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The Woman in White, Page 31

Wilkie Collins

  "DEAR MADAM,--Your letter received this morning has caused me verygreat anxiety. I will reply to it as briefly and plainly as possible.

  "My careful consideration of the statement made by yourself, and myknowledge of Lady Glyde's position, as defined in the settlement, leadme, I regret to say, to the conclusion that a loan of the trust moneyto Sir Percival (or, in other words, a loan of some portion of thetwenty thousand pounds of Lady Glyde's fortune) is in contemplation,and that she is made a party to the deed, in order to secure herapproval of a flagrant breach of trust, and to have her signatureproduced against her if she should complain hereafter. It isimpossible, on any other supposition, to account, situated as she is,for her execution to a deed of any kind being wanted at all.

  "In the event of Lady Glyde's signing such a document, as I amcompelled to suppose the deed in question to be, her trustees would beat liberty to advance money to Sir Percival out of her twenty thousandpounds. If the amount so lent should not be paid back, and if LadyGlyde should have children, their fortune will then be diminished bythe sum, large or small, so advanced. In plainer terms still, thetransaction, for anything that Lady Glyde knows to the contrary, may bea fraud upon her unborn children.

  "Under these serious circumstances, I would recommend Lady Glyde toassign as a reason for withholding her signature, that she wishes thedeed to be first submitted to myself, as her family solicitor (in theabsence of my partner, Mr. Gilmore). No reasonable objection can bemade to taking this course--for, if the transaction is an honourableone, there will necessarily be no difficulty in my giving my approval.

  "Sincerely assuring you of my readiness to afford any additional helpor advice that may be wanted, I beg to remain, Madam, your faithfulservant,


  I read this kind and sensible letter very thankfully. It suppliedLaura with a reason for objecting to the signature which wasunanswerable, and which we could both of us understand. The messengerwaited near me while I was reading to receive his directions when I haddone.

  "Will you be good enough to say that I understand the letter, and thatI am very much obliged?" I said. "There is no other reply necessary atpresent."

  Exactly at the moment when I was speaking those words, holding theletter open in my hand, Count Fosco turned the corner of the lane fromthe high-road, and stood before me as if he had sprung up out of theearth.

  The suddenness of his appearance, in the very last place under heavenin which I should have expected to see him, took me completely bysurprise. The messenger wished me good-morning, and got into the flyagain. I could not say a word to him--I was not even able to returnhis bow. The conviction that I was discovered--and by that man, of allothers--absolutely petrified me.

  "Are you going back to the house, Miss Halcombe?" he inquired, withoutshowing the least surprise on his side, and without even looking afterthe fly, which drove off while he was speaking to me.

  I collected myself sufficiently to make a sign in the affirmative.

  "I am going back too," he said. "Pray allow me the pleasure ofaccompanying you. Will you take my arm? You look surprised at seeingme!"

  I took his arm. The first of my scattered senses that came back wasthe sense that warned me to sacrifice anything rather than make anenemy of him.

  "You look surprised at seeing me!" he repeated in his quietlypertinacious way.

  "I thought, Count, I heard you with your birds in the breakfast-room,"I answered, as quietly and firmly as I could.

  "Surely. But my little feathered children, dear lady, are only toolike other children. They have their days of perversity, and thismorning was one of them. My wife came in as I was putting them back intheir cage, and said she had left you going out alone for a walk. Youtold her so, did you not?"


  "Well, Miss Halcombe, the pleasure of accompanying you was too great atemptation for me to resist. At my age there is no harm in confessingso much as that, is there? I seized my hat, and set off to offer myselfas your escort. Even so fat an old man as Fosco is surely better thanno escort at all? I took the wrong path--I came back in despair, andhere I am, arrived (may I say it?) at the height of my wishes."

  He talked on in this complimentary strain with a fluency which left meno exertion to make beyond the effort of maintaining my composure. Henever referred in the most distant manner to what he had seen in thelane, or to the letter which I still had in my hand. This ominousdiscretion helped to convince me that he must have surprised, by themost dishonourable means, the secret of my application in Laura'sinterest to the lawyer; and that, having now assured himself of theprivate manner in which I had received the answer, he had discoveredenough to suit his purposes, and was only bent on trying to quiet thesuspicions which he knew he must have aroused in my mind. I was wiseenough, under these circumstances, not to attempt to deceive him byplausible explanations, and woman enough, notwithstanding my dread ofhim, to feel as if my hand was tainted by resting on his arm.

  On the drive in front of the house we met the dog-cart being takenround to the stables. Sir Percival had just returned. He came out tomeet us at the house-door. Whatever other results his journey mighthave had, it had not ended in softening his savage temper.

