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The Woman in White, Page 32

Wilkie Collins


  June 19th.--The events of yesterday warned me to be ready, sooner orlater, to meet the worst. To-day is not yet at an end, and the worsthas come.

  Judging by the closest calculation of time that Laura and I could make,we arrived at the conclusion that Anne Catherick must have appeared atthe boat-house at half-past two o'clock on the afternoon of yesterday.I accordingly arranged that Laura should just show herself at theluncheon-table to-day, and should then slip out at the firstopportunity, leaving me behind to preserve appearances, and to followher as soon as I could safely do so. This mode of proceeding, if noobstacles occurred to thwart us, would enable her to be at theboat-house before half-past two, and (when I left the table, in myturn) would take me to a safe position in the plantation before three.

  The change in the weather, which last night's wind warned us to expect,came with the morning. It was raining heavily when I got up, and itcontinued to rain until twelve o'clock--when the clouds dispersed, theblue sky appeared, and the sun shone again with the bright promise of afine afternoon.

  My anxiety to know how Sir Percival and the Count would occupy theearly part of the day was by no means set at rest, so far as SirPercival was concerned, by his leaving us immediately after breakfast,and going out by himself, in spite of the rain. He neither told uswhere he was going nor when we might expect him back. We saw him passthe breakfast-room window hastily, with his high boots and hiswaterproof coat on--and that was all.

  The Count passed the morning quietly indoors, some part of it in thelibrary, some part in the drawing-room, playing odds and ends of musicon the piano, and humming to himself. Judging by appearances, thesentimental side of his character was persistently inclined to betrayitself still. He was silent and sensitive, and ready to sigh andlanguish ponderously (as only fat men CAN sigh and languish) on thesmallest provocation.

  Luncheon-time came and Sir Percival did not return. The Count took hisfriend's place at the table, plaintively devoured the greater part of afruit tart, submerged under a whole jugful of cream, and explained thefull merit of the achievement to us as soon as he had done. "A tastefor sweets," he said in his softest tones and his tenderest manner, "isthe innocent taste of women and children. I love to share it withthem--it is another bond, dear ladies, between you and me."

  Laura left the table in ten minutes' time. I was sorely tempted toaccompany her. But if we had both gone out together we must haveexcited suspicion, and worse still, if we allowed Anne Catherick to seeLaura, accompanied by a second person who was a stranger to her, weshould in all probability forfeit her confidence from that moment,never to regain it again.

  I waited, therefore, as patiently as I could, until the servant came into clear the table. When I quitted the room, there were no signs, inthe house or out of it, of Sir Percival's return. I left the Countwith a piece of sugar between his lips, and the vicious cockatooscrambling up his waistcoat to get at it, while Madame Fosco, sittingopposite to her husband, watched the proceedings of his bird andhimself as attentively as if she had never seen anything of the sortbefore in her life. On my way to the plantation I kept carefullybeyond the range of view from the luncheon-room window. Nobody saw meand nobody followed me. It was then a quarter to three o'clock by mywatch.

  Once among the trees I walked rapidly, until I had advanced more thanhalf-way through the plantation. At that point I slackened my pace andproceeded cautiously, but I saw no one, and heard no voices. By littleand little I came within view of the back of the boat-house--stoppedand listened--then went on, till I was close behind it, and must haveheard any persons who were talking inside. Still the silence wasunbroken--still far and near no sign of a living creature appearedanywhere.

  After skirting round by the back of the building, first on one side andthen on the other, and making no discoveries, I ventured in front ofit, and fairly looked in. The place was empty.

  I called, "Laura!"--at first softly, then louder and louder. No oneanswered and no one appeared. For all that I could see and hear, theonly human creature in the neighbourhood of the lake and the plantationwas myself.

  My heart began to beat violently, but I kept my resolution, andsearched, first the boat-house and then the ground in front of it, forany signs which might show me whether Laura had really reached theplace or not. No mark of her presence appeared inside the building,but I found traces of her outside it, in footsteps on the sand.

  I detected the footsteps of two persons--large footsteps like a man's,and small footsteps, which, by putting my own feet into them andtesting their size in that manner, I felt certain were Laura's. Theground was confusedly marked in this way just before the boat-house.Close against one side of it, under shelter of the projecting roof, Idiscovered a little hole in the sand--a hole artificially made, beyonda doubt. I just noticed it, and then turned away immediately to tracethe footsteps as far as I could, and to follow the direction in whichthey might lead me.

