The Woman in White
Part 3 out of 14
again, and said you had escaped from his Asylum."
She sprang to her feet as if my last words had set the pursuers on
"Stop! and hear the end," I cried. "Stop! and you shall know how
I befriended you. A word from me would have told the men which
way you had gone--and I never spoke that word. I helped your
escape--I made it safe and certain. Think, try to think. Try to
understand what I tell you."
My manner seemed to influence her more than my words. She made an
effort to grasp the new idea. Her hands shifted the damp cloth
hesitatingly from one to the other, exactly as they had shifted
the little travelling-bag on the night when I first saw her.
Slowly the purpose of my words seemed to force its way through the
confusion and agitation of her mind. Slowly her features relaxed,
and her eyes looked at me with their expression gaining in
curiosity what it was fast losing in fear.
"YOU don't think I ought to be back in the Asylum, do you?" she
"Certainly not. I am glad you escaped from it--I am glad I helped
"Yes, yes, you did help me indeed; you helped me at the hard
part," she went on a little vacantly. "It was easy to escape, or
I should not have got away. They never suspected me as they
suspected the others. I was so quiet, and so obedient, and so
easily frightened. The finding London was the hard part, and
there you helped me. Did I thank you at the time? I thank you now
"Was the Asylum far from where you met me? Come! show that you
believe me to be your friend, and tell me where it was."
She mentioned the place--a private Asylum, as its situation
informed me; a private Asylum not very far from the spot where I
had seen her--and then, with evident suspicion of the use to which
I might put her answer, anxiously repeated her former inquiry,
"You don't think I ought to be taken back, do you?"
"Once again, I am glad you escaped--I am glad you prospered well
after you left me," I answered. "You said you had a friend in
London to go to. Did you find the friend?"
"Yes. It was very late, but there was a girl up at needle-work in
the house, and she helped me to rouse Mrs. Clements. Mrs.
Clements is my friend. A good, kind woman, but not like Mrs.
Fairlie. Ah no, nobody is like Mrs. Fairlie!"
"Is Mrs. Clements an old friend of yours? Have you known her a
"Yes, she was a neighbour of ours once, at home, in Hampshire, and
liked me, and took care of me when I was a little girl. Years
ago, when she went away from us, she wrote down in my Prayer-book
for me where she was going to live in London, and she said, 'If
you are ever in trouble, Anne, come to me. I have no husband
alive to say me nay, and no children to look after, and I will
take care of you.' Kind words, were they not? I suppose I remember
them because they were kind. It's little enough I remember
besides--little enough, little enough!"
"Had you no father or mother to take care of you?"
"Father?--I never saw him--I never heard mother speak of him.
Father? Ah, dear! he is dead, I suppose."
"And your mother?"
"I don't get on well with her. We are a trouble and a fear to
A trouble and a fear to each other! At those words the suspicion
crossed my mind, for the first time, that her mother might be the
person who had placed her under restraint.
"Don't ask me about mother," she went on. "I'd rather talk of
Mrs. Clements. Mrs. Clements is like you, she doesn't think that
I ought to be back in the Asylum, and she is as glad as you are
that I escaped from it. She cried over my misfortune, and said it
must be kept secret from everybody."
Her "misfortune." In what sense was she using that word? In a
sense which might explain her motive in writing the anonymous
letter? In a sense which might show it to be the too common and
too customary motive that has led many a woman to interpose
anonymous hindrances to the marriage of the man who has ruined
her? I resolved to attempt the clearing up of this doubt before
more words passed between us on either side.
"What misfortune?" I asked.
"The misfortune of my being shut up," she answered, with every
appearance of feeling surprised at my question. "What other
misfortune could there be?"
I determined to persist, as delicately and forbearingly as
possible. It was of very great importance that I should be
absolutely sure of every step in the investigation which I now
gained in advance.
"There is another misfortune," I said, "to which a woman may be
liable, and by which she may suffer lifelong sorrow and shame."
"What is it?" she asked eagerly.
"The misfortune of believing too innocently in her own virtue, and
in the faith and honour of the man she loves," I answered.
She looked up at me with the artless bewilderment of a child. Not
the slightest confusion or change of colour--not the faintest
trace of any secret consciousness of shame struggling to the
surface appeared in her face--that face which betrayed every other
emotion with such transparent clearness. No words that ever were
spoken could have assured me, as her look and manner now assured
me, that the motive which I had assigned for her writing the
letter and sending it to Miss Fairlie was plainly and distinctly
the wrong one. That doubt, at any rate, was now set at rest; but
the very removal of it opened a new prospect of uncertainty. The
letter, as I knew from positive testimony, pointed at Sir Percival
Glyde, though it did not name him. She must have had some strong
motive, originating in some deep sense of injury, for secretly
denouncing him to Miss Fairlie in such terms as she had employed,
and that motive was unquestionably not to be traced to the loss of
her innocence and her character. Whatever wrong he might have
inflicted on her was not of that nature. Of what nature could it
"I don't understand you," she said, after evidently trying hard,
and trying in vain, to discover the meaning of the words I had
last said to her.
"Never mind," I answered. "Let us go on with what we were talking
about. Tell me how long you stayed with Mrs. Clements in London,
and how you came here."
"How long?" she repeated. "I stayed with Mrs. Clements till we
both came to this place, two days ago."
"You are living in the village, then?" I said. "It is strange I
should not have heard of you, though you have only been here two
"No, no, not in the village. Three miles away at a farm. Do you
know the farm? They call it Todd's Corner."
I remembered the place perfectly--we had often passed by it in our
drives. It was one of the oldest farms in the neighbourhood,
situated in a solitary, sheltered spot, inland at the junction of
"They are relations of Mrs. Clements at Todd's Corner," she went
on, "and they had often asked her to go and see them. She said
she would go, and take me with her, for the quiet and the fresh
air. It was very kind, was it not? I would have gone anywhere to
be quiet, and safe, and out of the way. But when I heard that
Todd's Corner was near Limmeridge--oh! I was so happy I would have
walked all the way barefoot to get there, and see the schools and
the village and Limmeridge House again. They are very good people
at Todd's Corner. I hope I shall stay there a long time. There
is only one thing I don't like about them, and don't like about
"What is it?"
"They will tease me about dressing all in white--they say it looks
so particular. How do they know? Mrs. Fairlie knew best. Mrs.
Fairlie would never have made me wear this ugly blue cloak! Ah!
she was fond of white in her lifetime, and here is white stone
about her grave--and I am making it whiter for her sake. She
often wore white herself, and she always dressed her little
daughter in white. Is Miss Fairlie well and happy? Does she wear
white now, as she used when she was a girl?"
Her voice sank when she put the questions about Miss Fairlie, and
she turned her head farther and farther away from me. I thought I
detected, in the alteration of her manner, an uneasy consciousness
of the risk she had run in sending the anonymous letter, and I
instantly determined so to frame my answer as to surprise her into
"Miss Fairlie was not very well or very happy this morning," I
She murmured a few words, but they were spoken so confusedly, and
in such a low tone, that I could not even guess at what they
"Did you ask me why Miss Fairlie was neither well nor happy this
morning?" I continued.
"No," she said quickly and eagerly--"oh no, I never asked that."
"I will tell you without your asking," I went on. "Miss Fairlie
has received your letter."
She had been down on her knees for some little time past,
carefully removing the last weather-stains left about the
inscription while we were speaking together. The first sentence
of the words I had just addressed to her made her pause in her
occupation, and turn slowly without rising from her knees, so as
to face me. The second sentence literally petrified her. The
cloth she had been holding dropped from her hands--her lips fell
apart--all the little colour that there was naturally in her face
left it in an instant.
"How do you know?" she said faintly. "Who showed it to you?" The
blood rushed back into her face--rushed overwhelmingly, as the
sense rushed upon her mind that her own words had betrayed her.
She struck her hands together in despair. "I never wrote it," she
gasped affrightedly; "I know nothing about it!"
"Yes," I said, "you wrote it, and you know about it. It was wrong
to send such a letter, it was wrong to frighten Miss Fairlie. If
you had anything to say that it was right and necessary for her to
hear, you should have gone yourself to Limmeridge House--you
should have spoken to the young lady with your own lips."
She crouched down over the flat stone of the grave, till her face
was hidden on it, and made no reply.
"Miss Fairlie will be as good and kind to you as her mother was,
if you mean well," I went on. "Miss Fairlie will keep your
secret, and not let you come to any harm. Will you see her to-
morrow at the farm? Will you meet her in the garden at Limmeridge
"Oh, if I could die, and be hidden and at rest with YOU!" Her lips
murmured the words close on the grave-stone, murmured them in
tones of passionate endearment, to the dead remains beneath. "You
know how I love your child, for your sake! Oh, Mrs. Fairlie! Mrs.
Fairlie! tell me how to save her. Be my darling and my mother
once more, and tell me what to do for the best."
I heard her lips kissing the stone--I saw her hands beating on it
passionately. The sound and the sight deeply affected me. I
stooped down, and took the poor helpless hands tenderly in mine,
and tried to soothe her.
It was useless. She snatched her hands from me, and never moved
her face from the stone. Seeing the urgent necessity of quieting
her at any hazard and by any means, I appealed to the only anxiety
that she appeared to feel, in connection with me and with my
opinion of her--the anxiety to convince me of her fitness to be
mistress of her own actions.
"Come, come," I said gently. "Try to compose yourself, or you
will make me alter my opinion of you. Don't let me think that the
person who put you in the Asylum might have had some excuse----"
The next words died away on my lips. The instant I risked that
chance reference to the person who had put her in the Asylum she
sprang up on her knees. A most extraordinary and startling change
passed over her. Her face, at all ordinary times so touching to
look at, in its nervous sensitiveness, weakness, and uncertainty,
became suddenly darkened by an expression of maniacally intense
hatred and fear, which communicated a wild, unnatural force to
every feature. Her eyes dilated in the dim evening light, like
the eyes of a wild animal. She caught up the cloth that had
fallen at her side, as if it had been a living creature that she
could kill, and crushed it in both her hands with such convulsive
strength, that the few drops of moisture left in it trickled down
on the stone beneath her.
