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Produced by James Rusk





THE QUEEN OF HEARTS

By Wilkie Collins




LETTER OF DEDICATION.

TO

EMILE FORGUES.


AT a time when French readers were altogether unaware of the existence
of any books of my writing, a critical examination of my novels appeared
under your signature in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_. I read that
article, at the time of its appearance, with sincere pleasure and
sincere gratitude to the writer, and I have honestly done my best to
profit by it ever since.

At a later period, when arrangements were made for the publication of
my novels in Paris, you kindly undertook, at some sacrifice of your own
convenience, to give the first of the series - "The Dead Secret" - the
great advantage of being rendered into French by your pen. Your
excellent translation of "The Lighthouse" had already taught me how
to appreciate the value of your assistance; and when "The Dead Secret"
appeared in its French form, although I was sensibly gratified, I was by
no means surprised to find my fortunate work of fiction, not translated,
in the mechanical sense of the word, but transformed from a novel that
I had written in my language to a novel that you might have written in
yours.

I am now about to ask you to confer one more literary obligation on me
by accepting the dedication of this book, as the earliest acknowledgment
which it has been in my power to make of the debt I owe to my critic, to
my translator, and to my friend.

The stories which form the principal contents of the following pages
are all, more or less, exercises in that art which I have now studied
anxiously for some years, and which I still hope to cultivate, to
better and better purpose, for many more. Allow me, by inscribing the
collection to you, to secure one reader for it at the outset of its
progress through the world of letters whose capacity for seeing all a
writer's defects may be matched by many other critics, but whose rarer
faculty of seeing all a writer's merits is equaled by very few.

WILKIE COLLINS.




THE QUEEN OF HEARTS.



CHAPTER I. OURSELVES.

WE were three quiet, lonely old men, and SHE was a lively, handsome
young woman, and we were at our wits' end what to do with her.

A word about ourselves, first of all - a necessary word, to explain the
singular situation of our fair young guest.

We are three brothers; and we live in a barbarous, dismal old house
called The Glen Tower. Our place of abode stands in a hilly, lonesome
district of South Wales. No such thing as a line of railway runs
anywhere near us. No gentleman's seat is within an easy drive of us. We
are at an unspeakably inconvenient distance from a town, and the village
to which we send for our letters is three miles off.

My eldest brother, Owen, was brought up to the Church. All the prime of
his life was passed in a populous London parish. For more years than I
now like to reckon up, he worked unremittingly, in defiance of failing
health and adverse fortune, amid the multitudinous misery of the London
poor; and he would, in all probability, have sacrificed his life to his
duty long before the present time if The Glen Tower had not come into
his possession through two unexpected deaths in the elder and richer
branch of our family. This opening to him of a place of rest and refuge
saved his life. No man ever drew breath who better deserved the gifts
of fortune; for no man, I sincerely believe, more tender of others,
more diffident of himself, more gentle, more generous, and more
simple-hearted than Owen, ever walked this earth.

My second brother, Morgan, started in life as a doctor, and learned all
that his profession could teach him at home and abroad. He realized a
moderate independence by his practice, beginning in one of our large
northern towns and ending as a physician in London; but, although he was
well known and appreciated among his brethren, he failed to gain
that sort of reputation with the public which elevates a man into the
position of a great doctor. The ladies never liked him. In the first
place, he was ugly (Morgan will excuse me for mentioning this); in the
second place, he was an inveterate smoker, and he smelled of tobacco
when he felt languid pulses in elegant bedrooms; in the third place,
he was the most formidably outspoken teller of the truth as regarded
himself, his profession, and his patients, that ever imperiled the
social standing of the science of medicine. For these reasons, and for
others which it is not necessary to mention, he never pushed his way,
as a doctor, into the front ranks, and he never cared to do so. About
a year after Owen came into possession of The Glen Tower, Morgan
discovered that he had saved as much money for his old age as a sensible
man could want; that he was tired of the active pursuit - or, as he
termed it, of the dignified quackery of his profession; and that it was
only common charity to give his invalid brother a companion who could
physic him for nothing, and so prevent him from getting rid of his money
in the worst of all possible ways, by wasting it on doctors' bills. In
a week after Morgan had arrived at these conclusions, he was settled at
The Glen Tower; and from that time, opposite as their characters were,
my two elder brothers lived together in their lonely retreat, thoroughly
understanding, and, in their very different ways, heartily loving one
another.

