Part 1 out of 9
Etext by James Rusk, email@example.com. Italics are indicated by the
underscore charcter, _.
POOR MISS FINCH
by Wilkie Collins
TO MRS. ELLIOT,
(OF THE DEANERY, BRISTOL).
WILL YOU honor me by accepting the Dedication of this book, in
remembrance of an uninterrupted friendship of many years?
More than one charming blind girl, in fiction and in the drama, has
preceded "Poor Miss Finch." But, so far as I know, blindness in these
cases has been always exhibited, more or less exclusively, from the ideal
and the sentimental point of view. The attempt here made is to appeal to
an interest of another kind, by exhibiting blindness as it really is. I
have carefully gathered the information necessary to the execution of
this purpose from competent authorities of all sorts. Whenever "Lucilla"
acts or speaks in these pages, with reference to her blindness, she is
doing or saying what persons afflicted as she is have done or said before
her. Of the other features which I have added to produce and sustain
interest in this central personage of my story, it does not become me to
speak. It is for my readers to say if "Lucilla" has found her way to
their sympathies. In this character, and more especially again in the
characters of "Nugent Dubourg" and "Madame Pratolungo," I have tried to
present human nature in its inherent inconsistencies and
self-contradictions--in its intricate mixture of good and evil, of great
and small--as I see it in the world about me. But the faculty of
observing character is so rare, the curiously mistaken tendency to look
for logical consistency in human motives and human actions is so general,
that I may possibly find the execution of this part of my task
misunderstood--sometimes even resented--in certain quarters. However,
Time has stood my friend in relation to other characters of mine in other
books--and who can say that Time may not help me again here? Perhaps, one
of these days, I may be able to make use of some of the many interesting
stories of events that have really happened, which have been placed in my
hands by persons who could speak as witnesses to the truth of the
narrative. Thus far, I have not ventured to disturb the repose of these
manuscripts in the locked drawer allotted to them. The true incidents are
so "far-fetched"; and the conduct of the real people is so "grossly
As for the object which I have had in view in writing this story, it is,
I hope, plain enough to speak for itself. I subscribe to the article of
belief which declares, that the conditions of human happiness are
independent of bodily affliction, and that it is even possible for bodily
affliction itself to take its place among the ingredients of happiness.
These are the views which "Poor Miss Finch" is intended to advocate--and
this is the impression which I hope to leave on the mind of the reader
when the book is closed.
January 16th, 1872.
NOTE TO THE PRESENT EDITION.
IN expressing my acknowledgments for the favorable reception accorded to
the previous editions of this story, I may take the present opportunity
of adverting to one of the characters, not alluded to in the Letter of
Dedication. The German oculist--"Herr Grosse"--has impressed himself so
strongly as a real personage on the minds of some of my readers afflicted
with blindness, or suffering from diseases of the eye, that I have
received several written applications requesting me to communicate his
present address to patients desirous of consulting him! Sincerely
appreciating the testimony thus rendered to the truth of this little
study of character, I have been obliged to acknowledge to my
correspondents--and I may as well repeat it here--that Herr Grosse has no
(individual) living prototype. Like the other Persons of the Drama, in
this book and in the books which have preceded it, he is drawn from my
general observation of humanity. I have always considered it to be a
mistake in Art to limit the delineation of character in fiction to a
literary portrait taken from any one "sitter." The result of this process
is generally (to my mind) to produce a caricature instead of a character.
November 27th, 1872
POOR MISS FINCH
CHAPTER THE FIRST
Madame Pratolungo presents Herself
You are here invited to read the story of an Event which occurred in an
out-of-the-way corner of England, some years since.
The persons principally concerned in the Event are:--a blind girl; two
(twin) brothers; a skilled surgeon; and a curious foreign woman. I am the
curious foreign woman. And I take it on myself--for reasons which will
presently appear--to tell the story.
So far we understand each other. Good. I may make myself known to you as
briefly as I can.
I am Madame Pratolungo--widow of that celebrated South American patriot,
Doctor Pratolungo. I am French by birth. Before I married the Doctor, I
went through many vicissitudes in my own country. They ended in leaving
me (at an age which is of no consequence to anybody) with some experience
of the world; with a cultivated musical talent on the pianoforte; and
with a comfortable little fortune unexpectedly bequeathed to me by a
relative of my dear dead mother (which fortune I shared with good Papa
and with my younger sisters). To these qualifications I added another,
the most precious of all, when I married the Doctor; namely--a strong
infusion of ultra-liberal principles. _Vive la Re'publique!_
Some people do one thing, and some do another, in the way of celebrating
the event of their marriage. Having become man and wife, Doctor
Pratolungo and I took ship to Central America--and devoted our
honey-moon, in those disturbed districts, to the sacred duty of
Ah! the vital air of my noble husband was the air of revolutions. From
his youth upwards he had followed the glorious profession of Patriot.
Wherever the people of the Southern New World rose and declared their
independence--and, in my time, that fervent population did nothing
else--there was the Doctor self-devoted on the altar of his adopted
country. He had been fifteen times exiled, and condemned to death in his
absence, when I met with him in Paris--the picture of heroic poverty,
with a brown complexion and one lame leg. Who could avoid falling in love
with such a man? I was proud when he proposed to devote me on the altar
of his adopted country, as well as himself--me, and my money. For, alas!
everything is expensive in this world; including the destruction of
tyrants and the saving of Freedom. All my money went in helping the
sacred cause of the people. Dictators and filibusters flourished in spite
of us. Before we had been a year married, the Doctor had to fly (for the
sixteenth time) to escape being tried for his life. My husband condemned
to death in his absence; and I with my pockets empty. This is how the
Republic rewarded us. And yet, I love the Republic. Ah, you
monarchy-people, sitting fat and contented under tyrants, respect that!
This time, we took refuge in England. The affairs of Central America went
on without us.
I thought of giving lessons in music. But my glorious husband could not
spare me away from him. I suppose we should have starved, and made a sad
little paragraph in the English newspapers--if the end had not come in
another way. My poor Pratolungo was in truth worn out. He sank under his
sixteenth exile. I was left a widow--with nothing but the inheritance of
my husband's noble sentiments to console me.
I went back for awhile to good Papa and my sisters in Paris. But it was
not in my nature to remain and be a burden on them at home. I returned
again to London, with recommendations: and encountered inconceivable
disasters in the effort to earn a living honorably. Of all the wealth
about me--the prodigal, insolent, ostentatious wealth--none fell to my
share. What right has anybody to be rich? I defy you, whoever you may be,
to prove that anybody has a right to be rich.
Without dwelling on my disasters, let it be enough to say that I got up
one morning, with three pounds, seven shillings, and fourpence in my
purse; with my fervid temper, and my republican principles--and with
absolutely nothing in prospect, that is to say with not a halfpenny more
to come to me, unless I could earn it for myself.
In this sad case, what does an honest woman who is bent on winning her
own independence by her own work, do? She takes three and sixpence out of
her little humble store; and she advertises herself in a newspaper.
One always advertises the best side of oneself. (Ah, poor humanity!) My
best side was my musical side. In the days of my vicissitudes (before my
marriage) I had at one time had a share in a millinery establishment in
Lyons. At another time, I had been bedchamber-woman to a great lady in
Paris. But in my present situation, these sides of myself were, for
various reasons, not so presentable as the pianoforte side. I was not a
great player--far from it. But I had been soundly instructed; and I had,
what you call, a competent skill on the instrument. Brief, I made the
best of myself, I promise you, in my advertisement.
The next day, I borrowed the newspaper, to enjoy the pride of seeing my
composition in print.
Ah, heaven! what did I discover? I discovered what other wretched
advertising people have found out before me. Above my own advertisement,
the very thing I wanted was advertised for by somebody else! Look in any
newspaper; and you will see strangers who (if I may so express myself)
exactly fit each other, advertising for each other, without knowing it. I
had advertised myself as "accomplished musical companion for a lady. With
cheerful temper to match." And there above me was my unknown necessitous
fellow-creature, crying out in printers' types:--"Wanted, a companion for
a lady. Must be an accomplished musician, and have a cheerful temper.
Testimonials to capacity, and first-rate references required." Exactly
what I had offered! "Apply by letter only, in the first instance."
Exactly what I had said! Fie upon me, I had spent three and sixpence for
nothing. I threw down the newspaper, in a transport of anger (like a
fool)--and then took it up again (like a sensible woman), and applied by
letter for the offered place.
My letter brought me into contact with a lawyer. The lawyer enveloped
himself in mystery. It seemed to be a professional habit with him to tell
nobody anything, if he could possibly help it.
Drop by drop, this wearisome man let the circumstances out. The lady was
a young lady. She was the daughter of a clergyman. She lived in a retired
part of the country. More even than that, she lived in a retired part of
the house. Her father had married a second time. Having only the young
lady as child by his first marriage, he had (I suppose by way of a
change) a large family by his second marriage. Circumstances rendered it
necessary for the young lady to live as much apart as she could from the
tumult of a houseful of children. So he went on, until there was no
keeping it in any longer--and then he let it out. The young lady was
Young--lonely--blind. I had a sudden inspiration. I felt I should love
The question of my musical capacity was, in this sad case, a serious one.
The poor young lady had one great pleasure to illumine her dark
life--Music. Her companion was wanted to play from the book, and play
worthily, the works of the great masters (whom this young creature
adored)--and she, listening, would take her place next at the piano, and
reproduce the music morsel by morsel, by ear. A professor was appointed
to pronounce sentence on me, and declare if I could be trusted not to
misinterpret Mozart, Beethoven, and the other masters who have written
for the piano. Through this ordeal I passed with success. As for my
references, they spoke for themselves. Not even the lawyer (though he
tried hard) could pick holes in them. It was arranged on both sides that
I should, in the first instance, go on a month's visit to the young lady.
If we both wished it at the end of the time, I was to stay, on terms
arranged to my perfect satisfaction. There was our treaty!
The next day I started for my visit by the railway.
My instructions directed me to travel to the town of Lewes in Sussex.
Arrived there, I was to ask for the pony-chaise of my young lady's
father--described on his card as Reverend Tertius Finch. The chaise was
to take me to the rectory-house in the village of Dimchurch. And the
village of Dimchurch was situated among the South Down Hills, three or
four miles from the coast.
When I stepped into the railway carriage, this was all I knew. After my
adventurous life--after the volcanic agitations of my republican career
in the Doctor's time--was I about to bury myself in a remote English
village, and live a life as monotonous as the life of a sheep on a hill?
Ah, with all my experience, I had yet to learn that the narrowest human
limits are wide enough to contain the grandest human emotions. I had seen
the Drama of Life amid the turmoil of tropical revolutions. I was to see
it again, with all its palpitating interest, in the breezy solitudes of
the South Down Hills.
CHAPTER THE SECOND
Madame Pratolungo makes a Voyage on Land
A WELL-FED boy, with yellow Saxon hair; a little shabby green chaise; and
a rough brown pony--these objects confronted me at the Lewes Station. I
said to the boy, "Are you Reverend Finch's servant?" And the boy
answered, "I be he."
