Those Other Days - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Those Other Days ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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A collection of nineteen stories, by Edward Phillips Oppenheim, mostly from the 1890’s and early 1900’s, published in magazines, and collected in 1913. Ghost stories, bizarre adventures, strange appearances and disappearances, and improbable love are the themes of these very enjoyable stories by the master storyteller. Young men courting women, psychic phenomena, and humorous characters abound. „Those Other Days” stories are almost Victorian in their diction and flavor, with some of the fascination of the period for supernatural events. If you haven’t discovered the joys of Oppenheim’s stories, which are clearly written and literary there is a good place to start. Highly recommended!

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Liczba stron: 450

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Contents

1. THOSE OTHER DAYS

2. DOOMED SHAGSHAFT OF SHAGSHAFT

3. BY LUCK AND A TRICK

4. CULBONE TOWER

5. THE THIRTIETH OF AUGUST

6. WHO IS MISS BARTON?

7. MY DREADFUL SECRET

8. AN UNLUCKY REHEARSAL

9. THE MISSING WILL

10. A MAD CHRISTMAS

11. E TENEBRIS LUX

12. AN AUTUMN HOLIDAY

13. “DARTON’S SUCCESSOR”

14. MY LITERARY EXECUTORSHIP

15. THEIR PRISON HOUSE

16. A VOICE FROM THE HIDDEN WORLD

17. THE QUARRY ON OLD JOHN HILL

18. AN ARISTOCRATIC SOCIALIST

19. A SHOCKING MÉSALLIANCE

1. THOSE OTHER DAYS

Only a few days ago, whilst turning over a musty collection of aged volumes, I came across an old philosophical treatise–a translation from the German–and as I carefully turned over its pages, preparatory to throwing it aside, I stumbled across an idea which struck me forcibly. The writer, for the purpose of following out some argument, was ignoring the possibility of any future state, and was emphasizing the idea that in a human life happiness and unhappiness are far more equally balanced than the cursory observer would credit or imagine. If a man was afflicted with great trials, he was either gifted with great religious faith or fortitude of disposition sufficient to annihilate them, or they were followed or preceded by a period of corresponding happiness. Desires and dispositions were most often in accord with the local surroundings of the person, and that altogether the principles of happiness were founded upon a retributory basis, evil and good, happiness and unhappiness, existing in proportionate quantities, and giving place to each other at regular intervals.

As I close the volume, I half unconsciously applied this idea to my own life, and I saw at once how close was the correspondence. For I who write this tale am now one of the happiest men on earth, whereas not many years ago I was assuredly one of the most miserable. Is it not a feasible idea that the calm happiness which now fills my life has come to me as compensation for a period of utter and intense misery; so intense that, even now, after many peaceful years have passed away, I can scarcely look back upon those other days without a shuddering remembrance of their hideous wretchedness?

This is the story of my great unhappiness. I had left college but two years, and had flung myself into my profession with all the energy and devotion which youth and love of my following could inspire. I was an artist, member of a profession which above all others can fan the impetuous zeal of youth into the blazing fire of ambition, such dazzling prizes it offers, so easy appears to the sanguine temperament of youth their acquisition. As I bent over the easel in my tiny studio, its narrow precincts would oftentimes expand before me, the brush would fall from my hands neglected to the floor, and I would pace the room with flashing eyes and swelling heart, without a glance at my deserted work, full of bright visions and daring hopes, which soon became to me precious food for my imagination, fondly cherished and jealously kept to myself, while day after day I worked with unremitting toil at the masterpiece which was to be the stepping-stone to my fortunes.

I was well-nigh alone in the world, for I was an orphan. My father died when I was still quite young, and him I cannot clearly remember; but my mother lived until I was eleven years old, and faint memories of her I can and do often recall. She had many trials, poor woman, but never once do I remember seeing a frown on her face or hearing an angry word from her lips. She bore all her troubles with a fortitude and cheerful resignation rare indeed in women, and which still command my wondering admiration whenever I reflect upon them.

