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  • 26/11/1859-25/8/1860
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on my left hand just brushed my cheek as I lightly rested my head against the railing.

The first sounds that reached me from below were caused by the opening or closing (most probably the latter) of three doors in succession–the doors, no doubt, leading into the hall and into the rooms on each side of the library, which the Count had pledged himself to examine. The first object that I saw was the red spark again travelling out into the night from under the verandah, moving away towards my window, waiting a moment, and then returning to the place from which it had set out.

“The devil take your restlessness! When do you mean to sit down?” growled Sir Percival’s voice beneath me.

“Ouf! how hot it is!” said the Count, sighing and puffing wearily.

His exclamation was followed by the scraping of the garden chairs on the tiled pavement under the verandah–the welcome sound which told me they were going to sit close at the window as usual. So far the chance was mine. The clock in the turret struck the quarter to twelve as they settled themselves in their chairs. I heard Madame Fosco through the open window yawning, and saw her shadow pass once more across the white field of the blind.

Meanwhile, Sir Percival and the Count began talking together below, now and then dropping their voices a little lower than usual, but never sinking them to a whisper. The strangeness and peril of my situation, the dread, which I could not master, of Madame Fosco’s lighted window, made it difficult, almost impossible, for me, at first, to keep my presence of mind, and to fix my attention solely on the conversation beneath. For some minutes I could only succeed in gathering the general substance of it. I understood the Count to say that the one window alight was his wife’s, that the ground floor of the house was quite clear, and that they might now speak to each other without fear of accidents. Sir Percival merely answered by upbraiding his friend with having unjustifiably slighted his wishes and neglected his interests all through the day. The Count thereupon defended himself by declaring that he had been beset by certain troubles and anxieties which had absorbed all his attention, and that the only safe time to come to an explanation was a time when they could feel certain of being neither interrupted nor overheard. “We are at a serious crisis in our affairs, Percival,” he said, “and if we are to decide on the future at all, we must decide secretly to-night.”

That sentence of the Count’s was the first which my attention was ready enough to master exactly as it was spoken. From this point, with certain breaks and interruptions, my whole interest fixed breathlessly on the conversation, and I followed it word for word.

“Crisis?” repeated Sir Percival. “It’s a worse crisis than you think for, I can tell you.”

“So I should suppose, from your behaviour for the last day or two,” returned the other coolly. “But wait a little. Before we advance to what I do NOT know, let us be quite certain of what I DO know. Let us first see if I am right about the time that is past, before I make any proposal to you for the time that is to come.”

“Stop till I get the brandy and water. Have some yourself.”

“Thank you, Percival. The cold water with pleasure, a spoon, and the basin of sugar. Eau sucree, my friend–nothing more.

“Sugar-and-water for a man of your age!–There! mix your sickly mess. You foreigners are all alike.”

“Now listen, Percival. I will put our position plainly before you, as I understand it, and you shall say if I am right or wrong. You and I both came back to this house from the Continent with our affairs very seriously embarrassed ”

“Cut it short! I wanted some thousands and you some hundreds, and without the money we were both in a fair way to go to the dogs together. There’s the situation. Make what you can of it. Go on.”

“Well, Percival, in your own solid English words, you wanted some thousands and I wanted some hundreds, and the only way of getting them was for you to raise the money for your own necessity (with a small margin beyond for my poor little hundreds) by the help of your wife. What did I tell you about your wife on our way to England?–and what did I tell you again when we had come here, and when I had seen for myself the sort of woman Miss Halcombe was?”

“How should I know? You talked nineteen to the dozen, I suppose, just as usual.”

“I said this: Human ingenuity, my friend, has hitherto only discovered two ways in which a man can manage a woman. One way is to knock her down–a method largely adopted by the brutal lower orders of the people, but utterly abhorrent to the refined and educated classes above them. The other way (much longer, much more difficult, but in the end not less certain) is never to accept a provocation at a woman’s hands. It holds with animals, it holds with children, and it holds with women, who are nothing but children grown up. Quiet resolution is the one quality the animals, the children, and the women all fail in. If they can once shake this superior quality in their master, they get the better of HIM. If they can never succeed in disturbing it, he gets the better of THEM. I said to you, Remember that plain truth when you want your wife to help you to the money. I said, Remember it doubly and trebly in the presence of your wife’s sister, Miss Halcombe. Have you remembered it? Not once in all the implications that have twisted themselves about us in this house. Every provocation that your wife and her sister could offer to you, you instantly accepted from them. Your mad temper lost the signature to the deed, lost the ready money, set Miss Halcombe writing to the lawyer for the first time ”

“First time! Has she written again?”

“Yes, she has written again to-day.”

A chair fell on the pavement of the verandah–fell with a crash, as if it had been kicked down.

It was well for me that the Count’s revelation roused Sir Pemival’s anger as it did. On hearing that I had been once more discovered I started so that the railing against which I leaned cracked again. Had he followed me to the inn? Did he infer that I must have given my letters to Fanny when I told him I had none for the post-bag. Even if it was so, how could he have examined the letters when they had gone straight from my hand to the bosom of the girl’s dress?

“Thank your lucky star,” I heard the Count say next, “that you have me in the house to undo the harm as fast as you do it. Thank your lucky star that I said No when you were mad enough to talk of turning the key to-day on Miss Halcombe, as you turned it in your mischievous folly on your wife. Where are your eves? Can you look at Miss Halcombe and not see that she has the foresight and the resolution of a man? With that woman for my friend I would snap these fingers of mine at the world. With that woman for my enemy, I, with all my brains and experience–I, Fosco, cunning as the devil himself, as you have told me a hundred times–I walk, in your English phrase, upon egg-shells! And this grand creature–I drink her health in my sugar-and-water–this grand creature, who stands in the strength of her love and her courage, firm as a rock, between us two and that poor, flimsy, pretty blonde wife of yours–this magnificent woman, whom I admire with all my soul, though I oppose her in your interests and in mine, you drive to extremities as if she was no sharper and no bolder than the rest of her sex. Percival! Percival! you deserve to fail, and you HAVE failed.”

There was a pause. I write the villain’s words about myself because I mean to remember them–because I hope yet for the day when I may speak out once for all in his presence, and cast them back one by one in his teeth.

Sir Percival was the first to break the silence again.

“Yes, yes, bully and bluster as much as you like,” he said sulkily; “the difficulty about the money is not the only difficulty. You would be for taking strong measures with the women yourself–if you knew as much as I do.”

“We will come to that second difficulty all in good time,” rejoined the Count. “You may confuse yourself, Percival, as much as you please, but you shall not confuse me. Let the question of the money be settled first. Have I convinced your obstinacy? have I shown you that your temper will not let you help yourself?–Or must I go back, and (as you put it in your dear straightforward English) bully and bluster a little more?”

“Pooh! It’s easy enough to grumble at ME. Say what is to be done– that’s a little harder.”

“Is it? Bah! This is what is to be done: You give up all direction in the business from to-night–you leave it for the future in my hands only. I am talking to a Practical British man–ha? Well, Practical, will that do for you?”

“What do you propose if I leave it all to you?”

“Answer me first. Is it to be in my hands or not?”

“Say it is in your hands–what then?”

“A few questions, Percival, to begin with. I must wait a little yet, to let circumstances guide me, and I must know, in every possible way, what those circumstances are likely to be. There is no time to lose. I have told you already that Miss Halcombe has written to the lawyer to-day for the second time.”

“How did you find it out? What did she say?”

“If I told you, Percival, we should only come back at the end to where we are now. Enough that I have found it out–and the finding has caused that trouble and anxiety which made me so inaccessible to you all through to-day. Now, to refresh my memory about your affairs–it is some time since I talked them over with you. The money has been raised, in the absence of your wife’s signature, by means of bills at three months–raised at a cost that makes my poverty-stricken foreign hair stand on end to think of it! When the bills are due, is there really and truly no earthly way of paying them but by the help of your wife?”

“None.”

“What! You have no money at the bankers?”

“A few hundreds, when I want as many thousands.”

“Have you no other security to borrow upon?”

“Not a shred.”

“What have you actually got with your wife at the present moment?”

“Nothing but the interest of her twenty thousand pounds–barely enough to pay our daily expenses.”

“What do you expect from your wife?”

“Three thousand a year when her uncle dies.”

“A fine fortune, Percival. What sort of a man is this uncle? Old?”

“No–neither old nor young.”

“A good-tempered, freely-living man? Married? No–I think my wife told me, not married.”

“Of course not. If he was married, and had a son, Lady Glyde would not be next heir to the property. I’ll tell you what he is. He’s a maudlin, twaddling, selfish fool, and bores everybody who comes near him about the state of his health.”

“Men of that sort, Percival, live long, and marry malevolently when you least expect it. I don’t give you much, my friend, for your chance of the three thousand a year. Is there nothing more that comes to you from your wife?”

“Nothing.”

“Absolutely nothing?”

“Absolutely nothing–except in case of her death.”

“Aha! in the case of her death.”

There was another pause. The Count moved from the verandah to the gravel walk outside. I knew that he had moved by his voice. “The rain has come at last,” I heard him say. It had come. The state of my cloak showed that it had been falling thickly for some little time.

The Count went back under the verandah–I heard the chair creak beneath his weight as he sat down in it again.

“Well, Percival,” he said, “and in the case of Lady Glyde’s death, what do you get then?”

“If she leaves no children—-”

“Which she is likely to do?”

“Which she is not in the least likely to do—-”

“Yes?”

“Why, then I get her twenty thousand pounds.”

