Part 3 out of 9
been all three down in the bottom of a dry well in a wilderness, we could
hardly have surveyed a more dismal prospect than the prospect we were
contemplating now. By good luck, Oscar, like Lucilla, was passionately
fond of music. We turned to the piano as our best resource in those days
of our adversity. Lucilla and I took it in turns to play, and Oscar
listened. I have to report that we got through a great deal of music. I
have also to acknowledge that we were very dull.
As for Reverend Finch, he talked his way through his share of the
troubles that were trying us now, at the full compass of his voice.
If you had heard the little priest in those days, you would have supposed
that nobody could feel our domestic misfortunes as _he_ felt them, and
grieve over them as _he_ grieved. He was a sight to see, on the day of
the medical consultation; strutting up and down his wife's sitting-room,
and haranguing his audience--composed of his wife and myself. Mrs. Finch
sat in one corner, with the baby and the novel, and the petticoat and the
shawl. I occupied the other corner; summoned to "consult with the
rector." In plain words, summoned to hear Mr. Finch declare that he was
the person principally overshadowed by the cloud which hung on the
"I despair, Madame Pratolungo--I assure you, I despair--of conveying any
idea of how _I_ feel under this most melancholy state of things. You have
been very good; you have shown the sympathy of a true friend. But you
cannot possibly understand how this blow has fallen on Me. I am crushed.
Madame Pratolungo!" (he appealed to me, in my corner); "Mrs. Finch!" (he
appealed to his wife, in _her_ corner)--"I am crushed. There is no other
word to express it but the word I have used. Crushed." He stopped in the
middle of the room. He looked expectantly at me--he looked expectantly at
his wife. His face and manner said plainly, "If both these women faint, I
shall consider it a natural and becoming proceeding on their parts, after
what I have just told them." I waited for the lead of the lady of the
house. Mrs. Finch did not roll prostrate, with the baby and the novel, on
the floor. Thus encouraged, I presumed to keep my seat. The rector still
waited for us. I looked as miserable as I could. Mrs. Finch cast her eyes
up reverentially at her husband, as if she thought him the noblest of
created beings, and silently put her handkerchief to her eyes. Mr. Finch
was satisfied; Mr. Finch went on. "My health has suffered--I assure you,
Madame Pratolungo, MY health has suffered. Since this sad occurrence, my
stomach has given way. My balance is lost--my usual regularity is gone. I
am subject--entirely through this miserable business--to fits of morbid
appetite. I want things at wrong times--breakfast in the middle of the
night; dinner at four in the morning. I want something now!" Mr. Finch
stopped, horror-struck at his condition; pondering with his eyebrows
fiercely knit, and his hand pressed convulsively on the lower buttons of
his rusty black waistcoat. Mrs. Finch's watery blue eyes looked across
the room at me, in a moist melancholy of conjugal distress. The rector,
suddenly enlightened after his consultation with his stomach, strutted to
the door, flung it wide open, and called down the kitchen stairs with a
voice of thunder, "Poach me an egg!" He came back into the room--held
another consultation, keeping his eyes severely fixed on me--strutted
back in a furious hurry to the door--and bellowed a counter-order down
the kitchen-stairs, "No egg! Do me a red herring!" He came back for the
second time, with his eyes closed and his hand laid distractedly on his
head. He appealed alternately to Mrs. Finch and to me. "See for
yourselves--Mrs. Finch! Madame Pratolungo!--see for yourselves what a
state I am in. It's simply pitiable. I hesitate about the most trifling
things. First, I think I want a poached egg--then, I think I want a red
herring--now I don't know what I want. Upon my word of honor as a
clergyman and a gentleman, I don't know what I want! Morbid appetite all
day; morbid wakefulness all night--what a condition! I can't rest. I
disturb my wife at night. Mrs. Finch! I disturb you at night. How many
times--since this misfortune fell upon us--do I turn in bed before I fall
off to sleep? Eight times? Are you certain of it? Don't exaggerate! Are
you certain you counted! Very well: good creature! I never remember--I
assure you, Madame Pratolungo, I never remember--such a complete upset as
this before. The nearest approach to it was some years since, at my
wife's last confinement but four. Mrs. Finch! was it at your last
confinement but four? or your last but five? Your last but four? Are you
sure. Are you certain you are not misleading our friend here? Very well:
good creature! Pecuniary difficulties, Madame Pratolungo, were at the
bottom of it on that last occasion. I got over the pecuniary
difficulties. How am I to get over this? My plans for Oscar and Lucilla
were completely arranged. My relations with my wedded children were
pleasantly laid out. I saw my own future; I saw the future of my family.
What do I see now? All, so to speak, annihilated at a blow. Inscrutable
Providence!" He paused, and lifted his eyes and hands devotionally to the
ceiling. The cook appeared with the red herring. "Inscrutable
Providence"--proceeded Mr. Finch, a tone lower. "Eat it, dear," said Mrs.
Finch, "while it's hot." The rector paused again. His unresting tongue
urged him to proceed; his undisciplined stomach clamored for the herring.
The cook uncovered the dish. Mr. Finch's nose instantly sided with Mr.
Finch's stomach. He stopped at "Inscrutable Providence"--and peppered his
Having reported how the rector spoke, in the presence of the disaster
which had fallen on the family, I have only to complete the picture by
stating next what he did. He borrowed two hundred pounds of Oscar; and
left off commanding red herrings in the day and disturbing Mrs. Finch at
night, immediately afterwards.
The dull autumn days ended, and the long nights of winter began.
No change for the better appeared in our prospects. The doctors did their
best for Oscar--without avail. The horrible fits came back, again and
again. Day after day, our dull lives went monotonously on. I almost began
now to believe, with Lucilla, that a crisis of some sort must be at hand.
"This cannot last," I used to say to myself--generally when I was very
hungry. "Something will happen before the year comes to an end."
The month of December began; and something happened at last. The family
troubles at the rectory were matched by family troubles of my own. A
letter arrived for me from one of my younger sisters at Paris. It
contained alarming news of a person very dear to me--already mentioned in
the first of these pages as my good Papa.
Was the venerable author of my being dangerously ill of a mortal disease?
Alas! he was not exactly that--but the next worst thing to it. He was
dangerously in love with a disreputable young woman. At what age? At the
age of seventy-five! What can we say of my surviving parent? We can only
say, This is a vigorous nature; Papa has an evergreen heart.
I am grieved to trouble you with my family concerns. But they mix
themselves up intimately, as you will see in due time, with the concerns
of Oscar and Lucilla. It is my unhappy destiny that I cannot possibly
take you through the present narrative, without sooner or later
disclosing the one weakness (amiable weakness) of the gayest and
brightest and best-preserved man of his time.
Ah, I am now treading on egg-shells, I know! The English specter called
Propriety springs up rampant on my writing-table, and whispers furiously
in my ear, "Madame Pratolungo, raise a blush on the cheek of Innocence,
and it is all over from that moment with you and your story." Oh,
inflammable Cheek of Innocence, be good-natured for once, and I will rack
my brains to try if I can put it to you without offense! May I picture
good Papa as an elder in the Temple of Venus, burning incense
inexhaustibly on the altar of love? No: Temple of Venus is Pagan; altar
of love is not proper--take them out. Let me only say of my evergreen
parent that his life from youth to age had been one unintermitting
recognition of the charms of the sex, and that my sisters and I (being of
the sex) could not find it in our hearts to abandon him on that account.
So handsome, so affectionate, so sweet-tempered; with only one fault--and
that a compliment to the women, who naturally adored him in return! We
accepted our destiny. For years past (since the death of Mamma), we
accustomed ourselves to live in perpetual dread of his marrying some one
of the hundreds of unscrupulous hussies who took possession of him: and,
worse if possible than that, of his fighting duels about them with men
young enough to be his grandsons. Papa was so susceptible! Papa was so
brave! Over and over again, I had been summoned to interfere, as the
daughter who had the strongest influence over him. I had succeeded in
effecting his rescue, now by one means, and now by another; ending
always, however, in the same sad way, by the sacrifice of money for
damages--on which damages, when the woman is shameless enough to claim
them, my verdict is, "Serve her right!"
On the present occasion, it was the old story over again. My sisters had
done their best to stop it, and had failed. I had no choice but to appear
on the scene--to begin, perhaps, by boxing her ears: to end, certainly,
by filling her pockets.
My absence at this time was something more than an annoyance--it was a
downright grief to my blind Lucilla. On the morning of my departure, she
clung to me as if she was determined not to let me go.
"What shall I do without you?" she said. "It is hard, in these dreary
days, to lose the comfort of hearing your voice. I shall feel all my
security gone, when I feel you no longer near me. How many days shall you
"A day to get to Paris," I answered; "and a day to get back--two. Five
days (if I can do it in the time) to thunder-strike the hussy, and to
rescue Papa--seven. Let us say, if possible, a week."
"You must be back, no matter what happen, before the new year."
"I have my yearly visit to pay to my aunt. It has been twice put off. I
must absolutely go to London on the last day of the old year, and stay
there my allotted three months in Miss Batchford's house. I had hoped to
be Oscar's wife before the time came round again----" she waited a moment
to steady her voice. "That is all over now. We must be parted. If I can't
leave you here to console him and to take care of him, come what may of
it--I shall stay at Dimchurch."
Her staying at Dimchurch, while she was still unmarried, meant (under the
terms of her uncle's will) sacrificing her fortune. If Reverend Finch had
heard her, he would not even have been able to say "Inscrutable
Providence"--he would have lost his senses on the spot.
"Don't be afraid," I said; "I shall be back, Lucilla, before you go.
Besides, Oscar may get better. He may be able to follow you to London,
and visit you at your aunt's."
She shook her head, with such a sad, sad doubt of it, that the tears came
into my eyes. I gave her a last kiss--and hurried away.
My route was to Newhaven, and then across the Channel to Dieppe. I don't
think I really knew how fond I had grown of Lucilla, until I lost sight
of the rectory at the turn in the road to Brighton. My natural firmness
deserted me; I felt torturing presentiments that some great misfortune
would happen in my absence; I astonished myself--I, the widow of the
Spartan Pratolungo!--by having a good cry, like any other woman.
Sooner or later, we susceptible people pay with the heartache for the
privilege of loving. No matter: heartache or not, one must have something
to love in this world as long as one lives in it. I have lived in
it--never mind how many years--and I have got Lucilla. Before Lucilla I
had the Doctor. Before the Doctor--ah, my friends, we won't look back
beyond the Doctor!