We drove through the town--a hilly town of desolate clean houses. No
living creatures visible behind the jealously-shut windows. No living
creatures entering or departing through the sad-colored closed doors. No
theater; no place of amusement except an empty town-hall, with a sad
policeman meditating on its spruce white steps. No customers in the
shops, and nobody to serve them behind the counter, even if they had
turned up. Here and there on the pavements, an inhabitant with a capacity
for staring, and (apparently) a capacity for nothing else. I said to
Reverend Finch's boy, "Is this a rich place?" Reverend Finch's boy
brightened and answered, "That it be!" Good. At any rate, they don't
enjoy themselves here--the infamous rich!
Leaving this town of unamused citizens immured in domestic tombs, we got
on a fine high road--still ascending--with a spacious open country on
either side of it.
A spacious open country is a country soon exhausted by a sight-seer's
eye. I have learnt from my poor Pratolungo the habit of searching for the
political convictions of my fellow-creatures, when I find myself in
contact with them in strange places. Having nothing else to do, I
searched Finch's boy. His political programme, I found to be:--As much
meat and beer as I can contain; and as little work to do for it as
possible. In return for this, to touch my hat when I meet the Squire, and
to be content with the station to which it has pleased God to call me.
Miserable Finch's boy!
We reached the highest point of the road. On our right hand, the ground
sloped away gently into a fertile valley--with a village and a church in
it; and beyond, an abominable privileged enclosure of grass and trees
torn from the community by a tyrant, and called a Park; with the palace
in which this enemy of mankind caroused and fattened, standing in the
midst. On our left hand, spread the open country--a magnificent prospect
of grand grassy hills, rolling away to the horizon; bounded only by the
sky. To my surprise, Finch's boy descended; took the pony by the head;
and deliberately led him off the high road, and on to the wilderness of
grassy hills, on which not so much as a footpath was discernible
anywhere, far or near. The chaise began to heave and roll like a ship on
the sea. It became necessary to hold with both hands to keep my place. I
thought first of my luggage--then of myself.
"How much is there of this?" I asked.
"Three mile on't," answered Finch's boy.
I insisted on stopping the ship--I mean the chaise--and on getting out.
We tied my luggage fast with a rope; and then we went on again, the boy
at the pony's head, and I after them on foot.
Ah, what a walk it was! What air over my head; what grass under my feet!
The sweetness of the inner land, and the crisp saltness of the distant
sea, were mixed in that delicious breeze. The short turf, fragrant with
odorous herbs, rose and fell elastic, underfoot. The mountain-piles of
white cloud moved in sublime procession along the blue field of heaven,
overhead. The wild growth of prickly bushes, spread in great patches over
the grass, was in a glory of yellow bloom. On we went; now up, now down;
now bending to the right, and now turning to the left. I looked about me.
No house; no road; no paths, fences, hedges, walls; no land-marks of any
sort. All round us, turn which way we might, nothing was to be seen but
the majestic solitude of the hills. No living creatures appeared but the
white dots of sheep scattered over the soft green distance, and the
skylark singing his hymn of happiness, a speck above my head. Truly a
wonderful place! Distant not more than a morning's drive from noisy and
populous Brighton--a stranger to this neighborhood could only have found
his way by the compass, exactly as if he had been sailing on the sea! The
farther we penetrated on our land-voyage, the more wild and the more
beautiful the solitary landscape grew. The boy picked his way as he
chose--there were no barriers here. Plodding behind, I saw nothing, at
one time, but the back of the chaise, tilted up in the air, both boy and
pony being invisibly buried in the steep descent of the hill. At other
times, the pitch was all the contrary way; the whole interior of the
ascending chaise was disclosed to my view, and above the chaise the pony,
and above the pony the boy--and, ah, my luggage swaying and rocking in
the frail embraces of the rope that held it. Twenty times did I
confidently expect to see baggage, chaise, pony, boy, all rolling down
into the bottom of a valley together. But no! Not the least little
accident happened to spoil my enjoyment of the day. Politically
contemptible, Finch's boy had his merit--he was master of his subject as
guide and pony-leader among the South Down Hills.
Arrived at the top of (as it seemed to me) our fiftieth grassy summit, I
began to look about for signs of the village.
Behind me, rolled back the long undulations of the hills, with the
cloud-shadows moving over the solitudes that we had left. Before me, at a
break in the purple distance, I saw the soft white line of the sea.
Beneath me, at my feet, opened the deepest valley I had noticed yet--with
one first sign of the presence of Man scored hideously on the face of
Nature, in the shape of a square brown patch of cleared and ploughed land
on the grassy slope. I asked if we were getting near the village now.
Finch's boy winked, and answered, "Yes, we be."
Astonishing Finch's boy! Ask him what questions I might, the resources of
his vocabulary remained invariably the same. Still this youthful Oracle
answered always in three monosyllabic words!
We plunged into the valley.
Arrived at the bottom, I discovered another sign of Man. Behold the first
road I had seen yet--a rough wagon-road ploughed deep in the chalky soil!
We crossed this, and turned a corner of a hill. More signs of human life.
Two small boys started up out of a ditch--apparently posted as scouts to
give notice of our approach. They yelled, and set off running before us,
by some short cut, known only to themselves. We turned again, round
another winding of the valley, and crossed a brook. I considered it my
duty to make myself acquainted with the local names. What was the brook
called? It was called "The Cockshoot"! And the great hill, here, on my
right? It was called "The Overblow"! Five minutes more, and we saw our
first house--lonely and little--built of mortar and flint from the hills.
A name to this also? Certainly. Name of "Browndown." Another ten minutes
of walking, involving us more and more deeply in the mysterious green
windings of the valley--and the great event of the day happened at last.
Finch's boy pointed before him with his whip, and said (even at this
supreme moment, still in three monosyllabic words):--
"Here we be!"
So this is Dimchurch! I shake out the chalk-dust from the skirts of my
dress. I long (quite vainly) for the least bit of looking-glass to see
myself in. Here is the population (to the number of at least five or
six), gathered together, informed by the scouts--and it is my woman's
business to produce the best impression of myself that I can. We advance
along the little road. I smile upon the population. The population stares
at me in return. On one side, I remark three or four cottages, and a bit
of open ground; also an inn named "The Cross-Hands," and a bit more of
open ground; also a tiny, tiny butcher's shop, with sanguinary insides of
sheep on one blue pie-dish in the window, and no other meat than that,
and nothing to see beyond, but again the open ground, and again the
hills; indicating the end of the village this side. On the other side
there appears, for some distance, nothing but a long flint wall guarding
the outhouses of a farm. Beyond this, comes another little group of
cottages, with the seal of civilization set on them, in the form of a
post-office. The post-office deals in general commodities--in boots and
bacon, biscuits and flannel, crinoline petticoats and religious tracts.
Farther on, behold another flint wall, a garden, and a private
dwelling-house; proclaiming itself as the rectory. Farther yet, on rising
ground, a little desolate church, with a tiny white circular steeple,
topped by an extinguisher in red tiles. Beyond this, the hills and the
heavens once more. And there is Dimchurch!
As for the inhabitants--what am I to say? I suppose I must tell the
I remarked one born gentleman among the inhabitants, and he was a
sheep-dog. He alone did the honors of the place. He had a stump of a
tail, which he wagged at me with extreme difficulty, and a good honest
white and black face which he poked companionably into my hand. "Welcome,
Madame Pratolungo, to Dimchurch; and excuse these male and female
laborers who stand and stare at you. The good God who makes us all has
made them too, but has not succeeded so well as with you and me." I
happen to be one of the few people who can read dogs' language as written
in dogs' faces. I correctly report the language of the gentleman
sheep-dog on this occasion.
We opened the gate of the rectory, and passed in. So my Land-Voyage over
the South Down Hills came prosperously to its end.
CHAPTER THE THIRD
Poor Miss Finch
THE rectory resembled, in one respect, this narrative that I am now
writing. It was in Two Parts. Part the First, in front, composed of the
everlasting flint and mortar of the neighborhood, failed to interest me.
Part the Second, running back at a right angle, asserted itself as
ancient. It had been, in its time, as I afterwards heard, a convent of
nuns. Here were snug little Gothic windows, and dark ivy-covered walls of
venerable stone: repaired in places, at some past period, with quaint red
bricks. I had hoped that I should enter the house by this side of it. But
no. The boy--after appearing to be at a loss what to do with me--led the
way to a door on the modern side of the building, and rang the bell.
A slovenly young maid-servant admitted me to the house.
Possibly, this person was new to the duty of receiving visitors.
Possibly, she was bewildered by a sudden invasion of children in dirty
frocks, darting out on us in the hall, and then darting away again into
invisible back regions, screeching at the sight of a stranger. At any
rate, she too appeared to be at a loss what to do with me. After staring
hard at my foreign face, she suddenly opened a door in the wall of the
passage, and admitted me into a small room. Two more children in dirty
frocks darted, screaming, out of the asylum thus offered to me. I
mentioned my name, as soon as I could make myself heard. The maid
appeared to be terrified at the length of it. I gave her my card. The
maid took it between a dirty finger and thumb--looked at it as if it was
some extraordinary natural curiosity--turned it round, exhibiting correct
black impressions in various parts of it of her finger and thumb--gave up
understanding it in despair, and left the room. She was stopped outside
(as I gathered from the sounds) by a returning invasion of children in
the hall. There was whispering; there was giggling; there was, every now
and then, a loud thump on the door. Prompted by the children, as I
suppose--pushed in by them, certainly--the maid suddenly reappeared with
a jerk, "Oh, if you please, come this way," she said. The invasion of
children retreated again up the stairs--one of them in possession of my
card, and waving it in triumph on the first landing. We penetrated to the
other end of the passage. Again, a door was opened. Unannounced, I
entered another, and a larger room. What did I see?
Fortune had favored me at last. My lucky star had led me to the mistress
of the house.
I made my best curtsey, and found myself confronting a large,
light-haired, languid, lymphatic lady--who had evidently been amusing
herself by walking up and down the room, at the moment when I appeared.
If there can be such a thing as a _damp woman_--this was one. There was a
humid shine on her colorless white face, and an overflow of water in her
pale blue eyes. Her hair was not dressed; and her lace cap was all on one
side. The upper part of her was clothed in a loose jacket of blue merino;
the lower part was robed in a dimity dressing gown of doubtful white. In
one hand, she held a dirty dogs'-eared book, which I at once detected to
be a Circulating Library novel. Her other hand supported a baby enveloped
in flannel, sucking at her breast. Such was my first experience of
Reverend Finch's Wife--destined to be also the experience of all
aftertime. Never completely dressed; never completely dry; always with a
baby in one hand and a novel in the other--such was Finch's wife.
"Oh! Madame Pratolungo? Yes. I hope somebody has told Miss Finch you are
here. She has her own establishment, and manages everything herself. Have
you had a pleasant journey?" (These words were spoken vacantly, as if her
mind was occupied with something else. My first impression of her
suggested that she was a weak, good-natured woman, and that she must have
originally occupied a station in the humbler ranks of life.)
