Poor Miss Finch
Part 8 out of 9
rightly interpret his motives. The situation is now fast reaching its
climax of peril. Nugent's one chance is to persuade Lucilla to marry him
before any discoveries can reach my ears, and before Grosse considers her
sufficiently recovered to leave Ramsgate.--P.]
"You forget," I answered, more surprised than ever; "we have my father to
think of. It was always arranged that he was to marry us at Dimchurch."
Oscar smiled--not at all the charming smile I used to imagine, when I was
"We shall wait a long time, I am afraid," he said, "if we wait until your
father marries us."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"When we enter on the painful subject of Madame Pratolungo," he replied,
"I will tell you. In the meantime, do you think Mr. Finch will answer
"I hope so."
"Do you think he will answer my postscript?"
"I am sure he will!"
The same unpleasant smile showed itself again in his face. He abruptly
dropped the conversation, and went to play _piquet_ with my aunt.
All this happened yesterday evening. I went to bed, sadly dissatisfied
with somebody. Was it with Oscar? or with myself? or with both? I fancy
To-day, we went out together for a walk on the cliffs. What a delight it
was to move through the fresh briny air, and see the lovely sights on
every side of me! Oscar enjoyed it too. All through the first part of our
walk, he was charming, and I was more in love with him than ever. On our
return, a little incident occurred which altered him for the worse, and
which made my spirits sink again.
It happened in this manner.
I proposed returning by the sands. Ramsgate is still crowded with
visitors; and the animated scene on the beach in the later part of the
day has attractions for me, after my blind life, which it does not (I
dare say) possess for people who have always enjoyed the use of their
eyes. Oscar, who has a nervous horror of crowds, and who shrinks from
contact with people not so refined as himself, was surprised at my
wishing to mix with what he called "the mob on the sands." However, he
said he would go, if I particularly wished it. I did particularly wish
it. So we went.
There were chairs on the beach. We hired two, and sat down to look about
All sorts of diversions were going on. Monkeys, organs, girls on stilts,
a conjurer, and a troop of negro minstrels, were all at work to amuse the
visitors. I thought the varied color and bustling enjoyment of the crowd,
with the bright blue sea beyond, and the glorious sunshine overhead,
quite delightful--I declare I felt as if two eyes were not half enough to
see with! A nice old lady, sitting near, entered into conversation with
me; hospitably offering me biscuits and sherry out of her own bag. Oscar,
to my disappointment, looked quite disgusted with all of us. He thought
my nice old lady vulgar; and he called the company on the beach "a herd
of snobs." While he was still muttering under his breath about the
"mixture of low people," he suddenly cast a side-look at some person or
thing--I could not at the moment tell which--and, rising, placed himself
so as to intercept my view of the promenade on the sands immediately
before me. I happened to have noticed, at the same moment, a lady
approaching us in a dress of a peculiar color; and I pulled Oscar on one
side, to look at her as she passed in front of me. "Why do you get in my
way?" I asked. Before he could answer the question the lady passed, with
two lovely children, and with a tall man at her side. My eyes, looking
first at the lady and the children, found their way next to the
gentleman--and saw repeated in his face, the same black-blue complexion
which had startled me in the face of Oscar's brother, when I first opened
my eyes at the rectory! For the moment I felt startled again--more, as I
believe, by the unexpected repetition of the blue face in the face of a
stranger, than by the ugliness of the complexion itself. At any rate, I
was composed enough to admire the lady's dress, and the beauty of the
children, before they had passed beyond my range of view. Oscar spoke to
me, while I was looking at them, in a tone of reproach for which, as I
thought, there was no occasion and no excuse.
"I tried to spare you," he said. "You have yourself to thank, if that man
has frightened you."
"He has _not_ frightened me," I answered--sharply enough.
Oscar looked at me very attentively; and sat down again, without saying a
The good-humoured old woman, on my other side, who had seen and heard all
that had passed, began to talk of the gentleman with the discolored face,
and of the lady and the children who accompanied him. He was a retired
Indian officer, she said. The lady was his wife, and the two beautiful
children were his own children. "It seems a pity that such a handsome man
should be disfigured in that way," my new acquaintance remarked. "But
still, it don't matter much, after all. There he is, as you see, with a
fine woman for a wife, and with two lovely children. I know the landlady
of the house where they lodge--and a happier family you couldn't lay your
hand on in all England. That is my friend's account of them. Even a blue
face don't seem such a dreadful misfortune, when you look at it in that
light--does it, Miss?"
I entirely agreed with the old lady. Our talk seemed, for some
incomprehensible reason, to irritate Oscar. He got up again impatiently,
and looked at his watch.
"Your aunt will be wondering what has become of us," he said. "Surely you
have had enough of the mob on the sands, by this time?"
I had not had enough of it, and I should have been quite content to have
made one of the mob for some time longer. But I saw that Oscar would be
seriously vexed if I persisted in keeping my place. So I took leave of my
nice old lady, and left the pleasant sands--not very willingly.
He said nothing more, until we had threaded our way out of the crowd.
Then he returned, without any reason for it that I could discover, to the
subject of the Indian officer, and to the remembrance which the
stranger's complexion must have awakened in me of his brother's face.
"I don't understand your telling me you were not frightened when you saw
that man," he said. "You were terribly frightened by my brother, when you
"I was terribly frightened by my own imagination, _before_ I saw him," I
answered. "_After_ I saw him, I soon got over it."
"So you say!" he rejoined.
There is something excessively provoking--at least to me--in being told
to my face that I have said something which is not worthy of belief. It
was not a very becoming act on my part (after what he had told me in his
letter about his brother's infatuation) to mention his brother. I ought
not to have done it. I did it, for all that.
"I say what I mean," I replied. "Before I knew what you told me about
your brother, I was going to propose to you, for your sake and for his,
that he should live with us after we were married."
Oscar suddenly stopped. He had given me his arm to lead me through the
crowd--he dropped it now.
"You say that, because you are angry with me!" he said.
I denied being angry with him; I declared, once more, that I was only
speaking the truth.
"You really mean," he went on, "that you could have lived comfortably
with my brother's blue face before you every hour of the day?"
"Quite comfortably--if he would have been my brother too." Oscar pointed
to the house in which my aunt and I are living--within a few yards of the
place on which we stood.
"You are close at home," he said, speaking in an odd muffled voice, with
his eyes on the ground. "I want a longer walk. We shall meet at
He left me--without looking up, and without saying a word more.
Jealous of his brother! There is something unnatural, something degrading
in such jealousy as that. I am ashamed of myself for thinking it of him.
And yet what else could his conduct mean?
[Note.--It is for me to answer that question. Give the miserable wretch
his due. His conduct meant, in one plain word--remorse. The only excuse
left that he could make to his own conscience for the infamous part which
he was playing, was this--that his brother's personal disfigurement
presented a fatal obstacle in the way of his brother's marriage. And now
Lucilla's own words, Lucilla's own actions, had told him that Oscar's
face was no obstacle to her seeing Oscar perpetually in the familiar
intercourse of domestic life. The torture of self-reproach which this
discovery inflicted on him, drove him out of her presence. His own lips
would have betrayed him, if he had spoken a word more to her at that
moment. This is no speculation of mine. I know what I am now writing to
be the truth.--P.]
It is night again. I am in my bed-room--too nervous and too anxious to go
to rest yet. Let me employ myself in finishing this private record of the
events of the day.
Oscar came a little before dinner-time; haggard and pale, and so absent
in mind that he hardly seemed to know what he was talking about. No
explanations passed between us. He asked my pardon for the hard things he
had said, and the ill-temper he had shown, earlier in the day. I readily
accepted his excuses--and did my best to conceal the uneasiness which his
vacant, pre-occupied manner caused me. All the time he was speaking to
me, he was plainly thinking of something else--he was more unlike the
Oscar of my blind remembrances than ever. It was the old voice talking in
a new way: I can only describe it to myself in those terms.
As for his manner, I know it used to be always more or less quiet and
retiring in the old days: but was it ever so hopelessly subdued and
depressed, as I have seen it to-day? Useless to ask! In the by-gone time,
I was not able to see it. My past judgment of him and my present judgment
of him have been arrived at by such totally different means, that it
seems useless to compare them. Oh, how I miss Madame Pratolungo! What a
relief, what a consolation it would have been, to have said all this to
her, and to have heard what she thought of it in return!
There is, however, a chance of my finding my way out of some of my
perplexities, at any rate--if I can only wait till tomorrow.
Oscar seems to have made up his mind at last to enter into the
explanations which he has hitherto withheld from me. He has asked me to
give him a private interview in the morning. The circumstances which led
to his making this request have highly excited my curiosity. Something is
evidently going on under the surface, in which my interests are
concerned--and, possibly, Oscar's interests too.
It all came about in this way.
On returning to the house, after Oscar had left me, I found that a letter
from Grosse had arrived by the afternoon post. My dear old surgeon wrote
to say that he was coming to see me--and added in a postscript that he
would arrive the next day at luncheon-time. Past experience told me that
this meant a demand on my aunt's housekeeping for all the good things
that it could produce. (Ah, dear! I thought of Madame Pratolungo and the
Mayonnaise. Will those times never come again?) Well--at dinner, I
announced Grosse's visit; adding significantly, "at luncheon-time."
My aunt looked up from her plate with a little start--not interested, as
I was prepared to hear, in the serious question of luncheon, but in the
opinion which my medical adviser was likely to give of the state of my
"I am anxious to hear what Mr. Grosse says about you to-morrow," the old
lady began. "I shall insist on his giving me a far more complete report
of you than he gave last time. The recovery of your sight appears to me,
my dear, to be quite complete."
"Do you want me to be cured, aunt, because you want to get away?" I
asked. "Are you weary of Ramsgate?"
Miss Batchford's quick temper flashed at me out of Miss Batchford's
bright old eyes.
"I am weary of keeping a letter of yours," she answered, with a look of
"A letter of mine!" I exclaimed.
"Yes. A letter which is only to be given to you, when Mr. Grosse
pronounces that you are quite yourself again."
