Poor Miss Finch
Part 6 out of 9
of the door, and the sudden appearance of a family deputation in the
First, strutting with slow and solemn steps, with one hand laid
pathetically on the breast of his clerical waistcoat, appeared Reverend
Finch. After him, came his wife, shorn of all her proper
accompaniments--except the baby. Without her novel, without her jacket,
petticoat, or shawl, without even the handkerchief which she was always
losing--clothed, for the first time in my experience, in a complete
gown--the metamorphosis of damp Mrs. Finch was complete. But for the
baby, I believe I should have taken her, in the dim light, for a
stranger! She stood (apparently doubtful of her reception) hesitating in
the doorway, and so hiding a third member of the deputation--who appealed
piteously to the general notice in a small voice which I knew well, and
in a form of address familiar to me from past experience.
"Jicks wants to come in."
The rector took his hand from his waistcoat, and held it up in faint
protest against the intrusion of the third member. Mrs. Finch moved
mechanically into the room. Jicks appeared, hugging her disreputable
doll, and showing signs of recent wandering in the white dust which
dropped on the carpet from her frock and her shoes, as she advanced
towards the place in which I was sitting. Arrived in front of me, she
peered quaintly up at my face, through the obscurity of the room; lifted
her doll by the legs; hit me a smart rap with the head of it on my knee;
"Jicks will sit here."
I rubbed my knee, and enthroned Jicks as ordered. At the same time Mr.
Finch solemnly stalked up to his daughter; laid his hands on her head;
raised his eyes to the ceiling; and said in bass notes that rumbled with
paternal emotion, "Bless you, my child!"
At the sound of her husband's magnificent voice, Mrs. Finch became
herself again. She said meekly, "How d'ye do, Lucilla?"--and sat down in
a corner, and suckled the baby.
Mr. Finch set in for one of his harangues.
"My advice has been neglected, Lucilla. My paternal influence has been
repudiated. My Moral Weight has been, so to speak, set aside. I don't
complain. Understand me--_I_ simply state sad facts." (Here he became
aware of my existence.) "Good morning, Madame Pratolungo; I hope I see
you well?--There has been variance between us, Lucilla. I come, my child,
with healing on my wings (healing being understood, for present purposes,
as reconciliation)--I come, and bring Mrs. Finch with me--don't speak,
Mrs. Finch!--to offer my heartfelt wishes, my fervent prayers, on this
the most eventful day in my daughter's life. No vulgar curiosity has
turned my steps this way. No hint shall escape my lips, touching any
misgivings which I may still feel as to this purely worldly interference
with the ways of an inscrutable Providence. I am here as parent and
peacemaker. My wife accompanies me--don't speak, Mrs. Finch!--as
step-parent and step-peacemaker. (You understand the distinction, Madame
Pratolungo? Thank you. Good creature.) Shall I preach forgiveness of
injuries from the pulpit, and not practice that forgiveness at home? Can
I remain, on this momentous occasion, at variance with my child? Lucilla!
I forgive you. With full heart and tearful eyes, I forgive you. (You have
never had any children, I believe, Madame Pratolungo? Ah! you cannot
possibly understand this. Not your fault. Good creature. Not your fault.)
The kiss of peace, my child; the kiss of peace." He solemnly bent his
bristly head, and deposited the kiss of peace on Lucilla's forehead. He
sighed superbly, and in a burst of magnanimity, held out his hand next to
me. "My Hand, Madame Pratolungo. Compose yourself. Don't cry. God bless
you. Mrs. Finch, deeply affected by her husband's noble conduct, began to
sob hysterically. The baby, disarranged in his proceedings by the
emotions of his mama, set up a sympathetic scream. Mr. Finch crossed the
room to them, with domestic healing on his wings. "This does you credit,
Mrs. Finch; but, under the circumstances, it must not be continued.
Control yourself, in consideration of the infant. Mysterious mechanism of
Nature!" cried the rector, raising his prodigious voice over the louder
and louder screeching of the baby. "Marvelous and beautiful sympathy
which makes the maternal sustenance the conducting medium, as it were, of
disturbance between the mother and child. What problems confront us, what
forces environ us, even in this mortal life! Nature! Maternity!
"Inscrutable Providence" was the rector's fatal phrase--it always brought
with it an interruption; and it brought one now. Before Mr. Finch
(brimful of pathetic apostrophes) could burst into more exclamations, the
door opened, and Oscar walked into the room.
Lucilla instantly recognized his footstep.
"Any signs, Oscar, of Herr Grosse?" she asked.
"Yes. His chaise has been seen on the road. He will be here directly."
Giving that answer, and passing by my chair to place himself on the other
side of Lucilla, Oscar cast at me one imploring look--a look which said
plainly, "Don't desert me when the time comes!" I nodded my head to show
that I understood him and felt for him. He sat down in the vacant chair
by Lucilla, and took her hand in silence. It was hard to say which of the
two felt the position, at that trying moment, most painfully. I don't
think I ever saw any sight so simply and irresistibly touching as the
sight of those two poor young creatures sitting hand in hand, waiting the
event which was to make the happiness or the misery of their future
"Have you seen anything of your brother?" I asked, putting the question
in as careless a tone as my devouring anxiety would allow me to assume.
"Nugent has gone to meet Herr Grosse."
Oscar's eyes once more encountered mine, as he replied in those terms; I
saw again the imploring look more marked in them than ever. It was plain
to him, as it was plain to me, that Nugent had gone to meet the German,
with the purpose of making Herr Grosse the innocent means of bringing him
into the house.
Before I could speak again, Mr. Finch, recovering himself after the
interruption which had silenced him, saw his opportunity of setting in
for another harangue. Mrs. Finch had left off sobbing; the baby had left
off screaming; the rest of us were silent and nervous. In a word, Mr.
Finch's domestic congregation was entirely at Mr. Finch's mercy. He
strutted up to Oscar's chair. Was he going to propose to read _Hamlet?_
No! He was going to invoke a blessing on Oscar's head.
"On this interesting occasion," began the rector in his pulpit tones;
"now that we are all united in the same room, all animated by the same
hope--I could wish, as pastor and parent (God bless you, Oscar: I look on
you as a son. Mrs. Finch, follow my example, look on him as a son!)--I
could wish, as pastor and parent, to say a few pious and consoling
The door--the friendly, admirable, judicious door--stopped the coming
sermon, in the nick of time, by opening again. Herr Grosse's squat figure
and owlish spectacles appeared on the threshold. And behind him (exactly
as I had anticipated) stood Nugent Dubourg.
Lucilla turned deadly pale: she had heard the door open, she knew by
instinct that the surgeon had come. Oscar got up, stole behind my chair,
and whispered to me, "For God's sake, get Nugent out of the room!" I gave
him a reassuring squeeze of the hand, and, putting Jicks down on the
floor, rose to welcome our good Grosse.
The child, as it happened, was beforehand with me. She and the
illustrious oculist had met in the garden at one of the German's
professional visits to Lucilla, and had taken an amazing fancy to each
other. Herr Grosse never afterwards appeared at the rectory without some
unwholesome eatable thing in his pocket for Jicks; who gave him in return
as many kisses as he might ask for, and further distinguished him as the
only living creature whom she permitted to nurse the disreputable doll.
Grasping this same doll now, with both hands, and using it head-foremost,
as a kind of battering-ram, Jicks plunged in front of me, and butted with
all her might at the surgeon's bandy legs; insisting on a monopoly of his
attention before he presumed to speak to any other person in the room.
While he was lifting her to a level with his face, and talking to her in
his wonderful broken English--while the rector and Mrs. Finch were making
the necessary apologies for the child's conduct--Nugent came round from
behind Herr Grosse, and drew me mysteriously into a corner of the room.
As I followed him, I saw the silent torture of anxiety expressed in
Oscar's face as he stood by Lucilla's chair. It did me good; it strung up
my resolution to the right pitch; it made me feel myself a match, and
more than a match, for Nugent Dubourg.
"I am afraid I behaved in a very odd manner, when we met in the village?"
he said. "The fact is, I am not at all well. I have been in a strange
feverish state lately. I don't think the air of this place suits me."
There he stopped; keeping his eyes steadily fixed on mine, trying to read
my mind in my face.
"I am not surprised to hear you say that," I answered. "I have noticed
that you have not been looking well lately."
My tone and manner (otherwise perfectly composed) expressed polite
sympathy--and nothing more. I saw I puzzled him. He tried again.
"I hope I didn't say or do anything rude?" he went on.
"I was excited--painfully excited. You are too kind to admit it; I am
sure I owe you my apologies?"
"No, indeed! you were certainly excited, as you say. But we are all in
the same state to-day. The occasion, Mr. Nugent, is your sufficient
Not the slightest sign in my face of any sort of suspicion of him
rewarded the close and continued scrutiny with which he regarded me. I
saw in his perplexed expression, the certain assurance that I was beating
him at his own weapons. He made a last effort to entrap me into revealing
that I suspected his secret--he attempted, by irritating my quick temper,
to take me by surprise.
"You are no doubt astonished at seeing me here," he resumed. "I have not
forgotten that I promised to remain at Browndown instead of coming to the
rectory. Don't be angry with me: I am under medical orders which forbid
me to keep my promise."
"I don't understand you," I said just as coolly as ever.
"I will explain myself," he rejoined. "You remember that we long since
took Grosse into our confidence, on the subject of Oscar's position
"I am not likely to have forgotten it," I answered, "considering that it
was I who first warned your brother that Herr Grosse might do terrible
mischief by innocently letting out the truth."
"Do you recollect how Grosse took the warning when we gave it to him?"
"Perfectly. He promised to be careful. But, at the same time, he gruffly
forbade us to involve him in any more of our family troubles. He said he
was determined to preserve his professional freedom of action, without
being hampered by domestic difficulties which might concern _us,_ but
which did not concern _him._ Is my memory accurate enough to satisfy
"Your memory is wonderful. You will now understand me when I tell you
that Grosse asserts his professional freedom of action on this occasion.
I had it from his own lips on our way here. He considers it very
important that Lucilla should not be frightened at the moment when she
tries her sight. Oscar's face is sure to startle her, if it is the first
face she sees. Grosse has accordingly requested me to be present (as the
only other young man in the room), and to place myself so that I shall be
the first person who attracts her notice. Ask him yourself, Madame
Pratolungo, if you don't believe me."