  "Oh! here are two of you come back," he said, with a lowering face."What is the meaning of the house being deserted in this way? Where isLady Glyde?"

  I told him of the loss of the brooch, and said that Laura had gone intothe plantation to look for it.

  "Brooch or no brooch," he growled sulkily, "I recommend her not toforget her appointment in the library this afternoon. I shall expectto see her in half an hour."

  I took my hand from the Count's arm, and slowly ascended the steps. Hehonoured me with one of his magnificent bows, and then addressedhimself gaily to the scowling master of the house.

  "Tell me, Percival," he said, "have you had a pleasant drive? And hasyour pretty shining Brown Molly come back at all tired?"

  "Brown Molly be hanged--and the drive too! I want my lunch."

  "And I want five minutes' talk with you, Percival, first," returned theCount. "Five minutes' talk, my friend, here on the grass."

  "What about?"

  "About business that very much concerns you."

  I lingered long enough in passing through the hall-door to hear thisquestion and answer, and to see Sir Percival thrust his hands into hispockets in sullen hesitation.

  "If you want to badger me with any more of your infernal scruples," hesaid, "I for one won't hear them. I want my lunch."

  "Come out here and speak to me," repeated the Count, still perfectlyuninfluenced by the rudest speech that his friend could make to him.

  Sir Percival descended the steps. The Count took him by the arm, andwalked him away gently. The "business," I was sure, referred to thequestion of the signature. They were speaking of Laura and of mebeyond a doubt. I felt heart-sick and faint with anxiety. It might beof the last importance to both of us to know what they were saying toeach other at that moment, and not one word of it could by anypossibility reach my ears.

  I walked about the house, from room to room, with the lawyer's letterin my bosom (I was afraid by this time even to trust it under lock andkey), till the oppression of my suspense half maddened me. There wereno signs of Laura's return, and I thought of going out to look for her.But my strength was so exhausted by the trials and anxieties of themorning that the heat of the day quite overpowered me, and after anattempt to get to the door I was obliged to return to the drawing-roomand lie down on the nearest sofa to recover.

  I was just composing myself when the door opened softly and the Countlooked in.

  "A thousand pardons, Miss Halcombe," he said; "I only venture todisturb you because I am the bearer of good news. Percival--who iscapricious in everything, as you know--has seen fit to alter his mindat the last moment, and the business of the signature is put off forthe present. A great relief to all of us, Miss Halcombe, as I see withpleasure in
your face. Pray present my best respects andfelicitations, when you mention this pleasant change of circumstancesto Lady Glyde."

  He left me before I had recovered my astonishment. There could be nodoubt that this extraordinary alteration of purpose in the matter ofthe signature was due to his influence, and that his discovery of myapplication to London yesterday, and of my having received an answer toit to-day, had offered him the means of interfering with certainsuccess.

  I felt these impressions, but my mind seemed to share the exhaustion ofmy body, and I was in no condition to dwell on them with any usefulreference to the doubtful present or the threatening future. I tried asecond time to run out and find Laura, but my head was giddy and myknees trembled under me. There was no choice but to give it up againand return to the sofa, sorely against my will.

  The quiet in the house, and the low murmuring hum of summer insectsoutside the open window, soothed me. My eyes closed of themselves, andI passed gradually into a strange condition, which was not waking--forI knew nothing of what was going on about me, and not sleeping--for Iwas conscious of my own repose. In this state my fevered mind brokeloose from me, while my weary body was at rest, and in a trance, orday-dream of my fancy--I know not what to call it--I saw WalterHartright. I had not thought of him since I rose that morning--Laurahad not said one word to me either directly or indirectly referring tohim--and yet I saw him now as plainly as if the past time had returned,and we were both together again at Limmeridge House.

  He appeared to me as one among many other men, none of whose faces Icould plainly discern. They were all lying on the steps of an immenseruined temple. Colossal tropical trees--with rank creepers twiningendlessly about their trunks, and hideous stone idols glimmering andgrinning at intervals behind leaves and stalks and branches--surroundedthe temple and shut out the sky, and threw a dismal shadow over theforlorn band of men on the steps. White exhalations twisted and curledup stealthily from the ground, approached the men in wreaths likesmoke, touched them, and stretched them out dead, one by one, in theplaces where they lay. An agony of pity and fear for Walter loosenedmy tongue, and I implored him to escape. "Come back, come back!" Isaid. "Remember your promise to HER and to ME. Come back to us beforethe Pestilence reaches you and lays you dead like the rest!"

