Saturday, November 10, 2007


The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins -I

The Woman in White
Wilkie Collins
(of Clement's Inn, Teacher of Drawing)
This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what
a Man's resolution can achieve.
If the machinery of the Law could be depended on to fathom every
case of suspicion, and to conduct every process of inquiry, with
moderate assistance only from the lubricating influences of oil of
gold, the events which fill these pages might have claimed their
share of the public attention in a Court of Justice.
But the Law is still, in certain inevitable cases, the pre-engaged
servant of the long purse; and the story is left to be told, for
the first time, in this place. As the Judge might once have heard
it, so the Reader shall hear it now. No circumstance of
importance, from the beginning to the end of the disclosure, shall
be related on hearsay evidence. When the writer of these
introductory lines (Walter Hartright by name) happens to be more
closely connected than others with the incidents to be recorded,
he will describe them in his own person. When his experience
fails, he will retire from the position of narrator; and his task
will be continued, from the point at which he has left it off, by
other persons who can speak to the circumstances under notice from
their own knowledge, just as clearly and positively as he has
spoken before them.
Thus, the story here presented will be told by more than one pen,
as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by
more than one witness--with the same object, in both cases, to
present the truth always in its most direct and most intelligible
aspect; and to trace the course of one complete series of events,
by making the persons who have been most closely connected with
them, at each successive stage, relate their own experience, word
for word.
Let Walter Hartright, teacher of drawing, aged twenty-eight years,
be heard first.
It was the last day of July. The long hot summer was drawing to a
close; and we, the weary pilgrims of the London pavement, were
beginning to think of the cloud-shadows on the corn-fields, and
the autumn breezes on the sea-shore.
For my own poor part, the fading summer left me out of health, out
of spirits, and, if the truth must be told, out of money as well.
During the past year I had not managed my professional resources
as carefully as usual; and my extravagance now limited me to the
prospect of spending the autumn economically between my mother's
cottage at Hampstead and my own chambers in town.
The evening, I remember, was still and cloudy; the London air was
at its heaviest; the distant hum of the street-traffic was at its
faintest; the small pulse of the life within me, and the great
heart of the city around me, seemed to be sinking in unison,
languidly and more languidly, with the sinking sun. I roused
myself from the book which I was dreaming over rather than
reading, and left my chambers to meet the cool night air in the
suburbs. It was one of the two evenings in every week which I was
accustomed to spend with my mother and my sister. So I turned my
steps northward in the direction of Hampstead.
Events which I have yet to relate make it necessary to mention in
this place that my father had been dead some years at the period
of which I am now writing; and that my sister Sarah and I were the
sole survivors of a family of five children. My father was a
drawing-master before me. His exertions had made him highly
successful in his profession; and his affectionate anxiety to
provide for the future of those who were dependent on his labours
had impelled him, from the time of his marriage, to devote to the
insuring of his life a much larger portion of his income than most
men consider it necessary to set aside for that purpose. Thanks
to his admirable prudence and self-denial my mother and sister
were left, after his death, as independent of the world as they
had been during his lifetime. I succeeded to his connection, and
had every reason to feel grateful for the prospect that awaited me
at my starting in life.
The quiet twilight was still trembling on the topmost ridges of
the heath; and the view of London below me had sunk into a black
gulf in the shadow of the cloudy night, when I stood before the
gate of my mother's cottage. I had hardly rung the bell before
the house door was opened violently; my worthy Italian friend,
Professor Pesca, appeared in the servant's place; and darted out
joyously to receive me, with a shrill foreign parody on an English
On his own account, and, I must be allowed to add, on mine also,
the Professor merits the honour of a formal introduction.
Accident has made him the starting-point of the strange family
story which it is the purpose of these pages to unfold.
I had first become acquainted with my Italian friend by meeting
him at certain great houses where he taught his own language and I
taught drawing. All I then knew of the history of his life was,
that he had once held a situation in the University of Padua; that
he had left Italy for political reasons (the nature of which he
uniformly declined to mention to any one); and that he had been
for many years respectably established in London as a teacher of
Without being actually a dwarf--for he was perfectly well
proportioned from head to foot--Pesca was, I think, the smallest
human being I ever saw out of a show-room. Remarkable anywhere,
by his personal appearance, he was still further distinguished
among the rank and file of mankind by the harmless eccentricity of
his character. The ruling idea of his life appeared to be, that
he was bound to show his gratitude to the country which had
afforded him an asylum and a means of subsistence by doing his
utmost to turn himself into an Englishman. Not content with
paying the nation in general the compliment of invariably carrying
an umbrella, and invariably wearing gaiters and a white hat, the
Professor further aspired to become an Englishman in his habits
and amusements, as well as in his personal appearance. Finding us
distinguished, as a nation, by our love of athletic exercises, the
little man, in the innocence of his heart, devoted himself
impromptu to all our English sports and pastimes whenever he had
the opportunity of joining them; firmly persuaded that he could
adopt our national amusements of the field by an effort of will
precisely as he had adopted our national gaiters and our national
white hat.
I had seen him risk his limbs blindly at a fox-hunt and in a
cricket-field; and soon afterwards I saw him risk his life, just
as blindly, in the sea at Brighton.
We had met there accidentally, and were bathing together. If we
had been engaged in any exercise peculiar to my own nation I
should, of course, have looked after Pesca carefully; but as
foreigners are generally quite as well able to take care of
themselves in the water as Englishmen, it never occurred to me
that the art of swimming might merely add one more to the list of
manly exercises which the Professor believed that he could learn
impromptu. Soon after we had both struck out from shore, I
stopped, finding my friend did not gain on me, and turned round to
look for him. To my horror and amazement, I saw nothing between
me and the beach but two little white arms which struggled for an
instant above the surface of the water, and then disappeared from
view. When I dived for him, the poor little man was lying quietly
coiled up at the bottom, in a hollow of shingle, looking by many
degrees smaller than I had ever seen him look before. During the
few minutes that elapsed while I was taking him in, the air
revived him, and he ascended the steps of the machine with my
assistance. With the partial recovery of his animation came the
return of his wonderful delusion on the subject of swimming. As
soon as his chattering teeth would let him speak, he smiled
vacantly, and said he thought it must have been the Cramp.
When he had thoroughly recovered himself, and had joined me on the
beach, his warm Southern nature broke through all artificial
English restraints in a moment. He overwhelmed me with the
wildest expressions of affection--exclaimed passionately, in his
exaggerated Italian way, that he would hold his life henceforth at
my disposal--and declared that he should never be happy again
until he had found an opportunity of proving his gratitude by
rendering me some service which I might remember, on my side, to
the end of my days.
I did my best to stop the torrent of his tears and protestations
by persisting in treating the whole adventure as a good subject
for a joke; and succeeded at last, as I imagined, in lessening
Pesca's overwhelming sense of obligation to me. Little did I
think then--little did I think afterwards when our pleasant
holiday had drawn to an end--that the opportunity of serving me
for which my grateful companion so ardently longed was soon to
come; that he was eagerly to seize it on the instant; and that by
so doing he was to turn the whole current of my existence into a
new channel, and to alter me to myself almost past recognition.
Yet so it was. If I had not dived for Professor Pesca when he lay
under water on his shingle bed, I should in all human probability
never have been connected with the story which these pages will
relate--I should never, perhaps, have heard even the name of the
woman who has lived in all my thoughts, who has possessed herself
of all my energies, who has become the one guiding influence that
now directs the purpose of my life.
Pesca's face and manner, on the evening when we confronted each
other at my mother's gate, were more than sufficient to inform me
that something extraordinary had happened. It was quite useless,
however, to ask him for an immediate explanation. I could only
conjecture, while he was dragging me in by both hands, that
(knowing my habits) he had come to the cottage to make sure of
meeting me that night, and that he had some news to tell of an
unusually agreeable kind.
We both bounced into the parlour in a highly abrupt and
undignified manner. My mother sat by the open window laughing and
fanning herself. Pesca was one of her especial favourites and his
wildest eccentricities were always pardonable in her eyes. Poor
dear soul! from the first moment when she found out that the
little Professor was deeply and gratefully attached to her son,
she opened her heart to him unreservedly, and took all his
puzzling foreign peculiarities for granted, without so much as
attempting to understand any one of them.
My sister Sarah, with all the advantages of youth, was, strangely
enough, less pliable. She did full justice to Pesca's excellent
qualities of heart; but she could not accept him implicitly, as my
mother accepted him, for my sake. Her insular notions of
propriety rose in perpetual revolt against Pesca's constitutional
contempt for appearances; and she was always more or less
undisguisedly astonished at her mother's familiarity with the
eccentric little foreigner. I have observed, not only in my
sister's case, but in the instances of others, that we of the
young generation are nothing like so hearty and so impulsive as
some of our elders. I constantly see old people flushed and
excited by the prospect of some anticipated pleasure which
altogether fails to ruffle the tranquillity of their serene
grandchildren. Are we, I wonder, quite such genuine boys and
girls now as our seniors were in their time? Has the great advance
in education taken rather too long a stride; and are we in these
modern days, just the least trifle in the world too well brought
Without attempting to answer those questions decisively, I may at
least record that I never saw my mother and my sister together in
Pesca's society, without finding my mother much the younger woman
of the two. On this occasion, for example, while the old lady was
laughing heartily over the boyish manner in which we tumbled into
the parlour, Sarah was perturbedly picking up the broken pieces of
a teacup, which the Professor had knocked off the table in his
precipitate advance to meet me at the door.
"I don't know what would have happened, Walter," said my mother,
"if you had delayed much longer. Pesca has been half mad with
impatience, and I have been half mad with curiosity. The
Professor has brought some wonderful news with him, in which he
says you are concerned; and he has cruelly refused to give us the
smallest hint of it till his friend Walter appeared."
"Very provoking: it spoils the Set," murmured Sarah to herself,
mournfully absorbed over the ruins of the broken cup.
While these words were being spoken, Pesca, happily and fussily
unconscious of the irreparable wrong which the crockery had
suffered at his hands, was dragging a large arm-chair to the
opposite end of the room, so as to command us all three, in the
character of a public speaker addressing an audience. Having
turned the chair with its back towards us, he jumped into it on
his knees, and excitedly addressed his small congregation of three
from an impromptu pulpit.
"Now, my good dears," began Pesca (who always said "good dears"
when he meant "worthy friends"), "listen to me. The time has
come--I recite my good news--I speak at last."
"Hear, hear!" said my mother, humouring the joke.
"The next thing he will break, mamma," whispered Sarah, "will be
the back of the best arm-chair."
"I go back into my life, and I address myself to the noblest of
created beings," continued Pesca, vehemently apostrophising my
unworthy self over the top rail of the chair. "Who found me dead
at the bottom of the sea (through Cramp); and who pulled me up to
the top; and what did I say when I got into my own life and my own
clothes again?"
"Much more than was at all necessary," I answered as doggedly as
possible; for the least encouragement in connection with this
subject invariably let loose the Professor's emotions in a flood
of tears.
"I said," persisted Pesca, "that my life belonged to my dear
friend, Walter, for the rest of my days--and so it does. I said
that I should never be happy again till I had found the
opportunity of doing a good Something for Walter--and I have never
been contented with myself till this most blessed day. Now,"
cried the enthusiastic little man at the top of his voice, "the
overflowing happiness bursts out of me at every pore of my skin,
like a perspiration; for on my faith, and soul, and honour, the
something is done at last, and the only word to say now is--Rightall-
It may be necessary to explain here that Pesca prided himself on
being a perfect Englishman in his language, as well as in his
dress, manners, and amusements. Having picked up a few of our
most familiar colloquial expressions, he scattered them about over
his conversation whenever they happened to occur to him, turning
them, in his high relish for their sound and his general ignorance
of their sense, into compound words and repetitions of his own,
and always running them into each other, as if they consisted of
one long syllable.
"Among the fine London Houses where I teach the language of my
native country," said the Professor, rushing into his longdeferred
explanation without another word of preface, "there is
one, mighty fine, in the big place called Portland. You all know
where that is? Yes, yes--course-of-course. The fine house, my
good dears, has got inside it a fine family. A Mamma, fair and
fat; three young Misses, fair and fat; two young Misters, fair and
fat; and a Papa, the fairest and the fattest of all, who is a
mighty merchant, up to his eyes in gold--a fine man once, but
seeing that he has got a naked head and two chins, fine no longer
at the present time. Now mind! I teach the sublime Dante to the
young Misses, and ah!--my-soul-bless-my-soul!--it is not in human
language to say how the sublime Dante puzzles the pretty heads of
all three! No matter--all in good time--and the more lessons the
better for me. Now mind! Imagine to yourselves that I am teaching
the young Misses to-day, as usual. We are all four of us down
together in the Hell of Dante. At the Seventh Circle--but no
matter for that: all the Circles are alike to the three young
Misses, fair and fat,--at the Seventh Circle, nevertheless, my
pupils are sticking fast; and I, to set them going again, recite,
explain, and blow myself up red-hot with useless enthusiasm, when--
a creak of boots in the passage outside, and in comes the golden
Papa, the mighty merchant with the naked head and the two chins.--
Ha! my good dears, I am closer than you think for to the business,
now. Have you been patient so far? or have you said to yourselves,
'Deuce-what-the-deuce! Pesca is long-winded to-night?'"
We declared that we were deeply interested. The Professor went
"In his hand, the golden Papa has a letter; and after he has made
his excuse for disturbing us in our Infernal Region with the
common mortal Business of the house, he addresses himself to the
three young Misses, and begins, as you English begin everything in
this blessed world that you have to say, with a great O. 'O, my
dears,' says the mighty merchant, 'I have got here a letter from
my friend, Mr.----'(the name has slipped out of my mind; but no
matter; we shall come back to that; yes, yes--right-all-right).
So the Papa says, 'I have got a letter from my friend, the Mister;
and he wants a recommend from me, of a drawing-master, to go down
to his house in the country.' My-soul-bless-my-soul! when I heard
the golden Papa say those words, if I had been big enough to reach
up to him, I should have put my arms round his neck, and pressed
him to my bosom in a long and grateful hug! As it was, I only
bounced upon my chair. My seat was on thorns, and my soul was on
fire to speak but I held my tongue, and let Papa go on. 'Perhaps
you know,' says this good man of money, twiddling his friend's
letter this way and that, in his golden fingers and thumbs,
'perhaps you know, my dears, of a drawing-master that I can
recommend?' The three young Misses all look at each other, and
then say (with the indispensable great O to begin) "O, dear no,
Papa! But here is Mr. Pesca' At the mention of myself I can hold
no longer--the thought of you, my good dears, mounts like blood to
my head--I start from my seat, as if a spike had grown up from the
ground through the bottom of my chair--I address myself to the
mighty merchant, and I say (English phrase) 'Dear sir, I have the
man! The first and foremost drawing-master of the world! Recommend
him by the post to-night, and send him off, bag and baggage
(English phrase again--ha!), send him off, bag and baggage, by the
train to-morrow!' 'Stop, stop,' says Papa; 'is he a foreigner, or
an Englishman?' 'English to the bone of his back,' I answer.
'Respectable?' says Papa. 'Sir,' I say (for this last question of
his outrages me, and I have done being familiar with him--'Sir!
the immortal fire of genius burns in this Englishman's bosom, and,
what is more, his father had it before him!' 'Never mind,' says
the golden barbarian of a Papa, 'never mind about his genius, Mr.
Pesca. We don't want genius in this country, unless it is
accompanied by respectability--and then we are very glad to have
it, very glad indeed. Can your friend produce testimonials--
letters that speak to his character?' I wave my hand negligently.
'Letters?' I say. 'Ha! my-soul-bless-my-soul! I should think so,
indeed! Volumes of letters and portfolios of testimonials, if you
like!' 'One or two will do,' says this man of phlegm and money.
'Let him send them to me, with his name and address. And--stop,
stop, Mr. Pesca--before you go to your friend, you had better take
a note.' 'Bank-note!' I say, indignantly. 'No bank-note, if you
please, till my brave Englishman has earned it first.' 'Banknote!'
says Papa, in a great surprise, 'who talked of bank-note? I
mean a note of the terms--a memorandum of what he is expected to
do. Go on with your lesson, Mr. Pesca, and I will give you the
necessary extract from my friend's letter.' Down sits the man of
merchandise and money to his pen, ink, and paper; and down I go
once again into the Hell of Dante, with my three young Misses
after me. In ten minutes' time the note is written, and the boots
of Papa are creaking themselves away in the passage outside. From
that moment, on my faith, and soul, and honour, I know nothing
more! The glorious thought that I have caught my opportunity at
last, and that my grateful service for my dearest friend in the
world is as good as done already, flies up into my head and makes
me drunk. How I pull my young Misses and myself out of our
Infernal Region again, how my other business is done afterwards,
how my little bit of dinner slides itself down my throat, I know
no more than a man in the moon. Enough for me, that here I am,
with the mighty merchant's note in my hand, as large as life, as
hot as fire, and as happy as a king! Ha! ha! ha! right-rightright-
all-right!" Here the Professor waved the memorandum of terms
over his head, and ended his long and voluble narrative with his
shrill Italian parody on an English cheer.
My mother rose the moment he had done, with flushed cheeks and
brightened eyes. She caught the little man warmly by both hands.
"My dear, good Pesca," she said, "I never doubted your true
affection for Walter--but I am more than ever persuaded of it
"I am sure we are very much obliged to Professor Pesca, for
Walter's sake," added Sarah. She half rose, while she spoke, as
if to approach the armchair, in her turn; but, observing that
Pesca was rapturously kissing my, mother's hands, looked serious,
and resumed her seat. "If the familiar little man treats my
mother in that way, how will he treat ME?" Faces sometimes tell
truth; and that was unquestionably the thought in Sarah's mind, as
she sat down again.
Although I myself was gratefully sensible of the kindness of
Pesca's motives, my spirits were hardly so much elevated as they
ought to have been by the prospect of future employment now placed
before me. When the Professor had quite done with my mother's
hand, and when I had warmly thanked him for his interference on my
behalf, I asked to be allowed to look at the note of terms which
his respectable patron had drawn up for my inspection.
Pesca handed me the paper, with a triumphant flourish of the hand.
"Read!" said the little man majestically. "I promise you my
friend, the writing of the golden Papa speaks with a tongue of
trumpets for itself."
The note of terms was plain, straightforward, and comprehensive,
at any rate. It informed me,
First, That Frederick Fairlie, Esquire, of Limmeridge House.
Cumberland, wanted to engage the services of a thoroughly
competent drawing-master, for a period of four months certain.
Secondly, That the duties which the master was expected to perform
would be of a twofold kind. He was to superintend the instruction
of two young ladies in the art of painting in water-colours; and
he was to devote his leisure time, afterwards, to the business of
repairing and mounting a valuable collection of drawings, which
had been suffered to fall into a condition of total neglect.
Thirdly, That the terms offered to the person who should undertake
and properly perform these duties were four guineas a week; that
he was to reside at Limmeridge House; and that he was to be
treated there on the footing of a gentleman.
Fourthly, and lastly, That no person need think of applying for
this situation unless he could furnish the most unexceptionable
references to character and abilities. The references were to be
sent to Mr. Fairlie's friend in London, who was empowered to
conclude all necessary arrangements. These instructions were
followed by the name and address of Pesca's employer in Portland
Place--and there the note, or memorandum, ended.
The prospect which this offer of an engagement held out was
certainly an attractive one. The employment was likely to be both
easy and agreeable; it was proposed to me at the autumn time of
the year when I was least occupied; and the terms, judging by my
personal experience in my profession, were surprisingly liberal.
I knew this; I knew that I ought to consider myself very fortunate
if I succeeded in securing the offered employment--and yet, no
sooner had I read the memorandum than I felt an inexplicable
unwillingness within me to stir in the matter. I had never in the
whole of my previous experience found my duty and my inclination
so painfully and so unaccountably at variance as I found them now.
"Oh, Walter, your father never had such a chance as this!" said my
mother, when she had read the note of terms and had handed it back
to me.
"Such distinguished people to know," remarked Sarah, straightening
herself in the chair; "and on such gratifying terms of equality
"Yes, yes; the terms, in every sense, are tempting enough," I
replied impatiently. "But before I send in my testimonials, I
should like a little time to consider----"
"Consider!" exclaimed my mother. "Why, Walter, what is the matter
with you?"
"Consider!" echoed my sister. "What a very extraordinary thing to
say, under the circumstances!"
"Consider!" chimed in the Professor. "What is there to consider
about? Answer me this! Have you not been complaining of your
health, and have you not been longing for what you call a smack of
the country breeze? Well! there in your hand is the paper that
offers you perpetual choking mouthfuls of country breeze for four
months' time. Is it not so? Ha! Again--you want money. Well! Is
four golden guineas a week nothing? My-soul-bless-my-soul! only
give it to me--and my boots shall creak like the golden Papa's,
with a sense of the overpowering richness of the man who walks in
them! Four guineas a week, and, more than that, the charming
society of two young misses! and, more than that, your bed, your
breakfast, your dinner, your gorging English teas and lunches and
drinks of foaming beer, all for nothing--why, Walter, my dear good
friend--deuce-what-the-deuce!--for the first time in my life I
have not eyes enough in my head to look, and wonder at you!"
Neither my mother's evident astonishment at my behaviour, nor
Pesca's fervid enumeration of the advantages offered to me by the
new employment, had any effect in shaking my unreasonable
disinclination to go to Limmeridge House. After starting all the
petty objections that I could think of to going to Cumberland, and
after hearing them answered, one after another, to my own complete
discomfiture, I tried to set up a last obstacle by asking what was
to become of my pupils in London while I was teaching Mr.
Fairlie's young ladies to sketch from nature. The obvious answer
to this was, that the greater part of them would be away on their
autumn travels, and that the few who remained at home might be
confided to the care of one of my brother drawing-masters, whose
pupils I had once taken off his hands under similar circumstances.
My sister reminded me that this gentleman had expressly placed his
services at my disposal, during the present season, in case I
wished to leave town; my mother seriously appealed to me not to
let an idle caprice stand in the way of my own interests and my
own health; and Pesca piteously entreated that I would not wound
him to the heart by rejecting the first grateful offer of service
that he had been able to make to the friend who had saved his
The evident sincerity and affection which inspired these
remonstrances would have influenced any man with an atom of good
feeling in his composition. Though I could not conquer my own
unaccountable perversity, I had at least virtue enough to be
heartily ashamed of it, and to end the discussion pleasantly by
giving way, and promising to do all that was wanted of me.
The rest of the evening passed merrily enough in humorous
anticipations of my coming life with the two young ladies in
Cumberland. Pesca, inspired by our national grog, which appeared
to get into his head, in the most marvellous manner, five minutes
after it had gone down his throat, asserted his claims to be
considered a complete Englishman by making a series of speeches in
rapid succession, proposing my mother's health, my sister's
health, my health, and the healths, in mass, of Mr. Fairlie and
the two young Misses, pathetically returning thanks himself,
immediately afterwards, for the whole party. "A secret, Walter,"
said my little friend confidentially, as we walked home together.
"I am flushed by the recollection of my own eloquence. My soul
bursts itself with ambition. One of these days I go into your
noble Parliament. It is the dream of my whole life to be
Honourable Pesca, M.P.!"
The next morning I sent my testimonials to the Professor's
employer in Portland Place. Three days passed, and I concluded,
with secret satisfaction, that my papers had not been found
sufficiently explicit. On the fourth day, however, an answer
came. It announced that Mr. Fairlie accepted my services, and
requested me to start for Cumberland immediately. All the
necessary instructions for my journey were carefully and clearly
added in a postscript.
I made my arrangements, unwillingly enough, for leaving London
early the next day. Towards evening Pesca looked in, on his way
to a dinner-party, to bid me good-bye.
"I shall dry my tears in your absence," said the Professor gaily,
"with this glorious thought. It is my auspicious hand that has
given the first push to your fortune in the world. Go, my friend!
When your sun shines in Cumberland (English proverb), in the name
of heaven make your hay. Marry one of the two young Misses;
become Honourable Hartright, M.P.; and when you are on the top of
the ladder remember that Pesca, at the bottom, has done it all!"
I tried to laugh with my little friend over his parting jest, but
my spirits were not to be commanded. Something jarred in me
almost painfully while he was speaking his light farewell words.
When I was left alone again nothing remained to be done but to
walk to the Hampstead cottage and bid my mother and Sarah goodbye.
The heat had been painfully oppressive all day, and it was now a
close and sultry night.
My mother and sister had spoken so many last words, and had begged
me to wait another five minutes so many times, that it was nearly
midnight when the servant locked the garden-gate behind me. I
walked forward a few paces on the shortest way back to London,
then stopped and hesitated.
The moon was full and broad in the dark blue starless sky, and the
broken ground of the heath looked wild enough in the mysterious
light to be hundreds of miles away from the great city that lay
beneath it. The idea of descending any sooner than I could help
into the heat and gloom of London repelled me. The prospect of
going to bed in my airless chambers, and the prospect of gradual
suffocation, seemed, in my present restless frame of mind and
body, to be one and the same thing. I determined to stroll home
in the purer air by the most roundabout way I could take; to
follow the white winding paths across the lonely heath; and to
approach London through its most open suburb by striking into the
Finchley Road, and so getting back, in the cool of the new
morning, by the western side of the Regent's Park.
I wound my way down slowly over the heath, enjoying the divine
stillness of the scene, and admiring the soft alternations of
light and shade as they followed each other over the broken ground
on every side of me. So long as I was proceeding through this
first and prettiest part of my night walk my mind remained
passively open to the impressions produced by the view; and I
thought but little on any subject--indeed, so far as my own
sensations were concerned, I can hardly say that I thought at all.
But when I had left the heath and had turned into the by-road,
where there was less to see, the ideas naturally engendered by the
approaching change in my habits and occupations gradually drew
more and more of my attention exclusively to themselves. By the
time I had arrived at the end of the road I had become completely
absorbed in my own fanciful visions of Limmeridge House, of Mr.
Fairlie, and of the two ladies whose practice in the art of watercolour
painting I was so soon to superintend.
I had now arrived at that particular point of my walk where four
roads met--the road to Hampstead, along which I had returned, the
road to Finchley, the road to West End, and the road back to
London. I had mechanically turned in this latter direction, and
was strolling along the lonely high-road--idly wondering, I
remember, what the Cumberland young ladies would look like--when,
in one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a
stop by the touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly on my
shoulder from behind me.
I turned on the instant, with my fingers tightening round the
handle of my stick.
There, in the middle of the broad bright high-road--there, as if
it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the
heaven--stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to
foot in white garments, her face bent in grave inquiry on mine,
her hand pointing to the dark cloud over London, as I faced her.
I was far too seriously startled by the suddenness with which this
extraordinary apparition stood before me, in the dead of night and
in that lonely place, to ask what she wanted. The strange woman
spoke first.
"Is that the road to London?" she said.
I looked attentively at her, as she put that singular question to
me. It was then nearly one o'clock. All I could discern
distinctly by the moonlight was a colourless, youthful face,
meagre and sharp to look at about the cheeks and chin; large,
grave, wistfully attentive eyes; nervous, uncertain lips; and
light hair of a pale, brownish-yellow hue. There was nothing
wild, nothing immodest in her manner: it was quiet and selfcontrolled,
a little melancholy and a little touched by suspicion;
not exactly the manner of a lady, and, at the same time, not the
manner of a woman in the humblest rank of life. The voice, little
as I had yet heard of it, had something curiously still and
mechanical in its tones, and the utterance was remarkably rapid.
She held a small bag in her hand: and her dress--bonnet, shawl,
and gown all of white--was, so far as I could guess, certainly not
composed of very delicate or very expensive materials. Her figure
was slight, and rather above the average height--her gait and
actions free from the slightest approach to extravagance. This
was all that I could observe of her in the dim light and under the
perplexingly strange circumstances of our meeting. What sort of a
woman she was, and how she came to be out alone in the high-road,
an hour after midnight, I altogether failed to guess. The one
thing of which I felt certain was, that the grossest of mankind
could not have misconstrued her motive in speaking, even at that
suspiciously late hour and in that suspiciously lonely place.
"Did you hear me?" she said, still quietly and rapidly, and
without the least fretfulness or impatience. "I asked if that was
the way to London."
"Yes," I replied, "that is the way: it leads to St. John's Wood
and the Regent's Park. You must excuse my not answering you
before. I was rather startled by your sudden appearance in the
road; and I am, even now, quite unable to account for it."
"You don't suspect me of doing anything wrong, do you? have done
nothing wrong. I have met with an accident--I am very unfortunate
in being here alone so late. Why do you suspect me of doing
She spoke with unnecessary earnestness and agitation, and shrank
back from me several paces. I did my best to reassure her.
"Pray don't suppose that I have any idea of suspecting you," I
said, "or any other wish than to be of assistance to you, if I
can. I only wondered at your appearance in the road, because it
seemed to me to be empty the instant before I saw you."
She turned, and pointed back to a place at the junction of the
road to London and the road to Hampstead, where there was a gap in
the hedge.
"I heard you coming," she said, "and hid there to see what sort of
man you were, before I risked speaking. I doubted and feared
about it till you passed; and then I was obliged to steal after
you, and touch you."
Steal after me and touch me? Why not call to me? Strange, to say
the least of it.
"May I trust you?" she asked. "You don't think the worse of me
because I have met with an accident?" She stopped in confusion;
shifted her bag from one hand to the other; and sighed bitterly.
The loneliness and helplessness of the woman touched me. The
natural impulse to assist her and to spare her got the better of
the judgment, the caution, the worldly tact, which an older,
wiser, and colder man might have summoned to help him in this
strange emergency.
"You may trust me for any harmless purpose," I said. "If it
troubles you to explain your strange situation to me, don't think
of returning to the subject again. I have no right to ask you for
any explanations. Tell me how I can help you; and if I can, I
"You are very kind, and I am very, very thankful to have met you."
The first touch of womanly tenderness that I had heard from her
trembled in her voice as she said the words; but no tears
glistened in those large, wistfully attentive eyes of hers, which
were still fixed on me. "I have only been in London once before,"
she went on, more and more rapidly, "and I know nothing about that
side of it, yonder. Can I get a fly, or a carriage of any kind?
Is it too late? I don't know. If you could show me where to get a
fly--and if you will only promise not to interfere with me, and to
let me leave you, when and how I please--I have a friend in London
who will be glad to receive me--I want nothing else--will you
She looked anxiously up and down the road; shifted her bag again
from one hand to the other; repeated the words, "Will you
promise?" and looked hard in my face, with a pleading fear and
confusion that it troubled me to see.
What could I do? Here was a stranger utterly and helplessly at my
mercy--and that stranger a forlorn woman. No house was near; no
one was passing whom I could consult; and no earthly right existed
on my part to give me a power of control over her, even if I had
known how to exercise it. I trace these lines, selfdistrustfully,
with the shadows of after-events darkening the very
paper I write on; and still I say, what could I do?
What I did do, was to try and gain time by questioning her. "Are
you sure that your friend in London will receive you at such a
late hour as this?" I said.
"Quite sure. Only say you will let me leave you when and how I
please--only say you won't interfere with me. Will you promise?"
As she repeated the words for the third time, she came close to me
and laid her hand, with a sudden gentle stealthiness, on my bosom--
a thin hand; a cold hand (when I removed it with mine) even on
that sultry night. Remember that I was young; remember that the
hand which touched me was a woman's.
"Will you promise?"
One word! The little familiar word that is on everybody's lips,
every hour in the day. Oh me! and I tremble, now, when I write
We set our faces towards London, and walked on together in the
first still hour of the new day--I, and this woman, whose name,
whose character, whose story, whose objects in life, whose very
presence by my side, at that moment, were fathomless mysteries to
me. It was like a dream. Was I Walter Hartright? Was this the
well-known, uneventful road, where holiday people strolled on
Sundays? Had I really left, little more than an hour since, the
quiet, decent, conventionally domestic atmosphere of my mother's
cottage? I was too bewildered--too conscious also of a vague sense
of something like self-reproach--to speak to my strange companion
for some minutes. It was her voice again that first broke the
silence between us.
"I want to ask you something," she said suddenly. "Do you know
many people in London?"
"Yes, a great many."
"Many men of rank and title?" There was an unmistakable tone of
suspicion in the strange question. I hesitated about answering
"Some," I said, after a moment's silence.
"Many"--she came to a full stop, and looked me searchingly in the
face--"many men of the rank of Baronet?"
Too much astonished to reply, I questioned her in my turn.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I hope, for my own sake, there is one Baronet that you
don't know."
"Will you tell me his name?"
"I can't--I daren't--I forget myself when I mention it." She spoke
loudly and almost fiercely, raised her clenched hand in the air,
and shook it passionately; then, on a sudden, controlled herself
again, and added, in tones lowered to a whisper "Tell me which of
them YOU know."
I could hardly refuse to humour her in such a trifle, and I
mentioned three names. Two, the names of fathers of families
whose daughters I taught; one, the name of a bachelor who had once
taken me a cruise in his yacht, to make sketches for him.
"Ah! you DON'T know him," she said, with a sigh of relief. "Are
you a man of rank and title yourself?"
"Far from it. I am only a drawing-master."
As the reply passed my lips--a little bitterly, perhaps--she took
my arm with the abruptness which characterised all her actions.
"Not a man of rank and title," she repeated to herself. "Thank
God! I may trust HIM."
I had hitherto contrived to master my curiosity out of
consideration for my companion; but it got the better of me now.
"I am afraid you have serious reason to complain of some man of
rank and title?" I said. "I am afraid the baronet, whose name you
are unwilling to mention to me, has done you some grievous wrong?
Is he the cause of your being out here at this strange time of
"Don't ask me: don't make me talk of it," she answered. "I'm not
fit now. I have been cruelly used and cruelly wronged. You will
be kinder than ever, if you will walk on fast, and not speak to
me. I sadly want to quiet myself, if I can."
We moved forward again at a quick pace; and for half an hour, at
least, not a word passed on either side. From time to time, being
forbidden to make any more inquiries, I stole a look at her face.
It was always the same; the lips close shut, the brow frowning,
the eyes looking straight forward, eagerly and yet absently. We
had reached the first houses, and were close on the new Wesleyan
college, before her set features relaxed and she spoke once more.
"Do you live in London?" she said.
"Yes." As I answered, it struck me that she might have formed some
intention of appealing to me for assistance or advice, and that I
ought to spare her a possible disappointment by warning her of my
approaching absence from home. So I added, "But to-morrow I shall
be away from London for some time. I am going into the country."
"Where?" she asked. "North or south?"
"North--to Cumberland."
"Cumberland!" she repeated the word tenderly. "Ah! wish I was
going there too. I was once happy in Cumberland."
I tried again to lift the veil that hung between this woman and
"Perhaps you were born," I said, "in the beautiful Lake country."
"No," she answered. "I was born in Hampshire; but I once went to
school for a little while in Cumberland. Lakes? I don't remember
any lakes. It's Limmeridge village, and Limmeridge House, I
should like to see again."
It was my turn now to stop suddenly. In the excited state of my
curiosity, at that moment, the chance reference to Mr. Fairlie's
place of residence, on the lips of my strange companion, staggered
me with astonishment.
"Did you hear anybody calling after us?" she asked, looking up and
down the road affrightedly, the instant I stopped.
"No, no. I was only struck by the name of Limmeridge House. I
heard it mentioned by some Cumberland people a few days since."
"Ah! not my people. Mrs. Fairlie is dead; and her husband is
dead; and their little girl may be married and gone away by this
time. I can't say who lives at Limmeridge now. If any more are
left there of that name, I only know I love them for Mrs.
Fairlie's sake."
She seemed about to say more; but while she was speaking, we came
within view of the turnpike, at the top of the Avenue Road. Her
hand tightened round my arm, and she looked anxiously at the gate
before us.
"Is the turnpike man looking out?" she asked.
He was not looking out; no one else was near the place when we
passed through the gate. The sight of the gas-lamps and houses
seemed to agitate her, and to make her impatient.
"This is London," she said. "Do you see any carriage I can get? I
am tired and frightened. I want to shut myself in and be driven
I explained to her that we must walk a little further to get to a
cab-stand, unless we were fortunate enough to meet with an empty
vehicle; and then tried to resume the subject of Cumberland. It
was useless. That idea of shutting herself in, and being driven
away, had now got full possession of her mind. She could think
and talk of nothing else.
We had hardly proceeded a third of the way down the Avenue Road
when I saw a cab draw up at a house a few doors below us, on the
opposite side of the way. A gentleman got out and let himself in
at the garden door. I hailed the cab, as the driver mounted the
box again. When we crossed the road, my companion's impatience
increased to such an extent that she almost forced me to run.
"It's so late," she said. "I am only in a hurry because it's so
"I can't take you, sir, if you're not going towards Tottenham
Court Road," said the driver civilly, when I opened the cab door.
"My horse is dead beat, and I can't get him no further than the
"Yes, yes. That will do for me. I'm going that way--I'm going
that way." She spoke with breathless eagerness, and pressed by me
into the cab.
I had assured myself that the man was sober as well as civil
before I let her enter the vehicle. And now, when she was seated
inside, I entreated her to let me see her set down safely at her
"No, no, no," she said vehemently. "I'm quite safe, and quite
happy now. If you are a gentleman, remember your promise. Let
him drive on till I stop him. Thank you--oh! thank you, thank
My hand was on the cab door. She caught it in hers, kissed it,
and pushed it away. The cab drove off at the same moment--I
started into the road, with some vague idea of stopping it again,
I hardly knew why--hesitated from dread of frightening and
distressing her--called, at last, but not loudly enough to attract
the driver's attention. The sound of the wheels grew fainter in
the distance--the cab melted into the black shadows on the road--
the woman in white was gone.
Ten minutes or more had passed. I was still on the same side of
the way; now mechanically walking forward a few paces; now
stopping again absently. At one moment I found myself doubting
the reality of my own adventure; at another I was perplexed and
distressed by an uneasy sense of having done wrong, which yet left
me confusedly ignorant of how I could have done right. I hardly
knew where I was going, or what I meant to do next; I was
conscious of nothing but the confusion of my own thoughts, when I
was abruptly recalled to myself--awakened, I might almost say--by
the sound of rapidly approaching wheels close behind me.
I was on the dark side of the road, in the thick shadow of some
garden trees, when I stopped to look round. On the opposite and
lighter side of the way, a short distance below me, a policeman
was strolling along in the direction of the Regent's Park.
The carriage passed me--an open chaise driven by two men.
"Stop!" cried one. "There's a policeman. Let's ask him."
The horse was instantly pulled up, a few yards beyond the dark
place where I stood.
"Policeman!" cried the first speaker. "Have you seen a woman pass
this way?"
"What sort of woman, sir?"
"A woman in a lavender-coloured gown----"
"No, no," interposed the second man. "The clothes we gave her
were found on her bed. She must have gone away in the clothes she
wore when she came to us. In white, policeman. A woman in
"I haven't seen her, sir."
"If you or any of your men meet with the woman, stop her, and send
her in careful keeping to that address. I'll pay all expenses,
and a fair reward into the bargain."
The policeman looked at the card that was handed down to him.
"Why are we to stop her, sir? What has she done?"
"Done! She has escaped from my Asylum. Don't forget; a woman in
white. Drive on."
"She has escaped from my Asylum!"
I cannot say with truth that the terrible inference which those
words suggested flashed upon me like a new revelation. Some of
the strange questions put to me by the woman in white, after my
ill-considered promise to leave her free to act as she pleased,
had suggested the conclusion either that she was naturally flighty
and unsettled, or that some recent shock of terror had disturbed
the balance of her faculties. But the idea of absolute insanity
which we all associate with the very name of an Asylum, had, I can
honestly declare, never occurred to me, in connection with her. I
had seen nothing, in her language or her actions, to justify it at
the time; and even with the new light thrown on her by the words
which the stranger had addressed to the policeman, I could see
nothing to justify it now.
What had I done? Assisted the victim of the most horrible of all
false imprisonments to escape; or cast loose on the wide world of
London an unfortunate creature, whose actions it was my duty, and
every man's duty, mercifully to control? I turned sick at heart
when the question occurred to me, and when I felt selfreproachfully
that it was asked too late.
In the disturbed state of my mind, it was useless to think of
going to bed, when I at last got back to my chambers in Clement's
Inn. Before many hours elapsed it would be necessary to start on
my journey to Cumberland. I sat down and tried, first to sketch,
then to read--but the woman in white got between me and my pencil,
between me and my book. Had the forlorn creature come to any
harm? That was my first thought, though I shrank selfishly from
confronting it. Other thoughts followed, on which it was less
harrowing to dwell. Where had she stopped the cab? What had
become of her now? Had she been traced and captured by the men in
the chaise? Or was she still capable of controlling her own
actions; and were we two following our widely parted roads towards
one point in the mysterious future, at which we were to meet once
It was a relief when the hour came to lock my door, to bid
farewell to London pursuits, London pupils, and London friends,
and to be in movement again towards new interests and a new life.
Even the bustle and confusion at the railway terminus, so
wearisome and bewildering at other times, roused me and did me
My travelling instructions directed me to go to Carlisle, and then
to diverge by a branch railway which ran in the direction of the
coast. As a misfortune to begin with, our engine broke down
between Lancaster and Carlisle. The delay occasioned by this
accident caused me to be too late for the branch train, by which I
was to have gone on immediately. I had to wait some hours; and
when a later train finally deposited me at the nearest station to
Limmeridge House, it was past ten, and the night was so dark that
I could hardly see my way to the pony-chaise which Mr. Fairlie had
ordered to be in waiting for me.
The driver was evidently discomposed by the lateness of my
arrival. He was in that state of highly respectful sulkiness
which is peculiar to English servants. We drove away slowly
through the darkness in perfect silence. The roads were bad, and
the dense obscurity of the night increased the difficulty of
getting over the ground quickly. It was, by my watch, nearly an
hour and a half from the time of our leaving the station before I
heard the sound of the sea in the distance, and the crunch of our
wheels on a smooth gravel drive. We had passed one gate before
entering the drive, and we passed another before we drew up at the
house. I was received by a solemn man-servant out of livery, was
informed that the family had retired for the night, and was then
led into a large and lofty room where my supper was awaiting me,
in a forlorn manner, at one extremity of a lonesome mahogany
wilderness of dining-table.
I was too tired and out of spirits to eat or drink much,
especially with the solemn servant waiting on me as elaborately as
if a small dinner party had arrived at the house instead of a
solitary man. In a quarter of an hour I was ready to be taken up
to my bedchamber. The solemn servant conducted me into a prettily
furnished room--said, "Breakfast at nine o'clock, sir"--looked all
round him to see that everything was in its proper place, and
noiselessly withdrew.
"What shall I see in my dreams to-night?" I thought to myself, as
I put out the candle; "the woman in white? or the unknown
inhabitants of this Cumberland mansion?" It was a strange
sensation to be sleeping in the house, like a friend of the
family, and yet not to know one of the inmates, even by sight!
When I rose the next morning and drew up my blind, the sea opened
before me joyously under the broad August sunlight, and the
distant coast of Scotland fringed the horizon with its lines of
melting blue.
The view was such a surprise, and such a change to me, after my
weary London experience of brick and mortar landscape, that I
seemed to burst into a new life and a new set of thoughts the
moment I looked at it. A confused sensation of having suddenly
lost my familiarity with the past, without acquiring any
additional clearness of idea in reference to the present or the
future, took possession of my mind. Circumstances that were but a
few days old faded back in my memory, as if they had happened
months and months since. Pesca's quaint announcement of the means
by which he had procured me my present employment; the farewell
evening I had passed with my mother and sister; even my mysterious
adventure on the way home from Hampstead--had all become like
events which might have occurred at some former epoch of my
existence. Although the woman in white was still in my mind, the
image of her seemed to have grown dull and faint already.
A little before nine o'clock, I descended to the ground-floor of
the house. The solemn man-servant of the night before met me
wandering among the passages, and compassionately showed me the
way to the breakfast-room.
My first glance round me, as the man opened the door, disclosed a
well-furnished breakfast-table, standing in the middle of a long
room, with many windows in it. I looked from the table to the
window farthest from me, and saw a lady standing at it, with her
back turned towards me. The instant my eyes rested on her, I was
struck by the rare beauty of her form, and by the unaffected grace
of her attitude. Her figure was tall, yet not too tall; comely
and well-developed, yet not fat; her head set on her shoulders
with an easy, pliant firmness; her waist, perfection in the eyes
of a man, for it occupied its natural place, it filled out its
natural circle, it was visibly and delightfully undeformed by
stays. She had not heard my entrance into the room; and I allowed
myself the luxury of admiring her for a few moments, before I
moved one of the chairs near me, as the least embarrassing means
of attracting her attention. She turned towards me immediately.
The easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soon
as she began to advance from the far end of the room, set me in a
flutter of expectation to see her face clearly. She left the
window--and I said to myself, The lady is dark. She moved forward
a few steps--and I said to myself, The lady is young. She
approached nearer--and I said to myself (with a sense of surprise
which words fail me to express), The lady is ugly!
Never was the old conventional maxim, that Nature cannot err, more
flatly contradicted--never was the fair promise of a lovely figure
more strangely and startlingly belied by the face and head that
crowned it. The lady's complexion was almost swarthy, and the
dark down on her upper lip was almost a moustache. She had a
large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw; prominent, piercing,
resolute brown eyes; and thick, coal-black hair, growing unusually
low down on her forehead. Her expression--bright, frank, and
intelligent--appeared, while she was silent, to be altogether
wanting in those feminine attractions of gentleness and
pliability, without which the beauty of the handsomest woman alive
is beauty incomplete. To see such a face as this set on shoulders
that a sculptor would have longed to model--to be charmed by the
modest graces of action through which the symmetrical limbs
betrayed their beauty when they moved, and then to be almost
repelled by the masculine form and masculine look of the features
in which the perfectly shaped figure ended--was to feel a
sensation oddly akin to the helpless discomfort familiar to us all
in sleep, when we recognise yet cannot reconcile the anomalies and
contradictions of a dream.
"Mr. Hartright?" said the lady interrogatively, her dark face
lighting up with a smile, and softening and growing womanly the
moment she began to speak. "We resigned all hope of you last
night, and went to bed as usual. Accept my apologies for our
apparent want of attention; and allow me to introduce myself as
one of your pupils. Shall we shake hands? I suppose we must come
to it sooner or later--and why not sooner?"
These odd words of welcome were spoken in a clear, ringing,
pleasant voice. The offered hand--rather large, but beautifully
formed--was given to me with the easy, unaffected self-reliance of
a highly-bred woman. We sat down together at the breakfast-table
in as cordial and customary a manner as if we had known each other
for years, and had met at Limmeridge House to talk over old times
by previous appointment.
"I hope you come here good-humouredly determined to make the best
of your position," continued the lady. "You will have to begin
this morning by putting up with no other company at breakfast than
mine. My sister is in her own room, nursing that essentially
feminine malady, a slight headache; and her old governness, Mrs.
Vesey, is charitably attending on her with restorative tea. My
uncle, Mr. Fairlie, never joins us at any of our meals: he is an
invalid, and keeps bachelor state in his own apartments. There is
nobody else in the house but me. Two young ladies have been
staying here, but they went away yesterday, in despair; and no
wonder. All through their visit (in consequence of Mr. Fairlie's
invalid condition) we produced no such convenience in the house as
a flirtable, danceable, small-talkable creature of the male sex;
and the consequence was, we did nothing but quarrel, especially at
dinner-time. How can you expect four women to dine together alone
every day, and not quarrel? We are such fools, we can't entertain
each other at table. You see I don't think much of my own sex,
Mr. Hartright--which will you have, tea or coffee?--no woman does
think much of her own sex, although few of them confess it as
freely as I do. Dear me, you look puzzled. Why? Are you
wondering what you will have for breakfast? or are you surprised
at my careless way of talking? In the first case, I advise you, as
a friend, to have nothing to do with that cold ham at your elbow,
and to wait till the omelette comes in. In the second case, I
will give you some tea to compose your spirits, and do all a woman
can (which is very little, by-the-bye) to hold my tongue."
She handed me my cup of tea, laughing gaily. Her light flow of
talk, and her lively familiarity of manner with a total stranger,
were accompanied by an unaffected naturalness and an easy inborn
confidence in herself and her position, which would have secured
her the respect of the most audacious man breathing. While it was
impossible to be formal and reserved in her company, it was more
than impossible to take the faintest vestige of a liberty with
her, even in thought. I felt this instinctively, even while I
caught the infection of her own bright gaiety of spirits--even
while I did my best to answer her in her own frank, lively way.
"Yes, yes," she said, when I had suggested the only explanation I
could offer, to account for my perplexed looks, "I understand.
You are such a perfect stranger in the house, that you are puzzled
by my familiar references to the worthy inhabitants. Natural
enough: I ought to have thought of it before. At any rate, I can
set it right now. Suppose I begin with myself, so as to get done
with that part of the subject as soon as possible? My name is
Marian Halcombe; and I am as inaccurate as women usually are, in
calling Mr. Fairlie my uncle, and Miss Fairlie my sister. My
mother was twice married: the first time to Mr. Halcombe, my
father; the second time to Mr. Fairlie, my half-sister's father.
Except that we are both orphans, we are in every respect as unlike
each other as possible. My father was a poor man, and Miss
Fairlie's father was a rich man. I have got nothing, and she has
a fortune. I am dark and ugly, and she is fair and pretty.
Everybody thinks me crabbed and odd (with perfect justice); and
everybody thinks her sweet-tempered and charming (with more
justice still). In short, she is an angel; and I am---- Try
some of that marmalade, Mr. Hartright, and finish the sentence, in
the name of female propriety, for yourself. What am I to tell you
about Mr. Fairlie? Upon my honour, I hardly know. He is sure to
send for you after breakfast, and you can study him for yourself.
In the meantime, I may inform you, first, that he is the late Mr.
Fairlie's younger brother; secondly, that he is a single man; and
thirdly, that he is Miss Fairlie's guardian. I won't live without
her, and she can't live without me; and that is how I come to be
at Limmeridge House. My sister and I are honestly fond of each
other; which, you will say, is perfectly unaccountable, under the
circumstances, and I quite agree with you--but so it is. You must
please both of us, Mr. Hartright, or please neither of us: and,
what is still more trying, you will be thrown entirely upon our
society. Mrs. Vesey is an excellent person, who possesses all the
cardinal virtues, and counts for nothing; and Mr. Fairlie is too
great an invalid to be a companion for anybody. I don't know what
is the matter with him, and the doctors don't know what is the
matter with him, and he doesn't know himself what is the matter
with him. We all say it's on the nerves, and we none of us know
what we mean when we say it. However, I advise you to humour his
little peculiarities, when you see him to-day. Admire his
collection of coins, prints, and water-colour drawings, and you
will win his heart. Upon my word, if you can be contented with a
quiet country life, I don't see why you should not get on very
well here. From breakfast to lunch, Mr. Fairlie's drawings will
occupy you. After lunch, Miss Fairlie and I shoulder our sketchbooks,
and go out to misrepresent Nature, under your directions.
Drawing is her favourite whim, mind, not mine. Women can't draw--
their minds are too flighty, and their eyes are too inattentive.
No matter--my sister likes it; so I waste paint and spoil paper,
for her sake, as composedly as any woman in England. As for the
evenings, I think we can help you through them. Miss Fairlie
plays delightfully. For my own poor part, I don't know one note
of music from the other; but I can match you at chess, backgammon,
ecarte, and (with the inevitable female drawbacks) even at
billiards as well. What do you think of the programme? Can you
reconcile yourself to our quiet, regular life? or do you mean to
be restless, and secretly thirst for change and adventure, in the
humdrum atmosphere of Limmeridge House?"
She had run on thus far, in her gracefully bantering way, with no
other interruptions on my part than the unimportant replies which
politeness required of me. The turn of the expression, however,
in her last question, or rather the one chance word, "adventure,"
lightly as it fell from her lips, recalled my thoughts to my
meeting with the woman in white, and urged me to discover the
connection which the stranger's own reference to Mrs. Fairlie
informed me must once have existed between the nameless fugitive
from the Asylum, and the former mistress of Limmeridge House.
"Even if I were the most restless of mankind," I said, "I should
be in no danger of thirsting after adventures for some time to
come. The very night before I arrived at this house, I met with
an adventure; and the wonder and excitement of it, I can assure
you, Miss Halcombe, will last me for the whole term of my stay in
Cumberland, if not for a much longer period."
"You don't say so, Mr. Hartright! May I hear it?"
"You have a claim to hear it. The chief person in the adventure
was a total stranger to me, and may perhaps be a total stranger to
you; but she certainly mentioned the name of the late Mrs. Fairlie
in terms of the sincerest gratitude and regard."
"Mentioned my mother's name! You interest me indescribably. Pray
go on."
I at once related the circumstances under which I had met the
woman in white, exactly as they had occurred; and I repeated what
she had said to me about Mrs. Fairlie and Limmeridge House, word
for word.
Miss Halcombe's bright resolute eyes looked eagerly into mine,
from the beginning of the narrative to the end. Her face
expressed vivid interest and astonishment, but nothing more. She
was evidently as far from knowing of any clue to the mystery as I
was myself.
"Are you quite sure of those words referring to my mother?" she
"Quite sure," I replied. "Whoever she may be, the woman was once
at school in the village of Limmeridge, was treated with especial
kindness by Mrs. Fairlie, and, in grateful remembrance of that
kindness, feels an affectionate interest in all surviving members
of the family. She knew that Mrs. Fairlie and her husband were
both dead; and she spoke of Miss Fairlie as if they had known each
other when they were children."
"You said, I think, that she denied belonging to this place?"
"Yes, she told me she came from Hampshire."
"And you entirely failed to find out her name?"
"Very strange. I think you were quite justified, Mr. Hartright,
in giving the poor creature her liberty, for she seems to have
done nothing in your presence to show herself unfit to enjoy it.
But I wish you had been a little more resolute about finding out
her name. We must really clear up this mystery, in some way. You
had better not speak of it yet to Mr. Fairlie, or to my sister.
They are both of them, I am certain, quite as ignorant of who the
woman is, and of what her past history in connection with us can
be, as I am myself. But they are also, in widely different ways,
rather nervous and sensitive; and you would only fidget one and
alarm the other to no purpose. As for myself, I am all aflame
with curiosity, and I devote my whole energies to the business of
discovery from this moment. When my mother came here, after her
second marriage, she certainly established the village school just
as it exists at the present time. But the old teachers are all
dead, or gone elsewhere; and no enlightenment is to be hoped for
from that quarter. The only other alternative I can think of----"
At this point we were interrupted by the entrance of the servant,
with a message from Mr. Fairlie, intimating that he would be glad
to see me, as soon as I had done breakfast.
"Wait in the hall," said Miss Halcombe, answering the servant for
me, in her quick, ready way. "Mr. Hartright will come out
directly. I was about to say," she went on, addressing me again,
"that my sister and I have a large collection of my mother's
letters, addressed to my father and to hers. In the absence of
any other means of getting information, I will pass the morning in
looking over my mother's correspondence with Mr. Fairlie. He was
fond of London, and was constantly away from his country home; and
she was accustomed, at such times, to write and report to him how
things went on at Limmeridge. Her letters are full of references
to the school in which she took so strong an interest; and I think
it more than likely that I may have discovered something when we
meet again. The luncheon hour is two, Mr. Hartright. I shall
have the pleasure of introducing you to my sister by that time,
and we will occupy the afternoon in driving round the
neighbourhood and showing you all our pet points of view. Till
two o'clock, then, farewell."
She nodded to me with the lively grace, the delightful refinement
of familiarity, which characterised all that she did and all that
she said; and disappeared by a door at the lower end of the room.
As soon as she had left me, I turned my steps towards the hall,
and followed the servant, on my way, for the first time, to the
presence of Mr. Fairlie.
My conductor led me upstairs into a passage which took us back to
the bedchamber in which I had slept during the past night; and
opening the door next to it, begged me to look in.
"I have my master's orders to show you your own sitting-room,
sir," said the man, "and to inquire if you approve of the
situation and the light."
I must have been hard to please, indeed, if I had not approved of
the room, and of everything about it. The bow-window looked out
on the same lovely view which I had admired, in the morning, from
my bedroom. The furniture was the perfection of luxury and
beauty; the table in the centre was bright with gaily bound books,
elegant conveniences for writing, and beautiful flowers; the
second table, near the window, was covered with all the necessary
materials for mounting water-colour drawings, and had a little
easel attached to it, which I could expand or fold up at will; the
walls were hung with gaily tinted chintz; and the floor was spread
with Indian matting in maize-colour and red. It was the prettiest
and most luxurious little sitting-room I had ever seen; and I
admired it with the warmest enthusiasm.
The solemn servant was far too highly trained to betray the
slightest satisfaction. He bowed with icy deference when my terms
of eulogy were all exhausted, and silently opened the door for me
to go out into the passage again.
We turned a corner, and entered a long second passage, ascended a
short flight of stairs at the end, crossed a small circular upper
hall, and stopped in front of a door covered with dark baize. The
servant opened this door, and led me on a few yards to a second;
opened that also, and disclosed two curtains of pale sea-green
silk hanging before us; raised one of them noiselessly; softly
uttered the words, "Mr. Hartright," and left me.
I found myself in a large, lofty room, with a magnificent carved
ceiling, and with a carpet over the floor, so thick and soft that
it felt like piles of velvet under my feet. One side of the room
was occupied by a long bookcase of some rare inlaid wood that was
quite new to me. It was not more than six feet high, and the top
was adorned with statuettes in marble, ranged at regular distances
one from the other. On the opposite side stood two antique
cabinets; and between them, and above them, hung a picture of the
Virgin and Child, protected by glass, and bearing Raphael's name
on the gilt tablet at the bottom of the frame. On my right hand
and on my left, as I stood inside the door, were chiffoniers and
little stands in buhl and marquetterie, loaded with figures in
Dresden china, with rare vases, ivory ornaments, and toys and
curiosities that sparkled at all points with gold, silver, and
precious stones. At the lower end of the room, opposite to me,
the windows were concealed and the sunlight was tempered by large
blinds of the same pale sea-green colour as the curtains over the
door. The light thus produced was deliciously soft, mysterious,
and subdued; it fell equally upon all the objects in the room; it
helped to intensify the deep silence, and the air of profound
seclusion that possessed the place; and it surrounded, with an
appropriate halo of repose, the solitary figure of the master of
the house, leaning back, listlessly composed, in a large easychair,
with a reading-easel fastened on one of its arms, and a
little table on the other.
If a man's personal appearance, when he is out of his dressingroom,
and when he has passed forty, can be accepted as a safe
guide to his time of life--which is more than doubtful--Mr.
Fairlie's age, when I saw him, might have been reasonably computed
at over fifty and under sixty years. His beardless face was thin,
worn, and transparently pale, but not wrinkled; his nose was high
and hooked; his eyes were of a dim greyish blue, large, prominent,
and rather red round the rims of the eyelids; his hair was scanty,
soft to look at, and of that light sandy colour which is the last
to disclose its own changes towards grey. He was dressed in a
dark frock-coat, of some substance much thinner than cloth, and in
waistcoat and trousers of spotless white. His feet were
effeminately small, and were clad in buff-coloured silk stockings,
and little womanish bronze-leather slippers. Two rings adorned
his white delicate hands, the value of which even my inexperienced
observation detected to be all but priceless. Upon the whole, he
had a frail, languidly-fretful, over-refined look--something
singularly and unpleasantly delicate in its association with a
man, and, at the same time, something which could by no
possibility have looked natural and appropriate if it had been
transferred to the personal appearance of a woman. My morning's
experience of Miss Halcombe had predisposed me to be pleased with
everybody in the house; but my sympathies shut themselves up
resolutely at the first sight of Mr. Fairlie.
On approaching nearer to him, I discovered that he was not so
entirely without occupation as I had at first supposed. Placed
amid the other rare and beautiful objects on a large round table
near him, was a dwarf cabinet in ebony and silver, containing
coins of all shapes and sizes, set out in little drawers lined
with dark purple velvet. One of these drawers lay on the small
table attached to his chair; and near it were some tiny jeweller's
brushes, a wash-leather "stump," and a little bottle of liquid,
all waiting to be used in various ways for the removal of any
accidental impurities which might be discovered on the coins. His
frail white fingers were listlessly toying with something which
looked, to my uninstructed eyes, like a dirty pewter medal with
ragged edges, when I advanced within a respectful distance of his
chair, and stopped to make my bow.
"So glad to possess you at Limmeridge, Mr. Hartright," he said in
a querulous, croaking voice, which combined, in anything but an
agreeable manner, a discordantly high tone with a drowsily languid
utterance. "Pray sit down. And don't trouble yourself to move
the chair, please. In the wretched state of my nerves, movement
of any kind is exquisitely painful to me. Have you seen your
studio? Will it do?"
"I have just come from seeing the room, Mr. Fairlie; and I assure
He stopped me in the middle of the sentence, by closing his eyes,
and holding up one of his white hands imploringly. I paused in
astonishment; and the croaking voice honoured me with this
"Pray excuse me. But could you contrive to speak in a lower key?
In the wretched state of my nerves, loud sound of any kind is
indescribable torture to me. You will pardon an invalid? I only
say to you what the lamentable state of my health obliges me to
say to everybody. Yes. And you really like the room?"
"I could wish for nothing prettier and nothing more comfortable,"
I answered, dropping my voice, and beginning to discover already
that Mr. Fairlie's selfish affectation and Mr. Fairlie's wretched
nerves meant one and the same thing.
"So glad. You will find your position here, Mr. Hartright,
properly recognised. There is none of the horrid English
barbarity of feeling about the social position of an artist in
this house. So much of my early life has been passed abroad, that
I have quite cast my insular skin in that respect. I wish I could
say the same of the gentry--detestable word, but I suppose I must
use it--of the gentry in the neighbourhood. They are sad Goths in
Art, Mr. Hartright. People, I do assure you, who would have
opened their eyes in astonishment, if they had seen Charles the
Fifth pick up Titian's brush for him. Do you mind putting this
tray of coins back in the cabinet, and giving me the next one to
it? In the wretched state of my nerves, exertion of any kind is
unspeakably disagreeable to me. Yes. Thank you."
As a practical commentary on the liberal social theory which he
had just favoured me by illustrating, Mr. Fairlie's cool request
rather amused me. I put back one drawer and gave him the other,
with all possible politeness. He began trifling with the new set
of coins and the little brushes immediately; languidly looking at
them and admiring them all the time he was speaking to me.
"A thousand thanks and a thousand excuses. Do you like coins?
Yes. So glad we have another taste in common besides our taste
for Art. Now, about the pecuniary arrangements between us--do
tell me--are they satisfactory?"
"Most satisfactory, Mr. Fairlie."
"So glad. And--what next? Ah! I remember. Yes. In reference to
the consideration which you are good enough to accept for giving
me the benefit of your accomplishments in art, my steward will
wait on you at the end of the first week, to ascertain your
wishes. And--what next? Curious, is it not? I had a great deal
more to say: and I appear to have quite forgotten it. Do you mind
touching the bell? In that corner. Yes. Thank you."
I rang; and a new servant noiselessly made his appearance--a
foreigner, with a set smile and perfectly brushed hair--a valet
every inch of him.
"Louis," said Mr. Fairlie, dreamily dusting the tips of his
fingers with one of the tiny brushes for the coins, "I made some
entries in my tablettes this morning. Find my tablettes. A
thousand pardons, Mr. Hartright, I'm afraid I bore you."
As he wearily closed his eyes again, before I could answer, and as
he did most assuredly bore me, I sat silent, and looked up at the
Madonna and Child by Raphael. In the meantime, the valet left the
room, and returned shortly with a little ivory book. Mr. Fairlie,
after first relieving himself by a gentle sigh, let the book drop
open with one hand, and held up the tiny brush with the other, as
a sign to the servant to wait for further orders.
"Yes. Just so!" said Mr. Fairlie, consulting the tablettes.
"Louis, take down that portfolio." He pointed, as he spoke, to
several portfolios placed near the window, on mahogany stands.
"No. Not the one with the green back--that contains my Rembrandt
etchings, Mr. Hartright. Do you like etchings? Yes? So glad we
have another taste in common. The portfolio with the red back,
Louis. Don't drop it! You have no idea of the tortures I should
suffer, Mr. Hartright, if Louis dropped that portfolio. Is it
safe on the chair? Do YOU think it safe, Mr. Hartright? Yes? So
glad. Will you oblige me by looking at the drawings, if you
really think they are quite safe. Louis, go away. What an ass
you are. Don't you see me holding the tablettes? Do you suppose I
want to hold them? Then why not relieve me of the tablettes
without being told? A thousand pardons, Mr. Hartright; servants
are such asses, are they not? Do tell me--what do you think of the
drawings? They have come from a sale in a shocking state--I
thought they smelt of horrid dealers' and brokers' fingers when I
looked at them last. CAN you undertake them?"
Although my nerves were not delicate enough to detect the odour of
plebeian fingers which had offended Mr. Fairlie's nostrils, my
taste was sufficiently educated to enable me to appreciate the
value of the drawings, while I turned them over. They were, for
the most part, really fine specimens of English water-colour art;
and they had deserved much better treatment at the hands of their
former possessor than they appeared to have received.
"The drawings," I answered, "require careful straining and
mounting; and, in my opinion, they are well worth----"
"I beg your pardon," interposed Mr. Fairlie. "Do you mind my
closing my eyes while you speak? Even this light is too much for
them. Yes?"
"I was about to say that the drawings are well worth all the time
and trouble----"
Mr. Fairlie suddenly opened his eyes again, and rolled them with
an expression of helpless alarm in the direction of the window.
"I entreat you to excuse me, Mr. Hartright," he said in a feeble
flutter. "But surely I hear some horrid children in the garden--
my private garden--below?"
"I can't say, Mr. Fairlie. I heard nothing myself."
"Oblige me--you have been so very good in humouring my poor
nerves--oblige me by lifting up a corner of the blind. Don't let
the sun in on me, Mr. Hartright! Have you got the blind up? Yes?
Then will you be so very kind as to look into the garden and make
quite sure?"
I complied with this new request. The garden was carefully walled
in, all round. Not a human creature, large or small, appeared in
any part of the sacred seclusion. I reported that gratifying fact
to Mr. Fairlie.
"A thousand thanks. My fancy, I suppose. There are no children,
thank Heaven, in the house; but the servants (persons born without
nerves) will encourage the children from the village. Such brats--
oh, dear me, such brats! Shall I confess it, Mr. Hartright?--I
sadly want a reform in the construction of children. Nature's
only idea seems to be to make them machines for the production of
incessant noise. Surely our delightful Raffaello's conception is
infinitely preferable?"
He pointed to the picture of the Madonna, the upper part of which
represented the conventional cherubs of Italian Art, celestially
provided with sitting accommodation for their chins, on balloons
of buff-coloured cloud.
"Quite a model family!" said Mr. Fairlie, leering at the cherubs.
"Such nice round faces, and such nice soft wings, and--nothing
else. No dirty little legs to run about on, and no noisy little
lungs to scream with. How immeasurably superior to the existing
construction! I will close my eyes again, if you will allow me.
And you really can manage the drawings? So glad. Is there
anything else to settle? if there is, I think I have forgotten it.
Shall we ring for Louis again?"
Being, by this time, quite as anxious, on my side, as Mr. Fairlie
evidently was on his, to bring the interview to a speedy
conclusion, I thought I would try to render the summoning of the
servant unnecessary, by offering the requisite suggestion on my
own responsibility.
"The only point, Mr. Fairlie, that remains to be discussed," I
said, "refers, I think, to the instruction in sketching which I am
engaged to communicate to the two young ladies."
"Ah! just so," said Mr. Fairlie. "I wish I felt strong enough to
go into that part of the arrangement--but I don't. The ladies who
profit by your kind services, Mr. Hartright, must settle, and
decide, and so on, for themselves. My niece is fond of your
charming art. She knows just enough about it to be conscious of
her own sad defects. Please take pains with her. Yes. Is there
anything else? No. We quite understand each other--don't we? I
have no right to detain you any longer from your delightful
pursuit--have I? So pleasant to have settled everything--such a
sensible relief to have done business. Do you mind ringing for
Louis to carry the portfolio to your own room?"
"I will carry it there myself, Mr. Fairlie, if you will allow me."
"Will you really? Are you strong enough? How nice to be so strong!
Are you sure you won't drop it? So glad to possess you at
Limmeridge, Mr. Hartright. I am such a sufferer that I hardly
dare hope to enjoy much of your society. Would you mind taking
great pains not to let the doors bang, and not to drop the
portfolio? Thank you. Gently with the curtains, please--the
slightest noise from them goes through me like a knife. Yes. GOOD
When the sea-green curtains were closed, and when the two baize
doors were shut behind me, I stopped for a moment in the little
circular hall beyond, and drew a long, luxurious breath of relief.
It was like coming to the surface of the water after deep diving,
to find myself once more on the outside of Mr. Fairlie's room.
As soon as I was comfortably established for the morning in my
pretty little studio, the first resolution at which I arrived was
to turn my steps no more in the direction of the apartments
occupied by the master of the house, except in the very improbable
event of his honouring me with a special invitation to pay him
another visit. Having settled this satisfactory plan of future
conduct in reference to Mr. Fairlie, I soon recovered the serenity
of temper of which my employer's haughty familiarity and impudent
politeness had, for the moment, deprived me. The remaining hours
of the morning passed away pleasantly enough, in looking over the
drawings, arranging them in sets, trimming their ragged edges, and
accomplishing the other necessary preparations in anticipation of
the business of mounting them. I ought, perhaps, to have made
more progress than this; but, as the luncheon-time drew near, I
grew restless and unsettled, and felt unable to fix my attention
on work, even though that work was only of the humble manual kind.
At two o'clock I descended again to the breakfast-room, a little
anxiously. Expectations of some interest were connected with my
approaching reappearance in that part of the house. My
introduction to Miss Fairlie was now close at hand; and, if Miss
Halcombe's search through her mother's letters had produced the
result which she anticipated, the time had come for clearing up
the mystery of the woman in white.
When I entered the room, I found Miss Halcombe and an elderly lady
seated at the luncheon-table.
The elderly lady, when I was presented to her, proved to be Miss
Fairlie's former governess, Mrs. Vesey, who had been briefly
described to me by my lively companion at the breakfast-table, as
possessed of "all the cardinal virtues, and counting for nothing."
I can do little more than offer my humble testimony to the
truthfulness of Miss Halcombe's sketch of the old lady's
character. Mrs. Vesey looked the personification of human
composure and female amiability. A calm enjoyment of a calm
existence beamed in drowsy smiles on her plump, placid face. Some
of us rush through life, and some of us saunter through life.
Mrs. Vesey SAT through life. Sat in the house, early and late;
sat in the garden; sat in unexpected window-seats in passages; sat
(on a camp-stool) when her friends tried to take her out walking;
sat before she looked at anything, before she talked of anything,
before she answered Yes, or No, to the commonest question--always
with the same serene smile on her lips, the same vacantlyattentive
turn of the head, the same snugly-comfortable position
of her hands and arms, under every possible change of domestic
circumstances. A mild, a compliant, an unutterably tranquil and
harmless old lady, who never by any chance suggested the idea that
she had been actually alive since the hour of her birth. Nature
has so much to do in this world, and is engaged in generating such
a vast variety of co-existent productions, that she must surely be
now and then too flurried and confused to distinguish between the
different processes that she is carrying on at the same time.
Starting from this point of view, it will always remain my private
persuasion that Nature was absorbed in making cabbages when Mrs.
Vesey was born, and that the good lady suffered the consequences
of a vegetable preoccupation in the mind of the Mother of us all.
"Now, Mrs. Vesey," said Miss Halcombe, looking brighter, sharper,
and readier than ever, by contrast with the undemonstrative old
lady at her side, "what will you have? A cutlet?"
Mrs. Vesey crossed her dimpled hands on the edge of the table,
smiled placidly, and said, "Yes, dear."
"What is that opposite Mr. Hartright? Boiled chicken, is it not? I
thought you liked boiled chicken better than cutlet, Mrs. Vesey?"
Mrs. Vesey took her dimpled hands off the edge of the table and
crossed them on her lap instead; nodded contemplatively at the
boiled chicken, and said, "Yes, dear."
"Well, but which will you have, to-day? Shall Mr. Hartright give
you some chicken? or shall I give you some cutlet?"
Mrs. Vesey put one of her dimpled hands back again on the edge of
the table; hesitated drowsily, and said, "Which you please, dear."
"Mercy on me! it's a question for your taste, my good lady, not
for mine. Suppose you have a little of both? and suppose you
begin with the chicken, because Mr. Hartright looks devoured by
anxiety to carve for you."
Mrs. Vesey put the other dimpled hand back on the edge of the
table; brightened dimly one moment; went out again the next; bowed
obediently, and said, "If you please, sir."
Surely a mild, a compliant, an unutterably tranquil and harmless
old lady! But enough, perhaps, for the present, of Mrs. Vesey.
All this time, there were no signs of Miss Fairlie. We finished
our luncheon; and still she never appeared. Miss Halcombe, whose
quick eye nothing escaped, noticed the looks that I cast, from
time to time, in the direction of the door.
"I understand you, Mr. Hartright," she said; "you are wondering
what has become of your other pupil. She has been downstairs, and
has got over her headache; but has not sufficiently recovered her
appetite to join us at lunch. If you will put yourself under my
charge, I think I can undertake to find her somewhere in the
She took up a parasol lying on a chair near her, and led the way
out, by a long window at the bottom of the room, which opened on
to the lawn. It is almost unnecessary to say that we left Mrs.
Vesey still seated at the table, with her dimpled hands still
crossed on the edge of it; apparently settled in that position for
the rest of the afternoon.
As we crossed the lawn, Miss Halcombe looked at me significantly,
and shook her head.
"That mysterious adventure of yours," she said, "still remains
involved in its own appropriate midnight darkness. I have been
all the morning looking over my mother's letters, and I have made
no discoveries yet. However, don't despair, Mr. Hartright. This
is a matter of curiosity; and you have got a woman for your ally.
Under such conditions success is certain, sooner or later. The
letters are not exhausted. I have three packets still left, and
you may confidently rely on my spending the whole evening over
Here, then, was one of my anticipations of the morning still
unfulfilled. I began to wonder, next, whether my introduction to
Miss Fairlie would disappoint the expectations that I had been
forming of her since breakfast-time.
"And how did you get on with Mr. Fairlie?" inquired Miss Halcombe,
as we left the lawn and turned into a shrubbery. "Was he
particularly nervous this morning? Never mind considering about
your answer, Mr. Hartright. The mere fact of your being obliged
to consider is enough for me. I see in your face that he WAS
particularly nervous; and, as I am amiably unwilling to throw you
into the same condition, I ask no more."
We turned off into a winding path while she was speaking, and
approached a pretty summer-house, built of wood, in the form of a
miniature Swiss chalet. The one room of the summer-house, as we
ascended the steps of the door, was occupied by a young lady. She
was standing near a rustic table, looking out at the inland view
of moor and hill presented by a gap in the trees, and absently
turning over the leaves of a little sketch-book that lay at her
side. This was Miss Fairlie.
How can I describe her? How can I separate her from my own
sensations, and from all that has happened in the later time? How
can I see her again as she looked when my eyes first rested on
her--as she should look, now, to the eyes that are about to see
her in these pages?
The water-colour drawing that I made of Laura Fairlie, at an after
period, in the place and attitude in which I first saw her, lies
on my desk while I write. I look at it, and there dawns upon me
brightly, from the dark greenish-brown background of the summerhouse,
a light, youthful figure, clothed in a simple muslin dress,
the pattern of it formed by broad alternate stripes of delicate
blue and white. A scarf of the same material sits crisply and
closely round her shoulders, and a little straw hat of the natural
colour, plainly and sparingly trimmed with ribbon to match the
gown, covers her head, and throws its soft pearly shadow over the
upper part of her face. Her hair is of so faint and pale a brown--
not flaxen, and yet almost as light; not golden, and yet almost
as glossy--that it nearly melts, here and there, into the shadow
of the hat. It is plainly parted and drawn back over her ears,
and the line of it ripples naturally as it crosses her forehead.
The eyebrows are rather darker than the hair; and the eyes are of
that soft, limpid, turquoise blue, so often sung by the poets, so
seldom seen in real life. Lovely eyes in colour, lovely eyes in
form--large and tender and quietly thoughtful--but beautiful above
all things in the clear truthfulness of look that dwells in their
inmost depths, and shines through all their changes of expression
with the light of a purer and a better world. The charm--most
gently and yet most distinctly expressed--which they shed over the
whole face, so covers and transforms its little natural human
blemishes elsewhere, that it is difficult to estimate the relative
merits and defects of the other features. It is hard to see that
the lower part of the face is too delicately refined away towards
the chin to be in full and fair proportion with the upper part;
that the nose, in escaping the aquiline bend (always hard and
cruel in a woman, no matter how abstractedly perfect it may be),
has erred a little in the other extreme, and has missed the ideal
straightness of line; and that the sweet, sensitive lips are
subject to a slight nervous contraction, when she smiles, which
draws them upward a little at one corner, towards the cheek. It
might be possible to note these blemishes in another woman's face
but it is not easy to dwell on them in hers, so subtly are they
connected with all that is individual and characteristic in her
expression, and so closely does the expression depend for its full
play and life, in every other feature, on the moving impulse of
the eyes.
Does my poor portrait of her, my fond, patient labour of long and
happy days, show me these things? Ah, how few of them are in the
dim mechanical drawing, and how many in the mind with which I
regard it! A fair, delicate girl, in a pretty light dress,
trifling with the leaves of a sketch-book, while she looks up from
it with truthful, innocent blue eyes--that is all the drawing can
say; all, perhaps, that even the deeper reach of thought and pen
can say in their language, either. The woman who first gives
life, light, and form to our shadowy conceptions of beauty, fills
a void in our spiritual nature that has remained unknown to us
till she appeared. Sympathies that lie too deep for words, too
deep almost for thoughts, are touched, at such times, by other
charms than those which the senses feel and which the resources of
expression can realise. The mystery which underlies the beauty of
women is never raised above the reach of all expression until it
has claimed kindred with the deeper mystery in our own souls.
Then, and then only, has it passed beyond the narrow region on
which light falls, in this world, from the pencil and the pen.
Think of her as you thought of the first woman who quickened the
pulses within you that the rest of her sex had no art to stir.
Let the kind, candid blue eyes meet yours, as they met mine, with
the one matchless look which we both remember so well. Let her
voice speak the music that you once loved best, attuned as sweetly
to your ear as to mine. Let her footstep, as she comes and goes,
in these pages, be like that other footstep to whose airy fall
your own heart once beat time. Take her as the visionary nursling
of your own fancy; and she will grow upon you, all the more
clearly, as the living woman who dwells in mine.
Among the sensations that crowded on me, when my eyes first looked
upon her--familiar sensations which we all know, which spring to
life in most of our hearts, die again in so many, and renew their
bright existence in so few--there was one that troubled and
perplexed me: one that seemed strangely inconsistent and
unaccountably out of place in Miss Fairlie's presence.
Mingling with the vivid impression produced by the charm of her
fair face and head, her sweet expression, and her winning
simplicity of manner, was another impression, which, in a shadowy
way, suggested to me the idea of something wanting. At one time
it seemed like something wanting in HER: at another, like
something wanting in myself, which hindered me from understanding
her as I ought. The impression was always strongest in the most
contradictory manner, when she looked at me; or, in other words,
when I was most conscious of the harmony and charm of her face,
and yet, at the same time, most troubled by the sense of an
incompleteness which it was impossible to discover. Something
wanting, something wanting--and where it was, and what it was, I
could not say.
