Walter Hartright’s narrative
Having at last arrived in London Tuesday, I began the work that very evening, late though it was, by sending a note to my good friend Professor Pesca, inviting him to dinner on the following day.
I would be remiss in my duty as a son and brother if I were in London and did not call upon my mother and sister, though I admit that when I went to their Hampstead cottage first thing Wednesday morning I had additional ends in view. It was a fine sunny day, quite clement for February. I had my cabman drop me at Sandett House half a mile up the lane.
The house is a modern, handsome, pale-red brick structure in the Georgian style, set well back from the road. A short drive lined with winter-weary boxwood circled up to the graceful, columned, half-moon portico that sheltered the front door, and the metalwork on the roof of a greenhouse could be glimpsed in the side garden. I rang the bell and gave my card. “The missus sees no male callers,” the housemaid said.
I was dressed as a gentleman, the prosperous master of Limmeridge House, so I dared to ask, “Does she go out?”
“Not at all, sir. Given her circumstances.”
Balked, I turned away, very thoughtful. This is the gentle delicacy that one sees in the highly bred lady in time of trouble: discreetly veiling herself from vulgar gaze and commentary, holding aloof from even the most distant taint of scandal, secluding herself in the sanctity and purity of her home. It was how my dearest Laura would behave—perhaps not Marian, who though a true gentlewoman is bolder and inclines towards action. A woman who deserted husband and children to elope with a Continental lover would be long past such exquisite care of her good name. It came to me that all I knew of Mrs. Camlet was what her estranged husband had told me. I still believed that Camlet was no deceiver. But could he be genuinely mistaken? He had admitted to us that he did not understand her. When man and wife are at odds, the truth becomes hard to discern.
Thus reflecting, I walked on to my mother’s cottage. Here I was welcomed with the usual joy and a Bakewell tart fresh out of the oven. My mother prefers these delicacies made in patty-pans rather than in a large tart pan, and when I saw half a dozen lined up to cool on the kitchen table I had an idea. “Mother, how would it be if you took a few of these over to Mrs. Camlet? I am told she does not go out.”
“What a neighborly thought, Walter,” my kindly mother said.
“I would be happy to help you carry the basket.” While she changed into a visiting dress I considered tactics. Mrs. Camlet knew that her husband had been arrested. And she had met Marian, and probably knew her maiden name. But Marian and Laura are but half-sisters. The name Hartright might be nothing to Mrs. Camlet but the surname of the pleasant neighbors down the lane. If Camlet had not told her their children had taken refuge under my roof, perhaps it would behoove me to hold my tongue on that point. And if that were so, then I should not tell my artless and sociable mother of our recent doings at Limmeridge, for she would infallibly confide all.
So it was I walked back up the lane again around three in the afternoon, this time with a fresh-baked excuse for a call in hand and my mother to pave the way for me. And sure enough, a call from an elderly neighbor of her former acquaintance was more acceptable to Mrs. Camlet. We were shown straight into the drawing room.
This was a handsome and modern chamber at the front of the house, with all the trappings of prosperity—fashionable ferns in pots on stands, damask draperies layered over the windows, a large mirror and Chinese cloisonné vases over the fireplace, and a grand piano shawled and crowded with bibelots. In the north window on its own marble-topped table a large Wardian case stood overflowing with lush green fronds. Marian had not spoken of redecorating, so these must be the furnishings from before their marriage. Yet it did not seem a very suitable background for Camlet either. He is notably a modest and unpretentious man.
Then the lady came in, and all was made clear. This was my first introduction to Mrs. Camlet; when Camlet first wed I had been deep in my own concerns as a young drawing master building his business. Marian had mentioned fair curls and blue eyes. She had utterly failed to do her rival justice. Margaret Camlet was taller than I and robust, with the figure of a queen. Her face was the perfect oval that Raphael favored in painting his angels, and the arch of her brow as finely cut as a cameo. Suddenly my fingers itched to pick up my water-color brushes; such beauty calls for art. Marian’s coal-black hair, swarthy complexion and unharmonious features could not possibly compare.
The grace of face and form would have been attractive, except for the intelligence that glinted in those brilliant...