Ours was an unhappy childhood. My father, though of good family, and, I believe, of high attainments, was not a successful man, and at the age of forty, when he died, was only the vicar of a small country village, out of the living of which–barely three hundred a year–he had not been able to save a single penny. Disappointment and poverty had soured his once sweet temper, and the latter years of his life were years of discomfort and unhappiness to us all, particularly to his long-suffering wife, who had to bear, and did bear, without a murmur the exacting whims and fretful disposition of a disappointed and, I fear, selfish man.

With his death ceased our only regular income, and henceforth life became a perpetual struggle to my poor mother, who nevertheless–partly by her own efforts and partly by the aid of her brother-in-law, our only surviving relation–managed to bring us up in respectability and even in comfort; so much so, indeed, that the dim memories which I still have of this period of my childhood are far from unhappy ones. I had only one sister, a year younger than myself, and when–worn out with her struggles, but peaceful and cheerful to the end–my mother died, we felt what it was to be alone in the world.

My uncle, with whom we went to live, was a student, and almost a hermit, and took but little notice of us children, who grew up under the care of a nurse with better results than might have been expected, for she was a conscientious and good woman. Then one day our increasing heights seemed to remind him of the necessity of some change in our mode of living, and all that evening, contrary to his custom and greatly to our discomfort, he remained with us in the sitting-room, silent and absorbed as usual. Just as our bed-time was approaching an idea occurred to him, and he started up from his easy chair, from the depths of which he had been silently contemplating us for the last hour and half, to our infinite wonder and embarrassment.

“Children, it is time you went to school,” he declared solemnly. “I wonder I never thought of it before;” and the knotty problem solved, he retired to his study to resume his accustomed labours, leaving us to discuss eagerly this coming change in our lives.

We went to school–Lizzie to London, I to a public school of no secondary standing. I have nothing particular to say about those days. I did not distinguish myself particularly either in the class-room or the cricket-field, and the only study which really interested me was drawing, the rudiments of which I rapidly acquired. When I had reached the age of eighteen, I received the following characteristic letter from my uncle:–

“ELMHURST, October 22. “MY DEAR VERNON–I see by the family Bible that you are now eighteen years old, and it occurs to me that you are of an age to form some definite idea as to your future. I reproach myself that I have not seen more of you, especially at the present time, for I begin to feel my strength leaving me, and though I have been for a long while ailing, the doctor’s as well as my own reason tells me that the end is at hand. The little property I have is left to you, and out of it you will have to provide for your sister–at any rate, until she marries. It is not much I have to leave you, barely three hundred a year; but you will be able to live on it, and that you may do so profitably is my sincere wish. It is time for you now to leave school, and I should wish you, whatever profession you may choose to follow, to spend the next two years, at least, at college. I am but little competent to advise you as to your future, for my own life has been in many ways a failure. But I remember always that you come of an old family, whose name has never been sullied by trade, and do not seek to amass wealth by unworthy means, or by pursuing an unworthy avocation. You will, doubtless, be sought after by many at college; for, from reports I have of you, I gather that you possess no little of your father’s good looks. But do not waste your time there in sports and the other pursuits of the rich; for remember that you have your own future to carve out and your way to make in the world. Follow out the course of reading which you may deem the most serviceable to you in the avocation which you decide to embrace, and let it be not too strict, but let there be a due, not undue, admixture of recreation, lest you become merely a useless bookworm like myself. Be careful of your health, and do not share the dissipations of those who will perforce be your associates; and, above all things, be careful with whom you enter into friendship. Be not too ambitious at this early stage of your life, lest in grasping at the shadow you lose the substance. Do not decide hurriedly upon your future, but when you have fully made up your mind in what direction your abilities and desires lead you do not be tempted by initiatory failure to try some other career, but persevere; and may the blessing of an old man, who might have been a better guardian to you, assist you. “Your affectionate uncle, “ANTHONY HARPENDEN.”