"Talk of something else," she said, whispering through her teeth.
"I shall lose myself if you talk of that."
Every vestige of the gentler thoughts which had filled her mind
hardly a minute since seemed to be swept from it now. It was
evident that the impression left by Mrs. Fairlie's kindness was
not, as I had supposed, the only strong impression on her memory.
With the grateful remembrance of her school-days at Limmeridge,
there existed the vindictive remembrance of the wrong inflicted on
her by her confinement in the Asylum. Who had done that wrong?
Could it really be her mother?
It was hard to give up pursuing the inquiry to that final point,
but I forced myself to abandon all idea of continuing it. Seeing
her as I saw her now, it would have been cruel to think of
anything but the necessity and the humanity of restoring her
"I will talk of nothing to distress you," I said soothingly.
"You want something," she answered sharply and suspiciously.
"Don't look at me like that. Speak to me--tell me what you want."
"I only want you to quiet yourself, and when you are calmer, to
think over what I have said."
"Said?" She paused--twisted the cloth in her hands, back-wards and
forwards, and whispered to herself, "What is it he said?" She
turned again towards me, and shook her head impatiently. "Why
don't you help me?" she asked, with angry suddenness.
"Yes, yes," I said, "I will help you, and you will soon remember.
I ask you to see Miss Fairlie to-morrow and to tell her the truth
about the letter."
"Ah! Miss Fairlie--Fairlie--Fairlie----"
The mere utterance of the loved familiar name seemed to quiet her.
Her face softened and grew like itself again.
"You need have no fear of Miss Fairlie," I continued, "and no fear
of getting into trouble through the letter. She knows so much
about it already, that you will have no difficulty in telling her
all. There can be little necessity for concealment where there is
hardly anything left to conceal. You mention no names in the
letter; but Miss Fairlie knows that the person you write of is Sir
The instant I pronounced that name she started to her feet, and a
scream burst from her that rang through the churchyard, and made
my heart leap in me with the terror of it. The dark deformity of
the expression which had just left her face lowered on it once
more, with doubled and trebled intensity. The shriek at the name,
the reiterated look of hatred and fear that instantly followed,
told all. Not even a last doubt now remained. Her mother was
guiltless of imprisoning her in the Asylum. A man had shut her
up--and that man was Sir Percival Glyde.
The scream had reached other ears than mine. On one side I heard
the door of the sexton's cottage open; on the other I heard the
voice of her companion, the woman in the shawl, the woman whom she
had spoken of as Mrs. Clements.
"I'm coming! I'm coming!" cried the voice from behind the clump of
In a moment more Mrs. Clements hurried into view.
"Who are you?" she cried, facing me resolutely as she set her foot
on the stile. "How dare you frighten a poor helpless woman like
She was at Anne Catherick's side, and had put one arm around her,
before I could answer. "What is it, my dear?" she said. "What
has he done to you?"
"Nothing," the poor creature answered. "Nothing. I'm only
Mrs. Clements turned on me with a fearless indignation, for which
I respected her.
"I should be heartily ashamed of myself if I deserved that angry
look," I said. "But I do not deserve it. I have unfortunately
startled her without intending it. This is not the first time she
has seen me. Ask her yourself, and she will tell you that I am
incapable of willingly harming her or any woman."
I spoke distinctly, so that Anne Catherick might hear and
understand me, and I saw that the words and their meaning had
"Yes, yes," she said--"he was good to me once--he helped me----"
She whispered the rest into her friend's ear.
"Strange, indeed!" said Mrs. Clements, with a look of perplexity.
"It makes all the difference, though. I'm sorry I spoke so rough
to you, sir; but you must own that appearances looked suspicious
to a stranger. It's more my fault than yours, for humouring her
whims, and letting her be alone in such a place as this. Come, my
dear--come home now."
I thought the good woman looked a little uneasy at the prospect of
the walk back, and I offered to go with them until they were both
within sight of home. Mrs. Clements thanked me civilly, and
declined. She said they were sure to meet some of the farm-
labourers as soon as they got to the moor.
"Try to forgive me," I said, when Anne Catherick took her friend's
arm to go away. Innocent as I had been of any intention to
terrify and agitate her, my heart smote me as I looked at the
poor, pale, frightened face.
"I will try," she answered. "But you know too much--I'm afraid
you'll always frighten me now."
Mrs. Clements glanced at me, and shook her head pityingly.
"Good-night, sir," she said. "You couldn't help it, I know but I
wish it was me you had frightened, and not her."
They moved away a few steps. I thought they had left me, but Anne
suddenly stopped, and separated herself from her friend.
"Wait a little," she said. "I must say good-bye."
She returned to the grave, rested both hands tenderly on the
marble cross, and kissed it.
"I'm better now," she sighed, looking up at me quietly. "I
She joined her companion again, and they left the burial-ground.
I saw them stop near the church and speak to the sexton's wife,
who had come from the cottage, and had waited, watching us from a
distance. Then they went on again up the path that led to the
moor. I looked after Anne Catherick as she disappeared, till all
trace of her had faded in the twilight--looked as anxiously and
sorrowfully as if that was the last I was to see in this weary
world of the woman in white.
Half an hour later I was back at the house, and was informing Miss
Halcombe of all that had happened.
She listened to me from beginning to end with a steady, silent
attention, which, in a woman of her temperament and disposition,
was the strongest proof that could be offered of the serious
manner in which my narrative affected her.
"My mind misgives me," was all she said when I had done. "My mind
misgives me sadly about the future."
"The future may depend," I suggested, "on the use we make of the
present. It is not improbable that Anne Catherick may speak more
readily and unreservedly to a woman than she has spoken to me. If
"Not to be thought of for a moment," interposed Miss Halcombe, in
her most decided manner.
"Let me suggest, then," I continued, "that you should see Anne
Catherick yourself, and do all you can to win her confidence. For
my own part, I shrink from the idea of alarming the poor creature
a second time, as I have most unhappily alarmed her already. Do
you see any objection to accompanying me to the farmhouse to-
"None whatever. I will go anywhere and do anything to serve
Laura's interests. What did you say the place was called?"
"You must know it well. It is called Todd's Corner."
"Certainly. Todd's Corner is one of Mr. Fairlie's farms. Our
dairymaid here is the farmer's second daughter. She goes
backwards and forwards constantly between this house and her
father's farm, and she may have heard or seen something which it
may be useful to us to know. Shall I ascertain, at once, if the
girl is downstairs?"
She rang the bell, and sent the servant with his message. He
returned, and announced that the dairymaid was then at the farm.
She had not been there for the last three days, and the
housekeeper had given her leave to go home for an hour or two that
"I can speak to her to-morrow," said Miss Halcombe, when the
servant had left the room again. "In the meantime, let me
thoroughly understand the object to be gained by my interview with
Anne Catherick. Is there no doubt in your mind that the person
who confined her in the Asylum was Sir Percival Glyde?"
"There is not the shadow of a doubt. The only mystery that
remains is the mystery of his MOTIVE. Looking to the great
difference between his station in life and hers, which seems to
preclude all idea of the most distant relationship between them,
it is of the last importance--even assuming that she really
required to be placed under restraint--to know why HE should have
been the person to assume the serious responsibility of shutting
"In a private Asylum, I think you said?"
"Yes, in a private Asylum, where a sum of money, which no poor
person could afford to give, must have been paid for her
maintenance as a patient."
"I see where the doubt lies, Mr. Hartright, and I promise you that
it shall be set at rest, whether Anne Catherick assists us to-
morrow or not. Sir Percival Glyde shall not be long in this house
without satisfying Mr. Gilmore, and satisfying me. My sister's
future is my dearest care in life, and I have influence enough
over her to give me some power, where her marriage is concerned,
in the disposal of it."
We parted for the night.
After breakfast the next morning, an obstacle, which the events of
the evening before had put out of my memory, interposed to prevent
our proceeding immediately to the farm. This was my last day at
Limmeridge House, and it was necessary, as soon as the post came
in, to follow Miss Halcombe's advice, and to ask Mr. Fairlie's
permission to shorten my engagement by a month, in consideration
of an unforeseen necessity for my return to London.
Fortunately for the probability of this excuse, so far as
appearances were concerned, the post brought me two letters from
London friends that morning. I took them away at once to my own
room, and sent the servant with a message to Mr. Fairlie,
requesting to know when I could see him on a matter of business.
I awaited the man's return, free from the slightest feeling of
anxiety about the manner in which his master might receive my
application. With Mr. Fairlie's leave or without it, I must go.
The consciousness of having now taken the first step on the dreary
journey which was henceforth to separate my life from Miss
Fairlie's seemed to have blunted my sensibility to every
consideration connected with myself. I had done with my poor
man's touchy pride--I had done with all my little artist vanities.
No insolence of Mr. Fairlie's, if he chose to be insolent, could
wound me now.
The servant returned with a message for which I was not
unprepared. Mr. Fairlie regretted that the state of his health,
on that particular morning, was such as to preclude all hope of
his having the pleasure of receiving me. He begged, therefore,
that I would accept his apologies, and kindly communicate what I
had to say in the form of a letter. Similar messages to this had
reached me, at various intervals, during my three months'
residence in the house. Throughout the whole of that period Mr.
Fairlie had been rejoiced to "possess" me, but had never been well
enough to see me for a second time. The servant took every fresh
batch of drawings that I mounted and restored back to his master
with my "respects," and returned empty-handed with Mr. Fairlie's
"kind compliments," "best thanks," and "sincere regrets" that the
state of his health still obliged him to remain a solitary
prisoner in his own room. A more satisfactory arrangement to both
sides could not possibly have been adopted. It would be hard to
say which of us, under the circumstances, felt the most grateful
sense of obligation to Mr. Fairlie's accommodating nerves.
