Part 11 out of 14
write to the farm near Limmeridge (Todd's Corner), to inquire
whether Mrs. Clements had communicated with Mrs. Todd during the
past few months. How Mrs. Clements had been separated from Anne
it was impossible for us to say, but that separation once
effected, it would certainly occur to Mrs. Clements to inquire
after the missing woman in the neighbourhood of all others to
which she was known to be most attached--the neighbourhood of
Limmeridge. I saw directly that Marian's proposal offered us a
prospect of success, and she wrote to Mrs. Todd accordingly by
that day's post.
While we were waiting for the reply, I made myself master of all
the information Marian could afford on the subject of Sir
Percival's family, and of his early life. She could only speak on
these topics from hearsay, but she was reasonably certain of the
truth of what little she had to tell.
Sir Percival was an only child. His father, Sir Felix Glyde, had
suffered from his birth under a painful and incurable deformity,
and had shunned all society from his earliest years. His sole
happiness was in the enjoyment of music, and he had married a lady
with tastes similar to his own, who was said to be a most
accomplished musician. He inherited the Blackwater property while
still a young man. Neither he nor his wife after taking
possession, made advances of any sort towards the society of the
neighbourhood, and no one endeavoured to tempt them into
abandoning their reserve, with the one disastrous exception of the
rector of the parish.
The rector was the worst of all innocent mischief-makers--an over-
zealous man. He had heard that Sir Felix had left College with
the character of being little better than a revolutionist in
politics and an infidel in religion, and he arrived
conscientiously at the conclusion that it was his bounden duty to
summon the lord of the manor to hear sound views enunciated in the
parish church. Sir Felix fiercely resented the clergyman's well-
meant but ill-directed interference, insulting him so grossly and
so publicly, that the families in the neighbourhood sent letters
of indignant remonstrance to the Park, and even the tenants of the
Blackwater property expressed their opinion as strongly as they
dared. The baronet, who had no country tastes of any kind, and no
attachment to the estate or to any one living on it, declared that
society at Blackwater should never have a second chance of
annoying him, and left the place from that moment.
After a short residence in London he and his wife departed for the
Continent, and never returned to England again. They lived part
of the time in France and part in Germany--always keeping
themselves in the strict retirement which the morbid sense of his
own personal deformity had made a necessity to Sir Felix. Their
son, Percival, had been born abroad, and had been educated there
by private tutors. His mother was the first of his parents whom
he lost. His father had died a few years after her, either in 1825
or 1826. Sir Percival had been in England, as a young man, once
or twice before that period, but his acquaintance with the late
Mr. Fairlie did not begin till after the time of his father's
death. They soon became very intimate, although Sir Percival was
seldom, or never, at Limmeridge House in those days. Mr.
Frederick Fairlie might have met him once or twice in Mr. Philip
Fairlie's company, but he could have known little of him at that
or at any other time. Sir Percival's only intimate friend in the
Fairlie family had been Laura's father.
These were all the particulars that I could gain from Marian.
They suggested nothing which was useful to my present purpose, but
I noted them down carefully, in the event of their proving to be
of importance at any future period.
Mrs. Todd's reply (addressed, by our own wish, to a post-office at
some distance from us) had arrived at its destination when I went
to apply for it. The chances, which had been all against us
hitherto, turned from this moment in our favour. Mrs. Todd's
letter contained the first item of information of which we were in
Mrs. Clements, it appeared, had (as we had conjectured) written to
Todd's Corner, asking pardon in the first place for the abrupt
manner in which she and Anne had left their friends at the farm-
house (on the morning after I had met the woman in white in
Limmeridge churchyard), and then informing Mrs. Todd of Anne's
disappearance, and entreating that she would cause inquiries to be
made in the neighbourhood, on the chance that the lost woman might
have strayed back to Limmeridge. In making this request, Mrs.
Clements had been careful to add to it the address at which she
might always be heard of, and that address Mrs. Todd now
transmitted to Marian. It was in London, and within half an
hour's walk of our own lodging.
In the words of the proverb, I was resolved not to let the grass
grow under my feet. The next morning I set forth to seek an
interview with Mrs. Clements. This was my first step forward in
the investigation. The story of the desperate attempt to which I
now stood committed begins here.
The address communicated by Mrs. Todd took me to a lodging-house
situated in a respectable street near the Gray's Inn Road.
When I knocked the door was opened by Mrs. Clements herself. She
did not appear to remember me, and asked what my business was. I
recalled to her our meeting in Limmeridge churchyard at the close
of my interview there with the woman in white, taking special care
to remind her that I was the person who assisted Anne Catherick
(as Anne had herself declared) to escape the pursuit from the
Asylum. This was my only claim to the confidence of Mrs.
Clements. She remembered the circumstance the moment I spoke of
it, and asked me into the parlour, in the greatest anxiety to know
if I had brought her any news of Anne.
It was impossible for me to tell her the whole truth without, at
the same time, entering into particulars on the subject of the
conspiracy, which it would have been dangerous to confide to a
stranger. I could only abstain most carefully from raising any
false hopes, and then explain that the object of my visit was to
discover the persons who were really responsible for Anne's
disappearance. I even added, so as to exonerate myself from any
after-reproach of my own conscience, that I entertained not the
least hope of being able to trace her--that I believed we should
never see her alive again--and that my main interest in the affair
was to bring to punishment two men whom I suspected to be
concerned in luring her away, and at whose hands I and some dear
friends of mine had suffered a grievous wrong. With this
explanation I left it to Mrs. Clements to say whether our interest
in the matter (whatever difference there might be in the motives
which actuated us) was not the same, and whether she felt any
reluctance to forward my object by giving me such information on
the subject of my inquiries as she happened to possess.
The poor woman was at first too much confused and agitated to
understand thoroughly what I said to her. She could only reply
that I was welcome to anything she could tell me in return for the
kindness I had shown to Anne; but as she was not very quick and
ready, at the best of times, in talking to strangers, she would
beg me to put her in the right way, and to say where I wished her
Knowing by experience that the plainest narrative attainable from
persons who are not accustomed to arrange their ideas, is the
narrative which goes far enough back at the beginning to avoid all
impediments of retrospection in its course, I asked Mrs. Clements
to tell me first what had happened after she had left Limmeridge,
and so, by watchful questioning, carried her on from point to
point, till we reached the period of Anne's disappearance.
The substance of the information which I thus obtained was as
On leaving the farm at Todd's Corner, Mrs. Clements and Anne had
travelled that day as far as Derby, and had remained there a week
on Anne's account. They had then gone on to London, and had lived
in the lodging occupied by Mrs. Clements at that time for a month
or more, when circumstances connected with the house and the
landlord had obliged them to change their quarters. Anne's terror
of being discovered in London or its neighbourhood, whenever they
ventured to walk out, had gradually communicated itself to Mrs.
Clements, and she had determined on removing to one of the most
out-of-the-way places in England--to the town of Grimsby in
Lincolnshire, where her deceased husband had passed all his early
life. His relatives were respectable people settled in the town--
they had always treated Mrs. Clements with great kindness, and she
thought it impossible to do better than go there and take the
advice of her husband's friends. Anne would not hear of returning
to her mother at Welmingham, because she had been removed to the
Asylum from that place, and because Sir Percival would be certain
to go back there and find her again. There was serious weight in
this objection, and Mrs. Clements felt that it was not to be
At Grimsby the first serious symptoms of illness had shown
themselves in Anne. They appeared soon after the news of Lady
Glyde's marriage had been made public in the newspapers, and had
reached her through that medium.
The medical man who was sent for to attend the sick woman
discovered at once that she was suffering from a serious affection
of the heart. The illness lasted long, left her very weak, and
returned at intervals, though with mitigated severity, again and
again. They remained at Grimsby, in consequence, during the first
half of the new year, and there they might probably have stayed
much longer, but for the sudden resolution which Anne took at this
time to venture back to Hampshire, for the purpose of obtaining a
private interview with Lady Glyde.
Mrs. Clements did all in her power to oppose the execution of this
hazardous and unaccountable project. No explanation of her
motives was offered by Anne, except that she believed the day of
her death was not far off, and that she had something on her mind
which must be communicated to Lady Glyde, at any risk, in secret.
Her resolution to accomplish this purpose was so firmly settled
that she declared her intention of going to Hampshire by herself
if Mrs. Clements felt any unwillingness to go with her. The
doctor, on being consulted, was of opinion that serious opposition
to her wishes would, in all probability, produce another and
perhaps a fatal fit of illness, and Mrs. Clements, under this
advice, yielded to necessity, and once more, with sad forebodings
of trouble and danger to come, allowed Anne Catherick to have her
On the journey from London to Hampshire Mrs. Clements discovered
that one of their fellow-passengers was well acquainted with the
neighbourhood of Blackwater, and could give her all the
information she needed on the subject of localities. In this way
she found out that the only place they could go to, which was not
dangerously near to Sir Percival's residence, was a large village
called Sandon. The distance here from Blackwater Park was between
three and four miles--and that distance, and back again, Anne had
walked on each occasion when she had appeared in the neighbourhood
of the lake.
For the few days during which they were at Sandon without being
discovered they had lived a little away from the village, in the
cottage of a decent widow-woman who had a bedroom to let, and
whose discreet silence Mrs. Clements had done her best to secure,
for the first week at least. She had also tried hard to induce
Anne to be content with writing to Lady Glyde, in the first
instance; but the failure of the warning contained in the
anonymous letter sent to Limmeridge had made Anne resolute to
speak this time, and obstinate in the determination to go on her
Mrs. Clements, nevertheless, followed her privately on each
occasion when she went to the lake, without, however, venturing
near enough to the boat-house to be witness of what took place
there. When Anne returned for the last time from the dangerous
neighbourhood, the fatigue of walking, day after day, distances
which were far too great for her strength, added to the exhausting
effect of the agitation from which she had suffered, produced the
result which Mrs. Clements had dreaded all along. The old pain
over the heart and the other symptoms of the illness at Grimsby
returned, and Anne was confined to her bed in the cottage.
