I. Blackwater Park, Hampshire.
In which Marian catches us up and explores Blackwater Park.
• And, whoa, time warp! It has been six months since Marian and Laura have been together. They'll be reunited tomorrow, and YIKES -- Count Fosco and his wife are relocating to the same neighborhood.
• "He has spent so much money abroad that he has none left to defray the expenses of living in London for the remainder of the season, and he is economically resolved to pass the summer and autumn quietly at Blackwater." Ooookay. So, is he spending her money yet?
• This is exactly why the Heroine Raised In An Unusual Manner Resulting In Modern Sensibilities And Behavior is such a popular sub-genre of historical fiction: "Being, however, nothing but a woman, condemned to patience, propriety, and petticoats for life, I must respect the house-keeper's opinions, and try to compose myself in some feeble and feminine way."
• Getting caught up: Walter was last seen entering the jungle with his team; nothing has been heard of Anne Catherick; Mr. Gilmore had a heart attack and isn't allowed to do business stuff; Mrs. Vesey has gone to live with her sister; and Mr. Fairlie is happy to have Limmeridge to himself, his poor, poor valet, and the two unfortunate photographers he's hired. So, basically, Marian and Laura are going to be On Their Own Up Against Whatever Evil Plot Is At Hand.
• As for Laura: "Even when she wanders from the subject of her travels, and occupies herself with the prospects that await her in England, her speculations are busied with her future as my sister, and persistently neglect to notice her future as Sir Percival's wife." So it doesn't sound to me like Sir Percival has attempted to get amorous or as if he's even trying to gain her affection.
• I'm glad that the housekeeper doesn't appear to be evil. Good to know that when Sir Percival spent all of that money fixing up his house, he didn't disturb the damp, darkness or rats -- makes me wonder what state it was in BEFORE he fixed it up. (Yes, yes, I know it's a huge place. But, still: gross.)
• If the Lovecraftian Blackwater Lake isn't ominous, I don't know what is.
• Great. So the gameskeeper shoots dogs and lets them crawl off to die slow and painful deaths, and the housemaid thinks it's funny. Did Sir Percival SPECIFY in his want ad that was looking for sadists? AND THE DOG BELONGS TO MRS. CATHERICK?! AND SOMEONE WHO LOOKS LIKE ANNE HAS BEEN SEEN IN THE VICINITY?? Also, who shows up with her dog and then goes the twenty-five miles home without him -- or without at least mentioning that he took off? Maybe she didn't leave? Maybe Baxter SHOT HER, TOO! MAYBE I should keep reading! Ooo, she didn't want Sir Percival to know she'd been there? WHY? Are they not on the friendly terms that he led us all to believe??
• Wilkie does love his omens: "The dog was dead. It had given a faint, sobbing cry, it had suffered an instant's convulsion of the limbs, just as those last words, "comely and healthy and young," dropped from the housekeeper's lips."
II. In which we finally get a look at Count Fosco.
• Laura is less innocent, physically stronger, and seemingly hardier than she was six months ago. She refuses to talk to Marian about her marriage, which doesn't bode well, and it seems to me that she's setting up a sort-of fantasy refuge in Marian's living area, what with keeping all of her Limmeridge stuff in one place. Like she's compartmentalizing her life in an somewhat unhealthy way.
• Still hoping Sir Percival is consumptive. He's twitchy and coughy. And he's acting like the control freak husband from Sleeping with the Enemy. Minus the domestic violence (and probably minus the sex, too?) -- he just REALLY likes stuff to be orderly.
• So was the guy who visited A) someone he hired to find Anne Catherick; B) a bill collector; or C) part of some other mystery? Will there be a knee-capping scene? God, I hope so.
• Oh, dear. Judging by the description of Madame Fosco (Why isn't she a Countess? How does that work, exactly?), I'm thinking that I was right, and that Count Fosco is evil. Because that is one scared, unhappy lady. Who might snap at any moment. So she could do evil stuff, too.
• On the Count himself: "This in two words: He looks like a man who could tame anything. If he had married a tigress, instead of a woman, he would have tamed the tigress. If he had married me, I should have made his cigarettes, as his wife does—I should have held my tongue when he looked at me, as she holds hers." WOW. That's rather major. And worrisome, because she sounds fascinated by him. In a BAD way.
• After writing the above, I got all fascinated by the Count and didn't take any notes. Now that he's off-screen, I can describe him as a possibly evil chemistry genius, a fan of small, fragile animals, a flamboyant dresser and a man who can wrap anyone around his little finger. (Except, interestingly, Laura.) It's odd that Marian doesn't find Madame Fosco's behavior worrisome -- because it shows (or seems to show) that for all of the Count's charms, there's something ugly lurking.
