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The Woman in White, Page 28

Wilkie Collins


  June 17th.--Just as my hand was on the door of my room, I heard SirPercival's voice calling to me from below.

  "I must beg you to come downstairs again," he said. "It is Fosco'sfault, Miss Halcombe, not mine. He has started some nonsensicalobjection to his wife being one of the witnesses, and has obliged me toask you to join us in the library."

  I entered the room immediately with Sir Percival. Laura was waiting bythe writing-table, twisting and turning her garden hat uneasily in herhands. Madame Fosco sat near her, in an arm-chair, imperturbablyadmiring her husband, who stood by himself at the other end of thelibrary, picking off the dead leaves from the flowers in the window.

  The moment I appeared the Count advanced to meet me, and to offer hisexplanations.

  "A thousand pardons, Miss Halcombe," he said. "You know the characterwhich is given to my countrymen by the English? We Italians are allwily and suspicious by nature, in the estimation of the good John Bull.Set me down, if you please, as being no better than the rest of myrace. I am a wily Italian and a suspicious Italian. You have thoughtso yourself, dear lady, have you not? Well! it is part of my wilinessand part of my suspicion to object to Madame Fosco being a witness toLady Glyde's signature, when I am also a witness myself."

  "There is not the shadow of a reason for his objection," interposed SirPercival. "I have explained to him that the law of England allowsMadame Fosco to witness a signature as well as her husband."

  "I admit it," resumed the Count. "The law of England says, Yes, butthe conscience of Fosco says, No." He spread out his fat fingers on thebosom of his blouse, and bowed solemnly, as if he wished to introducehis conscience to us all, in the character of an illustrious additionto the society. "What this document which Lady Glyde is about to signmay be," he continued, "I neither know nor desire to know. I only saythis, circumstances may happen in the future which may oblige Percival,or his representatives, to appeal to the two witnesses, in which caseit is certainly desirable that those witnesses should represent twoopinions which are perfectly independent the one of the other. Thiscannot be if my wife signs as well as myself, because we have but oneopinion between us, and that opinion is mine. I will not have it castin my teeth, at some future day, that Madame Fosco acted under mycoercion, and was, in plain fact, no witness at all. I speak inPercival's interest, when I propose that my name shall appear (as thenearest friend of the husband), and your name, Miss Halcombe (as thenearest friend of the wife). I am a Jesuit, if you please to thinkso--a splitter of straws--a man of trifles and crochets andscruples--but you will humour me, I hope, in merciful consideration formy suspicious Italian character, and my uneasy Italian conscience." Hebowed again, stepped back a few paces, and withdrew his conscience fromour society as politely as he had introduced it.

  The Count's scruples might have been honourable and reasonable enough,but there was something in his manner of expressing them whichincreased my unwillingness to be concerned in the business of thesignature. No consideration of less importance than my considerationfor Laura would have induced me to consent to be a witness at all. Onelook, however, at her anxious face decided me to risk anything ratherthan desert her.

  "I will readily remain in the room," I said. "And if I find no reasonfor starting any small scruples on my side, you may rely on me as awitness."

  Sir Percival looked at me sharply, as if he was about to say something.But at the same moment, Madame Fosco attracted his attention by risingfrom her chair. She had caught her husband's eye, and had evidentlyreceived her orders to leave the room.

  "You needn't go," said Sir Percival.

  Madame Fosco looked for her orders again, got them again, said shewould prefer leaving us to our business, and resolutely walked out.The Count lit a cigarette, went back to the flowers in the window, andpuffed little jets of smoke at the leaves, in a state of the deepestanxiety about killing the insects.

  Meanwhile Sir Percival unlocked a cupboard beneath one of thebook-cases, and produced from it a piece of parchment, folded longwise,many times over. He placed it on the table, opened the last fold only,and kept his hand on the rest. The last fold displayed a strip of blankparchment with little wafers stuck on it at certain places. Every lineof the writing was hidden in the part which he still held folded upunder his hand. Laura and I looked at each other. Her face was pale,but it showed no indecision and no fear.

  Sir Percival dipped a pen in ink, and handed it to his wife. "Sign yourname there," he said, pointing to the place. "You and Fosco are tosign afterwards, Miss Halcombe, opposite those two wafers. Come here,Fosco! witnessing a signature is not to be done by mooning out ofwindow and smoking into the flowers."

