The woman in white, p.50
The Woman in White, p.50Wilkie Collins
My position is defined--my motives are acknowledged. The story ofMarian and the story of Laura must come next.
I shall relate both narratives, not in the words (often interrupted,often inevitably confused) of the speakers themselves, but in the wordsof the brief, plain, studiously simple abstract which I committed towriting for my own guidance, and for the guidance of my legal adviser.So the tangled web will be most speedily and most intelligibly unrolled.
The story of Marian begins where the narrative of the housekeeper atBlackwater Park left off.
On Lady Glyde's departure from her husband's house, the fact of thatdeparture, and the necessary statement of the circumstances under whichit had taken place, were communicated to Miss Halcombe by thehousekeeper. It was not till some days afterwards (how many daysexactly, Mrs. Michelson, in the absence of any written memorandum onthe subject, could not undertake to say) that a letter arrived fromMadame Fosco announcing Lady Glyde's sudden death in Count Fosco'shouse. The letter avoided mentioning dates, and left it to Mrs.Michelson's discretion to break the news at once to Miss Halcombe, orto defer doing so until that lady's health should be more firmlyestablished.
Having consulted Mr. Dawson (who had been himself delayed, by illhealth, in resuming his attendance at Blackwater Park), Mrs. Michelson,by the doctor's advice, and in the doctor's presence, communicated thenews, either on the day when the letter was received, or on the dayafter. It is not necessary to dwell here upon the effect which theintelligence of Lady Glyde's sudden death produced on her sister. Itis only useful to the present purpose to say that she was not able totravel for more than three weeks afterwards. At the end of that timeshe proceeded to London accompanied by the housekeeper. They partedthere--Mrs. Michelson previously informing Miss Halcombe of heraddress, in case they might wish to communicate at a future period.
On parting with the housekeeper Miss Halcombe went at once to theoffice of Messrs. Gilmore & Kyrle to consult with the latter gentlemanin Mr. Gilmore's absence. She mentioned to Mr. Kyrle what she hadthought it desirable to conceal from every one else (Mrs. Michelsonincluded)--her suspicion of the circumstances under which Lady Glydewas said to have met her death. Mr. Kyrle, who had previously givenfriendly proof of his anxiety to serve Miss Halcombe, at once undertookto make such inquiries as the delicate and dangerous nature of theinvestigation proposed to him would permit.
To exhaust this part of the subject before going farther, it may bementioned that Count Fosco offered every facility to Mr. Kyrle, on thatgentleman's stating that he was sent by Miss Halcombe to collect suchparticulars as had not yet reached her of Lady Glyde's decease. Mr.Kyrle was placed in communication with the medical man, Mr. Goodricke,and with the two servants. In the absence of any means of ascertainingthe exact date of Lady Glyde's departure from Blackwater Park, theresult of the doctor's and the servants' evidence, and of thevolunteered statements of Count Fosco and his wife, was conclusive tothe mind of Mr. Kyrle. He could only assume that the intensity of MissHalcombe's suffering, under the loss of her sister, had misled herjudgment in a most deplorable manner, and he wrote her word that theshocking suspicion to which she had alluded in his presence was, in hisopinion, destitute of the smallest fragment of foundation in truth.Thus the investigation by Mr. Gilmore's partner began and ended.
Meanwhile, Miss Halcombe had returned to Limmeridge House, and hadthere collected all the additional information which she was able toobtain.
Mr. Fairlie had received his first intimation of his niece's death fromhis sister, Madame Fosco, this letter also not containing any exactreference to dates. He had sanctioned his sister's proposal that thedeceased lady should be laid in her mother's grave in Limmeridgechurchyard. Count Fosco had accompanied the remains to Cumberland, andhad attended the funeral at Limmeridge, which took place on the 30th ofJuly. It was followed, as a mark of respect, by all the inhabitants ofthe village and the neighbourhood. On the next day the inscription(originally drawn out, it was said, by the aunt of the deceased lady,and submitted for approval to her brother, Mr. Fairlie) was engraved onone side of the monument over the tomb.
