No. 56.] SATURDAY,
MAY 19 , 1860 [PRICE 2d.
THE WOMAN IN WHITE.
THE HOUSEKEEPER’S NARRATIVE CONCLUDED.
Miss Halcombe had never left Blackwater Park!
When I heard those words, all my thoughts were startled back on the instant to my parting with Lady Glyde. I can hardly say I reproached myself—but, at that moment, I think I would have given many a year’s hard savings to have known four hours earlier what I knew now.
Mrs. Rubelle waited, quietly arranging her nosegay, as if she expected me to say something.
I could say nothing. I thought of Lady Glyde’s worn-out energies and weakly health; and I trembled for the time when the shock of the discovery that I had made would fall on her. For a minute, or more, my fears for the poor lady silenced me. At the end of that time, Mrs. Rubelle looked up sideways from her flowers, and said, “Here is Sir Percival, ma’am, returned from his ride.”
I saw him as soon as she did. He came towards us, slashing viciously at the flowers with his riding-whip. When he was near enough to see my face, he stopped, struck at his boot with the whip, and burst out laughing, so harshly and so violently, that the birds flew away, startled, from the tree by which he stood.
“Well, Mrs. Michelson,” he said; “you have found it out at last—have you?”
I made no reply. He turned to Mrs. Rubelle.
“When did you show yourself in the garden?”
“I showed myself about half an hour ago, sir. You said I might take my liberty again, as soon as Lady Glyde had gone away to London.”
“Quite right. I don’t blame you—I only asked the question.” He waited a moment, and then addressed himself once more to me. “You can’t believe it, can you?” he said, mockingly. “Here! come along and see for yourself.”
He led the way round to the front of the house. I followed him; and Mrs. Rubelle followed me. After passing through the iron gates, he stopped, and pointed with his whip to the disused middle wing of the building.
“There!” he said. “Look up at the first floor. You know the old Elizabethan bedrooms? Miss Halcombe is snug and safe in one of the best of them, at this moment. Take her in, Mrs. Rubelle (you have got your key?); take Mrs. Michelson in, and let her own eyes satisfy her that there is no deception, this time.”
The tone in which he spoke to me, and the minute or two that had passed since we left the garden, helped me to recover my spirits a little. What I might have done, at this critical moment, if all my life had been passed in service, I cannot say. As it was, possessing the feelings, the principles, and the bringing-up of a lady, I could not hesitate about the right course to pursue. My duty to myself, and my duty to Lady Glyde, alike forbade me to remain in the employment of a man who had shamefully deceived us both by a series of atrocious falsehoods.
“I must beg permission, Sir Percival, to speak a few words to you in private,” I said. “Having done so, I shall be ready to proceed with this person to Miss Halcombe’s room.”
Mrs. Rubelle, whom I had indicated by a slight turn of my head, insolently sniffed at her nosegay, and walked away, with great deliberation, towards the house door.
“Well,” said Sir Percival, sharply; “what is it now?”
“I wish to mention, sir, that I am desirous of resigning the situation I now hold at Blackwater Park.” That was literally how I put it. I was resolved that the first words spoken in his presence should be words which expressed my intention to leave his service.
He eyed me with one of his blackest looks, and thrust his hands savagely into the pockets of his riding-coat.
“Why?” he said; “why, I should like to know?”
“It is not for me, Sir Percival, to express an opinion on what has taken place in this house. I desire to give no offence. I merely wish to say that I do not feel it consistent with my duty to Lady Glyde and to myself to remain any longer in your service.”
“Is it consistent with your duty to me to stand there, casting suspicion on me to my face?” he broke out, in his most violent manner. “I see what you’re driving at. You have taken your own mean, underhand view of an innocent deception practised on Lady Glyde, for her own good. It was essential to her health that she should have a change of air immediately—and, you know as well as I do, she would never have gone away, if she had known Miss Halcombe was still left here. She has been deceived in her own interests—and I don’t care who knows it. Go, if you like—there are plenty of housekeepers as good as you, to be had for the asking. Go, when you please—but take care how you spread scandals about me and my affairs, when you’re out of my service. Tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, or it will be the worse for you! See Miss Halcombe for yourself; see if she hasn’t been as well taken care of in one part of the house as in the other. Remember the doctor’s own orders that Lady Glyde was to have a change of air at the earliest possible opportunity. Bear all that well in mind—and then say anything against me and my proceedings if you dare!”
He poured out these words fiercely, all in a breath, walking backwards and forwards, and striking about him in the air with his whip.