  He looked at me with an unearthly quiet in his face. "Wait," he said,"I shall come back. The night when I met the lost Woman on the highwaywas the night which set my life apart to be the instrument of a Designthat is yet unseen. Here, lost in the wilderness, or there, welcomedback in the land of my birth, I am still walking on the dark road whichleads me, and you, and the sister of your love and mine, to the unknownRetribution and the inevitable End. Wait and look. The Pestilencewhich touches the rest will pass ME."

  I saw him again. He was still in the forest, and the numbers of hislost companions had dwindled to very few. The temple was gone, and theidols were gone--and in their place the figures of dark, dwarfish menlurked murderously among the trees, with bows in their hands, andarrows fitted to the string. Once more I feared for Walter, and criedout to warn him. Once more he turned to me, with the immovable quietin his face.

  "Another step," he said, "on the dark road. Wait and look. The arrowsthat strike the rest will spare me."

  I saw him for the third time in a wrecked ship, stranded on a wild,sandy shore. The overloaded boats were making away from him for theland, and he alone was left to sink with the ship. I cried to him tohail the hindmost boat, and to make a last effort for his life. Thequiet face looked at me in return, and the unmoved voice gave me backthe changeless reply. "Another step on the journey. Wait and look.The Sea which drowns the rest will spare me."

  I saw him for the last time. He was kneeling by a tomb of whitemarble, and the shadow of a veiled woman rose out of the grave beneathand waited by his side. The unearthly quiet of his face had changed toan unearthly sorrow. But the terrible certainty of his words remainedthe same. "Darker and darker," he said; "farther and farther yet.Death takes the good, the beautiful, and the young--and spares me. ThePestilence that wastes, the Arrow that strikes, the Sea that drowns,the Grave that closes over Love and Hope, are steps of my journey, andtake me nearer and nearer to the End."

  My heart sank under a dread beyond words, under a grief beyond tears.The darkness closed round the pilgrim at the marble tomb--closed roundthe veiled woman from the grave--closed round the dreamer who looked onthem. I saw and heard no more.

  I was aroused by a hand laid on my shoulder. It was Laura's.

  She had dropped on her knees by the side of the sofa. Her face wasflushed and agitated, and her eyes met mine in a wild bewilderedmanner. I started the instant I saw her.

  "What has happened?" I asked. "What has frightened you?"

  She looked round at the half-open door, put her lips close to my ear,and answered in a whisper--

  "Marian!--the figure at the lake--the footsteps last night--I've justseen her! I've just spoken to her!"

  "Who, for Heaven's sake?"

  "Anne Catherick."

  I was so startled by the disturbance in Laura's face and manner, and sodismayed by the first waking impressions of my dream, that I was notfit to bear the revelation which burst upon me when that name passedher lips. I could only stand rooted to the floor, looking at her inbreathless silence.

  She was too much absorbed by what had happened to notice the effectwhich her reply had produced on me. "I have seen Anne Catherick! Ihave spoken to Anne Catherick!" she repeated as if I had not heard her."Oh, Marian, I have such things to tell you! Come away--we may beinterrupted here--come at once into my room."

  With those eager words she caught me by the hand, and led me throughthe library, to the end room on the ground floor, which had been fittedup for her own especial use. No third person, except her maid, couldhave any excuse for surprising us here. She pushed me in before her,locked the door, and drew the chintz curtains that hung over the inside.

  The strange, stunned feeling which had taken possession of me stillremained. But a growing conviction that the complications which hadlong threatened to gather about her, and to gather about me, hadsuddenly closed fast round us both, was now beginning to penetrate mymind. I could not express it in words--I could hardly even realise itdimly in my own thoughts. "Anne Catherick!" I whispered to myself,with useless, helpless reiteration--"Anne Catherick!"

  Laura drew me to the nearest seat, an ottoman in the middle of theroom. "Look!" she said, "look here!"--and pointed to the bosom of herdress.

  I saw, for the first time, that the lost brooch was pinned in its placeagain. There was something real in the sight of it, something real inthe touching of it afterwards, which seemed to steady the whirl andconfusion in my thoughts, and to help me to compose myself.

  "Where did you find your brooch?" The first words I could say to herwere the words which put that trivial question at that important moment.

  "SHE found it, Marian."


  "On the floor of the boat-house. Oh, how shall I begin--how shall Itell you about it! She talked to me so strangely--she looked sofearfully ill--she left me so suddenly!"

  Her voice rose as the tumult of her recollections pressed upon hermind. The inveterate distrust which weighs, night and day, on myspirits in this house, instantly roused me to warn her--just as thesight of the brooch had roused me to question her, the moment before.

