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Produced by James Rusk





AFTER DARK

By Wilkie Collins




PREFACE TO "AFTER DARK."

I have taken some pains to string together the various stories contained
in this Volume on a single thread of interest, which, so far as I know,
has at least the merit of not having been used before.

The pages entitled "Leah's Diary" are, however, intended to fulfill
another purpose besides that of serving as the frame-work for my
collection of tales. In this part of the book, and subsequently in the
Prologues to the stories, it has been my object to give the reader one
more glimpse at that artist-life which circumstances have afforded me
peculiar opportunities of studying, and which I have already tried to
represent, under another aspect, in my fiction, "Hide-and-Seek." This
time I wish to ask some sympathy for the joys and sorrows of a poor
traveling portrait-painter - presented from his wife's point of view
in "Leah's Diary," and supposed to be briefly and simply narrated by
himself in the Prologues to the stories. I have purposely kept these
two portions of the book within certain limits; only giving, in the
one case, as much as the wife might naturally write in her diary at
intervals of household leisure; and, in the other, as much as a modest
and sensible man would be likely to say about himself and about the
characters he met with in his wanderings. If I have been so fortunate as
to make my idea intelligible by this brief and simple mode of treatment,
and if I have, at the same time, achieved the necessary object of
gathering several separate stories together as neatly-fitting parts of
one complete whole, I shall have succeeded in a design which I have for
some time past been very anxious creditably to fulfill.

Of the tales themselves, taken individually, I have only to say, by
way of necessary explanation, that "The Lady of Glenwith Grange" is now
offered to the reader for the first time; and that the other stories
have appeared in the columns of _Household Words_. My best thanks are
due to Mr. Charles Dickens for his kindness in allowing me to set them
in their present frame-work.

I must also gratefully acknowledge an obligation of another kind to the
accomplished artist, Mr. W. S. Herrick, to whom I am indebted for
the curious and interesting facts on which the tales of "The Terribly
Strange Bed" and "The Yellow Mask" are founded.

Although the statement may appear somewhat superfluous to those who know
me, it may not be out of place to add, in conclusion, that these stories
are entirely of my own imagining, constructing, and writing. The fact
that the events of some of my tales occur on foreign ground, and are
acted out by foreign personages, appears to have suggested in some
quarters the inference that the stories themselves might be of foreign
origin. Let me, once for all, assure any readers who may honor me with
their attention, that in this, and in all other cases, they may depend
on the genuineness of my literary offspring. The little children of my
brain may be weakly enough, and may be sadly in want of a helping hand
to aid them in their first attempts at walking on the stage of this
great world; but, at any rate, they are not borrowed children. The
members of my own literary family are indeed increasing so fast as to
render the very idea of borrowing quite out of the question, and to
suggest serious apprehension that I may not have done adding to the
large book-population, on my own sole responsibility, even yet.




AFTER DARK.



LEAVES FROM LEAH'S DIARY.

26th February, 1827. - The doctor has just called for the third time to
examine my husband's eyes. Thank God, there is no fear at present of my
poor William losing his sight, provided he can be prevailed on to
attend rigidly to the medical instructions for preserving it. These
instructions, which forbid him to exercise his profession for the next
six months at least, are, in our case, very hard to follow. They will
but too probably sentence us to poverty, perhaps to actual want; but
they must be borne resignedly, and even thankfully, seeing that my
husband's forced cessation from work will save him from the dreadful
affliction of loss of sight. I think I can answer for my own
cheerfulness and endurance, now that we know the worst. Can I answer for
our children also? Surely I can, when there are only two of them. It is
a sad confession to make, but now, for the first time since my marriage,
I feel thankful that we have no more.

17th. - A dread came over me last night, after I had comforted William as
well as I could about the future, and had heard him fall off to sleep,
that the doctor had not told us the worst. Medical men do sometimes
deceive their patients, from what has always seemed to me to be
misdirected kindness of heart. The mere suspicion that I had been
trifled with on the subject of my husband's illness, caused me such
uneasiness, that I made an excuse to get out, and went in secret to the
doctor. Fortunately, I found him at home, and in three words I confessed
to him the object of my visit.