"Of course I believe you!" I answered. "It is useless to dispute the
surgeon's orders at such a time as this."
With that, I left him; showing just as much annoyance as an unsuspecting
woman, in my position, might have naturally betrayed--and no more.
Knowing, as I did, what was going on under the surface, I understood only
too plainly what had happened. Nugent had caught at the opportunity which
the surgeon had innocently offered to him, as a means of misleading
Lucilla at the moment, and (possibly) of taking some base advantage of
her afterwards. I trembled inwardly with rage and fear, as I turned my
back on him. Our one chance was to make sure of his absence, at the
critical moment--and, cudgel my brains as I might, how to reach that end
successfully was more than I could see.
When I returned to the other persons in the room, Oscar and Lucilla were
still occupying the same positions. Mr. Finch had presented himself (at
full length) to Herr Grosse. And Jicks was established on a stool in a
corner: devouring a rampant horse, carved in bilious-yellow German
gingerbread, with a voracious relish wonderful and terrible to see.
"Ah, my goot Madame Pratolungo!" said Herr Grosse, stopping on his way to
Lucilla to shake hands with me. "Have you made anodder lofely Mayonnaise?
I have come on purpose with an empty-stomachs, and a wolf's-appetite in
fine order. Look at that little Imps," he went on, pointing to Jicks.
"Ach Gott! I believe I am in lofe with her. I have sent all the ways to
Germany for gingerbreads for Jick. Aha, you Jick! does it stick in your
tooths? Is it nice-clammy-sweet?" He glared benevolently at the child
through his spectacles; and tucked my hand sentimentally into the breast
of his waistcoat. "Promise me a child like adorable Jick," he said
solemnly, "I will marry the first wife you bring me--nice womans, nasty
womans, I don't care which. Soh! there is my domestic sentiments laid
bare before you. Enough of that. Now for my pretty-Feench!
He crossed the room to Lucilla, and called to Nugent to follow him.
"Open the shutters," he said. "Light-light-light, and plenty of him, for
my lofely Feench!"
Nugent opened the shutters, beginning with the lower window, and ending
with the window at which Lucilla was sitting. Acting on this plan, he had
only to wait where he was, to place himself close by her--to be the first
object she saw. He did it. The villain did it. I stepped forward,
determined to interfere--and stopped, not knowing what to say or do. I
could have beaten my own stupid brains out against the wall. There stood
Nugent right before her, as the surgeon turned his patient towards the
window. And not the ghost of an idea came to me!
The German stretched out his hairy hands, and took hold of the knot of
the bandage to undo it.
Lucilla trembled from head to foot.
Herr Grosse hesitated--looked at her--let go of the bandage-and lifting
one of her hands, laid his fingers on her pulse.
In the moment of silence that followed, I had one of my inspirations. The
missing idea turned up in my brains at last.
"Soh!" cried Grosse, dropping her hand with a sudden outbreak of
annoyance and surprise. Who has been frightening my pretty Feench? Why
these cold trembles? these sinking pulses? Some of you tell me--what does
Here was my opportunity! I tried my idea on the spot.
"It means," I said, "that there are too many people in this room. We
confuse her, and frighten her. Take her into her bedroom, Herr Grosse;
and only let the rest of us in, when you think right--one at a time."
Our excellent surgeon instantly seized on my idea, and made it his own.
"You are a phenix among womens," he said, paternally patting me on the
shoulder. "Which is most perfectest, your advice or your Mayonnaise, I am
at a loss to know." He turned to Lucilla, and raised her gently from her
chair. "Come into your own rooms with me, my poor little Feench. I shall
see if I dare take off your bandages to-day."
Lucilla clasped her hands entreatingly.
"You promised!" she said. "Oh, Herr Grosse, you promised to let me use my
"Answer me this!" retorted the German. "Did I know, when I promised, that
I should find you all shaky-pale, as white as my shirts when he comes
back from the wash?"
"I am quite myself again," she pleaded faintly. "I am quite fit to have
the bandage taken off."
"What! you know better than I do? Which of us is surgeon-optic--you or
me? No more of this. Come under my arms! Come into the odder rooms!"
He put her arm in his, and walked with her to the door. There, her
variable humour suddenly changed. She rallied on the instant. Her face
flushed; her courage came back. To my horror, she snatched her arm away
from the surgeon, and refused to leave the room.
"No!" she said. "I am quite composed again; I claim your promise. Examine
me here. I must and will have my first look at Oscar in this room."
(I was afraid--literally afraid--to turn my eyes Oscar's way. I glanced
at Nugent instead. There was a devilish smile on his face that it nearly
drove me mad to see.)
"You must and weel?" repeated Grosse. "Now, mind!" He took out his watch.
"I give you one little minutes, to think in. If you don't come with me in
that time, you shall find it is I who must and weel. Now!"
"Why do you object to go into your room?" I asked.
"Because I want everybody to see me," she answered. "How many of you are
"There are five of us. Mr. and Mrs. Finch; Mr. Nugent Dubourg; Oscar, and
"I wish there were five hundred of you, instead of five?" she burst out.
"Because you would see me pick out Oscar from all the rest, the instant
the bandage was off my eyes!"
Still holding to her own fatal conviction that the image in her mind of
Oscar was the right one! For the second time, though I felt the longing
in me to look at him, I shrank from doing it.
Herr Grosse put his watch back in his pocket.
"The minutes is passed," he said. "Will you come into the odder rooms?
Will you understand that I cannot properly examine you before all these
peoples? Say, my lofely Feench--Yes? or No?"
"No!" she cried obstinately, with a childish stamp of her foot. "I insist
on showing everybody that I can pick out Oscar, the moment I open my
Herr Grosse buttoned his coat, settled his owlish spectacles firmly on
his nose, and took up his hat. "Goot morning," he said. "I have nothing
more to do with you or your eyes. Cure yourself, you
little-spitfire-Feench. I am going back to London."
He opened the door. Even Lucilla was obliged to yield, when the surgeon
in attendance on her threatened to throw up the case.
"You brute!" she said indignantly--and took his arm again.
Grosse indulged himself in his diabolical grin. "Wait till you are able
to use your eyes, my lofe. Then you will see what a brutes I am!" With
those words he took her out.
We were left in the sitting-room, to wait until the surgeon had decided
whether he would, or would not, let Lucilla try her sight on that day.
While the others were, in their various ways, all suffering the same
uneasy sense of expectation, I was as quiet in my mind as the baby now
sleeping in his mother's arms. Thanks to Grosse's resolution to act on
the hint that I had given to him, I had now made it impossible--even if
the bandage was removed on that day--for Nugent to catch Lucilla's first
look when she opened her eyes. Her betrothed husband might certainly, on
such a special occasion as this, be admitted into her bed-chamber, in
company with her father or with me. But the commonest sense of propriety
would dictate the closing of the door on Nugent. In the sitting-room he
must wait (if he still persisted in remaining at the rectory) until she
was allowed to join him there. I privately resolved, having the control
of the matter in my own hands, that this should not happen until Lucilla
knew which of the twins was Nugent, and which was Oscar. A delicious
inward glow of triumph diffused itself all through me. I resisted the
strong temptation that I felt to discover how Nugent bore his defeat. If
I had yielded to it, he would have seen in my face that I gloried in
having outwitted him. I sat down, the picture of innocence, in the
nearest chair, and crossed my hands on my lap, a composed and ladylike
person, edifying to see.
The slow minutes followed each other--and still we waited the event in
silence. Even Mr. Finch's tongue was, on this solitary occasion, a tongue
incapable of pronouncing a single word. He sat by his wife at one end of
the room. Oscar and I were at the other. Nugent stood by himself at one
of the windows, deep in his own thoughts, plotting how he could pay me
Oscar was the first of the party who broke the silence. After looking all
round the room, he suddenly addressed himself to me.
"Madame Pratolungo!" he exclaimed. "What has become of Jicks?"
I had completely forgotten the child. I too looked round the room, and
satisfied myself that she had really disappeared. Mrs. Finch, observing
our astonishment, timidly enlightened us. The maternal eye had seen Jicks
slip out cunningly at Herr Grosse's heels. The child's object was plain
enough. While there was any probability of the presence of more
gingerbread in the surgeon's pocket, the wandering Arab of the family (as
stealthy and as quick as a cat) was certain to keep within reach of her
friend. Nobody who knew her could doubt that she had stolen into
Lucilla's bed-chamber, under cover of Herr Grosse's ample coat-tails.
We had just accounted in this way for the mysterious absence of Jicks,
when we heard the bed-chamber door opened, and the surgeon's voice
calling for Zillah. In a minute more the nurse appeared, the bearer of a
message from the next room.
We all surrounded her, with one and the same question to ask. What had
Herr Grosse decided to do? The answer informed us that he had decided on
forbidding Lucilla to try her eyes that day.
"Is she very much disappointed?" Oscar inquired anxiously.
"I can hardly say, sir. She isn't like herself. I never knew Miss Lucilla
so quiet when she was crossed in her wishes, before. When the doctor
called me into the room, she said: 'Go in, Zillah, and tell them.' Those
words, sir, and no more."
"Did she express no wish to see me?" I inquired.
"No, ma'am. I took the liberty of asking her if she wished to see you.
Miss Lucilla shook her head, and sat herself down on the sofa, and made
the doctor sit by her. 'Leave us by ourselves.' Those were the last words
she said to me, before I came in here."
Reverend Finch put the next question. The Pope of Dimchurch was himself
again: the man of many words saw his chance of speaking once more.
"Good woman," said the rector with ponderous politeness, "step this way.
I wish to address an inquiry to you. Did Miss Finch make any remark, in
your hearing, indicating a desire to be comforted by My Ministrations--as
one bearing the double relation towards her of pastor and parent?"
"I didn't hear Miss Lucilla say anything to that effect, sir."
Mr. Finch waved his hand with a look of disgust, intimating that Zillah's
audience was over. Nugent, upon that, came forward, and stopped her as
she was leaving the room.
"Have you nothing more to tell us?" he asked.
"Why don't they come back here? What are they doing in the other room?"
