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The Legacy of Cain by Wilkie Collins

Part 8 out of 8

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saved his life?"

"A little patience, please, Mr. Governor; let Philip tell his own
story. If I try to do it, I shall only cry--and we have had tears
enough lately, in this house."

Further consultation being thus deferred, I went upstairs to
the Minister's room.

He was sitting by the window, in his favorite armchair, absorbed
in knitting! The person who attended on him, a good-natured,
patient fellow, had been a sailor in his younger days, and had
taught Mr. Gracedieu how to use the needles. "You see it amuses
him," the man said, kindly. "Don't notice his mistakes, he thinks
there isn't such another in the world for knitting as himself.
You can see, sir, how he sticks to it." He was so absorbed over
his employment that I had to speak to him twice, before I could
induce him to look at me. The utter ruin of his intellect did not
appear to have exercised any disastrous influence over his bodily
health. On the contrary, he had grown fatter since I had last
seen him; his complexion had lost the pallor that I remembered--
there was color in his cheeks.

"Don't you remember your old friend?" I said. He smiled, and
nodded, and repeated the words:

"Yes, yes, my old friend." It was only too plain that he had not
the least recollection of me. "His memory is gone," the man said.
"When he puts away his knitting, at night, I have to find it for
him in the morning. But, there! he's happy--enjoys his victuals,
likes sitting out in the garden and watching the birds. There's
been a deal of trouble in the family, sir; and it has all passed
over him like a wet sponge over a slate." The old sailor was
right. If that wreck of a man had been capable of feeling and
thinking, his daughter's disgrace would have broken his heart.
In a world of sin and sorrow, is peaceable imbecility always
to be pitied? I have known men who would have answered, without
hesitation: "It is to be envied." And where (some persons might
say) was the poor Minister's reward for the act of mercy which
had saved Eunice in her infancy? Where it ought to be! A man who
worthily performs a good action finds his reward in the action

At breakfast, on the next day, the talk touched on those passages
in Helena's diary, which had been produced in court as evidence
against her.

I expressed a wish to see what revelation of a depraved nature
the entries in the diary might present; and my curiosity was
gratified. At a fitter time, I may find an opportunity of
alluding to the impression produced on me by the diary. In
the meanwhile, the event of Philip's return claims notice in
the first place.

The poor fellow was so glad to see me that he shook hands as
heartily as if we had known each other from the time when he was
a boy.

"Do you remember how kindly you spoke to me when I called on you
in London?" he asked. "If I have repeated those words once--but
perhaps you don't remember them? You said: 'If I was as young as
you are, I should not despair.' Well! I have said that to myself
over and over again, for a hundred times at least. Eunice will
listen to you, sir, when she will listen to nobody else. This
is the first happy moment I have had for weeks past."

I suppose I must have looked glad to hear that. Anyway, Philip
shook hands with me again.

Miss Jillgall was present. The gentle-hearted old maid was so
touched by our meeting that she abandoned herself to the genial
impulse of the moment, and gave Philip a kiss. The outraged
claims of propriety instantly seized on her. She blushed as if
the long-lost days of her girlhood had been found again, and ran
out of the room.

"Now, Mr. Philip," I said, "I have been waiting, at Miss
Jillgall's suggestion, to get my information from you. There is
something wrong between Eunice and yourself. What is it? And who
is to blame?"

"Her vile sister is to blame," he answered. "That reptile was
determined to sting us. And she has done it!" he cried, starting
to his feet, and walking up and down the room, urged into action
by his own unendurable sense of wrong. "I say, she has done it,
after Eunice has saved me--done it, when Eunice was ready to be
my wife."

"How has she done it?"

Between grief and indignation his reply was involved in
a confusion of vehemently-spoken words, which I shall not attempt
to reproduce. Eunice had reminded him that her sister had been
publicly convicted of an infamous crime, and publicly punished
for it by imprisonment. "If I consent to marry you," she said,
"I stain you with my disgrace; that shall never be." With this
resolution, she had left him. "I have tried to convince her,"
Philip said, "that she will not be associated with her sister's
disgrace when she bears my name; I have promised to take her
far away from England, among people who have never even heard of
her sister. Miss Jillgall has used her influence to help me. All
in vain! There is no hope for us but in you. I am not thinking
selfishly only of myself. She tries to conceal it--but, oh, she
is broken-hearted! Ask the farmer's wife, if you don't believe
me. Judge for yourself, sir. Go--for God's sake, go to the farm."

I made him sit down and compose himself.