“Paid down?”

“Paid down.”

They were silent once more. As their voices ceased Madame Fosco’s shadow darkened the blind again. Instead of passing this time, it remained, for a moment, quite still. I saw her fingers steal round the corner of the blind, and draw it on one side. The dim white outline of her face, looking out straight over me, appeared behind the window. I kept still, shrouded from head to foot in my black cloak. The rain, which was fast wetting me, dripped over the glass, blurred it, and prevented her from seeing anything. “More rain!” I heard her say to herself. She dropped the blind, and I breathed again freely.

The talk went on below me, the Count resuming it this time.

“Percival! do you care about your wife?”

“Fosco! that’s rather a downright question.”

“I am a downright man, and I repeat it.”

“Why the devil do you look at me in that way?”

“You won’t answer me? Well, then, let us say your wife dies before the summer is out—-”

“Drop it, Fosco!”

“Let us say your wife dies—-”

“Drop it, I tell you!”

“In that case, you would gain twenty thousand pounds, and you would lose—-”

“I should lose the chance of three thousand a year.”

“The REMOTE chance, Percival–the remote chance only. And you want money, at once. In your position the gain is certain–the loss doubtful.”

“Speak for yourself as well as for me. Some of the money I want has been borrowed for you. And if you come to gain, my wife’s death would be ten thousand pounds in your wife’s pocket. Sharp as you are, you seem to have conveniently forgotten Madame Fosco’s legacy. Don’t look at me in that way! I won’t have it! What with your looks and your questions, upon my soul, you make my flesh creep!”

“Your flesh? Does flesh mean conscience in English? speak of your wife’s death as I speak of a possibility. Why not? The respectable lawyers who scribble-scrabble your deeds and your wills look the deaths of living people in the face. Do lawyers make your flesh creep? Why should I? It is my business to-night to clear up your position beyond the possibility of mistake, and I have now done it. Here is your position. If your wife lives, you pay those bills with her signature to the parchment. If your wife dies, you pay them with her death.”

As he spoke the light in Madame Fosco’s room was extinguished, and the whole second floor of the house was now sunk in darkness,

“Talk! talk!” grumbled Sir Percival. “One would think, to hear you, that my wife’s signature to the deed was got already.”

“You have left the matter in my hands,” retorted the Count, “and I have more than two months before me to turn round in. Say no more about it, if you please, for the present. When the bills are due, you will see for yourself if my ‘talk! talk!’ is worth something, or if it is not. And now, Percival, having done with the money matters for to-night, I can place my attention at your disposal, if you wish to consult me on that second difficulty which has mixed itself up with our little embarrassments, and which has so altered you for the worse, that I hardly know you again. Speak, my friend–and pardon me if I shock your fiery national tastes by mixing myself a second glass of sugar-and-water.”

“It’s very well to say speak,” replied Sir Percival, in a far more quiet and more polite tone than he had yet adopted, “but it’s not so easy to know how to begin.”

“Shall I help you?” suggested the Count. “Shall I give this private difficulty of yours a name? What if I call it–Anne Catherick?”

“Look here, Fosco, you and I have known each other for a long time, and if you have helped me out of one or two scrapes before this, I have done the best I could to help you in return, as far as money would go. We have made as many friendly sacrifices, on both sides, as men could, but we have had our secrets from each other, of course–haven’t we?”

“You have had a secret from me, Percival. There is a skeleton in your cupboard here at Blackwater Park that has peeped out in these last few days at other people besides yourself.”

“Well, suppose it has. If it doesn’t concern you, you needn’t be curious about it, need you?”

“Do I look curious about it?”

“Yes, you do.”

“So! so! my face speaks the truth, then? What an immense foundation of good there must be in the nature of a man who arrives at my age, and whose face has not yet lost the habit of speaking the truth!–Come, Glyde! let us be candid one with the other. This secret of yours has sought me: I have not sought it. Let us say I am curious–do you ask me, as your old friend, to respect your secret, and to leave it, once for all, in your own keeping?”

“Yes–that’s just what I do ask.”

“Then my curiosity is at an end. It dies in me from this moment.”

“Do you really mean that?”

“What makes you doubt me?”

“I have had some experience, Fosco, of your roundabout ways, and I am not so sure that you won’t worm it out of me after all.”

The chair below suddenly creaked again–I felt the trellis-work pillar under me shake from top to bottom. The Count had started to his feet, and had struck it with his hand in indignation.

“Percival! Percival!” he cried passionately, “do you know me no better than that? Has all your experience shown you nothing of my character yet? I am a man of the antique type! I am capable of the most exalted acts of virtue–when I have the chance of performing them. It has been the misfortune of my life that I have had few chances. My conception of friendship is sublime! Is it my fault that your skeleton has peeped out at me? Why do I confess my curiosity? You poor superficial Englishman, it is to magnify my own self-control. I could draw your secret out of you, if I liked, as I draw this finger out of the palm of my hand–you know I could! But you have appealed to my friendship, and the duties of friendship are sacred to me. See! I trample my base curiosity under my feet. My exalted sentiments lift me above it. Recognise them, Percival! imitate them, Percival! Shake hands–I forgive you.”

His voice faltered over the last words–faltered, as if he were actually shedding tears!

Sir Percival confusedly attempted to excuse himself, but the Count was too magnanimous to listen to him.

“No!” he said. “When my friend has wounded me, I can pardon him without apologies. Tell me, in plain words, do you want my help?”

“Yes, badly enough.”

“And you can ask for it without compromising yourself?”

“I can try, at any rate.”

“Try, then.”

“Well, this is how it stands:–I told you to-day that I had done my best to find Anne Catherick, and failed.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Fosco! I’m a lost man if I DON’T find her.”

“Ha! Is it so serious as that?”

A little stream of light travelled out under the verandah, and fell over the gravel-walk. The Count had taken the lamp from the inner part of the room to see his friend clearly by the light of it.

“Yes!” he said. “Your face speaks the truth this time. Serious, indeed–as serious as the money matters themselves.”

“More serious. As true as I sit here, more serious!”

The light disappeared again and the talk went on.

“I showed you the letter to my wife that Anne Catherick hid in the sand,” Sir Percival continued. “There’s no boasting in that letter, Fosco–she DOES know the Secret.”

“Say as little as possible, Percival, in my presence, of the Secret. Does she know it from you?”

“No, from her mother.”

“Two women in possession of your private mind–bad, bad, bad, my friend! One question here, before we go any farther. The motive of your shutting up the daughter in the asylum is now plain enough to me, but the manner of her escape is not quite so clear. Do you suspect the people in charge of her of closing their eyes purposely, at the instance of some enemy who could afford to make it worth their while?”

“No, she was the best-behaved patient they had–and, like fools, they trusted her. She’s just mad enough to be shut up, and just sane enough to ruin me when she’s at large–if you understand that?”

“I do understand it. Now, Percival, come at once to the point, and then I shall know what to do. Where is the danger of your position at the present moment?”

“Anne Catherick is in this neighbourhood, and in communication with Lady Glyde–there’s the danger, plain enough. Who can read the letter she hid in the sand, and not see that my wife is in possession of the Secret, deny it as she may?”

“One moment, Percival. If Lady Glyde does know the Secret, she must know also that it is a compromising secret for you. As your wife, surely it is her interest to keep it?”

“Is it? I’m coming to that. It might be her interest if she cared two straws about me. But I happen to be an encumbrance in the way of another man. She was in love with him before she married me– she’s in love with him now–an infernal vagabond of a drawing- master, named Hartright.”

“My dear friend! what is there extraordinary in that? They are all in love with some other man. Who gets the first of a woman’s heart? In all my experience I have never yet met with the man who was Number One. Number Two, sometimes. Number Three, Four, Five, often. Number One, never! He exists, of course–but I have not met with him.”

“Wait! I haven’t done yet. Who do you think helped Anne Catherick to get the start, when the people from the mad-house were after her? Hartright. Who do you think saw her again in Cumberland? Hartright. Both times he spoke to her alone. Stop! don’t interrupt me. The scoundrel’s as sweet on my wife as she is on him. He knows the Secret, and she knows the Secret. Once let them both get together again, and it’s her interest and his interest to turn their information against me.”

“Gently, Percival–gently! Are you insensible to the virtue of Lady Glyde?”

“That for the virtue of Lady Glyde! I believe in nothing about her but her money. Don’t you see how the case stands? She might be harmless enough by herself; but if she and that vagabond Hartright—-”

“Yes, yes, I see. Where is Mr. Hartright?”

“Out of the country. If he means to keep a whole skin on his bones, I recommend him not to come back in a hurry.”

“Are you sure he is out of the country?”

“Certain. I had him watched from the time he left Cumberland to the time he sailed. Oh, I’ve been careful, I can tell you! Anne Catherick lived with some people at a farm-house near Limmeridge. I went there myself, after she had given me the slip, and made sure that they knew nothing. I gave her mother a form of letter to write to Miss Halcombe, exonerating me from any bad motive in putting her under restraint. I’ve spent, I’m afraid to say how much, in trying to trace her, and in spite of it all, she turns up here and escapes me on my own property! How do I know who else may see her, who else may speak to her? That prying scoundrel, Hartright, may come back with-out my knowing it, and may make use of her to-morrow—-”

“Not he, Percival! While I am on the spot, and while that woman is in the neighbourhood, I will answer for our laying hands on her before Mr. Hartright–even if he does come back. I see! yes, yes, I see! The finding of Anne Catherick is the first necessity–make your mind easy about the rest. Your wife is here, under your thumb–Miss Halcombe is inseparable from her, and is, therefore, under your thumb also–and Mr. Hartright is out of the country. This invisible Anne of yours is all we have to think of for the present. You have made your inquiries?”

