Part 5 out of 9
look at my coatsleeve. He is shabby-greasy--I am ashamed of him. No
matter. You have got Mr. Sebrights to look at in the odder rooms. He is
spick-span, beautiful-new. Come! Forwards! Marsch!"
Nugent, waiting in the corridor, threw the door open for us. "Isn't he
delightful?" Nugent whispered behind me, pointing to his friend. Escorted
by Herr Grosse, we made a magnificent entry into the room. Our German
doctor had done Lucilla good already. The examination was relieved of all
its embarrassments and its terrors at the outset. Herr Grosse had made
her laugh--Herr Grosse had set her completely at her ease.
Mr. Sebright and Oscar were talking together in a perfectly friendly way
when we returned to the sitting-room. The reserved Englishman appeared to
have his attraction for the shy Oscar. Even Mr. Sebright was struck by
Lucilla; his cold face lit up with interest when he was presented to her.
He placed a chair for her in front of the window. There was a warmth in
his tone which I had not heard yet, when he begged her to be seated in
that place. She took the chair. Mr. Sebright thereupon drew back, and
bowed to Herr Grosse, with a courteous wave of his hand towards Lucilla
which signified, "You first!"
Herr Grosse met this advance with a counter-wave of the hand, and a
vehement shake of his shock-head, which signified, "I couldn't think of
such a thing!"
"Pardon me," entreated Mr. Sebright. "As my senior, as a visitor to
England, as a master in our art."
Herr Grosse responded by regaling himself with three pinches of snuff in
rapid succession--a pinch as senior, a pinch as visitor to England, a
pinch as master in the art. An awful pause followed. Neither of the
surgeons would take precedence of the other. Nugent interfered.
"Miss Finch is waiting," he said. "Come, Grosse, you were first presented
to her. You examine her first."
Herr Grosse took Nugent's ear between his finger and thumb, and gave it a
good-humoured pinch. "You clever boys!" he said. "You have the right word
always at the tips of your tongue." He waddled to Lucilla's chair; and
stopped short with a scandalized look. Oscar was bending over her, and
whispering to her with her hand in his. "Hey! what?" cried Herr Grosse.
"Is this a third surgeon-optic? What, sir! you treat young Miss's eyes by
taking hold of young Miss's hand? You are a Quack. Get out!" Oscar
withdrew--not very graciously. Herr Grosse took a chair in front of
Lucilla, and removed his spectacles. As a short-sighted man, he had
necessarily excellent eyes for all objects which were sufficiently near
to him. He bent forward, with his face close to Lucilla's, and parted her
eyelids alternately with his finger and thumb; peering attentively, first
into one eye, then into the other.
It was a moment of breathless interest. Who could say what an influence
on her future life might be exercised by this quaint kindly uncouth
little foreign man? How anxiously we watched those shaggy eyebrows, those
piercing goggle eyes! And, oh, heavens, how disappointed we were at the
first result! Lucilla suddenly gave a little irrepressible shudder of
disgust. Herr Grosse drew back from her, and glared at her benignantly
with his diabolical smile.
"Aha!" he said. "I see what it is. I snuff, I smoke, I reek of tobaccos.
The pretty Miss smells me. She says in her inmost heart--Ach Gott, how he
Lucilla burst into a fit of laughter. Herr Grosse, unaffectedly amused on
his side, grinned with delight, and snatched her handkerchief out of her
apron-pocket. "Gif me scents," said this excellent German. "I shall stop
up her nose with her handkerchiefs. So she will not smell my
tobacco-stinks--all will be nice-right again--we shall go on." I gave him
some lavender-water from a scent-bottle on the table. He gravely drenched
the handkerchief with it, and popped it suddenly on Lucilla's nose. "Hold
him there, Miss. You cannot for the life of you smell Grosse now. Goot!
We may go on again."
He took a magnifying glass out of his waistcoat pocket, and waited till
Lucilla had fairly exhausted herself with laughing. Then the
examination--so cruelly grotesque in itself, so terribly serious in the
issues which it involved--resumed its course: Herr Grosse glaring at his
patient through his magnifying glass; Lucilla leaning back in the chair,
holding the handkerchief over her nose.
A minute, or more, passed--and the ordeal of the examination came to an
Herr Grosse put back his magnifying glass with a grunt which sounded like
a grunt of relief, and snatched the handkerchief away from Lucilla.
"Ach! what a nasty smell!" he said, holding the handkerchief to his nose
with a grimace of disgust. "Tobaccos is much better than this." He
solaced his nostrils, offended by the lavender-water, with a huge pinch
of snuff. "Now I am going to talk," he went on. "See! I keep my distance.
You don't want your handkerchiefs--you smell me no more."
"Am I blind for life?" said Lucilla. "Pray, pray tell me, sir! Am I blind
"Will you kees me if I tell you?"
"Oh, do consider how anxious I am! Pray, pray, pray tell me!"
She tried to go down on her knees before him. He held her back firmly and
kindly in her chair.
"Now! now! now! you be nice-goot, and tell me this first. When you are
out in the garden, taking your little lazy lady's walks on a shiny-sunny
day, is it all the same to your eyes as if you were lying in your bed in
the middles of the night?"
"Hah! You know it is nice-light at one time? you know it is horrid-dark
at the odder?"
"Then why you ask me if you are blind for life? If you can see as much as
that, you are not properly blind at all?"
She clasped her hands, with a low cry of delight. "Oh, where is Oscar?"
she said softly. "Where is Oscar?" I looked round for him. He was gone.
While his brother and I had been hanging spell-bound over the surgeon's
questions and the patient's answers, he must have stolen silently out of
Herr Grosse rose, and vacated the chair in favor of Mr. Sebright. In the
ecstasy of the new hope now confirmed in her, Lucilla seemed to be
unconscious of the presence of the English oculist, when he took his
colleague's place. His grave face looked more serious than ever, as he
too produced a magnifying glass from his pocket, and, gently parting the
patient's eyelids, entered on the examination of her blindness, in his
The investigation by Mr. Sebright lasted a much longer time than the
investigation by Herr Grosse. He pursued it in perfect silence. When he
had done he rose without a word, and left Lucilla as he had found her,
rapt in the trance of her own happiness--thinking, thinking, thinking of
the time when she should open her eyes in the new morning, and see!
"Well?" said Nugent, impatiently addressing Mr. Sebright. "What do you
"I say nothing yet." With that implied reproof to Nugent, he turned to
me. "I understand that Miss Finch was blind--or as nearly blind as could
be discovered--at a year old?"
"I have always heard so," I replied.
"Is there any person in the house--parent, or relative, or servant--who
can speak to the symptoms noticed when she was an infant?"
I rang the bell for Zillah. "Her mother is dead," I said. "And there are
reasons which prevent her father from being present to-day. Her old nurse
will be able to give you all the information you want."
Zillah appeared. Mr. Sebright put his questions.
"Were you in the house when Miss Finch was born?"
"Was there anything wrong with her eyes at her birth, or soon
"How did you know?"
"I knew by seeing her take notice, sir. She used to stare at the candles,
and clutch at things that were held before her, as other babies do."
"How did you discover it, when she began to get blind?"
"In the same way, sir. There came a time, poor little thing, when her
eyes looked glazed-like, and try her as we might, morning or evening, it
was all the same--she noticed nothing."
"Did the blindness come on gradually?"
"Yes, sir--bit by bit, as you may say. Slowly worse and worse one week
after another. She was a little better than a year old before we clearly
made it out that her sight was gone."
"Was her father's sight, or her mother's sight ever affected in any way?"
"Never, sir, that I heard of."
Mr. Sebright turned to Herr Grosse, sitting at the luncheon-table
resignedly contemplating the Mayonnaise. "Do you wish to ask the nurse
any questions?" he said.
Herr Grosse shrugged his shoulders, and pointed backwards with his thumb
at the place in which Lucilla was sitting.
"Her case is as plain to me as twos and twos make fours. Ach Gott! what
do I want with the nurse?" He turned again longingly towards the
Mayonnaise. "My fine appetites is going! When shall we lonch?"
Mr. Sebright dismissed Zillah with a frigid inclination of the head. His
discouraging manner made me begin to feel a little uneasy. I ventured to
ask if he had arrived at a conclusion yet. "Permit me to consult with my
colleague before I answer you," said the impenetrable man. I roused
Lucilla. She again inquired for Oscar. I said I supposed we should find
him in the garden--and so took her out. Nugent followed us. I heard Herr
Grosse whisper to him piteously, as we passed the luncheon-table, "For
the lofe of Heaven, come back soon, and let us lonch!" We left the
ill-assorted pair to their consultation in the sitting-room.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-FIRST
"Who Shall Decide when Doctors disagree?"
WE had certainly not been more than ten minutes in the garden, when we
were startled by an extraordinary outbreak of shouting in broken English,
proceeding from the window of the sitting-room. "Hi-hi-hoi! hoi-hi!
hoi-hi!" We looked up, and discovered Herr Grosse, frantically waving a
huge red silk handkerchief at the window. "Lonch! lonch!" cried the
German surgeon. "The consultations is done. Come begin-begin."
Obedient to this peremptory summons, Lucilla, Nugent, and I returned to
the sitting-room. We had, as I had foreseen, found Oscar wandering alone
in the garden. He had entreated me, by a sign, not to reveal our
discovery of him to Lucilla, and had hurried away to hide himself in one
of the side-walks. His agitation was pitiable to see. He was totally
unfit to be trusted in Lucilla's presence at that anxious moment.
When we had left the oculists together, I had sent Zillah with a little
written message to Reverend Finch; entreating him (if it was only for
form's sake) to reconsider his resolution, and be present on the
all-important occasion to his daughter of the delivery of the medical
opinions on her case. At the bottom of the stairs (on our return), my
answer was handed to me on a slip of sermon-paper. "Mr. Finch declined to
submit a question of principle to any considerations dictated by mere
expediency. He desired seriously to remind Madame Pratolungo of what he
had already told her. In other words, he would repeat, and he would beg
her to remember this time, that his Foot was down."
On re-entering the room, we found the eminent oculists seated as far
apart as possible one from the other. Both gentlemen were engaged in
reading. Mr. Sebright was reading a book. Herr Grosse was reading the
I placed Lucilla close by me, and took her hand. It was as cold as ice.
