Poor Miss Finch
Part 7 out of 9
He took the key of the door out of his pocket, and put it on the
table--close to the chair from which I had just risen.
"I lose my head when I talk of her, or think of her," he went on. "I
would give everything I possess not to have said what I said just now. No
language you can use is too strong to condemn it. The words burst out of
me: if Lucilla herself had been present, I couldn't have controlled them.
Go, if you like. I have no right to keep you here, after behaving as I
have done. There is the key, at your service. Only think first, before
you leave me. You had something to propose when you came in. You might
influence me--you might shame me into behaving like an honorable man. Do
as you please. It rests with you."
Which was I, a good Christian? or a contemptible fool? I went back once
more to my chair, and determined to give him a last chance.
"That's kind," he said. "You encourage me; you show me that I am worth
trying again. I had a generous impulse in this room, yesterday. It might
have been something better than an impulse--if I had not had another
temptation set straight in my way."
"What temptation?" I asked.
"Oscar's letter has told you: Oscar himself put the temptation in my way.
You must have seen it."
"I saw nothing of the sort."
"Doesn't he tell you that I offered to leave Dimchurch for ever? I meant
it. I saw the misery in the poor fellow's face, when Grosse and I were
leading Lucilla out of the room. With my whole heart, I meant it. If he
had taken my hand, and had said Good-bye, I should have gone. He wouldn't
take my hand. He insisted on thinking it over by himself. He came back,
resolved to make the sacrifice, on his side----"
"Why did you accept the sacrifice?"
"Because he tempted me."
"Yes! What else can you call it--when he offered to leave me free to
plead my own cause with Lucilla? What else can you call it--when he
showed me a future life, which was a life with Lucilla? Poor, dear,
generous fellow, he tempted me to stay when he ought to have encouraged
me to go. How could I resist him? Blame the passion that has got me body
and soul: don't blame _me!_"
I looked at the book on the table--the book that he had been reading when
I entered the room. These sophistical confidences of his were nothing but
Rousseau at second hand. Good! If he talked false Rousseau, nothing was
left for me but to talk genuine Pratolungo. I let myself go--I was just
in the humour for it.
"How can a clever man like you impose on yourself in that way?" I said.
"Your future with Lucilla? You have no future with Lucilla which is not
shocking to think of. Suppose--you shall never do it, as long as I
live--suppose you married her? Good heavens, what a miserable life it
would be for both of you! You love your brother. Do you think you could
ever really know a moment's peace, with one reflection perpetually
forcing itself on your mind? 'I have cheated Oscar out of the woman whom
he loved; I have wasted his life; I have broken his heart.' You couldn't
look at her, you couldn't speak to her, you couldn't touch her, without
feeling it all embittered by that horrible reproach. And she? What sort
of wife would she make you, when she knew how you had got her? I don't
know which of the two she would hate most--you or herself. Not a man
would pass her in the street, who would not rouse the thought in her--'I
wonder whether _he_ has ever done anything as base as what my husband has
done.' Not a married woman of her acquaintance, but would make her sick
at heart with envy and regret. 'Whatever faults he may have, your husband
hasn't won you as my husband won me.' You happy? Your married life
endurable? Come! I have saved a few pounds, since I have been with
Lucilla. I will lay you every farthing I possess, you two would be
separated by mutual consent before you had been six months man and wife.
_Now,_ which will you do? Will you start for the Continent, or stay here?
Will you bring Oscar back, like an honorable man? or let him go, and
disgrace yourself for ever?"
His eyes sparkled; his color rose. He sprang to his feet, and unlocked
the door. What was he going to do? To start for the Continent, or to turn
me out of the house?
He called to the servant.
"Make the house fast when Madame Pratolungo and I have left it. I am not
coming back again."
"Pack my portmanteau, and send it after me to-morrow, to Nagle's Hotel,
He closed the door again, and came back to me.
"You refused to take my hand when you came in," he said. "Will you take
it now? I leave Browndown when you leave it; and I won't come back again
till I bring Oscar with me.
"Both hands!" I exclaimed--and took him by both hands. I could say
nothing more. I could only wonder whether I was waking or sleeping; fit
to be put into an asylum, or fit to go at large?
"Come!" he said. "I will see you as far as the rectory gate.
"You can't go to-night," I answered. "The last train has left hours
"I can! I can walk to Brighton, and get a bed there, and leave for London
to-morrow morning. Nothing will induce me to pass another night at
Browndown. Stop! One question before I put the lamp out."
"What is it?"
"Did you do anything towards tracing Oscar, when you were in London
"I went to a lawyer, and made what arrangements with him I could."
"Here is my pocket-book. Write me down his name and address."
I wrote them. He extinguished the lamp, and led me into the passage. The
servant was standing there bewildered. "Good night, James. I am going to
bring your master back to Browndown." With that explanation, he took up
his hat and stick, and gave me his arm. The moment after, we were out in
the dark valley, on our way to the village.
On the walk back to the rectory, he talked with a feverish volubility and
excitement. Avoiding the slightest reference to the subject discussed at
our strange and stormy interview, he returned, with tenfold confidence in
himself, to his old boastful assertion of the great things he was going
to do as a painter. The mission which called him to reconcile Humanity
with Nature; the superb scale on which he proposed to interpret
sympathetic scenery for the benefit of suffering mankind; the prime
necessity of understanding him, not as a mere painter, but as Grand
Consoler in Art--I had it all over again, by way of satisfying my mind as
to his prospects and occupations in his future life. It was only when we
stopped at the rectory-gate that he referred to what had passed between
us--and even then, he only touched on the subject in the briefest
"Well?" he said. "Have I won back your old regard for me? Do you believe
there is a fine side to be found in the nature of Nugent Dubourg? Man is
a compound animal. You are a woman in ten thousand. Give me a kiss."
He kissed me, foreign fashion, on both cheeks.
"Now for Oscar!" he shouted cheerfully. He waved his hat, and disappeared
in the darkness. I stood at the gate till the last rapid pit-pat of his
feet died away in the silence of the night.
An indescribable depression seized on my spirits. I began to doubt him
again, the instant I was alone.
"Is there a time coming," I asked myself, "when all that I have done
to-night must be done over again?"
I opened the rectory-gate. Mr. Finch intercepted me before I could get
round to our side of the house. He held up before me, in solemn triumph,
a manuscript of many pages.
"My Letter," he said. "A Letter of Christian remonstrance, to Nugent
"Nugent Dubourg has left Dimchurch."
With that reply, I told the rector in as few words as possible how my
visit to Browndown had ended.
Mr. Finch looked at his letter. All those pages of eloquence written for
nothing? No! In the nature of things, _that_ could not possibly be. "You
have done very well, Madame Pratolungo," he remarked, in his most
patronizing manner. "Very well indeed, all things considered. _But,_ I
don't think I shall act wisely if I destroy this." He carefully locked up
his manuscript, and turned to me again with a mysterious smile. "I
venture to think," said Mr. Finch with mock humility, "My Letter will be
wanted. Don't let me discourage you about Nugent Dubourg. Only let me
say:--Is he to be trusted?"
It was said by a fool: it would never have been said at all, if he had
not written his wonderful letter. Still, it echoed, with a painful
fidelity, the misgiving secretly present at that moment in my own
mind--and, more yet, it echoed the misgiving in Nugent's mind, the doubt
of himself which his own lips had confessed to me in so many words. I
wished the rector good night, and went upstairs.
Lucilla was in bed and asleep, when I softly opened her door.
After looking for awhile at her lovely peaceful face, I was obliged to
turn away. It was time I left the bedside, when the sight of her only
made my spirits sink lower and lower. As I cast my last look at her
before I closed the door, Mr. Finch's ominous question forced itself on
me again. In spite of myself, I said to myself--
"Is he to be trusted?"
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-NINTH
She Learns to See
WITH the new morning, certain reflections found their way into my mind
which were not of the most welcome sort. There was one serious element of
embarrassment in my position towards Lucilla, which had not discovered
itself to me when Nugent and I parted at the rectory gate.
Browndown was now empty. In the absence of both the brothers, what was I
to say to Lucilla when the false Oscar failed to pay her his promised
visit that day?
In what a labyrinth of lies had the first fatal suppression of the truth
involved us all! One deception after another had been forced on us; one
disaster after another had followed retributively as the result--and, now
that I was left to deal single-handed with the hard necessities of our
position, no choice seemed left to me but to go on deceiving Lucilla
still! I was weary of it and ashamed of it. At breakfast-time, I evaded
all further discussion of the subject, after I had first ascertained that
Lucilla did not expect her visitor before the afternoon. For some time
after breakfast, I kept her at the piano. When she wearied of music, and
began to talk of Oscar once more, I put on my hat, and set forth on a
domestic errand (of the kind usually entrusted to Zillah), solely for the
purpose of keeping out of the way, and putting off to the last moment the
hateful necessity of telling more lies. The weather stood my friend. It
threatened to rain; and Lucilla, on that account, refrained from
proposing to accompany me.
My errand took me to a farm-house on the road which led to Brighton.
After settling my business, I prolonged my walk, though the rain was
already beginning to fall. I had nothing on me that would spoil; and, in
my present frame of mind, a wet gown was a preferable alternative to
returning to the rectory.
After I had walked about a mile further on, the solitude of the road was
enlivened by the appearance of an open carriage approaching me from the
direction of Brighton. The hood was up to protect the person inside from
the rain. The person looked out as I passed, and stopped the carriage in
a voice which I instantly recognized as the voice of Grosse. Our gallant
oculist insisted (in the state of the weather) on my instantly taking
shelter by his side and returning with him to the house.
"This is an unexpected pleasure," I said. "I thought you had arranged not
to see Lucilla again till the end of the week."
Grosse's eyes glared at me through his spectacles with a dignity and
gravity worthy of Mr. Finch himself.
"Shall I tell you something?" he said. "You see sitting at your side a
lost surgeon-optic. I shall die soon. Put on my tombs, if you please, The
malady which killed this German mans was--Lofely Feench. When I am away
from her--gif me your sympathies: I so much want it--I sweat with
anxiousness for young Miss. Your damn-mess-fix about those two brodders
is a sort of perpetual blisters on my mind. Instead of snoring peaceably
all night in my nice big English beds, I roll wide awake on my pillows,
fidgeting for Feench. I am here to-day before my time. For what? For to
try her eyes--you think? Goot Madam, you think wrong! It is not her eyes
which troubles me. Her eyes will do. It is You--and the odders at your
rectory-place. You make me nervous-anxious about my patients. I am afraid
some of you will let the mess-fix of those brodder-twins find its way to
her pretty ears, and turn her poor little mind topsy-turvies when I am
not near to see to it in time. Will you let her be comfortable-easy for
two months more? Ach Gott! if I could only be certain-sure of _that,_ I
might leave those weak new eyes of hers to cure themselves, and go my
ways back to London again."