On the day of the funeral, and for one day after it, Count Fosco hadbeen received as a guest at Limmeridge House, but no interview hadtaken place between Mr. Fairlie and himself, by the former gentleman'sdesire. They had communicated by writing, and through this mediumCount Fosco had made Mr. Fairlie acquainted with the details of hisniece's last illness and death. The letter presenting this informationadded no new facts to the facts already known, but one very remarkableparagraph was contained in the postscript. It referred to AnneCatherick.
The substance of the paragraph in question was as follows--
It first informed Mr. Fairlie that Anne Catherick (of whom he mighthear full particulars from Miss Halcombe when she reached Limmeridge)had been traced and recovered in the neighbourhood of Blackwater Park,and had been for the second time placed under the charge of the medicalman from whose custody she had once escaped.
This was the first part of the postscript. The second part warned Mr.Fairlie that Anne Catherick's mental malady had been aggravated by herlong freedom from control, and that the insane hatred and distrust ofSir Percival Glyde, which had been one of her most marked delusions informer times, still existed under a newly-acquired form. Theunfortunate woman's last idea in connection with Sir Percival was theidea of annoying and distressing him, and of elevating herself, as shesupposed, in the estimation of the patients and nurses, by assuming thecharacter of his deceased wife, the scheme of this personation havingevidently occurred to her after a stolen interview which she hadsucceeded in obtaining with Lady Glyde, and at which she had observedthe extraordinary accidental likeness between the deceased lady andherself. It was to the last degree improbable that she would succeed asecond time in escaping from the Asylum, but it was just possible shemight find some means of annoying the late Lady Glyde's relatives withletters, and in that case Mr. Fairlie was warned beforehand how toreceive them.
The postscript, expressed in these terms, was shown to Miss Halcombewhen she arrived at Limmeridge. There were also placed in herpossession the clothes Lady Glyde had worn, and the other effects shehad brought with her to her aunt's house. They had been carefullycollected and sent to Cumberland by Madame Fosco.
Such was the posture of affairs when Miss Halcombe reached Limmeridgein the early part of September.
Shortly afterwards she was confined to her room by a relapse, herweakened physical energies giving way under the severe mentalaffliction from which she was now suffering. On getting strongeragain, in a month's time, her suspicion of the circumstances describedas attending her sister's death still remained unshaken. She had heardnothing in the interim of Sir Percival Glyde, but letters had reachedher from Madame Fosco, making the most affectionate inquiries on thepart of her husband and herself. Instead of answering these letters,Miss Halcombe caused the house in St. John's Wood, and the proceedingsof its inmates, to be privately watched.
Nothing doubtful was discovered. The same result attended the nextinvestigations, which were secretly instituted on the subject of Mrs.Rubelle. She had arrived in London about six months before with herhusband. They had come from Lyons, and they had taken a house in theneighbourhood of Leicester Square, to be fitted up as a boarding-housefor foreigners, who were expected to visit England in large numbers tosee the Exhibition of 1851. Nothing was known against husband or wifein the neighbourhood. They were quiet people, and they had paid theirway honestly up to the present time. The final inquiries related toSir Percival Glyde. He was settled in Paris, and living there quietlyin a small circle of English and French friends.
Foiled at all points, but still not able to rest, Miss Halcombe nextdetermined to visit the Asylum in which she then supposed AnneCatherick to be for the second time confined. She had felt a strongcuriosity about the woman in former days, and she was now doublyinterested--first, in ascertaining whether the report of AnneCatherick's a
Although Count Fosco's letter to Mr. Fairlie did not mention theaddress of the Asylum, that important omission cast no difficulties inMiss Halcombe's way. When Mr. Hartright had met Anne Catherick atLimmeridge, she had informed him of the locality in which the house wassituated, and Miss Halcombe had noted down the direction in her diary,with all the other particulars of the interview exactly as she heardthem from Mr. Hartright's own lips. Accordingly she looked back at theentry and extracted the address--furnished herself with the Count'sletter to Mr. Fairlie as a species of credential which might be usefulto her, and started by herself for the Asylum on the eleventh ofOctober.
She passed the night of the eleventh in London. It had been herintention to sleep at the house inhabited by Lady Glyde's oldgoverness, but Mrs. Vesey's agitation at the sight of her lost pupil'snearest and dearest friend was so distressing that Miss Halcombeconsiderately refrained from remaining in her presence, and removed toa respectable boarding-house in the neighbourhood, recommended by Mrs.Vesey's married sister. The next day she proceeded to the Asylum,which was situated not far from London on the northern side of themetropolis.
