Poor Miss Finch
Part 2 out of 9
"One thing rather surprises me, Mr. Dubourg," I went on. "I can't quite
"Don't call me "Mr. Dubourg," he interposed. "You remind me of the
disgrace which has forced me to change my name. Call me by my Christian
name. It's a foreign name. You are a foreigner by your accent--you will
like me all the better for having a foreign name. I was christened
"Oscar"--after my mother's brother: my mother was a Jersey woman. Call me
"Oscar."--What is it you don't understand?"
"In your present situation," I resumed, "I don't understand your brother
leaving you here all by yourself."
He was on the point of flaming out again at that.
"Not a word against my brother!" he exclaimed fiercely. "My brother is
the noblest creature that God ever created! You must own that
yourself--you know what he did at the trial. I should have died on the
scaffold but for that angel. I insist on it that he is not a man. He is
(I admitted that his brother was an angel. The concession instantly
"People say there is no difference between us," he went on, drawing his
chair companionably close to mine. "Ah, people are so shallow!
Personally, I grant you, we are exactly alike. (You have heard that we
are twins?) But there it ends, unfortunately for _me._ Nugent--(my
brother was christened Nugent after my father)--Nugent is a hero! Nugent
is a genius. I should have died if he hadn't taken care of me after the
trial. I had nobody but him. We are orphans; we have no brothers or
sisters. Nugent felt the disgrace even more than I felt it--but _he_
could control himself. It fell more heavily on him than it did on me.
I'll tell you why. Nugent was in a fair way to make our family name--the
name that we have been obliged to drop--famous all over the world. He is
a painter--a landscape painter. Have you never heard of him? Ah, you soon
will! Where do you think he has gone to? He has gone to the wilds of
America, in search of new subjects. He is going to found a school of
landscape painting. On an immense scale. A scale that has never been
attempted yet. Dear fellow! Shall I tell you what he said when he left me
here? Noble words--I call them noble words. 'Oscar! I go to make our
assumed name famous. You shall be honorably known--you shall be
illustrious, as the brother of Nugent Dubourg.' Do you think I could
stand in the way of such a career as that? After what he has sacrificed
for _me,_ could I let Such a Man stagnate here--for no better purpose
than to keep me company? What does it matter about _my_ feeling lonely?
Who am I? Oh, if you had seen how he bore with the horrible notoriety
that followed us, after the trial! He was constantly stared at and
pointed at, for _me._ Not a word of complaint escaped him. He snapped his
fingers at it. 'That for public opinion!' he said. What strength of
mind--eh? From one place after another we moved and moved, and still
there were the photographs, and the newspapers, and the whole infamous
story ('romance in real life,' they called it), known beforehand to
everybody. _He_ never lost heart. 'We shall find a place yet' (that was
the cheerful way he put it); 'you have nothing to do with it, Oscar; you
are safe in my hands; I promise you exactly the place of refuge you
want.' It was he who got all the information, and found out this lonely
part of England where you live. _I_ thought it pretty as we wandered
about the hills--it wasn't half grand enough for _him._ We lost
ourselves. I began to feel nervous. He didn't mind it a bit. "You have Me
with you," he said; "My luck is always to be depended on. Mark what I
say! We shall stumble on a village!" You will hardly believe me--in ten
minutes more, we stumbled, exactly as he had foretold, on this place. He
didn't leave me--when I had prevailed on him to go--without a
recommendation. He recommended me to the landlord of the inn here. He
said, "My brother is delicate; my brother wishes to live in retirement;
you will oblige me by looking after my brother." Wasn't it kind? The
landlord seemed to be quite affected by it. Nugent cried when he took
leave of me. Ah, what would I not give to have a heart like his and a
mind like his! It's something--isn't it?--to have a face like him. I
often say that to myself when I look in the glass. Excuse my running on
in this way. When I once begin to talk of Nugent, I don't know when to
One thing, at any rate, was plainly discernible in this otherwise
inscrutable young man. He adored his twin-brother.
It would have been equally clear to me that Mr. Nugent Dubourg deserved
to be worshipped, if I could have reconciled to my mind his leaving his
brother to shift for himself in such a place as Dimchurch. I was obliged
to remind myself of the admirable service which he had rendered at the
trial, before I could decide to do him the justice of suspending my
opinion of him, in his absence. Having accomplished this act of
magnanimity, I took advantage of the first opportunity to change the
subject. The most tiresome information that I am acquainted with, is the
information which tells us of the virtues of an absent person--when that
absent person happens to be a stranger.
"Is it true that you have taken Browndown for six months?" I asked. "Are
you really going to settle at Dimchurch?"
"Yes--if you keep my secret," he answered. "The people here know nothing
about me. Don't, pray don't, tell them who I am! You will drive me away,
if you do."
"I must tell Miss Finch who you are," I said.
"No! no! no!" he exclaimed eagerly. "I can't bear the idea of her knowing
it. I have been so horribly degraded. What will she think of me?" He
burst into another explosion of rhapsodies on the subject of
Lucilla--mixed up with renewed petitions to me to keep his story
concealed from everybody. I lost all patience with his want of common
fortitude and common sense.
"Young Oscar, I should like to box your ears!" I said. "You are in a
villainously unwholesome state about this matter. Have you nothing else
to think of? Have you no profession? Are you not obliged to work for your
I spoke, as you perceive, with some force of expression--aided by a
corresponding asperity of voice and manner.
Mr. Oscar Dubourg looked at me with the puzzled air of a man who feels an
overflow of new ideas forcing itself into his mind. He modestly admitted
the degrading truth. From his childhood upwards, he had only to put his
hand in his pocket, and to find the money there, without any preliminary
necessity of earning it first. His father had been a fashionable
portrait-painter, and had married one of his sitters--an heiress. Oscar
and Nugent had been left in the detestable position of independent
gentlemen. The dignity of labor was a dignity unknown to these degraded
young men. "I despise a wealthy idler," I said to Oscar, with my
republican severity. "You want the ennobling influence of labor to make a
man of you. Nobody has a right to be idle--nobody has a right to be rich.
You would be in a more wholesome state of mind about yourself, my young
gentleman, if you had to earn your bread and cheese before you ate it."
He stared at me piteously. The noble sentiments which I had inherited
from Doctor Pratolungo, completely bewildered Mr. Oscar Dubourg.
"Don't be angry with me," he said, in his innocent way. "I couldn't eat
my cheese, if I did earn it. I can't digest cheese. Besides, I employ
myself as much as I can." He took his little golden vase from the table
behind him, and told me what I had already heard him tell Lucilla while I
was listening at the window. "You would have found me at work this
morning," he went on, "if the stupid people who send me my metal plates
had not made a mistake. The alloy, in the gold and silver both, is all
wrong this time. I must return the plates to be melted again before I can
do anything with them. They are all ready to go back to-day, when the
cart comes. If there are any laboring people here who want money, I'm
sure I will give them some of mine with the greatest pleasure. It isn't
my fault, ma'am, that my father married my mother. And how could I help
it if he left two thousand a year each to my brother and me?"
Two thousand a year each to his brother and him! And the illustrious
Pratolungo had never known what it was to have five pounds sterling at
his disposal before his union with Me!
I lifted my eyes to the ceiling. In my righteous indignation, I forgot
Lucilla and her curiosity about Oscar--I forgot Oscar and his horror of
Lucilla discovering who he was. I opened my lips to speak. In another
moment I should have launched my thunderbolts against the whole infamous
system of modern society, when I was silenced by the most extraordinary
and unexpected interruption that ever closed a woman's lips.
CHAPTER THE TENTH
First Appearance of Jicks
THERE walked in, at the open door of the room--softly, suddenly, and
composedly--a chubby female child, who could not possibly have been more
than three years old. She had no hat or cap on her head. A dirty pinafore
covered her from her chin to her feet. This amazing apparition advanced
into the middle of the room, holding hugged under one arm a ragged and
disreputable-looking doll; stared hard, first at Oscar, then at me;
advanced to my knees; laid the disreputable doll on my lap; and, pointing
to a vacant chair at my side, claimed the rights of hospitality in these
"Jicks will sit down."
How was it possible, under these circumstances, to attack the infamous
system of modern society? It was only possible to kiss "Jicks."
"Do you know who this is?" I inquired, as I lifted our visitor on to the
Oscar burst out laughing. Like me, he now saw this mysterious young lady
for the first time. Like me, he wondered what the extraordinary nick-name
under which she had presented herself could possibly mean.
We looked at the child. The child--with its legs stretched out straight
before it, terminating in a pair of little dusty boots with holes in
them--lifted its large round eyes, overshadowed by a penthouse of
unbrushed flaxen hair; looked gravely at us in return; and made a second
call on our hospitality, as follows:
"Jicks will have something to drink."
While Oscar ran into the kitchen for some milk, I succeeded in
discovering the identity of "Jicks."
Something--I cannot well explain what--in the manner in which the child
had drifted into the room with her doll, reminded me of the lymphatic
lady of the rectory, drifting backwards and forwards with the baby in one
hand and the novel in the other. I took the liberty of examining
"Jicks's" pinafore, and discovered the mark in one corner:--"Selina
Finch." Exactly as I had supposed, here was a member of Mrs. Finch's
numerous family. Rather a young member, as it struck me, to be wandering
hatless round the environs of Dimchurch, all by herself.
Oscar returned with the milk in a mug. The child--insisting on taking the
mug into her own hands--steadily emptied it to the last drop--recovered
her breath with a gasp--looked at me with a white mustache of milk on her
upper lip--and announced the conclusion of her visit, in these terms:
"Jicks will get down again."
I deposited our young friend on the floor. She took her doll, and stood
for a moment deep in thought. What was she going to do next? We were not
kept long in suspense. She suddenly put her little hot fat hand into
mine, and tried to pull me after her out of the room.
"What do you want?" I asked.
Jicks answered in one untranslatable compound word:
I suffered myself to be pulled out of the room--to see "Man-Gee-gee," to
play "Man-Gee-gee," or to eat "Man-Gee-gee," it was impossible to tell
which. I was pulled along the passage--I was pulled out to the front
door. There--having approached the house inaudibly to us, over the
grass--stood the horse, cart, and man, waiting to take the case of gold
and silver plates back to London. I looked at Oscar, who had followed me.
We now understood, not only the masterly compound word of Jicks
(signifying man and horse, and passing over cart as unimportant), but the
polite attention of Jicks in entering the house to inform us, after a
rest and a drink, of a circumstance which had escaped our notice. The
driver of the cart had, on his own acknowledgment, been investigated and
questioned by this extraordinary child; strolling up to the door of
Browndown to see what he was doing there. Jicks was a public character at
Dimchurch. The driver knew all about her. She had been nicknamed "Gipsy"
from her wandering habits, and had shortened the name in her own dialect,
into "Jicks." There was no keeping her in at the rectory, try how you
might: they had long since abandoned the effort in despair. Sooner or
later, she turned up again--or somebody brought her back--or one of the
sheep-dogs found her asleep under a bush, and gave the alarm. "What goes
on in that child's head," said the driver, regarding Jicks with a sort of
superstitious admiration, "the Lord only knows. She has a will of her
own, and a way of her own. She _is_ a child; and she _aint_ a child. At
three years of age, she's a riddle none of us can guess. And that's the
long and the short of what I know about her."
