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The Woman in White, Page 46

Wilkie Collins



  [Taken down from her own statement]

  I am sorry to say that I have never learnt to read or write. I havebeen a hard-working woman all my life, and have kept a good character.I know that it is a sin and wickedness to say the thing which is not,and I will truly beware of doing so on this occasion. All that I knowI will tell, and I humbly beg the gentleman who takes this down to putmy language right as he goes on, and to make allowances for my being noscholar.

  In this last summer I happened to be out of place (through no fault ofmy own), and I heard of a situation as plain cook, at Number Five,Forest Road, St. John's Wood. I took the place on trial. My master'sname was Fosco. My mistress was an English lady. He was Count and shewas Countess. There was a girl to do housemaid's work when I gotthere. She was not over-clean or tidy, but there was no harm in her.I and she were the only servants in the house.

  Our master and mistress came after we got in; and as soon as they didcome we were told, downstairs, that company was expected from thecountry.

  The company was my mistress's niece, and the back bedroom on the firstfloor was got ready for her. My mistress mentioned to me that LadyGlyde (that was her name) was in poor health, and that I must beparticular in my cooking accordingly. She was to come that day, aswell as I can remember--but whatever you do, don't trust my memory inthe matter. I am sorry to say it's no use asking me about days of themonth, and such-like. Except Sundays, half my time I take no heed ofthem, being a hard-working woman and no scholar. All I know is LadyGlyde came, and when she did come, a fine fright she gave us allsurely. I don't know how master brought her to the house, being hardat work at the time. But he did bring her in the afternoon, I think,and the housemaid opened the door to them, and showed them into theparlour. Before she had been long down in the kitchen again with me,we heard a hurry-skurry upstairs, and the parlour bell ringing likemad, and my mistress's voice calling out for help.

  We both ran up, and there we saw the lady laid on the sofa, with herface ghastly white, and her hands fast clenched, and her head drawndown to one side. She had been taken with a sudden fright, my mistresssaid, and master he told us she was in a fit of convulsions. I ranout, knowing the neighbourhood a little better than the rest of them,to fetch the nearest doctor's help. The nearest help was atGoodricke's and Garth's, who worked together as partners, and had agood name and connection, as I have heard, all round St. John's Wood.Mr. Goodricke was in, and he came back with me directly.

  It was some time before he could make himself of much use. The poorunfortunate lady fell out of one fit into another, and went on so tillshe was quite wearied out, and as helpless as a new-born babe. Wethen got her to bed. Mr. Goodricke went away to his house formedicine, and came back again in a quarter of an hour or less. Besidesthe medicine he brought a bit of hollow mahogany wood with him, shapedlike a kind of trumpet, and after waiting a little while, he put oneend over the lady's heart and the other to his ear, and listenedcarefully.

  When he had done he says to my mistress, who was in the room, "This isa very serious case," he says, "I recommend you to write to LadyGlyde's friends directly." My mistress says to him, "Is itheart-disease?" And he says, "Yes, heart-disease of a most dangerouskind." He told her exactly what he thought was the matter, which I wasnot clever enough to understand. But I know this, he ended by sayingthat he was afraid neither his help nor any other doctor's help waslikely to be of much service.

  My mistress took this ill news more quietly than my master. He was abig, fat, odd sort of elderly man, who kept birds and white mice, andspoke to them as if they were so many Christian children. He seemedterribly cut up by what had happened. "Ah! poor Lady Glyde! poor dearLady Glyde!" he says, and went stalking about, wringing his fat handsmore like a play-actor than a gentleman. For one question my mistressasked the doctor about the lady's chances of getting round, he asked agood fifty at least. I declare he quite tormented us all, and when hewas quiet at last, out he went into the bit of back garden, pickingtrumpery little nosegays, and asking me to take them upstairs and makethe sick-room look pretty with them. As if THAT did any good. I thinkhe must have been, at times, a little soft in his head. But he was nota bad master--he had a monstrous civil tongue of his own, and a jolly,easy, coaxing way with him. I liked him a deal better than mymistress. She was a hard one, if ever there was a hard one yet.

  Towards night-time the lady roused up a little. She had been sowearied out, before that, by the convulsions, that she never stirredhand or foot, or spoke a word to anybody. She moved in the bed now,and stared about her at the room and us in it. She must have been anice-looking lady when well, with light hair, and blue eyes and allthat. Her rest was troubled at night--at least so I heard from mymistress, who sat up alone with her. I only went in once before goingto bed to see if I could be of any use, and then she was talking toherself in a confused, rambling manner. She seemed to want sadly tospeak to somebody who was absent from her somewhere. I couldn't catchthe name the first time, and the second time master knocked at thedoor, with his regular mouthful of questions, and another of histrumpery nosegays.

  When I went in early the next morning, the lady was clean worn outagain, and lay in a kind of faint sleep. Mr. Goodricke brought hispartner, Mr. Garth, with him to advise. They said she must not bedisturbed out of her rest on any account. They asked my mistress manyquestions, at the other end of the room, about what the lady's healthhad been in past times, and who had attended her, and whether she hadever suffered much and long together under distress of mind. Iremember my mistress said "Yes" to that last question. And Mr.Goodricke looked at Mr. Garth, and shook his head; and Mr. Garth lookedat Mr. Goodricke, and shook his head. They seemed to think that thedistress might have something to do with the mischief at the lady'sheart. She was but a frail thing to look at, poor creature! Verylittle strength at any time, I should say--very little strength.