Many years passed before I, the youngest of the three - christened by the
unmelodious name of Griffith - found my way, in my turn, to the dreary
old house, and the sheltering quiet of the Welsh hills. My career in
life had led me away from my brothers; and even now, when we are all
united, I have still ties and interests to connect me with the outer
world which neither Owen nor Morgan possess.

I was brought up to the Bar. After my first year's study of the law,
I wearied of it, and strayed aside idly into the brighter and more
attractive paths of literature. My occasional occupation with my pen was
varied by long traveling excursions in all parts of the Continent; year
by year my circle of gay friends and acquaintances increased, and I bade
fair to sink into the condition of a wandering desultory man, without
a fixed purpose in life of any sort, when I was saved by what has saved
many another in my situation - an attachment to a good and a sensible
woman. By the time I had reached the age of thirty-five, I had done what
neither of my brothers had done before me - I had married.

As a single man, my own small independence, aided by what little
additions to it I could pick up with my pen, had been sufficient for my
wants; but with marriage and its responsibilities came the necessity
for serious exertion. I returned to my neglected studies, and grappled
resolutely, this time, with the intricate difficulties of the law. I was
called to the Bar. My wife's father aided me with his interest, and I
started into practice without difficulty and without delay.

For the next twenty years my married life was a scene of happiness and
prosperity, on which I now look back with a grateful tenderness that
no words of mine can express. The memory of my wife is busy at my heart
while I think of those past times. The forgotten tears rise in my eyes
again, and trouble the course of my pen while it traces these simple
lines.

Let me pass rapidly over the one unspeakable misery of my life; let me
try to remember now, as I tried to remember then, that she lived to see
our only child - our son, who was so good to her, who is still so good to
me - grow up to manhood; that her head lay on my bosom when she died; and
that the last frail movement of her hand in this world was the movement
that brought it closer to her boy's lips.

I bore the blow - with God's help I bore it, and bear it still. But it
struck me away forever from my hold on social life; from the purposes
and pursuits, the companions and the pleasures of twenty years, which
her presence had sanctioned and made dear to me. If my son George had
desired to follow my profession, I should still have struggled against
myself, and have kept my place in the world until I had seen h im
prosperous and settled. But his choice led him to the army; and before
his mother's death he had obtained his commission, and had entered on
his path in life. No other responsibility remained to claim from me the
sacrifice of myself; my brothers had made my place ready for me by
their fireside; my heart yearned, in its desolation, for the friends and
companions of the old boyish days; my good, brave son promised that no
year should pass, as long as he was in England, without his coming
to cheer me; and so it happened that I, in my turn, withdrew from the
world, which had once been a bright and a happy world to me, and retired
to end my days, peacefully, contentedly, and gratefully, as my brothers
are ending theirs, in the solitude of The Glen Tower.

How many years have passed since we have all three been united it is not
necessary to relate. It will be more to the purpose if I briefly record
that we have never been separated since the day which first saw us
assembled together in our hillside retreat; that we have never yet
wearied of the time, of the place, or of ourselves; and that the
influence of solitude on our hearts and minds has not altered them for
the worse, for it has not embittered us toward our fellow-creatures, and
it has not dried up in us the sources from which harmless occupations
and innocent pleasures may flow refreshingly to the last over the
waste places of human life. Thus much for our own story, and for the
circumstances which have withdrawn us from the world for the rest of our
days.

