Poor Miss Finch
Part 9 out of 9
likely--with her habits--that when she had written her answer, and wanted
your letter to look at to put the address on it, your letter was like her
handkerchief or her novel, or anything else--not to be found?"
So far, no doubt, this was quite in Mrs. Finch's character. I could see
that--but my mind was too much pre-occupied to draw the inference that
followed. Oscar's next words enlightened me.
"Have you tried the Poste-Restante?" he asked.
What could I possibly have been thinking of! Of course, she had lost my
letter. Of course, the whole house would be upset in looking for it, and
the rector would silence the uproar by ordering his wife to try the
Poste-Restante. How strangely we had changed places! Instead of my clear
head thinking for Oscar, here was Oscar's clear head thinking for Me. Is
my stupidity quite incredible? Remember, if you please, what a weight of
trouble and anxiety had lain on my mind while I was at Marseilles. Can
one think of everything while one is afflicted, as I was? Not even such a
clever person as You can do that. If, as the saying is, "Homer sometimes
nods"--why not Madame Pratolungo?
"I never thought of the Poste-Restante," I said to Oscar. "If you don't
mind going back a little way, shall we inquire at once?"
He was perfectly willing. We went downstairs again, and out into the
street. On our way to the post-office, I seized my first opportunity of
making Oscar give me some account of himself.
"I have satisfied your curiosity, to the best of my ability," I said, as
we walked arm-in-arm through the streets. "Now suppose you satisfy mine.
A report of your having been seen in a military hospital in Italy, is the
only report of you which has reached me here. Of course, it is not true?"
"It is perfectly true."
"You, in a hospital, nursing wounded soldiers?"
"That is exactly what I have been doing."
No words could express my astonishment. I could only stop, and look at
"Was that the occupation which you had in view when you left England?" I
"I had no object in leaving England," he answered, "but the object which
I avowed to you. After what had happened, I owed it to Lucilla and I owed
it to Nugent to go. I left England without caring where I went. The train
to Lyons happened to be the first train that started on my arrival at
Paris. I took the first train. At Lyons, I saw by chance an account in a
French newspaper of the sufferings of some of the badly-wounded men, left
still uncured after the battle of Solferino. I felt an impulse, in my own
wretchedness, to help these other sufferers in _their_ misery. On every
other side of it, my life was wasted. The one worthy use to which I could
put it was to employ myself in doing good; and here was good to be done,
I managed to get the necessary letters of introduction at Turin. With the
help of these, I made myself of some use (under the regular surgeons and
dressers) in nursing the poor mutilated, crippled men; and I have helped
a little afterwards, from my own resources, in starting them comfortably
in new ways of life."
In those manly and simple words, he told me his story.
Once more I felt, what I had felt already, that there were hidden
reserves of strength in the character of this innocent young fellow,
which had utterly escaped my superficial observation of him. In choosing
his vocation, he was, no doubt, only following the conventional modern
course in such cases. Despair has its fashions, as well as dress. Ancient
despair (especially of Oscar's sort) used to turn soldier, or go into a
monastery. Modern despair turns nurse; binds up wounds, gives physic, and
gets cured or not in that useful but nasty way. Oscar had certainly
struck out nothing new for himself: he had only followed the fashion.
Still, it implied, as I thought, both courage and resolution to have
conquered the obstacles which he must have overcome, and to have held
steadily on his course after he had once entered it. Having begun by
quarreling with him, I was in a fair way to end by respecting him. Surely
this man was worth preserving for Lucilla, after all!
"May I ask where you were going, when we met at the port?" I continued.
"Have you left Italy because there were no more wounded soldiers to be
"There was no more work for me at the hospital to which I was attached,"
he said. "And there were certain obstacles in my way, as a stranger and a
Protestant, among the poor and afflicted population outside the hospital.
I might have overcome those obstacles, with little trouble, among a
people so essentially good-tempered and courteous as the Italians, if I
had tried. But it occurred to me that my first duty was to my own
countrymen. The misery crying for relief in London, is misery not
paralleled in any city of Italy. When you met me, I was on my way to
London, to place my services at the disposal of any clergyman, in a poor
neighborhood, who would accept such help as I can offer him." He paused a
little--hesitated--and added in lower tones:--"That was one of my objects
in returning to England. It is only honest to own to you that I had
another motive besides."
"A motive connected with your brother and with Lucilla?" I suggested.
"Yes. Don't misinterpret me! I am not returning to England to retract
what I said to Nugent. I still leave him free to plead his own cause with
Lucilla in his own person. I am still resolved not to distress myself and
distress them, by returning to Dimchurch. But I have a longing that
nothing can subdue, to know how it has ended between them. Don't ask me
to say more than that! In spite of the time that has passed, it breaks my
heart to talk of Lucilla. I had looked forward to a meeting with you in
London, and to hearing what I longed to hear, from your lips. Judge for
yourself what my hopes were when I first saw your face; and forgive me if
I felt my disappointment bitterly, when I found that you had really no
news to tell, and when you spoke of Nugent as you did." He stopped, and
pressed my arm earnestly. "Suppose I am right about Miss Finch's letter?'
he added. "Suppose it should really be waiting for you at the post?"
"The letter may contain the news which I most want to hear."
I checked him there. "I am not sure of that," I answered. "I don't know
what it is that you most want to hear."
I said those words with a purpose. What was the news he was longing for?
In spite of all that he had told me, my instincts answered: News that
Lucilla is still a single woman. My object in speaking as I had just
spoken, was to tempt him into a reply which might confirm me in this
opinion. He evaded the reply. Was that confirmation in itself? Yes--as
"Will you tell me what there is in the letter?" he asked--passing, as you
see, entirely over what I had just said to him.
"Yes--if you wish it," I answered: not over well pleased with his want of
confidence in me.
"No matter what the letter contains?" he went on, evidently doubting me.
I said Yes, again--that one word, and no more.
"I suppose it would be asking too much," he persisted, "to ask you to let
me read the letter myself?"
My temper, as you are well aware by this time, is not the temper of a
saint. I drew my arm smartly out of his arm; and I surveyed him with,
what poor Pratolungo used to call, "my Roman look."
"Mr. Oscar Dubourg! say, in plain words, that you distrust me."
He protested of course that he did nothing of the kind--without producing
the slightest effect on me. Just run over in your mind the insults,
worries, and anxieties which had assailed me, as the reward for my
friendly interest in this man's welfare. Or, if that is too great an
effort, be so good as to remember that Lucilla's farewell letter to me at
Dimchurch, was now followed by the equally ungracious expression of
Oscar's distrust--and this at a time when I had had serious trials of my
own to sustain at my father's bedside. I think you will admit that a
sweeter temper than mine might have not unnaturally turned a little sour
under present circumstances.
I answered not a word to Oscar's protestations--I only searched
vehemently in the pocket of my dress.
"Here," I said, opening my card-case, "is my address in this place; and
here," I went on, producing the document, "is my passport, if they want
I forced the card and the passport into his hands. He took them in
"What am I to do with these?" he asked.
"Take them to the Poste-Restante. If there is a letter for me with the
Dimchurch post-mark, I authorize you to open it. Read it before it comes
into my hands--and then perhaps you will be satisfied?"
He declared that he would do nothing of the sort--and tried to force my
documents back into my own possession.
"Please yourself," I said. "I have done with you and your affairs. Mrs.
Finch's letter is of no earthly consequence to me. If it _is_ at the
Poste-Restante, I shall not trouble myself to ask for it. What concern
have I with news about Lucilla? What does it matter to _me_ whether she
is married or not? I am going back to my father and my sisters. Decide
for yourself whether you want Mrs. Finch's letter or not."
That settled it. He went his way with my documents to the post-office;
and I went mine back to the lodging.
Arrived in my room, I still held to the resolution which I had expressed
to Oscar in the street. Why should I leave my poor old father to go back
to England, and mix myself up in Lucilla's affairs? After the manner in
which she had taken her leave of me, had I any reasonable prospect of
being civilly received? Oscar was on his way to England--let Oscar manage
his own affairs; let them all three (Oscar, Nugent, Lucilla) fight it out
together among themselves. What had I, Pratolungo's widow, to do with
this trumpery family entanglement? Nothing! It was a warm day for the
time of year--Pratolungo's widow, like a wise woman, determined to make
herself comfortable. She unlocked her packed box; she removed her
traveling costume, and put on her dressing-gown; she took a turn in the
room--and, if you had come across her at that moment, I wouldn't have
stood in your shoes for something, I can tell you!
(What do you think of my consistency by this time? How often have I
changed my mind about Lucilla and Oscar? Reckon it up, from the time when
I left Dimchurch. What a picture of perpetual self-contradiction I
present--and how improbable it is that I should act in this illogical
way! _You_ never alter your mind under the influence of your temper or
your circumstances. No: you are, what they call, a consistent character.
And I? Oh, I am only a human being--and I feel painfully conscious that I
have no business to be in a book.)
In about half an hour's time, the servant appeared with a little paper
parcel for me. It had been left by a stranger with an English accent and
a terrible face. He had announced his intention of calling a little
later. The servant, a bouncing fat wench, trembled as she repeated the
message, and asked if there was anything amiss between me and the man
with the terrible face.
I opened the parcel. It contained my passport, and, sure enough, the
letter from Mrs. Finch. Had he opened it? Yes! He had not been able to
resist the temptation to read it. And more, he had written a line or two
on it in pencil, thus:--"As soon as I am fit to see you, I will implore
your pardon. I dare not trust myself in your presence yet. Read the
letter, and you will understand why."
