The Woman in White
Part 2 out of 14
"May I venture to inquire why you express that hope?" I asked.
"Because I shall believe all that you say to me," she answered
In those few words she unconsciously gave me the key to her whole
character: to that generous trust in others which, in her nature,
grew innocently out of the sense of her own truth. I only knew it
intuitively then. I know it by experience now.
We merely waited to rouse good Mrs. Vesey from the place which she
still occupied at the deserted luncheon-table, before we entered
the open carriage for our promised drive. The old lady and Miss
Halcombe occupied the back seat, and Miss Fairlie and I sat
together in front, with the sketch-book open between us, fairly
exhibited at last to my professional eyes. All serious criticism
on the drawings, even if I had been disposed to volunteer it, was
rendered impossible by Miss Halcombe's lively resolution to see
nothing but the ridiculous side of the Fine Arts, as practised by
herself, her sister, and ladies in general. I can remember the
conversation that passed far more easily than the sketches that I
mechanically looked over. That part of the talk, especially, in
which Miss Fairlie took any share, is still as vividly impressed
on my memory as if I had heard it only a few hours ago.
Yes! let me acknowledge that on this first day I let the charm of
her presence lure me from the recollection of myself and my
position. The most trifling of the questions that she put to me,
on the subject of using her pencil and mixing her colours; the
slightest alterations of expression in the lovely eyes that looked
into mine with such an earnest desire to learn all that I could
teach, and to discover all that I could show, attracted more of my
attention than the finest view we passed through, or the grandest
changes of light and shade, as they flowed into each other over
the waving moorland and the level beach. At any time, and under
any circumstances of human interest, is it not strange to see how
little real hold the objects of the natural world amid which we
live can gain on our hearts and minds? We go to Nature for comfort
in trouble, and sympathy in joy, only in books. Admiration of
those beauties of the inanimate world, which modern poetry so
largely and so eloquently describes, is not, even in the best of
us, one of the original instincts of our nature. As children, we
none of us possess it. No uninstructed man or woman possesses it.
Those whose lives are most exclusively passed amid the ever-
changing wonders of sea and land are also those who are most
universally insensible to every aspect of Nature not directly
associated with the human interest of their calling. Our capacity
of appreciating the beauties of the earth we live on is, in truth,
one of the civilised accomplishments which we all learn as an Art;
and, more, that very capacity is rarely practised by any of us
except when our minds are most indolent and most unoccupied. How
much share have the attractions of Nature ever had in the
pleasurable or painful interests and emotions of ourselves or our
friends? What space do they ever occupy in the thousand little
narratives of personal experience which pass every day by word of
mouth from one of us to the other? All that our minds can compass,
all that our hearts can learn, can be accomplished with equal
certainty, equal profit, and equal satisfaction to ourselves, in
the poorest as in the richest prospect that the face of the earth
can show. There is surely a reason for this want of inborn
sympathy between the creature and the creation around it, a reason
which may perhaps be found in the widely-differing destinies of
man and his earthly sphere. The grandest mountain prospect that
the eye can range over is appointed to annihilation. The smallest
human interest that the pure heart can feel is appointed to
We had been out nearly three hours, when the carriage again passed
through the gates of Limmeridge House.
On our way back I had let the ladies settle for themselves the
first point of view which they were to sketch, under my
instructions, on the afternoon of the next day. When they
withdrew to dress for dinner, and when I was alone again in my
little sitting-room, my spirits seemed to leave me on a sudden. I
felt ill at ease and dissatisfied with myself, I hardly knew why.
Perhaps I was now conscious for the first time of having enjoyed
our drive too much in the character of a guest, and too little in
the character of a drawing-master. Perhaps that strange sense of
something wanting, either in Miss Fairlie or in myself, which had
perplexed me when I was first introduced to her, haunted me still.
Anyhow, it was a relief to my spirits when the dinner-hour called
me out of my solitude, and took me back to the society of the
ladies of the house.
I was struck, on entering the drawing-room, by the curious
contrast, rather in material than in colour, of the dresses which
they now wore. While Mrs. Vesey and Miss Halcombe were richly
clad (each in the manner most becoming to her age), the first in
silver-grey, and the second in that delicate primrose-yellow
colour which matches so well with a dark complexion and black
hair, Miss Fairlie was unpretendingly and almost poorly dressed in
plain white muslin. It was spotlessly pure: it was beautifully
put on; but still it was the sort of dress which the wife or
daughter of a poor man might have worn, and it made her, so far as
externals went, look less affluent in circumstances than her own
governess. At a later period, when I learnt to know more of Miss
Fairlie's character, I discovered that this curious contrast, on
the wrong side, was due to her natural delicacy of feeling and
natural intensity of aversion to the slightest personal display of
her own wealth. Neither Mrs. Vesey nor Miss Halcombe could ever
induce her to let the advantage in dress desert the two ladies who
were poor, to lean to the side of the one lady who was rich.
When the dinner was over we returned together to the drawing-room.
Although Mr. Fairlie (emulating the magnificent condescension of
the monarch who had picked up Titian's brush for him) had
instructed his butler to consult my wishes in relation to the wine
that I might prefer after dinner, I was resolute enough to resist
the temptation of sitting in solitary grandeur among bottles of my
own choosing, and sensible enough to ask the ladies' permission to
leave the table with them habitually, on the civilised foreign
plan, during the period of my residence at Limmeridge House.
The drawing-room, to which we had now withdrawn for the rest of
the evening, was on the ground-floor, and was of the same shape
and size as the breakfast-room. Large glass doors at the lower
end opened on to a terrace, beautifully ornamented along its whole
length with a profusion of flowers. The soft, hazy twilight was
just shading leaf and blossom alike into harmony with its own
sober hues as we entered the room, and the sweet evening scent of
the flowers met us with its fragrant welcome through the open
glass doors. Good Mrs. Vesey (always the first of the party to
sit down) took possession of an arm-chair in a corner, and dozed
off comfortably to sleep. At my request Miss Fairlie placed
herself at the piano. As I followed her to a seat near the
instrument, I saw Miss Halcombe retire into a recess of one of the
side windows, to proceed with the search through her mother's
letters by the last quiet rays of the evening light.
How vividly that peaceful home-picture of the drawing-room comes
back to me while I write! From the place where I sat I could see
Miss Halcombe's graceful figure, half of it in soft light, half in
mysterious shadow, bending intently over the letters in her lap;
while, nearer to me, the fair profile of the player at the piano
was just delicately defined against the faintly-deepening
background of the inner wall of the room. Outside, on the
terrace, the clustering flowers and long grasses and creepers
waved so gently in the light evening air, that the sound of their
rustling never reached us. The sky was without a cloud, and the
dawning mystery of moonlight began to tremble already in the
region of the eastern heaven. The sense of peace and seclusion
soothed all thought and feeling into a rapt, unearthly repose; and
the balmy quiet, that deepened ever with the deepening light,
seemed to hover over us with a gentler influence still, when there
stole upon it from the piano the heavenly tenderness of the music
of Mozart. It was an evening of sights and sounds never to
We all sat silent in the places we had chosen--Mrs. Vesey still
sleeping, Miss Fairlie still playing, Miss Halcombe still reading--
till the light failed us. By this time the moon had stolen round
to the terrace, and soft, mysterious rays of light were slanting
already across the lower end of the room. The change from the
twilight obscurity was so beautiful that we banished the lamps, by
common consent, when the servant brought them in, and kept the
large room unlighted, except by the glimmer of the two candles at
For half an hour more the music still went on. After that the
beauty of the moonlight view on the terrace tempted Miss Fairlie
out to look at it, and I followed her. When the candles at the
piano had been lighted Miss Halcombe had changed her place, so as
to continue her examination of the letters by their assistance.
We left her, on a low chair, at one side of the instrument, so
absorbed over her reading that she did not seem to notice when we
We had been out on the terrace together, just in front of the
glass doors, hardly so long as five minutes, I should think; and
Miss Fairlie was, by my advice, just tying her white handkerchief
over her head as a precaution against the night air--when I heard
Miss Halcombe's voice--low, eager, and altered from its natural
lively tone--pronounce my name.
"Mr. Hartright," she said, "will you come here for a minute? I
want to speak to you."
I entered the room again immediately. The piano stood about half-
way down along the inner wall. On the side of the instrument
farthest from the terrace Miss Halcombe was sitting with the
letters scattered on her lap, and with one in her hand selected
from them, and held close to the candle. On the side nearest to
the terrace there stood a low ottoman, on which I took my place.
In this position I was not far from the glass doors, and I could
see Miss Fairlie plainly, as she passed and repassed the opening
on to the terrace, walking slowly from end to end of it in the
full radiance of the moon.
"I want you to listen while I read the concluding passages in this
letter," said Miss Halcombe. "Tell me if you think they throw any
light upon your strange adventure on the road to London. The
letter is addressed by my mother to her second husband, Mr.
Fairlie, and the date refers to a period of between eleven and
twelve years since. At that time Mr. and Mrs. Fairlie, and my
half-sister Laura, had been living for years in this house; and I
was away from them completing my education at a school in Paris."
She looked and spoke earnestly, and, as I thought, a little
uneasily as well. At the moment when she raised the letter to the
candle before beginning to read it, Miss Fairlie passed us on the
terrace, looked in for a moment, and seeing that we were engaged,
slowly walked on.
Miss Halcombe began to read as follows:--
"'You will be tired, my dear Philip, of hearing perpetually about
my schools and my scholars. Lay the blame, pray, on the dull
uniformity of life at Limmeridge, and not on me. Besides, this
time I have something really interesting to tell you about a new
"'You know old Mrs. Kempe at the village shop. Well, after years
of ailing, the doctor has at last given her up, and she is dying
slowly day by day. Her only living relation, a sister, arrived
last week to take care of her. This sister comes all the way from
Hampshire--her name is Mrs. Catherick. Four days ago Mrs.
