Blind Love

Blind Love

BLIND LOVE WILKIE COLLINS Under the circumstances of the case it was impossible to decline this request. I wrote to say that time should be made and the notes were forwarded to me at Robin Hood's Bay. I began by reading carefully and twice over so as to get a grip of the story and the novelist's intention the part that had already appeared and the proofs so far as the author had gone. I then turned to the notes. I found that these were not merely notes such as I expected--simple indications of the plot and the development of events but an actual detailed scenario in which every incident however trivial was carefully laid down: there were also fragments of dialogue inserted at those places where dialogue was wanted to emphasise the situation and make it real. I was much struck with the writer's perception of the vast importance of dialogue in making the reader seize the scene. Description requires attention: dialogue rivets attention. It is not an easy task nor is it pleasant to carry on another man's work: but the possession of this scenario lightened the work enormously. I have been careful to adhere faithfully and exactly to the plot scene by scene down to the smallest detail as it was laid down by the author in this book. I have altered nothing. I have preserved and incorporated every fragment of dialogue. I have used the very language wherever that was written so carefully as to show that it was meant to be used. I think that there is only one trivial detail where I had to choose because it was not clear from the notes what the author had intended. The plot of the novel every scene every situation from beginning to end is the work of Wilkie Collins. The actual writing is entirely his up to a certain point: from that point to the end it is partly his but mainly mine. Where his writing ends and mine begins I need not point out. The practised critic will no doubt at once lay his finger on the spot. I have therefore carried out the author's wishes to the best of my ability. I would that he were living still if only to regret that he had not been allowed to finish his last work with his own hand! WALTER BESANT. BLIND LOVE THE PROLOGUE I SOON after sunrise on a cloudy morning in the year 1881 a special messenger disturbed the repose of Dennis Howmore at his place of residence in the pleasant Irish town of Ardoon. Well acquainted apparently with the way upstairs the man thumped on a bed-room door and shouted his message through it: "The master wants you and mind you don't keep him waiting." The person sending this peremptory message was Sir Giles Mountjoy of Ardoon knight and banker. The person receiving the message was Sir Giles's head clerk. As a matter of course Dennis Howmore dressed himself at full speed and hastened to his employer's private house on the outskirts of the town. He found Sir Giles in an irritable and anxious state of mind. A letter lay open on the banker's bed his night-cap was crumpled crookedly on his head he was in too great a hurry to remember the claims of politeness when the clerk said "Good morning." "Dennis I have got something for you to do. It must be kept a secret and it allows of no delay." "Is it anything connected with business sir?" The banker lost his temper. "How can you be such an infernal fool as to suppose that anything connected with business could happen at this time in the morning? Do you know the first milestone on the road to Garvan?" "Yes sir." "Very well. Go to the milestone and take care that nobody sees you when you get there. Look at the back of the stone. If you discover an Object which appears to have been left in that situation on the ground bring it to me; and don't forget that the most impatient man in all Ireland is waiting for you." Not a word of explanation followed these extraordinary instructions. The head clerk set forth on his errand with his mind dwelling on the national tendencies to conspiracy and assassination. His employer was not a popular person. Sir Giles had paid rent when he owed it; and worse still was disposed to remember in a friendly spirit what England had done for Ireland in the course of the last fifty years. If anything appeared to justify distrust of the mysterious Object of which he was in search Dennis resolved to be vigilantly on the look-out for a gun-barrel whenever he passed a hedge on his return journey to the town. Arrived at the milestone he discovered on the ground behind it one Object only--a fragment of a broken tea-cup. Naturally enough Dennis hesitated. It seemed to be impossible that the earnest and careful instructions which he had received could relate to such a trifle as this. At the same time he was acting under orders which were as positive as tone manner and language could make them. Passive obedience appeared to be the one safe course to take--at the risk of a reception irritating to any man's self-respect when he returned to his employer with a broken teacup in his hand. The event entirely failed to justify his misgivings. There could be no