I opened the letter.
It was dated the fifth of September. I ran over the first few sentences
carelessly enough. Thanks for my letter--congratulations on my father's
prospect of recovery--information about baby's gums and the rector's last
sermon--more information about somebody else, which Mrs. Finch felt quite
sure would interest and delight me. What!!! "Mr. Oscar Dubourg has come
back, and is now with Lucilla at Ramsgate."
I crumpled the letter up in my hand. Nugent had justified my worst
anticipations of what he would do in my absence. What did the true Mr.
Oscar Dubourg, reading that sentence at Marseilles, think of his brother
now? We are all mortal--we are all wicked. It is monstrous, but it is
true. I had a moment's triumph.
The wicked moment gone, I was good again--that is to say, I was ashamed
I smoothed out the letter, and looked eagerly for news of Lucilla's
health. If the news was favorable, my letter committed to Miss
Batchford's care must have been shown to Lucilla by this time; must have
exposed Nugent's abominable personation of his brother; and must have
thus preserved her for Oscar. In that case, all would be well again (and
my darling herself would own it)--thanks to Me!
After telling me the news from Ramsgate, Mrs. Finch began to drift into,
what you call, Twaddle. She had just discovered (exactly as Oscar had
supposed) that she had lost my letter. She would keep her own letter back
until the next day, on the chance of finding it. If she failed she must
try Poste-Restante, at the suggestion (not of Mr. Finch--there I was
wrong)--at the suggestion of Zillah, who had relatives in foreign parts,
and had tried Poste-Restante in her case too. So Mrs. Finch driveled
mildly on, in her large loose untidy handwriting, to the bottom of the
I turned over. The handwriting suddenly grew untidier than ever; two
great blots defaced the paper; the style became feebly hysterical. Good
Heavens! what did I read when I made it out at last! See for yourselves;
here are the words: "Some hours have passed--it is just tea-time---oh, my
dear friend, I can hardly hold the pen, I tremble so--would you believe
it, Miss Batchford has arrived at the rectory--she brings the dreadful
news that Lucilla has eloped with Oscar--we don't know why--we don't know
where, except that they have gone away together privately--a letter from
Oscar tells Miss Batchford as much as that, and no more--oh, pray come
back as soon as you can--Mr. Finch washes his hands of it--and Miss
Batchford has left the house again in a fury with him--I am in dreadful
agitation, and I have given it Mr. Finch says to baby, who is screaming
black in the face. Yours affectionately,
All the rages I had ever been in before in my life were as nothing
compared with the rage that devoured me when I had read that fourth page
of Mrs. Finch's letter. Nugent had got the better of me and my
precautions! Nugent had robbed his brother of Lucilla, in the vilest
manner, with perfect impunity! I cast all feminine restraints to the
winds. I sat down with my legs anyhow, like a man. I rammed my hands into
the pockets of my dressing-gown. Did I cry? A word in your ear--and let
it go no farther. I swore.
How long the fit lasted, I don't know. I only remember that I was
disturbed by a knock at my door.
I flung open the door in a fury--and confronted Oscar on the threshold.
There was a look in his face that instantly quieted me. There was a tone
in his voice that brought the tears suddenly into my eyes.
"I must leave for England in two hours," he said. "Will you forgive me,
Madame Pratolungo, before I go?"
Only those words! And yet--if you had seen him, if you had heard him, as
he spoke them--you would have been ready as I was--not only to forgive
him--but to go to the ends of the earth with him; and you would have told
him so, as I did.
In two hours more, we were in the train, on our way to England.
CHAPTER THE FORTY-SEVENTH
On the Way to the End. First Stage
You will perhaps expect me to give some account of how Oscar bore the
discovery of his brother's conduct.
I find it by no means easy to do this. Oscar baffled me.
The first words of any importance which he addressed to me were spoken on
our way to the station. Rousing himself from his own thoughts, he said
"I want to know what conclusion you have drawn from Mrs. Finch's letter."
Naturally enough, under the circumstances, I tried to avoid answering
him. He was not to be put off in that way.
"You will do me a favor," he went on, "if you will reply to my question.
The letter has bred in me such a vile suspicion of my dear good brother,
who never deceived me in his life, that I would rather believe I am out
of my mind than believe in my own interpretation of it. Do _you_ infer
from what Mrs. Finch writes, that Nugent has presented himself to Lucilla
under my name? Do _you_ believe that he has persuaded her to leave her
friends, under the impression that she has yielded to My entreaties, and
trusted herself to My care?"
I answered in the fewest and plainest words, "That is what your brother
A sudden change passed over him. My reply seemed to have set his last
doubts at rest in an instant.
"That is what my brother has done," he repeated. "After all that I
sacrificed to him--after all that I trusted to his honor--when I left
England." He paused, and considered a little. "What does such a man
deserve?" he went on; speaking to himself, in a low threatening tone that
"He deserves," I said, "what he will get when we reach England. You have
only to show yourself to make him repent his wickedness to the last day
of his life. Are exposure and defeat not punishment enough for such a man
as Nugent?" I stopped, and waited for his answer.
He turned his face away from me, and said no more until we arrived at the
station. There, he drew me aside for a moment out of hearing of the
strangers about us.
"Why should I take you away from your father?" he asked abruptly. "I am
behaving very selfishly--and I only see it now."
"Make your mind easy," I said. "If I had not met you to-day, I should
have gone to England to-morrow for Lucilla's sake."
"But now you _have_ met me," he persisted, "why shouldn't I spare you the
journey? I could write and tell you every thing--without putting you to
this fatigue and expense."
"If you say a word more," I answered, "I shall think you have some reason
of your own for wishing to go to England by yourself."
He cast one quick suspicious look at me--and led the way back to the
booking-office without uttering another word. I was not at all satisfied
with him. I thought his conduct very strange.
In silence we took our tickets; in silence, we got into the
railway-carriage. I attempted to say something encouraging, when we
started. "Don't notice me," was all he replied. "You will be doing me a
kindness, if you will let me bear it by myself." In my former experience
of him, he had talked his way out of all his other troubles--he had
clamorously demanded the expression of my sympathy with him. In this
greatest trouble, he was like another being; I hardly knew him again!
Were the hidden reserves in his nature (stirred up by another serious
call on them) showing themselves once more on the surface as they had
shown themselves already, on the fatal first day when Lucilla tried her
sight? In that way I accounted for the mere superficial change in him, at
the time. What was actually going on below the surface it defied my
ingenuity even to guess. Perhaps I shall best describe the sort of vague
apprehension which he aroused in me--after what had passed between us at
the station--by saying that I would not for worlds have allowed him to go
to England by himself.
Left as I now was to my own resources, I occupied the first hours of the
journey, in considering what course it would be safest and best for us to
take, on reaching England.
I decided, in the first place, that we ought to go straight to Dimchurch.
If any tidings had been obtained of Lucilla, they would be sure to have
received them at the rectory. Our route, after reaching Paris, must be
therefore by way of Dieppe; thence across the Channel to Newhaven, near
Brighton--and so to Dimchurch.
In the second place--assuming it to be always possible that we might see
Lucilla at the rectory--the risk of abruptly presenting Oscar to her in
his own proper person might, for all I knew to the contrary, be a very
serious one. It would relieve us, as I thought, of a grave
responsibility, if we warned Grosse of our arrival, and so enabled him to
be present, if he thought it necessary, in the interests of Lucilla's
health. I put this view (as also my plan for returning by way of Dieppe)
to Oscar. He briefly consented to everything--he ungraciously left it all
Accordingly, on our arrival at Lyons, having some time for refreshment at
our disposal before we went on, I telegraphed to Mr. Finch at the
rectory, and to Grosse in London; informing them (as well as I could
calculate it) that, if we were lucky in catching trains and steamboats,
Oscar and I might be in Dimchurch in good time, on the next night--that
is to say, on the night of the eighteenth. In any case, they were to
expect us at the earliest possible moment.
These difficulties disposed of, and a little store of refreshment for the
night packed in my basket, we re-entered the train, for our long journey
Among the new passengers who joined us at Lyons was a gentleman whose
face was English, and whose dress was the dress of a clergyman. For the
first time in my life, I hailed the appearance of a priest with a feeling
of relief. The reason was this. From the moment when I had read Mrs.
Finch's letter until now, a horrid doubt, which a priest was just the man
to solve, had laid its leaden weight on my mind--and, I firmly believe,
on Oscar's mind as well. Had time enough passed, since Lucilla had left
Ramsgate, to allow of Nugent's marrying her, under his brother's name?
As the train rolled out of the station, I, the enemy of priests, began to
make myself agreeable to _this_ priest. He was young and shy--but I
conquered him. Just as the other travelers were beginning (with the
exception of Oscar) to compose themselves to sleep, I put my case to the
clergyman. "A and B, sir, lady and gentleman, both of age, leave one
place in England, and go to live in another place, on the fifth of this
month--how soon, if you please, can they be lawfully married after that?"
"I presume you mean in church?" said the young clergyman.
"In church, of course." (To that extent I believed I might answer for
Lucilla, without any fear of making a mistake.)
"They may be married by License," said the clergyman--"provided one of
them continues to reside in that other place to which they traveled on
the fifth--on the twenty-first, or (possibly) even the twentieth of this
"Certainly not before."
