The Woman in White (Play)

Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White (Play) Page 02

I know something already of you and your family, and I want to know more. Are you a rich man?

Sir P. Rich! I am over head and ears in debt.

Mrs. C. Can't you raise money on the estate?

Sir P. What next, I wonder? No, I can't raise a farthing. Any more questions?

Mrs. C. Plenty more. Is it true that you are engaged to be married.

Sir P. You're a cool woman, if ever there was one yet. However, it's no secret. I am engaged to be married?

Mrs. C. Soon?

Sir P. This summer.

Mrs. C. To the rich Miss Fairlie, of Limmeridge House?

Sir P. To the rich Miss Fairlie, of Limmeridge House. Now for a question on my side. These inquiries of yours have a meaning, I suppose? You're trying after something. What is it?

[9]Mrs. C. I am trying to find out your motive in coming here.

Sir P. My motive is no business of yours. I have offered you--

Mrs. C. You have offered me fifty pounds to get you access privately to the church registers. My husband is answerable for the registers to the rector, and the rector is answerable to the law. If I put the registers into your hands, what are your hands going to do with them? Answer me that.

Sir P. I decline to answer you. I expect you to help me blindfold--and I pay you handsomely for doing it.

Mrs. C. That's your side of the question. Now look at mine. It's a risk to let you in here, in my husband's absence.

Sir P. Fifty pounds!

Mrs. C. It's a risk to steal the key.

Sir P. Fifty pounds!

Mrs. C. It's a risk to leave you here, with the registers at your mercy.

Sir P. Fifty pounds!

Mrs. C. Have you no more to say to me than that?

Sir P. Not a word more. (He takes a bank-note from his pocket-book.) This, in exchange for the key of the press--without questions. Take it, or leave it, which you please.

Mrs. C. (holding out her hand). I take it.

Sir P. (withholding it). In exchange for the key!

Mrs. C. Give me a quarter of an hour--and you shall have the key.

Sir P. (putting back the note). I'll smoke a cigar in the lane, and come back. (Aside.) If she gives me the key, she becomes my accomplice. Penal servitude for her, if she betrays me after that!

(He puts the key into the lock of the door leading into the churchyard.)

Mrs. C. (aside). There is a private copy of the registers in the rector's possession. If the fool had trusted me, I would have told him of it! (To SIR PERCIVAL.) Not that way! There are strangers in the lane--two gentlemen with knapsacks on their backs; artists, or such like.

Sir P. (turning towards the other door). This way? (He [10]notices the arched opening above the door.) What's that for?

Mrs. C. It's a make-shift to let light and air into the vestry--it opens out from the organ-gallery. Stand back, and let me see if the coast's clear. (She opens the door into the church, looks in, and listens.) It's all safe. Come out this way. Smoke your cigar in the copse--and meet me again in a quarter of an hour at the church porch.

(She crosses the threshold and stops.)

Sir P. What's wrong now?

Mrs. C. Nothing. One word of warning while I think of it. You have mortally offended that crazy daughter of mine. She's revengeful and cunning. Mind she doesn't follow you, on your way back to the church!

(She leads the way out. SIR PERCIVAL follows her, and closes the door. ANNE CATHERICK shows herself at the arched opening above the door.)

Anne (in triumph). My clever mother never thought of looking for me in the organ-loft! Crazy as I am, I have heard him already. When he comes back again, I can see him from here.

(She disappears from the opening. At the same moment, WALTER HARTRIGHT and PROFESSOR PESCA, both equipped for a walking tour, appear in the churchyard.)

Wal. Give me ten minutes, Pesca. I want to take a rough sketch of this picturesque old church.

(He produces his sketch-book and pencils.)

Pesca (despondently). Right--all-right, Walter! Take your sketch.

(He unbuckles his knapsack, and seats himself. WALTER, still standing, looks at him in surprise.)

Wal. I don't annoy you, by stopping here--do I?

Pesca (vehemently remonstrating). My soul-bless-my-soul! he asks if he annoys me! (WALTER smiles, and begins his sketch, while PESCA goes on speaking, more and more excitedly.) Here am I--Pesca--Italian exile, and professor of languages. I am broken down with nothing but teach, teach, teach, morning, noon, and night. The doctors say, deuce-what-the-deuce! too many pupils for this one little man! Give him a holiday; put a knapsack on his back, and a stick in his hand; make him walk, [11]walk, walk, in the fine fresh air, till he has changed the vertigoes in his head for blisters on his feet. In a month he will be well again. There is the sentence pronounced on me! After teach, teach, teach, I am to walk, walk, walk--all by myself. Who says, "No! Pesca shall have a companion to take care of him?" Who sacrifices his work, aches under his knapsack, blisters his feet, for Pesca's sake? The same Walter Hartright who turns on me now, and asks if he annoys me! I call heaven and earth to witness--have I deserved this?

Wal. (laughing). There! There! I withdraw the question. But--come, Pesca! you can't deny you're out of spirits?

Pesca. I don't deny it. My spirits are down in the bottoms of my boots.

Wal. You received two letters this morning. Any bad news?

Pesca. Yes, Walter. Bad news from my native country.

Wal. News from your family?

Pesca. No.

Wal. From your friends?

Pesca. From my republican friends.

Wal. (pausing in his sketching). Again? Another letter from the Secret Society to which you belonged when you were in Italy? Why did you ever join it? Why don't you leave it now?

Pesca (gravely). Once a member of that Brotherhood, Walter, always a member. I joined them years ago, my friend--under provocation which would have made you join, if you had been me. Say no more. Go on with your sketch.

Wal. I fancy there is a better point of view yonder. Shall we move up a little?

Pesca. Yes, yes; I will come after you. (WALTER withdraws up the stage, and resumes his sketch. PESCA opens a letter.) I dare not tell him what is written here! I, who ask nothing better, in my exile, than to forget the past, and end my days in peace--I am singled out, by my chief in Italy, to decide the dreadful question of a man's life or death!

Wal. (calling). Come here, Pesca! The view is much prettier on this side.

[12]Pesca. In a minute. (He reads in a low voice to himself.) "We have certain information of a member who has betrayed the Brotherhood. He was received among us, twenty years since, by you. He will be in England in three months' time. Contrive to see him without letting him see you, and then communicate privately with the two brethren whose names and addresses are enclosed. The man will die, if you identify him, by their hands." (He pauses, shuddering.) Horrible! If I say the word, he is doomed; no human laws can save him! (He reads once more.) "Personal description of the traitor. A man of sixty years old--immensely stout--bears in his face a striking resemblance to the great Napoleon--gaudy in his dress, smooth in his manners, singularly fond of pet animals, such as canary birds and white mice.

Wilkie Collins

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