The woman in white, p.57
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       The Woman in White, p.57

           Wilkie Collins
 

  On the morning after my return from Hampshire I took Marian upstairsinto my working-room, and there laid before her the plan that I hadmatured thus far, for mastering the one assailable point in the life ofSir Percival Glyde.

  The way to the Secret lay through the mystery, hitherto impenetrable toall of us, of the woman in white. The approach to that in its turnmight be gained by obtaining the assistance of Anne Catherick's mother,and the only ascertainable means of prevailing on Mrs. Catherick to actor to speak in the matter depended on the chance of my discoveringlocal particulars and family particulars first of all from Mrs.Clements. After thinking the subject over carefully, I felt certainthat I could only begin the new inquiries by placing myself incommunication with the faithful friend and protectress of AnneCatherick.

  The first difficulty then was to find Mrs. Clements.

  I was indebted to Marian's quick perception for meeting this necessityat once by the best and simplest means. She proposed to write to thefarm near Limmeridge (Todd's Corner), to inquire whether Mrs. Clementshad communicated with Mrs. Todd during the past few months. How Mrs.Clements had been separated from Anne it was impossible for us to say,but that separation once effected, it would certainly occur to Mrs.Clements to inquire after the missing woman in the neighbourhood of allothers to which she was known to be most attached--the neighbourhood ofLimmeridge. I saw directly that Marian's proposal offered us aprospect of success, and she wrote to Mrs. Todd accordingly by thatday's post.

  While we were waiting for the reply, I made myself master of all theinformation Marian could afford on the subject of Sir Percival'sfamily, and of his early life. She could only speak on these topicsfrom hearsay, but she was reasonably certain of the truth of whatlittle she had to tell.

  Sir Percival was an only child. His father, Sir Felix Glyde, hadsuffered from his birth under a painful and incurable deformity, andhad shunned all society from his earliest years. His sole happinesswas in the enjoyment of music, and he had married a lady with tastessimilar to his own, who was said to be a most accomplished musician.He inherited the Blackwater property while still a young man. Neitherhe nor his wife after taking possession, made advances of any sorttowards the society of the neighbourhood, and no one endeavoured totempt them into abandoning their reserve, with the one disastrousexception of the rector of the parish.

  The rector was the worst of all innocent mischief-makers--anover-zealous man. He had heard that Sir Felix had left College withthe character of being little better than a revolutionist in politicsand an infidel in religion, and he arrived conscientiously at theconclusion that it was his bounden duty to summon the lord of the manorto hear sound views enunciated in the parish church. Sir Felixfiercely resented the clergyman's well-meant but ill-directedinterference, insulting him so grossly and so publicly, that thefamilies in the neighbourhood sent letters of indignant remonstrance tothe Park, and even the tenants of the Blackwater property expressedtheir opinion as strongly as they dared. The baronet, who had nocountry tastes of any kind, and no attachment to the estate or to anyone living on it, declared that society at Blackwater should never havea second chance of annoying him, and left the place from that moment.

  After a short residence in London he and his wife departed for theContinent, and never returned to England again. They lived part of thetime in France and part in Germany--always keeping themselves in thestrict retirement which the morbid sense of his own personal deformityhad made a necessity to Sir Felix. Their son, Percival, had been bornabroad, and had been educated there by private tutors. His mother wasthe first of his parents whom he lost. His father had died a few yearsafter her, either in 1825 or 1826. Sir Percival had been in England,as a young man, once or twice before that period, but his acquaintancewith the late Mr. Fairlie did not begin till after the time of hisfather's death. They soon became very intimate, although Sir Percivalwas seldom, or never, at Limmeridge House in those days. Mr. FrederickFairlie might have met him once or twice in Mr. Philip Fairlie'scompany, but he could have known little of him at that or at any othertime. Sir Percival's only intimate friend in the Fairlie family hadbeen Laura's father.

  These were all the particulars that I could gain from Marian. Theysuggested nothing which was useful to my present purpose, but I notedthem down carefully, in the event of their proving to be of importanceat any future period.

  Mrs. Todd's reply (addressed, by our own wish, to a post-office at somedistance from us) had arrived at its destination when I went to applyfor it. The chances, which had been all against us hitherto, turnedfrom this moment in our favour. Mrs. Todd's letter contained the firstitem of information of which we were in search.

  Mrs. Clements, it appeared, had (as we had conjectured) written toTodd's Corner, asking pardon in the first place for the abrupt mannerin which she and Anne had left their friends at the farm-house (on themorning after I had met the woman in white in Limmeridge churchyard),and then informing Mrs. Todd of Anne's disappearance, and entreatingthat she would cause inquiries to be made in the neighbourhood, on thechance that the lost woman might have strayed back to Limmeridge. Inmaking this request, Mrs. Clements had been careful to add to it theaddress at which she might always be heard of, and that address Mrs.Todd now transmitted to Marian. It was in London, and within half anhour's walk of our own lodging.

  In the words of the proverb, I was resolved not to let the grass growunder my feet. The next morning I set forth to seek an interview withMrs. Clements. This was my first step forward in the investigation.The story of the desperate attempt to which I now stood committedbegins here.