doubt that Sir Giles attached serious importance to the contemptible discovery made at the milestone. After having examined and re-examined the fragment he announced his intention of sending the clerk on a second errand--still without troubling himself to explain what his incomprehensible instructions meant. "If I am not mistaken" he began "the Reading Rooms in our town open as early as nine. Very well. Go to the Rooms this morning on the stroke of the clock." He stopped and consulted the letter which lay open on his bed. "Ask the librarian" he continued "for the third volume of Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.' Open the book at pages seventy-eight and seventy-nine. If you find a piece of paper between those two leaves take possession of it when nobody is looking at you and bring it to me. That's all Dennis. And bear in mind that I shall not recover the use of my patience till I see you again." On ordinary occasions the head clerk was not a man accustomed to insist on what was due to his dignity. At the same time he was a sensible human being conscious of the consideration to which his responsible place in the office entitled him. Sir Giles's irritating reserve not even excused by a word of apology reached the limits of his endurance. He respectfully protested. "I regret to find sir" he said "that I have lost my place in my employer's estimation. The man to whom you confide the superintendence of your clerks and the transaction of your business has I venture to think some claim (under the present circumstances) to be trusted." The banker was now offended on his side. "I readily admit your claim" he answered "when you are sitting at your desk in my office. But even in these days of strikes co-operations and bank holidays an employer has one privilege left--he has not ceased to be a Man and he has not forfeited a man's right to keep his own secrets. I fail to see anything in my conduct which has given you just reason to complain." Dennis rebuked made his bow in silence and withdrew. Did these acts of humility mean that he submitted? They meant exactly the contrary. He had made up his mind that Sir Giles Mountjoy's motives should sooner or later cease to be mysteries to Sir Giles Mountjoy's clerk. II CAREFULLY following his instructions he consulted the third volume of Gibbon's great History and found between the seventy-eighth and seventy-ninth pages something remarkable this time. It was a sheet of delicately-made paper pierced with a number of little holes infinitely varied in size and cut with the smoothest precision. Having secured this curious object while the librarian's back was turned Dennis Howmore reflected. A page of paper unintelligibly perforated for some purpose unknown was in itself a suspicious thing. And what did suspicion suggest to the inquiring mind in South-Western Ireland before the suppression of the Land League? Unquestionably---Police! On the way back to his employer the banker's clerk paid a visit to an old friend--a journalist by profession and a man of varied learning and experience as well. Invited to inspect the remarkable morsel of paper and to discover the object with which the perforations had been made the authority consulted proved to be worthy of the trust reposed in him. Dennis left the newspaper office an enlightened man--with information at the disposal of Sir Giles and with a sense of relief which expressed itself irreverently in these words: "Now I have got him!" The bewildered banker looked backwards and forwards from the paper to the clerk and from the clerk to the paper. "I don't understand it" he said. "Do you?" Still preserving the appearance of humility Dennis asked leave to venture on a guess. The perforated paper looked as he thought like a Puzzle. "If we wait for a day or two" he suggested "the Key to it may possibly reach us." On the next day nothing happened. On the day after a second letter made another audacious demand on the fast failing patience of Sir Giles Mountjoy. Even the envelope proved to be a Puzzle on this occasion; the postmark was "Ardoon." In other words the writer had used the postman as a messenger while he or his accomplice was actually in the town posting the letter within half-a-minute's walk of the bank! The contents presented an impenetrable mystery the writing looked worthy of a madman. Sentences appeared in the wildest state of confusion and words were so mutilated as to be unintelligible. This time the force of circumstances was more than Sir Giles could resist. He took the clerk into his confidence at last. "Let us begin at the beginning" he said. "There is the letter you saw on my bed when I first sent for you. I found it waiting on my table when I woke; and I don't know who put it there. Read it." Dennis read as follows: "Sir Giles Mountjoy--I have a disclosure to make in which one of the members of your family is seriously interested. Before I can venture to explain myself I must be assured that I can trust to your good faith. As a test of this I require you to fulfil the