My poor dear trembled pitiably. For her, what moments of unutterable
suffering were those moments of suspense, before the surgeons delivered
their sentence! I pressed her little cold hand in mine, and whispered
"Courage!" Truly I can say it (though I am not usually one of the
sentimental sort), my heart bled for her.
"Well, gentlemen," said Nugent, "what is the result? Are you both
"No," said Mr. Sebright, putting aside his book.
"No," said Herr Grosse, ogling the Mayonnaise. Lucilla turned her face
towards me; her color shifting and changing, her bosom rising and falling
more and more rapidly. I whispered to her to compose herself. "One of
them, at any rate," I said, "thinks you will recover your sight." She
understood me, and became quieter directly. Nugent went on with his
questions, addressed to the two oculists.
"What do you differ about?" he asked. "Will you let us hear your
The wearisome contest of courtesy was renewed between our medical
advisers. Mr. Sebright bowed to Herr Grosse:
"You first." Herr Grosse bowed to Mr. Sebright: "No--you!" My impatience
broke through this cruel and ridiculous professional restraint. "Speak
both together, gentlemen, if you like!" I said sharply. "Do anything, for
God's sake, but keep us in suspense. Is it, or is it not, possible to
restore her sight?"
"Yes," said Herr Grosse.
Lucilla sprang to her feet, with a cry of joy.
"No," said Mr. Sebright.
Lucilla dropped back again into her chair, and silently laid her head on
"Are you agreed about the cause of her blindness?" asked Nugent.
"Cataracts is the cause," answered Herr Grosse.
"So far, I agree," said Mr. Sebright. "Cataract is the cause.
"Cataracts is curable," pursued the German.
"I agree again," continued the Englishman--"with a reservation. Cataract
is _sometimes_ curable."
"This cataracts is curable!" cried Herr Grosse.
"With all possible deference," said Mr. Sebright, "I dispute that
conclusion. The cataract, in Miss Finch's case, is _not_ curable."
"Can you give us your reasons, sir, for saying that?" I inquired.
"My reasons are based on surgical considerations which it requires a
professional training to understand," Mr. Sebright replied. "I can only
tell you that I am convinced--after the most minute and careful
examination--that Miss Finch's sight is irrevocably gone. Any attempt to
restore it by an operation, would be, in my opinion, an unwarrantable
proceeding. The young lady would not only have the operation to undergo,
she would be kept secluded afterwards, for at least six weeks or two
months, in a darkened room. During that time, it is needless for me to
remind you that she would inevitably form the most confident hope of her
restoration to sight. Remembering this, and believing as I do that the
sacrifice demanded of her would end in failure, I think it most
undesirable to expose our patient to the moral consequences of a
disappointment which must seriously try her. She has been resigned from
childhood to her blindness. As an honest man, who feels bound to speak
out and to speak strongly, I advise you not further to disturb that
resignation. I declare it to be, in my opinion, certainly useless, and
possibly dangerous, to allow her to be operated on for the restoration of
In those uncompromising words, the Englishman delivered his opinion.
Lucilla's hand closed fast on mine. "Cruel! cruel!" she whispered to
herself angrily. I gave her a little squeeze, recommending patience--and
looked in silent expectation (just as Nugent was looking too) at Herr
Grosse. The German rose deliberately to his feet, and waddled to the
place in which Lucilla and I were sitting together.
"Has goot Mr. Sebrights done?" he asked.
Mr. Sebright only replied by his everlasting never-changing bow.
"Goot! I have now my own word to put in," said Herr Grosse. "It shall be
one little word--no more. With my best compliments to Mr. Sebrights, I
set up against what he only thinks, what I--Grosse--with these hands of
mine have done. The cataracts of Miss there, is a cataracts that I have
cut into before, a cataracts that I have cured before. Now look!" He
suddenly wheeled round to Lucilla, tucked up his cuffs, laid a forefinger
of each hand on either side of her forehead, and softly turned down her
eyelids with his two big thumbs. "I pledge you my word as surgeon-optic,"
he resumed, "my knife shall let the light in here. This lofable-nice
girls shall be more lofable-nicer than ever. My pretty Feench must be
first in her best goot health. She must next gif me my own ways with
her--and then one, two, three--ping! my pretty Feench shall see!" He
lifted Lucilla's eyelids again as he said the last word--glared fiercely
at her through his spectacles--gave her the loudest kiss, on the
forehead, that I ever heard given in my life--laughed till the room rang
again--and returned to his post as sentinel on guard over the Mayonnaise.
"Now," cried Herr Grosse cheerfully, "the talkings is all done. Gott be
thanked, the eatings may begin!"
Lucilla left her chair for the second time.
"Herr Grosse," she said, "where are you?"
"Here, my dears!"
She crossed the room to the table at which he was sitting, already
occupied in carving his favorite dish.
"Did you say you must use a knife to make me see?" she asked quite
"Yes, yes. Don't you be frightened of that. Not much pains to bear--not
She tapped him smartly on the shoulder with her hand.
"Get up, Herr Grosse," she said. "If you have your knife about you, here
am I--do it at once!"
Nugent started. Mr. Sebright started. Her daring amazed them both. As for
me, I am the greatest coward living, in the matter of surgical operations
performed on myself or on others. Lucilla terrified me. I ran headlong
across the room to her. I was even fool enough to scream.
Before I could reach her, Herr Grosse had risen, obedient to command,
with a choice morsel of chicken on the end of his fork. "You charming
little fools," he said, "I don't cut into cataracts in such a hurry as
that. I perform but one operations on you to-day. It is this!" He
unceremoniously popped the morsel of chicken into Lucilla's mouth. "Aha!
Bite him well. He is nice-goot! Now then! Sit down all of you. Lonch!
He was irresistible. We all sat down at table.
The rest of us ate. Herr Grosse gobbled. From Mayonnaise to marmalade
tart. From marmalade tart back again to Mayonnaise. From Mayonnaise,
forward again to ham sandwiches and blancmange; and then back once more
(on the word of an honest woman) to Mayonnaise! His drinking was on the
same scale as his eating. Beer, wine, brandy--nothing came amiss to him;
he mixed them all. As for the lighter elements in the feast--the almonds
and raisins, the preserved ginger and the crystallized fruits, he ate
them as accompaniments to everything. A dish of olives especially won his
favor. He plunged both hands into it, and deposited his fists-full of
olives in the pockets of his trousers. "In this ways," he explained, "I
shall trouble nobody to pass the dish--I shall have by me continually all
the olives that I want." When he could eat and drink no more, he rolled
up his napkin into a ball, and became devoutly thankful. "How goot of
Gott," he remarked, "when he invented the worlds to invent eatings and
drinkings too! Ah!" sighed Herr Grosse, gently laying his outspread
fingers on the pit of his stomach, "what immense happiness there is in
Mr. Sebright looked at his watch.
"If there is anything more to be said on the question of the operation,"
he announced, "it must be said at once. We have barely five minutes more
to spare. You have heard my opinion. I hold to it."
Herr Grosse took a pinch of snuff. "I also," he said, "hold to mine."
Lucilla turned towards the place from which Mr. Sebright had spoken.
"I am obliged to you, sir, for your opinion," she said, very quietly and
firmly. "I am determined to try the operation. If it does fail, it will
only leave me what I am now. If it succeeds, it gives me a new life. I
will bear anything, and risk anything, on the chance that I may see."
So, she announced her decision. In those memorable words, she cleared the
way for the coming Event in her life and in our lives, which it is the
purpose of these pages to record.
Mr. Sebright answered her, in Mr. Sebright's discreet way.
"I cannot affect to be surprised at your decision," he said. "However
sincerely I may regret it, I admit that it is the natural decision, in
Lucilla addressed herself next to Herr Grosse.
"Choose your own day," she said. "The sooner, the better. To-morrow, if
"Answer me one little thing, Miss," rejoined the German, with a sudden
gravity of tone and manner which was quite new in our experience of him.
"Do you mean what you say?"
She answered him gravely on her side. "I mean what I say."
"Goot. There is times, my lofe, to be funny. There is also times to be
grave. It is grave-times now. I have my last word to say to you before I
With his wild black eyes staring through his owlish spectacles at
Lucilla's face, speaking earnestly in his strange broken English, he now
impressed on his patient the necessity of gravely considering, and
preparing for, the operation which he had undertaken to perform.
I was greatly relieved by the tone he took with her. He spoke with
authority: she would be obliged to listen to him.
In the first place, he warned Lucilla, if the operation failed, that
there would be no possibility of returning to it, and trying it again.
Once done, be the results what they might, it was done for good.
In the second place, before he would consent to operate, he must insist
on certain conditions, essential to success, being rigidly complied with,
on the part of the patient and her friends. Mr. Sebright had by no means
exaggerated the length of the time of trial which would follow the
operation, in the darkened room. Under no circumstances could she hope to
have her eyes uncovered, even for a few moments, to the light, after a
shorter interval than six weeks. During the whole of that time, and
probably during another six weeks to follow, it was absolutely necessary
that she should be kept in such a state of health as would assist her,
constitutionally, in her gradual progress towards complete restoration of
sight. If body and mind both were not preserved in their best and
steadiest condition, all that his skill could do might be done in vain.
Nothing to excite or to agitate her, must be allowed to find its way into
the quiet daily routine of her life, until her medical attendant was
satisfied that her sight was safe. The success of Herr Grosse's
professional career had been due, in no small degree, to his rigid
enforcement of these rules: founded on his own experience of the
influence which a patient's general health, moral as well as physical,
exercised on that patient's chance of profiting under an operation--more
especially under an operation on an organ so delicate as the organ of
Having spoken to this effect, he appealed to Lucilla's own good sense to
recognize the necessity of taking time to consider her decision, and to
consult on it with relatives and friends. In plain words, for at least
three months the family arrangements must be so shaped, as to enable the
surgeon in attendance on her to hold the absolute power of regulating her
life, and of deciding on any changes introduced into it. When she and the
members of her family circle were sure of being able to comply with these
conditions, Lucilla had only to write to him at his hotel in London. On
the next day he would undertake to be at Dimchurch. And then and there
(if he was satisfied with the state of her health at the time), he would
perform the operation.
After pledging himself in those terms, Herr Grosse puffed out his
remaining breath in one deep guttural "Hah!"--and got briskly on his
short legs. At the same moment, Zillah knocked at the door, and announced
that the chaise was waiting for the two gentlemen at the rectory-gate.
Mr. Sebright rose--in some doubt, apparently, whether his colleague had
done talking. "Don't let me hurry you," he said. "I have business in
London; and I must positively catch the next train."