  They led me, starting from the left-hand side of the boat-house, alongthe edge of the trees, a distance, I should think, of between two andthree hundred yards, and then the sandy ground showed no further traceof them. Feeling that the persons whose course I was tracking mustnecessarily have entered the plantation at this point, I entered ittoo. At first I could find no path, but I discovered one afterwards,just faintly traced among the trees, and followed it. It took me, forsome distance, in the direction of the village, until I stopped at apoint where another foot-track crossed it. The brambles grew thicklyon either side of this second path. I stood looking down it, uncertainwhich way to take next, and while I looked I saw on one thorny branchsome fragments of fringe from a woman's shawl. A closer examination ofthe fringe satisfied me that it had been torn from a shawl of Laura's,and I instantly followed the second path. It brought me out at last,to my great relief, at the back of the house. I say to my greatrelief, because I inferred that Laura must, for some unknown reason,have returned before me by this roundabout way. I went in by thecourt-yard and the offices. The first person whom I met in crossingthe servants' hall was Mrs. Michelson, the housekeeper.

  "Do you know," I asked, "whether Lady Glyde has come in from her walkor not?"

  "My lady came in a little while ago with Sir Percival," answered thehousekeeper. "I am afraid, Miss Halcombe, something very distressinghas happened."

  My heart sank within me. "You don't mean an accident?" I said faintly.

  "No, no--thank God, no accident. But my lady ran upstairs to her ownroom in tears, and Sir Percival has ordered me to give Fanny warning toleave in an hour's time."

  Fanny was Laura's maid--a good affectionate girl who had been with herfor years--the only person in the house whose fidelity and devotion wecould both depend upon.

  "Where is Fanny?" I inquired.

  "In my room, Miss Halcombe. The young woman is quite overcome, and Itold her to sit down and try to recover herself."

  I went to Mrs. Michelson's room, and found Fanny in a corner, with herbox by her side, crying bitterly.

  She could give me no explanation whatever of her sudden dismissal. SirPercival had ordered that she should have a month's wages, in place ofa month's warning, and go. No reason had been assigned--no objectionhad been made to her conduct. She had been forbidden to appeal to hermistress, forbidden even to see her for a moment to say good-bye. Shewas to go without explanations or farewells, and to go at once.

  After soothing the poor girl by a few friendly words, I asked where sheproposed to sleep that night. She replied that she thought of going tothe little inn in the village, the landlady of which was a respectablewoman, known to the servants at Blackwater Park. The next morning, byleaving early, she might get back to her friends in Cumberland withoutstopping in London, where she was a total stranger.

  I felt directly that Fanny's departure offered us a safe means ofcommunication with London and with Limmeridge House, of which it mightbe very important to avail ourselves. Accordingly, I told her that shemight ex
pect to hear from her mistress or from me in the course of theevening, and that she might depend on our both doing all that lay inour power to help her, under the trial of leaving us for the present.Those words said, I shook hands with her and went upstairs.

  The door which led to Laura's room was the door of an ante-chamberopening on to the passage. When I tried it, it was bolted on theinside.

  I knocked, and the door was opened by the same heavy, overgrownhousemaid whose lumpish insensibility had tried my patience so severelyon the day when I found the wounded dog.

  I had, since that time, discovered that her name was Margaret Porcher,and that she was the most awkward, slatternly, and obstinate servant inthe house.

  On opening the door she instantly stepped out to the threshold, andstood grinning at me in stolid silence.

  "Why do you stand there?" I said. "Don't you see that I want to comein?"

  "Ah, but you mustn't come in," was the answer, with another and abroader grin still.

  "How dare you talk to me in that way? Stand back instantly!"

  She stretched out a great red hand and arm on each side of her, so asto bar the doorway, and slowly nodded her addle head at me.

  "Master's orders," she said, and nodded again.

  I had need of all my self-control to warn me against contesting thematter with HER, and to remind me that the next words I had to say mustbe addressed to her master. I turned my back on her, and instantlywent downstairs to find him. My resolution to keep my temper under allthe irritations that Sir Percival could offer was, by this time, ascompletely forgotten--I say so to my shame--as if I had never made it.It did me good, after all I had suffered and suppressed in thathouse--it actually did me good to feel how angry I was.

  The drawing-room and the breakfast-room were both empty. I went on tothe library, and there I found Sir Percival, the Count, and MadameFosco. They were all three standing up, close together, and SirPercival had a little slip of paper in his hand. As I opened the doorI heard the Count say to him, "No--a thousand times over, no."

  I walked straight up to him, and looked him full in the face.