The effect of this curious caprice of fancy (as I thought it then)
was not of a nature to set me at my ease, during a first interview
with Miss Fairlie. The few kind words of welcome which she spoke
found me hardly self-possessed enough to thank her in the
customary phrases of reply. Observing my hesitation, and no doubt
attributing it, naturally enough, to some momentary shyness on my
part, Miss Halcombe took the business of talking, as easily and
readily as usual, into her own hands.
"Look there, Mr. Hartright," she said, pointing to the sketch-book
on the table, and to the little delicate wandering hand that was
still trifling with it. "Surely you will acknowledge that your
model pupil is found at last? The moment she hears that you are in
the house, she seizes her inestimable sketch-book looks universal
Nature straight in the face, and longs to begin!"
Miss Fairlie laughed with a ready good-humour, which broke out as
brightly as if it had been part of the sunshine above us, over her
lovely face.
"I must not take credit to myself where no credit is due," she
said, her clear, truthful blue eyes looking alternately at Miss
Halcombe and at me. "Fond as I am of drawing, I am so conscious
of my own ignorance that I am more afraid than anxious to begin.
Now I know you are here, Mr. Hartright, I find myself looking over
my sketches, as I used to look over my lessons when I was a little
girl, and when I was sadly afraid that I should turn out not fit
to be heard."
She made the confession very prettily and simply, and, with
quaint, childish earnestness, drew the sketch-book away close to
her own side of the table. Miss Halcombe cut the knot of the
little embarrassment forthwith, in her resolute, downright way.
"Good, bad, or indifferent," she said, "the pupil's sketches must
pass through the fiery ordeal of the master's judgment--and
there's an end of it. Suppose we take them with us in the
carriage, Laura, and let Mr. Hartright see them, for the first
time, under circumstances of perpetual jolting and interruption?
If we can only confuse him all through the drive, between Nature
as it is, when he looks up at the view, and Nature as it is not
when he looks down again at our sketch-books, we shall drive him
into the last desperate refuge of paying us compliments, and shall
slip through his professional fingers with our pet feathers of
vanity all unruffled."
"I hope Mr. Hartright will pay ME no compliments," said Miss
Fairlie, as we all left the summer-house.
"May I venture to inquire why you express that hope?" I asked.
"Because I shall believe all that you say to me," she answered
In those few words she unconsciously gave me the key to her whole
character: to that generous trust in others which, in her nature,
grew innocently out of the sense of her own truth. I only knew it
intuitively then. I know it by experience now.
We merely waited to rouse good Mrs. Vesey from the place which she
still occupied at the deserted luncheon-table, before we entered
the open carriage for our promised drive. The old lady and Miss
Halcombe occupied the back seat, and Miss Fairlie and I sat
together in front, with the sketch-book open between us, fairly
exhibited at last to my professional eyes. All serious criticism
on the drawings, even if I had been disposed to volunteer it, was
rendered impossible by Miss Halcombe's lively resolution to see
nothing but the ridiculous side of the Fine Arts, as practised by
herself, her sister, and ladies in general. I can remember the
conversation that passed far more easily than the sketches that I
mechanically looked over. That part of the talk, especially, in
which Miss Fairlie took any share, is still as vividly impressed
on my memory as if I had heard it only a few hours ago.
Yes! let me acknowledge that on this first day I let the charm of
her presence lure me from the recollection of myself and my
position. The most trifling of the questions that she put to me,
on the subject of using her pencil and mixing her colours; the
slightest alterations of expression in the lovely eyes that looked
into mine with such an earnest desire to learn all that I could
teach, and to discover all that I could show, attracted more of my
attention than the finest view we passed through, or the grandest
changes of light and shade, as they flowed into each other over
the waving moorland and the level beach. At any time, and under
any circumstances of human interest, is it not strange to see how
little real hold the objects of the natural world amid which we
live can gain on our hearts and minds? We go to Nature for comfort
in trouble, and sympathy in joy, only in books. Admiration of
those beauties of the inanimate world, which modern poetry so
largely and so eloquently describes, is not, even in the best of
us, one of the original instincts of our nature. As children, we
none of us possess it. No uninstructed man or woman possesses it.
Those whose lives are most exclusively passed amid the everchanging
wonders of sea and land are also those who are most
universally insensible to every aspect of Nature not directly
associated with the human interest of their calling. Our capacity
of appreciating the beauties of the earth we live on is, in truth,
one of the civilised accomplishments which we all learn as an Art;
and, more, that very capacity is rarely practised by any of us
except when our minds are most indolent and most unoccupied. How
much share have the attractions of Nature ever had in the
pleasurable or painful interests and emotions of ourselves or our
friends? What space do they ever occupy in the thousand little
narratives of personal experience which pass every day by word of
mouth from one of us to the other? All that our minds can compass,
all that our hearts can learn, can be accomplished with equal
certainty, equal profit, and equal satisfaction to ourselves, in
the poorest as in the richest prospect that the face of the earth
can show. There is surely a reason for this want of inborn
sympathy between the creature and the creation around it, a reason
which may perhaps be found in the widely-differing destinies of
man and his earthly sphere. The grandest mountain prospect that
the eye can range over is appointed to annihilation. The smallest
human interest that the pure heart can feel is appointed to
We had been out nearly three hours, when the carriage again passed
through the gates of Limmeridge House.
On our way back I had let the ladies settle for themselves the
first point of view which they were to sketch, under my
instructions, on the afternoon of the next day. When they
withdrew to dress for dinner, and when I was alone again in my
little sitting-room, my spirits seemed to leave me on a sudden. I
felt ill at ease and dissatisfied with myself, I hardly knew why.
Perhaps I was now conscious for the first time of having enjoyed
our drive too much in the character of a guest, and too little in
the character of a drawing-master. Perhaps that strange sense of
something wanting, either in Miss Fairlie or in myself, which had
perplexed me when I was first introduced to her, haunted me still.
Anyhow, it was a relief to my spirits when the dinner-hour called
me out of my solitude, and took me back to the society of the
ladies of the house.
I was struck, on entering the drawing-room, by the curious
contrast, rather in material than in colour, of the dresses which
they now wore. While Mrs. Vesey and Miss Halcombe were richly
clad (each in the manner most becoming to her age), the first in
silver-grey, and the second in that delicate primrose-yellow
colour which matches so well with a dark complexion and black
hair, Miss Fairlie was unpretendingly and almost poorly dressed in
plain white muslin. It was spotlessly pure: it was beautifully
put on; but still it was the sort of dress which the wife or
daughter of a poor man might have worn, and it made her, so far as
externals went, look less affluent in circumstances than her own
governess. At a later period, when I learnt to know more of Miss
Fairlie's character, I discovered that this curious contrast, on
the wrong side, was due to her natural delicacy of feeling and
natural intensity of aversion to the slightest personal display of
her own wealth. Neither Mrs. Vesey nor Miss Halcombe could ever
induce her to let the advantage in dress desert the two ladies who
were poor, to lean to the side of the one lady who was rich.
When the dinner was over we returned together to the drawing-room.
Although Mr. Fairlie (emulating the magnificent condescension of
the monarch who had picked up Titian's brush for him) had
instructed his butler to consult my wishes in relation to the wine
that I might prefer after dinner, I was resolute enough to resist
the temptation of sitting in solitary grandeur among bottles of my
own choosing, and sensible enough to ask the ladies' permission to
leave the table with them habitually, on the civilised foreign
plan, during the period of my residence at Limmeridge House.
The drawing-room, to which we had now withdrawn for the rest of
the evening, was on the ground-floor, and was of the same shape
and size as the breakfast-room. Large glass doors at the lower
end opened on to a terrace, beautifully ornamented along its whole
length with a profusion of flowers. The soft, hazy twilight was
just shading leaf and blossom alike into harmony with its own
sober hues as we entered the room, and the sweet evening scent of
the flowers met us with its fragrant welcome through the open
glass doors. Good Mrs. Vesey (always the first of the party to
sit down) took possession of an arm-chair in a corner, and dozed
off comfortably to sleep. At my request Miss Fairlie placed
herself at the piano. As I followed her to a seat near the
instrument, I saw Miss Halcombe retire into a recess of one of the
side windows, to proceed with the search through her mother's
letters by the last quiet rays of the evening light.
How vividly that peaceful home-picture of the drawing-room comes
back to me while I write! From the place where I sat I could see
Miss Halcombe's graceful figure, half of it in soft light, half in
mysterious shadow, bending intently over the letters in her lap;
while, nearer to me, the fair profile of the player at the piano
was just delicately defined against the faintly-deepening
background of the inner wall of the room. Outside, on the
terrace, the clustering flowers and long grasses and creepers
waved so gently in the light evening air, that the sound of their
rustling never reached us. The sky was without a cloud, and the
dawning mystery of moonlight began to tremble already in the
region of the eastern heaven. The sense of peace and seclusion
soothed all thought and feeling into a rapt, unearthly repose; and
the balmy quiet, that deepened ever with the deepening light,
seemed to hover over us with a gentler influence still, when there
stole upon it from the piano the heavenly tenderness of the music
of Mozart. It was an evening of sights and sounds never to
We all sat silent in the places we had chosen--Mrs. Vesey still
sleeping, Miss Fairlie still playing, Miss Halcombe still reading--
till the light failed us. By this time the moon had stolen round
to the terrace, and soft, mysterious rays of light were slanting
already across the lower end of the room. The change from the
twilight obscurity was so beautiful that we banished the lamps, by
common consent, when the servant brought them in, and kept the
large room unlighted, except by the glimmer of the two candles at
the piano.
For half an hour more the music still went on. After that the
beauty of the moonlight view on the terrace tempted Miss Fairlie
out to look at it, and I followed her. When the candles at the
piano had been lighted Miss Halcombe had changed her place, so as
to continue her examination of the letters by their assistance.
We left her, on a low chair, at one side of the instrument, so
absorbed over her reading that she did not seem to notice when we
We had been out on the terrace together, just in front of the
glass doors, hardly so long as five minutes, I should think; and
Miss Fairlie was, by my advice, just tying her white handkerchief
over her head as a precaution against the night air--when I heard
Miss Halcombe's voice--low, eager, and altered from its natural
lively tone--pronounce my name.
"Mr. Hartright," she said, "will you come here for a minute? I
want to speak to you."
I entered the room again immediately. The piano stood about halfway
down along the inner wall. On the side of the instrument
farthest from the terrace Miss Halcombe was sitting with the
letters scattered on her lap, and with one in her hand selected
from them, and held close to the candle. On the side nearest to
the terrace there stood a low ottoman, on which I took my place.
In this position I was not far from the glass doors, and I could
see Miss Fairlie plainly, as she passed and repassed the opening
on to the terrace, walking slowly from end to end of it in the
full radiance of the moon.
"I want you to listen while I read the concluding passages in this
letter," said Miss Halcombe. "Tell me if you think they throw any
light upon your strange adventure on the road to London. The
letter is addressed by my mother to her second husband, Mr.
Fairlie, and the date refers to a period of between eleven and
twelve years since. At that time Mr. and Mrs. Fairlie, and my
half-sister Laura, had been living for years in this house; and I
was away from them completing my education at a school in Paris."
She looked and spoke earnestly, and, as I thought, a little
uneasily as well. At the moment when she raised the letter to the
candle before beginning to read it, Miss Fairlie passed us on the
terrace, looked in for a moment, and seeing that we were engaged,
slowly walked on.
Miss Halcombe began to read as follows:--
"'You will be tired, my dear Philip, of hearing perpetually about
my schools and my scholars. Lay the blame, pray, on the dull
uniformity of life at Limmeridge, and not on me. Besides, this
time I have something really interesting to tell you about a new
"'You know old Mrs. Kempe at the village shop. Well, after years
of ailing, the doctor has at last given her up, and she is dying
slowly day by day. Her only living relation, a sister, arrived
last week to take care of her. This sister comes all the way from
Hampshire--her name is Mrs. Catherick. Four days ago Mrs.
Catherick came here to see me, and brought her only child with
her, a sweet little girl about a year older than our darling
As the last sentence fell from the reader's lips, Miss Fairlie
passed us on the terrace once more. She was softly singing to
herself one of the melodies which she had been playing earlier in
the evening. Miss Halcombe waited till she had passed out of
sight again, and then went on with the letter--
"'Mrs. Catherick is a decent, well-behaved, respectable woman;
middle-aged, and with the remains of having been moderately, only
moderately, nice-looking. There is something in her manner and in
her appearance, however, which I can't make out. She is reserved
about herself to the point of down-right secrecy, and there is a
look in her face--I can't describe it--which suggests to me that
she has something on her mind. She is altogether what you would
call a walking mystery. Her errand at Limmeridge House, however,
was simple enough. When she left Hampshire to nurse her sister,
Mrs. Kempe, through her last illness, she had been obliged to
bring her daughter with her, through having no one at home to take
care of the little girl. Mrs. Kempe may die in a week's time, or
may linger on for months; and Mrs. Catherick's object was to ask
me to let her daughter, Anne, have the benefit of attending my
school, subject to the condition of her being removed from it to
go home again with her mother, after Mrs. Kempe's death. I
consented at once, and when Laura and I went out for our walk, we
took the little girl (who is just eleven years old) to the school
that very day.'"
Once more Miss Fairlie's figure, bright and soft in its snowy
muslin dress--her face prettily framed by the white folds of the
handkerchief which she had tied under her chin--passed by us in
the moonlight. Once more Miss Halcombe waited till she was out of
sight, and then went on--
"'I have taken a violent fancy, Philip, to my new scholar, for a
reason which I mean to keep till the last for the sake of
surprising you. Her mother having told me as little about the
child as she told me of herself, I was left to discover (which I
did on the first day when we tried her at lessons) that the poor
little thing's intellect is not developed as it ought to be at her
age. Seeing this I had her up to the house the next day, and
privately arranged with the doctor to come and watch her and
question her, and tell me what he thought. His opinion is that
she will grow out of it. But he says her careful bringing-up at
school is a matter of great importance just now, because her
unusual slowness in acquiring ideas implies an unusual tenacity in
keeping them, when they are once received into her mind. Now, my
love, you must not imagine, in your off-hand way, that I have been
attaching myself to an idiot. This poor little Anne Catherick is
a sweet, affectionate, grateful girl, and says the quaintest,
prettiest things (as you shall judge by an instance), in the most
oddly sudden, surprised, half-frightened way. Although she is
dressed very neatly, her clothes show a sad want of taste in
colour and pattern. So I arranged, yesterday, that some of our
darling Laura's old white frocks and white hats should be altered
for Anne Catherick, explaining to her that little girls of her
complexion looked neater and better all in white than in anything
else. She hesitated and seemed puzzled for a minute, then flushed
up, and appeared to understand. Her little hand clasped mine
suddenly. She kissed it, Philip, and said (oh, so earnestly!), "I
will always wear white as long as I live. It will help me to
remember you, ma'am, and to think that I am pleasing you still,
when I go away and see you no more." This is only one specimen of
the quaint things she says so prettily. Poor little soul! She
shall have a stock of white frocks, made with good deep tucks, to
let out for her as she grows----'"
Miss Halcombe paused, and looked at me across the piano.
"Did the forlorn woman whom you met in the high-road seem young?"
she asked. "Young enough to be two- or three-and-twenty?"
"Yes, Miss Halcombe, as young as that."
"And she was strangely dressed, from head to foot, all in white?"
"All in white."
While the answer was passing my lips Miss Fairlie glided into view
on the terrace for the third time. Instead of proceeding on her
walk, she stopped, with her back turned towards us, and, leaning
on the balustrade of the terrace, looked down into the garden
beyond. My eyes fixed upon the white gleam of her muslin gown and
head-dress in the moonlight, and a sensation, for which I can find
no name--a sensation that quickened my pulse, and raised a
fluttering at my heart--began to steal over me.
"All in white?" Miss Halcombe repeated. "The most important
sentences in the letter, Mr. Hartright, are those at the end,
which I will read to you immediately. But I can't help dwelling a
little upon the coincidence of the white costume of the woman you
met, and the white frocks which produced that strange answer from
my mother's little scholar. The doctor may have been wrong when
he discovered the child's defects of intellect, and predicted that
she would 'grow out of them.' She may never have grown out of
them, and the old grateful fancy about dressing in white, which
was a serious feeling to the girl, may be a serious feeling to the
woman still."
I said a few words in answer--I hardly know what. All my
attention was concentrated on the white gleam of Miss Fairlie's
muslin dress.
"Listen to the last sentences of the letter," said Miss Halcombe.
"I think they will surprise you."
As she raised the letter to the light of the candle, Miss Fairlie
turned from the balustrade, looked doubtfully up and down the
terrace, advanced a step towards the glass doors, and then
stopped, facing us.
Meanwhile Miss Halcombe read me the last sentences to which she
had referred--
"'And now, my love, seeing that I am at the end of my paper, now
for the real reason, the surprising reason, for my fondness for
little Anne Catherick. My dear Philip, although she is not half
so pretty, she is, nevertheless, by one of those extraordinary
caprices of accidental resemblance which one sometimes sees, the
living likeness, in her hair, her complexion, the colour of her
eyes, and the shape of her face----'"
I started up from the ottoman before Miss Halcombe could pronounce
the next words. A thrill of the same feeling which ran through me
when the touch was laid upon my shoulder on the lonely high-road
chilled me again.
There stood Miss Fairlie, a white figure, alone in the moonlight;
in her attitude, in the turn of her head, in her complexion, in
the shape of her face, the living image, at that distance and
under those circumstances, of the woman in white! The doubt which
had troubled my mind for hours and hours past flashed into
conviction in an instant. That "something wanting" was my own
recognition of the ominous likeness between the fugitive from the
asylum and my pupil at Limmeridge House.
"You see it!" said Miss Halcombe. She dropped the useless letter,
and her eyes flashed as they met mine. "You see it now, as my
mother saw it eleven years since!"
"I see it--more unwillingly than I can say. To associate that
forlorn, friendless, lost woman, even by an accidental likeness
only, with Miss Fairlie, seems like casting a shadow on the future
of the bright creature who stands looking at us now. Let me lose
the impression again as soon as possible. Call her in, out of the
dreary moonlight--pray call her in!"
"Mr. Hartright, you surprise me. Whatever women may be, I thought
that men, in the nineteenth century, were above superstition."
"Pray call her in!"
"Hush, hush! She is coming of her own accord. Say nothing in her
presence. Let this discovery of the likeness be kept a secret
between you and me. Come in, Laura, come in, and wake Mrs. Vesey
with the piano. Mr. Hartright is petitioning for some more music,
and he wants it, this time, of the lightest and liveliest kind."
So ended my eventful first day at Limmeridge House.
Miss Halcombe and I kept our secret. After the discovery of the
likeness no fresh light seemed destined to break over the mystery
of the woman in white. At the first safe opportunity Miss
Halcombe cautiously led her half-sister to speak of their mother,
of old times, and of Anne Catherick. Miss Fairlie's recollections
of the little scholar at Limmeridge were, however, only of the
most vague and general kind. She remembered the likeness between
herself and her mother's favourite pupil, as something which had
been supposed to exist in past times; but she did not refer to the
gift of the white dresses, or to the singular form of words in
which the child had artlessly expressed her gratitude for them.
She remembered that Anne had remained at Limmeridge for a few
months only, and had then left it to go back to her home in
Hampshire; but she could not say whether the mother and daughter
had ever returned, or had ever been heard of afterwards. No
further search, on Miss Halcombe's part, through the few letters
of Mrs. Fairlie's writing which she had left unread, assisted in
clearing up the uncertainties still left to perplex us. We had
identified the unhappy woman whom I had met in the night-time with
Anne Catherick--we had made some advance, at least, towards
connecting the probably defective condition of the poor creature's
intellect with the peculiarity of her being dressed all in white,
and with the continuance, in her maturer years, of her childish
gratitude towards Mrs. Fairlie--and there, so far as we knew at
that time, our discoveries had ended.
The days passed on, the weeks passed on, and the track of the
golden autumn wound its bright way visibly through the green
summer of the trees. Peaceful, fast-flowing, happy time! my story
glides by you now as swiftly as you once glided by me. Of all the
treasures of enjoyment that you poured so freely into my heart,
how much is left me that has purpose and value enough to be
written on this page? Nothing but the saddest of all confessions
that a man can make--the confession of his own folly.
The secret which that confession discloses should be told with
little effort, for it has indirectly escaped me already. The poor
weak words, which have failed to describe Miss Fairlie, have
succeeded in betraying the sensations she awakened in me. It is
so with us all. Our words are giants when they do us an injury,
and dwarfs when they do us a service.
I loved her.
Ah! how well I know all the sadness and all the mockery that is
contained in those three words. I can sigh over my mournful
confession with the tenderest woman who reads it and pities me. I
can laugh at it as bitterly as the hardest man who tosses it from
him in contempt. I loved her! Feel for me, or despise me, I
confess it with the same immovable resolution to own the truth.
Was there no excuse for me? There was some excuse to be found,
surely, in the conditions under which my term of hired service was
passed at Limmeridge House.
My morning hours succeeded each other calmly in the quiet and
seclusion of my own room. I had just work enough to do, in
mounting my employer's drawings, to keep my hands and eyes
pleasurably employed, while my mind was left free to enjoy the
dangerous luxury of its own unbridled thoughts. A perilous
solitude, for it lasted long enough to enervate, not long enough
to fortify me. A perilous solitude, for it was followed by
afternoons and evenings spent, day after day and week after week
alone in the society of two women, one of whom possessed all the
accomplishments of grace, wit, and high-breeding, the other all
the charms of beauty, gentleness, and simple truth, that can
purify and subdue the heart of man. Not a day passed, in that
dangerous intimacy of teacher and pupil, in which my hand was not
close to Miss Fairlie's; my cheek, as we bent together over her
sketch-book, almost touching hers. The more attentively she
watched every movement of my brush, the more closely I was
breathing the perfume of her hair, and the warm fragrance of her
breath. It was part of my service to live in the very light of
her eyes--at one time to be bending over her, so close to her
bosom as to tremble at the thought of touching it; at another, to
feel her bending over me, bending so close to see what I was
about, that her voice sank low when she spoke to me, and her
ribbons brushed my cheek in the wind before she could draw them
The evenings which followed the sketching excursions of the
afternoon varied, rather than checked, these innocent, these
inevitable familiarities. My natural fondness for the music which
she played with such tender feeling, such delicate womanly taste,
and her natural enjoyment of giving me back, by the practice of
her art, the pleasure which I had offered to her by the practice
of mine, only wove another tie which drew us closer and closer to
one another. The accidents of conversation; the simple habits
which regulated even such a little thing as the position of our
places at table; the play of Miss Halcombe's ever-ready raillery,
always directed against my anxiety as teacher, while it sparkled
over her enthusiasm as pupil; the harmless expression of poor Mrs.
Vesey's drowsy approval, which connected Miss Fairlie and me as
two model young people who never disturbed her--every one of these
trifles, and many more, combined to fold us together in the same
domestic atmosphere, and to lead us both insensibly to the same
hopeless end.
I should have remembered my position, and have put myself secretly
on my guard. I did so, but not till it was too late. All the
discretion, all the experience, which had availed me with other
women, and secured me against other temptations, failed me with
her. It had been my profession, for years past, to be in this
close contact with young girls of all ages, and of all orders of
beauty. I had accepted the position as part of my calling in
life; I had trained myself to leave all the sympathies natural to
my age in my employer's outer hall, as coolly as I left my
umbrella there before I went upstairs. I had long since learnt to
understand, composedly and as a matter of course, that my
situation in life was considered a guarantee against any of my
female pupils feeling more than the most ordinary interest in me,
and that I was admitted among beautiful and captivating women much
as a harmless domestic animal is admitted among them. This
guardian experience I had gained early; this guardian experience
had sternly and strictly guided me straight along my own poor
narrow path, without once letting me stray aside, to the right
hand or to the left. And now I and my trusty talisman were parted
for the first time. Yes, my hardly-earned self-control was as
completely lost to me as if I had never possessed it; lost to me,
as it is lost every day to other men, in other critical
situations, where women are concerned. I know, now, that I should
have questioned myself from the first. I should have asked why
any room in the house was better than home to me when she entered
it, and barren as a desert when she went out again--why I always
noticed and remembered the little changes in her dress that I had
noticed and remembered in no other woman's before--why I saw her,
heard her, and touched her (when we shook hands at night and
morning) as I had never seen, heard, and touched any other woman
in my life? I should have looked into my own heart, and found this
new growth springing up there, and plucked it out while it was
young. Why was this easiest, simplest work of self-culture always
too much for me? The explanation has been written already in the
three words that were many enough, and plain enough, for my
confession. I loved her.
The days passed, the weeks passed; it was approaching the third
month of my stay in Cumberland. The delicious monotony of life in
our calm seclusion flowed on with me, like a smooth stream with a
swimmer who glides down the current. All memory of the past, all
thought of the future, all sense of the falseness and hopelessness
of my own position, lay hushed within me into deceitful rest.
Lulled by the Syren-song that my own heart sung to me, with eyes
shut to all sight, and ears closed to all sound of danger, I
drifted nearer and nearer to the fatal rocks. The warning that
aroused me at last, and startled me into sudden, self-accusing
consciousness of my own weakness, was the plainest, the truest,
the kindest of all warnings, for it came silently from HER.
We had parted one night as usual. No word had fallen from my
lips, at that time or at any time before it, that could betray me,
or startle her into sudden knowledge of the truth. But when we
met again in the morning, a change had come over her--a change
that told me all.
I shrank then--I shrink still--from invading the innermost
sanctuary of her heart, and laying it open to others, as I have
laid open my own. Let it be enough to say that the time when she
first surprised my secret was, I firmly believe, the time when she
first surprised her own, and the time, also, when she changed
towards me in the interval of one night. Her nature, too truthful
to deceive others, was too noble to deceive itself. When the
doubt that I had hushed asleep first laid its weary weight on her
heart, the true face owned all, and said, in its own frank, simple
language--I am sorry for him; I am sorry for myself.
It said this, and more, which I could not then interpret. I
understood but too well the change in her manner, to greater
kindness and quicker readiness in interpreting all my wishes,
before others--to constraint and sadness, and nervous anxiety to
absorb herself in the first occupation she could seize on,
whenever we happened to be left together alone. I understood why
the sweet sensitive lips smiled so rarely and so restrainedly now,
and why the clear blue eyes looked at me, sometimes with the pity
of an angel, sometimes with the innocent perplexity of a child.
But the change meant more than this. There was a coldness in her
hand, there was an unnatural immobility in her face, there was in
all her movements the mute expression of constant fear and
clinging self-reproach. The sensations that I could trace to
herself and to me, the unacknowledged sensations that we were
feeling in common, were not these. There were certain elements of
the change in her that were still secretly drawing us together,
and others that were, as secretly, beginning to drive us apart.
In my doubt and perplexity, in my vague suspicion of something
hidden which I was left to find by my own unaided efforts, I
examined Miss Halcombe's looks and manner for enlightenment.
Living in such intimacy as ours, no serious alteration could take
place in any one of us which did not sympathetically affect the
others. The change in Miss Fairlie was reflected in her halfsister.
Although not a word escaped Miss Halcombe which hinted at
an altered state of feeling towards myself, her penetrating eyes
had contracted a new habit of always watching me. Sometimes the
look was like suppressed anger, sometimes like suppressed dread,
sometimes like neither--like nothing, in short, which I could
understand. A week elapsed, leaving us all three still in this
position of secret constraint towards one another. My situation,
aggravated by the sense of my own miserable weakness and
forgetfulness of myself, now too late awakened in me, was becoming
intolerable. I felt that I must cast off the oppression under
which I was living, at once and for ever--yet how to act for the
best, or what to say first, was more than I could tell.
From this position of helplessness and humiliation I was rescued
by Miss Halcombe. Her lips told me the bitter, the necessary, the
unexpected truth; her hearty kindness sustained me under the shock
of hearing it; her sense and courage turned to its right use an
event which threatened the worst that could happen, to me and to
others, in Limmeridge House.
It was on a Thursday in the week, and nearly at the end of the
third month of my sojourn in Cumberland.
In the morning, when I went down into the breakfast-room at the
usual hour, Miss Halcombe, for the first time since I had known
her, was absent from her customary place at the table.
Miss Fairlie was out on the lawn. She bowed to me, but did not
come in. Not a word had dropped from my lips, or from hers, that
could unsettle either of us--and yet the same unacknowledged sense
of embarrassment made us shrink alike from meeting one another
alone. She waited on the lawn, and I waited in the breakfastroom,
till Mrs. Vesey or Miss Halcombe came in. How quickly I
should have joined her: how readily we should have shaken hands,
and glided into our customary talk, only a fortnight ago.
In a few minutes Miss Halcombe entered. She had a preoccupied
look, and she made her apologies for being late rather absently.
"I have been detained," she said, "by a consultation with Mr.
Fairlie on a domestic matter which he wished to speak to me
Miss Fairlie came in from the garden, and the usual morning
greeting passed between us. Her hand struck colder to mine than
ever. She did not look at me, and she was very pale. Even Mrs.
Vesey noticed it when she entered the room a moment after.
"I suppose it is the change in the wind," said the old lady. "The
winter is coming--ah, my love, the winter is coming soon!"
In her heart and in mine it had come already!
Our morning meal--once so full of pleasant good-humoured
discussion of the plans for the day--was short and silent. Miss
Fairlie seemed to feel the oppression of the long pauses in the
conversation, and looked appealingly to her sister to fill them
up. Miss Halcombe, after once or twice hesitating and checking
herself, in a most uncharacteristic manner, spoke at last.
"I have seen your uncle this morning, Laura," she said. "He
thinks the purple room is the one that ought to be got ready, and
he confirms what I told you. Monday is the day--not Tuesday."
While these words were being spoken Miss Fairlie looked down at
the table beneath her. Her fingers moved nervously among the
crumbs that were scattered on the cloth. The paleness on her
cheeks spread to her lips, and the lips themselves trembled
visibly. I was not the only person present who noticed this.
Miss Halcombe saw it, too, and at once set us the example of
rising from table.
Mrs. Vesey and Miss Fairlie left the room together. The kind
sorrowful blue eyes looked at me, for a moment, with the prescient
sadness of a coming and a long farewell. I felt the answering
pang in my own heart--the pang that told me I must lose her soon,
and love her the more unchangeably for the loss.
I turned towards the garden when the door had closed on her. Miss
Halcombe was standing with her hat in her hand, and her shawl over
her arm, by the large window that led out to the lawn, and was
looking at me attentively.
"Have you any leisure time to spare," she asked, "before you begin
to work in your own room?"
"Certainly, Miss Halcombe. I have always time at your service."
"I want to say a word to you in private, Mr. Hartright. Get your
hat and come out into the garden. We are not likely to be
disturbed there at this hour in the morning."
As we stepped out on to the lawn, one of the under-gardeners--a
mere lad--passed us on his way to the house, with a letter in his
hand. Miss Halcombe stopped him.
"Is that letter for me?" she asked.
"Nay, miss; it's just said to be for Miss Fairlie," answered the
lad, holding out the letter as he spoke.
Miss Halcombe took it from him and looked at the address.
"A strange handwriting," she said to herself. "Who can Laura's
correspondent be? Where did you get this?" she continued,
addressing the gardener.
"Well, miss," said the lad, "I just got it from a woman."
"What woman?"
"A woman well stricken in age."
"Oh, an old woman. Any one you knew?"
"I canna' tak' it on mysel' to say that she was other than a
stranger to me."
"Which way did she go?"
"That gate," said the under-gardener, turning with great
deliberation towards the south, and embracing the whole of that
part of England with one comprehensive sweep of his arm.
"Curious," said Miss Halcombe; "I suppose it must be a beggingletter.
There," she added, handing the letter back to the lad,
"take it to the house, and give it to one of the servants. And
now, Mr. Hartright, if you have no objection, let us walk this
She led me across the lawn, along the same path by which I had
followed her on the day after my arrival at Limmeridge.
At the little summer-house, in which Laura Fairlie and I had first
seen each other, she stopped, and broke the silence which she had
steadily maintained while we were walking together.
"What I have to say to you I can say here."
With those words she entered the summer-house, took one of the
chairs at the little round table inside, and signed to me to take
the other. I suspected what was coming when she spoke to me in
the breakfast-room; I felt certain of it now.
"Mr. Hartright," she said, "I am going to begin by making a frank
avowal to you. I am going to say--without phrase-making, which I
detest, or paying compliments, which I heartily despise--that I
have come, in the course of your residence with us, to feel a
strong friendly regard for you. I was predisposed in your favour
when you first told me of your conduct towards that unhappy woman
whom you met under such remarkable circumstances. Your management
of the affair might not have been prudent, but it showed the selfcontrol,
the delicacy, and the compassion of a man who was
naturally a gentleman. It made me expect good things from you,
and you have not disappointed my expectations."
She paused--but held up her hand at the same time, as a sign that
she awaited no answer from me before she proceeded. When I
entered the summer-house, no thought was in me of the woman in
white. But now, Miss Halcombe's own words had put the memory of
my adventure back in my mind. It remained there throughout the
interview--remained, and not without a result.
"As your friend," she proceeded, "I am going to tell you, at once,
in my own plain, blunt, downright language, that I have discovered
your secret--without help or hint, mind, from any one else. Mr.
Hartright, you have thoughtlessly allowed your-self to form an
attachment--a serious and devoted attachment I am afraid--to my
sister Laura. I don't put you to the pain of confessing it in so
many words, because I see and know that you are too honest to deny
it. I don't even blame you--I pity you for opening your heart to
a hopeless affection. You have not attempted to take any
underhand advantage--you have not spoken to my sister in secret.
You are guilty of weakness and want of attention to your own best
interests, but of nothing worse. If you had acted, in any single
respect, less delicately and less modestly, I should have told you
to leave the house without an instant's notice, or an instant's
consultation of anybody. As it is, I blame the misfortune of your
years and your position--I don't blame YOU. Shake hands--I have
given you pain; I am going to give you more, but there is no help
for it--shake hands with your friend, Marian Halcombe, first."
The sudden kindness--the warm, high-minded, fearless sympathy
which met me on such mercifully equal terms, which appealed with
such delicate and generous abruptness straight to my heart, my
honour, and my courage, overcame me in an instant. I tried to
look at her when she took my hand, but my eves were dim. I tried
to thank her, but my voice failed me.
"Listen to me," she said, considerately avoiding all notice of my
loss of self-control. "Listen to me, and let us get it over at
once. It is a real true relief to me that I am not obliged, in
what I have now to say, to enter into the question--the hard and
cruel question as I think it--of social inequalities.
Circumstances which will try you to the quick, spare me the
ungracious necessity of paining a man who has lived in friendly
intimacy under the same roof with myself by any humiliating
reference to matters of rank and station. You must leave
Limmeridge House, Mr. Hartright, before more harm is done. It is
my duty to say that to you; and it would be equally my duty to say
it, under precisely the same serious necessity, if you were the
representative of the oldest and wealthiest family in England.
You must leave us, not because you are a teacher of drawing----"
She waited a moment, turned her face full on me, and reaching
across the table, laid her hand firmly on my arm.
"Not because you are a teacher of drawing," she repeated, "but
because Laura Fairlie is engaged to be married."
The last word went like a bullet to my heart. My arm lost all
sensation of the hand that grasped it. I never moved and never
spoke. The sharp autumn breeze that scattered the dead leaves at
our feet came as cold to me, on a sudden, as if my own mad hopes
were dead leaves too, whirled away by the wind like the rest.
Hopes! Betrothed, or not betrothed, she was equally far from me.
Would other men have remembered that in my place? Not if they had
loved her as I did.
The pang passed, and nothing but the dull numbing pain of it
remained. I felt Miss Halcombe's hand again, tightening its hold
on my arm--I raised my head and looked at her. Her large black
eyes were rooted on me, watching the white change on my face,
which I felt, and which she saw.
"Crush it!" she said. "Here, where you first saw her, crush it!
Don't shrink under it like a woman. Tear it out; trample it under
foot like a man!"
The suppressed vehemence with which she spoke, the strength which
her will--concentrated in the look she fixed on me, and in the
hold on my arm that she had not yet relinquished--communicated to
mine, steadied me. We both waited for a minute in silence. At
the end of that time I had justified her generous faith in my
manhood--I had, outwardly at least, recovered my self-control.
"Are you yourself again?"
"Enough myself, Miss Halcombe, to ask your pardon and hers.
Enough myself to be guided by your advice, and to prove my
gratitude in that way, if I can prove it in no other."
"You have proved it already," she answered, "by those words. Mr.
Hartright, concealment is at an end between us. I cannot affect
to hide from you what my sister has unconsciously shown to me.
You must leave us for her sake, as well as for your own. Your
presence here, your necessary intimacy with us, harmless as it has
been, God knows, in all other respects, has unsteadied her and
made her wretched. I, who love her better than my own life--I,
who have learnt to believe in that pure, noble, innocent nature as
I believe in my religion--know but too well the secret misery of
self-reproach that she has been suffering since the first shadow
of a feeling disloyal to her marriage engagement entered her heart
in spite of her. I don't say--it would be useless to attempt to
say it after what has happened--that her engagement has ever had a
strong hold on her affections. It is an engagement of honour, not
of love; her father sanctioned it on his deathbed, two years
since; she herself neither welcomed it nor shrank from it--she was
content to make it. Till you came here she was in the position of
hundreds of other women, who marry men without being greatly
attracted to them or greatly repelled by them, and who learn to
love them (when they don't learn to hate!) after marriage, instead
of before. I hope more earnestly than words can say--and you
should have the self-sacrificing courage to hope too--that the new
thoughts and feelings which have disturbed the old calmness and
the old content have not taken root too deeply to be ever removed.
Your absence (if I had less belief in your honour, and your
courage, and your sense, I should not trust to them as I am
trusting now) your absence will help my efforts, and time will
help us all three. It is something to know that my first
confidence in you was not all misplaced. It is something to know
that you will not be less honest, less manly, less considerate
towards the pupil whose relation to yourself you have had the
misfortune to forget, than towards the stranger and the outcast
whose appeal to you was not made in vain."
Again the chance reference to the woman in white! Was there no
possibility of speaking of Miss Fairlie and of me without raising
the memory of Anne Catherick, and setting her between us like a
fatality that it was hopeless to avoid?
"Tell me what apology I can make to Mr. Fairlie for breaking my
engagement," I said. "Tell me when to go after that apology is
accepted. I promise implicit obedience to you and to your
"Time is every way of importance," she answered. "You heard me
refer this morning to Monday next, and to the necessity of setting
the purple room in order. The visitor whom we expect on Monday----"
I could not wait for her to be more explicit. Knowing what I knew
now, the memory of Miss Fairlie's look and manner at the
breakfast-table told me that the expected visitor at Limmeridge
House was her future husband. I tried to force it back; but
something rose within me at that moment stronger than my own will,
and I interrupted Miss Halcombe.
"Let me go to-day," I said bitterly. "The sooner the better."
"No, not to-day," she replied. "The only reason you can assign to
Mr. Fairlie for your departure, before the end of your engagement,
must be that an unforeseen necessity compels you to ask his
permission to return at once to London. You must wait till tomorrow
to tell him that, at the time when the post comes in,
because he will then understand the sudden change in your plans,
by associating it with the arrival of a letter from London. It is
miserable and sickening to descend to deceit, even of the most
harmless kind--but I know Mr. Fairlie, and if you once excite his
suspicions that you are trifling with him, he will refuse to
release you. Speak to him on Friday morning: occupy yourself
afterwards (for the sake of your own interests with your employer)
in leaving your unfinished work in as little confusion as
possible, and quit this place on Saturday. It will be time enough
then, Mr. Hartright, for you, and for all of us."
Before I could assure her that she might depend on my acting in
the strictest accordance with her wishes, we were both startled by
advancing footsteps in the shrubbery. Some one was coming from
the house to seek for us! I felt the blood rush into my cheeks and
then leave them again. Could the third person who was fast
approaching us, at such a time and under such circumstances, be
Miss Fairlie?
It was a relief--so sadly, so hopelessly was my position towards
her changed already--it was absolutely a relief to me, when the
person who had disturbed us appeared at the entrance of the
summer-house, and proved to be only Miss Fairlie's maid.
"Could I speak to you for a moment, miss?" said the girl, in
rather a flurried, unsettled manner.
Miss Halcombe descended the steps into the shrubbery, and walked
aside a few paces with the maid.
Left by myself, my mind reverted, with a sense of forlorn
wretchedness which it is not in any words that I can find to
describe, to my approaching return to the solitude and the despair
of my lonely London home. Thoughts of my kind old mother, and of
my sister, who had rejoiced with her so innocently over my
prospects in Cumberland--thoughts whose long banishment from my
heart it was now my shame and my reproach to realise for the first
time--came back to me with the loving mournfulness of old,
neglected friends. My mother and my sister, what would they feel
when I returned to them from my broken engagement, with the
confession of my miserable secret--they who had parted from me so
hopefully on that last happy night in the Hampstead cottage!
Anne Catherick again! Even the memory of the farewell evening with
my mother and my sister could not return to me now unconnected
with that other memory of the moonlight walk back to London. What
did it mean? Were that woman and I to meet once more? It was
possible, at the least. Did she know that I lived in London? Yes;
I had told her so, either before or after that strange question of
hers, when she had asked me so distrustfully if I knew many men of
the rank of Baronet. Either before or after--my mind was not calm
enough, then, to remember which.
A few minutes elapsed before Miss Halcombe dismissed the maid and
came back to me. She, too, looked flurried and unsettled now.
"We have arranged all that is necessary, Mr. Hartright," she said.
"We have understood each other, as friends should, and we may go
back at once to the house. To tell you the truth, I am uneasy
about Laura. She has sent to say she wants to see me directly,
and the maid reports that her mistress is apparently very much
agitated by a letter that she has received this morning--the same
letter, no doubt, which I sent on to the house before we came
We retraced our steps together hastily along the shrubbery path.
Although Miss Halcombe had ended all that she thought it necessary
to say on her side, I had not ended all that I wanted to say on
mine. From the moment when I had discovered that the expected
visitor at Limmeridge was Miss Fairlie's future husband, I had
felt a bitter curiosity, a burning envious eagerness, to know who
he was. It was possible that a future opportunity of putting the
question might not easily offer, so I risked asking it on our way
back to the house.
"Now that you are kind enough to tell me we have understood each
other, Miss Halcombe," I said, "now that you are sure of my
gratitude for your forbearance and my obedience to your wishes,
may I venture to ask who"--(I hesitated--I had forced myself to
think of him, but it was harder still to speak of him, as her
promised husband)--"who the gentleman engaged to Miss Fairlie is?"
Her mind was evidently occupied with the message she had received
from her sister. She answered in a hasty, absent way--
"A gentleman of large property in Hampshire."
Hampshire! Anne Catherick's native place. Again, and yet again,
the woman in white. There WAS a fatality in it.
"And his name?" I said, as quietly and indifferently as I could.
"Sir Percival Glyde."
SIR--Sir Percival! Anne Catherick's question--that suspicious
question about the men of the rank of Baronet whom I might happen
to know--had hardly been dismissed from my mind by Miss Halcombe's
return to me in the summer-house, before it was recalled again by
her own answer. I stopped suddenly, and looked at her.
"Sir Percival Glyde," she repeated, imagining that I had not heard
her former reply.
"Knight, or Baronet?" I asked, with an agitation that I could hide
no longer.
She paused for a moment, and then answered, rather coldly--
"Baronet, of course."
Not a word more was said, on either side, as we walked back to the
house. Miss Halcombe hastened immediately to her sister's room,
and I withdrew to my studio to set in order all of Mr. Fairlie's
drawings that I had not yet mounted and restored before I resigned
them to the care of other hands. Thoughts that I had hitherto
restrained, thoughts that made my position harder than ever to
endure, crowded on me now that I was alone.
She was engaged to be married, and her future husband was Sir
Percival Glyde. A man of the rank of Baronet, and the owner of
property in Hampshire.
There were hundreds of baronets in England, and dozens of
landowners in Hampshire. Judging by the ordinary rules of
evidence, I had not the shadow of a reason, thus far, for
connecting Sir Percival Glyde with the suspicious words of inquiry
that had been spoken to me by the woman in white. And yet, I did
connect him with them. Was it because he had now become
associated in my mind with Miss Fairlie, Miss Fairlie being, in
her turn, associated with Anne Catherick, since the night when I
had discovered the ominous likeness between them? Had the events
of the morning so unnerved me already that I was at the mercy of
any delusion which common chances and common coincidences might
suggest to my imagination? Impossible to say. I could only feel
that what had passed between Miss Halcombe and myself, on our way
from the summer-house, had affected me very strangely. The
foreboding of some undiscoverable danger lying hid from us all in
the darkness of the future was strong on me. The doubt whether I
was not linked already to a chain of events which even my
approaching departure from Cumberland would be powerless to snap
asunder--the doubt whether we any of us saw the end as the end
would really be--gathered more and more darkly over my mind.
Poignant as it was, the sense of suffering caused by the miserable
end of my brief, presumptuous love seemed to be blunted and
deadened by the still stronger sense of something obscurely
impending, something invisibly threatening, that Time was holding
over our heads.
I had been engaged with the drawings little more than half an
hour, when there was a knock at the door. It opened, on my
answering; and, to my surprise, Miss Halcombe entered the room.
Her manner was angry and agitated. She caught up a chair for
herself before I could give her one, and sat down in it, close at
my side.
"Mr. Hartright," she said, "I had hoped that all painful subjects
of conversation were exhausted between us, for to-day at least.
But it is not to be so. There is some underhand villainy at work
to frighten my sister about her approaching marriage. You saw me
send the gardener on to the house, with a letter addressed, in a
strange handwriting, to Miss Fairlie?"
"The letter is an anonymous letter--a vile attempt to injure Sir
Percival Glyde in my sister's estimation. It has so agitated and
alarmed her that I have had the greatest possible difficulty in
composing her spirits sufficiently to allow me to leave her room
and come here. I know this is a family matter on which I ought
not to consult you, and in which you can feel no concern or
"I beg your pardon, Miss Halcombe. I feel the strongest possible
concern and interest in anything that affects Miss Fairlie's
happiness or yours."
"I am glad to hear you say so. You are the only person in the
house, or out of it, who can advise me. Mr. Fairlie, in his state
of health and with his horror of difficulties and mysteries of all
kinds, is not to be thought of. The clergyman is a good, weak
man, who knows nothing out of the routine of his duties; and our
neighbours are just the sort of comfortable, jog-trot
acquaintances whom one cannot disturb in times of trouble and
danger. What I want to know is this: ought I at once to take such
steps as I can to discover the writer of the letter? or ought I to
wait, and apply to Mr. Fairlie's legal adviser to-morrow? It is a
question--perhaps a very important one--of gaining or losing a
day. Tell me what you think, Mr. Hartright. If necessity had not
already obliged me to take you into my confidence under very
delicate circumstances, even my helpless situation would, perhaps,
be no excuse for me. But as things are I cannot surely be wrong,
after all that has passed between us, in forgetting that you are a
friend of only three months' standing."
She gave me the letter. It began abruptly, without any
preliminary form of address, as follows--
"Do you believe in dreams? I hope, for your own sake, that you do.
See what Scripture says about dreams and their fulfilment (Genesis
xl. 8, xli. 25; Daniel iv. 18-25), and take the warning I send you
before it is too late.
"Last night I dreamed about you, Miss Fairlie. I dreamed that I
was standing inside the communion rails of a church--I on one side
of the altar-table, and the clergyman, with his surplice and his
prayer-book, on the other.
"After a time there walked towards us, down the aisle of the
church, a man and a woman, coming to be married. You were the
woman. You looked so pretty and innocent in your beautiful white
silk dress, and your long white lace veil, that my heart felt for
you, and the tears came into my eyes.
"They were tears of pity, young lady, that heaven blesses and
instead of falling from my eyes like the everyday tears that we
all of us shed, they turned into two rays of light which slanted
nearer and nearer to the man standing at the altar with you, till
they touched his breast. The two rays sprang ill arches like two
rainbows between me and him. I looked along them, and I saw down
into his inmost heart.
"The outside of the man you were marrying was fair enough to see.
He was neither tall nor short--he was a little below the middle
size. A light, active, high-spirited man--about five-and-forty
years old, to look at. He had a pale face, and was bald over the
forehead, but had dark hair on the rest of his head. His beard
was shaven on his chin, but was let to grow, of a fine rich brown,
on his cheeks and his upper lip. His eyes were brown too, and
very bright; his nose straight and handsome and delicate enough to
have done for a woman's. His hands the same. He was troubled
from time to time with a dry hacking cough, and when he put up his
white right hand to his mouth, he showed the red scar of an old
wound across the back of it. Have I dreamt of the right man? You
know best, Miss Fairlie and you can say if I was deceived or not.
Read next, what I saw beneath the outside--I entreat you, read,
and profit.
"I looked along the two rays of light, and I saw down into his
inmost heart. It was black as night, and on it were written, in
the red flaming letters which are the handwriting of the fallen
angel, 'Without pity and without remorse. He has strewn with
misery the paths of others, and he will live to strew with misery
the path of this woman by his side.' I read that, and then the
rays of light shifted and pointed over his shoulder; and there,
behind him, stood a fiend laughing. And the rays of light shifted
once more, and pointed over your shoulder; and there behind you,
stood an angel weeping. And the rays of light shifted for the
third time, and pointed straight between you and that man. They
widened and widened, thrusting you both asunder, one from the
other. And the clergyman looked for the marriage-service in vain:
it was gone out of the book, and he shut up the leaves, and put it
from him in despair. And I woke with my eyes full of tears and my
heart beating--for I believe in dreams.
"Believe too, Miss Fairlie--I beg of you, for your own sake,
believe as I do. Joseph and Daniel, and others in Scripture,
believed in dreams. Inquire into the past life of that man with
the scar on his hand, before you say the words that make you his
miserable wife. I don't give you this warning on my account, but
on yours. I have an interest in your well-being that will live as
long as I draw breath. Your mother's daughter has a tender place
in my heart--for your mother was my first, my best, my only
There the extraordinary letter ended, without signature of any
The handwriting afforded no prospect of a clue. It was traced on
ruled lines, in the cramped, conventional, copy-book character
technically termed "small hand." It was feeble and faint, and
defaced by blots, but had otherwise nothing to distinguish it.
"That is not an illiterate letter," said Miss Halcombe, "and at
the same time, it is surely too incoherent to be the letter of an
educated person in the higher ranks of life. The reference to the
bridal dress and veil, and other little expressions, seem to point
to it as the production of some woman. What do you think, Mr.
"I think so too. It seems to me to be not only the letter of a
woman, but of a woman whose mind must be----"
"Deranged?" suggested Miss Halcombe. "It struck me in that light
I did not answer. While I was speaking, my eyes rested on the
last sentence of the letter: "Your mother's daughter has a tender
place in my heart--for your mother was my first, my best, my only
friend." Those words and the doubt which had just escaped me as to
the sanity of the writer of the letter, acting together on my
mind, suggested an idea, which I was literally afraid to express
openly, or even to encourage secretly. I began to doubt whether
my own faculties were not in danger of losing their balance. It
seemed almost like a monomania to be tracing back everything
strange that happened, everything unexpected that was said, always
to the same hidden source and the same sinister influence. I
resolved, this time, in defence of my own courage and my own
sense, to come to no decision that plain fact did not warrant, and
to turn my back resolutely on everything that tempted me in the
shape of surmise.
"If we have any chance of tracing the person who has written
this," I said, returning the letter to Miss Halcombe, "there can
be no harm in seizing our opportunity the moment it offers. I
think we ought to speak to the gardener again about the elderly
woman who gave him the letter, and then to continue our inquiries
in the village. But first let me ask a question. You mentioned
just now the alternative of consulting Mr. Fairlie's legal adviser
to-morrow. Is there no possibility of communicating with him
earlier? Why not to-day?"
"I can only explain," replied Miss Halcombe, "by entering into
certain particulars, connected with my sister's marriageengagement,
which I did not think it necessary or desirable to
mention to you this morning. One of Sir Percival Glyde's objects
in coming here on Monday, is to fix the period of his marriage,
which has hitherto been left quite unsettled. He is anxious that
the event should take place before the end of the year."
"Does Miss Fairlie know of that wish?" I asked eagerly.
"She has no suspicion of it, and after what has happened, I shall
not take the responsibility upon myself of enlightening her. Sir
Percival has only mentioned his views to Mr. Fairlie, who has told
me himself that he is ready and anxious, as Laura's guardian, to
forward them. He has written to London, to the family solicitor,
Mr. Gilmore. Mr. Gilmore happens to be away in Glasgow on
business, and he has replied by proposing to stop at Limmeridge
House on his way back to town. He will arrive to-morrow, and will
stay with us a few days, so as to allow Sir Percival time to plead
his own cause. If he succeeds, Mr. Gilmore will then return to
London, taking with him his instructions for my sister's marriagesettlement.
You understand now, Mr. Hartright, why I speak of
waiting to take legal advice until to-morrow? Mr. Gilmore is the
old and tried friend of two generations of Fairlies, and we can
trust him, as we could trust no one else."
The marriage-settlement! The mere hearing of those two words stung
me with a jealous despair that was poison to my higher and better
instincts. I began to think--it is hard to confess this, but I
must suppress nothing from beginning to end of the terrible story
that I now stand committed to reveal--I began to think, with a
hateful eagerness of hope, of the vague charges against Sir
Percival Glyde which the anonymous letter contained. What if
those wild accusations rested on a foundation of truth? What if
their truth could be proved before the fatal words of consent were
spoken, and the marriage-settlement was drawn? I have tried to
think since, that the feeling which then animated me began and
ended in pure devotion to Miss Fairlie's interests, but I have
never succeeded in deceiving myself into believing it, and I must
not now attempt to deceive others. The feeling began and ended in
reckless, vindictive, hopeless hatred of the man who was to marry
"If we are to find out anything," I said, speaking under the new
influence which was now directing me, "we had better not let
another minute slip by us unemployed. I can only suggest, once
more, the propriety of questioning the gardener a second time, and
of inquiring in the village immediately afterwards."
"I think I may be of help to you in both cases," said Miss
Halcombe, rising. "Let us go, Mr. Hartright, at once, and do the
best we can together."
I had the door in my hand to open it for her--but I stopped, on a
sudden, to ask an important question before we set forth.
"One of the paragraphs of the anonymous letter," I said, "contains
some sentences of minute personal description. Sir Percival
Glyde's name is not mentioned, I know--but does that description
at all resemble him?"
"Accurately--even in stating his age to be forty-five----"
Forty-five; and she was not yet twenty-one! Men of his age married
wives of her age every day--and experience had shown those
marriages to be often the happiest ones. I knew that--and yet
even the mention of his age, when I contrasted it with hers, added
to my blind hatred and distrust of him.
"Accurately," Miss Halcombe continued, "even to the scar on his
right hand, which is the scar of a wound that he received years
since when he was travelling in Italy. There can be no doubt that
every peculiarity of his personal appearance is thoroughly well
known to the writer of the letter."
"Even a cough that he is troubled with is mentioned, if I remember
"Yes, and mentioned correctly. He treats it lightly himself,
though it sometimes makes his friends anxious about him."
"I suppose no whispers have ever been heard against his
"Mr. Hartright! I hope you are not unjust enough to let that
infamous letter influence you?"
I felt the blood rush into my cheeks, for I knew that it HAD
influenced me.
"I hope not," I answered confusedly. "Perhaps I had no right to
ask the question."
"I am not sorry you asked it," she said, "for it enables me to do
justice to Sir Percival's reputation. Not a whisper, Mr.
Hartright, has ever reached me, or my family, against him. He has
fought successfully two contested elections, and has come out of
the ordeal unscathed. A man who can do that, in England, is a man
whose character is established."
I opened the door for her in silence, and followed her out. She
had not convinced me. If the recording angel had come down from
heaven to confirm her, and had opened his book to my mortal eyes,
the recording angel would not have convinced me.
We found the gardener at work as usual. No amount of questioning
could extract a single answer of any importance from the lad's
impenetrable stupidity. The woman who had given him the letter
was an elderly woman; she had not spoken a word to him, and she
had gone away towards the south in a great hurry. That was all
the gardener could tell us.
The village lay southward of the house. So to the village we went
Our inquiries at Limmeridge were patiently pursued in all
directions, and among all sorts and conditions of people. But
nothing came of them. Three of the villagers did certainly assure
us that they had seen the woman, but as they were quite unable to
describe her, and quite incapable of agreeing about the exact
direction in which she was proceeding when they last saw her,
these three bright exceptions to the general rule of total
ignorance afforded no more real assistance to us than the mass of
their unhelpful and unobservant neighbours.
The course of our useless investigations brought us, in time, to
the end of the village at which the schools established by Mrs.
Fairlie were situated. As we passed the side of the building
appropriated to the use of the boys, I suggested the propriety of
making a last inquiry of the schoolmaster, whom we might presume
to be, in virtue of his office, the most intelligent man in the
"I am afraid the schoolmaster must have been occupied with his
scholars," said Miss Halcombe, "just at the time when the woman
passed through the village and returned again. However, we can
but try."
We entered the playground enclosure, and walked by the schoolroom
window to get round to the door, which was situated at the back of
the building. I stopped for a moment at the window and looked in.
The schoolmaster was sitting at his high desk, with his back to
me, apparently haranguing the pupils, who were all gathered
together in front of him, with one exception. The one exception
was a sturdy white-headed boy, standing apart from all the rest on
a stool in a corner--a forlorn little Crusoe, isolated in his own
desert island of solitary penal disgrace.
The door, when we got round to it, was ajar, and the schoolmaster's
voice reached us plainly, as we both stopped for a minute
under the porch.
"Now, boys," said the voice, "mind what I tell you. If I hear
another word spoken about ghosts in this school, it will be the
worse for all of you. There are no such things as ghosts, and
therefore any boy who believes in ghosts believes in what can't
possibly be; and a boy who belongs to Limmeridge School, and
believes in what can't possibly be, sets up his back against
reason and discipline, and must be punished accordingly. You all
see Jacob Postlethwaite standing up on the stool there in
disgrace. He has been punished, not because he said he saw a
ghost last night, but because he is too impudent and too obstinate
to listen to reason, and because he persists in saying he saw the
ghost after I have told him that no such thing can possibly be.
If nothing else will do, I mean to cane the ghost out of Jacob
Postlethwaite, and if the thing spreads among any of the rest of
you, I mean to go a step farther, and cane the ghost out of the
whole school."
"We seem to have chosen an awkward moment for our visit," said
Miss Halcombe, pushing open the door at the end of the
schoolmaster's address, and leading the way in.
Our appearance produced a strong sensation among the boys. They
appeared to think that we had arrived for the express purpose of
seeing Jacob Postlethwaite caned.
"Go home all of you to dinner," said the schoolmaster, "except
Jacob. Jacob must stop where he is; and the ghost may bring him
his dinner, if the ghost pleases."
Jacob's fortitude deserted him at the double disappearance of his
schoolfellows and his prospect of dinner. He took his hands out
of his pockets, looked hard at his knuckles, raised them with
great deliberation to his eyes, and when they got there, ground
them round and round slowly, accompanying the action by short
spasms of sniffing, which followed each other at regular
intervals--the nasal minute guns of juvenile distress.
"We came here to ask you a question, Mr. Dempster." said Miss
Halcombe, addressing the schoolmaster; "and we little expected to
find you occupied in exorcising a ghost. What does it all mean?
What has really happened?"
"That wicked boy has been frightening the whole school, Miss
Halcombe, by declaring that he saw a ghost yesterday evening,"
answered the master; "and he still persists in his absurd story,
in spite of all that I can say to him."
"Most extraordinary," said Miss Halcombe "I should not have
thought it possible that any of the boys had imagination enough to
see a ghost. This is a new accession indeed to the hard labour of
forming the youthful mind at Limmeridge, and I heartily wish you
well through it, Mr. Dempster. In the meantime, let me explain
why you see me here, and what it is I want."
She then put the same question to the schoolmaster which we had
asked already of almost every one else in the village. It was met
by the same discouraging answer Mr. Dempster had not set eyes on
the stranger of whom we were in search.
"We may as well return to the house, Mr. Hartright," said Miss
Halcombe; "the information we want is evidently not to be found."
She had bowed to Mr. Dempster, and was about to leave the
schoolroom, when the forlorn position of Jacob Postlethwaite,
piteously sniffing on the stool of penitence, attracted her
attention as she passed him, and made her stop good-humouredly to
speak a word to the little prisoner before she opened the door.
"You foolish boy," she said, "why don't you beg Mr. Dempster's
pardon, and hold your tongue about the ghost?"
"Eh!--but I saw t' ghaist," persisted Jacob Postlethwaite, with a
stare of terror and a burst of tears.
"Stuff and nonsense! You saw nothing of the kind. Ghost indeed!
What ghost----"
"I beg your pardon, Miss Halcombe," interposed the school-master a
little uneasily--"but I think you had better not question the boy.
The obstinate folly of his story is beyond all belief; and you
might lead him into ignorantly----"
"Ignorantly what?" inquired Miss Halcombe sharply.
"Ignorantly shocking your feelings," said Mr. Dempster, looking
very much discomposed.
"Upon my word, Mr. Dempster, you pay my feelings a great
compliment in thinking them weak enough to be shocked by such an
urchin as that!" She turned with an air of satirical defiance to
little Jacob, and began to question him directly. "Come!" she
said, "I mean to know all about this. You naughty boy, when did
you see the ghost?"
"Yestere'en, at the gloaming," replied Jacob.
"Oh! you saw it yesterday evening, in the twilight? And what was
it like?"
"Arl in white--as a ghaist should be," answered the ghost-seer,
with a confidence beyond his years.
"And where was it?"
"Away yander, in t' kirkyard--where a ghaist ought to be."
"As a 'ghaist' should be--where a 'ghaist' ought to be--why, you
little fool, you talk as if the manners and customs of ghosts had
been familiar to you from your infancy! You have got your story at
your fingers' ends, at any rate. I suppose I shall hear next that
you can actually tell me whose ghost it was?"
"Eh! but I just can," replied Jacob, nodding his head with an air
of gloomy triumph.
Mr. Dempster had already tried several times to speak while Miss
Halcombe was examining his pupil, and he now interposed resolutely
enough to make himself heard.
"Excuse me, Miss Halcombe," he said, "if I venture to say that you
are only encouraging the boy by asking him these questions."
"I will merely ask one more, Mr. Dempster, and then I shall be
quite satisfied. Well," she continued, turning to the boy, "and
whose ghost was it?"
"T' ghaist of Mistress Fairlie," answered Jacob in a whisper.
The effect which this extraordinary reply produced on Miss
Halcombe fully justified the anxiety which the schoolmaster had
shown to prevent her from hearing it. Her face crimsoned with
indignation--she turned upon little Jacob with an angry suddenness
which terrified him into a fresh burst of tears--opened her lips
to speak to him--then controlled herself, and addressed the master
instead of the boy.
"It is useless," she said, "to hold such a child as that
responsible for what he says. I have little doubt that the idea
has been put into his head by others. If there are people in this
village, Mr. Dempster, who have forgotten the respect and
gratitude due from every soul in it to my mother's memory, I will
find them out, and if I have any influence with Mr. Fairlie, they
shall suffer for it."
"I hope--indeed, I am sure, Miss Halcombe--that you are mistaken,"
said the schoolmaster. "The matter begins and ends with the boy's
own perversity and folly. He saw, or thought he saw, a woman in
white, yesterday evening, as he was passing the churchyard; and
the figure, real or fancied, was standing by the marble cross,
which he and every one else in Limmeridge knows to be the monument
over Mrs. Fairlie's grave. These two circumstances are surely
sufficient to have suggested to the boy himself the answer which
has so naturally shocked you?"
Although Miss Halcombe did not seem to be convinced, she evidently
felt that the schoolmaster's statement of the case was too
sensible to be openly combated. She merely replied by thanking
him for his attention, and by promising to see him again when her
doubts were satisfied. This said, she bowed, and led the way out
of the schoolroom.
Throughout the whole of this strange scene I had stood apart,
listening attentively, and drawing my own conclusions. As soon as
we were alone again, Miss Halcombe asked me if I had formed any
opinion on what I had heard.
"A very strong opinion," I answered; "the boy's story, as I
believe, has a foundation in fact. I confess I am anxious to see
the monument over Mrs. Fairlie's grave, and to examine the ground
about it."
"You shall see the grave."
She paused after making that reply, and reflected a little as we
walked on. "What has happened in the schoolroom," she resumed,
"has so completely distracted my attention from the subject of the
letter, that I feel a little bewildered when I try to return to
it. Must we give up all idea of making any further inquiries, and
wait to place the thing in Mr. Gilmore's hands to-morrow?"
"By no means, Miss Halcombe. What has happened in the schoolroom
encourages me to persevere in the investigation."
"Why does it encourage you?"
"Because it strengthens a suspicion I felt when you gave me the
letter to read."
"I suppose you had your reasons, Mr. Hartright, for concealing
that suspicion from me till this moment?"
"I was afraid to encourage it in myself. I thought it was utterly
preposterous--I distrusted it as the result of some perversity in
my own imagination. But I can do so no longer. Not only the
boy's own answers to your questions, but even a chance expression
that dropped from the schoolmaster's lips in explaining his story,
have forced the idea back into my mind. Events may yet prove that
idea to be a delusion, Miss Halcombe; but the belief is strong in
me, at this moment, that the fancied ghost in the churchyard, and
the writer of the anonymous letter, are one and the same person."
She stopped, turned pale, and looked me eagerly in the face.
"What person?"
"The schoolmaster unconsciously told you. When he spoke of the
figure that the boy saw in the churchyard he called it 'a woman in
"Not Anne Catherick?"
"Yes, Anne Catherick."
She put her hand through my arm and leaned on it heavily.
"I don't know why," she said in low tones, "but there is something
in this suspicion of yours that seems to startle and unnerve me.
I feel----" She stopped, and tried to laugh it off. "Mr.
Hartright," she went on, "I will show you the grave, and then go
back at once to the house. I had better not leave Laura too long
alone. I had better go back and sit with her."
We were close to the churchyard when she spoke. The church, a
dreary building of grey stone, was situated in a little valley, so
as to be sheltered from the bleak winds blowing over the moorland
all round it. The burial-ground advanced, from the side of the
church, a little way up the slope of the hill. It was surrounded
by a rough, low stone wall, and was bare and open to the sky,
except at one extremity, where a brook trickled down the stony
hill-side, and a clump of dwarf trees threw their narrow shadows
over the short, meagre grass. Just beyond the brook and the
trees, and not far from one of the three stone stiles which
afforded entrance, at various points, to the church-yard, rose the
white marble cross that distinguished Mrs. Fairlie's grave from
the humbler monuments scattered about it.
"I need go no farther with you," said Miss Halcombe, pointing to
the grave. "You will let me know if you find anything to confirm
the idea you have just mentioned to me. Let us meet again at the
She left me. I descended at once to the churchyard, and crossed
the stile which led directly to Mrs. Fairlie's grave.
The grass about it was too short, and the ground too hard, to show
any marks of footsteps. Disappointed thus far, I next looked
attentively at the cross, and at the square block of marble below
it, on which the inscription was cut.
The natural whiteness of the cross was a little clouded, here and
there, by weather stains, and rather more than one half of the
square block beneath it, on the side which bore the inscription,
was in the same condition. The other half, however, attracted my
attention at once by its singular freedom from stain or impurity
of any kind. I looked closer, and saw that it had been cleaned--
recently cleaned, in a downward direction from top to bottom. The
boundary line between the part that had been cleaned and the part
that had not was traceable wherever the inscription left a blank
space of marble--sharply traceable as a line that had been
produced by artificial means. Who had begun the cleansing of the
marble, and who had left it unfinished?
I looked about me, wondering how the question was to be solved.
No sign of a habitation could be discerned from the point at which
I was standing--the burial-ground was left in the lonely
possession of the dead. I returned to the church, and walked
round it till I came to the back of the building; then crossed the
boundary wall beyond, by another of the stone stiles, and found
myself at the head of a path leading down into a deserted stone
quarry. Against one side of the quarry a little two-room cottage
was built, and just outside the door an old woman was engaged in
I walked up to her, and entered into conversation about the church
and burial-ground. She was ready enough to talk, and almost the
first words she said informed me that her husband filled the two
offices of clerk and sexton. I said a few words next in praise of
Mrs. Fairlie's monument. The old woman shook her head, and told
me I had not seen it at its best. It was her husband's business
to look after it, but he had been so ailing and weak for months
and months past, that he had hardly been able to crawl into church
on Sundays to do his duty, and the monument had been neglected in
consequence. He was getting a little better now, and in a week or
ten days' time he hoped to be strong enough to set to work and
clean it.
This information--extracted from a long rambling answer in the
broadest Cumberland dialect--told me all that I most wanted to
know. I gave the poor woman a trifle, and returned at once to
Limmeridge House.
The partial cleansing of the monument had evidently been
accomplished by a strange hand. Connecting what I had discovered,
thus far, with what I had suspected after hearing the story of the
ghost seen at twilight, I wanted nothing more to confirm my
resolution to watch Mrs. Fairlie's grave, in secret, that evening,
returning to it at sunset, and waiting within sight of it till the
night fell. The work of cleansing the monument had been left
unfinished, and the person by whom it had been begun might return
to complete it.
On getting back to the house I informed Miss Halcombe of what I
intended to do. She looked surprised and uneasy while I was
explaining my purpose, but she made no positive objection to the
execution of it. She only said, "I hope it may end well."
Just as she was leaving me again, I stopped her to inquire, as
calmly as I could, after Miss Fairlie's health. She was in better
spirits, and Miss Halcombe hoped she might be induced to take a
little walking exercise while the afternoon sun lasted.
I returned to my own room to resume setting the drawings in order.
It was necessary to do this, and doubly necessary to keep my mind
employed on anything that would help to distract my attention from
myself, and from the hopeless future that lay before me. From
time to time I paused in my work to look out of window and watch
the sky as the sun sank nearer and nearer to the horizon. On one
of those occasions I saw a figure on the broad gravel walk under
my window. It was Miss Fairlie.
I had not seen her since the morning, and I had hardly spoken to
her then. Another day at Limmeridge was all that remained to me,
and after that day my eyes might never look on her again. This
thought was enough to hold me at the window. I had sufficient
consideration for her to arrange the blind so that she might not
see me if she looked up, but I had no strength to resist the
temptation of letting my eyes, at least, follow her as far as they
could on her walk.
She was dressed in a brown cloak, with a plain black silk gown
under it. On her head was the same simple straw hat which she had
worn on the morning when we first met. A veil was attached to it
now which hid her face from me. By her side trotted a little
Italian greyhound, the pet companion of all her walks, smartly
dressed in a scarlet cloth wrapper, to keep the sharp air from his
delicate skin. She did not seem to notice the dog. She walked
straight forward, with her head drooping a little, and her arms
folded in her cloak. The dead leaves, which had whirled in the
wind before me when I had heard of her marriage engagement in the
morning, whirled in the wind before her, and rose and fell and
scattered themselves at her feet as she walked on in the pale
waning sunlight. The dog shivered and trembled, and pressed
against her dress impatiently for notice and encouragement. But
she never heeded him. She walked on, farther and farther away
from me, with the dead leaves whirling about her on the path--
walked on, till my aching eyes could see her no more, and I was
left alone again with my own heavy heart.
In another hour's time I had done my work, and the sunset was at
hand. I got my hat and coat in the hall, and slipped out of the
house without meeting any one.
The clouds were wild in the western heaven, and the wind blew
chill from the sea. Far as the shore was, the sound of the surf
swept over the intervening moorland, and beat drearily in my ears
when I entered the churchyard. Not a living creature was in
sight. The place looked lonelier than ever as I chose my
position, and waited and watched, with my eyes on the white cross
that rose over Mrs. Fairlie's grave.
The exposed situation of the churchyard had obliged me to be
cautious in choosing the position that I was to occupy.
The main entrance to the church was on the side next to the
burial-ground, and the door was screened by a porch walled in on
either side. After some little hesitation, caused by natural
reluctance to conceal myself, indispensable as that concealment
was to the object in view, I had resolved on entering the porch.
A loophole window was pierced in each of its side walls. Through
one of these windows I could see Mrs. Fairlie's grave. The other
looked towards the stone quarry in which the sexton's cottage was
built. Before me, fronting the porch entrance, was a patch of
bare burial-ground, a line of low stone wall, and a strip of
lonely brown hill, with the sunset clouds sailing heavily over it
before the strong, steady wind. No living creature was visible or
audible--no bird flew by me, no dog barked from the sexton's
cottage. The pauses in the dull beating of the surf were filled
up by the dreary rustling of the dwarf trees near the grave, and
the cold faint bubble of the brook over its stony bed. A dreary
scene and a dreary hour. My spirits sank fast as I counted out
the minutes of the evening in my hiding-place under the church
It was not twilight yet--the light of the setting sun still
lingered in the heavens, and little more than the first half-hour
of my solitary watch had elapsed--when I heard footsteps and a
voice. The footsteps were approaching from the other side of the
church, and the voice was a woman's.
"Don't you fret, my dear, about the letter," said the voice. "I
gave it to the lad quite safe, and the lad he took it from me
without a word. He went his way and I went mine, and not a living
soul followed me afterwards--that I'll warrant."
These words strung up my attention to a pitch of expectation that
was almost painful. There was a pause of silence, but the
footsteps still advanced. In another moment two persons, both
women, passed within my range of view from the porch window. They
were walking straight towards the grave; and therefore they had
their backs turned towards me.
One of the women was dressed in a bonnet and shawl. The other
wore a long travelling-cloak of a dark-blue colour, with the hood
drawn over her head. A few inches of her gown were visible below
the cloak. My heart beat fast as I noted the colour--it was
After advancing about half-way between the church and the grave
they stopped, and the woman in the cloak turned her head towards
her companion. But her side face, which a bonnet might now have
allowed me to see, was hidden by the heavy, projecting edge of the
"Mind you keep that comfortable warm cloak on," said the same
voice which I had already heard--the voice of the woman in the
shawl. "Mrs. Todd is right about your looking too particular,
yesterday, all in white. I'll walk about a little while you're
here, churchyards being not at all in my way, whatever they may be
in yours. Finish what you want to do before I come back, and let
us be sure and get home again before night."
With those words she turned about, and retracing her steps,
advanced with her face towards me. It was the face of an elderly
woman, brown, rugged, and healthy, with nothing dishonest or
suspicious in the look of it. Close to the church she stopped to
pull her shawl closer round her.
"Queer," she said to herself, "always queer, with her whims and
her ways, ever since I can remember her. Harmless, though--as
harmless, poor soul, as a little child."
She sighed--looked about the burial-ground nervously--shook her
head, as if the dreary prospect by no means pleased her, and
disappeared round the corner of the church.
I doubted for a moment whether I ought to follow and speak to her
or not. My intense anxiety to find myself face to face with her
companion helped me to decide in the negative. I could ensure
seeing the woman in the shawl by waiting near the churchyard until
she came back--although it seemed more than doubtful whether she
could give me the information of which I was in search. The
person who had delivered the letter was of little consequence.
The person who had written it was the one centre of interest, and
the one source of information, and that person I now felt
convinced was before me in the churchyard.
While these ideas were passing through my mind I saw the woman in
the cloak approach close to the grave, and stand looking at it for
a little while. She then glanced all round her, and taking a
white linen cloth or handkerchief from under her cloak, turned
aside towards the brook. The little stream ran into the
churchyard under a tiny archway in the bottom of the wall, and ran
out again, after a winding course of a few dozen yards, under a
similar opening. She dipped the cloth in the water, and returned
to the grave. I saw her kiss the white cross, then kneel down
before the inscription, and apply her wet cloth to the cleansing
of it.
After considering how I could show myself with the least possible
chance of frightening her, I resolved to cross the wall before me,
to skirt round it outside, and to enter the churchyard again by
the stile near the grave, in order that she might see me as I
approached. She was so absorbed over her employment that she did
not hear me coming until I had stepped over the stile. Then she
looked up, started to her feet with a faint cry, and stood facing
me in speechless and motionless terror.
"Don't be frightened," I said. "Surely you remember me?"
I stopped while I spoke--then advanced a few steps gently--then
stopped again--and so approached by little and little till I was
close to her. If there had been any doubt still left in my mind,
it must have been now set at rest. There, speaking affrightedly
for itself--there was the same face confronting me over Mrs.
Fairlie's grave which had first looked into mine on the high-road
by night.
"You remember me?" I said. "We met very late, and I helped you to
find the way to London. Surely you have not forgotten that?"
Her features relaxed, and she drew a heavy breath of relief. I
saw the new life of recognition stirring slowly under the deathlike
stillness which fear had set on her face.
"Don't attempt to speak to me just yet," I went on. "Take time to
recover yourself--take time to feel quite certain that I am a
"You are very kind to me," she murmured. "As kind now as you were
She stopped, and I kept silence on my side. I was not granting
time for composure to her only, I was gaining time also for
myself. Under the wan wild evening light, that woman and I were
met together again, a grave between us, the dead about us, the
lonesome hills closing us round on every side. The time, the
place, the circumstances under which we now stood face to face in
the evening stillness of that dreary valley--the lifelong
interests which might hang suspended on the next chance words that
passed between us--the sense that, for aught I knew to the
contrary, the whole future of Laura Fairlie's life might be
determined, for good or for evil, by my winning or losing the
confidence of the forlorn creature who stood trembling by her
mother's grave--all threatened to shake the steadiness and the
self-control on which every inch of the progress I might yet make
now depended. I tried hard, as I felt this, to possess myself of
all my resources; I did my utmost to turn the few moments for
reflection to the best account.
"Are you calmer now?" I said, as soon as I thought it time to
speak again. "Can you talk to me without feeling frightened, and
without forgetting that I am a friend?"
"How did you come here?" she asked, without noticing what I had
just said to her.
"Don't you remember my telling you, when we last met, that I was
going to Cumberland? I have been in Cumberland ever since--I have
been staying all the time at Limmeridge House."
"At Limmeridge House!" Her pale face brightened as she repeated
the words, her wandering eyes fixed on me with a sudden interest.
"Ah, how happy you must have been!" she said, looking at me
eagerly, without a shadow of its former distrust left in her
I took advantage of her newly-aroused confidence in me to observe
her face, with an attention and a curiosity which I had hitherto
restrained myself from showing, for caution's sake. I looked at
her, with my mind full of that other lovely face which had so
ominously recalled her to my memory on the terrace by moonlight.
I had seen Anne Catherick's likeness in Miss Fairlie. I now saw
Miss Fairlie's likeness in Anne Catherick--saw it all the more
clearly because the points of dissimilarity between the two were
presented to me as well as the points of resemblance. In the
general outline of the countenance and general proportion of the
features--in the colour of the hair and in the little nervous
uncertainty about the lips--in the height and size of the figure,
and the carriage of the head and body, the likeness appeared even
more startling than I had ever felt it to be yet. But there the
resemblance ended, and the dissimilarity, in details, began. The
delicate beauty of Miss Fairlie's complexion, the transparent
clearness of her eyes, the smooth purity of her skin, the tender
bloom of colour on her lips, were all missing from the worn weary
face that was now turned towards mine. Although I hated myself
even for thinking such a thing, still, while I looked at the woman
before me, the idea would force itself into my mind that one sad
change, in the future, was all that was wanting to make the
likeness complete, which I now saw to be so imperfect in detail.
If ever sorrow and suffering set their profaning marks on the
youth and beauty of Miss Fairlie's face, then, and then only, Anne
Catherick and she would be the twin-sisters of chance resemblance,
the living reflections of one another.
I shuddered at the thought. There was something horrible in the
blind unreasoning distrust of the future which the mere passage of
it through my mind seemed to imply. It was a welcome interruption
to be roused by feeling Anne Catherick's hand laid on my shoulder.
