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The Woman in White, Page 58

Wilkie Collins


  The address communicated by Mrs. Todd took me to a lodging-housesituated in a respectable street near the Gray's Inn Road.

  When I knocked the door was opened by Mrs. Clements herself. She didnot appear to remember me, and asked what my business was. I recalledto her our meeting in Limmeridge churchyard at the close of myinterview there with the woman in white, taking special care to remindher that I was the person who assisted Anne Catherick (as Anne hadherself declared) to escape the pursuit from the Asylum. This was myonly claim to the confidence of Mrs. Clements. She remembered thecircumstance the moment I spoke of it, and asked me into the parlour,in the greatest anxiety to know if I had brought her any news of Anne.

  It was impossible for me to tell her the whole truth without, at thesame time, entering into particulars on the subject of the conspiracy,which it would have been dangerous to confide to a stranger. I couldonly abstain most carefully from raising any false hopes, and thenexplain that the object of my visit was to discover the persons whowere really responsible for Anne's disappearance. I even added, so asto exonerate myself from any after-reproach of my own conscience, thatI entertained not the least hope of being able to trace her--that Ibelieved we should never see her alive again--and that my main interestin the affair was to bring to punishment two men whom I suspected to beconcerned in luring her away, and at whose hands I and some dearfriends of mine had suffered a grievous wrong. With this explanation Ileft it to Mrs. Clements to say whether our interest in the matter(whatever difference there might be in the motives which actuated us)was not the same, and whether she felt any reluctance to forward myobject by giving me such information on the subject of my inquiries asshe happened to possess.

  The poor woman was at first too much confused and agitated tounderstand thoroughly what I said to her. She could only reply that Iwas welcome to anything she could tell me in return for the kindness Ihad shown to Anne; but as she was not very quick and ready, at the bestof times, in talking to strangers, she would beg me to put her in theright way, and to say where I wished her to begin.

  Knowing by experience that the plainest narrative attainable frompersons who are not accustomed to arrange their ideas, is the narrativewhich goes far enough back at the beginning to avoid all impediments ofretrospection in its course, I asked Mrs. Clements to tell me firstwhat had happened after she had left Limmeridge, and so, by watchfulquestioning, carried her on from point to point, till we reached theperiod of Anne's disappearance.

  The substance of the information which I thus obtained was as follows:--

  On leaving the farm at Todd's Corner, Mrs. Clements and Anne hadtravelled that day as far as Derby, and had remained there a week onAnne's account. They had then gone on to London, and had lived in thelodging occupied by Mrs. Clements at that time for a month or more,when circumstances connected with the house and the landlord hadobliged them to change their quarters. Anne's terror of beingdiscovered in London or its neighbourhood, whenever they ventured towalk out, had gradually communicated itself to Mrs. Clements, and shehad determined on removing to one of the most out-of-the-way places inEngland--to the town of Grimsby in Lincolnshire, where her deceasedhusband had passed all his early life. His relatives were respectablepeople settled in the town--they had always treated Mrs. Clements withgreat kindness, and she thought it impossible to do better than gothere and take the advice of her husband's friends. Anne would nothear of returning to her mother at Welmingham, because she had beenremoved to the Asylum from that place, and because Sir Percival wouldbe certain to go back there and find her again. There was seriousweight in this objection, and Mrs. Clements felt that it was not to beeasily removed.

  At Grimsby the first serious symptoms of illness had shown themselvesin Anne. They appeared soon after the news of Lady Glyde's marriagehad been made public in the newspapers, and had reached her throughthat medium.

  The medical man who was sent for to attend the sick woman discovered atonce that she was suffering from a serious affection of the heart. Theillness lasted long, left her very weak, and returned at intervals,though with mitigated severity, again and again. They remained atGrimsby, in consequence, during the first half of the new year, andthere they might probably have stayed much longer, but for the suddenresolution which Anne took at this time to venture back to Hampshire,for the purpose of obtaining a private interview with Lady Glyde.