"Thank you, Mrs. Finch," I said. "I have enjoyed most heartily my journey
among your beautiful hills."
"Oh! you like the hills? Excuse my dress. I was half an hour late this
morning. When you lose half an hour in this house, you never can pick it
up again, try how you may." (I soon discovered that Mrs. Finch was always
losing half an hour out of her day, and that she never, by any chance,
succeeded in ending it again, as she had just told me.)
"I understand, madam. The cares of a numerous family--"
"Ah! that's just where it is." (This was a favorite phrase with Mrs.
Finch). "There's Finch, he gets up in the morning and goes and works in
the garden. Then there's the washing of the children; and the dreadful
waste that goes on in the kitchen. And Finch, he comes in without any
notice, and wants his breakfast. And of course I can't leave the baby.
And half an hour does slip away so easily, that how to overtake it again,
I do assure you I really don't know." Here the baby began to exhibit
symptoms of having taken more maternal nourishment than his infant
stomach could comfortably contain. I held the novel, while Mrs. Finch
searched for her handkerchief--first in her bedgown pocket; secondly,
here, there, and everywhere in the room.
At this interesting moment there was a knock at the door. An elderly
woman appeared--who offered a most refreshing contrast to the members of
the household with whom I had made acquaintance thus far. She was neatly
dressed, and she saluted me with the polite composure of a civilized
"I beg your pardon, ma'am. My young lady has only this moment heard of
your arrival. Will you be so kind as to follow me?"
I turned to Mrs. Finch. She had found her handkerchief, and had put her
overflowing baby to rights again. I respectfully handed back the novel.
"Thank you," said Mrs. Finch. "I find novels compose my mind. Do you read
novels too? Remind me--and I'll lend you this one to-morrow." I expressed
my acknowledgments, and withdrew. At the door, I look round, saluting the
lady of the house. Mrs. Finch was promenading the room, with the baby in
one hand and the novel in the other, and the dimity bedgown trailing
We ascended the stairs, and entered a bare white-washed passage, with
drab-colored doors in it, leading, as I presumed, into the sleeping
chambers of the house.
Every door opened as we passed; children peeped out at me, screamed at
me, and banged the door to again. "What family has the present Mrs.
Finch?" I asked. The decent elderly woman was obliged to stop, and
consider. "Including the baby, ma'am, and two sets of twins, and one
seven months' child of deficient intellect--fourteen in all." Hearing
this, I began--though I consider priests, kings, and capitalists to be
the enemies of the human race--to feel a certain exceptional interest in
Reverend Finch. Did he never wish that he had been a priest of the Roman
Catholic Church, mercifully forbidden to marry at all? While the question
passed through my mind, my guide took out a key, and opened a heavy oaken
door at the further end of the passage.
"We are obliged to keep the door locked, ma'am," she explained, "or the
children would be in and out of our part of the house all day long."
After my experience of the children, I own I looked at the oaken door
with mingled sentiments of gratitude and respect.
We turned a corner, and found ourselves in the vaulted corridor of the
ancient portion of the house.
The casement windows, on one side--sunk deep in recesses--looked into the
garden. Each recess was filled with groups of flowers in pots. On the
other side, the old wall was gaily decorated with hangings of bright
chintz. The doors were colored of a creamy white, with gilt moldings. The
brightly ornamented matting under our feet I at once recognized as of
South American origin. The ceiling above was decorated in delicate pale
blue, with borderings of flowers. Nowhere down the whole extent of the
place was so much as a single morsel of dark color to be seen anywhere.
At the lower end of the corridor, a solitary figure in a pure white robe
was bending over the flowers in the window. This was the blind girl whose
dark hours I had come to cheer. In the scattered villages of the South
Downs, the simple people added their word of pity to her name, and called
her compassionately--"Poor Miss Finch." As for me, I can only think of
her by her pretty Christian name. She is "Lucilla" when my memory dwells
on her. Let me call her "Lucilla" here.
When my eyes first rested on her, she was picking off the dead leaves
from her flowers. Her delicate ear detected the sound of my strange
footstep, long before I reached the place at which she was standing. She
lifted her head--and advanced quickly to meet me with a faint flush on
her face, which came and died away again in a moment. I happen to have
visited the picture gallery at Dresden in former years. As she approached
me, nearer and nearer, I was irresistibly reminded of the gem of that
superb collection--the matchless Virgin of Raphael, called "The Madonna
di San Sisto." The fair broad forehead; the peculiar fullness of the
flesh between the eyebrow and the eyelid; the delicate outline of the
lower face; the tender, sensitive lips; the color of the complexion and
the hair--all reflected, with a startling fidelity, the lovely creature
of the Dresden picture. The one fatal point at which the resemblance
ceased, was in the eyes. The divinely-beautiful eyes of Raphael's Virgin
were lost in the living likeness of her that confronted me now. There was
no deformity; there was nothing to recoil from, in my blind Lucilla. The
poor, dim, sightless eyes had a faded, changeless, inexpressive look--and
that was all. Above them, below them, round them, to the very edges of
her eyelids, there was beauty, movement, life. _In_ them--death! A more
charming creature--with that one sad drawback--I never saw. There was no
other personal defect in her. She had the fine height, the well-balanced
figure, and the length of the lower limbs, which make all a woman's
movements graceful of themselves. Her voice was delicious--clear,
cheerful, sympathetic. This, and her smile--which added a charm of its
own to the beauty of her mouth--won my heart, before she had got close
enough to me to put her hand in mine. "Ah, my dear!" I said, in my
headlong way, "I am so glad to see you!" The instant the words passed my
lips, I could have cut my tongue out for reminding her in that brutal
manner that she was blind.
To my relief, she showed no sign of feeling it as I did. "May I see you,
in _my_ way?" she asked gently--and held up her pretty white hand. "May I
touch your face?"
I sat down at once on the window-seat. The soft rosy tips of her fingers
seemed to cover my whole face in an instant. Three separate times she
passed her hand rapidly over me; her own face absorbed all the while in
breathless attention to what she was about. "Speak again!" she said
suddenly, holding her hand over me in suspense. I said a few words. She
stopped me by a kiss. "No more!" she exclaimed joyously. "Your voice says
to my ears, what your face says to my fingers. I know I shall like you.
Come in, and see the rooms we are going to live in together."
As I rose, she put her arm round my waist--then instantly drew it away
again, and shook her fingers impatiently, as if something had hurt them.
"A pin?" I asked.
"No! no! What colored dress have you got on?"
"Ah! I knew it! Pray don't wear dark colors. I have my own blind horror
of anything that is dark. Dear Madame Pratolungo, wear pretty bright
colors, to please _me!_" She put her arm caressingly round me
again--round my neck, however, this time, where her hand could rest on my
linen collar. "You will change your dress before dinner--won't you?" she
whispered. "Let me unpack for you, and choose which dress I like."
The brilliant decorations of the corridor were explained to me now!
We entered the rooms; her bed-room, my bed-room, and our sitting-room
between the two. I was prepared to find them, what they proved to be--as
bright as looking-glasses, and gilding, and gaily-colored ornaments, and
cheerful knick-knacks of all sorts could make them. They were more like
rooms in my lively native country than rooms in sober colorless England.
The one thing which I own did still astonish me, was that all this
sparkling beauty of adornment in Lucilla's habitation should have been
provided for the express gratification of a young lady who could not see.
Experience was yet to show me that the blind can live in their
imaginations, and have their favorite fancies and illusions like the rest
To satisfy Lucilla by changing my dark purple dress, it was necessary
that I should first have my boxes. So far as I knew, Finch's boy had
taken my luggage, along with the pony, to the stables. Before Lucilla
could ring the bell to make inquiries, my elderly guide (who had silently
left us while we were talking together in the corridor) re-appeared,
followed by the boy and a groom, carrying my things. These servants also
brought with them certain parcels for their young mistress, purchased in
the town, together with a bottle, wrapped in fair white paper, which
looked like a bottle of medicine--and which had a part of its own to play
in our proceedings, later in the day.
"This is my old nurse," said Lucilla, presenting her attendant to me.
"Zillah can do a little of everything--cooking included. She has had
lessons at a London Club. You must like Zillah, Madame Pratolungo, for my
sake. Are your boxes open?"
She went down on her knees before the boxes, as she asked the question.
No girl with the full use of her eyes could have enjoyed more thoroughly
than she did the trivial amusement of unpacking my clothes. This time,
however, her wonderful delicacy of touch proved to be at fault. Of two
dresses of mine which happened to be exactly the same in texture, though
widely different in color, she picked out the dark dress as being the
light one. I saw that I disappointed her sadly when I told her of her
mistake. The next guess she made, however, restored the tips of her
fingers to their place in her estimation: she discovered the stripes in a
smart pair of stockings of mine, and brightened up directly. "Don't be
long dressing," she said, on leaving me. "We shall have dinner in half an
hour. French dishes, in honor of your arrival. I like a nice dinner--I am
what you call in your country, _gourmande._ See the sad consequence!" She
put one finger to her pretty chin. "I am getting fat! I am threatened
with a double chin--at two and twenty. Shocking! shocking!"
So she left me. And such was the first impression produced on my mind by
"Poor Miss Finch."
CHAPTER THE FOURTH
Twilight View of the Man
OUR nice dinner had long since come to an end. We had chattered,
chattered, chattered--as usual with women--all about ourselves. The day
had declined; the setting sun was pouring its last red luster into our
pretty sitting-room--when Lucilla started as if she had suddenly
remembered something, and rang the bell.
Zillah came in. "The bottle from the chemist's," said Lucilla. "I ought
to have remembered it hours ago."
"Are you going to take it to Susan yourself, my dear?"
I was glad to hear the old nurse address her young lady in that familiar
way. It was so thoroughly un-English. Down with the devilish system of
separation between the classes in this country--that is what I say!
"Yes; I am going to take it to Susan myself."
"Shall I go with you?"
"No, no. Not the least occasion." She turned to me. "I suppose you are
too tired to go out again, after your walk on the hills?" she said.
I had dined; I had rested; I was quite ready to go out again, and I said
Lucilla's face brightened. For some reason of her own, she had apparently
attached a certain importance to persuading me to go out with her.
"It's only a visit to a poor rheumatic woman in the village," she said.
"I have got an embrocation for her; and I can't very well send it. She is
old and obstinate. If I take it to her, she will believe in the remedy.
If anybody else takes it, she will throw it away. I had utterly forgotten
her, in the interest of our nice long talk. Shall we get ready?"
I had hardly closed the door of my bedroom when there was a knock at it.
Lucilla? No; the old nurse entering on tiptoe, with a face of mystery,
and a finger confidentially placed on her lips.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," she began in a whisper. "I think you ought to
know that my young lady has a purpose in taking you out with her this
evening. She is burning with curiosity--like all the rest of us for that
matter. She took me out, and used my eyes to see with, yesterday evening;
and they have not satisfied her. She is going to try your eyes, now."
"What is Miss Lucilla so curious about?" I inquired.