I sat down at once to write the letter, expressing myself in it as
civilly, as clearly, and as briefly as possible. Mr. Fairlie did
not hurry his reply. Nearly an hour elapsed before the answer was
placed in my hands. It was written with beautiful regularity and
neatness of character, in violet-coloured ink, on note-paper as
smooth as ivory and almost as thick as cardboard, and it addressed
me in these terms--
"Mr. Fairlie's compliments to Mr. Hartright. Mr. Fairlie is more
surprised and disappointed than he can say (in the present state
of his health) by Mr. Hartright's application. Mr. Fairlie is not
a man of business, but he has consulted his steward, who is, and
that person confirms Mr. Fairlie's opinion that Mr. Hartright's
request to be allowed to break his engagement cannot be justified
by any necessity whatever, excepting perhaps a case of life and
death. If the highly-appreciative feeling towards Art and its
professors, which it is the consolation and happiness of Mr.
Fairlie's suffering existence to cultivate, could be easily
shaken, Mr. Hartright's present proceeding would have shaken it.
It has not done so--except in the instance of Mr. Hartright
"Having stated his opinion--so far, that is to say, as acute
nervous suffering will allow him to state anything--Mr. Fairlie
has nothing to add but the expression of his decision, in
reference to the highly irregular application that has been made
to him. Perfect repose of body and mind being to the last degree
important in his case, Mr. Fairlie will not suffer Mr. Hartright
to disturb that repose by remaining in the house under
circumstances of an essentially irritating nature to both sides.
Accordingly, Mr. Fairlie waives his right of refusal, purely with
a view to the preservation of his own tranquillity--and informs
Mr. Hartright that he may go."
I folded the letter up, and put it away with my other papers. The
time had been when I should have resented it as an insult--I
accepted it now as a written release from my engagement. It was
off my mind, it was almost out of my memory, when I went
downstairs to the breakfast-room, and informed Miss Halcombe that
I was ready to walk with her to the farm.
"Has Mr. Fairlie given you a satisfactory answer?" she asked as we
left the house.
"He has allowed me to go, Miss Halcombe."
She looked up at me quickly, and then, for the first time since I
had known her, took my arm of her own accord. No words could have
expressed so delicately that she understood how the permission to
leave my employment had been granted, and that she gave me her
sympathy, not as my superior, but as my friend. I had not felt
the man's insolent letter, but I felt deeply the woman's atoning
On our way to the farm we arranged that Miss Halcombe was to enter
the house alone, and that I was to wait outside, within call. We
adopted this mode of proceeding from an apprehension that my
presence, after what had happened in the churchyard the evening
before, might have the effect of renewing Anne Catherick's nervous
dread, and of rendering her additionally distrustful of the
advances of a lady who was a stranger to her. Miss Halcombe left
me, with the intention of speaking, in the first instance, to the
farmer's wife (of whose friendly readiness to help her in any way
she was well assured), while I waited for her in the near
neighbourhood of the house.
I had fully expected to be left alone for some time. To my
surprise, however, little more than five minutes had elapsed
before Miss Halcombe returned.
"Does Anne Catherick refuse to see you?" I asked in astonishment.
"Anne Catherick is gone," replied Miss Halcombe.
"Gone with Mrs. Clements. They both left the farm at eight
o'clock this morning."
I could say nothing--I could only feel that our last chance of
discovery had gone with them.
"All that Mrs. Todd knows about her guests, I know," Miss Halcombe
went on, "and it leaves me, as it leaves her, in the dark. They
both came back safe last night, after they left you, and they
passed the first part of the evening with Mr. Todd's family as
usual. Just before supper-time, however, Anne Catherick startled
them all by being suddenly seized with faintness. She had had a
similar attack, of a less alarming kind, on the day she arrived at
the farm; and Mrs. Todd had connected it, on that occasion, with
something she was reading at the time in our local newspaper,
which lay on the farm table, and which she had taken up only a
minute or two before."
"Does Mrs. Todd know what particular passage in the newspaper
affected her in that way?" I inquired.
"No," replied Miss Halcombe. "She had looked it over, and had
seen nothing in it to agitate any one. I asked leave, however, to
look it over in my turn, and at the very first page I opened I
found that the editor had enriched his small stock of news by
drawing upon our family affairs, and had published my sister's
marriage engagement, among his other announcements, copied from
the London papers, of Marriages in High Life. I concluded at once
that this was the paragraph which had so strangely affected Anne
Catherick, and I thought I saw in it, also, the origin of the
letter which she sent to our house the next day."
"There can be no doubt in either case. But what did you hear
about her second attack of faintness yesterday evening?"
"Nothing. The cause of it is a complete mystery. There was no
stranger in the room. The only visitor was our dairymaid, who, as
I told you, is one of Mr. Todd's daughters, and the only
conversation was the usual gossip about local affairs. They heard
her cry out, and saw her turn deadly pale, without the slightest
apparent reason. Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Clements took her upstairs,
and Mrs. Clements remained with her. They were heard talking
together until long after the usual bedtime, and early this
morning Mrs. Clements took Mrs. Todd aside, and amazed her beyond
all power of expression by saying that they must go. The only
explanation Mrs. Todd could extract from her guest was, that
something had happened, which was not the fault of any one at the
farmhouse, but which was serious enough to make Anne Catherick
resolve to leave Limmeridge immediately. It was quite useless to
press Mrs. Clements to be more explicit. She only shook her head,
and said that, for Anne's sake, she must beg and pray that no one
would question her. All she could repeat, with every appearance
of being seriously agitated herself, was that Anne must go, that
she must go with her, and that the destination to which they might
both betake themselves must be kept a secret from everybody. I
spare you the recital of Mrs. Todd's hospitable remonstrances and
refusals. It ended in her driving them both to the nearest
station, more than three hours since. She tried hard on the way
to get them to speak more plainly, but without success; and she
set them down outside the station-door, so hurt and offended by
the unceremonious abruptness of their departure and their
unfriendly reluctance to place the least confidence in her, that
she drove away in anger, without so much as stopping to bid them
good-bye. That is exactly what has taken place. Search your own
memory, Mr. Hartright, and tell me if anything happened in the
burial-ground yesterday evening which can at all account for the
extraordinary departure of those two women this morning."
"I should like to account first, Miss Halcombe, for the sudden
change in Anne Catherick which alarmed them at the farmhouse,
hours after she and I had parted, and when time enough had elapsed
to quiet any violent agitation that I might have been unfortunate
enough to cause. Did you inquire particularly about the gossip
which was going on in the room when she turned faint?"
"Yes. But Mrs. Todd's household affairs seem to have divided her
attention that evening with the talk in the farmhouse parlour.
She could only tell me that it was 'just the news,'--meaning, I
suppose, that they all talked as usual about each other."
"The dairymaid's memory may be better than her mother's," I said.
"It may be as well for you to speak to the girl, Miss Halcombe, as
soon as we get back."
My suggestion was acted on the moment we returned to the house.
Miss Halcombe led me round to the servants' offices, and we found
the girl in the dairy, with her sleeves tucked up to her
shoulders, cleaning a large milk-pan and singing blithely over her
"I have brought this gentleman to see your dairy, Hannah," said
Miss Halcombe. "It is one of the sights of the house, and it
always does you credit."
The girl blushed and curtseyed, and said shyly that she hoped she
always did her best to keep things neat and clean.
"We have just come from your father's," Miss Halcombe continued.
"You were there yesterday evening, I hear, and you found visitors
at the house?"
"One of them was taken faint and ill, I am told. I suppose
nothing was said or done to frighten her? You were not talking of
anything very terrible, were you?"
"Oh no, miss!" said the girl, laughing. "We were only talking of
"Your sisters told you the news at Todd's Corner, I suppose?"
"And you told them the news at Limmeridge House?"
"Yes, miss. And I'm quite sure nothing was said to frighten the
poor thing, for I was talking when she was taken ill. It gave me
quite a turn, miss, to see it, never having been taken faint
Before any more questions could be put to her, she was called away
to receive a basket of eggs at the dairy door. As she left us I
whispered to Miss Halcombe--
"Ask her if she happened to mention, last night, that visitors
were expected at Limmeridge House."
Miss Halcombe showed me, by a look, that she understood, and put
the question as soon as the dairymaid returned to us.
"Oh yes, miss, I mentioned that," said the girl simply. "The
company coming, and the accident to the brindled cow, was all the
news I had to take to the farm."
"Did you mention names? Did you tell them that Sir Percival Glyde
was expected on Monday?"
"Yes, miss--I told them Sir Percival Glyde was coming. I hope
there was no harm in it--I hope I didn't do wrong."
"Oh no, no harm. Come, Mr. Hartright, Hannah will begin to think
us in the way, if we interrupt her any longer over her work."
We stopped and looked at one another the moment we were alone
"Is there any doubt in your mind, NOW, Miss Halcombe?"
"Sir Percival Glyde shall remove that doubt, Mr. Hartright--or
Laura Fairlie shall never be his wife."
As we walked round to the front of the house a fly from the
railway approached us along the drive. Miss Halcombe waited on
the door-steps until the fly drew up, and then advanced to shake
hands with an old gentleman, who got out briskly the moment the
steps were let down. Mr. Gilmore had arrived.
I looked at him, when we were introduced to each other, with an
interest and a curiosity which I could hardly conceal. This old
man was to remain at Limmeridge House after I had left it, he was
to hear Sir Percival Glyde's explanation, and was to give Miss
Halcombe the assistance of his experience in forming her judgment;
he was to wait until the question of the marriage was set at rest;
and his hand, if that question were decided in the affirmative,
was to draw the settlement which bound Miss Fairlie irrevocably to
her engagement. Even then, when I knew nothing by comparison with
what I know now, I looked at the family lawyer with an interest
which I had never felt before in the presence of any man breathing
who was a total stranger to me.