Catherick came here to see me, and brought her only child with
her, a sweet little girl about a year older than our darling
As the last sentence fell from the reader's lips, Miss Fairlie
passed us on the terrace once more. She was softly singing to
herself one of the melodies which she had been playing earlier in
the evening. Miss Halcombe waited till she had passed out of
sight again, and then went on with the letter--
"'Mrs. Catherick is a decent, well-behaved, respectable woman;
middle-aged, and with the remains of having been moderately, only
moderately, nice-looking. There is something in her manner and in
her appearance, however, which I can't make out. She is reserved
about herself to the point of down-right secrecy, and there is a
look in her face--I can't describe it--which suggests to me that
she has something on her mind. She is altogether what you would
call a walking mystery. Her errand at Limmeridge House, however,
was simple enough. When she left Hampshire to nurse her sister,
Mrs. Kempe, through her last illness, she had been obliged to
bring her daughter with her, through having no one at home to take
care of the little girl. Mrs. Kempe may die in a week's time, or
may linger on for months; and Mrs. Catherick's object was to ask
me to let her daughter, Anne, have the benefit of attending my
school, subject to the condition of her being removed from it to
go home again with her mother, after Mrs. Kempe's death. I
consented at once, and when Laura and I went out for our walk, we
took the little girl (who is just eleven years old) to the school
that very day.'"
Once more Miss Fairlie's figure, bright and soft in its snowy
muslin dress--her face prettily framed by the white folds of the
handkerchief which she had tied under her chin--passed by us in
the moonlight. Once more Miss Halcombe waited till she was out of
sight, and then went on--
"'I have taken a violent fancy, Philip, to my new scholar, for a
reason which I mean to keep till the last for the sake of
surprising you. Her mother having told me as little about the
child as she told me of herself, I was left to discover (which I
did on the first day when we tried her at lessons) that the poor
little thing's intellect is not developed as it ought to be at her
age. Seeing this I had her up to the house the next day, and
privately arranged with the doctor to come and watch her and
question her, and tell me what he thought. His opinion is that
she will grow out of it. But he says her careful bringing-up at
school is a matter of great importance just now, because her
unusual slowness in acquiring ideas implies an unusual tenacity in
keeping them, when they are once received into her mind. Now, my
love, you must not imagine, in your off-hand way, that I have been
attaching myself to an idiot. This poor little Anne Catherick is
a sweet, affectionate, grateful girl, and says the quaintest,
prettiest things (as you shall judge by an instance), in the most
oddly sudden, surprised, half-frightened way. Although she is
dressed very neatly, her clothes show a sad want of taste in
colour and pattern. So I arranged, yesterday, that some of our
darling Laura's old white frocks and white hats should be altered
for Anne Catherick, explaining to her that little girls of her
complexion looked neater and better all in white than in anything
else. She hesitated and seemed puzzled for a minute, then flushed
up, and appeared to understand. Her little hand clasped mine
suddenly. She kissed it, Philip, and said (oh, so earnestly!), "I
will always wear white as long as I live. It will help me to
remember you, ma'am, and to think that I am pleasing you still,
when I go away and see you no more." This is only one specimen of
the quaint things she says so prettily. Poor little soul! She
shall have a stock of white frocks, made with good deep tucks, to
let out for her as she grows----'"
Miss Halcombe paused, and looked at me across the piano.
"Did the forlorn woman whom you met in the high-road seem young?"
she asked. "Young enough to be two- or three-and-twenty?"
"Yes, Miss Halcombe, as young as that."
"And she was strangely dressed, from head to foot, all in white?"
"All in white."
While the answer was passing my lips Miss Fairlie glided into view
on the terrace for the third time. Instead of proceeding on her
walk, she stopped, with her back turned towards us, and, leaning
on the balustrade of the terrace, looked down into the garden
beyond. My eyes fixed upon the white gleam of her muslin gown and
head-dress in the moonlight, and a sensation, for which I can find
no name--a sensation that quickened my pulse, and raised a
fluttering at my heart--began to steal over me.
"All in white?" Miss Halcombe repeated. "The most important
sentences in the letter, Mr. Hartright, are those at the end,
which I will read to you immediately. But I can't help dwelling a
little upon the coincidence of the white costume of the woman you
met, and the white frocks which produced that strange answer from
my mother's little scholar. The doctor may have been wrong when
he discovered the child's defects of intellect, and predicted that
she would 'grow out of them.' She may never have grown out of
them, and the old grateful fancy about dressing in white, which
was a serious feeling to the girl, may be a serious feeling to the
I said a few words in answer--I hardly know what. All my
attention was concentrated on the white gleam of Miss Fairlie's
"Listen to the last sentences of the letter," said Miss Halcombe.
"I think they will surprise you."
As she raised the letter to the light of the candle, Miss Fairlie
turned from the balustrade, looked doubtfully up and down the
terrace, advanced a step towards the glass doors, and then
stopped, facing us.
Meanwhile Miss Halcombe read me the last sentences to which she
"'And now, my love, seeing that I am at the end of my paper, now
for the real reason, the surprising reason, for my fondness for
little Anne Catherick. My dear Philip, although she is not half
so pretty, she is, nevertheless, by one of those extraordinary
caprices of accidental resemblance which one sometimes sees, the
living likeness, in her hair, her complexion, the colour of her
eyes, and the shape of her face----'"
I started up from the ottoman before Miss Halcombe could pronounce
the next words. A thrill of the same feeling which ran through me
when the touch was laid upon my shoulder on the lonely high-road
chilled me again.
There stood Miss Fairlie, a white figure, alone in the moonlight;
in her attitude, in the turn of her head, in her complexion, in
the shape of her face, the living image, at that distance and
under those circumstances, of the woman in white! The doubt which
had troubled my mind for hours and hours past flashed into
conviction in an instant. That "something wanting" was my own
recognition of the ominous likeness between the fugitive from the
asylum and my pupil at Limmeridge House.
"You see it!" said Miss Halcombe. She dropped the useless letter,
and her eyes flashed as they met mine. "You see it now, as my
mother saw it eleven years since!"
"I see it--more unwillingly than I can say. To associate that
forlorn, friendless, lost woman, even by an accidental likeness
only, with Miss Fairlie, seems like casting a shadow on the future
of the bright creature who stands looking at us now. Let me lose
the impression again as soon as possible. Call her in, out of the
dreary moonlight--pray call her in!"
"Mr. Hartright, you surprise me. Whatever women may be, I thought
that men, in the nineteenth century, were above superstition."
"Pray call her in!"
"Hush, hush! She is coming of her own accord. Say nothing in her
presence. Let this discovery of the likeness be kept a secret
between you and me. Come in, Laura, come in, and wake Mrs. Vesey
with the piano. Mr. Hartright is petitioning for some more music,
and he wants it, this time, of the lightest and liveliest kind."
So ended my eventful first day at Limmeridge House.
Miss Halcombe and I kept our secret. After the discovery of the
likeness no fresh light seemed destined to break over the mystery
of the woman in white. At the first safe opportunity Miss
Halcombe cautiously led her half-sister to speak of their mother,
of old times, and of Anne Catherick. Miss Fairlie's recollections
of the little scholar at Limmeridge were, however, only of the
most vague and general kind. She remembered the likeness between
herself and her mother's favourite pupil, as something which had
been supposed to exist in past times; but she did not refer to the
gift of the white dresses, or to the singular form of words in
which the child had artlessly expressed her gratitude for them.
She remembered that Anne had remained at Limmeridge for a few
months only, and had then left it to go back to her home in
Hampshire; but she could not say whether the mother and daughter
had ever returned, or had ever been heard of afterwards. No
further search, on Miss Halcombe's part, through the few letters
of Mrs. Fairlie's writing which she had left unread, assisted in
clearing up the uncertainties still left to perplex us. We had
identified the unhappy woman whom I had met in the night-time with
Anne Catherick--we had made some advance, at least, towards
connecting the probably defective condition of the poor creature's
intellect with the peculiarity of her being dressed all in white,
and with the continuance, in her maturer years, of her childish
gratitude towards Mrs. Fairlie--and there, so far as we knew at
that time, our discoveries had ended.
The days passed on, the weeks passed on, and the track of the
golden autumn wound its bright way visibly through the green
summer of the trees. Peaceful, fast-flowing, happy time! my story
glides by you now as swiftly as you once glided by me. Of all the
treasures of enjoyment that you poured so freely into my heart,
how much is left me that has purpose and value enough to be
written on this page? Nothing but the saddest of all confessions
that a man can make--the confession of his own folly.
The secret which that confession discloses should be told with
little effort, for it has indirectly escaped me already. The poor
weak words, which have failed to describe Miss Fairlie, have
succeeded in betraying the sensations she awakened in me. It is
so with us all. Our words are giants when they do us an injury,
and dwarfs when they do us a service.
I loved her.
Ah! how well I know all the sadness and all the mockery that is
contained in those three words. I can sigh over my mournful
confession with the tenderest woman who reads it and pities me. I
can laugh at it as bitterly as the hardest man who tosses it from
him in contempt. I loved her! Feel for me, or despise me, I
confess it with the same immovable resolution to own the truth.
Was there no excuse for me? There was some excuse to be found,
surely, in the conditions under which my term of hired service was
passed at Limmeridge House.
My morning hours succeeded each other calmly in the quiet and
seclusion of my own room. I had just work enough to do, in
mounting my employer's drawings, to keep my hands and eyes
pleasurably employed, while my mind was left free to enjoy the
dangerous luxury of its own unbridled thoughts. A perilous
solitude, for it lasted long enough to enervate, not long enough
to fortify me. A perilous solitude, for it was followed by
afternoons and evenings spent, day after day and week after week
alone in the society of two women, one of whom possessed all the
accomplishments of grace, wit, and high-breeding, the other all
the charms of beauty, gentleness, and simple truth, that can
purify and subdue the heart of man. Not a day passed, in that
dangerous intimacy of teacher and pupil, in which my hand was not
close to Miss Fairlie's; my cheek, as we bent together over her
sketch-book, almost touching hers. The more attentively she
watched every movement of my brush, the more closely I was
breathing the perfume of her hair, and the warm fragrance of her
breath. It was part of my service to live in the very light of
her eyes--at one time to be bending over her, so close to her
bosom as to tremble at the thought of touching it; at another, to
feel her bending over me, bending so close to see what I was
about, that her voice sank low when she spoke to me, and her
ribbons brushed my cheek in the wind before she could draw them
The evenings which followed the sketching excursions of the
afternoon varied, rather than checked, these innocent, these
inevitable familiarities. My natural fondness for the music which
she played with such tender feeling, such delicate womanly taste,
and her natural enjoyment of giving me back, by the practice of
her art, the pleasure which I had offered to her by the practice
of mine, only wove another tie which drew us closer and closer to
one another. The accidents of conversation; the simple habits
which regulated even such a little thing as the position of our
places at table; the play of Miss Halcombe's ever-ready raillery,
always directed against my anxiety as teacher, while it sparkled
over her enthusiasm as pupil; the harmless expression of poor Mrs.
