The Woman in White, Page 25Wilkie Collins
Ten o'clock. She is dressed. We have kissed each other--we havepromised each other not to lose courage. I am away for a moment in myown room. In the whirl and confusion of my thoughts, I can detect thatstrange fancy of some hindrance happening to stop the marriage stillhanging about my mind. Is it hanging about HIS mind too? I see himfrom the window, moving hither and thither uneasily among the carriagesat the door.--How can I write such folly! The marriage is a certainty.In less than half an hour we start for the church.
Eleven o'clock. It is all over. They are married.
Three o'clock. They are gone! I am blind with crying--I can write nomore----
* * * * * * * * * *
[The First Epoch of the Story closes here.]
THE SECOND EPOCH
THE STORY CONTINUED BY MARIAN HALCOMBE.
BLACKWATER PARK, HAMPSHIRE.
June 11th, 1850.--Six months to look back on--six long, lonely monthssince Laura and I last saw each other!
How many days have I still to wait? Only one! To-morrow, the twelfth,the travellers return to England. I can hardly realise my ownhappiness--I can hardly believe that the next four-and-twenty hourswill complete the last day of separation between Laura and me.
She and her husband have been in Italy all the winter, and afterwardsin the Tyrol. They come back, accompanied by Count Fosco and his wife,who propose to settle somewhere in the neighbourhood of London, and whohave engaged to stay at Blackwater Park for the summer months beforedeciding on a place of residence. So long as Laura returns, no matterwho returns with her. Sir Percival may fill the house from floor toceiling, if he likes, on condition that his wife and I inhabit ittogether.
Meanwhile, here I am, established at Blackwater Park, "the ancient andinteresting seat" (as the county history obligingly informs me) "of SirPercival Glyde, Bart.," and the future abiding-place (as I may nowventure to add on my account) of plain Marian Halcombe, spinster, nowsettled in a snug little sitting-room, with a cup of tea by her side,and all her earthly possessions ranged round her in three boxes and abag.
I left Limmeridge yesterday, having received Laura's delightful letterfrom Paris the day before. I had been previously uncertain whether Iwas to meet them in London or in Hampshire, but this last letterinformed me that Sir Percival proposed to land at Southampton, and totravel straight on to his country-house. He has spent so much moneyabroad that he has none left to defray the expenses of living in Londonfor the remainder of the season, and he is economically resolved topass the summer and autumn quietly at Blackwater. Laura has had morethan enough of excitement and change of scene, and is pleased at theprospect of country tranquillity and retirement which her husband'sprudence provides for her. As for me, I am ready to be happy anywherein her society. We are all, therefore, well contented in our variousways, to begin with.
Last night I slept in London, and was delayed there so long to-day byvarious calls and commissions, that I did not reach Blackwater thisevening till after dusk.
Judging by my vague impressions of the place thus far, it is the exactopposite of Limmeridge.
The house is situated on a dead flat, and seems to be shut in--almostsuffocated, to my north-country notions, by trees. I have seen nobodybut the man-servant who opened the door to me, and the housekeeper, avery civil person, who showed me the way to my own room, and got me mytea. I have a nice little boudoir and bedroom, at the end of a longpassage on the first floor. The servants and some of the spare roomsare on the second floor, and all the living rooms are on the groundfloor. I have not seen one of them yet, and I know nothing about thehouse, except that one wing of it is said to be five hundred years old,that it had a moat round it once, and that it gets its name ofBlackwater from a lake in the park.
Eleven o'clock has just struck, in a ghostly and solemn manner, from aturret over the centre of the house, which I saw when I came in. Alarge dog has been woke, apparently by the sound of the bell, and ishowling and yawning drearily, somewhere round a corner. I hear echoingfootsteps in the passages below, and the iron thumping of bolts andbars at the house door. The servants are evidently going to bed.Shall I follow their example?