It was then the night of the seventeenth. I gave my companion's hand a
little squeeze in the dark. Here was a glimpse of encouragement to cheer
us on the journey. Before the marriage could take place, we should be in
England. "We have time before us," I whispered to Oscar. "We will save
"Shall we find Lucilla?" was all he whispered back.
I had forgotten that serious difficulty. No answer to Oscar's question
could possibly present itself until we reached the rectory. Between this
and then, there was nothing for it but to keep patience and to keep hope.
I refrain from encumbering this part of my narrative with any detailed
account of the little accidents, lucky and unlucky, which alternately
hastened or retarded our journey home. Let me only say that, before
midnight on the eighteenth, Oscar and I drove up to the rectory gate.
Mr. Finch himself came out to receive us, with a lamp in his hand. He
lifted his eyes (and his lamp) devotionally to the sky when he saw Oscar.
The two first words he said, were:--
"Have you found Lucilla?" I asked.
Mr. Finch--with his whole attention fixed on Oscar--wrung my hand
mechanically, and said I was a "good creature;" much as he might have
patted, and spoken to, Oscar's companion, if the companion had been a
dog. I almost wished myself that animal for the moment--I should have had
the privilege of biting Mr. Finch. Oscar impatiently repeated my
question; the rector, at the time, officiously assisting him to descend
from the carriage, and leaving me to get out as I could.
"Did you hear Madame Pratolungo?" Oscar asked. "Is Lucilla found?"
"Dear Oscar, we hope to find her, now you have come."
That answer revealed to me the secret of Mr. Finch's extraordinary
politeness to his young friend. The last chance, as things were, of
preventing Lucilla's marriage to a man who had squandered away every
farthing of his money, was the chance of Oscar's arrival in England
before the ceremony could take place. The measure of Oscar's importance
to Mr. Finch was now, more literally than ever, the measure of Oscar's
I asked for news of Grosse as we went in. The rector actually found some
comparatively high notes in his prodigious voice, to express his
amazement at my audacity in speaking to him of anybody but Oscar.
"Oh, dear, dear me!" cried Mr. Finch, impatiently conceding to me one
precious moment of his attention. "Don't bother about Grosse! Grosse is
ill in London. There is a note for you from Grosse.--Take care of the
door-step, dear Oscar," he went on, in his deepest and gravest bass
notes. "Mrs. Finch is so anxious to see you. We have both looked forward
to your arrival with such eager hope--such impatient affection, so to
speak. Let me put down your hat. Ah! how you must have suffered! Share my
trust in an all-wise Providence, and meet this trial with cheerful
submission as I do. All is not lost yet. Bear up! bear up!" He threw open
the parlor door. "Mrs. Finch! compose yourself. Our dear adopted son. Our
Is it necessary to say what Mrs. Finch was about, and how Mrs. Finch
There were the three unchangeable institutions--the novel, the baby, and
the missing pocket-handkerchief There was the gaudy jacket over the long
trailing dressing-gown--and the damp lady inside them, damp as ever!
Receiving Oscar with a mouth drawn down at the corners, and a head that
shook sadly in sympathy with him, Mrs. Finch's face underwent a most
extraordinary transformation when she turned my way next. To my
astonishment, her dim eyes actually sparkled; a broad smile of
irrepressible contentment showed itself cunningly to _me,_ in place of
the dismal expression which had welcomed Oscar. Holding up the baby in
triumph, the lady of the rectory whispered these words in my ear:--"What
do you think he has done since you have been away?"
"I really don't know," I answered.
"He has cut two teeth! Put your finger in and feel."
Others might bewail the family misfortune. The family triumph filled the
secret mind of Mrs. Finch, to the exclusion of every other earthly
consideration. I put my finger in as instructed, and got instantly bitten
by the ferocious baby. But for a new outburst of the rector's voice at
the moment, Mrs. Finch (if I am any judge of physiognomy) must have
certainly relieved herself by a scream of delight. As it was, she opened
her mouth; and (having lost her handkerchief as already stated) retired
into a corner, and gagged herself with the baby.
In the meantime, Mr. Finch had produced from a cupboard near the
fireplace, two letters. The first he threw down impatiently on the table.
"Oh, dear, dear! what a nuisance other people's letters are!" The second
he handled with extraordinary care; offering it to Oscar with a heavy
sigh, and with eyes that turned up martyr-like to the ceiling. "Rouse
yourself, and read it," said Mr. Finch in his most pathetic pulpit tones.
"I would have spared you, Oscar, if I could. All our hopes depend, dear
boy, on what you can say to guide us when you have read those lines."
Oscar took the enclosure out of the envelope--ran over the first
words--glanced at the signature--and, with a look of mingled rage and
horror, threw the letter on the floor.
"Don't ask me to read it!" he cried, in the first burst of passion which
had escaped him yet. "If I read it, I shall kill him when we meet." He
dropped into a chair, and hid his face in his hands. "Oh, Nugent! Nugent!
Nugent!" he moaned to himself, with a cry that was dreadful to hear.
It was no time for standing on ceremony. I picked up the letter, and
looked at it without asking leave. It proved to be the letter from Nugent
(already inserted at the close of Lucilla's Journal), informing Miss
Batchford of her niece's flight from Ramsgate, and signed in Oscar's
name. The only words which it is necessary to repeat here, are
these:--"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."
Those lines instantly lightened my heart of the burden that had oppressed
it on the journey. Nugent's married relative was Oscar's married relative
too. Oscar had only to tell us where the lady lived--and Lucilla would be
I stopped Mr. Finch, in the act of maddening Oscar by administering
pastoral consolation to him.
"Leave it to me," I said, showing him the letter. "I know what you want."
The rector stared at me indignantly. I turned to Mrs. Finch.
"We have had a weary journey," I went on. "Oscar is not so well used to
traveling as I am. Where is his room?"
Mrs. Finch rose to show the way. Her husband opened his lips to
"Leave it to me," I repeated. "I understand him; and you don't."
For once in his life, the Pope of Dimchurch was reduced to silence. His
amazement at my audacity defied even his powers of expression. I took
Oscar's arm, and said, "You are worn out. Go to your room. I will make
you something warm and bring it up to you myself in a few minutes." He
neither looked at me nor answered me--he yielded silently and followed
Mrs. Finch. I took from the sideboard, on which supper was waiting, the
materials I wanted; set the kettle boiling; made my renovating mixture;
and advanced to the door with it--followed from first to last, move where
I might, by the staring and scandalized eyes of Mr. Finch. The moment in
which I opened the door was also the moment in which the rector recovered
himself. "Permit me to inquire, Madame Pratolungo," he said with his
loftiest emphasis, "in what capacity are You here?"
"In the capacity of Oscar's friend," I answered. "You will get rid of us
both to-morrow." I banged the door behind me, and went up-stairs. If I
had been Mr. Finch's wife, I believe I should have ended in making quite
an agreeable man of him.
Mrs. Finch met me in the passage on the first floor, and pointed out
Oscar's room. I found him walking backwards and forwards restlessly. The
first words he said alluded to his brother's letter. I had arranged not
to disturb him by any reference to that painful matter until the next
morning; and I tried to change the topic. It was useless. There was an
anxiety in his mind which was not to be dismissed at will. He insisted on
my instantly setting that anxiety at rest.
"I don't want to see the letter," he said. "I only want to know all that
it says about Lucilla."
"All that it says may be summed up in this. Lucilla is perfectly safe."
He caught me by the arm, and looked me searchingly in the face.
"Where?" he asked. With _him?_"
"With a married lady who is a relative of his."
He dropped my arm, and considered for a moment.
"My cousin at Sydenham!" he exclaimed.
"Do you know the house?"
"We will go there to-morrow. Let that content you for tonight. Get to
I gave him my hand. He took it mechanically--absorbed in his own
"Didn't I say something foolish down stairs?" he asked, putting the
question suddenly, with an odd suspicious look at me.
"You were quite worn out," I said, consolingly. "Nobody noticed it."
"You are sure of that?"
"Quite sure. Good night."
I left the room, feeling much as I had felt at the station at Marseilles.
I was not satisfied with him. I thought his conduct very strange.
On returning to the parlor, I found nobody there but Mrs. Finch. The
rector's offended dignity had left the rector no honorable alternative
but to withdraw to his own room. I ate my supper in peace; and Mrs. Finch
(rocking the cradle with her foot) chattered away to her heart's content
about all that had happened in my absence.
I gathered, here and there, from what she said, some particulars worth
The new disagreement between Mr. Finch and Miss Batchford, which had
driven the old lady out of the rectory almost as soon as she set foot in
it, had originated in Mr. Finch's exasperating composure when he heard of
his daughter's flight. He supposed, of course, that Lucilla had left
Ramsgate with Oscar--whose signed settlements on his future wife were
safe in Mr. Finch's possession. It was only when Miss Batchford had
communicated with Grosse, and when the discovery followed which revealed
the penniless Nugent as the man who had eloped with Lucilla, that Mr.
Finch's parental anxiety (seeing no money likely to come of it) became
roused to action. He, Miss Batchford, and Grosse, had all, in their
various ways, done their best to trace the fugitives--and had all alike
been baffled by the impossibility of discovering the residence of the
lady mentioned in Nugent's letter. My telegram, announcing my return to
England with Oscar, had inspired them with their first hope of being able
to interfere, and stop the marriage before it was too late.