  "Am I to understand, Sir Percival, that your wife's room is a prison,and that your housemaid is the gaoler who keeps it?" I asked.

  "Yes, that is what you are to understand," he answered. "Take care mygaoler hasn't got double duty to do--take care your room is not aprison too."

  "Take YOU care how you treat your wife, and how you threaten ME," Ibroke out in the heat of my anger. "There are laws in England toprotect women from cruelty and outrage. If you hurt a hair of Laura'shead, if you dare to interfere with my freedom, come what may, to thoselaws I will appeal."

  Instead of answering me he turned round to the Count.

  "What did I tell you?" he asked. "What do you say now?"

  "What I said before," replied the Count--"No."

  Even in the vehemence of my anger I felt his calm, cold, grey eyes onmy face. They turned away from me as soon as he had spoken, and lookedsignificantly at his wife. Madame Fosco immediately moved close to myside, and in that position addressed Sir Percival before either of uscould speak again.

  "Favour me with your attention for one moment," she said, in her clearicily-suppressed tones. "I have to thank you, Sir Percival, for yourhospitality, and to decline taking advantage of it any longer. Iremain in no house in which ladies are treated as your wife and MissHalcombe have been treated here to-day!"

  Sir Percival drew back a step, and stared at her in dead silence. Thedeclaration he had just heard--a declaration which he well knew, as Iwell knew, Madame Fosco would not have ventured to make without herhusband's permission--seemed to petrify him with surprise. The Countstood by, and looked at his wife with the most enthusiastic admiration.

  "She is sublime!" he said to himself. He approached her while hespoke, and drew her hand through his arm. "I am at your service,Eleanor," he went on, with a quiet dignity that I had never noticed inhim before. "And at Miss Halcombe's service, if she will honour me byaccepting all the assistance I can offer her."

  "Damn it! what do you mean?" cried Sir Percival, as the Count quietlymoved away with his wife to the door.

  "At other times I mean what I say, but at this time I mean what my wifesays," replied the impenetrable Italian. "We have changed places,Percival, for once, and Madame Fosco's opinion is--mine."

  Sir Percival crumpled up the paper in his hand, and pushing past theCount, with another oath, stood between him and the door.

  "Have your own way," he said, with baffled rage in his low,half-whispering tones. "Have your own way--and see what comes of it."With those words he left the room.

  Madame Fosco glanced inquiringly at her husband. "He has gone awayvery suddenly," she said. "What does it mean?"

  "It means that you and I together have brought the worst-tempered manin all England to his senses," answered the Count. "It means, MissHalcombe, that Lady Glyde is relieved from a gross indignity, and youfrom the repetition of an unpardonable insult. Suffer me to express myadmiration of your conduct and your courage at a very trying moment."

  "Sincere admiration," suggested Madame Fosco.

  "Sincere admiration," echoed the Count.

  I had no longer the strength of my first angry resistance to outrageand injury to support me. My heart-sick anxiety to see Laura, my senseof my own helpless ignorance of what had happened at the boat-house,pressed on me with an intolerable weight. I tried to keep upappearances by speaking to the Count and his wife in the tone whichthey had chosen to adopt in speaking to me, but the words failed on mylips--my breath came short and thick--my eyes looked longingly, insilence, at the door. The Count, understanding my anxiety, opened it,went out, and pulled it to after him. At the same time Sir Percival'sheavy step descended the stairs. I heard them whispering togetheroutside, while Madame Fosco was assuring me, in her calmest and mostconventional manner, that she rejoiced, for all our sakes, that SirPercival's conduct had not obliged her husband and herself to leaveBlackwater Park. Before she had done speaking the whispering ceased,the door opened, and the Count looked in.

  "Miss Halcombe," he said, "I am happy to inform you that Lady Glyde ismistress again in her own house. I thought it might be more agreeableto you to hear of this change for the better from me than from SirPercival, and I have therefore expressly returned to mention it."

  "Admirable delicacy!" said Madame Fosco, paying back her husband'stribute of admiration with the Count's own coin, in the Count's ownmanner. He smiled and bowed as if he had received a formal complimentfrom a polite stranger, and drew back to let me pass out first.

  Sir Percival was standing in the hall. As I hurried to the stairs Iheard him call impatiently to the Count to come out of the library.

  "What are you waiting there for?" he said. "I want to speak to you."

  "And I want to think a little by myself," replied the other. "Wait tilllater, Percival, wait till later."