When I had read this letter I determined to travel down into Wiltshire on the very next day and see my uncle, for those few words concerning his illness convinced me that unless I did so at once I should not see him again. But by the next post came another letter in a strange handwriting and with an ominous black seal, and a few days later Lizzie and I, the sole mourners, stood beside the grave of well-nigh the only relation we had in the world.

After the funeral we held a brief discussion as to our plans for the future. Lizzie was four years older than I, and we were at that time as different both in appearance and manners as brother and sister could well be. She possessed to the full extent her mother’s evenness of temper and unselfishness of disposition, and she was quite content to stop on at Elmhurst, my uncle’s old home, now ours, with an old housekeeper, her sole companion, whilst I went up to Oxford for the two years which my uncle had prescribed.

Those two years passed, at any rate, harmlessly for me, if without any special benefit. I increased my classical knowledge considerably, but the greater part of my time was given to the prosecution of the hobby which was fast becoming a passion with me. I looked eagerly forward to the time of my leaving college, when I should have a studio of my own; for I had determined, it is needless to say, to become an artist, and with my thoughts so engrossed it was a matter of wonder to me that I succeeded in taking my degree.

When the two years had elapsed, I easily persuaded Lizzie to let Elmhurst, and come to live with me near London. We took a small house near Sydenham, and then at last my impatient longings were gratified–I commenced work in a studio of my own. For twelve months we lived here quietly, I gaining fresh hopes every day, only to despair again when I wandered in to gaze at the masterpieces exhibited at the Academy and at the National Gallery, and compared them with my own poor work. And yet when I was back again, and alone in my little studio, hope would return with all its vigour, flinging fresh fuel on the fire of my imaginings, and I would deem again that all was within my reach, and that work, hard, unceasing work, could not fail in time to bring me the success I coveted.

Alas! the work in which I trusted to bring me fame brought me instead a terrible misfortune–the misfortune to which I have already referred. I fell ill, almost to death, and then, with scarcely any warning, the fairest gift of life was taken from me. For, after weeks of half-unconscious pain and suspense, there came upon me in the night a sudden darkness, which the light of day could not dissipate, and there crept upon me a horrible suspicion that I was blind. I could not believe it at first. I cried out in my anguish that it must be some terrible nightmare, a passing faintness–anything but the horrible truth. I besought them, with my voice choked with sobs, to tell me that it was not true, but I heard no encouraging voices bid me hope, only the sound of a woman sobbing quietly by my bedside, and answering my piteous appeals with evasive tenderness. Then I fell back on my pillows worn out and miserable, and prayed to God that I might die.

For many weeks afterwards my life hung upon a thread, and I felt that I cared no longer whether it should snap or no. What was there now which could make life precious to me? Nothing, absolutely nothing! Longing visions and fond dreams of success in my art, these had been the sole thoughts of my existence, the end and aim of all my exertions. The world had held no attraction which could win my thoughts for one moment from them, no happiness save in dreams of their consummation. As a blind man, I had no desire to live.

Nevertheless, Fate decreed that I should recover from the fever which had brought me to the very verge of death, and slowly there came back to me my strength and faculties; all save the one I most coveted–my sight. Ah! the misery of those re-awakening hours, when every day I felt strength mustering in my body, and still that horrible darkness before my eyes. I fear that in that first period of my convalescence I acted little like a man, for I often turned my face to the wall, and first wept, then cursed and swore at all who sought to comfort me.

