Poor Miss Finch
Part 4 out of 9
"Quite right," I answered.
She laughed gaily. "Go on! Puzzle me if you possibly can.
The brothers noiselessly changed places. Oscar took her hand, standing
exactly where Nugent had stood.
"Oscar!" she said.
"Right again," I told her.
At a sign from Nugent, Oscar took her hand for the second time. She
repeated his name. At a sign from me, the brothers noiselessly placed
themselves, one on either side of her--Oscar on the left; Nugent on the
right. I gave them the signal; and they each took one of her hands at the
same moment. This time, she waited a little longer before she spoke. When
she did speak, she was right once more. She turned smiling, towards the
left side, pointed to him as he stood by her, and said, "Oscar!"
We were all three equally surprised. I examined Oscar's hand and Nugent's
hand alternately. Except the fatal difference in the color, they were, to
all intents and purposes, the same hands--the same size, the same shape,
the same texture of skin; no scar or mark on the hand of one to
distinguish it from the hand of the other. By what mysterious process of
divination had she succeeded in discovering which was which?
She was unwilling, or unable, to reply to that question plainly.
"Something in me answers to one of them and not to the other," she said.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I don't know. It answers to Oscar. It doesn't answer to Nugent--that's
She stopped any further inquiries by proposing that we should finish the
evening with some music, in her own sitting-room, on the other side of
the house. When we were seated together at the pianoforte--with the
twin-brothers established as our audience at the other end of the
room--she whispered in my ear:
"I'll tell _you!_"
"Tell me what?"
"How I know which is which when they both of them take my hand. When
Oscar takes it, a delicious tingle runs from his hand into mine, and
steals all over me. I can't describe it any better than that."
"I understand. And when Nugent takes your hand, what do you feel?"
"And that is how you found out the difference between them down-stairs?"
"That is how I shall always find out the difference between them. If
Oscar's brother ever attempts to play tricks upon my blindness (he is
quite capable of it--he laughed at my blindness!), that is how I shall
find him out. I told you before I saw him that I hated him. I hate him
"My dear Lucilla!"
"I hate him still!"
She struck the first chords on the piano, with an obstinate frown on her
pretty brow. Our little evening concert began.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIFTH
Nugent puzzles Madame Pratolungo
I WAS far from sharing Lucilla's opinion of Nugent Dubourg. His enormous
self-confidence was, to my mind, too amusing to be in the least
offensive. I liked the spirit and gaiety of the young fellow. He came
much nearer than his brother did to my ideal of the dash and resolution
which ought to distinguish a man on the right side of thirty. So far as
my experience of them went, Nugent was (in the popular English phrase)
good company--and Oscar was not. My nationality leads me to attach great
importance to social qualities. The higher virtues of a man only show
themselves occasionally on compulsion, His social qualities come
familiarly in contact with us every day of our lives. I like to be
cheerful: I am all for the social qualities.
There was one little obstacle in those early days, which set itself up
between my sympathies and Nugent.
I was thoroughly at a loss to understand the impression which Lucilla had
produced on him.
The same constraint which had, in such a marked manner, subdued him at
his first interview with her, still fettered him in the time when they
became better acquainted with one another. He was never in high spirits
in her presence. Mr. Finch could talk him down without difficulty, if Mr.
Finch's daughter happened to be by. Even when he was vaporing about
himself, and telling us of the wonderful things he meant to do in
Painting, Lucilla's appearance was enough to check him, if she happened
to come into the room. On the first day when he showed me his American
sketches (I define them, if you ask my private opinion, as false
pretenses of Art, by a dashing amateur)--on that day, he was in full
flow; marching up and down the room, smacking his forehead, and
announcing himself quite gravely as "the coming man" in landscape
"My mission, Madame Pratolungo, is to reconcile Humanity and Nature. I
propose to show (on an immense scale) how Nature (in her grandest
aspects) can adapt herself to the spiritual wants of mankind. In your joy
or your sorrow, Nature has subtle sympathies with you, if you only know
where to look for them. My pictures--no! my poems in color--will show
you. Multiply my works, as they certainly will be multiplied, by means of
prints--and what does Art become in my hands? A Priesthood! In what
aspect do I present myself to the public? As a mere landscape painter?
No! As Grand Consoler!" In the midst of this rhapsody (how wonderfully he
resembled Oscar in _his_ bursts of excitement while he was talking!)--in
the full torrent of his predictions of his own coming greatness, Lucilla
quietly entered the room. The "Grand Consoler" shut up his portfolio;
dropped Painting on the spot; asked for Music, and sat down, a model of
conventional propriety, in a corner of the room. I inquired afterwards,
why he had checked himself when she came in. "Did I?" he said. "I don't
know why." The thing was really inexplicable. He honestly admired
her--one had only to notice him when he was looking at her to see it. He
had not the faintest suspicion of her dislike for him--she carefully
concealed it for Oscar's sake. He felt genuine sympathy for her in her
affliction--his mad idea that her sight might yet be restored, was the
natural offspring of a true feeling for her. He was not unfavorable to
his brother's marriage--on the contrary, he ruffled the rector's dignity
(he was always giving offense to Mr. Finch) by suggesting that the
marriage might be hastened. I heard him say the words myself:--"The
church is close by. Why can't you put on your surplice and make Oscar
happy to-morrow, after breakfast?" More even than this, he showed the
most vivid interest--like a woman's interest rather than a man's--in
learning how the love-affair between Oscar and Lucilla had begun. I
referred him, so far as Oscar was concerned, to his brother as the
fountain-head of information. He did not decline to consult his brother.
He did not own to me that he felt any difficulty in doing so. He simply
dropped Oscar in silence; and asked about Lucilla. How had it begun on
her side? I reminded him of his brother's romantic position at Dimchurch
and told him to judge for himself of the effect it would produce on the
excitable imagination of a young girl. He declined to judge for himself;
he persisted in appealing to me. When I told the little love-story of the
two young people, one event in it appeared to make a very strong
impression on him. The effect produced on Lucilla (when she first heard
it) by the sound of his brother's voice, dwelt strangely on his mind. He
failed to understand it; he ridiculed it; he declined to believe it. I
was obliged to remind him that Lucilla was blind, and that love which, in
other cases, first finds its way to the heart through the eyes, could
only, in her case, first find its way through the ears. My explanation,
thus offered, had its effect: it set him thinking. "The sound of his
voice!" he said to himself, still turning the problem over and over in
his mind. "People say my voice is exactly like Oscar's," he added,
suddenly addressing himself to me. "Do you think so too?" I answered that
there could be no doubt of it. He got up from his chair, with a quick
little shudder, like a man who feels a chill--and changed the subject. On
the next occasion when he and Lucilla met--so far from being more
familiar with her, he was more constrained than ever. As it had begun
between these two, so it seemed likely to continue to the end. In my
society, he was always at his ease. In Lucilla's society, never!
What was the obvious conclusion which a person with my experience ought
to have drawn from all this?
I know well enough what it was, now. On my oath as an honest woman, I
failed to see it at the time. We are not always (suffer me to remind you)
consistent with ourselves. The cleverest people commit occasional lapses
into stupidity--just as the stupid people light up with gleams of
intelligence at certain times. You may have shown your usual good sense
in conducting your affairs on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in the week.
But it doesn't at all follow from this, that you may not make a fool of
yourself on Thursday. Account for it as you may--for a much longer time
than it suits my self-esteem to reckon up, I suspected nothing and
discovered nothing. I noted his behavior in Lucilla's presence as odd
behavior and unaccountable behavior--and that was all.
During the first fortnight just mentioned, the London doctor came to see
He left again, perfectly satisfied with the results of his treatment. The
dreadful epileptic malady would torture the patient and shock the friends
about him no more: the marriage might safely be celebrated at the time
agreed on. Oscar was cured.
The doctor's visit--reviving our interest in observing the effect of the
medicine--also revived the subject of Oscar's false position towards
Lucilla. Nugent and I held a debate about it between ourselves. I opened
the interview by suggesting that we should unite our forces to persuade
his brother into taking the frank and manly course. Nugent neither said
Yes nor No to that proposal at the outset. He, who made up his mind at a
moment's notice about everything else, took time to decide on this one
"There is something that I want to know first," he said. "I want to
understand this curious antipathy of Lucilla's which my brother regards
with so much alarm. Can you explain it?"
"Has Oscar attempted to explain it?" I inquired on my side.
"He mentioned it in one of his letters to me; and he tried to explain it,
when I asked (on my arrival at Browndown) if Lucilla had discovered the
change in his complexion. But he failed entirely to meet my difficulty in
understanding the case."
"What is your difficulty?"
"This. So far as I can see, she fails to discover intuitively the
presence of dark people in a room, or of dark colors in the ornaments of
a room. It is only when _she is told_ that such persons or such things
are present that her prejudice declares itself. In what state of mind
does such a strange feeling as this take its rise? It seems impossible
that she can have any conscious associations with colors, pleasant or
painful--if it is true that she was blind at a year old. How do you
account for it? Can there be such a thing as a purely instinctive
antipathy; remaining passive until external influences rouse it; and
resting on no sort of practical experience whatever?"
"I think there may be," I replied. "Why, when I was a child just able to
walk, did I shrink away from the first dog I saw who barked at me? I
could not have known, at that age, either by experience or teaching, that
a dog's bark is sometimes the prelude to a dog's bite. My terror, on that
occasion, was purely instinctive surely?"
"Ingeniously put," he said. "But I am not satisfied yet."
"You must also remember," I continued, "that she has a positively painful
association with dark colors, on certain occasions. They sometimes
produce a disagreeable impression on her nerves, through her sense of
touch. She discovered, in that way, that I had a dark gown on, on the day
when I first saw her."
"And yet, she touches my brother's face, and fails to discover any
alteration in it."
I met that objection also--to my own satisfaction, though not to his.