While this explanation was in progress, the carpenter who had nailed up
the case, and the carpenter's son, accompanying him, joined us in front
of the house. They followed Oscar in, and came out again, bearing the
heavy burden of precious metal--more than one man could conveniently
The case deposited in the cart, carpenter senior and carpenter junior got
in after it, wanting "a lift" to Brighton.
Carpenter senior, a big burly man, made a joke. "It's a lonely country
between this and Brighton, sir," he said to Oscar. Three of us will be
none too many to see your precious packing-case safe into the railway
station." Oscar took it seriously. "Are there any robbers in this
neighborhood?" he asked. "Lord love you, sir!" said the driver, "robbers
would starve in these parts; we have got nothing worth thieving here."
Jicks--still watching the proceedings with an interest which allowed no
detail to escape unnoticed--assumed the responsibility of starting the
men on their journey. The odd child waved her chubby hand imperiously to
her friend the driver, and cried in her loudest voice, "Away!" The driver
touched his hat with comic respect. "All right, miss--time's money, aint
it?" He cracked his whip, and the cart rolled off noiselessly over the
thick close turf of the South Downs.
It was time for me to go back to the rectory, and to restore the
wandering Jicks, for the time being, to the protection of home. I
returned to Oscar, to say good-bye.
"I wish I was going back with you," he said.
"You will be as free as I am to come and to go at the rectory," I
answered, "when they know what has passed this morning between you and
me. In your own interests, I am determined to tell them who you are. You
have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, by my speaking out. Clear
your mind of fancies and suspicions that are unworthy of you. By
to-morrow we shall be good neighbors; by the end of the week we shall be
good friends. For the present, as we say in France, _au revoir!_"
I turned to take Jicks by the hand. While I had been speaking to Oscar
the child had slipped away from me. Not a sign of her was to be seen.
Before we could stir a step to search for our lost Gipsy, her voice
reached our ears, raised shrill and angry in the regions behind us, at
the side of the house.
"Go away!" we heard the child cry out impatiently. "Ugly men, go away!"
We turned the corner, and discovered two shabby strangers, resting
themselves against the side wall of the house. Their cadaverous faces,
their brutish expressions, and their frowzy clothes, proclaimed them, to
my eye, as belonging to the vilest blackguard type that the civilized
earth has yet produced--the blackguard of London growth. There they
lounged, with their hands in their pockets and their backs against the
wall, as if they were airing themselves on the outer side of a
public-house--and there stood Jicks, with her legs planted wide apart on
the turf, asserting the rights of property (even at that early age!) and
ordering the rascals off.
"What are you doing there?" asked Oscar sharply.
One of the men appeared to be on the point of making an insolent answer.
The other--the younger and the viler-looking villain of the two--checked
him, and spoke first.
"We've had a longish walk, sir," said the fellow, with an impudent
assumption of humility; "and we've took the liberty of resting our backs
against your wall, and feasting our eyes on the beauty of your young lady
He pointed to the child. Jicks shook her fist at him, and ordered him off
more fiercely than ever.
"There's an inn in the village," said Oscar. "Rest there, if you
please--my house is not an inn."
The elder man made a second effort to speak, beginning with an oath. The
younger checked him again.
"Shut up, Jim!" said the superior blackguard of the two. "The gentleman
recommends the tap at the inn. Come and drink the gentleman's health." He
turned to the child, and took off his hat to her with a low bow. "Wish
you good morning, Miss! You're just the style, you are, that I admire.
Please don't engage yourself to be married till I come back."
His savage companion was so tickled by this delicate pleasantry that he
burst suddenly into a roar of laughter. Arm in arm, the two ruffians
walked off together in the direction of the village. Our funny little
Jicks became a tragic and terrible Jicks, all on a sudden. The child
resented the insolence of the two men as if she really understood it. I
never saw so young a creature in such a furious passion before. She
picked up a stone, and threw it at them before I could stop her. She
screamed, and stamped her tiny feet alternately on the ground, till she
was purple in the face. She threw herself down, and rolled in fury on the
grass. Nothing pacified her but a rash promise of Oscar's (which he was
destined to hear of for many a long day afterwards) to send for the
police, and to have the two men soundly beaten for daring to laugh at
Jicks. She got up from the ground, and dried her eyes with her knuckles,
and fixed a warning look on Oscar. "Mind!" said this curious child, with
her bosom still heaving under the dirty pinafore, "the men are to be
beaten. And Jicks is to see it."
I said nothing to Oscar, at the time, but I felt some secret uneasiness
on the way home--an uneasiness inspired by the appearance of the two men
in the neighborhood of Browndown.
It was impossible to say how long they might have been lurking about the
outside of the house, before the child discovered them. They might have
heard, through the open window, what Oscar had said to me on the subject
of his plates of precious metal; and they might have seen the heavy
packing-case placed in the cart. I felt no apprehension about the safe
arrival of the case at Brighton; the three men in the cart were men
enough to take good care of it. My fears were for the future. Oscar was
living, entirely by himself, in a lonely house, more than half a mile
distant from the village. His fancy for chasing in the precious metals
might have its dangers, as well as its attractions, if it became known
beyond the pastoral limits of Dimchurch. Advancing from one suspicion to
another, I asked myself if the two men had roamed by mere accident into
our remote part of the world--or whether they had deliberately found
their way to Browndown with a purpose in view. Having this doubt in my
mind, and happening to encounter the old nurse, Zillah, in the garden as
I entered the rectory gates with my little charge, I put the question to
her plainly, "Do you see many strangers at Dimchurch?"
"Strangers?" repeated the old woman. "Excepting yourself, ma'am, we see
no strangers here, from one year's end to another."
I determined to say a warning word to Oscar before his precious metals
were sent back to Browndown.
CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH
LUCILLA was at the piano when I entered the sitting-room.
"I wanted you of all things," she said. "I have sent all over the house
in search of you. Where have you been?"
I told her.
She sprang to her feet with a cry of delight.
"You have persuaded him to trust you--you have discovered everything. You
only said 'I have been at Browndown'--and I heard it in your voice. Out
with it! out with it!"
She never moved--she seemed hardly to breathe--while I was telling her
all that had passed at the interview between Oscar and me. As soon as I
had done, she got up in a violent hurry--flushed and eager--and made
straight for her bedroom door.
"What are you going to do?" I asked.
"I want my hat and my stick," she answered.
"You are going out?"
"Can you ask the question? To Browndown of course!"
I begged her to wait a moment, and hear a word or two that I had to say.
It is, I suppose, almost needless to add that my object in speaking to
her was to protest against the glaring impropriety of her paying a second
visit, in one day, to a man who was a stranger to her. I declared, in the
plainest terms, that such a proceeding would be sufficient, in the
estimation of any civilized community, to put her reputation in peril.
The result of my interference was curious and interesting in the extreme.
It showed me that the virtue called Modesty (I am not speaking of
Decency, mind) is a virtue of purely artificial growth; and that the
successful cultivation of it depends in the first instance, not on the
influence of the tongue, but on the influence of the eye.
Suppose the case of an average young lady (conscious of feeling a first
love) to whom I might have spoken in the sense that I have just
mentioned--what would she have done?
She would assuredly have shown some natural and pretty confusion, and
would, in all human probability, have changed color more or less while
she was listening to me. Lucilla's charming face revealed but one
expression--an expression of disappointment, slightly mixed perhaps with
surprise. I believed her to be then, what I knew her to be afterwards, as
pure a creature as ever walked the earth. And yet, of the natural and
becoming confusion, of the little inevitable feminine changes of color
which I had expected to see, not so much as a vestige appeared--and this,
remember, in the case of a person of unusually sensitive and impulsive
nature: quick, on the most trifling occasions, to feel and to express its
feeling in no ordinary degree.
What did it mean?
It meant that here was one strange side shown to me of the terrible
affliction that darkened her life. It meant that modesty is essentially
the growth of our own consciousness of the eyes of others judging us--and
that blindness is never bashful, for the one simple reason that blindness
cannot see. The most modest girl in existence is bolder with her lover in
the dark than in the light. The female model who "sits" for the first
time in a drawing academy, and who shrinks from the ordeal, is persuaded,
in the last resort, to enter the students' room by having a bandage bound
over her eyes. My poor Lucilla had always the bandage over her eyes. My
poor Lucilla was never to meet her lover in the light. She had grown up
with the passions of a woman--and yet, she had never advanced beyond the
fearless and primitive innocence of a child. Ah, if ever there was a
sacred charge confided to any mortal creature, here surely was a sacred
charge confided to Me! I could not endure to see the poor pretty blind
face turned so insensibly towards mine, after such words as I had just
said to her. She was standing within my reach. I took her by the arm, and
made her sit on my knee. "My dear!" I said, very earnestly, "you must not
go to him again to-day."
"I have got so much to say to him," she answered impatiently, "I want to
tell him how deeply I feel for him, and how anxious I am to make his life
a happier one if I can."
"My dear Lucilla! you can't say this to a young man. It is as good as
telling him, in plain words, that you are fond of him!"
"I _am_ fond of him."
"Hush! hush! Keep it to yourself, until you are sure that _he_ is fond of
_you._ It is the man's place, my love--not the woman's--to own the truth
first in matters of this sort."
"That is very hard on the women. If they feel it first, they ought to own
it first." She paused for a moment, considering with herself--and
abruptly got off my knee. "I _must_ speak to him!" she burst out. "I
_must_ tell him that I have heard his story, and that I think all the
better of him after it, instead of the worse!"
She was again on her way to get her hat. My only chance of stopping her
was to invent a compromise.
"Write him a note," I said--and then suddenly remembered that she was
blind. "You shall dictate," I added; "and I will hold the pen. Be content
with that for to-day. For my sake, Lucilla!"
She yielded--not very willingly, poor thing. But she jealously declined
to let me hold the pen.
"My first note to him must be all written by me," she said. "I can
write--in my own roundabout way. It's long and tiresome; but still I can
do it. Come and see."
She led the way to a writing-table in a corner of the room, and sat for
awhile with the pen in her hand, thinking. Her irresistible smile broke
suddenly like a glow of light over her "Ah!" she exclaimed, "I know how
to tell him what I think."
Guiding the pen in her right hand with the fingers of her left she wrote
slowly, in large childish characters, these words:--DEAR MR. OSCAR,--I
have heard all about you. Please send the little gold vase.--Your friend,
She enclosed and directed the letter, and clapped her hands for joy. "He
will know what _that_ means!" she said gaily.
