After DarkWilkie Collins
Produced by James Rusk
By Wilkie Collins
PREFACE TO "AFTER DARK."
I have taken some pains to string together the various stories containedin 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 fulfillanother purpose besides that of serving as the frame-work for mycollection of tales. In this part of the book, and subsequently in thePrologues to the stories, it has been my object to give the reader onemore glimpse at that artist-life which circumstances have afforded mepeculiar opportunities of studying, and which I have already tried torepresent, under another aspect, in my fiction, "Hide-and-Seek." Thistime I wish to ask some sympathy for the joys and sorrows of a poortraveling portrait-painter--presented from his wife's point of viewin "Leah's Diary," and supposed to be briefly and simply narrated byhimself in the Prologues to the stories. I have purposely kept thesetwo portions of the book within certain limits; only giving, in theone case, as much as the wife might naturally write in her diary atintervals of household leisure; and, in the other, as much as a modestand sensible man would be likely to say about himself and about thecharacters he met with in his wanderings. If I have been so fortunate asto make my idea intelligible by this brief and simple mode of treatment,and if I have, at the same time, achieved the necessary object ofgathering several separate stories together as neatly-fitting parts ofone complete whole, I shall have succeeded in a design which I have forsome time past been very anxious creditably to fulfill.
Of the tales themselves, taken individually, I have only to say, byway of necessary explanation, that "The Lady of Glenwith Grange" is nowoffered to the reader for the first time; and that the other storieshave appeared in the columns of _Household Words_. My best thanks aredue to Mr. Charles Dickens for his kindness in allowing me to set themin their present frame-work.
I must also gratefully acknowledge an obligation of another kind to theaccomplished artist, Mr. W. S. Herrick, to whom I am indebted forthe curious and interesting facts on which the tales of "The TerriblyStrange Bed" and "The Yellow Mask" are founded.
Although the statement may appear somewhat superfluous to those who knowme, it may not be out of place to add, in conclusion, that these storiesare entirely of my own imagining, constructing, and writing. The factthat the events of some of my tales occur on foreign ground, and areacted out by foreign personages, appears to have suggested in somequarters the inference that the stories themselves might be of foreignorigin. Let me, once for all, assure any readers who may honor me withtheir attention, that in this, and in all other cases, they may dependon the genuineness of my literary offspring. The little children of mybrain may be weakly enough, and may be sadly in want of a helping handto aid them in their first attempts at walking on the stage of thisgreat world; but, at any rate, they are not borrowed children. Themembers of my own literary family are indeed increasing so fast as torender the very idea of borrowing quite out of the question, and tosuggest serious apprehension that I may not have done adding to thelarge book-population, on my own sole responsibility, even yet.
LEAVES FROM LEAH'S DIARY.
26th February, 1827.--The doctor has just called for the third time toexamine my husband's eyes. Thank God, there is no fear at present of mypoor William losing his sight, provided he can be prevailed on toattend rigidly to the medical instructions for preserving it. Theseinstructions, which forbid him to exercise his profession for the nextsix months at least, are, in our case, very hard to follow. They willbut too probably sentence us to poverty, perhaps to actual want; butthey must be borne resignedly, and even thankfully, seeing that myhusband's forced cessation from work will save him from the dreadfulaffliction of loss of sight. I think I can answer for my owncheerfulness and endurance, now that we know the worst. Can I answer forour children also? Surely I can, when there are only two of them. It isa 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 aswell 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 sometimesdeceive their patients, from what has always seemed to me to bemisdirected kindness of heart. The mere suspicion that I had beentrifled with on the subject of my husband's illness, caused me suchuneasiness, that I made an excuse to get out, and went in secret to thedoctor. Fortunately, I found him at home, and in three words I confessedto 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 sixmonths my husband must allow his eyes to have the most perfect repose?"
"Exactly," the doctor answered. "Mind, I don't say that he may notdispense with his green shade, indoors, for an hour or two at a time, asthe inflammation gets subdued. But I do most positively repeat that hemust not _employ_ his eyes. He must not touch a brush or pencil; he mustnot think of taking another likeness, on any consideration whatever, forthe 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 allthe 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 ourneighborhood."
