There was a pause. I write the villain's words about myself because I mean to remember them--because I hope yet for the day when I may speak out once for all in his presence, and cast them back one by one in his teeth.
Sir Percival was the first to break the silence again.
"Yes, yes, bully and bluster as much as you like," he said sulkily; "the difficulty about the money is not the only difficulty. You would be for taking strong measures with the women yourself--if you knew as much as I do."
"We will come to that second difficulty all in good time," rejoined the Count. "You may confuse yourself, Percival, as much as you please, but you shall not confuse me. Let the question of the money be settled first. Have I convinced your obstinacy? have I shown you that your temper will not let you help yourself?--Or must I go back, and (as you put it in your dear straightforward English) bully and bluster a little more?"
"Pooh! It's easy enough to grumble at ME. Say what is to be done-- that's a little harder."
"Is it? Bah! This is what is to be done: You give up all direction in the business from to-night--you leave it for the future in my hands only. I am talking to a Practical British man--ha? Well, Practical, will that do for you?"
"What do you propose if I leave it all to you?"
"Answer me first. Is it to be in my hands or not?"
"Say it is in your hands--what then?"
"A few questions, Percival, to begin with. I must wait a little yet, to let circumstances guide me, and I must know, in every possible way, what those circumstances are likely to be. There is no time to lose. I have told you already that Miss Halcombe has written to the lawyer to-day for the second time."
"How did you find it out? What did she say?"
"If I told you, Percival, we should only come back at the end to where we are now. Enough that I have found it out--and the finding has caused that trouble and anxiety which made me so inaccessible to you all through to-day. Now, to refresh my memory about your affairs--it is some time since I talked them over with you. The money has been raised, in the absence of your wife's signature, by means of bills at three months--raised at a cost that makes my poverty-stricken foreign hair stand on end to think of it! When the bills are due, is there really and truly no earthly way of paying them but by the help of your wife?"
"What! You have no money at the bankers?"
"A few hundreds, when I want as many thousands."
"Have you no other security to borrow upon?"
"Not a shred."
"What have you actually got with your wife at the present moment?"
"Nothing but the interest of her twenty thousand pounds--barely enough to pay our daily expenses."
"What do you expect from your wife?"
"Three thousand a year when her uncle dies."
"A fine fortune, Percival. What sort of a man is this uncle? Old?"
"No--neither old nor young."
"A good-tempered, freely-living man? Married? No--I think my wife told me, not married."
"Of course not. If he was married, and had a son, Lady Glyde would not be next heir to the property. I'll tell you what he is. He's a maudlin, twaddling, selfish fool, and bores everybody who comes near him about the state of his health."
"Men of that sort, Percival, live long, and marry malevolently when you least expect it. I don't give you much, my friend, for your chance of the three thousand a year. Is there nothing more that comes to you from your wife?"
"Absolutely nothing--except in case of her death."
"Aha! in the case of her death."
There was another pause. The Count moved from the verandah to the gravel walk outside. I knew that he had moved by his voice. "The rain has come at last," I heard him say. It had come. The state of my cloak showed that it had been falling thickly for some little time.
The Count went back under the verandah--I heard the chair creak beneath his weight as he sat down in it again.
"Well, Percival," he said, "and in the case of Lady Glyde's death, what do you get then?"
"If she leaves no children----"
"Which she is likely to do?"
"Which she is not in the least likely to do----"
"Why, then I get her twenty thousand pounds."
They were silent once more. As their voices ceased Madame Fosco's shadow darkened the blind again. Instead of passing this time, it remained, for a moment, quite still. I saw her fingers steal round the corner of the blind, and draw it on one side. The dim white outline of her face, looking out straight over me, appeared behind the window. I kept still, shrouded from head to foot in my black cloak. The rain, which was fast wetting me, dripped over the glass, blurred it, and prevented her from seeing anything. "More rain!" I heard her say to herself. She dropped the blind, and I breathed again freely.
The talk went on below me, the Count resuming it this time.
"Percival! do you care about your wife?"
"Fosco! that's rather a downright question."
"I am a downright man, and I repeat it."
"Why the devil do you look at me in that way?"
"You won't answer me? Well, then, let us say your wife dies before the summer is out----"
"Drop it, Fosco!"
"Let us say your wife dies----"
"Drop it, I tell you!"
"In that case, you would gain twenty thousand pounds, and you would lose----"
"I should lose the chance of three thousand a year."
"The REMOTE chance, Percival--the remote chance only. And you want money, at once. In your position the gain is certain--the loss doubtful."
"Speak for yourself as well as for me. Some of the money I want has been borrowed for you. And if you come to gain, my wife's death would be ten thousand pounds in your wife's pocket. Sharp as you are, you seem to have conveniently forgotten Madame Fosco's legacy. Don't look at me in that way! I won't have it! What with your looks and your questions, upon my soul, you make my flesh creep!"