  "Speak low," I said. "The window is open, and the garden path runsbeneath it. Begin at the beginning, Laura. Tell me, word for word,what passed between that woman and you."

  "Shall I close the window?"

  "No, only speak low--only remember that Anne Catherick is a dangeroussubject under your husband's roof. Where did you first see her?"

  "At the boat-house, Marian. I went out, as you know, to find mybrooch, and I walked along the path through the plantation, lookingdown on the ground carefully at every step. In that way I got on,after a long time, to the boat-hous
e, and as soon as I was inside it, Iwent on my knees to hunt over the floor. I was still searching with myback to the doorway, when I heard a soft, strange voice behind me say,'Miss Fairlie.'"

  "Miss Fairlie!"

  "Yes, my old name--the dear, familiar name that I thought I had partedfrom for ever. I started up--not frightened, the voice was too kindand gentle to frighten anybody--but very much surprised. There, lookingat me from the doorway, stood a woman, whose face I never remembered tohave seen before--"

  "How was she dressed?"

  "She had a neat, pretty white gown on, and over it a poor worn thindark shawl. Her bonnet was of brown straw, as poor and worn as theshawl. I was struck by the difference between her gown and the rest ofher dress, and she saw that I noticed it. 'Don't look at my bonnet andshawl,' she said, speaking in a quick, breathless, sudden way; 'if Imustn't wear white, I don't care what I wear. Look at my gown as muchas you please--I'm not ashamed of that.' Very strange, was it not?Before I could say anything to soothe her, she held out one of herhands, and I saw my brooch in it. I was so pleased and so grateful,that I went quite close to her to say what I really felt. 'Are youthankful enough to do me one little kindness?' she asked. 'Yes,indeed,' I answered, 'any kindness in my power I shall be glad to showyou.' 'Then let me pin your brooch on for you, now I have found it.'Her request was so unexpected, Marian, and she made it with suchextraordinary eagerness, that I drew back a step or two, not wellknowing what to do. 'Ah!' she said, 'your mother would have let me pinon the brooch.' There was something in her voice and her look, as wellas in her mentioning my mother in that reproachful manner, which mademe ashamed of my distrust. I took her hand with the brooch in it, andput it up gently on the bosom of my dress. 'You knew my mother?' Isaid. 'Was it very long ago? have I ever seen you before?' Her handswere busy fastening the brooch: she stopped and pressed them against mybreast. 'You don't remember a fine spring day at Limmeridge,' she said,'and your mother walking down the path that led to the school, with alittle girl on each side of her? I have had nothing else to think ofsince, and I remember it. You were one of the little girls, and I wasthe other. Pretty, clever Miss Fairlie, and poor dazed Anne Catherickwere nearer to each other then than they are now!'"

  "Did you remember her, Laura, when she told you her name?"

  "Yes, I remembered your asking me about Anne Catherick at Limmeridge,and your saying that she had once been considered like me."

  "What reminded you of that, Laura?"

  "SHE reminded me. While I was looking at her, while she was very closeto me, it came over my mind suddenly that we were like each other! Herface was pale and thin and weary--but the sight of it startled me, asif it had been the sight of my own face in the glass after a longillness. The discovery--I don't know why--gave me such a shock, that Iwas perfectly incapable of speaking to her for the moment."

  "Did she seem hurt by your silence?"

  "I am afraid she was hurt by it. 'You have not got your mother'sface,' she said, 'or your mother's heart. Your mother's face was dark,and your mother's heart, Miss Fairlie, was the heart of an angel.' 'Iam sure I feel kindly towards you,' I said, 'though I may not be ableto express it as I ought. Why do you call me Miss Fairlie?----''Because I love the name of Fairlie and hate the name of Glyde,' shebroke out violently. I had seen nothing like madness in her beforethis, but I fancied I saw it now in her eyes. 'I only thought youmight not know I was married,' I said, remembering the wild letter shewrote to me at Limmeridge, and trying to quiet her. She sighedbitterly, and turned away from me. 'Not know you were married?' sherepeated. 'I am here BECAUSE you are married. I am here to makeatonement to you, before I meet your mother in the world beyond thegrave.' She drew farther and farther away from me, till she was out ofthe boat-house, and then she watched and listened for a little while.When she turned round to speak again, instead of coming back, shestopped where she was, looking in at me, with a hand on each side ofthe entrance. 'Did you see me at the lake last night?' she said. 'Didyou hear me following you in the wood? I have been waiting for daystogether to speak to you alone--I have left the only friend I have inthe world, anxious and frightened about me--I have risked being shutup again in the mad-house--and all for your sake, Miss Fairlie, all foryour sake.' Her words alarmed me, Marian, and yet there was somethingin the way she spoke that made me pity her with all my heart. I amsure my pity must have been sincere, for it made me bold enough to askthe poor creature to come in, and sit down in the boat-house, by myside."