"It's natural enough, poor dear," pursued the old woman, following her
own train of thought, without the slightest reference to my question. "We
none of us can find out anything about him. He usually takes his walk at
twilight. You are pretty sure to meet him to-night; and you will judge
for yourself, ma'am--with an innocent young creature like Miss
Lucilla--what it may be best to do?"
This extraordinary answer set _my_ curiosity in a flame.
"My good creature!" I said, "you forget that I am a stranger! I know
nothing about it. Has this mysterious man got a name? Who is 'He'?"
As I said that, there was another knock at the door. Zillah whispered,
eagerly, "Don't tell upon me, ma'am! You will see for yourself. I only
speak for my young lady's good." She hobbled away, and opened the
door--and there was Lucilla, with her smart garden hat on, waiting for
We went out by our own door into the garden, and passing through a gate
in the wall, entered the village.
After the caution which the nurse had given me, it was impossible to ask
any questions, except at the risk of making mischief in our little
household, on the first day of my joining it. I kept my eyes wide open,
and waited for events. I also committed a blunder at starting--I offered
Lucilla my hand to lead her. She burst out laughing.
"My dear Madame Pratolungo! I know my way better than you do. I roam all
over the neighborhood, with nothing to help me but this."
She held up a smart ivory walking-cane, with a bright silk tassel
attached. With her cane in one hand, and her chemical bottle in the
other--and her roguish little hat on the top of her head--she made the
quaintest and prettiest picture I had seen for many a long day. "_You_
shall guide _me_, my dear," I said--and took her arm. We went on down the
Nothing in the least like a mysterious figure passed us in the twilight.
The few scattered laboring people, whom I had already seen, I saw
again--and that was all. Lucilla was silent--suspiciously silent as I
thought, after what Zillah had told me. She had, as I fancied, the look
of a person who was listening intently. Arrived at the cottage of the
rheumatic woman, she stopped and went in, while I waited outside. The
affair of the embrocation was soon over. She was out again in a
minute--and this time, she took my arm of her own accord.
"Shall we go a little farther?" she said. "It is so nice and cool at this
hour of the evening."
Her object in view, whatever it might be, was evidently an object that
lay beyond the village. In the solemn, peaceful twilight we followed the
lonely windings of the valley along which I had passed in the morning.
When we came opposite the little solitary house, which I had already
learnt to know as "Browndown," I felt her hand unconsciously tighten on
my arm. "Aha!" I said to myself. "Has Browndown anything to do with
"Does the view look very lonely to-night?" she asked, waving her cane
over the scene before us.
The true meaning of that question I took to be, "Do you see anybody
walking out to-night?" It was not my business to interpret her meaning,
before she had thought fit to confide her secret to me. "To my mind, my
dear," was all I said, "it is a very beautiful view."
She fell silent again, and absorbed herself in her own thoughts. We
turned into a new winding of the valley--and there, walking towards us
from the opposite direction, was a human figure at last--the figure of a
As we got nearer to each other I perceived that he was a gentleman;
dressed in a light shooting-jacket, and wearing a felt hat of the conical
Italian shape. A little nearer--and I saw that he was young. Nearer
still--and I discovered that he was handsome, though in rather an
effeminate way. At the same moment, Lucilla heard his footstep. Her color
instantly rose; and once again I felt her hand tighten involuntarily
round my arm. (Good! Here was the mysterious object of Zillah's warning
to me found at last!)
I have, and I don't mind acknowledging it, an eye for a handsome man. I
looked at him as he passed us. Now I solemnly assure you, I am not an
ugly woman. Nevertheless, as our eyes met, I saw the strange gentleman's
face suddenly contract, with an expression which told me plainly that I
had produced a disagreeable impression on him. With some difficulty--for
my companion was holding my arm, and seemed to be disposed to stop
altogether--I quickened my pace so as to get by him rapidly; showing him,
I dare say, that I thought the change in his face when I looked at him,
an impertinence on his part. However that may be, after a momentary
interval, I heard his step behind. The man had turned, and had followed
He came close to me, on the opposite side to Lucilla, and took off his
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," he said. "You looked at me just now."
At the first sound of his voice, I felt Lucilla start. Her hand began to
tremble on my arm with some sudden agitation, inconceivable to me. In the
double surprise of discovering this, and of finding myself charged so
abruptly with the offense of looking at a gentleman, I suffered the most
exceptional of all losses (where a woman is concerned)--the loss of my
He gave me no time to recover myself. He proceeded with what he had to
say--speaking, mind, in the tone of a perfectly well-bred man; with
nothing wild in his look, and nothing odd in his manner.
"Excuse me, if I venture on asking you a very strange question," he went
on. "Did you happen to be at Exeter, on the third of last month?"
(I must have been more or less than woman, if I had not recovered the use
of my tongue now!)
"I never was at Exeter in my life, sir," I answered. "May I ask, on my
side, why you put the question to me?"
Instead of replying, he looked at Lucilla.
"Pardon me, once more. Perhaps this young lady----?"
He was plainly on the point of inquiring next, whether Lucilla had been
at Exeter--when he checked himself. In the breathless interest which she
felt in what was going on, she had turned her full face upon him. There
was still light enough left for her eyes to tell their own sad story, in
their own mute way. As he read the truth in them, the man's face changed
from the keen look of scrutiny which it had worn thus far, to an
expression of compassion--I had almost said, of distress. He again took
off his hat, and bowed to me with the deepest respect.
"I beg your pardon," he said, very earnestly. "I beg the young lady's
pardon. Pray forgive me. My strange behavior has its excuse--if I could
bring myself to explain it. You distressed me, when you looked at me. I
can't explain why. Good evening."
He turned away hastily, like a man confused and ashamed of himself--and
left us. I can only repeat that there was nothing strange or flighty in
his manner. A perfect gentleman, in full possession of his senses--there
is the unexaggerated and the just description of him.
I looked at Lucilla. She was standing, with her blind face raised to the
sky, lost in herself, like a person wrapped in ecstasy.
"Who is that man?" I asked.
My question brought her down suddenly from heaven to earth. "Oh!" she
said reproachfully, "I had his voice still in my ears--and now I have
lost it! 'Who is he?' " she added, after a moment; repeating my question.
"Nobody knows. Tell me--what is he like. Is he beautiful? He _must_ be
beautiful, with that voice!"
"Is this the first time you have heard his voice?" I inquired.
"Yes. He passed us yesterday, when I was out with Zillah. But he never
spoke. What is he like? Do, pray tell me--what is he like?"
There was a passionate impatience in her tone which warned me not to
trifle with her. The darkness was coming. I thought it wise to propose
returning to the house. She consented to do anything I liked, as long as
I consented, on my side, to describe the unknown man.
All the way back, I was questioned and cross-questioned till I felt like
a witness under skillful examination in a court of law. Lucilla appeared
to be satisfied, so far, with the results. "Ah!" she exclaimed, letting
out the secret which her old nurse had confided to me. "_You_ can use
your eyes. Zillah could tell me nothing."
When we got home again, her curiosity took another turn. "Exeter?" she
said, considering with herself. "He mentioned Exeter. I am like you--I
never was there. What will books tell us about Exeter?" She despatched
Zillah to the other side of the house for a gazetteer. I followed the old
woman into the corridor, and set her mind at ease, in a whisper. "I have
kept what you told me a secret," I said. "The man was out in the
twilight, as you foresaw. I have spoken to him; and I am quite as curious
as the rest of you. Get the book."
Lucilla had (to confess the truth) infected me with her idea, that the
gazetteer might help us in interpreting the stranger's remarkable
question relating to the third of last month, and his extraordinary
assertion that I had distressed him when I looked at him. With the nurse
breathless on one side of me, and Lucilla breathless on the other, I
opened the book at the letter "E," and found the place, and read aloud
these lines, as follows:--
"EXETER: A city and seaport in Devonshire. Formerly the seat of the West
Saxon Kings. It has a large foreign and home commerce. Population 33,738.
The Assizes for Devonshire are held at Exeter in the spring and summer."
"Is that all?" asked Lucilla.
I shut the book, and answered, like Finch's boy, in three monosyllabic
"That is all."
CHAPTER THE FIFTH
Candlelight View of the Man
THERE had been barely light enough left for me to read by. Zillah lit the
candles and drew the curtains. The silence which betokens a profound
disappointment reigned in the room.
"Who can he be?" repeated Lucilla, for the hundredth time. "And why
should your looking at him have distressed him? Guess, Madame
The last sentence in the gazetteer's description of Exeter hung a little
on my mind--in consequence of there being one word in it which I did not
quite understand--the word "Assizes." I have, I hope, shown that I
possess a competent knowledge of the English language, by this time. But
my experience fails a little on the side of phrases consecrated to the
use of the law. I inquired into the meaning of "Assizes," and was
informed that it signified movable Courts, for trying prisoners at given
times, in various parts of England. Hearing this, I had another of my
inspirations. I guessed immediately that the interesting stranger was a
criminal escaped from the Assizes.
Worthy old Zillah started to her feet, convinced that I had hit him off
(as the English saying is) to a T. "Mercy preserve us!" cried the nurse,
"I haven't bolted the garden door!"
She hurried out of the room to defend us from robbery and murder, before
it was too late. I looked at Lucilla. She was leaning back in her chair,
with a smile of quiet contempt on her pretty face. "Madame Pratolungo,"
she remarked, "that is the first foolish thing you have said, since you
have been here."
"Wait a little, my dear," I rejoined. "You have declared that nothing is
known of this man. Now you mean by that--nothing which satisfies _you._
He has not dropped down from Heaven, I suppose? The time when he came
here, must be known. Also, whether he came alone, or not. Also, how and
where he has found a lodging in the village. Before I admit that my guess
is completely wrong, I want to hear what general observation in Dimchurch
has discovered on the subject of this gentleman. How long has he been
Lucilla did not, at first, appear to be much interested in the purely
practical view of the question which I had just placed before her.
"He has been here a week," she answered carelessly.
"Did he come, as I came, over the hills?"
"With a guide, of course?"
Lucilla suddenly sat up in her chair.
"With his brother," she said. "His _twin_ brother, Madame Pratolungo."
_I_ sat up in _my_ chair. The appearance of his twin-brother in the story
was a complication in itself. Two criminals escaped from the Assizes,
instead of one!
"How did they find their way here?" I asked next.
"Where did they go to, when they got here?"
"To the Cross-Hands--the little public-house in the village. The landlord
told Zillah he was perfectly astonished at the resemblance between them.
It was impossible to know which was which--it was wonderful, even for
twins. They arrived early in the day, when the tap-room was empty; and
they had a long talk together in private. At the end of it, they rang for
the landlord, and asked if he had a bed-room to let in the house. You
must have seen for yourself that The Cross-Hands is a mere beer-shop. The
landlord had a room that he could spare--a wretched place, not fit for a
gentleman to sleep in. One of the brothers took the room for all that."
"What became of the other brother?"
