionson herwhile she was presentand he did not embarrass MissHalcombeby any allusion to her departure when she was gone.  Histact andtaste were never at fault on this or on any otheroccasionwhile I was in his company at Limmeridge House.

As soon asMiss Fairlie had left the room he spared us allembarrassmenton the subject of the anonymous letterby advertingto it ofhis own accord.  He had stopped in London on his way fromHampshirehad seen his solicitorhad read the documentsforwardedby meand had travelled on to Cumberlandanxious tosatisfyour minds by the speediest and the fullest explanationthat wordscould convey.  On hearing him express himself to thiseffectIoffered him the original letterwhich I had kept forhisinspection.  He thanked meand declined to look at itsayingthat hehad seen the copyand that he was quite willing to leavetheoriginal in our hands.

Thestatement itselfon which he immediately enteredwas assimple andsatisfactory as I had all along anticipated it wouldbe.

Mrs.Catherickhe informed ushad in past years laid him undersomeobligations for faithful services rendered to his familyconnectionsand to himself.  She had been doubly unfortunate inbeingmarried to a husband who had deserted herand in having anonly childwhose mental faculties had been in a disturbedconditionfrom a very early age.  Although her marriage hadremovedher to a part of Hampshire far distant from theneighbourhoodin which Sir Percival's property was situatedhehad takencare not to lose sight of herhis friendly feelingtowardsthe poor womanin consideration of her past serviceshavingbeen greatly strengthened by his admiration of the patienceandcourage with which she supported her calamities.  In course oftime thesymptoms of mental affliction in her unhappy daughterincreasedto such a serious extentas to make it a matter ofnecessityto place her under proper medical care.  Mrs. Catherickherselfrecognised this necessitybut she also felt the prejudicecommon topersons occupying her respectable stationagainstallowingher child to be admittedas a pauperinto a publicAsylum. Sir Percival had respected this prejudiceas herespectedhonest independence of feeling in any rank of lifeandhadresolved to mark his grateful sense of Mrs. Catherick's earlyattachmentto the interests of himself and his familybydefrayingthe expense of her daughter's maintenance in atrustworthyprivate Asylum.  To her mother's regretand to hisownregretthe unfortunate creature had discovered the sharewhichcircumstances had induced him to take in placing her underrestraintand had conceived the most intense hatred and distrustof him inconsequence.  To that hatred and distrustwhich hadexpresseditself in various ways in the Asylumthe anonymousletterwritten after her escapewas plainly attributable.  IfMissHalcombe's or Mr. Gilmore's recollection of the document didnotconfirm that viewor if they wished for any additionalparticularsabout the Asylum (the address of which he mentionedas well asthe names and addresses of the two doctors on whosecertificatesthe patient was admitted)he was ready to answer anyquestionand to clear up any uncertainty.  He had done his duty totheunhappy young womanby instructing his solicitor to spare noexpense intracing herand in restoring her once more to medicalcareandhe was now only anxious to do his duty towards MissFairlieand towards her familyin the same plainstraightforwardway.
I was thefirst to speak in answer to this appeal.  My own coursewas plainto me.  It is the great beauty of the Law that it candisputeany human statementmade under any circumstancesandreduced toany form.  If I had felt professionally called upon toset up acase against Sir Percival Glydeon the strength of hisownexplanationI could have done so beyond all doubt.  But myduty didnot lie in this directionmy function was of the purelyjudicialkind.  I was to weigh the explanation we had just heardto allowall due force to the high reputation of the gentleman whooffereditand to decide honestly whether the probabilitiesonSirPercival's own showingwere plainly with himor plainlyagainsthim.  My own conviction was that they were plainly withhimand Iaccordingly declared that his explanation wasto mymindunquestionably a satisfactory one.

MissHalcombeafter looking at me very earnestlysaid a fewwordsonher sideto the same effectwith a certain hesitationof mannerhoweverwhich the circumstances did not seem to me towarrant. I am unable to saypositivelywhether Sir Percivalnoticedthis or not.  My opinion is that he didseeing that hepointedlyresumed the subjectalthough he might nowwith allproprietyhave allowed it to drop.

"Ifmy plain statement of facts had only been addressed to Mr.Gilmore"he said"I should consider any further reference tothisunhappy matter as unnecessary.  I may fairly expect Mr.Gilmoreas a gentlemanto believe me on my wordand when he hasdone methat justiceall discussion of the subject between us hascome to anend.  But my position with a lady is not the same.  Iowe toherwhat I would concede to no man alivea PROOF of thetruth ofmy assertion.  You cannot ask for that proofMissHalcombeand it is therefore my duty to youand still more toMissFairlieto offer it.  May I beg that you will write at onceto themother of this unfortunate womanto Mrs. Catherickto askfor hertestimony in support of the explanation which I have justoffered toyou."

I saw MissHalcombe change colourand look a little uneasy.  SirPercival'ssuggestionpolitely as it was expressedappeared toheras itappeared to meto point very delicately at thehesitationwhich her manner had betrayed a moment or two since.

"IhopeSir Percivalyou don't do me the injustice to supposethat Idistrust you" she said quickly.

"CertainlynotMiss Halcombe.  I make my proposal purely as anact ofattention to YOU.  Will you excuse my obstinacy if I stillventure topress it?"

He walkedto the writing-table as he spokedrew a chair to itand openedthe paper case.

"Letme beg you to write the note" he said"as a favour to ME.It neednot occupy you more than a few minutes.  You have only toask Mrs.Catherick two questions.  Firstif her daughter wasplaced inthe Asylum with her knowledge and approval.  Secondlyif theshare I took in the matter was such as to merit theexpressionof her gratitude towards myself? Mr. Gilmore's mind isat ease onthis unpleasant subjectand your mind is at easeprayset mymind at ease also by writing the note."

"Youoblige me to grant your requestSir Percivalwhen I wouldmuchrather refuse it."

With thosewords Miss Halcombe rose from her place and went to thewriting-table. Sir Percival thanked herhanded her a penandthenwalked away towards the fireplace.  Miss Fairlie's littleItaliangreyhound was lying on the rug.  He held out his handandcalled tothe dog good-humouredly.

"ComeNina" he said"we remember each otherdon't we?"

The littlebeastcowardly and cross-grainedas pet-dogs usuallyarelooked up at him sharplyshrank away from his outstretchedhandwhinedshiveredand hid itself under a sofa.  It wasscarcelypossible that he could have been put out by such a trifleas a dog'sreception of himbut I observedneverthelessthat hewalkedaway towards the window very suddenly.  Perhaps his temperisirritable at times.  If soI can sympathise with him.  Mytemper isirritable at times too.

MissHalcombe was not long in writing the note.  When it was doneshe rosefrom the writing-tableand handed the open sheet ofpaper toSir Percival.  He bowedtook it from herfolded it upimmediatelywithout looking at the contentssealed itwrote theaddressand handed it back to her in silence.  I never sawanythingmore gracefully and more becomingly done in my life.

"Youinsist on my posting this letterSir Percival?" said MissHalcombe.

"Ibeg you will post it" he answered.  "And now that itiswrittenand sealed upallow me to ask one or two last questionsabout theunhappy woman to whom it refers.  I have read thecommunicationwhich Mr. Gilmore kindly addressed to my solicitordescribingthe circumstances under which the writer of theanonymousletter was identified.  But there are certain points towhich thatstatement does not refer.  Did Anne Catherick see MissFairlie?"

"Certainlynot" replied Miss Halcombe.

"Didshe see you?"

"No."

"Shesaw nobody from the house thenexcept a certain Mr.Hartrightwho accidentally met with her in the churchyard here?"

"Nobodyelse."

"Mr.Hartright was employed at Limmeridge as a drawing-masterIbelieve?Is he a member of one of the Water-Colour Societies?"

"Ibelieve he is" answered Miss Halcombe.

He pausedfor a momentas if he was thinking over the lastanswerand then added

"Didyou find out where Anne Catherick was livingwhen she was inthisneighbourhood?"

"Yes. At a farm on the moorcalled Todd's Corner."

"Itis a duty we all owe to the poor creature herself to traceher"continued Sir Percival.  "She may have said something atTodd'sCorner which may help us to find her.  I will go there andmakeinquiries on the chance.  In the meantimeas I cannotprevail onmyself to discuss this painful subject with MissFairliemay I begMiss Halcombethat you will kindly undertaketo giveher the necessary explanationdeferring it of courseuntil youhave received the reply to that note."

MissHalcombe promised to comp]y with his request.  He thankedhernodded pleasantlyand left usto go and establish himselfin his ownroom.  As he opened the door the cross-grainedgreyhoundpoked out her sharp muzzle from under the sofaandbarked andsnapped at him.

"Agood morning's workMiss Halcombe" I saidas soon as we werealone. "Here is an anxious day well ended already."

"Yes"she answered; "no doubt.  I am very glad your mind issatisfied."

"Mymind! Surelywith that note in your handyour mind is atease too?"

"Ohyeshow can it be otherwise? I know the thing could not be"she wentonspeaking more to herself than to me; "but I almostwishWalter Hartright had stayed here long enough to be present attheexplanationand to hear the proposal to me to write thisnote."

I was alittle surprisedperhaps a little piqued alsoby theselastwords.

"Eventsit is trueconnected Mr. Hartright very remarkably withthe affairof the letter" I said; "and I readily admit that heconductedhimselfall things consideredwith great delicacy anddiscretion. But I am quite at a loss to understand what usefulinfluencehis presence could have exercised in relation to theeffect ofSir Percival's statement on your mind or mine."

"Itwas only a fancy" she said absently.  "There is noneed todiscussitMr. Gilmore.  Your experience ought to beand isthebest guideI can desire."

I did notaltogether like her thrusting the whole responsibilityin thismarked manneron my shoulders.  If Mr. Fairlie had doneitIshould not have been surprised.  But resoluteclear-mindedMissHalcombe was the very last person in the world whom I shouldhaveexpected to find shrinking from the expression of an opinionof herown.

"Ifany doubts still trouble you" I said"why not mentionthemto me atonce? Tell me plainlyhave you any reason to distrustSirPercival Glyde?"

"Nonewhatever."

"Doyou see anything improbableor contradictoryin hisexplanation?"

"Howcan I say I doafter the proof he has offered me of thetruth ofit? Can there be better testimony in his favourMr.Gilmorethan the testimony of the woman's mother?"

"Nonebetter.  If the answer to your note of inquiry proves to besatisfactoryI for one cannot see what more any friend of SirPercival'scan possibly expect from him."

"Thenwe will post the note" she saidrising to leave the room"anddismiss all further reference to the subject until the answerarrives. Don't attach any weight to my hesitation.  I can give nobetterreason for it than that I have been over-anxious aboutLauralatelyand anxietyMr. Gilmoreunsettles the strongest ofus."

She leftme abruptlyher naturally firm voice faltering as shespokethose last words.  A sensitivevehementpassionate naturea woman often thousand in these trivialsuperficial times.  Ihad knownher from her earliest yearsI had seen her testedasshe grewupin more than one trying family crisisand my longexperiencemade me attach an importance to her hesitation underthecircumstances here detailedwhich I should certainly not havefelt inthe case of another woman.  I could see no cause for anyuneasinessor any doubtbut she had made me a little uneasyanda littledoubtfulnevertheless.  In my youthI should havechafed andfretted under the irritation of my own unreasonablestate ofmind.  In my ageI knew betterand went outphilosophicallyto walk it off.

 

II

 

We all metagain at dinner-time.

SirPercival was in such boisterous high spirits that I hardlyrecognisedhim as the same man whose quiet tactrefinementandgood sensehad impressed me so strongly at the interview of themorning. The only trace of his former self that I could detectreappearedevery now and thenin his manner towards MissFairlie. A look or a word from her suspended his loudest laughcheckedhis gayest flow of talkand rendered him all attention toherandto no one else at tablein an instant.  Although heneveropenly tried to draw her into the conversationhe neverlost theslightest chance she gave him of letting her drift intoit byaccidentand of saying the words to herunder thosefavourablecircumstanceswhich a man with less tact and delicacywould havepointedly addressed to her the moment they occurred tohim. Rather to my surpriseMiss Fairlie appeared to be sensibleof hisattentions without being moved by them.  She was a littleconfusedfrom time to time when he looked at heror spoke to her;but shenever warmed towards him.  Rankfortunegood breedinggoodlooksthe respect of a gentlemanand the devotion of alover wereall humbly placed at her feetandso far asappearanceswentwere all offered in vain.

On thenext daythe TuesdaySir Percival went in the morning(takingone of the servants with him as a guide) to Todd's Corner.Hisinquiriesas I afterwards heardled to no results.  On hisreturn hehad an interview with Mr. Fairlieand in the afternoonhe andMiss Halcombe rode out together.  Nothing else happenedworthy ofrecord.  The evening passed as usual.  There was nochange inSir Percivaland no change in Miss Fairlie.

TheWednesday's post brought with it an eventthe reply from Mrs.Catherick. I took a copy of the documentwhich I have preservedand whichI may as well present in this place.  It ran as follows

 

"MADAMIbeg to acknowledge the receipt of your letterinquiringwhether my daughterAnnewas placed under medicalsuperintendencewith my knowledge and approvaland whether thesharetaken in the matter by Sir Percival Glyde was such as tomerit theexpression of my gratitude towards that gentleman.  Bepleased toaccept my answer in the affirmative to both thosequestionsand believe me to remainyour obedient servant

                           "JANE ANNE CATHERICK."

 

Shortsharpand to the point; in form rather a business-likeletter fora woman to writein substance as plain a confirmationas couldbe desired of Sir Percival Glyde's statement.  This wasmyopinionand with certain minor reservationsMiss Halcombe'sopinionalso.  Sir Percivalwhen the letter was shown to himdidnot appearto be struck by the sharpshort tone of it.  He toldus thatMrs. Catherick was a woman of few wordsa clear-headedstraightforwardunimaginative personwho wrote briefly andplainlyjust as she spoke.

The nextduty to be accomplishednow that the answer had beenreceivedwas to acquaint Miss Fairlie with Sir Percival'sexplanation. Miss Halcombe had undertaken to do thisand hadleft theroom to go to her sisterwhen she suddenly returnedagainandsat down by the easy-chair in which I was reading thenewspaper. Sir Percival had gone out a minute before to look atthestablesand no one was in the room but ourselves.

"Isuppose we have really and truly done all we can?" she saidturningand twisting Mrs. Catherick's letter in her hand.

"Ifwe are friends of Sir Percival'swho know him and trust himwe havedone alland more than allthat is necessary" Ianswereda little annoyed by this return of her hesitation.  "Butif we areenemies who suspect him"

"Thatalternative is not even to be thought of" she interposed."Weare Sir Percival's friendsand if generosity and forbearancecan add toour regard for himwe ought to be Sir Percival'sadmirersas well.  You know that he saw Mr. Fairlie yesterdayandthat heafterwards went out with me."

"Yes. I saw you riding away together."

"Webegan the ride by talking about Anne Catherickand about thesingularmanner in which Mr. Hartright met with her.  But we soondroppedthat subjectand Sir Percival spoke nextin the mostunselfishtermsof his engagement with Laura.  He said he hadobservedthat she was out of spiritsand he was willingif notinformedto the contraryto attribute to that cause thealterationin her manner towards him during his present visit.Ifhoweverthere was any more serious reason for the changehewouldentreat that no constraint might be placed on herinclinationseither by Mr. Fairlie or by me.  All he askedinthat casewas that she would recall to mindfor the last timewhat thecircumstances were under which the engagement betweenthem wasmadeand what his conduct had been from the beginning ofthecourtship to the present time.  Ifafter due reflection onthose twosubjectsshe seriously desired that he should withdrawhispretensions to the honour of becoming her husbandand if shewould tellhim so plainly with her own lipshe would sacrificehimself byleaving her perfectly free to withdraw from theengagement."

"Noman could say more than thatMiss Halcombe.  As to myexperiencefew men in his situation would have said as much."

She pausedafter I had spoken those wordsand looked at me with asingularexpression of perplexity and distress.

"Iaccuse nobodyand I suspect nothing" she broke out abruptly."ButI cannot and will not accept the responsibility of persuadingLaura tothis marriage."

"Thatis exactly the course which Sir Percival Glyde has himselfrequestedyou to take" I replied in astonishment.  "He hasbeggedyou not toforce her inclinations."

"Andhe indirectly obliges me to force themif I give her hismessage."

"Howcan that possibly be?"

"Consultyour own knowledge of LauraMr. Gilmore.  If I tell herto reflecton the circumstances of her engagementI at onceappeal totwo of the strongest feelings in her natureto her lovefor herfather's memoryand to her strict regard for truth.  Youknow thatshe never broke a promise in her lifeyou know that sheentered onthis engagement at the beginning of her father's fatalillnessand that he spoke hopefully and happily of her marriageto SirPercival Glyde on his deathbed."

I own thatI was a little shocked at this view of the case.

"Surely"I said"you don't mean to infer that when Sir Percivalspoke toyou yesterday he speculated on such a result as you havejustmentioned?"

Her frankfearless face answered for her before she spoke.

"Doyou think I would remain an instant in the company of any manwhom Isuspected of such baseness as that?" she asked angrily.

I liked tofeel her hearty indignation flash out on me in thatway. We see so much malice and so little indignation in myprofession.

"Inthat case" I said"excuse me if I tell youin our legalphrasethat you are travelling out of the record.  Whatever theconsequencesmay beSir Percival has a right to expect that yoursistershould carefully consider her engagement from everyreasonablepoint of view before she claims her release from it.If thatunlucky letter has prejudiced her against himgo at onceand tellher that he has cleared himself in your eyes and in mine.Whatobjection can she urge against him after that? What excusecan shepossibly have for changing her mind about a man whom shehadvirtually accepted for her husband more than two years ago?"

"Inthe eyes of law and reasonMr. Gilmoreno excuseI daresay.If shestill hesitatesand if I still hesitateyou mustattributeour strange conductif you liketo caprice in bothcasesandwe must bear the imputation as well as we can."

With thosewords she suddenly rose and left me.  When a sensiblewoman hasa serious question put to herand evades it by aflippantanswerit is a sure signin ninety-nine cases out of ahundredthat she has something to conceal.  I returned to theperusal ofthe newspaperstrongly suspecting that Miss Halcombeand MissFairlie had a secret between them which they were keepingfrom SirPercivaland keeping from me.  I thought this hard onboth ofusespecially on Sir Percival.

Mydoubtsor to speak more correctlymy convictionswereconfirmedby Miss Halcombe's language and manner when I saw heragainlater in the day.  She was suspiciously brief and reservedin tellingme the result of her interview with her sister.  MissFairlieit appearedhad listened quietly while the affair of theletter wasplaced before her in the right point of viewbut whenMissHalcombe next proceeded to say that the object of SirPercival'svisit at Limmeridge was to prevail on her to let a daybe fixedfor the marriage she checked all further reference to thesubject bybegging for time.  If Sir Percival would consent tospare herfor the presentshe would undertake to give him hisfinalanswer before the end of the year.  She pleaded for thisdelay withsuch anxiety and agitationthat Miss Halcombe hadpromisedto use her influenceif necessaryto obtain itandthereatMiss Fairlie's earnest entreatyall further discussionof themarriage question had ended.

The purelytemporary arrangement thus proposed might have beenconvenientenough to the young ladybut it proved somewhatembarrassingto the writer of these lines.  That morning's posthadbrought a letter from my partnerwhich obliged me to returnto townthe next day by the afternoon train.  It was extremelyprobablethat I should find no second opportunity of presentingmyself atLimmeridge House during the remainder of the year.  Inthat casesupposing Miss Fairlie ultimately decided on holding toherengagementmy necessary personal communication with herbefore Idrew her settlementwould become something like adownrightimpossibilityand we should be obliged to commit towritingquestions which ought always to be discussed on both sidesby word ofmouth.  I said nothing about this difficulty until SirPercivalhad been consulted on the subject of the desired delay.He was toogallant a gentleman not to grant the requestimmediately. When Miss Halcombe informed me of this I told herthat Imust absolutely speak to her sister before I leftLimmeridgeand it wasthereforearranged that I should see MissFairlie inher own sitting-room the next morning.  She did notcome downto dinneror join us in the evening.  Indisposition wastheexcuseand I thought Sir Percival lookedas well he mightalittleannoyed when he heard of it.

The nextmorningas soon as breakfast was overI went up to MissFairlie'ssitting-room.  The poor girl looked so pale and sadandcameforward to welcome me so readily and prettilythat theresolutionto lecture her on her caprice and indecisionwhich Ihad beenforming all the way upstairsfailed me on the spot.  Iled herback to the chair from which she had risenand placedmyselfopposite to her.  Her cross-grained pet greyhound was inthe roomand I fully expected a barking and snapping reception.Strange tosaythe whimsical little brute falsified myexpectationsby jumping into my lap and poking its sharp muzzlefamiliarlyinto my hand the moment I sat down.

"Youused often to sit on my knee when you were a child.  mydear"I said"and now your little dog seems determined tosucceedyou in the vacant throne.  Is that pretty drawing yourdoing?"

I pointedto a little album which lay on the table by her side andwhich shehad evidently been looking over when I came in.  Thepage thatlay open had a small water-colour landscape very neatlymounted onit.  This was the drawing which had suggested myquestionanidle question enoughbut how could I begin to talkofbusiness to her the moment I opened my lips?

"No"she saidlooking away from the drawing rather confusedly"itis not my doing."

Herfingers had a restless habitwhich I remembered in her as achildofalways playing with the first thing that came to handwheneverany one was talking to her.  On this occasion theywanderedto the albumand toyed absently about the margin of thelittlewater-colour drawing.  The expression of melancholydeepenedon her face.  She did not look at the drawingor look atme. Her eyes moved uneasily from object to object in the roombetrayingplainly that she suspected what my purpose was in comingto speakto her.  Seeing thatI thought it best to get to thepurposewith as little delay as possible.

"Oneof the errandsmy dearwhich brings me here is to bid yougood-bye"I began.  "I must get back to London to-day: andbefore IleaveI want to have a word with you on the subject ofyour ownaffairs."

"I amvery sorry you are goingMr. Gilmore" she saidlooking atmekindly.  "It is like the happy old times to have you here.

"Ihope I may be able to come back and recall those pleasantmemoriesonce more" I continued; "but as there is someuncertaintyabout the futureI must take my opportunity when Ican getitand speak to you now.  I am your old lawyer and youroldfriendand I may remind youI am surewithout offenceofthepossibility of your marrying Sir Percival Glyde."

She tookher hand off the little album as suddenly as if it hadturned hotand burnt her.  Her fingers twined together nervouslyin herlapher eyes looked down again at the floorand anexpressionof constraint settled on her face which looked almostlike anexpression of pain.

"Isit absolutely necessary to speak of my marriage engagement?"she askedin low tones.

"Itis necessary to refer to it" I answered"but not to dwellonit. Let us merely say that you may marryor that you may notmarry. In the first caseI must be preparedbeforehandto drawyoursettlementand I ought not to do that withoutas a matterofpolitenessfirst consulting you.  This may be my only chanceof hearingwhat your wishes are.  Let usthereforesuppose thecase ofyour marryingand let me inform youin as few words aspossiblewhat your position is nowand what you may make itifyoupleasein the future."

Iexplained to her the object of a marriage-settlementand thentold herexactly what her prospects werein the first placeonher comingof ageand in the second placeon the decease of herunclemarkingthe distinction between the property in which shehad alife-interest onlyand the property which was left at herowncontrol.  She listened attentivelywith the constrainedexpressionstill on her faceand her hands still nervouslyclaspedtogether in her lap.

"Andnow" I said in conclusion"tell me if you can think ofanyconditionwhichin the case we have supposedyou would wish meto makefor yousubjectof courseto your guardian's approvalas you arenot yet of age."

She moveduneasily in her chairthen looked in my face on asuddenvery earnestly.

"Ifit does happen" she began faintly"if I am"

"Ifyou are married" I addedhelping her out.

"Don'tlet him part me from Marian" she criedwith a suddenoutbreakof energy.  "OhMr. Gilmorepray make it law thatMarian isto live with me!"

Underother circumstances I mightperhapshave been amused atthisessentially feminine interpretation of my questionand ofthe longexplanation which had preceded it.  But her looks andtoneswhen she spokewere of a kind to make me more thanserioustheydistressed me.  Her wordsfew as they werebetrayed adesperate clinging to the past which boded ill for thefuture.
"Yourhaving Marian Halcombe to live with you can easily besettled byprivate arrangement" I said.  "You hardly understoodmyquestionI think.  It referred to your own propertyto thedisposalof your money.  Supposing you were to make a will whenyou comeof agewho would you like the money to go to?"

"Marianhas been mother and sister both to me" said the goodaffectionategirlher pretty blue eyes glistening while shespoke. "May I leave it to MarianMr. Gilmore?"

"Certainlymy love" I answered.  "But remember what a large sumit is. Would you like it all to go to Miss Halcombe?"

Shehesitated; her colour came and wentand her hand stole backagain tothe little album.

"Notall of it" she said.  "There is some one else besidesMarian"

Shestopped; her colour heightenedand the fingers of the handthatrested upon the album beat gently on the margin of thedrawingas if her memory had set them going mechanically with theremembranceof a favourite tune.

"Youmean some other member of the family besides Miss Halcombe?"Isuggestedseeing her at a loss to proceed.

Theheightening colour spread to her forehead and her neckandthenervous fingers suddenly clasped themselves fast round theedge ofthe book.

"Thereis some one else" she saidnot noticing my last wordsthough shehad evidently heard them; "there is some one else whomight likea little keepsake ifif I might leave it.  There wouldbe no harmif I should die first"

She pausedagain.  The colour that had spread over her cheekssuddenlyas suddenly left them.  The hand on the album resignedits holdtrembled a littleand moved the book away from her.She lookedat me for an instantthen turned her head aside in thechair. Her handkerchief fell to the floor as she changed herpositionand she hurriedly hid her face from me in her hands.

Sad! Toremember heras I didthe liveliesthappiest child thateverlaughed the day throughand to see her nowin the flower ofher ageand her beautyso broken and so brought down as this!

In thedistress that she caused me I forgot the years that hadpassedand the change they had made in our position towards oneanother. I moved my chair close to herand picked up herhandkerchieffrom the carpetand drew her hands from her facegently. "Don't crymy love" I saidand dried the tears thatweregathering in her eyes with my own handas if she had beenthe littleLaura Fairlie of ten long years ago.

It was thebest way I could have taken to compose her.  She laidher headon my shoulderand smiled faintly through her tears.

"I amvery sorry for forgetting myself" she said artlessly.  "Ihave notbeen wellI have felt sadly weak and nervous latelyandI oftencry without reason when I am alone.  I am better nowIcan answeryou as I oughtMr. GilmoreI can indeed."

"Nonomy dear" I replied"we will consider the subject asdone withfor the present.  You have said enough to sanction mytaking thebest possible care of your interestsand we can settledetails atanother opportunity.  Let us have done with businessnowandtalk of something else."

I led herat once into speaking on other topics.  In ten minutes'time shewas in better spiritsand I rose to take my leave.

"Comehere again" she said earnestly.  "I will try to beworthierof yourkind feeling for me and for my interests if you will onlycomeagain."

Stillclinging to the pastthat past which I represented to herin my wayas Miss Halcombe did in hers! It troubled me sorely tosee herlooking backat the beginning of her careerjust as Ilook backat the end of mine.

"If Ido come againI hope I shall find you better" I said;"betterand happier.  God bless youmy dear!"

She onlyanswered by putting up her cheek to me to be kissed.Evenlawyers have heartsand mine ached a little as I took leaveof her.

The wholeinterview between us had hardly lasted more than half anhourshehad not breathed a wordin my presenceto explain themystery ofher evident distress and dismay at the prospect of hermarriageand yet she had contrived to win me over to her side ofthequestionI neither knew how nor why.  I had entered the roomfeelingthat Sir Percival Glyde had fair reason to complain of themanner inwhich she was treating him.  I left itsecretly hopingthatmatters might end in her taking him at his word and claimingherrelease.  A man of my age and experience ought to have knownbetterthan to vacillate in this unreasonable manner.  I can makeno excusefor myself; I can only tell the truthand sayso itwas.

The hourfor my departure was now drawing near.  I sent to Mr.Fairlie tosay that I would wait on him to take leave if he likedbut thathe must excuse my being rather in a hurry.  He sent amessagebackwritten in pencil on a slip of paper: "Kind love andbestwishesdear Gilmore.  Hurry of any kind is inexpressiblyinjuriousto me.  Pray take care of yourself.  Good-bye."

Justbefore I left I saw Miss Halcombe for a moment alone.

"Haveyou said all you wanted to Laura?" she asked.

"Yes"I replied.  "She is very weak and nervousI am glad shehas you totake care of her."

MissHalcombe's sharp eyes studied my face attentively.

"Youare altering your opinion about Laura" she said.  "Youarereadier tomake allowances for her than you were yesterday."

Nosensible man ever engagesunpreparedin a fencing match ofwords witha woman.  I only answered

"Letme know what happens.  I will do nothing till I hear fromyou."

She stilllooked hard in my face.  "I wish it was all overandwell overMr. Gilmoreand so do you." With those words she leftme.

SirPercival most politely insisted on seeing me to the carriagedoor.

"Ifyou are ever in my neighbourhood" he said"pray don'tforgetthat I amsincerely anxious to improve our acquaintance.  Thetried andtrusted old friend of this family will be always awelcomevisitor in any house of mine."

A reallyirresistible mancourteousconsideratedelightfullyfree frompridea gentlemanevery inch of him.  As I drove awayto thestation I felt as if I could cheerfully do anything topromotethe interests of Sir Percival Glydeanything in theworldexcept drawing the marriage settlement of his wife.

 

III

 

A weekpassedafter my return to Londonwithout the receipt ofanycommunication from Miss Halcombe.

On theeighth day a letter in her handwriting was placed among theotherletters on my table.

Itannounced that Sir Percival Glyde had been definitely acceptedand thatthe marriage was to take placeas he had originallydesiredbefore the end of the year.  In all probability theceremonywould be performed during the last fortnight in December.MissFairlie's twenty-first birthday was late in March.  Shewouldthereforeby this arrangementbecome Sir Percival's wifeaboutthree months before she was of age.

I oughtnot to have been surprisedI ought not to have beensorrybutI was surprised and sorrynevertheless.  Some littledisappointmentcaused by the unsatisfactory shortness of MissHalcombe'slettermingled itself with these feelingsandcontributedits share towards upsetting my serenity for the day.In sixlines my correspondent announced the proposed marriageinthreemoreshe told me that Sir Percival had left Cumberland toreturn tohis house in Hampshireand in two concluding sentencessheinformed mefirstthat Laura was sadly in want of change andcheerfulsociety; secondlythat she had resolved to try theeffect ofsome such change forthwithby taking her sister awaywith heron a visit to certain old friends in Yorkshire.  Therethe letterendedwithout a word to explain what the circumstanceswere whichhad decided Miss Fairlie to accept Sir Percival Glydein oneshort week from the time when I had last seen her.

At a laterperiod the cause of this sudden determination was fullyexplainedto me.  It is not my business to relate it imperfectlyon hearsayevidence.  The circumstances came within the personalexperienceof Miss Halcombeand when her narrative succeeds mineshe willdescribe them in every particular exactly as theyhappened. In the meantimethe plain duty for me to performbefore Iin my turnlay down my pen and withdraw from the storyis torelate the one remaining event connected with MissFairlie'sproposed marriage in which I was concernednamelythedrawing ofthe settlement.

It isimpossible to refer intelligibly to this document withoutfirstentering into certain particulars in relation to the bride'specuniaryaffairs.  I will try to make my explanation briefly andplainlyand to keep it free from professional obscurities andtechnicalities. The matter is of the utmost importance.  I warnallreaders of these lines that Miss Fairlie's inheritance is averyserious part of Miss Fairlie's storyand that Mr. Gilmore'sexperiencein this particularmust be their experience alsoifthey wishto understand the narratives which are yet to come.

MissFairlie's expectationsthenwere of a twofold kindcomprisingher possible inheritance of real propertyor landwhen heruncle diedand her absolute inheritance of personalpropertyor moneywhen she came of age.

Let ustake the land first.

In thetime of Miss Fairlie's paternal grandfather (whom we willcall Mr.Fairliethe elder) the entailed succession to theLimmeridgeestate stood thus

Mr.Fairliethe elderdied and left three sonsPhilipFrederickand Arthur.  As eldest sonPhilip succeeded to theestateIfhe died without leaving a sonthe property went to thesecondbrotherFrederick; and if Frederick died also withoutleaving asonthe property went to the third brotherArthur.

As eventsturned outMr. Philip Fairlie died leaving an onlydaughterthe Laura of this storyand the estatein consequencewentincourse of lawto the second brotherFredericka singleman. The third brotherArthurhad died many years before thedecease ofPhilipleaving a son and a daughter.  The sonat theage ofeighteenwas drowned at Oxford.  His death left Laurathedaughterof Mr. Philip Fairliepresumptive heiress to the estatewith everychance of succeeding to itin the ordinary course ofnatureonher uncle Frederick's deathif the said Frederick diedwithoutleaving male issue.

Except inthe eventthenof Mr. Frederick Fairlie's marrying andleaving anheir (the two very last things in the world that he waslikely todo)his nieceLaurawould have the property on hisdeathpossessingit must be rememberednothing more than alife-interestin it.  If she died singleor died childlesstheestatewould revert to her cousinMagdalenthe daughter of Mr.ArthurFairlie.  If she marriedwith a proper settlementorinotherwordswith the settlement I meant to make for hertheincomefrom the estate (a good three thousand a year) wouldduring herlifetimebe at her own disposal.  If she died beforeherhusbandhe would naturally expect to be left in the enjoymentof theincomefor HIS lifetime.  If she had a sonthat son wouldbe theheirto the exclusion of her cousin Magdalen.  ThusSirPercival'sprospects in marrying Miss Fairlie (so far as hiswife'sexpectations from real property were concerned) promisedhim thesetwo advantageson Mr. Frederick Fairlie's death: Firstthe use ofthree thousand a year (by his wife's permissionwhileshe livedand in his own righton her deathif he survivedher); andsecondlythe inheritance of Limmeridge for his sonifhe hadone.

So muchfor the landed propertyand for the disposal of theincomefrom iton the occasion of Miss Fairlie's marriage.  Thusfarnodifficulty or difference of opinion on the lady'ssettlementwas at all likely to arise between Sir Percival'slawyer andmyself.

Thepersonal estateorin other wordsthe money to which MissFairliewould become entitled on reaching the age of twenty-oneyearsisthe next point to consider.

This partof her inheritance wasin itselfa comfortable littlefortune. It was derived under her father's willand it amountedto the sumof twenty thousand pounds.  Besides thisshe had alife-interestin ten thousand pounds morewhich latter amount wasto goonher deceaseto her aunt Eleanorher father's onlysister. It will greatly assist in setting the family affairsbefore thereader in the clearest possible lightif I stop herefor amomentto explain why the aunt had been kept waiting forher legacyuntil the death of the niece.

Mr. PhilipFairlie had lived on excellent terms with his sisterEleanoras long as she remained a single woman.  But when hermarriagetook placesomewhat late in lifeand when that marriageunited herto an Italian gentleman named Foscoorratherto anItaliannoblemanseeing that he rejoiced in the title of CountMr.Fairlie disapproved of her conduct so strongly that he ceasedto holdany communication with herand even went the length ofstrikingher name out of his will.  The other members of thefamily allthought this serious manifestation of resentment at hissister'smarriage more or less unreasonable.  Count Foscothoughnot a richmanwas not a penniless adventurer either.  He had asmall butsufficient income of his own.  He had lived many yearsinEnglandand he held an excellent position in society.  Theserecommendationshoweveravailed nothing with Mr. Fairlie.  Inmany ofhis opinions he was an Englishman of the old schoolandhe hated aforeigner simply and solely because he was a foreigner.The utmostthat he could be prevailed on to doin after yearsmainly atMiss Fairlie's intercessionwas to restore his sister'sname toits former place in his willbut to keep her waiting forher legacyby giving the income of the money to his daughter forlifeandthe money itselfif her aunt died before herto hercousinMagdalen.  Considering the relative ages of the two ladiesthe aunt'schancein the ordinary course of natureof receivingthe tenthousand poundswas thus rendered doubtful in theextreme;and Madame Fosco resented her brother's treatment of herasunjustly as usual in such casesby refusing to see her nieceanddeclining to believe that Miss Fairlie's intercession had everbeenexerted to restore her name to Mr. Fairlie's will.

Such wasthe history of the ten thousand pounds.  Here again nodifficultycould arise with Sir Percival's legal adviser.  Theincomewould be at the wife's disposaland the principal would goto heraunt or her cousin on her death.

Allpreliminary explanations being now cleared out of the wayIcome atlast to the real knot of the caseto the twenty thousandpounds.

This sumwas absolutely Miss Fairlie's own on her completing hertwenty-firstyearand the whole future disposition of itdependedin the first instanceon the conditions I could obtainfor her inher marriage-settlement.  The other clauses containedin thatdocument were of a formal kindand need not be recitedhere. But the clause relating to the money is too important to bepassedover.  A few lines will be sufficient to give the necessaryabstractof it.

Mystipulation in regard to the twenty thousand pounds was simplythis: Thewhole amount was to be settled so as to give the incometo thelady for her lifeafterwards to Sir Percival for his lifeand theprincipal to the children of the marriage.  In default ofissuetheprincipal was to be disposed of as the lady might byher willdirectfor which purpose I reserved to her the right ofmaking awill.  The effect of these conditions may be thus summedup. If Lady Glyde died without leaving childrenher half-sisterMissHalcombeand any other relatives or friends whom she mightbe anxiousto benefitwouldon her husband's deathdivide amongthem suchshares of her money as she desired them to have.  Ifonthe otherhandshe died leaving childrenthen their interestnaturallyand necessarilysuperseded all other interestswhatsoever. This was the clauseand no one who reads it canfailIthinkto agree with me that it meted out equal justice toallparties.

We shallsee how my proposals were met on the husband's side.

At thetime when Miss Halcombe's letter reached me I was even morebusilyoccupied than usual.  But I contrived to make leisure forthesettlement.  I had drawn itand had sent it for approval toSirPercival's solicitorin less than a week from the time whenMissHalcombe had informed me of the proposed marriage.

After alapse of two days the document was returned to mewithnotes andremarks of the baronet's lawyer.  His objectionsingeneralproved to be of the most trifling and technical kinduntil hecame to the clause relating to the twenty thousandpounds. Against this there were double lines drawn in red inkand thefollowing note was appended to them

"Notadmissible.  The PRINCIPAL to go to Sir Percival Glydeinthe eventof his surviving Lady Glydeand there being no issue."

That is tosaynot one farthing of the twenty thousand pounds wasto go toMiss Halcombeor to any other relative or friend of LadyGlyde's. The whole sumif she left no childrenwas to slip intothepockets of her husband.

The answerI wrote to this audacious proposal was as short andsharp as Icould make it.  "My dear sir.  Miss Fairlie'ssettlement. I maintain the clause to which you objectexactly asitstands.  Yours truly." The rejoinder came back in a quarterofan hour. "My dear sir.  Miss Fairlie's settlement.  I maintainthe redink to which you objectexactly as it stands.  Yourstruly."In the detestable slang of the daywe were now both "at adeadlock"and nothing was left for it but to refer to our clientson eitherside.

As mattersstoodmy clientMiss Fairlie not having yet completedhertwenty-first yearMr. Frederick Fairliewas her guardian.  Iwrote bythat day's postand put the case before him exactly asit stoodnot only urging every argument I could think of toinduce himto maintain the clause as I had drawn itbut statingto himplainly the mercenary motive which was at the bottom of theoppositionto my settlement of the twenty thousand pounds.  Theknowledgeof Sir Percival's affairs which I had necessarily gainedwhen theprovisions of the deed on HIS side were submitted in duecourse tomy examinationhad but too plainly informed me that thedebts onhis estate were enormousand that his incomethoughnominallya large onewas virtuallyfor a man in his positionnext tonothing.  The want of ready money was the practicalnecessityof Sir Percival's existenceand his lawyer's note onthe clausein the settlement was nothing but the frankly selfishexpressionof it.

Mr.Fairlie's answer reached me by return of postand proved tobewandering and irrelevant in the extreme.  Turned into plainEnglishit practically expressed itself to this effect: "WoulddearGilmore be so very obliging as not to worry his friend andclientabout such a trifle as a remote contingency? Was it likelythat ayoung woman of twenty-one would die before a man of fortyfiveanddie without children? On the other handin such amiserableworld as thiswas it possible to over-estimate thevalue ofpeace and quietness? If those two heavenly blessings wereoffered inexchange for such an earthly trifle as a remote chanceof twentythousand poundswas it not a fair bargain? Surelyyes.Then whynot make it?"

I threwthe letter away in disgust.  Just as it had fluttered tothegroundthere was a knock at my doorand Sir Percival ssolicitorMr. Merrimanwas shown in.  There are many varietiesof sharppractitioners in this worldbut I think the hardest ofall todeal with are the men who overreach you under the disguiseofinveterate good-humour.  A fatwell fedsmilingfriendly manofbusiness is of all parties to a bargain the most hopeless todealwith.  Mr. Merriman was one of this class.

"Andhow is good Mr. Gilmore?" he beganall in a glow with thewarmth ofhis own amiability.  "Glad to see yousirin suchexcellenthealth.  I was passing your doorand I thought I wouldlook in incase you might have something to say to me.  Donowpray dolet us settle this little difference of ours by word ofmouthifwe can! Have you heard from your client yet?"

"Yes. Have you heard from yours?"
"Mydeargood sir! I wish I had heard from him to any purposeIwishwithall my heartthe responsibility was off my shoulders;but he isobstinateor let me rather sayresoluteand he won'ttake itoff.  'MerrimanI leave details to you.  Do what youthinkright for my interestsand consider me as having personallywithdrawnfrom the business until it is all over.' Those were SirPercival'swords a fortnight agoand all I can get him to do nowis torepeat them.  I am not a hard manMr. Gilmoreas you know.Personallyand privatelyI do assure youI should like to spongeout thatnote of mine at this very moment.  But if Sir Percivalwon't gointo the matterif Sir Percival will blindly leave allhisinterests in my sole carewhat course can I possibly takeexcept thecourse of asserting them? My hands are bounddon't youseemydear sir?my hands are bound."

"Youmaintain your note on the clausethento the letter?" Isaid.

"Yesdeucetake it! I have no other alternative." He walked tothefireplace and warmed himselfhumming the fag end of a tune ina richconvivial bass voice.  "What does your side say?" hewenton; "nowpray tell mewhat does your side say?"

I wasashamed to tell him.  I attempted to gain timenayI didworse. My legal instincts got the better of meand I even triedtobargain.

"Twentythousand pounds is rather a large sum to be given up bythe lady'sfriends at two days' notice" I said.

"Verytrue" replied Mr. Merrimanlooking down thoughtfully athisboots.  "Properly putsirmost properly put!"

"Acompromiserecognising the interests of the lady's family aswell asthe interests of the husbandmight not perhaps havefrightenedmy client quite so much" I went on.  "Comecome!thiscontingencyresolves itself into a matter of bargaining after all.What isthe least you will take?"

"Theleast we will take" said Mr. Merriman"is nineteen-thousand-nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine-pounds-nineteen-shillings-and-elevenpence-three-farthings. Ha! ha! ha! Excuse meMr.Gilmore. I must have my little joke."

"Littleenough" I remarked.  "The joke is just worth the oddfarthingit was made for."

Mr.Merriman was delighted.  He laughed over my retort till theroom rangagain.  I was not half so good-humoured on my side; Icame backto businessand closed the interview.

"Thisis Friday" I said.  "Give us till Tuesday next forourfinalanswer."

"Byall means" replied Mr. Merriman.  "Longermy dearsirifyou like."He took up his hat to goand then addressed me again."Bythe way" he said"your clients in Cumberland have notheardanythingmore of the woman who wrote the anonymous letterhavethey?"

"Nothingmore" I answered.  "Have you found no trace of her?"

"Notyet" said my legal friend.  "But we don't despair. SirPercivalhas his suspicions that Somebody is keeping her inhidingand we are having that Somebody watched."

"Youmean the old woman who was with her in Cumberland" I said.

"Quiteanother partysir" answered Mr. Merriman.  "We don'thappen tohave laid hands on the old woman yet.  Our Somebody is aman. We have got him close under our eye here in Londonand westronglysuspect he had something to do with helping her in thefirstinstance to escape from the Asylum.  Sir Percival wanted toquestionhim at oncebut I said'No.  Questioning him will onlyput him onhis guardwatch himand wait.' We shall see whathappens. A dangerous woman to be at largeMr. Gilmore; nobodyknows whatshe may do next.  I wish you good-morningsir.  OnTuesdaynext I shall hope for the pleasure of hearing from you."He smiledamiably and went out.

My mindhad been rather absent during the latter part of theconversationwith my legal friend.  I was so anxious about thematter ofthe settlement that I had little attention to give toany othersubjectand the moment I was left alone again I beganto thinkover what my next proceeding ought to be.

In thecase of any other client I should have acted on myinstructionshowever personally distasteful to meand have givenup thepoint about the twenty thousand pounds on the spot.  But Icould notact with this business-like indifference towards MissFairlie. I had an honest feeling of affection and admiration forherIremembered gratefully that her father had been the kindestpatron andfriend to me that ever man hadI had felt towards herwhile Iwas drawing the settlement as I might have feltif I hadnot beenan old bachelortowards a daughter of my ownand I wasdeterminedto spare no personal sacrifice in her service and whereherinterests were concerned.  Writing a second time to Mr.Fairliewas not to be thought ofit would only be giving him asecondopportunity of slipping through my fingers.  Seeing him andpersonallyremonstrating with him might possibly be of more use.The nextday was Saturday.  I determined to take a return ticketand joltmy old bones down to Cumberlandon the chance ofpersuadinghim to adopt the justthe independentand thehonourablecourse.  It was a poor chance enoughno doubtbutwhen I hadtried it my conscience would be at ease.  I should thenhave doneall that a man in my position could do to serve theinterestsof my old friend's only child.

Theweather on Saturday was beautifula west wind and a brightsun. Having felt latterly a return of that fulness and oppressionof theheadagainst which my doctor warned me so seriously morethan twoyears sinceI resolved to take the opportunity ofgetting alittle extra exercise by sending my bag on before me andwalking tothe terminus in Euston Square.  As I came out intoHolborn agentleman walking by rapidly stopped and spoke to me.It was Mr.Walter Hartright.

If he hadnot been the first to greet me I should certainly havepassedhim.  He was so changed that I hardly knew him again.  Hisfacelooked pale and haggardhis manner was hurried anduncertainandhis dresswhich I remembered as neat andgentleman-likewhen I saw him at Limmeridgewas so slovenly nowthat Ishould really have been ashamed of the appearance of it onone of myown clerks.

"Haveyou been long back from Cumberland?" he asked.  "Iheardfrom MissHalcombe lately.  I am aware that Sir Percival Glyde'sexplanationhas been considered satisfactory. Will the marriagetake placesoon? Do you happen to know Mr. Gilmore?"

He spokeso fastand crowded his questions together so strangelyandconfusedlythat I could hardly follow him.  Howeveraccidentallyintimate he might have been with the family atLimmeridgeI could not see that he had any right to expectinformationon their private affairsand I determined to drophimaseasily as might beon the subject of Miss Fairlie'smarriage.

"Timewill showMr. Hartright" I said"time will show.  Idaresay if welook out for the marriage in the papers we shall not befarwrong.  Excuse my noticing itbut I am sorry to see you notlooking sowell as you were when we last met."

Amomentary nervous contraction quivered about his lips and eyesand mademe half reproach myself for having answered him in such asignificantlyguarded manner.

"Ihad no right to ask about her marriage" he said bitterly. "Imust waitto see it in the newspapers like other people.  Yes"he went onbefore I could make any apologies"I have not beenwelllately.  I am going to another country to try a change ofscene andoccupation.  Miss Halcombe has kindly assisted me withherinfluenceand my testimonials have been found satisfactory.It is along distance offbut I don't care where I gowhat theclimateisor how long I am away." He looked about him while hesaid thisat the throng of strangers passing us by on either sidein astrangesuspicious manneras if he thought that some ofthem mightbe watching us.

"Iwish you well through itand safe back again" I saidandthenaddedso as not to keep him altogether at arm's length onthesubject of the Fairlies"I am going down to Limmeridge to-dayonbusiness.  Miss Halcombe and Miss Fairlie are away just now ona visit tosome friends in Yorkshire."

His eyesbrightenedand he seemed about to say something inanswerbut the same momentary nervous spasm crossed his faceagain. He took my handpressed it hardand disappeared amongthe crowdwithout saying another word.  Though he was little morethan astranger to meI waited for a momentlooking after himalmostwith a feeling of regret.  I had gained in my professionsufficientexperience of young men to know what the outward signsand tokenswere of their beginning to go wrongand when I resumedmy walk tothe railway I am sorry to say I felt more than doubtfulabout Mr.Hartright's future.

 

IV

 

Leaving byan early trainI got to Limmeridge in time for dinner.The housewas oppressively empty and dull.  I had expected thatgood Mrs.Vesey would have been company for me in the absence ofthe youngladiesbut she was confined to her room by a cold.  Theservantswere so surprised at seeing me that they hurried andbustledabsurdlyand made all sorts of annoying mistakes.  Eventhebutlerwho was old enough to have known betterbrought me abottle ofport that was chilled.  The reports of Mr. Fairlie'shealthwere just as usualand when I sent up a message toannouncemy arrivalI was told that he would be delighted to seeme thenext morning but that the sudden news of my appearance hadprostratedhim with palpitations for the rest of the evening.  Thewindhowled dismally all nightand strange cracking and groaningnoisessounded herethereand everywhere in the empty house.  Islept aswretchedly as possibleand got up in a mighty bad humourtobreakfast by myself the next morning.

At teno'clock I was conducted to Mr. Fairlie's apartments.  Hewas in hisusual roomhis usual chairand his usual aggravatingstate ofmind and body.  When I went inhis valet was standingbeforehimholding up for inspection a heavy volume of etchingsas longand as broad as my office writing-desk.  The miserableforeignergrinned in the most abject mannerand looked ready todrop withfatiguewhile his master composedly turned over theetchingsand brought their hidden beauties to light with the helpof amagnifying glass.

"Youvery best of good old friends" said Mr. Fairlieleaninghacklazily before he could look at me"are you QUITE well? Hownice ofyou to come here and see me in my solitude.  DearGilmore!"

I hadexpected that the valet would be dismissed when I appearedbutnothing of the sort happened.  There he stoodin front of hismaster'schairtrembling under the weight of the etchingsandthere Mr.Fairlie satserenely twirling the magnifying glassbetweenhis white fingers and thumbs.

"Ihave come to speak to you on a very important matter" I said"andyou will therefore excuse meif I suggest that we had betterbe alone."

Theunfortunate valet looked at me gratefully.  Mr. Fairliefaintlyrepeated my last three words"better be alone" witheveryappearance of the utmost possible astonishment.

I was inno humour for triflingand I resolved to make himunderstandwhat I meant.

"Obligeme by giving that man permission to withdraw" I saidpointingto the valet.

Mr.Fairlie arched his eyebrows and pursed up his lips insarcasticsurprise.

"Man?"he repeated.  "You provoking old Gilmorewhat can youpossiblymean by calling him a man? He's nothing of the sort.  Hemight havebeen a man half an hour agobefore I wanted myetchingsand he may be a man half an hour hencewhen I don'twant themany longer.  At present he is simply a portfolio stand.WhyobjectGilmoreto a portfolio stand?"

"I DOobject.  For the third timeMr. FairlieI beg that we maybe alone."

My toneand manner left him no alternative but to comply with myrequest. He looked at the servantand pointed peevishly to achair athis side.

"Putdown the etchings and go away" he said.  "Don't upsetme bylosing myplace.  Have youor have you notlost my place? Areyou sureyou have not? And have you put my hand-bell quite withinmy reach?Yes? Then why the devil don't you go?"

The valetwent out.  Mr. Fairlie twisted himself round in hischairpolished the magnifying glass with his delicate cambrichandkerchiefand indulged himself with a sidelong inspection ofthe openvolume of etchings.  It was not easy to keep my temperunderthese circumstancesbut I did keep it.

"Ihave come here at great personal inconvenience" I said"toserve theinterests of your niece and your familyand I think Ihaveestablished some slight claim to be favoured with yourattentionin return."

"Don'tbully me!" exclaimed Mr. Fairliefalling back helplesslyin thechairand closing his eyes.  "Please don't bully me. I'mnot strongenough."

I wasdetermined not to let him provoke mefor Laura Fairlie'ssake.

"Myobject" I went on"is to entreat you to reconsider yourletterand not to force me to abandon the just rights of yournieceandof all who belong to her.  Let me state the case to youonce moreand for the last time."

Mr.Fairlie shook his head and sighed piteously.

"Thisis heartless of youGilmorevery heartless" he said."Nevermindgo on."

I put allthe points to him carefullyI set the matter before himin everyconceivable light.  He lay back in the chair the wholetime I wasspeaking with his eyes closed.  When I had done heopenedthem indolentlytook his silver smelling-bottle from thetableandsniffed at it with an air of gentle relish.

"GoodGilmore!" he said between the sniffs"how very nice thisisof you!How you reconcile one to human nature!"

"Giveme a plain answer to a plain questionMr. Fairlie.  I tellyou againSir Percival Glyde has no shadow of a claim to expectmore thanthe income of the money.  The money itself if your niecehas nochildrenought to be under her controland to return toherfamily.  If you stand firmSir Percival must give wayhemust givewayI tell youor he exposes himself to the baseimputationof marrying Miss Fairlie entirely from mercenarymotives."

Mr.Fairlie shook the silver smelling-bottle at me playfully.

"Youdear old Gilmorehow you do hate rank and familydon't you?How youdetest Glyde because he happens to be a baronet.  What aRadicalyou areohdear mewhat a Radical you are!"

ARadical!!! I could put up with a good deal of provocationbutafterholding the soundest Conservative principles all my lifeIcould NOTput up with being called a Radical.  My blood boiled atitIstarted out of my chairI was speechless with Indignation.

"Don'tshake the room!" cried Mr. Fairlie"for Heaven's sakedon'tshake the room! Worthiest of all possible GilmoresI meantnooffence.  My own views are so extremely liberal that I think Iam aRadical myself.  Yes.  We are a pair of Radicals. Pleasedon't beangry.  I can't quarrelI haven't stamina enough.  Shallwe dropthe subject? Yes.  Come and look at these sweet etchings.Do let meteach you to understand the heavenly pearliness of theselines. Do nowthere's a good Gilmore!"

While hewas maundering on in this way I wasfortunately for myownself-respectreturning to my senses.  When I spoke again Iwascomposed enough to treat his impertinence with the silentcontemptthat it deserved.

"Youare entirely wrongsir" I said"in supposing that Ispeakfrom anyprejudice against Sir Percival Glyde.  I may regret thathe has sounreservedly resigned himself in this matter to hislawyer'sdirection as to make any appeal to himself impossiblebut I amnot prejudiced against him.  What I have said wouldequallyapply to any other man in his situationhigh or low.  TheprincipleI maintain is a recognised principle.  If you were toapply atthe nearest town hereto the first respectable solicitoryou couldfindhe would tell you as a stranger what I tell you asa friend. He would inform you that it is against all rule toabandonthe lady's money entirely to the man she marries.  Hewoulddeclineon grounds of common legal cautionto give thehusbandunder any circumstances whateveran interest of twentythousandpounds in his wife's death."

"Wouldhe reallyGilmore?" said Mr. Fairlie.  "If he saidanythinghalf so horridI do assure you I should tinkle my bellfor Louisand have him sent out of the house immediately."

"Youshall not irritate meMr. Fairliefor your niece's sake andfor herfather's sakeyou shall not irritate me.  You shall takethe wholeresponsibility of this discreditable settlement on yourownshoulders before I leave the room."

"Don't!nowplease don't!" said Mr. Fairlie.  "Think how preciousyour timeisGilmoreand don't throw it away.  I would disputewith youif I couldbut I can'tI haven't stamina enough.  Youwant toupset meto upset yourselfto upset Glydeand to upsetLaura;andohdear me!all for the sake of the very last thingin theworld that is likely to happen.  Nodear friendin theinterestsof peace and quietnesspositively No!"

"I amto understandthenthat you hold by the determinationexpressedin your letter?"

"Yesplease.  So glad we understand each other at last.  Sitdownagaindo!"

I walkedat once to the doorand Mr. Fairlie resignedly "tinkled"hishand-bell.  Before I left the room I turned round andaddressedhim for the last time.

"Whateverhappens in the futuresir" I said"remember that myplain dutyof warning you has been performed.  As the faithfulfriend andservant of your familyI tell youat partingthat nodaughterof mine should be married to any man alive under such asettlementas you are forcing me to make for Miss Fairlie."

The dooropened behind meand the valet stood waiting on thethreshold.

"Louis"said Mr. Fairlie"show Mr. Gilmore outand then comeback andhold up my etchings for me again.  Make them give you agood lunchdownstairs.  DoGilmoremake my idle beasts ofservantsgive you a good lunch!"

I was toomuch disgusted to replyI turned on my heeland lefthim insilence.  There was an up train at two o'clock in theafternoonand by that train I returned to London.

On theTuesday I sent in the altered settlementwhich practicallydisinheritedthe very persons whom Miss Fairlie's own lips hadinformedme she was most anxious to benefit.  I had no choice.Anotherlawyer would have drawn up the deed if I had refused toundertakeit.

 

My task isdone.  My personal share in the events of the familystoryextends no farther than the point which I have just reached.Other pensthan mine will describe the strange circumstances whichare nowshortly to follow.  Seriously and sorrowfully I close thisbriefrecord.  Seriously and sorrowfully I repeat here the partingwords thatI spoke at Limmeridge House:No daughter of mineshouldhave been married to any man alive under such a settlementas I wascompelled to make for Laura Fairlie.

The End ofMr. Gilmore's Narrative.

 

THE STORYCONTINUED BY MARIAN HALCOMBE(inExtracts from her Diary)

 

                  LIMMERIDGE HOUSENov. 8.[1]

[1] Thepassages omittedhere and elsewherein Miss Halcombe'sDiary areonly those which bear no reference to Miss Fairlie or toany of thepersons with whom she is associated in these pages.

 

Thismorning Mr. Gilmore left us.

Hisinterview with Laura had evidently grieved and surprised himmore thanhe liked to confess.  I felt afraidfrom his look andmannerwhen we partedthat she might have inadvertently betrayedto him thereal secret of her depression and my anxiety.  Thisdoubt grewon me soafter he had gonethat I declined riding outwith SirPercivaland went up to Laura's room instead.

I havebeen sadly distrustful of myselfin this difficult andlamentablematterever since I found out my own ignorance of thestrengthof Laura's unhappy attachment.  I ought to have knownthat thedelicacy and forbearance and sense of honour which drewme to poorHartrightand made me so sincerely admire and respecthimwerejust the qualities to appeal most irresistibly toLaura'snatural sensitiveness and natural generosity of nature.And yetuntil she opened her heart to me of her own accordI hadnosuspicion that this new feeling had taken root so deeply.  Ioncethought time and care might remove it.  I now fear that itwillremain with her and alter her for life.  The discovery that Ihavecommitted such an error in judgment as this makes me hesitateabouteverything else.  I hesitate about Sir Percivalin the faceof theplainest proofs.  I hesitate even in speaking to Laura.  Onthis verymorning I doubtedwith my hand on the doorwhether Ishould askher the questions I had come to putor not.

When Iwent into her room I found her walking up and down in greatimpatience. She looked flushed and excitedand she came forwardat onceand spoke to me before I could open my lips.

"Iwanted you" she said.  "Come and sit down on the sofawith me.Marian! Ican bear this no longerI must and will end it."

There wastoo much colour in her cheekstoo much energy in hermannertoo much firmness in her voice.  The little book ofHartright'sdrawingsthe fatal book that she will dream overwhenevershe is alonewas in one of her hands.  I began by gentlyand firmlytaking it from herand putting it out of sight on aside-table.

"Tellme quietlymy darlingwhat you wish to do" I said.  "HasMr.Gilmore been advising you?"

She shookher head.  "Nonot in what I am thinking of now.  Hewas verykind and good to meMarianand I am ashamed to say Idistressedhim by crying.  I am miserably helplessI can'tcontrolmyself.  For my own sakeand for all our sakesI musthavecourage enough to end it."

"Doyou mean courage enough to claim your release?" I asked.

"No"she said simply.  "Couragedearto tell the truth."

She puther arms round my neckand rested her head quietly on mybosom. On the opposite wall hung the miniature portrait of herfather. I bent over herand saw that she was looking at it whileher headlay on my breast.

"Ican never claim my release from my engagement" she went on."Whateverway it ends it must end wretchedly for me.  All I candoMarianis not to add the remembrance that I have broken mypromiseand forgotten my father's dying wordsto make thatwretchednessworse."

"Whatis it you proposethen?" I asked.

"Totell Sir Percival Glyde the truth with my own lips" sheanswered"and to let him release meif he willnot because Iask himbut because he knows all."

"Whatdo you meanLauraby 'all'? Sir Percival will know enough(he hastold me so himself) if he knows that the engagement isopposed toyour own wishes."

"CanI tell him thatwhen the engagement was made for me by myfatherwith my own consent? I should have kept my promisenothappilyIam afraidbut still contentedly" she stoppedturnedher faceto meand laid her cheek close against mine"I shouldhave keptmy engagementMarianif another love had not grown upin myheartwhich was not there when I first promised to be SirPercival'swife."

"Laura!you will never lower yourself by making a confession tohim?"

"Ishall lower myselfindeedif I gain my release by hiding fromhim whathe has a right to know."

"Hehas not the shadow of a right to know it!"

"WrongMarianwrong! I ought to deceive no oneleast of all theman towhom my father gave meand to whom I gave myself." She puther lipsto mineand kissed me.  "My own love" she saidsoftly"youare so much too fond of meand so much too proud of methatyouforgetin my casewhat you would remember in your own.Betterthat Sir Percival should doubt my motivesand misjudge myconduct ifhe willthan that I should be first false to him inthoughtand then mean enough to serve my own interests by hidingthefalsehood."

I held heraway from me in astonishment.  For the first time inour liveswe had changed placesthe resolution was all on hersidethehesitation all on mine.  I looked into the palequietresignedyoung faceI saw the pureinnocent heartin the lovingeyes thatlooked back at meand the poor worldly cautions andobjectionsthat rose to my lips dwindled and died away in theirownemptiness.  I hung my head in silence.  In her place thedespicablysmall pride which makes so many women deceitful wouldhave beenmy prideand would have made me deceitful too.

"Don'tbe angry with meMarian" she saidmistaking my silence.

I onlyanswered by drawing her close to me again.  I was afraid ofcrying ifI spoke.  My tears do not flow so easily as they oughtthey comealmost like men's tearswith sobs that seem to tear mein piecesand that frighten every one about me.

"Ihave thought of thislovefor many days" she went ontwiningand twisting my hair with that childish restlessness inherfingerswhich poor Mrs. Vesey still tries so patiently and sovainly tocure her of"I have thought of it very seriouslyand Ican besure of my courage when my own conscience tells me I amright. Let me speak to him to-morrowin your presenceMarian.I will saynothing that is wrongnothing that you or I need beashamedofbutohit will ease my heart so to end thismiserableconcealment! Only let me know and feel that I have nodeceptionto answer for on my sideand thenwhen he has heardwhat Ihave to saylet him act towards me as he will."

Shesighedand put her head back in its old position on my bosom.Sadmisgivings about what the end would be weighed upon my mindbut stilldistrusting myselfI told her that I would do as shewished. She thanked meand we passed gradually into talking ofotherthings.

At dinnershe joined us againand was more easy and more herselfwith SirPercival than I have seen her yet.  In the evening shewent tothe pianochoosing new music of the dexteroustunelessfloridkind.  The lovely old melodies of Mozartwhich poorHartrightwas so fond ofshe has never played since he left.  Thebook is nolonger in the music-stand.  She took the volume awayherselfso that nobody might find it out and ask her to play fromit.

I had noopportunity of discovering whether her purpose of themorninghad changed or notuntil she wished Sir Percival good-nightandthen her own words informed me that it was unaltered.She saidvery quietlythat she wished to speak to him afterbreakfastand that he would find her in her sitting-room with me.He changedcolour at those wordsand I felt his hand trembling alittlewhen it came to my turn to take it.  The event of the nextmorningwould decide his future lifeand he evidently knew it.

I went inas usualthrough the door between our two bed-roomsto bidLaura good-night before she went to sleep.  In stoopingover herto kiss her I saw the little book of Hartright's drawingshalfhidden under her pillowjust in the place where she used tohide herfavourite toys when she was a child.  I could not find itin myheart to say anythingbut I pointed to the book and shookmy head. She reached both hands up to my cheeksand drew my facedown tohers till our lips met.

"Leaveit there to-night" she whispered; "to-morrow may be crueland maymake me say good-bye to it for ever."

 

9th.Thefirst event of the morning was not of a kind to raise myspiritsaletter arrived for me from poor Walter Hartright.  Itis theanswer to mine describing the manner in which Sir Percivalclearedhimself of the suspicions raised by Anne Catherick'sletter. He writes shortly and bitterly about Sir Percival'sexplanationsonly saying that he has no right to offer an opinionon theconduct of those who are above him.  This is sadbut hisoccasionalreferences to himself grieve me still more.  He saysthat theeffort to return to his old habits and pursuits growsharderinstead of easier to him every day and he implores meif Ihave anyinterestto exert it to get him employment that willnecessitatehis absence from Englandand take him among newscenes andnew people.  I have been made all the readier to complywith thisrequest by a passage at the end of his letterwhich hasalmostalarmed me.

Aftermentioning that he has neither seen nor heard anything ofAnneCatherickhe suddenly breaks offand hints in the mostabruptmysterious mannerthat he has been perpetually watchedandfollowed by strange men ever since he returned to London.  Heacknowledgesthat he cannot prove this extraordinary suspicion byfixing onany particular personsbut he declares that thesuspicionitself is present to him night and day.  This hasfrightenedmebecause it looks as if his one fixed idea aboutLaura wasbecoming too much for his mind.  I will writeimmediatelyto some of my mother's influential old friends inLondonand press his claims on their notice.  Change of scene andchange ofoccupation may really be the salvation of him at thiscrisis inhis life.

Greatly tomy reliefSir Percival sent an apology for not joiningus atbreakfast.  He had taken an early cup of coffee in his ownroomandhe was still engaged there in writing letters.  Ateleveno'clockif that hour was convenienthe would do himselfthe honourof waiting on Miss Fairlie and Miss Halcombe.

My eyeswere on Laura's face while the message was beingdelivered. I had found her unaccountably quiet and composed ongoing intoher room in the morningand so she remained allthroughbreakfast.  Even when we were sitting together on the sofain herroomwaiting for Sir Percivalshe still preserved herself-control.

"Don'tbe afraid of meMarian" was all she said; "I may forgetmyselfwith an old friend like Mr. Gilmoreor with a dear sisterlike youbut I will not forget myself with Sir Percival Glyde."

I lookedat herand listened to her in silent surprise.  Throughall theyears of our close intimacy this passive force in hercharacterhad been hidden from mehidden even from herselftilllove founditand suffering called it forth.

As theclock on the mantelpiece struck eleven Sir Percival knockedat thedoor and came in.  There was suppressed anxiety andagitationin every line of his face.  The drysharp coughwhichteases himat most timesseemed to be troubling him moreincessantlythan ever.  He sat down opposite to us at the tableand Lauraremained by me.  I looked attentively at them bothandhe was thepalest of the two.

He said afew unimportant wordswith a visible effort to preservehiscustomary ease of manner.  But his voice was not to besteadiedand the restless uneasiness in his eyes was not to beconcealed. He must have felt this himselffor he stopped in themiddle ofa sentenceand gave up even the attempt to hide hisembarrassmentany longer.

There wasjust one moment of dead silence before Laura addressedhim.

"Iwish to speak to youSir Percival" she said"on asubjectthat isvery important to us both.  My sister is herebecause herpresencehelps me and gives me confidence.  She has not suggestedone wordof what I am going to sayI speak from my own thoughtsnot fromhers.  I am sure you will be kind enough to understandthatbefore I go any farther?"

SirPercival bowed.  She had proceeded thus farwith perfectoutwardtranquillity and perfect propriety of manner.  She lookedat himand he looked at her.  They seemedat the outsetatleastresolved to understand one another plainly.

"Ihave heard from Marian" she went on"that I have only toclaim myrelease from our engagement to obtain that release fromyou. It was forbearing and generous on your partSir Percivalto send mesuch a message.  It is only doing you justice to saythat I amgrateful for the offerand I hope and believe that itis onlydoing myself justice to tell you that I decline to acceptit."

Hisattentive face relaxed a little.  But I saw one of his feetsoftlyquietlyincessantly beating on the carpet under thetableandI felt that he was secretly as anxious as ever.

"Ihave not forgotten" she said"that you asked my father'spermissionbefore you honoured me with a proposal of marriage.Perhapsyou have not forgotten either what I said when I consentedto ourengagement? I ventured to tell you that my father'sinfluenceand advice had mainly decided me to give you my promise.I wasguided by my fatherbecause I had always found him thetruest ofall advisersthe best and fondest of all protectors andfriends. I have lost him nowI have only his memory to lovebutmy faithin that dear dead friend has never been shaken.  Ibelieve atthis momentas truly as I ever believedthat he knewwhat wasbestand that his hopes and wishes ought to be my hopesand wishestoo."

Her voicetrembled for the first time.  Her restless fingers stoletheir wayinto my lapand held fast by one of my hands.  Therewasanother moment of silenceand then Sir Percival spoke.

"MayI ask" he said"if I have ever proved myself unworthy ofthe trustwhich it has been hitherto my greatest honour andgreatesthappiness to possess?"

"Ihave found nothing in your conduct to blame" she answered."Youhave always treated me with the same delicacy and the sameforbearance. You have deserved my trustandwhat is of far moreimportancein my estimationyou have deserved my father's trustout ofwhich mine grew.  You have given me no excuseeven if Ihad wantedto find onefor asking to be released from my pledge.What Ihave said so far has been spoken with the wish toacknowledgemy whole obligation to you.  My regard for thatobligationmy regard for my father's memoryand my regard for myownpromiseall forbid me to set the exampleon my sideofwithdrawingfrom our present position.  The breaking of ourengagementmust be entirely your wish and your actSir Percivalnot mine."

The uneasybeating of his foot suddenly stoppedand he leanedforwardeagerly across the table.

"Myact?" he said.  "What reason can there be on my sideforwithdrawing?"

I heardher breath quickeningI felt her hand growing cold.  Inspite ofwhat she had said to me when we were aloneI began to beafraid ofher.  I was wrong.

"Areason that it is very hard to tell you" she answered. "Thereis achange in meSir Percivala change which is serious enoughto justifyyouto yourself and to mein breaking off ourengagement."

His faceturned so pale again that even his lips lost theircolour. He raised the arm which lay on the tableturned a littleaway inhis chairand supported his head on his handso that hisprofileonly was presented to us.

"Whatchange?" he asked.  The tone in which he put the questionjarred onmethere was something painfully suppressed in it.

She sighedheavilyand leaned towards me a littleso as to resthershoulder against mine.  I felt her tremblingand tried tospare herby speaking myself.  She stopped me by a warningpressureof her handand then addressed Sir Percival one morebut thistime without looking at him.

"Ihave heard" she said"and I believe itthat the fondestandtruest ofall affections is the affection which a woman ought tobear toher husband.  When our engagement began that affection wasmine togiveif I couldand yours to winif you could.  Willyou pardonmeand spare meSir Percivalif I acknowledge thatit is notso any longer?"

A fewtears gathered in her eyesand dropped over her cheeksslowly asshe paused and waited for his answer.  He did not uttera word. At the beginning of her reply he had moved the hand onwhich hishead restedso that it hid his face.  I saw nothing butthe upperpart of his figure at the table.  Not a muscle of himmoved. The fingers of the hand which supported his head weredenteddeep in his hair.  They might have expressed hidden angeror hiddengriefit was hard to say whichthere was nosignificanttrembling in them.  There was nothingabsolutelynothingto tell the secret of his thoughts at that momentthemomentwhich was the crisis of his life and the crisis of hers.

I wasdetermined to make him declare himselffor Laura's sake.

"SirPercival!" I interposed sharply"have you nothing to saywhen mysister has said so much? Morein my opinion" I addedmyunluckytemper getting the better of me"than any man aliveinyourpositionhas a right to hear from her."

That lastrash sentence opened a way for him by which to escape meif hechoseand he instantly took advantage of it.

"PardonmeMiss Halcombe" he saidstill keeping his hand overhis face"pardon me if I remind you that I have claimed no suchright."

The fewplain words which would have brought him back to the pointfrom whichhe had wandered were just on my lipswhen Laurachecked meby speaking again.

"Ihope I have not made my painful acknowledgment in vain" shecontinued. "I hope it has secured me your entire confidence inwhat Ihave still to say?"

"Praybe assured of it." He made that brief reply warmlydroppinghis handon the table while he spokeand turning towards usagain. Whatever outward change had passed over him was gone now.His facewas eager and expectantit expressed nothing but themostintense anxiety to hear her next words.

"Iwish you to understand that I have not spoken from any selfishmotive"she said.  "If you leave meSir Percivalafter what youhave justheardyou do not leave me to marry another manyouonly allowme to remain a single woman for the rest of my life.My faulttowards you has begun and ended in my own thoughts.  Itcan nevergo any farther.  No word has passed" She hesitatedindoubtabout the expression she should use nexthesitated in amomentaryconfusion which it was very sad and very painful to see."Noword has passed" she patiently and resolutely resumed"betweenmyself and the person to whom I am now referring for thefirst andlast time in your presence of my feelings towards himor of hisfeelings towards meno word ever can passneither henor I arelikelyin this worldto meet again.  I earnestly begyou tospare me from saying any moreand to believe meon mywordinwhat I have just told you.  It is the truth.  SirPercivalthe truth which I think my promised husband has a claimto hearat any sacrifice of my own feelings.  I trust to hisgenerosityto pardon meand to his honour to keep my secret."

"Boththose trusts are sacred to me" he said"and both shall besacredlykept."

Afteranswering in those terms he pausedand looked at her as ifhe waswaiting to hear more.

I havesaid all I wish to say" she added quietly" I have saidmore thanenough to justify you in withdrawing from yourengagement."

"Youhave said more than enough" he answered"to make it thedearestobject of my life to KEEP the engagement." With thosewords herose from his chairand advanced a few steps towards theplacewhere she was sitting.

Shestarted violentlyand a faint cry of surprise escaped her.Every wordshe had spoken had innocently betrayed her purity andtruth to aman who thoroughly understood the priceless value of apure andtrue woman.  Her own noble conduct had been the hiddenenemythroughoutof all the hopes she had trusted to it.  I haddreadedthis from the first.  I would have prevented itif shehadallowed me the smallest chance of doing so.  I even waited andwatchednowwhen the harm was donefor a word from Sir Percivalthat wouldgive me the opportunity of putting him in the wrong.

"Youhave left it to MEMiss Fairlieto resign you" hecontinued. "I am not heartless enough to resign a woman who hasjust shownherself to be the noblest of her sex."

He spokewith such warmth and feelingwith such passionateenthusiasmand yet with such perfect delicacythat she raisedher headflushed up a littleand looked at him with suddenanimationand spirit.

"No!"she said firmly.  "The most wretched of her sexif shemustgiveherself in marriage when she cannot give her love."

"Mayshe not give it in the future" he asked"if the oneobjectof herhusband's life is to deserve it?"

"Never!"she answered.  "If you still persist in maintaining ourengagementI may be your true and faithful wifeSir Percivalyourloving wifeif I know my own heartnever!"

She lookedso irresistibly beautiful as she said those brave wordsthat noman alive could have steeled his heart against her.  Itried hardto feel that Sir Percival was to blameand to say sobut mywomanhood would pity himin spite of myself.

"Igratefully accept your faith and truth" he said.  "Theleastthat youcan offer is more to me than the utmost that I could hopefor fromany other woman in the world."

Her lefthand still held minebut her right hand hung listlesslyat herside.  He raised it gently to his lipstouched it withthemrather than kissed itbowed to meand thenwith perfectdelicacyand discretionsilently quitted the room.

Sheneither moved nor said a word when he was goneshe sat by mecold andstillwith her eyes fixed on the ground.  I saw it washopelessand useless to speakand I only put my arm round herand heldher to me in silence.  We remained together so for whatseemed along and weary timeso long and so wearythat I grewuneasy andspoke to her softlyin the hope of producing a change.

The soundof my voice seemed to startle her into consciousness.Shesuddenly drew herself away from me and rose to her feet.

"Imust submitMarianas well as I can" she said.  "Mynew lifehas itshard dutiesand one of them begins to-day."

As shespoke she went to a side-table near the windowon whichhersketching materials were placedgathered them togethercarefullyand put them in a drawer of her cabinet.  She lockedthe drawerand brought the key to me.

"Imust part from everything that reminds me of him" she said."Keepthe key wherever you pleaseI shall never want it again."

Before Icould say a word she had turned away to her book-caseand hadtaken from it the album that contained Walter Hartright'sdrawings. She hesitated for a momentholding the little volumefondly inher handsthen lifted it to her lips and kissed it.

"OhLaura! Laura!" I saidnot angrilynot reprovinglywithnothingbut sorrow in my voiceand nothing but sorrow in myheart.

"Itis the last timeMarian" she pleaded.  "I am biddingitgood-byefor ever."

She laidthe book on the table and drew out the comb that fastenedher hair. It fellin its matchless beautyover her back andshouldersand dropped round herfar below her waist.  Sheseparatedone longthin lock from the restcut it offandpinned itcarefullyin the form of a circleon the first blankpage ofthe album.  The moment it was fastened she closed thevolumehurriedlyand placed it in my hands.

"Youwrite to him and he writes to you" she said.  "WhileI amaliveifhe asks after me always tell him I am welland neversay I amunhappy.  Don't distress himMarianfor my sakedon'tdistresshim.  If I die firstpromise you will give him thislittlebook of his drawingswith my hair in it.  There can be noharmwhenI am gonein telling him that I put it there with myownhands.  And sayohMariansay for methenwhat I cannever sayfor myselfsay I loved him!"

She flungher arms round my neckand whispered the last words inmy earwith a passionate delight in uttering them which it almostbroke myheart to hear.  All the long restraint she had imposed onherselfgave way in that first last outburst of tenderness.  Shebroke fromme with hysterical vehemenceand threw herself on thesofa in aparoxysm of sobs and tears that shook her from head tofoot.

I triedvainly to soothe her and reason with hershe was pastbeingsoothedand past being reasoned with.  It was the sadsudden endfor us two of this memorable day.  When the fit hadwornitself out she was too exhausted to speak.  She slumberedtowardsthe afternoonand I put away the book of drawings so thatshe mightnot see it when she woke.  My face was calmwhatever myheartmight bewhen she opened her eyes again and looked at me.We said nomore to each other about the distressing interview ofthemorning.  Sir Percival's name was not mentioned.  WalterHartrightwas not alluded to again by either of us for theremainderof the day.

 

10th.Findingthat she was composed and like herself thismorningIreturned to the painful subject of yesterdayfor thesolepurpose of imploring her to let me speak to Sir Percival andMr.Fairliemore plainly and strongly than she could speak toeither ofthem herselfabout this lamentable marriage.  Sheinterposedgently but firmlyin the middle of my remonstrances.

"Ileft yesterday to decide" she said; "and yesterday HASdecided. It is too late to go back."