In this emergency the first necessity, as Mrs. Clements knew by
experience, was to endeavour to quiet Anne's anxiety of mind, and
for this purpose the good woman went herself the next day to the
lake, to try if she could find Lady Glyde (who would be sure, as
Anne said, to take her daily walk to the boat-house), and prevail
on her to come back privately to the cottage near Sandon. On
reaching the outskirts of the plantation Mrs. Clements
encountered, not Lady Glyde, but a tall, stout, elderly gentleman,
with a book in his hand--in other words, Count Fosco.
The Count, after looking at her very attentively for a moment,
asked if she expected to see any one in that place, and added,
before she could reply, that he was waiting there with a message
from Lady Glyde, but that he was not quite certain whether the
person then before him answered the description of the person with
whom he was desired to communicate.
Upon this Mrs. Clements at once confided her errand to him, and
entreated that he would help to allay Anne's anxiety by trusting
his message to her. The Count most readily and kindly complied
with her request. The message, he said, was a very important one.
Lady Glyde entreated Anne and her good friend to return
immediately to London, as she felt certain that Sir Percival would
discover them if they remained any longer in the neighbourhood of
Blackwater. She was herself going to London in a short time, and
if Mrs. Clements and Anne would go there first, and would let her
know what their address was, they should hear from her and see her
in a fortnight or less. The Count added that he had already
attempted to give a friendly warning to Anne herself, but that she
had been too much startled by seeing that he was a stranger to let
him approach and speak to her.
To this Mrs. Clements replied, in the greatest alarm and distress,
that she asked nothing better than to take Anne safely to London,
but that there was no present hope of removing her from the
dangerous neighbourhood, as she lay ill in her bed at that moment.
The Count inquired if Mrs. Clements had sent for medical advice,
and hearing that she had hitherto hesitated to do so, from the
fear of making their position publicly known in the village,
informed her that he was himself a medical man, and that he would
go back with her if she pleased, and see what could be done for
Anne. Mrs. Clements (feeling a natural confidence in the Count,
as a person trusted with a secret message from Lady Glyde)
gratefully accepted the offer, and they went back together to the
Anne was asleep when they got there. The Count started at the
sight of her (evidently from astonishment at her resemblance to
Lady Glyde). Poor Mrs. Clements supposed that he was only shocked
to see how ill she was. He would not allow her to be awakened--he
was contented with putting questions to Mrs. Clements about her
symptoms, with looking at her, and with lightly touching her
pulse. Sandon was a large enough place to have a grocer's and
druggist's shop in it, and thither the Count went to write his
prescription and to get the medicine made up. He brought it back
himself, and told Mrs. Clements that the medicine was a powerful
stimulant, and that it would certainly give Anne strength to get
up and bear the fatigue of a journey to London of only a few
hours. The remedy was to be administered at stated times on that
day and on the day after. On the third day she would be well
enough to travel, and he arranged to meet Mrs. Clements at the
Blackwater station, and to see them off by the mid-day train. If
they did not appear he would assume that Anne was worse, and would
proceed at once to the cottage.
As events turned out, no such emergency as this occurred.
This medicine had an extraordinary effect on Anne, and the good
results of it were helped by the assurance Mrs. Clements could now
give her that she would soon see Lady Glyde in London. At the
appointed day and time (when they had not been quite so long as a
week in Hampshire altogether), they arrived at the station. The
Count was waiting there for them, and was talking to an elderly
lady, who appeared to be going to travel by the train to London
also. He most kindly assisted them, and put them into the
carriage himself, begging Mrs. Clements not to forget to send her
address to Lady Glyde. The elderly lady did not travel in the
same compartment, and they did not notice what became of her on
reaching the London terminus. Mrs. Clements secured respectable
lodgings in a quiet neighbourhood, and then wrote, as she had
engaged to do, to inform Lady Glyde of the address.
A little more than a fortnight passed, and no answer came.
At the end of that time a lady (the same elderly lady whom they
had seen at the station) called in a cab, and said that she came
from Lady Glyde, who was then at an hotel in London, and who
wished to see Mrs. Clements, for the purpose of arranging a future
interview with Anne. Mrs. Clements expressed her willingness
(Anne being present at the time, and entreating her to do so) to
forward the object in view, especially as she was not required to
be away from the house for more than half an hour at the most.
She and the elderly lady (clearly Madame Fosco) then left in the
cab. The lady stopped the cab, after it had driven some distance,
at a shop before they got to the hotel, and begged Mrs. Clements
to wait for her for a few minutes while she made a purchase that
had been forgotten. She never appeared again.
After waiting some time Mrs. Clements became alarmed, and ordered
the cabman to drive back to her lodgings. When she got there,
after an absence of rather more than half an hour, Anne was gone.
The only information to be obtained from the people of the house
was derived from the servant who waited on the lodgers. She had
opened the door to a boy from the street, who had left a letter
for "the young woman who lived on the second floor" (the part of
the house which Mrs. Clements occupied). The servant had
delivered the letter, had then gone downstairs, and five minutes
afterwards had observed Anne open the front door and go out,
dressed in her bonnet and shawl. She had probably taken the
letter with her, for it was not to be found, and it was therefore
impossible to tell what inducement had been offered to make her
leave the house. It must have been a strong one, for she would
never stir out alone in London of her own accord. If Mrs.
Clements had not known this by experience nothing would have
induced her to go away in the cab, even for so short a time as
half an hour only.
As soon as she could collect her thoughts, the first idea that
naturally occurred to Mrs. Clements was to go and make inquiries
at the Asylum, to which she dreaded that Anne had been taken back.
She went there the next day, having been informed of the locality
in which the house was situated by Anne herself. The answer she
received (her application having in all probability been made a
day or two before the false Anne Catherick had really been
consigned to safe keeping in the Asylum) was, that no such person
had been brought back there. She had then written to Mrs.
Catherick at Welmingham to know if she had seen or heard anything
of her daughter, and had received an answer in the negative.
After that reply had reached her, she was at the end of her
resources, and perfectly ignorant where else to inquire or what
else to do. From that time to this she had remained in total
ignorance of the cause of Anne's disappearance and of the end of
Thus far the information which I had received from Mrs. Clements--
though it established facts of which I had not previously been
aware--was of a preliminary character only.
It was clear that the series of deceptions which had removed Anne
Catherick to London, and separated her from Mrs. Clements, had
been accomplished solely by Count Fosco and the Countess, and the
question whether any part of the conduct of husband or wife had
been of a kind to place either of them within reach of the law
might be well worthy of future consideration. But the purpose I
had now in view led me in another direction than this. The
immediate object of my visit to Mrs. Clements was to make some
approach at least to the discovery of Sir Percival's secret, and
she had said nothing as yet which advanced me on my way to that
important end. I felt the necessity of trying to awaken her
recollections of other times, persons, and events than those on
which her memory had hitherto been employed, and when I next spoke
I spoke with that object indirectly in view.
"I wish I could be of any help to you in this sad calamity," I
said. "All I can do is to feel heartily for your distress. If
Anne had been your own child, Mrs. Clements, you could have shown
her no truer kindness--you could have made no readier sacrifices
for her sake."
"There's no great merit in that, sir," said Mrs. Clements simply.
"The poor thing was as good as my own child to me. I nursed her
from a baby, sir, bringing her up by hand--and a hard job it was
to rear her. It wouldn't go to my heart so to lose her if I
hadn't made her first short clothes and taught her to walk. I
always said she was sent to console me for never having chick or
child of my own. And now she's lost the old times keep coming
back to my mind, and even at my age I can't help crying about her--
I can't indeed, sir!"
I waited a little to give Mrs. Clements time to compose herself.
Was the light that I had been looking for so long glimmering on
me--far off, as yet--in the good woman's recollections of Anne's
"Did you know Mrs. Catherick before Anne was born?" I asked.
"Not very long, sir--not above four months. We saw a great deal
of each other in that time, but we were never very friendly
Her voice was steadier as she made that reply. Painful as many of
her recollections might be, I observed that it was unconsciously a
relief to her mind to revert to the dimly-seen troubles of the
past, after dwelling so long on the vivid sorrows of the present.
"Were you and Mrs. Catherick neighbours?" I inquired, leading her
memory on as encouragingly as I could.
"Yes, sir--neighbours at Old Welmingham."
"OLD Welmingham? There are two places of that name, then, in
"Well, sir, there used to be in those days--better than three-and-
twenty years ago. They built a new town about two miles off,
convenient to the river--and Old Welmingham, which was never much
more than a village, got in time to be deserted. The new town is
the place they call Welmingham now--but the old parish church is
the parish church still. It stands by itself, with the houses
pulled down or gone to ruin all round it. I've lived to see sad
changes. It was a pleasant, pretty place in my time.
"Did you live there before your marriage, Mrs. Clements?"
"No, sir--I'm a Norfolk woman. It wasn't the place my husband
belonged to either. He was from Grimsby, as I told you, and he
served his apprenticeship there. But having friends down south,
and hearing of an opening, he got into business at Southampton.
It was in a small way, but he made enough for a plain man to
retire on, and settled at Old Welmingham. I went there with him
when he married me. We were neither of us young, but we lived
very happy together--happier than our neighbour, Mr. Catherick,
lived along with his wife when they came to Old Welmingham a year
or two afterwards."
"Was your husband acquainted with them before that?"
"With Catherick, sir--not with his wife. She was a stranger to
both of us. Some gentlemen had made interest for Catherick, and
he got the situation of clerk at Welmingham church, which was the
reason of his coming to settle in our neighbourhood. He brought
his newly-married wife along with him, and we heard in course of
time she had been lady's-maid in a family that lived at Varneck
Hall, near Southampton. Catherick had found it a hard matter to
get her to marry him, in consequence of her holding herself
uncommonly high. He had asked and asked, and given the thing up
at last, seeing she was so contrary about it. When he HAD given
it up she turned contrary just the other way, and came to him of
her own accord, without rhyme or reason seemingly. My poor
husband always said that was the time to have given her a lesson.