  "Did she do so?"

  "No. She shook her head, and told me she must stop where she was, towatch and listen, and see that no third person surprised us. And fromfirst to last, there she waited at the entrance, with a hand on eachside of it, sometimes bending in suddenly to speak to me, sometimesdrawing back suddenly to look about her. 'I was here yesterday,' shesaid, 'before it came dark, and I heard you, and the lady with you,talking together. I heard you tell her about your husband. I heardyou say you had no influence to make him believe you, and no influenceto keep him silent. Ah! I knew what those words meant--my consciencetold me while I was listening. Why did I ever let you marry him! Oh,my fear--my mad, miserable, wicked fear! 'She covered up her face inher poor worn shawl, and moaned and murmured to herself behind it. Ibegan to be afraid she might break out into some terrible despair whichneither she nor I could master. 'Try to quiet yourself,' I said; 'tryto tell me how you might have prevented my marriage.' She took theshawl from her face, and looked at me vacantly. 'I ought to have hadheart enough to stop at Limmeridge,' she answered. 'I ought never tohave let the news of his coming there frighten me away. I ought tohave warned you and saved you before it was too late. Why did I onlyhave courage enough to write you that letter? Why did I only do harm,when I wanted and meant to do good? Oh, my fear--my mad, miserable,wicked fear!' She repeated those words again, and hid her face again inthe end of her poor worn shawl. It was dreadful to see her, anddreadful to hear her."

  "Surely, Laura, you asked what the fear was which she dwelt on soearnestly?"

  "Yes, I asked that."

  "And what did she say?"

  "She asked me in return, if I should not be afraid of a man who hadshut me up in a mad-house, and who would shut me up again, if he could?I said, 'Are you afraid still? Surely you would not be here if you wereafraid now?' 'No,' she said, 'I am not afraid now.' I asked why not.She suddenly bent forward into the boat-house, and said, 'Can't youguess why?' I shook my head. 'Look at me,' she went on. I told her Iwas grieved to see that she looked very sorrowful and very ill. Shesmiled for the first time. 'Ill?' she repeated; 'I'm dying. You knowwhy I'm not afraid of him now. Do you think I shall meet your motherin heaven? Will she forgive me if I do?' I was so shocked and sostartled, that I could make no reply. 'I have been thinking of it,'she went on, 'all the time I have been in hiding from your husband, allthe time I lay ill. My thoughts have driven me here--I want to makeatonement--I want to undo all I can of the harm I once did.' I beggedher as earnestly as I could to tell me what she meant. She stilllooked at me with fixed vacant eyes. 'SHALL I undo the harm?' she saidto herself doubtfully. 'You have friends to take your part. If YOUknow his Secret, he will be afraid of you, he won't dare use you as heused me. He must treat you mercifully for his own sake, if he isafraid of you and your friends. And if he treats you mercifully, andif I can say it was my doing----' I listened eagerly for more, but shestopped at those words."

  "You tried to make her go on?"

  "I tried, but she only drew herself away from me again, and leaned herface and arms against the side of the boat-house. 'Oh!' I heard hersay, with a dreadful, distracted tenderness in her voice, 'oh! if Icould only be buried with your mother! If I could only wake at herside, when the angel's trumpet sounds, and the graves give up theirdead at the resurrection!'--Marian! I trembled from head to foot--itwas horrible to hear her. 'But there is no hope of that,' she said,moving a little, so as to look at me again, 'no hope for a poorstranger like me. I sha
ll not rest under the marble cross that Iwashed with my own hands, and made so white and pure for her sake. Ohno! oh no! God's mercy, not man's, will take me to her, where thewicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.' She spoke thosewords quietly and sorrowfully, with a heavy, hopeless sigh, and thenwaited a little. Her face was confused and troubled, she seemed to bethinking, or trying to think. 'What was it I said just now?' she askedafter a while. 'When your mother is in my mind, everything else goesout of it. What was I saying? what was I saying?' I reminded the poorcreature, as kindly and delicately as I could. 'Ah, yes, yes,' shesaid, still in a vacant, perplexed manner. 'You are helpless with yourwicked husband. Yes. And I must do what I have come to do here--Imust make it up to you for having been afraid to speak out at a bettertime.' 'What IS it you have to tell me?' I asked. 'The Secret thatyour cruel husband is afraid of,' she answered. 'I once threatened himwith the Secret, and frightened him. You shall threaten him with theSecret, and frighten him too.' Her face darkened, and a hard, angrystare fixed itself in her eyes. She began waving her hand at me in avacant, unmeaning manner. 'My mother knows the Secret,' she said. 'Mymother has wasted under the Secret half her lifetime. One day, when Iwas grown up, she said something to ME. And the next day yourhusband----'"

  "Yes! yes! Go on. What did she tell you about your husband?"