And now imagine us three lonely old men, tall and lean, and
white-headed; dressed, more from past habit than from present
association, in customary suits of solemn black: Brother Owen, yielding,
gentle, and affectionate in look, voice, and manner; brother Morgan,
with a quaint, surface-sourness of address, and a tone of dry sarcasm in
his talk, which single him out, on all occasions, as a character in our
little circle; brother Griffith forming the link between his two elder
companions, capable, at one time, of sympathizing with the quiet,
thoughtful tone of Owen's conversation, and ready, at another, to
exchange brisk severities on life and manners with Morgan - in short,
a pliable, double-sided old lawyer, who stands between the
clergyman-brother and the physician-brother with an ear ready for each,
and with a heart open to both, share and share together.


Imagine the strange old building in which we live to be really what its
name implies - a tower standing in a glen; in past times the fortress of
a fighting Welsh chieftain; in present times a dreary land-lighthouse,
built up in many stories of two rooms each, with a little modern lean-to
of cottage form tacked on quaintly to one of its sides; the great hill,
on whose lowest slope it stands, rising precipitously behind it; a dark,
swift-flowing stream in the valley below; hills on hills all round, and
no way of approach but by one of the loneliest and wildest crossroads in
all South Wales.

Imagine such a place of abode as this, and such inhabitants of it
as ourselves, and them picture the descent among us - as of a goddess
dropping from the clouds - of a lively, handsome, fashionable young
lady - a bright, gay, butterfly creature, used to flutter away its
existence in the broad sunshine of perpetual gayety - a child of the new
generation, with all the modern ideas whirling together in her pretty
head, and all the modern accomplishments at the tips of her delicate
fingers. Imagine such a light-hearted daughter of Eve as this, the
spoiled darling of society, the charming spendthrift of Nature's
choicest treasures of beauty and youth, suddenly flashing into the dim
life of three weary old men - suddenly dropped into the place, of all
others, which is least fit for her - suddenly shut out from the world
in the lonely quiet of the loneliest home in England. Realize, if it
be possible, all that is most whimsical and most anomalous in such a
situation as this, and the startling confession contained in the opening
sentence of these pages will no longer excite the faintest emotion
of surprise. Who can wonder now, when our bright young goddess really
descended on us, that I and my brothers were all three at our wits' end
what to do with her!



CHAPTER II. OUR DILEMMA.

WHO is the young lady? And how did she find her way into The Glen Tower?

Her name (in relation to which I shall have something more to say a
little further on) is Jessie Yelverton. She is an orphan and an only
child. Her mother died while she was an infant; her father was my dear
and valued friend, Major Yelverton. He lived long enough to celebrate
his darling's seventh birthday. When he died he intrusted his authority
over her and his responsibility toward her to his brother and to me.

When I was summoned to the reading of the major's will, I knew perfectly
well that I should hear myself appointed guardian and executor with
his brother; and I had been also made acquainted with my lost friend's
wishes as to his daughter's education, and with his intentions as to the
disposal of all his property in her favor. My own idea, therefore, was,
that the reading of the will would inform me of nothing which I had
not known in the testator's lifetime. When the day came for hearing
it, however, I found that I had been over hasty in arriving at this
conclusion. Toward the end of the document there was a clause inserted
which took me entirely by surprise.

After providing for the education of Miss Yelverton under the direction
of her guardians, and for her residence, under ordinary circumstances,
with the major's sister, Lady Westwick, the clause concluded by saddling
the child's future inheritance with this curious condition:

From the period of her leaving school to the period of her reaching the
age of twenty-one years, Miss Yelverton was to pass not less than six
consecutive weeks out of every year under the roof of one of her two
guardians. During the lives of both of them, it was left to her own
choice to say which of the two she would prefer to live with. In all
other respects the condition was imperative. If she forfeited it,
excepting, of course, the case of the deaths of both her guardians, she
was only to have a life-interest in the property; if she obeyed it,
the money itself was to become her own possession on the day when she
completed her twenty-first year.

