The woman in white, p.30
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       The Woman in White, p.30

           Wilkie Collins
 

  VI

  June 18th.--The misery of self-reproach which I suffered yesterdayevening, on hearing what Laura told me in the boat-house, returned inthe loneliness of the night, and kept me waking and wretched for hours.

  I lighted my candle at last, and searched through my old journals tosee what my share in the fatal error of her marriage had really been,and what I might have once done to save her from it. The resultsoothed me a little for it showed that, however blindly and ignorantlyI acted, I acted for the best. Crying generally does me harm; but itwas not so last night--I think it relieved me. I rose this morningwith a settled resolution and a quiet mind. Nothing Sir Percival cansay or do shall ever irritate me again, or make me forget for onemoment that I am staying here in defiance of mortifications, insults,and threats, for Laura's service and for Laura's sake.

  The speculations in which we might have indulged this morning, on thesubject of the figure at the lake and the footsteps in the plantation,have been all suspended by a trifling accident which has caused Lauragreat regret. She has lost the little brooch I gave her for a keepsakeon the day before her marriage. As she wore it when we went outyesterday evening we can only suppose that it must have dropped fromher dress, either in the boat-house or on our way back. The servantshave been sent to search, and have returned unsuccessful. And nowLaura herself has gone to look for it. Whether she finds it or not theloss will help to excuse her absence from the house, if Sir Percivalreturns before the letter from Mr. Gilmore's partner is placed in myhands.

  One o'clock has just struck. I am considering whether I had betterwait here for the arrival of the messenger from London, or slip awayquietly, and watch for him outside the lodge gate.

  My suspicion of everybody and everything in this house inclines me tothink that the second plan may be the best. The Count is safe in thebreakfast-room. I heard him, through the door, as I ran upstairs tenminutes since, exercising his canary-birds at their tricks:--"Come outon my little finger, my pret-pret-pretties! Come out, and hop upstairs!One, two, three--and up! Three, two, one--and down! One, two,three--twit-twit-twit-tweet!" The birds burst into their usual ecstasyof singing, and the Count chirruped and whistled at them in return, asif he was a bird himself. My room door is open, and I can hear theshrill singing and whistling at this very moment. If I am really toslip out without being observed, now is my time.

  FOUR O'CLOCK. The three hours that have passed since I made my lastentry have turned the whole march of events at Blackwater Park in a newdirection. Whether for good or for evil, I cannot and dare not decide.

  Let me get back first to the place at which I left off, or I shall losemyself in the confusion of my own thoughts.

  I went out, as I had proposed, to meet the messenger with my letterfrom London at the lodge gate. On the stairs I saw no one. In the hallI heard the Count still exercising his birds. But on crossing thequadrangle outside, I passed Madame Fosco, walking by herself in herfavourite circle, round and round the great fish-pond. I at onceslackened my pace, so as to avoid all appearance of being in a hurry,and even went the length, for caution's sake, of inquiring if shethought of going out before lunch. She smiled at me in the friendliestmanner--said she preferred remaining near the house, nodded pleasantly,and re-entered the hall. I looked back, and saw that she had closedthe door before I had opened the wicket by the side of the carriagegates.

  In less than a quarter of an hour I reached the lodge.

  The lane outside took a sudden turn to the left, ran on straight for ahundred yards or so, and then took another sharp turn to the right tojoin the high-road. Between these two turns, hidden from the lodge onone side, and from the way to the station on the other, I waited,walking backwards and forwards. High hedges were on either side of me,and for twenty minutes, by my watch, I neither saw nor heard anything.At the end of that time the sound of a carriage caught my ear, and Iwas met, as I advanced towards the second turning, by a fly from therailway. I made a sign to the driver to stop. As he obeyed me arespectable-looking man put his head out of the window to see what wasthe matter.

  "I beg your pardon," I said, "but am I right in supposing that you aregoing to Blackwater Park?"

  "Yes, ma'am."

  "With a letter for any one?"

  "With a letter for Miss Halcombe, ma'am."

  "You may give me the letter. I am Miss Halcombe."

  The man touched his hat, got out of the fly immediately, and gave methe letter.

  I opened it at once and read these lines. I copy them here, thinkingit best to destroy the original for caution's sake.