"He went away the same day--very unwillingly. The parting between them
was most affecting. The brother who spoke to us to-night insisted on
it--or the other would have refused to leave him. They both shed
"They did worse than that," said old Zillah, re-entering the room at the
moment. "I have made all the doors and windows fast, downstairs; he can't
get in now, my dear, if he tries."
"What did they do that was worse than crying?" I inquired.
"Kissed each other!" said Zillah, with a look of profound disgust. "Two
men! Foreigners, of course."
"Our man is no foreigner," I said. "Did they give themselves a name?"
"The landlord asked the one who stayed behind for his name," replied
Lucilla. "He said it was 'Dubourg.' "
This confirmed me in my belief that I had guessed right. "Dubourg" is as
common a name in my country as "Jones" or "Thompson" is in England--just
the sort of feigned name that a man in difficulties would give among
_us._ Was he a criminal countryman of mine? No! There had been nothing
foreign in his accent when he spoke. Pure English--there could be no
doubt of that. And yet he had given a French name. Had he deliberately
insulted my nation? Yes! Not content with being stained by innumerable
crimes, he had added to the list of his atrocities--he had insulted my
"Well?" I resumed. "We have left this undetected ruffian deserted in the
public-house. Is he there still?"
"Bless your heart!" cried the old nurse, "he is settled in the
neighborhood. He has taken Browndown."
I turned to Lucilla. "Browndown belongs to Somebody," I said hazarding
another guess. "Did Somebody let it without a reference?"
"Browndown belongs to a gentleman at Brighton," answered Lucilla. "And
the gentleman was referred to a well-known name in London--one of the
great City merchants. Here is the most provoking part of the whole
mystery. The merchant said, 'I have known Mr. Dubourg from his childhood.
He has reasons for wishing to live in the strictest retirement. I answer
for his being an honorable man, to whom you can safely let your house.
More than this I am not authorized to tell you.' My father knows the
landlord of Browndown; and that is what the reference said to him, word
for word. Isn't it provoking? The house was let for six months certain,
the next day. It is wretchedly furnished. Mr. Dubourg has had several
things that he wanted sent from Brighton. Besides the furniture, a
packing-case from London arrived at the house to-day. It was so strongly
nailed up that the carpenter had to be sent for to open it. He reports
that the case was full of thin plates of gold and silver; and it was
accompanied by a box of extraordinary tools, the use of which was a
mystery to the carpenter himself. Mr. Dubourg locked up these things in a
room at the back of the house, and put the key in his pocket. He seemed
to be pleased--he whistled a tune, and said, 'Now we shall do!' The
landlady at the Cross-Hands is our authority for this. She does what
little cooking he requires; and her daughter makes his bed, and so on.
They go to him in the morning, and return to the inn in the evening. He
has no servant with him. He is all by himself at night. Isn't it
interesting? A mystery in real life. It baffles everybody."
"You must be very strange people, my dear," I said, "to make a mystery of
such a plain case as this."
"Plain?" repeated Lucilla, in amazement.
"Certainly! The gold and silver plates, and the strange tools, and the
living in retirement, and the sending the servants away at night--all
point to the same conclusion. My guess is the right one. The man is an
escaped criminal; and his form of crime is coining false money. He has
been discovered at Exeter--he has escaped the officers of justice--and he
is now going to begin again here. You can do as you please. If _I_ happen
to want change, I won't get it in this neighborhood."
Lucilla laid herself back in her chair again. I could see that she gave
me up, in the matter of Mr. Dubourg, as a person willfully and
"A coiner of false money, recommended as an honorable man by one of the
first merchants in London!" she exclaimed. "We do some very eccentric
things in England, occasionally--but there is a limit to our national
madness, Madame Pratolungo, and you have reached it. Shall we have some
She spoke a little sharply. Mr. Dubourg was the hero of her romance. She
resented--seriously resented--any attempt on my part to lower him in her
I persisted in my unfavorable opinion of him, nevertheless. The question
between us (as I might have told her) was a question of believing, or not
believing, in the merchant of London. To her mind, it was a sufficient
guarantee of his integrity that he was a rich man. To my mind (speaking
as a good Socialist), that very circumstance told dead against him. A
capitalist is a robber of one sort, and a coiner is a robber of another
sort. Whether the capitalist recommends the coiner, or the coiner the
capitalist, is all one to me. In either case (to quote the language of an
excellent English play) the honest people are the soft easy cushions on
which these knaves repose and fatten. It was on the tip of my tongue to
put this large and liberal view of the subject to Lucilla. But (alas!) it
was easy to see that the poor child was infected by the narrow prejudices
of the class amid which she lived. How could I find it in my heart to run
the risk of a disagreement between us on the first day? No--it was not to
be done. I gave the nice pretty blind girl a kiss. And we went to the
piano together. And I put off making a good Socialist of Lucilla till a
more convenient opportunity.
We might as well have left the piano unopened. The music was a failure.
I played my best. From Mozart to Beethoven. From Beethoven to Schubert.
From Schubert to Chopin. She listened with all the will in the world to
be pleased. She thanked me again and again. She tried, at my invitation,
to play herself; choosing the familiar compositions which she knew by
ear. No! The abominable Dubourg, having got the uppermost place in her
mind, kept it. She tried, and tried, and tried--and could do nothing. His
voice was still in her ears--the only music which could possess itself of
her attention that night. I took her place, and began to play again. She
suddenly snatched my hands off the keys. "Is Zillah here?" she whispered.
I told her Zillah had left the room. She laid her charming head on my
shoulder, and sighed hysterically. "I can't help thinking of him," she
burst out. "I am miserable for the first time in my life--no! I am happy
for the first time in my life. Oh, what must you think of me! I don't
know what I am talking about. Why did you encourage him to speak to us? I
might never have heard his voice but for you." She lifted her head again
with a little shiver, and composed herself. One of her hands wandered
here and there over the keys of the piano, playing softly. "His charming
voice!" she whispered dreamily while she played. "Oh, his charming
voice!" She paused again. Her hand dropped from the piano, and took mine.
"Is this love?" she said, half to herself, half to me.
My duty as a respectable woman lay clearly before me--my duty was to tell
her a lie.
"It is nothing, my dear, but too much excitement and too much fatigue," I
said. "To-morrow you shall be my young lady again. To-night you must be
only my child. Come, and let me put you to bed."
She yielded with a weary sigh. Ah, how lovely she looked in her pretty
night-dress, on her knees at the bed-side--the innocent, afflicted
creature--saying her prayers!
I am, let me own, an equally headlong woman at loving and hating. When I
had left her for the night, I could hardly have felt more tenderly
interested in her if she had been really a child of my own. You have met
with people of my sort--unless you are a very forbidding person
indeed--who have talked to you in the most confidential manner of all
their private affairs, on meeting you in a railway carriage, or sitting
next to you at a table-d'ho^te. For myself, I believe I shall go on
running up sudden friendships with strangers to my dying day. Infamous
Dubourg! If I could have got into Browndown that night, I should have
liked to have done to him what a Mexican maid of mine (at the Central
American period of my career) did to her drunken husband--who was a kind
of peddler, dealing in whips and sticks. She sewed him strongly up one
night in the sheet, while he lay snoring off his liquor in bed; and then
she took his whole stock-in-trade out of the corner of the room, and
broke it on him, to the last article on sale, until he was beaten to a
jelly from head to foot.
Not having this resource open to me, I sat myself down in my bedroom, to
consider--if the matter of Dubourg went any further--what it was my
business to do next.
I have already mentioned that Lucilla and I had idled away the whole
afternoon, woman-like, in talking of ourselves. You will best understand
what course my reflections took, if I here relate the chief particulars
which Lucilla communicated to me, concerning her own singular position in
her father's house.
CHAPTER THE SIXTH
A Cage of Finches
LARGE families are--as my experience goes--of two sorts. We have the
families whose members all admire each other. And we have the families
whose members all detest each other. For myself, I prefer the second
sort. Their quarrels are their own affair; and they have a merit which
the first sort are never known to possess--the merit of being sometimes
able to see the good qualities of persons who do not possess the
advantage of being related to them by blood. The families whose members
all admire each other, are families saturated with insufferable conceit.
You happen to speak of Shakespeare, among these people, as a type of
supreme intellectual capacity. A female member of the family will not
fail to convey to you that you would have illustrated your meaning far
more completely if you had referred her to "dear Papa." You are out
walking with a male member of the household; and you say of a woman who
passes, "What a charming creature!" Your companion smiles at your
simplicity, and wonders whether you have ever seen his sister when she is
dressed for a ball. These are the families who cannot be separated
without corresponding with each other every day. They read you extracts
from their letters, and say, "Where is the writer by profession who can
equal this?" They talk of their private affairs, in your presence--and
appear to think that you ought to be interested too. They enjoy their own
jokes across you at table--and wonder how it is that you are not amused.
In domestic circles of this sort the sisters sit habitually on the
brothers' knees; and the husbands inquire into the wives' ailments, in
public, as unconcernedly as if they were closeted in their own room. When
we arrive at a more advanced stage of civilization, the State will supply
cages for these intolerable people; and notices will be posted at the
corners of streets, "Beware of Number Twelve: a family in a state of
mutual admiration is hung up there!"
I gathered from Lucilla that the Finches were of the second order of
large families, as mentioned above. Hardly one of the members of this
domestic group was on speaking terms with the other. And some of them had
been separated for years, without once troubling Her Majesty's Post
Office to convey even the slightest expression of sentiment from one to
The first wife of Reverend Finch was a Miss Batchford. The members of her
family (limited at the time of the marriage to her brother and her
sister) strongly disapproved of her choice of a husband. The rank of a
Finch (I laugh at these contemptible distinctions!) was decided, in this
case, to be not equal to the rank of a Batchford. Nevertheless, Miss
married. Her brother and sister declined to be present at the ceremony.
Lucilla was born. Reverend Finch's elder brother (on speaking terms with
no other member of the family) interfered with a Christian
proposal--namely--to shake hands across the baby's cradle. Adopted by the
magnanimous Batchfords. First reconciliation.
Time passed. Reverend Finch--then officiating in a poor curacy near a
great manufacturing town--felt a want (the want of money); and took a
liberty (the liberty of attempting to borrow of his brother-in-law). Mr.
Batchford, being a rich man, regarded this overture, it is needless to
say, in the light of an insult. Miss Batchford sided with her brother.
Time passed, as before. Mrs. Finch the first died. Reverend Finch's elder
brother (still at daggers drawn with the other members of the family)
made a second Christian proposal--namely--to shake hands across the
wife's grave. Adopted once more by the bereaved Batchfords. Second
Another lapse of time. Reverend Finch, left a widower with one daughter,
became personally acquainted with an inhabitant of the great city near
which he ministered, who was also a widower with one daughter. The status
of the parent, in this case--social-political-religious--was
Shoemaker-Radical-Baptist. Reverend Finch, still wanting money, swallowed
it all; and married the daughter, with a dowry of three thousand pounds.