"Soh! I have my business in London, too," answered his
brother-oculist--"the business of pleasure." (Mr. Sebright looked
scandalized at the frankness of this confession, coming from a
professional man). "I am so passion-fond of musics," Herr Grosse went
on--"I want to be in goot times for the opera. Ach Gott! musics is
expensive in England! I climb to the gallery, and pay my five silver
shillingses even there. For five copper pences, in my own country, I can
get the same thing--only better done. From the deep bottoms of my heart,"
proceeded this curious man, taking a cordial leave of me, "I thank you,
dear madam, for the Mayonnaise. When I come again, I pray you more of
that lofely dish." He turned to Lucilla, and popped his thumb on her
eyelids for the last time at parting. "My sweet-Feench, remember what
your surgeon-optic has said to you. I shall let the light in here--but in
my own way, at my own time. Pretty lofe! Ah, how infinitely much prettier
she will be, when she can see!" He took Lucilla's hand, and put it
sentimentally inside the collar of his waistcoat, over the region of the
heart; laying his other hand upon it as if he was keeping it warm. In
this tender attitude, he blew a prodigious sigh; recovered himself, with
a shake of his shock-head; winked at me through his spectacles, and
waddled out after Mr. Sebright, who was already at the bottom of the
stairs. Who would have guessed that this man held the key which was to
open for my blind Lucilla the gates of a new life!
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-SECOND
Alas for the Marriage!
WE were left together; Nugent having accompanied the two oculists to the
Now that we were alone, Oscar's absence could hardly fail to attract
Lucilla's attention. Just as she was referring to him in terms which made
it no easy task for me to quiet her successfully, we were interrupted by
the screams of the baby, ascending from the garden below. I ran to the
window, and looked out.
Mrs. Finch had actually effected her desperate purpose of waylaying the
two surgeons in the interests of "baby's eyes." There she was, in a skirt
and a shawl--with her novel dropped in one part of the lawn, and her
handkerchief in the other--pursuing the oculists on their way to the
chaise. Reckless of appearances, Herr Grosse had taken to his heels. He
was retreating from the screeching infant (with his fingers stuffed into
his ears), as fast as his short legs would let him. Nugent was ahead of
him, hurrying on to open the garden-gate. Respectable Mr. Sebright
(professionally incapable of running) brought up the rear. At short
intervals, Mrs. Finch, close on his heels, held up the baby for
inspection. At short intervals, Mr. Sebright held up his hands in polite
protest. Nugent, roaring with laughter, threw open the garden-gate. Herr
Grosse rushed through the opening, and disappeared. Mr. Sebright followed
Herr Grosse; and Mrs. Finch attempted to follow Mr. Sebright--when a new
personage appeared on the scene. Startled in the sanctuary of his study
by the noise, the rector himself strutted into the garden, and brought
his wife to a sudden standstill, by inquiring in his deepest base notes,
"What does this unseemly disturbance mean?"
The chaise drove off; and Nugent closed the garden-gate.
Some words, inaudible to my ears, passed between Nugent and the
rector--referring, as I could only suppose, to the visit of the two
departing surgeons. After awhile, Mr. Finch turned away (to all
appearance offended by something which had been said to him), and
addressed himself to Oscar, who now reappeared on the lawn; having
evidently only waited to show himself, until the chaise drove away. The
rector paternally took his arm; and, beckoning to his wife with the other
hand, took Mrs. Finch's arm next. Majestically marching back to the house
between the two, Reverend Finch asserted himself and his authority
alternately, now to Oscar and now to his wife. His big booming voice
reached my ears distinctly, accompanied in sharp discord by the last
wailings of the exhausted child.
In these terrible words the Pope of Dimchurch began:--"Oscar! you are to
understand distinctly, if you please, that I maintain my protest against
this impious attempt to meddle with my afflicted daughter's sight.--Mrs.
Finch! _you_ are to understand that I excuse your unseemly pursuit of two
strange surgeons, in consideration of the state that I find you in at
this moment. After your last confinement but eight you became, I
remember, hysterically irresponsible. Hold your tongue. You are
hysterically irresponsible now.--Oscar! I decline, in justice to myself,
to be present at any discussion which may follow the visit of those two
professional persons. But I am not averse to advising you for your own
good. My Foot is down. Put your foot down too.--Mrs. Finch! how long is
it since you ate last? Two hours? Are you sure it is two hours? Very
good. You require a sedative application. I order you, medically, to get
into a warm bath, and stay there till I come to you.--Oscar! you are
deficient, my good fellow, in moral weight. Endeavor to oppose yourself
resolutely to any scheme, on the part of my unhappy daughter or of those
who advise her, which involves more expenditure of money in fees, and new
appearances of professional persons.--Mrs. Finch! the temperature is to
be ninety-eight, and the position partially recumbent.--Oscar! I
authorize you (if you can't stop it in any other way) to throw My moral
weight into the scale. You are free to say 'I oppose This, with Mr.
Finch's approval: I am, so to speak, backed by Mr. Finch.'--Mrs. Finch! I
wish you to understand the object of the bath. Hold your tongue. The
object is to produce a gentle action on your skin. One of the women is to
keep her eye on your forehead. The instant she perceives an appearance of
moisture, she is to run for me.--Oscar! you will let me know at what
decision they arrive, up-stairs in my daughter's room. Not after they
have merely heard what you have to say, but after My Moral Weight has
been thrown into the scale.--Mrs. Finch! on leaving the bath, I shall
have you only lightly clothed. I forbid, with a view to your head, all
compression, whether of stays or strings, round the waist. I forbid
garters--with the same object. You will abstain from tea and talking. You
will lie, loose, on your back. You will----"
What else this unhappy woman was to do, I failed to hear. Mr. Finch
disappeared with her, round the corner of the house. Oscar waited at the
door of our side of the rectory, until Nugent joined him, on their way
back to the sitting-room in which we were expecting their return.
After an interval of a few minutes, the brothers appeared.
Throughout the whole of the time during which the surgeons had been in
the house, I had noticed that Nugent persisted in keeping himself
scrupulously in the background. Having assumed the responsibility of
putting the serious question of Lucilla's sight scientifically to the
test, he appeared to be resolved to pause there, and to interfere no
further in the affair after it had passed its first stage. And now again,
when we were met in our little committee to discuss, and possibly to
combat, Lucilla's resolution to proceed to extremities, he once more
refrained from interfering actively with the matter in hand.
"I have brought Oscar back with me," he said to Lucilla; "and I have told
him how widely the two oculists differ in opinion on your case. He knows
also that you have decided on being guided by the more favorable view
taken by Herr Grosse--and he knows no more."
There he stopped abruptly and seated himself apart from us, at the lower
end of the room.
Lucilla instantly appealed to Oscar to explain his conduct.
"Why have you kept out of the way?" she asked. "Why have you not been
with me, at the most important moment of my life?"
"Because I felt your anxious position too keenly," Oscar answered. "Don't
think me inconsiderate towards you, Lucilla. If I had not kept away, I
might not have been able to control myself."
I thought that reply far too dexterous to have come from Oscar on the
spur of the moment. Besides, he looked at his brother when he said the
last words. It seemed more than likely--short as the interval had been
before they appeared in the sitting-room--that Nugent had been advising
Oscar, and had been telling him what to say.
Lucilla received his excuses with the readiest grace and kindness.
"Mr. Sebright tells me, Oscar, that my sight is hopelessly gone," she
said. "Herr Grosse answers for it that an operation will make me see.
Need I tell you which of the two I believe in? If I could have had my own
way, Herr Grosse should have operated on my eyes, before he went back to
"Did he refuse?"
Lucilla told him of the reasons which the German oculist had stated as
unanswerable reasons for delay. Oscar listened attentively, and looked at
his brother again, before he replied.
"As I understand it," he said, "if you decide on risking the operation at
once, you decide on undergoing six weeks' imprisonment in a darkened
room, and on placing yourself entirely at the surgeon's disposal for six
weeks more, after that. Have you considered, Lucilla, that this means
putting off our marriage again, for at least three months?"
"If you were in my place, Oscar, you would let nothing, not even your
marriage, stand in the way of your restoration to sight. Don't ask me to
consider, love. I can consider nothing but the prospect of seeing You!"
That fearlessly frank confession silenced him. He happened to be sitting
opposite to the glass, so that he could see his face. The poor wretch
abruptly moved his chair, so as to turn his back on it.
I looked at Nugent, and surprised him trying to catch his brother's eye.
Prompted by him, as I could now no longer doubt, Oscar had laid his
finger on a certain domestic difficulty which I had had in my mind, from
the moment when the question of the operation had been first agitated
(The marriage of Oscar and Lucilla--it is here necessary to explain--had
encountered another obstacle, and undergone a new delay, in consequence
of the dangerous illness of Lucilla's aunt. Miss Batchford, formally
invited to the ceremony as a matter of course, had most considerately
sent a message begging that the marriage might not be deferred on her
account. Lucilla, however, had refused to allow her wedding to be
celebrated, while the woman who had been a second mother to her, lay at
the point of death. The rector having an eye to rich Miss Batchford's
money--not for himself (Miss B. detested him), but for Lucilla--had
supported his daughter's decision; and Oscar had been compelled to
submit. These domestic events had taken place about three weeks since;
and we were now in receipt of news which not only assured us of the old
lady's recovery, but informed us also that she would be well enough to
make one of the wedding party in a fortnight's time. The bride's dress
was in the house; the bride's father was ready to officiate--and here,
like a fatality, was the question of the operation unexpectedly starting
up, and threatening another delay yet, for a period which could not
possibly be shorter than a period of three months! Add to this, if you
please, a new element of embarrassment as follows. Supposing Lucilla to
persist in her resolution, and Oscar to persist in concealing from her
the personal change in him produced by the medical treatment of the fits,
what would happen? Nothing less than this. Lucilla, if the operation
succeeded, would find out for herself--before instead of after her
marriage--the deception that had been practiced on her. And how she might
resent that deception, thus discovered, the cleverest person among us
could not pretend to foresee. There was our situation, as we sat in
domestic parliament assembled, when the surgeons had left us!)
Finding it impossible to attract his brother's attention, Nugent had no
alternative but to interfere actively for the first time.