SirPercival spoke to me this afternoon about what had passed inLaura'sroom.  He assured me that the unparalleled trust she hadplaced inhim had awakened such an answering conviction of herinnocenceand integrity in his mindthat he was guiltless ofhavingfelt even a moment's unworthy jealousyeither at the timewhen hewas in her presenceor afterwards when he had withdrawnfrom it. Deeply as he lamented the unfortunate attachment whichhadhindered the progress he might otherwise have made in heresteem andregardhe firmly believed that it had remainedunacknowledgedin the pastand that it would remainunder allchanges ofcircumstance which it was possible to contemplateunacknowledgedin the future.  This was his absolute conviction;and thestrongest proof he could give of it was the assurancewhich henow offeredthat he felt no curiosity to know whethertheattachment was of recent date or notor who had been theobject ofit.  His implicit confidence in Miss Fairlie made himsatisfiedwith what she had thought fit to say to himand he washonestlyinnocent of the slightest feeling of anxiety to hearmore.

He waitedafter saying those words and looked at me.  I was soconsciousof my unreasonable prejudice against himso consciousof anunworthy suspicion that he might be speculating on myimpulsivelyanswering the very questions which he had justdescribedhimself as resolved not to askthat I evaded allreferenceto this part of the subject with something like afeeling ofconfusion on my own part.  At the same time I wasresolvednot to lose even the smallest opportunity of trying topleadLaura's causeand I told him boldly that I regretted hisgenerosityhad not carried him one step fartherand induced himtowithdraw from the engagement altogether.

Hereagainhe disarmed me by not attempting to defend himself.He wouldmerely beg me to remember the difference there wasbetweenhis allowing Miss Fairlie to give him upwhich was amatter ofsubmission onlyand his forcing himself to give up MissFairliewhich wasin other wordsasking him to be the suicideof his ownhopes.  Her conduct of the day before had sostrengthenedthe unchangeable love and admiration of two longyearsthat all active contention against those feelingson hispartwashenceforth entirely out of his power.  I must think himweakselfishunfeeling towards the very woman whom he idolisedand hemust bow to my opinion as resignedly as he couldonlyputting itto meat the same timewhether her future as a singlewomanpining under an unhappily placed attachment which she couldneveracknowledgecould be said to promise her a much brighterprospectthan her future as the wife of a man who worshipped theveryground she walked on? In the last case there was hope fromtimehowever slight it might bein the first caseon her ownshowingthere was no hope at all.

I answeredhimmore because my tongue is a woman'sand mustanswerthan because I had anything convincing to say.  It wasonly tooplain that the course Laura had adopted the day beforehadoffered him the advantage if he chose to take itand that heHAD chosento take it.  I felt this at the timeand I feel itjust asstrongly nowwhile I write these linesin my own room.The onehope left is that his motives really springas he saysthey dofrom the irresistible strength of his attachment toLaura.

Before Iclose my diary for to-night I must record that I wroteto-dayinpoor Hartright's interestto two of my mother's oldfriends inLondonboth men of influence and position.  If theycan doanything for himI am quite sure they will.  Except LauraI neverwas more anxious about any one than I am now about Walter.All thathas happened since he left us has only increased mystrongregard and sympathy for him.  I hope I am doing right intrying tohelp him to employment abroadI hopemost earnestlyandanxiouslythat it will end well.

 

11th.SirPercival had an interview with Mr.  Fairlieand I wassent forto join them.

I foundMr. Fairlie greatly relieved at the prospect of the"familyworry" (as he was pleased to describe his niece'smarriage)being settled at last.  So farI did not feel called onto sayanything to him about my own opinionbut when heproceededin his most aggravatingly languid mannerto suggestthat thetime for the marriage had better be settled nextinaccordancewith Sir Percival's wishesI enjoyed the satisfactionofassailing Mr. Fairlie's nerves with as strong a protest againsthurryingLaura's decision as I could put into words.  Sir Percivalimmediatelyassured me that he felt the force of my objectionandbegged meto believe that the proposal had not been made inconsequenceof any interference on his part.  Mr. Fairlie leanedback inhis chairclosed his eyessaid we both of us did honourto humannatureand then repeated his suggestion as coolly as ifneitherSir Percival nor I had said a word in opposition to it.It endedin my flatly declining to mention the subject to Lauraunless shefirst approached it of her own accord.  I left the roomat onceafter making that declaration.  Sir Percival lookedseriouslyembarrassed and distressedMr. Fairlie stretched outhis lazylegs on his velvet footstooland said"Dear Marian! howI envy youyour robust nervous system! Don't bang the door!"

On goingto Laura's room I found that she had asked for meandthat Mrs.Vesey had informed her that I was with Mr. Fairlie.  Sheinquiredat once what I had been wanted forand I told her allthat hadpassedwithout attempting to conceal the vexation andannoyancethat I really felt.  Her answer surprised and distressedmeinexpressiblyit was the very last reply that I should haveexpectedher to make.

"Myuncle is right" she said.  "I have caused trouble andanxietyenough toyouand to all about me.  Let me cause no moreMarianlet SirPercival decide."

Iremonstrated warmlybut nothing that I could say moved her.

"I amheld to my engagement" she replied; "I have broken with myold life. The evil day will not come the less surely because Iput itoff.  NoMarian! once again my uncle is right.  I havecausedtrouble enough and anxiety enoughand I will cause nomore."

She usedto be pliability itselfbut she was now inflexiblypassive inher resignationI might almost say in her despair.Dearly asI love herI should have been less pained if she hadbeenviolently agitatedit was so shockingly unlike her naturalcharacterto see her as cold and insensible as I saw her now.

 

12th.SirPercival put some questions to me at breakfast aboutLaurawhich left me no choice but to tell him what she had said.

While wewere talking she herself came down and joined us.  Shewas justas unnaturally composed in Sir Percival's presence as shehad beenin mine.  When breakfast was over he had an opportunityof sayinga few words to her privatelyin a recess of one of thewindows. They were not more than two or three minutes togetherand ontheir separating she left the room with Mrs. VeseywhileSirPercival came to me.  He said he had entreated her to favourhim bymaintaining her privilege of fixing the time for themarriageat her own will and pleasure.  In reply she had merelyexpressedher acknowledgmentsand had desired him to mention whathis wisheswere to Miss Halcombe.

I have nopatience to write more.  In this instanceas in everyotherSirPercival has carried his point with the utmost possiblecredit tohimselfin spite of everything that I can say or do.His wishesare nowwhat they wereof coursewhen he first camehere; andLaura having resigned herself to the one inevitablesacrificeof the marriageremains as coldly hopeless and enduringas ever. In parting with the little occupations and relics thatremindedher of Hartrightshe seems to have parted with all hertendernessand all her impressibility.  It is only three o'clockin theafternoon while I write these linesand Sir Percival hasleft usalreadyin the happy hurry of a bride-groomto preparefor thebride's reception at his house in Hampshire.  Unless someextraordinaryevent happens to prevent it they will be marriedexactly atthe time when he wished to be marriedbefore the endof theyear.  My very fingers burn as I write it!

 

13th.Asleepless nightthrough uneasiness about Laura.  Towardsthemorning I came to a resolution to try what change of scenewould doto rouse her.  She cannot surely remain in her presenttorpor ofinsensibilityif I take her away from Limmeridge andsurroundher with the pleasant faces of old friends? After someconsiderationI decided on writing to the Arnoldsin Yorkshire.They aresimplekind-heartedhospitable peopleand she hasknown themfrom her childhood.  When I had put the letter in thepost-bag Itold her what I had done.  It would have been a reliefto me ifshe had shown the spirit to resist and object.  But noshe onlysaid"I will go anywhere with youMarian.  I dare sayyou arerightI dare say the change will do me good."

 

14th.Iwrote to Mr. Gilmoreinforming him that there was reallya prospectof this miserable marriage taking placeand alsomentioningmy idea of trying what change of scene would do forLaura. I had no heart to go into particulars.  Time enough forthem whenwe get nearer to the end of the year.

 

15th.Threeletters for me.  The firstfrom the Arnoldsfull ofdelight atthe prospect of seeing Laura and me.  The secondfromone of thegentlemen to whom I wrote on Walter Hartright's behalfinformingme that he has been fortunate enough to find anopportunityof complying with my request.  The thirdfrom Walterhimselfthanking mepoor fellowin the warmest termsforgiving himan opportunity of leaving his homehis countryandhisfriends.  A private expedition to make excavations among theruinedcities of Central America isit seemsabout to sail fromLiverpool. The draughtsman who had been already appointed toaccompanyit has lost heartand withdrawn at the eleventh hourand Walteris to fill his place.  He is to be engaged for sixmonthscertainfrom the time of the landing in Hondurasand fora yearafterwardsif the excavations are successfuland if thefunds holdout.  His letter ends with a promise to write me afarewellline when they are all on board shipand when the pilotleavesthem.  I can only hope and pray earnestly that he and I arebothacting in this matter for the best.  It seems such a seriousstep forhim to takethat the mere contemplation of it startlesme. And yetin his unhappy positionhow can I expect him orwish himto remain at home?

 

16th.Thecarriage is at the door.  Laura and I set out on ourvisit tothe Arnolds to-day.

 

POLESDEANLODGEYORKSHIRE.

23rd.Aweek in these new scenes and among these kind-heartedpeople hasdone her some goodthough not so much as I had hoped.I haveresolved to prolong our stay for another week at least.  Itis uselessto go back to Limmeridge till there is an absolutenecessityfor our return.

 

24th.Sadnews by this morning's post.  The expedition to CentralAmericasailed on the twenty-first.  We have parted with a truemanwe havelost a faithful friend.  Water Hartright has leftEngland.

 

25th.Sadnews yesterdayominous news to-day.  Sir PercivalGlyde haswritten to Mr. Fairlieand Mr. Fairlie has written toLaura andmeto recall us to Limmeridge immediately.

What canthis mean? Has the day for the marriage been fixed in ourabsence?

 

II

 

LIMMERIDGEHOUSE.

November27th.My forebodings are realised.  The marriage isfixed forthe twenty-second of December.

The dayafter we left for Polesdean Lodge Sir Percival wroteitseemstoMr. Fairlieto say that the necessary repairs andalterationsin his house in Hampshire would occupy a much longertime incompletion than he had originally anticipated.  The properestimateswere to be submitted to him as soon as possibleand itwouldgreatly facilitate his entering into definite arrangementswith theworkpeopleif he could be informed of the exact periodat whichthe wedding ceremony might be expected to take place.  Hecould thenmake all his calculations in reference to timebesideswritingthe necessary apologies to friends who had been engaged tovisit himthat winterand who could notof coursebe receivedwhen thehouse was in the hands of the workmen.

To thisletter Mr. Fairlie had replied by requesting Sir Percivalhimself tosuggest a day for the marriagesubject to MissFairlie'sapprovalwhich her guardian willingly undertook to dohis bestto obtain.  Sir Percival wrote back by the next postandproposed(in accordance with his own views and wishes from thefirst? thelatter part of Decemberperhaps the twenty-secondortwenty-fourthor any other day that the lady and her guardianmightprefer.  The lady not being at hand to speak for herselfherguardian had decidedin her absenceon the earliest daymentionedthetwenty-second of Decemberand had written torecall usto Limmeridge in consequence.

Afterexplaining these particulars to me at a private interviewyesterdayMr. Fairlie suggestedin his most amiable mannerthatI shouldopen the necessary negotiations to-day.  Feeling thatresistancewas uselessunless I could first obtain Laura'sauthorityto make itI consented to speak to herbut declaredat thesame timethat I would on no consideration undertake togain herconsent to Sir Percival's wishes.  Mr. Fairliecomplimentedme on my "excellent conscience" much as he wouldhavecomplimented meif he had been out walkingon my "excellentconstitution"and seemed perfectly satisfiedso farwith havingsimplyshifted one more family responsibility from his ownshouldersto mine.

Thismorning I spoke to Laura as I had promised.  The composureImay almostsaythe insensibilitywhich she has so strangely andsoresolutely maintained ever since Sir Percival left uswas notproofagainst the shock of the news I had to tell her.  She turnedpale andtrembled violently.

"Notso soon!" she pleaded.  "OhMariannot so soon!"

Theslightest hint she could give was enough for me.  I rose toleave theroomand fight her battle for her at once with Mr.Fairlie.

Just as myhand was on the doorshe caught fast hold of my dressandstopped me.

"Letme go!" I said.  "My tongue burns to tell your unclethat heand SirPercival are not to have it all their own way."

She sighedbitterlyand still held my dress.

"No!"she said faintly.  "Too lateMariantoo late!"

"Nota minute too late" I retorted.  "The question of timeis OURquestionandtrust meLaurato take a woman's full advantage ofit."

Iunclasped her hand from my gown while I spoke; but she slippedboth herarms round my waist at the same momentand held me moreeffectuallythan ever.

"Itwill only involve us in more trouble and more confusion" shesaid. "It will set you and my uncle at varianceand bring SirPercivalhere again with fresh causes of complaint"

"Somuch the better!" I cried out passionately.  "Whocares forhis causesof complaint? Are you to break your heart to set hismind atease? No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices fromus women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and ourpeacetheydrag us away from our parents' love and our sisters'friendshiptheytake us body and soul to themselvesand fastenourhelpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel.And whatdoes the best of them give us in return? Let me goLauraI'mmad when I think of it!"

Thetearsmiserableweakwomen's tears of vexation and ragestarted tomy eyes.  She smiled sadlyand put her handkerchiefover myface to hide for me the betrayal of my own weaknesstheweaknessof all others which she knew that I most despised.

"OhMarian!" she said.  "You crying! Think what you wouldsay tomeif theplaces were changedand if those tears were mine.  Allyour loveand courage and devotion will not alter what musthappensooner or later.  Let my uncle have his way.  Let us haveno moretroubles and heart-burnings that any sacrifice of mine canprevent. Say you will live with meMarianwhen I am marriedand say nomore."

But I didsay more.  I forced back the contemptible tears thatwere norelief to MEand that only distressed HERand reasonedandpleaded as calmly as I could.  It was of no avail.  Shemademe twicerepeat the promise to live with her when she was marriedand thensuddenly asked a question which turned my sorrow and mysympathyfor her into a new direction.

"Whilewe were at Polesdean" she said"you had a letterMarian"

Heraltered tonethe abrupt manner in which she looked away fromme and hidher face on my shoulderthe hesitation which silencedher beforeshe had completed her questionall told mebut tooplainlyto whom the half-expressed inquiry pointed.

"IthoughtLaurathat you and I were never to refer to himagain"I said gently.

"Youhad a letter from him?" she persisted.

"Yes"I replied"if you must know it."

"Doyou mean to write to him again?"

Ihesitated.  I had been afraid to tell her of his absence fromEnglandor of the manner in which my exertions to serve his newhopes andprojects had connected me with his departure.  Whatanswercould I make? He was gone where no letters could reach himformonthsperhaps for yearsto come.

"SupposeI do mean to write to him again" I said at last.  "WhatthenLaura?"

Her cheekgrew burning hot against my neckand her arms trembledandtightened round me.

"Don'ttell him about THE TWENTY-SECOND" she whispered."PromiseMarianpray promise you will not even mention my nameto himwhen you write next."

I gave thepromise.  No words can say how sorrowfully I gave it.Sheinstantly took her arm from my waistwalked away to thewindowand stood looking out with her back to me.  After a momentshe spokeonce morebut without turning roundwithout allowingme tocatch the smallest glimpse of her face.

"Areyou going to my uncle's room?" she asked.  "Will yousay thatI consentto whatever arrangement he may think best? Never mindleavingmeMarian.  I shall be better alone for a little while."

I wentout.  Ifas soon as I got into the passageI could havetransportedMr. Fairlie and Sir Percival Glyde to the uttermostends ofthe earth by lifting one of my fingersthat finger wouldhave beenraised without an instant's hesitation.  For once myunhappytemper now stood my friend.  I should have broken downaltogetherand burst into a violent fit of cryingif my tears hadnot beenall burnt up in the heat of my anger.  As it wasIdashedinto Mr. Fairlie's roomcalled to him as harshly aspossible"Laura consents to the twenty-second"and dashed outagainwithout waiting for a word of answer.  I banged the doorafter meand I hope I shattered Mr. Fairlie's nervous system forthe restof the day.

 

28th.Thismorning I read poor Hartright's farewell letter overagainadoubt having crossed my mind since yesterdaywhether Iam actingwisely in concealing the fact of his departure fromLaura.

OnreflectionI still think I am right.  The allusions in hisletter tothe preparations made for the expedition to CentralAmericaall show that the leaders of it know it to be dangerous.If thediscovery of this makes me uneasywhat would it make HER?It is badenough to feel that his departure has deprived us of thefriend ofall others to whose devotion we could trust in the hourof needif ever that hour comes and finds us helpless; but it isfar worseto know that he has gone from us to face the perils of abadclimatea wild countryand a disturbed population.  Surelyit wouldbe a cruel candour to tell Laura thiswithout a pressingand apositive necessity for it?

I almostdoubt whether I ought not to go a step fartherand burnthe letterat oncefor fear of its one day falling into wronghands. It not only refers to Laura in terms which ought to remaina secretfor ever between the writer and mebut it reiterates hissuspicionsoobstinateso unaccountableand so alarmingthathe hasbeen secretly watched since he left Limmeridge.  Hedeclaresthat he saw the faces of the two strange men who followedhim aboutthe streets of Londonwatching him among the crowdwhichgathered at Liverpool to see the expedition embarkand hepositivelyasserts that he heard the name of Anne Catherickpronouncedbehind him as he got into the boat.  His own words are"Theseevents have a meaningthese events must lead to a result.Themystery of Anne Catherick is NOT cleared up yet.  She maynevercross my path againbut if ever she crosses yoursmakebetter useof the opportunityMiss Halcombethan I made of it.I speak onstrong convictionI entreat you to remember what Isay."These are his own expressions.  There is no danger of myforgettingthemmy memory is only too ready to dwell on any wordsofHartright's that refer to Anne Catherick.  But there is dangerin mykeeping the letter.  The merest accident might place it atthe mercyof strangers.  I may fall illI may die.  Better toburn it atonceand have one anxiety the less.

It isburnt.  The ashes of his farewell letterthe last he mayever writeto melie in a few black fragments on the hearth.  Isthis thesad end to all that sad story? Ohnot the endsurelysurely notthe end already!

 

29th.Thepreparations for the marriage have begun.  Thedressmakerhas come to receive her orders.  Laura is perfectlyimpassiveperfectly careless about the question of all others inwhich awoman's personal interests are most closely bound up. Shehas leftit all to the dressmaker and to me.  If poor Hartrighthad beenthe baronetand the husband of her father's choicehowdifferentlyshe would have behaved! How anxious and capricious shewould havebeenand what a hard task the best of dressmakerswould havefound it to please her!

 

30th.Wehear every day from Sir Percival.  The last news is thatthealterations in his house will occupy from four to six monthsbeforethey can be properly completed.  If painterspaperhangersandupholsterers could make happiness as well as splendourIshould beinterested about their proceedings in Laura's futurehome. As it isthe only part of Sir Percival's last letter whichdoes notleave me as it found meperfectly indifferent to all hisplans andprojectsis the part which refers to the wedding tour.Heproposesas Laura is delicateand as the winter threatens tobeunusually severeto take her to Romeand to remain in Italyuntil theearly part of next summer.  If this plan should not beapprovedhe is equally readyalthough he has no establishment ofhis own intownto spend the season in Londonin the mostsuitablefurnished house that can be obtained for the purpose.

Puttingmyself and my own feelings entirely out of the question(which itis my duty to doand which I have done)Ifor onehave nodoubt of the propriety of adopting the first of theseproposals. In either case a separation between Laura and me isinevitable. It will be a longer separationin the event of theirgoingabroadthan it would be in the event of their remaining inLondonbutwe must set against this disadvantage the benefit toLauraonthe other sideof passing the winter in a mild climateand morethan thatthe immense assistance in raising her spiritsandreconciling her to her new existencewhich the mere wonderandexcitement of travelling for the first time in her life in themostinteresting country in the worldmust surely afford.  She isnot of adisposition to find resources in the conventionalgaietiesand excitements of London.  They would only make thefirstoppression of this lamentable marriage fall the heavier onher. I dread the beginning of her new life more than words cantellbutI see some hope for her if she travelsnone if sheremains athome.

It isstrange to look back at this latest entry in my journalandto findthat I am writing of the marriage and the parting withLauraaspeople write of a settled thing.  It seems so cold andsounfeeling to be looking at the future already in this cruellycomposedway.  But what other way is possiblenow that the timeis drawingso near? Before another month is over our heads shewill beHIS Laura instead of mine! HIS Laura! I am as little ableto realisethe idea which those two words conveymy mind feelsalmost asdulled and stunned by itas if writing of her marriagewere likewriting of her death.

 

December1st.A sadsad daya day that I have no heart todescribeat any length.  After weakly putting it off last nightIwasobliged to speak to her this morning of Sir Percival'sproposalabout the wedding tour.

In thefull conviction that I should be with her wherever shewentthepoor childfor a child she is still in many thingswasalmosthappy at the prospect of seeing the wonders of Florence andRome andNaples.  It nearly broke my heart to dispel her delusionand tobring her face to face with the hard truth.  I was obligedto tellher that no man tolerates a rivalnot even a woman rivalin hiswife's affectionswhen he first marrieswhatever he maydoafterwards.  I was obliged to warn her that my chance of livingwith herpermanently under her own roofdepended entirely on mynotarousing Sir Percival's jealousy and distrust by standingbetweenthem at the beginning of their marriagein the positionof thechosen depositary of his wife's closest secrets.  Drop bydrop Ipoured the profaning bitterness of this world's wisdom intothat pureheart and that innocent mindwhile every higher andbetterfeeling within me recoiled from my miserable task.  It isover now. She has learnt her hardher inevitable lesson.  Thesimpleillusions of her girlhood are goneand my hand hasstrippedthem off.  Better mine than histhat is all myconsolationbettermine than his.

So thefirst proposal is the proposal accepted.  They are to go toItalyandI am to arrangewith Sir Percival's permissionformeetingthem and staying with them when they return to England.In otherwordsI am to ask a personal favourfor the first timein mylifeand to ask it of the man of all others to whom I leastdesire toowe a serious obligation of any kind.  Well! I think Icould doeven more than thatfor Laura's sake.

 

2nd.Onlooking backI find myself always referring to SirPercivalin disparaging terms.  In the turn affairs have nowtaken. I must and will root out my prejudice against himIcannotthink how it first got into my mind.  It certainly neverexisted informer times.

Is itLaura's reluctance to become his wife that has set meagainsthim? Have Hartright's perfectly intelligible prejudicesinfectedme without my suspecting their influence? Does thatletter ofAnne Catherick's still leave a lurking distrust in mymindinspite of Sir Percival's explanationand of the proof inmypossession of the truth of it? I cannot account for the stateof my ownfeelings; the one thing I am certain of isthat it ismydutydoubly my duty nownot to wrong Sir Percival by unjustlydistrustinghim.  If it has got to be a habit with me always towrite ofhim in the same unfavourable mannerI must and willbreakmyself of this unworthy tendencyeven though the effortshouldforce me to close the pages of my journal till the marriageis over! Iam seriously dissatisfied with myselfI will write nomoreto-day.


December16th.A whole fortnight has passedand I have not onceopenedthese pages.  I have been long enough away from my journalto comeback to it with a healthier and better mindI hopesofar as SirPercival is concerned.

There isnot much to record of the past two weeks.  The dressesare almostall finishedand the new travelling trunks have beensent herefrom London.  Poor dear Laura hardly leaves me for amoment alldayand last nightwhen neither of us could sleepshe cameand crept into my bed to talk to me there.  "I shall loseyou sosoonMarian" she said; "I must make the most of you whileI can."

They areto be married at Limmeridge Churchand thank Heavennotone of theneighbours is to be invited to the ceremony.  The onlyvisitorwill be our old friendMr. Arnoldwho is to come fromPolesdeanto give Laura awayher uncle being far too delicate totrusthimself outside the door in such inclement weather as we nowhave. If I were not determinedfrom this day forthto seenothingbut the bright side of our prospectsthe melancholyabsence ofany male relative of Laura'sat the most importantmoment ofher lifewould make me very gloomy and very distrustfulof thefuture.  But I have done with gloom and distrustthat isto sayIhave done with writing about either the one or the otherin thisjournal.

SirPercival is to arrive to-morrow.  He offeredin case wewished totreat him on terms of rigid etiquetteto write and askourclergyman to grant him the hospitality of the rectoryduringthe shortperiod of his sojourn at Limmeridgebefore themarriage. Under the circumstancesneither Mr. Fairlie nor Ithought itat all necessary for us to trouble ourselves aboutattendingto trifling forms and ceremonies.  In our wild moorlandcountryand in this great lonely housewe may well claim to bebeyond thereach of the trivial conventionalities which hamperpeople inother places.  I wrote to Sir Percival to thank him forhis politeofferand to beg that he would occupy his old roomsjust asusualat Limmeridge House.

 

17th.Hearrived to-daylookingas I thoughta little worn andanxiousbut still talking and laughing like a man in the bestpossiblespirits.  He brought with him some really beautifulpresentsin jewellerywhich Laura received with her best graceandoutwardly at leastwith perfect self-possession.  The onlysign I candetect of the struggle it must cost her to preserveappearancesat this trying timeexpresses itself in a suddenunwillingnesson her partever to be left alone.  Instead ofretreatingto her own roomas usualshe seems to dread goingthere. When I went upstairs to-dayafter lunchto put on mybonnet fora walkshe volunteered to join meand againbeforedinnershe threw the door open between our two roomsso that wemight talkto each other while we were dressing.  "Keep me alwaysdoingsomething" she said; "keep me always in company withsomebody. Don't let me thinkthat is all I ask nowMariandon't letme think."

This sadchange in her only increases her attractions for SirPercival. He interprets itI can seeto his own advantage.There is afeverish flush in her cheeksa feverish brightness inher eyeswhich he welcomes as the return of her beauty and therecoveryof her spirits.  She talked to-day at dinner with agaiety andcarelessness so falseso shockingly out of hercharacterthat I secretly longed to silence her and take heraway. Sir Percival's delight and surprise appeared to be beyondallexpression.  The anxiety which I had noticed on his face whenhe arrivedtotally disappeared from itand he lookedeven to myeyesagood ten years younger than he really is.

There canbe no doubtthough some strange perversity prevents mefromseeing it myselfthere can be no doubt that Laura's futurehusband isa very handsome man.  Regular features form a personaladvantageto begin withand he has them.  Bright brown eyeseither inman or womanare a great attractionand he has them.Evenbaldnesswhen it is only baldness over the forehead (as inhis case)is rather becoming than not in a manfor it heightensthe headand adds to the intelligence of the face.  Grace and easeofmovementuntiring animation of mannerreadypliantconversationalpowersall these are unquestionable meritsandall thesehe certainly possesses.  Surely Mr. Gilmoreignorant ashe is ofLaura's secretwas not to blame for feeling surprisedthat sheshould repent of her marriage engagement? Any one else inhis placewould have shared our good old friend's opinion.  If Iwereaskedat this momentto say plainly what defects I havediscoveredin Sir PercivalI could only point out two.  Onehisincessantrestlessness and excitabilitywhich may be causednaturallyenoughby unusual energy of character.  The otherhisshortsharpill-tempered manner of speaking to the servantswhich maybe only a bad habit after all.  NoI cannot dispute itand I willnot dispute itSir Percival is a very handsome and averyagreeable man.  There! I have written it down at lastand Iam gladit's over.

 

18th.Feelingweary and depressed this morningI left Laura withMrs.Veseyand went out alone for one of my brisk midday walkswhich Ihave discontinued too much of late.  I took the dry airyroad overthe moor that leads to Todd's Corner.  After having beenout halfan hourI was excessively surprised to see Sir Percivalapproachingme from the direction of the farm.  He was walkingrapidlyswinging his stickhis head erect as usualand hisshootingjacket flying open in the wind.  When we met he did notwait forme to ask any questionshe told me at once that he hadbeen tothe farm to inquire if Mr. or Mrs. Todd had received anytidingssince his last visit to Limmeridgeof Anne Catherick.

"Youfoundof coursethat they had heard nothing?" I said.

"Nothingwhatever" he replied.  "I begin to be seriouslyafraidthat wehave lost her.  Do you happen to know" he continuedlooking mein the face very attentively "if the artistMr.Hartrightisin a position to give us any further information?"

"Hehas neither heard of hernor seen hersince he leftCumberland"I answered.

"Verysad" said Sir Percivalspeaking like a man who wasdisappointedand yetoddly enoughlooking at the same time likea man whowas relieved.  "It is impossible to say what misfortunesmay nothave happened to the miserable creature.  I aminexpressiblyannoyed at the failure of all my efforts to restoreher to thecare and protection which she so urgently needs."

This timehe really looked annoyed.  I said a few sympathisingwordsandwe then talked of other subjects on our way back to thehouse. Surely my chance meeting with him on the moor hasdisclosedanother favourable trait in his character? Surely it wassingularlyconsiderate and unselfish of him to think of AnneCatherickon the eve of his marriageand to go all the way toTodd'sCorner to make inquiries about herwhen he might havepassed thetime so much more agreeably in Laura's society?Consideringthat he can only have acted from motives of purecharityhis conductunder the circumstancesshows unusual goodfeelingand deserves extraordinary praise.  Well! I give himextraordinarypraiseand there's an end of it.

 

19th.Morediscoveries in the inexhaustible mine of SirPercival'svirtues.

To-day Iapproached the subject of my proposed sojourn under hiswife'sroof when he brings her back to England.  I had hardlydropped myfirst hint in this direction before he caught me warmlyby thehandand said I had made the very offer to him which hehad beenon his sidemost anxious to make to me.  I was thecompanionof all others whom he most sincerely longed to securefor hiswifeand he begged me to believe that I had conferred alastingfavour on him by making the proposal to live with Lauraafter hermarriageexactly as I had always lived with her beforeit.

When I hadthanked him in her name and mine for his consideratekindnessto both of uswe passed next to the subject of hisweddingtourand began to talk of the English society in Rome towhichLaura was to be introduced.  He ran over the names ofseveralfriends whom he expected to meet abroad this winter.  Theywere allEnglishas well as I can rememberwith one exception.The oneexception was Count Fosco.

Themention of the Count's nameand the discovery that he and hiswife arelikely to meet the bride and bridegroom on the continentputsLaura's marriagefor the first timein a distinctlyfavourablelight.  It is likely to be the means of healing afamilyfeud.  Hitherto Madame Fosco has chosen to forget herobligationsas Laura's aunt out of sheer spite against the lateMr.Fairlie for his conduct in the affair of the legacy.  Nowhowevershe can persist in this course of conduct no longer.  SirPercivaland Count Fosco are old and fast friendsand their wiveswill haveno choice but to meet on civil terms.  Madame Fosco inher maidendays was one of the most impertinent women I ever metwithcapriciousexactingand vain to the last degree ofabsurdity. If her husband has succeeded in bringing her to hersenseshedeserves the gratitude of every member of the familyand he mayhave mine to begin with.

I ambecoming anxious to know the Count.  He is the most intimatefriend ofLaura's husbandand in that capacity he excites mystrongestinterest.  Neither Laura nor I have ever seen him.  AllI know ofhim is that his accidental presenceyears agoon thesteps ofthe Trinita del Monte at Romeassisted Sir Percival'sescapefrom robbery and assassination at the critical moment whenhe waswounded in the handand might the next instant have beenwounded inthe heart.  I remember also thatat the time of thelate Mr.Fairlie's absurd objections to his sister's marriagetheCountwrote him a very temperate and sensible letter on thesubjectwhichI am ashamed to sayremained unanswered.  This isall I knowof Sir Percival's friend.  I wonder if he will evercome toEngland? I wonder if I shall like him?

My pen isrunning away into mere speculation.  Let me return tosobermatter of fact.  It is certain that Sir Percival's receptionof myventuresome proposal to live with his wife was more thankinditwas almost affectionate.  I am sure Laura's husband willhave noreason to complain of me if I can only go on as I havebegun. I have already declared him to be handsomeagreeablefull ofgood feeling towards the unfortunate and full ofaffectionatekindness towards me.  ReallyI hardly; know myselfagain inmy new character of Sir Percival's warmest friend.

 

20th.Ihate Sir Percival! I flatly deny his good looks.  Iconsiderhim to be eminently ill-tempered and disagreeableandtotallywanting in kindness and good feeling.  Last night thecards forthe married couple were sent home.  Laura opened thepacket andsaw her future name in print for the first time.  SirPercivallooked over her shoulder familiarly at the new card whichhadalready transformed Miss Fairlie into Lady Glydesmiled withthe mostodious self-complacencyand whispered something in herear. I don't know what it wasLaura has refused to tell mebutI saw herface turn to such a deadly whiteness that I thought shewould havefainted.  He took no notice of the changehe seemed tobebarbarously unconscious that he had said anything to pain her.All my oldfeelings of hostility towards him revived on theinstantand all the hours that have passed since have donenothing todissipate them.  I am more unreasonable and more unjustthanever.  In three wordshow glibly my pen writes them!inthreewordsI hate him.

 

21st.Havethe anxieties of this anxious time shaken me a littleat last? Ihave been writingfor the last few daysin a tone oflevitywhichHeaven knowsis far enough from my heartand whichit hasrather shocked me to discover on looking back at theentries inmy journal.

Perhaps Imay have caught the feverish excitement of Laura'sspiritsfor the last week.  If sothe fit has already passed awayfrom meand has left me in a very strange state of mind.  Apersistentidea has been forcing itself on my attentioneversince lastnightthat something will yet happen to prevent themarriage. What has produced this singular fancy? Is it theindirectresult of my apprehensions for Laura's future? Or has itbeenunconsciously suggested to me by the increasing restlessnessandirritability which I have certainly observed in Sir Percival'smanner asthe wedding-day draws nearer and nearer? Impossible tosay. I know that I have the ideasurely the wildest ideaunderthecircumstancesthat ever entered a woman's head?but try as ImayIcannot trace it back to its source.

This lastday has been all confusion and wretchedness.  How can Iwriteabout it?and yetI must write.  Anything is better thanbroodingover my own gloomy thoughts.

Kind Mrs.Veseywhom we have all too much overlooked andforgottenof lateinnocently caused us a sad morning to beginwith. She has beenfor months pastsecretly making a warmShetlandshawl for her dear pupila most beautiful and surprisingpiece ofwork to be done by a woman at her age and with herhabits. The gift was presented this morningand poor warm-heartedLaura completely broke down when the shawl was put proudlyon hershoulders by the loving old friend and guardian of hermotherlesschildhood.  I was hardly allowed time to quiet thembothoreven to dry my own eyeswhen I was sent for by Mr.Fairlieto be favoured with a long recital of his arrangementsfor thepreservation of his own tranquillity on the wedding-day.

"DearLaura" was to receive his presenta shabby ringwith heraffectionateuncle's hair for an ornamentinstead of a preciousstoneandwith a heartless French inscription insideaboutcongenialsentiments and eternal friendship"dear Laura" was toreceivethis tender tribute from my hands immediatelyso that shemight haveplenty of time to recover from the agitation producedby thegift before she appeared in Mr. Fairlie's presence.  "DearLaura"was to pay him a little visit that eveningand to be kindenough notto make a scene.  "Dear Laura" was to pay him anotherlittlevisit in her wedding-dress the next morningand to be kindenoughagainnot to make a scene.  "Dear Laura" was to lookinonce morefor the third timebefore going awaybut withoutharrowinghis feelings by saying WHEN she was going awayandwithouttears"in the name of pityin the name of everythingdearMarianthat is most affectionate and most domesticand mostdelightfullyand charmingly self-composedWITHOUT TEARS! " I wassoexasperated by this miserable selfish triflingat such a timethat Ishould certainly have shocked Mr. Fairlie by some of thehardestand rudest truths he has ever heard in his lifeif thearrival ofMr. Arnold from Polesdean had not called me away to newdutiesdownstairs.

The restof the day is indescribable.  I believe no one in thehousereally knew how it passed.  The confusion of small eventsallhuddled together one on the otherbewildered everybody.There weredresses sent home that had been forgottenthere weretrunks tobe packed and unpacked and packed againthere werepresentsfrom friends far and nearfriends high and low.  We wereallneedlessly hurriedall nervously expectant of the morrow.SirPercivalespeciallywas too restless now to remain fiveminutestogether in the same place.  That shortsharp cough ofhistroubled him more than ever.  He was in and out of doors allday longand he seemed to grow so inquisitive on a suddenthathequestioned the very strangers who came on small errands to thehouse. Add to all thisthe one perpetual thought in Laura's mindand minethat we were to part the next dayand the hauntingdreadunexpressed by either of usand yet ever present to boththat thisdeplorable marriage might prove to be the one fatalerror ofher life and the one hopeless sorrow of mine.  For thefirst timein all the years of our close and happy intercourse wealmostavoided looking each other in the faceand we refrainedby commonconsentfrom speaking together in private through thewholeevening.  I can dwell on it no longer.  Whatever futuresorrowsmay be in store for meI shall always look back on thistwenty-firstof December as the most comfortless and mostmiserableday of my life.

I amwriting these lines in the solitude of my own roomlongaftermidnighthaving just come back from a stolen look at Laurain herpretty little white bedthe bed she has occupied since thedays ofher girlhood.

There shelayunconscious that I was looking at herquietmorequiet thanI had dared to hopebut not sleeping.  The glimmer ofthenight-light showed me that her eyes were only partiallyclosedthetraces of tears glistened between her eye-lids.  Mylittlekeepsakeonly a broochlay on the table at her bedsidewith herprayer-bookand the miniature portrait of her fatherwhich shetakes with her wherever she goes.  I waited a momentlooking ather from behind her pillowas she lay beneath mewithone armand hand resting on the white coverlidso stillsoquietlybreathingthat the frill on her night-dress never movedI waitedlooking at heras I have seen her thousands of timesas I shallnever see her againand then stole back to my room.My ownlove! with all your wealthand all your beautyhowfriendlessyou are! The one man who would give his heart's life toserve youis far awaytossingthis stormy nighton the awfulsea. Who else is left to you? No fatherno brotherno livingcreaturebut the helplessuseless woman who writes these sadlinesandwatches by you for the morningin sorrow that shecannotcomposein doubt that she cannot conquer.  Ohwhat atrust isto be placed in that man's hands to-morrow! If ever heforgetsitif ever he injures a hair of her head!

 

THETWENTY-SECOND OF DECEMBER.  Seven o'clock.  A wildunsettledmorning. She has just risenbetter and calmernow that the timehas comethan she was yesterday.

 

Teno'clock.  She is dressed.  We have kissed each otherwe havepromisedeach other not to lose courage.  I am away for a momentin my ownroom.  In the whirl and confusion of my thoughtsI candetectthat strange fancy of some hindrance happening to stop themarriagestill hanging about my mind.  Is it hanging about HISmind too?I see him from the windowmoving hither and thitheruneasilyamong the carriages at the door.How can I write suchfolly! Themarriage is a certainty.  In less than half an hour westart forthe church.

 

Eleveno'clock.  It is all over.  They are married.

 

Threeo'clock.  They are gone! I am blind with cryingI can writeno more

*   *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *   *

[The FirstEpoch of the Story closes here.]

 

 

THE SECONDEPOCH

THE STORYCONTINUED BY MARIAN HALCOMBE.

 

I

BLACKWATERPARKHAMPSHIRE.

 

June 11th1850.Six months to look back onsix longlonelymonthssince Laura and I last saw each other!

How manydays have I still to wait? Only one! To-morrowthetwelfththe travellers return to England.  I can hardly realisemy ownhappinessI can hardly believe that the next four-and-twentyhours will complete the last day of separation betweenLaura andme.

She andher husband have been in Italy all the winterandafterwardsin the Tyrol.  They come backaccompanied by CountFosco andhis wifewho propose to settle somewhere in theneighbourhoodof Londonand who have engaged to stay atBlackwaterPark for the summer months before deciding on a placeofresidence.  So long as Laura returnsno matter who returnswith her. Sir Percival may fill the house from floor to ceilingif helikeson condition that his wife and I inhabit it together.

Meanwhilehere I amestablished at Blackwater Park"the ancientandinteresting seat" (as the county history obligingly informsme) "ofSir Percival GlydeBart." and the future abiding-place(as I maynow venture to add on my account) of plain MarianHalcombespinsternow settled in a snug little sitting-roomwith a cupof tea by her sideand all her earthly possessionsrangedround her in three boxes and a bag.

I leftLimmeridge yesterdayhaving received Laura's delightfulletterfrom Paris the day before.  I had been previously uncertainwhether Iwas to meet them in London or in Hampshirebut thislastletter informed me that Sir Percival proposed to land atSouthamptonand to travel straight on to his country-house.  Hehas spentso much money abroad that he has none left to defray theexpensesof living in London for the remainder of the seasonandhe iseconomically resolved to pass the summer and autumn quietlyatBlackwater.  Laura has had more than enough of excitement andchange ofsceneand is pleased at the prospect of countrytranquillityand retirement which her husband's prudence providesfor her. As for meI am ready to be happy anywhere in hersociety. We are allthereforewell contented in our variouswaystobegin with.

Last nightI slept in Londonand was delayed there so long to-dayby variouscalls and commissionsthat I did not reach Blackwaterthisevening till after dusk.

Judging bymy vague impressions of the place thus farit is theexactopposite of Limmeridge.

The houseis situated on a dead flatand seems to be shut inalmostsuffocatedto my north-country notionsby trees.  I haveseennobody but the man-servant who opened the door to meand thehousekeepera very civil personwho showed me the way to my ownroomandgot me my tea.  I have a nice little boudoir andbedroomat the end of a long passage on the first floor.  Theservantsand some of the spare rooms are on the second floorandall theliving rooms are on the ground floor.  I have not seen oneof themyetand I know nothing about the houseexcept that onewing of itis said to be five hundred years oldthat it had amoat roundit onceand that it gets its name of Blackwater from alake inthe park.

Eleveno'clock has just struckin a ghostly and solemn mannerfrom aturret over the centre of the housewhich I saw when Icame in. A large dog has been wokeapparently by the sound ofthe belland is howling and yawning drearilysomewhere round acorner. I hear echoing footsteps in the passages belowand theironthumping of bolts and bars at the house door.  The servantsareevidently going to bed.  Shall I follow their example?

NoI amnot half sleepy enough.  Sleepydid I say? I feel as ifI shouldnever close my eyes again.  The bare anticipation ofseeingthat dear faceand hearing that well-known voice to-morrowkeeps me in a perpetual fever of excitement.  If I onlyhad theprivileges of a manI would order out Sir Percival's besthorseinstantlyand tear away on a night-gallopeastwardtomeet therising suna longhardheavyceaseless gallop ofhours andhourslike the famous highwayman's ride to York.Beinghowevernothing but a womancondemned to patienceproprietyand petticoats for lifeI must respect the house-keeper'sopinionsand try to compose myself in some feeble andfeminineway.

Reading isout of the questionI can't fix my attention on books.Let me tryif I can write myself into sleepiness and fatigue.  Myjournalhas been very much neglected of late.  What can I recallstandingas I now doon the threshold of a new lifeof personsandeventsof chances and changesduring the past six monthsthe longwearyempty interval since Laura's wedding-day?

 

WalterHartright is uppermost in my memoryand he passes first intheshadowy procession of my absent friends.  I received a fewlines fromhimafter the landing of the expedition in Honduraswrittenmore cheerfully and hopefully than he has written yet.  Amonth orsix weeks later I saw an extract from an Americannewspaperdescribing the departure of the adventurers on theirinlandjourney.  They were last seen entering a wild primevalforesteach man with his rifle on his shoulder and his baggage athis back. Since that timecivilisation has lost all trace ofthem. Not a line more have I received from Walternot a fragmentof newsfrom the expedition has appeared in any of the publicjournals.

The samedensedisheartening obscurity hangs over the fate andfortunesof Anne Catherickand her companionMrs. Clements.Nothingwhatever has been heard of either of them.  Whether theyare in thecountry or out of itwhether they are living or deadno oneknows.  Even Sir Percival's solicitor has lost all hopeand hasordered the useless search after the fugitives to befinallygiven up.

Our goodold friend Mr. Gilmore has met with a sad check in hisactiveprofessional career.  Early in the spring we were alarmedby hearingthat he had been found insensible at his deskand thattheseizure was pronounced to be an apoplectic fit.  He had beenlongcomplaining of fulness and oppression in the headand hisdoctor hadwarned him of the consequences that would follow hispersistencyin continuing to workearly and lateas if he werestill ayoung man.  The result now is that he has been positivelyordered tokeep out of his office for a year to comeat leastand toseek repose of body and relief of mind by altogetherchanginghis usual mode of life.  The business is leftaccordinglyto be carried on by his partnerand he is himselfat thismomentaway in Germanyvisiting some relations who aresettledthere in mercantile pursuits.  Thus another true friendandtrustworthy adviser is lost to uslostI earnestly hope andtrustfora time only.

Poor Mrs.Vesey travelled with me as far as London.  It wasimpossibleto abandon her to solitude at Limmeridge after Lauraand I hadboth left the houseand we have arranged that she is tolive withan unmarried younger sister of herswho keeps a schoolatClapham.  She is to come here this autumn to visit her pupilImightalmost say her adopted child.  I saw the good old lady safeto herdestinationand left her in the care of her relativequietlyhappy at the prospect of seeing Laura again in a fewmonths'time.

As for Mr.FairlieI believe I am guilty of no injustice if Idescribehim as being unutterably relieved by having the houseclear ofus women.  The idea of his missing his niece is simplypreposterousheused to let months pass in the old times withoutattemptingto see herand in my case and Mrs. Vesey'sI takeleave toconsider his telling us both that he was half heart-broken atour departureto be equivalent to a confession that hewassecretly rejoiced to get rid of us.  His last caprice has ledhim tokeep two photographers incessantly employed in producingsun-picturesof all the treasures and curiosities in hispossession. One complete copy of the collection of thephotographsis to be presented to the Mechanics' Institution ofCarlislemounted on the finest cardboardwith ostentatious red-letterinscriptions underneath"Madonna and Child by Raphael.  Inthepossession of Frederick FairlieEsquire." "Copper coin oftheperiod ofTiglath Pileser.  In the possession of FrederickFairlieEsquire." "Unique Rembrandt etching.  Known all overEurope asTHE SMUDGEfrom a printer's blot in the corner whichexists inno other copy.  Valued at three hundred guineas.  In thepossessionof Frederick FairlieEsq." Dozens of photographs ofthis sortand all inscribed in this mannerwere completed beforeI leftCumberlandand hundreds more remain to be done.  With thisnewinterest to occupy himMr. Fairlie will be a happy man formonths andmonths to comeand the two unfortunate photographerswill sharethe social martyrdom which he has hitherto inflicted onhis valetalone.

So muchfor the persons and events which hold the foremost placein mymemory.  What next of the one person who holds the foremostplace inmy heart? Laura has been present to my thoughts all thewhile Ihave been writing these lines.  What can I recall of herduring thepast six monthsbefore I close my journal for thenight?

I haveonly her letters to guide meand on the most important ofall thequestions which our correspondence can discussevery oneof thoseletters leaves me in the dark.

Does hetreat her kindly? Is she happier now than she was when Ipartedwith her on the wedding-day? All my letters have containedthese twoinquiriesput more or less directlynow in one formand now inanotherand allon that point onlyhave remainedwithoutreplyor have been answered as if my questions merelyrelated tothe state of her health.  She informs meover and overagainthat she is perfectly wellthat travelling agrees withherthatshe is getting through the winterfor the first time inher lifewithout catching coldbut not a word can I findanywherewhich tells me plainly that she is reconciled to hermarriageand that she can now look back to the twenty-second ofDecemberwithout any bitter feelings of repentance and regret.The nameof her husband is only mentioned in her lettersas shemightmention the name of a friend who was travelling with themand whohad undertaken to make all the arrangements for thejourney. "Sir Percival" has settled that we leave on such a day"SirPercival" has decided that we travel by such a road.Sometimesshe writes "Percival" onlybut very seldomin ninecases outof ten she gives him his title.

I cannotfind that his habits and opinions have changed andcolouredhers in any single particular.  The usual moraltransformationwhich is insensibly wrought in a youngfreshsensitivewoman by her marriageseems never to have taken placein Laura. She writes of her own thoughts and impressionsamidall thewonders she has seenexactly as she might have written tosome oneelseif I had been travelling with her instead of herhusband. I see no betrayal anywhere of sympathy of any kindexistingbetween them.  Even when she wanders from the subject ofhertravelsand occupies herself with the prospects that awaither inEnglandher speculations are busied with her future as mysisterand persistently neglect to notice her future as SirPercival'swife.  In all this there is no undertone of complaintto warn methat she is absolutely unhappy in her married life.Theimpression I have derived from our correspondence does notthank Godlead me to any such distressing conclusion as that.  Ionly see asad torporan unchangeable indifferencewhen I turnmy mindfrom her in the old character of a sisterand look atherthrough the medium of her lettersin the new character of awife. In other wordsit is always Laura Fairlie who has beenwriting tome for the last six monthsand never Lady Glyde.

Thestrange silence which she maintains on the subject of herhusband'scharacter and conductshe preserves with almost equalresolutionin the few references which her later letters containto thename of her husband's bosom friendCount Fosco.

For someunexplained reason the Count and his wife appear to havechangedtheir plans abruptlyat the end of last autumnand tohave goneto Vienna instead of going to Romeat which latterplace SirPercival had expected to find them when he left England.They onlyquitted Vienna in the springand travelled as far asthe Tyrolto meet the bride and bridegroom on their homewardjourney. Laura writes readily enough about the meeting withMadameFoscoand assures me that she has found her aunt so muchchangedfor the betterso much quieterand so much more sensibleas a wifethan she was as a single womanthat I shall hardly knowher againwhen I see her here.  But on the subject of Count Fosco(whointerests me infinitely more than his wife)Laura isprovokinglycircumspect and silent.  She only says that he puzzlesherandthat she will not tell me what her impression of him isuntil Ihave seen himand formed my own opinion first.

Thistomy mindlooks ill for the Count.  Laura has preservedfar moreperfectly than most people do in later lifethe child'ssubtlefaculty of knowing a friend by instinctand if I am rightinassuming that her first impression of Count Fosco has not beenfavourableI for one am in some danger of doubting anddistrustingthat illustrious foreigner before I have so much asset eyeson him.  Butpatiencepatiencethis uncertaintyandmanyuncertainties morecannot last much longer.  To-morrow willsee all mydoubts in a fair way of being cleared upsooner orlater.

Twelveo'clock has struckand I have just come back to closethesepagesafter looking out at my open window.

It is astillsultrymoonless night.  The stars are dull andfew. The trees that shut out the view on all sides look dimlyblack andsolid in the distancelike a great wall of rock.  Ihear thecroaking of frogsfaint and far offand the echoes ofthe greatclock hum in the airless calm long after the strokeshaveceased.  I wonder how Blackwater Park will look in thedaytime? Idon't altogether like it by night.

 

12th.A dayof investigations and discoveriesa more interestingdayformany reasonsthan I had ventured to anticipate.

I began mysight-seeingof coursewith the house.

The mainbody of the building is of the time of that highly-overratedwomanQueen Elizabeth.  On the ground floor there aretwo hugelylong gallerieswith low ceilings lying parallel witheachotherand rendered additionally dark and dismal by hideousfamilyportraitsevery one of which I should like to burn.  Therooms onthe floor above the two galleries are kept in tolerablerepairbut are very seldom used.  The civil housekeeperwhoacted asmy guideoffered to show me over thembut consideratelyadded thatshe feared I should find them rather out of order.  Myrespectfor the integrity of my own petticoats and stockingsinfinitelyexceeds my respect for all the Elizabethan bedrooms inthekingdomso I positively declined exploring the upper regionsof dustand dirt at the risk of soiling my nice clean clothes.Thehousekeeper said"I am quite of your opinionmiss" andappearedto think me the most sensible woman she had met with fora longtime past.

So muchthenfor the main building.  Two wings are added ateither endof it.  The half-ruined wing on the left (as youapproachthe house) was once a place of residence standing byitselfand was built in the fourteenth century.  One of SirPercival'smaternal ancestorsI don't rememberand don't carewhichtackedon the main buildingat right angles to itin theaforesaidQueen Elizabeth's time.  The housekeeper told me thatthearchitecture of "the old wing" both outside and insidewasconsideredremarkably fine by good judges.  On furtherinvestigationI discovered that good judges could only exercisetheirabilities on Sir Percival's piece of antiquity by previouslydismissingfrom their minds all fear of dampdarknessand rats.Underthese circumstancesI unhesitatingly acknowledged myself tobe nojudge at alland suggested that we should treat "the oldwing"precisely as we had previously treated the Elizabethanbedrooms. Once more the housekeeper said"I am quite of youropinionmiss" and once more she looked at me with undisguisedadmirationof my extraordinary common-sense.

We wentnext to the wing on the rightwhich was builtby way ofcompletingthe wonderful architectural jumble at Blackwater Parkin thetime of George the Second.

This isthe habitable part of the housewhich has been repairedandredecorated inside on Laura's account.  My two roomsand allthe goodbedrooms besidesare on the first floorand thebasementcontains a drawing-rooma dining-rooma morning-roomalibraryand a pretty little boudoir for Lauraall very nicelyornamentedin the bright modern wayand all very elegantlyfurnishedwith the delightful modern luxuries.  None of the roomsareanything like so large and airy as our rooms at Limmeridgebut theyall look pleasant to live in.  I was terribly afraidfrom whatI had heard of Blackwater Parkof fatiguing antiquechairsand dismal stained glassand mustyfrouzy hangingsandall thebarbarous lumber which people born without a sense ofcomfortaccumulate about themin defiance of the considerationdue to theconvenience of their friends.  It is an inexpressiblerelief tofind that the nineteenth century has invaded thisstrangefuture home of mineand has swept the dirty "good oldtimes"out of the way of our daily life.

I dawdledaway the morningpart of the time in the roomsdownstairsand part out of doors in the great square which isformed bythe three sides of the houseand by the lofty ironrailingsand gates which protect it in front.  A large circularfishpondwith stone sidesand an allegorical leaden monster inthemiddleoccupies the centre of the square.  The pond itself isfull ofgold and silver fishand is encircled by a broad belt ofthesoftest turf I ever walked on.  I loitered here on the shadysidepleasantly enough till luncheon-timeand after that took mybroadstraw hat and wandered out alone in the warm lovely sunlightto explorethe grounds.

Daylightconfirmed the impression which I had felt the nightbeforeofthere being too many trees at Blackwater.  The house isstifled bythem.  They arefor the most partyoungand plantedfar toothickly.  I suspect there must have been a ruinous cuttingdown oftimber all over the estate before Sir Percival's timeandan angryanxiety on the part of the next possessor to fill up allthe gapsas thickly and rapidly as possible.  After looking aboutme infront of the houseI observed a flower-garden on my lefthandandwalked towards it to see what I could discover in thatdirection.

On anearer view the garden proved to be small and poor and illkept. I left it behind meopened a little gate in a ring fenceand foundmyself in a plantation of fir-trees.

A prettywinding pathartificially madeled me on among thetreesandmy north-country experience soon informed me that I wasapproachingsandyheathy ground.  After a walk of more than halfa mileIshould thinkamong the firsthe path took a sharpturnthetrees abruptly ceased to appear on either side of meand Ifound myself standing suddenly on the margin of a vast openspaceandlooking down at the Blackwater lake from which thehousetakes its name.

Thegroundshelving away below mewas all sandwith a fewlittleheathy hillocks to break the monotony of it in certainplaces. The lake itself had evidently once flowed to the spot onwhich Istoodand had been gradually wasted and dried up to lessthan athird of its former size.  I saw its stillstagnantwatersaquarter of a mile away from me in the hollowseparatedinto poolsand ponds by twining reeds and rushesand littleknolls ofearth.  On the farther bank from me the trees rosethicklyagainand shut out the viewand cast their black shadowson thesluggishshallow water.  As I walked down to the lakeIsaw thatthe ground on its farther side was damp and marshyovergrownwith rank grass and dismal willows.  The waterwhichwas clearenough on the open sandy sidewhere the sun shonelookedblack and poisonous opposite to mewhere it lay deeperunder theshade of the spongy banksand the rank overhangingthicketsand tangled trees.  The frogs were croakingand the ratswereslipping in and out of the shadowy waterlike live shadowsthemselvesas I got nearer to the marshy side of the lake.  I sawherelying half in and half out of the waterthe rotten wreck ofan oldoverturned boatwith a sickly spot of sunlight glimmeringthrough agap in the trees on its dry surfaceand a snake baskingin themidst of the spotfantastically coiled and treacherouslystill. Far and near the view suggested the same drearyimpressionsof solitude and decayand the glorious brightness ofthe summersky overhead seemed only to deepen and harden the gloomandbarrenness of the wilderness on which it shone.  I turned andretracedmy steps to the high heathy grounddirecting them alittleaside from my former path towards a shabby old wooden shedwhichstood on the outer skirt of the fir plantationand whichhadhitherto been too unimportant to share my notice with thewidewildprospect of the lake.

Onapproaching the shed I found that it had once been a boat-houseandthat an attempt had apparently been made to convert itafterwardsinto a sort of rude arbourby placing inside it afirwoodseata few stoolsand a table.  I entered the placeandsat downfor a little while to rest and get my breath again.

I had notbeen in the boat-house more than a minute when it struckme thatthe sound of my own quick breathing was very strangelyechoed bysomething beneath me.  I listened intently for a momentand hearda lowthicksobbing breath that seemed to come fromthe groundunder the seat which I was occupying.  My nerves arenot easilyshaken by triflesbut on this occasion I started to myfeet in afrightcalled outreceived no answersummoned back myrecreantcourageand looked under the seat.

Therecrouched up in the farthest cornerlay the forlorn causeof myterrorin the shape of a poor little doga black and whitespaniel. The creature moaned feebly when I looked at it andcalled toitbut never stirred.  I moved away the seat and lookedcloser. The poor little dog's eyes were glazing fastand therewere spotsof blood on its glossy white side.  The misery of aweakhelplessdumb creature is surely one of the saddest of allthemournful sights which this world can show.  I lifted the poordog in myarms as gently as I couldand contrived a sort of make-shifthammock for him to lie inby gathering up the front of mydress allround him.  In this way I took the creatureaspainlesslyas possibleand as fast as possibleback to thehouse.

Finding noone in the hall I went up at once to my own sitting-roommadea bed for the dog with one of my old shawlsand rangthe bell. The largest and fattest of all possible house-maidsanswereditin a state of cheerful stupidity which would haveprovokedthe patience of a saint.  The girl's fatshapeless faceactuallystretched into a broad grin at the sight of the woundedcreatureon the floor.

"Whatdo you see there to laugh at?" I askedas angrily as if shehad been aservant of my own.  "Do you know whose dog it is?"

"Nomissthat I certainly don't." She stoopedand looked downat thespaniel's injured sidebrightened suddenly with theirradiationof a new ideaand pointing to the wound with achuckle ofsatisfactionsaid"That's Baxter's doingsthat is."

I was soexasperated that I could have boxed her ears.  "Baxter?"I said. "Who is the brute you call Baxter?"

The girlgrinned again more cheerfully than ever.  "Bless youmiss!Baxter's the keeperand when he finds strange dogs huntingabouthetakes and shoots 'em.  It's keeper's dooty missI thinkthat dogwill die.  Here's where he's been shotain't it? That'sBaxter'sdoingsthat is.  Baxter's doingsmissand Baxter'sdooty."

I wasalmost wicked enough to wish that Baxter had shot thehousemaidinstead of the dog.  Seeing that it was quite useless toexpectthis densely impenetrable personage to give me any help inrelievingthe suffering creature at our feetI told her torequestthe housekeeper's attendance with my compliments.  Shewent outexactly as she had come ingrinning from ear to ear.  Asthe doorclosed on her she said to herself softly"It's Baxter'sdoings andBaxter's dootythat's what it is."

Thehousekeepera person of some education and intelligencethoughtfullybrought upstairs with her some milk and some warmwater. The instant she saw the dog on the floor she started andchangedcolour.

"WhyLord bless me" cried the housekeeper"that must be Mrs.Catherick'sdog!"

"Whose?"I askedin the utmost astonishment.

"Mrs.Catherick's.  You seem to know Mrs. CatherickMissHalcombe?"

"Notpersonallybut I have heard of her.  Does she live here? Hasshe hadany news of her daughter?"

"NoMiss Halcombeshe came here to ask for news."

"When?"

"Onlyyesterday.  She said some one had reported that a strangeransweringto the description of her daughter had been seen in ourneighbourhood. No such report has reached us hereand no suchreport wasknown in the villagewhen I sent to make inquiriesthere onMrs. Catherick's account.  She certainly brought thispoorlittle dog with her when she cameand I saw it trot outafter herwhen she went away.  I suppose the creature strayed intotheplantationsand got shot.  Where did you find itMissHalcombe?"

"Inthe old shed that looks out on the lake."

"Ahyesthat is the plantation sideand the poor thing draggeditselfIsupposeto the nearest shelteras dogs willto die.If you canmoisten its lips with the milkMiss HalcombeI willwash theclotted hair from the wound.  I am very much afraid it istoo lateto do any good.  Howeverwe can but try."

Mrs.Catherick! The name still rang in my earsas if thehousekeeperhad only that moment surprised me by uttering it.While wewere attending to the dogthe words of WalterHartright'scaution to me returned to my memory: "If ever AnneCatherickcrosses your pathmake better use of the opportunityMissHalcombethan I made of it." The finding of the woundedspanielhad led me already to the discovery of Mrs. Catherick'svisit toBlackwater Parkand that event might lead in its turntosomething more.  I determined to make the most of the chancewhich wasnow offered to meand to gain as much information as Icould.

"Didyou say that Mrs. Catherick lived anywhere in thisneighbourhood?"I asked.

"Ohdearno" said the housekeeper.  "She lives atWelminghamquite atthe other end of the countyfive-and-twenty miles offat least."

"Isuppose you have known Mrs. Catherick for some years?"

"Onthe contraryMiss HalcombeI never saw her before she camehereyesterday.  I had heard of herof coursebecause I hadheard ofSir Percival's kindness in putting her daughter undermedicalcare.  Mrs. Catherick is rather a strange person in hermannersbut extremely respectable-looking.  She seemed sorely putout whenshe found that there was no foundationnoneat leastthat anyof us could discoverfor the report of her daughterhavingbeen seen in this neighbourhood."

"I amrather interested about Mrs. Catherick" I went oncontinuingthe conversation as long as possible.  "I wish I hadarrivedhere soon enough to see her yesterday.  Did she stay forany lengthof time?"

"Yes"said the housekeeper"she stayed for some time; and Ithink shewould have remained longerif I had not been calledaway tospeak to a strange gentlemana gentleman who came to askwhen SirPercival was expected back.  Mrs. Catherick got up andleft atoncewhen she heard the maid tell me what the visitor'serrandwas.  She said to meat partingthat there was no need totell SirPercival of her coming here.  I thought that rather anodd remarkto makeespecially to a person in my responsiblesituation."

I thoughtit an odd remark too.  Sir Percival had certainly led metobelieveat Limmeridgethat the most perfect confidenceexistedbetween himself and Mrs. Catherick.  If that was the casewhy shouldshe be anxious to have her visit at Blackwater Parkkept asecret from him?

"Probably"I saidseeing that the housekeeper expected me togive myopinion on Mrs. Catherick's parting words"probably shethoughtthe announcement of her visit might vex Sir Percival to nopurposeby reminding him that her lost daughter was not foundyet. Did she talk much on that subject?"

"Verylittle" replied the housekeeper.  "She talkedprincipallyof SirPercivaland asked a great many questions about where hehad beentravellingand what sort of lady his new wife was.  Sheseemed tobe more soured and put out than distressedby failingto findany traces of her daughter in these parts.  'I give herup' werethe last words she said that I can remember; 'I give herupma'amfor lost.' And from that she passed at once to herquestionsabout Lady Glydewanting to know if she was a handsomeamiableladycomely and healthy and youngAhdear! I thoughthow itwould end.  LookMiss Halcombethe poor thing is out ofits miseryat last!"

The dogwas dead.  It had given a faintsobbing cryit hadsufferedan instant's convulsion of the limbsjust as those lastwords"comely and healthy and young" dropped from thehousekeeper'slips.  The change had happened with startlingsuddennessinone moment the creature lay lifeless under ourhands.

Eighto'clock.  I have just returned from dining downstairsinsolitarystate.  The sunset is burning redly on the wilderness oftrees thatI see from my windowand I am poring over my journalagaintocalm my impatience for the return of the travellers.They oughtto have arrivedby my calculationsbefore this.  Howstill andlonely the house is in the drowsy evening quiet! Oh me!how manyminutes more before I hear the carriage wheels and rundownstairsto find myself in Laura's arms?

The poorlittle dog! I wish my first day at Blackwater Park hadnot beenassociated with deaththough it is only the death of astrayanimal.

WelminghamIseeon looking back through these private pages ofminethatWelmingham is the name of the place where Mrs.Cathericklives.  Her note is still in my possessionthe note inanswer tothat letter about her unhappy daughter which SirPercivalobliged me to write.  One of these dayswhen I can finda safeopportunityI will take the note with me by way ofintroductionand try what I can make of Mrs. Catherick at apersonalinterview.  I don't understand her wishing to conceal hervisit tothis place from Sir Percival's knowledgeand I don'tfeel halfso sureas the housekeeper seems to dothat herdaughterAnne is not in the neighbourhood after all.  What wouldWalterHartright have said in this emergency? PoordearHartright!I am beginning to feel the want of his honest adviceand hiswilling help already.

Surely Iheard something.  Was it a bustle of footsteps belowstairs?Yes! I hear the horses' feetI hear the rolling wheels

 

 

II

 

June15th.The confusion of their arrival has had time tosubside. Two days have elapsed since the return of thetravellersand that interval has sufficed to put the newmachineryof our lives at Blackwater Park in fair working order.I may nowreturn to my journalwith some little chance of beingable tocontinue the entries in it as collectedly as usual.

I think Imust begin by putting down an odd remark which hassuggesteditself to me since Laura came back.

When twomembers of a family or two intimate friends areseparatedand one goes abroad and one remains at homethe returnof therelative or friend who has been travelling always seems toplace therelative or friend who has been staying at home at apainfuldisadvantage when the two first meet.  The suddenencounterof the new thoughts and new habits eagerly gained in theone casewith the old thoughts and old habits passively preservedin theotherseems at first to part the sympathies of the mostlovingrelatives and the fondest friendsand to set a suddenstrangenessunexpected by both and uncontrollable by bothbetweenthem on either side.  After the first happiness of mymeetingwith Laura was overafter we had sat down together handin hand torecover breath enough and calmness enough to talkIfelt thisstrangeness instantlyand I could see that she felt ittoo. It has partially worn awaynow that we have fallen backinto mostof our old habitsand it will probably disappear beforelong. But it has certainly had an influence over the firstimpressionsthat I have formed of hernow that we are livingtogetheragainfor which reason only I have thought fit tomention ithere.

She hasfound me unalteredbut I have found her changed.

Changed inpersonand in one respect changed in character.  Icannotabsolutely say that she is less beautiful than she used tobeI canonly say that she is less beautiful to me.

Otherswho do not look at her with my eyes and my recollectionswouldprobably think her improved.  There is more colour and moredecisionand roundness of outline in her face than there used tobeandher figure seems more firmly set and more sure and easy inall itsmovements than it was in her maiden days.  But I misssomethingwhen I look at hersomething that once belonged to thehappyinnocent life of Laura Fairlieand that I cannot find inLadyGlyde.  There was in the old times a freshnessa softnessanever-varying and yet ever-remaining tenderness of beauty in herfacethecharm of which it is not possible to express in wordsoraspoor Hartright used often to sayin painting either.  Thisis gone. I thought I saw the faint reflection of it for a momentwhen sheturned pale under the agitation of our sudden meeting ontheevening of her returnbut it has never reappeared since.None ofher letters had prepared me for a personal change in her.On thecontrarythey had led me to expect that her marriage hadleft herin appearance at leastquite unaltered.  Perhaps I readherletters wrongly in the pastand am now reading her facewrongly inthe present? No matter! Whether her beauty has gainedor whetherit has lost in the last six monthsthe separationeither wayhas made her own dear self more precious to me thaneverandthat is one good result of her marriageat any rate!

The secondchangethe change that I have observed in hercharacterhas not surprised mebecause I was prepared for it inthis caseby the tone of her letters.  Now that she is at homeagainIfind her just as unwilling to enter into any details onthesubject of her married life as I had previously found her allthroughthe time of our separationwhen we could only communicatewith eachother by writing.  At the first approach I made to theforbiddentopic she put her hand on my lips with a look andgesturewhich touchinglyalmost painfullyrecalled to my memorythe daysof her girlhood and the happy bygone time when there wereno secretsbetween us.

"Wheneveryou and I are togetherMarian" she said"we shallboth behappier and easier with one anotherif we accept mymarriedlife for what it isand say and think as little about itaspossible.  I would tell you everythingdarlingabout myself"she wentonnervously buckling and unbuckling the ribbon round mywaist"ifmy confidences could only end there.  But they couldnottheywould lead me into confidences about my husband too; andnow I ammarriedI think I had better avoid themfor his sakeand foryour sakeand for mine.  I don't say that they woulddistressyouor distress meI wouldn't have you think that fortheworld.  ButI want to be so happynow I have got you backagainandI want you to be so happy too" She broke offabruptlyand looked round the roommy own sitting-roomin whichwe weretalking.  "Ah!" she criedclapping her hands with abrightsmile of recognition"another old friend found already!YourbookcaseMarianyour dear-little-shabby-old-satin-woodbookcasehowglad I am you brought it with you from Limmeridge!And thehorrid heavy man's umbrellathat you always would walkout withwhen it rained! And first and foremost of allyour owndeardarkclevergipsy-facelooking at me just as usual! It isso likehome again to be here.  How can we make it more like homestill? Iwill put my father's portrait in your room instead of inmineand Iwill keep all my little treasures from Limmeridgehereand wewill pass hours and hours every day with these fourfriendlywalls round us.  OhMarian!" she saidsuddenly seatingherself ona footstool at my kneesand looking up earnestly in myface"promise you will never marryand leave me.  It is selfishto say sobut you are so much better off as a single womanunlessunlessyou are very fond of your husbandbut you won't bevery fondof anybody but mewill you?" She stopped againcrossedmy handson my lapand laid her face on them.  "Have you beenwritingmany lettersand receiving many letters lately?" sheaskedinlowsuddenly-altered tones.  I understood what thequestionmeantbut I thought it my duty not to encourage her bymeetingher half way.  "Have you heard from him?" she went oncoaxing meto forgive the more direct appeal on which she nowventuredby kissing my handsupon which her face still rested."Ishe well and happyand getting on in his profession? Has herecoveredhimselfand forgotten me?"

She shouldnot have asked those questions.  She should haverememberedher own resolutionon the morning when Sir Percivalheld herto her marriage engagementand when she resigned thebook ofHartright's drawings into my hands for ever.  Butah me!where isthe faultless human creature who can persevere in a goodresolutionwithout sometimes failing and falling back? Where isthe womanwho has ever really torn from her heart the image thathas beenonce fixed in it by a true love? Books tell us that suchunearthlycreatures have existedbut what does our own experiencesay inanswer to books?

I made noattempt to remonstrate with her: perhapsbecause Isincerelyappreciated the fearless candour which let me seewhatotherwomen in her position might have had reasons for concealingeven fromtheir dearest friendsperhapsbecause I feltin myown heartand consciencethat in her place I should have askedthe samequestions and had the same thoughts.  All I couldhonestlydo was to reply that I had not written to him or heardfrom himlatelyand then to turn the conversation to lessdangeroustopics.

There hasbeen much to sadden me in our interviewmy firstconfidentialinterview with her since her return.  The changewhich hermarriage has produced in our relations towards eachotherbyplacing a forbidden subject between usfor the firsttime inour lives; the melancholy conviction of the dearth of allwarmth offeelingof all close sympathybetween her husband andherselfwhich her own unwilling words now force on my mind; thedistressingdiscovery that the influence of that ill-fatedattachmentstill remains (no matter how innocentlyhowharmlessly)rooted as deeply as ever in her heartall these aredisclosuresto sadden any woman who loves her as dearlyand feelsfor her asacutelyas I do.

There isonly one consolation to set against thema consolationthat oughtto comfort meand that does comfort me.  All thegraces andgentleness of her characterall the frank affection ofhernatureall the sweetsimplewomanly charms which used tomake herthe darling and delight of every one who approached herhave comeback to me with herself.  Of my other impressions I amsometimesa little inclined to doubt.  Of this lastbesthappiestof all impressionsI grow more and more certain everyhour inthe day.

Let meturnnowfrom her to her travelling companions.  Herhusbandmust engage my attention first.  What have I observed inSirPercivalsince his returnto improve my opinion of him?

I canhardly say.  Small vexations and annoyances seem to havebeset himsince he came backand no manunder thosecircumstancesis ever presented at his best.  He looksas Ithinkthinner than he was when he left England.  His wearisomecough andhis comfortless restlessness have certainly increased.Hismannerat least his manner towards meis much more abruptthan itused to be.  He greeted meon the evening of his returnwithlittle or nothing of the ceremony and civility of formertimesnopolite speeches of welcomeno appearance ofextraordinarygratification at seeing menothing but a shortshake ofthe handand a sharp "How-d'ye-doMiss Halcombegladto see youagain." He seemed to accept me as one of the necessaryfixturesof Blackwater Parkto be satisfied at finding meestablishedin my proper placeand then to pass me overaltogether.

Most menshow something of their disposition in their own houseswhich theyhave concealed elsewhereand Sir Percival has alreadydisplayeda mania for order and regularitywhich is quite a newrevelationof himso far as my previous knowledge of hischaracteris concerned.  If I take a book from the library andleave iton the tablehe follows me and puts it back again.  If Irise froma chairand let it remain where I have been sittinghecarefullyrestores it to its proper place against the wall.  Hepicks upstray flower-blossoms from the carpetand mutters tohimself asdiscontentedly as if they were hot cinders burningholes initand he storms at the servants if there is a crease inthetableclothor a knife missing from its place at the dinner-tableasfiercely as if they had personally insulted him.

I havealready referred to the small annoyances which appear tohavetroubled him since his return.  Much of the alteration forthe worsewhich I have noticed in him may be due to these.  I trytopersuade myself that it is sobecause I am anxious not to bedisheartenedalready about the future.  It is certainly trying toany man'stemper to be met by a vexation the moment he sets footin his ownhouse againafter a long absenceand this annoyingcircumstancedid really happen to Sir Percival in my presence.

On theevening of their arrival the housekeeper followed me intothe hallto receive her master and mistress and their guests.  Theinstant hesaw herSir Percival asked if any one had calledlately. The housekeeper mentioned to himin replywhat she hadpreviouslymentioned to methe visit of the strange gentleman tomakeinquiries about the time of her master's return.  He askedimmediatelyfor the gentleman's name.  No name had been left.  Thegentleman'sbusiness? No business had been mentioned.  What wasthegentleman like? The housekeeper tried to describe himbutfailed todistinguish the nameless visitor by any personalpeculiaritywhich her master could recognise.  Sir Percivalfrownedstamped angrily on the floorand walked on into thehousetaking no notice of anybody.  Why he should have been sodiscomposedby a trifle I cannot saybut he was seriouslydiscomposedbeyond all doubt.

Upon thewholeit will be bestperhapsif I abstain fromforming adecisive opinion of his mannerslanguageand conductin his ownhouseuntil time has enabled him to shake off theanxietieswhatever they may bewhich now evidently troubled hismind insecret.  I will turn over to a new pageand my pen shallletLaura's husband alone for the present.

The twogueststhe Count and Countess Foscocome next in mycatalogue. I will dispose of the Countess firstso as to havedone withthe woman as soon as possible.

Laura wascertainly not chargeable with any exaggerationinwriting meword that I should hardly recognise her aunt again whenwe met. Never before have I beheld such a change produced in awoman byher marriage as has been produced in Madame Fosco.

As EleanorFairlie (aged seven-and-thirty)she was always talkingpretentiousnonsenseand always worrying the unfortunate men witheverysmall exaction which a vain and foolish woman can impose onlong-sufferingmale humanity.  As Madame Fosco (aged three-and-forty)she sits for hours together without saying a wordfrozenup in thestrangest manner in herself.  The hideously ridiculouslove-lockswhich used to hang on either side of her face are nowreplacedby stiff little rows of very short curlsof the sort onesees inold-fashioned wigs.  A plainmatronly cap covers herheadandmakes her lookfor the first time in her life since Irememberherlike a decent woman.  Nobody (putting her husbandout of thequestionof course) now sees in herwhat everybodyonce sawImean the structure of the female skeletonin theupperregions of the collar-bones and the shoulder-blades.  Cladin quietblack or grey gownsmade high round the throatdressesthat shewould have laughed ator screamed atas the whim of themomentinclined herin her maiden daysshe sits speechless incorners;her dry white hands (so dry that the pores of her skinlookchalky) incessantly engagedeither in monotonous embroiderywork or inrolling up endless cigarettes for the Count's ownparticularsmoking.  On the few occasions when her cold blue eyesare offher workthey are generally turned on her husbandwiththe lookof mute submissive inquiry which we are all familiar within theeyes of a faithful dog.  The only approach to an inwardthaw whichI have yet detected under her outer covering of icyconstrainthas betrayed itselfonce or twicein the form of asuppressedtigerish jealousy of any woman in the house (the maidsincluded)to whom the Count speaksor on whom he looks withanythingapproaching to special interest or attention.  Except inthis oneparticularshe is alwaysmorningnoonand nightindoorsand outfair weather or foulas cold as a statueand asimpenetrableas the stone out of which it is cut.  For the commonpurposesof society the extraordinary change thus produced in herisbeyondall doubta change for the betterseeing that it hastransformedher into a civilsilentunobtrusive womanwho isnever inthe way.  How far she is really reformed or deterioratedin hersecret selfis another question.  I have once or twiceseensudden changes of expression on her pinched lipsand heardsuddeninflexions of tone in her calm voicewhich have led me tosuspectthat her present state of suppression may have sealed upsomethingdangerous in her naturewhich used to evaporateharmlesslyin the freedom of her former life.  It is quitepossiblethat I may be altogether wrong in this idea.  My ownimpressionhoweveristhat I am right.  Time will show.

And themagician who has wrought this wonderful transformationtheforeign husband who has tamed this once wayward English womantill herown relations hardly know her againthe Count himself?What ofthe Count?

This intwo words: He looks like a man who could tame anything.If he hadmarried a tigressinstead of a womanhe would havetamed thetigress.  If he had married meI should have made hiscigarettesas his wife doesI should have held my tongue when helooked atmeas she holds hers.

I amalmost afraid to confess iteven to these secret pages.  Theman hasinterested mehas attracted mehas forced me to likehim. In two short days he has made his way straight into myfavourableestimationand how he has worked the miracle is morethan I cantell.

Itabsolutely startles menow he is in my mindto find howplainly Isee him!how much more plainly than I see Sir Percivalor Mr.Fairlieor Walter Hartrightor any other absent person ofwhom Ithinkwith the one exception of Laura herself! I can hearhis voiceas if he was speaking at this moment.  I know what hisconversationwas yesterdayas well as if I was hearing it now.How am Ito describe him? There are peculiarities in his personalappearancehis habitsand his amusementswhich I should blamein theboldest termsor ridicule in the most merciless mannerifI had seenthem in another man.  What is it that makes me unableto blamethemor to ridicule them in HIM?

