I was so startled by the disturbance in Laura's face and manner, and so dismayed by the first waking impressions of my dream, that I was not fit to bear the revelation which burst upon me when that name passed her lips. I could only stand rooted to the floor, looking at her in breathless silence.
She was too much absorbed by what had happened to notice the effect which her reply had produced on me. `I have seen Anne Catherick! I have spoken to Anne Catherick!' she repeated as if I had not heard her. `Oh, Marian, I have such things to tell you! Come away -- we may be interrupted here -- come at once into my room.'
With those eager words she caught me by the hand, and led me through the library, to the end room on the ground floor, which had been fitted up for her own especial use. No third person, except her maid, could have any excuse for surprising us here. She pushed me in before her, locked the door, and drew the chintz curtains that hung over the inside.
The strange, stunned feeling which had taken possession of me still remained. But a growing conviction that the complications which had long threatened to gather about her, and to gather about me, had suddenly closed fast round us both, was now beginning to penetrate my mind. I could not express it in words -- I could hardly even realise it dimly in my own thoughts. `Anne Catherick!' I whispered to myself, with useless, helpless reiteration -- `Anne Catherick!'
Laura drew me to the nearest seat, an ottoman in the middle of the room. `Look!' she said, `look here!' -- and pointed to the bosom of her dress.
I saw, for the first time. that the lost brooch was pinned in its place again. There was something real in the sight of it, something real in the touching of it afterwards, which seemed to steady the whirl and confusion in my thoughts, and to help me to compose myself.
`Where did you find your brooch?' The first words I could say to her were the words which put that trivial question at that important moment.
`She found it, Marian.'
`On the floor of the boat-house. Oh, how shall I begin -- how shall I tell you about it! She talked to me so strangely -- she looked so fearfully ill -- she left me so suddenly --!'
Her voice rose as the tumult of her recollections pressed upon her mind. The inveterate distrust which weighs, night and day, on my spirits in this house, instantly roused me to warn her -- just as the sight of the brooch had roused me to question her, the moment before.
`Speak low,' I said. `The window is open, and the garden path runs beneath it. Begin at the beginning, Laura. Tell me, word for word, what passed between that woman and you.'
`Shall I close the window?'
`No, only speak low -- only remember that Anne Catherick is a dangerous subject under your husband's roof. Where did you first see her?'
`At the boat-house, Marian. I went out, as you know, to find my brooch, and I walked along the path through the plantation, looking down on the ground carefully at every step. In that way l got on, after a long time, to the boat-house, and as soon as I was inside it, I went on my knees to hunt over the floor. I was still searching with my back to the doorway, when I heard a soft, strange voice behind me say, ``Miss Fairlie.'''
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