The Woman in White
Part 13 out of 14
see me, and said I had forgotten something upstairs. As soon as I
was out of the room I went down to the first landing and waited--I
was determined to stop him if he tried to come upstairs. He made
no such attempt. The girl from the shop came through the door
into the passage, with his card in her hand--a large gilt card
with his name, and a coronet above it, and these lines underneath
in pencil: 'Dear lady' (yes! the villain could address me in that
way still)--'dear lady, one word, I implore you, on a matter
serious to us both.' If one can think at all, in serious
difficulties, one thinks quick. I felt directly that it might be
a fatal mistake to leave myself and to leave you in the dark,
where such a man as the Count was concerned. I felt that the
doubt of what he might do, in your absence, would be ten times
more trying to me if I declined to see him than if I consented.
'Ask the gentleman to wait in the shop,' I said. 'I will be with
him in a moment.' I ran upstairs for my bonnet, being determined
not to let him speak to me indoors. I knew his deep ringing
voice, and I was afraid Laura might hear it, even in the shop. In
less than a minute I was down again in the passage, and had opened
the door into the street. He came round to meet me from the shop.
There he was in deep mourning, with his smooth bow and his deadly
smile, and some idle boys and women near him, staring at his great
size, his fine black clothes, and his large cane with the gold
knob to it. All the horrible time at Blackwater came back to me
the moment I set eyes on him. All the old loathing crept and
crawled through me, when he took off his hat with a flourish and
spoke to me, as if we had parted on the friendliest terms hardly a
"You remember what he said?"
"I can't repeat it, Walter. You shall know directly what he said
about you---but I can't repeat what he said to me. It was worse
than the polite insolence of his letter. My hands tingled to
strike him, as if I had been a man! I only kept them quiet by
tearing his card to pieces under my shawl. Without saying a word
on my side, I walked away from the house (for fear of Laura seeing
us), and he followed, protesting softly all the way. In the first
by-street I turned, and asked him what he wanted with me. He
wanted two things. First, if I had no objection, to express his
sentiments. I declined to hear them. Secondly, to repeat the
warning in his letter. I asked, what occasion there was for
repeating it. He bowed and smiled, and said he would explain.
The explanation exactly confirmed the fears I expressed before you
left us. I told you, if you remember, that Sir Percival would be
too headstrong to take his friend's advice where you were
concerned, and that there was no danger to be dreaded from the
Count till his own interests were threatened, and he was roused
into acting for himself?"
"I recollect, Marian."
"Well, so it has really turned out. The Count offered his advice,
but it was refused. Sir Percival would only take counsel of his
own violence, his own obstinacy, and his own hatred of you. The
Count let him have his way, first privately ascertaining, in case
of his own interests being threatened next, where we lived. You
were followed, Walter, on returning here, after your first journey
to Hampshire, by the lawyer's men for some distance from the
railway, and by the Count himself to the door of the house. How
he contrived to escape being seen by you he did not tell me, but
he found us out on that occasion, and in that way. Having made
the discovery, he took no advantage of it till the news reached
him of Sir Percival's death, and then, as I told you, he acted for
himself, because he believed you would next proceed against the
dead man's partner in the conspiracy. He at once made his
arrangements to meet the owner of the Asylum in London, and to
take him to the place where his runaway patient was hidden,
believing that the results, whichever way they ended, would be to
involve you in interminable legal disputes and difficulties, and
to tie your hands for all purposes of offence, so far as he was
concerned. That was his purpose, on his own confession to me.
The only consideration which made him hesitate, at the last
"It is hard to acknowledge it, Walter, and yet I must. I was the
only consideration. No words can say how degraded I feel in my
own estimation when I think of it, but the one weak point in that
man's iron character is the horrible admiration he feels for me.
I have tried, for the sake of my own self-respect, to disbelieve
it as long as I could; but his looks, his actions, force on me the
shameful conviction of the truth. The eyes of that monster of
wickedness moistened while he was speaking to me--they did,
Walter! He declared that at the moment of pointing out the house
to the doctor, he thought of my misery if I was separated from
Laura, of my responsibility if I was called on to answer for
effecting her escape, and he risked the worst that you could do to
him, the second time, for my sake. All he asked was that I would
remember the sacrifice, and restrain your rashness, in my own
interests--interests which he might never be able to consult
again. I made no such bargain with him--I would have died first.
But believe him or not, whether it is true or false that he sent
the doctor away with an excuse, one thing is certain, I saw the
man leave him without so much as a glance at our window, or even
at our side of the way."
"I believe it, Marian. The best men are not consistent in good--
why should the worst men be consistent in evil? At the same time,
I suspect him of merely attempting to frighten you, by threatening
what he cannot really do. I doubt his power of annoying us, by
means of the owner of the Asylum, now that Sir Percival is dead,
and Mrs. Catherick is free from all control. But let me hear
more. What did the Count say of me?"
"He spoke last of you. His eyes brightened and hardened, and his
manner changed to what I remember it in past times--to that
mixture of pitiless resolution and mountebank mockery which makes
it so impossible to fathom him. 'Warn Mr. Hartright!' he said in
his loftiest manner. 'He has a man of brains to deal with, a man
who snaps his big fingers at the laws and conventions of society,
when he measures himself with ME. If my lamented friend had taken
my advice, the business of the inquest would have been with the
body of Mr. Hartright. But my lamented friend was obstinate.
See! I mourn his loss--inwardly in my soul, outwardly on my hat.
This trivial crape expresses sensibilities which I summon Mr.
Hartright to respect. They may be transformed to immeasurable
enmities if he ventures to disturb them. Let him be content with
what he has got--with what I leave unmolested, for your sake, to
him and to you. Say to him (with my compliments), if he stirs me,
he has Fosco to deal with. In the English of the Popular Tongue,
I inform him--Fosco sticks at nothing. Dear lady, good morning.'
His cold grey eyes settled on my face--he took off his hat
solemnly--bowed, bare-headed--and left me."
"Without returning? without saying more last words?"
"He turned at the corner of the street, and waved his hand, and
then struck it theatrically on his breast. I lost sight of him
after that. He disappeared in the opposite direction to our
house, and I ran back to Laura. Before I was indoors again, I had
made up my mind that we must go. The house (especially in your
absence) was a place of danger instead of a place of safety, now
that the Count had discovered it. If I could have felt certain of
your return, I should have risked waiting till you came back. But
I was certain of nothing, and I acted at once on my own impulse.
You had spoken, before leaving us, of moving into a quieter
neighbourhood and purer air, for the sake of Laura's health. I
had only to remind her of that, and to suggest surprising you and
saving you trouble by managing the move in your absence, to make
her quite as anxious for the change as I was. She helped me to
pack up your things, and she has arranged them all for you in your
new working-room here."
"What made you think of coming to this place?"
"My ignorance of other localities in the neighbourhood of London.
I felt the necessity of getting as far away as possible from our
old lodgings, and I knew something of Fulham, because I had once
been at school there. I despatched a messenger with a note, on
the chance that the school might still be in existence. It was in
existence--the daughters of my old mistress were carrying it on
for her, and they engaged this place from the instructions I had
sent. It was just post-time when the messenger returned to me
with the address of the house. We moved after dark--we came here
quite unobserved. Have I done right, Walter? Have I justified
your trust in me?"
I answered her warmly and gratefully, as I really felt. But the
anxious look still remained on her face while I was speaking, and
the first question she asked, when I had done, related to Count
I saw that she was thinking of him now with a changed mind. No
fresh outbreak of anger against him, no new appeal to me to hasten
the day of reckoning escaped her. Her conviction that the man's
hateful admiration of herself was really sincere, seemed to have
increased a hundredfold her distrust of his unfathomable cunning,
her inborn dread of the wicked energy and vigilance of all his
faculties. Her voice fell low, her manner was hesitating, her
eyes searched into mine with an eager fear when she asked me what
I thought of his message, and what I meant to do next after
"Not many weeks have passed, Marian," I answered, "since my
interview with Mr. Kyrle. When he and I parted, the last words I
said to him about Laura were these: 'Her uncle's house shall open
to receive her, in the presence of every soul who followed the
false funeral to the grave; the lie that records her death shall
be publicly erased from the tombstone by the authority of the head
of the family, and the two men who have wronged her shall answer
for their crime to ME, though the justice that sits in tribunals
is powerless to pursue them.' One of those men is beyond mortal
reach. The other remains, and my resolution remains."
Her eyes lit up--her colour rose. She said nothing, but I saw all
her sympathies gathering to mine in her face.
"I don't disguise from myself, or from you," I went on, "that the
prospect before us is more than doubtful. The risks we have run
already are, it may be, trifles compared with the risks that
threaten us in the future, but the venture shall be tried, Marian,
for all that. I am not rash enough to measure myself against such
a man as the Count before I am well prepared for him. I have
learnt patience--I can wait my time. Let him believe that his
message has produced its effect--let him know nothing of us, and
hear nothing of us--let us give him full time to feel secure--his
own boastful nature, unless I seriously mistake him, will hasten
that result. This is one reason for waiting, but there is another
more important still. My position, Marian, towards you and
towards Laura ought to be a stronger one than it is now before I
try our last chance."
She leaned near to me, with a look of surprise.
"How can it be stronger?" she asked.
"I will tell you," I replied, "when the time comes. It has not
come yet--it may never come at all. I may be silent about it to
Laura for ever--I must be silent now, even to YOU, till I see for
myself that I can harmlessly and honourably speak. Let us leave
that subject. There is another which has more pressing claims on
our attention. You have kept Laura, mercifully kept her, in
ignorance of her husband's death----"
"Oh, Walter, surely it must be long yet before we tell her of it?"
"No, Marian. Better that you should reveal it to her now, than
that accident, which no one can guard against, should reveal it to
her at some future time. Spare her all the details--break it to
her very tenderly, but tell her that he is dead."
"You have a reason, Walter, for wishing her to know of her
husband's death besides the reason you have just mentioned?"
"A reason connected with that subject which must not be mentioned
between us yet?--which may never be mentioned to Laura at all?"
She dwelt on the last words meaningly. When I answered her in the
affirmative, I dwelt on them too.