Oscar--who had not taken the slightest interest in the conversation thus
far--suddenly stopped, with his fork half way to his mouth; changed
color; and looked eagerly at my aunt.
"What letter?" I asked. "Who gave it to you? Why am I not to see it until
I am quite myself again?"
Miss Batchford obstinately shook her head three times, in answer to those
"I hate secrets and mysteries," she said impatiently. "This is a secret
and a mystery--and I long to have done with it. That is all. I have said
too much already. I shall say no more."
All my entreaties were of no avail. My aunt's quick temper had evidently
led her into committing an imprudence of some sort. Having done that, she
was now provokingly determined not to make bad worse. Nothing that I
could say would induce her to open her lips on the subject of the
mysterious letter. "Wait till Mr. Grosse comes to-morrow." That was the
only reply I could get.
As for Oscar, this little incident appeared to have an effect on him
which added immensely to the curiosity that my aunt had roused in me.
He listened with breathless attention while I was trying to induce Miss
Batchford to answer my questions. When I gave it up, he pushed away his
plate, and ate no more. On the other hand (though generally the most
temperate of men) he drank a great deal of wine, both at dinner and
after. In the evening, he made so many mistakes in playing cards with my
aunt, that she dismissed him from the game in disgrace. He sat in a
corner for the rest of the time, pretending to listen while I was playing
the piano--really lost to me and my music; buried, fathoms deep, in some
uneasy thoughts of his own.
When he took his leave, he whispered these words in my ear; anxiously
pressing my hand while he spoke:
"I must see you alone to-morrow, before Grosse comes. Can you manage it?"
"At the stairs on the cliff, at eleven o'clock."
On that, he left me. But one question has pursued me ever since. Does
Oscar know the writer of the mysterious letter? I firmly believe he does.
To-morrow will prove whether I am right or wrong. How I long for
to-morrow to come!
CHAPTER THE FORTY-FOURTH
Lucilla's Journal, continued
I MARK this day as one of the saddest days of my life. Oscar has shown
Madame Pratolungo to me, in her true colors. He has reasoned out this
miserable matter with a plainness which it is impossible for me to
resist. I have thrown away my love and my confidence on a false woman:
there is no sense of honor, no feeling of gratitude or of delicacy in her
nature. And I once thought her--it sickens me to recall it! I will see
her no more.
[Note.--Did it ever occur to you to be obliged to copy out, with your own
hand, this sort of opinion of your own character? I can recommend the
sensation produced as something quite new, and the temptation to add a
line or two on your own account to be as nearly as possible beyond mortal
Oscar and I met at the stairs, at eleven o'clock, as we had arranged.
He took me to the west pier. At that hour of the morning (excepting a few
sailors who paid no heed to us) the place was a solitude. It was one of
the loveliest days of the season. When we were tired of pacing to and
fro, we could sit down under the mellow sunshine, and enjoy the balmy sea
air. In that pure light, with all those lovely colors about us, there was
something, to my mind, horribly and shamefully out of place in the talk
that engrossed us--talk that still turned, hour after hour, on nothing
but plots and lies, cruelty, ingratitude, and deceit!
I managed to ask my first question so as to make him enter on the subject
at once--without wasting time in phrases to prepare me for what was to
"When my aunt mentioned that letter at dinner yesterday," I said, "I
fancied that you knew something about it. Was I right?"
"Very nearly right," he answered. "I can't say I knew anything about it.
I only suspected that it was the production of an enemy of yours and
"Not Madame Pratolungo?"
"Yes! Madame Pratolungo."
I disagreed with him at the outset. Madame Pratolungo and my aunt had
quarreled about politics. Any correspondence between them--a confidential
correspondence especially--seemed to be one of the most unlikely things
that could take place. I asked Oscar if he could guess what the letter
contained, and why it was not to be given to me until Grosse reported
that I was quite cured.
"I can't guess at the contents--I can only guess at the object of the
letter," he said.
"What is it?"
"The object which she has had in view from the first--to place every
possible obstacle in the way of my marrying you."
"What interest can she have in doing that?"
"My brother's interest."
"Forgive me, Oscar. I cannot believe it of her."
We were walking, while these words were passing between us. When I said
that, he stopped, and looked at me very earnestly.
"You believed it of her, when you answered my letter," he said.
I admitted that.
"I believed your letter," I replied; "and I shared your opinion of her as
long as she was in the same house with me. Her presence fed my anger and
my horror of her in some way that I can't account for. Now she has left
me--now I have had time to think--there is something in her absence that
pleads for her, and tortures me with doubts if I have done right. I can't
explain it--I don't understand it. I only know that so it is."
He still looked at me more and more attentively. "Your good opinion of
her must have been very firmly rooted to assert itself in this obstinate
manner," he said. "What can she have done to deserve it?"
If I had looked back through all my old recollections of her, and had
recalled them one by one, it would only have ended in making me cry. And
yet, I felt that I ought to stand up for her as long as I could. I
managed to meet the difficulty in this way.
"I will tell you what she did," I said, "after I received your letter.
Fortunately for me, she was not very well that morning; and she
breakfasted in bed. I had plenty of time to compose myself, and to
caution Zillah (who read your letter to me), before we met for the first
time that day. On the previous day, I had felt hurt and offended with her
for the manner in which she accounted for your absence from Browndown. I
thought she was not treating me with the same confidence which I should
have placed in her, if our positions had been reversed. When I next saw
her, having your warning in my mind, I made my excuses, and said what I
thought she would expect me to say, under the circumstances. In my
excitement and my wretchedness, I daresay I over-acted my part. At any
rate, I roused the suspicion in her that something was wrong. She not
only asked me if anything had happened, she went the length of saying, in
so many words, that she thought she saw a change in me. I stopped it
there, by declaring that I did not understand her. She must have seen
that I was not telling the truth: she must have known as well as I knew
that I was concealing something from her. For all that, not one word more
escaped her lips. A proud delicacy--I saw it as plainly in her face, as I
now see you--a proud delicacy silenced her; she looked wounded and hurt.
I have been thinking of that look, since I have been here. I have asked
myself (what did not occur to me at the time) if a false woman, who knew
herself to be guilty, would have behaved in that way? Surely a false
woman would have set her wits against mine, and have tried to lead me
into betraying to her what discoveries I had really made? Oscar! that
delicate silence, that wounded look, _will_ plead for her when I think of
her in her absence! I can _not_ feel as satisfied as I once did, that she
is the abominable creature you declare her to be. I know you are
incapable of deceiving me--I know you believe what you say. But is it not
possible that appearances have misled you? Can you really be sure that
you have not made some dreadful mistake?"
Without answering me, he suddenly stopped at a seat under the stone
parapet of the pier, and signed to me to sit down by him. I obeyed.
Instead of looking at me, he kept his head turned away; looking out over
the sea. I could not make him out. He perplexed--he almost alarmed me.
"Have I offended you?" I asked.
He turned towards me again, as abruptly as he had turned away. His eyes
wandered; his face was pale.
"You are a good generous creature," he said, in a confused hasty way.
"Let us talk of something else."
"No!" I answered. "I am too deeply interested in knowing the truth to
talk of anything else."
His color changed again at that. His face flushed; he gave a heavy sigh
as one does sometimes, when one is making a great effort.
"You _will_ have it?" he said.
"I _will_ have it?"
He rose again. The nearer he was to telling me all that he had kept
concealed from me thus far, the harder it seemed to be to him to say the
"Do you mind walking on again?" he asked.
I silently rose on my side, and put my arm in his. We walked on slowly
towards the end of the pier. Arrived there, he stood still, and spoke
those hard first words--looking out over the broad blue waters: not
looking at me.
"I won't ask you to take anything for granted, on my assertion only," he
began. "The woman's own words, the woman's own actions, shall prove her
I interrupted him by a question.
"Tell me one thing," I said. "What first made you suspect her?"
"You first made me suspect her, by what you said of her at Browndown," he
answered. "Now carry your memory back to the time I have already
mentioned in my letter--when she betrayed herself to you in the rectory
garden. Is it true that she said you would have fallen in love with
Nugent, if you had met him first instead of me?"
"It is true that she said it," I answered. "At a moment," I added, "when
her temper had got the better of her--and when mine had got the better of
"Advance the hour a little," he went on, "to the time when she followed
you to Browndown. Was she still out of temper, when she made her excuses
"Did she interfere, when Nugent took advantage of your blindness to make
you believe you were talking to me?"
"Was she out of temper then?"
I still defended her. "She might well have been angry," I said. "She had
made her excuses to me in the kindest manner; and I had received them
with the most unpardonable rudeness."
My defence produced no effect on him. He summed it up coolly so far. "She
compared me disadvantageously with Nugent; and she allowed Nugent to
personate me in speaking to you, without interfering to stop it. In both
these cases, her temper excuses and accounts for her conduct. Very good.
We may, or may not, differ so far. Before we go farther, let us--if we
can--agree on one unanswerable fact. Which of us two brothers was her
favorite, from the first?"
About _that,_ there could be no doubt. I admitted at once that Nugent was
her favorite. And more than this, I remembered accusing her myself of
never having done justice to Oscar from the first.
[Note.--See the sixteenth chapter, and Madame Pratolungo's remark,
warning you that you would hear of this circumstance again.--P.]
Oscar went on.
"Bear that in mind," he said. "And now let us get to the time when we
were assembled in your sitting-room, to discuss the subject of the
operation on your eyes. The question before us, as I remember it, was
this. Were you to marry me, before the operation? Or were you to keep me
waiting until the operation had been performed, and the cure was
complete? How did Madame Pratolungo decide on that occasion? She decided
against my interests; she encouraged you to delay our marriage."
I persisted in defending her. "She did that out of sympathy with me," I
He surprised me by again accepting my view of the matter, without
attempting to dispute it.
"We will say she did it out of sympathy with you," he proceeded.
