The Queen of Hearts, by Wilkie Collins

The Fourth Day.

THE sky once more cloudy and threatening. No news of George. I corrected Morgan’s second story to-day; numbered it Seven, and added it to our stock.

Undeterred by the weather, Miss Jessie set off this morning on the longest ride she had yet undertaken. She had heard — through one of my brother’s laborers, I believe — of the actual existence, in this nineteenth century, of no less a personage than a Welsh Bard, who was to be found at a distant farmhouse far beyond the limits of Owen’s property. The prospect of discovering this remarkable relic of past times hurried her off, under the guidance of her ragged groom, in a high state of excitement, to see and hear the venerable man. She was away the whole day, and for the first time since her visit she kept us waiting more than half an hour for dinner. The moment we all sat down to table, she informed us, to Morgan’s great delight, that the bard was a rank impostor.

“Why, what did you expect to see?” I asked.

“A Welsh patriarch, to be sure, with a long white beard, flowing robes, and a harp to match,” answered Miss Jessie.

“And what did you find?”

“A highly-respectable middle-aged rustic; a smiling, smoothly-shaven, obliging man, dressed in a blue swallow-tailed coat, with brass buttons, and exhibiting his bardic legs in a pair of extremely stout and comfortable corduroy trousers.”

“But he sang old Welsh songs, surely?”

“Sang! I’ll tell you what he did. He sat down on a Windsor chair, without a harp; he put his hands in his pockets, cleared his throat, looked up at the ceiling, and suddenly burst into a series of the shrillest falsetto screeches I ever heard in my life. My own private opinion is that he was suffering from hydrophobia. I have lost all belief, henceforth and forever, in bards — all belief in everything, in short, except your very delightful stories and this remarkably good dinner.”

Ending with that smart double fire of compliments to her hosts, the Queen of Hearts honored us all three with a smile of approval, and transferred her attention to her knife and fork.

The number drawn to-night was One. On examination of the Purple Volume, it proved to be my turn to read again.

“Our story to-night,” I said, “contains the narrative of a very remarkable adventure which really befell me when I was a young man. At the time of my life when these events happened I was dabbling in literature when I ought to have been studying law, and traveling on the Continent when I ought to have been keeping my terms at Lincoln’s Inn. At the outset of the story, you will find that I refer to the county in which I lived in my youth, and to a neighboring family possessing a large estate in it. That county is situated in a part of England far away from The Glen Tower, and that family is therefore not to be associated with any present or former neighbors of ours in this part of the world.”

After saying these necessary words of explanation, I opened the first page, and began the story of my Own Adventure. I observed that my audience started a little as I read the title, which I must add, in my own defense, had been almost forced on my choice by the peculiar character of the narrative. It was “MAD MONKTON.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/collins/wilkie/queen-of-hearts/chapter7.html

Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30