He drew back towards his table, and said nothing. His face showed plainly that he thought my delusion had got the better of my reason, and that he considered it totally useless to give me any more advice.
"We each keep our opinion, Mr. Kyrle," I said, "and we must wait till the events of the future decide between us. In the meantime, I am much obliged to you for the attention you have given to my statement. You have shown me that the legal remedy lies, in every sense of the word, beyond our means. We cannot produce the law proof, and we are not rich enough to pay the law expenses. It is something gained to know that."
I bowed and walked to the door. He called me back and gave me the letter which I had seen him place on the table by itself at the beginning of our interview.
"This came by post a few days ago," he said. "Perhaps you will not mind delivering it? Pray tell Miss Halcombe, at the same time, that I sincerely regret being, thus far, unable to help her, except by advice, which will not be more welcome, I am afraid, to her than to you."
I looked at the letter while he was speaking. It was addressed to "Miss Halcombe. Care of Messrs. Gilmore & Kyrle, Chancery Lane." The handwriting was quite unknown to me.
On leaving the room I asked one last question.
"Do you happen to know," I said, "if Sir Percival Glyde is still in Paris?"
"He has returned to London," replied Mr. Kyrle. "At least I heard so from his solicitor, whom I met yesterday."
After that answer I went out.
On leaving the office the first precaution to be observed was to abstain from attracting attention by stopping to look about me. I walked towards one of the quietest of the large squares on the north of Holborn, then suddenly stopped and turned round at a place where a long stretch of pavement was left behind me.
There were two men at the corner of the square who had stopped also, and who were standing talking together. After a moment's reflection I turned back so as to pass them. One moved as I came near, and turned the corner leading from the square into the street. The other remained stationary. I looked at him as I passed and instantly recognised one of the men who had watched me before I left England.
If I had been free to follow my own instincts, I should probably have begun by speaking to the man, and have ended by knocking him down. But I was bound to consider consequences. If I once placed myself publicly in the wrong, I put the weapons at once into Sir Percival's hands. There was no choice but to oppose cunning by cunning. I turned into the street down which the second man had disappeared, and passed him, waiting in a doorway. He was a stranger to me, and I was glad to make sure of his personal appearance in case of future annoyance. Having done this, I again walked northward till I reached the New Road. There I turned aside to the west (having the men behind me all the time), and waited at a point where I knew myself to be at some distance from a cab-stand, until a fast two-wheel cab, empty, should happen to pass me. One passed in a few minutes. I jumped in and told the man to drive rapidly towards Hyde Park. There was no second fast cab for the spies behind me. I saw them dart across to the other side of the road, to follow me by running, until a cab or a cab- stand came in their way. But I had the start of them, and when I stopped the driver and got out, they were nowhere in sight. I crossed Hyde Park and made sure, on the open ground, that I was free. When I at last turned my steps homewards, it was not till many hours later--not till after dark.
I found Marian waiting for me alone in the little sitting-room. She had persuaded Laura to go to rest, after first promising to show me her drawing the moment I came in. The poor little dim faint sketch--so trifling in itself, so touching in its associations--was propped up carefully on the table with two books, and was placed where the faint light of the one candle we allowed ourselves might fall on it to the best advantage. I sat down to look at the drawing, and to tell Marian, in whispers, what had happened. The partition which divided us from the next room was so thin that we could almost hear Laura's breathing, and we might have disturbed her if we had spoken aloud.
Marian preserved her composure while I described my interview with Mr. Kyrle. But her face became troubled when I spoke next of the men who had followed me from the lawyer's office, and when I told her of the discovery of Sir Percival's return.
"Bad news, Walter," she said, "the worst news you could bring. Have you nothing more to tell me?"
"I have something to give you," I replied, handing her the note which Mr. Kyrle had confided to my care.
She looked at the address and recognised the handwriting instantly.
"You know your correspondent?" I said.
"Too well," she answered. "My correspondent is Count Fosco."
With that reply she opened the note. Her face flushed deeply while she read it--her eyes brightened with anger as she handed it to me to read in my turn.
The note contained these lines--
"Impelled by honourable admiration--honourable to myself, honourable to you--I write, magnificent Marian, in the interests of your tranquillity, to say two consoling words--
"Exercise your fine natural sense and remain in retirement. Dear and admirable woman, invite no dangerous publicity. Resignation is sublime--adopt it. The modest repose of home is eternally fresh--enjoy it. The storms of life pass harmless over the valley of Seclusion--dwell, dear lady, in the valley.
"Do this and I authorise you to fear nothing. No new calamity shall lacerate your sensibilities--sensibilities precious to me as my own. You shall not be molested, the fair companion of your retreat shall not be pursued. She has found a new asylum in your heart. Priceless asylum!--I envy her and leave her there.