  Later on the same morning, when she woke, the lady took a sudden turn,and got seemingly a great deal better. I was not let in again to seeher, no more was the housemaid, for the reason that she was not to bedisturbed by strangers. What I heard of her being better was throughmy master. He was in wonderful good spirits about the change, andlooked in at the kitchen window from the garden, with his great bigcurly-brimmed white hat on, to go out.

  "Good Mrs. Cook," says he, "Lady Glyde is better. My mind is more easythan it was, and I am going out to stretch my big legs with a sunnylittle summer walk. Shall I order for you, shall I market for you,Mrs. Cook? What are you making there? A nice tart for dinner? Muchcrust, if you please--much crisp crust, my dear, that melts andcrumbles delicious in the mouth." That was his way. He was past sixty,and fond of pastry. Just think of that!

  The doctor came again in the forenoon, and saw for himself that LadyGlyde had woke up better. He forbid us to talk to her, or to let hertalk to us, in case she was that way disposed, saying she must be keptquiet before all things, and encouraged to sleep as much as possible.She did not seem to want to talk whenever I saw her, except overnight,when I couldn't make out what she was saying--she seemed too much worndown. Mr. Goodricke was not nearly in such good spirits about her asmaster. He said nothing when he came downstairs, except that he wouldcall again at five o'clock.

  About that time (which was before master came home again) the bell ranghard from the bedroom, and my mistress ran out into the landing, andcalled to me to go for Mr. Goodricke, and tell him the lady hadfainted. I got on my bonnet and shawl, when, as good luck would haveit, the doctor himself came to the house for his promised visit.

  I let him in, and went upstairs along with him. "Lady Glyde was justas usual," says my mistress to him at the door; "she was awake, andlooking about her in a strange, forlorn manner, when I heard her give asort of half cry, and she fainted in a moment." The doctor went up tothe bed, and stooped down
over the sick lady. He looked very serious,all on a sudden, at the sight of her, and put his hand on her heart.

  My mistress stared hard in Mr. Goodricke's face. "Not dead!" says she,whispering, and turning all of a tremble from head to foot.

  "Yes," says the doctor, very quiet and grave. "Dead. I was afraid itwould happen suddenly when I examined her heart yesterday." My mistressstepped back from the bedside while he was speaking, and trembled andtrembled again. "Dead!" she whispers to herself; "dead so suddenly!dead so soon! What will the Count say?" Mr. Goodricke advised her to godownstairs, and quiet herself a little. "You have been sitting up allnight," says he, "and your nerves are shaken. This person," says he,meaning me, "this person will stay in the room till I can send for thenecessary assistance." My mistress did as he told her. "I must preparethe Count," she says. "I must carefully prepare the Count." And so sheleft us, shaking from head to foot, and went out.

  "Your master is a foreigner," says Mr. Goodricke, when my mistress hadleft us. "Does he understand about registering the death?" "I can'trightly tell, sir," says I, "but I should think not." The doctorconsidered a minute, and then says he, "I don't usually do suchthings," says he, "but it may save the family trouble in this case if Iregister the death myself. I shall pass the district office in half anhour's time, and I can easily look in. Mention, if you please, that Iwill do so." "Yes, sir," says I, "with thanks, I'm sure, for yourkindness in thinking of it." "You don't mind staying here till I cansend you the proper person?" says he. "No, sir," says I; "I'll staywith the poor lady till then. I suppose nothing more could be done,sir, than was done?" says I. "No," says he, "nothing; she must havesuffered sadly before ever I saw her--the case was hopeless when I wascalled in." "Ah, dear me! we all come to it, sooner or later, don'twe, sir?" says I. He gave no answer to that--he didn't seem to careabout talking. He said, "Good-day," and went out.

  I stopped by the bedside from that time till the time when Mr.Goodricke sent the person in, as he had promised. She was, by name,Jane Gould. I considered her to be a respectable-looking woman. Shemade no remark, except to say that she understood what was wanted ofher, and that she had winded a many of them in her time.

  How master bore the news, when he first heard it, is more than I cantell, not having been present. When I did see him he looked awfullyovercome by it, to be sure. He sat quiet in a corner, with his fathands hanging over his thick knees, and his head down, and his eyeslooking at nothing. He seemed not so much sorry, as scared and dazedlike, by what had happened. My mistress managed all that was to bedone about the funeral. It must have cost a sight of money--thecoffin, in particular, being most beautiful. The dead lady's husbandwas away, as we heard, in foreign parts. But my mistress (being heraunt) settled it with her friends in the country (Cumberland, I think)that she should be buried there, in the same grave along with hermother. Everything was done handsomely, in respect of the funeral, Isay again, and master went down to attend the burying in the countryhimself. He looked grand in his deep mourning, with his big solemnface, and his slow walk, and his broad hatband--that he did!

  In conclusion. I have to say, in answer to questions put to me--

  (1) That neither I nor my fellow-servant ever saw my master give LadyGlyde any medicine himself.

  (2) That he was never, to my knowledge and belief, left alone in theroom with Lady Glyde.

  (3) That I am not able to say what caused the sudden fright, which mymistress informed me had seized the lady on her first coming into thehouse. The cause was never explained, either to me or to myfellow-servant.

  The above statement has been read over in my presence. I have nothingto add to it, or to take away from it. I say, on my oath as aChristian woman, this is the truth.

  (Signed) HESTER PINHORN, Her + Mark.