"You may depend on my going to the farm," I answered. "I shall
write to Eunice to-day, and follow my letter to-morrow." He tried
to thank me; but I would not allow it. "Before I consent to
accept the expression of your gratitude," I said, "I must know
a little more of you than I know now. This is only the second
occasion on which we have met. Let us look back a little, Mr.
Philip Dunboyne. You were Eunice's affianced husband; and you
broke faith with her. That was a rascally action. How do you
defend it?"

His head sank. "I am ashamed to defend it," he answered.

I pressed him without mercy. "You own yourself," I said, "that
it was a rascally action?"

"Use stronger language against me, even than that, sir--I deserve

"In plain words," I went on, "you can find no excuse for
your conduct?"

"In the past time," he said, "I might have found excuses."

"But you can't find them now?"

"I must not even look for them now."

"Why not?"

"I owe it to Eunice to leave my conduct at its worst; with
nothing said--by me--to defend it."

"What has Eunice done to have such a claim on you as that?"

"Eunice has forgiven me."

It was gratefully and delicately said. Ought I to have allowed
this circumstance to weigh with me? I ask, in return, had _I_
never committed any faults? As a fellow-mortal and fellow-sinner,
had I any right to harden my heart against an expression of
penitence which I felt to be sincere in its motive?

But I was bound to think of Eunice. I did think of her, before
I ventured to accept the position--the critical position, as
I shall presently show--of Philip's friend.

After more than an hour of questions put without reserve, and
of answers given without prevarication, I had traveled over
the whole ground laid out by the narratives which appear in
these pages, and had arrived at my conclusion--so far as Philip
Dunboyne was concerned.

I found him to be a man with nothing absolutely wicked in
him--but with a nature so perilously weak, in many respects,
that it might drift into wickedness unless a stronger nature
was at hand to bold it back. Married to a wife without force
of character, the probabilities would point to him as likely
to yield to examples which might make him a bad husband. Married
to a wife with a will of her own, and with true love to sustain
her--a wife who would know when to take the command and how
to take the command--a wife who, finding him tempted to commit
actions unworthy of his better self, would be far-sighted enough
to perceive that her husband's sense of honor might sometimes
lose its balance, without being on that account hopelessly
depraved--then, and, in these cases only, the probabilities would
point to Philip as a man likely to be the better and the happier
for his situation, when the bonds of wedlock had got him.

But the serious question was not answered yet.

Could I feel justified in placing Eunice in the position toward
Philip which I have just endeavored to describe? I dared not
allow my mind to dwell on the generosity which had so nobly
pardoned him, or on the force of character which had bravely
endured the bitterest disappointment, the cruelest humiliation.
The one consideration which I was bound to face, was the sacred
consideration of her happiness in her life to come.

Leaving Philip, with a few words of sympathy which might help him
to bear his suspense, I went to my room to think.

The time passed--and I could arrive at no positive conclusion.
Either way--with or without Philip--the contemplation of Eunice's
future harassed me with doubt. Even if I had conquered my own
indecision, and had made up my mind to sanction the union of
the two young people, the difficulties that now beset me would
not have been dispersed. Knowing what I alone knew, I could
certainly remove Eunice's one objection to the marriage. In other
words, I had only to relate what had happened on the day when
the Chaplain brought the Minister to the prison, and the obstacle
of their union would be removed. But, without considering Philip,
it was simply out of the question to do this, in mercy to Eunice
herself. What was Helena's disgrace, compared with the infamy
which stained the name of the poor girl's mother! The other
alternative of telling her part of the truth only was before me,
if I could persuade myself to adopt it. I failed to persuade
myself; my morbid anxiety for her welfare made me hesitate again.
Human patience could endure no more. Rashness prevailed
and prudence yielded--I left my decision to be influenced
by the coming interview with Eunice.

The next day I drove to the farm. Philip's entreaties persuaded
me to let him be my companion, on one condition--that he waited
in the carriage while I went into the house.

I had carefully arranged my ideas, and had decided on proceeding
with the greatest caution, before I ventured on saying the
all-important words which, once spoken, were not to be recalled.
The worst of those anxieties, under which the delicate health
of Mr. Gracedieu had broken down, was my anxiety now. Could I
reconcile it to my conscience to permit a man, innocent of all
knowledge of the truth, to marry the daughter of a condemned
murderess, without honestly telling him what he was about to do?
Did I deserve to be pitied? did I deserve to be blamed?--my mind
was still undecided when I entered the house.

She ran to meet me as if she had been my daughter; she kissed me
as if she had been my daughter; she fondly looked up at me as if
she had been my daughter. At the sight of that sweet young face,
so sorrowful, and so patiently enduring sorrow, all my doubts
and hesitations, everything artificial about me with which I had
entered the room, vanished in an instant.

