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