"Let me suggest, Lucilla," he said, "that it is your duty to look at the
other side of the question, before you make up your mind. In the first
place, it is surely hard on Oscar to postpone the wedding-day again. In
the second place, clever as he is, Herr Grosse is not infallible. It is
just possible that the operation may fail, and that you may find you have
put off your marriage for three months, to no purpose. Do think of it! If
you defer the operation on your eyes till after your marriage, you
conciliate all interests, and you only delay by a month or so the time
when you may see."
Lucilla impatiently shook her head.
"If you were blind," she answered, "you would not willingly delay by a
single hour the time when you might see. You ask me to think of it. I ask
_you_ to think of the years I have lost. I ask _you_ to think of the
exquisite happiness I shall feel, when Oscar and I are standing at the
altar, if I can _see_ the husband to whom I am giving myself for life!
Put it off for a month? You might as well ask me to die for a month. It
is like death to be sitting here blind, and to know that a man is within
a few hours' reach of me who can give me my sight! I tell you all
plainly, if you go on opposing me in this, I don't answer for myself. If
Herr Grosse is not recalled to Dimchurch before the end of the week--I am
my own mistress; I will go to him in London!"
Both the brothers looked at me.
"Have you nothing to say, Madame Pratolungo?" asked Nugent.
Oscar was too painfully agitated to speak. He softly crossed to my chair;
and, kneeling by me, put my hand entreatingly to his lips.
You may consider me a heartless woman if you will. I remained entirely
unmoved even by this. Lucilla's interests and my interests, you will
observe, were now one. I had resolved, from the first, that she should
not be married in ignorance of which was the man who was disfigured by
the blue face. If she took the course which would enable her to make that
discovery for herself, at the right time, she would spare me the
performance of a very painful and ungracious duty--and she would marry,
as I was determined she should marry, with a full knowledge of the truth.
In this position of affairs, it was no business of mine to join the
twin-brothers in trying to make her alter her resolution. On the
contrary, it was my business to confirm her in it.
"I can't see that I have any right to interfere," I said. "In Lucilla's
place--after one and twenty years of blindness--I too should sacrifice
every other consideration to the consideration of recovering my sight."
Oscar instantly rose, offended with me, and walked away to the window.
Lucilla's face brightened gratefully. "Ah!" she said, "_you_ understand
me!" Nugent, in his turn, left his chair. He had confidently calculated,
in his brother's interests, on Lucilla's marriage preceding the recovery
of Lucilla's sight. That calculation was completely baffled. The marriage
would now depend on the state of Lucilla's feelings, after she had
penetrated the truth for herself. I saw Nugent's face darken, as he
walked to the door.
"Madame Pratolungo," he said, "you may, one day, regret the course that
you have just taken. Do as you please, Lucilla--I have no more to say."
He left the room, with a quiet submission to circumstances which became
him admirably. Now, as always, it was impossible not to compare him
advantageously with his vacillating brother. Oscar turned round at the
window, apparently with the idea of following Nugent out. At the first
step he checked himself. There was a last effort still left to make.
Reverend Finch's "moral weight" had not been thrown into the scale yet.
"There is one thing more, Lucilla," he said, "which you ought to know
before you decide. I have seen your father. He desires me to tell you
that he is strongly opposed to the experiment which you are determined to
Lucilla sighed wearily. "It is not the first time that I find my father
failing to sympathize with me," she said. "I am distressed--but not
surprised. It is _you_ who surprise me!" she added, suddenly raising her
voice. "You, who love me, are not one with me, when I am standing on the
brink of a new life. Good Heavens! are my interests not your interests in
this? Is it not worth your while to wait till I can _look at you_ when I
vow before God to love, honor, and obey you? Do you understand him?" she
asked, appealing abruptly to me. "Why does he try to start difficulties?
why is he not as eager about it as I am?"
I turned to Oscar. Now was the time for him to fall at her feet and own
it! Here was the golden opportunity that might never come again. I signed
to him impatiently to take it. He tried to take it--let me do him the
justice now, which I failed to do him at the time--he tried to take it.
He advanced towards her; he struggled with himself; he said, "There is a
motive for my conduct, Lucilla----" and stopped. His breath failed him;
he struggled again; he forced out a word or two more: "A motive," he went
on, "which I have been afraid to confess----" he paused again, with the
perspiration pouring over his livid face.
Lucilla's patience failed her. "What is your motive?" she asked sharply.
The tone in which she spoke broke down his last reserves of resolution.
He turned his head suddenly so as not to see her. At the final
moment--miserable, miserable man!--at the final moment, he took refuge in
"I don't believe in Herr Grosse," he said faintly, "as you believe in
Lucilla rose, bitterly disappointed, and opened the door that led into
her own room.
"If it had been you who were blind," she answered, "_your_ belief would
have been _my_ belief, and _your_ hope _my_ hope. It seems I have
expected too much from you. Live and learn! live and learn!"
She went into her room, and closed the door on us. I could bear it no
longer. I got up, with the firm resolution in me to follow her, and say
the words which he had failed to say for himself. My hand was on the
door, when I was suddenly pulled back from it by Oscar. I turned, and
faced him in silence.
"No!" he said, with his eyes fixed on mine, and his hand still on my arm.
"If I don't tell her, nobody shall tell her for me."
"She shall be deceived no longer--she must, and shall, hear it," I
answered. "Let me go!"
"You have given me your promise to wait for my leave before you open your
lips. I forbid you to open your lips."
I snapped the fingers of my hand that was free, in his face. "_That_ for
my promise!" I said. "Your contemptible weakness is putting her happiness
in peril as well as yours." I turned my head towards the door, and called
to her. "Lucilla!"
His hand closed fast on my arm. Some lurking devil in him that I had
never seen yet, leapt up and looked at me out of his eyes.
"Tell her," he whispered savagely between his teeth; "and I will
contradict you to your face! If you are desperate, I am desperate too. I
don't care what meanness I am guilty of! I will deny it on my honor; I
will deny it on my oath. You heard what she said about you at Browndown.
She will believe _me_ before _you._"
Lucilla opened her door, and stood waiting on the threshold.
"What is it?" she asked quietly.
A moment's glance at Oscar warned me that he would do what he had
threatened, if I persisted in my resolution. The desperation of a weak
man is, of all desperations, the most unscrupulous and the most
unmanageable--when it is once roused. Angry as I was, I shrank from
degrading him, as I must now have degraded him, if I matched my obstinacy
against his. In mercy to both of them, I gave way.
"I may be going out, my dear, before it gets dark," I said to Lucilla.
"Can I do anything for you in the village?"
"Yes," she said, "if you will wait a little, you can take a letter for me
to the post."
She went back into her room, and closed the door.
I neither looked at Oscar, nor spoke to him, when we were alone again. He
was the first who broke the silence.
"You have remembered your promise to me," he said. "You have done well."
"I have nothing more to say to you," I answered. "I shall go to my own
His eyes followed me uneasily as I walked to the door.
"I shall speak to her," he muttered doggedly, "at my own time."
A wise woman would not have allowed him to irritate her into saying
another word. Alas! I am not a wise woman--that is to say, not always.
"Your own time?" I repeated with the whole force of my contempt. "If you
don't own the truth to her before the German surgeon comes back, your
time will have gone by for ever. He has told us in the plainest
terms--when once the operation is performed, nothing must be said to
agitate or distress her, for months afterwards. The preservation of her
tranquillity is the condition of the recovery of her sight. You will soon
have an excuse for your silence, Mr. Oscar Dubourg!"
The tone in which I said those last words stung him to some purpose.
"Spare your sneers, you heartless Frenchwoman!" he broke out angrily. "I
don't care how I stand in _your_ estimation. Lucilla loves me. Nugent
feels for me."
My vile temper instantly hit on the most merciless answer that I could
make to him in return.
"Ah, poor Lucilla!" I said. "What a much happier prospect hers might have
been! What a thousand pities it is that she is not going to marry your
brother, instead of marrying _you!_"
He winced under that reply, as if I had cut him with a knife. His head
dropped on his breast. He started back from me like a beaten dog--and
suddenly and silently left the room.
I had not been a minute by myself, before my anger cooled. I tried to
keep it hot; I tried to remember that he had aspersed my nation in
calling me a "heartless Frenchwoman." No! it was not to be done. In spite
of myself, I repented what I had said to him.
In a moment more, I was out on the stairs to try if I could overtake him.
I was too late. I heard the garden-gate bang, before I was out of the
house. Twice I approached the gate to follow him. And twice I drew back,
in the fear of making bad worse. It ended in my returning to the
sitting-room, very seriously dissatisfied with myself.
The first welcome interruption to my solitude came--not from Lucilla--but
from the old nurse. Zillah appeared with a letter for me: left that
moment at the rectory by the servant from Browndown. The direction was in
Oscar's handwriting. I opened the envelope, and read these words:--
"MADAME PRATOLUNGO,--YOU have distressed and pained me more than I can
say. There are faults, and serious ones, on my side, I know. I heartily
beg your pardon for anything that I may have said or done to offend you.
I cannot submit to your hard verdict on me. If you knew how I adore
Lucilla, you would make allowances for me--you would understand me better
than you do. I cannot get your last cruel words out of my ears. I cannot
meet you again without some explanation of them. You stabbed me to the
heart, when you said to me this evening that it would be a happier
prospect for Lucilla if she had been going to marry my brother instead of
marrying me. I hope you did not really mean that? Will you please write
and tell me whether you did or not?
Write and tell him? It was absurd enough--when we were within a few
minutes' walk of each other--that Oscar should prefer the cold formality
of a letter, to the friendly ease of a personal interview. Why could he
not have called, and spoken to me? We should have made it up together far
more comfortably in that way--and in half the time. At any rate, I
determined to go to Browndown, and be good friends again, viva^-voce,
with this poor, weak, well-meaning, ill-judging boy. Was it not monstrous
to have attached serious meaning to what Oscar had said when he was in a
panic of nervous terror! His tone of writing so keenly distressed me that
I resented his letter on that very account. It was one of the chilly
evenings of an English June. A small fire was burning in the grate. I
crumpled up the letter, and threw it, as I supposed, into the fire.
(After-events showed that I only threw it into a corner of the fender
instead.) Then, I put on my hat, without stopping to think of Lucilla, or
of what she was writing for the post, and ran off to Browndown.
Where do you think I found him? Locked up in his own room! His insane
shyness--it was really nothing less--made him shrink from that very
personal explanation which (with such a temperament as mine) was the only
possible explanation under the circumstances. I had to threaten him with
forcing his door, before I could get him to show himself, and take my
Once face to face with him, I soon set things right. I really believe he
had been half mad with his own self-imposed troubles, when he had
declared he would give me the lie at the door of Lucilla's room.
