The Woman in White
Part 7 out of 14
glass after a long illness. The discovery--I don't know why--gave
me such a shock, that I was perfectly incapable of speaking to her
for the moment."
"Did she seem hurt by your silence?"
"I am afraid she was hurt by it. 'You have not got your mother's
face,' she said, 'or your mother's heart. Your mother's face was
dark, and your mother's heart, Miss Fairlie, was the heart of an
angel.' 'I am sure I feel kindly towards you,' I said, 'though I
may not be able to express it as I ought. Why do you call me Miss
Fairlie?----' 'Because I love the name of Fairlie and hate the
name of Glyde,' she broke out violently. I had seen nothing like
madness in her before this, but I fancied I saw it now in her
eyes. 'I only thought you might not know I was married,' I said,
remembering the wild letter she wrote to me at Limmeridge, and
trying to quiet her. She sighed bitterly, and turned away from
me. 'Not know you were married?' she repeated. 'I am here
BECAUSE you are married. I am here to make atonement to you,
before I meet your mother in the world beyond the grave.' She drew
farther and farther away from me, till she was out of the boat-
house, and then she watched and listened for a little while. When
she turned round to speak again, instead of coming back, she
stopped where she was, looking in at me, with a hand on each side
of the entrance. 'Did you see me at the lake last night?' she
said. 'Did you hear me following you in the wood? I have been
waiting for days together to speak to you alone--I have left the
only friend I have in the world, anxious and frightened about me--
I have risked being shut up again in the mad-house--and all for
your sake, Miss Fairlie, all for your sake.' Her words alarmed me,
Marian, and yet there was something in the way she spoke that made
me pity her with all my heart. I am sure my pity must have been
sincere, for it made me bold enough to ask the poor creature to
come in, and sit down in the boat-house, by my side."
"Did she do so?"
"No. She shook her head, and told me she must stop where she was,
to watch and listen, and see that no third person surprised us.
And from first to last, there she waited at the entrance, with a
hand on each side of it, sometimes bending in suddenly to speak to
me, sometimes drawing back suddenly to look about her. 'I was
here yesterday,' she said, 'before it came dark, and I heard you,
and the lady with you, talking together. I heard you tell her
about your husband. I heard you say you had no influence to make
him believe you, and no influence to keep him silent. Ah! I knew
what those words meant--my conscience told me while I was
listening. Why did I ever let you marry him! Oh, my fear--my mad,
miserable, wicked fear!--'She covered up her face in her poor worn
shawl, and moaned and murmured to herself behind it. I began to
be afraid she might break out into some terrible despair which
neither she nor I could master. 'Try to quiet yourself,' I said;
'try to tell me how you might have prevented my marriage.' She
took the shawl from her face, and looked at me vacantly. 'I ought
to have had heart enough to stop at Limmeridge,' she answered. 'I
ought never to have let the news of his coming there frighten me
away. I ought to have warned you and saved you before it was too
late. Why did I only have courage enough to write you that
letter? Why did I only do harm, when I wanted and meant to do
good? Oh, my fear--my mad, miserable, wicked fear! 'She repeated
those words again, and hid her face again in the end of her poor
worn shawl. It was dreadful to see her, and dreadful to hear
"Surely, Laura, you asked what the fear was which she dwelt on so
"Yes, I asked that."
"And what did she say?"
"She asked me in return, if I should not be afraid of a man who
had shut me up in a mad-house, and who would shut me up again, if
he could? I said, 'Are you afraid still? Surely you would not be
here if you were afraid now?' 'No,' she said, 'I am not afraid
now.' I asked why not. She suddenly bent forward into the boat-
house, and said, 'Can't you guess why?' I shook my head. 'Look at
me,' she went on. I told her I was grieved to see that she looked
very sorrowful and very ill. She smiled for the first time.
'Ill?' she repeated; 'I'm dying. You know why I'm not afraid of
him now. Do you think I shall meet your mother in heaven? Will
she forgive me if I do?' I was so shocked and so startled, that I
could make no reply. 'I have been thinking of it,' she went on,
'all the time I have been in hiding from your husband, all the
time I lay ill. My thoughts have driven me here--I want to make
atonement--I want to undo all I can of the harm I once did.' I
begged her as earnestly as I could to tell me what she meant. She
still looked at me with fixed vacant eyes. 'SHALL I undo the
harm?' she said to herself doubtfully. 'You have friends to take
your part. If YOU know his Secret, he will be afraid of you, he
won't dare use you as he used me. He must treat you mercifully
for his own sake, if he is afraid of you and your friends. And if
he treats you mercifully, and if I can say it was my doing----' I
listened eagerly for more, but she stopped at those words."
"You tried to make her go on?"
"I tried, but she only drew herself away from me again, and leaned
her face and arms against the side of the boat-house. 'Oh!' I
heard her say, with a dreadful, distracted tenderness in her
voice, 'oh! if I could only be buried with your mother! If I could
only wake at her side, when the angel's trumpet sounds, and the
graves give up their dead at the resurrection!'--Marian! I
trembled from head to foot--it was horrible to hear her. 'But
there is no hope of that,' she said, moving a little, so as to
look at me again, 'no hope for a poor stranger like me. I shall
not rest under the marble cross that I washed with my own hands,
and made so white and pure for her sake. Oh no! oh no! God's
mercy, not man's, will take me to her, where the wicked cease from
troubling and the weary are at rest.' She spoke those words
quietly and sorrowfully, with a heavy, hopeless sigh, and then
waited a little. Her face was confused and troubled, she seemed
to be thinking, or trying to think. 'What was it I said just
now?' she asked after a while. 'When your mother is in my mind,
everything else goes out of it. What was I saying? what was I
saying?' I reminded the poor creature, as kindly and delicately as
I could. 'Ah, yes, yes,' she said, still in a vacant, perplexed
manner. 'You are helpless with your wicked husband. Yes. And I
must do what I have come to do here--I must make it up to you for
having been afraid to speak out at a better time.' 'What IS it you
have to tell me?' I asked. 'The Secret that your cruel husband is
afraid of,' she answered. 'I once threatened him with the Secret,
and frightened him. You shall threaten him with the Secret, and
frighten him too.' Her face darkened, and a hard, angry stare
fixed itself in her eyes. She began waving her hand at me in a
vacant, unmeaning manner. 'My mother knows the Secret,' she said.
'My mother has wasted under the Secret half her lifetime. One
day, when I was grown up, she said something to ME. And the next
day your husband----'"
"Yes! yes! Go on. What did she tell you about your husband?"
"She stopped again, Marian, at that point----"
"And said no more?"
"And listened eagerly. 'Hush!' she whispered, still waving her
hand at me. 'Hush!' She moved aside out of the doorway, moved
slowly and stealthily, step by step, till I lost her past the edge
of the boat-house."
"Surely you followed her?"
"Yes, my anxiety made me bold enough to rise and follow her. Just
as I reached the entrance, she appeared again suddenly, round the
side of the boat-house. 'The Secret,' I whispered to her--'wait
and tell me the Secret!' She caught hold of my arm, and looked at
me with wild frightened eyes. 'Not now,' she said, 'we are not
alone--we are watched. Come here to-morrow at this time--by
yourself--mind--by yourself.' She pushed me roughly into the boat-
house again, and I saw her no more."
"Oh, Laura, Laura, another chance lost! If I had only been near
you she should not have escaped us. On which side did you lose
sight of her?"
"On the left side, where the ground sinks and the wood is
"Did you run out again? did you call after her?"
"How could I? I was too terrified to move or speak."
"But when you DID move--when you came out?"
"I ran back here, to tell you what had happened."
"Did you see any one, or hear any one, in the plantation?"
"No, it seemed to be all still and quiet when I passed through
I waited for a moment to consider. Was this third person,
supposed to have been secretly present at the interview, a
reality, or the creature of Anne Catherick's excited fancy? It was
impossible to determine. The one thing certain was, that we had
failed again on the very brink of discovery--failed utterly and
irretrievably, unless Anne Catherick kept her appointment at the
boat-house for the next day.
"Are you quite sure you have told me everything that passed? Every
word that was said?" I inquired.
"I think so," she answered. "My powers of memory, Marian, are not
like yours. But I was so strongly impressed, so deeply
interested, that nothing of any importance can possibly have
"My dear Laura, the merest trifles are of importance where Anne
Catherick is concerned. Think again. Did no chance reference
escape her as to the place in which she is living at the present
"None that I can remember."
"Did she not mention a companion and friend--a woman named Mrs.
"Oh yes! yes! I forgot that. She told me Mrs. Clements wanted
sadly to go with her to the lake and take care of her, and begged
and prayed that she would not venture into this neighbourhood
"Was that all she said about Mrs. Clements?"
"Yes, that was all."
"She told you nothing about the place in which she took refuge
after leaving Todd's Corner?"
"Nothing--I am quite sure."
"Nor where she has lived since? Nor what her illness had been?"
"No, Marian, not a word. Tell me, pray tell me, what you think
about it. I don't know what to think, or what to do next."
"You must do this, my love: You must carefully keep the
appointment at the boat-house to-morrow. It is impossible to say
what interests may not depend on your seeing that woman again.
You shall not be left to yourself a second time. I will follow
you at a safe distance. Nobody shall see me, but I will keep
within hearing of your voice, if anything happens. Anne Catherick
has escaped Walter Hartright, and has escaped you. Whatever
happens, she shall not escape ME."
Laura's eyes read mine attentively.
"You believe," she said, "in this secret that my husband is afraid
of? Suppose, Marian, it should only exist after all in Anne
Catherick's fancy? Suppose she only wanted to see me and to speak
to me, for the sake of old remembrances? Her manner was so
strange--I almost doubted her. Would you trust her in other
"I trust nothing, Laura, but my own observation of your husband's
conduct. I judge Anne Catherick's words by his actions, and I
believe there is a secret."