  The Count threw away his cigarette, and joined us at the table, withhis hands carelessly thrust into the scarlet belt of his blouse, andhis eyes steadily fixed on Sir Percival's face. Laura, who was on theother side of her husband, with the pen in her hand, looked at him too.He stood between them holding the folded parchment down firmly on thetable, and glancing across at me, as I sat opposite to him, with such asinister mixture of suspicion and embarrassment on his face that helooked more like a prisoner at the bar than a gentleman in his ownhouse.

  "Sign there," he repeated, turning suddenly on Laura, and pointing oncemore to the place on the parchment.

  "What is it I am to sign?" she asked quietly.

  "I have no time to explain," he answered. "The dog-cart is at thedoor, and I must go directly. Besides, if I had time, you wouldn'tunderstand. It is a purely formal document, full of legaltechnicalities, and all that sort of thing. Come! come! sign yourname, and let us have done as soon as possible."

  "I ought surely to know what I am signing, Sir Percival, before I writemy name?"

  "Nonsense! What have women to do with business? I tell you again, youcan't understand it."

  "At any rate, let me try to understand it. Whenever Mr. Gilmore hadany business for me to do, he always explained it first, and I alwaysunderstood him."

  "I dare say he did. He was your servant, and was obliged to explain.I am your husband, and am NOT obliged. How much longer do you mean tokeep me here? I tell you again, there is no time for readinganything--the dog-cart is waiting at the door. Once for all, will yousign or will you not?"

  She still had the pen in her hand, but she made no approach to signingher name with it.

  "If my signature pledges me to anything," she said, "surely I have someclaim to know what that pledge is?"

  He lifted up the parchment, and struck it angrily on the table.

  "Speak out!" he said. "You were always famous for telling the truth.Never mind Miss Halcombe, never mind Fosco--say, in plain terms, youdistrust me."

  The Count took one of his hands out of his belt and laid it on SirPercival's shoulder. Sir Percival shook it off irritably. The Countput it on again with unruffled composure.

  "Control your unfortunate temper, Percival," he said "Lady Glyde isright."

  "Right!" cried Sir Percival. "A wife right in distrusting her husband!"

  "It is unjust and cruel to accuse me of distrusting you," said Laura."Ask Marian if I am not justified in wanting to know what this writingrequires of me before I sign it."

  "I won't have any appeals made to Miss Halcombe," retorted SirPercival. "Miss Halcombe has nothing to do with the matter."

  I had not spoken hitherto, and I would much rather not have spoken now.But the expression of distress in Laura's face when she turned ittowards me, and the insolent injustice of her husband's conduct, leftme no other alternative than to give my opinion, for her sake, as soonas I was asked for it.

  "Excuse me, Sir Percival," I said--"but as one of the witnesses to thesignature, I venture to think that I HAVE something to do with thematter. Laura's objection seems to me a perfectly fair one, andspeaking for myself only, I cannot assume the responsibility ofwitnessing her signature, unless she first understands what the writingis which you wish her to sign."

  "A cool declar
ation, upon my soul!" cried Sir Percival. "The next timeyou invite yourself to a man's house, Miss Halcombe, I recommend younot to repay his hospitality by taking his wife's side against him in amatter that doesn't concern you."

  I started to my feet as suddenly as if he had struck me. If I had beena man, I would have knocked him down on the threshold of his own door,and have left his house, never on any earthly consideration to enter itagain. But I was only a woman--and I loved his wife so dearly!

  Thank God, that faithful love helped me, and I sat down again withoutsaying a word. SHE knew what I had suffered and what I had suppressed.She ran round to me, with the tears streaming from her eyes. "Oh,Marian!" she whispered softly. "If my mother had been alive, she couldhave done no more for me!"

  "Come back and sign!" cried Sir Percival from the other side of thetable.

  "Shall I?" she asked in my ear; "I will, if you tell me."

  "No," I answered. "The right and the truth are with you--sign nothing,unless you have read it first."

  "Come back and sign!" he reiterated, in his loudest and angriest tones.

  The Count, who had watched Laura and me with a close and silentattention, interposed for the second time.

  "Percival!" he said. "I remember that I am in the presence of ladies.Be good enough, if you please, to remember it too."

  Sir Percival turned on him speechless with passion. The Count's firmhand slowly tightened its grasp on his shoulder, and the Count's steadyvoice quietly repeated, "Be good enough, if you please, to remember ittoo."

  They both looked at each other. Sir Percival slowly drew his shoulderfrom under the Count's hand, slowly turned his face away from theCount's eyes, doggedly looked down for a little while at the parchmenton the table, and then spoke, with the sullen submission of a tamedanimal, rather than the becoming resignation of a convinced man.