Her face grew pale. For a while she looked at me with a sad,
hesitating interest. An unaccustomed tenderness trembled in her
dark eyes and softened her firm lips, as she glanced aside at the
empty chair in which the dear companion of all our joys and
sorrows had been sitting.
"I think I understand," she said. "I think I owe it to her and to
you, Walter, to tell her of her husband's death."
She sighed, and held my hand fast for a moment--then dropped it
abruptly, and left the room. On the next day Laura knew that his
death had released her, and that the error and the calamity of her
life lay buried in his tomb.
His name was mentioned among us no more. Thenceforward, we shrank
from the slightest approach to the subject of his death, and in
the same scrupulous manner, Marian and I avoided all further
reference to that other subject, which, by her consent and mine,
was not to be mentioned between us yet. It was not the less
present in our minds--it was rather kept alive in them by the
restraint which we had imposed on ourselves. We both watched
Laura more anxiously than ever, sometimes waiting and hoping,
sometimes waiting and fearing, till the time came.
By degrees we returned to our accustomed way of life. I resumed
the daily work, which had been suspended during my absence in
Hampshire. Our new lodgings cost us more than the smaller and
less convenient rooms which we had left, and the claim thus
implied on my increased exertions was strengthened by the
doubtfulness of our future prospects. Emergencies might yet
happen which would exhaust our little fund at the banker's, and
the work of my hands might be, ultimately, all we had to look to
for support. More permanent and more lucrative employment than
had yet been offered to me was a necessity of our position--a
necessity for which I now diligently set myself to provide.
It must not be supposed that the interval of rest and seclusion of
which I am now writing, entirely suspended, on my part, all
pursuit of the one absorbing purpose with which my thoughts and
actions are associated in these pages. That purpose was, for
months and months yet, never to relax its claims on me. The slow
ripening of it still left me a measure of precaution to take, an
obligation of gratitude to perform, and a doubtful question to
The measure of precaution related, necessarily, to the Count. It
was of the last importance to ascertain, if possible, whether his
plans committed him to remaining in England--or, in other words,
to remaining within my reach. I contrived to set this doubt at
rest by very simple means. His address in St. John's Wood being
known to me, I inquired in the neighbourhood, and having found out
the agent who had the disposal of the furnished house in which he
lived, I asked if number five, Forest Road, was likely to be let
within a reasonable time. The reply was in the negative. I was
informed that the foreign gentleman then residing in the house had
renewed his term of occupation for another six months, and would
remain in possession until the end of June in the following year.
We were then at the beginning of December only. I left the agent
with my mind relieved from all present fear of the Count's
The obligation I had to perform took me once more into the
presence of Mrs. Clements. I had promised to return, and to
confide to her those particulars relating to the death and burial
of Anne Catherick which I had been obliged to withhold at our
first interview. Changed as circumstances now were, there was no
hindrance to my trusting the good woman with as much of the story
of the conspiracy as it was necessary to tell. I had every reason
that sympathy and friendly feeling could suggest to urge on me the
speedy performance of my promise, and I did conscientiously and
carefully perform it. There is no need to burden these pages with
any statement of what passed at the interview. It will be more to
the purpose to say, that the interview itself necessarily brought
to my mind the one doubtful question still remaining to be solved--
the question of Anne Catherick's parentage on the father's side.
A multitude of small considerations in connection with this
subject--trifling enough in themselves, but strikingly important
when massed together--had latterly led my mind to a conclusion
which I resolved to verify. I obtained Marian's permission to
write to Major Donthorne, of Varneck Hall (where Mrs. Catherick
had lived in service for some years previous to her marriage), to
ask him certain questions. I made the inquiries in Marian's name,
and described them as relating to matters of personal history in
her family, which might explain and excuse my application. When I
wrote the letter I had no certain knowledge that Major Donthorne
was still alive--I despatched it on the chance that he might be
living, and able and willing to reply.
After a lapse of two days proof came, in the shape of a letter,
that the Major was living, and that he was ready to help us.
The idea in my mind when I wrote to him, and the nature of my
inquiries. will be easily inferred from his reply. His letter
answered my questions by communicating these important facts--
In the first place, "the late Sir Percival Glyde, of Blackwater
Park," had never set foot in Varneck Hall. The deceased gentleman
was a total stranger to Major Donthorne, and to all his family.
In the second place, "the late Mr. Philip Fairlie, of Limmeridge
House," had been, in his younger days, the intimate friend and
constant guest of Major Donthorne. Having refreshed his memory by
looking back to old letters and other papers, the Major was in a
position to say positively that Mr. Philip Fairlie was staying at
Varneck Hall in the month of August, eighteen hundred and twenty-
six, and that he remained there for the shooting during the month
of September and part of October following. He then left, to the
best of the Major's belief, for Scotland, and did not return to
Varneck Hall till after a lapse of time, when he reappeared in the
character of a newly-married man.
Taken by itself, this statement was, perhaps, of little positive
value, but taken in connection with certain facts, every one of
which either Marian or I knew to be true, it suggested one plain
conclusion that was, to our minds, irresistible.
Knowing, now, that Mr. Philip Fairlie had been at Varneck Hall in
the autumn of eighteen hundred and twenty-six, and that Mrs.
Catherick had been living there in service at the same time, we
knew also--first, that Anne had been born in June, eighteen
hundred and twenty-seven; secondly, that she had always presented
an extraordinary personal resemblance to Laura; and, thirdly, that
Laura herself was strikingly like her father. Mr. Philip Fairlie
had been one of the notoriously handsome men of his time. In
disposition entirely unlike his brother Frederick, he was the
spoilt darling of society, especially of the women--an easy,
light-hearted, impulsive, affectionate man--generous to a fault--
constitutionally lax in his principles, and notoriously
thoughtless of moral obligations where women were concerned. Such
were the facts we knew--such was the character of the man. Surely
the plain inference that follows needs no pointing out?
Read by the new light which had now broken upon me, even Mrs.
Catherick's letter, in despite of herself, rendered its mite of
assistance towards strengthening the conclusion at which I had
arrived. She had described Mrs. Fairlie (in writing to me) as
"plain-looking," and as having "entrapped the handsomest man in
England into marrying her." Both assertions were gratuitously
made, and both were false. Jealous dislike (which, in such a
woman as Mrs. Catherick, would express itself in petty malice
rather than not express itself at all) appeared to me to be the
only assignable cause for the peculiar insolence of her reference
to Mrs. Fairlie, under circumstances which did not necessitate any
reference at all.
The mention here of Mrs. Fairlie's name naturally suggests one
other question. Did she ever suspect whose child the little girl
brought to her at Limmeridge might be?
Marian's testimony was positive on this point. Mrs. Fairlie's
letter to her husband, which had been read to me in former days--
the letter describing Anne's resemblance to Laura, and
acknowledging her affectionate interest in the little stranger--
had been written, beyond all question, in perfect innocence of
heart. It even seemed doubtful, on consideration, whether Mr.
Philip Fairlie himself had been nearer than his wife to any
suspicion of the truth. The disgracefully deceitful circumstances
under which Mrs. Catherick had married, the purpose of concealment
which the marriage was intended to answer, might well keep her
silent for caution's sake, perhaps for her own pride's sake also,
even assuming that she had the means, in his absence, of
communicating with the father of her unborn child.
As this surmise floated through my mind, there rose on my memory
the remembrance of the Scripture denunciation which we have all
thought of in our time with wonder and with awe: "The sins of the
fathers shall be visited on the children." But for the fatal
resemblance between the two daughters of one father, the
conspiracy of which Anne had been the innocent instrument and
Laura the innocent victim could never have been planned. With
what unerring and terrible directness the long chain of
circumstances led down from the thoughtless wrong committed by the
father to the heartless injury inflicted on the child!
These thoughts came to me, and others with them, which drew my
mind away to the little Cumberland churchyard where Anne Catherick
now lay buried. I thought of the bygone days when I had met her
by Mrs. Fairlie's grave, and met her for the last time. I thought
of her poor helpless hands beating on the tombstone, and her
weary, yearning words, murmured to the dead remains of her
protectress and her friend: "Oh, if I could die, and be hidden and
at rest with YOU!" Little more than a year had passed since she
breathed that wish; and how inscrutably, how awfully, it had been
fulfilled! The words she had spoken to Laura by the shores of the
lake, the very words had now come true. "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!" Through what mortal crime and horror, through what
darkest windings of the way down to death--the lost creature had
wandered in God's leading to the last home that, living, she never
hoped to reach! In that sacred rest I leave her--in that dread
companionship let her remain undisturbed.
So the ghostly figure which has haunted these pages, as it haunted
my life, goes down into the impenetrable gloom. Like a shadow she
first came to me in the loneliness of the night. Like a shadow
she passes away in the loneliness of the dead.
Four months elapsed. April came--the month of spring--the month
The course of time had flowed through the interval since the
winter peacefully and happily in our new home. I had turned my
long leisure to good account, had largely increased my sources of
employment, and had placed our means of subsistence on surer
grounds. Freed from the suspense and the anxiety which had tried
her so sorely and hung over her so long, Marian's spirits rallied,
and her natural energy of character began to assert itself again,
with something, if not all, of the freedom and the vigour of
More pliable under change than her sister, Laura showed more
plainly the progress made by the healing influences of her new
life. The worn and wasted look which had prematurely aged her
face was fast leaving it, and the expression which had been the
first of its charms in past days was the first of its beauties
that now returned. My closest observations of her detected but
one serious result of the conspiracy which had once threatened her
reason and her life. Her memory of events, from the period of her
leaving Blackwater Park to the period of our meeting in the
burial-ground of Limmeridge Church, was lost beyond all hope of
recovery. At the slightest reference to that time she changed and
trembled still, her words became confused, her memory wandered and
lost itself as helplessly as ever. Here, and here only, the
traces of the past lay deep--too deep to be effaced.
In all else she was now so far on the way to recovery that, on her
best and brightest days, she sometimes looked and spoke like the
Laura of old times. The happy change wrought its natural result
in us both. From their long slumber, on her side and on mine,
those imperishable memories of our past life in Cumberland now
awoke, which were one and all alike, the memories of our love.