The occurrence of Grosse's name in Mrs. Finch's rambling narrative,
recalled to my memory what the rector had told me at the garden gate. I
had not yet received the letter which the German had sent to wait my
arrival at Dimchurch. After a short search, we found it--where it had
been contemptuously thrown by Mr. Finch--on the parlor table.
A few lines comprised the whole letter. Grosse informed me that he had so
fretted himself about Lucilla, that he had been attacked by "a visitation
of gouts." It was impossible to move his "foots" without instantly
plunging into the torture of the infernal regions. "If it is you, my goot
dear, who are going to find her," he concluded, "come to me first in
London. I have something most dismal-serious to say to you about our poor
little Feench's eyes."
No words can tell how that last sentence startled and grieved me. Mrs.
Finch increased my anxiety and alarm by repeating what she had heard Miss
Batchford say, during her brief visit to the rectory, on the subject of
Lucilla's sight. Grosse had been seriously dissatisfied with the state of
his patient's eyes, when he had seen them as long ago as the fourth of
the month; and, on the morning of the next day, the servant had reported
Lucilla as being hardly able to distinguish objects in the view from the
window of her room. Later on the same day, she had secretly left
Ramsgate; and Grosse's letter proved that she had not been near her
surgical attendant since.
Weary as I was after the journey, this miserable news kept me waking long
after I had gone to my bed. The next morning, I was up with the
servants--impatient to start for London, by the first train.
CHAPTER THE FORTY-EIGHTH
On the Way to the End. Second Stage
EARLY riser as I was, I found that Oscar had risen earlier still. He had
left the rectory and had disturbed Mr. Gootheridge's morning slumbers by
an application at the inn for the key of Browndown.
On his return to the rectory, he merely said that he had been to see
after various things belonging to him, which were still left in the empty
house. His look and manner as he gave us this brief explanation were, to
my mind, more unsatisfactory than ever. I made no remark; and, observing
that his loose traveling coat was buttoned awry over the breast, I set it
right for him. My hand, as I did this, touched his breast-pocket. He
started back directly--as if there was something in the pocket which he
did not wish me to feel. Was it something he had brought from Browndown?
We got away--encumbered by Mr. Finch, who insisted on attaching himself
to Oscar--by the first express train, which took us straight to London.
Comparison of time-tables, on reaching the terminus, showed that I had
leisure to spare for a brief visit to Grosse, before we again took the
railway back to Sydenham. Having decided not to mention the bad news
about Lucilla's sight to Oscar, until I had seen the German first, I made
the best excuse that suggested itself, and drove away--leaving the two
gentlemen in the waiting-room at the station.
I found Grosse confined to his easy-chair, with his gouty foot enveloped
in cool cabbage-leaves. Between pain and anxiety, his eyes were wilder,
his broken English was more grotesque than ever. When I appeared at the
door of his room and said good morning--in the frenzy of his impatience
he shook his fist at me.
"Good morning go-damn!" he roared out, "Where? where? where is Feench?"
I told him where we believed Lucilla to be. Grosse turned his head, and
shook his fist at a bottle on the chimney-piece next.
"Get that bottles on the chimney," he said. "And the eye-baths by the
side of him. Don't stop with your talky-talky-chatterations here. Go!
Save her eyes. Look! You do this. You throw her head back--soh!" He
illustrated the position so forcibly with his own head that he shook his
gouty foot, and screamed with the pain of it. He went on nevertheless,
glaring frightfully through his spectacles; gnashing his mustache
fiercely between his teeth. "Throw her head back. Fill the eye-baths;
turn him upsides-down over her open eyes. Drown them turn-turn-about in
my mixtures. Drown them, I say, one-down-todder-come-on, and if she
screech never mind it. Then bring her to me. For the lofe of Gott, bring
her to me. If you tie her hands and foots, bring her to me. What is the
womans stopping for? Go! go! go!"
"I want to ask you a question about Oscar," I said, "before I go."
He seized the pillow which supported his head--evidently intending to
expedite my departure by throwing it at me. I produced the railway
time-table as the best defensive weapon at my command. "Look at it for
yourself," I said; "and you will see that I must wait at the station, if
I don't wait here."
With some difficulty, I satisfied him that it was impossible to leave
London for Sydenham before a certain hour, and that I had at least ten
minutes to spare which might be just as well passed in consulting him. He
closed his glaring eyes, and laid his head back on the chair, thoroughly
exhausted with his own outbreak of excitement. "No matter how things
goes," he said, "a womans must wag her tongue. Goot. Wag yours."
"I am placed in a very difficult position," I began. "Oscar is going with
me to Lucilla. I shall of course take care, in the first place, that he
and Nugent do not meet, unless I am present at the interview. But I am
not equally sure of what I ought to do in the case of Lucilla. Must I
keep them apart until I have first prepared her to see Oscar?"
"Let her see the devil himself if you like," growled Grosse, "so long as
you bring her here afterwards-directly to me. You will do the bettermost
thing, if you prepare Oscar. _She_ wants no preparations! She is enough
disappointed in him as it is!"
"Disappointed in him!" I repeated. "I don't understand you."
He settled himself wearily in his chair, and referred, in a softened and
saddened tone, to that private conversation of his with Lucilla, at
Ramsgate, which has already been reported in the Journal. I was now
informed, for the first time, of those changes in her sensations and in
her ways of thinking which had so keenly vexed and mortified her. I heard
of the ominous absence of the old thrill of pleasure, when Nugent took
her hand on meeting her at the seaside--I heard how bitterly his personal
appearance had disappointed her (when she had seen his features in
detail) by comparison with the charming ideal picture which she had
formed of her lover in the days of her blindness: those happier days, as
she had called them, when she was Poor Miss Finch.
"Surely," I said, "all the old feelings will come back to her when she
"They will never come back to her--no, not if she sees fifty Oscars!"
He was beginning to frighten me, or to irritate me--I can hardly say
which. I only know that I persisted in disputing with him. "When she sees
the true man," I went on, "do you mean to say she will feel the same
I could get no farther than that. He cut me short there, without
"You foolish womans!" he interposed, "she will feel more than the same. I
have told you already it was one enormous disappointments to her when she
saw the handsome brodder with the fair complexions. Ask your own self
what it will be when she sees the ugly brodder with the blue face. I tell
you this!--she will think your true man the worst impostor of the two."
There I indignantly contradicted him.
"His face _may_ be a disappointment to her," I said--"I own that. But
there it will end. Her hand will tell her, when he takes it, that there
is no impostor deceiving her this time."
"Her hand will tell her nothing--no more than yours. I had not so much
hard hearts in me as to say that to _her,_ when she asked me. I say it to
_you._ Hold your tongue and listen. All those thrill-tingles that she
once had when he touched her, belong to anodder time--the time gone-by
when her sight was in her fingers and not in her eyes. With those
fine-superfine-feelings of the days when she was blind, she pays now for
her grand new privilege of opening her eyes on the world. (And worth the
price too!) Do you understand yet? It is a sort of swop-bargain between
Nature and this poor girls of ours. I take away your eyes--I give you
your fine touch. I give you your eyes--I take away your fine touch. Soh!
that is plain. You see now."
I was too mortified and too miserable to answer him. Through all our
later troubles, I had looked forward so confidently to Oscar's
re-appearance as the one sufficient condition on which Lucilla's
happiness would be certainly restored! What had become of my
anticipations now? I sat silent; staring in stupid depression at the
pattern of the carpet. Grosse took out his watch.
"Your ten-minutes-time has counted himself out," he said.
I neither moved nor heeded him. His ferocious eyes began to flame again
behind his monstrous spectacles.
"Go-be-off-with-you!" he shouted at me as if I was deaf. "Her eyes! her
eyes! While you stop chatterboxing here, her eyes are in danger. What
with her frettings and her cryings and her damn-nonsense-lofe-business, I
swear you my solemn oath her sight was in danger when I saw her a whole
fortnight gone-by. Do you want my big pillow to fly bang at your head?
You don't want him? Be-off-away with you then, or you will have him in
one-two-three time! Be-off-away--and bring her back to me before night!"
I returned to the railway. Of all the women whom I passed in the crowded
streets, I doubt if one had a heavier heart in her bosom that morning
To make matters worse still, my traveling companions (one in the
refreshment-room, and one pacing the platform) received my account of my
interview with Grosse in a manner which seriously disappointed and
discouraged me. Mr. Finch's inhuman conceit treated my melancholy news of
his daughter as a species of complimentary tribute to his own foresight.
"You remember, Madame Pratolungo, I took high ground in this matter from
the first. I protested against the proceedings of the man Grosse, as
involving a purely worldly interference with the ways of an inscrutable
Providence. With what effect? My paternal influence was repudiated; my
Moral Weight was, so to speak, set aside. And now you see the result.
Take it to heart, dear friend. May it be a warning to you!" He sighed
with ponderous complacency, and turned from me to the girl behind the
counter. "I will take another cup of tea."
Oscar's reception of me, when I found him on the platform, and told him
next of Lucilla's critical state, was more than discouraging. It is no
exaggeration to say that he alarmed me. "Another item in the debt I owe
to Nugent!" he said. Not a word of sympathy, not a word of sorrow. That
vindictive answer, and nothing more.
We started for Sydenham.
From time to time, I looked at Oscar sitting opposite to me, to see if
any change appeared in him as we drew nearer and nearer to the place in
which Lucilla was now living. No! Still the same ominous silence, the
same unnatural self-repression possessed him.
