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           THE WOMAN IN WHITE.


JULY 5TH. I had only got as far as the top of
the stairs, when the locking of Laura's door
suggested to me the precaution of also locking my
own door, and keeping the key safely about me
while I was out of the room. My journal was
already secured, with other papers, in the table-
drawer, but my writing materials were left out.
These included a seal, bearing the common
device of two doves drinking out of the same cup;
and some sheets of blotting-paper, which had
the impression on them of the closing lines of
my writing in these pages, traced during the
past night. Distorted by the suspicion which
had now become a part of myself, even such
trifles as these looked too dangerous to be
trusted without a guardeven the locked table-
drawer seemed to be not sufficiently protected,
in my absence, until the means of access to it
had been carefully secured as well.

I found no appearance of any one having
entered the room while I had been talking with
Laura. My writing materials (which I had given
the servant instructions never to meddle with)
were scattered over the table much as usual. The
only circumstance in connexion with them that
at all struck me was, that the seal lay tidily in
the tray with the pencils and the wax. It was
not in my careless habits (I am sorry to say) to
put it there; neither did I remember putting it
there. But, as I could not call to mind, on
the other hand, where else I had thrown it
down, and as I was also doubtful whether I
might not, for once, have laid it mechanically in
the right place, I abstained from adding to the
perplexity with which the day's events had filled
my mind, by troubling it afresh about a trifle. I
locked the door; put the key in my pocket; and
went down stairs.

Madame Fosco was alone in the hall, looking
at the weather-glass.

"Still falling," she said. "I am afraid we
must expect more rain."

Her face was composed again to its customary
expression and its customary colour. But the
hand with which she pointed to the dial of the
weather-glass still trembled. Could she have
told her husband already, that she had overheard
Laura reviling him, in my company, as a "Spy?"
My strong suspicion that she must have told
him; my irresistible dread (all the more overpowering
from its very vagueness) of the consequences
which might follow; my fixed conviction,
derived from various little self-betrayals
which women notice in each other, that Madame
Fosco, in spite of her well-assumed external
civility, had not forgiven her niece for innocently
standing between her and the legacy of ten
thousand poundsall rushed upon my mind
together; all impelled me to speak, in the vain
hope of using my own influence and my own
powers of persuasion for the atonement of
Laura's offence.

"May I trust to your kindness to excuse me,
Madame Fosco, if I venture to speak to you on
an exceedingly painful subject?"

She crossed her hands in front of her, and
bowed her head solemnly, without uttering a
word, and without taking her eyes off mine for a

"When you were so good as to bring me back
my handkerchief," I went on, "I am very, very
much afraid you must have accidentally heard
Laura say something which I am unwilling to
repeat, and which I will not attempt to defend.
I will only venture to hope that you have not
thought it of sufficient importance to be
mentioned to the Count?"

"I think it of no importance whatever," said
Madame Fosco, sharply and suddenly. "But,"
she added, resuming her icy manner in a moment,
"I have no secrets from my husband, even in
trifles. When he noticed, just now, that I looked
distressed, it was my painful duty to tell him
why I was distressed; and I frankly acknowledge
to you, Miss Halcombe, that I have told

I was prepared to hear it, and yet she turned
me cold all over when she said those words.

"Let me earnestly entreat you, Madame
Foscolet me earnestly entreat the Countto
make some allowances for the sad position in
which my sister is placed. She spoke while she
was smarting under the insult and injustice
inflicted on her by her husbandand she was not
herself when she said those rash words. May
I hope that they will be considerately and
generously forgiven?"

"Most assuredly," said the Count's quiet
voice, behind me. He had stolen on us, with his
noiseless tread, and his book in his hand, from
the library.

"When Lady Glyde said those hasty words,"