Gradually and insensibly our daily relations towards each other
became constrained. The fond words which I had spoken to her so
naturally, in the days of her sorrow and her suffering, faltered
strangely on my lips. In the time when my dread of losing her was
most present to my mind, I had always kissed her when she left me
at night and when she met me in the morning. The kiss seemed now
to have dropped between us--to be lost out of our lives. Our
hands began to tremble again when they met. We hardly ever looked
long at one another out of Marian's presence. The talk often
flagged between us when we were alone. When I touched her by
accident I felt my heart beating fast, as it used to beat at
Limmeridge House--I saw the lovely answering flush glowing again
in her cheeks, as if we were back among the Cumberland Hills in
our past characters of master and pupil once more. She had long
intervals of silence and thoughtfulness, and denied she had been
thinking when Marian asked her the question. I surprised myself
one day neglecting my work to dream over the little water-colour
portrait of her which I had taken in the summer-house where we
first met--just as I used to neglect Mr. Fairlie's drawings to
dream over the same likeness when it was newly finished in the
bygone time. Changed as all the circumstances now were, our
position towards each other in the golden days of our first
companionship seemed to be revived with the revival of our love.
It was as if Time had drifted us back on the wreck of our early
hopes to the old familiar shore!
To any other woman I could have spoken the decisive words which I
still hesitated to speak to HER. The utter helplessness of her
position--her friendless dependence on all the forbearing
gentleness that I could show her--my fear of touching too soon
some secret sensitiveness in her which my instinct as a man might
not have been fine enough to discover--these considerations, and
others like them, kept me self-distrustfully silent. And yet I
knew that the restraint on both sides must be ended, that the
relations in which we stood towards one another must be altered in
some settled manner for the future, and that it rested with me, in
the first instance, to recognise the necessity for a change.
The more I thought of our position, the harder the attempt to
alter it appeared, while the domestic conditions on which we three
had been living together since the winter remained undisturbed. I
cannot account for the capricious state of mind in which this
feeling originated, but the idea nevertheless possessed me that
some previous change of place and circumstances, some sudden break
in the quiet monotony of our lives, so managed as to vary the home
aspect under which we had been accustomed to see each other, might
prepare the way for me to speak, and might make it easier and less
embarrassing for Laura and Marian to hear.
With this purpose in view, I said, one morning, that I thought we
had all earned a little holiday and a change of scene. After some
consideration, it was decided that we should go for a fortnight to
On the next day we left Fulham for a quiet town on the south
coast. At that early season of the year we were the only visitors
in the place. The cliffs, the beach, and the walks inland were
all in the solitary condition which was most welcome to us. The
air was mild--the prospects over hill and wood and down were
beautifully varied by the shifting April light and shade, and the
restless sea leapt under our windows, as if it felt, like the
land, the glow and freshness of spring.
I owed it to Marian to consult her before I spoke to Laura, and to
be guided afterwards by her advice.
On the third day from our arrival I found a fit opportunity of
speaking to her alone. The moment we looked at one another, her
quick instinct detected the thought in my mind before I could give
it expression. With her customary energy and directness she spoke
at once, and spoke first.
"You are thinking of that subject which was mentioned between us
on the evening of your return from Hampshire," she said. "I have
been expecting you to allude to it for some time past. There must
be a change in our little household, Walter, we cannot go on much
longer as we are now. I see it as plainly as you do--as plainly
as Laura sees it, though she says nothing. How strangely the old
times in Cumberland seem to have come back! You and I are together
again, and the one subject of interest between us is Laura once
more. I could almost fancy that this room is the summer-house at
Limmeridge, and that those waves beyond us are beating on our
"I was guided by your advice in those past days," I said, "and
now, Marian, with reliance tenfold greater I will be guided by it
She answered by pressing my hand. I saw that she was deeply
touched by my reference to the past. We sat together near the
window, and while I spoke and she listened, we looked at the glory
of the sunlight shining on the majesty of the sea.
"Whatever comes of this confidence between us," I said, "whether
it ends happily or sorrowfully for ME, Laura's interests will
still be the interests of my life. When we leave this place, on
whatever terms we leave it, my determination to wrest from Count
Fosco the confession which I failed to obtain from his accomplice,
goes back with me to London, as certainly as I go back myself.
Neither you nor I can tell how that man may turn on me, if I bring
him to bay; we only know, by his own words and actions, that he is
capable of striking at me through Laura, without a moment's
hesitation, or a moment's remorse. In our present position I have
no claim on her which society sanctions, which the law allows, to
strengthen me in resisting him, and in protecting HER. This
places me at a serious disadvantage. If I am to fight our cause
with the Count, strong in the consciousness of Laura's safety, I
must fight it for my Wife. Do you agree to that, Marian, so far?"
"To every word of it," she answered.
"I will not plead out of my own heart," I went on; "I will not
appeal to the love which has survived all changes and all shocks--
I will rest my only vindication of myself for thinking of her, and
speaking of her as my wife, on what I have just said. If the
chance of forcing a confession from the Count is, as I believe it
to be, the last chance left of publicly establishing the fact of
Laura's existence, the least selfish reason that I can advance for
our marriage is recognised by us both. But I may be wrong in my
conviction--other means of achieving our purpose may be in our
power, which are less uncertain and less dangerous. I have
searched anxiously, in my own mind, for those means, and I have
not found them. Have you?"
"No. I have thought about it too, and thought in vain."
"In all likelihood," I continued, "the same questions have
occurred to you, in considering this difficult subject, which have
occurred to me. Ought we to return with her to Limmeridge, now
that she is like herself again, and trust to the recognition of
her by the people of the village, or by the children at the
school? Ought we to appeal to the practical test of her
handwriting? Suppose we did so. Suppose the recognition of her
obtained, and the identity of the handwriting established. Would
success in both those cases do more than supply an excellent
foundation for a trial in a court of law? Would the recognition
and the handwriting prove her identity to Mr. Fairlie and take her
back to Limmeridge House, against the evidence of her aunt,
against the evidence of the medical certificate, against the fact
of the funeral and the fact of the inscription on the tomb? No! We
could only hope to succeed in throwing a serious doubt on the
assertion of her death, a doubt which nothing short of a legal
inquiry can settle. I will assume that we possess (what we have
certainly not got) money enough to carry this inquiry on through
all its stages. I will assume that Mr. Fairlie's prejudices might
be reasoned away--that the false testimony of the Count and his
wife, and all the rest of the false testimony, might be confuted--
that the recognition could not possibly be ascribed to a mistake
between Laura and Anne Catherick, or the handwriting be declared
by our enemies to be a clever fraud--all these are assumptions
which, more or less, set plain probabilities at defiance; but let
them pass--and let us ask ourselves what would be the first
consequence or the first questions put to Laura herself on the
subject of the conspiracy. We know only too well what the
consequence would be, for we know that she has never recovered her
memory of what happened to her in London. Examine her privately,
or examine her publicly, she is utterly incapable of assisting the
assertion of her own case. If you don't see this, Marian, as
plainly as I see it, we will go to Limmeridge and try the
"I DO see it, Walter. Even if we had the means of paying all the
law expenses, even if we succeeded in the end, the delays would be
unendurable, the perpetual suspense, after what we have suffered
already, would be heartbreaking. You are right about the
hopelessness of going to Limmeridge. I wish I could feel sure
that you are right also in determining to try that last chance
with the Count. IS it a chance at all?"
"Beyond a doubt, Yes. It is the chance of recovering the lost
date of Laura's journey to London. Without returning to the
reasons I gave you some time since, I am still as firmly persuaded
as ever that there is a discrepancy between the date of that
journey and the date on the certificate of death. There lies the
weak point of the whole conspiracy--it crumbles to pieces if we
attack it in that way, and the means of attacking it are in
possession of the Count. If I succeed in wresting them from him,
the object of your life and mine is fulfilled. If I fail, the
wrong that Laura has suffered will, in this world, never be
"Do you fear failure yourself, Walter?"
"I dare not anticipate success, and for that very reason, Marian,
I speak openly and plainly as I have spoken now. In my heart and
my conscience I can say it, Laura's hopes for the future are at
their lowest ebb. I know that her fortune is gone--I know that
the last chance of restoring her to her place in the world lies at
the mercy of her worst enemy, of a man who is now absolutely
unassailable, and who may remain unassailable to the end. With
every worldly advantage gone from her, with all prospect of
recovering her rank and station more than doubtful, with no
clearer future before her than the future which her husband can
provide, the poor drawing-master may harmlessly open his heart at
last. In the days of her prosperity, Marian, I was only the
teacher who guided her hand--I ask for it, in her adversity, as
the hand of my wife!"
Marian's eyes met mine affectionately--I could say no more. My
heart was full, my lips were trembling. In spite of myself I was
in danger of appealing to her pity. I got up to leave the room.
She rose at the same moment, laid her hand gently on my shoulder,
and stopped me.
"Walter!" she said, "I once parted you both, for your good and for
hers. Wait here, my brother!--wait, my dearest, best friend, till
Laura comes, and tells you what I have done now!"
For the first time since the farewell morning at Limmeridge she
touched my forehead with her lips. A tear dropped on my face as
she kissed me. She turned quickly, pointed to the chair from
which I had risen, and left the room.
I sat down alone at the window to wait through the crisis of my
life. My mind in that breathless interval felt like a total
blank. I was conscious of nothing but a painful intensity of all
familiar perceptions. The sun grew blinding bright, the white sea
birds chasing each other far beyond me seemed to be flitting
before my face, the mellow murmur of the waves on the beach was
like thunder in my ears.
The door opened, and Laura came in alone. So she had entered the
breakfast-room at Limmeridge House on the morning when we parted.
Slowly and falteringly, in sorrow and in hesitation, she had once
approached me. Now she came with the haste of happiness in her
feet, with the light of happiness radiant in her face. Of their
own accord those dear arms clasped themselves round me, of their
own accord the sweet lips came to meet mine. "My darling!" she
whispered, "we may own we love each other now?" Her head nestled
with a tender contentedness on my bosom. "Oh," she said
innocently, "I am so happy at last!"