After she had thanked me for coming to see her, I saw her tremble
a little. The uppermost interest in her heart was forcing its way
outward to expression, try as she might to keep it back. "Have
you seen Philip?" she asked. The tone in which she put that
question decided me--I was resolved to let her marry him.
Impulse! Yes, impulse, asserting itself inexcusably in a man at
the end of his life. I ought to have known better than to have
given way. Very likely. But am I the only mortal who ought to
have known better--and did not?

When Eunice asked if I had seen Philip, I owned that he was
outside in the carriage. Before she could reproach me, I went on
with what I had to say: "My child, I know what a sacrifice you
have made; and I should honor your scruples, if you had any
reason for feeling them."

"Any reason for feeling them?" She turned pale as she repeated
the words.

An idea came to me. I rang for the servant, and sent her to
the carriage to tell Philip to come in. "My dear, I am not
putting you to any unfair trial," I assured her; "I am going
to prove that I love you as truly as if you were my own child."

When they were both present, I resolved that they should not
suffer a moment of needless suspense. Standing between them, I
took Eunice's hand, and laid my other hand on Philip's shoulder,
and spoke out plainly.

"I am here to make you both happy," I said. "I can remove
the only obstacle to your marriage, and I mean to do it. But
I must insist on one condition. Give me your promise, Philip,
that you will ask for no explanations, and that you will be
satisfied with the one true statement which is all that I can
offer to you."

He gave me his promise, without an instant's hesitation.

"Philip grants what I ask," I said to Eunice. "Do you grant it,

Her hand turned cold in mine; but she spoke firmly when she said:

I gave her into Philip's care. It was his privilege to console
and support her. It was my duty to say the decisive words:

"Rouse your courage, dear Eunice; you are no more affected by
Helena's disgrace than I am. You are not her sister. Her father
is not your father; her mother was not your mother. I was
present, in the time of your infancy, when Mr. Gracedieu's
fatherly kindness received you as his adopted child. This,
I declare to you both, on my word of honor, is the truth."

How she bore it I am not able to say. My foolish old eyes were
filling with tears. I could just see plainly enough to find
my way to the door, and leave them together.

In my reckless state of mind, I never asked myself if Time would
be my accomplice, and keep the part of the secret which I had not
revealed--or be my enemy, and betray me. The chances, either way,
were perhaps equal. The deed was done.



The marriage was deferred, at Eunice's request, as an expression
of respect to the memory of Philip's father.

When the time of delay had passed, it was arranged that
the wedding ceremony should be held--after due publication
of Banns--at the parish church of the London suburb in which
my house was situated. Miss Jillgall was bridesmaid, and I gave
away the bride. Before we set out for the church, Eunice asked
leave to speak with me for a moment in private.

"Don't think," she said, "that I am forgetting my promise to be
content with what you have told me about myself. I am not so
ungrateful as that. But I do want, before I consent to be
Philip's wife, to feel sure that I am not quite unworthy of him.
Is it because I am of mean birth that you told me I was Mr.
Gracedieu's adopted child--and told me no more?"

I could honestly satisfy her, so far. "Certainly not!" I said.

She put her arms round my neck. "Do you say that," she asked,
"to make my mind easy? or do you say it on your word of honor?"

"On my word of honor."

We arrived at the church. Let Miss Jillgall describe
the marriage, in her own inimitable way.

"No wedding breakfast, when you don't want to eat it. No wedding
speeches, when nobody wants to make them, and nobody wants to
hear them. And no false sentiment, shedding tears and reddening
noses, on the happiest day in the whole year. A model marriage!
I could desire nothing better, if I had any prospect of being
a bride myself."

They went away for their honeymoon to a quiet place by
the seaside, not very far from the town in which Eunice had
passed some of the happiest and the wretchedest days in her life.
She persisted in thinking it possible that Mr. Gracedieu might
recover the use of his faculties, at the last, and might wish
to see her on his death-bed. "His adopted daughter," she gently
reminded me, "is his only daughter now." The doctor shook
his head when I told him what Eunice had said to me--and,
the sad truth must be told, the doctor was right.

Miss Jillgall returned, on the wedding-day, to take care of
the good man who had befriended her in her hour of need.

Before the end of the week, I heard from her, and was
disagreeably reminded of an incident which we had both forgotten,
absorbed as we were in other and greater interests, at the time.