"Whatever her motives might be, the result was the same. My marriage to
you was indefinitely put off; and Madame Pratolungo voted for that
"And your brother," I added, "took the other side, and tried to persuade
me to marry you first. How can you reconcile that with what you have told
He interposed before I could say more. "Don't bring my brother into the
inquiry," he said. "My brother, at that time, could still behave like an
honorable man, and sacrifice his own feelings to his duty to me. Let us
strictly confine ourselves, for the present, to what Madame Pratolungo
said and did. And let us advance again to a few minutes later on the same
day, when our little domestic debate had ended. My brother was the first
to go. Then, you retired, and left Madame Pratolungo and me alone in the
room. Do you remember?"
I remembered perfectly.
"You had bitterly disappointed me," I said. "You had shown no sympathy
with my eagerness to be restored to the blessing of sight. You made
objections and started difficulties. I recollect speaking to you with
some of the bitterness that I felt--blaming you for not believing in my
future as I believed in it, and hoping as I hoped--and then leaving you,
and locking myself up in my own room."
In those terms, I satisfied him that my memory of the events of that day
was as clear as his own. He listened without making any remark, and went
on when I had done.
"Madame Pratolungo shared your hard opinion of me, on that occasion," he
proceeded; "and expressed it in infinitely stronger terms. She betrayed
herself to _you_ in the rectory garden. She betrayed herself to _me,_
after you had left us together in the sitting-room. Her hasty temper
again, beyond all doubt! I quite agree with you. What she said to me in
your absence, she would never have said if she had been mistress of
I began to feel a little startled. "How is it that you now tell me of
this for the first time?" I said. "Were you afraid of distressing me?"
"I was afraid of losing you," he answered.
Hitherto, I had kept my arm in his. I drew it out now. If his reply meant
anything, it meant that he had once thought me capable of breaking faith
with him. He saw that I was hurt.
"Remember," he said, "that I had unhappily offended you that day, and
that you have not heard yet what Madame Pratolungo had the audacity to
say to me under those circumstances."
"What did she say to you?"
"This:--'It would have been a happier prospect for Lucilla, if she had
been going to marry your brother, instead of marrying you.' I repeat
literally: those were the words."
I could no more believe it of her than I could have believed it of
"Are you really sure?" I asked him. "_Can_ she have said anything so
cruel to you as that?"
Instead of answering me, he took his pocket-book from the breast-pocket
of his coat--searched in it--and produced a morsel of folded and crumpled
paper. He opened the paper, and showed me some writing inside.
"Is that my writing?" he asked.
It was his writing. I had seen enough of his letters, since the recovery
of my sight, to feel sure of that.
"Read it!" he said; "and judge for yourself."
[Note.--You have made your acquaintance with this letter already, in my
thirty-second chapter. I had said those foolish words to Oscar (as you
will find in my record of the time), under the influence of a natural
indignation, which any other woman with a spark of spirit in her would
have felt in my place. Instead of personally remonstrating with me, Oscar
had (as usual) gone home, and written me a letter of expostulation.
Having, on my side, had time to cool--and feeling the absurdity of our
exchanging letters when we were within a few minutes' walk of each
other--I had gone straight to Browndown, on receiving the letter: first
crumpling it up, and (as I supposed) throwing it into the fire. After
personally setting myself right with Oscar, I had returned to the
rectory; and had there heard that Nugent had been to see me in my
absence, had waited a little while alone in the sitting-room, and had
gone away again. When I tell you that the letter which he was now showing
to Lucilla, was that same letter of Oscar's, which I had (as I believed)
destroyed, you will understand that I had thrown it into the fender
instead of into the fire; and that I failed to see it in the fender on my
return, simply because Nugent had seen it first, and had taken it away
with him. These particulars are described in greater detail in the
chapter to which I have referred; the letter itself being there inserted
at full length. However, I will save you the trouble of looking back--I
know how you hate trouble!--by transcribing literally what I find before
me in the Journal. The original letter is pasted on the page: I will copy
it from the page for the second time. Am I not good to you? What author
by profession would do as much for you as this? I am afraid I am praising
myself! Let Lucilla proceed.--P.]
I took the letter from him and read it. At my request, he has permitted
me to keep it. The letter is my justification for thinking of Madame
Pratolungo as I now think of her. I place it here, before I write another
line in my Journal.
"MADAME PRATOLUNGO,--You have distressed and pained me more than I can
say. There are faults, and serious ones, on my side, I know. I heartily
beg your pardon for anything that I may have said or done to offend you.
I cannot submit to your hard verdict on me. If you knew how I adore
Lucilla, you would make allowances for me--you would understand me better
than you do. I cannot get your last cruel words out of my ears. I cannot
meet you again without some explanation of them. You stabbed me to the
heart, when you said this evening that it would be a happier prospect for
Lucilla if she had been going to marry my brother instead of marrying me.
I hope you did not really mean that? Will you please write and tell me
whether you did or not?
My first proceeding, after reading those lines, was of course to put my
arm again in his, and to draw him as close to me as close could be. My
second proceeding followed in due time. I asked, naturally, for Madame
Pratolungo's answer to that most affectionate and most touching letter.
"I have no answer to show you," he said.
"You have lost it?" I asked.
"I never had it."
"What do you mean?"
"Madame Pratolungo never answered my letter."
I made him repeat that--once, twice. Was it not incredible that such an
appeal could be made to any woman not utterly depraved--and be left
unnoticed? Twice he reiterated the same answer. Twice he declared on his
honor that not a line of reply had been returned to him. She was then
utterly depraved? No! there was a last excuse left that justice and
friendship might still make for her. I made it.
"There is but one explanation of her conduct," I said. "She never
received the letter. Where did you send it to?"
"To the rectory."
"Who took it?"
"My own servant."
"He may have lost it on the way, and have been afraid to tell you. Or the
servant at the rectory may have forgotten to deliver it.
Oscar shook his head. "Quite impossible! I know Madame Pratolungo
received the letter."
"I found it crumpled up in a corner inside the fender, _in your
sitting-room at the rectory._"
"Had it been opened?"
"It had been opened. She had received it; she had read it; and she had
not thrown quite far enough to throw it into the fire. Now, Lucilla! Is
Madame Pratolungo an injured woman? and am I a man who has slandered
There was another public seat, a few paces distant from us. I could stand
no longer. I went away by myself and sat down. A dull sensation possessed
me. I could neither speak, nor cry. There I sat in silence; slowly
wringing my hands in my lap, and feeling the last ties that still bound
me to the once-loved friend of former days, falling away one after the
other, and leaving us parted for life.
He followed me, and stood over me--he summed her up in stern quiet tones,
which carried conviction into my mind, and made me feel ashamed of myself
for having ever regretted her.
"Look back for the last time, Lucilla, at what this woman has said and
done. You will find that the idea of your marrying Nugent is, under one
form or another, always present to her mind. Present alike when she
forgets herself, and speaks in a rage--or when she reflects, and speaks
with a purpose. At one time, she tells you that you would have fallen in
love with Nugent, if you had seen him first. At another time, she stands
by while Nugent is personating me to you, and never interferes to stop
it. On a third occasion, she sees that you are offended with me; and
triumphs so cruelly in seeing it, that she tells me to my face, your
prospect would have been a much happier one, if you had been engaged to
marry my brother instead of me. She is asked in writing, civilly and
kindly asked, to explain what she means by those abominable words? She
has had time to reflect since she spoke them; and what does she do? Does
she answer me? No! She contemptuously tosses my letter into the
fire-place. Add to these plain facts what you yourself have observed.
Nugent has all her admiration; Nugent is her favorite: from the first,
she has always disliked and wronged _me._ Add to this, again, that Nugent
(as I know for certain) privately confessed to her that he was himself in
love with you. Look at all these circumstances--and what plain conclusion
follows? I ask you once more--Is Madame Pratolungo a slandered woman? or
am I right in warning you (as you once warned me) to beware of her?"
What could I do but own that he was right? It was due to him, and due to
me, to close my heart to her, from that moment. Oscar sat down by me, and
took my hand.
"After my experience of her in the past," he went on softly, "can you
wonder that I dread what she may do in the future? Has no such thing ever
happened as the parting of true lovers by treachery which has secretly
undermined their confidence in each other. Is Madame Pratolungo not
clever enough and unscrupulous enough to undermine _our_ confidence, and
to turn against us, to the wickedest purpose, the influence which she
already possesses at the rectory? How do we know that she is not in
communication with Nugent at this moment?"
I stopped him there--I could not endure it. "You have seen your brother,"
I said. "You have told me that you and he understand each other. What
have you to dread after that?"
"I have to dread Madame Pratolungo's influence, and my brother's
infatuation for you," he answered. "The promises which he has honestly
made to me, are promises which I cannot depend on when my back is turned,
and when Madame Pratolungo may be with him in my absence. Something under
the surface is going on already! I don't like that mysterious letter,
which is only to be shown to you on certain conditions. I don't like your
father's silence. He has had time to answer your letter. Has he done it?
He has had time to answer my postscript. Has he done it?"
Those were awkward questions. He had certainly left both our letters
unanswered--thus far. Still, the next post might bring his reply. I
persisted in taking this view; and I said so to Oscar. He persisted just
as obstinately on his side.
"Suppose we go on to the end of the week," he said; "and still no letter
from your father comes, for you, or for me? Will you admit, _then,_ that
his silence is suspicious?"
"I will admit that his silence shows a sad want of proper consideration
for _you,_" I replied.
"And there you will stop? You won't see (what I see) the influence of
Madame Pratolungo making itself felt at the rectory, and poisoning your
father's mind against our marriage?"
He was pressing me rather hardly. I did my best, however, to tell him
honestly what was passing in my mind.
"I can see," I said, "that Madame Pratolungo has behaved most cruelly to
you. And I believe, after what you have told me, that she would rejoice
if I broke my engagement, and married your brother. But I can _not_
understand that she is mad enough to be actually plotting to make me do
it. Nobody knows better than she does how faithfully I love you, and how
hopeless it would be to attempt to make me marry another man. Would the
stupidest woman living, who looked at you two brothers (knowing what she
knows), be stupid enough to do what you suspect Madame Pratolungo of
I thought this unanswerable. He had his reply to it ready, for all that.
