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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 JOHN M'LENAN.
Printed from the Manuscript and
early Proof-sheets purchased by the Proprietors of "Harper's Weekly."
MRS. LECOUNT returned to the
parlor with the fragment of Magdalen's dress in one hand, and with Captain
Wragge's letter in the other.
"Have you got rid of her?" asked
Mr. Noel Vanstone. "Have you shut the door at last on Miss Garth?"
"Don't call her Miss Garth, Sir,"
said Mrs. Lecount, smiling contemptuously. "She is as much Miss Garth as you
are. We have been favored by the performance of a clever masquerade; and if we
had taken the disguise off our visitor I think we should have found under it
Miss Vanstone herself. Here is a letter for you, Sir, which the postman has just
She put the letter on the table,
within her master's reach. Mr. Noel Vanstone's amazement
at the discovery just
communicated to him kept his whole attention concentrated on the housekeeper's
face. He never so much as looked at the letter when she placed it before him.
"Take my word for it, Sir,"
proceeded Mrs. Lecount, composedly taking a chair. "When our visitor gets home
she will put her gray hair away in a box, and will cure that sad affliction in
her eyes with warm water and a sponge. If she had painted the marks on her face
as well as she painted the inflammation in her eyes, the light would have shown
me nothing, and I should certainly have been deceived. But I saw the marks; I
saw a young woman's skin under that dirty complexion of hers; I heard, in this
room, a true voice in a passion, as well as a false voice talking with an
accent—and I don't believe in one morsel of that lady's personal appearance,
from top to toe. The girl herself, in my opinion, Mr. Noel—and a bold girl too."
"Why didn't you lock the door and
send for the police?" asked Mr. Noel. "My father would have sent for the police.
You know, as well as I do, Lecount, my father would have sent for the police?"
"Pardon me, Sir," said Mrs.
Lecount; "I think your father would have waited until he had got something more
for the police to do than we have got for them yet. We shall see this lady
again, Sir. Perhaps she will come here next time with her own face and her own
voice. I one curious to see what her own face is like; I am curious to know
whether what I have heard of her voice in a passion is enough to make me
recognize her voice when she is calm. I possess a little memorial of her visit
of which she is not aware, and she will not escape me so easily as she thinks.
If it turns out a useful memorial, you shall know what it is. If not, I will
abstain from troubling you on so trifling a subject. Allow me to remind you,
Sir, of the letter under your hand. You have not looked at it yet."
Mr. Noel Vanstone opened the
letter. He started as his eye fell on the first lines—hesitated —and then
hurriedly ,read it through. The paper dropped from his hand, and he sank back in
his chair. Mrs. Lecount sprang to her feet with the alacrity of a young woman
and picked up the letter.
"What has happened, Sir?" she
asked. Her face altered as she put the question, and her large black eyes
hardened fiercely in genuine astonishment and alarm.
"Send for the police!" exclaimed
her master. "Lecount, I insist on being protected. Send for the police!"
"May I read the letter, Sir?"
He feebly waved his hand. Mrs.
Lecount read the letter attentively, and put it aside on the table without a
word when she had done.
"Have you nothing to say to me?"
asked Mr. Noel Vanstone, staring at his housekeeper in blank dismay. "Lecount,
I'm to be robbed! The scoundrel who wrote that letter knows all about it, and
won't tell me any thing unless I pay him. I'm to be robbed! Here's property on
this table worth thousands of pounds—property that can never be
replaced—property that all the crowned heads in Europe could not produce if they
tried. Lock me in, Lecount, and send for the police!" Instead of sending for the
police Mrs. Lecount
took a large green-paper fan from
the chimney-piece and seated herself opposite her master.
"You are agitated, Mr. Noel," she
said; "you are heated. Let me cool you."
With her face as hard as
ever—with less tenderness of look and manner than most women would have shown if
they had been rescuing a half-drowned fly from a milk-jug—she silently and
patiently fanned him for five minutes or more. No practiced eye observing the
peculiar bluish pallor of his complexion, and the marked difficulty with which
he drew his breath, could have failed to perceive that the great organ of life
was in this man, what the housekeeper had stated it to be, too weak for the
function which it was called on to perform. The heart labored over its work as
if it had been the heart of a worn-out old man.
"Are you relieved, Sir?" asked
Mrs. Lecount. "Can you think a little? Can you exercise your better judgment?"
She rose and put her hand over
his heart with as much mechanical attention and as little genuine interest as if
she had been feeling the plates at dinner to ascertain if they were properly
warmed. "Yes," she went on, seating herself again, and resuming the exercise of
the fan; "you are getting better already, Mr. Noel. Don't ask me
about this anonymous letter until
you have thought for yourself, and have given your own opinion first." She went
on with the fanning, and looked him hard in the face all the time. "Think," she
said; "think, Sir, without troubling yourself to express your thoughts. Trust to
my intimate sympathy with you to read them. Yes, Mr. Noel, this letter is a
paltry attempt to frighten you. What does it say? It says you are the object of
a conspiracy, directed by Miss Vanstone. We know that already—the lady of the
inflamed eyes has told us. We snap our fingers at the conspiracy. What does the
letter say next? It says the writer has valuable information to give you, if you
will pay for it What did you call this person yourself just now, Sir?"
"I called him a scoundrel," said
Mr. Noel Vanstone, recovering his self-importance, and raising himself gradually
in his chair.
"I agree with you in that, Sir,
as I agree in every thing else," proceeded Mrs. Lecount. "He is a scoundrel who
really has this information, and who means what he says; or he is a mouth-piece
of Miss Vanstone's, and she has caused this letter to be written for the purpose
of puzzling us by another form of disguise. Whether the letter is true, or
whether the letter is false— (Next
"I CAN TWIST ANY MAN ALIVE ROUND MY FINGER, AS LONG
AS I KEEP MY LOOKS."