CHAPTER THE NINETEENTH
Second Result of the Robbery
THE history of my proceedings in Paris can be dismissed in a very few
words. It is only necessary to dwell in detail on one among the many
particulars which connect themselves in my memory with the rescue of good
The affair, this time, assumed the gravest possible aspect. The venerable
victim had gone the length of renewing his youth, in respect of his
teeth, his hair, his complexion, and his figure (this last involving the
purchase of a pair of stays). I declare I hardly knew him again, he was
so outrageously and unnaturally young. The utmost stretch of my influence
was exerted over him in vain. He embraced me with the most touching
fervour; he expressed the noblest sentiments--but in the matter of his
contemplated marriage, he was immovable. Life was only tolerable to him
on one condition. The beloved object, or death--such was the programme of
this volcanic old man.
To make the prospect more hopeless still, the beloved object proved, on
this occasion, to be a bold enough woman to play her trump card at
I give the jade her due. She assumed a perfectly unassailable attitude:
we had her full permission to break off the match--if we could. "I refer
you to your father. Pray understand that I don't wish to marry him, if
his daughters object to it. He has only to say, 'Release me.' From that
moment he is free." There was no contending against such a system of
defence as this. We knew as well as she did that our fascinated parent
would not say the word. Our one chance was to spend money in
investigating the antecedent indiscretions of the lady's life, and to
produce against her proof so indisputable that not even an old man's
infatuation could say, This is a lie.
We disbursed; we investigated; we secured our proof. It took a fortnight.
At the end of that time, we had the necessary materials in hand for
opening the eyes of good Papa.
In the course of the inquiry I was brought into contact with many strange
people--among others, with a man who startled me, at our first interview,
by presenting a personal deformity, which, with all my experience of the
world, I now saw oddly enough for the first time.
The man's face, instead of exhibiting any of the usual shades of
complexion, was hideously distinguished by a superhuman--I had almost
said a devilish--colouring of livid blackish _blue!_ He proved to be a
most kind, intelligent, and serviceable person. But when we first
confronted each other, his horrible color so startled me, that I could
not repress a cry of alarm. He not only passed over my involuntary act of
rudeness in the most indulgent manner--he explained to me the cause which
had produced his peculiarity of complexion; so as to put me at my ease
before we entered on the delicate private inquiry which had brought us
"I beg your pardon," said this unfortunate man, "for not having warned
you of my disfigurement, before I entered the room. There are hundreds of
people discolored as I am, in the various parts of the civilized world;
and I supposed that you had met, in the course of your experience, with
other examples of my case. The blue tinge in my complexion is produced by
the effect on the blood of Nitrate of Silver--taken internally. It is the
only medicine which relieves sufferers like me from an otherwise
incurable malady. We have no alternative but to accept the consequences
for the sake of the cure."
He did not mention what his malady had been; and I abstained, it is
needless to say, from questioning him further. I got used to his
disfigurement in the course of my relations with him; and I should no
doubt have forgotten my blue man in attending to more absorbing matters
of interest, if the effects of Nitrate of Silver as a medicine had not
been once more unexpectedly forced on my attention, in another quarter,
and under circumstances which surprised me in no ordinary degree.
Having saved Papa on the brink of--let us say, his twentieth precipice,
it was next necessary to stay a few days longer and reconcile him to the
hardship of being rescued in spite of himself. You would have been
greatly shocked, if you had seen how he suffered. He gnashed his
expensive teeth; he tore his beautifully manufactured hair. In the
fervour of his emotions, I have no doubt he would have burst his new
stays--if I had not taken them away, and sold them half-price, and made
(to that small extent) a profit out of our calamity to set against the
loss. Do what one may in the detestable system of modern society, the
pivot on which it all turns is Money. Money, when you are saving Freedom!
Money, when you are saving Papa! Is there no remedy for this? A word in
your ear. Wait till the next revolution!
During the time of my absence, I had of course corresponded with Lucilla.
Her letters to me--very sad and very short--reported a melancholy state
of things at Dimchurch. While I had been away, the dreadful epileptic
seizures had attacked Oscar with increasing frequency and increasing
severity. The moment I could see my way to getting back to England, I
wrote to Lucilla to cheer her with the intimation of my return. Two days
only before my departure from Paris, I received another letter from her.
I was weak enough to be almost afraid to open it. Her writing to me
again, when she knew that we should be re-united at such an early date,
suggested that she must have some very startling news to communicate. My
mind misgave me that it would prove to be news of the worst sort.
I summoned courage to open the envelope. Ah, what fools we are! For once
that our presentments come right, they prove a hundred times to be wrong.
Instead of distressing me, the letter delighted me. Our gloomy prospect
was brightening at last.
Thus--feeling her way over the paper, in her large childish
"DEAREST FRIEND AND SISTER,--I cannot wait until we meet, to tell you my
good news. The Brighton doctor has been dismissed; and a doctor from
London has been tried instead. My dear! for intellect there is nothing
like London. The new man sees, thinks, and makes up his mind on the spot.
He has a way of his own of treating Oscar's case; and he answers for
curing him of the horrible fits. There is news for you! Come back, and
let us jump for joy together. How wrong I was to doubt the future! Never,
never, never will I doubt it again. This is the longest letter I have
To this, a postscript was added, in Oscar's handwriting, as follows:--
"Lucilla has told you that there is some hope for me at last. What I
write in this place is written without her knowledge--for your private
ear only. Take the first opportunity you can find of coming to see me at
Browndown, without allowing Lucilla to hear of it. I have a great favor
to ask of you. My happiness depends on your granting it. You shall know
what it is, when we meet.
This postscript puzzled me.
It was not in harmony with the implicit confidence which I had observed
Oscar to place habitually in Lucilla. It jarred on my experience of his
character, which presented him to me as the reverse of a reserved
secretive man. His concealment of his identity, when he first came among
us, had been a forced concealment--due entirely to his horror of being
identified with the hero of the trial. In all the ordinary relations of
life, he was open and unreserved to a fault. That he could have a secret
to keep from Lucilla, and to confide to me, was something perfectly
unintelligible to my mind. It highly excited my curiosity; it gave me a
new reason for longing to get back.
I was able to make all my arrangements, and to bid adieu to my father and
my sisters on the evening of the twenty-third. Early on the morning of
the twenty-fourth, I left Paris, and reached Dimchurch in time for the
final festivities in celebration of Christmas Eve.
The first hour of Christmas Day had struck on the clock in our own pretty
sitting-room, before I could prevail upon Lucilla to let me rest, after
my journey, in bed. She was now once more the joyous light-hearted
creature of our happier time; and she had so much to say to me, that not
even her father himself (on this occasion) could have talked her down.
The next morning she paid the penalty of exciting herself over-night.
When I went into her room, she was suffering from a nervous head-ache,
and was not able to rise at her usual hour. She proposed of her own
accord that I should go alone to Browndown to see Oscar on my return. It
is only doing common justice to myself to say that this was a relief to
me. If she had had the use of her eyes, my conscience would have been
easy enough--but I shrank from deceiving my dear blind girl, even in the
So, with Lucilla's knowledge and approval, I went to Oscar alone.
I found him fretful and anxious--ready to flame out into one of his
sudden passions, on the smallest provocation. Not the slightest
reflection of Lucilla's recovered cheerfulness appeared in Lucilla's
"Has she said anything to you about the new doctor?" were the first words
he addressed to me.
"She has told me that she feels the greatest faith in him," I answered.
"She firmly believes that he speaks the truth in saying he can cure you."
"Did she show any curiosity to know _how_ he is curing me?"
"Not the slightest curiosity that I could see. It is enough for her that
you _are_ to be cured. The rest she leaves to the doctor."
My last answer appeared to relieve him. He sighed, and leaned back in his
chair. "That's right!" he said to himself. "I'm glad to hear that."
"Is the doctor's treatment of you a secret?" I asked.
"It must be a secret from Lucilla," he said, speaking very earnestly. "If
she attempts to find it out, she must be kept--for the present, at
least--from all knowledge of it. Nobody has any influence over her but
you. I look to you to help me."
"Is this the favor you had to ask me?"
"Am I to know the secret of the medical treatment?"
"Certainly! How can I expect you to help me unless you know what a
serious reason there is for keeping Lucilla in the dark."
He laid a strong emphasis on the two words "serious reason. I began to
feel a little uneasy. I had never yet taken the slightest advantage of my
poor Lucilla's blindness. And here was her promised husband--of all the
people in the world--proposing to me to keep her in the dark.
"Is the new doctor's treatment dangerous?" I inquired.
"Not in the least."
"Is it not so certain as he has led Lucilla to believe?"
"It is quite certain.
"Did the other doctors know of it?"
"Why did they not try it?"
"They were afraid."
"Afraid? What _is_ the treatment?"
"Many medicines? or one?"
"What is the name of it?"
"Nitrate of Silver."
I started to my feet, looked at him, and dropped back into my chair.
My mind reverted, the instant I recovered myself, to the effect produced
on me when the blue man in Paris first entered my presence. In informing
me of the effect of the medicine, he had (you will remember) concealed
from me the malady for which he had taken it. It had been left to Oscar,
of all the people in the world, to enlighten me--and that by a reference
to his own case! I was so shocked that I sat speechless.
With his quick sensibilities, there was no need for me to express myself
in words. My face revealed to him what was passing in my mind.
"You have seen a person who has taken Nitrate of Silver!" he exclaimed.
"Have _you?_" I asked.
"I know the price I pay for being cured," he answered quietly.
His composure staggered me. "How long have you been taking this horrible
drug?" I inquired.
"A little more than a week."
"I see no change in you yet."
"The doctor tells me there will be no visible change for weeks and weeks
Those words roused a momentary hope in me. "There is time to alter your
mind," I said. "For heaven's sake reconsider your resolution before it is
He smiled bitterly. "Weak as I am," he answered, "for once, my mind is
I suppose I took a woman's view of the matter. I lost my temper when I
looked at his beautiful complexion and thought of the future.
"Are you in your right senses?" I burst out. "Do you mean to tell me that
you are deliberately bent on making yourself an object of horror to
everybody who sees you?"
"The one person whose opinion I care for," he replied, "will never see
I understood him at last. _That_ was the consideration which had
reconciled him to it!
Lucilla's horror of dark people and dark shades of color, of all kinds,
was, it is needless to say, recalled to my memory by the turn the
conversation was taking now. Had she confessed it to him, as she had
confessed it to me? No! I remembered that she had expressly warned me not
to admit him into our confidence in this matter. At an early period of
their acquaintance, she had asked him which of his parents he resembled.
This led him into telling her that his father had been a dark man.
Lucilla's delicacy had at once taken the alarm. "He speaks very tenderly
of his dead father," she said to me. "It may hurt him if he finds out the
antipathy I have to dark people. Let us keep it to ourselves." As things
now were, it was on the tip of my tongue to remind him, that Lucilla
would hear of his disfigurement from other people; and then to warn him
of the unpleasant result that might follow. On reflection, however, I
thought it wiser to wait a little and sound his motives first.
"Before you tell me how I can help you," I said, "I want to know one
thing more. Have you decided in this serious matter entirely by yourself?