But Catherick was too fond of her to do anything of the sort--he
never checked her either before they were married or after. He
was a quick man in his feelings, letting them carry him a deal too
far, now in one way and now in another, and he would have spoilt a
better wife than Mrs. Catherick if a better had married him. I
don't like to speak ill of any one, sir, but she was a heartless
woman, with a terrible will of her own--fond of foolish admiration
and fine clothes, and not caring to show so much as decent outward
respect to Catherick, kindly as he always treated her. My husband
said he thought things would turn out badly when they first came
to live near us, and his words proved true. Before they had been
quite four months in our neighbourhood there was a dreadful
scandal and a miserable break-up in their household. Both of them
were in fault--I am afraid both of them were equally in fault."
"You mean both husband and wife?"
"Oh, no, sir! I don't mean Catherick--he was only to be pitied. I
meant his wife and the person--"
"And the person who caused the scandal?"
"Yes, sir. A gentleman born and brought up, who ought to have set
a better example. You know him, sir--and my poor dear Anne knew
him only too well."
"Sir Percival Glyde?"
"Yes, Sir Percival Glyde."
My heart beat fast--I thought I had my hand on the clue. How
little I knew then of the windings of the labyrinths which were
still to mislead me!
"Did Sir Percival live in your neighbourhood at that time?" I
"No, sir. He came among us as a stranger. His father had died
not long before in foreign parts. I remember he was in mourning.
He put up at the little inn on the river (they have pulled it down
since that time), where gentlemen used to go to fish. He wasn't
much noticed when he first came--it was a common thing enough for
gentlemen to travel from all parts of England to fish in our
"Did he make his appearance in the village before Anne was born?"
"Yes, sir. Anne was born in the June month of eighteen hundred
and twenty-seven--and I think he came at the end of April or the
beginning of May."
"Came as a stranger to all of you? A stranger to Mrs. Catherick as
well as to the rest of the neighbours?"
"So we thought at first, sir. But when the scandal broke out,
nobody believed they were strangers. I remember how it happened
as well as if it was yesterday. Catherick came into our garden
one night, and woke us by throwing up a handful of gravel from the
walk at our window. I heard him beg my husband, for the Lord's
sake, to come down and speak to him. They were a long time
together talking in the porch. When my husband came back upstairs
he was all of a tremble. He sat down on the side of the bed and
he says to me, 'Lizzie! I always told you that woman was a bad
one--I always said she would end ill, and I'm afraid in my own
mind that the end has come already. Catherick has found a lot of
lace handkerchiefs, and two fine rings, and a new gold watch and
chain, hid away in his wife's drawer--things that nobody but a
born lady ought ever to have--and his wife won't say how she came
by them.' 'Does he think she stole them?' says I. 'No,' says he,
'stealing would be bad enough. But it's worse than that, she's
had no chance of stealing such things as those, and she's not a
woman to take them if she had. They're gifts, Lizzie--there's her
own initials engraved inside the watch--and Catherick has seen her
talking privately, and carrying on as no married woman should,
with that gentleman in mourning, Sir Percival Glyde. Don't you
say anything about it--I've quieted Catherick for to-night. I've
told him to keep his tongue to himself, and his eyes and his ears
open, and to wait a day or two, till he can be quite certain.' 'I
believe you are both of you wrong,' says I. 'It's not in nature,
comfortable and respectable as she is here, that Mrs. Catherick
should take up with a chance stranger like Sir Percival Glyde.'
'Ay, but is he a stranger to her?' says my husband. 'You forget
how Catherick's wife came to marry him. She went to him of her
own accord, after saying No over and over again when he asked her.
There have been wicked women before her time, Lizzie, who have
used honest men who loved them as a means of saving their
characters, and I'm sorely afraid this Mrs. Catherick is as wicked
as the worst of them. We shall see,' says my husband, 'we shall
soon see.' And only two days afterwards we did see."
Mrs. Clements waited for a moment before she went on. Even in
that moment, I began to doubt whether the clue that I thought I
had found was really leading me to the central mystery of the
labyrinth after all. Was this common, too common, story of a
man's treachery and a woman's frailty the key to a secret which
had been the life-long terror of Sir Percival Glyde?
"Well, sir, Catherick took my husband's advice and waited," Mrs.
Clements continued. "And as I told you, he hadn't long to wait.
On the second day he found his wife and Sir Percival whispering
together quite familiar, close under the vestry of the church. I
suppose they thought the neighbourhood of the vestry was the last
place in the world where anybody would think of looking after
them, but, however that may be, there they were. Sir Percival,
being seemingly surprised and confounded, defended himself in such
a guilty way that poor Catherick (whose quick temper I have told
you of already) fell into a kind of frenzy at his own disgrace,
and struck Sir Percival. He was no match (and I am sorry to say
it) for the man who had wronged him, and he was beaten in the
cruelest manner, before the neighbours, who had come to the place
on hearing the disturbance, could run in to part them. All this
happened towards evening, and before nightfall, when my husband
went to Catherick's house, he was gone, nobody knew where. No
living soul in the village ever saw him again. He knew too well,
by that time, what his wife's vile reason had been for marrying
him, and he felt his misery and disgrace, especially after what
had happened to him with Sir Percival, too keenly. The clergyman
of the parish put an advertisement in the paper begging him to
come back, and saying that he should not lose his situation or his
friends. But Catherick had too much pride and spirit, as some
people said--too much feeling, as I think, sir--to face his
neighbours again, and try to live down the memory of his disgrace.
My husband heard from him when he had left England, and heard a
second time, when he was settled and doing well in America. He is
alive there now, as far as I know, but none of us in the old
country--his wicked wife least of all--are ever likely to set eyes
on him again."
"What became of Sir Percival?" I inquired. "Did he stay in the
"Not he, sir. The place was too hot to hold him. He was heard at
high words with Mrs. Catherick the same night when the scandal
broke out, and the next morning he took himself off."
"And Mrs. Catherick? Surely she never remained in the village
among the people who knew of her disgrace?"
"She did, sir. She was hard enough and heartless enough to set
the opinions of all her neighbours at flat defiance. She declared
to everybody, from the clergyman downwards, that she was the
victim of a dreadful mistake, and that all the scandal-mongers in
the place should not drive her out of it, as if she was a guilty
woman. All through my time she lived at Old Welmingham, and after
my time, when the new town was building, and the respectable
neighbours began moving to it, she moved too, as if she was
determined to live among them and scandalise them to the very
last. There she is now, and there she will stop, in defiance of
the best of them, to her dying day."
"But how has she lived through all these years?" I asked. "Was
her husband able and willing to help her?"
"Both able and willing, sir," said Mrs. Clements. "In the second
letter he wrote to my good man, he said she had borne his name,
and lived in his home, and, wicked as she was, she must not starve
like a beggar in the street. He could afford to make her some
small allowance, and she might draw for it quarterly at a place in
"Did she accept the allowance?"
"Not a farthing of it, sir. She said she would never be beholden
to Catherick for bit or drop, if she lived to be a hundred. And
she has kept her word ever since. When my poor dear husband died,
and left all to me, Catherick's letter was put in my possession
with the other things, and I told her to let me know if she was
ever in want. 'I'll let all England know I'm in want,' she said,
'before I tell Catherick, or any friend of Catherick's. Take that
for your answer, and give it to HIM for an answer, if he ever
writes again.' "
"Do you suppose that she had money of her own?"
"Very little, if any, sir. It was said, and said truly, I am
afraid, that her means of living came privately from Sir Percival
After that last reply I waited a little, to reconsider what I had
heard. If I unreservedly accepted the story so far, it was now
plain that no approach, direct or indirect, to the Secret had yet
been revealed to me, and that the pursuit of my object had ended
again in leaving me face to face with the most palpable and the
most disheartening failure.
But there was one point in the narrative which made me doubt the
propriety of accepting it unreservedly, and which suggested the
idea of something hidden below the surface.
I could not account to myself for the circumstance of the clerk's
guilty wife voluntarily living out all her after-existence on the
scene of her disgrace. The woman's own reported statement that
she had taken this strange course as a practical assertion of her
innocence did not satisfy me. It seemed, to my mind, more natural
and more probable to assume that she was not so completely a free
agent in this matter as she had herself asserted. In that case,
who was the likeliest person to possess the power of compelling
her to remain at Welmingham? The person unquestionably from whom
she derived the means of living. She had refused assistance from
her husband, she had no adequate resources of her own, she was a
friendless, degraded woman--from what source should she derive
help but from the source at which report pointed--Sir Percival
Reasoning on these assumptions, and always bearing in mind the one
certain fact to guide me, that Mrs. Catherick was in possession of
the Secret, I easily understood that it was Sir Percival's
interest to keep her at Welmingham, because her character in that
place was certain to isolate her from all communication with
female neighbours, and to allow her no opportunities of talking
incautiously in moments of free intercourse with inquisitive bosom
friends. But what was the mystery to be concealed? Not Sir
Percival's infamous connection with Mrs. Catherick's disgrace, for
the neighbours were the very people who knew of it--not the
suspicion that he was Anne's father, for Welmingham was the place
in which that suspicion must inevitably exist. If I accepted the
guilty appearances described to me as unreservedly as others had
accepted them, if I drew from them the same superficial conclusion
which Mr. Catherick and all his neighbours had drawn, where was
the suggestion, in all that I had heard, of a dangerous secret
between Sir Percival and Mrs. Catherick, which had been kept
hidden from that time to this?
And yet, in those stolen meetings, in those familiar whisperings
between the clerk's wife and "the gentleman in mourning," the clue
to discovery existed beyond a doubt.
Was it possible that appearances in this case had pointed one way
while the truth lay all the while unsuspected in another
direction? Could Mrs. Catherick's assertion, that she was the
victim of a dreadful mistake, by any possibility be true? Or,
assuming it to be false, could the conclusion which associated Sir
Percival with her guilt have been founded in some inconceivable
error? Had Sir Percival, by any chance, courted the suspicion that
was wrong for the sake of diverting from himself some other
suspicion that was right? Here--if I could find it--here was the
approach to the Secret, hidden deep under the surface of the
apparently unpromising story which I had just heard.
