"She is sublime!" he said to himself. He approached her while he spoke, and drew her hand through his arm. "I am at your service, Eleanor," he went on, with a quiet dignity that I had never noticed in him before. "And at Miss Halcombe's service, if she will honour me by accepting all the assistance I can offer her."
Sir Percival crumpled up the paper in his hand, and pushing past the Count, with another oath, stood between him and the door.
"Have your own way," he said, with baffled rage in his low, half- whispering tones. "Have your own way--and see what comes of it." With those words he left the room.
Madame Fosco glanced inquiringly at her husband. "He has gone away very suddenly," she said. "What does it mean?"
"It means that you and I together have brought the worst-tempered man in all England to his senses," answered the Count. "It means, Miss Halcombe, that Lady Glyde is relieved from a gross indignity, and you from the repetition of an unpardonable insult. Suffer me to express my admiration of your conduct and your courage at a very trying moment."
"Sincere admiration," suggested Madame Fosco.
"Sincere admiration," echoed the Count.
I had no longer the strength of my first angry resistance to outrage and injury to support me. My heart-sick anxiety to see Laura, my sense of my own helpless ignorance of what had happened at the boat-house, pressed on me with an intolerable weight. I tried to keep up appearances by speaking to the Count and his wife in the tone which they had chosen to adopt in speaking to me, but the words failed on my lips--my breath came short and thick--my eyes looked longingly, in silence, at the door. The Count, understanding my anxiety, opened it, went out, and pulled it to after him. At the same time Sir Percival's heavy step descended the stairs. I heard them whispering together outside, while Madame Fosco was assuring me, in her calmest and most conventional manner, that she rejoiced, for all our sakes, that Sir Percival's conduct had not obliged her husband and herself to leave Blackwater Park. Before she had done speaking the whispering ceased, the door opened, and the Count looked in.
"Miss Halcombe," he said, "I am happy to inform you that Lady Glyde is mistress again in her own house. I thought it might be more agreeable to you to hear of this change for the better from me than from Sir Percival, and I have therefore expressly returned to mention it."
"Admirable delicacy!" said Madame Fosco, paying back her husband's tribute of admiration with the Count's own coin, in the Count's own manner. He smiled and bowed as if he had received a formal compliment from a polite stranger, and drew back to let me pass out first.
Sir Percival was standing in the hall. As I hurried to the stairs I heard him call impatiently to the Count to come out of the library.
"What are you waiting there for?" he said. "I want to speak to you."
"And I want to think a little by myself," replied the other. "Wait till later, Percival, wait till later."
Neither he nor his friend said any more. I gained the top of the stairs and ran along the passage. In my haste and my agitation I left the door of the ante-chamber open, but I closed the door of the bedroom the moment I was inside it.
Laura was sitting alone at the far end of the room, her arms resting wearily on a table, and her face hidden in her hands. She started up with a cry of delight when she saw me.
"How did you get here?" she asked. "Who gave you leave? Not Sir Percival?"
In my overpowering anxiety to hear what she had to tell me, I could not answer her--I could only put questions on my side. Laura's eagerness to know what had passed downstairs proved, however, too strong to be resisted. She persistently repeated her inquiries.
"The Count, of course," I answered impatiently. "Whose influence in the house----"
She stopped me with a gesture of disgust.
"Don't speak of him," she cried. "The Count is the vilest creature breathing! The Count is a miserable Spy----!"
Before we could either of us say another word we were alarmed by a soft knocking at the door of the bedroom.
I had not yet sat down, and I went first to see who it was. When I opened the door Madame Fosco confronted me with my handkerchief in her hand.
"You dropped this downstairs, Miss Halcombe," she said, "and I thought I could bring it to you, as I was passing by to my own room."
Her face, naturally pale, had turned to such a ghastly whiteness that I started at the sight of it. Her hands, so sure and steady at all other times, trembled violently, and her eyes looked wolfishly past me through the open door, and fixed on Laura.
She had been listening before she knocked! I saw it in her white face, I saw it in her trembling hands, I saw it in her look at Laura.
After waiting an instant she turned from me in silence, and slowly walked away.
I closed the door again. "Oh, Laura! Laura! We shall both rue the day when you called the Count a Spy!"
"You would have called him so yourself, Marian, if you had known what I know. Anne Catherick was right. There was a third person watching us in the plantation yesterday, and that third person---"
"Are you sure it was the Count?"
"I am absolutely certain. He was Sir Percival's spy--he was Sir Percival's informer--he set Sir Percival watching and waiting, all the morning through, for Anne Catherick and for me."
"Is Anne found? Did you see her at the lake?"
"No. She has saved herself by keeping away from the place. When I got to the boat-house no one was there."