She was immediately admitted to see the proprietor.
At first he appeared to be decidedly unwilling to let her communicatewith his patient. But on her showing him the postscript to CountFosco's letter--on her reminding him that she was the "Miss Halcombe"there referred to--that she was a near relative of the deceased LadyGlyde--and that she was therefore naturally interested, for familyreasons, in observing for herself the extent of Anne Catherick'sdelusion in relation to her late sister--the tone and manner of theowner of the Asylum altered, and he withdrew his objections. Heprobably felt that a continued refusal, under these circumstances,would not only be an act of discourtesy in itself, but would also implythat the proceedings in his establishment were not of a nature to bearinvestigation by respectable strangers.
Miss Halcombe's own impression was that the owner of the Asylum had notbeen received into the confidence of Sir Percival and the Count. Hisconsenting at all to let her visit his patient seemed to afford oneproof of this, and his readiness in making admissions which couldscarcely have escaped the lips of an accomplice, certainly appeared tofurnish another.
For example, in the course of the introductory conversation which tookplace, he informed Miss Halcombe that Anne Catherick had been broughtback to him with the necessary order and certificates by Count Fosco onthe twenty-seventh of July--the Count also producing a letter ofexplanations and instructions signed by Sir Percival Glyde. Onreceiving his inmate again, the proprietor of the Asylum acknowledgedthat he had observed some curious personal changes in her. Suchchanges no doubt were not without precedent in his experience ofpersons mentally afflicted. Insane people were often at one time,outwardly as well as inwardly, unlike what they were at another--thechange from better to worse, or from worse to better, in the madnesshaving a necessary tendency to produce alterations of appearanceexternally. He allowed for these, and he allowed also for themodification in the form of Anne Catherick's delusion, which wasreflected no doubt in her manner and expression. But he was stillperplexed at times by certain differences between his patient beforeshe had escaped and his patient since she had been brought back. Thosedifferences were too minute to be described. He could not say ofcourse that she was absolutely altered in height or shape orcomplexion, or in the colour of her hair and eyes, or in the generalform of her face--the change was something that he felt more thansomething that he saw. In short, the case had been a puzzle from thefirst, and one more perplexity was added to it now.
It cannot be said that this conversation led to the result of evenpartially preparing Miss Halcombe's mind for what was to come. But itproduced, nevertheless, a very serious effect upon her. She was socompletely unnerved by it, that some little time elapsed before shecould summon composure enough to follow the proprietor of the Asylum tothat part of the house in which the inmates were confined.
On inquiry, it turned out that the supposed Anne Catherick was thentaking exercise in the grounds attached to the establishment. One ofthe nurses volunteered to conduct Miss Halcombe to the place, theproprietor of the Asylum remaining in the house for a few minutes toattend to a case which required his services, and then engaging to joinhis visitor in the grounds.
The nurse led Miss Halcombe to a distant part of the property, whichwas prettily laid out, and after looking about her a little, turnedinto a turf walk, shaded by a shrubbery on either side. About half-waydown this walk two women were slowly approaching. The nurse pointed tothem and said, "There is Anne Catherick, ma'am, with the attendant whowaits on her. The attendant will answer any questions you wish toput." With those words the nurse left her to return to the duties ofthe house.
Miss Halcombe advanced on her side, and the women advanced on theirs.When they were within a dozen paces of each other, one of the womenstopped for an instant, looked eagerly at the strange lady, shook offthe nurse's grasp on her, and the next moment rushed into MissHalcombe's arms. In that moment Miss Halcombe recognised hersister--recognised the dead-alive.
Fortunately for the success of the measures taken subsequently, no onewas present at that moment but the nurse. She was a young woman, andshe was so startled that she was at first quite incapable ofinterfering. When she was able to do so her whole services wererequired by Miss Halcombe, who had for the moment sunk altogether inthe effort to keep her own senses under the shock of the discovery.After waiting a few minutes in the fresh air and the cool shade, hernatural energy and courage helped her a little, and she becamesufficiently mistress of herself to feel the necessity of recalling herpresence of mind for her unfortunate sister's sake.