Ten days later we were happier still. We were married.
The course of this narrative, steadily flowing on, bears me away
from the morning-time of our married life, and carries me forward
to the end.
In a fortnight more we three were back in London, and the shadow
was stealing over us of the struggle to come.
Marian and I were careful to keep Laura in ignorance of the cause
that had hurried us back--the necessity of making sure of the
Count. It was now the beginning of May, and his term of
occupation at the house in Forest Road expired in June. If he
renewed it (and I had reasons, shortly to be mentioned, for
anticipating that he would), I might be certain of his not
escaping me. But if by any chance he disappointed my expectations
and left the country, then I had no time to lose in arming myself
to meet him as I best might.
In the first fulness of my new happiness, there had been moments
when my resolution faltered--moments when I was tempted to be
safely content, now that the dearest aspiration of my life was
fulfilled in the possession of Laura's love. For the first time I
thought faint-heartedly of the greatness of the risk, of the
adverse chances arrayed against me, of the fair promise of our new
life, and of the peril in which I might place the happiness which
we had so hardly earned. Yes! let me own it honestly. For a
brief time I wandered, in the sweet guiding of love, far from the
purpose to which I had been true under sterner discipline and in
darker days. Innocently Laura had tempted me aside from the hard
path--innocently she was destined to lead me back again.
At times, dreams of the terrible past still disconnectedly
recalled to her, in the mystery of sleep, the events of which her
waking memory had lost all trace. One night (barely two weeks
after our marriage), when I was watching her at rest, I saw the
tears come slowly through her closed eyelids, I heard the faint
murmuring words escape her which told me that her spirit was back
again on the fatal journey from Blackwater Park. That unconscious
appeal, so touching and so awful in the sacredness of her sleep,
ran through me like fire. The next day was the day we came back
to London--the day when my resolution returned to me with tenfold
The first necessity was to know something of the man. Thus far,
the true story of his life was an impenetrable mystery to me.
I began with such scanty sources of information as were at my own
disposal. The important narrative written by Mr. Frederick
Fairlie (which Marian had obtained by following the directions I
had given to her in the winter) proved to be of no service to the
special object with which I now looked at it. While reading it I
reconsidered the disclosure revealed to me by Mrs. Clements of the
series of deceptions which had brought Anne Catherick to London,
and which had there devoted her to the interests of the
conspiracy. Here, again, the Count had not openly committed
himself--here, again, he was, to all practical purpose, out of my
I next returned to Marian's journal at Blackwater Park. At my
request she read to me again a passage which referred to her past
curiosity about the Count, and to the few particulars which she
had discovered relating to him.
The passage to which I allude occurs in that part of her journal
which delineates his character and his personal appearance. She
describes him as "not having crossed the frontiers of his native
country for years past"--as "anxious to know if any Italian
gentlemen were settled in the nearest town to Blackwater Park"--as
"receiving letters with all sorts of odd stamps on them, and one
with a large official-looking seal on it." She is inclined to
consider that his long absence from his native country may be
accounted for by assuming that he is a political exile. But she
is, on the other hand, unable to reconcile this idea with the
reception of the letter from abroad bearing "the large official-
looking seal"--letters from the Continent addressed to political
exiles being usually the last to court attention from foreign
post-offices in that way.
The considerations thus presented to me in the diary, joined to
certain surmises of my own that grew out of them, suggested a
conclusion which I wondered I had not arrived at before. I now
said to myself--what Laura had once said to Marian at Blackwater
Park, what Madame Fosco had overheard by listening at the door--
the Count is a spy!
Laura had applied the word to him at hazard, in natural anger at
his proceedings towards herself. I applied it to him with the
deliberate conviction that his vocation in life was the vocation
of a spy. On this assumption, the reason for his extraordinary
stay in England so long after the objects of the conspiracy had
been gained, became, to my mind, quite intelligible.
The year of which I am now writing was the year of the famous
Crystal Palace Exhibition in Hyde Park. Foreigners in unusually
large numbers had arrived already, and were still arriving in
England. Men were among us by hundreds whom the ceaseless
distrustfulness of their governments had followed privately, by
means of appointed agents, to our shores. My surmises did not for
a moment class a man of the Count's abilities and social position
with the ordinary rank and file o~ foreign spies. I suspected him
of holding a position of authority, of being entrusted by the
government which he secretly served with the organisation and
management of agents specially employed in this country, both men
and women, and I believed Mrs. Rubelle, who had been so
opportunely found to act as nurse at Blackwater Park, to be, in
all probability, one of the number.
Assuming that this idea of mine had a foundation in truth, the
position of the Count might prove to be more assailable than I had
hitherto ventured to hope. To whom could I apply to know
something more of the man's history and of the man himself than I
In this emergency it naturally occurred to my mind that a
countryman of his own, on whom I could rely, might be the fittest
person to help me. The first man whom I thought of under these
circumstances was also the only Italian with whom I was intimately
acquainted--my quaint little friend, Professor Pesca.
The professor has been so long absent from these pages that he has
run some risk of being forgotten altogether.
It is the necessary law of such a story as mine that the persons
concerned in it only appear when the course of events takes them
up--they come and go, not by favour of my personal partiality, but
by right of their direct connection with the circumstances to be
detailed. For this reason, not Pesca alone, but my mother and
sister as well, have been left far in the background of the
narrative. My visits to the Hampstead cottage, my mother's belief
in the denial of Laura's identity which the conspiracy had
accomplished, my vain efforts to overcome the prejudice on her
part and on my sister's to which, in their jealous affection for
me, they both continued to adhere, the painful necessity which
that prejudice imposed on me of concealing my marriage from them
till they had learnt to do justice to my wife--all these little
domestic occurrences have been left unrecorded because they were
not essential to the main interest of the story. It is nothing
that they added to my anxieties and embittered my disappointments--
the steady march of events has inexorably passed them by.
For the same reason I have said nothing here of the consolation
that I found in Pesca's brotherly affection for me, when I saw him
again after the sudden cessation of my residence at Limmeridge
House. I have not recorded the fidelity with which my warm-
hearted little friend followed me to the place of embarkation when
I sailed for Central America, or the noisy transport of joy with
which he received me when we next met in London. If I had felt
justified in accepting the offers of service which he made to me
on my return, he would have appeared again long ere this. But,
though I knew that his honour and his courage were to be
implicitly relied on, I was not so sure that his discretion was to
be trusted, and, for that reason only, I followed the course of
all my inquiries alone. It will now be sufficiently understood
that Pesca was not separated from all connection with me and my
interests, although he has hitherto been separated from all
connection with the progress of this narrative. He was as true
and as ready a friend of mine still as ever he had been in his
Before I summoned Pesca to my assistance it was necessary to see
for myself what sort of man I had to deal with. Up to this time I
had never once set eyes on Count Fosco.
Three days after my return with Laura and Marian to London, I set
forth alone for Forest Road, St. John's Wood, between ten and
eleven o'clock in the morning. It was a fine day--I had some
hours to spare--and I thought it likely, if I waited a little for
him, that the Count might be tempted out. I had no great reason
to fear the chance of his recognising me in the daytime, for the
only occasion when I had been seen by him was the occasion on
which he had followed me home at night.
No one appeared at the windows in the front of the house. I
walked down a turning which ran past the side of it, and looked
over the low garden wall. One of the back windows on the lower
floor was thrown up and a net was stretched across the opening. I
saw nobody, but I heard, in the room, first a shrill whistling and
singing of birds, then the deep ringing voice which Marian's
description had made familiar to me. "Come out on my little
finger, my pret-pret-pretties!" cried the voice. "Come out and
hop upstairs! One, two, three--and up! Three, two, one--and down!
One, two, three--twit-twit-twit-tweet!" The Count was exercising
his canaries as he used to exercise them in Marian's time at
I waited a little while, and the singing and the whistling ceased.
"Come, kiss me, my pretties!" said the deep voice. There was a
responsive twittering and chirping--a low, oily laugh--a silence
of a minute or so, and then I heard the opening of the house door.
I turned and retraced my steps. The magnificent melody of the
Prayer in Rossini's Moses, sung in a sonorous bass voice, rose
grandly through the suburban silence of the place. The front
garden gate opened and closed. The Count had come out.
He crossed the road and walked towards the western boundary of the
Regent's Park. I kept on my own side of the way, a little behind
him, and walked in that direction also.
Marian had prepared me for his high stature, his monstrous
corpulence, and his ostentatious mourning garments, but not for
the horrible freshness and cheerfulness and vitality of the man.
He carried his sixty years as if they had been fewer than forty.
He sauntered along, wearing his hat a little on one side, with a
light jaunty step, swinging his big stick, humming to himself,
looking up from time to time at the houses and gardens on either
side of him with superb, smiling patronage. If a stranger had
been told that the whole neighbourhood belonged to him, that
stranger would not have been surprised to hear it. He never
looked back, he paid no apparent attention to me, no apparent
attention to any one who passed him on his own side of the road,
except now and then, when he smiled and smirked, with an easy
paternal good humour, at the nursery-maids and the children whom
he met. In this way he led me on, till we reached a colony of
shops outside the western terraces of the Park.
Here he stopped at a pastrycook's, went in (probably to give an
order), and came out again immediately with a tart in his hand.
An Italian was grinding an organ before the shop, and a miserable
little shrivelled monkey was sitting on the instrument. The Count
stopped, bit a piece for himself out of the tart, and gravely
handed the rest to the monkey. "My poor little man!" he said,
with grotesque tenderness, "you look hungry. In the sacred name
of humanity, I offer you some lunch!" The organ-grinder piteously
put in his claim to a penny from the benevolent stranger. The
Count shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, and passed on.
We reached the streets and the better class of shops between the
New Road and Oxford Street. The Count stopped again and entered a
small optician's shop, with an inscription in the window
announcing that repairs were neatly executed inside. He came out
again with an opera-glass in his hand, walked a few paces on, and
stopped to look at a bill of the opera placed outside a music-
seller's shop. He read the bill attentively, considered a moment,
and then hailed an empty cab as it passed him. "Opera Box-
office," he said to the man, and was driven away.