"I am far from sure that she might not have made the discovery," I said,
"if she had touched him for the first time, since the discoloration of
his face. But she examines him now with a settled impression in her mind,
derived from previous experience of what she has felt in touching his
skin. Allow for the modifying influence of that impression on her sense
of touch--and remember at the same time, that it is the color and not the
texture of the skin that is changed--and his escape from discovery
becomes, to my mind, intelligible."
He shook his head; he owned he could not dispute my view. But he was not
content for all that.
"Have you made any inquiries," he asked, "about the period of her infancy
before she was blind? She may be still feeling, indirectly and
unconsciously, the effect of some shock to her nervous system in the time
when she could see."
"I have never thought of making inquiries."
"Is there anybody within our reach, who was familiarly associated with
her in the first year of her life? It is hardly likely, I am afraid, at
this distance of time?"
"There is a person now in the house," I said. "Her old nurse is still
"Send for her directly."
Zillah appeared. After first explaining what he wanted with her, Nugent
went straight to the inquiry which he had in view.
"Was your young lady ever frightened when she was a baby by any dark
person, or any dark thing, suddenly appearing before her?"
"Never, sir! I took good care to let nothing come near her that could
frighten her--so long, poor little thing, as she could see."
"Are you quite sure you can depend on your memory?"
"Quite sure, sir--when it's a long time ago."
Zillah was dismissed. Nugent--thus far, unusually grave, and unusually
anxious--turned to me with an air of relief.
"When you proposed to me to join you in forcing Oscar to speak out," he
said, "I was not quite easy in my mind about the consequences. After what
I have just heard, my fear is removed."
"What fear?" I asked.
"The fear of Oscar's confession producing an estrangement between them
which might delay the marriage. I am against all delays. I am especially
anxious that Oscar's marriage should not be put off. When we began our
conversation, I own to you I was of Oscar's opinion that he would do
wisely to let marriage make him sure of his position in her affections,
before he risked the disclosure. Now--after what the nurse has told us--I
see no risk worth considering."
"In short," I said, "you agree with me?"
"I agree with you--though I _am_ the most opinionated man living. The
chances now seem to me to be all in Oscar's favor, Lucilla's antipathy is
not what I feared it was--an antipathy firmly rooted in a constitutional
malady. It is nothing more serious," said Nugent, deciding the question,
at once and for ever, with the air of a man profoundly versed in
physiology--"it is nothing more serious than a fanciful growth, a morbid
accident, of her blindness. She may live to get over it--she would, I
believe, certainly get over it, if she could see. In two words, after
what I have found out this morning, I say as you say--Oscar is making a
mountain out of a molehill. He ought to have put himself right with
Lucilla long since. I have unbounded influence over him. It shall back
your influence. Oscar shall make a clean breast of it, before the week is
We shook hands on that bargain. As I looked at him--bright and dashing
and resolute; Oscar, as I had always wished Oscar to be--I own to my
shame I privately regretted that we had not met Nugent in the twilight,
on that evening of ours which had opened to Lucilla the gates of a new
Having said to each other all that we had to say--our two lovers being
away together at the time, for a walk on the hills--we separated, as I
then supposed, for the rest of the day. Nugent went to the inn, to look
at a stable which he proposed converting into a studio: no room at
Browndown being half large enough, for the first prodigious picture with
which the "Grand Consoler" in Art proposed to astonish the world. As for
me, having nothing particular to do, I went out to see if I could meet
Oscar and Lucilla on their return from their walk.
Failing to find them, I strolled back by way of Browndown. Nugent was
sitting alone on the low wall in front of the house, smoking a cigar. He
rose and came to meet me, with his finger placed mysteriously on his
"You mustn't come in," he said; "you mustn't speak loud enough to be
heard." He pointed round the corner of the house to the little room at
the side, already familiar to you in these pages. "Oscar and Lucilla are
shut up together there. And Oscar is making his confession to her at this
I lifted my hands and eyes in astonishment. Nugent went on.
"I see you want to know how it has all come about. You shall know.--While
I was looking at the stable (it isn't half big enough for a studio for
Me!), Oscar's servant brought me a little pencil note, entreating me, in
Oscar's name, to go to him directly at Browndown. I found him waiting out
here, dreadfully agitated. He cautioned me (just as I have cautioned you)
not to speak loud. For the same reason too. Lucilla was in the house----"
"I thought they had gone out for a walk," I interposed.
"They did go out for a walk. But Lucilla complained of fatigue; and Oscar
brought her back to Browndown to rest. Well! I inquired what was the
matter. The answer informed me that the secret of Oscar's complexion had
forced its way out for the second time, in Lucilla's hearing."
"Jicks again!" I exclaimed.
"No--not Jicks. Oscar's own man-servant, this time."
"How did it happen?"
"It happened through one of the boys in the village. Oscar and Lucilla
found the little imp howling outside the house. They asked what was the
matter. The imp told them that the servant at Browndown had beaten him.
Lucilla was indignant. She insisted on having the thing inquired into.
Oscar left her in the drawing-room (unluckily, as it turned out, without
shutting the door); called the man up into the passage, and asked what he
meant by ill-using the boy. The man answered, 'I boxed his ears, sir, as
an example to the rest of them.' 'What did he do?' 'Rapped at the door,
sir, with a stick (he is not the first who has done it when you are out);
and asked if Blue Face was at home.' Lucilla heard every word of it,
through the open door. Need I tell you what happened next?"
It was quite needless to relate that part of the story. I remembered too
well what had happened on the former occasion, in the garden. I saw too
plainly that Lucilla must have connected the two occurrences in her mind,
and must have had her ready suspicion roused to serious action, as the
"I understand," I said. "Of course, she insisted on an explanation. Of
course, Oscar compromised himself by a clumsy excuse, and wanted you to
help him. What did you do?"
"What I told you I should do this morning. He had counted confidently on
my taking his side--it was pitiable to see him, poor fellow! Still, for
his own sake, I refused to yield. I left him the choice of giving her the
true explanation himself, or of leaving me to do it. There wasn't a
moment to lose; she was in no humour to be trifled with, I can tell you!
Oscar behaved very well about it--he always behaves well when I drive him
into a corner! In one word, he was man enough to feel that he was the
right person to make a clean breast of it--not I. I gave the poor old boy
a hug to encourage him, pushed him into the room, shut the door on him,
and came out here. He ought to have done it by this time. He _has_ done
it! Here he comes!"
Oscar ran out, bareheaded, from the house. There were signs of
disturbance in him, as he approached us, which warned me that something
had gone wrong, before he opened his lips.
Nugent spoke first.
"What's amiss now?" he asked. "Have you told her the truth?"
"I have tried to tell her the truth."
"Tried? What do you mean?"
Oscar put his arm round his brother's neck, and laid his head on his
brother's shoulder, without answering one word.
I put a question to him on my side.
"Did Lucilla refuse to listen to you?" I asked.
"Has she said anything or done anything----?"
He lifted his head from his brother's shoulder, and stopped me before I
could finish the sentence.
"You need feel no anxiety about Lucilla. Lucilla's curiosity is
Nugent and I gazed at one another, in complete bewilderment. Lucilla had
heard it all; Lucilla's curiosity was satisfied. He had that incredibly
happy result to communicate to us--and he announced it with a look of
humiliation, in a tone of despair! Nugent's patience gave way.
"Let us have an end of this mystification," he said, putting Oscar back
from him, sharply, at arm's length. "I want a plain answer to a plain
question. She knows that the boy knocked at the door, and asked if Blue
Face was at home. Does she know what the boy's impudence meant? Yes? or
"Does she know that it is you who are Blue Face?"
"No!!! Who else does she think it is?"
As he asked the question, Lucilla appeared at the door of the house. She
moved her blind face inquiringly first one way, then the other. "Oscar!"
she called out, "why have you left me alone? where are you?"
Oscar turned, trembling, to his brother.
"For God's sake forgive me, Nugent!" he said. "She thinks it's YOU."
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SIXTH
He proves Equal to the Occasion
AT that astounding confession, abruptly revealed in those plain words,
even resolute Nugent lost all power of self-control. He burst out with a
cry which reached Lucilla's ears. She instantly turned towards us, and
instantly assumed that the cry had come from Oscar's lips.
"Ah! there you are!" she exclaimed. "Oscar! Oscar! what is the matter
with you to-day?"
Oscar was incapable of answering her. He had cast one glance of entreaty
at his brother as Lucilla came nearer to us. The mute reproach which had
answered him, in Nugent's eyes, had broken down his last reserves of
endurance. He was crying silently on Nugent's breast.
It was necessary that one of us should make his, or her, voice heard. I
"Nothing is the matter, my dear," I said, advancing to meet Lucilla. "We
were passing the house, and Oscar ran out to stop us and bring us in."
My excuses roused a new alarm in her.
"Us?" she repeated. "Who is with you?"
"Nugent is with me."
The result of the deplorable misunderstanding which had taken place,
instantly declared itself. She turned deadly pale under the horror of
feeling that she was in the presence of the man with the blue face.
"Take me near enough to speak to him, but not to touch him," she
whispered. "I have heard what he is like. (Oh, if you saw him, as I see
him, _in the dark!_) I must control myself. I must speak to Oscar's
brother, for Oscar's sake."
She seized my arm and held me close to her. What ought I to have said?
What ought I to have done? I neither knew what to say or what to do. I
looked from Lucilla to the twin brothers. There was Oscar the Weak,
overwhelmed by the humiliating position in which he had placed himself
towards the woman whom he was to marry, towards the brother whom he
loved! And there was Nugent the Strong, master of himself; with his arm
round his brother, with his head erect, with his hand signing to me to
keep silence. He was right. I had only to look back at Lucilla's face to
see that the delicate and perilous work of undeceiving her, was not work
to be done at a moment's notice, on the spot.
"You are not yourself to-day," I said to her. "Let us go home."
"No!" she answered. "I must accustom myself to speak to him. I will begin
to-day. Take me to him--but don't let him touch me!"