  "She stopped again, Marian, at that point----"

  "And said no more?"

  "And listened eagerly. 'Hush!' she whispered, still waving her hand atme. 'Hush!' She moved aside out of the doorway, moved slowly andstealthily, step by step, till I lost her past the edge of theboat-house."

  "Surely you followed her?"

  "Yes, my anxiety made me bold enough to rise and follow her. Just as Ireached the entrance, she appeared again suddenly, round the side ofthe boat-house. 'The Secret,' I whispered to her--'wait and tell methe Secret!' She caught hold of my arm, and looked at me with wildfrightened eyes. 'Not now,' she said, 'we are not alone--we arewatched. Come here to-morrow at this time--by yourself--mind--byyourself.' She pushed me roughly into the boat-house again, and I sawher no more."

  "Oh, Laura, Laura, another chance lost! If I had only been near you sheshould not have escaped us. On which side did you lose sight of her?"

  "On the left side, where the ground sinks and the wood is thickest."

  "Did you run out again? did you call after her?"

  "How could I? I was too terrified to move or speak."

  "But when you DID move--when you came out?"

  "I ran back here, to tell you what had happened."

  "Did you see any one, or hear any one, in the plantation?"

  "No, it seemed to be all still and quiet when I passed through it."

  I waited for a moment to consider. Was this third person, supposed tohave been secretly present at the interview, a reality, or the creatureof Anne Catherick's excited fancy? It was impossible to determine. Theone thing certain was, that we had failed again on the very brink ofdiscovery--failed utterly and irretrievably, unless Anne Catherick kepther appointment at the boat-house for the next day.

  "Are you quite sure you have told me everything that passed? Every wordthat was said?" I inquired.

  "I think so," she answered. "My powers of memory, Marian, are not likeyours. But I was so strongly impressed, so deeply interested, thatnothing of any importance can possibly have escaped me."

  "My dear Laura, the merest trifles are of importance where AnneCatherick is concerned. Think again. Did no chance reference escapeher as to the place in which she is living at the present time?"

  "None that I can remember."

  "Did she not mention a companion and friend--a woman named Mrs.Clements?"

  "Oh yes! yes! I forgot that. She told me Mrs. Clements wanted sadly togo with her to the lake and take care of her, and begged and prayedthat she would not venture into this neighbourhood alone."

  "Was that all she said about Mrs. Clements?"

  "Yes, that was all."

  "She told you nothing about the place in which she took refuge afterleaving Todd's Corner?"

  "Nothing--I am quite sure."

  "Nor where she has lived since? Nor what her illness had been?"

  "No, Marian, not a word. Tell me, pray tell me, what you think aboutit. I don't know what to think, or what to do next."

  "You must do this, my love: You must carefully keep the appointment atthe boat-house to-morrow. It is impossible to say what interests maynot depend on your seeing that woman again. You shall not be left toyourself a second time. I will follow you at a safe distance. Nobodyshall see me, but I will keep within hearing of your voice, if anythinghappens. Anne Catherick has escaped Walter Hartright, and has escapedyou. Whatever happens, she shall not escape ME."

  Laura's eyes read mine attentively.

  "You believe," she said, "in this secret that my husband is afraid of?Suppose, Marian, it should only exist after all in Anne Catherick'sfancy? Suppose she only wanted to see me and to speak to me, for thesake of old remembrances? Her manner was so strange--I almost doubtedher. Would you trust her in other things?"

  "I trust nothing, Laura, but my own observation of your husband'sconduct. I judge Anne Catherick's words by his actions, and I believethere is a secret."

  I said no more, and got up to leave the room. Thoughts were troublingme which I might have told her if we had spoken together longer, andwhich it might have been dangerous for her to know. The influence ofthe terrible dream from which she had awakened me hung darkly andheavily over every fresh impression which the progress of her narrativeproduced on my mind. I felt the ominous future coming close, chillingme with an unutterable awe, forcing on me the conviction of an unseendesign in the long series of complications which had now fastened roundus. I thought of Hartright--as I saw him in the body when he saidfarewell; as I saw him in the spirit in my dream--and I too began todoubt now whether we were not advancing blindfold to an appointed andan inevitable end.