She obtained permission to speak alone with the patient, on conditionthat they both remained well within the nurse's view. There was no timefor questions--there was only time for Miss Halcombe to impress on theunhappy lady the necessity of controlling herself, and to assure her ofimmediate help and rescue if she did so. The prospect of escaping fromthe Asylum by obedience to her sister's directions was sufficient toquiet Lady Glyde, and to make her understand what was required of her.Miss Halcombe next returned to the nurse, placed all the gold she thenhad in her pocket (three sovereigns) in the nurse's hands, and askedwhen and where she could speak to her alone.
The woman was at first surprised and distrustful. But on MissHalcombe's declaring that she only wanted to put some questions whichshe was too much agitated to ask at that moment, and that she had nointention of misleading the nurse into any dereliction of duty, thewoman took the money, and proposed three o'clock on the next day as thetime for the interview. She might then slip out for half an hour,after the patients had dined, and she would meet the lady in a retiredplace, outside the high north wall which screened the grounds of thehouse. Miss Halcombe had only time to assent, and to whisper to hersister that she should hear from her on the next day, when theproprietor of the Asylum joined them. He noticed his visitor'sagitation, which Miss Halcombe accounted for by saying that herinterview with Anne Catherick had a little startled her at first. Shetook her leave as soon after as possible--that is to say, as soon asshe could summon courage to force herself from the presence of herunfortunate sister.
A very little reflection, when the capacity to reflect returned,convinced her that any attempt to identify Lady Glyde and to rescue herby legal means, would, even if successful, involve a delay that mightbe fatal to her sister's intellects, which were shaken already by thehorror of the situation to which she had been consigned. By the timeMiss Halcombe had got back to London, she had determined to effect LadyGlyde's escape privately, by means of the nurse.
She went at once to her stockbroker, and sold out of the funds all thelittle property she possessed, amounting to rather less than sevenhundred pounds. Determined, if necessary,
The nurse was there. Miss Halcombe approached the subject cautiouslyby many preliminary questions. She discovered, among otherparticulars, that the nurse who had in former times attended on thetrue Anne Catherick had been held responsible (although she was not toblame for it) for the patient's escape, and had lost her place inconsequence. The same penalty, it was added, would attach to theperson then speaking to her, if the supposed Anne Catherick was missinga second time; and, moreover, the nurse in this case had an especialinterest in keeping her place. She was engaged to be married, and sheand her future husband were waiting till they could save, together,between two and three hundred pounds to start in business. The nurse'swages were good, and she might succeed, by strict economy, incontributing her small share towards the sum required in two years'time.
On this hint Miss Halcombe spoke. She declared that the supposed AnneCatherick was nearly related to her, that she had been placed in theAsylum under a fatal mistake, and that the nurse would be doing a goodand a Christian action in being the means of restoring them to oneanother. Before there was time to start a single objection, MissHalcombe took four bank-notes of a hundred pounds each from herpocket-book, and offered them to the woman, as a compensation for therisk she was to run, and for the loss of her place.
The nurse hesitated, through sheer incredulity and surprise. MissHalcombe pressed the point on her firmly.
"You will be doing a good action," she repeated; "you will be helpingthe most injured and unhappy woman alive. There is your marriageportion for a reward. Bring her safely to me here, and I will putthese four bank-notes into your hand before I claim her."
"Will you give me a letter saying those words, which I can show to mysweetheart when he asks how I got the money?" inquired the woman.
"I will bring the letter with me, ready written and signed," answeredMiss Halcombe.
"Then I'll risk it," said the nurse.
It was hastily agreed between them that Miss Halcombe should returnearly the next morning and wait out of sight among the trees--always,however, keeping near the quiet spot of ground under the north wall.The nurse could fix no time for her appearance, caution requiring thatshe should wait and be guided by circumstances. On that understandingthey separated.
Miss Halcombe was at her place, with the promised letter and thepromised bank-notes, before ten the next morning. She waited more thanan hour and a half. At the end of that time the nurse came quicklyround the corner of the wall holding Lady Glyde by the arm. The momentthey met Miss Halcombe put the bank-notes and the letter into her hand,and the sisters were united again.
