The Woman in White
Part 5 out of 14
retreating to her own room, as usual, she seems to dread going
there. When I went upstairs to-day, after lunch, to put on my
bonnet for a walk, she volunteered to join me, and again, before
dinner, she threw the door open between our two rooms, so that we
might talk to each other while we were dressing. "Keep me always
doing something," she said; "keep me always in company with
somebody. Don't let me think--that is all I ask now, Marian--
don't let me think."
This sad change in her only increases her attractions for Sir
Percival. He interprets it, I can see, to his own advantage.
There is a feverish flush in her cheeks, a feverish brightness in
her eyes, which he welcomes as the return of her beauty and the
recovery of her spirits. She talked to-day at dinner with a
gaiety and carelessness so false, so shockingly out of her
character, that I secretly longed to silence her and take her
away. Sir Percival's delight and surprise appeared to be beyond
all expression. The anxiety which I had noticed on his face when
he arrived totally disappeared from it, and he looked, even to my
eyes, a good ten years younger than he really is.
There can be no doubt--though some strange perversity prevents me
from seeing it myself--there can be no doubt that Laura's future
husband is a very handsome man. Regular features form a personal
advantage to begin with--and he has them. Bright brown eyes,
either in man or woman, are a great attraction--and he has them.
Even baldness, when it is only baldness over the forehead (as in
his case), is rather becoming than not in a man, for it heightens
the head and adds to the intelligence of the face. Grace and ease
of movement, untiring animation of manner, ready, pliant,
conversational powers--all these are unquestionable merits, and
all these he certainly possesses. Surely Mr. Gilmore, ignorant as
he is of Laura's secret, was not to blame for feeling surprised
that she should repent of her marriage engagement? Any one else in
his place would have shared our good old friend's opinion. If I
were asked, at this moment, to say plainly what defects I have
discovered in Sir Percival, I could only point out two. One, his
incessant restlessness and excitability--which may be caused,
naturally enough, by unusual energy of character. The other, his
short, sharp, ill-tempered manner of speaking to the servants--
which may be only a bad habit after all. No, I cannot dispute it,
and I will not dispute it--Sir Percival is a very handsome and a
very agreeable man. There! I have written it down at last, and I
am glad it's over.
18th.--Feeling weary and depressed this morning, I left Laura with
Mrs. Vesey, and went out alone for one of my brisk midday walks,
which I have discontinued too much of late. I took the dry airy
road over the moor that leads to Todd's Corner. After having been
out half an hour, I was excessively surprised to see Sir Percival
approaching me from the direction of the farm. He was walking
rapidly, swinging his stick, his head erect as usual, and his
shooting jacket flying open in the wind. When we met he did not
wait for me to ask any questions--he told me at once that he had
been to the farm to inquire if Mr. or Mrs. Todd had received any
tidings, since his last visit to Limmeridge, of Anne Catherick.
"You found, of course, that they had heard nothing?" I said.
"Nothing whatever," he replied. "I begin to be seriously afraid
that we have lost her. Do you happen to know," he continued,
looking me in the face very attentively "if the artist--Mr.
Hartright--is in a position to give us any further information?"
"He has neither heard of her, nor seen her, since he left
Cumberland," I answered.
"Very sad," said Sir Percival, speaking like a man who was
disappointed, and yet, oddly enough, looking at the same time like
a man who was relieved. "It is impossible to say what misfortunes
may not have happened to the miserable creature. I am
inexpressibly annoyed at the failure of all my efforts to restore
her to the care and protection which she so urgently needs."
This time he really looked annoyed. I said a few sympathising
words, and we then talked of other subjects on our way back to the
house. Surely my chance meeting with him on the moor has
disclosed another favourable trait in his character? Surely it was
singularly considerate and unselfish of him to think of Anne
Catherick on the eve of his marriage, and to go all the way to
Todd's Corner to make inquiries about her, when he might have
passed the time so much more agreeably in Laura's society?
Considering that he can only have acted from motives of pure
charity, his conduct, under the circumstances, shows unusual good
feeling and deserves extraordinary praise. Well! I give him
extraordinary praise--and there's an end of it.
19th.--More discoveries in the inexhaustible mine of Sir
To-day I approached the subject of my proposed sojourn under his
wife's roof when he brings her back to England. I had hardly
dropped my first hint in this direction before he caught me warmly
by the hand, and said I had made the very offer to him which he
had been, on his side, most anxious to make to me. I was the
companion of all others whom he most sincerely longed to secure
for his wife, and he begged me to believe that I had conferred a
lasting favour on him by making the proposal to live with Laura
after her marriage, exactly as I had always lived with her before
When I had thanked him in her name and mine for his considerate
kindness to both of us, we passed next to the subject of his
wedding tour, and began to talk of the English society in Rome to
which Laura was to be introduced. He ran over the names of
several friends whom he expected to meet abroad this winter. They
were all English, as well as I can remember, with one exception.
The one exception was Count Fosco.
The mention of the Count's name, and the discovery that he and his
wife are likely to meet the bride and bridegroom on the continent,
puts Laura's marriage, for the first time, in a distinctly
favourable light. It is likely to be the means of healing a
family feud. Hitherto Madame Fosco has chosen to forget her
obligations as Laura's aunt out of sheer spite against the late
Mr. Fairlie for his conduct in the affair of the legacy. Now
however, she can persist in this course of conduct no longer. Sir
Percival and Count Fosco are old and fast friends, and their wives
will have no choice but to meet on civil terms. Madame Fosco in
her maiden days was one of the most impertinent women I ever met
with--capricious, exacting, and vain to the last degree of
absurdity. If her husband has succeeded in bringing her to her
senses, he deserves the gratitude of every member of the family,
and he may have mine to begin with.
I am becoming anxious to know the Count. He is the most intimate
friend of Laura's husband, and in that capacity he excites my
strongest interest. Neither Laura nor I have ever seen him. All
I know of him is that his accidental presence, years ago, on the
steps of the Trinita del Monte at Rome, assisted Sir Percival's
escape from robbery and assassination at the critical moment when
he was wounded in the hand, and might the next instant have been
wounded in the heart. I remember also that, at the time of the
late Mr. Fairlie's absurd objections to his sister's marriage, the
Count wrote him a very temperate and sensible letter on the
subject, which, I am ashamed to say, remained unanswered. This is
all I know of Sir Percival's friend. I wonder if he will ever
come to England? I wonder if I shall like him?
My pen is running away into mere speculation. Let me return to
sober matter of fact. It is certain that Sir Percival's reception
of my venturesome proposal to live with his wife was more than
kind, it was almost affectionate. I am sure Laura's husband will
have no reason to complain of me if I can only go on as I have
begun. I have already declared him to be handsome, agreeable,
full of good feeling towards the unfortunate and full of
affectionate kindness towards me. Really, I hardly; know myself
again in my new character of Sir Percival's warmest friend.
20th.--I hate Sir Percival! I flatly deny his good looks. I
consider him to be eminently ill-tempered and disagreeable, and
totally wanting in kindness and good feeling. Last night the
cards for the married couple were sent home. Laura opened the
packet and saw her future name in print for the first time. Sir
Percival looked over her shoulder familiarly at the new card which
had already transformed Miss Fairlie into Lady Glyde--smiled with
the most odious self-complacency, and whispered something in her
ear. I don't know what it was--Laura has refused to tell me--but
I saw her face turn to such a deadly whiteness that I thought she
would have fainted. He took no notice of the change--he seemed to
be barbarously unconscious that he had said anything to pain her.
All my old feelings of hostility towards him revived on the
instant, and all the hours that have passed since have done
nothing to dissipate them. I am more unreasonable and more unjust
than ever. In three words--how glibly my pen writes them!--in
three words, I hate him.
21st.--Have the anxieties of this anxious time shaken me a little,
at last? I have been writing, for the last few days, in a tone of
levity which, Heaven knows, is far enough from my heart, and which
it has rather shocked me to discover on looking back at the
entries in my journal.
Perhaps I may have caught the feverish excitement of Laura's
spirits for the last week. If so, the fit has already passed away
from me, and has left me in a very strange state of mind. A
persistent idea has been forcing itself on my attention, ever
since last night, that something will yet happen to prevent the
marriage. What has produced this singular fancy? Is it the
indirect result of my apprehensions for Laura's future? Or has it
been unconsciously suggested to me by the increasing restlessness
and irritability which I have certainly observed in Sir Percival's
manner as the wedding-day draws nearer and nearer? Impossible to
say. I know that I have the idea--surely the wildest idea, under
the circumstances, that ever entered a woman's head?--but try as I
may, I cannot trace it back to its source.
This last day has been all confusion and wretchedness. How can I
write about it?--and yet, I must write. Anything is better than
brooding over my own gloomy thoughts.
Kind Mrs. Vesey, whom we have all too much overlooked and
forgotten of late, innocently caused us a sad morning to begin
with. She has been, for months past, secretly making a warm
Shetland shawl for her dear pupil--a most beautiful and surprising
piece of work to be done by a woman at her age and with her
habits. The gift was presented this morning, and poor warm-
hearted Laura completely broke down when the shawl was put proudly
on her shoulders by the loving old friend and guardian of her
motherless childhood. I was hardly allowed time to quiet them
both, or even to dry my own eyes, when I was sent for by Mr.
Fairlie, to be favoured with a long recital of his arrangements
for the preservation of his own tranquillity on the wedding-day.
"Dear Laura" was to receive his present--a shabby ring, with her
affectionate uncle's hair for an ornament, instead of a precious
stone, and with a heartless French inscription inside, about
congenial sentiments and eternal friendship--"dear Laura" was to
receive this tender tribute from my hands immediately, so that she
might have plenty of time to recover from the agitation produced
by the gift before she appeared in Mr. Fairlie's presence. "Dear
Laura" was to pay him a little visit that evening, and to be kind
enough not to make a scene. "Dear Laura" was to pay him another
little visit in her wedding-dress the next morning, and to be kind
enough, again, not to make a scene. "Dear Laura" was to look in
once more, for the third time, before going away, but without
harrowing his feelings by saying WHEN she was going away, and
without tears--"in the name of pity, in the name of everything,
dear Marian, that is most affectionate and most domestic, and most
delightfully and charmingly self-composed, WITHOUT TEARS! " I was
so exasperated by this miserable selfish trifling, at such a time,
that I should certainly have shocked Mr. Fairlie by some of the
hardest and rudest truths he has ever heard in his life, if the
arrival of Mr. Arnold from Polesdean had not called me away to new
The rest of the day is indescribable. I believe no one in the
house really knew how it passed. The confusion of small events,
all huddled together one on the other, bewildered everybody.
There were dresses sent home that had been forgotten--there were
trunks to be packed and unpacked and packed again--there were
presents from friends far and near, friends high and low. We were
all needlessly hurried, all nervously expectant of the morrow.
