Part 1 out of 8
[Etext by James Rusk (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Italics are indicated with underscore]
The Queen of Hearts
by Wilkie Collins
LETTER OF DEDICATION.
AT a time when French readers were altogether unaware of the
existence of any books of my writing, a critical examination of
my novels appeared under your signature in the _Revue des Deux
Moudes_. I read that article, at the time of its appearance, with
sincere pleasure and sincere gratitude to the writer, and I have
honestly done my best to profit by it ever since.
At a later period, when arrangements were made for the
publication of my novels in Paris, you kindly undertook, at some
sacrifice of your own convenience, to give the first of the
series--"The Dead Secret"--the great advantage of being rendered
into French by your pen. Your excellent translation of "The
Lighthouse" had already taught me how to appreciate the value of
your assistance; and when "The Dead Secret" appeared in its
French form, although I was sensibly gratified, I was by no means
surprised to find my fortunate work of fiction, not translated,
in the mechanical sense of the word, but transformed from a novel
that I had written in my language to a novel that you might have
written in yours.
I am now about to ask you to confer one more literary obligation
on me by accepting the dedication of this book, as the earliest
acknowledgment which it has been in my power to make of the debt
I owe to my critic, to my translator, and to my friend.
The stories which form the principal contents of the following
pages are all, more or less, exercises in that art which I have
now studied anxiously for some years, and which I still hope to
cultivate, to better and better purpose, for many more. Allow me,
by inscribing the collection to you, to secure one reader for it
at the outset of its progress through the world of letters whose
capacity for seeing all a writer's defects may be matched by many
other critics, but whose rarer faculty of seeing all a writer's
merits is equaled by very few.
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS.
WE were three quiet, lonely old men, and SHE was a lively,
handsome young woman, and we were at our wits' end what to do
A word about ourselves, first of all--a necessary word, to
explain the singular situation of our fair young guest.
We are three brothers; and we live in a barbarous, dismal old
house called The Glen Tower. Our place of abode stands in a
hilly, lonesome district of South Wales. No such thing as a line
of railway runs anywhere near us. No gentleman's seat is within
an easy drive of us. We are at an unspeakably inconvenient
distance from a town, and the village to which we send for our
letters is three miles off.
My eldest brother, Owen, was brought up to the Church. All the
prime of his life was passed in a populous London parish. For
more years than I now like to reckon up, he worked unremittingly,
in defiance of failing health and adverse fortune, amid the
multitudinous misery of the London poor; and he would, in all
probability, have sacrificed his life to his duty long before the
present time if The Glen Tower had not come into his possession
through two unexpected deaths in the elder and richer branch of
our family. This opening to him of a place of rest and refuge
saved his life. No man ever drew breath who better deserved the
gifts of fortune; for no man, I sincerely believe, more tender of
others, more diffident of himself, more gentle, more generous,
and more simple-hearted than Owen, ever walked this earth.
My second brother, Morgan, started in life as a doctor, and
learned all that his profession could teach him at home and
abroad. He realized a moderate independence by his practice,
beginning in one of our large northern towns and ending as a
physician in London; but, although he was well known and
appreciated among his brethren, he failed to gain that sort of
reputation with the public which elevates a man into the position
of a great doctor. The ladies never liked him. In the first
place, he was ugly (Morgan will excuse me for mentioning this);
in the second place, he was an inveterate smoker, and he smelled
of tobacco when he felt languid pulses in elegant bedrooms; in
the third place, he was the most formidably outspoken teller of
the truth as regarded himself, his profession, and his patients,
that ever imperiled the social standing of the science of
medicine. For these reasons, and for others which it is not
necessary to mention, he never pushed his way, as a doctor, into
the front ranks, and he never cared to do so. About a year after
Owen came into possession of The Glen Tower, Morgan discovered
that he had saved as much money for his old age as a sensible man
could want; that he was tired of the active pursuit--or, as he
termed it, of the dignified quackery of his profession; and that
it was only common charity to give his invalid brother a
companion who could physic him for nothing, and so prevent him
from getting rid of his money in the worst of all possible ways,
by wasting it on doctors' bills. In a week after Morgan had
arrived at these conclusions, he was settled at The Glen Tower;
and from that time, opposite as their characters were, my two
elder brothers lived together in their lonely retreat, thoroughly
understanding, and, in their very different ways, heartily loving
Many years passed before I, the youngest of the three--christened
by the unmelodious name of Griffith--found my way, in my turn, to
the dreary old house, and the sheltering quiet of the Welsh
hills. My career in life had led me away from my brothers; and
even now, when we are all united, I have still ties and interests
to connect me with the outer world which neither Owen nor Morgan
I was brought up to the Bar. After my first year's study of the
law, I wearied of it, and strayed aside idly into the brighter
and more attractive paths of literature. My occasional occupation
with my pen was varied by long traveling excursions in all parts
of the Continent; year by year my circle of gay friends and
acquaintances increased, and I bade fair to sink into the
condition of a wandering desultory man, without a fixed purpose
in life of any sort, when I was saved by what has saved many
another in my situation--an attachment to a good and a sensible
woman. By the time I had reached the age of thirty-five, I had
done what neither of my brothers had done before me--I had
As a single man, my own small independence, aided by what little
additions to it I could pick up with my pen, had been sufficient
for my wants; but with marriage and its responsibilities came the
necessity for serious exertion. I returned to my neglected
studies, and grappled resolutely, this time, with the intricate
difficulties of the law. I was called to the Bar. My wife's
father aided me with his interest, and I started into practice
without difficulty and without delay.
For the next twenty years my married life was a scene of
happiness and prosperity, on which I now look back with a
grateful tenderness that no words of mine can express. The memory
of my wife is busy at my heart while I think of those past times.
The forgotten tears rise in my eyes again, and trouble the course
of my pen while it traces these simple lines.
Let me pass rapidly over the one unspeakable misery of my life;
let me try to remember now, as I tried to remember then, that she
lived to see our only child--our son, who was so good to her, who
is still so good to me--grow up to manhood; that her head lay on
my bosom when she died; and that the last frail movement of her
hand in this world was the movement that brought it closer to her
I bore the blow--with God's help I bore it, and bear it still.
But it struck me away forever from my hold on social life; from
the purposes and pursuits, the companions and the pleasures of
twenty years, which her presence had sanctioned and made dear to
me. If my son George had desired to follow my profession, I
should still have struggled against myself, and have kept my
place in the world until I had seen h im prosperous and settled.
But his choice led him to the army; and before his mother's death
he had obtained his commission, and had entered on his path in
life. No other responsibility remained to claim from me the
sacrifice of myself; my brothers had made my place ready for me
by their fireside; my heart yearned, in its desolation, for the
friends and companions of the old boyish days; my good, brave son
promised that no year should pass, as long as he was in England,
without his coming to cheer me; and so it happened that I, in my
turn, withdrew from the world, which had once been a bright and a
happy world to me, and retired to end my days, peacefully,
contentedly, and gratefully, as my brothers are ending theirs, in
the solitude of The Glen Tower.
How many years have passed since we have all three been united it
is not necessary to relate. It will be more to the purpose if I
briefly record that we have never been separated since the day
which first saw us assembled together in our hillside retreat;
that we have never yet wearied of the time, of the place, or of
ourselves; and that the influence of solitude on our hearts and
minds has not altered them for the worse, for it has not
embittered us toward our fellow-creatures, and it has not dried
up in us the sources from which harmless occupations and innocent
pleasures may flow refreshingly to the last over the waste places
of human life. Thus much for our own story, and for the
circumstances which have withdrawn us from the world for the rest
of our days.
And now imagine us three lonely old men, tall and lean, and
white-headed; dressed, more from past habit than from present
association, in customary suits of solemn black: Brother Owen,
yielding, gentle, and affectionate in look, voice, and manner;
brother Morgan, with a quaint, surface-sourness of address, and a
tone of dry sarcasm in his talk, which single him out, on all
occasions, as a character in our little circle; brother Griffith
forming the link between his two elder companions, capable, at
one time, of sympathizing with the quiet, thoughtful tone of
Owen's conversation, and ready, at another, to exchange brisk
severities on life and manners with Morgan--in short, a pliable,
double-sided old lawyer, who stands between the clergyman-brother
and the physician-brother with an ear ready for each, and with a
heart open to both, share and share together.
Imagine the strange old building in which we live to be really
what its name implies--a tower standing in a glen; in past times
the fortress of a fighting Welsh chieftain; in present times a
dreary land-lighthouse, built up in many stories of two rooms
each, with a little modern lean-to of cottage form tacked on
quaintly to one of its sides; the great hill, on whose lowest
slope it stands, rising precipitously behind it; a dark,
swift-flowing stream in the valley below; hills on hills all
round, and no way of approach but by one of the loneliest and
wildest crossroads in all South Wales.
Imagine such a place of abode as this, and such inhabitants of it
as ourselves, and them picture the descent among us--as of a
goddess dropping from the clouds--of a lively, handsome,
fashionable young lady--a bright, gay, butterfly creature, used
to flutter away its existence in the broad sunshine of perpetual
gayety--a child of the new generation, with all the modern ideas
whirling together in her pretty head, and all the modern
accomplishments at the tips of her delicate fingers. Imagine such
a light-hearted daughter of Eve as this, the spoiled darling of
society, the charming spendthrift of Nature's choicest treasures
of beauty and youth, suddenly flashing into the dim life of three
weary old men--suddenly dropped into the place, of all others,
which is least fit for her--suddenly shut out from the world in
the lonely quiet of the loneliest home in England. Realize, if it
be possible, all that is most whimsical and most anomalous in
such a situation as this, and the startling confession contained
in the opening sentence of these pages will no longer excite the
faintest emotion of surprise. Who can wonder now, when our bright
young goddess really descended on us, that I and my brothers were
all three at our wits' end what to do with her!
WHO is the young lady? And how did she find her way into The Glen
Her name (in relation to which I shall have something more to say
a little further on) is Jessie Yelverton. She is an orphan and an
only child. Her mother died while she was an infant; her father
was my dear and valued friend, Major Yelverton. He lived long
enough to celebrate his darling's seventh birthday. When he died
he intrusted his authority over her and his responsibility toward
her to his brother and to me.