Nugent disengaged himself from Oscar--whose unfitness to help us through
our difficulties was too manifest to be mistaken--as he saw us
approaching. He pointed to the low wall in front of the house, and
motioned to his brother to wait there out of the way before Lucilla could
speak to him again. The wisdom of this proceeding was not long in
asserting itself. Lucilla asked for Oscar the moment after he had left
us. Nugent answered that Oscar had gone back to the house to get his hat.
The sound of Nugent's voice helped her to calculate her distance from him
without assistance from me. Still holding my arm, she stopped and spoke
"Nugent," she said, "I have made Oscar tell me--what he ought to have
told me long since." (She paused between each sentence; painfully
controlling herself, painfully catching her breath.) "He has discovered a
foolish antipathy of mine. I don't know how; I tried to keep it a secret
from him. I need not tell you what it is."
She made a longer pause at those words, holding me closer and closer to
her; struggling more and more painfully against the irresistible nervous
loathing that had got possession of her.
He listened, on his side, with the constraint which always fell upon him
in her presence more marked than ever. His eyes were on the ground. He
seemed reluctant even to look at her.
"I think I understand," she went on, "why Oscar was unwilling to tell
me----" she stopped, at a loss how to express herself without running the
risk of hurting his feelings--"to tell me," she resumed, "what it is in
you which is not like other people. He was afraid my stupid weakness
might prejudice me against you. I wish to say that I won't let it do
that. I never was more ashamed of it than now. I, too, have my
misfortune. I ought to sympathize with you, instead of----"
Her voice had been growing fainter and fainter as she proceeded. She
leaned against me heavily. One glance at her told me that if I let it go
on any longer she would fall into a swoon. "Tell your brother that we
have gone back to the rectory," I said to Nugent. He looked up at Lucilla
for the first time.
"You are right," he answered. "Take her home." He repeated the sign by
which he had already hinted to me to be silent--and joined Oscar at the
wall in front of the house.
"Has he gone?" she asked.
"He has gone."
The moisture stood thick on her forehead. I passed my handkerchief over
her face, and turned her towards the wind.
"Are you better now?"
"Can you walk home?"
I put her arm in mine. After advancing with me a few steps, she suddenly
stopped--with a blind apprehension, as it seemed, of something in front
of her. She lifted her little walking-cane, and moved it slowly backwards
and forwards in the empty air, with the action of some one who is
clearing away an encumbrance to a free advance--say the action of a
person walking in a thick wood, and pushing aside the lower twigs and
branches that intercept the way.
"What are you about?" I asked.
"Clearing the air," she answered. "The air is full of him. I am in a
forest of hovering figures, with faces of black-blue. Give me your arm.
"Don't be angry with me. I am coming to my senses again. Nobody knows
what folly, what madness it is, better than I do. I have a will of my
own: suffer as I may, I promise to break myself of it this time. I can't,
and won't let Oscar's brother see that he is an object of horror to me."
She stopped once more, and gave me a little propitiatory kiss. "Blame my
blindness, dear, don't blame _me._ If I could only see--! Ah, how can I
make you understand me, you who don't live in the dark?" She went on a
few paces, silent and thoughtful--and then spoke again. "You won't laugh
at me, if I say something?"
"You know I won't."
"Suppose yourself to be in bed at night."
"I have heard people say that they have sometimes woke in the middle of
the night, on a sudden, without any noise to disturb them. And they have
fancied (without anything particular to justify it) that there was
something, or somebody, in the dark room. Has that ever happened to you?"
"Certainly, my love.--It has happened to most people to fancy what you
say, when their nerves are a little out of order."
"Very well. There is _my_ fancy, and there are _my_ nerves. When it
happened to you, what did you do?"
"I struck a light, and satisfied myself that I was wrong."
"Suppose yourself without candle or matches, in a night without end, left
alone with your fancy in the dark. There you have Me! It would not be
easy, would it, to satisfy yourself; if you were in that helpless
condition? You might suffer under it--very unreasonably--and yet very
keenly for all that." She lifted her little cane, with a sad smile. "You
might be almost as great a fool as poor Lucilla, and clear the air before
you with this!"
The charm of her voice and her manner, added to the touching simplicity,
the pathetic truth of those words. She made me realize, as I had never
realized before, what it is to have, at one and the same time, the
blessing of imagination, and the curse of blindness. For a moment, I was
absorbed in my admiration and my love for her. For a moment, I forgot the
terrible position in which we were all placed. She unconsciously recalled
it to me when she spoke next.
"Perhaps I was wrong to force the truth out of Oscar?" she said, putting
her arm again in mine, and walking on. "I might have reconciled myself to
his brother, if I had never known what his brother was like. And yet I
felt there was something strange in him, without being told, and without
knowing what it was. There must have been a reason in me for the dislike
that I felt for him from the first."
Those words appeared to me to indicate the state of mind which had led to
Lucilla's deplorable mistake. I cautiously put some questions to her to
test the correctness of my own idea.
"You spoke just now of forcing the truth out of Oscar," I said, "What
made you suspect that he was concealing the truth from you?"
"He was so strangely embarrassed and confused," she answered. "Anybody in
my place would have suspected him of concealing the truth."
So far the answer was conclusive.
"And how came you to find out what the truth really was?" I asked next.
"I guessed at it," she replied, "from something he said in referring to
his brother. You know that I took a fanciful dislike to Nugent Dubourg
before he came to Dimchurch?"
"And you remember that my prejudice against him was confirmed, on the
first day when I passed my hand over his face to compare it with his
"Well--while Oscar was rambling and contradicting himself--he said
something (a mere trifle) which suggested to me that the person with the
blue face must be his brother. There was the explanation that I had
sought for in vain--the explanation of my persistent dislike to Nugent!
That horrid dark face of his must have produced some influence on me when
I first touched it, like the influence which your horrid purple dress
produced on me, when I first touched _that._ Don't you see?"
I saw but too plainly. Oscar had been indebted for his escape from
discovery entirely to Lucilla's misinterpretation of his language. And
Lucilla's misinterpretation now stood revealed as the natural product of
her anxiety to account for her prejudice against Nugent Dubourg. Although
the mischief had been done--still, for the quieting of my own conscience,
I made an attempt to shake her faith in the false conclusion at which she
"There is one thing I don't see yet," I said. "I don't understand Oscar's
embarrassment in speaking to you. As you interpret him, what had he to be
She smiled satirically.
"What has become of your memory, my dear?" she asked. "What were you
afraid of? You certainly never said a word to me of this poor man's
deformity. You felt yourself, I suppose, (just as Oscar felt himself),
placed between a choice of difficulties. On one side, my dislike of dark
colors and dark people warned Oscar to hold his tongue. On the other, my
hatred of having advantage taken of my blindness to keep things secret
from me, pressed him to speak out. Isn't that enough--with his shy
disposition, poor fellow--to account for his being embarrassed? Besides,"
she added, speaking more seriously, "perhaps he saw in my manner towards
him that he had disappointed and pained me."
"How?" I asked.
"Don't you remember his once acknowledging in the garden that he had
painted his face in the character of Bluebeard, to amuse the children? It
was not delicate, it was not affectionate--it was not like him--to show
such insensibility as that to his brother's shocking disfigurement. He
ought to have remembered it, he ought to have respected it. There! we
will say no more. We will go indoors and open the piano and try to
Even Oscar's clumsy excuse in the garden--instead of confirming her
suspicion--had lent itself to strengthen the foregone conclusion rooted
in her mind! At that critical moment--before I had consulted with the
twin-brothers as to what was to be done next--it was impossible to say
more. I felt seriously alarmed when I thought of the future. When she was
told--as told she must be--of the dreadful delusion into which she had
fallen, what would be the result to Oscar? what would be the effect on
herself? I own I shrank from pursuing the inquiry.
When we reached the turn in the valley, I looked back at Browndown for
the last time. The twin-brothers were still in the place at which we had
left them. Though the faces were indistinguishable, I could still see the
figures plainly--Oscar sitting crouched up on the wall; Nugent erect at
his side, with one hand laid on his shoulder. Even at that distance, the
types of the two characters were expressed in the attitudes of the two
men. As we entered the new winding of the valley which shut them out from
view, I felt (so easy is it to comfort a woman!) that the commanding
position of Nugent had produced its encouraging impression on my mind.
"He will find a way out of it," I said to myself, "Nugent will help us
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SEVENTH
He finds a Way out of it
WE sat down at the piano, as Lucilla had proposed. She wished me to play
first, and to play alone. I was teaching her, at the time, one of the
_Sonatas_ of Mozart; and I now tried to go on with the lesson. Never
before, or since, have I played so badly, as on that day! The divine
serenity and completeness by which Mozart's music is, to my mind, raised
above all other music that ever was written, can only be worthily
interpreted by a player whose whole mind is given undividedly to the
work. Devoured as I then was by my own anxieties, I might profane those
heavenly melodies--I could not play them. Lucilla accepted my excuses,
and took my place.
Half an hour passed, without news from Browndown.
Calculated by reference to itself, half an hour is no doubt a short space
of time. Calculated by reference to your own suspense, while your own
interests are at stake, half an hour is an eternity. Every minute that
passed, leaving Lucilla still undisturbed in her delusion, was a minute
that pricked me in the conscience. The longer we left her in ignorance,
the more painful to all of us the hard duty of enlightening her would
become. I began to get restless. Lucilla, on her side, began to complain
of fatigue. After the agitation that she had gone through, the inevitable
reaction had come. I recommended her to go to her room and rest. She took
my advice. In the state of my mind at that time, it was an inexpressible
relief to me to be left by myself.
After pacing backwards and forwards for some little time in the
sitting-room, and trying vainly to see my way through the difficulties
that now beset us, I made up my mind to wait no longer for the news that
never came. The brothers were still at Browndown. To Browndown I
determined to return.
I peeped quietly into Lucilla's room. She was asleep. After a word to
Zillah, recommending her young mistress to her care, I slipped out. As I
crossed the lawn, I heard the garden-gate opened. In a minute more, the
man of all others whom I most wanted to see, presented himself before me,
in the person of Nugent Dubourg. He had borrowed Oscar's key, and had set
off alone for the rectory to tell me what had passed between his brother
"This is the first stroke of luck that has fallen to me to-day," he said.