I had intended to remonstrate with him pretty sharply for taking Lucilla
to Browndown. After what he had now said, it was useless to attempt
anything of that sort--and doubly useless to hope that he would let me
extricate myself from my difficulties by letting me tell her the truth.
"Of course you are the best judge," I said. "But you little know what
these precautions of yours cost the unfortunate people who are left to
carry them out."
He took me up sharply at those words.
"You shall judge for yourself," he said, "if it is not worth the cost. If
her eyes satisfy me--Feench shall learn to see to-day. You shall stand
by, you obstinate womans, and judge if it is goot to add shock and
agitation to the exhaustions and irritabilities and bedevilments of all
sorts which our poor Miss must suffer in learning to see, after being
blind for all her life. No more of it now, till we get to the
rectory-place." By way of changing the subject for the present, he put a
question to me which I felt it necessary to answer with some caution.
"How is my nice boys?--my bright-clever Nugent?" he asked.
There I stopped, not feeling at all sure of the ground I was treading on.
"Mind this!" Grosse went on. "My bright-boy-Nugent keeps her
comfortable-easy. My bright-boy-Nugent is worth all the rest of you
togedder. I insist on his making his visits to young Miss at the
rectory-place, in spite of that windy-talky-puff-bag-Feench-father of
hers. I say positively--Nugent shall come into the house."
There was no help for it now. I was obliged to tell him that Nugent had
left Browndown, and that I was the person who had sent him away.
For a moment, I was really in doubt whether the skilled hand of the great
surgeon would not be ignobly employed in boxing my ears. No perversion of
spelling can possibly report the complicated German-English jargon in
which his fury poured itself out on my devoted head. Let it be enough to
say that he declared Nugent's abominable personation of his brother to be
vitally important--so long as Oscar was absent--to his successful
treatment of the sensitive and excitable patient whom we had placed under
his care. I vainly assured him that Nugent's object in leaving Dimchurch
was to set matters right again by bringing his brother back. Grosse
flatly declined to allow himself to be influenced by any speculative
consideration of that sort. He said (and swore) that my meddling had
raised a serious obstacle in his way, and that nothing but his own tender
regard for Lucilla prevented him from "turning the coachmans back," and
leaving us henceforth to shift for ourselves.
When we reached the rectory gate, he had cooled a little. As we crossed
the garden, he reminded me that I stood pledged to be present when the
bandage was taken off.
"Now mind!" he said. "You are going to see, if it is goot or bad to tell
her that she has had those nice white arms of hers round the wrong
brodder. You are going to tell me afterwards, if you dare say to her, in
plain English words, 'Blue-Face is the man.'
We found Lucilla in the sitting-room. Grosse briefly informed her that he
had nothing particular to occupy him in London, and that he had advanced
the date of his visit on that account. "You want something to do, my
lofe, on this soaky-rainy day. Show Papa-Grosse what you can do with your
eyes, now you have got them back again." With those words, he unfastened
the bandage, and, taking her by the chin, examined her eyes--first
without his magnifying glass; then with it.
"Am I going on well?" she asked anxiously.
"Famous-well! You go on (as my goot friends say in America) first-class.
Now use your eyes for yourself. Gif one lofing look to Grosse first.
Then--see! see! see!"
There was no mistaking the tone in which he spoke to her.
He was not only satisfied about her eyes--he was triumphant. "Soh!" he
grunted, turning to me. "Why is Mr. Sebrights not here to look at this?"
I eagerly approached Lucilla. There was still a little dimness left in
her eyes. I noticed also that they moved to and fro restlessly, and (at
times) wildly. But, oh, the bright change in her! the new life of beauty
which the new sense had bestowed on her already! Her smile, always
charming, now caught light from her lips, and spread its gentle
fascination over all her face. It was impossible not to long to kiss her.
I advanced to congratulate, to embrace her. Grosse stepped forward, and
"No," he said. "Walk your ways to the odder end of the rooms--and let us
see if _she_ can go to _you._"
Like all other people, knowing no more of the subject than I knew, I had
no idea of the pitiably helpless manner in which the restored sense of
sight struggles to assert itself, in persons who have been blind for
life. In such cases, the effort of the eyes that are first learning to
see, is like the effort of the limbs when a child is first learning to
walk. But for Grosse's odd way of taking it, the scene which I was now to
witness would have been painful in the last degree. My poor
Lucilla--instead of filling me with joy, as I had anticipated--would I
really believe have wrung my heart, and have made me burst out crying.
"Now!" said Grosse, laying one hand on Lucilla's arm, while he pointed to
me with the other. "There she stands. Can you go to her?"
"Of course I can!"
"I lay you a bet-wager you can _not!_ Ten thausand pounds to six pennies.
Done-done. Now try!"
She answered by a little gesture of defiance, and took three hasty steps
forward. Bewildered and frightened, she stopped suddenly at the third
step--before she had advanced half the way from her end of the room to
"I saw her here," she said, pointing down to the spot on which she was
standing; and appealing piteously to Grosse. "I see her now--and I don't
know where she is! She is so near, I feel as if she touched my eyes--and
yet" (she advanced another step, and clutched with her hands at the empty
air)--"and yet, I can't get near enough to take hold of her. Oh! what
does it mean? what does it mean?"
"It means--pay me my six pennies!" said Grosse. "The wager-bet is mine!"
She resented his laughing at her, with an obstinate shake of her head,
and an angry knitting of her pretty eyebrows.
"Wait a little," she said. "You shan't win quite so easily as that. I
will get to her yet!"
She came straight to me in a moment--just as easily as I could have gone
to her myself if I had tried.
"Another wager-bet!" cried Grosse, still standing behind her, and
calling to me. "Twenty thousand pounds this time to a fourpennies-bit.
_She has shut her eyes to get to you._ Hey!"
It was true--she had blindfolded herself! With her eyes closed, she
could measure to a hair's breadth the distance which, with her eyes
opened, she was perfectly incompetent to calculate! Detected by both of
us, she sat down, poor dear, with a sigh of despair. "Was it worth
while," she said to me sadly, "to go through the operation for _this?_"
Grosse joined us at our end of the room.
"All in goot time," he said. "Patience--and these helpless eyes of yours
will learn. Soh! I shall begin to teach them now. You have got your own
notions--hey?--about this colors and that? When you were blind, did you
think what would be your favorite colors if you could see? You did? Which
colors is it? Tell me. Come!"
"White first," she answered. "Then scarlet."
Grosse paused, and considered.
"White, I understand," he said. "White is the fancy of a young girls. But
why scarlets? Could you see scarlets when you were blind?"
"Almost," she answered, "if it was bright enough. I used to feel
something pass before my eyes when scarlet was shown to me."
"In these cataracts-cases, it is constantly scarlets that they almost
see," muttered Grosse to himself. "There must be reason for this--and I
must find him." He went on with his questions to Lucilla. "And the colors
you hate most--which is _he?_"
Grosse nodded his head approvingly. "I thought so," he said. "It is
always black that they hate. For this also there must be reason--and I
must find _him._"
Having expressed that resolution, he approached the writing-table, and
took a sheet of paper out of the case, and a circular pen-wiper of
scarlet cloth out of the inkstand. After that, he looked about him;
waddled back to the other end of the room; and fetched the black felt hat
in which he had traveled from London. He ranged the hat, the paper, and
the pen-wiper in a row. Before he could put his next question to her, she
pointed to the hat with a gesture of disapproval.
"Take it away," she said. "I don't like that."
Grosse stopped me before I could speak.
"Wait a little," he whispered in my ear. "It is not quite so wonderful as
you think. These blind peoples, when they first see, have all alike the
same hatred of anything what is dark." He turned to Lucilla. "Say," he
asked. "Is your favorite colors among these things here?"
She passed by the hat in contempt; looked at the pen-wiper, and put it
down; looked at the sheet of paper, and put it down; hesitated--and again
shut her eyes.
"No!" cried Grosse. "I won't have it! How dare you blind yourself, in the
presence of Me? What! I give you back your sights, and you go shut your
eyes. Open them--or I will put you in the corner like a naughty girls.
Your favorite colors? Now, now, now!"
She opened her eyes (very unwillingly), and looked once more at the
pen-wiper and the paper.
"I see nothing as bright as my favorite colors here," she said.
Grosse held up the sheet of paper, and pressed the question without
"What! is white, whiter than this?"
"Fifty thousand times whiter than that!"
"Goot. Now mind! This paper is white," (he snatched her handkerchief out
of her apron-pocket). "This handkerchief is white, too; whitest of white,
both of them. First lesson, my lofe! Here in my hands is your favorite
colors, in the time when you were blind."
"_Those!_"she exclaimed, pointing to the paper and the handkerchief,
with a look of blank disappointment as he dropped them on the table. She
turned over the pen-wiper and the hat, and looked round at me. Grosse,
waiting to try another experiment, left it to me to answer. The result,
in both cases, was the same as in the cases of the sheet of paper and the
handkerchief. Scarlet was not half as red--black, not one-hundredth part
as black--as her imagination had figured them to her, in the days when
she was blind. Still, as to this last color--as to black--she could feel
some little encouragement. It had affected her disagreeably (just as poor
Oscar's face had affected her), though she had not actually known it for
the color that she disliked. She made an effort, poor child, to assert
herself, against her merciless surgeon-teacher. "I didn't know it was
black," she said. "But I hated the sight of it, for all that."
She tried, as she spoke, to toss the hat on to a chair, standing close
by her--and threw it instead, high above the back of the chair, against
the wall, at least six feet away from the object at which she had aimed.
"I am a helpless fool!" she burst out; her face flushing crimson with
mortification. "Don't let Oscar see me! I can't bear the thought of
making myself ridiculous before _him!_ He is coming here," she added,
turning to me entreatingly. "Manage to make some excuse for his not
seeing me till later in the day."
I promised to find the excuse--all the more readily, that I now saw an
unexpected chance of reconciling her in some degree (so long as she was
learning to see) to the blank produced in her life by Oscar's absence.
She addressed herself again to Grosse.
"Go on!" she said impatiently. "Teach me to be something better than an
idiot--or put the bandage on, and blind me again. My eyes are of no use
to me! Do you hear?" she cried furiously, taking him by his broad
shoulders and shaking him with all her might--"my eyes are of no use to
"Now! now! now!" cried Grosse. "If you don't keep your tempers, you
little spitfire, I will teach you nothing." He took up the sheet of paper
and the pen-wiper; and, forcing her to sit down, placed them together
before her, in her lap.
"Do you know one thing?" he went on. "Do you know what is meant by an
objects which is square? Do you know what is meant by an objects which is
Instead of answering him, she appealed indignantly to my opinion.
"Is it not monstrous," she asked, "to hear him put such a question to me
as that? Do I know round from square? Oh, how cruelly humiliating! Don't
tell Oscar! don't tell Oscar!"