No, I am not half sleepy enough. Sleepy, did I say? I feel as if Ishould never close my eyes again. The bare anticipation of seeing thatdear face, and hearing that well-known voice to-morrow, keeps me in aperpetual fever of excitement. If I only had the privileges of a man,I would order out Sir Percival's best horse instantly, and tear away ona night-gallop, eastward, to meet the rising sun--a long, hard, heavy,ceaseless gallop of hours and hours, like the famous highwayman's rideto York. Being, however, nothing but a woman, condemned to patience,propriety, and petticoats for life, I must respect the house-keeper'sopinions, and try to compose myself in some feeble and feminine way.
Reading is out of the question--I can't fix my attention on books. Letme try if I can write myself into sleepiness and fatigue. My journalhas been very much neglected of late. What can I recall--standing, asI now do, on the threshold of a new life--of persons and events, ofchances and changes, during the past six months--the long, weary,empty interval since Laura's wedding-day?
Walter Hartright is uppermost in my memory, and he passes first in theshadowy procession of my absent friends. I received a few lines fromhim, after the landing of the expedition in Honduras, written morecheerfully and hopefully than he has written yet. A month or six weekslater I saw an extract from an American newspaper, describing thedeparture of the adventurers on their inland journey. They were lastseen entering a wild primeval forest, each man with his rifle on hisshoulder and his baggage at his back. Since that time, civilisationhas lost all trace of them. Not a line more have I received fromWalter, not a fragment of news from the expedition has appeared in anyof the public journals.
The same dense, disheartening obscurity hangs over the fate andfortunes of Anne Catherick, and her companion, Mrs. Clements. Nothingwhatever has been heard of either of them. Whether they are in thecountry or out of it, whether they are living or dead, no one knows.Even Sir Percival's solicitor has lost all hope, and has ordered theuseless search after the fugitives to be finally given up.
Our good old friend Mr. Gilmore has met with a sad check in his activeprofessional career. Early in the spring we were alarmed by hearingthat he had been found insensible at his desk, and that the seizure waspronounced to be an apoplectic fit. He had been long complaining offulness and oppression in the head, and his doctor had warned him ofthe consequences that would follow his persistency in continuing towork, early and late, as if he were still a young man. The result nowis that he has been positively ordered to keep out of his office for ayear to come, at least, and to seek repose of body and relief of mindby altogether changing his usual mode of life. The business is left,accordingly, to be carried on by his partner, and he is himself, atthis moment, away in Germany, visiting some relations who are settledthere in mercantile pursuits. Thus another true friend and trustworthyadviser is lost to us--lost, I earnestly hope and trust, for a timeonly.
Poor Mrs. Vesey travelled with me as far as London. It was impossibleto abandon her to solitude at Limmeridge after Laura and I had bothleft the house, and we have arranged that she is to live with anunmarried younger sister of hers, who keeps a school at Clapham. Sheis to come here this autumn to visit her pupil--I might almost say heradopted child. I saw the good old lady safe to her destination, andleft her in the care of her relative, quietly happy at the prospect ofseeing Laura again in a few months' time.
As for Mr. Fairlie, I believe I am guilty of no injustice if I describehim as being unutterably relieved by having the house clear of uswomen. The idea of his missing his niece is simply preposterous--heused to let months pass in the old times without attempting to seeher--and in my case and Mrs. Vesey's, I take leave to consider histelling us both that he was half heart-broken at our departure, to beequivalent to a confession that he was secretly rejoiced to get rid ofus. Hi
s last caprice has led him to keep two photographers incessantlyemployed in producing sun-pictures of all the treasures and curiositiesin his possession. One complete copy of the collection of thephotographs is to be presented to the Mechanics' Institution ofCarlisle, mounted on the finest cardboard, with ostentatious red-letterinscriptions underneath, "Madonna and Child by Raphael. In thepossession of Frederick Fairlie, Esquire." "Copper coin of the periodof Tiglath Pileser. In the possession of Frederick Fairlie, Esquire.""Unique Rembrandt etching. Known all over Europe as THE SMUDGE, from aprinter's blot in the corner which exists in no other copy. Valued atthree hundred guineas. In the possession of Frederick Fairlie, Esq."Dozens of photographs of this sort, and all inscribed in this manner,were completed before I left Cumberland, and hundreds more remain to bedone. With this new interest to occupy him, Mr. Fairlie will be ahappy man for months and months to come, and the two unfortunatephotographers will share the social martyrdom which he has hithertoinflicted on his valet alone.
