THE WOMAN IN WHITE.
MISS HALCOMBE'S NARRATIVE CONTINUED.
JULY 3. Just as my hand was on the door of
my room, I heard Sir Percival's voice calling to
me from below.
"I must beg you to come down stairs again,"
he said. "It is Fosco's fault, Miss Halcombe,
not mine. He has started some nonsensical
objection to his wife being one of the witnesses,
and has obliged me to ask you to join us in the
I entered the room immediately with Sir
Percival. Laura was waiting by the writing-
table, twisting and turning her garden hat
uneasily in her hands. Madame Fosco sat near
her, in an arm-chair, imperturbably admiring
her husband, who stood by himself at the other
end of the library, picking off the dead leaves
from the flowers in the window.
The moment I appeared, the Count advanced
to meet me, and to offer his explanations.
"A thousand pardons, Miss Halcombe," he
said. "You know the character which is given
to my countrymen by the English? We Italians
are all wily and suspicious by nature, in the
estimation of the good John Bull. Set me down,
if you please, as being no better than the rest of
my race. I am a wily Italian and a suspicious
Italian. You have thought so yourself, dear
lady, have you not? Well! it is part of my
wiliness and part of my suspicion to object to
Madame Fosco being a witness to Lady Glyde's
signature, when I am also a witness myself."
"There is not the shadow of a reason for his
objection," interposed Sir Percival. "I have
explained to him that the law of England allows
Madame Fosco to witness a signature as well as
"I admit it," resumed the Count. "The
law of England says, Yes—but the conscience of
Fosco says, No." He spread out his fat fingers
on the bosom of his blouse, and bowed solemnly,
as if he wished to introduce his conscience to us
all, in the character of an illustrious addition to
the society. " What this document which Lady
Glyde is about to sign, may be," he continued,
"I neither know nor desire to know. I only
say this: circumstances may happen in the
future which may oblige Percival, or his
representatives, to appeal to the two witnesses; in
which case it is certainly desirable that those
witnesses should represent two opinions which
are perfectly independent the one of the other.
This cannot be if my wife signs as well as myself,
because we have but one opinion between us,
and that opinion is mine. I will not have it cast
in my teeth, at some future day, that Madame
Fosco acted under my coercion, and was, in
plain fact, no witness at all. I speak in Percival's
interests when I propose that my name
shall appear (as the nearest friend of the
husband), and your name, Miss Halcombe (as the
nearest friend of the wife). I am a Jesuit, if you
please to think so—a splitter of straws—a man
of trifles and crotchets and scruples—but you
will humour me, I hope, in merciful consideration
for my suspicious Italian character, and my
uneasy Italian conscience." He bowed again,
stepped back a few paces, and withdrew his
conscience from our society as politely as he had
The Count's scruples might have been
honourable and reasonable enough, but there was
something in his manner of expressing them
which increased my unwillingness to be
concerned in the business of the signature. No
consideration of less importance than my
consideration for Laura, would have induced me to
consent to be a witness at all. One look,
however, at her anxious face, decided me to risk
anything rather than desert her.
"I will readily remain in the room," I said.
"And if I find no reason for starting any small
scruples, on my side, you may rely on me as a
Sir Percival looked at me sharply, as if he
was about to say something. But, at the same
moment, Madame Fosco attracted his attention
by rising from her chair. She had caught her
husband's eye, and had evidently received her
orders to leave the room.
"You needn't go," said Sir Percival.
Madame Fosco looked for her orders again,
got them again, said she would prefer leaving
us to our business, and resolutely walked out.
The Count lit a cigarette, went back to the
flowers in the window, and puffed little jets of
smoke at the leaves, in a state of the deepest
anxiety about killing the insects.
Meanwhile, Sir Percival unlocked a cupboard
beneath one of the bookcases, and produced
from it a piece of parchment folded, longwise,
many times over. He placed it on the table,
opened the last fold only, and kept his hand on
Dickens Journals Online