This clause in the will, as I have said, took me at first by surprise.
I remembered how devotedly Lady Westwick had soothed her sister-in-law's
death-bed sufferings, and how tenderly she had afterward watched over
the welfare of the little motherless child - I remembered the innumerable
claims she had established in this way on her brother's confidence in
her affection for his orphan daughter, and I was, therefore, naturally
amazed at the appearance of a condition in his will which seemed to
show a positive distrust of Lady Westwick's undivided influence over the
character and conduct of her niece.

A few words from my fellow-guardian, Mr. Richard Yelverton, and a little
after-consideration of some of my deceased friend's peculiarities of
disposition and feeling, to which I had not hitherto attached sufficient
importance, were enough to make me understand the motives by which he
had been influenced in providing for the future of his child.

Major Yelverton had raised himself to a position of affluence and
eminence from a very humble origin. He was the son of a small farmer,
and it was his pride never to forget this circumstance, never to be
ashamed of it, and never to allow the prejudices of society to influence
his own settled opinions on social questions in general.

Acting, in all that related to his intercourse with the world, on such
principles as these, the major, it is hardly necessary to say, held some
strangely heterodox opinions on the modern education of girls, and on
the evil influence of society over the characters of women in general.
Out of the strength of those opinions, and out of the certainty of his
conviction that his sister did not share them, had grown that condition
in his will which removed his daughter from the influence of her aunt
for six consecutive weeks in every year. Lady Westwick was the most
light-hearted, the most generous, the most impulsive of women; capable,
when any serious occasion called it forth, of all that was devoted and
self-sacrificing, but, at other and ordinary times, constitutionally
restless, frivolous, and eager for perpetual gayety. Distrusting the
sort of life which he knew his daughter would lead under her aunt's
roof, and at the same time gratefully remembering his sister's
affectionate devotion toward his dying wife and her helpless infant,
Major Yelverton had attempted to make a compromise, which, while it
allowed Lady Westwick the close domestic intercourse with her niece that
she had earned by innumerable kind offices, should, at the same time,
place the young girl for a fixed period of every year of her minority
under the corrective care of two such quiet old-fashioned guardians as
his brother and myself. Such is the history of the clause in the will.
My friend little thought, when he dictated it, of the extraordinary
result to which it was one day to lead.

For some years, however, events ran on smoothly enough. Little Jessie
was sent to an excellent school, with strict instructions to the
mistress to make a good girl of her, and not a fashionable young lady.
Although she was reported to be anything but a pattern pupil in respect
of attention to her lessons, she became from the first the chosen
favorite of every one about her. The very offenses which she committed
against the discipline of the school were of the sort which provoke a
smile even on the stern countenance of authority itself. One of these
quaint freaks of mischief may not inappropriately be mentioned here,
inasmuch as it gained her the pretty nickname under which she will be
found to appear occasionally in these pages.

On a certain autumn night shortly after the Midsummer vacation, the
mistress of the school fancied she saw a light under the door of the
bedroom occupied by Jessie and three other girls. It was then close
on midnight; and, fearing that some case of sudden illness might
have happened, she hastened into the room. On opening the door, she
discovered, to her horror and amazement, that all four girls were out
of bed - were dressed in brilliantly-fantastic costumes, representing the
four grotesque "Queens" of Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, and Clubs, familiar
to us all on the pack of cards - and were dancing a quadrille, in
which Jessie sustained the character of The Queen of Hearts. The next
morning's investigation disclosed that Miss Yelverton had smuggled the
dresses into the school, and had amused herself by giving an impromptu
fancy ball to her companions, in imitation of an entertainment of the
same kind at which she had figured in a "court-card" quadrille at her
aunt's country house.

The dresses were instantly confiscated and the necessary punishment
promptly administered; but the remembrance of Jessie's extraordinary
outrage on bedroom discipline lasted long enough to become one of
the traditions of the school, and she and her sister-culprits were
thenceforth hailed as the "queens" of the four "suites" by their
class-companions whenever the mistress's back was turned, Whatever might
have become of the nicknames thus employed in relation to the
other three girls, such a mock title as The Queen of Hearts was too
appropriately descriptive of the natural charm of Jessie's character,
as well as of the adventure in which she had taken the lead, not to rise
naturally to the lips of every one who knew her. It followed her to her
aunt's house - it came to be as habitually and familiarly connected with
her, among her friends of all ages, as if it had been formally inscribed
on her baptismal register; and it has stolen its way into these pages
because it falls from my pen naturally and inevitably, exactly as it
often falls from my lips in real life.