Sir Percival, especially, was too restless now to remain five
minutes together in the same place. That short, sharp cough of
his troubled him more than ever. He was in and out of doors all
day long, and he seemed to grow so inquisitive on a sudden, that
he questioned the very strangers who came on small errands to the
house. Add to all this, the one perpetual thought in Laura's mind
and mine, that we were to part the next day, and the haunting
dread, unexpressed by either of us, and yet ever present to both,
that this deplorable marriage might prove to be the one fatal
error of her life and the one hopeless sorrow of mine. For the
first time in all the years of our close and happy intercourse we
almost avoided looking each other in the face, and we refrained,
by common consent, from speaking together in private through the
whole evening. I can dwell on it no longer. Whatever future
sorrows may be in store for me, I shall always look back on this
twenty-first of December as the most comfortless and most
miserable day of my life.
I am writing these lines in the solitude of my own room, long
after midnight, having just come back from a stolen look at Laura
in her pretty little white bed--the bed she has occupied since the
days of her girlhood.
There she lay, unconscious that I was looking at her--quiet, more
quiet than I had dared to hope, but not sleeping. The glimmer of
the night-light showed me that her eyes were only partially
closed--the traces of tears glistened between her eye-lids. My
little keepsake--only a brooch--lay on the table at her bedside,
with her prayer-book, and the miniature portrait of her father
which she takes with her wherever she goes. I waited a moment,
looking at her from behind her pillow, as she lay beneath me, with
one arm and hand resting on the white coverlid, so still, so
quietly breathing, that the frill on her night-dress never moved--
I waited, looking at her, as I have seen her thousands of times,
as I shall never see her again--and then stole back to my room.
My own love! with all your wealth, and all your beauty, how
friendless you are! The one man who would give his heart's life to
serve you is far away, tossing, this stormy night, on the awful
sea. Who else is left to you? No father, no brother--no living
creature but the helpless, useless woman who writes these sad
lines, and watches by you for the morning, in sorrow that she
cannot compose, in doubt that she cannot conquer. Oh, what a
trust is to be placed in that man's hands to-morrow! If ever he
forgets it--if ever he injures a hair of her head!----
THE TWENTY-SECOND OF DECEMBER. Seven o'clock. A wild, unsettled
morning. She has just risen--better and calmer, now that the time
has come, than she was yesterday.
Ten o'clock. She is dressed. We have kissed each other--we have
promised each other not to lose courage. I am away for a moment
in my own room. In the whirl and confusion of my thoughts, I can
detect that strange fancy of some hindrance happening to stop the
marriage still hanging about my mind. Is it hanging about HIS
mind too? I see him from the window, moving hither and thither
uneasily among the carriages at the door.--How can I write such
folly! The marriage is a certainty. In less than half an hour we
start for the church.
Eleven o'clock. It is all over. They are married.
Three o'clock. They are gone! I am blind with crying--I can write
* * * * * * * * * *
[The First Epoch of the Story closes here.]
THE SECOND EPOCH
THE STORY CONTINUED BY MARIAN HALCOMBE.
BLACKWATER PARK, HAMPSHIRE.
June 11th, 1850.--Six months to look back on--six long, lonely
months since Laura and I last saw each other!
How many days have I still to wait? Only one! To-morrow, the
twelfth, the travellers return to England. I can hardly realise
my own happiness--I can hardly believe that the next four-and-
twenty hours will complete the last day of separation between
Laura and me.
She and her husband have been in Italy all the winter, and
afterwards in the Tyrol. They come back, accompanied by Count
Fosco and his wife, who propose to settle somewhere in the
neighbourhood of London, and who have engaged to stay at
Blackwater Park for the summer months before deciding on a place
of residence. So long as Laura returns, no matter who returns
with her. Sir Percival may fill the house from floor to ceiling,
if he likes, on condition that his wife and I inhabit it together.
Meanwhile, here I am, established at Blackwater Park, "the ancient
and interesting seat" (as the county history obligingly informs
me) "of Sir Percival Glyde, Bart.," and the future abiding-place
(as I may now venture to add on my account) of plain Marian
Halcombe, spinster, now settled in a snug little sitting-room,
with a cup of tea by her side, and all her earthly possessions
ranged round her in three boxes and a bag.
I left Limmeridge yesterday, having received Laura's delightful
letter from Paris the day before. I had been previously uncertain
whether I was to meet them in London or in Hampshire, but this
last letter informed me that Sir Percival proposed to land at
Southampton, and to travel straight on to his country-house. He
has spent so much money abroad that he has none left to defray the
expenses of living in London for the remainder of the season, and
he is economically resolved to pass the summer and autumn quietly
at Blackwater. Laura has had more than enough of excitement and
change of scene, and is pleased at the prospect of country
tranquillity and retirement which her husband's prudence provides
for her. As for me, I am ready to be happy anywhere in her
society. We are all, therefore, well contented in our various
ways, to begin with.
Last night I slept in London, and was delayed there so long to-day
by various calls and commissions, that I did not reach Blackwater
this evening till after dusk.
Judging by my vague impressions of the place thus far, it is the
exact opposite of Limmeridge.
The house is situated on a dead flat, and seems to be shut in--
almost suffocated, to my north-country notions, by trees. I have
seen nobody but the man-servant who opened the door to me, and the
housekeeper, a very civil person, who showed me the way to my own
room, and got me my tea. I have a nice little boudoir and
bedroom, at the end of a long passage on the first floor. The
servants and some of the spare rooms are on the second floor, and
all the living rooms are on the ground floor. I have not seen one
of them yet, and I know nothing about the house, except that one
wing of it is said to be five hundred years old, that it had a
moat round it once, and that it gets its name of Blackwater from a
lake in the park.
Eleven o'clock has just struck, in a ghostly and solemn manner,
from a turret over the centre of the house, which I saw when I
came in. A large dog has been woke, apparently by the sound of
the bell, and is howling and yawning drearily, somewhere round a
corner. I hear echoing footsteps in the passages below, and the
iron thumping of bolts and bars at the house door. The servants
are evidently going to bed. Shall I follow their example?
No, I am not half sleepy enough. Sleepy, did I say? I feel as if
I should never close my eyes again. The bare anticipation of
seeing that dear face, and hearing that well-known voice to-
morrow, keeps me in a perpetual fever of excitement. If I only
had the privileges of a man, I would order out Sir Percival's best
horse instantly, and tear away on a night-gallop, eastward, to
meet the rising sun--a long, hard, heavy, ceaseless gallop of
hours and hours, like the famous highwayman's ride to York.
Being, however, nothing but a woman, condemned to patience,
propriety, and petticoats for life, I must respect the house-
keeper's opinions, and try to compose myself in some feeble and
Reading is out of the question--I can't fix my attention on books.
Let me try if I can write myself into sleepiness and fatigue. My
journal has been very much neglected of late. What can I recall--
standing, as I now do, on the threshold of a new life--of persons
and events, of chances and changes, during the past six months--
the long, weary, empty interval since Laura's wedding-day?
Walter Hartright is uppermost in my memory, and he passes first in
the shadowy procession of my absent friends. I received a few
lines from him, after the landing of the expedition in Honduras,
written more cheerfully and hopefully than he has written yet. A
month or six weeks later I saw an extract from an American
newspaper, describing the departure of the adventurers on their
inland journey. They were last seen entering a wild primeval
forest, each man with his rifle on his shoulder and his baggage at
his back. Since that time, civilisation has lost all trace of
them. Not a line more have I received from Walter, not a fragment
of news from the expedition has appeared in any of the public
The same dense, disheartening obscurity hangs over the fate and
fortunes of Anne Catherick, and her companion, Mrs. Clements.
Nothing whatever has been heard of either of them. Whether they
are in the country or out of it, whether they are living or dead,
no one knows. Even Sir Percival's solicitor has lost all hope,
and has ordered the useless search after the fugitives to be
finally given up.
Our good old friend Mr. Gilmore has met with a sad check in his
active professional career. Early in the spring we were alarmed
by hearing that he had been found insensible at his desk, and that
the seizure was pronounced to be an apoplectic fit. He had been
long complaining of fulness and oppression in the head, and his
doctor had warned him of the consequences that would follow his
persistency in continuing to work, early and late, as if he were
still a young man. The result now is that he has been positively
ordered to keep out of his office for a year to come, at least,
and to seek repose of body and relief of mind by altogether
changing his usual mode of life. The business is left,
accordingly, to be carried on by his partner, and he is himself,
at this moment, away in Germany, visiting some relations who are
settled there in mercantile pursuits. Thus another true friend
and trustworthy adviser is lost to us--lost, I earnestly hope and
trust, for a time only.
Poor Mrs. Vesey travelled with me as far as London. It was
impossible to abandon her to solitude at Limmeridge after Laura
and I had both left the house, and we have arranged that she is to
live with an unmarried younger sister of hers, who keeps a school
at Clapham. She is to come here this autumn to visit her pupil--I
might almost say her adopted child. I saw the good old lady safe
to her destination, and left her in the care of her relative,
quietly happy at the prospect of seeing Laura again in a few
As for Mr. Fairlie, I believe I am guilty of no injustice if I
describe him as being unutterably relieved by having the house
clear of us women. The idea of his missing his niece is simply
preposterous--he used to let months pass in the old times without
attempting to see her--and in my case and Mrs. Vesey's, I take
leave to consider his telling us both that he was half heart-
broken at our departure, to be equivalent to a confession that he
was secretly rejoiced to get rid of us. His last caprice has led
him to keep two photographers incessantly employed in producing
sun-pictures of all the treasures and curiosities in his
possession. One complete copy of the collection of the
photographs is to be presented to the Mechanics' Institution of
Carlisle, mounted on the finest cardboard, with ostentatious red-
letter inscriptions underneath, "Madonna and Child by Raphael. In
the possession of Frederick Fairlie, Esquire." "Copper coin of the
period of Tiglath Pileser. In the possession of Frederick
Fairlie, Esquire." "Unique Rembrandt etching. Known all over
Europe as THE SMUDGE, from a printer's blot in the corner which
exists in no other copy. Valued at three hundred guineas. In the
possession of Frederick Fairlie, Esq." Dozens of photographs of
this sort, and all inscribed in this manner, were completed before
I left Cumberland, and hundreds more remain to be done. With this
new interest to occupy him, Mr. Fairlie will be a happy man for
months and months to come, and the two unfortunate photographers
will share the social martyrdom which he has hitherto inflicted on
his valet alone.
So much for the persons and events which hold the foremost place
in my memory. What next of the one person who holds the foremost
place in my heart? Laura has been present to my thoughts all the
while I have been writing these lines. What can I recall of her
during the past six months, before I close my journal for the
I have only her letters to guide me, and on the most important of
all the questions which our correspondence can discuss, every one
of those letters leaves me in the dark.