Have you taken no advice?"
"I don't want advice," he answered sharply. "My case admits of no choice.
Even such a nervous undecided creature as I am, can judge for himself
where there is no alternative."
"Did the doctors tell you there was no alternative?" I asked.
"The doctors were afraid to tell me. I had to force it out of them. I
said, 'I appeal to your honor to answer a plain question plainly. Is
there any certain prospect of my getting the better of the fits?' They
only said, 'At your time of life, we may reasonably hope so.' I pressed
them closer:--'Can you fix a date to which I may look forward as the date
of my deliverance?' They could neither of them do it. All they could say
was, 'Our experience justifies us in believing that you will grow out of
it; but it does _not_ justify us in saying when.' 'Then, I may be years
growing out of it?' They were obliged to own that it might be so. 'Or I
may never grow out of it, at all?' They tried to turn the conversation. I
wouldn't have it. I said, 'Tell me honestly, is that one of the
possibilities, in my case?' The Dimchurch doctor looked at the London
doctor. The London man said, 'If you will have it, it is one of the
possibilities.' Just consider the prospect which his answer placed before
me! Day after day, week after week, month after month, always in danger,
go where I may, of falling down in a fit--is that a miserable position?
or is it not?"
How could I answer him? What could I say?
He went on:--
"Add to that wretched state of things that I am engaged to be married.
The hardest disappointment which can fall on a man, falls on me. The
happiness of my life is within my reach--and I am forbidden to enjoy it.
It is not only my health that is broken up, my prospects in life are
ruined as well. The woman I love is a woman forbidden to me while I
suffer as I suffer now. Realize that--and then fancy you see a man
sitting at this table here, with pen, ink, and paper before him, who has
only to scribble a line or two, and to begin the cure of you from that
moment. Deliverance in a few months from the horror of the fits; marriage
in a few months to the woman you love. That heavenly prospect in exchange
for the hellish existence that you are enduring now. And the one price to
pay for it, a discolored face for the rest of your life--which the one
person who is dearest to you will never see? Would you have hesitated?
When the doctor took up the pen to write the prescription--tell me, if
you had been in my place, would you have said, No?"
I still sat silent. My obstinacy--women are such mules!--declined to give
way, even when my conscience told me that he was right.
He sprang to his feet, in the same fever of excitement which I remembered
so well, when I had irritated him at Browndown into telling me who he
"Would you have said, No?" he reiterated, stooping over me, flushed and
heated, as he had stooped on that first occasion, when he had whispered
his name in my ear. "Would you?" he repeated, louder and louder--"would
At the third reiteration of the words, the frightful contortion that I
knew so well, seized on his face. The wrench to the right twisted his
body. He dropped at my feet. Good God! who could have declared that he
was wrong, with such an argument in his favor as I saw at that moment?
Who would not have said that any disfigurement would be welcome as a
refuge from this?
The servant ran in, and helped me to move the furniture to a safe
distance from him, "There won't be much more of it, ma'am," said the man,
noticing my agitation, and trying to compose me. "In a month or two, the
doctor says the medicine will get hold of him." I could say nothing on my
side--I could only reproach myself bitterly for disputing with him and
exciting him, and leading perhaps to the hideous seizure which had
attacked him in my presence for the second time.
The fit on this occasion was a short one. Perhaps the drug was already
beginning to have some influence over him? In twenty minutes, he was able
to resume his chair, and to go on talking to me.
"You think I shall horrify you when my face has turned blue," he said
with a faint smile. "Don't I horrify you now when you see me in
convulsions on the floor?"
I entreated him to dwell on it no more.
"God knows," I said, "you have convinced me--obstinate as I am. Let us
try to think of nothing now but of the prospect of your being cured. What
do you wish me to do?"
"You have great influence over Lucilla," he said. "If she expresses any
curiosity, in future conversations with you, about the effect of the
medicine, check her at once. Keep her as ignorant of it as she is now!"
"Why! If she knows what you know, how will she feel? Shocked and
horrified, as you felt. What will she do? She will come straight here,
and try, as you have tried, to persuade me to give it up. Is that true or
(Impossible to deny that it was true.)
"I am so fond of her," he went on, "that I can refuse her nothing. She
would end in making me give it up. The instant her back was turned, I
should repent my own weakness, and return to the medicine. Here is a
perpetual struggle in prospect, for a man who is already worn out. Is it
desirable, after what you have just seen, to expose me to that?"
It would have been useless cruelty to expose him to it. How could I do
otherwise than consent to make his sacrifice of himself--his _necessary_
sacrifice--as easy as I could? At the same time, I implored him to
remember one thing.
"Mind," I said, "we can never hope to keep her in ignorance of the change
in you, when the change comes. Sooner or later, some one will let the
"I only want it to be concealed from her while the disfigurement of me is
in progress," he answered. "When nothing she can say or do will alter
it--I will tell her myself. She is so happy in the hope of my recovery!
What good can be gained by telling her beforehand of the penalty that I
pay for my deliverance? My ugly color will never terrify my poor darling.
As for other persons, I shall not force myself on the view of the world.
It is my one wish to live out of the world. The few people about me will
soon get reconciled to my face. Lucilla will set them the example. She
won't trouble herself long about a change in me that she can neither feel
Ought I to have warned him here of Lucilla's inveterate prejudice, and of
the difficulty there might be in reconciling her to the change in him
when she heard of it? I dare say I ought, I daresay I was to blame in
shrinking from inflicting new anxieties and new distresses on a man who
had already suffered so much. The simple truth is--I could not do it.
Would you have done it? Ah, if you would, I hope I may never come in
contact with you. What a horrid wretch you must be! The end of it was
that I left the house--pledged to keep Lucilla in ignorance of the cost
at which Oscar had determined to purchase his cure, until Oscar thought
fit to enlighten her himself.
CHAPTER THE TWENTIETH
Good Papa again!
THE promise I had given did not expose me to the annoyance of being kept
long on the watch against accidents. If we could pass safely over the
next five days, we might feel pretty sure of the future. On the last day
of the old year, Lucilla was bound by the terms of the will to go to
London, and live her allotted three months under the roof of her aunt.
In the brief interval that elapsed before her departure, she twice
approached the dangerous subject.
On the first occasion, she asked me if I knew what medicine Oscar was
taking. I pleaded ignorance, and passed at once to other matters. On the
second occasion, she advanced still further on the way to discovery of
the truth. She now inquired if I had heard how the physic worked the
cure. Having been already informed that the fits proceeded from a certain
disordered condition of the brain, she was anxious to know whether the
medical treatment was likely to affect the patient's head. This question
(which I was of course unable to answer) she put to both the doctors.
Already warned by Oscar, they quieted her by declaring that the process
of cure acted by general means, and did not attack the head. From that
moment, her curiosity was satisfied. Her mind had other objects of
interest to dwell on, before she left Dimchurch. She touched on the
perilous topic no more.
It was arranged that I was to accompany Lucilla to London. Oscar was to
follow us, when the state of his health permitted him to take the
journey. As betrothed husband of Lucilla, he had his right of entry,
during her residence in her aunt's house. As for me, I was admitted at
Lucilla's intercession. She declined to be separated from me for three
Miss Batchford wrote, most politely, to offer me a hospitable welcome
during the day. She had no second spare-room at her disposal--so we
settled that I was to sleep at a lodging-house in the neighborhood. In
this same house, Oscar was also to be accommodated, when the doctors
sanctioned his removal to London. It was now thought likely--if all went
well--that the marriage might be celebrated at the end of the three
months, from Miss Batchford's residence in town.
Three days before the date of Lucilla's departure, these plans--so far as
I was concerned in them--were all over-thrown.
A letter from Paris reached me, with more bad news. My absence had
produced the worst possible effect on good Papa.
The moment my influence had been removed, he had become perfectly
unmanageable. My sisters assured me that the abominable woman from whom I
had rescued him, would most certainly end in marrying him after all,
unless I reappeared immediately on the scene. What was to be done?
Nothing was to be done, but to fly into a rage--to grind my teeth, and
throw down all my things, in the solitude of my own room--and then to go
back to Paris.
Lucilla behaved charmingly. When she saw how angry and how distressed I
was, she suppressed all exhibition of disappointment on her side, with
the truest and kindest consideration for my feelings. "Write to me
often," said the charming creature, "and come back to me as soon as you
can." Her father took her to London. Two days before they left, I said
good-bye at the rectory and at Browndown; and started--once more by the
Newhaven and Dieppe route--for Paris.
I was in no humour (as your English saying is) to mince matters, in
controlling this new outbreak on the part of my evergreen parent. I
insisted on instantly removing him from Paris, and taking him on a
continental tour. I was proof against his paternal embraces; I was deaf
to his noble sentiments. He declared he should die on the road. When I
look back at it now, I am amazed at my own cruelty. I said, "En route,
Papa!"--and packed him up, and took him to Italy.
He became enamored, at intervals, now of one fair traveler and now of
another, all through the journey from Paris to Rome. (Wonderful old man!)
Arrived at Rome--that hotbed of the enemies of mankind--I saw my way to
putting a moral extinguisher on the author of my being. The Eternal City
contains three hundred and sixty-five churches, and (say) three million
and sixty-five pictures. I insisted on his seeing them all--at the
advanced age of seventy-five years! The sedative result followed, exactly
as I had anticipated. I stupefied good Papa with churches and
pictures--and then I tried him with a marble woman to begin with. He fell
asleep before the Venus of the Capitol. When I saw that, I said to
myself, Now he will do; Don Juan is reformed at last.
Lucilla's correspondence with me--at first cheerful--gradually assumed a
Six weeks had passed since her departure from Dimchurch; and still
Oscar's letters held out no hope of his being able to join her in London.
His recovery was advancing, but not so rapidly as his medical adviser had
anticipated. It was possible--to look the worst in the face boldly--that
he might not get the doctor's permission to leave Browndown before the
time arrived for Lucilla's return to the rectory. In this event, he could
only entreat her to be patient, and to remember that though he was
gaining ground but slowly, he was still getting on. Under these
circumstances, Lucilla was naturally vexed and dejected. She had never
(she wrote), from her girlhood upward, spent such a miserable time with
her aunt as she was spending now.
On reading this letter, I instantly smelt something wrong.
I corresponded with Oscar almost as frequently as with Lucilla. His last
letter to me flatly contradicted his last letter to his promised wife. In
writing to my address, he declared himself to be rapidly advancing
towards recovery. Under the new treatment, the fits succeeded each other
at longer and longer intervals, and endured a shorter and shorter time.
Here then was plainly a depressing report sent to Lucilla, and an
encouraging report sent to me.
What did it mean?
Oscar's next letter to me answered the question.