  "I don't want to offend anybody," he said, "but my wife's obstinacy isenough to try the patience of a saint. I have told her this is merelya formal document--and what more can she want? You may say what youplease, but it is no part of a woman's duty to set her husband atdefiance. Once more, Lady Glyde, and for the last time, will you signor will you not?"

  Laura returned to his side of the table, and took up the pen again.

  "I will sign with pleasure," she said, "if you will only treat me as aresponsible being. I care little what sacrifice is required of me, ifit will affect no one else, and lead to no ill results--"

  "Who talked of a sacrifice being required of You?" he broke in, with ahalf-suppressed return of his former violence.

  "I only meant," she resumed, "that I would refuse no concession which Icould honourably make. If I have a scruple about signing my name to anengagement of which I know nothing, why should you visit it on me soseverely? It is rather hard, I think, to treat Count Fosco's scruplesso much more indulgently than you have treated mine."

  This unfortunate, yet most natural, reference to the Count'sextraordinary power over her husband, indirect as it was, set SirPercival's smouldering temper on fire again in an instant.

  "Scruples!" he repeated. "YOUR scruples! It is rather late in the dayfor you to be scrupulous. I should have thought you had got over allweakness of that sort, when you made a virtue of necessity by marryingme."

  The instant he spoke those words, Laura threw down the pen--looked athim with an expression in her eyes which, throughout all my experienceof her, I had never seen in them before, and turned her back on him indead silence.

  This strong expression of the most open and the most bitter contemptwas so entirely unlike herself, so utterly out of her character, thatit silenced us all. There was something hidden, beyond a doubt, underthe mere surface-brutality of the words which her husband had justaddressed to her. There was some lurking insult beneath them, of whichI was wholly ignorant, but which had left the mark of its profanationso plainly on her face that even a stranger might have seen it.

  The Count, who was no stranger, saw it as distinctly as I did. When Ileft my chair to join Laura, I heard him whisper under his breath toSir Percival, "You idiot!"

  Laura walked before me to the door as I advanced, and at the same timeher husband spoke to her once more.

  "You positively refuse, then, to give me your signature?" he said, inthe altered tone of a man who was conscious that he had let his ownlicence of language seriously injure him.

  "After what you have just said to me," she replied firmly, "I refuse mysignature until I have read every line in that parchment from the firstword to the last. Come away, Marian, we have remained here long enough."

  "One moment!" interposed the Count before Sir Percival could speakagain--"one moment, Lady Glyde, I implore you!"

  Laura would have left the room without noticing him, but I stopped her.

  "Don't make an enemy of the Count!" I whispered. "Whatever you do,don't make an enemy of the Count!"

  She yielded to me. I closed the door again, and we stood near itwaiting. Sir Percival sat down at the table, with his elbow on thefolded parchment, and his head resting on his clenched fist. The Countstood between us--master of the dreadful position in which we wereplaced, as he was master of everything else.

  "Lady Glyde," he said, with a gentleness which seemed to address itselfto our forlorn situation instead of to ourselves, "pray pardon me if Iventure to offer one suggestion, and pray believe that I speak out ofmy profound respect and my friendly regard for the mistress of thishouse." He turned sharply towards Sir Percival. "Is it absolutelynecessary," he asked "that this thing here, under your elbow, should besigned to-day?"

  "It is necessary to my plans and wishes," returned the other sulkily."But that consideration, as you may have noticed, has no influence withLady Glyde."

  "Answer my plain question plainly. Can the business of the signaturebe put off till to-morrow--Yes or No?"

  "Yes, if you will have it so."

  "Then what are you wasting your time for here? Let the signature waittill to-morrow--let it wait till you come back."

  Sir Percival looked up with a frown and an oath.

  "You are taking a tone with me that I don't like," he said. "A tone Iwon't bear from any man."

  "I am advising you for your good," returned the Count, with a smile ofquiet contempt. "Give yourself time--give Lady Glyde time. Have youforgotten that your dog-cart is waiting at the door? My tone surprisesyou--ha? I dare say it does--it is the tone of a man who can keep histemper. How many doses of good advice have I given you in my time?More than you can count. Have I ever been wrong? I defy you to quoteme an instance of it. Go! take your drive. The matter of thesignature can wait till to-morrow. Let it wait--and renew it when youcome back."