When Jessie left school the first difficulty presented itself - in other
words, the necessity arose of fulfilling the conditions of the will. At
that time I was already settled at The Glen Tower, and her living six
weeks in our dismal solitude and our humdrum society was, as she herself
frankly wrote me word, quite out of the question. Fortunately, she had
always got on well with her uncle and his family; so she exerted her
liberty of choice, and, much to her own relief and to mine also, passed
her regular six weeks of probation, year after year, under Mr. Richard
Yelverton's roof.

During this period I heard of her regularly, sometimes from my
fellow-guardian, sometimes from my son George, who, whenever his
military duties allowed him the opportunity, contrived to see her, now
at her aunt's house, and now at Mr. Yelverton's. The particulars of her
character and conduct, which I gleaned in this way, more than sufficed
to convince me that the poor major's plan for the careful training
of his daughter's disposition, though plausible enough in theory, was
little better than a total failure in practice. Miss Jessie, to use the
expressive common phrase, took after her aunt. She was as generous, as
impulsive, as light-hearted, as fond of change, and gayety, and fine
clothes - in short, as complete and genuine a woman as Lady Westwick
herself. It was impossible to reform the "Queen of Hearts," and equally
impossible not to love her. Such, in few words, was my fellow-guardian's
report of his experience of our handsome young ward.

So the time passed till the year came of which I am now writing - the
ever-memorable year, to England, of the Russian war. It happened that
I had heard less than usual at this period, and indeed for many months
before it, of Jessie and her proceedings. My son had been ordered out
with his regiment to the Crimea in 1854, and had other work in hand
now than recording the sayings and doings of a young lady. Mr. Richard
Yelverton, who had been hitherto used to write to me with tolerable
regularity, seemed now, for some reason that I could not conjecture, to
have forgotten my existence. Ultimately I was reminded of my ward by one
of George's own letters, in which he asked for news of her; and I wrote
at once to Mr. Yelverton. The answer that reached me was written by his
wife: he was dangerously ill. The next letter that came informed me of
his death. This happened early in the spring of the year 1855.

I am ashamed to confess it, but the change in my own position was the
first idea that crossed my mind when I read the news of Mr. Yelverton's
death. I was now left sole guardian, and Jessie Yelverton wanted a year
still of coming of age.

By the next day's post I wrote to her about the altered state of the
relations between us. She was then on the Continent with her aunt,
having gone abroad at the very beginning of the year. Consequently,
so far as eighteen hundred and fifty-five was concerned, the condition
exacted by the will yet remained to be performed. She had still six
weeks to pass - her last six weeks, seeing that she was now twenty years
old - under the roof of one of her guardians, and I was now the only
guardian left.

In due course of time I received my answer, written on rose-colored
paper, and expressed throughout in a tone of light, easy, feminine
banter, which amused me in spite of myself. Miss Jessie, according to
her own account, was hesitating, on receipt of my letter, between two
alternatives - the one, of allowing herself to be buried six weeks in The
Glen Tower; the other, of breaking the condition, giving up the money,
and remaining magnanimously contented with nothing but a life-interest
in her father's property. At present she inclined decidedly toward
giving up the money and escaping the clutches of "the three horrid old
men;" but she would let me know again if she happened to change
her mind. And so, with best love, she would beg to remain always
affectionately mine, as long as she was well out of my reach.

The summer passed, the autumn came, and I never heard from her again.
Under ordinary circumstances, this long silence might have made me feel
a little uneasy. But news reached me about this time from the Crimea
that my son was wounded - not dangerously, thank God, but still severely
enough to be la id up - and all my anxieties were now centered in that
direction. By the beginning of September, however, I got better accounts



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