Does he treat her kindly? Is she happier now than she was when I
parted with her on the wedding-day? All my letters have contained
these two inquiries, put more or less directly, now in one form,
and now in another, and all, on that point only, have remained
without reply, or have been answered as if my questions merely
related to the state of her health. She informs me, over and over
again, that she is perfectly well--that travelling agrees with
her--that she is getting through the winter, for the first time in
her life, without catching cold--but not a word can I find
anywhere which tells me plainly that she is reconciled to her
marriage, and that she can now look back to the twenty-second of
December without any bitter feelings of repentance and regret.
The name of her husband is only mentioned in her letters, as she
might mention the name of a friend who was travelling with them,
and who had undertaken to make all the arrangements for the
journey. "Sir Percival" has settled that we leave on such a day--
"Sir Percival" has decided that we travel by such a road.
Sometimes she writes "Percival" only, but very seldom--in nine
cases out of ten she gives him his title.
I cannot find that his habits and opinions have changed and
coloured hers in any single particular. The usual moral
transformation which is insensibly wrought in a young, fresh,
sensitive woman by her marriage, seems never to have taken place
in Laura. She writes of her own thoughts and impressions, amid
all the wonders she has seen, exactly as she might have written to
some one else, if I had been travelling with her instead of her
husband. I see no betrayal anywhere of sympathy of any kind
existing between them. Even when she wanders from the subject of
her travels, and occupies herself with the prospects that await
her in England, her speculations are busied with her future as my
sister, and persistently neglect to notice her future as Sir
Percival's wife. In all this there is no undertone of complaint
to warn me that she is absolutely unhappy in her married life.
The impression I have derived from our correspondence does not,
thank God, lead me to any such distressing conclusion as that. I
only see a sad torpor, an unchangeable indifference, when I turn
my mind from her in the old character of a sister, and look at
her, through the medium of her letters, in the new character of a
wife. In other words, it is always Laura Fairlie who has been
writing to me for the last six months, and never Lady Glyde.
The strange silence which she maintains on the subject of her
husband's character and conduct, she preserves with almost equal
resolution in the few references which her later letters contain
to the name of her husband's bosom friend, Count Fosco.
For some unexplained reason the Count and his wife appear to have
changed their plans abruptly, at the end of last autumn, and to
have gone to Vienna instead of going to Rome, at which latter
place Sir Percival had expected to find them when he left England.
They only quitted Vienna in the spring, and travelled as far as
the Tyrol to meet the bride and bridegroom on their homeward
journey. Laura writes readily enough about the meeting with
Madame Fosco, and assures me that she has found her aunt so much
changed for the better--so much quieter, and so much more sensible
as a wife than she was as a single woman--that I shall hardly know
her again when I see her here. But on the subject of Count Fosco
(who interests me infinitely more than his wife), Laura is
provokingly circumspect and silent. She only says that he puzzles
her, and that she will not tell me what her impression of him is
until I have seen him, and formed my own opinion first.
This, to my mind, looks ill for the Count. Laura has preserved,
far more perfectly than most people do in later life, the child's
subtle faculty of knowing a friend by instinct, and if I am right
in assuming that her first impression of Count Fosco has not been
favourable, I for one am in some danger of doubting and
distrusting that illustrious foreigner before I have so much as
set eyes on him. But, patience, patience--this uncertainty, and
many uncertainties more, cannot last much longer. To-morrow will
see all my doubts in a fair way of being cleared up, sooner or
Twelve o'clock has struck, and I have just come back to close
these pages, after looking out at my open window.
It is a still, sultry, moonless night. The stars are dull and
few. The trees that shut out the view on all sides look dimly
black and solid in the distance, like a great wall of rock. I
hear the croaking of frogs, faint and far off, and the echoes of
the great clock hum in the airless calm long after the strokes
have ceased. I wonder how Blackwater Park will look in the
daytime? I don't altogether like it by night.
12th.--A day of investigations and discoveries--a more interesting
day, for many reasons, than I had ventured to anticipate.
I began my sight-seeing, of course, with the house.
The main body of the building is of the time of that highly-
overrated woman, Queen Elizabeth. On the ground floor there are
two hugely long galleries, with low ceilings lying parallel with
each other, and rendered additionally dark and dismal by hideous
family portraits--every one of which I should like to burn. The
rooms on the floor above the two galleries are kept in tolerable
repair, but are very seldom used. The civil housekeeper, who
acted as my guide, offered to show me over them, but considerately
added that she feared I should find them rather out of order. My
respect for the integrity of my own petticoats and stockings
infinitely exceeds my respect for all the Elizabethan bedrooms in
the kingdom, so I positively declined exploring the upper regions
of dust and dirt at the risk of soiling my nice clean clothes.
The housekeeper said, "I am quite of your opinion, miss," and
appeared to think me the most sensible woman she had met with for
a long time past.
So much, then, for the main building. Two wings are added at
either end of it. The half-ruined wing on the left (as you
approach the house) was once a place of residence standing by
itself, and was built in the fourteenth century. One of Sir
Percival's maternal ancestors--I don't remember, and don't care
which--tacked on the main building, at right angles to it, in the
aforesaid Queen Elizabeth's time. The housekeeper told me that
the architecture of "the old wing," both outside and inside, was
considered remarkably fine by good judges. On further
investigation I discovered that good judges could only exercise
their abilities on Sir Percival's piece of antiquity by previously
dismissing from their minds all fear of damp, darkness, and rats.
Under these circumstances, I unhesitatingly acknowledged myself to
be no judge at all, and suggested that we should treat "the old
wing" precisely as we had previously treated the Elizabethan
bedrooms. Once more the housekeeper said, "I am quite of your
opinion, miss," and once more she looked at me with undisguised
admiration of my extraordinary common-sense.
We went next to the wing on the right, which was built, by way of
completing the wonderful architectural jumble at Blackwater Park,
in the time of George the Second.
This is the habitable part of the house, which has been repaired
and redecorated inside on Laura's account. My two rooms, and all
the good bedrooms besides, are on the first floor, and the
basement contains a drawing-room, a dining-room, a morning-room, a
library, and a pretty little boudoir for Laura, all very nicely
ornamented in the bright modern way, and all very elegantly
furnished with the delightful modern luxuries. None of the rooms
are anything like so large and airy as our rooms at Limmeridge,
but they all look pleasant to live in. I was terribly afraid,
from what I had heard of Blackwater Park, of fatiguing antique
chairs, and dismal stained glass, and musty, frouzy hangings, and
all the barbarous lumber which people born without a sense of
comfort accumulate about them, in defiance of the consideration
due to the convenience of their friends. It is an inexpressible
relief to find that the nineteenth century has invaded this
strange future home of mine, and has swept the dirty "good old
times" out of the way of our daily life.
I dawdled away the morning--part of the time in the rooms
downstairs, and part out of doors in the great square which is
formed by the three sides of the house, and by the lofty iron
railings and gates which protect it in front. A large circular
fishpond with stone sides, and an allegorical leaden monster in
the middle, occupies the centre of the square. The pond itself is
full of gold and silver fish, and is encircled by a broad belt of
the softest turf I ever walked on. I loitered here on the shady
side pleasantly enough till luncheon-time, and after that took my
broad straw hat and wandered out alone in the warm lovely sunlight
to explore the grounds.
Daylight confirmed the impression which I had felt the night
before, of there being too many trees at Blackwater. The house is
stifled by them. They are, for the most part, young, and planted
far too thickly. I suspect there must have been a ruinous cutting
down of timber all over the estate before Sir Percival's time, and
an angry anxiety on the part of the next possessor to fill up all
the gaps as thickly and rapidly as possible. After looking about
me in front of the house, I observed a flower-garden on my left
hand, and walked towards it to see what I could discover in that
On a nearer view the garden proved to be small and poor and ill
kept. I left it behind me, opened a little gate in a ring fence,
and found myself in a plantation of fir-trees.
A pretty winding path, artificially made, led me on among the
trees, and my north-country experience soon informed me that I was
approaching sandy, heathy ground. After a walk of more than half
a mile, I should think, among the firs, the path took a sharp
turn--the trees abruptly ceased to appear on either side of me,
and I found myself standing suddenly on the margin of a vast open
space, and looking down at the Blackwater lake from which the
house takes its name.
The ground, shelving away below me, was all sand, with a few
little heathy hillocks to break the monotony of it in certain
places. The lake itself had evidently once flowed to the spot on
which I stood, and had been gradually wasted and dried up to less
than a third of its former size. I saw its still, stagnant
waters, a quarter of a mile away from me in the hollow, separated
into pools and ponds by twining reeds and rushes, and little
knolls of earth. On the farther bank from me the trees rose
thickly again, and shut out the view, and cast their black shadows
on the sluggish, shallow water. As I walked down to the lake, I
saw that the ground on its farther side was damp and marshy,
overgrown with rank grass and dismal willows. The water, which
was clear enough on the open sandy side, where the sun shone,
looked black and poisonous opposite to me, where it lay deeper
under the shade of the spongy banks, and the rank overhanging
thickets and tangled trees. The frogs were croaking, and the rats
were slipping in and out of the shadowy water, like live shadows
themselves, as I got nearer to the marshy side of the lake. I saw
here, lying half in and half out of the water, the rotten wreck of
an old overturned boat, with a sickly spot of sunlight glimmering
through a gap in the trees on its dry surface, and a snake basking
in the midst of the spot, fantastically coiled and treacherously
still. Far and near the view suggested the same dreary
impressions of solitude and decay, and the glorious brightness of
the summer sky overhead seemed only to deepen and harden the gloom
and barrenness of the wilderness on which it shone. I turned and
retraced my steps to the high heathy ground, directing them a
little aside from my former path towards a shabby old wooden shed,
which stood on the outer skirt of the fir plantation, and which
had hitherto been too unimportant to share my notice with the
wide, wild prospect of the lake.
On approaching the shed I found that it had once been a boat-
house, and that an attempt had apparently been made to convert it
afterwards into a sort of rude arbour, by placing inside it a
firwood seat, a few stools, and a table. I entered the place, and
sat down for a little while to rest and get my breath again.
I had not been in the boat-house more than a minute when it struck
me that the sound of my own quick breathing was very strangely
echoed by something beneath me. I listened intently for a moment,
and heard a low, thick, sobbing breath that seemed to come from
the ground under the seat which I was occupying. My nerves are
not easily shaken by trifles, but on this occasion I started to my
feet in a fright--called out--received no answer--summoned back my
recreant courage, and looked under the seat.