"I know you did, sir," I replied. "But what was a poor travelingportrait-painter like my husband, who lives by taking likenesses firstin one place and then in another, to do? Our bread depended on his usinghis 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 getby portrait-painting?" asked the doctor.
"None," I answered, with a sinking at my heart as I thought of his billfor 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 thepractice of his profession? Don't," he went on anxiously, before Icould reply--"pray don't think I make this inquiry from a motive ofimpertinent curiosity!"
I felt quite satisfied that he could have no improper motive for askingthe question, and so answered it at once plainly and truly.
"My husband makes but a small income," I said. "Famous Londonportrait-painters get great prices from their sitters; but poor unknownartists, who only travel about the country, are obliged to work hard andbe contented with very small gains. After we have paid all that we owehere, I am afraid we shall have little enough left to retire on, when wetake refuge in some cheaper place."
"In that case," said the good doctor (I am so glad and proud to rememberthat I always liked him from the first!), "in that case, don't makeyourself anxious about my bill when you are thinking of clearing offyour debts here. I can afford to wait till Mr. Kerby's eyes are wellagain, 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 perfectlysatisfied."
He considerately shook hands and bade me farewell before I could sayhalf the grateful words to him that were on my lips. Never, never shallI forget that he relieved me of my two heaviest anxieties at the mostanxious time of my life. The merciful, warm-hearted man! I could almosthave 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 lookonly at the cheerful side of things for the future, the events ofto-day would have robbed me of all my courage, at the very outset ofour troubles. First, there was the casting up of our bills, and thediscovery, when the amount of them was balanced against al
l the moneywe have saved up, that we shall only have between three and four poundsleft in the cash-box, after we have got out of debt. Then there was thesad necessity of writing letters in my husband's name to the rich peoplewho were ready to employ him, telling them of the affliction that hadovertaken him, and of the impossibility of his executing their ordersfor portraits for the next six months to come. And, lastly, there wasthe heart-breaking business for me to go through of giving our landlordwarning, just as we had got comfortably settled in our new abode. IfWilliam could only have gone on with his work, we might have stopped inthis town, and in these clean, comfortable lodgings for at least threeor 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 sopleasant to deal with in the kitchen as the landlady here. And now wemust leave all this comfort and happiness, and go--I hardly know where.William, in his bitterness, says to the workhouse; but that shall neverbe, if I have to go out to service to prevent it. The darkness is comingon, 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 itbegan; and that was in the morning, when I set my little Emily to workon a bead purse for the kind doctor's daughter. My child, young asshe is, is wonderfully neat-handed at stringing beads; and even a poorlittle empty purse as a token of our gratitude, is better than nothingat 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 weregetting on as well as can be hoped at present, he asked where we thoughtof going to live? I said in the cheapest place we could find, and addedthat I was about to make inquiries in the by-streets of the town thatvery day. "Put off those inquiries," he said, "till you hear from meagain. I am going now to see a patient at a farmhouse five milesoff. (You needn't look at the children, Mrs. Kerby, it's nothinginfectious--only a clumsy lad, who has broken his collarbone by a fallfrom a horse.) They receive lodgers occasionally at the farmhouse, andI know no reason why they should not be willing to receive you. If youwant to be well housed and well fed at a cheap rate, and if you like thesociety of honest, hearty people, the farm of Appletreewick is the veryplace for you. Don't thank me till you know whether I can get youthese new lodgings or not. And in the meantime settle all your businessaffairs here, so as to be able to move at a moment's notice." With thosewords the kind-hearted gentleman nodded and went out. Pray heaven he maysucceed at the farmhouse! We may be sure of the children's health, atleast, if we live in the country. Talking of the children, I must notomit to record that Emily has nearly done one end of the bead pursealready.
20th.--A note from the doctor, who is too busy to call. Such goodnews! They will give us two bedrooms, and board us with the family atAppletreewick for seventeen shillings a week. By my calculations, weshall have three pounds sixteen shillings left, after paying what we owehere. That will be enough, at the outset, for four weeks' living at thefarmhouse, with eight shillings to spare besides. By embroidery-work Ican easily make nine shillings more to put to that, and there is a fifthweek provided for. Surely, in five weeks' time--considering the numberof things I can turn my hand to--we may hit on some plan for getting alittle 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 lightheartedview of the future as I do. He says that the prospect of sittingidle and being kept by his wife for months to come, is something morewretched and hopeless than words can describe. I try to raise hisspirits by reminding him of his years of honest hard work for me andthe children, and of the doctor's assurance that his eyes will get thebetter, in good time, of their present helpless state. But he stillsighs and murmurs--being one of the most independent and high spiritedof men--about living a burden on his wife. I can only answer, what in myheart of hearts I feel, that I took him for Better and for Worse; thatI have had many years of the Better, and that, even in our presenttrouble, the Worse shows no signs of coming yet!