So much for the persons and events which hold the foremost place in mymemory. What next of the one person who holds the foremost place in myheart? Laura has been present to my thoughts all the while I have beenwriting these lines. What can I recall of her during the past sixmonths, before I close my journal for the night?
I have only her letters to guide me, and on the most important of allthe questions which our correspondence can discuss, every one of thoseletters leaves me in the dark.
Does he treat her kindly? Is she happier now than she was when I partedwith her on the wedding-day? All my letters have contained these twoinquiries, put more or less directly, now in one form, and now inanother, and all, on that point only, have remained without reply, orhave been answered as if my questions merely related to the state ofher health. She informs me, over and over again, that she is perfectlywell--that travelling agrees with her--that she is getting through thewinter, for the first time in her life, without catching cold--but nota word can I find anywhere which tells me plainly that she isreconciled to her marriage, and that she can now look back to thetwenty-second of December without any bitter feelings of repentance andregret. The name of her husband is only mentioned in her letters, asshe might mention the name of a friend who was travelling with them,and who had undertaken to make all the arrangements for the journey."Sir Percival" has settled that we leave on such a day--"Sir Percival"has decided that we travel by such a road. Sometimes she writes"Percival" only, but very seldom--in nine cases out of ten she giveshim his title.
I cannot find that his habits and opinions have changed and colouredhers in any single particular. The usual moral transformation which isinsensibly wrought in a young, fresh, sensitive woman by her marriage,seems never to have taken place in Laura. She writes of her ownthoughts and impressions, amid all the wonders she has seen, exactly asshe might have written to some one else, if I had been travelling withher instead of her husband. I see no betrayal anywhere of sympathy ofany kind existing between them. Even when she wanders from the subjectof her travels, and occupies herself with the prospects that await herin England, her speculations are busied with her future as my sister,and persistently neglect to notice her future as Sir Percival's wife.In all this there is no undertone of complaint to warn me that she isabsolutely unhappy in her married life. The impression I have derivedfrom our correspondence does not, thank God, lead me to any suchdistressing conclusion as that. I only see a sad torpor, anunchangeable indifference, when I turn my mind from her in the oldcharacter of a sister, and look at her, through the medium of herletters, in the new character of a wife. In other words, it is alwaysLaura Fairlie who has been writing to me for the last six months, andnever Lady Glyde.
The strange silence which she maintains on the subject of her husband'scharacter and conduct, she preserves with almost equal resolution inthe few references which her later letters contain to the name of herhusband's bosom friend, Count Fosco.
For some unexplained reason the Count and his wife appear to havechanged their plans abruptly, at the end of last autumn, and to havegone to Vienna instead of going to Rome, at which latter place SirPercival had expected to find them when he left England. They onlyquitted Vienna in the spring, and travelled as far as the Tyrol to meetthe bride and bridegroom on their homeward journey. Laura writesreadily enough about the meeting with Madame Fosco, and assures me thatshe has found her aunt so much changed for the better--so much quieter,and so much more sensible as a wife than she was as a singlewoman--that I shall hardly know her again when I see her here. But onthe subject of Count Fosco (who interests me infinitely more than hiswife), Laura is provokingly circumspect and silent. She only says thathe puzzles her, and that she will not tell me what her impression ofhim is until I have seen him, and formed my own opinion first.