Nothing that he said or did shook my opinion of the disgraceful series of falsehoods that he had told, in my presence, the day before, or of the cruel deception by which he had separated Lady Glyde from her sister, and had sent her uselessly to London, when she was half distracted with anxiety on Miss Halcombe’s account. I naturally kept these thoughts to myself, and said nothing more to irritate him; but I was not the less resolved to persist in my purpose. A soft answer turneth away wrath; and I suppressed my own feelings, accordingly, when it was my turn to reply.
“While I am in your service, Sir Percival,” I said, “I hope I know my duty well enough not to inquire into your motives. When I am out of your service, I hope I know my own place well enough not to speak of matters which don’t concern me——”
“When do you want to go?” he asked, interrupting me without ceremony. “Don’t suppose I am anxious to keep you—don’t suppose I care about your leaving the house. I am perfectly fair and open in this matter, from first to last. When do you want to go?”
“I should wish to leave at your earliest convenience, Sir Percival.”
“My convenience has nothing to do with it. I shall be out of the house, for good and all, to-morrow morning; and I can settle your accounts to-night. If you want to study anybody’s convenience, it had better be Miss Halcombe’s. Mrs. Rubelle’s time is up to-day; and she has reasons for wishing to be in London to-night. If you go at once, Miss Halcombe won’t have a soul left here to look after her.”
I hope it is unnecessary for me to say that I was quite incapable of deserting Miss Halcombe in such an emergency as had now befallen Lady Glyde and herself. After first distinctly ascertaining from Sir Percival that Mrs. Rubelle was certain to leave at once if I took her place, and after also obtaining permission to arrange for Mr. Dawson’s resuming his attendance on his patient, I willingly consented to remain at Blackwater Park, until Miss Halcombe no longer required my services. It was settled that I should give Sir Percival’s solicitor a week’s notice before I left; and that he was to undertake the necessary arrangements for appointing my successor. The matter was discussed in very few words. At its conclusion, Sir Percival abruptly turned on his heel, and left me free to join Mrs. Rubelle. That singular foreign person had been sitting composedly on the door-step, all this time, waiting till I could follow her to Miss Halcombe’s room.
I had hardly walked half way towards the house, when Sir Percival, who had withdrawn in the opposite direction, suddenly stopped and called me back.
“Why are you leaving my service?” he asked.
The question was so extraordinary, after what had just passed between us, that I hardly knew what to say in answer to it.
“Mind! I don’t know why you are going,” he went on. “You must give a reason for leaving me, I suppose, when you get another situation. What reason? The breaking-up of the family? Is that it?”
“There can be no positive objection, Sir Percival, to that reason——”
“Very well! That’s all I want to know. If people apply for your character, that’s your reason, stated by yourself. You go in consequence of the breaking-up of the family.”
He turned away again, before I could say another word, and walked out rapidly into the grounds. His manner was as strange as his language. I acknowledge he alarmed me.
Even the patience of Mrs. Rubelle was getting exhausted, when I joined her at the house door.
“At last!” she said, with a shrug of her lean foreign shoulders. She led the way into the inhabited side of the house, ascended the stairs, and opened with her key the door at the end of the passage, which communicated with the old Elizabethan rooms—a door never previously used, in my time, at Blackwater Park. The rooms themselves I knew well, having entered them myself, on various occasions, from the other side of the house. Mrs. Rubelle stopped at the third door along the old gallery, handed me the key of it, with the key of the door of communication, and told me I should find Miss Halcombe in that room. Before I went in, I thought it desirable to make her understand that her attendance had ceased. Accordingly, I told her in plain words that the charge of the sick lady henceforth devolved entirely on myself.
“I am glad to hear it, ma’am,” said Mrs. Rubelle. “I want to go very much.”
“Do you leave to-day?” I asked, to make sure of her.
“Now that you have taken the charge, ma’am, I leave in half an hour’s time. Sir Percival has kindly placed at my disposition the gardener, and the chaise, whenever I want them. I shall want them in half an hour’s time, to go to the station. I am packed up, in anticipation, already. I wish you good day, ma’am.”
She dropped a brisk curtsey, and walked back along the gallery, humming a little tune, and keeping time to it cheerfully, with the nosegay in her hand. I am sincerely thankful to say, that was the last I saw of Mrs. Rubelle.