"They were doing what I mentioned just now, sir--they were sitting side
by side on the sofa. Miss Lucilla was talking, and the doctor was
listening to her. And Jicks," added Zillah, addressing herself
confidentially to me, "was behind them, picking the doctor's pocket."
Oscar put in a word there--by no means in his most gracious manner.
"What was Miss Lucilla saying to the doctor?"
"I don't know, sir."
"You don't know?"
"I couldn't hear, sir. Miss Lucilla was speaking to him in a whisper."
After that, there was no more to be said. Zillah--disturbed over her
domestic occupations and eager to get back to her kitchen--seized the
first chance of leaving the room; going out in such a hurry that she
forgot to close the door after her. We all looked at each other. To what
conclusion did the nurse's strange answers point? It was plainly
impossible for Oscar (no matter how quick his temper might be) to feel
jealous of a man of Grosse's age and personal appearance. Still, the
prolonged interview between patient and surgeon--after the decision had
been pronounced and the trial of the eyes definitely deferred to a future
day--had a strange appearance, to say the least of it.
Nugent returned to his place at the window--puzzled, suspicious, deep in
his own thoughts. Reverend Finch, swelling with unspoken words, rose
portentously from his chair by his wife's side. Had he discovered another
chance of inflicting his eloquence on us? It was only too evident that he
had! He looked at us with his ominous smile. He addressed us in his
"My Christian friends----"
Nugent, unassailable by eloquence, persisted in looking out of the
window. Oscar, insensible to every earthly consideration except the one
consideration of Lucilla, drew me aside unceremoniously out of the
rector's hearing. Mr. Finch resumed.
"My Christian friends, I could wish to say a few appropriate words."
"Go to Lucilla!" whispered Oscar, taking me entreatingly by both hands.
"_You_ needn't stand on ceremony with her. Do, do see what is going on in
the next room!"
Mr. Finch resumed.
"The occasion seems to call upon one in my position for a little
sustaining advice on Christian duty--I would say, the duty of being
cheerful under disappointment."
"Do me the greatest of all favors! Pray find out what is keeping Lucilla
with that man!"
Mr. Finch cleared his throat, and lifted his right hand persuasively by
way of introduction to his next sentence.
I answered Oscar in a whisper.
"I don't like intruding on them. Lucilla told the nurse they were to be
left by themselves."
Just as I said the words, I became aware of a sudden bump against me from
behind. I turned, and discovered Jicks with the battering-ram-doll,
preparing for a second plunge at me. She stopped, when she found that she
had attracted my attention; and, taking hold of my dress, tried to pull
me out of the room.
"Remove that child!" cried the rector, exasperated by this new
The child pulled harder and harder at my dress. Something had apparently
happened outside the sitting-room which had produced a strong impression
on her. Her little round face was flushed; her bright blue eyes were wide
open and staring. "Jicks wants to speak to you," she said--and pulled at
me impatiently harder than ever.
I stooped down with the double purpose of obeying Mr. Finch's commands
and of humouring the child's whim, by carrying Jicks out of the room,
when I was startled by a sound from the bed-chamber--the sound, loud and
peremptory, of Lucilla's voice.
"Let go of me!" she cried. "I am a woman--I won't be treated like a
There was a moment of silence--followed by the rustling sound of her
dress, approaching us along the corridor.
Grosse's voice--unmistakably angry and excited--became audible at the
same time. "No! Come back! come back!"
The rustling sound of the dress came nearer.
Nugent and Mr. Finch moved together closer to the door. Oscar caught me
by the arm. He and I were on the left-hand side of the door: Nugent and
the rector were on the right-hand side. It all happened with the
suddenness of a flash of lightning. My heart stood still. I couldn't
speak. I couldn't move.
The half-closed door of the sitting-room was burst wide open--roughly,
violently, as if a man, not a woman, had been on the other side. (The
rector drew back; Nugent remained where he was.) Wildly groping her way
with outstretched arms, as I had never seen her grope it in the time of
her blindness, Lucilla staggered into the room. Merciful God! the bandage
was off. The life, the new life of sight, was in her eyes. It
transfigured her face: it irradiated her beauty with an awful and
unearthly light. She saw! she saw!
For an instant she stopped at the door, swaying to and fro; giddy under
the broad stare of daylight.
She looked at the rector--then at Mrs. Finch, who had followed her
husband. She paused bewildered, and put her hands over her eyes. She
slightly changed her position; turned her head, as if to look at me;
turned it back sharply towards the right-hand side of the door again; and
threw up her arms in the air, with a burst of hysterical laughter. The
laughter ended in a scream of triumph, which rang through the house. She
rushed at Nugent Dubourg, so blindly incapable of measuring her distance
that she struck against him violently, and nearly threw him down. "I know
him! I know him!" she cried--and flung her arms round his neck. "Oh,
Oscar! Oscar!" She clasped him to her with all her strength as the name
passed her lips, and dropped her head on his bosom in an ecstasy of joy.
It was done before any of us had recovered the use of our senses. The
whole horrible scene must have begun and ended in less than half a minute
of time. The surgeon, who had run into the room after her, empty-handed,
turned suddenly, and left it again; coming back with the bandage, left
forgotten in the bed-room. Grosse was the first among us to recover his
presence of mind. He approached her in silence.
She heard him, before he could take her by surprise, and slip the bandage
over her eyes. The moment when I turned, horror-struck, to look at Oscar,
was also the moment when she lifted her head from Nugent's bosom to look
for the surgeon. Her eyes followed the direction taken by mine. They
encountered Oscar's face. She saw the blue-black hue of it in full light.
A cry of terror escaped her: she started back, shuddering, and caught
hold of Nugent's arm. Grosse motioned sternly to him to turn her face
from the window; and lifted the bandage. She clutched at it with feverish
eagerness as he held it up. "Put it on again!" she said, holding by
Nugent with one hand, and lifting the other to point towards Oscar with a
gesture of disgust. "Put it on again. I have seen too much already."
Grosse fastened the bandage over her eyes, and waited a little. She still
held Nugent's arm. The sting of my indignation as I saw it, roused me
into doing something. I stepped forward to part them. Grosse stopped me.
"No!" he said. "Don't make bad worse." I looked at Oscar for the second
time. There he stood, as he had stood from the first moment when she
appeared at the door--his eyes staring wildly straight before him; his
limbs set and fixed. I went to him, and touched him. He seemed not to
feel it. I spoke to him. I might as well have spoken to a man of stone.
Grosse's voice drew my attention, for a moment, the other way.
"Come!" he said, trying to take Lucilla back into her own room.
She shook her head, and tightened her hold on Nugent's arm.
"_You_ take me," she whispered. "As far as the door."
I again attempted to stop it; and again the German put me back.
"Not to-day!" he said sternly. With that, he made a sign to Nugent, and
placed himself on Lucilla's other side. In silence, the two men led her
out of the room. The door closed on them. It was over.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-SIXTH
The Brothers Meet
A FAINT sound of crying found its way to my ears from the lower end of
the room, and reminded me that the rector and his wife had been present
among us. Feeble Mrs. Finch was lying back in her chair, weeping and
wailing over what had happened. Her husband, with the baby in his arms,
was trying to compose her. I ought perhaps to have offered my help--but,
I own, poor Mrs. Finch's distress produced only a passing impression on
me. My whole heart was with another person. I forgot the rector and his
wife, and went back to Oscar.
This time he moved--he lifted his head when he saw me. Shall I ever
forget the silent misery in that face, the dull dreadful stare in those
I took his hand--I felt for the poor disfigured, rejected man as his
mother might have felt for him--I gave him a mother's kiss. "Be
comforted, Oscar," I said. "Trust me to set this right."
He drew a long trembling breath, and pressed my hand gratefully. I
attempted to speak to him again--he stopped me by looking suddenly
towards the door.
"Is Nugent outside?" he asked in a whisper.
I went into the corridor. It was empty. I looked into Lucilla's room. She
and Grosse and the nurse were the only persons in it. I beckoned to
Zillah to come out and speak to me. I asked for Nugent. He had left
Lucilla abruptly at the bed-room door--he was out of the house. I
inquired if it was known in what direction he had gone. Zillah had seen
him in the field at the end of the garden, walking away rapidly, with his
back to the village, and his face to the hills.
"Nugent has gone," I said, returning to Oscar.
"Add to your kindness to me," he answered. "Let _me_ go too."
A quick fear crossed my mind, that he might be bent on following his
"Wait a little," I said, "and rest here."
He shook his head.
"I must be by myself," he said. After considering a little, he added a
question. "Has Nugent gone to Browndown?"
"No. Nugent has been seen walking towards the hills."
He took my hand again. "Be merciful to me," he said. "Let me go."
"Home? To Browndown?"
"Let me go with you."
He shook his head. "Forgive me. You shall hear from me later in the day."
No tears! no flaming-up of the quick temper that I knew so well! Nothing
in his face, nothing in his voice, nothing in his manner, but a composure
miserable to see--the composure of despair.
"At least, let me accompany you to the gate," I said.
"God bless and reward you!" he answered. "Let me go."
With a gentle hand--and yet with a firmness which took me completely by
surprise--he separated himself from me, and went out.
I could stand no longer--I dropped trembling into a chair. The conviction
forced itself on me that there were worse complications, direr
misfortunes, still to come. I was almost beside myself--I broke out
vehemently with wild words spoken in my own language. Mrs. Finch recalled
me to my senses. I saw her as in a dream, drying her tears, and looking
at me in alarm. The rector approached, with profuse expressions of
sympathy and offers of assistance. I wanted no comforting. I had served a
hard apprenticeship to life; I had been well seasoned to trouble. "Thank
you, sir," I said. "Look to Mrs. Finch." There was more air in the
corridor. I went out again, to walk about, and get the better of it
A small object attracted my attention, crouched up on one of the window
seats. The small object was--Jicks.
I suppose the child's instinct must have told her that something had gone
wrong. She looked furtively sideways at me, round her doll: she had grave
doubts of my intentions towards her. "Are you going to whack Jicks?"
asked the curious little creature, shrinking into her corner. I sat down
by her, and soon recovered my place in her confidence. She began to
chatter again as fast as usual. I listened to her as I could have
listened to no grown-up person at that moment. In some mysterious way
that I cannot explain, the child comforted me. Little by little, I learnt
what she had wanted with me, when she had attempted to drag me out of the
room. She had seen all that had passed in the bed-chamber; and she had
run out to take me back with her, and show me the wonderful sight of
Lucilla with the bandage off her eyes. If I had been wise enough to
listen to Jicks, I might have prevented the catastrophe that had
happened. I might have met Lucilla in the corridor, and have forced her
back into her own room and turned the key on her.
