The Count and Countess Fosco had left Blackwater Park for their new residence in St. John's Wood.
I was not made aware of the motive for this sudden departure--I was only told that the Count had been very particular in leaving his kind compliments to me. When I ventured on asking Sir Percival whether Lady Glyde had any one to attend to her comforts in the absence of the Countess, he replied that she had Margaret Porcher to wait on her, and he added that a woman from the village had been sent for to do the work downstairs.
The answer really shocked me--there was such a glaring impropriety in permitting an under-housemaid to fill the place of confidential attendant on Lady Glyde. I went upstairs at once, and met Margaret on the bedroom landing. Her services had not been required (naturally enough), her mistress having sufficiently recovered that morning to be able to leave her bed. I asked next after Miss Halcombe, but I was answered in a slouching, sulky way, which left me no wiser than I was before.
I found that her ladyship had certainly gained in health during the last few days. Although still sadly weak and nervous, she was able to get up without assistance, and to walk slowly about her room, feeling no worse effect from the exertion than a slight sensation of fatigue. She had been made a little anxious that morning about Miss Halcombe, through having received no news of her from any one. I thought this seemed to imply a blamable want of attention on the part of Mrs. Rubelle, but I said nothing, and remained with Lady Glyde to assist her to dress. When she was ready we both left the room together to go to Miss Halcombe.
We were stopped in the passage by the appearance of Sir Percival. He looked as if he had been purposely waiting there to see us.
"Where are you going?" he said to Lady Glyde.
"To Marian's room," she answered.
"It may spare you a disappointment," remarked Sir Percival, "if I tell you at once that you will not find her there."
"Not find her there!"
"No. She left the house yesterday morning with Fosco and his wife."
I was so astonished myself that I hardly knew what to say. I asked Sir Percival if he really meant that Miss Halcombe had left Blackwater Park.
"I certainly mean it," he answered.
"In her state, Sir Percival! Without mentioning her intentions to Lady Glyde!"
Before he could reply her ladyship recovered herself a little and spoke.
"Impossible!" she cried out in a loud, frightened manner, taking a step or two forward from the wall. "Where was the doctor? where was Mr. Dawson when Marian went away?"
"Mr. Dawson wasn't wanted, and wasn't here," said Sir Percival. "He left of his own accord, which is enough of itself to show that she was strong enough to travel. How you stare! If you don't believe she has gone, look for yourself. Open her room door, and all the other room doors if you like."
She took him at his word, and I followed her. There was no one in Miss Halcombe's room but Margaret Porcher, who was busy setting it to rights. There was no one in the spare rooms or the dressing- rooms when we looked into them afterwards. Sir Percival still waited for us in the passage. As we were leaving the last room that we had examined Lady Glyde whispered, "Don't go, Mrs. Michelson! don't leave me, for God's sake!" Before I could say anything in return she was out again in the passage, speaking to her husband.
"What does it mean, Sir Percival? I insist--I beg and pray you will tell me what it means."
"It means," he answered, "that Miss Halcombe was strong enough yesterday morning to sit up and be dressed, and that she insisted on taking advantage of Fosco's going to London to go there too."
"Yes--on her way to Limmeridge."
Lady Glyde turned and appealed to me.
"You saw Miss Halcombe last," she said. "Tell me plainly, Mrs. Michelson, did you think she looked fit to travel?"
"Not in MY opinion, your ladyship."
Sir Percival, on his side, instantly turned and appealed to me also.
"Before you went away," he said, "did you, or did you not, tell the nurse that Miss Halcombe looked much stronger and better?"
"I certainly made the remark, Sir Percival."
He addressed her ladyship again the moment I offered that reply.
"Set one of Mrs. Michelson's opinions fairly against the other," he said, "and try to be reasonable about a perfectly plain matter. If she had not been well enough to be moved do you think we should any of us have risked letting her go? She has got three competent people to look after her--Fosco and your aunt, and Mrs. Rubelle, who went away with them expressly for that purpose. They took a whole carriage yesterday, and made a bed for her on the seat in case she felt tired. To-day, Fosco and Mrs. Rubelle go on with her themselves to Cumberland."
"Why does Marian go to Limmeridge and leave me here by myself?" said her ladyship, interrupting Sir Percival.
"Because your uncle won't receive you till he has seen your sister first," he replied. "Have you forgotten the letter he wrote to her at the beginning of her illness? It was shown to you, you read it yourself, and you ought to remember it."
"I do remember it."
"If you do, why should you be surprised at her leaving you? You want to be back at Limmeridge, and she has gone there to get your uncle's leave for you on his own terms."
Poor Lady Glyde's eyes filled with tears.
"Marian never left me before," she said, "without bidding me good- bye."