Except the momentary outbreak, when Mr. Finch had placed Nugent's letter
in his hand on the previous evening, not the faintest token of what was
really going on in his mind had escaped him since we had left Marseilles.
He, who could weep over all his other griefs as easily and as
spontaneously as a woman, had not shed a tear since the fatal day when he
had discovered that his brother had played him false--that brother who
had been the god of his idolatry, the sacred object of his gratitude and
his love! When a man of Oscar's temperament becomes frozen up for days
together in his own thoughts--when he keeps his own counsel; when he asks
for no sympathy, and utters no complaint--the sign is a serious one.
There are hidden forces gathering in him which will burst their way to
the surface--for good or for evil--with an irresistible result. Watching
Oscar attentively behind my veil, I felt the certain assurance that the
part he would take in the terrible conflict of interests now awaiting us,
would be a part which I should remember to the latest day of my life.
We reached Sydenham, and went to the nearest hotel.
On the railway--with other travelers in the carriage-it had been
impossible to consult on the safest method of approaching Lucilla, in the
first instance. That serious question now pressed for instant decision.
We sat down to discuss it, in the room which we had hired at the hotel.
CHAPTER THE FORTY-NINTH
On the Way to the End. Third Stage
ON former occasions of doubt or difficulty, it had always been Oscar's
habit to follow the opinions of others. On this occasion he was the first
to speak, and to assert an opinion of his own.
"It seems needless to waste time in discussing our different views," he
said. "There is only one thing to be done. I am the person principally
concerned in this matter. Wait here, while I go to the house."
He spoke without any of his usual hesitation; he took up his hat without
looking either at Mr. Finch or at me. I felt more and more convinced that
the influence which Nugent's vile breach of confidence had exerted over
Oscar's mind, was an influence which had made a dangerous man of him.
Resolved to prevent him from leaving us, I insisted on his returning to
his chair, and hearing what I had to say. At the same moment, Mr. Finch
rose, and placed himself between Oscar and the door. Seeing this, I
thought it might be wise if I kept my interference in reserve, and
allowed the rector to speak first.
"Wait a moment, Oscar," said Mr. Finch, gravely. "You are forgetting Me."
Oscar waited doggedly, hat in hand.
Mr. Finch paused, evidently considering what words he should use before
he spoke again. His respect for Oscar's pecuniary position was great; but
his respect for himself--especially at the present crisis--was, if
possible, greater still. In deference to the first sentiment he was as
polite, and in deference to the second he was as positive, in phrasing
his remonstrance, as a man could be. "Permit me to remind you, dear
Oscar, that my claim to interfere, as Lucilla's father, is at least equal
to yours," proceeded the rector. "In the hour of my daughter's need, it
is my parental duty to be present. If you go to your cousin's house, my
position imperatively requires that I should go too." Oscar's reception
of this proposal confirmed the grave apprehensions with which he had
inspired me. He flatly refused to have Mr. Finch for a companion.
"Excuse me," he answered shortly. "I wish to go to the house alone."
"Permit me to ask your reason," said the rector, still preserving his
"I wish to see my brother in private," Oscar replied, with his eyes on
Mr. Finch, still restraining himself, but still not moving from the door,
looked at me. I hastened to interfere before there was any serious
disagreement between them.
"I venture to think," I said, "that you are both wrong. Whether one of
you goes, or both of you go, the result will be the same. The chances are
a hundred to one, against your being admitted into the house."
They both turned on me together, and asked what I meant.
"You can't force your way in," I said. "You must do one of two things.
You must either give your names to the servant at the door, or you must
withhold your names. If you give them, you warn Nugent of what is
coming--and he is not the man to let you into the house under those
circumstances. If you take the other way, and keep your names concealed,
you present yourselves as strangers. Is Nugent likely to be accessible to
strangers? Would Lucilla, in her present position, consent to receive two
men who are unknown to her? Take my word for it--you will not only gain
nothing if you go to the house you will actually make it more difficult
to communicate with Lucilla than it is already."
There was a moment's silence. Both the men felt that my objections were
not easy to answer. Once more, Oscar took the lead.
"Do you propose to go?" he asked.
"No," I answered. "I propose to send a letter to Lucilla. A letter will
find its way to her."
This again was unanswerable. Oscar inquired next what the purport of the
letter was to be. I replied that I proposed to ask her to grant me a
private interview--nothing more.
"Suppose Lucilla refuses?" said Mr. Finch.
"She will not refuse," I rejoined. "There was a little misunderstanding
between us--I admit--at the time when I went abroad. I mean to refer
frankly to that misunderstanding as my reason for writing. I shall put
your daughter on her honor to give me an opportunity of setting things
right between us. If I summon Lucilla to do an act of justice, I believe
she will not refuse me."
(This, let me add in parenthesis, was the plan of action which I had
formed on the way to Sydenham. I had only waited to mention it, until I
heard what the two men proposed to do first.)
Oscar, standing hat in hand, glanced at Mr. Finch (also hat in hand)
keeping obstinately near the door. If he persisted in carrying out his
purpose of going alone to his cousin's house, the rector's face and
manner expressed, with the politest plainness, the intention of following
him. Oscar was placed between a clergyman and a woman, both equally
determined to have their own way. Under those circumstances, there was no
alternative--unless he wished to produce a public scandal--but to yield,
or appear to yield, to one or the other of us. He selected me.
"If you succeed in seeing her," he asked, "what do you mean to do?"
"I mean either to bring her back with me here to her father and to you,
or to make an appointment with her to see you both where she is now
living," I replied.
Oscar--after another look at the immovable rector--rang the bell, and
ordered writing materials.
"One more question," he said. "Assuming that Lucilla receives you at the
house, do you intend to see----?" He stopped; his eyes shrank from
meeting mine. "Do you intend to see anybody else?" he resumed: still
evading the plain utterance of his brother's name.
"I intend to see nobody but Lucilla," I answered. "It is no business of
mine to interfere between you and your brother." (Heaven forgive me for
speaking in that way to him, while I had the firm resolution to interfere
between them in my mind all the time!)
"Write your letter," he said, "on condition that I see the reply."
"It is needless, I presume, for me to make the same stipulation?" added
the rector. "In my parental capacity
I recognized his parental capacity, before he could say any more. "You
shall both see the reply," I said--and sat down to my letter; writing
merely what I had told them I should write: "Dear Lucilla, I have just
returned from the Continent. For the sake of justice, and for the sake of
old times, let me see you immediately--without mentioning our appointment
to anybody. I pledge myself to satisfy you, in five minutes, that I have
never been unworthy of your affection and your confidence. The bearer
waits for your reply."
I handed those lines to the two gentlemen to read. Mr. Finch made no
remark--he was palpably dissatisfied at the secondary position which he
occupied. Oscar said, "I see no objection to the letter. I will do
nothing until I have read the answer." With those words, he dictated to
me his cousin's address. I gave the letter myself to one of the servants
at the hotel.
"Is it far from here?" I asked.
"Barely ten minutes' walk, ma'am."
"You understand that you are to wait for an answer?"
He went out. As well as I can remember, an interval of at least half an
hour passed before his return. You will form some idea of the terrible
oppression of suspense that now laid its slowly-torturing weight on all
three of us, when I tell you that not one word was spoken in the room
from the time when the servant went out, to the time when the servant
came in again.
When the man returned he had a letter in his hand!
My fingers shook so that I could hardly open it. Before I had read a
word, the sight of the writing struck a sudden chill through me. The body
of the note was written by the hand of a stranger! And the signature at
the end was traced in the large straggling childish characters which I
remembered so well, when Lucilla had written her first letter to Oscar in
the days when she was blind!
The note was expressed in these strange words:--"I cannot receive you
here; but I can, and will, come to you at your hotel if you will wait for
me. I am not able to appoint a time. I can only promise to watch for my
first opportunity, and to take advantage of it instantly--for your sake
and for mine."
But one interpretation could be placed on such language as this. Lucilla
was not a free agent. Both Oscar and the rector were now obliged to
acknowledge that my view of the case had been the correct one. If it was
impossible for me to be received into the house, how doubly impossible
would it be for the men to gain admission! Oscar, after reading the note,
withdrew to the further end of the room; keeping his thoughts to himself.
Mr. Finch decided on stepping out of his secondary position by forthwith
taking a course of his own.
"Am I to infer," he began, "that it is really useless for me to attempt
to see my own child?"
"Her letter speaks for itself," I replied. "If you attempt to see her,
you will probably be the means of preventing your daughter from coming
"In my parental capacity," continued Mr. Finch, "it is impossible for me
to remain passive. As a brother-clergyman, I have, I conceive, a claim on
the rector of the parish. It is quite likely that notice may have been
already given of this fraudulent marriage. In that case, it is not only
my duty to myself and my child--it is my duty to the Church, to confer
with my reverend colleague. I go to confer with him." He strutted to the
door, and added, "If Lucilla arrives in my absence, I invest you with my
authority, Madame Pratolungo, to detain her until my return." With that
parting charge to me, he walked out.
I looked at Oscar. He came slowly towards me from the other end of the
"You will wait here, of course?" he said.
"Of course. And you?"
"I shall go out for a little while."
"For any particular purpose?"
"No. To get through the time. I am weary of waiting."
I felt positively assured, from the manner in which he answered me, that
he was going--now he had got rid of Mr. Finch--straight to his cousin's
"You forget," I said, "that Lucilla may come here while you are out. Your
presence in the room, or in the room next to this, may be of the greatest
importance, when I tell her what your brother has done. Suppose she
refuses to believe me? What am I to do if I have not got you to appeal
to? In your own interests, as well as in Lucilla's, I request you to
remain here with me till she comes."