“Yes. I have been to her mother, I have ransacked the village– and all to no purpose.”

“Is her mother to be depended on?”

“Yes.”

“She has told your secret once.”

“She won’t tell it again.”

“Why not? Are her own interests concerned in keeping it, as well as yours?”

“Yes–deeply concerned.”

“I am glad to hear it, Percival, for your sake. Don’t be discouraged, my friend. Our money matters, as I told you, leave me plenty of time to turn round in, and I may search for Anne Catherick to-morrow to better purpose than you. One last question before we go to bed.”

“What is it?”

“It is this. When I went to the boat-house to tell Lady Glyde that the little difficulty of her signature was put off, accident took me there in time to see a strange woman parting in a very suspicious manner from your wife. But accident did not bring me near enough to see this same woman’s face plainly. I must know how to recognise our invisible Anne. What is she like?”

“Like? Come! I’ll tell you in two words. She’s a sickly likeness of my wife.”

The chair creaked, and the pillar shook once more. The Count was on his feet again–this time in astonishment.

“What!!!” he exclaimed eagerly.

“Fancy my wife, after a bad illness, with a touch of something wrong in her head–and there is Anne Catherick for you,” answered Sir Percival.

“Are they related to each other?”

“Not a bit of it.”

“And yet so like?”

“Yes, so like. What are you laughing about?”

There was no answer, and no sound of any kind. The Count was laughing in his smooth silent internal way.

“What are you laughing about?” reiterated Sir Percival.

“Perhaps at my own fancies, my good friend. Allow me my Italian humour–do I not come of the illustrious nation which invented the exhibition of Punch? Well, well, well, I shall know Anne Catherick when I see her–and so enough for to-night. Make your mind easy, Percival. Sleep, my son, the sleep of the just, and see what I will do for you when daylight comes to help us both. I have my projects and my plans here in my big head. You shall pay those bills and find Anne Catherick–my sacred word of honour on it, but you shall! Am I a friend to be treasured in the best corner of your heart, or am I not? Am I worth those loans of money which you so delicately reminded me of a little while since? Whatever you do, never wound me in my sentiments any more. Recognise them, Percival! imitate them, Percival! I forgive you again–I shake hands again. Good-night!”

Not another word was spoken. I heard the Count close the library door. I heard Sir Percival barring up the window-shutters. It had been raining, raining all the time. I was cramped by my position and chilled to the bones. When I first tried to move, the effort was so painful to me that I was obliged to desist. I tried a second time, and succeeded in rising to my knees on the wet roof.

As I crept to the wall, and raised myself against it, I looked back, and saw the window of the Count’s dressing-room gleam into light. My sinking courage flickered up in me again, and kept my eyes fixed on his window, as I stole my way back, step by step, past the wall of the house.

The clock struck the quarter after one, when I laid my hands on the window-sill of my own room. I had seen nothing and heard nothing which could lead me to suppose that my retreat had been discovered.

X

June 20th.–Eight o’clock. The sun is shining in a clear sky. I have not been near my bed–I have not once closed my weary wakeful eyes. From the same window at which I looked out into the darkness of last night, I look out now at the bright stillness of the morning.

I count the hours that have passed since I escaped to the shelter of this room by my own sensations–and those hours seem like weeks.

How short a time, and yet how long to ME–since I sank down in the darkness, here, on the floor–drenched to the skin, cramped in every limb, cold to the bones, a useless, helpless, panic-stricken creature.

I hardly know when I roused myself. I hardly know when I groped my way back to the bedroom, and lighted the candle, and searched (with a strange ignorance, at first, of where to look for them) for dry clothes to warm me. The doing of these things is in my mind, but not the time when they were done.

Can I even remember when the chilled, cramped feeling left me, and the throbbing heat came in its place?

Surely it was before the sun rose? Yes, I heard the clock strike three. I remember the time by the sudden brightness and clearness, the feverish strain and excitement of all my faculties which came with it. I remember my resolution to control myself, to wait patiently hour after hour, till the chance offered of removing Laura from this horrible place, without the danger of immediate discovery and pursuit. I remember the persuasion settling itself in my mind that the words those two men had said to each other would furnish us, not only with our justification for leaving the house, but with our weapons of defence against them as well. I recall the impulse that awakened in me to preserve those words in writing, exactly as they were spoken, while the time was my own, and while my memory vividly retained them. All this I remember plainly: there is no confusion in my head yet. The coming in here from the bedroom, with my pen and ink and paper, before sunrise–the sitting down at the widely- opened window to get all the air I could to cool me–the ceaseless writing, faster and faster, hotter and hotter, driving on more and more wakefully, all through the dreadful interval before the house was astir again–how clearly I recall it, from the beginning by candle-light, to the end on the page before this, in the sunshine of the new day!

Why do I sit here still? Why do I weary my hot eyes and my burning head by writing more? Why not lie down and rest myself, and try to quench the fever that consumes me, in sleep?

I dare not attempt it. A fear beyond all other fears has got possession of me. I am afraid of this heat that parches my skin. I am afraid of the creeping and throbbing that I feel in my head. If I lie down now, how do I know that I may have the sense and the strength to rise again?

Oh, the rain, the rain–the cruel rain that chilled me last night!

Nine o’clock. Was it nine struck, or eight? Nine, surely? I am shivering again–shivering, from head to foot, in the summer air. Have I been sitting here asleep? I don’t know what I have been doing.

Oh, my God! am I going to be ill?

Ill, at such a time as this!

My head–I am sadly afraid of my head. I can write, but the lines all run together. I see the words. Laura–I can write Laura, and see I write it. Eight or nine–which was it?

So cold, so cold–oh, that rain last night!–and the strokes of the clock, the strokes I can’t count, keep striking in my head—-

* * * * * * * * * *

Note
[At this place the entry in the Diary ceases to be legible. The two or three lines which follow contain fragments of words only, mingled with blots and scratches of the pen. The last marks on the paper bear some resemblance to the first two letters (L and A) of the name of Lady Glyde.

On the next page of the Diary, another entry appears. It is in a man’s handwriting, large, bold, and firmly regular, and the date is “June the 21st.” It contains these lines–]

POSTSCRIPT BY A SINCERE FRIEND

The illness of our excellent Miss Halcombe has afforded me the opportunity of enjoying an unexpected intellectual pleasure.

I refer to the perusal (which I have just completed) of this interesting Diary.

There are many hundred pages here. I can lay my hand on my heart, and declare that every page has charmed, refreshed, delighted me.

To a man of my sentiments it is unspeakably gratifying to be able to say this.

Admirable woman!

I allude to Miss Halcombe.

Stupendous effort!

I refer to the Diary.

Yes! these pages are amazing. The tact which I find here, the discretion, the rare courage, the wonderful power of memory, the accurate observation of character, the easy grace of style, the charming outbursts of womanly feeling, have all inexpressibly increased my admiration of this sublime creature, of this magnificent Marian. The presentation of my own character is masterly in the extreme. I certify, with my whole heart, to the fidelity of the portrait. I feel how vivid an impression I must have produced to have been painted in such strong, such rich, such massive colours as these. I lament afresh the cruel necessity which sets our interests at variance, and opposes us to each other. Under happier circumstances how worthy I should have been of Miss Halcombe–how worthy Miss Halcombe would have been of ME.

The sentiments which animate my heart assure me that the lines I have just written express a Profound Truth.

Those sentiments exalt me above all merely personal considerations. I bear witness, in the most disinterested manner, to the excellence of the stratagem by which this unparalleled woman surprised the private interview between Percival and myself– also to the marvellous accuracy of her report of the whole conversation from its beginning to its end.

Those sentiments have induced me to offer to the unimpressionable doctor who attends on her my vast knowledge of chemistry, and my luminous experience of the more subtle resources which medical and magnetic science have placed at the disposal of mankind. He has hitherto declined to avail himself of my assistance. Miserable man!

Finally, those sentiments dictate the lines–grateful, sympathetic, paternal lines–which appear in this place. I close the book. My strict sense of propriety restores it (by the hands of my wife) to its place on the writer’s table. Events are hurrying me away. Circumstances are guiding me to serious issues. Vast perspectives of success unroll themselves before my eyes. I accomplish my destiny with a calmness which is terrible to myself. Nothing but the homage of my admiration is my own. I deposit it with respectful tenderness at the feet of Miss Halcombe.

I breathe my wishes for her recovery.

I condole with her on the inevitable failure of every plan that she has formed for her sister’s benefit. At the same time, I entreat her to believe that the information which I have derived from her Diary will in no respect help me to contribute to that failure. It simply confirms the plan of conduct which I had previously arranged. I have to thank these pages for awakening the finest sensibilities in my nature–nothing more.

To a person of similar sensibility this simple assertion will explain and excuse everything.

Miss Halcombe is a person of similar sensibility.

In that persuasion I sign myself,
Fosco.

THE STORY CONTINUED BY FREDERICK FAIRLIE, ESQ., OF LIMMERIDGE HOUSE[2]

[2] The manner in which Mr. Fairlie’s Narrative and other Narratives that are shortly to follow it, were originally obtained, forms the subject of an explanation which will appear at a later period.

It is the grand misfortune of my life that nobody will let me alone.