It was useless to attempt making a second remonstrance. I rang the bell,
under protest (imagine her receiving a present from a gentleman to whom
she had spoken for the first time that morning!)--and the groom was sent
off to Browndown with the letter. In making this concession, I privately
said to myself, "I shall keep a tight hand over Oscar; he is the
manageable person of the two!"
The interval before the return of the groom was not an easy interval to
fill up. I proposed some music. Lucilla was still too full of her new
interest to be able to give her attention to anything else. She suddenly
remembered that her father and her step-mother ought both to be informed
that Mr. Dubourg was a perfectly presentable person at the rectory: she
decided on writing to her father.
On this occasion, she made no difficulty about permitting me to hold the
pen, while she told me what to write. We produced between us rather a
flighty, enthusiastic, high-flown sort of letter. I felt by no means sure
that we should raise a favorable impression of our new neighbor in the
mind of Reverend Finch. That was, however, not my affair. I appeared to
excellent advantage in the matter, as the judicious foreign lady who had
insisted on making inquiries. For the rest, it was a point of honor with
me--writing for a person who was blind--not to change a single word in
the sentences which Lucilla dictated to me. The letter completed, I wrote
the address of the house in Brighton at which Mr. Finch then happened to
be staying; and I was next about to close the envelope in due
course--when Lucilla stopped me.
"Wait a little," she said. "Don't close the letter yet."
I wondered why the envelope was to be left open, and why Lucilla looked a
little confused when she forbade me to close it. Another unexpected
revelation of the influence of their affliction on the natures of the
blind, was waiting to enlighten me on those two points.
After consultation between us, it had been decided, at Lucilla's express
request, that I should inform Mrs. Finch that the mystery at Browndown
was now cleared up. Lucilla openly owned to having no great relish for
the society of her step-mother, or for the duty invariably devolving on
anybody who was long in the company of that fertile lady, of either
finding her handkerchief or holding her baby. A duplicate key of the door
of communication between the two sides of the house was given to me; and
I left the room.
Before performing my errand, I went for a minute into my bedchamber to
put away my hat and parasol. Returning into the corridor, and passing the
door of the sitting-room, I found that it had been left ajar by some one
who had entered after I had left; and I heard Lucilla's voice say, "Take
that letter out of the envelope, and read it to me."
I pursued my way along the passage--very slowly, I own--and I heard the
first sentences of the letter which I had written under Lucilla's
dictation, read aloud to her in the old nurse's voice. The incurable
suspicion of the blind--always abandoned to the same melancholy distrust
of the persons about them; always doubting whether some deceit is not
being practiced on them by the happy people who can see--had urged
Lucilla, even in the trifling matter of the letter, to put me to the
test, behind my back. She was using Zillah's eyes to make sure that I had
really written all that she had dictated to me--exactly as, on many an
after occasion, she used my eyes to make sure of Zillah's complete
performance of tasks allotted to her in the house. No experience of the
faithful devotion of those who live with them ever thoroughly satisfies
the blind. Ah, poor things, always in the dark! always in the dark!
In opening the door of communication, it appeared as if I had also opened
all the doors of all the bedchambers in the rectory. The moment I stepped
into the passage, out popped the children from one room after another,
like rabbits out of their burrows.
"Where is your mamma?" I asked.
The rabbits answered by one universal shriek, and popped back again into
I went down the stairs to try my luck on the ground floor. The window on
the landing had a view over the front garden. I looked out, and saw the
irrepressible Arab of the family, our small chubby Jicks, wandering in
the garden, all by herself; evidently on the watch for her next
opportunity of escaping from the house. This curious little creature
cared nothing for the society of the other children. Indoors, she sat
gravely retired in corners, taking her meals (whenever she could) on the
floor. Out of doors, she roamed till she could walk no longer, and then
lay down anywhere, like a little animal, to sleep. She happened to look
up as I stood at the window. Seeing me, she waved her hand indicatively
in the direction of the rectory gate. "What is it?" I asked. The Arab
answered, "Jicks wants to get out."
At the same moment, the screaming of a baby below, informed me that I was
in the near neighborhood of Mrs. Finch.
I advanced towards the noise, and found myself standing before the open
door of a large store-room at the extreme end of the passage. In the
middle of the room (issuing household commodities to the cook) sat Mrs.
Finch. She was robed this time in a petticoat and a shawl; and she had
the baby and the novel laid together flat on their backs in her lap.
"Eight pounds of soap? Where does it all go to I wonder!" groaned Mrs.
Finch to the accompaniment of the baby's screams. "Five pounds of soda
for the laundry? One would think we did the washing for the whole
village. Six pounds of candles? You must eat candles, like the Russians:
who ever heard of burning six pounds of candles in a week? Ten pounds of
sugar? Who gets it all? I never taste sugar from one year's end to
another. Waste, nothing but waste." Here Mrs. Finch looked my way, and
saw me at the door. "Oh? Madame Pratolungo? How d'ye do? Don't go
away--I've just done. A bottle of blacking? My shoes are a disgrace to
the house. Five pounds of rice? If I had Indian servants, five pounds of
rice would last them for a year. There! take the things away into the
kitchen. Excuse my dress, Madame Pratolungo. How _am_ I to dress, with
all I have got to do? What do you say? My time must indeed be fully
occupied? Ah, that's just where it is! When you have lost half an hour in
the morning, and can't pick it up again--to say nothing of having the
store-room on your mind, and the children's dinner late, and the baby
fractious--one slips on a petticoat and a shawl, and gives it up in
despair. What _can_ I have done with my handkerchief? Would you mind
looking among those bottles behind you? Oh, here it is, under the baby.
Might I trouble you to hold my book for one moment? I think the baby will
be quieter if I put him the other way." Here Mrs. Finch turned the baby
over on his stomach, and patted him briskly on the back. At this change
in his circumstances, the unappeasable infant only roared louder than
ever. His mother appeared to be perfectly unaffected by the noise. This
resigned domestic martyr looked placidly up at me, as I stood before her,
bewildered, with the novel in my hand. "Ah, that's a very interesting
story," she went on. "Plenty of love in it, you know. You have come for
it, haven't you? I remember I promised to lend it to you yesterday."
Before I could answer the cook appeared again, in search of more
household commodities. Mrs. Finch repeated the woman's demands, one by
one as she made them, in tones of despair. "Another bottle of vinegar? I
believe you water the garden with vinegar! More starch? The Queen's
washing, I'm firmly persuaded, doesn't come to so much as ours.
Sandpaper? Sandpaper means wastepaper in this profligate house. I shall
tell your master. I really _can_ NOT make the housekeeping money last at
this rate. Don't go, Madame Pratolungo! I shall have done directly. What!
You must go! Oh, then, put the book back on my lap, please--and look
behind that sack of flour. The first volume slipped down there this
morning, and I haven't had time to pick it up since. (Sandpaper! Do you
think I'm made of sandpaper!) Have you found the first volume? Ah, that's
it. All over flour! there's a hole in the sack I suppose. Twelve sheets
of sandpaper used in a week! What for? I defy any of you to tell me what
for. Waste! waste! shameful sinful waste!" At this point in Mrs. Finch's
lamentations, I made my escape with the book, and left the subject of
Oscar Dubourg to be introduced at a fitter opportunity. The last words I
heard, through the screams of the baby, as I ascended the stairs, were
words still relating to the week's prodigal consumption of sandpaper. Let
us drop a tear, if you please, over the woes of Mrs. Finch, and leave the
British matron apostrophizing domestic economy in the odorous seclusion
of her own storeroom.
I had just related to Lucilla the failure of my expedition to the other
side of the house, when the groom returned, bringing with him the gold
vase, and a letter.
Oscar's answer was judiciously modeled to imitate the brevity of
Lucilla's note. "You have made me a happy man again. When may I follow
the vase?" There, in two sentences, was the whole letter.
I had another discussion with Lucilla, relating to the propriety of our
receiving Oscar in Reverend Finch's absence. It was only possible to
persuade her to wait until she had at least heard from her father, by
consenting to take another walk towards Browndown the next morning. This
new concession satisfied her. She had received his present; she had
exchanged letters with him--that was enough to content her for the time.
"Do you think he is getting fond of me?" she asked, the last thing at
night; taking her gold vase to bed with her, poor dear--exactly as she
might have taken a new toy to bed with her when she was a child. "Give
him time, my love," I answered. "It isn't everybody who can travel at
your pace in such a serious matter as this." My banter had no effect upon
her. "Go away with your candle," she said. "The darkness makes no
difference to _me._ I can see him in my thoughts." She nestled her head
comfortably on the pillows, and tapped me saucily on the cheek, as I bent
over her. "Own the advantage I have over you now," she said. "_You_ can't
see at night without your candle. _I_ could go all over the house, at
this moment, without making a false step anywhere."
When I left her that night, I sincerely believe "poor Miss Finch" was the
happiest woman in England.
CHAPTER THE TWELFTH
Mr. Finch smells Money
A DOMESTIC alarm deferred for some hours our proposed walk to Browndown.
The old nurse, Zillah, was taken ill in the night. She was so little
relieved by such remedies as we were able to apply, that it became
necessary to summon the doctor in the morning. He lived at some distance
from Dimchurch; and he had to send back to his own house for the
medicines required. As a necessary result of these delays, it was close
on one o'clock in the afternoon before the medical remedies had their
effect, and the nurse was sufficiently recovered to permit of our leaving
her in the servant's care.
We had dressed for our walk (Lucilla being ready long before I was), and
had got as far as the garden gate on our way to Browndown--when we heard,
on the other side of the wall, a man's voice, pitched in superbly deep
bass tones, pronouncing these words:
"Believe me, my dear sir, there is not the least difficulty. I have only
to send the cheque to my bankers at Brighton."
Lucilla started, and caught hold of me by the arm.
"My father!" she exclaimed in the utmost astonishment. "Who is he talking
The key of the gate was in my possession. "What a grand voice your father
has got!" I said, as I took the key out of my pocket. I opened the gate.
There, confronting us on the threshold, arm in arm, as if they had known
each other from childhood, stood Lucilla's father, and--Oscar Dubourg!
Reverend Finch opened the proceedings by folding his daughter
affectionately in his arms.
"My dear child!" he said, "I received your letter--your most interesting
letter--this morning. The moment I read it I felt that I owed a duty to
Mr. Dubourg. As pastor of Dimchurch, it was clearly incumbent on me to
comfort a brother in affliction. I really felt, so to speak, a longing to
hold out the right hand of friendship to this sorely-tried man. I
borrowed my friend's carriage, and drove straight to Browndown. We have
had a long and cordial talk. I have brought Mr. Dubourg home with me. He
must be one of us. My dear child, Mr. Dubourg must be one of us. Let me
introduce you. My eldest daughter--Mr. Dubourg."