I crossed the road, and looked at the bill in my turn. The
performance announced was Lucrezia Borgia, and it was to take
place that evening. The opera-glass in the Count's hand, his
careful reading of the bill, and his direction to the cabman, all
suggested that he proposed making one of the audience. I had the
means of getting an admission for myself and a friend to the pit
by applying to one of the scene-painters attached to the theatre,
with whom I had been well acquainted in past times. There was a
chance at least that the Count might be easily visible among the
audience to me and to any one with me, and in this case I had the
means of ascertaining whether Pesca knew his countryman or not
that very night.
This consideration at once decided the disposal of my evening. I
procured the tickets, leaving a note at the Professor's lodgings
on the way. At a quarter to eight I called to take him with me to
the theatre. My little friend was in a state of the highest
excitement, with a festive flower in his button-hole, and the
largest opera-glass I ever saw hugged up under his arm.
"Are you ready?" I asked.
"Right-all-right," said Pesca.
We started for the theatre.
The last notes of the introduction to the opera were being played,
and the seats in the pit were all filled, when Pesca and I reached
There was plenty of room, however, in the passage that ran round
the pit--precisely the position best calculated to answer the
purpose for which I was attending the performance. I went first
to the barrier separating us from the stalls, and looked for the
Count in that part of the theatre. He was not there. Returning
along the passage, on the left-hand side from the stage, and
looking about me attentively, I discovered him in the pit. He
occupied an excellent place, some twelve or fourteen seats from
the end of a bench, within three rows of the stalls. I placed
myself exactly on a line with him. Pesca standing by my side.
The Professor was not yet aware of the purpose for which I had
brought him to the theatre, and he was rather surprised that we
did not move nearer to the stage.
The curtain rose, and the opera began.
Throughout the whole of the first act we remained in our position--
the Count, absorbed by the orchestra and the stage, never casting
so much as a chance glance at us. Not a note of Donizetti's
delicious music was lost on him. There he sat, high above his
neighbours, smiling, and nodding his great head enjoyingly from
time to time. When the people near him applauded the close of an
air (as an English audience in such circumstances always WILL
applaud), without the least consideration for the orchestral
movement which immediately followed it, he looked round at them
with an expression of compassionate remonstrance, and held up one
hand with a gesture of polite entreaty. At the more refined
passages of the singing, at the more delicate phases of the music,
which passed unapplauded by others, his fat hands, adorned with
perfectly-fitting black kid gloves, softly patted each other, in
token of the cultivated appreciation of a musical man. At such
times, his oily murmur of approval, "Bravo! Bra-a-a-a!" hummed
through the silence, like the purring of a great cat. His
immediate neighbours on either side--hearty, ruddy-faced people
from the country, basking amazedly in the sunshine of fashionable
London--seeing and hearing him, began to follow his lead. Many a
burst of applause from the pit that night started from the soft,
comfortable patting of the black-gloved hands. The man's
voracious vanity devoured this implied tribute to his local and
critical supremacy with an appearance of the highest relish.
Smiles rippled continuously over his fat face. He looked about
him, at the pauses in the music, serenely satisfied with himself
and his fellow-creatures. "Yes! yes! these barbarous English
people are learning something from ME. Here, there, and
everywhere, I--Fosco--am an influence that is felt, a man who sits
supreme!" If ever face spoke, his face spoke then, and that was
The curtain fell on the first act, and the audience rose to look
about them. This was the time I had waited for--the time to try
if Pesca knew him.
He rose with the rest, and surveyed the occupants of the boxes
grandly with his opera-glass. At first his back was towards us,
but he turned round in time, to our side of the theatre, and
looked at the boxes above us, using his glass for a few minutes--
then removing it, but still continuing to look up. This was the
moment I chose, when his full face was in view, for directing
Pesca's attention to him.
"Do you know that man?" I asked.
"Which man, my friend?"
"The tall, fat man, standing there, with his face towards us."
Pesca raised himself on tiptoe, and looked at the Count.
"No," said the Professor. "The big fat man is a stranger to me.
Is he famous? Why do you point him out?"
"Because I have particular reasons for wishing to know something
of him. He is a countryman of yours--his name is Count Fosco. Do
you know that name?"
"Not I, Walter. Neither the name nor the man is known to me."
"Are you quite sure you don't recognise him? Look again--look
carefully. I will tell you why I am so anxious about it when we
leave the theatre. Stop! let me help you up here, where you can
see him better."
I helped the little man to perch himself on the edge of the raised
dais upon which the pit-seats were all placed. His small stature
was no hindrance to him--here he could see over the heads of the
ladies who were seated near the outermost part of the bench.
A slim, light-haired man standing by us, whom I had not noticed
before--a man with a scar on his left cheek--looked attentively at
Pesca as I helped him up, and then looked still more attentively,
following the direction of Pesca's eyes, at the Count. Our
conversation might have reached his ears, and might, as it struck
me, have roused his curiosity.
Meanwhile, Pesca fixed his eyes earnestly on the broad, full,
smiling face turned a little upward, exactly opposite to him.
"No," he said, "I have never set my two eyes on that big fat man
before in all my life."
As he spoke the Count looked downwards towards the boxes behind us
on the pit tier.
The eyes of the two Italians met.
The instant before I had been perfectly satisfied, from his own
reiterated assertion, that Pesca did not know the Count. The
instant afterwards I was equally certain that the Count knew
Knew him, and--more surprising still--FEARED him as well! There
was no mistaking the change that passed over the villain's face.
The leaden hue that altered his yellow complexion in a moment, the
sudden rigidity of all his features, the furtive scrutiny of his
cold grey eyes, the motionless stillness of him from head to foot
told their own tale. A mortal dread had mastered him body and
soul--and his own recognition of Pesca was the cause of it!
The slim man with the scar on his cheek was still close by us. He
had apparently drawn his inference from the effect produced on the
Count by the sight of Pesca as I had drawn mine. He was a mild,
gentlemanlike man, looking like a foreigner, and his interest in
our proceedings was not expressed in anything approaching to an
For my own part I was so startled by the change in the Count's
face, so astounded at the entirely unexpected turn which events
had taken, that I knew neither what to say or do next. Pesca
roused me by stepping back to his former place at my side and
"How the fat man stares!" he exclaimed. "Is it at ME?
Am I famous? How can he know me when I don't know him?"
I kept my eye still on the Count. I saw him move for the first
time when Pesca moved, so as not to lose sight of the little man
in the lower position in which he now stood. I was curious to see
what would happen if Pesca's attention under these circumstances
was withdrawn from him, and I accordingly asked the Professor if
he recognised any of his pupils that evening among the ladies in
the boxes. Pesca immediately raised the large opera-glass to his
eyes, and moved it slowly all round the upper part of the theatre,
searching for his pupils with the most conscientious scrutiny.
The moment he showed himself to be thus engaged the Count turned
round, slipped past the persons who occupied seats on the farther
side of him from where we stood, and disappeared in the middle
passage down the centre of the pit. I caught Pesca by the arm,
and to his inexpressible astonishment, hurried him round with me
to the back of the pit to intercept the Count before he could get
to the door. Somewhat to my surprise, the slim man hastened out
before us, avoiding a stoppage caused by some people on our side
of the pit leaving their places, by which Pesca and myself were
delayed. When we reached the lobby the Count had disappeared, and
the foreigner with the scar was gone too.
"Come home," I said; "come home, Pesca to your lodgings. I must
speak to you in private--I must speak directly."
"My-soul-bless-my-soul!" cried the Professor, in a state of the
extremest bewilderment. "What on earth is the matter?"
I walked on rapidly without answering. The circumstances under
which the Count had left the theatre suggested to me that his
extraordinary anxiety to escape Pesca might carry him to further
extremities still. He might escape me, too, by leaving London. I
doubted the future if I allowed him so much as a day's freedom to
act as he pleased. And I doubted that foreign stranger, who had
got the start of us, and whom I suspected of intentionally
following him out.
With this double distrust in my mind, I was not long in making
Pesca understand what I wanted. As soon as we two were alone in
his room, I increased his confusion and amazement a hundredfold by
telling him what my purpose was as plainly and unreservedly as I
have acknowledged it here.
"My friend, what can I do?" cried the Professor, piteously
appealing to me with both hands. "Deuce-what-the-deuce! how can I
help you, Walter, when I don't know the man?"
"HE knows YOU--he is afraid of you--he has left the theatre to
escape you. Pesca! there must be a reason for this. Look back
into your own life before you came to England. You left Italy, as
you have told me yourself, for political reasons. You have never
mentioned those reasons to me, and I don't inquire into them now.
I only ask you to consult your own recollections, and to say if
they suggest no past cause for the terror which the first sight of
you produced in that man."
To my unutterable surprise, these words, harmless as they appeared
to ME, produced the same astounding effect on Pesca which the
sight of Pesca had produced on the Count. The rosy face of my
little friend whitened in an instant, and he drew back from me
slowly, trembling from head to foot.
"Walter!" he said. "You don't know what you ask."
He spoke in a whisper--he looked at me as if I had suddenly
revealed to him some hidden danger to both of us. In less than
one minute of time he was so altered from the easy, lively, quaint
little man of all my past experience, that if I had met him in the
street, changed as I saw him now, I should most certainly not have
known him again.
"Forgive me, if I have unintentionally pained and shocked you," I
replied. "Remember the cruel wrong my wife has suffered at Count
Fosco's hands. Remember that the wrong can never be redressed,
unless the means are in my power of forcing him to do her justice.
I spoke in HER interests, Pesca--I ask you again to forgive me--I
can say no more."
I rose to go. He stopped me before I reached the door.
"Wait," he said. "You have shaken me from head to foot. You
don't know how I left my country, and why I left my country. Let
me compose myself, let me think, if I can."
I returned to my chair. He walked up and down the room, talking
to himself incoherently in his own language. After several turns
backwards and forwards, he suddenly came up to me, and laid his
little hands with a strange tenderness and solemnity on my breast.
"On your heart and soul, Walter," he said, "is there no other way
to get to that man but the chance-way through ME?"
"There is no other way," I answered.