I said no more, and got up to leave the room Thoughts were
troubling me which I might have told her if we had spoken together
longer, and which it might have been dangerous for her to know.
The influence of the terrible dream from which she had awakened me
hung darkly and heavily over every fresh impression which the
progress of her narrative produced on my mind. I felt the ominous
future coming close, chilling me with an unutterable awe, forcing
on me the conviction of an unseen design in the long series of
complications which had now fastened round us. I thought of
Hartright--as I saw him in the body when he said farewell; as I
saw him in the spirit in my dream--and I too began to doubt now
whether we were not advancing blindfold to an appointed and an
Leaving Laura to go upstairs alone, I went out to look about me in
the walks near the house. The circumstances under which Anne
Catherick had parted from her had made me secretly anxious to know
how Count Fosco was passing the afternoon, and had rendered me
secretly distrustful of the results of that solitary journey from
which Sir Percival had returned but a few hours since.
After looking for them in every direction and discovering nothing,
I returned to the house, and entered the different rooms on the
ground floor one after another. They were all empty. I came out
again into the hall, and went upstairs to return to Laura. Madame
Fosco opened her door as I passed it in my way along the passage,
and I stopped to see if she could inform me of the whereabouts of
her husband and Sir Percival. Yes, she had seen them both from
her window more than an hour since. The Count had looked up with
his customary kindness, and had mentioned with his habitual
attention to her in the smallest trifles, that he and his friend
were going out together for a long walk.
For a long walk! They had never yet been in each other's company
with that object in my experience of them. Sir Percival cared for
no exercise but riding, and the Count (except when he was polite
enough to be my escort) cared for no exercise at all.
When I joined Laura again, I found that she had called to mind in
my absence the impending question of the signature to the deed,
which, in the interest of discussing her interview with Anne
Catherick, we had hitherto overlooked. Her first words when I saw
her expressed her surprise at the absence of the expected summons
to attend Sir Percival in the library.
"You may make your mind easy on that subject," I said. "For the
present, at least, neither your resolution nor mine will be
exposed to any further trial. Sir Percival has altered his plans--
the business of the signature is put off."
"Put off?" Laura repeated amazedly. "Who told you so?"
"My authority is Count Fosco. I believe it is to his interference
that we are indebted for your husband's sudden change of purpose."
"It seems impossible, Marian. If the object of my signing was, as
we suppose, to obtain money for Sir Percival that he urgently
wanted, how can the matter be put off?"
"I think, Laura, we have the means at hand of setting that doubt
at rest. Have you forgotten the conversation that I heard between
Sir Percival and the lawyer as they were crossing the hall?"
"No, but I don't remember----"
"I do. There were two alternatives proposed. One was to obtain
your signature to the parchment. The other was to gain time by
giving bills at three months. The last resource is evidently the
resource now adopted, and we may fairly hope to be relieved from
our share in Sir Percival's embarrassments for some time to come."
"Oh, Marian, it sounds too good to be true!"
"Does it, my love? You complimented me on my ready memory not long
since, but you seem to doubt it now. I will get my journal, and
you shall see if I am right or wrong."
I went away and got the book at once.
On looking back to the entry referring to the lawyer's visit, we
found that my recollection of the two alternatives presented was
accurately correct. It was almost as great a relief to my mind as
to Laura's, to find that my memory had served me, on this
occasion, as faithfully as usual. In the perilous uncertainty of
our present situation, it is hard to say what future interests may
not depend upon the regularity of the entries in my journal, and
upon the reliability of my recollection at the time when I make
Laura's face and manner suggested to me that this last
consideration had occurred to her as well as to myself. Anyway,
it is only a trifling matter, and I am almost ashamed to put it
down here in writing--it seems to set the forlornness of our
situation in such a miserably vivid light. We must have little
indeed to depend on, when the discovery that my memory can still
be trusted to serve us is hailed as if it was the discovery of a
The first bell for dinner separated us. Just as it had done
ringing, Sir Percival and the Count returned from their walk. We
heard the master of the house storming at the servants for being
five minutes late, and the master's guest interposing, as usual,
in the interests of propriety, patience, and peace.
* * * * * * * * * *
The evening has come and gone. No extraordinary event has
happened. But I have noticed certain peculiarities in the conduct
of Sir Percival and the Count, which have sent me to my bed
feeling very anxious and uneasy about Anne Catherick, and about
the results which to-morrow may produce.
I know enough by this time, to be sure, that the aspect of Sir
Percival which is the most false, and which, therefore, means the
worst, is his polite aspect. That long walk with his friend had
ended in improving his manners, especially towards his wife. To
Laura's secret surprise and to my secret alarm, he called her by
her Christian name, asked if she had heard lately from her uncle.
inquired when Mrs. Vesey was to receive her invitation to
Blackwater, and showed her so many other little attentions that he
almost recalled the days of his hateful courtship at Limmeridge
House. This was a bad sign to begin with, and I thought it more
ominous still that he should pretend after dinner to fall asleep
in the drawing-room, and that his eyes should cunningly follow
Laura and me when he thought we neither of us suspected him. I
have never had any doubt that his sudden journey by himself took
him to Welmingham to question Mrs. Catherick--but the experience
of to-night has made me fear that the expedition was not
undertaken in vain, and that he has got the information which he
unquestionably left us to collect. If I knew where Anne Catherick
was to be found, I would be up to-morrow with sunrise and warn
While the aspect under which Sir Percival presented himself to-
night was unhappily but too familiar to me, the aspect under which
the Count appeared was, on the other hand, entirely new in my
experience of him. He permitted me, this evening, to make his
acquaintance, for the first time, in the character of a Man of
Sentiment--of sentiment, as I believe, really felt, not assumed
for the occasion.
For instance, he was quiet and subdued--his eyes and his voice
expressed a restrained sensibility. He wore (as if there was some
hidden connection between his showiest finery and his deepest
feeling) the most magnificent waistcoat he has yet appeared in--it
was made of pale sea-green silk, and delicately trimmed with fine
silver braid. His voice sank into the tenderest inflections, his
smile expressed a thoughtful, fatherly admiration, whenever he
spoke to Laura or to me. He pressed his wife's hand under the
table when she thanked him for trifling little attentions at
dinner. He took wine with her. "Your health and happiness, my
angel!" he said, with fond glistening eyes. He ate little or
nothing, and sighed, and said "Good Percival!" when his friend
laughed at him. After dinner, he took Laura by the hand, and
asked her if she would be "so sweet as to play to him." She
complied, through sheer astonishment. He sat by the piano, with
his watch-chain resting in folds, like a golden serpent, on the
sea-green protuberance of his waistcoat. His immense head lay
languidly on one side, and he gently beat time with two of his
yellow-white fingers. He highly approved of the music, and
tenderly admired Laura's manner of playing--not as poor Hartright
used to praise it, with an innocent enjoyment of the sweet sounds,
but with a clear, cultivated, practical knowledge of the merits of
the composition, in the first place, and of the merits of the
player's touch in the second. As the evening closed in, he begged
that the lovely dying light might not be profaned, just yet, by
the appearance of the lamps. He came, with his horribly silent
tread, to the distant window at which I was standing, to be out of
his way and to avoid the very sight of him--he came to ask me to
support his protest against the lamps. If any one of them could
only have burnt him up at that moment, I would have gone down to
the kitchen and fetched it myself.
"Surely you like this modest, trembling English twilight?" he said
softly. "Ah! I love it. I feel my inborn admiration of all that
is noble, and great, and good, purified by the breath of heaven on
an evening like this. Nature has such imperishable charms, such
inextinguishable tenderness for me!--I am an old, fat man--talk
which would become your lips, Miss Halcombe, sounds like a
derision and a mockery on mine. It is hard to be laughed at in my
moments of sentiment, as if my soul was like myself, old and
overgrown. Observe, dear lady, what a light is dying on the
trees! Does it penetrate your heart, as it penetrates mine?"
He paused, looked at me, and repeated the famous lines of Dante on
the Evening-time, with a melody and tenderness which added a charm
of their own to the matchless beauty of the poetry itself.
"Bah!" he cried suddenly, as the last cadence of those noble
Italian words died away on his lips; "I make an old fool of
myself, and only weary you all! Let us shut up the window in our
bosoms and get back to the matter-of-fact world. Percival! I
sanction the admission of the lamps. Lady Glyde--Miss Halcombe--
Eleanor, my good wife--which of you will indulge me with a game at
He addressed us all, but he looked especially at Laura.
She had learnt to feel my dread of offending him, and she accepted
his proposal. It was more than I could have done at that moment.
I could not have sat down at the same table with him for any
consideration. His eyes seemed to reach my inmost soul through
the thickening obscurity of the twilight. His voice trembled
along every nerve in my body, and turned me hot and cold
alternately. The mystery and terror of my dream, which had
haunted me at intervals all through the evening, now oppressed my
mind with an unendurable foreboding and an unutterable awe. I saw
the white tomb again, and the veiled woman rising out of it by
Hartright's side. The thought of Laura welled up like a spring in
the depths of my heart, and filled it with waters of bitterness,
never, never known to it before. I caught her by the hand as she
passed me on her way to the table, and kissed her as if that night
was to part us for ever. While they were all gazing at me in
astonishment, I ran out through the low window which was open
before me to the ground--ran out to hide from them in the
darkness, to hide even from myself.
We separated that evening later than usual. Towards mid-night the
summer silence was broken by the shuddering of a low, melancholy
wind among the trees. We all felt the sudden chill in the
atmosphere, but the Count was the first to notice the stealthy
rising of the wind. He stopped while he was lighting my candle
for me, and held up his hand warningly--
"Listen!" he said. "There will be a change to-morrow."