"If you know," persisted Grosse, "you can tell me. Look at those two
things in your lap. Are they both round? or both square? or is one round?
and the odder square? Look now, and tell me."
She looked--and said nothing.
"Well?" continued Grosse.
"You put me out, standing there staring at me through your horrid
spectacles!" she said irritably. "Don't look at me, and I will tell you
Grosse turned his head my way, with his diabolical grin; and signed to me
to keep watch on her, in his place.
The instant his back was turned, she shut her eyes, and ran over the
paper and the pen-wiper with the tips of her fingers!
"One is round and one is square," she answered, cunningly opening her
eyes again, just in time to bear critical inspection when Grosse turned
round towards her once more.
He took the paper and the pen-wiper out of her hands; and (thoroughly
understanding the trick she had played him) changed them for a bronze
saucer and a book. "Which is round? and which is square of these?" he
asked, holding them up before her.
She looked first at one, and then at the other--plainly incapable (with
only her eyes to help her) of answering the question.
"I put you out--don't I?" said Grosse. "You can't shut your eyes, my
lofely Feench, while I am looking--can you?"
She turned red--then pale again. I began to be afraid she would burst out
crying. Grosse managed her to perfection. The tact of this rough, ugly,
eccentric old man was the most perfect tact I have ever met with.
"Shut your eyes," he said soothingly. "It is the right ways to learn.
Shut your eyes, and take them in your hands, and tell me which is round
and which is square in that way first."
She told him directly.
"Goot! now open your eyes, and see for yourself it is the saucers you
have got in your right hand, and the books you have got in your left. You
see? Goot again! Put them back on the table now. What shall we do next?"
"May I try if I can write?" she asked eagerly. "I do so want to see if I
can write with my eyes instead of my finger."
"No! Ten thausand times no! I forbid reading; I forbid writing, yet. Come
with me to the window. How do these most troublesome eyes of yours do at
While we had been trying our experiment with Lucilla, the weather had
brightened again. The clouds were parting; the sun was coming out; the
bright gaps of blue in the sky were widening every moment; the shadows
were traveling grandly over the windy slopes of the hills. Lucilla lifted
her hands in speechless admiration as the German threw open the window,
and placed her face to face with the view.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "don't speak to me! don't touch me!--let me enjoy
it! There is no disappointment _here._ I have never thought, I have never
dreamed, of anything half so beautiful as _this!_"
Grosse looked at me, and silently pointed to her. She had turned
pale--she was trembling in every limb, overwhelmed by her own ecstatic
sense of the glory of the sky and the beauty of the earth, as they now
met her view for the first time. I penetrated the surgeon's object in
directing my attention to her. "See" (he meant to say), "what a
delicately-organized creature we have to deal with! Is it possible to be
too careful in handling such a sensitive temperament as that?"
Understanding him only too well, I also trembled when I thought of the
future. Everything now depended on Nugent. And Nugent's own lips had told
me that he could not depend on himself!
It was a relief to me when Grosse interrupted her.
She pleaded hard to be allowed to stay at the window a little longer. He
refused to allow it. Upon that she flew instantly into the opposite
extreme. "I am in my own room, and I am my own mistress," she said
angrily. "I insist on having my own way." Grosse was ready with his
"Take your own ways; fatigue those weak new eyes of yours--and to-morrow,
when you try to look out of window, you will not be able to see at all."
This reply terrified her into instant submission. She assisted in
replacing the bandage with her own hands. "May I go away to my own room?"
she asked, with the simplicity of a child. "I have seen such beautiful
sights--and I do so want to think of them by myself."
The medical adviser instantly granted the patient's request. Any
proceeding which tended to compose her, was a proceeding of which he
"If Oscar comes," she whispered, as she passed me on her way to the door,
"mind I hear of it! and mind you don't tell him of the mistakes I have
made!" She paused for a moment, thinking. "I don't understand myself,"
she said. "I never was so happy in my life. And yet I feel almost ready
to cry!" She turned towards Grosse. "Come here, papa. You have been very
good to me to-day. I will give you a kiss." She laid her hands lightly on
his shoulders; kissed his lined and wrinkled cheek; gave me a little
squeeze round the waist--and left us. Grosse turned sharply to the
window, and used his huge silk handkerchief for a purpose to which (I
suspect) it had not been put for many a long year past.
CHAPTER THE FORTIETH
Traces of Nugent
He put his handkerchief back into his pocket, and turned round to me from
the window with his face composed again, and his tea-caddy snuff-box in
"Now you have seen for your own self," he said, with an emphatic rap on
the box, "do you dare tell that sweet girls which of them it is that has
gone his ways and left her for ever?"
It is not easy to find a limit to the obstinacy of women--when men expect
them to acknowledge themselves to have been wrong. After what I had seen,
I no more dared tell her than he did. I was only too obstinate to
acknowledge it to him--just yet.
"Mind this!" he went on. Whether you shake her with frights, or whether
you heat her with rages, or whether you wound her with griefs--it all
goes straight the same to those weak new eyes of hers. They are so weak
and so new, that I must ask once more for my beds here to-night, for to
see to-morrow if I have not already tried them too much. Now, for the
last time of asking, have you got the abominable courage in you to tell
her the truth?"
He had found my limit at last. I was obliged to own (heartily as I
disliked doing it) that there was, for the present, no choice left but
mercifully to conceal the truth. Having gone this length I next attempted
to consult him as to the safest manner in which I could account to
Lucilla for Oscar's absence. He refused (as a man) to recognize the
slightest necessity for giving me (as a woman) any advice on a question
of evasions and excuses. "I have not lived all my years in the world,
without learning something," he said. "When it comes to walking upon
eggshells and telling fips, the womens have nothing to learn from the
mens.--Will you take a little stroll-walk with me in the garden? I have
one odder thing to say to you: and I am hungry and thirsty both
He produced "This," in the form of his pipe. We left the room at once for
our stroll in the garden.
Having solaced himself with his first mouthful of tobacco-smoke, he
startled me by announcing that he meant to remove Lucilla forthwith from
Dimchurch to the sea-side. In doing this, he was actuated by two
motives--first, the medical motive of strengthening her constitution:
second, the personal motive of preserving her from making painful
discoveries by placing her out of reach of the gossip of the rectory and
the village. Grosse had the lowest opinion of Mr. Finch and his
household. His dislike and distrust of the rector, in particular, knew no
bounds: he characterized the Pope of Dimchurch as an Ape with a long
tongue, and a man-and-monkey capacity for doing mischief. Ramsgate was
the watering-place which he had fixed on. It was at a safe distance from
Dimchurch; and it was near enough to London to enable him to visit
Lucilla frequently. The one thing needed was my co-operation in the new
plan. If I was at liberty to take charge of Lucilla, he would speak to
the Ape with the long tongue; and we might start for Ramsgate before the
end of the week.
Was there anything to prevent me from carrying out the arrangement
There was nothing to prevent me. My one other anxiety apart from
Lucilla--anxiety about good Papa--had now, for some time, been happily
set at rest. Letter after letter from my sisters in France, brought me
always the same cheering news. My evergreen parent had at last discovered
that he was no longer in the first bloom of his youth. He had resigned to
his juniors, with pathetic expressions of regret, the making of love and
the fighting of duels. Ravaged by past passions, this dear innocent had
now found a refuge from swords, pistols, and the sex, in collecting
butterflies and playing on the guitar. I was free wholly to devote myself
to Lucilla; and I honestly rejoiced in the prospect before me. Alone with
her, and away from the rectory (where there was always danger off gossip
reaching her ears) I could rely on myself to protect her from harm in the
present, and to preserve her for Oscar in the future. With all my heart I
agreed to the arrangements as Grosse proposed them. When we parted in the
garden, he went round to the rector's side of the house to announce (in
his medical capacity) the decision at which he had arrived--while I, on
my side, went back to Lucilla to make the best excuses that I could
invent for Oscar, and to prepare her for our speedy removal from
"Gone, without coming to say good-bye! Gone, without even writing to me!"
There was the first impression I produced on her, when I had done my best
to account harmlessly for Oscar's absence. I had, as I thought, taken the
shortest and simplest way out of the difficulty, by merely inverting the
truth. In other words, by telling her that Nugent had got into some
serious embarrassment abroad, and that Oscar had been called away at a
moment's notice, to follow him and help him. It was in vain that I
reminded her of Oscar's well-known horror of leave-takings of all kinds;
in vain that I represented the urgency of the matter as leaving him no
alternative but to confide his excuses and his farewells to me; in vain
that I promised for him that he would write to her at the first
opportunity. She listened, without conviction. The more perseveringly I
tried to account for it, the more perseveringly she dwelt on Oscar's
unaccountable disregard of her claims on his consideration for her. As
for our journey to Ramsgate, it was impossible to interest her in the
subject. I gave it up in despair.
"Surely Oscar has left some address at which I can write to him?" she
I could only answer that he was not sure enough of his movements to be
able to do that before he went away.
"It is more provoking than you think," she went on. "I believe Oscar is
afraid to bring his unfortunate brother into my presence. The blue face
startled me when I saw it, I know. But I have quite got over that. I feel
none of the absurd terror of the poor man which I felt when I was blind.
Now that I have seen for myself what he is really like, I can feel for
him. I wanted to tell Oscar this--I wanted to say that he might bring his
brother to live with us if he liked--I wanted to prevent (just what has
happened,) his going away from _me_ when he wishes to see his brother.
You are using me very hardly among you; and I have some reason to
complain of it."
While she was talking in this mortifying manner, I felt some consolation
nevertheless. Oscar's disfigured complexion would not be the terrible
obstacle in the way of his restoration to Lucilla that I had feared. All
the comfort which this reflection could give, I wanted badly enough.
There was no open hostility towards me on Lucilla's part--but there was a
coolness which I found more distressing to bear than hostility itself. I
breakfasted in bed the next morning, and only rose towards noon--just in
time to say good-bye to Grosse before he returned to London.
He was in high good spirits about his patient. Her eyes were the better
instead of the worse for the exertion to which he had subjected them on
the previous day. The bracing air of Ramsgate was all that was wanting to
complete the success of the operation. Mr. Finch had started objections,
all turning on the question of expense. But with a daughter who was her
own mistress, and who had her own fortune, his objections mattered
nothing. By the next day, or the day after at latest, we were to start
for Ramsgate. I promised to write to our good surgeon as soon as we were
established; and he engaged on his side, to visit us immediately after.
"Let her use her eyes for two goot hours every day," said Grosse, at
parting. "She may do what she likes with them--except that she must not
peep into books, or take up pens, till I come to you at Ramsgate. It is
most wonderful-beautiful to see how those new eyes of hers do get along.
When I next meet goot Mr. Sebrights--hey! how I shall cock-crow over that
spick-span respectable man!"