When I went into the room, Miss Halcombe was asleep. I looked at her anxiously, as she lay in the dismal, high, old-fashioned bed. She was certainly not in any respect altered for the worse, since I had seen her last. She had not been neglected, I am bound to admit, in any way that I could perceive. The room was dreary, and dusty, and dark; but the window (looking on a solitary court-yard at the back of the house) was opened to let in the fresh air, and all that could be done to make the place comfortable had been done. The whole cruelty of Sir Percival’s deception had fallen on poor Lady Glyde. The only ill-usage which either he or Mrs. Rubelle had inflicted on Miss Halcombe, consisted, so far as I could see, in the first offence of hiding her away.
I stole back, leaving the sick lady still peacefully asleep, to give the gardener instructions about bringing the doctor. I begged the man, after he had taken Mrs. Rubelle to the station, to drive round by Mr. Dawson’s, and leave a message, in my name, asking him to call and see me. I knew he would come on my account, and I knew he would remain when he found Count Fosco had left the house.
In due course of time, the gardener returned, and said that he had driven round by Mr. Dawson’s residence, after leaving Mrs. Rubelle at the station. The doctor sent me word that he was poorly in health himself, but that he would call, if possible, the next morning.
Having delivered his message, the gardener was about to withdraw, but I stopped him to request that he would come back before dark, and sit up, that night, in one of the empty bedrooms, so as to be within call, in case I wanted him. He understood readily enough my unwillingness to be left alone all night, in the most desolate part of that desolate house, and we arranged that he should come in between eight and nine. He came punctually; and I found cause to be thankful that I had adopted the precaution of calling him in. Before midnight, Sir Percival’s strange temper broke out in the most violent and most alarming manner; and if the gardener had not been on the spot to pacify him on the instant, I am afraid to think what might have happened.
Almost all the afternoon and evening, he had been walking about the house and grounds in an unsettled, excitable manner; having, in all probability, as I thought, taken an excessive quantity of wine at his solitary dinner. However that may be, I heard his voice calling loudly and angrily, in the new wing of the house, as I was taking a turn backwards and forwards along the gallery, the last thing at night. The gardener immediately ran down to him; and I closed the door of communication, to keep the alarm, if possible, from reaching Miss Halcombe’s ears. It was full half an hour before the gardener came back. He declared that his master was quite out of his senses—not through the excitement of drink, as I had supposed, but through a kind of panic or frenzy of mind, for which it was impossible to account. He had found Sir Percival walking backwards and forwards by himself in the hall; swearing, with every appearance of the most violent passion, that he would not stop another minute alone in such a dungeon as his own house, and that he would take the first stage of his journey immediately, in the middle of the night. The gardener, on approaching him, had been hunted out, with oaths and threats, to get the horse and chaise ready instantly. In a quarter of an hour Sir Percival had joined him in the yard, had jumped into the chaise, and, lashing the horse into a gallop, had driven himself away, with his face as pale as ashes in the moonlight. The gardener had heard him shouting and cursing at the lodge-keeper to get up and open the gate—had heard the wheels roll furiously on again, in the still night, when the gate was unlocked—and knew no more.
The next day, or a day or two after, I forget which, the chaise was brought back from Knowlesbury, our nearest town, by the ostler at the old inn. Sir Percival had stopped there, and had afterwards left by the train—for what destination the man could not tell. I never received any further information, either from himself, or from any one else, of Sir Percival’s proceedings; and I am not even aware, at this moment, whether he is in England or out of it. He and I have not met, since he drove away, like an escaped criminal, from his own house; and it is my fervent hope and prayer that we may never meet again.
My own part of this sad family story is now drawing to an end.
I have been informed that the particulars of Miss Halcombe’s waking, and of what passed between us when she found me sitting by her bedside, are not material to the purpose which is to be answered by the present narrative. It will be sufficient for me to say, in this place, that she was not herself conscious of the means adopted to remove her from the inhabited to the uninhabited part of the house. She was in a deep sleep at the time, whether naturally or artificially produced she could not say. In my absence at Torquay, and in the absence of all the resident servants, except Margaret Porcher (who was perpetually eating, drinking, or sleeping when she was not at work), the secret transfer of Miss Halcombe from one part of the house to the other was no doubt easily performed. Mrs. Rubelle (as I discovered for myself, in looking about the room) had provisions, and all other necessaries, together with the means of heating water, broth, and so on, without kindling a fire, placed at her disposal during the few days of her imprisonment with the sick lady. She had declined to answer the questions which Miss Halcombe naturally put; but had not, in other respects, treated her with unkindness or neglect. The disgrace of lending herself to a vile deception is the only disgrace with which I can conscientiously charge Mrs. Rubelle.