  Mrs. Clements did all in her power to oppose the execution of thishazardous and unaccountable project. No explanation of her motives wasoffered by Anne, except that she believed the day of her death was notfar off, and that she had something on her mind which must becommunicated to Lady Glyde, at any risk, in secret. Her resolution toaccomplish this purpose was so firmly settled that she declared herintention of going to Hampshire by herself if Mrs. Clements felt anyunwillingness to go with her. The doctor, on being consulted, was ofopinion that serious opposition to her wishes would, in allprobability, produce another and perhaps a fatal fit of illness, andMrs. Clements, under this advice, yielded to necessity, and once more,with sad forebodings of trouble and danger to come, allowed AnneCatherick to have her own way.

  On the journey from London to Hampshire Mrs. Clements discovered thatone of their fellow-passengers was well acquainted with theneighbourhood of Blackwater, and could give her all the information sheneeded on the subject of localities. In this way she found out thatthe only place they could go to, which was not dangerously near to SirPercival's residence, was a large village called Sandon. The distancehere from Blackwater Park was between three and four miles--and thatdistance, and back again, Anne had walked on each occasion when she hadappeared in the neighbourhood of the lake.

  For the few days during which they were at Sandon without beingdiscovered they had lived a little away from the village, in thecottage of a decent widow-woman who had a bedroom to let, and whosediscreet silence Mrs. Clements had done her best to secure, for thefirst week at least. She had also tried hard to induce Anne to becontent with writing to Lady Glyde, in the first instance; but thefailure of the warning contained in the anonymous letter sent toLimmeridge had made Anne resolute to speak this time, and obstinate inthe determination to go on her errand alone.

  Mrs. Clements, nevertheless, followed her privately on each occasionwhen she went to the lake, without, however, venturing near enough tothe boat-house to be witness of what took place there. When Annereturned for the last time from the dangerous neighbourhood, thefatigue of walking, day after day, distances which were far too greatfor her strength, added to the exhausting effect of the agitation fromwhich she had suffered, produced the result which Mrs. Clements haddreaded all along. The old pain over the heart and the other symptomsof the illness at Grimsby returned, and Anne was confined to her bed inthe cottage.

  In this emergency the first necessity, as Mrs. Clements knew byexperience, was to endeavour to quiet Anne's anxiety of mind, and forthis purpose the good woman went herself the next day to the lake, totry if she could find Lady Glyde (who would be sure, as Anne said, totake her daily walk to the boat-house), and prevail on her to come backprivately to the cottage near Sandon. On reaching the outskirts of theplantation Mrs. Clements encountered, not Lady Glyde, but a tall,stout, elderly gentleman, with a book in his hand--in other words,Count Fosco.

  The Count, after looking at her very attentively for a moment, asked ifshe expected to see any one in that place, and added, before she couldreply, that he was waiting there with a message from Lady Glyde, butthat he was not quite certain whether the person then before himanswered the description of the person with whom he was desired tocommunicate.

  Upon this Mrs. Clements at once confided her errand to him, andentreated that he would help to allay Anne's anxiety by trusting hismessage to her. The Count most readily and kindly complied with herrequest. The message, he said, was a very important one. Lady Glydeentreated Anne and her good friend to return immediately to London, asshe felt certain that Sir Percival would discover th
em if they remainedany longer in the neighbourhood of Blackwater. She was herself goingto London in a short time, and if Mrs. Clements and Anne would go therefirst, and would let her know what their address was, they should hearfrom her and see her in a fortnight or less. The Count added that hehad already attempted to give a friendly warning to Anne herself, butthat she had been too much startled by seeing that he was a stranger tolet him approach and speak to her.

  To this Mrs. Clements replied, in the greatest alarm and distress, thatshe asked nothing better than to take Anne safely to London, but thatthere was no present hope of removing her from the dangerousneighbourhood, as she lay ill in her bed at that moment. The Countinquired if Mrs. Clements had sent for medical advice, and hearing thatshe had hitherto hesitated to do so, from the fear of making theirposition publicly known in the village, informed her that he washimself a medical man, and that he would go back with her if shepleased, and see what could be done for Anne. Mrs. Clements (feeling anatural confidence in the Count, as a person trusted with a secretmessage from Lady Glyde) gratefully accepted the offer, and they wentback together to the cottage.