"I told you in my last" (he wrote), "that the discoloration of my skin
had begun. The complexion which you were once so good as to admire, has
disappeared for ever. I am now of a livid ashen color--so like death,
that I sometimes startle myself when I look in the glass. In about six
weeks more, as the doctor calculates, this will deepen to a blackish
blue; and then, 'the saturation' (as he calls it) will be complete.
"So far from feeling any useless regrets at having taken the medicine
which is producing these ugly effects, I am more grateful to my Nitrate
of Silver than words can say. If you ask for the secret of this
extraordinary exhibition of philosophy on my part, I can give it in one
line. For the last ten days, I have not had a fit. In other words, for
the last ten days, I have lived in Paradise. I declare I would have
cheerfully lost an arm or a leg to gain the blessed peace of mind, the
intoxicating confidence in the future--it is nothing less--that I feel
"Still there is a drawback which prevents me from enjoying perfect
tranquillity even yet. When was there ever a pleasure in this world,
without a lurking possibility of pain hidden away in it somewhere?
"I have lately discovered a peculiarity in Lucilla which is new to me,
and which has produced a very unpleasant impression on my mind. My
proposed avowal to her of the change in my personal appearance, has now
become a matter of far more serious difficulty than I had anticipated
when the question was discussed between you and me at Browndown.
"Have you ever found out that the strongest antipathy she has, is her
purely imaginary antipathy to dark people and to dark shades of color of
all kinds? This strange prejudice is the result, as I suppose, of some
morbid growth of her blindness, quite as inexplicable to herself as to
other people. Explicable, or not, there it is in her. Read the extract
that follows from one of her letters to her father, which her father
showed to me--and you will not be surprised to hear that I tremble for
myself when the time comes for telling her what I have done.
"Thus she writes to Mr. Finch:--
" 'I am sorry to say, I have had a little quarrel with my aunt. It is all
made up now, but it has hardly left us such good friends as we were
before. Last week, there was a dinner-party here; and, among the guests,
was a Hindoo gentleman (converted to Christianity) to whom my aunt has
taken a great fancy. While the maid was dressing me, I unluckily inquired
if she had seen the Hindoo--and, hearing that she had, I still more
unfortunately asked her to tell me what he was like. She described him as
being very tall and lean, with a dark brown complexion and glittering
black eyes. My mischievous fancy instantly set to work on this horrid
combination of darknesses. Try as I might to resist it, my mind drew a
dreadful picture of the Hindoo, as a kind of monster in human form. I
would have given worlds to have been excused from going down into the
drawing-room. At the last moment I was sent for, and the Hindoo was
introduced to me. The instant I felt him approaching, my darkness was
peopled with brown demons. He took my hand. I tried hard to control
myself--but I really could not help shuddering and starting back when he
touched me. To make matters worse, he sat next to me at dinner. In five
minutes I had long, lean, black-eyed beings all round me; perpetually
growing in numbers, and pressing closer and closer on me as they grew. It
ended in my being obliged to leave the table. When the guests were all
gone, my aunt was furious. I admitted my conduct was unreasonable in the
last degree. At the same time, I begged her to make allowances for me. I
reminded her that I was blind at a year old, and that I had really no
idea of what any person was like, except by drawing pictures of them in
my imagination, from description, and from my own knowledge obtained by
touch. I appealed to her to remember that, situated as I am, my fancy is
peculiarly liable to play me tricks, and that I have no sight to see
with, and to show me--as other people's eyes show _them_--when they have
taken a false view of persons and things. It was all in vain. My aunt
would admit of no excuse for me. I was so irritated by her injustice,
that I reminded her of an antipathy of her own, quite as ridiculous as
mine--an antipathy to cats. She, who can see that cats are harmless,
shudders and turns pale, for all that, if a cat is in the same room with
her. Set my senseless horror of dark people against her senseless horror
of cats--and say which of us has the right to be angry with the other?' "
Such was the quotation from Lucilla's letter to her father. At the end of
it, Oscar resumed, as follows:--
"I wonder whether you will now understand me, if I own to you that I have
made the worst of my case in writing to Lucilla? It is the only excuse I
can produce for not joining her in London. Weary as I am of our long
separation, I cannot prevail on myself to run the risk of meeting her in
the presence of strangers, who would instantly notice my frightful color,
and betray it to her. Think of her shuddering and starting back from my
hand when it took hers! No! no! I must choose my own opportunity, in this
quiet place, of telling her what (I suppose) must be told--with time
before me to prepare her mind for the disclosure (if it must come), and
with nobody but you near to see the first mortifying effect of the shock
which I shall inflict on her.
"I have only to add, before I release you, that I write these lines in
the strictest confidence. You have promised not to mention my
disfigurement to Lucilla, unless I first give you leave. I now, more than
ever, hold you to that promise. The few people about me here, are all
pledged to secrecy as you are. If it is really inevitable that she should
know the truth--I alone must tell it; in my own way, and at my own time."
"If it must come," "if it is really inevitable"--these phrases in Oscar's
letter satisfied me that he was already beginning to comfort himself with
an insanely delusive idea--the idea that it might be possible permanently
to conceal the ugly personal change in him from Lucilla's knowledge.
If I had been at Dimchurch, I have no doubt I should have begun to feel
seriously uneasy at the turn which things appeared to be taking now.
But distance has a very strange effect in altering one's customary way of
thinking of affairs at home. Being in Italy instead of in England, I
dismissed Lucilla's antipathies and Oscar's scruples, as both alike
unworthy of serious consideration. Sooner or later, time (I considered)
would bring these two troublesome young people to their senses. Their
marriage would follow, and there would be an end of it! In the meanwhile,
I continued to feast good Papa on Holy Families and churches. Ah, poor
dear, how he yawned over Caraccis and cupolas! and how fervently he
promised never to fall in love again, if I would only take him back to
We set our faces homeward a day or two after the receipt of Oscar's
letter. I left my reformed father, resting his aching old bones in his
own easy-chair; capable perhaps, even yet, of contracting a Platonic
attachment to a lady of his own time of life--but capable (as I firmly
believed) of nothing more. "Oh, my child, let me rest!" he said, when I
wished him good-bye. "And never show me a church or a picture again as
long as I live!"
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIRST
Madame Pratolungo Returns to Dimchurch
I REACHED London in the last week of Lucilla's residence under her aunt's
roof, and waited in town until it was time to take her back to Dimchurch.
As soon as it had become obviously too late for Oscar to risk the dreaded
meeting with Lucilla before strangers, his correspondence had, as a
matter of course, assumed a brighter tone. She was in high spirits once
more, poor thing, when we met--and full of delight at having me near her
again. We thoroughly enjoyed our few days in London--and took our fill of
music at operas and concerts. I got on excellently well with the aunt
until the last day, when something happened which betrayed me into an
avowal of my political convictions.
The old lady's consternation, when she discovered that I looked hopefully
forward to a coming extermination of kings and priests, and a general
re-distribution of property all over the civilized globe, is unutterable
in words. On that occasion, I made one more aristocrat tremble. I also
closed Miss Batchford's door on me for the rest of my life. No matter!
The day is coming when the Batchford branch of humanity will not possess
a door to close. All Europe is drifting nearer and nearer to the
Pratolungo programme. Cheer up, my brothers without land, and my sisters
without money in the Funds! We will have it out with the infamous rich
yet. Long live the Republic!
Early in the month of April, Lucilla and I took leave of the Metropolis,
and went back to Dimchurch.
As we drew nearer and nearer to the rectory, as Lucilla began to flush
and fidget in eager anticipation of her re-union with Oscar, that
uneasiness of mind which I had so readily dismissed while I was in Italy,
began to find its way back to me again. My imagination now set to work at
drawing pictures--startling pictures of Oscar as a changed being, as a
Medusa's head too terrible to be contemplated by mortal eyes. Where would
he meet us? At the entrance to the village? No. At the rectory gate? No.
In the quieter part of the garden which was at the back of the house?
Yes! There he stood waiting for us--alone!
Lucilla flew into his arms with a cry of delight. I stood behind and
looked at them.
Ah, how vividly I remember--at the moment when she embraced him--the
first shock of seeing the two faces together! The drug had done its work.
I saw her fair cheek laid innocently against the livid blackish blue of
_his_ discolored skin. Heavens, how cruelly that first embrace marked the
contrast between what he had been when I left him, and what he had
changed to when I saw him now! His eyes turned from her face to mine, in
silent appeal to me while he held her in his arms. Their look told me the
thought in him, as eloquently as if he had put it into words. "You, who
love her, say--can we ever be cruel enough to tell her of _this?_"
I approached to take his hand. At the same moment, Lucilla suddenly drew
back from him, laid her left hand on his shoulder, and passed her right
hand rapidly over his face.
For an instant I felt my heart stand still. Her miraculous sensitiveness
of touch had detected the dark color of my dress, on the day when we
first met. Would it serve her, this time, as truly as it had served her
She paused, after the first passage of her fingers over his face, with
the breathless attention to what she was about, which, in my own case, I
remembered so well. A second time, she passed her hand over
him--considered again--and turned my way next.
"What does his face tell _you?_" she asked. "It tells _me_ that he has
something on his mind. What is it?"
We were safe--so far! The hateful medicine, in altering the color, had
not affected the texture, of his skin. As her touch had left it on her
departure, so her touch found it again, on her return.
Before I could reply to Lucilla, Oscar answered for himself.
"Nothing is wrong, my darling," he said. "My nerves are a little out of
order to-day; and the joy of seeing you again has overcome me for the
moment--that is all."
She shook her head impatiently.
"No," she said, "it's not all." She touched his heart. "Why is it beating
so fast?" She took his hand in hers. "Why has it turned so cold? I must
know. I _will_ know! Come indoors."
At that awkward moment, the most wearisome of living men suddenly proved
himself to be the most welcome of living men. The rector appeared in the
garden, to receive his daughter on her return. Enfolded in Reverend
Finch's paternal embraces; harangued by Reverend Finch's prodigious
voice, Lucilla was effectually silenced--the subject was inevitably
changed. Oscar drew me aside out of hearing, while her attention was
diverted from him.
"I saw you," he said. "_You_ were horrified at the first sight of me.
_You_ were relieved when you found that her touch told her nothing. Help
me to keep her from suspecting it, for two months more--and you will be
the best friend that ever man had."
"Two months?" I repeated.
"Yes. If there is no return of the fits in two months, the doctor will
consider my recovery complete. Lucilla and I may be married at the end of
"My friend Oscar, are you contemplating a fraud on Lucilla?"
"What do you mean?"
"Come! come! you know what I mean! Is it honorable first to entrap her
into marrying you--and then to confess to her the color of your face?"
He sighed bitterly.
"I shall fill her with horror of me, if I confess it. Look at me! look at
me!" he said, lifting his ghastly hands in despair to his blue face.
I was determined not to give way--even to that.
"Be a man!" I said. "Own it boldly. What is she going to marry you for?