The touch was as stealthy and as sudden as that other touch which
had petrified me from head to foot on the night when we first met.
"You are looking at me, and you are thinking of something," she
said, with her strange breathless rapidity of utterance. "What is
"Nothing extraordinary," I answered. "I was only wondering how
you came here."
"I came with a friend who is very good to me. I have only been
here two days."
"And you found your way to this place yesterday?"
"How do you know that?"
"I only guessed it."
She turned from me, and knelt down before the inscription once
"Where should I go if not here?" she said. "The friend who was
better than a mother to me is the only friend I have to visit at
Limmeridge. Oh, it makes my heart ache to see a stain on her
tomb! It ought to be kept white as snow, for her sake. I was
tempted to begin cleaning it yesterday, and I can't help coming
back to go on with it to-day. Is there anything wrong in that? I
hope not. Surely nothing can be wrong that I do for Mrs.
Fairlie's sake?"
The old grateful sense of her benefactress's kindness was
evidently the ruling idea still in the poor creature's mind--the
narrow mind which had but too plainly opened to no other lasting
impression since that first impression of her younger and happier
days. I saw that my best chance of winning her confidence lay in
encouraging her to proceed with the artless employment which she
had come into the burial-ground to pursue. She resumed it at
once, on my telling her she might do so, touching the hard marble
as tenderly as if it had been a sentient thing, and whispering the
words of the inscription to herself, over and over again, as if
the lost days of her girlhood had returned and she was patiently
learning her lesson once more at Mrs. Fairlie's knees.
"Should you wonder very much," I said, preparing the way as
cautiously as I could for the questions that were to come, "if I
owned that it is a satisfaction to me, as well as a surprise, to
see you here? I felt very uneasy about you after you left me in
the cab."
She looked up quickly and suspiciously.
"Uneasy," she repeated. "Why?"
"A strange thing happened after we parted that night. Two men
overtook me in a chaise. They did not see where I was standing,
but they stopped near me, and spoke to a policeman on the other
side of the way."
She instantly suspended her employment. The hand holding the damp
cloth with which she had been cleaning the inscription dropped to
her side. The other hand grasped the marble cross at the head of
the grave. Her face turned towards me slowly, with the blank look
of terror set rigidly on it once more. I went on at all hazards--
it was too late now to draw back.
"The two men spoke to the policeman," I said, "and asked him if he
had seen you. He had not seen you; and then one of the men spoke
again, and said you had escaped from his Asylum."
She sprang to her feet as if my last words had set the pursuers on
her track.
"Stop! and hear the end," I cried. "Stop! and you shall know how
I befriended you. A word from me would have told the men which
way you had gone--and I never spoke that word. I helped your
escape--I made it safe and certain. Think, try to think. Try to
understand what I tell you."
My manner seemed to influence her more than my words. She made an
effort to grasp the new idea. Her hands shifted the damp cloth
hesitatingly from one to the other, exactly as they had shifted
the little travelling-bag on the night when I first saw her.
Slowly the purpose of my words seemed to force its way through the
confusion and agitation of her mind. Slowly her features relaxed,
and her eyes looked at me with their expression gaining in
curiosity what it was fast losing in fear.
"YOU don't think I ought to be back in the Asylum, do you?" she
"Certainly not. I am glad you escaped from it--I am glad I helped
"Yes, yes, you did help me indeed; you helped me at the hard
part," she went on a little vacantly. "It was easy to escape, or
I should not have got away. They never suspected me as they
suspected the others. I was so quiet, and so obedient, and so
easily frightened. The finding London was the hard part, and
there you helped me. Did I thank you at the time? I thank you now
very kindly."
"Was the Asylum far from where you met me? Come! show that you
believe me to be your friend, and tell me where it was."
She mentioned the place--a private Asylum, as its situation
informed me; a private Asylum not very far from the spot where I
had seen her--and then, with evident suspicion of the use to which
I might put her answer, anxiously repeated her former inquiry,
"You don't think I ought to be taken back, do you?"
"Once again, I am glad you escaped--I am glad you prospered well
after you left me," I answered. "You said you had a friend in
London to go to. Did you find the friend?"
"Yes. It was very late, but there was a girl up at needle-work in
the house, and she helped me to rouse Mrs. Clements. Mrs.
Clements is my friend. A good, kind woman, but not like Mrs.
Fairlie. Ah no, nobody is like Mrs. Fairlie!"
"Is Mrs. Clements an old friend of yours? Have you known her a
long time?"
"Yes, she was a neighbour of ours once, at home, in Hampshire, and
liked me, and took care of me when I was a little girl. Years
ago, when she went away from us, she wrote down in my Prayer-book
for me where she was going to live in London, and she said, 'If
you are ever in trouble, Anne, come to me. I have no husband
alive to say me nay, and no children to look after, and I will
take care of you.' Kind words, were they not? I suppose I remember
them because they were kind. It's little enough I remember
besides--little enough, little enough!"
"Had you no father or mother to take care of you?"
"Father?--I never saw him--I never heard mother speak of him.
Father? Ah, dear! he is dead, I suppose."
"And your mother?"
"I don't get on well with her. We are a trouble and a fear to
each other."
A trouble and a fear to each other! At those words the suspicion
crossed my mind, for the first time, that her mother might be the
person who had placed her under restraint.
"Don't ask me about mother," she went on. "I'd rather talk of
Mrs. Clements. Mrs. Clements is like you, she doesn't think that
I ought to be back in the Asylum, and she is as glad as you are
that I escaped from it. She cried over my misfortune, and said it
must be kept secret from everybody."
Her "misfortune." In what sense was she using that word? In a
sense which might explain her motive in writing the anonymous
letter? In a sense which might show it to be the too common and
too customary motive that has led many a woman to interpose
anonymous hindrances to the marriage of the man who has ruined
her? I resolved to attempt the clearing up of this doubt before
more words passed between us on either side.
"What misfortune?" I asked.
"The misfortune of my being shut up," she answered, with every
appearance of feeling surprised at my question. "What other
misfortune could there be?"
I determined to persist, as delicately and forbearingly as
possible. It was of very great importance that I should be
absolutely sure of every step in the investigation which I now
gained in advance.
"There is another misfortune," I said, "to which a woman may be
liable, and by which she may suffer lifelong sorrow and shame."
"What is it?" she asked eagerly.
"The misfortune of believing too innocently in her own virtue, and
in the faith and honour of the man she loves," I answered.
She looked up at me with the artless bewilderment of a child. Not
the slightest confusion or change of colour--not the faintest
trace of any secret consciousness of shame struggling to the
surface appeared in her face--that face which betrayed every other
emotion with such transparent clearness. No words that ever were
spoken could have assured me, as her look and manner now assured
me, that the motive which I had assigned for her writing the
letter and sending it to Miss Fairlie was plainly and distinctly
the wrong one. That doubt, at any rate, was now set at rest; but
the very removal of it opened a new prospect of uncertainty. The
letter, as I knew from positive testimony, pointed at Sir Percival
Glyde, though it did not name him. She must have had some strong
motive, originating in some deep sense of injury, for secretly
denouncing him to Miss Fairlie in such terms as she had employed,
and that motive was unquestionably not to be traced to the loss of
her innocence and her character. Whatever wrong he might have
inflicted on her was not of that nature. Of what nature could it
"I don't understand you," she said, after evidently trying hard,
and trying in vain, to discover the meaning of the words I had
last said to her.
"Never mind," I answered. "Let us go on with what we were talking
about. Tell me how long you stayed with Mrs. Clements in London,
and how you came here."
"How long?" she repeated. "I stayed with Mrs. Clements till we
both came to this place, two days ago."
"You are living in the village, then?" I said. "It is strange I
should not have heard of you, though you have only been here two
"No, no, not in the village. Three miles away at a farm. Do you
know the farm? They call it Todd's Corner."
I remembered the place perfectly--we had often passed by it in our
drives. It was one of the oldest farms in the neighbourhood,
situated in a solitary, sheltered spot, inland at the junction of
two hills.
"They are relations of Mrs. Clements at Todd's Corner," she went
on, "and they had often asked her to go and see them. She said
she would go, and take me with her, for the quiet and the fresh
air. It was very kind, was it not? I would have gone anywhere to
be quiet, and safe, and out of the way. But when I heard that
Todd's Corner was near Limmeridge--oh! I was so happy I would have
walked all the way barefoot to get there, and see the schools and
the village and Limmeridge House again. They are very good people
at Todd's Corner. I hope I shall stay there a long time. There
is only one thing I don't like about them, and don't like about
Mrs. Clements----"
"What is it?"
"They will tease me about dressing all in white--they say it looks
so particular. How do they know? Mrs. Fairlie knew best. Mrs.
Fairlie would never have made me wear this ugly blue cloak! Ah!
she was fond of white in her lifetime, and here is white stone
about her grave--and I am making it whiter for her sake. She
often wore white herself, and she always dressed her little
daughter in white. Is Miss Fairlie well and happy? Does she wear
white now, as she used when she was a girl?"
Her voice sank when she put the questions about Miss Fairlie, and
she turned her head farther and farther away from me. I thought I
detected, in the alteration of her manner, an uneasy consciousness
of the risk she had run in sending the anonymous letter, and I
instantly determined so to frame my answer as to surprise her into
owning it.
"Miss Fairlie was not very well or very happy this morning," I
She murmured a few words, but they were spoken so confusedly, and
in such a low tone, that I could not even guess at what they
"Did you ask me why Miss Fairlie was neither well nor happy this
morning?" I continued.
"No," she said quickly and eagerly--"oh no, I never asked that."
"I will tell you without your asking," I went on. "Miss Fairlie
has received your letter."
She had been down on her knees for some little time past,
carefully removing the last weather-stains left about the
inscription while we were speaking together. The first sentence
of the words I had just addressed to her made her pause in her
occupation, and turn slowly without rising from her knees, so as
to face me. The second sentence literally petrified her. The
cloth she had been holding dropped from her hands--her lips fell
apart--all the little colour that there was naturally in her face
left it in an instant.
"How do you know?" she said faintly. "Who showed it to you?" The
blood rushed back into her face--rushed overwhelmingly, as the
sense rushed upon her mind that her own words had betrayed her.
She struck her hands together in despair. "I never wrote it," she
gasped affrightedly; "I know nothing about it!"
"Yes," I said, "you wrote it, and you know about it. It was wrong
to send such a letter, it was wrong to frighten Miss Fairlie. If
you had anything to say that it was right and necessary for her to
hear, you should have gone yourself to Limmeridge House--you
should have spoken to the young lady with your own lips."
She crouched down over the flat stone of the grave, till her face
was hidden on it, and made no reply.
"Miss Fairlie will be as good and kind to you as her mother was,
if you mean well," I went on. "Miss Fairlie will keep your
secret, and not let you come to any harm. Will you see her tomorrow
at the farm? Will you meet her in the garden at Limmeridge
"Oh, if I could die, and be hidden and at rest with YOU!" Her lips
murmured the words close on the grave-stone, murmured them in
tones of passionate endearment, to the dead remains beneath. "You
know how I love your child, for your sake! Oh, Mrs. Fairlie! Mrs.
Fairlie! tell me how to save her. Be my darling and my mother
once more, and tell me what to do for the best."
I heard her lips kissing the stone--I saw her hands beating on it
passionately. The sound and the sight deeply affected me. I
stooped down, and took the poor helpless hands tenderly in mine,
and tried to soothe her.
It was useless. She snatched her hands from me, and never moved
her face from the stone. Seeing the urgent necessity of quieting
her at any hazard and by any means, I appealed to the only anxiety
that she appeared to feel, in connection with me and with my
opinion of her--the anxiety to convince me of her fitness to be
mistress of her own actions.
"Come, come," I said gently. "Try to compose yourself, or you
will make me alter my opinion of you. Don't let me think that the
person who put you in the Asylum might have had some excuse----"
The next words died away on my lips. The instant I risked that
chance reference to the person who had put her in the Asylum she
sprang up on her knees. A most extraordinary and startling change
passed over her. Her face, at all ordinary times so touching to
look at, in its nervous sensitiveness, weakness, and uncertainty,
became suddenly darkened by an expression of maniacally intense
hatred and fear, which communicated a wild, unnatural force to
every feature. Her eyes dilated in the dim evening light, like
the eyes of a wild animal. She caught up the cloth that had
fallen at her side, as if it had been a living creature that she
could kill, and crushed it in both her hands with such convulsive
strength, that the few drops of moisture left in it trickled down
on the stone beneath her.
"Talk of something else," she said, whispering through her teeth.
"I shall lose myself if you talk of that."
Every vestige of the gentler thoughts which had filled her mind
hardly a minute since seemed to be swept from it now. It was
evident that the impression left by Mrs. Fairlie's kindness was
not, as I had supposed, the only strong impression on her memory.
With the grateful remembrance of her school-days at Limmeridge,
there existed the vindictive remembrance of the wrong inflicted on
her by her confinement in the Asylum. Who had done that wrong?
Could it really be her mother?
It was hard to give up pursuing the inquiry to that final point,
but I forced myself to abandon all idea of continuing it. Seeing
her as I saw her now, it would have been cruel to think of
anything but the necessity and the humanity of restoring her
"I will talk of nothing to distress you," I said soothingly.
"You want something," she answered sharply and suspiciously.
"Don't look at me like that. Speak to me--tell me what you want."
"I only want you to quiet yourself, and when you are calmer, to
think over what I have said."
"Said?" She paused--twisted the cloth in her hands, back-wards and
forwards, and whispered to herself, "What is it he said?" She
turned again towards me, and shook her head impatiently. "Why
don't you help me?" she asked, with angry suddenness.
"Yes, yes," I said, "I will help you, and you will soon remember.
I ask you to see Miss Fairlie to-morrow and to tell her the truth
about the letter."
"Ah! Miss Fairlie--Fairlie--Fairlie----"
The mere utterance of the loved familiar name seemed to quiet her.
Her face softened and grew like itself again.
"You need have no fear of Miss Fairlie," I continued, "and no fear
of getting into trouble through the letter. She knows so much
about it already, that you will have no difficulty in telling her
all. There can be little necessity for concealment where there is
hardly anything left to conceal. You mention no names in the
letter; but Miss Fairlie knows that the person you write of is Sir
Percival Glyde----"
The instant I pronounced that name she started to her feet, and a
scream burst from her that rang through the churchyard, and made
my heart leap in me with the terror of it. The dark deformity of
the expression which had just left her face lowered on it once
more, with doubled and trebled intensity. The shriek at the name,
the reiterated look of hatred and fear that instantly followed,
told all. Not even a last doubt now remained. Her mother was
guiltless of imprisoning her in the Asylum. A man had shut her
up--and that man was Sir Percival Glyde.
The scream had reached other ears than mine. On one side I heard
the door of the sexton's cottage open; on the other I heard the
voice of her companion, the woman in the shawl, the woman whom she
had spoken of as Mrs. Clements.
"I'm coming! I'm coming!" cried the voice from behind the clump of
dwarf trees.
In a moment more Mrs. Clements hurried into view.
"Who are you?" she cried, facing me resolutely as she set her foot
on the stile. "How dare you frighten a poor helpless woman like
She was at Anne Catherick's side, and had put one arm around her,
before I could answer. "What is it, my dear?" she said. "What
has he done to you?"
"Nothing," the poor creature answered. "Nothing. I'm only
Mrs. Clements turned on me with a fearless indignation, for which
I respected her.
"I should be heartily ashamed of myself if I deserved that angry
look," I said. "But I do not deserve it. I have unfortunately
startled her without intending it. This is not the first time she
has seen me. Ask her yourself, and she will tell you that I am
incapable of willingly harming her or any woman."
I spoke distinctly, so that Anne Catherick might hear and
understand me, and I saw that the words and their meaning had
reached her.
"Yes, yes," she said--"he was good to me once--he helped me----"
She whispered the rest into her friend's ear.
"Strange, indeed!" said Mrs. Clements, with a look of perplexity.
"It makes all the difference, though. I'm sorry I spoke so rough
to you, sir; but you must own that appearances looked suspicious
to a stranger. It's more my fault than yours, for humouring her
whims, and letting her be alone in such a place as this. Come, my
dear--come home now."
I thought the good woman looked a little uneasy at the prospect of
the walk back, and I offered to go with them until they were both
within sight of home. Mrs. Clements thanked me civilly, and
declined. She said they were sure to meet some of the farmlabourers
as soon as they got to the moor.
"Try to forgive me," I said, when Anne Catherick took her friend's
arm to go away. Innocent as I had been of any intention to
terrify and agitate her, my heart smote me as I looked at the
poor, pale, frightened face.
"I will try," she answered. "But you know too much--I'm afraid
you'll always frighten me now."
Mrs. Clements glanced at me, and shook her head pityingly.
"Good-night, sir," she said. "You couldn't help it, I know but I
wish it was me you had frightened, and not her."
They moved away a few steps. I thought they had left me, but Anne
suddenly stopped, and separated herself from her friend.
"Wait a little," she said. "I must say good-bye."
She returned to the grave, rested both hands tenderly on the
marble cross, and kissed it.
"I'm better now," she sighed, looking up at me quietly. "I
forgive you."
She joined her companion again, and they left the burial-ground.
I saw them stop near the church and speak to the sexton's wife,
who had come from the cottage, and had waited, watching us from a
distance. Then they went on again up the path that led to the
moor. I looked after Anne Catherick as she disappeared, till all
trace of her had faded in the twilight--looked as anxiously and
sorrowfully as if that was the last I was to see in this weary
world of the woman in white.
Half an hour later I was back at the house, and was informing Miss
Halcombe of all that had happened.
She listened to me from beginning to end with a steady, silent
attention, which, in a woman of her temperament and disposition,
was the strongest proof that could be offered of the serious
manner in which my narrative affected her.
"My mind misgives me," was all she said when I had done. "My mind
misgives me sadly about the future."
"The future may depend," I suggested, "on the use we make of the
present. It is not improbable that Anne Catherick may speak more
readily and unreservedly to a woman than she has spoken to me. If
Miss Fairlie----"
"Not to be thought of for a moment," interposed Miss Halcombe, in
her most decided manner.
"Let me suggest, then," I continued, "that you should see Anne
Catherick yourself, and do all you can to win her confidence. For
my own part, I shrink from the idea of alarming the poor creature
a second time, as I have most unhappily alarmed her already. Do
you see any objection to accompanying me to the farmhouse tomorrow?"
"None whatever. I will go anywhere and do anything to serve
Laura's interests. What did you say the place was called?"
"You must know it well. It is called Todd's Corner."
"Certainly. Todd's Corner is one of Mr. Fairlie's farms. Our
dairymaid here is the farmer's second daughter. She goes
backwards and forwards constantly between this house and her
father's farm, and she may have heard or seen something which it
may be useful to us to know. Shall I ascertain, at once, if the
girl is downstairs?"
She rang the bell, and sent the servant with his message. He
returned, and announced that the dairymaid was then at the farm.
She had not been there for the last three days, and the
housekeeper had given her leave to go home for an hour or two that
"I can speak to her to-morrow," said Miss Halcombe, when the
servant had left the room again. "In the meantime, let me
thoroughly understand the object to be gained by my interview with
Anne Catherick. Is there no doubt in your mind that the person
who confined her in the Asylum was Sir Percival Glyde?"
"There is not the shadow of a doubt. The only mystery that
remains is the mystery of his MOTIVE. Looking to the great
difference between his station in life and hers, which seems to
preclude all idea of the most distant relationship between them,
it is of the last importance--even assuming that she really
required to be placed under restraint--to know why HE should have
been the person to assume the serious responsibility of shutting
her up----"
"In a private Asylum, I think you said?"
"Yes, in a private Asylum, where a sum of money, which no poor
person could afford to give, must have been paid for her
maintenance as a patient."
"I see where the doubt lies, Mr. Hartright, and I promise you that
it shall be set at rest, whether Anne Catherick assists us tomorrow
or not. Sir Percival Glyde shall not be long in this house
without satisfying Mr. Gilmore, and satisfying me. My sister's
future is my dearest care in life, and I have influence enough
over her to give me some power, where her marriage is concerned,
in the disposal of it."
We parted for the night.
After breakfast the next morning, an obstacle, which the events of
the evening before had put out of my memory, interposed to prevent
our proceeding immediately to the farm. This was my last day at
Limmeridge House, and it was necessary, as soon as the post came
in, to follow Miss Halcombe's advice, and to ask Mr. Fairlie's
permission to shorten my engagement by a month, in consideration
of an unforeseen necessity for my return to London.
Fortunately for the probability of this excuse, so far as
appearances were concerned, the post brought me two letters from
London friends that morning. I took them away at once to my own
room, and sent the servant with a message to Mr. Fairlie,
requesting to know when I could see him on a matter of business.
I awaited the man's return, free from the slightest feeling of
anxiety about the manner in which his master might receive my
application. With Mr. Fairlie's leave or without it, I must go.
The consciousness of having now taken the first step on the dreary
journey which was henceforth to separate my life from Miss
Fairlie's seemed to have blunted my sensibility to every
consideration connected with myself. I had done with my poor
man's touchy pride--I had done with all my little artist vanities.
No insolence of Mr. Fairlie's, if he chose to be insolent, could
wound me now.
The servant returned with a message for which I was not
unprepared. Mr. Fairlie regretted that the state of his health,
on that particular morning, was such as to preclude all hope of
his having the pleasure of receiving me. He begged, therefore,
that I would accept his apologies, and kindly communicate what I
had to say in the form of a letter. Similar messages to this had
reached me, at various intervals, during my three months'
residence in the house. Throughout the whole of that period Mr.
Fairlie had been rejoiced to "possess" me, but had never been well
enough to see me for a second time. The servant took every fresh
batch of drawings that I mounted and restored back to his master
with my "respects," and returned empty-handed with Mr. Fairlie's
"kind compliments," "best thanks," and "sincere regrets" that the
state of his health still obliged him to remain a solitary
prisoner in his own room. A more satisfactory arrangement to both
sides could not possibly have been adopted. It would be hard to
say which of us, under the circumstances, felt the most grateful
sense of obligation to Mr. Fairlie's accommodating nerves.
I sat down at once to write the letter, expressing myself in it as
civilly, as clearly, and as briefly as possible. Mr. Fairlie did
not hurry his reply. Nearly an hour elapsed before the answer was
placed in my hands. It was written with beautiful regularity and
neatness of character, in violet-coloured ink, on note-paper as
smooth as ivory and almost as thick as cardboard, and it addressed
me in these terms--
"Mr. Fairlie's compliments to Mr. Hartright. Mr. Fairlie is more
surprised and disappointed than he can say (in the present state
of his health) by Mr. Hartright's application. Mr. Fairlie is not
a man of business, but he has consulted his steward, who is, and
that person confirms Mr. Fairlie's opinion that Mr. Hartright's
request to be allowed to break his engagement cannot be justified
by any necessity whatever, excepting perhaps a case of life and
death. If the highly-appreciative feeling towards Art and its
professors, which it is the consolation and happiness of Mr.
Fairlie's suffering existence to cultivate, could be easily
shaken, Mr. Hartright's present proceeding would have shaken it.
It has not done so--except in the instance of Mr. Hartright
"Having stated his opinion--so far, that is to say, as acute
nervous suffering will allow him to state anything--Mr. Fairlie
has nothing to add but the expression of his decision, in
reference to the highly irregular application that has been made
to him. Perfect repose of body and mind being to the last degree
important in his case, Mr. Fairlie will not suffer Mr. Hartright
to disturb that repose by remaining in the house under
circumstances of an essentially irritating nature to both sides.
Accordingly, Mr. Fairlie waives his right of refusal, purely with
a view to the preservation of his own tranquillity--and informs
Mr. Hartright that he may go."
I folded the letter up, and put it away with my other papers. The
time had been when I should have resented it as an insult--I
accepted it now as a written release from my engagement. It was
off my mind, it was almost out of my memory, when I went
downstairs to the breakfast-room, and informed Miss Halcombe that
I was ready to walk with her to the farm.
"Has Mr. Fairlie given you a satisfactory answer?" she asked as we
left the house.
"He has allowed me to go, Miss Halcombe."
She looked up at me quickly, and then, for the first time since I
had known her, took my arm of her own accord. No words could have
expressed so delicately that she understood how the permission to
leave my employment had been granted, and that she gave me her
sympathy, not as my superior, but as my friend. I had not felt
the man's insolent letter, but I felt deeply the woman's atoning
On our way to the farm we arranged that Miss Halcombe was to enter
the house alone, and that I was to wait outside, within call. We
adopted this mode of proceeding from an apprehension that my
presence, after what had happened in the churchyard the evening
before, might have the effect of renewing Anne Catherick's nervous
dread, and of rendering her additionally distrustful of the
advances of a lady who was a stranger to her. Miss Halcombe left
me, with the intention of speaking, in the first instance, to the
farmer's wife (of whose friendly readiness to help her in any way
she was well assured), while I waited for her in the near
neighbourhood of the house.
I had fully expected to be left alone for some time. To my
surprise, however, little more than five minutes had elapsed
before Miss Halcombe returned.
"Does Anne Catherick refuse to see you?" I asked in astonishment.
"Anne Catherick is gone," replied Miss Halcombe.
"Gone with Mrs. Clements. They both left the farm at eight
o'clock this morning."
I could say nothing--I could only feel that our last chance of
discovery had gone with them.
"All that Mrs. Todd knows about her guests, I know," Miss Halcombe
went on, "and it leaves me, as it leaves her, in the dark. They
both came back safe last night, after they left you, and they
passed the first part of the evening with Mr. Todd's family as
usual. Just before supper-time, however, Anne Catherick startled
them all by being suddenly seized with faintness. She had had a
similar attack, of a less alarming kind, on the day she arrived at
the farm; and Mrs. Todd had connected it, on that occasion, with
something she was reading at the time in our local newspaper,
which lay on the farm table, and which she had taken up only a
minute or two before."
"Does Mrs. Todd know what particular passage in the newspaper
affected her in that way?" I inquired.
"No," replied Miss Halcombe. "She had looked it over, and had
seen nothing in it to agitate any one. I asked leave, however, to
look it over in my turn, and at the very first page I opened I
found that the editor had enriched his small stock of news by
drawing upon our family affairs, and had published my sister's
marriage engagement, among his other announcements, copied from
the London papers, of Marriages in High Life. I concluded at once
that this was the paragraph which had so strangely affected Anne
Catherick, and I thought I saw in it, also, the origin of the
letter which she sent to our house the next day."
"There can be no doubt in either case. But what did you hear
about her second attack of faintness yesterday evening?"
"Nothing. The cause of it is a complete mystery. There was no
stranger in the room. The only visitor was our dairymaid, who, as
I told you, is one of Mr. Todd's daughters, and the only
conversation was the usual gossip about local affairs. They heard
her cry out, and saw her turn deadly pale, without the slightest
apparent reason. Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Clements took her upstairs,
and Mrs. Clements remained with her. They were heard talking
together until long after the usual bedtime, and early this
morning Mrs. Clements took Mrs. Todd aside, and amazed her beyond
all power of expression by saying that they must go. The only
explanation Mrs. Todd could extract from her guest was, that
something had happened, which was not the fault of any one at the
farmhouse, but which was serious enough to make Anne Catherick
resolve to leave Limmeridge immediately. It was quite useless to
press Mrs. Clements to be more explicit. She only shook her head,
and said that, for Anne's sake, she must beg and pray that no one
would question her. All she could repeat, with every appearance
of being seriously agitated herself, was that Anne must go, that
she must go with her, and that the destination to which they might
both betake themselves must be kept a secret from everybody. I
spare you the recital of Mrs. Todd's hospitable remonstrances and
refusals. It ended in her driving them both to the nearest
station, more than three hours since. She tried hard on the way
to get them to speak more plainly, but without success; and she
set them down outside the station-door, so hurt and offended by
the unceremonious abruptness of their departure and their
unfriendly reluctance to place the least confidence in her, that
she drove away in anger, without so much as stopping to bid them
good-bye. That is exactly what has taken place. Search your own
memory, Mr. Hartright, and tell me if anything happened in the
burial-ground yesterday evening which can at all account for the
extraordinary departure of those two women this morning."
"I should like to account first, Miss Halcombe, for the sudden
change in Anne Catherick which alarmed them at the farmhouse,
hours after she and I had parted, and when time enough had elapsed
to quiet any violent agitation that I might have been unfortunate
enough to cause. Did you inquire particularly about the gossip
which was going on in the room when she turned faint?"
"Yes. But Mrs. Todd's household affairs seem to have divided her
attention that evening with the talk in the farmhouse parlour.
She could only tell me that it was 'just the news,'--meaning, I
suppose, that they all talked as usual about each other."
"The dairymaid's memory may be better than her mother's," I said.
"It may be as well for you to speak to the girl, Miss Halcombe, as
soon as we get back."
My suggestion was acted on the moment we returned to the house.
Miss Halcombe led me round to the servants' offices, and we found
the girl in the dairy, with her sleeves tucked up to her
shoulders, cleaning a large milk-pan and singing blithely over her
"I have brought this gentleman to see your dairy, Hannah," said
Miss Halcombe. "It is one of the sights of the house, and it
always does you credit."
The girl blushed and curtseyed, and said shyly that she hoped she
always did her best to keep things neat and clean.
"We have just come from your father's," Miss Halcombe continued.
"You were there yesterday evening, I hear, and you found visitors
at the house?"
"Yes, miss."
"One of them was taken faint and ill, I am told. I suppose
nothing was said or done to frighten her? You were not talking of
anything very terrible, were you?"
"Oh no, miss!" said the girl, laughing. "We were only talking of
the news."
"Your sisters told you the news at Todd's Corner, I suppose?"
"Yes, miss."
"And you told them the news at Limmeridge House?"
"Yes, miss. And I'm quite sure nothing was said to frighten the
poor thing, for I was talking when she was taken ill. It gave me
quite a turn, miss, to see it, never having been taken faint
Before any more questions could be put to her, she was called away
to receive a basket of eggs at the dairy door. As she left us I
whispered to Miss Halcombe--
"Ask her if she happened to mention, last night, that visitors
were expected at Limmeridge House."
Miss Halcombe showed me, by a look, that she understood, and put
the question as soon as the dairymaid returned to us.
"Oh yes, miss, I mentioned that," said the girl simply. "The
company coming, and the accident to the brindled cow, was all the
news I had to take to the farm."
"Did you mention names? Did you tell them that Sir Percival Glyde
was expected on Monday?"
"Yes, miss--I told them Sir Percival Glyde was coming. I hope
there was no harm in it--I hope I didn't do wrong."
"Oh no, no harm. Come, Mr. Hartright, Hannah will begin to think
us in the way, if we interrupt her any longer over her work."
We stopped and looked at one another the moment we were alone
"Is there any doubt in your mind, NOW, Miss Halcombe?"
"Sir Percival Glyde shall remove that doubt, Mr. Hartright--or
Laura Fairlie shall never be his wife."
As we walked round to the front of the house a fly from the
railway approached us along the drive. Miss Halcombe waited on
the door-steps until the fly drew up, and then advanced to shake
hands with an old gentleman, who got out briskly the moment the
steps were let down. Mr. Gilmore had arrived.
I looked at him, when we were introduced to each other, with an
interest and a curiosity which I could hardly conceal. This old
man was to remain at Limmeridge House after I had left it, he was
to hear Sir Percival Glyde's explanation, and was to give Miss
Halcombe the assistance of his experience in forming her judgment;
he was to wait until the question of the marriage was set at rest;
and his hand, if that question were decided in the affirmative,
was to draw the settlement which bound Miss Fairlie irrevocably to
her engagement. Even then, when I knew nothing by comparison with
what I know now, I looked at the family lawyer with an interest
which I had never felt before in the presence of any man breathing
who was a total stranger to me.
In external appearance Mr. Gilmore was the exact opposite of the
conventional idea of an old lawyer. His complexion was florid--
his white hair was worn rather long and kept carefully brushed--
his black coat, waistcoat, and trousers fitted him with perfect
neatness--his white cravat was carefully tied, and his lavendercoloured
kid gloves might have adorned the hands of a fashionable
clergyman, without fear and without reproach. His manners were
pleasantly marked by the formal grace and refinement of the old
school of politeness, quickened by the invigorating sharpness and
readiness of a man whose business in life obliges him always to
keep his faculties in good working order. A sanguine constitution
and fair prospects to begin with--a long subsequent career of
creditable and comfortable prosperity--a cheerful, diligent,
widely-respected old age--such were the general impressions I
derived from my introduction to Mr. Gilmore, and it is but fair to
him to add, that the knowledge I gained by later and better
experience only tended to confirm them.
I left the old gentleman and Miss Halcombe to enter the house
together, and to talk of family matters undisturbed by the
restraint of a stranger's presence. They crossed the hall on
their way to the drawing-room, and I descended the steps again to
wander about the garden alone.
My hours were numbered at Limmeridge House--my departure the next
morning was irrevocably settled--my share in the investigation
which the anonymous letter had rendered necessary was at an end.
No harm could be done to any one but myself if I let my heart
loose again, for the little time that was left me, from the cold
cruelty of restraint which necessity had forced me to inflict upon
it, and took my farewell of the scenes which were associated with
the brief dream-time of my happiness and my love.
I turned instinctively to the walk beneath my study-window, where
I had seen her the evening before with her little dog, and
followed the path which her dear feet had trodden so often, till I
came to the wicket gate that led into her rose garden. The winter
bareness spread drearily over it now. The flowers that she had
taught me to distinguish by their names, the flowers that I had
taught her to paint from, were gone, and the tiny white paths that
led between the beds were damp and green already. I went on to
the avenue of trees, where we had breathed together the warm
fragrance of August evenings, where we had admired together the
myriad combinations of shade and sunlight that dappled the ground
at our feet. The leaves fell about me from the groaning branches,
and the earthy decay in the atmosphere chilled me to the bones. A
little farther on, and I was out of the grounds, and following the
lane that wound gently upward to the nearest hills. The old
felled tree by the wayside, on which we had sat to rest, was
sodden with rain, and the tuft of ferns and grasses which I had
drawn for her, nestling under the rough stone wall in front of us,
had turned to a pool of water, stagnating round an island of
draggled weeds. I gained the summit of the hill, and looked at
the view which we had so often admired in the happier time. It
was cold and barren--it was no longer the view that I remembered.
The sunshine of her presence was far from me-the charm of her
voice no longer murmured in my ear. She had talked to me, on the
spot from which I now looked down, of her father, who was her last
surviving parent--had told me how fond of each other they had
been, and how sadly she missed him still when she entered certain
rooms in the house, and when she took up forgotten occupations and
amusements with which he had been associated. Was the view that I
had seen, while listening to those words, the view that I saw now,
standing on the hill-top by myself? I turned and left it--I wound
my way back again, over the moor, and round the sandhills, down to
the beach. There was the white rage of the surf, and the
multitudinous glory of the leaping waves--but where was the place
on which she had once drawn idle figures with her parasol in the
sand--the place where we had sat together, while she talked to me
about myself and my home, while she asked me a woman's minutely
observant questions about my mother and my sister, and innocently
wondered whether I should ever leave my lonely chambers and have a
wife and a house of my own? Wind and wave had long since smoothed
out the trace of her which she had left in those marks on the
sand, I looked over the wide monotony of the seaside prospect, and
the place in which we two had idled away the sunny hours was as
lost to me as if I had never known it, as strange to me as if I
stood already on a foreign shore.
The empty silence of the beach struck cold to my heart. I
returned to the house and the garden, where traces were left to
speak of her at every turn.
On the west terrace walk I met Mr. Gilmore. He was evidently in
search of me, for he quickened his pace when we caught sight of
each other. The state of my spirits little fitted me for the
society of a stranger; but the meeting was inevitable, and I
resigned myself to make the best of it.
"You are the very person I wanted to see," said the old gentleman.
"I had two words to say to you, my dear sir; and If you have no
objection I will avail myself of the present opportunity. To put
it plainly, Miss Halcombe and I have been talking over family
affairs--affairs which are the cause of my being here--and in the
course of our conversation she was naturally led to tell me of
this unpleasant matter connected with the anonymous letter, and of
the share which you have most creditably and properly taken in the
proceedings so far. That share, I quite understand, gives you an
interest which you might not otherwise have felt, in knowing that
the future management of the investigation which you have begun
will be placed in safe hands. My dear sir, make yourself quite
easy on that point--it will be placed in MY hands."
"You are, in every way, Mr. Gilmore, much fitter to advise and to
act in the matter than I am. Is it an indiscretion on my part to
ask if you have decided yet on a course of proceeding?
"So far as it is possible to decide, Mr. Hartright, I have
decided. I mean to send a copy of the letter, accompanied by a
statement of the circumstances, to Sir Percival Glyde's solicitor
in London, with whom I have some acquaintance. The letter itself
I shall keep here to show to Sir Percival as soon as he arrives.
The tracing of the two women I have already provided for, by
sending one of Mr. Fairlie's servants--a confidential person--to
the station to make inquiries. The man has his money and his
directions, and he will follow the women in the event of his
finding any clue. This is all that can be done until Sir Percival
comes on Monday. I have no doubt myself that every explanation
which can be expected from a gentleman and a man of honour, he
will readily give. Sir Percival stands very high, sir--an eminent
position, a reputation above suspicion--I feel quite easy about
results--quite easy, I am rejoiced to assure you. Things of this
sort happen constantly in my experience. Anonymous letters--
unfortunate woman--sad state of society. I don't deny that there
are peculiar complications in this case; but the case itself is,
most unhappily, common--common."
"I am afraid, Mr. Gilmore, I have the misfortune to differ from
you in the view I take of the case."
"Just so, my dear sir--just so. I am an old man, and I take the
practical view. You are a young man, and you take the romantic
view. Let us not dispute about our views. I live professionally
in an atmosphere of disputation, Mr. Hartright, and I am only too
glad to escape from it, as I am escaping here. We will wait for
events--yes, yes, yes--we will wait for events. Charming place
this. Good shooting? Probably not, none of Mr. Fairlie's land is
preserved, I think. Charming place, though, and delightful
people. You draw and paint, I hear, Mr. Hartright? Enviable
accomplishment. What style?"
We dropped into general conversation, or rather, Mr. Gilmore
talked and I listened. My attention was far from him, and from
the topics on which he discoursed so fluently. The solitary walk
of the last two hours had wrought its effect on me--it had set the
idea in my mind of hastening my departure from Limmeridge House.
Why should I prolong the hard trial of saying farewell by one
unnecessary minute? What further service was required of me by any
one? There was no useful purpose to be served by my stay in
Cumberland--there was no restriction of time in the permission to
leave which my employer had granted to me. Why not end it there
and then?
I determined to end it. There were some hours of daylight still
left--there was no reason why my journey back to London should not
begin on that afternoon. I made the first civil excuse that
occurred to me for leaving Mr. Gilmore, and returned at once to
the house.
On my way up to my own room I met Miss Halcombe on the stairs.
She saw, by the hurry of my movements and the change in my manner,
that I had some new purpose in view, and asked what had happened.
I told her the reasons which induced me to think of hastening my
departure, exactly as I have told them here.
"No, no," she said, earnestly and kindly, "leave us like a friend--
break bread with us once more. Stay here and dine, stay here and
help us to spend our last evening with you as happily, as like our
first evenings, as we can. It is my invitation--Mrs. Vesey's
invitation----" she hesitated a little, and then added, "Laura's
invitation as well."
I promised to remain. God knows I had no wish to leave even the
shadow of a sorrowful impression with any one of them.
My own room was the best place for me till the dinner bell rang.
I waited there till it was time to go downstairs.
I had not spoken to Miss Fairlie--I had not even seen her--all
that day. The first meeting with her, when I entered the drawingroom,
was a hard trial to her self-control and to mine. She, too,
had done her best to make our last evening renew the golden bygone
time--the time that could never come again. She had put on the
dress which I used to admire more than any other that she
possessed--a dark blue silk, trimmed quaintly and prettily with
old-fashioned lace; she came forward to meet me with her former
readiness--she gave me her hand with the frank, innocent good-will
of happier days. The cold fingers that trembled round mine--the
pale cheeks with a bright red spot burning in the midst of them--
the faint smile that struggled to live on her lips and died away
from them while I looked at it, told me at what sacrifice of
herself her outward composure was maintained. My heart could take
her no closer to me, or I should have loved her then as I had
never loved her yet.
Mr. Gilmore was a great assistance to us. He was in high goodhumour,
and he led the conversation with unflagging spirit. Miss
Halcombe seconded him resolutely, and I did all I could to follow
her example. The kind blue eyes, whose slightest changes of
expression I had learnt to interpret so well, looked at me
appealingly when we first sat down to table. Help my sister--the
sweet anxious face seemed to say--help my sister, and you will
help me.
We got through the dinner, to all outward appearance at least,
happily enough. When the ladies had risen from table, and Mr.
Gilmore and I were left alone in the dining-room, a new interest
presented itself to occupy our attention, and to give me an
opportunity of quieting myself by a few minutes of needful and
welcome silence. The servant who had been despatched to trace
Anne Catherick and Mrs. Clements returned with his report, and was
shown into the dining-room immediately.
"Well," said Mr. Gilmore, "what have you found out?"
"I have found out, sir," answered the man, "that both the women
took tickets at our station here for Carlisle."
"You went to Carlisle, of course, when you heard that?"
"I did, sir, but I am sorry to say I could find no further trace
of them."
"You inquired at the railway?"
"Yes, sir."
"And at the different inns?"
"Yes, sir."
"And you left the statement I wrote for you at the police
"I did, sir."
"Well, my friend, you have done all you could, and I have done all
I could, and there the matter must rest till further notice. We
have played our trump cards, Mr. Hartright," continued the old
gentleman when the servant had withdrawn. "For the present, at
least, the women have outmanoeuvred us, and our only resource now
is to wait till Sir Percival Glyde comes here on Monday next.
Won't you fill your glass again? Good bottle of port, that--sound,
substantial, old wine. I have got better in my own cellar,
We returned to the drawing-room--the room in which the happiest
evenings of my life had been passed--the room which, after this
last night, I was never to see again. Its aspect was altered
since the days had shortened and the weather had grown cold. The
glass doors on the terrace side were closed, and hidden by thick
curtains. Instead of the soft twilight obscurity, in which we
used to sit, the bright radiant glow of lamplight now dazzled my
eyes. All was changed--in-doors and out all was changed.
Miss Halcombe and Mr. Gilmore sat down together at the card-table--
Mrs. Vesey took her customary chair. There was no restraint on
the disposal of THEIR evening, and I felt the restraint on the
disposal of mine all the more painfully from observing it. I saw
Miss Fairlie lingering near the music-stand. The time had been
when I might have joined her there. I waited irresolutely--I knew
neither where to go nor what to do next. She cast one quick
glance at me, took a piece of music suddenly from the stand, and
came towards me of her own accord.
"Shall I play some of those little melodies of Mozart's which you
used to like so much?" she asked, opening the music nervously, and
looking down at it while she spoke.
Before I could thank her she hastened to the piano. The chair
near it, which I had always been accustomed to occupy, stood
empty. She struck a few chords--then glanced round at me--then
looked back again at her music.
"Won't you take your old place?" she said, speaking very abruptly
and in very low tones.
"I may take it on the last night," I answered.
She did not reply--she kept her attention riveted on the music--
music which she knew by memory, which she had played over and over
again, in former times, without the book. I only knew that she
had heard me, I only knew that she was aware of my being close to
her, by seeing the red spot on the cheek that was nearest to me
fade out, and the face grow pale all over.
"I am very sorry you are going," she said, her voice almost
sinking to a whisper, her eyes looking more and more intently at
the music, her fingers flying over the keys of the piano with a
strange feverish energy which I had never noticed in her before.
"I shall remember those kind words, Miss Fairlie, long after tomorrow
has come and gone."
The paleness grew whiter on her face, and she turned it farther
away from me.
"Don't speak of to-morrow," she said. "Let the music speak to us
of to-night, in a happier language than ours."
Her lips trembled--a faint sigh fluttered from them, which she
tried vainly to suppress. Her fingers wavered on the piano--she
struck a false note, confused herself in trying to set it right,
and dropped her hands angrily on her lap. Miss Halcombe and Mr.
Gilmore looked up in astonishment from the card-table at which
they were playing. Even Mrs. Vesey, dozing in her chair, woke at
the sudden cessation of the music, and inquired what had happened.
"You play at whist, Mr. Hartright?" asked Miss Halcombe, with her
eyes directed significantly at the place I occupied.
I knew what she meant--I knew she was right, and I rose at once to
go to the card-table. As I left the piano Miss Fairlie turned a
page of the music, and touched the keys again with a surer hand.
"I WILL play it," she said, striking the notes almost
passionately. "I WILL play it on the last night."
"Come, Mrs. Vesey," said Miss Halcombe, "Mr. Gilmore and I are
tired of ecarte--come and be Mr. Hartright's partner at whist."
The old lawyer smiled satirically. His had been the winning hand,
and he had just turned up a king. He evidently attributed Miss
Halcombe's abrupt change in the card-table arrangements to a
lady's inability to play the losing game.
The rest of the evening passed without a word or a look from her.
She kept her place at the piano, and I kept mine at the cardtable.
She played unintermittingly--played as if the music was
her only refuge from herself. Sometimes her fingers touched the
notes with a lingering fondness--a soft, plaintive, dying
tenderness, unutterably beautiful and mournful to hear; sometimes
they faltered and failed her, or hurried over the instrument
mechanically, as if their task was a burden to them. But still,
change and waver as they might in the expression they imparted to
the music, their resolution to play never faltered. She only rose
from the piano when we all rose to say Good-night.
Mrs. Vesey was the nearest to the door, and the first to shake
hands with me.
"I shall not see you again, Mr. Hartright," said the old lady. "I
am truly sorry you are going away. You have been very kind and
attentive, and an old woman like me feels kindness and attention.
I wish you happy, sir--I wish you a kind good-bye."
Mr. Gilmore came next.
"I hope we shall have a future opportunity of bettering our
acquaintance, Mr. Hartright. You quite understand about that
little matter of business being safe in my hands? Yes, yes, of
course. Bless me, how cold it is! Don't let me keep you at the
door. Bon voyage, my dear sir--bon voyage, as the French say."
Miss Halcombe followed.
"Half-past seven to-morrow morning," she said--then added in a
whisper, "I have heard and seen more than you think. Your conduct
to-night has made me your friend for life."
Miss Fairlie came last. I could not trust myself to look at her
when I took her hand, and when I thought of the next morning.
"My departure must be a very early one," I said. "I shall be
gone, Miss Fairlie, before you----"
"No, no," she interposed hastily, "not before I am out of my room.
I shall be down to breakfast with Marian. I am not so ungrateful,
not so forgetful of the past three months----"
Her voice failed her, her hand closed gently round mine--then
dropped it suddenly. Before I could say "Good-night" she was
The end comes fast to meet me--comes inevitably, as the light of
the last morning came at Limmeridge House.
It was barely half-past seven when I went downstairs, but I found
them both at the breakfast-table waiting for me. In the chill
air, in the dim light, in the gloomy morning silence of the house,
we three sat down together, and tried to eat, tried to talk. The
struggle to preserve appearances was hopeless and useless, and I
rose to end it.
As I held out my hand, as Miss Halcombe, who was nearest to me,
took it, Miss Fairlie turned away suddenly and hurried from the
"Better so," said Miss Halcombe, when the door had closed--"better
so, for you and for her."
I waited a moment before I could speak--it was hard to lose her,
without a parting word or a parting look. I controlled myself--I
tried to take leave of Miss Halcombe in fitting terms; but all the
farewell words I would fain have spoken dwindled to one sentence.
"Have I deserved that you should write to me?" was all I could
"You have nobly deserved everything that I can do for you, as long
as we both live. Whatever the end is you shall know it."
"And if I can ever be of help again, at any future time, long
after the memory of my presumption and my folly is forgotten "
I could add no more. My voice faltered, my eyes moistened in
spite of me.
She caught me by both hands--she pressed them with the strong,
steady grasp of a man--her dark eyes glittered--her brown
complexion flushed deep--the force and energy of her face glowed
and grew beautiful with the pure inner light of her generosity and
her pity.
"I will trust you--if ever the time comes I will trust you as my
friend and HER friend, as my brother and HER brother." She
stopped, drew me nearer to her--the fearless, noble creature--
touched my forehead, sister-like, with her lips, and called me by
my Christian name. "God bless you, Walter!" she said. "Wait here
alone and compose yourself--I had better not stay for both our
sakes--I had better see you go from the balcony upstairs."
She left the room. I turned away towards the window, where
nothing faced me but the lonely autumn landscape--I turned away to
master myself, before I too left the room in my turn, and left it
for ever.
A minute passed--it could hardly have been more--when I heard the
door open again softly, and the rustling of a woman's dress on the
carpet moved towards me. My heart beat violently as I turned
round. Miss Fairlie was approaching me from the farther end of
the room.
She stopped and hesitated when our eyes met, and when she saw that
we were alone. Then, with that courage which women lose so often
in the small emergency, and so seldom in the great, she came on
nearer to me, strangely pale and strangely quiet, drawing one hand
after her along the table by which she walked, and holding
something at her side in the other, which was hidden by the folds
of her dress.
"I only went into the drawing-room," she said, "to look for this.
It may remind you of your visit here, and of the friends you leave
behind you. You told me I had improved very much when I did it,
and I thought you might like----"
She turned her head away, and offered me a little sketch, drawn
throughout by her own pencil, of the summer-house in which we had
first met. The paper trembled in her hand as she held it out to
me--trembled in mine as I took it from her.
I was afraid to say what I felt--I only answered, "It shall never
leave me--all my life long it shall be the treasure that I prize
most. I am very grateful for it--very grateful to you, for not
letting me go away without bidding you good-bye."
"Oh!" she said innocently, "how could I let you go, after we have
passed so many happy days together!"
"Those days may never return, Miss Fairlie--my way of life and
yours are very far apart. But if a time should come, when the
devotion of my whole heart and soul and strength will give you a
moment's happiness, or spare you a moment's sorrow, will you try
to remember the poor drawing-master who has taught you? Miss
Halcombe has promised to trust me--will you promise too?"
The farewell sadness in the kind blue eyes shone dimly through her
gathering tears.
"I promise it," she said in broken tones. "Oh, don't look at me
like that! I promise it with all my heart."
I ventured a little nearer to her, and held out my hand.
"You have many friends who love you, Miss Fairlie. Your happy
future is the dear object of many hopes. May I say, at parting,
that it is the dear object of MY hopes too?"
The tears flowed fast down her cheeks. She rested one trembling
hand on the table to steady herself while she gave me the other.
I took it in mine--I held it fast. My head drooped over it, my
tears fell on it, my lips pressed it--not in love; oh, not in
love, at that last moment, but in the agony and the selfabandonment
of despair.
"For God's sake, leave me!" she said faintly.
The confession of her heart's secret burst from her in those
pleading words. I had no right to hear them, no right to answer
them--they were the words that banished me, in the name of her
sacred weakness, from the room. It was all over. I dropped her
hand, I said no more. The blinding tears shut her out from my
eyes, and I dashed them away to look at her for the last time.
One look as she sank into a chair, as her arms fell on the table,
as her fair head dropped on them wearily. One farewell look, and
the door had closed upon her--the great gulf of separation had
opened between us--the image of Laura Fairlie was a memory of the
past already.
The End of Hartright's Narrative.
(of Chancery Lane, Solicitor)
I write these lines at the request of my friend, Mr. Walter
Hartright. They are intended to convey a description of certain
events which seriously affected Miss Fairlie's interests, and
which took place after the period of Mr. Hartright's departure
from Limmeridge House.
There is no need for me to say whether my own opinion does or does
not sanction the disclosure of the remarkable family story, of
which my narrative forms an important component part. Mr.
Hartright has taken that responsibility on himself, and
circumstances yet to be related will show that he has amply earned
the right to do so, if he chooses to exercise it. The plan he has
adopted for presenting the story to others, in the most truthful
and most vivid manner, requires that it should be told, at each
successive stage in the march of events, by the persons who were
directly concerned in those events at the time of their
occurrence. My appearance here, as narrator, is the necessary
consequence of this arrangement. I was present during the sojourn
of Sir Percival Glyde in Cumberland, and was personally concerned
in one important result of his short residence under Mr. Fairlie's
roof. It is my duty, therefore, to add these new links to the
chain of events, and to take up the chain itself at the point
where, for the present only Mr. Hartright has dropped it.
I arrived at Limmeridge House on Friday the second of November.
My object was to remain at Mr. Fairlie's until the arrival of Sir
Percival Glyde. If that event led to the appointment of any given
day for Sir Percival's union with Miss Fairlie, I was to take the
necessary instructions back with me to London, and to occupy
myself in drawing the lady's marriage-settlement.
On the Friday I was not favoured by Mr. Fairlie with an interview.
He had been, or had fancied himself to be, an invalid for years
past, and he was not well enough to receive me. Miss Halcombe was
the first member of the family whom I saw. She met me at the
house door, and introduced me to Mr. Hartright, who had been
staying at Limmeridge for some time past.
I did not see Miss Fairlie until later in the day, at dinner-time.
She was not looking well, and I was sorry to observe it. She is a
sweet lovable girl, as amiable and attentive to every one about
her as her excellent mother used to be--though, personally
speaking, she takes after her father. Mrs. Fairlie had dark eyes
and hair, and her elder daughter, Miss Halcombe, strongly reminds
me of her. Miss Fairlie played to us in the evening--not so well
as usual, I thought. We had a rubber at whist, a mere
profanation, so far as play was concerned, of that noble game. I
had been favourably impressed by Mr. Hartright on our first
introduction to one another, but I soon discovered that he was not
free from the social failings incidental to his age. There are
three things that none of the young men of the present generation
can do. They can't sit over their wine, they can't play at whist,
and they can't pay a lady a compliment. Mr. Hartright was no
exception to the general rule. Otherwise, even in those early
days and on that short acquaintance, he struck me as being a
modest and gentlemanlike young man.
So the Friday passed. I say nothing about the more serious
matters which engaged my attention on that day--the anonymous
letter to Miss Fairlie, the measures I thought it right to adopt
when the matter was mentioned to me, and the conviction I
entertained that every possible explanation of the circumstances
would be readily afforded by Sir Percival Glyde, having all been
fully noticed, as I understand, in the narrative which precedes
On the Saturday Mr. Hartright had left before I got down to
breakfast. Miss Fairlie kept her room all day, and Miss Halcombe
appeared to me to be out of spirits. The house was not what it
used to be in the time of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Fairlie. I took a
walk by myself in the forenoon, and looked about at some of the
places which I first saw when I was staying at Limmeridge to
transact family business, more than thirty years since. They were
not what they used to be either.
At two o'clock Mr. Fairlie sent to say he was well enough to see
me. HE had not altered, at any rate, since I first knew him. His
talk was to the same purpose as usual--all about himself and his
ailments, his wonderful coins, and his matchless Rembrandt
etchings. The moment I tried to speak of the business that had
brought me to his house, he shut his eyes and said I "upset" him.
I persisted in upsetting him by returning again and again to the
subject. All I could ascertain was that he looked on his niece's
marriage as a settled thing, that her father had sanctioned it,
that he sanctioned it himself, that it was a desirable marriage,
and that he should be personally rejoiced when the worry of it was
over. As to the settlements, if I would consult his niece, and
afterwards dive as deeply as I pleased into my own knowledge of
the family affairs, and get everything ready, and limit his share
in the business, as guardian, to saying Yes, at the right moment--
why, of course he would meet my views, and everybody else's views,
with infinite pleasure. In the meantime, there I saw him, a
helpless sufferer, confined to his room. Did I think he looked as
if he wanted teasing? No. Then why tease him?
I might, perhaps, have been a little astonished at this
extraordinary absence of all self-assertion on Mr. Fairlie's part,
in the character of guardian, if my knowledge of the family
affairs had not been sufficient to remind me that he was a single
man, and that he had nothing more than a life-interest in the
Limmeridge property. As matters stood, therefore, I was neither
surprised nor disappointed at the result of the interview. Mr.
Fairlie had simply justified my expectations--and there was an end
of it.
Sunday was a dull day, out of doors and in. A letter arrived for
me from Sir Percival Glyde's solicitor, acknowledging the receipt
of my copy of the anonymous letter and my accompanying statement
of the case. Miss Fairlie joined us in the afternoon, looking
pale and depressed, and altogether unlike herself. I had some
talk with her, and ventured on a delicate allusion to Sir
Percival. She listened and said nothing. All other subjects she
pursued willingly, but this subject she allowed to drop. I began
to doubt whether she might not be repenting of her engagement--
just as young ladies often do, when repentance comes too late.
On Monday Sir Percival Glyde arrived.
I found him to be a most prepossessing man, so far as manners and
appearance were concerned. He looked rather older than I had
expected, his head being bald over the forehead, and his face
somewhat marked and worn, but his movements were as active and his
spirits as high as a young man's. His meeting with Miss Halcombe
was delightfully hearty and unaffected, and his reception of me,
upon my being presented to him, was so easy and pleasant that we
got on together like old friends. Miss Fairlie was not with us
when he arrived, but she entered the room about ten minutes
afterwards. Sir Percival rose and paid his compliments with
perfect grace. His evident concern on seeing the change for the
worse in the young lady's looks was expressed with a mixture of
tenderness and respect, with an unassuming delicacy of tone,
voice, and manner, which did equal credit to his good breeding and
his good sense. I was rather surprised, under these
circumstances, to see that Miss Fairlie continued to be
constrained and uneasy in his presence, and that she took the
first opportunity of leaving the room again. Sir Percival neither
noticed the restraint in her reception of him, nor her sudden
withdrawal from our society. He had not obtruded his attentions
on her while she was present, and he did not embarrass Miss
Halcombe by any allusion to her departure when she was gone. His
tact and taste were never at fault on this or on any other
occasion while I was in his company at Limmeridge House.
As soon as Miss Fairlie had left the room he spared us all
embarrassment on the subject of the anonymous letter, by adverting
to it of his own accord. He had stopped in London on his way from
Hampshire, had seen his solicitor, had read the documents
forwarded by me, and had travelled on to Cumberland, anxious to
satisfy our minds by the speediest and the fullest explanation
that words could convey. On hearing him express himself to this
effect, I offered him the original letter, which I had kept for
his inspection. He thanked me, and declined to look at it, saying
that he had seen the copy, and that he was quite willing to leave
the original in our hands.
The statement itself, on which he immediately entered, was as
simple and satisfactory as I had all along anticipated it would
Mrs. Catherick, he informed us, had in past years laid him under
some obligations for faithful services rendered to his family
connections and to himself. She had been doubly unfortunate in
being married to a husband who had deserted her, and in having an
only child whose mental faculties had been in a disturbed
condition from a very early age. Although her marriage had
removed her to a part of Hampshire far distant from the
neighbourhood in which Sir Percival's property was situated, he
had taken care not to lose sight of her--his friendly feeling
towards the poor woman, in consideration of her past services,
having been greatly strengthened by his admiration of the patience
and courage with which she supported her calamities. In course of
time the symptoms of mental affliction in her unhappy daughter
increased to such a serious extent, as to make it a matter of
necessity to place her under proper medical care. Mrs. Catherick
herself recognised this necessity, but she also felt the prejudice
common to persons occupying her respectable station, against
allowing her child to be admitted, as a pauper, into a public
Asylum. Sir Percival had respected this prejudice, as he
respected honest independence of feeling in any rank of life, and
had resolved to mark his grateful sense of Mrs. Catherick's early
attachment to the interests of himself and his family, by
defraying the expense of her daughter's maintenance in a
trustworthy private Asylum. To her mother's regret, and to his
own regret, the unfortunate creature had discovered the share
which circumstances had induced him to take in placing her under
restraint, and had conceived the most intense hatred and distrust
of him in consequence. To that hatred and distrust--which had
expressed itself in various ways in the Asylum--the anonymous
letter, written after her escape, was plainly attributable. If
Miss Halcombe's or Mr. Gilmore's recollection of the document did
not confirm that view, or if they wished for any additional
particulars about the Asylum (the address of which he mentioned,
as well as the names and addresses of the two doctors on whose
certificates the patient was admitted), he was ready to answer any
question and to clear up any uncertainty. He had done his duty to
the unhappy young woman, by instructing his solicitor to spare no
expense in tracing her, and in restoring her once more to medical
care, and he was now only anxious to do his duty towards Miss
Fairlie and towards her family, in the same plain, straightforward
I was the first to speak in answer to this appeal. My own course
was plain to me. It is the great beauty of the Law that it can
dispute any human statement, made under any circumstances, and
reduced to any form. If I had felt professionally called upon to
set up a case against Sir Percival Glyde, on the strength of his
own explanation, I could have done so beyond all doubt. But my
duty did not lie in this direction--my function was of the purely
judicial kind. I was to weigh the explanation we had just heard,
to allow all due force to the high reputation of the gentleman who
offered it, and to decide honestly whether the probabilities, on
Sir Percival's own showing, were plainly with him, or plainly
against him. My own conviction was that they were plainly with
him, and I accordingly declared that his explanation was, to my
mind, unquestionably a satisfactory one.
Miss Halcombe, after looking at me very earnestly, said a few
words, on her side, to the same effect--with a certain hesitation
of manner, however, which the circumstances did not seem to me to
warrant. I am unable to say, positively, whether Sir Percival
noticed this or not. My opinion is that he did, seeing that he
pointedly resumed the subject, although he might now, with all
propriety, have allowed it to drop.
"If my plain statement of facts had only been addressed to Mr.
Gilmore," he said, "I should consider any further reference to
this unhappy matter as unnecessary. I may fairly expect Mr.
Gilmore, as a gentleman, to believe me on my word, and when he has
done me that justice, all discussion of the subject between us has
come to an end. But my position with a lady is not the same. I
owe to her--what I would concede to no man alive--a PROOF of the
truth of my assertion. You cannot ask for that proof, Miss
Halcombe, and it is therefore my duty to you, and still more to
Miss Fairlie, to offer it. May I beg that you will write at once
to the mother of this unfortunate woman--to Mrs. Catherick--to ask
for her testimony in support of the explanation which I have just
offered to you."
I saw Miss Halcombe change colour, and look a little uneasy. Sir
Percival's suggestion, politely as it was expressed, appeared to
her, as it appeared to me, to point very delicately at the
hesitation which her manner had betrayed a moment or two since.
"I hope, Sir Percival, you don't do me the injustice to suppose
that I distrust you," she said quickly.
"Certainly not, Miss Halcombe. I make my proposal purely as an
act of attention to YOU. Will you excuse my obstinacy if I still
venture to press it?"
He walked to the writing-table as he spoke, drew a chair to it,
and opened the paper case.
"Let me beg you to write the note," he said, "as a favour to ME.
It need not occupy you more than a few minutes. You have only to
ask Mrs. Catherick two questions. First, if her daughter was
placed in the Asylum with her knowledge and approval. Secondly,
if the share I took in the matter was such as to merit the
expression of her gratitude towards myself? Mr. Gilmore's mind is
at ease on this unpleasant subject, and your mind is at ease--pray
set my mind at ease also by writing the note."
"You oblige me to grant your request, Sir Percival, when I would
much rather refuse it."
With those words Miss Halcombe rose from her place and went to the
writing-table. Sir Percival thanked her, handed her a pen, and
then walked away towards the fireplace. Miss Fairlie's little
Italian greyhound was lying on the rug. He held out his hand, and
called to the dog good-humouredly.
"Come, Nina," he said, "we remember each other, don't we?"
The little beast, cowardly and cross-grained, as pet-dogs usually
are, looked up at him sharply, shrank away from his outstretched
hand, whined, shivered, and hid itself under a sofa. It was
scarcely possible that he could have been put out by such a trifle
as a dog's reception of him, but I observed, nevertheless, that he
walked away towards the window very suddenly. Perhaps his temper
is irritable at times. If so, I can sympathise with him. My
temper is irritable at times too.
Miss Halcombe was not long in writing the note. When it was done
she rose from the writing-table, and handed the open sheet of
paper to Sir Percival. He bowed, took it from her, folded it up
immediately without looking at the contents, sealed it, wrote the
address, and handed it back to her in silence. I never saw
anything more gracefully and more becomingly done in my life.
"You insist on my posting this letter, Sir Percival?" said Miss
"I beg you will post it," he answered. "And now that it is
written and sealed up, allow me to ask one or two last questions
about the unhappy woman to whom it refers. I have read the
communication which Mr. Gilmore kindly addressed to my solicitor,
describing the circumstances under which the writer of the
anonymous letter was identified. But there are certain points to
which that statement does not refer. Did Anne Catherick see Miss
"Certainly not," replied Miss Halcombe.
"Did she see you?"
"She saw nobody from the house then, except a certain Mr.
Hartright, who accidentally met with her in the churchyard here?"
"Nobody else."
"Mr. Hartright was employed at Limmeridge as a drawing-master, I
believe? Is he a member of one of the Water-Colour Societies?"
"I believe he is," answered Miss Halcombe.
He paused for a moment, as if he was thinking over the last
answer, and then added--
"Did you find out where Anne Catherick was living, when she was in
this neighbourhood?"
"Yes. At a farm on the moor, called Todd's Corner."
"It is a duty we all owe to the poor creature herself to trace
her," continued Sir Percival. "She may have said something at
Todd's Corner which may help us to find her. I will go there and
make inquiries on the chance. In the meantime, as I cannot
prevail on myself to discuss this painful subject with Miss
Fairlie, may I beg, Miss Halcombe, that you will kindly undertake
to give her the necessary explanation, deferring it of course
until you have received the reply to that note."
Miss Halcombe promised to comp]y with his request. He thanked
her, nodded pleasantly, and left us, to go and establish himself
in his own room. As he opened the door the cross-grained
greyhound poked out her sharp muzzle from under the sofa, and
barked and snapped at him.
"A good morning's work, Miss Halcombe," I said, as soon as we were
alone. "Here is an anxious day well ended already."
"Yes," she answered; "no doubt. I am very glad your mind is
"My mind! Surely, with that note in your hand, your mind is at
ease too?"
"Oh yes--how can it be otherwise? I know the thing could not be,"
she went on, speaking more to herself than to me; "but I almost
wish Walter Hartright had stayed here long enough to be present at
the explanation, and to hear the proposal to me to write this
I was a little surprised--perhaps a little piqued also--by these
last words.
"Events, it is true, connected Mr. Hartright very remarkably with
the affair of the letter," I said; "and I readily admit that he
conducted himself, all things considered, with great delicacy and
discretion. But I am quite at a loss to understand what useful
influence his presence could have exercised in relation to the
effect of Sir Percival's statement on your mind or mine."
"It was only a fancy," she said absently. "There is no need to
discuss it, Mr. Gilmore. Your experience ought to be, and is, the
best guide I can desire."
I did not altogether like her thrusting the whole responsibility,
in this marked manner, on my shoulders. If Mr. Fairlie had done
it, I should not have been surprised. But resolute, clear-minded
Miss Halcombe was the very last person in the world whom I should
have expected to find shrinking from the expression of an opinion
of her own.
"If any doubts still trouble you," I said, "why not mention them
to me at once? Tell me plainly, have you any reason to distrust
Sir Percival Glyde?"
"None whatever."
"Do you see anything improbable, or contradictory, in his
"How can I say I do, after the proof he has offered me of the
truth of it? Can there be better testimony in his favour, Mr.
Gilmore, than the testimony of the woman's mother?"
"None better. If the answer to your note of inquiry proves to be
satisfactory, I for one cannot see what more any friend of Sir
Percival's can possibly expect from him."
"Then we will post the note," she said, rising to leave the room,
"and dismiss all further reference to the subject until the answer
arrives. Don't attach any weight to my hesitation. I can give no
better reason for it than that I have been over-anxious about
Laura lately--and anxiety, Mr. Gilmore, unsettles the strongest of
She left me abruptly, her naturally firm voice faltering as she
spoke those last words. A sensitive, vehement, passionate nature--
a woman of ten thousand in these trivial, superficial times. I
had known her from her earliest years--I had seen her tested, as
she grew up, in more than one trying family crisis, and my long
experience made me attach an importance to her hesitation under
the circumstances here detailed, which I should certainly not have
felt in the case of another woman. I could see no cause for any
uneasiness or any doubt, but she had made me a little uneasy, and
a little doubtful, nevertheless. In my youth, I should have
chafed and fretted under the irritation of my own unreasonable
state of mind. In my age, I knew better, and went out
philosophically to walk it off.
We all met again at dinner-time.
Sir Percival was in such boisterous high spirits that I hardly
recognised him as the same man whose quiet tact, refinement, and
good sense had impressed me so strongly at the interview of the
morning. The only trace of his former self that I could detect
reappeared, every now and then, in his manner towards Miss
Fairlie. A look or a word from her suspended his loudest laugh,
checked his gayest flow of talk, and rendered him all attention to
her, and to no one else at table, in an instant. Although he
never openly tried to draw her into the conversation, he never
lost the slightest chance she gave him of letting her drift into
it by accident, and of saying the words to her, under those
favourable circumstances, which a man with less tact and delicacy
would have pointedly addressed to her the moment they occurred to
him. Rather to my surprise, Miss Fairlie appeared to be sensible
of his attentions without being moved by them. She was a little
confused from time to time when he looked at her, or spoke to her;
but she never warmed towards him. Rank, fortune, good breeding,
good looks, the respect of a gentleman, and the devotion of a
lover were all humbly placed at her feet, and, so far as
appearances went, were all offered in vain.
On the next day, the Tuesday, Sir Percival went in the morning
(taking one of the servants with him as a guide) to Todd's Corner.
His inquiries, as I afterwards heard, led to no results. On his
return he had an interview with Mr. Fairlie, and in the afternoon
he and Miss Halcombe rode out together. Nothing else happened
worthy of record. The evening passed as usual. There was no
change in Sir Percival, and no change in Miss Fairlie.
The Wednesday's post brought with it an event--the reply from Mrs.
Catherick. I took a copy of the document, which I have preserved,
and which I may as well present in this place. It ran as follows--
"MADAM,--I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter,
inquiring whether my daughter, Anne, was placed under medical
superintendence with my knowledge and approval, and whether the
share taken in the matter by Sir Percival Glyde was such as to
merit the expression of my gratitude towards that gentleman. Be
pleased to accept my answer in the affirmative to both those
questions, and believe me to remain, your obedient servant,
Short, sharp, and to the point; in form rather a business-like
letter for a woman to write--in substance as plain a confirmation
as could be desired of Sir Percival Glyde's statement. This was
my opinion, and with certain minor reservations, Miss Halcombe's
opinion also. Sir Percival, when the letter was shown to him, did
not appear to be struck by the sharp, short tone of it. He told
us that Mrs. Catherick was a woman of few words, a clear-headed,
straightforward, unimaginative person, who wrote briefly and
plainly, just as she spoke.
The next duty to be accomplished, now that the answer had been
received, was to acquaint Miss Fairlie with Sir Percival's
explanation. Miss Halcombe had undertaken to do this, and had
left the room to go to her sister, when she suddenly returned
again, and sat down by the easy-chair in which I was reading the
newspaper. Sir Percival had gone out a minute before to look at
the stables, and no one was in the room but ourselves.
"I suppose we have really and truly done all we can?" she said,
turning and twisting Mrs. Catherick's letter in her hand.
"If we are friends of Sir Percival's, who know him and trust him,
we have done all, and more than all, that is necessary," I
answered, a little annoyed by this return of her hesitation. "But
if we are enemies who suspect him----"
"That alternative is not even to be thought of," she interposed.
"We are Sir Percival's friends, and if generosity and forbearance
can add to our regard for him, we ought to be Sir Percival's
admirers as well. You know that he saw Mr. Fairlie yesterday, and
that he afterwards went out with me."
"Yes. I saw you riding away together."
"We began the ride by talking about Anne Catherick, and about the
singular manner in which Mr. Hartright met with her. But we soon
dropped that subject, and Sir Percival spoke next, in the most
unselfish terms, of his engagement with Laura. He said he had
observed that she was out of spirits, and he was willing, if not
informed to the contrary, to attribute to that cause the
alteration in her manner towards him during his present visit.
If, however, there was any more serious reason for the change, he
would entreat that no constraint might be placed on her
inclinations either by Mr. Fairlie or by me. All he asked, in
that case, was that she would recall to mind, for the last time,
what the circumstances were under which the engagement between
them was made, and what his conduct had been from the beginning of
the courtship to the present time. If, after due reflection on
those two subjects, she seriously desired that he should withdraw
his pretensions to the honour of becoming her husband--and if she
would tell him so plainly with her own lips--he would sacrifice
himself by leaving her perfectly free to withdraw from the
"No man could say more than that, Miss Halcombe. As to my
experience, few men in his situation would have said as much."
She paused after I had spoken those words, and looked at me with a
singular expression of perplexity and distress.
"I accuse nobody, and I suspect nothing," she broke out abruptly.
"But I cannot and will not accept the responsibility of persuading
Laura to this marriage."
"That is exactly the course which Sir Percival Glyde has himself
requested you to take," I replied in astonishment. "He has begged
you not to force her inclinations."
"And he indirectly obliges me to force them, if I give her his
"How can that possibly be?"
"Consult your own knowledge of Laura, Mr. Gilmore. If I tell her
to reflect on the circumstances of her engagement, I at once
appeal to two of the strongest feelings in her nature--to her love
for her father's memory, and to her strict regard for truth. You
know that she never broke a promise in her life--you know that she
entered on this engagement at the beginning of her father's fatal
illness, and that he spoke hopefully and happily of her marriage
to Sir Percival Glyde on his deathbed."
I own that I was a little shocked at this view of the case.
"Surely," I said, "you don't mean to infer that when Sir Percival
spoke to you yesterday he speculated on such a result as you have
just mentioned?"
Her frank, fearless face answered for her before she spoke.
"Do you think I would remain an instant in the company of any man
whom I suspected of such baseness as that?" she asked angrily.
I liked to feel her hearty indignation flash out on me in that
way. We see so much malice and so little indignation in my
"In that case," I said, "excuse me if I tell you, in our legal
phrase, that you are travelling out of the record. Whatever the
consequences may be, Sir Percival has a right to expect that your
sister should carefully consider her engagement from every
reasonable point of view before she claims her release from it.
If that unlucky letter has prejudiced her against him, go at once,
and tell her that he has cleared himself in your eyes and in mine.
What objection can she urge against him after that? What excuse
can she possibly have for changing her mind about a man whom she
had virtually accepted for her husband more than two years ago?"
"In the eyes of law and reason, Mr. Gilmore, no excuse, I daresay.
If she still hesitates, and if I still hesitate, you must
attribute our strange conduct, if you like, to caprice in both
cases, and we must bear the imputation as well as we can."
With those words she suddenly rose and left me. When a sensible
woman has a serious question put to her, and evades it by a
flippant answer, it is a sure sign, in ninety-nine cases out of a
hundred, that she has something to conceal. I returned to the
perusal of the newspaper, strongly suspecting that Miss Halcombe
and Miss Fairlie had a secret between them which they were keeping
from Sir Percival, and keeping from me. I thought this hard on
both of us, especially on Sir Percival.
My doubts--or to speak more correctly, my convictions--were
confirmed by Miss Halcombe's language and manner when I saw her
again later in the day. She was suspiciously brief and reserved
in telling me the result of her interview with her sister. Miss
Fairlie, it appeared, had listened quietly while the affair of the
letter was placed before her in the right point of view, but when
Miss Halcombe next proceeded to say that the object of Sir
Percival's visit at Limmeridge was to prevail on her to let a day
be fixed for the marriage she checked all further reference to the
subject by begging for time. If Sir Percival would consent to
spare her for the present, she would undertake to give him his
final answer before the end of the year. She pleaded for this
delay with such anxiety and agitation, that Miss Halcombe had
promised to use her influence, if necessary, to obtain it, and
there, at Miss Fairlie's earnest entreaty, all further discussion
of the marriage question had ended.
The purely temporary arrangement thus proposed might have been
convenient enough to the young lady, but it proved somewhat
embarrassing to the writer of these lines. That morning's post
had brought a letter from my partner, which obliged me to return
to town the next day by the afternoon train. It was extremely
probable that I should find no second opportunity of presenting
myself at Limmeridge House during the remainder of the year. In
that case, supposing Miss Fairlie ultimately decided on holding to
her engagement, my necessary personal communication with her,
before I drew her settlement, would become something like a
downright impossibility, and we should be obliged to commit to
writing questions which ought always to be discussed on both sides
by word of mouth. I said nothing about this difficulty until Sir
Percival had been consulted on the subject of the desired delay.
He was too gallant a gentleman not to grant the request
immediately. When Miss Halcombe informed me of this I told her
that I must absolutely speak to her sister before I left
Limmeridge, and it was, therefore, arranged that I should see Miss
Fairlie in her own sitting-room the next morning. She did not
come down to dinner, or join us in the evening. Indisposition was
the excuse, and I thought Sir Percival looked, as well he might, a
little annoyed when he heard of it.
The next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, I went up to Miss
Fairlie's sitting-room. The poor girl looked so pale and sad, and
came forward to welcome me so readily and prettily, that the
resolution to lecture her on her caprice and indecision, which I
had been forming all the way upstairs, failed me on the spot. I
led her back to the chair from which she had risen, and placed
myself opposite to her. Her cross-grained pet greyhound was in
the room, and I fully expected a barking and snapping reception.
Strange to say, the whimsical little brute falsified my
expectations by jumping into my lap and poking its sharp muzzle
familiarly into my hand the moment I sat down.
"You used often to sit on my knee when you were a child. my
dear," I said, "and now your little dog seems determined to
succeed you in the vacant throne. Is that pretty drawing your
I pointed to a little album which lay on the table by her side and
which she had evidently been looking over when I came in. The
page that lay open had a small water-colour landscape very neatly
mounted on it. This was the drawing which had suggested my
question--an idle question enough--but how could I begin to talk
of business to her the moment I opened my lips?
"No," she said, looking away from the drawing rather confusedly,
"it is not my doing."
Her fingers had a restless habit, which I remembered in her as a
child, of always playing with the first thing that came to hand
whenever any one was talking to her. On this occasion they
wandered to the album, and toyed absently about the margin of the
little water-colour drawing. The expression of melancholy
deepened on her face. She did not look at the drawing, or look at
me. Her eyes moved uneasily from object to object in the room,
betraying plainly that she suspected what my purpose was in coming
to speak to her. Seeing that, I thought it best to get to the
purpose with as little delay as possible.
"One of the errands, my dear, which brings me here is to bid you
good-bye," I began. "I must get back to London to-day: and,
before I leave, I want to have a word with you on the subject of
your own affairs."
"I am very sorry you are going, Mr. Gilmore," she said, looking at
me kindly. "It is like the happy old times to have you here.
"I hope I may be able to come back and recall those pleasant
memories once more," I continued; "but as there is some
uncertainty about the future, I must take my opportunity when I
can get it, and speak to you now. I am your old lawyer and your
old friend, and I may remind you, I am sure, without offence, of
the possibility of your marrying Sir Percival Glyde."
She took her hand off the little album as suddenly as if it had
turned hot and burnt her. Her fingers twined together nervously
in her lap, her eyes looked down again at the floor, and an
expression of constraint settled on her face which looked almost
like an expression of pain.
"Is it absolutely necessary to speak of my marriage engagement?"
she asked in low tones.
"It is necessary to refer to it," I answered, "but not to dwell on
it. Let us merely say that you may marry, or that you may not
marry. In the first case, I must be prepared, beforehand, to draw
your settlement, and I ought not to do that without, as a matter
of politeness, first consulting you. This may be my only chance
of hearing what your wishes are. Let us, therefore, suppose the
case of your marrying, and let me inform you, in as few words as
possible, what your position is now, and what you may make it, if
you please, in the future."