This, to my mind, looks ill for the Count. Laura has preserved, farmore perfectly than most people do in later life, the child's subtlefaculty of knowing a friend by instinct, and if I am right in assumingthat her first impression of Count Fosco has not been favourable, I forone am in some danger of doubting and distrusting that illustriousforeigner before I have so much as set eyes on him. But, patience,patience--this uncertainty, and many uncertainties more, cannot lastmuch longer. To-morrow will see all my doubts in a fair way of beingcleared up, sooner or later.
Twelve o'clock has struck, and I have just come back to close thesepages, after looking out at my open window.
It is a still, sultry, moonless night. The stars are dull and few.The trees that shut out the view on all sides look dimly black andsolid in the distance, like a great wall of rock. I hear the croakingof frogs, faint and far off, and the echoes of the great clock hum inthe airless calm long after the strokes have ceased. I wonder howBlackwater Park will look in the daytime? I don't altogether like it bynight.
12th.--A day of investigations and discoveries--a more interesting day,for many reasons, than I had ventured to anticipate.
I began my sight-seeing, of course, with the house.
The main body of the building is of the time of that highly-overratedwoman, Queen Elizabeth. On the ground floor there are two hugely longgalleries, with low ceilings lying parallel with each other, andrendered additionally dark and dismal by hideous familyportraits--every one of which I should like to burn. The rooms on thefloor above the two galleries are kept in tolerable repair, but arevery seldom used. The civil housekeeper, who acted as my guide,offered to show me over them, but considerately added that she feared Ishould find them rather out of order. My respect for the integrity ofmy own petticoats and stockings infinitely exceeds my respect for allthe Elizabethan bedrooms in the kingdom, so I positively declinedexploring the upper regions of dust and dirt at the risk of soiling mynice clean clothes. The housekeeper said, "I am quite of your opinion,miss," and appeared to think me the most sensible woman she had metwith for a long time past.
So much, then, for the main building. Two wings are added at eitherend of it. The half-ruined wing on the left (as you approach thehouse) was once a place of residence standing by itself, and was builtin the fourteenth century. One of Sir Percival's maternal ancestors--Idon't remember, and don't care which--tacked on the main building, atright angles to it, in the aforesaid Queen Elizabeth's time. Thehousekeeper told me that the architecture of "the old wing," bothoutside and inside, was considered remarkably fine by good judges. Onfurther investigation I discovered that good judges could only exercisetheir abilities on Sir Percival's piece of antiquity by previouslydismissing from their minds all fear of damp, darkness, and rats. Underthese circumstances, I unhesitatingly acknowledged myself to be nojudge at all, and suggested that we should treat "the old wing"precisely as we had previously treated the Elizabethan bedrooms. Oncemore the housekeeper said, "I am quite of your opinion, miss," and oncemore she looked at me with undisguised admiration of my extraordinarycommon-sense.
We went next to the wing on the right, which was built, by way ofcompleting the wonderful architectural ju
mble at Blackwater Park, inthe time of George the Second.
This is the habitable part of the house, which has been repaired andredecorated inside on Laura's account. My two rooms, and all the goodbedrooms besides, are on the first floor, and the basement contains adrawing-room, a dining-room, a morning-room, a library, and a prettylittle boudoir for Laura, all very nicely ornamented in the brightmodern way, and all very elegantly furnished with the delightful modernluxuries. None of the rooms are anything like so large and airy as ourrooms at Limmeridge, but they all look pleasant to live in. I wasterribly afraid, from what I had heard of Blackwater Park, of fatiguingantique chairs, and dismal stained glass, and musty, frouzy hangings,and all the barbarous lumber which people born without a sense ofcomfort accumulate about them, in defiance of the consideration due tothe convenience of their friends. It is an inexpressible relief tofind that the nineteenth century has invaded this strange future homeof mine, and has swept the dirty "good old times" out of the way of ourdaily life.