It is needless to dwell on what took place between us. I shall only say
here that I had serious reason, at a later time--as you will soon see--to
regret not having humoured Oscar's request that I should reconcile myself
to him by writing, instead of by word of mouth. If I had only placed on
record, in pen and ink, what I actually said in the way of making
atonement to him, I might have spared some suffering to myself and to
others. As it was, the only proof that I had absolved myself in his
estimation consisted in his cordially shaking hands with me at the door,
when I left him.
"Did you meet Nugent?" he asked, as he walked with me across the
enclosure in front of the house.
I had gone to Browndown by a short cut at the back of the garden, instead
of going through the village. Having mentioned this, I asked if Nugent
had returned to the rectory.
"He went back to see you," said Oscar.
"Only his usual kindness. He takes your views of things. He laughed when
he heard I had sent a letter to you, and he ran off (dear fellow!) to see
you on my behalf. You must have met him, if you had come here by the
On getting back to the rectory, I questioned Zillah. Nugent, in my
absence, had run up into the sitting-room; had waited there a few minutes
alone, on the chance of my return; had got tired of waiting, and had gone
away again. I inquired about Lucilla next. A few minutes after Nugent had
gone, she had left her room, and she too had asked for me. Hearing that I
was not to be found in the house, she had given Zillah a letter to
post--and had then returned to her bed-chamber.
I happened to be standing by the hearth, looking into the dying fire,
while the nurse was speaking. Not a vestige of Oscar's letter to me (as I
now well remember) was to be seen. In my position, the plain conclusion
was that I had really done what I supposed myself to have done--that is
to say, thrown the letter into the flames.
Entering Lucilla's room, soon afterwards, to make my apologies for having
forgotten to wait and take her letter to the post, I found her, weary
enough after the events of the day, getting ready for bed.
"I don't wonder at your being tired of waiting for me," she said.
"Writing is long, long work for me. But this was a letter which I felt
bound to write myself, if I could. Can you guess who I am corresponding
with? It is done, my dear! I have written to Herr Grosse!"
"What is there to wait for? What is there left to determine on? I have
told Herr Grosse that our family consultation is over, and that I am
entirely at his disposal for any length of time he may think right. And I
warn him, if he attempts to put it off, that he will be only forcing on
me the inconvenience of going to him in London. I have expressed that
part of my letter strongly--I can tell you! He will get it to-morrow, by
the afternoon post. And the next day--if he is a man of his word--he will
"Oh, Lucilla! not to operate on your eyes?"
"Yes--to operate on my eyes!"
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-THIRD
The Day Between
THE interval-day before the second appearance of Herr Grosse, and the
experiment on Lucilla's sight that was to follow it, was marked by two
incidents which ought to be noticed in this place.
The first incident was the arrival, early in the morning, of another
letter addressed to me privately by Oscar Dubourg. Like many other shy
people, he had a perfect mania, where any embarrassing circumstances were
concerned, for explaining himself, with difficulty, by means of his pen,
in preference to explaining himself, with ease, by means of his tongue.
Oscar's present communication informed me that he had left us for London
by the first morning train, and that his object in taking this sudden
journey was--to state his present position towards Lucilla to a gentleman
especially conversant with the peculiarities of blind people. In plain
words, he had resolved on applying to Mr. Sebright for advice.
"I like Mr. Sebright" (Oscar wrote) "as cordially as I detest Herr
Grosse. The short conversation I had with him has left me with the
pleasantest impression of his delicacy and his kindness. If I freely
reveal to this skillful surgeon the sad situation in which I am placed, I
believe his experience will throw an entirely new light on the present
state of Lucilla's mind, and on the changes which we may expect to see
produced in her, if she really does recover her sight. The result may be
of incalculable benefit in teaching me how I may own the truth, most
harmlessly to her, as well as to myself. Pray don't suppose I undervalue
your advice. I only want to be doubly fortified, before I risk my
confession, by the advice of a scientific man."
All this I took to mean, in plain English, that vacillating Oscar wanted
to quiet his conscience by gaining time, and that his absurd idea of
consulting Mr. Sebright was nothing less than a new and plausible excuse
for putting off the evil day. His letter ended by pledging me to secrecy,
and by entreating me so to manage matters as to grant him a private
interview on his return to Dimchurch by the evening train.
I confess I felt some curiosity as to what would come of the proposed
consultation between unready Oscar and precise Mr. Sebright--and I
accordingly arranged to take my walk alone, towards eight o'clock that
evening, on the road that led to the distant railway station.
The second incident of the day may be described as a confidential
conversation between Lucilla and myself, on the subject which now equally
absorbed us both--the momentous subject of her restoration to the
blessing of sight.
She joined me at the breakfast-table with her ready distrust newly
excited, poor thing, by Oscar. He had accounted to her for his journey to
London by putting forward the commonplace excuse of "business." She
instantly suspected (knowing how he felt about it) that he was secretly
bent on interfering with the performance of the operation by Herr Grosse.
I contrived to compose the anxiety thus aroused in her mind, by informing
her, on Oscar's own authority, that he personally disliked and distrusted
the German oculist. "Make your mind easy," I said. "I answer for his not
venturing near Herr Grosse."
A long silence between us followed those words. When Lucilla next
referred to Oscar in connection with the coming operation, the depressed
state of her spirits seemed to have quite altered her view of her own
prospects. She, of all the people in the world, now spoke in
disparagement of the blessing conferred on the blind by the recovery of
"Do you know one thing?" she said. "If I had not been going to be married
to Oscar, I doubt if I should have cared to put any oculist, native or
foreign, to the trouble of coming to Dimchurch."
"I don't think I understand you," I answered. "You cannot surely mean to
say that you would not have been glad, under any circumstances, to
recover your sight?"
"That is just what I do mean to say."
"What! you, who have written to Grosse to hurry the operation, don't care
"I only care to see Oscar. And, what is more, I only care to see him
because I am in love with him. But for that, I really don't feel as if it
would give me any particular pleasure to use my eyes. I have been blind
so long, I have learnt to do without them."
"And yet, you looked perfectly entranced when Nugent first set you
doubting whether you were blind for life?"
"Nugent took me by surprise," she answered; "Nugent startled me out of my
senses. I have had time to think since; I am not carried away by the
enthusiasm of the moment now. You people who can see attach such an
absurd importance to your eyes! I set my touch, my dear, against your
eyes, as much the most trustworthy, and much the most intelligent sense
of the two. If Oscar was not, as I have said, the uppermost feeling with
me, shall I tell you what I should have infinitely preferred to
recovering my sight--supposing it could have been done?" She shook her
head with a comic resignation to circumstances. "Unfortunately, it can't
"What can't be done?"
She suddenly held out both her arms over the breakfast-table.
"The stretching out of _these_ to an enormous and unheard-of length. That
is what I should have liked!" she answered. "I could find out better what
was going on at a distance with my hands, than you could with your eyes
and your telescopes. What doubts I might set at rest for instance about
the planetary system, among the people who can see, if I could only
stretch out far enough to touch the stars."
"This is talking sheer nonsense, Lucilla!"
"Is it? Just tell me which knows best in the dark--my touch or your eyes?
Who has got a sense that she can always trust to serve her equally well
through the whole four-and-twenty hours? You or me? But for Oscar--to
speak in sober earnest, this time--I tell you I would much rather perfect
the sense in me that I have already got, than have a sense given to me
that I have _not_ got. Until I knew Oscar, I don't think I ever honestly
envied any of you the use of your eyes."
"You astonish me, Lucilla!"
She rattled her teaspoon impatiently in her empty cup.
"Can you always trust your eyes, even in broad daylight?" she burst out.
"How often do they deceive you, in the simplest things? What did I hear
you all disputing about the other day in the garden? You were looking at
"Yes--at the view down the alley of trees at the other end of the
"Some object in the alley had attracted general notice--had it not?"
"Yes--an object at the further end of it."
"I heard you up here. You all differed in opinion, in spite of your
wonderful eyes. My father said it moved. You said it stood still. Oscar
said it was a man. Mrs. Finch said it was a calf. Nugent ran off, and
examined this amazing object at close quarters. And what did it turn out
to be? A stump of an old tree blown across the road in the night! Why am
I to envy people the possession of a sense which plays them such tricks
as that? No! no! Herr Grosse is going to 'cut into my cataracts,' as he
calls it--because I am going to be married to a man I love; and I fancy,
like a fool, I may love him better still, if I can see him. I may be
quite wrong," she added archly. "It may end in my not loving him half as
well as I do now!"
I thought of Oscar's face, and felt a sickening fear that she might be
speaking far more seriously than she suspected. I tried to change the
subject. No! Her imaginative nature had found its way into a new region
of speculation before I could open my lips.
"I associate light," she said thoughtfully, "with all that is beautiful
and heavenly--and dark with all that is vile and horrible and devilish. I
wonder how light and dark will look to me when I see?"
"I believe they will astonish you," I answered, "by being entirely unlike
what you fancy them to be now."
She started. I had alarmed her without intending it.
"Will Oscar's face be utterly unlike what I fancy it to be now?" she
asked, in suddenly altered tones. "Do you mean to say that I have not had
the right image of him in my mind all this time?"
I tried again to draw her off to another topic. What more could I
do--with my tongue tied by the German's warning to us not to agitate her,
in the face of the operation to be performed on the next day?
It was quite useless. She went on, as before, without heeding me.
"Have I no means of judging rightly what Oscar is like?" she said. "I
touch my own face; I know how long it is and how broad it is; I know how
big the different features are, and where they are. And then I touch
Oscar, and compare his face with my knowledge of my own face. Not a
single detail escapes me. I see him in my mind as plainly as you see me
across this table. Do you mean to say, when I see him with my eyes, that
I shall discover something perfectly new to me? I don't believe it!" She
started up impatiently, and took a turn in the room. "Oh!" she exclaimed,
with a stamp of her foot, "why can't I take laudanum enough, or
chloroform enough to kill me for the next six weeks--and then come to
life again when the German takes the bandage off my eyes!" She sat down
once more, and drifted all on a sudden into a question of pure morality.
"Tell me this," she said. "Is the greatest virtue, the virtue which it is
most difficult to practice?"
"I suppose so," I answered.
She drummed with both hands on the table, petulantly, viciously, as hard
as she could.