When I was summoned to the reading of the major's will, I knew
perfectly well that I should hear myself appointed guardian and
executor with his brother; and I had been also made acquainted
with my lost friend's wishes as to his daughter's education, and
with his intentions as to the disposal of all his property in her
favor. My own idea, therefore, was, that the reading of the will
would inform me of nothing which I had not known in the
testator's lifetime. When the day came for hearing it, however, I
found that I had been over hasty in arriving at this conclusion.
Toward the end of the document there was a clause inserted which
took me entirely by surprise.
After providing for the education of Miss Yelverton under the
direction of her guardians, and for her residence, under ordinary
circumstances, with the major's sister, Lady Westwick, the clause
concluded by saddling the child's future inheritance with this
From the period of her leaving school to the period of her
reaching the age of twenty-one years, Miss Yelverton was to pass
not less than six consecutive weeks out of every year under the
roof of one of her two guardians. During the lives of both of
them, it was left to her own choice to say which of the two she
would prefer to live with. In all other respects the condition
was imperative. If she forfeited it, excepting, of course, the
case of the deaths of both her guardians, she was only to have a
life-interest in the property; if she obeyed it, the money itself
was to become her own possession on the day when she completed
her twenty-first year.
This clause in the will, as I have said, took me at first by
surprise. I remembered how devotedly Lady Westwick had soothed
her sister-in-law's death-bed sufferings, and how tenderly she
had afterward watched over the welfare of the little motherless
child--I remembered the innumerable claims she had established in
this way on her brother's confidence in her affection for his
orphan daughter, and I was, therefore, naturally amazed at the
appearance of a condition in his will which seemed to show a
positive distrust of Lady Westwick's undivided influence over the
character and conduct of her niece.
A few words from my fellow-guardian, Mr. Richard Yelverton, and a
little after-consideration of some of my deceased friend's
peculiarities of disposition and feeling, to which I had not
hitherto attached sufficient importance, were enough to make me
understand the motives by which he had been influenced in
providing for the future of his child.
Major Yelverton had raised himself to a position of affluence and
eminence from a very humble origin. He was the son of a small
farmer, and it was his pride never to forget this circumstance,
never to be ashamed of it, and never to allow the prejudices of
society to influence his own settled opinions on social questions
Acting, in all that related to his intercourse with the world, on
such principles as these, the major, it is hardly necessary to
say, held some strangely heterodox opinions on the modern
education of girls, and on the evil influence of society over the
characters of women in general. Out of the strength of those
opinions, and out of the certainty of his conviction that his
sister did not share them, had grown that condition in his will
which removed his daughter from the influence of her aunt for six
consec utive weeks in every year. Lady Westwick was the most
light-hearted, the most generous, the most impulsive of women;
capable, when any serious occasion called it forth, of all that
was devoted and self-sacrificing, but, at other and ordinary
times, constitutionally restless, frivolous, and eager for
perpetual gayety. Distrusting the sort of life which he knew his
daughter would lead under her aunt's roof, and at the same time
gratefully remembering his sister's affectionate devotion toward
his dying wife and her helpless infant, Major Yelverton had
attempted to make a compromise, which, while it allowed Lady
Westwick the close domestic intercourse with her niece that she
had earned by innumerable kind offices, should, at the same time,
place the young girl for a fixed period of every year of her
minority under the corrective care of two such quiet
old-fashioned guardians as his brother and myself. Such is the
history of the clause in the will. My friend little thought, when
he dictated it, of the extraordinary result to which it was one
day to lead.
For some years, however, events ran on smoothly enough. Little
Jessie was sent to an excellent school, with strict instructions
to the mistress to make a good girl of her, and not a fashionable
young lady. Although she was reported to be anything but a
pattern pupil in respect of attention to her lessons, she became
from the first the chosen favorite of every one about her. The
very offenses which she committed against the discipline of the
school were of the sort which provoke a smile even on the stern
countenance of authority itself. One of these quaint freaks of
mischief may not inappropriately be mentioned here, inasmuch as
it gained her the pretty nickname under which she will be found
to appear occasionally in these pages.
On a certain autumn night shortly after the Midsummer vacation,
the mistress of the school fancied she saw a light under the door
of the bedroom occupied by Jessie and three other girls. It was
then close on midnight; and, fearing that some case of sudden
illness might have happened, she hastened into the room. On
opening the door, she discovered, to her horror and amazement,
that all four girls were out of bed--were dressed in
brilliantly-fantastic costumes, representing the four grotesque
"Queens" of Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, and Clubs, familiar to us
all on the pack of cards--and were dancing a quadrille, in which
Jessie sustained the character of The Queen of Hearts. The next
morning's investigation disclosed that Miss Yelverton had
smuggled the dresses into the school, and had amused herself by
giving an impromptu fancy ball to her companions, in imitation of
an entertainment of the same kind at which she had figured in a
"court-card" quadrille at her aunt's country house.
The dresses were instantly confiscated and the necessary
punishment promptly administered; but the remembrance of Jessie's
extraordinary outrage on bedroom discipline lasted long enough to
become one of the traditions of the school, and she and her
sister-culprits were thenceforth hailed as the "queens" of the
four "suites" by their class-companions whenever the mistress's
back was turned, Whatever might have become of the nicknames thus
employed in relation to the other three girls, such a mock title
as The Queen of Hearts was too appropriately descriptive of the
natural charm of Jessie's character, as well as of the adventure
in which she had taken the lead, not to rise naturally to the
lips of every one who knew her. It followed her to her aunt's
house--it came to be as habitually and familiarly connected with
her, among her friends of all ages, as if it had been formally
inscribed on her baptismal register; and it has stolen its way
into these pages because it falls from my pen naturally and
inevitably, exactly as it often falls from my lips in real life.
When Jessie left school the first difficulty presented itself--in
other words, the necessity arose of fulfilling the conditions of
the will. At that time I was already settled at The Glen Tower,
and her living six weeks in our dismal solitude and our humdrum
society was, as she herself frankly wrote me word, quite out of
the question. Fortunately, she had always got on well with her
uncle and his family; so she exerted her liberty of choice, and,
much to her own relief and to mine also, passed her regular six
weeks of probation, year after year, under Mr. Richard
During this period I heard of her regularly, sometimes from my
fellow-guardian, sometimes from my son George, who, whenever his
military duties allowed him the opportunity, contrived to see
her, now at her aunt's house, and now at Mr. Yelverton's. The
particulars of her character and conduct, which I gleaned in this
way, more than sufficed to convince me that the poor major's plan
for the careful training of his daughter's disposition, though
plausible enough in theory, was little better than a total
failure in practice. Miss Jessie, to use the expressive common
phrase, took after her aunt. She was as generous, as impulsive,
as light-hearted, as fond of change, and gayety, and fine
clothes--in short, as complete and genuine a woman as Lady
Westwick herself. It was impossible to reform the "Queen of
Hearts," and equally impossible not to love her. Such, in few
words, was my fellow-guardian's report of his experience of our
handsome young ward.
So the time passed till the year came of which I am now
writing--the ever-memorable year, to England, of the Russian war.
It happened that I had heard less than usual at this period, and
indeed for many months before it, of Jessie and her proceedings.
My son had been ordered out with his regiment to the Crimea in
1854, and had other work in hand now than recording the sayings
and doings of a young lady. Mr. Richard Yelverton, who had been
hitherto used to write to me with tolerable regularity, seemed
now, for some reason that I could not conjecture, to have
forgotten my existence. Ultimately I was reminded of my ward by
one of George's own letters, in which he asked for news of her;
and I wrote at once to Mr. Yelverton. The answer that reached me
was written by his wife: he was dangerously ill. The next letter
that came informed me of his death. This happened early in the
spring of the year 1855.
I am ashamed to confess it, but the change in my own position was
the first idea that crossed my mind when I read the news of Mr.
Yelverton's death. I was now left sole guardian, and Jessie
Yelverton wanted a year still of coming of age.
By the next day's post I wrote to her about the altered state of
the relations between us. She was then on the Continent with her
aunt, having gone abroad at the very beginning of the year.
Consequently, so far as eighteen hundred and fifty-five was
concerned, the condition exacted by the will yet remained to be
performed. She had still six weeks to pass--her last six weeks,
seeing that she was now twenty years old--under the roof of one
of her guardians, and I was now the only guardian left.
In due course of time I received my answer, written on
rose-colored paper, and expressed throughout in a tone of light,
easy, feminine banter, which amused me in spite of myself. Miss
Jessie, according to her own account, was hesitating, on receipt
of my letter, between two alternatives--the one, of allowing
herself to be buried six weeks in The Glen Tower; the other, of
breaking the condition, giving up the money, and remaining
magnanimously contented with nothing but a life-interest in her
father's property. At present she inclined decidedly toward
giving up the money and escaping the clutches of "the three
horrid old men;" but she would let me know again if she happened
to change her mind. And so, with best love, she would beg to
remain always affectionately mine, as long as she was well out of
The summer passed, the autumn came, and I never heard from her
again. Under ordinary circumstances, this long silence might have
made me feel a little uneasy. But news reached me about this time
from the Crimea that my son was wounded--not dangerously, thank
God, but still severely enough to be la id up--and all my
anxieties were now centered in that direction. By the beginning
of September, however, I got better accounts of him, and my mind
was made easy enough to let me think of Jessie again. Just as I
was considering the necessity of writing once more to my
refractory ward, a second letter arrived from her. She had
returned at last from abroad, had suddenly changed her mind,
suddenly grown sick of society, suddenly become enamored of the
pleasures of retirement, and suddenly found out that the three
horrid old men were three dear old men, and that six weeks'
solitude at The Glen Tower was the luxury, of all others, that
she languished for most. As a necessary result of this altered
state of things, she would therefore now propose to spend her
allotted six weeks with her guardian. We might certainly expect
her on the twentieth of September, and she would take the
greatest care to fit herself for our society by arriving in the
lowest possible spirits, and bringing her own sackcloth and ashes
along with her.
The first ordeal to which this alarming letter forced me to
submit was the breaking of the news it contained to my two
brothers. The disclosure affected them very differently. Poor
dear Owen merely turned pale, lifted his weak, thin hands in a
panic-stricken manner, and then sat staring at me in speechless
and motionless bewilderment. Morgan stood up straight before me,
plunged both his hands into his pockets, burst suddenly into the
harshest laugh I ever heard from his lips, and told me, with an
air of triumph, that it was exactly what he expected.