I need write no particulars (and I am relieved to know it) of the effect produced on Miss Halcombe by the news of Lady Glyde’s departure, or by the far more melancholy tidings which reached us only too soon afterwards at Blackwater Park. In both cases, I prepared her mind beforehand as gently and as carefully as possible; having the doctor’s advice to guide me, in the last case only, through Mr. Dawson’s being too unwell to come to the house for some days after I had sent for him. It was a sad time, a time which it afflicts me to think of, or to write of, now. The precious blessings of religious consolation which I endeavoured to convey, were long in reaching Miss Halcombe’s heart; but I hope and believe they came home to her at last. I never left her till her strength was restored. The train which took me away from that miserable house was the train which took her away also. We parted very mournfully in London. I remained with a relative at Islington; and she went on to Mr. Fairlie’s house in Cumberland.
I have only a few lines more to write, before I close this painful statement. They are dictated by a sense of duty.
In the first place, I wish to record my own personal conviction that no blame whatever, in connexion with the events which I have now related, attaches to Count Fosco. I am informed that a dreadful suspicion has been raised, and that some very serious constructions are placed upon his lordship’s conduct. My persuasion of the Count’s innocence remains, however, quite unshaken. If he assisted Sir Percival in sending me to Torquay, he assisted under a delusion, for which, as a foreigner and a stranger, he was not to blame. If he was concerned in bringing Mrs. Rubelle to Blackwater Park, it was his misfortune and not his fault, when that foreign person was base enough to assist a deception planned and carried out by the master of the house. I protest, in the interests of morality, against blame being gratuitously and wantonly attached to the proceedings of the Count.
In the second place, I desire to express my regret at my own inability to remember the precise day on which Lady Glyde left Blackwater Park for London. I am told that it is of the last importance to ascertain the extact date of that lamentable journey; and I have anxiously taxed my memory to recal it. The effort has been in vain. I can only remember now that it was towards the latter part of July. We all know the difficulty, after a lapse of time, of fixing precisely on a past date, unless it has been previously written down. That difficulty is greatly increased, in my case, by the alarming and confusing events which took place about the period of Lady Glyde’s departure. I heartily wish I had made a memorandum at the time. I heartily wish my memory of the date was as vivid as my memory of that poor lady’s face, when it looked at me sorrowfully for the last time from the carriage window.
THE NARRATIVE OF HESTER PINHORN, COOK IN THE SERVICE OF COUNT FOSCO.
[TAKEN DOWN FROM HER OWN STATEMENT.]
In this last summer, I happened to be out of place (through no fault of my own); and I heard of a situation, as plain cook, at Number Five, Forest-road, St. John’s Wood. I took the place, on trial. My master’s name was Fosco. My mistress was an English lady. He was Count and she was Countess. They had a girl to do housemaid’s work, when I got there. She was not over clean or tidy—but there was no harm in her. I and she were the only servants in the house.
I had not been very long in my new place, when the housemaid came down stairs, and said company was expected from the country. The company was my mistress’s niece, and the back bedroom on the first floor was got ready for her. My mistress mentioned to me that Lady Glyde (that was her name) was in poor health, and that I must be particular in my cooking accordingly. She was to come the next day; or it might be the day after, or it might be even longer than that. I am sorry to say it’s no use asking me about days of the month, and such-like. Except Sundays, half my time I take no heed of them; being a hard-working woman and no scholar. All I know is, it certainly was not long before Lady Glyde came; and, when she did come, a fine fright she gave us all, surely. I don’t know how master brought her to the house, being at work at the time. But he did bring her, in the afternoon, I think; and the housemaid opened the door to them, and showed them into the parlour. Before she had been long down in the kitchen again with me, we heard a hurry-skurry, up-stairs, and the bell ringing like mad, and my mistress’s voice calling out for help.
We both ran up; and there we saw the lady laid on the sofa, with her face ghastly white, and her hands fast clenched, and her head drawn down to one side. She had been taken with a sudden fright, my mistress said; and master he told us she was in a fit of convulsions. I ran out, knowing the neighbourhood a little better than the rest of them, to fetch the nearest doctor’s help. The nearest help was at Goodricke’s and Garth’s, who worked together as partners, and had a good name and connexion, as I have heard, all round St. John’s Wood. Mr. Goodricke was in; and he came back with me directly.