The nurse had dressed Lady Glyde, with excellent forethought, in abonnet, veil, and shawl of her own. Miss Halcombe only detained her tosuggest a means of turning the pursuit in a false direction, when theescape was discovered at the Asylum. She was to go back to the house,to mention in the hearing of the other nurses that Anne Catherick hadbeen inquiring latterly about the distance from London to Hampshire, towait till the last moment, before discovery was inevitable, and then togive the alarm that Anne was missing. The supposed inquiries aboutHampshire, when communicated to the owner of the Asylum, would lead himto imagine that his patient had returned to Blackwater Park, under theinfluence of the delusion which made her persist in asserting herselfto be Lady Glyde, and the first pursuit would, in all probability, beturned in that direction.
The nurse consented to follow these suggestions, the more readily asthey offered her the means of securing herself against any worseconsequences than the loss of her place, by remaining in the Asylum,and so maintaining the appearance of innocence, at least. She at oncereturned to the house, and Miss Halcombe lost no time in taking hersister back with her to London. They caught the afternoon train toCarlisle the same afternoon, and arrived at Limmeridge, withoutaccident or difficulty of any kind, that night.
During the latter part of their journey they were alone in thecarriage, and Miss Halcombe was able to collect such remembrances ofthe past as her sister's confused and weakened memory was able torecall. The terrible story of the conspiracy so obtained was presentedin fragments, sadly incoherent in themselves, and widely detached fromeach other. Imperfect as the revelation was, it must nevertheless berecorded here before this explanatory narrative closes with the eventsof the next day at Limmeridge House.
Lady Glyde's recollection of the events which followed her departurefrom Blackwater Park began with her arrival at the London terminus ofthe South Western Railway. She had omitted to make a memorandumbeforehand of the day on which she took the journey. All hope offixing that important date by any evidence of hers, or of Mrs.Michelson's, must be given up for lost.
On the arrival of the train at the platform Lady Glyde found CountFosco waiting for her. He was at the carriage door as soon as theporter could open it. The train was unusually crowded, and there wasgreat confusion in getting the luggage. Some person whom Count Foscobrought with him procured the luggage which belonged to Lady Glyde. Itwas marked with her name. She drove away alone with the Count in avehicle which she did not particularly notice at the time.
Her first question, on leaving the terminus, referred to Miss Halcombe.The Count informed her that Miss Halcombe had not yet gone toCumberland, after-consideration having caused him to doubt the prudenceof her taking so long a journey without some days' previous rest.
Lady Glyde next inquired whether her sister was then staying in theCount's house. Her recollection of the answer was confused, her onlydistinct impression in relation to it being that the Count declared hewas then taking her to see Miss Halcombe. Lady Glyde's experience ofLondon was so limited that she could not tell, at the time, throughwhat streets they were driving. But they never left the streets, andthey never passed any gardens or trees. When the carriage stopped, itstopped in a small street behind a square--a square in which there wereshops, and public buildings, and many people. From these recollections(of which Lady Glyde was certain) it seems quite clear that Count Foscodid not take her to his own residence in the suburb of St. John's Wood.
They entered the house, and went upstairs to a back room, either on thefirst or second floor. The luggage was carefully brought in. A femaleservant opened the door, and a man with a dark beard, apparently aforeigner, met them in the hall, and with great politeness showed themthe way upstairs. In answer to Lady Glyde's inquiries, the Countassured her that Miss Halcombe was in the house, and that she should beimmediately informed of her sister's arrival. He and the foreignerthen went away and left her by herself in the room. It was poorlyfurnished as a sitting-room, and it looked out on the backs of houses.
The place was remarkably quiet--no footsteps went up or down thestairs--she only heard in the room beneath her a dull, rumbling soundof men's voices talking. Before she had been long left alone the Countreturned, to explain that Miss Halcombe was then taking rest, and couldnot be disturbed for a little while. He was accompanied into the roomby a gentleman (an Englishman), whom he begged to present as a friendof his.