I explained to her the object of a marriage-settlement, and then
told her exactly what her prospects were--in the first place, on
her coming of age, and in the second place, on the decease of her
uncle--marking the distinction between the property in which she
had a life-interest only, and the property which was left at her
own control. She listened attentively, with the constrained
expression still on her face, and her hands still nervously
clasped together in her lap.
"And now," I said in conclusion, "tell me if you can think of any
condition which, in the case we have supposed, you would wish me
to make for you--subject, of course, to your guardian's approval,
as you are not yet of age."
She moved uneasily in her chair, then looked in my face on a
sudden very earnestly.
"If it does happen," she began faintly, "if I am----"
"If you are married," I added, helping her out.
"Don't let him part me from Marian," she cried, with a sudden
outbreak of energy. "Oh, Mr. Gilmore, pray make it law that
Marian is to live with me!"
Under other circumstances I might, perhaps, have been amused at
this essentially feminine interpretation of my question, and of
the long explanation which had preceded it. But her looks and
tones, when she spoke, were of a kind to make me more than
serious--they distressed me. Her words, few as they were,
betrayed a desperate clinging to the past which boded ill for the
"Your having Marian Halcombe to live with you can easily be
settled by private arrangement," I said. "You hardly understood
my question, I think. It referred to your own property--to the
disposal of your money. Supposing you were to make a will when
you come of age, who would you like the money to go to?"
"Marian has been mother and sister both to me," said the good,
affectionate girl, her pretty blue eyes glistening while she
spoke. "May I leave it to Marian, Mr. Gilmore?"
"Certainly, my love," I answered. "But remember what a large sum
it is. Would you like it all to go to Miss Halcombe?"
She hesitated; her colour came and went, and her hand stole back
again to the little album.
"Not all of it," she said. "There is some one else besides
She stopped; her colour heightened, and the fingers of the hand
that rested upon the album beat gently on the margin of the
drawing, as if her memory had set them going mechanically with the
remembrance of a favourite tune.
"You mean some other member of the family besides Miss Halcombe?"
I suggested, seeing her at a loss to proceed.
The heightening colour spread to her forehead and her neck, and
the nervous fingers suddenly clasped themselves fast round the
edge of the book.
"There is some one else," she said, not noticing my last words,
though she had evidently heard them; "there is some one else who
might like a little keepsake if--if I might leave it. There would
be no harm if I should die first----"
She paused again. The colour that had spread over her cheeks
suddenly, as suddenly left them. The hand on the album resigned
its hold, trembled a little, and moved the book away from her.
She looked at me for an instant--then turned her head aside in the
chair. Her handkerchief fell to the floor as she changed her
position, and she hurriedly hid her face from me in her hands.
Sad! To remember her, as I did, the liveliest, happiest child that
ever laughed the day through, and to see her now, in the flower of
her age and her beauty, so broken and so brought down as this!
In the distress that she caused me I forgot the years that had
passed, and the change they had made in our position towards one
another. I moved my chair close to her, and picked up her
handkerchief from the carpet, and drew her hands from her face
gently. "Don't cry, my love," I said, and dried the tears that
were gathering in her eyes with my own hand, as if she had been
the little Laura Fairlie of ten long years ago.
It was the best way I could have taken to compose her. She laid
her head on my shoulder, and smiled faintly through her tears.
"I am very sorry for forgetting myself," she said artlessly. "I
have not been well--I have felt sadly weak and nervous lately, and
I often cry without reason when I am alone. I am better now--I
can answer you as I ought, Mr. Gilmore, I can indeed."
"No, no, my dear," I replied, "we will consider the subject as
done with for the present. You have said enough to sanction my
taking the best possible care of your interests, and we can settle
details at another opportunity. Let us have done with business
now, and talk of something else."
I led her at once into speaking on other topics. In ten minutes'
time she was in better spirits, and I rose to take my leave.
"Come here again," she said earnestly. "I will try to be worthier
of your kind feeling for me and for my interests if you will only
come again."
Still clinging to the past--that past which I represented to her,
in my way, as Miss Halcombe did in hers! It troubled me sorely to
see her looking back, at the beginning of her career, just as I
look back at the end of mine.
"If I do come again, I hope I shall find you better," I said;
"better and happier. God bless you, my dear!"
She only answered by putting up her cheek to me to be kissed.
Even lawyers have hearts, and mine ached a little as I took leave
of her.
The whole interview between us had hardly lasted more than half an
hour--she had not breathed a word, in my presence, to explain the
mystery of her evident distress and dismay at the prospect of her
marriage, and yet she had contrived to win me over to her side of
the question, I neither knew how nor why. I had entered the room,
feeling that Sir Percival Glyde had fair reason to complain of the
manner in which she was treating him. I left it, secretly hoping
that matters might end in her taking him at his word and claiming
her release. A man of my age and experience ought to have known
better than to vacillate in this unreasonable manner. I can make
no excuse for myself; I can only tell the truth, and say--so it
The hour for my departure was now drawing near. I sent to Mr.
Fairlie to say that I would wait on him to take leave if he liked,
but that he must excuse my being rather in a hurry. He sent a
message back, written in pencil on a slip of paper: "Kind love and
best wishes, dear Gilmore. Hurry of any kind is inexpressibly
injurious to me. Pray take care of yourself. Good-bye."
Just before I left I saw Miss Halcombe for a moment alone.
"Have you said all you wanted to Laura?" she asked.
"Yes," I replied. "She is very weak and nervous--I am glad she
has you to take care of her."
Miss Halcombe's sharp eyes studied my face attentively.
"You are altering your opinion about Laura," she said. "You are
readier to make allowances for her than you were yesterday."
No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of
words with a woman. I only answered--
"Let me know what happens. I will do nothing till I hear from
She still looked hard in my face. "I wish it was all over, and
well over, Mr. Gilmore--and so do you." With those words she left
Sir Percival most politely insisted on seeing me to the carriage
"If you are ever in my neighbourhood," he said, "pray don't forget
that I am sincerely anxious to improve our acquaintance. The
tried and trusted old friend of this family will be always a
welcome visitor in any house of mine."
A really irresistible man--courteous, considerate, delightfully
free from pride--a gentleman, every inch of him. As I drove away
to the station I felt as if I could cheerfully do anything to
promote the interests of Sir Percival Glyde--anything in the
world, except drawing the marriage settlement of his wife.
A week passed, after my return to London, without the receipt of
any communication from Miss Halcombe.
On the eighth day a letter in her handwriting was placed among the
other letters on my table.
It announced that Sir Percival Glyde had been definitely accepted,
and that the marriage was to take place, as he had originally
desired, before the end of the year. In all probability the
ceremony would be performed during the last fortnight in December.
Miss Fairlie's twenty-first birthday was late in March. She
would, therefore, by this arrangement, become Sir Percival's wife
about three months before she was of age.
I ought not to have been surprised, I ought not to have been
sorry, but I was surprised and sorry, nevertheless. Some little
disappointment, caused by the unsatisfactory shortness of Miss
Halcombe's letter, mingled itself with these feelings, and
contributed its share towards upsetting my serenity for the day.
In six lines my correspondent announced the proposed marriage--in
three more, she told me that Sir Percival had left Cumberland to
return to his house in Hampshire, and in two concluding sentences
she informed me, first, that Laura was sadly in want of change and
cheerful society; secondly, that she had resolved to try the
effect of some such change forthwith, by taking her sister away
with her on a visit to certain old friends in Yorkshire. There
the letter ended, without a word to explain what the circumstances
were which had decided Miss Fairlie to accept Sir Percival Glyde
in one short week from the time when I had last seen her.
At a later period the cause of this sudden determination was fully
explained to me. It is not my business to relate it imperfectly,
on hearsay evidence. The circumstances came within the personal
experience of Miss Halcombe, and when her narrative succeeds mine,
she will describe them in every particular exactly as they
happened. In the meantime, the plain duty for me to perform--
before I, in my turn, lay down my pen and withdraw from the story--
is to relate the one remaining event connected with Miss
Fairlie's proposed marriage in which I was concerned, namely, the
drawing of the settlement.
It is impossible to refer intelligibly to this document without
first entering into certain particulars in relation to the bride's
pecuniary affairs. I will try to make my explanation briefly and
plainly, and to keep it free from professional obscurities and
technicalities. The matter is of the utmost importance. I warn
all readers of these lines that Miss Fairlie's inheritance is a
very serious part of Miss Fairlie's story, and that Mr. Gilmore's
experience, in this particular, must be their experience also, if
they wish to understand the narratives which are yet to come.
Miss Fairlie's expectations, then, were of a twofold kind,
comprising her possible inheritance of real property, or land,
when her uncle died, and her absolute inheritance of personal
property, or money, when she came of age.
Let us take the land first.
In the time of Miss Fairlie's paternal grandfather (whom we will
call Mr. Fairlie, the elder) the entailed succession to the
Limmeridge estate stood thus--
Mr. Fairlie, the elder, died and left three sons, Philip,
Frederick, and Arthur. As eldest son, Philip succeeded to the
estate, If he died without leaving a son, the property went to the
second brother, Frederick; and if Frederick died also without
leaving a son, the property went to the third brother, Arthur.
As events turned out, Mr. Philip Fairlie died leaving an only
daughter, the Laura of this story, and the estate, in consequence,
went, in course of law, to the second brother, Frederick, a single
man. The third brother, Arthur, had died many years before the
decease of Philip, leaving a son and a daughter. The son, at the
age of eighteen, was drowned at Oxford. His death left Laura, the
daughter of Mr. Philip Fairlie, presumptive heiress to the estate,
with every chance of succeeding to it, in the ordinary course of
nature, on her uncle Frederick's death, if the said Frederick died
without leaving male issue.
Except in the event, then, of Mr. Frederick Fairlie's marrying and
leaving an heir (the two very last things in the world that he was
likely to do), his niece, Laura, would have the property on his
death, possessing, it must be remembered, nothing more than a
life-interest in it. If she died single, or died childless, the
estate would revert to her cousin, Magdalen, the daughter of Mr.
Arthur Fairlie. If she married, with a proper settlement--or, in
other words, with the settlement I meant to make for her--the
income from the estate (a good three thousand a year) would,
during her lifetime, be at her own disposal. If she died before
her husband, he would naturally expect to be left in the enjoyment
of the income, for HIS lifetime. If she had a son, that son would
be the heir, to the exclusion of her cousin Magdalen. Thus, Sir
Percival's prospects in marrying Miss Fairlie (so far as his
wife's expectations from real property were concerned) promised
him these two advantages, on Mr. Frederick Fairlie's death: First,
the use of three thousand a year (by his wife's permission, while
she lived, and in his own right, on her death, if he survived
her); and, secondly, the inheritance of Limmeridge for his son, if
he had one.
So much for the landed property, and for the disposal of the
income from it, on the occasion of Miss Fairlie's marriage. Thus
far, no difficulty or difference of opinion on the lady's
settlement was at all likely to arise between Sir Percival's
lawyer and myself.
The personal estate, or, in other words, the money to which Miss
Fairlie would become entitled on reaching the age of twenty-one
years, is the next point to consider.
This part of her inheritance was, in itself, a comfortable little
fortune. It was derived under her father's will, and it amounted
to the sum of twenty thousand pounds. Besides this, she had a
life-interest in ten thousand pounds more, which latter amount was
to go, on her decease, to her aunt Eleanor, her father's only
sister. It will greatly assist in setting the family affairs
before the reader in the clearest possible light, if I stop here
for a moment, to explain why the aunt had been kept waiting for
her legacy until the death of the niece.
Mr. Philip Fairlie had lived on excellent terms with his sister
Eleanor, as long as she remained a single woman. But when her
marriage took place, somewhat late in life, and when that marriage
united her to an Italian gentleman named Fosco, or, rather, to an
Italian nobleman--seeing that he rejoiced in the title of Count--
Mr. Fairlie disapproved of her conduct so strongly that he ceased
to hold any communication with her, and even went the length of
striking her name out of his will. The other members of the
family all thought this serious manifestation of resentment at his
sister's marriage more or less unreasonable. Count Fosco, though
not a rich man, was not a penniless adventurer either. He had a
small but sufficient income of his own. He had lived many years
in England, and he held an excellent position in society. These
recommendations, however, availed nothing with Mr. Fairlie. In
many of his opinions he was an Englishman of the old school, and
he hated a foreigner simply and solely because he was a foreigner.
The utmost that he could be prevailed on to do, in after years--
mainly at Miss Fairlie's intercession--was to restore his sister's
name to its former place in his will, but to keep her waiting for
her legacy by giving the income of the money to his daughter for
life, and the money itself, if her aunt died before her, to her
cousin Magdalen. Considering the relative ages of the two ladies,
the aunt's chance, in the ordinary course of nature, of receiving
the ten thousand pounds, was thus rendered doubtful in the
extreme; and Madame Fosco resented her brother's treatment of her
as unjustly as usual in such cases, by refusing to see her niece,
and declining to believe that Miss Fairlie's intercession had ever
been exerted to restore her name to Mr. Fairlie's will.
Such was the history of the ten thousand pounds. Here again no
difficulty could arise with Sir Percival's legal adviser. The
income would be at the wife's disposal, and the principal would go
to her aunt or her cousin on her death.
All preliminary explanations being now cleared out of the way, I
come at last to the real knot of the case--to the twenty thousand
This sum was absolutely Miss Fairlie's own on her completing her
twenty-first year, and the whole future disposition of it
depended, in the first instance, on the conditions I could obtain
for her in her marriage-settlement. The other clauses contained
in that document were of a formal kind, and need not be recited
here. But the clause relating to the money is too important to be
passed over. A few lines will be sufficient to give the necessary
abstract of it.
My stipulation in regard to the twenty thousand pounds was simply
this: The whole amount was to be settled so as to give the income
to the lady for her life--afterwards to Sir Percival for his life--
and the principal to the children of the marriage. In default of
issue, the principal was to be disposed of as the lady might by
her will direct, for which purpose I reserved to her the right of
making a will. The effect of these conditions may be thus summed
up. If Lady Glyde died without leaving children, her half-sister
Miss Halcombe, and any other relatives or friends whom she might
be anxious to benefit, would, on her husband's death, divide among
them such shares of her money as she desired them to have. If, on
the other hand, she died leaving children, then their interest,
naturally and necessarily, superseded all other interests
whatsoever. This was the clause--and no one who reads it can
fail, I think, to agree with me that it meted out equal justice to
all parties.
We shall see how my proposals were met on the husband's side.
At the time when Miss Halcombe's letter reached me I was even more
busily occupied than usual. But I contrived to make leisure for
the settlement. I had drawn it, and had sent it for approval to
Sir Percival's solicitor, in less than a week from the time when
Miss Halcombe had informed me of the proposed marriage.
After a lapse of two days the document was returned to me, with
notes and remarks of the baronet's lawyer. His objections, in
general, proved to be of the most trifling and technical kind,
until he came to the clause relating to the twenty thousand
pounds. Against this there were double lines drawn in red ink,
and the following note was appended to them--
"Not admissible. The PRINCIPAL to go to Sir Percival Glyde, in
the event of his surviving Lady Glyde, and there being no issue."
That is to say, not one farthing of the twenty thousand pounds was
to go to Miss Halcombe, or to any other relative or friend of Lady
Glyde's. The whole sum, if she left no children, was to slip into
the pockets of her husband.
The answer I wrote to this audacious proposal was as short and
sharp as I could make it. "My dear sir. Miss Fairlie's
settlement. I maintain the clause to which you object, exactly as
it stands. Yours truly." The rejoinder came back in a quarter of
an hour. "My dear sir. Miss Fairlie's settlement. I maintain
the red ink to which you object, exactly as it stands. Yours
truly." In the detestable slang of the day, we were now both "at a
deadlock," and nothing was left for it but to refer to our clients
on either side.
As matters stood, my client--Miss Fairlie not having yet completed
her twenty-first year--Mr. Frederick Fairlie, was her guardian. I
wrote by that day's post, and put the case before him exactly as
it stood, not only urging every argument I could think of to
induce him to maintain the clause as I had drawn it, but stating
to him plainly the mercenary motive which was at the bottom of the
opposition to my settlement of the twenty thousand pounds. The
knowledge of Sir Percival's affairs which I had necessarily gained
when the provisions of the deed on HIS side were submitted in due
course to my examination, had but too plainly informed me that the
debts on his estate were enormous, and that his income, though
nominally a large one, was virtually, for a man in his position,
next to nothing. The want of ready money was the practical
necessity of Sir Percival's existence, and his lawyer's note on
the clause in the settlement was nothing but the frankly selfish
expression of it.
Mr. Fairlie's answer reached me by return of post, and proved to
be wandering and irrelevant in the extreme. Turned into plain
English, it practically expressed itself to this effect: "Would
dear Gilmore be so very obliging as not to worry his friend and
client about such a trifle as a remote contingency? Was it likely
that a young woman of twenty-one would die before a man of forty
five, and die without children? On the other hand, in such a
miserable world as this, was it possible to over-estimate the
value of peace and quietness? If those two heavenly blessings were
offered in exchange for such an earthly trifle as a remote chance
of twenty thousand pounds, was it not a fair bargain? Surely, yes.
Then why not make it?"
I threw the letter away in disgust. Just as it had fluttered to
the ground, there was a knock at my door, and Sir Percival s
solicitor, Mr. Merriman, was shown in. There are many varieties
of sharp practitioners in this world, but I think the hardest of
all to deal with are the men who overreach you under the disguise
of inveterate good-humour. A fat, well fed, smiling, friendly man
of business is of all parties to a bargain the most hopeless to
deal with. Mr. Merriman was one of this class.
"And how is good Mr. Gilmore?" he began, all in a glow with the
warmth of his own amiability. "Glad to see you, sir, in such
excellent health. I was passing your door, and I thought I would
look in in case you might have something to say to me. Do--now
pray do let us settle this little difference of ours by word of
mouth, if we can! Have you heard from your client yet?"
"Yes. Have you heard from yours?"
"My dear, good sir! I wish I had heard from him to any purpose--I
wish, with all my heart, the responsibility was off my shoulders;
but he is obstinate--or let me rather say, resolute--and he won't
take it off. 'Merriman, I leave details to you. Do what you
think right for my interests, and consider me as having personally
withdrawn from the business until it is all over.' Those were Sir
Percival's words a fortnight ago, and all I can get him to do now
is to repeat them. I am not a hard man, Mr. Gilmore, as you know.
Personally and privately, I do assure you, I should like to sponge
out that note of mine at this very moment. But if Sir Percival
won't go into the matter, if Sir Percival will blindly leave all
his interests in my sole care, what course can I possibly take
except the course of asserting them? My hands are bound--don't you
see, my dear sir?--my hands are bound."
"You maintain your note on the clause, then, to the letter?" I
"Yes--deuce take it! I have no other alternative." He walked to
the fireplace and warmed himself, humming the fag end of a tune in
a rich convivial bass voice. "What does your side say?" he went
on; "now pray tell me--what does your side say?"
I was ashamed to tell him. I attempted to gain time--nay, I did
worse. My legal instincts got the better of me, and I even tried
to bargain.
"Twenty thousand pounds is rather a large sum to be given up by
the lady's friends at two days' notice," I said.
"Very true," replied Mr. Merriman, looking down thoughtfully at
his boots. "Properly put, sir--most properly put!"
"A compromise, recognising the interests of the lady's family as
well as the interests of the husband, might not perhaps have
frightened my client quite so much," I went on. "Come, come! this
contingency resolves itself into a matter of bargaining after all.
What is the least you will take?"
"The least we will take," said Mr. Merriman, "is nineteenthousand-
elevenpence-three-farthings. Ha! ha! ha! Excuse me, Mr.
Gilmore. I must have my little joke."
"Little enough," I remarked. "The joke is just worth the odd
farthing it was made for."
Mr. Merriman was delighted. He laughed over my retort till the
room rang again. I was not half so good-humoured on my side; I
came back to business, and closed the interview.
"This is Friday," I said. "Give us till Tuesday next for our
final answer."
"By all means," replied Mr. Merriman. "Longer, my dear sir, if
you like." He took up his hat to go, and then addressed me again.
"By the way," he said, "your clients in Cumberland have not heard
anything more of the woman who wrote the anonymous letter, have
"Nothing more," I answered. "Have you found no trace of her?"
"Not yet," said my legal friend. "But we don't despair. Sir
Percival has his suspicions that Somebody is keeping her in
hiding, and we are having that Somebody watched."
"You mean the old woman who was with her in Cumberland," I said.
"Quite another party, sir," answered Mr. Merriman. "We don't
happen to have laid hands on the old woman yet. Our Somebody is a
man. We have got him close under our eye here in London, and we
strongly suspect he had something to do with helping her in the
first instance to escape from the Asylum. Sir Percival wanted to
question him at once, but I said, 'No. Questioning him will only
put him on his guard--watch him, and wait.' We shall see what
happens. A dangerous woman to be at large, Mr. Gilmore; nobody
knows what she may do next. I wish you good-morning, sir. On
Tuesday next I shall hope for the pleasure of hearing from you."
He smiled amiably and went out.
My mind had been rather absent during the latter part of the
conversation with my legal friend. I was so anxious about the
matter of the settlement that I had little attention to give to
any other subject, and the moment I was left alone again I began
to think over what my next proceeding ought to be.
In the case of any other client I should have acted on my
instructions, however personally distasteful to me, and have given
up the point about the twenty thousand pounds on the spot. But I
could not act with this business-like indifference towards Miss
Fairlie. I had an honest feeling of affection and admiration for
her--I remembered gratefully that her father had been the kindest
patron and friend to me that ever man had--I had felt towards her
while I was drawing the settlement as I might have felt, if I had
not been an old bachelor, towards a daughter of my own, and I was
determined to spare no personal sacrifice in her service and where
her interests were concerned. Writing a second time to Mr.
Fairlie was not to be thought of--it would only be giving him a
second opportunity of slipping through my fingers. Seeing him and
personally remonstrating with him might possibly be of more use.
The next day was Saturday. I determined to take a return ticket
and jolt my old bones down to Cumberland, on the chance of
persuading him to adopt the just, the independent, and the
honourable course. It was a poor chance enough, no doubt, but
when I had tried it my conscience would be at ease. I should then
have done all that a man in my position could do to serve the
interests of my old friend's only child.
The weather on Saturday was beautiful, a west wind and a bright
sun. Having felt latterly a return of that fulness and oppression
of the head, against which my doctor warned me so seriously more
than two years since, I resolved to take the opportunity of
getting a little extra exercise by sending my bag on before me and
walking to the terminus in Euston Square. As I came out into
Holborn a gentleman walking by rapidly stopped and spoke to me.
It was Mr. Walter Hartright.
If he had not been the first to greet me I should certainly have
passed him. He was so changed that I hardly knew him again. His
face looked pale and haggard--his manner was hurried and
uncertain--and his dress, which I remembered as neat and
gentleman-like when I saw him at Limmeridge, was so slovenly now
that I should really have been ashamed of the appearance of it on
one of my own clerks.
"Have you been long back from Cumberland?" he asked. "I heard
from Miss Halcombe lately. I am aware that Sir Percival Glyde's
explanation has been considered satisfactory. Will the marriage
take place soon? Do you happen to know Mr. Gilmore?"
He spoke so fast, and crowded his questions together so strangely
and confusedly, that I could hardly follow him. However
accidentally intimate he might have been with the family at
Limmeridge, I could not see that he had any right to expect
information on their private affairs, and I determined to drop
him, as easily as might be, on the subject of Miss Fairlie's
"Time will show, Mr. Hartright," I said--"time will show. I dare
say if we look out for the marriage in the papers we shall not be
far wrong. Excuse my noticing it, but I am sorry to see you not
looking so well as you were when we last met."
A momentary nervous contraction quivered about his lips and eyes,
and made me half reproach myself for having answered him in such a
significantly guarded manner.
"I had no right to ask about her marriage," he said bitterly. "I
must wait to see it in the newspapers like other people. Yes,"--
he went on before I could make any apologies--"I have not been
well lately. I am going to another country to try a change of
scene and occupation. Miss Halcombe has kindly assisted me with
her influence, and my testimonials have been found satisfactory.
It is a long distance off, but I don't care where I go, what the
climate is, or how long I am away." He looked about him while he
said this at the throng of strangers passing us by on either side,
in a strange, suspicious manner, as if he thought that some of
them might be watching us.
"I wish you well through it, and safe back again," I said, and
then added, so as not to keep him altogether at arm's length on
the subject of the Fairlies, "I am going down to Limmeridge to-day
on business. Miss Halcombe and Miss Fairlie are away just now on
a visit to some friends in Yorkshire."
His eyes brightened, and he seemed about to say something in
answer, but the same momentary nervous spasm crossed his face
again. He took my hand, pressed it hard, and disappeared among
the crowd without saying another word. Though he was little more
than a stranger to me, I waited for a moment, looking after him
almost with a feeling of regret. I had gained in my profession
sufficient experience of young men to know what the outward signs
and tokens were of their beginning to go wrong, and when I resumed
my walk to the railway I am sorry to say I felt more than doubtful
about Mr. Hartright's future.
Leaving by an early train, I got to Limmeridge in time for dinner.
The house was oppressively empty and dull. I had expected that
good Mrs. Vesey would have been company for me in the absence of
the young ladies, but she was confined to her room by a cold. The
servants were so surprised at seeing me that they hurried and
bustled absurdly, and made all sorts of annoying mistakes. Even
the butler, who was old enough to have known better, brought me a
bottle of port that was chilled. The reports of Mr. Fairlie's
health were just as usual, and when I sent up a message to
announce my arrival, I was told that he would be delighted to see
me the next morning but that the sudden news of my appearance had
prostrated him with palpitations for the rest of the evening. The
wind howled dismally all night, and strange cracking and groaning
noises sounded here, there, and everywhere in the empty house. I
slept as wretchedly as possible, and got up in a mighty bad humour
to breakfast by myself the next morning.
At ten o'clock I was conducted to Mr. Fairlie's apartments. He
was in his usual room, his usual chair, and his usual aggravating
state of mind and body. When I went in, his valet was standing
before him, holding up for inspection a heavy volume of etchings,
as long and as broad as my office writing-desk. The miserable
foreigner grinned in the most abject manner, and looked ready to
drop with fatigue, while his master composedly turned over the
etchings, and brought their hidden beauties to light with the help
of a magnifying glass.
"You very best of good old friends," said Mr. Fairlie, leaning
hack lazily before he could look at me, "are you QUITE well? How
nice of you to come here and see me in my solitude. Dear
I had expected that the valet would be dismissed when I appeared,
but nothing of the sort happened. There he stood, in front of his
master's chair, trembling under the weight of the etchings, and
there Mr. Fairlie sat, serenely twirling the magnifying glass
between his white fingers and thumbs.
"I have come to speak to you on a very important matter," I said,
"and you will therefore excuse me, if I suggest that we had better
be alone."
The unfortunate valet looked at me gratefully. Mr. Fairlie
faintly repeated my last three words, "better be alone," with
every appearance of the utmost possible astonishment.
I was in no humour for trifling, and I resolved to make him
understand what I meant.
"Oblige me by giving that man permission to withdraw," I said,
pointing to the valet.
Mr. Fairlie arched his eyebrows and pursed up his lips in
sarcastic surprise.
"Man?" he repeated. "You provoking old Gilmore, what can you
possibly mean by calling him a man? He's nothing of the sort. He
might have been a man half an hour ago, before I wanted my
etchings, and he may be a man half an hour hence, when I don't
want them any longer. At present he is simply a portfolio stand.
Why object, Gilmore, to a portfolio stand?"
"I DO object. For the third time, Mr. Fairlie, I beg that we may
be alone."
My tone and manner left him no alternative but to comply with my
request. He looked at the servant, and pointed peevishly to a
chair at his side.
"Put down the etchings and go away," he said. "Don't upset me by
losing my place. Have you, or have you not, lost my place? Are
you sure you have not? And have you put my hand-bell quite within
my reach? Yes? Then why the devil don't you go?"
The valet went out. Mr. Fairlie twisted himself round in his
chair, polished the magnifying glass with his delicate cambric
handkerchief, and indulged himself with a sidelong inspection of
the open volume of etchings. It was not easy to keep my temper
under these circumstances, but I did keep it.
"I have come here at great personal inconvenience," I said, "to
serve the interests of your niece and your family, and I think I
have established some slight claim to be favoured with your
attention in return."
"Don't bully me!" exclaimed Mr. Fairlie, falling back helplessly
in the chair, and closing his eyes. "Please don't bully me. I'm
not strong enough."
I was determined not to let him provoke me, for Laura Fairlie's
"My object," I went on, "is to entreat you to reconsider your
letter, and not to force me to abandon the just rights of your
niece, and of all who belong to her. Let me state the case to you
once more, and for the last time."
Mr. Fairlie shook his head and sighed piteously.
"This is heartless of you, Gilmore--very heartless," he said.
"Never mind, go on."
I put all the points to him carefully--I set the matter before him
in every conceivable light. He lay back in the chair the whole
time I was speaking with his eyes closed. When I had done he
opened them indolently, took his silver smelling-bottle from the
table, and sniffed at it with an air of gentle relish.
"Good Gilmore!" he said between the sniffs, "how very nice this is
of you! How you reconcile one to human nature!"
"Give me a plain answer to a plain question, Mr. Fairlie. I tell
you again, Sir Percival Glyde has no shadow of a claim to expect
more than the income of the money. The money itself if your niece
has no children, ought to be under her control, and to return to
her family. If you stand firm, Sir Percival must give way--he
must give way, I tell you, or he exposes himself to the base
imputation of marrying Miss Fairlie entirely from mercenary
Mr. Fairlie shook the silver smelling-bottle at me playfully.
"You dear old Gilmore, how you do hate rank and family, don't you?
How you detest Glyde because he happens to be a baronet. What a
Radical you are--oh, dear me, what a Radical you are!"
A Radical!!! I could put up with a good deal of provocation, but,
after holding the soundest Conservative principles all my life, I
could NOT put up with being called a Radical. My blood boiled at
it--I started out of my chair--I was speechless with Indignation.
"Don't shake the room!" cried Mr. Fairlie--"for Heaven's sake
don't shake the room! Worthiest of all possible Gilmores, I meant
no offence. My own views are so extremely liberal that I think I
am a Radical myself. Yes. We are a pair of Radicals. Please
don't be angry. I can't quarrel--I haven't stamina enough. Shall
we drop the subject? Yes. Come and look at these sweet etchings.
Do let me teach you to understand the heavenly pearliness of these
lines. Do now, there's a good Gilmore!"
While he was maundering on in this way I was, fortunately for my
own self-respect, returning to my senses. When I spoke again I
was composed enough to treat his impertinence with the silent
contempt that it deserved.
"You are entirely wrong, sir," I said, "in supposing that I speak
from any prejudice against Sir Percival Glyde. I may regret that
he has so unreservedly resigned himself in this matter to his
lawyer's direction as to make any appeal to himself impossible,
but I am not prejudiced against him. What I have said would
equally apply to any other man in his situation, high or low. The
principle I maintain is a recognised principle. If you were to
apply at the nearest town here, to the first respectable solicitor
you could find, he would tell you as a stranger what I tell you as
a friend. He would inform you that it is against all rule to
abandon the lady's money entirely to the man she marries. He
would decline, on grounds of common legal caution, to give the
husband, under any circumstances whatever, an interest of twenty
thousand pounds in his wife's death."
"Would he really, Gilmore?" said Mr. Fairlie. "If he said
anything half so horrid, I do assure you I should tinkle my bell
for Louis, and have him sent out of the house immediately."
"You shall not irritate me, Mr. Fairlie--for your niece's sake and
for her father's sake, you shall not irritate me. You shall take
the whole responsibility of this discreditable settlement on your
own shoulders before I leave the room."
"Don't!--now please don't!" said Mr. Fairlie. "Think how precious
your time is, Gilmore, and don't throw it away. I would dispute
with you if I could, but I can't--I haven't stamina enough. You
want to upset me, to upset yourself, to upset Glyde, and to upset
Laura; and--oh, dear me!--all for the sake of the very last thing
in the world that is likely to happen. No, dear friend, in the
interests of peace and quietness, positively No!"
"I am to understand, then, that you hold by the determination
expressed in your letter?"
"Yes, please. So glad we understand each other at last. Sit down
I walked at once to the door, and Mr. Fairlie resignedly "tinkled"
his hand-bell. Before I left the room I turned round and
addressed him for the last time.
"Whatever happens in the future, sir," I said, "remember that my
plain duty of warning you has been performed. As the faithful
friend and servant of your family, I tell you, at parting, that no
daughter of mine should be married to any man alive under such a
settlement as you are forcing me to make for Miss Fairlie."
The door opened behind me, and the valet stood waiting on the
"Louis," said Mr. Fairlie, "show Mr. Gilmore out, and then come
back and hold up my etchings for me again. Make them give you a
good lunch downstairs. Do, Gilmore, make my idle beasts of
servants give you a good lunch!"
I was too much disgusted to reply--I turned on my heel, and left
him in silence. There was an up train at two o'clock in the
afternoon, and by that train I returned to London.
On the Tuesday I sent in the altered settlement, which practically
disinherited the very persons whom Miss Fairlie's own lips had
informed me she was most anxious to benefit. I had no choice.
Another lawyer would have drawn up the deed if I had refused to
undertake it.
My task is done. My personal share in the events of the family
story extends no farther than the point which I have just reached.
Other pens than mine will describe the strange circumstances which
are now shortly to follow. Seriously and sorrowfully I close this
brief record. Seriously and sorrowfully I repeat here the parting
words that I spoke at Limmeridge House:--No daughter of mine
should have been married to any man alive under such a settlement
as I was compelled to make for Laura Fairlie.
The End of Mr. Gilmore's Narrative.
(in Extracts from her Diary)
[1] The passages omitted, here and elsewhere, in Miss Halcombe's
Diary are only those which bear no reference to Miss Fairlie or to
any of the persons with whom she is associated in these pages.
This morning Mr. Gilmore left us.
His interview with Laura had evidently grieved and surprised him
more than he liked to confess. I felt afraid, from his look and
manner when we parted, that she might have inadvertently betrayed
to him the real secret of her depression and my anxiety. This
doubt grew on me so, after he had gone, that I declined riding out
with Sir Percival, and went up to Laura's room instead.
I have been sadly distrustful of myself, in this difficult and
lamentable matter, ever since I found out my own ignorance of the
strength of Laura's unhappy attachment. I ought to have known
that the delicacy and forbearance and sense of honour which drew
me to poor Hartright, and made me so sincerely admire and respect
him, were just the qualities to appeal most irresistibly to
Laura's natural sensitiveness and natural generosity of nature.
And yet, until she opened her heart to me of her own accord, I had
no suspicion that this new feeling had taken root so deeply. I
once thought time and care might remove it. I now fear that it
will remain with her and alter her for life. The discovery that I
have committed such an error in judgment as this makes me hesitate
about everything else. I hesitate about Sir Percival, in the face
of the plainest proofs. I hesitate even in speaking to Laura. On
this very morning I doubted, with my hand on the door, whether I
should ask her the questions I had come to put, or not.
When I went into her room I found her walking up and down in great
impatience. She looked flushed and excited, and she came forward
at once, and spoke to me before I could open my lips.
"I wanted you," she said. "Come and sit down on the sofa with me.
Marian! I can bear this no longer--I must and will end it."
There was too much colour in her cheeks, too much energy in her
manner, too much firmness in her voice. The little book of
Hartright's drawings--the fatal book that she will dream over
whenever she is alone--was in one of her hands. I began by gently
and firmly taking it from her, and putting it out of sight on a
"Tell me quietly, my darling, what you wish to do," I said. "Has
Mr. Gilmore been advising you?"
She shook her head. "No, not in what I am thinking of now. He
was very kind and good to me, Marian, and I am ashamed to say I
distressed him by crying. I am miserably helpless--I can't
control myself. For my own sake, and for all our sakes, I must
have courage enough to end it."
"Do you mean courage enough to claim your release?" I asked.
"No," she said simply. "Courage, dear, to tell the truth."
She put her arms round my neck, and rested her head quietly on my
bosom. On the opposite wall hung the miniature portrait of her
father. I bent over her, and saw that she was looking at it while
her head lay on my breast.
"I can never claim my release from my engagement," she went on.
"Whatever way it ends it must end wretchedly for me. All I can
do, Marian, is not to add the remembrance that I have broken my
promise and forgotten my father's dying words, to make that
wretchedness worse."
"What is it you propose, then?" I asked.
"To tell Sir Percival Glyde the truth with my own lips," she
answered, "and to let him release me, if he will, not because I
ask him, but because he knows all."
"What do you mean, Laura, by 'all'? Sir Percival will know enough
(he has told me so himself) if he knows that the engagement is
opposed to your own wishes."
"Can I tell him that, when the engagement was made for me by my
father, with my own consent? I should have kept my promise, not
happily, I am afraid, but still contentedly--" she stopped, turned
her face to me, and laid her cheek close against mine--"I should
have kept my engagement, Marian, if another love had not grown up
in my heart, which was not there when I first promised to be Sir
Percival's wife."
"Laura! you will never lower yourself by making a confession to
"I shall lower myself, indeed, if I gain my release by hiding from
him what he has a right to know."
"He has not the shadow of a right to know it!"
"Wrong, Marian, wrong! I ought to deceive no one--least of all the
man to whom my father gave me, and to whom I gave myself." She put
her lips to mine, and kissed me. "My own love," she said softly,
"you are so much too fond of me, and so much too proud of me, that
you forget, in my case, what you would remember in your own.
Better that Sir Percival should doubt my motives, and misjudge my
conduct if he will, than that I should be first false to him in
thought, and then mean enough to serve my own interests by hiding
the falsehood."
I held her away from me in astonishment. For the first time in
our lives we had changed places--the resolution was all on her
side, the hesitation all on mine. I looked into the pale, quiet,
resigned young face--I saw the pure, innocent heart, in the loving
eyes that looked back at me--and the poor worldly cautions and
objections that rose to my lips dwindled and died away in their
own emptiness. I hung my head in silence. In her place the
despicably small pride which makes so many women deceitful would
have been my pride, and would have made me deceitful too.
"Don't be angry with me, Marian," she said, mistaking my silence.
I only answered by drawing her close to me again. I was afraid of
crying if I spoke. My tears do not flow so easily as they ought--
they come almost like men's tears, with sobs that seem to tear me
in pieces, and that frighten every one about me.
"I have thought of this, love, for many days," she went on,
twining and twisting my hair with that childish restlessness in
her fingers, which poor Mrs. Vesey still tries so patiently and so
vainly to cure her of--"I have thought of it very seriously, and I
can be sure of my courage when my own conscience tells me I am
right. Let me speak to him to-morrow--in your presence, Marian.
I will say nothing that is wrong, nothing that you or I need be
ashamed of--but, oh, it will ease my heart so to end this
miserable concealment! Only let me know and feel that I have no
deception to answer for on my side, and then, when he has heard
what I have to say, let him act towards me as he will."
She sighed, and put her head back in its old position on my bosom.
Sad misgivings about what the end would be weighed upon my mind,
but still distrusting myself, I told her that I would do as she
wished. She thanked me, and we passed gradually into talking of
other things.
At dinner she joined us again, and was more easy and more herself
with Sir Percival than I have seen her yet. In the evening she
went to the piano, choosing new music of the dexterous, tuneless,
florid kind. The lovely old melodies of Mozart, which poor
Hartright was so fond of, she has never played since he left. The
book is no longer in the music-stand. She took the volume away
herself, so that nobody might find it out and ask her to play from
I had no opportunity of discovering whether her purpose of the
morning had changed or not, until she wished Sir Percival goodnight--
and then her own words informed me that it was unaltered.
She said, very quietly, that she wished to speak to him after
breakfast, and that he would find her in her sitting-room with me.
He changed colour at those words, and I felt his hand trembling a
little when it came to my turn to take it. The event of the next
morning would decide his future life, and he evidently knew it.
I went in, as usual, through the door between our two bed-rooms,
to bid Laura good-night before she went to sleep. In stooping
over her to kiss her I saw the little book of Hartright's drawings
half hidden under her pillow, just in the place where she used to
hide her favourite toys when she was a child. I could not find it
in my heart to say anything, but I pointed to the book and shook
my head. She reached both hands up to my cheeks, and drew my face
down to hers till our lips met.
"Leave it there to-night," she whispered; "to-morrow may be cruel,
and may make me say good-bye to it for ever."
9th.--The first event of the morning was not of a kind to raise my
spirits--a letter arrived for me from poor Walter Hartright. It
is the answer to mine describing the manner in which Sir Percival
cleared himself of the suspicions raised by Anne Catherick's
letter. He writes shortly and bitterly about Sir Percival's
explanations, only saying that he has no right to offer an opinion
on the conduct of those who are above him. This is sad, but his
occasional references to himself grieve me still more. He says
that the effort to return to his old habits and pursuits grows
harder instead of easier to him every day and he implores me, if I
have any interest, to exert it to get him employment that will
necessitate his absence from England, and take him among new
scenes and new people. I have been made all the readier to comply
with this request by a passage at the end of his letter, which has
almost alarmed me.
After mentioning that he has neither seen nor heard anything of
Anne Catherick, he suddenly breaks off, and hints in the most
abrupt, mysterious manner, that he has been perpetually watched
and followed by strange men ever since he returned to London. He
acknowledges that he cannot prove this extraordinary suspicion by
fixing on any particular persons, but he declares that the
suspicion itself is present to him night and day. This has
frightened me, because it looks as if his one fixed idea about
Laura was becoming too much for his mind. I will write
immediately to some of my mother's influential old friends in
London, and press his claims on their notice. Change of scene and
change of occupation may really be the salvation of him at this
crisis in his life.
Greatly to my relief, Sir Percival sent an apology for not joining
us at breakfast. He had taken an early cup of coffee in his own
room, and he was still engaged there in writing letters. At
eleven o'clock, if that hour was convenient, he would do himself
the honour of waiting on Miss Fairlie and Miss Halcombe.
My eyes were on Laura's face while the message was being
delivered. I had found her unaccountably quiet and composed on
going into her room in the morning, and so she remained all
through breakfast. Even when we were sitting together on the sofa
in her room, waiting for Sir Percival, she still preserved her
"Don't be afraid of me, Marian," was all she said; "I may forget
myself with an old friend like Mr. Gilmore, or with a dear sister
like you, but I will not forget myself with Sir Percival Glyde."
I looked at her, and listened to her in silent surprise. Through
all the years of our close intimacy this passive force in her
character had been hidden from me--hidden even from herself, till
love found it, and suffering called it forth.
As the clock on the mantelpiece struck eleven Sir Percival knocked
at the door and came in. There was suppressed anxiety and
agitation in every line of his face. The dry, sharp cough, which
teases him at most times, seemed to be troubling him more
incessantly than ever. He sat down opposite to us at the table,
and Laura remained by me. I looked attentively at them both, and
he was the palest of the two.
He said a few unimportant words, with a visible effort to preserve
his customary ease of manner. But his voice was not to be
steadied, and the restless uneasiness in his eyes was not to be
concealed. He must have felt this himself, for he stopped in the
middle of a sentence, and gave up even the attempt to hide his
embarrassment any longer.
There was just one moment of dead silence before Laura addressed
"I wish to speak to you, Sir Percival," she said, "on a subject
that is very important to us both. My sister is here, because her
presence helps me and gives me confidence. She has not suggested
one word of what I am going to say--I speak from my own thoughts,
not from hers. I am sure you will be kind enough to understand
that before I go any farther?"
Sir Percival bowed. She had proceeded thus far, with perfect
outward tranquillity and perfect propriety of manner. She looked
at him, and he looked at her. They seemed, at the outset, at
least, resolved to understand one another plainly.
"I have heard from Marian," she went on, "that I have only to
claim my release from our engagement to obtain that release from
you. It was forbearing and generous on your part, Sir Percival,
to send me such a message. It is only doing you justice to say
that I am grateful for the offer, and I hope and believe that it
is only doing myself justice to tell you that I decline to accept
His attentive face relaxed a little. But I saw one of his feet,
softly, quietly, incessantly beating on the carpet under the
table, and I felt that he was secretly as anxious as ever.
"I have not forgotten," she said, "that you asked my father's
permission before you honoured me with a proposal of marriage.
Perhaps you have not forgotten either what I said when I consented
to our engagement? I ventured to tell you that my father's
influence and advice had mainly decided me to give you my promise.
I was guided by my father, because I had always found him the
truest of all advisers, the best and fondest of all protectors and
friends. I have lost him now--I have only his memory to love, but
my faith in that dear dead friend has never been shaken. I
believe at this moment, as truly as I ever believed, that he knew
what was best, and that his hopes and wishes ought to be my hopes
and wishes too."
Her voice trembled for the first time. Her restless fingers stole
their way into my lap, and held fast by one of my hands. There
was another moment of silence, and then Sir Percival spoke.
"May I ask," he said, "if I have ever proved myself unworthy of
the trust which it has been hitherto my greatest honour and
greatest happiness to possess?"
"I have found nothing in your conduct to blame," she answered.
"You have always treated me with the same delicacy and the same
forbearance. You have deserved my trust, and, what is of far more
importance in my estimation, you have deserved my father's trust,
out of which mine grew. You have given me no excuse, even if I
had wanted to find one, for asking to be released from my pledge.
What I have said so far has been spoken with the wish to
acknowledge my whole obligation to you. My regard for that
obligation, my regard for my father's memory, and my regard for my
own promise, all forbid me to set the example, on my side, of
withdrawing from our present position. The breaking of our
engagement must be entirely your wish and your act, Sir Percival--
not mine."
The uneasy beating of his foot suddenly stopped, and he leaned
forward eagerly across the table.
"My act?" he said. "What reason can there be on my side for
I heard her breath quickening--I felt her hand growing cold. In
spite of what she had said to me when we were alone, I began to be
afraid of her. I was wrong.
"A reason that it is very hard to tell you," she answered. "There
is a change in me, Sir Percival--a change which is serious enough
to justify you, to yourself and to me, in breaking off our
His face turned so pale again that even his lips lost their
colour. He raised the arm which lay on the table, turned a little
away in his chair, and supported his head on his hand, so that his
profile only was presented to us.
"What change?" he asked. The tone in which he put the question
jarred on me--there was something painfully suppressed in it.
She sighed heavily, and leaned towards me a little, so as to rest
her shoulder against mine. I felt her trembling, and tried to
spare her by speaking myself. She stopped me by a warning
pressure of her hand, and then addressed Sir Percival one more,
but this time without looking at him.
"I have heard," she said, "and I believe it, that the fondest and
truest of all affections is the affection which a woman ought to
bear to her husband. When our engagement began that affection was
mine to give, if I could, and yours to win, if you could. Will
you pardon me, and spare me, Sir Percival, if I acknowledge that
it is not so any longer?"
A few tears gathered in her eyes, and dropped over her cheeks
slowly as she paused and waited for his answer. He did not utter
a word. At the beginning of her reply he had moved the hand on
which his head rested, so that it hid his face. I saw nothing but
the upper part of his figure at the table. Not a muscle of him
moved. The fingers of the hand which supported his head were
dented deep in his hair. They might have expressed hidden anger
or hidden grief--it was hard to say which--there was no
significant trembling in them. There was nothing, absolutely
nothing, to tell the secret of his thoughts at that moment--the
moment which was the crisis of his life and the crisis of hers.
I was determined to make him declare himself, for Laura's sake.
"Sir Percival!" I interposed sharply, "have you nothing to say
when my sister has said so much? More, in my opinion," I added, my
unlucky temper getting the better of me, "than any man alive, in
your position, has a right to hear from her."
That last rash sentence opened a way for him by which to escape me
if he chose, and he instantly took advantage of it.
"Pardon me, Miss Halcombe," he said, still keeping his hand over
his face, "pardon me if I remind you that I have claimed no such
The few plain words which would have brought him back to the point
from which he had wandered were just on my lips, when Laura
checked me by speaking again.
"I hope I have not made my painful acknowledgment in vain," she
continued. "I hope it has secured me your entire confidence in
what I have still to say?"
"Pray be assured of it." He made that brief reply warmly, dropping
his hand on the table while he spoke, and turning towards us
again. Whatever outward change had passed over him was gone now.
His face was eager and expectant--it expressed nothing but the
most intense anxiety to hear her next words.
"I wish you to understand that I have not spoken from any selfish
motive," she said. "If you leave me, Sir Percival, after what you
have just heard, you do not leave me to marry another man, you
only allow me to remain a single woman for the rest of my life.
My fault towards you has begun and ended in my own thoughts. It
can never go any farther. No word has passed--" She hesitated, in
doubt about the expression she should use next, hesitated in a
momentary confusion which it was very sad and very painful to see.
"No word has passed," she patiently and resolutely resumed,
"between myself and the person to whom I am now referring for the
first and last time in your presence of my feelings towards him,
or of his feelings towards me--no word ever can pass--neither he
nor I are likely, in this world, to meet again. I earnestly beg
you to spare me from saying any more, and to believe me, on my
word, in what I have just told you. It is the truth. Sir
Percival, the truth which I think my promised husband has a claim
to hear, at any sacrifice of my own feelings. I trust to his
generosity to pardon me, and to his honour to keep my secret."
"Both those trusts are sacred to me," he said, "and both shall be
sacredly kept."
After answering in those terms he paused, and looked at her as if
he was waiting to hear more.
I have said all I wish to say," she added quietly--" I have said
more than enough to justify you in withdrawing from your
"You have said more than enough," he answered, "to make it the
dearest object of my life to KEEP the engagement." With those
words he rose from his chair, and advanced a few steps towards the
place where she was sitting.
She started violently, and a faint cry of surprise escaped her.
Every word she had spoken had innocently betrayed her purity and
truth to a man who thoroughly understood the priceless value of a
pure and true woman. Her own noble conduct had been the hidden
enemy, throughout, of all the hopes she had trusted to it. I had
dreaded this from the first. I would have prevented it, if she
had allowed me the smallest chance of doing so. I even waited and
watched now, when the harm was done, for a word from Sir Percival
that would give me the opportunity of putting him in the wrong.
"You have left it to ME, Miss Fairlie, to resign you," he
continued. "I am not heartless enough to resign a woman who has
just shown herself to be the noblest of her sex."
He spoke with such warmth and feeling, with such passionate
enthusiasm, and yet with such perfect delicacy, that she raised
her head, flushed up a little, and looked at him with sudden
animation and spirit.
"No!" she said firmly. "The most wretched of her sex, if she must
give herself in marriage when she cannot give her love."
"May she not give it in the future," he asked, "if the one object
of her husband's life is to deserve it?"
"Never!" she answered. "If you still persist in maintaining our
engagement, I may be your true and faithful wife, Sir Percival--
your loving wife, if I know my own heart, never!"
She looked so irresistibly beautiful as she said those brave words
that no man alive could have steeled his heart against her. I
tried hard to feel that Sir Percival was to blame, and to say so,
but my womanhood would pity him, in spite of myself.
"I gratefully accept your faith and truth," he said. "The least
that you can offer is more to me than the utmost that I could hope
for from any other woman in the world."
Her left hand still held mine, but her right hand hung listlessly
at her side. He raised it gently to his lips--touched it with
them, rather than kissed it--bowed to me--and then, with perfect
delicacy and discretion, silently quitted the room.
She neither moved nor said a word when he was gone--she sat by me,
cold and still, with her eyes fixed on the ground. I saw it was
hopeless and useless to speak, and I only put my arm round her,
and held her to me in silence. We remained together so for what
seemed a long and weary time--so long and so weary, that I grew
uneasy and spoke to her softly, in the hope of producing a change.
The sound of my voice seemed to startle her into consciousness.
She suddenly drew herself away from me and rose to her feet.
"I must submit, Marian, as well as I can," she said. "My new life
has its hard duties, and one of them begins to-day."
As she spoke she went to a side-table near the window, on which
her sketching materials were placed, gathered them together
carefully, and put them in a drawer of her cabinet. She locked
the drawer and brought the key to me.
"I must part from everything that reminds me of him," she said.
"Keep the key wherever you please--I shall never want it again."
Before I could say a word she had turned away to her book-case,
and had taken from it the album that contained Walter Hartright's
drawings. She hesitated for a moment, holding the little volume
fondly in her hands--then lifted it to her lips and kissed it.
"Oh, Laura! Laura!" I said, not angrily, not reprovingly--with
nothing but sorrow in my voice, and nothing but sorrow in my
"It is the last time, Marian," she pleaded. "I am bidding it
good-bye for ever."
She laid the book on the table and drew out the comb that fastened
her hair. It fell, in its matchless beauty, over her back and
shoulders, and dropped round her, far below her waist. She
separated one long, thin lock from the rest, cut it off, and
pinned it carefully, in the form of a circle, on the first blank
page of the album. The moment it was fastened she closed the
volume hurriedly, and placed it in my hands.
"You write to him and he writes to you," she said. "While I am
alive, if he asks after me always tell him I am well, and never
say I am unhappy. Don't distress him, Marian, for my sake, don't
distress him. If I die first, promise you will give him this
little book of his drawings, with my hair in it. There can be no
harm, when I am gone, in telling him that I put it there with my
own hands. And say--oh, Marian, say for me, then, what I can
never say for myself--say I loved him!"
She flung her arms round my neck, and whispered the last words in
my ear with a passionate delight in uttering them which it almost
broke my heart to hear. All the long restraint she had imposed on
herself gave way in that first last outburst of tenderness. She
broke from me with hysterical vehemence, and threw herself on the
sofa in a paroxysm of sobs and tears that shook her from head to
I tried vainly to soothe her and reason with her--she was past
being soothed, and past being reasoned with. It was the sad,
sudden end for us two of this memorable day. When the fit had
worn itself out she was too exhausted to speak. She slumbered
towards the afternoon, and I put away the book of drawings so that
she might not see it when she woke. My face was calm, whatever my
heart might be, when she opened her eyes again and looked at me.
We said no more to each other about the distressing interview of
the morning. Sir Percival's name was not mentioned. Walter
Hartright was not alluded to again by either of us for the
remainder of the day.
10th.--Finding that she was composed and like herself this
morning, I returned to the painful subject of yesterday, for the
sole purpose of imploring her to let me speak to Sir Percival and
Mr. Fairlie, more plainly and strongly than she could speak to
either of them herself, about this lamentable marriage. She
interposed, gently but firmly, in the middle of my remonstrances.
"I left yesterday to decide," she said; "and yesterday HAS
decided. It is too late to go back."
Sir Percival spoke to me this afternoon about what had passed in
Laura's room. He assured me that the unparalleled trust she had
placed in him had awakened such an answering conviction of her
innocence and integrity in his mind, that he was guiltless of
having felt even a moment's unworthy jealousy, either at the time
when he was in her presence, or afterwards when he had withdrawn
from it. Deeply as he lamented the unfortunate attachment which
had hindered the progress he might otherwise have made in her
esteem and regard, he firmly believed that it had remained
unacknowledged in the past, and that it would remain, under all
changes of circumstance which it was possible to contemplate,
unacknowledged in the future. This was his absolute conviction;
and the strongest proof he could give of it was the assurance,
which he now offered, that he felt no curiosity to know whether
the attachment was of recent date or not, or who had been the
object of it. His implicit confidence in Miss Fairlie made him
satisfied with what she had thought fit to say to him, and he was
honestly innocent of the slightest feeling of anxiety to hear
He waited after saying those words and looked at me. I was so
conscious of my unreasonable prejudice against him--so conscious
of an unworthy suspicion that he might be speculating on my
impulsively answering the very questions which he had just
described himself as resolved not to ask--that I evaded all
reference to this part of the subject with something like a
feeling of confusion on my own part. At the same time I was
resolved not to lose even the smallest opportunity of trying to
plead Laura's cause, and I told him boldly that I regretted his
generosity had not carried him one step farther, and induced him
to withdraw from the engagement altogether.
Here, again, he disarmed me by not attempting to defend himself.
He would merely beg me to remember the difference there was
between his allowing Miss Fairlie to give him up, which was a
matter of submission only, and his forcing himself to give up Miss
Fairlie, which was, in other words, asking him to be the suicide
of his own hopes. Her conduct of the day before had so
strengthened the unchangeable love and admiration of two long
years, that all active contention against those feelings, on his
part, was henceforth entirely out of his power. I must think him
weak, selfish, unfeeling towards the very woman whom he idolised,
and he must bow to my opinion as resignedly as he could--only
putting it to me, at the same time, whether her future as a single
woman, pining under an unhappily placed attachment which she could
never acknowledge, could be said to promise her a much brighter
prospect than her future as the wife of a man who worshipped the
very ground she walked on? In the last case there was hope from
time, however slight it might be--in the first case, on her own
showing, there was no hope at all.
I answered him--more because my tongue is a woman's, and must
answer, than because I had anything convincing to say. It was
only too plain that the course Laura had adopted the day before
had offered him the advantage if he chose to take it--and that he
HAD chosen to take it. I felt this at the time, and I feel it
just as strongly now, while I write these lines, in my own room.
The one hope left is that his motives really spring, as he says
they do, from the irresistible strength of his attachment to
Before I close my diary for to-night I must record that I wrote
to-day, in poor Hartright's interest, to two of my mother's old
friends in London--both men of influence and position. If they
can do anything for him, I am quite sure they will. Except Laura,
I never was more anxious about any one than I am now about Walter.
All that has happened since he left us has only increased my
strong regard and sympathy for him. I hope I am doing right in
trying to help him to employment abroad--I hope, most earnestly
and anxiously, that it will end well.
11th.--Sir Percival had an interview with Mr. Fairlie, and I was
sent for to join them.
I found Mr. Fairlie greatly relieved at the prospect of the
"family worry" (as he was pleased to describe his niece's
marriage) being settled at last. So far, I did not feel called on
to say anything to him about my own opinion, but when he
proceeded, in his most aggravatingly languid manner, to suggest
that the time for the marriage had better be settled next, in
accordance with Sir Percival's wishes, I enjoyed the satisfaction
of assailing Mr. Fairlie's nerves with as strong a protest against
hurrying Laura's decision as I could put into words. Sir Percival
immediately assured me that he felt the force of my objection, and
begged me to believe that the proposal had not been made in
consequence of any interference on his part. Mr. Fairlie leaned
back in his chair, closed his eyes, said we both of us did honour
to human nature, and then repeated his suggestion as coolly as if
neither Sir Percival nor I had said a word in opposition to it.
It ended in my flatly declining to mention the subject to Laura,
unless she first approached it of her own accord. I left the room
at once after making that declaration. Sir Percival looked
seriously embarrassed and distressed, Mr. Fairlie stretched out
his lazy legs on his velvet footstool, and said, "Dear Marian! how
I envy you your robust nervous system! Don't bang the door!"
On going to Laura's room I found that she had asked for me, and
that Mrs. Vesey had informed her that I was with Mr. Fairlie. She
inquired at once what I had been wanted for, and I told her all
that had passed, without attempting to conceal the vexation and
annoyance that I really felt. Her answer surprised and distressed
me inexpressibly--it was the very last reply that I should have
expected her to make.
"My uncle is right," she said. "I have caused trouble and anxiety
enough to you, and to all about me. Let me cause no more, Marian--
let Sir Percival decide."
I remonstrated warmly, but nothing that I could say moved her.
"I am held to my engagement," she replied; "I have broken with my
old life. The evil day will not come the less surely because I
put it off. No, Marian! once again my uncle is right. I have
caused trouble enough and anxiety enough, and I will cause no
She used to be pliability itself, but she was now inflexibly
passive in her resignation--I might almost say in her despair.
Dearly as I love her, I should have been less pained if she had
been violently agitated--it was so shockingly unlike her natural
character to see her as cold and insensible as I saw her now.
12th.--Sir Percival put some questions to me at breakfast about
Laura, which left me no choice but to tell him what she had said.
While we were talking she herself came down and joined us. She
was just as unnaturally composed in Sir Percival's presence as she
had been in mine. When breakfast was over he had an opportunity
of saying a few words to her privately, in a recess of one of the
windows. They were not more than two or three minutes together,
and on their separating she left the room with Mrs. Vesey, while
Sir Percival came to me. He said he had entreated her to favour
him by maintaining her privilege of fixing the time for the
marriage at her own will and pleasure. In reply she had merely
expressed her acknowledgments, and had desired him to mention what
his wishes were to Miss Halcombe.
I have no patience to write more. In this instance, as in every
other, Sir Percival has carried his point with the utmost possible
credit to himself, in spite of everything that I can say or do.
His wishes are now, what they were, of course, when he first came
here; and Laura having resigned herself to the one inevitable
sacrifice of the marriage, remains as coldly hopeless and enduring
as ever. In parting with the little occupations and relics that
reminded her of Hartright, she seems to have parted with all her
tenderness and all her impressibility. It is only three o'clock
in the afternoon while I write these lines, and Sir Percival has
left us already, in the happy hurry of a bride-groom, to prepare
for the bride's reception at his house in Hampshire. Unless some
extraordinary event happens to prevent it they will be married
exactly at the time when he wished to be married--before the end
of the year. My very fingers burn as I write it!
13th.--A sleepless night, through uneasiness about Laura. Towards
the morning I came to a resolution to try what change of scene
would do to rouse her. She cannot surely remain in her present
torpor of insensibility, if I take her away from Limmeridge and
surround her with the pleasant faces of old friends? After some
consideration I decided on writing to the Arnolds, in Yorkshire.
They are simple, kind-hearted, hospitable people, and she has
known them from her childhood. When I had put the letter in the
post-bag I told her what I had done. It would have been a relief
to me if she had shown the spirit to resist and object. But no--
she only said, "I will go anywhere with you, Marian. I dare say
you are right--I dare say the change will do me good."
14th.--I wrote to Mr. Gilmore, informing him that there was really
a prospect of this miserable marriage taking place, and also
mentioning my idea of trying what change of scene would do for
Laura. I had no heart to go into particulars. Time enough for
them when we get nearer to the end of the year.
15th.--Three letters for me. The first, from the Arnolds, full of
delight at the prospect of seeing Laura and me. The second, from
one of the gentlemen to whom I wrote on Walter Hartright's behalf,
informing me that he has been fortunate enough to find an
opportunity of complying with my request. The third, from Walter
himself, thanking me, poor fellow, in the warmest terms, for
giving him an opportunity of leaving his home, his country, and
his friends. A private expedition to make excavations among the
ruined cities of Central America is, it seems, about to sail from
Liverpool. The draughtsman who had been already appointed to
accompany it has lost heart, and withdrawn at the eleventh hour,
and Walter is to fill his place. He is to be engaged for six
months certain, from the time of the landing in Honduras, and for
a year afterwards, if the excavations are successful, and if the
funds hold out. His letter ends with a promise to write me a
farewell line when they are all on board ship, and when the pilot
leaves them. I can only hope and pray earnestly that he and I are
both acting in this matter for the best. It seems such a serious
step for him to take, that the mere contemplation of it startles
me. And yet, in his unhappy position, how can I expect him or
wish him to remain at home?
16th.--The carriage is at the door. Laura and I set out on our
visit to the Arnolds to-day.
23rd.--A week in these new scenes and among these kind-hearted
people has done her some good, though not so much as I had hoped.
I have resolved to prolong our stay for another week at least. It
is useless to go back to Limmeridge till there is an absolute
necessity for our return.
24th.--Sad news by this morning's post. The expedition to Central
America sailed on the twenty-first. We have parted with a true
man--we have lost a faithful friend. Water Hartright has left
25th.--Sad news yesterday--ominous news to-day. Sir Percival
Glyde has written to Mr. Fairlie, and Mr. Fairlie has written to
Laura and me, to recall us to Limmeridge immediately.
What can this mean? Has the day for the marriage been fixed in our
November 27th.--My forebodings are realised. The marriage is
fixed for the twenty-second of December.
The day after we left for Polesdean Lodge Sir Percival wrote, it
seems, to Mr. Fairlie, to say that the necessary repairs and
alterations in his house in Hampshire would occupy a much longer
time in completion than he had originally anticipated. The proper
estimates were to be submitted to him as soon as possible, and it
would greatly facilitate his entering into definite arrangements
with the workpeople, if he could be informed of the exact period
at which the wedding ceremony might be expected to take place. He
could then make all his calculations in reference to time, besides
writing the necessary apologies to friends who had been engaged to
visit him that winter, and who could not, of course, be received
when the house was in the hands of the workmen.
To this letter Mr. Fairlie had replied by requesting Sir Percival
himself to suggest a day for the marriage, subject to Miss
Fairlie's approval, which her guardian willingly undertook to do
his best to obtain. Sir Percival wrote back by the next post, and
proposed (in accordance with his own views and wishes from the
first? the latter part of December--perhaps the twenty-second, or
twenty-fourth, or any other day that the lady and her guardian
might prefer. The lady not being at hand to speak for herself,
her guardian had decided, in her absence, on the earliest day
mentioned--the twenty-second of December, and had written to
recall us to Limmeridge in consequence.
After explaining these particulars to me at a private interview
yesterday, Mr. Fairlie suggested, in his most amiable manner, that
I should open the necessary negotiations to-day. Feeling that
resistance was useless, unless I could first obtain Laura's
authority to make it, I consented to speak to her, but declared,
at the same time, that I would on no consideration undertake to
gain her consent to Sir Percival's wishes. Mr. Fairlie
complimented me on my "excellent conscience," much as he would
have complimented me, if he had been out walking, on my "excellent
constitution," and seemed perfectly satisfied, so far, with having
simply shifted one more family responsibility from his own
shoulders to mine.
This morning I spoke to Laura as I had promised. The composure--I
may almost say, the insensibility--which she has so strangely and
so resolutely maintained ever since Sir Percival left us, was not
proof against the shock of the news I had to tell her. She turned
pale and trembled violently.
"Not so soon!" she pleaded. "Oh, Marian, not so soon!"
The slightest hint she could give was enough for me. I rose to
leave the room, and fight her battle for her at once with Mr.
Just as my hand was on the door, she caught fast hold of my dress
and stopped me.
"Let me go!" I said. "My tongue burns to tell your uncle that he
and Sir Percival are not to have it all their own way."
She sighed bitterly, and still held my dress.
"No!" she said faintly. "Too late, Marian, too late!"
"Not a minute too late," I retorted. "The question of time is OUR
question--and trust me, Laura, to take a woman's full advantage of
I unclasped her hand from my gown while I spoke; but she slipped
both her arms round my waist at the same moment, and held me more
effectually than ever.
"It will only involve us in more trouble and more confusion," she
said. "It will set you and my uncle at variance, and bring Sir
Percival here again with fresh causes of complaint--"
"So much the better!" I cried out passionately. "Who cares for
his causes of complaint? Are you to break your heart to set his
mind at ease? No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from
us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our
peace--they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters'
friendship--they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten
our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel.
And what does the best of them give us in return? Let me go,
Laura--I'm mad when I think of it!"
The tears--miserable, weak, women's tears of vexation and rage--
started to my eyes. She smiled sadly, and put her handkerchief
over my face to hide for me the betrayal of my own weakness--the
weakness of all others which she knew that I most despised.
"Oh, Marian!" she said. "You crying! Think what you would say to
me, if the places were changed, and if those tears were mine. All
your love and courage and devotion will not alter what must
happen, sooner or later. Let my uncle have his way. Let us have
no more troubles and heart-burnings that any sacrifice of mine can
prevent. Say you will live with me, Marian, when I am married--
and say no more."
But I did say more. I forced back the contemptible tears that
were no relief to ME, and that only distressed HER, and reasoned
and pleaded as calmly as I could. It was of no avail. She made
me twice repeat the promise to live with her when she was married,
and then suddenly asked a question which turned my sorrow and my
sympathy for her into a new direction.
"While we were at Polesdean," she said, "you had a letter, Marian----"
Her altered tone--the abrupt manner in which she looked away from
me and hid her face on my shoulder--the hesitation which silenced
her before she had completed her question, all told me, but too
plainly, to whom the half-expressed inquiry pointed.
"I thought, Laura, that you and I were never to refer to him
again," I said gently.
"You had a letter from him?" she persisted.
"Yes," I replied, "if you must know it."
"Do you mean to write to him again?"
I hesitated. I had been afraid to tell her of his absence from
England, or of the manner in which my exertions to serve his new
hopes and projects had connected me with his departure. What
answer could I make? He was gone where no letters could reach him
for months, perhaps for years, to come.
"Suppose I do mean to write to him again," I said at last. "What
then, Laura?"
Her cheek grew burning hot against my neck, and her arms trembled
and tightened round me.
"Don't tell him about THE TWENTY-SECOND," she whispered.
"Promise, Marian--pray promise you will not even mention my name
to him when you write next."
I gave the promise. No words can say how sorrowfully I gave it.
She instantly took her arm from my waist, walked away to the
window, and stood looking out with her back to me. After a moment
she spoke once more, but without turning round, without allowing
me to catch the smallest glimpse of her face.
"Are you going to my uncle's room?" she asked. "Will you say that
I consent to whatever arrangement he may think best? Never mind
leaving me, Marian. I shall be better alone for a little while."
I went out. If, as soon as I got into the passage, I could have
transported Mr. Fairlie and Sir Percival Glyde to the uttermost
ends of the earth by lifting one of my fingers, that finger would
have been raised without an instant's hesitation. For once my
unhappy temper now stood my friend. I should have broken down
altogether and burst into a violent fit of crying, if my tears had
not been all burnt up in the heat of my anger. As it was, I
dashed into Mr. Fairlie's room--called to him as harshly as
possible, "Laura consents to the twenty-second"--and dashed out
again without waiting for a word of answer. I banged the door
after me, and I hope I shattered Mr. Fairlie's nervous system for
the rest of the day.
28th.--This morning I read poor Hartright's farewell letter over
again, a doubt having crossed my mind since yesterday, whether I
am acting wisely in concealing the fact of his departure from
On reflection, I still think I am right. The allusions in his
letter to the preparations made for the expedition to Central
America, all show that the leaders of it know it to be dangerous.
If the discovery of this makes me uneasy, what would it make HER?
It is bad enough to feel that his departure has deprived us of the
friend of all others to whose devotion we could trust in the hour
of need, if ever that hour comes and finds us helpless; but it is
far worse to know that he has gone from us to face the perils of a
bad climate, a wild country, and a disturbed population. Surely
it would be a cruel candour to tell Laura this, without a pressing
and a positive necessity for it?
I almost doubt whether I ought not to go a step farther, and burn
the letter at once, for fear of its one day falling into wrong
hands. It not only refers to Laura in terms which ought to remain
a secret for ever between the writer and me, but it reiterates his
suspicion--so obstinate, so unaccountable, and so alarming--that
he has been secretly watched since he left Limmeridge. He
declares that he saw the faces of the two strange men who followed
him about the streets of London, watching him among the crowd
which gathered at Liverpool to see the expedition embark, and he
positively asserts that he heard the name of Anne Catherick
pronounced behind him as he got into the boat. His own words are,
"These events have a meaning, these events must lead to a result.
The mystery of Anne Catherick is NOT cleared up yet. She may
never cross my path again, but if ever she crosses yours, make
better use of the opportunity, Miss Halcombe, than I made of it.
I speak on strong conviction--I entreat you to remember what I
say." These are his own expressions. There is no danger of my
forgetting them--my memory is only too ready to dwell on any words
of Hartright's that refer to Anne Catherick. But there is danger
in my keeping the letter. The merest accident might place it at
the mercy of strangers. I may fall ill--I may die. Better to
burn it at once, and have one anxiety the less.
It is burnt. The ashes of his farewell letter--the last he may
ever write to me--lie in a few black fragments on the hearth. Is
this the sad end to all that sad story? Oh, not the end--surely,
surely not the end already!
29th.--The preparations for the marriage have begun. The
dressmaker has come to receive her orders. Laura is perfectly
impassive, perfectly careless about the question of all others in
which a woman's personal interests are most closely bound up. She
has left it all to the dressmaker and to me. If poor Hartright
had been the baronet, and the husband of her father's choice, how
differently she would have behaved! How anxious and capricious she
would have been, and what a hard task the best of dressmakers
would have found it to please her!
30th.--We hear every day from Sir Percival. The last news is that
the alterations in his house will occupy from four to six months
before they can be properly completed. If painters, paperhangers,
and upholsterers could make happiness as well as splendour, I
should be interested about their proceedings in Laura's future
home. As it is, the only part of Sir Percival's last letter which
does not leave me as it found me, perfectly indifferent to all his
plans and projects, is the part which refers to the wedding tour.
He proposes, as Laura is delicate, and as the winter threatens to
be unusually severe, to take her to Rome, and to remain in Italy
until the early part of next summer. If this plan should not be
approved, he is equally ready, although he has no establishment of
his own in town, to spend the season in London, in the most
suitable furnished house that can be obtained for the purpose.
Putting myself and my own feelings entirely out of the question
(which it is my duty to do, and which I have done), I, for one,
have no doubt of the propriety of adopting the first of these
proposals. In either case a separation between Laura and me is
inevitable. It will be a longer separation, in the event of their
going abroad, than it would be in the event of their remaining in
London--but we must set against this disadvantage the benefit to
Laura, on the other side, of passing the winter in a mild climate,
and more than that, the immense assistance in raising her spirits,
and reconciling her to her new existence, which the mere wonder
and excitement of travelling for the first time in her life in the
most interesting country in the world, must surely afford. She is
not of a disposition to find resources in the conventional
gaieties and excitements of London. They would only make the
first oppression of this lamentable marriage fall the heavier on
her. I dread the beginning of her new life more than words can
tell, but I see some hope for her if she travels--none if she
remains at home.
It is strange to look back at this latest entry in my journal, and
to find that I am writing of the marriage and the parting with
Laura, as people write of a settled thing. It seems so cold and
so unfeeling to be looking at the future already in this cruelly
composed way. But what other way is possible, now that the time
is drawing so near? Before another month is over our heads she
will be HIS Laura instead of mine! HIS Laura! I am as little able
to realise the idea which those two words convey--my mind feels
almost as dulled and stunned by it--as if writing of her marriage
were like writing of her death.
December 1st.--A sad, sad day--a day that I have no heart to
describe at any length. After weakly putting it off last night, I
was obliged to speak to her this morning of Sir Percival's
proposal about the wedding tour.
In the full conviction that I should be with her wherever she
went, the poor child--for a child she is still in many things--was
almost happy at the prospect of seeing the wonders of Florence and
Rome and Naples. It nearly broke my heart to dispel her delusion,
and to bring her face to face with the hard truth. I was obliged
to tell her that no man tolerates a rival--not even a woman rival--
in his wife's affections, when he first marries, whatever he may
do afterwards. I was obliged to warn her that my chance of living
with her permanently under her own roof, depended entirely on my
not arousing Sir Percival's jealousy and distrust by standing
between them at the beginning of their marriage, in the position
of the chosen depositary of his wife's closest secrets. Drop by
drop I poured the profaning bitterness of this world's wisdom into
that pure heart and that innocent mind, while every higher and
better feeling within me recoiled from my miserable task. It is
over now. She has learnt her hard, her inevitable lesson. The
simple illusions of her girlhood are gone, and my hand has
stripped them off. Better mine than his--that is all my
consolation--better mine than his.
So the first proposal is the proposal accepted. They are to go to
Italy, and I am to arrange, with Sir Percival's permission, for
meeting them and staying with them when they return to England.
In other words, I am to ask a personal favour, for the first time
in my life, and to ask it of the man of all others to whom I least
desire to owe a serious obligation of any kind. Well! I think I
could do even more than that, for Laura's sake.
2nd.--On looking back, I find myself always referring to Sir
Percival in disparaging terms. In the turn affairs have now
taken. I must and will root out my prejudice against him, I
cannot think how it first got into my mind. It certainly never
existed in former times.
Is it Laura's reluctance to become his wife that has set me
against him? Have Hartright's perfectly intelligible prejudices
infected me without my suspecting their influence? Does that
letter of Anne Catherick's still leave a lurking distrust in my
mind, in spite of Sir Percival's explanation, and of the proof in
my possession of the truth of it? I cannot account for the state
of my own feelings; the one thing I am certain of is, that it is
my duty--doubly my duty now--not to wrong Sir Percival by unjustly
distrusting him. If it has got to be a habit with me always to
write of him in the same unfavourable manner, I must and will
break myself of this unworthy tendency, even though the effort
should force me to close the pages of my journal till the marriage
is over! I am seriously dissatisfied with myself--I will write no
more to-day.
December 16th.--A whole fortnight has passed, and I have not once
opened these pages. I have been long enough away from my journal
to come back to it with a healthier and better mind, I hope, so
far as Sir Percival is concerned.
There is not much to record of the past two weeks. The dresses
are almost all finished, and the new travelling trunks have been
sent here from London. Poor dear Laura hardly leaves me for a
moment all day, and last night, when neither of us could sleep,
she came and crept into my bed to talk to me there. "I shall lose
you so soon, Marian," she said; "I must make the most of you while
I can."
They are to be married at Limmeridge Church, and thank Heaven, not
one of the neighbours is to be invited to the ceremony. The only
visitor will be our old friend, Mr. Arnold, who is to come from
Polesdean to give Laura away, her uncle being far too delicate to
trust himself outside the door in such inclement weather as we now
have. If I were not determined, from this day forth, to see
nothing but the bright side of our prospects, the melancholy
absence of any male relative of Laura's, at the most important
moment of her life, would make me very gloomy and very distrustful
of the future. But I have done with gloom and distrust--that is
to say, I have done with writing about either the one or the other
in this journal.
Sir Percival is to arrive to-morrow. He offered, in case we
wished to treat him on terms of rigid etiquette, to write and ask
our clergyman to grant him the hospitality of the rectory, during
the short period of his sojourn at Limmeridge, before the
marriage. Under the circumstances, neither Mr. Fairlie nor I
thought it at all necessary for us to trouble ourselves about
attending to trifling forms and ceremonies. In our wild moorland
country, and in this great lonely house, we may well claim to be
beyond the reach of the trivial conventionalities which hamper
people in other places. I wrote to Sir Percival to thank him for
his polite offer, and to beg that he would occupy his old rooms,
just as usual, at Limmeridge House.
17th.--He arrived to-day, looking, as I thought, a little worn and
anxious, but still talking and laughing like a man in the best
possible spirits. He brought with him some really beautiful
presents in jewellery, which Laura received with her best grace,
and, outwardly at least, with perfect self-possession. The only
sign I can detect of the struggle it must cost her to preserve
appearances at this trying time, expresses itself in a sudden
unwillingness, on her part, ever to be left alone. Instead of
retreating to her own room, as usual, she seems to dread going
there. When I went upstairs to-day, after lunch, to put on my
bonnet for a walk, she volunteered to join me, and again, before
dinner, she threw the door open between our two rooms, so that we
might talk to each other while we were dressing. "Keep me always
doing something," she said; "keep me always in company with
somebody. Don't let me think--that is all I ask now, Marian--
don't let me think."
This sad change in her only increases her attractions for Sir
Percival. He interprets it, I can see, to his own advantage.
There is a feverish flush in her cheeks, a feverish brightness in
her eyes, which he welcomes as the return of her beauty and the
recovery of her spirits. She talked to-day at dinner with a
gaiety and carelessness so false, so shockingly out of her
character, that I secretly longed to silence her and take her
away. Sir Percival's delight and surprise appeared to be beyond
all expression. The anxiety which I had noticed on his face when
he arrived totally disappeared from it, and he looked, even to my
eyes, a good ten years younger than he really is.
There can be no doubt--though some strange perversity prevents me
from seeing it myself--there can be no doubt that Laura's future
husband is a very handsome man. Regular features form a personal
advantage to begin with--and he has them. Bright brown eyes,
either in man or woman, are a great attraction--and he has them.