"I was wondering how I should contrive to speak to you privately. And
here you are--accessible and alone. Where is Lucilla? Can we depend on
having the garden to ourselves?"
I satisfied him on both those points. He looked sadly pale and worn.
Before he opened his lips, I saw that he too had had his mind disturbed,
and his patience tried, since I had left him. There was a summer-house at
the end of the garden with a view over the breezy solitude of the Downs.
Here we established ourselves; and here, in my headlong way, I opened the
interview with the one formidable question:--"Who is to tell her of the
mistake she has made?"
"Nobody is to tell her."
That answer staggered me at the outset. I looked at Nugent in silent
"There is nothing to be surprised at," he said. "Let me put my point of
view before you in two words. I have had a serious talk with Oscar--"
Women are proverbially bad listeners--and I am no better than the rest of
them. I interrupted him, before he could get any farther.
"I suppose Oscar has told you how the mistake happened?" I said.
"He has no idea how it happened. He owns--when he found himself face to
face with her--that his presence of mind completely failed him: he didn't
himself know what he was saying at the time. _He_ lost his head; and
_she_ lost her patience. Think of his nervous confusion in collision with
her nervous irritability--and the result explains itself: nothing _could_
come of it but misapprehension and mistake. I turned the thing over in my
mind, after you had left us; and the one course to take that _I_ could
see was to accept the position patiently, and to make the best instead of
the worst of it. Having reached this conclusion, I settled the matter (as
I settle most other difficulties)--by cutting the Gordian knot. I said to
Oscar, 'Would it be a relief to your mind to leave her present impression
undisturbed until you are married?' You know him--I needn't tell you what
his answer was. 'Very well,' I said. 'Dry your eyes and compose yourself.
I have begun as Blue Face. As Blue Face I will go on till further
notice.' I spare you the description of Oscar's gratitude. I proposed;
and he accepted. There is the way out of the difficulty as I see it."
"Your way out of the difficulty is an unworthy way, and a false way," I
answered. "I protest against taking that cruel advantage of Lucilla's
blindness. I refuse to have anything to do with it."
He opened his case, and took out a cigar.
"Do as you please," he said. "You saw the pitiable state she was in, when
she forced herself to speak to me. You saw how her disgust and horror
overpowered her at the end. Transfer that disgust and horror to Oscar
(with indignation and contempt added in _his_ case); expose him to the
result of rousing those feelings in her, before he is fortified by a
husband's influence over her mind, and a husband's place in her
affections--if you dare. I love the poor fellow; and _I_ daren't. May I
I gave him his permission to smoke by a gesture. Before I said anything
more to this inscrutable gentleman, I felt the necessity of understanding
him--if I could.
There was no difficulty in accounting for his readiness to sacrifice
himself in the interests of Oscar's tranquillity. He never did things by
halves--he liked dashing at difficulties which would have made other men
pause. The same zeal in his brother's service which had saved Oscar's
life at the Trial, might well be the zeal that animated him now. The
perplexity that I felt was not roused in me by the course that he had
taken--but by the language in which he justified himself, and, more
still, by his behavior to me while he was speaking. The well-bred
brilliant young fellow of my previous experience, had now turned as
dogged and as ungracious as a man could be. He waited to hear what I had
to say to him next, with a hard defiance and desperation of manner
entirely uncalled for by the circumstances, and entirely out of harmony
with his character, so far as I had observed it. That there was something
lurking under the surface, some inner motive at work in him which he was
concealing from his brother and concealing from me, was as plainly
visible as the sunshine and shade on the view that I was looking at from
the summer-house. But what that something was, or what that inner motive
might be, it baffled my utmost sagacity to guess. Not the faintest idea
of the terrible secret that he was hiding from me, crossed my mind.
Innocent of all suspicion of the truth, there I sat opposite to him, the
unconscious witness of that unhappy man's final struggle to be true to
the brother whom he loved, and to master the devouring passion that
consumed him. So long as Lucilla falsely believed him to be disfigured by
the drug, so long the commonest consideration for her tranquillity would,
in the estimation of others, excuse and explain his keeping out of her
presence. In that separation, lay his last chance of raising an
insurmountable barrier between Lucilla and himself. He had already tried
uselessly to place another obstacle in the way--he had vainly attempted
to hasten the marriage which would have made Lucilla sacred to him as his
brother's wife. That effort having failed, there was but one honorable
alternative left to him--to keep out of her society, until she was
married to Oscar. He had accepted the position in which Oscar had placed
him, as the one means of reaching the end in view without exciting
suspicion of the truth--and he had encountered, as his reward for the
sacrifice, my ignorant protest, my stupid opposition, set as obstacles in
his way! There were the motives--the pure, the noble motives--which
animated him, as I know them now. There is the right reading of the
dogged language that mystified me, of the defiant manner that offended
me; interpreted by the one light that I have to guide my pen--the light
of later events!
"Well?" he said. "Are we allies, or not? Are you with me or against me?"
I gave up attempting to understand him; and answered that plain question,
"I don't deny that the consequences of undeceiving her may be serious," I
said. "But, for all that, I will have no share in the cruelty of keeping
Nugent held up his forefinger, warningly.
"Pause, and reflect, Madame Pratolungo! The mischief that you may do, as
matters stand now, may be mischief that you can never repair. It's
useless to ask you to alter your mind. I only ask you to wait a little.
There is plenty of time before the wedding-day. Something may happen
which will spare you the necessity of enlightening Lucilla with your own
"What can happen?" I asked.
"Lucilla may yet see him, as we see him," Nugent answered. "Lucilla's own
eyes may discover the truth."
"What! have you not abandoned the mad notion of curing her blindness,
"I will abandon my notion when the German surgeon tells me it is mad. Not
"Have you said anything about it to Oscar?"
"Not a word. I shall say nothing about it to anybody but you, until the
German is safe on the shores of England."
"Do you expect him to arrive before the marriage?"
"Certainly! He would have left New York with me, but for one patient who
still required his care. No new patients will tempt him to stay in
America. His extraordinary success has made his fortune. The ambition of
his life is to see England: and he can afford to gratify it. He may be
here by the next steamer that reaches Liverpool."
"And when he does come, you mean to bring him to Dimchurch?"
"Yes--unless Lucilla objects to it."
"Suppose Oscar objects? She is resigned to be blind for life. If you
disturb that resignation with no useful result, you may make an unhappy
woman of her for the rest of her days. In your brother's place, I should
object to running that risk."
"My brother is doubly interested in running the risk. I repeat what I
have already told you. The physical result will not be the only result,
if her sight can be restored. There will be a new mind put into her as
well as a new sense. Oscar has everything to dread from this morbid fancy
of hers as long as she is blind. Only let her eyes correct her
fancy--only let her see him as we see him, and get used to him, as we
have got used to him; and Oscar's future with her is safe. Will you leave
things as they are for the present, on the chance that the German surgeon
may get here before the wedding-day?"
I consented to that; being influenced, in spite of myself, by the
remarkable coincidence between what Nugent had just said of Lucilla, and
what Lucilla had said to me of herself earlier in the day. It was
impossible to deny that Nugent's theory, wild as it sounded, found its
confirmation, so far, in Lucilla's view of her own case. Having settled
the difference between us in this way, for the time being, I shifted our
talk next to the difficult question of Nugent's relations towards
Lucilla. "How are you to meet her again," I said, "after the effect you
produced on her at the meeting to-day?"
He spoke far more pleasantly in discussing this side of the subject. His
language and his manner both improved together.
"If I could have had my own way," he said, "Lucilla would have been
relieved, by this time, of all fear of meeting with me again. She would
have heard from you, or from Oscar, that business had obliged me to leave
"Does Oscar object to let you go?"
"He won't hear of my going. I did my best to persuade him--I promised to
return for the marriage. Quite useless! 'If you leave me here by myself,'
he said, 'to think over the mischief I have done, and the sacrifices I
have forced on you--you will break my heart. You don't know what an
encouragement your presence is to me; you don't know what a blank you
will leave in my life if you go!' I am as weak as Oscar is, when Oscar
speaks to me in that way. Against my own convictions, against my own
wishes, I yielded. I should have been better away--far, far better away!"
He said those closing words in a tone that startled me. It was nothing
less than a tone of despair. How little I understood him then! how well I
understand him now! In those melancholy accents, spoke the last of his
honor, the last of his truth. Miserable, innocent Lucia! Miserable,
"And now you remain at Dimchurch," I resumed, "what are you to do?"
"I must do my best to spare her the nervous suffering which I unwillingly
inflicted on her to-day. The morbid repulsion that she feels in my
presence is not to be controlled--I can see that plainly. I shall keep
out of her way; gradually withdrawing myself, so as not to force my
absence on her attention. I shall pay fewer and fewer visits at the
rectory, and remain longer and longer at Browndown every day. After they
are married----" He suddenly stopped; the words seemed to stick in his
throat. He busied himself in relighting his cigar, and took a long time
to do it.
"After they are married," I repeated. "What then?"
"When Oscar is married, Oscar will not find my presence indispensable to
his happiness. I shall leave Dimchurch."
"You will have to give a reason."
"I shall give the true reason. I can find no studio here big enough for
me--as I have told you. And, even if I could find a studio, I should be
doing no good, if I remained at Dimchurch. My intellect would contract,
my brains would rust, in this remote place. Let Oscar live his quiet
married life here. And let me go to the atmosphere that is fitter for
me--the atmosphere of London or Paris."
He sighed, and fixed his eyes absently on the open hilly view from the
"It's strange to see _you_ depressed," I said. "Your spirits seemed to be
quite inexhaustible on that first evening when you interrupted Mr. Finch
He threw away the end of his cigar, and laughed bitterly.
"We artists are always in extremes," he said. "What do you think I was
wishing just before you spoke to me?"
"I can't guess."
"I was wishing I had never come to Dimchurch!"
Before I could return a word, on my side, Lucilla's voice reached our
ears, calling to me from the garden. Nugent instantly sprang to his feet.