He performed the ceremony of presentation, with the most impenetrable
gravity, as if he really believed that Oscar and his daughter now met
each other for the first time!
Never had I set my eyes on a meaner-looking man than this rector. In
height he barely reached up to my shoulder. In substance, he was so
miserably lean that he looked the living picture of starvation. He would
have made his fortune in the streets of London, if he had only gone out
and shown himself to the public in ragged clothes. His face was deeply
pitted with the small-pox. His short grisly hair stood up stiff and
straight on his head like hair fixed in a broom. His small whitish-grey
eyes had a restless, inquisitive, hungry look in them, indescribably
irritating and uncomfortable to see. The one personal distinction he
possessed consisted in his magnificent bass voice--a voice which had no
sort of right to exist in the person who used it. Until one became
accustomed to the contrast, there was something perfectly unbearable in
hearing those superb big tones come out of that contemptible little body.
The famous Latin phrase conveys, after all, the best description I can
give of Reverend Finch. He was in very truth--Voice, and nothing else.
"Madame Pratolungo, no doubt?" he went on, turning to me. "Delighted to
make the acquaintance of my daughter's judicious companion and friend.
You must be one of us--like Mr. Dubourg. Let me introduce you. Madame
Pratolungo--Mr. Dubourg. This is the old side of the rectory, my dear
sir. We had it put in repair--let me see: how long since?--we had it put
in repair just after Mrs. Finch's last confinement but one." (I soon
discovered that Mr. Finch reckoned time by his wife's confinements.) "You
will find it very curious and interesting inside. Lucilla, my child! (It
has pleased Providence, Mr. Dubourg, to afflict my daughter with
blindness. Inscrutable Providence!) Lucilla, this is your side of the
house. Take Mr. Dubourg's arm, and lead the way. Do the honors, my child.
Madame Pratolungo, let me offer you my arm. I regret that I was not
present, when you arrived, to welcome you at the rectory. Consider
yourself--do pray consider yourself--one of us." He stopped, and lowered
his prodigious voice to a confidential growl. "Delightful person, Mr.
Dubourg. I can't tell you how pleased I am with him. And what a sad
story! Cultivate Mr. Dubourg, my dear madam. As a favor to Me--cultivate
He said this with an appearance of the deepest anxiety--and more, he
emphasized it by affectionately squeezing my hand.
I have met with a great many audacious people in my time. But the
audacity of Reverend Finch--persisting to our faces in the assumption
that he had been the first to discover our neighbor, and that Lucilla and
I were perfectly incapable of understanding and appreciating Oscar,
unassisted by him--was entirely without a parallel in my experience. I
asked myself what his conduct in this matter--so entirely unexpected by
Lucilla, as well as by me--could possibly mean. My knowledge of his
character, obtained through his daughter, and my memory of what we heard
him say on the other side of the wall, suggested that his conduct might
We assembled in the sitting-room.
The only person among us who was quite at his ease was Mr. Finch. He
never let his daughter and his guest alone for a single moment. "My
child, show Mr. Dubourg this; show Mr. Dubourg that. Mr. Dubourg, my
daughter possesses this; my daughter possesses that." So he went on, all
round the room. Oscar appeared to feel a little daunted by the
overwhelming attentions of his new friend. Lucilla was, as I could see,
secretly irritated at finding herself authorized by her father to pay
those attentions to Oscar which she would have preferred offering to him
of her own accord. As for me, I was already beginning to weary of the
patronizing politeness of the little priest with the big voice. It was a
relief to us all, when a message on domestic affairs arrived in the midst
of the proceedings from Mrs. Finch, requesting to see her husband
immediately on the rectory side of the house.
Forced to leave us, Reverend Finch made his farewell speech; taking
Oscar's hand into a kind of paternal custody in both his own hands. He
spoke with such sonorous cordiality, that the china and glass ornaments
on Lucilla's chiffonier actually jingled an accompaniment to his booming
"Come to tea, my dear sir. Without ceremony. To-night at six. We must
keep up your spirits, Mr. Dubourg. Cheerful society, and a little music.
Lucilla, my dear child, you will play for Mr. Dubourg, won't you? Madame
Pratolungo will do the same--at My request--I am sure. We shall make even
dull Dimchurch agreeable to our new neighbor before we have done. What
does the poet say? 'Fixed to no spot is happiness sincere; 'tis nowhere
to be found, or everywhere.' How cheering! how true! Good day; good day."
The glasses left off jingling. Mr. Finch's wizen little legs took him out
of the room.
The moment his back was turned, we both assailed Oscar with the same
question. What had passed at the interview between the rector and
himself? Men are all alike incompetent to satisfy women, when the
question between the sexes is a question of small details. A woman, in
Oscar's position, would have been able to relate to us, not only the
whole conversation with the rector, but every little trifling incident
which had noticeably illustrated it. As things were, we could only
extract from our unsatisfactory man the barest outline of the interview.
The coloring and the filling-in we were left to do for ourselves.
Oscar had, on his own confession, acknowledged his visitor's kindness, by
opening his whole heart to the sympathizing rector, and placing that wary
priest and excellent man of business in possession of the completest
knowledge of all his affairs. In return, Reverend Finch had spoken in the
frankest manner, on his side. He had drawn a sad picture of the
poverty-stricken condition of Dimchurch, viewed as an ecclesiastical
endowment; and he had spoken in such feeling terms of the neglected
condition of the ancient and interesting church, that poor simple Oscar,
smitten with pity, had produced his cheque-book, and had subscribed on
the spot towards the Fund for repairing the ancient round tower. They had
been still occupied with the subject of the tower and the subscription,
when we had opened the garden gate and had let them in. Hearing this, I
now understood the motives under which our reverend friend was acting as
well as if they had been my own. It was plain to my mind that the rector
had taken his financial measure of Oscar, and had privately satisfied
himself, that if he encouraged the two young people in cultivating each
other's society, money (to use his own phrase) might come of it. He had,
as I believed, put forward "the round tower," in the first instance, as a
feeler; and he would follow it up, in due time, by an appeal of a more
personal nature to Oscar's well-filled purse. Brief, he was, in my
opinion, quite sharp enough (after having studied his young friend's
character) to foresee an addition to his income, rather than a
subtraction from it, if the relations between Oscar and his daughter
ended in a marriage.
Whether Lucilla arrived, on her side, at the same conclusion as mine, is
what I cannot venture positively to declare. I can only relate that she
looked ill at ease as the facts came out; and that she took the first
opportunity of extinguishing her father, viewed as a topic of
As for Oscar, it was enough for him that he had already secured his place
as friend of the house. He took leave of us in the highest spirits. I had
my eye on them when he and Lucilla said good-bye. She squeezed his hand.
I saw her do it. At the rate at which things were now going on, I began
to ask myself whether Reverend Finch would not appear at tea-time in his
robes of office, and celebrate the marriage of his "sorely-tried" young
friend between the first cup and the second.
At our little social assembly in the evening, nothing passed worthy of
Lucilla and I (I cannot resist recording this) were both beautifully
dressed, in honor of the occasion; Mrs. Finch serving us to perfection,
by way of contrast. She had made an immense effort--she was half dressed.
Her evening costume was an ancient green silk skirt (with traces of past
babies visible on it to an experienced eye), topped by the everlasting
blue merino jacket. "I lose everything belonging to me," Mrs. Finch
whispered in my ear. "I have got a body to this dress, and it can't be
found anywhere." The rector's prodigious voice was never silent: the
pompous and plausible little man talked, talked, talked, in deeper and
deeper bass, until the very teacups on the table shuddered under the
influence of him. The elder children, admitted to the family festival,
ate till they could eat no more; stared till they could stare no more;
yawned till they could yawn no more--and then went to bed. Oscar got on
well with everybody. Mrs. Finch was naturally interested in him as one of
twins--though she was also surprised and disappointed at hearing that his
mother had begun and ended with his brother and himself. As for Lucilla,
she sat in silent happiness, absorbed in the inexhaustible delight of
hearing Oscar's voice. She found as many varieties of expression in
listening to her beloved tones, as the rest of us find in looking at our
beloved face. We had music later in the evening--and I then heard, for
the first time, how charmingly Lucilla played. She was a born musician,
with a delicacy and subtlety of touch such as few even of the greatest
_virtuosi_ possess. Oscar was enchanted. In a word, the evening was a
I contrived, when our guest took his departure, to say my contemplated
word to him in private, on the subject of his solitary position at
Those doubts of Oscar's security in his lonely house, which I have
described as having been suggested to me by the discovery of the two
ruffians lurking under the wall, still maintained their place in my mind;
and still urged me to warn him to take precautions of some sort, before
the precious metals which he had sent to London to be melted, came back
to him again. He gave me the opportunity I wanted, by looking at his
watch, and apologizing for protracting his visit to a terribly late hour,
for the country--the hour of midnight.
"Is your servant sitting up for you?" I asked, assuming to be ignorant of
his domestic arrangements.
He pulled out of his pocket a great clumsy key.
"This is my only servant at Browndown," he said. "By four or five in the
afternoon, the people at the inn have done all for me that I want. After
that time, there is nobody in the house but myself."
He shook hands with us. The rector escorted him as far as the front door.
I slipped out while they were saying their last words, and joined Oscar,
when he advanced alone into the garden.
"I want a breath of fresh air," I said. "I'll go with you as far as the
He began to talk of Lucilla directly. I surprised him by returning
abruptly to the subject of his position at Browndown.
"Do you think it's wise," I asked, "to be all by yourself at night in
such a lonely house as yours? Why don't you have a manservant?"
"I detest strange servants," he answered. "I infinitely prefer being by
"When do you expect your gold and silver plates to be returned to you?"
"In about a week."
"What would be the value of them, in money--at a rough guess?"
"At a rough guess--about seventy or eighty pounds."
"In a week's time then," I said, "you will have seventy or eighty pounds'
worth of property at Browndown. Property which a thief need only put into
the melting-pot, to have no fear of its being traced into his hands."
Oscar stopped, and looked at me.
"What _can_ you be thinking of!" he asked. "There are no thieves in this
"There are thieves in other places," I answered. "And they may come here.
Have you forgotten those two men whom we caught hanging about Browndown
He smiled. I had recalled to him a humourous association--nothing more.
"It was not we who caught them," he said. "It was that strange child.
What do you say to my having Jicks to sleep in the house and take care of
"I am not joking," I rejoined. "I never met with two more ill-looking
villains in my life. The window was open when you were telling me about
the necessity for melting the plates again. They may know as well as we
do, that your gold and silver will be returned to you after a time."
"What an imagination you have got!" he exclaimed. "You see a couple of
shabby excursionists from Brighton, who have
wandered to Dimchurch--and you instantly transform them into a pair of
housebreakers in a conspiracy to rob and murder me! You and my brother
Nugent would just suit each other. His imagination runs away with him,
exactly like yours."