  Sir Percival hesitated and looked at his watch. His anxiety about thesecret journey which he was to take that day, revived by the Count'swords, was now evidently disputing possession of his mind with hisanxiety to obtain Laura's signature. He considered for a little while,and then got up from his chair.

  "It is easy to argue me down," he said, "when I have no time to answeryou. I will take your advice, Fosco--not because I want it, or believein it, but because I can't stop here any longer." He paused, and lookedround darkly at his wife. "If you don't give me your signature when Icome back to-morrow!" The rest was lost in the noise of his opening thebook-case cupboard again, and locking up the parchment once more. Hetook his hat and gloves off the table, and made for the door. Lauraand I drew back to let him pass. "Remember to-morrow!" he said to hiswife, and went out.

  We waited to give him time to cross the hall and drive away. The Countapproached us while we were standing near the door.

  "You have just seen Percival at his worst, Miss Halcombe," he said."As his old friend, I am sorry for him and ashamed of him. As his oldfriend, I promise you that he shall not break out to-morrow in thesame disgraceful manner in which he has broken out to-day."

  Laura had taken my arm while he was speaking and she pressed itsignificantly when he had
done. It would have been a hard trial to anywoman to stand by and see the office of apologist for her husband'smisconduct quietly assumed by his male friend in her own house--and itwas a trial to HER. I thanked the Count civilly, and let her out.Yes! I thanked him: for I felt already, with a sense of inexpressiblehelplessness and humiliation, that it was either his interest or hiscaprice to make sure of my continuing to reside at Blackwater Park, andI knew after Sir Percival's conduct to me, that without the support ofthe Count's influence, I could not hope to remain there. Hisinfluence, the influence of all others that I dreaded most, wasactually the one tie which now held me to Laura in the hour of herutmost need!

  We heard the wheels of the dog-cart crashing on the gravel of the driveas we came into the hall. Sir Percival had started on his journey.

  "Where is he going to, Marian?" Laura whispered. "Every fresh thing hedoes seems to terrify me about the future. Have you any suspicions?"

  After what she had undergone that morning, I was unwilling to tell hermy suspicions.

  "How should I know his secrets?" I said evasively.

  "I wonder if the housekeeper knows?" she persisted.

  "Certainly not," I replied. "She must be quite as ignorant as we are."

  Laura shook her head doubtfully.

  "Did you not hear from the housekeeper that there was a report of AnneCatherick having been seen in this neighbourhood? Don't you think hemay have gone away to look for her?"

  "I would rather compose myself, Laura, by not thinking about it at all,and after what has happened, you had better follow my example. Comeinto my room, and rest and quiet yourself a little."

  We sat down together close to the window, and let the fragrant summerair breathe over our faces.

  "I am ashamed to look at you, Marian," she said, "after what yousubmitted to downstairs, for my sake. Oh, my own love, I am almostheartbroken when I think of it! But I will try to make it up to you--Iwill indeed!"

  "Hush! hush!" I replied; "don't talk so. What is the triflingmortification of my pride compared to the dreadful sacrifice of yourhappiness?"

  "You heard what he said to me?" she went on quickly and vehemently."You heard the words--but you don't know what they meant--you don'tknow why I threw down the pen and turned my back on him." She rose insudden agitation, and walked about the room. "I have kept many thingsfrom your knowledge, Marian, for fear of distressing you, and makingyou unhappy at the outset of our new lives. You don't know how he hasused me. And yet you ought to know, for you saw how he used me to-day.You heard him sneer at my presuming to be scrupulous--you heard him sayI had made a virtue of necessity in marrying him." She sat down again,her face flushed deeply, and her hands twisted and twined together inher lap. "I can't tell you about it now," she said; "I shall burst outcrying if I tell you now--later, Marian, when I am more sure of myself.My poor head aches, darling--aches, aches, aches. Where is yoursmelling-bottle? Let me talk to you about yourself. I wish I had givenhim my signature, for your sake. Shall I give it to him to-morrow? Iwould rather compromise myself than compromise you. After your takingmy part against him, he will lay all the blame on you if I refuseagain. What shall we do? Oh, for a friend to help us and advise us!--afriend we could really trust!"

  She sighed bitterly. I saw in her face that she was thinking ofHartright--saw it the more plainly because her last words set methinking of him too. In six months only from her marriage we wantedthe faithful service he had offered to us in his farewell words. Howlittle I once thought that we should ever want it at all!

