The woman in white, p.43
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       The Woman in White, p.43

           Wilkie Collins

  A second perplexing circumstance which happened on the same day, andwhich took me completely by surprise, added greatly to the sense ofuneasiness that was now weighing on my mind.

  I was sent for to see Sir Percival in the library. The Count, who waswith him when I went in, immediately rose and left us alone together.Sir Percival civilly asked me to take a seat, and then, to my greatastonishment, addressed me in these terms--

  "I want to speak to you, Mrs. Michelson, about a matter which I decidedon some time ago, and which I should have mentioned before, but for thesickness and trouble in the house. In plain words, I have reasons forwishing to break up my establishment immediately at this place--leavingyou in charge, of course, as usual. As soon as Lady Glyde and MissHalcombe can travel they must both have change of air. My friends,Count Fosco and the Countess, will leave us before that time to live inthe neighbourhood of London, and I have reasons for not opening thehouse to any more company, with a view to economising as carefully as Ican. I don't blame you, but my expenses here are a great deal tooheavy. In short, I shall sell the horses, and get rid of all theservants at once. I never do things by halves, as you know, and I meanto have the house clear of a pack of useless people by this timeto-morrow."

  I listened to him, perfectly aghast with astonishment.

  "Do you mean, Sir Percival, that I am to dismiss the indoor servantsunder my charge without the usual month's warning?" I asked.

  "Certainly I do. We may all be out of the house before another month,and I am not going to leave the servants here in idleness, with nomaster to wait on."

  "Who is to do the cooking, Sir Percival, while you are still stayinghere?"

  "Margaret Porcher can roast and boil--keep her. What do I want with acook if I don't mean to give any dinner-parties?"

  "The servant you have mentioned is the most unintelligent servant inthe house, Sir Percival."

  "Keep her, I tell you, and have a woman in from the village to do thecleaning and go away again. My weekly expenses must and shall belowered immediately. I don't send for you to make objections, Mrs.Michelson--I send for you to carry out my plans of economy. Dismiss thewhole lazy pack of indoor servants to-morrow, except Porcher. She isas strong as a horse--and we'll make her work like a horse."

  "You will excuse me for reminding you, Sir Percival, that if theservants go to-morrow they must have a month's wages in lieu of amonth's warning."

  "Let them! A month's wages saves a month's waste and gluttony in theservants' hall."

  This last remark conveyed an aspersion of the most offensive kind on mymanagement. I had too much self-respect to defend myself under sogross an imputation. Christian consideration for the helpless positionof Miss Halcombe and Lady Glyde, and for the serious inconveniencewhich my sudden absence might inflict on them, alone prevented me fromresigning my situation on the spot. I rose immediately. It would havelowered me in my own estimation to have permitted the interview tocontinue a moment longer.

  "After that last remark, Sir Percival, I have nothing more to say. Yourdirections shall be attended to." Pronouncing those words, I bowed myhead with the most distant respect, and went out of the room.

  The next day the servants left in a body. Sir Percival himselfdismissed the grooms and stablemen, sending them, with all the horsesbut one, to London. Of the whole domestic establishment, indoors andout, there now remained only myself, Margaret Porcher, and thegardener--this last living in his own cottage, and being wanted to takecare of the one horse that remained in the stables.

  With the house left in this strange and lonely condition--with themistress of it ill in her room--with Miss Halcombe still as helpless asa child--and with the doctor's attendance withdrawn from us inenmity--it was surely not unnatural that my spirits should sink, and mycustomary composure be very hard to maintain. My mind was ill at ease.I wished the poor ladies both well again, and I wished myself away fromBlackwater Park.