Then there came over me a dull lethargy–a passive resignation, which from its very contrast to my former state made my nurses uneasy. The doctor, too, seemed disturbed at my slow progress, and counselled an immediate change of scene. So that, in about a week’s time, despite my petulant protestations, we removed to a quiet little watering-place on the Norfolk coast. I was woefully ill and weak, and every little incident of the journey impressed upon me my utter impotency to such an extent that I cried aloud in the carriage, and when we reached our journey’s end I was very nearly in a relapse. Contrary to my expectations, however, almost to my wishes, the air of the place soon had a wonderful effect upon me. At the end of the first week the bath-chair was dispensed with, and, leaning on Lizzie’s arm, I could walk down the crazy narrow street, and along the esplanade, on to the cliffs, where the strong sea-breeze blowing full in my face brought strength and vigour, which, alas! I felt I cared little for now.

At first I could not be persuaded to take any interest whatever in my surroundings; I would do nothing more active than sit and brood, in gloomy silence, on my ruined hopes and cheerless future. Those must have been very dull days for Lizzie, poor girl, but she never complained, and seldom left me for an hour. I was anything but a cheerful companion, for often during a whole morning we would sit at the end of the little pier (to which the sea comes occasionally) without speaking a word, she intent on her book or embroidery, I apparently dozing, but really nursing my bitter thoughts of a future which, from a fairyland of promise, had suddenly become a cheerless and dismal blank.

Several weeks we spent in this fashion, while I slowly mended in health, and by degrees with the bodily improvement came some slight improvement in my spirits. I knew that I should please Lizzie if I appeared to take some slight interest in our surroundings; and one morning, for her sake, I asked some questions and exhibited some curiosity about the little place, and by the tone of her answer I knew that she was pleased. She laid down her knitting (we were sitting at the end of the little pier) and described the place minutely; told me of its little cluster of grey stone houses with red tiles, quaintly built, and nestling, as if for protection from the ever-encroaching sea, round the fine old church, which reared its lofty spire from amongst them like a veritable tower of protection. She told me of its narrow streets, without footway; of the rude flights of steps which led from the little town on to the pier or beach, and of the unpretending esplanade, with the green bank behind covered with daisies and dandelions. And then she spoke of the high cliffs with growing enthusiasm, stretching away on either side, covered with soft springy turf, and here and there with bracken, along which one could walk for miles, meeting full the strong salt breeze, and getting many pleasant views of the sea, wondrously blue, rippling in the little coves below. And she told me too of the white lighthouse, built on a hill of green turf, which swept its strong light at nighttime far away over the glistening waters below.

And as she spoke of all these places I conjured up to myself fancies as to how they really looked, and amused myself by arranging them together in my thoughts, like a picture, until I almost fancied, leaning idly against the end of the jetty and turning my sightless orbs towards the town, that I could really see it stretched out before me just as she had described it; and, strange to say, from my well-nursed fancies of it the place seemed to grow familiar, and a sort of affection sprang up within me for it. Almost I fancied, as I stood there, that I could in truth see as she had described them–the dingy-looking building exactly opposite me, with the words Hotel de Paris sprawling along the front; the little plot of deserted lawn in front of it, with a few easy chairs and camp-stools placed carelessly about for the old people to repose in while they dozed, and blinked, and read their papers; and the wicket-gate leading from it unto the esplanade; and the crazy wooden steps which led down to the sands. From frequent and vivid description all these dwelt in my memory, and I built up for myself in my mind ideas as to their appearance and effect, until the whole became as a familiar picture to me, in which I took a keen and almost childlike interest. Ah, well I many and many a time have I visited Cromer since those few months of my convalescence. I have stopped at that old-fashioned but comfortable hotel, and spent many happy days upon those bracken-covered cliffs, drinking in the strong, exhilarating sea-breeze, than which there is none purer in England. I have climbed up the steep little hill to the lighthouse, and admired from its summit over and over again the picturesque little town nestling in the hollow below, with the blue sea stretching up to its very feet, and laughed at the old wooden jetty dignified with the name of pier, most useful as a protection from the sun’s rays to the loungers on the sands below. Also have I joined in the little crowd who at half-past ten block up the narrow little street opposite the post-office, awaiting the morning papers; and I have been one of the old fogies who have sat on the neglected lawn in front of the hotel, and have read my paper, and dozed, and blinked, and gazed at the blue sea stretching out before me, steeped in a quiet, passive enjoyment incomprehensible to the younger spirits. A quiet, dull hole I have heard the place often called, and no doubt with a certain amount of reason; but I love it, and am blind to its imperfections, partly because it was here I first found consolation from my terrible trouble, partly because the place itself is pleasant to me, and partly–but I must reserve my other reason until my story is told.