"Take my advice," I answered gravely. "Don't persist in sleeping at
Browndown without a living creature in the house with you."
He was in wild good spirits. He kissed my hand, and thanked me in his
voluble exaggerated way for the interest that I took in him. "All right!"
he said, as he opened the gate. "I'll have a living creature in the house
with me. I'll get a dog."
We parted. I had told him what was on my mind. I could do no more. After
all, it might be quite possible that his view was the right one, and mine
CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH
Second Appearance of Jicks
FIVE more days passed.
During that interval, we saw our new neighbor constantly. Either Oscar
came to the rectory, or we went to Browndown. Reverend Finch waited, with
a masterly assumption of suspecting nothing, until the relations between
the two young people were ripe enough to develop into relations of
acknowledged love. They were already (under Lucilla's influence)
advancing rapidly to that point. You are not to blame my poor blind girl,
if you please, for frankly encouraging the man she loved. He was the most
backward man--viewed as a suitor--whom I ever met with. The fonder he
grew of her, the more timid and self-distrustful he became. I own I don't
like a modest man; and I cannot honestly say that Mr. Oscar Dubourg, on
closer acquaintance, advanced himself much in my estimation. However,
Lucilla understood him, and that was enough. She was determined to have
the completest possible image of him in her mind. Everybody in the house
who had seen him (the children included) she examined and cross-examined
on the subject of his personal appearance, as she had already examined
and cross-examined me. His features and his color, his height and his
breadth; his ornaments and his clothes--on all these points she collected
evidence, in every direction and in the smallest detail. It was an
especial relief and delight to her to hear, on all sides, that his
complexion was fair. There was no reasoning with her against her blind
horror of dark shades of color, whether seen in men, women, or things.
She was quite unable to account for it; she could only declare it.
"I have the strangest instincts of my own about some things," she said to
me one day. "For instance, I knew that Oscar was bright and fair--I mean
I felt it in myself--on that delightful evening when I first heard the
sound of his voice. It went straight from my ear to my heart; and it
described him, just as the rest of you have described him to me since.
Mrs. Finch tells me his complexion is lighter than mine. Do you think so
too? I am so glad to hear that he is fairer than I am! Did you ever meet
before with a person like me? I have the oddest ideas in this blind head
of mine. I associate life and beauty with light colors, and death and
crime with dark colors. If I married a man with a dark complexion, and if
I recovered my sight afterwards, I should run away from him."
This singular prejudice of hers against dark people was a little annoying
to me on personal grounds. It was a sort of reflection on my own taste.
Between ourselves, the late Doctor Pratolungo was of a fine mahogany
brown all over.
As for affairs in general at Dimchurch, my chronicle of the five days
finds little to dwell on that is worth recording.
We were not startled by any second appearance of the two ruffians at
Browndown--neither was any change made by Oscar in his domestic
establishment. He was favored with more than one visit from our little
wandering Jicks. On each occasion, the child gravely reminded him of his
rash promise to appeal to the police, and visit with corporal punishment
the two ugly strangers who had laughed at her. When were the men to be
beaten? and when was Jicks to see it? Such were the serious questions
with which this young lady regularly opened the proceedings, on each
occasion when she favored Oscar with a morning call.
On the sixth day, the gold and silver plates were returned to Browndown
from the manufactory in London.
The next morning a note arrived for me from Oscar. It ran thus:--
"DEAR MADAME PRATOLUNGO,--I regret to inform you that nothing happened to
me last night. My locks and bolts are in their usual good order; my gold
and silver plates are safe in the workshop: and I myself am now eating my
breakfast with an uncut throat--Yours ever,
After this, there was no more to be said. Jicks might persist in
remembering the two ill-looking strangers. Older and wiser people
dismissed them from all further consideration.
Saturday came--making the tenth day since the memorable morning when I
had forced Oscar to disclose himself to me in the little side-room at
In the forenoon we had a visit from him at the rectory. In the afternoon
we went to Browndown, to see him begin a new piece of chasing in gold--a
casket for holding gloves--destined to take its place on Lucilla's
toilet-table when it was done. We left him industriously at work;
determined to go on as long as the daylight lasted.
Early in the evening, Lucilla sat down at her pianoforte; and I paid a
visit by appointment to the rectory side of the house.
Unhappy Mrs. Finch had determined to institute a complete reform of her
wardrobe. She had entreated me to give her the benefit of "my French
taste," in the capacity of confidential critic and adviser. "I can't
afford to buy any new things," said the poor lady. "But a deal might be
done in altering what I have got by me, if a clever person took the
matter up." Who could resist that piteous appeal? I resigned myself to
the baby, the novel, and the children in general; and (Reverend Finch
being out of the way, writing his sermon) I presented myself in Mrs.
Finch's parlor, full of ideas, with my scissors and my pattern-paper
ready in my hand.
We had only begun our operations, when one of the elder children arrived
with a message from the nursery.
It was tea-time; and, as usual, Jicks was missing. She was searched for,
first in the lower regions of the house; secondly in the garden. Not a
trace of her was to be discovered in either quarter. Nobody was surprised
or alarmed. We said, "Oh, dear, she has gone to Browndown again!"--and
immersed ourselves once more in the shabby recesses of Mrs. Finch's
I had just decided that the blue merino jacket was an article of wearing
apparel which had done its duty, and earned its right to final retirement
from the scene--when a plaintive cry reached my ear, through the open
door which led into the back garden.
I stopped, and looked at Mrs. Finch.
The cry was repeated, louder and nearer: recognizable this time as a cry
in a child's voice. The door of the room had been left ajar, when we sent
the messenger back to the nursery. I threw it open, and found myself face
to face with Jicks in the passage.
I felt every nerve in my body shudder at the sight of the child.
The poor little thing was white and wild with terror. She was incapable
of uttering a word. When I knelt down to fondle and soothe her, she
caught convulsively at my hand, and attempted to raise me. I got on my
feet again. She repeated her dumb cry more loudly--and tried to drag me
out of the house. She was so weak that she staggered under the effort. I
took her up in my arms. One of my hands, as I embraced her, touched the
top of her frock, just below the back of her neck. I felt something on my
fingers. I looked at them. Gracious God! I was stained with blood!
I turned the child round. My own blood froze. Her mother, standing behind
me, screamed with horror.
The dear little thing's white frock was spotted and splashed with wet
blood. Not her own blood. There was not a scratch on her. I looked closer
at the horrid marks. They had been drawn purposely on her--drawn, as it
seemed, with a finger. I took her out into the light. It was writing! A
word had been feebly traced on the back of her frock. I made out
something like the letter "H." Then a letter which it was impossible to
Then another next to it, which might have been "L," or might have been
"J." Then a last letter, which I guessed to be "P."
Was the word--"Help"?
Yes!--traced on the back of the child's frock, with a finger dipped in
CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH
Discoveries at Browndown
IT is needless to tell you at what conclusion I arrived, as soon as I was
sufficiently myself to think at all.
Thanks to my adventurous past life, I have got the habit of deciding
quickly in serious emergencies of all sorts. In the present emergency--as
I saw it--there were two things to be done. One, to go instantly with
help to Browndown: the other, to keep the knowledge of what had happened
from Lucilla until I could get back again, and prepare her for the
I looked at Mrs. Finch. She had dropped helplessly into a chair. "Rouse
yourself!" I said--and shook her. It was no time for sympathizing with
swoons and hysterics. The child was still in my arms; fast yielding, poor
little thing, to the exhaustion of fatigue and terror. I could do nothing
until I had relieved myself of the charge of her. Mrs. Finch looked up at
me, trembling and sobbing. I put the child in her lap. Jicks feebly
resisted being parted from me; but soon gave up, and dropped her weary
little head on her mother's bosom. "Can you take off her frock?" I asked,
with another shake--a good one, this time. The prospect of a domestic
occupation (of any sort) appeared to rouse Mrs. Finch. She looked at the
baby, in its cradle in one corner of the room, and at the novel, reposing
on a chair in another corner of the room. The presence of these two
familiar objects appeared to encourage her. She shivered, she swallowed a
sob, she recovered her breath, she began to undo the frock.
"Put it away carefully," I said; "and say nothing to anybody of what has
happened, until I come back. You can see for yourself that the child is
not hurt. Soothe her, and wait here. Is Mr. Finch in the study?"
Mrs. Finch swallowed another sob, and said, "Yes." The child made a last
effort. "Jicks will go with you," said the indomitable little Arab
faintly. I ran out of the room, and left the three babies--big, little,
After knocking at the study door without getting any reply, I opened it
and went in. Reverend Finch, comfortably prostrate in a large arm-chair
(with his sermon-paper spread out in fair white sheets by his side),
started up, and confronted me in the character of a clergyman that moment
awakened from a sound sleep.
The rector of Dimchurch instantly recovered his dignity.
"I beg your pardon, Madame Pratolungo, I was deep in thought. Please
state your business briefly." Saying those words, he waved his hand
magnificently over his empty sheets of paper, and added in his deepest
I told him in the plainest words what I had seen on his child's frock,
and what I feared had happened at Browndown. He turned deadly pale. If I
ever yet set my two eyes on a man thoroughly frightened, Reverend Finch
was that man.
"Do you anticipate danger?" he inquired. "Is it your opinion that
criminal persons are in, or near, the house?"
"It is my opinion that there is not a moment to be lost," I answered. "We
must go to Browndown; and we must get what help we can on the way."
I opened the door, and waited for him to come out with me. Mr. Finch
(still apparently pre-occupied with the question of the criminal persons)
looked as if he wished himself a hundred miles from his own rectory at
that particular moment. But he was the master of the house; he was the
principal man in the place--he had no other alternative, as matters now
stood, than to take his hat and go.
We went out together into the village. My reverend companion was silent
for the first time in my limited experience of him. We inquired for the
one policeman who patrolled the district. He was away on his rounds. We
asked if anybody had seen the doctor. No: it was not the doctor's day for
visiting Dimchurch. I had heard the landlord of the Gross Hands described
as a capable and respectable man; and I suggested stopping at the inn,
and taking him with us. Mr. Finch instantly brightened at that proposal.
His sense of his own importance rose again, like the mercury in a
thermometer when you put it into a warm bath.
"Exactly what I was about to suggest," he said. "Gootheridge of the Gross
Hands is a very worthy person--for his station in life. Let us have
Gootheridge, by all means. Don't be alarmed, Madame Pratolungo. We are
all in the hands of Providence. It is most fortunate for you that I was
at home. What would you have done without me? Now don't, pray don't, be
alarmed. In case of criminal persons--I have my stick, as you see. I am
not tall; but I possess immense physical strength. I am, so to speak, all
He held out one of his wizen little arms. It was about half the size of
my arm. If I had not been far too anxious to think of playing tricks, I
should certainly have declared that it was needless, with such a tower of
strength by my side, to disturb the landlord. I dare not assert that Mr.