I felt a little nervous as to how the day would pass--when the German
left me alone with Lucilla.
To my amazement, she not only met me with the needful excuses for her
behavior on the previous day, but showed herself to be perfectly resigned
to the temporary loss of Oscar's society. It was she (not I) who remarked
that he could not have chosen a better time for being away from her, than
the humiliating time when she was learning to distinguish between round
and square. It was she (not I) who welcomed the little journey to
Ramsgate as a pleasant change in her dull life, which would help to
reconcile her to Oscar's absence. In brief, if she had actually received
a letter from Oscar, relieving her of all anxiety about him, her words
and looks could hardly have offered a completer contrast than they now
showed to her words and looks of the previous day.
If I had noticed no other alteration in her than this welcome change for
the better, my record of the day would have ended here, as the record of
But, I grieve to say, I have something unpleasant to add. While she was
making her excuses to me, and speaking in the sensible and satisfactory
terms which I have just repeated, I noticed a curious underlying
embarrassment in her manner, entirely unlike any previous embarrassment
which had ever intruded itself between us. And, stranger still, on the
first occasion when Zillah came into the room, while I was in it, I
observed that Lucilla's embarrassment was reflected (when the old woman
spoke to me) in the face and manner of Lucilla's nurse.
But one conclusion could possibly follow from what I saw:--they were both
concealing something from me; and they were both more or less ashamed of
what they were doing.
Somewhere--not very far back in these pages--I have said of myself that I
am not by nature a woman who is easily ready to suspect others. On this
very account, when I find suspicion absolutely forced on me--as it was
now--I am apt to fly into the opposite extreme. In the present case, I
fixed on the person to suspect--all the more readily from having been
slow to suspect him in bygone days. "In some way or other," I said to
myself, "Nugent Dubourg is at the bottom of this."
Was he communicating with her privately, in the name and in the character
The bare idea of it hurried me headlong into letting her know that I had
noticed the change in her.
"Lucilla!" I said. "Has anything happened?"
"What do you mean?" she asked coldly.
"I fancy I see some change----" I began.
"I don't understand you," she answered, walking away from me as she
I said no more. If our intimacy had been less close and less
affectionate, I might have openly avowed to her what was passing in my
mind. But how could I say to Lucilla, You are deceiving me? It would have
been the end of our sisterhood--the end of our friendship. When
confidence is withdrawn between two people who love each
other--everything is withdrawn. They are on the footing of strangers from
that moment, and must stand on ceremony. Delicate minds will understand
why I accepted the check she had administered to me, and said no more.
I went into the village alone. Managing matters so as to excite no
surprise, I contrived to have a little gossip about Nugent with
Gootheridge at the inn, and with the servant at Browndown. If Nugent had
returned secretly to Dimchurch, one of those two men, in our little
village, must almost certainly have seen him. Neither of them had seen
I inferred from this that he had not tried to communicate with her
personally. Had he attempted it (more cunningly and more safely) by
I went back to the rectory. It was close on the hour which I had
appointed with Lucilla--now that the responsibility rested on my
shoulders--for allowing her to use her eyes. On taking off the bandage, I
noticed a circumstance which confirmed the conclusion at which I had
already arrived. Her eyes deliberately avoided looking into mine.
Suppressing as well as I could the pain which this new discovery caused
me, I repeated Grosse's words, prohibiting her from attempting to look
into a book, or to use a pen, until he had seen her again.
"There is no need for him to forbid me to do that," she said.
"Have you attempted it already?" I inquired.
"I looked into a little book of engravings," she answered. "But I could
distinguish nothing. The lines all mingled together and swam before my
"Have you tried to write?" I asked next. (I was ashamed of myself for
laying that trap for her--although the serious necessity of discovering
whether she was privately in correspondence with Nugent, might surely
have excused it?)
"No," she replied. "I have not tried to write."
She changed color when she made that answer. It is necessary to own that,
in putting my question, I was too much excited to call to mind, what I
should have remembered in a calmer state. There was no necessity for her
trying to use her eyes--even if she was really carrying on a
correspondence which she wished to keep secret from me. Zillah had been
in the habit of reading her letters to her, before I appeared at the
rectory; and she could write short notes (as I have already mentioned) by
feeling her way on the paper with her finger. Besides, having learnt to
read by touch (that is to say with raised characters), just as she had
learnt to write--even if her eyes had been sufficiently recovered to
enable her to distinguish small objects, nothing but practice could have
taught her to use them for purposes of correspondence.
These considerations, though they did not strike me at the time, occurred
to me later in the day, and altered my opinion to a certain extent. I now
interpreted the change of color which I had noticed in her as the outward
sign of suspicion on her side--suspicion that I had a motive of my own in
interrogating her. For the rest, my doubts of Nugent remained unmoved.
Try as I might, I could not divest my mind of the idea that he was
playing me false, and that in one way or another he had contrived, not
only to communicate with Lucilla, but to persuade her to keep me in
ignorance of what he had done.
I deferred to the next day any attempt at making further discoveries.
The last thing at night, I had a momentary impulse to question Zillah.
Reflection soon checked it. My experience of the nurse's character told
me that she would take refuge in flat denial--and would then inform her
mistress of what had happened. I knew enough of Lucilla to know (after
what had already passed between us) that a quarrel with me would follow.
Things were bad enough already, without making them worse in that way.
When the morning came, I resolved to keep a watchful eye on the village
post-office, and on the movements of the nurse.
When the morning came, there was a letter for me from abroad.
The address was in the handwriting of one of my sisters. We usually wrote
to each other at intervals of a fortnight or three weeks. This letter had
followed its predecessor after an interval of less than one week. What
did it mean? Good news or bad?
I opened the letter.
It enclosed a telegram, announcing that my poor dear father was lying
dangerously wounded at Marseilles. My sisters had already gone to him:
they implored me to follow them without one moment of needless delay. Is
it necessary to tell the story of this horrible calamity? Of course it
begins with a woman and an elopement. Of course it ends with a young man
and a duel. Have I not told you already?--Papa was so susceptible; Papa
was so brave. Oh, dear, dear! the old story over again. You have an
English proverb: "What is bred in the bone--" etcetera, etcetera. Let us
drop the veil. I mean, let us end the chapter.
CHAPTER THE FORTY-FIRST
A Hard Time for Madame Pratolungo
OUGHT I to have been prepared for the calamity which had now fallen on my
sisters and myself? If I had looked my own experience of my poor father
fairly in the face, would it not have been plain to me that the habits of
a life were not likely to be altered at the end of a life? Surely--if I
had exerted my intelligence--I might have foreseen that the longer his
reformation lasted, the nearer he was to a relapse, and the more
obviously probable it became that he would fail to fulfill the hopeful
expectations which I had cherished of his conduct in the future? I grant
it all. But where are the pattern people who can exert their
intelligence--when their intelligence points to one conclusion, and their
interests to another? Ah, my dear ladies and gentlemen, there is such a
fine strong foundation of stupidity at the bottom of our common
humanity--if we only knew it!
I could feel no hesitation--as soon as I had recovered myself--about what
it was my duty to do. My duty was to leave Dimchurch in time to catch the
fast mail-train from London to the Continent, at eight o'clock that
And leave Lucilla?
Yes! not even Lucilla's interests--dearly as I loved her; alarmed as I
felt about her--were as sacred as the interests which called me to my
father's bedside. I had some hours to spare before it would be necessary
for me to leave her. All I could do was to employ those hours in taking
the strictest precautions I could think of to protect her in my absence.
I could not be long parted from her. One way or the other, the miserable
doubt whether my father would live or die, would, at his age, soon be
I sent for her to see me in my room, and showed her my letter.
She was honestly grieved when she read it. For a moment--when she spoke
her few words of sympathy--the painful constraint in her manner towards
me passed away. It returned again, when I announced my intention of
starting for France that day, and expressed the regret I felt at being
obliged to defer our visit to Ramsgate for the present. She not only
answered restrainedly (forming, as I fancied, some thought at the moment
in her own mind)--she left me, with a commonplace excuse. "You must have
much to think of in this sad affliction: I won't intrude on you any
longer. If you want me, you know where to find me." With no more than
those words, she walked out of the room.
I never remember, at any other time, such a sense of helplessness and
confusion as came over me when she had closed the door. I set to work to
pack up the few things I wanted for the journey; feeling instinctively
that if I did not occupy myself in doing something, I should break down
altogether. Accustomed in all the other emergencies of my life, to decide
rapidly, I was not even clear enough in my mind to see the facts as they
were. As to resolving on anything, I was about as capable of doing that
as the baby in Mrs. Finch's arms.
The effort of packing aided me to rally a little--but did no more towards
restoring me to my customary tone of mind.
I sat down helplessly, when I had done; feeling the serious necessity of
clearing matters up between Lucilla and myself, before I went away, and
still as ignorant as ever how to do it. To my own indescribable disgust,
I actually felt tears beginning to find their way into my eyes! I had
just enough of Pratolungo's widow left in me to feel heartily ashamed of
myself. Past vicissitudes and dangers, in the days of my republican life
with my husband, had made me a sturdy walker--with a gypsy relish (like
my little Jicks) for the open air. I snatched up my hat, and went out, to
see what exercise would do for me.
I tried the garden. No! the garden was (for some inscrutable reason) not
big enough. I had still some hours to spare. I tried the hills next.
Turning towards the left, and passing the church, I heard through the
open windows the _boom-boom_ of Reverend Finch's voice, catechizing the
village children. Thank Heaven, he was out of my way at any rate! I
mounted the hills, hurrying on as fast as I could. The air and the
movement cleared my mind. After more than an hour of hard walking, I
returned to the rectory, feeling like my old self again.
Perhaps, there were some dregs of irresolution still left in me. Or,
perhaps, there was some enervating influence in my affliction, which made
me feel more sensitively than ever the change in the relations between
Lucilla and myself. Having, by this time, resolved to come to a plain
explanation, before I left her unprotected at the rectory, I shrank, even
yet, from confronting a possible repulse, by speaking to her personally.
Taking a leaf out of poor Oscar's book, I wrote what I wanted to say to
her in a note.
I rang the bell--once, twice. Nobody answered it.
I went to the kitchen. Zillah was not there. I knocked at the door of her
bed-room. There was no answer: the bed-room was empty when I looked in.
Awkward as it would be, I found myself obliged, either to give my note to
Lucilla with my own hand, or to decide on speaking to her, after all.
I could not prevail on myself to speak to her. So I went to her room with
my note, and knocked at the door.
Here again there was no reply. I knocked once more--with the same result.
I looked in. There was no one in the room. On the little table at the
foot of the bed, there lay a letter addressed to me. The writing was in
Zillah's hand. But Lucilla had written her name in the corner in the
usual way, to show that she had dictated the letter to her nurse. A load
was lifted off my heart as I took it up. The same idea (I concluded) had
occurred to her which had occurred to me. She too had shrunk from the
embarrassment of a personal explanation. She too had written--and was
keeping out of the way until her letter had spoken for her, and had
united us again as friends before I left the house.