There, crouched up in the farthest corner, lay the forlorn cause
of my terror, in the shape of a poor little dog--a black and white
spaniel. The creature moaned feebly when I looked at it and
called to it, but never stirred. I moved away the seat and looked
closer. The poor little dog's eyes were glazing fast, and there
were spots of blood on its glossy white side. The misery of a
weak, helpless, dumb creature is surely one of the saddest of all
the mournful sights which this world can show. I lifted the poor
dog in my arms as gently as I could, and contrived a sort of make-
shift hammock for him to lie in, by gathering up the front of my
dress all round him. In this way I took the creature, as
painlessly as possible, and as fast as possible, back to the
Finding no one in the hall I went up at once to my own sitting-
room, made a bed for the dog with one of my old shawls, and rang
the bell. The largest and fattest of all possible house-maids
answered it, in a state of cheerful stupidity which would have
provoked the patience of a saint. The girl's fat, shapeless face
actually stretched into a broad grin at the sight of the wounded
creature on the floor.
"What do you see there to laugh at?" I asked, as angrily as if she
had been a servant of my own. "Do you know whose dog it is?"
"No, miss, that I certainly don't." She stooped, and looked down
at the spaniel's injured side--brightened suddenly with the
irradiation of a new idea--and pointing to the wound with a
chuckle of satisfaction, said, "That's Baxter's doings, that is."
I was so exasperated that I could have boxed her ears. "Baxter?"
I said. "Who is the brute you call Baxter?"
The girl grinned again more cheerfully than ever. "Bless you,
miss! Baxter's the keeper, and when he finds strange dogs hunting
about, he takes and shoots 'em. It's keeper's dooty miss, I think
that dog will die. Here's where he's been shot, ain't it? That's
Baxter's doings, that is. Baxter's doings, miss, and Baxter's
I was almost wicked enough to wish that Baxter had shot the
housemaid instead of the dog. Seeing that it was quite useless to
expect this densely impenetrable personage to give me any help in
relieving the suffering creature at our feet, I told her to
request the housekeeper's attendance with my compliments. She
went out exactly as she had come in, grinning from ear to ear. As
the door closed on her she said to herself softly, "It's Baxter's
doings and Baxter's dooty--that's what it is."
The housekeeper, a person of some education and intelligence,
thoughtfully brought upstairs with her some milk and some warm
water. The instant she saw the dog on the floor she started and
"Why, Lord bless me," cried the housekeeper, "that must be Mrs.
"Whose?" I asked, in the utmost astonishment.
"Mrs. Catherick's. You seem to know Mrs. Catherick, Miss
"Not personally, but I have heard of her. Does she live here? Has
she had any news of her daughter?"
"No, Miss Halcombe, she came here to ask for news."
"Only yesterday. She said some one had reported that a stranger
answering to the description of her daughter had been seen in our
neighbourhood. No such report has reached us here, and no such
report was known in the village, when I sent to make inquiries
there on Mrs. Catherick's account. She certainly brought this
poor little dog with her when she came, and I saw it trot out
after her when she went away. I suppose the creature strayed into
the plantations, and got shot. Where did you find it, Miss
"In the old shed that looks out on the lake."
"Ah, yes, that is the plantation side, and the poor thing dragged
itself, I suppose, to the nearest shelter, as dogs will, to die.
If you can moisten its lips with the milk, Miss Halcombe, I will
wash the clotted hair from the wound. I am very much afraid it is
too late to do any good. However, we can but try."
Mrs. Catherick! The name still rang in my ears, as if the
housekeeper had only that moment surprised me by uttering it.
While we were attending to the dog, the words of Walter
Hartright's caution to me returned to my memory: "If ever Anne
Catherick crosses your path, make better use of the opportunity,
Miss Halcombe, than I made of it." The finding of the wounded
spaniel had led me already to the discovery of Mrs. Catherick's
visit to Blackwater Park, and that event might lead in its turn,
to something more. I determined to make the most of the chance
which was now offered to me, and to gain as much information as I
"Did you say that Mrs. Catherick lived anywhere in this
neighbourhood?" I asked.
"Oh dear, no," said the housekeeper. "She lives at Welmingham,
quite at the other end of the county--five-and-twenty miles off,
"I suppose you have known Mrs. Catherick for some years?"
"On the contrary, Miss Halcombe, I never saw her before she came
here yesterday. I had heard of her, of course, because I had
heard of Sir Percival's kindness in putting her daughter under
medical care. Mrs. Catherick is rather a strange person in her
manners, but extremely respectable-looking. She seemed sorely put
out when she found that there was no foundation--none, at least,
that any of us could discover--for the report of her daughter
having been seen in this neighbourhood."
"I am rather interested about Mrs. Catherick," I went on,
continuing the conversation as long as possible. "I wish I had
arrived here soon enough to see her yesterday. Did she stay for
any length of time?"
"Yes," said the housekeeper, "she stayed for some time; and I
think she would have remained longer, if I had not been called
away to speak to a strange gentleman--a gentleman who came to ask
when Sir Percival was expected back. Mrs. Catherick got up and
left at once, when she heard the maid tell me what the visitor's
errand was. She said to me, at parting, that there was no need to
tell Sir Percival of her coming here. I thought that rather an
odd remark to make, especially to a person in my responsible
I thought it an odd remark too. Sir Percival had certainly led me
to believe, at Limmeridge, that the most perfect confidence
existed between himself and Mrs. Catherick. If that was the case,
why should she be anxious to have her visit at Blackwater Park
kept a secret from him?
"Probably," I said, seeing that the housekeeper expected me to
give my opinion on Mrs. Catherick's parting words, "probably she
thought the announcement of her visit might vex Sir Percival to no
purpose, by reminding him that her lost daughter was not found
yet. Did she talk much on that subject?"
"Very little," replied the housekeeper. "She talked principally
of Sir Percival, and asked a great many questions about where he
had been travelling, and what sort of lady his new wife was. She
seemed to be more soured and put out than distressed, by failing
to find any traces of her daughter in these parts. 'I give her
up,' were the last words she said that I can remember; 'I give her
up, ma'am, for lost.' And from that she passed at once to her
questions about Lady Glyde, wanting to know if she was a handsome,
amiable lady, comely and healthy and young----Ah, dear! I thought
how it would end. Look, Miss Halcombe, the poor thing is out of
its misery at last!"
The dog was dead. It had given a faint, sobbing cry, it had
suffered an instant's convulsion of the limbs, just as those last
words, "comely and healthy and young," dropped from the
housekeeper's lips. The change had happened with startling
suddenness--in one moment the creature lay lifeless under our
Eight o'clock. I have just returned from dining downstairs, in
solitary state. The sunset is burning redly on the wilderness of
trees that I see from my window, and I am poring over my journal
again, to calm my impatience for the return of the travellers.
They ought to have arrived, by my calculations, before this. How
still and lonely the house is in the drowsy evening quiet! Oh me!
how many minutes more before I hear the carriage wheels and run
downstairs to find myself in Laura's arms?
The poor little dog! I wish my first day at Blackwater Park had
not been associated with death, though it is only the death of a
Welmingham--I see, on looking back through these private pages of
mine, that Welmingham is the name of the place where Mrs.
Catherick lives. Her note is still in my possession, the note in
answer to that letter about her unhappy daughter which Sir
Percival obliged me to write. One of these days, when I can find
a safe opportunity, I will take the note with me by way of
introduction, and try what I can make of Mrs. Catherick at a
personal interview. I don't understand her wishing to conceal her
visit to this place from Sir Percival's knowledge, and I don't
feel half so sure, as the housekeeper seems to do, that her
daughter Anne is not in the neighbourhood after all. What would
Walter Hartright have said in this emergency? Poor, dear
Hartright! I am beginning to feel the want of his honest advice
and his willing help already.
Surely I heard something. Was it a bustle of footsteps below
stairs? Yes! I hear the horses' feet--I hear the rolling wheels----
June 15th.--The confusion of their arrival has had time to
subside. Two days have elapsed since the return of the
travellers, and that interval has sufficed to put the new
machinery of our lives at Blackwater Park in fair working order.
I may now return to my journal, with some little chance of being
able to continue the entries in it as collectedly as usual.
I think I must begin by putting down an odd remark which has
suggested itself to me since Laura came back.
When two members of a family or two intimate friends are
separated, and one goes abroad and one remains at home, the return
of the relative or friend who has been travelling always seems to
place the relative or friend who has been staying at home at a
painful disadvantage when the two first meet. The sudden
encounter of the new thoughts and new habits eagerly gained in the
one case, with the old thoughts and old habits passively preserved
in the other, seems at first to part the sympathies of the most
loving relatives and the fondest friends, and to set a sudden
strangeness, unexpected by both and uncontrollable by both,
between them on either side. After the first happiness of my
meeting with Laura was over, after we had sat down together hand
in hand to recover breath enough and calmness enough to talk, I
felt this strangeness instantly, and I could see that she felt it
too. It has partially worn away, now that we have fallen back
into most of our old habits, and it will probably disappear before
long. But it has certainly had an influence over the first
impressions that I have formed of her, now that we are living
together again--for which reason only I have thought fit to
mention it here.
She has found me unaltered, but I have found her changed.
Changed in person, and in one respect changed in character. I
cannot absolutely say that she is less beautiful than she used to
be--I can only say that she is less beautiful to me.
Others, who do not look at her with my eyes and my recollections,
would probably think her improved. There is more colour and more
decision and roundness of outline in her face than there used to
be, and her figure seems more firmly set and more sure and easy in
all its movements than it was in her maiden days. But I miss
something when I look at her--something that once belonged to the
happy, innocent life of Laura Fairlie, and that I cannot find in
Lady Glyde. There was in the old times a freshness, a softness,
an ever-varying and yet ever-remaining tenderness of beauty in her
face, the charm of which it is not possible to express in words,
or, as poor Hartright used often to say, in painting either. This
is gone. I thought I saw the faint reflection of it for a moment
when she turned pale under the agitation of our sudden meeting on
the evening of her return, but it has never reappeared since.
None of her letters had prepared me for a personal change in her.
On the contrary, they had led me to expect that her marriage had
left her, in appearance at least, quite unaltered. Perhaps I read
her letters wrongly in the past, and am now reading her face
wrongly in the present? No matter! Whether her beauty has gained
or whether it has lost in the last six months, the separation
either way has made her own dear self more precious to me than
ever, and that is one good result of her marriage, at any rate!
The second change, the change that I have observed in her
character, has not surprised me, because I was prepared for it in
this case by the tone of her letters. Now that she is at home
again, I find her just as unwilling to enter into any details on
the subject of her married life as I had previously found her all
through the time of our separation, when we could only communicate
with each other by writing. At the first approach I made to the
forbidden topic she put her hand on my lips with a look and
gesture which touchingly, almost painfully, recalled to my memory
the days of her girlhood and the happy bygone time when there were
no secrets between us.