It was some time before he could make himself of much use. The poor unfortunate lady fell out of one fit into another—and went on so, till she was quite wearied out, and as helpless as a new-born babe. We then got her to bed. Mr. Goodricke went away to his house for medicine, and came back again in a quarter of an hour or less. Besides the medicine he brought a bit of hollow mahogany wood with him, shaped like a kind of trumpet; and, after waiting a little while, he put one end over the lady’s heart and the other to his ear, and listened carefully. When he had done, he says to my mistress, who was in the room, “This is a very serious case,” he says; “I recommend you to write to Lady Glyde’s friends directly.” My mistress, says to him, “Is it heart-disease?” And he says “Yes; heart-disease of a most dangerous kind.” He told her exactly what he thought was the matter, which I was not clever enough to understand. But I know this, he ended by saying that he was afraid neither his help nor any other doctor’s help was likely to be of much service.
My mistress took this ill news more quietly than my master. He was a big, fat, odd sort of elderly man, who kept birds and white mice, and spoke to them as if they were so many Christian children. He seemed terribly cut up by what had happened. “Ah! poor Lady Glyde! poor dear Lady Glyde!” he says—and went stalking about, wringing his fat hands more like a play-actor than a gentleman. For one question my mistress asked the doctor about the lady’s chances of getting round, he asked a good fifty at least. I declare he quite tormented us all—and, when he was quiet at last, out he went into the bit of back garden, picking trumpery little nosegays, and asking me to take them up-stairs and make the sick-room look pretty with them. As if that did any good! I think he must have been, at times, a little soft in his head. But he was not a bad master: he had a monstrous civil tongue of his own; and a jolly, easy, coaxing way with him. I liked him a deal better than my mistress. She was a hard one, if ever there was a hard one yet.
Towards night-time, the lady roused up a little. She had been so wearied out, before that, by the convulsions, that she never stirred hand or foot, or spoke a word to anybody. She moved in the bed now; and stared about her at the room and us in it. She must have been a nice-looking lady, when well, with light hair, and blue eyes, and all that. Her rest was troubled at night—at least so I heard from my mistress, who sat up alone with her. I only went in once before going to bed, to see if I could be of any use; and then she was talking to herself, in a confused, rambling manner. She seemed to want sadly to speak to somebody, who was absent from her somewhere. I couldn’t catch the name, the first time; and the second time master knocked at the door, with his regular mouthful of questions, and another of his trumpery nosegays. When I went in, early the next morning, the lady was clean worn out again, and lay in a kind of faint sleep. Mr. Goodricke brought his partner, Mr. Garth, with him to advise. They said she must not be disturbed out of her rest, on any account. They asked my mistress a many questions, at the other end of the room, about what the lady’s health had been in past times, and who had attended her, and whether she had ever suffered much and long together under distress of mind. I remember my mistress said “Yes,” to that last question. And Mr. Goodricke looked at Mr. Garth, and shook his head; and Mr. Garth looked at Mr. Goodricke, and shook his head. They seemed to think that the distress might have something to do with the mischief at the lady’s heart. She was but a frail thing to look at, poor creature! Very little strength, at any time, I should say—very little strength.
Later on the same morning, when she woke, the lady took a sudden turn, and got seemingly a great deal better. I was not let in again to see her, no more was the housemaid, for the reason that she was not to be disturbed by strangers. What I heard of her being better was through my master. He was in wonderful good spirits about the change, and looked in at the kitchen window from the garden, with his great big curly-brimmed white hat on, to go out.
“Good Mrs. Cook,” says he, “Lady Glyde is better. My mind is more easy than it was; and I am going out to stretch my big legs with a sunny little summer walk. Shall I order for you, shall I market for you, Mrs. Cook? What are you making there? A nice tart for dinner? Much crust, if you please—much crisp crust, my dear, that melts and crumbles delicious in the mouth.” That was his way. He was past sixty, and fond of pastry. Just think of that!
The doctor came again in the forenoon, and saw for himself that Lady Glyde had woke up better. He forbid us to talk to her, or to let her talk to us, in case she was that way disposed; saying she must be kept quiet before all things, and encouraged to sleep as much as possible. She did not seem to want to talk whenever I saw her—except overnight, when I couldn’t make out what she was saying—she seemed too much worn down. Mr. Goodricke was not nearly in such good spirits about her as master. He said nothing when he came down stairs, except that he would call again at five o’clock. About that time (which was before master came home again), the bell rang hard from the bedroom, and my mistress ran out into the landing, and called to me to go for Mr. Goodricke, and tell him the lady had fainted. I got on my bonnet and shawl, when, as good luck would have it, the doctor himself came to the house for his promised visit.