"If you had seen more of the world, Lucilla," he said, "you would know
that a true love like yours is a mystery to a woman like Madame
Pratolungo. She doesn't believe in it--she doesn't understand it. She
knows herself to be capable of breaking any engagement, if the
circumstances encouraged her--and she estimates your fidelity by her
knowledge of her own nature. There is nothing in her experience of you,
or in her knowledge of my brother's disfigurement, to discourage such a
woman from scheming to part us. She has seen for herself--what you have
already told me--that you have got over your first aversion to him. She
knows that women as charming as you are, have over and over again married
men far more personally repulsive than my brother. Lucilla! something
which is not to be out-argued, and not to be contradicted, tells me that
her return to England will be fatal to my hopes, if that return finds you
and me with no closer tie between us than the tie that binds us now. Are
these fanciful apprehensions, unworthy of a man? My darling! worthy or
not worthy, you ought to make allowances for them. They are apprehensions
inspired by my love for You!"
Under those circumstances, I could make every allowance for him--and I
said so. He moved nearer to me; and put his arm round me.
"Are we not engaged to each other to be man and wife?" he whispered.
"Are we not both of age, and both free to do as we like?"
"Would you relieve me from the anxieties under which I am suffering, if
"You know I would!"
"You _can_ relieve me."
"By giving me a husband's claim to you, Lucilla--by consenting to marry
me in London, in a fortnight's time.
I started back, and looked at him in amazement. For the moment, I was
incapable of answering in any other way than that.
"I ask you to do nothing unworthy of you," he said. "I have spoken to a
relative of mine living near London--a married lady--whose house is open
to you in the interval before our wedding day. When your visit has been
prolonged over a fortnight only, we can be married. Write home by all
means to prevent them from feeling anxious about you. Tell them that you
are safe and happy, and under responsible and respectable care--but say
no more. As long as it is possible for Madame Pratolungo to make mischief
between us, conceal the place in which you are living. The instant we are
married reveal everything. Let all your friends--let all the world know
that we are man and wife!"
His arm trembled round me; his face flushed deep; his eyes devoured me.
Some women, in my place, might have been offended; others might have been
flattered. As for me--I can trust the secret to these pages--I was
"Is it an elopement that you are proposing to me?" I asked.
"An elopement!" he repeated. "Between two engaged people who have only
themselves to think of."
"I have my father to think of; and my aunt to think of," I said. "You are
proposing to me to run away from them, and to keep in hiding from them!"
"I am asking you to pay a fortnight's visit at the house of a married
lady--and to keep the knowledge of that visit from the ears of the worst
enemy you have, until you have become my wife," he answered. "Is there
anything so very terrible in my request that you should turn pale at it,
and look at me in that frightened way? Have I not courted you with your
father's consent? Am I not your promised husband? Are we not free to
decide for ourselves? There is literally no reason--if it could be
done--why we should not be married to-morrow. And you still hesitate?
Lucilla! Lucilla! you force me to own the doubt that has made me
miserable ever since I have been here. Are you indeed as changed towards
me as you seem? Do you really no longer love me as you once loved me in
the days that are gone?"
He rose, and walked away a few paces, leaning over the parapet with his
face in his hands.
I sat alone, not knowing what to say or do. The uneasy sense in me that
he had reason to complain of my treating him coldly, was not to be
dismissed from my mind by any effort that I could make. He had no right
to expect me to take the step which he had proposed--there were
objections to it which any woman would have felt in my place. Still,
though I was satisfied of this, there was an obstinate something in me
which would take his part. It could not have been my conscience surely
which said to me--'There was a time when his entreaties would have
prevailed on you; there was a time when you would not have hesitated as
you are hesitating now?'
Whatever the influence was, it moved me to rise from my seat, and to join
him at the parapet.
"You cannot expect me to decide on such a serious matter as this at
once," I said. "Will you give me a little time to think?"
"You are your own mistress," he rejoined bitterly. Why ask me to give you
time? You can take any time you please--you can do as you like."
"Give me till the end of the week," I went on. "Let me be sure that my
father persists in not answering either your letter or mine. Though I
_am_ my own mistress, nothing but his silence can justify me in going
away secretly, and being married to you by a stranger. Don't press me,
Oscar! It isn't very long to the end of the week."
Something seemed to startle him--something in my voice perhaps which told
him that I was really distressed. He looked round at me quickly, and
caught me with the tears in my eyes.
"Don't cry, for God's sake!" he said. "It shall be as you wish. Take your
time. We will say no more about it till the end of the week."
He kissed me in a hurried startled way, and gave me his arm to walk back.
"Grosse is coming to-day," he continued. "He mustn't see you looking as
you are looking now. You must rest and compose yourself. Come home."
I went back with him, feeling--oh, so sad and sore at heart! My last
faint hope of a renewal of my once-pleasant intimacy with Madame
Pratolungo was at an end. She stood revealed to me now as a woman whom I
ought never to have known--a woman with whom I could never again exchange
a friendly word. I had lost the companion with whom I had once been so
happy; and I had pained and disappointed Oscar. My life has never looked
so wretched and so worthless to me as it looked to-day on the pier at
He left me at the door, with a gentle encouraging pressure of my hand.
"I will call again later," he said; "and hear what Grosse's report of you
is, before he goes back to London. Rest, Lucilla--rest and compose
A heavy footstep sounded suddenly behind us as he spoke. We both turned
round. Time had slipped by more rapidly than we had thought. There stood
Herr Grosse, just arrived on foot from the railway station.
His first look at me seemed to startle and disappoint him. His eyes
stared into mine through his spectacles with an expression of surprise
and anxiety which I had never seen in them before. Then he turned his
head and looked at Oscar with a sudden change--a change, unpleasantly
suggestive (to my fancy) of anger or distrust. Not a word fell from his
lips. Oscar was left to break the awkward silence. He spoke to Grosse.
"I won't disturb you and your patient now," he said. "I will come back in
an hour's time."
"No! you will come in along with me, if you please. I have something, my
young gentlemans, that I may want to say to you." He spoke with a frown
on his bushy eyebrows, and pointed in a very peremptory manner to the
Oscar rang the bell. At the same moment my aunt, hearing us outside,
appeared on the balcony above the door.
"Good morning, Mr. Grosse," she said. "I hope you find Lucilla looking
her best. Only yesterday, I expressed my opinion that she was quite well
Grosse took off his hat sulkily to my aunt, and looked back again at
me--looked so hard and so long, that he began to confuse me.
"Your aunt's opinions is not my opinions," he growled, close at my ear.
"I don't like the looks of you, Miss. Go in!"
The servant was waiting for us at the open door. I went an without making
any answer. Grosse waited to see Oscar enter the house before him.
Oscar's face darkened as he joined me in the hall. He looked half angry,
half confused. Grosse pushed himself roughly between us, and gave me his
arm. I went up-stairs with him, wondering what it all meant.
CHAPTER THE FORTY-FIFTH
Lucilla's Journal, concluded
_September_ 4th _(continued)._
ARRIVED in the drawing-room, Grosse placed me in a chair near the window.
He leaned forward, and looked at me close; he drew back, and looked at me
from a distance; he took out his magnifying glass, and had a long stare
through it at my eyes; he felt my pulse; dropped my wrist as if it
disgusted him; and, turning to the window, looked out in grim silence,
without taking the slightest notice of any one in the room.
My aunt was the first person who spoke, under these discouraging
"Mr. Grosse!" she said sharply. "Have you nothing to tell me about your
patient to-day? Do you find Lucilla----"
He turned suddenly round from the window, and interrupted Miss Batchford
without the slightest ceremony.
"I find her gone back, back, back!" he growled, getting louder and louder
at each repetition of the word. "When I sent her here, I said--'Keep her
comfortable-easy.' You have not kept her comfortable-easy. Something has
turned her poor little mind topsy-turvies. What is it? Who is it?" He
looked fiercely backwards and forwards between Oscar and my aunt--then
turned my way, and putting his heavy hands on my shoulders, looked down
at me with an odd angry kind of pity in his face. "My childs is
melancholick; my childs is ill," he went on. "Where is our goot-dear
Pratolungo? What did you tell me about her, my little-lofe, when I last
saw you? You said she had gone aways to see her Papa. Send a
telegrams--and say I want Pratolungo here."
At the repetition of Madame Pratolungo's name, Miss Batchford rose to her
feet and stood (apparently) several inches higher than usual.
"Am I to understand, sir," inquired the old lady, "that your
extraordinary language is intended to cast a reproach on my conduct
towards my niece?"
"You are to understand this, madam. In the face of the goot sea-airs,
Miss your niece is fretting herself ill. I sent her to this place, for to
get a rosy face, for to put on a firm flesh. How do I find her? She has
got nothing, she has put on nothing--she is emphatically flabby-pale. In
this fine airs, she can be flabby-pale but for one reason. She is
fretting herself about something or anodder. Is fretting herself goot for
her eyes? Ho-damn-damn! it is as bad for her eyes as bad can be. If you
can do no better than this, take her aways back again. You are wasting
your moneys in this lodgment here."
My aunt addressed herself to me in her grandest manner.
"You will understand, Lucilla, that it is impossible for me to notice
such language as this in any other way than by leaving the room. If you
can bring Mr. Grosse to his senses, inform him that I will receive his
apologies and explanations in writing." Pronouncing these lofty words
with her severest emphasis, Miss Batchford rose another inch, and sailed
majestically out of the room.
Grosse took no notice of the offended lady: he only put his hands in his
pockets, and looked out of window once more. As the door closed, Oscar
left the corner in which he had seated himself, not over-graciously, when
we entered the room.
"Am I wanted here?" he asked.
Grosse was on the point of answering the question even less amiably than
it had been put--when I stopped him by a look. "I want to speak to you,"
I whispered in his ear. He nodded, and, turning sharply to Oscar, put
this question to him:
"Are you living in the house?"