Vesey's drowsy approval, which connected Miss Fairlie and me as
two model young people who never disturbed her--every one of these
trifles, and many more, combined to fold us together in the same
domestic atmosphere, and to lead us both insensibly to the same
I should have remembered my position, and have put myself secretly
on my guard. I did so, but not till it was too late. All the
discretion, all the experience, which had availed me with other
women, and secured me against other temptations, failed me with
her. It had been my profession, for years past, to be in this
close contact with young girls of all ages, and of all orders of
beauty. I had accepted the position as part of my calling in
life; I had trained myself to leave all the sympathies natural to
my age in my employer's outer hall, as coolly as I left my
umbrella there before I went upstairs. I had long since learnt to
understand, composedly and as a matter of course, that my
situation in life was considered a guarantee against any of my
female pupils feeling more than the most ordinary interest in me,
and that I was admitted among beautiful and captivating women much
as a harmless domestic animal is admitted among them. This
guardian experience I had gained early; this guardian experience
had sternly and strictly guided me straight along my own poor
narrow path, without once letting me stray aside, to the right
hand or to the left. And now I and my trusty talisman were parted
for the first time. Yes, my hardly-earned self-control was as
completely lost to me as if I had never possessed it; lost to me,
as it is lost every day to other men, in other critical
situations, where women are concerned. I know, now, that I should
have questioned myself from the first. I should have asked why
any room in the house was better than home to me when she entered
it, and barren as a desert when she went out again--why I always
noticed and remembered the little changes in her dress that I had
noticed and remembered in no other woman's before--why I saw her,
heard her, and touched her (when we shook hands at night and
morning) as I had never seen, heard, and touched any other woman
in my life? I should have looked into my own heart, and found this
new growth springing up there, and plucked it out while it was
young. Why was this easiest, simplest work of self-culture always
too much for me? The explanation has been written already in the
three words that were many enough, and plain enough, for my
confession. I loved her.
The days passed, the weeks passed; it was approaching the third
month of my stay in Cumberland. The delicious monotony of life in
our calm seclusion flowed on with me, like a smooth stream with a
swimmer who glides down the current. All memory of the past, all
thought of the future, all sense of the falseness and hopelessness
of my own position, lay hushed within me into deceitful rest.
Lulled by the Syren-song that my own heart sung to me, with eyes
shut to all sight, and ears closed to all sound of danger, I
drifted nearer and nearer to the fatal rocks. The warning that
aroused me at last, and startled me into sudden, self-accusing
consciousness of my own weakness, was the plainest, the truest,
the kindest of all warnings, for it came silently from HER.
We had parted one night as usual. No word had fallen from my
lips, at that time or at any time before it, that could betray me,
or startle her into sudden knowledge of the truth. But when we
met again in the morning, a change had come over her--a change
that told me all.
I shrank then--I shrink still--from invading the innermost
sanctuary of her heart, and laying it open to others, as I have
laid open my own. Let it be enough to say that the time when she
first surprised my secret was, I firmly believe, the time when she
first surprised her own, and the time, also, when she changed
towards me in the interval of one night. Her nature, too truthful
to deceive others, was too noble to deceive itself. When the
doubt that I had hushed asleep first laid its weary weight on her
heart, the true face owned all, and said, in its own frank, simple
language--I am sorry for him; I am sorry for myself.
It said this, and more, which I could not then interpret. I
understood but too well the change in her manner, to greater
kindness and quicker readiness in interpreting all my wishes,
before others--to constraint and sadness, and nervous anxiety to
absorb herself in the first occupation she could seize on,
whenever we happened to be left together alone. I understood why
the sweet sensitive lips smiled so rarely and so restrainedly now,
and why the clear blue eyes looked at me, sometimes with the pity
of an angel, sometimes with the innocent perplexity of a child.
But the change meant more than this. There was a coldness in her
hand, there was an unnatural immobility in her face, there was in
all her movements the mute expression of constant fear and
clinging self-reproach. The sensations that I could trace to
herself and to me, the unacknowledged sensations that we were
feeling in common, were not these. There were certain elements of
the change in her that were still secretly drawing us together,
and others that were, as secretly, beginning to drive us apart.
In my doubt and perplexity, in my vague suspicion of something
hidden which I was left to find by my own unaided efforts, I
examined Miss Halcombe's looks and manner for enlightenment.
Living in such intimacy as ours, no serious alteration could take
place in any one of us which did not sympathetically affect the
others. The change in Miss Fairlie was reflected in her half-
sister. Although not a word escaped Miss Halcombe which hinted at
an altered state of feeling towards myself, her penetrating eyes
had contracted a new habit of always watching me. Sometimes the
look was like suppressed anger, sometimes like suppressed dread,
sometimes like neither--like nothing, in short, which I could
understand. A week elapsed, leaving us all three still in this
position of secret constraint towards one another. My situation,
aggravated by the sense of my own miserable weakness and
forgetfulness of myself, now too late awakened in me, was becoming
intolerable. I felt that I must cast off the oppression under
which I was living, at once and for ever--yet how to act for the
best, or what to say first, was more than I could tell.
From this position of helplessness and humiliation I was rescued
by Miss Halcombe. Her lips told me the bitter, the necessary, the
unexpected truth; her hearty kindness sustained me under the shock
of hearing it; her sense and courage turned to its right use an
event which threatened the worst that could happen, to me and to
others, in Limmeridge House.
It was on a Thursday in the week, and nearly at the end of the
third month of my sojourn in Cumberland.
In the morning, when I went down into the breakfast-room at the
usual hour, Miss Halcombe, for the first time since I had known
her, was absent from her customary place at the table.
Miss Fairlie was out on the lawn. She bowed to me, but did not
come in. Not a word had dropped from my lips, or from hers, that
could unsettle either of us--and yet the same unacknowledged sense
of embarrassment made us shrink alike from meeting one another
alone. She waited on the lawn, and I waited in the breakfast-
room, till Mrs. Vesey or Miss Halcombe came in. How quickly I
should have joined her: how readily we should have shaken hands,
and glided into our customary talk, only a fortnight ago.
In a few minutes Miss Halcombe entered. She had a preoccupied
look, and she made her apologies for being late rather absently.
"I have been detained," she said, "by a consultation with Mr.
Fairlie on a domestic matter which he wished to speak to me
Miss Fairlie came in from the garden, and the usual morning
greeting passed between us. Her hand struck colder to mine than
ever. She did not look at me, and she was very pale. Even Mrs.
Vesey noticed it when she entered the room a moment after.
"I suppose it is the change in the wind," said the old lady. "The
winter is coming--ah, my love, the winter is coming soon!"
In her heart and in mine it had come already!
Our morning meal--once so full of pleasant good-humoured
discussion of the plans for the day--was short and silent. Miss
Fairlie seemed to feel the oppression of the long pauses in the
conversation, and looked appealingly to her sister to fill them
up. Miss Halcombe, after once or twice hesitating and checking
herself, in a most uncharacteristic manner, spoke at last.
"I have seen your uncle this morning, Laura," she said. "He
thinks the purple room is the one that ought to be got ready, and
he confirms what I told you. Monday is the day--not Tuesday."
While these words were being spoken Miss Fairlie looked down at
the table beneath her. Her fingers moved nervously among the
crumbs that were scattered on the cloth. The paleness on her
cheeks spread to her lips, and the lips themselves trembled
visibly. I was not the only person present who noticed this.
Miss Halcombe saw it, too, and at once set us the example of
rising from table.
Mrs. Vesey and Miss Fairlie left the room together. The kind
sorrowful blue eyes looked at me, for a moment, with the prescient
sadness of a coming and a long farewell. I felt the answering
pang in my own heart--the pang that told me I must lose her soon,
and love her the more unchangeably for the loss.
I turned towards the garden when the door had closed on her. Miss
Halcombe was standing with her hat in her hand, and her shawl over
her arm, by the large window that led out to the lawn, and was
looking at me attentively.
"Have you any leisure time to spare," she asked, "before you begin
to work in your own room?"
"Certainly, Miss Halcombe. I have always time at your service."
"I want to say a word to you in private, Mr. Hartright. Get your
hat and come out into the garden. We are not likely to be
disturbed there at this hour in the morning."
As we stepped out on to the lawn, one of the under-gardeners--a
mere lad--passed us on his way to the house, with a letter in his
hand. Miss Halcombe stopped him.
"Is that letter for me?" she asked.
"Nay, miss; it's just said to be for Miss Fairlie," answered the
lad, holding out the letter as he spoke.
Miss Halcombe took it from him and looked at the address.
"A strange handwriting," she said to herself. "Who can Laura's
correspondent be? Where did you get this?" she continued,
addressing the gardener.
"Well, miss," said the lad, "I just got it from a woman."
"A woman well stricken in age."
"Oh, an old woman. Any one you knew?"
"I canna' tak' it on mysel' to say that she was other than a
stranger to me."
"Which way did she go?"
"That gate," said the under-gardener, turning with great
deliberation towards the south, and embracing the whole of that
part of England with one comprehensive sweep of his arm.
"Curious," said Miss Halcombe; "I suppose it must be a begging-
letter. There," she added, handing the letter back to the lad,
"take it to the house, and give it to one of the servants. And
now, Mr. Hartright, if you have no objection, let us walk this
She led me across the lawn, along the same path by which I had
followed her on the day after my arrival at Limmeridge.
At the little summer-house, in which Laura Fairlie and I had first
seen each other, she stopped, and broke the silence which she had
steadily maintained while we were walking together.
"What I have to say to you I can say here."
With those words she entered the summer-house, took one of the
chairs at the little round table inside, and signed to me to take
the other. I suspected what was coming when she spoke to me in
the breakfast-room; I felt certain of it now.