Why–I ask everybody–why worry ME? Nobody answers that question, and nobody lets me alone. Relatives, friends, and strangers all combine to annoy me. What have I done? I ask myself, I ask my servant, Louis, fifty times a day–what have I done? Neither of us can tell. Most extraordinary!

The last annoyance that has assailed me is the annoyance of being called upon to write this Narrative. Is a man in my state of nervous wretchedness capable of writing narratives? When I put this extremely reasonable objection, I am told that certain very serious events relating to my niece have happened within my experience, and that I am the fit person to describe them on that account. I am threatened if I fail to exert myself in the manner required, with consequences which I cannot so much as think of without perfect prostration. There is really no need to threaten me. Shattered by my miserable health and my family troubles, I am incapable of resistance. If you insist, you take your unjust advantage of me, and I give way immediately. I will endeavour to remember what I can (under protest), and to write what I can (also under protest), and what I can’t remember and can’t write, Louis must remember and write for me. He is an ass, and I am an invalid, and we are likely to make all sorts of mistakes between us. How humiliating!

I am told to remember dates. Good heavens! I never did such a thing in my life–how am I to begin now?

I have asked Louis. He is not quite such an ass as I have hitherto supposed. He remembers the date of the event, within a week or two–and I remember the name of the person. The date was towards the end of June, or the beginning of July, and the name (in my opinion a remarkably vulgar one) was Fanny.

At the end of June, or the beginning of July, then, I was reclining in my customary state, surrounded by the various objects of Art which I have collected about me to improve the taste of the barbarous people in my neighbourhood. That is to say, I had the photographs of my pictures, and prints, and coins, and so forth, all about me, which I intend, one of these days, to present (the photographs, I mean, if the clumsy English language will let me mean anything) to present to the institution at Carlisle (horrid place!), with a view to improving the tastes of the members (Goths and Vandals to a man). It might be supposed that a gentleman who was in course of conferring a great national benefit on his countrymen was the last gentleman in the world to be unfeelingly worried about private difficulties and family affairs. Quite a mistake, I assure you, in my case.

However, there I was, reclining, with my art-treasures about me, and wanting a quiet morning. Because I wanted a quiet morning, of course Louis came in. It was perfectly natural that I should inquire what the deuce he meant by making his appearance when I had not rung my bell. I seldom swear–it is such an ungentlemanlike habit–but when Louis answered by a grin, I think it was also perfectly natural that I should damn him for grinning. At any rate, I did.

This rigorous mode of treatment, I have observed, invariably brings persons in the lower class of life to their senses. It brought Louis to HIS senses. He was so obliging as to leave off grinning, and inform me that a Young Person was outside wanting to see me. He added (with the odious talkativeness of servants), that her name was Fanny.

“Who is Fanny?”

“Lady Glyde’s maid, sir.”

“What does Lady Glyde’s maid want with me .

“A letter, sir—-”

“Take it.”

“She refuses to give it to anybody but you, sir.”

“Who sends the letter?”

“Miss Halcombe, sir.”

The moment I heard Miss Halcombe’s name I gave up. It is a habit of mine always to give up to Miss Halcombe. I find, by experience, that it saves noise. I gave up on this occasion. Dear Marian!

“Let Lady Glyde’s maid come in, Louis. Stop! Do her shoes creak?”

I was obliged to ask the question. Creaking shoes invariably upset me for the day. I was resigned to see the Young Person, but I was NOT resigned to let the Young Person’s shoes upset me. There is a limit even to my endurance.

Louis affirmed distinctly that her shoes were to be depended upon. I waved my hand. He introduced her. Is it necessary to say that she expressed her sense of embarrassment by shutting up her mouth and breathing through her nose? To the student of female human nature in the lower orders, surely not.

Let me do the girl justice. Her shoes did NOT creak. But why do Young Persons in service all perspire at the hands? Why have they all got fat noses and hard cheeks? And why are their faces so sadly unfinished, especially about the corners of the eyelids? I am not strong enough to think deeply myself on any subject, but I appeal to professional men, who are. Why have we no variety in our breed of Young Persons?

“You have a letter for me, from Miss Halcombe? Put it down on the table, please, and don’t upset anything. How is Miss Halcombe?”

“Very well, thank you, sir.”

“And Lady Glyde?”

I received no answer. The Young Person’s face became more unfinished than ever, and I think she began to cry. I certainly saw something moist about her eyes. Tears or perspiration? Louis (whom I have just consulted) is inclined to think, tears. He is in her class of life, and he ought to know best. Let us say, tears.

Except when the refining process of Art judiciously removes from them all resemblance to Nature, I distinctly object to tears. Tears are scientifically described as a Secretion. I can understand that a secretion may be healthy or unhealthy, but I cannot see the interest of a secretion from a sentimental point of view. Perhaps my own secretions being all wrong together, I am a little prejudiced on the subject. No matter. I behaved, on this occasion, with all possible propriety and feeling. I closed my eyes and said to Louis–

“Endeavour to ascertain what she means.”

Louis endeavoured, and the Young Person endeavoured. They succeeded in confusing each other to such an extent that I am bound in common gratitude to say, they really amused me. I think I shall send for them again when I am in low spirits. I have just mentioned this idea to Louis. Strange to say, it seems to make him uncomfortable. Poor devil!

Surely I am not expected to repeat my niece’s maid’s explanation of her tears, interpreted in the English of my Swiss valet? The thing is manifestly impossible. I can give my own impressions and feelings perhaps. Will that do as well? Please say, Yes.

My idea is that she began by telling me (through Louis) that her master had dismissed her from her mistress’s service. (Observe, throughout, the strange irrelevancy of the Young Person. Was it my fault that she had lost her place?) On her dismissal, she had gone to the inn to sleep. (I don’t keep the inn–why mention it to ME?) Between six o’clock and seven Miss Halcombe had come to say good-bye, and had given her two letters, one for me, and one for a gentleman in London. (I am not a gentleman in London–hang the gentleman in London!) She had carefully put the two letters into her bosom (what have I to do with her bosom?); she had been very unhappy, when Miss Halcombe had gone away again; she had not had the heart to put bit or drop between her lips till it was near bedtime, and then, when it was close on nine o’clock, she had thought she should like a cup of tea. (Am I responsible for any of these vulgar fluctuations, which begin with unhappiness and end with tea?) Just as she was WARMING THE POT (I give the words on the authority of Louis, who says he knows what they mean, and wishes to explain, but I snub him on principle)–just as she was warming the pot the door opened, and she was STRUCK OF A HEAP (her own words again, and perfectly unintelligible this time to Louis, as well as to myself) by the appearance in the inn parlour of her ladyship the Countess. I give my niece’s maid’s description of my sister’s title with a sense of the highest relish. My poor dear sister is a tiresome woman who married a foreigner. To resume: the door opened, her ladyship the Countess appeared in the parlour, and the Young Person was struck of a heap. Most remarkable!

I must really rest a little before I can get on any farther. When I have reclined for a few minutes, with my eyes closed, and when Louis has refreshed my poor aching temples with a little eau-de- Cologne, I may be able to proceed.

Her ladyship the Countess—-

No. I am able to proceed, but not to sit up. I will recline and dictate. Louis has a horrid accent, but he knows the language, and can write. How very convenient!

Her ladyship, the Countess, explained her unexpected appearance at the inn by telling Fanny that she had come to bring one or two little messages which Miss Halcombe in her hurry had forgotten. The Young Person thereupon waited anxiously to hear what the messages were, but the Countess seemed disinclined to mention them (so like my sister’s tiresome way!) until Fanny had had her tea. Her ladyship was surprisingly kind and thoughtful about it (extremely unlike my sister), and said, “I am sure, my poor girl, you must want your tea. We can let the messages wait till afterwards. Come, come, if nothing else will put you at your ease, I’ll make the tea and have a cup with you.” I think those were the words, as reported excitably, in my presence, by the Young Person. At any rate, the Countess insisted on making the tea, and carried her ridiculous ostentation of humility so far as to take one cup herself, and to insist on the girl’s taking the other. The girl drank the tea, and according to her own account, solemnised the extraordinary occasion five minutes afterwards by fainting dead away for the first time in her life. Here again I use her own words. Louis thinks they were accompanied by an increased secretion of tears. I can’t say myself. The effort of listening being quite as much as I could manage, my eyes were closed.

Where did I leave off? Ah, yes–she fainted after drinking a cup of tea with the Countess–a proceeding which might have interested me if I had been her medical man, but being nothing of the sort I felt bored by hearing of it, nothing more. When she came to herself in half an hour’s time she was on the sofa, and nobody was with her but the landlady. The Countess, finding it too late to remain any longer at the inn, had gone away as soon as the girl showed signs of recovering, and the landlady had been good enough to help her upstairs to bed.

Left by herself, she had felt in her bosom (I regret the necessity of referring to this part of the subject a second time), and had found the two letters there quite safe, but strangely crumpled. She had been giddy in the night, but had got up well enough to travel in the morning. She had put the letter addressed to that obtrusive stranger, the gentleman in London into the post, and had now delivered the other letter into my hands as she was told. This was the plain truth, and though she could not blame herself for any intentional neglect, she was sadly troubled in her mind, and sadly in want of a word of advice. At this point Louis thinks the secretions appeared again. Perhaps they did, but it is of infinitely greater importance to mention that at this point also I lost my patience, opened my eyes, and interfered.

“What is the purport of all this?” I inquired.

My niece’s irrelevant maid stared, and stood speechless.

“Endeavour to explain,” I said to my servant. “Translate me, Louis.”