two conditions that follow--and to do it without the slightest loss of time. I dare not trust you yet with my address or my signature. Any act of carelessness on my part might end fatally for the true friend who writes these lines. If you neglect this warning you will regret it to the end of your life." To the conditions on which the letter insisted there is no need to allude. They had been complied with when the discoveries were made at the back of the milestone and between the pages of Gibson's history. Sir Giles had already arrived at the conclusion that a conspiracy was in progress to assassinate him and perhaps to rob the bank. The wiser head clerk pointed to the perforated paper and the incomprehensible writing received that morning. "If we can find out what these mean" he said "you may be better able sir to form a correct opinion." "And who is to do that?" the banker asked. "I can but try sir" was the modest reply "if you see no objection to my making the attempt." Sir Giles approved of the proposed experiment silently and satirically by a bend of his head. Too discreet a man to make a suspiciously ready use of the information which he had privately obtained Dennis took care that his first attempt should not be successful. After modestly asking permission to try again he ventured on the second occasion to arrive at a happy discovery. Lifting the perforated paper he placed it delicately over the page which contained the unintelligible writing. Words and sentences now appeared (through the holes in the paper) in their right spelling and arrangement and addressed Sir Giles in these terms: "I beg to thank you sir for complying with my conditions. You have satisfied me of your good faith. At the same time it is possible that you may hesitate to trust a man who is not yet able to admit you to his confidence. The perilous position in which I stand obliges me to ask for two or three days more of delay before I can safely make an appointment with you. Pray be patient--and on no account apply for advice or protection to the police." "Those last words" Sir Giles declared "are conclusive! The sooner I am under the care of the law the better. Take my card to the police-office." "May I say a word first sir?" "Do you mean that you don't agree with me?" "I mean that." "You were always an obstinate man Dennis; and it grows on you as you get older. Never mind! Let's have it out. Who do _you_ say is the person pointed at in these rascally letters?" The head clerk took up the first letter of the two and pointed to the opening sentence: "Sir Giles Mountjoy I have a disclosure to make in which one of the members of your family is seriously interested." Dennis emphatically repeated the words: "one of the members of your family." His employer regarded him with a broad stare of astonishment. "One of the members of my family?" Sir Giles repeated on his side. "Why man alive what are you thinking of? I'm an old bachelor and I haven't got a family." "There is your brother sir." "My brother is in France--out of the way of the wretches who are threatening me. I wish I was with him!" "There are your brother's two sons Sir Giles." "Well? And what is there to be afraid of? My nephew Hugh is in London--and mind! not on a political errand. I hope before long to hear that he is going to be married--if the strangest and nicest girl in England will have him. What's wrong now?" Dennis explained. "I only wished to say sir that I was thinking of your other nephew." Sir Giles laughed. "Arthur in danger!" he exclaimed. "As harmless a young man as ever lived. The worst one can say of him is that he is throwing away his money--farming in Kerry." "Excuse me Sir Giles; there's not much chance of his throwing away his money where he is now. Nobody will venture to take his money. I met with one of Mr. Arthur's neighbours at the market yesterday. Your nephew is boycotted." "So much the better" the obstinate banker declared. "He will be cured of his craze for farming; and he will come back to the place I am keeping for him in the office." "God grant it!" the clerk said fervently. For the moment Sir Giles was staggered. "Have you heard something that you haven't told me yet?" he asked. "No sir. I am only bearing in mind something which--with all respect--I think you have forgotten. The last tenant on that bit of land in Kerry refused to pay his rent. Mr. Arthur has taken what they call an evicted farm. It's my firm belief" said the head clerk rising and speaking earnestly "that the person who has addressed those letters to you knows Mr. Arthur and knows he is in danger--and is trying to save your nephew (by means of your influence) at the risk of his own life." Sir Giles shook his head. "I call that a far-fetched interpretation Dennis. If what you say is true why didn't the writer of those anonymous letters address himself to Arthur instead of to me?" "I gave it as my opinion just now sir that the writer of the letter knew Mr. Arthur." "So you did. And what of that?" Dennis stood to his guns. "Anybody who is