I dawdled away the morning--part of the time in the rooms downstairs,and part out of doors in the great square which is formed by the threesides of the house, and by the lofty iron railings and gates whichprotect it in front. A large circular fish-pond with stone sides, andan allegorical leaden monster in the middle, occupies the centre of thesquare. The pond itself is full of gold and silver fish, and isencircled by a broad belt of the softest turf I ever walked on. Iloitered here on the shady side pleasantly enough till luncheon-time,and after that took my broad straw hat and wandered out alone in thewarm lovely sunlight to explore the grounds.
Daylight confirmed the impression which I had felt the night before, ofthere being too many trees at Blackwater. The house is stifled bythem. They are, for the most part, young, and planted far too thickly.I suspect there must have been a ruinous cutting down of timber allover the estate before Sir Percival's time, and an angry anxiety on thepart of the next possessor to fill up all the gaps as thickly andrapidly as possible. After looking about me in front of the house, Iobserved a flower-garden on my left hand, and walked towards it to seewhat I could discover in that direction.
On a nearer view the garden proved to be small and poor and ill kept.I left it behind me, opened a little gate in a ring fence, and foundmyself in a plantation of fir-trees.
A pretty winding path, artificially made, led me on among the trees,and my north-country experience soon informed me that I was approachingsandy, heathy ground. After a walk of more than half a mile, I shouldthink, among the firs, the path took a sharp turn--the trees abruptlyceased to appear on either side of me, and I found myself standingsuddenly on the margin of a vast open space, and looking down at theBlackwater lake from which the house takes its name.
The ground, shelving away below me, was all sand, with a few littleheathy hillocks to break the monotony of it in certain places. Thelake itself had evidently once flowed to the spot on which I stood, andhad been gradually wasted and dried up to less than a third of itsformer size. I saw its still, stagnant waters, a quarter of a mileaway from me in the hollow, separated into pools and ponds by twiningreeds and rushes, and little knolls of earth. On the farther bank fromme the trees rose thickly again, and shut out the view, and cast theirblack shadows on the sluggish, shallow water. As I walked down to thelake, I saw that the ground on its farther side was damp and marshy,overgrown with rank grass and dismal willows. The water, which wasclear enough on the open sandy side, where the sun shone, looked blackand poisonous opposite to me, where it lay deeper under the shade ofthe spongy banks, and the rank overhanging thickets and tangled trees.The frogs were croaking, and the rats were slipping in and out of theshadowy water, like live shadows themselves, as I got nearer to themarshy side of the lake. I saw here, lying half in and half out of thewater, the rotten wreck of an old overturned boat, with a sickly spotof sunlight glimmering through a gap in the trees on its dry surface,and a snake basking in the midst of the spot, fantastically coiled andtreacherously still. Far and near the view suggested the same drearyimpressions of solitude and decay, and the glorious brightness of thesummer sky overhead seemed only to deepen and harden the gloom andbarrenness of the wilderness on which it shone. I turned and retracedmy steps to the high heathy ground, directing them a little aside frommy former path towards a shabby old wooden shed, which stood on theouter skirt of the fir plantation, and which had hitherto been toounimportant to share my notice with the wide, wild prospect of the lake.
On approaching the shed I found that it had once been a boat-house,and that an attempt had apparently been made to convert it afterwardsinto a sort of rude arbour, by placing inside it a firwood seat, a fewstools, and a table. I entered the place, and sat down for a littlewhile to rest and get my breath again.
I had not been in the boat-house more than a minute when it struck methat the sound of my own quick breathing was very strangely echoed bysomething beneath me. I listened intently for a moment, and heard alow, thick, sobbing breath that seemed to come from the ground underthe seat which I was occupying. My nerves are not easily shaken bytrifles, but on this occasion I started to my feet in a fright--calledout--received no answer--summoned back my recreant courage, and lookedunder the seat.