Finch actually detected the turn my thoughts were taking--I can only
declare that he did certainly shout for Gootheridge in a violent hurry,
the moment we were in sight of the inn.
The landlord came out; and, hearing what our errand was, instantly
consented to join us.
"Take your gun," said Mr. Finch.
Gootheridge took his gun. We hastened on to the house.
"Were Mrs. Gootheridge or your daughter at Browndown today?" I asked.
"Yes, ma'am--they were both at Browndown. They finished up their work as
usual--and left the house more than an hour since."
"Did anything out of the common happen while they were there?"
"Nothing that I heard of, ma'am."
I considered with myself for a minute, and ventured on putting a few more
questions to Mr. Gootheridge.
"Have any strangers been seen here this evening?" I inquired.
"Yes, ma'am. Nearly an hour ago two strangers drove by my house in a
"In what direction?"
"Coming from Brighton way, and going towards Browndown."
"Did you notice the men?"
"Not particularly, ma'am. I was busy. at the time."
A sickening suspicion that the two strangers in the chaise might be the
two men whom I had seen lurking under the wall, forced its way into my
mind. I said no more until we reached the house.
All was quiet. The one sign of anything unusual was in the plain traces
of the passage of wheels over the turf in front of Browndown. The
landlord was the first to see them. "The chaise must have stopped at the
house, sir," he said, addressing himself to the rector.
Reverend Finch was suffering under a second suspension of speech. All he
could say as we approached the door of the silent and solitary
building--and he said that with extreme difficulty--was, "Pray let us be
The landlord was the first to reach the door. I was behind him. The
rector--at some little distance--acted as rear-guard, with the South
Downs behind him to retreat upon. Gootheridge rapped smartly on the door,
and called out, "Mr. Dubourg!" There was no answer. There was only a
dreadful silence. The suspense was more than I could endure. I pushed by
the landlord, and turned the handle of the unlocked door.
"Let me go first, ma'am," said Gootheridge.
He pushed by me, in his turn. I followed him close. We entered the house,
and called again. Again there was no answer. We looked into the little
sitting-room on one side of the passage, and into the dining-room on the
other. Both were empty. We went on to the back of the house, where the
room was situated which Oscar called his workshop. When we tried the door
of the workshop it was locked.
We knocked, and called again. The horrid silence was all that
I tried the keyhole with my finger. The key was not in the lock. I knelt
down, and looked through the keyhole. The next instant, I was up again on
my feet, wild and giddy with horror.
"Burst open the door!" I screamed. "I can just see his hand lying on the
The landlord, like the rector, was a little man; and the door, like
everything else at Browndown, was of the clumsiest and heaviest
construction. Unaided by instruments, we should all three together have
been too weak to burst it open. In this difficulty, Reverend Finch proved
to be--for the first time, and also for the last--of some use.
"Stay!" he said. "My friends, if the back garden gate is open, we can get
in by the window."
Neither the landlord nor I had thought of the window. We ran round to the
back of the house; seeing the marks of the chaise-wheels leading in the
same direction. The gate in the wall was wide open. We crossed the little
garden. The window of the workshop--opening to the ground--gave us
admission as the rector had foretold. We entered the room.
There he lay--poor harmless, unlucky Oscar--senseless, in a pool of his
own blood. A blow on the left side of his head had, to all appearance,
felled him on the spot. The wound had split the scalp. Whether it had
also split the skull was more than I was surgeon enough to be able to
say. I had gathered some experience of how to deal with wounded men, when
I served the sacred cause of Freedom with my glorious Pratolungo. Cold
water, vinegar, and linen for bandages--these were all in the house; and
these I called for. Gootheridge found the key of the door flung aside in
a corner of the room. He got the water and the vinegar, while I ran
up-stairs to Oscar's bedroom, and provided myself with some of his
handkerchiefs. In a few minutes, I had a cold water bandage over the
wound, and was bathing his face in vinegar and water. He was still
insensible; but he lived. Reverend Finch--not of the slightest help to
anybody--assumed the duty of feeling Oscar's pulse. He did it as if,
under the circumstances, this was the one meritorious action that could
be performed. He looked as if nobody could feel a pulse but himself.
"Most fortunate," he said, counting the slow, faint throbbing at the poor
fellow's wrist--"most fortunate that I was at home. What would you have
done without me?"
The next necessity was, of course, to send for the doctor, and to get
help, in the meantime, to carry Oscar up-stairs to his bed.
Gootheridge volunteered to borrow a horse, and to ride off for the
doctor. We arranged that he was to send his wife and his wife's brother
to help me. This settled, the one last embarrassment left to deal with,
was the embarrassment of Mr. Finch. Now that we were free from all fear
of encountering bad characters in the house, the _boom-boom_ of the
little man's big voice went on unintermittingly, like a machine at work
in the neighborhood. I had another of my inspirations--sitting on the
floor with Oscar's head on my lap. I gave my reverend companion something
to do. "Look about the room!" I said. "See if the packing-case with the
gold and silver plates is here or not."
Mr. Finch did not quite relish being treated like an ordinary mortal, and
being told what he was to do.
"Compose yourself, Madame Pratolungo," he said. "No hysterical activity,
if you please. This business is in My hands. Quite needless, ma'am, to
tell Me to look for the packing-case."
"Quite needless," I agreed. "I know beforehand the packing-case is gone."
That answer instantly set him fussing about the room. Not a sign of the
case was to be seen.
All doubt in my mind was at an end now. The two ruffians lounging against
the wall had justified, horribly justified, my worst suspicions of them.
On the arrival of Mrs. Gootheridge and her brother, we carried him up to
his room. We laid him on the bed, with his neck-tie off, and his throat
free, and the air blowing over him from the open window. He showed no
sign yet of coming to his senses. But still the pulse went faintly on. No
change was discernible for the worse.
It was useless to hope for the doctor's arrival, before another hour at
least. I felt the necessity of getting back at once to the rectory, so as
to be able to tell Lucilla (with all needful preparation) the melancholy
truth. Otherwise, the news of what had happened would get abroad in the
village, and might come to her ears, in the worst possible way, through
one of the servants. To my infinite relief, Mr. Finch, when I rose to go,
excused himself from accompanying me. He had discovered that it was his
duty, as rector, to give the earliest information of the outrage at
Browndown to the legal authorities. He went his way to the nearest
magistrate. And I went mine--leaving Oscar under the care of Mrs.
Gootheridge and her brother--back to the house. Mr. Finch's last words at
parting reminded me, once more, that we had one thing at least to be
thankful for under the circumstances--sad as they otherwise were.
"Most fortunate, Madame Pratolungo, that I was at home. What would you
have done without me?"
CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH
Events at the Bedside
I AM, if you will be so good as to remember, constitutionally
French--and, therefore, constitutionally averse to distressing myself, if
I can possibly help it. For this reason, I really cannot summon courage
to describe what passed between my blind Lucilla and me when I returned
to our pretty sitting-room. She made me cry at the time; and she would
make me (and perhaps you) cry again now, if I wrote the little melancholy
story of what this tender young creature suffered when I told her my
miserable news. I won't write it; I am dead against tears. They affect
the nose; and my nose is my best feature. Let us use our eyes, my fair
friends, to conquer, not to cry.
Be it enough to say, that when I went back to Browndown, Lucilla went
I now observed her, for the first time, to be jealous of the eyes of us
happy people who could see. The instant she entered, she insisted on
being near enough to the bed, to hear us, or to touch us, as we waited on
the injured man. This was at once followed by her taking the place
occupied by Mrs. Gootheridge at the bed-head, and herself bathing Oscar's
face and forehead. She was even jealous of _me,_ when she discovered that
I was moistening the bandages on the wound. I irritated her into boldly
kissing the poor insensible face in our presence! The landlady of the
Cross Hands was one of my sort: she took cheerful views of things. "Sweet
on him--eh, ma'am?" she whispered in my ear; "we shall have a wedding in
Dimchurch." In presence of these kissings and whisperings, Mrs.
Gootheridge's brother, as the only man present, began to look very
uncomfortable. This worthy creature belonged to that large and
respectable order of Englishmen, who don't know what to do with their
hands, or how to get out of a room. I took pity on him--he was, I assure
you, a fine man. "Smoke your pipe, sir, in the garden," I said. "We will
call to you from the window, if we want you up here." Mrs. Gootheridge's
brother cast on me one look of unutterable gratitude--and escaped, as if
he had been let out of a trap.
At last, the doctor came.
His first words were an indescribable relief to us. The skull of our poor
Oscar was not injured. There was concussion of the brain, and there was a
scalp-wound--inflicted evidently with a blunt instrument. As to the
wound, I had done all that was necessary in the doctor's absence. As to
the injury to the brain, time and care would put everything right again.
"Make your minds easy, ladies," said this angel of a man. "There is no
reason for feeling the slightest alarm about him."
He came to his senses--that is to say, he opened his eyes and looked
vacantly about him--between four and five hours after the time when we
had found him on the floor of the workshop.
His mind, poor fellow, was still all astray. He recognized nobody. He
imitated the action of writing with his finger; and said very earnestly,
over and over again, "Go home, Jicks; go home, go home!" fancying himself
(as I suppose), lying helpless on the floor, and sending the child back
to us to give the alarm. Later in the night he fell asleep. All through
the next day, he still wandered in his mind when he spoke. It was not
till the day after, that he began feebly to recover his reason. The first
person he recognized was Lucilla. She was engaged at the moment in
brushing his beautiful chestnut hair. To her unutterable joy, he patted
her hand, and murmured her name.
She bent over him; and, under cover of the hair-brush, whispered
something in his ear which made the young fellow's pale face flush, and
his dull eyes brighten with pleasure. A day or two afterwards, she owned
to me that she had said, "Get well, for my sake." She was not in the
least ashamed of having spoken to that plain purpose. On the contrary,
she triumphed in it. "Leave him to me," said Lucilla, in the most
positive manner. "I mean first to cure him. And then I mean to be his
In a week more, he was in complete possession of his faculties--but still
wretchedly weak, and only gaining ground very slowly after the shock that
he had suffered.
He was now able to tell us, by a little at a time, of what had happened
in the workshop.
After Mrs. Gootheridge and her daughter had quitted the house at their
usual hour, he had gone up to his room; had remained there some little
time; and had then gone downstairs again. On approaching the workshop, he
heard voices talking in whispers in the room. The idea instantly occurred
to him that something was wrong. He softly tried the door, and found it
locked--the robbers having no doubt taken that precaution, to prevent
their being surprised at their thieving work by any person in the house.
The one other way of getting into the room, was the way that we had
tried. He went round to the back garden, and found an empty chaise drawn
up outside the door. This circumstance thoroughly puzzled him. But for
the mysterious locking of the workshop door, it would have suggested to
him nothing more alarming than the arrival of some unexpected visitors.
