`You see me confused,' he said. returning to his place -- `on my word of honour, Mr Fairlie, you see me confused in your presence.'
`Shocked to hear it, I am sure. May I inquire why?'
`Sir, can I enter this room (where you sit a sufferer), and see you surrounded by these admirable objects of Art, without discovering that you are a man whose feelings are acutely impressionable, whose sympathies are perpetually alive? Tell me, can I do this?'
If I had been strong enough to sit up in my chair I should, of course, have bowed. Not being strong enough, I smiled my acknowledgments instead. It did just as well, we both understood one another.
`Pray follow my train of thought,' continued the Count. `I sit here, a man of refined sympathies myself, in the presence of another man of refined sympathies also. I am conscious of a terrible necessity for lacerating those sympathies by referring to domestic events of a very melancholy kind. What is the inevitable consequence? I have done myself the honour of pointing it out to you already. I sit confused.'
Was it at this point that I began to suspect he was going to bore me? I rather think it was.
`Is it absolutely necessary to refer to these unpleasant matters?' I inquired. `In our homely English phrase, Count Fosco, won't they keep?'
The Count, with the most alarming solemnity, sighed and shook his head.
`Must I really hear them?'
He shrugged his shoulders (it was the first foreign thing he had done since he had been in the room), and looked at me in an unpleasantly penetrating manner. My instincts told me that I had better close my eyes. I obeyed my instincts.
`Please break it gently,' I pleaded. `Anybody dead?'
`Dead!' cried the Count, with unnecessary foreign fierceness. `Mr Fairlie, your national composure terrifies me. In the name of Heaven, what have I said or done to make you think me the messenger of death?'
`Pray accept my apologies,' I answered. `You have said and done nothing. I make it a rule in these distressing cases always to anticipate the worst- It breaks the blow by meeting it half-way, and so on. Inexpressibly relieved, I am sure, to hear that nobody is dead. Anybody ill?'
I opened my eyes and looked at him. Was he very yellow when he came in, or had he turned very yellow in the last minute or two? I really can't say, and I can't ask Louis, because he was not in the room at the time.
`Anybody ill?' I repeated, observing that my national composure still appeared to affect him.
`That is part of my bad news, Mr Fairlie. Yes. Somebody is ill.'
`Grieved, I am sure. Which of them is it?'
`To my profound sorrow, Miss Halcombe. Perhaps you were in some degree prepared to hear this? Perhaps when you found that Miss Halcombe did not come here by herself, as you proposed, and did not write a second time, your affectionate anxiety may have made you fear that she was ill?'
I have no doubt my affectionate anxiety had led to that melancholy apprehension at some time or other, but at the moment my wretched memory entirely failed to remind me of the circumstance. However, I said yes, in justice to myself. I was much shocked. It was so very uncharacteristic of such a robust
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