He smiled, and said I might make myself easy; he had told us the worst.

"And that worst," I said, to make certain, "is, that for the next six
months my husband must allow his eyes to have the most perfect repose?"

"Exactly," the doctor answered. "Mind, I don't say that he may not
dispense with his green shade, indoors, for an hour or two at a time, as
the inflammation gets subdued. But I do most positively repeat that he
must not _employ_ his eyes. He must not touch a brush or pencil; he must
not think of taking another likeness, on any consideration whatever, for
the next six months. His persisting in finishing those two portraits,
at the time when his eyes first began to fail, was the real cause of all
the bad symptoms that we have had to combat ever since. I warned him
(if you remember, Mrs. Kerby?) when he first came to practice in our
neighborhood."

"I know you did, sir," I replied. "But what was a poor traveling
portrait-painter like my husband, who lives by taking likenesses first
in one place and then in another, to do? Our bread depended on his using
his eyes, at the very time when you warned him to let them have a rest."

"Have you no other resources? No money but the money Mr. Kerby can get
by portrait-painting?" asked the doctor.

"None," I answered, with a sinking at my heart as I thought of his bill
for medical attendance.

"Will you pardon me?" he said, coloring and looking a little uneasy,
"or, rather, will you ascribe it to the friendly interest I feel in you,
if I ask whether Mr. Kerby realizes a comfortable income by the
practice of his profession? Don't," he went on anxiously, before I
could reply - "pray don't think I make this inquiry from a motive of
impertinent curiosity!"

I felt quite satisfied that he could have no improper motive for asking
the question, and so answered it at once plainly and truly.

"My husband makes but a small income," I said. "Famous London
portrait-painters get great prices from their sitters; but poor unknown
artists, who only travel about the country, are obliged to work hard and
be contented with very small gains. After we have paid all that we owe
here, I am afraid we shall have little enough left to retire on, when we
take refuge in some cheaper place."

"In that case," said the good doctor (I am so glad and proud to remember
that I always liked him from the first!), "in that case, don't make
yourself anxious about my bill when you are thinking of clearing off
your debts here. I can afford to wait till Mr. Kerby's eyes are well
again, and I shall then ask him for a likeness of my little daughter.
By that arrangement we are sure to be both quits, and both perfectly
satisfied."

He considerately shook hands and bade me farewell before I could say
half the grateful words to him that were on my lips. Never, never shall
I forget that he relieved me of my two heaviest anxieties at the most
anxious time of my life. The merciful, warm-hearted man! I could almost
have knelt down and kissed his doorstep, as I crossed it on my way home.

18th. - If I had not resolved, after what happened yesterday, to look
only at the cheerful side of things for the future, the events of
to-day would have robbed me of all my courage, at the very outset of
our troubles. First, there was the casting up of our bills, and the
discovery, when the amount of them was balanced against all the money
we have saved up, that we shall only have between three and four pounds
left in the cash-box, after we have got out of debt. Then there was the
sad necessity of writing letters in my husband's name to the rich people
who were ready to employ him, telling them of the affliction that had
overtaken him, and of the impossibility of his executing their orders
for portraits for the next six months to come. And, lastly, there was
the heart-breaking business for me to go through of giving our landlord
warning, just as we had got comfortably settled in our new abode. If
William could only have gone on with his work, we might have stopped in
this town, and in these clean, comfortable lodgings for at least three
or four months. We have never had the use of a nice empty garret before,
for the children to play in; and I never met with any landlady so
pleasant to deal with in the kitchen as the landlady here. And now we
must leave all this comfort and happiness, and go - I hardly know where.
William, in his bitterness, says to the workhouse; but that shall never
be, if I have to go out to service to prevent it. The darkness is coming
on, and we must save in candles, or I could write much more. Ah, me!
what a day this has been. I have had but one pleasant moment since it
began; and that was in the morning, when I set my little Emily to work
on a bead purse for the kind doctor's daughter. My child, young as
she is, is wonderfully neat-handed at stringing beads; and even a poor
little empty purse as a token of our gratitude, is better than nothing
at all.