"Whenever you and I are together, Marian," she said, "we shall
both be happier and easier with one another, if we accept my
married life for what it is, and say and think as little about it
as possible. I would tell you everything, darling, about myself,"
she went on, nervously buckling and unbuckling the ribbon round my
waist, "if my confidences could only end there. But they could
not--they would lead me into confidences about my husband too; and
now I am married, I think I had better avoid them, for his sake,
and for your sake, and for mine. I don't say that they would
distress you, or distress me--I wouldn't have you think that for
the world. But--I want to be so happy, now I have got you back
again, and I want you to be so happy too----" She broke off
abruptly, and looked round the room, my own sitting-room, in which
we were talking. "Ah!" she cried, clapping her hands with a
bright smile of recognition, "another old friend found already!
Your bookcase, Marian--your dear-little-shabby-old-satin-wood
bookcase--how glad I am you brought it with you from Limmeridge!
And the horrid heavy man's umbrella, that you always would walk
out with when it rained! And first and foremost of all, your own
dear, dark, clever, gipsy-face, looking at me just as usual! It is
so like home again to be here. How can we make it more like home
still? I will put my father's portrait in your room instead of in
mine--and I will keep all my little treasures from Limmeridge
here--and we will pass hours and hours every day with these four
friendly walls round us. Oh, Marian!" she said, suddenly seating
herself on a footstool at my knees, and looking up earnestly in my
face, "promise you will never marry, and leave me. It is selfish
to say so, but you are so much better off as a single woman--
unless--unless you are very fond of your husband--but you won't be
very fond of anybody but me, will you?" She stopped again, crossed
my hands on my lap, and laid her face on them. "Have you been
writing many letters, and receiving many letters lately?" she
asked, in low, suddenly-altered tones. I understood what the
question meant, but I thought it my duty not to encourage her by
meeting her half way. "Have you heard from him?" she went on,
coaxing me to forgive the more direct appeal on which she now
ventured, by kissing my hands, upon which her face still rested.
"Is he well and happy, and getting on in his profession? Has he
recovered himself--and forgotten me?"
She should not have asked those questions. She should have
remembered her own resolution, on the morning when Sir Percival
held her to her marriage engagement, and when she resigned the
book of Hartright's drawings into my hands for ever. But, ah me!
where is the faultless human creature who can persevere in a good
resolution, without sometimes failing and falling back? Where is
the woman who has ever really torn from her heart the image that
has been once fixed in it by a true love? Books tell us that such
unearthly creatures have existed--but what does our own experience
say in answer to books?
I made no attempt to remonstrate with her: perhaps, because I
sincerely appreciated the fearless candour which let me see, what
other women in her position might have had reasons for concealing
even from their dearest friends--perhaps, because I felt, in my
own heart and conscience, that in her place I should have asked
the same questions and had the same thoughts. All I could
honestly do was to reply that I had not written to him or heard
from him lately, and then to turn the conversation to less
There has been much to sadden me in our interview--my first
confidential interview with her since her return. The change
which her marriage has produced in our relations towards each
other, by placing a forbidden subject between us, for the first
time in our lives; the melancholy conviction of the dearth of all
warmth of feeling, of all close sympathy, between her husband and
herself, which her own unwilling words now force on my mind; the
distressing discovery that the influence of that ill-fated
attachment still remains (no matter how innocently, how
harmlessly) rooted as deeply as ever in her heart--all these are
disclosures to sadden any woman who loves her as dearly, and feels
for her as acutely, as I do.
There is only one consolation to set against them--a consolation
that ought to comfort me, and that does comfort me. All the
graces and gentleness of her character--all the frank affection of
her nature--all the sweet, simple, womanly charms which used to
make her the darling and delight of every one who approached her,
have come back to me with herself. Of my other impressions I am
sometimes a little inclined to doubt. Of this last, best,
happiest of all impressions, I grow more and more certain every
hour in the day.
Let me turn, now, from her to her travelling companions. Her
husband must engage my attention first. What have I observed in
Sir Percival, since his return, to improve my opinion of him?
I can hardly say. Small vexations and annoyances seem to have
beset him since he came back, and no man, under those
circumstances, is ever presented at his best. He looks, as I
think, thinner than he was when he left England. His wearisome
cough and his comfortless restlessness have certainly increased.
His manner--at least his manner towards me--is much more abrupt
than it used to be. He greeted me, on the evening of his return,
with little or nothing of the ceremony and civility of former
times--no polite speeches of welcome--no appearance of
extraordinary gratification at seeing me--nothing but a short
shake of the hand, and a sharp "How-d'ye-do, Miss Halcombe--glad
to see you again." He seemed to accept me as one of the necessary
fixtures of Blackwater Park, to be satisfied at finding me
established in my proper place, and then to pass me over
Most men show something of their disposition in their own houses,
which they have concealed elsewhere, and Sir Percival has already
displayed a mania for order and regularity, which is quite a new
revelation of him, so far as my previous knowledge of his
character is concerned. If I take a book from the library and
leave it on the table, he follows me and puts it back again. If I
rise from a chair, and let it remain where I have been sitting, he
carefully restores it to its proper place against the wall. He
picks up stray flower-blossoms from the carpet, and mutters to
himself as discontentedly as if they were hot cinders burning
holes in it, and he storms at the servants if there is a crease in
the tablecloth, or a knife missing from its place at the dinner-
table, as fiercely as if they had personally insulted him.
I have already referred to the small annoyances which appear to
have troubled him since his return. Much of the alteration for
the worse which I have noticed in him may be due to these. I try
to persuade myself that it is so, because I am anxious not to be
disheartened already about the future. It is certainly trying to
any man's temper to be met by a vexation the moment he sets foot
in his own house again, after a long absence, and this annoying
circumstance did really happen to Sir Percival in my presence.
On the evening of their arrival the housekeeper followed me into
the hall to receive her master and mistress and their guests. The
instant he saw her, Sir Percival asked if any one had called
lately. The housekeeper mentioned to him, in reply, what she had
previously mentioned to me, the visit of the strange gentleman to
make inquiries about the time of her master's return. He asked
immediately for the gentleman's name. No name had been left. The
gentleman's business? No business had been mentioned. What was
the gentleman like? The housekeeper tried to describe him, but
failed to distinguish the nameless visitor by any personal
peculiarity which her master could recognise. Sir Percival
frowned, stamped angrily on the floor, and walked on into the
house, taking no notice of anybody. Why he should have been so
discomposed by a trifle I cannot say--but he was seriously
discomposed, beyond all doubt.
Upon the whole, it will be best, perhaps, if I abstain from
forming a decisive opinion of his manners, language, and conduct
in his own house, until time has enabled him to shake off the
anxieties, whatever they may be, which now evidently troubled his
mind in secret. I will turn over to a new page, and my pen shall
let Laura's husband alone for the present.
The two guests--the Count and Countess Fosco--come next in my
catalogue. I will dispose of the Countess first, so as to have
done with the woman as soon as possible.
Laura was certainly not chargeable with any exaggeration, in
writing me word that I should hardly recognise her aunt again when
we met. Never before have I beheld such a change produced in a
woman by her marriage as has been produced in Madame Fosco.
As Eleanor Fairlie (aged seven-and-thirty), she was always talking
pretentious nonsense, and always worrying the unfortunate men with
every small exaction which a vain and foolish woman can impose on
long-suffering male humanity. As Madame Fosco (aged three-and-
forty), she sits for hours together without saying a word, frozen
up in the strangest manner in herself. The hideously ridiculous
love-locks which used to hang on either side of her face are now
replaced by stiff little rows of very short curls, of the sort one
sees in old-fashioned wigs. A plain, matronly cap covers her
head, and makes her look, for the first time in her life since I
remember her, like a decent woman. Nobody (putting her husband
out of the question, of course) now sees in her, what everybody
once saw--I mean the structure of the female skeleton, in the
upper regions of the collar-bones and the shoulder-blades. Clad
in quiet black or grey gowns, made high round the throat--dresses
that she would have laughed at, or screamed at, as the whim of the
moment inclined her, in her maiden days--she sits speechless in
corners; her dry white hands (so dry that the pores of her skin
look chalky) incessantly engaged, either in monotonous embroidery
work or in rolling up endless cigarettes for the Count's own
particular smoking. On the few occasions when her cold blue eyes
are off her work, they are generally turned on her husband, with
the look of mute submissive inquiry which we are all familiar with
in the eyes of a faithful dog. The only approach to an inward
thaw which I have yet detected under her outer covering of icy
constraint, has betrayed itself, once or twice, in the form of a
suppressed tigerish jealousy of any woman in the house (the maids
included) to whom the Count speaks, or on whom he looks with
anything approaching to special interest or attention. Except in
this one particular, she is always, morning, noon, and night,
indoors and out, fair weather or foul, as cold as a statue, and as
impenetrable as the stone out of which it is cut. For the common
purposes of society the extraordinary change thus produced in her
is, beyond all doubt, a change for the better, seeing that it has
transformed her into a civil, silent, unobtrusive woman, who is
never in the way. How far she is really reformed or deteriorated
in her secret self, is another question. I have once or twice
seen sudden changes of expression on her pinched lips, and heard
sudden inflexions of tone in her calm voice, which have led me to
suspect that her present state of suppression may have sealed up
something dangerous in her nature, which used to evaporate
harmlessly in the freedom of her former life. It is quite
possible that I may be altogether wrong in this idea. My own
impression, however, is, that I am right. Time will show.
And the magician who has wrought this wonderful transformation--
the foreign husband who has tamed this once wayward English woman
till her own relations hardly know her again--the Count himself?
What of the Count?
This in two words: He looks like a man who could tame anything.
If he had married a tigress, instead of a woman, he would have
tamed the tigress. If he had married me, I should have made his
cigarettes, as his wife does--I should have held my tongue when he
looked at me, as she holds hers.
I am almost afraid to confess it, even to these secret pages. The
man has interested me, has attracted me, has forced me to like
him. In two short days he has made his way straight into my
favourable estimation, and how he has worked the miracle is more
than I can tell.
It absolutely startles me, now he is in my mind, to find how
plainly I see him!--how much more plainly than I see Sir Percival,
or Mr. Fairlie, or Walter Hartright, or any other absent person of
whom I think, with the one exception of Laura herself! I can hear
his voice, as if he was speaking at this moment. I know what his
conversation was yesterday, as well as if I was hearing it now.
How am I to describe him? There are peculiarities in his personal
appearance, his habits, and his amusements, which I should blame
in the boldest terms, or ridicule in the most merciless manner, if
I had seen them in another man. What is it that makes me unable
to blame them, or to ridicule them in HIM?