It was too late now to regret what had happened. "Jicks has been good," I
said, patting my little friend on the head with a heavy heart. The child
listened--considered with herself gravely--got off the window-seat--and
claimed her reward for being good, with that excellent brevity of speech
which so eminently distinguished her:
"Jicks will go out."
With those words, she shouldered her doll; and walked off. The last I saw
of her, she was descending the stairs as a workman descends a ladder, on
her way to the garden--and from the garden (the first time the gate was
opened) to the hills. If I could have gone out with her light heart, I
would have joined Jicks.
I had hardly lost sight of the child, before the door of Lucilla's room
opened, and Herr Grosse appeared in the corridor.
"Soh!" he muttered with a gesture of relief, "the very womans I was
looking for. A nice mess-fix we are in now! I must stop with Feench. (I
shall end in hating Feench!) Can you put me into a beds for the night?"
I assured him that he could easily sleep at the rectory. In answer to my
inquiries after his patient, he gravely acknowledged that he was anxious
about Lucilla. The varying and violent emotions which had shaken her
(acting through her nervous system) might produce results which would
imperil the recovery of her sight. Absolute repose was not simply
necessary--it was now the only chance for her. For the next
four-and-twenty hours, he must keep watch over her eyes. At the end of
that time--no earlier--he might be able to say whether the mischief done
would be fatal to her sight or not. I asked how she had contrived to get
her bandage off, and to make her fatal entrance into the sitting-room.
He shrugged his shoulders. "There are times," he said cynically, "when
every womans is a hussy, and every mans is a fool. This was one of the
It appeared, on further explanation, that my poor Lucilla had pleaded so
earnestly (after the nurse had left the room) to be allowed to try her
eyes, and had shown such ungovernable disappointment when he persisted in
saying No, that he had yielded--not so much to her entreaties, as to his
own conviction that it would be less dangerous to humour her than to
thwart her, with such a sensitive and irritable temperament as hers. He
had first bargained however, on his side, that she should remain in the
bed-chamber, and be content, for that time, with using her sight on the
objects round her in the room. She had promised all that he asked--and he
had been foolish enough to trust to her promise. The bandage once off,
she had instantly set every consideration at defiance--had torn herself
out of his hands like a mad creature--and had rushed into the
sitting-room before he could stop her. The rest had followed as a matter
of course. Feeble as it was at the first trial of it, her sense of sight
was sufficiently restored to enable her to distinguish objects dimly. Of
the three persons who had offered themselves to view on the right-hand
side of the door, one (Mrs. Finch) was a woman; another (Mr. Finch) was a
short, grey-headed, elderly man; the third (Nugent), in his height--which
she could see--and in the color of his hair--which she could see-was the
only one of the three who could possibly represent Oscar. The catastrophe
that followed was (as things were) inevitable. Now that the harm was
done, the one alternative left was to check the mischief at the point
which it had already reached. Not the slightest hint at the terrible
mistake that she had made must be suffered to reach her ears. If we any
of us said one word about it before he authorized us to do so, he would
refuse to answer for the consequences, and would then and there throw up
So, in his broken English, Herr Grosse explained what had happened, and
issued his directions for our future conduct.
"No person is to go into her," he said, in conclusion, "but you and goot
Mrs. Zillahs. You two watch her, turn-about-turn-about. In a whiles, she
will sleep. For me, I go to smoke my tobaccos in the garden. Hear this,
Madame Pratolungo. When Gott made the womens, he was sorry afterwards for
the poor mens--and he made tobaccos to comfort them."
Favoring me with this peculiar view of the scheme of creation, Herr
Grosse shook his shock head, and waddled away to the garden.
I softly opened the bed-room door, and looked in--disappearing just in
time to escape the rector and Mrs. Finch returning to their own side of
Lucilla was lying on the sofa. She asked who it was in a drowsy
voice--she was happily just sinking into slumber. Zillah occupied a chair
near her. I was not wanted for the moment--and I was glad, for the first
time in my experience at Dimchurch, to get out of the room again. By some
contradiction in my character which I am not able to explain, there was a
certain hostile influence in the sympathy that I felt for Oscar, which
estranged me, for the moment, from Lucilla. It was not her fault--and yet
(I am ashamed to own it) I almost felt angry with her for reposing so
comfortably, when I thought of the poor fellow, without a creature to say
a kind word to him, alone at Browndown.
Out again in the corridor, the question faced me:--What was I to do next?
The loneliness of the house was insupportable; my anxiety about Oscar
grew more than I could endure. I put on my hat, and went out.
Having no desire to interfere with Herr Grosse's enjoyment of his pipe, I
made my way through the garden as quickly as possible, and found myself
in the village again. My uneasiness on the subject of Oscar, was matched
by my angry desire to know what Nugent would do. Now that he had worked
the very mischief which his brother had foreseen to be possible--the very
mischief which it had been Oscar's one object to prevent in asking him to
leave Dimchurch--would he take his departure? would he rid us, at once
and for ever, of the sight of him? The bare idea of the other
alternative--I mean, of his remaining in the place--shook me with such an
unutterable dread of what might happen next, that my feet refused to
support me. I was obliged, just beyond the village, to sit down by the
road-side, and wait till my giddy head steadied itself before I attempted
to move again.
After a minute or two, I heard footsteps coming along the road. My heart
gave one great leap in me. I thought it was Nugent.
A moment more brought the person in view. It was only Mr. Gootheridge of
the village inn, on his way home. He stopped, and took off his hat.
"Tired, ma'am?" he said.
The uppermost idea in my mind found its way somehow, ill as I was, to
expression on my lips--in the form of a question addressed to the
"Do you happen to have seen anything of Mr. Nugent Dubourg?" I asked.
"I saw him not five minutes since, ma'am."
"Going into Browndown."
I started up, as if I had been struck or shot. Worthy Mr. Gootheridge
stared. I wished him good-day, and went on as fast as my feet would take
me, straight to Browndown. Had the brothers met in the house? I turned
cold at the bare thought of it--but I still kept on. There was an
obstinate resolution in me to part them, which served me in place of
courage. Account for it as you may, I was bold and frightened both at the
same time. At one moment, I was fool enough to say to myself, "They will
kill me." At another, just as foolishly, I found comfort in the opposite
view. "Bah! They are gentlemen; they can't hurt a woman!"
The servant was standing idling at the front door, when I arrived in
sight of the house. This, in itself, was unusual. He was a hard-working
well-trained man. On other occasions, nobody had ever seen him out of his
proper place. He advanced a few steps to meet me. I looked at him
carefully. Not the slightest appearance of disturbance was visible in his
"Is Mr. Oscar at home?" I asked.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am. Mr. Oscar is at home--but you can't see him.
He and Mr. Nugent are together."
I rested my hand on the low wall in front of the house, and made a
desperate effort to put a calm face on it.
"Surely Mr. Oscar will see _me?_" I said.
"I have Mr. Oscar's orders, ma'am, to wait at the door, and tell
everybody who comes to the house (without exception) that he is engaged."
The house-door was half open. I listened intently while the man was
speaking. If they had been at high words together, I must have heard them
in the silence of the lonely hills all round us. I heard nothing.
It was strange, it was inconceivable. At the same time it relieved me.
There they were together, and no harm had come of it, so far.
I left my card--and walked on a little, past the corner of the house
wall. As soon as I was out of the servant's sight, I turned back to the
side of the building, and ventured as near as I durst to the window of
the sitting-room. Their voices reached me, but not their words. On both
sides, the tones were low and confidential. Not a note of anger in either
voice--listen for it as I might! I left the house again, breathless with
amazement, and (so rapidly does a woman shift from one emotion to
another) burning with curiosity.
After half an hour of aimless wandering in the valley, I returned to the
Lucilla was still sleeping. I took Zillah's place, and sent her into the
kitchen. The landlady of the inn was there to help us with the dinner.
But she was hardly equal, single-handed, to the superintendence of such
dishes as we had to set before Herr Grosse. It was high time I relieved
Zillah if we were to pass successfully through the ordeal of the great
surgeon's criticism, as reviewer of all the sauces.
An hour more passed before Lucilla woke. I sent a messenger to Grosse,
who appeared enveloped in a halo of tobacco, examined the patient's eyes,
felt her pulse, ordered her wine and jelly, filled his monstrous pipe,
and gruffly returned to his promenade in the garden.
The day wore on. Mr. Finch came to make inquiries, and then went back to
his wife--whom he described as "hysterically irresponsible," and in
imminent need of another warm bath. He declined, in his most pathetic
manner, to meet the German at dinner. "After what I have suffered, after
what I have seen, these banquetings--I would say, these ticklings of the
palate--are not to my taste. You mean well, Madame Pratolungo. (Good
creature!) But I am not in heart for feasting. Simple fare, by my wife's
couch; a few consoling words, in the character of pastor and husband,
when the infant is quiet. So my day is laid out. I wish you well. I don't
object to your little dinner. Good day! good day!"
A second examination of Lucilla's eyes brought us to the dinner-hour.
At the sight of the table-cloth, Herr Grosse's good humour returned. We
two dined together alone--the German sending in selections of his own
making from the dishes to Lucilla's room. So far, he said, she had
escaped any serious injury. But he still insisted on keeping his patient
perfectly quiet, and he refused to answer for anything until the night
had passed. As for me, Oscar's continued silence weighed more and more
heavily on my spirits. My past suspense in the darkened room with Lucilla
seemed to be a mere trifle by comparison with the keener anxieties which
I suffered now. I saw Grosse's eyes glaring discontentedly at me through
his spectacles. He had good reason to look at me as he did--I had never
before been so stupid and so disagreeable in all my life.
Towards the end of the dinner, there came news from Browndown at last.
The servant sent in a message by Zillah, begging me to see him for a
moment outside the sitting-room door.
I made my excuses to my guest, and hurried out.
The instant I saw the servant's face, my heart sank. Oscar's kindness had
attached the man devotedly to his master. I saw his lips tremble, and his
color come and go, when I looked at him.