"I am staying at the hotel at the corner."
"Go to the hotel, and wait there till I come to you."
Greatly to my surprise, Oscar submitted to be treated in this peremptory
manner. He took his leave of me silently, and left the room. Grosse drew
a chair close to mine, and sat down by me in a comforting confidential
"Now my goot-girls," he said. "What have you been fretting yourself about
since I was last in this house? Open it all, if you please, to Papa
Grosse. Come begin-begin!"
I suppose he had exhausted his ill-temper on my aunt and Oscar. He said
those words--more than kindly--almost tenderly. His fierce eyes seemed to
soften behind his spectacles; he took my hand and patted it to encourage
There are some things written in these pages of mine which it was, of
course, impossible for me to confide to him. With those necessary
reservations--and without entering on the painful subject of my altered
relations with Madame Pratolungo--I owned quite frankly how sadly changed
I felt myself to be towards Oscar, and how much less happy I was with
him, in consequence of the change. "I am not ill as you suppose," I
explained. "I am only disappointed in myself, and a little downhearted
when I think of the future." Having opened it to him in this way, I
thought it time to put the question which I had determined to ask when I
next saw him.
"The restoration of my sight," I said, "has made a new being of me. In
gaining the sense of seeing, have I lost the sense of feeling which I had
when I was blind? I want to know if it will come back when I have got
used to the novelty of my position? I want to know if I shall ever enjoy
Oscar's society again, as I used to enjoy it in the old days before you
cured me--the happy days, Papa-Grosse, when I was an object of pity, and
when all the people spoke of me as Poor Miss Finch?"
I had more to say--but at this place, Grosse (without meaning it, I am
sure) suddenly stopped me. To my amazement, he let go of my hand, and
turned his face away sharply, as if he resented my looking at him. His
big head sank on his breast. He lifted his great hairy hands, shook them
mournfully, and let them fall on his knees. This strange behavior and the
still stranger silence which accompanied it, made me so uneasy that I
insisted on his explaining himself. "What is the matter with you?" I
said. "Why don't you answer me?"
He roused himself with a start, and put his arm round me, with a
wonderful gentleness for a man who was so rough at other times.
"It is nothing, my pretty lofe," he said. "I am out of sort, as you call
it. Your English climates sometimes gives your English blue devil to
foreign mens like me. I have got him now--an English blue devil in a
German inside. Soh! I shall go and walk him out, and come back
empty-cheerful, and see you again." He rose, after this curious
explanation, and attempted some sort of answer--a very odd one--to the
question which I had asked of him. "As to that odder thing," he went on,
"yes-indeed-yes. You have hit your nail on his head. It is, as you say,
your seeings which has got in the way of your feelings. When your
seeings-feelings has got used to one anodder, your seeings will stay
where he is, your feelings will come back to where they was; one will
balance the odder; you will feel as you did; you will see as you didn't;
all at the same times, all jolly-nice again as before. You have my
opinions. Now let me walk out my blue devil. I swear to come back again
with a new inside. By-bye-my-Feench-good-bye."
Saying all this in a violent hurry, as if he was eager to get away, he
gave me a kiss on the forehead, snatched up his shabby hat, and ran out
of the room.
What did it mean?
Does he persist in thinking me seriously ill? I am too weary to puzzle my
brains in the effort to understand my dear old surgeon. It is one o'clock
in the morning; and I have still to write the story of all that happened
later in the day. My eyes are beginning to ache; and, strange to say, I
have hardly been able to see the last two or three lines I have written.
They look as if the ink was fading from them. If Grosse knew what I am
about at this moment! His last words to me, when he went back to his
patients in London, were:--"No more readings! no more writings till I
come again!" It is all very well to talk in that way. I have got so used
to my Journal that I can't do without it. Nevertheless, I must stop
now--for the best of reasons. Though I have got three lighted candles on
my table, I really cannot see to write any more.
To bed! to bed!
[Note.--I have purposely abstained from interrupting Lucilla's Journal
until my extracts from it had reached this place. Here the writer pauses,
and gives me a chance; and here there are matters that must be mentioned,
of which she had personally no knowledge at the time.
You have seen how her faithful instinct still tries to reveal to my poor
darling the cruel deception that is being practiced on her--and still
tries in vain. In spite of herself, she shrinks from the man who is
tempting her to go away with him--though he pleads in the character of
her betrothed husband. In spite of herself, she detects the weak places
in the case which Nugent has made out against me--the absence of
sufficient motive for the conduct of which he accuses me, and the utter
improbability of my plotting and intriguing (without anything to gain by
it) to make her marry the man who was not the man of her choice. She
feels these hesitations and difficulties. But what they really signify it
is morally impossible for her to guess.
Thus far, no doubt, her strange and touching position has been plainly
revealed to you. But can I feel quite so sure that you understand how
seriously she has been affected by the anxiety, disappointment, and
suspense which have combined together to torture her at this critical
interval in her life?
I doubt it, for the sufficient reason that you have only had her Journal
to enlighten you, and that her Journal shows she does not understand it
herself. As things are, it seems to be time for me to step on the stage,
and to discover to you plainly what her surgeon really thought of her, by
telling you what passed between Grosse and Nugent, when the German
presented himself at the hotel.
I am writing now (as a matter of course) from information given to me, at
an after-period, by the persons themselves. As to particulars, the
accounts vary. As to results, they both agree.
The discovery that Nugent was at Ramsgate necessarily took Grosse by
surprise. With his previous knowledge, however, of the situation of
affairs at Dimchurch, he could be at no loss to understand in what
character Nugent had presented himself to Lucilla; and he could certainly
not fail to understand--after what he had seen and what she had herself
told him--that the deception was, under present circumstances, producing
the worst possible effect on her mind. Arriving at this conclusion, he
was not a man to hesitate about the duty that lay before him. When he
entered the room at the hotel in which Nugent was waiting, he announced
the object of his visit in these four plain words, as follows:
"Pack up, and go!"
Nugent coolly offered him a chair, and asked what he meant.
Grosse refused the chair--but consented to explain himself in terms
variously reported by the two parties. Combining the statements, and
translating Grosse (in this grave matter) into plain English, I find that
the German must have expressed himself in these, or nearly in these,
"As a professional man, Mr. Nugent, I invariably refuse to enter into
domestic considerations connected with my patients with which I have
nothing to do. In the case of Miss Finch, my business is not with your
family complications. My business is to secure the recovery of the young
lady's sight. If I find her health improving, I don't inquire how or why.
No matter what private and personal frauds you may be practicing upon
her, I have nothing to say to them--more, I am ready to take advantage of
them myself--so long as their influence is directly beneficial in keeping
her morally and physically in the condition in which I wish her to be.
But, the instant I discover that this domestic conspiracy of yours--this
personation of your brother which once quieted and comforted her--is
unfavorably affecting her health of body and her peace of mind, I
interfere between you in the character of her medical attendant, and stop
it on medical grounds. You are producing in my patient a conflict of
feeling, which--in a nervous temperament like hers--cannot go on without
serious injury to her health. And serious injury to her health means
serious injury to her eyes. I won't have that--I tell you plainly to pack
up and go. I meddle with nothing else. After what you have yourself seen,
I leave you to decide whether you will restore your brother to Miss
Finch, or not. All I say is, Go. Make any excuse you like, but go before
you have done more mischief. You shake your head! Is that a sign that you
refuse? Take a day to think, before you make up your mind. I have
patients in London to whom I am obliged to go back. But the day after
to-morrow, I shall return to Ramsgate. If I find you still here, I shall
tell Miss Finch you are no more Oscar Dubourg than I am. In her present
state, I see less danger in giving her even that serious shock than in
leaving her to the slow torment of mind which you are inflicting by your
continued presence in this place. My last word is said. I go back by the
next train, in an hour's time. Good morning, Mr. Nugent. If you are a
wise man, you will meet me at the station."
After this, the accounts vary. Nugent's statement asserts that he
accompanied Grosse on his way back to Miss Batchford's lodging, arguing
the matter with him, and only leaving him at the door of the house.
Grosse's statement, on the other hand, makes no allusion to this. The
disagreement between them is, however, of no consequence here. It is
admitted, on either side, that the result of the interview was the same.
When Grosse took the train for London, Nugent Dubourg was not at the
station. The next entry in the Journal shows that he remained that day
and night, at least, at Ramsgate.
You now know, from the narrative of the surgeon's own proceedings, how
seriously he thought of his patient's case, and how firmly he did his
duty as a professional man. Having given you this necessary information,
I again retire, and leave Lucilla to take up the next link in the chain
_September_ 5th. _Six o'clock in the morning._--A few hours of restless,
broken sleep--disturbed by horrid dreams, and waking over and over again
with startings that seemed to shake me from head to foot. I can bear it
no longer. The sun is rising. I have got up--and here I am at the
writing-table, trying to finish the long story of yesterday still
uncompleted in my Journal.
I have just been looking at the view from my window--and I notice one
thing which has struck me. The mist this morning is the thickest mist I
have yet seen here.
The sea-view is almost invisible, it is so dim and dull. Even the objects
about me in my room are nothing like so plain as usual. The mist is
stealing in no doubt through my open window. It gets between me and my
paper, and obliges me to bend down close over the page to see what I am
about. When the sun is higher, things will be clear again. In the
meantime, I must do as well as I can.
Grosse came back after his walk as mysterious as ever.
He was quite peremptory in ordering me not to overtask my
eyes--forbidding reading and writing, as I have already mentioned. But,
when I asked for his reasons, he had, for the first time in my experience
of him, no reasons to give. I have the less scruple about disobeying him,
on that account. Still I am a little uneasy, I confess, when I think of
his strange behavior yesterday. He looked at me, in the oddest way--as if
he saw something in my face which he had never seen before. Twice he took
his leave; and twice he returned, doubtful whether he would not remain at
Ramsgate, and let his patients in London take care of themselves. His
extraordinary indecision was put an end to at last by the arrival of a
telegram which had followed him from London. An urgent message, I
suppose, from one of the patients. He went away in a bad temper and a
violent hurry; and told me, at the door, to expect him back on the sixth.