Louis endeavoured and translated. In other words, he descended immediately into a bottomless pit of confusion, and the Young Person followed him down. I really don’t know when I have been so amused. I left them at the bottom of the pit as long as they diverted me. When they ceased to divert me, I exerted my intelligence, and pulled them up again.

It is unnecessary to say that my interference enabled me, in due course of time, to ascertain the purport of the Young Person’s remarks.

I discovered that she was uneasy in her mind, because the train of events that she had just described to me had prevented her from receiving those supplementary messages which Miss Halcombe had intrusted to the Countess to deliver. She was afraid the messages might have been of great importance to her mistress’s interests. Her dread of Sir Percival had deterred her from going to Blackwater Park late at night to inquire about them, and Miss Halcombe’s own directions to her, on no account to miss the train in the morning, had prevented her from waiting at the inn the next day. She was most anxious that the misfortune of her fainting-fit should not lead to the second misfortune of making her mistress think her neglectful, and she would humbly beg to ask me whether I would advise her to write her explanations and excuses to Miss Halcombe, requesting to receive the messages by letter, if it was not too late. I make no apologies for this extremely prosy paragraph. I have been ordered to write it. There are people, unaccountable as it may appear, who actually take more interest in what my niece’s maid said to me on this occasion than in what I said to my niece’s maid. Amusing perversity!

“I should feel very much obliged to you, sir, if you would kindly tell me what I had better do,” remarked the Young Person.

“Let things stop as they are,” I said, adapting my language to my listener. “I invariably let things stop as they are. Yes. Is that all?”

“If you think it would be a liberty in me, sir, to write, of course I wouldn’t venture to do so. But I am so very anxious to do all I can to serve my mistress faithfully—-”

People in the lower class of life never know when or how to go out of a room. They invariably require to be helped out by their betters. I thought it high time to help the Young Person out. I did it with two judicious words–

“Good-morning.”

Something outside or inside this singular girl suddenly creaked. Louis, who was looking at her (which I was not), says she creaked when she curtseyed. Curious. Was it her shoes, her stays, or her bones? Louis thinks it was her stays. Most extraordinary!

As soon as I was left by myself I had a little nap–I really wanted it. When I awoke again I noticed dear Marian’s letter. If I had had the least idea of what it contained I should certainly not have attempted to open it. Being, unfortunately for myself, quite innocent of all suspicion, I read the letter. It immediately upset me for the day.

I am, by nature, one of the most easy-tempered creatures that ever lived–I make allowances for everybody, and I take offence at nothing. But as I have before remarked, there are limits to my endurance. I laid down Marian’s letter, and felt myself–justly felt myself–an injured man.

I am about to make a remark. It is, of course, applicable to the very serious matter now under notice, or I should not allow it to appear in this place.

Nothing, in my opinion, sets the odious selfishness of mankind in such a repulsively vivid light as the treatment, in all classes of society, which the Single people receive at the hands of the Married people. When you have once shown yourself too considerate and self-denying to add a family of your own to an already overcrowded population, you are vindictively marked out by your married friends, who have no similar consideration and no similar self-denial, as the recipient of half their conjugal troubles, and the born friend of all their children. Husbands and wives TALK of the cares of matrimony, and bachelors and spinsters BEAR them. Take my own case. I considerately remain single, and my poor dear brother Philip inconsiderately marries. What does he do when he dies? He leaves his daughter to ME. She is a sweet girl–she is also a dreadful responsibility. Why lay her on my shoulders? Because I am bound, in the harmless character of a single man, to relieve my married connections of all their own troubles. I do my best with my brother’s responsibility–I marry my niece, with infinite fuss and difficulty, to the man her father wanted her to marry. She and her husband disagree, and unpleasant consequences follow. What does she do with those consequences? She transfers them to ME. Why transfer them to ME? Because I am bound, in the harmless character of a single man, to relieve my married connections of all their own troubles. Poor single people! Poor human nature!

It is quite unnecessary to say that Marian’s letter threatened me. Everybody threatens me. All sorts of horrors were to fall on my devoted head if I hesitated to turn Limmeridge House into an asylum for my niece and her misfortunes. I did hesitate, nevertheless.

I have mentioned that my usual course, hitherto, had been to submit to dear Marian, and save noise. But on this occasion, the consequences involved in her extremely inconsiderate proposal were of a nature to make me pause. If I opened Limmeridge House as an asylum to Lady Glyde, what security had I against Sir Percival Glyde’s following her here in a state of violent resentment against ME for harbouring his wife? I saw such a perfect labyrinth of troubles involved in this proceeding that I determined to feel my ground, as it were. I wrote, therefore, to dear Marian to beg (as she had no husband to lay claim to her) that she would come here by herself, first, and talk the matter over with me. If she could answer my objections to my own perfect satisfaction, then I assured her that I would receive our sweet Laura with the greatest pleasure, but not otherwise.

I felt, of course, at the time, that this temporising on my part would probably end in bringing Marian here in a state of virtuous indignation, banging doors. But then, the other course of proceeding might end in bringing Sir Percival here in a state of virtuous indignation, banging doors also, and of the two indignations and bangings I preferred Marian’s, because I was used to her. Accordingly I despatched the letter by return of post. It gained me time, at all events–and, oh dear me! what a point that was to begin with.

When I am totally prostrated (did I mention that I was totally prostrated by Marian’s letter?) it always takes me three days to get up again. I was very unreasonable–I expected three days of quiet. Of course I didn’t get them.

The third day’s post brought me a most impertinent letter from a person with whom I was totally unacquainted. He described himself as the acting partner of our man of business–our dear, pig-headed old Gilmore–and he informed me that he had lately received, by the post, a letter addressed to him in Miss Halcombe’s handwriting. On opening the envelope, he had discovered, to his astonishment, that it contained nothing but a blank sheet of notepaper. This circumstance appeared to him so suspicious (as suggesting to his restless legal mind that the letter had been tampered with) that he had at once written to Miss Halcombe, and had received no answer by return of post. In this difficulty, instead of acting like a sensible man and letting things take their proper course, his next absurd proceeding, on his own showing, was to pester me by writing to inquire if I knew anything about it. What the deuce should I know about it? Why alarm me as well as himself? I wrote back to that effect. It was one of my keenest letters. I have produced nothing with a sharper epistolary edge to it since I tendered his dismissal in writing to that extremely troublesome person, Mr. Walter Hartright.

My letter produced its effect. I heard nothing more from the lawyer.

This perhaps was not altogether surprising. But it was certainly a remarkable circumstance that no second letter reached me from Marian, and that no warning signs appeared of her arrival. Her unexpected absence did me amazing good. It was so very soothing and pleasant to infer (as I did of course) that my married connections had made it up again. Five days of undisturbed tranquillity, of delicious single blessedness, quite restored me. On the sixth day I felt strong enough to send for my photographer, and to set him at work again on the presentation copies of my art- treasures, with a view, as I have already mentioned, to the improvement of taste in this barbarous neighbourhood. I had just dismissed him to his workshop, and had just begun coquetting with my coins, when Louis suddenly made his appearance with a card in his hand.

“Another Young Person?” I said. “I won’t see her. In my state of health Young Persons disagree with me. Not at home.”

“It is a gentleman this time, sir ”

A gentleman of course made a difference. I looked at the card.

Gracious Heaven! my tiresome sister’s foreign husband, Count Fosco.

Is it necessary to say what my first impression was when I looked at my visitor’s card? Surely not! My sister having married a foreigner, there was but one impression that any man in his senses could possibly feel. Of course the Count had come to borrow money of me.

“Louis,” I said, “do you think he would go away if you gave him five shillings?”

Louis looked quite shocked. He surprised me inexpressibly by declaring that my sister’s foreign husband was dressed superbly, and looked the picture of prosperity. Under these circumstances my first impression altered to a certain extent. I now took it for granted that the Count had matrimonial difficulties of his own to contend with, and that he had come, like the rest of the family, to cast them all on my shoulders.

“Did he mention his business?” I asked.

“Count Fosco said he had come here, sir, because Miss Halcombe was unable to leave Blackwater Park.”

Fresh troubles, apparently. Not exactly his own, as I had supposed, but dear Marian’s. Troubles, anyway. Oh dear!

“Show him in,” I said resignedly.

The Count’s first appearance really startled me. He was such an alarmingly large person that I quite trembled. I felt certain that he would shake the floor and knock down my art-treasures. He did neither the one nor the other. He was refreshingly dressed in summer costume–his manner was delightfully self-possessed and quiet–he had a charming smile. My first impression of him was highly favourable. It is not creditable to my penetration–as the sequel will show–to acknowledge this, but I am a naturally candid man, and I DO acknowledge it notwithstanding.

“Allow me to present myself, Mr. Fairlie,” he said. “I come from Blackwater Park, and I have the honour and the happiness of being Madame Fosco’s husband. Let me take my first and last advantage of that circumstance by entreating you not to make a stranger of me. I beg you will not disturb yourself–I beg you will not move.”

“You are very good,” I replied. “I wish I was strong enough to get up. Charmed to see you at Limmeridge. Please take a chair.”

“I am afraid you are suffering to-day,” said the Count.

“As usual,” I said. “I am nothing but a bundle of nerves dressed up to look like a man.”

“I have studied many subjects in my time,” remarked this sympathetic person. “Among others the inexhaustible subject of nerves. May I make a suggestion, at once the simplest and the most profound? Will you let me alter the light in your room?

“Certainly–if you will be so very kind as not to let any of it in on me.”