This proceeding alienated from him for ever, not the Batchfords only, but
the peacemaking elder brother as well. That excellent Christian ceased to
be on speaking terms now with his brother the clergyman, as well as with
all the rest of the family. The complete isolation of Reverend Finch
followed. Regularly every year did the second Mrs. Finch afford
opportunities of shaking hands, not only over one cradle, but sometimes
over two. Vain and meritorious fertility! Nothing came of it, but a kind
of compromise. Lucilla, quite overlooked among the rector's
rapidly-increasing second family, was allowed to visit her maternal uncle
and aunt at stated periods in every year. Born, to all appearance with
the full possession of her sight, the poor child had become incurably
blind before she was a year old. In all other respects, she presented a
striking resemblance to her mother. Bachelor uncle Batchford, and his old
maiden sister, both conceived the strongest affection for the child. "Our
niece Lucilla," they said, "has justified our fondest hopes--she is a
Batchford, not a Finch!" Lucilla's father (promoted, by this time, to the
rectory of Dimchurch) let them talk. "Wait a bit, and money will come of
it," was all he said. Truly money was wanted!--with fruitful Mrs. Finch
multiplying cradles, year after year, till the doctor himself (employed
on contract) got tired of it, and said one day, "It is not true that
there is an end to everything: there is no end to the multiplying
capacity of Mrs. Finch."
Lucilla grew up from childhood to womanhood. She was twenty years old,
before her father's expectations were realized, and the money came of it
Uncle Batchford died a single man. He divided his fortune between his
maiden sister, and his niece. When she came of age, Lucilla was to have
an income of fifteen hundred pounds a year--on certain conditions, which
the will set forth at great length. The effect of these conditions was
(first) to render it absolutely impossible for Reverend Finch, under any
circumstances whatever, to legally inherit a single farthing of the
money--and (secondly), to detach Lucilla from her father's household, and
to place her under the care of her maiden aunt, so long as she remained
unmarried, for a period of three months in every year.
The will avowed the object of this last condition in the plainest words.
"I die as I have lived" (wrote uncle Batchford), "a High Churchman and a
Tory. My legacy to my niece shall only take effect on these
terms--namely--that she shall be removed at certain stated periods from
the Dissenting and Radical influences to which she is subjected under her
father's roof, and shall be placed under the care of an English
gentlewoman who unites to the advantages of birth and breeding the
possession of high and honorable principles"--etcetera, etcetera. Can you
conceive Reverend Finch's feelings, sitting, with his daughter by his
side, among the company, while the will was read, and hearing this? He
got up, like a true Englishman, and made them a speech. "Ladies and
gentlemen," he said, "I admit that I am a Liberal in politics, and that
my wife's family are Dissenters. As an example of the principles thus
engendered in my household, I beg to inform you that my daughter accepts
this legacy with my full permission, and that I forgive Mr. Batchford."
With that, he walked out, with his daughter on his arm. He had heard
enough, please to observe, to satisfy him that Lucilla (while she lived
unmarried) could do what she liked with her income. Before they had got
back to Dimchurch, Reverend Finch had completed a domestic arrangement
which permitted his daughter to occupy a perfectly independent position
in the rectory, and which placed in her father's pockets--as Miss Finch's
contribution to the housekeeping--five hundred a year.
(Do you know what I felt when I heard this? I felt the deepest regret
that Finch of the liberal principles had not made a third with my poor
Pratolungo and me in Central America. With him to advise us, we should
have saved the sacred cause of Freedom without spending a single farthing
The old side of the rectory, hitherto uninhabited, was put in order and
furnished--of course at Lucilla's expense. On her twenty-first birthday,
the repairs were completed; the first installment of the housekeeping
money was paid; and the daughter was established, as an independent
lodger, in her own father's house!
In order to thoroughly appreciate Finch's ingenuity, it is necessary to
add here that Lucilla had shown, as she grew up, an increasing dislike of
living at home. In her blind state, the endless turmoil of the children
distracted her. She and her step-mother did not possess a single sympathy
in common. Her relations with her father were in much the same condition.
She could compassionate his poverty, and she could treat him with the
forbearance and respect due to him from his child. As to really
venerating and loving him--the less said about that the better. Her
happiest days had been the days she spent with her uncle and aunt; her
visits to the Batchfords had grown to be longer and longer visits with
every succeeding year. If the father, in appealing to the daughter's
sympathies, had not dexterously contrived to unite the preservation of
her independence with the continuance of her residence under his roof,
she would, on coming of age, either have lived altogether with her aunt,
or have set up an establishment of her own. As it was, the rector had
secured his five hundred a year, on terms acceptable to both sides--and,
more than that, he had got her safe under his own eye. For, remark, there
was one terrible possibility threatening him in the future--the
possibility of Lucilla's marriage!
Such was the strange domestic position of this interesting creature, at
the time when I entered the house.
You will now understand how completely puzzled I was when I recalled what
had happened on the evening of my arrival, and when I asked myself--in
the matter of the mysterious stranger--what course I was to take next. I
had found Lucilla a solitary being--helplessly dependent in her blindness
on others--and, in that sad condition, without a mother, without a
sister, without a friend even in whose sympathies she could take refuge,
in whose advice she could trust. I had produced a first favorable
impression on her; I had won her liking at once, as she had won mine. I
had accompanied her on an evening walk, innocent of all suspicion of what
was going on in her mind. I had by pure accident enabled a stranger to
intensify the imaginary interest which she felt in him, by provoking him
to speak in her hearing for the first time. In a moment of hysterical
agitation--and in sheer despair of knowing who else to confide in--the
poor, foolish, blind, lonely girl had opened her heart to me. What was I
If the case had been an ordinary one, the whole affair would have been
But the case of Lucilla was not the case of girls in general.
The minds of the blind are, by cruel necessity, forced inward on
themselves. They live apart from us--ah, how hopelessly far apart!--in
their own dark sphere, of which we know nothing. What relief could come
to Lucilla from the world outside? None! It was part of her desolate
liberty to be free to dwell unremittingly on the ideal creature of her
own dream. Within the narrow limit of the one impression that it had been
possible for her to derive of this man--the impression of the beauty of
his voice--her fancy was left to work unrestrained in the changeless
darkness of her life. What a picture! I shudder as I draw it. Oh, yes, it
is easy, I know, to look at it the other way--to laugh at the folly of a
girl, who first excites her imagination about a total stranger; and then,
when she hears him speak, falls in love with his voice! But add that the
girl is blind; that the girl lives habitually in the world of her own
imagination; that the girl has nobody at home who can exercise a
wholesome influence over her. Is there nothing pitiable in such a state
of things as this? For myself, though I come of a light-hearted nation
that laughs at everything--I saw my own face looking horribly grave and
old, as I sat before the glass that night, brushing my hair.
I looked at my bed. Bah! what was the use of going to bed? She was her
own mistress. She was perfectly free to take her next walk to Browndown
alone! and to place herself, for all I knew to the contrary, at the mercy
of a dishonorable and designing man. What was I? Only her companion. I
had no right to interfere--and yet, if anything happened, I should be
blamed. It is so easy to say, "You ought to have done something." Whom
could I consult? The worthy old nurse only held the position of servant.
Could I address myself to the lymphatic lady with the baby in one hand,
and the novel in the other? Absurd! her stepmother was not to be thought
of. Her father? Judging by hearsay, I had not derived a favorable
impression of the capacity of Reverend Finch for interfering successfully
in a matter of this sort. However, he was her father; and I could feel my
way cautiously with him at first. Hearing Zillah moving about the
corridor, I went out to her. In the course of a little gossip, I
introduced the name of the master of the house. How was it I had not seen
him yet? For an excellent reason. He had gone to visit a friend at
Brighton. It was then Tuesday. He was expected back on "sermon-day"--that
is to say on Saturday in the same week.
I returned to my room, a little out of temper. In this state my mind
works with wonderful freedom. I had another of my inspirations. Mr.
Dubourg had taken the liberty of speaking to me that evening. Good. I
determined to go alone to Browndown the next morning, and take the
liberty of speaking to Mr. Dubourg.
Was this resolution solely inspired by my interest in Lucilla? Or had my
own curiosity been all the time working under the surface, and
influencing the course of my reflections unknown to myself? I went to bed
without inquiring. I recommend you to go to bed without inquiring too.
CHAPTER THE SEVENTH
Daylight View of the Man
WHEN I put out my candle that night, I made a mistake--I trusted entirely
to myself to wake in good time in the morning. I ought to have told
Zillah to call me.
Hours passed before I could close my eyes. It was broken rest when it
came, until the day dawned. Then I fell asleep at last in good earnest.
When I woke, and looked at my watch, I was amazed to find that it was ten
I jumped out of bed, and rang for the old nurse. Was Lucilla at home? No:
she had gone out for a little walk. By herself? Yes--by herself. In what
direction? Up the valley, towards Browndown.
I instantly arrived at my own conclusion.
She had got the start of me--thanks to my laziness in sleeping away the
precious hours of the morning in bed. The one thing to do, was to follow
her as speedily as possible. In half an hour more, _I_ was out for a
little walk by myself--and (what do you think?) _my_ direction also was
up the valley, towards Browndown.
A pastoral solitude reigned round the lonely little house. I went on
beyond it, into the next winding of the valley. Not a human creature was
to be seen. I returned to Browndown to reconnoiter. Ascending the rising
ground on which the house was built, I approached it from the back. The
windows were all open. I listened. (Do you suppose I felt scruples in
such an emergency as this? Oh, pooh! pooh! who but a fool would have felt
anything of the sort!) I listened with both my ears. Through a window at
the side of the house, I heard the sound of voices. Advancing noiselessly
on the turf, I heard the voice of Dubourg. He was answered by a woman.
Aha, I had caught her. Lucilla herself!
"Wonderful!" I heard him say. "I believe you have eyes in the ends of
your fingers. Take this, now--and try if you can tell me what it is."
"A little vase," she answered--speaking, I give you my word of honor, as
composedly as if she had known him for years. "Wait! what metal is it?
Silver? No. Gold. Did you really make this yourself as well as the box?"
"Yes. It is an odd taste of mine--isn't it?--to be fond of chasing in
gold and silver. Years ago I met with a man in Italy, who taught me. It
amused me, then--and it amuses me now. When I was recovering from an
illness last spring, I shaped that vase out of the plain metal, and made
the ornaments on it."
"Another mystery revealed!" she exclaimed. "Now I know what you wanted
with those gold and silver plates that came to you from London. Are you
aware of what a character you have got here? There are some of us who
suspect you of coining false money!"
They both burst out laughing as gaily as a couple of children. I declare
I wished myself one of the party! But no. I had my duty to do as a
respectable woman. My duty was to steal a little nearer, and see if any
familiarities were passing between these two merry young people. One half
of the open window was sheltered, on the outer side, by a Venetian blind.
I stood behind the blind, and peeped in. (Duty! oh, dear me, painful, but
necessary duty!) Dubourg was sitting with his back to the window. Lucilla
faced me opposite to him. Her cheeks were flushed with pleasure. She held
in her lap a pretty little golden vase. Her clever fingers were passing
over it rapidly, exactly as they had passed, the previous evening, over
"Shall I tell you what the pattern is on your vase?" she went on.