With these pleasant anticipations, I opened the letter. Judge what I felt
when I found what it really contained.
"DEAR MADAME PRATOLUNGO,--You will agree with me, that it is very
important, after what Herr Grosse has said about the recovery of my
sight, that my visit to Ramsgate should not be delayed. As you are
unable, through circumstances which I sincerely regret, to accompany me
to the sea-side, I have determined to go to London to my aunt, Miss
Batchford, and to ask her to be my companion instead of you. I have had
experience enough of her sincere affection for me to be quite sure that
she will gladly take the charge of me off your hands. As no time is to be
lost, I start for London without waiting for your return from your walk
to wish you good-bye. You so thoroughly understand the necessity of
dispensing with formal farewells, in cases of emergency, that I am sure
you will not feel offended at my taking leave of you in this way. With
best wishes for your father's recovery, believe me,
"Yours very truly,
"P. S.--You need be under no apprehension about me. Zillah goes with me
as far as London; and I shall communicate with Herr Grosse when I arrive
at my aunt's house."
But for one sentence in it, I should most assuredly have answered this
cruel letter by instantly resigning my situation as Lucilla's companion.
The sentence to which I refer, contained the words which cast in my teeth
the excuses that I had made for Oscar's absence. The sarcastic reference
to my recent connection with a case of emergency, and to my experience of
the necessity of dispensing with formal farewells, removed my last
lingering doubts of Nugent's treachery. I now felt, not suspicion only,
but positive conviction that he had communicated with her in his
brother's name, and that he had contrived (by some means at which it was
impossible for me to guess) so to work on Lucilla's mind--so to excite
that indwelling distrust which her blindness had rooted in her
character--as to destroy her confidence in me for the time being.
Arriving at this conclusion, I could still feel compassionately and
generously towards Lucilla. Far from blaming my poor deluded
sister-friend for her cruel departure and her yet crueler letter, I laid
the whole fault on the shoulders of Nugent. Full as my mind was of my own
troubles, I could still think of the danger that threatened Lucilla, and
of the wrong that Oscar had suffered. I could still feel the old glow of
my resolution to bring them together again, and still remember (and
determine to pay) the debt I owed to Nugent Dubourg.
In the turn things had taken, and with the short time still at my
disposal, what was I to do next? Assuming that Miss Batchford would
accompany her niece to Ramsgate, how could I put the necessary obstacle
in Nugent's way, if he attempted to communicate with Lucilla at the
sea-side, in my absence?
It was impossible for me to decide this, unless I first knew whether Miss
Batchford, as a member of the family, was to be confidentially informed
of the sad position in which Oscar and Lucilla now stood towards each
The person to consult in this difficulty was the rector. As head of the
household, and in my absence, the responsibility evidently rested with
I went round at once to the other side of the house. If Mr. Finch had
returned to the rectory, after the catechizing was over, well and good.
If not, I should be obliged to inquire in the village and seek him at the
cottages of his parishioners. His magnificent voice relieved me from all
anxiety on this head. The _boom-boom_ which I had last heard in the
church, I now heard again in the study.
When I entered the room, Mr. Finch was on his legs, highly excited;
haranguing Mrs. Finch and the baby, ensconced as usual in a corner. My
appearance on the scene diverted his flow of language, for the moment, so
that it all poured itself out on my unlucky self. (If you recollect that
the rector and Lucilla's aunt had been, from time immemorial, on the
worst of terms--you will be prepared for what is coming. If you have
forgotten this, look back at my sixth chapter and refresh your memory.)
"The very person I was going to send for!" said the Pope of Dimchurch.
"Don't excite Mrs. Finch! Don't speak to Mrs. Finch! You shall hear why
directly. Address yourself exclusively to Me. Be calm, Madame Pratolungo!
you don't know what has happened. I am here to tell you."
I ventured to stop him: mentioning that Lucilla's letter had informed me
of his daughter's sudden departure for her aunt's house. Mr. Finch waved
away my answer with his hand, as something too infinitely unimportant to
be worthy of a moment's notice.
"Yes! yes! yes!" he said. "You have a superficial acquaintance with the
facts. But you are far from being aware of what my daughter's sudden
removal of herself from my roof really means. Now don't be frightened,
Madame Pratolungo! and don't excite Mrs. Finch! (How are you, my dear?
how is the child? Both well? Thanks to an overruling Providence, both
well.) Now, Madame Pratolungo, attend to this. My daughter's flight--I
say flight advisedly: it is nothing less--my daughter's flight from my
house means (I entreat you to be calm!)--means ANOTHER BLOW dealt at me
by the family of my first wife. Dealt at me," repeated Mr. Finch; heating
himself with the recollection of his old feud with the Batchfords--"Dealt
at me by Miss Batchford (by Lucilla's aunt, Madame Pratolungo) through my
unoffending second wife, and my innocent child.--Are you sure you are
well, my dear? are you sure the infant is well? Thank
Providence!--Concentrate your attention, Madame Pratolungo! Your
attention is wandering. Prompted by Miss Batchford, my daughter has left
my roof. Ramsgate is a mere excuse. And how has she left it? Not only
without first seeing Me--I am Nobody! but without showing the slightest
sympathy for Mrs. Finch's maternal situation. Attired in her traveling
costume, my daughter precipitately entered (or to use my wife's graphic
expression 'bounced into') the nursery, while Mrs. Finch was
administering maternal sustenance to the infant. Under circumstances
which might have touched the heart of a bandit or a savage, my unnatural
daughter (remind me, Mrs. Finch; we will have a little Shakespeare
to-night; I will read _King Lear_), my unnatural daughter announced
without one word of preparation that a domestic affliction would prevent
you from accompanying her to Ramsgate.--Grieved, dear Madame Pratolungo,
to hear of it. Cast your burden on Providence. Bear up, Mrs. Finch; bear
up--Having startled my wife with this harrowing news, my daughter next
shocked her by declaring that she was going to leave her father's roof,
without waiting to bid her father good-bye. The catching of a train, you
will observe, was (no doubt at Miss Batchford's instigation) of more
importance than the parental embrace or the pastoral blessing. Leaving a
message of apology for Me, my heartless child (I use Mrs. Finch's graphic
language again--you have fair, very fair powers of expression, Mrs.
Finch)--my heartless child 'bounced out' of the nursery to catch her
train; having, for all she knew, or cared, administered a shock to my
wife which might have soured the fountain of maternal sustenance at its
source. There is where the Blow falls, Madame Pratolungo! How do I know
that acid disturbance is not being communicated at this moment, instead
of wholesome nourishment, between mother and child? I shall prepare you
an alkaline draught, Mrs. Finch, to be taken after meals. Don't speak;
don't move! Give me your pulse. I hold Miss Batchford accountable, Madame
Pratolungo, for whatever happens--my daughter is a mere instrument in the
hands of my first wife's family. Give me your pulse, Mrs. Finch. I don't
like your pulse. Come up-stairs directly. A recumbent position, and
another warm bath--under Providence, Madame Pratolungo!--may parry the
Blow. Would you kindly open the door, and pick up Mrs. Finch's
handkerchief? Never mind the novel--the handkerchief."
I seized my first opportunity of speaking again, while Mr. Finch was
conducting his wife (with his arm round her waist) to the door--putting
the question which I had been waiting to ask, in this cautious form:
"Do you propose to communicate, sir, either with your daughter or with
Miss Batchford, while Lucilla is away from the rectory? My object in
venturing to ask----"
Before I could state my object, Mr. Finch turned round (turning Mrs.
Finch with him) and surveyed me from head to foot with a look of
"Is it possible you can see this double Wreck," said Mr. Finch,
indicating his wife and child, "and suppose that I would communicate or
sanction communication of any sort, with the persons who are responsible
for it?--My dear! Can you account for Madame Pratolungo's extraordinary
question? Am I to understand (do _you_ understand) that Madame Pratolungo
is insulting me?"
It was useless to try to explain myself. It was useless for Mrs. Finch
(who had made several abortive efforts to put in a word or two, on her
own part) to attempt to pacify her husband. All the poor damp lady could
do was to beg me to write to her from foreign parts. "I'm sorry you're in
trouble; and I should really be glad to hear from you." Mrs. Finch had
barely time to say those kind words--before the rector, in a voice of
thunder, desired me to look at "that double Wreck, and respect it if I
did not respect _him_"--and with that walked himself, his wife, and his
baby out of the room.
Having gained the object which had brought me into the study, I made no
attempt to detain him. The little sense the man possessed at the best of
times, was completely upset by the shock which Lucilla's abrupt departure
had inflicted on his high opinion of his own importance. That he would
end in being reconciled to his daughter--before her next subscription to
the household expenses fell due--was a matter of downright certainty.
But, until that time came, I felt equally sure that he would vindicate
his outraged dignity by declining to hold any communication, in person or
in writing, with Ramsgate. During the short term of my absence from
England, Miss Batchford would be left as ignorant of her niece's perilous
position between the twin-brothers, as Lucilla herself. To know this was
to have gained the information that I wanted. Nothing was left but to set
my brains to work at once, and act on it.
How was I to act on it?
On the spur of the moment, I could see but one way. If Grosse pronounced
Lucilla's recovery to be complete, before I returned from abroad, the
best thing I could do would be to put Miss Batchford in a position to
reveal the truth in my place--without running any risk of a premature
discovery. In other words, without letting the old lady into the secret,
before the time arrived at which it could be safely divulged.
This apparently intricate difficulty was easily overcome, by writing two
letters (before I went away) instead of one.
The first letter I addressed to Lucilla. Without any reference to her
behavior to me, I stated, in the fullest detail and with all needful
delicacy, her position between Oscar and Nugent: and referred her for
proof of the truth of my assertions to her relatives at the rectory. "I
leave it entirely to your discretion" (I added) "to write me an answer or
not. Put the warning which I now give you to the proof; and if you wonder
why it has been so long delayed, apply to Herr Grosse on whom the whole
responsibility rests." There I ended; being resolved, after the wrong
that Lucilla had inflicted on me, to leave my justification to facts. I
confess I was too deeply wounded by her conduct--though I _did_ lay all
the blame of it on Nugent--to care to say a word in my own defence.
This letter sealed, I wrote next to Lucilla's aunt.
