Chapter 16

June 17th. -- When the dinner hour brought us together again, Count Fosco was in his usual excellent spirits. He exerted himself to interest and amuse us, as if he was determined to efface from our memories all recollection of what had passed in the library that afternoon. Lively descriptions of his adventures in travelling, amusing anecdotes of remarkable people whom he had met with abroad, quaint comparisons between the social customs of various nations, illustrated by examples drawn from men and women indiscriminately all over Europe, humorous confessions of the innocent follies of his own early life, when he ruled the fashions of a second-rate Italian town, and wrote preposterous romances on the French model for a second-rate Italian newspaper -- all flowed in succession so easily and so gaily from his lips, and all addressed our various curiosities and various interests so directly and so delicately, that Laura and I listened to him with as much attention and, inconsistent as it may seem, with, as much admiration also, as Madame Fosco herself. Women can resist a man's love, a man's fame, a man s personal appearance, and a man's money, but they cannot resist a man's tongue when he knows how to talk to them.

After dinner, while the favourable impression which he had produced on us was still vivid in our minds, the Count modestly withdrew to read in the library.

Laura proposed a stroll in the grounds to enjoy the close of the long evening. It was necessary ir. common politeness to ask Madame Fosco to join us, but this time she had apparently received her orders beforehand, and she begged we would kindly excuse her. `The Count will probably want a fresh supply of cigarettes,' she remarked by way of apology, `and nobody can make them to his satisfaction but myself.' Her cold blue eyes almost warmed as she spoke the words -- she looked actually proud of being the officiating medium through which her lord and master composed himself with tobacco-smoke!

Laura and I went out together alone.

It was a misty, heavy evening. There was a sense of blight in the air; the flowers were drooping in the garden, and the ground was parched and dewless. The western heaven, as we saw it over the quiet trees, was of a pale yellow hue, and the sun was setting faintly in a haze. Coming rain seemed near -- it would fall probably with the fall of night.

`Which way shall we go?' I asked.

`Towards the lake, Marian, if you like,' she answered.

`You seem unaccountably fond, Laura, of that dismal lake.'

`No, not of the lake but of the scenery about it. The sand and heath and the fir-trees are the only objects I can discover, in all this large place, to remind me of Limmeridge. But we will walk in some other direction if you prefer it.'

`I have no favourite walks at Blackwater Park, my love. One is the same as another to me. Let us go to the lake -- we may find it cooler in the open space than we find it here.'

We walked through the shadowy plantation in silence. The heaviness in the evening air oppressed us both, and when we reached the boat-house we were glad to sit down and rest inside.

A white fog hung low over the lake. The dense brown line of the trees on the opposite bank appeared above it, like a dwarf forest floating in the sky. The sandy ground, shelving downward from where we sat, was lost mysteriously in the outward layers of the fog. The silence was horrible. No rustling of the leaves -- no bird's note in the wood -- no cry of water-fowl from the pools of the hidden lake. Even the croaking of the frogs had ceased tonight

`It is very desolate and gloomy,' said Laura. `But we can be more alone here than anywhere else.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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