`I feared as much,' she said, `when I heard of that strange gentleman who called, and declined to leave his name.'
`Who do you think the gentleman was, then?' I asked.
`Some person who has heavy claims on Sir Percival,' she answered, `and who has been the cause of Mr Merriman's visit here today.'
`Do you know anything about those claims?'
`No, I know no particulars.'
`You will sign nothing, Laura, without first looking at it?'
`Certainly not, Marian. Whatever I can harmlessly and honestly do to help him I will do -- for the sake of making your life and mine, love, as easy and as happy as possible. But I will do nothing ignorantly, which we might, one day, have reason to feel ashamed of. Let us say no more about it now. You have got your hat on -- suppose we go and dream away the afternoon in the grounds?'
On leaving the house we directed our steps to the nearest shade.
As we passed an open space among the trees in front of the house, there was Count Fosco, slowly walking backwards and forwards on the grass, sunning himself in the full blaze of the hot June afternoon. He had a broad straw hat on, with a violet-coloured ribbon round it. A blue blouse, with profuse white fancy-work over the bosom, covered his prodigious body, and was girt about the place where his waist might once have been with a broad scarlet leather belt. Nankeen trousers, displaying more white fancy- work over the ankles, and purple morocco slippers, adorned his lower extremities. He was singing Figaro's famous song in the Barber of Seville. with that crisply fluent vocalisation which is never heard from any other than an Italian throat, accompanying himself on the concertina, which he played with ecstatic throwings- up of his arms, and graceful twistings and turnings of his head, like a fat St Cecilia masquerading in male attire. `Figaro qua! Figaro la! Figaro su! Figaro giu!' sang the Count, jauntily tossing up the concertina at arm's length, and bowing to us, on one side of the instrument, with the airy grace and elegance of Figaro himself at twenty vicars of age.
`Take my word for it, Laura, that man knows something of Sir Percival's embarrassments,' I said, as we returned the Count's salutation from a safe distance.
`What makes you think that?' she asked.
`How should he have known, otherwise, that Mr Merriman was Sir Percival's solicitor?' I rejoined. `Besides, when I followed you out of the luncheon-room, he told me. without a single word of inquiry on my part, that something had happened. Depend upon it, he knows more than we do.'
`Don't ask him any questions if he does. Don't take him into our confidence.
`You seem to dislike him, Laura, in a very determined manner. What has he said or done to justify you?'
`Nothing, Marian. On the contrary, he was all kindness and attention on our journey home, and he several times checked Sir Percival's outbreaks of temper, in the most considerate manner towards me. Perhaps I dislike him because he has so much more power over my husband than I have. Perhaps it hurts my pride to be under any obligations to his interference. All I know is, that I do dislike him.'
The rest of the day and evening passed quietly enough. The count and I played at chess. For the first two games he politely allowed me to conquer him, and then, when he saw that I had found him out, begged my pardon, and at the third game checkmated me in ten minutes. Sir Percival never once referred, all through the evening, to the lawyer's visit. But either that event, or something else, had produced a
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