"Have we said all we need say?" he asked.
"Yes--for to-day, at any rate."
"For to-day, then--good-bye."
He leapt up; caught the cross-bar of wood over the entrance to the
summer-house; and, swinging himself on to the low garden-wall beyond,
disappeared in the field on the other side. I answered Lucilla's call,
and hastened away to find her. We met on the lawn. She looked wild and
pale, as if something had frightened her.
"Anything wrong at the rectory?" I asked.
"Nothing wrong," she answered--"except with Me. The next time I complain
of fatigue, don't advise me to go and lie down on my bed."
"Why not? I looked in at you, before I came out here. You were fast
asleep--the picture of repose."
"Repose? You never were more mistaken in your life. I was in the agony of
a horrid dream."
"You were perfectly quiet when I saw you."
"It must have been after you saw me, then. Let me come and sleep with you
to-night. I daren't be by myself, if I dream of it again."
"What did you dream of?"
"I dreamt that I was standing, in my wedding dress, before the altar of a
strange church; and that a clergyman whose voice I had never heard
before, was marrying me----" She stopped, impatiently waving her hand
before her in the air. "Blind as I am," she said, "I see him again now!"
"Oscar's brother. Nugent Dubourg."
(Have I mentioned before, that I am sometimes a great fool? If I have
not, I beg to mention it now. I burst out laughing.)
"What is there to laugh at?" she asked angrily. "I saw his hideous,
discolored face--I am never blind in my dreams! I felt his blue hand put
the ring on my finger. Wait! The worst part of it is to come. I married
Nugent Dubourg willingly--married him without a thought of my engagement
to Oscar. Yes! yes! I know it's only a dream. I can't bear to think of
it, for all that. I don't like to be false to Oscar even in a dream. Let
us go to him. I want to hear him tell me that he loves me. Come to
Browndown. I'm so nervous, I don't like going by myself. Come to
I have another humiliating confession to make--I tried to get off going
to Browndown. (So like those unfeeling French people, isn't it?)
But I had my reason too. If I disapproved of the resolution at which
Nugent had arrived, I viewed far more unfavorably the selfish weakness on
Oscar's part, which had allowed his brother to sacrifice himself.
Lucilla's lover had sunk to something very like a despicable character in
my estimation. I felt that I might let him see what I thought of him, if
I found myself in his company at that moment.
"Considering the object that you have in view, my dear," I said to
Lucilla, "do you think you want _me_ at Browndown?"
"Haven't I already told you?" she asked impatiently. "I am so nervous--so
completely upset--that I don't feel equal to going out by myself. Have
you no sympathy for me? Suppose _you_ had dreamed that you were marrying
Nugent instead of Oscar?"
"Ah, bah! what of that? I should only have dreamed that I was marrying
the most agreeable man of the two."
"The most agreeable man of the two! There you are again--always unjust to
"My love! if you could see for yourself, you would learn to appreciate
Nugent's good qualities, as I do."
"I prefer appreciating Oscar's good qualities."
"You are prejudiced, Lucilla."
"So are you!"
"You happen to have met Oscar first."
"That has nothing to do with it."
"Yes! yes! If Nugent had followed us, instead of Oscar; if, of those two
charming voices which are both the same, one had spoken instead of the
"I won't hear a word more!"
"Tra-la-la-la! It happens to have been Oscar. Turn it the other way--and
Nugent might have been the man.
"Madame Pratolungo, I am not accustomed to be insulted! I have no more to
say to you."
With that dignified reply, and with the loveliest color in her face that
you ever saw in your life, my darling Lucilla turned her pretty back on
me, and set off for Browndown by herself.
Ah, my rash tongue! Ah, my nasty foreign temper! Why did I let her
irritate me? I, the elder of the two--why did I not set her an example of
self-control? Who can tell? When does a woman know why she does anything?
Did Eve know--when Mr. Serpent offered her the apple--why she ate it? not
What was to be done now? Two things were to be done. First thing:--To
cool myself down. Second thing:--To follow Lucilla, and kiss and make it
Either I took some time to cool--or, in the irritation of the moment,
Lucilla walked faster than usual. She had got to Browndown before I could
overtake her. On opening the house-door, I heard them talking. It would
hardly do to disturb them--especially now I was in disgrace. While I was
hesitating, and wondering what my next proceeding had better be, my eye
was attracted by a letter lying on the hall-table. I looked (one is
always inquisitive in those idle moments when one doesn't know what to
do)--I looked at the address. The letter was directed to Nugent; and the
post-mark was Liverpool.
I drew the inevitable conclusion. The German oculist was in England!
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-EIGHTH
He crosses the Rubicon
I WAS still in doubt, whether to enter the room, or to wait outside until
she left Browndown to return to the rectory--when Lucilla's keen sense of
hearing decided the question which I had been unable to settle for
myself. The door of the room opened; and Oscar advanced into the hall.
"Lucilla insisted that she heard somebody outside," he said. "Who could
have guessed it was you? Why did you wait in the hall? Come in! come in!"
He held open the door for me; and I went in. Oscar announced me to
Lucilla. "It was Madame Pratolungo you heard," he said. She took no
notice either of him or of me. A heap of flowers from Oscar's garden lay
in her lap. With the help of her clever fingers, she was sorting them to
make a nosegay, as quickly and as tastefully as if she had possessed the
sense of sight. In all my experience of that charming face, it had never
looked so hard as it looked now. Nobody would have recognized her
likeness to the Madonna of Raphael's picture. Offended--mortally offended
with me--I saw it at a glance.
"I hope you will forgive my intrusion, Lucilla, when you know my motive,"
I said. "I have followed you here to make my excuses."
"Oh, don't think of making excuses!" she rejoined, giving three-fourths
of her attention to the flowers, and one-fourth to me. "It's a pity you
took the trouble of coming here. I quite agree with what you said in the
garden. Considering the object I had in view at Browndown, I could not
possibly expect you to accompany me. True! quite true!"
I kept my temper. Not that I am a patient woman: not that I possess a
meek disposition. Very far from it, I regret to say. Nevertheless, I kept
my temper--so far.
"I wish to apologize for what I said in the garden," I resumed. "I spoke
thoughtlessly, Lucilla. It is impossible that I could intentionally
I might as well have spoken to one of the chairs. The whole of her
attention became absorbed in the breathless interest of making her
"_Was_ I offended?" she said, addressing herself to the flowers.
"Excessively foolish of me, if I was." She suddenly became conscious of
my existence. "You had a perfect right to express your opinion," she said
loftily. "Accept _my_ excuses if I appeared to dispute it."
She tossed her pretty head; she showed her brightest color; she tapped
her nice little foot briskly on the floor. (Oh, Lucilla! Lucilla!) I
still kept my temper. More, by this time (I admit,) for Oscar's sake than
for her sake. He looked so distressed, poor fellow--so painfully anxious
to interfere, without exactly knowing how.
"My dear Lucilla!" he began. "Surely you might answer Madame
She petulantly interrupted him, with another toss of the head--a little
higher than the last.
"I don't attempt to answer Madame Pratolungo! I prefer admitting that
Madame Pratolungo may have been quite right. I dare say I am ready to
fall in love with the first man who comes my way. I dare say--if I had
met your brother before I met you--I should have fallen in love with
_him._ Quite likely!"
"Quite likely--as you say,"--answered poor Oscar, humbly. "I am sure I
think it very lucky for _me,_ that you didn't meet Nugent first."
She threw her lapful of flowers away from her on the table at which she
was sitting. She became perfectly furious with him for taking my side. I
permitted myself (the poor child could not see it, remember), the
harmless indulgence of a smile.
"You agree with Madame Pratolungo," she said to him viciously. "Madame
Pratolungo thinks your brother a much more agreeable man than you."
Humble Oscar shook his head in melancholy acknowledgment of this
self-evident fact. "There can be no two opinions about that," he said
She stamped her foot on the carpet--and raised quite a little cloud of
dust. My lungs are occasionally delicate. I permitted myself another
harmless indulgence--indulgence in a slight cough. She heard the second
indulgence--and suddenly controlled herself, the instant it reached her
ears. I am afraid she took my cough as my commentary on what was going
"Come here, Oscar," she said, with a complete change of tone and manner.
"Come and sit down by me."
"Put your arm round my waist."
Oscar looked at me. Having the use of his sight, he was sensible of the
absurd side of the demonstration required of him--in the presence of a
third person. She, poor soul, strong in her blind insensibility to all
shafts of ridicule shot from the eye, cared nothing for the presence of a
third person. She repeated her commands, in a tone which said sharply,
"Embrace me--I am not to be trifled with."
Oscar timidly put his arm round her waist--with an appealing look at me.
She issued another command instantly.
"Say you love me."
"Say you love me!"
Oscar whispered it.
Endurance has its limits: I began to lose my temper. She could not have
been more superbly indifferent to my presence, if there had been a cat in
the room instead of a lady.
"Permit me to inform you," I said, "that I have not (as you appear to
suppose) left the room."
She took no notice. She went on with her commands, rising irrepressibly
from one amatory climax to another.
"Give me a kiss!"
Unhappy Oscar--sacrificed between us--blushed. Stop! Don't revel
prematurely in the greatest enjoyment a reader has--namely, catching a
writer out in a mistake. I have not forgotten that his disfigured
complexion would prevent his blush from showing on the surface. I beg to
say I saw it under the surface--saw it in his expression: I repeat--he
I felt it necessary to assert myself for the second time.
"I have only one object in remaining in the room, Miss Finch. I merely
wish to know whether you refuse to accept my excuses.
"Oscar! give me a kiss!"
He still hesitated. She threw her arm round his neck. My duty to myself
was plain--my duty was to go.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Dubourg," I said--and turned to the door. She heard
me cross the room, and called to me to stop. I paused. There was a glass
on the wall opposite to me. On the authority of the glass, I beg to
mention that I paused in my most becoming manner. Grace tempered with
dignity: dignity tempered with grace.