Even baldness, when it is only baldness over the forehead (as in
his case), is rather becoming than not in a man, for it heightens
the head and adds to the intelligence of the face. Grace and ease
of movement, untiring animation of manner, ready, pliant,
conversational powers--all these are unquestionable merits, and
all these he certainly possesses. Surely Mr. Gilmore, ignorant as
he is of Laura's secret, was not to blame for feeling surprised
that she should repent of her marriage engagement? Any one else in
his place would have shared our good old friend's opinion. If I
were asked, at this moment, to say plainly what defects I have
discovered in Sir Percival, I could only point out two. One, his
incessant restlessness and excitability--which may be caused,
naturally enough, by unusual energy of character. The other, his
short, sharp, ill-tempered manner of speaking to the servants--
which may be only a bad habit after all. No, I cannot dispute it,
and I will not dispute it--Sir Percival is a very handsome and a
very agreeable man. There! I have written it down at last, and I
am glad it's over.
18th.--Feeling weary and depressed this morning, I left Laura with
Mrs. Vesey, and went out alone for one of my brisk midday walks,
which I have discontinued too much of late. I took the dry airy
road over the moor that leads to Todd's Corner. After having been
out half an hour, I was excessively surprised to see Sir Percival
approaching me from the direction of the farm. He was walking
rapidly, swinging his stick, his head erect as usual, and his
shooting jacket flying open in the wind. When we met he did not
wait for me to ask any questions--he told me at once that he had
been to the farm to inquire if Mr. or Mrs. Todd had received any
tidings, since his last visit to Limmeridge, of Anne Catherick.
"You found, of course, that they had heard nothing?" I said.
"Nothing whatever," he replied. "I begin to be seriously afraid
that we have lost her. Do you happen to know," he continued,
looking me in the face very attentively "if the artist--Mr.
Hartright--is in a position to give us any further information?"
"He has neither heard of her, nor seen her, since he left
Cumberland," I answered.
"Very sad," said Sir Percival, speaking like a man who was
disappointed, and yet, oddly enough, looking at the same time like
a man who was relieved. "It is impossible to say what misfortunes
may not have happened to the miserable creature. I am
inexpressibly annoyed at the failure of all my efforts to restore
her to the care and protection which she so urgently needs."
This time he really looked annoyed. I said a few sympathising
words, and we then talked of other subjects on our way back to the
house. Surely my chance meeting with him on the moor has
disclosed another favourable trait in his character? Surely it was
singularly considerate and unselfish of him to think of Anne
Catherick on the eve of his marriage, and to go all the way to
Todd's Corner to make inquiries about her, when he might have
passed the time so much more agreeably in Laura's society?
Considering that he can only have acted from motives of pure
charity, his conduct, under the circumstances, shows unusual good
feeling and deserves extraordinary praise. Well! I give him
extraordinary praise--and there's an end of it.
19th.--More discoveries in the inexhaustible mine of Sir
Percival's virtues.
To-day I approached the subject of my proposed sojourn under his
wife's roof when he brings her back to England. I had hardly
dropped my first hint in this direction before he caught me warmly
by the hand, and said I had made the very offer to him which he
had been, on his side, most anxious to make to me. I was the
companion of all others whom he most sincerely longed to secure
for his wife, and he begged me to believe that I had conferred a
lasting favour on him by making the proposal to live with Laura
after her marriage, exactly as I had always lived with her before
When I had thanked him in her name and mine for his considerate
kindness to both of us, we passed next to the subject of his
wedding tour, and began to talk of the English society in Rome to
which Laura was to be introduced. He ran over the names of
several friends whom he expected to meet abroad this winter. They
were all English, as well as I can remember, with one exception.
The one exception was Count Fosco.
The mention of the Count's name, and the discovery that he and his
wife are likely to meet the bride and bridegroom on the continent,
puts Laura's marriage, for the first time, in a distinctly
favourable light. It is likely to be the means of healing a
family feud. Hitherto Madame Fosco has chosen to forget her
obligations as Laura's aunt out of sheer spite against the late
Mr. Fairlie for his conduct in the affair of the legacy. Now
however, she can persist in this course of conduct no longer. Sir
Percival and Count Fosco are old and fast friends, and their wives
will have no choice but to meet on civil terms. Madame Fosco in
her maiden days was one of the most impertinent women I ever met
with--capricious, exacting, and vain to the last degree of
absurdity. If her husband has succeeded in bringing her to her
senses, he deserves the gratitude of every member of the family,
and he may have mine to begin with.
I am becoming anxious to know the Count. He is the most intimate
friend of Laura's husband, and in that capacity he excites my
strongest interest. Neither Laura nor I have ever seen him. All
I know of him is that his accidental presence, years ago, on the
steps of the Trinita del Monte at Rome, assisted Sir Percival's
escape from robbery and assassination at the critical moment when
he was wounded in the hand, and might the next instant have been
wounded in the heart. I remember also that, at the time of the
late Mr. Fairlie's absurd objections to his sister's marriage, the
Count wrote him a very temperate and sensible letter on the
subject, which, I am ashamed to say, remained unanswered. This is
all I know of Sir Percival's friend. I wonder if he will ever
come to England? I wonder if I shall like him?
My pen is running away into mere speculation. Let me return to
sober matter of fact. It is certain that Sir Percival's reception
of my venturesome proposal to live with his wife was more than
kind, it was almost affectionate. I am sure Laura's husband will
have no reason to complain of me if I can only go on as I have
begun. I have already declared him to be handsome, agreeable,
full of good feeling towards the unfortunate and full of
affectionate kindness towards me. Really, I hardly; know myself
again in my new character of Sir Percival's warmest friend.
20th.--I hate Sir Percival! I flatly deny his good looks. I
consider him to be eminently ill-tempered and disagreeable, and
totally wanting in kindness and good feeling. Last night the
cards for the married couple were sent home. Laura opened the
packet and saw her future name in print for the first time. Sir
Percival looked over her shoulder familiarly at the new card which
had already transformed Miss Fairlie into Lady Glyde--smiled with
the most odious self-complacency, and whispered something in her
ear. I don't know what it was--Laura has refused to tell me--but
I saw her face turn to such a deadly whiteness that I thought she
would have fainted. He took no notice of the change--he seemed to
be barbarously unconscious that he had said anything to pain her.
All my old feelings of hostility towards him revived on the
instant, and all the hours that have passed since have done
nothing to dissipate them. I am more unreasonable and more unjust
than ever. In three words--how glibly my pen writes them!--in
three words, I hate him.
21st.--Have the anxieties of this anxious time shaken me a little,
at last? I have been writing, for the last few days, in a tone of
levity which, Heaven knows, is far enough from my heart, and which
it has rather shocked me to discover on looking back at the
entries in my journal.
Perhaps I may have caught the feverish excitement of Laura's
spirits for the last week. If so, the fit has already passed away
from me, and has left me in a very strange state of mind. A
persistent idea has been forcing itself on my attention, ever
since last night, that something will yet happen to prevent the
marriage. What has produced this singular fancy? Is it the
indirect result of my apprehensions for Laura's future? Or has it
been unconsciously suggested to me by the increasing restlessness
and irritability which I have certainly observed in Sir Percival's
manner as the wedding-day draws nearer and nearer? Impossible to
say. I know that I have the idea--surely the wildest idea, under
the circumstances, that ever entered a woman's head?--but try as I
may, I cannot trace it back to its source.
This last day has been all confusion and wretchedness. How can I
write about it?--and yet, I must write. Anything is better than
brooding over my own gloomy thoughts.
Kind Mrs. Vesey, whom we have all too much overlooked and
forgotten of late, innocently caused us a sad morning to begin
with. She has been, for months past, secretly making a warm
Shetland shawl for her dear pupil--a most beautiful and surprising
piece of work to be done by a woman at her age and with her
habits. The gift was presented this morning, and poor warmhearted
Laura completely broke down when the shawl was put proudly
on her shoulders by the loving old friend and guardian of her
motherless childhood. I was hardly allowed time to quiet them
both, or even to dry my own eyes, when I was sent for by Mr.
Fairlie, to be favoured with a long recital of his arrangements
for the preservation of his own tranquillity on the wedding-day.
"Dear Laura" was to receive his present--a shabby ring, with her
affectionate uncle's hair for an ornament, instead of a precious
stone, and with a heartless French inscription inside, about
congenial sentiments and eternal friendship--"dear Laura" was to
receive this tender tribute from my hands immediately, so that she
might have plenty of time to recover from the agitation produced
by the gift before she appeared in Mr. Fairlie's presence. "Dear
Laura" was to pay him a little visit that evening, and to be kind
enough not to make a scene. "Dear Laura" was to pay him another
little visit in her wedding-dress the next morning, and to be kind
enough, again, not to make a scene. "Dear Laura" was to look in
once more, for the third time, before going away, but without
harrowing his feelings by saying WHEN she was going away, and
without tears--"in the name of pity, in the name of everything,
dear Marian, that is most affectionate and most domestic, and most
delightfully and charmingly self-composed, WITHOUT TEARS! " I was
so exasperated by this miserable selfish trifling, at such a time,
that I should certainly have shocked Mr. Fairlie by some of the
hardest and rudest truths he has ever heard in his life, if the
arrival of Mr. Arnold from Polesdean had not called me away to new
duties downstairs.
The rest of the day is indescribable. I believe no one in the
house really knew how it passed. The confusion of small events,
all huddled together one on the other, bewildered everybody.
There were dresses sent home that had been forgotten--there were
trunks to be packed and unpacked and packed again--there were
presents from friends far and near, friends high and low. We were
all needlessly hurried, all nervously expectant of the morrow.
Sir Percival, especially, was too restless now to remain five
minutes together in the same place. That short, sharp cough of
his troubled him more than ever. He was in and out of doors all
day long, and he seemed to grow so inquisitive on a sudden, that
he questioned the very strangers who came on small errands to the
house. Add to all this, the one perpetual thought in Laura's mind
and mine, that we were to part the next day, and the haunting
dread, unexpressed by either of us, and yet ever present to both,
that this deplorable marriage might prove to be the one fatal
error of her life and the one hopeless sorrow of mine. For the
first time in all the years of our close and happy intercourse we
almost avoided looking each other in the face, and we refrained,
by common consent, from speaking together in private through the
whole evening. I can dwell on it no longer. Whatever future
sorrows may be in store for me, I shall always look back on this
twenty-first of December as the most comfortless and most
miserable day of my life.
I am writing these lines in the solitude of my own room, long
after midnight, having just come back from a stolen look at Laura
in her pretty little white bed--the bed she has occupied since the
days of her girlhood.
There she lay, unconscious that I was looking at her--quiet, more
quiet than I had dared to hope, but not sleeping. The glimmer of
the night-light showed me that her eyes were only partially
closed--the traces of tears glistened between her eye-lids. My
little keepsake--only a brooch--lay on the table at her bedside,
with her prayer-book, and the miniature portrait of her father
which she takes with her wherever she goes. I waited a moment,
looking at her from behind her pillow, as she lay beneath me, with
one arm and hand resting on the white coverlid, so still, so
quietly breathing, that the frill on her night-dress never moved--
I waited, looking at her, as I have seen her thousands of times,
as I shall never see her again--and then stole back to my room.
My own love! with all your wealth, and all your beauty, how
friendless you are! The one man who would give his heart's life to
serve you is far away, tossing, this stormy night, on the awful
sea. Who else is left to you? No father, no brother--no living
creature but the helpless, useless woman who writes these sad
lines, and watches by you for the morning, in sorrow that she
cannot compose, in doubt that she cannot conquer. Oh, what a
trust is to be placed in that man's hands to-morrow! If ever he
forgets it--if ever he injures a hair of her head!----
THE TWENTY-SECOND OF DECEMBER. Seven o'clock. A wild, unsettled
morning. She has just risen--better and calmer, now that the time
has come, than she was yesterday.
Ten o'clock. She is dressed. We have kissed each other--we have
promised each other not to lose courage. I am away for a moment
in my own room. In the whirl and confusion of my thoughts, I can
detect that strange fancy of some hindrance happening to stop the
marriage still hanging about my mind. Is it hanging about HIS
mind too? I see him from the window, moving hither and thither
uneasily among the carriages at the door.--How can I write such
folly! The marriage is a certainty. In less than half an hour we
start for the church.
Eleven o'clock. It is all over. They are married.
Three o'clock. They are gone! I am blind with crying--I can write
no more----
* * * * * * * * * *
[The First Epoch of the Story closes here.]
June 11th, 1850.--Six months to look back on--six long, lonely
months since Laura and I last saw each other!
How many days have I still to wait? Only one! To-morrow, the
twelfth, the travellers return to England. I can hardly realise
my own happiness--I can hardly believe that the next four-andtwenty
hours will complete the last day of separation between
Laura and me.
She and her husband have been in Italy all the winter, and
afterwards in the Tyrol. They come back, accompanied by Count
Fosco and his wife, who propose to settle somewhere in the
neighbourhood of London, and who have engaged to stay at
Blackwater Park for the summer months before deciding on a place
of residence. So long as Laura returns, no matter who returns
with her. Sir Percival may fill the house from floor to ceiling,
if he likes, on condition that his wife and I inhabit it together.
Meanwhile, here I am, established at Blackwater Park, "the ancient
and interesting seat" (as the county history obligingly informs
me) "of Sir Percival Glyde, Bart.," and the future abiding-place
(as I may now venture to add on my account) of plain Marian
Halcombe, spinster, now settled in a snug little sitting-room,
with a cup of tea by her side, and all her earthly possessions
ranged round her in three boxes and a bag.
I left Limmeridge yesterday, having received Laura's delightful
letter from Paris the day before. I had been previously uncertain
whether I was to meet them in London or in Hampshire, but this
last letter informed me that Sir Percival proposed to land at
Southampton, and to travel straight on to his country-house. He
has spent so much money abroad that he has none left to defray the
expenses of living in London for the remainder of the season, and
he is economically resolved to pass the summer and autumn quietly
at Blackwater. Laura has had more than enough of excitement and
change of scene, and is pleased at the prospect of country
tranquillity and retirement which her husband's prudence provides
for her. As for me, I am ready to be happy anywhere in her
society. We are all, therefore, well contented in our various
ways, to begin with.
Last night I slept in London, and was delayed there so long to-day
by various calls and commissions, that I did not reach Blackwater
this evening till after dusk.
Judging by my vague impressions of the place thus far, it is the
exact opposite of Limmeridge.
The house is situated on a dead flat, and seems to be shut in--
almost suffocated, to my north-country notions, by trees. I have
seen nobody but the man-servant who opened the door to me, and the
housekeeper, a very civil person, who showed me the way to my own
room, and got me my tea. I have a nice little boudoir and
bedroom, at the end of a long passage on the first floor. The
servants and some of the spare rooms are on the second floor, and
all the living rooms are on the ground floor. I have not seen one
of them yet, and I know nothing about the house, except that one
wing of it is said to be five hundred years old, that it had a
moat round it once, and that it gets its name of Blackwater from a
lake in the park.
Eleven o'clock has just struck, in a ghostly and solemn manner,
from a turret over the centre of the house, which I saw when I
came in. A large dog has been woke, apparently by the sound of
the bell, and is howling and yawning drearily, somewhere round a
corner. I hear echoing footsteps in the passages below, and the
iron thumping of bolts and bars at the house door. The servants
are evidently going to bed. Shall I follow their example?
No, I am not half sleepy enough. Sleepy, did I say? I feel as if
I should never close my eyes again. The bare anticipation of
seeing that dear face, and hearing that well-known voice tomorrow,
keeps me in a perpetual fever of excitement. If I only
had the privileges of a man, I would order out Sir Percival's best
horse instantly, and tear away on a night-gallop, eastward, to
meet the rising sun--a long, hard, heavy, ceaseless gallop of
hours and hours, like the famous highwayman's ride to York.
Being, however, nothing but a woman, condemned to patience,
propriety, and petticoats for life, I must respect the housekeeper's
opinions, and try to compose myself in some feeble and
feminine way.
Reading is out of the question--I can't fix my attention on books.
Let me try if I can write myself into sleepiness and fatigue. My
journal has been very much neglected of late. What can I recall--
standing, as I now do, on the threshold of a new life--of persons
and events, of chances and changes, during the past six months--
the long, weary, empty interval since Laura's wedding-day?
Walter Hartright is uppermost in my memory, and he passes first in
the shadowy procession of my absent friends. I received a few
lines from him, after the landing of the expedition in Honduras,
written more cheerfully and hopefully than he has written yet. A
month or six weeks later I saw an extract from an American
newspaper, describing the departure of the adventurers on their
inland journey. They were last seen entering a wild primeval
forest, each man with his rifle on his shoulder and his baggage at
his back. Since that time, civilisation has lost all trace of
them. Not a line more have I received from Walter, not a fragment
of news from the expedition has appeared in any of the public
The same dense, disheartening obscurity hangs over the fate and
fortunes of Anne Catherick, and her companion, Mrs. Clements.
Nothing whatever has been heard of either of them. Whether they
are in the country or out of it, whether they are living or dead,
no one knows. Even Sir Percival's solicitor has lost all hope,
and has ordered the useless search after the fugitives to be
finally given up.
Our good old friend Mr. Gilmore has met with a sad check in his
active professional career. Early in the spring we were alarmed
by hearing that he had been found insensible at his desk, and that
the seizure was pronounced to be an apoplectic fit. He had been
long complaining of fulness and oppression in the head, and his
doctor had warned him of the consequences that would follow his
persistency in continuing to work, early and late, as if he were
still a young man. The result now is that he has been positively
ordered to keep out of his office for a year to come, at least,
and to seek repose of body and relief of mind by altogether
changing his usual mode of life. The business is left,
accordingly, to be carried on by his partner, and he is himself,
at this moment, away in Germany, visiting some relations who are
settled there in mercantile pursuits. Thus another true friend
and trustworthy adviser is lost to us--lost, I earnestly hope and
trust, for a time only.
Poor Mrs. Vesey travelled with me as far as London. It was
impossible to abandon her to solitude at Limmeridge after Laura
and I had both left the house, and we have arranged that she is to
live with an unmarried younger sister of hers, who keeps a school
at Clapham. She is to come here this autumn to visit her pupil--I
might almost say her adopted child. I saw the good old lady safe
to her destination, and left her in the care of her relative,
quietly happy at the prospect of seeing Laura again in a few
months' time.
As for Mr. Fairlie, I believe I am guilty of no injustice if I
describe him as being unutterably relieved by having the house
clear of us women. The idea of his missing his niece is simply
preposterous--he used to let months pass in the old times without
attempting to see her--and in my case and Mrs. Vesey's, I take
leave to consider his telling us both that he was half heartbroken
at our departure, to be equivalent to a confession that he
was secretly rejoiced to get rid of us. His last caprice has led
him to keep two photographers incessantly employed in producing
sun-pictures of all the treasures and curiosities in his
possession. One complete copy of the collection of the
photographs is to be presented to the Mechanics' Institution of
Carlisle, mounted on the finest cardboard, with ostentatious redletter
inscriptions underneath, "Madonna and Child by Raphael. In
the possession of Frederick Fairlie, Esquire." "Copper coin of the
period of Tiglath Pileser. In the possession of Frederick
Fairlie, Esquire." "Unique Rembrandt etching. Known all over
Europe as THE SMUDGE, from a printer's blot in the corner which
exists in no other copy. Valued at three hundred guineas. In the
possession of Frederick Fairlie, Esq." Dozens of photographs of
this sort, and all inscribed in this manner, were completed before
I left Cumberland, and hundreds more remain to be done. With this
new interest to occupy him, Mr. Fairlie will be a happy man for
months and months to come, and the two unfortunate photographers
will share the social martyrdom which he has hitherto inflicted on
his valet alone.
So much for the persons and events which hold the foremost place
in my memory. What next of the one person who holds the foremost
place in my heart? Laura has been present to my thoughts all the
while I have been writing these lines. What can I recall of her
during the past six months, before I close my journal for the
I have only her letters to guide me, and on the most important of
all the questions which our correspondence can discuss, every one
of those letters leaves me in the dark.
Does he treat her kindly? Is she happier now than she was when I
parted with her on the wedding-day? All my letters have contained
these two inquiries, put more or less directly, now in one form,
and now in another, and all, on that point only, have remained
without reply, or have been answered as if my questions merely
related to the state of her health. She informs me, over and over
again, that she is perfectly well--that travelling agrees with
her--that she is getting through the winter, for the first time in
her life, without catching cold--but not a word can I find
anywhere which tells me plainly that she is reconciled to her
marriage, and that she can now look back to the twenty-second of
December without any bitter feelings of repentance and regret.
The name of her husband is only mentioned in her letters, as she
might mention the name of a friend who was travelling with them,
and who had undertaken to make all the arrangements for the
journey. "Sir Percival" has settled that we leave on such a day--
"Sir Percival" has decided that we travel by such a road.
Sometimes she writes "Percival" only, but very seldom--in nine
cases out of ten she gives him his title.
I cannot find that his habits and opinions have changed and
coloured hers in any single particular. The usual moral
transformation which is insensibly wrought in a young, fresh,
sensitive woman by her marriage, seems never to have taken place
in Laura. She writes of her own thoughts and impressions, amid
all the wonders she has seen, exactly as she might have written to
some one else, if I had been travelling with her instead of her
husband. I see no betrayal anywhere of sympathy of any kind
existing between them. Even when she wanders from the subject of
her travels, and occupies herself with the prospects that await
her in England, her speculations are busied with her future as my
sister, and persistently neglect to notice her future as Sir
Percival's wife. In all this there is no undertone of complaint
to warn me that she is absolutely unhappy in her married life.
The impression I have derived from our correspondence does not,
thank God, lead me to any such distressing conclusion as that. I
only see a sad torpor, an unchangeable indifference, when I turn
my mind from her in the old character of a sister, and look at
her, through the medium of her letters, in the new character of a
wife. In other words, it is always Laura Fairlie who has been
writing to me for the last six months, and never Lady Glyde.
The strange silence which she maintains on the subject of her
husband's character and conduct, she preserves with almost equal
resolution in the few references which her later letters contain
to the name of her husband's bosom friend, Count Fosco.
For some unexplained reason the Count and his wife appear to have
changed their plans abruptly, at the end of last autumn, and to
have gone to Vienna instead of going to Rome, at which latter
place Sir Percival had expected to find them when he left England.
They only quitted Vienna in the spring, and travelled as far as
the Tyrol to meet the bride and bridegroom on their homeward
journey. Laura writes readily enough about the meeting with
Madame Fosco, and assures me that she has found her aunt so much
changed for the better--so much quieter, and so much more sensible
as a wife than she was as a single woman--that I shall hardly know
her again when I see her here. But on the subject of Count Fosco
(who interests me infinitely more than his wife), Laura is
provokingly circumspect and silent. She only says that he puzzles
her, and that she will not tell me what her impression of him is
until I have seen him, and formed my own opinion first.
This, to my mind, looks ill for the Count. Laura has preserved,
far more perfectly than most people do in later life, the child's
subtle faculty of knowing a friend by instinct, and if I am right
in assuming that her first impression of Count Fosco has not been
favourable, I for one am in some danger of doubting and
distrusting that illustrious foreigner before I have so much as
set eyes on him. But, patience, patience--this uncertainty, and
many uncertainties more, cannot last much longer. To-morrow will
see all my doubts in a fair way of being cleared up, sooner or
Twelve o'clock has struck, and I have just come back to close
these pages, after looking out at my open window.
It is a still, sultry, moonless night. The stars are dull and
few. The trees that shut out the view on all sides look dimly
black and solid in the distance, like a great wall of rock. I
hear the croaking of frogs, faint and far off, and the echoes of
the great clock hum in the airless calm long after the strokes
have ceased. I wonder how Blackwater Park will look in the
daytime? I don't altogether like it by night.
12th.--A day of investigations and discoveries--a more interesting
day, for many reasons, than I had ventured to anticipate.
I began my sight-seeing, of course, with the house.
The main body of the building is of the time of that highlyoverrated
woman, Queen Elizabeth. On the ground floor there are
two hugely long galleries, with low ceilings lying parallel with
each other, and rendered additionally dark and dismal by hideous
family portraits--every one of which I should like to burn. The
rooms on the floor above the two galleries are kept in tolerable
repair, but are very seldom used. The civil housekeeper, who
acted as my guide, offered to show me over them, but considerately
added that she feared I should find them rather out of order. My
respect for the integrity of my own petticoats and stockings
infinitely exceeds my respect for all the Elizabethan bedrooms in
the kingdom, so I positively declined exploring the upper regions
of dust and dirt at the risk of soiling my nice clean clothes.
The housekeeper said, "I am quite of your opinion, miss," and
appeared to think me the most sensible woman she had met with for
a long time past.
So much, then, for the main building. Two wings are added at
either end of it. The half-ruined wing on the left (as you
approach the house) was once a place of residence standing by
itself, and was built in the fourteenth century. One of Sir
Percival's maternal ancestors--I don't remember, and don't care
which--tacked on the main building, at right angles to it, in the
aforesaid Queen Elizabeth's time. The housekeeper told me that
the architecture of "the old wing," both outside and inside, was
considered remarkably fine by good judges. On further
investigation I discovered that good judges could only exercise
their abilities on Sir Percival's piece of antiquity by previously
dismissing from their minds all fear of damp, darkness, and rats.
Under these circumstances, I unhesitatingly acknowledged myself to
be no judge at all, and suggested that we should treat "the old
wing" precisely as we had previously treated the Elizabethan
bedrooms. Once more the housekeeper said, "I am quite of your
opinion, miss," and once more she looked at me with undisguised
admiration of my extraordinary common-sense.
We went next to the wing on the right, which was built, by way of
completing the wonderful architectural jumble at Blackwater Park,
in the time of George the Second.
This is the habitable part of the house, which has been repaired
and redecorated inside on Laura's account. My two rooms, and all
the good bedrooms besides, are on the first floor, and the
basement contains a drawing-room, a dining-room, a morning-room, a
library, and a pretty little boudoir for Laura, all very nicely
ornamented in the bright modern way, and all very elegantly
furnished with the delightful modern luxuries. None of the rooms
are anything like so large and airy as our rooms at Limmeridge,
but they all look pleasant to live in. I was terribly afraid,
from what I had heard of Blackwater Park, of fatiguing antique
chairs, and dismal stained glass, and musty, frouzy hangings, and
all the barbarous lumber which people born without a sense of
comfort accumulate about them, in defiance of the consideration
due to the convenience of their friends. It is an inexpressible
relief to find that the nineteenth century has invaded this
strange future home of mine, and has swept the dirty "good old
times" out of the way of our daily life.
I dawdled away the morning--part of the time in the rooms
downstairs, and part out of doors in the great square which is
formed by the three sides of the house, and by the lofty iron
railings and gates which protect it in front. A large circular
fishpond with stone sides, and an allegorical leaden monster in
the middle, occupies the centre of the square. The pond itself is
full of gold and silver fish, and is encircled by a broad belt of
the softest turf I ever walked on. I loitered here on the shady
side pleasantly enough till luncheon-time, and after that took my
broad straw hat and wandered out alone in the warm lovely sunlight
to explore the grounds.
Daylight confirmed the impression which I had felt the night
before, of there being too many trees at Blackwater. The house is
stifled by them. They are, for the most part, young, and planted
far too thickly. I suspect there must have been a ruinous cutting
down of timber all over the estate before Sir Percival's time, and
an angry anxiety on the part of the next possessor to fill up all
the gaps as thickly and rapidly as possible. After looking about
me in front of the house, I observed a flower-garden on my left
hand, and walked towards it to see what I could discover in that
On a nearer view the garden proved to be small and poor and ill
kept. I left it behind me, opened a little gate in a ring fence,
and found myself in a plantation of fir-trees.
A pretty winding path, artificially made, led me on among the
trees, and my north-country experience soon informed me that I was
approaching sandy, heathy ground. After a walk of more than half
a mile, I should think, among the firs, the path took a sharp
turn--the trees abruptly ceased to appear on either side of me,
and I found myself standing suddenly on the margin of a vast open
space, and looking down at the Blackwater lake from which the
house takes its name.
The ground, shelving away below me, was all sand, with a few
little heathy hillocks to break the monotony of it in certain
places. The lake itself had evidently once flowed to the spot on
which I stood, and had been gradually wasted and dried up to less
than a third of its former size. I saw its still, stagnant
waters, a quarter of a mile away from me in the hollow, separated
into pools and ponds by twining reeds and rushes, and little
knolls of earth. On the farther bank from me the trees rose
thickly again, and shut out the view, and cast their black shadows
on the sluggish, shallow water. As I walked down to the lake, I
saw that the ground on its farther side was damp and marshy,
overgrown with rank grass and dismal willows. The water, which
was clear enough on the open sandy side, where the sun shone,
looked black and poisonous opposite to me, where it lay deeper
under the shade of the spongy banks, and the rank overhanging
thickets and tangled trees. The frogs were croaking, and the rats
were slipping in and out of the shadowy water, like live shadows
themselves, as I got nearer to the marshy side of the lake. I saw
here, lying half in and half out of the water, the rotten wreck of
an old overturned boat, with a sickly spot of sunlight glimmering
through a gap in the trees on its dry surface, and a snake basking
in the midst of the spot, fantastically coiled and treacherously
still. Far and near the view suggested the same dreary
impressions of solitude and decay, and the glorious brightness of
the summer sky overhead seemed only to deepen and harden the gloom
and barrenness of the wilderness on which it shone. I turned and
retraced my steps to the high heathy ground, directing them a
little aside from my former path towards a shabby old wooden shed,
which stood on the outer skirt of the fir plantation, and which
had hitherto been too unimportant to share my notice with the
wide, wild prospect of the lake.
On approaching the shed I found that it had once been a boathouse,
and that an attempt had apparently been made to convert it
afterwards into a sort of rude arbour, by placing inside it a
firwood seat, a few stools, and a table. I entered the place, and
sat down for a little while to rest and get my breath again.
I had not been in the boat-house more than a minute when it struck
me that the sound of my own quick breathing was very strangely
echoed by something beneath me. I listened intently for a moment,
and heard a low, thick, sobbing breath that seemed to come from
the ground under the seat which I was occupying. My nerves are
not easily shaken by trifles, but on this occasion I started to my
feet in a fright--called out--received no answer--summoned back my
recreant courage, and looked under the seat.
There, crouched up in the farthest corner, lay the forlorn cause
of my terror, in the shape of a poor little dog--a black and white
spaniel. The creature moaned feebly when I looked at it and
called to it, but never stirred. I moved away the seat and looked
closer. The poor little dog's eyes were glazing fast, and there
were spots of blood on its glossy white side. The misery of a
weak, helpless, dumb creature is surely one of the saddest of all
the mournful sights which this world can show. I lifted the poor
dog in my arms as gently as I could, and contrived a sort of makeshift
hammock for him to lie in, by gathering up the front of my
dress all round him. In this way I took the creature, as
painlessly as possible, and as fast as possible, back to the
Finding no one in the hall I went up at once to my own sittingroom,
made a bed for the dog with one of my old shawls, and rang
the bell. The largest and fattest of all possible house-maids
answered it, in a state of cheerful stupidity which would have
provoked the patience of a saint. The girl's fat, shapeless face
actually stretched into a broad grin at the sight of the wounded
creature on the floor.
"What do you see there to laugh at?" I asked, as angrily as if she
had been a servant of my own. "Do you know whose dog it is?"
"No, miss, that I certainly don't." She stooped, and looked down
at the spaniel's injured side--brightened suddenly with the
irradiation of a new idea--and pointing to the wound with a
chuckle of satisfaction, said, "That's Baxter's doings, that is."
I was so exasperated that I could have boxed her ears. "Baxter?"
I said. "Who is the brute you call Baxter?"
The girl grinned again more cheerfully than ever. "Bless you,
miss! Baxter's the keeper, and when he finds strange dogs hunting
about, he takes and shoots 'em. It's keeper's dooty miss, I think
that dog will die. Here's where he's been shot, ain't it? That's
Baxter's doings, that is. Baxter's doings, miss, and Baxter's
I was almost wicked enough to wish that Baxter had shot the
housemaid instead of the dog. Seeing that it was quite useless to
expect this densely impenetrable personage to give me any help in
relieving the suffering creature at our feet, I told her to
request the housekeeper's attendance with my compliments. She
went out exactly as she had come in, grinning from ear to ear. As
the door closed on her she said to herself softly, "It's Baxter's
doings and Baxter's dooty--that's what it is."
The housekeeper, a person of some education and intelligence,
thoughtfully brought upstairs with her some milk and some warm
water. The instant she saw the dog on the floor she started and
changed colour.
"Why, Lord bless me," cried the housekeeper, "that must be Mrs.
Catherick's dog!"
"Whose?" I asked, in the utmost astonishment.
"Mrs. Catherick's. You seem to know Mrs. Catherick, Miss
"Not personally, but I have heard of her. Does she live here? Has
she had any news of her daughter?"
"No, Miss Halcombe, she came here to ask for news."
"Only yesterday. She said some one had reported that a stranger
answering to the description of her daughter had been seen in our
neighbourhood. No such report has reached us here, and no such
report was known in the village, when I sent to make inquiries
there on Mrs. Catherick's account. She certainly brought this
poor little dog with her when she came, and I saw it trot out
after her when she went away. I suppose the creature strayed into
the plantations, and got shot. Where did you find it, Miss
"In the old shed that looks out on the lake."
"Ah, yes, that is the plantation side, and the poor thing dragged
itself, I suppose, to the nearest shelter, as dogs will, to die.
If you can moisten its lips with the milk, Miss Halcombe, I will
wash the clotted hair from the wound. I am very much afraid it is
too late to do any good. However, we can but try."
Mrs. Catherick! The name still rang in my ears, as if the
housekeeper had only that moment surprised me by uttering it.
While we were attending to the dog, the words of Walter
Hartright's caution to me returned to my memory: "If ever Anne
Catherick crosses your path, make better use of the opportunity,
Miss Halcombe, than I made of it." The finding of the wounded
spaniel had led me already to the discovery of Mrs. Catherick's
visit to Blackwater Park, and that event might lead in its turn,
to something more. I determined to make the most of the chance
which was now offered to me, and to gain as much information as I
"Did you say that Mrs. Catherick lived anywhere in this
neighbourhood?" I asked.
"Oh dear, no," said the housekeeper. "She lives at Welmingham,
quite at the other end of the county--five-and-twenty miles off,
at least."
"I suppose you have known Mrs. Catherick for some years?"
"On the contrary, Miss Halcombe, I never saw her before she came
here yesterday. I had heard of her, of course, because I had
heard of Sir Percival's kindness in putting her daughter under
medical care. Mrs. Catherick is rather a strange person in her
manners, but extremely respectable-looking. She seemed sorely put
out when she found that there was no foundation--none, at least,
that any of us could discover--for the report of her daughter
having been seen in this neighbourhood."
"I am rather interested about Mrs. Catherick," I went on,
continuing the conversation as long as possible. "I wish I had
arrived here soon enough to see her yesterday. Did she stay for
any length of time?"
"Yes," said the housekeeper, "she stayed for some time; and I
think she would have remained longer, if I had not been called
away to speak to a strange gentleman--a gentleman who came to ask
when Sir Percival was expected back. Mrs. Catherick got up and
left at once, when she heard the maid tell me what the visitor's
errand was. She said to me, at parting, that there was no need to
tell Sir Percival of her coming here. I thought that rather an
odd remark to make, especially to a person in my responsible
I thought it an odd remark too. Sir Percival had certainly led me
to believe, at Limmeridge, that the most perfect confidence
existed between himself and Mrs. Catherick. If that was the case,
why should she be anxious to have her visit at Blackwater Park
kept a secret from him?
"Probably," I said, seeing that the housekeeper expected me to
give my opinion on Mrs. Catherick's parting words, "probably she
thought the announcement of her visit might vex Sir Percival to no
purpose, by reminding him that her lost daughter was not found
yet. Did she talk much on that subject?"
"Very little," replied the housekeeper. "She talked principally
of Sir Percival, and asked a great many questions about where he
had been travelling, and what sort of lady his new wife was. She
seemed to be more soured and put out than distressed, by failing
to find any traces of her daughter in these parts. 'I give her
up,' were the last words she said that I can remember; 'I give her
up, ma'am, for lost.' And from that she passed at once to her
questions about Lady Glyde, wanting to know if she was a handsome,
amiable lady, comely and healthy and young----Ah, dear! I thought
how it would end. Look, Miss Halcombe, the poor thing is out of
its misery at last!"
The dog was dead. It had given a faint, sobbing cry, it had
suffered an instant's convulsion of the limbs, just as those last
words, "comely and healthy and young," dropped from the
housekeeper's lips. The change had happened with startling
suddenness--in one moment the creature lay lifeless under our
Eight o'clock. I have just returned from dining downstairs, in
solitary state. The sunset is burning redly on the wilderness of
trees that I see from my window, and I am poring over my journal
again, to calm my impatience for the return of the travellers.
They ought to have arrived, by my calculations, before this. How
still and lonely the house is in the drowsy evening quiet! Oh me!
how many minutes more before I hear the carriage wheels and run
downstairs to find myself in Laura's arms?
The poor little dog! I wish my first day at Blackwater Park had
not been associated with death, though it is only the death of a
stray animal.
Welmingham--I see, on looking back through these private pages of
mine, that Welmingham is the name of the place where Mrs.
Catherick lives. Her note is still in my possession, the note in
answer to that letter about her unhappy daughter which Sir
Percival obliged me to write. One of these days, when I can find
a safe opportunity, I will take the note with me by way of
introduction, and try what I can make of Mrs. Catherick at a
personal interview. I don't understand her wishing to conceal her
visit to this place from Sir Percival's knowledge, and I don't
feel half so sure, as the housekeeper seems to do, that her
daughter Anne is not in the neighbourhood after all. What would
Walter Hartright have said in this emergency? Poor, dear
Hartright! I am beginning to feel the want of his honest advice
and his willing help already.
Surely I heard something. Was it a bustle of footsteps below
stairs? Yes! I hear the horses' feet--I hear the rolling wheels----
June 15th.--The confusion of their arrival has had time to
subside. Two days have elapsed since the return of the
travellers, and that interval has sufficed to put the new
machinery of our lives at Blackwater Park in fair working order.
I may now return to my journal, with some little chance of being
able to continue the entries in it as collectedly as usual.
I think I must begin by putting down an odd remark which has
suggested itself to me since Laura came back.
When two members of a family or two intimate friends are
separated, and one goes abroad and one remains at home, the return
of the relative or friend who has been travelling always seems to
place the relative or friend who has been staying at home at a
painful disadvantage when the two first meet. The sudden
encounter of the new thoughts and new habits eagerly gained in the
one case, with the old thoughts and old habits passively preserved
in the other, seems at first to part the sympathies of the most
loving relatives and the fondest friends, and to set a sudden
strangeness, unexpected by both and uncontrollable by both,
between them on either side. After the first happiness of my
meeting with Laura was over, after we had sat down together hand
in hand to recover breath enough and calmness enough to talk, I
felt this strangeness instantly, and I could see that she felt it
too. It has partially worn away, now that we have fallen back
into most of our old habits, and it will probably disappear before
long. But it has certainly had an influence over the first
impressions that I have formed of her, now that we are living
together again--for which reason only I have thought fit to
mention it here.
She has found me unaltered, but I have found her changed.
Changed in person, and in one respect changed in character. I
cannot absolutely say that she is less beautiful than she used to
be--I can only say that she is less beautiful to me.
Others, who do not look at her with my eyes and my recollections,
would probably think her improved. There is more colour and more
decision and roundness of outline in her face than there used to
be, and her figure seems more firmly set and more sure and easy in
all its movements than it was in her maiden days. But I miss
something when I look at her--something that once belonged to the
happy, innocent life of Laura Fairlie, and that I cannot find in
Lady Glyde. There was in the old times a freshness, a softness,
an ever-varying and yet ever-remaining tenderness of beauty in her
face, the charm of which it is not possible to express in words,
or, as poor Hartright used often to say, in painting either. This
is gone. I thought I saw the faint reflection of it for a moment
when she turned pale under the agitation of our sudden meeting on
the evening of her return, but it has never reappeared since.
None of her letters had prepared me for a personal change in her.
On the contrary, they had led me to expect that her marriage had
left her, in appearance at least, quite unaltered. Perhaps I read
her letters wrongly in the past, and am now reading her face
wrongly in the present? No matter! Whether her beauty has gained
or whether it has lost in the last six months, the separation
either way has made her own dear self more precious to me than
ever, and that is one good result of her marriage, at any rate!
The second change, the change that I have observed in her
character, has not surprised me, because I was prepared for it in
this case by the tone of her letters. Now that she is at home
again, I find her just as unwilling to enter into any details on
the subject of her married life as I had previously found her all
through the time of our separation, when we could only communicate
with each other by writing. At the first approach I made to the
forbidden topic she put her hand on my lips with a look and
gesture which touchingly, almost painfully, recalled to my memory
the days of her girlhood and the happy bygone time when there were
no secrets between us.
"Whenever you and I are together, Marian," she said, "we shall
both be happier and easier with one another, if we accept my
married life for what it is, and say and think as little about it
as possible. I would tell you everything, darling, about myself,"
she went on, nervously buckling and unbuckling the ribbon round my
waist, "if my confidences could only end there. But they could
not--they would lead me into confidences about my husband too; and
now I am married, I think I had better avoid them, for his sake,
and for your sake, and for mine. I don't say that they would
distress you, or distress me--I wouldn't have you think that for
the world. But--I want to be so happy, now I have got you back
again, and I want you to be so happy too----" She broke off
abruptly, and looked round the room, my own sitting-room, in which
we were talking. "Ah!" she cried, clapping her hands with a
bright smile of recognition, "another old friend found already!
Your bookcase, Marian--your dear-little-shabby-old-satin-wood
bookcase--how glad I am you brought it with you from Limmeridge!
And the horrid heavy man's umbrella, that you always would walk
out with when it rained! And first and foremost of all, your own
dear, dark, clever, gipsy-face, looking at me just as usual! It is
so like home again to be here. How can we make it more like home
still? I will put my father's portrait in your room instead of in
mine--and I will keep all my little treasures from Limmeridge
here--and we will pass hours and hours every day with these four
friendly walls round us. Oh, Marian!" she said, suddenly seating
herself on a footstool at my knees, and looking up earnestly in my
face, "promise you will never marry, and leave me. It is selfish
to say so, but you are so much better off as a single woman--
unless--unless you are very fond of your husband--but you won't be
very fond of anybody but me, will you?" She stopped again, crossed
my hands on my lap, and laid her face on them. "Have you been
writing many letters, and receiving many letters lately?" she
asked, in low, suddenly-altered tones. I understood what the
question meant, but I thought it my duty not to encourage her by
meeting her half way. "Have you heard from him?" she went on,
coaxing me to forgive the more direct appeal on which she now
ventured, by kissing my hands, upon which her face still rested.
"Is he well and happy, and getting on in his profession? Has he
recovered himself--and forgotten me?"
She should not have asked those questions. She should have
remembered her own resolution, on the morning when Sir Percival
held her to her marriage engagement, and when she resigned the
book of Hartright's drawings into my hands for ever. But, ah me!
where is the faultless human creature who can persevere in a good
resolution, without sometimes failing and falling back? Where is
the woman who has ever really torn from her heart the image that
has been once fixed in it by a true love? Books tell us that such
unearthly creatures have existed--but what does our own experience
say in answer to books?
I made no attempt to remonstrate with her: perhaps, because I
sincerely appreciated the fearless candour which let me see, what
other women in her position might have had reasons for concealing
even from their dearest friends--perhaps, because I felt, in my
own heart and conscience, that in her place I should have asked
the same questions and had the same thoughts. All I could
honestly do was to reply that I had not written to him or heard
from him lately, and then to turn the conversation to less
dangerous topics.
There has been much to sadden me in our interview--my first
confidential interview with her since her return. The change
which her marriage has produced in our relations towards each
other, by placing a forbidden subject between us, for the first
time in our lives; the melancholy conviction of the dearth of all
warmth of feeling, of all close sympathy, between her husband and
herself, which her own unwilling words now force on my mind; the
distressing discovery that the influence of that ill-fated
attachment still remains (no matter how innocently, how
harmlessly) rooted as deeply as ever in her heart--all these are
disclosures to sadden any woman who loves her as dearly, and feels
for her as acutely, as I do.
There is only one consolation to set against them--a consolation
that ought to comfort me, and that does comfort me. All the
graces and gentleness of her character--all the frank affection of
her nature--all the sweet, simple, womanly charms which used to
make her the darling and delight of every one who approached her,
have come back to me with herself. Of my other impressions I am
sometimes a little inclined to doubt. Of this last, best,
happiest of all impressions, I grow more and more certain every
hour in the day.
Let me turn, now, from her to her travelling companions. Her
husband must engage my attention first. What have I observed in
Sir Percival, since his return, to improve my opinion of him?
I can hardly say. Small vexations and annoyances seem to have
beset him since he came back, and no man, under those
circumstances, is ever presented at his best. He looks, as I
think, thinner than he was when he left England. His wearisome
cough and his comfortless restlessness have certainly increased.
His manner--at least his manner towards me--is much more abrupt
than it used to be. He greeted me, on the evening of his return,
with little or nothing of the ceremony and civility of former
times--no polite speeches of welcome--no appearance of
extraordinary gratification at seeing me--nothing but a short
shake of the hand, and a sharp "How-d'ye-do, Miss Halcombe--glad
to see you again." He seemed to accept me as one of the necessary
fixtures of Blackwater Park, to be satisfied at finding me
established in my proper place, and then to pass me over
Most men show something of their disposition in their own houses,
which they have concealed elsewhere, and Sir Percival has already
displayed a mania for order and regularity, which is quite a new
revelation of him, so far as my previous knowledge of his
character is concerned. If I take a book from the library and
leave it on the table, he follows me and puts it back again. If I
rise from a chair, and let it remain where I have been sitting, he
carefully restores it to its proper place against the wall. He
picks up stray flower-blossoms from the carpet, and mutters to
himself as discontentedly as if they were hot cinders burning
holes in it, and he storms at the servants if there is a crease in
the tablecloth, or a knife missing from its place at the dinnertable,
as fiercely as if they had personally insulted him.
I have already referred to the small annoyances which appear to
have troubled him since his return. Much of the alteration for
the worse which I have noticed in him may be due to these. I try
to persuade myself that it is so, because I am anxious not to be
disheartened already about the future. It is certainly trying to
any man's temper to be met by a vexation the moment he sets foot
in his own house again, after a long absence, and this annoying
circumstance did really happen to Sir Percival in my presence.
On the evening of their arrival the housekeeper followed me into
the hall to receive her master and mistress and their guests. The
instant he saw her, Sir Percival asked if any one had called
lately. The housekeeper mentioned to him, in reply, what she had
previously mentioned to me, the visit of the strange gentleman to
make inquiries about the time of her master's return. He asked
immediately for the gentleman's name. No name had been left. The
gentleman's business? No business had been mentioned. What was
the gentleman like? The housekeeper tried to describe him, but
failed to distinguish the nameless visitor by any personal
peculiarity which her master could recognise. Sir Percival
frowned, stamped angrily on the floor, and walked on into the
house, taking no notice of anybody. Why he should have been so
discomposed by a trifle I cannot say--but he was seriously
discomposed, beyond all doubt.
Upon the whole, it will be best, perhaps, if I abstain from
forming a decisive opinion of his manners, language, and conduct
in his own house, until time has enabled him to shake off the
anxieties, whatever they may be, which now evidently troubled his
mind in secret. I will turn over to a new page, and my pen shall
let Laura's husband alone for the present.
The two guests--the Count and Countess Fosco--come next in my
catalogue. I will dispose of the Countess first, so as to have
done with the woman as soon as possible.
Laura was certainly not chargeable with any exaggeration, in
writing me word that I should hardly recognise her aunt again when
we met. Never before have I beheld such a change produced in a
woman by her marriage as has been produced in Madame Fosco.
As Eleanor Fairlie (aged seven-and-thirty), she was always talking
pretentious nonsense, and always worrying the unfortunate men with
every small exaction which a vain and foolish woman can impose on
long-suffering male humanity. As Madame Fosco (aged three-andforty),
she sits for hours together without saying a word, frozen
up in the strangest manner in herself. The hideously ridiculous
love-locks which used to hang on either side of her face are now
replaced by stiff little rows of very short curls, of the sort one
sees in old-fashioned wigs. A plain, matronly cap covers her
head, and makes her look, for the first time in her life since I
remember her, like a decent woman. Nobody (putting her husband
out of the question, of course) now sees in her, what everybody
once saw--I mean the structure of the female skeleton, in the
upper regions of the collar-bones and the shoulder-blades. Clad
in quiet black or grey gowns, made high round the throat--dresses
that she would have laughed at, or screamed at, as the whim of the
moment inclined her, in her maiden days--she sits speechless in
corners; her dry white hands (so dry that the pores of her skin
look chalky) incessantly engaged, either in monotonous embroidery
work or in rolling up endless cigarettes for the Count's own
particular smoking. On the few occasions when her cold blue eyes
are off her work, they are generally turned on her husband, with
the look of mute submissive inquiry which we are all familiar with
in the eyes of a faithful dog. The only approach to an inward
thaw which I have yet detected under her outer covering of icy
constraint, has betrayed itself, once or twice, in the form of a
suppressed tigerish jealousy of any woman in the house (the maids
included) to whom the Count speaks, or on whom he looks with
anything approaching to special interest or attention. Except in
this one particular, she is always, morning, noon, and night,
indoors and out, fair weather or foul, as cold as a statue, and as
impenetrable as the stone out of which it is cut. For the common
purposes of society the extraordinary change thus produced in her
is, beyond all doubt, a change for the better, seeing that it has
transformed her into a civil, silent, unobtrusive woman, who is
never in the way. How far she is really reformed or deteriorated
in her secret self, is another question. I have once or twice
seen sudden changes of expression on her pinched lips, and heard
sudden inflexions of tone in her calm voice, which have led me to
suspect that her present state of suppression may have sealed up
something dangerous in her nature, which used to evaporate
harmlessly in the freedom of her former life. It is quite
possible that I may be altogether wrong in this idea. My own
impression, however, is, that I am right. Time will show.
And the magician who has wrought this wonderful transformation--
the foreign husband who has tamed this once wayward English woman
till her own relations hardly know her again--the Count himself?
What of the Count?
This in two words: He looks like a man who could tame anything.
If he had married a tigress, instead of a woman, he would have
tamed the tigress. If he had married me, I should have made his
cigarettes, as his wife does--I should have held my tongue when he
looked at me, as she holds hers.
I am almost afraid to confess it, even to these secret pages. The
man has interested me, has attracted me, has forced me to like
him. In two short days he has made his way straight into my
favourable estimation, and how he has worked the miracle is more
than I can tell.
It absolutely startles me, now he is in my mind, to find how
plainly I see him!--how much more plainly than I see Sir Percival,
or Mr. Fairlie, or Walter Hartright, or any other absent person of
whom I think, with the one exception of Laura herself! I can hear
his voice, as if he was speaking at this moment. I know what his
conversation was yesterday, as well as if I was hearing it now.
How am I to describe him? There are peculiarities in his personal
appearance, his habits, and his amusements, which I should blame
in the boldest terms, or ridicule in the most merciless manner, if
I had seen them in another man. What is it that makes me unable
to blame them, or to ridicule them in HIM?
For example, he is immensely fat. Before this time I have always
especially disliked corpulent humanity. I have always maintained
that the popular notion of connecting excessive grossness of size
and excessive good-humour as inseparable allies was equivalent to
declaring, either that no people but amiable people ever get fat,
or that the accidental addition of so many pounds of flesh has a
directly favourable influence over the disposition of the person
on whose body they accumulate. I have invariably combated both
these absurd assertions by quoting examples of fat people who were
as mean, vicious, and cruel as the leanest and the worst of their
neighbours. I have asked whether Henry the Eighth was an amiable
character? Whether Pope Alexander the Sixth was a good man?
Whether Mr. Murderer and Mrs. Murderess Manning were not both
unusually stout people? Whether hired nurses, proverbially as
cruel a set of women as are to be found in all England, were not,
for the most part, also as fat a set of women as are to be found
in all England?--and so on, through dozens of other examples,
modern and ancient, native and foreign, high and low. Holding
these strong opinions on the subject with might and main as I do
at this moment, here, nevertheless, is Count Fosco, as fat as
Henry the Eighth himself, established in my favour, at one day's
notice, without let or hindrance from his own odious corpulence.
Marvellous indeed!
Is it his face that has recommended him?
It may be his face. He is a most remarkable likeness, on a large
scale, of the great Napoleon. His features have Napoleon's
magnificent regularity--his expression recalls the grandly calm,
immovable power of the Great Soldier's face. This striking
resemblance certainly impressed me, to begin with; but there is
something in him besides the resemblance, which has impressed me
more. I think the influence I am now trying to find is in his
eyes. They are the most unfathomable grey eyes I ever saw, and
they have at times a cold, clear, beautiful, irresistible glitter
in them which forces me to look at him, and yet causes me
sensations, when I do look, which I would rather not feel. Other
parts of his face and head have their strange peculiarities. His
complexion, for instance, has a singular sallow-fairness, so much
at variance with the dark-brown colour of his hair, that I suspect
the hair of being a wig, and his face, closely shaven all over, is
smoother and freer from all marks and wrinkles than mine, though
(according to Sir Percival's account of him) he is close on sixty
years of age. But these are not the prominent personal
characteristics which distinguish him, to my mind, from all the
other men I have ever seen. The marked peculiarity which singles
him out from the rank and file of humanity lies entirely, so far
as I can tell at present, in the extraordinary expression and
extraordinary power of his eyes.
His manner and his command of our language may also have assisted
him, in some degree, to establish himself in my good opinion. He
has that quiet deference, that look of pleased, attentive interest
in listening to a woman, and that secret gentleness in his voice
in speaking to a woman, which, say what we may, we can none of us
resist. Here, too, his unusual command of the English language
necessarily helps him. I had often heard of the extraordinary
aptitude which many Italians show in mastering our strong, hard,
Northern speech; but, until I saw Count Fosco, I had never
supposed it possible that any foreigner could have spoken English
as he speaks it. There are times when it is almost impossible to
detect, by his accent that he is not a countryman of our own, and
as for fluency, there are very few born Englishmen who can talk
with as few stoppages and repetitions as the Count. He may
construct his sentences more or less in the foreign way, but I
have never yet heard him use a wrong expression, or hesitate for a
moment in his choice of a word.
All the smallest characteristics of this strange man have
something strikingly original and perplexingly contradictory in
them. Fat as he is and old as he is, his movements are
astonishingly light and easy. He is as noiseless in a room as any
of us women, and more than that, with all his look of unmistakable
mental firmness and power, he is as nervously sensitive as the
weakest of us. He starts at chance noises as inveterately as
Laura herself. He winced and shuddered yesterday, when Sir
Percival beat one of the spaniels, so that I felt ashamed of my
own want of tenderness and sensibility by comparison with the
The relation of this last incident reminds me of one of his most
curious peculiarities, which I have not yet mentioned--his
extraordinary fondness for pet animals.
Some of these he has left on the Continent, but he has brought
with him to this house a cockatoo, two canary-birds, and a whole
family of white mice. He attends to all the necessities of these
strange favourites himself, and he has taught the creatures to be
surprisingly fond of him and familiar with him. The cockatoo, a
most vicious and treacherous bird towards every one else,
absolutely seems to love him. When he lets it out of its cage, it
hops on to his knee, and claws its way up his great big body, and
rubs its top-knot against his sallow double chin in the most
caressing manner imaginable. He has only to set the doors of the
canaries' cages open, and to call them, and the pretty little
cleverly trained creatures perch fearlessly on his hand, mount his
fat outstretched fingers one by one, when he tells them to "go
upstairs," and sing together as if they would burst their throats
with delight when they get to the top finger. His white mice live
in a little pagoda of gaily-painted wirework, designed and made by
himself. They are almost as tame as the canaries, and they are
perpetually let out like the canaries. They crawl all over him,
popping in and out of his waistcoat, and sitting in couples, white
as snow, on his capacious shoulders. He seems to be even fonder
of his mice than of his other pets, smiles at them, and kisses
them, and calls them by all sorts of endearing names. If it be
possible to suppose an Englishman with any taste for such childish
interests and amusements as these, that Englishman would certainly
feel rather ashamed of them, and would be anxious to apologise for
them, in the company of grown-up people. But the Count,
apparently, sees nothing ridiculous in the amazing contrast
between his colossal self and his frail little pets. He would
blandly kiss his white mice and twitter to his canary-birds amid
an assembly of English fox-hunters, and would only pity them as
barbarians when they were all laughing their loudest at him.
It seems hardly credible while I am writing it down, but it is
certainly true, that this same man, who has all the fondness of an
old maid for his cockatoo, and all the small dexterities of an
organ-boy in managing his white mice, can talk, when anything
happens to rouse him, with a daring independence of thought, a
knowledge of books in every language, and an experience of society
in half the capitals of Europe, which would make him the prominent
personage of any assembly in the civilised world. This trainer of
canary-birds, this architect of a pagoda for white mice, is (as
Sir Percival himself has told me) one of the first experimental
chemists living, and has discovered, among other wonderful
inventions, a means of petrifying the body after death, so as to
preserve it, as hard as marble, to the end of time. This fat,
indolent, elderly man, whose nerves are so finely strung that he
starts at chance noises, and winces when he sees a house-spaniel
get a whipping, went into the stable-yard on the morning after his
arrival, and put his hand on the head of a chained bloodhound--a
beast so savage that the very groom who feeds him keeps out of his
reach. His wife and I were present, and I shall not forget the
scene that followed, short as it was.
"Mind that dog, sir," said the groom; "he flies at everybody!" "He
does that, my friend," replied the Count quietly, "because
everybody is afraid of him. Let us see if he flies at me." And he
laid his plump, yellow-white fingers, on which the canary-birds
had been perching ten minutes before, upon the formidable brute's
head, and looked him straight in the eyes. "You big dogs are all
cowards," he said, addressing the animal contemptuously, with his
face and the dog's within an inch of each other. "You would kill
a poor cat, you infernal coward. You would fly at a starving
beggar, you infernal coward. Anything that you can surprise
unawares--anything that is afraid of your big body, and your
wicked white teeth, and your slobbering, bloodthirsty mouth, is
the thing you like to fly at. You could throttle me at this
moment, you mean, miserable bully, and you daren't so much as look
me in the face, because I'm not afraid of you. Will you think
better of it, and try your teeth in my fat neck? Bah! not you!" He
turned away, laughing at the astonishment of the men in the yard,
and the dog crept back meekly to his kennel. "Ah! my nice
waistcoat!" he said pathetically. "I am sorry I came here. Some
of that brute's slobber has got on my pretty clean waistcoat."
Those words express another of his incomprehensible oddities. He
is as fond of fine clothes as the veriest fool in existence, and
has appeared in four magnificent waistcoats already--all of light
garish colours, and all immensely large even for him--in the two
days of his residence at Blackwater Park.
His tact and cleverness in small things are quite as noticeable as
the singular inconsistencies in his character, and the childish
triviality of his ordinary tastes and pursuits.
I can see already that he means to live on excellent terms with
all of us during the period of his sojourn in this place. He has
evidently discovered that Laura secretly dislikes him (she
confessed as much to me when I pressed her on the subject)--but he
has also found out that she is extravagantly fond of flowers.
Whenever she wants a nosegay he has got one to give her, gathered
and arranged by himself, and greatly to my amusement, he is always
cunningly provided with a duplicate, composed of exactly the same
flowers, grouped in exactly the same way, to appease his icily
jealous wife before she can so much as think herself aggrieved.
His management of the Countess (in public) is a sight to see. He
bows to her, he habitually addresses her as "my angel," he carries
his canaries to pay her little visits on his fingers and to sing
to her, he kisses her hand when she gives him his cigarettes; he
presents her with sugar-plums in return, which he puts into her
mouth playfully, from a box in his pocket. The rod of iron with
which he rules her never appears in company--it is a private rod,
and is always kept upstairs.
His method of recommending himself to me is entirely different.
He flatters my vanity by talking to me as seriously and sensibly
as if I was a man. Yes! I can find him out when I am away from
him--I know he flatters my vanity, when I think of him up here in
my own room--and yet, when I go downstairs, and get into his
company again, he will blind me again, and I shall be flattered
again, just as if I had never found him out at all! He can manage
me as he manages his wife and Laura, as he managed the bloodhound
in the stable-yard, as he manages Sir Percival himself, every hour
in the day. "My good Percival! how I like your rough English
humour!"--"My good Percival! how I enjoy your solid English
sense!" He puts the rudest remarks Sir Percival can make on his
effeminate tastes and amusements quietly away from him in that
manner--always calling the baronet by his Christian name, smiling
at him with the calmest superiority, patting him on the shoulder,
and bearing with him benignantly, as a good-humoured father bears
with a wayward son.
The interest which I really cannot help feeling in this strangely
original man has led me to question Sir Percival about his past
Sir Percival either knows little, or will tell me little, about
it. He and the Count first met many years ago, at Rome, under the
dangerous circumstances to which I have alluded elsewhere. Since
that time they have been perpetually together in London, in Paris,
and in Vienna--but never in Italy again; the Count having, oddly
enough, not crossed the frontiers of his native country for years
past. Perhaps he has been made the victim of some political
persecution? At all events, he seems to be patriotically anxious
not to lose sight of any of his own countrymen who may happen to
be in England. On the evening of his arrival he asked how far we
were from the nearest town, and whether we knew of any Italian
gentlemen who might happen to be settled there. He is certainly
in correspondence with people on the Continent, for his letters
have all sorts of odd stamps on them, and I saw one for him this
morning, waiting in his place at the breakfast-table, with a huge,
official-looking seal on it. Perhaps he is in correspondence with
his government? And yet, that is hardly to be reconciled either
with my other idea that he may be a political exile.
How much I seem to have written about Count Fosco! And what does
it all amount to?--as poor, dear Mr. Gilmore would ask, in his
impenetrable business-like way I can only repeat that I do
assuredly feel, even on this short acquaintance, a strange, halfwilling,
half-unwilling liking for the Count. He seems to have
established over me the same sort of ascendency which he has
evidently gained over Sir Percival. Free, and even rude, as he
may occasionally be in his manner towards his fat friend, Sir
Percival is nevertheless afraid, as I can plainly see, of giving
any serious offence to the Count. I wonder whether I am afraid
too? I certainly never saw a man, in all my experience, whom I
should be so sorry to have for an enemy. Is this because I like
him, or because I am afraid of him? Chi sa?--as Count Fosco might
say in his own language. Who knows?
June 16th.--Something to chronicle to-day besides my own ideas and
impressions. A visitor has arrived--quite unknown to Laura and to
me, and apparently quite unexpected by Sir Percival.
We were all at lunch, in the room with the new French windows that
open into the verandah, and the Count (who devours pastry as I
have never yet seen it devoured by any human beings but girls at
boarding-schools) had just amused us by asking gravely for his
fourth tart--when the servant entered to announce the visitor.
"Mr. Merriman has just come, Sir Percival, and wishes to see you
Sir Percival started, and looked at the man with an expression of
angry alarm.
"Mr. Merriman!" he repeated, as if he thought his own ears must
have deceived him.
"Yes, Sir Percival--Mr. Merriman, from London."
"Where is he?"
"In the library, Sir Percival."
He left the table the instant the last answer was given, and
hurried out of the room without saying a word to any of us.
"Who is Mr. Merriman?" asked Laura, appealing to me.
"I have not the least idea," was all I could say in reply.
The Count had finished his fourth tart, and had gone to a sidetable
to look after his vicious cockatoo. He turned round to us
with the bird perched on his shoulder.
"Mr. Merriman is Sir Percival's solicitor," he said quietly.
Sir Percival's solicitor. It was a perfectly straightforward
answer to Laura's question, and yet, under the circumstances, it
was not satisfactory. If Mr. Merriman had been specially sent for
by his client, there would have been nothing very wonderful in his
leaving town to obey the summons. But when a lawyer travels from
London to Hampshire without being sent for, and when his arrival
at a gentleman's house seriously startles the gentleman himself,
it may be safely taken for granted that the legal visitor is the
bearer of some very important and very unexpected news--news which
may be either very good or very bad, but which cannot, in either
case, be of the common everyday kind.
Laura and I sat silent at the table for a quarter of an hour or
more, wondering uneasily what had happened, and waiting for the
chance of Sir Percival's speedy return. There were no signs of
his return, and we rose to leave the room.
The Count, attentive as usual, advanced from the corner in which
he had been feeding his cockatoo, with the bird still perched on
his shoulder, and opened the door for us. Laura and Madame Fosco
went out first. Just as I was on the point of following them he
made a sign with his hand, and spoke to me, before I passed him,
in the oddest manner.
"Yes," he said, quietly answering the unexpressed idea at that
moment in my mind, as if I had plainly confided it to him in so
many words--" yes, Miss Halcombe, something HAS happened."
I was on the point of answering, "I never said so," but the
vicious cockatoo ruffled his clipped wings and gave a screech that
set all my nerves on edge in an instant, and made me only too glad
to get out of the room.
I joined Laura at the foot of the stairs. The thought in her mind
was the same as the thought in mine, which Count Fosco had
surprised, and when she spoke her words were almost the echo of
his. She, too, said to me secretly that she was afraid something
had happened.
June 16th.--I have a few lines more to add to this day's entry
before I go to bed to-night.
About two hours after Sir Percival rose from the luncheon-table to
receive his solicitor, Mr. Merriman, in the library, I left my
room alone to take a walk in the plantations. Just as I was at
the end of the landing the library door opened and the two
gentlemen came out. Thinking it best not to disturb them by
appearing on the stairs, I resolved to defer going down till they
had crossed the hall. Although they spoke to each other in
guarded tones, their words were pronounced with sufficient
distinctness of utterance to reach my ears.
"Make your mind easy, Sir Percival," I heard the lawyer say; "it
all rests with Lady Glyde."
I had turned to go back to my own room for a minute or two, but
the sound of Laura's name on the lips of a stranger stopped me
instantly. I daresay it was very wrong and very discreditable to
listen, but where is the woman, in the whole range of our sex, who
can regulate her actions by the abstract principles of honour,
when those principles point one way, and when her affections, and
the interests which grow out of them, point the other?
I listened--and under similar circumstances I would listen again--
yes! with my ear at the keyhole, if I could not possibly manage it
in any other way.
"You quite understand, Sir Percival," the lawyer went on. "Lady
Glyde is to sign her name in the presence of a witness--or of two
witnesses, if you wish to be particularly careful--and is then to
put her finger on the seal and say, 'I deliver this as my act and
deed.' If that is done in a week's time the arrangement will be
perfectly successful, and the anxiety will be all over. If not----"
"What do you mean by 'if not'?" asked Sir Percival angrily. "If
the thing must be done it SHALL be done. I promise you that,
"Just so, Sir Percival--just so; but there are two alternatives in
all transactions, and we lawyers like to look both of them in the
face boldly. If through any extraordinary circumstance the
arrangement should not be made, I think I may be able to get the
parties to accept bills at three months. But how the money is to
be raised when the bills fall due----"
"Damn the bills! The money is only to be got in one way, and in
that way, I tell you again, it SHALL be got. Take a glass of
wine, Merriman, before you go."
"Much obliged, Sir Percival, I have not a moment to lose if I am
to catch the up-train. You will let me know as soon as the
arrangement is complete? and you will not forget the caution I
"Of course I won't. There's the dog-cart at the door for you. My
groom will get you to the station in no time. Benjamin, drive
like mad! Jump in. If Mr. Merriman misses the train you lose your
place. Hold fast, Merriman, and if you are upset trust to the
devil to save his own." With that parting benediction the baronet
turned about and walked back to the library.
I had not heard much, but the little that had reached my ears was
enough to make me feel uneasy. The "something" that "had
happened" was but too plainly a serious money embarrassment, and
Sir Percival's relief from it depended upon Laura. The prospect
of seeing her involved in her husband's secret difficulties filled
me with dismay, exaggerated, no doubt, by my ignorance of business
and my settled distrust of Sir Percival. Instead of going out, as
I proposed, I went back immediately to Laura's room to tell her
what I had heard.
She received my bad news so composedly as to surprise me. She
evidently knows more of her husband's character and her husband's
embarrassments than I have suspected up to this time.
"I feared as much," she said, "when I heard of that strange
gentleman who called, and declined to leave his name."
"Who do you think the gentleman was, then?" I asked.
"Some person who has heavy claims on Sir Percival," she answered,
"and who has been the cause of Mr. Merriman's visit here to-day."
"Do you know anything about those claims?"
"No, I know no particulars."
"You will sign nothing, Laura, without first looking at it?"
"Certainly not, Marian. Whatever I can harmlessly and honestly do
to help him I will do--for the sake of making your life and mine,
love, as easy and as happy as possible. But I will do nothing
ignorantly, which we might, one day, have reason to feel ashamed
of. Let us say no more about it now. You have got your hat on--
suppose we go and dream away the afternoon in the grounds?"
On leaving the house we directed our steps to the nearest shade.
As we passed an open space among the trees in front of the house,
there was Count Fosco, slowly walking backwards and forwards on
the grass, sunning himself in the full blaze of the hot June
afternoon. He had a broad straw hat on, with a violet-coloured
ribbon round it. A blue blouse, with profuse white fancy-work
over the bosom, covered his prodigious body, and was girt about
the place where his waist might once have been with a broad
scarlet leather belt. Nankeen trousers, displaying more white
fancy-work over the ankles, and purple morocco slippers, adorned
his lower extremities. He was singing Figaro's famous song in the
Barber of Seville, with that crisply fluent vocalisation which is
never heard from any other than an Italian throat, accompanying
himself on the concertina, which he played with ecstatic
throwings-up of his arms, and graceful twistings and turnings of
his head, like a fat St. Cecilia masquerading in male attire.
"Figaro qua! Figaro la! Figaro su! Figaro giu!" sang the Count,
jauntily tossing up the concertina at arm's length, and bowing to
us, on one side of the instrument, with the airy grace and
elegance of Figaro himself at twenty years of age.
"Take my word for it, Laura, that man knows something of Sir
Percival's embarrassments," I said, as we returned the Count's
salutation from a safe distance.
"What makes you think that?" she asked.
"How should he have known, otherwise, that Mr. Merriman was Sir
Percival's solicitor?" I rejoined. "Besides, when I followed you
out of the luncheon-room, he told me, without a single word of
inquiry on my part, that something had happened. Depend upon it,
he knows more than we do."
"Don't ask him any questions if he does. Don't take him into our
"You seem to dislike him, Laura, in a very determined manner.
What has he said or done to justify you?"
"Nothing, Marian. On the contrary, he was all kindness and
attention on our journey home, and he several times checked Sir
Percival's outbreaks of temper, in the most considerate manner
towards me. Perhaps I dislike him because he has so much more
power over my husband than I have. Perhaps it hurts my pride to
be under any obligations to his interference. All I know is, that
I DO dislike him."
The rest of the day and evening passed quietly enough. The Count
and I played at chess. For the first two games he politely
allowed me to conquer him, and then, when he saw that I had found
him out, begged my pardon, and at the third game checkmated me in
ten minutes. Sir Percival never once referred, all through the
evening, to the lawyer's visit. But either that event, or
something else, had produced a singular alteration for the better
in him. He was as polite and agreeable to all of us, as he used
to be in the days of his probation at Limmeridge, and he was so
amazingly attentive and kind to his wife, that even icy Madame
Fosco was roused into looking at him with a grave surprise. What
does this mean? I think I can guess--I am afraid Laura can guess--
and I am sure Count Fosco knows. I caught Sir Percival looking at
him for approval more than once in the course of the evening.
June 17th.--A day of events. I most fervently hope I may not have
to add, a day of disasters as well.
Sir Percival was as silent at breakfast as he had been the evening
before, on the subject of the mysterious "arrangement" (as the
lawyer called it) which is hanging over our heads. An hour
afterwards, however, he suddenly entered the morning-room, where
his wife and I were waiting, with our hats on, for Madame Fosco to
join us, and inquired for the Count.
"We expect to see him here directly," I said.
"The fact is," Sir Percival went on, walking nervously about the
room, "I want Fosco and his wife in the library, for a mere
business formality, and I want you there, Laura, for a minute
too." He stopped, and appeared to notice, for the first time, that
we were in our walking costume. "Have you just come in?" he
asked, "or were you just going out?"
"We were all thinking of going to the lake this morning," said
Laura. "But if you have any other arrangement to propose----"
"No, no," he answered hastily. "My arrangement can wait. After
lunch will do as well for it as after breakfast. All going to the
lake, eh? A good idea. Let's have an idle morning--I'll be one of
the party."
There was no mistaking his manner, even if it had been possible to
mistake the uncharacteristic readiness which his words expressed,
to submit his own plans and projects to the convenience of others.
He was evidently relieved at finding any excuse for delaying the
business formality in the library, to which his own words had
referred. My heart sank within me as I drew the inevitable
The Count and his wife joined us at that moment. The lady had her
husband's embroidered tobacco-pouch, and her store of paper in her
hand, for the manufacture of the eternal cigarettes. The
gentleman, dressed, as usual, in his blouse and straw hat, carried
the gay little pagoda-cage, with his darling white mice in it, and
smiled on them, and on us, with a bland amiability which it was
impossible to resist.
"With your kind permission," said the Count, "I will take my small
family here--my poor-little-harmless-pretty-Mouseys, out for an
airing along with us. There are dogs about the house, and shall I
leave my forlorn white children at the mercies of the dogs? Ah,
He chirruped paternally at his small white children through the
bars of the pagoda, and we all left the house for the lake.
In the plantation Sir Percival strayed away from us. It seems to
be part of his restless disposition always to separate himself
from his companions on these occasions, and always to occupy
himself when he is alone in cutting new walking-sticks for his own
use. The mere act of cutting and lopping at hazard appears to
please him. He has filled the house with walking-sticks of his
own making, not one of which he ever takes up for a second time.
When they have been once used his interest in them is all
exhausted, and he thinks of nothing but going on and making more.
At the old boat-house he joined us again. I will put down the
conversation that ensued when we were all settled in our places
exactly as it passed. It is an important conversation, so far as
I am concerned, for it has seriously disposed me to distrust the
influence which Count Fosco has exercised over my thoughts and
feelings, and to resist it for the future as resolutely as I can.
The boat-house was large enough to hold us all, but Sir Percival
remained outside trimming the last new stick with his pocket-axe.
We three women found plenty of room on the large seat. Laura took
her work, and Madame Fosco began her cigarettes. I, as usual, had
nothing to do. My hands always were, and always will be, as
awkward as a man's. The Count good-humouredly took a stool many
sizes too small for him, and balanced himself on it with his back
against the side of the shed, which creaked and groaned under his
weight. He put the pagoda-cage on his lap, and let out the mice
to crawl over him as usual. They are pretty, innocent-looking
little creatures, but the sight of them creeping about a man's
body is for some reason not pleasant to me. It excites a strange
responsive creeping in my own nerves, and suggests hideous ideas
of men dying in prison with the crawling creatures of the dungeon
preying on them undisturbed.
The morning was windy and cloudy, and the rapid alternations of
shadow and sunlight over the waste of the lake made the view look
doubly wild, weird, and gloomy.
"Some people call that picturesque," said Sir Percival, pointing
over the wide prospect with his half-finished walking-stick. "I
call it a blot on a gentleman's property. In my greatgrandfather's
time the lake flowed to this place. Look at it now!
It is not four feet deep anywhere, and it is all puddles and
pools. I wish I could afford to drain it, and plant it all over.
My bailiff (a superstitious idiot) says he is quite sure the lake
has a curse on it, like the Dead Sea. What do you think, Fosco?
It looks just the place for a murder, doesn't it?"
"My good Percival," remonstrated the Count. "What is your solid
English sense thinking of? The water is too shallow to hide the
body, and there is sand everywhere to print off the murderer's
footsteps. It is, upon the whole, the very worst place for a
murder that I ever set my eyes on."
"Humbug!" said Sir Percival, cutting away fiercely at his stick.
"You know what I mean. The dreary scenery, the lonely situation.
If you choose to understand me, you can--if you don't choose, I am
not going to trouble myself to explain my meaning."
"And why not," asked the Count, "when your meaning can be
explained by anybody in two words? If a fool was going to commit a
murder, your lake is the first place he would choose for it. If a
wise man was going to commit a murder, your lake is the last place
he would choose for it. Is that your meaning? If it is, there is
your explanation for you ready made. Take it, Percival, with your
good Fosco's blessing."
Laura looked at the Count with her dislike for him appearing a
little too plainly in her face. He was so busy with his mice that
he did not notice her.
"I am sorry to hear the lake-view connected with anything so
horrible as the idea of murder," she said. "And if Count Fosco
must divide murderers into classes, I think he has been very
unfortunate in his choice of expressions. To describe them as
fools only seems like treating them with an indulgence to which
they have no claim. And to describe them as wise men sounds to me
like a downright contradiction in terms. I have always heard that
truly wise men are truly good men, and have a horror of crime."
"My dear lady," said the Count, "those are admirable sentiments,
and I have seen them stated at the tops of copy-books." He lifted
one of the white mice in the palm of his hand, and spoke to it in
his whimsical way. "My pretty little smooth white rascal," he
said, "here is a moral lesson for you. A truly wise mouse is a
truly good mouse. Mention that, if you please, to your
companions, and never gnaw at the bars of your cage again as long
as you live."
"It is easy to turn everything into ridicule," said Laura
resolutely; "but you will not find it quite so easy, Count Fosco,
to give me an instance of a wise man who has been a great
The Count shrugged his huge shoulders, and smiled on Laura in the
friendliest manner.
"Most true!" he said. "The fool's crime is the crime that is
found out, and the wise man's crime is the crime that is NOT found
out. If I could give you an instance, it would not be the
instance of a wise man. Dear Lady Glyde, your sound English
common sense has been too much for me. It is checkmate for me
this time, Miss Halcombe--ha?"
"Stand to your guns, Laura," sneered Sir Percival, who had been
listening in his place at the door. "Tell him next, that crimes
cause their own detection. There's another bit of copy-book
morality for you, Fosco. Crimes cause their own detection. What
infernal humbug!"
"I believe it to be true," said Laura quietly.
Sir Percival burst out laughing, so violently, so outrageously,
that he quite startled us all--the Count more than any of us.
"I believe it too," I said, coming to Laura's rescue.
Sir Percival, who had been unaccountably amused at his wife's
remark, was just as unaccountably irritated by mine. He struck
the new stick savagely on the sand, and walked away from us.
"Poor dear Percival!" cried Count Fosco, looking after him gaily,
"he is the victim of English spleen. But, my dear Miss Halcombe,
my dear Lady Glyde, do you really believe that crimes cause their
own detection? And you, my angel," he continued, turning to his
wife, who had not uttered a word yet, "do you think so too?"
"I wait to be instructed," replied the Countess, in tones of
freezing reproof, intended for Laura and me, "before I venture on
giving my opinion in the presence of well-informed men."
"Do you, indeed?" I said. "I remember the time, Countess, when
you advocated the Rights of Women, and freedom of female opinion
was one of them."
"What is your view of the subject, Count?" asked Madame Fosco,
calmly proceeding with her cigarettes, and not taking the least
notice of me.
The Count stroked one of his white mice reflectively with his
chubby little finger before he answered.
"It is truly wonderful," he said, "how easily Society can console
itself for the worst of its shortcomings with a little bit of
clap-trap. The machinery it has set up for the detection of crime
is miserably ineffective--and yet only invent a moral epigram,
saying that it works well, and you blind everybody to its blunders
from that moment. Crimes cause their own detection, do they? And
murder will out (another moral epigram), will it? Ask Coroners who
sit at inquests in large towns if that is true, Lady Glyde. Ask
secretaries of life-assurance companies if that is true, Miss
Halcombe. Read your own public journals. In the few cases that
get into the newspapers, are there not instances of slain bodies
found, and no murderers ever discovered? Multiply the cases that
are reported by the cases that are NOT reported, and the bodies
that are found by the bodies that are NOT found, and what
conclusion do you come to? This. That there are foolish criminals
who are discovered, and wise criminals who escape. The hiding of
a crime, or the detection of a crime, what is it? A trial of skill
between the police on one side, and the individual on the other.