  Leaving Laura to go upstairs alone, I went out to look about me in thewalks near the house. The circumstances under which Anne Catherick hadparted from her had made me secretly anxious to know how Count Foscowas passing the afternoon, and had rendered me secretly distrustful ofthe results of that solitary journey from which Sir Percival hadreturned but a few hours since.

  After looking for them in every direction and discovering nothing, Ireturned to the house, and entered the different rooms on the groundfloor one after another. They were all empty. I came out again intothe hall, and went upstairs to return to Laura. Madame Fosco openedher door as I passed it in my way along the passage, and I stopped tosee if she could inform me of the whereabouts of her husband and SirPercival. Yes, she had seen them both from her window more than anhour since. The Count had looked up with his customary kindness, andhad mentioned with his habitual attention to her in the smallesttrifles, that he and his friend were going out together for a long walk.

  For a long walk! They had never yet been in each other's company withthat object in my experience of them. Sir Percival cared for noexercise but riding, and the Count (except when he was polite enough tobe my escort) cared for no exercise at all.

  When I joined Laura again, I found that she had called to mind in myabsence the impending question of the signature to the deed, which, inthe interest of discussing her interview with Anne Catherick, we hadhitherto overlooked. Her first words when I saw her expressed hersurprise at the absence of the expected summons to attend Sir Percivalin the library.

  "You may make your mind easy on that subject," I said. "For thepresent, at least, neither your resolution nor mine will be exposed toany further trial. Sir Percival has altered his plans--the businessof the signature is put off."

  "Put off?" Laura repeated amazedly. "Who told you so?"

  "My authority is Count Fosco. I believe it is to his interference thatwe are indebted for your husband's sudden change of purpose."

  "It seems impossible, Ma
rian. If the object of my signing was, as wesuppose, to obtain money for Sir Percival that he urgently wanted, howcan the matter be put off?"

  "I think, Laura, we have the means at hand of setting that doubt atrest. Have you forgotten the conversation that I heard between SirPercival and the lawyer as they were crossing the hall?"

  "No, but I don't remember----"

  "I do. There were two alternatives proposed. One was to obtain yoursignature to the parchment. The other was to gain time by giving billsat three months. The last resource is evidently the resource nowadopted, and we may fairly hope to be relieved from our share in SirPercival's embarrassments for some time to come."

  "Oh, Marian, it sounds too good to be true!"

  "Does it, my love? You complimented me on my ready memory not longsince, but you seem to doubt it now. I will get my journal, and youshall see if I am right or wrong."

  I went away and got the book at once.

  On looking back to the entry referring to the lawyer's visit, we foundthat my recollection of the two alternatives presented was accuratelycorrect. It was almost as great a relief to my mind as to Laura's, tofind that my memory had served me, on this occasion, as faithfully asusual. In the perilous uncertainty of our present situation, it ishard to say what future interests may not depend upon the regularity ofthe entries in my journal, and upon the reliability of my recollectionat the time when I make them.

  Laura's face and manner suggested to me that this last considerationhad occurred to her as well as to myself. Anyway, it is only atrifling matter, and I am almost ashamed to put it down here inwriting--it seems to set the forlornness of our situation in such amiserably vivid light. We must have little indeed to depend on, whenthe discovery that my memory can still be trusted to serve us is hailedas if it was the discovery of a new friend!

  The first bell for dinner separated us. Just as it had done ringing,Sir Percival and the Count returned from their walk. We heard themaster of the house storming at the servants for being five minuteslate, and the master's guest interposing, as usual, in the interests ofpropriety, patience, and peace.

  * * * * * * * * * *

  The evening has come and gone. No extraordinary event has happened.But I have noticed certain peculiarities in the conduct of Sir Percivaland the Count, which have sent me to my bed feeling very anxious anduneasy about Anne Catherick, and about the results which to-morrow mayproduce.

  I know enough by this time, to be sure, that the aspect of Sir Percivalwhich is the most false, and which, therefore, means the worst, is hispolite aspect. That long walk with his friend had ended in improvinghis manners, especially towards his wife. To Laura's secret surpriseand to my secret alarm, he called her by her Christian name, asked ifshe had heard lately from her uncle, inquired when Mrs. Vesey was toreceive her invitation to Blackwater, and showed her so many otherlittle attentions that he almost recalled the days of his hatefulcourtship at Limmeridge House. This was a bad sign to begin with, andI thought it more ominous still that he should pretend after dinner tofall asleep in the drawing-room, and that his eyes should cunninglyfollow Laura and me when he thought we neither of us suspected him. Ihave never had any doubt that his sudden journey by himself took him toWelmingham to question Mrs. Catherick--but the experience of to-nighthas made me fear that the expedition was not undertaken in vain, andthat he has got the information which he unquestionably left us tocollect. If I knew where Anne Catherick was to be found, I would be upto-morrow with sunrise and warn her.