Mrs. Tenbruggen had again appeared on the scene! She had written
to Miss Jillgall, from Paris, to say that she had heard of old
Mr. Dunboyne's death, and that she wished to have the letter
returned, which she had left for delivery to Philip's father
on the day when Philip and Eunice were married. I had my own
suspicions of what that letter might contain; and I regretted
that Miss Jillgall had sent it back without first waiting to
consult me. My misgivings, thus excited, were increased by more
news of no very welcome kind. Mrs. Tenbruggen had decided on
returning to her professional pursuits in England. Massage,
now the fashion everywhere, had put money into her pocket among
the foreigners; and her husband, finding that she persisted in
keeping out of his reach, had consented to a compromise. He was
ready to submit to a judicial separation; in consideration of
a little income which his wife had consented to settle on him,
under the advice of her lawyer.

Some days later, I received a delightful letter from Philip and
Eunice; reminding me that I had engaged to pay them a visit at
the seaside. My room was ready for me, and I was left to choose
my own day. I had just begun to write my reply, gladly accepting
the invitation, when an ominous circumstance occurred. My servant
announced "a lady"; and I found myself face to face with--Mrs.

She was as cheerful as ever, and as eminently agreeable as ever.

"I have heard it all from Selina," she said. "Philip's marriage
to Eunice (I shall go and congratulate them, of course), and
the catastrophe (how dramatic!) of Helena Gracedieu. I warned.
Selina that Miss Helena would end badly. To tell the truth, she
frightened me. I don't deny that I am a mischievous woman when
I find myself affronted, quite capable of taking my revenge in my
own small spiteful way. But poison and murder--ah, the frightful
subject! let us drop it, and talk of something that doesn't make
my hair (it's really my own hair) stand on end. Has Selina told
you that I have got rid of my charming husband, on easy pecuniary
terms? Oh, you know that? Very well. I will tell you something
that you don't know. Mr. Governor, I have found you out."

"May I venture to ask how?"

"When I guessed which was which of those two girls," she
answered, "and guessed wrong, you deliberately encouraged
the mistake. Very clever, but you overdid it. From that moment,
though I kept it to myself, I began to fear I might be wrong.
Do you remember Low Lanes, my dear sir? A charming old church.
I have had another consultation with my lawyer. His questions
led me into mentioning how it happened that I heard of Low Lanes.
After looking again at his memorandum of the birth advertised
in the newspaper without naming the place--he proposed trying
the church register at Low Lanes. Need I tell you the result?
I know, as well as you do, that Philip has married the adopted
child. He has had a mother-in-law who was hanged, and, what
is more, he has the honor, through his late father, of being
otherwise connected with the murderess by marriage--as his aunt!"

Bewilderment and dismay deprived me of my presence of mind.
"How did you discover that?" I was foolish enough to ask.

"Do you remember when I brought the baby to the prison?" she
said. "The father--as I mentioned at the time--had been a dear
and valued friend of mine. No person could be better qualified
to tell me who had married his wife's sister. If that lady had
been living, I should never have been troubled with the charge
of the child. Any more questions?"

"Only one. Is Philip to hear of this?"

"Oh, for shame! I don't deny that Philip insulted me grossly,
in one way; and that Philip's late father insulted me grossly,
in another way. But Mamma Tenbruggen is a Christian. She returns
good for evil, and wouldn't for the world disturb the connubial
felicity of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Dunboyne."

The moment the woman was out of my house, I sent a telegram to
Philip to say that he might expect to see me that night. I caught
the last train in the evening; and I sat down to supper with
those two harmless young creatures, knowing I must prepare
the husband for what threatened them, and weakly deferring it,
when I found myself in their presence, until the next day. Eunice
was, in some degree, answerable for this hesitation on my part.
No one could look at her husband, and fail to see that he was
a supremely happy man. But I detected signs of care in the wife's

Before breakfast the next morning I was out on the beach, trying
to decide how the inevitable disclosure might be made. Eunice
joined me. Now, when we were alone, I asked if she was really
and completely happy. Quietly and sadly she answered: "Not yet."

I hardly knew what to say. My face must have expressed
disappointment and surprise.

"I shall never be quite happy," she resumed, "till I know what
it is that you kept from me on that memorable day. I don't like
having a secret from my husband--though it is not _my_ secret."

"Remember your promise," I said

"I don't forget it," she answered. "I can only wish that
my promise would keep back the thoughts that come to me in
spite of myself."

"What thoughts?"

"There is something, as I fear, in the story of my parents which
you are afraid to confide to me. Why did Mr. Gracedieu allow me
to believe and leave everybody to believe, that I was his own

"My dear, I relieved your mind of those doubts on the morning
of your marriage."