Forexamplehe is immensely fat.  Before this time I have alwaysespeciallydisliked corpulent humanity.  I have always maintainedthat thepopular notion of connecting excessive grossness of sizeandexcessive good-humour as inseparable allies was equivalent todeclaringeither that no people but amiable people ever get fator thatthe accidental addition of so many pounds of flesh has adirectlyfavourable influence over the disposition of the personon whosebody they accumulate.  I have invariably combated boththeseabsurd assertions by quoting examples of fat people who wereas meanviciousand cruel as the leanest and the worst of theirneighbours. I have asked whether Henry the Eighth was an amiablecharacter? Whether Pope Alexander the Sixth was a good man?WhetherMr. Murderer and Mrs. Murderess Manning were not bothunusuallystout people? Whether hired nursesproverbially ascruel aset of women as are to be found in all Englandwere notfor themost partalso as fat a set of women as are to be foundin allEngland?and so onthrough dozens of other examplesmodern andancientnative and foreignhigh and low.  Holdingthesestrong opinions on the subject with might and main as I doat thismomenthereneverthelessis Count Foscoas fat asHenry theEighth himselfestablished in my favourat one day'snoticewithout let or hindrance from his own odious corpulence.Marvellousindeed!

Is it hisface that has recommended him?

It may behis face.  He is a most remarkable likenesson a largescaleofthe great Napoleon.  His features have Napoleon'smagnificentregularityhis expression recalls the grandly calmimmovablepower of the Great Soldier's face.  This strikingresemblancecertainly impressed meto begin with; but there issomethingin him besides the resemblancewhich has impressed memore. I think the influence I am now trying to find is in hiseyes. They are the most unfathomable grey eyes I ever sawandthey haveat times a coldclearbeautifulirresistible glitterin themwhich forces me to look at himand yet causes mesensationswhen I do lookwhich I would rather not feel.  Otherparts ofhis face and head have their strange peculiarities.  Hiscomplexionfor instancehas a singular sallow-fairnessso muchatvariance with the dark-brown colour of his hairthat I suspectthe hairof being a wigand his faceclosely shaven all overissmootherand freer from all marks and wrinkles than minethough(accordingto Sir Percival's account of him) he is close on sixtyyears ofage.  But these are not the prominent personalcharacteristicswhich distinguish himto my mindfrom all theother menI have ever seen.  The marked peculiarity which singleshim outfrom the rank and file of humanity lies entirelyso faras I cantell at presentin the extraordinary expression andextraordinarypower of his eyes.

His mannerand his command of our language may also have assistedhiminsome degreeto establish himself in my good opinion.  Hehas thatquiet deferencethat look of pleasedattentive interestinlistening to a womanand that secret gentleness in his voiceinspeaking to a womanwhichsay what we maywe can none of usresist. Heretoohis unusual command of the English languagenecessarilyhelps him.  I had often heard of the extraordinaryaptitudewhich many Italians show in mastering our stronghardNorthernspeech; butuntil I saw Count FoscoI had neversupposedit possible that any foreigner could have spoken Englishas hespeaks it.  There are times when it is almost impossible todetectbyhis accent that he is not a countryman of our ownandas forfluencythere are very few born Englishmen who can talkwith asfew stoppages and repetitions as the Count.  He mayconstructhis sentences more or less in the foreign waybut Ihave neveryet heard him use a wrong expressionor hesitate for amoment inhis choice of a word.

All thesmallest characteristics of this strange man havesomethingstrikingly original and perplexingly contradictory inthem. Fat as he is and old as he ishis movements areastonishinglylight and easy.  He is as noiseless in a room as anyof uswomenand more than thatwith all his look of unmistakablementalfirmness and powerhe is as nervously sensitive as theweakest ofus.  He starts at chance noises as inveterately asLauraherself.  He winced and shuddered yesterdaywhen SirPercivalbeat one of the spanielsso that I felt ashamed of myown wantof tenderness and sensibility by comparison with theCount.

Therelation of this last incident reminds me of one of his mostcuriouspeculiaritieswhich I have not yet mentionedhisextraordinaryfondness for pet animals.

Some ofthese he has left on the Continentbut he has broughtwith himto this house a cockatootwo canary-birdsand a wholefamily ofwhite mice.  He attends to all the necessities of thesestrangefavourites himselfand he has taught the creatures to besurprisinglyfond of him and familiar with him.  The cockatooamostvicious and treacherous bird towards every one elseabsolutelyseems to love him.  When he lets it out of its cageithops on tohis kneeand claws its way up his great big bodyandrubs itstop-knot against his sallow double chin in the mostcaressingmanner imaginable.  He has only to set the doors of thecanaries'cages openand to call themand the pretty littlecleverlytrained creatures perch fearlessly on his handmount hisfatoutstretched fingers one by onewhen he tells them to "goupstairs"and sing together as if they would burst their throatswithdelight when they get to the top finger.  His white mice livein alittle pagoda of gaily-painted wireworkdesigned and made byhimself. They are almost as tame as the canariesand they areperpetuallylet out like the canaries.  They crawl all over himpopping inand out of his waistcoatand sitting in coupleswhiteas snowon his capacious shoulders.  He seems to be even fonderof hismice than of his other petssmiles at themand kissesthemandcalls them by all sorts of endearing names.  If it bepossibleto suppose an Englishman with any taste for such childishinterestsand amusements as thesethat Englishman would certainlyfeelrather ashamed of themand would be anxious to apologise fortheminthe company of grown-up people.  But the Countapparentlysees nothing ridiculous in the amazing contrastbetweenhis colossal self and his frail little pets.  He wouldblandlykiss his white mice and twitter to his canary-birds amidanassembly of English fox-huntersand would only pity them asbarbarianswhen they were all laughing their loudest at him.

It seemshardly credible while I am writing it downbut it iscertainlytruethat this same manwho has all the fondness of anold maidfor his cockatooand all the small dexterities of anorgan-boyin managing his white micecan talkwhen anythinghappens torouse himwith a daring independence of thoughtaknowledgeof books in every languageand an experience of societyin halfthe capitals of Europewhich would make him the prominentpersonageof any assembly in the civilised world.  This trainer ofcanary-birdsthis architect of a pagoda for white miceis (asSirPercival himself has told me) one of the first experimentalchemistslivingand has discoveredamong other wonderfulinventionsa means of petrifying the body after deathso as topreserveitas hard as marbleto the end of time.  This fatindolentelderly manwhose nerves are so finely strung that hestarts atchance noisesand winces when he sees a house-spanielget awhippingwent into the stable-yard on the morning after hisarrivaland put his hand on the head of a chained bloodhoundabeast sosavage that the very groom who feeds him keeps out of hisreach. His wife and I were presentand I shall not forget thescene thatfollowedshort as it was.

"Mindthat dogsir" said the groom; "he flies at everybody!""Hedoes thatmy friend" replied the Count quietly"becauseeverybodyis afraid of him.  Let us see if he flies at me." And helaid hisplumpyellow-white fingerson which the canary-birdshad beenperching ten minutes beforeupon the formidable brute'sheadandlooked him straight in the eyes.  "You big dogs are allcowards"he saidaddressing the animal contemptuouslywith hisface andthe dog's within an inch of each other.  "You would killa poorcatyou infernal coward.  You would fly at a starvingbeggaryou infernal coward.  Anything that you can surpriseunawaresanythingthat is afraid of your big bodyand yourwickedwhite teethand your slobberingbloodthirsty mouthisthe thingyou like to fly at.  You could throttle me at thismomentyou meanmiserable bullyand you daren't so much as lookme in thefacebecause I'm not afraid of you.  Will you thinkbetter ofitand try your teeth in my fat neck? Bah! not you!" Heturnedawaylaughing at the astonishment of the men in the yardand thedog crept back meekly to his kennel.  "Ah! my nicewaistcoat!"he said pathetically.  "I am sorry I came here.  Someof thatbrute's slobber has got on my pretty clean waistcoat."Thosewords express another of his incomprehensible oddities.  Heis as fondof fine clothes as the veriest fool in existenceandhasappeared in four magnificent waistcoats alreadyall of lightgarishcoloursand all immensely large even for himin the twodays ofhis residence at Blackwater Park.

His tactand cleverness in small things are quite as noticeable asthesingular inconsistencies in his characterand the childishtrivialityof his ordinary tastes and pursuits.

I can seealready that he means to live on excellent terms withall of usduring the period of his sojourn in this place.  He hasevidentlydiscovered that Laura secretly dislikes him (sheconfessedas much to me when I pressed her on the subject)but hehas alsofound out that she is extravagantly fond of flowers.Whenevershe wants a nosegay he has got one to give hergatheredandarranged by himselfand greatly to my amusementhe is alwayscunninglyprovided with a duplicatecomposed of exactly the sameflowersgrouped in exactly the same wayto appease his icilyjealouswife before she can so much as think herself aggrieved.Hismanagement of the Countess (in public) is a sight to see.  Hebows toherhe habitually addresses her as "my angel" he carrieshiscanaries to pay her little visits on his fingers and to singto herhekisses her hand when she gives him his cigarettes; hepresentsher with sugar-plums in returnwhich he puts into hermouthplayfullyfrom a box in his pocket.  The rod of iron withwhich herules her never appears in companyit is a private rodand isalways kept upstairs.

His methodof recommending himself to me is entirely different.Heflatters my vanity by talking to me as seriously and sensiblyas if Iwas a man.  Yes! I can find him out when I am away fromhimI knowhe flatters my vanitywhen I think of him up here inmy ownroomand yetwhen I go downstairsand get into hiscompanyagainhe will blind me againand I shall be flatteredagainjust as if I had never found him out at all! He can manageme as hemanages his wife and Lauraas he managed the bloodhoundin thestable-yardas he manages Sir Percival himselfevery hourin theday.  "My good Percival! how I like your rough Englishhumour!""Mygood Percival! how I enjoy your solid Englishsense!"He puts the rudest remarks Sir Percival can make on hiseffeminatetastes and amusements quietly away from him in thatmanneralwayscalling the baronet by his Christian namesmilingat himwith the calmest superioritypatting him on the shoulderandbearing with him benignantlyas a good-humoured father bearswith awayward son.

Theinterest which I really cannot help feeling in this strangelyoriginalman has led me to question Sir Percival about his pastlife.

SirPercival either knows littleor will tell me littleaboutit. He and the Count first met many years agoat Romeunder thedangerouscircumstances to which I have alluded elsewhere.  Sincethat timethey have been perpetually together in Londonin Parisand inViennabut never in Italy again; the Count havingoddlyenoughnot crossed the frontiers of his native country for yearspast. Perhaps he has been made the victim of some politicalpersecution?At all eventshe seems to be patriotically anxiousnot tolose sight of any of his own countrymen who may happen tobe inEngland.  On the evening of his arrival he asked how far wewere fromthe nearest townand whether we knew of any Italiangentlemenwho might happen to be settled there.  He is certainlyincorrespondence with people on the Continentfor his lettershave allsorts of odd stamps on themand I saw one for him thismorningwaiting in his place at the breakfast-tablewith a hugeofficial-lookingseal on it.  Perhaps he is in correspondence withhisgovernment? And yetthat is hardly to be reconciled eitherwith myother idea that he may be a political exile.

How much Iseem to have written about Count Fosco! And what doesit allamount to?as poordear Mr. Gilmore would askin hisimpenetrablebusiness-like way I can only repeat that I doassuredlyfeeleven on this short acquaintancea strangehalf-willinghalf-unwilling liking for the Count.  He seems to haveestablishedover me the same sort of ascendency which he hasevidentlygained over Sir Percival.  Freeand even rudeas hemayoccasionally be in his manner towards his fat friendSirPercivalis nevertheless afraidas I can plainly seeof givinganyserious offence to the Count.  I wonder whether I am afraidtoo? Icertainly never saw a manin all my experiencewhom Ishould beso sorry to have for an enemy.  Is this because I likehimorbecause I am afraid of him? Chi sa?as Count Fosco mightsay in hisown language.  Who knows?

 

June16th.Something to chronicle to-day besides my own ideas andimpressions. A visitor has arrivedquite unknown to Laura and tomeandapparently quite unexpected by Sir Percival.

We wereall at lunchin the room with the new French windows thatopen intothe verandahand the Count (who devours pastry as Ihave neveryet seen it devoured by any human beings but girls atboarding-schools)had just amused us by asking gravely for hisfourthtartwhen the servant entered to announce the visitor.

"Mr.Merriman has just comeSir Percivaland wishes to see youimmediately."

SirPercival startedand looked at the man with an expression ofangryalarm.

"Mr.Merriman!" he repeatedas if he thought his own ears musthavedeceived him.

"YesSir PercivalMr. Merrimanfrom London."

"Whereis he?"

"Inthe librarySir Percival."

He leftthe table the instant the last answer was givenandhurriedout of the room without saying a word to any of us.

"Whois Mr. Merriman?" asked Lauraappealing to me.

"Ihave not the least idea" was all I could say in reply.

The Counthad finished his fourth tartand had gone to a side-table tolook after his vicious cockatoo.  He turned round to uswith thebird perched on his shoulder.

"Mr.Merriman is Sir Percival's solicitor" he said quietly.

SirPercival's solicitor.  It was a perfectly straightforwardanswer toLaura's questionand yetunder the circumstancesitwas notsatisfactory.  If Mr. Merriman had been specially sent forby hisclientthere would have been nothing very wonderful in hisleavingtown to obey the summons.  But when a lawyer travels fromLondon toHampshire without being sent forand when his arrivalat agentleman's house seriously startles the gentleman himselfit may besafely taken for granted that the legal visitor is thebearer ofsome very important and very unexpected newsnews whichmay beeither very good or very badbut which cannotin eithercasebeof the common everyday kind.

Laura andI sat silent at the table for a quarter of an hour ormorewondering uneasily what had happenedand waiting for thechance ofSir Percival's speedy return.  There were no signs ofhisreturnand we rose to leave the room.

The Countattentive as usualadvanced from the corner in whichhe hadbeen feeding his cockatoowith the bird still perched onhisshoulderand opened the door for us.  Laura and Madame Foscowent outfirst.  Just as I was on the point of following them hemade asign with his handand spoke to mebefore I passed himin theoddest manner.

"Yes"he saidquietly answering the unexpressed idea at thatmoment inmy mindas if I had plainly confided it to him in somanywords" yesMiss Halcombesomething HAS happened."

I was onthe point of answering"I never said so" but theviciouscockatoo ruffled his clipped wings and gave a screech thatset all mynerves on edge in an instantand made me only too gladto get outof the room.

I joinedLaura at the foot of the stairs.  The thought in her mindwas thesame as the thought in minewhich Count Fosco hadsurprisedand when she spoke her words were almost the echo ofhis. Shetoosaid to me secretly that she was afraid somethinghadhappened.

 

III

 

June16th.I have a few lines more to add to this day's entrybefore Igo to bed to-night.

About twohours after Sir Percival rose from the luncheon-table toreceivehis solicitorMr. Merrimanin the libraryI left myroom aloneto take a walk in the plantations.  Just as I was atthe end ofthe landing the library door opened and the twogentlemencame out.  Thinking it best not to disturb them byappearingon the stairsI resolved to defer going down till theyhadcrossed the hall.  Although they spoke to each other inguardedtonestheir words were pronounced with sufficientdistinctnessof utterance to reach my ears.

"Makeyour mind easySir Percival" I heard the lawyer say; "itall restswith Lady Glyde."

I hadturned to go back to my own room for a minute or twobutthe soundof Laura's name on the lips of a stranger stopped meinstantly. I daresay it was very wrong and very discreditable tolistenbut where is the womanin the whole range of our sexwhocanregulate her actions by the abstract principles of honourwhen thoseprinciples point one wayand when her affectionsandtheinterests which grow out of thempoint the other?

Ilistenedand under similar circumstances I would listen againyes! withmy ear at the keyholeif I could not possibly manage itin anyother way.

"Youquite understandSir Percival" the lawyer went on.  "LadyGlyde isto sign her name in the presence of a witnessor of twowitnessesif you wish to be particularly carefuland is then toput herfinger on the seal and say'I deliver this as my act anddeed.' Ifthat is done in a week's time the arrangement will beperfectlysuccessfuland the anxiety will be all over.  If not"

"Whatdo you mean by 'if not'?" asked Sir Percival angrily.  "Ifthe thingmust be done it SHALL be done.  I promise you thatMerriman."

"JustsoSir Percivaljust so; but there are two alternatives inalltransactionsand we lawyers like to look both of them in thefaceboldly.  If through any extraordinary circumstance thearrangementshould not be madeI think I may be able to get theparties toaccept bills at three months.  But how the money is tobe raisedwhen the bills fall due"

"Damnthe bills! The money is only to be got in one wayand inthat wayI tell you againit SHALL be got.  Take a glass ofwineMerrimanbefore you go."

"MuchobligedSir PercivalI have not a moment to lose if I amto catchthe up-train.  You will let me know as soon as thearrangementis complete? and you will not forget the caution Irecommended"

"Ofcourse I won't.  There's the dog-cart at the door for you. Mygroom willget you to the station in no time.  Benjamindrivelike mad!Jump in.  If Mr. Merriman misses the train you lose yourplace. Hold fastMerrimanand if you are upset trust to thedevil tosave his own." With that parting benediction the baronetturnedabout and walked back to the library.

I had notheard muchbut the little that had reached my ears wasenough tomake me feel uneasy.  The "something" that "hadhappened"was but too plainly a serious money embarrassmentandSirPercival's relief from it depended upon Laura.  The prospectof seeingher involved in her husband's secret difficulties filledme withdismayexaggeratedno doubtby my ignorance of businessand mysettled distrust of Sir Percival.  Instead of going outasIproposedI went back immediately to Laura's room to tell herwhat I hadheard.

Shereceived my bad news so composedly as to surprise me.  Sheevidentlyknows more of her husband's character and her husband'sembarrassmentsthan I have suspected up to this time.

"Ifeared as much" she said"when I heard of that strangegentlemanwho calledand declined to leave his name."

"Whodo you think the gentleman wasthen?" I asked.

"Someperson who has heavy claims on Sir Percival" she answered"andwho has been the cause of Mr. Merriman's visit here to-day."

"Doyou know anything about those claims?"

"NoI know no particulars."

"Youwill sign nothingLaurawithout first looking at it?"

"CertainlynotMarian.  Whatever I can harmlessly and honestly doto helphim I will dofor the sake of making your life and mineloveaseasy and as happy as possible.  But I will do nothingignorantlywhich we mightone dayhave reason to feel ashamedof. Let us say no more about it now.  You have got your hat onsuppose wego and dream away the afternoon in the grounds?"

On leavingthe house we directed our steps to the nearest shade.

As wepassed an open space among the trees in front of the housethere wasCount Foscoslowly walking backwards and forwards onthe grasssunning himself in the full blaze of the hot Juneafternoon. He had a broad straw hat onwith a violet-colouredribbonround it.  A blue blousewith profuse white fancy-workover thebosomcovered his prodigious bodyand was girt aboutthe placewhere his waist might once have been with a broadscarletleather belt.  Nankeen trousersdisplaying more whitefancy-workover the anklesand purple morocco slippersadornedhis lowerextremities.  He was singing Figaro's famous song in theBarber ofSevillewith that crisply fluent vocalisation which isneverheard from any other than an Italian throataccompanyinghimself onthe concertinawhich he played with ecstaticthrowings-upof his armsand graceful twistings and turnings ofhis headlike a fat St. Cecilia masquerading in male attire."Figaroqua! Figaro la! Figaro su! Figaro giu!" sang the Countjauntilytossing up the concertina at arm's lengthand bowing touson oneside of the instrumentwith the airy grace andeleganceof Figaro himself at twenty years of age.

"Takemy word for itLaurathat man knows something of SirPercival'sembarrassments" I saidas we returned the Count'ssalutationfrom a safe distance.

"Whatmakes you think that?" she asked.

"Howshould he have knownotherwisethat Mr. Merriman was SirPercival'ssolicitor?" I rejoined.  "Besideswhen I followed youout of theluncheon-roomhe told mewithout a single word ofinquiry onmy partthat something had happened.  Depend upon ithe knowsmore than we do."

"Don'task him any questions if he does.  Don't take him into ourconfidence!"

"Youseem to dislike himLaurain a very determined manner.What hashe said or done to justify you?"

"NothingMarian.  On the contraryhe was all kindness andattentionon our journey homeand he several times checked SirPercival'soutbreaks of temperin the most considerate mannertowardsme.  Perhaps I dislike him because he has so much morepower overmy husband than I have.  Perhaps it hurts my pride tobe underany obligations to his interference.  All I know isthatI DOdislike him."

The restof the day and evening passed quietly enough.  The Countand Iplayed at chess.  For the first two games he politelyallowed meto conquer himand thenwhen he saw that I had foundhim outbegged my pardonand at the third game checkmated me intenminutes.  Sir Percival never once referredall through theeveningto the lawyer's visit.  But either that eventorsomethingelsehad produced a singular alteration for the betterin him. He was as polite and agreeable to all of usas he usedto be inthe days of his probation at Limmeridgeand he was soamazinglyattentive and kind to his wifethat even icy MadameFosco wasroused into looking at him with a grave surprise.  Whatdoes thismean? I think I can guessI am afraid Laura can guessand I amsure Count Fosco knows.  I caught Sir Percival looking athim forapproval more than once in the course of the evening.

 

June17th.A day of events.  I most fervently hope I may not haveto addaday of disasters as well.

SirPercival was as silent at breakfast as he had been the eveningbeforeonthe subject of the mysterious "arrangement" (as thelawyercalled it) which is hanging over our heads.  An hourafterwardshoweverhe suddenly entered the morning-roomwherehis wifeand I were waitingwith our hats onfor Madame Fosco tojoin usand inquired for the Count.

"Weexpect to see him here directly" I said.

"Thefact is" Sir Percival went onwalking nervously about theroom"Iwant Fosco and his wife in the libraryfor a merebusinessformalityand I want you thereLaurafor a minutetoo."He stoppedand appeared to noticefor the first timethatwe were inour walking costume.  "Have you just come in?" heasked"orwere you just going out?"

"Wewere all thinking of going to the lake this morning" saidLaura. "But if you have any other arrangement to propose"

"Nono" he answered hastily.  "My arrangement can wait. Afterlunch willdo as well for it as after breakfast. All going to thelakeeh?A good idea.  Let's have an idle morningI'll be one oftheparty."

There wasno mistaking his mannereven if it had been possible tomistakethe uncharacteristic readiness which his words expressedto submithis own plans and projects to the convenience of others.He wasevidently relieved at finding any excuse for delaying thebusinessformality in the libraryto which his own words hadreferred. My heart sank within me as I drew the inevitableinference.

The Countand his wife joined us at that moment.  The lady had herhusband'sembroidered tobacco-pouchand her store of paper in herhandforthe manufacture of the eternal cigarettes.  Thegentlemandressedas usualin his blouse and straw hatcarriedthe gaylittle pagoda-cagewith his darling white mice in itandsmiled onthemand on uswith a bland amiability which it wasimpossibleto resist.

"Withyour kind permission" said the Count"I will take mysmallfamilyheremy poor-little-harmless-pretty-Mouseysout for anairingalong with us.  There are dogs about the houseand shall Ileave myforlorn white children at the mercies of the dogs? Ahnever!"

Hechirruped paternally at his small white children through thebars ofthe pagodaand we all left the house for the lake.

In theplantation Sir Percival strayed away from us.  It seems tobe part ofhis restless disposition always to separate himselffrom hiscompanions on these occasionsand always to occupyhimselfwhen he is alone in cutting new walking-sticks for his ownuse. The mere act of cutting and lopping at hazard appears topleasehim.  He has filled the house with walking-sticks of hisownmakingnot one of which he ever takes up for a second time.When theyhave been once used his interest in them is allexhaustedand he thinks of nothing but going on and making more.

At the oldboat-house he joined us again.  I will put down theconversationthat ensued when we were all settled in our placesexactly asit passed.  It is an important conversationso far asI amconcernedfor it has seriously disposed me to distrust theinfluencewhich Count Fosco has exercised over my thoughts andfeelingsand to resist it for the future as resolutely as I can.

Theboat-house was large enough to hold us allbut Sir Percivalremainedoutside trimming the last new stick with his pocket-axe.We threewomen found plenty of room on the large seat.  Laura tookher workand Madame Fosco began her cigarettes.  Ias usualhadnothing todo.  My hands always wereand always will beasawkward asa man's.  The Count good-humouredly took a stool manysizes toosmall for himand balanced himself on it with his backagainstthe side of the shedwhich creaked and groaned under hisweight. He put the pagoda-cage on his lapand let out the miceto crawlover him as usual.  They are prettyinnocent-lookinglittlecreaturesbut the sight of them creeping about a man'sbody isfor some reason not pleasant to me.  It excites a strangeresponsivecreeping in my own nervesand suggests hideous ideasof mendying in prison with the crawling creatures of the dungeonpreying onthem undisturbed.

Themorning was windy and cloudyand the rapid alternations ofshadow andsunlight over the waste of the lake made the view lookdoublywildweirdand gloomy.

"Somepeople call that picturesque" said Sir Percivalpointingover thewide prospect with his half-finished walking-stick.  "Icall it ablot on a gentleman's property.  In my great-grandfather'stime the lake flowed to this place.  Look at it now!It is notfour feet deep anywhereand it is all puddles andpools. I wish I could afford to drain itand plant it all over.My bailiff(a superstitious idiot) says he is quite sure the lakehas acurse on itlike the Dead Sea.  What do you thinkFosco?It looksjust the place for a murderdoesn't it?"

"Mygood Percival" remonstrated the Count.  "What is yoursolidEnglishsense thinking of? The water is too shallow to hide thebodyandthere is sand everywhere to print off the murderer'sfootsteps. It isupon the wholethe very worst place for amurderthat I ever set my eyes on."

"Humbug!"said Sir Percivalcutting away fiercely at his stick."Youknow what I mean.  The dreary scenerythe lonely situation.If youchoose to understand meyou canif you don't chooseI amnot goingto trouble myself to explain my meaning."

"Andwhy not" asked the Count"when your meaning can beexplainedby anybody in two words? If a fool was going to commit amurderyour lake is the first place he would choose for it.  If awise manwas going to commit a murderyour lake is the last placehe wouldchoose for it.  Is that your meaning? If it isthere isyourexplanation for you ready made.  Take itPercivalwith yourgoodFosco's blessing."

Lauralooked at the Count with her dislike for him appearing alittle tooplainly in her face.  He was so busy with his mice thathe did notnotice her.

"I amsorry to hear the lake-view connected with anything sohorribleas the idea of murder" she said.  "And if Count Foscomustdivide murderers into classesI think he has been veryunfortunatein his choice of expressions.  To describe them asfools onlyseems like treating them with an indulgence to whichthey haveno claim.  And to describe them as wise men sounds to melike adownright contradiction in terms.  I have always heard thattruly wisemen are truly good menand have a horror of crime."

"Mydear lady" said the Count"those are admirablesentimentsand I haveseen them stated at the tops of copy-books." He liftedone of thewhite mice in the palm of his handand spoke to it inhiswhimsical way.  "My pretty little smooth white rascal"hesaid"here is a moral lesson for you.  A truly wise mouse is atruly goodmouse.  Mention thatif you pleaseto yourcompanionsand never gnaw at the bars of your cage again as longas youlive."

"Itis easy to turn everything into ridicule" said Lauraresolutely;"but you will not find it quite so easyCount Foscoto give mean instance of a wise man who has been a greatcriminal."

The Countshrugged his huge shouldersand smiled on Laura in thefriendliestmanner.

"Mosttrue!" he said.  "The fool's crime is the crime thatisfound outand the wise man's crime is the crime that is NOT foundout. If I could give you an instanceit would not be theinstanceof a wise man.  Dear Lady Glydeyour sound Englishcommonsense has been too much for me.  It is checkmate for methis timeMiss Halcombeha?"

"Standto your gunsLaura" sneered Sir Percivalwho had beenlisteningin his place at the door.  "Tell him nextthat crimescausetheir own detection.  There's another bit of copy-bookmoralityfor youFosco.  Crimes cause their own detection.  Whatinfernalhumbug!"

"Ibelieve it to be true" said Laura quietly.

SirPercival burst out laughingso violentlyso outrageouslythat hequite startled us allthe Count more than any of us.

"Ibelieve it too" I saidcoming to Laura's rescue.

SirPercivalwho had been unaccountably amused at his wife'sremarkwas just as unaccountably irritated by mine.  He struckthe newstick savagely on the sandand walked away from us.

"Poordear Percival!" cried Count Foscolooking after him gaily"heis the victim of English spleen.  Butmy dear Miss Halcombemy dearLady Glydedo you really believe that crimes cause theirowndetection? And youmy angel" he continuedturning to hiswifewhohad not uttered a word yet"do you think so too?"

"Iwait to be instructed" replied the Countessin tones offreezingreproofintended for Laura and me"before I venture ongiving myopinion in the presence of well-informed men."

"Doyouindeed?" I said.  "I remember the timeCountesswhenyouadvocated the Rights of Womenand freedom of female opinionwas one ofthem."

"Whatis your view of the subjectCount?" asked Madame Foscocalmlyproceeding with her cigarettesand not taking the leastnotice ofme.

The Countstroked one of his white mice reflectively with hischubbylittle finger before he answered.

"Itis truly wonderful" he said"how easily Society canconsoleitself forthe worst of its shortcomings with a little bit ofclap-trap. The machinery it has set up for the detection of crimeismiserably ineffectiveand yet only invent a moral epigramsayingthat it works welland you blind everybody to its blundersfrom thatmoment.  Crimes cause their own detectiondo they? Andmurderwill out (another moral epigram)will it? Ask Coroners whosit atinquests in large towns if that is trueLady Glyde.  Asksecretariesof life-assurance companies if that is trueMissHalcombe. Read your own public journals.  In the few cases thatget intothe newspapersare there not instances of slain bodiesfoundandno murderers ever discovered? Multiply the cases thatarereported by the cases that are NOT reportedand the bodiesthat arefound by the bodies that are NOT foundand whatconclusiondo you come to? This.  That there are foolish criminalswho arediscoveredand wise criminals who escape.  The hiding ofa crimeor the detection of a crimewhat is it? A trial of skillbetweenthe police on one sideand the individual on the other.When thecriminal is a brutalignorant foolthe police in ninecases outof ten win.  When the criminal is a resoluteeducatedhighly-intelligentmanthe police in nine cases out of ten lose.If thepolice winyou generally hear all about it.  If the policeloseyougenerally hear nothing.  And on this totteringfoundationyou build up your comfortable moral maxim that Crimecauses itsown detection! Yesall the crime you know of.  Andwhat ofthe rest?"

"Devilishtrueand very well put" cried a voice at the entranceof theboat-house.  Sir Percival had recovered his equanimityandhad comeback while we were listening to the Count.

"Someof it may be true" I said"and all of it may be very wellput. But I don't see why Count Fosco should celebrate the victoryof thecriminal over Society with so much exultationor why youSirPercivalshould applaud him so loudly for doing it."

"Doyou hear thatFosco?" asked Sir Percival.  "Take myadviceand makeyour peace with your audience.  Tell them virtue's a finethingtheylike thatI can promise you."

The Countlaughed inwardly and silentlyand two of the white micein hiswaistcoatalarmed by the internal convulsion going onbeneaththemdarted out in a violent hurryand scrambled intotheir cageagain.

"Theladiesmy good Percivalshall tell me about virtue" hesaid. "They are better authorities than I amfor they know whatvirtue isand I don't."

"Youhear him?" said Sir Percival.  "Isn't it awful?"

"Itis true" said the Count quietly.  "I am a citizen oftheworldandI have metin my timewith so many different sorts ofvirtuethat I am puzzledin my old ageto say which is theright sortand which is the wrong.  Herein Englandthere is onevirtue. And therein Chinathere is another virtue.  And JohnEnglishmansays my virtue is the genuine virtue.  And JohnChinamansays my virtue is the genuine virtue.  And I say Yes tooneor Noto the otherand am just as much bewildered about itin thecase of John with the top-boots as I am in the case of Johnwith thepigtail.  Ahnice little Mousey! comekiss me.  What isyour ownprivate notion of a virtuous manmy pret-pret-pretty? Aman whokeeps you warmand gives you plenty to eat.  And a goodnotiontoofor it is intelligibleat the least."

"Staya minuteCount" I interposed.  "Accepting yourillustrationsurely we have one unquestionable virtue in Englandwhich iswanting in China.  The Chinese authorities kill thousandsofinnocent people on the most frivolous pretexts.  We in Englandare freefrom all guilt of that kindwe commit no such dreadfulcrimeweabhor reckless bloodshed with all our hearts."

"QuiterightMarian" said Laura.  "Well thought ofandwellexpressed"

"Prayallow the Count to proceed" said Madame Foscowith sterncivility. "You will findyoung ladiesthat HE never speakswithouthaving excellent reasons for all that he says."

"Thankyoumy angel" replied the Count.  "Have a bon-bon?"Hetook outof his pocket a pretty little inlaid boxand placed itopen onthe table.  "Chocolat a la Vanille" cried theimpenetrablemancheerfully rattling the sweetmeats in the boxand bowingall round.  "Offered by Fosco as an act of homage tothecharming society."

"Begood enough to go onCount" said his wifewith a spitefulreferenceto myself.  "Oblige me by answering Miss Halcombe."

"MissHalcombe is unanswerable" replied the polite Italian; "thatis to sayso far as she goes.  Yes! I agree with her.  John Bulldoes abhorthe crimes of John Chinaman.  He is the quickest oldgentlemanat finding out faults that are his neighbours'and theslowestold gentleman at finding out the faults that are his ownwho existson the face of creation.  Is he so very much better inthis waythan the people whom he condemns in their way? EnglishSocietyMiss Halcombeis as often the accomplice as it is theenemy ofcrime.  Yes! yes! Crime is in this country what crime isin othercountriesa good friend to a man and to those about himas oftenas it is an enemy.  A great rascal provides for his wifeandfamily.  The worse he is the more he makes them the objectsfor yoursympathy.  He often provides also for himself.  Aprofligatespendthrift who is always borrowing money will get morefrom hisfriends than the rigidly honest man who only borrows ofthem onceunder pressure of the direst want.  In the one case thefriendswill not be at all surprisedand they will give.  In theother casethey will be very much surprisedand they willhesitate. Is the prison that Mr. Scoundrel lives in at the end ofhis careera more uncomfortable place than the workhouse that Mr.Honestylives in at the end of his career? When John-Howard-Philanthropistwants to relieve misery he goes to find it inprisonswhere crime is wretchednot in huts and hovelswherevirtue iswretched too.  Who is the English poet who has won themostuniversal sympathywho makes the easiest of all subjects forpatheticwriting and pathetic painting? That nice young person whobegan lifewith a forgeryand ended it by a suicideyour dearromanticinteresting Chatterton.  Which gets on bestdo youthinkoftwo poor starving dressmakersthe woman who resiststemptationand is honestor the woman who falls under temptationandsteals? You all know that the stealing is the making of thatsecondwoman's fortuneit advertises her from length to breadthofgood-humouredcharitable Englandand she is relievedas thebreaker ofa commandmentwhen she would have been left to starveas thekeeper of it.  Come heremy jolly little Mouse! Hey!presto!pass! I transform youfor the time beinginto arespectablelady.  Stop therein the palm of my great big handmy dearand listen.  You marry the poor man whom you loveMouseand onehalf your friends pityand the other half blame you.  Andnowonthe contraryyou sell yourself for gold to a man youdon't careforand all your friends rejoice over youand aministerof public worship sanctions the base horror of the vilestof allhuman bargainsand smiles and smirks afterwards at yourtableifyou are polite enough to ask him to breakfast. Hey!presto!pass! Be a mouse againand squeak.  If you continue to bea ladymuch longerI shall have you telling me that Societyabhorscrimeand thenMouseI shall doubt if your own eyes andears arereally of any use to you.  Ah! I am a bad manLadyGlydeamI not? I say what other people only thinkand when allthe restof the world is in a conspiracy to accept the mask forthe truefacemine is the rash hand that tears off the plumppasteboardand shows the bare bones beneath.  I will get up on mybigelephant's legsbefore I do myself any more harm in youramiableestimationsI will get up and take a little airy walk ofmy own. Dear ladiesas your excellent Sheridan saidI goandleave mycharacter behind me."

He got upput the cage on the tableand paused for a moment tocount themice in it.  "OnetwothreefourHa!" he criedwith alook of horror"wherein the name of Heavenis thefifththeyoungestthe whitestthe most amiable of allmyBenjaminof mice!"

NeitherLaura nor I were in any favorable disposition to beamused. The Count's glib cynicism had revealed a new aspect ofhis naturefrom which we both recoiled.  But it was impossible toresist thecomical distress of so very large a man at the loss ofso verysmall a mouse.  We laughed in spite of ourselves; and whenMadameFosco rose to set the example of leaving the boat-houseemptysothat her husband might search it to its remotestcornerswe rose also to follow her out.

Before wehad taken three stepsthe Count's quick eye discoveredthe lostmouse under the seat that we had been occupying.  Hepulledaside the benchtook the little animal up in his handandthensuddenly stoppedon his kneeslooking intently at aparticularplace on the ground just beneath him.

When herose to his feet againhis hand shook so that he couldhardly putthe mouse back in the cageand his face was of a faintlividyellow hue all over.
"Percival!"he saidin a whisper.  "Percival! come here."

SirPercival had paid no attention to any of us for the last tenminutes. He had been entirely absorbed in writing figures on thesandandthen rubbing them out again with the point of his stick.

"What'sthe matter now?" he askedlounging carelessly into theboat-house.

"Doyou see nothing there?" said the Countcatching him nervouslyby thecollar with one handand pointing with the other to theplace nearwhich he had found the mouse.

"Isee plenty of dry sand" answered Sir Percival"and a spotofdirt inthe middle of it."

"Notdirt" whispered the Countfastening the other hand suddenlyon SirPercival's collarand shaking it in his agitation."Blood."

Laura wasnear enough to hear the last wordsoftly as hewhisperedit.  She turned to me with a look of terror.

"Nonsensemy dear" I said.  "There is no need to be alarmed. Itis onlythe blood of a poor little stray dog."

Everybodywas astonishedand everybody's eyes were fixed on meinquiringly.

"Howdo you know that?" asked Sir Percivalspeaking first.

"Ifound the dog heredyingon the day when you all returnedfromabroad" I replied.  "The poor creature had strayedinto theplantationand had been shot by your keeper."

"Whosedog was it?" inquired Sir Percival.  "Not one ofmine?"

"Didyou try to save the poor thing?" asked Laura earnestly."Surelyyou tried to save itMarian?"

"Yes"I said"the housekeeper and I both did our bestbut thedog wasmortally woundedand he died under our hands."

"Whosedog was it?" persisted Sir Percivalrepeating his questiona littleirritably.  "One of mine?"

"Nonot one of yours."

"Whosethen? Did the housekeeper know?"

Thehousekeeper's report of Mrs. Catherick's desire to conceal hervisit toBlackwater Park from Sir Percival's knowledge recurred tomy memorythe moment he put that last questionand I half doubtedthediscretion of answering it; but in my anxiety to quiet thegeneralalarmI had thoughtlessly advanced too far to draw backexcept atthe risk of exciting suspicionwhich might only makemattersworse.  There was nothing for it but to answer at oncewithoutreference to results.

"Yes"I said.  "The housekeeper knew.  She told me it wasMrs.Catherick'sdog."

SirPercival had hitherto remained at the inner end of the boat-house withCount Foscowhile I spoke to him from the door.  Buttheinstant Mrs. Catherick's name passed my lips he pushed by theCountroughlyand placed himself face to face with me under theopendaylight.

"Howcame the housekeeper to know it was Mrs. Catherick's dog?" heaskedfixing his eyes on mine with a frowning interest andattentionwhich half angeredhalf startled me.

"Sheknew it" I said quietly"because Mrs. Catherick broughtthedog withher."

"Broughtit with her? Where did she bring it with her?"

"Tothis house."

"Whatthe devil did Mrs. Catherick want at this house?"

The mannerin which he put the question was even more offensivethan thelanguage in which he expressed it.  I marked my sense ofhis wantof common politeness by silently turning away from him.

Just as Imoved the Count's persuasive hand was laid on hisshoulderand the Count's mellifluous voice interposed to quiethim.

"Mydear Percival!gentlygently!"

SirPercival looked round in his angriest manner.  The Count onlysmiled andrepeated the soothing application.

"Gentlymy good friendgently!"
SirPercival hesitatedfollowed me a few stepsandto my greatsurpriseoffered me an apology.

"Ibeg your pardonMiss Halcombe" he said.  "I havebeen out oforderlatelyand I am afraid I am a little irritable.  But Ishouldlike to know what Mrs. Catherick could possibly want here.When didshe come? Was the housekeeper the only person who sawher?"

"Theonly person" I answered"so far as I know."

The Countinterposed again.

"Inthat case why not question the housekeeper?" he said.  "Whynot goPercivalto the fountain-head of information at once?"

"Quiteright!" said Sir Percival.  "Of course the housekeeperisthe firstperson to question.  Excessively stupid of me not to seeitmyself." With those words he instantly left us to return to thehouse.

The motiveof the Count's interferencewhich had puzzled me atfirstbetrayed itself when Sir Percival's back was turned.  Hehad a hostof questions to put to me about Mrs. Catherickand thecause ofher visit to Blackwater Parkwhich he could scarcelyhave askedin his friend's presence.  I made my answers as shortas Icivilly couldfor I had already determined to check theleastapproach to any exchanging of confidences between CountFosco andmyself.  Laurahoweverunconsciously helped him toextractall my informationby making inquiries herselfwhichleft me noalternative but to reply to heror to appear in theveryunenviable and very false character of a depositary of SirPercival'ssecrets.  The end of it wasthatin about tenminutes'timethe Count knew as much as I know of Mrs. Catherickand of theevents which have so strangely connected us with herdaughterAnnefrom the time when Cartright met with her to thisday.

The effectof my information on him wasin one respectcuriousenough.

Intimatelyas he knows Sir Percivaland closely as he appears tobeassociated with Sir Percival's private affairs in generalheiscertainly as far as I am from knowing anything of the truestory ofAnne Catherick.  The unsolved mystery in connection withthisunhappy woman is now rendered doubly suspiciousin my eyesby theabsolute conviction which I feelthat the clue to it hasbeenhidden by Sir Percival from the most intimate friend he hasin theworld.  It was impossible to mistake the eager curiosity oftheCount's look and manner while he drank in greedily every wordthat fellfrom my lips.  There are many kinds of curiosityIknowbutthere is no misinterpreting the curiosity of blanksurprise:if I ever saw it in my life I saw it in the Count'sface.

While thequestions and answers were going onwe had all beenstrollingquietly back through the plantation.  As soon as wereachedthe house the first object that we saw in front of it wasSirPercival's dog-cartwith the horse put to and the groomwaiting byit in his stable-jacket.  If these unexpectedappearanceswere to be trustedthe examination of the house-keeper hadproduced important results already.

"Afine horsemy friend" said the Countaddressing the groomwith themost engaging familiarity of manner"You are going todriveout?"

"I amnot goingsir" replied the manlooking at his stable-jacketand evidently wondering whether the foreign gentleman tookit for hislivery.  "My master drives himself."

"Aha!"said the Count"does he indeed? I wonder he gives himselfthetrouble when he has got you to drive for him.  Is he going tofatiguethat niceshiningpretty horse by taking him very farto-day?"

"Idon't knowsir" answered the man.  "The horse is amareifyoupleasesir.  She's the highest-couraged thing we've got inthestables.  Her name's Brown Mollysirand she'll go till shedrops. Sir Percival usually takes Isaac of York for the shortdistances."

"Andyour shining courageous Brown Molly for the long?"

"LogicalinferenceMiss Halcombe" continued the Countwheelingroundbrisklyand addressing me.  "Sir Percival is going a longdistanceto-day."

I made noreply.  I had my own inferences to drawfrom what Iknewthrough the housekeeper and from what I saw before meand Idid notchoose to share them with Count Fosco.

When SirPercival was in Cumberland (I thought to myself)hewalkedaway a long distanceon Anne's accountto question thefamily atTodd's Corner.  Now he is in Hampshireis he going todrive awaya long distanceon Anne's account againto questionMrs.Catherick at Welmingham?

We allentered the house.  As we crossed the hall Sir Percivalcame outfrom the library to meet us.  He looked hurried and paleandanxiousbut for all thathe was in his most polite mood whenhe spoketo us.

"I amsorry to say I am obliged to leave you" he began"a longdriveamatter that I can't very well put off.  I shall be backin goodtime to-morrowbut before I go I should like that littlebusiness-formalitywhich I spoke of this morningto be settled.Laurawill you come into the library? It won't take a minuteamereformality.  Countessmay I trouble you also? I want you andtheCountessFoscoto be witnesses to a signaturenothing more.Come in atonce and get it over."

He heldthe library door open until they had passed infollowedthemandshut it softly.

Iremainedfor a moment afterwardsstanding alone in the hallwith myheart beating fast and my mind misgiving me sadly.  Then Iwent on tothe staircaseand ascended slowly to my own room.

 

IV

 

June17th.Just as my hand was on the door of my roomI heardSirPercival's voice calling to me from below.

"Imust beg you to come downstairs again" he said.  "ItisFosco'sfaultMiss Halcombenot mine.  He has started somenonsensicalobjection to his wife being one of the witnessesandhasobliged me to ask you to join us in the library."

I enteredthe room immediately with Sir Percival.  Laura waswaiting bythe writing-tabletwisting and turning her garden hatuneasilyin her hands.  Madame Fosco sat near herin an arm-chairimperturbably admiring her husbandwho stood by himself atthe otherend of the librarypicking off the dead leaves from theflowers inthe window.

The momentI appeared the Count advanced to meet meand to offerhisexplanations.

"Athousand pardonsMiss Halcombe" he said.  "You knowthecharacterwhich is given to my countrymen by the English? WeItaliansare all wily and suspicious by naturein the estimationof thegood John Bull.  Set me downif you pleaseas being nobetterthan the rest of my race.  I am a wily Italian and asuspiciousItalian.  You have thought so yourselfdear ladyhaveyou not?Well! it is part of my wiliness and part of my suspicionto objectto Madame Fosco being a witness to Lady Glyde'ssignaturewhen I am also a witness myself."

"Thereis not the shadow of a reason for his objection"interposedSir Percival.  "I have explained to him that the law ofEnglandallows Madame Fosco to witness a signature as well as herhusband."

"Iadmit it" resumed the Count.  "The law of EnglandsaysYesbut theconscience of Fosco saysNo." He spread out his fatfingers onthe bosom of his blouseand bowed solemnlyas if hewished tointroduce his conscience to us allin the character ofanillustrious addition to the society.  "What this documentwhichLady Glydeis about to sign may be" he continued"I neither knownor desireto know.  I only say thiscircumstances may happen inthe futurewhich may oblige Percivalor his representativestoappeal tothe two witnessesin which case it is certainlydesirablethat those witnesses should represent two opinions whichareperfectly independent the one of the other.  This cannot be ifmy wifesigns as well as myselfbecause we have but one opinionbetweenusand that opinion is mine.  I will not have it cast inmy teethat some future daythat Madame Fosco acted under mycoercionand wasin plain factno witness at all.  I speak inPercival'sinterestwhen I propose that my name shall appear (asthenearest friend of the husband)and your nameMiss Halcombe(as thenearest friend of the wife).  I am a Jesuitif you pleaseto thinksoa splitter of strawsa man of trifles and crochetsandscruplesbut you will humour meI hopein mercifulconsiderationfor my suspicious Italian characterand my uneasyItalianconscience." He bowed againstepped back a few pacesandwithdrewhis conscience from our society as politely as he hadintroducedit.

TheCount's scruples might have been honourable and reasonableenoughbut there was something in his manner of expressing themwhichincreased my unwillingness to be concerned in the businessof thesignature.  No consideration of less importance than myconsiderationfor Laura would have induced me to consent to be awitness atall.  One lookhoweverat her anxious face decided meto riskanything rather than desert her.

"Iwill readily remain in the room" I said.  "And if Ifind noreason forstarting any small scruples on my sideyou may rely onme as awitness."

SirPercival looked at me sharplyas if he was about to saysomething. But at the same momentMadame Fosco attracted hisattentionby rising from her chair.  She had caught her husband'seyeandhad evidently received her orders to leave the room.

"Youneedn't go" said Sir Percival.

MadameFosco looked for her orders againgot them againsaid shewouldprefer leaving us to our businessand resolutely walkedout. The Count lit a cigarettewent back to the flowers in thewindowand puffed little jets of smoke at the leavesin a stateof thedeepest anxiety about killing the insects.

MeanwhileSir Percival unlocked a cupboard beneath one of thebook-casesand produced from it a piece of parchmentfoldedlongwisemany times over.  He placed it on the tableopened thelast foldonlyand kept his hand on the rest. The last folddisplayeda strip of blank parchment with little wafers stuck onit atcertain places.  Every line of the writing was hidden in thepart whichhe still held folded up under his hand.  Laura and Ilooked ateach other.  Her face was palebut it showed noindecisionand no fear.

SirPercival dipped a pen in inkand handed it to his wife. "Signyour namethere" he saidpointing to the place.  "You andFoscoare tosign afterwardsMiss Halcombeopposite those two wafers.Come hereFosco! witnessing a signature is not to be done bymooningout of window and smoking into the flowers."

The Countthrew away his cigaretteand joined us at the tablewith hishands carelessly thrust into the scarlet belt of hisblouseand his eyes steadily fixed on Sir Percival's face.Laurawhowas on the other side of her husbandwith the pen inher handlooked at him too.  He stood between them holding thefoldedparchment down firmly on the tableand glancing across atmeas Isat opposite to himwith such a sinister mixture ofsuspicionand embarrassment on his face that he looked more like aprisonerat the bar than a gentleman in his own house.

"Signthere" he repeatedturning suddenly on Lauraand pointingonce moreto the place on the parchment.

"Whatis it I am to sign?" she asked quietly.

"Ihave no time to explain" he answered.  "The dog-cartis at thedoorandI must go directly.  Besidesif I had timeyouwouldn'tunderstand.  It is a purely formal documentfull oflegaltechnicalitiesand all that sort of thing.  Come! come!sign yournameand let us have done as soon as possible."

"Iought surely to know what I am signingSir Percivalbefore Iwrite myname?"

"Nonsense!What have women to do with business? I tell you againyou can'tunderstand it."

"Atany ratelet me try to understand it.  Whenever Mr. Gilmorehad anybusiness for me to dohe always explained it firstand Ialwaysunderstood him."

"Idare say he did.  He was your servantand was obliged toexplain. I am your husbandand am NOT obliged.  How much longerdo youmean to keep me here? I tell you againthere is no timeforreading anythingthe dog-cart is waiting at the door.  Oncefor allwill you sign or will you not?"

She stillhad the pen in her handbut she made no approach tosigningher name with it.

"Ifmy signature pledges me to anything" she said"surely Ihavesome claimto know what that pledge is?"

He liftedup the parchmentand struck it angrily on the table.

"Speakout!" he said.  "You were always famous for tellingthetruth. Never mind Miss Halcombenever mind Foscosayin plaintermsyoudistrust me."

The Counttook one of his hands out of his belt and laid it on SirPercival'sshoulder.  Sir Percival shook it off irritably.  TheCount putit on again with unruffled composure.

"Controlyour unfortunate temperPercival" he said "Lady Glydeis right."

"Right!"cried Sir Percival.  "A wife right in distrusting herhusband!"

"Itis unjust and cruel to accuse me of distrusting you" saidLaura. "Ask Marian if I am not justified in wanting to know whatthiswriting requires of me before I sign it."

"Iwon't have any appeals made to Miss Halcombe" retorted SirPercival. "Miss Halcombe has nothing to do with the matter."

I had notspoken hithertoand I would much rather not have spokennow. But the expression of distress in Laura's face when sheturned ittowards meand the insolent injustice of her husband'sconductleft me no other alternative than to give my opinionforher sakeas soon as I was asked for it.

"ExcusemeSir Percival" I said"but as one of the witnesses tothesignatureI venture to think that I HAVE something to do withthematter.  Laura's objection seems to me a perfectly fair oneandspeaking for myself onlyI cannot assume the responsibilityofwitnessing her signatureunless she first understands what thewriting iswhich you wish her to sign."

"Acool declarationupon my soul!" cried Sir Percival.  "Thenexttime youinvite yourself to a man's houseMiss HalcombeIrecommendyou not to repay his hospitality by taking his wife'ssideagainst him in a matter that doesn't concern you."

I startedto my feet as suddenly as if he had struck me.  If I hadbeen amanI would have knocked him down on the threshold of hisown doorand have left his housenever on any earthlyconsiderationto enter it again.  But I was only a womanand Iloved hiswife so dearly!

Thank Godthat faithful love helped meand I sat down againwithoutsaying a word.  SHE knew what I had suffered and what Ihadsuppressed.  She ran round to mewith the tears streamingfrom hereyes.  "OhMarian!" she whispered softly.  "Ifmy motherhad beenaliveshe could have done no more for me!"

"Comeback and sign!" cried Sir Percival from the other side ofthe table.

"ShallI?" she asked in my ear; "I willif you tell me."

"No"I answered.  "The right and the truth are with yousignnothingunless you have read it first."

"Comeback and sign!" he reiteratedin his loudest and angriesttones.

The Countwho had watched Laura and me with a close and silentattentioninterposed for the second time.

"Percival!"he said.  "I remember that I am in the presence ofladies. Be good enoughif you pleaseto remember it too."

SirPercival turned on him speechless with passion.  The Count'sfirm handslowly tightened its grasp on his shoulderand theCount'ssteady voice quietly repeated"Be good enoughif youpleasetoremember it too."

They bothlooked at each other.  Sir Percival slowly drew hisshoulderfrom under the Count's handslowly turned his face awayfrom theCount's eyesdoggedly looked down for a little while attheparchment on the tableand then spokewith the sullensubmissionof a tamed animalrather than the becoming resignationof aconvinced man.

"Idon't want to offend anybody" he said"but my wife'sobstinacyis enough to try the patience of a saint.  I have toldher thisis merely a formal documentand what more can she want?You maysay what you pleasebut it is no part of a woman's dutyto set herhusband at defiance.  Once moreLady Glydeand forthe lasttimewill you sign or will you not?"

Laurareturned to his side of the tableand took up the penagain.

"Iwill sign with pleasure" she said"if you will only treatmeas aresponsible being.  I care little what sacrifice is requiredof meifit will affect no one elseand lead to no ill results"

"Whotalked of a sacrifice being required of You?" he broke inwith ahalf-suppressed return of his former violence.

"Ionly meant" she resumed"that I would refuse noconcessionwhich Icould honourably make.  If I have a scruple about signingmy name toan engagement of which I know nothingwhy should youvisit iton me so severely? It is rather hardI thinkto treatCountFosco's scruples so much more indulgently than you havetreatedmine."

Thisunfortunateyet most naturalreference to the Count'sextraordinarypower over her husbandindirect as it wasset SirPercival'ssmouldering temper on fire again in an instant.

"Scruples!"he repeated.  "YOUR scruples! It is rather late in theday foryou to be scrupulous.  I should have thought you had gotover allweakness of that sortwhen you made a virtue ofnecessityby marrying me."

Theinstant he spoke those wordsLaura threw down the penlookedat himwith an expression in her eyes whichthroughout all myexperienceof herI had never seen in them beforeand turned herback onhim in dead silence.

Thisstrong expression of the most open and the most bittercontemptwas so entirely unlike herselfso utterly out of hercharacterthat it silenced us all.  There was something hiddenbeyond adoubtunder the mere surface-brutality of the wordswhich herhusband had just addressed to her.  There was somelurkinginsult beneath themof which I was wholly ignorantbutwhich hadleft the mark of its profanation so plainly on her facethat evena stranger might have seen it.

The Countwho was no strangersaw it as distinctly as I did.When Ileft my chair to join LauraI heard him whisper under hisbreath toSir Percival"You idiot!"

Laurawalked before me to the door as I advancedand at the sametime herhusband spoke to her once more.

"Youpositively refusethento give me your signature?" he saidin thealtered tone of a man who was conscious that he had let hisownlicence of language seriously injure him.

"Afterwhat you have just said to me" she replied firmly"Irefuse mysignature until I have read every line in that parchmentfrom thefirst word to the last. Come awayMarianwe haveremainedhere long enough."

"Onemoment!" interposed the Count before Sir Percival could speakagain"onemomentLady GlydeI implore you!"

Laurawould have left the room without noticing himbut I stoppedher.

"Don'tmake an enemy of the Count!" I whispered.  "Whateveryoudodon'tmake an enemy of the Count!"

Sheyielded to me.  I closed the door againand we stood near itwaiting. Sir Percival sat down at the tablewith his elbow onthe foldedparchmentand his head resting on his clenched fist.The Countstood between usmaster of the dreadful position inwhich wewere placedas he was master of everything else.

"LadyGlyde" he saidwith a gentleness which seemed to addressitself toour forlorn situation instead of to ourselves"praypardon meif I venture to offer one suggestionand pray believethat Ispeak out of my profound respect and my friendly regard forthemistress of this house." He turned sharply towards SirPercival. "Is it absolutely necessary" he asked "that thisthinghereunder your elbowshould be signed to-day?"

"Itis necessary to my plans and wishes" returned the othersulkily. "But that considerationas you may have noticedhas noinfluencewith Lady Glyde."

"Answermy plain question plainly.  Can the business of thesignaturebe put off till to-morrowYes or No?"

"Yesif you will have it so."

"Thenwhat are you wasting your time for here? Let the signaturewait tillto-morrowlet it wait till you come back."

SirPercival looked up with a frown and an oath.

"Youare taking a tone with me that I don't like" he said.  "Atone Iwon't bear from any man."

"I amadvising you for your good" returned the Countwith asmile ofquiet contempt.  "Give yourself timegive Lady Glydetime. Have you forgotten that your dog-cart is waiting at thedoor? Mytone surprises youha? I dare say it doesit is thetone of aman who can keep his temper.  How many doses of goodadvicehave I given you in my time? More than you can count.  HaveI everbeen wrong? I defy you to quote me an instance of it.  Go!take yourdrive.  The matter of the signature can wait till to-morrow. Let it waitand renew it when you come back."

SirPercival hesitated and looked at his watch.  His anxiety aboutthe secretjourney which he was to take that dayrevived by theCount'swordswas now evidently disputing possession of his mindwith hisanxiety to obtain Laura's signature.  He considered for alittlewhileand then got up from his chair.

"Itis easy to argue me down" he said"when I have no time toansweryou.  I will take your adviceFosconot because I wantitorbelieve in itbut because I can't stop here any longer."He pausedand looked round darkly at his wife.  "If you don'tgive meyour signature when I come back to-morrow!" The rest waslost inthe noise of his opening the book-case cupboard againandlocking upthe parchment once more.  He took his hat and glovesoff thetableand made for the door.  Laura and I drew back tolet himpass.  "Remember to-morrow!" he said to his wifeandwentout.

We waitedto give him time to cross the hall and drive away.  TheCountapproached us while we were standing near the door.

"Youhave just seen Percival at his worstMiss Halcombe" hesaid. "As his old friendI am sorry for him and ashamed of him.As his oldfriendI promise you that he shall not break out to-morrow inthe same disgraceful manner in which he has broken outto-day."

Laura hadtaken my arm while he was speaking and she pressed itsignificantlywhen he had done.  It would have been a hard trialto anywoman to stand by and see the office of apologist for herhusband'smisconduct quietly assumed by his male friend in her ownhouseandit was a trial to HER.  I thanked the Count civillyand lether out.  Yes! I thanked him: for I felt alreadywith asense ofinexpressible helplessness and humiliationthat it waseither hisinterest or his caprice to make sure of my continuingto resideat Blackwater Parkand I knew after Sir Percival'sconduct tomethat without the support of the Count's influenceI couldnot hope to remain there.  His influencethe influence ofall othersthat I dreaded mostwas actually the one tie which nowheld me toLaura in the hour of her utmost need!

We heardthe wheels of the dog-cart crashing on the gravel of thedrive aswe came into the hall.  Sir Percival had started on hisjourney.

"Whereis he going toMarian?" Laura whispered.  "Everyfreshthing hedoes seems to terrify me about the future.  Have you anysuspicions?"

After whatshe had undergone that morningI was unwilling to tellher mysuspicions.

"Howshould I know his secrets?" I said evasively.

"Iwonder if the housekeeper knows?" she persisted.

"Certainlynot" I replied.  "She must be quite as ignorant as weare."

Laurashook her head doubtfully.

"Didyou not hear from the housekeeper that there was a report ofAnneCatherick having been seen in this neighbourhood? Don't youthink hemay have gone away to look for her?"

"Iwould rather compose myselfLauraby not thinking about it atallandafter what has happenedyou had better follow myexample. Come into my roomand rest and quiet yourself alittle."

We satdown together close to the windowand let the fragrantsummer airbreathe over our faces.

"I amashamed to look at youMarian" she said"after what yousubmittedto downstairsfor my sake.  Ohmy own loveI amalmostheartbroken when I think of it! But I will try to make itup to youIwill indeed!"

"Hush!hush!" I replied; "don't talk so.  What is thetriflingmortificationof my pride compared to the dreadful sacrifice ofyourhappiness?"

"Youheard what he said to me?" she went on quickly andvehemently. "You heard the wordsbut you don't know what theymeantyoudon't know why I threw down the pen and turned my backon him."She rose in sudden agitationand walked about the room."Ihave kept many things from your knowledgeMarianfor fear ofdistressingyouand making you unhappy at the outset of our newlives. You don't know how he has used me.  And yet you ought toknowforyou saw how he used me to-day.  You heard him sneer atmypresuming to be scrupulousyou heard him say I had made avirtue ofnecessity in marrying him." She sat down againher faceflusheddeeplyand her hands twisted and twined together in herlap. "I can't tell you about it now" she said; "I shallburstout cryingif I tell you nowlaterMarianwhen I am more sureofmyself.  My poor head achesdarlingachesachesaches.Where isyour smelling-bottle? Let me talk to you about yourself.I wish Ihad given him my signaturefor your sake.  Shall I giveit to himto-morrow? I would rather compromise myself thancompromiseyou.  After your taking my part against himhe willlay allthe blame on you if I refuse again.  What shall we do? Ohfor afriend to help us and advise us!a friend we could reallytrust!"

She sighedbitterly.  I saw in her face that she was thinking ofHartrightsawit the more plainly because her last words set methinkingof him too.  In six months only from her marriage wewanted thefaithful service he had offered to us in his farewellwords. How little I once thought that we should ever want it atall!

"Wemust do what we can to help ourselves" I said.  "Letus tryto talk itover calmlyLauralet us do all in our power todecide forthe best."

Puttingwhat she knew of her husband's embarrassments and what Ihad heardof his conversation with the lawyer togetherwe arrivednecessarilyat the conclusion that the parchment in the libraryhad beendrawn up for the purpose of borrowing moneyand thatLaura'ssignature was absolutely necessary to fit it for theattainmentof Sir Percival's object.

The secondquestionconcerning the nature of the legal contractby whichthe money was to be obtainedand the degree of personalresponsibilityto which Laura might subject herself if she signedit in thedarkinvolved considerations which lay far beyond anyknowledgeand experience that either of us possessed.  My ownconvictionsled me to believe that the hidden contents of theparchmentconcealed a transaction of the meanest and the mostfraudulentkind.

I had notformed this conclusion in consequence of Sir Percival'srefusal toshow the writing or to explain itfor that refusalmight wellhave proceeded from his obstinate disposition and hisdomineeringtemper alone.  My sole motive for distrusting hishonestysprang from the change which I had observed in hislanguageand his manners at Blackwater Parka change whichconvincedme that he had been acting a part throughout the wholeperiod ofhis probation at Limmeridge House.  His elaboratedelicacyhis ceremonious politeness which harmonised so agreeablywith Mr.Gilmore's old-fashioned notionshis modesty with Laurahiscandour with mehis moderation with Mr. Fairlieall thesewere theartifices of a meancunningand brutal manwho haddroppedhis disguise when his practised duplicity had gained itsendandhad openly shown himself in the library on that very day.I saynothing of the grief which this discovery caused me onLaura'saccountfor it is not to be expressed by any words ofmine. I only refer to it at allbecause it decided me to opposehersigning the parchmentwhatever the consequences might beunless shewas first made acquainted with the contents.

Underthese circumstancesthe one chance for us when to-morrowcame wasto be provided with an objection to giving the signaturewhichmight rest on sufficiently firm commercial or legal groundsto shakeSir Percival's resolutionand to make him suspect thatwe twowomen understood the laws and obligations of business aswell ashimself.

After someponderingI determined to write to the only honest manwithinreach whom we could trust to help us discreetly in ourforlornsituation.  That man was Mr. Gilmore's partnerMr. Kyrlewhoconducted the business now that our old friend had beenobliged towithdraw from itand to leave London on account of hishealth. I explained to Laura that I had Mr. Gilmore's ownauthorityfor placing implicit confidence in his partner'sintegritydiscretionand accurate knowledge of all her affairsand withher full approval I sat down at once to write the letterI began bystating our position to Mr. Kyrle exactly as it wasand thenasked for his advice in returnexpressed in plaindownrightterms which he could comprehend without any danger ofmisinterpretationsand mistakes.  My letter was as short as Icouldpossibly make itand wasI hopeunencumbered by needlessapologiesand needless details.

Just as Iwas about to put the address on the envelope an obstaclewasdiscovered by Laurawhich in the effort and preoccupation ofwritinghad escaped my mind altogether.

"Howare we to get the answer in time?" she asked.  "Yourletterwill notbe delivered in London before to-morrow morningand thepost willnot bring the reply here till the morning after."

The onlyway of overcoming this difficulty was to have the answerbrought tous from the lawyer's office by a special messenger.  Iwrote apostscript to that effectbegging that the messengermight bedespatched with the reply by the eleven o'clock morningtrainwhich would bring him to our station at twenty minutes pastoneandso enable him to reach Blackwater Park by two o'clock atthelatest. He was to be directed to ask for meto answer noquestionsaddressed to him by any one elseand to deliver hisletterinto no hands but mine.

"Incase Sir Percival should come back to-morrow before twoo'clock"I said to Laura"the wisest plan for you to adopt is tobe out inthe grounds all the morning with your book or your workand not toappear at the house till the messenger has had time toarrivewith the letter.  I will wait here for him all the morningto guardagainst any misadventures or mistakes.  By following thisarrangementI hope and believe we shall avoid being taken bysurprise. Let us go down to the drawing-room now.  We may excitesuspicionif we remain shut up together too long."

"Suspicion?"she repeated.  "Whose suspicion can we excitenowthat SirPercival has left the house? Do you mean Count Fosco?"

"PerhapsI doLaura."

"Youare beginning to dislike him as much as I doMarian."

"Nonot to dislike him.  Dislike is always more or lessassociatedwith contemptI can see nothing in the Count todespise."

"Youare not afraid of himare you?"

"PerhapsI ama little."

"Afraidof himafter his interference in our favour to-day!"

"Yes. I am more afraid of his interference than I am of SirPercival'sviolence.  Remember what I said to you in the library.Whateveryou doLauradon't make an enemy of the Count!"

We wentdownstairs.  Laura entered the drawing-roomwhile Iproceededacross the hallwith my letter in my handto put itinto thepost-bagwhich hung against the wall opposite to me.

The housedoor was openand as I crossed past itI saw CountFosco andhis wife standing talking together on the steps outsidewith theirfaces turned towards me.

TheCountess came into the hall rather hastilyand asked if I hadleisureenough for five minutes' private conversation.  Feeling alittlesurprised by such an appeal from such a personI put myletterinto the bagand replied that I was quite at her disposal.She tookmy arm with unaccustomed friendliness and familiarityandinstead of leading me into an empty roomdrew me out with herto thebelt of turf which surrounded the large fish-pond.

As wepassed the Count on the steps he bowed and smiledand thenwent atonce into the housepushing the hall door to after himbut notactually closing it.

TheCountess walked me gently round the fish-pond.  I expected tobe madethe depositary of some extraordinary confidenceand I wasastonishedto find that Madame Fosco's communication for myprivateear was nothing more than a polite assurance of hersympathyfor meafter what had happened in the library.  Herhusbandhad told her of all that had passedand of the insolentmanner inwhich Sir Percival had spoken to me.  This informationhad soshocked and distressed heron my account and on Laura'sthat shehad made up her mindif anything of the sort happenedagaintomark her sense of Sir Percival's outrageous conduct byleavingthe house.  The Count had approved of her ideaand shenow hopedthat I approved of it too.

I thoughtthis a very strange proceeding on the part of such aremarkablyreserved woman as Madame Foscoespecially after theinterchangeof sharp speeches which had passed between us duringtheconversation in the boat-house on that very morning.  Howeverit was myplain duty to meet a polite and friendly advance on thepart ofone of my elders with a polite and friendly reply.  Iansweredthe Countess accordingly in her own toneand thenthinkingwe had said all that was necessary on either sidemadean attemptto get back to the house.

But MadameFosco seemed resolved not to part with meand to myunspeakableamazementresolved also to talk.  Hitherto the mostsilent ofwomenshe now persecuted me with fluentconventionalitieson the subject of married lifeon the subjectof SirPercival and Lauraon the subject of her own happinessonthesubject of the late Mr. Fairlie's conduct to her in the matterof herlegacyand on half a dozen other subjects besidesuntilshe haddetained me walking round and round the fish-pond for morethan halfan hourand had quite wearied me out.  Whether shediscoveredthis or notI cannot saybut she stopped as abruptlyas she hadbegunlooked towards the house doorresumed her icymanner ina momentand dropped my arm of her own accord before Icouldthink of an excuse for accomplishing my own release fromher.

As Ipushed open the door and entered the hallI found myselfsuddenlyface to face with the Count again.  He was just putting aletterinto the post-bag.

After hehad dropped it in and had closed the baghe asked mewhere Ihad left Madame Fosco.  I told himand he went out at thehall doorimmediately to join his wife.  His manner when he spoketo me wasso unusually quiet and subdued that I turned and lookedafter himwondering if he were ill or out of spirits.

Why mynext proceeding was to go straight up to the post-bag andtake outmy own letter and look at it againwith a vague distruston meandwhy the looking at it for the second time instantlysuggestedthe idea to my mind of sealing the envelope for itsgreatersecurityare mysteries which are either too deep or tooshallowfor me to fathom.  Womenas everybody knowsconstantlyact onimpulses which they cannot explain even to themselvesandI can onlysuppose that one of those impulses was the hidden causeof myunaccountable conduct on this occasion.

Whateverinfluence animated meI found cause to congratulatemyself onhaving obeyed it as soon as I prepared to seal theletter inmy own room.  I had originally closed the envelope inthe usualway by moistening the adhesive point and pressing it onthe paperbeneathand when I now tried it with my fingerafter alapse offull three-quarters of an hourthe envelope opened ontheinstantwithout sticking or tearing.  Perhaps I had fasteneditinsufficiently? Perhaps there might have been some defect intheadhesive gum?

OrperhapsNo! it is quite revolting enough to feel that thirdconjecturestirring in my mind.  I would rather not see itconfrontingme in plain black and white.

I almostdread to-morrowso much depends on my discretion andself-control. There are two precautionsat all eventswhich Iam surenot to forget.  I must be careful to keep up friendlyappearanceswith the Countand I must be well on my guard whenthemessenger from the office comes here with the answer to myletter.

 

V

 

June17th.When the dinner hour brought us together againCountFosco wasin his usual excellent spirits.  He exerted himself tointerestand amuse usas if he was determined to efface from ourmemoriesall recollection of what had passed in the library thatafternoon. Lively descriptions of his adventures in travellingamusinganecdotes of remarkable people whom he had met withabroadquaint comparisons between the social customs of variousnationsillustrated by examples drawn from men and womenindiscriminatelyall over Europehumorous confessions of theinnocentfollies of his own early lifewhen he ruled the fashionsof asecond-rate Italian townand wrote preposterous romances onthe Frenchmodel for a second-rate Italian newspaperall flowedinsuccession so easily and so gaily from his lipsand alladdressedour various curiosities and various interests sodirectlyand so delicatelythat Laura and I listened to him withas muchattention andinconsistent as it may seemwith as muchadmirationalsoas Madame Fosco herself.  Women can resist aman'slovea man's famea man's personal appearanceand a man'smoneybutthey cannot resist a man's tongue when he knows how totalk tothem.

Afterdinnerwhile the favourable impression which he hadproducedon us was still vivid in our mindsthe Count modestlywithdrewto read in the library.

Lauraproposed a stroll in the grounds to enjoy the close of thelongevening.  It was necessary in common politeness to ask MadameFosco tojoin usbut this time she had apparently received herordersbeforehandand she begged we would kindly excuse her."TheCount will probably want a fresh supply of cigarettes" sheremarkedby way of apology"and nobody can make them to hissatisfactionbut myself." Her cold blue eyes almost warmed as shespoke thewordsshe looked actually proud of being theofficiatingmedium through which her lord and master composedhimselfwith tobacco-smoke!

Laura andI went out together alone.

It was amistyheavy evening.  There was a sense of blight in theair; theflowers were drooping in the gardenand the ground wasparchedand dewless.  The western heavenas we saw it over thequiettreeswas of a pale yellow hueand the sun was settingfaintly ina haze.  Coming rain seemed nearit would fallprobablywith the fall of night.

"Whichway shall we go?" I asked

"Towardsthe lakeMarianif you like" she answered.

"Youseem unaccountably fondLauraof that dismal lake."

"Nonot of the lake but of the scenery about it.  The sand andheath andthe fir-trees are the only objects I can discoverinall thislarge placeto remind me of Limmeridge.  But we willwalk insome other direction if you prefer it."

"Ihave no favourite walks at Blackwater Parkmy love.  One isthe sameas another to me.  Let us go to the lakewe may find itcooler inthe open space than we find it here."

We walkedthrough the shadowy plantation in silence.  Theheavinessin the evening air oppressed us bothand when wereachedthe boat-house we were glad to sit down and rest inside.

A whitefog hung low over the lake.  The dense brown line of thetrees onthe opposite bank appeared above itlike a dwarf forestfloatingin the sky.  The sandy groundshelving downward fromwhere wesatwas lost mysteriously in the outward layers of thefog. The silence was horrible.  No rustling of the leavesnobird'snote in the woodno cry of water-fowl from the pools ofthe hiddenlake.  Even the croaking of the frogs had ceased to-night.

"Itis very desolate and gloomy" said Laura.  "But we canbe morealone herethan anywhere else."

She spokequietly and looked at the wilderness of sand and mistwithsteadythoughtful eyes.  I could see that her mind was toomuchoccupied to feel the dreary impressions from without whichhadfastened themselves already on mine.

"IpromisedMarianto tell you the truth about my married lifeinstead ofleaving you any longer to guess it for yourself" shebegan. "That secret is the first I have ever had from youloveand I amdetermined it shall be the last. I was silentas youknowforyour sakeand perhaps a little for my own sake as well.It is veryhard for a woman to confess that the man to whom shehas givenher whole life is the man of all others who cares leastfor thegift.  If you were married yourselfMarianandespeciallyif you were happily marriedyou would feel for me asno singlewoman CAN feelhowever kind and true she may be."

Whatanswer could I make? I could only take her hand and look ather withmy whole heart as well as my eyes would let me.

"Howoften" she went on"I have heard you laughing over whatyouused tocall your 'poverty!' how often you have made me mock-speechesof congratulation on my wealth! OhMariannever laughagain. Thank God for your povertyit has made you your ownmistressand has saved you from the lot that has fallen on ME."

A sadbeginning on the lips of a young wife!sad in its quietplain-spokentruth.  The few days we had all passed together atBlackwaterPark had been many enough to show meto show any onewhat herhusband had married her for.

"Youshall not be distressed" she said"by hearing how soon mydisappointmentsand my trials beganor even by knowing what theywere. It is bad enough to have them on my memory.  If I tell youhow hereceived the first and last attempt at remonstrance that Iever madeyou will know how he has always treated meas well asif I haddescribed it in so many words.  It was one day at Romewhen wehad ridden out together to the tomb of Cecilia Metella.The skywas calm and lovelyand the grand old ruin lookedbeautifuland the remembrance that a husband's love had raised itin the oldtime to a wife's memorymade me feel more tenderly andmoreanxiously towards my husband than I had ever felt yet.'Would youbuild such a tomb for MEPercival?' I asked him.  'Yousaid youloved me dearly before we were marriedand yetsincethat time'I could get no farther.  Marian! he was not evenlooking atme! I pulled down my veilthinking it best not to lethim seethat the tears were in my eyes.  I fancied he had not paidanyattention to mebut he had.  He said'Come away' andlaughed tohimself as he helped me on to my horse.  He mounted hisown horseand laughed again as we rode away.  'If I do build you atomb' hesaid'it will be done with your own money.  I wonderwhetherCecilia Metella had a fortune and paid for hers.' I madenoreplyhow could Iwhen I was crying behind my veil?' Ahyoulight-complexionedwomen are all sulky' he said.  'What do youwant?compliments and soft speeches? Well! I'm in a good humourthismorning. Consider the compliments paid and the speechessaid.' Menlittle know when they say hard things to us how well werememberthemand how much harm they do us.  It would have beenbetter forme if I had gone on cryingbut his contempt dried upmy tearsand hardened my heart.  From that timeMarianI nevercheckedmyself again in thinking of Walter Hartright.  I let thememory ofthose happy dayswhen we were so fond of each other insecretcome back and comfort me.  What else had I to look to forconsolation?If we had been together you would have helped me tobetterthings.  I know it was wrongdarlingbut tell me if I waswrongwithout any excuse."

I wasobliged to turn my face from her.  "Don't ask me!" Isaid."HaveI suffered as you have suffered? What right have I todecide?"

"Iused to think of him" she pursueddropping her voice andmovingcloser to me"I used to think of him when Percival left mealone atnight to go among the Opera people.  I used to fancy whatI mighthave been if it had pleased God to bless me with povertyand if Ihad been his wife.  I used to see myself in my neat cheapgownsitting at home and waiting for him while he was earning ourbreadsittingat home and working for him and loving him all thebetterbecause I had to work for himseeing him come in tired andtaking offhis hat and coat for himandMarianpleasing himwithlittle dishes at dinner that I had learnt to make for hissake. Oh! I hope he is never lonely enough and sad enough tothink ofme and see me as I have thought of HIM and see HIM!"

As shesaid those melancholy wordsall the lost tendernessreturnedto her voiceand all the lost beauty trembled back intoher face. Her eyes rested as lovingly on the blightedsolitaryill-omenedview before usas if they saw the friendly hills ofCumberlandin the dim and threatening sky.

"Don'tspeak of Walter any more" I saidas soon as I couldcontrolmyself.  "OhLauraspare us both the wretchedness oftalking ofhim now!"

She rousedherselfand looked at me tenderly.

"Iwould rather be silent about him for ever" she answered"thancause youa moment's pain."

"Itis in your interests" I pleaded; "it is for your sake thatIspeak. If your husband heard you"

"Itwould not surprise him if he did hear me."

She madethat strange reply with a weary calmness and coldness.The changein her mannerwhen she gave the answerstartled mealmost asmuch as the answer itself.

"Notsurprise him!" I repeated.  "Laura! remember what youaresayingyoufrighten me!"

"Itis true" she said; "it is what I wanted to tell youto-daywhen wewere talking in your room.  My only secret when I openedmy heartto him at Limmeridge was a harmless secretMarianyousaid soyourself.  The name was all I kept from himand he hasdiscoveredit."

I heardherbut I could say nothing.  Her last words had killedthe littlehope that still lived in me.

