THE WOMAN IN WHITE.
MISS HALCOMBE'S NARRATIVE CONTINUED.
JULY 5TH. The events of yesterday warned
me to be ready, sooner or later, to meet the
worst. To-day is not yet at an end; and the
worst has come.
JULY 5TH. The events of yesterday warned
Judging by the closest calculation of time
that Laura and I could make, we arrived at the
conclusion that Anne Catherick must have
appeared at the boat-house at half-past two
o'clock, on the afternoon of yesterday. I
accordingly arranged that Laura should just show
herself at the luncheon table, to-day, and should
then slip out at the first opportunity; leaving
me behind to preserve appearances, and to
follow her as soon as I could safely do so. This
mode of proceeding, if no obstacles occurred to
thwart us, would enable her to be at the boat-
house before half-past two; and (when I left
the table, in my turn) would take me to a safe
position in the plantation, before three.
The change in the weather, which last night's
wind warned us to expect, came with the morning.
It was raining heavily, when I got up;
and it continued to rain until twelve o'clock—
when the clouds dispersed, the blue sky appeared,
and the sun shone again with the bright promise
of a fine afternoon.
My anxiety to know how Sir Percival and the
Count would occupy the early part of the day,
was by no means set at rest, so far as Sir Percival
was concerned, by his leaving us immediately
after breakfast, and going out by himself, in
spite of the rain. He neither told us where he
was going, nor when we might expect him back.
We saw him pass the breakfast-room window,
hastily, with his high boots and his waterproof
coat on—and that was all.
The Count passed the morning quietly,
indoors; some part of it, in the library; some part,
in the drawing-room, playing odds and ends of
music on the piano, and humming to himself.
Judging by appearances, the sentimental side of
his character was persistently inclined to betray
itself still. He was silent and sensitive, and
ready to sigh and languish ponderously (as only
fat men can sigh and languish), on the smallest
Luncheon-time came; and Sir Percival did
not return. The Count took his friend's place
at the table— plaintively devoured the greater
part of a fruit tart, submerged under a whole
jugful of cream— and explained the full merit of
the achievement to us, as soon as he had done.
"A taste for sweets," he said, in his softest
tones and his tenderest manner, " is the innocent
taste of women and children. I love to share it
with them— it is another bond, dear ladies,
between you and me."
Laura left the table in ten minutes' time. I
was sorely tempted to accompany her. But if
we had both gone out together, we must have
excited suspicion; and, worse still, if we allowed
Anne Catherick to see Laura accompanied by a
second person who was a stranger to her, we
should in all probability forfeit her confidence,
from that moment, never to regain it again.
I waited, therefore, as patiently as I could,
until the servant came in to clear the table.
When I quitted the room, there were no signs,
in the house or out of it, of Sir Percival's
return. I left the Count with a piece of sugar
between his lips, and the vicious cockatoo
scrambling up his waistcoat to get at it; while
Madame Fosco, sitting opposite to her
husband, watched the proceedings of his bird and
himself, as attentively as if she had never seen
anything of the sort before in her life. On my
way to the plantation I kept carefully beyond
the range of view from the luncheon-room
window. Nobody saw me and nobody followed
me. It was then a quarter to three o'clock by
Once among the trees, I walked rapidly, until
I had advanced more than half way through the
plantation. At that point, I slackened my pace,
and proceeded cautiously— but I saw no one,
and heard no voices. By little and little, I
came within view of the back of the boat-house
— stopped and listened— then went on, till I
was close behind it, and must have heard any
persons who had been talking inside. Still the
silence was unbroken: still, far and near, no
sign of a living creature appeared anywhere.
After skirting round by the back of the
building, first on one side, and then on the
other, and making no discoveries, I ventured in
front of it, and fairly looked in. The place was
I called, "Laura!"— at first, softly— then
louder and louder. No one answered, and no
one appeared. For all that I could see and
hear, the only human creature in the
neighbourhood of the lake and the plantation, was
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