"What you expected?" I repeated, in astonishment.
"Yes," returned Morgan, with his bitterest emphasis. "It doesn't
surprise me in the least. It's the way things go in this
world--it's the regular moral see-saw of good and evil--the old
story with the old end to it. They were too happy in the garden
of Eden--down comes the serpent and turns them out. Solomon was
too wise--down comes the Queen of Sheba, and makes a fool of him.
We've been too comfortable at The Glen Tower--down comes a woman,
and sets us all three by the ears together. All I wonder at is
that it hasn't happened before." With those words Morgan
resignedly took out his pipe, put on his old felt hat and turned
to the door.
"You're not going away before she comes?" exclaimed Owen,
piteously. "Don't leave us--please don't leave us!"
"Going!" cried Morgan, with great contempt. "What should I gain
by that? When destiny has found a man out, and heated his
gridiron for him, he has nothing left to do, that I know of, but
to get up and sit on it."
I opened my lips to protest against the implied comparison
between a young lady and a hot gridiron, but, before I could
speak, Morgan was gone.
"Well," I said to Owen, "we must make the best of it. We must
brush up our manners, and set the house tidy, and amuse her as
well as we can. The difficulty is where to put her; and, when
that is settled, the next puzzle will be, what to order in to
make her comfortable. It's a hard thing, brother, to say what
will or what will not please a young lady's taste."
Owen looked absently at me, in greater bewilderment than
ever--opened his eyes in perplexed consideration--repeated to
himself slowly the word "tastes"--and then helped me with this
"Hadn't we better begin, Griffith, by getting her a plum-cake?"
"My dear Owen," I remonstrated, "it is a grown young woman who is
coming to see us, not a little girl from school."
"Oh!" said Owen, more confused than before. "Yes--I see; we
couldn't do wrong, I suppose--could we?--if we got her a little
dog, and a lot of new gowns."
There was, evidently, no more help in the way of advice to be
expected from Owen than from Morgan himself. As I came to that
conclusion, I saw through the window our old housekeeper on her
way, with her basket, to the kitchen-garden, and left the room to
ascertain if she could assist us.
To my great dismay, the housekeeper took even a more gloomy view
than Morgan of the approaching event. When I had explained all
the circumstances to her, she carefully put down her basket,
crossed her arms, and said to me in slow, deliberate, mysterious
"You want my advice about what's to be done with this young
woman? Well, sir, here's my advice: Don't you trouble your head
about her. It won't be no use. Mind, I tell you, it won't be no
"What do you mean?"
"You look at this place, sir--it's more like a prison than a
house, isn't it? You, look at us as lives in it. We've got
(saving your presence) a foot apiece in our graves, haven't we?
When you was young yourself, sir, what would you have done if
they had shut you up for six weeks in such a place as this, among
your grandfathers and grandmothers, with their feet in the
"I really can't say."
"I can, sir. You'd have run away. _She'll_ run away. Don't you
worry your head about her--she'll save you the trouble. I tell
you again, she'll run away."
With those ominous words the housekeeper took up her basket,
sighed heavily, and left me.
I sat down under a tree quite helpless. Here was the whole
responsibility shifted upon my miserable shoulders. Not a lady in
the neighborhood to whom I could apply for assistance, and the
nearest shop eight miles distant from us. The toughest case I
ever had to conduct, when I was at the Bar, was plain sailing
compared with the difficulty of receiving our fair guest.
It was absolutely necessary, however, to decide at once where she
was to sleep. All the rooms in the tower were of stone--dark,
gloomy, and cold even in the summer-time. Impossible to put her
in any one of them. The only other alternative was to lodge her
in the little modern lean-to, which I have already described as
being tacked on to the side of the old building. It contained
three cottage-rooms, and they might be made barely habitable for
a young lady. But then those rooms were occupied by Morgan. His
books were in one, his bed was in another, his pipes and general
lumber were in the third. Could I expect him, after the sour
similitudes he had used in reference to our expected visitor, to
turn out of his habitation and disarrange all his habits for her
convenience? The bare idea of proposing the thing to him seemed
ridiculous; and yet inexorable necessity left me no choice but to
make the hopeless experiment. I walked back to the tower hastily
and desperately, to face the worst that might happen before my
courage cooled altogether.
On crossing the threshold of the hall door I was stopped, to my
great amazement, by a procession of three of the farm-servants,
followed by Morgan, all walking after each other, in Indian file,
toward the spiral staircase that led to the top of the tower. The
first of the servants carried the materials for making a fire;
the second bore an inverted arm-chair on his head; the third
tottered under a heavy load of books; while Morgan came last,
with his canister of tobacco in his hand, his dressing-gown over
his shoulders, and his whole collection of pipes hugged up
together in a bundle under his arm.
"What on earth does this mean?" I inquired.
"It means taking Time by the forelock," answered Morgan, looking
at me with a smile of sour satisfaction. "I've got the start of
your young woman, Griffith, and I'm making the most of it."
"But where, in Heaven's name, are you going?" I asked, as the
head man of the procession disappeared with his firing up the
"How high is this tower?" retorted Morgan.
"Seven stories, to be sure," I replied.
"Very good," said my eccentric brother, setting his foot on the
first stair, "I'm going up to the seventh."
"You can't," I shouted.
"_She_ can't, you mean," said Morgan, "and that's exactly why I'm
"But the room is not furnished."
"It's out of her reach."
"One of the windows has fallen to pieces."
"It's out of her reach."
"There's a crow's nest in the corner."
"It's out of her reach."
By the time this unanswerable argument had attained its third
repetition, Morgan, in his turn, had disappeared up the winding
stairs. I knew him too well to attempt any further protest.
Here was my first difficulty smoothed away most unexpectedly; for
here were the rooms in the lean-to placed by their owner's free
act and deed at my disposal. I wrote on the spot to the one
upholsterer of our distant county town to come immediately and
survey the premises, and sent off a mounted messenger with the
letter. This done, and the necessary order also dispatched to the
carpenter and glazier to set them at work on Morgan's sky-parlor
in the seventh story, I began to feel, for the first time, as if
my scattered wits were coming back to me. By the time the evening
had closed in I had hit on no less than three excellent ideas,
all providing for the future comfort and amusement of our fair
guest. The first idea was to get her a Welsh pony; the second was
to hire a piano from the county town; the third was to send for a
boxful of novels from London. I must confess I thought these
projects for pleasing her very happily conceived, and Owen agreed
with me. Morgan, as usual, took the opposite view. He said she
would yawn over the novels, turn up her nose at the piano, and
fracture her skull with the pony. As for the housekeeper, she
stuck to her text as stoutly in the evening as she had stuck to
it in the morning. "Pianner or no pianner, story-book or no
story-book, pony or no pony, you mark my words, sir--that young
woman will run away."
Such were the housekeeper's parting words when she wished me
When the next morning came, and brought with it that terrible
waking time which sets a man's hopes and projects before him, the
great as well as the small, stripped bare of every illusion, it
is not to be concealed that I felt less sanguine of our success
in entertaining the coming guest. So far as external preparations
were concerned, there seemed, indeed, but little to improve; but
apart from these, what had we to offer, in ourselves and our
society, to attract her? There lay the knotty point of the
question, and there the grand difficulty of finding an answer.
I fall into serious reflection while I am dressing on the
pursuits and occupations with which we three brothers have been
accustomed, for years past, to beguile the time. Are they at all
likely, in the case of any one of us, to interest or amuse her?
My chief occupation, to begin with the youngest, consists, in
acting as steward on Owen's property. The routine of my duties
has never lost its sober attraction to my tastes, for it has
always employed me in watching the best interests of my brother,
and of my son also, who is one day to be his heir. But can I
expect our fair guest to sympathize with such family concerns as
these? Clearly not.
Morgan's pursuit comes next in order of review--a pursuit of a
far more ambitious nature than mine. It was always part of my
second brother's whimsical, self-contradictory character to view
with the profoundest contempt the learned profession by which he
gained his livelihood, and he is now occupying the long leisure
hours of his old age in composing a voluminous treatise,
intended, one of these days, to eject the whole body corporate of
doctors from the position which they have usurped in the
estimation of their fellow-creatures. This daring work is
entitled "An Examination of the Claims of Medicine on the
Gratitude of Mankind. Decided in the Negative by a Retired
Physician." So far as I can tell, the book is likely to extend to
the dimensions of an Encyclopedia; for it is Morgan's plan to
treat his comprehensive subject principally from the historical
point of view, and to run down all the doctors of antiquity, one
after another, in regular succession, from the first of the
tribe. When I last heard of his progress he was hard on the heels
of Hippocrates, but had no immediate prospect of tripping up his
successor, Is this the sort of occupation (I ask myself) in which
a modern young lady is likely to feel the slightest interest?
Once again, clearly not.
Owen's favorite employment is, in its way, quite as
characteristic as Morgan's, and it has the great additional
advantage of appealing to a much larger variety of tastes. My
eldest brother--great at drawing and painting when he was a lad,
always interested in artists and their works in after life--has
resumed, in his declining years, the holiday occupation of his
schoolboy days. As an amateur landscape-painter, he works with
more satisfaction to himself, uses more color, wears out more
brushes, and makes a greater smell of paint in his studio than
any artist by profession, native or foreign, whom I ever met
with. In look, in manner, and in disposition, the gentlest of
mankind, Owen, by some singular anomaly in his character, which
he seems to have caught from Morgan, glories placidly in the
wildest and most frightful range of subjects which his art is
capable of representing. Immeasurable ruins, in howling
wildernesses, with blood-red sunsets gleaming over them;
thunder-clouds rent with lightning, hovering over splitting trees
on the verges of awful precipices; hurricanes, shipwrecks, waves,
and whirlpools follow each other on his canvas, without an
intervening glimpse of quiet everyday nature to relieve the
succession of pictorial horrors. When I see him at his easel, so
neat and quiet, so unpretending and modest in himself, with such
a composed expression on his attentive face, with such a weak
white hand to guide such bold, big brushes, and when I look at
the frightful canvasful of terrors which he is serenely
aggravating in fierceness and intensity with every successive
touch, I find it difficult to realize the connection between my
brother and his work, though I see them before me not six inches
apart. Will this quaint spectacle possess any humorous
attractions for Miss Jessie? Perhaps it may. There is some slight
chance that Owen's employment will be lucky enough to interest
Thus far my morning cogitations advance doubtfully enough, but
they altogether fail in carrying me beyond the narrow circle of
The Glen Tower. I try hard, in our visitor's interest, to look
into the resources of the little world around us, and I find my
efforts rewarded by the prospect of a total blank.