"This is the man who is not half so agreeable as his brother. Look!"
She tightened her hold round his neck, and gave him--ostentatiously gave
him--the kiss which he was ashamed to give _her._ I advanced, in
contemptuous silence, to the door. My attitude expressed disgust
accompanied by sorrow: sorrow, accompanied by disgust.
I made no answer.
"This is the man whom I should never have loved if I had happened to meet
his brother first. Look!"
She put both arms round his neck; and gave him a shower of kisses all in
one. I indignantly withdrew. The door had been imperfectly closed when I
had entered the room: it was ajar. I pulled it open--and found myself
face to face with Nugent Dubourg, standing by the table, with his letter
from Liverpool in his hand! He must have certainly heard Lucilla cast my
own words back in my teeth--if he had heard no more.
I stopped short; looking at him in silent surprise. He smiled, and held
out the open letter to me. Before we could speak, we heard the door of
the room closed. Oscar had followed me out (shutting the door behind him)
to apologize for Lucilla's behavior to me. He explained what had happened
to his brother. Nugent nodded, and tapped his open letter smartly. "Leave
me to manage it. I shall give you something better to do than quarreling
among yourselves. You will hear what it is directly. In the meantime, I
have got a message for our friend at the inn. Gootheridge is on his way
here, to speak to me about altering the stable. Run and tell him I have
other business on hand, and I can't keep my appointment to-day. Stop!
Give him this at the same time, and ask him to leave it at the rectory."
He took one of his visiting cards out of the case, wrote a few lines on
it in pencil, and handed it to his brother. Oscar (always ready to go on
errands for Nugent) hurried out to meet the landlord. Nugent turned to
"The German is in England," he said. "Now I may open my lips."
"At once!" I exclaimed.
"At once. I have put off my own business (as you heard) in favor of this.
My friend will be in London to-morrow. I mean to get my authority to
consult him to-day, and to start tomorrow for town. Prepare yourself to
meet one of the strangest characters you ever set eyes on! You saw me
write on my card. It was a message to Mr. Finch, asking him to join us
immediately (on important family business) at Browndown. As Lucilla's
father, he has a voice in the matter. When Oscar comes back, and when the
rector joins us, our domestic privy council will be complete."
He spoke with his customary spirit; he moved with his customary
briskness--he had become quite himself again, since I had seen him last.
"I am stagnating in this place," he went on, seeing that I noticed the
change in him. "It puts me in spirits again, having something to do. I am
not like Oscar--I must have action to stir my blood--action to keep me
from fretting over my anxieties. How do you think I found the witness to
my brother's innocence at the Trial? In that way. I said to myself, 'I
shall go mad if I don't do something.' I did something--and saved Oscar.
I am going to do something again. Mark my words! Now I am stirring in it,
Lucilla will recover her sight."
"This is a serious matter," I said. "Pray give it serious consideration."
"Consideration?" he repeated. "I hate the word. I always decide on the
instant. If I am wrong in my view of Lucilla's case, consideration is of
no earthly use. If I am right, every day's delay is a day of sight lost
to the blind. I'll wait for Oscar and Mr. Finch; and then I'll open the
business. Why are we talking in the hall? Come in!"
He led the way to the sitting-room. I had a new interest, now, in going
back. Still, Lucilla's behavior hung on my mind. Suppose she treated me
with renewed coldness and keener contempt? I remained standing at the
table in the hall. Nugent looked back at me, over his shoulder.
"Nonsense!" he said. "I'll set things right. It's beneath a woman like
you to take notice of what a girl says in a pet. Come in!"
I doubt if I should have yielded to please any other living man. But,
there is no denying it, some people have a magnetic attracting power over
others. Nugent had that power over me. Against my own will--for I was
really hurt and offended by her usage of me--I went back with him into
Lucilla was still sitting in the place which she had occupied when I
withdrew. On hearing the door open, and a man's footsteps entering, she
of course assumed that the man was Oscar. She had penetrated his object
in leaving her to follow me out, and it had not improved her temper.
"Oh?" she said. "You have come back at last? I thought you had offered
yourself as Madame Pratolungo's escort to the rectory." She stopped, with
a sudden frown. Her quick ears had detected my return into the room.
"Oscar!" she exclaimed, "what does this mean? Madame Pratolungo and I
have nothing more to say to each other. What has she come back for? Why
don't you answer? This is infamous! I shall leave the room!"
The utterance of that final threat was followed so rapidly by its
execution that, before Nugent (standing between her and the door) could
get out of her way, she came in violent contact with him. She instantly
caught him by the arm, and shook him angrily. "What does your silence
mean? Is it at Madame Pratolungo's instigation that you are insulting
I had just opened my lips to make one more attempt at reconciliation, by
saying some pacifying words to her--when she planted that last sting in
me. French flesh and blood (whatever English flesh and blood might have
done) could bear no more. I silently turned my back on her, in a rage.
At the same moment, Nugent's eyes brightened as if a new idea had struck
him. He gave me one significant look--and answered her in his brother's
character. Whether he was possessed at the moment by some demon of
mischief; or whether he had the idea of trying to make Oscar's peace for
him, before Oscar returned--was more than I could say at the time. I
ought to have stopped it--I know. But my temper was in a flame. I was as
spiteful as a cat and as fierce as a bear. I said to myself (in your
English idiom), She wants taking down a peg; quite right, Mr. Nugent; do
it. Shocking! shameful! no words are bad enough for me: give it me well.
Ah, Heaven! what is a human being in a rage? On my sacred word of honor,
nothing but a human beast! The next time it happens to You, look at
yourself in the glass; and you will find your soul gone out of you at
your face, and nothing left but an animal--and a bad, a villainous bad
"You ask what my silence means?" said Nugent.
He had only to model his articulation on his brother's slower manner of
speaking as distinguished from his own, to be his brother himself. In
saying those few first words, he did it so dexterously that I could have
sworn--if I had not seen him standing before me--Oscar was in the room.
"Yes," she said, "I ask that."
"I am silent," he answered, "because I am waiting."
"What are you waiting for?"
"To hear you make your apologies to Madame Pratolungo."
She started back a step. Submissive Oscar was taking a peremptory tone
with her for the first time in his life. Submissive Oscar, instead of
giving her time to speak, sternly went on.
"Madame Pratolungo has made her excuses to _you._ You ought to receive
them; you ought to reciprocate them. It is distressing to see you and
hear you. You are behaving ungratefully to your best friend."
She raised her face, she raised her hands, in blank amazement: she looked
as if she distrusted her own ears.
"Oscar!" she exclaimed.
"Here I am," said Oscar, opening the door at the same moment.
She turned like lightning towards the place from which he had spoken. She
detected the deception which Nugent had practiced on her, with a cry of
indignation that rang through the room.
Oscar ran to her in alarm. She thrust him back violently.
"A trick!" she cried. "A mean, vile, cowardly trick played upon my
blindness! Oscar! your brother has been imitating you; your brother has
been speaking to me in your voice. And that woman who calls herself my
friend--that woman stood by and heard him, and never told me. She
encouraged it: she enjoyed it. The wretches! take me away from them. They
are capable of any deceit. She always hated you, dear, from the
first--she took up with your brother the moment he came here. When you
marry me, it mustn't be at Dimchurch; it must be in some place they don't
know of. There is a conspiracy between them against you and against me.
Beware of them! beware of them! She said I should have fallen in love
with your brother, if I had met him first. There is a deeper meaning in
that, my love, than you can see. It means that they will part us if they
can. Ha! I hear somebody moving! Has he changed places with you? Is it
_you_ whom I am speaking to now? Oh, my blindness! my blindness! Oh, God,
of all your creatures, the most helpless, the most miserable, is the
creature who can't see!"
I never heard anything in all my life so pitiable and so dreadful as the
frantic suspicion and misery which tore their way out from her, in those
words. She cut me to the heart. I had spoken rashly--I had behaved
badly--but had I deserved this? No! no! no! I had _not_ deserved it. I
threw myself into a chair, and burst out crying. My tears scalded me; my
sobs choked me. If I had had poison in my hand, I would have drunk it--I
was so furious and so wretched: so hurt in my honor, so wounded at my
The only voice that answered her was Nugent's. Reckless what the
consequences might be--speaking, in his own proper person, from the
opposite end of the room--he asked the all-important question which no
human being had ever put to her yet.
"Are you sure, Lucilla, that you are blind for life?"
A dead silence followed the utterance of those words.
I brushed away the tears from my eyes, and looked up.
Oscar had been--as I supposed--holding her in his arms, silently soothing
her, when his brother spoke. At the moment when I saw her, she had just
detached herself from him. She advanced a step, towards the part of the
room in which Nugent stood--and stopped, with her face turned towards
him. Every faculty in her seemed to be suspended by the silent passage
into her mind of the new idea that he had called up. Through childhood,
girlhood, womanhood--never once, waking or dreaming, had the prospect of
restoration to sight presented itself within her range of contemplation,
until now. Not a trace was left in her countenance of the indignation
which Nugent had roused in her, hardly more than a moment since. Not a
sign appeared indicating a return of the nervous suffering which the
sense of his presence had inflicted on her, earlier in the day. The one
emotion in possession of her was astonishment--astonishment that had
struck her dumb; astonishment that waited, helplessly and mechanically,
to hear more.
I observed Oscar, next. His eyes were fixed on Lucilla--absorbed in
watching her. He spoke to Nugent, without looking at him; animated, as it
seemed, by a vague fear for Lucilla, which was slowly developing into a
vague fear for himself
"Mind what you are doing!" he said. "Look at her, Nugent--look at her."
Nugent approached his brother, circuitously, so as to place Oscar between
Lucilla and himself.
"Have I offended you?" he asked.
Oscar looked at him in surprise. "Offended with you," he answered, "after
what you have forgiven, and what you have suffered, for my sake?"
"Still," persisted the other, "there is something wrong."
"I am startled, Nugent."
"By the question you have just put to Lucilla."
"You will understand me, and she will understand me, directly."