It was not an easy matter to address Miss Batchford. The contempt with
which she regarded Mr. Finch's opinions in politics and religion, was
more than matched by the strong aversion which she felt for my republican
opinions. I have already mentioned, far back in these pages, that a
dispute on politics between the Tory old lady and myself ended in a
quarrel between us, which closed the doors of her house on me from that
time forth. Knowing this, I ventured on writing to her nevertheless,
because I also knew Miss Batchford to be (apart from her furious
prejudices) a gentlewoman in the best sense of the word; devotedly
attached to her niece, and quite as capable, when that devotion was
appealed to, of doing justice to me (apart from _my_ furious prejudices)
as I was of doing justice to her. Writing in a tone of unaffected
respect, and appealing to her forbearance to encourage mine, I requested
her to hand my letter to Lucilla on the day when the surgeon reported
that all further necessity for his attendance had ceased. In the interval
before this happened, I entreated Miss Batchford, in her niece's
interests, to consider my letter as a strictly private communication;
adding, that my sufficient reason for venturing to make this condition
would be found in my letter to Lucilla--which I authorized her aunt to
read as soon as the time had arrived for opening it.
By this means I had, as I firmly believed, taken the only possible way of
preventing Nugent Dubourg from doing any serious mischief in my absence.
Whatever his uncontrolled infatuation for Lucilla might lead him to do
next, he could proceed to no serious extremities until Grosse pronounced
her recovery to be complete. On the day when Grosse did that, she would
receive my letter, and would discover for herself the abominable
deception which had been practiced on her. As to attempting to find
Nugent, no idea of doing this entered my mind. Wherever he might be, at
home or abroad, it would be equally useless to appeal to his honor again.
It would be degrading myself to speak to him or to trust him. To expose
him to Lucilla the moment it became possible was the one thing to be
done. I was ready with my letters, one enclosed in the other, when good
Mr. Gootheridge (with whom I had arranged previously) called to drive me
to Brighton in his light cart. The chaise which he had for hire had been
already used to make the same journey by Lucilla and the nurse, and had
not yet been returned to the inn. I reached my train before the hour of
starting, and arrived in London with a sufficient margin of time to
Resolved to make sure that no possible mischance could occur, I drove to
Miss Batchford's house, and saw the cabman give my letter into the
It was a bitter moment when I found myself pulling down my veil, in the
fear that Lucilla might be at the window and see me! Nobody was visible
but the man who answered the door. If pen, ink, and paper had been within
my reach at the moment, I think I should have written to her on my own
account, after all! As it was, I could only forgive her the injury she
had done me. From the bottom of my heart, I forgave her, and longed for
the blessed time which should unite us again. In the meanwhile, having
done everything that I could to guard and help her, I was now free to
give to Oscar all the thoughts that I could spare from my poor misguided
Being bound for the Continent, I determined (though the chances were a
hundred to one against me) to do all that I could, in my painful
position, to discover the place of Oscar's retreat. The weary hours of
suspense at my father's bedside would be lightened to me, if I could feel
that the search for the lost man was being carried on at my instigation,
and that from day to day there was a bare possibility of my hearing of
him, if there was no more.
The office of the lawyer whom I had consulted during my previous visit to
London, lay in my way to the terminus. I drove there next, and was
fortunate enough to find him still at business.
No tidings had yet been heard of Oscar. The lawyer, however, proved to be
useful by giving me a letter of introduction to a person at Marseilles,
accustomed to conduct difficult confidential inquiries, and having agents
whom he could employ in all the great cities of Europe. A man of Oscar's
startling personal appearance would be surely more or less easy to trace,
if the right machinery to do it could only be set at work. My savings
would suffice for this purpose to a certain extent--and to that extent I
resolved that they should be used when I reached my journey's end.
It was a troubled sea on the channel passage that night. I remained on
deck; accepting any inconvenience rather than descend into the atmosphere
of the cabin. As I looked out to sea on one side and on the other, the
dark waste of tossing waters seemed to be the fit and dreary type of the
dark prospect that was before me. On the trackless path that we were
ploughing, a faint misty moonlight shed its doubtful ray. Like the
doubtful light of hope, faintly flickering on my mind when I thought of
the coming time!
CHAPTER THE FORTY-SECOND
The Story of Lucilla: told by Herself
IN my description of what Lucilla said and did, on the occasion when the
surgeon was teaching her to use her sight, it will be remembered that she
is represented as having been particularly anxious to be allowed to try
how she could write.
The motive at the bottom of this was the motive which is always at the
bottom of a woman's conduct when she loves. Her one ambition is to
present herself to advantage, even in the most trifling matters, before
the man on whom her heart is fixed. Lucilla's one ambition with Oscar,
was this and no more.
Conscious that her handwriting--thus far, painfully and incompletely
guided by her sense of touch--must present itself in sadly unfavorable
contrast to the handwriting of other women who could see, she persisted
in petitioning Grosse to permit her to learn to "write with her eyes
instead of her finger," until she fairly wearied out the worthy German's
power of resistance. The rapid improvement in her sight, after her
removal to the sea-side, justified him (as I was afterwards informed) in
letting her have her way. Little by little, using her eyes for a longer
and longer time on each succeeding day, she mastered the serious
difficulty of teaching herself to write by sight instead of by touch.
Beginning with lines in copybooks, she got on to writing easy words to
dictation. From that again, she advanced to writing notes; and from
writing notes to keeping a journal--this last, at the suggestion of her
aunt, who had lived in the days before penny postage, when people kept
journals, and wrote long letters--in short, when people had time to think
of themselves, and, more wonderful still, to write about it too.
Lucilla's Journal at Ramsgate lies before me as I trace these lines.
I had planned at first to make use of it, so as to continue the course of
my narrative without a check; still writing in my own person--as I have
written thus far; and as I propose to write again, at the time when I
reappear on the scene.
But on thinking over it once more, and after reading the Journal again,
it strikes me as the wiser proceeding to let Lucilla tell the story of
her life at Ramsgate, herself: adding notes of my own occasionally, where
they appear to be required. Variety, freshness, and reality--I believe I
shall secure them all three by following this plan. Why is History in
general (I know there are brilliant exceptions to the rule) such dull
reading? Because it is the narrative of events, written at second hand.
Now I will be anything else you please, except dull. You may say I have
been dull already? As I am an honest woman, I don't agree with you. There
are some people who bring dull minds to their reading--and then blame the
writer for it. I say no more.
Consider it as arranged, then. During my absence on the Continent,
Lucilla shall tell the story of events at Ramsgate. (And I will sprinkle
a few notes over it, here and there; signed P.)
_East Cliff Ramsgate, August_ 28th.--A fortnight to-day since my aunt and
I arrived at this place. I sent Zillah back to the rectory from London.
Her rheumatic infirmities trouble her tenfold, poor old soul, in the
moist air of the seaside.
How has my writing got on for the last week? I am becoming a little
better satisfied with it. I use my pen more easily; my hand is less like
the hand of a backward child than it was. I shall be able to write as
well as other ladies do when I am Oscar's wife.
[Note.--She is easily satisfied, poor dear. Her improved handwriting is
sadly crooked. Some of the letters embrace each other at close quarters
like dear friends; and some start asunder like bitter enemies. This is
not to reflect on Lucilla--but to excuse myself, if I make any mistakes
in transcribing the Journal. Now let her go on.--P.]
Oscar's wife! when shall I be Oscar's wife? I have not so much as seen
him yet. Something--I am afraid a difficulty with his brother--still
keeps him on the Continent. The tone in which he writes continues to have
a certain reserve in it which disquiets and puzzles me. Am I quite as
happy as I expected to be when I recovered my sight? Not yet!
It is not Oscar's fault, if I am out of spirits every now and then. It is
my own fault. I have offended my father; and I sometimes fear I have not
acted justly towards Madame Pratolungo. These things vex me.
It seems to be my fate to be always misunderstood. My sudden flight from
the rectory meant no disrespect to my father. I left as I did, because I
was quite incapable of facing the woman whom I had once dearly
loved--thinking of her as I think now. It is so unendurable to feel that
your confidence is lost in a person whom you once trusted without limit,
and to go on meeting that person every hour in the day with a smooth
face, as if nothing had happened! The impulse to escape more meetings
(when I discovered that she had left the house for a walk) was
irresistible. I should do it again, if I was in the same position again.
I have hinted at this in writing to my father; telling him that something
unpleasant had happened between Madame Pratolungo and me, and that I went
away so suddenly, on that account alone. No use! He has not answered my
letter. I have written since to my step-mother. Mrs. Finch's reply has
informed me of the unjust manner in which he speaks of my aunt. Without
the slightest reason for it, he is even more deeply offended with Miss
Batchford than he is with me!
Sad as this estrangement is, there is one consolation--so far as I am
concerned, it will not last. My father and I are sure, sooner or later,
to come to an understanding together. When I return to the rectory, I
shall make my peace with him, and we shall get on again as smoothly as
But how will it end between Madame Pratolungo and me?
She has not answered the letter I wrote to her. (I begin to wish I had
never written it, or at least some of it--the latter part I mean.) I have
heard absolutely nothing of her since she has been abroad. I don't know
when she will return--or if she will ever return, to live at Dimchurch
again. Oh, what would I not give to have this dreadful mystery cleared
up! to know whether I ought to fall down on my knees before her and beg
her pardon? or whether I ought to count among the saddest days of my life
the day which brought that woman to live with me as companion and friend?
Have I acted rashly? or have I acted wisely?
There is the question which always comes to me and torments me, when I
wake in the night. Let me look again (for the fiftieth time at least) at
[Note.--I copy the letter. Other eyes than hers ought to see it in this
place. It is Nugent, of course, who here writes in Oscar's character and
in Oscar's name. You will observe that his good resolutions, when he left
me, held out as far as Paris--and then gave way as follows.--P.]
"MY OWN DEAREST,--I have reached Paris, and have found my first
opportunity of writing to you since I left Browndown. Madame Pratolungo
has no doubt told you that a sudden necessity has called me to my
brother. I have not yet reached the place at which I am to meet him.
Before I meet him, let me tell you what the necessity which has parted us
really is. Madame Pratolungo no longer possesses my confidence. When you
have read on a little farther, she will no longer possess yours.
"Alas, my love, I must amaze you, shock you, grieve you--I who would lay
down my life for your happiness! Let me write it in the fewest words. I
have made a terrible discovery. Lucilla! you have trusted Madame
Pratolungo as your friend. Trust her no longer. She is your enemy, and
"I suspected her some time since. My worst suspicions have been
"Long ere this, I ought to have told you, what I tell you now. But I
shrink from distressing you. To see a sad look on your dear face breaks
my heart. It is only when I am away from you--when I fear the
consequences if you are not warned of your danger--that I can summon the
courage to tear off the mask from that woman's false face, and show her
to you as she really is. It is impossible for me to enter into details in
the space of a letter; I reserve all particulars until we meet again, and
until I can produce, what you have a right to ask for--proof that I am
speaking the truth.
"In the meanwhile, I beg you to look back into your own thoughts, to
recall your own words, on the day when Madame Pratolungo offended you in
the rectory garden. On that occasion, the truth escaped the Frenchwoman's
lips--and she knew it!