He walked to the window. Such a contrast to dear Marian! so extremely considerate in all his movements!

“Light,” he said, in that delightfully confidential tone which is so soothing to an invalid, “is the first essential. Light stimulates, nourishes, preserves. You can no more do without it, Mr. Fairlie, than if you were a flower. Observe. Here, where you sit, I close the shutters to compose you. There, where you do NOT sit, I draw up the blind and let in the invigorating sun. Admit the light into your room if you cannot bear it on yourself. Light, sir, is the grand decree of Providence. You accept Providence with your own restrictions. Accept light on the same terms.”

I thought this very convincing and attentive. He had taken me in up to that point about the light, he had certainly taken me in.

“You see me confused,” he said, returning to his place–“on my word of honour, Mr. Fairlie, you see me confused in your presence.”

“Shocked to hear it, I am sure. May I inquire why?”

“Sir, can I enter this room (where you sit a sufferer), and see you surrounded by these admirable objects of Art, without discovering that you are a man whose feelings are acutely impressionable, whose sympathies are perpetually alive? Tell me, can I do this?”

If I had been strong enough to sit up in my chair I should, of course, have bowed. Not being strong enough, I smiled my acknowledgments instead. It did just as well, we both understood one another.

“Pray follow my train of thought,” continued the Count. “I sit here, a man of refined sympathies myself, in the presence of another man of refined sympathies also. I am conscious of a terrible necessity for lacerating those sympathies by referring to domestic events of a very melancholy kind. What is the inevitable consequence? I have done myself the honour of pointing it out to you already. I sit confused.”

Was it at this point that I began to suspect he was going to bore me? I rather think it was.

“Is it absolutely necessary to refer to these unpleasant matters?” I inquired. “In our homely English phrase, Count Fosco, won’t they keep?”

The Count, with the most alarming solemnity, sighed and shook his head.

“Must I really hear them?”

He shrugged his shoulders (it was the first foreign thing he had done since he had been in the room), and looked at me in an unpleasantly penetrating manner. My instincts told me that I had better close my eyes. I obeyed my instincts.

“Please break it gently,” I pleaded. “Anybody dead?”

“Dead!” cried the Count, with unnecessary foreign fierceness. “Mr. Fairlie, your national composure terrifies me. In the name of Heaven, what have I said or done to make you think me the messenger of death?”

“Pray accept my apologies,” I answered. “You have said and done nothing. I make it a rule in these distressing cases always to anticipate the worst. It breaks the blow by meeting it half-way, and so on. Inexpressibly relieved, I am sure, to hear that nobody is dead. Anybody ill?”

I opened my eyes and looked at him. Was he very yellow when he came in, or had he turned very yellow in the last minute or two? I really can’t say, and I can’t ask Louis, because he was not in the room at the time.

“Anybody ill?” I repeated, observing that my national composure still appeared to affect him.

“That is part of my bad news, Mr. Fairlie. Yes. Somebody is ill.”

“Grieved, I am sure. Which of them is it?”

“To my profound sorrow, Miss Halcombe. Perhaps you were in some degree prepared to hear this? Perhaps when you found that Miss Halcombe did not come here by herself, as you proposed, and did not write a second time, your affectionate anxiety may have made you fear that she was ill?”

I have no doubt my affectionate anxiety had led to that melancholy apprehension at some time or other, but at the moment my wretched memory entirely failed to remind me of the circumstance. However, I said yes, in justice to myself. I was much shocked. It was so very uncharacteristic of such a robust person as dear Marian to be ill, that I could only suppose she had met with an accident. A horse, or a false step on the stairs, or something of that sort.

“Is it serious?” I asked.

“Serious–beyond a doubt,” he replied. “Dangerous–I hope and trust not. Miss Halcombe unhappily exposed herself to be wetted through by a heavy rain. The cold that followed was of an aggravated kind, and it has now brought with it the worst consequence–fever.”

When I heard the word fever, and when I remembered at the same moment that the unscrupulous person who was now addressing me had just come from Blackwater Park, I thought I should have fainted on the spot.

“Good God!” I said. “Is it infectious?”

“Not at present,” he answered, with detestable composure. “It may turn to infection–but no such deplorable complication had taken place when I left Blackwater Park. I have felt the deepest interest in the case, Mr. Fairlie–I have endeavoured to assist the regular medical attendant in watching it–accept my personal assurances of the uninfectious nature of the fever when I last saw it.”

Accept his assurances! I never was farther from accepting anything in my life. I would not have believed him on his oath. He was too yellow to be believed. He looked like a walking-West-Indian- epidemic. He was big enough to carry typhus by the ton, and to dye the very carpet he walked on with scarlet fever. In certain emergencies my mind is remarkably soon made up. I instantly determined to get rid of him.

“You will kindly excuse an invalid,” I said–“but long conferences of any kind invariably upset me. May I beg to know exactly what the object is to which I am indebted for the honour of your visit?”

I fervently hoped that this remarkably broad hint would throw him off his balance–confuse him–reduce him to polite apologies–in short, get him out of the room. On the contrary, it only settled him in his chair. He became additionally solemn, and dignified, and confidential. He held up two of his horrid fingers and gave me another of his unpleasantly penetrating looks. What was I to do? I was not strong enough to quarrel with him. Conceive my situation, if you please. Is language adequate to describe it? I think not.

“The objects of my visit,” he went on, quite irrepressibly, “are numbered on my fingers. They are two. First, I come to bear my testimony, with profound sorrow, to the lamentable disagreements between Sir Percival and Lady Glyde. I am Sir Percival’s oldest friend–I am related to Lady Glyde by marriage–I am an eye- witness of all that has happened at Blackwater Park. In those three capacities I speak with authority, with confidence, with honourable regret. Sir, I inform you, as the head of Lady Glyde’s family, that Miss Halcombe has exaggerated nothing in the letter which she wrote to your address. I affirm that the remedy which that admirable lady has proposed is the only remedy that will spare you the horrors of public scandal. A temporary separation between husband and wife is the one peaceable solution of this difficulty. Part them for the present, and when all causes of irritation are removed, I, who have now the honour of addressing you–I will undertake to bring Sir Percival to reason. Lady Glyde is innocent, Lady Glyde is injured, but–follow my thought here!– she is, on that very account (I say it with shame), the cause of irritation while she remains under her husband’s roof. No other house can receive her with propriety but yours. I invite you to open it.”

Cool. Here was a matrimonial hailstorm pouring in the South of England, and I was invited, by a man with fever in every fold of his coat, to come out from the North of England and take my share of the pelting. I tried to put the point forcibly, just as I have put it here. The Count deliberately lowered one of his horrid fingers, kept the other up, and went on–rode over me, as it were, without even the common coach-manlike attention of crying “Hi!” before he knocked me down.

“Follow my thought once more, if you please,” he resumed. “My first object you have heard. My second object in coming to this house is to do what Miss Halcombe’s illness has prevented her from doing for herself. My large experience is consulted on all difficult matters at Blackwater Park, and my friendly advice was requested on the interesting subject of your letter to Miss Halcombe. I understood at once–for my sympathies are your sympathies–why you wished to see her here before you pledged yourself to inviting Lady Glyde. You are most right, sir, in hesitating to receive the wife until you are quite certain that the husband will not exert his authority to reclaim her. I agree to that. I also agree that such delicate explanations as this difficulty involves are not explanations which can be properly disposed of by writing only. My presence here (to my own great inconvenience) is the proof that I speak sincerely. As for the explanations themselves, I–Fosco–I, who know Sir Percival much better than Miss Halcombe knows him, affirm to you, on my honour and my word, that he will not come near this house, or attempt to communicate with this house, while his wife is living in it. His affairs are embarrassed. Offer him his freedom by means of the absence of Lady Glyde. I promise you he will take his freedom, and go back to the Continent at the earliest moment when he can get away. Is this clear to you as crystal? Yes, it is. Have you questions to address to me? Be it so, I am here to answer. Ask, Mr. Fairlie–oblige me by asking to your heart’s content.”

He had said so much already in spite of me, and he looked so dreadfully capable of saying a great deal more also in spite of me, that I declined his amiable invitation in pure self-defence.

“Many thanks,” I replied. “I am sinking fast. In my state of health I must take things for granted. Allow me to do so on this occasion. We quite understand each other. Yes. Much obliged, I am sure, for your kind interference. If I ever get better, and ever have a second opportunity of improving our acquaintance ”

He got up. I thought he was going. No. More talk, more time for the development of infectious influences–in my room, too– remember that, in my room!

“One moment yet,” he said, “one moment before I take my leave. I ask permission at parting to impress on you an urgent necessity. It is this, sir. You must not think of waiting till Miss Halcombe recovers before you receive Lady Glyde. Miss Halcombe has the attendance of the doctor, of the housekeeper at Blackwater Park, and of an experienced nurse as well–three persons for whose capacity and devotion I answer with my life. I tell you that. I tell you, also, that the anxiety and alarm of her sister’s illness has already affected the health and spirits of Lady Glyde, and has made her totally unfit to be of use in the sick-room. Her position with her husband grows more and more deplorable and dangerous every day. If you leave her any longer at Blackwater Park, you do nothing whatever to hasten her sister’s recovery, and at the same time, you risk the public scandal, which you and I, and all of us, are bound in the sacred interests of the family to avoid. With all my soul, I advise you to remove the serious responsibility of delay from your own shoulders by writing to Lady Glyde to come here at once. Do your affectionate, your honourable, your inevitable duty, and whatever happens in the future, no one can lay the blame on you. I speak from my large experience–I offer my friendly advice. Is it accepted–Yes, or No?”