"Mr. Hartright," she said, "I am going to begin by making a frank
avowal to you. I am going to say--without phrase-making, which I
detest, or paying compliments, which I heartily despise--that I
have come, in the course of your residence with us, to feel a
strong friendly regard for you. I was predisposed in your favour
when you first told me of your conduct towards that unhappy woman
whom you met under such remarkable circumstances. Your management
of the affair might not have been prudent, but it showed the self-
control, the delicacy, and the compassion of a man who was
naturally a gentleman. It made me expect good things from you,
and you have not disappointed my expectations."
She paused--but held up her hand at the same time, as a sign that
she awaited no answer from me before she proceeded. When I
entered the summer-house, no thought was in me of the woman in
white. But now, Miss Halcombe's own words had put the memory of
my adventure back in my mind. It remained there throughout the
interview--remained, and not without a result.
"As your friend," she proceeded, "I am going to tell you, at once,
in my own plain, blunt, downright language, that I have discovered
your secret--without help or hint, mind, from any one else. Mr.
Hartright, you have thoughtlessly allowed your-self to form an
attachment--a serious and devoted attachment I am afraid--to my
sister Laura. I don't put you to the pain of confessing it in so
many words, because I see and know that you are too honest to deny
it. I don't even blame you--I pity you for opening your heart to
a hopeless affection. You have not attempted to take any
underhand advantage--you have not spoken to my sister in secret.
You are guilty of weakness and want of attention to your own best
interests, but of nothing worse. If you had acted, in any single
respect, less delicately and less modestly, I should have told you
to leave the house without an instant's notice, or an instant's
consultation of anybody. As it is, I blame the misfortune of your
years and your position--I don't blame YOU. Shake hands--I have
given you pain; I am going to give you more, but there is no help
for it--shake hands with your friend, Marian Halcombe, first."
The sudden kindness--the warm, high-minded, fearless sympathy
which met me on such mercifully equal terms, which appealed with
such delicate and generous abruptness straight to my heart, my
honour, and my courage, overcame me in an instant. I tried to
look at her when she took my hand, but my eves were dim. I tried
to thank her, but my voice failed me.
"Listen to me," she said, considerately avoiding all notice of my
loss of self-control. "Listen to me, and let us get it over at
once. It is a real true relief to me that I am not obliged, in
what I have now to say, to enter into the question--the hard and
cruel question as I think it--of social inequalities.
Circumstances which will try you to the quick, spare me the
ungracious necessity of paining a man who has lived in friendly
intimacy under the same roof with myself by any humiliating
reference to matters of rank and station. You must leave
Limmeridge House, Mr. Hartright, before more harm is done. It is
my duty to say that to you; and it would be equally my duty to say
it, under precisely the same serious necessity, if you were the
representative of the oldest and wealthiest family in England.
You must leave us, not because you are a teacher of drawing----"
She waited a moment, turned her face full on me, and reaching
across the table, laid her hand firmly on my arm.
"Not because you are a teacher of drawing," she repeated, "but
because Laura Fairlie is engaged to be married."
The last word went like a bullet to my heart. My arm lost all
sensation of the hand that grasped it. I never moved and never
spoke. The sharp autumn breeze that scattered the dead leaves at
our feet came as cold to me, on a sudden, as if my own mad hopes
were dead leaves too, whirled away by the wind like the rest.
Hopes! Betrothed, or not betrothed, she was equally far from me.
Would other men have remembered that in my place? Not if they had
loved her as I did.
The pang passed, and nothing but the dull numbing pain of it
remained. I felt Miss Halcombe's hand again, tightening its hold
on my arm--I raised my head and looked at her. Her large black
eyes were rooted on me, watching the white change on my face,
which I felt, and which she saw.
"Crush it!" she said. "Here, where you first saw her, crush it!
Don't shrink under it like a woman. Tear it out; trample it under
foot like a man!"
The suppressed vehemence with which she spoke, the strength which
her will--concentrated in the look she fixed on me, and in the
hold on my arm that she had not yet relinquished--communicated to
mine, steadied me. We both waited for a minute in silence. At
the end of that time I had justified her generous faith in my
manhood--I had, outwardly at least, recovered my self-control.
"Are you yourself again?"
"Enough myself, Miss Halcombe, to ask your pardon and hers.
Enough myself to be guided by your advice, and to prove my
gratitude in that way, if I can prove it in no other."
"You have proved it already," she answered, "by those words. Mr.
Hartright, concealment is at an end between us. I cannot affect
to hide from you what my sister has unconsciously shown to me.
You must leave us for her sake, as well as for your own. Your
presence here, your necessary intimacy with us, harmless as it has
been, God knows, in all other respects, has unsteadied her and
made her wretched. I, who love her better than my own life--I,
who have learnt to believe in that pure, noble, innocent nature as
I believe in my religion--know but too well the secret misery of
self-reproach that she has been suffering since the first shadow
of a feeling disloyal to her marriage engagement entered her heart
in spite of her. I don't say--it would be useless to attempt to
say it after what has happened--that her engagement has ever had a
strong hold on her affections. It is an engagement of honour, not
of love; her father sanctioned it on his deathbed, two years
since; she herself neither welcomed it nor shrank from it--she was
content to make it. Till you came here she was in the position of
hundreds of other women, who marry men without being greatly
attracted to them or greatly repelled by them, and who learn to
love them (when they don't learn to hate!) after marriage, instead
of before. I hope more earnestly than words can say--and you
should have the self-sacrificing courage to hope too--that the new
thoughts and feelings which have disturbed the old calmness and
the old content have not taken root too deeply to be ever removed.
Your absence (if I had less belief in your honour, and your
courage, and your sense, I should not trust to them as I am
trusting now) your absence will help my efforts, and time will
help us all three. It is something to know that my first
confidence in you was not all misplaced. It is something to know
that you will not be less honest, less manly, less considerate
towards the pupil whose relation to yourself you have had the
misfortune to forget, than towards the stranger and the outcast
whose appeal to you was not made in vain."
Again the chance reference to the woman in white! Was there no
possibility of speaking of Miss Fairlie and of me without raising
the memory of Anne Catherick, and setting her between us like a
fatality that it was hopeless to avoid?
"Tell me what apology I can make to Mr. Fairlie for breaking my
engagement," I said. "Tell me when to go after that apology is
accepted. I promise implicit obedience to you and to your
"Time is every way of importance," she answered. "You heard me
refer this morning to Monday next, and to the necessity of setting
the purple room in order. The visitor whom we expect on Monday----"
I could not wait for her to be more explicit. Knowing what I knew
now, the memory of Miss Fairlie's look and manner at the
breakfast-table told me that the expected visitor at Limmeridge
House was her future husband. I tried to force it back; but
something rose within me at that moment stronger than my own will,
and I interrupted Miss Halcombe.
"Let me go to-day," I said bitterly. "The sooner the better."
"No, not to-day," she replied. "The only reason you can assign to
Mr. Fairlie for your departure, before the end of your engagement,
must be that an unforeseen necessity compels you to ask his
permission to return at once to London. You must wait till to-
morrow to tell him that, at the time when the post comes in,
because he will then understand the sudden change in your plans,
by associating it with the arrival of a letter from London. It is
miserable and sickening to descend to deceit, even of the most
harmless kind--but I know Mr. Fairlie, and if you once excite his
suspicions that you are trifling with him, he will refuse to
release you. Speak to him on Friday morning: occupy yourself
afterwards (for the sake of your own interests with your employer)
in leaving your unfinished work in as little confusion as
possible, and quit this place on Saturday. It will be time enough
then, Mr. Hartright, for you, and for all of us."
Before I could assure her that she might depend on my acting in
the strictest accordance with her wishes, we were both startled by
advancing footsteps in the shrubbery. Some one was coming from
the house to seek for us! I felt the blood rush into my cheeks and
then leave them again. Could the third person who was fast
approaching us, at such a time and under such circumstances, be
It was a relief--so sadly, so hopelessly was my position towards
her changed already--it was absolutely a relief to me, when the
person who had disturbed us appeared at the entrance of the
summer-house, and proved to be only Miss Fairlie's maid.
"Could I speak to you for a moment, miss?" said the girl, in
rather a flurried, unsettled manner.
Miss Halcombe descended the steps into the shrubbery, and walked
aside a few paces with the maid.
Left by myself, my mind reverted, with a sense of forlorn
wretchedness which it is not in any words that I can find to
describe, to my approaching return to the solitude and the despair
of my lonely London home. Thoughts of my kind old mother, and of
my sister, who had rejoiced with her so innocently over my
prospects in Cumberland--thoughts whose long banishment from my
heart it was now my shame and my reproach to realise for the first
time--came back to me with the loving mournfulness of old,
neglected friends. My mother and my sister, what would they feel
when I returned to them from my broken engagement, with the
confession of my miserable secret--they who had parted from me so
hopefully on that last happy night in the Hampstead cottage!
Anne Catherick again! Even the memory of the farewell evening with
my mother and my sister could not return to me now unconnected
with that other memory of the moonlight walk back to London. What
did it mean? Were that woman and I to meet once more? It was
possible, at the least. Did she know that I lived in London? Yes;
I had told her so, either before or after that strange question of
hers, when she had asked me so distrustfully if I knew many men of
the rank of Baronet. Either before or after--my mind was not calm
enough, then, to remember which.
A few minutes elapsed before Miss Halcombe dismissed the maid and
came back to me. She, too, looked flurried and unsettled now.
"We have arranged all that is necessary, Mr. Hartright," she said.
"We have understood each other, as friends should, and we may go
back at once to the house. To tell you the truth, I am uneasy
about Laura. She has sent to say she wants to see me directly,
and the maid reports that her mistress is apparently very much
agitated by a letter that she has received this morning--the same
letter, no doubt, which I sent on to the house before we came
We retraced our steps together hastily along the shrubbery path.
Although Miss Halcombe had ended all that she thought it necessary
to say on her side, I had not ended all that I wanted to say on
mine. From the moment when I had discovered that the expected
visitor at Limmeridge was Miss Fairlie's future husband, I had
felt a bitter curiosity, a burning envious eagerness, to know who
he was. It was possible that a future opportunity of putting the
question might not easily offer, so I risked asking it on our way
back to the house.