After this singular introduction--in the course of which no names, tothe best of Lady Glyde's recollection, had been mentioned--she was leftalone with the stranger. He was perfectly civil, but he startled andconfused her by some odd questions about herself, and by looking ather, while he asked them, in a strange manner. After remaining a shorttime he went out, and a minute or two afterwards a secondstranger--also an Englishman--came in. This person introduced himselfas another friend of Count Fosco's, and he, in his turn, looked at hervery oddly, and asked some curious questions--never, as well as shecould remember, addressing her by name, and going out again, after alittle while, like the first man. By this time she was so frightenedabout herself, and so uneasy about her sister, that she had thoughts ofventuring
Just as she had risen from her chair, the Count came back into the room.
The moment he appeared she asked anxiously how long the meeting betweenher sister and herself was to be still delayed. At first he returnedan evasive answer, but on being pressed, he acknowledged, with greatapparent reluctance, that Miss Halcombe was by no means so well as hehad hitherto represented her to be. His tone and manner, in making thisreply, so alarmed Lady Glyde, or rather so painfully increased theuneasiness which she had felt in the company of the two strangers, thata sudden faintness overcame her, and she was obliged to ask for a glassof water. The Count called from the door for water, and for a bottle ofsmelling-salts. Both were brought in by the foreign-looking man withthe beard. The water, when Lady Glyde attempted to drink it, had sostrange a taste that it increased her faintness, and she hastily tookthe bottle of salts from Count Fosco, and smelt at it. Her head becamegiddy on the instant. The Count caught the bottle as it dropped out ofher hand, and the last impression of which she was conscious was thathe held it to her nostrils again.
From this point her recollections were found to be confused,fragmentary, and difficult to reconcile with any reasonable probability.
Her own impression was that she recovered her senses later in theevening, that she then left the house, that she went (as she hadpreviously arranged to go, at Blackwater Park) to Mrs. Vesey's--thatshe drank tea there, and that she passed the night under Mrs. Vesey'sroof. She was totally unable to say how, or when, or in what companyshe left the house to which Count Fosco had brought her. But shepersisted in asserting that she had been to Mrs. Vesey's, and stillmore extraordinary, that she had been helped to undress and get to bedby Mrs. Rubelle! She could not remember what the conversation was atMrs. Vesey's or whom she saw there besides that lady, or why Mrs.Rubelle should have been present in the house to help her.
Her recollection of what happened to her the next morning was stillmore vague and unreliable.
She had some dim idea of driving out (at what hour she could not say)with Count Fosco, and with Mrs. Rubelle again for a female attendant.But when, and why, she left Mrs. Vesey she could not tell; neither didshe know what direction the carriage drove in, or where it set herdown, or whether the Count and Mrs. Rubelle did or did not remain withher all the time she was out. At this point in her sad story there wasa total blank. She had no impressions of the faintest kind tocommunicate--no idea whether one day, or more than one day, hadpassed--until she came to herself suddenly in a strange place,surrounded by women who were all unknown to her.
This was the Asylum. Here she first heard herself called by AnneCatherick's name, and here, as a last remarkable circumstance in thestory of the conspiracy, her own eyes informed her that she had AnneCatherick's clothes on. The nurse, on the first night in the Asylum,had shown her the marks on each article of her underclothing as it wastaken off, and had said, not at all irritably or unkindly, "Look atyour own name on your own clothes, and don't worry us all any moreabout being Lady Glyde. She's dead and buried, and you're alive andhearty. Do look at your clothes now! There it is, in good markingink, and there you will find it on all your old things, which we havekept in the house--Anne Catherick, as plain as print!" And there itwas, when Miss Halcombe examined the linen her sister wore, on thenight of their arrival at Limmeridge House.
These were the only recollections--all of them uncertain, and some ofthem contradictory--which could be extracted from Lady Glyde by carefulquestioning on the journey to Cumberland. Miss Halcombe abstained frompressing her with any inquiries relating to events in the Asylum--hermind being but too evidently unfit to bear the trial of reverting tothem. It was known, by the voluntary admission of the owner of themad-house, that she was received there on the twenty-seventh of July.From that date until the fifteenth of October (the day of her rescue)she had been under restraint, her identity with Anne Cathericksystematically asserted, and her sanity, from first to last,practically denied. Faculties less delicately balanced, constitutionsless tenderly organised, must have suffered under such an ordeal asthis. No man could have gone through it and come out of it unchanged.
Arriving at Limmeridge late on the evening of the fifteenth, MissHalcombe wisely resolved not to attempt the assertion of Lady Glyde'sidentity until the next day.