My next questions were now directed to the one object of
ascertaining whether Mr. Catherick had or had not arrived truly at
the conviction of his wife's misconduct. The answers I received
from Mrs. Clements left me in no doubt whatever on that point.
Mrs. Catherick had, on the clearest evidence, compromised her
reputation, while a single woman, with some person unknown, and
had married to save her character. It had been positively
ascertained, by calculations of time and place into which I need
not enter particularly, that the daughter who bore her husband's
name was not her husband's child
The next object of inquiry, whether it was equally certain that
Sir Percival must have been the father of Anne, was beset by far
greater difficulties. I was in no position to try the
probabilities on one side or on the other in this instance by any
better test than the test of personal resemblance.
"I suppose you often saw Sir Percival when he was in your
village?" I said.
"Yes, sir, very often," replied Mrs. Clements.
"Did you ever observe that Anne was like him?"
"She was not at all like him, sir."
"Was she like her mother, then?"
"Not like her mother either, sir. Mrs. Catherick was dark, and
full in the face."
Not like her mother and not like her (supposed) father. I knew
that the test by personal resemblance was not to be implicitly
trusted, but, on the other hand, it was not to be altogether
rejected on that account. Was it possible to strengthen the
evidence by discovering any conclusive facts in relation to the
lives of Mrs. Catherick and Sir Percival before they either of
them appeared at Old Welmingham? When I asked my next questions I
put them with this view.
"When Sir Percival first arrived in your neighbourhood," I said,
"did you hear where he had come from last?"
"No, sir. Some said from Blackwater Park, and some said from
Scotland--but nobody knew."
"Was Mrs. Catherick living in service at Varneck Hall immediately
before her marriage?"
"And had she been long in her place?"
"Three or four years, sir; I am not quite certain which."
"Did you ever hear the name of the gentleman to whom Varneck Hall
belonged at that time?"
"Yes, sir. His name was Major Donthorne."
"Did Mr. Catherick, or did any one else you knew, ever hear that
Sir Percival was a friend of Major Donthorne's, or ever see Sir
Percival in the neighbourhood of Varneck Hall?"
"Catherick never did, sir, that I can remember--nor any one else
either, that I know of."
I noted down Major Donthorne's name and address, on the chance
that he might still be alive, and that it might be useful at some
future time to apply to him. Meanwhile, the impression on my mind
was now decidedly adverse to the opinion that Sir Percival was
Anne's father, and decidedly favourable to the conclusion that the
secret of his stolen interviews with Mrs. Catherick was entirely
unconnected with the disgrace which the woman had inflicted on her
husband's good name. I could think of no further inquiries which
I might make to strengthen this impression--I could only encourage
Mrs. Clements to speak next of Anne's early days, and watch for
any chance-suggestion which might in this way offer itself to me.
"I have not heard yet," I said, "how the poor child, born in all
this sin and misery, came to be trusted, Mrs. Clements, to your
"There was nobody else, sir, to take the little helpless creature
in hand," replied Mrs. Clements. "The wicked mother seemed to
hate it--as if the poor baby was in fault!--from the day it was
born. My heart was heavy for the child, and I made the offer to
bring it up as tenderly as if it was my own."
"Did Anne remain entirely under your care from that time?"
"Not quite entirely, sir. Mrs. Catherick had her whims and
fancies about it at times, and used now and then to lay claim to
the child, as if she wanted to spite me for bringing it up. But
these fits of hers never lasted for long. Poor little Anne was
always returned to me, and was always glad to get back--though she
led but a gloomy life in my house, having no playmates, like other
children, to brighten her up. Our longest separation was when her
mother took her to Limmeridge. Just at that time I lost my
husband, and I felt it was as well, in that miserable affliction,
that Anne should not be in the house. She was between ten and
eleven years old then, slow at her lessons, poor soul, and not so
cheerful as other children--but as pretty a little girl to look at
as you would wish to see. I waited at home till her mother
brought her back, and then I made the offer to take her with me to
London--the truth being, sir, that I could not find it in my heart
to stop at Old Welmingham after my husband's death, the place was
so changed and so dismal to me."
"And did Mrs. Catherick consent to your proposal?"
"No, sir. She came back from the north harder and bitterer than
ever. Folks did say that she had been obliged to ask Sir
Percival's leave to go, to begin with; and that she only went to
nurse her dying sister at Limmeridge because the poor woman was
reported to have saved money--the truth being that she hardly left
enough to bury her. These things may have soured Mrs. Catherick
likely enough, but however that may be, she wouldn't hear of my
taking the child away. She seemed to like distressing us both by
parting us. All I could do was to give Anne my direction, and to
tell her privately, if she was ever in trouble, to come to me.
But years passed before she was free to come. I never saw her
again, poor soul, till the night she escaped from the mad-house."
"You know, Mrs. Clements, why Sir Percival Glyde shut her up?"
"I only know what Anne herself told me, sir. The poor thing used
to ramble and wander about it sadly. She said her mother had got
some secret of Sir Percival's to keep, and had let it out to her
long after I left Hampshire--and when Sir Percival found she knew
it, he shut her up. But she never could say what it was when I
asked her. All she could tell me was, that her mother might be
the ruin and destruction of Sir Percival if she chose. Mrs.
Catherick may have let out just as much as that, and no more. I'm
next to certain I should have heard the whole truth from Anne, if
she had really known it as she pretended to do, and as she very
likely fancied she did, poor soul."
This idea had more than once occurred to my own mind. I had
already told Marian that I doubted whether Laura was really on the
point of making any important discovery when she and Anne
Catherick were disturbed by Count Fosco at the boat-house. It was
perfectly in character with Anne's mental affliction that she
should assume an absolute knowledge of the secret on no better
grounds than vague suspicion, derived from hints which her mother
had incautiously let drop in her presence. Sir Percival's guilty
distrust would, in that case, infallibly inspire him with the
false idea that Anne knew all from her mother, just as it had
afterwards fixed in his mind the equally false suspicion that his
wife knew all from Anne.
The time was passing, the morning was wearing away. It was
doubtful, if I stayed longer, whether I should hear anything more
from Mrs. Clements that would be at all useful to my purpose. I
had already discovered those local and family particulars, in
relation to Mrs. Catherick, of which I had been in search, and I
had arrived at certain conclusions, entirely new to me, which
might immensely assist in directing the course of my future
proceedings. I rose to take my leave, and to thank Mrs. Clements
for the friendly readiness she had shown in affording me
"I am afraid you must have thought me very inquisitive," I said.
"I have troubled you with more questions than many people would
have cared to answer."
"You are heartily welcome, sir, to anything I can tell you,"
answered Mrs. Clements. She stopped and looked at me wistfully.
"But I do wish," said the poor woman, "you could have told me a
little more about Anne, sir. I thought I saw something in your
face when you came in which looked as if you could. You can't
think how hard it is not even to know whether she is living or
dead. I could bear it better if I was only certain. You said you
never expected we should see her alive again. Do you know, sir--
do you know for truth--that it has pleased God to take her?"
I was not proof against this appeal, it would have been
unspeakably mean and cruel of me if I had resisted it.
"I am afraid there is no doubt of the truth," I answered gently;
"I have the certainty in my own mind that her troubles in this
world are over."
The poor woman dropped into her chair and hid her face from me.
"Oh, sir," she said, "how do you know it? Who can have told you?"
"No one has told me, Mrs. Clements. But I have reasons for
feeling sure of it--reasons which I promise you shall know as soon
as I can safely explain them. I am certain she was not neglected
in her last moments--I am certain the heart complaint from which
she suffered so sadly was the true cause of her death. You shall
feel as sure of this as I do, soon--you shall know, before long,
that she is buried in a quiet country churchyard--in a pretty,
peaceful place, which you might have chosen for her yourself."
"Dead!" said Mrs. Clements, "dead so young, and I am left to hear
it! I made her first short frocks. I taught her to walk. The
first time she ever said Mother she said it to me--and now I am
left and Anne is taken! Did you say, sir," said the poor woman,
removing the handkerchief from her face, and looking up at me for
the first time, "did you say that she had been nicely buried? Was
it the sort of funeral she might have had if she had really been
my own child?"
I assured her that it was. She seemed to take an inexplicable
pride in my answer--to find a comfort in it which no other and
higher considerations could afford. "It would have broken my
heart," she said simply, "if Anne had not been nicely buried--but
how do you know it, sir? who told you?" I once more entreated her
to wait until I could speak to her unreservedly. "You are sure to
see me again," I said, "for I have a favour to ask when you are a
little more composed--perhaps in a day or two."
"Don't keep it waiting, sir, on my account," said Mrs. Clements.
"Never mind my crying if I can be of use. If you have anything on
your mind to say to me, sir, please to say it now."
"I only wish to ask you one last question," I said. "I only want
to know Mrs. Catherick's address at Welmingham."
My request so startled Mrs. Clements, that, for the moment, even
the tidings of Anne's death seemed to be driven from her mind.
Her tears suddenly ceased to flow, and she sat looking at me in
"For the Lord's sake, sir!" she said, "what do you want with Mrs.
"I want this, Mrs. Clements," I replied, "I want to know the
secret of those private meetings of hers with Sir Percival Glyde.
There is something more in what you have told me of that woman's
past conduct, and of that man's past relations with her, than you
or any of your neighbours ever suspected. There is a secret we
none of us know between those two, and I am going to Mrs.
Catherick with the resolution to find it out."
"Think twice about it, sir!" said Mrs. Clements, rising in her
earnestness and laying her hand on my arm. "She's an awful woman--
you don't know her as I do. Think twice about it."
"I am sure your warning is kindly meant, Mrs. Clements. But I am
determined to see the woman, whatever comes of it."
Mrs. Clements looked me anxiously in the face.
"I see your mind is made up, sir," she said. "I will give you the
I wrote it down in my pocket-book and then took her hand to say
"You shall hear from me soon," I said; "you shall know all that I
have promised to tell you."