"I have brought you a letter, ma'am."
He handed me a letter addressed to me in Oscar's handwriting.
"How is your master?" I asked.
"Not very well, when I saw him last."
"When you saw him last?"
"I bring sad news, ma'am. There's a break-up at Browndown."
"What do you mean? Where is Mr. Oscar?"
"Mr. Oscar has left Dimchurch."
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-SEVENTH
The Brothers change Places
I VAINLY believed I had prepared myself for any misfortune that could
fall on us. The man's last words dispelled my delusion. My gloomiest
forebodings had never contemplated such a disaster as had now happened. I
stood petrified, thinking of Lucilla, and looking helplessly at the
servant. Try as I might, I was perfectly incapable of speaking to him.
He felt no such difficulty on his side. One of the strangest
peculiarities in the humbler ranks of the English people, is the sort of
solemn relish which they have for talking of their own misfortunes. To be
the objects of a calamity of any kind, seems to raise them in their own
estimations. With a dreary enjoyment of his miserable theme, the servant
expatiated on his position as a man deprived of the best of masters;
turned adrift again in the world to seek another service; hopeless of
ever again finding himself in such a situation as he had lost. He roused
me at last into speaking to him, by sheer dint of irritating my nerves
until I could endure him no longer.
"Has Mr. Oscar gone away alone?" I asked.
"Yes, ma'am, quite alone."
(What had become of Nugent? I was too much interested in Oscar to be able
to put the question, at that moment.)
"When did your master go?" I went on.
"Better than two hours since."
"Why didn't I hear of it before?"
"I had Mr. Oscar's orders not to tell you, ma'am, till this time in the
Wretched as I was already, my spirits sank lower still when I heard that.
The order given to the servant looked like a premeditated design, not
only to leave Dimchurch, but also to keep us in ignorance of his
"Has Mr. Oscar gone to London?" I inquired.
"He hired Gootheridge's chaise, ma'am, to take him to Brighton. And he
told me with his own lips that he had left Browndown never to come back.
I know no more of it than that."
He had left Browndown, never to come back! For Lucilla's sake, I declined
to believe that. The servant was exaggerating, or the servant had
misunderstood what had been said to him. The letter in my hand reminded
me that I had perhaps needlessly questioned him on matters which his
master had confided to my own knowledge only. Before I dismissed him for
the night, I made my deferred inquiry on the hateful subject of the other
"Where is Mr. Nugent?"
"Do you mean to say that he is going to stay at Browndown?"
"I don't know, ma'am, for certain. I see no signs of his meaning to
leave; and he has said nothing to that effect."
I had the greatest difficulty to keep myself from breaking out before the
servant. My indignation almost choked me. The best way was to wish him
good night. I took the best way--only calling him back (as a measure of
caution) to say one last word.
"Have you told anybody at the rectory of Mr. Oscar's departure?" I asked.
"Say nothing, about it then, as you go out. Thank you for bringing me the
letter. Good night."
Having thus provided against any whisper of what had happened reaching
Lucilla's ears that evening, I returned to Herr Grosse to make my
excuses, and to tell him (as I honestly could) that I was in sore need of
being permitted to retire privately to my own room. I found my
illustrious guest putting a plate over the final dish of the dinner, full
of the tenderest anxiety to keep it warm on my account.
"Here is a lofely cheese-omelets," said Grosse. "Two-thirds of him I have
eaten my own self. The odder third I sweat with anxiety to keep warm for
you. Sit down! sit down! Every moment he is getting cold."
"I am much obliged to you, Herr Grosse. I have just heard some miserable
"Ach, Gott! don't tell it to me!" the wretch burst out with a look of
consternation. "No miserable news, I pray you, after such a dinner as I
have eaten. Let me do my digestions! My goot-dear-creature, if you lofe
me let me do my digestions!"
"Will you excuse me, if I leave you to your digestion, and retire to my
He rose in a violent hurry, and opened the door for me.
"Yes! yes! From the deep bottoms of my heart I excuse you. Goot Madame
Pratolungo, retire! retire!"
I had barely passed the threshold, before the door was closed behind me.
I heard the selfish old brute rub his hands, and chuckle over his success
in shutting me and my sorrow both out of the room together.
Just as my hand was on my own door, it occurred to me that I should do
well to make sure of not being surprised by Lucilla over the reading of
Oscar's letter. The truth is that I shrank from reading it. In spite of
my resolution to disbelieve the servant, the dread was now growing on me
that the letter would confirm his statement, and would force it on me as
the truth that Oscar had left us never to return. I retraced my steps,
and entered Lucilla's room.
I could just see her, by the dim night-light burning in a cornet to
enable the surgeon or the nurse to find their way to her. She was alone
in her favorite little wicker-work chair, with the doleful white bandage
over her eyes--to all appearance quite content, busily knitting!
"Don't you feel lonely, Lucilla?"
She turned her head towards me, and answered in her gayest tones.
"Not in the least. I am quite happy as I am.
"Why is Zillah not with you?"
"I sent her away."
"You sent her away?"
"Yes! I couldn't enjoy myself thoroughly to-night, unless I felt that I
was quite alone. I have seen him, my dear--I have seen him! How could you
possibly think I felt lonely? I am so inordinately happy that I am
obliged to knit to keep myself quiet. If you say much more, I shall get
up and dance--I know I shall! Where is Oscar? That odious Grosse--no! it
is too bad to talk of the dear old man in that way, after he has given me
back my sight. Still it _is_ cruel of him to say that I am overexcited,
and to forbid Oscar to come and see me to-night. Is Oscar with you, in
the next room? Is he very much disappointed at being parted from me in
this way? Say I am thinking of him--since I have seen him--with such new
"Oscar is not here to-night, my dear."
"No? then he is at Browndown of course with that poor wretched disfigured
brother of his. I have got over my terror of Nugent's hideous face. I am
even beginning (though I never liked him, as you know) to pity him, with
such a dreadful complexion as that. Don't let us talk about it! Don't let
us talk at all! I want to go on thinking of Oscar."
She resumed her knitting, and shut herself up luxuriously in her own
happy thoughts. Knowing what I knew, it was nothing less than
heart-breaking to see her and hear her. Afraid to trust myself to say
another word, I softly closed the door, and charged Zillah (when her
mistress rang her bell) to say for me that I was weary after the events
of the day, and had gone to rest in my bed-room.
At last, I was alone. At last I was at the end of my maneuvers to spare
myself the miserable necessity of opening Oscar's letter. After first
locking my door, I broke the seal, and read the lines which follow.
"KIND AND DEAR FRIEND,--Forgive me: I am going to surprise and distress
you. My letter thanks you gratefully; and bids you a last farewell.
"Summon all your indulgence for me. Read these lines to the end: they
will tell you what happened after I left the rectory.
"Nothing had been seen of Nugent, when I reached this house. It was not
till a quarter of an hour later that I heard his voice at the door,
calling to me, and asking if I had come back. I answered, and he joined
me in the sitting-room. Nugent's first words to me were these:-- "
'Oscar, I have come to ask your pardon, and to bid you good-bye.'
"I can give you no idea of the tone in which he spoke to me: it would
have gone straight to your heart, as it went straight to mine. For the
moment, I was not able to answer him. I could only offer him my hand. He
sighed bitterly, and refused to take it.
" 'I have something still to tell you,' he said. 'Wait till you have
heard it; and give me your hand afterwards--if you can.'
"He even refused to take the chair to which I pointed. He distressed me
by standing in my presence as if he was my inferior. The next words that
he said to me--
"No! I have need of all my calmness and all my courage. It shakes both to
recall what he said to me. I sat down to write this, intending to repeat
to you everything that passed between us. Another of my weaknesses!
another of my failures! The tears come into my eyes again, when my mind
attempts to dwell on the details. I can only tell you the result. My
brother's confession may be summed up in three words. Prepare yourself to
be startled; prepare yourself to be grieved.
"Nugent loves her.
"Think of this discovery falling on me, after I had seen my innocent
Lucilla's arms round his neck--after my own eyes had shown me how she
rejoiced over her first sight of _him;_ how she shuddered at her first
sight of _me!_ Need I tell you what I suffered? No.
"Nugent held out his hand, when he had done--as I had held out mine
before he began.
" 'The one atonement I can make to you and to her,' he said, 'is never to
let either of you set eyes on me again. Shake hands, Oscar; and let me
"If I had willed it so--so it might have ended. I willed it differently.
It has ended differently. Can you guess how?"
I laid down the letter for a moment. It cut me with such keen regret; it
fired me with such hot rage--that I was within a hairsbreadth of tearing
the rest of it up unread, and trampling it under my feet. I took a turn
in the room. I dipped my handkerchief in water, and bound it round my
head. In a minute or two I was myself again--I could force my mind away
from my poor Lucilla, and return to the letter. It proceeded thus:
"I can write calmly of what I have next to tell you. You shall hear what
I have decided, and what I have done.
"I told Nugent to wait in the room, while I went away, and thought over
what he had said to me, by myself. He attempted to resist this. I
insisted on his yielding. For the first time in our lives, we changed
places. It was I who took the lead, and he who followed. I left him and
went out into the valley alone.
"The heavenly tranquillity, the comforting solitude helped me. I saw my
position and his, in their true light. Before I got back, I had decided
(cost me what it might) on myself making the sacrifice to which my
brother had offered to submit. For Lucilla's sake, and for Nugent's sake,
I felt the certain assurance in my own mind that it was _my_ duty, and
not _his,_ to go.
"Don't blame me; don't grieve for me. Read the rest. I want you to think
of this with my thoughts--to feel about it as I feel at this moment.
"Bearing in mind what Nugent has confessed, and what I have myself seen,
have I any right to hold Lucilla to her engagement? I am firmly persuaded
that I have no right. After inspiring her with terror and disgust at the
moment when her eyes first looked at me; after seeing her innocently
happy in Nugent's arms--how, in God's name, can I claim her as mine? Our
marriage has become an impossibility. For her own sake, I cannot, I dare
not, appeal to our engagement. The wreck of _my_ happiness is nothing.
The wreck of _her_ happiness would be a crime. I absolve her from her
engagement. She is free.
"There is my duty towards Lucilla--as I see it.
