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The Woman in White, Page 76

Wilkie Collins


  The summer and autumn passed after my return from Paris, and brought nochanges with them which need be noticed here. We lived so simply andquietly that the income which I was now steadily earning sufficed forall our wants.

  In the February of the new year our first child was born--a son. Mymother and sister and Mrs. Vesey were our guests at the littlechristening party, and Mrs. Clements was present to assist my wife onthe same occasion. Marian was our boy's godmother, and Pesca and Mr.Gilmore (the latter acting by proxy) were his godfathers. I may addhere that when Mr. Gilmore returned to us a year later he assisted thedesign of these pages, at my request, by writing the Narrative whichappears early in the story under his name, and which, though first inorder of precedence, was thus, in order of time, the last that Ireceived.

  The only event in our lives which now remains to be recorded, occurredwhen our little Walter was six months old.

  At that time I was sent to Ireland to make sketches for certainforthcoming illustrations in the newspaper to which I was attached. Iwas away for nearly a fortnight, corresponding regularly with my wifeand Marian, except during the last three days of my absence, when mymovements were too uncertain to enable me to receive letters. Iperformed the latter part of my journey back at night, and when Ireached home in the morning, to my utter astonishment there was no oneto receive me. Laura and Marian and the child had left the house onthe day before my return.

  A note from my wife, which was given to me by the servant, onlyincreased my surprise, by informing me that they had gone to LimmeridgeHouse. Marian had prohibited any attempt at written explanations--Iwas entreated to follow them the moment I came back--completeenlightenment awaited me on my arrival in Cumberland--and I wasforbidden to feel the slightest anxiety in the meantime. There thenote ended. It was still early enough to catch the morning train. Ireached Limmeridge House the same afternoon.

  My wife and Marian were both upstairs. They had established themselves(by way of completing my amazement) in the little room which had beenonce assigned to me for a studio, when I was employed on Mr. Fairlie'sdrawings. On the very chair which I used to occupy when I was at workMarian was sitting now, with the child industriously sucking his coralupon her lap--while Laura was standing by the well-remembereddrawing-table which I had so often used, with the little album that Ihad filled for her in past times open under her hand.

  "What in the name of heaven has brought you here?" I asked. "Does Mr.Fairlie know----?"

  Marian suspended the question on my lips by telling me that Mr. Fairliewas dead. He had been struck by paralysis, and had never rallied afterthe shock. Mr. Kyrle had informed them of his death, and had advisedthem to proceed immediately to Limmeridge House.

  Some dim perception of a great change dawned on my mind. Laura spokebefore I had quite realised it. She stole close to me to enjoy thesurprise which was still expressed in my face.

  "My darling Walter," she said, "must we really account for our boldnessin coming here? I am afraid, love, I can only explain it by breakingthrough our rule, and referring to the past."

  "There is not the least necessity for doing anything of the kind," saidMarian. "We can be just as explicit, and much more interesting, byreferring to the future." She rose and held up the child kicking andcrowing in her arms. "Do you know who this is, Walter?" she asked,with bright tears of happiness gathering in her eyes.

  "Even MY bewilderment has its limits," I replied. "I think I can stillanswer for knowing my own child."

  "Child!" she exclaimed, with all her easy gaiety of old times. "Do youtalk in that familiar manner of one of the landed gentry of England?Are you aware, when I present this illustrious baby to your notice, inwhose presence you stand? Evidently not! Let me make two eminentpersonages known to one another: Mr. Walter Hartright--THE HEIR OFLIMMERIDGE."

  So she spoke. In writing those last words, I have written all. The penfalters in my hand. The long, happy labour of many months is over.Marian was the good angel of our lives--let Marian end our Story.