In external appearance Mr. Gilmore was the exact opposite of the
conventional idea of an old lawyer. His complexion was florid--
his white hair was worn rather long and kept carefully brushed--
his black coat, waistcoat, and trousers fitted him with perfect
neatness--his white cravat was carefully tied, and his lavender-
coloured kid gloves might have adorned the hands of a fashionable
clergyman, without fear and without reproach. His manners were
pleasantly marked by the formal grace and refinement of the old
school of politeness, quickened by the invigorating sharpness and
readiness of a man whose business in life obliges him always to
keep his faculties in good working order. A sanguine constitution
and fair prospects to begin with--a long subsequent career of
creditable and comfortable prosperity--a cheerful, diligent,
widely-respected old age--such were the general impressions I
derived from my introduction to Mr. Gilmore, and it is but fair to
him to add, that the knowledge I gained by later and better
experience only tended to confirm them.
I left the old gentleman and Miss Halcombe to enter the house
together, and to talk of family matters undisturbed by the
restraint of a stranger's presence. They crossed the hall on
their way to the drawing-room, and I descended the steps again to
wander about the garden alone.
My hours were numbered at Limmeridge House--my departure the next
morning was irrevocably settled--my share in the investigation
which the anonymous letter had rendered necessary was at an end.
No harm could be done to any one but myself if I let my heart
loose again, for the little time that was left me, from the cold
cruelty of restraint which necessity had forced me to inflict upon
it, and took my farewell of the scenes which were associated with
the brief dream-time of my happiness and my love.
I turned instinctively to the walk beneath my study-window, where
I had seen her the evening before with her little dog, and
followed the path which her dear feet had trodden so often, till I
came to the wicket gate that led into her rose garden. The winter
bareness spread drearily over it now. The flowers that she had
taught me to distinguish by their names, the flowers that I had
taught her to paint from, were gone, and the tiny white paths that
led between the beds were damp and green already. I went on to
the avenue of trees, where we had breathed together the warm
fragrance of August evenings, where we had admired together the
myriad combinations of shade and sunlight that dappled the ground
at our feet. The leaves fell about me from the groaning branches,
and the earthy decay in the atmosphere chilled me to the bones. A
little farther on, and I was out of the grounds, and following the
lane that wound gently upward to the nearest hills. The old
felled tree by the wayside, on which we had sat to rest, was
sodden with rain, and the tuft of ferns and grasses which I had
drawn for her, nestling under the rough stone wall in front of us,
had turned to a pool of water, stagnating round an island of
draggled weeds. I gained the summit of the hill, and looked at
the view which we had so often admired in the happier time. It
was cold and barren--it was no longer the view that I remembered.
The sunshine of her presence was far from me-the charm of her
voice no longer murmured in my ear. She had talked to me, on the
spot from which I now looked down, of her father, who was her last
surviving parent--had told me how fond of each other they had
been, and how sadly she missed him still when she entered certain
rooms in the house, and when she took up forgotten occupations and
amusements with which he had been associated. Was the view that I
had seen, while listening to those words, the view that I saw now,
standing on the hill-top by myself? I turned and left it--I wound
my way back again, over the moor, and round the sandhills, down to
the beach. There was the white rage of the surf, and the
multitudinous glory of the leaping waves--but where was the place
on which she had once drawn idle figures with her parasol in the
sand--the place where we had sat together, while she talked to me
about myself and my home, while she asked me a woman's minutely
observant questions about my mother and my sister, and innocently
wondered whether I should ever leave my lonely chambers and have a
wife and a house of my own? Wind and wave had long since smoothed
out the trace of her which she had left in those marks on the
sand, I looked over the wide monotony of the seaside prospect, and
the place in which we two had idled away the sunny hours was as
lost to me as if I had never known it, as strange to me as if I
stood already on a foreign shore.
The empty silence of the beach struck cold to my heart. I
returned to the house and the garden, where traces were left to
speak of her at every turn.
On the west terrace walk I met Mr. Gilmore. He was evidently in
search of me, for he quickened his pace when we caught sight of
each other. The state of my spirits little fitted me for the
society of a stranger; but the meeting was inevitable, and I
resigned myself to make the best of it.
"You are the very person I wanted to see," said the old gentleman.
"I had two words to say to you, my dear sir; and If you have no
objection I will avail myself of the present opportunity. To put
it plainly, Miss Halcombe and I have been talking over family
affairs--affairs which are the cause of my being here--and in the
course of our conversation she was naturally led to tell me of
this unpleasant matter connected with the anonymous letter, and of
the share which you have most creditably and properly taken in the
proceedings so far. That share, I quite understand, gives you an
interest which you might not otherwise have felt, in knowing that
the future management of the investigation which you have begun
will be placed in safe hands. My dear sir, make yourself quite
easy on that point--it will be placed in MY hands."
"You are, in every way, Mr. Gilmore, much fitter to advise and to
act in the matter than I am. Is it an indiscretion on my part to
ask if you have decided yet on a course of proceeding?
"So far as it is possible to decide, Mr. Hartright, I have
decided. I mean to send a copy of the letter, accompanied by a
statement of the circumstances, to Sir Percival Glyde's solicitor
in London, with whom I have some acquaintance. The letter itself
I shall keep here to show to Sir Percival as soon as he arrives.
The tracing of the two women I have already provided for, by
sending one of Mr. Fairlie's servants--a confidential person--to
the station to make inquiries. The man has his money and his
directions, and he will follow the women in the event of his
finding any clue. This is all that can be done until Sir Percival
comes on Monday. I have no doubt myself that every explanation
which can be expected from a gentleman and a man of honour, he
will readily give. Sir Percival stands very high, sir--an eminent
position, a reputation above suspicion--I feel quite easy about
results--quite easy, I am rejoiced to assure you. Things of this
sort happen constantly in my experience. Anonymous letters--
unfortunate woman--sad state of society. I don't deny that there
are peculiar complications in this case; but the case itself is,
most unhappily, common--common."
"I am afraid, Mr. Gilmore, I have the misfortune to differ from
you in the view I take of the case."
"Just so, my dear sir--just so. I am an old man, and I take the
practical view. You are a young man, and you take the romantic
view. Let us not dispute about our views. I live professionally
in an atmosphere of disputation, Mr. Hartright, and I am only too
glad to escape from it, as I am escaping here. We will wait for
events--yes, yes, yes--we will wait for events. Charming place
this. Good shooting? Probably not, none of Mr. Fairlie's land is
preserved, I think. Charming place, though, and delightful
people. You draw and paint, I hear, Mr. Hartright? Enviable
accomplishment. What style?"
We dropped into general conversation, or rather, Mr. Gilmore
talked and I listened. My attention was far from him, and from
the topics on which he discoursed so fluently. The solitary walk
of the last two hours had wrought its effect on me--it had set the
idea in my mind of hastening my departure from Limmeridge House.
Why should I prolong the hard trial of saying farewell by one
unnecessary minute? What further service was required of me by any
one? There was no useful purpose to be served by my stay in
Cumberland--there was no restriction of time in the permission to
leave which my employer had granted to me. Why not end it there
I determined to end it. There were some hours of daylight still
left--there was no reason why my journey back to London should not
begin on that afternoon. I made the first civil excuse that
occurred to me for leaving Mr. Gilmore, and returned at once to
On my way up to my own room I met Miss Halcombe on the stairs.
She saw, by the hurry of my movements and the change in my manner,
that I had some new purpose in view, and asked what had happened.
I told her the reasons which induced me to think of hastening my
departure, exactly as I have told them here.
"No, no," she said, earnestly and kindly, "leave us like a friend--
break bread with us once more. Stay here and dine, stay here and
help us to spend our last evening with you as happily, as like our
first evenings, as we can. It is my invitation--Mrs. Vesey's
invitation----" she hesitated a little, and then added, "Laura's
invitation as well."
I promised to remain. God knows I had no wish to leave even the
shadow of a sorrowful impression with any one of them.
My own room was the best place for me till the dinner bell rang.
I waited there till it was time to go downstairs.
I had not spoken to Miss Fairlie--I had not even seen her--all
that day. The first meeting with her, when I entered the drawing-
room, was a hard trial to her self-control and to mine. She, too,
had done her best to make our last evening renew the golden bygone
time--the time that could never come again. She had put on the
dress which I used to admire more than any other that she
possessed--a dark blue silk, trimmed quaintly and prettily with
old-fashioned lace; she came forward to meet me with her former
readiness--she gave me her hand with the frank, innocent good-will
of happier days. The cold fingers that trembled round mine--the
pale cheeks with a bright red spot burning in the midst of them--
the faint smile that struggled to live on her lips and died away
from them while I looked at it, told me at what sacrifice of
herself her outward composure was maintained. My heart could take
her no closer to me, or I should have loved her then as I had
never loved her yet.
Mr. Gilmore was a great assistance to us. He was in high good-
humour, and he led the conversation with unflagging spirit. Miss
Halcombe seconded him resolutely, and I did all I could to follow
her example. The kind blue eyes, whose slightest changes of
expression I had learnt to interpret so well, looked at me
appealingly when we first sat down to table. Help my sister--the
sweet anxious face seemed to say--help my sister, and you will
We got through the dinner, to all outward appearance at least,
happily enough. When the ladies had risen from table, and Mr.
Gilmore and I were left alone in the dining-room, a new interest
presented itself to occupy our attention, and to give me an
opportunity of quieting myself by a few minutes of needful and
welcome silence. The servant who had been despatched to trace
Anne Catherick and Mrs. Clements returned with his report, and was
shown into the dining-room immediately.
"Well," said Mr. Gilmore, "what have you found out?"