Is there any presentable living soul in the neighborhood whom we
can invite to meet her? Not one. There are, as I have already
said, no country seats near us; and society in the county town
has long since learned to regard us as three misanthropes,
strongly suspected, from our monastic way of life and our dismal
black costume, of being popish priests in disguise. In other
parts of England the clergyman of the parish might help us out of
our difficulty; but here in South Wales, and in this latter half
of the nineteenth century, we have the old type parson of the
days of Fielding still in a state of perfect preservation. Our
local clergyman receives a stipend which is too paltry to bear
comparison with the wages of an ordinary mechanic. In dress,
manners, and tastes he is about on a level with the upper class
of agricultural laborer. When attempts have been made by
well-meaning gentlefolks to recognize the claims of his
profession by asking him to their houses, he has been known, on
more than one occasion, to leave his plowman's pair of shoes in
the hall, and enter the drawing-room respectfully in his
stockings. Where he preaches, miles and miles away from us and
from the poor cottage in which he lives, if he sees any of the
company in the squire's pew yawn or fidget in their places, he
takes it as a hint that they are tired of listening, and closes
his sermon instantly at the end of the sentence. Can we ask this
most irreverend and unclerical of men to meet a young lady? I
doubt, even if we made the attempt, whether we should succeed, by
fair means, in getting him beyond the servants' hall.
Dismissing, therefore, all idea of inviting visitors to entertain
our guest, and feeling, at the same time, more than doubtful of
her chance of discovering any attraction in the sober society of
the inmates of the house, I finish my dressing and go down to
breakfast, secretly veering round to the housekeeper's opinion
that Miss Jessie will really bring matters to an abrupt
conclusion by running away. I find Morgan as bitterly resigned to
as ever, and Owen so affectionately anxious to make himself of
some use, and so lamentably ignorant of how to begin, that I am
driven to disembarrass myself of him at the outset by a
I suggest to him that our visitor is sure to be interested in
pictures, and that it would be a pretty attention, on his part,
to paint her a landscape to hang up in her room. Owen brightens
directly, informs me in his softest tones that he is then at work
on the Earthquake at Lisbon, and inquires whether I think she
would like that subject. I preserve my gravity sufficiently to
answer in the affirmative, and my brother retires meekly to his
studio, to depict the engulfing of a city and the destruction of
a population. Morgan withdraws in his turn to the top of the
tower, threatening, when our guest comes, to draw all his meals
up to his new residence by means of a basket and string. I am
left alone for an hour, and then the upholsterer arrives from the
This worthy man, on being informed of our emergency, sees his
way, apparently, to a good stroke of business, and thereupon wins
my lasting gratitude by taking, in opposition to every one else,
a bright and hopeful view of existing circumstances.
"You'll excuse me, sir," he says, confidentially, when I show him
the rooms in the lean-to, "but this is a matter of experience.
I'm a family man myself, with grown-up daughters of my own, and
the natures of young women are well known to me. Make their rooms
comfortable, and you make 'em happy. Surround their lives, sir,
with a suitable atmosphere of furniture, and you never hear a
word of complaint drop from their lips. Now, with regard to these
rooms, for example, sir--you put a neat French bedstead in that
corner, with curtains conformable--say a tasty chintz; you put on
that bedstead what I will term a sufficiency of bedding; and you
top up with a sweet little eider-down quilt, as light as roses,
and similar the same in color. You do that, and what follows? You
please her eye when she lies down at night, and you please her
eye when she gets up in the morning--and you're all right so far,
and so is she. I will not dwell, sir, on the toilet-table, nor
will I seek to detain you about the glass to show her figure, and
the other glass to show her face, because I have the articles in
stock, and will be myself answerable for their effect on a lady's
mind and person."
He led the way into the next room as he spoke, and arranged its
future fittings, and decorations, as he had already planned out
the bedroom, with the strictest reference to the connection which
experience had shown him to exist between comfortable furniture
and female happiness.
Thus far, in my helpless state of mind, the man's confidence had
impressed me in spite of myself, and I had listened to him in
superstitious silence. But as he continued to rise, by regular
gradations, from one climax of upholstery to another, warning
visions of his bill disclosed themselves in the remote background
of the scene of luxury and magnificence which my friend was
conjuring up. Certain sharp professional instincts of bygone
times resumed their influence over me; I began to start doubts
and ask questions; and as a necessary consequence the interview
between us soon assumed something like a practical form.
Having ascertained what the probable expense of furnishing would
amount to and having discovered that the process of transforming
the lean-to (allowing for the time required to procure certain
articles of rarity from Bristol) would occupy nearly a fortnight,
I dismissed the upholsterer with the understanding that I should
take a day or two for consideration, and let him know the result.
It was then the fifth of September, and our Queen of Hearts was
to arrive on the twentieth. The work, therefore, if it was begun
on the seventh or eighth, would be begun in time.
In making all my calculations with a reference to the twentieth
of September, I relied implicitly, it will be observed, on a
young lady's punctuality in keeping an appointment which she had
herself made. I can only account for such extraordinary
simplicity on my part on the supposition that my wits had become
sadly rusted by long seclusion from society. Whether it was
referable to this cause or not, my innocent trustfulness was at
any rate destined to be practically rebuked before long in the
most surprising manner. Little did I suspect, when I parted from
the upholsterer on the fifth of the month, what the tenth of the
month had in store for me.
On the seventh I made up my mind to have the bedroom furnished at
once, and to postpone the question of the sitting-room for a few
days longer. Having dispatched the necessary order to that
effect, I next wrote to hire the piano and to order the box of
novels. This done, I congratulated myself on the forward state of
the preparations, and sat down to repose in the atmosphere of my
own happy delusions.
On the ninth the wagon arrived with the furniture, and the men
set to work on the bedroom. From this moment Morgan retired
definitely to the top of the tower, and Owen became too nervous
to lay the necessary amount of paint on the Earthquake at Lisbon.
On the tenth the work was proceeding bravely. Toward noon Owen
and I strolled to the door to enjoy the fine autumn sunshine. We
were sitting lazily on our favorite bench in front of the tower
when we were startled by a shout from above us. Looking up
directly, we saw Morgan half in and half out of his narrow window
In the seventh story, gesticulating violently with the stem of
his long meerschaum pipe in the direction of the road below us.
We gazed eagerly in the quarter thus indicated, but our low
position prevented us for some time from seeing anything. At last
we both discerned an old yellow post-chaise distinctly and
indisputably approaching us.
Owen and I looked at one another in panic-stricken silence. It
was coming to us--and what did it contain? Do pianos travel in
chaises? Are boxes of novels conveyed to their destination by a
postilion? We expected the piano and expected the novels, but
nothing else--unquestionably nothing else.
The chaise took the turn in the road, passed through the gateless
gap in our rough inclosure-wall of loose stone, and rapidly
approached us. A bonnet appeared at the window and a hand gayly
waved a white handkerchief.
Powers of caprice, confusion, and dismay! It was Jessie Yelverton
herself--arriving, without a word of warning, exactly ten days
before her time.
OUR QUEEN OF' HEARTS.
THE chaise stopped in front of us, and before we had recovered
from our bewilderment the gardener had opened the door and let
down the steps.
A bright, laughing face, prettily framed round by a black veil
passed over the head and tied under the chin--a traveling-dress
of a nankeen color, studded with blue buttons and trimmed with
white braid--a light brown cloak over it--little neatly-gloved
hands, which seized in an instant on one of mine and on one of
Owen's--two dark blue eyes, which seemed to look us both through
and through in a moment--a clear, full, merrily confident
voice--a look and manner gayly and gracefully
self-possessed--such were the characteristics of our fair guest
which first struck me at the moment when she left the postchaise
and possessed herself of my hand.
"Don't begin by scolding me," she said, before I could utter a
word of welcome. "There will be time enough for that in the
course of the next six weeks. I beg pardon, with all possible
humility, for the offense of coming ten days before my time.
Don't ask me to account for it, please; if you do, I shall be
obliged to confess the truth. My dear sir, the fact is, this is
an act of impulse."
She paused, and looked us both in the face with a bright
confidence in her own flow of nonsense that was perfectly
"I must tell you all about it," she ran on, leading the way to
the bench, and inviting us, by a little mock gesture of
supplication, to seat ourselves on either side of her. "I feel so
guilty till I've told you. Dear me! how nice this is! Here I am
quite at home already. Isn't it odd? Well, and how do you think
it happene d? The morning before yesterday Matilda--there is
Matilda, picking up my bonnet from the bottom of that remarkably
musty carriage--Matilda came and woke me as usual, and I hadn't
an idea in my head, I assure you, till she began to brush my
hair. Can you account for it?--I can't--but she seemed, somehow,
to brush a sudden fancy for coming here into my head. When I went
down to breakfast, I said to my aunt, 'Darling, I have an
irresistible impulse to go to Wales at once, instead of waiting
till the twentieth.' She made all the necessary objections, poor
dear, and my impulse got stronger and stronger with every one of
them. 'I'm quite certain,' I said, 'I shall never go at all if I
don't go now.' 'In that case,' says my aunt, 'ring the bell, and
have your trunks packed. Your whole future depends on your going;
and you terrify me so inexpressibly that I shall be glad to get
rid of you.' You may not think it, to look at her--but Matilda is
a treasure; and in three hours more I was on the Great Western
Railway. I have not the least idea how I got here--except that
the men helped me everywhere. They are always such delightful
creatures! I have been casting myself, and my maid, and my trunks
on their tender mercies at every point in the journey, and their
polite attentions exceed all belief. I slept at your horrid
little county town last night; and the night before I missed a
steamer or a train, I forget which, and slept at Bristol; and
that's how I got here. And, now I am here, I ought to give my
guardian a kiss--oughtn't I? Shall I call you papa? I think I
will. And shall I call _you_ uncle, sir, and give you a kiss too?
We shall come to it sooner or later--shan't we?--and we may as
well begin at once, I suppose."