June 19th.--The events of yesterday warned me to be ready, sooner
or later, to meet the worst. To-day is not yet at an end, and the
worst has come.
Judging by the closest calculation of time that Laura and I could
make, we arrived at the conclusion that Anne Catherick must have
appeared at the boat-house at half-past two o'clock on the
afternoon of yesterday. I accordingly arranged that Laura should
just show herself at the luncheon-table to-day, and should then
slip out at the first opportunity, leaving me behind to preserve
appearances, and to follow her as soon as I could safely do so.
This mode of proceeding, if no obstacles occurred to thwart us,
would enable her to be at the boat-house before half-past two, and
(when I left the table, in my turn) would take me to a safe
position in the plantation before three.
The change in the weather, which last night's wind warned us to
expect, came with the morning. It was raining heavily when I got
up, and it continued to rain until twelve o'clock--when the clouds
dispersed, the blue sky appeared, and the sun shone again with the
bright promise of a fine afternoon.
My anxiety to know how Sir Percival and the Count would occupy the
early part of the day was by no means set at rest, so far as Sir
Percival was concerned, by his leaving us immediately after
breakfast, and going out by himself, in spite of the rain. He
neither told us where he was going nor when we might expect him
back. We saw him pass the breakfast-room window hastily, with his
high boots and his waterproof coat on--and that was all.
The Count passed the morning quietly indoors, some part of it in
the library, some part in the drawing-room, playing odds and ends
of music on the piano, and humming to himself. Judging by
appearances, the sentimental side of his character was
persistently inclined to betray itself still. He was silent and
sensitive, and ready to sigh and languish ponderously (as only fat
men CAN sigh and languish) on the smallest provocation.
Luncheon-time came and Sir Percival did not return. The Count
took his friend's place at the table, plaintively devoured the
greater part of a fruit tart, submerged under a whole jugful of
cream, and explained the full merit of the achievement to us as
soon as he had done. "A taste for sweets," he said in his softest
tones and his tenderest manner, "is the innocent taste of women
and children. I love to share it with them--it is another bond,
dear ladies, between you and me."
Laura left the table in ten minutes' time. I was sorely tempted
to accompany her. But if we had both gone out together we must
have excited suspicion, and worse still, if we allowed Anne
Catherick to see Laura, accompanied by a second person who was a
stranger to her, we should in all probability forfeit her
confidence from that moment, never to regain it again.
I waited, therefore, as patiently as I could, until the servant
came in to clear the table. When I quitted the room, there were
no signs, in the house or out of it, of Sir Percival's return. I
left the Count with a piece of sugar between his lips, and the
vicious cockatoo scrambling up his waistcoat to get at it, while
Madame Fosco, sitting opposite to her husband, watched the
proceedings of his bird and himself as attentively as if she had
never seen anything of the sort before in her life. On my way to
the plantation I kept carefully beyond the range of view from the
luncheon-room window. Nobody saw me and nobody followed me. It
was then a quarter to three o'clock by my watch.
Once among the trees I walked rapidly, until I had advanced more
than half-way through the plantation. At that point I slackened
my pace and proceeded cautiously, but I saw no one, and heard no
voices. By little and little I came within view of the back of
the boat-house--stopped and listened--then went on, till I was
close behind it, and must have heard any persons who were talking
inside. Still the silence was unbroken--still far and near no
sign of a living creature appeared anywhere.
After skirting round by the back of the building, first on one
side and then on the other, and making no discoveries, I ventured
in front of it, and fairly looked in. The place was empty.
I called, "Laura!"--at first softly, then louder and louder. No
one answered and no one appeared. For all that I could see and
hear, the only human creature in the neighbourhood of the lake and
the plantation was myself.
My heart began to beat violently, but I kept my resolution, and
searched, first the boat-house and then the ground in front of it,
for any signs which might show me whether Laura had really reached
the place or not. No mark of her presence appeared inside the
building, but I found traces of her outside it, in footsteps on
I detected the footsteps of two persons--large footsteps like a
man's, and small footsteps, which, by putting my own feet into
them and testing their size in that manner, I felt certain were
Laura's. The ground was confusedly marked in this way just before
the boat-house. Close against one side of it, under shelter of
the projecting roof, I discovered a little hole in the sand--a
hole artificially made, beyond a doubt. I just noticed it, and
then turned away immediately to trace the footsteps as far as I
could, and to follow the direction in which they might lead me.
They led me, starting from the left-hand side of the boat-house,
along the edge of the trees, a distance, I should think, of
between two and three hundred yards, and then the sandy ground
showed no further trace of them. Feeling that the persons whose
course I was tracking must necessarily have entered the plantation
at this point, I entered it too. At first I could find no path,
but I discovered one afterwards, just faintly traced among the
trees, and followed it. It took me, for some distance, in the
direction of the village, until I stopped at a point where another
foot-track crossed it. The brambles grew thickly on either side
of this second path. I stood looking down it, uncertain which way
to take next, and while I looked I saw on one thorny branch some
fragments of fringe from a woman's shawl. A closer examination of
the fringe satisfied me that it had been torn from a shawl of
Laura's, and I instantly followed the second path. It brought me
out at last, to my great relief, at the back of the house. I say
to my great relief, because I inferred that Laura must, for some
unknown reason, have returned before me by this roundabout way. I
went in by the court-yard and the offices. The first person whom
I met in crossing the servants' hall was Mrs. Michelson, the
"Do you know," I asked, "whether Lady Glyde has come in from her
walk or not?"
"My lady came in a little while ago with Sir Percival," answered
the housekeeper. "I am afraid, Miss Halcombe, something very
distressing has happened."
My heart sank within me. "You don't mean an accident?" I said
"No, no--thank God, no accident. But my lady ran up-stairs to her
own room in tears, and Sir Percival has ordered me to give Fanny
warning to leave in an hour's time."
Fanny was Laura's maid--a good affectionate girl who had been with
her for years--the only person in the house whose fidelity and
devotion we could both depend upon.
"Where is Fanny?" I inquired.
"In my room, Miss Halcombe. The young woman is quite overcome,
and I told her to sit down and try to recover herself."
I went to Mrs. Michelson's room, and found Fanny in a corner, with
her box by her side, crying bitterly.
She could give me no explanation whatever of her sudden dismissal.
Sir Percival had ordered that she should have a month's wages, in
place of a month's warning, and go. No reason had been assigned--
no objection had been made to her conduct. She had been forbidden
to appeal to her mistress, forbidden even to see her for a moment
to say good-bye. She was to go without explanations or farewells,
and to go at once.
After soothing the poor girl by a few friendly words, I asked
where she proposed to sleep that night. She replied that she
thought of going to the little inn in the village, the landlady of
which was a respectable woman, known to the servants at Blackwater
Park. The next morning, by leaving early, she might get back to
her friends in Cumberland without stopping in London, where she
was a total stranger.
I felt directly that Fanny's departure offered us a safe means of
communication with London and with Limmeridge House, of which it
might be very important to avail ourselves. Accordingly, I told
her that she might expect to hear from her mistress or from me in
the course of the evening, and that she might depend on our both
doing all that lay in our power to help her, under the trial of
leaving us for the present. Those words said, I shook hands with
her and went upstairs.
The door which led to Laura's room was the door of an ante-chamber
opening on to the passage. When I tried it, it was bolted on the
I knocked, and the door was opened by the same heavy, over-grown
housemaid whose lumpish insensibility had tried my patience so
severely on the day when I found the wounded dog.
I had, since that time, discovered that her name was Margaret
Porcher, and that she was the most awkward, slatternly, and
obstinate servant in the house.
On opening the door she instantly stepped out to the threshold,
and stood grinning at me in stolid silence.
"Why do you stand there?" I said. "Don't you see that I want to
"Ah, but you mustn't come in," was the answer, with another and a
broader grin still.
"How dare you talk to me in that way? Stand back instantly!"
She stretched out a great red hand and arm on each side of her, so
as to bar the doorway, and slowly nodded her addle head at me.
"Master's orders," she said, and nodded again.
I had need of all my self-control to warn me against contesting
the matter with HER, and to remind me that the next words I had to
say must be addressed to her master. I turned my back on her, and
instantly went downstairs to find him. My resolution to keep my
temper under all the irritations that Sir Percival could offer
was, by this time, as completely forgotten--I say so to my shame--
as if I had never made it. It did me good, after all I had
suffered and suppressed in that house--it actually did me good to
feel how angry I was.
The drawing-room and the breakfast-room were both empty. I went
on to the library, and there I found Sir Percival, the Count, and
Madame Fosco. They were all three standing up, close together,
and Sir Percival had a little slip of paper in his hand. As I
opened the door I heard the Count say to him, "No--a thousand
times over, no."
I walked straight up to him, and looked him full in the face.
"Am I to understand, Sir Percival, that your wife's room is a
prison, and that your housemaid is the gaoler who keeps it?" I
"Yes, that is what you are to understand," he answered. "Take
care my gaoler hasn't got double duty to do--take care your room
is not a prison too."
"Take YOU care how you treat your wife, and how you threaten ME,"
I broke out in the heat of my anger. "There are laws in England
to protect women from cruelty and outrage. If you hurt a hair of
Laura's head, if you dare to interfere with my freedom, come what
may, to those laws I will appeal."
Instead of answering me he turned round to the Count.
"What did I tell you?" he asked. "What do you say now?"
"What I said before," replied the Count--"No."
Even in the vehemence of my anger I felt his calm, cold, grey eyes
on my face. They turned away from me as soon as he had spoken,
and looked significantly at his wife. Madame Fosco immediately
moved close to my side, and in that position addressed Sir
Percival before either of us could speak again.