"Now that you are kind enough to tell me we have understood each
other, Miss Halcombe," I said, "now that you are sure of my
gratitude for your forbearance and my obedience to your wishes,
may I venture to ask who"--(I hesitated--I had forced myself to
think of him, but it was harder still to speak of him, as her
promised husband)--"who the gentleman engaged to Miss Fairlie is?"
Her mind was evidently occupied with the message she had received
from her sister. She answered in a hasty, absent way--
"A gentleman of large property in Hampshire."
Hampshire! Anne Catherick's native place. Again, and yet again,
the woman in white. There WAS a fatality in it.
"And his name?" I said, as quietly and indifferently as I could.
"Sir Percival Glyde."
SIR--Sir Percival! Anne Catherick's question--that suspicious
question about the men of the rank of Baronet whom I might happen
to know--had hardly been dismissed from my mind by Miss Halcombe's
return to me in the summer-house, before it was recalled again by
her own answer. I stopped suddenly, and looked at her.
"Sir Percival Glyde," she repeated, imagining that I had not heard
her former reply.
"Knight, or Baronet?" I asked, with an agitation that I could hide
She paused for a moment, and then answered, rather coldly--
"Baronet, of course."
Not a word more was said, on either side, as we walked back to the
house. Miss Halcombe hastened immediately to her sister's room,
and I withdrew to my studio to set in order all of Mr. Fairlie's
drawings that I had not yet mounted and restored before I resigned
them to the care of other hands. Thoughts that I had hitherto
restrained, thoughts that made my position harder than ever to
endure, crowded on me now that I was alone.
She was engaged to be married, and her future husband was Sir
Percival Glyde. A man of the rank of Baronet, and the owner of
property in Hampshire.
There were hundreds of baronets in England, and dozens of
landowners in Hampshire. Judging by the ordinary rules of
evidence, I had not the shadow of a reason, thus far, for
connecting Sir Percival Glyde with the suspicious words of inquiry
that had been spoken to me by the woman in white. And yet, I did
connect him with them. Was it because he had now become
associated in my mind with Miss Fairlie, Miss Fairlie being, in
her turn, associated with Anne Catherick, since the night when I
had discovered the ominous likeness between them? Had the events
of the morning so unnerved me already that I was at the mercy of
any delusion which common chances and common coincidences might
suggest to my imagination? Impossible to say. I could only feel
that what had passed between Miss Halcombe and myself, on our way
from the summer-house, had affected me very strangely. The
foreboding of some undiscoverable danger lying hid from us all in
the darkness of the future was strong on me. The doubt whether I
was not linked already to a chain of events which even my
approaching departure from Cumberland would be powerless to snap
asunder--the doubt whether we any of us saw the end as the end
would really be--gathered more and more darkly over my mind.
Poignant as it was, the sense of suffering caused by the miserable
end of my brief, presumptuous love seemed to be blunted and
deadened by the still stronger sense of something obscurely
impending, something invisibly threatening, that Time was holding
over our heads.
I had been engaged with the drawings little more than half an
hour, when there was a knock at the door. It opened, on my
answering; and, to my surprise, Miss Halcombe entered the room.
Her manner was angry and agitated. She caught up a chair for
herself before I could give her one, and sat down in it, close at
"Mr. Hartright," she said, "I had hoped that all painful subjects
of conversation were exhausted between us, for to-day at least.
But it is not to be so. There is some underhand villainy at work
to frighten my sister about her approaching marriage. You saw me
send the gardener on to the house, with a letter addressed, in a
strange handwriting, to Miss Fairlie?"
"The letter is an anonymous letter--a vile attempt to injure Sir
Percival Glyde in my sister's estimation. It has so agitated and
alarmed her that I have had the greatest possible difficulty in
composing her spirits sufficiently to allow me to leave her room
and come here. I know this is a family matter on which I ought
not to consult you, and in which you can feel no concern or
"I beg your pardon, Miss Halcombe. I feel the strongest possible
concern and interest in anything that affects Miss Fairlie's
happiness or yours."
"I am glad to hear you say so. You are the only person in the
house, or out of it, who can advise me. Mr. Fairlie, in his state
of health and with his horror of difficulties and mysteries of all
kinds, is not to be thought of. The clergyman is a good, weak
man, who knows nothing out of the routine of his duties; and our
neighbours are just the sort of comfortable, jog-trot
acquaintances whom one cannot disturb in times of trouble and
danger. What I want to know is this: ought I at once to take such
steps as I can to discover the writer of the letter? or ought I to
wait, and apply to Mr. Fairlie's legal adviser to-morrow? It is a
question--perhaps a very important one--of gaining or losing a
day. Tell me what you think, Mr. Hartright. If necessity had not
already obliged me to take you into my confidence under very
delicate circumstances, even my helpless situation would, perhaps,
be no excuse for me. But as things are I cannot surely be wrong,
after all that has passed between us, in forgetting that you are a
friend of only three months' standing."
She gave me the letter. It began abruptly, without any
preliminary form of address, as follows--
"Do you believe in dreams? I hope, for your own sake, that you do.
See what Scripture says about dreams and their fulfilment (Genesis
xl. 8, xli. 25; Daniel iv. 18-25), and take the warning I send you
before it is too late.
"Last night I dreamed about you, Miss Fairlie. I dreamed that I
was standing inside the communion rails of a church--I on one side
of the altar-table, and the clergyman, with his surplice and his
prayer-book, on the other.
"After a time there walked towards us, down the aisle of the
church, a man and a woman, coming to be married. You were the
woman. You looked so pretty and innocent in your beautiful white
silk dress, and your long white lace veil, that my heart felt for
you, and the tears came into my eyes.
"They were tears of pity, young lady, that heaven blesses and
instead of falling from my eyes like the everyday tears that we
all of us shed, they turned into two rays of light which slanted
nearer and nearer to the man standing at the altar with you, till
they touched his breast. The two rays sprang ill arches like two
rainbows between me and him. I looked along them, and I saw down
into his inmost heart.
"The outside of the man you were marrying was fair enough to see.
He was neither tall nor short--he was a little below the middle
size. A light, active, high-spirited man--about five-and-forty
years old, to look at. He had a pale face, and was bald over the
forehead, but had dark hair on the rest of his head. His beard
was shaven on his chin, but was let to grow, of a fine rich brown,
on his cheeks and his upper lip. His eyes were brown too, and
very bright; his nose straight and handsome and delicate enough to
have done for a woman's. His hands the same. He was troubled
from time to time with a dry hacking cough, and when he put up his
white right hand to his mouth, he showed the red scar of an old
wound across the back of it. Have I dreamt of the right man? You
know best, Miss Fairlie and you can say if I was deceived or not.
Read next, what I saw beneath the outside--I entreat you, read,
"I looked along the two rays of light, and I saw down into his
inmost heart. It was black as night, and on it were written, in
the red flaming letters which are the handwriting of the fallen
angel, 'Without pity and without remorse. He has strewn with
misery the paths of others, and he will live to strew with misery
the path of this woman by his side.' I read that, and then the
rays of light shifted and pointed over his shoulder; and there,
behind him, stood a fiend laughing. And the rays of light shifted
once more, and pointed over your shoulder; and there behind you,
stood an angel weeping. And the rays of light shifted for the
third time, and pointed straight between you and that man. They
widened and widened, thrusting you both asunder, one from the
other. And the clergyman looked for the marriage-service in vain:
it was gone out of the book, and he shut up the leaves, and put it
from him in despair. And I woke with my eyes full of tears and my
heart beating--for I believe in dreams.
"Believe too, Miss Fairlie--I beg of you, for your own sake,
believe as I do. Joseph and Daniel, and others in Scripture,
believed in dreams. Inquire into the past life of that man with
the scar on his hand, before you say the words that make you his
miserable wife. I don't give you this warning on my account, but
on yours. I have an interest in your well-being that will live as
long as I draw breath. Your mother's daughter has a tender place
in my heart--for your mother was my first, my best, my only
There the extraordinary letter ended, without signature of any
The handwriting afforded no prospect of a clue. It was traced on
ruled lines, in the cramped, conventional, copy-book character
technically termed "small hand." It was feeble and faint, and
defaced by blots, but had otherwise nothing to distinguish it.
"That is not an illiterate letter," said Miss Halcombe, "and at
the same time, it is surely too incoherent to be the letter of an
educated person in the higher ranks of life. The reference to the
bridal dress and veil, and other little expressions, seem to point
to it as the production of some woman. What do you think, Mr.
"I think so too. It seems to me to be not only the letter of a
woman, but of a woman whose mind must be----"
"Deranged?" suggested Miss Halcombe. "It struck me in that light
I did not answer. While I was speaking, my eyes rested on the
last sentence of the letter: "Your mother's daughter has a tender
place in my heart--for your mother was my first, my best, my only
friend." Those words and the doubt which had just escaped me as to
the sanity of the writer of the letter, acting together on my
mind, suggested an idea, which I was literally afraid to express
openly, or even to encourage secretly. I began to doubt whether
my own faculties were not in danger of losing their balance. It
seemed almost like a monomania to be tracing back everything
strange that happened, everything unexpected that was said, always
to the same hidden source and the same sinister influence. I
resolved, this time, in defence of my own courage and my own
sense, to come to no decision that plain fact did not warrant, and
to turn my back resolutely on everything that tempted me in the
shape of surmise.
"If we have any chance of tracing the person who has written
this," I said, returning the letter to Miss Halcombe, "there can
be no harm in seizing our opportunity the moment it offers. I
think we ought to speak to the gardener again about the elderly
woman who gave him the letter, and then to continue our inquiries
in the village. But first let me ask a question. You mentioned
just now the alternative of consulting Mr. Fairlie's legal adviser
to-morrow. Is there no possibility of communicating with him
earlier? Why not to-day?"
"I can only explain," replied Miss Halcombe, "by entering into
certain particulars, connected with my sister's marriage-
engagement, which I did not think it necessary or desirable to
mention to you this morning. One of Sir Percival Glyde's objects
in coming here on Monday, is to fix the period of his marriage,
which has hitherto been left quite unsettled. He is anxious that
the event should take place before the end of the year."