acquainted with Mr. Arthur" he persisted "knows that (with all sorts of good qualities) the young gentleman is headstrong and rash. If a friend told him he was in danger on the farm that would be enough of itself to make him stop where he is and brave it out. Whereas you sir are known to be cautious and careful and farseeing and discreet." He might have added: And cowardly and obstinate and narrow-minded and inflated by stupid self-esteem. But respect for his employer had blindfolded the clerk's observation for many a long year past. If one man may be born with the heart of a lion another man may be born with the mind of a mule. Dennis's master was one of the other men. "Very well put" Sir Giles answered indulgently. "Time will show if such an entirely unimportant person as my nephew Arthur is likely to be assassinated. That allusion to one of the members of my family is a mere equivocation designed to throw me off my guard. Rank money social influence unswerving principles mark ME out as a public character. Go to the police-office and let the best man who happens to be off duty come here directly." Good Dennis Howmore approached the door very unwillingly. It was opened from the outer side before he had reached that end of the room. One of the bank porters announced a visitor. "Miss Henley wishes to know sir if you can see her." Sir Giles looked agreeably surprised. He rose with alacrity to receive the lady. III WHEN Iris Henley dies there will in all probability be friends left who remember her and talk of her--and there may be strangers present at the time (women for the most part) whose curiosity will put questions relating to her personal appearance. No replies will reward them with trustworthy information. Miss Henley's chief claim to admiration lay in a remarkable mobility of expression which reflected every change of feeling peculiar to the nature of a sweet and sensitive woman. For this reason probably no descriptions of her will agree with each other. No existing likenesses will represent her. The one portrait that was painted of Iris is only recognisable by partial friends of the artist. In and out of London photographic likenesses were taken of her. They have the honour of resembling the portraits of Shakespeare in this respect--compared with one another it is not possible to discover that they present the same person. As for the evidence offered by the loving memory of her friends it is sure to be contradictory in the last degree. She had a charming face a commonplace face an intelligent face--a poor complexion a delicate complexion no complexion at all--eyes that were expressive of a hot temper of a bright intellect of a firm character of an affectionate disposition of a truthful nature of hysterical sensibility of inveterate obstinacy--a figure too short; no just the right height; no neither one thing nor the other; elegant if you like--dress shabby: oh surely not; dress quiet and simple; no something more than that; ostentatiously quiet theatrically simple worn with the object of looking unlike other people. In one last word was this mass of contradictions generally popular in the time when it was a living creature? Yes--among the men. No--not invariably. The man of all others who ought to have been fondest of her was the man who behaved cruelly to Iris--her own father. And when the poor creature married (if she did marry) how many of you attended the wedding? Not one of us! And when she died how many of you were sorry for her? All of us! What? no difference of opinion in that one particular? On the contrary perfect concord thank God. Let the years roll back and let Iris speak for herself at the memorable time when she was in the prime of her life and when a stormy career was before her. IV BEING Miss Henley's godfather Sir Giles was a privileged person. He laid his hairy hands on her shoulders and kissed her on either cheek. After that prefatory act of endearment he made his inquiries. What extraordinary combination of events had led Iris to leave London and had brought her to visit him in his banking-house at Ardoon? "I wanted to get away from home" she answered; "and having nobody to go to but my godfather I thought I should like to see You." "Alone!" cried Sir Giles. "No--with my maid to keep me company." "Only your maid Iris? Surely you have acquaintances among young ladies like yourself?" "Acquaintances--yes. No friends." "Does your father approve of what you have done?" "Will you grant me a favour godpapa?" "Yes--if I can." "Don't insist on my answering your last question." The faint colour that had risen in her face when she entered the room left it. At the same time the expression of her mouth altered. The lips closed firmly; revealing that strongest of all resolutions which is founded on a keen sense of wrong. She looked older than her age: what she might be ten years hence she was now. Sir Giles understood her. He got up and took a turn in the room. An old habit of which he had cured himself with infinite difficulty when he was made a Knight ...