"I have found out, sir," answered the man, "that both the women
took tickets at our station here for Carlisle."
"You went to Carlisle, of course, when you heard that?"
"I did, sir, but I am sorry to say I could find no further trace
"You inquired at the railway?"
"And at the different inns?"
"And you left the statement I wrote for you at the police
"I did, sir."
"Well, my friend, you have done all you could, and I have done all
I could, and there the matter must rest till further notice. We
have played our trump cards, Mr. Hartright," continued the old
gentleman when the servant had withdrawn. "For the present, at
least, the women have outmanoeuvred us, and our only resource now
is to wait till Sir Percival Glyde comes here on Monday next.
Won't you fill your glass again? Good bottle of port, that--sound,
substantial, old wine. I have got better in my own cellar,
We returned to the drawing-room--the room in which the happiest
evenings of my life had been passed--the room which, after this
last night, I was never to see again. Its aspect was altered
since the days had shortened and the weather had grown cold. The
glass doors on the terrace side were closed, and hidden by thick
curtains. Instead of the soft twilight obscurity, in which we
used to sit, the bright radiant glow of lamplight now dazzled my
eyes. All was changed--in-doors and out all was changed.
Miss Halcombe and Mr. Gilmore sat down together at the card-table--
Mrs. Vesey took her customary chair. There was no restraint on
the disposal of THEIR evening, and I felt the restraint on the
disposal of mine all the more painfully from observing it. I saw
Miss Fairlie lingering near the music-stand. The time had been
when I might have joined her there. I waited irresolutely--I knew
neither where to go nor what to do next. She cast one quick
glance at me, took a piece of music suddenly from the stand, and
came towards me of her own accord.
"Shall I play some of those little melodies of Mozart's which you
used to like so much?" she asked, opening the music nervously, and
looking down at it while she spoke.
Before I could thank her she hastened to the piano. The chair
near it, which I had always been accustomed to occupy, stood
empty. She struck a few chords--then glanced round at me--then
looked back again at her music.
"Won't you take your old place?" she said, speaking very abruptly
and in very low tones.
"I may take it on the last night," I answered.
She did not reply--she kept her attention riveted on the music--
music which she knew by memory, which she had played over and over
again, in former times, without the book. I only knew that she
had heard me, I only knew that she was aware of my being close to
her, by seeing the red spot on the cheek that was nearest to me
fade out, and the face grow pale all over.
"I am very sorry you are going," she said, her voice almost
sinking to a whisper, her eyes looking more and more intently at
the music, her fingers flying over the keys of the piano with a
strange feverish energy which I had never noticed in her before.
"I shall remember those kind words, Miss Fairlie, long after to-
morrow has come and gone."
The paleness grew whiter on her face, and she turned it farther
away from me.
"Don't speak of to-morrow," she said. "Let the music speak to us
of to-night, in a happier language than ours."
Her lips trembled--a faint sigh fluttered from them, which she
tried vainly to suppress. Her fingers wavered on the piano--she
struck a false note, confused herself in trying to set it right,
and dropped her hands angrily on her lap. Miss Halcombe and Mr.
Gilmore looked up in astonishment from the card-table at which
they were playing. Even Mrs. Vesey, dozing in her chair, woke at
the sudden cessation of the music, and inquired what had happened.
"You play at whist, Mr. Hartright?" asked Miss Halcombe, with her
eyes directed significantly at the place I occupied.
I knew what she meant--I knew she was right, and I rose at once to
go to the card-table. As I left the piano Miss Fairlie turned a
page of the music, and touched the keys again with a surer hand.
"I WILL play it," she said, striking the notes almost
passionately. "I WILL play it on the last night."
"Come, Mrs. Vesey," said Miss Halcombe, "Mr. Gilmore and I are
tired of ecarte--come and be Mr. Hartright's partner at whist."
The old lawyer smiled satirically. His had been the winning hand,
and he had just turned up a king. He evidently attributed Miss
Halcombe's abrupt change in the card-table arrangements to a
lady's inability to play the losing game.
The rest of the evening passed without a word or a look from her.
She kept her place at the piano, and I kept mine at the card-
table. She played unintermittingly--played as if the music was
her only refuge from herself. Sometimes her fingers touched the
notes with a lingering fondness--a soft, plaintive, dying
tenderness, unutterably beautiful and mournful to hear; sometimes
they faltered and failed her, or hurried over the instrument
mechanically, as if their task was a burden to them. But still,
change and waver as they might in the expression they imparted to
the music, their resolution to play never faltered. She only rose
from the piano when we all rose to say Good-night.
Mrs. Vesey was the nearest to the door, and the first to shake
hands with me.
"I shall not see you again, Mr. Hartright," said the old lady. "I
am truly sorry you are going away. You have been very kind and
attentive, and an old woman like me feels kindness and attention.
I wish you happy, sir--I wish you a kind good-bye."
Mr. Gilmore came next.
"I hope we shall have a future opportunity of bettering our
acquaintance, Mr. Hartright. You quite understand about that
little matter of business being safe in my hands? Yes, yes, of
course. Bless me, how cold it is! Don't let me keep you at the
door. Bon voyage, my dear sir--bon voyage, as the French say."
Miss Halcombe followed.
"Half-past seven to-morrow morning," she said--then added in a
whisper, "I have heard and seen more than you think. Your conduct
to-night has made me your friend for life."
Miss Fairlie came last. I could not trust myself to look at her
when I took her hand, and when I thought of the next morning.
"My departure must be a very early one," I said. "I shall be
gone, Miss Fairlie, before you----"
"No, no," she interposed hastily, "not before I am out of my room.
I shall be down to breakfast with Marian. I am not so ungrateful,
not so forgetful of the past three months----"
Her voice failed her, her hand closed gently round mine--then
dropped it suddenly. Before I could say "Good-night" she was
The end comes fast to meet me--comes inevitably, as the light of
the last morning came at Limmeridge House.
It was barely half-past seven when I went downstairs, but I found
them both at the breakfast-table waiting for me. In the chill
air, in the dim light, in the gloomy morning silence of the house,
we three sat down together, and tried to eat, tried to talk. The
struggle to preserve appearances was hopeless and useless, and I
rose to end it.
As I held out my hand, as Miss Halcombe, who was nearest to me,
took it, Miss Fairlie turned away suddenly and hurried from the
"Better so," said Miss Halcombe, when the door had closed--"better
so, for you and for her."
I waited a moment before I could speak--it was hard to lose her,
without a parting word or a parting look. I controlled myself--I
tried to take leave of Miss Halcombe in fitting terms; but all the
farewell words I would fain have spoken dwindled to one sentence.
"Have I deserved that you should write to me?" was all I could
"You have nobly deserved everything that I can do for you, as long
as we both live. Whatever the end is you shall know it."
"And if I can ever be of help again, at any future time, long
after the memory of my presumption and my folly is forgotten "
I could add no more. My voice faltered, my eyes moistened in
spite of me.
She caught me by both hands--she pressed them with the strong,
steady grasp of a man--her dark eyes glittered--her brown
complexion flushed deep--the force and energy of her face glowed
and grew beautiful with the pure inner light of her generosity and
"I will trust you--if ever the time comes I will trust you as my
friend and HER friend, as my brother and HER brother." She
stopped, drew me nearer to her--the fearless, noble creature--
touched my forehead, sister-like, with her lips, and called me by
my Christian name. "God bless you, Walter!" she said. "Wait here
alone and compose yourself--I had better not stay for both our
sakes--I had better see you go from the balcony upstairs."
She left the room. I turned away towards the window, where
nothing faced me but the lonely autumn landscape--I turned away to
master myself, before I too left the room in my turn, and left it
A minute passed--it could hardly have been more--when I heard the
door open again softly, and the rustling of a woman's dress on the
carpet moved towards me. My heart beat violently as I turned
round. Miss Fairlie was approaching me from the farther end of
She stopped and hesitated when our eyes met, and when she saw that
we were alone. Then, with that courage which women lose so often
in the small emergency, and so seldom in the great, she came on
nearer to me, strangely pale and strangely quiet, drawing one hand
after her along the table by which she walked, and holding
something at her side in the other, which was hidden by the folds
of her dress.
"I only went into the drawing-room," she said, "to look for this.
It may remind you of your visit here, and of the friends you leave
behind you. You told me I had improved very much when I did it,
and I thought you might like----"
She turned her head away, and offered me a little sketch, drawn
throughout by her own pencil, of the summer-house in which we had
first met. The paper trembled in her hand as she held it out to
me--trembled in mine as I took it from her.
I was afraid to say what I felt--I only answered, "It shall never
leave me--all my life long it shall be the treasure that I prize
most. I am very grateful for it--very grateful to you, for not
letting me go away without bidding you good-bye."
"Oh!" she said innocently, "how could I let you go, after we have
passed so many happy days together!"
"Those days may never return, Miss Fairlie--my way of life and
yours are very far apart. But if a time should come, when the
devotion of my whole heart and soul and strength will give you a
moment's happiness, or spare you a moment's sorrow, will you try
to remember the poor drawing-master who has taught you? Miss
Halcombe has promised to trust me--will you promise too?"
The farewell sadness in the kind blue eyes shone dimly through her
"I promise it," she said in broken tones. "Oh, don't look at me
like that! I promise it with all my heart."
I ventured a little nearer to her, and held out my hand.
"You have many friends who love you, Miss Fairlie. Your happy
future is the dear object of many hopes. May I say, at parting,
that it is the dear object of MY hopes too?"
The tears flowed fast down her cheeks. She rested one trembling
hand on the table to steady herself while she gave me the other.
I took it in mine--I held it fast. My head drooped over it, my
tears fell on it, my lips pressed it--not in love; oh, not in
love, at that last moment, but in the agony and the self-
abandonment of despair.
"For God's sake, leave me!" she said faintly.