I let him in, and went up-stairs along with him. “Lady Glyde was just as usual,” says my mistress to him at the door; “she was awake, and looking about her, in a strange, forlorn manner, when I heard her give a sort of half cry, and she fainted in a moment.” The doctor went up to the bed, and stooped down over the sick lady. He looked very serious, all on a sudden, at the sight of her; and put his hand on her heart.
My mistress stared hard in Mr. Goodricke’s face. “Not dead!” says she, whispering, and turning all of a tremble from head to foot.
“Yes,” says the doctor, very quiet and grave. “Dead. I was afraid it would happen suddenly, when I examined her heart yesterday.” My mistress stepped back from the bedside, while he was speaking, and trembled and trembled again. “Dead!” she whispers to herself; “dead so suddenly! dead so soon! What will the Count say?” Mr. Goodricke advised her to go down stairs, and quiet herself a little. “You have been sitting up all night,” says he; “and your nerves are shaken. This person,” says he, meaning me, “this person will stay in the room, till I can send for the necessary assistance.” My mistress did as he told her. “I must prepare the Count,” she says. “I must carefully prepare the Count.” And so she left us, shaking from head to foot, and went out.
“Your master is a foreigner,” says Mr. Goodricke, when my mistress had left us. “Does he understand about registering the death?” “I can’t rightly tell, sir,” says I; “but I should think not.” The doctor considered a minute; and then, says he, “I don’t usually do such things,” says he, “but it may save the family troubıe in this case, if I register the death myself. I shall pass the district office in half an hour’s time; and I can easily look in. Mention, if you please, that I will do so.” “Yes, sir,” says I, “with thanks, I’m sure, for your kindness in thinking of it.” “You don’t mind staying here, till I can send you the proper person?” says he. “No, sir,” says I; “I’ll stay with the poor lady, till then. I suppose nothing more could be done, sir, than was done?” says I. “No,” says he; “nothing; she must have suffered sadly before ever I saw her: the case was hopeless when I was called in.” “Ah, dear me! we all come to it, sooner or later, don’t we, sir?” says I. He gave no answer to that; he didn’t seem to care about talking. He said, “Good day,” and went out.
I stopped by the bedside from that time, till the time when Mr. Goodricke sent the person in, as he had promised. She was, by name, Jane Gould. I considered her to be a respectable-looking woman. She made no remark, except to say that she understood what was wanted of her, and that she had winded a many of them in her time.
How master bore the news, when he first heard it, is more than I can tell; not having been present. When I did see him, he looked awfully overcome by it, to be sure. He sat quiet in a corner, with his fat hands hanging over his thick knees, and his head down, and his eyes looking at nothing. He seemed not so much sorry, as scared and dazed like, by what had happened. My mistress managed all that was to be done about the funeral. It must have cost a sight of money: the coffin, in particular, being most beautiful. The dead lady’s husband was away, as we heard, in foreign parts. But my mistress (being her aunt) settled it with her friends in the country (Cumberland, I think) that she should be buried there, in the same grave along with her mother. Everything was done handsomely, in respect of the funeral, I say again; and master went down to attend the burying in the country himself. He looked grand in his deep mourning, with his big solemn face, and his slow walk, and his broad hatband—that he did!
In conclusion, I have to say, in answer to questions put to me,
(1) That neither I nor my fellow-servant ever saw my master give Lady Glyde any medicine himself.
(2) That he was never, to my knowledge and belief, left alone in the room with Lady Glyde.
(3) That I am not able to say what caused the sudden fright, which my mistress informed me had seized the lady on her first coming into the house. The cause was never explained, either to me or to my fellow-servant.
The above statement has been read over in my presence. I have nothing to add to it, or to take away from it. I say, on my oath as a Christian woman, This is the truth.
(Signed) Hester Pinhorn, Her + Mark.
THE NARRATIVE OF THE DOCTOR.
“To The Registrar of the Sub-District in which the under-mentioned Death took place.—I hereby certify that I attended Lady Glyde, aged Twenty-one last Birthday; that I last saw her, on the 28th July, 1850; that she died on the same day at No. 5, Forest-road, St. John’s Wood; and that the cause of her death was
CAUSE OF DEATH.
DURATION OF DISEASE.
Profl. Title. M.R.C.S. Eng. L.S.A.
Address. 12, Croydon Gardens, St. John’s Wood.
THE NARRATIVE OF JANE GOULD.