When Oscar came later, there was another surprise for me.
Like Grosse, he was not himself--he too behaved strangely! First, he was
so cold and so silent, that I thought he was offended. Then he went
straight to the other extreme, and became so loudly talkative, so
obstreperously cheerful, that my aunt asked me privately whether I did
not suspect (as she did) that he had been taking too much wine. It ended
in his trying to sing to my accompaniment on the piano, and in his
breaking down. He walked away to the other end of the room without
explanation or apology. When I followed him there a little while after,
he had a look that indescribably distressed me--a look as if he had been
crying. Towards the end of the evening, my aunt fell asleep over her
book, and gave us a chance of speaking to each other in a little second
room which opens out of the drawing-room in this house. It was I who took
the chance--not he. He was so incomprehensibly unwilling to go into the
room and speak to me, that I had to do a very unladylike thing. I mean
that I had to take his arm, and lead him in myself, and entreat him (in a
whisper) to tell me what was the matter with him.
"Only the old complaint," he answered.
I made him sit down by me on a little couch that just held two.
"What do you mean by the old complaint?" I asked.
"Oh! you know!"
"I _don't_ know."
"You would know if you really loved me."
"Oscar! it is a shame to say that. It is a shame to doubt that I love
"Is it? Ever since I have been here, I have doubted that you love me. It
is getting to be an old complaint of mine now. I still suffer a little
sometimes. Don't notice it!"
He was so cruel and so unjust, that I got up to leave him, without saying
a word more. But, oh! he looked so forlorn and so submissive--sitting
with his head down, and his hands crossed listlessly over his knees--that
I could not find it in my heart to treat him harshly. Was I wrong? I
don't know! I have no idea how to manage men--and no Madame Pratolungo
now to teach me. Right or wrong, it ended in my sitting down by him again
in the place which I had just left.
"You ought to beg my pardon," I said, "for thinking of me as you think,
and talking to me as you talk."
"I do beg your pardon," he answered humbly. "I am sorry if I have
How could I resist that? I put my hand on his shoulder, and tried to make
him lift up his head and look at me.
"You will always believe in me in the future?" I went on. "Promise me
"I can promise to try, Lucilla. As things are now I can promise no more."
"As things are now? You are speaking in riddles to-night. Explain
"I explained myself this morning on the pier."
Surely, this was hard on me--after he had promised to give me till the
end of the week to consider his proposal? I took my hand off his
shoulder. He--who never used to displease or disappoint me when I was
blind--had displeased and disappointed me for the second time in a few
"Do you wish to force me?" I asked, "after telling me this morning that
you would give me time to reflect?"
He rose, on his side--languidly and mechanically, like a man who neither
knew nor cared what he was doing.
"Force you?" he repeated. "Did I say that? I don't know what I am talking
about; I don't know what I am doing. You are right and I am wrong. I am a
miserable wretch, Lucilla--I am utterly unworthy of you. It would be
better for you if you never saw me again!" He paused; and taking me by
both hands, looked earnestly and sadly into my face. "Good night, my
dear!" he said--and suddenly dropped my hands, and turned away to go out.
I stopped him. "Going already?" I said. "It is not late yet.
"It is best for me to go."
"I am in wretched spirits. It is better for me to be by myself."
"Don't say that! It sounds like a reproach to me."
"On the contrary, it is all my fault. Good night!"
I refused to say good night--I refused to let him go. His wanting to go
was in itself a reproach to me. He had never done it before. I asked him
to sit down again.
He shook his head.
"For ten minutes!"
He shook his head again.
"For five minutes!"
Instead of answering, he gently lifted a long lock of my hair, which hung
at the side of my neck. (My head, I should add, had been dressed that
evening on the old-fashioned plan, by my aunt's maid--to please my aunt.)
"If I stay for five minutes longer," he said, "I shall ask for
"You have beautiful hair, Lucilla."
"You can't want a lock of my hair, surely?"
"I gave you a keepsake of that sort--ages ago. Have you forgotten it?"
[Note.--The keepsake had of course been given to the true Oscar, and was
then, as it is now, still in his possession. Notice, when he recovers
himself, how quickly the false Oscar infers this, and how cleverly he
founds his excuse upon it.--P.]
His face flushed deep; his eyes dropped before mine. I could see that he
was ashamed of himself--I could only conclude that he _had_ forgotten it!
A morsel of _his_ hair was, at that moment, in a locket which I wore
round my neck. I had more I think, to doubt him than he had to doubt me.
I was so mortified that I stepped aside, and made way for him to go out.
"You wish to go away," I said; "I won't keep you any longer.
It was his turn now to plead with _me._
"Suppose I have been deprived of your keepsake?" he said. "Suppose
somebody whom I would rather not mention, has taken it away from me?"
I instantly understood him. His miserable brother had taken it. My
work-basket was close by. I cut off a lock of my hair, and tied it at
each end with a morsel of my favorite light-blue ribbon.
"Are we friends again, Oscar?" was all I said as I put it into his hand.
He caught me in his arms in a kind of frenzy--holding me to him so
violently that he hurt me; kissing me so fiercely that he frightened me.
Before I had recovered breath enough to speak to him, he had released me,
and had gone out in such headlong haste that he knocked down a little
round table with books on it, and woke my aunt.
The old lady called for me in her most formidable voice, and showed me
the family temper in its sourest aspect. Grosse had gone back to London
without making any apology to her; and Oscar had knocked down her books.
The indignation aroused by these two outrages called loudly for a
victim--and (no one else being near at the moment) selected Me. Miss
Batchford discovered for the first time that she had undertaken too much
in assuming the sole charge of her niece at Ramsgate.
"I decline to accept the entire responsibility," said my aunt. "At my
age, the entire responsibility is too much for me. I shall write to your
father, Lucilla. I always did, and always shall, detest him, as you know.
His views on politics and religion are (in a clergyman) simply
detestable. Still he is your father; and it is a duty on my part, after
what that rude foreigner has said about your health, to offer to restore
you to your father's roof--or, at least, to obtain your father's sanction
to your continuing to remain under my care. This course, in either case
you will observe, relieves me from the entire responsibility. I am doing
nothing to compromise my position. My position is quite plain to me. I
should have formally accepted your father's hospitality on the occasion
of your wedding--if I had been well enough and if the wedding had taken
place. It follows as a matter of course that I may formally report to
your father what the medical opinion is of your health. However brutally
it may have been given, it is a medical opinion--and as such I am bound
to communicate it.
Knowing but too well how bitterly my aunt's aversion to him is
reciprocated by my father, I did my best to combat Miss Batchford's
resolution--without making matters worse by telling her what my motives
really were. With some difficulty I prevailed on her to defer the
proposed report of me for a day or two--and we parted for the night (the
old lady's fits of temper are soon over) as good friends as usual.
This little episode in my narrative of events diverted my mind for the
time from Oscar's strange conduct yesterday evening. But once up here by
myself in my own room, I have been thinking of it, or dreaming of it
(such horrid dreams--I cannot write them down!) almost incessantly from
that time to this. When we meet again to-day--how will he look? what will
He was right yesterday. I _am_ cold to him; there is some change in me
towards him, which I don't understand myself. My conscience accuses me,
now I am alone--and yet, God knows, it is not my fault. Poor Oscar! Poor
me! I have never longed to see him--since we met at this place--as I long
now. He sometimes comes to breakfast. Will he come to breakfast to-day?
Oh, how my eyes ache! and how obstinately the mist stops in the room!
Suppose I close the window, and go back to bed again for a little while?
_Nine o'clock._--The maid came in half an hour since, and woke me. She
went to open the window as usual. I stopped her.
"Is the mist gone?" I asked.
The girl stared, "What mist, Miss?"
"Haven't you seen it?"
"What time did you get up?"
"At seven, Miss."
At seven I was still writing in my Journal, and the mist was still over
everything in the room. Persons in the lower ranks of life are curiously
unobservant of the aspects of Nature. I never (in the days of my
blindness) got any information from servants or laborers about the views
round Dimchurch. They seemed to have no eyes for anything beyond the
range of the kitchen, or the ploughed field. I got out of bed, and took
the maid myself to the window, and opened it.
"There!" I said. "It is not quite so thick as it was some hours since.
But there is the mist as plain as can be!"
The girl looked backwards and forwards in a state of bewilderment between
me and the view.
"Mist?" she repeated. "Begging your pardon, Miss, it's a beautiful clear
morning--as I see it."
"Clear?" I repeated on my side.
"Do you mean to tell me it's clear over the sea?"
"The sea is a beautiful blue, Miss. Far and near, you can see the ships."
"Where are the ships?"
She pointed, out of the window, to a certain spot.
"There are two of them, Miss. A big ship, with three masts. And a little
ship just behind, with one."
I looked along her finger, and strained my eyes to see. All I could make
out was a dim greyish mist, with something like a little spot or blur on
it, at the place which the maid's finger indicated as the position
occupied by the two ships.
The idea struck me for the first time that the dimness which I had
attributed to the mist, was, in plain truth, the dimness in my own eyes.
For the moment I was a little startled. I left the window, and made the
best excuse that I could to the girl. As soon as it was possible to
dismiss her, I sent her away, and bathed my eyes with one of Grosse's
lotions, and then tried them again in writing this entry. To my relief, I
can see to write better than I did earlier in the morning. Still, I have
had a warning to pay a little more attention to Grosse's directions than
I have hitherto done. Is it possible that he saw something in the state
of my eyes which he was afraid to tell me of? Nonsense! Grosse is not the
sort of man who shrinks from speaking out. I have fatigued my eyes--that
is all. Let me shut up my book, and go down-stairs to breakfast.
_Ten o'clock._--For a moment, I open my Journal again.
Something has happened which I must positively set down in the history of
my life. I am so vexed and so angry! The maid, (wretched chattering
fool!) has told my aunt what passed between us this morning at my window.
