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The Woman in White, Page 51

Wilkie Collins


  This was the story of the past--the story so far as we knew it then.

  Two obvious conclusions presented themselves to my mind after hearingit. In the first place, I saw darkly what the nature of the conspiracyhad been, how chances had been watched, and how circumstances had beenhandled to ensure impunity to a daring and an intricate crime. Whileall details were still a mystery to me, the vile manner in which thepersonal resemblance between the woman in white and Lady Glyde had beenturned to account was clear beyond a doubt. It was plain that AnneCatherick had been introduced into Count Fosco's house as LadyGlyde--it was plain that Lady Glyde had taken the dead woman's place inthe Asylum--the substitution having been so managed as to makeinnocent people (the doctor and the two servants certainly, and theowner of the mad-house in all probability) accomplices in the crime.

  The second conclusion came as the necessary consequence of the first.We three had no mercy to expect from Count Fosco and Sir PercivalGlyde. The success of the conspiracy had brought with it a clear gainto those two men of thirty thousand pounds--twenty thousand to one, tenthousand to the other through his wife. They had that interest, aswell as other interests, in ensuring their impunity from exposure, andthey would leave no stone unturned, no sacrifice unattempted, notreachery untried, to discover the place in which their victim wasconcealed, and to part her from the only friends she had in theworld--Marian Halcombe and myself.

  The sense of this serious peril--a peril which every day and every hourmight bring nearer and nearer to us--was the one influence that guidedme in fixing the place of our retreat. I chose it in the far east ofLondon, where there were fewest idle people to lounge and look aboutthem in the streets. I chose it in a poor and a populousneighbourhood--because the harder the struggle for existence among themen and women about us, the less the risk of their having the time ortaking the pains to notice chance strangers who came among them. Thesewere the great advantages I looked to, but our locality was a gain tous also in another and a hardly less important respect. We could livecheaply by the daily work of my hands, and could save every farthing wepossessed to forward the purpose, the righteous purpose, of redressingan infamous wrong--which, from first to last, I now kept steadily inview.

  In a week's time Marian Halcombe and I had settled how the course ofour new lives should be directed.

  There were no other lodgers in the house, and we had the means of goingin and out without passing through the shop. I arranged, for thepresent at least, that neither Marian nor Laura should stir outside thedoor without my being with them, and that in my absence from home theyshould let no one into their rooms on any pretence whatever. This ruleestablished, I went to a friend whom I had known in former days--a woodengraver in large practice--to seek for employment, telling him, at thesame time, that I had reasons for wishing to remain unknown.

  He at once concluded that I was in debt, expressed his regret in theusual forms, and then promised to do what he could to assist me. Ileft his false impression undisturbed, and accepted the work he had togive. He knew that he could trust my experience and my industry. Ihad what he wanted, steadiness and facility, and though my earningswere but small, they sufficed for our necessities. As soon as we couldfeel certain of this, Marian Halcombe and I put together what wepossessed. She had between two and three hundred pounds left of herown property, and I had nearly as much remaining from thepurchase-money obtained by the sale of my drawing-master's practicebefore I left England. Together we made up between us more than fourhundred pounds. I deposited this little fortune in a bank, to be keptfor the expense of those secret inquiries and investigations which Iwas determined to set on foot, and to carry on by myself if I couldfind no one to help me. We calculated our weekly expenditure to thelast farthing, and we never touched our little fund except in Laura'sinterests and for Laura's sake.

  The house-work, which, if we had dared trust a stranger near us, wouldhave been done by a servant, was taken on the first day, taken as herown right, by Marian Halcombe. "What a woman's hands ARE fit for," shesaid, "early and late, these hands of mine shall do." They trembled asshe held them out. The wasted arms told their sad story of the past,as she turned up the sleeves of the poor plain dress that she wore forsafety's sake; but the unquenchable spirit of the woman burnt bright inher even yet. I saw the big tears rise thick in her eyes, and fallslowly over her cheeks as she looked at me. She dashed them away witha touch of her old energy, and smiled with a faint reflection of herold good spirits. "Don't doubt my courage, Walter," she pleaded, "it'smy weakness that cries, not ME. The house-work shall conquer it if Ican't." And she kept her word--the victory was won when we met in theevening, and she sat down to rest. Her large steady black eyes lookedat me with a flash of their bright firmness of bygone days. "I am notquite broken down yet," she said. "I am worth trusting with my shareof the work." Before I could answer, she added in a whisper, "Andworth trusting with my share in the risk and the danger too. Rememberthat, if the time comes!"

  I did remember it when the time came.