Putting it on that ground only, I waited to see what he would do. After a
certain hesitation, he answered with a sullen assumption of indifference,
"Just as you please!"--and walked away again towards the other end of the
room. As he turned his back on me, I heard him say to himself, "It's only
waiting a little longer!"
"Waiting for what?" I asked.
He looked round at me over his shoulder.
"Patience for the present!" he answered. "You will hear soon enough." For
the moment, I said no more to him. The tone in which he had replied
warned me that it would be useless.
After an interval--how long an interval I cannot well say--I heard the
sound of women's dresses in the passage outside.
The instant after, there was a knock at the door.
I signed to Oscar to open a second door, close by him at the lower end of
the room, and (for the moment at least) to keep out of sight. Then I
answered the knock, and said as steadily as I could, "Come in."
A woman unknown to me entered, dressed like a respectable servant. She
came in leading Lucilla by the hand. My first look at my darling told me
the horrible truth. As I had seen her in the corridor at the rectory on
the first day we met, so I now saw her once more. Again, the sightless
eyes turned on me, insensibly reflecting the light that fell on them.
Blind! Oh, God, after a few brief weeks of sight, blind again!
In that miserable discovery, I forgot everything else. I flew to her, and
caught her in my arms. I cast one look at her pale, wasted face--and
burst out crying on her bosom.
She held my head gently with one hand, and waited with the patience of an
angel until that first outbreak of my grief had exhausted itself. "Don't
cry about my blindness," said the soft, sweet voice that I knew so well.
"The days when I had my sight have been the unhappiest days of my life.
If I look as if I had been fretting, don't think it is about my eyes."
She paused, and sighed bitterly. "I may tell _you,_" she went on in a
whisper. "It's a relief, it's a consolation, to tell _you._ I am fretting
about my marriage."
Those words roused me. I lifted my head, and kissed her. "I have come
back to comfort you," I said: "and I have behaved like a fool."
She smiled faintly. "How like you," she exclaimed, "to say that!" She
tapped my cheek with her fingers in the old familiar way. The repetition
of that little trifling action almost broke my heart. I nearly choked
myself in forcing back the stupid cowardly useless tears that tried to
burst from me again. "Come!" she said. "No more crying! Let us sit down
and talk as if we were at Dimchurch."
I took her to the sofa: we sat side by side. She put her arm round my
waist, and laid her head on my shoulder. Again the faint smile flickered
like a dying light on her lovely face; wan and wasted, yet still
beautiful--still the Virgin's face in Raphael's picture. "We are a
strange pair," she said, with a momentary flash of her old irresistible
humour. "You are my bitterest enemy, and you burst out crying over me the
moment we meet. I have been shockingly treated by you--and I have got my
arm round your waist and my head on your shoulder, and I wouldn't let go
of you for the world!" Her face saddened again; her voice suddenly
altered its tone. "Tell me," she went on, "how is it that appearances
were so terribly against you? Oscar satisfied me, at Ramsgate, that I
ought to give you up, that I ought never to see you again. I took his
view--there is no denying it, my dear--I agreed with him in detesting
you, for a little while. But, when the blindness came back, I could keep
it up no longer. Little by little, as the light died out, my heart
_would_ turn to you again. When I heard your letter read, when I knew
that you were near me--it was just like the old times; I was mad to see
you. And here I am--satisfied, before you explain it to me, that you have
been the victim of some terrible mistake."
I tried, in grateful acknowledgment of those generous words, to enter on
my justification there and then. It was impossible. I could think of
nothing, I could speak of nothing, but the dreadful discovery of her
"Give me a few minutes," I said, "and you shall hear it all. I can't talk
of myself, yet--I can only talk of you. Oh, Lucilla, why did you keep
away from Grosse? Come with me to him to-day. Let him try what he can do.
At once, my love--before it is too late!"
"It _is_ too late," she said. "I have been to another oculist--a
stranger. He said, what Mr. Sebright said: he doubted if there was ever
any chance for me: he thought the operation ought never to have been
"Why did you go to a stranger?" I asked. "Why did you give up Grosse!"
"You must ask Oscar," she answered. "It was at his desire that I kept
away from Grosse."
Hearing this, I penetrated for myself the motive which had actuated
Nugent--as I afterwards found it indicated in the Journal. If he had let
Lucilla go to Grosse, our good German might have noticed that her
position was preying on her mind, and might have seen his reasons for
exposing the deception that Nugent was practicing on her. For the rest, I
still persisted in entreating Lucilla to go back with me to our old
"Remember our conversation on this very subject," she rejoined, shaking
her head decisively. "I mean at the time when the operation was going to
be performed. I told you I was used to being blind. I said I only wanted
to recover my sight, to see Oscar. And when I did see him--what happened?
The disappointment was so dreadful, I wished myself blind again. Don't
start! don't cry out as if you were shocked! I mean what I say. You
people who can see, attach such an absurd importance to your eyes! Don't
you recollect my saying that, when we last talked about it?"
I recollected perfectly. She had said those words. She had declared that
she had never honestly envied any of us the use of our eyes. She had even
reviled our eyes; comparing them contemptuously with _her_ touch;
deriding them as deceivers who were constantly leading us wrong. I
acknowledged all this--without being in the least reconciled to the
catastrophe that had happened. If she would only have listened to me, I
should still have gone on obstinately pleading with her. But she flatly
refused to listen. "We have very little time to spare," she said. "Let us
talk of something more interesting before I am obliged to leave you."
"Obliged to leave me?" I repeated. "Are you not your own mistress?"
Her face clouded over; her manner became embarrassed.
"I cannot honestly tell you that I am a prisoner," she answered. "I can
only say I am watched. When Oscar is away from me, Oscar's cousin--a sly,
suspicious, false woman--always contrives to put herself in his place. I
heard her say to her husband that she believed I should break my marriage
engagement unless I was closely looked after. I don't know what I should
do, but for one of the servants in the house, who is an excellent
creature--who sympathizes with me, and helps me." She stopped, and lifted
her head inquiringly. "Where _is_ the servant?" she asked.
I had forgotten the woman who had brought her into the room. She must
have delicately left us together after leading Lucilla in. When I looked
up, she was not to be seen.
"The servant is no doubt waiting down-stairs," I said. "Go on."
"But for that good creature," Lucilla resumed, "I should never have got
here. She brought me your letter, and read it to me, and wrote my reply.
I arranged with her to slip out at the first opportunity. One chance was
in our favor--we had only the cousin to keep an eye on us. Oscar was not
in the house."
She suddenly checked herself at the last word. A slight sound at the
lower end of the room, which had passed unnoticed by me, had caught her
delicate ear, "What is that noise?" she asked. "Anybody in the room with
I looked up once more. While she was talking of the false Oscar, the true
Oscar was standing listening to her, at the other end of the room.
When he discovered that I was looking at him, he entreated me by a
gesture not to betray his presence. He had evidently heard what we had
been saying to each other, before I detected him--for he touched his
eyes, and lifted his hands pityingly in allusion to Lucilla's blindness.
Whatever his mood might be, that melancholy discovery must surely have
affected him--Lucilla's influence over him now, _could_ only be an
influence for good. I signed to him to remain--and told Lucilla that
there was nothing to be alarmed about. She went on.
"Oscar left us for London early this morning," she said. "Can you guess
what he has gone for? He has gone to get the Marriage License--he has
given notice of the marriage at the church. My last hope is in you. In
spite of everything that I can say to him, he has fixed the day for the
twenty-first--in two days more! I have done all I could to put it off; I
have insisted on every possible delay. Oh, if you knew----!" Her rising
agitation stifled her utterance at the moment. "I mustn't waste the
precious minutes; I must get back before Oscar returns," she went on,
rallying again. "Oh, my old friend, you are never at a loss; you always
know what to do! Find me some way of putting off my marriage. Suggest
something which will take them by surprise, and force them to give me
I looked towards the lower end of the room. Listening in breathless
interest, Oscar had noiselessly advanced half-way towards us. At a sign
from me, he checked himself and came no farther.
"Do you really mean, Lucilla, that you no longer love him?" I said.
"I can tell you nothing about it," she answered--"except that some
dreadful change has come over me. While I had my sight, I could partly
account for it--I believed that the new sense had made a new being of me.
But now I have lost my sight again--now I am once more what I have been
all my life--still the same horrible insensibility possesses me. I have
so little feeling for him, that I sometimes find it hard to persuade
myself that he really _is_ Oscar. You know how I used to adore him. You
know how enchanted I should once have been to marry him. Think of what I
must suffer, feeling towards him as I feel now!"
I looked up again. Oscar had stolen nearer; I could see his face plainly.
The good influence of Lucilla was beginning to do its good work! I saw
the tears rising in his eyes; I saw love and pity taking the place of
hatred and revenge. The Oscar of my old recollections was standing before
me once more!
"I don't want to go away," Lucilla went on; "I don't want to leave him.
All I ask for, is a little more time. Time _must_ help me to get back
again to my old self. My blind days have been the days of my whole life.
Can a few weeks of sight have deprived me of the feelings which have been
growing in me for years? I won't believe it! I can find my way about the
house; I can tell things by my touch; I can do all that I did in my
blindness, just as well as ever, now I am blind again. The feeling for
_him_ will come back to me like the rest. Only give me time! only give me
At the last word, she started to her feet in sudden alarm. "There is some
one in the room," she said. "Some one who is crying! Who is it?"