For example, he is immensely fat. Before this time I have always
especially disliked corpulent humanity. I have always maintained
that the popular notion of connecting excessive grossness of size
and excessive good-humour as inseparable allies was equivalent to
declaring, either that no people but amiable people ever get fat,
or that the accidental addition of so many pounds of flesh has a
directly favourable influence over the disposition of the person
on whose body they accumulate. I have invariably combated both
these absurd assertions by quoting examples of fat people who were
as mean, vicious, and cruel as the leanest and the worst of their
neighbours. I have asked whether Henry the Eighth was an amiable
character? Whether Pope Alexander the Sixth was a good man?
Whether Mr. Murderer and Mrs. Murderess Manning were not both
unusually stout people? Whether hired nurses, proverbially as
cruel a set of women as are to be found in all England, were not,
for the most part, also as fat a set of women as are to be found
in all England?--and so on, through dozens of other examples,
modern and ancient, native and foreign, high and low. Holding
these strong opinions on the subject with might and main as I do
at this moment, here, nevertheless, is Count Fosco, as fat as
Henry the Eighth himself, established in my favour, at one day's
notice, without let or hindrance from his own odious corpulence.
Is it his face that has recommended him?
It may be his face. He is a most remarkable likeness, on a large
scale, of the great Napoleon. His features have Napoleon's
magnificent regularity--his expression recalls the grandly calm,
immovable power of the Great Soldier's face. This striking
resemblance certainly impressed me, to begin with; but there is
something in him besides the resemblance, which has impressed me
more. I think the influence I am now trying to find is in his
eyes. They are the most unfathomable grey eyes I ever saw, and
they have at times a cold, clear, beautiful, irresistible glitter
in them which forces me to look at him, and yet causes me
sensations, when I do look, which I would rather not feel. Other
parts of his face and head have their strange peculiarities. His
complexion, for instance, has a singular sallow-fairness, so much
at variance with the dark-brown colour of his hair, that I suspect
the hair of being a wig, and his face, closely shaven all over, is
smoother and freer from all marks and wrinkles than mine, though
(according to Sir Percival's account of him) he is close on sixty
years of age. But these are not the prominent personal
characteristics which distinguish him, to my mind, from all the
other men I have ever seen. The marked peculiarity which singles
him out from the rank and file of humanity lies entirely, so far
as I can tell at present, in the extraordinary expression and
extraordinary power of his eyes.
His manner and his command of our language may also have assisted
him, in some degree, to establish himself in my good opinion. He
has that quiet deference, that look of pleased, attentive interest
in listening to a woman, and that secret gentleness in his voice
in speaking to a woman, which, say what we may, we can none of us
resist. Here, too, his unusual command of the English language
necessarily helps him. I had often heard of the extraordinary
aptitude which many Italians show in mastering our strong, hard,
Northern speech; but, until I saw Count Fosco, I had never
supposed it possible that any foreigner could have spoken English
as he speaks it. There are times when it is almost impossible to
detect, by his accent that he is not a countryman of our own, and
as for fluency, there are very few born Englishmen who can talk
with as few stoppages and repetitions as the Count. He may
construct his sentences more or less in the foreign way, but I
have never yet heard him use a wrong expression, or hesitate for a
moment in his choice of a word.
All the smallest characteristics of this strange man have
something strikingly original and perplexingly contradictory in
them. Fat as he is and old as he is, his movements are
astonishingly light and easy. He is as noiseless in a room as any
of us women, and more than that, with all his look of unmistakable
mental firmness and power, he is as nervously sensitive as the
weakest of us. He starts at chance noises as inveterately as
Laura herself. He winced and shuddered yesterday, when Sir
Percival beat one of the spaniels, so that I felt ashamed of my
own want of tenderness and sensibility by comparison with the
The relation of this last incident reminds me of one of his most
curious peculiarities, which I have not yet mentioned--his
extraordinary fondness for pet animals.
Some of these he has left on the Continent, but he has brought
with him to this house a cockatoo, two canary-birds, and a whole
family of white mice. He attends to all the necessities of these
strange favourites himself, and he has taught the creatures to be
surprisingly fond of him and familiar with him. The cockatoo, a
most vicious and treacherous bird towards every one else,
absolutely seems to love him. When he lets it out of its cage, it
hops on to his knee, and claws its way up his great big body, and
rubs its top-knot against his sallow double chin in the most
caressing manner imaginable. He has only to set the doors of the
canaries' cages open, and to call them, and the pretty little
cleverly trained creatures perch fearlessly on his hand, mount his
fat outstretched fingers one by one, when he tells them to "go
upstairs," and sing together as if they would burst their throats
with delight when they get to the top finger. His white mice live
in a little pagoda of gaily-painted wirework, designed and made by
himself. They are almost as tame as the canaries, and they are
perpetually let out like the canaries. They crawl all over him,
popping in and out of his waistcoat, and sitting in couples, white
as snow, on his capacious shoulders. He seems to be even fonder
of his mice than of his other pets, smiles at them, and kisses
them, and calls them by all sorts of endearing names. If it be
possible to suppose an Englishman with any taste for such childish
interests and amusements as these, that Englishman would certainly
feel rather ashamed of them, and would be anxious to apologise for
them, in the company of grown-up people. But the Count,
apparently, sees nothing ridiculous in the amazing contrast
between his colossal self and his frail little pets. He would
blandly kiss his white mice and twitter to his canary-birds amid
an assembly of English fox-hunters, and would only pity them as
barbarians when they were all laughing their loudest at him.
It seems hardly credible while I am writing it down, but it is
certainly true, that this same man, who has all the fondness of an
old maid for his cockatoo, and all the small dexterities of an
organ-boy in managing his white mice, can talk, when anything
happens to rouse him, with a daring independence of thought, a
knowledge of books in every language, and an experience of society
in half the capitals of Europe, which would make him the prominent
personage of any assembly in the civilised world. This trainer of
canary-birds, this architect of a pagoda for white mice, is (as
Sir Percival himself has told me) one of the first experimental
chemists living, and has discovered, among other wonderful
inventions, a means of petrifying the body after death, so as to
preserve it, as hard as marble, to the end of time. This fat,
indolent, elderly man, whose nerves are so finely strung that he
starts at chance noises, and winces when he sees a house-spaniel
get a whipping, went into the stable-yard on the morning after his
arrival, and put his hand on the head of a chained bloodhound--a
beast so savage that the very groom who feeds him keeps out of his
reach. His wife and I were present, and I shall not forget the
scene that followed, short as it was.
"Mind that dog, sir," said the groom; "he flies at everybody!" "He
does that, my friend," replied the Count quietly, "because
everybody is afraid of him. Let us see if he flies at me." And he
laid his plump, yellow-white fingers, on which the canary-birds
had been perching ten minutes before, upon the formidable brute's
head, and looked him straight in the eyes. "You big dogs are all
cowards," he said, addressing the animal contemptuously, with his
face and the dog's within an inch of each other. "You would kill
a poor cat, you infernal coward. You would fly at a starving
beggar, you infernal coward. Anything that you can surprise
unawares--anything that is afraid of your big body, and your
wicked white teeth, and your slobbering, bloodthirsty mouth, is
the thing you like to fly at. You could throttle me at this
moment, you mean, miserable bully, and you daren't so much as look
me in the face, because I'm not afraid of you. Will you think
better of it, and try your teeth in my fat neck? Bah! not you!" He
turned away, laughing at the astonishment of the men in the yard,
and the dog crept back meekly to his kennel. "Ah! my nice
waistcoat!" he said pathetically. "I am sorry I came here. Some
of that brute's slobber has got on my pretty clean waistcoat."
Those words express another of his incomprehensible oddities. He
is as fond of fine clothes as the veriest fool in existence, and
has appeared in four magnificent waistcoats already--all of light
garish colours, and all immensely large even for him--in the two
days of his residence at Blackwater Park.
His tact and cleverness in small things are quite as noticeable as
the singular inconsistencies in his character, and the childish
triviality of his ordinary tastes and pursuits.
I can see already that he means to live on excellent terms with
all of us during the period of his sojourn in this place. He has
evidently discovered that Laura secretly dislikes him (she
confessed as much to me when I pressed her on the subject)--but he
has also found out that she is extravagantly fond of flowers.
Whenever she wants a nosegay he has got one to give her, gathered
and arranged by himself, and greatly to my amusement, he is always
cunningly provided with a duplicate, composed of exactly the same
flowers, grouped in exactly the same way, to appease his icily
jealous wife before she can so much as think herself aggrieved.
His management of the Countess (in public) is a sight to see. He
bows to her, he habitually addresses her as "my angel," he carries
his canaries to pay her little visits on his fingers and to sing
to her, he kisses her hand when she gives him his cigarettes; he
presents her with sugar-plums in return, which he puts into her
mouth playfully, from a box in his pocket. The rod of iron with
which he rules her never appears in company--it is a private rod,
and is always kept upstairs.
His method of recommending himself to me is entirely different.
He flatters my vanity by talking to me as seriously and sensibly
as if I was a man. Yes! I can find him out when I am away from
him--I know he flatters my vanity, when I think of him up here in
my own room--and yet, when I go downstairs, and get into his
company again, he will blind me again, and I shall be flattered
again, just as if I had never found him out at all! He can manage
me as he manages his wife and Laura, as he managed the bloodhound
in the stable-yard, as he manages Sir Percival himself, every hour
in the day. "My good Percival! how I like your rough English
humour!"--"My good Percival! how I enjoy your solid English
sense!" He puts the rudest remarks Sir Percival can make on his
effeminate tastes and amusements quietly away from him in that
manner--always calling the baronet by his Christian name, smiling
at him with the calmest superiority, patting him on the shoulder,
and bearing with him benignantly, as a good-humoured father bears
with a wayward son.
The interest which I really cannot help feeling in this strangely
original man has led me to question Sir Percival about his past
Sir Percival either knows little, or will tell me little, about
it. He and the Count first met many years ago, at Rome, under the
dangerous circumstances to which I have alluded elsewhere. Since
that time they have been perpetually together in London, in Paris,
and in Vienna--but never in Italy again; the Count having, oddly
enough, not crossed the frontiers of his native country for years
past. Perhaps he has been made the victim of some political
persecution? At all events, he seems to be patriotically anxious
not to lose sight of any of his own countrymen who may happen to
be in England. On the evening of his arrival he asked how far we
were from the nearest town, and whether we knew of any Italian
gentlemen who might happen to be settled there. He is certainly
in correspondence with people on the Continent, for his letters
have all sorts of odd stamps on them, and I saw one for him this
morning, waiting in his place at the breakfast-table, with a huge,
official-looking seal on it. Perhaps he is in correspondence with
his government? And yet, that is hardly to be reconciled either
with my other idea that he may be a political exile.