"Then, Madame Pratolungo," she said, "the greatest of all the virtues
is--Patience. Oh, my friend, how I hate the greatest of all the virtues
at this moment!"
That ended it--there the conversation found its way into other topics at
Thinking afterwards of the new side of her mind which Lucilla had shown
to me, I derived one consolation from what had passed at the
breakfast-table. If Mr. Sebright proved to be right, and if the operation
failed after all, I had Lucilla's word for it that blindness, of itself,
is not the terrible affliction to the blind which the rest of us fancy it
to be--because we can see.
Towards half-past seven in the evening, I went out alone, as I had
planned, to meet Oscar on his return from London.
At a long straight stretch of the road, I saw him advancing towards me.
He was walking more rapidly than usual, and singing as he walked. Even
through its livid discoloration, the poor fellow's face looked radiant
with happiness as he came nearer. He waved his walking-stick exultingly
in the air. "Good news!" he called out at the top of his voice. "Mr.
Sebright has made me a happy man again!" I had never before seen him so
like Nugent in manner, as I now saw him when we met and he shook hands
"Tell me all about it," I said.
He gave me his arm; and, talking all the way, we walked back slowly to
"In the first place," he began, "Mr. Sebright holds to his own opinion
more firmly than ever. He feels absolutely certain that the operation
"Is that your good news?" I asked reproachfully.
"No," he said. "Though, mind, I own to my shame there was a time when I
almost hoped it would fail. Mr. Sebright has put me in a better frame of
mind. I have little or nothing to dread from the success of the
operation--if, by any extraordinary chance, it should succeed. I remind
you of Mr. Sebright's opinion merely to give you a right idea of the tone
which he took with me at starting. He only consented under protest to
contemplate the event which Lucilla and Herr Grosse consider to be a
certainty. 'If the statement of your position requires it,' he said, 'I
will admit that it is barely possible she may be able to see you two
months hence. Now begin.' I began by informing him of my marriage
"Shall I tell you how Mr. Sebright received the information?" I said. "He
held his tongue, and made you a bow."
"Quite true!" he answered. "I told him next of Lucilla's extraordinary
antipathy to dark people, and dark shades of color of all kinds. Can you
guess what he said to me when I had done?"
I owned that my observation of Mr. Sebright's character did not extend to
"He said it was a common antipathy in his experience of the blind. It was
one among the many strange influences exercised by blindness on the mind.
'The physical affliction has its mysterious moral influence,' he said.
'We can observe it, but we can't explain it. The special antipathy which
you mention, is an incurable antipathy, except on one condition--the
recovery of the sight.' There he stopped. I entreated him to go on. No!
He declined to go on until I had finished what I had to say to him first.
I had my confession still to make to him--and I made it."
"You concealed nothing?"
"Nothing. I laid my weakness bare before him. I told him that Lucilla was
still firmly convinced that Nugent's was the discolored face, instead of
mine. And then I put the question--What am I to do?"
"And how did he reply?"
"In these words:--'If you ask me what you are to do, in the event of her
remaining blind (which I tell you again will be the event), I decline to
advise you. Your own conscience and your own sense of honor must decide
the question. On the other hand, if you ask me what you are to do, in the
event of her recovering her sight, I can answer you unreservedly in the
plainest terms. Leave things as they are; and wait till she sees.' Those
were his own words. Oh, the load that they took off my mind! I made him
repeat them--I declare I was almost afraid to trust the evidence of my
I understood the motive of Oscar's good spirits, better than I understood
the motive of Mr. Sebright's advice. "Did he give his reasons?" I asked.
"You shall hear his reasons directly. He insisted on first satisfying
himself that I thoroughly understood my position at that moment. 'The
prime condition of success, as Herr Grosse has told you,' he said, 'is
the perfect tranquillity of the patient. If you make your confession to
the young lady when you get back to-night to Dimchurch, you throw her
into a state of excitement which will render it impossible for my German
colleague to operate on her to-morrow. If you defer your confession, the
medical necessities of the case force you to be silent, until the
professional attendance of the oculist has ceased. There is your
position! My advice to you is to adopt the last alternative. Wait (and
make the other persons in the secret wait) until the result of the
operation has declared itself.' There I stopped him. 'Do you mean that I
am to be present, on the first occasion when she is able to use her
eyes?' I asked. 'Am I to let her see me, without a word beforehand to
prepare her for the color of my face?' "
We were now getting to the interesting part of it. You English people,
when you are out walking and are carrying on a conversation with a
friend, never come to a standstill at the points of interest. We
foreigners, on the other hand, invariably stop. I surprised Oscar by
suddenly pulling him up in the middle of the road.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Go on!" I said impatiently.
"I can't go on," he rejoined. "You're holding me."
I held him tighter than ever, and ordered him more resolutely than ever
to go on. Oscar resigned himself to a halt (foreign fashion) on the high
"Mr. Sebright met my question by putting a question on his side," he
resumed. "He asked me how I proposed to prepare her for the color of my
"And what did you tell him?"
"I said I had planned to make an excuse for leaving Dimchurch--and, once
away, to prepare her, by writing, for what she might expect to see when I
"What did he say to that?"
"He wouldn't hear of it. He said, 'I strongly recommend you to be present
on the first occasion when she is capable (if she ever is capable) of
using her sight. I attach the greatest importance to her being able to
correct the hideous and absurd image now in her mind of a face like
yours, by seeing you as you really are at the earliest available
We were just walking on again, when certain words in that last sentence
startled me. I stopped short once more.
"Hideous and absurd image?" I repeated, thinking instantly of my
conversation of that morning with Lucilla. What did Mr. Sebright mean by
using such language as that?"
"Just what I asked him. His reply will interest you. It led him into that
explanation of his motives which you inquired for just now. Shall we walk
My petrified foreign feet recovered their activity. We went on again.
"When I had spoken to Mr. Sebright of Lucilla's inveterate prejudice,"
Oscar continued, "he had surprised me by saying that it was common in his
experience, and was only curable by her restoration to sight. In support
of those assertions, he now told me of two interesting cases which had
occurred in his professional practice. The first was the case of the
little daughter of an Indian officer--blind from infancy like Lucilla.
After operating successfully, the time came when he could permit his
patient to try her sight--that is to say, to try if she could see
sufficiently well at first, to distinguish dark objects from light. Among
the members of the household assembled to witness the removal of the
bandage, was an Indian nurse who had accompanied the family to England.
The first person the child saw was her mother--a fair woman. She clasped
her little hands in astonishment, and that was all. At the next turn of
her head, she saw the dark Indian nurse and instantly screamed with
terror. Mr. Sebright owned to me that he could not explain it. The child
could have no possible association with colors. Yet there nevertheless
was the most violent hatred and horror of a dark object (the hatred and
horror peculiar to the blind) expressing itself unmistakably in a child
of ten years old! My first thought, while he was telling me this, was of
myself, and of my chance with Lucilla. My first question was, 'Did the
child get used to the nurse?' I can give you his answer in his own words.
'In a week's time, I found the child sitting in the nurse's lap as
composedly as I am sitting in this chair.'--"That is encouraging--isn't
"Most encouraging--nobody can deny it."
"The second instance was more curious still. This time the case was the
case of a grown man--and the object was to show me what strange fantastic
images (utterly unlike the reality) the blind form of the people about
them. The patient was married, and was to see his wife (as Lucilla is one
day to see me) for the first time. He had been told, before he married
her, that she was personally disfigured by the scar of a wound on one of
her cheeks. The poor woman--ah, how well I can understand her!--trembled
for the consequences. The man who had loved her dearly while he was
blind, might hate her when he saw her scarred face. Her husband had been
the first to console her when the operation was determined on. He
declared that his sense of touch, and the descriptions given to him by
others, had enabled him to form, in his own mind, the most complete and
faithful image of his wife's face. Nothing that Mr. Sebright could say
would induce him to believe that it was physically impossible for him to
form a really correct idea of any object, animate or inanimate, which he
had never seen. He wouldn't hear of it. He was so certain of the result,
that he held his wife's hand in his, to encourage her, when the bandage
was removed from him. At his first look at her, he uttered a cry of
horror, and fell back in his chair in a swoon. His wife, poor thing, was
distracted. Mr. Sebright did his best to compose her, and waited till her
husband was able to answer the questions put to him. It then appeared
that his blind idea of his wife, and of her disfigurement had been
something so grotesquely and horribly unlike the reality, that it was
hard to know whether to laugh or to tremble at it. She was as beautiful
as an angel, by comparison with her husband's favorite idea of her--and
yet, because it was his idea, he was absolutely disgusted and terrified
at the first sight of her! In a few weeks he was able to compare his wife
with other women, to look at pictures, to understand what beauty was and
what ugliness was--and from that time they have lived together as happy a
married couple as any in the kingdom."
I was not quite sure which way this last example pointed. It alarmed me
when I thought of Lucilla. I came to a standstill again.
"How did Mr. Sebright apply this second case to Lucilla and to you?" I
"You shall hear," said Oscar. "He first appealed to the case as
supporting his assertion that Lucilla's idea of me must be utterly unlike
what I am myself. He asked if I was now satisfied that she could have no
correct conception of what faces and colors were really like? and if I
agreed with him in believing that the image in her mind of the man with
the blue face, was in all probability something fantastically and
hideously unlike the reality? After what I had heard, I agreed with him
as a matter of course. 'Very well,' says Mr. Sebright. 'Now let its
remember that there is one important difference between the case of Miss
Finch, and the case that I have just mentioned. The husband's blind idea
of his wife was the husband's favorite idea. The shock of the first sight
of her, was plainly a shock to him on that account. Now Miss Finch's
blind idea of the blue face is, on the contrary, a hateful idea to
her--the image is an image that she loathes. Is it not fair to conclude
from this, that the first sight of you as you really are, is likely to
be, in her case, a relief to her instead of a shock? Reasoning from my
experience, I reach that conclusion; and I advise you, in your own
interests, to be present when the bandage is taken off. Even if I prove
to be mistaken--even if she is not immediately reconciled to the sight of
you--there is the other example of the child and the Indian nurse to
satisfy you that it is only a question of time. Sooner or later, she will
take the discovery as any other young lady would take it. At first, she
will be indignant with you for deceiving her; and then, if you are sure
of your place in her affections, she will end in forgiving you.--There is
my view of your position, and there are the grounds on which I form it!