Her fresh young lips touched my old withered cheek first, and
then Owen's; a soft, momentary shadow of tenderness, that was
very pretty and becoming, passing quickly over the sunshine and
gayety of her face as she saluted us. The next moment she was on
her feet again, inquiring "who the wonderful man was who built
The Glen Tower," and wanting to go all over it immediately from
top to bottom.
As we took her into the house, I made the necessary apologies for
the miserable condition of the lean-to, and assured her that, ten
days later, she would have found it perfectly ready to receive
her. She whisked into the rooms--looked all round them--whisked
out again--declared she had come to live in the old Tower, and
not in any modern addition to it, and flatly declined to inhabit
the lean-to on any terms whatever. I opened my lips to state
certain objections, but she slipped away in an instant and made
straight for the Tower staircase.
"Who lives here?" she asked, calling down to us, eagerly, from
the first-floor landing.
"I do," said Owen; "but, if you would like me to move out--"
She was away up the second flight before he could say any more.
The next sound we heard, as we slowly followed her, was a
peremptory drumming against the room door of the second story.
"Anybody here?" we heard her ask through the door.
I called up to her that, under ordinary circumstances, I was
there; but that, like Owen, I should be happy to move out--
My polite offer was cut short as my brother's had been. We heard
more drumming at the door of the third story. There were two
rooms here also--one perfectly empty, the other stocked with odds
and ends of dismal, old-fashioned furniture for which we had no
use, and grimly ornamented by a life-size basket figure
supporting a complete suit of armor in a sadly rusty condition.
When Owen and I got to the third-floor landing, the door was
open; Miss Jessie had taken possession of the rooms; and we found
her on a chair, dusting the man in armor with her cambric
"I shall live here," she said, looking round at us briskly over
We both remonstrated, but it was quite in vain. She told us that
she had an impulse to live with the man in armor, and that she
would have her way, or go back immediately in the post-chaise,
which we pleased. Finding it impossible to move her, we bargained
that she should, at least, allow the new bed and the rest of the
comfortable furniture in the lean-to to be moved up into the
empty room for her sleeping accommodation. She consented to this
condition, protesting, however, to the last against being
compelled to sleep in a bed, because it was a modern
conventionality, out of all harmony with her place of residence
and her friend in armor.
Fortunately for the repose of Morgan, who, under other
circumstances, would have discovered on the very first day that
his airy retreat was by no means high enough to place him out of
Jessie's reach, the idea of settling herself instantly in her new
habitation excluded every other idea from the mind of our fair
guest. She pinned up the nankeen-colored traveling dress in
festoons all round her on the spot; informed us that we were now
about to make acquaintance with her in the new character of a
woman of business; and darted downstairs in mad high spirits,
screaming for Matilda and the trunks like a child for a set of
new toys. The wholesome protest of Nature against the artificial
restraints of modern life expressed itself in all that she said
and in all that she did. She had never known what it was to be
happy before, because she had never been allowed, until now, to
do anything for herself. She was down on her knees at one moment,
blowing the fire, and telling us that she felt like Cinderella;
she was up on a table the next, attacking the cobwebs with a long
broom, and wishing she had been born a housemaid. As for my
unfortunate friend, the upholsterer, he was leveled to the ranks
at the first effort he made to assume the command of the domestic
forces in the furniture department. She laughed at him, pushed
him about, disputed all his conclusions, altered all his
arrangements, and ended by ordering half his bedroom furniture to
be taken back again, for the one unanswerable reason that she
meant to do without it.
As evening approached, the scene presented by the two rooms
became eccentric to a pitch of absurdity which is quite
indescribable. The grim, ancient walls of the bedroom had the
liveliest modern dressing-gowns and morning-wrappers hanging all
about them. The man in armor had a collection of smart little
boots and shoes dangling by laces and ribbons round his iron
legs. A worm-eaten, steel-clasped casket, dragged out of a
corner, frowned on the upholsterer's brand-new toilet-table, and
held a miscellaneous assortment of combs, hairpins, and brushes.
Here stood a gloomy antique chair, the patriarch of its tribe,
whose arms of blackened oak embraced a pair of pert, new deal
bonnet-boxes not a fortnight old. There, thrown down lightly on a
rugged tapestry table-cover, the long labor of centuries past,
lay the brief, delicate work of a week ago in the shape of silk
and muslin dresses turned inside out. In the midst of all these
confusions and contradictions, Miss Jessie ranged to and fro, the
active center of the whole scene of disorder, now singing at the
top of her voice, and now declaring in her lighthearted way that
one of us must make up his mind to marry her immediately, as she
was determined to settle for the rest of her life at The Glen
She followed up that announcement, when we met at dinner, by
inquiring if we quite understood by this time that she had left
her "company manners" in London, and that she meant to govern us
all at her absolute will and pleasure, throughout the whole
period of her stay. Having thus provided at the outset for the
due recognition of her authority by the household generally and
individually having briskly planned out all her own forthcoming
occupations and amusements over the wine and fruit at dessert,
and having positively settled, between her first and second cups
of tea, where our connection with them was to begin and where it
was to end, she had actually succeeded, when the time came to
separate for the night, in setting us as much at our ease, and in
making herself as completely a necessary part of our household as
if she had lived among us for years and years past.
Such was our first day's experience of the formidable guest whose
anticipated visit had so sorely and so absurdly discomposed us
all. I could hardly believe that I had actually wasted hours of
precious time in worrying myself and everybody else in the house
about the best means of laboriously entertaining a lively,
high-spirited girl, who was perfectly capable, without an effort
on her own part or on ours, of entertaining herself.
Having upset every one of our calculations on the first day of
her arrival, she next falsified all our predictions before she
had been with us a week. Instead of fracturing her skull with the
pony, as Morgan had prophesied, she sat the sturdy, sure-footed,
mischievous little brute as if she were part and parcel of
himself. With an old water-proof cloak of mine on her shoulders,
with a broad-flapped Spanish hat of Owen's on her head, with a
wild imp of a Welsh boy following her as guide and groom on a
bare-backed pony, and with one of the largest and ugliest
cur-dogs in England (which she had picked up, lost and starved by
the wayside) barking at her heels, she scoured the country in all
directions, and came back to dinner, as she herself expressed it,
"with the manners of an Amazon, the complexion of a dairy-maid,
and the appetite of a wolf."
On days when incessant rain kept her indoors, she amused herself
with a new freak. Making friends everywhere, as became The Queen
of Hearts, she even ingratiated herself with the sour old
housekeeper, who had predicted so obstinately that she was
certain to run away. To the amazement of everybody in the house,
she spent hours in the kitchen, learning to make puddings and
pies, and trying all sorts of recipes with very varying success,
from an antiquated cookery book which she had discovered at the
back of my bookshelves. At other times, when I expected her to be
upstairs, languidly examining her finery, and idly polishing her
trinkets, I heard of her in the stables, feeding the rabbits, and
talking to the raven, or found her in the conservatory,
fumigating the plants, and half suffocating the gardener, who was
trying to moderate her enthusiasm in the production of smoke.
Instead of finding amusement, as we had expected, in Owen's
studio, she puckered up her pretty face in grimaces of disgust at
the smell of paint in the room, and declared that the horrors of
the Earthquake at Lisbon made her feel hysterical. Instead of
showing a total want of interest in my business occupations on
the estate, she destroyed my dignity as steward by joining me in
my rounds on her pony, with her vagabond retinue at her heels.
Instead of devouring the novels I had ordered for her, she left
them in the box, and put her feet on it when she felt sleepy
after a hard day's riding. Instead of practicing for hours every
evening at the piano, which I had hired with such a firm
conviction of her using it, she showed us tricks on the cards,
taught us new games, initiated us into the mystics of dominoes,
challenged us with riddles, an even attempted to stimulate us
into acting charades--in short, tried every evening amusement in
the whole category except the amusement of music. Every new
aspect of her character was a new surprise to us, and every fresh
occupation that she chose was a fresh contradiction to our
previous expectations. The value of experience as a guide is
unquestionable in many of the most important affairs of life;
but, speaking for myself personally, I never understood the utter
futility of it, where a woman is concerned, until I was brought
into habits of daily communication with our fair guest.
In her domestic relations with ourselves she showed that
exquisite nicety of discrimination in studying our characters,
habits and tastes which comes by instinct with women, and which
even the longest practice rarely teaches in similar perfection to
men. She saw at a glance all the underlying tenderness and
generosity concealed beneath Owen's external shyness,
irresolution, and occasional reserve; and, from first to last,
even in her gayest moments, there was always a certain
quietly-implied consideration--an easy, graceful, delicate
deference--in her manner toward my eldest brother, which won upon
me and upon him every hour in the day.
With me she was freer in her talk, quicker in her actions,
readier and bolder in all the thousand little familiarities of
our daily intercourse. When we met in the morning she always took
Owen's hand, and waited till he kissed her on the forehead. In my
case she put both her hands on my shoulders, raised herself on
tiptoe, and saluted me briskly on both checks in the foreign way.
She never differed in opinion with Owen without propitiating him
first by some little artful compliment in the way of excuse. She
argued boldly with me on every subject under the sun, law and
politics included; and, when I got the better of her, never
hesitated to stop me by putting her hand on my lips, or by
dragging me out into the garden in the middle of a sentence.
As for Morgan, she abandoned all restraint in his case on the
second day of her sojourn among us. She had asked after him as
soon as she was settled in her two rooms on the third story; had
insisted on knowing why he lived at the top of the tower, and why
he had not appeared to welcome her at the door; had entrapped us
into all sorts of damaging admissions, and had thereupon
discovered the true state of the case in less than five minutes.
From that time my unfortunate second brother became the victim of
all that was mischievous and reckless in her disposition. She
forced him downstairs by a series of maneuvers which rendered his
refuge uninhabitable, and then pretended to fall violently in
love with him. She slipped little pink three-cornered notes under
his door, entreating him to make appointments with her, or
tenderly inquiring how he would like to see her hair dressed at
dinner on that day. She followed him into the garden, sometimes
to ask for the privilege of smelling his tobacco-smoke, sometimes
to beg for a lock of his hair, or a fragment of his ragged old
dressing-gown, to put among her keepsakes. She sighed at him when
he was in a passion, and put her handkerchief to her eyes when he
was sulky. In short, she tormented Morgan, whenever she could
catch him, with such ingenious and such relentless malice, that
he actually threatened to go back to London, and prey once more,
in the unscrupulous character of a doctor, on the credulity of
Thus situated in her relations toward ourselves, and thus
occupied by country diversions of her own choosing, Miss Jessie
passed her time at The Glen Tower, excepting now and then a dull
hour in the long evenings, to her guardian's satisfaction--and,
all things considered, not without pleasure to herself. Day
followed day in calm and smooth succession, and five quiet weeks
had elapsed out of the six during which her stay was to last
without any remarkable occurrence to distinguish them, when an
event happened which personally affected me in a very serious
manner, and which suddenly caused our handsome Queen of Hearts to
become the object of my deepest anxiety in the present, and of my
dearest hopes for the future.