19th. - A visit from our best friend - our only friend here - the doctor.
After he had examined William's eyes, and had reported that they were
getting on as well as can be hoped at present, he asked where we thought
of going to live? I said in the cheapest place we could find, and added
that I was about to make inquiries in the by-streets of the town that
very day. "Put off those inquiries," he said, "till you hear from me
again. I am going now to see a patient at a farmhouse five miles
off. (You needn't look at the children, Mrs. Kerby, it's nothing
infectious - only a clumsy lad, who has broken his collarbone by a fall
from a horse.) They receive lodgers occasionally at the farmhouse, and
I know no reason why they should not be willing to receive you. If you
want to be well housed and well fed at a cheap rate, and if you like the
society of honest, hearty people, the farm of Appletreewick is the very
place for you. Don't thank me till you know whether I can get you
these new lodgings or not. And in the meantime settle all your business
affairs here, so as to be able to move at a moment's notice." With those
words the kind-hearted gentleman nodded and went out. Pray heaven he may
succeed at the farmhouse! We may be sure of the children's health, at
least, if we live in the country. Talking of the children, I must not
omit to record that Emily has nearly done one end of the bead purse
already.

20th. - A note from the doctor, who is too busy to call. Such good
news! They will give us two bedrooms, and board us with the family at
Appletreewick for seventeen shillings a week. By my calculations, we
shall have three pounds sixteen shillings left, after paying what we owe
here. That will be enough, at the outset, for four weeks' living at the
farmhouse, with eight shillings to spare besides. By embroidery-work I
can easily make nine shillings more to put to that, and there is a fifth
week provided for. Surely, in five weeks' time - considering the number
of things I can turn my hand to - we may hit on some plan for getting a
little money. This is what I am always telling my husband, and what,
by dint of constantly repeating it, I am getting to believe myself.
William, as is but natural, poor fellow, does not take so lighthearted
view of the future as I do. He says that the prospect of sitting
idle and being kept by his wife for months to come, is something more
wretched and hopeless than words can describe. I try to raise his
spirits by reminding him of his years of honest hard work for me and
the children, and of the doctor's assurance that his eyes will get the
better, in good time, of their present helpless state. But he still
sighs and murmurs - being one of the most independent and high spirited
of men - about living a burden on his wife. I can only answer, what in my
heart of hearts I feel, that I took him for Better and for Worse; that
I have had many years of the Better, and that, even in our present
trouble, the Worse shows no signs of coming yet!

The bead purse is getting on fast. Red and blue, in a pretty striped
pattern.

21st. - A busy day. We go to Appletreewick to-morrow. Paying bills and
packing up. All poor William's new canvases and painting-things huddled
together into a packing-case. He looked so sad, sitting silent with
his green shade on, while his old familiar working materials were
disappearing around him, as if he and they were never to come together
again, that the tears would start into my eyes, though I am sure I
am not one of the crying sort. Luckily, the green shade kept him from
seeing me: and I took good care, though the effort nearly choked me,
that he should not hear I was crying, at any rate.

The bead purse is done. How are we to get the steel rings and tassels
for it? I am not justified now in spending sixpence unnecessarily, even
for the best of purposes.

22d. - - -

23d. _The Farm of Appletreewick._ - Too tired, after our move yesterday,
to write a word in my diary about our journey to this delightful place.
But now that we are beginning to get settled, I can manage to make up
for past omissions.

My first occupation on the morning of the move had, oddly enough,
nothing to do with our departure for the farmhouse. The moment breakfast
was over I began the day by making Emily as smart and nice-looking as I
could, to go to the doctor's with the purse. She had her best silk frock
on, showing the mending a little in some places, I am afraid, and her
straw hat trimmed with my bonnet ribbon. Her father's neck-scarf, turned
and joined so that nobody could see it, made a nice mantilla for her;
and away she went to the doctor's, with her little, determined step,
and the purse in her hand (such a pretty hand that it is hardly to
be regretted I had no gloves for her). They were delighted with the
purse - which I ought to mention was finished with some white beads; we
found them in rummaging among our boxes, and they made beautiful rings
and tassels, contrasting charmingly with the blue and red of the rest
of the purse. The doctor and his little girl were, as I have said,
delighted with the present; and they gave Emily, in return, a workbox
for herself, and a box of sugar-plums for her baby sister. The child
came back all flushed with the pleasure of the visit, and quite helped
to keep up her father's spirits with talking to him about it. So much
for the highly interesting history of the bead purse.