When the criminal is a brutal, ignorant fool, the police in nine
cases out of ten win. When the criminal is a resolute, educated,
highly-intelligent man, the police in nine cases out of ten lose.
If the police win, you generally hear all about it. If the police
lose, you generally hear nothing. And on this tottering
foundation you build up your comfortable moral maxim that Crime
causes its own detection! Yes--all the crime you know of. And
what of the rest?"
"Devilish true, and very well put," cried a voice at the entrance
of the boat-house. Sir Percival had recovered his equanimity, and
had come back while we were listening to the Count.
"Some of it may be true," I said, "and all of it may be very well
put. But I don't see why Count Fosco should celebrate the victory
of the criminal over Society with so much exultation, or why you,
Sir Percival, should applaud him so loudly for doing it."
"Do you hear that, Fosco?" asked Sir Percival. "Take my advice,
and make your peace with your audience. Tell them virtue's a fine
thing--they like that, I can promise you."
The Count laughed inwardly and silently, and two of the white mice
in his waistcoat, alarmed by the internal convulsion going on
beneath them, darted out in a violent hurry, and scrambled into
their cage again.
"The ladies, my good Percival, shall tell me about virtue," he
said. "They are better authorities than I am, for they know what
virtue is, and I don't."
"You hear him?" said Sir Percival. "Isn't it awful?"
"It is true," said the Count quietly. "I am a citizen of the
world, and I have met, in my time, with so many different sorts of
virtue, that I am puzzled, in my old age, to say which is the
right sort and which is the wrong. Here, in England, there is one
virtue. And there, in China, there is another virtue. And John
Englishman says my virtue is the genuine virtue. And John
Chinaman says my virtue is the genuine virtue. And I say Yes to
one, or No to the other, and am just as much bewildered about it
in the case of John with the top-boots as I am in the case of John
with the pigtail. Ah, nice little Mousey! come, kiss me. What is
your own private notion of a virtuous man, my pret-pret-pretty? A
man who keeps you warm, and gives you plenty to eat. And a good
notion, too, for it is intelligible, at the least."
"Stay a minute, Count," I interposed. "Accepting your
illustration, surely we have one unquestionable virtue in England
which is wanting in China. The Chinese authorities kill thousands
of innocent people on the most frivolous pretexts. We in England
are free from all guilt of that kind--we commit no such dreadful
crime--we abhor reckless bloodshed with all our hearts."
"Quite right, Marian," said Laura. "Well thought of, and well
expressed "
"Pray allow the Count to proceed," said Madame Fosco, with stern
civility. "You will find, young ladies, that HE never speaks
without having excellent reasons for all that he says."
"Thank you, my angel," replied the Count. "Have a bon-bon?" He
took out of his pocket a pretty little inlaid box, and placed it
open on the table. "Chocolat a la Vanille," cried the
impenetrable man, cheerfully rattling the sweetmeats in the box,
and bowing all round. "Offered by Fosco as an act of homage to
the charming society."
"Be good enough to go on, Count," said his wife, with a spiteful
reference to myself. "Oblige me by answering Miss Halcombe."
"Miss Halcombe is unanswerable," replied the polite Italian; "that
is to say, so far as she goes. Yes! I agree with her. John Bull
does abhor the crimes of John Chinaman. He is the quickest old
gentleman at finding out faults that are his neighbours', and the
slowest old gentleman at finding out the faults that are his own,
who exists on the face of creation. Is he so very much better in
this way than the people whom he condemns in their way? English
Society, Miss Halcombe, is as often the accomplice as it is the
enemy of crime. Yes! yes! Crime is in this country what crime is
in other countries--a good friend to a man and to those about him
as often as it is an enemy. A great rascal provides for his wife
and family. The worse he is the more he makes them the objects
for your sympathy. He often provides also for himself. A
profligate spendthrift who is always borrowing money will get more
from his friends than the rigidly honest man who only borrows of
them once, under pressure of the direst want. In the one case the
friends will not be at all surprised, and they will give. In the
other case they will be very much surprised, and they will
hesitate. Is the prison that Mr. Scoundrel lives in at the end of
his career a more uncomfortable place than the workhouse that Mr.
Honesty lives in at the end of his career? When John-Howard-
Philanthropist wants to relieve misery he goes to find it in
prisons, where crime is wretched--not in huts and hovels, where
virtue is wretched too. Who is the English poet who has won the
most universal sympathy--who makes the easiest of all subjects for
pathetic writing and pathetic painting? That nice young person who
began life with a forgery, and ended it by a suicide--your dear,
romantic, interesting Chatterton. Which gets on best, do you
think, of two poor starving dressmakers--the woman who resists
temptation and is honest, or the woman who falls under temptation
and steals? You all know that the stealing is the making of that
second woman's fortune--it advertises her from length to breadth
of good-humoured, charitable England--and she is relieved, as the
breaker of a commandment, when she would have been left to starve,
as the keeper of it. Come here, my jolly little Mouse! Hey!
presto! pass! I transform you, for the time being, into a
respectable lady. Stop there, in the palm of my great big hand,
my dear, and listen. You marry the poor man whom you love, Mouse,
and one half your friends pity, and the other half blame you. And
now, on the contrary, you sell yourself for gold to a man you
don't care for, and all your friends rejoice over you, and a
minister of public worship sanctions the base horror of the vilest
of all human bargains, and smiles and smirks afterwards at your
table, if you are polite enough to ask him to breakfast. Hey!
presto! pass! Be a mouse again, and squeak. If you continue to be
a lady much longer, I shall have you telling me that Society
abhors crime--and then, Mouse, I shall doubt if your own eyes and
ears are really of any use to you. Ah! I am a bad man, Lady
Glyde, am I not? I say what other people only think, and when all
the rest of the world is in a conspiracy to accept the mask for
the true face, mine is the rash hand that tears off the plump
pasteboard, and shows the bare bones beneath. I will get up on my
big elephant's legs, before I do myself any more harm in your
amiable estimations--I will get up and take a little airy walk of
my own. Dear ladies, as your excellent Sheridan said, I go--and
leave my character behind me."
He got up, put the cage on the table, and paused for a moment to
count the mice in it. "One, two, three, four----Ha!" he cried,
with a look of horror, "where, in the name of Heaven, is the
fifth--the youngest, the whitest, the most amiable of all--my
Benjamin of mice!"
Neither Laura nor I were in any favorable disposition to be
amused. The Count's glib cynicism had revealed a new aspect of
his nature from which we both recoiled. But it was impossible to
resist the comical distress of so very large a man at the loss of
so very small a mouse. We laughed in spite of ourselves; and when
Madame Fosco rose to set the example of leaving the boat-house
empty, so that her husband might search it to its remotest
corners, we rose also to follow her out.
Before we had taken three steps, the Count's quick eye discovered
the lost mouse under the seat that we had been occupying. He
pulled aside the bench, took the little animal up in his hand, and
then suddenly stopped, on his knees, looking intently at a
particular place on the ground just beneath him.
When he rose to his feet again, his hand shook so that he could
hardly put the mouse back in the cage, and his face was of a faint
livid yellow hue all over.
"Percival!" he said, in a whisper. "Percival! come here."
Sir Percival had paid no attention to any of us for the last ten
minutes. He had been entirely absorbed in writing figures on the
sand, and then rubbing them out again with the point of his stick.
"What's the matter now?" he asked, lounging carelessly into the
"Do you see nothing there?" said the Count, catching him nervously
by the collar with one hand, and pointing with the other to the
place near which he had found the mouse.
"I see plenty of dry sand," answered Sir Percival, "and a spot of
dirt in the middle of it."
"Not dirt," whispered the Count, fastening the other hand suddenly
on Sir Percival's collar, and shaking it in his agitation.
Laura was near enough to hear the last word, softly as he
whispered it. She turned to me with a look of terror.
"Nonsense, my dear," I said. "There is no need to be alarmed. It
is only the blood of a poor little stray dog."
Everybody was astonished, and everybody's eyes were fixed on me
"How do you know that?" asked Sir Percival, speaking first.
"I found the dog here, dying, on the day when you all returned
from abroad," I replied. "The poor creature had strayed into the
plantation, and had been shot by your keeper."
"Whose dog was it?" inquired Sir Percival. "Not one of mine?"
"Did you try to save the poor thing?" asked Laura earnestly.
"Surely you tried to save it, Marian?"
"Yes," I said, "the housekeeper and I both did our best--but the
dog was mortally wounded, and he died under our hands."
"Whose dog was it?" persisted Sir Percival, repeating his question
a little irritably. "One of mine?"
"No, not one of yours."
"Whose then? Did the housekeeper know?"
The housekeeper's report of Mrs. Catherick's desire to conceal her
visit to Blackwater Park from Sir Percival's knowledge recurred to
my memory the moment he put that last question, and I half doubted
the discretion of answering it; but in my anxiety to quiet the
general alarm, I had thoughtlessly advanced too far to draw back,
except at the risk of exciting suspicion, which might only make
matters worse. There was nothing for it but to answer at once,
without reference to results.
"Yes," I said. "The housekeeper knew. She told me it was Mrs.
Catherick's dog."
Sir Percival had hitherto remained at the inner end of the boathouse
with Count Fosco, while I spoke to him from the door. But
the instant Mrs. Catherick's name passed my lips he pushed by the
Count roughly, and placed himself face to face with me under the
open daylight.
"How came the housekeeper to know it was Mrs. Catherick's dog?" he
asked, fixing his eyes on mine with a frowning interest and
attention, which half angered, half startled me.
"She knew it," I said quietly, "because Mrs. Catherick brought the
dog with her."
"Brought it with her? Where did she bring it with her?"
"To this house."
"What the devil did Mrs. Catherick want at this house?"
The manner in which he put the question was even more offensive
than the language in which he expressed it. I marked my sense of
his want of common politeness by silently turning away from him.
Just as I moved the Count's persuasive hand was laid on his
shoulder, and the Count's mellifluous voice interposed to quiet
"My dear Percival!--gently--gently!"
Sir Percival looked round in his angriest manner. The Count only
smiled and repeated the soothing application.
"Gently, my good friend--gently!"
Sir Percival hesitated, followed me a few steps, and, to my great
surprise, offered me an apology.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Halcombe," he said. "I have been out of
order lately, and I am afraid I am a little irritable. But I
should like to know what Mrs. Catherick could possibly want here.
When did she come? Was the housekeeper the only person who saw
"The only person," I answered, "so far as I know."
The Count interposed again.
"In that case why not question the housekeeper?" he said. "Why
not go, Percival, to the fountain-head of information at once?"
"Quite right!" said Sir Percival. "Of course the housekeeper is
the first person to question. Excessively stupid of me not to see
it myself." With those words he instantly left us to return to the
The motive of the Count's interference, which had puzzled me at
first, betrayed itself when Sir Percival's back was turned. He
had a host of questions to put to me about Mrs. Catherick, and the
cause of her visit to Blackwater Park, which he could scarcely
have asked in his friend's presence. I made my answers as short
as I civilly could, for I had already determined to check the
least approach to any exchanging of confidences between Count
Fosco and myself. Laura, however, unconsciously helped him to
extract all my information, by making inquiries herself, which
left me no alternative but to reply to her, or to appear in the
very unenviable and very false character of a depositary of Sir
Percival's secrets. The end of it was, that, in about ten
minutes' time, the Count knew as much as I know of Mrs. Catherick,
and of the events which have so strangely connected us with her
daughter, Anne, from the time when Cartright met with her to this
The effect of my information on him was, in one respect, curious
Intimately as he knows Sir Percival, and closely as he appears to
be associated with Sir Percival's private affairs in general, he
is certainly as far as I am from knowing anything of the true
story of Anne Catherick. The unsolved mystery in connection with
this unhappy woman is now rendered doubly suspicious, in my eyes,
by the absolute conviction which I feel, that the clue to it has
been hidden by Sir Percival from the most intimate friend he has
in the world. It was impossible to mistake the eager curiosity of
the Count's look and manner while he drank in greedily every word
that fell from my lips. There are many kinds of curiosity, I
know--but there is no misinterpreting the curiosity of blank
surprise: if I ever saw it in my life I saw it in the Count's
While the questions and answers were going on, we had all been
strolling quietly back through the plantation. As soon as we
reached the house the first object that we saw in front of it was
Sir Percival's dog-cart, with the horse put to and the groom
waiting by it in his stable-jacket. If these unexpected
appearances were to be trusted, the examination of the housekeeper
had produced important results already.
"A fine horse, my friend," said the Count, addressing the groom
with the most engaging familiarity of manner, "You are going to
drive out?"
"I am not going, sir," replied the man, looking at his stablejacket,
and evidently wondering whether the foreign gentleman took
it for his livery. "My master drives himself."
"Aha!" said the Count, "does he indeed? I wonder he gives himself
the trouble when he has got you to drive for him. Is he going to
fatigue that nice, shining, pretty horse by taking him very far
"I don't know, sir," answered the man. "The horse is a mare, if
you please, sir. She's the highest-couraged thing we've got in
the stables. Her name's Brown Molly, sir, and she'll go till she
drops. Sir Percival usually takes Isaac of York for the short
"And your shining courageous Brown Molly for the long?"
"Logical inference, Miss Halcombe," continued the Count, wheeling
round briskly, and addressing me. "Sir Percival is going a long
distance to-day."
I made no reply. I had my own inferences to draw, from what I
knew through the housekeeper and from what I saw before me, and I
did not choose to share them with Count Fosco.
When Sir Percival was in Cumberland (I thought to myself), he
walked away a long distance, on Anne's account, to question the
family at Todd's Corner. Now he is in Hampshire, is he going to
drive away a long distance, on Anne's account again, to question
Mrs. Catherick at Welmingham?
We all entered the house. As we crossed the hall Sir Percival
came out from the library to meet us. He looked hurried and pale
and anxious--but for all that, he was in his most polite mood when
he spoke to us.
"I am sorry to say I am obliged to leave you," he began--"a long
drive--a matter that I can't very well put off. I shall be back
in good time to-morrow--but before I go I should like that little
business-formality, which I spoke of this morning, to be settled.
Laura, will you come into the library? It won't take a minute--a
mere formality. Countess, may I trouble you also? I want you and
the Countess, Fosco, to be witnesses to a signature--nothing more.
Come in at once and get it over."
He held the library door open until they had passed in, followed
them, and shut it softly.
I remained, for a moment afterwards, standing alone in the hall,
with my heart beating fast and my mind misgiving me sadly. Then I
went on to the staircase, and ascended slowly to my own room.
June 17th.--Just as my hand was on the door of my room, I heard
Sir Percival's voice calling to me from below.
"I must beg you to come downstairs again," he said. "It is
Fosco's fault, Miss Halcombe, not mine. He has started some
nonsensical objection to his wife being one of the witnesses, and
has obliged me to ask you to join us in the library."
I entered the room immediately with Sir Percival. Laura was
waiting by the writing-table, twisting and turning her garden hat
uneasily in her hands. Madame Fosco sat near her, in an armchair,
imperturbably admiring her husband, who stood by himself at
the other end of the library, picking off the dead leaves from the
flowers in the window.
The moment I appeared the Count advanced to meet me, and to offer
his explanations.
"A thousand pardons, Miss Halcombe," he said. "You know the
character which is given to my countrymen by the English? We
Italians are all wily and suspicious by nature, in the estimation
of the good John Bull. Set me down, if you please, as being no
better than the rest of my race. I am a wily Italian and a
suspicious Italian. You have thought so yourself, dear lady, have
you not? Well! it is part of my wiliness and part of my suspicion
to object to Madame Fosco being a witness to Lady Glyde's
signature, when I am also a witness myself."
"There is not the shadow of a reason for his objection,"
interposed Sir Percival. "I have explained to him that the law of
England allows Madame Fosco to witness a signature as well as her
"I admit it," resumed the Count. "The law of England says, Yes,
but the conscience of Fosco says, No." He spread out his fat
fingers on the bosom of his blouse, and bowed solemnly, as if he
wished to introduce his conscience to us all, in the character of
an illustrious addition to the society. "What this document which
Lady Glyde is about to sign may be," he continued, "I neither know
nor desire to know. I only say this, circumstances may happen in
the future which may oblige Percival, or his representatives, to
appeal to the two witnesses, in which case it is certainly
desirable that those witnesses should represent two opinions which
are perfectly independent the one of the other. This cannot be if
my wife signs as well as myself, because we have but one opinion
between us, and that opinion is mine. I will not have it cast in
my teeth, at some future day, that Madame Fosco acted under my
coercion, and was, in plain fact, no witness at all. I speak in
Percival's interest, when I propose that my name shall appear (as
the nearest friend of the husband), and your name, Miss Halcombe
(as the nearest friend of the wife). I am a Jesuit, if you please
to think so--a splitter of straws--a man of trifles and crochets
and scruples--but you will humour me, I hope, in merciful
consideration for my suspicious Italian character, and my uneasy
Italian conscience." He bowed again, stepped back a few paces, and
withdrew his conscience from our society as politely as he had
introduced it.
The Count's scruples might have been honourable and reasonable
enough, but there was something in his manner of expressing them
which increased my unwillingness to be concerned in the business
of the signature. No consideration of less importance than my
consideration for Laura would have induced me to consent to be a
witness at all. One look, however, at her anxious face decided me
to risk anything rather than desert her.
"I will readily remain in the room," I said. "And if I find no
reason for starting any small scruples on my side, you may rely on
me as a witness."
Sir Percival looked at me sharply, as if he was about to say
something. But at the same moment, Madame Fosco attracted his
attention by rising from her chair. She had caught her husband's
eye, and had evidently received her orders to leave the room.
"You needn't go," said Sir Percival.
Madame Fosco looked for her orders again, got them again, said she
would prefer leaving us to our business, and resolutely walked
out. The Count lit a cigarette, went back to the flowers in the
window, and puffed little jets of smoke at the leaves, in a state
of the deepest anxiety about killing the insects.
Meanwhile Sir Percival unlocked a cupboard beneath one of the
book-cases, and produced from it a piece of parchment, folded
longwise, many times over. He placed it on the table, opened the
last fold only, and kept his hand on the rest. The last fold
displayed a strip of blank parchment with little wafers stuck on
it at certain places. Every line of the writing was hidden in the
part which he still held folded up under his hand. Laura and I
looked at each other. Her face was pale, but it showed no
indecision and no fear.
Sir Percival dipped a pen in ink, and handed it to his wife. "Sign
your name there," he said, pointing to the place. "You and Fosco
are to sign afterwards, Miss Halcombe, opposite those two wafers.
Come here, Fosco! witnessing a signature is not to be done by
mooning out of window and smoking into the flowers."
The Count threw away his cigarette, and joined us at the table,
with his hands carelessly thrust into the scarlet belt of his
blouse, and his eyes steadily fixed on Sir Percival's face.
Laura, who was on the other side of her husband, with the pen in
her hand, looked at him too. He stood between them holding the
folded parchment down firmly on the table, and glancing across at
me, as I sat opposite to him, with such a sinister mixture of
suspicion and embarrassment on his face that he looked more like a
prisoner at the bar than a gentleman in his own house.
"Sign there," he repeated, turning suddenly on Laura, and pointing
once more to the place on the parchment.
"What is it I am to sign?" she asked quietly.
"I have no time to explain," he answered. "The dog-cart is at the
door, and I must go directly. Besides, if I had time, you
wouldn't understand. It is a purely formal document, full of
legal technicalities, and all that sort of thing. Come! come!
sign your name, and let us have done as soon as possible."
"I ought surely to know what I am signing, Sir Percival, before I
write my name?"
"Nonsense! What have women to do with business? I tell you again,
you can't understand it."
"At any rate, let me try to understand it. Whenever Mr. Gilmore
had any business for me to do, he always explained it first, and I
always understood him."
"I dare say he did. He was your servant, and was obliged to
explain. I am your husband, and am NOT obliged. How much longer
do you mean to keep me here? I tell you again, there is no time
for reading anything--the dog-cart is waiting at the door. Once
for all, will you sign or will you not?"
She still had the pen in her hand, but she made no approach to
signing her name with it.
"If my signature pledges me to anything," she said, "surely I have
some claim to know what that pledge is?"
He lifted up the parchment, and struck it angrily on the table.
"Speak out!" he said. "You were always famous for telling the
truth. Never mind Miss Halcombe, never mind Fosco--say, in plain
terms, you distrust me."
The Count took one of his hands out of his belt and laid it on Sir
Percival's shoulder. Sir Percival shook it off irritably. The
Count put it on again with unruffled composure.
"Control your unfortunate temper, Percival," he said "Lady Glyde
is right."
"Right!" cried Sir Percival. "A wife right in distrusting her
"It is unjust and cruel to accuse me of distrusting you," said
Laura. "Ask Marian if I am not justified in wanting to know what
this writing requires of me before I sign it."
"I won't have any appeals made to Miss Halcombe," retorted Sir
Percival. "Miss Halcombe has nothing to do with the matter."
I had not spoken hitherto, and I would much rather not have spoken
now. But the expression of distress in Laura's face when she
turned it towards me, and the insolent injustice of her husband's
conduct, left me no other alternative than to give my opinion, for
her sake, as soon as I was asked for it.
"Excuse me, Sir Percival," I said--"but as one of the witnesses to
the signature, I venture to think that I HAVE something to do with
the matter. Laura's objection seems to me a perfectly fair one,
and speaking for myself only, I cannot assume the responsibility
of witnessing her signature, unless she first understands what the
writing is which you wish her to sign."
"A cool declaration, upon my soul!" cried Sir Percival. "The next
time you invite yourself to a man's house, Miss Halcombe, I
recommend you not to repay his hospitality by taking his wife's
side against him in a matter that doesn't concern you."
I started to my feet as suddenly as if he had struck me. If I had
been a man, I would have knocked him down on the threshold of his
own door, and have left his house, never on any earthly
consideration to enter it again. But I was only a woman--and I
loved his wife so dearly!
Thank God, that faithful love helped me, and I sat down again
without saying a word. SHE knew what I had suffered and what I
had suppressed. She ran round to me, with the tears streaming
from her eyes. "Oh, Marian!" she whispered softly. "If my mother
had been alive, she could have done no more for me!"
"Come back and sign!" cried Sir Percival from the other side of
the table.
"Shall I?" she asked in my ear; "I will, if you tell me."
"No," I answered. "The right and the truth are with you--sign
nothing, unless you have read it first."
"Come back and sign!" he reiterated, in his loudest and angriest
The Count, who had watched Laura and me with a close and silent
attention, interposed for the second time.
"Percival!" he said. "I remember that I am in the presence of
ladies. Be good enough, if you please, to remember it too."
Sir Percival turned on him speechless with passion. The Count's
firm hand slowly tightened its grasp on his shoulder, and the
Count's steady voice quietly repeated, "Be good enough, if you
please, to remember it too."
They both looked at each other. Sir Percival slowly drew his
shoulder from under the Count's hand, slowly turned his face away
from the Count's eyes, doggedly looked down for a little while at
the parchment on the table, and then spoke, with the sullen
submission of a tamed animal, rather than the becoming resignation
of a convinced man.
"I don't want to offend anybody," he said, "but my wife's
obstinacy is enough to try the patience of a saint. I have told
her this is merely a formal document--and what more can she want?
You may say what you please, but it is no part of a woman's duty
to set her husband at defiance. Once more, Lady Glyde, and for
the last time, will you sign or will you not?"
Laura returned to his side of the table, and took up the pen
"I will sign with pleasure," she said, "if you will only treat me
as a responsible being. I care little what sacrifice is required
of me, if it will affect no one else, and lead to no ill results--"
"Who talked of a sacrifice being required of You?" he broke in,
with a half-suppressed return of his former violence.
"I only meant," she resumed, "that I would refuse no concession
which I could honourably make. If I have a scruple about signing
my name to an engagement of which I know nothing, why should you
visit it on me so severely? It is rather hard, I think, to treat
Count Fosco's scruples so much more indulgently than you have
treated mine."
This unfortunate, yet most natural, reference to the Count's
extraordinary power over her husband, indirect as it was, set Sir
Percival's smouldering temper on fire again in an instant.
"Scruples!" he repeated. "YOUR scruples! It is rather late in the
day for you to be scrupulous. I should have thought you had got
over all weakness of that sort, when you made a virtue of
necessity by marrying me."
The instant he spoke those words, Laura threw down the pen--looked
at him with an expression in her eyes which, throughout all my
experience of her, I had never seen in them before, and turned her
back on him in dead silence.
This strong expression of the most open and the most bitter
contempt was so entirely unlike herself, so utterly out of her
character, that it silenced us all. There was something hidden,
beyond a doubt, under the mere surface-brutality of the words
which her husband had just addressed to her. There was some
lurking insult beneath them, of which I was wholly ignorant, but
which had left the mark of its profanation so plainly on her face
that even a stranger might have seen it.
The Count, who was no stranger, saw it as distinctly as I did.
When I left my chair to join Laura, I heard him whisper under his
breath to Sir Percival, "You idiot!"
Laura walked before me to the door as I advanced, and at the same
time her husband spoke to her once more.
"You positively refuse, then, to give me your signature?" he said,
in the altered tone of a man who was conscious that he had let his
own licence of language seriously injure him.
"After what you have just said to me," she replied firmly, "I
refuse my signature until I have read every line in that parchment
from the first word to the last. Come away, Marian, we have
remained here long enough."
"One moment!" interposed the Count before Sir Percival could speak
again--"one moment, Lady Glyde, I implore you!"
Laura would have left the room without noticing him, but I stopped
"Don't make an enemy of the Count!" I whispered. "Whatever you
do, don't make an enemy of the Count!"
She yielded to me. I closed the door again, and we stood near it
waiting. Sir Percival sat down at the table, with his elbow on
the folded parchment, and his head resting on his clenched fist.
The Count stood between us--master of the dreadful position in
which we were placed, as he was master of everything else.
"Lady Glyde," he said, with a gentleness which seemed to address
itself to our forlorn situation instead of to ourselves, "pray
pardon me if I venture to offer one suggestion, and pray believe
that I speak out of my profound respect and my friendly regard for
the mistress of this house." He turned sharply towards Sir
Percival. "Is it absolutely necessary," he asked "that this thing
here, under your elbow, should be signed to-day?"
"It is necessary to my plans and wishes," returned the other
sulkily. "But that consideration, as you may have noticed, has no
influence with Lady Glyde."
"Answer my plain question plainly. Can the business of the
signature be put off till to-morrow--Yes or No?"
"Yes, if you will have it so."
"Then what are you wasting your time for here? Let the signature
wait till to-morrow--let it wait till you come back."
Sir Percival looked up with a frown and an oath.
"You are taking a tone with me that I don't like," he said. "A
tone I won't bear from any man."
"I am advising you for your good," returned the Count, with a
smile of quiet contempt. "Give yourself time--give Lady Glyde
time. Have you forgotten that your dog-cart is waiting at the
door? My tone surprises you--ha? I dare say it does--it is the
tone of a man who can keep his temper. How many doses of good
advice have I given you in my time? More than you can count. Have
I ever been wrong? I defy you to quote me an instance of it. Go!
take your drive. The matter of the signature can wait till tomorrow.
Let it wait--and renew it when you come back."
Sir Percival hesitated and looked at his watch. His anxiety about
the secret journey which he was to take that day, revived by the
Count's words, was now evidently disputing possession of his mind
with his anxiety to obtain Laura's signature. He considered for a
little while, and then got up from his chair.
"It is easy to argue me down," he said, "when I have no time to
answer you. I will take your advice, Fosco--not because I want
it, or believe in it, but because I can't stop here any longer."
He paused, and looked round darkly at his wife. "If you don't
give me your signature when I come back to-morrow!" The rest was
lost in the noise of his opening the book-case cupboard again, and
locking up the parchment once more. He took his hat and gloves
off the table, and made for the door. Laura and I drew back to
let him pass. "Remember to-morrow!" he said to his wife, and went
We waited to give him time to cross the hall and drive away. The
Count approached us while we were standing near the door.
"You have just seen Percival at his worst, Miss Halcombe," he
said. "As his old friend, I am sorry for him and ashamed of him.
As his old friend, I promise you that he shall not break out tomorrow
in the same disgraceful manner in which he has broken out
Laura had taken my arm while he was speaking and she pressed it
significantly when he had done. It would have been a hard trial
to any woman to stand by and see the office of apologist for her
husband's misconduct quietly assumed by his male friend in her own
house--and it was a trial to HER. I thanked the Count civilly,
and let her out. Yes! I thanked him: for I felt already, with a
sense of inexpressible helplessness and humiliation, that it was
either his interest or his caprice to make sure of my continuing
to reside at Blackwater Park, and I knew after Sir Percival's
conduct to me, that without the support of the Count's influence,
I could not hope to remain there. His influence, the influence of
all others that I dreaded most, was actually the one tie which now
held me to Laura in the hour of her utmost need!
We heard the wheels of the dog-cart crashing on the gravel of the
drive as we came into the hall. Sir Percival had started on his
"Where is he going to, Marian?" Laura whispered. "Every fresh
thing he does seems to terrify me about the future. Have you any
After what she had undergone that morning, I was unwilling to tell
her my suspicions.
"How should I know his secrets?" I said evasively.
"I wonder if the housekeeper knows?" she persisted.
"Certainly not," I replied. "She must be quite as ignorant as we
Laura shook her head doubtfully.
"Did you not hear from the housekeeper that there was a report of
Anne Catherick having been seen in this neighbourhood? Don't you
think he may have gone away to look for her?"
"I would rather compose myself, Laura, by not thinking about it at
all, and after what has happened, you had better follow my
example. Come into my room, and rest and quiet yourself a
We sat down together close to the window, and let the fragrant
summer air breathe over our faces.
"I am ashamed to look at you, Marian," she said, "after what you
submitted to downstairs, for my sake. Oh, my own love, I am
almost heartbroken when I think of it! But I will try to make it
up to you--I will indeed!"
"Hush! hush!" I replied; "don't talk so. What is the trifling
mortification of my pride compared to the dreadful sacrifice of
your happiness?"
"You heard what he said to me?" she went on quickly and
vehemently. "You heard the words--but you don't know what they
meant--you don't know why I threw down the pen and turned my back
on him." She rose in sudden agitation, and walked about the room.
"I have kept many things from your knowledge, Marian, for fear of
distressing you, and making you unhappy at the outset of our new
lives. You don't know how he has used me. And yet you ought to
know, for you saw how he used me to-day. You heard him sneer at
my presuming to be scrupulous--you heard him say I had made a
virtue of necessity in marrying him." She sat down again, her face
flushed deeply, and her hands twisted and twined together in her
lap. "I can't tell you about it now," she said; "I shall burst
out crying if I tell you now--later, Marian, when I am more sure
of myself. My poor head aches, darling--aches, aches, aches.
Where is your smelling-bottle? Let me talk to you about yourself.
I wish I had given him my signature, for your sake. Shall I give
it to him to-morrow? I would rather compromise myself than
compromise you. After your taking my part against him, he will
lay all the blame on you if I refuse again. What shall we do? Oh,
for a friend to help us and advise us!--a friend we could really
She sighed bitterly. I saw in her face that she was thinking of
Hartright--saw it the more plainly because her last words set me
thinking of him too. In six months only from her marriage we
wanted the faithful service he had offered to us in his farewell
words. How little I once thought that we should ever want it at
"We must do what we can to help ourselves," I said. "Let us try
to talk it over calmly, Laura--let us do all in our power to
decide for the best."
Putting what she knew of her husband's embarrassments and what I
had heard of his conversation with the lawyer together, we arrived
necessarily at the conclusion that the parchment in the library
had been drawn up for the purpose of borrowing money, and that
Laura's signature was absolutely necessary to fit it for the
attainment of Sir Percival's object.
The second question, concerning the nature of the legal contract
by which the money was to be obtained, and the degree of personal
responsibility to which Laura might subject herself if she signed
it in the dark, involved considerations which lay far beyond any
knowledge and experience that either of us possessed. My own
convictions led me to believe that the hidden contents of the
parchment concealed a transaction of the meanest and the most
fraudulent kind.
I had not formed this conclusion in consequence of Sir Percival's
refusal to show the writing or to explain it, for that refusal
might well have proceeded from his obstinate disposition and his
domineering temper alone. My sole motive for distrusting his
honesty sprang from the change which I had observed in his
language and his manners at Blackwater Park, a change which
convinced me that he had been acting a part throughout the whole
period of his probation at Limmeridge House. His elaborate
delicacy, his ceremonious politeness which harmonised so agreeably
with Mr. Gilmore's old-fashioned notions, his modesty with Laura,
his candour with me, his moderation with Mr. Fairlie--all these
were the artifices of a mean, cunning, and brutal man, who had
dropped his disguise when his practised duplicity had gained its
end, and had openly shown himself in the library on that very day.
I say nothing of the grief which this discovery caused me on
Laura's account, for it is not to be expressed by any words of
mine. I only refer to it at all, because it decided me to oppose
her signing the parchment, whatever the consequences might be,
unless she was first made acquainted with the contents.
Under these circumstances, the one chance for us when to-morrow
came was to be provided with an objection to giving the signature,
which might rest on sufficiently firm commercial or legal grounds
to shake Sir Percival's resolution, and to make him suspect that
we two women understood the laws and obligations of business as
well as himself.
After some pondering, I determined to write to the only honest man
within reach whom we could trust to help us discreetly in our
forlorn situation. That man was Mr. Gilmore's partner, Mr. Kyrle,
who conducted the business now that our old friend had been
obliged to withdraw from it, and to leave London on account of his
health. I explained to Laura that I had Mr. Gilmore's own
authority for placing implicit confidence in his partner's
integrity, discretion, and accurate knowledge of all her affairs,
and with her full approval I sat down at once to write the letter,
I began by stating our position to Mr. Kyrle exactly as it was,
and then asked for his advice in return, expressed in plain,
downright terms which he could comprehend without any danger of
misinterpretations and mistakes. My letter was as short as I
could possibly make it, and was, I hope, unencumbered by needless
apologies and needless details.
Just as I was about to put the address on the envelope an obstacle
was discovered by Laura, which in the effort and preoccupation of
writing had escaped my mind altogether.
"How are we to get the answer in time?" she asked. "Your letter
will not be delivered in London before to-morrow morning, and the
post will not bring the reply here till the morning after."
The only way of overcoming this difficulty was to have the answer
brought to us from the lawyer's office by a special messenger. I
wrote a postscript to that effect, begging that the messenger
might be despatched with the reply by the eleven o'clock morning
train, which would bring him to our station at twenty minutes past
one, and so enable him to reach Blackwater Park by two o'clock at
the latest. He was to be directed to ask for me, to answer no
questions addressed to him by any one else, and to deliver his
letter into no hands but mine.
"In case Sir Percival should come back to-morrow before two
o'clock," I said to Laura, "the wisest plan for you to adopt is to
be out in the grounds all the morning with your book or your work,
and not to appear at the house till the messenger has had time to
arrive with the letter. I will wait here for him all the morning,
to guard against any misadventures or mistakes. By following this
arrangement I hope and believe we shall avoid being taken by
surprise. Let us go down to the drawing-room now. We may excite
suspicion if we remain shut up together too long."
"Suspicion?" she repeated. "Whose suspicion can we excite, now
that Sir Percival has left the house? Do you mean Count Fosco?"
"Perhaps I do, Laura."
"You are beginning to dislike him as much as I do, Marian."
"No, not to dislike him. Dislike is always more or less
associated with contempt--I can see nothing in the Count to
"You are not afraid of him, are you?"
"Perhaps I am--a little."
"Afraid of him, after his interference in our favour to-day!"
"Yes. I am more afraid of his interference than I am of Sir
Percival's violence. Remember what I said to you in the library.
Whatever you do, Laura, don't make an enemy of the Count!"
We went downstairs. Laura entered the drawing-room, while I
proceeded across the hall, with my letter in my hand, to put it
into the post-bag, which hung against the wall opposite to me.
The house door was open, and as I crossed past it, I saw Count
Fosco and his wife standing talking together on the steps outside,
with their faces turned towards me.
The Countess came into the hall rather hastily, and asked if I had
leisure enough for five minutes' private conversation. Feeling a
little surprised by such an appeal from such a person, I put my
letter into the bag, and replied that I was quite at her disposal.
She took my arm with unaccustomed friendliness and familiarity,
and instead of leading me into an empty room, drew me out with her
to the belt of turf which surrounded the large fish-pond.
As we passed the Count on the steps he bowed and smiled, and then
went at once into the house, pushing the hall door to after him,
but not actually closing it.
The Countess walked me gently round the fish-pond. I expected to
be made the depositary of some extraordinary confidence, and I was
astonished to find that Madame Fosco's communication for my
private ear was nothing more than a polite assurance of her
sympathy for me, after what had happened in the library. Her
husband had told her of all that had passed, and of the insolent
manner in which Sir Percival had spoken to me. This information
had so shocked and distressed her, on my account and on Laura's,
that she had made up her mind, if anything of the sort happened
again, to mark her sense of Sir Percival's outrageous conduct by
leaving the house. The Count had approved of her idea, and she
now hoped that I approved of it too.
I thought this a very strange proceeding on the part of such a
remarkably reserved woman as Madame Fosco, especially after the
interchange of sharp speeches which had passed between us during
the conversation in the boat-house on that very morning. However,
it was my plain duty to meet a polite and friendly advance on the
part of one of my elders with a polite and friendly reply. I
answered the Countess accordingly in her own tone, and then,
thinking we had said all that was necessary on either side, made
an attempt to get back to the house.
But Madame Fosco seemed resolved not to part with me, and to my
unspeakable amazement, resolved also to talk. Hitherto the most
silent of women, she now persecuted me with fluent
conventionalities on the subject of married life, on the subject
of Sir Percival and Laura, on the subject of her own happiness, on
the subject of the late Mr. Fairlie's conduct to her in the matter
of her legacy, and on half a dozen other subjects besides, until
she had detained me walking round and round the fish-pond for more
than half an hour, and had quite wearied me out. Whether she
discovered this or not, I cannot say, but she stopped as abruptly
as she had begun--looked towards the house door, resumed her icy
manner in a moment, and dropped my arm of her own accord before I
could think of an excuse for accomplishing my own release from
As I pushed open the door and entered the hall, I found myself
suddenly face to face with the Count again. He was just putting a
letter into the post-bag.
After he had dropped it in and had closed the bag, he asked me
where I had left Madame Fosco. I told him, and he went out at the
hall door immediately to join his wife. His manner when he spoke
to me was so unusually quiet and subdued that I turned and looked
after him, wondering if he were ill or out of spirits.
Why my next proceeding was to go straight up to the post-bag and
take out my own letter and look at it again, with a vague distrust
on me, and why the looking at it for the second time instantly
suggested the idea to my mind of sealing the envelope for its
greater security--are mysteries which are either too deep or too
shallow for me to fathom. Women, as everybody knows, constantly
act on impulses which they cannot explain even to themselves, and
I can only suppose that one of those impulses was the hidden cause
of my unaccountable conduct on this occasion.
Whatever influence animated me, I found cause to congratulate
myself on having obeyed it as soon as I prepared to seal the
letter in my own room. I had originally closed the envelope in
the usual way by moistening the adhesive point and pressing it on
the paper beneath, and when I now tried it with my finger, after a
lapse of full three-quarters of an hour, the envelope opened on
the instant, without sticking or tearing. Perhaps I had fastened
it insufficiently? Perhaps there might have been some defect in
the adhesive gum?
Or, perhaps----No! it is quite revolting enough to feel that third
conjecture stirring in my mind. I would rather not see it
confronting me in plain black and white.
I almost dread to-morrow--so much depends on my discretion and
self-control. There are two precautions, at all events, which I
am sure not to forget. I must be careful to keep up friendly
appearances with the Count, and I must be well on my guard when
the messenger from the office comes here with the answer to my
June 17th.--When the dinner hour brought us together again, Count
Fosco was in his usual excellent spirits. He exerted himself to
interest and amuse us, as if he was determined to efface from our
memories all recollection of what had passed in the library that
afternoon. Lively descriptions of his adventures in travelling,
amusing anecdotes of remarkable people whom he had met with
abroad, quaint comparisons between the social customs of various
nations, illustrated by examples drawn from men and women
indiscriminately all over Europe, humorous confessions of the
innocent follies of his own early life, when he ruled the fashions
of a second-rate Italian town, and wrote preposterous romances on
the French model for a second-rate Italian newspaper--all flowed
in succession so easily and so gaily from his lips, and all
addressed our various curiosities and various interests so
directly and so delicately, that Laura and I listened to him with
as much attention and, inconsistent as it may seem, with as much
admiration also, as Madame Fosco herself. Women can resist a
man's love, a man's fame, a man's personal appearance, and a man's
money, but they cannot resist a man's tongue when he knows how to
talk to them.
After dinner, while the favourable impression which he had
produced on us was still vivid in our minds, the Count modestly
withdrew to read in the library.
Laura proposed a stroll in the grounds to enjoy the close of the
long evening. It was necessary in common politeness to ask Madame
Fosco to join us, but this time she had apparently received her
orders beforehand, and she begged we would kindly excuse her.
"The Count will probably want a fresh supply of cigarettes," she
remarked by way of apology, "and nobody can make them to his
satisfaction but myself." Her cold blue eyes almost warmed as she
spoke the words--she looked actually proud of being the
officiating medium through which her lord and master composed
himself with tobacco-smoke!
Laura and I went out together alone.
It was a misty, heavy evening. There was a sense of blight in the
air; the flowers were drooping in the garden, and the ground was
parched and dewless. The western heaven, as we saw it over the
quiet trees, was of a pale yellow hue, and the sun was setting
faintly in a haze. Coming rain seemed near--it would fall
probably with the fall of night.
"Which way shall we go?" I asked
"Towards the lake, Marian, if you like," she answered.
"You seem unaccountably fond, Laura, of that dismal lake."
"No, not of the lake but of the scenery about it. The sand and
heath and the fir-trees are the only objects I can discover, in
all this large place, to remind me of Limmeridge. But we will
walk in some other direction if you prefer it."
"I have no favourite walks at Blackwater Park, my love. One is
the same as another to me. Let us go to the lake--we may find it
cooler in the open space than we find it here."
We walked through the shadowy plantation in silence. The
heaviness in the evening air oppressed us both, and when we
reached the boat-house we were glad to sit down and rest inside.
A white fog hung low over the lake. The dense brown line of the
trees on the opposite bank appeared above it, like a dwarf forest
floating in the sky. The sandy ground, shelving downward from
where we sat, was lost mysteriously in the outward layers of the
fog. The silence was horrible. No rustling of the leaves--no
bird's note in the wood--no cry of water-fowl from the pools of
the hidden lake. Even the croaking of the frogs had ceased tonight.
"It is very desolate and gloomy," said Laura. "But we can be more
alone here than anywhere else."
She spoke quietly and looked at the wilderness of sand and mist
with steady, thoughtful eyes. I could see that her mind was too
much occupied to feel the dreary impressions from without which
had fastened themselves already on mine.
"I promised, Marian, to tell you the truth about my married life,
instead of leaving you any longer to guess it for yourself," she
began. "That secret is the first I have ever had from you, love,
and I am determined it shall be the last. I was silent, as you
know, for your sake--and perhaps a little for my own sake as well.
It is very hard for a woman to confess that the man to whom she
has given her whole life is the man of all others who cares least
for the gift. If you were married yourself, Marian--and
especially if you were happily married--you would feel for me as
no single woman CAN feel, however kind and true she may be."
What answer could I make? I could only take her hand and look at
her with my whole heart as well as my eyes would let me.
"How often," she went on, "I have heard you laughing over what you
used to call your 'poverty!' how often you have made me mockspeeches
of congratulation on my wealth! Oh, Marian, never laugh
again. Thank God for your poverty--it has made you your own
mistress, and has saved you from the lot that has fallen on ME."
A sad beginning on the lips of a young wife!--sad in its quiet
plain-spoken truth. The few days we had all passed together at
Blackwater Park had been many enough to show me--to show any one--
what her husband had married her for.
"You shall not be distressed," she said, "by hearing how soon my
disappointments and my trials began--or even by knowing what they
were. It is bad enough to have them on my memory. If I tell you
how he received the first and last attempt at remonstrance that I
ever made, you will know how he has always treated me, as well as
if I had described it in so many words. It was one day at Rome
when we had ridden out together to the tomb of Cecilia Metella.
The sky was calm and lovely, and the grand old ruin looked
beautiful, and the remembrance that a husband's love had raised it
in the old time to a wife's memory, made me feel more tenderly and
more anxiously towards my husband than I had ever felt yet.
'Would you build such a tomb for ME, Percival?' I asked him. 'You
said you loved me dearly before we were married, and yet, since
that time----' I could get no farther. Marian! he was not even
looking at me! I pulled down my veil, thinking it best not to let
him see that the tears were in my eyes. I fancied he had not paid
any attention to me, but he had. He said, 'Come away,' and
laughed to himself as he helped me on to my horse. He mounted his
own horse and laughed again as we rode away. 'If I do build you a
tomb,' he said, 'it will be done with your own money. I wonder
whether Cecilia Metella had a fortune and paid for hers.' I made
no reply--how could I, when I was crying behind my veil?' Ah, you
light-complexioned women are all sulky,' he said. 'What do you
want? compliments and soft speeches? Well! I'm in a good humour
this morning. Consider the compliments paid and the speeches
said.' Men little know when they say hard things to us how well we
remember them, and how much harm they do us. It would have been
better for me if I had gone on crying, but his contempt dried up
my tears and hardened my heart. From that time, Marian, I never
checked myself again in thinking of Walter Hartright. I let the
memory of those happy days, when we were so fond of each other in
secret, come back and comfort me. What else had I to look to for
consolation? If we had been together you would have helped me to
better things. I know it was wrong, darling, but tell me if I was
wrong without any excuse."
I was obliged to turn my face from her. "Don't ask me!" I said.
"Have I suffered as you have suffered? What right have I to
"I used to think of him," she pursued, dropping her voice and
moving closer to me, "I used to think of him when Percival left me
alone at night to go among the Opera people. I used to fancy what
I might have been if it had pleased God to bless me with poverty,
and if I had been his wife. I used to see myself in my neat cheap
gown, sitting at home and waiting for him while he was earning our
bread--sitting at home and working for him and loving him all the
better because I had to work for him--seeing him come in tired and
taking off his hat and coat for him, and, Marian, pleasing him
with little dishes at dinner that I had learnt to make for his
sake. Oh! I hope he is never lonely enough and sad enough to
think of me and see me as I have thought of HIM and see HIM!"
As she said those melancholy words, all the lost tenderness
returned to her voice, and all the lost beauty trembled back into
her face. Her eyes rested as lovingly on the blighted, solitary,
ill-omened view before us, as if they saw the friendly hills of
Cumberland in the dim and threatening sky.
"Don't speak of Walter any more," I said, as soon as I could
control myself. "Oh, Laura, spare us both the wretchedness of
talking of him now!"
She roused herself, and looked at me tenderly.
"I would rather be silent about him for ever," she answered, "than
cause you a moment's pain."
"It is in your interests," I pleaded; "it is for your sake that I
speak. If your husband heard you----"
"It would not surprise him if he did hear me."
She made that strange reply with a weary calmness and coldness.
The change in her manner, when she gave the answer, startled me
almost as much as the answer itself.
"Not surprise him!" I repeated. "Laura! remember what you are
saying--you frighten me!"
"It is true," she said; "it is what I wanted to tell you to-day,
when we were talking in your room. My only secret when I opened
my heart to him at Limmeridge was a harmless secret, Marian--you
said so yourself. The name was all I kept from him, and he has
discovered it."
I heard her, but I could say nothing. Her last words had killed
the little hope that still lived in me.
"It happened at Rome," she went on, as wearily calm and cold as
ever. "We were at a little party given to the English by some
friends of Sir Percival's--Mr. and Mrs. Markland. Mrs. Markland
had the reputation of sketching very beautifully, and some of the
guests prevailed on her to show us her drawings. We all admired
them, but something I said attracted her attention particularly to
me. 'Surely you draw yourself?' she asked. 'I used to draw a
little once,' I answered, 'but I have given it up.' 'If you have
once drawn,' she said, 'you may take to it again one of these
days, and if you do, I wish you would let me recommend you a
master.' I said nothing--you know why, Marian--and tried to change
the conversation. But Mrs. Markland persisted. 'I have had all
sorts of teachers,' she went on, 'but the best of all, the most
intelligent and the most attentive, was a Mr. Hartright. If you
ever take up your drawing again, do try him as a master. He is a
young man--modest and gentlemanlike--I am sure you will like him .
'Think of those words being spoken to me publicly, in the presence
of strangers--strangers who had been invited to meet the bride and
bridegroom! I did all I could to control myself--I said nothing,
and looked down close at the drawings. When I ventured to raise
my head again, my eyes and my husband's eyes met, and I knew, by
his look, that my face had betrayed me. 'We will see about Mr.
Hartright,' he said, looking at me all the time, 'when we get back
to England. I agree with you, Mrs. Markland--I think Lady Glyde
is sure to like him.' He laid an emphasis on the last words which
made my cheeks burn, and set my heart beating as if it would
stifle me. Nothing more was said. We came away early. He was
silent in the carriage driving back to the hotel. He helped me
out, and followed me upstairs as usual. But the moment we were in
the drawing-room, he locked the door, pushed me down into a chair,
and stood over me with his hands on my shoulders. 'Ever since
that morning when you made your audacious confession to me at
Limmeridge,' he said, 'I have wanted to find out the man, and I
found him in your face to-night. Your drawing-master was the man,
and his name is Hartright. You shall repent it, and he shall
repent it, to the last hour of your lives. Now go to bed and
dream of him if you like, with the marks of my horsewhip on his
shoulders.' Whenever he is angry with me now he refers to what I
acknowledged to him in your presence with a sneer or a threat. I
have no power to prevent him from putting his own horrible
construction on the confidence I placed in him. I have no
influence to make him believe me, or to keep him silent. You
looked surprised to-day when you heard him tell me that I had made
a virtue of necessity in marrying him. You will not be surprised
again when you hear him repeat it, the next time he is out of
temper----Oh, Marian! don't! don't! you hurt me!"
I had caught her in my arms, and the sting and torment of my
remorse had closed them round her like a vice. Yes! my remorse.
The white despair of Walter's face, when my cruel words struck him
to the heart in the summer-house at Limmeridge, rose before me in
mute, unendurable reproach. My hand had pointed the way which led
the man my sister loved, step by step, far from his country and
his friends. Between those two young hearts I had stood, to
sunder them for ever, the one from the other, and his life and her
life lay wasted before me alike in witness of the deed. I had
done this, and done it for Sir Percival Glyde.
For Sir Percival Glyde.
I heard her speaking, and I knew by the tone of her voice that she
was comforting me--I, who deserved nothing but the reproach of her
silence! How long it was before I mastered the absorbing misery of
my own thoughts, I cannot tell. I was first conscious that she
was kissing me, and then my eyes seemed to wake on a sudden to
their sense of outward things, and I knew that I was looking
mechanically straight before me at the prospect of the lake.
"It is late," I heard her whisper. "It will be dark in the
plantation." She shook my arm and repeated, "Marian! it will be
dark in the plantation."
"Give me a minute longer," I said--"a minute, to get better in."
I was afraid to trust myself to look at her yet, and I kept my
eyes fixed on the view.
It WAS late. The dense brown line of trees in the sky had faded
in the gathering darkness to the faint resemblance of a long
wreath of smoke. The mist over the lake below had stealthily
enlarged, and advanced on us. The silence was as breathless as
ever, but the horror of it had gone, and the solemn mystery of its
stillness was all that remained.
"We are far from the house," she whispered. "Let us go back."
She stopped suddenly, and turned her face from me towards the
entrance of the boat-house.
"Marian!" she said, trembling violently. "Do you see nothing?
"Down there, below us."
She pointed. My eyes followed her hand, and I saw it too.
A living figure was moving over the waste of heath in the
distance. It crossed our range of view from the boat-house, and
passed darkly along the outer edge of the mist. It stopped far
off, in front of us--waited--and passed on; moving slowly, with
the white cloud of mist behind it and above it--slowly, slowly,
till it glided by the edge of the boat-house, and we saw it no
We were both unnerved by what had passed between us that evening.
Some minutes elapsed before Laura would venture into the
plantation, and before I could make up my mind to lead her back to
the house.
"Was it a man or a woman?" she asked in a whisper, as we moved at
last into the dark dampness of the outer air.
"I am not certain."
"Which do you think?"
"It looked like a woman."
"I was afraid it was a man in a long cloak."
"It may be a man. In this dim light it is not possible to be
"Wait, Marian! I'm frightened--I don't see the path. Suppose the
figure should follow us?"
"Not at all likely, Laura. There is really nothing to be alarmed
about. The shores of the lake are not far from the village, and
they are free to any one to walk on by day or night. It is only
wonderful we have seen no living creature there before."
We were now in the plantation. It was very dark--so dark, that we
found some difficulty in keeping the path. I gave Laura my arm,
and we walked as fast as we could on our way back.
Before we were half-way through she stopped, and forced me to stop
with her. She was listening.
"Hush," she whispered. "I hear something behind us."
"Dead leaves," I said to cheer her, "or a twig blown off the
"It is summer time, Marian, and there is not a breath of wind.
I heard the sound too--a sound like a light footstep following us.
"No matter who it is, or what it is," I said, "let us walk on. In
another minute, if there is anything to alarm us, we shall be near
enough to the house to be heard."
We went on quickly--so quickly, that Laura was breathless by the
time we were nearly through the plantation, and within sight of
the lighted windows.
I waited a moment to give her breathing-time. Just as we were
about to proceed she stopped me again, and signed to me with her
hand to listen once more. We both heard distinctly a long, heavy
sigh behind us, in the black depths of the trees.
"Who's there?" I called out.
There was no answer.
"Who's there?" I repeated.
An instant of silence followed, and then we heard the light fall
of the footsteps again, fainter and fainter--sinking away into the
darkness--sinking, sinking, sinking--till they were lost in the
We hurried out from the trees to the open lawn beyond crossed it
rapidly, and without another word passing between us, reached the
In the light of the hall-lamp Laura looked at me, with white
cheeks and startled eyes.
"I am half dead with fear," she said. "Who could it have been?"
"We will try to guess to-morrow," I replied. "In the meantime say
nothing to any one of what we have heard and seen.
"Why not?"
"Because silence is safe, and we have need of safety in this
I sent Laura upstairs immediately, waited a minute to take off my
hat and put my hair smooth, and then went at once to make my first
investigations in the library, on pretence of searching for a
There sat the Count, filling out the largest easy-chair in the
house, smoking and reading calmly, with his feet on an ottoman,
his cravat across his knees, and his shirt collar wide open. And
there sat Madame Fosco, like a quiet child, on a stool by his
side, making cigarettes. Neither husband nor wife could, by any
possibility, have been out late that evening, and have just got
back to the house in a hurry. I felt that my object in visiting
the library was answered the moment I set eyes on them.
Count Fosco rose in polite confusion and tied his cravat on when I
entered the room.
"Pray don't let me disturb you," I said. "I have only come here
to get a book."
"All unfortunate men of my size suffer from the heat," said the
Count, refreshing himself gravely with a large green fan. "I wish
I could change places with my excellent wife. She is as cool at
this moment as a fish in the pond outside."
The Countess allowed herself to thaw under the influence of her
husband's quaint comparison. "I am never warm, Miss Halcombe,"
she remarked, with the modest air of a woman who was confessing to
one of her own merits.
"Have you and Lady Glyde been out this evening?" asked the Count,
while I was taking a book from the shelves to preserve
"Yes, we went out to get a little air."
"May I ask in what direction?"
"In the direction of the lake--as far as the boat-house."
"Aha? As far as the boat-house?"
Under other circumstances I might have resented his curiosity.
But to-night I hailed it as another proof that neither he nor his
wife were connected with the mysterious appearance at the lake.
"No more adventures, I suppose, this evening?" he went on . "No
more discoveries, like your discovery of the wounded dog?"
He fixed his unfathomable grey eyes on me, with that cold, clear,
irresistible glitter in them which always forces me to look at
him, and always makes me uneasy while I do look. An unutterable
suspicion that his mind is prying into mine overcomes me at these
times, and it overcame me now.
"No," I said shortly; "no adventures--no discoveries."
I tried to look away from him and leave the room. Strange as it
seems, I hardly think I should have succeeded in the attempt if
Madame Fosco had not helped me by causing him to move and look
away first.
"Count, you are keeping Miss Halcombe standing," she said.
The moment he turned round to get me a chair, I seized my
opportunity--thanked him--made my excuses--and slipped out.
An hour later, when Laura's maid happened to be in her mistress's
room, I took occasion to refer to the closeness of the night, with
a view to ascertaining next how the servants had been passing
their time.
"Have you been suffering much from the heat downstairs?" I asked.
"No, miss," said the girl, "we have not felt it to speak of."
"You have been out in the woods then, I suppose?"
"Some of us thought of going, miss. But cook said she should take
her chair into the cool court-yard, outside the kitchen door, and
on second thoughts, all the rest of us took our chairs out there
The housekeeper was now the only person who remained to be
accounted for.
"Is Mrs. Michelson gone to bed yet?" I inquired.
"I should think not, miss," said the girl, smiling. "Mrs.
Michelson is more likely to be getting up just now than going to
"Why? What do you mean? Has Mrs. Michelson been taking to her bed
in the daytime?"
"No, miss, not exactly, but the next thing to it. She's been
asleep all the evening on the sofa in her own room."
Putting together what I observed for myself in the library, and
what I have just heard from Laura's maid, one conclusion seems
inevitable. The figure we saw at the lake was not the figure of
Madame Fosco, of her husband, or of any of the servants. The
footsteps we heard behind us were not the footsteps of any one
belonging to the house.
Who could it have been?
It seems useless to inquire. I cannot even decide whether the
figure was a man's or a woman's. I can only say that I think it
was a woman's,
June 18th.--The misery of self-reproach which I suffered yesterday
evening, on hearing what Laura told me in the boat-house, returned
in the loneliness of the night, and kept me waking and wretched
for hours.
I lighted my candle at last, and searched through my old journals
to see what my share in the fatal error of her marriage had really
been, and what I might have once done to save her from it. The
result soothed me a little for it showed that, however blindly and
ignorantly I acted, I acted for the best. Crying generally does me
harm; but it was not so last night--I think it relieved me. I
rose this morning with a settled resolution and a quiet mind.
Nothing Sir Percival can say or do shall ever irritate me again,
or make me forget for one moment that I am staying here in
defiance of mortifications, insults, and threats, for Laura's
service and for Laura's sake.
The speculations in which we might have indulged this morning, on
the subject of the figure at the lake and the foot-steps in the
plantation, have been all suspended by a trifling accident which
has caused Laura great regret. She has lost the little brooch I
gave her for a keepsake on the day before her marriage. As she
wore it when we went out yesterday evening we can only suppose
that it must have dropped from her dress, either in the boat-house
or on our way back. The servants have been sent to search, and
have returned unsuccessful. And now Laura herself has gone to
look for it. Whether she finds it or not the loss will help to
excuse her absence from the house. if Sir Percival returns before
the letter from Mr. Gilmore's partner is placed in my hands.
One o'clock has just struck. I am considering whether I had
better wait here for the arrival of the messenger from London, or
slip away quietly, and watch for him outside the lodge gate.
My suspicion of everybody and everything in this house inclines me
to think that the second plan may be the best. The Count is safe
in the breakfast-room. I heard him, through the door, as I ran
upstairs ten minutes since, exercising his canary-birds at their
tricks:--"Come out on my little finger, my pret-pret-pretties!
Come out, and hop upstairs! One, two, three--and up! Three, two,
one--and down! One, two, three--twit-twit-twit-tweet!" The birds
burst into their usual ecstasy of singing, and the Count chirruped
and whistled at them in return, as if he was a bird himself. My
room door is open, and I can hear the shrill singing and whistling
at this very moment. If I am really to slip out without being
observed, now is my time.
FOUR O'CLOCK. The three hours that have passed since I made my
last entry have turned the whole march of events at Blackwater
Park in a new direction. Whether for good or for evil, I cannot
and dare not decide.
Let me get back first to the place at which I left off, or I shall
lose myself in the confusion of my own thoughts.
I went out, as I had proposed, to meet the messenger with my
letter from London at the lodge gate. On the stairs I saw no one.
In the hall I heard the Count still exercising his birds. But on
crossing the quadrangle outside, I passed Madame Fosco, walking by
herself in her favourite circle, round and round the great fishpond.
I at once slackened my pace, so as to avoid all appearance
of being in a hurry, and even went the length, for caution's sake,
of inquiring if she thought of going out before lunch. She smiled
at me in the friendliest manner--said she preferred remaining near
the house, nodded pleasantly, and re-entered the hall. I looked
back, and saw that she had closed the door before I had opened the
wicket by the side of the carriage gates.
In less than a quarter of an hour I reached the lodge.
The lane outside took a sudden turn to the left, ran on straight
for a hundred yards or so, and then took another sharp turn to the
right to join the high-road. Between these two turns, hidden from
the lodge on one side, and from the way to the station on the
other, I waited, walking backwards and forwards. High hedges were
on either side of me, and for twenty minutes, by my watch, I
neither saw nor heard anything. At the end of that time the sound
of a carriage caught my ear, and I was met, as I advanced towards
the second turning, by a fly from the railway. I made a sign to
the driver to stop. As he obeyed me a respectable-looking man put
his head out of the window to see what was the matter.
"I beg your pardon," I said, "but am I right in supposing that you
are going to Blackwater Park?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"With a letter for any one?"
"With a letter for Miss Halcombe, ma'am."
"You may give me the letter. I am Miss Halcombe."
The man touched his hat, got out of the fly immediately, and gave
me the letter.
I opened it at once and read these lines. I copy them here,
thinking it best to destroy the original for caution's sake.
"DEAR MADAM,--Your letter received this morning has caused me very
great anxiety. I will reply to it as briefly and plainly as
"My careful consideration of the statement made by yourself, and
my knowledge of Lady Glyde's position, as defined in the
settlement, lead me, I regret to say, to the conclusion that a
loan of the trust money to Sir Percival (or, in other words, a
loan of some portion of the twenty thousand pounds of Lady Glyde's
fortune) is in contemplation, and that she is made a party to the
deed, in order to secure her approval of a flagrant breach of
trust, and to have her signature produced against her if she
should complain hereafter. It is impossible, on any other
supposition, to account, situated as she is, for her execution to
a deed of any kind being wanted at all.
"In the event of Lady Glyde's signing such a document, as I am
compelled to suppose the deed in question to be, her trustees
would be at liberty to advance money to Sir Percival out of her
twenty thousand pounds. If the amount so lent should not he paid
back, and if Lady Glyde should have children, their fortune will
then be diminished by the sum, large or small, so advanced. In
plainer terms still, the transaction, for anything that Lady Glyde
knows to the contrary, may be a fraud upon her unborn children.
"Under these serious circumstances, I would recommend Lady Glyde
to assign as a reason for withholding her signature, that she
wishes the deed to be first submitted to myself, as her family
solicitor (in the absence of my partner, Mr. Gilmore). No
reasonable objection can be made to taking this course--for, if
the transaction is an honourable one, there will necessarily be no
difficulty in my giving my approval.
"Sincerely assuring you of my readiness to afford any additional
help or advice that may be wanted, I beg to remain, Madam, your
faithful servant,
I read this kind and sensible letter very thankfully. It supplied
Laura with a reason for objecting to the signature which was
unanswerable, and which we could both of us understand. The
messenger waited near me while I was reading to receive his
directions when I had done,
"Will you be good enough to say that I understand the letter, and
that I am very much obliged?" I said. "There is no other reply
necessary at present."
Exactly at the moment when I was speaking those words, holding the
letter open in my hand, Count Fosco turned the corner of the lane
from the high-road, and stood before me as if he had sprung up out
of the earth.
The suddenness of his appearance, in the very last place under
heaven in which I should have expected to see him, took me
completely by surprise. The messenger wished me good-morning, and
got into the fly again. I could not say a word to him--I was not
even able to return his bow. The conviction that I was
discovered--and by that man, of all others--absolutely petrified
"Are you going back to the house, Miss Halcombe?" he inquired,
without showing the least surprise on his side, and without even
looking after the fly, which drove off while he was speaking to
I collected myself sufficiently to make a sign in the affirmative.
"I am going back too," he said. "Pray allow me the pleasure of
accompanying you. Will you take my arm? You look surprised at
seeing me!"
I took his arm. The first of my scattered senses that came back
was the sense that warned me to sacrifice anything rather than
make an enemy of him.
"You look surprised at seeing me!" he repeated in his quietly
pertinacious way.
"I thought, Count, I heard you with your birds in the breakfastroom,"
I answered, as quietly and firmly as I could.
"Surely. But my little feathered children, dear lady, are only
too like other children. They have their days of perversity, and
this morning was one of them. My wife came in as I was putting
them back in their cage, and said she had left you going out alone
for a walk. You told her so, did you not?"
"Well, Miss Halcombe, the pleasure of accompanying you was too
great a temptation for me to resist. At my age there is no harm in
confessing so much as that, is there? I seized my hat, and set off
to offer myself as your escort. Even so fat an old man as Fosco
is surely better than no escort at all? I took the wrong path--I
came back in despair, and here I am, arrived (may I say it?) at
the height of my wishes."
He talked on in this complimentary strain with a fluency which
left me no exertion to make beyond the effort of maintaining my
composure. He never referred in the most distant manner to what
he had seen in the lane, or to the letter which I still had in my
hand. This ominous discretion helped to convince me that he must
have surprised, by the most dishonourable means, the secret of my
application in Laura's interest to the lawyer; and that, having
now assured himself of the private manner in which I had received
the answer, he had discovered enough to suit his purposes, and was
only bent on trying to quiet the suspicions which he knew he must
have aroused in my mind. I was wise enough, under these
circumstances, not to attempt to deceive him by plausible
explanations, and woman enough, notwithstanding my dread of him,
to feel as if my hand was tainted by resting on his arm.
On the drive in front of the house we met the dog-cart being taken
round to the stables. Sir Percival had just returned. He came
out to meet us at the house-door. Whatever other results his
journey might have had, it had not ended in softening his savage
"Oh! here are two of you come back," he said, with a lowering
face. "What is the meaning of the house being deserted in this
way? Where is Lady Glyde?"
I told him of the loss of the brooch, and said that Laura had gone
into the plantation to look for it.
"Brooch or no brooch," he growled sulkily, "I recommend her not to
forget her appointment in the library this afternoon. I shall
expect to see her in half an hour."
I took my hand from the Count's arm, and slowly ascended the
steps. He honoured me with one of his magnificent bows, and then
addressed himself gaily to the scowling master of the house.
"Tell me, Percival," he said, "have you had a pleasant drive? And
has your pretty shining Brown Molly come back at all tired?"
"Brown Molly be hanged--and the drive too! I want my lunch."
"And I want five minutes' talk with you, Percival, first,"
returned the Count. "Five minutes' talk, my friend, here on the
"What about?"
"About business that very much concerns you."
I lingered long enough in passing through the hall-door to hear
this question and answer, and to see Sir Percival thrust his hands
into his pockets in sullen hesitation.
"If you want to badger me with any more of your infernal
scruples," he said, "I for one won't hear them. I want my lunch."
"Come out here and speak to me," repeated the Count, still
perfectly uninfluenced by the rudest speech that his friend could
make to him.
Sir Percival descended the steps. The Count took him by the arm,
and walked him away gently. The "business," I was sure, referred
to the question of the signature. They were speaking of Laura and
of me beyond a doubt. I felt heart-sick and faint with anxiety.
It might be of the last importance to both of us to know what they
were saying to each other at that moment, and not one word of it
could by any possibility reach my ears.
I walked about the house, from room to room, with the lawyer's
letter in my bosom (I was afraid by this time even to trust it
under lock and key), till the oppression of my suspense half
maddened me. There were no signs of Laura's return, and I thought
of going out to look for her. But my strength was so exhausted by
the trials and anxieties of the morning that the heat of the day
quite overpowered me, and after an attempt to get to the door I
was obliged to return to the drawing-room and lie down on the
nearest sofa to recover.
I was just composing myself when the door opened softly and the
Count looked in.
"A thousand pardons, Miss Halcombe," he said; "I only venture to
disturb you because I am the bearer of good news. Percival--who
is capricious in everything, as you know--has seen fit to alter
his mind at the last moment, and the business of the signature is
put off for the present. A great relief to all of us, Miss
Halcombe, as I see with pleasure in your face. Pray present my
best respects and felicitations, when you mention this pleasant
change of circumstances to Lady Glyde."
He left me before I had recovered my astonishment. There could be
no doubt that this extraordinary alteration of purpose in the
matter of the signature was due to his influence, and that his
discovery of my application to London yesterday, and of my having
received an answer to it to-day, had offered him the means of
interfering with certain success.
I felt these impressions, but my mind seemed to share the
exhaustion of my body, and I was in no condition to dwell on them
with any useful reference to the doubtful present or the
threatening future. I tried a second time to run out and find
Laura, but my head was giddy and my knees trembled under me.
There was no choice but to give it up again and return to the
sofa, sorely against my will.
The quiet in the house, and the low murmuring hum of summer
insects outside the open window, soothed me. My eyes closed of
themselves, and I passed gradually into a strange condition, which
was not waking--for I knew nothing of what was going on about me,
and not sleeping--for I was conscious of my own repose. In this
state my fevered mind broke loose from me, while my weary body was
at rest, and in a trance, or day-dream of my fancy--I know not
what to call it--I saw Walter Hartright. I had not thought of him
since I rose that morning--Laura had not said one word to me
either directly or indirectly referring to him--and yet I saw him
now as plainly as if the past time had returned, and we were both
together again at Limmeridge House.
He appeared to me as one among many other men, none of whose faces
I could plainly discern. They were all lying on the steps of an
immense ruined temple. Colossal tropical trees--with rank
creepers twining endlessly about their trunks, and hideous stone
idols glimmering and grinning at intervals behind leaves and
stalks and branches--surrounded the temple and shut out the sky,
and threw a dismal shadow over the forlorn band of men on the
steps. White exhalations twisted and curled up stealthily from
the ground, approached the men in wreaths like smoke, touched
them, and stretched them out dead, one by one, in the places where
they lay. An agony of pity and fear for Walter loosened my
tongue, and I implored him to escape. "Come back, come back!" I
said. "Remember your promise to HER and to ME. Come back to us
before the Pestilence reaches you and lays you dead like the
He looked at me with an unearthly quiet in his face. "Wait," he
said, "I shall come back. The night when I met the lost Woman on
the highway was the night which set my life apart to be the
instrument of a Design that is yet unseen. Here, lost in the
wilderness, or there, welcomed back in the land of my birth, I am
still walking on the dark road which leads me, and you, and the
sister of your love and mine, to the unknown Retribution and the
inevitable End. Wait and look. The Pestilence which touches the
rest will pass ME."
I saw him again. He was still in the forest, and the numbers of
his lost companions had dwindled to very few. The temple was
gone, and the idols were gone--and in their place the figures of
dark, dwarfish men lurked murderously among the trees, with bows
in their hands, and arrows fitted to the string. Once more I
feared for Walter, and cried out to warn him. Once more he turned
to me, with the immovable quiet in his face.
"Another step," he said, "on the dark road. Wait and look. The
arrows that strike the rest will spare me."
I saw him for the third time in a wrecked ship, stranded on a
wild, sandy shore. The overloaded boats were making away from him
for the land, and he alone was left to sink with the ship. I
cried to him to hail the hindmost boat, and to make a last effort
for his life. The quiet face looked at me in return, and the
unmoved voice gave me back the changeless reply. "Another step on
the journey. Wait and look. The Sea which drowns the rest will
spare me."
I saw him for the last time. He was kneeling by a tomb of white
marble, and the shadow of a veiled woman rose out of the grave
beneath and waited by his side. The unearthly quiet of his face
had changed to an unearthly sorrow. But the terrible certainty of
his words remained the same. "Darker and darker," he said;
"farther and farther yet. Death takes the good, the beautiful,
and the young--and spares me. The Pestilence that wastes, the
Arrow that strikes, the Sea that drowns, the Grave that closes
over Love and Hope, are steps of my journey, and take me nearer
and nearer to the End."
My heart sank under a dread beyond words, under a grief beyond
tears. The darkness closed round the pilgrim at the marble tomb--
closed round the veiled woman from the grave--closed round the
dreamer who looked on them. I saw and heard no more.
I was aroused by a hand laid on my shoulder. It was Laura's.
She had dropped on her knees by the side of the sofa. Her face
was flushed and agitated, and her eyes met mine in a wild
bewildered manner. I started the instant I saw her.
"What has happened?" I asked. "What has frightened you?"
She looked round at the half-open door, put her lips close to my
ear, and answered in a whisper--
"Marian!--the figure at the lake--the footsteps last night--I've
just seen her! I've just spoken to her!"
"Who, for Heaven's sake?"
"Anne Catherick."
I was so startled by the disturbance in Laura's face and manner,
and so dismayed by the first waking impressions of my dream, that
I was not fit to bear the revelation which burst upon me when that
name passed her lips. I could only stand rooted to the floor,
looking at her in breathless silence.
She was too much absorbed by what had happened to notice the
effect which her reply had produced on me. "I have seen Anne
Catherick! I have spoken to Anne Catherick!" she repeated as if I
had not heard her. "Oh, Marian, I have such things to tell you!
Come away--we may be interrupted here--come at once into my room."
With those eager words she caught me by the hand, and led me
through the library, to the end room on the ground floor, which
had been fitted up for her own especial use. No third person,
except her maid, could have any excuse for surprising us here.
She pushed me in before her, locked the door, and drew the chintz
curtains that hung over the inside.
The strange, stunned feeling which had taken possession of me
still remained. But a growing conviction that the complications
which had long threatened to gather about her, and to gather about
me, had suddenly closed fast round us both, was now beginning to
penetrate my mind. I could not express it in words--I could
hardly even realise it dimly in my own thoughts. "Anne
Catherick!" I whispered to myself, with useless, helpless
reiteration--"Anne Catherick!"
Laura drew me to the nearest seat, an ottoman in the middle of the
room. "Look!" she said, "look here!"--and pointed to the bosom of
her dress.
I saw, for the first time, that the lost brooch was pinned in its
place again. There was something real in the sight of it,
something real in the touching of it afterwards, which seemed to
steady the whirl and confusion in my thoughts, and to help me to
compose myself.
"Where did you find your brooch?" The first words I could say to
her were the words which put that trivial question at that
important moment.
"SHE found it, Marian."
"On the floor of the boat-house. Oh, how shall I begin--how shall
I tell you about it! She talked to me so strangely--she looked so
fearfully ill--she left me so suddenly!"
Her voice rose as the tumult of her recollections pressed upon her
mind. The inveterate distrust which weighs, night and day, on my
spirits in this house, instantly roused me to warn her--just as
the sight of the brooch had roused me to question her, the moment
"Speak low," I said. "The window is open, and the garden path
runs beneath it. Begin at the beginning, Laura. Tell me, word
for word, what passed between that woman and you."
"Shall I close the window?"
"No, only speak low--only remember that Anne Catherick is a
dangerous subject under your husband's roof. Where did you first
see her?"
"At the boat-house, Marian. I went out, as you know, to find my
brooch, and I walked along the path through the plantation,
looking down on the ground carefully at every step. In that way I
got on, after a long time, to the boat-house, and as soon as I was
inside it, I went on my knees to hunt over the floor. I was still
searching with my back to the doorway, when I heard a soft,
strange voice behind me say, 'Miss Fairlie.'"
"Miss Fairlie!"
"Yes, my old name--the dear, familiar name that I thought I had
parted from for ever. I started up--not frightened, the voice was
too kind and gentle to frighten anybody--but very much surprised.
There, looking at me from the doorway, stood a woman, whose face I
never remembered to have seen before--"
"How was she dressed?"
"She had a neat, pretty white gown on, and over it a poor worn
thin dark shawl. Her bonnet was of brown straw, as poor and worn
as the shawl. I was struck by the difference between her gown and
the rest of her dress, and she saw that I noticed it. 'Don't look
at my bonnet and shawl,' she said, speaking in a quick,
breathless, sudden way; 'if I mustn't wear white, I don't care
what I wear. Look at my gown as much as you please--I'm not
ashamed of that.' Very strange, was it not? Before I could say
anything to soothe her, she held out one of her hands, and I saw
my brooch in it. I was so pleased and so grateful, that I went
quite close to her to say what I really felt. 'Are you thankful
enough to do me one little kindness?' she asked. 'Yes, indeed,' I
answered, 'any kindness in my power I shall be glad to show you.'
'Then let me pin your brooch on for you, now I have found it.' Her
request was so unexpected, Marian, and she made it with such
extraordinary eagerness, that I drew back a step or two, not well
knowing what to do. 'Ah!' she said, 'your mother would have let
me pin on the brooch.' There was something in her voice and her
look, as well as in her mentioning my mother in that reproachful
manner, which made me ashamed of my distrust. I took her hand with
the brooch in it, and put it up gently on the bosom of my dress.
'You knew my mother?' I said. 'Was it very long ago? have I ever
seen you before?' Her hands were busy fastening the brooch: she
stopped and pressed them against my breast. 'You don't remember a
fine spring day at Limmeridge,' she said, 'and your mother walking
down the path that led to the school, with a little girl on each
side of her? I have had nothing else to think of since, and I
remember it. You were one of the little girls, and I was the
other. Pretty, clever Miss Fairlie, and poor dazed Anne Catherick
were nearer to each other then than they are now!'"
"Did you remember her, Laura, when she told you her name?"
"Yes, I remembered your asking me about Anne Catherick at
Limmeridge, and your saying that she had once been considered like
"What reminded you of that, Laura?"
"SHE reminded me. While I was looking at her, while she was very
close to me, it came over my mind suddenly that we were like each
other! Her face was pale and thin and weary--but the sight of it
startled me, as if it had been the sight of my own face in the
glass after a long illness. The discovery--I don't know why--gave
me such a shock, that I was perfectly incapable of speaking to her
for the moment."
"Did she seem hurt by your silence?"
"I am afraid she was hurt by it. 'You have not got your mother's
face,' she said, 'or your mother's heart. Your mother's face was
dark, and your mother's heart, Miss Fairlie, was the heart of an
angel.' 'I am sure I feel kindly towards you,' I said, 'though I
may not be able to express it as I ought. Why do you call me Miss
Fairlie?----' 'Because I love the name of Fairlie and hate the
name of Glyde,' she broke out violently. I had seen nothing like
madness in her before this, but I fancied I saw it now in her
eyes. 'I only thought you might not know I was married,' I said,
remembering the wild letter she wrote to me at Limmeridge, and
trying to quiet her. She sighed bitterly, and turned away from
me. 'Not know you were married?' she repeated. 'I am here
BECAUSE you are married. I am here to make atonement to you,
before I meet your mother in the world beyond the grave.' She drew
farther and farther away from me, till she was out of the boathouse,
and then she watched and listened for a little while. When
she turned round to speak again, instead of coming back, she
stopped where she was, looking in at me, with a hand on each side
of the entrance. 'Did you see me at the lake last night?' she
said. 'Did you hear me following you in the wood? I have been
waiting for days together to speak to you alone--I have left the
only friend I have in the world, anxious and frightened about me--
I have risked being shut up again in the mad-house--and all for
your sake, Miss Fairlie, all for your sake.' Her words alarmed me,
Marian, and yet there was something in the way she spoke that made
me pity her with all my heart. I am sure my pity must have been
sincere, for it made me bold enough to ask the poor creature to
come in, and sit down in the boat-house, by my side."