In the meantime, my own opinion remains unshaken. I firmly believe that
you will never have occasion to act on the advice that I have given to
you. When the bandage is taken off, the chances are five hundred to one
that she is no nearer to seeing you then than she is now.' These were his
last words--and on that we parted."
Oscar and I walked on again for a little way, in silence.
I had nothing to say against Mr. Sebright's reasons; it was impossible to
question the professional experience from which they were drawn. As to
blind people in general, I felt no doubt that his advice was good, and
that his conclusions were arrived at correctly. But Lucilla's was no
ordinary character. My experience of her was better experience than Mr.
Sebright's--and the more I thought of the future, the less inclined I
felt to share Oscar's hopeful view. She was just the person to say
something or do something, at the critical moment of the experiment,
which would take the wisest previous calculation by surprise. Oscar's
prospects never had looked darker to me than they looked at that moment.
It would have been useless and cruel to have said to him what I have just
said here. I put as bright a face on it as I could, and asked if he
proposed to follow Mr. Sebright's advice.
"Yes," he said. "With a certain reservation of my own, which occurred to
me after I had left his house."
"May I ask what it is?"
"Certainly. I mean to beg Nugent to leave Dimchurch, before Lucilla tries
her sight for the first time. He will do that, I know, to please me."
"And when he has done it, what then?"
"Then I mean to be present--as Mr. Sebright suggested--when the bandage
is taken off."
"Previously telling Lucilla," I interposed, "that it is you who are in
"No. There I take the precaution that I alluded to just now. I propose to
leave Lucilla under the impression that it is I who have left Dimchurch,
and that Nugent's face is the face she sees. If Mr. Sebright proves to be
right, and if her first sensation is a sensation of relief, I will own
the truth to her the same day. If not, I will wait to make my confession
until she has become reconciled to the sight of me. That plan meets every
possible emergency. It is one of the few good ideas that my stupid head
has hit on since I have been at Dimchurch."
He said those last words with such an innocent air of triumph, that I
really could not find it in my heart to damp his ardor by telling him
what I thought of his idea. All I said was, "Don't forget, Oscar, that
the cleverest plans are at the mercy of circumstances. At the last
moment, an accident may happen which will force you to speak out."
We came in sight of the rectory as I gave him that final warning. Nugent
was strolling up and down the road on the look-out for us. I left Oscar
to tell his story over again to his brother, and went into the house.
Lucilla was at her piano when I entered the sitting-room. She was not
only playing--but (a rare thing with her) singing too. The song was,
poetry and music both, of her own composing. "I shall see him! I shall
see him!" In those four words the composition began and ended. She
adapted them to all the happy melodies in her memory. She accompanied
them with hands that seemed to be mad for joy--hands that threatened
every moment to snap the chords of the instrument. Never, since my first
day at the rectory, had I heard such a noise in our quiet sitting-room as
I heard now. She was in a fever of exhilaration which, in my foreboding
frame of mind at that moment, it pained and shocked me to see. I lifted
her off the music-stool, and shut up the piano by main force.
"Compose yourself for heaven's sake," I said. "Do you want to be
completely exhausted when the German comes tomorrow?"
That consideration instantly checked her. She suddenly became quiet, with
the abrupt facility of a child.
"I forgot that," she said, sitting down in a corner, with a face of
dismay. "He might refuse to perform the operation! Oh, my dear, quiet me
down somehow. Get a book, and read to me."
I got the book. Ah, the poor author! Neither she nor I paid the slightest
attention to him. Worse still, we abused him for not interesting us--and
then shut him up with a bang, and pushed him rudely into his place on the
book-shelf, and left him upside down and went to bed.
She was standing at her window when I went in to wish her good night. The
mellow moonlight fell tenderly on her lovely face.
"Moon that I have never seen," she murmured softly, "I feel you looking
at me! Is the time coming when I shall look at You?" She turned from the
window, and eagerly put my fingers on her pulse. "Am I quite composed
again?" she asked. "Will he find me well to-morrow? Feel it! feel it! Is
it quiet now?"
I felt it--throbbing faster and faster.
"Sleep will quiet it," I said--and kissed her, and left her.
She slept well. As for me, I passed such a wretched night, and got up so
completely worn out, that I had to go back to my room after breakfast,
and lie down again. Lucilla persuaded me to do it. "Herr Grosse won't be
here till the afternoon," she said. "Rest till he comes."
We had reckoned without allowing for the eccentric character of our
German surgeon. Excepting the business of his profession, Herr Grosse did
everything by impulse, and nothing by rule. I had not long fallen into a
broken unrefreshing sleep, when I felt Zillah's hand on my shoulder, and
heard Zillah's voice in my ear.
"Please to get up, ma'am! He's here--he has come from London by the
I hurried into the sitting-room.
There, at the table, sat Herr Grosse with an open instrument-case before
him; his wild black eyes gloating over a hideous array of scissors,
probes, and knives, and his shabby hat hard by with lint and bandages
huddled together anyhow inside it. And there stood Lucilla by his side,
stooping over him--with one hand laid familiarly on his shoulder, and
with the other deftly fingering one of his horrid instruments to find out
what it was like!
THE END OF THE FIRST PART
PART THE SECOND
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-FOURTH
Nugent shows his Hand
I CLOSED the First Part of my narrative on the day of the operation, the
twenty-fifth of June.
I open the Second Part, between six and seven weeks later, on the ninth
How did the time pass at Dimchurch in that interval?
Searching backwards in my memory, I call to life again the domestic
history of the six weeks. It looks, on retrospection, miserably dull and
empty of incident. I wonder when I contemplate it now, how we got through
that weary interval--how we bore that forced inaction, that unrelieved
oppression of suspense.
Changing from bed-room to sitting-room, from sitting-room back to
bed-room; with the daylight always shut out; with the bandages always on,
except when the surgeon looked at her eyes; Lucilla bore the
imprisonment--and worse than the imprisonment, the uncertainty--of her
period of probation, with the courage that can endure anything, the
courage sustained by Hope. With books, with music, with talk--above all,
with Love to help her--she counted her way calmly through the dull
succession of hours and days till the time came which was to decide the
question in dispute between the oculists--the terrible question of which
of the two, Mr. Sebright or Herr Grosse, was right.
I was not present at the examination which finally decided all doubt. I
joined Oscar in the garden--quite as incapable as he was of exerting the
slightest self-control. We paced silently backwards and forwards on the
lawn, like two animals in a cage. Zillah was the only witness present
when the German examined our poor darling's eyes; Nugent engaging to wait
in the next room and announce the result from the window. As the event
turned out, Herr Grosse was beforehand with him. Once more we heard his
broken English shouting, "Hi-hi-hoi! hoi-hi! hoi-hi!" Once more, we
beheld his huge silk handkerchief waving at the window. I turned sick and
faint under the excitement of the moment--under the rapture (it was
nothing less) of hearing those three electrifying words: "She will see!"
Mercy! how we did abuse Mr. Sebright, when we were all reunited again in
The first excitement over, we had our difficulties to contend with next.
From the moment when she was positively informed that the operation had
succeeded, our once-patient Lucilla developed into a new being. She now
rose in perpetual revolt against the caution which still deferred the day
on which she was to be allowed to make the first trial of her sight. It
required all my influence, backed by Oscar's entreaties, and strengthened
by the furious foreign English of our excellent German surgeon (Herr
Grosse had a temper of his own, I can tell you!) to prevent her from
breaking through the medical discipline which held her in its grasp. When
she became quite unmanageable, and vehemently abused him to his face, our
good Grosse used to swear at her, in a compound bad language of his own,
with a tremendous aspiration at the beginning of it, which always set
matters right by making her laugh. I see him again as I write, leaving
the room on these occasions, with his eyes blazing through his
spectacles, and his shabby hat cocked sideways on his head. "Soh, you
little-spitfire-Feench! If you touch that bandages when I have put him
on--Ho-Damn-Damn! I say no more. Good-bye!"
From Lucilla I turn to the twin-brothers next.
Tranquilized as to the future, after his interview with Mr. Sebright,
Oscar presented himself at his best during the time of which I am now
writing. Lucilla's main reliance in her days in the darkened room, was on
what her lover could do to relieve and to encourage her. He never once
failed her; his patience was perfect; his devotion was inexhaustible. It
is sad to say so, in view of what happened afterwards; but I only tell a
necessary truth when I declare that he immensely strengthened his hold on
her affections, in those last days of her blindness when his society was
most precious to her. Ah, how fervently she used to talk of him when she
and I were left together at night! Forgive me if I leave this part of the
history of the courtship untold. I don't like to write of it--I don't
like to think of it. Let us get on to something else.
Nugent comes next. I would give a great deal, poor as I am, to be able to
leave him out. It is not to be done. I must write about that lost wretch,
and you must read about him, whether we like it or not.
The days of Lucilla's imprisonment, were also the days when my favorite
disappointed me, for the first time. He and his brother seemed to change
places. It was Nugent now who appeared to disadvantage by comparison with
Oscar. He surprised and grieved his brother by leaving Browndown. "All I
can do for you, I have done," he said. "I can be of no further use for
the present to anybody. Let me go. I am stagnating in this miserable
place--I must, and will, have change." Oscar's entreaties, in Nugent's
present frame of mind, failed to move him. Away he went one morning,
without bidding anybody goodbye. He had talked of being absent for a
week--he remained away for a month. We heard of him, leading a wild life,
among a vicious set of men. It was reported that a frantic restlessness
possessed him which nobody could understand. He came back as suddenly as
he had left us. His variable nature had swung round, in the interval, to
the opposite extreme. He was full of repentance for his reckless conduct;
he was in a state of depression which defied rousing; he despaired of
himself and his future. Sometimes he talked of going back to America; and
sometimes he threatened to close his career by enlisting as a private
soldier. Would any other person, in my place, have seen which way these
signs pointed? I doubt it, if that person's mind had been absorbed, as
mine was, in watching Lucilla day by day. Even if I had been a suspicious
woman by nature--which, thank God, I am not--my distrust must have lain
dormant, in the all-subduing atmosphere of suspense hanging heavily on me
morning, noon, and night in the darkened room.
So much, briefly, for the sayings and doings of the persons principally
concerned in this narrative, during the six weeks which separate Part the
First from Part the Second.
I begin again on the ninth of August.
This was the memorable day chosen by Herr Grosse for risking the
experiment of removing the bandage, and permitting Lucilla to try her
sight for the first time. Conceive for yourselves (don't ask me to
describe) the excitement that raged in our obscure little circle, now
that we were standing face to face with that grand Event in our lives
which I promised to relate in the opening sentence of these pages.