I was the person sent in by Mr. Goodricke, to do what was right and needful by the remains of a lady, who had died at the house named in the certificate which precedes this. I found the body in charge of the servant, Hester Pinhorn. I remained with it, and prepared it, at the proper time, for the grave. It was laid in the coffin, in my presence; and I afterwards saw the coffin screwed down, previous to its removal. When that had been done, and not before, I received what was due to me, and left the house. I refer persons who may wish to investigate my character to Mr. Goodricke. He has known me for more than six years; and he will bear witness that I can be trusted to tell the truth.
(Signed) Jane Gould.
THE NARRATIVE OF THE TOMBSTONE.
THE NARRATIVE OF WALTER HARTRIGHT, RESUMED.
Early in the summer of 1850, I, and my surviving companions, left the wilds and forests of Central America for home. Arrived at the coast, we took ship there for England. The vessel was wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico; I was among the few saved from the sea. It was my third escape from peril of death. Death by disease, death by the Indians, death by drowning—all three had approached me; all three had passed me by.
The survivors of the wreck were rescued by an American vessel, bound for Liverpool. The ship reached her port on the thirteenth day of October, 1850. We landed late in the afternoon; and I arrived in London the same night.
These pages are not the record of my wanderings and my dangers away from home. The motives which led me from my country and my friends to a new world of adventure and peril are known. From that self-imposed exile I came back, as I had hoped, prayed, believed I should come back—a changed man. In the waters of a new life I had tempered my nature afresh. In the stern school of extremity and danger my will had learnt to be strong, my heart to be resolute, my mind to rely on itself. I had gone out to fly from my own future. I came back to face it, as a man should.
To face it with that inevitable suppression of myself which I knew it would demand from me. I had parted with the worst bitterness of the past, but not with my heart’s remembrance of the sorrow and the tenderness of that memorable time. I had not ceased to feel the one irreparable disappointment of my life—I had only learnt to bear it. Laura Fairlie was in all my thoughts when the ship bore me away, and I looked my last at England. Laura Fairlie was in all my thoughts when the ship brought me back, and the morning light showed the friendly shore in view.
My pen traces the old letters as my heart goes back to the old love. I write of her as Laura Fairlie still. It is hard to think of her, it is hard to speak of her, by her husband’s name.
There are no more words of explanation to add, on my appearing for the second time in these pages. This final narrative, if I have the strength and the courage to write it, may now go on.
My first anxieties and first hopes, when the morning came, centred in my mother and my sister. I felt the necessity of preparing them for the joy and surprise of my return, after an absence, during which it had been impossible for them to receive any tidings of me for months past. Early in the morning, I sent a letter to the Hampstead Cottage; and followed it myself, in an hour’s time.
When the first meeting was over, when our quiet and composure of other days began gradually to return to us, I saw something in my mother’s face which told me that a secret oppression lay heavy on her heart. There was more than love—there was sorrow in the anxious eyes that looked on me so tenderly; there was pity in the kind hand that slowly and fondly strengthened its hold on mine. We had no concealments from each other. She knew how the hope of my life had been wrecked—she knew why I had left her. It was on my lips to ask as composedly as I could, if any letter had come for me from Miss Halcombe—if there was any news of her sister that I might hear. But, when I looked in my mother’s face, I lost courage to put the question even in that guarded form. I could only say, doubtfully and restrainedly,
“You have something to tell me.”
My sister, who had been sitting opposite to us, rose suddenly, without a word of explanation—rose, and left the room.
My mother moved closer to me on the sofa, and put her arms round my neck. Those fond arms trembled; the tears flowed fast over the faithful, loving face.
“Walter!” she whispered—”my own darling! my heart is heavy for you. Oh, my son! my son! try to remember that I am still left!”
My head sank on her bosom. She had said all, in saying those words.
It was the morning of the third day since my return—the morning of the sixteenth of October.
I had remained with them at the Cottage; I had tried hard not to embitter the happiness of my return, to them, as it was embittered to me. I had done all man could to rise after the shock, and accept my life resignedly—to let my great sorrow come in tenderness to my heart, and not in despair. It was useless and hopeless. No tears soothed my aching eyes; no relief came to me from my sister’s sympathy or my mother’s love.
On that third morning, I opened my heart to them. At last the words passed my lips which I had longed to speak on the day when my mother told me of her death.
“Let me go away alone, for a little while,” I said. “I shall bear it better when I have looked once more at the place where I first saw her—when I have knelt and prayed by the grave where they have laid her to rest.”
I departed on my journey—my journey to the grave of Laura Fairlie.
It was a quiet autumn afternoon, when I stopped at the solitary station, and set forth alone, on foot, by the well-remembered road. The waning sun was shining faintly through thin white clouds; the air was warm and still; the peacefulness of the lonely country was over-shadowed and saddened by the influence of the falling year.