Oscar was close to us. The tears were falling fast over his cheeks--the
one faint sobbing breath which had escaped him had caught my ear as well
as Lucilla's. I took his hand in one of my hands; and I took Lucilla's
hand in the other. For good or for evil, the result rested with God's
mercy. The time had come.
"Who is it?" Lucilla repeated impatiently.
"Try if you can tell, my love, without asking me."
With those words, I put her hand in Oscar's hand--and stood close,
watching her face.
For one awful moment, when she first felt the familiar touch, the blood
left her cheeks. Her blind eyes dilated fearfully. She stood petrified.
Then, with a long low cry--a cry of breathless rapture--she flung her
arms passionately round his neck. The life flowed back into her face; her
lovely smile just trembled on her parted lips; her breath came faint and
quick and fluttering. In soft tones of ecstasy, with her lips on his
cheek, she murmured the delicious words:
"Oh, Oscar! I know you once more!"
CHAPTER THE FIFTIETH
The End of the Journey
A LITTLE interval of time elapsed.
Her first exquisite sense of the recognition by touch had passed away.
Her mind had recovered its balance. She separated herself from Oscar, and
turned to me, with the one inevitable question which I knew must follow
the joining of their hands.
"What does it mean?"
The exposure of Nugent's perfidy; the revelation of the fatal secret of
Oscar's face; and, last not least, the defence of my own conduct towards
her, were all comprehended in the answer for which that question called.
As carefully, as delicately, as mercifully as I could, I disclosed to her
the whole truth. How the shock affected her, she did not tell me at the
time, and has never told me since. With her hand in Oscar's hand, with
her face hidden on Oscar's breast, she listened; not once interrupting
me, from first to last, by so much as a single word. Now and then, I saw
her tremble; now and then I heard her sigh heavily. That was all. It was
only when I had ended--it was only after a long interval during which
Oscar and I watched her in speechless anxiety--that she slowly lifted her
head and broke the silence.
"Thank God," we heard her say to herself fervently--"Thank God, I am
Those were her first words. They filled me with horror. I cried out to
her to recall them.
She quietly laid her head back on Oscar's breast.
"Why should I recall them?" she asked. "Do you think I wish to see him
disfigured as he is now? No! I wish to see him--and I _do_ see him!--as
my fancy drew his picture in the first days of our love. My blindness is
my blessing. It has given me back my old delightful sensation when I
touch him; it keeps my own beloved image of him--the one image I care
for--unchanged and unchangeable. You _will_ persist in thinking that my
happiness depends on my sight. I look back with horror at what I suffered
when I had my sight--my one effort is to forget that miserable time. Oh,
how little you know of me! Oh, what a shock it would be to me, if I saw
him as you see him! Try to understand me, and you won't talk of my
loss--you will talk of my gain."
"Your gain?" I repeated. "What have you gained?"
"Happiness," she answered. "My life lives in my love. And my love lives
in my blindness."
There was the story of her whole existence--told in two words!
If you had seen her radiant face as she raised it again in the excitement
of speaking; if you had remembered (as I remembered) what her surgeon had
said of the penalty which she must inevitably pay for the recovery of her
sight--how would you have answered her? It is barely possible, perhaps,
that you might have done what I did. That is to say: You might have
modestly admitted that she knew what the conditions of her happiness were
better than you--and you might not have answered her at all!
I left them to talk together, and took a turn in the room, considering
with myself what we were to do next.
It was not easy to say. The barren information which I had received from
my darling was all the information that I possessed. Nugent had
unflinchingly carried his cruel deception to its end. He had falsely
given notice of his marriage at the church, in his brother's name; and he
was now in London, falsely obtaining his Marriage License, in his
brother's name also. So much I knew of his proceedings--and no more.
While I was still pondering, Lucilla cut the Gordian knot.
"Why are we stopping here?" she asked. "Let us go--and never return to
this hateful place again!"
As she rose to her feet, we were startled by a soft knock at the door.
I answered the knock. The woman who had brought Lucilla to the hotel
appeared once more. She seemed to be afraid to venture far from the door.
Standing just inside the room, she looked nervously at Lucilla, and said,
"Can I speak to you, Miss?"
"You can say anything you like, before this lady and gentleman," Lucilla
answered. "What is it?"
"I'm afraid we have been followed, Miss."
"Followed? By whom?"
"By the lady's maid. I saw her, a little while since, looking up at the
hotel--and then she went back in a hurry on the way to the house--and
that's not the worse of it, Miss."
"What else has happened?"
"We have made a mistake about the railway," said the woman. "There's a
train from London that we didn't notice in the timetable. They tell me
down-stairs it came in more than a quarter of an hour ago. Please to come
back, Miss--or I fear we shall be found out."
"You can go back at once, Jane," said Lucilla.
"Yes. Thank you for bringing me here--here I remain."
She had barely taken her seat again between Oscar and me, before the door
was softly opened from the outside. A long thin nervous hand stole in
through the opening; took the servant by the arm; and drew her out into
the passage. In her place, a man entered the room with his hat on. The
man was Nugent Dubourg.
He stopped where the servant had stopped. He looked at Lucilla; he looked
at his brother; he looked at me.
Not a word fell from him. There he stood, fronting the friend whom he had
calumniated and the brother whom he had betrayed. There he stood--with
his eyes fixed on Lucilla, sitting between us--knowing that it was all
over; knowing that the woman for whom he had degraded himself, was a
woman parted from him for ever. There he stood, in the hell of his own
making--and devoured his torture in silence.
On his brother's appearance, Oscar had risen, and had raised Lucilla with
him. He now advanced a step towards Nugent, still holding to him his
I followed them, eagerly watching his face. There was no fear in me now
of what he might do. Lucilla's blessed influence had found, and cast out,
the lurking demon that had been hidden in him. With a mind attentive but
not alarmed, I waited to see how he would meet the emergency that
"Nugent!" he said, very quietly.
Nugent's head drooped--he made no answer.
Lucilla, hearing Oscar pronounce the name, instantly understood what had
happened. She shuddered with horror. Oscar gently placed her in my arms,
and advanced again alone towards his brother. His face expressed the
struggle in him of some subtly-mingling influences of love and anguish,
of sorrow and shame. He recalled to me in the strangest manner my past
experience of him, when he had first trusted me with the story of the
Trial, and when he had told me that Nugent was the good angel of his
He went up to the place at which his brother was standing. In the simple,
boyish way, so familiar to me in the bygone time, he laid his hand on his
"Nugent!" he said. "Are you the same dear good brother who saved me from
dying on the scaffold, and who cheered my hard life afterwards? Are you
the same bright, clever, noble fellow that I was always so fond of, and
so proud of?"
He paused, and removed his brother's hat. With careful, caressing hand,
he parted his brother's ruffled hair over the forehead. Nugent's head
sank lower. His face was distorted, his hands were clenched, in the dumb
agony of remembrance which that tender voice and that kind hand had set
loose in him. Oscar gave him time to recover himself: Oscar spoke next to
"You know Nugent," he said. "You remember when we first met, my telling
you that Nugent was an angel? You saw for yourself, when he came to
Dimchurch, how kindly he helped me; how faithfully he kept my secrets;
what a true friend he was. Look at him--and you will feel, as I do, that
we have misunderstood and misinterpreted him, in some monstrous way." He
turned again to Nugent. "I daren't tell you," he went on, "what I have
heard about you, and what I have believed about you, and what vile
unbrotherly thoughts I have had of being revenged on you. Thank God, they
are gone! My dear fellow, I look back at them--now I see you--as I might
look back at a horrible dream. How _can_ I see you, Nugent, and believe
that you have been false to me? You, a villain who has tried to rob poor
Me of the only woman in the world who cares for me! You, so handsome and
so popular, who may marry any woman you like! It can't be. You have
drifted innocently into some false position without knowing it. Defend
yourself. No. Let me defend you. You shan't humble yourself to anybody.
Tell me how you have really acted towards Lucilla, and towards me--and
leave it to your brother to set you right with everybody. Come, Nugent!
lift up your head--and tell me what I shall say."
Nugent lifted his head, and looked at Oscar.
Ghastly as his face was, I saw something in his eyes, when he first fixed
them on his brother, which again reminded me of past days--the days when
he had joined us at Dimchurch, and when he used to talk of "poor Oscar"
in the tender, light-hearted way that first won me. I thought once more
of the memorable night-interview between us at Browndown, when Oscar had
left England. Again, I called to mind the signs which had told of the
nobler nature of the man pleading with him. Again, I remembered the
remorse which had moved him to tears--the effort he had made in my
presence to atone for past misdoing, and to struggle for the last time
against the guilty passion that possessed him. Was the nature which could
feel that remorse utterly depraved? Was the man who had made that
effort--the last of many that had gone before it--irredeemably bad?
"Wait!" I whispered to Lucilla, trembling and weeping in my arms. "He
will deserve our sympathy; he will win our pardon and our pity yet!"
"Come!" Oscar repeated. "Tell me what I shall say."
Nugent drew from his pocket a sheet of paper with writing on it.
"Say," he answered, "that I gave notice of your marriage at the church
here-and that I went to London and got you _this._"
He handed the sheet of paper to his brother. It was the Marriage License,
taken out in his brother's name.