I was the earliest riser at the rectory that morning. My excitable French
blood was in a fever. I was irresistibly reminded of myself, at a time
long past--the time when my glorious Pratolungo and I, succumbing to Fate
and tyrants, fled to England for safety; martyrs to that ungrateful
Republic (long live the Republic!) for which I laid down my money and my
husband his life.
I opened my window, and hailed the good omen of sunrise in a clear sky.
Just as I was turning away again from the view, I saw a figure steal out
from the shrubbery and appear on the lawn. The figure came nearer. I
"What in the world are you doing there, at this time in the morning?" I
He lifted his finger to his lips, and came close under my window before
"Hush!" he said. "Don't let Lucilla hear you. Come down to me as soon as
you can. I am waiting to speak to you."
When I joined him in the garden, I saw directly that something had gone
"Bad news from Browndown?" I asked.
"Nugent has disappointed me," he answered. "Do you remember the evening
when you met me after my consultation with Mr. Sebright?"
"I told you that I meant to ask Nugent to leave Dimchurch, on the day
when Lucilla tried her sight for the first time."
"Well--he refuses to leave Dimchurch."
"Have you explained your motives to him?"
"Carefully--before I asked him to go. I told him how impossible it was to
say what might happen. I reminded him that it might be of the utmost
importance to me to preserve the impression now in Lucilla's mind--for a
certain time only--after Lucilla could see. I promised, the moment she
became reconciled to the sight of me, to recall him, and in his presence
to tell her the truth. All that I said to him--and how do you think he
"Did he positively refuse?"
"No. He walked away from me to the window, and considered a little. Then
he turned round suddenly and said 'What did you tell me was Mr.
Sebright's opinion? Mr. Sebright thought she would be relieved instead of
being terrified. In that case, what need is there for me to go away? You
can acknowledge at once that she has seen your face, and not mine?' He
put his hands in his pockets when he had said that (you know Nugent's
downright way)--and turned back to the window as if he had settled
"What did you say, on your side?"
"I said, 'Suppose Mr. Sebright is wrong?' He only answered, 'Suppose Mr.
Sebright is right?' I followed him to the window--I never heard him speak
so sourly to me as he spoke at that moment. 'What is your objection to
going away for a day or two?' I asked. 'My objection is soon stated,' he
answered. 'I am sick of these everlasting complications. It is useless
and cruel to carry on the deception any longer. Mr. Sebright's advice is
the wise advice and the right advice. Let her see you as you are.' With
that answer, he walked out of the room. Something has upset him--I can't
imagine what it is. Do pray see what you can make of him! My only hope is
I own I felt reluctant to interfere. Suddenly and strangely as Nugent had
altered his point of view, it seemed to me undeniable that Nugent was
right. At the same time, Oscar looked so disappointed and distressed,
that it was really impossible, on that day above all others, to pain him
additionally by roundly saying No. I undertook to do what I could--and I
inwardly hoped that circumstances would absolve me from the necessity of
doing anything at all.
Circumstances failed to justify my selfish confidence in them.
I was out in the village, after breakfast, on a domestic errand connected
with the necessary culinary preparations for the reception of Herr
Grosse--when I heard my name pronounced behind me, and, turning round,
found myself face to face with Nugent.
"Has my brother been bothering you this morning," he asked, "before I was
I instantly noticed a return in him, as he said that, to the same dogged
ungracious manner which had perplexed and displeased me at my last
confidential interview with him in the rectory garden.
"Oscar has been speaking to me this morning," I replied.
"About you. You have distressed and disappointed him----"
"I know! I know! Oscar is worse than a child. I am beginning to lose all
patience with him."
"I am sorry to hear you say that, Nugent. You have borne with him so
kindly thus far--surely you can make allowances for him to-day? His whole
future may depend on what happens in Lucilla's sitting-room a few hours
"He is making a mountain out of a mole-hill--and so are you."
Those words were spoken bitterly--almost rudely. I answered sharply on my
"You are the last person living who has any right to say that. Oscar is
in a false position towards Lucilla, with your knowledge and consent. In
your brother's interests, you agreed to the fraud that has been practiced
on her. In your brother's interests, again, you are asked to leave
Dimchurch. Why do you refuse?"
"I refuse, because I have come round to your way of thinking. What did
you say of Oscar and of me, in the summer-house? You said we were taking
a cruel advantage of Lucilla's blindness. You were right. It was cruel
not to have told her the truth. I won't be a party to concealing the
truth from her any longer! I refuse to persist in deceiving her--in
meanly deceiving her--on the day when she recovers her sight!"
It is entirely beyond my power to describe the tone in which he made that
reply. I can only declare that it struck me dumb for the moment. I drew a
step nearer to him. With vague misgivings in me, I looked him searchingly
in the face. He looked back at me, without shrinking.
"Well?" he asked--with a hard smile which defied me to put him in the
I could discover nothing in his face--I could only follow my instincts as
a woman. Those instincts warned me to accept his explanation.
"I am to understand then that you have decided on staying here?" I said.
"What do you propose to do, when Herr Grosse arrives, and we assemble in
"I propose to be present among the rest of you, at the most interesting
moment of Lucilla's life."
"No! you don't propose that!"
"You have forgotten something, Mr. Nugent Dubourg."
"What is it, Madame Pratolungo?"
"You have forgotten that Lucilla believes the brother with the discolored
face to be You, and the brother with the fair complexion to be Oscar. You
have forgotten that the surgeon has expressly forbidden us to agitate her
by entering into any explanations before he allows her to use her eyes.
You have forgotten that the very deception which you have just positively
refused to go on with, will be nevertheless a deception continued, if you
are present when Lucilla sees. Your own resolution pledges you not to
enter the rectory doors until Lucilla has discovered the truth." In those
words I closed the vice on him. I had got Mr. Nugent Dubourg!
He turned deadly pale. His eyes dropped before mine for the first time.
"Thank you for reminding me," he said. "I _had_ forgotten."
He pronounced those submissive words in a suddenly-lowered voice.
Something in his tone, or something in the dropping of his eyes, set my
heart beating quickly, with a certain vague expectation which I was
unable to realize to myself.
"You agree with me," I said, "that you cannot be one amongst us at the
rectory? What will you do?"
"I will remain at Browndown," he answered.
I felt he was lying. Don't ask for my reasons: I have no reasons to give.
When he said "I will remain at Browndown," I felt he was lying.
"Why not do what Oscar asks of you?" I went on. "If you are absent, you
may as well be in one place as in another. There is plenty of time still
to leave Dimchurch."
He looked up as suddenly as he had looked down.
"Do you and Oscar think me a stock or a stone?" he burst out angrily.
"What do you mean?"
"Who are you indebted to for what is going to happen to-day?" he went on,
more and more passionately. "You are indebted to Me. Who among you all
stood alone in refusing to believe that she was blind for life? _I_ did!
Who brought the man here who has given her back her sight? _I_ brought
the man! And I am the one person who is to be left in ignorance of how it
ends. The others are to be present: I am to be sent away. The others are
to see it: I am to hear by post (if any of you think of writing to me)
what she does, what she says, how she looks, at the first heavenly moment
when she opens her eyes on the world." He flung up his hand in the air,
and burst out savagely with a bitter laugh. "I astonish you, don't I? I
am claiming a position which I have no right to occupy. What interest can
_I_ feel in it? Oh God! what do _I_ care about the woman to whom I have
given a new life?" His voice broke into a sob at those last wild words.
He tore at the breast of his coat as if he was suffocating--and turned,
and left me.
I stood rooted to the spot. In one breathless instant, the truth broke on
me like a revelation. At last I had penetrated the terrible secret.
Nugent loved her.
My first impulse, when I recovered myself, hurried me at the top of my
speed back to the rectory. For a moment or two, I think I must really
have lost my senses. I felt a frantic suspicion that he had gone into the
house, and that he was making his way to Lucilla at that moment. When I
found that all was quiet--when Zillah had satisfied me that no visitor
had come near our side of the rectory--I calmed down a little, and went
back to the garden to compose myself before I ventured into Lucilla's
After awhile, I got over the first horror of it, and saw my own position
plainly. There was not a living soul at Dimchurch in whom I could
confide. Come what might of it, in this dreadful emergency, I must trust
in myself alone.
I had just arrived at that startling conclusion; I had shed some bitter
tears when I remembered how hardly I had judged poor Oscar on more than
one occasion; I had decided that my favorite Nugent was the most hateful
villain living, and that I would leave nothing undone that the craft of a
woman could compass to drive him out of the place--when I was forced back
to present necessities by the sound of Zillah's voice calling to me from
the house. I went to her directly. The nurse had a message for me from
her young mistress. My poor Lucilla was lonely and anxious: she was
surprised at my leaving her, she insisted on seeing me immediately.
I took my first precaution against a surprise from Nugent, as I crossed
the threshold of the door.
"Our dear child must not be disturbed by visitors to-day," I said to
Zillah. "If Mr. Nugent Dubourg comes here and asks for her--don't tell
Lucilla; tell _me._"
This said, I went up-stairs, and joined my darling in the darkened room.
CHAPTER THE THIRTY-FIFTH
Lucilla tries her Sight
SHE was sitting alone in the dim light, with the bandage over her eyes,
with her pretty hands crossed patiently on her lap. My heart swelled in
me as I looked at her, and felt the horrid discovery that I had made
still present in my mind. "Forgive me for leaving you," I said in as
steady a voice as I could command at the moment--and kissed her.
She instantly discovered my agitation, carefully as I thought I had
"You are frightened too!" she exclaimed, taking my hands in hers.
"Frightened, my love?" I repeated. (I was perfectly stupefied; I really
did not know what to say!)
"Yes. Now the time is so near, I feel my courage failing me. I forbode
all sorts of horrible things. Oh! when will it be over? what will Oscar
look like when I see him?"
I answered the first question. Who could answer the second?
"Herr Grosse comes to us by the morning train," I said. "It will soon be
"Where is Oscar?"
"On his way here, I have no doubt."
"Describe him to me once more," she said eagerly. "For the last time,
before I see. His eyes, his hair, his complexion--everything!"
How I should have got through the painful task which she had innocently
imposed on me, if I had attempted to perform it, I hardly like to think.
To my infinite relief, I was interrupted at my first word by the opening