Time slipped quietly away, and every day my convalescence became more and more assured; and with my returning bodily strength I grew somewhat more reconciled to the fact of my existence. True, the future seemed still a hopeless blank; but I was content for the time to abandon myself to the luxury of breathing the fresh, pure air and feeling the strength stealing once more into my frame, and I spent the long summer days lying about on the cliffs, or beach, or sitting on the pier, while Lizzie would read to me such books as I approved. The daily papers I forbade. The world’s events possessed but little interest for me, for I deemed myself outside it altogether. Neither did I care for novels, and for the first time in my life found pleasure in poetry, although Lizzie was at best but an indifferent reader; and in such manner the time passed away.

One morning there came a change into our quiet life. Lizzie had left me for a few minutes on the pier while she went into the little town to execute some trifling commission. She was gone longer than I expected, and I began to get impatient, for solitude was my bête noire, bringing, as it naturally did, reflection–reflection which could not fail to engender sad thoughts which I fain would banish and keep away. Just as I was growing fretful and uneasy, I heard her voice as she descended the steps, and, to my surprise, she was talking to some one who appeared to be accompanying her, and then I heard them turn on to the pier, and I knew without doubt that my sister had a companion. My first impulse was not of surprise–although it might well have been, for I knew that Lizzie was reserved and adverse to chance acquaintances–but rather of keen and selfish annoyance. Lizzie knew that I hated strangers, and, over-sensitive in those early days of my trouble, liked nothing so little as sympathy or condolence, however gently expressed. I had all the whims and tempers of a spoilt child then; and when I heard them coming towards me, I turned my head obstinately away, and, leaning over the wooden railing with folded arms, assumed an attitude of deep abstraction.

“Vernon,” my sister said pleadingly, laying her hand timidly upon my shoulder, “I have met an old school friend;” and I was perforce bound to turn my head.

“My brother Vernon–Miss Ellis. You have often heard me speak of Margaret Ellis, Vernon; this is she.”

I raised my hat, muttering some half-inarticulate words intended to convey my pleasure at so unexpected a rencontre. In reality, I was annoyed–sulky, she has since told me, laughingly. Then she spoke in a soft, musical voice, which, despite my ill-humour, gave me keen pleasure to listen to; for since my blindness every day my hearing seemed to grow more sensitive.

“I was quite delighted to meet your sister just now, Mr. Harpenden,” she said, “for I am almost alone here, and Cromer is such a very quiet place isn’t it?”

I assented, but not in words; and she continued rather nervously–

“Liz has been telling me of your illness, and of its effect. I am very sorry.”

I muttered something conventional, and then we all three sat down and talked, rather constrainedly at first; but soon my ill-humour vanished, and I began to find it very pleasant to listen to that low, melodious voice–so pleasant that I was actually sorry when lunch-time came; and when we parted at the top of the steps, with arrangements to meet in the afternoon, I was in better spirits than a few hours before I could have believed possible.