Mrs. Clements sighed and shook her head doubtfully.
"An old woman's advice is sometimes worth taking, sir," she said.
"Think twice before you go to Welmingham."
When I reached home again after my interview with Mrs. Clements, I
was struck by the appearance of a change in Laura.
The unvarying gentleness and patience which long misfortune had
tried so cruelly and had never conquered yet, seemed now to have
suddenly failed her. Insensible to all Marian's attempts to
soothe and amuse her, she sat, with her neglected drawing pushed
away on the table, her eyes resolutely cast down, her fingers
twining and untwining themselves restlessly in her lap. Marian
rose when I came in, with a silent distress in her face, waited
for a moment to see if Laura would look up at my approach,
whispered to me, "Try if you can rouse her," and left the room.
I sat down in the vacant chair--gently unclasped the poor, worn,
restless fingers, and took both her hands in mine.
"What are you thinking of, Laura? Tell me, my darling--try and
tell me what it is."
She struggled with herself, and raised her eyes to mine. "I can't
feel happy," she said, "I can't help thinking----" She stopped,
bent forward a little, and laid her head on my shoulder, with a
terrible mute helplessness that struck me to the heart.
"Try to tell me," I repeated gently; "try to tell me why you are
"I am so useless--I am such a burden on both of you," she
answered, with a weary, hopeless sigh. "You work and get money,
Walter, and Marian helps you. Why is there nothing I can do? You
will end in liking Marian better than you like me--you will,
because I am so helpless! Oh, don't, don't, don't treat me like a
I raised her head, and smoothed away the tangled hair that fell
over her face, and kissed her--my poor, faded flower! my lost,
afflicted sister! "You shall help us, Laura," I said, "you shall
begin, my darling, to-day."
She looked at me with a feverish eagerness, with a breathless
interest, that made me tremble for the new life of hope which I
had called into being by those few words.
I rose, and set her drawing materials in order, and placed them
near her again.
"You know that I work and get money by drawing," I said. "Now you
have taken such pains, now you are so much improved, you shall
begin to work and get money too. Try to finish this little sketch
as nicely and prettily as you can. When it is done I will take it
away with me, and the same person will buy it who buys all that I
do. You shall keep your own earnings in your own purse, and
Marian shall come to you to help us, as often as she comes to me.
Think how useful you are going to make yourself to both of us, and
you will soon be as happy, Laura, as the day is long."
Her face grew eager, and brightened into a smile. In the moment
while it lasted, in the moment when she again took up the pencils
that had been laid aside, she almost looked like the Laura of past
I had rightly interpreted the first signs of a new growth and
strength in her mind, unconsciously expressing themselves in the
notice she had taken of the occupations which filled her sister's
life and mine. Marian (when I told her what had passed) saw, as I
saw, that she was longing to assume her own little position of
importance, to raise herself in her own estimation and in ours--
and, from that day, we tenderly helped the new ambition which gave
promise of the hopeful, happier future, that might now not be far
off. Her drawings, as she finished them, or tried to finish them,
were placed in my hands. Marian took them from me and hid them
carefully, and I set aside a little weekly tribute from my
earnings, to be offered to her as the price paid by strangers for
the poor, faint, valueless sketches, of which I was the only
purchaser. It was hard sometimes to maintain our innocent
deception, when she proudly brought out her purse to contribute
her share towards the expenses, and wondered with serious
interest, whether I or she had earned the most that week. I have
all those hidden drawings in my possession still--they are my
treasures beyond price--the dear remembrances that I love to keep
alive--the friends in past adversity that my heart will never part
from, my tenderness never forget.
Am I trifling, here, with the necessities of my task? am I looking
forward to the happier time which my narrative has not yet
reached? Yes. Back again--back to the days of doubt and dread,
when the spirit within me struggled hard for its life, in the icy
stillness of perpetual suspense. I have paused and rested for a
while on my forward course. It is not, perhaps, time wasted, if
the friends who read these pages have paused and rested too.
I took the first opportunity I could find of speaking to Marian in
private, and of communicating to her the result of the inquiries
which I had made that morning. She seemed to share the opinion on
the subject of my proposed journey to Welmingham, which Mrs.
Clements had already expressed to me.
"Surely, Walter," she said, "you hardly know enough yet to give
you any hope of claiming Mrs. Catherick's confidence? Is it wise
to proceed to these extremities, before you have really exhausted
all safer and simpler means of attaining your object? When you
told me that Sir Percival and the Count were the only two people
in existence who knew the exact date of Laura's journey, you
forgot, and I forgot, that there was a third person who must
surely know it--I mean Mrs. Rubelle. Would it not be far easier,
and far less dangerous, to insist on a confession from her, than
to force it from Sir Percival?"
"It might be easier," I replied, "but we are not aware of the full
extent of Mrs. Rubelle's connivance and interest in the
conspiracy, and we are therefore not certain that the date has
been impressed on her mind, as it has been assuredly impressed on
the minds of Sir Percival and the Count. It is too late, now, to
waste the time on Mrs. Rubelle, which may be all-important to the
discovery of the one assailable point in Sir Percival's life? Are
you thinking a little too seriously, Marian, of the risk I may run
in returning to Hampshire? Are you beginning to doubt whether Sir
Percival Glyde may not in the end be more than a match for me?"
"He will not be more than your match," she replied decidedly,
"because he will not be helped in resisting you by the
impenetrable wickedness of the Count."
"What has led you to that conclusion?" I replied, in some
"My own knowledge of Sir Percival's obstinacy and impatience of
the Count's control," she answered. "I believe he will insist on
meeting you single-handed--just as he insisted at first on acting
for himself at Blackwater Park. The time for suspecting the
Count's interference will be the time when you have Sir Percival
at your mercy. His own interests will then be directly
threatened, and he will act, Walter, to terrible purpose in his
"We may deprive him of his weapons beforehand," I said. "Some of
the particulars I have heard from Mrs. Clements may yet be turned
to account against him, and other means of strengthening the case
may be at our disposal. There are passages in Mrs. Michelson's
narrative which show that the Count found it necessary to place
himself in communication with Mr. Fairlie, and there may be
circumstances which compromise him in that proceeding. While I am
away, Marian, write to Mr. Fairlie and say that you want an answer
describing exactly what passed between the Count and himself, and
informing you also of any particulars that may have come to his
knowledge at the same time in connection with his niece. Tell him
that the statement you request will, sooner or later, be insisted
on, if he shows any reluctance to furnish you with it of his own
"The letter shall be written, Walter. But are you really
determined to go to Welmingham?"
"Absolutely determined. I will devote the next two days to
earning what we want for the week to come, and on the third day I
go to Hampshire."
When the third day came I was ready for my journey.
As it was possible that I might be absent for some little time, I
arranged with Marian that we were to correspond every day--of
course addressing each other by assumed names, for caution's sake.
As long as I heard from her regularly, I should assume that
nothing was wrong. But if the morning came and brought me no
letter, my return to London would take place, as a matter of
course, by the first train. I contrived to reconcile Laura to my
departure by telling her that I was going to the country to find
new purchasers for her drawings and for mine, and I left her
occupied and happy. Marian followed me downstairs to the street
"Remember what anxious hearts you leave here," she whispered, as
we stood together in the passage. "Remember all the hopes that
hang on your safe return. If strange things happen to you on this
journey--if you and Sir Percival meet----"
"What makes you think we shall meet?" I asked.
"I don't know--I have fears and fancies that I cannot account for.
Laugh at them, Walter, if you like--but, for God's sake, keep your
temper if you come in contact with that man!"
"Never fear, Marian! I answer for my self-control."
With those words we parted.
I walked briskly to the station. There was a glow of hope in me.
There was a growing conviction in my mind that my journey this
time would not be taken in vain. It was a fine, clear, cold
morning. My nerves were firmly strung, and I felt all the
strength of my resolution stirring in me vigorously from head to
As I crossed the railway platform, and looked right and left among
the people congregated on it, to search for any faces among them
that I knew, the doubt occurred to me whether it might not have
been to my advantage if I had adopted a disguise before setting
out for Hampshire. But there was something so repellent to me in
the idea--something so meanly like the common herd of spies and
informers in the mere act of adopting a disguise--that I dismissed
the question from consideration almost as soon as it had risen in
my mind. Even as a mere matter of expediency the proceeding was
doubtful in the extreme. If I tried the experiment at home the
landlord of the house would sooner or later discover me, and would
have his suspicions aroused immediately. If I tried it away from
home the same persons might see me, by the commonest accident,
with the disguise and without it, and I should in that way be
inviting the notice and distrust which it was my most pressing
interest to avoid. In my own character I had acted thus far--and
in my own character I was resolved to continue to the end.
The train left me at Welmingham early in the afternoon.
Is there any wilderness of sand in the deserts of Arabia, is there
any prospect of desolation among the ruins of Palestine, which can
rival the repelling effect on the eye, and the depressing
influence on the mind, of an English country town in the first
stage of its existence, and in the transition state of its
prosperity? I asked myself that question as I passed through the
clean desolation, the neat ugliness, the prim torpor of the
streets of Welmingham. And the tradesmen who stared after me from
their lonely shops--the trees that drooped helpless in their arid
exile of unfinished crescents and squares--the dead house-
carcasses that waited in vain for the vivifying human element to
animate them with the breath of life--every creature that I saw,
every object that I passed, seemed to answer with one accord: The
deserts of Arabia are innocent of our civilised desolation--the
ruins of Palestine are incapable of our modern gloom!
I inquired my way to the quarter of the town in which Mrs.
Catherick lived, and on reaching it found myself in a square of
small houses, one story high. There was a bare little plot of
grass in the middle, protected by a cheap wire fence. An elderly
nursemaid and two children were standing in a corner of the
enclosure, looking at a lean goat tethered to the grass. Two
foot-passengers were talking together on one side of the pavement
before the houses, and an idle little boy was leading an idle
little dog along by a string on the other. I heard the dull
tinkling of a piano at a distance, accompanied by the intermittent
knocking of a hammer nearer at hand. These were all the sights
and sounds of life that encountered me when I entered the square.