"Ithappened at Rome" she went onas wearily calm and cold asever. "We were at a little party given to the English by somefriends ofSir Percival'sMr. and Mrs. Markland.  Mrs. Marklandhad thereputation of sketching very beautifullyand some of theguestsprevailed on her to show us her drawings.  We all admiredthembutsomething I said attracted her attention particularly tome. 'Surely you draw yourself?' she asked.  'I used to draw alittleonce' I answered'but I have given it up.' 'If you haveoncedrawn' she said'you may take to it again one of thesedaysandif you doI wish you would let me recommend you amaster.' Isaid nothingyou know whyMarianand tried to changetheconversation.  But Mrs. Markland persisted.  'I have hadallsorts ofteachers' she went on'but the best of allthe mostintelligentand the most attentivewas a Mr. Hartright.  If youever takeup your drawing againdo try him as a master.  He is ayoungmanmodest and gentlemanlikeI am sure you will like him .'Think ofthose words being spoken to me publiclyin the presenceofstrangersstrangers who had been invited to meet the bride andbridegroom!I did all I could to control myselfI said nothingand lookeddown close at the drawings.  When I ventured to raisemy headagainmy eyes and my husband's eyes metand I knewbyhis lookthat my face had betrayed me.  'We will see about Mr.Hartright'he saidlooking at me all the time'when we get backtoEngland.  I agree with youMrs. MarklandI think Lady Glydeis sure tolike him.' He laid an emphasis on the last words whichmade mycheeks burnand set my heart beating as if it wouldstifleme.  Nothing more was said.  We came away early.  Hewassilent inthe carriage driving back to the hotel.  He helped meoutandfollowed me upstairs as usual.  But the moment we were inthedrawing-roomhe locked the doorpushed me down into a chairand stoodover me with his hands on my shoulders.  'Ever sincethatmorning when you made your audacious confession to me atLimmeridge'he said'I have wanted to find out the manand Ifound himin your face to-night.  Your drawing-master was the manand hisname is Hartright.  You shall repent itand he shallrepent itto the last hour of your lives.  Now go to bed anddream ofhim if you likewith the marks of my horsewhip on hisshoulders.'Whenever he is angry with me now he refers to what Iacknowledgedto him in your presence with a sneer or a threat.  Ihave nopower to prevent him from putting his own horribleconstructionon the confidence I placed in him.  I have noinfluenceto make him believe meor to keep him silent.  Youlookedsurprised to-day when you heard him tell me that I had madea virtueof necessity in marrying him.  You will not be surprisedagain whenyou hear him repeat itthe next time he is out oftemperOhMarian! don't! don't! you hurt me!"

I hadcaught her in my armsand the sting and torment of myremorsehad closed them round her like a vice.  Yes! my remorse.The whitedespair of Walter's facewhen my cruel words struck himto theheart in the summer-house at Limmeridgerose before me inmuteunendurable reproach.  My hand had pointed the way which ledthe man mysister lovedstep by stepfar from his country andhisfriends.  Between those two young hearts I had stoodtosunderthem for everthe one from the otherand his life and herlife laywasted before me alike in witness of the deed.  I haddone thisand done it for Sir Percival Glyde.

For SirPercival Glyde.

 

I heardher speakingand I knew by the tone of her voice that shewascomforting meIwho deserved nothing but the reproach of hersilence!How long it was before I mastered the absorbing misery ofmy ownthoughtsI cannot tell.  I was first conscious that shewaskissing meand then my eyes seemed to wake on a sudden totheirsense of outward thingsand I knew that I was lookingmechanicallystraight before me at the prospect of the lake.

"Itis late" I heard her whisper.  "It will be dark intheplantation."She shook my arm and repeated"Marian! it will bedark inthe plantation."

"Giveme a minute longer" I said"a minuteto get better in."

I wasafraid to trust myself to look at her yetand I kept myeyes fixedon the view.

It WASlate.  The dense brown line of trees in the sky had fadedin thegathering darkness to the faint resemblance of a longwreath ofsmoke.  The mist over the lake below had stealthilyenlargedand advanced on us.  The silence was as breathless aseverbutthe horror of it had goneand the solemn mystery of itsstillnesswas all that remained.

"Weare far from the house" she whispered.  "Let us goback."

Shestopped suddenlyand turned her face from me towards theentranceof the boat-house.

"Marian!"she saidtrembling violently.  "Do you see nothing?Look!"

"Where?"

"Downtherebelow us."

Shepointed.  My eyes followed her handand I saw it too.

A livingfigure was moving over the waste of heath in thedistance. It crossed our range of view from the boat-houseandpasseddarkly along the outer edge of the mist. It stopped faroffinfront of uswaitedand passed on; moving slowlywiththe whitecloud of mist behind it and above itslowlyslowlytill itglided by the edge of the boat-houseand we saw it nomore.

We wereboth unnerved by what had passed between us that evening.Someminutes elapsed before Laura would venture into theplantationand before I could make up my mind to lead her back tothe house.

"Wasit a man or a woman?" she asked in a whisperas we moved atlast intothe dark dampness of the outer air.

"I amnot certain."

"Whichdo you think?"

"Itlooked like a woman."

"Iwas afraid it was a man in a long cloak."

"Itmay be a man.  In this dim light it is not possible to becertain."

"WaitMarian! I'm frightenedI don't see the path.  Suppose thefigureshould follow us?"

"Notat all likelyLaura.  There is really nothing to be alarmedabout. The shores of the lake are not far from the villageandthey arefree to any one to walk on by day or night.  It is onlywonderfulwe have seen no living creature there before."

We werenow in the plantation.  It was very darkso darkthat wefound somedifficulty in keeping the path.  I gave Laura my armand wewalked as fast as we could on our way back.

Before wewere half-way through she stoppedand forced me to stopwith her. She was listening.

"Hush"she whispered.  "I hear something behind us."

"Deadleaves" I said to cheer her"or a twig blown off thetrees."

"Itis summer timeMarianand there is not a breath of wind.Listen!"

I heardthe sound tooa sound like a light footstep following us.

"Nomatter who it isor what it is" I said"let us walk on. Inanotherminuteif there is anything to alarm uswe shall be nearenough tothe house to be heard."

We went onquicklyso quicklythat Laura was breathless by thetime wewere nearly through the plantationand within sight ofthelighted windows.

I waited amoment to give her breathing-time. Just as we wereabout toproceed she stopped me againand signed to me with herhand tolisten once more. We both heard distinctly a longheavysighbehind usin the black depths of the trees.

"Who'sthere?" I called out.

There wasno answer.

"Who'sthere?" I repeated.

An instantof silence followedand then we heard the light fallof thefootsteps againfainter and faintersinking away into thedarknesssinkingsinkingsinkingtill they were lost in thesilence.

We hurriedout from the trees to the open lawn beyond crossed itrapidlyand without another word passing between usreached thehouse.

In thelight of the hall-lamp Laura looked at mewith whitecheeks andstartled eyes.

"I amhalf dead with fear" she said. "Who could it have been?"

"Wewill try to guess to-morrow" I replied. "In the meantimesaynothing toany one of what we have heard and seen.

"Whynot?"

"Becausesilence is safeand we have need of safety in thishouse."

I sentLaura upstairs immediatelywaited a minute to take off myhat andput my hair smoothand then went at once to make my firstinvestigationsin the libraryon pretence of searching for abook.

There satthe Countfilling out the largest easy-chair in thehousesmoking and reading calmlywith his feet on an ottomanhis cravatacross his kneesand his shirt collar wide open.  Andthere satMadame Foscolike a quiet childon a stool by hissidemaking cigarettes.  Neither husband nor wife couldby anypossibilityhave been out late that eveningand have just gotback tothe house in a hurry.  I felt that my object in visitingthelibrary was answered the moment I set eyes on them.

CountFosco rose in polite confusion and tied his cravat on when Ienteredthe room.

"Praydon't let me disturb you" I said.  "I have only comehereto get abook."

"Allunfortunate men of my size suffer from the heat" said theCountrefreshing himself gravely with a large green fan.  "I wishI couldchange places with my excellent wife.  She is as cool atthismoment as a fish in the pond outside."

TheCountess allowed herself to thaw under the influence of herhusband'squaint comparison.  "I am never warmMiss Halcombe"sheremarkedwith the modest air of a woman who was confessing toone of herown merits.

"Haveyou and Lady Glyde been out this evening?" asked the Countwhile Iwas taking a book from the shelves to preserveappearances.

"Yeswe went out to get a little air."

"MayI ask in what direction?"

"Inthe direction of the lakeas far as the boat-house."

"Aha?As far as the boat-house?"

Underother circumstances I might have resented his curiosity.Butto-night I hailed it as another proof that neither he nor hiswife wereconnected with the mysterious appearance at the lake.

"Nomore adventuresI supposethis evening?" he went on . "Nomorediscoverieslike your discovery of the wounded dog?"

He fixedhis unfathomable grey eyes on mewith that coldclearirresistibleglitter in them which always forces me to look athimandalways makes me uneasy while I do look.  An unutterablesuspicionthat his mind is prying into mine overcomes me at thesetimesandit overcame me now.

"No"I said shortly; "no adventuresno discoveries."

I tried tolook away from him and leave the room.  Strange as itseemsIhardly think I should have succeeded in the attempt ifMadameFosco had not helped me by causing him to move and lookawayfirst.

"Countyou are keeping Miss Halcombe standing" she said.

The momenthe turned round to get me a chairI seized myopportunitythankedhimmade my excusesand slipped out.

An hourlaterwhen Laura's maid happened to be in her mistress'sroomItook occasion to refer to the closeness of the nightwitha view toascertaining next how the servants had been passingtheirtime.

"Haveyou been suffering much from the heat downstairs?" I asked.

"Nomiss" said the girl"we have not felt it to speak of."

"Youhave been out in the woods thenI suppose?"

"Someof us thought of goingmiss.  But cook said she should takeher chairinto the cool court-yardoutside the kitchen doorandon secondthoughtsall the rest of us took our chairs out theretoo."

Thehousekeeper was now the only person who remained to beaccountedfor.

"IsMrs. Michelson gone to bed yet?" I inquired.

"Ishould think notmiss" said the girlsmiling.  "Mrs.Michelsonis more likely to be getting up just now than going tobed."

"Why?What do you mean? Has Mrs. Michelson been taking to her bedin thedaytime?"

"Nomissnot exactlybut the next thing to it.  She's beenasleep allthe evening on the sofa in her own room."

Puttingtogether what I observed for myself in the libraryandwhat Ihave just heard from Laura's maidone conclusion seemsinevitable. The figure we saw at the lake was not the figure ofMadameFoscoof her husbandor of any of the servants.  Thefootstepswe heard behind us were not the footsteps of any onebelongingto the house.

Who couldit have been?

It seemsuseless to inquire.  I cannot even decide whether thefigure wasa man's or a woman's.  I can only say that I think itwas awoman's

 

VI

 

June18th.The misery of self-reproach which I suffered yesterdayeveningon hearing what Laura told me in the boat-housereturnedin theloneliness of the nightand kept me waking and wretchedfor hours.

I lightedmy candle at lastand searched through my old journalsto seewhat my share in the fatal error of her marriage had reallybeenandwhat I might have once done to save her from it.  Theresultsoothed me a little for it showed thathowever blindly andignorantlyI actedI acted for the best. Crying generally does meharm; butit was not so last nightI think it relieved me.  Irose thismorning with a settled resolution and a quiet mind.NothingSir Percival can say or do shall ever irritate me againor make meforget for one moment that I am staying here indefianceof mortificationsinsultsand threatsfor Laura'sserviceand for Laura's sake.

Thespeculations in which we might have indulged this morningonthesubject of the figure at the lake and the foot-steps in theplantationhave been all suspended by a trifling accident whichhas causedLaura great regret.  She has lost the little brooch Igave herfor a keepsake on the day before her marriage.  As shewore itwhen we went out yesterday evening we can only supposethat itmust have dropped from her dresseither in the boat-houseor on ourway back.  The servants have been sent to searchandhavereturned unsuccessful.  And now Laura herself has gone tolook forit.  Whether she finds it or not the loss will help toexcuse herabsence from the house.  if Sir Percival returns beforethe letterfrom Mr. Gilmore's partner is placed in my hands.

Oneo'clock has just struck.  I am considering whether I hadbetterwait here for the arrival of the messenger from Londonorslip awayquietlyand watch for him outside the lodge gate.

Mysuspicion of everybody and everything in this house inclines meto thinkthat the second plan may be the best. The Count is safein thebreakfast-room.  I heard himthrough the dooras I ranupstairsten minutes sinceexercising his canary-birds at theirtricks:"Comeout on my little fingermy pret-pret-pretties!Come outand hop upstairs! Onetwothreeand up! Threetwooneanddown! Onetwothreetwit-twit-twit-tweet!" The birdsburst intotheir usual ecstasy of singingand the Count chirrupedandwhistled at them in returnas if he was a bird himself.  Myroom dooris openand I can hear the shrill singing and whistlingat thisvery moment.  If I am really to slip out without beingobservednow is my time.

 

FOURO'CLOCK.  The three hours that have passed since I made mylast entryhave turned the whole march of events at BlackwaterPark in anew direction.  Whether for good or for evilI cannotand darenot decide.

Let me getback first to the place at which I left offor I shalllosemyself in the confusion of my own thoughts.

I wentoutas I had proposedto meet the messenger with myletterfrom London at the lodge gate.  On the stairs I saw no one.In thehall I heard the Count still exercising his birds.  But oncrossingthe quadrangle outsideI passed Madame Foscowalking byherself inher favourite circleround and round the great fish-pond. I at once slackened my paceso as to avoid all appearanceof beingin a hurryand even went the lengthfor caution's sakeofinquiring if she thought of going out before lunch.  She smiledat me inthe friendliest mannersaid she preferred remaining nearthe housenodded pleasantlyand re-entered the hall.  I lookedbackandsaw that she had closed the door before I had opened thewicket bythe side of the carriage gates.

In lessthan a quarter of an hour I reached the lodge.

The laneoutside took a sudden turn to the leftran on straightfor ahundred yards or soand then took another sharp turn to theright tojoin the high-road.  Between these two turnshidden fromthe lodgeon one sideand from the way to the station on theotherIwaitedwalking backwards and forwards.  High hedges wereon eitherside of meand for twenty minutesby my watchIneithersaw nor heard anything.  At the end of that time the soundof acarriage caught my earand I was metas I advanced towardsthe secondturningby a fly from the railway.  I made a sign tothe driverto stop.  As he obeyed me a respectable-looking man puthis headout of the window to see what was the matter.

"Ibeg your pardon" I said"but am I right in supposing thatyouare goingto Blackwater Park?"

"Yesma'am."

"Witha letter for any one?"

"Witha letter for Miss Halcombema'am."

"Youmay give me the letter.  I am Miss Halcombe."

The mantouched his hatgot out of the fly immediatelyand gaveme theletter.

I openedit at once and read these lines.  I copy them herethinkingit best to destroy the original for caution's sake.

 

"DEARMADAMYour letter received this morning has caused me verygreatanxiety.  I will reply to it as briefly and plainly aspossible.

"Mycareful consideration of the statement made by yourselfandmyknowledge of Lady Glyde's positionas defined in thesettlementlead meI regret to sayto the conclusion that aloan ofthe trust money to Sir Percival (orin other wordsaloan ofsome portion of the twenty thousand pounds of Lady Glyde'sfortune)is in contemplationand that she is made a party to thedeedinorder to secure her approval of a flagrant breach oftrustandto have her signature produced against her if sheshouldcomplain hereafter.  It is impossibleon any othersuppositionto accountsituated as she isfor her execution toa deed ofany kind being wanted at all.

"Inthe event of Lady Glyde's signing such a documentas I amcompelledto suppose the deed in question to beher trusteeswould beat liberty to advance money to Sir Percival out of hertwentythousand pounds.  If the amount so lent should not he paidbackandif Lady Glyde should have childrentheir fortune willthen bediminished by the sumlarge or smallso advanced.  Inplainerterms stillthe transactionfor anything that Lady Glydeknows tothe contrarymay be a fraud upon her unborn children.

"Underthese serious circumstancesI would recommend Lady Glydeto assignas a reason for withholding her signaturethat shewishes thedeed to be first submitted to myselfas her familysolicitor(in the absence of my partnerMr. Gilmore).  Noreasonableobjection can be made to taking this courseforifthetransaction is an honourable onethere will necessarily be nodifficultyin my giving my approval.

"Sincerelyassuring you of my readiness to afford any additionalhelp oradvice that may be wantedI beg to remainMadamyourfaithfulservant

WILLIAMKYRLE.

 

I readthis kind and sensible letter very thankfully.  It suppliedLaura witha reason for objecting to the signature which wasunanswerableand which we could both of us understand.  Themessengerwaited near me while I was reading to receive hisdirectionswhen I had done

"Willyou be good enough to say that I understand the letterandthat I amvery much obliged?" I said.  "There is no other replynecessaryat present."

Exactly atthe moment when I was speaking those wordsholding theletteropen in my handCount Fosco turned the corner of the lanefrom thehigh-roadand stood before me as if he had sprung up outof theearth.

Thesuddenness of his appearancein the very last place underheaven inwhich I should have expected to see himtook mecompletelyby surprise.  The messenger wished me good-morningandgot intothe fly again.  I could not say a word to himI was noteven ableto return his bow.  The conviction that I wasdiscoveredandby that manof all othersabsolutely petrifiedme.

"Areyou going back to the houseMiss Halcombe?" he inquiredwithoutshowing the least surprise on his sideand without evenlookingafter the flywhich drove off while he was speaking tome.

Icollected myself sufficiently to make a sign in the affirmative.

"I amgoing back too" he said.  "Pray allow me the pleasureofaccompanyingyou.  Will you take my arm? You look surprised atseeingme!"

I took hisarm.  The first of my scattered senses that came backwas thesense that warned me to sacrifice anything rather thanmake anenemy of him.

"Youlook surprised at seeing me!" he repeated in his quietlypertinaciousway.

"IthoughtCountI heard you with your birds in the breakfast-room"I answeredas quietly and firmly as I could.

"Surely. But my little feathered childrendear ladyare onlytoo likeother children.  They have their days of perversityandthismorning was one of them.  My wife came in as I was puttingthem backin their cageand said she had left you going out alonefor awalk.  You told her sodid you not?"

"Certainly."

"WellMiss Halcombethe pleasure of accompanying you was toogreat atemptation for me to resist. At my age there is no harm inconfessingso much as thatis there? I seized my hatand set offto offermyself as your escort.  Even so fat an old man as Foscois surelybetter than no escort at all?  I took the wrong pathIcame backin despairand here I amarrived (may I say it?) atthe heightof my wishes."

He talkedon in this complimentary strain with a fluency whichleft me noexertion to make beyond the effort of maintaining mycomposure. He never referred in the most distant manner to whathe hadseen in the laneor to the letter which I still had in myhand. This ominous discretion helped to convince me that he musthavesurprisedby the most dishonourable meansthe secret of myapplicationin Laura's interest to the lawyer; and thathavingnowassured himself of the private manner in which I had receivedtheanswerhe had discovered enough to suit his purposesand wasonly benton trying to quiet the suspicions which he knew he musthavearoused in my mind.  I was wise enoughunder thesecircumstancesnot to attempt to deceive him by plausibleexplanationsand woman enoughnotwithstanding my dread of himto feel asif my hand was tainted by resting on his arm.

On thedrive in front of the house we met the dog-cart being takenround tothe stables.  Sir Percival had just returned.  He cameout tomeet us at the house-door.  Whatever other results hisjourneymight have hadit had not ended in softening his savagetemper.

"Oh!here are two of you come back" he saidwith a loweringface. "What is the meaning of the house being deserted in thisway? Whereis Lady Glyde?"

I told himof the loss of the broochand said that Laura had goneinto theplantation to look for it.

"Broochor no brooch" he growled sulkily"I recommend her not toforget herappointment in the library this afternoon.  I shallexpect tosee her in half an hour."

I took myhand from the Count's armand slowly ascended thesteps. He honoured me with one of his magnificent bowsand thenaddressedhimself gaily to the scowling master of the house.

"TellmePercival" he said"have you had a pleasant drive? Andhas yourpretty shining Brown Molly come back at all tired?"

"BrownMolly be hangedand the drive too! I want my lunch."

"AndI want five minutes' talk with youPercivalfirst"returnedthe Count.  "Five minutes' talkmy friendhere on thegrass."

"Whatabout?"

"Aboutbusiness that very much concerns you."

I lingeredlong enough in passing through the hall-door to hearthisquestion and answerand to see Sir Percival thrust his handsinto hispockets in sullen hesitation.

"Ifyou want to badger me with any more of your infernalscruples"he said"I for one won't hear them.  I want my lunch."

"Comeout here and speak to me" repeated the Countstillperfectlyuninfluenced by the rudest speech that his friend couldmake tohim.

SirPercival descended the steps.  The Count took him by the armand walkedhim away gently.  The "business" I was surereferredto thequestion of the signature.  They were speaking of Laura andof mebeyond a doubt.  I felt heart-sick and faint with anxiety.It mightbe of the last importance to both of us to know what theyweresaying to each other at that momentand not one word of itcould byany possibility reach my ears.

I walkedabout the housefrom room to roomwith the lawyer'sletter inmy bosom (I was afraid by this time even to trust itunder lockand key)till the oppression of my suspense halfmaddenedme.  There were no signs of Laura's returnand I thoughtof goingout to look for her.  But my strength was so exhausted bythe trialsand anxieties of the morning that the heat of the dayquiteoverpowered meand after an attempt to get to the door Iwasobliged to return to the drawing-room and lie down on thenearestsofa to recover.

I was justcomposing myself when the door opened softly and theCountlooked in.

"Athousand pardonsMiss Halcombe" he said; "I only venturetodisturbyou because I am the bearer of good news.  Percivalwhoiscapricious in everythingas you knowhas seen fit to alterhis mindat the last momentand the business of the signature isput offfor the present.  A great relief to all of usMissHalcombeas I see with pleasure in your face.  Pray present mybestrespects and felicitationswhen you mention this pleasantchange ofcircumstances to Lady Glyde."

He left mebefore I had recovered my astonishment.  There could beno doubtthat this extraordinary alteration of purpose in thematter ofthe signature was due to his influenceand that hisdiscoveryof my application to London yesterdayand of my havingreceivedan answer to it to-dayhad offered him the means ofinterferingwith certain success.

I feltthese impressionsbut my mind seemed to share theexhaustionof my bodyand I was in no condition to dwell on themwith anyuseful reference to the doubtful present or thethreateningfuture.  I tried a second time to run out and findLaurabutmy head was giddy and my knees trembled under me.There wasno choice but to give it up again and return to thesofasorely against my will.

The quietin the houseand the low murmuring hum of summerinsectsoutside the open windowsoothed me.  My eyes closed ofthemselvesand I passed gradually into a strange conditionwhichwas notwakingfor I knew nothing of what was going on about meand notsleepingfor I was conscious of my own repose.  In thisstate myfevered mind broke loose from mewhile my weary body wasat restand in a tranceor day-dream of my fancyI know notwhat tocall itI saw Walter Hartright.  I had not thought of himsince Irose that morningLaura had not said one word to meeitherdirectly or indirectly referring to himand yet I saw himnow asplainly as if the past time had returnedand we were bothtogetheragain at Limmeridge House.

Heappeared to me as one among many other mennone of whose facesI couldplainly discern.  They were all lying on the steps of animmenseruined temple.  Colossal tropical treeswith rankcreeperstwining endlessly about their trunksand hideous stoneidolsglimmering and grinning at intervals behind leaves andstalks andbranchessurrounded the temple and shut out the skyand threwa dismal shadow over the forlorn band of men on thesteps. White exhalations twisted and curled up stealthily fromthegroundapproached the men in wreaths like smoketouchedthemandstretched them out deadone by onein the places wherethey lay. An agony of pity and fear for Walter loosened mytongueand I implored him to escape.  "Come backcome back!"Isaid. "Remember your promise to HER and to ME.  Come back to usbefore thePestilence reaches you and lays you dead like therest!"

He lookedat me with an unearthly quiet in his face.  "Wait" hesaid"Ishall come back.  The night when I met the lost Woman onthehighway was the night which set my life apart to be theinstrumentof a Design that is yet unseen.  Herelost in thewildernessor therewelcomed back in the land of my birthI amstillwalking on the dark road which leads meand youand thesister ofyour love and mineto the unknown Retribution and theinevitableEnd.  Wait and look.  The Pestilence which touches therest willpass ME."

I saw himagain.  He was still in the forestand the numbers ofhis lostcompanions had dwindled to very few.  The temple wasgoneandthe idols were goneand in their place the figures ofdarkdwarfish men lurked murderously among the treeswith bowsin theirhandsand arrows fitted to the string.  Once more Ifeared forWalterand cried out to warn him.  Once more he turnedto mewith the immovable quiet in his face.

"Anotherstep" he said"on the dark road.  Wait and look. Thearrowsthat strike the rest will spare me."

I saw himfor the third time in a wrecked shipstranded on awildsandy shore.  The overloaded boats were making away from himfor thelandand he alone was left to sink with the ship.  Icried tohim to hail the hindmost boatand to make a last effortfor hislife.  The quiet face looked at me in returnand theunmovedvoice gave me back the changeless reply.  "Another step onthejourney.  Wait and look.  The Sea which drowns the restwillspare me."

I saw himfor the last time.  He was kneeling by a tomb of whitemarbleand the shadow of a veiled woman rose out of the gravebeneathand waited by his side.  The unearthly quiet of his facehadchanged to an unearthly sorrow.  But the terrible certainty ofhis wordsremained the same.  "Darker and darker" he said;"fartherand farther yet.  Death takes the goodthe beautifuland theyoungand spares me.  The Pestilence that wastestheArrow thatstrikesthe Sea that drownsthe Grave that closesover Loveand Hopeare steps of my journeyand take me nearerand nearerto the End."

My heartsank under a dread beyond wordsunder a grief beyondtears. The darkness closed round the pilgrim at the marble tombclosedround the veiled woman from the graveclosed round thedreamerwho looked on them.  I saw and heard no more.

I wasaroused by a hand laid on my shoulder.  It was Laura's.

She haddropped on her knees by the side of the sofa.  Her facewasflushed and agitatedand her eyes met mine in a wildbewilderedmanner.  I started the instant I saw her.

"Whathas happened?" I asked.  "What has frightened you?"

She lookedround at the half-open doorput her lips close to myearandanswered in a whisper

"Marian!thefigure at the lakethe footsteps last nightI'vejust seenher! I've just spoken to her!"

"Whofor Heaven's sake?"

"AnneCatherick."

I was sostartled by the disturbance in Laura's face and mannerand sodismayed by the first waking impressions of my dreamthatI was notfit to bear the revelation which burst upon me when thatnamepassed her lips.  I could only stand rooted to the floorlooking ather in breathless silence.

She wastoo much absorbed by what had happened to notice theeffectwhich her reply had produced on me.  "I have seen AnneCatherick!I have spoken to Anne Catherick!" she repeated as if Ihad notheard her.  "OhMarianI have such things to tell you!Comeawaywe may be interrupted herecome at once into my room."

With thoseeager words she caught me by the handand led methroughthe libraryto the end room on the ground floorwhichhad beenfitted up for her own especial use.  No third personexcept hermaidcould have any excuse for surprising us here.She pushedme in before herlocked the doorand drew the chintzcurtainsthat hung over the inside.

Thestrangestunned feeling which had taken possession of mestillremained.  But a growing conviction that the complicationswhich hadlong threatened to gather about herand to gather aboutmehadsuddenly closed fast round us bothwas now beginning topenetratemy mind.  I could not express it in wordsI couldhardlyeven realise it dimly in my own thoughts.  "AnneCatherick!"I whispered to myselfwith uselesshelplessreiteration"AnneCatherick!"

Laura drewme to the nearest seatan ottoman in the middle of theroom. "Look!" she said"look here!"and pointed to thebosom ofher dress.

I sawforthe first timethat the lost brooch was pinned in itsplaceagain.  There was something real in the sight of itsomethingreal in the touching of it afterwardswhich seemed tosteady thewhirl and confusion in my thoughtsand to help me tocomposemyself.

"Wheredid you find your brooch?" The first words I could say toher werethe words which put that trivial question at thatimportantmoment.

"SHEfound itMarian."

"Where?"

"Onthe floor of the boat-house.  Ohhow shall I beginhow shallI tell youabout it! She talked to me so strangelyshe looked sofearfullyillshe left me so suddenly!"

Her voicerose as the tumult of her recollections pressed upon hermind. The inveterate distrust which weighsnight and dayon myspirits inthis houseinstantly roused me to warn herjust asthe sightof the brooch had roused me to question herthe momentbefore.

"Speaklow" I said.  "The window is openand the gardenpathrunsbeneath it.  Begin at the beginningLaura.  Tell mewordfor wordwhat passed between that woman and you."

"ShallI close the window?"

"Noonly speak lowonly remember that Anne Catherick is adangeroussubject under your husband's roof.  Where did you firstsee her?"

"Atthe boat-houseMarian.  I went outas you knowto find mybroochand I walked along the path through the plantationlookingdown on the ground carefully at every step.  In that way Igot onafter a long timeto the boat-houseand as soon as I wasinside itI went on my knees to hunt over the floor.  I was stillsearchingwith my back to the doorwaywhen I heard a softstrangevoice behind me say'Miss Fairlie.'"

"MissFairlie!"

"Yesmy old namethe dearfamiliar name that I thought I hadpartedfrom for ever.  I started upnot frightenedthe voice wastoo kindand gentle to frighten anybodybut very much surprised.Therelooking at me from the doorwaystood a womanwhose face Ineverremembered to have seen before"

"Howwas she dressed?"

"Shehad a neatpretty white gown onand over it a poor wornthin darkshawl.  Her bonnet was of brown strawas poor and wornas theshawl.  I was struck by the difference between her gown andthe restof her dressand she saw that I noticed it.  'Don't lookat mybonnet and shawl' she saidspeaking in a quickbreathlesssudden way; 'if I mustn't wear whiteI don't carewhat Iwear.  Look at my gown as much as you pleaseI'm notashamed ofthat.' Very strangewas it not? Before I could sayanythingto soothe hershe held out one of her handsand I sawmy broochin it.  I was so pleased and so gratefulthat I wentquiteclose to her to say what I really felt.  'Are you thankfulenough todo me one little kindness?' she asked.  'Yesindeed' Ianswered'any kindness in my power I shall be glad to show you.''Then letme pin your brooch on for younow I have found it.' Herrequestwas so unexpectedMarianand she made it with suchextraordinaryeagernessthat I drew back a step or twonot wellknowingwhat to do.  'Ah!' she said'your mother would have letme pin onthe brooch.' There was something in her voice and herlookaswell as in her mentioning my mother in that reproachfulmannerwhich made me ashamed of my distrust. I took her hand withthe broochin itand put it up gently on the bosom of my dress.'You knewmy mother?' I said.  'Was it very long ago? have I everseen youbefore?' Her hands were busy fastening the brooch: shestoppedand pressed them against my breast. 'You don't remember afinespring day at Limmeridge' she said'and your mother walkingdown thepath that led to the schoolwith a little girl on eachside ofher? I have had nothing else to think of sinceand Irememberit.  You were one of the little girlsand I was theother. Prettyclever Miss Fairlieand poor dazed Anne Catherickwerenearer to each other then than they are now!'"

"Didyou remember herLaurawhen she told you her name?"

"YesI remembered your asking me about Anne Catherick atLimmeridgeand your saying that she had once been considered likeme."

"Whatreminded you of thatLaura?"

"SHEreminded me.  While I was looking at herwhile she was veryclose tomeit came over my mind suddenly that we were like eachother! Herface was pale and thin and wearybut the sight of itstartledmeas if it had been the sight of my own face in theglassafter a long illness.  The discoveryI don't know whygaveme such ashockthat I was perfectly incapable of speaking to herfor themoment."

"Didshe seem hurt by your silence?"

"I amafraid she was hurt by it.  'You have not got your mother'sface' shesaid'or your mother's heart.  Your mother's face wasdarkandyour mother's heartMiss Fairliewas the heart of anangel.' 'Iam sure I feel kindly towards you' I said'though Imay not beable to express it as I ought.  Why do you call me MissFairlie?''Because I love the name of Fairlie and hate thename ofGlyde' she broke out violently.  I had seen nothing likemadness inher before thisbut I fancied I saw it now in hereyes. 'I only thought you might not know I was married' I saidrememberingthe wild letter she wrote to me at Limmeridgeandtrying toquiet her.  She sighed bitterlyand turned away fromme. 'Not know you were married?' she repeated.  'I am hereBECAUSEyou are married.  I am here to make atonement to youbefore Imeet your mother in the world beyond the grave.' She drewfartherand farther away from metill she was out of the boat-houseandthen she watched and listened for a little while.  Whenshe turnedround to speak againinstead of coming backshestoppedwhere she waslooking in at mewith a hand on each sideof theentrance.  'Did you see me at the lake last night?' shesaid. 'Did you hear me following you in the wood? I have beenwaitingfor days together to speak to you aloneI have left theonlyfriend I have in the worldanxious and frightened about meI haverisked being shut up again in the mad-houseand all foryour sakeMiss Fairlieall for your sake.' Her words alarmed meMarianand yet there was something in the way she spoke that mademe pityher with all my heart.  I am sure my pity must have beensincerefor it made me bold enough to ask the poor creature tocome inand sit down in the boat-houseby my side."

"Didshe do so?"

"No. She shook her headand told me she must stop where she wasto watchand listenand see that no third person surprised us.And fromfirst to lastthere she waited at the entrancewith ahand oneach side of itsometimes bending in suddenly to speak tomesometimes drawing back suddenly to look about her.  'I washereyesterday' she said'before it came darkand I heard youand thelady with youtalking together.  I heard you tell herabout yourhusband.  I heard you say you had no influence to makehimbelieve youand no influence to keep him silent.  Ah! I knewwhat thosewords meantmy conscience told me while I waslistening. Why did I ever let you marry him! Ohmy fearmy madmiserablewicked fear!'She covered up her face in her poor wornshawlandmoaned and murmured to herself behind it.  I began tobe afraidshe might break out into some terrible despair whichneithershe nor I could master.  'Try to quiet yourself' I said;'try totell me how you might have prevented my marriage.' Shetook theshawl from her faceand looked at me vacantly.  'I oughtto havehad heart enough to stop at Limmeridge' she answered.  'Ioughtnever to have let the news of his coming there frighten meaway. I ought to have warned you and saved you before it was toolate. Why did I only have courage enough to write you thatletter?Why did I only do harmwhen I wanted and meant to dogood? Ohmy fearmy madmiserablewicked fear! 'She repeatedthosewords againand hid her face again in the end of her poorwornshawl.  It was dreadful to see herand dreadful to hearher."

"SurelyLaurayou asked what the fear was which she dwelt on soearnestly?"

"YesI asked that."

"Andwhat did she say?"

"Sheasked me in returnif I should not be afraid of a man whohad shutme up in a mad-houseand who would shut me up againifhe could?I said'Are you afraid still? Surely you would not behere ifyou were afraid now?' 'No' she said'I am not afraidnow.' Iasked why not.  She suddenly bent forward into the boat-houseandsaid'Can't you guess why?' I shook my head.  'Look atme' shewent on.  I told her I was grieved to see that she lookedverysorrowful and very ill.  She smiled for the first time.'Ill?' sherepeated; 'I'm dying.  You know why I'm not afraid ofhim now. Do you think I shall meet your mother in heaven? Willsheforgive me if I do?' I was so shocked and so startledthat Icould makeno reply.  'I have been thinking of it' she went on'all thetime I have been in hiding from your husbandall thetime I layill.  My thoughts have driven me hereI want to makeatonementIwant to undo all I can of the harm I once did.' Ibegged heras earnestly as I could to tell me what she meant.  Shestilllooked at me with fixed vacant eyes.  'SHALL I undo theharm?' shesaid to herself doubtfully.  'You have friends to takeyourpart.  If YOU know his Secrethe will be afraid of youhewon't dareuse you as he used me.  He must treat you mercifullyfor hisown sakeif he is afraid of you and your friends.  And ifhe treatsyou mercifullyand if I can say it was my doing' Ilistenedeagerly for morebut she stopped at those words."

"Youtried to make her go on?"

"Itriedbut she only drew herself away from me againand leanedher faceand arms against the side of the boat-house.  'Oh!' Iheard hersaywith a dreadfuldistracted tenderness in hervoice'oh! if I could only be buried with your mother! If I couldonly wakeat her sidewhen the angel's trumpet soundsand thegravesgive up their dead at the resurrection!'Marian! Itrembledfrom head to footit was horrible to hear her.  'Butthere isno hope of that' she saidmoving a littleso as tolook at meagain'no hope for a poor stranger like me.  I shallnot restunder the marble cross that I washed with my own handsand madeso white and pure for her sake.  Oh no! oh no! God'smercynotman'swill take me to herwhere the wicked cease fromtroublingand the weary are at rest.' She spoke those wordsquietlyand sorrowfullywith a heavyhopeless sighand thenwaited alittle.  Her face was confused and troubledshe seemedto bethinkingor trying to think.  'What was it I said justnow?' sheasked after a while.  'When your mother is in my mindeverythingelse goes out of it.  What was I saying? what was Isaying?' Ireminded the poor creatureas kindly and delicately asI could. 'Ahyesyes' she saidstill in a vacantperplexedmanner. 'You are helpless with your wicked husband.  Yes.  And Imust dowhat I have come to do hereI must make it up to you forhavingbeen afraid to speak out at a better time.' 'What IS it youhave totell me?' I asked.  'The Secret that your cruel husband isafraidof' she answered.  'I once threatened him with the Secretandfrightened him.  You shall threaten him with the Secretandfrightenhim too.' Her face darkenedand a hardangry starefixeditself in her eyes.  She began waving her hand at me in avacantunmeaning manner.  'My mother knows the Secret' she said.'My motherhas wasted under the Secret half her lifetime.  OnedaywhenI was grown upshe said something to ME.  And the nextday yourhusband'"

"Yes!yes! Go on.  What did she tell you about your husband?"

"Shestopped againMarianat that point"

"Andsaid no more?"

"Andlistened eagerly.  'Hush!' she whisperedstill waving herhand atme.  'Hush!' She moved aside out of the doorwaymovedslowly andstealthilystep by steptill I lost her past the edgeof theboat-house."

"Surelyyou followed her?"

"Yesmy anxiety made me bold enough to rise and follow her.  Justas Ireached the entranceshe appeared again suddenlyround theside ofthe boat-house.  'The Secret' I whispered to her'waitand tellme the Secret!' She caught hold of my armand looked atme withwild frightened eyes.  'Not now' she said'we are notaloneweare watched.  Come here to-morrow at this timebyyourselfmindbyyourself.' She pushed me roughly into the boat-houseagainand I saw her no more."

"OhLauraLauraanother chance lost! If I had only been nearyou sheshould not have escaped us.  On which side did you losesight ofher?"

"Onthe left sidewhere the ground sinks and the wood isthickest."

"Didyou run out again? did you call after her?"

"Howcould I? I was too terrified to move or speak."

"Butwhen you DID movewhen you came out?"

"Iran back hereto tell you what had happened."

"Didyou see any oneor hear any onein the plantation?"

"Noit seemed to be all still and quiet when I passed throughit."

I waitedfor a moment to consider.  Was this third personsupposedto have been secretly present at the interviewarealityor the creature of Anne Catherick's excited fancy? It wasimpossibleto determine.  The one thing certain wasthat we hadfailedagain on the very brink of discoveryfailed utterly andirretrievablyunless Anne Catherick kept her appointment at theboat-housefor the next day.

"Areyou quite sure you have told me everything that passed? Everyword thatwas said?" I inquired.

"Ithink so" she answered.  "My powers of memoryMarianare notlikeyours.  But I was so strongly impressedso deeplyinterestedthat nothing of any importance can possibly haveescapedme."

"Mydear Laurathe merest trifles are of importance where AnneCatherickis concerned.  Think again.  Did no chance referenceescape heras to the place in which she is living at the presenttime?"

"Nonethat I can remember."

"Didshe not mention a companion and frienda woman named Mrs.Clements?"

"Ohyes! yes! I forgot that.  She told me Mrs. Clements wantedsadly togo with her to the lake and take care of herand beggedand prayedthat she would not venture into this neighbourhoodalone."

"Wasthat all she said about Mrs. Clements?"

"Yesthat was all."

"Shetold you nothing about the place in which she took refugeafterleaving Todd's Corner?"

"NothingIam quite sure."

"Norwhere she has lived since? Nor what her illness had been?"

"NoMariannot a word.  Tell mepray tell mewhat you thinkabout it. I don't know what to thinkor what to do next."

"Youmust do thismy love: You must carefully keep theappointmentat the boat-house to-morrow.  It is impossible to saywhatinterests may not depend on your seeing that woman again.You shallnot be left to yourself a second time.  I will followyou at asafe distance.  Nobody shall see mebut I will keepwithinhearing of your voiceif anything happens.  Anne Catherickhasescaped Walter Hartrightand has escaped you.  Whateverhappensshe shall not escape ME."

Laura'seyes read mine attentively.

"Youbelieve" she said"in this secret that my husband isafraidof?SupposeMarianit should only exist after all in AnneCatherick'sfancy? Suppose she only wanted to see me and to speakto meforthe sake of old remembrances? Her manner was sostrangeIalmost doubted her.  Would you trust her in otherthings?"

"Itrust nothingLaurabut my own observation of your husband'sconduct. I judge Anne Catherick's words by his actionsand Ibelievethere is a secret."

I said nomoreand got up to leave the room Thoughts weretroublingme which I might have told her if we had spoken togetherlongerand which it might have been dangerous for her to know.Theinfluence of the terrible dream from which she had awakened mehungdarkly and heavily over every fresh impression which theprogressof her narrative produced on my mind.  I felt the ominousfuturecoming closechilling me with an unutterable aweforcingon me theconviction of an unseen design in the long series ofcomplicationswhich had now fastened round us.  I thought ofHartrightasI saw him in the body when he said farewell; as Isaw him inthe spirit in my dreamand I too began to doubt nowwhether wewere not advancing blindfold to an appointed and aninevitableend.

LeavingLaura to go upstairs aloneI went out to look about me inthe walksnear the house.  The circumstances under which AnneCatherickhad parted from her had made me secretly anxious to knowhow CountFosco was passing the afternoonand had rendered mesecretlydistrustful of the results of that solitary journey fromwhich SirPercival had returned but a few hours since.

Afterlooking for them in every direction and discovering nothingI returnedto the houseand entered the different rooms on thegroundfloor one after another.  They were all empty.  I came outagain intothe halland went upstairs to return to Laura.  MadameFoscoopened her door as I passed it in my way along the passageand Istopped to see if she could inform me of the whereabouts ofherhusband and Sir Percival.  Yesshe had seen them both fromher windowmore than an hour since.  The Count had looked up withhiscustomary kindnessand had mentioned with his habitualattentionto her in the smallest triflesthat he and his friendwere goingout together for a long walk.

For a longwalk! They had never yet been in each other's companywith thatobject in my experience of them.  Sir Percival cared fornoexercise but ridingand the Count (except when he was politeenough tobe my escort) cared for no exercise at all.

When Ijoined Laura againI found that she had called to mind inmy absencethe impending question of the signature to the deedwhichinthe interest of discussing her interview with AnneCatherickwe had hitherto overlooked.  Her first words when I sawherexpressed her surprise at the absence of the expected summonsto attendSir Percival in the library.

"Youmay make your mind easy on that subject" I said.  "Forthepresentat leastneither your resolution nor mine will beexposed toany further trial.  Sir Percival has altered his plansthebusiness of the signature is put off."

"Putoff?" Laura repeated amazedly.  "Who told you so?"

"Myauthority is Count Fosco.  I believe it is to his interferencethat weare indebted for your husband's sudden change of purpose."

"Itseems impossibleMarian.  If the object of my signing wasaswesupposeto obtain money for Sir Percival that he urgentlywantedhow can the matter be put off?"

"IthinkLaurawe have the means at hand of setting that doubtat rest.Have you forgotten the conversation that I heard betweenSirPercival and the lawyer as they were crossing the hall?"

"Nobut I don't remember"

"Ido.  There were two alternatives proposed.  One was toobtainyoursignature to the parchment.  The other was to gain time bygivingbills at three months.  The last resource is evidently theresourcenow adoptedand we may fairly hope to be relieved fromour sharein Sir Percival's embarrassments for some time to come."

"OhMarianit sounds too good to be true!"

"Doesitmy love? You complimented me on my ready memory not longsincebutyou seem to doubt it now.  I will get my journalandyou shallsee if I am right or wrong."

I wentaway and got the book at once.

On lookingback to the entry referring to the lawyer's visitwefound thatmy recollection of the two alternatives presented wasaccuratelycorrect.  It was almost as great a relief to my mind astoLaura'sto find that my memory had served meon thisoccasionas faithfully as usual.  In the perilous uncertainty ofourpresent situationit is hard to say what future interests maynot dependupon the regularity of the entries in my journalandupon thereliability of my recollection at the time when I makethem.

Laura'sface and manner suggested to me that this lastconsiderationhad occurred to her as well as to myself.  Anywayit is onlya trifling matterand I am almost ashamed to put itdown herein writingit seems to set the forlornness of oursituationin such a miserably vivid light.  We must have littleindeed todepend onwhen the discovery that my memory can stillbe trustedto serve us is hailed as if it was the discovery of anewfriend!

The firstbell for dinner separated us.  Just as it had doneringingSir Percival and the Count returned from their walk.  Weheard themaster of the house storming at the servants for beingfiveminutes lateand the master's guest interposingas usualin theinterests of proprietypatienceand peace.

*   *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *   *

Theevening has come and gone.  No extraordinary event hashappened. But I have noticed certain peculiarities in the conductof SirPercival and the Countwhich have sent me to my bedfeelingvery anxious and uneasy about Anne Catherickand abouttheresults which to-morrow may produce.

I knowenough by this timeto be surethat the aspect of SirPercivalwhich is the most falseand whichthereforemeans theworstishis polite aspect.  That long walk with his friend hadended inimproving his mannersespecially towards his wife.  ToLaura'ssecret surprise and to my secret alarmhe called her byherChristian nameasked if she had heard lately from her uncle.inquiredwhen Mrs. Vesey was to receive her invitation toBlackwaterand showed her so many other little attentions that healmostrecalled the days of his hateful courtship at LimmeridgeHouse. This was a bad sign to begin withand I thought it moreominousstill that he should pretend after dinner to fall asleepin thedrawing-roomand that his eyes should cunningly followLaura andme when he thought we neither of us suspected him.  Ihave neverhad any doubt that his sudden journey by himself tookhim toWelmingham to question Mrs. Catherickbut the experienceofto-night has made me fear that the expedition was notundertakenin vainand that he has got the information which heunquestionablyleft us to collect.  If I knew where Anne Catherickwas to befoundI would be up to-morrow with sunrise and warnher.

While theaspect under which Sir Percival presented himself to-night wasunhappily but too familiar to methe aspect under whichthe Countappeared wason the other handentirely new in myexperienceof him.  He permitted methis eveningto make hisacquaintancefor the first timein the character of a Man ofSentimentofsentimentas I believereally feltnot assumedfor theoccasion.

Forinstancehe was quiet and subduedhis eyes and his voiceexpresseda restrained sensibility.  He wore (as if there was somehiddenconnection between his showiest finery and his deepestfeeling)the most magnificent waistcoat he has yet appeared initwas madeof pale sea-green silkand delicately trimmed with finesilverbraid.  His voice sank into the tenderest inflectionshissmileexpressed a thoughtfulfatherly admirationwhenever hespoke toLaura or to me.  He pressed his wife's hand under thetable whenshe thanked him for trifling little attentions atdinner. He took wine with her.  "Your health and happinessmyangel!"he saidwith fond glistening eyes.  He ate little ornothingand sighedand said "Good Percival!" when his friendlaughed athim.  After dinnerhe took Laura by the handandasked herif she would be "so sweet as to play to him." Shecompliedthrough sheer astonishment.  He sat by the pianowithhiswatch-chain resting in foldslike a golden serpenton thesea-greenprotuberance of his waistcoat.  His immense head laylanguidlyon one sideand he gently beat time with two of hisyellow-whitefingers.  He highly approved of the musicandtenderlyadmired Laura's manner of playingnot as poor Hartrightused topraise itwith an innocent enjoyment of the sweet soundsbut with aclearcultivatedpractical knowledge of the merits ofthecompositionin the first placeand of the merits of theplayer'stouch in the second.  As the evening closed inhe beggedthat thelovely dying light might not be profanedjust yetbytheappearance of the lamps.  He camewith his horribly silenttreadtothe distant window at which I was standingto be out ofhis wayand to avoid the very sight of himhe came to ask me tosupporthis protest against the lamps.  If any one of them couldonly haveburnt him up at that momentI would have gone down tothekitchen and fetched it myself.

"Surelyyou like this modesttrembling English twilight?" he saidsoftly. "Ah! I love it.  I feel my inborn admiration of all thatis nobleand greatand goodpurified by the breath of heaven onan eveninglike this.  Nature has such imperishable charmssuchinextinguishabletenderness for me!I am an oldfat mantalkwhichwould become your lipsMiss Halcombesounds like aderisionand a mockery on mine.  It is hard to be laughed at in mymoments ofsentimentas if my soul was like myselfold andovergrown. Observedear ladywhat a light is dying on thetrees!Does it penetrate your heartas it penetrates mine?"

He pausedlooked at meand repeated the famous lines of Dante ontheEvening-timewith a melody and tenderness which added a charmof theirown to the matchless beauty of the poetry itself.

"Bah!"he cried suddenlyas the last cadence of those nobleItalianwords died away on his lips; "I make an old fool ofmyselfand only weary you all! Let us shut up the window in ourbosoms andget back to the matter-of-fact world.  Percival! Isanctionthe admission of the lamps.  Lady GlydeMiss HalcombeEleanormy good wifewhich of you will indulge me with a game atdominoes?"

Headdressed us allbut he looked especially at Laura.

She hadlearnt to feel my dread of offending himand she acceptedhisproposal.  It was more than I could have done at that moment.I couldnot have sat down at the same table with him for anyconsideration. His eyes seemed to reach my inmost soul throughthethickening obscurity of the twilight.  His voice trembledalongevery nerve in my bodyand turned me hot and coldalternately. The mystery and terror of my dreamwhich hadhaunted meat intervals all through the eveningnow oppressed mymind withan unendurable foreboding and an unutterable awe.  I sawthe whitetomb againand the veiled woman rising out of it byHartright'sside.  The thought of Laura welled up like a spring inthe depthsof my heartand filled it with waters of bitternessnevernever known to it before.  I caught her by the hand as shepassed meon her way to the tableand kissed her as if that nightwas topart us for ever.  While they were all gazing at me inastonishmentI ran out through the low window which was openbefore meto the groundran out to hide from them in thedarknessto hide even from myself.

 

Weseparated that evening later than usual.  Towards mid-night thesummersilence was broken by the shuddering of a lowmelancholywind amongthe trees.  We all felt the sudden chill in theatmospherebut the Count was the first to notice the stealthyrising ofthe wind.  He stopped while he was lighting my candlefor meand held up his hand warningly

"Listen!"he said.  "There will be a change to-morrow."

 

VII

 

June19th.The events of yesterday warned me to be readysooneror laterto meet the worst. To-day is not yet at an endand theworst hascome.

Judging bythe closest calculation of time that Laura and I couldmakewearrived at the conclusion that Anne Catherick must haveappearedat the boat-house at half-past two o'clock on theafternoonof yesterday.  I accordingly arranged that Laura shouldjust showherself at the luncheon-table to-dayand should thenslip outat the first opportunityleaving me behind to preserveappearancesand to follow her as soon as I could safely do so.This modeof proceedingif no obstacles occurred to thwart uswouldenable her to be at the boat-house before half-past twoand(when Ileft the tablein my turn) would take me to a safepositionin the plantation before three.

The changein the weatherwhich last night's wind warned us toexpectcame with the morning.  It was raining heavily when I gotupand itcontinued to rain until twelve o'clockwhen the cloudsdispersedthe blue sky appearedand the sun shone again with thebrightpromise of a fine afternoon.

My anxietyto know how Sir Percival and the Count would occupy theearly partof the day was by no means set at restso far as SirPercivalwas concernedby his leaving us immediately afterbreakfastand going out by himselfin spite of the rain.  Heneithertold us where he was going nor when we might expect himback. We saw him pass the breakfast-room window hastilywith hishigh bootsand his waterproof coat onand that was all.

The Countpassed the morning quietly indoorssome part of it inthelibrarysome part in the drawing-roomplaying odds and endsof musicon the pianoand humming to himself.  Judging byappearancesthe sentimental side of his character waspersistentlyinclined to betray itself still.  He was silent andsensitiveand ready to sigh and languish ponderously (as only fatmen CANsigh and languish) on the smallest provocation.
Luncheon-timecame and Sir Percival did not return.  The Counttook hisfriend's place at the tableplaintively devoured thegreaterpart of a fruit tartsubmerged under a whole jugful ofcreamandexplained the full merit of the achievement to us assoon as hehad done.  "A taste for sweets" he said in hissoftesttones andhis tenderest manner"is the innocent taste of womenandchildren.  I love to share it with themit is another bonddearladiesbetween you and me."

Laura leftthe table in ten minutes' time.  I was sorely temptedtoaccompany her.  But if we had both gone out together we musthaveexcited suspicionand worse stillif we allowed AnneCatherickto see Lauraaccompanied by a second person who was astrangerto herwe should in all probability forfeit herconfidencefrom that momentnever to regain it again.

I waitedthereforeas patiently as I coulduntil the servantcame in toclear the table.  When I quitted the roomthere wereno signsin the house or out of itof Sir Percival's return.  Ileft theCount with a piece of sugar between his lipsand theviciouscockatoo scrambling up his waistcoat to get at itwhileMadameFoscositting opposite to her husbandwatched theproceedingsof his bird and himself as attentively as if she hadnever seenanything of the sort before in her life.  On my way totheplantation I kept carefully beyond the range of view from theluncheon-roomwindow.  Nobody saw me and nobody followed me.  Itwas then aquarter to three o'clock by my watch.

Once amongthe trees I walked rapidlyuntil I had advanced morethanhalf-way through the plantation.  At that point I slackenedmy paceand proceeded cautiouslybut I saw no oneand heard novoices. By little and little I came within view of the back oftheboat-housestopped and listenedthen went ontill I wasclosebehind itand must have heard any persons who were talkinginside. Still the silence was unbrokenstill far and near nosign of aliving creature appeared anywhere.

Afterskirting round by the back of the buildingfirst on oneside andthen on the otherand making no discoveriesI venturedin frontof itand fairly looked in.  The place was empty.

I called"Laura!"at first softlythen louder and louder.  Nooneanswered and no one appeared.  For all that I could see andheartheonly human creature in the neighbourhood of the lake andtheplantation was myself.

My heartbegan to beat violentlybut I kept my resolutionandsearchedfirst the boat-house and then the ground in front of itfor anysigns which might show me whether Laura had really reachedthe placeor not.  No mark of her presence appeared inside thebuildingbut I found traces of her outside itin footsteps onthe sand.

I detectedthe footsteps of two personslarge footsteps like aman'sandsmall footstepswhichby putting my own feet intothem andtesting their size in that mannerI felt certain wereLaura's. The ground was confusedly marked in this way just beforetheboat-house.  Close against one side of itunder shelter oftheprojecting roofI discovered a little hole in the sandaholeartificially madebeyond a doubt.  I just noticed itandthenturned away immediately to trace the footsteps as far as Icouldandto follow the direction in which they might lead me.

They ledmestarting from the left-hand side of the boat-housealong theedge of the treesa distanceI should thinkofbetweentwo and three hundred yardsand then the sandy groundshowed nofurther trace of them.  Feeling that the persons whosecourse Iwas tracking must necessarily have entered the plantationat thispointI entered it too.  At first I could find no pathbut Idiscovered one afterwardsjust faintly traced among thetreesandfollowed it.  It took mefor some distancein thedirectionof the villageuntil I stopped at a point where anotherfoot-trackcrossed it.  The brambles grew thickly on either sideof thissecond path.  I stood looking down ituncertain which wayto takenextand while I looked I saw on one thorny branch somefragmentsof fringe from a woman's shawl.  A closer examination ofthe fringesatisfied me that it had been torn from a shawl ofLaura'sand I instantly followed the second path.  It brought meout atlastto my great reliefat the back of the house.  I sayto mygreat reliefbecause I inferred that Laura mustfor someunknownreasonhave returned before me by this roundabout way.  Iwent in bythe court-yard and the offices.  The first person whomI met incrossing the servants' hall was Mrs. Michelsonthehousekeeper.

"Doyou know" I asked"whether Lady Glyde has come in fromherwalk ornot?"

"Mylady came in a little while ago with Sir Percival" answeredthehousekeeper.  "I am afraidMiss Halcombesomething verydistressinghas happened."

My heartsank within me.  "You don't mean an accident?" I saidfaintly.

"Nonothank Godno accident.  But my lady ran up-stairs to herown roomin tearsand Sir Percival has ordered me to give Fannywarning toleave in an hour's time."

Fanny wasLaura's maida good affectionate girl who had been withher foryearsthe only person in the house whose fidelity anddevotionwe could both depend upon.

"Whereis Fanny?" I inquired.

"Inmy roomMiss Halcombe.  The young woman is quite overcomeand I toldher to sit down and try to recover herself."

I went toMrs. Michelson's roomand found Fanny in a cornerwithher box byher sidecrying bitterly.

She couldgive me no explanation whatever of her sudden dismissal.SirPercival had ordered that she should have a month's wagesinplace of amonth's warningand go.  No reason had been assignednoobjection had been made to her conduct.  She had been forbiddento appealto her mistressforbidden even to see her for a momentto saygood-bye.  She was to go without explanations or farewellsand to goat once.

Aftersoothing the poor girl by a few friendly wordsI askedwhere sheproposed to sleep that night.  She replied that shethought ofgoing to the little inn in the villagethe landlady ofwhich wasa respectable womanknown to the servants at BlackwaterPark. The next morningby leaving earlyshe might get back toherfriends in Cumberland without stopping in Londonwhere shewas atotal stranger.

I feltdirectly that Fanny's departure offered us a safe means ofcommunicationwith London and with Limmeridge Houseof which itmight bevery important to avail ourselves.  AccordinglyI toldher thatshe might expect to hear from her mistress or from me inthe courseof the eveningand that she might depend on our bothdoing allthat lay in our power to help herunder the trial ofleaving usfor the present.  Those words saidI shook hands withher andwent upstairs.

The doorwhich led to Laura's room was the door of an ante-chamberopening onto the passage.  When I tried itit was bolted on theinside.

I knockedand the door was opened by the same heavyover-grownhousemaidwhose lumpish insensibility had tried my patience soseverelyon the day when I found the wounded dog.

I hadsince that timediscovered that her name was MargaretPorcherand that she was the most awkwardslatternlyandobstinateservant in the house.

On openingthe door she instantly stepped out to the thresholdand stoodgrinning at me in stolid silence.

"Whydo you stand there?" I said.  "Don't you see that Iwant tocome in?"

"Ahbut you mustn't come in" was the answerwith another and abroadergrin still.

"Howdare you talk to me in that way? Stand back instantly!"

Shestretched out a great red hand and arm on each side of hersoas to barthe doorwayand slowly nodded her addle head at me.

"Master'sorders" she saidand nodded again.

I had needof all my self-control to warn me against contestingthe matterwith HERand to remind me that the next words I had tosay mustbe addressed to her master.  I turned my back on herandinstantlywent downstairs to find him.  My resolution to keep mytemperunder all the irritations that Sir Percival could offerwasbythis timeas completely forgottenI say so to my shameas if Ihad never made it.  It did me goodafter all I hadsufferedand suppressed in that houseit actually did me good tofeel howangry I was.

Thedrawing-room and the breakfast-room were both empty.  I wenton to thelibraryand there I found Sir Percivalthe CountandMadameFosco.  They were all three standing upclose togetherand SirPercival had a little slip of paper in his hand.  As Iopened thedoor I heard the Count say to him"Noa thousandtimesoverno."

I walkedstraight up to himand looked him full in the face.

"Am Ito understandSir Percivalthat your wife's room is aprisonand that your housemaid is the gaoler who keeps it?" Iasked.

"Yesthat is what you are to understand" he answered.  "Takecare mygaoler hasn't got double duty to dotake care your roomis not aprison too."

"TakeYOU care how you treat your wifeand how you threaten ME"I brokeout in the heat of my anger.  "There are laws in Englandto protectwomen from cruelty and outrage.  If you hurt a hair ofLaura'sheadif you dare to interfere with my freedomcome whatmaytothose laws I will appeal."

Instead ofanswering me he turned round to the Count.

"Whatdid I tell you?" he asked.  "What do you say now?"

"WhatI said before" replied the Count"No."

Even inthe vehemence of my anger I felt his calmcoldgrey eyeson myface.  They turned away from me as soon as he had spokenand lookedsignificantly at his wife.  Madame Fosco immediatelymovedclose to my sideand in that position addressed SirPercivalbefore either of us could speak again.

"Favourme with your attention for one moment" she saidin herclearicily-suppressed tones.  "I have to thank youSirPercivalfor yourhospitalityand to decline taking advantage of it anylonger. I remain in no house in which ladies are treated as yourwife andMiss Halcombe have been treated here to-day!"

SirPercival drew back a stepand stared at her in dead silence.Thedeclaration he had just hearda declaration which he wellknewas Iwell knewMadame Fosco would not have ventured to makewithouther husband's permissionseemed to petrify him withsurprise. The Count stood byand looked at his wife with themostenthusiastic admiration.

"Sheis sublime!" he said to himself.  He approached her whilehespokeanddrew her hand through his arm.  "I am at your serviceEleanor"he went onwith a quiet dignity that I had nevernoticed inhim before.  "And at Miss Halcombe's serviceif shewillhonour me by accepting all the assistance I can offer her."

"Damnit! what do you mean?" cried Sir Percivalas the Countquietlymoved away with his wife to the door.

"Atother times I mean what I saybut at this time I mean what mywifesays" replied the impenetrable Italian.  "We havechangedplacesPercivalfor onceand Madame Fosco's opinion ismine."

SirPercival crumpled up the paper in his handand pushing pastthe Countwith another oathstood between him and the door.

"Haveyour own way" he saidwith baffled rage in his lowhalf-whisperingtones.  "Have your own wayand see what comes of it."With thosewords he left the room.

MadameFosco glanced inquiringly at her husband.  "He has goneaway verysuddenly" she said.  "What does it mean?"

"Itmeans that you and I together have brought the worst-temperedman in allEngland to his senses" answered the Count.  "ItmeansMissHalcombethat Lady Glyde is relieved from a gross indignityand youfrom the repetition of an unpardonable insult.  Suffer meto expressmy admiration of your conduct and your courage at averytrying moment."

"Sincereadmiration" suggested Madame Fosco.

"Sincereadmiration" echoed the Count.

I had nolonger the strength of my first angry resistance tooutrageand injury to support me.  My heart-sick anxiety to seeLauramysense of my own helpless ignorance of what had happenedat theboat-housepressed on me with an intolerable weight.  Itried tokeep up appearances by speaking to the Count and his wifein thetone which they had chosen to adopt in speaking to mebutthe wordsfailed on my lipsmy breath came short and thickmyeyeslooked longinglyin silenceat the door.  The Countunderstandingmy anxietyopened itwent outand pulled it toafterhim.  At the same time Sir Percival's heavy step descendedthestairs.  I heard them whispering together outsidewhileMadameFosco was assuring mein her calmest and most conventionalmannerthat she rejoicedfor all our sakesthat Sir Percival'sconducthad not obliged her husband and herself to leaveBlackwaterPark.  Before she had done speaking the whisperingceasedthe door openedand the Count looked in.

"MissHalcombe" he said"I am happy to inform you that LadyGlyde ismistress again in her own house.  I thought it might bemoreagreeable to you to hear of this change for the better fromme thanfrom Sir Percivaland I have therefore expressly returnedto mentionit."

"Admirabledelicacy!" said Madame Foscopaying back her husband'stribute ofadmiration with the Count's own coinin the Count'sownmanner.  He smiled and bowed as if he had received a formalcomplimentfrom a polite strangerand drew back to let me passout first.

SirPercival was standing in the hall.  As I hurried to the stairsI heardhim call impatiently to the Count to come out of thelibrary.

"Whatare you waiting there for?" he said.  "I want to speaktoyou."

"AndI want to think a little by myself" replied the other."Waittill laterPercivalwait till later."

Neither henor his friend said any more.  I gained the top of thestairs andran along the passage.  In my haste and my agitation Ileft thedoor of the ante-chamber openbut I closed the door ofthebedroom the moment I was inside it.

Laura wassitting alone at the far end of the roomher armsrestingwearily on a tableand her face hidden in her hands.  Shestarted upwith a cry of delight when she saw me.

"Howdid you get here?" she asked.  "Who gave you leave?Not SirPercival?"

In myoverpowering anxiety to hear what she had to tell meIcould notanswer herI could only put questions on my side.Laura'seagerness to know what had passed downstairs provedhowevertoo strong to be resisted.  She persistently repeated herinquiries.

"TheCountof course" I answered impatiently.  "Whoseinfluencein thehouse"

Shestopped me with a gesture of disgust.

"Don'tspeak of him" she cried.  "The Count is the vilestcreaturebreathing! The Count is a miserable Spy!"

Before wecould either of us say another word we were alarmed by asoftknocking at the door of the bedroom.

I had notyet sat downand I went first to see who it was.  WhenI openedthe door Madame Fosco confronted me with my handkerchiefin herhand.

"Youdropped this downstairsMiss Halcombe" she said"and Ithought Icould bring it to youas I was passing by to my ownroom."

Her facenaturally palehad turned to such a ghastly whitenessthat Istarted at the sight of it.  Her handsso sure and steadyat allother timestrembled violentlyand her eyes lookedwolfishlypast me through the open doorand fixed on Laura.

She hadbeen listening before she knocked! I saw it in her whitefaceIsaw it in her trembling handsI saw it in her look atLaura.

Afterwaiting an instant she turned from me in silenceand slowlywalkedaway.

I closedthe door again.  "OhLaura! Laura! We shall both rue theday whenyou called the Count a Spy!"

"Youwould have called him so yourselfMarianif you had knownwhat Iknow.  Anne Catherick was right.  There was a third personwatchingus in the plantation yesterdayand that third person-"

"Areyou sure it was the Count?"

"I amabsolutely certain.  He was Sir Percival's spyhe was SirPercival'sinformerhe set Sir Percival watching and waitingallthemorning throughfor Anne Catherick and for me."

"IsAnne found? Did you see her at the lake?"

"No. She has saved herself by keeping away from the place.  WhenI got tothe boat-house no one was there."

"Yes?Yes?"

"Iwent in and sat waiting for a few minutes.  But my restlessnessmade meget up againto walk about a little.  As I passed out Isaw somemarks on the sandclose under the front of the boat-house. I stooped down to examine themand discovered a wordwritten inlarge letters on the sand.  The word wasLOOK.

"Andyou scraped away the sandand dug a hollow place in it?"

"Howdo you know thatMarian?"

"Isaw the hollow place myself when I followed you to the boat-house. Go ongo on!"

"YesI scraped away the sand on the surfaceand in a littlewhile Icame to a strip of paper hidden beneathwhich had writingon it. The writing was signed with Anne Catherick's initials.

"Whereis it?"

"SirPercival has taken it from me."

"Canyou remember what the writing was? Do you think you canrepeat itto me?"

"Insubstance I canMarian.  It was very short.  You wouldhaveremembereditword for word."

"Tryto tell me what the substance was before we go any further."

Shecomplied.  I write the lines down here exactly as she repeatedthem tome.  They ran thus

 

"Iwas seen with youyesterdayby a tallstout old manand hadto run tosave myself.  He was not quick enough on his feet tofollow meand he lost me among the trees.  I dare not risk comingback hereto-day at the same time.  I write thisand hide it inthe sandat six in the morningto tell you so.  When we speaknext ofyour wicked husband's Secret we must speak safelyor notat all. Try to have patience.  I promise you shall see me againand thatsoon.A. C."

 

Thereference to the "tallstout old man" (the terms of whichLaura wascertain that she had repeated to me correctly) left nodoubt asto who the intruder had been.  I called to mind that Ihad toldSir Percivalin the Count's presence the day beforethat Laurahad gone to the boat-house to look for her brooch.  Inallprobability he had followed her therein his officious wayto relieveher mind about the matter of the signatureimmediatelyafter hehad mentioned the change in Sir Percival's plans to me inthedrawing-room.  In this case he could only have got to theneighbourhoodof the boat-house at the very moment when AnneCatherickdiscovered him.  The suspiciously hurried manner inwhich sheparted from Laura had no doubt prompted his uselessattempt tofollow her.  Of the conversation which had previouslytakenplace between them he could have heard nothing.  Thedistancebetween the house and the lakeand the time at which heleft me inthe drawing-roomas compared with the time at whichLaura andAnne Catherick had been speaking togetherproved thatfact to usat any ratebeyond a doubt.

Havingarrived at something like a conclusion so farmy nextgreatinterest was to know what discoveries Sir Percival had madeafterCount Fosco had given him his information.

"Howcame you to lose possession of the letter?" I asked.  "Whatdid you dowith it when you found it in the sand?"

"Afterreading it once through" she replied"I took it into theboat-housewith me to sit down and look over it a second time.While Iwas reading a shadow fell across the paper.  I looked upand sawSir Percival standing in the doorway watching me."

"Didyou try to hide the letter?"

"Itriedbut he stopped me.  'You needn't trouble to hide that'he said. 'I happen to have read it.' I could only look at himhelplesslyIcould say nothing.  'You understand?' he went on; 'Ihave readit.  I dug it up out of the sand two hours sinceandburied itagainand wrote the word above it againand left itready toyour hands.  You can't lie yourself out of the scrapenow. You saw Anne Catherick in secret yesterdayand you have gother letterin your hand at this moment.  I have not caught HERyetbut Ihave caught YOU.  Give me the letter.' He stepped closeup to meIwas alone with himMarianwhat could I do?I gavehim theletter."

"Whatdid he say when you gave it to him?"

"Atfirst he said nothing.  He took me by the armand led me outof theboat-houseand looked about him on all sidesas if he wasafraid ofour being seen or heard.  Then he clasped his hand fastround myarmand whispered to me'What did Anne Catherick say toyouyesterday? I insist on hearing every wordfrom first tolast.'"

"Didyou tell him?"

"Iwas alone with himMarianhis cruel hand was bruising my armwhat couldI do?"

"Isthe mark on your arm still? Let me see it."

"Whydo you want to see it?"

"Iwant to see itLaurabecause our endurance must endand ourresistancemust begin to-day.  That mark is a weapon to strike himwith.  Letme see it nowI may have to swear to it at some futuretime."

"OhMariandon't look sodon't talk so! It doesn't hurt menow!"

"Letme see it!"

She showedme the marks.  I was past grieving over thempastcryingover thempast shuddering over them.  They say we areeitherbetter than menor worse.  If the temptation that hasfallen insome women's wayand made them worsehad fallen inmine atthat moment   Thank God! my face betrayed nothing that hiswife couldread.  The gentleinnocentaffectionate creaturethought Iwas frightened for her and sorry for herand thought nomore.

"Don'tthink too seriously of itMarian" she said simplyas shepulled hersleeve down again.  "It doesn't hurt me now."

"Iwill try to think quietly of itmy lovefor your sake.Well!well! Andyou told him all that Anne Catherick had said to youall thatyou told me?"

"Yesall.  He insisted on itI was alone with himI couldconcealnothing."

"Didhe say anything when you had done?"

"Helooked at meand laughed to himself in a mockingbitter way.'I mean tohave the rest out of you' he said'do you hear?therest.' Ideclared to him solemnly that I had told him everything Iknew. 'Not you' he answered'you know more than you choose totell. Won't you tell it? You shall! I'll wring it out of you athome if Ican't wring it out of you here.' He led me away by astrangepath through the plantationa path where there was nohope ofour meeting youand he spoke no more till we came withinsight ofthe house.  Then he stopped againand said'Will youtake asecond chanceif I give it to you? Will you think betterof itandtell me the rest?' I could only repeat the same words Ihad spokenbefore.  He cursed my obstinacyand went onand tookme withhim to the house.  'You can't deceive me' he said'youknow morethan you choose to tell.  I'll have your secret out ofyouandI'll have it out of that sister of yours as well.  Thereshall beno more plotting and whispering between you.  Neither younor sheshall see each other again till you have confessed thetruth. I'll have you watched morningnoonand nighttill youconfessthe truth.' He was deaf to everything I could say.  Hetook mestraight upstairs into my own room.  Fanny was sittingtheredoing some work for meand he instantly ordered her out.'I'll takegood care YOU'RE not mixed up in the conspiracy' hesaid. 'You shall leave this house to-day.  If your mistress wantsa maidshe shall have one of my choosing.' He pushed me into theroomandlocked the door on me.  He set that senseless woman towatch meoutsideMarian! He looked and spoke like a madman.  Youmay hardlyunderstand ithe did indeed."

"I dounderstand itLaura.  He is madmad with the terrors of aguiltyconscience.  Every word you have said makes me positivelycertainthat when Anne Catherick left you yesterday you were onthe eve ofdiscovering a secret which might have been your vilehusband'sruinand he thinks you HAVE discovered it.  Nothing youcan say ordo will quiet that guilty distrustand convince hisfalsenature of your truth.  I don't say thismy loveto alarmyou. I say it to open your eyes to your positionand to convinceyou of theurgent necessity of letting me actas I best canforyourprotection while the chance is our own.  Count Fosco'sinterferencehas secured me access to you to-daybut he maywithdrawthat interference to-morrow.  Sir Percival has alreadydismissedFanny because she is a quick-witted girland devotedlyattachedto youand has chosen a woman to take her place whocaresnothing for your interestsand whose dull intelligencelowers herto the level of the watch-dog in the yard.  It isimpossibleto say what violent measures he may take nextunlesswe makethe most of our opportunities while we have them."

"Whatcan we doMarian? Ohif we could only leave this housenever tosee it again!"

"Listento memy loveand try to think that you are not quitehelplessso long as I am here with you."

"Iwill think soI do think so.  Don't altogether forget poorFanny inthinking of me.  She wants help and comfort too."

"Iwill not forget her.  I saw her before I came up hereand Ihavearranged to communicate with her to-night.  Letters are notsafe inthe post-bag at Blackwater Parkand I shall have two towriteto-dayin your interestswhich must pass through no handsbutFanny's."

"Whatletters?"

"Imean to write firstLaurato Mr. Gilmore's partnerwho hasoffered tohelp us in any fresh emergency.  Little as I know ofthe lawIam certain that it can protect a woman from suchtreatmentas that ruffian has inflicted on you to-day.  I will gointo nodetails about Anne Catherickbecause I have no certaininformationto give.  But the lawyer shall know of those bruiseson yourarmand of the violence offered to you in this roomheshallbefore I rest to-night!"

"Butthink of the exposureMarian!"

"I amcalculating on the exposure.  Sir Percival has more to dreadfrom itthan you have.  The prospect of an exposure may bring himto termswhen nothing else will."

I rose asI spokebut Laura entreated me not to leave her.  "Youwill drivehim to desperation" she said"and increase ourdangerstenfold."

I felt thetruththe disheartening truthof those words.  But Icould notbring myself plainly to acknowledge it to her.  In ourdreadfulposition there was no help and no hope for us but inriskingthe worst.  I said so in guarded terms.  She sighedbitterlybut did not contest the matter.  She only asked aboutthe secondletter that I had proposed writing.  To whom was it tobeaddressed?

"ToMr. Fairlie" I said.  "Your uncle is your nearestmalerelativeand the head of the family.  He must and shallinterfere."

Laurashook her head sorrowfully.

"Yesyes" I went on"your uncle is a weakselfishworldlymanIknowbut he is not Sir Percival Glydeand he has no suchfriendabout him as Count Fosco.  I expect nothing from hiskindnessor his tenderness of feeling towards you or towards mebut hewill do anything to pamper his own indolenceand to securehis ownquiet.  Let me only persuade him that his interference atthismoment will save him inevitable trouble and wretchedness andresponsibilityhereafterand he will bestir himself for his ownsake. I know how to deal with himLauraI have had somepractice."

"Ifyou could only prevail on him to let me go back to Limmeridgefor alittle while and stay there quietly with youMarianIcould bealmost as happy again as I was before I was married!"

Thosewords set me thinking in a new direction.  Would it bepossibleto place Sir Percival between the two alternatives ofeitherexposing himself to the scandal of legal interference onhis wife'sbehalfor of allowing her to be quietly separated fromhim for atime under pretext of a visit to her uncle's house? Andcould hein that casebe reckoned on as likely to accept thelastresource? It was doubtfulmore than doubtful.  And yethopelessas the experiment seemedsurely it was worth trying.  Iresolvedto try it in sheer despair of knowing what better to do.

"Youruncle shall know the wish you have just expressed" I said"andI will ask the lawyer's advice on the subject as well.  Goodmay comeof itand will come of itI hope."

Sayingthat I rose againand again Laura tried to make me resumemy seat.

"Don'tleave me" she said uneasily.  "My desk is on thattable.You canwrite here."

It triedme to the quick to refuse hereven in her own interests.But we hadbeen too long shut up alone together already.  Ourchance ofseeing each other again might entirely depend on our notexcitingany fresh suspicions.  It was full time to show myselfquietlyand unconcernedlyamong the wretches who were at thatverymomentperhapsthinking of us and talking of us downstairs.Iexplained the miserable necessity to Lauraand prevailed on hertorecognise it as I did.

"Iwill come back againlovein an hour or less" I said. "Theworst isover for to-day.  Keep yourself quiet and fear nothing."

"Isthe key in the doorMarian? Can I lock it on the inside?"

"Yeshere is the key.  Lock the doorand open it to nobody untilI comeupstairs again."

I kissedher and left her.  It was a relief to me as I walked awayto hearthe key turned in the lockand to know that the door wasat her owncommand.

 

VIII

 

June19th.I had only got as far as the top of the stairs whenthelocking of Laura's door suggested to me the precaution of alsolocking myown doorand keeping the key safely about me while Iwas out ofthe room.  My journal was already secured with otherpapers inthe table drawerbut my writing materials were leftout. These included a seal bearing the common device of two dovesdrinkingout of the same cupand some sheets of blotting-paperwhich hadthe impression on them of the closing lines of mywriting inthese pages traced during the past night.  Distorted bythesuspicion which had now become a part of myselfeven suchtrifles asthese looked too dangerous to be trusted without aguardeventhe locked table drawer seemed to be not sufficientlyprotectedin my absence until the means of access to it had beencarefullysecured as well.

I found noappearance of any one having entered the room while Ihad beentalking with Laura.  My writing materials (which I hadgiven theservant instructions never to meddle with) werescatteredover the table much as usual.  The only circumstance inconnectionwith them that at all struck me was that the seal laytidily inthe tray with the pencils and the wax.  It was not in mycarelesshabits (I am sorry to say) to put it thereneither did Irememberputting it there.  But as I could not call to mindonthe otherhandwhere else I had thrown it downand as I was alsodoubtfulwhether I might not for once have laid it mechanically inthe rightplaceI abstained from adding to the perplexity withwhich theday's events had filled my mind by troubling it afreshabout atrifle.  I locked the doorput the key in my pocketandwentdownstairs.

MadameFosco was alone in the hall looking at the weather-glass.

"Stillfalling" she said.  "I am afraid we must expect morerain."

Her facewas composed again to its customary expression and itscustomarycolour.  But the hand with which she pointed to the dialof theweather-glass still trembled.

Could shehave told her husband already that she had overheardLaurareviling himin my companyas a " spy?"  My strongsuspicionthat she must have told himmy irresistible dread (allthe moreoverpowering from its very vagueness) of the consequenceswhichmight followmy fixed convictionderived from variouslittleself-betrayals which women notice in each otherthatMadameFoscoin spite of her well-assumed external civilityhadnotforgiven her niece for innocently standing between her and thelegacy often thousand poundsall rushed upon my mind togetherallimpelled me to speak in the vain hope of using my owninfluenceand my own powers of persuasion for the atonement ofLaura'soffence.

"MayI trust to your kindness to excuse meMadame Foscoif Iventure tospeak to you on an exceedingly painful subject?"