The bead purse is getting on fast. Red and blue, in a pretty stripedpattern.
21st.--A busy day. We go to Appletreewick to-morrow. Paying bills andpacking up. All poor William's new canvases and painting-things huddledtogether into a packing-case. He looked so sad, sitting silent withhis green shade on, while his old familiar working materials weredisappearing around him, as if he and they were never to come togetheragain, that the tears would start into my eyes, though I am sure Iam not one of the crying sort. Luckily, the green shade kept him fromseeing 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 tasselsfor it? I am not justified now in spending sixpence unnecessarily, evenfor the best of purposes.
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 upfor 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 breakfastwas over I began the day by making Emily as smart and nice-looking as Icould, to go to the doctor's with the purse. She had her best silk frockon, showing the mending a little in some places, I am afraid, and herstraw hat trimmed with my bonnet ribbon. Her father's neck-scarf, turnedand 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 tobe regretted I had no gloves for her). They were delighted with thepurse--which I ought to mention was finished with some white beads; wefound them in rummaging among our boxes, and they made beautiful ringsand tassels, contrasting charmingly with the blue and red of the restof the purse. The doctor and his little girl were, as I have said,delighted with the present; and they gave Emily, in return, a workboxfor herself, and a box of sugar-plums for her baby sister. The childcame back all flushed with the pleasure of the visit, and quite helpedto keep up her father's spirits with talking to him about it. So muchfor the highly interesting history of the bead purse.
Toward the afternoon the light cart from the farmhouse came to fetch usand our things to Appletreewick. It was quite a warm spring day, andI 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 thecheerful sunlight. "God only knows, Leah, how this will succeed withus," he said, as we started; then sighed, and fell silent again.
Just outside the town the doctor met us. "Good luck go with you!" hecried, swinging his stick in his usual hasty way; "I shall come and seeyou 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 thebottom of the cart; "good-by, and thank you again for the work-box andthe sugar-plums." That was my child all over! she never wants telling.The doctor kissed his hand, and gave another flourish with his stick. Sowe 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 steadybreeze; at the shadows flying over the smooth fields; at the highwhite clouds moving on and on, in their grand airy procession over thegladsome blue sky! It was a hilly road, and I begged the lad who droveus not to press the horse; so we were nearly an hour, at our slow rateof going, before we drew up at the gate of Appletreewick.
24th February to 2d March.--We have now been here long enough to knowsomething of the place and the people. First, as to the place: Wherethe farmhouse now is, there was once a famous priory. The tower is stillstanding, and the great room where the monks ate and drank--used atpresent as a granary. The house itself seems to have been tacked on tothe ruins anyhow. No two rooms in it are on the same level. The childrendo nothing but tumble about the passages, because there always happensto be a step up or dow
n, just at the darkest part of every one of them.As for staircases, there seems to me to be one for each bedroom. I donothing but lose my way--and the farmer says, drolling, that he musthave sign-posts put up for me in every corner of the house from top tobottom. On the ground-floor, besides the usual domestic offices, we havethe best parlor--a dark, airless, expensively furnished solitude, neverinvaded by anybody; the kitchen, and a kind of hall, with a fireplace asbig as the drawing-room at our town lodgings. Here we live and take ourmeals; here the children can racket about to their hearts' content; herethe dogs come lumbering in, whenever they can get loose; here wages arepaid, visitors are received, bacon is cured, cheese is tasted, pipesare smoked, and naps are taken every evening by the male members of thefamily. Never was such a comfortable, friendly dwelling-place devised asthis 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 ofsmooth grazing-fields, each shut off from the other by its neat hedgerowand its sturdy gate. Beyond the fields the hills seem to flow awaygently from us into the far blue distance, till they are lost in thebright softness of the sky. At one point, which we can see from ourbedroom windows, they dip suddenly into the plain, and show, overthe rich marshy flat, a strip of distant sea--a strip sometimesblue, 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 arepeople whom you can make friends with at once. Between not knowing themat all, and knowing them well enough to shake hands at first sight,there is no ceremonious interval or formal gradation whatever. Theyreceived us, on our arrival, exactly as if we were old friends returnedfrom some long traveling expedition. Before we had been ten minutes inthe hall, William had the easiest chair and the snuggest corner; thechildren were eating bread-and-jam on the window-seat; and I was talkingto the farmer's wife, with the cat on my lap, of the time when Emily hadthe 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 Iever met with. They have three sons and two daughters. The two eldestof the young men are employed on the farm; the third is a sailor, and ismaking holiday-time of it just now at Appletreewick. The daughtersare pictures of health and freshness. I have but one complaint to makeagainst them--they are beginning to spoil the children already.