"Does Miss Fairlie know of that wish?" I asked eagerly.
"She has no suspicion of it, and after what has happened, I shall
not take the responsibility upon myself of enlightening her. Sir
Percival has only mentioned his views to Mr. Fairlie, who has told
me himself that he is ready and anxious, as Laura's guardian, to
forward them. He has written to London, to the family solicitor,
Mr. Gilmore. Mr. Gilmore happens to be away in Glasgow on
business, and he has replied by proposing to stop at Limmeridge
House on his way back to town. He will arrive to-morrow, and will
stay with us a few days, so as to allow Sir Percival time to plead
his own cause. If he succeeds, Mr. Gilmore will then return to
London, taking with him his instructions for my sister's marriage-
settlement. You understand now, Mr. Hartright, why I speak of
waiting to take legal advice until to-morrow? Mr. Gilmore is the
old and tried friend of two generations of Fairlies, and we can
trust him, as we could trust no one else."
The marriage-settlement! The mere hearing of those two words stung
me with a jealous despair that was poison to my higher and better
instincts. I began to think--it is hard to confess this, but I
must suppress nothing from beginning to end of the terrible story
that I now stand committed to reveal--I began to think, with a
hateful eagerness of hope, of the vague charges against Sir
Percival Glyde which the anonymous letter contained. What if
those wild accusations rested on a foundation of truth? What if
their truth could be proved before the fatal words of consent were
spoken, and the marriage-settlement was drawn? I have tried to
think since, that the feeling which then animated me began and
ended in pure devotion to Miss Fairlie's interests, but I have
never succeeded in deceiving myself into believing it, and I must
not now attempt to deceive others. The feeling began and ended in
reckless, vindictive, hopeless hatred of the man who was to marry
"If we are to find out anything," I said, speaking under the new
influence which was now directing me, "we had better not let
another minute slip by us unemployed. I can only suggest, once
more, the propriety of questioning the gardener a second time, and
of inquiring in the village immediately afterwards."
"I think I may be of help to you in both cases," said Miss
Halcombe, rising. "Let us go, Mr. Hartright, at once, and do the
best we can together."
I had the door in my hand to open it for her--but I stopped, on a
sudden, to ask an important question before we set forth.
"One of the paragraphs of the anonymous letter," I said, "contains
some sentences of minute personal description. Sir Percival
Glyde's name is not mentioned, I know--but does that description
at all resemble him?"
"Accurately--even in stating his age to be forty-five----"
Forty-five; and she was not yet twenty-one! Men of his age married
wives of her age every day--and experience had shown those
marriages to be often the happiest ones. I knew that--and yet
even the mention of his age, when I contrasted it with hers, added
to my blind hatred and distrust of him.
"Accurately," Miss Halcombe continued, "even to the scar on his
right hand, which is the scar of a wound that he received years
since when he was travelling in Italy. There can be no doubt that
every peculiarity of his personal appearance is thoroughly well
known to the writer of the letter."
"Even a cough that he is troubled with is mentioned, if I remember
"Yes, and mentioned correctly. He treats it lightly himself,
though it sometimes makes his friends anxious about him."
"I suppose no whispers have ever been heard against his
"Mr. Hartright! I hope you are not unjust enough to let that
infamous letter influence you?"
I felt the blood rush into my cheeks, for I knew that it HAD
"I hope not," I answered confusedly. "Perhaps I had no right to
ask the question."
"I am not sorry you asked it," she said, "for it enables me to do
justice to Sir Percival's reputation. Not a whisper, Mr.
Hartright, has ever reached me, or my family, against him. He has
fought successfully two contested elections, and has come out of
the ordeal unscathed. A man who can do that, in England, is a man
whose character is established."
I opened the door for her in silence, and followed her out. She
had not convinced me. If the recording angel had come down from
heaven to confirm her, and had opened his book to my mortal eyes,
the recording angel would not have convinced me.
We found the gardener at work as usual. No amount of questioning
could extract a single answer of any importance from the lad's
impenetrable stupidity. The woman who had given him the letter
was an elderly woman; she had not spoken a word to him, and she
had gone away towards the south in a great hurry. That was all
the gardener could tell us.
The village lay southward of the house. So to the village we went
Our inquiries at Limmeridge were patiently pursued in all
directions, and among all sorts and conditions of people. But
nothing came of them. Three of the villagers did certainly assure
us that they had seen the woman, but as they were quite unable to
describe her, and quite incapable of agreeing about the exact
direction in which she was proceeding when they last saw her,
these three bright exceptions to the general rule of total
ignorance afforded no more real assistance to us than the mass of
their unhelpful and unobservant neighbours.
The course of our useless investigations brought us, in time, to
the end of the village at which the schools established by Mrs.
Fairlie were situated. As we passed the side of the building
appropriated to the use of the boys, I suggested the propriety of
making a last inquiry of the schoolmaster, whom we might presume
to be, in virtue of his office, the most intelligent man in the
"I am afraid the schoolmaster must have been occupied with his
scholars," said Miss Halcombe, "just at the time when the woman
passed through the village and returned again. However, we can
We entered the playground enclosure, and walked by the schoolroom
window to get round to the door, which was situated at the back of
the building. I stopped for a moment at the window and looked in.
The schoolmaster was sitting at his high desk, with his back to
me, apparently haranguing the pupils, who were all gathered
together in front of him, with one exception. The one exception
was a sturdy white-headed boy, standing apart from all the rest on
a stool in a corner--a forlorn little Crusoe, isolated in his own
desert island of solitary penal disgrace.
The door, when we got round to it, was ajar, and the school-
master's voice reached us plainly, as we both stopped for a minute
under the porch.
"Now, boys," said the voice, "mind what I tell you. If I hear
another word spoken about ghosts in this school, it will be the
worse for all of you. There are no such things as ghosts, and
therefore any boy who believes in ghosts believes in what can't
possibly be; and a boy who belongs to Limmeridge School, and
believes in what can't possibly be, sets up his back against
reason and discipline, and must be punished accordingly. You all
see Jacob Postlethwaite standing up on the stool there in
disgrace. He has been punished, not because he said he saw a
ghost last night, but because he is too impudent and too obstinate
to listen to reason, and because he persists in saying he saw the
ghost after I have told him that no such thing can possibly be.
If nothing else will do, I mean to cane the ghost out of Jacob
Postlethwaite, and if the thing spreads among any of the rest of
you, I mean to go a step farther, and cane the ghost out of the
"We seem to have chosen an awkward moment for our visit," said
Miss Halcombe, pushing open the door at the end of the
schoolmaster's address, and leading the way in.
Our appearance produced a strong sensation among the boys. They
appeared to think that we had arrived for the express purpose of
seeing Jacob Postlethwaite caned.
"Go home all of you to dinner," said the schoolmaster, "except
Jacob. Jacob must stop where he is; and the ghost may bring him
his dinner, if the ghost pleases."
Jacob's fortitude deserted him at the double disappearance of his
schoolfellows and his prospect of dinner. He took his hands out
of his pockets, looked hard at his knuckles, raised them with
great deliberation to his eyes, and when they got there, ground
them round and round slowly, accompanying the action by short
spasms of sniffing, which followed each other at regular
intervals--the nasal minute guns of juvenile distress.
"We came here to ask you a question, Mr. Dempster." said Miss
Halcombe, addressing the schoolmaster; "and we little expected to
find you occupied in exorcising a ghost. What does it all mean?
What has really happened?"
"That wicked boy has been frightening the whole school, Miss
Halcombe, by declaring that he saw a ghost yesterday evening,"
answered the master; "and he still persists in his absurd story,
in spite of all that I can say to him."
"Most extraordinary," said Miss Halcombe "I should not have
thought it possible that any of the boys had imagination enough to
see a ghost. This is a new accession indeed to the hard labour of
forming the youthful mind at Limmeridge, and I heartily wish you
well through it, Mr. Dempster. In the meantime, let me explain
why you see me here, and what it is I want."
She then put the same question to the schoolmaster which we had
asked already of almost every one else in the village. It was met
by the same discouraging answer Mr. Dempster had not set eyes on
the stranger of whom we were in search.
"We may as well return to the house, Mr. Hartright," said Miss
Halcombe; "the information we want is evidently not to be found."
She had bowed to Mr. Dempster, and was about to leave the
schoolroom, when the forlorn position of Jacob Postlethwaite,
piteously sniffing on the stool of penitence, attracted her
attention as she passed him, and made her stop good-humouredly to
speak a word to the little prisoner before she opened the door.
"You foolish boy," she said, "why don't you beg Mr. Dempster's
pardon, and hold your tongue about the ghost?"
"Eh!--but I saw t' ghaist," persisted Jacob Postlethwaite, with a
stare of terror and a burst of tears.
"Stuff and nonsense! You saw nothing of the kind. Ghost indeed!
"I beg your pardon, Miss Halcombe," interposed the school-master a
little uneasily--"but I think you had better not question the boy.
The obstinate folly of his story is beyond all belief; and you
might lead him into ignorantly----"
"Ignorantly what?" inquired Miss Halcombe sharply.
"Ignorantly shocking your feelings," said Mr. Dempster, looking
very much discomposed.
"Upon my word, Mr. Dempster, you pay my feelings a great
compliment in thinking them weak enough to be shocked by such an
urchin as that!" She turned with an air of satirical defiance to
little Jacob, and began to question him directly. "Come!" she
said, "I mean to know all about this. You naughty boy, when did
you see the ghost?"
"Yestere'en, at the gloaming," replied Jacob.
"Oh! you saw it yesterday evening, in the twilight? And what was
"Arl in white--as a ghaist should be," answered the ghost-seer,
with a confidence beyond his years.
"And where was it?"
"Away yander, in t' kirkyard--where a ghaist ought to be."
"As a 'ghaist' should be--where a 'ghaist' ought to be--why, you
little fool, you talk as if the manners and customs of ghosts had
been familiar to you from your infancy! You have got your story at
your fingers' ends, at any rate. I suppose I shall hear next that
you can actually tell me whose ghost it was?"
"Eh! but I just can," replied Jacob, nodding his head with an air
of gloomy triumph.