How much I seem to have written about Count Fosco! And what does
it all amount to?--as poor, dear Mr. Gilmore would ask, in his
impenetrable business-like way I can only repeat that I do
assuredly feel, even on this short acquaintance, a strange, half-
willing, half-unwilling liking for the Count. He seems to have
established over me the same sort of ascendency which he has
evidently gained over Sir Percival. Free, and even rude, as he
may occasionally be in his manner towards his fat friend, Sir
Percival is nevertheless afraid, as I can plainly see, of giving
any serious offence to the Count. I wonder whether I am afraid
too? I certainly never saw a man, in all my experience, whom I
should be so sorry to have for an enemy. Is this because I like
him, or because I am afraid of him? Chi sa?--as Count Fosco might
say in his own language. Who knows?
June 16th.--Something to chronicle to-day besides my own ideas and
impressions. A visitor has arrived--quite unknown to Laura and to
me, and apparently quite unexpected by Sir Percival.
We were all at lunch, in the room with the new French windows that
open into the verandah, and the Count (who devours pastry as I
have never yet seen it devoured by any human beings but girls at
boarding-schools) had just amused us by asking gravely for his
fourth tart--when the servant entered to announce the visitor.
"Mr. Merriman has just come, Sir Percival, and wishes to see you
Sir Percival started, and looked at the man with an expression of
"Mr. Merriman!" he repeated, as if he thought his own ears must
have deceived him.
"Yes, Sir Percival--Mr. Merriman, from London."
"Where is he?"
"In the library, Sir Percival."
He left the table the instant the last answer was given, and
hurried out of the room without saying a word to any of us.
"Who is Mr. Merriman?" asked Laura, appealing to me.
"I have not the least idea," was all I could say in reply.
The Count had finished his fourth tart, and had gone to a side-
table to look after his vicious cockatoo. He turned round to us
with the bird perched on his shoulder.
"Mr. Merriman is Sir Percival's solicitor," he said quietly.
Sir Percival's solicitor. It was a perfectly straightforward
answer to Laura's question, and yet, under the circumstances, it
was not satisfactory. If Mr. Merriman had been specially sent for
by his client, there would have been nothing very wonderful in his
leaving town to obey the summons. But when a lawyer travels from
London to Hampshire without being sent for, and when his arrival
at a gentleman's house seriously startles the gentleman himself,
it may be safely taken for granted that the legal visitor is the
bearer of some very important and very unexpected news--news which
may be either very good or very bad, but which cannot, in either
case, be of the common everyday kind.
Laura and I sat silent at the table for a quarter of an hour or
more, wondering uneasily what had happened, and waiting for the
chance of Sir Percival's speedy return. There were no signs of
his return, and we rose to leave the room.
The Count, attentive as usual, advanced from the corner in which
he had been feeding his cockatoo, with the bird still perched on
his shoulder, and opened the door for us. Laura and Madame Fosco
went out first. Just as I was on the point of following them he
made a sign with his hand, and spoke to me, before I passed him,
in the oddest manner.
"Yes," he said, quietly answering the unexpressed idea at that
moment in my mind, as if I had plainly confided it to him in so
many words--" yes, Miss Halcombe, something HAS happened."
I was on the point of answering, "I never said so," but the
vicious cockatoo ruffled his clipped wings and gave a screech that
set all my nerves on edge in an instant, and made me only too glad
to get out of the room.
I joined Laura at the foot of the stairs. The thought in her mind
was the same as the thought in mine, which Count Fosco had
surprised, and when she spoke her words were almost the echo of
his. She, too, said to me secretly that she was afraid something
June 16th.--I have a few lines more to add to this day's entry
before I go to bed to-night.
About two hours after Sir Percival rose from the luncheon-table to
receive his solicitor, Mr. Merriman, in the library, I left my
room alone to take a walk in the plantations. Just as I was at
the end of the landing the library door opened and the two
gentlemen came out. Thinking it best not to disturb them by
appearing on the stairs, I resolved to defer going down till they
had crossed the hall. Although they spoke to each other in
guarded tones, their words were pronounced with sufficient
distinctness of utterance to reach my ears.
"Make your mind easy, Sir Percival," I heard the lawyer say; "it
all rests with Lady Glyde."
I had turned to go back to my own room for a minute or two, but
the sound of Laura's name on the lips of a stranger stopped me
instantly. I daresay it was very wrong and very discreditable to
listen, but where is the woman, in the whole range of our sex, who
can regulate her actions by the abstract principles of honour,
when those principles point one way, and when her affections, and
the interests which grow out of them, point the other?
I listened--and under similar circumstances I would listen again--
yes! with my ear at the keyhole, if I could not possibly manage it
in any other way.
"You quite understand, Sir Percival," the lawyer went on. "Lady
Glyde is to sign her name in the presence of a witness--or of two
witnesses, if you wish to be particularly careful--and is then to
put her finger on the seal and say, 'I deliver this as my act and
deed.' If that is done in a week's time the arrangement will be
perfectly successful, and the anxiety will be all over. If not----"
"What do you mean by 'if not'?" asked Sir Percival angrily. "If
the thing must be done it SHALL be done. I promise you that,
"Just so, Sir Percival--just so; but there are two alternatives in
all transactions, and we lawyers like to look both of them in the
face boldly. If through any extraordinary circumstance the
arrangement should not be made, I think I may be able to get the
parties to accept bills at three months. But how the money is to
be raised when the bills fall due----"
"Damn the bills! The money is only to be got in one way, and in
that way, I tell you again, it SHALL be got. Take a glass of
wine, Merriman, before you go."
"Much obliged, Sir Percival, I have not a moment to lose if I am
to catch the up-train. You will let me know as soon as the
arrangement is complete? and you will not forget the caution I
"Of course I won't. There's the dog-cart at the door for you. My
groom will get you to the station in no time. Benjamin, drive
like mad! Jump in. If Mr. Merriman misses the train you lose your
place. Hold fast, Merriman, and if you are upset trust to the
devil to save his own." With that parting benediction the baronet
turned about and walked back to the library.
I had not heard much, but the little that had reached my ears was
enough to make me feel uneasy. The "something" that "had
happened" was but too plainly a serious money embarrassment, and
Sir Percival's relief from it depended upon Laura. The prospect
of seeing her involved in her husband's secret difficulties filled
me with dismay, exaggerated, no doubt, by my ignorance of business
and my settled distrust of Sir Percival. Instead of going out, as
I proposed, I went back immediately to Laura's room to tell her
what I had heard.
She received my bad news so composedly as to surprise me. She
evidently knows more of her husband's character and her husband's
embarrassments than I have suspected up to this time.
"I feared as much," she said, "when I heard of that strange
gentleman who called, and declined to leave his name."
"Who do you think the gentleman was, then?" I asked.
"Some person who has heavy claims on Sir Percival," she answered,
"and who has been the cause of Mr. Merriman's visit here to-day."
"Do you know anything about those claims?"
"No, I know no particulars."
"You will sign nothing, Laura, without first looking at it?"
"Certainly not, Marian. Whatever I can harmlessly and honestly do
to help him I will do--for the sake of making your life and mine,
love, as easy and as happy as possible. But I will do nothing
ignorantly, which we might, one day, have reason to feel ashamed
of. Let us say no more about it now. You have got your hat on--
suppose we go and dream away the afternoon in the grounds?"
On leaving the house we directed our steps to the nearest shade.
As we passed an open space among the trees in front of the house,
there was Count Fosco, slowly walking backwards and forwards on
the grass, sunning himself in the full blaze of the hot June
afternoon. He had a broad straw hat on, with a violet-coloured
ribbon round it. A blue blouse, with profuse white fancy-work
over the bosom, covered his prodigious body, and was girt about
the place where his waist might once have been with a broad
scarlet leather belt. Nankeen trousers, displaying more white
fancy-work over the ankles, and purple morocco slippers, adorned
his lower extremities. He was singing Figaro's famous song in the
Barber of Seville, with that crisply fluent vocalisation which is
never heard from any other than an Italian throat, accompanying
himself on the concertina, which he played with ecstatic
throwings-up of his arms, and graceful twistings and turnings of
his head, like a fat St. Cecilia masquerading in male attire.
"Figaro qua! Figaro la! Figaro su! Figaro giu!" sang the Count,
jauntily tossing up the concertina at arm's length, and bowing to
us, on one side of the instrument, with the airy grace and
elegance of Figaro himself at twenty years of age.
"Take my word for it, Laura, that man knows something of Sir
Percival's embarrassments," I said, as we returned the Count's
salutation from a safe distance.
"What makes you think that?" she asked.
"How should he have known, otherwise, that Mr. Merriman was Sir
Percival's solicitor?" I rejoined. "Besides, when I followed you
out of the luncheon-room, he told me, without a single word of
inquiry on my part, that something had happened. Depend upon it,
he knows more than we do."
"Don't ask him any questions if he does. Don't take him into our
"You seem to dislike him, Laura, in a very determined manner.
What has he said or done to justify you?"
"Nothing, Marian. On the contrary, he was all kindness and
attention on our journey home, and he several times checked Sir
Percival's outbreaks of temper, in the most considerate manner
towards me. Perhaps I dislike him because he has so much more
power over my husband than I have. Perhaps it hurts my pride to
be under any obligations to his interference. All I know is, that
I DO dislike him."
The rest of the day and evening passed quietly enough. The Count
and I played at chess. For the first two games he politely
allowed me to conquer him, and then, when he saw that I had found
him out, begged my pardon, and at the third game checkmated me in
ten minutes. Sir Percival never once referred, all through the
evening, to the lawyer's visit. But either that event, or
something else, had produced a singular alteration for the better
in him. He was as polite and agreeable to all of us, as he used
to be in the days of his probation at Limmeridge, and he was so
amazingly attentive and kind to his wife, that even icy Madame
Fosco was roused into looking at him with a grave surprise. What
does this mean? I think I can guess--I am afraid Laura can guess--
and I am sure Count Fosco knows. I caught Sir Percival looking at
him for approval more than once in the course of the evening.
June 17th.--A day of events. I most fervently hope I may not have
to add, a day of disasters as well.
Sir Percival was as silent at breakfast as he had been the evening
before, on the subject of the mysterious "arrangement" (as the
lawyer called it) which is hanging over our heads. An hour
afterwards, however, he suddenly entered the morning-room, where
his wife and I were waiting, with our hats on, for Madame Fosco to
join us, and inquired for the Count.
"We expect to see him here directly," I said.
"The fact is," Sir Percival went on, walking nervously about the
room, "I want Fosco and his wife in the library, for a mere
business formality, and I want you there, Laura, for a minute
too." He stopped, and appeared to notice, for the first time, that
we were in our walking costume. "Have you just come in?" he
asked, "or were you just going out?"