"As to Nugent next. I owe it entirely to my brother (at the time of the
Trial) that the honor of our family has been saved, and that I have
escaped a shameful death on the scaffold. Is there any limit to the
obligation that he has laid on me, after doing me such a service as this?
There is no limit. The man who loves Lucilla and the brother who has
saved my life are one. I am bound to leave him free--I do leave him
free--to win Lucilla by open and loyal means, if he can. As soon as Herr
Grosse considers that she is fit to bear the disclosure, let her be told
of the error into which she has fallen (through my fault)--let her read
these lines, purposely written to meet her eye as well as yours--and let
my brother tell her afterwards what has passed to-night in this house
between himself and me. She loves him now, believing him to be Oscar.
Will she love him still, after she has learnt to know him under his own
name? The answer to that question rests with Time. If it is an answer in
Nugent's favor, I have already arranged to set aside from my income a
sufficient yearly sum to place my brother in a position to begin his
married life. I wish to leave his genius free to assert itself,
untrammeled by pecuniary cares. Possessing, as I do, far more than enough
for my own simple wants, I can dedicate my spare money to no better and
nobler use than this.
"There is my duty towards Nugent--as I see it.
"What I have decided on you now know. What I have done can be told in two
words. I have left Browndown for ever. I have gone, to live or die (as
God pleases) under the blow that has fallen on me, far away from you all.
"Perhaps, when years have passed, and when their children are growing up
round them, I may see Lucilla again, and may take as the hand of my
sister, the hand of the beloved woman who might once have been my wife.
This may happen, if I live. If I die, you will none of you know it. My
death shall not cast its shadow of sadness on their lives. Forgive me and
forget me; and keep, as I keep, that first and noblest of all mortal
hopes--the hope of the life to come.
"I enclose, when there is need for you to write to me, the address of my
bankers in London. They will have their instructions. If you love me, if
you pity me, abstain from attempting to shake my resolution. You may
distress me--but you will never change me. Wait to write, until Nugent
has had the opportunity of pleading his own cause, and Lucilla has
decided on her future life.
"Once more, I thank you for the kindness which has borne with my
weaknesses and my follies. God bless you--and goodbye.
Of the effect which the first reading of this letter produced on me, I
shall say nothing. Even at this distance of time, I shrink from reviving
the memory of what I suffered, alone in my room on that miserable night.
Let it be enough if I tell you briefly at what decision I arrived.
I determined on doing two things. First, on going to London by the
earliest train the next morning, and finding my way to Oscar by means of
his bankers. Secondly, on preventing the villain who had accepted the
sacrifice of his brother's happiness from entering the rectory in my
The one comfort I had, that night, was in feeling that, on these two
points, my mind was made up. There was a stimulant in my sense of my own
resolution which strengthened me to make my excuses to Lucilla, without
betraying the grief that tortured me when I found myself in her presence
again. Before I went to my bed, I had left her quiet and happy; I had
arranged with Herr Grosse that he was still to keep his excitable patient
secluded from visitors all through the next day; and I had secured as an
ally to help me in preventing Nugent from entering the house, no less a
person than Reverend Finch himself. I saw him in his study overnight, and
told him all that had happened; keeping one circumstance only
concealed--namely, Oscar's insane determination to share his fortune with
his infamous brother. I purposely led the rector to suppose that Oscar
had left Lucilla free to receive the addresses of a man who had
dissipated his fortune to the last farthing. Mr. Finch's harangue when
this prospect was brought within his range of contemplation, was
something to be remembered, but not (on this occasion) to be reported--in
mercy to the Church.
By the train of the next morning, I left for London.
By the train of the same evening, I returned alone to Dimchurch; having
completely failed to achieve the purpose which taken me to the
Oscar had appeared at the bank as soon as the doors were opened in the
morning; had drawn out some hundreds of pounds in circular notes; had
told the bankers that they should be furnished with an address at which
they could write to him, in due course of time; and had departed for the
Continent, without leaving a trace behind him.
I spent the day in making what arrangements I could for discovering him
by the usual methods of inquiry pursued in such cases; and took the
return train to the country, with my mind alternating between despair
when I thought of Lucilla, and anger when I thought of the twin-brothers.
In the first bitterness of my disappointment, I was quite as indignant
with Oscar as with Nugent. With all my heart I cursed the day which had
brought the one and the other to Dimchurch.
As we lengthened our distance from London, flying smoothly the tranquil
woods and fields, my mind, with time to help it, began to recover its
balance. Little by little, the unexpected revelation of firmness and
decision in Oscar's conduct--heartily as I still deplored and blamed that
conduct--began to have a new effect on my mind. I now looked back in
amazement and self-reproach, at my own superficial estimate of the
characters of the twin-brothers.
Thinking it over uninterruptedly, with no one in the carriage but myself,
I arrived at a conclusion which strongly influenced my conduct in guiding
Lucilla through the troubles and perils that were still to come.
Our physical constitutions have, as I take it, more to do with the
actions which determine other people's opinions of us (as well as with
the course of our own lives) than we generally suppose. A man with
delicately-strung nerves says and does things which often lead us to
think more meanly of him than he deserves. It is his great misfortune
constantly to present himself at his worst. On the other hand, a man
provided with nerves vigorously constituted, is provided also with a
constitutional health and hardihood which express themselves brightly in
his manners, and which lead to a mistaken impression that his nature is
what it appears to be on the surface. Having good health, he has good
spirits. Having good spirits, he wins as an agreeable companion on the
persons with whom he comes in contact--although he may be hiding all the
while, under an outer covering which is physically wholesome, an inner
nature which is morally diseased. In the last of these typical men, I saw
reflected--Nugent. In the first--Oscar. All that was feeblest and poorest
in Oscar's nature had shown itself on the surface in past times, to the
concealment of its stronger and its nobler side. There had been something
hidden in this supersensitive man, who had shrunk under all the small
trials of his life in our village, which had proved firm enough, when the
greatness of the need called on it, to sustain the terrible disaster that
had fallen on him. The nearer I got to the end of my journey, the more
certain I felt that I was only now learning (bitterly as he had
disappointed me) to estimate Oscar's character at its true value.
Inspired by this conviction, I began already to face our hopeless
prospects boldly. As long as I had life and strength to help her, I
determined that Lucilla should _not_ lose the man, whose best qualities I
had failed to discover until he had made up his mind to turn his back on
her for ever.
When I reached the rectory, I was informed that Mr. Finch wished to speak
to me. My anxiety about Lucilla made me unwilling to submit to any delay
in seeing her. I sent a message, informing the rector that I would be
with him in a few minutes--and ran up-stairs into Lucilla's room.
"Has it been a very long day, my dear?" I asked, when our first greetings
"It has been a delightful day," she answered joyously. "Grosse took me
out for a walk, before he went back to London. Can you guess where our
walk led us?"
A chilly sense of misgiving seized me. I drew back from her. I looked at
her lovely face without the slightest admiration of it--worse still, with
downright distrust of it.
"Where did you go?" I asked.
"To Browndown, of course!"
An exclamation escaped me--("Infamous Grosse!" spit out between my teeth
in my own language). I could _not_ help it. I should have died if I had
repressed it--I was in such a rage.
Lucilla laughed. "There! there! It was my fault; I insisted on speaking
to Oscar. As soon as I had my own way, I behaved perfectly. I never asked
to have the bandage taken off; I was satisfied with only speaking to him.
Dear old Grosse--he isn't half as hard on me as you and my father--was
with us, all the time. It has done me so much good. Don't be sulky about
it, you darling Pratolungo! My 'surgeon optic' sanctions my imprudence. I
won't ask you to go with me to Browndown to-morrow; Oscar is coming to
return my visit."
Those last words decided me. I had had a weary time of it since the
morning; but (for me) the day was not at an end yet. I said to myself, "I
will have it out with Mr. Nugent Dubourg, before I go to my bed
"Can you spare me for a little while?" I asked. "I must go to the other
side of the house. Your father wishes to speak to me.
Lucilla started. "About what?" she inquired eagerly.
"About business in London," I answered--and left her, before her
curiosity could madden me (in the state I was in at that moment) with
I found the rector prepared to favor me with his usual flow of language.
Fifty Mr. Finches could not have possessed themselves of my attention in
the humour I was in at that moment. To the reverend gentleman's
amazement, it was I who began--and not he.
"I have just left Lucilla, Mr. Finch. I know what has happened."
"Wait a minute, Madame Pratolungo! One thing is of the utmost importance
to begin with. Do you thoroughly understand that I am, in no sense of the
word, to blame--?"
"Thoroughly," I interposed. "Of course, they would not have gone to
Browndown, if you had consented to let Nugent Dubourg into the house."
"Stop!" said Mr. Finch, elevating his right hand. "My good creature, you
are in a state of hysterical precipitation. I will be heard! I did more
than refuse my consent. When the man Grosse--I insist on your composing
yourself--when the man Grosse came and spoke to me about it, I did more,
I say, infinitely more, than refuse my consent. You know my force of
language--don't be alarmed! I said, 'Sir! As pastor and parent, My Foot
"I understand, Mr. Finch. Whatever you said to Herr Grosse was quite
useless; he entirely ignored your personal point of view."
"He found Lucilla dangerously agitated by her separation from Oscar: he
asserted, what he calls, his professional freedom of action."
"You persisted in closing your doors to Nugent Dubourg. _He_ persisted,
on his side--and took Lucilla to Browndown."
Mr. Finch got on his feet, and asserted himself at the full pitch of his
"Silence!" he shouted, with a smack of his open hand on the table at his
I didn't care. _I_ shouted. _I_ came down, with a smack of my hand, on
the opposite side of the table.
"One question, sir, before I leave you," I said. "Since your daughter
went to Browndown, you have had many hours at your disposal. Have you
seen Mr. Nugent Dubourg?"
The Pope of Dimchurch suddenly collapsed, in full fulmination of his
"Pardon me," he replied, adopting his most elaborately polite manner.
"This requires considerable explanation."
I declined to wait for considerable explanation. "You have not seen him?"
"I have _not_ seen him," echoed Mr. Finch. "My position towards Nugent
Dubourg is very remarkable, Madame Pratolungo. In my parental character,
I should like to wring his neck. In my clerical character, I feel it
incumbent on me to pause--and write to him. You feel the responsibility?
You understand the distinction?"