"Favour me with your attention for one moment," she said, in her
clear icily-suppressed tones. "I have to thank you, Sir Percival,
for your hospitality, and to decline taking advantage of it any
longer. I remain in no house in which ladies are treated as your
wife and Miss Halcombe have been treated here to-day!"
Sir Percival drew back a step, and stared at her in dead silence.
The declaration he had just heard--a declaration which he well
knew, as I well knew, Madame Fosco would not have ventured to make
without her husband's permission--seemed to petrify him with
surprise. The Count stood by, and looked at his wife with the
most enthusiastic admiration.
"She is sublime!" he said to himself. He approached her while he
spoke, and drew her hand through his arm. "I am at your service,
Eleanor," he went on, with a quiet dignity that I had never
noticed in him before. "And at Miss Halcombe's service, if she
will honour me by accepting all the assistance I can offer her."
"Damn it! what do you mean?" cried Sir Percival, as the Count
quietly moved away with his wife to the door.
"At other times I mean what I say, but at this time I mean what my
wife says," replied the impenetrable Italian. "We have changed
places, Percival, for once, and Madame Fosco's opinion is--mine."
Sir Percival crumpled up the paper in his hand, and pushing past
the Count, with another oath, stood between him and the door.
"Have your own way," he said, with baffled rage in his low, half-
whispering tones. "Have your own way--and see what comes of it."
With those words he left the room.
Madame Fosco glanced inquiringly at her husband. "He has gone
away very suddenly," she said. "What does it mean?"
"It means that you and I together have brought the worst-tempered
man in all England to his senses," answered the Count. "It means,
Miss Halcombe, that Lady Glyde is relieved from a gross indignity,
and you from the repetition of an unpardonable insult. Suffer me
to express my admiration of your conduct and your courage at a
very trying moment."
"Sincere admiration," suggested Madame Fosco.
"Sincere admiration," echoed the Count.
I had no longer the strength of my first angry resistance to
outrage and injury to support me. My heart-sick anxiety to see
Laura, my sense of my own helpless ignorance of what had happened
at the boat-house, pressed on me with an intolerable weight. I
tried to keep up appearances by speaking to the Count and his wife
in the tone which they had chosen to adopt in speaking to me, but
the words failed on my lips--my breath came short and thick--my
eyes looked longingly, in silence, at the door. The Count,
understanding my anxiety, opened it, went out, and pulled it to
after him. At the same time Sir Percival's heavy step descended
the stairs. I heard them whispering together outside, while
Madame Fosco was assuring me, in her calmest and most conventional
manner, that she rejoiced, for all our sakes, that Sir Percival's
conduct had not obliged her husband and herself to leave
Blackwater Park. Before she had done speaking the whispering
ceased, the door opened, and the Count looked in.
"Miss Halcombe," he said, "I am happy to inform you that Lady
Glyde is mistress again in her own house. I thought it might be
more agreeable to you to hear of this change for the better from
me than from Sir Percival, and I have therefore expressly returned
to mention it."
"Admirable delicacy!" said Madame Fosco, paying back her husband's
tribute of admiration with the Count's own coin, in the Count's
own manner. He smiled and bowed as if he had received a formal
compliment from a polite stranger, and drew back to let me pass
Sir Percival was standing in the hall. As I hurried to the stairs
I heard him call impatiently to the Count to come out of the
"What are you waiting there for?" he said. "I want to speak to
"And I want to think a little by myself," replied the other.
"Wait till later, Percival, wait till later."
Neither he nor his friend said any more. I gained the top of the
stairs and ran along the passage. In my haste and my agitation I
left the door of the ante-chamber open, but I closed the door of
the bedroom the moment I was inside it.
Laura was sitting alone at the far end of the room, her arms
resting wearily on a table, and her face hidden in her hands. She
started up with a cry of delight when she saw me.
"How did you get here?" she asked. "Who gave you leave? Not Sir
In my overpowering anxiety to hear what she had to tell me, I
could not answer her--I could only put questions on my side.
Laura's eagerness to know what had passed downstairs proved,
however, too strong to be resisted. She persistently repeated her
"The Count, of course," I answered impatiently. "Whose influence
in the house----"
She stopped me with a gesture of disgust.
"Don't speak of him," she cried. "The Count is the vilest
creature breathing! The Count is a miserable Spy----!"
Before we could either of us say another word we were alarmed by a
soft knocking at the door of the bedroom.
I had not yet sat down, and I went first to see who it was. When
I opened the door Madame Fosco confronted me with my handkerchief
in her hand.
"You dropped this downstairs, Miss Halcombe," she said, "and I
thought I could bring it to you, as I was passing by to my own
Her face, naturally pale, had turned to such a ghastly whiteness
that I started at the sight of it. Her hands, so sure and steady
at all other times, trembled violently, and her eyes looked
wolfishly past me through the open door, and fixed on Laura.
She had been listening before she knocked! I saw it in her white
face, I saw it in her trembling hands, I saw it in her look at
After waiting an instant she turned from me in silence, and slowly
I closed the door again. "Oh, Laura! Laura! We shall both rue the
day when you called the Count a Spy!"
"You would have called him so yourself, Marian, if you had known
what I know. Anne Catherick was right. There was a third person
watching us in the plantation yesterday, and that third person---"
"Are you sure it was the Count?"
"I am absolutely certain. He was Sir Percival's spy--he was Sir
Percival's informer--he set Sir Percival watching and waiting, all
the morning through, for Anne Catherick and for me."
"Is Anne found? Did you see her at the lake?"
"No. She has saved herself by keeping away from the place. When
I got to the boat-house no one was there."
"I went in and sat waiting for a few minutes. But my restlessness
made me get up again, to walk about a little. As I passed out I
saw some marks on the sand, close under the front of the boat-
house. I stooped down to examine them, and discovered a word
written in large letters on the sand. The word was--LOOK.
"And you scraped away the sand, and dug a hollow place in it?"
"How do you know that, Marian?"
"I saw the hollow place myself when I followed you to the boat-
house. Go on--go on!"
"Yes, I scraped away the sand on the surface, and in a little
while I came to a strip of paper hidden beneath, which had writing
on it. The writing was signed with Anne Catherick's initials.
"Where is it?"
"Sir Percival has taken it from me."
"Can you remember what the writing was? Do you think you can
repeat it to me?"
"In substance I can, Marian. It was very short. You would have
remembered it, word for word."
"Try to tell me what the substance was before we go any further."
She complied. I write the lines down here exactly as she repeated
them to me. They ran thus--
"I was seen with you, yesterday, by a tall, stout old man, and had
to run to save myself. He was not quick enough on his feet to
follow me, and he lost me among the trees. I dare not risk coming
back here to-day at the same time. I write this, and hide it in
the sand, at six in the morning, to tell you so. When we speak
next of your wicked husband's Secret we must speak safely, or not
at all. Try to have patience. I promise you shall see me again
and that soon.--A. C."
The reference to the "tall, stout old man" (the terms of which
Laura was certain that she had repeated to me correctly) left no
doubt as to who the intruder had been. I called to mind that I
had told Sir Percival, in the Count's presence the day before,
that Laura had gone to the boat-house to look for her brooch. In
all probability he had followed her there, in his officious way,
to relieve her mind about the matter of the signature, immediately
after he had mentioned the change in Sir Percival's plans to me in
the drawing-room. In this case he could only have got to the
neighbourhood of the boat-house at the very moment when Anne
Catherick discovered him. The suspiciously hurried manner in
which she parted from Laura had no doubt prompted his useless
attempt to follow her. Of the conversation which had previously
taken place between them he could have heard nothing. The
distance between the house and the lake, and the time at which he
left me in the drawing-room, as compared with the time at which
Laura and Anne Catherick had been speaking together, proved that
fact to us at any rate, beyond a doubt.
Having arrived at something like a conclusion so far, my next
great interest was to know what discoveries Sir Percival had made
after Count Fosco had given him his information.
"How came you to lose possession of the letter?" I asked. "What
did you do with it when you found it in the sand?"
"After reading it once through," she replied, "I took it into the
boat-house with me to sit down and look over it a second time.
While I was reading a shadow fell across the paper. I looked up,
and saw Sir Percival standing in the doorway watching me."
"Did you try to hide the letter?"
"I tried, but he stopped me. 'You needn't trouble to hide that,'
he said. 'I happen to have read it.' I could only look at him
helplessly--I could say nothing. 'You understand?' he went on; 'I
have read it. I dug it up out of the sand two hours since, and
buried it again, and wrote the word above it again, and left it
ready to your hands. You can't lie yourself out of the scrape
now. You saw Anne Catherick in secret yesterday, and you have got
her letter in your hand at this moment. I have not caught HER
yet, but I have caught YOU. Give me the letter.' He stepped close
up to me--I was alone with him, Marian--what could I do?--I gave
him the letter."
"What did he say when you gave it to him?"
"At first he said nothing. He took me by the arm, and led me out
of the boat-house, and looked about him on all sides, as if he was
afraid of our being seen or heard. Then he clasped his hand fast
round my arm, and whispered to me, 'What did Anne Catherick say to
you yesterday? I insist on hearing every word, from first to
"Did you tell him?"
"I was alone with him, Marian--his cruel hand was bruising my arm--
what could I do?"
"Is the mark on your arm still? Let me see it."
"Why do you want to see it?"
"I want to see it, Laura, because our endurance must end, and our
resistance must begin to-day. That mark is a weapon to strike him
with. Let me see it now--I may have to swear to it at some future
"Oh, Marian, don't look so--don't talk so! It doesn't hurt me
"Let me see it!"