I walked at once to the door of Number Thirteen--the number of
Mrs. Catherick's house--and knocked, without waiting to consider
beforehand how I might best present myself when I got in. The
first necessity was to see Mrs. Catherick. I could then judge,
from my own observation, of the safest and easiest manner of
approaching the object of my visit.
The door was opened by a melancholy middle-aged woman servant. I
gave her my card, and asked if I could see Mrs. Catherick. The
card was taken into the front parlour, and the servant returned
with a message requesting me to mention what my business was.
"Say, if you please, that my business relates to Mrs. Catherick's
daughter," I replied. This was the best pretext I could think of,
on the spur of the moment, to account for my visit.
The servant again retired to the parlour, again returned, and this
time begged me, with a look of gloomy amazement, to walk in.
I entered a little room, with a flaring paper of the largest
pattern on the walls. Chairs, tables, cheffonier, and sofa, all
gleamed with the glutinous brightness of cheap upholstery. On the
largest table, in the middle of the room, stood a smart Bible,
placed exactly in the centre on a red and yellow woollen mat and
at the side of the table nearest to the window, with a little
knitting-basket on her lap, and a wheezing, blear-eyed old spaniel
crouched at her feet, there sat an elderly woman, wearing a black
net cap and a black silk gown, and having slate-coloured mittens
on her hands. Her iron-grey hair hung in heavy bands on either
side of her face--her dark eyes looked straight forward, with a
hard, defiant, implacable stare. She had full square cheeks, a
long, firm chin, and thick, sensual, colourless lips. Her figure
was stout and sturdy, and her manner aggressively self-possessed.
This was Mrs. Catherick.
"You have come to speak to me about my daughter," she said, before
I could utter a word on my side. "Be so good as to mention what
you have to say."
The tone of her voice was as hard, as defiant, as implacable as
the expression of her eyes. She pointed to a chair, and looked me
all over attentively, from head to foot, as I sat down in it. I
saw that my only chance with this woman was to speak to her in her
own tone, and to meet her, at the outset of our interview, on her
"You are aware," I said, "that your daughter has been lost?"
"I am perfectly aware of it."
"Have you felt any apprehension that the misfortune of her loss
might be followed by the misfortune of her death?"
"Yes. Have you come here to tell me she is dead?"
She put that extraordinary question without the slightest change
in her voice, her face, or her manner. She could not have
appeared more perfectly unconcerned if I had told her of the death
of the goat in the enclosure outside.
"Why?" I repeated. "Do you ask why I come here to tell you of
your daughter's death?"
"Yes. What interest have you in me, or in her? How do you come to
know anything about my daughter?"
"In this way. I met her on the night when she escaped from the
Asylum, and I assisted her in reaching a place of safety."
"You did very wrong."
"I am sorry to hear her mother say so."
"Her mother does say so. How do you know she is dead?"
"I am not at liberty to say how I know it--but I DO know it."
"Are you at liberty to say how you found out my address?"
"Certainly. I got your address from Mrs. Clements."
"Mrs. Clements is a foolish woman. Did she tell you to come
"She did not."
"Then, I ask you again, why did you come?"
As she was determined to have her answer, I gave it to her in the
plainest possible form.
"I came," I said, "because I thought Anne Catherick's mother might
have some natural interest in knowing whether she was alive or
"Just so," said Mrs. Catherick, with additional self-possession.
"Had you no other motive?"
I hesitated. The right answer to that question was not easy to
find at a moment's notice.
"If you have no other motive," she went on, deliberately taking
off her slate-coloured mittens, and rolling them up, "I have only
to thank you for your visit, and to say that I will not detain you
here any longer. Your information would be more satisfactory if
you were willing to explain how you became possessed of it.
However, it justifies me, I suppose, in going into mourning.
There is not much alteration necessary in my dress, as you see.
When I have changed my mittens, I shall be all in black."
She searched in the pocket of her gown, drew out a pair of black
lace mittens, put them on with the stoniest and steadiest
composure, and then quietly crossed her hands in her lap.
"I wish you good morning," she said.
The cool contempt of her manner irritated me into directly avowing
that the purpose of my visit had not been answered yet.
"I HAVE another motive in coming here," I said.
"Ah! I thought so," remarked Mrs. Catherick.
"Your daughter's death----"
"What did she die of?"
"Of disease of the heart."
"Yes. Go on."
"Your daughter's death has been made the pretext for inflicting
serious injury on a person who is very dear to me. Two men have
been concerned, to my certain knowledge, in doing that wrong. One
of them is Sir Percival Glyde."
I looked attentively to see if she flinched at the sudden mention
of that name. Not a muscle of her stirred--the hard, defiant,
implacable stare in her eyes never wavered for an instant.
"You may wonder," I went on, "how the event of your daughter's
death can have been made the means of inflicting injury on another
"No," said Mrs. Catherick; "I don't wonder at all. This appears
to be your affair. You are interested in my affairs. I am not
interested in yours."
"You may ask, then," I persisted, "why I mention the matter in
"Yes, I DO ask that."
"I mention it because I am determined to bring Sir Percival Glyde
to account for the wickedness he has committed."
"What have I to do with your determination?"
"You shall hear. There are certain events in Sir Percival's past
life which it is necessary for my purpose to be fully acquainted
with. YOU know them--and for that reason I come to YOU."
"What events do you mean?"
"Events that occurred at Old Welmingham when your husband was
parish-clerk at that place, and before the time when your daughter
I had reached the woman at last through the barrier of
impenetrable reserve that she had tried to set up between us. I
saw her temper smouldering in her eyes--as plainly as I saw her
hands grow restless, then unclasp themselves, and begin
mechanically smoothing her dress over her knees.
"What do you know of those events?" she asked.
"All that Mrs. Clements could tell me," I answered.
There was a momentary flush on her firm square face, a momentary
stillness in her restless hands, which seemed to betoken a coming
outburst of anger that might throw her off her guard. But no--she
mastered the rising irritation, leaned back in her chair, crossed
her arms on her broad bosom, and with a smile of grim sarcasm on
her thick lips, looked at me as steadily as ever.
"Ah! I begin to understand it all now," she said, her tamed and
disciplined anger only expressing itself in the elaborate mockery
of her tone and manner. "You have got a grudge of your own
against Sir Percival Glyde, and I must help you to wreak it. I
must tell you this, that, and the other about Sir Percival and
myself, must I? Yes, indeed? You have been prying into my private
affairs. You think you have found a lost woman to deal with, who
lives here on sufferance, and who will do anything you ask for
fear you may injure her in the opinions of the town's-people. I
see through you and your precious speculation--I do! and it amuses
me. Ha! ha!"
She stopped for a moment, her arms tightened over her bosom, and
she laughed to herself--a hard, harsh, angry laugh.
"You don't know how I have lived in this place, and what I have
done in this place, Mr. What's-your-name," she went on. "I'll
tell you, before I ring the bell and have you shown out. I came
here a wronged woman--I came here robbed of my character and
determined to claim it back. I've been years and years about it--
and I HAVE claimed it back. I have matched the respectable people
fairly and openly on their own ground. If they say anything
against me now they must say it in secret--they can't say it, they
daren't say it, openly. I stand high enough in this town to be
out of your reach. THE CLERGYMAN BOWS TO ME. Aha! you didn't
bargain for that when you came here. Go to the church and inquire
about me--you will find Mrs. Catherick has her sitting like the
rest of them, and pays the rent on the day it's due. Go to the
town-hall. There's a petition lying there--a petition of the
respectable inhabitants against allowing a circus to come and
perform here and corrupt our morals--yes! OUR morals. I signed
that petition this morning. Go to the bookseller's shop. The
clergyman's Wednesday evening Lectures on Justification by Faith
are publishing there by subscription--I'm down on the list. The
doctor's wife only put a shilling in the plate at our last charity
sermon--I put half-a-crown. Mr. Churchwarden Soward held the
plate, and bowed to me. Ten years ago he told Pigrum the chemist
I ought to be whipped out of the town at the cart's tail. Is your
mother alive? Has she got a better Bible on her table than I have
got on mine? Does she stand better with her trades-people than I
do with mine? Has she always lived within her income? I have
always lived within mine. Ah! there IS the clergyman coming along
the square. Look, Mr. What's-your-name--look, if you please!"
She started up with the activity of a young woman, went to the
window, waited till the clergyman passed, and bowed to him
solemnly. The clergyman ceremoniously raised his hat, and walked
on. Mrs. Catherick returned to her chair, and looked at me with a
grimmer sarcasm than ever.
"There!" she said. "What do you think of that for a woman with a
lost character? How does your speculation look now?"
The singular manner in which she had chosen to assert herself, the
extraordinary practical vindication of her position in the town
which she had just offered, had so perplexed me that I listened to
her in silent surprise. I was not the less resolved, however, to
make another effort to throw her off her guard. If the woman's
fierce temper once got beyond her control, and once flamed out on
me, she might yet say the words which would put the clue in my
"How does your speculation look now?" she repeated.
"Exactly as it looked when I first came in," I answered. "I don't
doubt the position you have gained in the town, and I don't wish
to assail it even if I could. I came here because Sir Percival
Glyde is, to my certain knowledge, your enemy, as well as mine.
If I have a grudge against him, you have a grudge against him too.
You may deny it if you like, you may distrust me as much as you
please, you may be as angry as you will--but, of all the women in
England, you, if you have any sense of injury, are the woman who
ought to help me to crush that man."
"Crush him for yourself," she said; "then come back here, and see
what I say to you."
She spoke those words as she had not spoken yet, quickly,
fiercely, vindictively. I had stirred in its lair the serpent-
hatred of years, but only for a moment. Like a lurking reptile it
leaped up at me as she eagerly bent forward towards the place in
which I was sitting. Like a lurking reptile it dropped out of
sight again as she instantly resumed her former position in the
"You won't trust me?" I said.