Shecrossed her hands in front of her and bowed her head solemnlywithoututtering a wordand without taking her eyes off mine fora moment.

"Whenyou were so good as to bring me back my handkerchief" Iwent on"I am veryvery much afraid you must have accidentallyheardLaura say something which I am unwilling to repeatandwhich Iwill not attempt to defend.  I will only venture to hopethat youhave not thought it of sufficient importance to bementionedto the Count?"

"Ithink it of no importance whatever" said Madame Fosco sharplyandsuddenly.  "But" she addedresuming her icy mannerin amoment"Ihave no secrets from my husband even in trifles.  Whenhe noticedjust now that I looked distressedit was my painfulduty totell him why I was distressedand I frankly acknowledgeto youMiss Halcombethat I HAVE told him."

I wasprepared to hear itand yet she turned me cold all overwhen shesaid those words.

"Letme earnestly entreat youMadame Foscolet me earnestlyentreatthe Countto make some allowances for the sad position inwhich mysister is placed.  She spoke while she was smarting underthe insultand injustice inflicted on her by her husbandand shewas notherself when she said those rash words.  May I hope thatthey willbe considerately and generously forgiven?"

"Mostassuredly" said the Count's quiet voice behind me.  He hadstolen onus with his noiseless tread and his book in his handfrom thelibrary.

"WhenLady Glyde said those hasty words" he went on"she did meaninjustice which I lamentand forgive.  Let us never return tothesubjectMiss Halcombe; let us all comfortably combine toforget itfrom this moment."

"Youare very kind" I said"you relieve me inexpressibly "

I tried tocontinuebut his eyes were on me; his deadly smilethat hideseverything was sethardand unwavering on his broadsmoothface.  My distrust of his unfathomable falsenessmy senseof my owndegradation in stooping to conciliate his wife andhimselfso disturbed and confused methat the next words failedon mylipsand I stood there in silence.

"Ibeg you on my knees to say no moreMiss HalcombeI am trulyshockedthat you should have thought it necessary to say so much."With thatpolite speech he took my handohhow I despise myself!ohhowlittle comfort there is even in knowing that I submittedto it forLaura's sake!he took my hand and put it to hispoisonouslips.  Never did I know all my horror of him till then.Thatinnocent familiarity turned my blood as if it had been thevilestinsult that a man could offer me.  Yet I hid my disgustfrom himItried to smileIwho once mercilessly despiseddeceit inother womenwas as false as the worst of themas falseas theJudas whose lips had touched my hand.

I couldnot have maintained my degrading self-controlit is allthatredeems me in my own estimation to know that I could notifhe hadstill continued to keep his eyes on my face.  His wife'stigerishjealousy came to my rescue and forced his attention awayfrom methe moment he possessed himself of my hand.  Her cold blueeyescaught lighther dull white cheeks flushed into brightcolourshe looked years younger than her age in an instant.

"Count!"she said.  "Your foreign forms of politeness are notunderstoodby Englishwomen."

"Pardonmemy angel! The best and dearest Englishwoman in theworldunderstands them." With those words he dropped my hand andquietlyraised his wife's hand to his lips in place of it.

I ran backup the stairs to take refuge in my own room.  If therehad beentime to thinkmy thoughtswhen I was alone againwouldhavecaused me bitter suffering.  But there was no time to think.Happilyfor the preservation of my calmness and my courage therewas timefor nothing but action.

Theletters to the lawyer and to Mr. Fairlie were still to bewrittenand I sat down at once without a moment's hesitation todevotemyself to them.

There wasno multitude of resources to perplex methere wasabsolutelyno one to depend onin the first instancebut myself.SirPercival had neither friends nor relatives in theneighbourhoodwhose intercession I could attempt to employ.  Hewas on thecoldest termsin some cases on the worst terms withthefamilies of his own rank and station who lived near him.  Wetwo womenhad neither father nor brother to come to the house andtake ourparts.  There was no choice but to write those twodoubtfullettersor to put Laura in the wrong and myself in thewrongandto make all peaceable negotiation in the futureimpossibleby secretly escaping from Blackwater Park.  Nothing butthe mostimminent personal peril could justify our taking thatsecondcourse.  The letters must be tried firstand I wrote them.

I saidnothing to the lawyer about Anne Catherickbecause (as Ihadalready hinted to Laura) that topic was connected with amysterywhich we could not yet explainand which it wouldthereforebe useless to write about to a professional man.  I leftmycorrespondent to attribute Sir Percival's disgraceful conductif hepleasedto fresh disputes about money mattersand simplyconsultedhim on the possibility of taking legal proceedings forLaura'sprotection in the event of her husband's refusal to allowher toleave Blackwater Park for a time and return with me toLimmeridge. I referred him to Mr. Fairlie for the details of thislastarrangementI assured him that I wrote with Laura'sauthorityandI ended by entreating him to act in her name to theutmostextent of his power and with the least possible loss oftime.

The letterto Mr. Fairlie occupied me next.  I appealed to him onthe termswhich I had mentioned to Laura as the most likely tomake himbestir himself; I enclosed a copy of my letter to thelawyer toshow him how serious the case wasand I represented ourremoval toLimmeridge as the only compromise which would preventthe dangerand distress of Laura's present position frominevitablyaffecting her uncle as well as herself at no verydistanttime.

When I haddoneand had sealed and directed the two envelopesIwent backwith the letters to Laura's roomto show her that theywerewritten.

"Hasanybody disturbed you?" I askedwhen she opened the door tome.

"Nobodyhas knocked" she replied.  "But I heard some one intheouterroom."

"Wasit a man or a woman?"

"Awoman.  I heard the rustling of her gown."

"Arustling like silk?"

"Yeslike silk."

MadameFosco had evidently been watching outside.  The mischiefshe mightdo by herself was little to be feared.  But the mischiefshe mightdoas a willing instrument in her husband's handswastooformidable to be overlooked.

"Whatbecame of the rustling of the gown when you no longer heardit in theante-room?" I inquired.  "Did you hear it go past yourwallalong the passage?"

"Yes. I kept still and listenedand just heard it."

"Whichway did it go?"

"Towardsyour room."

Iconsidered again.  The sound had not caught my ears.  But Iwasthendeeply absorbed in my lettersand I write with a heavy handand aquill penscraping and scratching noisily over the paper.It wasmore likely that Madame Fosco would hear the scraping of mypen thanthat I should hear the rustling of her dress.  Anotherreason (ifI had wanted one) for not trusting my letters to thepost-bagin the hall.

Laura sawme thinking.  "More difficulties!" she said wearily;"moredifficulties and more dangers!"

"Nodangers" I replied.  "Some little difficultyperhaps.  I amthinkingof the safest way of putting my two letters into Fanny'shands."

"Youhave really written themthen? OhMarianrun no risksprayprayrun no risks!"

"Nonono fear.  Let me seewhat o'clock is it now?"

It was aquarter to six.  There would be time for me to get to thevillageinnand to come back again before dinner.  If I waitedtill theevening I might find no second opportunity of safelyleavingthe house.

"Keepthe key turned in the lock.  Laura" I said"anddon't beafraidabout me.  If you hear any inquiries madecall through thedoorandsay that I am gone out for a walk."

"Whenshall you be back?"

"Beforedinnerwithout fail.  Couragemy love.  By this time to-morrow youwill have a clear-headedtrustworthy man acting foryourgood.  Mr. Gilmore's partner is our next best friend to Mr.Gilmorehimself."

A moment'sreflectionas soon as I was aloneconvinced me that Ihad betternot appear in my walking-dress until I had firstdiscoveredwhat was going on in the lower part of the house.  Ihad notascertained yet whether Sir Percival was indoors or out.

Thesinging of the canaries in the libraryand the smell oftobacco-smokethat came through the doorwhich was not closedtold me atonce where the Count was.  I looked over my shoulder asI passedthe doorwayand saw to my surprise that he wasexhibitingthe docility of the birds in his most engagingly politemanner tothe housekeeper.  He must have specially invited her toseethemfor she would never have thought of going into thelibrary ofher own accord.  The man's slightest actions had apurpose ofsome kind at the bottom of every one of them.  Whatcould behis purpose here?

It was notime then to inquire into his motives.  I looked aboutfor MadameFosco nextand found her following her favouritecircleround and round the fish-pond.

I was alittle doubtful how she would meet meafter the outbreakofjealousy of which I had been the cause so short a time since.But herhusband had tamed her in the intervaland she now spoketo me withthe same civility as usual.  My only object inaddressingmyself to her was to ascertain if she knew what hadbecome ofSir Percival.  I contrived to refer to him indirectlyand aftera little fencing on either side she at last mentionedthat hehad gone out.

"Whichof the horses has he taken?" I asked carelessly.

"Noneof them" she replied.  "He went away two hours sinceonfoot. As I understood ithis object was to make fresh inquiriesabout thewoman named Anne Catherick.  He appears to beunreasonablyanxious about tracing her.  Do you happen to know ifshe isdangerously madMiss Halcombe?"

"I donotCountess."

"Areyou going in?"

"YesI think so.  I suppose it will soon be time to dress fordinner."

We enteredthe house together.  Madame Fosco strolled into thelibraryand closed the door.  I went at once to fetch my hat andshawl. Every moment was of importanceif I was to get to Fannyat the innand be back before dinner.

When Icrossed the hall again no one was thereand the singing ofthe birdsin the library had ceased.  I could not stop to make anyfreshinvestigations.  I could only assure myself that the way wasclearandthen leave the house with the two letters safe in mypocket.

On my wayto the village I prepared myself for the possibility ofmeetingSir Percival.  As long as I had him to deal with alone Ifeltcertain of not losing my presence of mind.  Any woman who issure ofher own wits is a match at any time for a man who is notsure ofhis own temper.  I had no such fear of Sir Percival as Ihad of theCount.  Instead of flutteringit had composed metohear ofthe errand on which he had gone out.  While the tracing ofAnneCatherick was the great anxiety that occupied himLaura andI mighthope for some cessation of any active persecution at hishands. For our sakes nowas well as for Anne'sI hoped andprayedfervently that she might still escape him.

I walkedon as briskly as the heat would let me till I reached thecross-roadwhich led to the villagelooking back from time totime tomake sure that I was not followed by any one.

Nothingwas behind me all the way but an empty country waggon.The noisemade by the lumbering wheels annoyed meand when Ifound thatthe waggon took the road to the villageas well asmyselfIstopped to let it go by and pass out of hearing.  As Ilookedtoward itmore attentively than beforeI thought Idetectedat intervals the feet of a man walking close behind itthe carterbeing in frontby the side of his horses.  The part ofthecross-road which I had just passed over was so narrow that thewaggoncoming after me brushed the trees and thickets on eithersideandI had to wait until it went by before I could test thecorrectnessof my impression.  Apparently that impression waswrongforwhen the waggon had passed me the road behind it wasquiteclear.

I reachedthe inn without meeting Sir Percivaland withoutnoticinganything moreand was glad to find that the landlady hadreceivedFanny with all possible kindness.  The girl had a littleparlour tosit inaway from the noise of the taproomand a cleanbedchamberat the top of the house.  She began crying again at thesight ofmeand saidpoor soultruly enoughthat it wasdreadfulto feel herself turned out into the world as if she hadcommittedsome unpardonable faultwhen no blame could be laid ather doorby anybodynot even by her masterwho had sent heraway.

"Tryto make the best of itFanny" I said.  "Yourmistress and Iwill standyour friendsand will take care that your charactershall notsuffer.  Nowlisten to me.  I have very little time tospareandI am going to put a great trust in your hands.  I wishyou totake care of these two letters.  The one with the stamp onit you areto put into the post when you reach London to-morrow.The otherdirected to Mr. Fairlieyou are to deliver to himyourselfas soon as you get home.  Keep both the letters about youand givethem up to no one.  They are of the last importance toyourmistress's interests."

Fanny putthe letters into the bosom of her dress.  "There theyshallstopmiss" she said"till I have done what you tell me."

"Mindyou are at the station in good time to-morrow morning" Icontinued. "And when you see the housekeeper at Limmeridge giveher mycomplimentsand say that you are in my service until LadyGlyde isable to take you back.  We may meet again sooner than youthink. So keep a good heartand don't miss the seven o'clocktrain."

"Thankyoumissthank you kindly.  It gives one courage to hearyour voiceagain.  Please to offer my duty to my ladyand say Ileft allthe things as tidy as I could in the time.  Ohdear!dear! whowill dress her for dinner to-day? It really breaks myheartmissto think of it."

 

When I gotback to the house I had only a quarter of an hour tospare toput myself in order for dinnerand to say two words toLaurabefore I went downstairs.

"Theletters are in Fanny's hands" I whispered to her at thedoor. "Do you mean to join us at dinner?"

"Ohnononot for the world."

"Hasanything happened? Has any one disturbed you?"

"YesjustnowSir Percival"

"Didhe come in?"

"Nohe frightened me by a thump on the door outside.  I said'Who'sthere?' 'You know' he answered.  'Will you alter yourmindandtell me the rest? You shall! Sooner or later I'll wringit out ofyou.  You know where Anne Catherick is at this moment.''Indeedindeed' I said'I don't.' 'You do!' he called back.'I'llcrush your obstinacymind that!I'll wring it out of you!'He wentaway with those wordswent awayMarianhardly fiveminutesago."

He had notfound Anne! We were safe for that nighthe had notfound heryet.

"Youare going downstairsMarian? Come up again in the evening."

"Yesyes.  Don't be uneasy if I am a little lateI must becarefulnot to give offence by leaving them too soon."

Thedinner-bell rang and I hastened away.

SirPercival took Madame Fosco into the dining-roomand the Countgave mehis arm.  He was hot and flushedand was not dressed withhiscustomary care and completeness.  Had hetoobeen out beforedinnerand been late in getting back? or was he only sufferingfrom theheat a little more severely than usual?

Howeverthis might behe was unquestionably troubled by somesecretannoyance or anxietywhichwith all his powers ofdeceptionhe was not able entirely to conceal.  Through the wholeof dinnerhe was almost as silent as Sir Percival himselfand heevery nowand thenlooked at his wife with an expression offurtiveuneasiness which was quite new in my experience of him.The onesocial obligation which he seemed to be self-possessedenough toperform as carefully as ever was the obligation of beingpersistentlycivil and attentive to me.  What vile object he hasin view Icannot still discoverbut be the design what it mayinvariablepoliteness towards myselfinvariable humility towardsLauraandinvariable suppression (at any cost) of Sir Percival'sclumsyviolencehave been the means he has resolutely andimpenetrablyused to get to his end ever since he set foot in thishouse. I suspected it when he first interfered in our favouronthe daywhen the deed was produced in the libraryand I feelcertain ofit now.

WhenMadame Fosco and I rose to leave the tablethe Count rosealso toaccompany us back to the drawing-room.

"Whatare you going away for?" asked Sir Percival"I mean YOUFosco."

"I amgoing away because I have had dinner enoughand wineenough"answered the Count.  "Be so kindPercivalas to makeallowancesfor my foreign habit of going out with the ladiesaswell ascoming in with them."
"Nonsense!Another glass of claret won't hurt you.  Sit down againlike anEnglishman.  I want half an hour's quiet talk with youover ourwine."

"Aquiet talkPercivalwith all my heartbut not nowand notover thewine.  Later in the eveningif you pleaselater in theevening."

"Civil!"said Sir Percival savagely.  "Civil behaviourupon mysoulto aman in his own house!"

I had morethan once seen him look at the Count uneasily duringdinner-timeand had observed that the Count carefully abstainedfromlooking at him in return.  This circumstancecoupled withthe host'sanxiety for a little quiet talk over the wineand theguest'sobstinate resolution not to sit down again at the tablerevived inmy memory the request which Sir Percival had vainlyaddressedto his friend earlier in the day to come out of thelibraryand speak to him.  The Count had deferred granting thatprivateinterviewwhen it was first asked for in the afternoonand hadagain deferred granting itwhen it was a second timeasked forat the dinner-table.  Whatever the coming subject ofdiscussionbetween them might beit was clearly an importantsubject inSir Percival's estimationand perhaps (judging fromhisevident reluctance to approach it) a dangerous subject aswellinthe estimation of the Count.

Theseconsiderations occurred to me while we were passing from thedining-roomto the drawing-room.  Sir Percival's angry commentaryon hisfriend's desertion of him had not produced the slightesteffect. The Count obstinately accompanied us to the tea-tablewaited aminute or two in the roomwent out into the hallandreturnedwith the post-bag in his hands.  It was then eighto'clockthehour at which the letters were always despatched fromBlackwaterPark.

"Haveyou any letter for the postMiss Halcombe?" he askedapproachingme with the bag.

I sawMadame Foscowho was making the teapausewith the sugar-tongs inher handto listen for my answer.

"NoCountthank you.  No letters to-day."

He gavethe bag to the servantwho was then in the room; sat downat thepianoand played the air of the lively Neapolitan street-song"Lamia Carolina" twice over.  His wifewho was usuallythe mostdeliberate of women in all her movementsmade the tea asquickly asI could have made it myselffinished her own cup intwominutesand quietly glided out of the room.

I rose tofollow her examplepartly because I suspected her ofattemptingsome treachery upstairs with Laurapartly because Iwasresolved not to remain alone in the same room with herhusband.

Before Icould get to the door the Count stopped meby a requestfor a cupof tea.  I gave him the cup of teaand tried a secondtime toget away.  He stopped me againthis time by going back tothe pianoand suddenly appealing to me on a musical question inwhich hedeclared that the honour of his country was concerned.

I vainlypleaded my own total ignorance of musicand total wantof tastein that direction.  He only appealed to me again with avehemencewhich set all further protest on my part at defiance."TheEnglish and the Germans (he indignantly declared) were alwaysrevilingthe Italians for their inability to cultivate the higherkinds ofmusic.  We were perpetually talking of our Oratoriosandthey wereperpetually talking of their Symphonies.  Did we forgetand didthey forget his immortal friend and countrymanRossini?What wasMoses in Egypt but a sublime oratoriowhich was acted onthe stageinstead of being coldly sung in a concert-room? What wastheoverture to Guillaume Tell but a symphony under another name?Had Iheard Moses in Egypt? Would I listen to thisand thisandthisandsay if anything more sublimely sacred and grand had everbeencomposed by mortal man?"And without waiting for a word ofassent ordissent on my partlooking me hard in the face all thetimehebegan thundering on the pianoand singing to it withloud andlofty enthusiasmonly interrupting himselfatintervalsto announce to me fiercely the titles of the differentpieces ofmusic: "Chorus of Egyptians in the Plague of DarknessMissHalcombe!""Recitativo of Moses with the tables of theLaw.""Prayerof Israelitesat the passage of the Red Sea.  Aha!Aha! Isthat sacred? is that sublime?" The piano trembled underhispowerful handsand the teacups on the table rattledas hisbig bassvoice thundered out the notesand his heavy foot beattime onthe floor.

There wassomething horriblesomething fierce and devilishintheoutburst of his delight at his own singing and playingand inthetriumph with which he watched its effect upon me as I shranknearer andnearer to the door.  I was released at lastnot by myowneffortsbut by Sir Percival's interposition.  He opened thedining-roomdoorand called out angrily to know what "thatinfernalnoise" meant.  The Count instantly got up from the piano."Ah!if Percival is coming" he said"harmony and melody arebothat anend.  The Muse of MusicMiss Halcombedeserts us indismayand Ithe fat old minstrelexhale the rest of myenthusiasmin the open air!" He stalked out into the verandahputhis handsin his pocketsand resumed the Recitativo of Mosessottovocein the garden.

I heardSir Percival call after him from the dining-room window.But hetook no noticehe seemed determined not to hear.  Thatlong-deferredquiet talk between them was still to be put offwasstill towait for the Count's absolute will and pleasure.

He haddetained me in the drawing-room nearly half an hour fromthe timewhen his wife left us.  Where had she beenand what hadshe beendoing in that interval?

I wentupstairs to ascertainbut I made no discoveriesand whenIquestioned LauraI found that she had not heard anything.Nobody haddisturbed herno faint rustling of the silk dress hadbeenaudibleeither in the ante-room or in the passage.

It wasthen twenty minutes to nine.  After going to my room to getmyjournalI returnedand sat with Laurasometimes writingsometimesstopping to talk with her.  Nobody came near usandnothinghappened.  We remained together till ten o'clock.  I thenrosesaidmy last cheering wordsand wished her good-night.  Shelocked herdoor again after we had arranged that I should come inand seeher the first thing in the morning.

I had afew sentences more to add to my diary before going to bedmyselfand as I went down again to the drawing-room after leavingLaura forthe last time that weary dayI resolved merely to showmyselfthereto make my excusesand then to retire an hourearlierthan usual for the night.

SirPercivaland the Count and his wifewere sitting together.SirPercival was yawning in an easy-chairthe Count was readingMadameFosco was fanning herself.  Strange to sayHER face wasflushednow.  Shewho never suffered from the heatwas mostundoubtedlysuffering from it to-night.

"I amafraidCountessyou are not quite so well as usual?" Isaid.

"Thevery remark I was about to make to you" she replied.  "Youarelooking palemy dear."

My dear!It was the first time she had ever addressed me with thatfamiliarity!There was an insolent smile too on her face when shesaid thewords.

"I amsuffering from one of my bad headaches" I answered coldly.

"Ahindeed? Want of exerciseI suppose? A walk before dinnerwould havebeen just the thing for you." She referred to the"walk"with a strange emphasis.  Had she seen me go out? No matterif shehad.  The letters were safe now in Fanny's hands.

"Comeand have a smokeFosco" said Sir Percivalrisingwithanotheruneasy look at his friend.

"WithpleasurePercivalwhen the ladies have gone to bed"repliedthe Count.

"ExcusemeCountessif I set you the example of retiring" Isaid. "The only remedy for such a headache as mine is going tobed."

I took myleave.  There was the same insolent smile on the woman'sface whenI shook hands with her.  Sir Percival paid no attentionto me. He was looking impatiently at Madame Foscowho showed nosigns ofleaving the room with me.  The Count smiled to himselfbehind hisbook.  There was yet another delay to that quiet talkwith SirPercivaland the Countess was the impediment this time.

 

IX

 

June19th.Once safely shut into my own roomI opened thesepagesandprepared to go on with that part of the day's recordwhich wasstill left to write.

For tenminutes or more I sat idlewith the pen in my handthinkingover the events of the last twelve hours.  When I at lastaddressedmyself to my taskI found a difficulty in proceedingwith itwhich I had never experienced before.  In spite of myefforts tofix my thoughts on the matter in handthey wanderedaway withthe strangest persistency in the one direction of SirPercivaland the Countand all the interest which I tried toconcentrateon my journal centred instead in that privateinterviewbetween them which had been put off all through the dayand whichwas now to take place in the silence and solitude of thenight.

In thisperverse state of my mindthe recollection of what hadpassedsince the morning would not come back to meand there wasnoresource but to close my journal and to get away from it for alittlewhile.

I openedthe door which led from my bedroom into my sitting-roomand havingpassed throughpulled it to againto prevent anyaccidentin case of draught with the candle left on the dressing-table. My sitting-room window was wide openand I leaned outlistlesslyto look at the night.

It wasdark and quiet.  Neither moon nor stars were visible.There wasa smell like rain in the stillheavy airand I put myhand outof window.  No.  The rain was only threateningit hadnot comeyet.

I remainedleaning on the window-sill for nearly a quarter of anhourlooking out absently into the black darknessand hearingnothingexcept now and then the voices of the servantsor thedistantsound of a closing doorin the lower part of the house.

Just as Iwas turning away wearily from the window to go back tothebedroom and make a second attempt to complete the unfinishedentry inmy journalI smelt the odour of tobacco-smoke stealingtowards meon the heavy night air.  The next moment I saw a tinyred sparkadvancing from the farther end of the house in the pitchdarkness. I heard no footstepsand I could see nothing but thespark. It travelled along in the nightpassed the window atwhich Iwas standingand stopped opposite my bedroom windowinsidewhich I had left the light burning on the dressing-table.

The sparkremained stationary for a momentthen moved back againin thedirection from which it had advanced.  As I followed itsprogress Isaw a second red sparklarger than the firstapproachingfrom the distance.  The two met together in thedarkness. Remembering who smoked cigarettes and who smokedcigarsIinferred immediately that the Count had come out firstto lookand listen under my windowand that Sir Percival hadafterwardsjoined him.  They must both have been walking on thelawnor Ishould certainly have heard Sir Percival's heavyfootfallthough the Count's soft step might have escaped meevenon thegravel walk.

I waitedquietly at the windowcertain that they could neither ofthem seeme in the darkness of the room.

"What'sthe matter?" I heard Sir Percival say in a low voice."Whydon't you come in and sit down?"

"Iwant to see the light out of that window" replied the Countsoftly.

"Whatharm does the light do?"

"Itshows she is not in bed yet.  She is sharp enough to suspectsomethingand bold enough to come downstairs and listenif shecan getthe chance.  PatiencePercivalpatience."

"Humbug!You're always talking of patience."

"Ishall talk of something else presently.  My good friendyouare on theedge of your domestic precipiceand if I let you givethe womenone other chanceon my sacred word of honour they willpush youover it!"

"Whatthe devil do you mean?"

"Wewill come to our explanationsPercivalwhen the light is outof thatwindowand when I have had one little look at the roomson eachside of the libraryand a peep at the staircase as well."

Theyslowly moved awayand the rest of the conversation betweenthem(which had been conducted throughout in the same low tones)ceased tobe audible.  It was no matter.  I had heard enough todetermineme on justifying the Count's opinion of my sharpness andmycourage.  Before the red sparks were out of sight in thedarkness Ihad made up my mind that there should be a listenerwhen thosetwo men sat down to their talkand that the listenerin spiteof all the Count's precautions to the contraryshould bemyself. I wanted but one motive to sanction the act to my ownconscienceand to give me courage enough for performing itandthatmotive I had.  Laura's honourLaura's happinessLaura'slifeitselfmight depend on my quick ears and my faithful memoryto-night.

I hadheard the Count say that he meant to examine the rooms oneach sideof the libraryand the staircase as wellbefore heentered onany explanation with Sir Percival.  This expression ofhisintentions was necessarily sufficient to inform me that thelibrarywas the room in which he proposed that the conversationshouldtake place.  The one moment of time which was long enoughto bringme to that conclusion was also the moment which showed mea means ofbaffling his precautionsorin other wordsofhearingwhat he and Sir Percival said to each otherwithout therisk ofdescending at all into the lower regions of the house.

Inspeaking of the rooms on the ground floor I have mentionedincidentallythe verandah outside themon which they all openedby meansof French windowsextending from the cornice to thefloor. The top of this verandah was flatthe rain-water beingcarriedoff from it by pipes into tanks which helped to supply thehouse. On the narrow leaden roofwhich ran along past thebedroomsand which was rather lessI should thinkthan threefeet belowthe sills of the windowa row of flower-pots wasrangedwith wide intervals between each potthe whole beingprotectedfrom falling in high winds by an ornamental iron railingalong theedge of the roof.

The planwhich had now occurred to me was to get out at mysitting-roomwindow on to this roofto creep along noiselesslytill Ireached that part of it which was immediately over thelibrarywindowand to crouch down between the flower-potswithmy earagainst the outer railing.  If Sir Percival and the Countsat andsmoked to-nightas I had seen them sitting and smokingmanynights beforewith their chairs close at the open windowand theirfeet stretched on the zinc garden seats which wereplacedunder the verandahevery word they said to each otherabove awhisper (and no long conversationas we all know byexperiencecan be carried on IN a whisper) must inevitably reachmy ears. Ifon the other handthey chose to-night to sit farbackinside the roomthen the chances were that I should hearlittle ornothingand in that caseI must run the far moreseriousrisk of trying to outwit them downstairs.

Stronglyas I was fortified in my resolution by the desperatenature ofour situationI hoped most fervently that I mightescapethis last emergency.  My courage was only a woman's courageafter alland it was very near to failing me when I thought oftrustingmyself on the ground floorat the dead of nightwithinreach ofSir Percival and the Count.

I wentsoftly back to my bedroom to try the safer experiment oftheverandah roof first.

A completechange in my dress was imperatively necessary for manyreasons. I took off my silk gown to begin withbecause theslightestnoise from it on that still night might have betrayedme. I next removed the white and cumbersome parts of myunderclothingand replaced them by a petticoat of dark flannel.Over thisI put my black travelling cloakand pulled the hood onto myhead.  In my ordinary evening costume I took up the room ofthree menat least.  In my present dresswhen it was held closeabout meno man could have passed through the narrowest spacesmoreeasily than I.  The little breadth left on the roof of theverandahbetween the flower-pots on one side and the wall and thewindows ofthe house on the othermade this a seriousconsideration. If I knocked anything downif I made the leastnoisewhocould say what the consequences might be?

I onlywaited to put the matches near the candle before Iextinguisheditand groped my way back into the sitting-roomIlockedthat dooras I had locked my bedroom doorthen quietlygot out ofthe windowand cautiously set my feet on the leadenroof ofthe verandah.

My tworooms were at the inner extremity of the new wing of thehouse inwhich we all livedand I had five windows to pass beforeI couldreach the position it was necessary to take up immediatelyover thelibrary.  The first window belonged to a spare room whichwasempty.  The second and third windows belonged to Laura's room.The fourthwindow belonged to Sir Percival's room.  The fifthbelongedto the Countess's room.  The othersby which it was notnecessaryfor me to passwere the windows of the Count'sdressing-roomof the bath-roomand of the second empty spareroom.

No soundreached my earsthe black blinding darkness of the nightwas allround me when I first stood on the verandahexcept atthat partof it which Madame Fosco's window over-looked.  Thereat thevery place above the library to which my course wasdirectedthereI saw a gleam of light! The Countess was not yetin bed.

It was toolate to draw backit was no time to wait.  Ideterminedto go on at all hazardsand trust for security to myowncaution and to the darkness of the night.  "For Laura'ssake!"I thoughtto myselfas I took the first step forward on the roofwith onehand holding my cloak close round meand the othergropingagainst the wall of the house.  It was better to brushclose bythe wall than to risk striking my feet against theflower-potswithin a few inches of meon the other side.

I passedthe dark window of the spare roomtrying the leaden roofat eachstep with my foot before I risked resting my weight on it.I passedthe dark windows of Laura's room ("God bless her and keepherto-night!").  I passed the dark window of Sir Percival'sroom.Then Iwaited a momentknelt down with my hands to support meand socrept to my positionunder the protection of the low wallbetweenthe bottom of the lighted window and the verandah roof.

When Iventured to look up at the window itself I found that thetop of itonly was openand that the blind inside was drawn down.While Iwas looking I saw the shadow of Madame Fosco pass acrossthe whitefield of the blindthen pass slowly back again.  Thusfar shecould not have heard meor the shadow would surely havestopped atthe blindeven if she had wanted courage enough toopen thewindow and look out?

I placedmyself sideways against the railing of the verandahfirstascertainingby touching themthe position of the flower-pots oneither side of me.  There was room enough for me to sitbetweenthem and no more.  The sweet-scented leaves of the floweron my lefthand just brushed my cheek as I lightly rested my headagainstthe railing.

The firstsounds that reached me from below were caused by theopening orclosing (most probably the latter) of three doors insuccessionthedoorsno doubtleading into the hall and intothe roomson each side of the librarywhich the Count had pledgedhimself toexamine.  The first object that I saw was the red sparkagaintravelling out into the night from under the verandahmovingaway towards my windowwaiting a momentand thenreturningto the place from which it had set out.

"Thedevil take your restlessness! When do you mean to sit down?"growledSir Percival's voice beneath me.

"Ouf!how hot it is!" said the Countsighing and puffing wearily.

Hisexclamation was followed by the scraping of the garden chairson thetiled pavement under the verandahthe welcome sound whichtold methey were going to sit close at the window as usual.  Sofar thechance was mine.  The clock in the turret struck thequarter totwelve as they settled themselves in their chairs.  IheardMadame Fosco through the open window yawningand saw hershadowpass once more across the white field of the blind.

MeanwhileSir Percival and the Count began talking togetherbelownowand then dropping their voices a little lower thanusualbutnever sinking them to a whisper.  The strangeness andperil ofmy situationthe dreadwhich I could not masterofMadameFosco's lighted windowmade it difficultalmostimpossiblefor meat firstto keep my presence of mindand tofix myattention solely on the conversation beneath.  For someminutes Icould only succeed in gathering the general substance ofit. I understood the Count to say that the one window alight washiswife'sthat the ground floor of the house was quite clearand thatthey might now speak to each other without fear ofaccidents. Sir Percival merely answered by upbraiding his friendwithhaving unjustifiably slighted his wishes and neglected hisinterestsall through the day.  The Count thereupon defendedhimself bydeclaring that he had been beset by certain troublesandanxieties which had absorbed all his attentionand that theonly safetime to come to an explanation was a time when theycould feelcertain of being neither interrupted nor overheard."Weare at a serious crisis in our affairsPercival" he said"andif we are to decide on the future at allwe must decidesecretlyto-night."

Thatsentence of the Count's was the first which my attention wasreadyenough to master exactly as it was spoken.  From this pointwithcertain breaks and interruptionsmy whole interest fixedbreathlesslyon the conversationand I followed it word for word.

"Crisis?"repeated Sir Percival.  "It's a worse crisis than youthink forI can tell you."

"So Ishould supposefrom your behaviour for the last day ortwo"returned the other coolly.  "But wait a little. Before weadvance towhat I do NOT knowlet us be quite certain of what IDO know. Let us first see if I am right about the time that ispastbefore I make any proposal to you for the time that is tocome."

"Stoptill I get the brandy and water.  Have some yourself."

"ThankyouPercival.  The cold water with pleasurea spoonandthe basinof sugar.  Eau sucreemy friendnothing more.

"Sugar-and-waterfor a man of your age!There! mix your sicklymess. You foreigners are all alike."

"NowlistenPercival.  I will put our position plainly beforeyouas Iunderstand itand you shall say if I am right or wrong.You and Iboth came back to this house from the Continent with ouraffairsvery seriously embarrassed "

"Cutit short! I wanted some thousands and you some hundredsandwithoutthe money we were both in a fair way to go to the dogstogether. There's the situation.  Make what you can of it.  Goon."

"WellPercivalin your own solid English wordsyou wanted somethousandsand I wanted some hundredsand the only way of gettingthem wasfor you to raise the money for your own necessity (with asmallmargin beyond for my poor little hundreds) by the help ofyourwife.  What did I tell you about your wife on our way toEngland?andwhat did I tell you again when we had come hereandwhen I hadseen for myself the sort of woman Miss Halcombe was?"

"Howshould I know? You talked nineteen to the dozenI supposejust asusual."

"Isaid this: Human ingenuitymy friendhas hitherto onlydiscoveredtwo ways in which a man can manage a woman.  One way isto knockher downa method largely adopted by the brutal lowerorders ofthe peoplebut utterly abhorrent to the refined andeducatedclasses above them.  The other way (much longermuchmoredifficultbut in the end not less certain) is never toaccept aprovocation at a woman's hands.  It holds with animalsit holdswith childrenand it holds with womenwho are nothingbutchildren grown up.  Quiet resolution is the one quality theanimalsthe childrenand the women all fail in.  If they canonce shakethis superior quality in their masterthey get thebetter ofHIM.  If they can never succeed in disturbing ithegets thebetter of THEM.  I said to youRemember that plain truthwhen youwant your wife to help you to the money.  I saidRememberit doubly and trebly in the presence of your wife'ssisterMiss Halcombe.  Have you remembered it? Not once in alltheimplications that have twisted themselves about us in thishouse. Every provocation that your wife and her sister couldoffer toyouyou instantly accepted from them.  Your mad temperlost thesignature to the deedlost the ready moneyset MissHalcombewriting to the lawyer for the first time "

"Firsttime! Has she written again?"

"Yesshe has written again to-day."

A chairfell on the pavement of the verandahfell with a crashas if ithad been kicked down.

It waswell for me that the Count's revelation roused SirPemival'sanger as it did.  On hearing that I had been once morediscoveredI started so that the railing against which I leanedcrackedagain.  Had he followed me to the inn? Did he infer that Imust havegiven my letters to Fanny when I told him I had none forthepost-bag.  Even if it was sohow could he have examined theletterswhen they had gone straight from my hand to the bosom ofthe girl'sdress?

"Thankyour lucky star" I heard the Count say next"that youhave me inthe house to undo the harm as fast as you do it.  Thankyour luckystar that I said No when you were mad enough to talk ofturningthe key to-day on Miss Halcombeas you turned it in yourmischievousfolly on your wife.  Where are your eves? Can you lookat MissHalcombe and not see that she has the foresight and theresolutionof a man? With that woman for my friend I would snapthesefingers of mine at the world.  With that woman for my enemyIwithall my brains and experienceIFoscocunning as thedevilhimselfas you have told me a hundred timesI walkinyourEnglish phraseupon egg-shells! And this grand creatureIdrink herhealth in my sugar-and-waterthis grand creaturewhostands inthe strength of her love and her couragefirm as arockbetween us two and that poorflimsypretty blonde wife ofyoursthismagnificent womanwhom I admire with all my soulthough Ioppose her in your interests and in mineyou drive toextremitiesas if she was no sharper and no bolder than the restof hersex.  Percival! Percival! you deserve to failand you HAVEfailed."

There wasa pause.  I write the villain's words about myselfbecause Imean to remember thembecause I hope yet for the daywhen I mayspeak out once for all in his presenceand cast themback oneby one in his teeth.

SirPercival was the first to break the silence again.

"Yesyesbully and bluster as much as you like" he saidsulkily;"the difficulty about the money is not the onlydifficulty. You would be for taking strong measures with thewomenyourselfif you knew as much as I do."

"Wewill come to that second difficulty all in good time"rejoinedthe Count.  "You may confuse yourselfPercivalas muchas youpleasebut you shall not confuse me.  Let the question ofthe moneybe settled first.  Have I convinced your obstinacy? haveI shownyou that your temper will not let you help yourself?Ormust I gobackand (as you put it in your dear straightforwardEnglish)bully and bluster a little more?"

"Pooh!It's easy enough to grumble at ME.  Say what is to be donethat's alittle harder."

"Isit? Bah! This is what is to be done: You give up all directionin thebusiness from to-nightyou leave it for the future in myhandsonly.  I am talking to a Practical British manha? WellPracticalwill that do for you?"

"Whatdo you propose if I leave it all to you?"

"Answerme first.  Is it to be in my hands or not?"

"Sayit is in your handswhat then?"

"Afew questionsPercivalto begin with.  I must wait a littleyettolet circumstances guide meand I must knowin everypossiblewaywhat those circumstances are likely to be.  There isno time tolose.  I have told you already that Miss Halcombe haswritten tothe lawyer to-day for the second time."

"Howdid you find it out? What did she say?"

"If Itold youPercivalwe should only come back at the end towhere weare now.  Enough that I have found it outand thefindinghas caused that trouble and anxiety which made me soinaccessibleto you all through to-day.  Nowto refresh my memoryabout youraffairsit is some time since I talked them over withyou. The money has been raisedin the absence of your wife'ssignatureby means of bills at three monthsraised at a costthat makesmy poverty-stricken foreign hair stand on end to thinkof it!When the bills are dueis there really and truly noearthlyway of paying them but by the help of your wife?"

"None."

"What!You have no money at the bankers?"

"Afew hundredswhen I want as many thousands."

"Haveyou no other security to borrow upon?"

"Nota shred."

"Whathave you actually got with your wife at the present moment?"

"Nothingbut the interest of her twenty thousand poundsbarelyenough topay our daily expenses."

"Whatdo you expect from your wife?"

"Threethousand a year when her uncle dies."

"Afine fortunePercival.  What sort of a man is this uncle?Old?"

"Noneitherold nor young."

"Agood-temperedfreely-living man?  Married?  NoI think mywife toldmenot married."

"Ofcourse not.  If he was marriedand had a sonLady Glydewould notbe next heir to the property.  I'll tell you what he is.He's amaudlintwaddlingselfish fooland bores everybody whocomes nearhim about the state of his health."

"Menof that sortPercivallive longand marry malevolentlywhen youleast expect it.  I don't give you muchmy friendforyourchance of the three thousand a year.  Is there nothing morethat comesto you from your wife?"

"Nothing."

"Absolutelynothing?"

"Absolutelynothingexcept in case of her death."

"Aha!in the case of her death."

There wasanother pause.  The Count moved from theverandahto the gravel walk outside.  I knew that he had moved byhisvoice.  "The rain has come at last" I heard him say. It hadcome. The state of my cloak showed that it had been fallingthicklyfor some little time.

The Countwent back under the verandahI heard the chair creakbeneathhis weight as he sat down in it again.

"WellPercival" he said"and in the case of Lady Glyde's deathwhat doyou get then?"

"Ifshe leaves no children"

"Whichshe is likely to do?"

"Whichshe is not in the least likely to do"

"Yes?"

"Whythen I get her twenty thousand pounds."

"Paiddown?"

"Paiddown."

They weresilent once more.  As their voices ceased Madame Fosco'sshadowdarkened the blind again.  Instead of passing this timeitremainedfor a momentquite still.  I saw her fingers stealround thecorner of the blindand draw it on one side.  The dimwhiteoutline of her facelooking out straight over meappearedbehind thewindow.  I kept stillshrouded from head to foot in myblackcloak.  The rainwhich was fast wetting medripped overthe glassblurred itand prevented her from seeing anything."Morerain!" I heard her say to herself.  She dropped the blindand Ibreathed again freely.

The talkwent on below methe Count resuming it this time.

"Percival!do you care about your wife?"

"Fosco!that's rather a downright question."

"I ama downright manand I repeat it."

"Whythe devil do you look at me in that way?"

"Youwon't answer me? Wellthenlet us say your wife dies beforethe summeris out"

"DropitFosco!"

"Letus say your wife dies"

"DropitI tell you!"

"Inthat caseyou would gain twenty thousand poundsand youwouldlose"

"Ishould lose the chance of three thousand a year."

"TheREMOTE chancePercivalthe remote chance only.  And youwantmoneyat once.  In your position the gain is certainthelossdoubtful."

"Speakfor yourself as well as for me.  Some of the money I wanthas beenborrowed for you.  And if you come to gainmy wife'sdeathwould be ten thousand pounds in your wife's pocket.  Sharpas youareyou seem to have conveniently forgotten Madame Fosco'slegacy. Don't look at me in that way! I won't have it! What withyour looksand your questionsupon my soulyou make my fleshcreep!"

"Yourflesh? Does flesh mean conscience in English? speak of yourwife'sdeath as I speak of a possibility.  Why not? Therespectablelawyers who scribble-scrabble your deeds and yourwills lookthe deaths of living people in the face.  Do lawyersmake yourflesh creep? Why should I? It is my business to-night toclear upyour position beyond the possibility of mistakeand Ihave nowdone it.  Here is your position. If your wife livesyoupay thosebills with her signature to the parchment.  If your wifediesyoupay them with her death."

As hespoke the light in Madame Fosco's room was extinguishedandthe wholesecond floor of the house was now sunk in darkness

"Talk!talk!" grumbled Sir Percival.  "One would thinktohearyouthatmy wife's signature to the deed was got already."

"Youhave left the matter in my hands" retorted the Count"andIhave morethan two months before me to turn round in.  Say no moreabout itif you pleasefor the present.  When the bills are dueyou willsee for yourself if my 'talk! talk!' is worth somethingor if itis not.  And nowPercivalhaving done with the moneymattersfor to-nightI can place my attention at your disposalif youwish to consult me on that second difficulty which hasmixeditself up with our little embarrassmentsand which has soalteredyou for the worsethat I hardly know you again.  Speakmyfriendand pardon me if I shock your fiery national tastes bymixingmyself a second glass of sugar-and-water."

"It'svery well to say speak" replied Sir Percivalin a far morequiet andmore polite tone than he had yet adopted"but it's notso easy toknow how to begin."

"ShallI help you?" suggested the Count.  "Shall I give thisprivatedifficulty of yours a name? What if I call itAnneCatherick?"

"LookhereFoscoyou and I have known each other for a longtimeandif you have helped me out of one or two scrapes beforethisIhave done the best I could to help you in returnas faras moneywould go.  We have made as many friendly sacrificesonbothsidesas men couldbut we have had our secrets from eachotherofcoursehaven't we?"

"Youhave had a secret from mePercival.  There is a skeleton inyourcupboard here at Blackwater Park that has peeped out in theselast fewdays at other people besides yourself."

"Wellsuppose it has.  If it doesn't concern youyou needn't becuriousabout itneed you?"

"Do Ilook curious about it?"

"Yesyou do."

"So!so! my face speaks the truththen? What an immensefoundationof good there must be in the nature of a man whoarrives atmy ageand whose face has not yet lost the habit ofspeakingthe truth!ComeGlyde! let us be candid one with theother. This secret of yours has sought me: I have not sought it.Let us sayI am curiousdo you ask meas your old friendtorespectyour secretand to leave itonce for allin your ownkeeping?"

"Yesthat'sjust what I do ask."

"Thenmy curiosity is at an end.  It dies in me from this moment."

"Doyou really mean that?"

"Whatmakes you doubt me?"

"Ihave had some experienceFoscoof your roundabout waysand Iam not sosure that you won't worm it out of me after all."

The chairbelow suddenly creaked againI felt the trellis-workpillarunder me shake from top to bottom.  The Count had startedto hisfeetand had struck it with his hand in indignation.

"Percival!Percival!" he cried passionately"do you know me nobetterthan that? Has all your experience shown you nothing of mycharacteryet? I am a man of the antique type! I am capable of themostexalted acts of virtuewhen I have the chance of performingthem. It has been the misfortune of my life that I have had fewchances. My conception of friendship is sublime! Is it my faultthat yourskeleton has peeped out at me? Why do I confess mycuriosity?You poor superficial Englishmanit is to magnify myownself-control.  I could draw your secret out of youif IlikedasI draw this finger out of the palm of my handyou knowI could!But you have appealed to my friendshipand the duties offriendshipare sacred to me.  See! I trample my base curiosityunder myfeet.  My exalted sentiments lift me above it.  RecognisethemPercival! imitate themPercival! Shake handsI forgiveyou."

His voicefaltered over the last wordsfalteredas if he wereactuallyshedding tears!

SirPercival confusedly attempted to excuse himselfbut the Countwas toomagnanimous to listen to him.

"No!"he said.  "When my friend has wounded meI can pardon himwithoutapologies.  Tell mein plain wordsdo you want my help?"

"Yesbadly enough."

"Andyou can ask for it without compromising yourself?"

"Ican tryat any rate."

"Trythen."

"Wellthis is how it stands:I told you to-day that I had donemy best tofind Anne Catherickand failed."

"Yesyou did."

"Fosco!I'm a lost man if I DON'T find her."

"Ha!Is it so serious as that?"

A littlestream of light travelled out under the verandahandfell overthe gravel-walk.  The Count had taken the lamp from theinner partof the room to see his friend clearly by the light ofit.

"Yes!"he said.  "Your face speaks the truth this time. Seriousindeedasserious as the money matters themselves."

"Moreserious.  As true as I sit heremore serious!"

The lightdisappeared again and the talk went on.

"Ishowed you the letter to my wife that Anne Catherick hid in thesand"Sir Percival continued.  "There's no boasting in thatletterFoscoshe DOES know the Secret."

"Sayas little as possiblePercivalin my presenceof theSecret. Does she know it from you?"

"Nofrom her mother."

"Twowomen in possession of your private mindbadbadbadmyfriend!One question herebefore we go any farther.  The motiveof yourshutting up the daughter in the asylum is now plain enoughto mebutthe manner of her escape is not quite so clear.  Do yoususpectthe people in charge of her of closing their eyespurposelyat the instance of some enemy who could afford to makeit worththeir while?"

"Noshe was the best-behaved patient they hadandlike foolstheytrusted her.  She's just mad enough to be shut upand justsaneenough to ruin me when she's at largeif you understandthat?"

"I dounderstand it.  NowPercivalcome at once to the pointand then Ishall know what to do.  Where is the danger of yourpositionat the present moment?"

"AnneCatherick is in this neighbourhoodand in communicationwith LadyGlydethere's the dangerplain enough.  Who can readthe lettershe hid in the sandand not see that my wife is inpossessionof the Secretdeny it as she may?"

"OnemomentPercival.  If Lady Glyde does know the Secretshemust knowalso that it is a compromising secret for you.  As yourwifesurely it is her interest to keep it?"

"Isit? I'm coming to that.  It might be her interest if she caredtwo strawsabout me.  But I happen to be an encumbrance in the wayof anotherman.  She was in love with him before she married meshe's inlove with him nowan infernal vagabond of a drawing-masternamed Hartright."

"Mydear friend! what is there extraordinary in that? They are allin lovewith some other man.  Who gets the first of a woman'sheart? Inall my experience I have never yet met with the man whowas NumberOne.  Number Twosometimes.  Number ThreeFourFiveoften. Number Onenever! He existsof coursebut I have notmet withhim."

"Wait!I haven't done yet.  Who do you think helped Anne Catherickto get thestartwhen the people from the mad-house were afterher?Hartright.  Who do you think saw her again in Cumberland?Hartright. Both times he spoke to her alone.  Stop! don'tinterruptme.  The scoundrel's as sweet on my wife as she is onhim. He knows the Secretand she knows the Secret.  Once letthem bothget together againand it's her interest and hisinterestto turn their information against me."

"GentlyPercivalgently! Are you insensible to the virtue ofLadyGlyde?"

"Thatfor the virtue of Lady Glyde! I believe in nothing about herbut hermoney.  Don't you see how the case stands? She might beharmlessenough by herself; but if she and that vagabondHartright"

"YesyesI see.  Where is Mr. Hartright?"

"Outof the country.  If he means to keep a whole skin on hisbonesIrecommend him not to come back in a hurry."

"Areyou sure he is out of the country?"

"Certain. I had him watched from the time he left Cumberland tothe timehe sailed.  OhI've been carefulI can tell you! AnneCathericklived with some people at a farm-house near Limmeridge.I wentthere myselfafter she had given me the slipand madesure thatthey knew nothing.  I gave her mother a form of letterto writeto Miss Halcombeexonerating me from any bad motive inputtingher under restraint.  I've spentI'm afraid to say howmuchintrying to trace herand in spite of it allshe turns uphere andescapes me on my own property! How do I know who else maysee herwho else may speak to her? That prying scoundrelHartrightmay come back with-out my knowing itand may make useof herto-morrow"

"NothePercival! While I am on the spotand while that woman isin theneighbourhoodI will answer for our laying hands on herbefore Mr.Hartrighteven if he does come back.  I see! yesyesI see! Thefinding of Anne Catherick is the first necessitymakeyour mindeasy about the rest.  Your wife is hereunder yourthumbMissHalcombe is inseparable from herand isthereforeunder yourthumb alsoand Mr. Hartright is out of the country.Thisinvisible Anne of yours is all we have to think of for thepresent. You have made your inquiries?"

"Yes. I have been to her motherI have ransacked the villageand all tono purpose."

"Isher mother to be depended on?"

"Yes."

"Shehas told your secret once."

"Shewon't tell it again."

"Whynot? Are her own interests concerned in keeping itas wellas yours?"

"Yesdeeplyconcerned."

"I amglad to hear itPercivalfor your sake.  Don't bediscouragedmy friend.  Our money mattersas I told youleaveme plentyof time to turn round inand I may search for AnneCatherickto-morrow to better purpose than you.  One last questionbefore wego to bed."

"Whatis it?"

"Itis this.  When I went to the boat-house to tell Lady Glydethat thelittle difficulty of her signature was put offaccidenttook methere in time to see a strange woman parting in a verysuspiciousmanner from your wife.  But accident did not bring menearenough to see this same woman's face plainly.  I must knowhow torecognise our invisible Anne.  What is she like?"

"Like?Come! I'll tell you in two words.  She's a sickly likenessof mywife."

The chaircreakedand the pillar shook once more.  The Count wason hisfeet againthis time in astonishment.

"What!!!"he exclaimed eagerly.

"Fancymy wifeafter a bad illnesswith a touch of somethingwrong inher headand there is Anne Catherick for you" answeredSirPercival.

"Arethey related to each other?"

"Nota bit of it."

"Andyet so like?"

"Yesso like.  What are you laughing about?"

There wasno answerand no sound of any kind.  The Count waslaughingin his smooth silent internal way.

"Whatare you laughing about?" reiterated Sir Percival.

"Perhapsat my own fanciesmy good friend.  Allow me my Italianhumourdo Inot come of the illustrious nation which invented theexhibitionof Punch? WellwellwellI shall know Anne Catherickwhen I seeherand so enough for to-night.  Make your mind easyPercival. Sleepmy sonthe sleep of the justand see what Iwill dofor you when daylight comes to help us both.  I have myprojectsand my plans here in my big head.  You shall pay thosebills andfind Anne Catherickmy sacred word of honour on itbutyou shall!Am I a friend to be treasured in the best corner ofyourheartor am I not?  Am I worth those loans of money whichyou sodelicately reminded me of a little while since? Whateveryou donever wound me in my sentiments any more.  Recognise themPercival!imitate themPercival! I forgive you againI shakehandsagain.  Good-night!"

 

Notanother word was spoken.  I heard the Count close the librarydoor. I heard Sir Percival barring up the window-shutters.  Ithad beenrainingraining all the time.  I was cramped by mypositionand chilled to the bones.  When I first tried to movethe effortwas so painful to me that I was obliged to desist.  Itried asecond timeand succeeded in rising to my knees on thewet roof.

As I creptto the walland raised myself against itI lookedbackandsaw the window of the Count's dressing-room gleam intolight. My sinking courage flickered up in me againand kept myeyes fixedon his windowas I stole my way backstep by steppast thewall of the house.

The clockstruck the quarter after onewhen I laid my hands onthewindow-sill of my own room.  I had seen nothing and heardnothingwhich could lead me to suppose that my retreat had beendiscovered.

 

X

 

June20th.Eight o'clock.  The sun is shining in a clear sky.  Ihave notbeen near my bedI have not once closed my weary wakefuleyes. From the same window at which I looked out into thedarknessof last nightI look out now at the bright stillness ofthemorning.

I countthe hours that have passed since I escaped to the shelterof thisroom by my own sensationsand those hours seem likeweeks.

How shorta timeand yet how long to MEsince I sank down in thedarknesshereon the floordrenched to the skincramped ineverylimbcold to the bonesa uselesshelplesspanic-strickencreature.

I hardlyknow when I roused myself.  I hardly know when I gropedmy wayback to the bedroomand lighted the candleand searched(with astrange ignoranceat firstof where to look for them)for dryclothes to warm me.  The doing of these things is in mymindbutnot the time when they were done.

Can I evenremember when the chilledcramped feeling left meandthethrobbing heat came in its place?

Surely itwas before the sun rose? YesI heard the clock strikethree. I remember the time by the sudden brightness andclearnessthe feverish strain and excitement of all my facultieswhich camewith it.  I remember my resolution to control myselfto waitpatiently hour after hourtill the chance offered ofremovingLaura from this horrible placewithout the danger ofimmediatediscovery and pursuit.  I remember the persuasionsettlingitself in my mind that the words those two men had saidto eachother would furnish usnot only with our justificationforleaving the housebut with our weapons of defence againstthem aswell.  I recall the impulse that awakened in me topreservethose words in writingexactly as they were spokenwhile thetime was my ownand while my memory vividly retainedthem. All this I remember plainly: there is no confusion in myhead yet. The coming in here from the bedroomwith my pen andink andpaperbefore sunrisethe sitting down at the widely-openedwindow to get all the air I could to cool methe ceaselesswritingfaster and fasterhotter and hotterdriving on more andmorewakefullyall through the dreadful interval before the housewas astiragainhow clearly I recall itfrom the beginning bycandle-lightto the end on the page before thisin the sunshineof the newday!

Why do Isit here still? Why do I weary my hot eyes and my burninghead bywriting more? Why not lie down and rest myselfand try toquench thefever that consumes mein sleep?

I dare notattempt it.  A fear beyond all other fears has gotpossessionof me.  I am afraid of this heat that parches my skin.I amafraid of the creeping and throbbing that I feel in my head.If I liedown nowhow do I know that I may have the sense and thestrengthto rise again?

Ohtherainthe rainthe cruel rain that chilled me last night!

Nineo'clock.  Was it nine struckor eight? Ninesurely? I amshiveringagainshiveringfrom head to footin the summer air.Have Ibeen sitting here asleep? I don't know what I have beendoing.

OhmyGod! am I going to be ill?

 

Illatsuch a time as this!

My headIam sadly afraid of my head.  I can writebut the linesall runtogether.  I see the words.  LauraI can write Lauraandsee Iwrite it.  Eight or ninewhich was it?

So coldso coldohthat rain last night!and the strokes ofthe clockthe strokes I can't countkeep striking in my head

*   *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *   *

Note[At thisplace the entry in the Diary ceases to be legible.  Thetwo orthree lines which follow contain fragments of words onlymingledwith blots and scratches of the pen.  The last marks onthe paperbear some resemblance to the first two letters (L and A)of thename of Lady Glyde.

On thenext page of the Diaryanother entry appears.  It is in aman'shandwritinglargeboldand firmly regularand the dateis "Junethe 21st." It contains these lines]

 

POSTSCRIPTBY A SINCERE FRIEND

 

Theillness of our excellent Miss Halcombe has afforded me theopportunityof enjoying an unexpected intellectual pleasure.

I refer tothe perusal (which I have just completed) of thisinterestingDiary.

There aremany hundred pages here.  I can lay my hand on my heartanddeclare that every page has charmedrefresheddelighted me.

To a manof my sentiments it is unspeakably gratifying to be ableto saythis.

Admirablewoman!

I alludeto Miss Halcombe.

Stupendouseffort!

I refer tothe Diary.

Yes! thesepages are amazing.  The tact which I find herethediscretionthe rare couragethe wonderful power of memorytheaccurateobservation of characterthe easy grace of stylethecharmingoutbursts of womanly feelinghave all inexpressiblyincreasedmy admiration of this sublime creatureof thismagnificentMarian.  The presentation of my own character ismasterlyin the extreme.  I certifywith my whole heartto thefidelityof the portrait.  I feel how vivid an impression I musthaveproduced to have been painted in such strongsuch richsuchmassivecolours as these.  I lament afresh the cruel necessitywhich setsour interests at varianceand opposes us to eachother. Under happier circumstances how worthy I should have beenof MissHalcombehow worthy Miss Halcombe would have been of ME.

Thesentiments which animate my heart assure me that the lines Ihave justwritten express a Profound Truth.

Thosesentiments exalt me above all merely personalconsiderations. I bear witnessin the most disinterested mannerto theexcellence of the stratagem by which this unparalleledwomansurprised the private interview between Percival and myselfalso tothe marvellous accuracy of her report of the wholeconversationfrom its beginning to its end.

Thosesentiments have induced me to offer to the unimpressionabledoctor whoattends on her my vast knowledge of chemistryand myluminousexperience of the more subtle resources which medical andmagneticscience have placed at the disposal of mankind.  He hashithertodeclined to avail himself of my assistance.  Miserableman!

Finallythose sentiments dictate the linesgratefulsympatheticpaternal lineswhich appear in this place.  I closethe book. My strict sense of propriety restores it (by the handsof mywife) to its place on the writer's table.  Events arehurryingme away.  Circumstances are guiding me to serious issues.Vastperspectives of success unroll themselves before my eyes.  Iaccomplishmy destiny with a calmness which is terrible to myself.Nothingbut the homage of my admiration is my own.  I deposit itwithrespectful tenderness at the feet of Miss Halcombe.

I breathemy wishes for her recovery.

I condolewith her on the inevitable failure of every plan thatshe hasformed for her sister's benefit.  At the same timeIentreather to believe that the information which I have derivedfrom herDiary will in no respect help me to contribute to thatfailure. It simply confirms the plan of conduct which I hadpreviouslyarranged.  I have to thank these pages for awakeningthe finestsensibilities in my naturenothing more.

To aperson of similar sensibility this simple assertion willexplainand excuse everything.
MissHalcombe is a person of similar sensibility.

In thatpersuasion I sign myself                                   Fosco.

 

THE STORYCONTINUED BY FREDERICK FAIRLIEESQ.OF LIMMERIDGEHOUSE[2]

 

[2] Themanner in which Mr. Fairlie's Narrative and otherNarrativesthat are shortly to follow itwere originallyobtainedforms the subject of an explanation which will appear ata laterperiod.

 

It is thegrand misfortune of my life that nobody will let mealone.

WhyI askeverybodywhy worry ME? Nobody answers that questionand nobodylets me alone.  Relativesfriendsand strangers allcombine toannoy me.  What have I done? I ask myselfI ask myservantLouisfifty times a daywhat have I done? Neither of uscan tell. Most extraordinary!

The lastannoyance that has assailed me is the annoyance of beingcalledupon to write this Narrative.  Is a man in my state ofnervouswretchedness capable of writing narratives? When I putthisextremely reasonable objectionI am told that certain veryseriousevents relating to my niece have happened within myexperienceand that I am the fit person to describe them on thataccount. I am threatened if I fail to exert myself in the mannerrequiredwith consequences which I cannot so much as think ofwithoutperfect prostration.  There is really no need to threatenme. Shattered by my miserable health and my family troublesI amincapableof resistance.  If you insistyou take your unjustadvantageof meand I give way immediately.  I will endeavour torememberwhat I can (under protest)and to write what I can (alsounderprotest)and what I can't remember and can't writeLouismustremember and write for me.  He is an assand I am aninvalidand we are likely to make all sorts of mistakes betweenus. How humiliating!

I am toldto remember dates.  Good heavens! I never did such athing inmy lifehow am I to begin now?

I haveasked Louis.  He is not quite such an ass as I havehithertosupposed.  He remembers the date of the eventwithin aweek ortwoand I remember the name of the person.  The date wastowardsthe end of Juneor the beginning of Julyand the name(in myopinion a remarkably vulgar one) was Fanny.

At the endof Juneor the beginning of JulythenI wasrecliningin my customary statesurrounded by the various objectsof Artwhich I have collected about me to improve the taste of thebarbarouspeople in my neighbourhood.  That is to sayI had thephotographsof my picturesand printsand coinsand so forthall aboutmewhich I intendone of these daysto present (thephotographsI meanif the clumsy English language will let memeananything) to present to the institution at Carlisle (horridplace!)with a view to improving the tastes of the members (GothsandVandals to a man).  It might be supposed that a gentleman whowas incourse of conferring a great national benefit on hiscountrymenwas the last gentleman in the world to be unfeelinglyworriedabout private difficulties and family affairs.  Quite amistakeIassure youin my case.

Howeverthere I wasrecliningwith my art-treasures about meandwanting a quiet morning.  Because I wanted a quiet morningofcourseLouis came in.  It was perfectly natural that I shouldinquirewhat the deuce he meant by making his appearance when Ihad notrung my bell.  I seldom swearit is such anungentlemanlikehabitbut when Louis answered by a grinI thinkit wasalso perfectly natural that I should damn him for grinning.At anyrateI did.

Thisrigorous mode of treatmentI have observedinvariablybringspersons in the lower class of life to their senses.  ItbroughtLouis to HIS senses.  He was so obliging as to leave offgrinningand inform me that a Young Person was outside wanting tosee me. He added (with the odious talkativeness of servants)that hername was Fanny.

"Whois Fanny?"

"LadyGlyde's maidsir."

"Whatdoes Lady Glyde's maid want with me .

"Alettersir"

"Takeit."

"Sherefuses to give it to anybody but yousir."

"Whosends the letter?"

"MissHalcombesir."

The momentI heard Miss Halcombe's name I gave up.  It is a habitof minealways to give up to Miss Halcombe.  I findbyexperiencethat it saves noise.  I gave up on this occasion.DearMarian!

"LetLady Glyde's maid come inLouis.  Stop! Do her shoes creak?"

I wasobliged to ask the question.  Creaking shoes invariablyupset mefor the day.  I was resigned to see the Young PersonbutI was NOTresigned to let the Young Person's shoes upset me.There is alimit even to my endurance.

Louisaffirmed distinctly that her shoes were to be depended upon.I waved myhand.  He introduced her.  Is it necessary to say thatsheexpressed her sense of embarrassment by shutting up her mouthandbreathing through her nose? To the student of female humannature inthe lower orderssurely not.

Let me dothe girl justice.  Her shoes did NOT creak.  But why doYoungPersons in service all perspire at the hands? Why have theyall gotfat noses and hard cheeks? And why are their faces sosadlyunfinishedespecially about the corners of the eyelids? Iam notstrong enough to think deeply myself on any subjectbut Iappeal toprofessional menwho are.  Why have we no variety inour breedof Young Persons?

"Youhave a letter for mefrom Miss Halcombe? Put it down on thetablepleaseand don't upset anything.  How is Miss Halcombe?"

"Verywellthank yousir."

"AndLady Glyde?"

I receivedno answer.  The Young Person's face became moreunfinishedthan everand I think she began to cry.  I certainlysawsomething moist about her eyes.  Tears or perspiration? Louis(whom Ihave just consulted) is inclined to thinktears.  He isin herclass of lifeand he ought to know best.  Let us saytears.

Exceptwhen the refining process of Art judiciously removes fromthem allresemblance to NatureI distinctly object to tears.Tears arescientifically described as a Secretion.  I canunderstandthat a secretion may be healthy or unhealthybut Icannot seethe interest of a secretion from a sentimental point ofview. Perhaps my own secretions being all wrong togetherI am alittleprejudiced on the subject.  No matter.  I behavedon thisoccasionwith all possible propriety and feeling.  I closed myeyes andsaid to Louis

"Endeavourto ascertain what she means."

Louisendeavouredand the Young Person endeavoured. Theysucceededin confusing each other to such an extent that I ambound incommon gratitude to saythey really amused me.  I thinkI shallsend for them again when I am in low spirits.  I have justmentionedthis idea to Louis.  Strange to sayit seems to makehimuncomfortable.  Poor devil!

Surely Iam not expected to repeat my niece's maid's explanationof hertearsinterpreted in the English of my Swiss valet? Thething ismanifestly impossible.  I can give my own impressions andfeelingsperhaps.  Will that do as well? Please sayYes.

My idea isthat she began by telling me (through Louis) that hermaster haddismissed her from her mistress's service.  (Observethroughoutthe strange irrelevancy of the Young Person.  Was itmy faultthat she had lost her place?) On her dismissalshe hadgone tothe inn to sleep.  (I don't keep the innwhy mention itto ME?)Between six o'clock and seven Miss Halcombe had come tosaygood-byeand had given her two lettersone for meand onefor agentleman in London.  (I am not a gentleman in Londonhangthegentleman in London!) She had carefully put the two lettersinto herbosom (what have I to do with her bosom?); she had beenveryunhappywhen Miss Halcombe had gone away again; she had nothad theheart to put bit or drop between her lips till it was nearbedtimeand thenwhen it was close on nine o'clockshe hadthoughtshe should like a cup of tea.  (Am I responsible for anyof thesevulgar fluctuationswhich begin with unhappiness and endwith tea?)Just as she was WARMING THE POT (I give the words ontheauthority of Louiswho says he knows what they meanandwishes toexplainbut I snub him on principle)just as she waswarmingthe pot the door openedand she was STRUCK OF A HEAP (herown wordsagainand perfectly unintelligible this time to Louisas well asto myself) by the appearance in the inn parlour of herladyshipthe Countess.  I give my niece's maid's description of mysister'stitle with a sense of the highest relish.  My poor dearsister isa tiresome woman who married a foreigner.  To resume:the dooropenedher ladyship the Countess appeared in theparlourand the Young Person was struck of a heap.  Mostremarkable!

 

I mustreally rest a little before I can get on any farther.  WhenI havereclined for a few minuteswith my eyes closedand whenLouis hasrefreshed my poor aching temples with a little eau-de-CologneImay be able to proceed.

Herladyship the Countess

No. I am able to proceedbut not to sit up.  I will recline anddictate. Louis has a horrid accentbut he knows the languageand canwrite.  How very convenient!

 

Herladyshipthe Countessexplained her unexpected appearance atthe inn bytelling Fanny that she had come to bring one or twolittlemessages which Miss Halcombe in her hurry had forgotten.The YoungPerson thereupon waited anxiously to hear what themessageswerebut the Countess seemed disinclined to mention them(so likemy sister's tiresome way!) until Fanny had had her tea.Herladyship was surprisingly kind and thoughtful about it(extremelyunlike my sister)and said"I am suremy poor girlyou mustwant your tea.  We can let the messages wait tillafterwards. Comecomeif nothing else will put you at youreaseI'llmake the tea and have a cup with you." I think thosewere thewordsas reported excitablyin my presenceby theYoungPerson.  At any ratethe Countess insisted on making theteaandcarried her ridiculous ostentation of humility so far asto takeone cup herselfand to insist on the girl's taking theother. The girl drank the teaand according to her own accountsolemnisedthe extraordinary occasion five minutes afterwards byfaintingdead away for the first time in her life.  Here again Iuse herown words.  Louis thinks they were accompanied by anincreasedsecretion of tears.  I can't say myself.  The effort oflisteningbeing quite as much as I could managemy eyes wereclosed.

Where didI leave off? Ahyesshe fainted after drinking a cupof teawith the Countessa proceeding which might have interestedme if Ihad been her medical manbut being nothing of the sort Ifelt boredby hearing of itnothing more.  When she came toherself inhalf an hour's time she was on the sofaand nobody waswith herbut the landlady.  The Countessfinding it too late toremain anylonger at the innhad gone away as soon as the girlshowedsigns of recoveringand the landlady had been good enoughto helpher upstairs to bed.

Left byherselfshe had felt in her bosom (I regret the necessityofreferring to this part of the subject a second time)and hadfound thetwo letters there quite safebut strangely crumpled.She hadbeen giddy in the nightbut had got up well enough totravel inthe morning.  She had put the letter addressed to thatobtrusivestrangerthe gentleman in London into the postand hadnowdelivered the other letter into my hands as she was told.This wasthe plain truthand though she could not blame herselffor anyintentional neglectshe was sadly troubled in her mindand sadlyin want of a word of advice.  At this point Louis thinksthesecretions appeared again.  Perhaps they didbut it is ofinfinitelygreater importance to mention that at this point also Ilost mypatienceopened my eyesand interfered.

"Whatis the purport of all this?" I inquired.

My niece'sirrelevant maid staredand stood speechless.

"Endeavourto explain" I said to my servant.  "Translate meLouis."

Louisendeavoured and translated.  In other wordshe descendedimmediatelyinto a bottomless pit of confusionand the YoungPersonfollowed him down.  I really don't know when I have been soamused. I left them at the bottom of the pit as long as theydivertedme.  When they ceased to divert meI exerted myintelligenceand pulled them up again.

It isunnecessary to say that my interference enabled mein duecourse oftimeto ascertain the purport of the Young Person'sremarks.

Idiscovered that she was uneasy in her mindbecause the train ofeventsthat she had just described to me had prevented her fromreceivingthose supplementary messages which Miss Halcombe hadintrustedto the Countess to deliver.  She was afraid the messagesmight havebeen of great importance to her mistress's interests.Her dreadof Sir Percival had deterred her from going toBlackwaterPark late at night to inquire about themand MissHalcombe'sown directions to heron no account to miss the trainin themorninghad prevented her from waiting at the inn the nextday. She was most anxious that the misfortune of her fainting-fitshould notlead to the second misfortune of making her mistressthink herneglectfuland she would humbly beg to ask me whether Iwouldadvise her to write her explanations and excuses to MissHalcomberequesting to receive the messages by letterif it wasnot toolate.  I make no apologies for this extremely prosyparagraph. I have been ordered to write it.  There are peopleunaccountableas it may appearwho actually take more interest inwhat myniece's maid said to me on this occasion than in what Isaid to myniece's maid.  Amusing perversity!

"Ishould feel very much obliged to yousirif you would kindlytell mewhat I had better do" remarked the Young Person.

"Letthings stop as they are" I saidadapting my language to mylistener. "I invariably let things stop as they are.  Yes.  Isthat all?"

"Ifyou think it would be a liberty in mesirto writeofcourse Iwouldn't venture to do so.  But I am so very anxious todo all Ican to serve my mistress faithfully"

People inthe lower class of life never know when or how to go outof aroom.  They invariably require to be helped out by theirbetters. I thought it high time to help the Young Person out.  Idid itwith two judicious words

"Good-morning."

Somethingoutside or inside this singular girl suddenly creaked.Louiswhowas looking at her (which I was not)says she creakedwhen shecurtseyed.  Curious.  Was it her shoesher staysor herbones?Louis thinks it was her stays.  Most extraordinary!

 

As soon asI was left by myself I had a little napI reallywantedit.  When I awoke again I noticed dear Marian's letter.  IfI had hadthe least idea of what it contained I should certainlynot haveattempted to open it.  Beingunfortunately for myselfquiteinnocent of all suspicionI read the letter.  Itimmediatelyupset me for the day.

I ambynatureone of the most easy-tempered creatures that everlivedImake allowances for everybodyand I take offence atnothing. But as I have before remarkedthere are limits to myendurance. I laid down Marian's letterand felt myselfjustlyfeltmyselfan injured man.

I am aboutto make a remark.  It isof courseapplicable to theveryserious matter now under noticeor I should not allow it toappear inthis place.

Nothingin my opinionsets the odious selfishness of mankind insuch arepulsively vivid light as the treatmentin all classes ofsocietywhich the Single people receive at the hands of theMarriedpeople.  When you have once shown yourself too considerateandself-denying to add a family of your own to an alreadyovercrowdedpopulationyou are vindictively marked out by yourmarriedfriendswho have no similar consideration and no similarself-denialas the recipient of half their conjugal troublesandthe bornfriend of all their children.  Husbands and wives TALK ofthe caresof matrimonyand bachelors and spinsters BEAR them.Take myown case.  I considerately remain singleand my poor dearbrotherPhilip inconsiderately marries.  What does he do when hedies? Heleaves his daughter to ME.  She is a sweet girlshe isalso adreadful responsibility.  Why lay her on my shoulders?Because Iam boundin the harmless character of a single mantorelieve mymarried connections of all their own troubles.  I do mybest withmy brother's responsibilityI marry my niecewithinfinitefuss and difficultyto the man her father wanted her tomarry. She and her husband disagreeand unpleasant consequencesfollow. What does she do with those consequences? She transfersthem toME.  Why transfer them to ME?  Because I am boundin theharmlesscharacter of a single manto relieve my marriedconnectionsof all their own troubles.  Poor single people! Poorhumannature!

It isquite unnecessary to say that Marian's letter threatened me.Everybodythreatens me.  All sorts of horrors were to fall on mydevotedhead if I hesitated to turn Limmeridge House into anasylum formy niece and her misfortunes.  I did hesitatenevertheless.

I havementioned that my usual coursehithertohad been tosubmit todear Marianand save noise.  But on this occasiontheconsequencesinvolved in her extremely inconsiderate proposal wereof anature to make me pause.  If I opened Limmeridge House as anasylum toLady Glydewhat security had I against Sir PercivalGlyde'sfollowing her here in a state of violent resentmentagainst MEfor harbouring his wife? I saw such a perfect labyrinthoftroubles involved in this proceeding that I determined to feelmy groundas it were.  I wrotethereforeto dear Marian to beg(as shehad no husband to lay claim to her) that she would comehere byherselffirstand talk the matter over with me.  If shecouldanswer my objections to my own perfect satisfactionthen Iassuredher that I would receive our sweet Laura with the greatestpleasurebut not otherwise.

I feltofcourseat the timethat this temporising on my partwouldprobably end in bringing Marian here in a state of virtuousindignationbanging doors.  But thenthe other course ofproceedingmight end in bringing Sir Percival here in a state ofvirtuousindignationbanging doors alsoand of the twoindignationsand bangings I preferred Marian'sbecause I was usedto her. Accordingly I despatched the letter by return of post.It gainedme timeat all eventsandoh dear me! what a pointthat wasto begin with.

When I amtotally prostrated (did I mention that I was totallyprostratedby Marian's letter?) it always takes me three days toget upagain.  I was very unreasonableI expected three days ofquiet. Of course I didn't get them.

The thirdday's post brought me a most impertinent letter from apersonwith whom I was totally unacquainted.  He described himselfas theacting partner of our man of businessour dearpig-headedoldGilmoreand he informed me that he had lately receivedbythe posta letter addressed to him in Miss Halcombe'shandwriting. On opening the envelopehe had discoveredto hisastonishmentthat it contained nothing but a blank sheet ofnotepaper. This circumstance appeared to him so suspicious (assuggestingto his restless legal mind that the letter had beentamperedwith) that he had at once written to Miss Halcombeandhadreceived no answer by return of post.  In this difficultyinstead ofacting like a sensible man and letting things taketheirproper coursehis next absurd proceedingon his ownshowingwas to pester me by writing to inquire if I knew anythingabout it. What the deuce should I know about it? Why alarm me aswell ashimself? I wrote back to that effect.  It was one of mykeenestletters.  I have produced nothing with a sharperepistolaryedge to it since I tendered his dismissal in writing tothatextremely troublesome personMr. Walter Hartright.

My letterproduced its effect.  I heard nothing more from thelawyer.

Thisperhaps was not altogether surprising.  But it was certainlyaremarkable circumstance that no second letter reached me fromMarianand that no warning signs appeared of her arrival.  Herunexpectedabsence did me amazing good.  It was so very soothingandpleasant to infer (as I did of course) that my marriedconnectionshad made it up again.  Five days of undisturbedtranquillityof delicious single blessednessquite restored me.On thesixth day I felt strong enough to send for my photographerand to sethim at work again on the presentation copies of my art-treasureswith a viewas I have already mentionedto theimprovementof taste in this barbarous neighbourhood.  I had justdismissedhim to his workshopand had just begun coquetting withmy coinswhen Louis suddenly made his appearance with a card inhis hand.

"AnotherYoung Person?" I said.  "I won't see her.  In mystate ofhealthYoung Persons disagree with me.  Not at home."

"Itis a gentleman this timesir "

Agentleman of course made a difference.  I looked at the card.

GraciousHeaven! my tiresome sister's foreign husbandCountFosco.

 

Is itnecessary to say what my first impression was when I lookedat myvisitor's card? Surely not! My sister having married aforeignerthere was but one impression that any man in his sensescouldpossibly feel.  Of course the Count had come to borrow moneyof me.

"Louis"I said"do you think he would go away if you gave himfiveshillings?"

Louislooked quite shocked.  He surprised me inexpressibly bydeclaringthat my sister's foreign husband was dressed superblyand lookedthe picture of prosperity.  Under these circumstancesmy firstimpression altered to a certain extent.  I now took itforgranted that the Count had matrimonial difficulties of his ownto contendwithand that he had comelike the rest of thefamilytocast them all on my shoulders.

"Didhe mention his business?" I asked.

"CountFosco said he had come heresirbecause Miss Halcombe wasunable toleave Blackwater Park."

Freshtroublesapparently.  Not exactly his ownas I hadsupposedbut dear Marian's.  Troublesanyway.  Oh dear!

"Showhim in" I said resignedly.

TheCount's first appearance really startled me.  He was such analarminglylarge person that I quite trembled.  I felt certainthat hewould shake the floor and knock down my art-treasures.  Hedidneither the one nor the other.  He was refreshingly dressed insummercostumehis manner was delightfully self-possessed andquiethehad a charming smile.  My first impression of him washighlyfavourable.  It is not creditable to my penetrationas thesequelwill showto acknowledge thisbut I am a naturally candidmanand IDO acknowledge it notwithstanding.

"Allowme to present myselfMr. Fairlie" he said.  "I comefromBlackwaterParkand I have the honour and the happiness of beingMadameFosco's husband.  Let me take my first and last advantageof thatcircumstance by entreating you not to make a stranger ofme. I beg you will not disturb yourselfI beg you will notmove."

"Youare very good" I replied.  "I wish I was strongenough toget up. Charmed to see you at Limmeridge.  Please take a chair."

"I amafraid you are suffering to-day" said the Count.