"Do you remember what you said, after she had followed you to Browndown?
I mean, after she had declared that you would have fallen in love with my
brother if you had met him first--and after Nugent (at her instigation no
doubt) had taken advantage of your blindness to make you believe that you
were speaking to _me._ When you were smarting under the insult, and when
you had found out the trick, what did you say?
"You said these--or nearly these--words:
" 'She hated you from the first, Oscar--she took up with your brother
directly he came here. Don't marry me at Dimchurch! Find out some place
that they don't know of! They are both in a conspiracy together against
you and against me. Take care of them! take care of them!'
"Lucilla! I echo your own words to you. I return the warning--the
prophetic warning--which you unconsciously gave me in that past time. I
am afraid my unhappy brother loves you--and I know for certain that
Madame Pratolungo feels the interest in _him_ which she has never felt in
_me._ What you said, I say. They are in a conspiracy together against us.
Take care of them! take care of them!
"When we meet again, I shall be prepared to defeat the conspiracy. Till
that time comes--as you value your happiness and mine, don't let Madame
Pratolungo suspect that you have discovered her. It is she, I firmly
believe, who is to blame. I am going to my brother--as you will now
understand--with an object far different to the object which I put
forward as an excuse to your false friend. Fear no dispute between Nugent
and me. I know him. I firmly believe I shall find that he has been
tempted and misled. I answer--now that no evil influences are at work on
him--for his acting like an honorable man, and deserving your pardon and
mine. The excuse I have made to Madame Pratolungo will prevent her from
interfering between us. That was my one object in making it.
"Keep me correctly informed of your movements and of hers. I enclose an
address to which you can write, with the certainty that your letters will
"On my side, I promise to write constantly. Once more, don't trust a
living creature about you with the secret which this letter reveals!
Expect me back at the earliest possible moment, to free you--with a
husband's authority--from the woman who has so cruelly deceived
us.--Yours with the truest affection, the fondest love,
[Note.--It is quite needless for me to dwell here on the devilish
cunning--I can use no other phrase--which inspired this abominable
letter. Look back to the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth chapters, and
you will see how skillfully what I said in a moment of foolish
irritation, and what Lucilla said when she too had lost her temper, is
turned to account to poison her mind against me. We are made innocently
to supply our enemy with the foundation on which he builds his plot. For
the rest, the letter explains itself. Nugent still persists in
personating his brother. He guesses easily at the excuse I should make to
Lucilla for his absence; and he gets over the difficulty of appearing to
have confided his errand to a woman whom he distrusts, by declaring that
he felt it necessary to deceive me as to what the nature of that errand
really was. As the Journal proceeds, you will see how dexterously he
works the machinery which his letter has set in motion. All I need add
here, in the way of explanation, is--that the delay in his arrival at
Ramsgate of which Lucilla complains, was caused by nothing but his own
hesitation. His sense of honor--as I knew, from discoveries made at a
later time--was not entirely lost yet. The lower he sank, the harder his
better nature struggled to raise him. Nothing, positively nothing, but
his own remorse need have kept him at Paris (it is needless to say that
he never stirred farther, and never discovered the place of his brother's
retreat) after Lucilla had informed him by letter, that I had gone
abroad, and that she was at Ramsgate with her aunt. I have done: let
Lucilla go on again.--P.]
I have read Oscar's letter once more.
He is the soul of honor; he is incapable of deceiving me. I remember
saying what he tells me I said, and thinking it too--for the moment
only--when I was beside myself with rage. Still--may it not be possible
that appearances have misled Oscar? Oh, Madame Pratolungo! I had such a
high opinion of you, I loved you so dearly--can you have been unworthy of
the admiration and affection that you once inspired in me?
I quite agree with Oscar that his brother is not to blame. It is sad and
shocking that Mr. Nugent Dubourg should have allowed himself to fall in
love with me. But I cannot help pitying him. Poor disfigured man, I hope
he will get a good wife! How he must have suffered!
It is impossible to endure, any longer, my present state of suspense.
Oscar must, and shall, satisfy me about Madame Pratolungo--with his own
lips. I shall write to him by this post, and insist on his coming to
_August_ 29th.--I wrote to him yesterday, to the address in Paris. My
letter will be delivered to-morrow. Where is he? when will he get it?
[Note.--That innocent letter did its fatal mischief. It ended the
struggle against himself which had kept Nugent Dubourg in Paris. On the
morning when he received it, he started for England. Here is the entry in
_August_ 31st.--A telegram for me at breakfast-time. I am too happy to
keep my hand steady--I am writing horribly. It doesn't matter: nothing
matters but my telegram. (Oh, what a noble creature the man was who
invented telegrams!) Oscar is on his way to Ramsgate!
CHAPTER THE FORTY-THIRD
Lucilla's Journal, continued
I AM composed enough to return to my Journal, and to let my mind dwell a
little on all that I have thought and felt since Oscar has been here.
Now that I have lost Madame Pratolungo, I have no friend with whom I can
talk over my little secrets. My aunt is all that is kind and good to me;
but with a person so much older than I am--who has lived in such a
different world from my world, and whose ideas seem to be so far away
from mine--how can I talk about my follies and extravagances, and expect
sympathy in return! My one confidential friend is my Journal--I can only
talk about myself to myself, in these pages. My position feels sometimes
like a very lonely one. I saw two girls telling all their secrets to each
other on the sands to-day--and I am afraid I envied them.
Well, my dear Journal, how did I feel--after longing for Oscar--when
Oscar came to me? It is dreadful to own it; but my book locks up, and my
book can be trusted with the truth. I felt ready to cry--I was so
unexpectedly, so horribly, disappointed.
No. "Disappointed" is not the word. I can't find the word. There was a
moment--I hardly dare write it: it seems so atrociously wicked--there was
a moment when I actually wished myself blind again.
He took me in his arms; he held my hand in his. In the time when I was
blind, how I should have felt it! how the delicious _tingle_ would have
run through me when he touched me! Nothing of the kind happened now. He
might have been Oscar's brother for all the effect he produced on me. I
have myself taken his hand since, and shut my eyes to try and renew my
blindness, and put myself back completely as I was in the old time. The
same result still. Nothing, nothing, nothing!
Is it that he is a little restrained with me on his side? He certainly
is! I felt it the moment he came into the room--I have felt it ever
No: it is not that. In the old time, when we were only beginning to love
each other, he was restrained with me. But it made no difference then. I
was not the insensible creature in those days that I have become since.
I can only account for it in one way. The restoration of my sight has
made a new creature of me. I have gained a sense--I am no longer the same
woman. This great change must have had some influence over me that I
never suspected until Oscar came here. Can the loss of my sense of
feeling be the price that I have paid for the recovery of my sense of
When Grosse comes next, I shall put that question to him.
In the meanwhile, I have had a second disappointment. He is not nearly so
beautiful as I thought he was when I was blind.
On the day when my bandage was taken off for the first time, I could only
see indistinctly. When I ran into the room at the rectory, I guessed it
was Oscar rather than knew it was Oscar. My father's grey head, and Mrs.
Finch's woman's dress, would no doubt have helped anybody in my place to
fix as I did on the right man. But this is all different now. I can see
his features in detail--and the result is (though I won't own it to any
of them) that I find my idea of him in the days of my blindness--oh, so
unlike the reality! The one thing that is not a disappointment to me, is
his voice. When he cannot see me, I close my eyes, and let my ears feel
the old charm again--so far.
And this is what I have gained, by submitting to the operation, and
enduring my imprisonment in the darkened room!
What am I writing? I ought to be ashamed of myself! Is it nothing to have
had all the beauty of land and sea, all the glory of cloud and sunshine,
revealed to me? Is it nothing to be able to look at my
fellow-creatures--to see the bright faces of children smile at me when I
speak to them? Enough of myself! I am unhappy and ungrateful when I think
Let me write about Oscar.
My aunt approves of him. She thinks him handsome, and says he has the
manners of a gentleman. This last is high praise from Miss Batchford. She
despises the present generation of young men. "In my time," she said the
other day, "I used to see young gentlemen. I only see young animals now;
well-fed, well-washed, well-dressed; riding animals, rowing animals,
betting animals--nothing more."
Oscar, on his side, seems to like Miss Batchford on better acquaintance.
When I first presented him to her, he rather surprised me by changing
color and looking very uneasy. He is almost distressingly nervous, on
certain occasions. I suppose my aunt's grand manner daunted him.
[Note.--I really must break in here. Her aunt's "grand manner" makes me
sick. It is nothing (between ourselves) but a hook-nose and a stiff pair
of stays. What daunted Nugent Dubourg, when he first found himself in the
old lady's presence, was the fear of discovery. He would no doubt have
learnt from his brother that Oscar and Miss Batchford had never met. You
will see, if you look back, that it was, in the nature of things,
impossible they should have met. But is it equally clear that Nugent
could find out beforehand that Miss Batchford had been left in ignorance
of what had happened at Dimchurch? He could do nothing of the sort--he
could feel no assurance of his security from exposure, until he had tried
the ground in his own proper person first. The risk here was certainly
serious enough to make even Nugent Dubourg feel uneasy. And Lucilla talks
of her aunt's "grand manner!" Poor innocent! I leave her to go on.--P.]
As soon as my aunt left us together, the first words I said to Oscar,
referred (of course) to his letter about Madame Pratolungo.
He made a little sign of entreaty, and looked distressed.
"Why should we spoil the pleasure of our first meeting by talking of
her?" he said. "It is so inexpressibly painful to you and to me. Let us
return to it in a day or two. Not now, Lucilla--not now!"
His brother was the next subject in my mind. I was not at all sure how he
would take my speaking about it. I risked a question however, for all
that. He made another sign of entreaty, and looked distressed again.
"My brother and I understand each other, Lucilla. He will remain abroad
for the present. Shall we drop that subject, too? Let me hear your own
news--I want to know what is going on at the rectory. I have heard
nothing since you wrote me word that you were here with your aunt, and
that Madame Pratolungo had gone abroad to her father. Is Mr. Finch well?
Is he coming to Ramsgate to see you?"
I was unwilling to tell him of the misunderstanding at home. "I have not
heard from my father since I have been here," I said. "Now you have come
back, I can write and announce your return, and get all the news from the
He looked at me rather strangely--in a way which led me to fear that he
saw some objection to my writing to my father.
"I suppose you would like Mr. Finch to come here?" he said--and then
stopped suddenly, and looked at me again.
"There is very little chance of his coming here," I answered.
Oscar seemed to be wonderfully interested about my father. "Very little
chance!" he repeated. "Why?"
I was obliged to refer to the family quarrel--still, however, saying
nothing of the unjust manner in which my father had spoken of my aunt.
"As long as I am with Miss Batchford," I said, "it is useless to hope
that my father will come here. They are on bad terms; and I am afraid
there is no prospect, at present, of their being friends again. Do you
object to my writing home to say you have come to Ramsgate?" I asked.