"Did she do so?"
"No. She shook her head, and told me she must stop where she was,
to watch and listen, and see that no third person surprised us.
And from first to last, there she waited at the entrance, with a
hand on each side of it, sometimes bending in suddenly to speak to
me, sometimes drawing back suddenly to look about her. 'I was
here yesterday,' she said, 'before it came dark, and I heard you,
and the lady with you, talking together. I heard you tell her
about your husband. I heard you say you had no influence to make
him believe you, and no influence to keep him silent. Ah! I knew
what those words meant--my conscience told me while I was
listening. Why did I ever let you marry him! Oh, my fear--my mad,
miserable, wicked fear!--'She covered up her face in her poor worn
shawl, and moaned and murmured to herself behind it. I began to
be afraid she might break out into some terrible despair which
neither she nor I could master. 'Try to quiet yourself,' I said;
'try to tell me how you might have prevented my marriage.' She
took the shawl from her face, and looked at me vacantly. 'I ought
to have had heart enough to stop at Limmeridge,' she answered. 'I
ought never to have let the news of his coming there frighten me
away. I ought to have warned you and saved you before it was too
late. Why did I only have courage enough to write you that
letter? Why did I only do harm, when I wanted and meant to do
good? Oh, my fear--my mad, miserable, wicked fear! 'She repeated
those words again, and hid her face again in the end of her poor
worn shawl. It was dreadful to see her, and dreadful to hear
"Surely, Laura, you asked what the fear was which she dwelt on so
"Yes, I asked that."
"And what did she say?"
"She asked me in return, if I should not be afraid of a man who
had shut me up in a mad-house, and who would shut me up again, if
he could? I said, 'Are you afraid still? Surely you would not be
here if you were afraid now?' 'No,' she said, 'I am not afraid
now.' I asked why not. She suddenly bent forward into the boathouse,
and said, 'Can't you guess why?' I shook my head. 'Look at
me,' she went on. I told her I was grieved to see that she looked
very sorrowful and very ill. She smiled for the first time.
'Ill?' she repeated; 'I'm dying. You know why I'm not afraid of
him now. Do you think I shall meet your mother in heaven? Will
she forgive me if I do?' I was so shocked and so startled, that I
could make no reply. 'I have been thinking of it,' she went on,
'all the time I have been in hiding from your husband, all the
time I lay ill. My thoughts have driven me here--I want to make
atonement--I want to undo all I can of the harm I once did.' I
begged her as earnestly as I could to tell me what she meant. She
still looked at me with fixed vacant eyes. 'SHALL I undo the
harm?' she said to herself doubtfully. 'You have friends to take
your part. If YOU know his Secret, he will be afraid of you, he
won't dare use you as he used me. He must treat you mercifully
for his own sake, if he is afraid of you and your friends. And if
he treats you mercifully, and if I can say it was my doing----' I
listened eagerly for more, but she stopped at those words."
"You tried to make her go on?"
"I tried, but she only drew herself away from me again, and leaned
her face and arms against the side of the boat-house. 'Oh!' I
heard her say, with a dreadful, distracted tenderness in her
voice, 'oh! if I could only be buried with your mother! If I could
only wake at her side, when the angel's trumpet sounds, and the
graves give up their dead at the resurrection!'--Marian! I
trembled from head to foot--it was horrible to hear her. 'But
there is no hope of that,' she said, moving a little, so as to
look at me again, 'no hope for a poor stranger like me. I shall
not rest under the marble cross that I washed with my own hands,
and made so white and pure for her sake. Oh no! oh no! God's
mercy, not man's, will take me to her, where the wicked cease from
troubling and the weary are at rest.' She spoke those words
quietly and sorrowfully, with a heavy, hopeless sigh, and then
waited a little. Her face was confused and troubled, she seemed
to be thinking, or trying to think. 'What was it I said just
now?' she asked after a while. 'When your mother is in my mind,
everything else goes out of it. What was I saying? what was I
saying?' I reminded the poor creature, as kindly and delicately as
I could. 'Ah, yes, yes,' she said, still in a vacant, perplexed
manner. 'You are helpless with your wicked husband. Yes. And I
must do what I have come to do here--I must make it up to you for
having been afraid to speak out at a better time.' 'What IS it you
have to tell me?' I asked. 'The Secret that your cruel husband is
afraid of,' she answered. 'I once threatened him with the Secret,
and frightened him. You shall threaten him with the Secret, and
frighten him too.' Her face darkened, and a hard, angry stare
fixed itself in her eyes. She began waving her hand at me in a
vacant, unmeaning manner. 'My mother knows the Secret,' she said.
'My mother has wasted under the Secret half her lifetime. One
day, when I was grown up, she said something to ME. And the next
day your husband----'"
"Yes! yes! Go on. What did she tell you about your husband?"
"She stopped again, Marian, at that point----"
"And said no more?"
"And listened eagerly. 'Hush!' she whispered, still waving her
hand at me. 'Hush!' She moved aside out of the doorway, moved
slowly and stealthily, step by step, till I lost her past the edge
of the boat-house."
"Surely you followed her?"
"Yes, my anxiety made me bold enough to rise and follow her. Just
as I reached the entrance, she appeared again suddenly, round the
side of the boat-house. 'The Secret,' I whispered to her--'wait
and tell me the Secret!' She caught hold of my arm, and looked at
me with wild frightened eyes. 'Not now,' she said, 'we are not
alone--we are watched. Come here to-morrow at this time--by
yourself--mind--by yourself.' She pushed me roughly into the boathouse
again, and I saw her no more."
"Oh, Laura, Laura, another chance lost! If I had only been near
you she should not have escaped us. On which side did you lose
sight of her?"
"On the left side, where the ground sinks and the wood is
"Did you run out again? did you call after her?"
"How could I? I was too terrified to move or speak."
"But when you DID move--when you came out?"
"I ran back here, to tell you what had happened."
"Did you see any one, or hear any one, in the plantation?"
"No, it seemed to be all still and quiet when I passed through
I waited for a moment to consider. Was this third person,
supposed to have been secretly present at the interview, a
reality, or the creature of Anne Catherick's excited fancy? It was
impossible to determine. The one thing certain was, that we had
failed again on the very brink of discovery--failed utterly and
irretrievably, unless Anne Catherick kept her appointment at the
boat-house for the next day.
"Are you quite sure you have told me everything that passed? Every
word that was said?" I inquired.
"I think so," she answered. "My powers of memory, Marian, are not
like yours. But I was so strongly impressed, so deeply
interested, that nothing of any importance can possibly have
escaped me."
"My dear Laura, the merest trifles are of importance where Anne
Catherick is concerned. Think again. Did no chance reference
escape her as to the place in which she is living at the present
"None that I can remember."
"Did she not mention a companion and friend--a woman named Mrs.
"Oh yes! yes! I forgot that. She told me Mrs. Clements wanted
sadly to go with her to the lake and take care of her, and begged
and prayed that she would not venture into this neighbourhood
"Was that all she said about Mrs. Clements?"
"Yes, that was all."
"She told you nothing about the place in which she took refuge
after leaving Todd's Corner?"
"Nothing--I am quite sure."
"Nor where she has lived since? Nor what her illness had been?"
"No, Marian, not a word. Tell me, pray tell me, what you think
about it. I don't know what to think, or what to do next."
"You must do this, my love: You must carefully keep the
appointment at the boat-house to-morrow. It is impossible to say
what interests may not depend on your seeing that woman again.
You shall not be left to yourself a second time. I will follow
you at a safe distance. Nobody shall see me, but I will keep
within hearing of your voice, if anything happens. Anne Catherick
has escaped Walter Hartright, and has escaped you. Whatever
happens, she shall not escape ME."
Laura's eyes read mine attentively.
"You believe," she said, "in this secret that my husband is afraid
of? Suppose, Marian, it should only exist after all in Anne
Catherick's fancy? Suppose she only wanted to see me and to speak
to me, for the sake of old remembrances? Her manner was so
strange--I almost doubted her. Would you trust her in other
"I trust nothing, Laura, but my own observation of your husband's
conduct. I judge Anne Catherick's words by his actions, and I
believe there is a secret."
I said no more, and got up to leave the room Thoughts were
troubling me which I might have told her if we had spoken together
longer, and which it might have been dangerous for her to know.
The influence of the terrible dream from which she had awakened me
hung darkly and heavily over every fresh impression which the
progress of her narrative produced on my mind. I felt the ominous
future coming close, chilling me with an unutterable awe, forcing
on me the conviction of an unseen design in the long series of
complications which had now fastened round us. I thought of
Hartright--as I saw him in the body when he said farewell; as I
saw him in the spirit in my dream--and I too began to doubt now
whether we were not advancing blindfold to an appointed and an
inevitable end.
Leaving Laura to go upstairs alone, I went out to look about me in
the walks near the house. The circumstances under which Anne
Catherick had parted from her had made me secretly anxious to know
how Count Fosco was passing the afternoon, and had rendered me
secretly distrustful of the results of that solitary journey from
which Sir Percival had returned but a few hours since.
After looking for them in every direction and discovering nothing,
I returned to the house, and entered the different rooms on the
ground floor one after another. They were all empty. I came out
again into the hall, and went upstairs to return to Laura. Madame
Fosco opened her door as I passed it in my way along the passage,
and I stopped to see if she could inform me of the whereabouts of
her husband and Sir Percival. Yes, she had seen them both from
her window more than an hour since. The Count had looked up with
his customary kindness, and had mentioned with his habitual
attention to her in the smallest trifles, that he and his friend
were going out together for a long walk.
For a long walk! They had never yet been in each other's company
with that object in my experience of them. Sir Percival cared for
no exercise but riding, and the Count (except when he was polite
enough to be my escort) cared for no exercise at all.
When I joined Laura again, I found that she had called to mind in
my absence the impending question of the signature to the deed,
which, in the interest of discussing her interview with Anne
Catherick, we had hitherto overlooked. Her first words when I saw
her expressed her surprise at the absence of the expected summons
to attend Sir Percival in the library.
"You may make your mind easy on that subject," I said. "For the
present, at least, neither your resolution nor mine will be
exposed to any further trial. Sir Percival has altered his plans--
the business of the signature is put off."
"Put off?" Laura repeated amazedly. "Who told you so?"
"My authority is Count Fosco. I believe it is to his interference
that we are indebted for your husband's sudden change of purpose."
"It seems impossible, Marian. If the object of my signing was, as
we suppose, to obtain money for Sir Percival that he urgently
wanted, how can the matter be put off?"
"I think, Laura, we have the means at hand of setting that doubt
at rest. Have you forgotten the conversation that I heard between
Sir Percival and the lawyer as they were crossing the hall?"
"No, but I don't remember----"
"I do. There were two alternatives proposed. One was to obtain
your signature to the parchment. The other was to gain time by
giving bills at three months. The last resource is evidently the
resource now adopted, and we may fairly hope to be relieved from
our share in Sir Percival's embarrassments for some time to come."
"Oh, Marian, it sounds too good to be true!"
"Does it, my love? You complimented me on my ready memory not long
since, but you seem to doubt it now. I will get my journal, and
you shall see if I am right or wrong."
I went away and got the book at once.
On looking back to the entry referring to the lawyer's visit, we
found that my recollection of the two alternatives presented was
accurately correct. It was almost as great a relief to my mind as
to Laura's, to find that my memory had served me, on this
occasion, as faithfully as usual. In the perilous uncertainty of
our present situation, it is hard to say what future interests may
not depend upon the regularity of the entries in my journal, and
upon the reliability of my recollection at the time when I make
Laura's face and manner suggested to me that this last
consideration had occurred to her as well as to myself. Anyway,
it is only a trifling matter, and I am almost ashamed to put it
down here in writing--it seems to set the forlornness of our
situation in such a miserably vivid light. We must have little
indeed to depend on, when the discovery that my memory can still
be trusted to serve us is hailed as if it was the discovery of a
new friend!
The first bell for dinner separated us. Just as it had done
ringing, Sir Percival and the Count returned from their walk. We
heard the master of the house storming at the servants for being
five minutes late, and the master's guest interposing, as usual,
in the interests of propriety, patience, and peace.
* * * * * * * * * *
The evening has come and gone. No extraordinary event has
happened. But I have noticed certain peculiarities in the conduct
of Sir Percival and the Count, which have sent me to my bed
feeling very anxious and uneasy about Anne Catherick, and about
the results which to-morrow may produce.
I know enough by this time, to be sure, that the aspect of Sir
Percival which is the most false, and which, therefore, means the
worst, is his polite aspect. That long walk with his friend had
ended in improving his manners, especially towards his wife. To
Laura's secret surprise and to my secret alarm, he called her by
her Christian name, asked if she had heard lately from her uncle.
inquired when Mrs. Vesey was to receive her invitation to
Blackwater, and showed her so many other little attentions that he
almost recalled the days of his hateful courtship at Limmeridge
House. This was a bad sign to begin with, and I thought it more
ominous still that he should pretend after dinner to fall asleep
in the drawing-room, and that his eyes should cunningly follow
Laura and me when he thought we neither of us suspected him. I
have never had any doubt that his sudden journey by himself took
him to Welmingham to question Mrs. Catherick--but the experience
of to-night has made me fear that the expedition was not
undertaken in vain, and that he has got the information which he
unquestionably left us to collect. If I knew where Anne Catherick
was to be found, I would be up to-morrow with sunrise and warn
While the aspect under which Sir Percival presented himself tonight
was unhappily but too familiar to me, the aspect under which
the Count appeared was, on the other hand, entirely new in my
experience of him. He permitted me, this evening, to make his
acquaintance, for the first time, in the character of a Man of
Sentiment--of sentiment, as I believe, really felt, not assumed
for the occasion.
For instance, he was quiet and subdued--his eyes and his voice
expressed a restrained sensibility. He wore (as if there was some
hidden connection between his showiest finery and his deepest
feeling) the most magnificent waistcoat he has yet appeared in--it
was made of pale sea-green silk, and delicately trimmed with fine
silver braid. His voice sank into the tenderest inflections, his
smile expressed a thoughtful, fatherly admiration, whenever he
spoke to Laura or to me. He pressed his wife's hand under the
table when she thanked him for trifling little attentions at
dinner. He took wine with her. "Your health and happiness, my
angel!" he said, with fond glistening eyes. He ate little or
nothing, and sighed, and said "Good Percival!" when his friend
laughed at him. After dinner, he took Laura by the hand, and
asked her if she would be "so sweet as to play to him." She
complied, through sheer astonishment. He sat by the piano, with
his watch-chain resting in folds, like a golden serpent, on the
sea-green protuberance of his waistcoat. His immense head lay
languidly on one side, and he gently beat time with two of his
yellow-white fingers. He highly approved of the music, and
tenderly admired Laura's manner of playing--not as poor Hartright
used to praise it, with an innocent enjoyment of the sweet sounds,
but with a clear, cultivated, practical knowledge of the merits of
the composition, in the first place, and of the merits of the
player's touch in the second. As the evening closed in, he begged
that the lovely dying light might not be profaned, just yet, by
the appearance of the lamps. He came, with his horribly silent
tread, to the distant window at which I was standing, to be out of
his way and to avoid the very sight of him--he came to ask me to
support his protest against the lamps. If any one of them could
only have burnt him up at that moment, I would have gone down to
the kitchen and fetched it myself.
"Surely you like this modest, trembling English twilight?" he said
softly. "Ah! I love it. I feel my inborn admiration of all that
is noble, and great, and good, purified by the breath of heaven on
an evening like this. Nature has such imperishable charms, such
inextinguishable tenderness for me!--I am an old, fat man--talk
which would become your lips, Miss Halcombe, sounds like a
derision and a mockery on mine. It is hard to be laughed at in my
moments of sentiment, as if my soul was like myself, old and
overgrown. Observe, dear lady, what a light is dying on the
trees! Does it penetrate your heart, as it penetrates mine?"
He paused, looked at me, and repeated the famous lines of Dante on
the Evening-time, with a melody and tenderness which added a charm
of their own to the matchless beauty of the poetry itself.
"Bah!" he cried suddenly, as the last cadence of those noble
Italian words died away on his lips; "I make an old fool of
myself, and only weary you all! Let us shut up the window in our
bosoms and get back to the matter-of-fact world. Percival! I
sanction the admission of the lamps. Lady Glyde--Miss Halcombe--
Eleanor, my good wife--which of you will indulge me with a game at
He addressed us all, but he looked especially at Laura.
She had learnt to feel my dread of offending him, and she accepted
his proposal. It was more than I could have done at that moment.
I could not have sat down at the same table with him for any
consideration. His eyes seemed to reach my inmost soul through
the thickening obscurity of the twilight. His voice trembled
along every nerve in my body, and turned me hot and cold
alternately. The mystery and terror of my dream, which had
haunted me at intervals all through the evening, now oppressed my
mind with an unendurable foreboding and an unutterable awe. I saw
the white tomb again, and the veiled woman rising out of it by
Hartright's side. The thought of Laura welled up like a spring in
the depths of my heart, and filled it with waters of bitterness,
never, never known to it before. I caught her by the hand as she
passed me on her way to the table, and kissed her as if that night
was to part us for ever. While they were all gazing at me in
astonishment, I ran out through the low window which was open
before me to the ground--ran out to hide from them in the
darkness, to hide even from myself.
We separated that evening later than usual. Towards mid-night the
summer silence was broken by the shuddering of a low, melancholy
wind among the trees. We all felt the sudden chill in the
atmosphere, but the Count was the first to notice the stealthy
rising of the wind. He stopped while he was lighting my candle
for me, and held up his hand warningly--
"Listen!" he said. "There will be a change to-morrow."
June 19th.--The events of yesterday warned me to be ready, sooner
or later, to meet the worst. To-day is not yet at an end, and the
worst has come.
Judging by the closest calculation of time that Laura and I could
make, we arrived at the conclusion that Anne Catherick must have
appeared at the boat-house at half-past two o'clock on the
afternoon of yesterday. I accordingly arranged that Laura should
just show herself at the luncheon-table to-day, and should then
slip out at the first opportunity, leaving me behind to preserve
appearances, and to follow her as soon as I could safely do so.
This mode of proceeding, if no obstacles occurred to thwart us,
would enable her to be at the boat-house before half-past two, and
(when I left the table, in my turn) would take me to a safe
position in the plantation before three.
The change in the weather, which last night's wind warned us to
expect, came with the morning. It was raining heavily when I got
up, and it continued to rain until twelve o'clock--when the clouds
dispersed, the blue sky appeared, and the sun shone again with the
bright promise of a fine afternoon.
My anxiety to know how Sir Percival and the Count would occupy the
early part of the day was by no means set at rest, so far as Sir
Percival was concerned, by his leaving us immediately after
breakfast, and going out by himself, in spite of the rain. He
neither told us where he was going nor when we might expect him
back. We saw him pass the breakfast-room window hastily, with his
high boots and his waterproof coat on--and that was all.
The Count passed the morning quietly indoors, some part of it in
the library, some part in the drawing-room, playing odds and ends
of music on the piano, and humming to himself. Judging by
appearances, the sentimental side of his character was
persistently inclined to betray itself still. He was silent and
sensitive, and ready to sigh and languish ponderously (as only fat
men CAN sigh and languish) on the smallest provocation.
Luncheon-time came and Sir Percival did not return. The Count
took his friend's place at the table, plaintively devoured the
greater part of a fruit tart, submerged under a whole jugful of
cream, and explained the full merit of the achievement to us as
soon as he had done. "A taste for sweets," he said in his softest
tones and his tenderest manner, "is the innocent taste of women
and children. I love to share it with them--it is another bond,
dear ladies, between you and me."
Laura left the table in ten minutes' time. I was sorely tempted
to accompany her. But if we had both gone out together we must
have excited suspicion, and worse still, if we allowed Anne
Catherick to see Laura, accompanied by a second person who was a
stranger to her, we should in all probability forfeit her
confidence from that moment, never to regain it again.
I waited, therefore, as patiently as I could, until the servant
came in to clear the table. When I quitted the room, there were
no signs, in the house or out of it, of Sir Percival's return. I
left the Count with a piece of sugar between his lips, and the
vicious cockatoo scrambling up his waistcoat to get at it, while
Madame Fosco, sitting opposite to her husband, watched the
proceedings of his bird and himself as attentively as if she had
never seen anything of the sort before in her life. On my way to
the plantation I kept carefully beyond the range of view from the
luncheon-room window. Nobody saw me and nobody followed me. It
was then a quarter to three o'clock by my watch.
Once among the trees I walked rapidly, until I had advanced more
than half-way through the plantation. At that point I slackened
my pace and proceeded cautiously, but I saw no one, and heard no
voices. By little and little I came within view of the back of
the boat-house--stopped and listened--then went on, till I was
close behind it, and must have heard any persons who were talking
inside. Still the silence was unbroken--still far and near no
sign of a living creature appeared anywhere.
After skirting round by the back of the building, first on one
side and then on the other, and making no discoveries, I ventured
in front of it, and fairly looked in. The place was empty.
I called, "Laura!"--at first softly, then louder and louder. No
one answered and no one appeared. For all that I could see and
hear, the only human creature in the neighbourhood of the lake and
the plantation was myself.
My heart began to beat violently, but I kept my resolution, and
searched, first the boat-house and then the ground in front of it,
for any signs which might show me whether Laura had really reached
the place or not. No mark of her presence appeared inside the
building, but I found traces of her outside it, in footsteps on
the sand.
I detected the footsteps of two persons--large footsteps like a
man's, and small footsteps, which, by putting my own feet into
them and testing their size in that manner, I felt certain were
Laura's. The ground was confusedly marked in this way just before
the boat-house. Close against one side of it, under shelter of
the projecting roof, I discovered a little hole in the sand--a
hole artificially made, beyond a doubt. I just noticed it, and
then turned away immediately to trace the footsteps as far as I
could, and to follow the direction in which they might lead me.
They led me, starting from the left-hand side of the boat-house,
along the edge of the trees, a distance, I should think, of
between two and three hundred yards, and then the sandy ground
showed no further trace of them. Feeling that the persons whose
course I was tracking must necessarily have entered the plantation
at this point, I entered it too. At first I could find no path,
but I discovered one afterwards, just faintly traced among the
trees, and followed it. It took me, for some distance, in the
direction of the village, until I stopped at a point where another
foot-track crossed it. The brambles grew thickly on either side
of this second path. I stood looking down it, uncertain which way
to take next, and while I looked I saw on one thorny branch some
fragments of fringe from a woman's shawl. A closer examination of
the fringe satisfied me that it had been torn from a shawl of
Laura's, and I instantly followed the second path. It brought me
out at last, to my great relief, at the back of the house. I say
to my great relief, because I inferred that Laura must, for some
unknown reason, have returned before me by this roundabout way. I
went in by the court-yard and the offices. The first person whom
I met in crossing the servants' hall was Mrs. Michelson, the
"Do you know," I asked, "whether Lady Glyde has come in from her
walk or not?"
"My lady came in a little while ago with Sir Percival," answered
the housekeeper. "I am afraid, Miss Halcombe, something very
distressing has happened."
My heart sank within me. "You don't mean an accident?" I said
"No, no--thank God, no accident. But my lady ran up-stairs to her
own room in tears, and Sir Percival has ordered me to give Fanny
warning to leave in an hour's time."
Fanny was Laura's maid--a good affectionate girl who had been with
her for years--the only person in the house whose fidelity and
devotion we could both depend upon.
"Where is Fanny?" I inquired.
"In my room, Miss Halcombe. The young woman is quite overcome,
and I told her to sit down and try to recover herself."
I went to Mrs. Michelson's room, and found Fanny in a corner, with
her box by her side, crying bitterly.
She could give me no explanation whatever of her sudden dismissal.
Sir Percival had ordered that she should have a month's wages, in
place of a month's warning, and go. No reason had been assigned--
no objection had been made to her conduct. She had been forbidden
to appeal to her mistress, forbidden even to see her for a moment
to say good-bye. She was to go without explanations or farewells,
and to go at once.
After soothing the poor girl by a few friendly words, I asked
where she proposed to sleep that night. She replied that she
thought of going to the little inn in the village, the landlady of
which was a respectable woman, known to the servants at Blackwater
Park. The next morning, by leaving early, she might get back to
her friends in Cumberland without stopping in London, where she
was a total stranger.
I felt directly that Fanny's departure offered us a safe means of
communication with London and with Limmeridge House, of which it
might be very important to avail ourselves. Accordingly, I told
her that she might expect to hear from her mistress or from me in
the course of the evening, and that she might depend on our both
doing all that lay in our power to help her, under the trial of
leaving us for the present. Those words said, I shook hands with
her and went upstairs.
The door which led to Laura's room was the door of an ante-chamber
opening on to the passage. When I tried it, it was bolted on the
I knocked, and the door was opened by the same heavy, over-grown
housemaid whose lumpish insensibility had tried my patience so
severely on the day when I found the wounded dog.
I had, since that time, discovered that her name was Margaret
Porcher, and that she was the most awkward, slatternly, and
obstinate servant in the house.
On opening the door she instantly stepped out to the threshold,
and stood grinning at me in stolid silence.
"Why do you stand there?" I said. "Don't you see that I want to
come in?"
"Ah, but you mustn't come in," was the answer, with another and a
broader grin still.
"How dare you talk to me in that way? Stand back instantly!"
She stretched out a great red hand and arm on each side of her, so
as to bar the doorway, and slowly nodded her addle head at me.
"Master's orders," she said, and nodded again.
I had need of all my self-control to warn me against contesting
the matter with HER, and to remind me that the next words I had to
say must be addressed to her master. I turned my back on her, and
instantly went downstairs to find him. My resolution to keep my
temper under all the irritations that Sir Percival could offer
was, by this time, as completely forgotten--I say so to my shame--
as if I had never made it. It did me good, after all I had
suffered and suppressed in that house--it actually did me good to
feel how angry I was.
The drawing-room and the breakfast-room were both empty. I went
on to the library, and there I found Sir Percival, the Count, and
Madame Fosco. They were all three standing up, close together,
and Sir Percival had a little slip of paper in his hand. As I
opened the door I heard the Count say to him, "No--a thousand
times over, no."
I walked straight up to him, and looked him full in the face.
"Am I to understand, Sir Percival, that your wife's room is a
prison, and that your housemaid is the gaoler who keeps it?" I
"Yes, that is what you are to understand," he answered. "Take
care my gaoler hasn't got double duty to do--take care your room
is not a prison too."
"Take YOU care how you treat your wife, and how you threaten ME,"
I broke out in the heat of my anger. "There are laws in England
to protect women from cruelty and outrage. If you hurt a hair of
Laura's head, if you dare to interfere with my freedom, come what
may, to those laws I will appeal."
Instead of answering me he turned round to the Count.
"What did I tell you?" he asked. "What do you say now?"
"What I said before," replied the Count--"No."
Even in the vehemence of my anger I felt his calm, cold, grey eyes
on my face. They turned away from me as soon as he had spoken,
and looked significantly at his wife. Madame Fosco immediately
moved close to my side, and in that position addressed Sir
Percival before either of us could speak again.
"Favour me with your attention for one moment," she said, in her
clear icily-suppressed tones. "I have to thank you, Sir Percival,
for your hospitality, and to decline taking advantage of it any
longer. I remain in no house in which ladies are treated as your
wife and Miss Halcombe have been treated here to-day!"
Sir Percival drew back a step, and stared at her in dead silence.
The declaration he had just heard--a declaration which he well
knew, as I well knew, Madame Fosco would not have ventured to make
without her husband's permission--seemed to petrify him with
surprise. The Count stood by, and looked at his wife with the
most enthusiastic admiration.
"She is sublime!" he said to himself. He approached her while he
spoke, and drew her hand through his arm. "I am at your service,
Eleanor," he went on, with a quiet dignity that I had never
noticed in him before. "And at Miss Halcombe's service, if she
will honour me by accepting all the assistance I can offer her."
"Damn it! what do you mean?" cried Sir Percival, as the Count
quietly moved away with his wife to the door.
"At other times I mean what I say, but at this time I mean what my
wife says," replied the impenetrable Italian. "We have changed
places, Percival, for once, and Madame Fosco's opinion is--mine."
Sir Percival crumpled up the paper in his hand, and pushing past
the Count, with another oath, stood between him and the door.
"Have your own way," he said, with baffled rage in his low, halfwhispering
tones. "Have your own way--and see what comes of it."
With those words he left the room.
Madame Fosco glanced inquiringly at her husband. "He has gone
away very suddenly," she said. "What does it mean?"
"It means that you and I together have brought the worst-tempered
man in all England to his senses," answered the Count. "It means,
Miss Halcombe, that Lady Glyde is relieved from a gross indignity,
and you from the repetition of an unpardonable insult. Suffer me
to express my admiration of your conduct and your courage at a
very trying moment."
"Sincere admiration," suggested Madame Fosco.
"Sincere admiration," echoed the Count.
I had no longer the strength of my first angry resistance to
outrage and injury to support me. My heart-sick anxiety to see
Laura, my sense of my own helpless ignorance of what had happened
at the boat-house, pressed on me with an intolerable weight. I
tried to keep up appearances by speaking to the Count and his wife
in the tone which they had chosen to adopt in speaking to me, but
the words failed on my lips--my breath came short and thick--my
eyes looked longingly, in silence, at the door. The Count,
understanding my anxiety, opened it, went out, and pulled it to
after him. At the same time Sir Percival's heavy step descended
the stairs. I heard them whispering together outside, while
Madame Fosco was assuring me, in her calmest and most conventional
manner, that she rejoiced, for all our sakes, that Sir Percival's
conduct had not obliged her husband and herself to leave
Blackwater Park. Before she had done speaking the whispering
ceased, the door opened, and the Count looked in.
"Miss Halcombe," he said, "I am happy to inform you that Lady
Glyde is mistress again in her own house. I thought it might be
more agreeable to you to hear of this change for the better from
me than from Sir Percival, and I have therefore expressly returned
to mention it."
"Admirable delicacy!" said Madame Fosco, paying back her husband's
tribute of admiration with the Count's own coin, in the Count's
own manner. He smiled and bowed as if he had received a formal
compliment from a polite stranger, and drew back to let me pass
out first.
Sir Percival was standing in the hall. As I hurried to the stairs
I heard him call impatiently to the Count to come out of the
"What are you waiting there for?" he said. "I want to speak to
"And I want to think a little by myself," replied the other.
"Wait till later, Percival, wait till later."
Neither he nor his friend said any more. I gained the top of the
stairs and ran along the passage. In my haste and my agitation I
left the door of the ante-chamber open, but I closed the door of
the bedroom the moment I was inside it.
Laura was sitting alone at the far end of the room, her arms
resting wearily on a table, and her face hidden in her hands. She
started up with a cry of delight when she saw me.
"How did you get here?" she asked. "Who gave you leave? Not Sir
In my overpowering anxiety to hear what she had to tell me, I
could not answer her--I could only put questions on my side.
Laura's eagerness to know what had passed downstairs proved,
however, too strong to be resisted. She persistently repeated her
"The Count, of course," I answered impatiently. "Whose influence
in the house----"
She stopped me with a gesture of disgust.
"Don't speak of him," she cried. "The Count is the vilest
creature breathing! The Count is a miserable Spy----!"
Before we could either of us say another word we were alarmed by a
soft knocking at the door of the bedroom.
I had not yet sat down, and I went first to see who it was. When
I opened the door Madame Fosco confronted me with my handkerchief
in her hand.
"You dropped this downstairs, Miss Halcombe," she said, "and I
thought I could bring it to you, as I was passing by to my own
Her face, naturally pale, had turned to such a ghastly whiteness
that I started at the sight of it. Her hands, so sure and steady
at all other times, trembled violently, and her eyes looked
wolfishly past me through the open door, and fixed on Laura.
She had been listening before she knocked! I saw it in her white
face, I saw it in her trembling hands, I saw it in her look at
After waiting an instant she turned from me in silence, and slowly
walked away.
I closed the door again. "Oh, Laura! Laura! We shall both rue the
day when you called the Count a Spy!"
"You would have called him so yourself, Marian, if you had known
what I know. Anne Catherick was right. There was a third person
watching us in the plantation yesterday, and that third person---"
"Are you sure it was the Count?"
"I am absolutely certain. He was Sir Percival's spy--he was Sir
Percival's informer--he set Sir Percival watching and waiting, all
the morning through, for Anne Catherick and for me."
"Is Anne found? Did you see her at the lake?"
"No. She has saved herself by keeping away from the place. When
I got to the boat-house no one was there."
"Yes? Yes?"
"I went in and sat waiting for a few minutes. But my restlessness
made me get up again, to walk about a little. As I passed out I
saw some marks on the sand, close under the front of the boathouse.
I stooped down to examine them, and discovered a word
written in large letters on the sand. The word was--LOOK.
"And you scraped away the sand, and dug a hollow place in it?"
"How do you know that, Marian?"
"I saw the hollow place myself when I followed you to the boathouse.
Go on--go on!"
"Yes, I scraped away the sand on the surface, and in a little
while I came to a strip of paper hidden beneath, which had writing
on it. The writing was signed with Anne Catherick's initials.
"Where is it?"
"Sir Percival has taken it from me."
"Can you remember what the writing was? Do you think you can
repeat it to me?"
"In substance I can, Marian. It was very short. You would have
remembered it, word for word."
"Try to tell me what the substance was before we go any further."
She complied. I write the lines down here exactly as she repeated
them to me. They ran thus--
"I was seen with you, yesterday, by a tall, stout old man, and had
to run to save myself. He was not quick enough on his feet to
follow me, and he lost me among the trees. I dare not risk coming
back here to-day at the same time. I write this, and hide it in
the sand, at six in the morning, to tell you so. When we speak
next of your wicked husband's Secret we must speak safely, or not
at all. Try to have patience. I promise you shall see me again
and that soon.--A. C."
The reference to the "tall, stout old man" (the terms of which
Laura was certain that she had repeated to me correctly) left no
doubt as to who the intruder had been. I called to mind that I
had told Sir Percival, in the Count's presence the day before,
that Laura had gone to the boat-house to look for her brooch. In
all probability he had followed her there, in his officious way,
to relieve her mind about the matter of the signature, immediately
after he had mentioned the change in Sir Percival's plans to me in
the drawing-room. In this case he could only have got to the
neighbourhood of the boat-house at the very moment when Anne
Catherick discovered him. The suspiciously hurried manner in
which she parted from Laura had no doubt prompted his useless
attempt to follow her. Of the conversation which had previously
taken place between them he could have heard nothing. The
distance between the house and the lake, and the time at which he
left me in the drawing-room, as compared with the time at which
Laura and Anne Catherick had been speaking together, proved that
fact to us at any rate, beyond a doubt.
Having arrived at something like a conclusion so far, my next
great interest was to know what discoveries Sir Percival had made
after Count Fosco had given him his information.
"How came you to lose possession of the letter?" I asked. "What
did you do with it when you found it in the sand?"
"After reading it once through," she replied, "I took it into the
boat-house with me to sit down and look over it a second time.
While I was reading a shadow fell across the paper. I looked up,
and saw Sir Percival standing in the doorway watching me."
"Did you try to hide the letter?"
"I tried, but he stopped me. 'You needn't trouble to hide that,'
he said. 'I happen to have read it.' I could only look at him
helplessly--I could say nothing. 'You understand?' he went on; 'I
have read it. I dug it up out of the sand two hours since, and
buried it again, and wrote the word above it again, and left it
ready to your hands. You can't lie yourself out of the scrape
now. You saw Anne Catherick in secret yesterday, and you have got
her letter in your hand at this moment. I have not caught HER
yet, but I have caught YOU. Give me the letter.' He stepped close
up to me--I was alone with him, Marian--what could I do?--I gave
him the letter."
"What did he say when you gave it to him?"
"At first he said nothing. He took me by the arm, and led me out
of the boat-house, and looked about him on all sides, as if he was
afraid of our being seen or heard. Then he clasped his hand fast
round my arm, and whispered to me, 'What did Anne Catherick say to
you yesterday? I insist on hearing every word, from first to
"Did you tell him?"
"I was alone with him, Marian--his cruel hand was bruising my arm--
what could I do?"
"Is the mark on your arm still? Let me see it."
"Why do you want to see it?"
"I want to see it, Laura, because our endurance must end, and our
resistance must begin to-day. That mark is a weapon to strike him
with. Let me see it now--I may have to swear to it at some future
"Oh, Marian, don't look so--don't talk so! It doesn't hurt me
"Let me see it!"
She showed me the marks. I was past grieving over them, past
crying over them, past shuddering over them. They say we are
either better than men, or worse. If the temptation that has
fallen in some women's way, and made them worse, had fallen in
mine at that moment Thank God! my face betrayed nothing that his
wife could read. The gentle, innocent, affectionate creature
thought I was frightened for her and sorry for her, and thought no
"Don't think too seriously of it, Marian," she said simply, as she
pulled her sleeve down again. "It doesn't hurt me now."
"I will try to think quietly of it, my love, for your sake.--Well!
well! And you told him all that Anne Catherick had said to you--
all that you told me?"
"Yes, all. He insisted on it--I was alone with him--I could
conceal nothing."
"Did he say anything when you had done?"
"He looked at me, and laughed to himself in a mocking, bitter way.
'I mean to have the rest out of you,' he said, 'do you hear?--the
rest.' I declared to him solemnly that I had told him everything I
knew. 'Not you,' he answered, 'you know more than you choose to
tell. Won't you tell it? You shall! I'll wring it out of you at
home if I can't wring it out of you here.' He led me away by a
strange path through the plantation--a path where there was no
hope of our meeting you--and he spoke no more till we came within
sight of the house. Then he stopped again, and said, 'Will you
take a second chance, if I give it to you? Will you think better
of it, and tell me the rest?' I could only repeat the same words I
had spoken before. He cursed my obstinacy, and went on, and took
me with him to the house. 'You can't deceive me,' he said, 'you
know more than you choose to tell. I'll have your secret out of
you, and I'll have it out of that sister of yours as well. There
shall be no more plotting and whispering between you. Neither you
nor she shall see each other again till you have confessed the
truth. I'll have you watched morning, noon, and night, till you
confess the truth.' He was deaf to everything I could say. He
took me straight upstairs into my own room. Fanny was sitting
there, doing some work for me, and he instantly ordered her out.
'I'll take good care YOU'RE not mixed up in the conspiracy,' he
said. 'You shall leave this house to-day. If your mistress wants
a maid, she shall have one of my choosing.' He pushed me into the
room, and locked the door on me. He set that senseless woman to
watch me outside, Marian! He looked and spoke like a madman. You
may hardly understand it--he did indeed."
"I do understand it, Laura. He is mad--mad with the terrors of a
guilty conscience. Every word you have said makes me positively
certain that when Anne Catherick left you yesterday you were on
the eve of discovering a secret which might have been your vile
husband's ruin, and he thinks you HAVE discovered it. Nothing you
can say or do will quiet that guilty distrust, and convince his
false nature of your truth. I don't say this, my love, to alarm
you. I say it to open your eyes to your position, and to convince
you of the urgent necessity of letting me act, as I best can, for
your protection while the chance is our own. Count Fosco's
interference has secured me access to you to-day, but he may
withdraw that interference to-morrow. Sir Percival has already
dismissed Fanny because she is a quick-witted girl, and devotedly
attached to you, and has chosen a woman to take her place who
cares nothing for your interests, and whose dull intelligence
lowers her to the level of the watch-dog in the yard. It is
impossible to say what violent measures he may take next, unless
we make the most of our opportunities while we have them."
"What can we do, Marian? Oh, if we could only leave this house,
never to see it again!"
"Listen to me, my love, and try to think that you are not quite
helpless so long as I am here with you."
"I will think so--I do think so. Don't altogether forget poor
Fanny in thinking of me. She wants help and comfort too."
"I will not forget her. I saw her before I came up here, and I
have arranged to communicate with her to-night. Letters are not
safe in the post-bag at Blackwater Park, and I shall have two to
write to-day, in your interests, which must pass through no hands
but Fanny's."
"What letters?"
"I mean to write first, Laura, to Mr. Gilmore's partner, who has
offered to help us in any fresh emergency. Little as I know of
the law, I am certain that it can protect a woman from such
treatment as that ruffian has inflicted on you to-day. I will go
into no details about Anne Catherick, because I have no certain
information to give. But the lawyer shall know of those bruises
on your arm, and of the violence offered to you in this room--he
shall, before I rest to-night!"
"But think of the exposure, Marian!"
"I am calculating on the exposure. Sir Percival has more to dread
from it than you have. The prospect of an exposure may bring him
to terms when nothing else will."
I rose as I spoke, but Laura entreated me not to leave her. "You
will drive him to desperation," she said, "and increase our
dangers tenfold."
I felt the truth--the disheartening truth--of those words. But I
could not bring myself plainly to acknowledge it to her. In our
dreadful position there was no help and no hope for us but in
risking the worst. I said so in guarded terms. She sighed
bitterly, but did not contest the matter. She only asked about
the second letter that I had proposed writing. To whom was it to
be addressed?
"To Mr. Fairlie," I said. "Your uncle is your nearest male
relative, and the head of the family. He must and shall
Laura shook her head sorrowfully.
"Yes, yes," I went on, "your uncle is a weak, selfish, worldly
man, I know, but he is not Sir Percival Glyde, and he has no such
friend about him as Count Fosco. I expect nothing from his
kindness or his tenderness of feeling towards you or towards me,
but he will do anything to pamper his own indolence, and to secure
his own quiet. Let me only persuade him that his interference at
this moment will save him inevitable trouble and wretchedness and
responsibility hereafter, and he will bestir himself for his own
sake. I know how to deal with him, Laura--I have had some
"If you could only prevail on him to let me go back to Limmeridge
for a little while and stay there quietly with you, Marian, I
could be almost as happy again as I was before I was married!"
Those words set me thinking in a new direction. Would it be
possible to place Sir Percival between the two alternatives of
either exposing himself to the scandal of legal interference on
his wife's behalf, or of allowing her to be quietly separated from
him for a time under pretext of a visit to her uncle's house? And
could he, in that case, be reckoned on as likely to accept the
last resource? It was doubtful--more than doubtful. And yet,
hopeless as the experiment seemed, surely it was worth trying. I
resolved to try it in sheer despair of knowing what better to do.
"Your uncle shall know the wish you have just expressed," I said,
"and I will ask the lawyer's advice on the subject as well. Good
may come of it--and will come of it, I hope."
Saying that I rose again, and again Laura tried to make me resume
my seat.
"Don't leave me," she said uneasily. "My desk is on that table.
You can write here."
It tried me to the quick to refuse her, even in her own interests.
But we had been too long shut up alone together already. Our
chance of seeing each other again might entirely depend on our not
exciting any fresh suspicions. It was full time to show myself,
quietly and unconcernedly, among the wretches who were at that
very moment, perhaps, thinking of us and talking of us downstairs.
I explained the miserable necessity to Laura, and prevailed on her
to recognise it as I did.
"I will come back again, love, in an hour or less," I said. "The
worst is over for to-day. Keep yourself quiet and fear nothing."
"Is the key in the door, Marian? Can I lock it on the inside?"
"Yes, here is the key. Lock the door, and open it to nobody until
I come upstairs again."
I kissed her and left her. It was a relief to me as I walked away
to hear the key turned in the lock, and to know that the door was
at her own command.
June 19th.--I had only got as far as the top of the stairs when
the locking of Laura's door suggested to me the precaution of also
locking my own door, and keeping the key safely about me while I
was out of the room. My journal was already secured with other
papers in the table drawer, but my writing materials were left
out. These included a seal bearing the common device of two doves
drinking out of the same cup, and some sheets of blotting-paper,
which had the impression on them of the closing lines of my
writing in these pages traced during the past night. Distorted by
the suspicion which had now become a part of myself, even such
trifles as these looked too dangerous to be trusted without a
guard--even the locked table drawer seemed to be not sufficiently
protected in my absence until the means of access to it had been
carefully secured as well.
I found no appearance of any one having entered the room while I
had been talking with Laura. My writing materials (which I had
given the servant instructions never to meddle with) were
scattered over the table much as usual. The only circumstance in
connection with them that at all struck me was that the seal lay
tidily in the tray with the pencils and the wax. It was not in my
careless habits (I am sorry to say) to put it there, neither did I
remember putting it there. But as I could not call to mind, on
the other hand, where else I had thrown it down, and as I was also
doubtful whether I might not for once have laid it mechanically in
the right place, I abstained from adding to the perplexity with
which the day's events had filled my mind by troubling it afresh
about a trifle. I locked the door, put the key in my pocket, and
went downstairs.
Madame Fosco was alone in the hall looking at the weather-glass.
"Still falling," she said. "I am afraid we must expect more
Her face was composed again to its customary expression and its
customary colour. But the hand with which she pointed to the dial
of the weather-glass still trembled.
Could she have told her husband already that she had overheard
Laura reviling him, in my company, as a " spy?" My strong
suspicion that she must have told him, my irresistible dread (all
the more overpowering from its very vagueness) of the consequences
which might follow, my fixed conviction, derived from various
little self-betrayals which women notice in each other, that
Madame Fosco, in spite of her well-assumed external civility, had
not forgiven her niece for innocently standing between her and the
legacy of ten thousand pounds--all rushed upon my mind together,
all impelled me to speak in the vain hope of using my own
influence and my own powers of persuasion for the atonement of
Laura's offence.
"May I trust to your kindness to excuse me, Madame Fosco, if I
venture to speak to you on an exceedingly painful subject?"
She crossed her hands in front of her and bowed her head solemnly,
without uttering a word, and without taking her eyes off mine for
a moment.
"When you were so good as to bring me back my handkerchief," I
went on, "I am very, very much afraid you must have accidentally
heard Laura say something which I am unwilling to repeat, and
which I will not attempt to defend. I will only venture to hope
that you have not thought it of sufficient importance to be
mentioned to the Count?"
"I think it of no importance whatever," said Madame Fosco sharply
and suddenly. "But," she added, resuming her icy manner in a
moment, "I have no secrets from my husband even in trifles. When
he noticed just now that I looked distressed, it was my painful
duty to tell him why I was distressed, and I frankly acknowledge
to you, Miss Halcombe, that I HAVE told him."
I was prepared to hear it, and yet she turned me cold all over
when she said those words.
"Let me earnestly entreat you, Madame Fosco--let me earnestly
entreat the Count--to make some allowances for the sad position in
which my sister is placed. She spoke while she was smarting under
the insult and injustice inflicted on her by her husband, and she
was not herself when she said those rash words. May I hope that
they will be considerately and generously forgiven?"
"Most assuredly," said the Count's quiet voice behind me. He had
stolen on us with his noiseless tread and his book in his hand
from the library.
"When Lady Glyde said those hasty words," he went on, "she did me
an injustice which I lament--and forgive. Let us never return to
the subject, Miss Halcombe; let us all comfortably combine to
forget it from this moment."
"You are very kind," I said, "you relieve me inexpressibly "
I tried to continue, but his eyes were on me; his deadly smile
that hides everything was set, hard, and unwavering on his broad,
smooth face. My distrust of his unfathomable falseness, my sense
of my own degradation in stooping to conciliate his wife and
himself, so disturbed and confused me, that the next words failed
on my lips, and I stood there in silence.
"I beg you on my knees to say no more, Miss Halcombe--I am truly
shocked that you should have thought it necessary to say so much."
With that polite speech he took my hand--oh, how I despise myself!
oh, how little comfort there is even in knowing that I submitted
to it for Laura's sake!--he took my hand and put it to his
poisonous lips. Never did I know all my horror of him till then.
That innocent familiarity turned my blood as if it had been the
vilest insult that a man could offer me. Yet I hid my disgust
from him--I tried to smile--I, who once mercilessly despised
deceit in other women, was as false as the worst of them, as false
as the Judas whose lips had touched my hand.
I could not have maintained my degrading self-control--it is all
that redeems me in my own estimation to know that I could not--if
he had still continued to keep his eyes on my face. His wife's
tigerish jealousy came to my rescue and forced his attention away
from me the moment he possessed himself of my hand. Her cold blue
eyes caught light, her dull white cheeks flushed into bright
colour, she looked years younger than her age in an instant.
"Count!" she said. "Your foreign forms of politeness are not
understood by Englishwomen."
"Pardon me, my angel! The best and dearest Englishwoman in the
world understands them." With those words he dropped my hand and
quietly raised his wife's hand to his lips in place of it.
I ran back up the stairs to take refuge in my own room. If there
had been time to think, my thoughts, when I was alone again, would
have caused me bitter suffering. But there was no time to think.
Happily for the preservation of my calmness and my courage there
was time for nothing but action.
The letters to the lawyer and to Mr. Fairlie were still to be
written, and I sat down at once without a moment's hesitation to
devote myself to them.
There was no multitude of resources to perplex me--there was
absolutely no one to depend on, in the first instance, but myself.
Sir Percival had neither friends nor relatives in the
neighbourhood whose intercession I could attempt to employ. He
was on the coldest terms--in some cases on the worst terms with
the families of his own rank and station who lived near him. We
two women had neither father nor brother to come to the house and
take our parts. There was no choice but to write those two
doubtful letters, or to put Laura in the wrong and myself in the
wrong, and to make all peaceable negotiation in the future
impossible by secretly escaping from Blackwater Park. Nothing but
the most imminent personal peril could justify our taking that
second course. The letters must be tried first, and I wrote them.
I said nothing to the lawyer about Anne Catherick, because (as I
had already hinted to Laura) that topic was connected with a
mystery which we could not yet explain, and which it would
therefore be useless to write about to a professional man. I left
my correspondent to attribute Sir Percival's disgraceful conduct,
if he pleased, to fresh disputes about money matters, and simply
consulted him on the possibility of taking legal proceedings for
Laura's protection in the event of her husband's refusal to allow
her to leave Blackwater Park for a time and return with me to
Limmeridge. I referred him to Mr. Fairlie for the details of this
last arrangement--I assured him that I wrote with Laura's
authority--and I ended by entreating him to act in her name to the
utmost extent of his power and with the least possible loss of
The letter to Mr. Fairlie occupied me next. I appealed to him on
the terms which I had mentioned to Laura as the most likely to
make him bestir himself; I enclosed a copy of my letter to the
lawyer to show him how serious the case was, and I represented our
removal to Limmeridge as the only compromise which would prevent
the danger and distress of Laura's present position from
inevitably affecting her uncle as well as herself at no very
distant time.
When I had done, and had sealed and directed the two envelopes, I
went back with the letters to Laura's room, to show her that they
were written.
"Has anybody disturbed you?" I asked, when she opened the door to
"Nobody has knocked," she replied. "But I heard some one in the
outer room."
"Was it a man or a woman?"
"A woman. I heard the rustling of her gown."
"A rustling like silk?"
"Yes, like silk."
Madame Fosco had evidently been watching outside. The mischief
she might do by herself was little to be feared. But the mischief
she might do, as a willing instrument in her husband's hands, was
too formidable to be overlooked.
"What became of the rustling of the gown when you no longer heard
it in the ante-room?" I inquired. "Did you hear it go past your
wall, along the passage?"
"Yes. I kept still and listened, and just heard it."
"Which way did it go?"
"Towards your room."
I considered again. The sound had not caught my ears. But I was
then deeply absorbed in my letters, and I write with a heavy hand
and a quill pen, scraping and scratching noisily over the paper.
It was more likely that Madame Fosco would hear the scraping of my
pen than that I should hear the rustling of her dress. Another
reason (if I had wanted one) for not trusting my letters to the
post-bag in the hall.
Laura saw me thinking. "More difficulties!" she said wearily;
"more difficulties and more dangers!"
"No dangers," I replied. "Some little difficulty, perhaps. I am
thinking of the safest way of putting my two letters into Fanny's
"You have really written them, then? Oh, Marian, run no risks--
pray, pray run no risks!"
"No, no--no fear. Let me see--what o'clock is it now?"
It was a quarter to six. There would be time for me to get to the
village inn, and to come back again before dinner. If I waited
till the evening I might find no second opportunity of safely
leaving the house.
"Keep the key turned in the lock. Laura," I said, "and don't be
afraid about me. If you hear any inquiries made, call through the
door, and say that I am gone out for a walk."
"When shall you be back?"
"Before dinner, without fail. Courage, my love. By this time tomorrow
you will have a clear-headed, trustworthy man acting for
your good. Mr. Gilmore's partner is our next best friend to Mr.
Gilmore himself."
A moment's reflection, as soon as I was alone, convinced me that I
had better not appear in my walking-dress until I had first
discovered what was going on in the lower part of the house. I
had not ascertained yet whether Sir Percival was indoors or out.
The singing of the canaries in the library, and the smell of
tobacco-smoke that came through the door, which was not closed,
told me at once where the Count was. I looked over my shoulder as
I passed the doorway, and saw to my surprise that he was
exhibiting the docility of the birds in his most engagingly polite
manner to the housekeeper. He must have specially invited her to
see them--for she would never have thought of going into the
library of her own accord. The man's slightest actions had a
purpose of some kind at the bottom of every one of them. What
could be his purpose here?
It was no time then to inquire into his motives. I looked about
for Madame Fosco next, and found her following her favourite
circle round and round the fish-pond.
I was a little doubtful how she would meet me, after the outbreak
of jealousy of which I had been the cause so short a time since.
But her husband had tamed her in the interval, and she now spoke
to me with the same civility as usual. My only object in
addressing myself to her was to ascertain if she knew what had
become of Sir Percival. I contrived to refer to him indirectly,
and after a little fencing on either side she at last mentioned
that he had gone out.
"Which of the horses has he taken?" I asked carelessly.
"None of them," she replied. "He went away two hours since on
foot. As I understood it, his object was to make fresh inquiries
about the woman named Anne Catherick. He appears to be
unreasonably anxious about tracing her. Do you happen to know if
she is dangerously mad, Miss Halcombe?"
"I do not, Countess."
"Are you going in?"
"Yes, I think so. I suppose it will soon be time to dress for
We entered the house together. Madame Fosco strolled into the
library, and closed the door. I went at once to fetch my hat and
shawl. Every moment was of importance, if I was to get to Fanny
at the inn and be back before dinner.
When I crossed the hall again no one was there, and the singing of
the birds in the library had ceased. I could not stop to make any
fresh investigations. I could only assure myself that the way was
clear, and then leave the house with the two letters safe in my
On my way to the village I prepared myself for the possibility of
meeting Sir Percival. As long as I had him to deal with alone I
felt certain of not losing my presence of mind. Any woman who is
sure of her own wits is a match at any time for a man who is not
sure of his own temper. I had no such fear of Sir Percival as I
had of the Count. Instead of fluttering, it had composed me, to
hear of the errand on which he had gone out. While the tracing of
Anne Catherick was the great anxiety that occupied him, Laura and
I might hope for some cessation of any active persecution at his
hands. For our sakes now, as well as for Anne's, I hoped and
prayed fervently that she might still escape him.
I walked on as briskly as the heat would let me till I reached the
cross-road which led to the village, looking back from time to
time to make sure that I was not followed by any one.
Nothing was behind me all the way but an empty country waggon.
The noise made by the lumbering wheels annoyed me, and when I
found that the waggon took the road to the village, as well as
myself, I stopped to let it go by and pass out of hearing. As I
looked toward it, more attentively than before, I thought I
detected at intervals the feet of a man walking close behind it,
the carter being in front, by the side of his horses. The part of
the cross-road which I had just passed over was so narrow that the
waggon coming after me brushed the trees and thickets on either
side, and I had to wait until it went by before I could test the
correctness of my impression. Apparently that impression was
wrong, for when the waggon had passed me the road behind it was
quite clear.
I reached the inn without meeting Sir Percival, and without
noticing anything more, and was glad to find that the landlady had
received Fanny with all possible kindness. The girl had a little
parlour to sit in, away from the noise of the taproom, and a clean
bedchamber at the top of the house. She began crying again at the
sight of me, and said, poor soul, truly enough, that it was
dreadful to feel herself turned out into the world as if she had
committed some unpardonable fault, when no blame could be laid at
her door by anybody--not even by her master, who had sent her
"Try to make the best of it, Fanny," I said. "Your mistress and I
will stand your friends, and will take care that your character
shall not suffer. Now, listen to me. I have very little time to
spare, and I am going to put a great trust in your hands. I wish
you to take care of these two letters. The one with the stamp on
it you are to put into the post when you reach London to-morrow.
The other, directed to Mr. Fairlie, you are to deliver to him
yourself as soon as you get home. Keep both the letters about you
and give them up to no one. They are of the last importance to
your mistress's interests."
Fanny put the letters into the bosom of her dress. "There they
shall stop, miss," she said, "till I have done what you tell me."
"Mind you are at the station in good time to-morrow morning," I
continued. "And when you see the housekeeper at Limmeridge give
her my compliments, and say that you are in my service until Lady
Glyde is able to take you back. We may meet again sooner than you
think. So keep a good heart, and don't miss the seven o'clock
"Thank you, miss--thank you kindly. It gives one courage to hear
your voice again. Please to offer my duty to my lady, and say I
left all the things as tidy as I could in the time. Oh, dear!
dear! who will dress her for dinner to-day? It really breaks my
heart, miss, to think of it."
When I got back to the house I had only a quarter of an hour to
spare to put myself in order for dinner, and to say two words to
Laura before I went downstairs.
"The letters are in Fanny's hands," I whispered to her at the
door. "Do you mean to join us at dinner?"
"Oh, no, no--not for the world."
"Has anything happened? Has any one disturbed you?"
"Yes--just now--Sir Percival----"
"Did he come in?"
"No, he frightened me by a thump on the door outside. I said,
'Who's there?' 'You know,' he answered. 'Will you alter your
mind, and tell me the rest? You shall! Sooner or later I'll wring
it out of you. You know where Anne Catherick is at this moment.'
'Indeed, indeed,' I said, 'I don't.' 'You do!' he called back.
'I'll crush your obstinacy--mind that!--I'll wring it out of you!'
He went away with those words--went away, Marian, hardly five
minutes ago."
He had not found Anne! We were safe for that night--he had not
found her yet.
"You are going downstairs, Marian? Come up again in the evening."
"Yes, yes. Don't be uneasy if I am a little late--I must be
careful not to give offence by leaving them too soon."
The dinner-bell rang and I hastened away.
Sir Percival took Madame Fosco into the dining-room, and the Count
gave me his arm. He was hot and flushed, and was not dressed with
his customary care and completeness. Had he, too, been out before
dinner, and been late in getting back? or was he only suffering
from the heat a little more severely than usual?
However this might be, he was unquestionably troubled by some
secret annoyance or anxiety, which, with all his powers of
deception, he was not able entirely to conceal. Through the whole
of dinner he was almost as silent as Sir Percival himself, and he,
every now and then, looked at his wife with an expression of
furtive uneasiness which was quite new in my experience of him.
The one social obligation which he seemed to be self-possessed
enough to perform as carefully as ever was the obligation of being
persistently civil and attentive to me. What vile object he has
in view I cannot still discover, but be the design what it may,
invariable politeness towards myself, invariable humility towards
Laura, and invariable suppression (at any cost) of Sir Percival's
clumsy violence, have been the means he has resolutely and
impenetrably used to get to his end ever since he set foot in this
house. I suspected it when he first interfered in our favour, on
the day when the deed was produced in the library, and I feel
certain of it now.
When Madame Fosco and I rose to leave the table, the Count rose
also to accompany us back to the drawing-room.
"What are you going away for?" asked Sir Percival--"I mean YOU,
"I am going away because I have had dinner enough, and wine
enough," answered the Count. "Be so kind, Percival, as to make
allowances for my foreign habit of going out with the ladies, as
well as coming in with them."
"Nonsense! Another glass of claret won't hurt you. Sit down again
like an Englishman. I want half an hour's quiet talk with you
over our wine."
"A quiet talk, Percival, with all my heart, but not now, and not
over the wine. Later in the evening, if you please--later in the
"Civil!" said Sir Percival savagely. "Civil behaviour, upon my
soul, to a man in his own house!"
I had more than once seen him look at the Count uneasily during
dinner-time, and had observed that the Count carefully abstained
from looking at him in return. This circumstance, coupled with
the host's anxiety for a little quiet talk over the wine, and the
guest's obstinate resolution not to sit down again at the table,
revived in my memory the request which Sir Percival had vainly
addressed to his friend earlier in the day to come out of the
library and speak to him. The Count had deferred granting that
private interview, when it was first asked for in the afternoon,
and had again deferred granting it, when it was a second time
asked for at the dinner-table. Whatever the coming subject of
discussion between them might be, it was clearly an important
subject in Sir Percival's estimation--and perhaps (judging from
his evident reluctance to approach it) a dangerous subject as
well, in the estimation of the Count.
These considerations occurred to me while we were passing from the
dining-room to the drawing-room. Sir Percival's angry commentary
on his friend's desertion of him had not produced the slightest
effect. The Count obstinately accompanied us to the tea-table--
waited a minute or two in the room--went out into the hall--and
returned with the post-bag in his hands. It was then eight
o'clock--the hour at which the letters were always despatched from
Blackwater Park.
"Have you any letter for the post, Miss Halcombe?" he asked,
approaching me with the bag.
I saw Madame Fosco, who was making the tea, pause, with the sugartongs
in her hand, to listen for my answer.
"No, Count, thank you. No letters to-day."
He gave the bag to the servant, who was then in the room; sat down
at the piano, and played the air of the lively Neapolitan streetsong,
"La mia Carolina," twice over. His wife, who was usually
the most deliberate of women in all her movements, made the tea as
quickly as I could have made it myself--finished her own cup in
two minutes, and quietly glided out of the room.
I rose to follow her example--partly because I suspected her of
attempting some treachery upstairs with Laura, partly because I
was resolved not to remain alone in the same room with her
Before I could get to the door the Count stopped me, by a request
for a cup of tea. I gave him the cup of tea, and tried a second
time to get away. He stopped me again--this time by going back to
the piano, and suddenly appealing to me on a musical question in
which he declared that the honour of his country was concerned.
I vainly pleaded my own total ignorance of music, and total want
of taste in that direction. He only appealed to me again with a
vehemence which set all further protest on my part at defiance.
"The English and the Germans (he indignantly declared) were always
reviling the Italians for their inability to cultivate the higher
kinds of music. We were perpetually talking of our Oratorios, and
they were perpetually talking of their Symphonies. Did we forget
and did they forget his immortal friend and countryman, Rossini?
What was Moses in Egypt but a sublime oratorio, which was acted on
the stage instead of being coldly sung in a concert-room? What was
the overture to Guillaume Tell but a symphony under another name?
Had I heard Moses in Egypt? Would I listen to this, and this, and
this, and say if anything more sublimely sacred and grand had ever
been composed by mortal man?"--And without waiting for a word of
assent or dissent on my part, looking me hard in the face all the
time, he began thundering on the piano, and singing to it with
loud and lofty enthusiasm--only interrupting himself, at
intervals, to announce to me fiercely the titles of the different
pieces of music: "Chorus of Egyptians in the Plague of Darkness,
Miss Halcombe!"--"Recitativo of Moses with the tables of the
Law."--"Prayer of Israelites, at the passage of the Red Sea. Aha!
Aha! Is that sacred? is that sublime?" The piano trembled under
his powerful hands, and the teacups on the table rattled, as his
big bass voice thundered out the notes, and his heavy foot beat
time on the floor.
There was something horrible--something fierce and devilish--in
the outburst of his delight at his own singing and playing, and in
the triumph with which he watched its effect upon me as I shrank
nearer and nearer to the door. I was released at last, not by my
own efforts, but by Sir Percival's interposition. He opened the
dining-room door, and called out angrily to know what "that
infernal noise" meant. The Count instantly got up from the piano.
"Ah! if Percival is coming," he said, "harmony and melody are both
at an end. The Muse of Music, Miss Halcombe, deserts us in
dismay, and I, the fat old minstrel, exhale the rest of my
enthusiasm in the open air!" He stalked out into the verandah, put
his hands in his pockets, and resumed the Recitativo of Moses,
sotto voce, in the garden.
I heard Sir Percival call after him from the dining-room window.
But he took no notice--he seemed determined not to hear. That
long-deferred quiet talk between them was still to be put off, was
still to wait for the Count's absolute will and pleasure.
He had detained me in the drawing-room nearly half an hour from
the time when his wife left us. Where had she been, and what had
she been doing in that interval?
I went upstairs to ascertain, but I made no discoveries, and when
I questioned Laura, I found that she had not heard anything.
Nobody had disturbed her, no faint rustling of the silk dress had
been audible, either in the ante-room or in the passage.
It was then twenty minutes to nine. After going to my room to get
my journal, I returned, and sat with Laura, sometimes writing,
sometimes stopping to talk with her. Nobody came near us, and
nothing happened. We remained together till ten o'clock. I then
rose, said my last cheering words, and wished her good-night. She
locked her door again after we had arranged that I should come in
and see her the first thing in the morning.
I had a few sentences more to add to my diary before going to bed
myself, and as I went down again to the drawing-room after leaving
Laura for the last time that weary day, I resolved merely to show
myself there, to make my excuses, and then to retire an hour
earlier than usual for the night.
Sir Percival, and the Count and his wife, were sitting together.
Sir Percival was yawning in an easy-chair, the Count was reading,
Madame Fosco was fanning herself. Strange to say, HER face was
flushed now. She, who never suffered from the heat, was most
undoubtedly suffering from it to-night.
"I am afraid, Countess, you are not quite so well as usual?" I
"The very remark I was about to make to you," she replied. "You
are looking pale, my dear."
My dear! It was the first time she had ever addressed me with that
familiarity! There was an insolent smile too on her face when she
said the words.
"I am suffering from one of my bad headaches," I answered coldly.
"Ah, indeed? Want of exercise, I suppose? A walk before dinner
would have been just the thing for you." She referred to the
"walk" with a strange emphasis. Had she seen me go out? No matter
if she had. The letters were safe now in Fanny's hands.
"Come and have a smoke, Fosco," said Sir Percival, rising, with
another uneasy look at his friend.
"With pleasure, Percival, when the ladies have gone to bed,"
replied the Count.
"Excuse me, Countess, if I set you the example of retiring," I
said. "The only remedy for such a headache as mine is going to
I took my leave. There was the same insolent smile on the woman's
face when I shook hands with her. Sir Percival paid no attention
to me. He was looking impatiently at Madame Fosco, who showed no
signs of leaving the room with me. The Count smiled to himself
behind his book. There was yet another delay to that quiet talk
with Sir Percival--and the Countess was the impediment this time.
June 19th.--Once safely shut into my own room, I opened these
pages, and prepared to go on with that part of the day's record
which was still left to write.
For ten minutes or more I sat idle, with the pen in my hand,
thinking over the events of the last twelve hours. When I at last
addressed myself to my task, I found a difficulty in proceeding
with it which I had never experienced before. In spite of my
efforts to fix my thoughts on the matter in hand, they wandered
away with the strangest persistency in the one direction of Sir
Percival and the Count, and all the interest which I tried to
concentrate on my journal centred instead in that private
interview between them which had been put off all through the day,
and which was now to take place in the silence and solitude of the
In this perverse state of my mind, the recollection of what had
passed since the morning would not come back to me, and there was
no resource but to close my journal and to get away from it for a
little while.
I opened the door which led from my bedroom into my sitting-room,
and having passed through, pulled it to again, to prevent any
accident in case of draught with the candle left on the dressingtable.
My sitting-room window was wide open, and I leaned out
listlessly to look at the night.
It was dark and quiet. Neither moon nor stars were visible.
There was a smell like rain in the still, heavy air, and I put my
hand out of window. No. The rain was only threatening, it had
not come yet.
I remained leaning on the window-sill for nearly a quarter of an
hour, looking out absently into the black darkness, and hearing
nothing, except now and then the voices of the servants, or the
distant sound of a closing door, in the lower part of the house.
Just as I was turning away wearily from the window to go back to
the bedroom and make a second attempt to complete the unfinished
entry in my journal, I smelt the odour of tobacco-smoke stealing
towards me on the heavy night air. The next moment I saw a tiny
red spark advancing from the farther end of the house in the pitch
darkness. I heard no footsteps, and I could see nothing but the
spark. It travelled along in the night, passed the window at
which I was standing, and stopped opposite my bedroom window,
inside which I had left the light burning on the dressing-table.
The spark remained stationary for a moment, then moved back again
in the direction from which it had advanced. As I followed its
progress I saw a second red spark, larger than the first,
approaching from the distance. The two met together in the
darkness. Remembering who smoked cigarettes and who smoked
cigars, I inferred immediately that the Count had come out first
to look and listen under my window, and that Sir Percival had
afterwards joined him. They must both have been walking on the
lawn--or I should certainly have heard Sir Percival's heavy
footfall, though the Count's soft step might have escaped me, even
on the gravel walk.
I waited quietly at the window, certain that they could neither of
them see me in the darkness of the room.
"What's the matter?" I heard Sir Percival say in a low voice.
"Why don't you come in and sit down?"
"I want to see the light out of that window," replied the Count
"What harm does the light do?"
"It shows she is not in bed yet. She is sharp enough to suspect
something, and bold enough to come downstairs and listen, if she
can get the chance. Patience, Percival--patience."
"Humbug! You're always talking of patience."
"I shall talk of something else presently. My good friend, you
are on the edge of your domestic precipice, and if I let you give
the women one other chance, on my sacred word of honour they will
push you over it!"
"What the devil do you mean?"
"We will come to our explanations, Percival, when the light is out
of that window, and when I have had one little look at the rooms
on each side of the library, and a peep at the staircase as well."
They slowly moved away, and the rest of the conversation between
them (which had been conducted throughout in the same low tones)
ceased to be audible. It was no matter. I had heard enough to
determine me on justifying the Count's opinion of my sharpness and
my courage. Before the red sparks were out of sight in the
darkness I had made up my mind that there should be a listener
when those two men sat down to their talk--and that the listener,
in spite of all the Count's precautions to the contrary, should be
myself. I wanted but one motive to sanction the act to my own
conscience, and to give me courage enough for performing it--and
that motive I had. Laura's honour, Laura's happiness--Laura's
life itself--might depend on my quick ears and my faithful memory
I had heard the Count say that he meant to examine the rooms on
each side of the library, and the staircase as well, before he
entered on any explanation with Sir Percival. This expression of
his intentions was necessarily sufficient to inform me that the
library was the room in which he proposed that the conversation
should take place. The one moment of time which was long enough
to bring me to that conclusion was also the moment which showed me
a means of baffling his precautions--or, in other words, of
hearing what he and Sir Percival said to each other, without the
risk of descending at all into the lower regions of the house.
In speaking of the rooms on the ground floor I have mentioned
incidentally the verandah outside them, on which they all opened
by means of French windows, extending from the cornice to the
floor. The top of this verandah was flat, the rain-water being
carried off from it by pipes into tanks which helped to supply the
house. On the narrow leaden roof, which ran along past the
bedrooms, and which was rather less, I should think, than three
feet below the sills of the window, a row of flower-pots was
ranged, with wide intervals between each pot--the whole being
protected from falling in high winds by an ornamental iron railing
along the edge of the roof.
The plan which had now occurred to me was to get out at my
sitting-room window on to this roof, to creep along noiselessly
till I reached that part of it which was immediately over the
library window, and to crouch down between the flower-pots, with
my ear against the outer railing. If Sir Percival and the Count
sat and smoked to-night, as I had seen them sitting and smoking
many nights before, with their chairs close at the open window,
and their feet stretched on the zinc garden seats which were
placed under the verandah, every word they said to each other
above a whisper (and no long conversation, as we all know by
experience, can be carried on IN a whisper) must inevitably reach
my ears. If, on the other hand, they chose to-night to sit far
back inside the room, then the chances were that I should hear
little or nothing--and in that case, I must run the far more
serious risk of trying to outwit them downstairs.
Strongly as I was fortified in my resolution by the desperate
nature of our situation, I hoped most fervently that I might
escape this last emergency. My courage was only a woman's courage
after all, and it was very near to failing me when I thought of
trusting myself on the ground floor, at the dead of night, within
reach of Sir Percival and the Count.
I went softly back to my bedroom to try the safer experiment of
the verandah roof first.
A complete change in my dress was imperatively necessary for many
reasons. I took off my silk gown to begin with, because the
slightest noise from it on that still night might have betrayed
me. I next removed the white and cumbersome parts of my
underclothing, and replaced them by a petticoat of dark flannel.
Over this I put my black travelling cloak, and pulled the hood on
to my head. In my ordinary evening costume I took up the room of
three men at least. In my present dress, when it was held close
about me, no man could have passed through the narrowest spaces
more easily than I. The little breadth left on the roof of the
verandah, between the flower-pots on one side and the wall and the
windows of the house on the other, made this a serious
consideration. If I knocked anything down, if I made the least
noise, who could say what the consequences might be?
I only waited to put the matches near the candle before I
extinguished it, and groped my way back into the sitting-room, I
locked that door, as I had locked my bedroom door--then quietly
got out of the window, and cautiously set my feet on the leaden
roof of the verandah.
My two rooms were at the inner extremity of the new wing of the
house in which we all lived, and I had five windows to pass before
I could reach the position it was necessary to take up immediately
over the library. The first window belonged to a spare room which
was empty. The second and third windows belonged to Laura's room.
The fourth window belonged to Sir Percival's room. The fifth
belonged to the Countess's room. The others, by which it was not
necessary for me to pass, were the windows of the Count's
dressing-room, of the bath-room, and of the second empty spare
No sound reached my ears--the black blinding darkness of the night
was all round me when I first stood on the verandah, except at
that part of it which Madame Fosco's window over-looked. There,
at the very place above the library to which my course was
directed--there I saw a gleam of light! The Countess was not yet
in bed.
It was too late to draw back--it was no time to wait. I
determined to go on at all hazards, and trust for security to my
own caution and to the darkness of the night. "For Laura's sake!"
I thought to myself, as I took the first step forward on the roof,
with one hand holding my cloak close round me, and the other
groping against the wall of the house. It was better to brush
close by the wall than to risk striking my feet against the
flower-pots within a few inches of me, on the other side.
I passed the dark window of the spare room, trying the leaden roof
at each step with my foot before I risked resting my weight on it.
I passed the dark windows of Laura's room ("God bless her and keep
her to-night!"). I passed the dark window of Sir Percival's room.
Then I waited a moment, knelt down with my hands to support me,
and so crept to my position, under the protection of the low wall
between the bottom of the lighted window and the verandah roof.
When I ventured to look up at the window itself I found that the
top of it only was open, and that the blind inside was drawn down.
While I was looking I saw the shadow of Madame Fosco pass across
the white field of the blind--then pass slowly back again. Thus
far she could not have heard me, or the shadow would surely have
stopped at the blind, even if she had wanted courage enough to
open the window and look out?
I placed myself sideways against the railing of the verandah--
first ascertaining, by touching them, the position of the flowerpots
on either side of me. There was room enough for me to sit
between them and no more. The sweet-scented leaves of the flower
on my left hand just brushed my cheek as I lightly rested my head
against the railing.
The first sounds that reached me from below were caused by the
opening or closing (most probably the latter) of three doors in
succession--the doors, no doubt, leading into the hall and into
the rooms on each side of the library, which the Count had pledged
himself to examine. The first object that I saw was the red spark
again travelling out into the night from under the verandah,
moving away towards my window, waiting a moment, and then
returning to the place from which it had set out.
"The devil take your restlessness! When do you mean to sit down?"
growled Sir Percival's voice beneath me.
"Ouf! how hot it is!" said the Count, sighing and puffing wearily.
His exclamation was followed by the scraping of the garden chairs
on the tiled pavement under the verandah--the welcome sound which
told me they were going to sit close at the window as usual. So
far the chance was mine. The clock in the turret struck the
quarter to twelve as they settled themselves in their chairs. I
heard Madame Fosco through the open window yawning, and saw her
shadow pass once more across the white field of the blind.
Meanwhile, Sir Percival and the Count began talking together
below, now and then dropping their voices a little lower than
usual, but never sinking them to a whisper. The strangeness and
peril of my situation, the dread, which I could not master, of
Madame Fosco's lighted window, made it difficult, almost
impossible, for me, at first, to keep my presence of mind, and to
fix my attention solely on the conversation beneath. For some
minutes I could only succeed in gathering the general substance of
it. I understood the Count to say that the one window alight was
his wife's, that the ground floor of the house was quite clear,
and that they might now speak to each other without fear of
accidents. Sir Percival merely answered by upbraiding his friend
with having unjustifiably slighted his wishes and neglected his
interests all through the day. The Count thereupon defended
himself by declaring that he had been beset by certain troubles
and anxieties which had absorbed all his attention, and that the
only safe time to come to an explanation was a time when they
could feel certain of being neither interrupted nor overheard.
"We are at a serious crisis in our affairs, Percival," he said,
"and if we are to decide on the future at all, we must decide
secretly to-night."
That sentence of the Count's was the first which my attention was
ready enough to master exactly as it was spoken. From this point,
with certain breaks and interruptions, my whole interest fixed
breathlessly on the conversation, and I followed it word for word.
"Crisis?" repeated Sir Percival. "It's a worse crisis than you
think for, I can tell you."
"So I should suppose, from your behaviour for the last day or
two," returned the other coolly. "But wait a little. Before we
advance to what I do NOT know, let us be quite certain of what I
DO know. Let us first see if I am right about the time that is
past, before I make any proposal to you for the time that is to
"Stop till I get the brandy and water. Have some yourself."
"Thank you, Percival. The cold water with pleasure, a spoon, and
the basin of sugar. Eau sucree, my friend--nothing more.
"Sugar-and-water for a man of your age!--There! mix your sickly
mess. You foreigners are all alike."
"Now listen, Percival. I will put our position plainly before
you, as I understand it, and you shall say if I am right or wrong.
You and I both came back to this house from the Continent with our
affairs very seriously embarrassed "
"Cut it short! I wanted some thousands and you some hundreds, and
without the money we were both in a fair way to go to the dogs
together. There's the situation. Make what you can of it. Go
"Well, Percival, in your own solid English words, you wanted some
thousands and I wanted some hundreds, and the only way of getting
them was for you to raise the money for your own necessity (with a
small margin beyond for my poor little hundreds) by the help of
your wife. What did I tell you about your wife on our way to
England?--and what did I tell you again when we had come here, and
when I had seen for myself the sort of woman Miss Halcombe was?"
"How should I know? You talked nineteen to the dozen, I suppose,
just as usual."
"I said this: Human ingenuity, my friend, has hitherto only
discovered two ways in which a man can manage a woman. One way is
to knock her down--a method largely adopted by the brutal lower
orders of the people, but utterly abhorrent to the refined and
educated classes above them. The other way (much longer, much
more difficult, but in the end not less certain) is never to
accept a provocation at a woman's hands. It holds with animals,
it holds with children, and it holds with women, who are nothing
but children grown up. Quiet resolution is the one quality the
animals, the children, and the women all fail in. If they can
once shake this superior quality in their master, they get the
better of HIM. If they can never succeed in disturbing it, he
gets the better of THEM. I said to you, Remember that plain truth
when you want your wife to help you to the money. I said,
Remember it doubly and trebly in the presence of your wife's
sister, Miss Halcombe. Have you remembered it? Not once in all
the implications that have twisted themselves about us in this
house. Every provocation that your wife and her sister could
offer to you, you instantly accepted from them. Your mad temper
lost the signature to the deed, lost the ready money, set Miss
Halcombe writing to the lawyer for the first time "
"First time! Has she written again?"
"Yes, she has written again to-day."
A chair fell on the pavement of the verandah--fell with a crash,
as if it had been kicked down.