For your face that she can never see? No! For your heart that is one with
her own. Trust to her natural good sense--and, better than that, to the
devoted love that you have inspired in her. She will see her stupid
prejudice in its true light, when she feels it trying to part her from
"No! no! no! Remember her letter to her father. I shall lose her for
ever, if I tell her now!"
I took his arm, and endeavored to lead him to Lucilla. She as already
trying to escape from her father; she was already longing to hear the
sound of Oscar's voice again.
He obstinately shrank back. I began to feel angry with him. In another
moment, I should have said or done something that I might have repented
of afterwards--if a new interruption had not happened before I could open
Another person appeared in the garden--the man-servant from Browndown;
with a letter for his master in his hand.
"This has just come, sir," said the man, "by the afternoon post. It is
marked 'Immediate.' I thought I had better bring it to you here."
Oscar took the letter, and looked at the address. "My brother's writing!"
he exclaimed. "A letter from Nugent!"
He opened the letter--and burst out with a cry of joy which brought
Lucilla instantly to his side.
"What is it?" she asked eagerly.
"Nugent is coming back! Nugent will be here in a week! Oh, Lucilla! my
brother is coming to stay with me at Browndown!"
He caught her in his arms, and kissed her, in the first rapture of
receiving that welcome news. She forced herself away from him without
answering a word. She turned her poor blind face round and round, in the
search for me.
"Here I am!" I said.
She roughly and angrily put her arm in mine. I saw the jealous misery in
her face as she dragged me away with here to the house. Never yet had
Oscar's voice, in _her_ experience of him, sounded the note of happiness
that she heard in it now! Never yet had she felt Oscar's heart on Oscar's
lips, as she felt it when he kissed her in the first joy of anticipating
"Can he hear me?" she whispered, when we had left the lawn, and she felt
the gravel under her feet.
"No. What is it?"
"I hate his brother!"
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SECOND
The Twin-Brother's Letter
LITTLE thinking what a storm he had raised, poor innocent
Oscar--paternally escorted by the rector--followed us into the house,
with his open letter in his hand.
Judging by certain signs visible in my reverend friend, I concluded that
the announcement of Nugent Dubourg's coming visit to Dimchurch--regarded
by the rest of us as heralding the appearance of a twin-brother--was
regarded by Mr. Finch as promising the arrival of a twin-fortune. Oscar
and Nugent shared the comfortable paternal inheritance. Finch smelt
"Compose yourself," I whispered to Lucilla as the two gentlemen followed
us into the sitting-room. "Your jealousy of his brother is a childish
jealousy. There is room enough in his heart for his brother as well as
She only repeated obstinately, with a vicious pinch on my arm, "I hate
"Come and sit down by me," said Oscar, approaching her on the other side.
"I want to run over Nugent's letter. It's so interesting! There is a
message in it to you." Too deeply absorbed in his subject to notice the
sullen submission with which she listened to him, he placed her on a
chair, and began reading. "The first lines," he explained, "relate to
Nugent's return to England, and to his delightful idea of coming to stay
with me at Browndown. Then he goes on: 'I found all your letters waiting
for me on my return to New York. Need I tell you, my dearest brother----'
Lucilla stopped him at those words by rising abruptly from her seat.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"I don't like this chair!"
Oscar got her another--an easy-chair this time--and returned to the
" 'Need I tell you, my dearest brother, how deeply you have interested me
by the announcement of your contemplated marriage? Your happiness is my
happiness. I feel with you; I congratulate you; I long to see my future
Lucilla got up again. Oscar, in astonishment, asked what was wrong now?
"I am not comfortable at this end of the room."
She walked to the other end of the room. Patient Oscar walked after her,
with his precious letter in his hand. He offered her a third chair. She
petulantly declined to take it, and selected another chair for herself.
Oscar returned to the letter:--
" 'How melancholy, and yet how interesting it is, to hear that she is
blind! My sketches of American scenery happened to be lying about in the
room when I read your letter. The first thought that came to me, on
hearing of Miss Finch's affliction, was suggested by my sketches. I said
to myself, "Sad! sad! my sister-in-law will never see my Works." The true
artist, Oscar, is always thinking of his Works. I shall bring back, let
me tell you, some very remarkable studies for future pictures. They will
not be so numerous, perhaps, as you may expect. I prefer to trust to my
intellectual perception of beauty, rather than to mere laborious
transcripts from Nature. In certain moods of mine (speaking as an artist)
Nature puts me out.' " There Oscar paused, and appealed to me. "What
writing!--eh? I always told you, Madame Pratolungo, that Nugent was a
genius. You see it now. Don't get up, Lucilla. I am going on. There is a
message to you in this part of the letter. So neatly expressed!"
Lucilla persisted in getting up; the announcement of the neatly-expressed
message to be read next, produced no effect on her. She walked to the
window, and trifled impatiently with the flowers placed in it. Oscar
looked in mild astonishment, first at me--then at the rector. Reverend
Finch--listening thus far with the complimentary attention due to the
correspondence of one young man of fortune with another young man of
fortune--interfered in Oscar's interests, to secure him a patient
"My dear Lucilla, endeavor to control your restlessness. You interfere
with our enjoyment of this interesting letter. I could wish to see fewer
changes of place, my child, and a more undivided attention to what Oscar
is reading to you."
"I am not interested in what he is reading to me." In the nervous
irritation which produced this ungracious answer, she overthrew one of
the flower-pots. Oscar set it up again for her with undiminished
"Not interested!" he exclaimed. "Wait a little. You haven't heard
Nugent's message yet. Listen to this! 'Present my best and kindest
regards to the future Mrs. Oscar' (dear fellow!); 'and say that she has
given me a new interest in hastening my return to England.' There! Isn't
that prettily put? Come Lucilla! own that Nugent is worth listening to
when he writes about _you!_"
She turned towards him for the first time. The charm of the tone in which
he spoke those words subdued her, in spite of herself.
"I am much obliged to your brother," she answered gently, "and very much
ashamed of myself for what I said just now." She stole her hand into his,
and whispered, "You are so fond of Nugent--I begin to be almost afraid
there will be no love left for me."
Oscar was enchanted. "Wait till you see him, and you will be as fond of
him as I am," he said. "Nugent is not like me. He fascinates people the
moment they come in contact with him. Nobody can resist Nugent."
She still held his hand, with a perplexed and saddened face. The
admirable absence of any jealousy on his side--his large and generous
confidence in _her_ love for _him--was just the rebuke to her that she
could feel; just the rebuke also (in my opinion) that she had deserved.
"Go on, Oscar," said the rector, in his deepest notes of encouragement.
"What next, dear boy? what next?"
"Another interesting bit, of quite a new kind," Oscar replied. "There is
a little mystery to stir us up on the last page of the letter. Nugent
says:--'I have become acquainted (here, in New York) with a very
remarkable man, a German who has made a great deal of money in the United
States. He proposes visiting England early in the present year; and he
will write and let me know when he has arrived. I shall feel particular
pleasure in presenting him to you and your future wife. It is quite
possible that you may have special reason to congratulate yourselves on
making his acquaintance. For the present, no more of my new friend until
we meet at Browndown.'--'Special reason to congratulate ourselves on
making his acquaintance.' " repeated Oscar, folding up the letter.
"Nugent never writes in that way without a reason for it. Who can the
German gentleman be?"
Mr. Finch suddenly lifted his head, and looked at Oscar with a certain
appearance of alarm.
"Your brother mentions that he has made his fortune in America," said the
Reverend gentleman. "I hope he is not connected with the money-market. He
might infect Mr. Nugent with the spirit of reckless speculation which is,
so to speak, the national sin of the United States. Your brother, having
no doubt the same generous disposition as yours----"
"A far finer disposition than mine, Mr. Finch," interposed Oscar.
"Possessed, like you, of the gifts of fortune," proceeded the rector,
with mounting enthusiasm.
"Once possessed of them," said Oscar. "Far from being overburdened with
the gifts of fortune, now!"
"What!!!" cried Mr. Finch, with a start of consternation.
"Nugent has run through his fortune," proceeded Oscar, quite composedly.
"I lent him the money to go to America. My brother is a genius, Mr.
Finch. When did you ever hear of a genius who could keep within limits?
Nugent is not content to live in my humble way. He has the tastes of a
prince--money is nothing to him. It doesn't matter. He will make a new
fortune Out of his pictures; and, in the meantime, you know, I can always
lend him something to go on with."
Mr. Finch rose from his seat, with the air of a man whose just
anticipations have not been realized--whose innocent confidence has been
scandalously betrayed. Here was a prospect! Another person in perpetual
want of money, going to settle under the shadow of the rectory! Another
man likely to borrow of Oscar--and that man his brother!
"I fail to take your light view of your brother's extravagance," said the
rector, addressing Oscar with his loftiest severity of manner, at the
door. "I deplore and reprehend Mr. Nugent's misuse of the bounty bestowed
on him by an all-wise Providence. You will do well to consider, before
you encourage your brother's extravagance by lending him money. What does
the great poet of humanity say of lenders? The Bard of Avon tells us,
that 'loan oft loses both itself and friend.' Lay that noble line to
heart, Oscar! Lucilla, be on your guard against that restlessness which I
have already had occasion to reprove. I find I must leave you, Madame
Pratolungo. I had forgotten my parish duties. My parish duties are
waiting for me. Good day! good day!"
He looked round on us all three, in turn, with a very sour face, and
walked out. "Surely," I thought to myself, "this brother of Oscar's is
not beginning well! First, the daughter takes offense at him, and now the
father follows her example. Even on the other side of the Atlantic, Mr.
Nugent Dubourg exercises a malignant influence, and disturbs the family
tranquillity before he has shown his nose in the house!"
Nothing more that is worth recording happened on that day. We had a very
dull evening. Lucilla was out of spirits. As for me, I had not yet had
time to accustom myself to the shocking spectacle of Oscar's discolored
face. I was serious and silent. You would never have guessed me to be a
Frenchwoman, if you had seen me for the first time on the occasion of my
return to the rectory.
The next day a small domestic event happened, which must be chronicled in
Our Dimchurch doctor, always dissatisfied with his position in an obscure
country place, had obtained an appointment in India which offered great
professional advantages to an ambitious man. He called to take leave of
us on his departure. I found an opportunity of speaking to him about
Oscar. He entirely agreed with me that the attempt to keep the change
produced in his former patient by the Nitrate of Silver from Lucilla's
knowledge, was simply absurd. The truth would reach her, he said, before
many days were over our heads. With that prediction, addressed to my
private ear, he left us. The removal of him from the scene was, you will
please to bear in mind, the removal of an important local witness to the
medical treatment of Oscar, and was, as such, an incident with a bearing
of its own on the future, which claims a place for it in the present
Two more days passed, and nothing happened. On the morning of the third
day, the doctor's prophecy was all but fulfilled, through the medium of
the wandering Arab of the family, our funny little Jicks.