The confession of her heart's secret burst from her in those
pleading words. I had no right to hear them, no right to answer
them--they were the words that banished me, in the name of her
sacred weakness, from the room. It was all over. I dropped her
hand, I said no more. The blinding tears shut her out from my
eyes, and I dashed them away to look at her for the last time.
One look as she sank into a chair, as her arms fell on the table,
as her fair head dropped on them wearily. One farewell look, and
the door had closed upon her--the great gulf of separation had
opened between us--the image of Laura Fairlie was a memory of the
The End of Hartright's Narrative.
THE STORY CONTINUED BY VINCENT GILMORE
(of Chancery Lane, Solicitor)
I write these lines at the request of my friend, Mr. Walter
Hartright. They are intended to convey a description of certain
events which seriously affected Miss Fairlie's interests, and
which took place after the period of Mr. Hartright's departure
from Limmeridge House.
There is no need for me to say whether my own opinion does or does
not sanction the disclosure of the remarkable family story, of
which my narrative forms an important component part. Mr.
Hartright has taken that responsibility on himself, and
circumstances yet to be related will show that he has amply earned
the right to do so, if he chooses to exercise it. The plan he has
adopted for presenting the story to others, in the most truthful
and most vivid manner, requires that it should be told, at each
successive stage in the march of events, by the persons who were
directly concerned in those events at the time of their
occurrence. My appearance here, as narrator, is the necessary
consequence of this arrangement. I was present during the sojourn
of Sir Percival Glyde in Cumberland, and was personally concerned
in one important result of his short residence under Mr. Fairlie's
roof. It is my duty, therefore, to add these new links to the
chain of events, and to take up the chain itself at the point
where, for the present only Mr. Hartright has dropped it.
I arrived at Limmeridge House on Friday the second of November.
My object was to remain at Mr. Fairlie's until the arrival of Sir
Percival Glyde. If that event led to the appointment of any given
day for Sir Percival's union with Miss Fairlie, I was to take the
necessary instructions back with me to London, and to occupy
myself in drawing the lady's marriage-settlement.
On the Friday I was not favoured by Mr. Fairlie with an interview.
He had been, or had fancied himself to be, an invalid for years
past, and he was not well enough to receive me. Miss Halcombe was
the first member of the family whom I saw. She met me at the
house door, and introduced me to Mr. Hartright, who had been
staying at Limmeridge for some time past.
I did not see Miss Fairlie until later in the day, at dinner-time.
She was not looking well, and I was sorry to observe it. She is a
sweet lovable girl, as amiable and attentive to every one about
her as her excellent mother used to be--though, personally
speaking, she takes after her father. Mrs. Fairlie had dark eyes
and hair, and her elder daughter, Miss Halcombe, strongly reminds
me of her. Miss Fairlie played to us in the evening--not so well
as usual, I thought. We had a rubber at whist, a mere
profanation, so far as play was concerned, of that noble game. I
had been favourably impressed by Mr. Hartright on our first
introduction to one another, but I soon discovered that he was not
free from the social failings incidental to his age. There are
three things that none of the young men of the present generation
can do. They can't sit over their wine, they can't play at whist,
and they can't pay a lady a compliment. Mr. Hartright was no
exception to the general rule. Otherwise, even in those early
days and on that short acquaintance, he struck me as being a
modest and gentlemanlike young man.
So the Friday passed. I say nothing about the more serious
matters which engaged my attention on that day--the anonymous
letter to Miss Fairlie, the measures I thought it right to adopt
when the matter was mentioned to me, and the conviction I
entertained that every possible explanation of the circumstances
would be readily afforded by Sir Percival Glyde, having all been
fully noticed, as I understand, in the narrative which precedes
On the Saturday Mr. Hartright had left before I got down to
breakfast. Miss Fairlie kept her room all day, and Miss Halcombe
appeared to me to be out of spirits. The house was not what it
used to be in the time of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Fairlie. I took a
walk by myself in the forenoon, and looked about at some of the
places which I first saw when I was staying at Limmeridge to
transact family business, more than thirty years since. They were
not what they used to be either.
At two o'clock Mr. Fairlie sent to say he was well enough to see
me. HE had not altered, at any rate, since I first knew him. His
talk was to the same purpose as usual--all about himself and his
ailments, his wonderful coins, and his matchless Rembrandt
etchings. The moment I tried to speak of the business that had
brought me to his house, he shut his eyes and said I "upset" him.
I persisted in upsetting him by returning again and again to the
subject. All I could ascertain was that he looked on his niece's
marriage as a settled thing, that her father had sanctioned it,
that he sanctioned it himself, that it was a desirable marriage,
and that he should be personally rejoiced when the worry of it was
over. As to the settlements, if I would consult his niece, and
afterwards dive as deeply as I pleased into my own knowledge of
the family affairs, and get everything ready, and limit his share
in the business, as guardian, to saying Yes, at the right moment--
why, of course he would meet my views, and everybody else's views,
with infinite pleasure. In the meantime, there I saw him, a
helpless sufferer, confined to his room. Did I think he looked as
if he wanted teasing? No. Then why tease him?
I might, perhaps, have been a little astonished at this
extraordinary absence of all self-assertion on Mr. Fairlie's part,
in the character of guardian, if my knowledge of the family
affairs had not been sufficient to remind me that he was a single
man, and that he had nothing more than a life-interest in the
Limmeridge property. As matters stood, therefore, I was neither
surprised nor disappointed at the result of the interview. Mr.
Fairlie had simply justified my expectations--and there was an end
Sunday was a dull day, out of doors and in. A letter arrived for
me from Sir Percival Glyde's solicitor, acknowledging the receipt
of my copy of the anonymous letter and my accompanying statement
of the case. Miss Fairlie joined us in the afternoon, looking
pale and depressed, and altogether unlike herself. I had some
talk with her, and ventured on a delicate allusion to Sir
Percival. She listened and said nothing. All other subjects she
pursued willingly, but this subject she allowed to drop. I began
to doubt whether she might not be repenting of her engagement--
just as young ladies often do, when repentance comes too late.
On Monday Sir Percival Glyde arrived.
I found him to be a most prepossessing man, so far as manners and
appearance were concerned. He looked rather older than I had
expected, his head being bald over the forehead, and his face
somewhat marked and worn, but his movements were as active and his
spirits as high as a young man's. His meeting with Miss Halcombe
was delightfully hearty and unaffected, and his reception of me,
upon my being presented to him, was so easy and pleasant that we
got on together like old friends. Miss Fairlie was not with us
when he arrived, but she entered the room about ten minutes
afterwards. Sir Percival rose and paid his compliments with
perfect grace. His evident concern on seeing the change for the
worse in the young lady's looks was expressed with a mixture of
tenderness and respect, with an unassuming delicacy of tone,
voice, and manner, which did equal credit to his good breeding and
his good sense. I was rather surprised, under these
circumstances, to see that Miss Fairlie continued to be
constrained and uneasy in his presence, and that she took the
first opportunity of leaving the room again. Sir Percival neither
noticed the restraint in her reception of him, nor her sudden
withdrawal from our society. He had not obtruded his attentions
on her while she was present, and he did not embarrass Miss
Halcombe by any allusion to her departure when she was gone. His
tact and taste were never at fault on this or on any other
occasion while I was in his company at Limmeridge House.
As soon as Miss Fairlie had left the room he spared us all
embarrassment on the subject of the anonymous letter, by adverting
to it of his own accord. He had stopped in London on his way from
Hampshire, had seen his solicitor, had read the documents
forwarded by me, and had travelled on to Cumberland, anxious to
satisfy our minds by the speediest and the fullest explanation
that words could convey. On hearing him express himself to this
effect, I offered him the original letter, which I had kept for
his inspection. He thanked me, and declined to look at it, saying
that he had seen the copy, and that he was quite willing to leave
the original in our hands.
The statement itself, on which he immediately entered, was as
simple and satisfactory as I had all along anticipated it would
Mrs. Catherick, he informed us, had in past years laid him under
some obligations for faithful services rendered to his family
connections and to himself. She had been doubly unfortunate in
being married to a husband who had deserted her, and in having an
only child whose mental faculties had been in a disturbed
condition from a very early age. Although her marriage had
removed her to a part of Hampshire far distant from the
neighbourhood in which Sir Percival's property was situated, he
had taken care not to lose sight of her--his friendly feeling
towards the poor woman, in consideration of her past services,
having been greatly strengthened by his admiration of the patience
and courage with which she supported her calamities. In course of
time the symptoms of mental affliction in her unhappy daughter
increased to such a serious extent, as to make it a matter of
necessity to place her under proper medical care. Mrs. Catherick
herself recognised this necessity, but she also felt the prejudice
common to persons occupying her respectable station, against
allowing her child to be admitted, as a pauper, into a public
Asylum. Sir Percival had respected this prejudice, as he
respected honest independence of feeling in any rank of life, and
had resolved to mark his grateful sense of Mrs. Catherick's early
attachment to the interests of himself and his family, by
defraying the expense of her daughter's maintenance in a
trustworthy private Asylum. To her mother's regret, and to his
own regret, the unfortunate creature had discovered the share
which circumstances had induced him to take in placing her under
restraint, and had conceived the most intense hatred and distrust
of him in consequence. To that hatred and distrust--which had
expressed itself in various ways in the Asylum--the anonymous
letter, written after her escape, was plainly attributable. If
Miss Halcombe's or Mr. Gilmore's recollection of the document did
not confirm that view, or if they wished for any additional
particulars about the Asylum (the address of which he mentioned,
as well as the names and addresses of the two doctors on whose
certificates the patient was admitted), he was ready to answer any
question and to clear up any uncertainty. He had done his duty to
the unhappy young woman, by instructing his solicitor to spare no
expense in tracing her, and in restoring her once more to medical
care, and he was now only anxious to do his duty towards Miss
Fairlie and towards her family, in the same plain, straightforward
I was the first to speak in answer to this appeal. My own course
was plain to me. It is the great beauty of the Law that it can
dispute any human statement, made under any circumstances, and
reduced to any form. If I had felt professionally called upon to
set up a case against Sir Percival Glyde, on the strength of his
own explanation, I could have done so beyond all doubt. But my
duty did not lie in this direction--my function was of the purely
judicial kind. I was to weigh the explanation we had just heard,
to allow all due force to the high reputation of the gentleman who
offered it, and to decide honestly whether the probabilities, on
Sir Percival's own showing, were plainly with him, or plainly
against him. My own conviction was that they were plainly with
him, and I accordingly declared that his explanation was, to my
mind, unquestionably a satisfactory one.