It was well for me that the Count's revelation roused Sir
Pemival's anger as it did. On hearing that I had been once more
discovered I started so that the railing against which I leaned
cracked again. Had he followed me to the inn? Did he infer that I
must have given my letters to Fanny when I told him I had none for
the post-bag. Even if it was so, how could he have examined the
letters when they had gone straight from my hand to the bosom of
the girl's dress?
"Thank your lucky star," I heard the Count say next, "that you
have me in the house to undo the harm as fast as you do it. Thank
your lucky star that I said No when you were mad enough to talk of
turning the key to-day on Miss Halcombe, as you turned it in your
mischievous folly on your wife. Where are your eves? Can you look
at Miss Halcombe and not see that she has the foresight and the
resolution of a man? With that woman for my friend I would snap
these fingers of mine at the world. With that woman for my enemy,
I, with all my brains and experience--I, Fosco, cunning as the
devil himself, as you have told me a hundred times--I walk, in
your English phrase, upon egg-shells! And this grand creature--I
drink her health in my sugar-and-water--this grand creature, who
stands in the strength of her love and her courage, firm as a
rock, between us two and that poor, flimsy, pretty blonde wife of
yours--this magnificent woman, whom I admire with all my soul,
though I oppose her in your interests and in mine, you drive to
extremities as if she was no sharper and no bolder than the rest
of her sex. Percival! Percival! you deserve to fail, and you HAVE
There was a pause. I write the villain's words about myself
because I mean to remember them--because I hope yet for the day
when I may speak out once for all in his presence, and cast them
back one by one in his teeth.
Sir Percival was the first to break the silence again.
"Yes, yes, bully and bluster as much as you like," he said
sulkily; "the difficulty about the money is not the only
difficulty. You would be for taking strong measures with the
women yourself--if you knew as much as I do."
"We will come to that second difficulty all in good time,"
rejoined the Count. "You may confuse yourself, Percival, as much
as you please, but you shall not confuse me. Let the question of
the money be settled first. Have I convinced your obstinacy? have
I shown you that your temper will not let you help yourself?--Or
must I go back, and (as you put it in your dear straightforward
English) bully and bluster a little more?"
"Pooh! It's easy enough to grumble at ME. Say what is to be done--
that's a little harder."
"Is it? Bah! This is what is to be done: You give up all direction
in the business from to-night--you leave it for the future in my
hands only. I am talking to a Practical British man--ha? Well,
Practical, will that do for you?"
"What do you propose if I leave it all to you?"
"Answer me first. Is it to be in my hands or not?"
"Say it is in your hands--what then?"
"A few questions, Percival, to begin with. I must wait a little
yet, to let circumstances guide me, and I must know, in every
possible way, what those circumstances are likely to be. There is
no time to lose. I have told you already that Miss Halcombe has
written to the lawyer to-day for the second time."
"How did you find it out? What did she say?"
"If I told you, Percival, we should only come back at the end to
where we are now. Enough that I have found it out--and the
finding has caused that trouble and anxiety which made me so
inaccessible to you all through to-day. Now, to refresh my memory
about your affairs--it is some time since I talked them over with
you. The money has been raised, in the absence of your wife's
signature, by means of bills at three months--raised at a cost
that makes my poverty-stricken foreign hair stand on end to think
of it! When the bills are due, is there really and truly no
earthly way of paying them but by the help of your wife?"
"What! You have no money at the bankers?"
"A few hundreds, when I want as many thousands."
"Have you no other security to borrow upon?"
"Not a shred."
"What have you actually got with your wife at the present moment?"
"Nothing but the interest of her twenty thousand pounds--barely
enough to pay our daily expenses."
"What do you expect from your wife?"
"Three thousand a year when her uncle dies."
"A fine fortune, Percival. What sort of a man is this uncle?
"No--neither old nor young."
"A good-tempered, freely-living man? Married? No--I think my
wife told me, not married."
"Of course not. If he was married, and had a son, Lady Glyde
would not be next heir to the property. I'll tell you what he is.
He's a maudlin, twaddling, selfish fool, and bores everybody who
comes near him about the state of his health."
"Men of that sort, Percival, live long, and marry malevolently
when you least expect it. I don't give you much, my friend, for
your chance of the three thousand a year. Is there nothing more
that comes to you from your wife?"
"Absolutely nothing?"
"Absolutely nothing--except in case of her death."
"Aha! in the case of her death."
There was another pause. The Count moved from the
verandah to the gravel walk outside. I knew that he had moved by
his voice. "The rain has come at last," I heard him say. It had
come. The state of my cloak showed that it had been falling
thickly for some little time.
The Count went back under the verandah--I heard the chair creak
beneath his weight as he sat down in it again.
"Well, Percival," he said, "and in the case of Lady Glyde's death,
what do you get then?"
"If she leaves no children----"
"Which she is likely to do?"
"Which she is not in the least likely to do----"
"Why, then I get her twenty thousand pounds."
"Paid down?"
"Paid down."
They were silent once more. As their voices ceased Madame Fosco's
shadow darkened the blind again. Instead of passing this time, it
remained, for a moment, quite still. I saw her fingers steal
round the corner of the blind, and draw it on one side. The dim
white outline of her face, looking out straight over me, appeared
behind the window. I kept still, shrouded from head to foot in my
black cloak. The rain, which was fast wetting me, dripped over
the glass, blurred it, and prevented her from seeing anything.
"More rain!" I heard her say to herself. She dropped the blind,
and I breathed again freely.
The talk went on below me, the Count resuming it this time.
"Percival! do you care about your wife?"
"Fosco! that's rather a downright question."
"I am a downright man, and I repeat it."
"Why the devil do you look at me in that way?"
"You won't answer me? Well, then, let us say your wife dies before
the summer is out----"
"Drop it, Fosco!"
"Let us say your wife dies----"
"Drop it, I tell you!"
"In that case, you would gain twenty thousand pounds, and you
would lose----"
"I should lose the chance of three thousand a year."
"The REMOTE chance, Percival--the remote chance only. And you
want money, at once. In your position the gain is certain--the
loss doubtful."
"Speak for yourself as well as for me. Some of the money I want
has been borrowed for you. And if you come to gain, my wife's
death would be ten thousand pounds in your wife's pocket. Sharp
as you are, you seem to have conveniently forgotten Madame Fosco's
legacy. Don't look at me in that way! I won't have it! What with
your looks and your questions, upon my soul, you make my flesh
"Your flesh? Does flesh mean conscience in English? speak of your
wife's death as I speak of a possibility. Why not? The
respectable lawyers who scribble-scrabble your deeds and your
wills look the deaths of living people in the face. Do lawyers
make your flesh creep? Why should I? It is my business to-night to
clear up your position beyond the possibility of mistake, and I
have now done it. Here is your position. If your wife lives, you
pay those bills with her signature to the parchment. If your wife
dies, you pay them with her death."
As he spoke the light in Madame Fosco's room was extinguished, and
the whole second floor of the house was now sunk in darkness,
"Talk! talk!" grumbled Sir Percival. "One would think, to hear
you, that my wife's signature to the deed was got already."
"You have left the matter in my hands," retorted the Count, "and I
have more than two months before me to turn round in. Say no more
about it, if you please, for the present. When the bills are due,
you will see for yourself if my 'talk! talk!' is worth something,
or if it is not. And now, Percival, having done with the money
matters for to-night, I can place my attention at your disposal,
if you wish to consult me on that second difficulty which has
mixed itself up with our little embarrassments, and which has so
altered you for the worse, that I hardly know you again. Speak,
my friend--and pardon me if I shock your fiery national tastes by
mixing myself a second glass of sugar-and-water."
"It's very well to say speak," replied Sir Percival, in a far more
quiet and more polite tone than he had yet adopted, "but it's not
so easy to know how to begin."
"Shall I help you?" suggested the Count. "Shall I give this
private difficulty of yours a name? What if I call it--Anne
"Look here, Fosco, you and I have known each other for a long
time, and if you have helped me out of one or two scrapes before
this, I have done the best I could to help you in return, as far
as money would go. We have made as many friendly sacrifices, on
both sides, as men could, but we have had our secrets from each
other, of course--haven't we?"
"You have had a secret from me, Percival. There is a skeleton in
your cupboard here at Blackwater Park that has peeped out in these
last few days at other people besides yourself."
"Well, suppose it has. If it doesn't concern you, you needn't be
curious about it, need you?"
"Do I look curious about it?"
"Yes, you do."
"So! so! my face speaks the truth, then? What an immense
foundation of good there must be in the nature of a man who
arrives at my age, and whose face has not yet lost the habit of
speaking the truth!--Come, Glyde! let us be candid one with the
other. This secret of yours has sought me: I have not sought it.
Let us say I am curious--do you ask me, as your old friend, to
respect your secret, and to leave it, once for all, in your own
"Yes--that's just what I do ask."
"Then my curiosity is at an end. It dies in me from this moment."
"Do you really mean that?"
"What makes you doubt me?"
"I have had some experience, Fosco, of your roundabout ways, and I
am not so sure that you won't worm it out of me after all."
The chair below suddenly creaked again--I felt the trellis-work
pillar under me shake from top to bottom. The Count had started
to his feet, and had struck it with his hand in indignation.
"Percival! Percival!" he cried passionately, "do you know me no
better than that? Has all your experience shown you nothing of my
character yet? I am a man of the antique type! I am capable of the
most exalted acts of virtue--when I have the chance of performing
them. It has been the misfortune of my life that I have had few
chances. My conception of friendship is sublime! Is it my fault
that your skeleton has peeped out at me? Why do I confess my
curiosity? You poor superficial Englishman, it is to magnify my
own self-control. I could draw your secret out of you, if I
liked, as I draw this finger out of the palm of my hand--you know
I could! But you have appealed to my friendship, and the duties of
friendship are sacred to me. See! I trample my base curiosity
under my feet. My exalted sentiments lift me above it. Recognise
them, Percival! imitate them, Percival! Shake hands--I forgive
His voice faltered over the last words--faltered, as if he were
actually shedding tears!
Sir Percival confusedly attempted to excuse himself, but the Count
was too magnanimous to listen to him.
"No!" he said. "When my friend has wounded me, I can pardon him
without apologies. Tell me, in plain words, do you want my help?"
"Yes, badly enough."
"And you can ask for it without compromising yourself?"
"I can try, at any rate."
"Try, then."
"Well, this is how it stands:--I told you to-day that I had done
my best to find Anne Catherick, and failed."
"Yes, you did."
"Fosco! I'm a lost man if I DON'T find her."
"Ha! Is it so serious as that?"
A little stream of light travelled out under the verandah, and
fell over the gravel-walk. The Count had taken the lamp from the
inner part of the room to see his friend clearly by the light of
"Yes!" he said. "Your face speaks the truth this time. Serious,
indeed--as serious as the money matters themselves."
"More serious. As true as I sit here, more serious!"
The light disappeared again and the talk went on.
"I showed you the letter to my wife that Anne Catherick hid in the
sand," Sir Percival continued. "There's no boasting in that
letter, Fosco--she DOES know the Secret."
"Say as little as possible, Percival, in my presence, of the
Secret. Does she know it from you?"
"No, from her mother."
"Two women in possession of your private mind--bad, bad, bad, my
friend! One question here, before we go any farther. The motive
of your shutting up the daughter in the asylum is now plain enough
to me, but the manner of her escape is not quite so clear. Do you
suspect the people in charge of her of closing their eyes
purposely, at the instance of some enemy who could afford to make
it worth their while?"
"No, she was the best-behaved patient they had--and, like fools,
they trusted her. She's just mad enough to be shut up, and just
sane enough to ruin me when she's at large--if you understand
"I do understand it. Now, Percival, come at once to the point,
and then I shall know what to do. Where is the danger of your
position at the present moment?"
"Anne Catherick is in this neighbourhood, and in communication
with Lady Glyde--there's the danger, plain enough. Who can read
the letter she hid in the sand, and not see that my wife is in
possession of the Secret, deny it as she may?"
"One moment, Percival. If Lady Glyde does know the Secret, she
must know also that it is a compromising secret for you. As your
wife, surely it is her interest to keep it?"
"Is it? I'm coming to that. It might be her interest if she cared
two straws about me. But I happen to be an encumbrance in the way
of another man. She was in love with him before she married me--
she's in love with him now--an infernal vagabond of a drawingmaster,
named Hartright."
"My dear friend! what is there extraordinary in that? They are all
in love with some other man. Who gets the first of a woman's
heart? In all my experience I have never yet met with the man who
was Number One. Number Two, sometimes. Number Three, Four, Five,
often. Number One, never! He exists, of course--but I have not
met with him."
"Wait! I haven't done yet. Who do you think helped Anne Catherick
to get the start, when the people from the mad-house were after
her? Hartright. Who do you think saw her again in Cumberland?
Hartright. Both times he spoke to her alone. Stop! don't
interrupt me. The scoundrel's as sweet on my wife as she is on
him. He knows the Secret, and she knows the Secret. Once let
them both get together again, and it's her interest and his
interest to turn their information against me."
"Gently, Percival--gently! Are you insensible to the virtue of
Lady Glyde?"
"That for the virtue of Lady Glyde! I believe in nothing about her
but her money. Don't you see how the case stands? She might be
harmless enough by herself; but if she and that vagabond
"Yes, yes, I see. Where is Mr. Hartright?"
"Out of the country. If he means to keep a whole skin on his
bones, I recommend him not to come back in a hurry."
"Are you sure he is out of the country?"
"Certain. I had him watched from the time he left Cumberland to
the time he sailed. Oh, I've been careful, I can tell you! Anne
Catherick lived with some people at a farm-house near Limmeridge.
I went there myself, after she had given me the slip, and made
sure that they knew nothing. I gave her mother a form of letter
to write to Miss Halcombe, exonerating me from any bad motive in
putting her under restraint. I've spent, I'm afraid to say how
much, in trying to trace her, and in spite of it all, she turns up
here and escapes me on my own property! How do I know who else may
see her, who else may speak to her? That prying scoundrel,
Hartright, may come back with-out my knowing it, and may make use
of her to-morrow----"
"Not he, Percival! While I am on the spot, and while that woman is
in the neighbourhood, I will answer for our laying hands on her
before Mr. Hartright--even if he does come back. I see! yes, yes,
I see! The finding of Anne Catherick is the first necessity--make
your mind easy about the rest. Your wife is here, under your
thumb--Miss Halcombe is inseparable from her, and is, therefore,
under your thumb also--and Mr. Hartright is out of the country.
This invisible Anne of yours is all we have to think of for the
present. You have made your inquiries?"
"Yes. I have been to her mother, I have ransacked the village--
and all to no purpose."
"Is her mother to be depended on?"
"She has told your secret once."
"She won't tell it again."
"Why not? Are her own interests concerned in keeping it, as well
as yours?"
"Yes--deeply concerned."
"I am glad to hear it, Percival, for your sake. Don't be
discouraged, my friend. Our money matters, as I told you, leave
me plenty of time to turn round in, and I may search for Anne
Catherick to-morrow to better purpose than you. One last question
before we go to bed."
"What is it?"
"It is this. When I went to the boat-house to tell Lady Glyde
that the little difficulty of her signature was put off, accident
took me there in time to see a strange woman parting in a very
suspicious manner from your wife. But accident did not bring me
near enough to see this same woman's face plainly. I must know
how to recognise our invisible Anne. What is she like?"
"Like? Come! I'll tell you in two words. She's a sickly likeness
of my wife."
The chair creaked, and the pillar shook once more. The Count was
on his feet again--this time in astonishment.
"What!!!" he exclaimed eagerly.
"Fancy my wife, after a bad illness, with a touch of something
wrong in her head--and there is Anne Catherick for you," answered
Sir Percival.
"Are they related to each other?"
"Not a bit of it."
"And yet so like?"
"Yes, so like. What are you laughing about?"
There was no answer, and no sound of any kind. The Count was
laughing in his smooth silent internal way.
"What are you laughing about?" reiterated Sir Percival.
"Perhaps at my own fancies, my good friend. Allow me my Italian
humour--do I not come of the illustrious nation which invented the
exhibition of Punch? Well, well, well, I shall know Anne Catherick
when I see her--and so enough for to-night. Make your mind easy,
Percival. Sleep, my son, the sleep of the just, and see what I
will do for you when daylight comes to help us both. I have my
projects and my plans here in my big head. You shall pay those
bills and find Anne Catherick--my sacred word of honour on it, but
you shall! Am I a friend to be treasured in the best corner of
your heart, or am I not? Am I worth those loans of money which
you so delicately reminded me of a little while since? Whatever
you do, never wound me in my sentiments any more. Recognise them,
Percival! imitate them, Percival! I forgive you again--I shake
hands again. Good-night!"
Not another word was spoken. I heard the Count close the library
door. I heard Sir Percival barring up the window-shutters. It
had been raining, raining all the time. I was cramped by my
position and chilled to the bones. When I first tried to move,
the effort was so painful to me that I was obliged to desist. I
tried a second time, and succeeded in rising to my knees on the
wet roof.
As I crept to the wall, and raised myself against it, I looked
back, and saw the window of the Count's dressing-room gleam into
light. My sinking courage flickered up in me again, and kept my
eyes fixed on his window, as I stole my way back, step by step,
past the wall of the house.
The clock struck the quarter after one, when I laid my hands on
the window-sill of my own room. I had seen nothing and heard
nothing which could lead me to suppose that my retreat had been
June 20th.--Eight o'clock. The sun is shining in a clear sky. I
have not been near my bed--I have not once closed my weary wakeful
eyes. From the same window at which I looked out into the
darkness of last night, I look out now at the bright stillness of
the morning.
I count the hours that have passed since I escaped to the shelter
of this room by my own sensations--and those hours seem like
How short a time, and yet how long to ME--since I sank down in the
darkness, here, on the floor--drenched to the skin, cramped in
every limb, cold to the bones, a useless, helpless, panic-stricken
I hardly know when I roused myself. I hardly know when I groped
my way back to the bedroom, and lighted the candle, and searched
(with a strange ignorance, at first, of where to look for them)
for dry clothes to warm me. The doing of these things is in my
mind, but not the time when they were done.
Can I even remember when the chilled, cramped feeling left me, and
the throbbing heat came in its place?
Surely it was before the sun rose? Yes, I heard the clock strike
three. I remember the time by the sudden brightness and
clearness, the feverish strain and excitement of all my faculties
which came with it. I remember my resolution to control myself,
to wait patiently hour after hour, till the chance offered of
removing Laura from this horrible place, without the danger of
immediate discovery and pursuit. I remember the persuasion
settling itself in my mind that the words those two men had said
to each other would furnish us, not only with our justification
for leaving the house, but with our weapons of defence against
them as well. I recall the impulse that awakened in me to
preserve those words in writing, exactly as they were spoken,
while the time was my own, and while my memory vividly retained
them. All this I remember plainly: there is no confusion in my
head yet. The coming in here from the bedroom, with my pen and
ink and paper, before sunrise--the sitting down at the widelyopened
window to get all the air I could to cool me--the ceaseless
writing, faster and faster, hotter and hotter, driving on more and
more wakefully, all through the dreadful interval before the house
was astir again--how clearly I recall it, from the beginning by
candle-light, to the end on the page before this, in the sunshine
of the new day!
Why do I sit here still? Why do I weary my hot eyes and my burning
head by writing more? Why not lie down and rest myself, and try to
quench the fever that consumes me, in sleep?
I dare not attempt it. A fear beyond all other fears has got
possession of me. I am afraid of this heat that parches my skin.
I am afraid of the creeping and throbbing that I feel in my head.
If I lie down now, how do I know that I may have the sense and the
strength to rise again?
Oh, the rain, the rain--the cruel rain that chilled me last night!
Nine o'clock. Was it nine struck, or eight? Nine, surely? I am
shivering again--shivering, from head to foot, in the summer air.
Have I been sitting here asleep? I don't know what I have been
Oh, my God! am I going to be ill?
Ill, at such a time as this!
My head--I am sadly afraid of my head. I can write, but the lines
all run together. I see the words. Laura--I can write Laura, and
see I write it. Eight or nine--which was it?
So cold, so cold--oh, that rain last night!--and the strokes of
the clock, the strokes I can't count, keep striking in my head----
* * * * * * * * * *
[At this place the entry in the Diary ceases to be legible. The
two or three lines which follow contain fragments of words only,
mingled with blots and scratches of the pen. The last marks on
the paper bear some resemblance to the first two letters (L and A)
of the name of Lady Glyde.
On the next page of the Diary, another entry appears. It is in a
man's handwriting, large, bold, and firmly regular, and the date
is "June the 21st." It contains these lines--]
The illness of our excellent Miss Halcombe has afforded me the
opportunity of enjoying an unexpected intellectual pleasure.
I refer to the perusal (which I have just completed) of this
interesting Diary.
There are many hundred pages here. I can lay my hand on my heart,
and declare that every page has charmed, refreshed, delighted me.
To a man of my sentiments it is unspeakably gratifying to be able
to say this.
Admirable woman!
I allude to Miss Halcombe.
Stupendous effort!
I refer to the Diary.
Yes! these pages are amazing. The tact which I find here, the
discretion, the rare courage, the wonderful power of memory, the
accurate observation of character, the easy grace of style, the
charming outbursts of womanly feeling, have all inexpressibly
increased my admiration of this sublime creature, of this
magnificent Marian. The presentation of my own character is
masterly in the extreme. I certify, with my whole heart, to the
fidelity of the portrait. I feel how vivid an impression I must
have produced to have been painted in such strong, such rich, such
massive colours as these. I lament afresh the cruel necessity
which sets our interests at variance, and opposes us to each
other. Under happier circumstances how worthy I should have been
of Miss Halcombe--how worthy Miss Halcombe would have been of ME.
The sentiments which animate my heart assure me that the lines I
have just written express a Profound Truth.
Those sentiments exalt me above all merely personal
considerations. I bear witness, in the most disinterested manner,
to the excellence of the stratagem by which this unparalleled
woman surprised the private interview between Percival and myself--
also to the marvellous accuracy of her report of the whole
conversation from its beginning to its end.
Those sentiments have induced me to offer to the unimpressionable
doctor who attends on her my vast knowledge of chemistry, and my
luminous experience of the more subtle resources which medical and
magnetic science have placed at the disposal of mankind. He has
hitherto declined to avail himself of my assistance. Miserable
Finally, those sentiments dictate the lines--grateful,
sympathetic, paternal lines--which appear in this place. I close
the book. My strict sense of propriety restores it (by the hands
of my wife) to its place on the writer's table. Events are
hurrying me away. Circumstances are guiding me to serious issues.
Vast perspectives of success unroll themselves before my eyes. I
accomplish my destiny with a calmness which is terrible to myself.
Nothing but the homage of my admiration is my own. I deposit it
with respectful tenderness at the feet of Miss Halcombe.
I breathe my wishes for her recovery.
I condole with her on the inevitable failure of every plan that
she has formed for her sister's benefit. At the same time, I
entreat her to believe that the information which I have derived
from her Diary will in no respect help me to contribute to that
failure. It simply confirms the plan of conduct which I had
previously arranged. I have to thank these pages for awakening
the finest sensibilities in my nature--nothing more.
To a person of similar sensibility this simple assertion will
explain and excuse everything.
Miss Halcombe is a person of similar sensibility.
In that persuasion I sign myself,
[2] The manner in which Mr. Fairlie's Narrative and other
Narratives that are shortly to follow it, were originally
obtained, forms the subject of an explanation which will appear at
a later period.
It is the grand misfortune of my life that nobody will let me
Why--I ask everybody--why worry ME? Nobody answers that question,
and nobody lets me alone. Relatives, friends, and strangers all
combine to annoy me. What have I done? I ask myself, I ask my
servant, Louis, fifty times a day--what have I done? Neither of us
can tell. Most extraordinary!
The last annoyance that has assailed me is the annoyance of being
called upon to write this Narrative. Is a man in my state of
nervous wretchedness capable of writing narratives? When I put
this extremely reasonable objection, I am told that certain very
serious events relating to my niece have happened within my
experience, and that I am the fit person to describe them on that
account. I am threatened if I fail to exert myself in the manner
required, with consequences which I cannot so much as think of
without perfect prostration. There is really no need to threaten
me. Shattered by my miserable health and my family troubles, I am
incapable of resistance. If you insist, you take your unjust
advantage of me, and I give way immediately. I will endeavour to
remember what I can (under protest), and to write what I can (also
under protest), and what I can't remember and can't write, Louis
must remember and write for me. He is an ass, and I am an
invalid, and we are likely to make all sorts of mistakes between
us. How humiliating!
I am told to remember dates. Good heavens! I never did such a
thing in my life--how am I to begin now?
I have asked Louis. He is not quite such an ass as I have
hitherto supposed. He remembers the date of the event, within a
week or two--and I remember the name of the person. The date was
towards the end of June, or the beginning of July, and the name
(in my opinion a remarkably vulgar one) was Fanny.
At the end of June, or the beginning of July, then, I was
reclining in my customary state, surrounded by the various objects
of Art which I have collected about me to improve the taste of the
barbarous people in my neighbourhood. That is to say, I had the
photographs of my pictures, and prints, and coins, and so forth,
all about me, which I intend, one of these days, to present (the
photographs, I mean, if the clumsy English language will let me
mean anything) to present to the institution at Carlisle (horrid
place!), with a view to improving the tastes of the members (Goths
and Vandals to a man). It might be supposed that a gentleman who
was in course of conferring a great national benefit on his
countrymen was the last gentleman in the world to be unfeelingly
worried about private difficulties and family affairs. Quite a
mistake, I assure you, in my case.
However, there I was, reclining, with my art-treasures about me,
and wanting a quiet morning. Because I wanted a quiet morning, of
course Louis came in. It was perfectly natural that I should
inquire what the deuce he meant by making his appearance when I
had not rung my bell. I seldom swear--it is such an
ungentlemanlike habit--but when Louis answered by a grin, I think
it was also perfectly natural that I should damn him for grinning.
At any rate, I did.
This rigorous mode of treatment, I have observed, invariably
brings persons in the lower class of life to their senses. It
brought Louis to HIS senses. He was so obliging as to leave off
grinning, and inform me that a Young Person was outside wanting to
see me. He added (with the odious talkativeness of servants),
that her name was Fanny.
"Who is Fanny?"
"Lady Glyde's maid, sir."
"What does Lady Glyde's maid want with me .
"A letter, sir----"
"Take it."
"She refuses to give it to anybody but you, sir."
"Who sends the letter?"
"Miss Halcombe, sir."
The moment I heard Miss Halcombe's name I gave up. It is a habit
of mine always to give up to Miss Halcombe. I find, by
experience, that it saves noise. I gave up on this occasion.
Dear Marian!
"Let Lady Glyde's maid come in, Louis. Stop! Do her shoes creak?"
I was obliged to ask the question. Creaking shoes invariably
upset me for the day. I was resigned to see the Young Person, but
I was NOT resigned to let the Young Person's shoes upset me.
There is a limit even to my endurance.
Louis affirmed distinctly that her shoes were to be depended upon.
I waved my hand. He introduced her. Is it necessary to say that
she expressed her sense of embarrassment by shutting up her mouth
and breathing through her nose? To the student of female human
nature in the lower orders, surely not.
Let me do the girl justice. Her shoes did NOT creak. But why do
Young Persons in service all perspire at the hands? Why have they
all got fat noses and hard cheeks? And why are their faces so
sadly unfinished, especially about the corners of the eyelids? I
am not strong enough to think deeply myself on any subject, but I
appeal to professional men, who are. Why have we no variety in
our breed of Young Persons?
"You have a letter for me, from Miss Halcombe? Put it down on the
table, please, and don't upset anything. How is Miss Halcombe?"
"Very well, thank you, sir."
"And Lady Glyde?"
I received no answer. The Young Person's face became more
unfinished than ever, and I think she began to cry. I certainly
saw something moist about her eyes. Tears or perspiration? Louis
(whom I have just consulted) is inclined to think, tears. He is
in her class of life, and he ought to know best. Let us say,
Except when the refining process of Art judiciously removes from
them all resemblance to Nature, I distinctly object to tears.
Tears are scientifically described as a Secretion. I can
understand that a secretion may be healthy or unhealthy, but I
cannot see the interest of a secretion from a sentimental point of
view. Perhaps my own secretions being all wrong together, I am a
little prejudiced on the subject. No matter. I behaved, on this
occasion, with all possible propriety and feeling. I closed my
eyes and said to Louis--
"Endeavour to ascertain what she means."
Louis endeavoured, and the Young Person endeavoured. They
succeeded in confusing each other to such an extent that I am
bound in common gratitude to say, they really amused me. I think
I shall send for them again when I am in low spirits. I have just
mentioned this idea to Louis. Strange to say, it seems to make
him uncomfortable. Poor devil!
Surely I am not expected to repeat my niece's maid's explanation
of her tears, interpreted in the English of my Swiss valet? The
thing is manifestly impossible. I can give my own impressions and
feelings perhaps. Will that do as well? Please say, Yes.
My idea is that she began by telling me (through Louis) that her
master had dismissed her from her mistress's service. (Observe,
throughout, the strange irrelevancy of the Young Person. Was it
my fault that she had lost her place?) On her dismissal, she had
gone to the inn to sleep. (I don't keep the inn--why mention it
to ME?) Between six o'clock and seven Miss Halcombe had come to
say good-bye, and had given her two letters, one for me, and one
for a gentleman in London. (I am not a gentleman in London--hang
the gentleman in London!) She had carefully put the two letters
into her bosom (what have I to do with her bosom?); she had been
very unhappy, when Miss Halcombe had gone away again; she had not
had the heart to put bit or drop between her lips till it was near
bedtime, and then, when it was close on nine o'clock, she had
thought she should like a cup of tea. (Am I responsible for any
of these vulgar fluctuations, which begin with unhappiness and end
with tea?) Just as she was WARMING THE POT (I give the words on
the authority of Louis, who says he knows what they mean, and
wishes to explain, but I snub him on principle)--just as she was
warming the pot the door opened, and she was STRUCK OF A HEAP (her
own words again, and perfectly unintelligible this time to Louis,
as well as to myself) by the appearance in the inn parlour of her
ladyship the Countess. I give my niece's maid's description of my
sister's title with a sense of the highest relish. My poor dear
sister is a tiresome woman who married a foreigner. To resume:
the door opened, her ladyship the Countess appeared in the
parlour, and the Young Person was struck of a heap. Most
I must really rest a little before I can get on any farther. When
I have reclined for a few minutes, with my eyes closed, and when
Louis has refreshed my poor aching temples with a little eau-de-
Cologne, I may be able to proceed.
Her ladyship the Countess----
No. I am able to proceed, but not to sit up. I will recline and
dictate. Louis has a horrid accent, but he knows the language,
and can write. How very convenient!
Her ladyship, the Countess, explained her unexpected appearance at
the inn by telling Fanny that she had come to bring one or two
little messages which Miss Halcombe in her hurry had forgotten.
The Young Person thereupon waited anxiously to hear what the
messages were, but the Countess seemed disinclined to mention them
(so like my sister's tiresome way!) until Fanny had had her tea.
Her ladyship was surprisingly kind and thoughtful about it
(extremely unlike my sister), and said, "I am sure, my poor girl,
you must want your tea. We can let the messages wait till
afterwards. Come, come, if nothing else will put you at your
ease, I'll make the tea and have a cup with you." I think those
were the words, as reported excitably, in my presence, by the
Young Person. At any rate, the Countess insisted on making the
tea, and carried her ridiculous ostentation of humility so far as
to take one cup herself, and to insist on the girl's taking the
other. The girl drank the tea, and according to her own account,
solemnised the extraordinary occasion five minutes afterwards by
fainting dead away for the first time in her life. Here again I
use her own words. Louis thinks they were accompanied by an
increased secretion of tears. I can't say myself. The effort of
listening being quite as much as I could manage, my eyes were
Where did I leave off? Ah, yes--she fainted after drinking a cup
of tea with the Countess--a proceeding which might have interested
me if I had been her medical man, but being nothing of the sort I
felt bored by hearing of it, nothing more. When she came to
herself in half an hour's time she was on the sofa, and nobody was
with her but the landlady. The Countess, finding it too late to
remain any longer at the inn, had gone away as soon as the girl
showed signs of recovering, and the landlady had been good enough
to help her upstairs to bed.
Left by herself, she had felt in her bosom (I regret the necessity
of referring to this part of the subject a second time), and had
found the two letters there quite safe, but strangely crumpled.
She had been giddy in the night, but had got up well enough to
travel in the morning. She had put the letter addressed to that
obtrusive stranger, the gentleman in London into the post, and had
now delivered the other letter into my hands as she was told.
This was the plain truth, and though she could not blame herself
for any intentional neglect, she was sadly troubled in her mind,
and sadly in want of a word of advice. At this point Louis thinks
the secretions appeared again. Perhaps they did, but it is of
infinitely greater importance to mention that at this point also I
lost my patience, opened my eyes, and interfered.
"What is the purport of all this?" I inquired.
My niece's irrelevant maid stared, and stood speechless.
"Endeavour to explain," I said to my servant. "Translate me,
Louis endeavoured and translated. In other words, he descended
immediately into a bottomless pit of confusion, and the Young
Person followed him down. I really don't know when I have been so
amused. I left them at the bottom of the pit as long as they
diverted me. When they ceased to divert me, I exerted my
intelligence, and pulled them up again.
It is unnecessary to say that my interference enabled me, in due
course of time, to ascertain the purport of the Young Person's
I discovered that she was uneasy in her mind, because the train of
events that she had just described to me had prevented her from
receiving those supplementary messages which Miss Halcombe had
intrusted to the Countess to deliver. She was afraid the messages
might have been of great importance to her mistress's interests.
Her dread of Sir Percival had deterred her from going to
Blackwater Park late at night to inquire about them, and Miss
Halcombe's own directions to her, on no account to miss the train
in the morning, had prevented her from waiting at the inn the next
day. She was most anxious that the misfortune of her fainting-fit
should not lead to the second misfortune of making her mistress
think her neglectful, and she would humbly beg to ask me whether I
would advise her to write her explanations and excuses to Miss
Halcombe, requesting to receive the messages by letter, if it was
not too late. I make no apologies for this extremely prosy
paragraph. I have been ordered to write it. There are people,
unaccountable as it may appear, who actually take more interest in
what my niece's maid said to me on this occasion than in what I
said to my niece's maid. Amusing perversity!
"I should feel very much obliged to you, sir, if you would kindly
tell me what I had better do," remarked the Young Person.
"Let things stop as they are," I said, adapting my language to my
listener. "I invariably let things stop as they are. Yes. Is
that all?"
"If you think it would be a liberty in me, sir, to write, of
course I wouldn't venture to do so. But I am so very anxious to
do all I can to serve my mistress faithfully----"
People in the lower class of life never know when or how to go out
of a room. They invariably require to be helped out by their
betters. I thought it high time to help the Young Person out. I
did it with two judicious words--
Something outside or inside this singular girl suddenly creaked.
Louis, who was looking at her (which I was not), says she creaked
when she curtseyed. Curious. Was it her shoes, her stays, or her
bones? Louis thinks it was her stays. Most extraordinary!
As soon as I was left by myself I had a little nap--I really
wanted it. When I awoke again I noticed dear Marian's letter. If
I had had the least idea of what it contained I should certainly
not have attempted to open it. Being, unfortunately for myself,
quite innocent of all suspicion, I read the letter. It
immediately upset me for the day.
I am, by nature, one of the most easy-tempered creatures that ever
lived--I make allowances for everybody, and I take offence at
nothing. But as I have before remarked, there are limits to my
endurance. I laid down Marian's letter, and felt myself--justly
felt myself--an injured man.
I am about to make a remark. It is, of course, applicable to the
very serious matter now under notice, or I should not allow it to
appear in this place.
Nothing, in my opinion, sets the odious selfishness of mankind in
such a repulsively vivid light as the treatment, in all classes of
society, which the Single people receive at the hands of the
Married people. When you have once shown yourself too considerate
and self-denying to add a family of your own to an already
overcrowded population, you are vindictively marked out by your
married friends, who have no similar consideration and no similar
self-denial, as the recipient of half their conjugal troubles, and
the born friend of all their children. Husbands and wives TALK of
the cares of matrimony, and bachelors and spinsters BEAR them.
Take my own case. I considerately remain single, and my poor dear
brother Philip inconsiderately marries. What does he do when he
dies? He leaves his daughter to ME. She is a sweet girl--she is
also a dreadful responsibility. Why lay her on my shoulders?
Because I am bound, in the harmless character of a single man, to
relieve my married connections of all their own troubles. I do my
best with my brother's responsibility--I marry my niece, with
infinite fuss and difficulty, to the man her father wanted her to
marry. She and her husband disagree, and unpleasant consequences
follow. What does she do with those consequences? She transfers
them to ME. Why transfer them to ME? Because I am bound, in the
harmless character of a single man, to relieve my married
connections of all their own troubles. Poor single people! Poor
human nature!
It is quite unnecessary to say that Marian's letter threatened me.
Everybody threatens me. All sorts of horrors were to fall on my
devoted head if I hesitated to turn Limmeridge House into an
asylum for my niece and her misfortunes. I did hesitate,
I have mentioned that my usual course, hitherto, had been to
submit to dear Marian, and save noise. But on this occasion, the
consequences involved in her extremely inconsiderate proposal were
of a nature to make me pause. If I opened Limmeridge House as an
asylum to Lady Glyde, what security had I against Sir Percival
Glyde's following her here in a state of violent resentment
against ME for harbouring his wife? I saw such a perfect labyrinth
of troubles involved in this proceeding that I determined to feel
my ground, as it were. I wrote, therefore, to dear Marian to beg
(as she had no husband to lay claim to her) that she would come
here by herself, first, and talk the matter over with me. If she
could answer my objections to my own perfect satisfaction, then I
assured her that I would receive our sweet Laura with the greatest
pleasure, but not otherwise.
I felt, of course, at the time, that this temporising on my part
would probably end in bringing Marian here in a state of virtuous
indignation, banging doors. But then, the other course of
proceeding might end in bringing Sir Percival here in a state of
virtuous indignation, banging doors also, and of the two
indignations and bangings I preferred Marian's, because I was used
to her. Accordingly I despatched the letter by return of post.
It gained me time, at all events--and, oh dear me! what a point
that was to begin with.
When I am totally prostrated (did I mention that I was totally
prostrated by Marian's letter?) it always takes me three days to
get up again. I was very unreasonable--I expected three days of
quiet. Of course I didn't get them.
The third day's post brought me a most impertinent letter from a
person with whom I was totally unacquainted. He described himself
as the acting partner of our man of business--our dear, pig-headed
old Gilmore--and he informed me that he had lately received, by
the post, a letter addressed to him in Miss Halcombe's
handwriting. On opening the envelope, he had discovered, to his
astonishment, that it contained nothing but a blank sheet of
notepaper. This circumstance appeared to him so suspicious (as
suggesting to his restless legal mind that the letter had been
tampered with) that he had at once written to Miss Halcombe, and
had received no answer by return of post. In this difficulty,
instead of acting like a sensible man and letting things take
their proper course, his next absurd proceeding, on his own
showing, was to pester me by writing to inquire if I knew anything
about it. What the deuce should I know about it? Why alarm me as
well as himself? I wrote back to that effect. It was one of my
keenest letters. I have produced nothing with a sharper
epistolary edge to it since I tendered his dismissal in writing to
that extremely troublesome person, Mr. Walter Hartright.
My letter produced its effect. I heard nothing more from the
This perhaps was not altogether surprising. But it was certainly
a remarkable circumstance that no second letter reached me from
Marian, and that no warning signs appeared of her arrival. Her
unexpected absence did me amazing good. It was so very soothing
and pleasant to infer (as I did of course) that my married
connections had made it up again. Five days of undisturbed
tranquillity, of delicious single blessedness, quite restored me.
On the sixth day I felt strong enough to send for my photographer,
and to set him at work again on the presentation copies of my arttreasures,
with a view, as I have already mentioned, to the
improvement of taste in this barbarous neighbourhood. I had just
dismissed him to his workshop, and had just begun coquetting with
my coins, when Louis suddenly made his appearance with a card in
his hand.
"Another Young Person?" I said. "I won't see her. In my state of
health Young Persons disagree with me. Not at home."
"It is a gentleman this time, sir "
A gentleman of course made a difference. I looked at the card.
Gracious Heaven! my tiresome sister's foreign husband, Count
Is it necessary to say what my first impression was when I looked
at my visitor's card? Surely not! My sister having married a
foreigner, there was but one impression that any man in his senses
could possibly feel. Of course the Count had come to borrow money
of me.
"Louis," I said, "do you think he would go away if you gave him
five shillings?"
Louis looked quite shocked. He surprised me inexpressibly by
declaring that my sister's foreign husband was dressed superbly,
and looked the picture of prosperity. Under these circumstances
my first impression altered to a certain extent. I now took it
for granted that the Count had matrimonial difficulties of his own
to contend with, and that he had come, like the rest of the
family, to cast them all on my shoulders.
"Did he mention his business?" I asked.
"Count Fosco said he had come here, sir, because Miss Halcombe was
unable to leave Blackwater Park."
Fresh troubles, apparently. Not exactly his own, as I had
supposed, but dear Marian's. Troubles, anyway. Oh dear!
"Show him in," I said resignedly.
The Count's first appearance really startled me. He was such an
alarmingly large person that I quite trembled. I felt certain
that he would shake the floor and knock down my art-treasures. He
did neither the one nor the other. He was refreshingly dressed in
summer costume--his manner was delightfully self-possessed and
quiet--he had a charming smile. My first impression of him was
highly favourable. It is not creditable to my penetration--as the
sequel will show--to acknowledge this, but I am a naturally candid
man, and I DO acknowledge it notwithstanding.
"Allow me to present myself, Mr. Fairlie," he said. "I come from
Blackwater Park, and I have the honour and the happiness of being
Madame Fosco's husband. Let me take my first and last advantage
of that circumstance by entreating you not to make a stranger of
me. I beg you will not disturb yourself--I beg you will not
"You are very good," I replied. "I wish I was strong enough to
get up. Charmed to see you at Limmeridge. Please take a chair."
"I am afraid you are suffering to-day," said the Count.
"As usual," I said. "I am nothing but a bundle of nerves dressed
up to look like a man."
"I have studied many subjects in my time," remarked this
sympathetic person. "Among others the inexhaustible subject of
nerves. May I make a suggestion, at once the simplest and the
most profound? Will you let me alter the light in your room?
"Certainly--if you will be so very kind as not to let any of it in
on me."
He walked to the window. Such a contrast to dear Marian! so
extremely considerate in all his movements!
"Light," he said, in that delightfully confidential tone which is
so soothing to an invalid, "is the first essential. Light
stimulates, nourishes, preserves. You can no more do without it,
Mr. Fairlie, than if you were a flower. Observe. Here, where you
sit, I close the shutters to compose you. There, where you do NOT
sit, I draw up the blind and let in the invigorating sun. Admit
the light into your room if you cannot bear it on yourself.
Light, sir, is the grand decree of Providence. You accept
Providence with your own restrictions. Accept light on the same
I thought this very convincing and attentive. He had taken me in
up to that point about the light, he had certainly taken me in.
"You see me confused," he said, returning to his place--"on my
word of honour, Mr. Fairlie, you see me confused in your
"Shocked to hear it, I am sure. May I inquire why?"
"Sir, can I enter this room (where you sit a sufferer), and see
you surrounded by these admirable objects of Art, without
discovering that you are a man whose feelings are acutely
impressionable, whose sympathies are perpetually alive? Tell me,
can I do this?"
If I had been strong enough to sit up in my chair I should, of
course, have bowed. Not being strong enough, I smiled my
acknowledgments instead. It did just as well, we both understood
one another.
"Pray follow my train of thought," continued the Count. "I sit
here, a man of refined sympathies myself, in the presence of
another man of refined sympathies also. I am conscious of a
terrible necessity for lacerating those sympathies by referring to
domestic events of a very melancholy kind. What is the inevitable
consequence? I have done myself the honour of pointing it out to
you already. I sit confused."
Was it at this point that I began to suspect he was going to bore
me? I rather think it was.
"Is it absolutely necessary to refer to these unpleasant matters?"
I inquired. "In our homely English phrase, Count Fosco, won't
they keep?"
The Count, with the most alarming solemnity, sighed and shook his
"Must I really hear them?"
He shrugged his shoulders (it was the first foreign thing he had
done since he had been in the room), and looked at me in an
unpleasantly penetrating manner. My instincts told me that I had
better close my eyes. I obeyed my instincts.
"Please break it gently," I pleaded. "Anybody dead?"
"Dead!" cried the Count, with unnecessary foreign fierceness.
"Mr. Fairlie, your national composure terrifies me. In the name
of Heaven, what have I said or done to make you think me the
messenger of death?"
"Pray accept my apologies," I answered. "You have said and done
nothing. I make it a rule in these distressing cases always to
anticipate the worst. It breaks the blow by meeting it half-way,
and so on. Inexpressibly relieved, I am sure, to hear that nobody
is dead. Anybody ill?"
I opened my eyes and looked at him. Was he very yellow when he
came in, or had he turned very yellow in the last minute or two? I
really can't say, and I can't ask Louis, because he was not in the
room at the time.
"Anybody ill?" I repeated, observing that my national composure
still appeared to affect him.
"That is part of my bad news, Mr. Fairlie. Yes. Somebody is
"Grieved, I am sure. Which of them is it?"
"To my profound sorrow, Miss Halcombe. Perhaps you were in some
degree prepared to hear this? Perhaps when you found that Miss
Halcombe did not come here by herself, as you proposed, and did
not write a second time, your affectionate anxiety may have made
you fear that she was ill?"
I have no doubt my affectionate anxiety had led to that melancholy
apprehension at some time or other, but at the moment my wretched
memory entirely failed to remind me of the circumstance. However,
I said yes, in justice to myself. I was much shocked. It was so
very uncharacteristic of such a robust person as dear Marian to be
ill, that I could only suppose she had met with an accident. A
horse, or a false step on the stairs, or something of that sort.
"Is it serious?" I asked.
"Serious--beyond a doubt," he replied. "Dangerous--I hope and
trust not. Miss Halcombe unhappily exposed herself to be wetted
through by a heavy rain. The cold that followed was of an
aggravated kind, and it has now brought with it the worst
When I heard the word fever, and when I remembered at the same
moment that the unscrupulous person who was now addressing me had
just come from Blackwater Park, I thought I should have fainted on
the spot.
"Good God!" I said. "Is it infectious?"
"Not at present," he answered, with detestable composure. "It may
turn to infection--but no such deplorable complication had taken
place when I left Blackwater Park. I have felt the deepest
interest in the case, Mr. Fairlie--I have endeavoured to assist
the regular medical attendant in watching it--accept my personal
assurances of the uninfectious nature of the fever when I last saw
Accept his assurances! I never was farther from accepting anything
in my life. I would not have believed him on his oath. He was
too yellow to be believed. He looked like a walking-West-Indianepidemic.
He was big enough to carry typhus by the ton, and to
dye the very carpet he walked on with scarlet fever. In certain
emergencies my mind is remarkably soon made up. I instantly
determined to get rid of him.
"You will kindly excuse an invalid," I said--"but long conferences
of any kind invariably upset me. May I beg to know exactly what
the object is to which I am indebted for the honour of your
I fervently hoped that this remarkably broad hint would throw him
off his balance--confuse him--reduce him to polite apologies--in
short, get him out of the room. On the contrary, it only settled
him in his chair. He became additionally solemn, and dignified,
and confidential. He held up two of his horrid fingers and gave
me another of his unpleasantly penetrating looks. What was I to
do? I was not strong enough to quarrel with him. Conceive my
situation, if you please. Is language adequate to describe it? I
think not.
"The objects of my visit," he went on, quite irrepressibly, "are
numbered on my fingers. They are two. First, I come to bear my
testimony, with profound sorrow, to the lamentable disagreements
between Sir Percival and Lady Glyde. I am Sir Percival's oldest
friend--I am related to Lady Glyde by marriage--I am an eyewitness
of all that has happened at Blackwater Park. In those
three capacities I speak with authority, with confidence, with
honourable regret. Sir, I inform you, as the head of Lady Glyde's
family, that Miss Halcombe has exaggerated nothing in the letter
which she wrote to your address. I affirm that the remedy which
that admirable lady has proposed is the only remedy that will
spare you the horrors of public scandal. A temporary separation
between husband and wife is the one peaceable solution of this
difficulty. Part them for the present, and when all causes of
irritation are removed, I, who have now the honour of addressing
you--I will undertake to bring Sir Percival to reason. Lady Glyde
is innocent, Lady Glyde is injured, but--follow my thought here!--
she is, on that very account (I say it with shame), the cause of
irritation while she remains under her husband's roof. No other
house can receive her with propriety but yours. I invite you to
open it."
Cool. Here was a matrimonial hailstorm pouring in the South of
England, and I was invited, by a man with fever in every fold of
his coat, to come out from the North of England and take my share
of the pelting. I tried to put the point forcibly, just as I have
put it here. The Count deliberately lowered one of his horrid
fingers, kept the other up, and went on--rode over me, as it were,
without even the common coach-manlike attention of crying "Hi!"
before he knocked me down.
"Follow my thought once more, if you please," he resumed. "My
first object you have heard. My second object in coming to this
house is to do what Miss Halcombe's illness has prevented her from
doing for herself. My large experience is consulted on all
difficult matters at Blackwater Park, and my friendly advice was
requested on the interesting subject of your letter to Miss
Halcombe. I understood at once--for my sympathies are your
sympathies--why you wished to see her here before you pledged
yourself to inviting Lady Glyde. You are most right, sir, in
hesitating to receive the wife until you are quite certain that
the husband will not exert his authority to reclaim her. I agree
to that. I also agree that such delicate explanations as this
difficulty involves are not explanations which can be properly
disposed of by writing only. My presence here (to my own great
inconvenience) is the proof that I speak sincerely. As for the
explanations themselves, I--Fosco--I, who know Sir Percival much
better than Miss Halcombe knows him, affirm to you, on my honour
and my word, that he will not come near this house, or attempt to
communicate with this house, while his wife is living in it. His
affairs are embarrassed. Offer him his freedom by means of the
absence of Lady Glyde. I promise you he will take his freedom,
and go back to the Continent at the earliest moment when he can
get away. Is this clear to you as crystal? Yes, it is. Have you
questions to address to me? Be it so, I am here to answer. Ask,
Mr. Fairlie--oblige me by asking to your heart's content."
He had said so much already in spite of me, and he looked so
dreadfully capable of saying a great deal more also in spite of
me, that I declined his amiable invitation in pure self-defence.
"Many thanks," I replied. "I am sinking fast. In my state of
health I must take things for granted. Allow me to do so on this
occasion. We quite understand each other. Yes. Much obliged, I
am sure, for your kind interference. If I ever get better, and
ever have a second opportunity of improving our acquaintance "
He got up. I thought he was going. No. More talk, more time for
the development of infectious influences--in my room, too--
remember that, in my room!
"One moment yet," he said, "one moment before I take my leave. I
ask permission at parting to impress on you an urgent necessity.
It is this, sir. You must not think of waiting till Miss Halcombe
recovers before you receive Lady Glyde. Miss Halcombe has the
attendance of the doctor, of the housekeeper at Blackwater Park,
and of an experienced nurse as well--three persons for whose
capacity and devotion I answer with my life. I tell you that. I
tell you, also, that the anxiety and alarm of her sister's illness
has already affected the health and spirits of Lady Glyde, and has
made her totally unfit to be of use in the sick-room. Her
position with her husband grows more and more deplorable and
dangerous every day. If you leave her any longer at Blackwater
Park, you do nothing whatever to hasten her sister's recovery, and
at the same time, you risk the public scandal, which you and I,
and all of us, are bound in the sacred interests of the family to
avoid. With all my soul, I advise you to remove the serious
responsibility of delay from your own shoulders by writing to Lady
Glyde to come here at once. Do your affectionate, your
honourable, your inevitable duty, and whatever happens in the
future, no one can lay the blame on you. I speak from my large
experience--I offer my friendly advice. Is it accepted--Yes, or
I looked at him--merely looked at him--with my sense of his
amazing assurance, and my dawning resolution to ring for Louis and
have him shown out of the room expressed in every line of my face.
It is perfectly incredible, but quite true, that my face did not
appear to produce the slightest impression on him. Born without
nerves--evidently born without nerves.
"You hesitate?" he said. "Mr. Fairlie! I understand that
hesitation. You object--see, sir, how my sympathies look straight
down into your thoughts!--you object that Lady Glyde is not in
health and not in spirits to take the long journey, from Hampshire
to this place, by herself. Her own maid is removed from her, as
you know, and of other servants fit to travel with her, from one
end of England to another, there are none at Blackwater Park. You
object, again, that she cannot comfortably stop and rest in
London, on her way here, because she cannot comfortably go alone
to a public hotel where she is a total stranger. In one breath, I
grant both objections--in another breath, I remove them. Follow
me, if you please, for the last time. It was my intention, when I
returned to England with Sir Percival, to settle myself in the
neighbourhood of London. That purpose has just been happily
accomplished. I have taken, for six months, a little furnished
house in the quarter called St. John's Wood. Be so obliging as to
keep this fact in your mind, and observe the programme I now
propose. Lady Glyde travels to London (a short journey)--I myself
meet her at the station--I take her to rest and sleep at my house,
which is also the house of her aunt--when she is restored I escort
her to the station again--she travels to this place, and her own
maid (who is now under your roof) receives her at the carriagedoor.
Here is comfort consulted--here are the interests of
propriety consulted--here is your own duty--duty of hospitality,
sympathy, protection, to an unhappy lady in need of all three--
smoothed and made easy, from the beginning to the end. I
cordially invite you, sir, to second my efforts in the sacred
interests of the family. I seriously advise you to write, by my
hands, offering the hospitality of your house (and heart), and the
hospitality of my house (and heart), to that injured and
unfortunate lady whose cause I plead to-day."
He waved his horrid hand at me--he struck his infectious breast--
he addressed me oratorically, as if I was laid up in the House of
Commons. It was high time to take a desperate course of some
sort. It was also high time to send for Louis, and adopt the
precaution of fumigating the room.
In this trying emergency an idea occurred to me--an inestimable
idea which, so to speak, killed two intrusive birds with one
stone. I determined to get rid of the Count's tiresome eloquence,
and of Lady Glyde's tiresome troubles, by complying with this
odious foreigner's request, and writing the letter at once. There
was not the least danger of the invitation being accepted, for
there was not the least chance that Laura would consent to leave
Blackwater Park while Marian was lying there ill. How this
charmingly convenient obstacle could have escaped the officious
penetration of the Count, it was impossible to conceive--but it
HAD escaped him. My dread that he might yet discover it, if I
allowed him any more time to think, stimulated me to such an
amazing degree, that I struggled into a sitting position--seized,
really seized, the writing materials by my side, and produced the
letter as rapidly as if I had been a common clerk in an office.
"Dearest Laura, Please come, whenever you like. Break the journey
by sleeping in London at your aunt's house. Grieved to hear of
dear Marian's illness. Ever affectionately yours." I handed these
lines, at arm's length, to the Count--I sank back in my chair--I
said, "Excuse me--I am entirely prostrated--I can do no more.
Will you rest and lunch downstairs? Love to all, and sympathy, and
so on. Good-morning."
He made another speech--the man was absolutely inexhaustible. I
closed my eyes--I endeavoured to hear as little as possible. In
spite of my endeavours I was obliged to hear a great deal. My
sister's endless husband congratulated himself, and congratulated
me, on the result of our interview--he mentioned a great deal more
about his sympathies and mine--he deplored my miserable health--he
offered to write me a prescription--he impressed on me the
necessity of not forgetting what he had said about the importance
of light--he accepted my obliging invitation to rest and lunch--he
recommended me to expect Lady Glyde in two or three days' time--he
begged my permission to look forward to our next meeting, instead
of paining himself and paining me, by saying farewell--he added a
great deal more, which, I rejoice to think, I did not attend to at
the time, and do not remember now. I heard his sympathetic voice
travelling away from me by degrees--but, large as he was, I never
heard him. He had the negative merit of being absolutely
noiseless. I don't know when he opened the door, or when he shut
it. I ventured to make use of my eyes again, after an interval of
silence--and he was gone.
I rang for Louis, and retired to my bathroom. Tepid water,
strengthened with aromatic vinegar, for myself, and copious
fumigation for my study, were the obvious precautions to take, and
of course I adopted them. I rejoice to say they proved
successful. I enjoyed my customary siesta. I awoke moist and
My first inquiries were for the Count. Had we really got rid of
him? Yes--he had gone away by the afternoon train. Had he
lunched, and if so, upon what? Entirely upon fruit-tart and cream.
What a man! What a digestion!
Am I expected to say anything more? I believe not. I believe I
have reached the limits assigned to me. The shocking
circumstances which happened at a later period did not, I am
thankful to say, happen in my presence. I do beg and entreat that
nobody will be so very unfeeling as to lay any part of the blame
of those circumstances on me. I did everything for the best. I am
not answerable for a deplorable calamity, which it was quite
impossible to foresee. I am shattered by it--I have suffered
under it, as nobody else has suffered. My servant, Louis (who is
really attached to me in his unintelligent way), thinks I shall
never get over it. He sees me dictating at this moment, with my
handkerchief to my eyes. I wish to mention, in justice to myself,
that it was not my fault, and that I am quite exhausted and
heartbroken. Need I say more?
(Housekeeper at Blackwater Park)
I am asked to state plainly what I know of the progress of Miss
Halcombe's illness and of the circumstances under which Lady Glyde
left Blackwater Park for London.
The reason given for making this demand on me is, that my
testimony is wanted in the interests of truth. As the widow of a
clergyman of the Church of England (reduced by misfortune to the
necessity of accepting a situation), I have been taught to place
the claims of truth above all other considerations. I therefore
comply with a request which I might otherwise, through reluctance
to connect myself with distressing family affairs, have hesitated
to grant.
I made no memorandum at the time, and I cannot therefore be sure
to a day of the date, but I believe I am correct in stating that
Miss Halcombe's serious illness began during the last fortnight or
ten days in June. The breakfast hour was late at Blackwater Park--
sometimes as late as ten, never earlier than half-past nine. On
the morning to which I am now referring, Miss Halcombe (who was
usually the first to come down) did not make her appearance at the
table. After the family had waited a quarter of an hour, the
upper housemaid was sent to see after her, and came running out of
the room dreadfully frightened. I met the servant on the stairs,
and went at once to Miss Halcombe to see what was the matter. The
poor lady was incapable of telling me. She was walking about her
room with a pen in her hand, quite light-headed, in a state of
burning fever.
Lady Glyde (being no longer in Sir Percival's service, I may,
without impropriety, mention my former mistress by her name,
instead of calling her my lady) was the first to come in from her
own bedroom. She was so dreadfully alarmed and distressed that
she was quite useless. The Count Fosco, and his lady, who came
upstairs immediately afterwards, were both most serviceable and
kind. Her ladyship assisted me to get Miss Halcombe to her bed.
His lordship the Count remained in the sitting-room, and having
sent for my medicine-chest, made a mixture for Miss Halcombe, and
a cooling lotion to be applied to her head, so as to lose no time
before the doctor came. We applied the lotion, but we could not
get her to take the mixture. Sir Percival undertook to send for
the doctor. He despatched a groom, on horseback, for the nearest
medical man, Mr. Dawson, of Oak Lodge.
Mr. Dawson arrived in less than an hour's time. He was a
respectable elderly man, well known all round the country, and we
were much alarmed when we found that he considered the case to be
a very serious one.
His lordship the Count affably entered into conversation with Mr.
Dawson, and gave his opinions with a judicious freedom. Mr.
Dawson, not over-courteously, inquired if his lordship's advice
was the advice of a doctor, and being informed that it was the
advice of one who had studied medicine unprofessionally, replied
that he was not accustomed to consult with amateur physicians.
The Count, with truly Christian meekness of temper, smiled and
left the room. Before he went out he told me that he might be
found, in case he was wanted in the course of the day, at the
boat-house on the banks of the lake. Why he should have gone
there, I cannot say. But he did go, remaining away the whole day
till seven o'clock, which was dinner-time. Perhaps he wished to
set the example of keeping the house as quiet as possible. It was
entirely in his character to do so. He was a most considerate
Miss Halcombe passed a very bad night, the fever coming and going,
and getting worse towards the morning instead of better. No nurse
fit to wait on her being at hand in the neighbourhood, her
ladyship the Countess and myself undertook the duty, relieving
each other. Lady Glyde, most unwisely, insisted on sitting up
with us. She was much too nervous and too delicate in health to
bear the anxiety of Miss Halcombe's illness calmly. She only did
herself harm, without being of the least real assistance. A more
gentle and affectionate lady never lived--but she cried, and she
was frightened, two weaknesses which made her entirely unfit to be
present in a sick-room.
Sir Percival and the Count came in the morning to make their
Sir Percival (from distress, I presume, at his lady's affliction
and at Miss Halcombe's illness) appeared much confused and
unsettled in his mind. His lordship testified, on the contrary, a
becoming composure and interest. He had his straw hat in one hand,
and his book in the other, and he mentioned to Sir Percival in my
hearing that he would go out again and study at the lake. "Let us
keep the house quiet," he said. "Let us not smoke indoors, my
friend, now Miss Halcombe is ill. You go your way, and I will go
mine. When I study I like to be alone. Good-morning, Mrs.
Sir Percival was not civil enough--perhaps I ought in justice to
say, not composed enough--to take leave of me with the same polite
attention. The only person in the house, indeed, who treated me,
at that time or at any other, on the footing of a lady in
distressed circumstances, was the Count. He had the manners of a
true nobleman--he was considerate towards every one. Even the
young person (Fanny by name) who attended on Lady Glyde was not
beneath his notice. When she was sent away by Sir Percival, his
lordship (showing me his sweet little birds at the time) was most
kindly anxious to know what had become of her, where she was to go
the day she left Blackwater Park, and so on. It is in such little
delicate attentions that the advantages of aristocratic birth
always show themselves. I make no apology for introducing these
particulars--they are brought forward in justice to his lordship,
whose character, I have reason to know, is viewed rather harshly
in certain quarters. A nobleman who can respect a lady in
distressed circumstances, and can take a fatherly interest in the
fortunes of an humble servant girl, shows principles and feelings
of too high an order to be lightly called in question. I advance
no opinions--I offer facts only. My endeavour through life is to
judge not that I be not judged. One of my beloved husband's
finest sermons was on that text. I read it constantly--in my own
copy of the edition printed by subscription, in the first days of
my widowhood--and at every fresh perusal I derive an increase of
spiritual benefit and edification.
There was no improvement in Miss Halcombe, and the second night
was even worse than the first. Mr. Dawson was constant in his
attendance. The practical duties of nursing were still divided
between the Countess and myself, Lady Glyde persisting in sitting
up with us, though we both entreated her to take some rest. "My
place is by Marian's bedside," was her only answer. "Whether I am
ill, or well, nothing will induce me to lose sight of her."
Towards midday I went downstairs to attend to some of my regular
duties. An hour afterwards, on my way back to the sick-room, I
saw the Count (who had gone out again early, for the third time)
entering the hall, to all appearance in the highest good spirits.
Sir Percival, at the same moment, put his head out of the library
door, and addressed his noble friend, with extreme eagerness, in
these words--
"Have you found her?"
His lordship's large face became dimpled all over with placid
smiles, but he made no reply in words. At the same time Sir
Percival turned his head, observed that I was approaching the
stairs, and looked at me in the most rudely angry manner possible.
"Come in here and tell me about it," he said to the Count.
"Whenever there are women in a house they're always sure to be
going up or down stairs."
"My dear Percival," observed his lordship kindly, "Mrs. Michelson
has duties. Pray recognise her admirable performance of them as
sincerely as I do! How is the sufferer, Mrs. Michelson?"
"No better, my lord, I regret to say."
"Sad--most sad!" remarked the Count. "You look fatigued, Mrs.
Michelson. It is certainly time you and my wife had some help in
nursing. I think I may be the means of offering you that help.
Circumstances have happened which will oblige Madame Fosco to
travel to London either to-morrow or the day after. She will go
away in the morning and return at night, and she will bring back
with her, to relieve you, a nurse of excellent conduct and
capacity, who is now disengaged. The woman is known to my wife as
a person to be trusted. Before she comes here say nothing about
her, if you please, to the doctor, because he will look with an
evil eye on any nurse of my providing. When she appears in this
house she will speak for herself, and Mr. Dawson will be obliged
to acknowledge that there is no excuse for not employing her.
Lady Glyde will say the same. Pray present my best respects and
sympathies to Lady Glyde."
I expressed my grateful acknowledgments for his lordship's kind
consideration. Sir Percival cut them short by calling to his
noble friend (using, I regret to say, a profane expression) to
come into the library, and not to keep him waiting there any
I proceeded upstairs. We are poor erring creatures, and however
well established a woman's principles may be she cannot always
keep on her guard against the temptation to exercise an idle
curiosity. I am ashamed to say that an idle curiosity, on this
occasion, got the better of my principles, and made me unduly
inquisitive about the question which Sir Percival had addressed to
his noble friend at the library door. Who was the Count expected
to find in the course of his studious morning rambles at
Blackwater Park? A woman, it was to be presumed, from the terms of
Sir Percival's inquiry. I did not suspect the Count of any
impropriety--I knew his moral character too well. The only
question I asked myself was--Had he found her?
To resume. The night passed as usual without producing any change
for the better in Miss Halcombe. The next day she seemed to
improve a little. The day after that her ladyship the Countess,
without mentioning the object of her journey to any one in my
hearing, proceeded by the morning train to London--her noble
husband, with his customary attention, accompanying her to the
I was now left in sole charge of Miss Halcombe, with every
apparent chance, in consequence of her sister's resolution not to
leave the bedside, of having Lady Glyde herself to nurse next.
The only circumstance of any importance that happened in the
course of the day was the occurrence of another unpleasant meeting
between the doctor and the Count.
His lordship, on returning from the station, stepped up into Miss
Halcombe's sitting-room to make his inquiries. I went out from
the bedroom to speak to him, Mr. Dawson and Lady Glyde being both
with the patient at the time. The Count asked me many questions
about the treatment and the symptoms. I informed him that the
treatment was of the kind described as "saline," and that the
symptoms, between the attacks of fever, were certainly those of
increasing weakness and exhaustion. Just as I was mentioning
these last particulars, Mr. Dawson came out from the bedroom.
"Good-morning, sir," said his lordship, stepping forward in the
most urbane manner, and stopping the doctor, with a high-bred
resolution impossible to resist, "I greatly fear you find no
improvement in the symptoms to-day?"
"I find decided improvement," answered Mr. Dawson.
"You still persist in your lowering treatment of this case of
fever?" continued his lordship.
"I persist in the treatment which is justified by my own
professional experience," said Mr. Dawson.
"Permit me to put one question to you on the vast subject of
professional experience," observed the Count. "I presume to offer
no more advice--I only presume to make an inquiry. You live at
some distance, sir, from the gigantic centres of scientific
activity--London and Paris. Have you ever heard of the wasting
effects of fever being reasonably and intelligibly repaired by
fortifying the exhausted patient with brandy, wine, ammonia, and
quinine? Has that new heresy of the highest medical authorities
ever reached your ears--Yes or No?"
"When a professional man puts that question to me I shall be glad
to answer him," said the doctor, opening the door to go out. "You
are not a professional man, and I beg to decline answering you."
Buffeted in this inexcusably uncivil way on one cheek, the Count,
like a practical Christian, immediately turned the other, and
said, in the sweetest manner, "Good-morning, Mr. Dawson."
If my late beloved husband had been so fortunate as to know his
lordship, how highly he and the Count would have esteemed each
Her ladyship the Countess returned by the last train that night,
and brought with her the nurse from London. I was instructed that
this person's name was Mrs. Rubelle. Her personal appearance, and
her imperfect English when she spoke, informed me that she was a
I have always cultivated a feeling of humane indulgence for
foreigners. They do not possess our blessings and advantages, and
they are, for the most part, brought up in the blind errors of
Popery. It has also always been my precept and practice, as it
was my dear husband's precept and practice before me (see Sermon
XXIX. in the Collection by the late Rev. Samuel Michelson, M.A.),
to do as I would be done by. On both these accounts I will not
say that Mrs. Rubelle struck me as being a small, wiry, sly
person, of fifty or thereabouts, with a dark brown or Creole
complexion and watchful light grey eyes. Nor will I mention, for
the reasons just alleged, that I thought her dress, though it was
of the plainest black silk, inappropriately costly in texture and
unnecessarily refined in trimming and finish, for a person in her
position in life. I should not like these things to be said of
me, and therefore it is my duty not to say them of Mrs. Rubelle.
I will merely mention that her manners were, not perhaps
unpleasantly reserved, but only remarkably quiet and retiring--
that she looked about her a great deal, and said very little,
which might have arisen quite as much from her own modesty as from
distrust of her position at Blackwater Park; and that she declined
to partake of supper (which was curious perhaps, but surely not
suspicious?), although I myself politely invited her to that meal
in my own room.
At the Count's particular suggestion (so like his lordship's
forgiving kindness!), it was arranged that Mrs. Rubelle should not
enter on her duties until she had been seen and approved by the
doctor the next morning. I sat up that night. Lady Glyde
appeared to be very unwilling that the new nurse should be
employed to attend on Miss Halcombe. Such want of liberality
towards a foreigner on the part of a lady of her education and
refinement surprised me. I ventured to say, "My lady, we must all
remember not to be hasty in our judgments on our inferiors--
especially when they come from foreign parts." Lady Glyde did not
appear to attend to me. She only sighed, and kissed Miss
Halcombe's hand as it lay on the counterpane. Scarcely a
judicious proceeding in a sick-room, with a patient whom it was
highly desirable not to excite. But poor Lady Glyde knew nothing
of nursing--nothing whatever, I am sorry to say.
The next morning Mrs. Rubelle was sent to the sitting-room, to be
approved by the doctor on his way through to the bedroom.
I left Lady Glyde with Miss Halcombe, who was slumbering at the
time, and joined Mrs. Rubelle, with the object of kindly
preventing her from feeling strange and nervous in consequence of
the uncertainty of her situation. She did not appear to see it in
that light. She seemed to be quite satisfied, beforehand, that
Mr. Dawson would approve of her, and she sat calmly looking out of
window, with every appearance of enjoying the country air. Some
people might have thought such conduct suggestive of brazen
assurance. I beg to say that I more liberally set it down to
extraordinary strength of mind.
Instead of the doctor coming up to us, I was sent for to see the
doctor. I thought this change of affairs rather odd, but Mrs.
Rubelle did not appear to be affected by it in any way. I left
her still calmly looking out of the window, and still silently
enjoying the country air.
Mr. Dawson was waiting for me by himself in the breakfast-room.
"About this new nurse, Mrs. Michelson," said the doctor.
"Yes, sir?"
"I find that she has been brought here from London by the wife of
that fat old foreigner, who is always trying to interfere with me.
Mrs. Michelson, the fat old foreigner is a quack."
This was very rude. I was naturally shocked at it.
"Are you aware, sir," I said, "that you are talking of a
"Pooh! He isn't the first quack with a handle to his name.
They're all Counts--hang 'em!"
"He would not be a friend of Sir Percival Glyde's, sir, if he was
not a member of the highest aristocracy--excepting the English
aristocracy, of course."
"Very well, Mrs. Michelson, call him what you like, and let us get
back to the nurse. I have been objecting to her already."
"Without having seen her, sir?"
"Yes, without having seen her. She may be the best nurse in
existence, but she is not a nurse of my providing. I have put
that objection to Sir Percival, as the master of the house. He
doesn't support me. He says a nurse of my providing would have
been a stranger from London also, and he thinks the woman ought to
have a trial, after his wife's aunt has taken the trouble to fetch
her from London. There is some justice in that, and I can't
decently say No. But I have made it a condition that she is to go
at once, if I find reason to complain of her. This proposal being
one which I have some right to make, as medical attendant, Sir
Percival has consented to it. Now, Mrs. Michelson, I know I can
depend on you, and I want you to keep a sharp eye on the nurse for
the first day or two, and to see that she gives Miss Halcombe no
medicines but mine. This foreign nobleman of yours is dying to
try his quack remedies (mesmerism included) on my patient, and a
nurse who is brought here by his wife may be a little too willing
to help him. You understand? Very well, then, we may go upstairs.
Is the nurse there? I'll say a word to her before she goes into
the sick-room."
We found Mrs. Rubelle still enjoying herself at the window. When
I introduced her to Mr. Dawson, neither the doctor's doubtful
looks nor the doctor's searching questions appeared to confuse her
in the least. She answered him quietly in her broken English, and
though he tried hard to puzzle her, she never betrayed the least
ignorance, so far, about any part of her duties. This was
doubtless the result of strength of mind, as I said before, and
not of brazen assurance, by any means.
We all went into the bedroom.
Mrs. Rubelle looked very attentively at the patient, curtseyed to
Lady Glyde, set one or two little things right in the room, and
sat down quietly in a corner to wait until she was wanted. Her
ladyship seemed startled and annoyed by the appearance of the
strange nurse. No one said anything, for fear of rousing Miss
Halcombe, who was still slumbering, except the doctor, who
whispered a question about the night. I softly answered, "Much as
usual," and then Mr. Dawson went out. Lady Glyde followed him, I
suppose to speak about Mrs. Rubelle. For my own part, I had made
up my mind already that this quiet foreign person would keep her
situation. She had all her wits about her, and she certainly
understood her business. So far, I could hardly have done much
better by the bedside myself.
Remembering Mr. Dawson's caution to me, I subjected Mrs. Rubelle
to a severe scrutiny at certain intervals for the next three or
four days. I over and over again entered the room softly and
suddenly, but I never found her out in any suspicious action.
Lady Glyde, who watched her as attentively as I did, discovered
nothing either. I never detected a sign of the medicine bottles
being tampered with, I never saw Mrs. Rubelle say a word to the
Count, or the Count to her. She managed Miss Halcombe with
unquestionable care and discretion. The poor lady wavered
backwards and forwards between a sort of sleepy exhaustion, which
was half faintness and half slumbering, and attacks of fever which
brought with them more or less of wandering in her mind. Mrs.
Rubelle never disturbed her in the first case, and never startled
her in the second, by appearing too suddenly at the bedside in the
character of a stranger. Honour to whom honour is due (whether
foreign or English and I give her privilege impartially to Mrs.
Rubelle. She was remarkably uncommunicative about herself, and
she was too quietly independent of all advice from experienced
persons who understood the duties of a sick-room--but with these
drawbacks, she was a good nurse, and she never gave either Lady
Glyde or Mr. Dawson the shadow of a reason for complaining of her.
The next circumstance of importance that occurred in the house was
the temporary absence of the Count, occasioned by business which
took him to London. He went away (I think) on the morning of the
fourth day after the arrival of Mrs. Rubelle, and at parting he
spoke to Lady Glyde very seriously, in my presence, on the subject
of Miss Halcombe.
"Trust Mr. Dawson," he said, "for a few days more, if you please.
But if there is not some change for the better in that time, send
for advice from London, which this mule of a doctor must accept in
spite of himself. Offend Mr. Dawson, and save Miss Halcombe. I
say this seriously, on my word of honour and from the bottom of my
His lordship spoke with extreme feeling and kindness. But poor
Lady Glyde's nerves were so completely broken down that she seemed
quite frightened at him. She trembled from head to foot, and
allowed him to take his leave without uttering a word on her side.
She turned to me when he had gone, and said, "Oh, Mrs. Michelson,
I am heart-broken about my sister, and I have no friend to advise
me! Do you think Mr. Dawson is wrong? He told me himself this
morning that there was no fear, and no need to send for another
"With all respect to Mr. Dawson," I answered, "in your ladyship's
place I should remember the Count's advice."
Lady Glyde turned away from me suddenly, with an appearance of
despair, for which I was quite unable to account.
"HIS advice!" she said to herself. "God help us--HIS advice!"
The Count was away from Blackwater Park, as nearly as I remember,
a week.
Sir Percival seemed to feel the loss of his lordship in various
ways, and appeared also, I thought, much depressed and altered by
the sickness and sorrow in the house. Occasionally he was so very
restless that I could not help noticing it, coming and going, and
wandering here and there and everywhere in the grounds. His
inquiries about Miss Halcombe, and about his lady (whose failing
health seemed to cause him sincere anxiety), were most attentive.
I think his heart was much softened. If some kind clerical
friend--some such friend as he might have found in my late
excellent husband--had been near him at this time, cheering moral
progress might have been made with Sir Percival. I seldom find
myself mistaken on a point of this sort, having had experience to
guide me in my happy married days.
Her ladyship the Countess, who was now the only company for Sir
Percival downstairs, rather neglected him, as I considered--or,
perhaps, it might have been that he neglected her. A stranger
might almost have supposed that they were bent, now they were left
together alone, on actually avoiding one another. This, of
course, could not be. But it did so happen, nevertheless, that
the Countess made her dinner at luncheon-time, and that she always
came upstairs towards evening, although Mrs. Rubelle had taken the
nursing duties entirely off her hands. Sir Percival dined by
himself, and William (the man out of livery) make the remark, in
my hearing, that his master had put himself on half rations of
food and on a double allowance of drink. I attach no importance
to such an insolent observation as this on the part of a servant.
I reprobated it at the time, and I wish to be understood as
reprobating it once more on this occasion.
In the course of the next few days Miss Halcombe did certainly
seem to all of us to be mending a little. Our faith in Mr. Dawson
revived. He appeared to be very confident about the case, and he
assured Lady Glyde, when she spoke to him on the subject, that he
would himself propose to send for a physician the moment he felt
so much as the shadow of a doubt crossing his own mind.
The only person among us who did not appear to be relieved by
these words was the Countess. She said to me privately, that she
could not feel easy about Miss Halcombe on Mr. Dawson's authority,
and that she should wait anxiously for her husband's opinion on
his return. That return, his letters informed her, would take
place in three days' time. The Count and Countess corresponded
regularly every morning during his lordship's absence. They were
in that respect, as in all others, a pattern to married people.
On the evening of the third day I noticed a change in Miss
Halcombe, which caused me serious apprehension. Mrs. Rubelle
noticed it too. We said nothing on the subject to Lady Glyde, who
was then lying asleep, completely overpowered by exhaustion, on
the sofa in the sitting-room.
Mr. Dawson did not pay his evening visit till later than usual.
As soon as he set eyes on his patient I saw his face alter. He
tried to hide it, but he looked both confused and alarmed. A
messenger was sent to his residence for his medicine-chest,
disinfecting preparations were used in the room, and a bed was
made up for him in the house by his own directions. "Has the
fever turned to infection?" I whispered to him. "I am afraid it
has," he answered; "we shall know better to-morrow morning.
By Mr. Dawson's own directions Lady Glyde was kept in ignorance of
this change for the worse. He himself absolutely forbade her, on
account of her health, to join us in the bed-room that night. She
tried to resist--there was a sad scene--but he had his medical
authority to support him, and he carried his point.
The next morning one of the men-servants was sent to London at
eleven o'clock, with a letter to a physician in town, and with
orders to bring the new doctor back with him by the earliest
possible train. Half an hour after the messenger had gone the
Count returned to Blackwater Park.
The Countess, on her own responsibility, immediately brought him
in to see the patient. There was no impropriety that I could
discover in her taking this course. His lordship was a married
man, he was old enough to be Miss Halcombe's father, and he saw
her in the presence of a female relative, Lady Glyde's aunt. Mr.
Dawson nevertheless protested against his presence in the room,
but I could plainly remark the doctor was too much alarmed to make
any serious resistance on this occasion.
The poor suffering lady was past knowing any one about her. She
seemed to take her friends for enemies. When the Count approached

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