I looked at him–merely looked at him–with my sense of his amazing assurance, and my dawning resolution to ring for Louis and have him shown out of the room expressed in every line of my face. It is perfectly incredible, but quite true, that my face did not appear to produce the slightest impression on him. Born without nerves–evidently born without nerves.

“You hesitate?” he said. “Mr. Fairlie! I understand that hesitation. You object–see, sir, how my sympathies look straight down into your thoughts!–you object that Lady Glyde is not in health and not in spirits to take the long journey, from Hampshire to this place, by herself. Her own maid is removed from her, as you know, and of other servants fit to travel with her, from one end of England to another, there are none at Blackwater Park. You object, again, that she cannot comfortably stop and rest in London, on her way here, because she cannot comfortably go alone to a public hotel where she is a total stranger. In one breath, I grant both objections–in another breath, I remove them. Follow me, if you please, for the last time. It was my intention, when I returned to England with Sir Percival, to settle myself in the neighbourhood of London. That purpose has just been happily accomplished. I have taken, for six months, a little furnished house in the quarter called St. John’s Wood. Be so obliging as to keep this fact in your mind, and observe the programme I now propose. Lady Glyde travels to London (a short journey)–I myself meet her at the station–I take her to rest and sleep at my house, which is also the house of her aunt–when she is restored I escort her to the station again–she travels to this place, and her own maid (who is now under your roof) receives her at the carriage- door. Here is comfort consulted–here are the interests of propriety consulted–here is your own duty–duty of hospitality, sympathy, protection, to an unhappy lady in need of all three– smoothed and made easy, from the beginning to the end. I cordially invite you, sir, to second my efforts in the sacred interests of the family. I seriously advise you to write, by my hands, offering the hospitality of your house (and heart), and the hospitality of my house (and heart), to that injured and unfortunate lady whose cause I plead to-day.”

He waved his horrid hand at me–he struck his infectious breast– he addressed me oratorically, as if I was laid up in the House of Commons. It was high time to take a desperate course of some sort. It was also high time to send for Louis, and adopt the precaution of fumigating the room.

In this trying emergency an idea occurred to me–an inestimable idea which, so to speak, killed two intrusive birds with one stone. I determined to get rid of the Count’s tiresome eloquence, and of Lady Glyde’s tiresome troubles, by complying with this odious foreigner’s request, and writing the letter at once. There was not the least danger of the invitation being accepted, for there was not the least chance that Laura would consent to leave Blackwater Park while Marian was lying there ill. How this charmingly convenient obstacle could have escaped the officious penetration of the Count, it was impossible to conceive–but it HAD escaped him. My dread that he might yet discover it, if I allowed him any more time to think, stimulated me to such an amazing degree, that I struggled into a sitting position–seized, really seized, the writing materials by my side, and produced the letter as rapidly as if I had been a common clerk in an office. “Dearest Laura, Please come, whenever you like. Break the journey by sleeping in London at your aunt’s house. Grieved to hear of dear Marian’s illness. Ever affectionately yours.” I handed these lines, at arm’s length, to the Count–I sank back in my chair–I said, “Excuse me–I am entirely prostrated–I can do no more. Will you rest and lunch downstairs? Love to all, and sympathy, and so on. Good-morning.”

He made another speech–the man was absolutely inexhaustible. I closed my eyes–I endeavoured to hear as little as possible. In spite of my endeavours I was obliged to hear a great deal. My sister’s endless husband congratulated himself, and congratulated me, on the result of our interview–he mentioned a great deal more about his sympathies and mine–he deplored my miserable health–he offered to write me a prescription–he impressed on me the necessity of not forgetting what he had said about the importance of light–he accepted my obliging invitation to rest and lunch–he recommended me to expect Lady Glyde in two or three days’ time–he begged my permission to look forward to our next meeting, instead of paining himself and paining me, by saying farewell–he added a great deal more, which, I rejoice to think, I did not attend to at the time, and do not remember now. I heard his sympathetic voice travelling away from me by degrees–but, large as he was, I never heard him. He had the negative merit of being absolutely noiseless. I don’t know when he opened the door, or when he shut it. I ventured to make use of my eyes again, after an interval of silence–and he was gone.

I rang for Louis, and retired to my bathroom. Tepid water, strengthened with aromatic vinegar, for myself, and copious fumigation for my study, were the obvious precautions to take, and of course I adopted them. I rejoice to say they proved successful. I enjoyed my customary siesta. I awoke moist and cool.

My first inquiries were for the Count. Had we really got rid of him? Yes–he had gone away by the afternoon train. Had he lunched, and if so, upon what? Entirely upon fruit-tart and cream. What a man! What a digestion!

Am I expected to say anything more? I believe not. I believe I have reached the limits assigned to me. The shocking circumstances which happened at a later period did not, I am thankful to say, happen in my presence. I do beg and entreat that nobody will be so very unfeeling as to lay any part of the blame of those circumstances on me. I did everything for the best. I am not answerable for a deplorable calamity, which it was quite impossible to foresee. I am shattered by it–I have suffered under it, as nobody else has suffered. My servant, Louis (who is really attached to me in his unintelligent way), thinks I shall never get over it. He sees me dictating at this moment, with my handkerchief to my eyes. I wish to mention, in justice to myself, that it was not my fault, and that I am quite exhausted and heartbroken. Need I say more?

THE STORY CONTINUED BY ELIZA MICHELSON (Housekeeper at Blackwater Park)

I

I am asked to state plainly what I know of the progress of Miss Halcombe’s illness and of the circumstances under which Lady Glyde left Blackwater Park for London.

The reason given for making this demand on me is, that my testimony is wanted in the interests of truth. As the widow of a clergyman of the Church of England (reduced by misfortune to the necessity of accepting a situation), I have been taught to place the claims of truth above all other considerations. I therefore comply with a request which I might otherwise, through reluctance to connect myself with distressing family affairs, have hesitated to grant.

I made no memorandum at the time, and I cannot therefore be sure to a day of the date, but I believe I am correct in stating that Miss Halcombe’s serious illness began during the last fortnight or ten days in June. The breakfast hour was late at Blackwater Park– sometimes as late as ten, never earlier than half-past nine. On the morning to which I am now referring, Miss Halcombe (who was usually the first to come down) did not make her appearance at the table. After the family had waited a quarter of an hour, the upper housemaid was sent to see after her, and came running out of the room dreadfully frightened. I met the servant on the stairs, and went at once to Miss Halcombe to see what was the matter. The poor lady was incapable of telling me. She was walking about her room with a pen in her hand, quite light-headed, in a state of burning fever.

Lady Glyde (being no longer in Sir Percival’s service, I may, without impropriety, mention my former mistress by her name, instead of calling her my lady) was the first to come in from her own bedroom. She was so dreadfully alarmed and distressed that she was quite useless. The Count Fosco, and his lady, who came upstairs immediately afterwards, were both most serviceable and kind. Her ladyship assisted me to get Miss Halcombe to her bed. His lordship the Count remained in the sitting-room, and having sent for my medicine-chest, made a mixture for Miss Halcombe, and a cooling lotion to be applied to her head, so as to lose no time before the doctor came. We applied the lotion, but we could not get her to take the mixture. Sir Percival undertook to send for the doctor. He despatched a groom, on horseback, for the nearest medical man, Mr. Dawson, of Oak Lodge.

Mr. Dawson arrived in less than an hour’s time. He was a respectable elderly man, well known all round the country, and we were much alarmed when we found that he considered the case to be a very serious one.

His lordship the Count affably entered into conversation with Mr. Dawson, and gave his opinions with a judicious freedom. Mr. Dawson, not over-courteously, inquired if his lordship’s advice was the advice of a doctor, and being informed that it was the advice of one who had studied medicine unprofessionally, replied that he was not accustomed to consult with amateur physicians. The Count, with truly Christian meekness of temper, smiled and left the room. Before he went out he told me that he might be found, in case he was wanted in the course of the day, at the boat-house on the banks of the lake. Why he should have gone there, I cannot say. But he did go, remaining away the whole day till seven o’clock, which was dinner-time. Perhaps he wished to set the example of keeping the house as quiet as possible. It was entirely in his character to do so. He was a most considerate nobleman.

Miss Halcombe passed a very bad night, the fever coming and going, and getting worse towards the morning instead of better. No nurse fit to wait on her being at hand in the neighbourhood, her ladyship the Countess and myself undertook the duty, relieving each other. Lady Glyde, most unwisely, insisted on sitting up with us. She was much too nervous and too delicate in health to bear the anxiety of Miss Halcombe’s illness calmly. She only did herself harm, without being of the least real assistance. A more gentle and affectionate lady never lived–but she cried, and she was frightened, two weaknesses which made her entirely unfit to be present in a sick-room.

Sir Percival and the Count came in the morning to make their inquiries.

Sir Percival (from distress, I presume, at his lady’s affliction and at Miss Halcombe’s illness) appeared much confused and unsettled in his mind. His lordship testified, on the contrary, a becoming composure and interest. He had his straw hat in one hand, and his book in the other, and he mentioned to Sir Percival in my hearing that he would go out again and study at the lake. “Let us keep the house quiet,” he said. “Let us not smoke indoors, my friend, now Miss Halcombe is ill. You go your way, and I will go mine. When I study I like to be alone. Good-morning, Mrs. Michelson.”