  Anne was asleep when they got there. The Count started at the sight ofher (evidently from astonishment at her resemblance to Lady Glyde).Poor Mrs. Clements supposed that he was only shocked to see how ill shewas. He would not allow her to be awakened--he was contented withputting questions to Mrs. Clements about her symptoms, with looking ather, and with lightly touching her pulse. Sandon was a large enoughplace to have a grocer's and druggist's shop in it, and thither theCount went to write his prescription and to get the medicine made up.He brought it back himself, and told Mrs. Clements that the medicinewas a powerful stimulant, and that it would certainly give Annestrength to get up and bear the fatigue of a journey to London of onlya few hours. The remedy was to be administered at stated times on thatday and on the day after. On the third day she would be well enough totravel, and he arranged to meet Mrs. Clements at the Blackwaterstation, and to see them off by the midday train. If they did notappear he would assume that Anne was worse, and would proceed at onceto the cottage.

  As events turned out, no such emergency as this occurred.

  This medicine had an extraordinary effect on Anne, and the good resultsof it were helped by the assurance Mrs. Clements could now give herthat she would soon see Lady Glyde in London. At the appointed day andtime (when they had not been quite so long as a week in Hampshirealtogether), they arrived at the station. The Count was waiting therefor them, and was talking to an elderly lady, who appeared to be goingto travel by the train to London also. He most kindly assisted them,and put them into the carriage himself, begging Mrs. Clements not toforget to send her address to Lady Glyde. The elderly lady did nottravel in the same compartment, and they did not notice what became ofher on reaching the London terminus. Mrs. Clements secured respectablelodgings in a quiet neighbourhood, and then wrote, as she had engagedto do, to inform Lady Glyde of the address.

  A little more than a fortnight passed, and no answer came.

  At the end of that time a lady (the same elderly lady whom they hadseen at the station) called in a cab, and said that she came from LadyGlyde, who was then at an hotel in London, and who wished to see Mrs.Clements, for the purpose of arranging a future interview with Anne.Mrs. Clements expressed her willingness (Anne being present at thetime, and entreating her to do so) to forward the object in view,especially as she was not required to be away from the house for morethan half an hour at the most. She and the elderly lady (clearly MadameFosco) then left in the cab. The lady stopped the cab, after it haddriven some distance, at a shop before they got to the hotel, andbegged Mrs. Clements to wait for her for a few minutes while she made apurchase that had been forgotten. She never appeared again.

  After waiting some time Mrs. Clements became alarmed, and ordered thecabman to drive back to her lodgings. When she got there, after anabsence of rather more than half an hour, Anne was gone.

  The only information to be obtained from the people of the house wasderived from the servant who waited on the lodgers. She had opened thedoor to a boy from the street, who had left a letter for "the youngwoman who lived on the second floor" (the part of the house which Mrs.Clements occupied). The servant had delivered the letter, had thengone downstairs, and five minutes afterwards had observed Anne open thefront door and go out, dressed in her bonnet and shawl. She hadprobably taken the letter with her, for it was not to be found, and itwas therefore impossible to tell what inducement had been offered tomake her leave the house. It must have been a strong one, for shewould never stir out alone in London of her own accord. If Mrs.Clements had not known this by experience nothing would have inducedher to go away in the cab, even for so short a time as half an houronly.

  As soon as she could collect her thoughts, the first idea thatnaturally occurred to Mrs. Clements was to go and make inquiries at theAsylum, to which she dreaded that Anne had been taken back.

  She went there the next day, having been informed of the locality inwhich the house was situated by Anne herself. The answer she received(her application having in all probability been made a day or twobefore the false Anne Catherick had really been consigned to safekeeping in the Asylum) was, that no such person had been brought backthere. She had then written to Mrs. Catherick at Welmingham to know ifshe had seen or heard anything of her daughter, and had received ananswer in the negative. After that reply had reached her, she was atthe end of her resources, and perfectly ignorant where else to inquireor what else to do. From that time to this she had remained in totalignorance of the cause of Anne's disappearance and of the end of Anne'sstory.