The first thing in the morning she went to Mr. Fairlie's room, andusing all possible cautions and preparations beforehand, at last toldhim in so many words what had happened. As soon as his firstastonishment and alarm had subsided, he angrily declared that MissHalcombe had allowed herself to be duped by Anne Catherick. Hereferred her to Count Fosco's letter, and to what she had herself toldhim of the personal resemblance between Anne and his deceased niece,and he positively declined to admit to his presence, even for oneminute only, a madwoman, whom it was an insult and an outrage to havebrought into his house at all.
Miss Halcombe left the room--waited till the first heat of herindignation had passed away--decided on reflection that Mr. Fairlieshould see his niece in the interests of common humanity before heclosed his doors on her as a stranger--and thereupon, without a word ofprevious warning, took Lady Glyde with her to his room. The servantwas posted at the door to prevent their entrance, but Miss Halcombeinsisted on passing him, and made her way into Mr. Fairlie's presence,leading her sister by the hand.
The scene that followed, though it only lasted for a few minutes, wastoo painful to be described--Miss Halcombe herself shrank fromreferring to it. Let it be enough to say that Mr. Fairlie declared, inthe most positive terms, that he did not recognise the woman who hadbeen brought into his room--that he saw nothing in her face and mannerto make him doubt for a moment that his niece lay buried in Limmeridgechurchyard, and that he would call on the law to protect him if beforethe day was over she was not removed from the house.
Taking the very worst view of Mr. Fairlie's selfishness, indolence, andhabitual want of feeling, it was manifestly impossible to suppose thathe was capable of such infamy as secretly recognising and openlydisowning his brother's child. Miss Halcombe humanely and sensiblyallowed all due force to the influence of prejudice and alarm inpreventing him from fairly exercising his perceptions, and accountedfor what had happened in that way. But when she next put the servantsto the test, and found that they too were, in every case, uncertain, tosay the least of it, whether the lady presented to them was their youngmistress or Anne Catherick, of whose resemblance to her they had allheard, the sad conclusion was inevitable that the change produced inLady Glyde's face and manner by her imprisonment in the Asylum was farmore serious than Miss Halcombe had at first supposed. The viledeception which had asserted her death defied exposure even in thehouse where she was born, and among the people with whom she had lived.
In a less critical situation the effort need not have been given up ashopeless even yet.
For example, the maid, Fanny, who happened to be then absent fromLimmeridge, was expected back in two days, and there would be a chanceof gaining her recognition to start with, seeing that she had been inmuch more constant communication with her mistress, and had been muchmore heartily attached to her than the other servants. Again, LadyGlyde might have been privately kept in the house or in the village towait until her health was a little recovered and her mind was a littlesteadied again. When her memory could be once more trusted to serveher, she would naturally refer to persons and events in the past with acertainty and a familiarity which no impostor could simulate, and sothe fact of her identity, which her own appearance had failed toestablish, might subsequently be proved, with time to help her, by thesurer test of her own words.
But the circumstances under which she had regained her freedom renderedall recourse to such means as these simply impracticable. The pursuitfrom the Asylum, diverted to Hampshire for the time only, wouldinfallibly next take the direction of Cumberland. The personsappointed
An immediate return to London was the first and wisest measure ofsecurity which suggested itself. In the great city all traces of themmight be most speedily and most surely effaced. There were nopreparations to make--no farewell words of kindness to exchange withany one. On the afternoon of that memorable day of the sixteenth MissHalcombe roused her sister to a last exertion of courage, and without aliving soul to wish them well at parting, the two took their way intothe world alone, and turned their backs for ever on Limmeridge House.
They had passed the hill above the churchyard, when Lady Glyde insistedon turning back to look her last at her mother's grave. Miss Halcombetried to shake her resolution, but, in this one instance, tried invain. She was immovable. Her dim eyes lit with a sudden fire, andflashed through the veil that hung over them--her wasted fingersstrengthened moment by moment round the friendly arm by which they hadheld so listlessly till this time. I believe in my soul that the handof God was pointing their way back to them, and that the most innocentand the most afflicted of His creatures was chosen in that dread momentto see it.
They retraced their steps to the burial-ground, and by that act sealedthe future of our three lives.
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