Eager to solve the mystery, he crossed the garden; and, entering the
room, found himself face to face with the same two men whom Jicks had
discovered ten days previously lounging against the wall.
As he approached the window, they were both busily engaged, with their
backs towards him, in cording up the packing-case which contained the
They rose and faced him as he stepped into the room. The act of robbery
which he found them coolly perpetrating in broad daylight, instantly set
his irritable temper in a flame. He rushed at the younger of the two
men--being the one nearest to him. The ruffian sprang aside out of his
reach; snatched up from the table on which it was lying ready, a short
loaded staff of leather called "a life-preserver;" and struck him with it
on the head, before he had recovered himself, and could face his man once
From that moment, he remembered nothing, until he had regained his
consciousness after the first shock of the blow.
He found himself lying, giddy and bleeding, on the floor; and he saw the
child (who must have strayed into the room while he was senseless)
standing petrified with fear, looking at him. The idea of making use of
her--as the only living being near--to give the alarm, came to him
instinctively the moment he recognized her. He coaxed the little creature
to venture within reach of his hand; and, dipping his finger in the blood
that was flowing from him, sent us the terrible message which I had spelt
out on the back of her frock. That done, he exerted his last remains of
strength to push her gently towards the open window, and direct her to go
home. He fainted from loss of blood, while he was still repeating the
words, "Go home! go home!"--and still seeing, or fancying that he saw,
the child stopping obstinately in the room, stupefied with terror. Of the
time at which she found the courage and the sense to run home, and of all
that had happened after that, he was necessarily ignorant. His next
conscious impression was the impression, already recorded, of seeing
Lucilla sitting by his bedside.
The account of the matter thus given by Oscar, was followed by a
supplementary statement provided by the police.
The machinery of the law was put in action; and the village was kept in a
fever of excitement for days together. Never was there a more complete
investigation--and never was a poorer result achieved. Substantially,
nothing was discovered beyond what I had already found out for myself.
The robbery was declared to have been (as I had supposed) a planned
thing. Though we had none of us noticed them at the rectory, it was
ascertained that the thieves had been at Dimchurch on the day when the
unlucky plates were first delivered at Browndown. Having taken their time
to examine the house, and to make themselves acquainted with the domestic
habits of the persons in it, the rogues had paid their second visit to
the village--no doubt to commit the robbery--on the occasion when we had
discovered them. Foiled by the unexpected return of the gold and silver
to London, they had waited again, had followed the plates back to
Browndown, and had effected their object--thanks to the lonely situation
of the house, and to the murderous blow which had stretched Oscar
insensible on the floor.
More than one witness had met them on the road back to Brighton, with the
packing-case in the chaise. But when they returned to the livery-stables
from which they had hired the vehicle, the case was not to be seen.
Accomplices in Brighton had, in all probability, assisted them in getting
rid of it, and in shifting the plates into ordinary articles of luggage,
which would attract no special attention at the railway station. This was
the explanation given by the police. Right or wrong, the one fact remains
that the villains were not caught, and that the assault and robbery at
Oscar's house may be added to the long list of crimes cleverly enough
committed to defy the vengeance of the law.
For ourselves, we all agreed--led by Lucilla--to indulge in no useless
lamentations, and to be grateful that Oscar had escaped without serious
injury. The mischief was done; and there was an end of it.
In this philosophical spirit, we looked at the affair while our invalid
was recovering. We all plumed ourselves on our excellent good sense--and
(ah, poor stupid human wretches!) we were all fatally wrong. So far from
the mischief being at an end, the mischief had only begun. The true
results of the robbery at Browndown were yet to show themselves, and were
yet to be felt in the strangest and the saddest way by every member of
the little circle assembled at Dimchurch.
CHAPTER THE SIXTEENTH
First Result of the Robbery
BETWEEN five and six weeks passed. Oscar was out of his bed-room, and was
well of his wound.
During this lapse of time, Lucilla steadily pursued that process of her
own of curing him, which was to end in marrying him. Never had I seen
such nursing before--never do I expect to see such nursing again. From
morning to night, she interested him, and kept him in good spirits. The
charming creature actually made her blindness a means of lightening the
weary hours of the man she loved.
Sometimes, she would sit before Oscar's looking-glass, and imitate all
the innumerable tricks, artifices, and vanities of a coquette arraying
herself for conquest--with such wonderful truth and humour of mimicry,
that you would have sworn she possessed the use of her eyes. Sometimes,
she would show him her extraordinary power of calculating by the sound of
a person's voice, the exact position which that person occupied towards
her in a room. Selecting me as the victim, she would first provide
herself with one of the nosegays always placed by her own hands at
Oscar's bedside; and would then tell me to take up my position
noiselessly in any part of the room that I pleased, and to say "Lucilla."
The instant the words were out of my mouth, the nosegay flew from her
hand, and hit me on the face. She never once missed her aim, on any one
of the occasions when this experiment was tried--and she never once
flagged in her childish enjoyment of the exhibition of her own skill.
Nobody was allowed to pour out Oscar's medicine but herself. She knew
when the spoon into which it was to be measured was full, by the sound
which the liquid made in falling into it. When he was able to sit up in
his bed, and when she was standing at the pillow-side, she could tell him
how near his head was to hers, by the change which he produced, when he
bent forward or when he drew back, in the action of the air on her face.
In the same way, she knew as well as he knew, when the sun was out and
when it was behind a cloud--judging by the differing effect of the air,
at such times, on her forehead and on her cheeks.
All the litter of little objects accumulating in a sick-room, she kept in
perfect order on a system of her own. She delighted in putting the room
tidy late in the evening, when we helpless people who could see were
beginning to think of lighting the candles. The time when we could just
discern her, flitting to and fro in the dusk, in her bright summer
dress--now visible as she passed the window, now lost in the shadows at
the end of the room--was the time when she began to clear the tables of
the things that had been wanted in the day, and to replace them by the
things which would be wanted at night. We were only allowed to light the
candles when they showed us the room magically put in order during the
darkness as if the fairies had done it. She laughed scornfully at our
surprise, and said she sincerely pitied the poor useless people who could
The same pleasure which she had in arranging the room in the dark she
also felt in wandering all over the house in the dark, and in making
herself thoroughly acquainted with every inch of it from top to bottom.
As soon as Oscar was well enough to go down-stairs, she insisted on
"You have been so long up in your bedroom," she said, "that you must have
forgotten the rest of the house. Take my arm--and come along. Now we are
out in the passage. Mind! there is a step down, just at this place. And
now a step up again. Here is a sharp corner to turn at the top of the
staircase. And there is a rod out of the stair-carpet, and an awkward
fold in it that might throw you down." So she took him into his own
drawing-room, as if it was he that was blind, and she who had the use of
her eyes. Who could resist such a nurse as this? Is it wonderful that I
heard a sound suspiciously like the sound of a kiss, on that first day of
convalescence, when I happened for a moment to be out of the room? I
strongly suspected her of leading the way in that also. She was so
wonderfully composed when I came back--and he was so wonderfully
In a week from his convalescence, Lucilla completed the cure of the
patient. In other words, she received from Oscar an offer of marriage. I
have not the slightest doubt, in my own mind, that he required assistance
in bringing this delicate matter to a climax--and that Lucilla helped
I may be right or I may be wrong about this. But I can at least certify
that Lucilla was in such mad high spirits when she told me the news out
in the garden, on a lovely autumn morning, that she actually danced for
joy--and, more improper still, she made me, at my discreet time of life,
dance too. She took me round the waist, and we waltzed on the grass--Mrs.
Finch standing by in the condemned blue merino jacket (with the baby in
one hand and the novel in the other), and warning us both that if we lost
half an hour out of our day, in whirling each other round the lawn, we
should never succeed in picking it up again in that house. We went on
whirling, for all that, until we were both out of breath. Nothing short
of downright exhaustion could tame Lucilla. As for me, I am, I sincerely
believe, the rashest person of my age now in existence. (What is my age?
Ah, I am always discreet about that; it is the one exception.) Set down
my rashness to my French nationality, my easy conscience, and my
excellent stomach--and let us go on with our story.
There was a private interview at Browndown, later on that day, between
Oscar and Reverend Finch.
Of what passed on that occasion, I was not informed. The rector came back
among us with his head high in the air, strutting magnificently on his
wizen little legs. He embraced his daughter in pathetic silence, and gave
me his hand with a serene smile of condescension worthy of the greatest
humbug (say Louis the Fourteenth) that ever sat on a throne. When he got
the better of his paternal emotion, and began to speak, his voice was so
big that I really thought it must have burst him. The vapor of words in
which he enveloped himself (condensed on paper) amounted to these two
statements. First, that he hailed in Oscar (not having, I suppose,
children enough already of his own) the advent of another son. Secondly,
that he saw the finger of Providence in everything that had happened.
Alas, for me! My irreverent French nature saw nothing but the finger of
Finch--in Oscar's pocket.
The wedding-day was not then actually fixed. It was only generally
arranged that the marriage should take place in about six weeks.
This interval was intended to serve a double purpose. It was to give the
lawyers time to prepare the marriage settlements, and to give Oscar time
to completely recover his health. Some anxiety was felt by all of us on
this latter subject. His wound was well, and his mind was itself again.
But still there was something wrong with him, for all that.
Those curious contradictions in his character which I have already
mentioned, showed themselves more strangely than ever. The man who had
found the courage (when his blood was up) to measure himself alone and
unarmed against two robbers, was now unable to enter the room in which
the struggle had taken place, without trembling from head to foot. He,
who had laughed at me when I begged him not to sleep in the house by
himself, now had two men (a gardener and an indoor servant) domiciled at
Browndown to protect him--and felt no sense of security even in that. He
was constantly dreaming that the ruffian with the "life-preserver" was
attacking him again, or that he was lying bleeding on the floor and
coaxing Jicks to venture within reach of his hand. If any of us hinted at
his occupying himself once more with his favorite art, he stopped his
ears, and entreated us not to renew his horrible associations with the
past. He would not even look at his box of chasing tools. The
doctor--summoned to say what was the matter with him--told us that his
nervous system had been shaken, and frankly acknowledged that there was
nothing to be done but to wait until time set it right again.
I am afraid I must confess that I myself took no very indulgent view of
the patient's case.
It was his duty to exert himself--as I thought. He appeared to me to be
too indolent to make a proper effort to better his own condition. Lucilla
and I had more than one animated discussion about him. On a certain
evening when we were at the piano gossiping, and playing in the
intervals, she was downright angry with me for not sympathizing with her
darling as unreservedly as she did. "I have noticed one thing, Madame
Pratolungo," she said to me, with a flushed face and a heightened tone.
"You have never done Oscar justice from the first."
(Mark those trifling words. The time is coming when you will hear of them
The preparations for the contemplated marriage went on. The lawyers
produced their sketch of the settlement; and Oscar wrote (to an address
in New York, given to him by Nugent) to tell his brother of the
approaching change in his life, and of the circumstances which had
brought it about.