He left me again, opened the door of the room and looked out
cautiously into the passage, closed it once more, and came back.
"You won your right over me, Walter," he said, "on the day when
you saved my life. It was yours from that moment, when you
pleased to take it. Take it now. Yes! I mean what I say. My
next words, as true as the good God is above us, will put my life
into your hands."
The trembling earnestness with which he uttered this extraordinary
warning, carried with it, to my mind, the conviction that he spoke
"Mind this!" he went on, shaking his hands at me in the vehemence
of his agitation. "I hold no thread, in my own mind, between that
man Fosco, and the past time which I call back to me for your
sake. If you find the thread, keep it to yourself--tell me
nothing--on my knees I beg and pray, let me be ignorant, let me be
innocent, let me be blind to all the future as I am now!"
He said a few words more, hesitatingly and disconnectedly, then
I saw that the effort of expressing himself in English, on an
occasion too serious to permit him the use of the quaint turns and
phrases of his ordinary vocabulary, was painfully increasing the
difficulty he had felt from the first in speaking to me at all.
Having learnt to read and understand his native language (though
not to speak it), in the earlier days of our intimate
companionship, I now suggested to him that he should express
himself in Italian, while I used English in putting any questions
which might be necessary to my enlightenment. He accepted the
proposal. In his smooth-flowing language, spoken with a vehement
agitation which betrayed itself in the perpetual working of his
features, in the wildness and the suddenness of his foreign
gesticulations, but never in the raising of his voice, I now heard
the words which armed me to meet the last struggle, that is left
for this story to record.
 It is only right to mention here, that I repeat Pesco's
statement to me with the careful suppressions and alterations
which the serious nature of the subject and my own sense of duty
to my friend demand. My first and last concealments from the
reader are those which caution renders absolutely necessary in
this portion of the narrative.
"You know nothing of my motive for leaving Italy," he began,
"except that it was for political reasons. If I had been driven
to this country by the persecution of my government, I should not
have kept those reasons a secret from you or from any one. I have
concealed them because no government authority has pronounced the
sentence of my exile. You have heard, Walter, of the political
societies that are hidden in every great city on the continent of
Europe? To one of those societies I belonged in Italy--and belong
still in England. When I came to this country, I came by the
direction of my chief. I was over-zealous in my younger time--I
ran the risk of compromising myself and others. For those reasons
I was ordered to emigrate to England and to wait. I emigrated--I
have waited--I wait still. To-morrow I may be called away--ten
years hence I may be called away. It is all one to me--I am here,
I support myself by teaching, and I wait. I violate no oath (you
shall hear why presently) in making my confidence complete by
telling you the name of the society to which I belong. All I do
is to put my life in your hands. If what I say to you now is ever
known by others to have passed my lips, as certainly as we two sit
here, I am a dead man."
He whispered the next words in my ear. I keep the secret which he
thus communicated. The society to which he belonged will be
sufficiently individualised for the purpose of these pages, if I
call it "The Brotherhood," on the few occasions when any reference
to the subject will be needed in this place.
"The object of the Brotherhood," Pesca went on, "is, briefly, the
object of other political societies of the same sort--the
destruction of tyranny and the assertion of the rights of the
people. The principles of the Brotherhood are two. So long as a
man's life is useful, or even harmless only, he has the right to
enjoy it. But, if his life inflicts injury on the well-being of
his fellow-men, from that moment he forfeits the right, and it is
not only no crime, but a positive merit, to deprive him of it. It
is not for me to say in what frightful circumstances of oppression
and suffering this society took its rise. It is not for you to
say--you Englishmen, who have conquered your freedom so long ago,
that you have conveniently forgotten what blood you shed, and what
extremities you proceeded to in the conquering--it is not for you
to say how far the worst of all exasperations may, or may not,
carry the maddened men of an enslaved nation. The iron that has
entered into our souls has gone too deep for you to find it.
Leave the refugee alone! Laugh at him, distrust him, open your
eyes in wonder at that secret self which smoulders in him,
sometimes under the every-day respectability and tranquillity of a
man like me--sometimes under the grinding poverty, the fierce
squalor, of men less lucky, less pliable, less patient than I am--
but judge us not! In the time of your first Charles you might have
done us justice--the long luxury of your own freedom has made you
incapable of doing us justice now.
All the deepest feelings of his nature seemed to force themselves
to the surface in those words--all his heart was poured out to me
for the first time in our lives--but still his voice never rose,
still his dread of the terrible revelation he was making to me
never left him.
"So far," he resumed, "you think the society like other societies.
Its object (in your English opinion) is anarchy and revolution.
It takes the life of a bad king or a bad minister, as if the one
and the other were dangerous wild beasts to be shot at the first
opportunity. I grant you this. But the laws of the Brotherhood
are the laws of no other political society on the face of the
earth. The members are not known to one another. There is a
president in Italy; there are presidents abroad. Each of these
has his secretary. The presidents and the secretaries know the
members, but the members, among themselves, are all strangers,
until their chiefs see fit, in the political necessity of the
time, or in the private necessity of the society, to make them
known to each other. With such a safeguard as this there is no
oath among us on admittance. We are identified with the
Brotherhood by a secret mark, which we all bear, which lasts while
our lives last. We are told to go about our ordinary business,
and to report ourselves to the president, or the secretary, four
times a year, in the event of our services being required. We are
warned, if we betray the Brotherhood, or if we injure it by
serving other interests, that we die by the principles of the
Brotherhood--die by the hand of a stranger who may be sent from
the other end of the world to strike the blow--or by the hand of
our own bosom-friend, who may have been a member unknown to us
through all the years of our intimacy. Sometimes the death is
delayed--sometimes it follows close on the treachery. It is our
first business to know how to wait--our second business to know
how to obey when the word is spoken. Some of us may wait our
lives through, and may not be wanted. Some of us may be called to
the work, or to the preparation for the work, the very day of our
admission. I myself--the little, easy, cheerful man you know,
who, of his own accord, would hardly lift up his handkerchief to
strike down the fly that buzzes about his face--I, in my younger
time, under provocation so dreadful that I will not tell you of
it, entered the Brotherhood by an impulse, as I might have killed
myself by an impulse. I must remain in it now--it has got me,
whatever I may think of it in my better circumstances and my
cooler manhood, to my dying day. While I was still in Italy I was
chosen secretary, and all the members of that time, who were
brought face to face with my president, were brought face to face
also with me."
I began to understand him--I saw the end towards which his
extraordinary disclosure was now tending. He waited a moment,
watching me earnestly--watching till he had evidently guessed what
was passing in my mind before he resumed.
"You have drawn your own conclusion already," he said. "I see it
in your face. Tell me nothing--keep me out of the secret of your
thoughts. Let me make my one last sacrifice of myself, for your
sake, and then have done with this subject, never to return to it
He signed to me not to answer him--rose--removed his coat--and
rolled up the shirt-sleeve on his left arm.
"I promised you that this confidence should be complete," he
whispered, speaking close at my ear, with his eyes looking
watchfully at the door. "Whatever comes of it you shall not
reproach me with having hidden anything from you which it was
necessary to your interests to know. I have said that the
Brotherhood identifies its members by a mark that lasts for life.
See the place, and the mark on it for yourself."
He raised his bare arm, and showed me, high on the upper part of
it and in the inner side, a brand deeply burnt in the flesh and
stained of a bright blood-red colour. I abstain from describing
the device which the brand represented. It will be sufficient to
say that it was circular in form, and so small that it would have
been completely covered by a shilling coin.
"A man who has this mark, branded in this place," he said,
covering his arm again, "is a member of the Brotherhood. A man
who has been false to the Brotherhood is discovered sooner or
later by the chiefs who know him--presidents or secretaries, as
the case may be. And a man discovered by the chiefs is dead. NO
HUMAN LAWS CAN PROTECT HIM. Remember what you have seen and
heard--draw what conclusions YOU like--act as you please. But, in
the name of God, whatever you discover, whatever you do, tell me
nothing! Let me remain free from a responsibility which it
horrifies me to think of--which I know, in my conscience, is not
my responsibility now. For the last time I say it--on my honour
as a gentleman, on my oath as a Christian, if the man you pointed
out at the Opera knows ME, he is so altered, or so disguised, that
I do not know him. I am ignorant of his proceedings or his
purposes in England. I never saw him, I never heard the name he
goes by, to my knowledge, before to-night. I say no more. Leave
me a little, Walter. I am overpowered by what has happened--I am
shaken by what I have said. Let me try to be like myself again
when we meet next.
He dropped into a chair, and turning away from me, hid his face in
his hands. I gently opened the door so as not to disturb him, and
spoke my few parting words in low tones, which he might hear or
not, as he pleased.
"I will keep the memory of to-night in my heart of hearts," I
said. "You shall never repent the trust you have reposed in me.
May I come to you to-morrow? May I come as early as nine o'clock?"
"Yes, Walter," he replied, looking up at me kindly, and speaking
in English once more, as if his one anxiety now was to get back to
our former relations towards each other. "Come to my little bit
of breakfast before I go my ways among the pupils that I teach."
"Good-night, my friend."
MY first conviction as soon as I found myself outside the house,
was that no alternative was left me but to act at once on the
information I had received--to make sure of the Count that night,
or to risk the loss, if I only delayed till the morning, of
Laura's last chance. I looked at my watch--it was ten o'clock.
Not the shadow of a doubt crossed my mind of the purpose for which
the Count had left the theatre. His escape from us, that evening,
was beyond all question the preliminary only to his escape from
London. The mark of the Brotherhood was on his arm--I felt as
certain of it as if he had shown me the brand; and the betrayal of
the Brotherhood was on his conscience--I had seen it in his
recognition of Pesca.
It was easy to understand why that recognition had not been
mutual. A man of the Count's character would never risk the
terrible consequences of turning spy without looking to his
personal security quite as carefully as he looked to his golden
reward. The shaven face, which I had pointed out at the Opera,
might have been covered by a beard in Pesca's time--his dark brown
hair might be a wig--his name was evidently a false one. The
accident of time might have helped him as well--his immense
corpulence might have come with his later years. There was every
reason why Pesca should not have known him again--every reason
also why he should have known Pesca, whose singular personal
appearance made a marked man of him, go where he might.