While Lucilla and I were strolling about the garden with Oscar, the child
suddenly darted out on us from behind a tree, and, seizing Oscar round
the legs, hailed him affectionately at the top of her voice as "The Blue
Man!" Lucilla instantly stopped, and said, "Who do you call 'The Blue
Man'?" Jicks answered boldly, "Oscar." Lucilla caught the child up in her
arms. "Why do you call Oscar 'The Blue Man'?" she asked. Jicks pointed to
Oscar's face, and then, remembering Lucilla's blindness, appealed to me.
"You tell her!" said Jicks, in high glee. Oscar seized my hand, and
looked at me imploringly. I determined not to interfere. It was bad
enough to remain passive, and to let her be kept in the dark. Actively, I
was resolved to take no part in deceiving her. Her color rose; she put
Jicks down on the ground. "Are you both dumb?" she asked. "Oscar! I
insist on knowing it--how have you got the nick-name of 'The Blue Man'?"
Left helpless, Oscar (to my disgust) took refuge in a lie--and, worse
still, a clumsy lie. He declared that he had got his nick-name in the
nursery, at the time of Lucilla's absence in London, by one day painting
his face in the character of Bluebeard to amuse the children! If Lucilla
had felt the faintest suspicion of the truth, blind as she was, she must
now have discovered it. As things were, Oscar annoyed and irritated her.
I could see that it cost her a struggle to suppress something like a
feeling of contempt for him. "Amuse the children, the next time, in some
other way," she said. "Though I can't see you, still I don't like to hear
of your disfiguring your face by painting it blue." With that answer, she
walked away a little by herself, evidently disappointed in her betrothed
husband for the first time in her experience of him.
He cast another imploring look at me. "Did you hear what she said about
my face?" he whispered.
"You have lost an excellent opportunity of speaking out," I answered. "I
believe you will bitterly regret the folly and the cruelty of deceiving
He shook his head, with the immovable obstinacy of a weak man.
"Nugent doesn't think as you do," he said, handing me the letter. "Read
that bit there--now Lucilla is out of hearing."
I paused for a moment before I could read. The resemblance between the
twins extended even to their handwritings! If I had picked Nugent's
letter up, I should have handed it to Oscar as a letter of Oscar's own
The paragraph to which he pointed, only contained these lines:--"Your
last relieves my anxiety about your health. I entirely agree with you
that any personal sacrifice which cures you of those horrible attacks is
a sacrifice wisely made. As to your keeping the change a secret from the
young lady, I can only say that I suppose you know best how to act in
this emergency. I will abstain from forming any opinion of my own until
I handed Oscar back the letter.
"There is no very warm approval there of the course you are taking," I
said. "The only difference between your brother and me is, that he
suspends his opinion, and that I express mine."
"I have no fear of my brother," Oscar answered. "Nugent will feel for me,
and understand me, when he comes to Browndown. In the meantime, this
shall not happen again."
He stooped over Jicks. The child, while we were talking, had laid herself
down luxuriously on the grass, and was singing to herself little snatches
of a nursery song. Oscar pulled her up on her legs rather roughly. He was
out of temper with her, as well as with himself.
"What are you going to do?" I asked.
"I am going to see Mr. Finch," he answered, "and to have Jicks kept for
the future out of Lucilla's garden."
"Does Mr. Finch approve of your silence?"
"Mr. Finch, Madame Pratolungo, leaves me to decide on a matter which
concerns nobody but Lucilla and myself."
After that reply, there was an end of all further remonstrance from me,
as a matter of course.
Oscar walked off with his prisoner to the house. Jicks trotted along by
his side, unconscious of the mischief she had done, singing another verse
of the nursery song. I rejoined Lucilla, with my mind made up as to the
line of conduct I should adopt in the future. If Oscar did succeed in
keeping the truth concealed from her, I was positively resolved, come
what might of it, to enlighten her before they were married, with my own
lips. What! after pledging myself to keep the secret? Yes. Perish the
promise which makes me false to a person whom I love! I despise such
promises from the bottom of my heart.
Two days more slipped by--and then a telegram found its way to Browndown.
Oscar came running to us, at the rectory, with his news. Nugent had
landed at Liverpool. Oscar was to expect him at Dimchurch on the next
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-THIRD
He sets us All Right
I HAVE thus far quite inadvertently omitted to mention one of the
prominent virtues of Reverend Finch. He was an accomplished master of
that particular form of human persecution which is called reading aloud;
and he inflicted his accomplishment on his family circle at every
available opportunity. Of what we suffered on these occasions, I shall
say nothing. Let it be enough to mention that the rector thoroughly
enjoyed the pleasure of hearing his own magnificent voice.
There was no escaping Mr. Finch when the rage for "reading" seized on
him. Now on one pretense, and now on another, he descended on us
unfortunate women, book in hand; seated us at one end of the room; placed
himself at the other; opened his dreadful mouth; and fired words at us,
like shots at a target, by the hour together. Sometimes he gave us
poetical readings from Shakespeare or Milton; and sometimes Parliamentary
speeches by Burke or Sheridan. Read what he might, he made such a noise
and such a fuss over it; he put his own individuality so prominently in
the foremost place, and he kept the poets or the orators whom he was
supposed to be interpreting so far in the back ground, that they lost
every trace of character of their own, and became one and all perfectly
intolerable reflections of Mr. Finch. I date my first unhappy doubts of
the supreme excellence of Shakespeare's poetry from the rector's
readings; and I attribute to the same exasperating cause my implacable
hostility (on every question of the time) to the policy of Mr. Burke. On
the evening when Nugent Dubourg was expected at Browndown--and when we
particularly wanted to be left alone to dress ourselves, and to gossip by
anticipation about the expected visitor--Mr. Finch was seized with one of
his periodical rages for firing off words at his family, after tea. He
selected _Hamlet_ as the medium for exhibiting his voice, on this
occasion; and he declared, as the principal motive for taking his
elocutionary exercise, that the object he especially had in view was the
benefit of poor Me!
"My good creature, I accidentally heard you reading to Lucilla, the other
day. It was very nice, as far as it went--very nice indeed. But you will
allow me--as a person, Madame Pratolungo, possessing considerable
practice in the art of reading aloud--to observe that you might be
benefited by a hint or two. I will give you a few ideas. (Mrs. Finch! I
propose giving Madame Pratolungo a few ideas.) Pay particular attention,
if you please, to the Pauses, and to the management of the Voice at the
end of the lines. Lucilla, my child, you are interested in this. The
perfecting of Madame Pratolungo is a matter of considerable importance to
_you._ Don't go away."
Lucilla and I happened, on that evening, to be guests at the rectory
table. It was one of the regular occasions on which we left our own side
of the house, and joined the family at (what Mr. Finch called) "the
pastor's evening meal." He had got his wife; he had got his eldest
daughter; he had got your humble servant. A horrid smile of enjoyment
overspread the reverend gentleman's face, as he surveyed us from the
opposite end of the room, and opened his vocal fire on his audience of
"_Hamlet:_ Act the First; Scene the First. Elsinore. A Platform before
the Castle. Francisco on his post" (Mr. Finch). "Enter to him Bernardo"
(Mr. Finch). "Who's there?" "Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself."
(Mrs. Finch unfolds herself--she suckles the baby, and tries to look as
if she was having an intellectual treat.) "Francisco and Bernardo
converse in bass--Boom-boom-boom. Enter Horatio and Marcellus" (Mr. Finch
and Mr. Finch.) "Stand! Who's there?" "Friends to this ground." "And
liegemen to the Dane." (Madame Pratolungo begins to feel the elocutionary
exposition of Shakespeare, where she always feels it, in her legs. She
tries to sit still on her chair. Useless! She is suffering under the
malady known to her by bitter experience of Mr. Finch, as the
Hamlet-Fidgets.) Bernardo and Franciso, Horatio and Marcellus,
converse--Boom-boom-boom. "Enter Ghost of Hamlet's Father." Mr. Finch
makes an awful pause. In the supernatural silence, we can hear the baby
sucking. Mrs. Finch enjoys her intellectual treat. Madame Pratolungo
fidgets. Lucilla catches the infection, and fidgets too. Marcellus-Finch
goes on. "Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio." Bernardo-Finch backs
him: "Looks it not like the King? Mark it, Horatio." Lucilla-Finch
inserts herself in the dialogue: "Papa, I am very sorry; I have had a
nervous headache all day; please excuse me if I take a turn in the
garden." The rector makes another awful pause, and glares at his
daughter. (Exit Lucilla.) Horatio looks at the Ghost, and takes up the
dialogue: "Most like; it harrows me "--Boom-boom-boom. The baby is
satiated. Mrs. Finch wants her handkerchief. Madame Pratolungo seizes the
opportunity of moving her distracted legs, and finds the handkerchief.
Mr. Finch pauses--glares---goes on again--reaches the second scene.
"Enter the King, Queen, Hamlet, Polonius, Laertes, Voltimand, Cornelius,
and Lords Attendant." All Mr. Finch! oh, my legs! my legs! all Mr. Finch,
and Boom-boom-boom. Third scene. "Enter Laertes and Ophelia." (Both
Rectors of Dimchurch; both with deep bass voices; both about five feet
high, pitted with the small-pox, and adorned round the neck with dingy
white cravats.) Mr. Finch goes on and on and on. Mrs. Finch and the baby
simultaneously close their eyes in slumber. Madame Pratolungo suffers
such tortures of restlessness in her lower limbs, that she longs for a
skilled surgeon to take out his knife and deliver her from her own legs.
Mr. Finch advances in deeper and deeper bass, in keener and keener
enjoyment, to the Fourth Scene. ("Enter Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus.")
Mercy! what do I hear? Is relief approaching to us from the world
outside? Are there footsteps in the hall? Yes! Mrs. Finch opens her eyes;
Mrs. Finch hears the footsteps, and rejoices in them as I do. Reverend
Hamlet hears nothing but his own voice. He begins the scene: "The air
bites shrewdly. It is very cold." The door opens. The rector feels a gust
of air, dramatically appropriate, just at the right moment. He looks
round. If it is a servant, let that domestic person tremble! No--not a
servant. Guests--heavens be praised, guests. Welcome, gentlemen--welcome!
No more Hamlet, tonight, thanks to You. Enter two Characters who must be
instantly attended to:--Mr. Oscar Dubourg; introducing his twin-brother
from America, Mr. Nugent Dubourg.
Astonishment at the extraordinary resemblance between them, was the one
impression felt by all three of us, as the brothers entered the room.