OUR GRAND PROJECT.
AT the end of the fifth week of our guest's stay, among the
letters which the morning's post brought to The Glen Tower there
was one for me, from my son George, in the Crimea.
The effect which this letter produced in our little circle
renders it necessary that I should present it here, to speak for
This is what I read alone in my own room:
"MY DEAREST FATHER--After the great public news of the fall of
Sebastopol, have you any ears left for small items of private
intelligence from insignificant subaltern officers? Prepare, if
you have, for a sudden and a startling announcement. How shall I
write the words? How shall I tell you that I am really coming
"I have a private opportunity of sending this letter, and only a
short time to write it in; so I must put many things, if I can,
into few words. The doctor has reported me fit to travel at last,
and I leave, thanks to the privilege of a wounded man, by the
next ship. The name of the vessel and the time of starting are on
the list which I inclose. I have made all my calculations, and,
allowing for every possible delay, I find that I shall be with
you, at the latest, on the first of November--perhaps some days
"I am far too full of my return, and of something else connected
with it which is equally dear to me, to say anything about public
affairs, more especially as I know that the newspapers must, by
this time, have given you plenty of information. Let me fill the
rest of this paper with a subject which is very near to my
heart--nearer, I am almost ashamed to say, than the great triumph
of my countrymen, in which my disabled condition has prevented me
from taking any share.
"I gathered from your last letter that Miss Yelverton was to pay
you a visit this autumn, in your capacity of her guardian. If she
is already with you, pray move heaven and earth to keep her at
The Glen Tower till I come back. Do you anticipate my confession
from this entreaty? My dear, dear father, all my hopes rest on
that one darling treasure which you are guarding perhaps, at this
moment, under your own roof--all my happiness depends on making
Jessie Yelverton my wife.
"If I did not sincerely believe that you will heartily approve of
my choice, I should hardly have ventured on this abrupt
confession. Now that I have made it, let me go on and tell you
why I have kept my attachment up to this time a secret from every
one--even from Jessie herself. (You see I call her by her
Christian name already!)
"I should have risked everything, father, and have laid my whole
heart open before her more than a year ago, but for the order
which sent our regiment out to take its share in this great
struggle of the Russian war. No ordinary change in my life would
have silenced me on the subject of all others of which I was most
anxious to speak; but this change made me think seriously of the
future; and out of those thoughts came the resolution which I
have kept until this time. For her sake, and for her sake only, I
constrained myself to leave the words unspoken which might have
made her my promised wife. I resolved to spare her the dreadful
suspense of waiting for her betrothed husband till the perils of
war might, or might not, give him back to her. I resolved to save
her from the bitter grief of my death if a bullet laid me low. I
resolved to preserve her from the wretched sacrifice of herself
if I came back, as many a brave man will come back from this war,
invalided for life. Leaving her untrammeled by any engagement,
unsuspicious perhaps of my real feelings toward her, I might die,
and know that, by keeping silence, I had spared a pang to the
heart that was dearest to me. This was the thought that stayed
the words on my lips when I left England, uncertain whether I
should ever come back. If I had loved her less dearly, if her
happiness had been less precious to me, I might have given way
under the hard restraint I imposed on myself, and might have
spoken selfishly at the last moment.
"And now the time of trial is past; the war is over; and,
although I still walk a little lame, I am, thank God, in as good
health and in much better spirits than when I left home. Oh,
father, if I should lose her now--if I should get no reward for
sparing her but the bitterest of all disappointments! Sometimes I
am vain enough to think that I made some little impression on
her; sometimes I doubt if she has a suspicion of my love. She
lives in a gay world--she is the center of perpetual
admiration--men with all the qualities to win a woman's heart are
perpetually about her--can I, dare I hope? Yes, I must! Only keep
her, I entreat you, at The Glen Tower. In that quiet world, in
that freedom from frivolities and temptations, she will listen to
me as she might listen nowhere else. Keep her, my dearest,
kindest father--and, above all things, breathe not a word to her
of this letter. I have surely earned the privilege of being the
first to open her eyes to the truth. She must know nothing, now
that I am coming home, till she knows all from my own lips."
Here the writing hurriedly broke off. I am only giving myself
credit for common feeling, I trust, when I confess that what I
read deeply affected me. I think I never felt so fond of my boy,
and so proud of him, as at the moment when I laid down his
As soon as I could control my spirits, I began to calculate the
question of time with a trembling eagerness, which brought back
to my mind my own young days of love and hope. My son was to come
back, at the latest, on the first of November, and Jessie's
allotted six weeks would expire on the twenty-second of October.
Ten days too soon! But for the caprice which had brought her to
us exactly that number of days before her time she would have
been in the house, as a matter of necessity, on George's return.
I searched back in my memory for a conversation that I had held
with her a week since on her future plans. Toward the middle of
November, her aunt, Lady Westwick, had arranged to go to her
house in Paris, and Jessie was, of course, to accompany her--to
accompany her into that very circle of the best English and the
best French society which contained in it the elements most
adverse to George's hopes. Between this time and that she had no
special engagement, and she had only settled to write and warn
her aunt of her return to London a day or two before she left The
Under these circumstances, the first, the all-important necessity
was to prevail on her to prolong her stay beyond the allotted six
weeks by ten days. After the caution to be silent impressed on me
(and most naturally, poor boy) in George's letter, I felt that I
could only appeal to her on the ordinary ground of hospitality.
Would this be sufficient to effect the object?
I was sure that the hours of the morning and the afternoon had,
thus far, been fully and happily occupied by her various
amusements indoors and out. She was no more weary of her days now
than she had been when she first came among us. But I was by no
means so certain that she was not tired of her evenings. I had
latterly noticed symptoms of weariness after the lamps were lit,
and a suspicious regularity in retiring to bed the moment the
clock struck ten. If I could provide her with a new amusement for
the long evenings, I might leave the days to take care of
themselves, and might then make sure (seeing that she had no
special engagement in London until the middle of November) of her
being sincerely thankful and ready to prolong her stay.
How was this to be done? The piano and the novels had both failed
to attract her. What other amusement was there to offer?
It was useless, at present, to ask myself such questions as
these. I was too much agitated to think collectedly on the most
trifling subjects. I was even too restless to stay in my own
room. My son's letter had given me so fresh an interest in Jessie
that I was now as impatient to see her as if we were about to
meet for the first time. I wanted to look at her with my new
eyes, to listen to her with my new ears, to study her secretly
with my new purposes, and my new hopes and fears. To my dismay
(for I wanted the very weather itself to favor George's
interests), it was raining heavily that morning. I knew,
therefore, that I should probably find her in her own
sitting-room. When I knocked at her door, with George's letter
crumpled up in my hand, with George's hopes in full possession of
my heart, it is no exaggeration to say that my nerves were almost
as much fluttered, and my ideas almost as much confused, as they
were on a certain memorable day in the far past, when I rose, in
brand-new wig and gown, to set my future prospects at the bar on
the hazard of my first speech.
When I entered the room I found Jessie leaning back languidly in
her largest arm-chair, watching the raindrops dripping down the
window-pane. The unfortunate box of novels was open by her side,
and the books were lying, for the most part, strewed about on the
ground at her feet. One volume lay open, back upward, on her lap,
and her hands were crossed over it listlessly. To my great
dismay, she was yawning--palpably and widely yawning--when I came
No sooner did I find myself in her presence than an irresistible
anxiety to make some secret discovery of the real state of her
feelings toward George took possession of me. After the customary
condolences on the imprisonment to which she was subjected by the
weather, I said, in as careless a manner as it was possible to
"I have heard from my son this morning. He talks of being ordered
home, and tells me I may expect to see him before the end of the
I was too cautious to mention the exact date of his return, for
in that case she might have detected my motive for asking her to
prolong her visit.
"Oh, indeed?" she said. "How very nice. How glad you must be."
I watched her narrowly. The clear, dark blue eyes met mine as
openly as ever. The smooth, round cheeks kept their fresh color
quite unchanged. The full, good-humored, smiling lips never
trembled or altered their expression in the slightest degree. Her
light checked silk dress, with its pretty trimming of
cherry-colored ribbon, lay quite still over the bosom beneath it.
For all the information I could get from her look and manner, we
might as well have been a hundred miles apart from each other. Is
the best woman in the world little better than a fathomless abyss
of duplicity on certain occasions, and where certain feelings of
her own are concerned? I would rather not think that; and yet I
don't know how to account otherwise for the masterly manner in
which Miss Jessie contrived to baffle me.
I was afraid--literally afraid--to broach the subject of
prolonging her sojourn with us on a rainy day, so I changed the
topic, in despair, to the novels that were scattered about her.
"Can you find nothing there," I asked, "to amuse you this wet
"There are two or three good novels," she said, carelessly, "but
I read them before I left London."
"And the others won't even do for a dull day in the country?" I
"They might do for some people," she answered, "but not for me.
I'm rather peculiar, perhaps, in my tastes. I'm sick to death of
novels with an earnest purpose. I'm sick to death of outbursts of
eloquence, and large-minded philanthropy, and graphic
descriptions, and unsparing anatomy of the human heart, and all
that sort of thing. Good gracious me! isn't it the original
intention or purpose, or whatever you call it, of a work of
fiction, to set out distinctly by telling a story? And how many
of these books, I should like to know, do that? Why, so far as
telling a story is concerned, the greater part of them might as
well be sermons as novels. Oh, dear me! what I want is something
that seizes hold of my interest, and makes me forget when it is
time to dress for dinner--something that keeps me reading,
reading, reading, in a breathless state to find out the end. You
know what I mean--at least you ought. Why, there was that little
chance story you told me yesterday in the garden--don't you
remember?--about your strange client, whom you never saw again: I
declare it was much more interesting than half these novels,
_because_ it was a story. Tell me another about your young days,
when you were seeing the world, and meeting with all sorts of
remarkable people. Or, no--don't tell it now--keep it till the
evening, when we all want something to stir us up. You old people
might amuse us young ones out of your own resources oftener than
you do. It was very kind of you to get me these books; but, with
all respect to them, I would rather have the rummaging of your
memory than the rummaging of this box. What's the matter? Are you
afraid I have found out the window in your bosom already?"