There, crouched up in the farthest corner, lay the forlorn cause of myterror, in the shape of a poor little dog--a black and white spaniel.The creature moaned feebly when I looked at it and called to it, butnever stirred. I moved away the seat and looked closer. The poorlittle dog's eyes were glazing fast, and there were spots of blood onits glossy white side. The misery of a weak, helpless, dumb creatureis surely one of the saddest of all the mournful sights which thisworld can show. I lifted the poor dog in my arms as gently as I could,and contrived a sort of make-shift hammock for him to lie in, bygathering up the front of my dress all round him. In this way I tookthe creature, as painlessly as possible, and as fast as possible, backto the house.
Finding no one in the hall I went up at once to my own sitting-room,made a bed for the dog with one of my old shawls, and rang the bell.The largest and fattest of all possible house-maids answered it, in astate of cheerful stupidity which would have provoked the patience of asaint. The girl's fat, shapeless face actually stretched into a broadgrin at the sight of the wounded creature on the floor.
"What do you see there to laugh at?" I asked, as angrily as if she hadbeen a servant of my own. "Do you know whose dog it is?"
"No, miss, that I certainly don't." She stooped, and looked down at thespaniel's injured side--brightened suddenly with the irradiation of anew idea--and pointing to the wound with a chuckle of satisfaction,said, "That's Baxter's doings, that is."
I was so exasperated that I could have boxed her ears. "Baxter?" Isaid. "Who is the brute you call Baxter?"
The girl grinned again more cheerfully than ever. "Bless you, miss!Baxter's the keeper, and when he finds strange dogs hunting about, hetakes and shoots 'em. It's keeper's dooty miss, I think that dog willdie. Here's where he's been shot, ain't it? That's Baxter's doings,that is. Baxter's doings, miss, and Baxter's dooty."
I was almost wicked enough to wish that Baxter had shot the housemaidinstead of the dog. Seeing that it was quite useless to expect thisdensely impenetrable personage to give me any help in relieving thesuffering creature at our feet, I told her to request the housekeeper'sattendance with my compliments. She went out exactly as she had comein, grinning from ear to ear. As the door closed on her she said toherself softly, "It's Baxter's doings and Baxter's dooty--that's whatit is."
The housekeeper, a person of some education and intelligence,thoughtfully brought upstairs with her some milk and some warm water.The instant she saw the dog on the floor she started and changed colour.
"Why, Lord bless me," cried the housekeeper, "that must be Mrs.Catherick's dog!"
"Whose?" I asked, in the utmost astonishment.
"Mrs. Catherick's. You seem to know Mrs. Catherick, Miss Halcombe?"
"Not personally, but I ha
ve heard of her. Does she live here? Has shehad any news of her daughter?"
"No, Miss Halcombe, she came here to ask for news."
"Only yesterday. She said some one had reported that a strangeranswering to the description of her daughter had been seen in ourneighbourhood. No such report has reached us here, and no such reportwas known in the village, when I sent to make inquiries there on Mrs.Catherick's account. She certainly brought this poor little dog withher when she came, and I saw it trot out after her when she went away.I suppose the creature strayed into the plantations, and got shot.Where did you find it, Miss Halcombe?"
"In the old shed that looks out on the lake."
"Ah, yes, that is the plantation side, and the poor thing draggeditself, I suppose, to the nearest shelter, as dogs will, to die. If youcan moisten its lips with the milk, Miss Halcombe, I will wash theclotted hair from the wound. I am very much afraid it is too late todo any good. However, we can but try."
Mrs. Catherick! The name still rang in my ears, as if the housekeeperhad only that moment surprised me by uttering it. While we wereattending to the dog, the words of Walter Hartright's caution to mereturned to my memory: "If ever Anne Catherick crosses your path, makebetter use of the opportunity, Miss Halcombe, than I made of it." Thefinding of the wounded spaniel had led me already to the discovery ofMrs. Catherick's visit to Blackwater Park, and that event might lead inits turn, to something more. I determined to make the most of thechance which was now offered to me, and to gain as much information asI could.
"Did you say that Mrs. Catherick lived anywhere in this neighbourhood?"I asked.