"Be happy, Oscar," he added. "_You_ deserve it."
He threw one arm in his old easy protecting way round his brother. His
hand, as he did this, touched the breast-pocket of Oscar's coat. Before
it was possible to stop him, his dexterous fingers had opened the pocket,
and had taken from it a little toy-pistol with a chased silver handle of
Oscar's own workmanship.
"Was this for me?" he asked, with a faint smile. "My poor boy! you could
never have done it, could you?" He kissed Oscar's dark cheek, and put the
pistol into his own pocket. "The handle is your work," he said. "I shall
take it as your present to me. Return to Browndown when you are married.
I am going to travel again. You shall hear from me before I leave
England. God bless you, Oscar. Good-bye."
He put his brother back from him with a firm and gentle hand. I attempted
to advance with Lucilla, and speak to him. Something in his face--looking
at me out of his mournful eyes, calm, stern, and superhuman, like a look
of doom--warned me back from him, and filled me with the foreboding that
I should see him no more. He walked to the door, and opened
it--turned--and, fixing his farewell look on Lucilla, saluted us silently
with a bend of his head. The door closed on him softly. In a few minutes
only from the time when he had entered the room, he had left us
again--and left us for ever.
We waited, spell-bound--we could not speak. The void that he left behind
him was dreary and dreadful. I was the first who moved. In silence, I led
Lucilla back to our seat on the sofa, and beckoned to Oscar to go to her
in my place.
This done, I left them--and went out to meet Lucilla's father, on his
return to the hotel. I wished to prevent him from disturbing them. After
what had happened, it was good for those two to be alone.
Madame Pratolungo's Last Words
TWELVE years have passed since the events occurred which it has been the
business of these pages to relate. I am at my desk; looking idly at all
the leaves of writing which my pen has filled, and asking myself if there
is more yet to add, before I have done.
There is more--not much.
Oscar and Lucilla claim me first. Two days after they were restored to
each other at Sydenham, they were married at the church in that place. It
was a dull wedding. Nobody was in spirits but Mr. Finch. We parted in
London. The bride and bridegroom returned to Browndown. The rector
remained in town for a day or two visiting some friends. I went back to
my father, to accompany him, as I had promised, on his journey from
Marseilles to Paris.
As well as I remember, I remained a fortnight abroad. In the course of
that time, I received kind letters from Browndown. One of them announced
that Oscar had heard from his brother.
Nugent's letter was not a long one. It was dated at Liverpool, and it
announced his embarkation for America in two hours' time. He had heard of
a new expedition to the Arctic regions--then fitting out in the United
States--with the object of discovering the open Polar sea, supposed to be
situated between Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla. It had instantly struck him
that this expedition offered an entirely new field of study to a
landscape painter in search of the sublimest aspects of Nature. He had
decided on volunteering to join the Arctic explorers--and he had already
raised the necessary money for his outfit by the sale of the only
valuables he possessed--his jewelry and his books. If he wanted more, he
engaged to apply to Oscar. In any case, he promised to write again,
before the expedition sailed. And so, for the present only, he would bid
his brother and sister affectionately farewell.--When I afterwards looked
at the letter myself, I found nothing in it which referred in the
slightest degree to the past, or which hinted at the state of the
writer's own health and spirits.
I returned to our remote Southdown village; and occupied the room which
Lucilla had herself prepared for me at Browndown.
I found the married pair as tranquil and as happy in their union as a man
and woman could be. The absent Nugent dwelt a little sadly in their minds
at times, I suspect, as well as in mine. It was perhaps on this account,
that Lucilla appeared to me to be quieter than she used to be in her
maiden days. However, my presence did something towards restoring her to
her old spirits--and Grosse's speedy arrival exerted its enlivening
influence in support of mine.
As soon as the gout would let him get on his feet, he presented himself
with his instruments, at Browndown, eager for another experiment on
"If my operations had failed," he said, "I should not have plagued you no
more. But my operations has not failed: it is you who have failed to take
care of your nice new eyes when I gave them to you."
In those terms he endeavored to persuade her to let him attempt another
operation. She steadily refused to submit to it--and the discussion that
followed roused her famously.
More than once afterwards Grosse tried to make her change her mind. He
tried in vain. The disputes between the two made the house ring again.
Lucilla found all her old gaiety, in refuting the grotesque arguments and
persuasions of our worthy German. To me--when I once or twice attempted
to shake her resolution--she replied in another way, merely repeating the
words she had said to me at Sydenham: "My life lives in my love. And my
love lives in my blindness." It is only right to add that Mr. Sebright,
and another competent authority consulted with him, declared
unhesitatingly that she was right. Under the circumstances, Mr. Sebright
was of opinion that the success of Grosse's operation could never have
been more than temporary. His colleague, after examining Lucilla's eyes,
at a later period, entirely agreed with him. Which was in the
right--these two or Grosse--who can say? As blind Lucilla, you first knew
her. As blind Lucilla, you see the last of her now. If you feel inclined
to regret this, remember that the one thing essential was the thing she
possessed. Her life was a happy one. Bear this in mind--and don't forget
that your conditions of happiness need not necessarily be her conditions
In the time I am now writing of, the second letter from Nugent arrived.
It was written the evening before he sailed for the Polar seas. One line
in it touched us deeply. "Who knows whether I shall ever see England
again! If a boy is born to you, Oscar, call him by my name--for my sake."
Enclosed in this letter was a private communication from Nugent,
addressed to me. It was the confession to which I have alluded in my
notes attached to Lucilla's Journal. These words only were added at the
end: "You now know everything. Forgive me--if you can. I have not escaped
without suffering; remember that." After making use of the narrative, as
you already know, I have burnt it all, except those last lines.
At distant intervals, we heard twice of the exploring ship, from whaling
vessels. Then, there was a long dreary interval, without news of any
sort. Then, a dreadful report that the expedition was lost. Then, the
confirmation of the report--a lapse of a whole year, and no tidings of
the missing men.
They were well provided with supplies of all kinds; and there was a
general hope that they might be holding out. A new expedition was
sent--and sent vainly--in search of them overland. Rewards were offered
to whaling vessels to find them, and were never earned. We wore mourning
for Nugent; we were a melancholy household. Two more years passed--before
the fate of the expedition was discovered. A ship in the whale trade,
driven out of her course, fell in with a wrecked and dismantled vessel,
lost in the ice. Let the last sentences of the captain's report tell the
"*** The wreck was drifting along a channel of open water, when we first
saw it. Before long, it was brought up by an iceberg. I got into my boat
with some of my sailors, and we rowed to the vessel.
"Not a man was to be seen on the deck, which was covered with snow. We
hailed, and got no reply. I looked in through one of the circular glazed
port-holes astern, and saw dimly the figure of a man seated at a table. I
knocked on the thick glass, but he never moved. We got on deck, and
opened the cabin hatchway, and went below. The man I had seen was before
us, at the end of the cabin. I led the way, and spoke to him. He made no
answer. I looked closer, and touched one of his hands which lay on the
table. To my horror and astonishment, he was a frozen corpse.
"On the table before him was the last entry in the ship's log!
" 'Seventeen days since we have been shut up in the ice: Our fire went
out yesterday. The captain tried to light it again, and has failed. The
surgeon and two seamen died of cold this morning. The rest of us must
soon follow. If we are ever discovered, I beg the person who finds me to
"There the hand that held the pen had dropped into the writer's lap. The
left hand still lay on the table. Between the frozen fingers, we found a
long lock of a woman's hair, tied at each end with a blue ribbon. The
open eyes of the corpse were still fixed on the lock of hair.
"The name of this man was found in his pocket-book. It was Nugent
Dubourg. I publish the name in my report, in case it may meet the eyes of
"Examination of the rest of the vessel, and comparison of dates with the
date of the log-book, showed that the officers and crew had been dead for
more than two years. The positions in which we found the frozen men, and
the names, where it was possible to discover them, are here set forth as
follows. * * *"
That "lock of a woman's hair" is now in Lucilla's possession. It will be
buried with her, at her own request, when she dies. Ah, poor Nugent! Are
we not all sinners? Remember the best of him, and forget the worst, as I
I still linger over my writing--reluctant to leave it, if the truth must
be told. But what more is there to say? I hear Oscar hammering away at
his chasing, and whistling blithely over his work. In another room,
Lucilla is teaching the piano to her little girl. On my table is a letter
from Mrs. Finch, dated from one of our distant colonies--over which Mr.
Finch (who has risen gloriously in the world) presides pastorally as
bishop. He harangues the "natives" to his heart's content: and the
wonderful natives like it. "Jicks" is in her element among the aboriginal
members of her father's congregation: there are fears that the wandering
Arab of the Finch family will end in marrying "a chief." Mrs. Finch--I
don't expect you to believe this--is anticipating another confinement.
Lucilla's eldest boy--called Nugent--has just come in, and stands by my
desk. He lifts his bright blue eyes up to mine; his round rosy face
expresses strong disapproval of what I am doing. "Aunty," he says, "you
have written enough. Come and play."
The boy is right. I must put away my manuscript and leave you. My
excellent spirits are a little dashed at parting. I wonder whether you
are sorry too? I shall never know! Well, I have many blessings to comfort
me, on closing my relations with you. I have kind souls who love me;
and--observe this!--I stand on my political principles as firmly as ever.
The world is getting converted to my way of thinking: the Pratolungo
programme, my friends, is coming to the front with giant steps. Long live
the Republic! Farewell.
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