"You are afraid?"
"Do I look as if I was?"
"You are afraid of Sir Percival Glyde?"
Her colour was rising, and her hands were at work again smoothing
her gown. I pressed the point farther and farther home, I went on
without allowing her a moment of delay.
"Sir Percival has a high position in the world," I said; "it would
be no wonder if you were afraid of him. Sir Percival is a
powerful man, a baronet, the possessor of a fine estate, the
descendant of a great family----"
She amazed me beyond expression by suddenly bursting out laughing.
"Yes," she repeated, in tones of the bitterest, steadiest
contempt. "A baronet, the possessor of a fine estate, the
descendant of a great family. Yes, indeed! A great family--
especially by the mother's side."
There was no time to reflect on the words that had just escaped
her, there was only time to feel that they were well worth
thinking over the moment I left the house.
"I am not here to dispute with you about family questions," I
said. "I know nothing of Sir Percival's mother----"
"And you know as little of Sir Percival himself," she interposed
"I advise you not to be too sure of that," I rejoined. "I know
some things about him, and I suspect many more."
"What do you suspect?"
"I'll tell you what I DON'T suspect. I DON'T suspect him of being
She started to her feet, and came close up to me with a look of
"How dare you talk to me about Anne's father! How dare you say who
was her father, or who wasn't!" she broke out, her face quivering,
her voice trembling with passion.
"The secret between you and Sir Percival is not THAT secret," I
persisted. "The mystery which darkens Sir Percival's life was not
born with your daughter's birth, and has not died with your
She drew back a step. "Go!" she said, and pointed sternly to the
"There was no thought of the child in your heart or in his,' I
went on, determined to press her back to her last defences.
"There was no bond of guilty love between you and him when you
held those stolen meetings, when your husband found you whispering
together under the vestry of the church."
Her pointing hand instantly dropped to her side, and the deep
flush of anger faded from her face while I spoke. I saw the
change pass over her--I saw that hard, firm, fearless, self-
possessed woman quail under a terror which her utmost resolution
was not strong enough to resist when I said those five last words,
"the vestry of the church."
For a minute or more we stood looking at each other in silence. I
"Do you still refuse to trust me?" I asked.
She could not call the colour that had left it back to her face,
but she had steadied her voice, she had recovered the defiant
self-possession of her manner when she answered me.
"I do refuse," she said.
"Do you still tell me to go?"
"Yes. Go--and never come back."
I walked to the door, waited a moment before I opened it, and
turned round to look at her again.
"I may have news to bring you of Sir Percival which you don't
expect," I said, "and in that case I shall come back."
"There is no news of Sir Percival that I don't expect, except----"
She stopped, her pale face darkened, and she stole back with a
quiet, stealthy, cat-like step to her chair.
"Except the news of his death," she said, sitting down again, with
the mockery of a smile just hovering on her cruel lips, and the
furtive light of hatred lurking deep in her steady eyes.
As I opened the door of the room to go out, she looked round at me
quickly. The cruel smile slowly widened her lips--she eyed me,
with a strange stealthy interest, from head to foot--an
unutterable expectation showed itself wickedly all over her face.
Was she speculating, in the secrecy of her own heart, on my youth
and strength, on the force of my sense of injury and the limits of
my self-control, and was she considering the lengths to which they
might carry me, if Sir Percival and I ever chanced to meet? The
bare doubt that it might be so drove me from her presence, and
silenced even the common forms of farewell on my lips. Without a
word more, on my side or on hers, I left the room.
As I opened the outer door, I saw the same clergyman who had
already passed the house once, about to pass it again, on his way
back through the square. I waited on the door-step to let him go
by, and looked round, as I did so, at the parlour window.
Mrs. Catherick had heard his footsteps approaching, in the silence
of that lonely place, and she was on her feet at the window again,
waiting for him. Not all the strength of all the terrible
passions I had roused in that woman's heart, could loosen her
desperate hold on the one fragment of social consideration which
years of resolute effort had just dragged within her grasp. There
she was again, not a minute after I had left her, placed purposely
in a position which made it a matter of common courtesy on the
part of the clergyman to bow to her for a second time. He raised
his hat once more. I saw the hard ghastly face behind the window
soften, and light up with gratified pride--I saw the head with the
grim black cap bend ceremoniously in return. The clergyman had
bowed to her, and in my presence, twice in one day!
I Left the house, feeling that Mrs. Catherick had helped me a step
forward, in spite of herself. Before I had reached the turning
which led out of the square, my attention was suddenly aroused by
the sound of a closing door behind me.
I looked round, and saw an undersized man in black on the door-
step of a house, which, as well as I could judge, stood next to
Mrs. Catherick's place of abode--next to it, on the side nearest
to me. The man did not hesitate a moment about the direction he
should take. He advanced rapidly towards the turning at which I
had stopped. I recognised him as the lawyer's clerk, who had
preceded me in my visit to Blackwater Park, and who had tried to
pick a quarrel with me, when I asked him if I could see the house.
I waited where I was, to ascertain whether his object was to come
to close quarters and speak on this occasion. To my surprise he
passed on rapidly, without saying a word, without even looking up
in my face as he went by. This was such a complete inversion of
the course of proceeding which I had every reason to expect on his
part, that my curiosity, or rather my suspicion, was aroused, and
I determined on my side to keep him cautiously in view, and to
discover what the business might be in which he was now employed.
Without caring whether he saw me or not, I walked after him. He
never looked back, and he led me straight through the streets to
the railway station.
The train was on the point of starting, and two or three
passengers who were late were clustering round the small opening
through which the tickets were issued. I joined them, and
distinctly heard the lawyer's clerk demand a ticket for the
Blackwater station I satisfied myself that he had actually left by
the train before I came away.
There was only one interpretation that I could place on what I had
just seen and heard. I had unquestionably observed the man
leaving a house which closely adjoined Mrs. Catherick's residence.
He had been probably placed there, by Sir Percival's directions,
as a lodger, in anticipation of my inquiries leading me, sooner or
later, to communicate with Mrs. Catherick. He had doubtless seen
me go in and come out, and he had hurried away by the first train
to make his report at Blackwater Park, to which place Sir Percival
would naturally betake himself (knowing what he evidently knew of
my movements), in order to be ready on the spot, if I returned to
Hampshire. Before many days were over, there seemed every
likelihood now that he and I might meet.
Whatever result events might be destined to produce, I resolved to
pursue my own course, straight to the end in view, without
stopping or turning aside for Sir Percival or for any one. The
great responsibility which weighed on me heavily in London--the
responsibility of so guiding my slightest actions as to prevent
them from leading accidentally to the discovery of Laura's place
of refuge--was removed, now that I was in Hampshire. I could go
and come as I pleased at Welmingham, and if I chanced to fail in
observing any necessary precautions, the immediate results, at
least, would affect no one but myself.
When I left the station the winter evening was beginning to close
in. There was little hope of continuing my inquiries after dark
to any useful purpose in a neighbourhood that was strange to me.
Accordingly, I made my way to the nearest hotel, and ordered my
dinner and my bed. This done, I wrote to Marian, to tell her that
I was safe and well, and that I had fair prospects of success. I
had directed her, on leaving home, to address the first letter she
wrote to me (the letter I expected to receive the next morning) to
"The Post-Office, Welmingham," and I now begged her to send her
second day's letter to the same address.
I could easily receive it by writing to the postmaster if I
happened to be away from the town when it arrived.
The coffee-room of the hotel, as it grew late in the evening,
became a perfect solitude. I was left to reflect on what I had
accomplished that afternoon as uninterruptedly as if the house had
been my own. Before I retired to rest I had attentively thought
over my extraordinary interview with Mrs. Catherick from beginning
to end, and had verified at my leisure the conclusions which I had
hastily drawn in the earlier part of the day.
The vestry of Old Welmingham church was the starting-point from
which my mind slowly worked its way back through all that I had
heard Mrs. Catherick say, and through all I had seen Mrs.
At the time when the neighbourhood of the vestry was first
referred to in my presence by Mrs. Clements, I had thought it the
strangest and most unaccountable of all places for Sir Percival to
select for a clandestine meeting with the clerk's wife.
Influenced by this impression, and by no other, I had mentioned
"the vestry of the church" before Mrs. Catherick on pure
speculation--it represented one of the minor peculiarities of the
story which occurred to me while I was speaking. I was prepared
for her answering me confusedly or angrily, but the blank terror
that seized her when I said the words took me completely by
surprise. I had long before associated Sir Percival's Secret with
the concealment of a serious crime which Mrs. Catherick knew of,
but I had gone no further than this. Now the woman's paroxysm of
terror associated the crime, either directly or indirectly, with
the vestry, and convinced me that she had been more than the mere
witness of it--she was also the accomplice, beyond a doubt.
What had been the nature of the crime? Surely there was a
contemptible side to it, as well as a dangerous side, or Mrs.
Catherick would not have repeated my own words, referring to Sir
Percival's rank and power, with such marked disdain as she had
certainly displayed. It was a contemptible crime then and a
dangerous crime, and she had shared in it, and it was associated
with the vestry of the church.
The next consideration to be disposed of led me a step farther
from this point.
Mrs. Catherick's undisguised contempt for Sir Percival plainly
extended to his mother as well. She had referred with the
bitterest sarcasm to the great family he had descended from--"
especially by the mother's side." What did this mean?
There appeared to be only two explanations of it. Either his
mother's birth had been low, or his mother's reputation was
damaged by some hidden flaw with which Mrs. Catherick and Sir
Percival were both privately acquainted? I could only put the
first explanation to the test by looking at the register of her
marriage, and so ascertaining her maiden name and her parentage as
a preliminary to further inquiries.
On the other hand, if the second case supposed were the true one,
what had been the flaw in her reputation? Remembering the account
which Marian had given me of Sir Percival's father and mother, and
of the suspiciously unsocial secluded life they had both led, I
now asked myself whether it might not be possible that his mother
had never been married at all. Here again the register might, by
offering written evidence of the marriage, prove to me, at any
rate, that this doubt had no foundation in truth. But where was
the register to be found? At this point I took up the conclusions
which I had previously formed, and the same mental process which
had discovered the locality of the concealed crime, now lodged the
register also in the vestry of Old Welmingham church.