She showed me the marks. I was past grieving over them, past
crying over them, past shuddering over them. They say we are
either better than men, or worse. If the temptation that has
fallen in some women's way, and made them worse, had fallen in
mine at that moment Thank God! my face betrayed nothing that his
wife could read. The gentle, innocent, affectionate creature
thought I was frightened for her and sorry for her, and thought no
"Don't think too seriously of it, Marian," she said simply, as she
pulled her sleeve down again. "It doesn't hurt me now."
"I will try to think quietly of it, my love, for your sake.--Well!
well! And you told him all that Anne Catherick had said to you--
all that you told me?"
"Yes, all. He insisted on it--I was alone with him--I could
"Did he say anything when you had done?"
"He looked at me, and laughed to himself in a mocking, bitter way.
'I mean to have the rest out of you,' he said, 'do you hear?--the
rest.' I declared to him solemnly that I had told him everything I
knew. 'Not you,' he answered, 'you know more than you choose to
tell. Won't you tell it? You shall! I'll wring it out of you at
home if I can't wring it out of you here.' He led me away by a
strange path through the plantation--a path where there was no
hope of our meeting you--and he spoke no more till we came within
sight of the house. Then he stopped again, and said, 'Will you
take a second chance, if I give it to you? Will you think better
of it, and tell me the rest?' I could only repeat the same words I
had spoken before. He cursed my obstinacy, and went on, and took
me with him to the house. 'You can't deceive me,' he said, 'you
know more than you choose to tell. I'll have your secret out of
you, and I'll have it out of that sister of yours as well. There
shall be no more plotting and whispering between you. Neither you
nor she shall see each other again till you have confessed the
truth. I'll have you watched morning, noon, and night, till you
confess the truth.' He was deaf to everything I could say. He
took me straight upstairs into my own room. Fanny was sitting
there, doing some work for me, and he instantly ordered her out.
'I'll take good care YOU'RE not mixed up in the conspiracy,' he
said. 'You shall leave this house to-day. If your mistress wants
a maid, she shall have one of my choosing.' He pushed me into the
room, and locked the door on me. He set that senseless woman to
watch me outside, Marian! He looked and spoke like a madman. You
may hardly understand it--he did indeed."
"I do understand it, Laura. He is mad--mad with the terrors of a
guilty conscience. Every word you have said makes me positively
certain that when Anne Catherick left you yesterday you were on
the eve of discovering a secret which might have been your vile
husband's ruin, and he thinks you HAVE discovered it. Nothing you
can say or do will quiet that guilty distrust, and convince his
false nature of your truth. I don't say this, my love, to alarm
you. I say it to open your eyes to your position, and to convince
you of the urgent necessity of letting me act, as I best can, for
your protection while the chance is our own. Count Fosco's
interference has secured me access to you to-day, but he may
withdraw that interference to-morrow. Sir Percival has already
dismissed Fanny because she is a quick-witted girl, and devotedly
attached to you, and has chosen a woman to take her place who
cares nothing for your interests, and whose dull intelligence
lowers her to the level of the watch-dog in the yard. It is
impossible to say what violent measures he may take next, unless
we make the most of our opportunities while we have them."
"What can we do, Marian? Oh, if we could only leave this house,
never to see it again!"
"Listen to me, my love, and try to think that you are not quite
helpless so long as I am here with you."
"I will think so--I do think so. Don't altogether forget poor
Fanny in thinking of me. She wants help and comfort too."
"I will not forget her. I saw her before I came up here, and I
have arranged to communicate with her to-night. Letters are not
safe in the post-bag at Blackwater Park, and I shall have two to
write to-day, in your interests, which must pass through no hands
"I mean to write first, Laura, to Mr. Gilmore's partner, who has
offered to help us in any fresh emergency. Little as I know of
the law, I am certain that it can protect a woman from such
treatment as that ruffian has inflicted on you to-day. I will go
into no details about Anne Catherick, because I have no certain
information to give. But the lawyer shall know of those bruises
on your arm, and of the violence offered to you in this room--he
shall, before I rest to-night!"
"But think of the exposure, Marian!"
"I am calculating on the exposure. Sir Percival has more to dread
from it than you have. The prospect of an exposure may bring him
to terms when nothing else will."
I rose as I spoke, but Laura entreated me not to leave her. "You
will drive him to desperation," she said, "and increase our
I felt the truth--the disheartening truth--of those words. But I
could not bring myself plainly to acknowledge it to her. In our
dreadful position there was no help and no hope for us but in
risking the worst. I said so in guarded terms. She sighed
bitterly, but did not contest the matter. She only asked about
the second letter that I had proposed writing. To whom was it to
"To Mr. Fairlie," I said. "Your uncle is your nearest male
relative, and the head of the family. He must and shall
Laura shook her head sorrowfully.
"Yes, yes," I went on, "your uncle is a weak, selfish, worldly
man, I know, but he is not Sir Percival Glyde, and he has no such
friend about him as Count Fosco. I expect nothing from his
kindness or his tenderness of feeling towards you or towards me,
but he will do anything to pamper his own indolence, and to secure
his own quiet. Let me only persuade him that his interference at
this moment will save him inevitable trouble and wretchedness and
responsibility hereafter, and he will bestir himself for his own
sake. I know how to deal with him, Laura--I have had some
"If you could only prevail on him to let me go back to Limmeridge
for a little while and stay there quietly with you, Marian, I
could be almost as happy again as I was before I was married!"
Those words set me thinking in a new direction. Would it be
possible to place Sir Percival between the two alternatives of
either exposing himself to the scandal of legal interference on
his wife's behalf, or of allowing her to be quietly separated from
him for a time under pretext of a visit to her uncle's house? And
could he, in that case, be reckoned on as likely to accept the
last resource? It was doubtful--more than doubtful. And yet,
hopeless as the experiment seemed, surely it was worth trying. I
resolved to try it in sheer despair of knowing what better to do.
"Your uncle shall know the wish you have just expressed," I said,
"and I will ask the lawyer's advice on the subject as well. Good
may come of it--and will come of it, I hope."
Saying that I rose again, and again Laura tried to make me resume
"Don't leave me," she said uneasily. "My desk is on that table.
You can write here."
It tried me to the quick to refuse her, even in her own interests.
But we had been too long shut up alone together already. Our
chance of seeing each other again might entirely depend on our not
exciting any fresh suspicions. It was full time to show myself,
quietly and unconcernedly, among the wretches who were at that
very moment, perhaps, thinking of us and talking of us downstairs.
I explained the miserable necessity to Laura, and prevailed on her
to recognise it as I did.
"I will come back again, love, in an hour or less," I said. "The
worst is over for to-day. Keep yourself quiet and fear nothing."
"Is the key in the door, Marian? Can I lock it on the inside?"
"Yes, here is the key. Lock the door, and open it to nobody until
I come upstairs again."
I kissed her and left her. It was a relief to me as I walked away
to hear the key turned in the lock, and to know that the door was
at her own command.
June 19th.--I had only got as far as the top of the stairs when
the locking of Laura's door suggested to me the precaution of also
locking my own door, and keeping the key safely about me while I
was out of the room. My journal was already secured with other
papers in the table drawer, but my writing materials were left
out. These included a seal bearing the common device of two doves
drinking out of the same cup, and some sheets of blotting-paper,
which had the impression on them of the closing lines of my
writing in these pages traced during the past night. Distorted by
the suspicion which had now become a part of myself, even such
trifles as these looked too dangerous to be trusted without a
guard--even the locked table drawer seemed to be not sufficiently
protected in my absence until the means of access to it had been
carefully secured as well.
I found no appearance of any one having entered the room while I
had been talking with Laura. My writing materials (which I had
given the servant instructions never to meddle with) were
scattered over the table much as usual. The only circumstance in
connection with them that at all struck me was that the seal lay
tidily in the tray with the pencils and the wax. It was not in my
careless habits (I am sorry to say) to put it there, neither did I
remember putting it there. But as I could not call to mind, on
the other hand, where else I had thrown it down, and as I was also
doubtful whether I might not for once have laid it mechanically in
the right place, I abstained from adding to the perplexity with
which the day's events had filled my mind by troubling it afresh
about a trifle. I locked the door, put the key in my pocket, and
Madame Fosco was alone in the hall looking at the weather-glass.
"Still falling," she said. "I am afraid we must expect more
Her face was composed again to its customary expression and its
customary colour. But the hand with which she pointed to the dial
of the weather-glass still trembled.
Could she have told her husband already that she had overheard
Laura reviling him, in my company, as a " spy?" My strong
suspicion that she must have told him, my irresistible dread (all
the more overpowering from its very vagueness) of the consequences
which might follow, my fixed conviction, derived from various
little self-betrayals which women notice in each other, that
Madame Fosco, in spite of her well-assumed external civility, had
not forgiven her niece for innocently standing between her and the
legacy of ten thousand pounds--all rushed upon my mind together,
all impelled me to speak in the vain hope of using my own
influence and my own powers of persuasion for the atonement of
"May I trust to your kindness to excuse me, Madame Fosco, if I
venture to speak to you on an exceedingly painful subject?"
She crossed her hands in front of her and bowed her head solemnly,
without uttering a word, and without taking her eyes off mine for
"When you were so good as to bring me back my handkerchief," I
went on, "I am very, very much afraid you must have accidentally
heard Laura say something which I am unwilling to repeat, and
which I will not attempt to defend. I will only venture to hope
that you have not thought it of sufficient importance to be
mentioned to the Count?"
"I think it of no importance whatever," said Madame Fosco sharply
and suddenly. "But," she added, resuming her icy manner in a
moment, "I have no secrets from my husband even in trifles. When
he noticed just now that I looked distressed, it was my painful
duty to tell him why I was distressed, and I frankly acknowledge
to you, Miss Halcombe, that I HAVE told him."
I was prepared to hear it, and yet she turned me cold all over
when she said those words.