Toward the afternoon the light cart from the farmhouse came to fetch us
and our things to Appletreewick. It was quite a warm spring day, and
I had another pang to bear as I saw poor William helped into the cart,
looking so sickly and sad, with his miserable green shade, in the
cheerful sunlight. "God only knows, Leah, how this will succeed with
us," he said, as we started; then sighed, and fell silent again.

Just outside the town the doctor met us. "Good luck go with you!" he
cried, swinging his stick in his usual hasty way; "I shall come and see
you as soon as you are all settled at the farmhouse." "Good-by, sir,"
says Emily, struggling up with all her might among the bundles in the
bottom of the cart; "good-by, and thank you again for the work-box and
the sugar-plums." That was my child all over! she never wants telling.
The doctor kissed his hand, and gave another flourish with his stick. So
we parted.

How I should have enjoyed the drive if William could only have looked,
as I did, at the young firs on the heath bending beneath the steady
breeze; at the shadows flying over the smooth fields; at the high
white clouds moving on and on, in their grand airy procession over the
gladsome blue sky! It was a hilly road, and I begged the lad who drove
us not to press the horse; so we were nearly an hour, at our slow rate
of going, before we drew up at the gate of Appletreewick.

24th February to 2d March. - We have now been here long enough to know
something of the place and the people. First, as to the place: Where
the farmhouse now is, there was once a famous priory. The tower is still
standing, and the great room where the monks ate and drank - used at
present as a granary. The house itself seems to have been tacked on to
the ruins anyhow. No two rooms in it are on the same level. The children
do nothing but tumble about the passages, because there always happens
to be a step up or down, just at the darkest part of every one of them.
As for staircases, there seems to me to be one for each bedroom. I do
nothing but lose my way - and the farmer says, drolling, that he must
have sign-posts put up for me in every corner of the house from top to
bottom. On the ground-floor, besides the usual domestic offices, we have
the best parlor - a dark, airless, expensively furnished solitude, never
invaded by anybody; the kitchen, and a kind of hall, with a fireplace as
big as the drawing-room at our town lodgings. Here we live and take our
meals; here the children can racket about to their hearts' content; here
the dogs come lumbering in, whenever they can get loose; here wages are
paid, visitors are received, bacon is cured, cheese is tasted, pipes
are smoked, and naps are taken every evening by the male members of the
family. Never was such a comfortable, friendly dwelling-place devised as
this hall; I feel already as if half my life had been passed in it.

Out-of-doors, looking beyond the flower-garden, lawn, back yards,
pigeon-houses, and kitchen-gardens, we are surrounded by a network of
smooth grazing-fields, each shut off from the other by its neat hedgerow
and its sturdy gate. Beyond the fields the hills seem to flow away
gently from us into the far blue distance, till they are lost in the
bright softness of the sky. At one point, which we can see from our
bedroom windows, they dip suddenly into the plain, and show, over
the rich marshy flat, a strip of distant sea - a strip sometimes
blue, sometimes gray; sometimes, when the sun sets, a streak of fire;
sometimes, on showery days, a flash of silver light.

The inhabitants of the farmhouse have one great and rare merit - they are
people whom you can make friends with at once. Between not knowing them
at all, and knowing them well enough to shake hands at first sight,
there is no ceremonious interval or formal gradation whatever. They
received us, on our arrival, exactly as if we were old friends returned
from some long traveling expedition. Before we had been ten minutes in
the hall, William had the easiest chair and the snuggest corner; the
children were eating bread-and-jam on the window-seat; and I was talking
to the farmer's wife, with the cat on my lap, of the time when Emily had
the measles.

