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THE STORY CONTINUED BY WALTER HARTRIGHT.
I open a new page. I advance my narrative by one week.
The history of the interval which I thus pass over must remain
unrecorded. My heart turns faint, my mind sinks in darkness and
confusion when I think of it. This must not be, if I who write am
to guide, as I ought, you who read. This must not be, if the clue
that leads through the windings of the story is to remain from end
to end untangled in my hands.
A life suddenly changed--its whole purpose created afresh, its
hopes and fears, its struggles, its interests, and its sacrifices
all turned at once and for ever into a new direction--this is the
prospect which now opens before me, like the burst of view from a
mountain's top. I left my narrative in the quiet shadow of
Limmeridge church--I resume it, one week later, in the stir and
turmoil of a London street.
The street is in a populous and a poor neighbourhood. The ground
floor of one of the houses in it is occupied by a small
newsvendor's shop, and the first floor and the second are let as
furnished lodgings of the humblest kind.
I have taken those two floors in an assumed name. On the upper
floor I live, with a room to work in, a room to sleep in. On the
lower floor, under the same assumed name, two women live, who are
described as my sisters. I get my bread by drawing and engraving
on wood for the cheap periodicals. My sisters are supposed to
help me by taking in a little needlework. Our poor place of
abode, our humble calling, our assumed relationship, and our
assumed name, are all used alike as a means of hiding us in the
house-forest of London. We are numbered no longer with the people
whose lives are open and known. I am an obscure, unnoticed man,
without patron or friend to help me. Marian Halcombe is nothing
now but my eldest sister, who provides for our household wants by
the toil of her own hands. We two, in the estimation of others,
are at once the dupes and the agents of a daring imposture. We
are supposed to be the accomplices of mad Anne Catherick, who
claims the name, the place, and the living personality of dead
That is our situation. That is the changed aspect in which we
three must appear, henceforth, in this narrative, for many and
many a page to come.
In the eye of reason and of law, in the estimation of relatives
and friends, according to every received formality of civilised
society, "Laura, Lady Glyde," lay buried with her mother in
Limmeridge churchyard. Torn in her own lifetime from the list of
the living, the daughter of Philip Fairlie and the wife of
Percival Glyde might still exist for her sister, might still exist
for me, but to all the world besides she was dead. Dead to her
uncle, who had renounced her; dead to the servants of the house,
who had failed to recognise her; dead to the persons in authority,
who had transmitted her fortune to her husband and her aunt; dead
to my mother and my sister, who believed me to be the dupe of an
adventuress and the victim of a fraud; socially, morally, legally--
And yet alive! Alive in poverty and in hiding. Alive, with the
poor drawing-master to fight her battle, and to win the way back
for her to her place in the world of living beings.
Did no suspicion, excited by my own knowledge of Anne Catherick's
resemblance to her, cross my mind, when her face was first
revealed to me? Not the shadow of a suspicion, from the moment
when she lifted her veil by the side of the inscription which
recorded her death.
Before the sun of that day had set, before the last glimpse of the
home which was closed against her had passed from our view, the
farewell words I spoke, when we parted at Limmeridge House, had
been recalled by both of us--repeated by me, recognised by her.
"If ever the time comes, when the devotion of my whole heart and
soul and strength will give you a moment's happiness, or spare you
a moment's sorrow, will you try to remember the poor drawing-
master who has taught you?" She, who now remembered so little of
the trouble and terror of a later time, remembered those words,
and laid her poor head innocently and trustingly on the bosom of
the man who had spoken them. In that moment, when she called me
by my name, when she said, "They have tried to make me forget
everything, Walter, but I remember Marian, and I remember YOU"--in
that moment, I, who had long since given her my love, gave her my
life, and thanked God that it was mine to bestow on her. Yes! the
time had come. From thousands on thousands of miles away--through
forest and wilderness, where companions stronger than I had fallen
by my side, through peril of death thrice renewed, and thrice
escaped, the Hand that leads men on the dark road to the future
had led me to meet that time. Forlorn and disowned, sorely tried
and sadly changed--her beauty faded, her mind clouded--robbed of
her station in the world, of her place among living creatures--the
devotion I had promised, the devotion of my whole heart and soul
and strength, might be laid blamelessly now at those dear feet.
In the right of her calamity, in the right of her friendlessness,
she was mine at last! Mine to support, to protect, to cherish, to
restore. Mine to love and honour as father and brother both.
Mine to vindicate through all risks and all sacrifices--through
the hopeless struggle against Rank and Power, through the long
fight with armed deceit and fortified Success, through the waste
of my reputation, through the loss of my friends, through the
hazard of my life.
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