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The Woman in White, Page 45

Wilkie Collins

  My own part of this sad family story is now drawing to an end.

  I have been informed that the particulars of Miss Halcombe's waking,and of what passed between us when she found me sitting by her bedside,are not material to the purpose which is to be answered by the presentnarrative. It will be sufficient for me to say in this place, that shewas not herself conscious of the means adopted to remove her from theinhabited to the uninhabited part of the house. She was in a deepsleep at the time, whether naturally or artificially produced she couldnot say. In my absence at Torquay, and in the absence of all theresident servants except Margaret Porcher (who was perpetually eating,drinking, or sleeping, when she was not at work), the secret transferof Miss Halcombe from one part of the house to the other was no doubteasily performed. Mrs. Rubelle (as I discovered for myself, in lookingabout the room) had provisions, and all other necessaries, togetherwith the means of heating water, broth, and so on, without kindling afire, placed at her disposal during the few days of her imprisonmentwith the sick lady. She had declined to answer the questions whichMiss Halcombe naturally put, but had not, in other respects, treatedher with unkindness or neglect. The disgrace of lending herself to avile deception is the only disgrace with which I can conscientiouslycharge Mrs. Rubelle.

  I need write no particulars (and I am relieved to know it) of theeffect produced on Miss Halcombe by the news of Lady Glyde's departure,or by the far more melancholy tidings which reached us only too soonafterwards at Blackwater Park. In both cases I prepared her mindbeforehand as gently and as carefully as possible, having the doctor'sadvice to guide me, in the last case only, through Mr. Dawson's beingtoo unwell to come to the house for some days after I had sent for him.It was a sad time, a time which it afflicts me to think of or to writeof now. The precious blessings of religious consolation which Iendeavoured to convey were long in reaching Miss Halcombe's heart, butI hope and believe they came home to her at last. I never left her tillher strength was restored. The train which took me away from thatmiserable house was the train which took her away also. We parted verymournfully in London. I remained with a relative at Islington, and shewent on to Mr. Fairlie's house in Cumberland.

  I have only a few lines more to write before I close this painfulstatement. They are dictated by a sense of duty.

  In the first place, I wish to record my own personal conviction that noblame whatever, in connection with the events which I have now related,attaches to Count Fosco. I am informed that a dreadful suspicion hasbeen raised, and that some very serious constructions are placed uponhis lordship's conduct. My persuasion of the Count's innocenceremains, however, quite unshaken. If he assisted Sir Percival insending me to Torquay, he assisted under a delusion, for which, as aforeigner and a stranger, he was not to blame. If he was concerned inbringing Mrs. Rubelle to Blackwater Park, it was his misfortune and nothis fault, when that foreign person was base enough to assist adeception planned and carried out by the master of the house. Iprotest, in the interests of morality, against blame being gratuitouslyand wantonly attached to the proceedings of the Count.

  In the second place, I desire to express my regret at my own inabilityto remember the precise day on which Lady Glyde left Blackwater Parkfor London. I am told that it is of the last importance to ascertainthe exact date of that lamentable journey, and I have anxiously taxedmy memory to recall it. The effort has been in vain. I can onlyremember now that it was towards the latter part of July. We all knowthe difficulty, after a lapse of time, of fixing precisely on a pastdate unless it has been previously written down. That difficulty isgreatly increased in my case by the alarming and confusing events whichtook place about the period of Lady Glyde's departure. I heartily wishI had made a memorandum at the time. I heartily wish my memory of thedate was as vivid as my memory of that poor lady's face, when it lookedat me sorrowfully for the last time from the carriage window.