Miss Batchford has taken the alarm, and has insisted on writing, not only
to Grosse, but to my father. In the present embittered state of my
father's feelings against my aunt, he will either leave her letter
unanswered, or he will offend her by an angry reply. In either case, I
shall be the sufferer: my aunt's sense of injury--which cannot address
itself to my father--will find a convenient object to assail in me. I
shall never hear the last of it. Being already nervous and dispirited,
the prospect of finding myself involved in a new family quarrel quite
daunts me. I feel ungratefully inclined to run away from Miss Batchford,
when I think of it!
No signs of Oscar; and no news of Oscar--yet.
_Twelve o'clock._--But one trial more was wanted to make my life here
quite unendurable. The trial has come.
A letter from Oscar (sent by a messenger from his hotel) has just been
placed in my hands. It informs me that he has decided on leaving Ramsgate
by the next train. The next train starts in forty minutes. Good God! what
am I to do?
My eyes are burning. I know it does them harm to cry. How can I help
crying? It is all over between us, if I let Oscar go away alone--his
letter as good as tells me so. Oh, why have I behaved so coldly to him? I
ought to make any sacrifice of my own feelings to atone for it. And yet,
there is an obstinate something in me that shrinks--What am I to do? what
am I to do?
I must drop the pen, and try if I can think. My eyes completely fail me.
I can write no more.
[Note.--I copy the letter to which Lucilla refers.
Nugent's own assertion is, that he wrote it in a moment of remorse, to
give her an opportunity of breaking the engagement by which she
innocently supposed herself to be held to him. He declares that he
honestly believed the letter would offend her, when he wrote it. The
other interpretation of the document is, that finding himself obliged to
leave Ramsgate--under penalty (if he remained) of being exposed by Grosse
as an impostor, when the surgeon visited his patient on the next
day--Nugent seized the opportunity of making his absence the means of
working on Lucilla's feelings, so as to persuade her to accompany him to
London. Don't ask me which of these two conclusions I favor. For reasons
which you will understand when you have come to the end of my narrative,
I would rather not express my opinion, either one way or the other.
Read the letter--and determine for yourselves:
"MY DARLING,--After a sleepless night, I have decided on leaving
Ramsgate, by the next train that starts after you receive these lines.
Last night's experience has satisfied me that my presence here (after
what I said to you on the pier) only distresses you. Some influence that
is too strong for you to resist has changed your heart towards me. When
the time comes for you to determine whether you will be my wife on the
conditions that I have proposed, I see but too plainly that you will say
No. Let me make it less hard for you, my love, to do that, by leaving you
to write the word--instead of saying it to me. If you wish for your
freedom, cost me what it may, I will absolve you from your engagement. I
love you too dearly to blame you. My address in London is on the other
The address given on the blank leaf is at an hotel.
A few lines more in the Journal follow the lines last quoted in this
place. Except a word or two, here and there, it is impossible any longer
to decipher the writing. The mischief done to her eyes by her reckless
use of them, by her fits of crying, by her disturbed nights, by the
long-continued strain on her of agitation and suspense, has evidently
justified the worst of those unacknowledged forebodings which Grosse felt
when he saw her. The last lines of the Journal are, as writing, actually
inferior to her worst penmanship when she was blind.
However, the course which she ended in taking on receipt of the letter
which you have just read, is sufficiently indicated by a note of Nugent's
writing, left at Miss Batchford's residence at Ramsgate by a porter from
the railway. After-events make it necessary to preserve this note also.
It runs thus:--
"MADAM,--I write, by Lucilla's wish, to beg that you will not be anxious
on discovering that your niece has left Ramsgate. She accompanies me, at
my express request, to the house of a married lady who is a relative of
mine, and under whose care she will remain, until the time arrives for
our marriage. The reasons which have led to her taking this step, and
which oblige her to keep her new place of residence concealed for the
present, will be frankly stated to you and to her father on the day when
we are man and wife. In the meantime, Lucilla begs that you will excuse
her abrupt departure, and that you will be so good as to send this letter
on to her father. Both you and he will, I hope, remember that she is of
an age to act for herself, and that she is only hastening her marriage
with a man to whom she has been long engaged, with the sanction and
approval of her family--Believe me, Madam, your faithful Servant,
This letter was delivered at luncheon-time--almost at the moment when the
servant had announced to her mistress that Miss Finch was nowhere to be
found, and that her traveling-bag had disappeared from her room. The
London train had then started. Miss Batchford, having no right to
interfere, decided--after consultation with a friend--on at once
traveling to Dimchurch, and placing the matter in Mr. Finch's hands.--P.]
CHAPTER THE FORTY-SIXTH
The Italian Steamer
LUCILLA'S Journal has told you all that Lucilla can tell. Permit me to
reappear in these pages. Shall I say, with your favorite English clown,
reappearing every year in your barbarous English pantomime, "Here I am
again: how do you do?" No--I had better leave that out. Your clown is one
of your national institutions. With this mysterious source of British
amusement let no foreign person presume to trifle.
I arrived at Marseilles, as well as I can remember, on the fifteenth of
You cannot be expected to feel any interest in good Papa. I will pass
over this venerable victim of the amiable delusions of the heart, as
rapidly as respect and affection will permit. The duel (I hope you
remember the duel?) had been fought with pistols; and the bullet had not
been extracted when I joined my sisters at the sufferer's bedside. He was
delirious and did not know me. Two days later, the removal of the bullet
was accomplished by the surgeon in attendance. For a time, he improved
after this. Then there was a relapse. It was only on the first of
September that we were permitted to hope he might still be spared to us.
On that date, I was composed enough to think again of Lucilla, and to
remember Mrs. Finch's polite request to me that I would write to her from
I wrote briefly, telling the damp lady of the rectory (only at greater
length) what I have told here. My main motive in doing this was, I
confess, to obtain, through Mrs. Finch, some news of Lucilla. After
posting the letter, I attended to another duty which I had neglected
while my father was in danger of death. I went to the person to whom my
lawyer had recommended me, to institute that search for Oscar which I had
determined to set on foot when I left London. The person was connected
with the police, in the capacity (as nearly as I can express it in
English) of a sort of private superintendent--not officially recognized,
but secretly trusted for all that.
When he heard of the time that had elapsed without any discovery of the
slightest trace of the fugitive, he looked grave; and declared, honestly
enough, that he doubted if he could reward my confidence in him by
proving himself to be of the slightest service to me. Seeing, however,
that I was earnestly bent on making some sort of effort, he put a last
question to me in these terms:--"You have not described the gentleman
yet. Is there, by lucky chance, anything remarkable in his personal
"There is something very remarkable, sir," I answered. "Describe it
exactly, ma'am, if you please."
I described Oscar's complexion. My excellent superintendent showed
encouraging signs of interest as he listened. He was a most
elegantly-dressed gentleman, with the gracious manners of a prince. It
was quite a privilege to be allowed to talk to him.
"If the missing man has passed through France," he said, "with such a
remarkable face as that, there is a fair chance of finding him. I will
set preliminary inquiries going at the railway station, at the
steam-packet office, and at the port. You shall hear the result
I went back to good Papa's bedside--satisfied, so far.
The next day, my superintendent honored me by a visit.
"Any news, sir?" I asked.
"News already, ma'am. The clerk at the steam-packet office perfectly well
remembers selling a ticket to a stranger with a terrible blue face.
Unhappily, his memory is not equally good, as to other matters. He cannot
accurately call to mind, either the name of the stranger, or the place
for which the stranger embarked. We know that he must either have gone to
some port in Italy, or to some port in the East. And, thus far, we know
"What are we to do next?" I inquired.
"I propose--with your permission--sending personal descriptions of the
gentleman, by telegraph, to the different ports in Italy first. If
nothing is heard of him in reply, we will try the ports in the East next.
That is the course which I have the honor of submitting to your
consideration. Do you approve of it?"
I cordially approved of it; and waited for the results with all the
patience that I could command.
The next day passed, and nothing happened. My unhappy father got on very
slowly. The vile woman who had caused the disaster (and who had run off
with his antagonist) was perpetually in his mind; disturbing him and
keeping him back. Why is a destroying wretch of this sort, a pitiless,
treacherous, devouring monster in female form, allowed to be out of
prison? You shut up in a cage a poor tigress, who only eats you when she
is hungry, and can't provide for her dear little children in any other
way--and you let the other and far more dangerous beast of the two range
at large under protection of the law! Ah, it is easy to see that the men
make the laws. Never mind. The women are coming to the front. Wait a
little. The tigresses on two legs will have a bad time of it when we get
On the fourth of the month, the superintendent wrote to me. More news of
the lost Oscar already!
The blue man had disembarked at Genoa; and had been traced to the station
of the railway running to Turin. More inquiries had been, thereupon, sent
by telegraph to Turin. In the meantime, and in the possible event of the
missing person returning to England by way of Marseilles, experienced
men, provided with a personal description of him, would be posted at
various public places, to pass in review all travelers arriving either by
land or sea--and to report to me if the right traveler appeared. Once
more, my princely superintendent submitted this course to my
consideration--and waited for my approval--and got it, with my admiration
thrown in as part of the bargain.
The days passed--and good Papa still vacillated between better and worse.
My sisters broke down, poor souls, under their anxieties. It all fell as
usual on my shoulders. Day by day, my prospect of returning to England
seemed to grow more and more remote. Not a line of reply reached me from
Mrs. Finch. This in itself fidgeted and disturbed me. Lucilla was now
hardly ever out of my thoughts. Over and over again, my anxiety urged me
to run the risk, and write to her. But the same obstacle always raised
itself in my way. After what had happened between us, it was impossible
for me to write to her directly, without first restoring myself to my
former place in her estimation. And I could only do this, by entering
into particulars which, for all I knew to the contrary, it might still be
cruel and dangerous to reveal.