While those words were passing between the brothers, my attention
remained fixed on Lucilla. Her head had turned slowly towards the new
position which Nugent occupied when he spoke to Oscar. With this
exception, no other movement had escaped her. No sense of what the two
men were saying to each other seemed to have entered her mind. To all
appearance she had heard nothing, since Nugent had started the first
doubt in her whether she was blind for life.
"Speak to her," I said. "For God's sake, don't keep her in suspense,
"You have had reason to be offended with me, Lucilla. Let me, if I can,
give you reason to be grateful to me, before I have done. When I was in
New York, I became acquainted with a German surgeon, who had made a
reputation and a fortune in America by his skill in treating diseases of
the eye. He had been especially successful in curing cases of blindness
given up as hopeless by other surgeons. I mentioned your case to him. He
could say nothing positively (as a matter of course) without examining
you. All he could do was to place his services at my disposal, when he
came to England. I for one, Lucilla, decline to consider you blind for
life, until this skillful man sees no more hope for you than the English
surgeons have seen. If there is the faintest chance still left of
restoring your sight, his is, I firmly believe, the one hand that can do
it. He is now in England. Say the word--and I will bring him to
She slowly lifted her hands to her head, and held it as if she was
holding her reason in its place. Her color changed from pale to red--from
red to pale once more. She drew a long, deep, heavy breath--and dropped
her hands again, recovering from the shock. The change that followed,
held us all three breathless. It was beautiful to see her. It was awful
to see her. A mute ecstasy of hope transfigured her face; a heavenly
smile played serenely on her lips. She was among us, and yet apart from
us. In the still light of evening, shining in on her from the window, she
stood absorbed in her own rapture--the silent creature of another sphere!
There was a moment when she overcame me with admiration, and another
moment when she overcame me with fear. Both the men felt it. Both signed
to me to speak to her first.
I advanced a few steps. I tried to consider with myself what I should
say. It was useless. I could neither think nor speak. I could only look
at her. I could only say, nervously--
She came back to the world--she came back to _us_--with a little start,
and a faint flush of color in her cheeks. She turned herself towards the
place from which I had spoken, and whispered----
In a moment, my arms were round her. Her head sank on my bosom. We were
reconciled without a word. We were friends again, sisters again, in an
"Have I been fainting? have I been sleeping?" she said to me in low,
bewildered tones. "Am I just awake? Is this Browndown?" She suddenly
lifted her head. "Nugent! are you there?"
She gently withdrew herself from me, and approached Nugent.
"Did you speak to me just now? Was it you who put the doubt into my mind,
whether I am really doomed to be blind for life? Surely, I have not
fancied it? Surely, you said the man was coming, and the time coming?"
Her voice suddenly rose. "The man who may cure me! the time when I may
"I said it, Lucilla. I meant it, Lucilla."
"Oscar! Oscar!! Oscar!!!"
I stepped forward to lead her to him. Nugent touched me, and pointed to
Oscar, as I took her hand. He was standing before the glass--with an
expression of despair which I see again while I write these lines--he was
standing close to the glass; looking in silence at the hideous reflection
of his face. In sheer pity, I hesitated to take her to him. She stepped
forward, and, stretching out her hand, touched his shoulder. The
reflection of _her_ charming face appeared behind _his_ face in the
glass. She raised herself on tiptoe, with both hands on him, and said,
"The time is coming, my darling, when I may see You!"
With a cry of joy, she drew his face to her, and kissed him on the
forehead. His head fell on his breast when she released it: he covered
his face with his hands, and stifled, for the moment, all outward
expression of the pang that wrung him. I drew her rapidly away, before
her quick sensibilities had time to warn her that something was wrong.
Even as it was, she resisted me. Even as it was, she asked suspiciously,
"Why do you take me away from him?"
What excuse could I make? I was at my wits' end.
She repeated the question. For once Fortune favored us. A timely knock at
the door stopped her just as she was trying to release herself from me.
"Somebody coming in," I said. The servant entered, as I spoke, with a
letter from the rectory.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-NINTH
OH, the welcome interruption! After the agitation that we had suffered,
we all stood equally in need of some such relief as this. It was
absolutely a luxury to fall back again into the common-place daily
routine of life. I asked to whom the letter was addressed? Nugent
answered, "The letter is addressed to me; and the writer is Mr. Finch."
Having read the letter, he turned to Lucilla.
"I sent a message to your father, asking him to join us here," he said.
"Mr. Finch writes back to say that his duties keep him at home, and to
suggest that the rectory is the fitter place for the discussion of family
matters. Have you any objection to return to the house? And do you mind
going on first with Madame Pratolungo?"
Lucilla's quick suspicion was instantly aroused.
"Why not with Oscar?" she asked.
"Your father's note suggests to me," replied Nugent, "that he is a little
hurt at the short notice I gave him of our discussion here. I thought--if
you and Madame Pratolungo went on first--that you might make our peace
with the rector, and assure him that we meant no disrespect, before Oscar
and I appeared. Don't you think yourself you would make it easier for us,
if you did that?"
Having contrived in this dexterous way to separate Oscar and Lucilla, and
to gain time for composing and fortifying his brother before they met
again, Nugent opened the door for us to go out. Lucilla and I left the
twins together, in the modest little room which had witnessed a scene
alike memorable to all of us for its interest at the time, and for the
results which were to come of it in the future.
Half an hour later, we were all assembled at the rectory.
Our adjourned debate--excepting one small suggestion emanating from
myself--was a debate which led to nothing. It may be truly described as
resolving itself into the delivery of an Oration by Mr. Finch. Subject,
the assertion of Mr. Finch's dignity.
On this occasion (having matters of more importance on hand) I take the
liberty of cutting the reverend gentleman's speech by the pattern of the
reverend gentleman's stature. Short in figure, the rector shall be here,
for the first time in his life, short in language too.
Reverend Finch rose, and said--he objected to everything. To receiving a
message on a card instead of a proper note. To being expected to present
himself at Browndown at a moment's notice. To being the last person
informed (instead of the first) of Mr. Nugent Dubourg's exaggerated and
absurd view of the case of his afflicted child. To the German surgeon, as
being certainly a foreigner and a stranger, and possibly a quack. To the
slur implied on British Surgery by bringing the foreigner to Dimchurch.
To the expense involved in the same proceeding. Finally to the whole
scope and object of Mr. Nugent Dubourg's proposal, which had for its
origin rebellion against the decrees of an all-wise Providence, and for
its result the disturbance of his daughter's mind--"under My influence,
sir, a mind in a state of Christian resignation: under Your influence, a
mind in a state of infidel revolt." With those concluding remarks, the
reverend gentleman sat down--and paused for a reply.
A remarkable result followed, which might be profitably permitted to take
place in some other Parliaments. Nobody replied.
Mr. Nugent Dubourg rose--no! sat--and said, he declined to take any part
in the proceedings. He was quite ready to wait, until the end justified
the means which he proposed to employ. For the rest, his conscience was
at ease; and he was entirely at Miss Finch's service.
Mr. Oscar Dubourg, sitting hidden from notice behind his brother,
followed his brother's example. The decision in the matter under
discussion rested with Miss Finch alone. He had no opinion of his own to
offer on it.
Miss Finch herself, appealed to next:--Had but one reply to give. With
all possible respect for her father, she ventured to think that neither
he nor any one, possessing the sense of vision, could quite enter into
her feelings as the circumstances then were. If there really was any
chance of her recovering her sight, the least she could do would be to
give that chance a fair trial. She entreated Mr. Nugent Dubourg not to
lose one unnecessary moment in bringing the German surgeon to Dimchurch.
Mrs. Finch, called upon next. Spoke after some little delay, caused by
the loss of her pocket-handkerchief. Would not presume to differ in
opinion with her husband, whom she had never yet known to be otherwise
than perfectly right about everything. But, if the German surgeon _did_
come, and if Mr. Finch saw no objection to it, she would much like to
consult him (gratis, if possible) on the subject of "baby's eyes." Mrs.
Finch was proceeding to explain that there was happily nothing the
matter, that she could see, with the infant's eyes at that particular
moment, and that she merely wished to take a skilled medical opinion, in
the event of something happening on some future occasion--when she was
called to order by Mr. Finch. The reverend gentleman, at the same time,
appealed to Madame Pratolungo to close the debate by giving frank
expression to her own opinion.
Madame Pratolungo, speaking in conclusion, remarked:--
That the question of consulting the German surgeon appeared (after what
had fallen from Miss Finch) to be a question which had passed beyond the
range of any expression of feeling on the part of other persons. That she
proposed, accordingly, to look, beyond the consultation, at the results
which might follow it. That, contemplating these possible results, she
held very strong views of her own, and would proceed to give frank
expression to them as follows. That in her opinion, the proposed
investigation of the chances which might exist of restoring Miss Finch's
sight, involved consequences far too serious to be trusted to the
decision of any one man, no matter how skillful or how famous he might
be. That, in pursuance of this view, she begged to suggest (1) the
association of an eminent English oculist with the eminent German
oculist; (2) an examination of Miss Finch's case by both the professional
gentlemen, consulting on it together; and (3) a full statement of the
opinions at which they might respectively arrive, to be laid before the
meeting now assembled, and to become the subject of a renewed discussion
before any decisive measures were taken.
Lastly, that this proposal be now submitted, in the form of a resolution,
and forthwith (if necessary) put to the vote.
Resolution, as above, put to the vote.
Miss Finch. Mr. Nugent Dubourg. Mr. Oscar Dubourg. Madame Pratolungo.
No (on the score of expense), Mr. Finch. No (because Mr. F. says No),
Resolution carried by a majority of two. Debate adjourned to a day to be
hereafter decided on.
By the first train the next morning, Nugent Dubourg started for London.
At luncheon, the same day, a telegram arrived, reporting his proceedings
in the following terms:--
"I have seen my friend. He is at our service. He is also quite willing to
consult with any English oculist whom we may choose. I am just off to
find the man. Expect a second telegram later in the day."