"Can you really do that?"
"You shall judge for yourself. The pattern is made of leaves, with birds
placed among them, at intervals. Stop! I think I have felt leaves like
these on the old side of the rectory, against the wall. Ivy?"
"Amazing! it _is_ ivy."
"The birds," she resumed. "I shan't be satisfied till I have told you
what the birds are. Haven't I got silver birds like them--only much
larger--for holding pepper, and mustard, and sugar, and so on. Owls!" she
exclaimed, with a cry of triumph. "Little owls, sitting in ivy-nests.
What a delightful pattern! I never heard of anything like it before."
"Keep the vase!" he said. "You will honor me, you will delight me, if you
will keep the vase."
She rose and shook her head--without giving him back the vase, however.
"I might take it, if you were not a stranger," she said. "Why don't you
tell us who you are, and what your reason is for living all by yourself
in this dull place?"
He stood before her, with his head down, and sighed bitterly.
"I know I ought to explain myself," he answered. "I can't be surprised if
people are suspicious of me." He paused, and added very earnestly, "I
can't tell it to _you._ Oh, no--not to _you!_"
"Don't ask me!"
She felt for the table, with her ivory cane, and put the vase down on
"Good morning, Mr. Dubourg," she said.
He opened the door of the room for her in silence. Waiting close against
the side of the house, I saw them appear under the porch, and cross the
little walled enclosure in front. As she stepped out on the open turf
beyond, she turned, and spoke to him again.
"If you won't tell _me_ your secret," she said, "will you tell it to some
one else? Will you tell it to a friend of mine?"
"To what friend?" he asked.
"To the lady whom you met with me last night."
He hesitated. "I am afraid I offended the lady," he said.
"So much the more reason for your explaining yourself," she rejoined. "If
you will only satisfy _her,_ I might ask you to come and see us--I might
even take the vase." With that strong hint, she actually gave him her
hand at parting. Her perfect self-possession, her easy familiarity with
this stranger--so bold, and yet so innocent--petrified me. "I shall send
my friend to you this morning," she said imperiously, striking her cane
on the turf. "I insist on your telling her the whole truth."
With that, she signed to him that he was to follow her no farther, and
went her way back to the village.
Does it not surprise you, as it surprised me? Instead of her blindness
making her nervous in the presence of a man unknown to her, it appeared
to have exactly the contrary effect. It made her fearless.
He stood on the spot where she had left him, watching her as she receded
in the distance. His manner towards her, in the house and out of the
house, had exhibited, it is only fair to say, the utmost consideration
and respect. Whatever shyness there had been between them, was shyness
entirely on his side. I had a short stuff dress on, which made no noise
over the grass. I skirted the wall of the enclosure, and approached him
unsuspected, from behind. "The charming creature!" he said to himself,
still following her with his eyes. As the words passed his lips, I struck
him smartly on the shoulder with my parasol.
"Mr. Dubourg," I said, "I am waiting to hear the truth."
He started violently--and confronted me in speechless dismay; his color
coming and going like the color of a young girl. Anybody who understands
women will understand that this behavior on his part, far from softening
me towards him, only encouraged me to bully him.
"In your present position in this place, sir," I went on, "do you think
it honorable conduct on your part to decoy a young lady, to whom you are
a perfect stranger, into your house--a young lady who claims, in right of
her sad affliction, even more than the usual forbearance and respect
which a gentleman owes to her sex?"
His shifting color settled, for the time, into an angry red.
"You are doing me a great injustice, ma'am," he answered. "It is a shame
to say that I have failed in respect to the young lady! I feel the
sincerest admiration and compassion for her. Circumstances justify me in
what I have done; I could not have acted otherwise. I refer you to the
young lady herself."
His voice rose higher and higher--he was thoroughly offended with me.
Need I add (seeing the prospect not far off of _his_ bullying _me_), that
I unblushingly shifted my ground, and tried a little civility next?
"If I have done you an injustice, sir, I ask your pardon," I answered.
"Having said so much, I have only to add that I shall be satisfied if I
hear what the circumstances are, from yourself."
This soothed his offended dignity. His gentler manner began to show
"The truth is," he said, "that I owe my introduction to the young lady to
an ill-tempered little dog belonging to the people at the inn. The dog
had followed the person here who attends on me: and it startled the lady
by flying out and barking at her as she passed this house. After I had
driven away the dog, I begged her to come in and sit down until she had
recovered herself. Am I to blame for doing that? I don't deny that I felt
the deepest interest in her and that I did my best to amuse her, while
she honored me by remaining in my house. May I ask if I have satisfied
With the best will in the world to maintain my unfavorable opinion of
him, I was, by this time, fairly forced to acknowledge to myself that the
opinion was wrong. His explanation was, in tone and manner as well as in
language, the explanation of a gentleman.
And, besides--though he was a little too effeminate for my taste--he
really was such a handsome young man! His hair was of a fine bright
chestnut color, with a natural curl in it. His eyes were of the lightest
brown I had ever seen--with a singularly winning gentle modest expression
in them. As for his complexion--so creamy and spotless and fair--he had
no right to it: it ought to have been a woman's complexion, or at least a
boy's. He looked indeed more like a boy than a man: his smooth face was
quite uncovered, either by beard, whisker, or mustache. If he had asked
me, I should have guessed him (though he was really three years older) to
have been younger than Lucilla.
"Our acquaintance has begun rather oddly, sir," I said. "You spoke
strangely to me last night; and I have spoken hastily to you this
morning. Accept my excuses--and let us try if we can't do each other
justice in the end. I have something more to say to you before we part.
Will you think me a very extraordinary woman, if I suggest that you may
as well invite _me_ next, to take a chair in your house?"
He laughed with the pleasantest good temper, and led the way in.
We entered the room in which he had received Lucilla; and sat down
together on the two chairs near the window--with this difference--that I
contrived to possess myself of the seat which he had occupied, and so to
place him with his face to the light.
"Mr. Dubourg," I began, "you will already have guessed that I overheard
what Miss Finch said to you at parting?"
He bowed, in silent acknowledgment that it was so--and began to toy
nervously with the gold vase which Lucilla had left on the table.
"What do you propose to do?" I went on. "You have spoken of the interest
you feel in my young friend. If it is a true interest, it will lead you
to merit her good opinion by complying with her request. Tell me plainly,
if you please. Will you come and see us, in the character of a gentleman
who has satisfied two ladies that they can receive him as a neighbor and
a friend? Or will you oblige me to warn the rector of Dimchurch that his
daughter is in danger of permitting a doubtful character to force his
acquaintance on her?"
He put the vase back on the table, and turned deadly pale.
"If you knew what I have suffered," he said; "if you had gone through
what I have been compelled to endure--" His voice failed him; his soft
brown eyes moistened; his head drooped. He said no more.
In common with all women, I like a man to _be_ a man. There was, to my
mind, something weak and womanish in the manner in which this Dubourg met
the advance which I had made to him. He not only failed to move my
pity--he was in danger of stirring up my contempt.
"I too have suffered," I answered. "I too have been compelled to endure.
But there is this difference between us. _My_ courage is not worn out. In
your place, if I knew myself to be an honorable man, I would not allow
the breath of suspicion to rest on me for an instant. Cost what it might,
I would vindicate myself. I should be ashamed to cry--I should speak."
That stung him. He started up on his feet.
"Have _you_ been stared at by hundreds of cruel eyes?" he burst out
passionately. "Have _you_ been pointed at, without mercy, wherever you
go? Have you been put in the pillory of the newspapers? Has the
photograph proclaimed _your_ infamous notoriety in all the shop-windows?"
He dropped back into his chair, and wrung his hands in a frenzy. "Oh, the
public!" he exclaimed; "the horrible public! I can't get away from
them--I can't hide myself, even here. You have had your stare at me, like
the rest," he cried, turning on me fiercely. "I knew it when you passed
me last night."
"I never saw you out of this place," I answered. "As for the portraits of
you, whoever you may be, I know nothing about them. I was far too anxious
and too wretched, to amuse myself by looking into shop-windows before I
came here. You, and your name, are equally strange to me. If you have any
respect for yourself, tell me who you are. Out with the truth, sir! You
know as well as I do that you have gone too far to stop."
I seized him by the hand. I was wrought up by the extraordinary outburst
that had escaped him to the highest pitch of excitement: I was hardly
conscious of what I said or did. At that supreme moment, we enraged, we
maddened each other. His hand closed convulsively on my hand. His eyes
looked wildly into mine.
"Do you read the newspapers?" he asked.
"Have you seen----?"
"I have _not_ seen the name of 'Dubourg'----"
'My name is not 'Dubourg.' "
"What is it?"
He suddenly stooped over me; and whispered his name in my ear.
In my turn I started, thunderstruck, to my feet.
"Good God!" I cried. "You are the man who was tried for murder last
month, and who was all but hanged, on the false testimony of a clock!"
CHAPTER THE EIGHTH
The Perjury of the Clock
WE looked at one another in silence. Both alike, we were obliged to wait
a little and recover ourselves.
I may occupy the interval by answering two questions which will arise in
your minds in this place. How did Dubourg come to be tried for his life?
And what was the connection between this serious matter and the false
testimony of a clock?
The reply to both these inquiries is to be found in the story which I
call the Perjury of the Clock.
In briefly relating this curious incidental narrative (which I take from
a statement of the circumstances placed in my possession) I shall speak
of our new acquaintance at Browndown--and shall continue to speak of him
throughout these pages--by his assumed name. In the first place, it was
the maiden name of his mother, and he had a right to take it if he
pleased. In the second place, the date of our domestic drama at Dimchurch
goes back as far as the years 'fifty-eight and 'fifty-nine; and real
names are (now that it is all over) of no consequence to anybody. With
"Dubourg" we have begun. With "Dubourg" let us go on to the end.
On a summer evening, some years ago, a man was found murdered in a field
near a certain town in the West of England. The name of the field was,
The man was a small carpenter and builder in the town, who bore an
indifferent character. On the evening in question, a distant relative of
his, employed as farm-bailiff by a gentleman in the neighborhood,
happened to be passing a stile which led from the field into a road, and
saw a gentleman leaving the field by way of this stile, rather in a
hurry. He recognized the gentleman as Mr. Dubourg.
The two passed each other on the road in opposite directions. After a
certain lapse of time--estimated as being half an hour--the farm-bailiff
had occasion to pass back along the same road. On reaching the stile, he
heard an alarm raised, and entered the field to see what was the matter.
He found several persons running from the farther side of Pardon's Piece
towards a boy who was standing at the back of a cattle-shed, in a remote
part of the enclosure, screaming with terror. At the boy's feet lay, face
downwards, the dead body of a man, with his head horribly beaten in. His
watch was under him, hanging out of his pocket by the chain. It had
stopped--evidently in consequence of the concussion of its owner's fall
on it--at half-past eight. The body was still warm. All the other
valuables, like the watch, were left on it. The farm-bailiff instantly
recognized the man as the carpenter and builder mentioned above.