"Let me earnestly entreat you, Madame Fosco--let me earnestly
entreat the Count--to make some allowances for the sad position in
which my sister is placed. She spoke while she was smarting under
the insult and injustice inflicted on her by her husband, and she
was not herself when she said those rash words. May I hope that
they will be considerately and generously forgiven?"
"Most assuredly," said the Count's quiet voice behind me. He had
stolen on us with his noiseless tread and his book in his hand
from the library.
"When Lady Glyde said those hasty words," he went on, "she did me
an injustice which I lament--and forgive. Let us never return to
the subject, Miss Halcombe; let us all comfortably combine to
forget it from this moment."
"You are very kind," I said, "you relieve me inexpressibly "
I tried to continue, but his eyes were on me; his deadly smile
that hides everything was set, hard, and unwavering on his broad,
smooth face. My distrust of his unfathomable falseness, my sense
of my own degradation in stooping to conciliate his wife and
himself, so disturbed and confused me, that the next words failed
on my lips, and I stood there in silence.
"I beg you on my knees to say no more, Miss Halcombe--I am truly
shocked that you should have thought it necessary to say so much."
With that polite speech he took my hand--oh, how I despise myself!
oh, how little comfort there is even in knowing that I submitted
to it for Laura's sake!--he took my hand and put it to his
poisonous lips. Never did I know all my horror of him till then.
That innocent familiarity turned my blood as if it had been the
vilest insult that a man could offer me. Yet I hid my disgust
from him--I tried to smile--I, who once mercilessly despised
deceit in other women, was as false as the worst of them, as false
as the Judas whose lips had touched my hand.
I could not have maintained my degrading self-control--it is all
that redeems me in my own estimation to know that I could not--if
he had still continued to keep his eyes on my face. His wife's
tigerish jealousy came to my rescue and forced his attention away
from me the moment he possessed himself of my hand. Her cold blue
eyes caught light, her dull white cheeks flushed into bright
colour, she looked years younger than her age in an instant.
"Count!" she said. "Your foreign forms of politeness are not
understood by Englishwomen."
"Pardon me, my angel! The best and dearest Englishwoman in the
world understands them." With those words he dropped my hand and
quietly raised his wife's hand to his lips in place of it.
I ran back up the stairs to take refuge in my own room. If there
had been time to think, my thoughts, when I was alone again, would
have caused me bitter suffering. But there was no time to think.
Happily for the preservation of my calmness and my courage there
was time for nothing but action.
The letters to the lawyer and to Mr. Fairlie were still to be
written, and I sat down at once without a moment's hesitation to
devote myself to them.
There was no multitude of resources to perplex me--there was
absolutely no one to depend on, in the first instance, but myself.
Sir Percival had neither friends nor relatives in the
neighbourhood whose intercession I could attempt to employ. He
was on the coldest terms--in some cases on the worst terms with
the families of his own rank and station who lived near him. We
two women had neither father nor brother to come to the house and
take our parts. There was no choice but to write those two
doubtful letters, or to put Laura in the wrong and myself in the
wrong, and to make all peaceable negotiation in the future
impossible by secretly escaping from Blackwater Park. Nothing but
the most imminent personal peril could justify our taking that
second course. The letters must be tried first, and I wrote them.
I said nothing to the lawyer about Anne Catherick, because (as I
had already hinted to Laura) that topic was connected with a
mystery which we could not yet explain, and which it would
therefore be useless to write about to a professional man. I left
my correspondent to attribute Sir Percival's disgraceful conduct,
if he pleased, to fresh disputes about money matters, and simply
consulted him on the possibility of taking legal proceedings for
Laura's protection in the event of her husband's refusal to allow
her to leave Blackwater Park for a time and return with me to
Limmeridge. I referred him to Mr. Fairlie for the details of this
last arrangement--I assured him that I wrote with Laura's
authority--and I ended by entreating him to act in her name to the
utmost extent of his power and with the least possible loss of
The letter to Mr. Fairlie occupied me next. I appealed to him on
the terms which I had mentioned to Laura as the most likely to
make him bestir himself; I enclosed a copy of my letter to the
lawyer to show him how serious the case was, and I represented our
removal to Limmeridge as the only compromise which would prevent
the danger and distress of Laura's present position from
inevitably affecting her uncle as well as herself at no very
When I had done, and had sealed and directed the two envelopes, I
went back with the letters to Laura's room, to show her that they
"Has anybody disturbed you?" I asked, when she opened the door to
"Nobody has knocked," she replied. "But I heard some one in the
"Was it a man or a woman?"
"A woman. I heard the rustling of her gown."
"A rustling like silk?"
"Yes, like silk."
Madame Fosco had evidently been watching outside. The mischief
she might do by herself was little to be feared. But the mischief
she might do, as a willing instrument in her husband's hands, was
too formidable to be overlooked.
"What became of the rustling of the gown when you no longer heard
it in the ante-room?" I inquired. "Did you hear it go past your
wall, along the passage?"
"Yes. I kept still and listened, and just heard it."
"Which way did it go?"
"Towards your room."
I considered again. The sound had not caught my ears. But I was
then deeply absorbed in my letters, and I write with a heavy hand
and a quill pen, scraping and scratching noisily over the paper.
It was more likely that Madame Fosco would hear the scraping of my
pen than that I should hear the rustling of her dress. Another
reason (if I had wanted one) for not trusting my letters to the
post-bag in the hall.
Laura saw me thinking. "More difficulties!" she said wearily;
"more difficulties and more dangers!"
"No dangers," I replied. "Some little difficulty, perhaps. I am
thinking of the safest way of putting my two letters into Fanny's
"You have really written them, then? Oh, Marian, run no risks--
pray, pray run no risks!"
"No, no--no fear. Let me see--what o'clock is it now?"
It was a quarter to six. There would be time for me to get to the
village inn, and to come back again before dinner. If I waited
till the evening I might find no second opportunity of safely
leaving the house.
"Keep the key turned in the lock. Laura," I said, "and don't be
afraid about me. If you hear any inquiries made, call through the
door, and say that I am gone out for a walk."
"When shall you be back?"
"Before dinner, without fail. Courage, my love. By this time to-
morrow you will have a clear-headed, trustworthy man acting for
your good. Mr. Gilmore's partner is our next best friend to Mr.
A moment's reflection, as soon as I was alone, convinced me that I
had better not appear in my walking-dress until I had first
discovered what was going on in the lower part of the house. I
had not ascertained yet whether Sir Percival was indoors or out.
The singing of the canaries in the library, and the smell of
tobacco-smoke that came through the door, which was not closed,
told me at once where the Count was. I looked over my shoulder as
I passed the doorway, and saw to my surprise that he was
exhibiting the docility of the birds in his most engagingly polite
manner to the housekeeper. He must have specially invited her to
see them--for she would never have thought of going into the
library of her own accord. The man's slightest actions had a
purpose of some kind at the bottom of every one of them. What
could be his purpose here?
It was no time then to inquire into his motives. I looked about
for Madame Fosco next, and found her following her favourite
circle round and round the fish-pond.
I was a little doubtful how she would meet me, after the outbreak
of jealousy of which I had been the cause so short a time since.
But her husband had tamed her in the interval, and she now spoke
to me with the same civility as usual. My only object in
addressing myself to her was to ascertain if she knew what had
become of Sir Percival. I contrived to refer to him indirectly,
and after a little fencing on either side she at last mentioned
that he had gone out.
"Which of the horses has he taken?" I asked carelessly.
"None of them," she replied. "He went away two hours since on
foot. As I understood it, his object was to make fresh inquiries
about the woman named Anne Catherick. He appears to be
unreasonably anxious about tracing her. Do you happen to know if
she is dangerously mad, Miss Halcombe?"
"I do not, Countess."
"Are you going in?"
"Yes, I think so. I suppose it will soon be time to dress for
We entered the house together. Madame Fosco strolled into the
library, and closed the door. I went at once to fetch my hat and
shawl. Every moment was of importance, if I was to get to Fanny
at the inn and be back before dinner.
When I crossed the hall again no one was there, and the singing of
the birds in the library had ceased. I could not stop to make any
fresh investigations. I could only assure myself that the way was
clear, and then leave the house with the two letters safe in my
On my way to the village I prepared myself for the possibility of
meeting Sir Percival. As long as I had him to deal with alone I
felt certain of not losing my presence of mind. Any woman who is
sure of her own wits is a match at any time for a man who is not
sure of his own temper. I had no such fear of Sir Percival as I
had of the Count. Instead of fluttering, it had composed me, to
hear of the errand on which he had gone out. While the tracing of
Anne Catherick was the great anxiety that occupied him, Laura and
I might hope for some cessation of any active persecution at his
hands. For our sakes now, as well as for Anne's, I hoped and
prayed fervently that she might still escape him.
I walked on as briskly as the heat would let me till I reached the
cross-road which led to the village, looking back from time to
time to make sure that I was not followed by any one.
Nothing was behind me all the way but an empty country waggon.
The noise made by the lumbering wheels annoyed me, and when I
found that the waggon took the road to the village, as well as
myself, I stopped to let it go by and pass out of hearing. As I
looked toward it, more attentively than before, I thought I
detected at intervals the feet of a man walking close behind it,
the carter being in front, by the side of his horses. The part of
the cross-road which I had just passed over was so narrow that the
waggon coming after me brushed the trees and thickets on either
side, and I had to wait until it went by before I could test the
correctness of my impression. Apparently that impression was
wrong, for when the waggon had passed me the road behind it was
I reached the inn without meeting Sir Percival, and without
noticing anything more, and was glad to find that the landlady had
received Fanny with all possible kindness. The girl had a little
parlour to sit in, away from the noise of the taproom, and a clean
bedchamber at the top of the house. She began crying again at the
sight of me, and said, poor soul, truly enough, that it was
dreadful to feel herself turned out into the world as if she had
committed some unpardonable fault, when no blame could be laid at
her door by anybody--not even by her master, who had sent her
"Try to make the best of it, Fanny," I said. "Your mistress and I
will stand your friends, and will take care that your character
shall not suffer. Now, listen to me. I have very little time to
spare, and I am going to put a great trust in your hands. I wish
you to take care of these two letters. The one with the stamp on
it you are to put into the post when you reach London to-morrow.