"I?" he exclaimed, looking the picture of astonishment. "What could
possibly make you think that? Write by all means--and leave a little
space for me. I will add a few lines to your letter."
It is impossible to say how his answer relieved me. It was quite plain
that I had stupidly misinterpreted him. Oh, my new eyes! my new eyes!
shall I ever be able to depend on you as I could once depend on my touch?
[Note.--I must intrude myself again. I shall burst with indignation while
I am copying the journal, if I don't relieve my mind at certain places in
it. Remark, before you go any farther, how skillfully Nugent contrives to
ascertain his exact position at Ramsgate--and see with what a fatal
unanimity all the chances of his personating Oscar, without discovery,
declare themselves in his favor! Miss Batchford, as you have seen, is
entirely at his mercy. She not only knows nothing herself, but she
operates as a check on Mr. Finch--who would otherwise have joined his
daughter at Ramsgate, and have instantly exposed the conspiracy. On every
side of him, Nugent is, to all appearance, safe. I am away in one
direction. Oscar is away in another. Mrs. Finch is anchored immovably in
her nursery. Zillah has been sent back from London to the rectory. The
Dimchurch doctor (who attended Oscar, and who might have proved an
awkward witness) is settled in India--as you will see, if you refer to
the twenty-second chapter. The London doctor with whom he consulted has
long since ceased to have any relations with his former patient. As for
Herr Grosse, if he appears on the scene, he can be trusted to shut his
eyes professionally to all that is going on, and to let matters take
their course in the only interest he recognizes--the interest of
Lucilla's health. There is literally no obstacle in Nugent's way--and no
sort of protection for Lucilla, except in the faithful instinct which
persists in warning her that this is the wrong man--though it speaks in
an unknown tongue. Will she end in understanding the warning before it is
too late? My friend, this note is intended to relieve my mind--not yours.
All you have to do is to read on. Here is the journal. I won't stand
another moment in your way.--P.]
_September_ 2nd.--A rainy day. Very little said that is worth recording
between Oscar and me.
My aunt, whose spirits are always affected by bad weather, kept me a long
time in her sitting-room, amusing herself by making me exercise my sight.
Oscar was present by special invitation, and assisted the old lady in
setting this new seeing-sense of mine all sorts of tasks. He tried hard
to prevail on me to let him see my writing. I refused. It is improving as
fast as it can; but it is not good enough yet.
I notice here what a dreadfully difficult thing it is to get back--in
such a case as mine--to the exercise of one's sight.
We have a cat and a dog in the house. Would it be credited, if I was
telling it to the world instead of telling it to my Journal, that I
actually mistook one for the other to-day?--after seeing so well, too, as
I do now, and being able to write with so few false strokes in making my
letters! It is nevertheless true that I did mistake the two animals;
having trusted to nothing but my memory to inform my eyes which was
which, instead of helping my memory by my touch. I have now set this
right. I caught up puss, and shut my eyes (oh, that habit! when shall I
get over it?) and felt her soft fur (so different from a dog's hair!) and
opened my eyes again, and associated the feel of the fur for ever
afterwards with the sight of a cat.
To-day's experience has also informed me that I make slow progress in
teaching myself to judge correctly of distances.
In spite of this drawback, however, there is nothing I enjoy so much in
using my sight as looking at a great wide prospect of any kind--provided
I am not asked to judge how far or how near objects may be. It seems like
escaping out of prison, to look (after having been shut up in my
blindness) at the view over the town, and the bold promontory of the
pier, and the grand sweep of the sea beyond--all visible from our
The moment my aunt begins to question me about distances, she makes a
toil of my pleasure. It is worse still when I am asked about the relative
sizes of ships and boats. When I see nothing but a boat, I fancy it
larger than it is. When I see the boat in comparison with a ship, and
then look back at the boat, I instantly go to the other extreme, and
fancy it smaller than it is. The setting this right still vexes me almost
as keenly as my stupidity vexed me some time since, when I saw my first
horse and cart from an upper window, and took it for a dog drawing a
wheelbarrow! Let me add in my own defence that both horse and cart were
figured at least five times their proper size in my blind fancy, which
makes my mistake, I think, not so very stupid after all.
Well, I amused my aunt. And what effect did I produce on Oscar?
If I could trust my eyes, I should say I produced exactly the contrary
effect on _him_--I made him melancholy. But I don't trust my eyes. They
must be deceiving me when they tell me that he looked, in my company, a
moping, anxious, miserable man.
Or is it, that he sees and feels something changed in Me? I could scream
with vexation and rage against myself. Here is my Oscar--and yet he is
not the Oscar I knew when I was blind. Contradictory as it seems, I used
to understand how he looked at me, when I was unable to see it. Now that
I can see it, I ask myself, Is this really love that is looking at me in
his eyes? or is it something else? How should I know? I knew when I had
only my own fancy to tell me. But now, try as I may, I cannot make the
old fancy and the new sight serve me in harmony both together. I am
afraid he sees that I don't understand him. Oh, dear! dear! why did I not
meet my good old Grosse, and become the new creature that he has made me,
before I met Oscar? I should have had no blind memories and
prepossessions to get over then. I shall become used to my new self, I
hope and believe, with time--and that will accustom me to my new
impressions of Oscar--and so it may all come right in the end. It is all
wrong enough now. He put his arm round me, and gave me a little tender
squeeze, while we were following Miss Batchford down to the dining-room
this afternoon. Nothing in me answered to it. I should have felt it all
over me a few months since.
Here is a tear on the paper. What a fool I am! Why can't I write about
I sent my second letter to my father to-day; telling him of Oscar's
return from abroad, and taking no notice of his not having replied to my
first letter. The only way to manage my father is not to take notice, and
to let him come right by himself. I showed Oscar my letter--with a space
left at the end for his postscript. While he was writing it, he asked me
to get something which happened to be up-stairs in my room. When I came
back, he had sealed the envelope--forgetting to show me his postscript.
It was not worth while to open the letter again; he told me what he had
written, and that did just as well.
[Note.--I must trouble you with a copy of what Nugent really did write.
It shows why he sent her out of the room, and closed the envelope before
she could come back. The postscript is also worthy of notice, in this
respect--that it plays a part in a page of my narrative which is still to
Thus Nugent writes, in Oscar's name and character, to the rector of
Dimchurch. (I have already mentioned, as you will see in the
twenty-second chapter, that a close similarity of handwriting was one
among the other striking points of resemblance between the twins.)
"DEAR MR. FINCH,
"Lucilla's letter will have told you that I have come to my senses, and
that I am again paying my addresses to her as her affianced husband. My
principal object in adding these lines is to propose that we should
forget the past, and go on again as if nothing had happened.
"Nugent has behaved nobly. He absolves me from the engagements towards
him into which I so rashly entered, at our last interview before I left
Browndown. Most generously and amply he has redeemed his pledge to Madame
Pratolungo to discover the place of my retreat and to restore me to
Lucilla. For the present he remains abroad.
"If you favor me with a reply to this, I must warn you to be careful how
you write; for Lucilla is sure to ask to see your letter. Remember that
she only supposes me to have returned to her after a brief absence from
England, caused by a necessity for joining my brother on the Continent.
It will be also desirable to say nothing on the subject of my unfortunate
peculiarity of complexion. I have made it all right with Lucilla, and she
is getting accustomed to me. Still, the subject is a sore one; and the
less it is referred to the better.
Unless I add a word of explanation here, you will hardly appreciate the
extraordinary skillfulness with which the deception is continued by means
of this postscript.
Written in Oscar's character (and representing Nugent as having done all
that he had promised me to do) it designedly omits the customary courtesy
of Oscar's style. The object of this is to offend Mr. Finch--with what
end in view you will presently see. The rector was the last man in
existence to dispense with the necessary apologies and expressions of
regret from a man engaged to his daughter, who had left her as Oscar had
left her--no matter how the circumstances might appear to excuse him. The
curt, off-hand postscript signed "Oscar" was the very thing to exasperate
the wound already inflicted on Mr. Finch's self-esteem, and to render it
at least probable that he would reconsider his intention of himself
performing the marriage ceremony. In the event of his refusal, what would
happen? A stranger, entirely ignorant of which was Nugent and which was
Oscar, would officiate in his place. Do you see it now?
But even the cleverest people are not always capable of providing for
every emergency. The completest plot generally has its weak place.
The postscript, as you have seen, was a little masterpiece. But it
nevertheless exposed the writer to a danger which (as the Journal will
tell you) he only appreciated at its true value when it was too late to
alter his mind. Finding himself forced, for the sake of appearances, to
permit Lucilla to inform her father of his arrival at Ramsgate, he was
now obliged to run the risk of having that important piece of domestic
news communicated--either by Mr. Finch or by his wife--to no less a
person than myself. You will remember that worthy Mrs. Finch, when we
parted at the rectory, had asked me to write to her while I was
abroad--and you will see, after the hint I have given you, that clever
Mr. Nugent is beginning already to walk upon delicate ground. I say no
more: Lucilla's turn now.--P.]
_September_ 3rd.--Oscar has (I suppose) forgotten something which he
ought to have included in his postscript to my letter.
More than two hours after I had sent it to the post, he asked if the
letter had gone. For the moment, he looked annoyed when I said, Yes. But
he soon recovered himself. It mattered nothing (he said); he could easily
write again. "Talking of letters," he added, "do you expect Madame
Pratolungo to write to you?" (This time it was he who referred to her!) I
told him that there was not much chance, after what had passed on her
side and on mine, of her writing to me--and then tried to put some of
those questions about her which he had once already requested me not to
press yet. For the second time, he entreated me to defer the discussion
of that unpleasant subject for the present--and yet, with a curious
inconsistency, he made another inquiry relating to the subject in the
"Do you think she is likely to be in correspondence with your father, or
your stepmother, while she is out of England?" he asked.
"I should doubt her writing to my father," I said. "But she might
correspond with Mrs. Finch."
He considered a little--and then turned the talk to the topic of our
residence at Ramsgate next.
"How long do you stay here?" he inquired.
"It depends on Herr Grosse," I answered. "I will ask him when he comes
He turned away to the window--suddenly, as if he was a little put out.
"Are you tired of Ramsgate already?" I asked.
He came back to me, and took my hand--my cold insensible hand that won't
feel his touch as it ought!
"Let me be your husband, Lucilla," he whispered; "and I will live at
Ramsgate if you like--for your sake."
Although there was everything to please me in those words, there was
something that startled me--I cannot describe it--in his look and manner
when he said them. I made no answer at the moment. He went on.
"Why should we not be married at once?" he asked. We are both of age. We
have only ourselves to think of."
[Note.--Alter his words as follows: "Why should we not be married before
Madame Pratolungo can hear of my arrival at Ramsgate?"--and you will
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