"I went in and sat waiting for a few minutes. But my restlessness made me get up again, to walk about a little. As I passed out I saw some marks on the sand, close under the front of the boat- house. I stooped down to examine them, and discovered a word written in large letters on the sand. The word was--LOOK."
"And you scraped away the sand, and dug a hollow place in it?"
"How do you know that, Marian?"
"I saw the hollow place myself when I followed you to the boat- house. Go on--go on!"
"Yes, I scraped away the sand on the surface, and in a little while I came to a strip of paper hidden beneath, which had writing on it. The writing was signed with Anne Catherick's initials."
"Where is it?"
"Sir Percival has taken it from me."
"Can you remember what the writing was? Do you think you can repeat it to me?"
"In substance I can, Marian. It was very short. You would have remembered it, word for word."
"Try to tell me what the substance was before we go any further."
She complied. I write the lines down here exactly as she repeated them to me. They ran thus--
"I was seen with you, yesterday, by a tall, stout old man, and had to run to save myself. He was not quick enough on his feet to follow me, and he lost me among the trees. I dare not risk coming back here to-day at the same time. I write this, and hide it in the sand, at six in the morning, to tell you so. When we speak next of your wicked husband's Secret we must speak safely, or not at all. Try to have patience. I promise you shall see me again and that soon.--A. C."
The reference to the "tall, stout old man" (the terms of which Laura was certain that she had repeated to me correctly) left no doubt as to who the intruder had been. I called to mind that I had told Sir Percival, in the Count's presence the day before, that Laura had gone to the boat-house to look for her brooch. In all probability he had followed her there, in his officious way, to relieve her mind about the matter of the signature, immediately after he had mentioned the change in Sir Percival's plans to me in the drawing-room. In this case he could only have got to the neighbourhood of the boat-house at the very moment when Anne Catherick discovered him. The suspiciously hurried manner in which she parted from Laura had no doubt prompted his useless attempt to follow her. Of the conversation which had previously taken place between them he could have heard nothing. The distance between the house and the lake, and the time at which he left me in the drawing-room, as compared with the time at which Laura and Anne Catherick had been speaking together, proved that fact to us at any rate, beyond a doubt.
Having arrived at something like a conclusion so far, my next great interest was to know what discoveries Sir Percival had made after Count Fosco had given him his information.
"How came you to lose possession of the letter?" I asked. "What did you do with it when you found it in the sand?"
"After reading it once through," she replied, "I took it into the boat-house with me to sit down and look over it a second time. While I was reading a shadow fell across the paper. I looked up, and saw Sir Percival standing in the doorway watching me."
"Did you try to hide the letter?"
"I tried, but he stopped me. 'You needn't trouble to hide that,' he said. 'I happen to have read it.' I could only look at him helplessly--I could say nothing. 'You understand?' he went on; 'I have read it. I dug it up out of the sand two hours since, and buried it again, and wrote the word above it again, and left it ready to your hands. You can't lie yourself out of the scrape now. You saw Anne Catherick in secret yesterday, and you have got her letter in your hand at this moment. I have not caught HER yet, but I have caught YOU. Give me the letter.' He stepped close up to me--I was alone with him, Marian--what could I do?--I gave him the letter."
"What did he say when you gave it to him?"
"At first he said nothing. He took me by the arm, and led me out of the boat-house, and looked about him on all sides, as if he was afraid of our being seen or heard. Then he clasped his hand fast round my arm, and whispered to me, 'What did Anne Catherick say to you yesterday? I insist on hearing every word, from first to last.'"
"Did you tell him?"
"I was alone with him, Marian--his cruel hand was bruising my arm-- what could I do?"
"Is the mark on your arm still? Let me see it."
"Why do you want to see it?"
"I want to see it, Laura, because our endurance must end, and our resistance must begin to-day. That mark is a weapon to strike him with. Let me see it now--I may have to swear to it at some future time."
"Oh, Marian, don't look so--don't talk so! It doesn't hurt me now!"
"Let me see it!"
She showed me the marks. I was past grieving over them, past crying over them, past shuddering over them. They say we are either better than men, or worse. If the temptation that has fallen in some women's way, and made them worse, had fallen in mine at that moment--Thank God! my face betrayed nothing that his wife could read. The gentle, innocent, affectionate creature thought I was frightened for her and sorry for her, and thought no more.
"Don't think too seriously of it, Marian," she said simply, as she pulled her sleeve down again. "It doesn't hurt me now."
"I will try to think quietly of it, my love, for your sake.--Well! well! And you told him all that Anne Catherick had said to you-- all that you told me?"
"Yes, all. He insisted on it--I was alone with him--I could conceal nothing."
"Did he say anything when you had done?"
"He looked at me, and laughed to himself in a mocking, bitter way. 'I mean to have the rest out of you,' he said, 'do you hear?--the rest.' I declared to him solemnly that I had told him everything I knew. 'Not you,' he answered, 'you know more than you choose to tell. Won't you tell it? You shall! I'll wring it out of you at home if I can't wring it out of you here.' He led me away by a strange path through the plantation--a path where there was no hope of our meeting you--and he spoke no more till we came within sight of the house. Then he stopped again, and said, 'Will you take a second chance, if I give it to you? Will you think better of it, and tell me the rest?' I could only repeat the same words I had spoken before. He cursed my obstinacy, and went on, and took me with him to the house. 'You can't deceive me,' he said, 'you know more than you choose to tell. I'll have your secret out of you, and I'll have it out of that sister of yours as well. There shall be no more plotting and whispering between you. Neither you nor she shall see each other again till you have confessed the truth. I'll have you watched morning, noon, and night, till you confess the truth.' He was deaf to everything I could say. He took me straight upstairs into my own room. Fanny was sitting there, doing some work for me, and he instantly ordered her out. 'I'll take good care YOU'RE not mixed up in the conspiracy,' he said. 'You shall leave this house to-day. If your mistress wants a maid, she shall have one of my choosing.' He pushed me into the room, and locked the door on me. He set that senseless woman to watch me outside, Marian! He looked and spoke like a madman. You may hardly understand it--he did indeed."