change for the better from me than from Sir Percival— and I have therefore expressly returned to mention it."
"Admirable delicacy!" said Madame Fosco, paying back her husband's tribute of admiration, with the Count's own coin, in the Count's own manner. He smiled and bowed as if he had received a formal compliment from a polite stranger, and drew back to let me pass out first.
Sir Percival was standing in the hall. As I hurried to the stairs I heard him call impatiently to the Count, to come out of the library.
"What are you waiting there for?" he said; "I want to speak to you."
"And I want to think a little by myself," replied the other. "Wait till later, Percival—wait till later."
Neither he nor his friend said any more. I gained the top of the stairs, and ran along the passage. In my haste and my agitation, I left the door of the ante-chamber open, but I closed the door of the bedroom the moment I was inside it.
Laura was sitting alone at the far end of the room; her arms resting wearily on a table, and her face hidden in her hands. She started up, with a cry of delight, when she saw me.
"How did you get here?" she asked. "Who gave you leave? Not Sir Percival?"
In my overpowering anxiety to hear what she had to tell me, I could not answer her—I could only put questions, on my side. Laura's eagerness to know what had passed downstairs proved, however, too strong to be resisted. She persistently repeated her inquiries.
"The Count, of course," I answered impatiently. "Whose influence in the house——?"
She stopped me with a gesture of disgust.
"Don't speak of him," she cried. "The Count is the vilest creature breathing! The Count is a miserable Spy——!"
Before we could either of us say another word, we were alarmed by a soft knocking at the door of the bedroom.
I had not yet sat down, and I went first to see who it was. When I opened the door, Madame Fosco confronted me with my handkerchief in her hand.
"You dropped this downstairs, Miss Halcombe," she said; "and I thought I could bring it to you, as I was passing by to my own room."
Her face, naturally pale, had turned to such a ghastly whiteness, that I started at the sight of it. Her hands, so