I have said that I felt certain of the purpose in the Count's mind
when he escaped us at the theatre. How could I doubt it, when I
saw, with my own eyes, that he believed himself, in spite of the
change in his appearance, to have been recognised by Pesca, and to
be therefore in danger of his life? If I could get speech of him
that night, if I could show him that I, too knew of the mortal
peril in which he stood, what result would follow? Plainly this.
One of us must be master of the situation--one of us must
inevitably be at the mercy of the other.
I owed it to myself to consider the chances against me before I
confronted them. I owed it to my wife to do all that lay in my
power to lessen the risk.
The chances against me wanted no reckoning up--they were all
merged in one. If the Count discovered, by my own avowal, that
the direct way to his safety lay through my life, he was probably
the last man in existence who would shrink from throwing me off my
guard and taking that way, when he had me alone within his reach.
The only means of defence against him on which I could at all rely
to lessen the risk, presented themselves, after a little careful
thinking, clearly enough. Before I made any personal
acknowledgment of my discovery in his presence, I must place the
discovery itself where it would be ready for instant use against
him, and safe from any attempt at suppression on his part. If I
laid the mine under his feet before I approached him, and if I
left instructions with a third person to fire it on the expiration
of a certain time, unless directions to the contrary were
previously received under my own hand, or from my own lips--in
that event the Count's security was absolutely dependent upon
mine, and I might hold the vantage ground over him securely, even
in his own house.
This idea occurred to me when I was close to the new lodgings
which we had taken on returning from the sea-side. I went in
without disturbing any one, by the help of my key. A light was in
the hall, and I stole up with it to my workroom to make my
preparations, and absolutely to commit myself to an interview with
the Count, before either Laura or Marian could have the slightest
suspicion of what I intended to do.
A letter addressed to Pesca represented the surest measure of
precaution which it was now possible for me to take. I wrote as
"The man whom I pointed out to you at the Opera is a member of the
Brotherhood, and has been false to his trust. Put both these
assertions to the test instantly. You know the name he goes by in
England. His address is No. 5 Forest Road, St. John's Wood. On
the love you once bore me, use the power entrusted to you without
mercy and without delay against that man. I have risked all and
lost all--and the forfeit of my failure has been paid with my
I signed and dated these lines, enclosed them in an envelope, and
sealed it up. On the outside I wrote this direction: "Keep the
enclosure unopened until nine o'clock to-morrow morning. If you
do not hear from me, or see me, before that time, break the seal
when the clock strikes, and read the contents." I added my
initials, and protected the whole by enclosing it in a second
sealed envelope, addressed to Pesca at his lodgings.
Nothing remained to be done after this but to find the means of
sending my letter to its destination immediately. I should then
have accomplished all that lay in my power. If anything happened
to me in the Count's house, I had now provided for his answering
it with his life.
That the means of preventing his escape, under any circumstances
whatever, were at Pesca's disposal, if he chose to exert them, I
did not for an instant doubt. The extraordinary anxiety which he
had expressed to remain unenlightened as to the Count's identity--
or, in other words, to be left uncertain enough about facts to
justify him to his own conscience in remaining passive--betrayed
plainly that the means of exercising the terrible justice of the
Brotherhood were ready to his hand, although, as a naturally
humane man, he had shrunk from plainly saying as much in my
presence. The deadly certainty with which the vengeance of
foreign political societies can hunt down a traitor to the cause,
hide himself where he may, had been too often exemplified, even in
my superficial experience, to allow of any doubt. Considering the
subject only as a reader of newspapers, cases recurred to my
memory, both in London and in Paris, of foreigners found stabbed
in the streets, whose assassins could never be traced--of bodies
and parts of bodies thrown into the Thames and the Seine, by hands
that could never be discovered--of deaths by secret violence which
could only be accounted for in one way. I have disguised nothing
relating to myself in these pages, and I do not disguise here that
I believed I had written Count Fosco's death-warrant, if the fatal
emergency happened which authorised Pesca to open my enclosure.
I left my room to go down to the ground floor of the house, and
speak to the landlord about finding me a messenger. He happened
to be ascending the stairs at the time, and we met on the landing.
His son, a quick lad, was the messenger he proposed to me on
hearing what I wanted. We had the boy upstairs, and I gave him
his directions. He was to take the letter in a cab, to put it
into Professor Pesca's own hands, and to bring me back a line of
acknowledgment from that gentleman--returning in the cab, and
keeping it at the door for my use. It was then nearly half-past
ten. I calculated that the boy might be back in twenty minutes,
and that I might drive to St. John's Wood, on his return, in
twenty minutes more.
When the lad had departed on his errand I returned to my own room
for a little while, to put certain papers in order, so that they
might be easily found in case of the worst. The key of the old-
fashioned bureau in which the papers were kept I sealed up, and
left it on my table, with Marian's name written on the outside of
the little packet. This done, I went down-stairs to the sitting-
room, in which I expected to find Laura and Marian awaiting my
return from the Opera. I felt my hand trembling for the first
time when I laid it on the lock of the door.
No one was in the room but Marian. She was reading, and she
looked at her watch, in surprise, when I came in.
"How early you are back!" she said. "You must have come away
before the Opera was over."
"Yes," I replied, "neither Pesca nor I waited for the end. Where
"She had one of her bad headaches this evening, and I advised her
to go to bed when we had done tea."
I left the room again on the pretext of wishing to see whether
Laura was asleep. Marian's quick eyes were beginning to look
inquiringly at my face--Marian's quick instinct was beginning to
discover that I had something weighing on my mind.
When I entered the bedchamber, and softly approached the bedside
by the dim flicker of the night-lamp, my wife was asleep.
We had not been married quite a month yet. If my heart was heavy,
if my resolution for a moment faltered again, when I looked at her
face turned faithfully to my pillow in her sleep--when I saw her
hand resting open on the coverlid, as if it was waiting
unconsciously for mine--surely there was some excuse for me? I
only allowed myself a few minutes to kneel down at the bedside,
and to look close at her--so close that her breath, as it came and
went, fluttered on my face. I only touched her hand and her cheek
with my lips at parting. She stirred in her sleep and murmured my
name, but without waking. I lingered for an instant at the door
to look at her again. "God bless and keep you, my darling!" I
whispered, and left her.
Marian was at the stairhead waiting for me. She had a folded slip
of paper in her hand.
"The landlord's son has brought this for you," she said. "He has
got a cab at the door--he says you ordered him to keep it at your
"Quite right, Marian. I want the cab--I am going out again."
I descended the stairs as I spoke, and looked into the sitting-
room to read the slip of paper by the light on the table. It
contained these two sentences in Pesca's handwriting--
"Your letter is received. If I don't see you before the time you
mention, I will break the seal when the clock strikes."
I placed the paper in my pocket-book, and made for the door.
Marian met me on the threshold, and pushed me back into the room,
where the candle-light fell full on my face. She held me by both
hands, and her eyes fastened searchingly on mine.
"I see!" she said, in a low eager whisper. "You are trying the
last chance to-night."
"Yes, the last chance and the best," I whispered back.
"Not alone! Oh, Walter, for God's sake, not alone! Let me go with
you. Don't refuse me because I'm only a woman. I must go! I will
go! I'll wait outside in the cab!"
It was my turn now to hold HER. She tried to break away from me
and get down first to the door.
"If you want to help me," I said, "stop here and sleep in my
wife's room to-night. Only let me go away with my mind easy about
Laura, and I answer for everything else. Come, Marian, give me a
kiss, and show that you have the courage to wait till I come
I dared not allow her time to say a word more. She tried to hold
me again. I unclasped her hands, and was out of the room in a
moment. The boy below heard me on the stairs, and opened the
hall-door. I jumped into the cab before the driver could get off
the box. "Forest Road, St. John's Wood," I called to him through
the front window. "Double fare if you get there in a quarter of
an hour." "I'll do it, sir." I looked at my watch. Eleven
o'clock. Not a minute to lose.
The rapid motion of the cab, the sense that every instant now was
bringing me nearer to the Count, the conviction that I was
embarked at last, without let or hindrance, on my hazardous
enterprise, heated me into such a fever of excitement that I
shouted to the man to go faster and faster. As we left the
streets, and crossed St. John's Wood Road, my impatience so
completely overpowered me that I stood up in the cab and stretched
my head out of the window, to see the end of the journey before we
reached it. Just as a church clock in the distance struck the
quarter past, we turned into the Forest Road. I stopped the
driver a little away from the Count's house, paid and dismissed
him, and walked on to the door.
As I approached the garden gate, I saw another person advancing
towards it also from the direction opposite to mine. We met under
the gas lamp in the road, and looked at each other. I instantly
recognised the light-haired foreigner with the scar on his cheek,
and I thought he recognised me. He said nothing, and instead of
stopping at the house, as I did, he slowly walked on. Was he in
the Forest Road by accident? Or had he followed the Count home
from the Opera?
I did not pursue those questions. After waiting a little till the
foreigner had slowly passed out of sight, I rang the gate bell.
It was then twenty minutes past eleven--late enough to make it
quite easy for the Count to get rid of me by the excuse that he
was in bed.
The only way of providing against this contingency was to send in
my name without asking any preliminary questions, and to let him
know, at the same time, that I had a serious motive for wishing to
see him at that late hour. Accordingly, while I was waiting, I
took out my card and wrote under my name "On important business."
The maid-servant answered the door while I was writing the last
word in pencil, and asked me distrustfully what I "pleased to
"Be so good as to take that to your master," I replied, giving her
I saw, by the girl's hesitation of manner, that if I had asked for
the Count in the first instance she would only have followed her
instructions by telling me he was not at home. She was staggered
by the confidence with which I gave her the card. After staring
at me, in great perturbation, she went back into the house with my
message, closing the door, and leaving me to wait in the garden.
In a minute or so she reappeared. "Her master's compliments, and
would I be so obliging as to say what my business was?" "Take my
compliments back," I replied, "and say that the business cannot be
mentioned to any one but your master." She left me again, again
returned, and this time asked me to walk in.