Margaret Ellis, my sister’s old school friend was, like us, an orphan, and, like us, a poor one. She had come to Cromer with an aunt, who was a confirmed invalid, seldom leaving her room: to whom we were, indeed, introduced, but whom we seldom saw. And as she, Mrs. Ellis, preferred the attentions of her maid, who had lived with her all her life, to her niece’s nursing (execrable taste I), Margaret had a great deal of time on her hands, most of which she spent with us. And we welcomed her–Lizzie because they were old friends, and I because her coming was a pleasant change, so pleasant, indeed, that my worst and most irritable days soon became those on which we saw her least often. As a rule, she would join us soon after breakfast, and then would come the question, “Pier, sands, or cliffs?” Generally in the morning we chose the latter; and as I lounged on the soft turf, and bared my head to catch the pure, sweet breeze, listening the while to Margaret’s musical voice as she read aloud to us, I began to feel that life might still, under some circumstances, be endurable. What those circumstances involved I did not pause to think. I had had enough of thought and misery for a while, and I gave myself up to the enjoyment of the present without a single thought of the future, without caring to realize fully the consciousness, which now and then faintly troubled me, that it was an unseen presence which made the days go by so happily.

One day I startled Lizzie by asking her to describe her friend. She laid down her knitting and considered for a moment.

“Well, I scarcely know how to describe her,” she began.

Of course not. How is it, I wonder, that a woman can never describe another woman? If she does attempt the task, she gives it you disconnectedly and without enthusiasm, until it all sounds like a police description of a missing person. I had not the slightest desire to listen to such.

“I only want to know the colour of her hair and eyes,” I told Lizzie. And these I soon learnt: soft grey eyes and lightish-coloured hair.

“You could scarcely call her beautiful,” Lizzie continued, “but she is certainly interesting.”

I turned away to hide a smile. Not call her beautiful! I knew better, and could positively describe her better than Lizzie. True, I was blind; but the blind, to make up for their loss of sight, have generally a keen development of the other senses, enabling them to lay hold of trifles which would escape an ordinary person, and by piecing them together to arrive at conclusions mostly correct. I knew that Margaret was tall by her voice, and I could tell that she was graceful by her regular, even movements. Then her voice was in itself a charm, and fell always like music upon my sensitive ears, lulling me into a strange repose at times, and at others fiercely quickening my weak pulse. It possessed for me a curious fascination, which I cannot and never could describe–a sort of animal magnetism which drew me to her, and when it ceased still seemed to haunt me, and render me as conscious of her presence as if she was still speaking. In my imagination I drew her portrait with scrupulous exactitude, and so I carried always in my fancy a distinct and vivid idea of her personality. It amused me to discover each day by careless questionings what she wore, and then, when she had left us, to lean back, and, dosing my eyes, to clothe my fancy portrait of her as she had appeared that day; and in time I grew to prefer one style of dress for her, and laughingly she would humour my whim and adopt the style which pleased me best. And so the days passed away with us, bringing little change or variation; as, indeed, we needed none, for I believe the quiet life satisfied us all.

One morning Margaret came down to us on the pier earlier than usual, and from her excited manner it was not difficult to surmise that something had happened. A great oculist had come down to Cromer for a day or two, and was stopping at the Hotel de Paris; and Margaret, who had heard of his arrival, was eager for me to consult him, for my own doctor had counselled me to seek some more competent judge than he directly I was strong enough to bear the excitement.