In this tranquil place, and among these genial, natural people, howhappily my time might be passed, were it not for the saddening sightof William's affliction, and the wearing uncertainty of how we are toprovide for future necessities! It is a hard thing for my husband andme, after having had the day made pleasant by kind words and friendlyoffices, to feel this one anxious thought always forcing itself on us atnight: Shall we have the means of stopping in our new home in a month'stime?
3d.--A rainy day; the children difficult to manage; William miserablydespondent. Perhaps he influenced me, or perhaps I felt my littletroubles with the children more than usual: but, however it was, I havenot been so heavy-hearted since the day when my husband first put on thegreen shade. A listless, hopeless sensation would steal over me; but whywrite about it? Better to try and forget it. There is always to-morrowto look to when to-day is at the worst.
4th.--To-morrow has proved worthy of the faith I put in it. Sunshineagain out-of-doors; and as clear and true a reflection of it in my ownheart as I can hope to have just at this time. Oh! that month, that onepoor 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 beforetea-time, little thinking of events destined to happen with the eveningthat would be really worth chronicling, for the sake of the excellentresults to which they are sure to lead. My tendency is to be toosanguine about everything, I know; but I am, nevertheless, firmlypersuaded that I can see a new way out of our present difficulties--away of getting money enough to keep us all in comfort at the farmhouseuntil William's eyes are well again.
The new project which is to relieve us from all uncertainties for thenext six months actually originated with _me!_ It has raised me manyinches higher in my own estimation already. If the doctor only agreeswith my view of the case when he comes to-morrow, William will allowhimself 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, wastalking with the young sailor, who is jocosely called here by the veryugly name of "Foul-weather Dick." The farmer and his two eldest sonswere composing themselves on the oaken settles for their usual nap. Thedame 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 nota very propitious state of things for the creation of new ideas, and yetmy idea grew out of it, for all that. Talking with my husband on varioussubjects connected with life in ships, the young sailor began giving usa description of his hammock; telling us how it was slung; how it wasimpossible to get into it any other way than "stern foremost" (whateverthat 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 arate as to bump bodily against the ship's side and wake him up with thesensation of having just received a punch on the head from a remarkablyhard fist. Hearing all this, I ventured to suggest that it must be animmense relief to him to sleep on shore in a good, motionless, solidfour-post bed. But, to my surprise, he scoffed at the idea; said henever slept comfortably out of his hammock; declared that he quitemissed his occasional punch on the head from the ship's side; and endedby giving a most comical account of all the uncomfortable sensationshe felt when he slept in a four-post bed. The odd nature of one of theyoung 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 Frenchgambling-house, which he once heard from a gentleman whose likeness hetook.
"You're laughing at me," says honest Foul-weather Dick, seeing Williamturn toward me and smile.--"No, indeed," says my husband; "that lastobjection of yours to the four-post beds on shore seems by no meansridiculous to _me,_ at any rate. I once knew a gentleman, Dick, whopractically realized your objection."
