IT was a close and sultry night early in August, and I, Walter Hartright, master of drawing, aged twenty-eight, was walking from Hampstead to London. In one moment every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop by the touch of a hand laid gently on my shoulder. There, in the middle of the highroad, stood a woman dressed from head to foot in white garments. She asked me the way to London. Itold her, and we parted.
Ten minutes later a carriage passed me and a few yards beyond stopped near a policeman. A man put his head from the window and asked: "Have you seen a woman pass this way-a woman in white? She has escaped from my asylum." At a shake of the police-man's head the carriage drove rapidly on.
The next day I was at Limmeridge House, Cumberland, in the service of FrederickFairlie, Esquire. I was there to instruct his two young nieces in the art of painting. I found Marian Halcombe to be dark and ugly, but intelligent. Laura Fairlie, her half-sister, was light, pretty, and dependent. They were devoted to each other, and before my engagement was up I admired the one and loved the other.
My feelings were the cause of my leaving Limmeridge House. Marian Halcombebrought to me a realization of my own heart. "You must leave," she said, "not because you are only a teacher of drawing, but because Laura Fairlie is engaged to be married."
A few days before I left Cumberland, while walking alone in the evening, I was con-fronted by the same face which had first looked into mine on the London highroad by night. But I was startled less by its sudden reappearance thanby my immediate recognition of an ominous likeness between this fugitive from the asylum and my fair pupil at Limmeridge House. Still greater was my consternation when the woman admitted having come to the neighborhood for the sole purpose of thwarting the proposed marriage of Laura Fairlie.
I left Limmeridge House, and soon after embarked on an expedition to Central America. The same year LauraFairlie became the bride of Sir Percival Glyde, Bart., and with her sister went to live at Blackwater Park, her husband's country estate. Count Fosco, an audacious and domineering Italian, and his wife were guests of the household. But all was not as harmonious as an English country party should be. Lady Glyde and her sister, as inseparable and confiding as ever, felt a perceptible coolnessrising between them and the two gentlemen. Coolness turned to suspicion and soon to fear.
Then it was that Lady Glyde met the Woman in White. The mysterious person stole noiselessly up to her in the twilight one evening and whispered: "If you knew your husband's secret, he would be afraid of you. He would not dare use you as he has used me. I ought to have saved you before it was too late." Butbefore the secret was told there were footsteps in the distance and the woman moved stealthily away.
Sir Percival learned of that brief interview, and was afraid of his wife. He demanded, begged, threatened her to tell him all she knew. What had been a battle of wits between the two sisters and the two men be-came a struggle of strategy, and the women lost the fight. Lady Glyde was decoyed intoleaving Blackwater Park for Count Fosco's London home. Less than two weeks later a tombstone in Cumberland bore this inscription, "Sacred to the memory of Laura, Lady Glyde."
On my return from Central America the same year I heard of the death, and immediately visited the grave. As I approached it, two women came toward me. One was Marian Halcombe; the other was veiled, but when she raised thiscovering from her face, there, looking at me, was Laura, Lady Glyde. She was pale, nervous, and depressed-more perfect than ever in her resemblance to the Woman in White.
Marian Halcombe told me what she knew. She had found her sister in an asylum, and in the grave at our feet was her mysterious double. Sir Percival's boldness and Count Fosco's cleverness had succeeded in exchanging the destinies...
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