Dr. Holdsworth was a specialist of great renown, and directly Margaret mentioned his name I determined to seek him at once, although I had but little hope of any good coming from it. Silently we all three walked down the pier and up the steps to the door of the hotel, and there they left me. My hand touched Margaret’s for a moment as we parted–only for a moment–but I felt that she was trembling, and a sudden, strange thrill of joy passed through me, and made me for a short while almost forgetful of my errand; and then there followed with a rush a fierce intense longing to know my fate, and somehow I felt that a new interest depended upon the verdict I had come to gain. The hall-porter who appeared to answer my ring conducted me into a tiny apartment called the smoking-room, and, carefully placing a chair for me by the open window, took my card and a message and left me to seek Dr. Holdsworth. The minutes that elapsed before the door again opened seemed like long hours to me, waiting with feverish excitement to know my fate. I heard merry voices from the room above me, and through the open window came laughing speeches and quick retorts, to which I listened eagerly, with straining ears, leaning out of window and grasping the stone sill with my moist hands till they were all bruised and cut. Then my attention was diverted to a child playing on the lawn with battledore and shuttlecock, and I counted earnestly the number of times the shuttlecock fell with dull thud upon the racket, beginning again each time that a cessation of the sound and a burst of childish laughter announced that the feathered ball had fallen outside the player’s reach. My brain seemed on fire. I wondered where I was, what I was waiting for, whether it was not all a dream, and in nervous desperation I struck myself a blow, and pinched my arms until they were black and blue, feeling at the time no pain. Then a horrible idea crept over me. I thought that I was a criminal in a prison cell, waiting to be led forth to die, and I put my hands up to my neck, almost fancying that I could feel the rope around it, and then, just as with an effort I smothered a shriek, the door opened, and with it my self-possession returned like a flash. I rose and bowed. I apologized to Dr. Holdsworth for intruding upon him, and stated my case with all the calmness of a third party, although I felt that he was watching me keenly. He listened courteously, and then, turning me towards the light, examined both my eyes with a small instrument. Then he moved away and rested the instrument upon the table, returning slowly to my side; and though I knew that the examination was over, my quivering lips refused to frame the question I fain would ask. He did not keep me very long in suspense, though, but said, in tones which seemed to me almost brutally matter-of-fact–

“I am sorry, but I can do nothing for you. Your case is perfectly hopeless.”

I had told myself that I would be prepared for the worst, but, despite my efforts, hope had lingered strong within me. With whom does it not linger, I wonder, however desperate their strait? The criminal, condemned to die, even on the morning of his execution is not without lingering vestiges of hope. A reprieve may come at the last moment, the rope may break, something may happen to delay the dread finale; and who would grudge him the consolation of this faint but precious hope? There are men whom we meet in every-day life carrying behind a smiling face and placid exterior burdens utterly disproportionate to their strength, and only one thing keeps them alive and gives them strength to do it–hope, hope: to us human beings who, like myself, have passed through a furnace of trouble, the greatest gift, the one inestimable boon vouchsafed us by a considerate and merciful dispensation. The hard-worked man of business, the student, the politician, the invalid, the anxious mother, have each their trouble lessened and their lot made endurable by this most precious gift. Even if the hope be fallacious, its realization impossible, for pity’s sake tell them not so; still with weary hearts but smiling faces they will struggle on, if not with equanimity, with their sufferings allayed and chastened by the fond hopes they cherish.

Oh, the misery with parting with that hope, of having it torn away by ruthless hands, and being left unaided to fight with a terrible, overmastering misfortune! That one ray of light extinguished, all seems dark. Without hope, life, a thing of light and promise to others, to us becomes a meaningless chaos, devoid of interest, and which we feel may pass around us and over us, but in which we have no participation.

Alas for me when I heard those fatal words! For the hope which, despite myself, had lingered within me, and which only one hour ago had been fanned into a blaze, was now utterly crushed and extinguished, and I also was one of those from whom the light of life had been taken.

Slowly I rose, pressed upon Mr. Holdsworth a fee, which he declined, and groped my way towards the door.

“One moment, Mr. Harpenden,” said the doctor, and I paused on the threshold. “I have told you that your case is hopeless, and so, in truth, I believe it. But I think that it is only right to inform you that there is a German, Herr Dondez, who professes to be able to cure cases of glaucoma, such as yours. Frankly, I tell you I don’t believe it,” he continued; “but if you have plenty of money to throw away, you might go over and see him. It would do you no harm, at any rate.”

“His treatment involves considerable expense, then?” I asked.

“It does. His fees are enormous, and his course of treatment necessitates heavy expenditure. It would probably cost you a thousand pounds.”