"Excuse me, sir," says Dick, after a pause, and with an appearanceof great bewilderment and curiosity; "but could you put 'practicallyrealized' into plain English, so that a poor man like me might have achance of understanding you?"--"Certainly!" says my husband, laughing."I mean that I once knew a gentleman who actually saw and felt what yousay in jest you are afraid of seeing and feeling whenever you sleep in afour-post bed. Do you understand that?" Foul-weather Dick understood itperfectly, and begged with great eagerness to hear what the gentleman'sadventure really was. The dame, who had been listening to our talk,backed her son's petition; the two girls sat down expectant at thehalf-cleared tea-table; even the farmer and his drowsy sons rousedthemselves lazily on the settle--my husband saw that he stood fairlycommitted to the relation of the story, so he told it without more ado.
I have often heard him relate that strange adventure (William is thebest teller of a story I ever met with) to friends of all ranks in manydifferent parts of England, and I never yet knew it fail of producing aneffect. The farmhouse audience were, I may almost say, petrified by it.I never before saw people look so long in the same direction, and sitso long in the same attitude, as they did. Even the servants stole awayfrom their work in the kitchen, and, unrebuked by master or mistress,stood quite spell-bound in the doorway to listen. Observing all this insilence, while my husband was going on with his narrative, the thoughtsuddenly flashed across me, "Why should William not get a wider audiencefor that story, as well as for others which he has heard from timeto time from his sitters, and which he has hit
herto only repeated inprivate among a few friends? People tell stories in books and get moneyfor them. What if we told our stories in a book? and what if the booksold? Why freedom, surely, from the one great anxiety that is nowpreying on us! Money enough to stop at the farmhouse till William's eyesare fit for work again!" I almost jumped up from my chair as my thoughtwent on shaping itself in this manner. When great men make wonderfuldiscoveries, do they feel sensations like mine, I wonder? Was Sir IsaacNewton within an ace of skipping into the air when he first found outthe law of gravitation? Did Friar Bacon long to dance when he lit thematch and heard the first charge of gunpowder in the world go off with abang?
I had to put a strong constraint on myself, or I should havecommunicated all that was passing in my mind to William before ourfriends at the farmhouse. But I knew it was best to wait until we werealone, and I did wait. What a relief it was when we all got up at lastto say good-night!
The moment we were in our own room, I could not stop to take so much asa pin out of my dress before I began. "My dear," said I, "I never heardyou tell that gambling-house adventure so well before. What an effect ithad upon our friends! what an effect, indeed, it always has wherever youtell it!"
So far he did not seem to take much notice. He just nodded, and began topour out some of the lotion in which he always bathes his poor eyes thelast thing at night.
"And as for that, William," I went on, "all your stories seem tointerest people. What a number you have picked up, first and last,from different sitters, in the fifteen years of your practice as aportrait-painter! Have you any idea how many stories you really doknow?"
No: he could not undertake to say how many just then. He gave thisanswer in a very indifferent tone, dabbing away all the time at his eyeswith the sponge and lotion. He did it so awkwardly and roughly, as itseemed to me, that I took the sponge from him and applied the lotiontenderly myself.
"Do you think," said I, "if you turned over one of your storiescarefully in your mind beforehand--say the one you told to-night,for example--that you could repeat it all to me so perfectly anddeliberately that I should be able to take it down in writing from yourlips?"
Yes: of course he could. But why ask that question?
"Because I should like to have all the stories that you have been in thehabit of relating to our friends set down fairly in writing, by way ofpreserving them from ever being forgotten."
Would I bathe his left eye now, because that felt the hottest to-night?I began to forbode that his growing indifference to what I was sayingwould soon end in his fairly going to sleep before I had developedmy new idea, unless I took some means forthwith of stimulating hiscuriosity, or, in other words, of waking him into a proper state ofastonishment and attention. "William," said I, without another syllableof preface, "I have got a new plan for finding all the money we want forour expenses here."
He jerked his head up directly, and looked at me. What plan?
"This: The state of your eyes prevents you for the present fromfollowing your profession as an artist, does it not? Very well. What areyou to do with your idle time, my dear? Turn author! And how are you toget the money we want? By publishing a book!"
"Good gracious, Leah! are you out of your senses?" he exclaimed.
I put my arm round his neck and sat down on his knee (the course Ialways take when I want to persuade him to anything with as few words aspossible).