  Neither he nor his friend said any more. I gained the top of thestairs and ran along the passage. In my haste and my agitation I leftthe door of the ante-chamber open, but I closed the door of the bedroomthe moment I was inside it.

  Laura was sitting alone at the far end of the room, her arms restingwearily on a table, and her face hidden in her hands. She started upwith a cry of delight when she saw me.

  "How did you get here?" she asked. "Who gave you leave? Not SirPercival?"

  In my overpowering anxiety to hear what she had to tell me, I could notanswer her--I could only put questions on my side. Laura's eagerness toknow what had passed downstairs proved, however, too strong to beresisted. She persistently repeated her inquiries.

  "The Count, of course," I answered impatiently. "Whose influence inthe house----"

  She stopped me with a gesture of disgust.

  "Don't speak of him," she cried. "The Count is the vilest creaturebreathing! The Count is a miserable Spy----!"

  Before we could either of us say another w
ord we were alarmed by a softknocking at the door of the bedroom.

  I had not yet sat down, and I went first to see who it was. When Iopened the door Madame Fosco confronted me with my handkerchief in herhand.

  "You dropped this downstairs, Miss Halcombe," she said, "and I thoughtI could bring it to you, as I was passing by to my own room."

  Her face, naturally pale, had turned to such a ghastly whiteness that Istarted at the sight of it. Her hands, so sure and steady at all othertimes, trembled violently, and her eyes looked wolfishly past methrough the open door, and fixed on Laura.

  She had been listening before she knocked! I saw it in her white face,I saw it in her trembling hands, I saw it in her look at Laura.

  After waiting an instant she turned from me in silence, and slowlywalked away.

  I closed the door again. "Oh, Laura! Laura! We shall both rue the daywhen you called the Count a Spy!"

  "You would have called him so yourself, Marian, if you had known what Iknow. Anne Catherick was right. There was a third person watching usin the plantation yesterday, and that third person---"

  "Are you sure it was the Count?"

  "I am absolutely certain. He was Sir Percival's spy--he was SirPercival's informer--he set Sir Percival watching and waiting, all themorning through, for Anne Catherick and for me."

  "Is Anne found? Did you see her at the lake?"

  "No. She has saved herself by keeping away from the place. When I gotto the boat-house no one was there."

  "Yes? Yes?"

  "I went in and sat waiting for a few minutes. But my restlessness mademe get up again, to walk about a little. As I passed out I saw somemarks on the sand, close under the front of the boat-house. I stoopeddown to examine them, and discovered a word written in large letters onthe sand. The word was--LOOK."

  "And you scraped away the sand, and dug a hollow place in it?"

  "How do you know that, Marian?"

  "I saw the hollow place myself when I followed you to the boat-house.Go on--go on!"

  "Yes, I scraped away the sand on the surface, and in a little while Icame to a strip of paper hidden beneath, which had writing on it. Thewriting was signed with Anne Catherick's initials."

  "Where is it?"

  "Sir Percival has taken it from me."

  "Can you remember what the writing was? Do you think you can repeat itto me?"

  "In substance I can, Marian. It was very short. You would haveremembered it, word for word."

  "Try to tell me what the substance was before we go any further."

  She complied. I write the lines down here exactly as she repeated themto me. They ran thus--

  "I was seen with you, yesterday, by a tall, stout old man, and had torun to save myself. He was not quick enough on his feet to follow me,and he lost me among the trees. I dare not risk coming back hereto-day at the same time. I write this, and hide it in the sand, at sixin the morning, to tell you so. When we speak next of your wickedhusband's Secret we must speak safely, or not at all. Try to havepatience. I promise you shall see me again and that soon.--A. C."

  The reference to the "tall, stout old man" (the terms of which Laurawas certain that she had repeated to me correctly) left no doubt as towho the intruder had been. I called to mind that I had told SirPercival, in the Count's presence the day before, that Laura had goneto the boat-house to look for her brooch. In all probability he hadfollowed her there, in his officious way, to relieve her mind about thematter of the signature, immediately after he had mentioned the changein Sir Percival's plans to me in the drawing-room. In this case hecould only have got to the neighbourhood of the boat-house at the verymoment when Anne Catherick discovered him. The suspiciously hurriedmanner in which she parted from Laura had no doubt prompted his uselessattempt to follow her. Of the conversation which had previously takenplace between them he could have heard nothing. The distance betweenthe house and the lake, and the time at which he left me in thedrawing-room, as compared with the time at which Laura and AnneCatherick had been speaking together, proved that fact to us at anyrate, beyond a doubt.