The gleam of returning hope was but transitory and at the doctor’s words it fled. I thanked him and dismissed the subject from my mind at once. A thousand pounds was as far out of my reach as one hundred thousand. For even had I been able, which I was not, to touch the principal of our little fortune, and had the chances of success been much greater, I should have hesitated long before I risked so large a share of our income on an issue so doubtful.

Dr. Holdsworth followed me from the room, and guided me down the hall to the steps of the hotel, and outside in the street I found Lizzie and Margaret waiting for me. They asked no questions, so I suppose my face told them as much as they wished to know; and, slipping my arm through Lizzie’s, we all three turned silently away and walked down the esplanade towards the cliffs. Lizzie was crying quietly, and once I fancied that I heard a low sob from the other side; but though I strained my ears I heard no repetition of it, so it might have been fancy. When we turned on to the cliffs I was glad to lie down and rest for a while; but we none of us cared to break the silence, and slowly the morning passed away with scarcely a word from any one. Woman is a consoling angel, no doubt; but when there is no hope, what consolation can she whisper? And with such a terrible trial as mine staring me in the face, what could they say to comfort me? So silently and sorrowfully the morning passed away, and after lunch, for the first time since Margaret had commenced to spend all her time with us, I did not propose starting to meet her; and Lizzie, seeing that I made no movement, stayed in also. Sorrows seldom come alone, and side by side with mine loomed another, almost as hard to bear as the loss of sight; for I knew now that I loved Margaret Ellis, and my love must be buried. Not for worlds would I have made her unhappy by telling her of my folly; and besides, what would be the use? That she did not know it as yet I was assured, for until I had gone in to learn my fate from the famous specialist I had not known it myself. It had come upon me like a sudden revelation as I felt her trembling hand, and for the moment had made me madly happy, then wildly excited, as I had realized that the verdict which I went in to hear would decide whether or no I might try to win her; and the verdict had been given against me, and I had come out from that interview with crushed hopes and with my heart well-nigh broken, for in those few moments the happiness of my life had been staked and lost.

Henceforth I must exist–living I could no longer call it–without sight, without my beloved art, and without Margaret. Could man’s lot be harder? I asked myself bitterly. To lose the woman I loved and the art I worshipped, to be left without either hope for the future or consolation for the present, to pass through life an outsider, never participating in its joys and pleasures, a hindrance and encumbrance to others, a miserable man myself! Ah! who can depict or realize the wretchedness, the utter misery, of the prospect before me?

Towards evening I roused myself a little and called Lizzie to me. I told her what Dr. Holdsworth had said about the German specialist, and for a moment she brightened up and urged me to sell out our little fortune and make a bold bid for happiness. But I argued with her that in case of failure, and failure was almost certain, we should be poverty-stricken for life, which, in justice to her, must not be; and I told her Dr. Holdsworth’s opinion of this man’s capacities, and in the end she was convinced, as also was I against my will, that it would be money thrown away to no purpose. Then I came to the most difficult part of what I had to say, but unwittingly she helped me.

“And Margaret?” she whispered timidly. Then I knew that she had divined my secret.

“I must not see her,” I said hoarsely, turning my head away; for, man though I was, the horror of that day had all unwrought me, and there were tears in my eyes. I was ashamed that Lizzie should see them, and I motioned her away; but I was too late, and I felt her little hand steal into mine, and her arm around my neck, as with her voice all unsteady with sobs she tried to comfort me.

“Oh, Vernon, it is cruel!” was all that she could falter out; and then she burst into tears, while I–why should I be ashamed to acknowledge that the tears which fell into her handkerchief were not all hers, for I, too, was weeping like a child?

By degrees I recovered myself, and after the fit was over I felt more like myself than I had done since the final blow had fallen. I drew Lizzie to me, and took her hand in mine.

“I want to say a few words about Margaret, Liz. You won’t ask me any questions, there’s a dear girl, but just do as I ask you? We must get away from this place as soon as possible. Do you understand?”

She nodded.

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