Sir Percival was not civil enough–perhaps I ought in justice to say, not composed enough–to take leave of me with the same polite attention. The only person in the house, indeed, who treated me, at that time or at any other, on the footing of a lady in distressed circumstances, was the Count. He had the manners of a true nobleman–he was considerate towards every one. Even the young person (Fanny by name) who attended on Lady Glyde was not beneath his notice. When she was sent away by Sir Percival, his lordship (showing me his sweet little birds at the time) was most kindly anxious to know what had become of her, where she was to go the day she left Blackwater Park, and so on. It is in such little delicate attentions that the advantages of aristocratic birth always show themselves. I make no apology for introducing these particulars–they are brought forward in justice to his lordship, whose character, I have reason to know, is viewed rather harshly in certain quarters. A nobleman who can respect a lady in distressed circumstances, and can take a fatherly interest in the fortunes of an humble servant girl, shows principles and feelings of too high an order to be lightly called in question. I advance no opinions–I offer facts only. My endeavour through life is to judge not that I be not judged. One of my beloved husband’s finest sermons was on that text. I read it constantly–in my own copy of the edition printed by subscription, in the first days of my widowhood–and at every fresh perusal I derive an increase of spiritual benefit and edification.

There was no improvement in Miss Halcombe, and the second night was even worse than the first. Mr. Dawson was constant in his attendance. The practical duties of nursing were still divided between the Countess and myself, Lady Glyde persisting in sitting up with us, though we both entreated her to take some rest. “My place is by Marian’s bedside,” was her only answer. “Whether I am ill, or well, nothing will induce me to lose sight of her.”

Towards midday I went downstairs to attend to some of my regular duties. An hour afterwards, on my way back to the sick-room, I saw the Count (who had gone out again early, for the third time) entering the hall, to all appearance in the highest good spirits. Sir Percival, at the same moment, put his head out of the library door, and addressed his noble friend, with extreme eagerness, in these words–

“Have you found her?”

His lordship’s large face became dimpled all over with placid smiles, but he made no reply in words. At the same time Sir Percival turned his head, observed that I was approaching the stairs, and looked at me in the most rudely angry manner possible.

“Come in here and tell me about it,” he said to the Count. “Whenever there are women in a house they’re always sure to be going up or down stairs.”

“My dear Percival,” observed his lordship kindly, “Mrs. Michelson has duties. Pray recognise her admirable performance of them as sincerely as I do! How is the sufferer, Mrs. Michelson?”

“No better, my lord, I regret to say.”

“Sad–most sad!” remarked the Count. “You look fatigued, Mrs. Michelson. It is certainly time you and my wife had some help in nursing. I think I may be the means of offering you that help. Circumstances have happened which will oblige Madame Fosco to travel to London either to-morrow or the day after. She will go away in the morning and return at night, and she will bring back with her, to relieve you, a nurse of excellent conduct and capacity, who is now disengaged. The woman is known to my wife as a person to be trusted. Before she comes here say nothing about her, if you please, to the doctor, because he will look with an evil eye on any nurse of my providing. When she appears in this house she will speak for herself, and Mr. Dawson will be obliged to acknowledge that there is no excuse for not employing her. Lady Glyde will say the same. Pray present my best respects and sympathies to Lady Glyde.”

I expressed my grateful acknowledgments for his lordship’s kind consideration. Sir Percival cut them short by calling to his noble friend (using, I regret to say, a profane expression) to come into the library, and not to keep him waiting there any longer.

I proceeded upstairs. We are poor erring creatures, and however well established a woman’s principles may be she cannot always keep on her guard against the temptation to exercise an idle curiosity. I am ashamed to say that an idle curiosity, on this occasion, got the better of my principles, and made me unduly inquisitive about the question which Sir Percival had addressed to his noble friend at the library door. Who was the Count expected to find in the course of his studious morning rambles at Blackwater Park? A woman, it was to be presumed, from the terms of Sir Percival’s inquiry. I did not suspect the Count of any impropriety–I knew his moral character too well. The only question I asked myself was–Had he found her?

To resume. The night passed as usual without producing any change for the better in Miss Halcombe. The next day she seemed to improve a little. The day after that her ladyship the Countess, without mentioning the object of her journey to any one in my hearing, proceeded by the morning train to London–her noble husband, with his customary attention, accompanying her to the station.

I was now left in sole charge of Miss Halcombe, with every apparent chance, in consequence of her sister’s resolution not to leave the bedside, of having Lady Glyde herself to nurse next.

The only circumstance of any importance that happened in the course of the day was the occurrence of another unpleasant meeting between the doctor and the Count.

His lordship, on returning from the station, stepped up into Miss Halcombe’s sitting-room to make his inquiries. I went out from the bedroom to speak to him, Mr. Dawson and Lady Glyde being both with the patient at the time. The Count asked me many questions about the treatment and the symptoms. I informed him that the treatment was of the kind described as “saline,” and that the symptoms, between the attacks of fever, were certainly those of increasing weakness and exhaustion. Just as I was mentioning these last particulars, Mr. Dawson came out from the bedroom.

“Good-morning, sir,” said his lordship, stepping forward in the most urbane manner, and stopping the doctor, with a high-bred resolution impossible to resist, “I greatly fear you find no improvement in the symptoms to-day?”

“I find decided improvement,” answered Mr. Dawson.

“You still persist in your lowering treatment of this case of fever?” continued his lordship.

“I persist in the treatment which is justified by my own professional experience,” said Mr. Dawson.

“Permit me to put one question to you on the vast subject of professional experience,” observed the Count. “I presume to offer no more advice–I only presume to make an inquiry. You live at some distance, sir, from the gigantic centres of scientific activity–London and Paris. Have you ever heard of the wasting effects of fever being reasonably and intelligibly repaired by fortifying the exhausted patient with brandy, wine, ammonia, and quinine? Has that new heresy of the highest medical authorities ever reached your ears–Yes or No?”

“When a professional man puts that question to me I shall be glad to answer him,” said the doctor, opening the door to go out. “You are not a professional man, and I beg to decline answering you.”

Buffeted in this inexcusably uncivil way on one cheek, the Count, like a practical Christian, immediately turned the other, and said, in the sweetest manner, “Good-morning, Mr. Dawson.”

If my late beloved husband had been so fortunate as to know his lordship, how highly he and the Count would have esteemed each other!

Her ladyship the Countess returned by the last train that night, and brought with her the nurse from London. I was instructed that this person’s name was Mrs. Rubelle. Her personal appearance, and her imperfect English when she spoke, informed me that she was a foreigner.

I have always cultivated a feeling of humane indulgence for foreigners. They do not possess our blessings and advantages, and they are, for the most part, brought up in the blind errors of Popery. It has also always been my precept and practice, as it was my dear husband’s precept and practice before me (see Sermon XXIX. in the Collection by the late Rev. Samuel Michelson, M.A.), to do as I would be done by. On both these accounts I will not say that Mrs. Rubelle struck me as being a small, wiry, sly person, of fifty or thereabouts, with a dark brown or Creole complexion and watchful light grey eyes. Nor will I mention, for the reasons just alleged, that I thought her dress, though it was of the plainest black silk, inappropriately costly in texture and unnecessarily refined in trimming and finish, for a person in her position in life. I should not like these things to be said of me, and therefore it is my duty not to say them of Mrs. Rubelle. I will merely mention that her manners were, not perhaps unpleasantly reserved, but only remarkably quiet and retiring– that she looked about her a great deal, and said very little, which might have arisen quite as much from her own modesty as from distrust of her position at Blackwater Park; and that she declined to partake of supper (which was curious perhaps, but surely not suspicious?), although I myself politely invited her to that meal in my own room.

At the Count’s particular suggestion (so like his lordship’s forgiving kindness!), it was arranged that Mrs. Rubelle should not enter on her duties until she had been seen and approved by the doctor the next morning. I sat up that night. Lady Glyde appeared to be very unwilling that the new nurse should be employed to attend on Miss Halcombe. Such want of liberality towards a foreigner on the part of a lady of her education and refinement surprised me. I ventured to say, “My lady, we must all remember not to be hasty in our judgments on our inferiors– especially when they come from foreign parts.” Lady Glyde did not appear to attend to me. She only sighed, and kissed Miss Halcombe’s hand as it lay on the counterpane. Scarcely a judicious proceeding in a sick-room, with a patient whom it was highly desirable not to excite. But poor Lady Glyde knew nothing of nursing–nothing whatever, I am sorry to say.

The next morning Mrs. Rubelle was sent to the sitting-room, to be approved by the doctor on his way through to the bedroom.

I left Lady Glyde with Miss Halcombe, who was slumbering at the time, and joined Mrs. Rubelle, with the object of kindly preventing her from feeling strange and nervous in consequence of the uncertainty of her situation. She did not appear to see it in that light. She seemed to be quite satisfied, beforehand, that Mr. Dawson would approve of her, and she sat calmly looking out of window, with every appearance of enjoying the country air. Some people might have thought such conduct suggestive of brazen assurance. I beg to say that I more liberally set it down to extraordinary strength of mind.

Instead of the doctor coming up to us, I was sent for to see the doctor. I thought this change of affairs rather odd, but Mrs. Rubelle did not appear to be affected by it in any way. I left her still calmly looking out of the window, and still silently enjoying the country air.

Mr. Dawson was waiting for me by himself in the breakfast-room.

“About this new nurse, Mrs. Michelson,” said the doctor.

“Yes, sir?”

“I find that she has been brought here from London by the wife of that fat old foreigner, who is always trying to interfere with me. Mrs. Michelson, the fat old foreigner is a quack.”