"Now, William, listen patiently to me," I said. "An artist lies underthis great disadvantage in case of accidents--his talents are of noservice to him unless he can use his eyes and fingers. An author, onthe other hand, can turn his talents to account just as well by means ofother people's eyes and fingers as by means of his own. In your presentsituation, therefore, you have nothing for it, as I said before, butto turn author. Wait! and hear me out. The book I want you to make is abook of all your stories. You shall repeat them, and I will write themdown from your dictation. Our manuscript shall be printed; we will sellthe book to the public, and so support ourselves honorably in adversity,by doing the best we can to interest and amuse others."
While I was saying all this--I suppose in a very excitable manner--myhusband looked, as our young sailor-friend would phrase it, quite _takenaback._ "You were always quick at contriving, Leah," he said; "but howin the world came you to think of this plan?"
"I thought of it while you were telling them the gambling-houseadventure downstairs," I answered.
"It is an ingenious idea, and a bold idea," he went on, thoughtfully."But it is one thing to tell a story to a circle of friends, and anotherthing to put it into a printed form for an audience of strangers.Consider, my dear, that we are neither of us used to what is calledwriting for the press."
"Very true," said I, "but nobody is used to it when they first begin,and yet plenty of people have tried the hazardous literary experimentsuccessfully. Besides, in our case, we have the materials ready to ourhands; surely we can succeed in shaping them presentably if we aim atnothing but the simple truth."
"Who is to do the eloquent descriptions and the striking reflections,and all that part of it?" said William, perplexedly shaking his head.
"Nobody!" I replied. "The eloquent descriptions and the strikingreflections are just the parts of a story-book that people never read.Whatever we do, let us not, if we can possibly help it, write so muchas a single sentence that can be conveniently skipped. Come! come!"I continued, seeing him begin to shake his head again; "no moreobjections, William, I am too certain of the success of my plan toendure them. If you still doubt, let us refer the new project to acompetent arbitrator. The doctor is coming to see you to-morrow. I willtell him all that I have told you; and if you will promise on your side,I will engage on mine to be guided entirely by his opinion."
William smiled, and readily gave the promise. This was all I wanted tosend me to bed in the best spirits. For, of course, I should never havethought of mentioning the doctor as an arbitrator, if I had not knownbeforehand that he was sure to be on my side.
6th.--The arbitrator has shown that he deserved my confidence in him. Heranked himself entirely on my side before I had half done explainingto him what my new project really was. As to my husband's doubtsand difficulties, the dear good man would not so much as hear themmentioned. "No objections," he cried, gayly; "set to work, Mr. Kerby,and make your fortune. I always said your wife was worth her weight ingold--and here she is now, all ready to get into the bookseller's scalesand prove it. Set to work! set to work!"
"With all my heart," said William, beginning at last to catch theinfection of our enthusiasm. "But when my part of the work and my wife'shas been completed, what are we to do with the produce of our labor?"
"Leave that to me," answered the doctor. "Finish your book and sendit to my house; I will show it at once to the editor of our countrynewspaper. He has plenty of literary friends in London, and he will bejust the man to help you. By-the-by," added the doctor, addressing me,"you think of everything, Mrs. Kerby; pray have you thought of a nameyet for the new book?"
At that question it was my turn to be "taken aback." The idea of namingthe book had never once entered my head.
"A good title is of vast importance," said the doctor, knitting hisbrows thoughtfully. "We must all think about that. What shall it be? eh,Mrs. Kerby, what shall it be?"
"Perhaps something may strike us after we have fairly set to work," myhusband suggested. "Talking of work," he continued, turning to me, "howare you to find time, Leah, with your nursery occupations, for writingdown all the stories as I tell them?"
"I have been thinking of that this morning," said I, "and have come tothe conclusion that I shall have but little leisure to write from yourdictation in the day-time. What with dressing and washing the children,teaching them, giving them their meals, taking them out to walk, andkeeping them amused at home--to say nothing of sitting sociably at workwith the dame and her two girls in the afternoon--I am afraid I shallhave few opportunities of doing my part of the book between breakfastand tea
-time. But when the children are in bed, and the farmer and hisfamily are reading or dozing, I should have at least three unoccupiedhours to spare. So, if you don't mind putting off our working-time tillafter dark--"
"There's the title!" shouted the doctor, jumping out of his chair as ifhe had been shot.