The other, directed to Mr. Fairlie, you are to deliver to him
yourself as soon as you get home. Keep both the letters about you
and give them up to no one. They are of the last importance to
your mistress's interests."
Fanny put the letters into the bosom of her dress. "There they
shall stop, miss," she said, "till I have done what you tell me."
"Mind you are at the station in good time to-morrow morning," I
continued. "And when you see the housekeeper at Limmeridge give
her my compliments, and say that you are in my service until Lady
Glyde is able to take you back. We may meet again sooner than you
think. So keep a good heart, and don't miss the seven o'clock
"Thank you, miss--thank you kindly. It gives one courage to hear
your voice again. Please to offer my duty to my lady, and say I
left all the things as tidy as I could in the time. Oh, dear!
dear! who will dress her for dinner to-day? It really breaks my
heart, miss, to think of it."
When I got back to the house I had only a quarter of an hour to
spare to put myself in order for dinner, and to say two words to
Laura before I went downstairs.
"The letters are in Fanny's hands," I whispered to her at the
door. "Do you mean to join us at dinner?"
"Oh, no, no--not for the world."
"Has anything happened? Has any one disturbed you?"
"Yes--just now--Sir Percival----"
"Did he come in?"
"No, he frightened me by a thump on the door outside. I said,
'Who's there?' 'You know,' he answered. 'Will you alter your
mind, and tell me the rest? You shall! Sooner or later I'll wring
it out of you. You know where Anne Catherick is at this moment.'
'Indeed, indeed,' I said, 'I don't.' 'You do!' he called back.
'I'll crush your obstinacy--mind that!--I'll wring it out of you!'
He went away with those words--went away, Marian, hardly five
He had not found Anne! We were safe for that night--he had not
found her yet.
"You are going downstairs, Marian? Come up again in the evening."
"Yes, yes. Don't be uneasy if I am a little late--I must be
careful not to give offence by leaving them too soon."
The dinner-bell rang and I hastened away.
Sir Percival took Madame Fosco into the dining-room, and the Count
gave me his arm. He was hot and flushed, and was not dressed with
his customary care and completeness. Had he, too, been out before
dinner, and been late in getting back? or was he only suffering
from the heat a little more severely than usual?
However this might be, he was unquestionably troubled by some
secret annoyance or anxiety, which, with all his powers of
deception, he was not able entirely to conceal. Through the whole
of dinner he was almost as silent as Sir Percival himself, and he,
every now and then, looked at his wife with an expression of
furtive uneasiness which was quite new in my experience of him.
The one social obligation which he seemed to be self-possessed
enough to perform as carefully as ever was the obligation of being
persistently civil and attentive to me. What vile object he has
in view I cannot still discover, but be the design what it may,
invariable politeness towards myself, invariable humility towards
Laura, and invariable suppression (at any cost) of Sir Percival's
clumsy violence, have been the means he has resolutely and
impenetrably used to get to his end ever since he set foot in this
house. I suspected it when he first interfered in our favour, on
the day when the deed was produced in the library, and I feel
certain of it now.
When Madame Fosco and I rose to leave the table, the Count rose
also to accompany us back to the drawing-room.
"What are you going away for?" asked Sir Percival--"I mean YOU,
"I am going away because I have had dinner enough, and wine
enough," answered the Count. "Be so kind, Percival, as to make
allowances for my foreign habit of going out with the ladies, as
well as coming in with them."
"Nonsense! Another glass of claret won't hurt you. Sit down again
like an Englishman. I want half an hour's quiet talk with you
over our wine."
"A quiet talk, Percival, with all my heart, but not now, and not
over the wine. Later in the evening, if you please--later in the
"Civil!" said Sir Percival savagely. "Civil behaviour, upon my
soul, to a man in his own house!"
I had more than once seen him look at the Count uneasily during
dinner-time, and had observed that the Count carefully abstained
from looking at him in return. This circumstance, coupled with
the host's anxiety for a little quiet talk over the wine, and the
guest's obstinate resolution not to sit down again at the table,
revived in my memory the request which Sir Percival had vainly
addressed to his friend earlier in the day to come out of the
library and speak to him. The Count had deferred granting that
private interview, when it was first asked for in the afternoon,
and had again deferred granting it, when it was a second time
asked for at the dinner-table. Whatever the coming subject of
discussion between them might be, it was clearly an important
subject in Sir Percival's estimation--and perhaps (judging from
his evident reluctance to approach it) a dangerous subject as
well, in the estimation of the Count.
These considerations occurred to me while we were passing from the
dining-room to the drawing-room. Sir Percival's angry commentary
on his friend's desertion of him had not produced the slightest
effect. The Count obstinately accompanied us to the tea-table--
waited a minute or two in the room--went out into the hall--and
returned with the post-bag in his hands. It was then eight
o'clock--the hour at which the letters were always despatched from
"Have you any letter for the post, Miss Halcombe?" he asked,
approaching me with the bag.
I saw Madame Fosco, who was making the tea, pause, with the sugar-
tongs in her hand, to listen for my answer.
"No, Count, thank you. No letters to-day."
He gave the bag to the servant, who was then in the room; sat down
at the piano, and played the air of the lively Neapolitan street-
song, "La mia Carolina," twice over. His wife, who was usually
the most deliberate of women in all her movements, made the tea as
quickly as I could have made it myself--finished her own cup in
two minutes, and quietly glided out of the room.
I rose to follow her example--partly because I suspected her of
attempting some treachery upstairs with Laura, partly because I
was resolved not to remain alone in the same room with her
Before I could get to the door the Count stopped me, by a request
for a cup of tea. I gave him the cup of tea, and tried a second
time to get away. He stopped me again--this time by going back to
the piano, and suddenly appealing to me on a musical question in
which he declared that the honour of his country was concerned.
I vainly pleaded my own total ignorance of music, and total want
of taste in that direction. He only appealed to me again with a
vehemence which set all further protest on my part at defiance.
"The English and the Germans (he indignantly declared) were always
reviling the Italians for their inability to cultivate the higher
kinds of music. We were perpetually talking of our Oratorios, and
they were perpetually talking of their Symphonies. Did we forget
and did they forget his immortal friend and countryman, Rossini?
What was Moses in Egypt but a sublime oratorio, which was acted on
the stage instead of being coldly sung in a concert-room? What was
the overture to Guillaume Tell but a symphony under another name?
Had I heard Moses in Egypt? Would I listen to this, and this, and
this, and say if anything more sublimely sacred and grand had ever
been composed by mortal man?"--And without waiting for a word of
assent or dissent on my part, looking me hard in the face all the
time, he began thundering on the piano, and singing to it with
loud and lofty enthusiasm--only interrupting himself, at
intervals, to announce to me fiercely the titles of the different
pieces of music: "Chorus of Egyptians in the Plague of Darkness,
Miss Halcombe!"--"Recitativo of Moses with the tables of the
Law."--"Prayer of Israelites, at the passage of the Red Sea. Aha!
Aha! Is that sacred? is that sublime?" The piano trembled under
his powerful hands, and the teacups on the table rattled, as his
big bass voice thundered out the notes, and his heavy foot beat
time on the floor.
There was something horrible--something fierce and devilish--in
the outburst of his delight at his own singing and playing, and in
the triumph with which he watched its effect upon me as I shrank
nearer and nearer to the door. I was released at last, not by my
own efforts, but by Sir Percival's interposition. He opened the
dining-room door, and called out angrily to know what "that
infernal noise" meant. The Count instantly got up from the piano.
"Ah! if Percival is coming," he said, "harmony and melody are both
at an end. The Muse of Music, Miss Halcombe, deserts us in
dismay, and I, the fat old minstrel, exhale the rest of my
enthusiasm in the open air!" He stalked out into the verandah, put
his hands in his pockets, and resumed the Recitativo of Moses,
sotto voce, in the garden.
I heard Sir Percival call after him from the dining-room window.
But he took no notice--he seemed determined not to hear. That
long-deferred quiet talk between them was still to be put off, was
still to wait for the Count's absolute will and pleasure.
He had detained me in the drawing-room nearly half an hour from
the time when his wife left us. Where had she been, and what had
she been doing in that interval?
I went upstairs to ascertain, but I made no discoveries, and when
I questioned Laura, I found that she had not heard anything.
Nobody had disturbed her, no faint rustling of the silk dress had
been audible, either in the ante-room or in the passage.
It was then twenty minutes to nine. After going to my room to get
my journal, I returned, and sat with Laura, sometimes writing,
sometimes stopping to talk with her. Nobody came near us, and
nothing happened. We remained together till ten o'clock. I then
rose, said my last cheering words, and wished her good-night. She
locked her door again after we had arranged that I should come in
and see her the first thing in the morning.
I had a few sentences more to add to my diary before going to bed
myself, and as I went down again to the drawing-room after leaving
Laura for the last time that weary day, I resolved merely to show
myself there, to make my excuses, and then to retire an hour
earlier than usual for the night.
Sir Percival, and the Count and his wife, were sitting together.
Sir Percival was yawning in an easy-chair, the Count was reading,
Madame Fosco was fanning herself. Strange to say, HER face was
flushed now. She, who never suffered from the heat, was most
undoubtedly suffering from it to-night.