I understood that he was afraid. Answering him by an inclination of the
head (I hate a coward!) I walked silently to the door.
Mr. Finch returned my bow with a look of helpless perplexity. "Are you
going to leave me?" he inquired blandly.
"I am going to Browndown."
If I had said that I was going to a place which the rector had frequent
occasion to mention in the stronger passages of his sermons, Mr. Finch's
face could hardly have shown more astonishment and alarm than it
exhibited when I replied to him in those terms. He lifted his persuasive
right hand; he opened his eloquent lips. Before the coming overflow of
language could reach me, I was out of the room, on my way to Browndown.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-EIGHTH
Is there no Excuse for Him?
OSCAR'S dismissed servant (left, during the usual month of warning, to
take care of the house) opened the door to me when I knocked. Although
the hour was already a late one in primitive Dimchurch, the man showed no
signs of surprise at seeing me.
"Is Mr. Nugent Dubourg at home?"
"Yes, ma'am." He lowered his voice, and added, "I think Mr. Nugent
expected to see you to-night."
Whether he intended it, or not, the servant had done me a good turn--he
had put me on my guard. Nugent Dubourg understood my character better
than I had understood his. He had foreseen what would happen, when I
heard of Lucilla's visit on my return to the rectory--and he had, no
doubt, prepared himself accordingly. I was conscious of a certain nervous
trembling (I own) as I followed the servant to the sitting-room. At the
moment, however, when he opened the door, this ignoble sensation left me
as suddenly as it had come. I felt myself Pratolungo's widow again, when
I entered the room.
A reading-lamp, with its shade down, was the only light on the table.
Nugent Dubourg, comfortably reposing in an easychair, sat by the lamp,
with a cigar in his mouth, and a book in his hand. He put down the book
on the table as he rose to receive me. Knowing, by this time, what sort
of man I had to deal with, I was determined not to let even the merest
trifles escape me. It might have its use in helping me to understand him,
if I knew how he had been occupying his mind while he was expecting me to
arrive. I looked at the book. It was _Rousseau's Confessions._
He advanced with his pleasant smile, and offered his hand as if nothing
had happened to disturb our ordinary relations towards each other. I drew
back a step, and looked at him.
"Won't you shake hands with me?" he asked.
"I will answer that directly," I said. "Where is your brother?"
"I don't know."
"When you _do_ know, Mr. Nugent Dubourg, and when you have brought your
brother back to this house, I will take your hand--not before."
He bowed resignedly, with a little satirical shrug of the shoulders, and
asked if he might offer me a chair.
I took a chair for myself, and placed it so that I might be opposite to
him when he resumed his seat. He checked himself in the act of sitting
down, and looked towards the open window.
"Shall I throw away my cigar?" he said.
"Not on my account. I have no objection to smoking."
"Thank you." He took his chair--keeping his face in the partial obscurity
cast by the shade of the lamp. After smoking for a moment, he spoke
again, without turning to look at me. "May I ask what your object is in
honoring me with this visit?"
"I have two objects. The first is to see that you leave Dimchurch
to-morrow morning. The second is to make you restore your brother to his
He looked round at me quickly. His experience of my irritable temper had
not prepared him for the perfect composure of voice and manner with which
I answered his question. He looked back again from me to his cigar, and
knocked off the ash at the tip of it (considering with himself) before he
addressed his next words to me.
"We will come to the question of my leaving Dimchurch presently," he
said. "Have you received a letter from Oscar?"
"Have you read it?"
"I have read it."
"Then you know that we understand each other?"
"I know that your brother has sacrificed himself--and that you have taken
a base advantage of the sacrifice."
He started, and looked round at me once more. I saw that something in my
language, or in my tone of speaking, had stung him.
"You have your privilege as a lady," he said. "Don't push it too far.
What Oscar has done, he has done of his own free will."
"What Oscar has done," I rejoined, "is lamentably foolish, cruelly wrong.
Still, perverted as it is, there is something generous, something noble,
in the motive which has led _him._ As for your conduct in this matter, I
see nothing but what is mean, nothing but what is cowardly, in the motive
which has led _you._"
He started to his feet, and flung his cigar into the empty fireplace.
"Madame Pratolungo," he said, "I have not the honor of knowing anything
of your family. I can't call a woman to account for insulting me. Do you
happen to have any _man_ related to you, in or out of England?"
"I happen to have what will do equally well on this occasion," I replied.
"I have a hearty contempt for threats of all sorts, and a steady
resolution in me to say what I think."
He walked to the door, and opened it.
"I decline to give you the opportunity of saying anything more," he
rejoined. "I beg to leave you in possession of the room, and to wish you
He opened the door. I had entered the house, armed in my own mind with a
last desperate resolve, only to be communicated to him, or to anybody, in
the final emergency and at the eleventh hour. The time had come for
saying what I had hoped with my whole heart to have left unsaid.
I rose on my side, and stopped him as he was leaving the room.
"Return to your chair and your book," I said. "Our interview is at an
end. In leaving the house, I have one last word to say. You are wasting
your time in remaining at Dimchurch."
"I am the best judge of that," he answered, making way for me to go out.
"Pardon me, you are not in a position to judge at all. You don't know
what I mean to do as soon as I get back to the rectory."
He instantly changed his position; placing himself in the doorway so as
to prevent me from leaving the room.
"What do you mean to do?" he asked, keeping his eyes attentively fixed on
"I mean to force you to leave Dimchurch."
He laughed insolently. I went on as quietly as before. "You have
personated your brother to Lucilla this morning," I said. "You have done
that, Mr. Nugent Dubourg, for the last time."
"Have I? Who will prevent me from doing it again?"
This time he took it seriously.
"You?" he said. "How are _you_ to control me, if you please?"
"I can control you through Lucilla. When I get back to the rectory, I
can, and will, tell Lucilla the truth."
He started--and instantly recovered himself.
"You forget something, Madame Pratolungo. You forget what the surgeon in
attendance on her has told us."
"I remember it perfectly. If we say or do anything to agitate his
patient, in her present state, the surgeon refuses to answer for the
"Well--between the alternative of leaving you free to break both their
hearts, and the alternative of setting the surgeon's warning at
defiance--dreadful as the choice is, my choice is made. I tell you to
your face, I would rather see Lucilla blind again than see her your
His estimate of the strength of the position on his side, had been
necessarily based on one conviction--the conviction that Grosse's
professional authority would tie my tongue. I had scattered his
calculations to the winds. He turned so deadly pale that, dim as the
light was, I could see the change in his face.
"I don't believe you!" he said.
"Present yourself at the rectory tomorrow," I answered--"and you will
see. I have no more to say to you. Let me by."
You may suppose I was only trying to frighten him. I was doing nothing of
the sort. Blame me, or approve of me, as you please, I was expressing the
resolution which I had in my mind when I spoke. Whether my courage would
have held out through the walk from Browndown to the rectory--whether I
should have shrunk from it when I actually found myself in Lucilla's
presence--is more than I can venture to decide. All I say is that I did,
in my desperation, positively mean doing it, at the moment when I
threatened to do it--and that Nugent Dubourg heard something in my voice
which told him I was in earnest.
"You fiend!" he burst out, stepping close up to me with a look of fury.
The whole passionate fervour of the love that the miserable wretch felt
for her, shook him from head to foot, as his horror of me found its way
to expression in those two words.
"Spare me your opinion of my character," I said. "I don't expect _you_
to understand the motives of an honest woman. For the last time, let me
Instead of letting me by, he locked the door, and put the key in his
pocket. That done, he pointed to the chair that I had left.
"Sit down," he said, with a sudden sinking in his voice which implied a
sudden change in his temper. "Let me have a minute to myself."
I returned to my place. He took his own chair on the other side of the
table, and covered his face with his hands. We waited awhile in silence.
I looked at him, once or twice, as the minutes followed each other. The
shaded lamp-light glistened dimly on something between his fingers. I
rose softly, and stretched across the table to look closer. Tears! On my
word of honor, tears forcing their way through his fingers, as he held
them over his face! I had been on the point of speaking. I sat down again
"Say what you want of me. Tell me what you wish me to do." Those were his
first words. He spoke them without moving his hands; so quietly, so
sadly, with such hopeless sorrow, such uncomplaining resignation in his
voice, that I, who had entered that room, hating him, rose again, and
went round to his chair. I--who a minute ago, if I had had the strength,
would have struck him down on the floor at my feet--laid my hand on his
shoulder, pitying him from the bottom of my heart. That is what women
are! There is a specimen of their sense, firmness, and self-control!
"Be just, Nugent," I said. "Be honorable. Be all that I once thought you.
I want no more."
He dropped his arms on the table: his head fell on them, and he burst
into a fit of crying. It was so like his brother, that I could almost
have fancied I, too, had mistaken one of them for the other. "Oscar over
again," I thought to myself, "on the first day when I spoke to him in
this very room!"
"Come!" I said, when he was quieter. We shall end in understanding each
other and respecting each other after all."
He irritably shook my hand off his shoulder, and turned his face away
from the light.
"Don't talk of understanding _me,_" he said. "Your sympathy is for Oscar.
He is the victim; he is the martyr; he has all your consideration and all
your pity. I am a coward; I am a villain; I have no honor and no heart.
Tread Me under foot like a reptile. _My_ misery is only what I deserve!
Compassion is thrown away--isn't it?--on such a scoundrel as I am?"
I was sorely puzzled how to answer him. All that he had said against
himself, I had thought of him in my own mind. And why not? He _had_
behaved infamously--he _was_ a fit object for righteous indignation. And
yet--and yet--it is sometimes so very hard, however badly a man may have
behaved, for women to hold out against forgiving him, when they know that
a woman is at the bottom of it.
"Whatever I may have thought of you," I said, "it is still in your power,
Nugent, to win back my old regard for you."
"Is it?" he answered scornfully. "I know better than that. You are not
talking to Oscar now--you are talking to a man who has had some
experience of women. I know how you all hold to your opinions because
they are your opinions--without asking yourselves whether they are right
or wrong. There are men who could understand me and pity me. No woman can
do it. The best and cleverest among you don't know what love is--as a man
feels it. It isn't the frenzy with You that it is with Us. It
acknowledges restraints in a woman--it bursts through everything in a
man. It robs him of his intelligence, his honor, his self-respect--it
levels him with the brutes--it debases him into idiocy--it lashes him
into madness. I tell you I am not accountable for my own actions. The
kindest thing you could do for me would be to shut me up in a madhouse.