The second telegram reached us in the evening, and ran thus:--
"Everything is settled. The German oculist and the English oculist leave
London with me, by the twelve-forty train to-morrow afternoon."
After reading this telegram to Lucilla, I sent it to Oscar at Browndown.
Judge for yourself how he slept, and how we slept, that night!
CHAPTER THE THIRTIETH
SEVERAL circumstances deserving to be mentioned here, took place in the
early part of the day on which we expected the visit of the two oculists.
I have all the will to relate them--but the capacity to do it completely
When I look back at that eventful morning, I recall a scene of confusion
and suspense, the bare recollection of which seems to upset my mind
again, even at this distance of time. Things and persons all blend
distractedly one with another. I see the charming figure of my blind
Lucilla, robed in rose-color and white, flitting hither and thither, in
the house and out of the house--at one time mad with impatience for the
arrival of the surgeons; at another, shuddering with apprehension of the
coming ordeal, and the coming disappointment which might follow. A moment
more--and, just as my mind has seized it, the fair figure melts and
merges into the miserable apparition of Oscar; hovering and hesitating
between Browndown and the rectory; painfully conscious of the new
complications introduced into his position towards Lucilla by the new
state of things; and yet not man enough, even yet, to seize the
opportunity, and set himself right. Another moment passes, and a new
figure--a little strutting consequential figure forces its way into the
foreground, before I am ready for it. I hear a big voice booming in my
ear, with big language to correspond. "No, Madame Pratolungo, nothing
will induce me to sanction by my presence this insane medical
consultation, this extravagant and profane attempt to reverse the decrees
of an all-wise Providence by purely human means. My foot is down--I use
the language of the people, observe, to impress it the more strongly on
your mind--My FOOT is down!" Another moment yet, and Finch and Finch's
Foot disappear over my mental horizon just as my eye has caught them.
Damp Mrs. Finch, and the baby whose everlasting programme is suction and
sleep, take the vacant place. Mrs. Finch pledges me with watery
earnestness to secrecy; and then confides her intention of escaping her
husband's supervision if she can, and bringing British surgery and German
surgery to bear both together (gratis) on baby's eyes. Conceive these
persons all twisting and turning in the convolutions of my brains, as if
those brains were a labyrinth; with the sayings and doings of one,
confusing themselves with the sayings and doings of the other--with a
thin stream of my own private anxieties (comprehending luncheon on a
side-table for the doctors) trickling at intervals through it all--and
you will not wonder if I take a jump, like a sheep, over some six hours
of precious time, and present my solitary self to your eye, posted alone
in the sitting-room to receive the council of surgeons on its arrival at
the house. I had but two consolations to sustain me.
First, a Mayonnaise of chicken of my own making on the luncheon-table,
which, as a work of Art, was simply adorable--I say no more. Secondly, my
green silk dress, trimmed with my mother's famous lace--another work of
Art, equally adorable with the first. Whether I looked at the
luncheon-table, or whether I looked in the glass, I could feel that I
worthily asserted my nation; I could say to myself, Even in this remote
corner of the earth, the pilgrim of civilization searching for the
elegant luxuries of life, looks and sees--France supreme!
The clock chimed the quarter past three. Lucilla, wearying, for the
hundredth time of waiting in her own room, put her head in at the door,
and still repeated the never-changing question--"No signs of them yet?"
"None, my love."
"Oh, how much longer will they keep us waiting!"
She disappeared again, with a weary sigh. Five minutes more passed; and
old Zillah peeped into the room next.
"Here they are, ma'am, in a chaise at the gate!"
I shook out the skirts of my green silk, I cast a last inspiriting glance
at the Mayonnaise. Nugent's cheerful voice reached me from the garden,
conducting the strangers. "This way, gentlemen--follow me." A pause.
Steps outside. The door opened. Nugent brought them in.
Herr Grosse, from America. Mr. Sebright of London.
The German gave a little start when my name was mentioned. The Englishman
remained perfectly unaffected by it. Herr Grosse had heard of my glorious
Pratolungo. Mr. Sebright was barbarously ignorant of his existence. I
shall describe Herr Grosse first, and shall take the greatest pains with
A squat, broad, sturdy body, waddling on a pair of short bandy legs;
slovenly, shabby, unbrushed clothes; a big square bilious-yellow face,
surmounted by a mop of thick iron-grey hair; dark beetle-brows; a pair of
staring, fierce, black, goggle eyes, with huge circular spectacles
standing up like fortifications in front of them; a shaggy beard and
mustache of mixed black, white, and grey; a prodigious cameo ring on the
forefinger of one hairy hand; the other hand always in and out of a deep
silver snuff-box like a small tea-caddy; a rough rasping voice; a
diabolically humourous smile; a curtly confident way of speaking;
resolution, independence, power, expressed all over him from head to
foot--there is the portrait of the man who held in his hands (if Nugent
was to be trusted) the restoration of Lucilla's sight!
The English oculist was as unlike his German colleague as it is possible
for one human being to be to another.
Mr. Sebright was slim and spare, and scrupulously (painfully) clean and
neat. His smooth light hair was carefully parted; his well-shaved face
exhibited two little crisp morsels of whisker about two inches long, and
no hair more. His decent black clothes were perfectly made; he wore no
ornaments, not even a watch-chain; he moved deliberately, he spoke
gravely and quietly; disciplined attention looked coldly at you out of
his light grey eyes; and said, Here I am if you want me, in every
movement of his thin finely-cut lips. A thoroughly capable man, beyond
all doubt--but defend me from accidentally sitting next to him at dinner,
or traveling with him for my only companion on a long journey!
I received these distinguished persons with my best grace. Herr Grosse
complimented me in return on my illustrious name, and shook hands. Mr.
Sebright said it was a beautiful day, and bowed. The German, the moment
he was at liberty to look about him, looked at the luncheon-table. The
Englishman looked out of window.
"Will you take some refreshment, gentlemen?"
Herr Grosse nodded his shock head in high approval. His wild eyes glared
greedily at the Mayonnaise through his prodigious spectacles. "Aha! I
like that," said the illustrious surgeon, pointing at the dish with his
ringed forefinger. "You know how to make him--you make him with creams.
Is he chickens or lobsters? I like lobsters best, but chickens is goot
too. The garnish is lofely--anchovy, olive, beetroots; brown, green, red,
on a fat white sauce! This I call a heavenly dish. He is nice-cool in two
different ways; nice-cool, to the eye, nice-cool to the taste! Soh! we
will break into his inside. Madame Pratolungo, you shall begin. Here goes
for the liver-wings!"
In this extraordinary English--turning words in the singular into words
in the plural, and banishing from the British vocabulary the copulative
conjunction "and"--Herr Grosse announced his readiness to sit down to
lunch. He was politely recalled from the Mayonnaise to the patient by his
discreet English colleague.
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Sebright. Would it not be advisable to see
the young lady, before we do anything else? I am obliged to return to
London by the next train."
Herr Grosse-with a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, and a
napkin tied round his neck--stared piteously; shook his shock head; and
turned his back on the Mayonnaise, with a heavy heart at parting.
"Goot. We shall do our works first: then eat our lunches afterwards.
Where is the patients? Come-begin-begin!" He removed the napkin, blew a
sigh (there is no other way of expressing it)--and plunged his finger and
thumb into his tea-caddy snuff-box. "Where is the patients?" he repeated
irritably. "Why is she not close-handy in here?"
"She is waiting in the next room," I said. "I will bring her in directly.
You will make allowances for her, gentlemen, I am sure, if you find her a
little nervous?" I added, looking at both the oculists. Silent Mr.
Sebright bowed. Herr Grosse grinned diabolically, and said, "Make your
mind easy, my goot creature. I am not such a brutes as I look!"
"Where is Oscar?" asked Nugent, as I passed him on my way to Lucilla's
"After altering his mind a dozen times at least," I replied, "he has
decided on not being present at the examination."
I had barely said the words before the door opened, and Oscar entered the
room. He had altered his mind for the thirteenth time--and here he was as
the result of it!
Herr Grosse burst out with an exclamation in his own language, at the
sight of Oscar's face. "Ach, Gott!" he exclaimed, "he has been taking
Nitrates of Silvers. His complexions is spoilt. Poor boys! poor boys!" He
shook his shaggy head--turned--and spat compassionately into a corner of
the room. Oscar looked offended; Mr. Sebright looked disgusted; Nugent
thoroughly enjoyed it. I left the room and closed the door behind me.
I had not taken two steps in the corridor when I heard the door opened
again. Looking back directly, I found myself, to my amazement, face to
face with Herr Grosse--staring ferociously at me through his spectacles,
and offering me his arm!
"Hosh!" said the famous oculist in a heavy whisper. "Say nothing to
nobody. I am come to help you."
"To help me?" I repeated.
Herr Grosse nodded vehemently--so vehemently that his prodigious
spectacles hopped up and down on his nose.
"What did you tell me just now?" he asked. "You told me the patient was
nervous. Goot! I am come to go with you to the patients, and help you to
fetch her. Soh! soh! I am not such a brutes as I look. Come-begin-begin!
Where is she?"
I hesitated for a moment about introducing this remarkable ambassador
into Lucilla's bedroom. One look at him decided me. After all, he was a
doctor,--and such an ugly one! I took his arm.
We went together into Lucilla's room. She started up from the sofa on
which she was reclining when she heard the strange footsteps entering,
side by side with mine.
"Who is it?" she cried.
"It is me, my dears," said Herr Grosse. "Ach, Gott! what a pretty girls!
Here is jost the complexions I like-nice-fair! nice-fair! I am come to
see what I can do, my pretty Miss, for this eyes of yours. If I can let
the light in on you--hey! you will lofe me, won't you? You will kees even
an ugly Germans like me. Soh! Come under my arm. We will go back into the
odder rooms. There is anodder one waiting to let the light in too--Mr.
Sebrights. Two surgeon-optic to one pretty Miss--English surgeon-optic;
German surgeon-optic--hey! between us we shall cure this nice girls.
Madame Pratolungo, here is my odder arms at your service. Hey! what? You
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