"We were all thinking of going to the lake this morning," said
Laura. "But if you have any other arrangement to propose----"
"No, no," he answered hastily. "My arrangement can wait. After
lunch will do as well for it as after breakfast. All going to the
lake, eh? A good idea. Let's have an idle morning--I'll be one of
There was no mistaking his manner, even if it had been possible to
mistake the uncharacteristic readiness which his words expressed,
to submit his own plans and projects to the convenience of others.
He was evidently relieved at finding any excuse for delaying the
business formality in the library, to which his own words had
referred. My heart sank within me as I drew the inevitable
The Count and his wife joined us at that moment. The lady had her
husband's embroidered tobacco-pouch, and her store of paper in her
hand, for the manufacture of the eternal cigarettes. The
gentleman, dressed, as usual, in his blouse and straw hat, carried
the gay little pagoda-cage, with his darling white mice in it, and
smiled on them, and on us, with a bland amiability which it was
impossible to resist.
"With your kind permission," said the Count, "I will take my small
family here--my poor-little-harmless-pretty-Mouseys, out for an
airing along with us. There are dogs about the house, and shall I
leave my forlorn white children at the mercies of the dogs? Ah,
He chirruped paternally at his small white children through the
bars of the pagoda, and we all left the house for the lake.
In the plantation Sir Percival strayed away from us. It seems to
be part of his restless disposition always to separate himself
from his companions on these occasions, and always to occupy
himself when he is alone in cutting new walking-sticks for his own
use. The mere act of cutting and lopping at hazard appears to
please him. He has filled the house with walking-sticks of his
own making, not one of which he ever takes up for a second time.
When they have been once used his interest in them is all
exhausted, and he thinks of nothing but going on and making more.
At the old boat-house he joined us again. I will put down the
conversation that ensued when we were all settled in our places
exactly as it passed. It is an important conversation, so far as
I am concerned, for it has seriously disposed me to distrust the
influence which Count Fosco has exercised over my thoughts and
feelings, and to resist it for the future as resolutely as I can.
The boat-house was large enough to hold us all, but Sir Percival
remained outside trimming the last new stick with his pocket-axe.
We three women found plenty of room on the large seat. Laura took
her work, and Madame Fosco began her cigarettes. I, as usual, had
nothing to do. My hands always were, and always will be, as
awkward as a man's. The Count good-humouredly took a stool many
sizes too small for him, and balanced himself on it with his back
against the side of the shed, which creaked and groaned under his
weight. He put the pagoda-cage on his lap, and let out the mice
to crawl over him as usual. They are pretty, innocent-looking
little creatures, but the sight of them creeping about a man's
body is for some reason not pleasant to me. It excites a strange
responsive creeping in my own nerves, and suggests hideous ideas
of men dying in prison with the crawling creatures of the dungeon
preying on them undisturbed.
The morning was windy and cloudy, and the rapid alternations of
shadow and sunlight over the waste of the lake made the view look
doubly wild, weird, and gloomy.
"Some people call that picturesque," said Sir Percival, pointing
over the wide prospect with his half-finished walking-stick. "I
call it a blot on a gentleman's property. In my great-
grandfather's time the lake flowed to this place. Look at it now!
It is not four feet deep anywhere, and it is all puddles and
pools. I wish I could afford to drain it, and plant it all over.
My bailiff (a superstitious idiot) says he is quite sure the lake
has a curse on it, like the Dead Sea. What do you think, Fosco?
It looks just the place for a murder, doesn't it?"
"My good Percival," remonstrated the Count. "What is your solid
English sense thinking of? The water is too shallow to hide the
body, and there is sand everywhere to print off the murderer's
footsteps. It is, upon the whole, the very worst place for a
murder that I ever set my eyes on."
"Humbug!" said Sir Percival, cutting away fiercely at his stick.
"You know what I mean. The dreary scenery, the lonely situation.
If you choose to understand me, you can--if you don't choose, I am
not going to trouble myself to explain my meaning."
"And why not," asked the Count, "when your meaning can be
explained by anybody in two words? If a fool was going to commit a
murder, your lake is the first place he would choose for it. If a
wise man was going to commit a murder, your lake is the last place
he would choose for it. Is that your meaning? If it is, there is
your explanation for you ready made. Take it, Percival, with your
good Fosco's blessing."
Laura looked at the Count with her dislike for him appearing a
little too plainly in her face. He was so busy with his mice that
he did not notice her.
"I am sorry to hear the lake-view connected with anything so
horrible as the idea of murder," she said. "And if Count Fosco
must divide murderers into classes, I think he has been very
unfortunate in his choice of expressions. To describe them as
fools only seems like treating them with an indulgence to which
they have no claim. And to describe them as wise men sounds to me
like a downright contradiction in terms. I have always heard that
truly wise men are truly good men, and have a horror of crime."
"My dear lady," said the Count, "those are admirable sentiments,
and I have seen them stated at the tops of copy-books." He lifted
one of the white mice in the palm of his hand, and spoke to it in
his whimsical way. "My pretty little smooth white rascal," he
said, "here is a moral lesson for you. A truly wise mouse is a
truly good mouse. Mention that, if you please, to your
companions, and never gnaw at the bars of your cage again as long
as you live."
"It is easy to turn everything into ridicule," said Laura
resolutely; "but you will not find it quite so easy, Count Fosco,
to give me an instance of a wise man who has been a great
The Count shrugged his huge shoulders, and smiled on Laura in the
"Most true!" he said. "The fool's crime is the crime that is
found out, and the wise man's crime is the crime that is NOT found
out. If I could give you an instance, it would not be the
instance of a wise man. Dear Lady Glyde, your sound English
common sense has been too much for me. It is checkmate for me
this time, Miss Halcombe--ha?"
"Stand to your guns, Laura," sneered Sir Percival, who had been
listening in his place at the door. "Tell him next, that crimes
cause their own detection. There's another bit of copy-book
morality for you, Fosco. Crimes cause their own detection. What
"I believe it to be true," said Laura quietly.
Sir Percival burst out laughing, so violently, so outrageously,
that he quite startled us all--the Count more than any of us.
"I believe it too," I said, coming to Laura's rescue.
Sir Percival, who had been unaccountably amused at his wife's
remark, was just as unaccountably irritated by mine. He struck
the new stick savagely on the sand, and walked away from us.
"Poor dear Percival!" cried Count Fosco, looking after him gaily,
"he is the victim of English spleen. But, my dear Miss Halcombe,
my dear Lady Glyde, do you really believe that crimes cause their
own detection? And you, my angel," he continued, turning to his
wife, who had not uttered a word yet, "do you think so too?"
"I wait to be instructed," replied the Countess, in tones of
freezing reproof, intended for Laura and me, "before I venture on
giving my opinion in the presence of well-informed men."
"Do you, indeed?" I said. "I remember the time, Countess, when
you advocated the Rights of Women, and freedom of female opinion
was one of them."
"What is your view of the subject, Count?" asked Madame Fosco,
calmly proceeding with her cigarettes, and not taking the least
notice of me.
The Count stroked one of his white mice reflectively with his
chubby little finger before he answered.
"It is truly wonderful," he said, "how easily Society can console
itself for the worst of its shortcomings with a little bit of
clap-trap. The machinery it has set up for the detection of crime
is miserably ineffective--and yet only invent a moral epigram,
saying that it works well, and you blind everybody to its blunders
from that moment. Crimes cause their own detection, do they? And
murder will out (another moral epigram), will it? Ask Coroners who
sit at inquests in large towns if that is true, Lady Glyde. Ask
secretaries of life-assurance companies if that is true, Miss
Halcombe. Read your own public journals. In the few cases that
get into the newspapers, are there not instances of slain bodies
found, and no murderers ever discovered? Multiply the cases that
are reported by the cases that are NOT reported, and the bodies
that are found by the bodies that are NOT found, and what
conclusion do you come to? This. That there are foolish criminals
who are discovered, and wise criminals who escape. The hiding of
a crime, or the detection of a crime, what is it? A trial of skill
between the police on one side, and the individual on the other.
When the criminal is a brutal, ignorant fool, the police in nine
cases out of ten win. When the criminal is a resolute, educated,
highly-intelligent man, the police in nine cases out of ten lose.
If the police win, you generally hear all about it. If the police
lose, you generally hear nothing. And on this tottering
foundation you build up your comfortable moral maxim that Crime
causes its own detection! Yes--all the crime you know of. And
what of the rest?"
"Devilish true, and very well put," cried a voice at the entrance
of the boat-house. Sir Percival had recovered his equanimity, and
had come back while we were listening to the Count.
"Some of it may be true," I said, "and all of it may be very well
put. But I don't see why Count Fosco should celebrate the victory
of the criminal over Society with so much exultation, or why you,
Sir Percival, should applaud him so loudly for doing it."
"Do you hear that, Fosco?" asked Sir Percival. "Take my advice,
and make your peace with your audience. Tell them virtue's a fine
thing--they like that, I can promise you."
The Count laughed inwardly and silently, and two of the white mice
in his waistcoat, alarmed by the internal convulsion going on
beneath them, darted out in a violent hurry, and scrambled into
their cage again.
"The ladies, my good Percival, shall tell me about virtue," he
said. "They are better authorities than I am, for they know what
virtue is, and I don't."
"You hear him?" said Sir Percival. "Isn't it awful?"
"It is true," said the Count quietly. "I am a citizen of the
world, and I have met, in my time, with so many different sorts of
virtue, that I am puzzled, in my old age, to say which is the
right sort and which is the wrong. Here, in England, there is one
virtue. And there, in China, there is another virtue. And John
Englishman says my virtue is the genuine virtue. And John
Chinaman says my virtue is the genuine virtue. And I say Yes to
one, or No to the other, and am just as much bewildered about it
in the case of John with the top-boots as I am in the case of John
with the pigtail. Ah, nice little Mousey! come, kiss me. What is
your own private notion of a virtuous man, my pret-pret-pretty? A
man who keeps you warm, and gives you plenty to eat. And a good
notion, too, for it is intelligible, at the least."
"Stay a minute, Count," I interposed. "Accepting your
illustration, surely we have one unquestionable virtue in England
which is wanting in China. The Chinese authorities kill thousands
of innocent people on the most frivolous pretexts. We in England
are free from all guilt of that kind--we commit no such dreadful
crime--we abhor reckless bloodshed with all our hearts."
"Quite right, Marian," said Laura. "Well thought of, and well
"Pray allow the Count to proceed," said Madame Fosco, with stern
civility. "You will find, young ladies, that HE never speaks
without having excellent reasons for all that he says."
"Thank you, my angel," replied the Count. "Have a bon-bon?" He
took out of his pocket a pretty little inlaid box, and placed it
open on the table. "Chocolat a la Vanille," cried the
impenetrable man, cheerfully rattling the sweetmeats in the box,
and bowing all round. "Offered by Fosco as an act of homage to
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