Exactly alike in their height, in their walk, in their features, and in
their voices. Both with the same colored hair and the same beardless
faces. Oscar's smile exactly reflected on Nugent's lips. Oscar's odd
little semi-foreign tricks of gesticulation with his hands, exactly
reproduced in the hands of Nugent. And, to crown it all, there was the
complexion which Oscar had lost for ever (just a shade darker perhaps)
found again on Nugent's cheeks! The one difference which made it possible
to distinguish between them, at the moment when they first appeared
together in the room, was also the one difference which Lucilla was
physically incapable of detecting--the terrible contrast of color between
the brother who bore the blue disfigurement of the drug, and the brother
who was left as Nature had made him.
"Delighted to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Finch--I have long wished for
this pleasure. Thank you, Mr. Finch, for all your kindness to my brother.
Madame Pratolungo, I presume? Permit me to shake hands. It is needless to
say, I have heard of your illustrious husband. Aha! here's a baby. Yours,
Mrs. Finch? Girl or boy, ma'am? A fine child--if a bachelor may be
allowed to pronounce an opinion. _Tweet--tweet--tweet!_"
He chirruped to the baby, as if he had been a family man, and snapped his
fingers gaily. Poor Oscar's blue face turned in silent triumph towards
me. "What did I tell you?" his look asked. "Did I not say Nugent
fascinated everybody at first sight?" Most true. An irresistible man. So
utterly different in his manner from Oscar--except when he was in
repose--and yet so like Oscar in other respects, I can only describe him
as his brother completed. He had the pleasant lively flow of spirits, the
easy winning gentleman-like confidence in himself, which Oscar wanted.
And, then, what excellent taste he possessed. He liked children! he
respected the memory of my glorious Pratolungo!--In half a minute from
the time when he entered the room, Nugent Dubourg had won Mrs. Finch's
heart and mine.
He turned from the baby to Mr. Finch, and pointed to the open Shakespeare
on the table.
"You were reading to the ladies?" he said. "I am afraid we have
"Don't mention it," said the rector, with his lofty politeness. "Another
time will do. It is a habit of mine, Mr. Nugent, to read aloud in my
family circle. As a clergyman and a lover of poetry (in both capacities)
I have long cultivated the art of elocution----"
"My dear sir, excuse me, you have cultivated it all wrong!"
Mr. Finch paused, thunderstruck. A man in his presence presuming to have
an opinion of his own! a man in the rectory parlor capable of
interrupting the rector in the middle of a sentence! guilty of the insane
audacity of telling him, as a reader--with Shakespeare open before
them--that he read wrong!
"Oh, we heard you as we came in!" proceeded Nugent, with the most
undiminished confidence, expressed in the most gentlemanlike manner. "You
read it like this." He took up _Hamlet_ and read the opening line of the
Fourth Scene, ("The air bites shrewdly. It is very cold") with an
irresistibly-accurate imitation of Mr. Finch. "That's nor the way Hamlet
would speak. No man in his position would remark that it was very cold in
that bow-wow manner. What is Shakespeare before all things? True to
nature; always true to nature. What condition is Hamlet in when he is
expecting to see the Ghost? He is nervous, and he feels the cold. Let him
show it naturally; let him speak as any other man would speak, under the
circumstances. Look here! Quick and quiet--like this. 'The air bites
shrewdly'--there Hamlet stops and shivers--pur-rer-rer! 'it is very
cold.' That's the way to read Shakespeare!"
Mr. Finch lifted his head into the air as high as it could possibly go,
and brought the flat of his hand down with a solemn and sounding smack on
the open book.
"Allow me to say, sir----!" he began.
Nugent stopped him again, more good-humouredly than ever.
"You don't agree with me? All right! Quite useless to dispute about it. I
don't know what you may be--I am the most opinionated man in existence.
Sheer waste of time, my dear sir, to attempt convincing Me. Now, just
look at that child!" Here Mr. Nugent Dubourg's attention was suddenly
attracted by the baby. He twisted round on his heel, and addressed Mrs.
Finch. "I take the liberty of saying, ma'am, that a more senseless dress
doesn't exist, than the dress that is put, in this country, on infants of
tender years. What are the three main functions which that child--that
charming child of yours-performs? He sucks; he sleeps; and he grows. At
the present moment, he isn't sucking, he isn't sleeping--he is growing
with all his might. Under those interesting circumstances, what does he
want to do? To move his limbs freely in every direction. You let him
swing his arms to his heart's content--and you deny him freedom to kick
his legs. You clothe him in a dress three times as long as himself. He
tries to throw his legs up in the air as he throws his arms, and he can't
do it. There is his senseless long dress entangling itself in his toes,
and making an effort of what Nature intended to be a luxury. Can anything
be more absurd? What are mothers about? Why don't they think for
themselves? Take my advice--short petticoats, Mrs. Finch. Liberty,
glorious liberty, for my young friend's legs! Room, heaps of room, for
that infant martyr's toes!"
Mrs. Finch listened helplessly--lifted the baby's long petticoats, and
looked at them--stared piteously at Nugent Dubourg--opened her lips to
speak--and, thinking better of it, turned her watery eyes on her husband,
appealing to _him_ to take the matter up. Mr. Finch made another attempt
to assert his dignity--a ponderously satirical attempt, this time.
"In offering your advice to my wife, Mr. Nugent," said the rector, "you
must permit me to remark that it would have had more practical force if
it had been the advice of a married man. I beg to remind you----"
"You beg to remind me that it is the advice of a bachelor? Oh, come! that
really won't do at this time of day. Doctor Johnson settled that argument
at once and for ever, a century since. 'Sir!' (he said to somebody of
your way of thinking) 'you may scold your carpenter, when he has made a
bad table, though you can't make a table yourself.' I say to you--'Mr.
Finch, you may point out a defect in a baby's petticoats, though you
haven't got a baby yourself!' Doesn't that satisfy you? All right! Take
another illustration. Look at your room here. I can see in the twinkling
of an eye, that it's badly lit. You have only got one window--you ought
to have two. Is it necessary to be a practical builder to discover that?
Absurd! Are you satisfied now? No! Take another illustration. What's this
printed paper, here, on the chimney-piece? Assessed Taxes. Ha! Assessed
Taxes will do. You're not in the House of Commons; you're not Chancellor
of the Exchequer--but haven't you an opinion of your own about taxation,
in spite of that? Must you and I be in Parliament before we can presume
to see that the feeble old British Constitution is at its last gasp----?"
"And the vigorous young Republic drawing its first breath of life!" I
burst in; introducing the Pratolungo programme (as my way is) at every
Nugent Dubourg instantly wheeled round in my direction; and set me right
on my subject, just as he had set the rector right on reading _Hamlet,_
and Mrs. Finch right on clothing babies.
"Not a bit of it!" he pronounced positively. "The 'young Republic' is the
ricketty child of the political family. Give him up, ma'am. You will
never make a man of him."
I tried to assert myself as the rector had tried before me--with
precisely the same result. I appealed indignantly to the authority of my
"Doctor Pratolungo--" I began.
"Was an honest man," interposed Nugent Dubourg. "I am an advanced Liberal
myself--I respect him. But he was quite wrong. All sincere republicans
make the same mistake. They believe in the existence of public spirit in
Europe. Amiable delusion! Public spirit is dead in Europe. Public spirit
is the generous emotion of young nations, of new peoples. In selfish old
Europe, private interest has taken its place. When your husband preached
the republic, on what ground did he put it? On the ground that the
republic was going to elevate the nation. Pooh! Ask me to accept the
republic, on the ground that I elevate Myself--and, supposing you can
prove it, I will listen to you. If you are ever to set republican
institutions going, in the Old World--_there_ is the only motive power
that will do it!"
I was indignant at such sentiments. "My glorious husband--" I began
"Would have died rather than appeal to the meanest instincts of his
fellow-creatures. Just so! There was his mistake. That's why he never
could make anything of the republic. That's why the republic is the
ricketty child of the political family. _Quod erat demonstrandum,_" said
Nugent Dubourg, finishing me off with a pleasant smile, and an easy
indicative gesture of the hand which said, "Now I have settled these
three people in succession, I am equally well satisfied with myself and
His smile was irresistible. Bent as I was on disputing the degrading
conclusions at which he had arrived, I really had not fire enough in me,
at the moment, to feed my own indignation. As to Reverend Finch, he sat
silently swelling in a corner; digesting, as he best might, the discovery
that there was another man in the world, besides the Rector of Dimchurch,
with an excellent opinion of himself, and with perfectly unassailable
confidence and fluency in expressing it. In the momentary silence that
now followed, Oscar got his first opportunity of speaking. He had, thus
far, been quite content to admire his clever brother. He now advanced to
me, and asked what had become of Lucilla.
"The servant told me she was here," he said. "I am so anxious to
introduce her to Nugent."
Nugent put his arm affectionately round his brother's neck, and gave him
a hug. "Dear old boy! I am just as anxious as you are."
"Lucilla went out a little while since," I said, "to take a turn in the
"I'll go and find her," said Oscar. "Wait here, Nugent. I'll bring her
He left the room. Before he could close the door one of the servants
appeared, to claim Mrs. Finch's private ear, on some mysterious domestic
emergency. Nugent facetiously entreated her, as she passed him, to clear
her mind of prejudice, and consider the question of infant petticoats on
its own merits. Mr. Finch took offense at this second reference to the
subject. He rose to follow his wife.
"When you are a married man, Mr. Dubourg," said the rector severely, "you
will learn to leave the management of an infant in its mother's hands."
"There's another mistake!" remarked Nugent, following him with unabated
good humour, to the door. "A married man's idea of another man as a
husband, always begins and ends with his idea of himself." He turned to
me, as the door closed on Mr. Finch. "Now we are alone, Madame
Pratolungo," he said, "I want to speak to you about Miss Finch. There is
an opportunity, before she comes in. Oscar's letter only told me that she
was blind. I am naturally interested in everything that relates to my
brother's future wife. I am particularly interested about this affliction
of hers. May I ask how long she has been blind?"
"Since she was a year old," I replied.
"Through an accident?"
"After a fever? or a disease of any other sort?"
I began to feel a little surprised at his entering into these medical
"I never heard that it was through a fever, or other illness," I said.
"So far as I know, the blindness came on unexpectedly, from some cause
that did not express itself to the people about her, at the time."
He drew his chair confidentially nearer to mine. "How old is she?" he
I began to feel more than a little surprised; and I showed it, I suppose,
on telling him Lucilla's age.
"As things are now," he explained, "there are reasons which make me
hesitate to enter on the question of Miss Finch's blindness either with
my brother, or with any members of the family. I must wait to speak about
it to _them,_ until I can speak to good practical purpose. There is no
harm in my starting the subject with _you._ When she first lost her
sight, no means of restoring it were left untried, of course?"
"I should suppose not," I replied. "It's so long since, I have never
"So long since," he repeated--and then considered for a moment.
His reflections ended in a last question.
"She is resigned, I suppose--and everybody about her is resigned--to the
idea of her being hopelessly blind for life."