"Where?" cried I, looking all round me in the surprise of the moment,as if I had expected to see the title magically inscribed for us on thewalls of the room.
"In your last words, to be sure!" rejoined the doctor. "You said justnow that you would not have leisure to write from Mr. Kerby's dictationtill _after dark._ What can we do better than name the book after thetime when the book is written? Call it boldly, _After dark._ Stop!before anybody says a word for or against it, let us see how the namelooks on paper."
I opened my writing-desk in a great flutter. The doctor selected thelargest sheet of paper and the broadest-nibbed pen he could find, andwrote in majestic round-text letters, with alternate thin and thickstrokes beautiful to see, the two cabalistic words
We all three laid our heads together over the paper, and in breathlesssilence studied the effect of the round-text: William raising his greenshade in the excitement of the moment, and actually disobeying thedoctor's orders about not using his eyes, in the doctor's own presence!After a good long stare, we looked round solemnly in each other's facesand nodded. There was no doubt whatever on the subject after seeing theround-text. In one happy moment the doctor had hit on the right name.
"I have written the title-page," said our good friend, taking up his hatto go. "And now I leave it to you two to write the book."
Since then I have mended four pens and bought a quire of letter-paperat the village shop. William is to ponder well over his stories in thedaytime, so as to be quite ready for me "after dark." We are to commenceour new occupation this evening. My heart beats fast and my eyes moistenwhen I think of it. How many of our dearest interests depend upon theone little beginning that we are to make to-night!
PROLOGUE TO THE FIRST STORY.
Before I begin, by the aid of my wife's patient attention and ready pen,to relate any of the stories which I have heard at various times frompersons whose likenesses I have been employed to take, it will not beamiss if I try to secure the reader's interest in the following pages,by briefly explaining how I became possessed of the narrative matterwhich they contain.
Of myself I have nothing to say, but that I have followed the professionof a traveling portrait-painter for the last fifteen years. The pursuitof my calling has not only led me all through England, but has takenme twice to Scotland, and once to Ireland. In moving from district todistrict, I am never guided beforehand by any settled plan. Sometimesthe letters of recommendation which I get from persons who are satisfiedwith the work I have done for them determine the direction in whichI travel. Sometimes I hear of a new neighborhood in which there is noresident artist of ability, and remove thither on speculation. Sometimesmy friends among the picture-dealers say a good word on my behalf totheir rich customers, and so pave the way for me in the large towns.Sometimes my prosperous and famous brother-artists, hearing of smallcommissions which it is not worth their while to accept, mention myname, and procure me introductions to pleasant country houses. Thus Iget on, now in one way and now in another, not winning a reputation ormaking a fortune, but happier, perhaps, on the whole, than many men whohave got both the one and the other. So, at least, I try to think now,though I started in my youth with as high an ambition as the best ofthem. Thank God, it is not my business here to speak of past times andtheir disappointments. A twinge of the old hopeless heartache comes overme sometimes still, when I think of my student days.
One peculiarity of my present way of life is, that it brings me intocontact with all sorts of characters. I almost feel, by this time, as ifI had painted every civilized variety of the human race. Upon the whole,my experience of the world, rough as it has been, has not taught me tothink unkindly of my fellow-creatures. I have certainly received suchtreatment at the hands of some of my sitters as I could not describewithout saddening and shocking any kind-hearted reader; but, taking oneyear and one place with another, I have cause to remember with gratitudeand respect--sometimes even with friendship and affection--a very largeproportion of the numerous persons who have employed me.
Some of the results of my experience are curious in a moral point ofview. For example, I have found women almost uniformly less delicate inasking me about my terms, and less generous in remunerating me for myservices, than men. On the other hand, men, within my knowledge, aredecidedly vainer of their personal attractions, and more vexatiouslyanxious to have them done full justice to on canvas, than women. Takingboth sexes together, I have found young people, for the most part, moregentle, more reasonable, and more considerate than old. And, summing up,in a general way, my experience of different ranks (which extends, letme premise, all the way down from peers to publicans), I have metwith most of my formal and ungracious receptions among rich people ofuncertain social standing: the highest classes and the lowest among myemployers almost always contrive--in widely different ways, of course,to make me feel at home as soon as I enter their houses.