  "We must do what we can to help ourselves," I said. "Let us try totalk it over calmly, Laura--let us do all in our power to decide forthe best."

  Putting what she knew of her husband's embarrassments and what I hadheard of his conversation with the lawyer together, we arrivednecessarily at the conclusion that the parchment in the library hadbeen drawn up for the purpose of borrowing money, and that Laura'ssignature was absolutely necessary to fit it for the attainment of SirPercival's object.

  The second question, concerning the nature of the legal contract bywhich the money was to be obtained, and the degree of personalresponsibility to which Laura might subject herself if she signed it inthe dark, involved considerations which lay far beyond any knowledgeand experience that either of us possessed. My own convictions led meto believe that the hidden contents of the parchment concealed atransaction of the meanest and the most fraudulent kind.

  I had not formed this conclusion in consequence of Sir Percival'srefusal to show the writing or to explain it, for that refusal mightwell have proceeded from his obstinate disposition and his domineeringtemper alone. My sole motive for distrusting his honesty sprang fromthe change which I had observed in his language and his manners atBlackwater Park, a change which convinced me that he had been acting apart throughout the whole period of his probation at Limmeridge House.His elaborate delicacy, his ceremonious politeness which harmonised soagreeably with Mr. Gilmore's old-fashioned notions, his modesty withLaura, his candour with me, his moderation with Mr. Fairlie--all thesewere the artifices of a mean, cunning, and brutal man, who had droppedhis disguise when his practised duplicity had gained its end, and hadopenly shown himself in the library on that very day. I say nothing ofthe grief which this discovery caused me on Laura's account, for it isnot to be expressed by any words of mine. I only refer to it at all,because it decided me to oppose her signing the parchment, whatever theconsequences might be, unless she was first made acquainted with thecontents.

  Under these circumstances, the one chance for us when to-morrow camewas to be provided with an objection to giving the signature, whichmight rest on sufficiently firm commercial or legal grounds to shakeSir Percival's resolution, and to make him suspect that we two womenunderstood the laws and obligations of business as well as himself.

  After some pondering, I determined to write to the only honest manwithin reach whom we could trust to help us discreetly in our forlornsituation. That man was Mr. Gilmore's partner, Mr. Kyrle, whoconducted the business now that our old friend had been obliged towithdraw from it, and to leave London on account of his health. Iexplained to Laura that I had Mr. Gilmore's own authority for placingimplicit confidence in his partner's integrity, discretion, andaccurate knowledge of all her affairs, and with her full approval I satdown at once to write the letter, I began by stating our position toMr. Kyrle exactly as it was, and then asked for his advice in return,expressed in plain, downright terms which he could comprehend withoutany danger of misinterpretations and mistakes. My letter was as shortas I could possibly make it, and was, I hope, unencumbered by needlessapologies and needless details.

  Just as I was about to put the address on the envelope an obstacle wasdiscovered by Laura, which in the effort and preoccupation of writinghad escaped my mind altogether.

  "How are we to get the answer in time?" she asked. "Your letter willnot be delivered in London before to-morrow morning, and the post willnot bring the reply here till the morning after."

  The only way of overcoming this difficulty was to have the answerbrought to us from the lawyer's office by a special messenger. I wrotea postscript to that effect, begging that the messenger might bedespatched with the reply by the eleven o'clock morning train, whichwould bring him to our station at twenty minutes past one, and soenable him to reach Blackwater Park by two o'clock at the latest. Hewas to be directed to ask for me, to answer no questions addressed tohim by any one else, and to deliver his letter into no hands but mine.

  "In case Sir Percival should come back to-morrow before two o'clock," Isaid to Laura, "the wisest plan for you to adopt is to be out in thegrounds all the morning with your book or your work, and not to appearat the house till the messenger has had time to arrive with the letter.I will wait here for him all the morning, to guard against anymisadventures or mistakes. By following this arrangement I hope andbelieve we shall avoid being taken by surprise. Let us go down to thedrawing-room now. We may excite suspicion if we remain
shut uptogether too long."

  "Suspicion?" she repeated. "Whose suspicion can we excite, now thatSir Percival has left the house? Do you mean Count Fosco?"

  "Perhaps I do, Laura."

  "You are beginning to dislike him as much as I do, Marian."

  "No, not to dislike him. Dislike is always more or less associatedwith contempt--I can see nothing in the Count to despise."

  "You are not afraid of him, are you?"

  "Perhaps I am--a little."

  "Afraid of him, after his interference in our favour to-day!"