Miss Halcombe, after looking at me very earnestly, said a few
words, on her side, to the same effect--with a certain hesitation
of manner, however, which the circumstances did not seem to me to
warrant. I am unable to say, positively, whether Sir Percival
noticed this or not. My opinion is that he did, seeing that he
pointedly resumed the subject, although he might now, with all
propriety, have allowed it to drop.
"If my plain statement of facts had only been addressed to Mr.
Gilmore," he said, "I should consider any further reference to
this unhappy matter as unnecessary. I may fairly expect Mr.
Gilmore, as a gentleman, to believe me on my word, and when he has
done me that justice, all discussion of the subject between us has
come to an end. But my position with a lady is not the same. I
owe to her--what I would concede to no man alive--a PROOF of the
truth of my assertion. You cannot ask for that proof, Miss
Halcombe, and it is therefore my duty to you, and still more to
Miss Fairlie, to offer it. May I beg that you will write at once
to the mother of this unfortunate woman--to Mrs. Catherick--to ask
for her testimony in support of the explanation which I have just
offered to you."
I saw Miss Halcombe change colour, and look a little uneasy. Sir
Percival's suggestion, politely as it was expressed, appeared to
her, as it appeared to me, to point very delicately at the
hesitation which her manner had betrayed a moment or two since.
"I hope, Sir Percival, you don't do me the injustice to suppose
that I distrust you," she said quickly.
"Certainly not, Miss Halcombe. I make my proposal purely as an
act of attention to YOU. Will you excuse my obstinacy if I still
venture to press it?"
He walked to the writing-table as he spoke, drew a chair to it,
and opened the paper case.
"Let me beg you to write the note," he said, "as a favour to ME.
It need not occupy you more than a few minutes. You have only to
ask Mrs. Catherick two questions. First, if her daughter was
placed in the Asylum with her knowledge and approval. Secondly,
if the share I took in the matter was such as to merit the
expression of her gratitude towards myself? Mr. Gilmore's mind is
at ease on this unpleasant subject, and your mind is at ease--pray
set my mind at ease also by writing the note."
"You oblige me to grant your request, Sir Percival, when I would
much rather refuse it."
With those words Miss Halcombe rose from her place and went to the
writing-table. Sir Percival thanked her, handed her a pen, and
then walked away towards the fireplace. Miss Fairlie's little
Italian greyhound was lying on the rug. He held out his hand, and
called to the dog good-humouredly.
"Come, Nina," he said, "we remember each other, don't we?"
The little beast, cowardly and cross-grained, as pet-dogs usually
are, looked up at him sharply, shrank away from his outstretched
hand, whined, shivered, and hid itself under a sofa. It was
scarcely possible that he could have been put out by such a trifle
as a dog's reception of him, but I observed, nevertheless, that he
walked away towards the window very suddenly. Perhaps his temper
is irritable at times. If so, I can sympathise with him. My
temper is irritable at times too.
Miss Halcombe was not long in writing the note. When it was done
she rose from the writing-table, and handed the open sheet of
paper to Sir Percival. He bowed, took it from her, folded it up
immediately without looking at the contents, sealed it, wrote the
address, and handed it back to her in silence. I never saw
anything more gracefully and more becomingly done in my life.
"You insist on my posting this letter, Sir Percival?" said Miss
"I beg you will post it," he answered. "And now that it is
written and sealed up, allow me to ask one or two last questions
about the unhappy woman to whom it refers. I have read the
communication which Mr. Gilmore kindly addressed to my solicitor,
describing the circumstances under which the writer of the
anonymous letter was identified. But there are certain points to
which that statement does not refer. Did Anne Catherick see Miss
"Certainly not," replied Miss Halcombe.
"Did she see you?"
"She saw nobody from the house then, except a certain Mr.
Hartright, who accidentally met with her in the churchyard here?"
"Mr. Hartright was employed at Limmeridge as a drawing-master, I
believe? Is he a member of one of the Water-Colour Societies?"
"I believe he is," answered Miss Halcombe.
He paused for a moment, as if he was thinking over the last
answer, and then added--
"Did you find out where Anne Catherick was living, when she was in
"Yes. At a farm on the moor, called Todd's Corner."
"It is a duty we all owe to the poor creature herself to trace
her," continued Sir Percival. "She may have said something at
Todd's Corner which may help us to find her. I will go there and
make inquiries on the chance. In the meantime, as I cannot
prevail on myself to discuss this painful subject with Miss
Fairlie, may I beg, Miss Halcombe, that you will kindly undertake
to give her the necessary explanation, deferring it of course
until you have received the reply to that note."
Miss Halcombe promised to comp]y with his request. He thanked
her, nodded pleasantly, and left us, to go and establish himself
in his own room. As he opened the door the cross-grained
greyhound poked out her sharp muzzle from under the sofa, and
barked and snapped at him.
"A good morning's work, Miss Halcombe," I said, as soon as we were
alone. "Here is an anxious day well ended already."
"Yes," she answered; "no doubt. I am very glad your mind is
"My mind! Surely, with that note in your hand, your mind is at
"Oh yes--how can it be otherwise? I know the thing could not be,"
she went on, speaking more to herself than to me; "but I almost
wish Walter Hartright had stayed here long enough to be present at
the explanation, and to hear the proposal to me to write this
I was a little surprised--perhaps a little piqued also--by these
"Events, it is true, connected Mr. Hartright very remarkably with
the affair of the letter," I said; "and I readily admit that he
conducted himself, all things considered, with great delicacy and
discretion. But I am quite at a loss to understand what useful
influence his presence could have exercised in relation to the
effect of Sir Percival's statement on your mind or mine."
"It was only a fancy," she said absently. "There is no need to
discuss it, Mr. Gilmore. Your experience ought to be, and is, the
best guide I can desire."
I did not altogether like her thrusting the whole responsibility,
in this marked manner, on my shoulders. If Mr. Fairlie had done
it, I should not have been surprised. But resolute, clear-minded
Miss Halcombe was the very last person in the world whom I should
have expected to find shrinking from the expression of an opinion
of her own.
"If any doubts still trouble you," I said, "why not mention them
to me at once? Tell me plainly, have you any reason to distrust
Sir Percival Glyde?"
"Do you see anything improbable, or contradictory, in his
"How can I say I do, after the proof he has offered me of the
truth of it? Can there be better testimony in his favour, Mr.
Gilmore, than the testimony of the woman's mother?"
"None better. If the answer to your note of inquiry proves to be
satisfactory, I for one cannot see what more any friend of Sir
Percival's can possibly expect from him."
"Then we will post the note," she said, rising to leave the room,
"and dismiss all further reference to the subject until the answer
arrives. Don't attach any weight to my hesitation. I can give no
better reason for it than that I have been over-anxious about
Laura lately--and anxiety, Mr. Gilmore, unsettles the strongest of
She left me abruptly, her naturally firm voice faltering as she
spoke those last words. A sensitive, vehement, passionate nature--
a woman of ten thousand in these trivial, superficial times. I
had known her from her earliest years--I had seen her tested, as
she grew up, in more than one trying family crisis, and my long
experience made me attach an importance to her hesitation under
the circumstances here detailed, which I should certainly not have
felt in the case of another woman. I could see no cause for any
uneasiness or any doubt, but she had made me a little uneasy, and
a little doubtful, nevertheless. In my youth, I should have
chafed and fretted under the irritation of my own unreasonable
state of mind. In my age, I knew better, and went out
philosophically to walk it off.
We all met again at dinner-time.
Sir Percival was in such boisterous high spirits that I hardly
recognised him as the same man whose quiet tact, refinement, and
good sense had impressed me so strongly at the interview of the
morning. The only trace of his former self that I could detect
reappeared, every now and then, in his manner towards Miss
Fairlie. A look or a word from her suspended his loudest laugh,
checked his gayest flow of talk, and rendered him all attention to
her, and to no one else at table, in an instant. Although he
never openly tried to draw her into the conversation, he never
lost the slightest chance she gave him of letting her drift into
it by accident, and of saying the words to her, under those
favourable circumstances, which a man with less tact and delicacy
would have pointedly addressed to her the moment they occurred to
him. Rather to my surprise, Miss Fairlie appeared to be sensible
of his attentions without being moved by them. She was a little
confused from time to time when he looked at her, or spoke to her;
but she never warmed towards him. Rank, fortune, good breeding,
good looks, the respect of a gentleman, and the devotion of a
lover were all humbly placed at her feet, and, so far as
appearances went, were all offered in vain.
On the next day, the Tuesday, Sir Percival went in the morning
(taking one of the servants with him as a guide) to Todd's Corner.
His inquiries, as I afterwards heard, led to no results. On his
return he had an interview with Mr. Fairlie, and in the afternoon
he and Miss Halcombe rode out together. Nothing else happened
worthy of record. The evening passed as usual. There was no
change in Sir Percival, and no change in Miss Fairlie.
The Wednesday's post brought with it an event--the reply from Mrs.