I reached the moor; I stood again on the brow of the hill; I looked on, along the path—and there were the familiar garden trees in the distance, the clear sweeping semicircle of the drive, the high white walls of Limmeridge House. The chances and changes, the wanderings and dangers of months and months past, all shrank and shrivelled to nothing in my mind. It was like yesterday, since my feet had last trodden the fragrant heathy ground! I thought I should see her coming to meet me, with her little straw hat shading her face, her simple dress fluttering in the air, and her well-filled sketch-book ready in her hand.
Oh, Death, thou hast thy sting! oh, Grave, thou hast thy victory!
I turned aside; and there below me, in the glen, was the lonesome grey church; the porch where I had waited for the coming of the woman in white; the hills encircling the quiet burial-ground; the brook bubbling cold over its stony bed. There was the marble cross, fair and white, at the head of the tomb—the tomb that now rose over mother and daughter alike.
I approached the grave. I crossed once more the low stone stile, and bared my head as I touched the sacred ground. Sacred to gentleness and goodness; sacred to reverence and grief.
I stopped before the pedestal from which the cross rose. On one side of it, on the side nearest to me, the newly-cut inscription met my eyes—the hard, clear, cruel black letters which told the story of her life and death. I tried to read them. I did read, as far as the name. “Sacred to the Memory of Laura——” The kind blue eyes dim with tears; the fair head drooping wearily; the innocent, parting words which implored me to leave her—oh, for a happier last memory of her than this; the memory I took away with me, the memory I bring back with me to her grave!
A second time, I tried to read the inscription. I saw, at the end, the date of her death; and, above it——
Above it, there were lines on the marble, there was a name among them, which disturbed my thoughts of her. I went round to the other side of the grave, where there was nothing to read—nothing of earthly vileness to force its way between her spirit and mine.
I knelt down by the tomb. I laid my hands, I laid my head, on the broad white stone, and closed my weary eyes on the earth around, on the light above. I let her come back to me. Oh, my love! my love! my heart may speak to you now! It is yesterday again, since we parted—yesterday, since your dear hand lay in mine—yesterday, since my eyes looked their last on you. My love! my love!
* * * * *
Time had flowed on; and Silence had fallen, like thick night, over its course.
The first sound that came, after the heavenly peace, rustled faintly, like a passing breath of air, over the grass of the burial-ground. I heard it nearing me slowly, until it came changed to my ear—came like footsteps moving onward—then stopped.
I looked up.
The sunset was near at hand. The clouds had parted; the slanting light fell mellow over the hills. The last of the day was cold and clear and still in the quiet valley of the dead.
Beyond me, in the burial-ground, standing together in the cold clearness of the lower light, I saw two women. They were looking towards the tomb; looking towards me.
They came a little on; and stopped again. Their veils were down, and hid their faces from me. When they stopped, one of them raised her veil. In the still evening light, I saw the face of Marian Halcombe.
Changed, changed as if years had passed over it! The eyes large and wild, and looking at me with a strange terror in them. The face worn and wasted piteously. Pain and fear and grief written on her as with a brand.
I took one step towards her from the grave. She never moved—she never spoke. The veiled woman with her cried out faintly. I stopped. The springs of my life fell low; and the shuddering of an unutterable dread crept over me from head to foot.
The woman with the veiled face moved away from her companion, and came towards me slowly. Left by herself, standing by herself, Marian Halcombe spoke. It was the voice that I remembered—the voice not changed, like the frightened eyes and the wasted face.
“My dream! my dream!” I heard her say these words softly, in the awful silence. She sank on her knees, and raised her clasped hands to the heaven. “Father! strengthen him. Father! help him, in his hour of need.”
The woman came on; slowly and silently came on. I looked at her—at her, and at none other, from that moment.
The voice that was praying for me, faltered and sank low—then rose on a sudden, and called affrightedly, called despairingly to me to come away.
But the veiled woman had possession of me, body and soul. She stopped on one side of the grave. We stood face to face, with the tombstone between us. She was close to the inscription on the side of the pedestal. Her gown touched the black letters.
The voice came nearer, and rose and rose more passionately still. “Hide your face! don’t look at her! Oh, for God’s sake, spare him!——”
The woman lifted her veil.
TO THE MEMORY OF
Laura, Lady Glyde, was standing by the inscription, and was looking at me over the grave.
THE END OF THE FIRST PART.
All The Year Round, 12 May 1860, Vol.III, No.56, pp.121-129
Weekly Part 26.
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