  Having arrived at something like a conclusion so far, my next greatinterest was to know what discoveries Sir Percival had made after CountFosco had given him his information.

  "How came you to lose possession of the letter?" I asked. "What didyou do with it when you found it in the sand?"

  "After reading it once through," she replied, "I took it into theboat-house with me to sit down and look over it a second time. While Iwas reading a shadow fell across the paper. I looked up, and saw SirPercival standing in the doorway watching me."

  "Did you try to hide the letter?"

  "I tried, but he stopped me. 'You needn't trouble to hide that,' hesaid. 'I happen to have read it.' I could only look at himhelplessly--I could say nothing. 'You understand?' he went on; 'I haveread it. I dug it up out of the sand two hours since, and buried itagain, and wrote the word above it again, and left it ready to yourhands. You can't lie yourself out of the scrape now. You saw AnneCatherick in secret yesterday, and you have got her letter in your handat this moment. I have not caught HER yet, but I have caught YOU.Give me the letter.' He stepped close up to me--I was alone with him,Marian--what could I do?--I gave him the letter."

  "What did he say when you gave it to him?"

  "At first he said nothing. He took me by the arm, and led me out ofthe boat-house, and looked about him on all sides, as if he was afraidof our being seen or heard. Then he clasped his hand fast round myarm, and whispered to me, 'What did Anne Catherick say to youyesterday? I insist on hearing every word, from first to last.'"

  "Did you tell him?"

  "I was alone with him, Marian--his cruel hand was bruising my arm--whatcould I do?"

  "Is the mark on your arm still? Let me see it."

  "Why do you want to see it?"

  "I want to see it, Laura, because our endurance must end, and ourresistance must begin to-day. That mark is a weapon to strike himwith. Let me see it now--I may have to swear to it at some futuretime."

  "Oh, Marian, don't look so--don't talk so! It doesn't hurt me now!"

  "Let me see it!"

  She showed me the marks. I was past grieving over them, past cryingover them, past shuddering over them. They say we are either betterthan men, or worse. If the temptation that has fallen in some women'sway, and made them worse, had fallen in mine at that moment--Thank God!my face betrayed nothing that his wife could read. The gentle,innocent, affectionate creature thought I was frightened for her andsorry for her, and thought no more.

  "Don't think too seriously of it, Marian," she said simply, as shepulled her sleeve down again. "It doesn't hurt me now."

  "I will try to think quietly of it, my love, for your sake.--Well!well! And you told him all that Anne Catherick had said to you--allthat you told me?"

  "Yes, all. He insisted on it--I was alone with him--I could concealnothing."

  "Did he say anything when you had done?"

  "He looked at me, and laughed to himself in a mocking, bitter way. 'Imean to have the rest out of you,' he said, 'do you hear?--the rest.' Ideclared to him solemnly that I had told him everything I knew. 'Notyou,' he answered, 'you know more than you choose to tell. Won't youtell it? You shall! I'll wring it out of you at home if I can't wringit out of you here.' He led me away by a strange path through theplantation--a path where there was no hope of our meeting you--and hespoke no more till we came within sight of the house. Then he stoppedagain, and said, 'Will you take a second chance, if I give it to you?Will you think better of it, and tell me the rest?' I could only repeatthe same words I had spoken before. He cursed my obstinacy, and wenton, and took me with him to the house. 'You can't deceive me,' hesaid, 'you know more than you choose to tell. I'll have your secretout of you, and I'll have it out of that sister of yours as well.There shall be no more plotting and whispering between you. Neitheryou nor she shall see each other again till you have confessed thetr
uth. I'll have you watched morning, noon, and night, till youconfess the truth.' He was deaf to everything I could say. He took mestraight upstairs into my own room. Fanny was sitting there, doingsome work for me, and he instantly ordered her out. 'I'll take goodcare YOU'RE not mixed up in the conspiracy,' he said. 'You shall leavethis house to-day. If your mistress wants a maid, she shall have oneof my choosing.' He pushed me into the room, and locked the door on me.He set that senseless woman to watch me outside, Marian! He looked andspoke like a madman. You may hardly understand it--he did indeed."