Catherick. I took a copy of the document, which I have preserved,
and which I may as well present in this place. It ran as follows--
"MADAM,--I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter,
inquiring whether my daughter, Anne, was placed under medical
superintendence with my knowledge and approval, and whether the
share taken in the matter by Sir Percival Glyde was such as to
merit the expression of my gratitude towards that gentleman. Be
pleased to accept my answer in the affirmative to both those
questions, and believe me to remain, your obedient servant,
"JANE ANNE CATHERICK."
Short, sharp, and to the point; in form rather a business-like
letter for a woman to write--in substance as plain a confirmation
as could be desired of Sir Percival Glyde's statement. This was
my opinion, and with certain minor reservations, Miss Halcombe's
opinion also. Sir Percival, when the letter was shown to him, did
not appear to be struck by the sharp, short tone of it. He told
us that Mrs. Catherick was a woman of few words, a clear-headed,
straightforward, unimaginative person, who wrote briefly and
plainly, just as she spoke.
The next duty to be accomplished, now that the answer had been
received, was to acquaint Miss Fairlie with Sir Percival's
explanation. Miss Halcombe had undertaken to do this, and had
left the room to go to her sister, when she suddenly returned
again, and sat down by the easy-chair in which I was reading the
newspaper. Sir Percival had gone out a minute before to look at
the stables, and no one was in the room but ourselves.
"I suppose we have really and truly done all we can?" she said,
turning and twisting Mrs. Catherick's letter in her hand.
"If we are friends of Sir Percival's, who know him and trust him,
we have done all, and more than all, that is necessary," I
answered, a little annoyed by this return of her hesitation. "But
if we are enemies who suspect him----"
"That alternative is not even to be thought of," she interposed.
"We are Sir Percival's friends, and if generosity and forbearance
can add to our regard for him, we ought to be Sir Percival's
admirers as well. You know that he saw Mr. Fairlie yesterday, and
that he afterwards went out with me."
"Yes. I saw you riding away together."
"We began the ride by talking about Anne Catherick, and about the
singular manner in which Mr. Hartright met with her. But we soon
dropped that subject, and Sir Percival spoke next, in the most
unselfish terms, of his engagement with Laura. He said he had
observed that she was out of spirits, and he was willing, if not
informed to the contrary, to attribute to that cause the
alteration in her manner towards him during his present visit.
If, however, there was any more serious reason for the change, he
would entreat that no constraint might be placed on her
inclinations either by Mr. Fairlie or by me. All he asked, in
that case, was that she would recall to mind, for the last time,
what the circumstances were under which the engagement between
them was made, and what his conduct had been from the beginning of
the courtship to the present time. If, after due reflection on
those two subjects, she seriously desired that he should withdraw
his pretensions to the honour of becoming her husband--and if she
would tell him so plainly with her own lips--he would sacrifice
himself by leaving her perfectly free to withdraw from the
"No man could say more than that, Miss Halcombe. As to my
experience, few men in his situation would have said as much."
She paused after I had spoken those words, and looked at me with a
singular expression of perplexity and distress.
"I accuse nobody, and I suspect nothing," she broke out abruptly.
"But I cannot and will not accept the responsibility of persuading
Laura to this marriage."
"That is exactly the course which Sir Percival Glyde has himself
requested you to take," I replied in astonishment. "He has begged
you not to force her inclinations."
"And he indirectly obliges me to force them, if I give her his
"How can that possibly be?"
"Consult your own knowledge of Laura, Mr. Gilmore. If I tell her
to reflect on the circumstances of her engagement, I at once
appeal to two of the strongest feelings in her nature--to her love
for her father's memory, and to her strict regard for truth. You
know that she never broke a promise in her life--you know that she
entered on this engagement at the beginning of her father's fatal
illness, and that he spoke hopefully and happily of her marriage
to Sir Percival Glyde on his deathbed."
I own that I was a little shocked at this view of the case.
"Surely," I said, "you don't mean to infer that when Sir Percival
spoke to you yesterday he speculated on such a result as you have
Her frank, fearless face answered for her before she spoke.
"Do you think I would remain an instant in the company of any man
whom I suspected of such baseness as that?" she asked angrily.
I liked to feel her hearty indignation flash out on me in that
way. We see so much malice and so little indignation in my
"In that case," I said, "excuse me if I tell you, in our legal
phrase, that you are travelling out of the record. Whatever the
consequences may be, Sir Percival has a right to expect that your
sister should carefully consider her engagement from every
reasonable point of view before she claims her release from it.
If that unlucky letter has prejudiced her against him, go at once,
and tell her that he has cleared himself in your eyes and in mine.
What objection can she urge against him after that? What excuse
can she possibly have for changing her mind about a man whom she
had virtually accepted for her husband more than two years ago?"
"In the eyes of law and reason, Mr. Gilmore, no excuse, I daresay.
If she still hesitates, and if I still hesitate, you must
attribute our strange conduct, if you like, to caprice in both
cases, and we must bear the imputation as well as we can."
With those words she suddenly rose and left me. When a sensible
woman has a serious question put to her, and evades it by a
flippant answer, it is a sure sign, in ninety-nine cases out of a
hundred, that she has something to conceal. I returned to the
perusal of the newspaper, strongly suspecting that Miss Halcombe
and Miss Fairlie had a secret between them which they were keeping
from Sir Percival, and keeping from me. I thought this hard on
both of us, especially on Sir Percival.
My doubts--or to speak more correctly, my convictions--were
confirmed by Miss Halcombe's language and manner when I saw her
again later in the day. She was suspiciously brief and reserved
in telling me the result of her interview with her sister. Miss
Fairlie, it appeared, had listened quietly while the affair of the
letter was placed before her in the right point of view, but when
Miss Halcombe next proceeded to say that the object of Sir
Percival's visit at Limmeridge was to prevail on her to let a day
be fixed for the marriage she checked all further reference to the
subject by begging for time. If Sir Percival would consent to
spare her for the present, she would undertake to give him his
final answer before the end of the year. She pleaded for this
delay with such anxiety and agitation, that Miss Halcombe had
promised to use her influence, if necessary, to obtain it, and
there, at Miss Fairlie's earnest entreaty, all further discussion
of the marriage question had ended.
The purely temporary arrangement thus proposed might have been
convenient enough to the young lady, but it proved somewhat
embarrassing to the writer of these lines. That morning's post
had brought a letter from my partner, which obliged me to return
to town the next day by the afternoon train. It was extremely
probable that I should find no second opportunity of presenting
myself at Limmeridge House during the remainder of the year. In
that case, supposing Miss Fairlie ultimately decided on holding to
her engagement, my necessary personal communication with her,
before I drew her settlement, would become something like a
downright impossibility, and we should be obliged to commit to
writing questions which ought always to be discussed on both sides
by word of mouth. I said nothing about this difficulty until Sir
Percival had been consulted on the subject of the desired delay.
He was too gallant a gentleman not to grant the request
immediately. When Miss Halcombe informed me of this I told her
that I must absolutely speak to her sister before I left
Limmeridge, and it was, therefore, arranged that I should see Miss
Fairlie in her own sitting-room the next morning. She did not
come down to dinner, or join us in the evening. Indisposition was
the excuse, and I thought Sir Percival looked, as well he might, a
little annoyed when he heard of it.
The next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, I went up to Miss
Fairlie's sitting-room. The poor girl looked so pale and sad, and
came forward to welcome me so readily and prettily, that the
resolution to lecture her on her caprice and indecision, which I
had been forming all the way upstairs, failed me on the spot. I
led her back to the chair from which she had risen, and placed
myself opposite to her. Her cross-grained pet greyhound was in
the room, and I fully expected a barking and snapping reception.
Strange to say, the whimsical little brute falsified my
expectations by jumping into my lap and poking its sharp muzzle
familiarly into my hand the moment I sat down.
"You used often to sit on my knee when you were a child. my
dear," I said, "and now your little dog seems determined to
succeed you in the vacant throne. Is that pretty drawing your
I pointed to a little album which lay on the table by her side and
which she had evidently been looking over when I came in. The
page that lay open had a small water-colour landscape very neatly
mounted on it. This was the drawing which had suggested my
question--an idle question enough--but how could I begin to talk
of business to her the moment I opened my lips?
"No," she said, looking away from the drawing rather confusedly,
"it is not my doing."
Her fingers had a restless habit, which I remembered in her as a
child, of always playing with the first thing that came to hand
whenever any one was talking to her. On this occasion they
wandered to the album, and toyed absently about the margin of the
little water-colour drawing. The expression of melancholy
deepened on her face. She did not look at the drawing, or look at
me. Her eyes moved uneasily from object to object in the room,
betraying plainly that she suspected what my purpose was in coming
to speak to her. Seeing that, I thought it best to get to the
purpose with as little delay as possible.
"One of the errands, my dear, which brings me here is to bid you
good-bye," I began. "I must get back to London to-day: and,
before I leave, I want to have a word with you on the subject of
your own affairs."
"I am very sorry you are going, Mr. Gilmore," she said, looking at
me kindly. "It is like the happy old times to have you here.
"I hope I may be able to come back and recall those pleasant
memories once more," I continued; "but as there is some
uncertainty about the future, I must take my opportunity when I
can get it, and speak to you now. I am your old lawyer and your
old friend, and I may remind you, I am sure, without offence, of
the possibility of your marrying Sir Percival Glyde."
She took her hand off the little album as suddenly as if it had
turned hot and burnt her. Her fingers twined together nervously
in her lap, her eyes looked down again at the floor, and an
expression of constraint settled on her face which looked almost
like an expression of pain.
"Is it absolutely necessary to speak of my marriage engagement?"
she asked in low tones.
"It is necessary to refer to it," I answered, "but not to dwell on
it. Let us merely say that you may marry, or that you may not
marry. In the first case, I must be prepared, beforehand, to draw
your settlement, and I ought not to do that without, as a matter
of politeness, first consulting you. This may be my only chance
of hearing what your wishes are. Let us, therefore, suppose the
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