The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins

Book II

Chapter 1

Fifteen Years After.

THE church of Long Beckley (a large agricultural village in one of the midland counties of England), although a building in no way remarkable either for its size, its architecture, or its antiquity, possesses, nevertheless, one advantage which mercantile London has barbarously denied to the noble cathedral church of St. Paul. It has plenty of room to stand in, and it can consequently be seen with perfect convenience from every point of view, all around the compass.

The large open space around the church can be approached in three different directions. There is a road from the village, leading straight to the principal door. There is a broad gravel walk, which begins at the vicarage gates, crosses the churchyard, and stops, as in duty bound, at the vestry entrance. There is a footpath over the fields, by which the lord of the manor, and the gentry in general who live in his august neighborhood, can reach the side door of the building, whenever their natural humility may incline them to encourage Sabbath observance in the stables by going to church, like the lower sort of worshipers, on their own legs.

At half-past seven o’clock, on a certain fine summer morning, in the year eighteen hundred and forty-four, if any observant stranger had happened to be standing in some unnoticed corner of the churchyard, and to be looking about him with sharp eyes, he would probably have been the witness of proceedings which might have led him to believe that there was a conspiracy going on in Long Beckley, of which the church was the rallying-point, and some of the most respectable inhabitants the principal leaders. Supposing him to have been looking toward the vicarage as the clock chimed the half-hour, he would have seen the vicar of Long Beckley, the Reverend Doctor Chennery, leaving his house suspiciously, by the back way, glancing behind him guiltily as he approached the gravel walk that led to the vestry, stopping mysteriously just outside the door, and gazing anxiously down the road that led from the village.

Assuming that our observant stranger would, upon this, keep out of sight, and look down the road, like the vicar, he would next have seen the clerk of the church — an austere, yellow-faced man — a Protestant Loyola in appearance, and a working shoemaker by trade — approaching with a look of unutterable mystery in his face, and a bunch of big keys in his hands. He would have seen the vicar nod in an abstracted manner to the clerk, and say, “Fine morning, Thomas. Have you had your breakfast yet?” He would have heard Thomas reply, with a suspicious regard for minute particulars: “I have had a cup of tea and a crust, Sir.” And he would then have seen these two local conspirators, after looking up with one accord at the church clock, draw off together to the side door which commanded a view of the footpath across the fields.

Following them — as our inquisitive stranger could not fail to do — he would have detected three more conspirators advancing along the footpath. The leader of this treasonable party was an elderly gentleman, with a weather-beaten face and a bluff hearty manner. His two followers were a young gentleman and a young lady, walking arm-in-arm, and talking together in whispers. They were dressed in the plainest morning costume. The faces of both were rather pale, and the manner of the lady was a little flurried. Otherwise there was nothing remarkable to observe in them, until they came to the wicket-gate leading into the churchyard; and there the conduct of the young gentleman seemed, at first sight, rather inexplicable. Instead of holding the gate open for the lady to pass through, he hung back, allowed her to open it for herself, waited till she had got to the churchyard side, and then, stretching out his hand over the gate, allowed her to lead him through the entrance, as if he had suddenly changed from a grown man to a helpless little child.

Noting this, and remarking also that, when the party from the fields had arrived within greeting distance of the vicar, and when the clerk had used his bunch of keys to open the church-door, the young lady’s companion was led into the building (this time by Doctor Chennery’s hand), as he had been previously led through the wicket-gate, our observant stranger must have arrived at one inevitable conclusion — that the person requiring such assistance as this was suffering under the affliction of blindness. Startled a little by that discovery, he would have been still further amazed, if he had looked into the church, by seeing the blind man and the young lady standing together before the altar rails, with the elderly gentleman in parental attendance. Any suspicions he might now entertain that the bond which united the conspirators at that early hour of the morning was of the hymeneal sort, and that the object of their plot was to celebrate a wedding with the strictest secrecy, would have been confirmed in five minutes by the appearance of Doctor Chennery from the vestry in full canonicals, and by the reading of the marriage service in the reverend gentleman’s most harmonious officiating tones. The ceremony concluded, the attendant stranger must have been more perplexed than ever by observing that the persons concerned in it all separated, the moment the signing, the kissing, and congratulating duties proper to the occasion had been performed, and quickly retired in the various directions by which they had approached the church.

Leaving the clerk to return by the village road, the bride, bridegroom, and elderly gentleman to turn back by the footpath over the fields, and the visionary stranger of these pages to vanish out of them in any direction that he pleases — let us follow Doctor Chennery to the vicarage breakfast-table, and hear what he has to say about his professional exertions of the morning in the familiar atmosphere of his own family circle.