The family numbers seven, exclusive of the indoor servants, of course.
First came the farmer and his wife - he is a tall, sturdy, loud-voiced,
active old man - she the easiest, plumpest and gayest woman of sixty I
ever met with. They have three sons and two daughters. The two eldest
of the young men are employed on the farm; the third is a sailor, and is
making holiday-time of it just now at Appletreewick. The daughters
are pictures of health and freshness. I have but one complaint to make
against them - they are beginning to spoil the children already.

In this tranquil place, and among these genial, natural people, how
happily my time might be passed, were it not for the saddening sight
of William's affliction, and the wearing uncertainty of how we are to
provide for future necessities! It is a hard thing for my husband and
me, after having had the day made pleasant by kind words and friendly
offices, to feel this one anxious thought always forcing itself on us at
night: Shall we have the means of stopping in our new home in a month's
time?

3d. - A rainy day; the children difficult to manage; William miserably
despondent. Perhaps he influenced me, or perhaps I felt my little
troubles with the children more than usual: but, however it was, I have
not been so heavy-hearted since the day when my husband first put on the
green shade. A listless, hopeless sensation would steal over me; but why
write about it? Better to try and forget it. There is always to-morrow
to look to when to-day is at the worst.

4th. - To-morrow has proved worthy of the faith I put in it. Sunshine
again out-of-doors; and as clear and true a reflection of it in my own
heart as I can hope to have just at this time. Oh! that month, that one
poor month of respite! What are we to do at the end of the month?

5th. - I made my short entry for yesterday in the afternoon just before
tea-time, little thinking of events destined to happen with the evening
that would be really worth chronicling, for the sake of the excellent
results to which they are sure to lead. My tendency is to be too
sanguine about everything, I know; but I am, nevertheless, firmly
persuaded that I can see a new way out of our present difficulties - a
way of getting money enough to keep us all in comfort at the farmhouse
until William's eyes are well again.

The new project which is to relieve us from all uncertainties for the
next six months actually originated with _me!_ It has raised me many
inches higher in my own estimation already. If the doctor only agrees
with my view of the case when he comes to-morrow, William will allow
himself to be persuaded, I know; and then let them say what they please,
I will answer for the rest.

This is how the new idea first found its way into my head:

We had just done tea. William, in much better spirits than usual, was
talking with the young sailor, who is jocosely called here by the very
ugly name of "Foul-weather Dick." The farmer and his two eldest sons
were composing themselves on the oaken settles for their usual nap. The
dame was knitting, the two girls were beginning to clear the tea-table,
and I was darning the children's socks. To all appearance, this was not
a very propitious state of things for the creation of new ideas, and yet
my idea grew out of it, for all that. Talking with my husband on various
subjects connected with life in ships, the young sailor began giving us
a description of his hammock; telling us how it was slung; how it was
impossible to get into it any other way than "stern foremost" (whatever
that may mean); how the rolling of the ship made it rock like a cradle;
and how, on rough nights, it sometimes swayed to and fro at such a
rate as to bump bodily against the ship's side and wake him up with the
sensation of having just received a punch on the head from a remarkably
hard fist. Hearing all this, I ventured to suggest that it must be an
immense relief to him to sleep on shore in a good, motionless, solid
four-post bed. But, to my surprise, he scoffed at the idea; said he
never slept comfortably out of his hammock; declared that he quite
missed his occasional punch on the head from the ship's side; and ended
by giving a most comical account of all the uncomfortable sensations
he felt when he slept in a four-post bed. The odd nature of one of the
young sailor's objections to sleeping on shore reminded my husband
(as indeed it did me too) of the terrible story of a bed in a French
gambling-house, which he once heard from a gentleman whose likeness he
took.

"You're laughing at me," says honest Foul-weather Dick, seeing William
turn toward me and smile. - "No, indeed," says my husband; "that last
objection of yours to the four-post beds on shore seems by no means
ridiculous to _me,_ at any rate. I once knew a gentleman, Dick, who
practically realized your objection."

"Excuse me, sir," says Dick, after a pause, and with an appearance
of great bewilderment and curiosity; "but could you put 'practically



Online LibraryWilkie CollinsAfter Dark → online text (page 1 of 31)