The woman in white, p.38
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       The Woman in White, p.38

           Wilkie Collins
 

  As soon as I was left by myself I had a little nap--I really wanted it.When I awoke again I noticed dear Marian's letter. If I had had theleast idea of what it contained I should certainly not have attemptedto open it. Being, unfortunately for myself, quite innocent of allsuspicion, I read the letter. It immediately upset me for the day.

  I am, by nature, one of the most easy-tempered creatures that everlived--I make allowances for everybody, and I take offence at nothing.But as I have before remarked, there are limits to my endurance. Ilaid down Marian's letter, and felt myself--justly felt myself--aninjured man.

  I am about to make a remark. It is, of course, applicable to the veryserious matter now under notice, or I should not allow it to appear inthis place.

  Nothing, in my opinion, sets the odious selfishness of mankind in sucha repulsively vivid light as the treatment, in all classes of society,which the Single people receive at the hands of the Married people.When you have once shown yourself too considerate and self-denying toadd a family of your own to an already overcrowded population, you arevindictively marked out by your married friends, who have no similarconsideration and no similar self-denial, as the recipient of halftheir conjugal troubles, and the born friend of all their children.Husbands and wives TALK of the cares of matrimony, and bachelors andspinsters BEAR them. Take my own case. I considerately remain single,and my poor dear brother Philip inconsiderately marries. What does hedo when he dies? He leaves his daughter to ME. She is a sweetgirl--she is also a dreadful responsibility. Why lay her on myshoulders? Because I am bound, in the harmless character of a singleman, to relieve my married connections of all their own troubles. I domy best with my brother's responsibility--I marry my niece, withinfinite fuss and difficulty, to the man her father wanted her tomarry. She and her husband disagree, and unpleasant consequencesfollow. What does she do with those consequences? She transfers themto ME. Why transfer them to ME? Because I am bound, in the harmlesscharacter of a single man, to relieve my married connections of alltheir own troubles. Poor single people! Poor human nature!

  It is quite unnecessary to say that Marian's letter threatened me.Everybody threatens me. All sorts of horrors were to fall on mydevoted head if I hesitated to turn Limmeridge House into an asylum formy niece and her misfortunes. I did hesitate, nevertheless.

  I have mentioned that my usual course, hitherto, had been to submit todear Marian, and save noise. But on this occasion, the consequencesinvolved in her extremely inconsiderate proposal were of a nature tomake me pause. If I opened Limmeridge House as an asylum to LadyGlyde, what security had I against Sir Percival Glyde's following herhere in a state of violent resentment against ME for harbouring hiswife? I saw such a perfect labyrinth of troubles involved in thisproceeding that I determined to feel my ground, as it were. I wrote,therefore, to dear Marian to beg (as she had no husband to lay claim toher) that she would come here by herself, first, and talk the matterover with me. If she could answer my objections to my own perfectsatisfaction, then I assured her that I would receive our sweet Laurawith the greatest pleasure, but not otherwise.

  I felt, of course, at the time, that this temporising on my part wouldprobably end in bringing Marian here in a state of virtuousindignation, banging doors. But then, the other course of proceedingmight end in bringing Sir Percival here in a state of virtuousindignation, banging doors also, and of the two indignations andbangings I preferred Marian's, because I was used to her. AccordinglyI despatched the letter by return of post. It gained me time, at allevents--and, oh dear me! what a point that was to begin with.

  When I am totally prostrated (did I mention that I was totallyprostrated by Marian's letter?) it always takes me three days to get upagain. I was very unreasonable--I expected three days of quiet. Ofcourse I didn't get them.

  The third day's post brought me a most impertinent letter from a personwith whom I was totally unacquainted. He described himself as theacting partner of our man of business--our dear, pig-headed oldGilmore--and he informed me that he had lately received, by the post, aletter addressed to him in Miss Halcombe's handwriting. On opening theenvelope, he had discovered, to his astonishment, that it containednothing but a blank sheet of note-paper. This circumstance appeared tohim so suspicious (as suggesting to his restless legal mind that theletter had been tampered with) that he had at once written to MissHalcombe, and had received no answer by return of post. In thisdifficulty, instead of acting like a sensible man and letting thingstake their proper course, his next absurd proceeding, on his ownshowing, was to pester me by writing to inquire if I knew anythingabout it. What the deuce should I know about it? Why alarm me as wellas himself? I wrote back to that effect. It was one of my keenestletters. I have produced nothing with a sharper epistolary edge to itsince I tendered his dismissal in writing to that extremely troublesomeperson, Mr. Walter Hartright.

  My letter produced its effect. I heard nothing more from the lawyer.

  This perhaps was not altogether surprising. But it was certainly aremarkable circumstance that no second letter reached me from Marian,and that no warning signs appeared of her arrival. Her unexpectedabsence did me amazing good. It was so very soothing and pleasant toinfer (as I did of course) that my married connections had made it upagain. Five days of undisturbed tranquillity, of delicious singleblessedness, quite restored me. On the sixth day I felt strong enoughto send for my photographer, and to set him at work again on thepresentation copies of my art-treasures, with a view, as I havealready mentioned, to the improvement of taste in this barbarousneighbourhood. I had just dismissed him to his workshop, and had justbegun coquetting with my coins, when Louis suddenly made his appearancewith a card in his hand.

  "Another Young Person?" I said. "I won't see her. In my state ofhealth Young Persons disagree with me. Not at home."

  "It is a gentleman this time, sir."

  A gentleman of course made a difference. I looked at the card.

  Gracious Heaven! my tiresome sister's foreign husband, Count Fosco.