As for writing to Miss Batchford, I had already tried the old lady's
patience in that way, before leaving England. If I tried it again, with
no better excuse for a second intrusion than my own anxieties might
suggest, the chances were that this uncompromising royalist would throw
my letter in the fire, and treat her republican correspondent with
contemptuous silence. Grosse was the third, and last, person from whom I
might hope to obtain information. But--shall I confess it?--I did not
know what Lucilla might have told him of the estrangement between us, and
my pride (remember, if you please, that I am a poverty-stricken
foreigner) revolted at the idea of exposing myself to a possible repulse.
However, by the eleventh of the month, I began to feel my suspense so
keenly, and to suffer under such painful doubts of what Nugent might be
doing in my absence, that I resolved at all hazards on writing to Grosse.
It was at least possible, as I calculated--and the Journal will show you
I calculated right--that Lucilla had only told him of my melancholy
errand at Marseilles, and had mentioned nothing more. I had just opened
my desk--when our doctor in attendance entered the room, and announced
the joyful intelligence that he could answer at last for the recovery of
"Can I go back to England?" I asked eagerly.
"Not immediately. You are his favorite nurse--you must gradually accustom
him to the idea of your going away. If you do anything sudden you may
cause a relapse."
"I will do nothing sudden. Only tell me, when it will be safe--absolutely
safe--for me to go?"
"Say, in a week."
"On the eighteenth?"
"On the eighteenth."
I shut up my writing-desk. Within a few days, I might now hope to be in
England as soon as I could receive Grosse's answer at Marseilles. Under
these circumstances, it would be better to wait until I could make my
inquiries, safely and independently, in my own proper person. Comparison
of dates will show that if I _had_ written to the German oculist, it
would have been too late. It was now the eleventh; and Lucilla had left
Ramsgate with Nugent on the fifth.
All this time but one small morsel of news rewarded our inquiries after
Oscar--and even that small morsel seemed to me to be unworthy of belief.
It was said that he had been seen at a military hospital--the hospital of
Alessandria, in Piedmont, I think--acting, under the surgeons, as
attendant on the badly-wounded men who had survived the famous campaign
of France and Italy against Austria. (Bear in mind, if you please, that I
am writing of the year eighteen hundred and fifty-nine, and that the
peace of Villafranca was only signed in the July of that year.)
Occupation as hospital-man-nurse was, to my mind, occupation so utterly
at variance with Oscar's temperament and character, that I persisted in
considering the intelligence thus received of him to be on the face of it
On the seventeenth of the month, I had got my passport regulated, and had
packed up the greater part of my baggage in anticipation of my journey
back to England on the next day.
Carefully as I had tried to accustom his mind to the idea, my poor father
remained so immovably reluctant to let me leave him, that I was obliged
to consent to a sort of compromise. I promised, when the business which
took me to England was settled, to return again to Marseilles, and to
travel back with him to his home in Paris, as soon as he was fit to be
moved. On this condition, I gained permission to go. Poor as I was, I
infinitely preferred charging my slender purse with the expense of the
double journey, to remaining any longer in ignorance of what was going on
at Ramsgate--or at Dimchurch, as the case might be. Now that my mind was
free from anxiety about my father, I don't know which tormented me
most--my eagerness to set myself right with my sister-friend, or my vague
dread of the mischief which Nugent might have done while my back was
turned. Over, and over again I asked myself, whether Miss Batchford had,
or had not, shown my letter to Lucilla. Over and over again, I wondered
whether it had been my happy privilege to reveal Nugent under his true
aspect, and to preserve Lucilla for Oscar after all.
Towards the afternoon, on the seventeenth, I went out alone to get a
breath of fresh air, and a look at the shop-windows. I don't care who or
what she may be--high or low; handsome or ugly; young or old--it always
relieves a woman's mind to look at the shop-windows.
I had not been five minutes out, before I met my princely superintendent.
"Any news for me to-day?" I asked.
"Not yet?" I repeated. "You expect news then?"
"We expect an Italian steam-ship to arrive in port before the evening,"
said the superintendent. "Who knows what may happen?"
He bowed and left me. I felt no great elation on contemplating the barren
prospect which his last words had placed before me. So many steamers had
arrived at Marseilles, without bringing any news of the missing man, that
I attached very little importance to the arrival of the Italian ship.
However, I had nothing to do--I wanted a walk--and I thought I might as
well stroll down to the port, and see the vessel come in.
The vessel was just entering the harbor by the time I got to the
I found our man employed to investigate travelers arriving by sea,
punctually at his post. His influence broke through the vexatious French
rules and regulations which forbid all freedom of public movement within
official limits, and procured me a place in the room at the custom-house
through which the passengers by the steamer would be obliged to pass. I
accepted his polite attention, simply because I was glad to sit down and
rest in a quiet place after my walk--not even the shadow of an idea that
anything would come of my visit to the harbor being in my mind at the
After a long interval the passengers began to stream into the room.
Looking languidly enough at the first half-dozen strangers who came in, I
felt myself touched on the shoulder from behind. There was our man, in a
state of indescribable excitement, entreating me to compose myself!
Being perfectly composed already, I stared at him, and asked, "Why?"
"He is here!" cried the man. "Look!"
He pointed to the passengers still crowding into the room. I looked; and,
instantly losing my head, started up with a cry that turned everybody's
eyes on me. Yes! there was the poor dear discolored face--there was Oscar
himself, thunderstruck on his side at the sight of Me!
I snatched the key of his portmanteau out of his hand, and gave it to our
man--who undertook to submit it to the customhouse examination, and to
bring it to my lodging afterwards. Holding Oscar fast by the arm, I
pushed my way through the crowd in the room, got outside, and hailed a
cab at the dock gates. The people about, noticing my agitation, said to
each other compassionately, "It's the blue man's mother!" Idiots! They
might have seen, I think, that I was only old enough to be his elder
Once sheltered in the vehicle, I could draw my breath again, and reward
him for all the anxiety he had caused me by giving him a kiss. I might
have given him a thousand kisses. Amazement made him a perfectly passive
creature in my hands. He only repeated faintly, over and over again,
"What does it mean? what does it mean?"
"It means that you have friends, you wretch, who are fools enough to be
too fond of you to give you up!" I said. "I am one of the fools. You will
come to England with me to-morrow--and see for yourself if Lucilla is not
That reference to Lucilla restored him to the possession of his senses.
He began to ask the questions that naturally occurred to him under the
circumstances. Having plenty of questions in reserve, on my side, I told
him briefly enough what had brought me to Marseilles, and what I had
done, during my residence in that city, towards discovering the place of
When he asked me next--after a momentary struggle with himself--what I
could tell him of Nugent and Lucilla, it is not to be denied that I
hesitated before I answered him. A moment's consideration, however, was
enough to decide me on speaking out--for this plain reason, that a
moment's consideration reminded me of the troubles and annoyances which
had already befallen us as the result of concealing the truth. I told
Oscar honestly all that I have related here--starting from my night
interview with Nugent at Browndown, and ending with my precautionary
measures for the protection of Lucilla while she was living under the
care of her aunt.
I was greatly interested in watching the effect which these disclosures
produced on Oscar.
My observation led me to form two conclusions. First conclusion, that
time and absence had not produced the slightest change in the love which
the poor fellow bore to Lucilla. Second conclusion, that nothing but
absolute proof would induce him to agree in my unfavorable opinion of his
brother's character. It was in vain I declared that Nugent had quitted
England pledged to find him, and had left it to me (as the event now
proved) to make the discovery. He owned readily that he had seen nothing,
and heard nothing, of Nugent. Nevertheless his confidence in his brother
remained unshaken. "Nugent is the soul of honor," he repeated again and
again--with a side-look at me which suggested that my frankly-avowed
opinion of his brother had hurt and offended him.
I had barely time to notice this, before we reached my lodgings. He
appeared to be unwilling to follow me into the house.
"I suppose you have some proof to support what you have said of Nugent,"
he resumed, stopping in the courtyard. "Have you written to England since
you have been here? and have you had a reply?"
"I have written to Mrs. Finch," I answered; "and I have not had a word in
"Have you written to no one else?"
I explained to him the position in which I stood towards Miss Batchford,
and the hesitation which I had felt about writing to Grosse. The
smoldering resentment against me that had been in him ever since I had
spoken of his brother and of Lucilla, flamed up at last.
"I entirely disagree with you," he broke out angrily. "You are wronging
Lucilla and wronging Nugent. Lucilla is incapable of saying anything
against you to Grosse; and Nugent is equally incapable of misleading her
as you suppose. What horrible ingratitude you attribute to one of
them--and what horrible baseness to the other! I have listened to you as
patiently as I can; and I feel sincerely obliged by the interest which
you have shown in me--but I cannot remain in your company any longer.
Madame Pratolungo, your suspicions are inhuman! You have not brought
forward a shadow of proof in support of them. I will send here for my
luggage, if you will allow me--and I will start for England by the next
train. After what you have said, I can't rest till I have found out the
truth for myself."
This was my reward for all the trouble that I had taken to discover Oscar
Dubourg! Never mind the money I had spent--I am not rich enough to care
about money--only consider the trouble. If I had been a man, I do really
think I should have knocked him down. Being only a woman, I dropped him a
low curtsey, and stung him with my tongue.
"As you please, sir," I said. "I have done my best to serve you--and you
quarrel with me and leave me, in return. Go! You are not the first fool
who has quarreled with his best friend."
Either the words or the curtsey--or both together--brought him to his
senses. He made me an apology--which I received. And he looked
excessively foolish--which put me in an excellent humour again. "You
stupid boy," I said, taking his arm, and leading him to the stairs. "When
we first met at Dimchurch did you find me a suspicious woman or an
inhuman woman? Answer me that!"
He answered frankly enough.
"I found you all that was kind and good. Still, it is surely only natural
to want _some_ confirmation----" He checked himself there, and reverted
abruptly to my letter to Mrs. Finch. The silence of the rector's wife
evidently alarmed him. "How long is it since you wrote?" he inquired.
"As long ago as the first of this month," I replied.
He fell into thought. We ascended the next flight of stairs in silence.
At the landing, he stopped me, and spoke again. My unanswered letter was
still uppermost in his mind.
"Mrs. Finch loses everything that _can_ be lost," he said. "Is it not
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