I had half risen from my chair at her last words, and I felt that
my face must have flushed at the same moment. She had started an
idea in my mind--the very idea of which I had been in search when
I was pondering over the best means of amusing her in the long
I parried her questions by the best excuses I could offer;
changed the conversation for the next five minutes, and then,
making a sudden remembrance of business my apology for leaving
her, hastily withdrew to devote myself to the new idea in the
solitude of my own room.
A little quiet thinking convinced me that I had discovered a
means not only of occupying her idle time, but of decoying her
into staying on with us, evening by evening, until my son's
return. The new project which she had herself unconsciously
suggested involved nothing less than acting forthwith on her own
chance hint, and appealing to her interest and curiosity by the
recital of incidents and adventures drawn from my own personal
experience and (if I could get them to help me) from the
experience of my brothers as well. Strange people and startling
events had connected themselves with Owen's past life as a
clergyman, with Morgan's past life as a doctor, and with my past
life as a lawyer, which offered elements of interest of a strong
and striking kind ready to our hands. If these narratives were
written plainly and unpretendingly; if one of them was read every
evening, under circumstances that should pique the curiosity and
impress the imagination of our young guest, the very occupation
was found for her weary hours which would gratify her tastes,
appeal to her natural interest in the early lives of my brothers
and myself, and lure her insensibly into prolonging her visit by
ten days without exciting a suspicion of our real motive for
I sat down at my desk; I hid my face in my hands to keep out all
impressions of external and present things; and I searched back
through the mysterious labyrinth of the Past, through the dun,
ever-deepening twilight of the years that were gone.
Slowly, out of the awful shadows, the Ghosts of Memory rose about
me. The dead population of a vanished world came back to life
round me, a living man. Men and women whose earthly pilgrimage
had ended long since, returned upon me from the unknown spheres,
and fond, familiar voices burst their way back to my ears through
the heavy silence of the grave. Moving by me in the nameless
inner light, which no eye saw but mine, the dead procession of
immaterial scenes and beings unrolled its silent length. I saw
once more the pleading face of a friend of early days, with the
haunting vision that had tortured him through life by his side
again--with the long-forgotten despair in his eyes which had once
touched my heart, and bound me to him, till I had tracked his
destiny through its darkest windings to the end. I saw the figure
of an innocent woman passing to and fro in an ancient country
house, with the shadow of a strange suspicion stealing after her
wherever she went. I saw a man worn by hardship and old age,
stretched dreaming on the straw of a stable, and muttering in his
dream the terrible secret of his life.
Other scenes and persons followed these, less vivid in their
revival, but still always recognizable and distinct; a young girl
alone by night, and in peril of her life, in a cottage on a
dreary moor--an upper chamber of an inn, with two beds in it; the
curtains of one bed closed, and a man standing by them, waiting,
yet dreading to draw them back--a husband secretly following the
first traces of a mystery which his wife's anxious love had
fatally hidden from him since the day when they first met; these,
and other visions like them, shadowy reflections of the living
beings and the real events that had been once, peopled the
solitude and the emptiness around me. They haunted me still when
I tried to break the chain of thought which my own efforts had
wound about my mind; they followed me to and fro in the room; and
they came out with me when I left it. I had lifted the veil from
the Past for myself, and I was now to rest no more till I had
lifted it for others.
I went at once to my eldest brother and showed him my son's
letter, and told him all that I have written here. His kind heart
was touched as mine had been. He felt for my suspense; he shared
my anxiety; he laid aside his own occupation on the spot.
"Only tell me," he said, "how I can help, and I will give every h
our in the day to you and to George."
I had come to him with my mind almost as full of his past life as
of my own; I recalled to his memory events in his experience as a
working clergyman in London; I set him looking among papers which
he had preserved for half his lifetime, and the very existence of
which he had forgotten long since; I recalled to him the names of
persons to whose necessities he had ministered in his sacred
office, and whose stories he had heard from their own lips or
received under their own handwriting. When we parted he was
certain of what he was wanted to do, and was resolute on that
very day to begin the work.
I went to Morgan next, and appealed to him as I had already
appealed to Owen. It was only part of his odd character to start
all sorts of eccentric objections in reply; to affect a cynical
indifference, which he was far from really and truly feeling; and
to indulge in plenty of quaint sarcasm on the subject of Jessie
and his nephew George. I waited till these little
surface-ebullitions had all expended themselves, and then pressed
my point again with the earnestness and anxiety that I really
Evidently touched by the manner of my appeal to him even more
than by the language in which it was expressed, Morgan took
refuge in his customary abruptness, spread out his paper
violently on the table, seized his pen and ink, and told me quite
fiercely to give him his work and let him tackle it at once.
I set myself to recall to his memory some very remarkable
experiences of his own in his professional days, but he stopped
me before I had half done.
"I understand," he said, taking a savage dip at the ink, "I'm to
make her flesh creep, and to frighten her out of her wits. I'll
do it with a vengeance!"
Reserving to myself privately an editorial right of supervision
over Morgan's contributions, I returned to my own room to begin
my share--by far the largest one--of the task before us. The
stimulus applied to my mind by my son's letter must have been a
strong one indeed, for I had hardly been more than an hour at my
desk before I found the old literary facility of my youthful
days, when I was a writer for the magazines, returning to me as
if by magic. I worked on unremittingly till dinner-time, and then
resumed the pen after we had all separated for the night. At two
o'clock the next morning I found myself--God help
me!--masquerading, as it were, in my own long-lost character of a
hard-writing young man, with the old familiar cup of strong tea
by my side, and the old familiar wet towel tied round my head.
My review of the progress I had made, when I looked back at my
pages of manuscript, yielded all the encouragement I wanted to
drive me on. It is only just, however, to add to the record of
this first day's attempt, that the literary labor which it
involved was by no means of the most trying kind. The great
strain on the intellect--the strain of invention--was spared me
by my having real characters and events ready to my hand. If I
had been called on to create, I should, in all probability, have
suffered severely by contrast with the very worst of those
unfortunate novelists whom Jessie had so rashly and so
thoughtlessly condemned. It is not wonderful that the public
should rarely know how to estimate the vast service which is done
to them by the production of a good book, seeing that they are,
for the most part, utterly ignorant of the immense difficulty of
writing even a bad one.
The next day was fine, to my great relief; and our visitor, while
we were at work, enjoyed her customary scamper on the pony, and
her customary rambles afterward in the neighborhood of the house.
Although I had interruptions to contend with on the part of Owen
and Morgan, neither of whom possessed my experience in the
production of what heavy people call "light literature," and both
of whom consequently wanted assistance, still I made great
progress, and earned my hours of repose on the evening of the
On that evening I risked the worst, and opened my negotiations
for the future with "The Queen of Hearts."
About an hour after the tea had been removed, and when I happened
to be left alone in the room with her, I noticed that she rose
suddenly and went to the writing-table. My suspicions were
aroused directly, and I entered on the dangerous subject by
inquiring if she intended to write to her aunt.
"Yes," she said. "I promised to write when the last week came. If
you had paid me the compliment of asking me to stay a little
longer, I should have returned it by telling you I was sorry to
go. As it is, I mean to be sulky and say nothing."
With those words she took up her pen to begin the letter.
"Wait a minute," I remonstrated. "I was just on the point of
begging you to stay when I spoke."
"Were you, indeed?" she returned. "I never believed in
coincidences of that sort before, but now, of course, I put the
most unlimited faith in them!"
"Will you believe in plain proofs?" I asked, adopting her humor.
"How do you think I and my brothers have been employing ourselves
all day to-day and all day yesterday? Guess what we have been
"Congratulating yourselves in secret on my approaching
departure," she answered, tapping her chin saucily with the
feather-end of her pen.
I seized the opportunity of astonishing her, and forthwith told
her the truth. She started up from the table, and approached me
with the eagerness of a child, her eyes sparkling, and her cheeks
"Do you really mean it?" she said.
I assured her that I was in earnest. She thereupon not only
expressed an interest in our undertaking, which was evidently
sincere, but, with characteristic impatience, wanted to begin the
first evening's reading on that very night. I disappointed her
sadly by explaining that we required time to prepare ourselves,
and by assuring her that we should not be ready for the next five
days. On the sixth day, I added, we should be able to begin, and
to go on, without missing an evening, for probably ten days more.
"The next five days?" she replied. "Why, that will just bring us
to the end of my six weeks' visit. I suppose you are not setting
a trap to catch me? This is not a trick of you three cunning old
gentlemen to make me stay on, is it?"
I quailed inwardly as that dangerously close guess at the truth
passed her lips.
"You forget," I said, "that the idea only occurred to me after
what you said yesterday. If it had struck me earlier, we should
have been ready earlier, and then where would your suspicions
"I am ashamed of having felt them," she said, in her frank,
hearty way. "I retract the word 'trap,' and I beg pardon for
calling you 'three cunning old gentlemen.' But what am I to say
to my aunt?"
She moved back to the writing-table as she spoke.
"Say nothing," I replied, "till you have heard the first story.
Shut up the paper-case till that time, and then decide when you
will open it again to write to your aunt."
She hesitated and smiled. That terribly close guess of hers was
not out of her mind yet.
"I rather fancy," she said, slyly, "that the story will turn out
to be the best of the whole series."
"Wrong again," I retorted. "I have a plan for letting chance
decide which of the stories the first one shall be. They shall be
all numbered as they are done; corresponding numbers shall be
written inside folded pieces of card and well mixed together; you
shall pick out any one card you like; you shall declare the
number written within; and, good or bad, the story that answers
to that number shall be the story that is read. Is that fair?"
"Fair!" she exclaimed; "it's better than fair; it makes _me_ of
some importance; and I must be more or less than woman not to
"Then you consent to wait patiently for the next five days?"