These were the results of my interview with Mrs. Catherick--these
were the various considerations, all steadily converging to one
point, which decided the course of my proceedings on the next day.
The morning was cloudy and lowering, but no rain fell. I left my
bag at the hotel to wait there till I called for it, and, after
inquiring the way, set forth on foot for Old Welmingham church.
It was a walk of rather more than two miles, the ground rising
slowly all the way.
On the highest point stood the church--an ancient, weather-beaten
building, with heavy buttresses at its sides, and a clumsy square
tower in front. The vestry at the back was built out from the
church, and seemed to be of the same age. Round the building at
intervals appeared the remains of the village which Mrs. Clements
had described to me as her husband's place of abode in former
years, and which the principal inhabitants had long since deserted
for the new town. Some of the empty houses had been dismantled to
their outer walls, some had been left to decay with time, and some
were still inhabited by persons evidently of the poorest class.
It was a dreary scene, and yet, in the worst aspect of its ruin,
not so dreary as the modern town that I had just left. Here there
was the brown, breezy sweep of surrounding fields for the eye to
repose on--here the trees, leafless as they were, still varied the
monotony of the prospect, and helped the mind to look forward to
summer-time and shade.
As I moved away from the back of the church, and passed some of
the dismantled cottages in search of a person who might direct me
to the clerk, I saw two men saunter out after me from behind a
wall. The tallest of the two--a stout muscular man in the dress
of a gamekeeper--was a stranger to me. The other was one of the
men who had followed me in London on the day when I left Mr.
Kyrle's office. I had taken particular notice of him at the time;
and I felt sure that I was not mistaken in identifying the fellow
on this occasion.
Neither he nor his companion attempted to speak to me, and both
kept themselves at a respectful distance, but the motive of their
presence in the neighbourhood of the church was plainly apparent.
It was exactly as I had supposed--Sir Percival was already
prepared for me. My visit to Mrs. Catherick had been reported to
him the evening before, and those two men had been placed on the
look-out near the church in anticipation of my appearance at Old
Welmingham. If I had wanted any further proof that my
investigations had taken the right direction at last, the plan now
adopted for watching me would have supplied it.
I walked on away from the church till I reached one of the
inhabited houses, with a patch of kitchen garden attached to it on
which a labourer was at work. He directed me to the clerk's
abode, a cottage at some little distance off, standing by itself
on the outskirts of the forsaken village. The clerk was indoors,
and was just putting on his greatcoat. He was a cheerful,
familiar, loudly-talkative old man, with a very poor opinion (as I
soon discovered) of the place in which he lived, and a happy sense
of superiority to his neighbours in virtue of the great personal
distinction of having once been in London.
"It's well you came so early, sir," said the old man, when I had
mentioned the object of my visit. "I should have been away in ten
minutes more. Parish business, sir, and a goodish long trot
before it's all done for a man at my age. But, bless you, I'm
strong on my legs still! As long as a man don't give at his legs,
there's a deal of work left in him. Don't you think so yourself,
He took his keys down while he was talking from a hook behind the
fireplace, and locked his cottage door behind us.
"Nobody at home to keep house for me," said the clerk, with a
cheerful sense of perfect freedom from all family encumbrances.
"My wife's in the churchyard there, and my children are all
married. A wretched place this, isn't it, sir? But the parish is
a large one--every man couldn't get through the business as I do.
It's learning does it, and I've had my share, and a little more.
I can talk the Queen's English (God bless the Queen!), and that's
more than most of the people about here can do. You're from
London, I suppose, sir? I've been in London a matter of five-and-
twenty year ago. What's the news there now, if you please?"
Chattering on in this way, he led me back to the vestry. I looked
about to see if the two spies were still in sight. They were not
visible anywhere. After having discovered my application to the
clerk, they had probably concealed themselves where they could
watch my next proceedings in perfect freedom.
The vestry door was of stout old oak, studded with strong nails,
and the clerk put his large heavy key into the lock with the air
of a man who knew that he had a difficulty to encounter, and who
was not quite certain of creditably conquering it.
"I'm obliged to bring you this way, sir," he said, "because the
door from the vestry to the church is bolted on the vestry side.
We might have got in through the church otherwise. This is a
perverse lock, if ever there was one yet. It's big enough for a
prison-door--it's been hampered over and over again, and it ought
to be changed for a new one. I've mentioned that to the
churchwarden fifty times over at least--he's always saying, 'I'll
see about it'--and he never does see. Ah, It's a sort of lost
corner, this place. Not like London--is it, sir? Bless you, we
are all asleep here! We don't march with the times."
After some twisting and turning of the key, the heavy lock
yielded, and he opened the door.
The vestry was larger than I should have supposed it to be,
judging from the outside only. It was a dim, mouldy, melancholy
old room, with a low, raftered ceiling. Round two sides of it,
the sides nearest to the interior of the church, ran heavy wooden
presses, worm-eaten and gaping with age. Hooked to the inner
corner of one of these presses hung several surplices, all bulging
out at their lower ends in an irreverent-looking bundle of limp
drapery. Below the surplices, on the floor, stood three packing-
cases, with the lids half off, half on, and the straw profusely
bursting out of their cracks and crevices in every direction.
Behind them, in a corner, was a litter of dusty papers, some large
and rolled up like architects' plans, some loosely strung together
on files like bills or letters. The room had once been lighted by
a small side window, but this had been bricked up, and a lantern
skylight was now substituted for it. The atmosphere of the place
was heavy and mouldy, being rendered additionally oppressive by
the closing of the door which led into the church. This door also
was composed of solid oak, and was bolted at the top and bottom on
the vestry side.
"We might be tidier, mightn't we, sir?" said the cheerful clerk;
"but when you're in a lost corner of a place like this, what are
you to do? Why, look here now, just look at these packing-cases.
There they've been, for a year or more, ready to go down to
London--there they are, littering the place, and there they'll
stop as long as the nails hold them together. I'll tell you what,
sir, as I said before, this is not London. We are all asleep
here. Bless you, WE don't march with the times!"
"What is there in the packing-cases?" I asked.
"Bits of old wood carvings from the pulpit, and panels from the
chancel, and images from the organ-loft," said the clerk.
"Portraits of the twelve apostles in wood, and not a whole nose
among 'em. All broken, and worm-eaten, and crumbling to dust at
the edges. As brittle as crockery, sir, and as old as the church,
if not older."
"And why were they going to London? To be repaired?"
"That's it, sir, to be repaired, and where they were past repair,
to be copied in sound wood. But, bless you, the money fell short,
and there they are, waiting for new subscriptions, and nobody to
subscribe. It was all done a year ago, sir. Six gentlemen dined
together about it, at the hotel in the new town. They made
speeches, and passed resolutions, and put their names down, and
printed off thousands of prospectuses. Beautiful prospectuses,
sir, all flourished over with Gothic devices in red ink, saying it
was a disgrace not to restore the church and repair the famous
carvings, and so on. There are the prospectuses that couldn't be
distributed, and the architect's plans and estimates, and the
whole correspondence which set everybody at loggerheads and ended
in a dispute, all down together in that corner, behind the
packing-cases. The money dribbled in a little at first--but what
CAN you expect out of London? There was just enough, you know, to
pack the broken carvings, and get the estimates, and pay the
printer's bill, and after that there wasn't a halfpenny left.
There the things are, as I said before. We have nowhere else to
put them--nobody in the new town cares about accommodating us--
we're in a lost corner--and this is an untidy vestry--and who's to
help it?--that's what I want to know."
My anxiety to examine the register did not dispose me to offer
much encouragement to the old man's talkativeness. I agreed with
him that nobody could help the untidiness of the vestry, and then
suggested that we should proceed to our business without more
"Ay, ay, the marriage-register, to be sure," said the clerk,
taking a little bunch of keys from his pocket. "How far do you
want to look back, sir?"
Marian had informed me of Sir Percival's age at the time when we
had spoken together of his marriage engagement with Laura. She
had then described him as being forty-five years old. Calculating
back from this, and making due allowance for the year that had
passed since I had gained my information, I found that he must
have been born in eighteen hundred and four, and that I might
safely start on my search through the register from that date.
"I want to begin with the year eighteen hundred and four," I said.
"Which way after that, sir?" asked the clerk. "Forwards to our
time or backwards away from us?"
"Backwards from eighteen hundred and four."
He opened the door of one of the presses--the press from the side
of which the surplices were hanging--and produced a large volume
bound in greasy brown leather. I was struck by the insecurity of
the place in which the register was kept. The door of the press
was warped and cracked with age, and the lock was of the smallest
and commonest kind. I could have forced it easily with the
walking-stick I carried in my hand.
"Is that considered a sufficiently secure place for the register?"
I inquired. "Surely a book of such importance as this ought to be
protected by a better lock, and kept carefully in an iron safe?"
"Well, now, that's curious!" said the clerk, shutting up the book
again, just after he had opened it, and smacking his hand
cheerfully on the cover. "Those were the very words my old master
was always saying years and years ago, when I was a lad. 'Why
isn't the register' (meaning this register here, under my hand)--
'why isn't it kept in an iron safe?' If I've heard him say that
once, I've heard him say it a hundred times. He was the solicitor
in those days, sir, who had the appointment of vestry-clerk to
this church. A fine hearty old gentleman, and the most particular
man breathing. As long as he lived he kept a copy of this book in
his office at Knowlesbury, and had it posted up regular, from time
to time, to correspond with the fresh entries here. You would
hardly think it, but he had his own appointed days, once or twice
in every quarter, for riding over to this church on his old white
pony, to check the copy, by the register, with his own eyes and
hands. 'How do I know?' (he used to say) 'how do I know that the
register in this vestry may not be stolen or destroyed? Why isn't
it kept in an iron safe? Why can't I make other people as careful