Instead of answering him, I put a question on my side. My heart was
beginning to beat rapidly--without my knowing why.
"Mr. Nugent Dubourg," I said, "what have you got in your mind about
"Madame Pratolungo," he replied, "I have got something in my mind which
was put into it by a friend of mine whom I met in America."
"The friend you mentioned in your letter to your brother?"
"The German gentleman whom you propose to introduce to Oscar and
"May I ask who he is?"
Nugent Dubourg looked at me attentively; considered with himself for the
second time; and answered in these words:
"He is the greatest living authority, and the greatest living operator,
in diseases of the eye."
The idea in his mind burst its way into my mind in a moment.
"Gracious God!" I exclaimed, "are you mad enough to suppose that
Lucilla's sight can be restored, after a blindness of one-and-twenty
He suddenly held up his hand, in sign to me to be silent.
At the same moment the door opened; and Lucilla (followed by Oscar)
entered the room.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FOURTH
He sees Lucilla
THE first impression which poor Miss Finch produced on Nugent Dubourg,
was precisely the same as the first impression which she had produced on
"Good Heavens!" he cried. "The Dresden Madonna! The Virgin of San Sisto!"
Lucilla had already heard from me of her extraordinary resemblance to the
chief figure in Raphael's renowned picture. Nugent's blunt outburst of
recognition passed unnoticed by her. She stopped short, in the middle of
the room--startled, the instant he spoke, by the extraordinary similarity
of his tone and accent to the tone and accent of his brother's voice.
"Oscar," she asked nervously, "are you behind me? or in front of me?"
Oscar laughed, and answered "Here!"--speaking behind her. She turned her
head towards the place in front of her, from which Nugent had spoken.
"Your voice is wonderfully like Oscar's," she said, addressing him
timidly. "Is your face exactly like his face, too? May I judge for myself
of the likeness between you? I can only do it in one way--by my touch."
Oscar advanced, and placed a chair for his brother by Lucilla's side.
"She has eyes in the tips of her fingers," he said. "Sit down, Nugent,
and let her pass her hand over your face."
Nugent obeyed him in silence. Now that the first impression of surprise
had passed away, I observed that a marked change was beginning to assert
itself in his manner.
Little by little, an unnatural constraint got possession of him. His
fluent tongue found nothing to talk about. His easy movements altered in
the strangest way, until they almost became the movements of a slow
awkward man. He was more like his brother than ever, as he sat down in
the chair to submit himself to Lucilla's investigation. She had produced,
at first sight--as well as I could judge--some impression on him for
which he had not been prepared; causing some mental disturbance in him
which he was for the moment quite unable to control. His eyes looked up
at her, spell-bound; his color came and went; his breath quickened
audibly when her fingers touched his face.
"What's the matter?" said Oscar, looking at him in surprise.
"Nothing is the matter," he answered, in the low absent tone of a man
whose mind was secretly pursuing its own train of thought.
Oscar said no more. Once, twice, three times, Lucilla's hand passed
slowly over Nugent's face. He submitted to it, silently, gravely,
immovably--a perfect contrast to the talkative, lively young man of half
an hour since. Lucilla employed a much longer time in examining him than
she had occupied in examining me.
While the investigation was proceeding, I had leisure to think again over
what had passed between Nugent and me on the subject of Lucilla's
blindness, before she entered the room. My mind had by this time
recovered its balance. I was able to ask myself what this young fellow's
daring idea was really worth. Was it within the range of possibility that
a sense so delicate as the sense of sight, lost for one-and-twenty years,
could be restored by any means short of a miracle? It was monstrous to
suppose it: the thing could not be. If there had been the faintest chance
of giving my poor dear back the blessing of sight, that chance would have
been tried by competent persons years and years since. I was ashamed of
myself for having been violently excited at the moment by the new thought
which Nugent had started in my mind; I was honestly indignant at his
uselessly disturbing me with the vainest of all vain hopes. The one wise
thing to do in the future, was to caution this flighty and inconsequent
young man to keep his mad notion about Lucilla to himself--and to dismiss
it from my own thoughts, at once and for ever.
Just as I arrived at that sensible resolution, I was recalled to what was
going on in the room, by Lucilla's voice, addressing me by my name.
"The likeness is wonderful," she said. "Still, I think I can find a
difference between them."
(The only difference between them was in the contrast of complexion and
in the contrast of manner--both these being dissimilarities which
appealed more or less directly to the eye.)
"What difference do you find?" I asked.
She slowly came towards me, with an anxious perplexed face; pondering as
"I can't explain it," she answered--after a long silence.
When Lucilla left him, Nugent rose from his chair. He abruptly--almost
roughly--took his brother's hand. He spoke to his brother in a strangely
excited, feverish, headlong way.
"My dear fellow, now I have seen her, I congratulate you more heartily
than ever. She is charming; she is unique. Oscar! I could almost envy
you, if you were anyone else!"
Oscar was radiant with delight. His brother's opinion ranked above all
human opinions in his estimation. Before he could say a word in return,
Nugent left him as abruptly as he had approached him; walking away by
himself to the window--and standing there, looking out.
Lucilla had not heard him. She was still pondering, with the same
perplexed face. The likeness between the twins was apparently weighing on
her mind--an unsolved problem that vexed and irritated it. Without
anything said by me to lead to resuming the subject, she returned
obstinately to the assertion that she had just made.
"I tell you again I am sensible of a difference between them," she
repeated--"though you don't seem to believe me."
I interpreted this uneasy reiteration as meaning that she was rather
trying to convince herself than to convince me. In her blind condition,
it was doubly and trebly embarrassing not to know one brother from the
other. I understood her unwillingness to acknowledge this--I felt (in her
position) how it would have irritated me. She was waiting--impatiently
waiting--for me to say something on my side. I am, as you know already,
an indiscreet woman. I innocently said one of my rash things.
"I believe whatever you tell me, my dear," I answered. "You can find out
a difference between them, I have no doubt. Still, I own I should like to
see it put to the proof."
Her color rose. "How?" she asked abruptly.
"Try your touch alternately on both their faces," I suggested, "without
knowing beforehand which position they each of them occupy. Make three
trials--leaving them to change their places or not, between each trial,
just as they please. If you guess which is which correctly three times
following, there will be the proof that you can really lay your hand on a
difference between them."
Lucilla shrank from accepting the challenge. She drew back a step, and
silently shook her head. Nugent, who had overheard me, turned round
suddenly from the window, and supported my proposal.
"A capital notion!" he burst out. "Let's try it! You don't object,
"_I_ object?" cried Oscar--amazed at the bare idea of his opposing any
assertion of his will to the assertion of his brother's will. "If Lucilla
is willing, I say Yes, with all my heart."
The two brothers approached us, arm in arm. Lucilla, very reluctantly,
allowed herself to be persuaded into trying the experiment. Two chairs,
exactly alike, were placed in front of her. At a sign from Nugent, Oscar
silently took the chair on her right. By this arrangement, the hand which
she had used in touching Nugent's face, would be now the hand that she
would employ in touching Oscar's face. When they were both seated, I
announced that we were ready. Lucilla placed her hands on their faces,
right and left, without the faintest idea in her mind of the positions
which the two relatively occupied.
After first touching them with both hands, and both together, she tried
them separately next, beginning with Oscar, and using her right hand
only. She left him for Nugent; again using her right hand--then came back
to him again--then returned to Nugent--hesitated---decided--tapped Nugent
lightly on the head.
"Oscar!" she said.
Nugent burst out laughing. The laugh told her, before any of us could
speak, that she had made a mistake at the first attempt.
"Try again, Lucilla," said Oscar kindly.
"Never!" she answered, angrily stepping back from both of them. "One
mystification is enough."
Nugent tried next to persuade her to renew the experiment. She checked
him sternly at the first word.
"Do you think if I won't do it for Oscar," she said, "that I would do it
for you? You laughed at me. What was there to laugh at? Your brother's
features are your features; your brother's hair is your hair; your
brother's height is your height. What is there so very ridiculous--with
such a resemblance as that--in a poor blind girl like me mistaking you
one for the other? I wish to preserve a good opinion of you, for Oscar's
sake. Don't turn me into ridicule again--or I shall be forced to think
that your brother's good heart is not yours also!"
Nugent and Oscar looked at each other, petrified by this sudden outbreak;
Nugent, of the two, being the most completely overwhelmed by it.
I attempted to interfere and put things right. My easy philosophy and my
volatile French nature, failed to see any adequate cause for this
vehement exhibition of resentment on Lucilla's part. Something in my
tone, as I suppose, only added to her irritation. I, in my turn, was
checked sternly at the first word. "You proposed it," she said; "You are
the most to blame." I hastened to make my apologies (inwardly remarking
that the habit of raising a storm in a tea-cup is a growing habit with
the rising generation in England). Nugent followed me with more apologies
on his side. Oscar supported us with his superior influence. He took
Lucilla's hand--kissed it--and whispered something in her ear. The kiss
and the whisper acted like a charm. She held out her hand to Nugent, she
put her arm round my neck and embraced me, with all her own grace and
sweetness. "Forgive me," she said to us gently. "I wish I could learn to
be patient. But, oh, Mr. Nugent, it is sometimes so hard to be blind!" I
can repeat the words; but I can give no idea of the touching simplicity
with which they were spoken--of her innocently earnest anxiety to win her
pardon. She so affected Nugent that he too--after a look at Oscar which
said, "May I?"--kissed the hand that she offered to him. As his lips
touched her, she started. The bright flush which always indicated the
sudden rising of a thought in her mind, flew over her face. She
unconsciously held Nugent's hand in her own, absorbed in the interest of
realizing the new thought. For a moment, she stood, still as a statue,
consulting with herself. The moment passed, she dropped Nugent's hand,
and turned gaily to me.
"Will you think me very obstinate?" she asked.
"Why, my love?"
"I am not satisfied yet. I want to try again."
"No! no! At any rate not to-day."
"I want to try again," she repeated. "Not in your way. In a way of my own
that has just come into my head." She turned to Oscar. "Will you humour
me in this?" It is needless to set down Oscar's reply. She turned to
Nugent. "Will you?"
"Only say what you wish me to do!" he answered.
"Go with your brother," she said, "to the other end of the room. I know
where you are each of you standing, at this end. Madame Pratolungo will
lead me to the place, and will put me just within reach of both your
hands. I want each of you in turn (arrange by a sign between yourselves
which is to begin) to take my hand, and hold it for a moment, and then
drop it. I have an idea that I can distinguish between you, in that
way--and I want very much to try it."
The brothers went silently to the other end of the room. I led Lucilla,
after them, to the place in which they stood. At my suggestion, Nugent
was the first to take her hand, as she had requested; to hold it for a
moment, and then to drop it.
"Nugent!" she said, without the slightest hesitation.