  While the aspect under which Sir Percival presented himself to-nightwas unhappily but too familiar to me, the aspect under which the Countappeared was, on the other hand, entirely new in my experience of him.He permitted me, this evening, to make his acquaintance, for the firsttime, in the character of a Man of Sentiment--of sentiment, as Ibelieve, really felt, not assumed for the occasion.

  For instance, he was quiet and subdued--his eyes and his voiceexpressed a restrained sensibility. He wore (as if there was somehidden connection between his showiest finery and his deepest feeling)the most magnificent waistcoat he has yet appeared in--it was made ofpale sea-green silk, and delicately trimmed with fine silver braid.His voice sank into the tenderest inflections, his smile expressed athoughtful, fatherly admiration, whenever he spoke to Laura or to me.He pressed his wife's hand under the table when she thanked him fortrifling little attentions at dinner. He took wine with her. "Yourhealth and happiness, my angel!" he said, with fond glistening eyes.He ate little or nothing, and sighed, and said "Good Percival!" whenhis friend laughed at him. After dinner, he took Laura by the hand,and asked her if she would be "so sweet as to play to him." Shecomplied, through sheer astonishment. He sat by the piano, with hiswatch-chain resting in folds, like a golden serpent, on the sea-greenprotuberance of his waistcoat. His immense head lay languidly on oneside, and he gently beat time with two of his yellow-white fingers. Hehighly approved of the music, and tenderly admired Laura's manner ofplaying--not as poor Hartright used to praise it, with an innocentenjoyment of the sweet sounds, but with a clear, cultivated, practicalknowledge of the merits of the composition, in the first place, and ofthe merits of the player's touch in the second. As the evening closedin, he begged that the lovely dying light might not be profaned, justyet, by the appearance of the lamps. He came, with his horribly silenttread, to the distant window at which I was standing, to be out of hisway and to avoid the very sight of him--he came to ask me to supporthis protest against the lamps. If any one of them could only haveburnt him up at that moment, I would have gone down to the kitchen andfetched it myself.

  "Surely you like this modest, trembling English twilight?" he saidsoftly. "Ah! I love it. I feel my inborn admiration of all that isnoble, and great, and good, purified by the breath of heaven on anevening like this. Nature has such imperishable charms, suchinextinguishable tenderness for me!--I am an old, fat man--talk whichwould become your lips, Miss Halcombe, sounds like a derision and amockery on mine. It is hard to be laughed at in my moments ofsentiment, as if my soul was like myself, old and overgrown. Observe,dear lady, what a light is dying on the trees! Does it penetrate yourheart, as it penetrates mine?"

  He paused, looked at me, and repeated the famous lines of Dante on theEvening-time, with a melody and tenderness which added a charm of theirown to the matchless beauty of the poetry itself.

  "Bah!" he cried suddenly, as the last cadence of those noble Italianwords died away on his lips; "I make an old fool of myself, and onlyweary you all! Let us shut up the window in our bosoms and get back tothe matter-of-fact world. Percival! I sanction the admission of thelamps. Lady Glyde--Miss Halcombe--Eleanor, my good wife--which of youwill indulge me with a game at dominoes?"

  He addressed us all, but he looked especially at Laura.

  She had learnt to feel my dread of offending him, and she accepted hisproposal. It was more than I could have done at that moment. I couldnot have sat down at the same table with him for any consideration.His eyes seemed to reach my inmost soul through the thickeningobscurity of the twilight. His voice trembled along every nerve in mybody, and turned me hot and cold alternately. The mystery and terrorof my dream, which had haunted me at intervals all through the evening,now oppressed my mind with an unendurable foreboding and an unutterableawe. I saw the white tomb again, and the veiled woman rising out of itby Hartright's side. The thought of Laura welled up like a spring inthe depths of my heart, and filled it with waters of bitterness, never,never known to it before. I caught her by the hand as she passed me onher way to the table, and kissed her as if that night was to part usfor ever. While they were all gazing at me in astonishment, I ran outthrough the low window which was open before me to the ground--ran outto hide from them in the darkness, to hide even from myself.

  We separated that evening later than usual. Towards midnight thesummer silence was broken by the shuddering of a low, melancholy windamong the trees. We all felt the sudden chill in the atmos
phere, butthe Count was the first to notice the stealthy rising of the wind. Hestopped while he was lighting my candle for me, and held up his handwarningly--

  "Listen!" he said. "There will be a change to-morrow."