  "Yes. I am more afraid of his interference than I am of Sir Percival'sviolence. Remember what I said to you in the library. Whatever you do,Laura, don't make an enemy of the Count!"

  We went downstairs. Laura entered the drawing-room, while I proceededacross the hall, with my letter in my hand, to put it into thepost-bag, which hung against the wall opposite to me.

  The house door was open, and as I crossed past it, I saw Count Foscoand his wife standing talking together on the steps outside, with theirfaces turned towards me.

  The Countess came into the hall rather hastily, and asked if I hadleisure enough for five minutes' private conversation. Feeling alittle surprised by such an appeal from such a person, I put my letterinto the bag, and replied that I was quite at her disposal. She took myarm with unaccustomed friendliness and familiarity, and instead ofleading me into an empty room, drew me out with her to the belt of turfwhich surrounded the large fish-pond.

  As we passed the Count on the steps he bowed and smiled, and then wentat once into the house, pushing the hall door to after him, but notactually closing it.

  The Countess walked me gently round the fish-pond. I expected to bemade the depositary of some extraordinary confidence, and I wasastonished to find that Madame Fosco's communication for my private earwas nothing more than a polite assurance of her sympathy for me, afterwhat had happened in the library. Her husband had told her of all thathad passed, and of the insolent manner in which Sir Percival had spokento me. This information had so shocked and distressed her, on myaccount and on Laura's, that she had made up her mind, if anything ofthe sort happened again, to mark her sense of Sir Percival's outrageousconduct by leaving the house. The Count had approved of her idea, andshe now hoped that I approved of it too.

  I thought this a very strange proceeding on the part of such aremarkably reserved woman as Madame Fosco, especially after theinterchange of sharp speeches which had passed between us during theconversation in the boat-house on that very morning. However, it wasmy plain duty to meet a polite and friendly advance on the part of oneof my elders with a polite and friendly reply. I answered the Countessaccordingly in her own tone, and then, thinking we had said all thatwas necessary on either side, made an attempt to get back to the house.

  But Madame Fosco seemed resolved not to part with me, and to myunspeakable amazement, resolved also to talk. Hitherto the most silentof women, she now persecuted me with fluent conventionalities on thesubject of married life, on the subject of Sir Percival and Laura, onthe subject of her own happiness, on the subject of the late Mr.Fairlie's conduct to her in the matter of her legacy, and on half adozen other subjects besides, until she had detained me walking roundand round the fish-pond for more than half an hour, and had quitewearied me out. Whether she discovered this or not, I cannot say, butshe stopped as abruptly as she had begun--looked towards the housedoor, resumed her icy manner in a moment, and dropped my arm of her ownaccord before I could think of an excuse for accomplishing my ownrelease from her.

  As I pushed open the door and entered the hall, I found myself suddenlyface to face with the Count again. He was just putting a letter intothe post-bag.

  After he had dropped it in and had closed the bag, he asked me where Ihad left Madame Fosco. I told him, and he went out at the hall doorimmediately to join his wife. His manner when he spoke to me was sounusually quiet and subdued that I turned and looked after him,wondering if he were ill or out of spirits.

  Why my next proceeding was to go straight up to the post-bag and takeout my own letter and look at it again, with a vague distrust on me,and why the looking at it for the second time instantly suggested theidea to my mind of sealing the envelope for its greater security--aremysteries which are either too deep or too shallow for me to fathom.Women, as everybody knows, constantly act on impulses which they cannotexplain even to themselves, and I can only suppose that one of thoseimpulses was the hidden cause of my unaccountable conduct on thisoccasion.

  Whatever influence animated me, I found cause to congratulate myself onhaving obeyed it as soon as I prepared to seal the letter in my ownroom. I had originally closed the envelope in the usual way bymoistening the adhesive point and pressing it on the paper beneath, andwhen I now tried it with my finger, after a lapse of fullthree-quarters of an hour, the envelope opened on the instant, withoutsticking or tearing. Perhaps I had fastened it insufficiently? Perhapsthere might have been some defect in the adhesive gum?

  Or, perhaps----No! it is quite revolting enough to feel that thirdconjecture stirring in my mind. I would rather not see it confrontingme in plain black and white.

  I almost dread to-morrow--so much depends on my discretion andself-control. There are two precautions, at all events, which I amsure not to forget. I must be careful to keep up friendly appearanceswith the Count, and I must be well on my guard when the messenger fromthe office comes here with the answer to my letter.