The marriage settlement was not shown to me; but, from certain signs and
tokens, I guessed that Oscar's perfect disinterestedness on the question
of money had been turned to profitable account by Oscar's future
father-in-law. Reverend Finch was reported to have shed tears when he
first read the document. And Lucilla came out of the study, after an
interview with her father, more thoroughly and vehemently indignant than
I had ever seen her yet. "Don't ask what is the matter!" she said to me
between her teeth. "I am ashamed to tell you." When Oscar came in, a
little later, she fell on her knees--literally on her knees--before him.
Some overmastering agitation was in possession of her whole being, which
made her, for the moment, reckless of what she said or did. "I worship
you!" she burst out hysterically, kissing his hand. "You are the noblest
of living men. I can never, never be worthy of you!" The interpretation
of these high-flown sayings and doings was, to my mind, briefly this:
Oscar's money in the rector's pocket, and the rector's daughter used as
The interval expired; the weeks succeeded each other. All had been long
since ready for the marriage--and still the marriage did not take place.
Far from becoming himself again, with time to help him--as the doctor had
foretold--Oscar steadily grew worse. All the nervous symptoms (to use the
medical phrase) which I have already described, strengthened instead of
loosening their hold on him. He grew thinner and thinner, and paler and
paler. Early in the month of November, we sent for the doctor again. The
question to be put to him this time, was the question (suggested by
Lucilla) of trying as a last remedy change of air.
Something--I forget what--delayed the arrival of our medical man. Oscar
had given up all idea of seeing him that day, and had come to us at the
rectory--when the doctor drove into Dimchurch. He was stopped before he
went on to Browndown; and he and his patient saw each other alone in
They were a long time together. Lucilla, waiting with me in my
bed-chamber, grew impatient. She begged me to knock at the sitting-room
door, and inquire when she might be permitted to assist at the
I found doctor and patient standing together at the window, talking
quietly. Evidently, nothing had passed to excite either of them in the
smallest degree. Oscar looked a little pale and weary--but he, like his
medical adviser, was perfectly composed.
"There is a young lady in the next room," I said, "who is getting anxious
to hear what your consultation has ended in."
The doctor looked at Oscar, and smiled.
"There is really nothing to tell Miss Finch," he said. "Mr. Dubourg and I
have gone all over the case again--and nothing new has come of it. His
nervous system has not recovered its balance so soon as I expected. I am
sorry--but I am not in the least alarmed. At his age, things are sure to
come right in the end. He must be patient, and the young lady must be
patient. I can say no more."
"Do you see any objection to his trying change of air?" I inquired.
"None, whatever! Let him go where he likes, and amuse himself as he
likes. You are all of you a little disposed to take Mr. Dubourg's case
too seriously. Except the nervous derangement (unpleasant enough in
itself, I grant), there is really nothing the matter with him. He has not
a trace of organic disease anywhere. The pulse," continued the doctor,
laying his fingers lightly on Oscar's wrist, "is perfectly satisfactory.
I never felt a quieter pulse in my life."
As the words passed his lips, a frightful contortion fastened itself on
His eyes turned up hideously.
From head to foot his whole body was wrenched round, as if giant hands
had twisted it, towards the right.
Before I could speak, he was in convulsions on the floor at his doctor's
"Good God, what is this!" I cried out.
The doctor loosened his cravat, and moved away the furniture that was
near him. That done, he waited--looking at the writhing figure on the
"Can you do nothing more?" I asked.
He shook his head gravely. "Nothing more."
"What is it?"
"An epileptic fit."
CHAPTER THE SEVENTEENTH
The Doctor's Opinion
BEFORE another word had been exchanged between us, Lucilla entered the
room. We looked at each other. If we could have spoken at that moment, I
believe we should both have said, "Thank God, she is blind!"
"Have you all forgotten me?" she asked. "Oscar! where are you? What does
the doctor say?"
She advanced into the room. In a moment more, she would have stumbled
against the prostrate man still writhing on the floor. I laid my hand on
her arm, and stopped her.
She suddenly caught my hand in hers. "Why did you tremble," she asked,
"when you took me by the arm? Why are you trembling now?" Her delicate
sense of touch was not to be deceived. I vainly denied that anything had
happened: my hand had betrayed me. "There is something wrong!" she
exclaimed, "Oscar has not answered me."
The doctor came to my assistance.
"There is nothing to be alarmed about," he said. "Mr. Dubourg is not very
She turned on the doctor, with a sudden burst of anger.
"You are deceiving me!" she cried. "Something serious has happened to
him. The truth! tell me the truth! Oh! it's shameful, it's heartless of
both of you to deceive a wretched blind creature like me!"
The doctor still hesitated. I told her the truth.
"Where is he?" she asked, seizing me by the two shoulders, and shaking me
in the violence of her agitation.
I entreated her to wait a little; I tried to place her in a chair. She
pushed me contemptuously away, and went down on the floor on her hands
and knees. "I shall find him," she said to herself; "I shall find him in
spite of them!" She began to crawl over the floor, feeling the empty
space before her with her hand. It was horrible. I followed her, and
raised her again, by main force.
"Don't struggle with her," said the doctor. "Let her come here. He is
I looked at Oscar. The worst of it was over. He was exhausted--he was
quite still now. The doctor's voice guided her to the place. She sat down
by Oscar on the floor, and laid his head on her lap. The moment she
touched him, the same effect was produced on her which would be produced
(if our eyes were bandaged) on you or me when the bandage was taken off.
An instant sense of relief diffused itself through her whole being. She
became her gentler and sweeter self again. "I am sorry I lost my temper,"
she said with the simplicity of a child. "But you don't know how hard it
is to be deceived when you are blind." She stooped as she said those
words, and passed her handkerchief lightly over his forehead. "Doctor,"
she asked, "will this happen again?"
"I hope not."
"Are you sure not?"
"I can't say that."
"What has brought it on?"
"I am afraid the blow he received on the head has brought it on."
She asked no more questions; her eager face passed suddenly into a state
of repose. Something seemed to have come into her mind--after the
doctor's answer to her own question--which absorbed her in herself. When
Oscar recovered his consciousness, she left it to me to answer the first
natural questions which he put. When he personally addressed her she
spoke to him kindly, but briefly. Something in her, at that moment,
seemed to keep her apart, even from _him._ When the doctor proposed
taking him back to Browndown, she did not insist, as I had anticipated,
on going with them. She took leave of him tenderly--but still she let him
go. While he yet lingered near the door, looking back at her, she moved
away slowly to the further end of the room; self-withdrawn into her own
dark world--shut up in her thoughts from him and from us.
The doctor tried to rouse her.
"You must not think too seriously of this," he said, following her to the
window at which she stood, and dropping his voice so that Oscar could not
hear him. "He has himself told you that he feels lighter and better than
he felt before the fit. It has relieved instead of injuring him. There is
no danger. I assure you, on my honor, there is nothing to fear."
"Can you assure me, on your honor, of one other thing," she asked,
lowering her voice on her side. "Can you honestly tell me that this is
not the first of other fits that are to come?"
The doctor parried the question.
"We will have another medical opinion," he answered, "before we decide.
The next time I go to see him, a physician from Brighton shall go with
Oscar, who had thus far waited, wondering at the change in her, now
opened the door. The doctor returned to him. They left us.
She sat down on the window-seat, with her elbows on her knees and her
hands grasping her forehead. A long moaning cry burst from her. She said
to herself bitterly the one word--"Farewell!"
I approached her; feeling the necessity of reminding her that I was in
"Farewell to what?" I asked, taking my place by her side.
"To his happiness and to mine," she answered, without lifting her head
from her hands. "The dark days are coming for Oscar and for me."
"Why should you think that? You heard what the doctor said."
"The doctor doesn't know what I know."
"What do you know?"
She paused before she answered me. "Do you believe in fate?" she said,
suddenly breaking the silence.
"I believe in nothing which encourages people to despair of themselves,"
She went on without heeding me.
"What caused the fit which seized him in this room? The blow that struck
him on the head. How did he receive the blow? In trying to defend what
was his and what was mine. What had he been doing on the day when the
thieves entered the house? He had been working on the casket which was
meant for me. Do you see those events linked together in one chain? I
believe the fit will be followed by some next event springing out of it.
Something else is coming to darken his life and to darken mine. There is
no wedding-day near for us. The obstacles are rising in front of him and
in front of me. The next misfortune is very near us. You will see! you
will see!" She shivered as she said those words; and, shrinking away from
me, huddled herself up in a corner of the window-seat.
It was useless to dispute with her; and worse than useless to sit there,
and encourage her to say more. I got up on my feet.
"There is one thing I believe in," I said cheerfully. "I believe in the
breeze on the hills. Come for a walk!"
She shrank closer into her corner and shook her head.
"Let me be!" she broke out impatiently. "Leave me by myself!" She rose,
repenting the words the moment they were uttered--she put her arm round
my neck, and kissed me. "I didn't mean to speak so harshly," said the
gentle affectionate creature. "Sister! my heart is heavy. My life to come
never looked so dark to my blind eyes as it looks now." A tear dropped
from those poor sightless eyes on my cheek. She turned her head aside
abruptly. "Forgive me," she murmured, "and let me go." Before I could
answer, she hurried away to hide herself in her room. The sweet girl! How
you would have pitied her--how you would have loved her!
I went out alone for my walk. She had not infected me with her
superstitious foreboding of ill things to come. But there was one sad
word that she had said, in which I could not but agree. After what I had
witnessed in that room, the wedding-day did indeed look further off than
CHAPTER THE EIGHTEENTH
IN four or five days more, Lucilla's melancholy doubts about Oscar were
confirmed. He was attacked by a second fit.
The promised consultation with the physician from Brighton took place.
Our new doctor did not encourage us to hope. The second fit following so
close on the first was, in his opinion, a bad sign. He gave general
directions for the treatment of Oscar; and left him to decide for himself
whether he would or would not try change of scene. No change, the
physician appeared to think, would exert any immediate influence on the
recurrence of the epileptic attacks. The patient's general health might
be benefited, and that was all. As for the question of the marriage, he
declared without hesitation that we must for the present dismiss all
consideration of it from our minds.
Lucilla received the account of what passed at the visit of the doctors
with a stubborn resignation which it distressed me to see. "Remember what
I told you when the first attack seized him," she said. "Our summer-time
is ended; our winter is come."
Her manner, while she spoke, was the manner of a person who is waiting
without hope--who feels deliberately that calamity is near. She only
roused herself when Oscar came in. He was, naturally enough, in miserable
spirits, under the sudden alteration in all his prospects. Lucilla did
her best to cheer him, and succeeded. On my side, I tried vainly to
persuade him to leave Browndown and amuse himself in some gayer place. He
shrank from new faces and new scenes. Between these two unelastic young
people, I felt even my native good spirits beginning to sink. If we had
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