"Oh dear, no," said the housekeeper. "She lives at Welmingham, quiteat the other end of the county--five-and-twenty miles off, at least."
"I suppose you have known Mrs. Catherick for some years?"
"On the contrary, Miss Halcombe, I never saw her before she came hereyesterday. I had heard of her, of course, because I had heard of SirPercival's kindness in putting her daughter under medical care. Mrs.Catherick is rather a strange person in her manners, but extremelyrespectable-looking. She seemed sorely put out when she found thatthere was no foundation--none, at least, that any of us coulddiscover--for the report of her daughter having been seen in thisneighbourhood."
"I am rather interested about Mrs. Catherick," I went on, continuingthe conversation as long as possible. "I wish I had arrived here soonenough to see her yesterday. Did she stay for any length of time?"
"Yes," said the housekeeper, "she stayed for some time; and I think shewould have remained longer, if I had not been called away to speak to astrange gentleman--a gentleman who came to ask when Sir Percival wasexpected back. Mrs. Catherick got up and left at once, when she heardthe maid tell me what the visitor's errand was. She said to me, atparting, that there was no need to tell Sir Percival of her cominghere. I thought that rather an odd remark to make, especially to aperson in my responsible situation."
I thought it an odd remark too. Sir Percival had certainly led me tobelieve, at Limmeridge, that the most perfect confidence existedbetween himself and Mrs. Catherick. If that was the case, why shouldshe be anxious to have her visit at Blackwater Park kept a secret fromhim?
"Probably," I said, seeing that the housekeeper expected me to give myopinion on Mrs. Catherick's parting words, "probably she thought theannouncement of her visit might vex Sir Percival to no purpose, byreminding him that her lost daughter was not found yet. Did she talkmuch on that subject?"
"Very little," replied the housekeeper. "She talked principally of SirPercival, and asked a great many questions about where he had beentravelling, and what sort of lady his new wife was. She seemed to bemore soured and put out than distressed, by failing to find any tracesof her daughter in these parts. 'I give her up,' were the last wordsshe said that I can remember; 'I give her up, ma'am, for lost.' Andfrom that she passed at once to her questions about Lady Glyde, wantingto know if she was a handsome, amiable lady, comely and healthy andyoung----Ah, dear! I thought how it would end. Look, Miss Halcombe,the poor thing is out of its misery at last!"
The dog was dead. It had given a faint, sobbing cry, it had sufferedan instant's convulsion of the limbs, just as those last words, "comelyand healthy and young," dropped from the housekeeper's lips. Thechange had happened with startling suddenness--in one moment thecreature lay lifeless under our hands.
Eight o'clock. I have just returned from dining downstairs, insolitary state. The sunset is burning redly on the wilderness of treesthat I see from my window, and I am poring over my journal again, tocalm my impatience for the return of the travellers. They ought to havearrived, by my calculations, before this. How still and lonely thehouse is in the drowsy evening quiet! Oh me! how many minutes morebefore I hear the carriage wheels and run downstairs to find myself inLaura's arms?
The poor little dog! I wish my first day at Blackwater Park had notbeen associated with death, though it is only the death of a strayanimal.
Welmingham--I see, on looking back through these private pages of mine,that Welmingham is the name of the place where Mrs. Catherick lives.Her note is still in my possession, the note in answer to that letterabout her unhappy daughter which Sir Percival obliged me to write. Oneof these days, when I can find a safe opportunity, I will take the notewith me by way of introduction, and try what I can make of Mrs.Catherick at a personal interview. I don't understand her wishing toconceal her visit to this place from Sir Percival's knowledge, and Idon't feel half so sure, as the housekeeper seems to do, that herdaughter Anne is not in the neighbourhood after all. What would WalterHartright have said in this emergency? Poor, dear Hartright! I ambeginning to feel the want of his honest advice and his willing helpalready.
Surely I heard something. Was it a bustle of footsteps below stairs?Yes! I hear the horses' feet--I hear the rolling wheels----