  "I do understand it, Laura. He is mad--mad with the terrors of aguilty conscience. Every word you have said makes me positivelycertain that when Anne Catherick left you yesterday you were on the eveof discovering a secret which might have been your vile husband's ruin,and he thinks you HAVE discovered it. Nothing you can say or do willquiet that guilty distrust, and convince his false nature of yourtruth. I don't say this, my love, to alarm you. I say it to open youreyes to your position, and to convince you of the urgent necessity ofletting me act, as I best can, for your protection while the chance isour own. Count Fosco's interference has secured me access to youto-day, but he may withdraw that interference to-morrow. Sir Percivalhas already dismissed Fanny because she is a quick-witted girl, anddevotedly attached to you, and has chosen a woman to take her place whocares nothing for your interests, and whose dull intelligence lowersher to the level of the watch-dog in the yard. It is impossible to saywhat violent measures he may take next, unless we make the most of ouropportunities while we have them."

  "What can we do, Marian? Oh, if we could only leave this house, neverto see it again!"

  "Listen to me, my love, and try to think that you are not quitehelpless so long as I am here with you."

  "I will think so--I do think so. Don't altogether forget poor Fanny inthinking of me. She wants help and comfort too."

  "I will not forget her. I saw her before I came up here, and I havearranged to communicate with her to-night. Letters are not safe in thepost-bag at Blackwater Park, and I shall have two to write to-day, inyour interests, which must pass through no hands but Fanny's."

  "What letters?"

  "I mean to write first, Laura, to Mr. Gilmore's partner, who hasoffered to help us in any fresh emergency. Little as I know of thelaw, I am certain that it can protect a woman from such treatment asthat ruffian has inflicted on you to-day. I will go into no detailsabout Anne Catherick, because I have no certain information to give.But the lawyer shall know of those bruises on your arm, and of theviolence offered to you in this room--he shall, before I rest to-night!"

  "But think of the exposure, Marian!"

  "I am calculating on the exposure. Sir Percival has more to dread fromit than you have. The prospect of an exposure may bring him to termswhen nothing else will."

  I rose as I spoke, but Laura entreated me not to leave her. "You willdrive him to desperation," she said, "and increase our dangers tenfold."

  I felt the truth--the disheartening truth--of those words. But I couldnot bring myself plainly to acknowledge it to her. In our dreadfulposition there was no help and no hope for us but in risking the worst.I said so in guarded terms. She sighed bitterly, but did not contestthe matter. She only asked about the second letter that I had proposedwriting. To whom was it to be addressed?

  "To Mr. Fairlie," I said. "Your uncle is your nearest male relative,and the head of the family. He must and shall interfere."

  Laura shook her head sorrowfully.

  "Yes, yes," I went on, "your uncle is a weak, selfish, worldly man, Iknow, but he is not Sir Percival Glyde, and he has no such friend abouthim as Count Fosco. I expect nothing from his kindness or histenderness of feeling towards you or towards me, but he will doanything to pamper his own indolence, and to secure his own quiet. Letme only persuade him that his interference at this moment will save himinevitable trouble and wretchedness and responsibility hereafter, andhe will bestir himself for his own sake. I know how to deal with him,Laura--I have had some practice."

  "If you could only prevail on him to let me go back to Limmeridge for alittle while and stay there quietly with you, Marian, I could be almostas happy again as I was before I was married!"

  Those words set me thinking in a new direction. Would it be possibleto place Sir Percival between the two alternatives of either exposinghimself to the scandal of legal interference on his wife's behalf, orof allowing her to be quietly separated from him for a time underpretext of a visit to her uncle's house? And could he, in that case, bereckoned on as likely to accept the last resource? It wasdoubtful--more than doubtful. And yet, hopeless as the experimentseemed, surely it was worth trying. I resolved to try it in sheerdespair of knowing what better to do.

  "Your uncle shall know the wish you have just expressed," I said, "andI will ask the lawyer's advice on the subject as well. Good may comeof it--and will come of it, I hope."

  Saying that I rose again, and again Laura tried to make me resume myseat.

  "Don't leave me," she said uneasily. "My desk is on that table. Youcan write here."

  It tried me to the quick to refuse her, even in her own interests. Butwe had been too long shut up alone together already. Our chance ofseeing each other again might entirely depend on our not exciting anyfresh suspicions. It was full time to show myself, quietly andunconcernedly, among the wretches who were at that very moment,perhaps, thinking of us and talking of us downstairs. I explained themiserable necessity to Laura, and prevailed on her to recognise it as Idid.

  "I will come back again, love, in an hour or less," I said. "The worstis over for to-day. Keep yourself quiet and fear nothing."

  "Is the key in the door, Marian? Can I lock it on the inside?"

  "Yes, here is the key. Lock the door, and open it to nobody until Icome upstairs again."

  I kissed her and left her. It was a relief to me as I walked away tohear the key turned in the lock, and to know that the door was at herown command.