Mr. Dempster had already tried several times to speak while Miss
Halcombe was examining his pupil, and he now interposed resolutely
enough to make himself heard.
"Excuse me, Miss Halcombe," he said, "if I venture to say that you
are only encouraging the boy by asking him these questions."
"I will merely ask one more, Mr. Dempster, and then I shall be
quite satisfied. Well," she continued, turning to the boy, "and
whose ghost was it?"
"T' ghaist of Mistress Fairlie," answered Jacob in a whisper.
The effect which this extraordinary reply produced on Miss
Halcombe fully justified the anxiety which the schoolmaster had
shown to prevent her from hearing it. Her face crimsoned with
indignation--she turned upon little Jacob with an angry suddenness
which terrified him into a fresh burst of tears--opened her lips
to speak to him--then controlled herself, and addressed the master
instead of the boy.
"It is useless," she said, "to hold such a child as that
responsible for what he says. I have little doubt that the idea
has been put into his head by others. If there are people in this
village, Mr. Dempster, who have forgotten the respect and
gratitude due from every soul in it to my mother's memory, I will
find them out, and if I have any influence with Mr. Fairlie, they
shall suffer for it."
"I hope--indeed, I am sure, Miss Halcombe--that you are mistaken,"
said the schoolmaster. "The matter begins and ends with the boy's
own perversity and folly. He saw, or thought he saw, a woman in
white, yesterday evening, as he was passing the churchyard; and
the figure, real or fancied, was standing by the marble cross,
which he and every one else in Limmeridge knows to be the monument
over Mrs. Fairlie's grave. These two circumstances are surely
sufficient to have suggested to the boy himself the answer which
has so naturally shocked you?"
Although Miss Halcombe did not seem to be convinced, she evidently
felt that the schoolmaster's statement of the case was too
sensible to be openly combated. She merely replied by thanking
him for his attention, and by promising to see him again when her
doubts were satisfied. This said, she bowed, and led the way out
of the schoolroom.
Throughout the whole of this strange scene I had stood apart,
listening attentively, and drawing my own conclusions. As soon as
we were alone again, Miss Halcombe asked me if I had formed any
opinion on what I had heard.
"A very strong opinion," I answered; "the boy's story, as I
believe, has a foundation in fact. I confess I am anxious to see
the monument over Mrs. Fairlie's grave, and to examine the ground
"You shall see the grave."
She paused after making that reply, and reflected a little as we
walked on. "What has happened in the schoolroom," she resumed,
"has so completely distracted my attention from the subject of the
letter, that I feel a little bewildered when I try to return to
it. Must we give up all idea of making any further inquiries, and
wait to place the thing in Mr. Gilmore's hands to-morrow?"
"By no means, Miss Halcombe. What has happened in the schoolroom
encourages me to persevere in the investigation."
"Why does it encourage you?"
"Because it strengthens a suspicion I felt when you gave me the
letter to read."
"I suppose you had your reasons, Mr. Hartright, for concealing
that suspicion from me till this moment?"
"I was afraid to encourage it in myself. I thought it was utterly
preposterous--I distrusted it as the result of some perversity in
my own imagination. But I can do so no longer. Not only the
boy's own answers to your questions, but even a chance expression
that dropped from the schoolmaster's lips in explaining his story,
have forced the idea back into my mind. Events may yet prove that
idea to be a delusion, Miss Halcombe; but the belief is strong in
me, at this moment, that the fancied ghost in the churchyard, and
the writer of the anonymous letter, are one and the same person."
She stopped, turned pale, and looked me eagerly in the face.
"The schoolmaster unconsciously told you. When he spoke of the
figure that the boy saw in the churchyard he called it 'a woman in
"Not Anne Catherick?"
"Yes, Anne Catherick."
She put her hand through my arm and leaned on it heavily.
"I don't know why," she said in low tones, "but there is something
in this suspicion of yours that seems to startle and unnerve me.
I feel----" She stopped, and tried to laugh it off. "Mr.
Hartright," she went on, "I will show you the grave, and then go
back at once to the house. I had better not leave Laura too long
alone. I had better go back and sit with her."
We were close to the churchyard when she spoke. The church, a
dreary building of grey stone, was situated in a little valley, so
as to be sheltered from the bleak winds blowing over the moorland
all round it. The burial-ground advanced, from the side of the
church, a little way up the slope of the hill. It was surrounded
by a rough, low stone wall, and was bare and open to the sky,
except at one extremity, where a brook trickled down the stony
hill-side, and a clump of dwarf trees threw their narrow shadows
over the short, meagre grass. Just beyond the brook and the
trees, and not far from one of the three stone stiles which
afforded entrance, at various points, to the church-yard, rose the
white marble cross that distinguished Mrs. Fairlie's grave from
the humbler monuments scattered about it.
"I need go no farther with you," said Miss Halcombe, pointing to
the grave. "You will let me know if you find anything to confirm
the idea you have just mentioned to me. Let us meet again at the
She left me. I descended at once to the churchyard, and crossed
the stile which led directly to Mrs. Fairlie's grave.
The grass about it was too short, and the ground too hard, to show
any marks of footsteps. Disappointed thus far, I next looked
attentively at the cross, and at the square block of marble below
it, on which the inscription was cut.
The natural whiteness of the cross was a little clouded, here and
there, by weather stains, and rather more than one half of the
square block beneath it, on the side which bore the inscription,
was in the same condition. The other half, however, attracted my
attention at once by its singular freedom from stain or impurity
of any kind. I looked closer, and saw that it had been cleaned--
recently cleaned, in a downward direction from top to bottom. The
boundary line between the part that had been cleaned and the part
that had not was traceable wherever the inscription left a blank
space of marble--sharply traceable as a line that had been
produced by artificial means. Who had begun the cleansing of the
marble, and who had left it unfinished?
I looked about me, wondering how the question was to be solved.
No sign of a habitation could be discerned from the point at which
I was standing--the burial-ground was left in the lonely
possession of the dead. I returned to the church, and walked
round it till I came to the back of the building; then crossed the
boundary wall beyond, by another of the stone stiles, and found
myself at the head of a path leading down into a deserted stone
quarry. Against one side of the quarry a little two-room cottage
was built, and just outside the door an old woman was engaged in
I walked up to her, and entered into conversation about the church
and burial-ground. She was ready enough to talk, and almost the
first words she said informed me that her husband filled the two
offices of clerk and sexton. I said a few words next in praise of
Mrs. Fairlie's monument. The old woman shook her head, and told
me I had not seen it at its best. It was her husband's business
to look after it, but he had been so ailing and weak for months
and months past, that he had hardly been able to crawl into church
on Sundays to do his duty, and the monument had been neglected in
consequence. He was getting a little better now, and in a week or
ten days' time he hoped to be strong enough to set to work and
This information--extracted from a long rambling answer in the
broadest Cumberland dialect--told me all that I most wanted to
know. I gave the poor woman a trifle, and returned at once to
The partial cleansing of the monument had evidently been
accomplished by a strange hand. Connecting what I had discovered,
thus far, with what I had suspected after hearing the story of the
ghost seen at twilight, I wanted nothing more to confirm my
resolution to watch Mrs. Fairlie's grave, in secret, that evening,
returning to it at sunset, and waiting within sight of it till the
night fell. The work of cleansing the monument had been left
unfinished, and the person by whom it had been begun might return
to complete it.
On getting back to the house I informed Miss Halcombe of what I
intended to do. She looked surprised and uneasy while I was
explaining my purpose, but she made no positive objection to the
execution of it. She only said, "I hope it may end well."
Just as she was leaving me again, I stopped her to inquire, as
calmly as I could, after Miss Fairlie's health. She was in better
spirits, and Miss Halcombe hoped she might be induced to take a
little walking exercise while the afternoon sun lasted.
I returned to my own room to resume setting the drawings in order.
It was necessary to do this, and doubly necessary to keep my mind
employed on anything that would help to distract my attention from
myself, and from the hopeless future that lay before me. From
time to time I paused in my work to look out of window and watch
the sky as the sun sank nearer and nearer to the horizon. On one
of those occasions I saw a figure on the broad gravel walk under
my window. It was Miss Fairlie.
I had not seen her since the morning, and I had hardly spoken to
her then. Another day at Limmeridge was all that remained to me,
and after that day my eyes might never look on her again. This
thought was enough to hold me at the window. I had sufficient
consideration for her to arrange the blind so that she might not
see me if she looked up, but I had no strength to resist the
temptation of letting my eyes, at least, follow her as far as they
could on her walk.
She was dressed in a brown cloak, with a plain black silk gown
under it. On her head was the same simple straw hat which she had
worn on the morning when we first met. A veil was attached to it
now which hid her face from me. By her side trotted a little
Italian greyhound, the pet companion of all her walks, smartly
dressed in a scarlet cloth wrapper, to keep the sharp air from his
delicate skin. She did not seem to notice the dog. She walked
straight forward, with her head drooping a little, and her arms
folded in her cloak. The dead leaves, which had whirled in the
wind before me when I had heard of her marriage engagement in the
morning, whirled in the wind before her, and rose and fell and
scattered themselves at her feet as she walked on in the pale
waning sunlight. The dog shivered and trembled, and pressed
against her dress impatiently for notice and encouragement. But
she never heeded him. She walked on, farther and farther away
from me, with the dead leaves whirling about her on the path--
walked on, till my aching eyes could see her no more, and I was
left alone again with my own heavy heart.
In another hour's time I had done my work, and the sunset was at
hand. I got my hat and coat in the hall, and slipped out of the
house without meeting any one.
The clouds were wild in the western heaven, and the wind blew
chill from the sea. Far as the shore was, the sound of the surf
swept over the intervening moorland, and beat drearily in my ears
when I entered the churchyard. Not a living creature was in
sight. The place looked lonelier than ever as I chose my
position, and waited and watched, with my eyes on the white cross
that rose over Mrs. Fairlie's grave.
The exposed situation of the churchyard had obliged me to be
cautious in choosing the position that I was to occupy.
The main entrance to the church was on the side next to the
burial-ground, and the door was screened by a porch walled in on
either side. After some little hesitation, caused by natural
reluctance to conceal myself, indispensable as that concealment
was to the object in view, I had resolved on entering the porch.