"I am afraid, Countess, you are not quite so well as usual?" I
"The very remark I was about to make to you," she replied. "You
are looking pale, my dear."
My dear! It was the first time she had ever addressed me with that
familiarity! There was an insolent smile too on her face when she
said the words.
"I am suffering from one of my bad headaches," I answered coldly.
"Ah, indeed? Want of exercise, I suppose? A walk before dinner
would have been just the thing for you." She referred to the
"walk" with a strange emphasis. Had she seen me go out? No matter
if she had. The letters were safe now in Fanny's hands.
"Come and have a smoke, Fosco," said Sir Percival, rising, with
another uneasy look at his friend.
"With pleasure, Percival, when the ladies have gone to bed,"
replied the Count.
"Excuse me, Countess, if I set you the example of retiring," I
said. "The only remedy for such a headache as mine is going to
I took my leave. There was the same insolent smile on the woman's
face when I shook hands with her. Sir Percival paid no attention
to me. He was looking impatiently at Madame Fosco, who showed no
signs of leaving the room with me. The Count smiled to himself
behind his book. There was yet another delay to that quiet talk
with Sir Percival--and the Countess was the impediment this time.
June 19th.--Once safely shut into my own room, I opened these
pages, and prepared to go on with that part of the day's record
which was still left to write.
For ten minutes or more I sat idle, with the pen in my hand,
thinking over the events of the last twelve hours. When I at last
addressed myself to my task, I found a difficulty in proceeding
with it which I had never experienced before. In spite of my
efforts to fix my thoughts on the matter in hand, they wandered
away with the strangest persistency in the one direction of Sir
Percival and the Count, and all the interest which I tried to
concentrate on my journal centred instead in that private
interview between them which had been put off all through the day,
and which was now to take place in the silence and solitude of the
In this perverse state of my mind, the recollection of what had
passed since the morning would not come back to me, and there was
no resource but to close my journal and to get away from it for a
I opened the door which led from my bedroom into my sitting-room,
and having passed through, pulled it to again, to prevent any
accident in case of draught with the candle left on the dressing-
table. My sitting-room window was wide open, and I leaned out
listlessly to look at the night.
It was dark and quiet. Neither moon nor stars were visible.
There was a smell like rain in the still, heavy air, and I put my
hand out of window. No. The rain was only threatening, it had
not come yet.
I remained leaning on the window-sill for nearly a quarter of an
hour, looking out absently into the black darkness, and hearing
nothing, except now and then the voices of the servants, or the
distant sound of a closing door, in the lower part of the house.
Just as I was turning away wearily from the window to go back to
the bedroom and make a second attempt to complete the unfinished
entry in my journal, I smelt the odour of tobacco-smoke stealing
towards me on the heavy night air. The next moment I saw a tiny
red spark advancing from the farther end of the house in the pitch
darkness. I heard no footsteps, and I could see nothing but the
spark. It travelled along in the night, passed the window at
which I was standing, and stopped opposite my bedroom window,
inside which I had left the light burning on the dressing-table.
The spark remained stationary for a moment, then moved back again
in the direction from which it had advanced. As I followed its
progress I saw a second red spark, larger than the first,
approaching from the distance. The two met together in the
darkness. Remembering who smoked cigarettes and who smoked
cigars, I inferred immediately that the Count had come out first
to look and listen under my window, and that Sir Percival had
afterwards joined him. They must both have been walking on the
lawn--or I should certainly have heard Sir Percival's heavy
footfall, though the Count's soft step might have escaped me, even
on the gravel walk.
I waited quietly at the window, certain that they could neither of
them see me in the darkness of the room.
"What's the matter?" I heard Sir Percival say in a low voice.
"Why don't you come in and sit down?"
"I want to see the light out of that window," replied the Count
"What harm does the light do?"
"It shows she is not in bed yet. She is sharp enough to suspect
something, and bold enough to come downstairs and listen, if she
can get the chance. Patience, Percival--patience."
"Humbug! You're always talking of patience."
"I shall talk of something else presently. My good friend, you
are on the edge of your domestic precipice, and if I let you give
the women one other chance, on my sacred word of honour they will
push you over it!"
"What the devil do you mean?"
"We will come to our explanations, Percival, when the light is out
of that window, and when I have had one little look at the rooms
on each side of the library, and a peep at the staircase as well."
They slowly moved away, and the rest of the conversation between
them (which had been conducted throughout in the same low tones)
ceased to be audible. It was no matter. I had heard enough to
determine me on justifying the Count's opinion of my sharpness and
my courage. Before the red sparks were out of sight in the
darkness I had made up my mind that there should be a listener
when those two men sat down to their talk--and that the listener,
in spite of all the Count's precautions to the contrary, should be
myself. I wanted but one motive to sanction the act to my own
conscience, and to give me courage enough for performing it--and
that motive I had. Laura's honour, Laura's happiness--Laura's
life itself--might depend on my quick ears and my faithful memory
I had heard the Count say that he meant to examine the rooms on
each side of the library, and the staircase as well, before he
entered on any explanation with Sir Percival. This expression of
his intentions was necessarily sufficient to inform me that the
library was the room in which he proposed that the conversation
should take place. The one moment of time which was long enough
to bring me to that conclusion was also the moment which showed me
a means of baffling his precautions--or, in other words, of
hearing what he and Sir Percival said to each other, without the
risk of descending at all into the lower regions of the house.
In speaking of the rooms on the ground floor I have mentioned
incidentally the verandah outside them, on which they all opened
by means of French windows, extending from the cornice to the
floor. The top of this verandah was flat, the rain-water being
carried off from it by pipes into tanks which helped to supply the
house. On the narrow leaden roof, which ran along past the
bedrooms, and which was rather less, I should think, than three
feet below the sills of the window, a row of flower-pots was
ranged, with wide intervals between each pot--the whole being
protected from falling in high winds by an ornamental iron railing
along the edge of the roof.
The plan which had now occurred to me was to get out at my
sitting-room window on to this roof, to creep along noiselessly
till I reached that part of it which was immediately over the
library window, and to crouch down between the flower-pots, with
my ear against the outer railing. If Sir Percival and the Count
sat and smoked to-night, as I had seen them sitting and smoking
many nights before, with their chairs close at the open window,
and their feet stretched on the zinc garden seats which were
placed under the verandah, every word they said to each other
above a whisper (and no long conversation, as we all know by
experience, can be carried on IN a whisper) must inevitably reach
my ears. If, on the other hand, they chose to-night to sit far
back inside the room, then the chances were that I should hear
little or nothing--and in that case, I must run the far more
serious risk of trying to outwit them downstairs.
Strongly as I was fortified in my resolution by the desperate
nature of our situation, I hoped most fervently that I might
escape this last emergency. My courage was only a woman's courage
after all, and it was very near to failing me when I thought of
trusting myself on the ground floor, at the dead of night, within
reach of Sir Percival and the Count.
I went softly back to my bedroom to try the safer experiment of
the verandah roof first.
A complete change in my dress was imperatively necessary for many
reasons. I took off my silk gown to begin with, because the
slightest noise from it on that still night might have betrayed
me. I next removed the white and cumbersome parts of my
underclothing, and replaced them by a petticoat of dark flannel.
Over this I put my black travelling cloak, and pulled the hood on
to my head. In my ordinary evening costume I took up the room of
three men at least. In my present dress, when it was held close
about me, no man could have passed through the narrowest spaces
more easily than I. The little breadth left on the roof of the
verandah, between the flower-pots on one side and the wall and the
windows of the house on the other, made this a serious
consideration. If I knocked anything down, if I made the least
noise, who could say what the consequences might be?
I only waited to put the matches near the candle before I
extinguished it, and groped my way back into the sitting-room, I
locked that door, as I had locked my bedroom door--then quietly
got out of the window, and cautiously set my feet on the leaden
roof of the verandah.
My two rooms were at the inner extremity of the new wing of the
house in which we all lived, and I had five windows to pass before
I could reach the position it was necessary to take up immediately
over the library. The first window belonged to a spare room which
was empty. The second and third windows belonged to Laura's room.
The fourth window belonged to Sir Percival's room. The fifth
belonged to the Countess's room. The others, by which it was not
necessary for me to pass, were the windows of the Count's
dressing-room, of the bath-room, and of the second empty spare
No sound reached my ears--the black blinding darkness of the night
was all round me when I first stood on the verandah, except at
that part of it which Madame Fosco's window over-looked. There,
at the very place above the library to which my course was
directed--there I saw a gleam of light! The Countess was not yet
It was too late to draw back--it was no time to wait. I
determined to go on at all hazards, and trust for security to my
own caution and to the darkness of the night. "For Laura's sake!"
I thought to myself, as I took the first step forward on the roof,
with one hand holding my cloak close round me, and the other
groping against the wall of the house. It was better to brush
close by the wall than to risk striking my feet against the
flower-pots within a few inches of me, on the other side.
I passed the dark window of the spare room, trying the leaden roof
at each step with my foot before I risked resting my weight on it.
I passed the dark windows of Laura's room ("God bless her and keep
her to-night!"). I passed the dark window of Sir Percival's room.
Then I waited a moment, knelt down with my hands to support me,
and so crept to my position, under the protection of the low wall
between the bottom of the lighted window and the verandah roof.
When I ventured to look up at the window itself I found that the
top of it only was open, and that the blind inside was drawn down.
While I was looking I saw the shadow of Madame Fosco pass across
the white field of the blind--then pass slowly back again. Thus
far she could not have heard me, or the shadow would surely have
stopped at the blind, even if she had wanted courage enough to
open the window and look out?
I placed myself sideways against the railing of the verandah--
first ascertaining, by touching them, the position of the flower-
pots on either side of me. There was room enough for me to sit
between them and no more. The sweet-scented leaves of the flower
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