At the preliminary inquiry, the stoppage of the watch at half-past eight,
was taken as offering good circumstantial evidence that the blow which
had killed the man had been struck at that time.
The next question was--if any one had been seen near the body at
half-past eight? The farm-bailiff declared that he had met Mr. Dubourg
hastily leaving the field by the stile at that very time. Asked if he had
looked at his watch, he owned that he had not done so. Certain previous
circumstances which he mentioned as having impressed themselves on his
memory, enabled him to feel sure of the truth of his assertion, without
having consulted his watch. He was pressed on this important point; but
he held to his declaration. At half-past eight he had seen Mr. Dubourg
hurriedly leave the field. At half-past eight the watch of the murdered
man had stopped.
Had any other person been observed in or near the field at that time?
No witness could be discovered who had seen anybody else near the place.
Had the weapon turned up, with which the blow had been struck? It had not
been found. Was anyone known (robbery having plainly not been the motive
of the crime) to have entertained a grudge against the murdered man? It
was no secret that he associated with doubtful characters, male and
female; but suspicion failed to point to any one of them in particular.
In this state of things, there was no alternative but to request Mr.
Dubourg--well known in, and out of the town, as a young gentleman of
independent fortune; bearing an excellent character--to give some account
He immediately admitted that he had passed through the field. But in
contradiction to the farm-bailiff, he declared that _he_ had looked at
his watch at the moment before he crossed the stile, and that the time by
it was exactly a quarter past eight. Five minutes later--that is to say
ten minutes before the murder had been committed, on the evidence of the
dead man's watch--he had paid a visit to a lady living near Pardon's
Piece; and had remained with her, until his watch, consulted once more on
leaving the lady's house, informed him that it was a quarter to nine.
Here was the defense called an "alibi." It entirely satisfied Mr.
Dubourg's friends. To satisfy justice also, it was necessary to call the
lady as a witness. In the meantime, another purely formal question was
put to Mr. Dubourg. Did he know anything of the murdered man?
With some appearance of confusion, Mr. Dubourg admitted that he had been
induced (by a friend) to employ the man on some work. Further
interrogation extracted from him the following statement of facts.
That the work had been very badly done--that an exorbitant price had been
charged for it--that the man, on being remonstrated with, had behaved in
a grossly impertinent manner--that an altercation had taken place between
them--that Mr. Dubourg had seized the man by the collar of his coat, and
had turned him out of the house--that he had called the man an infernal
scoundrel (being in a passion at the time), and had threatened to "thrash
him within an inch of his life" (or words to that effect) if he ever
presumed to come near the house again; that he had sincerely regretted
his own violence the moment he recovered his self-possession; and,
lastly, that, on his oath (the altercation having occurred six weeks
ago), he had never spoken to the man, or set eyes on the man since.
As the matter then stood, these circumstances were considered as being
unfortunate circumstances for Mr. Dubourg--nothing more. He had his
"alibi" to appeal to, and his character to appeal to; and nobody doubted
The lady appeared as witness.
Confronted with Mr. Dubourg on the question of time, and forced to
answer, she absolutely contradicted him, on the testimony of the clock on
her own mantelpiece. In substance, her evidence was simply this. She had
looked at her clock, when Mr. Dubourg entered the room; thinking it
rather a late hour for a visitor to call on her. The clock (regulated by
the maker, only the day before) pointed to twenty-five minutes to nine.
Practical experiment showed that the time required to walk the distance,
at a rapid pace, from the stile to the lady's house, was just five
minutes. Here then was the statement of the farm-bailiff (himself a
respectable witness) corroborated by another witness of excellent
position and character. The clock, on being examined next, was found to
be right. The evidence of the clock-maker proved that he kept the key,
and that there had been no necessity to set the clock and wind it up
again, since he had performed both those acts on the day preceding Mr.
Dubourg's visit. The accuracy of the clock thus vouched for, the
conclusion on the evidence was irresistible. Mr. Dubourg stood convicted
of having been in the field at the time when the murder was committed; of
having, by his own admission, had a quarrel with the murdered man, not
long before, terminating in an assault and a threat on his side; and,
lastly, of having attempted to set up an alibi by a false statement of
the question of time. There was no alternative but to commit him to take
his trial at the Assizes, charged with the murder of the builder in
The trial occupied two days.
No new facts of importance were discovered in the interval. The evidence
followed the course which it had taken at the preliminary
examinations--with this difference only, that it was more carefully
sifted. Mr. Dubourg had the double advantage of securing the services of
the leading barrister on the circuit, and of moving the irrepressible
sympathies of the jury, shocked at his position and eager for proof of
his innocence. By the end of the first day, the evidence had told against
him with such irresistible force, that his own counsel despaired of the
result. When the prisoner took his place in the dock on the second day,
there was but one conviction in the minds of the people in
court--everybody said, The clock will hang him."
It was nearly two in the afternoon; and the proceedings were on the point
of being adjourned for half an hour, when the attorney for the prisoner
was seen to hand a paper to the counsel for the defense.
The counsel rose, showing signs of agitation which roused the curiosity
of the audience. He demanded the immediate hearing of a new witness;
whose evidence in the prisoner's favor he declared to be too important to
be delayed for a single moment. After a short colloquy between the judge
and the banisters on either side, the court decided to continue the
The witness, appearing in the box, proved to be a young woman, in
delicate health. On the evening when the prisoner had paid his visit to
the lady, she was in that lady's service as housemaid. The day after, she
had been permitted (by previous arrangement with her mistress) to take a
week's holiday, and to go on a visit to her parents, in the west of
Cornwall. While there, she had fallen ill, and had not been strong enough
since to return to her employment. Having given this preliminary account
of herself, the housemaid then stated the following extraordinary
particulars in relation to her mistress's clock.
On the morning of the day when Mr. Dubourg had called at the house, she
had been cleaning the mantelpiece. She had rubbed the part of it which
was under the clock with her duster, had accidentally struck the
pendulum, and had stopped it. Having once before done this, she had been
severely reproved. Fearing that a repetition of the offense, only the day
after the clock had been regulated by the maker, might lead perhaps to
the withdrawal of her leave of absence, she had determined to put matters
right again, if possible, by herself.
After poking under the clock in the dark, and failing to set the pendulum
going again properly in that way, she next attempted to lift the clock,
and give it a shake. It was set in a marble case, with a bronze figure on
the top; and it was so heavy that she was obliged to hunt for something
which she could use as a lever. The thing proved to be not easy to find
on the spur of the moment. Having at last laid her hand on what she
wanted, she contrived so to lift the clock a few inches and drop it again
on the mantelpiece, as to set it going once more.
The next necessity was of course to move the hands on. Here again she was
met by an obstacle. There was a difficulty in opening the glass-case
which protected the dial. After uselessly searching for some instrument
to help her, she got from the footman (without telling him what she
wanted it for) a small chisel. With this, she opened the case--after
accidentally scratching the brass frame of it--and set the hands of the
clock by guess. She was flurried at the time; fearing that her mistress
would discover her. Later in the day, she found that she had
over-estimated the interval of time that had passed while she was trying
to put the clock right. She had, in fact, set it exactly _a quarter of an
hour too fast._
No safe opportunity of secretly putting the clock right again had
occurred, until the last thing at night. She had then moved the hands
back to the right time. At the hour of the evening when Mr. Dubourg had
called on her mistress, she positively swore that the clock was a quarter
of an hour too fast. It had pointed, as her mistress had declared, to
twenty-five minutes to nine--the right time then being, as Mr. Dubourg
had asserted, twenty minutes past eight.
Questioned why she had refrained from giving this extraordinary evidence
at the inquiry before the magistrate, she declared that in the remote
Cornish village to which she had gone the next day, and in which her
illness had detained her from that time, nobody had heard of the inquiry
or the trial. She would not have been then present to state the vitally
important circumstances to which she had just sworn, if the prisoner's
twin-brother had not found her out on the previous day--had not
questioned her if she knew anything about the clock--and had not (hearing
what she had to tell) insisted on her taking the journey with him to the
court the next morning.
This evidence virtually decided the trial. There was a great burst of
relief in the crowded assembly when the woman's statement had come to an
She was closely cross-examined as a matter of course. Her character was
inquired into; corroborative evidence (relating to the chisel and the
scratches on the frame) was sought for and was obtained. The end of it
was that, at a late hour on the second evening, the jury acquitted the
prisoner, without leaving their box. It was not too much to say that his
life had been saved by his brother. His brother alone had persisted, from
first to last, in obstinately disbelieving the clock--for no better
reason than that the clock was the witness which asserted the prisoner's
guilt! He had worried everybody with incessant inquiries--he had
discovered the absence of the housemaid, after the trial had begun--and
he had started off to interrogate the girl, knowing nothing, and
suspecting nothing; simply determined to persist in the one everlasting
question with which he persecuted everybody belonging to the house: "The
clock is going to hang my brother; can you tell me anything about the
Four months later, the mystery of the crime was cleared up. One of the
disreputable companions of the murdered man confessed on his death-bed
that he had done the deed. There was nothing interesting or remarkable in
the circumstances. Chance which had put innocence in peril, had offered
impunity to guilt. An infamous woman; a jealous quarrel; and an absence
at the moment of witnesses on the spot--these were really the commonplace
materials which had composed the tragedy of Pardon's Piece.
CHAPTER THE NINTH
The Hero of the Trial
"You have forced it out of me. Now you have had your way, never mind my
Those were the first words the Hero of the Trial said to me, when he was
able to speak again! He withdrew with a curious sullen resignation to the
farther end of the room. There he stood looking at me, as a man might
have looked who carried some contagion about him, and who wished to
preserve a healthy fellow-creature from the peril of touching him.
"Why should I go?" I asked.
"You are a bold woman," he said, "to remain in the same room with a man
who has been pointed at as a murderer, and who has been tried for his
The same unhealthy state of mind which had brought him to Dimchurch, and
which had led him to speak to me as he had spoken on the previous
evening, was, as I understood it, now irritating him against me as a
person who had made his own quick temper the means of entrapping him into
letting out the truth. How was I to deal with a man in this condition? I
decided to perform the feat which you call in England, "taking the bull
by the horns."
"I see but one man here," I said. "A man honorably acquitted of a crime
which he was incapable of committing. A man who deserves my interest, and
claims my sympathy. Shake hands, Mr. Dubourg."
I spoke to him in a good hearty voice, and I gave him a good hearty
squeeze. The poor, weak, lonely, persecuted young fellow dropped his head
on my shoulder like a child, and burst out crying.
"Don't despise me!" he said, as soon as he had got his breath again. "It
breaks a man down to have stood in the dock, and to have had hundreds of
hard-hearted people staring at him in horror--without his deserving it.
Besides, I have been very lonely, ma'am, since my brother left me."
We sat down again, side by side. He was the strangest compound of
anomalies I had ever met with. Throw him into one of those passions in
which he flamed out so easily--and you would have said, This is a tiger.
Wait till he had cooled down again to his customary mild temperature--and
you would have said with equal truth, This is a lamb.