A loophole window was pierced in each of its side walls. Through
one of these windows I could see Mrs. Fairlie's grave. The other
looked towards the stone quarry in which the sexton's cottage was
built. Before me, fronting the porch entrance, was a patch of
bare burial-ground, a line of low stone wall, and a strip of
lonely brown hill, with the sunset clouds sailing heavily over it
before the strong, steady wind. No living creature was visible or
audible--no bird flew by me, no dog barked from the sexton's
cottage. The pauses in the dull beating of the surf were filled
up by the dreary rustling of the dwarf trees near the grave, and
the cold faint bubble of the brook over its stony bed. A dreary
scene and a dreary hour. My spirits sank fast as I counted out
the minutes of the evening in my hiding-place under the church
It was not twilight yet--the light of the setting sun still
lingered in the heavens, and little more than the first half-hour
of my solitary watch had elapsed--when I heard footsteps and a
voice. The footsteps were approaching from the other side of the
church, and the voice was a woman's.
"Don't you fret, my dear, about the letter," said the voice. "I
gave it to the lad quite safe, and the lad he took it from me
without a word. He went his way and I went mine, and not a living
soul followed me afterwards--that I'll warrant."
These words strung up my attention to a pitch of expectation that
was almost painful. There was a pause of silence, but the
footsteps still advanced. In another moment two persons, both
women, passed within my range of view from the porch window. They
were walking straight towards the grave; and therefore they had
their backs turned towards me.
One of the women was dressed in a bonnet and shawl. The other
wore a long travelling-cloak of a dark-blue colour, with the hood
drawn over her head. A few inches of her gown were visible below
the cloak. My heart beat fast as I noted the colour--it was
After advancing about half-way between the church and the grave
they stopped, and the woman in the cloak turned her head towards
her companion. But her side face, which a bonnet might now have
allowed me to see, was hidden by the heavy, projecting edge of the
"Mind you keep that comfortable warm cloak on," said the same
voice which I had already heard--the voice of the woman in the
shawl. "Mrs. Todd is right about your looking too particular,
yesterday, all in white. I'll walk about a little while you're
here, churchyards being not at all in my way, whatever they may be
in yours. Finish what you want to do before I come back, and let
us be sure and get home again before night."
With those words she turned about, and retracing her steps,
advanced with her face towards me. It was the face of an elderly
woman, brown, rugged, and healthy, with nothing dishonest or
suspicious in the look of it. Close to the church she stopped to
pull her shawl closer round her.
"Queer," she said to herself, "always queer, with her whims and
her ways, ever since I can remember her. Harmless, though--as
harmless, poor soul, as a little child."
She sighed--looked about the burial-ground nervously--shook her
head, as if the dreary prospect by no means pleased her, and
disappeared round the corner of the church.
I doubted for a moment whether I ought to follow and speak to her
or not. My intense anxiety to find myself face to face with her
companion helped me to decide in the negative. I could ensure
seeing the woman in the shawl by waiting near the churchyard until
she came back--although it seemed more than doubtful whether she
could give me the information of which I was in search. The
person who had delivered the letter was of little consequence.
The person who had written it was the one centre of interest, and
the one source of information, and that person I now felt
convinced was before me in the churchyard.
While these ideas were passing through my mind I saw the woman in
the cloak approach close to the grave, and stand looking at it for
a little while. She then glanced all round her, and taking a
white linen cloth or handkerchief from under her cloak, turned
aside towards the brook. The little stream ran into the
churchyard under a tiny archway in the bottom of the wall, and ran
out again, after a winding course of a few dozen yards, under a
similar opening. She dipped the cloth in the water, and returned
to the grave. I saw her kiss the white cross, then kneel down
before the inscription, and apply her wet cloth to the cleansing
After considering how I could show myself with the least possible
chance of frightening her, I resolved to cross the wall before me,
to skirt round it outside, and to enter the churchyard again by
the stile near the grave, in order that she might see me as I
approached. She was so absorbed over her employment that she did
not hear me coming until I had stepped over the stile. Then she
looked up, started to her feet with a faint cry, and stood facing
me in speechless and motionless terror.
"Don't be frightened," I said. "Surely you remember me?"
I stopped while I spoke--then advanced a few steps gently--then
stopped again--and so approached by little and little till I was
close to her. If there had been any doubt still left in my mind,
it must have been now set at rest. There, speaking affrightedly
for itself--there was the same face confronting me over Mrs.
Fairlie's grave which had first looked into mine on the high-road
"You remember me?" I said. "We met very late, and I helped you to
find the way to London. Surely you have not forgotten that?"
Her features relaxed, and she drew a heavy breath of relief. I
saw the new life of recognition stirring slowly under the death-
like stillness which fear had set on her face.
"Don't attempt to speak to me just yet," I went on. "Take time to
recover yourself--take time to feel quite certain that I am a
"You are very kind to me," she murmured. "As kind now as you were
She stopped, and I kept silence on my side. I was not granting
time for composure to her only, I was gaining time also for
myself. Under the wan wild evening light, that woman and I were
met together again, a grave between us, the dead about us, the
lonesome hills closing us round on every side. The time, the
place, the circumstances under which we now stood face to face in
the evening stillness of that dreary valley--the lifelong
interests which might hang suspended on the next chance words that
passed between us--the sense that, for aught I knew to the
contrary, the whole future of Laura Fairlie's life might be
determined, for good or for evil, by my winning or losing the
confidence of the forlorn creature who stood trembling by her
mother's grave--all threatened to shake the steadiness and the
self-control on which every inch of the progress I might yet make
now depended. I tried hard, as I felt this, to possess myself of
all my resources; I did my utmost to turn the few moments for
reflection to the best account.
"Are you calmer now?" I said, as soon as I thought it time to
speak again. "Can you talk to me without feeling frightened, and
without forgetting that I am a friend?"
"How did you come here?" she asked, without noticing what I had
just said to her.
"Don't you remember my telling you, when we last met, that I was
going to Cumberland? I have been in Cumberland ever since--I have
been staying all the time at Limmeridge House."
"At Limmeridge House!" Her pale face brightened as she repeated
the words, her wandering eyes fixed on me with a sudden interest.
"Ah, how happy you must have been!" she said, looking at me
eagerly, without a shadow of its former distrust left in her
I took advantage of her newly-aroused confidence in me to observe
her face, with an attention and a curiosity which I had hitherto
restrained myself from showing, for caution's sake. I looked at
her, with my mind full of that other lovely face which had so
ominously recalled her to my memory on the terrace by moonlight.
I had seen Anne Catherick's likeness in Miss Fairlie. I now saw
Miss Fairlie's likeness in Anne Catherick--saw it all the more
clearly because the points of dissimilarity between the two were
presented to me as well as the points of resemblance. In the
general outline of the countenance and general proportion of the
features--in the colour of the hair and in the little nervous
uncertainty about the lips--in the height and size of the figure,
and the carriage of the head and body, the likeness appeared even
more startling than I had ever felt it to be yet. But there the
resemblance ended, and the dissimilarity, in details, began. The
delicate beauty of Miss Fairlie's complexion, the transparent
clearness of her eyes, the smooth purity of her skin, the tender
bloom of colour on her lips, were all missing from the worn weary
face that was now turned towards mine. Although I hated myself
even for thinking such a thing, still, while I looked at the woman
before me, the idea would force itself into my mind that one sad
change, in the future, was all that was wanting to make the
likeness complete, which I now saw to be so imperfect in detail.
If ever sorrow and suffering set their profaning marks on the
youth and beauty of Miss Fairlie's face, then, and then only, Anne
Catherick and she would be the twin-sisters of chance resemblance,
the living reflections of one another.
I shuddered at the thought. There was something horrible in the
blind unreasoning distrust of the future which the mere passage of
it through my mind seemed to imply. It was a welcome interruption
to be roused by feeling Anne Catherick's hand laid on my shoulder.
The touch was as stealthy and as sudden as that other touch which
had petrified me from head to foot on the night when we first met.
"You are looking at me, and you are thinking of something," she
said, with her strange breathless rapidity of utterance. "What is
"Nothing extraordinary," I answered. "I was only wondering how
you came here."
"I came with a friend who is very good to me. I have only been
here two days."
"And you found your way to this place yesterday?"
"How do you know that?"
"I only guessed it."
She turned from me, and knelt down before the inscription once
"Where should I go if not here?" she said. "The friend who was
better than a mother to me is the only friend I have to visit at
Limmeridge. Oh, it makes my heart ache to see a stain on her
tomb! It ought to be kept white as snow, for her sake. I was
tempted to begin cleaning it yesterday, and I can't help coming
back to go on with it to-day. Is there anything wrong in that? I
hope not. Surely nothing can be wrong that I do for Mrs.
The old grateful sense of her benefactress's kindness was
evidently the ruling idea still in the poor creature's mind--the
narrow mind which had but too plainly opened to no other lasting
impression since that first impression of her younger and happier
days. I saw that my best chance of winning her confidence lay in
encouraging her to proceed with the artless employment which she
had come into the burial-ground to pursue. She resumed it at
once, on my telling her she might do so, touching the hard marble
as tenderly as if it had been a sentient thing, and whispering the
words of the inscription to herself, over and over again, as if
the lost days of her girlhood had returned and she was patiently
learning her lesson once more at Mrs. Fairlie's knees.
"Should you wonder very much," I said, preparing the way as
cautiously as I could for the questions that were to come, "if I
owned that it is a satisfaction to me, as well as a surprise, to
see you here? I felt very uneasy about you after you left me in
She looked up quickly and suspiciously.
"Uneasy," she repeated. "Why?"
"A strange thing happened after we parted that night. Two men
overtook me in a chaise. They did not see where I was standing,
but they stopped near me, and spoke to a policeman on the other
side of the way."
She instantly suspended her employment. The hand holding the damp
cloth with which she had been cleaning the inscription dropped to
her side. The other hand grasped the marble cross at the head of
the grave. Her face turned towards me slowly, with the blank look
of terror set rigidly on it once more. I went on at all hazards--
it was too late now to draw back.
"The two men spoke to the policeman," I said, "and asked him if he
had seen you. He had not seen you; and then one of the men spoke
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