I followed her at once. In another moment I was inside the
There was no lamp in the hall, but by the dim light of the kitchen
candle, which the girl had brought upstairs with her, I saw an
elderly lady steal noiselessly out of a back room on the ground
floor. She cast one viperish look at me as I entered the hall,
but said nothing, and went slowly upstairs without returning my
bow. My familiarity with Marian's journal sufficiently assured me
that the elderly lady was Madame Fosco.
The servant led me to the room which the Countess had just left.
I entered it, and found myself face to face with the Count.
He was still in his evening dress, except his coat, which he had
thrown across a chair. His shirt-sleeves were turned up at the
wrists, but no higher. A carpet-bag was on one side of him, and a
box on the other. Books, papers, and articles of wearing apparel
were scattered about the room. On a table, at one side of the
door, stood the cage, so well known to me by description, which
contained his white mice. The canaries and the cockatoo were
probably in some other room. He was seated before the box,
packing it, when I went in, and rose with some papers in his hand
to receive me. His face still betrayed plain traces of the shock
that had overwhelmed him at the Opera. His fat cheeks hung loose,
his cold grey eyes were furtively vigilant, his voice, look, and
manner were all sharply suspicious alike, as he advanced a step to
meet me, and requested, with distant civility, that I would take a
"You come here on business, sir?" he said. "I am at a loss to
know what that business can possibly he."
The unconcealed curiosity, with which he looked hard in my face
while he spoke, convinced me that I had passed unnoticed by him at
the Opera. He had seen Pesca first, and from that moment till he
left the theatre he had evidently seen nothing else. My name
would necessarily suggest to him that I had not come into his
house with other than a hostile purpose towards himself, but he
appeared to be utterly ignorant thus far of the real nature of my
"I am fortunate in finding you here to-night," I said. "You seem
to be on the point of taking a journey?"
"Is your business connected with my journey?"
"In some degree."
"In what degree? Do you know where I am going to?"
"No. I only know why you are leaving London."
He slipped by me with the quickness of thought, locked the door,
and put the key in his pocket.
"You and I, Mr. Hartright, are excellently well acquainted with
one another by reputation," he said. "Did it, by any chance,
occur to you when you came to this house that I was not the sort
of man you could trifle with?"
"It did occur to me," I replied. "And I have not come to trifle
with you. I am here on a matter of life and death, and if that
door which you have locked was open at this moment, nothing you
could say or do would induce me to pass through it."
I walked farther into the room, and stood opposite to him on the
rug before the fireplace. He drew a chair in front of the door,
and sat down on it, with his left arm resting on the table. The
cage with the white mice was close to him, and the little
creatures scampered out of their sleeping-place as his heavy arm
shook the table, and peered at him through the gaps in the smartly
"On a matter of life and death," he repeated to himself. "Those
words are more serious, perhaps, than you think. What do you
"What I say."
The perspiration broke out thickly on his broad forehead. His
left hand stole over the edge of the table. There was a drawer in
it, with a lock, and the key was in the lock. His finger and
thumb closed over the key, but did not turn it.
"So you know why I am leaving London?" he went on. "Tell me the
reason, if you please." He turned the key, and unlocked the drawer
as he spoke.
"I can do better than that," I replied. I can SHOW you the
reason, if you like."
"How can you show it?"
"You have got your coat off," I said. "Roll up the shirt-sleeve
on your left arm, and you will see it there."
The same livid leaden change passed over his face which I had seen
pass over it at the theatre. The deadly glitter in his eyes shone
steady and straight into mine. He said nothing. But his left
hand slowly opened the table-drawer, and softly slipped into it.
The harsh grating noise of something heavy that he was moving
unseen to me sounded for a moment, then ceased. The silence that
followed was so intense that the faint ticking nibble of the white
mice at their wires was distinctly audible where I stood.
My life hung by a thread, and I knew it. At that final moment I
thought with HIS mind, I felt with HIS fingers--I was as certain
as if I had seen it of what he kept hidden from me in the drawer.
"Wait a little," I said. "You have got the door locked--you see I
don't move--you see my hands are empty. Wait a little. I have
something more to say."
"You have said enough," he replied, with a sudden composure so
unnatural and so ghastly that it tried my nerves as no outbreak of
violence could have tried them. "I want one moment for my own
thoughts, if you please. Do you guess what I am thinking about?"
"Perhaps I do."
"I am thinking," he remarked quietly, "whether I shall add to the
disorder in this room by scattering your brains about the
If I had moved at that moment, I saw in his face that he would
have done it.
"I advise you to read two lines of writing which I have about me,"
I rejoined, "before you finally decide that question."
The proposal appeared to excite his curiosity. He nodded his
head. I took Pesca's acknowledgment of the receipt of my letter
out of my pocket-book, handed it to him at arm's length, and
returned to my former position in front of the fireplace.
He read the lines aloud: "Your letter is received. If I don't
hear from you before the time you mention, I will break the seal
when the clock strikes."
Another man in his position would have needed some explanation of
those words--the Count felt no such necessity. One reading of the
note showed him the precaution that I had taken as plainly as if
he had been present at the time when I adopted it. The expression
of his face changed on the instant, and his hand came out of the
"I don't lock up my drawer, Mr. Hartright," he said, "and I don't
say that I may not scatter your brains about the fireplace yet.
But I am a just man even to my enemy, and I will acknowledge
beforehand that they are cleverer brains than I thought them.
Come to the point, sir! You want something of me?"
"I do, and I mean to have it."
"On no conditions."
His hand dropped into the drawer again.
"Bah! we are travelling in a circle," he said, "and those clever
brains of yours are in danger again. Your tone is deplorably
imprudent, sir--moderate it on the spot! The risk of shooting you
on the place where you stand is less to me than the risk of
letting you out of this house, except on conditions that I dictate
and approve. You have not got my lamented friend to deal with
now--you are face to face with Fosco! If the lives of twenty Mr.
Hartrights were the stepping-stones to my safety, over all those
stones I would go, sustained by my sublime indifference, self-
balanced by my impenetrable calm. Respect me, if you love your
own life! I summon you to answer three questions before you open
your lips again. Hear them--they are necessary to this interview.
Answer them--they are necessary to ME." He held up one finger of
his right hand. "First question!" he said. "You come here
possessed of information which may be true or may be false--where
did you get it?"
"I decline to tell you."
"No matter--I shall find out. If that information is true--mind I
say, with the whole force of my resolution, if--you are making
your market of it here by treachery of your own or by treachery of
some other man. I note that circumstance for future use in my
memory, which forgets nothing, and proceed." He held up another
finger. "Second question! Those lines you invited me to read are
without signature. Who wrote them?"
"A man whom I have every reason to depend on, and whom you have
every reason to fear."
My answer reached him to some purpose. His left hand trembled
audibly in the drawer.
"How long do you give me," he asked, putting his third question in
a quieter tone, "before the clock strikes and the seal is broken?"
"Time enough for you to come to my terms," I replied.
"Give me a plainer answer, Mr. Hartright. What hour is the clock
"Nine, to-morrow morning."
"Nine, to-morrow morning? Yes, yes--your trap is laid for me
before I can get my passport regulated and leave London. It is
not earlier, I suppose? We will see about that presently--I can
keep you hostage here, and bargain with you to send for your
letter before I let you go. In the meantime, be so good next as
to mention your terms."
"You shall hear them. They are simple, and soon stated. You know
whose interests I represent in coming here?"
He smiled with the most supreme composure, and carelessly waved
his right hand.
"I consent to hazard a guess," he said jeeringly. "A lady's
interests, of course!"
"My Wife's interests."
He looked at me with the first honest expression that had crossed
his face in my presence--an expression of blank amazement. I
could see that I sank in his estimation as a dangerous man from
that moment. He shut up the drawer at once, folded his arms over
his breast, and listened to me with a smile of satirical
"You are well enough aware," I went on, "of the course which my
inquiries have taken for many months past, to know that any
attempted denial of plain facts will be quite useless in my
presence. You are guilty of an infamous conspiracy! And the gain
of a fortune of ten thousand pounds was your motive for it."
He said nothing. But his face became overclouded suddenly by a
"Keep your gain," I said. (His face lightened again immediately,
and his eyes opened on me in wider and wider astonishment.) "I am
not here to disgrace myself by bargaining for money which has
passed through your hands, and which has been the price of a vile
"Gently, Mr. Hartright. Your moral clap-traps have an excellent
effect in England--keep them for yourself and your own countrymen,
if you please. The ten thousand pounds was a legacy left to my
excellent wife by the late Mr. Fairlie. Place the affair on those
grounds, and I will discuss it if you like. To a man of my
sentiments, however, the subject is deplorably sordid. I prefer
to pass it over. I invite you to resume the discussion of your
terms. What do you demand?"
"In the first place, I demand a full confession of the conspiracy,
written and signed in my presence by yourself."
He raised his finger again. "One!" he said, checking me off with
the steady attention of a practical man.
"In the second place, I demand a plain proof, which does not
depend on your personal asseveration, of the date at which my wife
left Blackwater Park and travelled to London."
"So! so! you can lay your finger, I see, on the weak place," he
remarked composedly. "Any more?"
"At present, no more."
"Good! you have mentioned your terms, now listen to mine. The
responsibility to myself of admitting what you are pleased to call
the 'conspiracy' is less, perhaps, upon the whole, than the
responsibility of laying you dead on that hearthrug. Let us say
that I meet your proposal--on my own conditions. The statement
you demand of me shall be written, and the plain proof shall be
produced. You call a letter from my late lamented friend
informing me of the day and hour of his wife's arrival in London,
written, signed, and dated by himself, a proof, I suppose? I can
give you this. I can also send you to the man of whom I hired the
carriage to fetch my visitor from the railway, on the day when she
arrived--his order-book may help you to your date, even if his
coachman who drove me proves to be of no use. These things I can
do, and will do, on conditions. I recite them. First condition!
Madame Fosco and I leave this house when and how we please,
without interference of any kind on your part. Second condition!
You wait here, in company with me, to see my agent, who is coming
at seven o'clock in the morning to regulate my affairs. You give
my agent a written order to the man who has got your sealed letter
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