"Asusual" I said.  "I am nothing but a bundle of nervesdressedup to looklike a man."

"Ihave studied many subjects in my time" remarked thissympatheticperson.  "Among others the inexhaustible subject ofnerves. May I make a suggestionat once the simplest and themostprofound? Will you let me alter the light in your room?

"Certainlyifyou will be so very kind as not to let any of it inon me."

He walkedto the window.  Such a contrast to dear Marian! soextremelyconsiderate in all his movements!

"Light"he saidin that delightfully confidential tone which issosoothing to an invalid"is the first essential.  Lightstimulatesnourishespreserves.  You can no more do without itMr.Fairliethan if you were a flower.  Observe.  HerewhereyousitIclose the shutters to compose you.  Therewhere you do NOTsitIdraw up the blind and let in the invigorating sun.  Admitthe lightinto your room if you cannot bear it on yourself.Lightsiris the grand decree of Providence.  You acceptProvidencewith your own restrictions.  Accept light on the sameterms."

I thoughtthis very convincing and attentive.  He had taken me inup to thatpoint about the lighthe had certainly taken me in.

"Yousee me confused" he saidreturning to his place"on myword ofhonourMr. Fairlieyou see me confused in yourpresence."

"Shockedto hear itI am sure.  May I inquire why?"

"Sircan I enter this room (where you sit a sufferer)and seeyousurrounded by these admirable objects of Artwithoutdiscoveringthat you are a man whose feelings are acutelyimpressionablewhose sympathies are perpetually alive? Tell mecan I dothis?"

If I hadbeen strong enough to sit up in my chair I shouldofcoursehave bowed.  Not being strong enoughI smiled myacknowledgmentsinstead.  It did just as wellwe both understoodoneanother.

"Prayfollow my train of thought" continued the Count.  "Isithereaman of refined sympathies myselfin the presence ofanotherman of refined sympathies also.  I am conscious of aterriblenecessity for lacerating those sympathies by referring todomesticevents of a very melancholy kind.  What is the inevitableconsequence?I have done myself the honour of pointing it out toyoualready.  I sit confused."

Was it atthis point that I began to suspect he was going to boreme? Irather think it was.

"Isit absolutely necessary to refer to these unpleasant matters?"Iinquired.  "In our homely English phraseCount Foscowon'ttheykeep?"

The Countwith the most alarming solemnitysighed and shook hishead.

"MustI really hear them?"

Heshrugged his shoulders (it was the first foreign thing he haddone sincehe had been in the room)and looked at me in anunpleasantlypenetrating manner.  My instincts told me that I hadbetterclose my eyes.  I obeyed my instincts.

"Pleasebreak it gently" I pleaded.  "Anybody dead?"

"Dead!"cried the Countwith unnecessary foreign fierceness."Mr.Fairlieyour national composure terrifies me.  In the nameof Heavenwhat have I said or done to make you think me themessengerof death?"

"Prayaccept my apologies" I answered.  "You have said anddonenothing. I make it a rule in these distressing cases always toanticipatethe worst.  It breaks the blow by meeting it half-wayand soon.  Inexpressibly relievedI am sureto hear that nobodyis dead. Anybody ill?"

I openedmy eyes and looked at him.  Was he very yellow when hecame inor had he turned very yellow in the last minute or two? Ireallycan't sayand I can't ask Louisbecause he was not in theroom atthe time.

"Anybodyill?" I repeatedobserving that my national composurestillappeared to affect him.

"Thatis part of my bad newsMr. Fairlie.  Yes.  Somebody isill."

"GrievedI am sure.  Which of them is it?"

"Tomy profound sorrowMiss Halcombe.  Perhaps you were in somedegreeprepared to hear this? Perhaps when you found that MissHalcombedid not come here by herselfas you proposedand didnot writea second timeyour affectionate anxiety may have madeyou fearthat she was ill?"

I have nodoubt my affectionate anxiety had led to that melancholyapprehensionat some time or otherbut at the moment my wretchedmemoryentirely failed to remind me of the circumstance.  HoweverI saidyesin justice to myself.  I was much shocked.  It was soveryuncharacteristic of such a robust person as dear Marian to beillthatI could only suppose she had met with an accident.  Ahorseora false step on the stairsor something of that sort.

"Isit serious?" I asked.

"Seriousbeyonda doubt" he replied.  "DangerousI hope andtrustnot.  Miss Halcombe unhappily exposed herself to be wettedthrough bya heavy rain.  The cold that followed was of anaggravatedkindand it has now brought with it the worstconsequencefever."

When Iheard the word feverand when I remembered at the samemomentthat the unscrupulous person who was now addressing me hadjust comefrom Blackwater ParkI thought I should have fainted onthe spot.

"GoodGod!" I said.  "Is it infectious?"

"Notat present" he answeredwith detestable composure.  "Itmayturn toinfectionbut no such deplorable complication had takenplace whenI left Blackwater Park.  I have felt the deepestinterestin the caseMr. FairlieI have endeavoured to assisttheregular medical attendant in watching itaccept my personalassurancesof the uninfectious nature of the fever when I last sawit."

Accept hisassurances! I never was farther from accepting anythingin mylife.  I would not have believed him on his oath.  He wastoo yellowto be believed.  He looked like a walking-West-Indian-epidemic. He was big enough to carry typhus by the tonand todye thevery carpet he walked on with scarlet fever.  In certainemergenciesmy mind is remarkably soon made up.  I instantlydeterminedto get rid of him.

"Youwill kindly excuse an invalid" I said"but long conferencesof anykind invariably upset me.  May I beg to know exactly whatthe objectis to which I am indebted for the honour of yourvisit?"

Ifervently hoped that this remarkably broad hint would throw himoff hisbalanceconfuse himreduce him to polite apologiesinshortgethim out of the room.  On the contraryit only settledhim in hischair.  He became additionally solemnand dignifiedandconfidential.  He held up two of his horrid fingers and gaveme anotherof his unpleasantly penetrating looks.  What was I todo? I wasnot strong enough to quarrel with him.  Conceive mysituationif you please.  Is language adequate to describe it? Ithink not.

"Theobjects of my visit" he went onquite irrepressibly"arenumberedon my fingers.  They are two.  FirstI come to bear mytestimonywith profound sorrowto the lamentable disagreementsbetweenSir Percival and Lady Glyde.  I am Sir Percival's oldestfriendI amrelated to Lady Glyde by marriageI am an eye-witness ofall that has happened at Blackwater Park.  In thosethreecapacities I speak with authoritywith confidencewithhonourableregret.  SirI inform youas the head of Lady Glyde'sfamilythat Miss Halcombe has exaggerated nothing in the letterwhich shewrote to your address.  I affirm that the remedy whichthatadmirable lady has proposed is the only remedy that willspare youthe horrors of public scandal.  A temporary separationbetweenhusband and wife is the one peaceable solution of thisdifficulty. Part them for the presentand when all causes ofirritationare removedIwho have now the honour of addressingyouI willundertake to bring Sir Percival to reason.  Lady GlydeisinnocentLady Glyde is injuredbutfollow my thought here!she isonthat very account (I say it with shame)the cause ofirritationwhile she remains under her husband's roof.  No otherhouse canreceive her with propriety but yours.  I invite you toopen it."

Cool. Here was a matrimonial hailstorm pouring in the South ofEnglandand I was invitedby a man with fever in every fold ofhis coatto come out from the North of England and take my shareof thepelting.  I tried to put the point forciblyjust as I haveput ithere.  The Count deliberately lowered one of his horridfingerskept the other upand went onrode over meas it werewithouteven the common coach-manlike attention of crying "Hi!"before heknocked me down.

"Followmy thought once moreif you please" he resumed.  "Myfirstobject you have heard.  My second object in coming to thishouse isto do what Miss Halcombe's illness has prevented her fromdoing forherself.  My large experience is consulted on alldifficultmatters at Blackwater Parkand my friendly advice wasrequestedon the interesting subject of your letter to MissHalcombe. I understood at oncefor my sympathies are yoursympathieswhyyou wished to see her here before you pledgedyourselfto inviting Lady Glyde.  You are most rightsirinhesitatingto receive the wife until you are quite certain thatthehusband will not exert his authority to reclaim her.  I agreeto that. I also agree that such delicate explanations as thisdifficultyinvolves are not explanations which can be properlydisposedof by writing only.  My presence here (to my own greatinconvenience)is the proof that I speak sincerely.  As for theexplanationsthemselvesIFoscoIwho know Sir Percival muchbetterthan Miss Halcombe knows himaffirm to youon my honourand mywordthat he will not come near this houseor attempt tocommunicatewith this housewhile his wife is living in it.  Hisaffairsare embarrassed.  Offer him his freedom by means of theabsence ofLady Glyde.  I promise you he will take his freedomand goback to the Continent at the earliest moment when he canget away. Is this clear to you as crystal? Yesit is.  Have youquestionsto address to me? Be it soI am here to answer.  AskMr.Fairlieoblige me by asking to your heart's content."

He hadsaid so much already in spite of meand he looked sodreadfullycapable of saying a great deal more also in spite ofmethat Ideclined his amiable invitation in pure self-defence.

"Manythanks" I replied.  "I am sinking fast.  In mystate ofhealth Imust take things for granted.  Allow me to do so on thisoccasion. We quite understand each other.  Yes.  Much obligedIam surefor your kind interference.  If I ever get betterandever havea second opportunity of improving our acquaintance "

He gotup.  I thought he was going.  No.  More talkmoretime forthedevelopment of infectious influencesin my roomtoorememberthatin my room!

"Onemoment yet" he said"one moment before I take my leave. Iaskpermission at parting to impress on you an urgent necessity.It isthissir.  You must not think of waiting till Miss Halcomberecoversbefore you receive Lady Glyde.  Miss Halcombe has theattendanceof the doctorof the housekeeper at Blackwater Parkand of anexperienced nurse as wellthree persons for whosecapacityand devotion I answer with my life.  I tell you that.  Itell youalsothat the anxiety and alarm of her sister's illnesshasalready affected the health and spirits of Lady Glydeand hasmade hertotally unfit to be of use in the sick-room.  Herpositionwith her husband grows more and more deplorable anddangerousevery day.  If you leave her any longer at BlackwaterParkyoudo nothing whatever to hasten her sister's recoveryandat thesame timeyou risk the public scandalwhich you and Iand all ofusare bound in the sacred interests of the family toavoid. With all my soulI advise you to remove the seriousresponsibilityof delay from your own shoulders by writing to LadyGlyde tocome here at once.  Do your affectionateyourhonourableyour inevitable dutyand whatever happens in thefuturenoone can lay the blame on you.  I speak from my largeexperienceIoffer my friendly advice.  Is it acceptedYesorNo?"

I lookedat himmerely looked at himwith my sense of hisamazingassuranceand my dawning resolution to ring for Louis andhave himshown out of the room expressed in every line of my face.It isperfectly incrediblebut quite truethat my face did notappear toproduce the slightest impression on him.  Born withoutnervesevidentlyborn without nerves.

"Youhesitate?" he said.  "Mr. Fairlie! I understand thathesitation. You objectseesirhow my sympathies look straightdown intoyour thoughts!you object that Lady Glyde is not inhealth andnot in spirits to take the long journeyfrom Hampshireto thisplaceby herself.  Her own maid is removed from herasyou knowand of other servants fit to travel with herfrom oneend ofEngland to anotherthere are none at Blackwater Park.  Youobjectagainthat she cannot comfortably stop and rest inLondononher way herebecause she cannot comfortably go aloneto apublic hotel where she is a total stranger.  In one breathIgrant bothobjectionsin another breathI remove them.  Followmeif youpleasefor the last time.  It was my intentionwhen Ireturnedto England with Sir Percivalto settle myself in theneighbourhoodof London.  That purpose has just been happilyaccomplished. I have takenfor six monthsa little furnishedhouse inthe quarter called St. John's Wood.  Be so obliging as tokeep thisfact in your mindand observe the programme I nowpropose. Lady Glyde travels to London (a short journey)I myselfmeet herat the stationI take her to rest and sleep at my housewhich isalso the house of her auntwhen she is restored I escorther to thestation againshe travels to this placeand her ownmaid (whois now under your roof) receives her at the carriage-door. Here is comfort consultedhere are the interests ofproprietyconsultedhere is your own dutyduty of hospitalitysympathyprotectionto an unhappy lady in need of all threesmoothedand made easyfrom the beginning to the end.  Icordiallyinvite yousirto second my efforts in the sacredinterestsof the family.  I seriously advise you to writeby myhandsoffering the hospitality of your house (and heart)and thehospitalityof my house (and heart)to that injured andunfortunatelady whose cause I plead to-day."

He wavedhis horrid hand at mehe struck his infectious breastheaddressed me oratoricallyas if I was laid up in the House ofCommons. It was high time to take a desperate course of somesort. It was also high time to send for Louisand adopt theprecautionof fumigating the room.

In thistrying emergency an idea occurred to mean inestimableideawhichso to speakkilled two intrusive birds with onestone. I determined to get rid of the Count's tiresome eloquenceand ofLady Glyde's tiresome troublesby complying with thisodiousforeigner's requestand writing the letter at once.  Therewas notthe least danger of the invitation being acceptedforthere wasnot the least chance that Laura would consent to leaveBlackwaterPark while Marian was lying there ill.  How thischarminglyconvenient obstacle could have escaped the officiouspenetrationof the Countit was impossible to conceivebut itHADescaped him.  My dread that he might yet discover itif Iallowedhim any more time to thinkstimulated me to such anamazingdegreethat I struggled into a sitting positionseizedreallyseizedthe writing materials by my sideand produced theletter asrapidly as if I had been a common clerk in an office."DearestLauraPlease comewhenever you like.  Break the journeybysleeping in London at your aunt's house.  Grieved to hear ofdearMarian's illness.  Ever affectionately yours." I handedtheselinesatarm's lengthto the CountI sank back in my chairIsaid"Excuse meI am entirely prostratedI can do no more.Will yourest and lunch downstairs? Love to alland sympathyandso on. Good-morning."

He madeanother speechthe man was absolutely inexhaustible.  Iclosed myeyesI endeavoured to hear as little as possible.  Inspite ofmy endeavours I was obliged to hear a great deal.  Mysister'sendless husband congratulated himselfand congratulatedmeon theresult of our interviewhe mentioned a great deal moreabout hissympathies and minehe deplored my miserable healthheoffered towrite me a prescriptionhe impressed on me thenecessityof not forgetting what he had said about the importanceof lightheaccepted my obliging invitation to rest and lunchherecommendedme to expect Lady Glyde in two or three days' timehebegged mypermission to look forward to our next meetinginsteadof paininghimself and paining meby saying farewellhe added agreat dealmorewhichI rejoice to thinkI did not attend to atthe timeand do not remember now.  I heard his sympathetic voicetravellingaway from me by degreesbutlarge as he wasI neverheardhim.  He had the negative merit of being absolutelynoiseless. I don't know when he opened the dooror when he shutit. I ventured to make use of my eyes againafter an interval ofsilenceandhe was gone.

I rang forLouisand retired to my bathroom.  Tepid waterstrengthenedwith aromatic vinegarfor myselfand copiousfumigationfor my studywere the obvious precautions to takeandof courseI adopted them.  I rejoice to say they provedsuccessful. I enjoyed my customary siesta.  I awoke moist andcool.

My firstinquiries were for the Count.  Had we really got rid ofhim? Yeshehad gone away by the afternoon train.  Had helunchedand if soupon what? Entirely upon fruit-tart and cream.What aman! What a digestion!

 

Am Iexpected to say anything more? I believe not.  I believe Ihavereached the limits assigned to me.  The shockingcircumstanceswhich happened at a later period did notI amthankfulto sayhappen in my presence.  I do beg and entreat thatnobodywill be so very unfeeling as to lay any part of the blameof thosecircumstances on me.  I did everything for the best. I amnotanswerable for a deplorable calamitywhich it was quiteimpossibleto foresee.  I am shattered by itI have sufferedunder itas nobody else has suffered.  My servantLouis (who isreallyattached to me in his unintelligent way)thinks I shallnever getover it.  He sees me dictating at this momentwith myhandkerchiefto my eyes.  I wish to mentionin justice to myselfthat itwas not my faultand that I am quite exhausted andheartbroken. Need I say more?

 

THE STORYCONTINUED BY ELIZA MICHELSON(Housekeeperat Blackwater Park)

 

I

 

I am askedto state plainly what I know of the progress of MissHalcombe'sillness and of the circumstances under which Lady GlydeleftBlackwater Park for London.

The reasongiven for making this demand on me isthat mytestimonyis wanted in the interests of truth.  As the widow of aclergymanof the Church of England (reduced by misfortune to thenecessityof accepting a situation)I have been taught to placethe claimsof truth above all other considerations.  I thereforecomplywith a request which I might otherwisethrough reluctanceto connectmyself with distressing family affairshave hesitatedto grant.

I made nomemorandum at the timeand I cannot therefore be sureto a dayof the datebut I believe I am correct in stating thatMissHalcombe's serious illness began during the last fortnight orten daysin June.  The breakfast hour was late at Blackwater Parksometimesas late as tennever earlier than half-past nine.  Onthemorning to which I am now referringMiss Halcombe (who wasusuallythe first to come down) did not make her appearance at thetable. After the family had waited a quarter of an hourtheupperhousemaid was sent to see after herand came running out ofthe roomdreadfully frightened.  I met the servant on the stairsand wentat once to Miss Halcombe to see what was the matter.  Thepoor ladywas incapable of telling me.  She was walking about herroom witha pen in her handquite light-headedin a state ofburningfever.

Lady Glyde(being no longer in Sir Percival's serviceI maywithoutimproprietymention my former mistress by her nameinstead ofcalling her my lady) was the first to come in from herownbedroom.  She was so dreadfully alarmed and distressed thatshe wasquite useless.  The Count Foscoand his ladywho cameupstairsimmediately afterwardswere both most serviceable andkind. Her ladyship assisted me to get Miss Halcombe to her bed.Hislordship the Count remained in the sitting-roomand havingsent formy medicine-chestmade a mixture for Miss Halcombeanda coolinglotion to be applied to her headso as to lose no timebefore thedoctor came.  We applied the lotionbut we could notget her totake the mixture.  Sir Percival undertook to send forthedoctor.  He despatched a groomon horsebackfor the nearestmedicalmanMr. Dawsonof Oak Lodge.

Mr. Dawsonarrived in less than an hour's time.  He was arespectableelderly manwell known all round the countryand wewere muchalarmed when we found that he considered the case to bea veryserious one.

Hislordship the Count affably entered into conversation with Mr.Dawsonand gave his opinions with a judicious freedom.  Mr.Dawsonnot over-courteouslyinquired if his lordship's advicewas theadvice of a doctorand being informed that it was theadvice ofone who had studied medicine unprofessionallyrepliedthat hewas not accustomed to consult with amateur physicians.The Countwith truly Christian meekness of tempersmiled andleft theroom.  Before he went out he told me that he might befoundincase he was wanted in the course of the dayat theboat-houseon the banks of the lake.  Why he should have gonethereIcannot say.  But he did goremaining away the whole daytill seveno'clockwhich was dinner-time.  Perhaps he wished toset theexample of keeping the house as quiet as possible.  It wasentirelyin his character to do so.  He was a most consideratenobleman.

MissHalcombe passed a very bad nightthe fever coming and goingandgetting worse towards the morning instead of better.  No nursefit towait on her being at hand in the neighbourhoodherladyshipthe Countess and myself undertook the dutyrelievingeachother.  Lady Glydemost unwiselyinsisted on sitting upwith us. She was much too nervous and too delicate in health tobear theanxiety of Miss Halcombe's illness calmly.  She only didherselfharmwithout being of the least real assistance.  A moregentle andaffectionate lady never livedbut she criedand shewasfrightenedtwo weaknesses which made her entirely unfit to bepresent ina sick-room.

SirPercival and the Count came in the morning to make theirinquiries.

SirPercival (from distressI presumeat his lady's afflictionand atMiss Halcombe's illness) appeared much confused andunsettledin his mind.  His lordship testifiedon the contraryabecomingcomposure and interest. He had his straw hat in one handand hisbook in the otherand he mentioned to Sir Percival in myhearingthat he would go out again and study at the lake.  "Let uskeep thehouse quiet" he said.  "Let us not smoke indoorsmyfriendnow Miss Halcombe is ill.  You go your wayand I will gomine. When I study I like to be alone.  Good-morningMrs.Michelson."

SirPercival was not civil enoughperhaps I ought in justice tosaynotcomposed enoughto take leave of me with the same politeattention. The only person in the houseindeedwho treated meat thattime or at any otheron the footing of a lady indistressedcircumstanceswas the Count.  He had the manners of atruenoblemanhe was considerate towards every one.  Even theyoungperson (Fanny by name) who attended on Lady Glyde was notbeneathhis notice.  When she was sent away by Sir Percivalhislordship(showing me his sweet little birds at the time) was mostkindlyanxious to know what had become of herwhere she was to gothe dayshe left Blackwater Parkand so on.  It is in such littledelicateattentions that the advantages of aristocratic birthalwaysshow themselves.  I make no apology for introducing theseparticularstheyare brought forward in justice to his lordshipwhosecharacterI have reason to knowis viewed rather harshlyin certainquarters.  A nobleman who can respect a lady indistressedcircumstancesand can take a fatherly interest in thefortunesof an humble servant girlshows principles and feelingsof toohigh an order to be lightly called in question.  I advancenoopinionsI offer facts only.  My endeavour through life is tojudge notthat I be not judged.  One of my beloved husband'sfinestsermons was on that text.  I read it constantlyin my owncopy ofthe edition printed by subscriptionin the first days ofmywidowhoodand at every fresh perusal I derive an increase ofspiritualbenefit and edification.

There wasno improvement in Miss Halcombeand the second nightwas evenworse than the first. Mr. Dawson was constant in hisattendance. The practical duties of nursing were still dividedbetweenthe Countess and myselfLady Glyde persisting in sittingup withusthough we both entreated her to take some rest. "Myplace isby Marian's bedside" was her only answer.  "Whether Iamillorwellnothing will induce me to lose sight of her."

Towardsmidday I went downstairs to attend to some of my regularduties. An hour afterwardson my way back to the sick-roomIsaw theCount (who had gone out again earlyfor the third time)enteringthe hallto all appearance in the highest good spirits.SirPercivalat the same momentput his head out of the librarydoorandaddressed his noble friendwith extreme eagernessinthesewords

"Haveyou found her?"

Hislordship's large face became dimpled all over with placidsmilesbut he made no reply in words.  At the same time SirPercivalturned his headobserved that I was approaching thestairsand looked at me in the most rudely angry manner possible.

"Comein here and tell me about it" he said to the Count."Wheneverthere are women in a house they're always sure to begoing upor down stairs."

"Mydear Percival" observed his lordship kindly"Mrs.Michelsonhasduties.  Pray recognise her admirable performance of them assincerelyas I do! How is the suffererMrs. Michelson?"

"Nobettermy lordI regret to say."

"Sadmostsad!" remarked the Count.  "You look fatiguedMrs.Michelson. It is certainly time you and my wife had some help innursing. I think I may be the means of offering you that help.Circumstanceshave happened which will oblige Madame Fosco totravel toLondon either to-morrow or the day after.  She will goaway inthe morning and return at nightand she will bring backwith herto relieve youa nurse of excellent conduct andcapacitywho is now disengaged.  The woman is known to my wife asa personto be trusted.  Before she comes here say nothing aboutherifyou pleaseto the doctorbecause he will look with anevil eyeon any nurse of my providing.  When she appears in thishouse shewill speak for herselfand Mr. Dawson will be obligedtoacknowledge that there is no excuse for not employing her.Lady Glydewill say the same.  Pray present my best respects andsympathiesto Lady Glyde."

Iexpressed my grateful acknowledgments for his lordship's kindconsideration. Sir Percival cut them short by calling to hisnoblefriend (usingI regret to saya profane expression) tocome intothe libraryand not to keep him waiting there anylonger.

Iproceeded upstairs.  We are poor erring creaturesand howeverwellestablished a woman's principles may be she cannot alwayskeep onher guard against the temptation to exercise an idlecuriosity. I am ashamed to say that an idle curiosityon thisoccasiongot the better of my principlesand made me undulyinquisitiveabout the question which Sir Percival had addressed tohis noblefriend at the library door.  Who was the Count expectedto find inthe course of his studious morning rambles atBlackwaterPark? A womanit was to be presumedfrom the terms ofSirPercival's inquiry.  I did not suspect the Count of anyimproprietyIknew his moral character too well.  The onlyquestion Iasked myself wasHad he found her?

Toresume.  The night passed as usual without producing any changefor thebetter in Miss Halcombe.  The next day she seemed toimprove alittle.  The day after that her ladyship the Countesswithoutmentioning the object of her journey to any one in myhearingproceeded by the morning train to Londonher noblehusbandwith his customary attentionaccompanying her to thestation.

I was nowleft in sole charge of Miss Halcombewith everyapparentchancein consequence of her sister's resolution not toleave thebedsideof having Lady Glyde herself to nurse next.

The onlycircumstance of any importance that happened in thecourse ofthe day was the occurrence of another unpleasant meetingbetweenthe doctor and the Count.

Hislordshipon returning from the stationstepped up into MissHalcombe'ssitting-room to make his inquiries.  I went out fromthebedroom to speak to himMr. Dawson and Lady Glyde being bothwith thepatient at the time.  The Count asked me many questionsabout thetreatment and the symptoms.  I informed him that thetreatmentwas of the kind described as "saline" and that thesymptomsbetween the attacks of feverwere certainly those ofincreasingweakness and exhaustion.  Just as I was mentioningthese lastparticularsMr. Dawson came out from the bedroom.

"Good-morningsir" said his lordshipstepping forward in themosturbane mannerand stopping the doctorwith a high-bredresolutionimpossible to resist"I greatly fear you find noimprovementin the symptoms to-day?"
"Ifind decided improvement" answered Mr. Dawson.

"Youstill persist in your lowering treatment of this case offever?"continued his lordship.

"Ipersist in the treatment which is justified by my ownprofessionalexperience" said Mr. Dawson.
"Permitme to put one question to you on the vast subject ofprofessionalexperience" observed the Count.  "I presume to offerno moreadviceI only presume to make an inquiry.  You live atsomedistancesirfrom the gigantic centres of scientificactivityLondonand Paris.  Have you ever heard of the wastingeffects offever being reasonably and intelligibly repaired byfortifyingthe exhausted patient with brandywineammoniaandquinine?Has that new heresy of the highest medical authoritieseverreached your earsYes or No?"

"Whena professional man puts that question to me I shall be gladto answerhim" said the doctoropening the door to go out.  "Youare not aprofessional manand I beg to decline answering you."

Buffetedin this inexcusably uncivil way on one cheekthe Countlike apractical Christianimmediately turned the otherandsaidinthe sweetest manner"Good-morningMr. Dawson."

If my latebeloved husband had been so fortunate as to know hislordshiphow highly he and the Count would have esteemed eachother!

Herladyship the Countess returned by the last train that nightandbrought with her the nurse from London.  I was instructed thatthisperson's name was Mrs. Rubelle.  Her personal appearanceandherimperfect English when she spokeinformed me that she was aforeigner.

I havealways cultivated a feeling of humane indulgence forforeigners. They do not possess our blessings and advantagesandthey arefor the most partbrought up in the blind errors ofPopery. It has also always been my precept and practiceas itwas mydear husband's precept and practice before me (see SermonXXIX. inthe Collection by the late Rev. Samuel MichelsonM.A.)to do as Iwould be done by.  On both these accounts I will notsay thatMrs. Rubelle struck me as being a smallwiryslypersonoffifty or thereaboutswith a dark brown or Creolecomplexionand watchful light grey eyes.  Nor will I mentionforthereasons just allegedthat I thought her dressthough it wasof theplainest black silkinappropriately costly in texture andunnecessarilyrefined in trimming and finishfor a person in herpositionin life.  I should not like these things to be said ofmeandtherefore it is my duty not to say them of Mrs. Rubelle.I willmerely mention that her manners werenot perhapsunpleasantlyreservedbut only remarkably quiet and retiringthat shelooked about her a great dealand said very littlewhichmight have arisen quite as much from her own modesty as fromdistrustof her position at Blackwater Park; and that she declinedto partakeof supper (which was curious perhapsbut surely notsuspicious?)although I myself politely invited her to that mealin my ownroom.

At theCount's particular suggestion (so like his lordship'sforgivingkindness!)it was arranged that Mrs. Rubelle should notenter onher duties until she had been seen and approved by thedoctor thenext morning.  I sat up that night.  Lady Glydeappearedto be very unwilling that the new nurse should beemployedto attend on Miss Halcombe.  Such want of liberalitytowards aforeigner on the part of a lady of her education andrefinementsurprised me.  I ventured to say"My ladywe must allremembernot to be hasty in our judgments on our inferiorsespeciallywhen they come from foreign parts." Lady Glyde did notappear toattend to me.  She only sighedand kissed MissHalcombe'shand as it lay on the counterpane.  Scarcely ajudiciousproceeding in a sick-roomwith a patient whom it washighlydesirable not to excite.  But poor Lady Glyde knew nothingofnursingnothing whateverI am sorry to say.

The nextmorning Mrs. Rubelle was sent to the sitting-roomto beapprovedby the doctor on his way through to the bedroom.

I leftLady Glyde with Miss Halcombewho was slumbering at thetimeandjoined Mrs. Rubellewith the object of kindlypreventingher from feeling strange and nervous in consequence oftheuncertainty of her situation.  She did not appear to see it inthatlight.  She seemed to be quite satisfiedbeforehandthatMr. Dawsonwould approve of herand she sat calmly looking out ofwindowwith every appearance of enjoying the country air.  Somepeoplemight have thought such conduct suggestive of brazenassurance. I beg to say that I more liberally set it down toextraordinarystrength of mind.

Instead ofthe doctor coming up to usI was sent for to see thedoctor. I thought this change of affairs rather oddbut Mrs.Rubelledid not appear to be affected by it in any way.  I lefther stillcalmly looking out of the windowand still silentlyenjoyingthe country air.

Mr. Dawsonwas waiting for me by himself in the breakfast-room.

"Aboutthis new nurseMrs. Michelson" said the doctor.

"Yessir?"

"Ifind that she has been brought here from London by the wife ofthat fatold foreignerwho is always trying to interfere with me.Mrs.Michelsonthe fat old foreigner is a quack."

This wasvery rude.  I was naturally shocked at it.

"Areyou awaresir" I said"that you are talking of anobleman?"

"Pooh!He isn't the first quack with a handle to his name.They'reall Countshang 'em!"

"Hewould not be a friend of Sir Percival Glyde'ssirif he wasnot amember of the highest aristocracyexcepting the Englisharistocracyof course."

"VerywellMrs. Michelsoncall him what you likeand let us getback tothe nurse.  I have been objecting to her already."

"Withouthaving seen hersir?"

"Yeswithout having seen her.  She may be the best nurse inexistencebut she is not a nurse of my providing.  I have putthatobjection to Sir Percivalas the master of the house.  Hedoesn'tsupport me.  He says a nurse of my providing would havebeen astranger from London alsoand he thinks the woman ought tohave atrialafter his wife's aunt has taken the trouble to fetchher fromLondon.  There is some justice in thatand I can'tdecentlysay No.  But I have made it a condition that she is to goat onceif I find reason to complain of her.  This proposal beingone whichI have some right to makeas medical attendantSirPercivalhas consented to it.  NowMrs. MichelsonI know I candepend onyouand I want you to keep a sharp eye on the nurse forthe firstday or twoand to see that she gives Miss Halcombe nomedicinesbut mine.  This foreign nobleman of yours is dying totry hisquack remedies (mesmerism included) on my patientand anurse whois brought here by his wife may be a little too willingto helphim.  You understand? Very wellthenwe may go upstairs.Is thenurse there? I'll say a word to her before she goes intothesick-room."

We foundMrs. Rubelle still enjoying herself at the window.  WhenIintroduced her to Mr. Dawsonneither the doctor's doubtfullooks northe doctor's searching questions appeared to confuse herin theleast.  She answered him quietly in her broken Englishandthough hetried hard to puzzle hershe never betrayed the leastignoranceso farabout any part of her duties.  This wasdoubtlessthe result of strength of mindas I said beforeandnot ofbrazen assuranceby any means.

We allwent into the bedroom.

Mrs.Rubelle looked very attentively at the patientcurtseyed toLadyGlydeset one or two little things right in the roomandsat downquietly in a corner to wait until she was wanted.  Herladyshipseemed startled and annoyed by the appearance of thestrangenurse.  No one said anythingfor fear of rousing MissHalcombewho was still slumberingexcept the doctorwhowhispereda question about the night.  I softly answered"Much asusual"and then Mr. Dawson went out.  Lady Glyde followed himIsuppose tospeak about Mrs. Rubelle.  For my own partI had madeup my mindalready that this quiet foreign person would keep hersituation. She had all her wits about herand she certainlyunderstoodher business.  So farI could hardly have done muchbetter bythe bedside myself.

RememberingMr. Dawson's caution to meI subjected Mrs. Rubelleto asevere scrutiny at certain intervals for the next three orfourdays.  I over and over again entered the room softly andsuddenlybut I never found her out in any suspicious action.LadyGlydewho watched her as attentively as I diddiscoverednothingeither.  I never detected a sign of the medicine bottlesbeingtampered withI never saw Mrs. Rubelle say a word to theCountorthe Count to her.  She managed Miss Halcombe withunquestionablecare and discretion.  The poor lady waveredbackwardsand forwards between a sort of sleepy exhaustionwhichwas halffaintness and half slumberingand attacks of fever whichbroughtwith them more or less of wandering in her mind.  Mrs.Rubellenever disturbed her in the first caseand never startledher in thesecondby appearing too suddenly at the bedside in thecharacterof a stranger.  Honour to whom honour is due (whetherforeign orEnglish and I give her privilege impartially to Mrs.Rubelle. She was remarkably uncommunicative about herselfandshe wastoo quietly independent of all advice from experiencedpersonswho understood the duties of a sick-roombut with thesedrawbacksshe was a good nurseand she never gave either LadyGlyde orMr. Dawson the shadow of a reason for complaining of her.

The nextcircumstance of importance that occurred in the house wasthetemporary absence of the Countoccasioned by business whichtook himto London.  He went away (I think) on the morning of thefourth dayafter the arrival of Mrs. Rubelleand at parting hespoke toLady Glyde very seriouslyin my presenceon the subjectof MissHalcombe.

"TrustMr. Dawson" he said"for a few days moreif you please.But ifthere is not some change for the better in that timesendfor advicefrom Londonwhich this mule of a doctor must accept inspite ofhimself.  Offend Mr. Dawsonand save Miss Halcombe.  Isay thisseriouslyon my word of honour and from the bottom of myheart."

Hislordship spoke with extreme feeling and kindness.  But poorLadyGlyde's nerves were so completely broken down that she seemedquitefrightened at him.  She trembled from head to footandallowedhim to take his leave without uttering a word on her side.She turnedto me when he had goneand said"OhMrs. MichelsonI amheart-broken about my sisterand I have no friend to adviseme! Do youthink Mr. Dawson is wrong? He told me himself thismorningthat there was no fearand no need to send for anotherdoctor."

"Withall respect to Mr. Dawson" I answered"in your ladyship'splace Ishould remember the Count's advice."

Lady Glydeturned away from me suddenlywith an appearance ofdespairfor which I was quite unable to account.

"HISadvice!" she said to herself.  "God help usHISadvice!"

 

The Countwas away from Blackwater Parkas nearly as I remembera week.

SirPercival seemed to feel the loss of his lordship in variouswaysandappeared alsoI thoughtmuch depressed and altered bythesickness and sorrow in the house.  Occasionally he was so veryrestlessthat I could not help noticing itcoming and goingandwanderinghere and there and everywhere in the grounds.  Hisinquiriesabout Miss Halcombeand about his lady (whose failinghealthseemed to cause him sincere anxiety)were most attentive.I thinkhis heart was much softened.  If some kind clericalfriendsomesuch friend as he might have found in my lateexcellenthusbandhad been near him at this timecheering moralprogressmight have been made with Sir Percival.  I seldom findmyselfmistaken on a point of this sorthaving had experience toguide mein my happy married days.

Herladyship the Countesswho was now the only company for SirPercivaldownstairsrather neglected himas I consideredorperhapsit might have been that he neglected her.  A strangermightalmost have supposed that they were bentnow they were lefttogetheraloneon actually avoiding one another.  Thisofcoursecould not be.  But it did so happenneverthelessthattheCountess made her dinner at luncheon-timeand that she alwayscameupstairs towards eveningalthough Mrs. Rubelle had taken thenursingduties entirely off her hands.  Sir Percival dined byhimselfand William (the man out of livery) make the remarkinmyhearingthat his master had put himself on half rations offood andon a double allowance of drink.  I attach no importanceto such aninsolent observation as this on the part of a servant.Ireprobated it at the timeand I wish to be understood asreprobatingit once more on this occasion.

In thecourse of the next few days Miss Halcombe did certainlyseem toall of us to be mending a little.  Our faith in Mr. Dawsonrevived. He appeared to be very confident about the caseand heassuredLady Glydewhen she spoke to him on the subjectthat hewouldhimself propose to send for a physician the moment he feltso much asthe shadow of a doubt crossing his own mind.

The onlyperson among us who did not appear to be relieved bythesewords was the Countess.  She said to me privatelythat shecould notfeel easy about Miss Halcombe on Mr. Dawson's authorityand thatshe should wait anxiously for her husband's opinion onhisreturn.  That returnhis letters informed herwould takeplace inthree days' time.  The Count and Countess correspondedregularlyevery morning during his lordship's absence.  They werein thatrespectas in all othersa pattern to married people.

On theevening of the third day I noticed a change in MissHalcombewhich caused me serious apprehension.  Mrs. Rubellenoticed ittoo.  We said nothing on the subject to Lady Glydewhowas thenlying asleepcompletely overpowered by exhaustiononthe sofain the sitting-room.

Mr. Dawsondid not pay his evening visit till later than usual.As soon ashe set eyes on his patient I saw his face alter.  Hetried tohide itbut he looked both confused and alarmed.  Amessengerwas sent to his residence for his medicine-chestdisinfectingpreparations were used in the roomand a bed wasmade upfor him in the house by his own directions.  "Has thefeverturned to infection?" I whispered to him.  "I amafraid ithas"he answered; "we shall know better to-morrow morning.

By Mr.Dawson's own directions Lady Glyde was kept in ignorance ofthischange for the worse.  He himself absolutely forbade heronaccount ofher healthto join us in the bed-room that night.  Shetried toresistthere was a sad scenebut he had his medicalauthorityto support himand he carried his point.

The nextmorning one of the men-servants was sent to London ateleveno'clockwith a letter to a physician in townand withorders tobring the new doctor back with him by the earliestpossibletrain.  Half an hour after the messenger had gone theCountreturned to Blackwater Park.

TheCountesson her own responsibilityimmediately brought himin to seethe patient.  There was no impropriety that I coulddiscoverin her taking this course.  His lordship was a marriedmanhewas old enough to be Miss Halcombe's fatherand he sawher in thepresence of a female relativeLady Glyde's aunt.  Mr.Dawsonnevertheless protested against his presence in the roombut Icould plainly remark the doctor was too much alarmed to makeanyserious resistance on this occasion.

The poorsuffering lady was past knowing any one about her.  Sheseemed totake her friends for enemies.  When the Count approachedherbedside her eyeswhich had been wandering incessantly roundand roundthe room beforesettled on his face with a dreadfulstare ofterrorwhich I shall remember to my dying day.  TheCount satdown by herfelt her pulse and her templeslooked ather veryattentivelyand then turned round upon the doctor withsuch anexpression of indignation and contempt in his facethatthe wordsfailed on Mr. Dawson's lipsand he stood for a momentpale withanger and alarmpale and perfectly speechless.

Hislordship looked next at me.

"Whendid the change happen?" he asked.

I told himthe time.

"HasLady Glyde been in the room since?"

I repliedthat she had not.  The doctor had absolutely forbiddenher tocome into the room on the evening beforeand had repeatedthe orderagain in the morning.

"Haveyou and Mrs. Rubelle been made aware of the full extent ofthemischief?" was his next question.

We wereawareI answeredthat the malady was consideredinfectious. He stopped me before I could add anything more.

"Itis typhus fever" he said.

In theminute that passedwhile these questions and answers weregoing onMr. Dawson recovered himselfand addressed the Countwith hiscustomary firmness.

"Itis NOT typhus fever" he remarked sharply.  "I protestagainstthisintrusionsir.  No one has a right to put questions here butme. I have done my duty to the best of my ability"

The Countinterrupted himnot by wordsbut only by pointing tothe bed. Mr. Dawson seemed to feel that silent contradiction tohisassertion of his own abilityand to grow only the more angryunder it.

"Isay I have done my duty" he reiterated.  "A physicianhas beensent forfrom London.  I will consult on the nature of the feverwith himand with no one else.  I insist on your leaving theroom."

"Ientered this roomsirin the sacred interests of humanity"said theCount.  "And in the same interestsif the coming of thephysicianis delayedI will enter it again.  I warn you once morethat thefever has turned to typhusand that your treatment isresponsiblefor this lamentable change.  If that unhappy ladydiesIwill give my testimony in a court of justice that yourignoranceand obstinacy have been the cause of her death."

Before Mr.Dawson could answerbefore the Count could leave usthe doorwas opened from the sitting-roomand we saw Lady Glydeon thethreshold.

"IMUST and WILL come in" she saidwith extraordinary firmness.

Instead ofstopping herthe Count moved into the sitting-roomand madeway for her to go in.  On all other occasions he was thelast manin the world to forget anythingbut in the surprise ofthe momenthe apparently forgot the danger of infection fromtyphusand the urgent necessity of forcing Lady Glyde to takepropercare of herself.

To myastonishment Mr. Dawson showed more presence of mind.  Hestoppedher ladyship at the first step she took towards thebedside. "I am sincerely sorryI am sincerely grieved" he said."Thefever mayI fearbe infectious.  Until I am certain that itis notIentreat you to keep out of the room."

Shestruggled for a momentthen suddenly dropped her arms andsankforward.  She had fainted.  The Countess and I took herfromthe doctorand carried her into her own room.  The Count precededusandwaited in the passage till I came out and told him that wehadrecovered her from the swoon.

I wentback to the doctor to tell himby Lady Glyde's desirethat sheinsisted on speaking to him immediately.  He withdrew atonce toquiet her ladyship's agitationand to assure her of thephysician'sarrival in the course of a few hours.  Those hourspassedvery slowly.  Sir Percival and the Count were togetherdownstairsand sent up from time to time to make their inquiries.At lastbetween five and six o'clockto our great reliefthephysiciancame.

He was ayounger man than Mr. Dawsonvery serious and verydecided. What he thought of the previous treatment I cannot saybut itstruck me as curious that he put many more questions tomyself andto Mrs. Rubelle than he put to the doctorand that hedid notappear to listen with much interest to what Mr. Dawsonsaidwhile he was examining Mr. Dawson's patient.  I began tosuspectfrom what I observed in this waythat the Count had beenrightabout the illness all the way throughand I was naturallyconfirmedin that idea when Mr. Dawsonafter some little delayasked theone important question which the London doctor had beensent forto set at rest.

"Whatis your opinion of the fever?" he inquired.

"Typhus"replied the physician "Typhus fever beyond all doubt."

That quietforeign personMrs. Rubellecrossed her thin brownhands infront of herand looked at me with a very significantsmile. The Count himself could hardly have appeared moregratifiedif he had been present in the room and had heard theconfirmationof his own opinion.

Aftergiving us some useful directions about the management of thepatientand mentioning that he would come again in five days'timethephysician withdrew to consult in private with Mr.Dawson. He would offer no opinion on Miss Halcombe's chances ofrecoveryhesaid it was impossible at that stage of the illnesstopronounce one way or the other.

 

The fivedays passed anxiously.

CountessFosco and myself took it by turns to relieve Mrs.RubelleMiss Halcombe's condition growing worse and worseandrequiringour utmost care and attention.  It was a terribly tryingtime. Lady Glyde (supportedas Mr. Dawson saidby the constantstrain ofher suspense on her sister's account) rallied in themostextraordinary mannerand showed a firmness and determinationfor whichI should myself never have given her credit.  Sheinsistedon coming into the sick-room two or three times everydaytolook at Miss Halcombe with her own eyespromising not togo tooclose to the bedif the doctor would consent to her wishesso far. Mr. Dawson very unwillingly made the concession requiredof himIthink he saw that it was hopeless to dispute with her.She camein every dayand she self-denyingly kept her promise.  Ifelt itpersonally so distressing (as reminding me of my ownafflictionduring my husband's last illness) to see how shesufferedunder these circumstancesthat I must beg not to dwellon thispart of the subject any longer.  It is more agreeable tome tomention that no fresh disputes took place between Mr. Dawsonand theCount.  His lordship made all his inquiries by deputyandremainedcontinually in company with Sir Percival downstairs.

On thefifth day the physician came again and gave us a littlehope. He said the tenth day from the first appearance of thetyphuswould probably decide the result of the illnessand hearrangedfor his third visit to take place on that date.  Theintervalpassed as beforeexcept that the Count went to Londonagain onemorning and returned at night.

On thetenth day it pleased a merciful Providence to relieve ourhouseholdfrom all further anxiety and alarm.  The physicianpositivelyassured us that Miss Halcombe was out of danger.  "Shewants nodoctor nowall she requires is careful watching andnursingfor some time to comeand that I see she has."  Thosewere hisown words.  That evening I read my husband's touchingsermon onRecovery from Sicknesswith more happiness andadvantage(in a spiritual point of view) than I ever remember tohavederived from it before.

The effectof the good news on poor Lady Glyde wasI grieve tosayquiteoverpowering.  She was too weak to bear the violentreactionand in another day or two she sank into a state ofdebilityand depression which obliged her to keep her room.  Restand quietand change of air afterwardswere the best remedieswhich Mr.Dawson could suggest for her benefit.  It was fortunatethatmatters were no worseforon the very day after she took toher roomthe Count and the doctor had another disagreementandthis timethe dispute between them was of so serious a nature thatMr. Dawsonleft the house.

I was notpresent at the timebut I understood that the subjectof disputewas the amount of nourishment which it was necessary togive toassist Miss Halcombe's convalescence after the exhaustionof thefever.  Mr. Dawsonnow that his patient was safewas lessinclinedthan ever to submit to unprofessional interferenceandthe Count(I cannot imagine why) lost all the self-control whichhe had sojudiciously preserved on former occasionsand tauntedthedoctorover and over againwith his mistake about the feverwhen itchanged to typhus.  The unfortunate affair ended in Mr.Dawson'sappealing to Sir Percivaland threatening (now that hecouldleave without absolute danger to Miss Halcombe) to withdrawfrom hisattendance at Blackwater Park if the Count's interferencewas notperemptorily suppressed from that moment.  Sir Percival'sreply(though not designedly uncivil) had only resulted in makingmattersworseand Mr. Dawson had thereupon withdrawn from thehouse in astate of extreme indignation at Count Fosco's usage ofhimandhad sent in his bill the next morning.

We werenowthereforeleft without the attendance of a medicalman. Although there was no actual necessity for another doctornursingand watching beingas the physician had observedallthat MissHalcombe requiredI should stillif my authority hadbeenconsultedhave obtained professional assistance from someotherquarterfor form's sake.

The matterdid not seem to strike Sir Percival in that light.  Hesaid itwould be time enough to send for another doctor if MissHalcombeshowed any signs of a relapse.  In the meanwhile we hadthe Countto consult in any minor difficultyand we need notunnecessarilydisturb our patient in her present weak and nervousconditionby the presence of a stranger at her bedside.  There wasmuch thatwas reasonableno doubtin these considerationsbutthey leftme a little anxious nevertheless.  Nor was I quitesatisfiedin my own mind of the propriety of our concealing thedoctor'sabsence as we did from Lady Glyde.  It was a mercifuldeceptionI admitfor she was in no state to bear any freshanxieties. But still it was a deceptionandas suchto aperson ofmy principlesat best a doubtful proceeding.

 

A secondperplexing circumstance which happened on the same dayand whichtook me completely by surpriseadded greatly to thesense ofuneasiness that was now weighing on my mind.

I was sentfor to see Sir Percival in the library.  The Countwhowas withhim when I went inimmediately rose and left us alonetogether. Sir Percival civilly asked me to take a seatand thento mygreat astonishmentaddressed me in these terms

"Iwant to speak to youMrs. Michelsonabout a matter which Idecided onsome time agoand which I should have mentionedbeforebut for the sickness and trouble in the house.  In plainwordsIhave reasons for wishing to break up my establishmentimmediatelyat this placeleaving you in chargeof courseasusual. As soon as Lady Glyde and Miss Halcombe can travel theymust bothhave change of air.  My friendsCount Fosco and theCountesswill leave us before that time to live in theneighbourhoodof Londonand I have reasons for not opening thehouse toany more companywith a view to economising as carefullyas I can. I don't blame youbut my expenses here are a greatdeal tooheavy.  In shortI shall sell the horsesand get rid ofall theservants at once.  I never do things by halvesas youknowandI mean to have the house clear of a pack of uselesspeople bythis time to-morrow."

I listenedto himperfectly aghast with astonishment.

"Doyou meanSir Percivalthat I am to dismiss the indoorservantsunder my charge without the usual month's warning?" Iasked.

"CertainlyI do.  We may all be out of the house before anothermonthandI am not going to leave the servants here in idlenesswith nomaster to wait on."

"Whois to do the cookingSir Percivalwhile you are stillstayinghere?"

"MargaretPorcher can roast and boilkeep her.  What do I wantwith acook if I don't mean to give any dinner-parties?"

"Theservant you have mentioned is the most unintelligent servantin thehouseSir Percival "

"KeepherI tell youand have a woman in from the village to dothecleaning and go away again.  My weekly expenses must and shallbe loweredimmediately.  I don't send for you to make objectionsMrs.MichelsonI send for you to carry out my plans of economy.Dismissthe whole lazy pack of indoor servants to-morrowexceptPorcher. She is as strong as a horseand we'll make her worklike ahorse."

"Youwill excuse me for reminding youSir Percivalthat if theservantsgo to-morrow they must have a month's wages in lieu of amonth'swarning."

"Letthem! A month's wages saves a month's waste and gluttony intheservants' hall."

This lastremark conveyed an aspersion of the most offensive kindon mymanagement.  I had too much self-respect to defend myselfunder sogross an imputation.  Christian consideration for thehelplessposition of Miss Halcombe and Lady Glydeand for theseriousinconvenience which my sudden absence might inflict onthemalone prevented me from resigning my situation on the spot.I roseimmediately.  It would have lowered me in my own estimationto havepermitted the interview to continue a moment longer.

"Afterthat last remarkSir PercivalI have nothing more to say.Yourdirections shall be attended to." Pronouncing those wordsIbowed myhead with the most distant respectand went out of theroom.

The nextday the servants left in a body.  Sir Percival himselfdismissedthe grooms and stablemensending themwith all thehorses butoneto London.  Of the whole domestic establishmentindoorsand outthere now remained only myselfMargaret Porcherand thegardenerthis last living in his own cottageand beingwanted totake care of the one horse that remained in the stables.

With thehouse left in this strange and lonely conditionwith themistressof it ill in her roomwith Miss Halcombe still ashelplessas a childand with the doctor's attendance withdrawnfrom us inenmityit was surely not unnatural that my spiritsshouldsinkand my customary composure be very hard to maintain.My mindwas ill at ease.  I wished the poor ladies both wellagainandI wished myself away from Blackwater Park.

 

II

 

The nextevent that occurred was of so singular a nature that itmight havecaused me a feeling of superstitious surpriseif mymind hadnot been fortified by principle against any paganweaknessof that sort.  The uneasy sense of something wrong in thefamilywhich had made me wish myself away from Blackwater Parkwasactually followedstrange to sayby my departure from thehouse. It is true that my absence was for a temporary periodonlybutthe coincidence wasin my opinionnot the lessremarkableon that account.

Mydeparture took place under the following circumstances

A day ortwo after the servants all left I was again sent for tosee SirPercival.  The undeserved slur which he had cast on mymanagementof the household did notI am happy to sayprevent mefromreturning good for evil to the best of my abilitybycomplyingwith his request as readily and respectfully as ever.It cost mea struggle with that fallen naturewhich we all sharein commonbefore I could suppress my feelings.  Being accustomedtoself-disciplineI accomplished the sacrifice.

I foundSir Percival and Count Fosco sitting together again.  Onthisoccasion his lordship remained present at the interviewandassistedin the development of Sir Percival's views.

Thesubject to which they now requested my attention related tothehealthy change of air by which we all hoped that Miss Halcombeand LadyGlyde might soon be enabled to profit.  Sir Percivalmentionedthat both the ladies would probably pass the autumn (byinvitationof Frederick FairlieEsquire) at Limmeridge HouseCumberland. But before they went thereit was his opinionconfirmedby Count Fosco (who here took up the conversation andcontinuedit to the end)that they would benefit by a shortresidencefirst in the genial climate of Torquay.  The greatobjectthereforewas to engage lodgings at that placeaffordingall thecomforts and advantages of which they stood in needandthe greatdifficulty was to find an experienced person capable ofchoosingthe sort of residence which they wanted.  In thisemergencythe Count begged to inquireon Sir Percival's behalfwhether Iwould object to give the ladies the benefit of myassistanceby proceeding myself to Torquay in their interests.

It wasimpossible for a person in my situation to meet anyproposalmade in these termswith a positive objection.

I couldonly venture to represent the serious inconvenience of myleavingBlackwater Park in the extraordinary absence of all theindoorservantswith the one exception of Margaret Porcher.  ButSirPercival and his lordship declared that they were both willingto put upwith inconvenience for the sake of the invalids.  I nextrespectfullysuggested writing to an agent at Torquaybut I wasmet hereby being reminded of the imprudence of taking lodgingswithoutfirst seeing them.  I was also informed that the Countess(who wouldotherwise have gone to Devonshire herself) could notin LadyGlyde's present conditionleave her nieceand that SirPercivaland the Count had business to transact together whichwouldoblige them to remain at Blackwater Park.  In shortit wasclearlyshown me that if I did not undertake the errandno oneelse couldbe trusted with it.  Under these circumstancesI couldonlyinform Sir Percival that my services were at the disposal ofMissHalcombe and Lady Glyde.

It wasthereupon arranged that I should leave the next morningthat Ishould occupy one or two days in examining all the mostconvenienthouses in Torquayand that I should return with myreport assoon as I conveniently could.  A memorandum was writtenfor me byhis lordshipstating the requisites which the place Iwas sentto take must be found to possessand a note of thepecuniarylimit assigned to me was added by Sir Percival.

My ownidea on reading over these instructions wasthat no suchresidenceas I saw described could be found at any watering-placeinEnglandand thateven if it could by chance be discovereditwouldcertainly not be parted with for any period on such terms asI waspermitted to offer.  I hinted at these difficulties to boththegentlemenbut Sir Percival (who undertook to answer me) didnot appearto feel them.  It was not for me to dispute thequestion. I said no morebut I felt a very strong convictionthat thebusiness on which I was sent away was so beset bydifficultiesthat my errand was almost hopeless at starting.

Before Ileft I took care to satisfy myself that Miss Halcombe wasgoing onfavourably.

There wasa painful expression of anxiety in her face which mademe fearthat her mindon first recovering itselfwas not atease. But she was certainly strengthening more rapidly than Icould haveventured to anticipateand she was able to send kindmessagesto Lady Glydesaying that she was fast getting wellandentreatingher ladyship not to exert herself again too soon.  Ileft herin charge of Mrs. Rubellewho was still as quietlyindependentof every one else in the house as ever.  When Iknocked atLady Glyde's door before going awayI was told thatshe wasstill sadly weak and depressedmy informant being theCountesswho was then keeping her company in her room.  SirPercivaland the Count were walking on the road to the lodge as Iwas drivenby in the chaise.  I bowed to them and quitted thehousewith not a living soul left in the servants' offices butMargaretPorcher.

Every onemust feel what I have felt myself since that timethatthesecircumstances were more than unusualthey were! almostsuspicious. Let mehoweversay again that it was impossible formein mydependent positionto act otherwise than I did.

The resultof my errand at Torquay was exactly what I hadforeseen. No such lodgings as I was instructed to take could befound inthe whole placeand the terms I was permitted to givewere muchtoo low for the purposeeven if I had been able todiscoverwhat I wanted.  I accordingly returned to BlackwaterParkandinformed Sir Percivalwho met me at the doorthat myjourneyhad been taken in vain.  He seemed too much occupied withsome othersubject to care about the failure of my errandand hisfirstwords informed me that even in the short time of my absenceanotherremarkable change had taken place in the house.

The Countand Countess Fosco had left Blackwater Park for theirnewresidence in St. John's Wood.

I was notmade aware of the motive for this sudden departureIwas onlytold that the Count had been very particular in leavinghis kindcompliments to me.  When I ventured on asking SirPercivalwhether Lady Glyde had any one to attend to her comfortsin theabsence of the Countesshe replied that she had MargaretPorcher towait on herand he added that a woman from the villagehad beensent for to do the work downstairs.

The answerreally shocked methere was such a glaring improprietyinpermitting an under-housemaid to fill the place of confidentialattendanton Lady Glyde.  I went upstairs at onceand metMargareton the bedroom landing.  Her services had not beenrequired(naturally enough)her mistress having sufficientlyrecoveredthat morning to be able to leave her bed.  I asked nextafter MissHalcombebut I was answered in a I slouchingsulkywaywhichleft me no wiser than I was before.

I did notchoose to repeat the questionand perhaps provoke animpertinentreply.  It was in every respect more becoming to aperson inmy position to present myself immediately in LadyGlyde'sroom.

I foundthat her ladyship had certainly gained in health duringthe lastfew days.  Although still sadly weak and nervousshe wasable toget up without assistanceand to walk slowly about herroomfeeling no worse effect from the exertion than a slightsensationof fatigue.  She had been made a little anxious thatmorningabout Miss Halcombethrough having received no news ofher fromany one.  I thought this seemed to imply a blamable wantofattention on the part of Mrs. Rubellebut I said nothingandremainedwith Lady Glyde to assist her to dress.  When she wasready weboth left the room together to go to Miss Halcombe.

We werestopped in the passage by the appearance of Sir Percival.He lookedas if he had been purposely waiting there to see us.

"Whereare you going?" he said to Lady Glyde.

"ToMarian's room" she answered.

"Itmay spare you a disappointment" remarked Sir Percival"ifItell youat once that you will not find her there."

"Notfind her there!"

"No. She left the house yesterday morning with Fosco and hiswife."

Lady Glydewas not strong enough to bear the surprise of thisextraordinarystatement.  She turned fearfully paleand leanedbackagainst the walllooking at her husband in dead silence.

I was soastonished myself that I hardly knew what to say.  Iasked SirPercival if he really meant that Miss Halcombe had leftBlackwaterPark.

"Icertainly mean it" he answered.

"Inher stateSir Percival! Without mentioning her intentions toLadyGlyde!"

Before hecould reply her ladyship recovered herself a little andspoke.

"Impossible!"she cried out in a loudfrightened mannertaking astep ortwo forward from the wall.  "Where was the doctor? wherewas Mr.Dawson when Marian went away?"

"Mr.Dawson wasn't wantedand wasn't here" said Sir Percival."Heleft of his own accordwhich is enough of itself to show thatshe wasstrong enough to travel.  How you stare! If you don'tbelieveshe has gonelook for yourself.  Open her room doorandall theother room doors if you like."

She tookhim at his wordand I followed her.  There was no one inMissHalcombe's room but Margaret Porcherwho was busy setting ittorights.  There was no one in the spare rooms or the dressing-rooms whenwe looked into them afterwards.  Sir Percival stillwaited forus in the passage.  As we were leaving the last roomthat wehad examined Lady Glyde whispered"Don't goMrs.Michelson!don't leave mefor God's sake!" Before I could sayanythingin return she was out again in the passagespeaking toherhusband.

"Whatdoes it meanSir Percival? I insistI beg and pray youwill tellme what it means."

"Itmeans" he answered"that Miss Halcombe was strong enoughyesterdaymorning to sit up and be dressedand that she insistedon takingadvantage of Fosco's going to London to go there too."

"ToLondon!"

"Yesonher way to Limmeridge."

Lady Glydeturned and appealed to me.

"Yousaw Miss Halcombe last" she said.  "Tell me plainlyMrs.Michelsondid you think she looked fit to travel?"

"Notin MY opinionyour ladyship."

SirPercivalon his sideinstantly turned and appealed to mealso.

"Beforeyou went away" he said"did youor did you nottellthe nursethat Miss Halcombe looked much stronger and better?"

"Icertainly made the remarkSir Percival."

Headdressed her ladyship again the moment I offered that reply.

"Setone of Mrs. Michelson's opinions fairly against the other"he said"and try to be reasonable about a perfectly plain matter.If she hadnot been well enough to be moved do you think we shouldany of ushave risked letting her go? She has got three competentpeople tolook after herFosco and your auntand Mrs. Rubellewho wentaway with them expressly for that purpose.  They took awholecarriage yesterdayand made a bed for her on the seat incase shefelt tired.  To-dayFosco and Mrs. Rubelle go on withherthemselves to Cumberland "

"Whydoes Marian go to Limmeridge and leave me here by myself?"said herladyshipinterrupting Sir Percival.

"Becauseyour uncle won't receive you till he has seen your sisterfirst"he replied.  "Have you forgotten the letter he wrote toher at thebeginning of her illness? It was shown to youyou readityourselfand you ought to remember it."

"I doremember it."

"Ifyou dowhy should you be surprised at her leaving you? Youwant to beback at Limmeridgeand she has gone there to get youruncle'sleave for you on his own terms."

Poor LadyGlyde's eyes filled with tears.
"Mariannever left me before" she said"without bidding me good-bye."

"Shewould have bid you good-bye this time" returned SirPercival"if she had not been afraid of herself and of you.  Sheknew youwould try to stop hershe knew you would distress her bycrying. Do you want to make any more objections? If you doyoumust comedownstairs and ask questions in the dining-room.  Theseworriesupset me.  I want a glass of wine."

He left ussuddenly.

His mannerall through this strange conversation had been veryunlikewhat it usually was.  He seemed to be almost as nervous andflutteredevery now and thenas his lady herself.  I shouldnever havesupposed that his health had been so delicateor hiscomposureso easy to upset.

I tried toprevail on Lady Glyde to go back to her roombut itwasuseless.  She stopped in the passagewith the look of a womanwhose mindwas panic-stricken.

"Somethinghas happened to my sister!" she said.

"Remembermy ladywhat surprising energy there is in MissHalcombe"I suggested.  "She might well make an effort whichotherladies in her situation would be unfit for.  I hope andbelievethere is nothing wrongI do indeed."

"Imust follow Marian" said her ladyshipwith the same panic-strickenlook.  "I must go where she has goneI must see that sheis aliveand well with my own eyes.  Come! come down with me toSirPercival."

Ihesitatedfearing that my presence might be considered anintrusion. I attempted to represent this to her ladyshipbut shewas deafto me.  She held my arm fast enough to force me to godownstairswith herand she still clung to me with all the littlestrengthshe had at the moment when I opened the dining-room door.

SirPercival was sitting at the table with a decanter of winebeforehim.  He raised the glass to his lips as we went in anddrained itat a draught.  Seeing that he looked at me angrily whenhe put itdown againI attempted to make some apology for myaccidentalpresence in the room.

"Doyou suppose there are any secrets going on here?" he broke outsuddenly;"there are nonethere is nothing underhandnothingkept fromyou or from any one." After speaking those strange wordsloudly andsternlyhe filled himself another glass of wine andasked LadyGlyde what she wanted of him.

"Ifmy sister is fit to travel I am fit to travel" said herladyshipwith more firmness than she had yet shown.  "I come tobeg youwill make allowances for my anxiety about Marianand letme followher at once by the afternoon train."

"Youmust wait till to-morrow" replied Sir Percival"and thenifyou don'thear to the contrary you can go.  I don't suppose youare at alllikely to hear to the contraryso I shall write toFosco byto-night's post."

He saidthose last words holding his glass up to the lightandlooking atthe wine in it instead of at Lady Glyde.  Indeed henever oncelooked at her throughout the conversation.  Such asingularwant of good breeding in a gentleman of his rankimpressedmeI ownvery painfully.

"Whyshould you write to Count Fosco?" she askedin extremesurprise.

"Totell him to expect you by the midday train" said SirPercival. "He will meet you at the station when you get toLondonand take you on to sleep at your aunt's in St. John'sWood."

LadyGlyde's hand began to tremble violently round my armwhy Icould notimagine.

"Thereis no necessity for Count Fosco to meet me" she said.  "Iwouldrather not stay in London to sleep."

"Youmust. You can't take the whole journey to Cumberland in oneday. You must rest a night in Londonand I don't choose you togo byyourself to an hotel.  Fosco made the offer to your uncle togive youhouse-room on the way downand your uncle has acceptedit. Here! here is a letter from him addressed to yourself.  Iought tohave sent it up this morningbut I forgot.  Read it andsee whatMr. Fairlie himself says to you."

Lady Glydelooked at the letter for a moment and then placed it inmy hands.

"Readit" she said faintly.  "I don't know what is thematterwith me. I can't read it myself."

It was anote of only four linesso short and so careless that itquitestruck me.  If I remember correctly it contained no morethan thesewords

"DearestLauraPlease come whenever you like.  Break the journeybysleeping at your aunt's house.  Grieved to hear of dearMarian'sillness.  Affectionately yoursFrederick Fairlie."

"Iwould rather not go thereI would rather not stay a night inLondon"said her ladyshipbreaking out eagerly with those wordsbefore Ihad quite done reading the noteshort as it was.  "Don'twrite toCount Fosco! Praypray don't write to him!"

SirPercival filled another glass from the decanter so awkwardlythat heupset it and spilt all the wine over the table.  "My sightseems tobe failing me" he muttered to himselfin an oddmuffledvoice.  He slowly set the glass up againrefilled itanddrained itonce more at a draught.  I began to fearfrom his lookandmannerthat the wine was getting into his head.

"Praydon't write to Count Fosco" persisted Lady Glydemoreearnestlythan ever.

"WhynotI should like to know?" cried Sir Percivalwith asuddenburst of anger that startled us both.  "Where can you staymoreproperly in London than at the place your uncle himselfchoosesfor youat your aunt's house? Ask Mrs. Michelson."

Thearrangement proposed was so unquestionably the right and theproperonethat I could make no possible objection to it.  Muchas Isympathised with Lady Glyde in other respectsI could notsympathisewith her in her unjust prejudices against Count Fosco.I neverbefore met with any lady of her rank and station who wassolamentably narrow-minded on the subject of foreigners.  Neitherheruncle's note nor Sir Percival's increasing impatience seemedto havethe least effect on her.  She still objected to staying anight inLondonshe still implored her husband not to write tothe Count.

"Dropit!" said Sir Percivalrudely turning his back on us.  "Ifyouhaven't sense enough to know what is best for yourself otherpeoplemust know it foe you.  The arrangement is made and there isan end ofit.  You are only wanted to do what Miss Halcombe hasdone foryou-"

"Marian?"repeated her Ladyshipin a bewildered manner; "Mariansleepingin Count Fosco's house!"

"Yesin Count Fosco's house.  She slept there last night to breakthejourneyand you are to follow her exampleand do what youruncletells you.  You are to sleep at Fosco's to-morrow nightasyoursister didto break the journey.  Don't throw too manyobstaclesin my way! don't make me repent of letting you go atall!"

He startedto his feetand suddenly walked out into the verandahthroughthe open glass doors.

"Willyour ladyship excuse me" I whispered"if I suggest thatwehad betternot wait here till Sir Percival comes back? I am verymuchafraid he is over-excited with wine."

Sheconsented to leave the room in a wearyabsent manner.

As soon aswe were safe upstairs againI did all I could tocomposeher ladyship's spirits.  I reminded her that Mr. Fairlie'sletters toMiss Halcombe and to herself did certainly sanctionand evenrender necessarysooner or laterthe course that hadbeentaken.  She agreed to thisand even admittedof her ownaccordthat both letters were strictly in character with heruncle'speculiar dispositionbut her fears about Miss Halcombeand herunaccountable dread of sleeping at the Count's house inLondonstill remained unshaken in spite of every considerationthat Icould urge.  I thought it my duty to protest against LadyGlyde'sunfavourable opinion of his lordshipand I did sowithbecomingforbearance and respect.

"Yourladyship will pardon my freedom" I remarkedin conclusion"butit is said'by their fruits ye shall know them.' I am suretheCount's constant kindness and constant attentionfrom theverybeginning of Miss Halcombe's illnessmerit our bestconfidenceand esteem.  Even his lordship's seriousmisunderstandingwith Mr. Dawson was entirely attributable to hisanxiety onMiss Halcombe's account."

"Whatmisunderstanding?" inquired her ladyshipwith a look ofsuddeninterest.

I relatedthe unhappy circumstances under which Mr. Dawson hadwithdrawnhis attendancementioning them all the more readilybecause Idisapproved of Sir Percival's continuing to conceal whathadhappened (as he had done in my presence) from the knowledge ofLadyGlyde.

Herladyship started upwith every appearance of beingadditionallyagitated and alarmed by what I had told her.

"Worse!worse than I thought!" she saidwalking about the roomin abewildered manner.  "The Count knew Mr. Dawson would neverconsent toMarian's taking a journeyhe purposely insulted thedoctor toget him out of the house."

"Ohmy lady! my lady!" I remonstrated.

"Mrs.Michelson!" she went on vehemently"no words that everwerespokenwill persuade me that my sister is in that man's power andin thatman's house with her own consent.  My horror of him issuchthatnothing Sir Percival could say and no letters my unclecouldwritewould induce meif I had only my own feelings toconsultto eatdrinkor sleep under his roof.  Put my misery ofsuspenseabout Marian gives me the courage to follow her anywhereto followher even into Count Fosco's house."

I thoughtit rightat this pointto mention that Miss Halcombehadalready gone on to Cumberlandaccording to Sir Percival'saccount ofthe matter.

"I amafraid to believe it!" answered her ladyship.  "I amafraidshe isstill in that man's house.  If I am wrongif she hasreallygone on to LimmeridgeI am resolved I will not sleep to-morrownight under Count Fosco's roof.  My dearest friend in theworldnext to my sisterlives near London.  You have heard meyou haveheard Miss Halcombespeak of Mrs. Vesey? I mean towriteandpropose to sleep at her house.  I don't know how Ishall getthereI don't know how I shall avoid the Countbut tothatrefuge I will escape in some wayif my sister has gone toCumberland. All I ask of you to dois to see yourself that myletter toMrs. Vesey goes to London to-nightas certainly as SirPercival'sletter goes to Count Fosco.  I have reasons for nottrustingthe post-bag downstairs.  Will you keep my secretandhelp me inthis? it is the last favourperhapsthat I shall everask ofyou."

IhesitatedI thought it all very strangeI almost feared thatherladyship's mind had been a little affected by recent anxietyandsuffering.  At my own riskhoweverI ended by giving myconsent. If the letter had been addressed to a strangeror toany onebut a lady so well known to me by report as Mrs. VeseyImight haverefused.  I thank Godlooking to what happenedafterwardsIthank God I never thwarted that wishor any otherwhich LadyGlyde expressed to meon the last day of her residenceatBlackwater Park.

The letterwas written and given into my hands.  I myself put itinto thepost-box in the village that evening.

We sawnothing more of Sir Percival for the rest of the day.

I sleptby Lady Glyde's own desirein the next room to herswith thedoor open between us.  There was something so strange anddreadfulin the loneliness and emptiness of the housethat I wasgladonmy sideto have a companion near me.  Her ladyship satup latereading letters and burning themand emptying herdrawersand cabinets of little things she prizedas if she neverexpectedto return to Blackwater Park.  Her sleep was sadlydisturbedwhen she at last went to bedshe cried out in itseveraltimesonce so loud that she woke herself.  Whatever herdreamswereshe did not think fit to communicate them to me.Perhapsin my situationI had no right to expect that she shoulddo so. It matters little now.  I was sorry for herI was indeedheartilysorry for her all the same.

The nextday was fine and sunny.  Sir Percival came upafterbreakfastto tell us that the chaise would be at the door at aquarter totwelvethe train to London stopping at our station attwentyminutes after.  He informed Lady Glyde that he was obligedto go outbut added that he hoped to be back before she left.  Ifanyunforeseen accident delayed himI was to accompany her to thestationand to take special care that she was in time for thetrain. Sir Percival communicated these directions very hastilywalkinghere and there about the room all the time.  Her ladyshiplookedattentively after him wherever he went.  He never oncelooked ather in return.

She onlyspoke when he had doneand then she stopped him as heapproachedthe doorby holding out her hand.

"Ishall see you no more" she saidin a very marked manner."Thisis our partingour partingit may be for ever.  Will youtry toforgive mePercivalas heartily as I forgive YOU?"

His faceturned of an awful whiteness all overand great beads ofperspirationbroke out on his bald forehead.  "I shall come back"he saidand made for the dooras hastily as if his wife'sfarewellwords had frightened him out of the room.

I hadnever liked Sir Percivalbut the manner in which he leftLady Glydemade me feel ashamed of having eaten his bread andlived inhis service.  I thought of saying a few comforting andChristianwords to the poor ladybut there was something in herfaceasshe looked after her husband when the door closed on himthat mademe alter my mind and keep silence.

At thetime named the chaise drew up at the gates.  Her ladyshipwasrightSir Percival never came back.  I waited for him tillthe lastmomentand waited in vain.

Nopositive responsibility lay on my shouldersand yet I did notfeel easyin my mind.  "It is of your own free will" I saidasthe chaisedrove through the lodge-gates"that your ladyship goestoLondon?"

"Iwill go anywhere" she answered"to end the dreadfulsuspensethat I amsuffering at this moment."

She hadmade me feel almost as anxious and as uncertain about MissHalcombeas she felt herself.  I presumed to ask her to write me alineifall went well in London.  She answered"Most willinglyMrs.Michelson."

"Weall have our crosses to bearmy lady" I saidseeing hersilent andthoughtfulafter she had promised to write.

She madeno replyshe seemed to be too much wrapped up in her ownthoughtsto attend to me.

"Ifear your ladyship rested badly last night" I remarkedafterwaiting alittle.

"Yes"she said"I was terribly disturbed by dreams."

"Indeedmy lady?" I thought she was going to tell me her dreamsbut nowhen she spoke next it was only to ask a question.

"Youposted the letter to Mrs. Vesey with your own hands?"

"Yesmy lady."

"DidSir Percival sayyesterdaythat Count Fosco was to meet meat theterminus in London?"

"Hedidmy lady."

She sighedheavily when I answered that last questionand said nomore.

We arrivedat the stationwith hardly two minutes to spare.  Thegardener(who had driven us) managed about the luggagewhile Itook theticket.  The whistle of the train was sounding when Ijoined herladyship on the platform.  She looked very strangelyandpressed her hand over her heartas if some sudden pain orfright hadovercome her at that moment.

"Iwish you were going with me!" she saidcatching eagerly at myarm when Igave her the ticket.

If therehad been timeif I had felt the day before as I feltthenIwould have made my arrangements to accompany hereventhough thedoing so had obliged me to give Sir Percival warning onthe spot. As it washer wishesexpressed at the last momentonlywereexpressed too late for me to comply with them.  Sheseemed tounderstand this herself before I could explain itanddid notrepeat her desire to have me for a travelling companion.The traindrew up at the platform.  She gave the gardener apresentfor his childrenand took my handin her simple heartymannerbefore she got into the carriage.

"Youhave been very kind to me and to my sister" she said"kindwhen wewere both friendless.  I shall remember you gratefullyaslong as Ilive to remember any one.  Good-byeand God bless you!"

She spokethose words with a tone and a look which brought thetears intomy eyesshe spoke them as if she was bidding mefarewellfor ever.

"Good-byemy lady" I saidputting her into the carriageandtrying tocheer her; "good-byefor the present only; good-byewith mybest and kindest wishes for happier times."

She shookher headand shuddered as she settled herself in thecarriage. The guard closed the door.  "Do you believe in dreams?"shewhispered to me at the window.  "My dreamslast nightweredreams Ihave never had before.  The terror of them is hangingover mestill." The whistle sounded before I could answerand thetrainmoved.  Her pale quiet face looked at me for the last timelookedsorrowfully and solemnly from the window.  She waved herhandandI saw her no more.

 

Towardsfive o'clock on the afternoon of that same dayhaving alittletime to myself in the midst of the household duties whichnowpressed upon meI sat down alone in my own roomto try andcompose mymind with the volume of my husband's Sermons.  For thefirst timein my life I found my attention wandering over thosepious andcheering words.  Concluding that Lady Glyde's departuremust havedisturbed me far more seriously than I had myselfsupposedI put the book asideand went out to take a turn in thegarden. Sir Percival had not yet returnedto my knowledgeso Icould feelno hesitation about showing myself in the grounds.

On turningthe corner of the houseand gaining a view of thegardenIwas startled by seeing a stranger walking in it.  Thestrangerwas a womanshe was lounging along the path with herback tomeand was gathering the flowers.

As Iapproached she heard meand turned round.

My bloodcurdled in my veins.  The strange woman in the garden wasMrs.Rubelle!

I couldneither move nor speak.  She came up to meas composedlyas everwith her flowers in her hand.

"Whatis the matterma'am?" she said quietly.

"Youhere!" I gasped out.  "Not gone to London! Not gone toCumberland!"

Mrs.Rubelle smelt at her flowers with a smile of malicious pity.

"Certainlynot" she said.  "I have never left Blackwater Park."

I summonedbreath enough and courage enough for another question.

"Whereis Miss Halcombe?"

Mrs.Rubelle fairly laughed at me this timeand replied in thesewords

"MissHalcombema'amhas not left Blackwater Park either."

When Iheard that astounding answerall my thoughts were startledback onthe instant to my parting with Lady Glyde.  I can hardlysay Ireproached myselfbut at that moment I think I would havegiven manya year's hard savings to have known four hours earlierwhat Iknew now.

Mrs.Rubelle waitedquietly arranging her nosegayas if sheexpectedme to say something.

I couldsay nothing.  I thought of Lady Glyde's worn-out energiesand weaklyhealthand I trembled for the time when the shock ofthediscovery that I had made would fall on her.  For a minute ormore myfears for the poor ladies silenced me.  At the end of thattime Mrs.Rubelle looked up sideways from her flowersand said"Hereis Sir Percivalma'amreturned from his ride."

I saw himas soon as she did.  He came towards usslashingviciouslyat the flowers with his riding-whip.  When he was nearenough tosee my face he stoppedstruck at his boot with thewhipandburst out laughingso harshly and so violently that thebirds flewawaystartledfrom the tree by which he stood.

"WellMrs. Michelson" he said"you have found it out at lasthave you?"

I made noreply.  He turned to Mrs. Rubelle.

"Whendid you show yourself in the garden?"

"Ishowed myself about half an hour agosir.  You said I mighttake myliberty again as soon as Lady Glyde had gone away toLondon."

"Quiteright.  I don't blame youI only asked the question." Hewaited amomentand then addressed himself once more to me.  "Youcan'tbelieve itcan you?" he said mockingly.  "Here! comealongand seefor yourself."

He led theway round to the front of the house.  I followed himand Mrs.Rubelle followed me.  After passing through the irongates hestoppedand pointed with his whip to the disused middlewing ofthe building.

"There!"he said.  "Look up at the first floor.  You know theoldElizabethanbedrooms? Miss Halcombe is snug and safe in one of thebest ofthem at this moment.  Take her inMrs. Rubelle (you havegot yourkey?); take Mrs. Michelson inand let her own eyessatisfyher that there is no deception this time."