The best thing I could do for myself would be to cut my throat.--Oh, yes!
this is a shocking way of talking, isn't it? I ought to struggle against
it--as you say. I ought to summon my self-control. Ha! ha! ha! Here is a
clever woman--here is an experienced woman. And yet--though she has seen
me in Lucilla's company hundreds of times--she has never once discovered
the signs of a struggle in me! From the moment when I first saw that
heavenly creature, it has been one long fight against myself, one
infernal torment of shame and remorse; and this clever friend of mine has
observed so little and knows so little, that she can only view my conduct
in one light--it is the conduct of a coward and a villain!"
He got up, and took a turn in the room. I was--naturally, I think--a
little irritated by his way of putting it. A man assuming to know more
about love than a woman! Was there ever such a monstrous perversion of
the truth as that? I appeal to the women!
"You ought to be the last person to blame me," I said. "I had too high an
opinion of you to suspect what was going on. I will never make the same
mistake again--I promise you that!"
He came back, and stood still in front of me, looking me hard in the
"Do you really mean to say you saw nothing to set you thinking, on the
day when I first met her?" he asked. "You were there in the room--didn't
you see that she struck me dumb? Did you notice nothing suspicious at a
later time? When I was suffering martyrdom, if I only looked at her--was
there nothing to be seen in me which told its own tale?"
"I noticed that you were never at your ease with her," I replied. "But I
liked you and trusted you--and I failed to understand it. That's all."
"Did you fail to understand everything that followed? Didn't I speak to
her father? Didn't I try to hasten Oscar's marriage?"
It was true. He _had_ tried.
"When we first talked of his telling Lucilla of the discoloration of his
face, did I not agree with you that he ought to put himself right with
her, in his own interests?"
True again. Impossible to deny that he had sided with my view.
"When she all but found it out for herself, whose influence was used to
make him own it? Mine! What did I do, when he tried to confess it, and
failed to make her understand him? what did I do when she first committed
the mistake of believing _me_ to be the disfigured man?"
The audacity of that last question fairly took away my breath. "You
cruelly helped to deceive her," I answered indignantly. "You basely
encouraged your brother in his fatal policy of silence."
He looked at me with an angry amazement on his side which more than
equaled the angry amazement on mine.
"So much for the delicate perception of a woman!" he exclaimed. "So much
for the wonderful tact which is the peculiar gift of the sex! You can see
no motive but a bad motive in my sacrificing myself for Oscar's sake?"
I began to discern faintly that there might have been another than a bad
motive for his conduct. But--well! I dare say I was wrong; I resented the
tone he was taking with me; I would have owned I had made a mistake to
anybody else in the world; I wouldn't own it to _him._ There!
"Look back for one moment," he resumed, in quieter and gentler tones.
"See how hardly you have judged me! I seized the opportunity--I swear to
you this is true--I seized the opportunity of making myself an object of
horror to her, the moment I heard of the mistake that she had made. I
felt in myself that I was growing less and less capable of avoiding her,
and I caught at the chance of making _her_ avoid _me;_ I did that--and I
did more! I entreated Oscar to let me leave Dimchurch. He appealed to me,
in the name of our love for each other, to remain. I couldn't resist him.
Where do you see signs of the conduct of a scoundrel in all this? Would a
scoundrel have betrayed himself to you a dozen times over--as I did in
that talk of ours in the summer-house? I remember saying in so many
words, I wished I had never come to Dimchurch. What reason but one could
there be for my saying that? How is it that you never even asked me what
"You forget," I interposed, "that I had no opportunity of asking you.
Lucilla interrupted us, and diverted my attention to other things. What
do you mean by putting me on my defence in this way?" I went on, more and
more irritated by the tone he was taking with me. "What right have you to
judge my conduct?"
He looked at me with a kind of vacant surprise.
"_Have_ I been judging your conduct?" he asked.
"Perhaps I was thinking, if you had seen my infatuation in time you
might have checked it in time. No!" he exclaimed, before I could answer
him. "Nothing could have checked it--nothing will cure it but my death.
Let us try to agree. I beg your pardon if I have offended you. I am
willing to take a just view of your conduct. Will you take a just view of
I tried hard to take a just view. Though I resented his manner of
speaking to me, I nevertheless secretly felt for him, as I have
confessed. Still I could not forget that he had attempted to attract to
himself Lucilla's first look, on the day when she tried her sight--that
he had personated his brother to Lucilla that very morning--that he had
suffered his brother to go away heart-broken, a voluntary exile from all
that he held dear. No! I could feel for him, but I could _not_ take a
just view of him. I sat down, and said nothing.
He returned to the question between us; treating me with the needful
politeness, when he spoke next. For all that, he alarmed me, by what he
now said, as he had not alarmed me yet.
"I repeat what I have already told you," he proceeded. "I am no longer
accountable for what I do. If I know anything of myself, I believe it
will be useless to trust me in the future. While I am capable of speaking
the truth, let me tell it. Whatever happens at a later time--remember
this, I have honestly made a clean breast of it to-night."
"Stop!" I cried. "I don't understand your reckless way of talking. Every
man is accountable for what he does."
He checked me there by an impatient wave of his hand.
"Keep your opinion; I don't dispute it. You will see; you will
see.--Madame Pratolungo, the day when we had that private talk of ours in
the rectory summer-house, marks a memorable date in my calendar. My last
honest struggle to be true to my poor Oscar ended with that day. The
efforts I have made since then have been little better than mere
outbreaks of despair. They have done nothing to help me against the
passion that has become the one feeling and the one misery of my life.
Don't talk of resistance. All resistance stops at a certain point. Since
the time I have told you of, _my_ resistance has reached its limits. You
have heard how I struggled against temptation, as long as I could resist
it. I have only to tell you how I have yielded to it now."
The reckless, shameless composure with which he said that, began to set
me against him once more. The perpetual shifts and contradictions in him,
bewildered and irritated me. Quicksilver itself seemed to be less
slippery to lay hold of than this man.
"Do you remember the day," he asked, "when Lucilla lost her temper, and
received you so rudely at your visit to Browndown?"
I made a sign in the affirmative.
"You spoke, a little while since, of my personating Oscar to her. I
personated him, on the occasion I have just mentioned, for the first
time. You were present and heard me. Did you care to speculate on the
motives which made me impose myself on her as my brother?"
"As well as I can remember," I answered, "I made the first guess that
occurred to me. I thought you were indulging in a moment's mischievous
amusement at Lucilla's expense.
"I was indulging the passion that consumed me! I longed to feel the
luxury of her touching me and being familiar with me, under the
impression that I was Oscar. Worse even than that, I wanted to try how
completely I could impose on her--how easily I might marry her, if I
could only deceive you all, and take her away somewhere by herself. The
devil was in possession of me. I don't know how it might have ended, if
Oscar had not come in, and if Lucilla had not burst out as she did. She
distressed me--she frightened me--she gave me back again to my better
self. I rushed, without stopping to prepare her, into the question of her
restoration to sight--as the only way of diverting her mind from the vile
advantage that I had taken of her blindness. That night, Madame
Pratolungo, I suffered pangs of self-reproach and remorse which would
even have satisfied _you._ At the very next opportunity that offered, I
made my atonement to Oscar. I supported his interests; I even put the
words he was to say to Lucilla into his lips
"When?" I broke in. "Where? How?"
"When the two surgeons had left us. In Lucilla's sitting-room. In the
heat of the discussion whether she should submit to the operation at
once--or whether she should marry Oscar first, and let Grosse try his
experiment on her eyes at a later time. If you recall our conversation,
you will remember that I did all I could to persuade Lucilla to marry my
brother before Grosse tried his experiment on her sight. Quite useless!
You threw all the weight of your influence into the opposite side of the
scale. I failed. It made no difference. I had done what I had done in
sheer despair: mere impulse--it didn't last. When the next temptation
tried me, I behaved like a scoundrel--as you say."
"I have said nothing," I answered shortly.
"Very well--as you _think,_ then. Did you suspect me at last--when we met
in the village, yesterday? Surely, even your eyes must have seen through
me on that occasion!"
I answered silently, by an inclination of my head. I had no wish to drift
into another quarrel. Sorely as he was presuming on my endurance, I
tried, in Lucilla's interests, to keep on friendly terms with him.
"You concealed it wonderfully well," he went on, "when I tried to find
out whether you had, or had not discovered me. You virtuous people are
not bad hands at deception, when it suits your interests to deceive. I
needn't tell you what my temptation was yesterday. The first look of her
eyes when they opened on the world; the first light of love and joy
breaking on her heavenly face--what madness to expect me to let that look
fall on another man, that light show itself to other eyes! No living
being, adoring her as I adored her, would have acted otherwise than I
did. I could have fallen down on my knees and worshipped Grosse, when he
innocently proposed to me to take the very place in the room which I was
determined to occupy. You saw what I had in my mind! You did your
best--and did it admirably--to defeat me. Oh, you pattern people--you can
be as shifty with your resources, when a cunning trick is to be played,
as the worst of us! You saw how it ended. Fortune stood my friend at the
eleventh hour; fortune can shine, like the sun, on the just and the
unjust! _I_ had the first look of her eyes! _I_ felt the first light of
love and joy in her face falling on _me! I_ have had her arms round me,
and her bosom on mine--"
I could endure it no longer.
"Open the door!" I said. "I am ashamed to be in the same room with you!"
"I don't wonder at it," he answered. "You may well be ashamed of me. I am
ashamed of myself."
There was nothing cynical in his tone, nothing insolent in his manner.
The same man who had just gloried in that abominable way, in his victory
over innocence and misfortune, now spoke and looked like a man who was
honestly ashamed of himself. If I could only have felt convinced that he
was mocking me, or playing the hypocrite with me, I should have known
what to do. But I say again--impossible as it seems--he was, beyond all
doubt, genuinely penitent for what he had said, the instant after he had
said it! With all my experience of humanity, and all my practice in
dealing with strange characters, I stopped mid-way between Nugent and the
locked door, thoroughly puzzled.
"Do you believe me?" he asked.
"I don't understand you," I answered.
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