• And now Sir Percival's lawyer has showed up, and it seems that SOMETHING has happened.
• I don't care how fascinating the Count is (and he IS) -- I still think he's bad news. I keep picturing him as a super-sized evil version of Hercule Poirot, minus the moustaches, plus some mice. Wait a minute... he's always so interested to know if there are Italians in the vicinity, and he hasn't been home in ages -- I hope that Pesca shows up later and turns out to be a secret agent. I suspect that I'm mixing my genres here, but COME ON. That would be AWESOME.
III. In which the Count expresses his opinions on Crime.
• It's funny that Marian, for all of her dislike of her sex and the frustrations that come of it, totally pulls the "I couldn't help myself -- I'm a WOMAN" card: "I daresay it was very wrong and very discreditable to listen, but where is the woman, in the whole range of our sex, who can regulate her actions by the abstract principles of honour, when those principles point one way, and when her affections, and the interests which grow out of them, point the other?" Heh.
• AHA! And now the money issues begin. Laura seems more composed and blasé about it than I would have expected. I think she's been hiding a big brain in her head.
• Ugh. Sir Percival sucking up is worse than Sir Percival being cranky. At least when he's cranky, he's not there.
• WOW. GO, Laura. She should let her irritation show more often.
• And YOW. Again, I got so pulled in that I didn't take notes. That discussion about crime was something, no? I'm thinking that Count Fosco might actually be the Devil, making Bad Things sound Reasonable and Right and Almost Good. And finally, Sir Percival finds out about Mrs. Catherick's visit. I wish Marian'd kept her trap shut -- but then, so does she. That last bit with the door shutting her out and her ascending the stairs felt really... final.
IV. In which Sir Percival shows his True Colors, Laura shows some Serious Backbone, and both of them allude to a Dreadful Secret.
• Despite that feeling of finality: Now Marian has to be one of the witnesses because Fosco won't let his wife sign. WHAT IS HIS GAME???
• I wonder if Fosco's monologue about wise criminals and foolish criminals was actually sort of about himself and Sir Percival. Because Fosco wouldn't have played the document signing the way that Sir Percival did. And he certainly never would have let himself go like this:
"A cool declaration, upon my soul!" cried Sir Percival. "The next time you invite yourself to a man's house, Miss Halcombe, I recommend you not to repay his hospitality by taking his wife's side against him in a matter that doesn't concern you."
• I never thought I'd see Laura like this -- I mean, she HATES him:
"Scruples!" he repeated. "YOUR scruples! It is rather late in the day for you to be scrupulous. I should have thought you had got over all weakness of that sort, when you made a virtue of necessity by marrying me."
The instant he spoke those words, Laura threw down the pen—looked at him with an expression in her eyes which, throughout all my experience of her, I had never seen in them before, and turned her back on him in dead silence.
And, of course, I'd like to know what he's talking about. She didn't, like, have Walter's love child while she was abroad, did she?
• OH NOOOOO! Now the Count is going to get the letter and have a fake messenger bring a fake letter! Right? Right? I mean, Madame Fosco is obviously keeping Marian distracted for a reason, right?
• So he read it, and she knows he read it, but he doesn't know that she knows. Maybe. But he didn't replace it with a different letter. So there's that. But he is BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD and I'm kind of scared.
V. In which Laura reveals her Dreadful Secret.
• Seriously? That's the Big Secret? That Sir Percival married her for her money? DUH! I was hoping for something, you know -- juicy. That isn't to say that her confession wasn't sad:
"It would have been better for me if I had gone on crying, but his contempt dried up my tears and hardened my heart. From that time, Marian, I never checked myself again in thinking of Walter Hartright. I let the memory of those happy days, when we were so fond of each other in secret, come back and comfort me."
Or was her Big Secret that Sir Percival discovered Walter's name? Either way, not very exciting. But sad for her, and sad for Walter. Even though, really, she could have prevented ALL OF THIS.
• I'm surprised that Sir Percival has been such a bastard about Walter, since he's made it so very clear that he doesn't even remotely care about Laura. Is it because he's a big sadistic jerk and just wants her to be miserable? Oh, I guess it could be pride, too.
• Oh, Marian, stop it. You're being melodramatic, and I know you hate that. It wasn't your fault.
• Who was it, out there with them? Is the Woman in White back? Or was someone else spying on them?
The Reading Schedule
The First Epoch: The Story Begun by Walter Hartright, Chapters I-VIII
The First Epoch: The Story Begun by Walter Hartright, Chapters IX-XV
The First Epoch: The Story Continued by Vincent Gilmore
The First Epoch: The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe
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