The one great obstacle that I have to contend against in the practiceof my profession is not, as some persons may imagine, the difficultyof making my sitters keep their heads still while I paint them, butthe difficulty of getting them to preserve the natural look and theevery-day peculiarities of dress and manner. People will assumean expression, will brush up their hair, will correct any littlecharacteristic carelessness in their apparel--will, in short, when theywant to have their likenesses taken, look as if they were sitting fortheir pictures. If I paint them, under these artificial circumstances,I fail of course to present them in their habitual aspect; and myportrait, as a necessary consequence, disappoints everybody, the sitteralways included. When we wish to judge of a man's character by hishandwriting, we want his customary scrawl dashed off with his commonworkaday pen, not his best small-text, traced laboriously with thefinest procurable crow-quill point. So it is with portrait-painting,which is, after all, nothing but a right reading of the externals ofcharacter recognizably presented to the view of others.
Experience, after repeated trials, has proved to me that the only wayof getting sitters who persist in assuming a set look to resume theirhabitual expression, is to lead them into talking about some subjectin which they are greatly interested. If I can only beguile them intospeaking earnestly, no matter on what topic, I am sure of recoveringtheir natural expression; sure of seeing all the little preciouseveryday peculiarities of the man or woman peep out, one after another,quite unawares. The long, maundering stories about nothing, thewearisome recitals of petty grievances, the local anecdotes unrelievedby the faintest suspicion of anything like general interest, which Ihave been condemned to hear, as a consequence of thawing the ice offthe features of formal sitters by the method just described, would fillhundreds of volumes, and promote the repose of thousands of readers. Onthe other hand, if I have suffered under the tediousness of the many,I have not been without my compensating gains from the wisdom andexperience of the few. To some of my sitters I have been indebted forinformation which has enlarged my mind--to some for advice which haslightened my heart--to some for narratives of strange adventure whichriveted my attention at the time, which have served to interest andamuse my fireside circle for many years past, and which are now, I wouldfain hope, destined to make kind friends for me among a wider audiencethan any that I have yet addressed.
Singularly enough, almost all the best stories that I have heard from mysitters have been told by accident. I only remember two cases in whicha story was volunteered to me, and, although I have often tried theexperiment, I cannot call to mind even a single instance in whichleading questions (as the lawyers call them) on my part, addressed to asitter, ever produced any result worth recording. Over and over again,I have been disastrously successful in encour
aging dull people to wearyme. But the clever people who have something interesting to say, seem,so far as I have observed them, to acknowledge no other stimulantthan chance. For every story which I propose including in the presentcollection, excepting one, I have been indebted, in the first instance,to the capricious influence of the same chance. Something my sitter hasseen about me, something I have remarked in my sitter, or in the room inwhich I take the likeness, or in the neighborhood through which I passon my way to work, has suggested the necessary association, or hasstarted the right train of recollections, and then the story appearedto begin of its own accord. Occasionally the most casual notice, onmy part, of some very unpromising object has smoothed the way for therelation of a long and interesting narrative. I first heard one of themost dramatic of the stories that will be presented in this book, merelythrough being carelessly inquisitive to know the history of a stuffedpoodle-dog.
It is thus not without reason that I lay some stress on thedesirableness of prefacing each one of the following narratives by abrief account of the curious manner in which I became possessed of it.As to my capacity for repeating these stories correctly, I can answerfor it that my memory may be trusted. I may claim it as a merit, becauseit is after all a mechanical one, that I forget nothing, and that I cancall long-passed conversations and events as readily to my recollectionas if they had happened but a few weeks ago. Of two things at least Ifeel tolerably certain beforehand, in meditating over the contents ofthis book: First, that I can repeat correctly all that I have heard;and, secondly, that I have never missed anything worth hearing when mysitters were addressing me on an interesting subject. Although I cannottake the lead in talking while I am engaged in painting, I can listenwhile others speak, and work all the better for it.
So much in the way of general preface to the pages for which I am aboutto ask the reader's attention. Let me now advance to particulars, anddescribe how I came to hear the first story in the present collection. Ibegin with it because it is the story that I have oftenest "rehearsed,"to borrow a phrase from the stage. Wherever I go, I am sooner or latersure to tell it. Only last night, I was persuaded into repeating it oncemore by the inhabitants of the farmhouse in which I am now staying.