"No. I was only thinking of myself at that time. My mother--
the doubt of _her_ is the doubt that torments me now."

"What do you mean?"

She put her arm in mine, and held by it with both hands.

"The mock-mother!" she whispered. "Do you remember that dreadful
Vision, that horrid whispering temptation in the dead of night?
_Was_ it a mock-mother? Oh, pity me! I don't know who my mother
was. One horrid thought about her is a burden on my mind. If she
was a good woman, you who love me would surely have made me happy
by speaking of her?"

Those words decided me at last. Could she suffer more than she
had suffered already, if I trusted her with the truth? I ran
the risk. There was a time of silence that filled me with terror.
The interval passed. She took my hand, and put it to her heart.
"Does it beat as if I was frightened?" she asked.

No! It was beating calmly.

"Does it relieve your anxiety?"

It told me that I had not surprised her. That unforgotten Vision
of the night had prepared her for the worst, after the time when
I had told her that she was an adopted child. "I know," I said,
"that those whispered temptations overpowered you again, when
you and Helena met on the stairs, and you forbade her to enter
Philip's room. And I know that love had conquered once more, when
you were next seen sitting by Philip's bedside. Tell me--have you
any misgivings now? Is there fear in your heart of the return
of that tempting spirit in you, in the time to come?"

"Not while Philip lives!"

There, where her love was--there her safety was. And she knew it!
She suddenly left me. I asked where she was going.

"To tell Philip," was the reply.

She was waiting for me at the door, when I followed her to
the house.

"Is it done?" I said.

"It is done," she answered.

"What did he say?"

"He said: 'My darling, if I could be fonder of you than ever,
I should be fonder of you now.'"

I have been blamed for being too ready to confide to Philip
the precious trust of Eunice's happiness. If that reply does
not justify me, where is justification to be found?


Later in the day, Mrs. Tenbruggen arrived to offer her
congratulations. She asked for a few minutes with Philip alone.
As a cat elaborates her preparations for killing a mouse, so
the human cat elaborated her preparations for killing Philip's
happiness, he remained uninjured by her teeth and her claws.
"Somebody," she said, "has told you of it already?" And Philip
answered: "Yes; my wife."

For some months longer, Mr. Gracedieu lingered. One morning, he
said to Eunice: "I want to teach you to knit. Sit by me, and see
me do it." His hands fell softly on his lap; his head sank little
by little on her shoulder. She could just hear him whisper: "How
pleasant it is to sleep!" Never was Death's dreadful work more
gently done

Our married pair live now on the paternal estate in Ireland; and
Miss Jillgall reigns queen of domestic affairs. I am still strong
enough to pass my autumn holidays in that pleasant house.

At times, my memory reverts to Helena Gracedieu, and to what
I discovered when I had seen her diary.

How little I knew of that terrible creature when I first met with
her, and fancied that she had inherited her mother's character!
It was weak indeed to compare the mean vices of Mrs. Gracedieu
with the diabolical depravity of her daughter. Here the doctrine
of hereditary transmission of moral qualities must own that it
has overlooked the fertility (for growth of good and for growth
of evil equally) which is inherent in human nature. There are
virtues that exalt us, and vices that degrade us, whose
mysterious origin is, not in our parents, but in ourselves. When
I think of Helena, I ask myself, where is the trace which reveals
that the first murder in the world was the product of inherited

The criminal left the prison, on the expiration of her sentence,
so secretly that it was impossible to trace her. Some months
later, Miss Jillgall received an illustrated newspaper published
in the United States. She showed me one of the portraits in it.

"Do you recognize the illustrious original?" she asked, with
indignant emphasis on the last two words. I recognized Helena.
"Now read her new title," Miss Jillgall continued.

I read: "The Reverend Miss Gracedieu."

The biographical notice followed. Here is an extract: "This
eminent lady, the victim of a shocking miscarriage of justice
in England, is now the distinguished leader of a new community
in the United States. We hail in her the great intellect which
asserts the superiority of woman over man. In the first French
Revolution, the attempt made by men to found a rational religion
met with only temporary success. It was reserved for the mightier
spirit of woman to lay the foundations more firmly, and to
dedicate one of the noblest edifices in this city to the Worship
of Pure Reason. Readers who wish for further information will
do well to provide themselves with the Reverend Miss Gracedieu's
Orations--the tenth edition of which is advertised in our

"I once asked you," Miss Jillgall reminded me, "what Helena would
do when she came out of prison, and you said she would do very
well. Oh, Mr. Governor, Solomon was nothing to You!"

Book of the day: