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[Entered according to Act of
Congress, in the Year 1862, by Harper & Brothers, in the Clerk's Office of the
District Court for the Southern District of New York.]
AUTHOR OF "THE WOMAN IN WHITE,"
ILLUSTRATED BY JOAN M'LENAN.
Printed from the Manuscript and
early Proof—sheets purchased by the Proprietors of "Harper's Weekly."
"MISS GARTH, Sir," said Mrs.
Lecount, opening the parlor door and announcing the visitor's appearance with
the tone and manner of a well-bred servant.
Magdalen found herself in a long,
narrow room, consisting of a back parlor and a front parlor, which had been
thrown into one by opening the folding-doors between them. Seated not far from
the front window, with his back to the light, she saw a frail, flaxen-hailed,
self-satisfied little man, clothed in a fair white dressing-gown, many sizes too
large for him, with a nosegay of violets drawn neatly through the button-hole
over his breast. He looked from thirty to five-and-thirty years old. His
complexion was as delicate as a young girl's, his eyes were of the lightest
blue, his upper lip was adorned by a weak little white mustache, waxed and
twisted at either end into a thin spiral curl. When any object specially
attracted his attention he half closed his eyelids to look at it. When he
smiled, the skin at his temples crumpled itself up into a nest of wicked little
wrinkles. He had a plate of strawberries on his lap, with a napkin under them to
preserve the purity of his white dressing-gown. At his right hand stood a large
round table, covered with a collection of foreign curiosities, which seemed to
have been brought together from the four quarters of the globe. Stuffed birds
from Africa, porcelain monsters from China, silver ornaments and utensils from
India and Peru, mosaic work from Italy, and bronzes from France, were all heaped
together, pell-mell, with the coarse deal boxes and dingy leather cases which
served to pack them for traveling. The little man apologized, with a cheerful
and simpering conceit, for his litter of curiosities, his dressing-gown, and his
delicate health; and waving his hand toward a chair, placed his attention, with
pragmatical politeness, at the visitor's disposal. Magdalen looked at him with a
momentary doubt whether Mrs. Lecount had not deceived her. Was this the man who
mercilessly followed the path on which his merciless father had walked before
him? She could hardly believe it. "Take a seat, Miss Garth," he repeated.
Observing her hesitation, and announcing his own name, in a high, thin,
fretfully-consequential voice: "I am Mr. Noel Vanstone. You wished to see
me—here I am!"
"May I be permitted to retire,
Sir?" inquired Mrs. Lecount.
"Certainly. not!" replied her
master. "Stay here, Lecount, and keep us company. Mrs. Lecount has my fullest
confidence," he continued, addressing Magdalen. "Whatever you say to
me, ma'am, you say to her. She is
a domestic treasure. There is not another house in England has such a treasure
as Mrs. Lecount."
The housekeeper listened to the
praise of her domestic virtues with eyes immovably fixed on her elegant
chemisette. But Magdalen's quick penetration had previously detected a look that
passed between Mrs. Lecount and her master, which suggested that Mr. Noel
Vanstone had been instructed beforehand what to say and do in his visitor's
presence. The suspicion of this—and the obstacles which the room presented to
arranging her position in it so as to keep her face from the light—warned
Magdalen to be on her guard.
She had taken her chair at first
nearly midway in the room. An instant's after-reflection induced her to move her
seat toward the left hand, so as to place herself just inside, and close
against, the left post of the folding-door. In this position she dextrously
barred the only passage by which Mrs. Lecount could have skirted round the large
table and contrived to front Magdalen by taking a chair at her master's side. On
the right hand of the table the empty space was well occupied by the fire-place
and fender, by some traveling trunks, and a large packing-case. There was no
alternative left for Mrs. Lecount but to place herself on a line with Magdalen,
against the opposite post of the folding-door, or to push rudely past the
visitor, with the obvious intention of getting in front of her. With an
expressive little cough, and with one steady look at her master, the housekeeper
conceded the point, and took her seat against the right-hand door-post. "Wait a
little," thought Mrs. Lecount; "my turn next!"
"Mind what you are about, ma'am!"
cried Mr. Noel Vanstone, as Magdalen accidentally approached the table in moving
her chair. " Mind the sleeve of your cloak! Excuse me, you nearly knocked down
that silver candlestick. Pray don't suppose it's a common candlestick. It's
nothing of the sort—it's a Peruvian candlestick. There are only three of that
pattern in the world. One is in the possession of the President of Peru; one is
locked up in the Vatican; and one is on My table. It cost ten pounds; it's worth
fifty. One of my father's bargains, ma'am. All these things are my father's
bargains. There is not another house in England which has such curiosities as
these. Sit down, Lecount; I beg you will make yourself comfortable. Mrs. Lecount
is like the curiosities, Miss Garth,—she is one of my father's bargains. You are
one of my father's bargains, are you not, Lecount? My father was a remarkable
man, ma'am. You will be reminded of him here at every turn. I have got his
dressing-gown on at this moment. No such linen as this is made now; you can't
get it for love or money. Would you like to feel the texture? Perhaps you're no
judge of texture? Perhaps you would prefer talking to Inc about these two pupils
of yours? They are two, are they not? Are they fine girls? Plump, fresh,
full-blown English beauties?"