The tonein which he spoke to meand the minute or two that hadpassedsince we left the gardenhelped me to recover my spirits alittle. What I might have done at this critical momentif all mylife hadbeen passed in serviceI cannot say.  As it waspossessingthe feelingsthe principlesand the bringing up of aladyIcould not hesitate about the right course to pursue.  Myduty tomyselfand my duty to Lady Glydealike forbade me toremain inthe employment of a man who had shamefully deceived usboth by aseries of atrocious falsehoods.

"Imust beg permissionSir Percivalto speak a few words to youinprivate" I said.  "Having done soI shall be readyto proceedwith thisperson to Miss Halcombe's room."

Mrs.Rubellewhom I had indicated by a slight turn of my headinsolentlysniffed at her nosegay and walked awaywith greatdeliberationtowards the house door.

"Well"said Sir Percival sharply"what is it now?"

"Iwish to mentionsirthat I am desirous of resigning thesituationI now hold at Blackwater Park."  That was literally howI put it. I was resolved that the first words spoken in hispresenceshould be words which expressed my intention to leave hisservice.

He eyed mewith one of his blackest looksand thrust his handssavagelyinto the pockets of his riding-coat.

"Why?"he said"whyI should like to know?"

"Itis not for meSir Percivalto express an opinion on what hastakenplace in this house.  I desire to give no offence.  Imerelywish tosay that I do not feel it consistent with my duty to LadyGlyde andto myself to remain any longer in your service."

"Isit consistent with your duty to me to stand therecastingsuspicionon me to my face?" he broke out in his most violentmanner. "I see what you're driving at.  You have taken your ownmeanunderhand view of an innocent deception practised on LadyGlyde forher own good.  It was essential to her health that sheshouldhave a change of air immediatelyand you know as well as Ido shewould never have gone away if she had been told MissHalcombewas still left here.  She has been deceived in her owninterestsandI don't care who knows it.  Goif you likethereare plentyof housekeepers as good as you to be had for theasking. Go when you pleasebut take care how you spread scandalsabout meand my affairs when you're out of my service.  Tell thetruthandnothing but the truthor it will be the worse for you!See MissHalcombe for yourselfsee if she hasn't been as welltaken careof in one part of the house as in the other.  Rememberthedoctor's own orders that Lady Glyde was to have a change ofair at theearliest possible opportunity.  Bear all that well inmindandthen say anything against me and my proceedings if youdare!"

He pouredout these words fiercelyall in a breathwalkingbackwardsand forwardsand striking about him in the air with hiswhip.

Nothingthat he said or did shook my opinion of the disgracefulseries offalsehoods that he had told in my presence the daybeforeorof the cruel deception by which he had separated LadyGlyde fromher sisterand had sent her uselessly to Londonwhenshe washalf distracted with anxiety on Miss Halcombe's account.Inaturally kept these thoughts to myselfand said nothing moretoirritate him; but I was not the less resolved to persist in mypurpose. A soft answer turneth away wrathand I suppressed myownfeelings accordingly when it was my turn to reply.

"WhileI am in your serviceSir Percival" I said"I hope I knowmy dutywell enough not to inquire into your motives.  When I amout ofyour serviceI hope I know my own place well enough not tospeak ofmatters which don't concern me "

"Whendo you want to go?" he askedinterrupting me withoutceremony. "Don't suppose I am anxious to keep youdon't supposeI careabout your leaving the house.  I am perfectly fair and openin thismatterfrom first to last. When do you want to go?"

"Ishould wish to leave at your earliest convenienceSirPercival."

"Myconvenience has nothing to do with it.  I shall be out of thehouse forgood and all to-morrow morningand I can settle youraccountsto-night.  If you want to study anybody's convenienceithad betterbe Miss Halcombe's.  Mrs. Rubelle's time is up to-dayand shehas reasons for wishing to be in London to-night.  If yougo atonceMiss Halcombe won't have a soul left here to lookafterher."

I hope itis unnecessary for me to say that I was quite incapableofdeserting Miss Halcombe in such an emergency as had nowbefallenLady Glyde and herself.  After first distinctlyascertainingfrom Sir Percival that Mrs. Rubelle was certain toleave atonce if I took her placeand after also obtainingpermissionto arrange for Mr. Dawson's resuming his attendance onhispatientI willingly consented to remain at Blackwater Parkuntil MissHalcombe no longer required my services.  It wassettledthat I should give Sir Percival's solicitor a week'snoticebefore I leftand that he was to undertake the necessaryarrangementsfor appointing my successor.  The matter wasdiscussedin very few words.  At its conclusion Sir Percivalabruptlyturned on his heeland left me free to join Mrs.Rubelle. That singular foreign person had been sitting composedlyon thedoorstep all this timewaiting till I could follow her toMissHalcombe's room.

I hadhardly walked half-way towards the house when Sir Percivalwho hadwithdrawn in the opposite directionsuddenly stopped andcalled meback.

"Whyare you leaving my service?" he asked.

Thequestion was so extraordinaryafter what had just passedbetweenusthat I hardly knew what to say in answer to it.

"Mind!I don't know why you are going" he went on.  "Youmustgive areason for leaving meI supposewhen you get anothersituation. What reason? The breaking up of the family? Is thatit?"

"Therecan be no positive objectionSir Percivalto that reason"

"Verywell! That's all I want to know.  If people apply for yourcharacterthat's your reasonstated by yourself.  You go inconsequenceof the breaking up of the family."

He turnedaway again before I could say another wordand walkedoutrapidly into the grounds.  His manner was as strange as hislanguage. I acknowledge he alarmed me.

Even thepatience of Mrs. Rubelle was getting exhaustedwhen Ijoined herat the house door.

"Atlast!" she saidwith a shrug of her lean foreign shoulders.She ledthe way into the inhabited side of the houseascended thestairsand opened with her key the door at the end of thepassagewhich communicated with the old Elizabethan roomsa doorneverpreviously usedin my timeat Blackwater Park.  The roomsthemselvesI knew wellhaving entered them myself on variousoccasionsfrom the other side of the house.  Mrs. Rubelle stoppedat thethird door along the old galleryhanded me the key of itwith thekey of the door of communicationand told me I shouldfind MissHalcombe in that room.  Before I went in I thought itdesirableto make her understand that her attendance had ceased.AccordinglyI told her in plain words that the charge of the sickladyhenceforth devolved entirely on myself.

"I amglad to hear itma'am" said Mrs. Rubelle.  "I wantto goverymuch."

"Doyou leave to-day?" I askedto make sure of her.

"Nowthat you have taken chargema'amI leave in half an hour'stime. Sir Percival has kindly placed at my disposition thegardenerand the chaisewhenever I want them.  I shall want themin half anhour's time to go to the station.  I am packed up inanticipationalready.  I wish you good-dayma'am."

Shedropped a brisk curtseyand walked back along the galleryhumming alittle tuneand keeping time to it cheerfully with thenosegay inher hand.  I am sincerely thankful to say that was thelast I sawof Mrs. Rubelle.

When Iwent into the room Miss Halcombe was asleep.  I looked atheranxiouslyas she lay in the dismalhighold-fashioned bed.She wascertainly not in any respect altered for the worse since Ihad seenher last.  She had not been neglectedI am bound toadmitinany way that I could perceive.  The room was drearyanddustyanddarkbut the window (looking on a solitary court-yardat theback of the house) was opened to let in the fresh airandall thatcould be done to make the place comfortable had beendone. The whole cruelty of Sir Percival's deception had fallen onpoor LadyGlyde.  The only ill-usage which either he or Mrs.Rubellehad inflicted on Miss Halcombe consistedso far as Icould seein the first offence of hiding her away.

I stolebackleaving the sick lady still peacefully asleeptogive thegardener instructions about bringing the doctor.  Ibegged themanafter he had taken Mrs. Rubelle to the stationtodriveround by Mr. Dawson'sand leave a message in my nameasking himto call and see me.  I knew he would come on myaccountand I knew he would remain when he found Count Fosco hadleft thehouse.

In duecourse of time the gardener returnedand said that he haddrivenround by Mr. Dawson's residenceafter leaving Mrs. Rubelleat thestation.  The doctor sent me word that he was poorly inhealthhimselfbut that he would callif possiblethe nextmorning.

Havingdelivered his message the gardener was about to withdrawbut Istopped him to request that he would come back before darkand sit upthat nightin one of the empty bedroomsso as to bewithincall in case I wanted him.  He understood readily enough myunwillingnessto be left alone all night in the most desolate partof thatdesolate houseand we arranged that he should come inbetweeneight and nine.

He camepunctuallyand I found cause to be thankful that I hadadoptedthe precaution of calling him in.  Before midnight SirPercival'sstrange temper broke out in the most violent and mostalarmingmannerand if the gardener had not been on the spot topacify himon the instantI am afraid to think what might havehappened.

Almost allthe afternoon and evening he had been walking about thehouse andgrounds in an unsettledexcitable mannerhavinginallprobabilityas I thoughttaken an excessive quantity of wineat hissolitary dinner.  However that may beI heard his voicecallingloudly and angrily in the new wing of the houseas I wastaking aturn backwards and forwards along the gallery the lastthing atnight.  The gardener immediately ran down to himand Iclosed thedoor of communicationto keep the alarmif possiblefromreaching Miss Halcombe's ears.  It was full half an hourbefore thegardener came back.  He declared that his master wasquite outof his sensesnot through the excitement of drinkas Ihadsupposedbut through a kind of panic or frenzy of mindforwhich itwas impossible to account.  He had found Sir Percivalwalkingbackwards and forwards by himself in the hallswearingwith everyappearance of the most violent passionthat he wouldnot stopanother minute alone in such a dungeon as his own houseand thathe would take the first stage of his journey immediatelyin themiddle of the night.  The gardeneron approaching himhadbeenhunted outwith oaths and threatsto get the horse andchaiseready instantly.  In a quarter of an hour Sir Percival hadjoined himin the yardhad jumped into the chaiseandlashingthe horseinto a gallophad driven himself awaywith his face aspale asashes in the moonlight.  The gardener had heard himshoutingand cursing at the lodge-keeper to get up and open thegatehadheard the wheels roll furiously on again in the stillnightwhen the gate was unlockedand knew no more.

The nextdayor a day or two afterI forget whichthe chaisewasbrought back from Knowlesburyour nearest townby the ostlerat the oldinn.  Sir Percival had stopped thereand hadafterwardsleft by the trainfor what destination the man couldnot tell. I never received any further informationeither fromhimself orfrom any one elseof Sir Percival's proceedingsand Iam noteven awareat this momentwhether he is in England or outof it. He and I have not met since he drove away like an escapedcriminalfrom his own houseand it is my fervent hope and prayerthat wemay never meet again.

 

My ownpart of this sad family story is now drawing to an end.

I havebeen informed that the particulars of Miss Halcombe'swakingand of what passed between us when she found me sitting byherbedsideare not material to the purpose which is to beansweredby the present narrative.  It will be sufficient for meto say inthis placethat she was not herself conscious of themeansadopted to remove her from the inhabited to the uninhabitedpart ofthe house.  She was in a deep sleep at the timewhethernaturallyor artificially produced she could not say.  In myabsence atTorquayand in the absence of all the residentservantsexcept Margaret Porcher (who was perpetually eatingdrinkingor sleepingwhen she was not at work)the secrettransferof Miss Halcombe from one part of the house to the otherwas nodoubt easily performed.  Mrs. Rubelle (as I discovered formyselfinlooking about the room) had provisionsand all othernecessariestogether with the means of heating waterbrothandso onwithout kindling a fireplaced at her disposal during thefew daysof her imprisonment with the sick lady.  She had declinedto answerthe questions which Miss Halcombe naturally putbut hadnotinother respectstreated her with unkindness or neglect.Thedisgrace of lending herself to a vile deception is the onlydisgracewith which I can conscientiously charge Mrs. Rubelle.

I needwrite no particulars (and I am relieved to know it) of theeffectproduced on Miss Halcombe by the news of Lady Glyde'sdepartureor by the far more melancholy tidings which reached usonly toosoon afterwards at Blackwater Park.  In both cases Ipreparedher mind beforehand as gently and as carefully aspossiblehaving the doctor's advice to guide mein the last caseonlythrough Mr. Dawson's being too unwell to come to the housefor somedays after I had sent for him.  It was a sad timea timewhich itafflicts me to think of or to write of now.  The preciousblessingsof religious consolation which I endeavoured to conveywere longin reaching Miss Halcombe's heartbut I hope andbelievethey came home to her at last. I never left her till herstrengthwas restored.  The train which took me away from thatmiserablehouse was the train which took her away also.  We partedverymournfully in London.  I remained with a relative atIslingtonand she went on to Mr. Fairlie's house in Cumberland.

I haveonly a few lines more to write before I close this painfulstatement. They are dictated by a sense of duty.

In thefirst placeI wish to record my own personal convictionthat noblame whateverin connection with the events which I havenowrelatedattaches to Count Fosco.  I am informed that adreadfulsuspicion has been raisedand that some very seriousconstructionsare placed upon his lordship's conduct.  Mypersuasionof the Count's innocence remainshoweverquiteunshaken. If he assisted Sir Percival in sending me to Torquayheassisted under a delusionfor whichas a foreigner and astrangerhe was not to blame.  If he was concerned in bringingMrs.Rubelle to Blackwater Parkit was his misfortune and not hisfaultwhen that foreign person was base enough to assist adeceptionplanned and carried out by the master of the house.  Iprotestin the interests of moralityagainst blame beinggratuitouslyand wantonly attached to the proceedings of theCount.

In thesecond placeI desire to express my regret at my owninabilityto remember the precise day on which Lady Glyde leftBlackwaterPark for London.  I am told that it is of the lastimportanceto ascertain the exact date of that lamentable journeyand I haveanxiously taxed my memory to recall it.  The effort hasbeen invain.  I can only remember now that it was towards thelatterpart of July.  We all know the difficultyafter a lapse oftimeoffixing precisely on a past date unless it has beenpreviouslywritten down.  That difficulty is greatly increased inmy case bythe alarming and confusing events which took placeabout theperiod of Lady Glyde's departure.  I heartily wish I hadmade amemorandum at the time.  I heartily wish my memory of thedate wasas vivid as my memory of that poor lady's facewhen itlooked atme sorrowfully for the last time from the carriagewindow.

 

THE STORYCONTINUED IN SEVERAL NARRATIVES

1. THE NARRATIVE OF HESTER PINHORNCOOK IN THE SERVICE OF COUNTFOSCO

[Takendown from her own statement]

 

I am sorryto say that I have never learnt to read or write.  Ihave beena hard-working woman all my lifeand have kept a goodcharacter. I know that it is a sin and wickedness to say thethingwhich is notand I will truly beware of doing so on thisoccasion. All that I know I will telland I humbly beg thegentlemanwho takes this down to put my language right as he goesonand tomake allowances for my being no scholar.

In thislast summer I happened to be out of place (through nofault ofmy own)and I heard of a situation as plain cookatNumberFiveForest RoadSt. John's Wood.  I took the place ontrial. My master's name was Fosco.  My mistress was an Englishlady. He was Count and she was Countess.  There was a girl to dohousemaid'swork when I got there.  She was not over-clean ortidybutthere was no harm in her.  I and she were the onlyservantsin the house.

Our masterand mistress came after we got in; and as soon as theydid comewe were tolddownstairsthat company was expected fromthecountry.

Thecompany was my mistress's nieceand the back bedroom on thefirstfloor was got ready for her.  My mistress mentioned to methat LadyGlyde (that was her name) was in poor healthand that Imust beparticular in my cooking accordingly.  She was to comethat dayas well as I can rememberbut whatever you dodon'ttrust mymemory in the matter.  I am sorry to say it's no useasking meabout days of the monthand such-like.  Except Sundayshalf mytime I take no heed of thembeing a hard-working womanand noscholar.  All I know is Lady Glyde cameand when she didcomeafine fright she gave us all surely.  I don't know howmasterbrought her to the housebeing hard at work at the time.But he didbring her in the afternoonI thinkand the housemaidopened thedoor to themand showed them into the parlour.  Beforeshe hadbeen long down in the kitchen again with mewe heard ahurry-skurryupstairsand the parlour bell ringing like madandmymistress's voice calling out for help.

We bothran upand there we saw the lady laid on the sofawithher faceghastly whiteand her hands fast clenchedand her headdrawn downto one side.  She had been taken with a sudden frightmymistress saidand master he told us she was in a fit ofconvulsions. I ran outknowing the neighbourhood a little betterthan therest of themto fetch the nearest doctor's help.  Thenearesthelp was at Goodricke's and Garth'swho worked togetheraspartnersand had a good name and connectionas I have heardall roundSt. John's Wood.  Mr. Goodricke was inand he came backwith medirectly.

It wassome time before he could make himself of much use.  Thepoorunfortunate lady fell out of one fit into anotherand wenton so tillshe was quite wearied outand as helpless as a new-bornbabe.  We then got her to bed.  Mr. Goodricke went away tohis housefor medicineand came back again in a quarter of anhour orless.  Besides the medicine he brought a bit of hollowmahoganywood with himshaped like a kind of trumpetand afterwaiting alittle whilehe put one end over the lady's heart andthe otherto his earand listened carefully.

When hehad done he says to my mistresswho was in the room"Thisis a very serious case" he says"I recommend you to writeto LadyGlyde's friends directly." My mistress says to him"Is itheart-disease?"And he says"Yesheart-disease of a mostdangerouskind." He told her exactly what he thought was thematterwhich I was not clever enough to understand.  But I knowthisheended by saying that he was afraid neither his help norany otherdoctor's help was likely to be of much service.

Mymistress took this ill news more quietly than my master.  Hewas a bigfatodd sort of elderly manwho kept birds and whitemiceandspoke to them as if they were so many Christianchildren. He seemed terribly cut up by what had happened.  "Ah!poor LadyGlyde! poor dear Lady Glyde!" he saysand went stalkingaboutwringing his fat hands more like a play-actor than agentleman. For one question my mistress asked the doctor aboutthe lady'schances of getting roundhe asked a good fifty atleast. Ideclare he quite tormented us alland when he was quietat lastout he went into the bit of back gardenpicking trumperylittlenosegaysand asking me to take them upstairs and make thesick-roomlook pretty with them.  As if THAT did any good.  Ithink hemust have beenat timesa little soft in his head.  Buthe was nota bad masterhe had a monstrous civil tongue of hisownand ajollyeasycoaxing way with him.  I liked him a dealbetterthan my mistress.  She was a hard oneif ever there was ahard oneyet.

Towardsnight-time the lady roused up a little.  She had been soweariedoutbefore thatby the convulsionsthat she neverstirredhand or footor spoke a word to anybody.  She moved inthe bednowand stared about her at the room and us in it.  Shemust havebeen a nice-looking lady when wellwith light hairandblue eyesand all that.  Her rest was troubled at nightat leastso I heardfrom my mistresswho sat up alone with her.  I onlywent inonce before going to bed to see if I could be of any useand thenshe was talking to herself in a confusedramblingmanner. She seemed to want sadly to speak to somebody who wasabsentfrom her somewhere.  I couldn't catch the name the firsttimeandthe second time master knocked at the doorwith hisregularmouthful of questionsand another of his trumperynosegays.

When Iwent in early the next morningthe lady was clean worn outagainandlay in a kind of faint sleep.  Mr. Goodricke broughthispartnerMr. Garthwith him to advise.  They said she mustnot bedisturbed out of her rest on any account.  They asked mymistressmany questionsat the other end of the roomabout whatthe lady'shealth had been in past timesand who had attendedherandwhether she had ever suffered much and long togetherunderdistress of mind.  I remember my mistress said "Yes"to thatlastquestion.  And Mr. Goodricke looked at Mr. Garthand shookhis head;and Mr. Garth looked at Mr. Goodrickeand shook hishead. They seemed to think that the distress might have somethingto do withthe mischief at the lady's heart.  She was but a frailthing tolook atpoor creature! Very little strength at any timeI shouldsayvery little strength.

Later onthe same morningwhen she wokethe lady took a suddenturnandgot seemingly a great deal better.  I was not let inagain tosee herno more was the housemaidfor the reason thatshe wasnot to be disturbed by strangers.  What I heard of herbeingbetter was through my master.  He was in wonderful goodspiritsabout the changeand looked in at the kitchen window fromthegardenwith his great big curly-brimmed white hat onto goout.

"GoodMrs. Cook" says he"Lady Glyde is better.  My mindis moreeasy thanit wasand I am going out to stretch my big legs with asunnylittle summer walk.  Shall I order for youshall I marketfor youMrs. Cook? What are you making there? A nice tart fordinner?Much crustif you pleasemuch crisp crustmy dearthatmelts andcrumbles delicious in the mouth." That was his way.  Hewas pastsixtyand fond of pastry.  Just think of that!

The doctorcame again in the forenoonand saw for himself thatLady Glydehad woke up better.  He forbid us to talk to heror tolet hertalk to usin case she was that way disposedsaying shemust bekept quiet before all thingsand encouraged to sleep asmuch aspossible.  She did not seem to want to talk whenever I sawherexcept overnightwhen I couldn't make out what she wassayingsheseemed too much worn down.  Mr. Goodricke was notnearly insuch good spirits about her as master.  He said nothingwhen hecame downstairsexcept that he would call again at fiveo'clock.

About thattime (which was before master came home again) the bellrang hardfrom the bedroomand my mistress ran out into thelandingand called to me to go for Mr. Goodrickeand tell himthe ladyhad fainted.  I got on my bonnet and shawlwhenas goodluck wouldhave itthe doctor himself came to the house for hispromisedvisit.

I let himinand went upstairs along with him.  "Lady Glyde wasjust asusual" says my mistress to him at the door; "she wasawakeandlooking about her in a strangeforlorn mannerwhen Iheard hergive a sort of half cryand she fainted in a moment."The doctorwent up to the bedand stooped down over the sicklady. He looked very seriousall on a suddenat the sight ofherandput his hand on her heart.

Mymistress stared hard in Mr. Goodricke's face.  "Not dead!"saysshewhisperingand turning all of a tremble from head to foot.

"Yes"says the doctorvery quiet and grave.  "Dead.  I wasafraid itwould happen suddenly when I examined her heartyesterday."My mistress stepped back from the bedside while he wasspeakingand trembled and trembled again.  "Dead!" she whisperstoherself; "dead so suddenly! dead so soon! What will the Countsay?"Mr. Goodricke advised her to go downstairsand quietherself alittle.  "You have been sitting up all night" sayshe"andyour nerves are shaken.  This person" says hemeaning me"thisperson will stay in the room till I can send for thenecessaryassistance." My mistress did as he told her.  "I mustpreparethe Count" she says.  "I must carefully prepare theCount."And so she left usshaking from head to footand wentout.

"Yourmaster is a foreigner" says Mr. Goodrickewhen my mistresshad leftus.  "Does he understand about registering the death?""Ican't rightly tellsir" says I"but I should think not."The doctorconsidered a minuteand then says he"I don't usuallydo suchthings" says he"but it may save the family trouble inthis caseif I register the death myself.  I shall pass thedistrictoffice in half an hour's timeand I can easily look in.Mentionif you pleasethat I will do so."  "Yessir"says I"withthanksI'm surefor your kindness in thinking of it.""Youdon't mind staying here till I can send you the properperson?"says he.  "Nosir" says I; "I'll stay with thepoorlady tillthen.  I suppose nothing more could be donesirthanwas done?"says I.  "No" says he"nothing; she must havesufferedsadly before ever I saw herthe case was hopeless when Iwas calledin."  "Ahdear me! we all come to itsooner orlaterdon't wesir?" says I.  He gave no answer to thathe didn't seemto careabout talking.  He said"Good-day" and went out.

I stoppedby the bedside from that time till the time when Mr.Goodrickesent the person inas he had promised.  She wasbynameJaneGould.  I considered her to be a respectable-lookingwoman. She made no remarkexcept to say that she understood whatwas wantedof herand that she had winded a many of them in hertime.

How masterbore the newswhen he first heard itis more than Ican tellnot having been present.  When I did see him he lookedawfullyovercome by itto be sure.  He sat quiet in a cornerwith hisfat hands hanging over his thick kneesand his headdownandhis eyes looking at nothing.  He seemed not so muchsorryasscared and dazed likeby what had happened.  Mymistressmanaged all that was to be done about the funeral.  Itmust havecost a sight of moneythe coffinin particularbeingmostbeautiful.  The dead lady's husband was awayas we heardinforeignparts.  But my mistress (being her aunt) settled it withherfriends in the country (CumberlandI think) that she shouldbe buriedtherein the same grave along with her mother.Everythingwas done handsomelyin respect of the funeralI sayagainandmaster went down to attend the burying in the countryhimself. He looked grand in his deep mourningwith his bigsolemnfaceand his slow walkand his broad hatbandthat hedid!

Inconclusion.  I have to sayin answer to questions put to me

(1) Thatneither I nor my fellow-servant ever saw my master giveLady Glydeany medicine himself.

(2) Thathe was neverto my knowledge and beliefleft alone inthe roomwith Lady Glyde.

(3) That Iam not able to say what caused the sudden frightwhichmymistress informed me had seized the lady on her first cominginto thehouse.  The cause was never explainedeither to me or tomyfellow-servant.

The abovestatement has been read over in my presence.  I havenothing toadd to itor to take away from it.  I sayon my oathas aChristian womanthis is the truth.

          (Signed) HESTER PINHORNHer + Mark.

 

2. THE NARRATIVE OF THE DOCTOR

 

To theRegistrar of the Sub-District in which the undermentioneddeath tookplace.I hereby certify that I attended Lady GlydeagedTwenty-One last Birthday; that I last saw her on Thursday the25th July1850; that she died on the same day at No. 5 ForestRoadSt.John's Woodand that the cause of her death wasAneurism. Duration of disease not known.

                   (Signed) Alfred Goodricke.

Profl.Title.  M.R.C.S. Eng.L.S.A. Address  12 Croydon Gardens    St. John's Wood.

 

3. THE NARRATIVE OF JANE GOULD

 

I was theperson sent in by Mr. Goodricke to do what was right andneedful bythe remains of a lady who had died at the house namedin thecertificate which precedes this.  I found the body incharge ofthe servantHester Pinhorn.  I remained with itandpreparedit at the proper time for the grave.  It was laid in thecoffin inmy presenceand I afterwards saw the coffin screweddownprevious to its removal.  When that had been doneand notbeforeIreceived what was due to me and left the house.  I referpersonswho may wish to investigate my character to Mr. Goodricke.He willbear witness that I can be trusted to tell the truth.

                     (Signed) JANE GOULD

 

4. THE NARRATIVE OF THE TOMBSTONE

 

Sacred tothe Memory of LauraLady Glydewife of Sir PercivalGlydeBart.of Blackwater ParkHampshireand daughter of thelatePhilip FairlieEsq.of Limmeridge Housein this parish.Born March27th1829; married December 22nd1849; died July25th1850.

 

5. THE NARRATIVE OF WALTER HARTRIGHT

 

Early inthe summer of 1850 I and my surviving companions left thewilds andforests of Central America for home.  Arrived at thecoastwetook ship there for England.  The vessel was wrecked inthe Gulfof MexicoI was among the few saved from the sea.  Itwas mythird escape from peril of death.  Death by diseasedeathby theIndiansdeath by drowningall three had approached me;all threehad passed me by.

Thesurvivors of the wreck were rescued by an American vesselbound forLiverpool.  The ship reached her port on the thirteenthday ofOctober 1850.  We landed late in the afternoonand Iarrived inLondon the same night.

Thesepages are not the record of my wanderings and my dangersaway fromhome.  The motives which led me from my country and myfriends toa new world of adventure and peril are known.  Fromthatself-imposed exile I came backas I had hopedprayedbelieved Ishould come backa changed man.  In the waters of anew life Ihad tempered my nature afresh.  In the stern school ofextremityand danger my will had learnt to be strongmy heart toberesolutemy mind to rely on itself.  I had gone out to flyfrom myown future.  I came back to face itas a man should.

To face itwith that inevitable suppression of myself which I knewit woulddemand from me.  I had parted with the worst bitternessof thepastbut not with my heart's remembrance of the sorrow andthetenderness of that memorable time.  I had not ceased to feelthe oneirreparable disappointment of my lifeI had only learntto bearit.  Laura Fairlie was in all my thoughts when the shipbore meawayand I looked my last at England.  Laura Fairlie wasin all mythoughts when the ship brought me backand the morninglightshowed the friendly shore in view.

My pentraces the old letters as my heart goes back to the oldlove. I write of her as Laura Fairlie still.  It is hard to thinkof heritis hard to speak of herby her husband's name.

There areno more words of explanation to add on my appearance forthe secondtime in these pages.  This narrativeif I have thestrengthand the courage to write itmay now go on.

 

My firstanxieties and first hopes when the morning came centredin mymother and my sister.  I felt the necessity of preparingthem forthe joy and surprise of my returnafter an absenceduringwhich it had been impossible for them to receive anytidings ofme for months past. Early in the morning I sent aletter tothe Hampstead Cottageand followed it myself in anhour'stime.

When thefirst meeting was overwhen our quiet and composure ofother daysbegan gradually to return to usI saw something in mymother'sface which told me that a secret oppression lay heavy onherheart.  There was more than lovethere was sorrow in theanxiouseyes that looked on me so tenderlythere was pity in thekind handthat slowly and fondly strengthened its hold on mine.We had noconcealments from each other.  She knew how the hope ofmy lifehad been wreckedshe knew why I had left her.  It was onmy lips toask as composedly as I could if any letter had come forme fromMiss Halcombeif there was any news of her sister that Imighthear.  But when I looked in my mother's face I lost courageto put thequestion even in that guarded form.  I could only saydoubtinglyand restrainedly

"Youhave something to tell me."

My sisterwho had been sitting opposite to usrose suddenlywithout aword of explanationrose and left the room.

My mothermoved closer to me on the sofa and put her arms round myneck. Those fond arms trembledthe tears flowed fast over thefaithfulloving face.

"Walter!"she whispered"my own darling! my heart is heavy foryou. Ohmy son! my son! try to remember that I am still left!"

My headsank on her bosom.  She had said all in saying thosewords.

*   *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *   *

It was themorning of the third day since my returnthe morningof thesixteenth of October.

I hadremained with them at the cottageI had tried hard not toembitterthe happiness of my return to THEM as it was embitteredto ME. I had done all man could to rise after the shockandaccept mylife resignedlyto let my great sorrow come intendernessto my heartand not in despair.  It was useless andhopeless. No tears soothed my aching eyesno relief came to mefrom mysister's sympathy or my mother's love.

On thatthird morning I opened my heart to them.  At last thewordspassed my lips which I had longed to speak on the day whenmy mothertold me of her death.

"Letme go away alone for a little while" I said.  "Ishall bearit betterwhen I have looked once more at the place where I firstsawherwhen I have knelt and prayed by the grave where they havelaid herto rest."

I departedon my journeymy journey to the grave of LauraFairlie.

It was aquiet autumn afternoon when I stopped at the solitarystationand set forth alone on foot by the well-remembered road.The waningsun was shining faintly through thin white cloudstheair waswarm and stillthe peacefulness of the lonely country wasovershadowedand saddened by the influence of the falling year.

I reachedthe moorI stood again on the brow of the hillIlooked onalong the pathand there were the familiar garden treesin thedistancethe clear sweeping semicircle of the drivethehigh whitewalls of Limmeridge House.  The chances and changesthewanderings and dangers of months and months pastall shrankandshrivelled to nothing in my mind.  It was like yesterday sincemy feethad last trodden the fragrant heathy ground.  I thought Ishould seeher coming to meet mewith her little straw hatshadingher faceher simple dress fluttering in the airand herwell-filledsketch-book ready in her hand.

Oh deaththou hast thy sting! ohgravethou hast thy victory!

I turnedasideand there below me in the glen was the lonesomegreychurchthe porch where I had waited for the coming of thewoman inwhitethe hills encircling the quiet burial-groundthebrookbubbling cold over its stony bed.  There was the marblecrossfair and whiteat the head of the tombthe tomb that nowrose overmother and daughter alike.

Iapproached the grave.  I crossed once more the low stone stileand baredmy head as I touched the sacred ground.  Sacred togentlenessand goodnesssacred to reverence and grief.

I stoppedbefore the pedestal from which the cross rose.  On oneside ofiton the side nearest to methe newly-cut inscriptionmet myeyesthe hardclearcruel black letters which told thestory ofher life and death.  I tried to read them.  I did read asfar as thename.  "Sacred to the Memory of Laura" The kindblue eyesdim with tearsthe fair head drooping wearilytheinnocentparting words which implored me to leave herohfor ahappierlast memory of her than this; the memory I took away withmethememory I bring back with me to her grave!

A secondtime I tried to read the inscription.  I saw at the endthe dateof her deathand above it

Above itthere were lines on the marblethere was a name amongthem whichdisturbed my thoughts of her.  I went round to theother sideof the gravewhere there was nothing to readnothingof earthlyvileness to force its way between her spirit and mine.

I kneltdown by the tomb.  I laid my handsI laid my head on thebroadwhite stoneand closed my weary eyes on the earth aroundon thelight above.  I let her come back to me.  Ohmy love! mylove! myheart may speak to you NOW! I It is yesterday again sincewepartedyesterdaysince your dear hand lay in mineyesterdaysince myeyes looked their last on you.  My love! my love!

*   *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *   *

Time hadflowed onand silence had fallen like thick night overitscourse.

The firstsound that came after the heavenly peace rustled faintlylike apassing breath of air over the grass of the burial-ground.I heard itnearing me slowlyuntil it came changed to my earcame likefootsteps moving onwardthen stopped.

I lookedup.

The sunsetwas near at hand.  The clouds had partedthe slantinglight fellmellow over the hills.  The last of the day was coldand clearand still in the quiet valley of the dead.

Beyond mein the burial-groundstanding together in the coldclearnessof the lower lightI saw two women.  They were lookingtowardsthe tomblooking towards me.

Two.

They camea little onand stopped again.  Their veils were downand hidtheir faces from me.  When they stoppedone of themraised herveil.  In the still evening light I saw the face ofMarianHalcombe.

Changedchanged as if years had passed over it! The eyes largeand wildand looking at me with a strange terror in them.  Theface wornand wasted piteously.  Pain and fear and grief writtenon her aswith a brand.

I took onestep towards her from the grave.  She never movedsheneverspoke.  The veiled woman with her cried out faintly.  Istopped. The springs of my life fell lowand the shuddering ofanunutterable dread crept over me from head to foot.

The womanwith the veiled face moved away from her companionandcametowards me slowly.  Left by herselfstanding by herselfMarianHalcombe spoke.  It was the voice that I rememberedthevoice notchangedlike the frightened eyes and the wasted face.

"Mydream! my dream!" I heard her say those words softly in theawfulsilence.  She sank on her kneesand raised her claspedhands toheaven.  "Father! strengthen him.  Father! help him inhis hourof need."

The womancame onslowly and silently came on.  I looked at herat herand at none otherfrom that moment.

The voicethat was praying for me faltered and sank lowthen roseon asuddenand called affrightedlycalled despairingly to me tocome away.

But theveiled woman had possession of mebody and soul.  Shestopped onone side of the grave.  We stood face to face with thetombstonebetween us.  She was close to the inscription on theside ofthe pedestal.  Her gown touched the black letters.

The voicecame nearerand rose and rose more passionately still."Hideyour face! don't look at her! Ohfor God's sakespare him"

The womanlifted her veil.

 

"Sacredto the Memory of LauraLady Glyde"

 

LauraLady Glydewas standing by the inscriptionand waslooking atme over the grave.

 

[TheSecond Epoch of the Story closes here.]

 

THE THIRDEPOCH

 

THE STORYCONTINUED BY WALTER HARTRIGHT.

 

I

 

I open anew page.  I advance my narrative by one week.

Thehistory of the interval which I thus pass over must remainunrecorded. My heart turns faintmy mind sinks in darkness andconfusionwhen I think of it.  This must not beif I who write amto guideas I oughtyou who read.  This must not beif the cluethat leadsthrough the windings of the story is to remain from endto enduntangled in my hands.

A lifesuddenly changedits whole purpose created afreshitshopes andfearsits strugglesits interestsand its sacrificesall turnedat once and for ever into a new directionthis is theprospectwhich now opens before melike the burst of view from amountain'stop.  I left my narrative in the quiet shadow ofLimmeridgechurchI resume itone week laterin the stir andturmoil ofa London street.

 

The streetis in a populous and a poor neighbourhood.  The groundfloor ofone of the houses in it is occupied by a smallnewsvendor'sshopand the first floor and the second are let asfurnishedlodgings of the humblest kind.

I havetaken those two floors in an assumed name.  On the upperfloor Ilivewith a room to work ina room to sleep in.  On thelowerfloorunder the same assumed nametwo women livewho aredescribedas my sisters.  I get my bread by drawing and engravingon woodfor the cheap periodicals.  My sisters are supposed tohelp me bytaking in a little needlework.  Our poor place ofabodeourhumble callingour assumed relationshipand ourassumednameare all used alike as a means of hiding us in thehouse-forestof London.  We are numbered no longer with the peoplewhoselives are open and known.  I am an obscureunnoticed manwithoutpatron or friend to help me.  Marian Halcombe is nothingnow but myeldest sisterwho provides for our household wants bythe toilof her own hands.  We twoin the estimation of othersare atonce the dupes and the agents of a daring imposture.  Wearesupposed to be the accomplices of mad Anne Catherickwhoclaims thenamethe placeand the living personality of deadLadyGlyde.

That isour situation.  That is the changed aspect in which wethree mustappearhenceforthin this narrativefor many andmany apage to come.

In the eyeof reason and of lawin the estimation of relativesandfriendsaccording to every received formality of civilisedsociety"LauraLady Glyde" lay buried with her mother inLimmeridgechurchyard.  Torn in her own lifetime from the list ofthelivingthe daughter of Philip Fairlie and the wife ofPercivalGlyde might still exist for her sistermight still existfor mebut to all the world besides she was dead.  Dead to herunclewhohad renounced her; dead to the servants of the housewho hadfailed to recognise her; dead to the persons in authoritywho hadtransmitted her fortune to her husband and her aunt; deadto mymother and my sisterwho believed me to be the dupe of anadventuressand the victim of a fraud; sociallymorallylegallydead.

And yetalive! Alive in poverty and in hiding.  Alivewith thepoordrawing-master to fight her battleand to win the way backfor her toher place in the world of living beings.

Did nosuspicionexcited by my own knowledge of Anne Catherick'sresemblanceto hercross my mindwhen her face was firstrevealedto me? Not the shadow of a suspicionfrom the momentwhen shelifted her veil by the side of the inscription whichrecordedher death.

Before thesun of that day had setbefore the last glimpse of thehome whichwas closed against her had passed from our viewthefarewellwords I spokewhen we parted at Limmeridge Househadbeenrecalled by both of usrepeated by merecognised by her."Ifever the time comeswhen the devotion of my whole heart andsoul andstrength will give you a moment's happinessor spare youa moment'ssorrowwill you try to remember the poor drawing-master whohas taught you?" Shewho now remembered so little ofthetrouble and terror of a later timeremembered those wordsand laidher poor head innocently and trustingly on the bosom ofthe manwho had spoken them.  In that momentwhen she called meby mynamewhen she said"They have tried to make me forgeteverythingWalterbut I remember Marianand I remember YOU"inthatmomentIwho had long since given her my lovegave her mylifeandthanked God that it was mine to bestow on her.  Yes! thetime hadcome.  From thousands on thousands of miles awaythroughforest andwildernesswhere companions stronger than I had fallenby mysidethrough peril of death thrice renewedand thriceescapedthe Hand that leads men on the dark road to the futurehad led meto meet that time.  Forlorn and disownedsorely triedand sadlychangedher beauty fadedher mind cloudedrobbed ofherstation in the worldof her place among living creaturesthedevotion Ihad promisedthe devotion of my whole heart and soulandstrengthmight be laid blamelessly now at those dear feet.In theright of her calamityin the right of her friendlessnessshe wasmine at last! Mine to supportto protectto cherishtorestore. Mine to love and honour as father and brother both.Mine tovindicate through all risks and all sacrificesthroughthehopeless struggle against Rank and Powerthrough the longfight witharmed deceit and fortified Successthrough the wasteof myreputationthrough the loss of my friendsthrough thehazard ofmy life.

 

II

 

Myposition is definedmy motives are acknowledged.  The story ofMarian andthe story of Laura must come next.

I shallrelate both narrativesnot in the words (ofteninterruptedoften inevitably confused) of the speakersthemselvesbut in the words of the briefplainstudiouslysimpleabstract which I committed to writing for my own guidanceand forthe guidance of my legal adviser.  So the tangled web willbe mostspeedily and most intelligibly unrolled.

The storyof Marian begins where the narrative of the housekeeperatBlackwater Park left off.

 

On LadyGlyde's departure from her husband's housethe fact ofthatdepartureand the necessary statement of the circumstancesunderwhich it had taken placewere communicated to Miss Halcombeby thehousekeeper.  It was not till some days afterwards (howmany daysexactlyMrs. Michelsonin the absence of any writtenmemorandumon the subjectcould not undertake to say) that aletterarrived from Madame Fosco announcing Lady Glyde's suddendeath inCount Fosco's house.  The letter avoided mentioningdatesandleft it to Mrs. Michelson's discretion to break thenews atonce to Miss Halcombeor to defer doing so until thatlady'shealth should be more firmly established.

Havingconsulted Mr. Dawson (who had been himself delayedby illhealthinresuming his attendance at Blackwater Park)Mrs.Michelsonby the doctor's adviceand in the doctor's presencecommunicatedthe newseither on the day when the letter wasreceivedor on the day after.  It is not necessary to dwell hereupon theeffect which the intelligence of Lady Glyde's suddendeathproduced on her sister.  It is only useful to the presentpurpose tosay that she was not able to travel for more than threeweeksafterwards.  At the end of that time she proceeded to Londonaccompaniedby the housekeeper.  They parted thereMrs. Michelsonpreviouslyinforming Miss Halcombe of her addressin case theymight wishto communicate at a future period.

On partingwith the housekeeper Miss Halcombe went at once to theoffice ofMessrs. Gilmore & Kyrle to consult with the lattergentlemanin Mr. Gilmore's absence.  She mentioned to Mr. Kyrlewhat shehad thought it desirable to conceal from every one else(Mrs.Michelson included)her suspicion of the circumstancesunderwhich Lady Glyde was said to have met her death.  Mr. Kyrlewho hadpreviously given friendly proof of his anxiety to serveMissHalcombeat once undertook to make such inquiries as thedelicateand dangerous nature of the investigation proposed to himwouldpermit.

To exhaustthis part of the subject before going fartherit maybementioned that Count Fosco offered every facility to Mr. Kyrleon thatgentleman's stating that he was sent by Miss Halcombe tocollectsuch particulars as had not yet reached her of LadyGlyde'sdecease.  Mr. Kyrle was placed in communication with themedicalmanMr. Goodrickeand with the two servants.  In theabsence ofany means of ascertaining the exact date of LadyGlyde'sdeparture from Blackwater Parkthe result of the doctor'sand theservants' evidenceand of the volunteered statements ofCountFosco and his wifewas conclusive to the mind of Mr. Kyrle.He couldonly assume that the intensity of Miss Halcombe'ssufferingunder the loss of her sisterhad misled her judgmentin a mostdeplorable mannerand he wrote her word that theshockingsuspicion to which she had alluded in his presence wasin hisopiniondestitute of the smallest fragment of foundationin truth. Thus the investigation by Mr. Gilmore's partner beganand ended.

MeanwhileMiss Halcombe had returned to Limmeridge Houseand hadtherecollected all the additional information which she was ableto obtain.

Mr.Fairlie had received his first intimation of his niece's deathfrom hissisterMadame Foscothis letter also not containing anyexactreference to dates.  He had sanctioned his sister's proposalthat thedeceased lady should be laid in her mother's grave inLimmeridgechurchyard.  Count Fosco had accompanied the remains toCumberlandand had attended the funeral at Limmeridgewhich tookplace onthe 30th of July.  It was followedas a mark of respectby all theinhabitants of the village and the neighbourhood.  Onthe nextday the inscription (originally drawn outit was saidby theaunt of the deceased ladyand submitted for approval toherbrotherMr. Fairlie) was engraved on one side of the monumentover thetomb.

On the dayof the funeraland for one day after itCount Foscohad beenreceived as a guest at Limmeridge Housebut no interviewhad takenplace between Mr. Fairlie and himselfby the formergentleman'sdesire.  They had communicated by writingand throughthismedium Count Fosco had made Mr. Fairlie acquainted with thedetails ofhis niece's last illness and death.  The letterpresentingthis information added no new facts to the factsalreadyknownbut one very remarkable paragraph was contained inthepostscript.  It referred to Anne Catherick.

Thesubstance of the paragraph in question was as follows

It firstinformed Mr. Fairlie that Anne Catherick (of whom hemight hearfull particulars from Miss Halcombe when she reachedLimmeridge)had been traced and recovered in the neighbourhood ofBlackwaterParkand had been for the second time placed under thecharge ofthe medical man from whose custody she had once escaped.

This wasthe first part of the postscript.  The second part warnedMr.Fairlie that Anne Catherick's mental malady had beenaggravatedby her long freedom from controland that the insanehatred anddistrust of Sir Percival Glydewhich had been one ofher mostmarked delusions in former timesstill existed under anewly-acquiredform.  The unfortunate woman's last idea inconnectionwith Sir Percival was the idea of annoying anddistressinghimand of elevating herselfas she supposedin theestimationof the patients and nursesby assuming the characterof hisdeceased wifethe scheme of this personation havingevidentlyoccurred to her after a stolen interview which she hadsucceededin obtaining with Lady Glydeand at which she hadobservedthe extraordinary accidental likeness between thedeceasedlady and herself.  It was to the last degree improbablethat shewould succeed a second time in escaping from the Asylumbut it wasjust possible she might find some means of annoying thelate LadyGlyde's relatives with lettersand in that case Mr.Fairliewas warned beforehand how to receive them.

Thepostscriptexpressed in these termswas shown to MissHalcombewhen she arrived at Limmeridge.  There were also placedin herpossession the clothes Lady Glyde had wornand the othereffectsshe had brought with her to her aunt's house.  They hadbeencarefully collected and sent to Cumberland by Madame Fosco.

Such wasthe posture of affairs when Miss Halcombe reachedLimmeridgein the early part of September.

Shortlyafterwards she was confined to her room by a relapseherweakenedphysical energies giving way under the severe mentalafflictionfrom which she was now suffering.  On getting strongeragainina month's timeher suspicion of the circumstancesdescribedas attending her sister's death still remained unshaken.She hadheard nothing in the interim of Sir Percival Glydebutlettershad reached her from Madame Foscomaking the mostaffectionateinquiries on the part of her husband and herself.Instead ofanswering these lettersMiss Halcombe caused the housein St.John's Woodand the proceedings of its inmatesto beprivatelywatched.

Nothingdoubtful was discovered.  The same result attended thenextinvestigationswhich were secretly instituted on the subjectof Mrs.Rubelle.  She had arrived in London about six monthsbeforewith her husband.  They had come from Lyonsand they hadtaken ahouse in the neighbourhood of Leicester Squareto befitted upas a boarding-house for foreignerswho were expected tovisitEngland in large numbers to see the Exhibition of 1851.Nothingwas known against husband or wife in the neighbourhood.They werequiet peopleand they had paid their way honestly up tothepresent time.  The final inquiries related to Sir PercivalGlyde. He was settled in Parisand living there quietly in asmallcircle of English and French friends.

Foiled atall pointsbut still not able to restMiss Halcombenextdetermined to visit the Asylum in which she then supposedAnneCatherick to be for the second time confined.  She had felt astrongcuriosity about the woman in former daysand she was nowdoublyinterestedfirstin ascertaining whether the report ofAnneCatherick's attempted personation of Lady Glyde was trueandsecondly(if it proved to be true)in discovering for herselfwhat thepoor creature's real motives were for attempting thedeceit.

AlthoughCount Fosco's letter to Mr. Fairlie did not mention theaddress ofthe Asylumthat important omission cast nodifficultiesin Miss Halcombe's way.  When Mr. Hartright had metAnneCatherick at Limmeridgeshe had informed him of the localityin whichthe house was situatedand Miss Halcombe had noted downthedirection in her diarywith all the other particulars of theinterviewexactly as she heard them from Mr. Hartright's own lips.Accordinglyshe looked back at the entry and extracted theaddressfurnishedherself with the Count's letter to Mr. Fairlieas aspecies of credential which might be useful to herandstarted byherself for the Asylum on the eleventh of October.

She passedthe night of the eleventh in London.  It had been herintentionto sleep at the house inhabited by Lady Glyde's oldgovernessbut Mrs. Vesey's agitation at the sight of her lostpupil'snearest and dearest friend was so distressing that MissHalcombeconsiderately refrained from remaining in her presenceandremoved to a respectable boarding-house in the neighbourhoodrecommendedby Mrs. Vesey's married sister.  The next day sheproceededto the Asylumwhich was situated not far from London onthenorthern side of the metropolis.

She wasimmediately admitted to see the proprietor.

At firsthe appeared to be decidedly unwilling to let hercommunicatewith his patient.  But on her showing him thepostscriptto Count Fosco's letteron her reminding him that shewas the"Miss Halcombe" there referred tothat she was a nearrelativeof the deceased Lady Glydeand that she was thereforenaturallyinterestedfor family reasonsin observing for herselfthe extentof Anne Catherick's delusion in relation to her latesisterthetone and manner of the owner of the Asylum alteredand hewithdrew his objections.  He probably felt that a continuedrefusalunder these circumstanceswould not only be an act ofdiscourtesyin itselfbut would also imply that the proceedingsin hisestablishment were not of a nature to bear investigation byrespectablestrangers.

MissHalcombe's own impression was that the owner of the Asylumhad notbeen received into the confidence of Sir Percival and theCount. His consenting at all to let her visit his patient seemedto affordone proof of thisand his readiness in makingadmissionswhich could scarcely have escaped the lips of anaccomplicecertainly appeared to furnish another.

Forexamplein the course of the introductory conversation whichtookplacehe informed Miss Halcombe that Anne Catherick had beenbroughtback to him with the necessary order and certificates byCountFosco on the twenty-seventh of Julythe Count alsoproducinga letter of explanations and instructions signed by SirPercivalGlyde.  On receiving his inmate againthe proprietor ofthe Asylumacknowledged that he had observed some curious personalchanges inher.  Such changes no doubt were not without precedentin hisexperience of persons mentally afflicted.  Insane peoplewere oftenat one timeoutwardly as well as inwardlyunlike whatthey wereat anotherthe change from better to worseor fromworse tobetterin the madness having a necessary tendency toproducealterations of appearance externally.  He allowed fortheseandhe allowed also for the modification in the form ofAnneCatherick's delusionwhich was reflected no doubt in hermanner andexpression.  But he was still perplexed at times bycertaindifferences between his patient before she had escaped andhispatient since she had been brought back.  Those differenceswere toominute to be described.  He could not say of course thatshe wasabsolutely altered in height or shape or complexionor inthe colourof her hair and eyesor in the general form of herfacethechange was something that he felt more than somethingthat hesaw.  In shortthe case had been a puzzle from the firstand onemore perplexity was added to it now.

It cannotbe said that this conversation led to the result of evenpartiallypreparing Miss Halcombe's mind for what was to come.But itproducedneverthelessa very serious effect upon her.She was socompletely unnerved by itthat some little timeelapsedbefore she could summon composure enough to follow theproprietorof the Asylum to that part of the house in which theinmateswere confined.

Oninquiryit turned out that the supposed Anne Catherick wasthentaking exercise in the grounds attached to the establishment.One of thenurses volunteered to conduct Miss Halcombe to theplacetheproprietor of the Asylum remaining in the house for afewminutes to attend to a case which required his servicesandthenengaging to join his visitor in the grounds.

The nurseled Miss Halcombe to a distant part of the propertywhich wasprettily laid outand after looking about her a littleturnedinto a turf walkshaded by a shrubbery on either side.Abouthalf-way down this walk two women were slowly approaching.The nursepointed to them and said"There is Anne Catherickma'amwith the attendant who waits on her.  The attendant willanswer anyquestions you wish to put." With those words the nurseleft herto return to the duties of the house.

MissHalcombe advanced on her sideand the women advanced ontheirs. When they were within a dozen paces of each otherone ofthe womenstopped for an instantlooked eagerly at the strangeladyshook off the nurse's grasp on herand the next momentrushedinto Miss Halcombe's arms.  In that moment Miss Halcomberecognisedher sisterrecognised the dead-alive.

Fortunatelyfor the success of the measures taken subsequentlynoone waspresent at that moment but the nurse.  She was a youngwomanandshe was so startled that she was at first quiteincapableof interfering.  When she was able to do so her wholeserviceswere required by Miss Halcombewho had for the momentsunkaltogether in the effort to keep her own senses under theshock ofthe discovery.  After waiting a few minutes in the freshair andthe cool shadeher natural energy and courage helped hera littleand she became sufficiently mistress of herself to feelthenecessity of recalling her presence of mind for herunfortunatesister's sake.

Sheobtained permission to speak alone with the patientonconditionthat they both remained well within the nurse's view.There wasno time for questionsthere was only time for MissHalcombeto impress on the unhappy lady the necessity ofcontrollingherselfand to assure her of immediate help andrescue ifshe did so.  The prospect of escaping from the Asylum byobedienceto her sister's directions was sufficient to quiet LadyGlydeandto make her understand what was required of her.  MissHalcombenext returned to the nurseplaced all the gold she thenhad in herpocket (three sovereigns) in the nurse's handsandasked whenand where she could speak to her alone.

The womanwas at first surprised and distrustful.  But on MissHalcombe'sdeclaring that she only wanted to put some questionswhich shewas too much agitated to ask at that momentand thatshe had nointention of misleading the nurse into any derelictionof dutythe woman took the moneyand proposed three o'clock onthe nextday as the time for the interview.  She might then slipout forhalf an hourafter the patients had dinedand she wouldmeet thelady in a retired placeoutside the high north wallwhichscreened the grounds of the house.  Miss Halcombe had onlytime toassentand to whisper to her sister that she should hearfrom heron the next daywhen the proprietor of the Asylum joinedthem. He noticed his visitor's agitationwhich Miss Halcombeaccountedfor by saying that her interview with Anne Catherick hada littlestartled her at first. She took her leave as soon afteraspossiblethat is to sayas soon as she could summon courageto forceherself from the presence of her unfortunate sister.

A verylittle reflectionwhen the capacity to reflect returnedconvincedher that any attempt to identify Lady Glyde and torescue herby legal meanswouldeven if successfulinvolve adelay thatmight be fatal to her sister's intellectswhich wereshakenalready by the horror of the situation to which she hadbeenconsigned.  By the time Miss Halcombe had got back to Londonshe haddetermined to effect Lady Glyde's escape privatelybymeans ofthe nurse.

She wentat once to her stockbrokerand sold out of the funds allthe littleproperty she possessedamounting to rather less thansevenhundred pounds.  Determinedif necessaryto pay the priceof hersister's liberty with every farthing she had in the worldsherepaired the next dayhaving the whole sum about her in bank-notestoher appointment outside the Asylum wall.

The nursewas there.  Miss Halcombe approached the subjectcautiouslyby many preliminary questions.  She discoveredamongotherparticularsthat the nurse who had in former times attendedon thetrue Anne Catherick had been held responsible (although shewas not toblame for it) for the patient's escapeand had losther placein consequence.  The same penaltyit was addedwouldattach tothe person then speaking to herif the supposed AnneCatherickwas missing a second time; andmoreoverthe nurse inthis casehad an especial interest in keeping her place.  She wasengaged tobe marriedand she and her future husband were waitingtill theycould savetogetherbetween two and three hundredpounds tostart in business.  The nurse's wages were goodand shemightsucceedby strict economyin contributing her small sharetowardsthe sum required in two years' time.

On thishint Miss Halcombe spoke.  She declared that the supposedAnneCatherick was nearly related to herthat she had been placedin theAsylum under a fatal mistakeand that the nurse would bedoing agood and a Christian action in being the means ofrestoringthem to one another.  Before there was time to start asingleobjectionMiss Halcombe took four bank-notes of a hundredpoundseach from her pocket-bookand offered them to the womanas acompensation for the risk she was to runand for the loss ofher place.

The nursehesitatedthrough sheer incredulity and surprise.  MissHalcombepressed the point on her firmly.

"Youwill be doing a good action" she repeated; "you will behelpingthe most injured and unhappy woman alive.  There is yourmarriageportion for a reward.  Bring her safely to me hereand Iwill putthese four bank-notes into your hand before I claim her."

"Willyou give me a letter saying those wordswhich I can show tomysweetheart when he asks how I got the money?" inquired thewoman.

"Iwill bring the letter with meready written and signed"answeredMiss Halcombe.

"ThenI'll risk it" said the nurse.

"When?"

"To-morrow."

It washastily agreed between them that Miss Halcombe shouldreturnearly the next morning and wait out of sight among thetreesalwayshoweverkeeping near the quiet spot of groundunder thenorth wall.  The nurse could fix no time for herappearancecaution requiring that she should wait and be guidedbycircumstances.  On that understanding they separated.

MissHalcombe was at her placewith the promised letter and thepromisedbank-notesbefore ten the next morning.  She waited morethan anhour and a half.  At the end of that time the nurse camequicklyround the corner of the wall holding Lady Glyde by thearm. The moment they met Miss Halcombe put the bank-notes and theletterinto her handand the sisters were united again.

The nursehad dressed Lady Glydewith excellent forethoughtin abonnetveiland shawl of her own.  Miss Halcombe only detainedher tosuggest a means of turning the pursuit in a falsedirectionwhen the escape was discovered at the Asylum.  She wasto go backto the houseto mention in the hearing of the othernursesthat Anne Catherick had been inquiring latterly about thedistancefrom London to Hampshireto wait till the last momentbeforediscovery was inevitableand then to give the alarm thatAnne wasmissing.  The supposed inquiries about Hampshirewhencommunicatedto the owner of the Asylumwould lead him to imaginethat hispatient had returned to Blackwater Parkunder theinfluenceof the delusion which made her persist in assertingherself tobe Lady Glydeand the first pursuit wouldin allprobabilitybe turned in that direction.

The nurseconsented to follow these suggestionsthe more readilyas theyoffered her the means of securing herself against anyworseconsequences than the loss of her placeby remaining in theAsylumand so maintaining the appearance of innocenceat least.She atonce returned to the houseand Miss Halcombe lost no timein takingher sister back with her to London.  They caught theafternoontrain to Carlisle the same afternoonand arrived atLimmeridgewithout accident or difficulty of any kindthatnight.

During thelatter part of their journey they were alone in thecarriageand Miss Halcombe was able to collect such remembrancesof thepast as her sister's confused and weakened memory was abletorecall.  The terrible story of the conspiracy so obtained waspresentedin fragmentssadly incoherent in themselvesand widelydetachedfrom each other.  Imperfect as the revelation wasitmustnevertheless be recorded here before this explanatorynarrativecloses with the events of the next day at LimmeridgeHouse.

 

LadyGlyde's recollection of the events which followed herdeparturefrom Blackwater Park began with her arrival at theLondonterminus of the South Western Railway.  She had omitted tomake amemorandum beforehand of the day on which she took thejourney. All hope of fixing that important date by any evidenceof hersor of Mrs. Michelson'smust be given up for lost.

On thearrival of the train at the platform Lady Glyde found CountFoscowaiting for her.  He was at the carriage door as soon as theportercould open it.  The train was unusually crowdedand therewas greatconfusion in getting the luggage.  Some person whomCountFosco brought with him procured the luggage which belongedto LadyGlyde.  It was marked with her name.  She drove away alonewith theCount in a vehicle which she did not particularly noticeat thetime.

Her firstquestionon leaving the terminusreferred to MissHalcombe. The Count informed her that Miss Halcombe had not yetgone toCumberlandafter-consideration having caused him to doubttheprudence of her taking so long a journey without some days'previousrest.

Lady Glydenext inquired whether her sister was then staying intheCount's house.  Her recollection of the answer was confusedher onlydistinct impression in relation to it being that theCountdeclared he was then taking her to see Miss Halcombe.  LadyGlyde'sexperience of London was so limited that she could nottellatthe timethrough what streets they were driving.  Butthey neverleft the streetsand they never passed any gardens ortrees. When the carriage stoppedit stopped in a small streetbehind asquarea square in which there were shopsand publicbuildingsand many people.  From these recollections (of whichLady Glydewas certain) it seems quite clear that Count Fosco didnot takeher to his own residence in the suburb of St. John'sWood.

Theyentered the houseand went upstairs to a back roomeitheron thefirst or second floor.  The luggage was carefully broughtin. A female servant opened the doorand a man with a darkbeardapparently a foreignermet them in the halland withgreatpoliteness showed them the way upstairs.  In answer to LadyGlyde'sinquiriesthe Count assured her that Miss Halcombe was inthe houseand that she should be immediately informed of hersister'sarrival.  He and the foreigner then went away and lefther byherself in the room.  It was poorly furnished as a sitting-roomandit looked out on the backs of houses.

The placewas remarkably quietno footsteps went up or down thestairssheonly heard in the room beneath her a dullrumblingsound ofmen's voices talking.  Before she had been long leftalone theCount returnedto explain that Miss Halcombe was thentakingrestand could not be disturbed for a little while.  Hewasaccompanied into the room by a gentleman (an Englishman)whomhe beggedto present as a friend of his.

After thissingular introductionin the course of which no namesto thebest of Lady Glyde's recollectionhad been mentionedshewas leftalone with the stranger.  He was perfectly civilbut hestartledand confused her by some odd questions about herselfandby lookingat herwhile he asked themin a strange manner.Afterremaining a short time he went outand a minute or twoafterwardsa second strangeralso an Englishmancame in.  Thispersonintroduced himself as another friend of Count Fosco'sandhein histurnlooked at her very oddlyand asked some curiousquestionsneveras well as she could rememberaddressing her bynameandgoing out againafter a little whilelike the firstman. By this time she was so frightened about herselfand souneasyabout her sisterthat she had thoughts of venturingdownstairsagainand claiming the protection and assistance ofthe onlywoman she had seen in the housethe servant who answeredthe door.

Just asshe had risen from her chairthe Count came back into theroom.

The momenthe appeared she asked anxiously how long the meetingbetweenher sister and herself was to be still delayed.  At firsthereturned an evasive answerbut on being pressedheacknowledgedwith great apparent reluctancethat Miss Halcombewas by nomeans so well as he had hitherto represented her to be.His toneand mannerin making this replyso alarmed Lady Glydeor ratherso painfully increased the uneasiness which she had feltin thecompany of the two strangersthat a sudden faintnessovercameherand she was obliged to ask for a glass of water.The Countcalled from the door for waterand for a bottle ofsmelling-salts. Both were brought in by the foreign-looking manwith thebeard.  The waterwhen Lady Glyde attempted to drink ithad sostrange a taste that it increased her faintnessand shehastilytook the bottle of salts from Count Foscoand smelt atit. Her head became giddy on the instant.  The Count caught thebottle asit dropped out of her handand the last impression ofwhich shewas conscious was that he held it to her nostrils again.

From thispoint her recollections were found to be confusedfragmentaryand difficult to reconcile with any reasonableprobability.

Her ownimpression was that she recovered her senses later in theeveningthat she then left the housethat she went (as she hadpreviouslyarranged to goat Blackwater Park) to Mrs. Vesey'sthat shedrank tea thereand that she passed the night under Mrs.Vesey'sroof.  She was totally unable to say howor whenor inwhatcompany she left the house to which Count Fosco had broughther. But she persisted in asserting that she had been to Mrs.Vesey'sand still more extraordinarythat she had been helped toundressand get to bed by Mrs. Rubelle! She could not rememberwhat theconversation was at Mrs. Vesey's or whom she saw therebesidesthat ladyor why Mrs. Rubelle should have been present inthe houseto help her.

Herrecollection of what happened to her the next morning wasstill morevague and unreliable.

She hadsome dim idea of driving out (at what hour she could notsay) withCount Foscoand with Mrs. Rubelle again for a femaleattendant. But whenand whyshe left Mrs. Vesey she could nottell;neither did she know what direction the carriage drove inor whereit set her downor whether the Count and Mrs. Rubelledid or didnot remain with her all the time she was out.  At thispoint inher sad story there was a total blank.  She had noimpressionsof the faintest kind to communicateno idea whetherone dayor more than one dayhad passeduntil she came toherselfsuddenly in a strange placesurrounded by women who wereallunknown to her.

This wasthe Asylum.  Here she first heard herself called by AnneCatherick'snameand hereas a last remarkable circumstance inthe storyof the conspiracyher own eyes informed her that shehad AnneCatherick's clothes on.  The nurseon the first night intheAsylumhad shown her the marks on each article of herunderclothingas it was taken offand had saidnot at allirritablyor unkindly"Look at your own name on your own clothesand don'tworry us all any more about being Lady Glyde.  She'sdead andburiedand you're alive and hearty.  Do look at yourclothesnow!  There it isin good marking inkand there you willfind it onall your old thingswhich we have kept in the houseAnneCatherickas plain as print!" And there it waswhen MissHalcombeexamined the linen her sister woreon the night of theirarrival atLimmeridge House.

 

These werethe only recollectionsall of them uncertainand someof themcontradictorywhich could be extracted from Lady Glyde bycarefulquestioning on the journey to Cumberland.  Miss Halcombeabstainedfrom pressing her with any inquiries relating to eventsin theAsylumher mind being but too evidently unfit to bear thetrial ofreverting to them.  It was knownby the voluntaryadmissionof the owner of the mad-housethat she was receivedthere onthe twenty-seventh of July.  From that date until thefifteenthof October (the day of her rescue) she had been underrestrainther identity with Anne Catherick systematicallyassertedand her sanityfrom first to lastpractically denied.Facultiesless delicately balancedconstitutions less tenderlyorganisedmust have suffered under such an ordeal as this.  Noman couldhave gone through it and come out of it unchanged.

Arrivingat Limmeridge late on the evening of the fifteenthMissHalcombewisely resolved not to attempt the assertion of LadyGlyde'sidentity until the next day.

The firstthing in the morning she went to Mr. Fairlie's roomandusing allpossible cautions and preparations beforehandat lasttold himin so many words what had happened.  As soon as his firstastonishmentand alarm had subsidedhe angrily declared that MissHalcombehad allowed herself to be duped by Anne Catherick.  Hereferredher to Count Fosco's letterand to what she had herselftold himof the personal resemblance between Anne and his deceasednieceandhe positively declined to admit to his presenceevenfor oneminute onlya madwomanwhom it was an insult and anoutrage tohave brought into his house at all.

MissHalcombe left the roomwaited till the first heat of herindignationhad passed awaydecided on reflection that Mr.Fairlieshould see his niece in the interests of common humanitybefore heclosed his doors on her as a strangerand thereuponwithout aword of previous warningtook Lady Glyde with her tohis room. The servant was posted at the door to prevent theirentrancebut Miss Halcombe insisted on passing himand made herway intoMr. Fairlie's presenceleading her sister by the hand.

The scenethat followedthough it only lasted for a few minuteswas toopainful to be describedMiss Halcombe herself shrank fromreferringto it.  Let it be enough to say that Mr. Fairliedeclaredin the most positive termsthat he did not recognisethe womanwho had been brought into his roomthat he saw nothingin herface and manner to make him doubt for a moment that hisniece layburied in Limmeridge churchyardand that he would callon the lawto protect him if before the day was over she was notremovedfrom the house.

Taking thevery worst view of Mr. Fairlie's selfishnessindolenceand habitual want of feelingit was manifestlyimpossibleto suppose that he was capable of such infamy assecretlyrecognising and openly disowning his brother's child.MissHalcombe humanely and sensibly allowed all due force to theinfluenceof prejudice and alarm in preventing him from fairlyexercisinghis perceptionsand accounted for what had happened inthat way. But when she next put the servants to the testandfound thatthey too werein every caseuncertainto say theleast ofitwhether the lady presented to them was their youngmistressor Anne Catherickof whose resemblance to her they hadall heardthe sad conclusion was inevitable that the changeproducedin Lady Glyde's face and manner by her imprisonment inthe Asylumwas far more serious than Miss Halcombe had at firstsupposed. The vile deception which had asserted her death defiedexposureeven in the house where she was bornand among thepeoplewith whom she had lived.

In a lesscritical situation the effort need not have been givenup ashopeless even yet.

Forexamplethe maidFannywho happened to be then absent fromLimmeridgewas expected back in two daysand there would be achance ofgaining her recognition to start withseeing that shehad beenin much more constant communication with her mistressand hadbeen much more heartily attached to her than the otherservants. AgainLady Glyde might have been privately kept in thehouse orin the village to wait until her health was a littlerecoveredand her mind was a little steadied again.  When hermemorycould be once more trusted to serve hershe wouldnaturallyrefer to persons and events in the past with a certaintyand afamiliarity which no impostor could simulateand so thefact ofher identitywhich her own appearance had failed toestablishmight subsequently be provedwith time to help herbythe surertest of her own words.

But thecircumstances under which she had regained her freedomrenderedall recourse to such means as these simply impracticable.Thepursuit from the Asylumdiverted to Hampshire for the timeonlywould infallibly next take the direction of Cumberland.  Thepersonsappointed to seek the fugitive might arrive at LimmeridgeHouse at afew hours' noticeand in Mr. Fairlie's present temperof mindthey might count on the immediate exertion of his localinfluenceand authority to assist them.  The commonestconsiderationfor Lady Glyde's safety forced on Miss Halcombe thenecessityof resigning the struggle to do her justiceand ofremovingher at once from the place of all others that was nowmostdangerous to herthe neighbourhood of her own home.

Animmediate return to London was the first and wisest measure ofsecuritywhich suggested itself.  In the great city all traces ofthem mightbe most speedily and most surely effaced.  There werenopreparations to makeno farewell words of kindness to exchangewith anyone.  On the afternoon of that memorable day of thesixteenthMiss Halcombe roused her sister to a last exertion ofcourageand without a living soul to wish them well at partingthe twotook their way into the world aloneand turned theirbacks forever on Limmeridge House.

They hadpassed the hill above the churchyardwhen Lady Glydeinsistedon turning back to look her last at her mother's grave.MissHalcombe tried to shake her resolutionbutin this oneinstancetried in vain.  She was immovable.  Her dim eyes litwith asudden fireand flashed through the veil that hung overthemherwasted fingers strengthened moment by moment round thefriendlyarm by which they had held so listlessly till this time.I believein my soul that the hand of God was pointing their wayback tothemand that the most innocent and the most afflicted ofHiscreatures was chosen in that dread moment to see it.

Theyretraced their steps to the burial-groundand by that actsealed thefuture of our three lives.

 

III

 

This wasthe story of the pastthe story so far as we knew itthen.

Twoobvious conclusions presented themselves to my mind afterhearingit.  In the first placeI saw darkly what the nature oftheconspiracy had beenhow chances had been watchedand howcircumstanceshad been handled to ensure impunity to a daring andanintricate crime.  While all details were still a mystery to methe vilemanner in which the personal resemblance between thewoman inwhite and Lady Glyde had been turned to account was clearbeyond adoubt.  It was plain that Anne Catherick had beenintroducedinto Count Fosco's house as Lady Glydeit was plainthat LadyGlyde had taken the dead woman's place in the Asylumthesubstitution having been so managed as to make innocent people(thedoctor and the two servants certainlyand the owner of themad-housein all probability) accomplices in the crime

The secondconclusion came as the necessary consequence of thefirst. Wethree had no mercy to expect from Count Fosco and SirPercivalGlyde.  The success of the conspiracy had brought with ita cleargain to those two men of thirty thousand poundstwentythousandto oneten thousand to the other through his wife.  Theyhad thatinterestas well as other interestsin ensuring theirimpunityfrom exposureand they would leave no stone unturnednosacrificeunattemptedno treachery untriedto discover the placein whichtheir victim was concealedand to part her from the onlyfriendsshe had in the worldMarian Halcombe and myself.

The senseof this serious perila peril which every day and everyhour mightbring nearer and nearer to uswas the one influencethatguided me in fixing the place of our retreat.  I chose it inthe fareast of Londonwhere there were fewest idle people tolounge andlook about them in the streets.  I chose it in a poorand apopulous neighbourhoodbecause the harder the struggle forexistenceamong the men and women about usthe less the risk oftheirhaving the time or taking the pains to notice chancestrangerswho came among them.  These were the great advantages Ilooked tobut our locality was a gain to us also in another and ahardlyless important respect.  We could live cheaply by the dailywork of myhandsand could save every farthing we possessed toforwardthe purposethe righteous purposeof redressing aninfamouswrongwhichfrom first to lastI now kept steadily inview.

In aweek's time Marian Halcombe and I had settled how the courseof our newlives should be directed.

There wereno other lodgers in the houseand we had the means ofgoing inand out without passing through the shop.  I arrangedfor thepresent at leastthat neither Marian nor Laura shouldstiroutside the door without my being with themand that in myabsencefrom home they should let no one into their rooms on anypretencewhatever.  This rule establishedI went to a friend whomI hadknown in former daysa wood engraver in large practicetoseek foremploymenttelling himat the same timethat I hadreasonsfor wishing to remain unknown.

He at onceconcluded that I was in debtexpressed his regret inthe usualformsand then promised to do what he could to assistme. I left his false impression undisturbedand accepted thework hehad to give.  He knew that he could trust my experienceand myindustry.  I had what he wantedsteadiness and facilityand thoughmy earnings were but smallthey sufficed for ournecessities. As soon as we could feel certain of thisMarianHalcombeand I put together what we possessed.  She had betweentwo andthree hundred pounds left of her own propertyand I hadnearly asmuch remaining from the purchase-money obtained by thesale of mydrawing-master's practice before I left England.Togetherwe made up between us more than four hundred pounds.  Idepositedthis little fortune in a bankto be kept for theexpense ofthose secret inquiries and investigations which I wasdeterminedto set on footand to carry on by myself if I couldfind noone to help me.  We calculated our weekly expenditure tothe lastfarthingand we never touched our little fund except inLaura'sinterests and for Laura's sake.

Thehouse-workwhichif we had dared trust a stranger near uswould havebeen done by a servantwas taken on the first daytaken asher own rightby Marian Halcombe.  "What a woman's handsARE fitfor" she said"early and latethese hands of mine shalldo." They trembled as she held them out.  The wasted arms toldtheir sadstory of the pastas she turned up the sleeves of thepoor plaindress that she wore for safety's sake; but theunquenchablespirit of the woman burnt bright in her even yet.  Isaw thebig tears rise thick in her eyesand fall slowly over hercheeks asshe looked at me.  She dashed them away with a touch ofher oldenergyand smiled with a faint reflection of her old goodspirits. "Don't doubt my courageWalter" she pleaded"it'smyweaknessthat criesnot ME.  The house-work shall conquer it if Ican't." And she kept her wordthe victory was won when we met intheeveningand she sat down to rest.  Her large steady blackeyeslooked at me with a flash of their bright firmness of bygonedays. "I am not quite broken down yet" she said.  "Iam worthtrustingwith my share of the work."  Before I could answersheadded in awhisper"And worth trusting with my share in the riskand thedanger too.  Remember thatif the time comes!"

I didremember it when the time came.

 

As earlyas the end of October the daily course of our lives hadassumedits settled directionand we three were as completelyisolatedin our place of concealment as if the house we lived inhad been adesert islandand the great network of streets and thethousandsof our fellow-creatures all round us the waters of anillimitablesea.  I could now reckon on some leisure time forconsideringwhat my future plan of action should beand how Imight armmyself most securely at the outset for the comingstrugglewith Sir Percival and the Count.

I gave upall hope of appealing to my recognition of Lauraor toMarian'srecognition of herin proof of her identity.  If we hadloved herless dearlyif the instinct implanted in us by thatlove hadnot been far more certain than any exercise of reasoningfar keenerthan any process of observationeven we might havehesitatedon first seeing her.

Theoutward changes wrought by the suffering and the terror of thepast hadfearfullyalmost hopelesslystrengthened the fatalresemblancebetween Anne Catherick and herself.  In my narrativeof eventsat the time of my residence in Limmeridge HouseI haverecordedfrom my own observation of the twohow the likenessstrikingas it was when viewed generallyfailed in many importantpoints ofsimilarity when tested in detail.  In those former daysif theyhad both been seen together side by sideno person couldfor amoment have mistaken them one for the otheras has happenedoften inthe instances of twins.  I could not say this now.  Thesorrow andsuffering which I had once blamed myself forassociatingeven by a passing thought with the future of LauraFairlieHAD set their profaning marks on the youth and beauty ofher face;and the fatal resemblance which I had once seen andshudderedat seeingin idea onlywas now a real and livingresemblancewhich asserted itself before my own eyes.  Strangersacquaintancesfriends even who could not look at her as welookedifshe had been shown to them in the first days of herrescuefrom the Asylummight have doubted if she were the LauraFairliethey had once seenand doubted without blame.

The oneremaining chancewhich I had at first thought might betrusted toserve usthe chance of appealing to her recollectionof personsand events with which no impostor could be familiarwasprovedby the sad test of our later experienceto behopeless. Every little caution that Marian and I practisedtowardsherevery little remedy we triedto strengthen andsteadyslowly the weakenedshaken facultieswas a fresh protestin itselfagainst the risk of turning her mind back on thetroubledand the terrible past.

The onlyevents of former days which we ventured on encouragingher torecall were the little trivial domestic events of thathappy timeat Limmeridgewhen I first went there and taught herto draw. The day when I roused those remembrances by showing herthe sketchof the summer-house which she had given me on themorning ofour farewelland which had never been separated fromme sincewas the birthday of our first hope.  Tenderly andgraduallythe memory of the old walks and drives dawned upon herand thepoor weary pining eyes looked at Marian and at me with anewinterestwith a faltering thoughtfulness in themwhich fromthatmoment we cherished and kept alive.  I bought her a littlebox ofcoloursand a sketch-book like the old sketch-book which Ihad seenin her hands on the morning that we first met.  Onceagainohmeonce again!at spare hours saved from my workinthe dullLondon lightin the poor London roomI sat by her sideto guidethe faltering touchto help the feeble hand.  Day by dayI raisedand raised the new interest till its place in the blankof herexistence was at last assuredtill she could think of herdrawingand talk of itand patiently practise it by herselfwithsome faintreflection of the innocent pleasure in myencouragementthe growing enjoyment in her own progresswhichbelongedto the lost life and the lost happiness of past days.

We helpedher mind slowly by this simple meanswe took her outbetween usto walk on fine daysin a quiet old City square nearat handwhere there was nothing to confuse or alarm herwespared afew pounds from the fund at the banker's to get her wineand thedelicate strengthening food that she requiredwe amusedher in theevenings with children's games at cardswith scrap-books fullof prints which I borrowed from the engraver whoemployedmeby theseand other trifling attentions like themwecomposedher and steadied herand hoped all thingsas cheerfullyas wecould from time and careand love that never neglected andneverdespaired of her.  But to take her mercilessly fromseclusionand reposeto confront her with strangersor withacquaintanceswho were little better than strangersto rouse thepainfulimpressions of her past life which we had so carefullyhushed torestthiseven in her own interestswe dared not do.Whateversacrifices it costwhatever longwearyheart-breakingdelays itinvolvedthe wrong that had been inflicted on herifmortalmeans could grapple itmust be redressed without herknowledgeand without her help.

Thisresolution settledit was next necessary to decide how thefirst riskshould be venturedand what the first proceedingsshould be.

Afterconsulting with MarianI resolved to begin by gatheringtogetheras many facts as could be collectedthen to ask theadvice ofMr. Kyrle (whom we knew we could trust)and toascertainfrom himin the first instanceif the legal remedy layfairlywithin our reach.  I owed it to Laura's interests not tostake herwhole future on my own unaided exertionsso long asthere wasthe faintest prospect of strengthening our position byobtainingreliable assistance of any kind.