"As patiently as I can."
"And you engage to decide nothing about writing to your aunt
until you have heard the first story?"
"I do," she said, returning to the writing-table. "Behold the
proof of it." She raised her hand with theatrical solemnity, and
closed the paper-case with an impressive bang.
I leaned back in my chair with my mind at ease for the first time
since the receipt of my son's letter.
"Only let George return by the first of November," I thought to
myself, "and all the aunts in Christendom shall not prevent
Jessie Yelverton from being here to meet him."
THE TEN DAYS.
THE FIRST DAY.
SHOWERY and unsettled. In spite of the weather, Jessie put on my
Mackintosh cloak and rode off over the hills to one of Owen's
outlying farms. She was already too impatient to wait quietly for
the evening's reading in the house, or to enjoy any amusement
less exhilarating than a gallop in the open air.
I was, on my side, as anxious and as uneasy as our guest. Now
that the six weeks of her stay had expired--now that the day had
really arrived, on the evening of which the first story was to be
read, I began to calculate the chances of failure as well as the
chances of success. What if my own estimate of the interest of
the stories turned out to be a false one? What if some unforeseen
accident occurred to delay my son's return beyond ten days?
The arrival of the newspaper had already become an event of the
deepest importance to me. Unreasonable as it was to expect any
tidings of George at so early a date, I began, nevertheless, on
this first of our days of suspense, to look for the name of his
ship in the columns of telegraphic news. The mere mechanical act
of looking was some relief to my overstrained feelings, although
I might have known, and did know, that the search, for the
present, could lead to no satisfactory result.
Toward noon I shut myself up with my collection of manuscripts to
revise them for the last time. Our exertions had thus far
produced but six of the necessary ten stories. As they were only,
however, to be read, one by one, on six successive evenings, and
as we could therefore count on plenty of leisure in the daytime,
I was in no fear of our failing to finish the little series.
Of the six completed stories I had written two, and had found a
third in the form of a collection of letters among my papers.
Morgan had only written one, and this solitary contribution of
his had given me more trouble than both my own put together, in
consequence of the perpetual intrusion of my brother's
eccentricities in every part of his narrative. The process of
removing these quaint turns and frisks of Morgan's humor--which,
however amusing they might have been in an essay, were utterly
out of place in a story appealing to suspended interest for its
effect--certainly tried my patience and my critical faculty (such
as it is) more severely than any other part of our literary
enterprise which had fallen my share.
Owen's investigations among his papers had supplied us with the
two remaining narratives. One was contained in a letter, and the
other in the form of a diary, and both had been received by him
directly from the writers. Besides these contributions, he had
undertaken to help us by some work of his own, and had been
engaged for the last four days in molding certain events which
had happened within his personal knowledge into the form of a
story. His extreme fastidiousness as a writer interfered,
however, so seriously with his progress that he was still sadly
behindhand, and was likely, though less heavily burdened than
Morgan or myself, to be the last to complete his allotted task.
Such was our position, and such the resources at our command,
when the first of the Ten Days dawned upon us. Shortly after four
in the afternoon I completed my work of revision, numbered the
manuscripts from one to six exactly as they happened to lie under
my hand, and inclosed them all in a portfolio, covered with
purple morocco, which became known from that time by the imposing
title of The Purple Volume.
Miss Jessie returned from her expedition just as I was tying the
strings of the portfolio, and, womanlike, instantly asked leave
to peep inside, which favor I, manlike, positively declined to
As soon as dinner was over our guest retired to array herself in
magnificent evening costume. It had been arranged that the
readings were to take place in her own sitting-room; and she was
so enthusiastically desirous to do honor to the occasion, that
she regretted not having brought with her from London the dress
in which she had been presented at court the year before, and not
having borrowed certain materials for additional splendor which
she briefly described as "aunt's diamonds."
Toward eight o'clock we assembled in the sitting-room, and a
strangely assorted company we were. At the head of the table,
radiant in silk and jewelry, flowers and furbelows, sat The Queen
of Hearts, looking so handsome and so happy that I secretly
congratulated my absent son on the excellent taste he had shown
in falling in love with her. Round this bright young creature
(Owen, at the foot of the table, and Morgan and I on either side)
sat her three wrinkled, gray-headed, dingily-attired hosts, and
just behind her, in still more inappropriate companionship,
towered the spectral figure of the man in armor, which had so
unaccountably attracted her on her arrival. This strange scene
was lighted up by candles in high and heavy brass sconces. Before
Jessie stood a mighty china punch-bowl of the olden time,
containing the folded pieces of card, inside which were written
the numbers to be drawn, and before Owen reposed the Purple
Volume from which one of us was to read. The walls of the room
were hung all round with faded tapestry; the clumsy furniture was
black with age; and, in spite of the light from the sconces, the
lofty ceiling was almost lost in gloom. If Rembrandt could have
painted our background, Reynolds our guest, and Hogarth
ourselves, the picture of the scene would have been complete.
When the old clock over the tower gateway had chimed eight, I
rose to inaugurate the proceedings by requesting Jessie to take
one of the pieces of card out of the punch-bowl, and to declare
She laughed; then suddenly became frightened and serious; then
looked at me, and said, "It was dreadfully like business;" and
then entreated Morgan not to stare at her, or, in the present
state of her nerves, she should upset the punch-bowl. At last she
summoned resolution enough to take out one of the pieces of card
and to unfold it.
"Declare the number, my dear," said Owen.
"Number Four," answered Jessie, making a magnificent courtesy,
and beginning to look like herself again.
Owen opened the Purple Volume, searched through the manuscripts,
and suddenly changed color. The cause of his discomposure was
soon explained. Malicious fate had assigned to the most diffident
individual in the company the trying responsibility of leading
the way. Number Four was one of the two narratives which Owen had
found among his own papers.
"I am almost sorry," began my eldest brother, confusedly, "that
it has fallen to my turn to read first. I hardly know which I
distrust most, myself or my story."
"Try and fancy you are in the pulpit again," said Morgan,
sarcastically. "Gentlemen of your cloth, Owen, seldom seem to
distrust themselves or their manuscripts when they get into that
"The fact is," continued Owen, mildly impenetrable to his
brother's cynical remark, "that the little thing I am going to
try and read is hardly a story at all. I am afraid it is only an
anecdote. I became possessed of the letter which contains my
narrative under these circumstances. At the time when I was a
clergyman in London, my church was attended for some months by a
lady who was the wife of a large farmer in the country. She had
been obliged to come to town, and to remain there for the sake of
one of her children, a little boy, who required the best medical
At the words "medical advice" Morgan shook his head and growled
to himself contemptuously. Owen went on:
"While she was attending in this way to one child, his share in
her love was unexpectedly disputed by another, who came into the
world rather before his time. I baptized the baby, and was asked
to the little christening party afterward. This was my first
introduction to the lady, and I was very favorably impressed by
her; not so much on account of her personal appearance, for she
was but a little wo man and had no pretensions to beauty, as on
account of a certain simplicity, and hearty, downright kindness
in her manner, as well as of an excellent frankness and good
sense in her conversation. One of the guests present, who saw how
she had interested me, and who spoke of her in the highest terms,
surprised me by inquiring if I should ever have supposed that
quiet, good-humored little woman to be capable of performing an
act of courage which would have tried the nerves of the boldest
man in England? I naturally enough begged for an explanation; but
my neighbor at the table only smiled and said, 'If you can find
an opportunity, ask her what happened at The Black Cottage, and
you will hear something that will astonish you.' I acted on the
hint as soon as I had an opportunity of speaking to her
privately. The lady answered that it was too long a story to tell
then, and explained, on my suggesting that she should relate it
on some future day, that she was about to start for her country
home the next morning. 'But,' she was good enough to add, 'as I
have been under great obligations to you for many Sundays past,
and as you seem interested in this matter, I will employ my first
leisure time after my return in telling you by writing, instead
of by word of mouth, what really happened to me on one memorable
night of my life in The Black Cottage.'
"She faithfully performed her promise. In a fortnight afterward I
received from her the narrative which I am now about to read."
BROTHER OWEN'S STORY
THE SIEGE OF THE BLACK COTTAGE.
To begin at the beginning, I must take you back to the time after
my mother's death, when my only brother had gone to sea, when my
sister was out at service, and when I lived alone with my father
in the midst of a moor in the west of England.
The moor was covered with great limestone rocks, and intersected
here and there by streamlets. The nearest habitation to ours was
situated about a mile and a half off, where a strip of the
fertile land stretched out into the waste like a tongue. Here the
outbuildings of the great Moor Farm, then in the possession of my
husband's father, began. The farm-lands stretched down gently
into a beautiful rich valley, lying nicely sheltered by the high
platform of the moor. When the ground began to rise again, miles
and miles away, it led up to a country house called Holme Manor,
belonging to a gentleman named Knifton. Mr. Knifton had lately
married a young lady whom my mother had nursed, and whose
kindness and friendship for me, her foster-sister, I shall
remember gratefully to the last day of my life. These and other
slight particulars it is necessary to my story that I should tell
you, and it is also necessary that you should be especially
careful to bear them well in mind.
My father was by trade a stone-mason. His cottage stood a mile
and a half from the nearest habitation. In all other directions
we were four or five times that distance from neighbors. Being
very poor people, this lonely situation had one great attraction
for us--we lived rent free on it. In addition to that advantage,
the stones, by shaping which my father gained his livelihood, lay
all about him at his very door, so that he thought his position,
solitary as it was, quite an enviable one. I can hardly say that
I agreed with him, though I never complained. I was very fond of
my father, and managed to make the best of my loneliness with the
thought of being useful to him. Mrs. Knifton wished to take me
into her service when she married, but I declined, unwillingly
enough, for my father's sake. If I had gone away, he would have
had nobody to live with him; and my mother made me promise on her
death-bed that he should never be left to pine away alone in the
midst of the bleak moor.
Our cottage, small as it was, was stoutly and snugly built, with
stone from the moor as a matter of course. The walls were lined
inside and fenced outside with wood, the gift of Mr. Knifton's
father to my father. This double covering of cracks and crevices,
which would have been superfluous in a sheltered position, was
absolutely necessary, in our exposed situation, to keep out the
cold winds which, excepting just the summer months, swept over us
continually all the year round. The outside boards, covering our
roughly-built stone walls, my father protected against the wet