She complied. I write the lines down here, exactly as she repeated them to me. They ran thus:
"I was seen with you, yesterday, by a tall stout old man, and had to run to save myself. He was not quick enough on his feet to follow me, and he lost me among the trees. I dare not risk coming back here to-day, at the same time. I write this, and hide it in the sand, at six in the morning, to tell you so. When we speak next of your wicked husband's Secret we must speak safely, or not at all. Try to have patience. I promise you shall see me again; and that soon.—A. C."
The reference to the "tall stout old man" (the terms of which Laura was certain that she had repeated to me correctly), left no doubt as to who the intruder had been. I called to mind that I had told Sir Percival, in the Count's presence the day before, that Laura had gone to the boat-house to look for her brooch. In all probability he had followed her there, in his officious way, to relieve her mind about the matter of the signature, immediately after he had mentioned the change in Sir Percival's plans to me in the drawing-room. In this case, he could only have got to the neighbourhood of the boat-house, at the very moment when Anne Catherick discovered him. The suspiciously hurried manner in which she parted from Laura, had no doubt prompted his useless attempt to follow her. Of the conversation which had previously taken place between them he could have heard nothing. The distance between the house and the lake, and the time at which he left me in the drawing-room, as compared with the time at which Laura and Anne Catherick had been speaking together, proved that fact to us, at any rate, beyond a doubt.
Having arrived at something like a conclusion, so far, my next great interest was to know what discoveries Sir Percival had made, after Count Fosco had given him his information.
"How came you to lose possession of the letter?" I asked. "What did you do with it, when you found it in the sand?"
"After reading it once through," she replied, "I took it into the boat-house with me to sit down, and look over it a second time. While I was reading, a shadow fell across the paper. I looked up; and saw Sir Percival standing in the doorway watching me."
"Did you try to hide the letter?"