The firstsource of information to which I applied was the journalkept atBlackwater Park by Marian Halcombe.  There were passagesin thisdiary relating to myself which she thought it best that Ishould notsee.  Accordinglyshe read to me from the manuscriptand I tookthe notes I wanted as she went on.  We could only findtime topursue this occupation by sitting up late at night.  Threenightswere devoted to the purposeand were enough to put me inpossessionof all that Marian could tell.

My nextproceeding was to gain as much additional evidence as Icouldprocure from other people without exciting suspicion.  Iwentmyself to Mrs. Vesey to ascertain if Laura's impression ofhavingslept there was correct or not.  In this casefromconsiderationfor Mrs. Vesey's age and infirmityand in allsubsequentcases of the same kind from considerations of cautionI kept ourreal position a secretand was always careful to speakof Lauraas "the late Lady Glyde."

Mrs.Vesey's answer to my inquiries only confirmed theapprehensionswhich I had previously felt.  Laura had certainlywritten tosay she would pass the night under the roof of her oldfriendbutshe had never been near the house.

Her mindin this instanceandas I fearedin other instancesbesidesconfusedly presented to her something which she had onlyintendedto do in the false light of something which she hadreallydone.  The unconscious contradiction of herself was easy toaccountfor in this waybut it was likely to lead to seriousresults. It was a stumble on the threshold at startingit was aflaw inthe evidence which told fatally against us.

When Inext asked for the letter which Laura had written to Mrs.Vesey fromBlackwater Parkit was given to me without theenvelopewhich had been thrown into the wastepaper basketandlong sincedestroyed.  In the letter itself no date was mentionednot eventhe day of the week.  It only contained these lines:"DearestMrs. VeseyI am in sad distress and anxietyand I maycome toyour house to-morrow nightand ask for a bed.  I can'ttell youwhat is the matter in this letterI write it in suchfear ofbeing found out that I can fix my mind on nothing.  Praybe at hometo see me.  I will give you a thousand kissesand tellyoueverything.  Your affectionate Laura." What help was thereinthoselines? None.

Onreturning from Mrs. Vesey'sI instructed Marian to write(observingthe same caution which I practised myself) to Mrs.Michelson. She was to expressif she pleasedsome generalsuspicionof Count Fosco's conductand she was to ask thehousekeeperto supply us with a plain statement of eventsin theinterestsof truth.  While we were waiting for the answerwhichreached usin a week's timeI went to the doctor in St. John'sWoodintroducing myself as sent by Miss Halcombe to collectifpossiblemore particulars of her sister's last illness than Mr.Kyrle hadfound the time to procure.  By Mr. Goodricke'sassistanceI obtained a copy of the certificate of deathand aninterviewwith the woman (Jane Gould) who had been employed topreparethe body for the grave.  Through this person I alsodiscovereda means of communicating with the servantHesterPinhorn. She had recently left her place in consequence of adisagreementwith her mistressand she was lodging with somepeople inthe neighbourhood whom Mrs. Gould knew.  In the mannerhereindicated I obtained the Narratives of the housekeeperofthedoctorof Jane Gouldand of Hester Pinhornexactly as theyarepresented in these pages.

Furnishedwith such additional evidence as these documentsaffordedI considered myself to be sufficiently prepared for aconsultationwith Mr. Kyrleand Marian wrote accordingly tomention myname to himand to specify the day and hour at which Irequestedto see him on private business.

There wastime enough in the morning for me to take Laura out forher walkas usualand to see her quietly settled at her drawingafterwards. She looked up at me with a new anxiety in her face asI rose toleave the roomand her fingers began to toy doubtfullyin the oldwaywith the brushes and pencils on the table.

"Youare not tired of me yet?" she said.  "You are notgoing awaybecauseyou are tired of me? I will try to do betterI will tryto getwell.  Are you as fond of meWalter as you used to benowI am sopale and thinand so slow in learning to draw?"

She spokeas a child might have spokenshe showed me her thoughtsas a childmight have shown them.  I waited a few minutes longerwaited totell her that she was dearer to me now than she had everbeen inthe past times.  "Try to get well again" I saidencouragingthe new hope in the future which I saw dawning in hermind"tryto get well againfor Marian's sake and for mine."

"Yes"she said to herselfreturning to her drawing.  "I musttrybecause they are both so fond of me." She suddenly looked upagain. "Don't be gone long! I can't get on with my drawingWalterwhen you are not here to help me."

"Ishall soon be backmy darlingsoon be back to see how you aregettingon."

My voicefaltered a little in spite of me.  I forced myself fromthe room. It was no timethenfor parting with the self-controlwhichmight yet serve me in my need before the day was out.

As Iopened the doorI beckoned to Marian to follow me to thestairs. It was necessary to prepare her for a result which I feltmightsooner or later follow my showing myself openly in thestreets.

"Ishallin all probabilitybe back in a few hours" I said"andyou will take careas usualto let no one inside the doorsin myabsence.  But if anything happens"

"Whatcan happen?" she interposed quickly.  "Tell meplainlyWalterifthere is any dangerand I shall know how to meet it."

"Theonly danger" I replied"is that Sir Percival Glyde mayhavebeenrecalled to London by the news of Laura's escape.  You areaware thathe had me watched before I left Englandand that heprobablyknows me by sightalthough I don't know him?"

She laidher hand on my shoulder and looked at me in anxioussilence. I saw she understood the serious risk that threatenedus.

"Itis not likely" I said"that I shall be seen in Londonagainso sooneither by Sir Percival himself or by the persons in hisemploy. But it is barely possible that an accident may happen.In thatcaseyou will not be alarmed if I fail to return to-nightandyou will satisfy any inquiry of Laura's with the bestexcusethat you can make for me? If I find the least reason tosuspectthat I am watchedI will take good care that no spyfollows meback to this house.  Don't doubt my returnMarianhowever itmay be delayedand fear nothing."

"Nothing!"she answered firmly.  "You shall not regretWalterthat youhave only a woman to help you." She pausedand detainedme for amoment longer.  "Take care!" she saidpressing myhandanxiously"takecare!"

I leftherand set forth to pave the way for discoverythe darkanddoubtful waywhich began at the lawyer's door.

 

IV

 

Nocircumstance of the slightest importance happened on my way totheoffices of Messrs.  Gilmore & Kyrlein Chancery Lane.

While mycard was being taken in to Mr. Kyrlea considerationoccurredto me which I deeply regretted not having thought ofbefore. The information derived from Marian's diary made it amatter ofcertainty that Count Fosco had opened her first letterfromBlackwater Park to Mr. Kyrleand hadby means of his wifeinterceptedthe second.  He was therefore well aware of theaddress ofthe officeand he would naturally infer that if Marianwantedadvice and assistanceafter Laura's escape from theAsylumshe would apply once more to the experience of Mr. Kyrle.In thiscase the office in Chancery Lane was the very first placewhich heand Sir Percival would cause to be watchedand if thesamepersons were chosen for the purpose who had been employed tofollow mebefore my departure from Englandthe fact of my returnwould inall probability be ascertained on that very day.  I hadthoughtgenerallyof the chances of my being recognised in thestreetsbut the special risk connected with the office had neveroccurredto me until the present moment.  It was too late now torepairthis unfortunate error in judgmenttoo late to wish that Ihad madearrangements for meeting the lawyer in some placeprivatelyappointed beforehand.  I could only resolve to becautiouson leaving Chancery Laneand not to go straight homeagainunder any circumstances whatever.

Afterwaiting a few minutes I was shown into Mr. Kyrle's privateroom. He was a palethinquietself-possessed manwith a veryattentiveeyea very low voiceand a very undemonstrativemannernot(as I judged) ready with his sympathy where strangerswereconcernedand not at all easy to disturb in his professionalcomposure. A better man for my purpose could hardly have beenfound. If he committed himself to a decision at alland if thedecisionwas favourablethe strength of our case was as good asprovedfrom that moment.

"BeforeI enter on the business which brings me here" I said"Iought towarn youMr. Kyrlethat the shortest statement I canmake of itmay occupy some little time."

"Mytime is at Miss Halcombe's disposal" he replied.  "Whereanyinterestsof hers are concernedI represent my partnerpersonallyas well as professionally.  It was his request that Ishould dosowhen he ceased to take an active part in business."

"MayI inquire whether Mr. Gilmore is in England?"

"Heis nothe is living with his relatives in Germany.  Hishealth hasimprovedbut the period of his return is stilluncertain.

While wewere exchanging these few preliminary wordshe had beensearchingamong the papers before himand he now produced fromthem asealed letter.  I thought he was about to hand the letterto mebutapparently changing his mindhe placed it by itselfon thetablesettled himself in his chairand silently waited tohear whatI had to say.

Withoutwasting a moment in prefatory words of any sortI enteredon mynarrativeand put him in full possession of the eventswhich havealready been related in these pages.

Lawyer ashe was to the very marrow of his bonesI startled himout of hisprofessional composure.  Expressions of incredulity andsurprisewhich he could not repressinterrupted me several timesbefore Ihad done.  I perseveredhoweverto the endand as soonas Ireached itboldly asked the one important question

"Whatis your opinionMr. Kyrle?"

He was toocautious to commit himself to an answer without takingtime torecover his self-possession first.

"BeforeI give my opinion" he said"I must beg permission toclear theground by a few questions."

He put thequestionssharpsuspiciousunbelieving questionswhichclearly showed meas they proceededthat he thought I wasthe victimof a delusionand that he might even have doubtedbutfor myintroduction to him by Miss Halcombewhether I was notattemptingthe perpetration of a cunningly-designed fraud.

"Doyou believe that I have spoken the truthMr. Kyrle?" I askedwhen hehad done examining me.

"Sofar as your own convictions are concernedI am certain youhavespoken the truth" he replied.  "I have the highestesteemfor MissHalcombeand I have therefore every reason to respect agentlemanwhose mediation she trusts in a matter of this kind.  Iwill evengo fartherif you likeand admitfor courtesy's sakeand forargument's sakethat the identity of Lady Glyde as alivingperson is a proved fact to Miss Halcombe and yourself.  Butyou cometo me for a legal opinion.  As a lawyerand as a lawyeronlyitis my duty to tell youMr.  Hartrightthat you have notthe shadowof a case."

"Youput it stronglyMr. Kyrle."

"Iwill try to put it plainly as well.  The evidence of LadyGlyde'sdeath ison the face of itclear and satisfactory.There isher aunt's testimony to prove that she came to CountFosco'shousethat she fell illand that she died.  There is thetestimonyof the medical certificate to prove the deathand toshow thatit took place under natural circumstances.  There is thefact ofthe funeral at Limmeridgeand there is the assertion oftheinscription on the tomb.  That is the case you want tooverthrow. What evidence have you to support the declaration onyour sidethat the person who died and was buried was not LadyGlyde? Letus run through the main points of your statement andsee whatthey are worth.  Miss Halcombe goes to a certain privateAsylumand there sees a certain female patient.  It is known thata womannamed Anne Catherickand bearing an extraordinarypersonalresemblance to Lady Glydeescaped from the Asylum; it isknown thatthe person received there last July was received asAnneCatherick brought back; it is known that the gentleman whobroughther back warned Mr. Fairlie that it was part of herinsanityto be bent on personating his dead niece; and it is knownthat shedid repeatedly declare herself in the Asylum (where noonebelieved her) to be Lady Glyde.  These are all facts.  Whathave youto set against them? Miss Halcombe's recognition of thewomanwhich recognition after-events invalidate or contradict.Does MissHalcombe assert her supposed sister's identity to theowner ofthe Asylumand take legal means for rescuing her? Noshesecretly bribes a nurse to let her escape.  When the patienthas beenreleased in this doubtful mannerand is taken to Mr.Fairliedoes he recognise her? Is he staggered for one instant inhis beliefof his niece's death?  No.  Do the servants recogniseher? No.  Is she kept in the neighbourhood to assert her ownidentityand to stand the test of further proceedings? Noshe isprivatelytaken to London.  In the meantime you have recognisedher alsobut you are not a relativeyou are not even an oldfriend ofthe family.  The servants contradict youand Mr.Fairliecontradicts Miss Halcombeand the supposed Lady Glydecontradictsherself.  She declares she passed the night in Londonat acertain house.  Your own evidence shows that she has neverbeen nearthat houseand your own admission is that her conditionof mindprevents you from producing her anywhere to submit toinvestigationand to speak for herself.  I pass over minor pointsofevidence on both sides to save timeand I ask youif thiscase wereto go now into a court of lawto go before a jurybound totake facts as they reasonably appearwhere are yourproofs?"

I wasobliged to wait and collect myself before I could answerhim. It was the first time the story of Laura and the story ofMarian hadbeen presented to me from a stranger's point of viewthe firsttime the terrible obstacles that lay across our path hadbeen madeto show themselves in their true character.

"Therecan be no doubt" I said"that the factsas you havestatedthemappear to tell against usbut"

"Butyou think those facts can be explained away" interposed Mr.Kyrle. "Let me tell you the result of my experience on thatpoint. When an English jury has to choose between a plain fact ONthesurface and a long explanation UNDER the surfaceit alwaystakes thefact in preference to the explanation.  For exampleLady Glyde(I call the lady you represent by that name forargument'ssake) declares she has slept at a certain houseand itis provedthat she has not slept at that house.  You explain thiscircumstanceby entering into the state of her mindand deducingfrom it ametaphysical conclusion.  I don't say the conclusion iswrongIonly say that the jury will take the fact of hercontradictingherself in preference to any reason for thecontradictionthat you can offer."

"Butis it not possible" I urged"by dint of patience andexertionto discover additional evidence? Miss Halcombe and Ihave a fewhundred pounds"

He lookedat me with a half-suppressed pityand shook his head.

"Considerthe subjectMr. Hartrightfrom your own point ofview"he said.  "If you are right about Sir Percival Glyde andCountFosco (which I don't admitmind)every imaginabledifficultywould be thrown in the way of your getting freshevidence. Every obstacle of litigation would be raisedeverypoint inthe case would be systematically contestedand by thetime wehad spent our thousands instead of our hundredsthe finalresultwouldin all probabilitybe against us.  Questions ofidentitywhere instances of personal resemblance are concernedareinthemselvesthe hardest of all questions to settlethehardesteven when they are free from the complications whichbeset thecase we are now discussing.  I really see no prospect ofthrowingany light whatever on this extraordinary affair.  Even ifthe personburied in Limmeridge churchyard be not Lady Glydeshewasinlifeon your own showingso like herthat we shouldgainnothingif we applied for the necessary authority to havethe bodyexhumed.  In shortthere is no caseMr. Hartrightthere isreally no case."

I wasdetermined to believe that there WAS a caseand in thatdeterminationshifted my groundand appealed to him once more.

"Arethere not other proofs that we might produce besides theproof ofidentity?" I asked.

"Notas you are situated" he replied.  "The simplest andsurestof allproofsthe proof by comparison of datesisas Iunderstandaltogether out of your reach.  If you could show adiscrepancybetween the date of the doctor's certificate and thedate ofLady Glyde's journey to Londonthe matter would wear atotallydifferent aspectand I should be the first to sayLet usgo on."

"Thatdate may yet be recoveredMr. Kyrle."

"Onthe day when it is recoveredMr. Hartrightyou will have acase. If you have any prospectat this momentof getting at ittell meand we shall see if I can advise you."

Iconsidered.  The housekeeper could not help usLaura could nothelpusMarian could not help us.  In all probabilitythe onlypersons inexistence who knew the date were Sir Percival and theCount.

"Ican think of no means of ascertaining the date at present" Isaid"because I can think of no persons who are sure to know itbut CountFosco and Sir Percival Glyde."

Mr.Kyrle's calmly attentive face relaxedfor the first timeinto asmile.

"Withyour opinion of the conduct of those two gentlemen" hesaid"youdon't expect help in that quarterI presume? If theyhavecombined to gain large sums of money by a conspiracytheyare notlikely to confess itat any rate."

"Theymay be forced to confess itMr. Kyrle."

"Bywhom?"

"Byme."

We bothrose.  He looked me attentively in the face with moreappearanceof interest than he had shown yet.  I could see that Ihadperplexed him a little.

"Youare very determined" he said.  "You haveno doubtapersonalmotive for proceedinginto which it is not my businesstoinquire.  If a case can be produced in the futureI can onlysaymybest assistance is at your service.  At the same time Imust warnyouas the money question always enters into the lawquestionthat I see little hopeeven if you ultimatelyestablishedthe fact of Lady Glyde's being aliveof recoveringherfortune.  The foreigner would probably leave the countrybeforeproceedings were commencedand Sir Percival'sembarrassmentsare numerous enough and pressing enough to transferalmost anysum of money he may possess from himself to hiscreditors. You are of course aware"

I stoppedhim at that point.

"Letme beg that we may not discuss Lady Glyde's affairs" I said."Ihave never known anything about them in former timesand Iknownothing of them nowexcept that her fortune is lost. You areright inassuming that I have personal motives for stirring inthismatter.  I wish those motives to be always as disinterestedas theyare at the present moment"

He triedto interpose and explain.  I was a little heatedIsupposeby feeling that he had doubted meand I went on bluntlywithoutwaiting to hear him.

"Thereshall be no money motive" I said"no idea of personaladvantagein the service I mean to render to Lady Glyde.  She hasbeen castout as a stranger from the house in which she was borna liewhich records her death has been written on her mother'stombandthere are two menalive and unpunishedwho areresponsiblefor it.  That house shall open again to receive her inthepresence of every soul who followed the false funeral to thegravethatlie shall be publicly erased from the tombstone by theauthorityof the head of the familyand those two men shallanswer fortheir crime to MEthough the justice that sits intribunalsis powerless to pursue them.  I have given my life tothatpurposeandalone as I standif God spares meI willaccomplishit."

He drewback towards his tableand said nothing.  His face showedplainlythat he thought my delusion had got the better of myreasonand that he considered it totally useless to give me anymoreadvice.

"Weeach keep our opinionMr. Kyrle" I said"and we mustwaittill theevents of the future decide between us.  In the meantimeI am muchobliged to you for the attention you have given to mystatement. You have shown me that the legal remedy liesin everysense ofthe wordbeyond our means.  We cannot produce the lawproofandwe are not rich enough to pay the law expenses.  It issomethinggained to know that."

I bowedand walked to the door.  He called me back and gave me theletterwhich I had seen him place on the table by itself at thebeginningof our interview.

"Thiscame by post a few days ago" he said.  "Perhaps youwillnot minddelivering it? Pray tell Miss Halcombeat the same timethat Isincerely regret beingthus farunable to help herexcept byadvicewhich will not be more welcomeI am afraidtoher thanto you."

I lookedat the letter while he was speaking.  It was addressed to"MissHalcombe.  Care of Messrs.  Gilmore & KyrleChanceryLane."Thehandwriting was quite unknown to me.

On leavingthe room I asked one last question.

"Doyou happen to know" I said"if Sir Percival Glyde isstillin Paris?"

"Hehas returned to London" replied Mr. Kyrle.  "At leastI heardso fromhis solicitorwhom I met yesterday."

After thatanswer I went out.

On leavingthe office the first precaution to be observed was toabstainfrom attracting attention by stopping to look about me.  Iwalkedtowards one of the quietest of the large squares on thenorth ofHolbornthen suddenly stopped and turned round at aplacewhere a long stretch of pavement was left behind me.

There weretwo men at the corner of the square who had stoppedalsoandwho were standing talking together.  After a moment'sreflectionI turned back so as to pass them.  One moved as I camenearandturned the corner leading from the square into thestreet. The other remained stationary.  I looked at him as Ipassed andinstantly recognised one of the men who had watched mebefore Ileft England.

If I hadbeen free to follow my own instinctsI should probablyhave begunby speaking to the manand have ended by knocking himdown. But I was bound to consider consequences.  If I once placedmyselfpublicly in the wrongI put the weapons at once into SirPercival'shands.  There was no choice but to oppose cunning bycunning. I turned into the street down which the second man haddisappearedand passed himwaiting in a doorway.  He was astrangerto meand I was glad to make sure of his personalappearancein case of future annoyance.  Having done thisI againwalkednorthward till I reached the New Road.  There I turnedaside tothe west (having the men behind me all the time)andwaited ata point where I knew myself to be at some distance fromacab-standuntil a fast two-wheel cabemptyshould happen topass me. One passed in a few minutes.  I jumped in and told theman todrive rapidly towards Hyde Park.  There was no second fastcab forthe spies behind me.  I saw them dart across to the otherside ofthe roadto follow me by runninguntil a cab or a cab-stand camein their way.  But I had the start of themand when Istoppedthe driver and got outthey were nowhere in sight.  IcrossedHyde Park and made sureon the open groundthat I wasfree. When I at last turned my steps homewardsit was not tillmany hourslaternot till after dark.

 

I foundMarian waiting for me alone in the little sitting-room.She hadpersuaded Laura to go to restafter first promising toshow meher drawing the moment I came in.  The poor little dimfaintsketchso trifling in itselfso touching in itsassociationswaspropped up carefully on the table with twobooksandwas placed where the faint light of the one candle weallowedourselves might fall on it to the best advantage.  I satdown tolook at the drawingand to tell Marianin whisperswhathadhappened.  The partition which divided us from the next roomwas sothin that we could almost hear Laura's breathingand wemight havedisturbed her if we had spoken aloud.

Marianpreserved her composure while I described my interview withMr.Kyrle.  But her face became troubled when I spoke next of themen whohad followed me from the lawyer's officeand when I toldher of thediscovery of Sir Percival's return.

"BadnewsWalter" she said"the worst news you could bring.Have younothing more to tell me?"

"Ihave something to give you" I repliedhanding her the notewhich Mr.Kyrle had confided to my care.

She lookedat the address and recognised the handwritinginstantly.

"Youknow your correspondent?" I said.

"Toowell" she answered.  "My correspondent is CountFosco."

With thatreply she opened the note.  Her face flushed deeplywhile sheread ither eyes brightened with anger as she handed itto me toread in my turn.

The notecontained these lines

 

"Impelledby honourable admirationhonourable to myselfhonourableto youI writemagnificent Marianin the interestsof yourtranquillityto say two consoling words

"Fearnothing!

"Exerciseyour fine natural sense and remain in retirement.  Dearandadmirable womaninvite no dangerous publicity.  Resignationissublimeadopt it.  The modest repose of home is eternallyfreshenjoyit.  The storms of life pass harmless over the valleyofSeclusiondwelldear ladyin the valley.

"Dothis and I authorise you to fear nothing.  No new calamityshalllacerate your sensibilitiessensibilities precious to me asmy own. You shall not be molestedthe fair companion of yourretreatshall not be pursued.  She has found a new asylum in yourheart. Priceless asylum!I envy her and leave her there.

"Onelast word of affectionate warningof paternal cautionand Itearmyself from the charm of addressing youI close theseferventlines.

"Advanceno farther than you have gone alreadycompromise noseriousintereststhreaten nobody.  Do notI implore youforceme intoactionMEthe Man of Actionwhen it is the cherishedobject ofmy ambition to be passiveto restrict the vast reach ofmyenergies and my combinations for your sake.  If you have rashfriendsmoderate their deplorable ardour.  If Mr. Hartrightreturns toEnglandhold no communication with him.  I walk on apath of myownand Percival follows at my heels.  On the day whenMr.Hartright crosses that pathhe is a lost man."

 

The onlysignature to these lines was the initial letter Fsurroundedby a circle of intricate flourishes.  I threw theletter onthe table with all the contempt that I felt for it.

"Heis trying to frighten youa sure sign that he is frightenedhimself"I said.

She wastoo genuine a woman to treat the letter as I treated it.Theinsolent familiarity of the language was too much for herself-control. As she looked at me across the tableher handsclenchedthemselves in her lapand the old quick fiery temperflamed outagain brightly in her cheeks and her eyes.

"Walter!"she said"if ever those two men are at your mercyandif you areobliged to spare one of themdon't let it be theCount."

"Iwill keep this letterMarianto help my memory when the timecomes."

She lookedat me attentively as I put the letter away in mypocket-book.

"Whenthe time comes?" she repeated.  "Can you speak of thefutureas if youwere certain of it?certain after what you have heardin Mr.Kyrle's officeafter what has happened to you to-day?"

"Idon't count the time from to-dayMarian.  All I have done to-day is toask another man to act for me.  I count from to-morrow"

"Whyfrom to-morrow?"

"Becauseto-morrow I mean to act for myself."

"How?"

"Ishall go to Blackwater by the first trainand returnI hopeat night."

"ToBlackwater!"

"Yes. I have had time to think since I left Mr. Kyrle.  Hisopinion onone point confirms my own.  We must persist to the lastin huntingdown the date of Laura's journey.  The one weak pointin theconspiracyand probably the one chance of proving that sheis aliving womancentre in the discovery of that date."

"Youmean" said Marian"the discovery that Laura did not leaveBlackwaterPark till after the date of her death on the doctor'scertificate?"

"Certainly."

"Whatmakes you think it might have been AFTER?  Laura can tell usnothing ofthe time she was in London."

"Butthe owner of the Asylum told you that she was received thereon thetwenty-seventh of July.  I doubt Count Fosco's ability tokeep herin Londonand to keep her insensible to all that waspassingaround hermore than one night.  In that caseshe musthavestarted on the twenty-sixthand must have come to London oneday afterthe date of her own death on the doctor's certificate.If we canprove that datewe prove our case against Sir Percivaland theCount."

"YesyesI see! But how is the proof to be obtained?"

"Mrs.Michelson's narrative has suggested to me two ways of tryingto obtainit.  One of them is to question the doctorMr. Dawsonwho mustknow when he resumed his attendance at Blackwater ParkafterLaura left the house.  The other is to make inquiries at theinn towhich Sir Percival drove away by himself at night.  We knowthat hisdeparture followed Laura's after the lapse of a fewhoursandwe may get at the date in that way.  The attempt is atleastworth makingand to-morrow I am determined it shall bemade."

"Andsuppose it failsI look at the worst nowWalter; but I willlook atthe best if disappointments come to try ussuppose no onecan helpyou at Blackwater?"

"Thereare two men who can help meand shall help me in LondonSirPercival and the Count.  Innocent people may well forget thedatebutTHEY are guiltyand THEY know it.  If I fail everywhereelseImean to force a confession out of one or both of them onmy ownterms."

All thewoman flushed up in Marian's face as I spoke.

"Beginwith the Count" she whispered eagerly.  "For my sakebegin withthe Count."

"Wemust beginfor Laura's sakewhere there is the best chanceofsuccess" I replied.

The colourfaded from her face againand she shook her headsadly.

"Yes"she said"you are rightit was mean and miserable of meto saythat.  I try to be patientWalterand succeed better nowthan I didin happier times.  But I have a little of my old temperstillleftand it will get the better of me when I think of theCount!"

"Histurn will come" I said.  "Butrememberthere is noweakplace inhis life that we know of yet." I waited a little to letherrecover her self-possessionand then spoke the decisivewords

"Marian!There is a weak place we both know of in Sir Percival'slife"

"Youmean the Secret!"

"Yes:the Secret.  It is our only sure hold on him.  I can forcehim fromhis position of securityI can drag him and his villainyinto theface of dayby no other means.  Whatever the Count mayhave doneSir Percival has consented to the conspiracy againstLaura fromanother motive besides the motive of gain.  You heardhim tellthe Count that he believed his wife knew enough to ruinhim? Youheard him say that he was a lost man if the secret ofAnneCatherick was known?"

"Yes!yes! I did."

"WellMarianwhen our other resources have failed usI mean toknow theSecret.  My old superstition clings to meeven yet.  Isay againthe woman in white is a living influence in our threelives. The End is appointedthe End is drawing us onand AnneCatherickdead in her gravepoints the way to it still!"

 

V

 

The storyof my first inquiries in Hampshire is soon told.

My earlydeparture from London enabled me to reach Mr. Dawson'shouse inthe forenoon.  Our interviewso far as the object of myvisit wasconcernedled to no satisfactory result.

Mr.Dawson's books certainly showed when he had resumed hisattendanceon Miss Halcombe at Blackwater Parkbut it was notpossibleto calculate back from this date with any exactnesswithoutsuch help from Mrs. Michelson as I knew she was unable toafford. She could not say from memory (whoin similar casesever can?)how many days had elapsed between the renewal of thedoctor'sattendance on his patient and the previous departure ofLadyGlyde.  She was almost certain of having mentioned thecircumstanceof the departure to Miss Halcombeon the day afterithappenedbut then she was no more able to fix the date of theday onwhich this disclosure took placethan to fix the date ofthe daybeforewhen Lady Glyde had left for London.  Neithercould shecalculatewith any nearer approach to exactnessthetime thathad passed from the departure of her mistressto theperiodwhen the undated letter from Madame Fosco arrived.  Lastlyas if tocomplete the series of difficultiesthe doctor himselfhavingbeen ill at the timehad omitted to make his usual entryof the dayof the week and month when the gardener from BlackwaterPark hadcalled on him to deliver Mrs. Michelson's message.

Hopelessof obtaining assistance from Mr. DawsonI resolved totry nextif I could establish the date of Sir Percival's arrivalatKnowlesbury.

It seemedlike a fatality! When I reached Knowlesbury the inn wasshut upand bills were posted on the walls.  The speculation hadbeen a badoneas I was informedever since the time of therailway. The new hotel at the station had gradually absorbed thebusinessand the old inn (which we knew to be the inn at whichSirPercival had put up)had been closed about two months since.Theproprietor had left the town with all his goods and chattelsand wherehe had gone I could not positively ascertain from anyone. The four people of whom I inquired gave me four differentaccountsof his plans and projects when he left Knowlesbury.

There werestill some hours to spare before the last train leftforLondonand I drove back again in a fly from the Knowlesburystation toBlackwater Parkwith the purpose of questioning thegardenerand the person who kept the lodge.  If theytooprovedunable toassist memy resources for the present were at an endand Imight return to town.

Idismissed the fly a mile distant from the parkand getting mydirectionsfrom the driverproceeded by myself to the house.

As Iturned into the lane from the high-roadI saw a manwith acarpet-bagwalking before me rapidly on the way to the lodge.  Hewas alittle mandressed in shabby blackand wearing aremarkablylarge hat.  I set him down (as well as it was possibleto judge)for a lawyer's clerkand stopped at once to widen thedistancebetween us.  He had not heard meand he walked on out ofsightwithout looking back.  When I passed through the gatesmyselfalittle while afterwardshe was not visiblehe hadevidentlygone on to the house.

There weretwo women in the lodge.  One of them was oldthe otherI knew atonceby Marian's description of herto be MargaretPorcher.

I askedfirst if Sir Percival was at the Parkand receiving areply inthe negativeinquired next when he had left it.  Neitherof thewomen could tell me more than that he had gone away in thesummer. I could extract nothing from Margaret Porcher but vacantsmiles andshakings of the head.  The old woman was a little moreintelligentand I managed to lead her into speaking of the mannerof SirPercival's departureand of the alarm that it caused her.Sheremembered her master calling her out of bedand rememberedhisfrightening her by swearingbut the date at which theoccurrencehappened wasas she honestly acknowledged"quitebeyondher."

On leavingthe lodge I saw the gardener at work not far off.  WhenI firstaddressed himhe looked at me rather distrustfullybuton myusing Mrs. Michelson's namewith a civil reference tohimselfhe entered into conversation readily enough.  There is noneed todescribe what passed between usit endedas all my otherattemptsto discover the date had ended.  The gardener knew thathis masterhad driven awayat night"some time in Julythe lastfortnightor the last ten days in the month"and knew no more.

While wewere speaking together I saw the man in blackwith thelarge hatcome out from the houseand stand at some littledistanceobserving us.

Certainsuspicions of his errand at Blackwater Park had alreadycrossed mymind.  They were now increased by the gardener'sinability(or unwillingness) to tell me who the man wasand Ideterminedto clear the way before meif possibleby speaking tohim. The plainest question I could put as a stranger would be toinquire ifthe house was allowed to be shown to visitors.  Iwalked upto the man at onceand accosted him in those words.

His lookand manner unmistakably betrayed that he knew who I wasand thathe wanted to irritate me into quarrelling with him.  Hisreply wasinsolent enough to have answered the purposeif I hadbeen lessdetermined to control myself.  As it wasI met him withthe mostresolute politenessapologised for my involuntaryintrusion(which he called a "trespass") and left the grounds.It wasexactly as I suspected.  The recognition of me when I leftMr.Kyrle's office had been evidently communicated to Sir PercivalGlydeandthe man in black had been sent to the Park inanticipationof my making inquiries at the house or in theneighbourhood. If I had given him the least chance of lodging anysort oflegal complaint against methe interference of the localmagistratewould no doubt have been turned to account as a clog onmyproceedingsand a means of separating me from Marian and Laurafor somedays at least.

I wasprepared to be watched on the way from Blackwater Park tothestationexactly as I had been watched in London the daybefore. But I could not discover at the timewhether I wasreallyfollowed on this occasion or not.  The man in black mighthave hadmeans of tracking me at his disposal of which I was notawarebutI certainly saw nothing of himin his own personeither onthe way to the stationor afterwards on my arrival atthe Londonterminus in the evening.  I reached home on foottaking theprecautionbefore I approached our own doorofwalkinground by the loneliest street in the neighbourhoodandtherestopping and looking back more than once over the open spacebehindme.  I had first learnt to use this stratagem againstsuspectedtreachery in the wilds of Central Americaand now I waspractisingit againwith the same purpose and with even greatercautionin the heart of civilised London!

Nothinghad happened to alarm Marian during my absence.  She askedeagerlywhat success I had met with.  When I told her she couldnotconceal her surprise at the indifference with which I spoke ofthefailure of my investigations thus far.

The truthwasthat the ill-success of my inquiries had in nosensedaunted me.  I had pursued them as a matter of dutyand Ihadexpected nothing from them.  In the state of my mind at thattimeitwas almost a relief to me to know that the struggle wasnownarrowed to a trial of strength between myself and SirPercivalGlyde.  The vindictive motive had mingled itself allalong withmy other and better motivesand I confess it was asatisfactionto me to feel that the surest waythe only way leftof servingLaura's causewas to fasten my hold firmly on thevillainwho had married her.

While Iacknowledge that I was not strong enough to keep mymotivesabove the reach of this instinct of revengeI canhonestlysay something in my own favour on the other side.  Nobasespeculation on the future relations of Laura and myselfandon theprivate and personal concessions which I might force fromSirPercival if I once had him at my mercyever entered my mind.I neversaid to myself"If I do succeedit shall be one resultof mysuccess that I put it out of her husband's power to take herfrom meagain." I could not look at her and think of the futurewith suchthoughts as those.  The sad sight of the change in herfrom herformer selfmade the one interest of my love an interestoftenderness and compassion which her father or her brother mighthave feltand which I feltGod knowsin my inmost heart.  Allmy hopeslooked no farther on now than to the day of her recovery.Theretill she was strong again and happy againtheretill shecould lookat me as she had once lookedand speak to me as shehad oncespokenthe future of my happiest thoughts and my dearestwishesended.

Thesewords are written under no prompting of idle self-contemplation. Passages in this narrative are soon to come whichwill setthe minds of others in judgment on my conduct.  It isright thatthe best and the worst of me should be fairly balancedbeforethat time.

 

On themorning after my return from Hampshire I took Marianupstairsinto my working-roomand there laid before her the planthat I hadmatured thus farfor mastering the one assailablepoint inthe life of Sir Percival Glyde.

The way tothe Secret lay through the mysteryhithertoimpenetrableto all of usof the woman in white.  The approach tothat inits turn might be gained by obtaining the assistance ofAnneCatherick's motherand the only ascertainable means ofprevailingon Mrs. Catherick to act or to speak in the matterdependedon the chance of my discovering local particulars andfamilyparticulars first of all from Mrs. Clements.  Afterthinkingthe subject over carefullyI felt certain that I couldonly beginthe new inquiries by placing myself in communicationwith thefaithful friend and protectress of Anne Catherick.

The firstdifficulty then was to find Mrs. Clements.

I wasindebted to Marian's quick perception for meeting thisnecessityat once by the best and simplest means.  She proposed towrite tothe farm near Limmeridge (Todd's Corner)to inquirewhetherMrs. Clements had communicated with Mrs. Todd during thepast fewmonths.  How Mrs. Clements had been separated from Anneit wasimpossible for us to saybut that separation onceeffectedit would certainly occur to Mrs. Clements to inquireafter themissing woman in the neighbourhood of all others towhich shewas known to be most attachedthe neighbourhood ofLimmeridge. I saw directly that Marian's proposal offered us aprospectof successand she wrote to Mrs. Todd accordingly bythat day'spost.

While wewere waiting for the replyI made myself master of alltheinformation Marian could afford on the subject of SirPercival'sfamilyand of his early life.  She could only speak onthesetopics from hearsaybut she was reasonably certain of thetruth ofwhat little she had to tell.

SirPercival was an only child.  His fatherSir Felix Glydehadsufferedfrom his birth under a painful and incurable deformityand hadshunned all society from his earliest years.  His solehappinesswas in the enjoyment of musicand he had married a ladywithtastes similar to his ownwho was said to be a mostaccomplishedmusician.  He inherited the Blackwater property whilestill ayoung man.  Neither he nor his wife after takingpossessionmade advances of any sort towards the society of theneighbourhoodand no one endeavoured to tempt them intoabandoningtheir reservewith the one disastrous exception of therector ofthe parish.

The rectorwas the worst of all innocent mischief-makersan over-zealousman.  He had heard that Sir Felix had left College withthecharacter of being little better than a revolutionist inpoliticsand an infidel in religionand he arrivedconscientiouslyat the conclusion that it was his bounden duty tosummon thelord of the manor to hear sound views enunciated in theparishchurch.  Sir Felix fiercely resented the clergyman's well-meant butill-directed interferenceinsulting him so grossly andsopubliclythat the families in the neighbourhood sent lettersofindignant remonstrance to the Parkand even the tenants of theBlackwaterproperty expressed their opinion as strongly as theydared. The baronetwho had no country tastes of any kindand noattachmentto the estate or to any one living on itdeclared thatsociety atBlackwater should never have a second chance ofannoyinghimand left the place from that moment.

After ashort residence in London he and his wife departed for theContinentand never returned to England again.  They lived partof thetime in France and part in Germanyalways keepingthemselvesin the strict retirement which the morbid sense of hisownpersonal deformity had made a necessity to Sir Felix.  TheirsonPercivalhad been born abroadand had been educated thereby privatetutors.  His mother was the first of his parents whomhe lost.His father had died a few years after hereither in 1825or 1826. Sir Percival had been in Englandas a young manonceor twicebefore that periodbut his acquaintance with the lateMr.Fairlie did not begin till after the time of his father'sdeath. They soon became very intimatealthough Sir Percival wasseldomorneverat Limmeridge House in those days.  Mr.FrederickFairlie might have met him once or twice in Mr. PhilipFairlie'scompanybut he could have known little of him at thator at anyother time.  Sir Percival's only intimate friend in theFairliefamily had been Laura's father.

These wereall the particulars that I could gain from Marian.Theysuggested nothing which was useful to my present purposebutI notedthem down carefullyin the event of their proving to beofimportance at any future period.

Mrs.Todd's reply (addressedby our own wishto a post-office atsomedistance from us) had arrived at its destination when I wentto applyfor it.  The chanceswhich had been all against ushithertoturned from this moment in our favour.  Mrs. Todd'slettercontained the first item of information of which we were insearch.

Mrs.Clementsit appearedhad (as we had conjectured) written toTodd'sCornerasking pardon in the first place for the abruptmanner inwhich she and Anne had left their friends at the farm-house (onthe morning after I had met the woman in white inLimmeridgechurchyard)and then informing Mrs. Todd of Anne'sdisappearanceand entreating that she would cause inquiries to bemade inthe neighbourhoodon the chance that the lost woman mighthavestrayed back to Limmeridge. In making this requestMrs.Clementshad been careful to add to it the address at which shemightalways be heard ofand that address Mrs. Todd nowtransmittedto Marian.  It was in Londonand within half anhour'swalk of our own lodging.

In thewords of the proverbI was resolved not to let the grassgrow undermy feet.  The next morning I set forth to seek aninterviewwith Mrs.  Clements.  This was my first step forward intheinvestigation.  The story of the desperate attempt to which Inow stoodcommitted begins here.

 

VI

 

Theaddress communicated by Mrs. Todd took me to a lodging-housesituatedin a respectable street near the Gray's Inn Road.

When Iknocked the door was opened by Mrs. Clements herself.  Shedid notappear to remember meand asked what my business was.  Irecalledto her our meeting in Limmeridge churchyard at the closeof myinterview there with the woman in whitetaking special careto remindher that I was the person who assisted Anne Catherick(as Annehad herself declared) to escape the pursuit from theAsylum. This was my only claim to the confidence of Mrs.Clements. She remembered the circumstance the moment I spoke ofitandasked me into the parlourin the greatest anxiety to knowif I hadbrought her any news of Anne.

It wasimpossible for me to tell her the whole truth withoutatthe sametimeentering into particulars on the subject of theconspiracywhich it would have been dangerous to confide to astranger. I could only abstain most carefully from raising anyfalsehopesand then explain that the object of my visit was todiscoverthe persons who were really responsible for Anne'sdisappearance. I even addedso as to exonerate myself from anyafter-reproachof my own consciencethat I entertained not theleast hopeof being able to trace herthat I believed we shouldnever seeher alive againand that my main interest in the affairwas tobring to punishment two men whom I suspected to beconcernedin luring her awayand at whose hands I and some dearfriends ofmine had suffered a grievous wrong.  With thisexplanationI left it to Mrs. Clements to say whether our interestin thematter (whatever difference there might be in the motiveswhichactuated us) was not the sameand whether she felt anyreluctanceto forward my object by giving me such information onthesubject of my inquiries as she happened to possess.

The poorwoman was at first too much confused and agitated tounderstandthoroughly what I said to her.  She could only replythat I waswelcome to anything she could tell me in return for thekindness Ihad shown to Anne; but as she was not very quick andreadyatthe best of timesin talking to strangersshe wouldbeg me toput her in the right wayand to say where I wished herto begin.

Knowing byexperience that the plainest narrative attainable frompersonswho are not accustomed to arrange their ideasis thenarrativewhich goes far enough back at the beginning to avoid allimpedimentsof retrospection in its courseI asked Mrs. Clementsto tell mefirst what had happened after she had left Limmeridgeand sobywatchful questioningcarried her on from point topointtill we reached the period of Anne's disappearance.

Thesubstance of the information which I thus obtained was asfollows:

On leavingthe farm at Todd's CornerMrs. Clements and Anne hadtravelledthat day as far as Derbyand had remained there a weekon Anne'saccount.  They had then gone on to Londonand had livedin thelodging occupied by Mrs. Clements at that time for a monthor morewhen circumstances connected with the house and thelandlordhad obliged them to change their quarters.  Anne's terrorof beingdiscovered in London or its neighbourhoodwhenever theyventuredto walk outhad gradually communicated itself to Mrs.Clementsand she had determined on removing to one of the mostout-of-the-wayplaces in Englandto the town of Grimsby inLincolnshirewhere her deceased husband had passed all his earlylife. His relatives were respectable people settled in the townthey hadalways treated Mrs. Clements with great kindnessand shethought itimpossible to do better than go there and take theadvice ofher husband's friends.  Anne would not hear of returningto hermother at Welminghambecause she had been removed to theAsylumfrom that placeand because Sir Percival would be certainto go backthere and find her again.  There was serious weight inthisobjectionand Mrs. Clements felt that it was not to beeasilyremoved.

At Grimsbythe first serious symptoms of illness had shownthemselvesin Anne.  They appeared soon after the news of LadyGlyde'smarriage had been made public in the newspapersand hadreachedher through that medium.

Themedical man who was sent for to attend the sick womandiscoveredat once that she was suffering from a serious affectionof theheart.  The illness lasted longleft her very weakandreturnedat intervalsthough with mitigated severityagain andagain. They remained at Grimsbyin consequenceduring the firsthalf ofthe new yearand there they might probably have stayedmuchlongerbut for the sudden resolution which Anne took at thistime toventure back to Hampshirefor the purpose of obtaining aprivateinterview with Lady Glyde.

Mrs.Clements did all in her power to oppose the execution of thishazardousand unaccountable project.  No explanation of hermotiveswas offered by Anneexcept that she believed the day ofher deathwas not far offand that she had something on her mindwhich mustbe communicated to Lady Glydeat any riskin secret.Herresolution to accomplish this purpose was so firmly settledthat shedeclared her intention of going to Hampshire by herselfif Mrs.Clements felt any unwillingness to go with her.  Thedoctoronbeing consultedwas of opinion that serious oppositionto herwishes wouldin all probabilityproduce another andperhaps afatal fit of illnessand Mrs. Clementsunder thisadviceyielded to necessityand once morewith sad forebodingsof troubleand danger to comeallowed Anne Catherick to have herown way.

On thejourney from London to Hampshire Mrs. Clements discoveredthat oneof their fellow-passengers was well acquainted with theneighbourhoodof Blackwaterand could give her all theinformationshe needed on the subject of localities.  In this wayshe foundout that the only place they could go towhich was notdangerouslynear to Sir Percival's residencewas a large villagecalledSandon.  The distance here from Blackwater Park was betweenthree andfour milesand that distanceand back againAnne hadwalked oneach occasion when she had appeared in the neighbourhoodof thelake.

For thefew days during which they were at Sandon without beingdiscoveredthey had lived a little away from the villagein thecottage ofa decent widow-woman who had a bedroom to letandwhosediscreet silence Mrs. Clements had done her best to securefor thefirst week at least.  She had also tried hard to induceAnne to becontent with writing to Lady Glydein the firstinstance;but the failure of the warning contained in theanonymousletter sent to Limmeridge had made Anne resolute tospeak thistimeand obstinate in the determination to go on hererrandalone.

Mrs.Clementsneverthelessfollowed her privately on eachoccasionwhen she went to the lakewithouthoweverventuringnearenough to the boat-house to be witness of what took placethere. When Anne returned for the last time from the dangerousneighbourhoodthe fatigue of walkingday after daydistanceswhich werefar too great for her strengthadded to the exhaustingeffect ofthe agitation from which she had sufferedproduced theresultwhich Mrs. Clements had dreaded all along.  The old painover theheart and the other symptoms of the illness at Grimsbyreturnedand Anne was confined to her bed in the cottage.

In thisemergency the first necessityas Mrs. Clements knew byexperiencewas to endeavour to quiet Anne's anxiety of mindandfor thispurpose the good woman went herself the next day to thelaketotry if she could find Lady Glyde (who would be sureasAnne saidto take her daily walk to the boat-house)and prevailon her tocome back privately to the cottage near Sandon.  Onreachingthe outskirts of the plantation Mrs. Clementsencounterednot Lady Glydebut a tallstoutelderly gentlemanwith abook in his handin other wordsCount Fosco.

The Countafter looking at her very attentively for a momentasked ifshe expected to see any one in that placeand addedbefore shecould replythat he was waiting there with a messagefrom LadyGlydebut that he was not quite certain whether thepersonthen before him answered the description of the person withwhom hewas desired to communicate.

Upon thisMrs. Clements at once confided her errand to himandentreatedthat he would help to allay Anne's anxiety by trustinghismessage to her.  The Count most readily and kindly compliedwith herrequest.  The messagehe saidwas a very important one.Lady Glydeentreated Anne and her good friend to returnimmediatelyto Londonas she felt certain that Sir Percival woulddiscoverthem if they remained any longer in the neighbourhood ofBlackwater. She was herself going to London in a short timeandif Mrs.Clements and Anne would go there firstand would let herknow whattheir address wasthey should hear from her and see herin afortnight or less.  The Count added that he had alreadyattemptedto give a friendly warning to Anne herselfbut that shehad beentoo much startled by seeing that he was a stranger to lethimapproach and speak to her.

To thisMrs. Clements repliedin the greatest alarm and distressthat sheasked nothing better than to take Anne safely to Londonbut thatthere was no present hope of removing her from thedangerousneighbourhoodas she lay ill in her bed at that moment.The Countinquired if Mrs. Clements had sent for medical adviceandhearing that she had hitherto hesitated to do sofrom thefear ofmaking their position publicly known in the villageinformedher that he was himself a medical manand that he wouldgo backwith her if she pleasedand see what could be done forAnne. Mrs. Clements (feeling a natural confidence in the Countas aperson trusted with a secret message from Lady Glyde)gratefullyaccepted the offerand they went back together to thecottage.

Anne wasasleep when they got there.  The Count started at thesight ofher (evidently from astonishment at her resemblance toLadyGlyde).  Poor Mrs. Clements supposed that he was only shockedto see howill she was.  He would not allow her to be awakenedhewascontented with putting questions to Mrs. Clements about hersymptomswith looking at herand with lightly touching herpulse. Sandon was a large enough place to have a grocer's anddruggist'sshop in itand thither the Count went to write hisprescriptionand to get the medicine made up.  He brought it backhimselfand told Mrs. Clements that the medicine was a powerfulstimulantand that it would certainly give Anne strength to getup andbear the fatigue of a journey to London of only a fewhours. The remedy was to be administered at stated times on thatday and onthe day after.  On the third day she would be wellenough totraveland he arranged to meet Mrs. Clements at theBlackwaterstationand to see them off by the mid-day train.  Ifthey didnot appear he would assume that Anne was worseand wouldproceed atonce to the cottage.

As eventsturned outno such emergency as this occurred.

Thismedicine had an extraordinary effect on Anneand the goodresults ofit were helped by the assurance Mrs. Clements could nowgive herthat she would soon see Lady Glyde in London.  At theappointedday and time (when they had not been quite so long as aweek inHampshire altogether)they arrived at the station.  TheCount waswaiting there for themand was talking to an elderlyladywhoappeared to be going to travel by the train to Londonalso. He most kindly assisted themand put them into thecarriagehimselfbegging Mrs. Clements not to forget to send heraddress toLady Glyde.  The elderly lady did not travel in thesamecompartmentand they did not notice what became of her onreachingthe London terminus.  Mrs. Clements secured respectablelodgingsin a quiet neighbourhoodand then wroteas she hadengaged todoto inform Lady Glyde of the address.

A littlemore than a fortnight passedand no answer came.

At the endof that time a lady (the same elderly lady whom theyhad seenat the station) called in a caband said that she camefrom LadyGlydewho was then at an hotel in Londonand whowished tosee Mrs. Clementsfor the purpose of arranging a futureinterviewwith Anne.  Mrs. Clements expressed her willingness(Annebeing present at the timeand entreating her to do so) toforwardthe object in viewespecially as she was not required tobe awayfrom the house for more than half an hour at the most.She andthe elderly lady (clearly Madame Fosco) then left in thecab. The lady stopped the cabafter it had driven some distanceat a shopbefore they got to the hoteland begged Mrs. Clementsto waitfor her for a few minutes while she made a purchase thathad beenforgotten.  She never appeared again.

Afterwaiting some time Mrs. Clements became alarmedand orderedthe cabmanto drive back to her lodgings.  When she got thereafter anabsence of rather more than half an hourAnne was gone.

The onlyinformation to be obtained from the people of the housewasderived from the servant who waited on the lodgers.  She hadopened thedoor to a boy from the streetwho had left a letterfor "theyoung woman who lived on the second floor" (the part ofthe housewhich Mrs. Clements occupied).  The servant haddeliveredthe letterhad then gone downstairsand five minutesafterwardshad observed Anne open the front door and go outdressed inher bonnet and shawl.  She had probably taken theletterwith herfor it was not to be foundand it was thereforeimpossibleto tell what inducement had been offered to make herleave thehouse.  It must have been a strong onefor she wouldnever stirout alone in London of her own accord.  If Mrs.Clementshad not known this by experience nothing would haveinducedher to go away in the cabeven for so short a time ashalf anhour only.

As soon asshe could collect her thoughtsthe first idea thatnaturallyoccurred to Mrs. Clements was to go and make inquiriesat theAsylumto which she dreaded that Anne had been taken back.

She wentthere the next dayhaving been informed of the localityin whichthe house was situated by Anne herself.  The answer shereceived(her application having in all probability been made aday or twobefore the false Anne Catherick had really beenconsignedto safe keeping in the Asylum) wasthat no such personhad beenbrought back there.  She had then written to Mrs.Catherickat Welmingham to know if she had seen or heard anythingof herdaughterand had received an answer in the negative.After thatreply had reached hershe was at the end of herresourcesand perfectly ignorant where else to inquire or whatelse todo.  From that time to this she had remained in totalignoranceof the cause of Anne's disappearance and of the end ofAnne'sstory.

 

VII

 

Thus farthe information which I had received from Mrs. Clementsthough itestablished facts of which I had not previously beenawarewasof a preliminary character only.

It wasclear that the series of deceptions which had removed AnneCatherickto Londonand separated her from Mrs. Clementshadbeenaccomplished solely by Count Fosco and the Countessand thequestionwhether any part of the conduct of husband or wife hadbeen of akind to place either of them within reach of the lawmight bewell worthy of future consideration.  But the purpose Ihad now inview led me in another direction than this.  Theimmediateobject of my visit to Mrs. Clements was to make someapproachat least to the discovery of Sir Percival's secretandshe hadsaid nothing as yet which advanced me on my way to thatimportantend.  I felt the necessity of trying to awaken herrecollectionsof other timespersonsand events than those onwhich hermemory had hitherto been employedand when I next spokeI spokewith that object indirectly in view.

"Iwish I could be of any help to you in this sad calamity" Isaid. "All I can do is to feel heartily for your distress.  IfAnne hadbeen your own childMrs. Clementsyou could have shownher notruer kindnessyou could have made no readier sacrificesfor hersake."

"There'sno great merit in thatsir" said Mrs. Clements simply."Thepoor thing was as good as my own child to me.  I nursed herfrom ababysirbringing her up by handand a hard job it wasto rearher.  It wouldn't go to my heart so to lose her if Ihadn'tmade her first short clothes and taught her to walk.  Ialwayssaid she was sent to console me for never having chick orchild ofmy own.  And now she's lost the old times keep comingback to mymindand even at my age I can't help crying about herI can'tindeedsir!"

I waited alittle to give Mrs. Clements time to compose herself.Was thelight that I had been looking for so long glimmering onmefar offas yetin the good woman's recollections of Anne'searlylife?

"Didyou know Mrs. Catherick before Anne was born?" I asked.

"Notvery longsirnot above four months.  We saw a great dealof eachother in that timebut we were never very friendlytogether."

Her voicewas steadier as she made that reply.  Painful as many ofherrecollections might beI observed that it was unconsciously arelief toher mind to revert to the dimly-seen troubles of thepastafter dwelling so long on the vivid sorrows of the present.

"Wereyou and Mrs. Catherick neighbours?" I inquiredleading hermemory onas encouragingly as I could.

"Yessirneighbours at Old Welmingham."

"OLDWelmingham? There are two places of that nametheninHampshire?"

"Wellsirthere used to be in those daysbetter than three-and-twentyyears ago.  They built a new town about two miles offconvenientto the riverand Old Welminghamwhich was never muchmore thana villagegot in time to be deserted.  The new town isthe placethey call Welmingham nowbut the old parish church isthe parishchurch still.  It stands by itselfwith the housespulleddown or gone to ruin all round it.  I've lived to see sadchanges. It was a pleasantpretty place in my time.

"Didyou live there before your marriageMrs. Clements?"

"NosirI'm a Norfolk woman.  It wasn't the place my husbandbelongedto either.  He was from Grimsbyas I told youand heserved hisapprenticeship there.  But having friends down southandhearing of an openinghe got into business at Southampton.It was ina small waybut he made enough for a plain man toretire onand settled at Old Welmingham.  I went there with himwhen hemarried me.  We were neither of us youngbut we livedvery happytogetherhappier than our neighbourMr. Cathericklivedalong with his wife when they came to Old Welmingham a yearor twoafterwards."

"Wasyour husband acquainted with them before that?"

"WithCathericksirnot with his wife.  She was a stranger toboth ofus.  Some gentlemen had made interest for Catherickandhe got thesituation of clerk at Welmingham churchwhich was thereason ofhis coming to settle in our neighbourhood.  He broughthisnewly-married wife along with himand we heard in course oftime shehad been lady's-maid in a family that lived at VarneckHallnearSouthampton.  Catherick had found it a hard matter toget her tomarry himin consequence of her holding herselfuncommonlyhigh.  He had asked and askedand given the thing upat lastseeing she was so contrary about it.  When he HAD givenit up sheturned contrary just the other wayand came to him ofher ownaccordwithout rhyme or reason seemingly.  My poorhusbandalways said that was the time to have given her a lesson.ButCatherick was too fond of her to do anything of the sortheneverchecked her either before they were married or after.  Hewas aquick man in his feelingsletting them carry him a deal toofarnowin one way and now in anotherand he would have spoilt abetterwife than Mrs. Catherick if a better had married him.  Idon't liketo speak ill of any onesirbut she was a heartlesswomanwith a terrible will of her ownfond of foolish admirationand fineclothesand not caring to show so much as decent outwardrespect toCatherickkindly as he always treated her.  My husbandsaid hethought things would turn out badly when they first cameto livenear usand his words proved true.  Before they had beenquite fourmonths in our neighbourhood there was a dreadfulscandaland a miserable break-up in their household.  Both of themwere infaultI am afraid both of them were equally in fault."

"Youmean both husband and wife?"

"Ohnosir! I don't mean Catherickhe was only to be pitied.  Imeant hiswife and the person"

"Andthe person who caused the scandal?"

"Yessir.  A gentleman born and brought upwho ought to have seta betterexample.  You know himsirand my poor dear Anne knewhim onlytoo well."

"SirPercival Glyde?"

"YesSir Percival Glyde."

My heartbeat fastI thought I had my hand on the clue.  Howlittle Iknew then of the windings of the labyrinths which werestill tomislead me!

"DidSir Percival live in your neighbourhood at that time?" Iasked.

"Nosir.  He came among us as a stranger.  His father had diednot longbefore in foreign parts.  I remember he was in mourning.He put upat the little inn on the river (they have pulled it downsince thattime)where gentlemen used to go to fish.  He wasn'tmuchnoticed when he first cameit was a common thing enough forgentlemento travel from all parts of England to fish in ourriver."

"Didhe make his appearance in the village before Anne was born?"

"Yessir.  Anne was born in the June month of eighteen hundredandtwenty-sevenand I think he came at the end of April or thebeginningof May."

"Cameas a stranger to all of you? A stranger to Mrs. Catherick aswell as tothe rest of the neighbours?"

"Sowe thought at firstsir.  But when the scandal broke outnobodybelieved they were strangers.  I remember how it happenedas well asif it was yesterday.  Catherick came into our gardenone nightand woke us by throwing up a handful of gravel from thewalk atour window.  I heard him beg my husbandfor the Lord'ssaketocome down and speak to him.  They were a long timetogethertalking in the porch.  When my husband came back upstairshe was allof a tremble.  He sat down on the side of the bed andhe says tome'Lizzie! I always told you that woman was a badoneIalways said she would end illand I'm afraid in my ownmind thatthe end has come already.  Catherick has found a lot oflacehandkerchiefsand two fine ringsand a new gold watch andchainhidaway in his wife's drawerthings that nobody but aborn ladyought ever to haveand his wife won't say how she cameby them.''Does he think she stole them?' says I.  'No' says he'stealingwould be bad enough.  But it's worse than thatshe'shad nochance of stealing such things as thoseand she's not awoman totake them if she had.  They're giftsLizziethere's herowninitials engraved inside the watchand Catherick has seen hertalkingprivatelyand carrying on as no married woman shouldwith thatgentleman in mourningSir Percival Glyde.  Don't yousayanything about itI've quieted Catherick for to-night.  I'vetold himto keep his tongue to himselfand his eyes and his earsopenandto wait a day or twotill he can be quite certain.' 'Ibelieveyou are both of you wrong' says I.  'It's not in naturecomfortableand respectable as she is herethat Mrs. Catherickshouldtake up with a chance stranger like Sir Percival Glyde.''Aybutis he a stranger to her?' says my husband.  'You forgethowCatherick's wife came to marry him.  She went to him of herownaccordafter saying No over and over again when he asked her.There havebeen wicked women before her timeLizziewho haveusedhonest men who loved them as a means of saving theircharactersand I'm sorely afraid this Mrs. Catherick is as wickedas theworst of them.  We shall see' says my husband'we shallsoon see.'And only two days afterwards we did see."

Mrs.Clements waited for a moment before she went on.  Even inthatmomentI began to doubt whether the clue that I thought Ihad foundwas really leading me to the central mystery of thelabyrinthafter all.  Was this commontoo commonstory of aman'streachery and a woman's frailty the key to a secret whichhad beenthe life-long terror of Sir Percival Glyde?

"WellsirCatherick took my husband's advice and waited" Mrs.Clementscontinued.  "And as I told youhe hadn't long to wait.On thesecond day he found his wife and Sir Percival whisperingtogetherquite familiarclose under the vestry of the church.  Isupposethey thought the neighbourhood of the vestry was the lastplace inthe world where anybody would think of looking afterthembuthowever that may bethere they were.  Sir Percivalbeingseemingly surprised and confoundeddefended himself in sucha guiltyway that poor Catherick (whose quick temper I have toldyou ofalready) fell into a kind of frenzy at his own disgraceand struckSir Percival.  He was no match (and I am sorry to sayit) forthe man who had wronged himand he was beaten in thecruelestmannerbefore the neighbourswho had come to the placeon hearingthe disturbancecould run in to part them.  All thishappenedtowards eveningand before nightfallwhen my husbandwent toCatherick's househe was gonenobody knew where.  Nolivingsoul in the village ever saw him again.  He knew too wellby thattimewhat his wife's vile reason had been for marryinghimandhe felt his misery and disgraceespecially after whathadhappened to him with Sir Percivaltoo keenly.  The clergymanof theparish put an advertisement in the paper begging him tocome backand saying that he should not lose his situation or hisfriends. But Catherick had too much pride and spiritas somepeoplesaidtoo much feelingas I thinksirto face hisneighboursagainand try to live down the memory of his disgrace.My husbandheard from him when he had left Englandand heard asecondtimewhen he was settled and doing well in America.  He isalivethere nowas far as I knowbut none of us in the oldcountryhiswicked wife least of allare ever likely to set eyeson himagain."

"Whatbecame of Sir Percival?" I inquired.  "Did he stay intheneighbourhood?"

"Nothesir.  The place was too hot to hold him.  He was heardathigh wordswith Mrs. Catherick the same night when the scandalbroke outand the next morning he took himself off."

"AndMrs. Catherick? Surely she never remained in the villageamong thepeople who knew of her disgrace?"

"Shedidsir.  She was hard enough and heartless enough to settheopinions of all her neighbours at flat defiance.  She declaredtoeverybodyfrom the clergyman downwardsthat she was thevictim ofa dreadful mistakeand that all the scandal-mongers inthe placeshould not drive her out of itas if she was a guiltywoman. All through my time she lived at Old Welminghamand aftermy timewhen the new town was buildingand the respectableneighboursbegan moving to itshe moved tooas if she wasdeterminedto live among them and scandalise them to the verylast. There she is nowand there she will stopin defiance ofthe bestof themto her dying day."

"Buthow has she lived through all these years?" I asked.  "Washerhusband able and willing to help her?"

"Bothable and willingsir" said Mrs. Clements.  "In thesecondletter hewrote to my good manhe said she had borne his nameand livedin his homeandwicked as she wasshe must not starvelike abeggar in the street.  He could afford to make her somesmallallowanceand she might draw for it quarterly at a place inLondon."

"Didshe accept the allowance?"

"Nota farthing of itsir.  She said she would never be beholdentoCatherick for bit or dropif she lived to be a hundred.  Andshe haskept her word ever since.  When my poor dear husband diedand leftall to meCatherick's letter was put in my possessionwith theother thingsand I told her to let me know if she wasever inwant.  'I'll let all England know I'm in want' she said'before Itell Catherickor any friend of Catherick's.  Take thatfor youranswerand give it to HIM for an answerif he everwritesagain.' "

"Doyou suppose that she had money of her own?"

"Verylittleif anysir.  It was saidand said trulyI amafraidthat her means of living came privately from Sir PercivalGlyde."

 

After thatlast reply I waited a littleto reconsider what I hadheard. If I unreservedly accepted the story so farit was nowplain thatno approachdirect or indirectto the Secret had yetbeenrevealed to meand that the pursuit of my object had endedagain inleaving me face to face with the most palpable and themostdisheartening failure.

But therewas one point in the narrative which made me doubt theproprietyof accepting it unreservedlyand which suggested theidea ofsomething hidden below the surface.

I couldnot account to myself for the circumstance of the clerk'sguiltywife voluntarily living out all her after-existence on thescene ofher disgrace.  The woman's own reported statement thatshe hadtaken this strange course as a practical assertion of herinnocencedid not satisfy me.  It seemedto my mindmore naturaland moreprobable to assume that she was not so completely a freeagent inthis matter as she had herself asserted.  In that casewho wasthe likeliest person to possess the power of compellingher toremain at Welmingham? The person unquestionably from whomshederived the means of living.  She had refused assistance fromherhusbandshe had no adequate resources of her ownshe was afriendlessdegraded womanfrom what source should she derivehelp butfrom the source at which report pointedSir PercivalGlyde?

Reasoningon these assumptionsand always bearing in mind the onecertainfact to guide methat Mrs. Catherick was in possession oftheSecretI easily understood that it was Sir Percival'sinterestto keep her at Welminghambecause her character in thatplace wascertain to isolate her from all communication withfemaleneighboursand to allow her no opportunities of talkingincautiouslyin moments of free intercourse with inquisitive bosomfriends. But what was the mystery to be concealed? Not SirPercival'sinfamous connection with Mrs. Catherick's disgracefortheneighbours were the very people who knew of itnot thesuspicionthat he was Anne's fatherfor Welmingham was the placein whichthat suspicion must inevitably exist.  If I accepted theguiltyappearances described to me as unreservedly as others hadacceptedthemif I drew from them the same superficial conclusionwhich Mr.Catherick and all his neighbours had drawnwhere wasthesuggestionin all that I had heardof a dangerous secretbetweenSir Percival and Mrs. Catherickwhich had been kepthiddenfrom that time to this?

And yetin those stolen meetingsin those familiar whisperingsbetweenthe clerk's wife and "the gentleman in mourning" the cluetodiscovery existed beyond a doubt.

Was itpossible that appearances in this case had pointed one waywhile thetruth lay all the while unsuspected in anotherdirection?Could Mrs. Catherick's assertionthat she was thevictim ofa dreadful mistakeby any possibility be true? Orassumingit to be falsecould the conclusion which associated SirPercivalwith her guilt have been founded in some inconceivableerror? HadSir Percivalby any chancecourted the suspicion thatwas wrongfor the sake of diverting from himself some othersuspicionthat was right? Hereif I could find ithere was theapproachto the Secrethidden deep under the surface of theapparentlyunpromising story which I had just heard.

 

My nextquestions were now directed to the one object ofascertainingwhether Mr. Catherick had or had not arrived truly attheconviction of his wife's misconduct.  The answers I receivedfrom Mrs.Clements left me in no doubt whatever on that point.Mrs.Catherick hadon the clearest evidencecompromised herreputationwhile a single womanwith some person unknownandhadmarried to save her character.  It had been positivelyascertainedby calculations of time and place into which I neednot enterparticularlythat the daughter who bore her husband'sname wasnot her husband's child

The nextobject of inquirywhether it was equally certain thatSirPercival must have been the father of Annewas beset by fargreaterdifficulties.  I was in no position to try theprobabilitieson one side or on the other in this instance by anybettertest than the test of personal resemblance.

"Isuppose you often saw Sir Percival when he was in yourvillage?"I said.

"Yessirvery often" replied Mrs. Clements.

"Didyou ever observe that Anne was like him?"

"Shewas not at all like himsir."

"Wasshe like her motherthen?"

"Notlike her mother eithersir.  Mrs. Catherick was darkandfull inthe face."

Not likeher mother and not like her (supposed) father.  I knewthat thetest by personal resemblance was not to be implicitlytrustedbuton the other handit was not to be altogetherrejectedon that account.  Was it possible to strengthen theevidenceby discovering any conclusive facts in relation to thelives ofMrs. Catherick and Sir Percival before they either ofthemappeared at Old Welmingham? When I asked my next questions Iput themwith this view.

"WhenSir Percival first arrived in your neighbourhood" I said"didyou hear where he had come from last?"

"Nosir.  Some said from Blackwater Parkand some said fromScotlandbutnobody knew."

"WasMrs. Catherick living in service at Varneck Hall immediatelybefore hermarriage?"

"Yessir."

"Andhad she been long in her place?"

"Threeor four yearssir; I am not quite certain which."

"Didyou ever hear the name of the gentleman to whom Varneck Hallbelongedat that time?"

"Yessir.  His name was Major Donthorne."

"DidMr. Catherickor did any one else you knewever hear thatSirPercival was a friend of Major Donthorne'sor ever see SirPercivalin the neighbourhood of Varneck Hall?"

"Cathericknever didsirthat I can remembernor any one elseeitherthat I know of."

I noteddown Major Donthorne's name and addresson the chancethat hemight still be aliveand that it might be useful at somefuturetime to apply to him.  Meanwhilethe impression on my mindwas nowdecidedly adverse to the opinion that Sir Percival wasAnne'sfatherand decidedly favourable to the conclusion that thesecret ofhis stolen interviews with Mrs. Catherick was entirelyunconnectedwith the disgrace which the woman had inflicted on herhusband'sgood name.  I could think of no further inquiries whichI mightmake to strengthen this impressionI could only encourageMrs.Clements to speak next of Anne's early daysand watch foranychance-suggestion which might in this way offer itself to me.

"Ihave not heard yet" I said"how the poor childborn inallthis sinand miserycame to be trustedMrs. Clementsto yourcare."

"Therewas nobody elsesirto take the little helpless creaturein hand"replied Mrs. Clements.  "The wicked mother seemed tohate itasif the poor baby was in fault!from the day it wasborn. My heart was heavy for the childand I made the offer tobring itup as tenderly as if it was my own."

"DidAnne remain entirely under your care from that time?"

"Notquite entirelysir.  Mrs. Catherick had her whims andfanciesabout it at timesand used now and then to lay claim tothe childas if she wanted to spite me for bringing it up.  Butthese fitsof hers never lasted for long.  Poor little Anne wasalwaysreturned to meand was always glad to get backthough sheled but agloomy life in my househaving no playmateslike otherchildrento brighten her up.  Our longest separation was when hermothertook her to Limmeridge.  Just at that time I lost myhusbandand I felt it was as wellin that miserable afflictionthat Anneshould not be in the house.  She was between ten andelevenyears old thenslow at her lessonspoor souland not socheerfulas other childrenbut as pretty a little girl to look atas youwould wish to see.  I waited at home till her motherbroughther backand then I made the offer to take her with me toLondonthetruth beingsirthat I could not find it in my heartto stop atOld Welmingham after my husband's deaththe place wasso changedand so dismal to me."

"Anddid Mrs. Catherick consent to your proposal?"

"Nosir.  She came back from the north harder and bitterer thanever. Folks did say that she had been obliged to ask SirPercival'sleave to goto begin with; and that she only went tonurse herdying sister at Limmeridge because the poor woman wasreportedto have saved moneythe truth being that she hardly leftenough tobury her.  These things may have soured Mrs. Cathericklikelyenoughbut however that may beshe wouldn't hear of mytaking thechild away.  She seemed to like distressing us both bypartingus.  All I could do was to give Anne my directionand totell herprivatelyif she was ever in troubleto come to me.But yearspassed before she was free to come.  I never saw heragainpoor soultill the night she escaped from the mad-house."

"YouknowMrs. Clementswhy Sir Percival Glyde shut her up?"

"Ionly know what Anne herself told mesir.  The poor thing usedto rambleand wander about it sadly.  She said her mother had gotsomesecret of Sir Percival's to keepand had let it out to herlong afterI left Hampshireand when Sir Percival found she knewitheshut her up.  But she never could say what it was when Iaskedher.  All she could tell me wasthat her mother might bethe ruinand destruction of Sir Percival if she chose.  Mrs.Catherickmay have let out just as much as thatand no more.  I'mnext tocertain I should have heard the whole truth from Anneifshe hadreally known it as she pretended to doand as she verylikelyfancied she didpoor soul."

This ideahad more than once occurred to my own mind.  I hadalreadytold Marian that I doubted whether Laura was really on thepoint ofmaking any important discovery when she and AnneCatherickwere disturbed by Count Fosco at the boat-house.  It wasperfectlyin character with Anne's mental affliction that sheshouldassume an absolute knowledge of the secret on no bettergroundsthan vague suspicionderived from hints which her motherhadincautiously let drop in her presence.  Sir Percival's guiltydistrustwouldin that caseinfallibly inspire him with thefalse ideathat Anne knew all from her motherjust as it hadafterwardsfixed in his mind the equally false suspicion that hiswife knewall from Anne.

The timewas passingthe morning was wearing away.  It wasdoubtfulif I stayed longerwhether I should hear anything morefrom Mrs.Clements that would be at all useful to my purpose.  Ihadalready discovered those local and family particularsinrelationto Mrs. Catherickof which I had been in searchand Ihadarrived at certain conclusionsentirely new to mewhichmightimmensely assist in directing the course of my futureproceedings. I rose to take my leaveand to thank Mrs. Clementsfor thefriendly readiness she had shown in affording meinformation.

"I amafraid you must have thought me very inquisitive" I said."Ihave troubled you with more questions than many people wouldhave caredto answer."

"Youare heartily welcomesirto anything I can tell you"answeredMrs. Clements.  She stopped and looked at me wistfully."ButI do wish" said the poor woman"you could have told me alittlemore about Annesir.  I thought I saw something in yourface whenyou came in which looked as if you could.  You can'tthink howhard it is not even to know whether she is living ordead. I could bear it better if I was only certain.  You said youneverexpected we should see her alive again.  Do you knowsirdo youknow for truththat it has pleased God to take her?"

I was notproof against this appealit would have beenunspeakablymean and cruel of me if I had resisted it.

"I amafraid there is no doubt of the truth" I answered gently;"Ihave the certainty in my own mind that her troubles in thisworld areover."

The poorwoman dropped into her chair and hid her face from me."Ohsir" she said"how do you know it? Who can have toldyou?"
"Noone has told meMrs. Clements.  But I have reasons forfeelingsure of itreasons which I promise you shall know as soonas I cansafely explain them.  I am certain she was not neglectedin herlast momentsI am certain the heart complaint from whichshesuffered so sadly was the true cause of her death.  You shallfeel assure of this as I dosoonyou shall knowbefore longthat sheis buried in a quiet country churchyardin a prettypeacefulplacewhich you might have chosen for her yourself."

"Dead!"said Mrs. Clements"dead so youngand I am left to hearit! I madeher first short frocks.  I taught her to walk.  Thefirst timeshe ever said Mother she said it to meand now I amleft andAnne is taken! Did you saysir" said the poor womanremovingthe handkerchief from her faceand looking up at me forthe firsttime"did you say that she had been nicely buried? Wasit thesort of funeral she might have had if she had really beenmy ownchild?"

I assuredher that it was.  She seemed to take an inexplicablepride inmy answerto find a comfort in it which no other andhigherconsiderations could afford.  "It would have broken myheart"she said simply"if Anne had not been nicely buriedbuthow do youknow itsir? who told you?" I once more entreated herto waituntil I could speak to her unreservedly.  "You are sure tosee meagain" I said"for I have a favour to ask when you are alittlemore composedperhaps in a day or two."

"Don'tkeep it waitingsiron my account" said Mrs. Clements."Nevermind my crying if I can be of use.  If you have anything onyour mindto say to mesirplease to say it now."

"Ionly wish to ask you one last question" I said.  "Ionly wantto knowMrs. Catherick's address at Welmingham."

My requestso startled Mrs. Clementsthatfor the momenteventhetidings of Anne's death seemed to be driven from her mind.Her tearssuddenly ceased to flowand she sat looking at me inblankamazement.

"Forthe Lord's sakesir!" she said"what do you want withMrs.Catherick!"

"Iwant thisMrs. Clements" I replied"I want to know thesecret ofthose private meetings of hers with Sir Percival Glyde.There issomething more in what you have told me of that woman'spastconductand of that man's past relations with herthan youor any ofyour neighbours ever suspected.  There is a secret wenone of usknow between those twoand I am going to Mrs.Catherickwith the resolution to find it out."

"Thinktwice about itsir!" said Mrs. Clementsrising in herearnestnessand laying her hand on my arm.  "She's an awful womanyou don'tknow her as I do.  Think twice about it."

"I amsure your warning is kindly meantMrs. Clements.  But I amdeterminedto see the womanwhatever comes of it."

Mrs.Clements looked me anxiously in the face.

"Isee your mind is made upsir" she said.  "I willgive you theaddress."

I wrote itdown in my pocket-book and then took her hand to sayfarewell.

"Youshall hear from me soon" I said; "you shall know all thatIhavepromised to tell you."

Mrs.Clements sighed and shook her head doubtfully.

"Anold woman's advice is sometimes worth takingsir" she said."Thinktwice before you go to Welmingham."

 

VIII

 

When Ireached home again after my interview with Mrs. ClementsIwas struckby the appearance of a change in Laura.

Theunvarying gentleness and patience which long misfortune hadtried socruelly and had never conquered yetseemed now to havesuddenlyfailed her.  Insensible to all Marian's attempts tosoothe andamuse hershe satwith her neglected drawing pushedaway onthe tableher eyes resolutely cast downher fingerstwiningand untwining themselves restlessly in her lap.  Marianrose whenI came inwith a silent distress in her facewaitedfor amoment to see if Laura would look up at my approachwhisperedto me"Try if you can rouse her" and left the room.

I sat downin the vacant chairgently unclasped the poorwornrestlessfingersand took both her hands in mine.

"Whatare you thinking ofLaura? Tell memy darlingtry andtell mewhat it is."

Shestruggled with herselfand raised her eyes to mine.  "Ican'tfeelhappy" she said"I can't help thinking" She stoppedbentforward a littleand laid her head on my shoulderwith aterriblemute helplessness that struck me to the heart.

"Tryto tell me" I repeated gently; "try to tell me why you arenothappy."

"I amso uselessI am such a burden on both of you" sheansweredwith a wearyhopeless sigh.  "You work and get moneyWalterand Marian helps you.  Why is there nothing I can do? Youwill endin liking Marian better than you like meyou willbecause Iam so helpless! Ohdon'tdon'tdon't treat me like achild!"

I raisedher headand smoothed away the tangled hair that fellover herfaceand kissed hermy poorfaded flower! my lostafflictedsister! "You shall help usLaura" I said"you shallbeginmydarlingto-day."

She lookedat me with a feverish eagernesswith a breathlessinterestthat made me tremble for the new life of hope which Ihad calledinto being by those few words.

I roseand set her drawing materials in orderand placed themnear heragain.

"Youknow that I work and get money by drawing" I said.  "Nowyouhave takensuch painsnow you are so much improvedyou shallbegin towork and get money too.  Try to finish this little sketchas nicelyand prettily as you can.  When it is done I will take itaway withmeand the same person will buy it who buys all that Ido. You shall keep your own earnings in your own purseandMarianshall come to you to help usas often as she comes to me.Think howuseful you are going to make yourself to both of usandyou willsoon be as happyLauraas the day is long."

Her facegrew eagerand brightened into a smile.  In the momentwhile itlastedin the moment when she again took up the pencilsthat hadbeen laid asideshe almost looked like the Laura of pastdays.

I hadrightly interpreted the first signs of a new growth andstrengthin her mindunconsciously expressing themselves in thenotice shehad taken of the occupations which filled her sister'slife andmine.  Marian (when I told her what had passed) sawas Isawthatshe was longing to assume her own little position ofimportanceto raise herself in her own estimation and in oursandfromthat daywe tenderly helped the new ambition which gavepromise ofthe hopefulhappier futurethat might now not be faroff. Her drawingsas she finished themor tried to finish themwereplaced in my hands.  Marian took them from me and hid themcarefullyand I set aside a little weekly tribute from myearningsto be offered to her as the price paid by strangers forthe poorfaintvalue