"Excuse me, Sir," interposed Mrs.
Lecount, sorrowfully. "I must really beg permission to retire if you speak of
the poor things in that way. I can't sit by, Sir, and hear them turned into
ridicule. Consider their position; consider Miss Garth."
"You good creature!" said Mr.
surveying the housekeeper through
his half-closed eyelids. "Yost excellent Lecount! I assure you, ma'am, Mrs.
Lecount is a worthy creature. You will observe that she pities the two girls. I
don't go so far as that myself, but I can make allowances for them. I am a
large-minded man. I can make allowances for them and for you." He smiled with
the most cordial politeness, and helped himself to a strawberry from the dish on
''You shock Miss Garth; indeed,
Sir, without meaning it, you shock Miss Garth," remonstrated Mrs. Lecount. She
is not accustomed to you as I am. Consider Miss Garth, Sir. As a favor to me,
consider Miss Garth."
Thus far Magdalen had resolutely
kept silence. The burning anger which would have betrayed her in an instant if
she had let it flash its way to the surface throbbed fast and fiercely at her
heart, and warned her, while Noel Vanstone was speaking, to close her lips. She
would have allowed him to talk on uninterruptedly for some minutes more if Mrs.
Lecount had not interfered for the second time. The refined insolence of the
housekeeper's pity was a woman's insolence, and it stung her into instantly
controlling herself. She had never more admirably imitated Miss Garth's voice
and manner than when she spoke her next words.
"You are very good," she said to
Mrs. Lecount. "I make no claim to be treated with any extraordinary
consideration. I am a governess, and I don't expect it. I have only one favor to
ask. I beg Mr. Noel Vanstone, for his own sake, to hear what I have to say to
"You understand, Sir," observed
Mrs. Lecount. "It appears that Miss Garth has some serious warning to give you.
She says you are to hear her for your own sake."
Mr. Noel Vanstone's fair
complexion suddenly turned white. He put away the plate of strawberries among
his father's bargains. His hand shook, and his little figure twisted itself
uneasily in the chair. Magdalen observed him attentively. "One discovery
already," she thought; "he is a coward!"
"What do you mean, ma'am?" asked
Mr. Noel Vanstone, with visible trepidation of look and manner. "What do you
mean by telling me I must listen to you for my own sake? If you come here to
intimidate me, you come to the wrong man. My strength of character was
universally noticed in our circle at Zurich—wasn't it, Lecount?"
"Universally, Sir," said Mrs.
Lecount. "But let us hear Miss Garth. Perhaps I have misinterpreted her
"On the contrary," replied
Magdalen, "you have exactly expressed my meaning. My object in coining here is
to warn Mr. Noel Vanstone against the course which he is now taking."
"Don't!" pleaded Mrs. Lecount.
"Oh, if you want to help these poor girls, don't talk in that way! Soften his
resolution, ma'am, buy entreaties; don't strengthen it by threats!" She a little
overstrained the tone of humility in which she spoke those words—a little
overacted the look of apprehension which accompanied them. If Magdalen had not
seen plainly enough already that it was Mrs. Lecount's habitual practice to
decide every thing for her master in the first instance, and then to persuade
him that he was not acting under his housekeeper's resolution but under his own,
she would have seen it now.
You hear what Lecount has just
said?" remarked Mr. Noel Vanstone. "You hear the unsolicited testimony of a
person who has known the from childhood? Take care, Miss Garth—take care!" He
complacently arranged the tails of his white dressing-gown over his knees, and
took the plate of strawberries back on his lap.
"I have no wish to offend you,"
said Magdalen. "I am only anxious to open your eyes to the truth. You are not
acquainted with the
characters of the two sisters
whose fortunes have fallen into your possession. I have known them from
childhood, and I come to give you the benefit of my experience in their
interests and in yours. You have nothing to dread from the elder of the two; she
patiently accepts the hard lot which you, and your father before you, have
forced on her. The younger sister's conduct is the very opposite of this. She
has already declined to submit to your father's decision, and she now refuses to
be silenced by Mrs. Lecount's letter. Take my word for it, she is capable of
giving you serious trouble if you persist in making an enemy of her."
Mr. Noel Vanstone changed color
once more, and began to fidget again in his chair. "Serious trouble," he
repeated, with a blank look. "If you mean writing letters, ma'am, she has given
trouble enough already. She has written once to me, and twice to my father. One
of the letters to my father was a threatening letter—wasn't it, Lecount?"
"She expressed her feelings,"
poor child," said Mrs. Lecount. "I thought it hard to send her back her letter,
but your dear father knew best. What I said at the time was, Why not let her
express her feelings? What are a few threatening words, after all? In her
position, poor creature, they are words, and nothing more."
"I advise you not to be too sure
of that," said Magdalen. "I know her better than you do." She paused at those
words—paused in a momentary terror. The sting of Mrs. Lecount's pity had nearly
irritated her into forgetting her assumed character, and speaking in her own
"You have referred to the letters
written by my pupil," she resumed, addressing Noel Vanstone, as soon as she felt
sure of herself again. "We will say nothing about what she has written to your
father; we will only speak of what she has written to you. Is there any thing
unbecoming in her letter, any thing said in it that is false? Is it not true
that these two sisters