The persons assembled at the breakfast were, first, Mr. Phippen, a guest; secondly, Miss Sturch, a governess; thirdly, fourthly, and fifthly, Miss Louisa Chennery (aged eleven years), Miss Amelia Chennery (aged nine years), and Master Robert Chennery (aged eight years). There was no mother’s face present, to make the household picture complete. Doctor Chennery had been a widower since the birth of his youngest child.

The guest was an old college acquaintance of the vicars, and he was supposed to be now staying at Long Beckley for the benefit of his health. Most men of any character at all contrive to get a reputation of some saint which individualizes them in the social circle and which they move. Mr. Phippen was a man of some little character, and he lived with great distinction in the estimation of his friends on the reputation of being A Martyr to Dyspepsia.

Wherever Mr. Phippen went, the woes of Mr. Phippen’s stomach went with him. He dieted himself publicly, and physicked himself publicly. He was so intensely occupied with himself and his maladies, that he would let a chance acquaintance into the secret of the condition of his tongue at five minutes’ notice; being just as perpetually ready to discuss the state of his digestion as people in general are to discuss the state of the weather. On this favorite subject, as on all others, he spoke with a wheedling gentleness of manner, sometimes in softly mournful, sometimes in languidly sentimental tones. His politeness was of the oppressively affectionate sort, and he used the word “dear” continually in addressing himself to others. Personally, he could not be called a handsome man. His eyes were watery, large, and light gray; they were always rolling from side to side in a state of moist admiration of something or somebody. His nose was long, drooping, profoundly melancholy — if such an expression may he permitted in reference to that particular feature. For the rest, his lips had a lachrymose twist; his stature was small; his head large, bald, and loosely set on his shoulders; his manner of dressing himself eccentric, on the side of smartness; his age about five-and-forty; his condition that of a single man. Such was Mr. Phippen, the Martyr to Dyspepsia, and the guest of the vicar of Long Beckley.

Miss Sturch, the governess, may be briefly and accurately described as a young lady who had never been troubled with an idea or a sensation since the day when she was born. She was a little, plump, quiet, white-skinned, smiling, neatly dressed girl, wound up accurately to the performance of certain duties at certain times; and possessed of an inexhaustible vocabulary of commonplace talk, which dribbled placidly out of her lips whenever it was called for, always in the same quantity, and always of the same quality, at every hour in the day, and through every change in the seasons. Miss Sturch never laughed, and never cried, but took the safe middle course of smiling perpetually. She smiled when she came down on a morning in January, and said it was very cold. She smiled when she came down on a morning in July, and said it was very hot. She smiled when the bishop came once a year to see the vicar; she smiled when the butcher’s boy came every morning for orders. Let what might happen at the vicarage, nothing ever jerked Miss Sturch out of the one smooth groove in which she ran perpetually, always at the same pace. If she had lived in a royalist family, during the civil wars in England, she would have rung for the cook, to order dinner, on the morning of the execution of Charles the First. If Shakespeare had come back to life again, and had called at the vicarage at six o’clock on Saturday evening, to explain to Miss Sturch exactly what his views were in composing the tragedy of Hamlet, she would have smiled and said it was extremely interesting, until the striking of seven o’clock; at which time she would have left him in the middle of a sentence, to superintend the housemaid in the verification of the washing-book. A very estimable young person, Miss Sturch (as the ladies of Long Beckley were accustomed to say); so judicious with the children, and so attached to her household duties; such a well-regulated mind, and such a crisp touch on the piano; just nice-looking enough, just well-dressed enough, just talkative enough; not quite old enough, perhaps, and a little too much inclined to be embraceably plump about the region of the waist — but, on the whole, a most estimable young person — very much so, indeed.

On the characteristic peculiarities of Miss Sturch’s pupils, it is not necessary to dwell at very great length. Miss Louisa’s habitual weakness was an inveterate tendency to catch cold. Miss Amelia’s principal defect was a disposition to gratify her palate by eating supplementary dinners and breakfasts at unauthorized times and seasons. Master Robert’s most noticeable failings were caused by alacrity in tearing his clothes, and obtuseness in learning the Multiplication Table. The virtues of all three were of much the same nature — they were well grown, they were genuine children, and they were boisterously fond of Miss Sturch.

To complete the gallery of family portraits, an outline, at the least, must be attempted of the vicar himself. Doctor Chennery was, in a physical point of view, a credit to the Establishment to which he was attached. He stood six feet two in his shooting-shoes; he weighed fifteen stone; he was the best bowler in the Long Beckley cricket-club; he was a strictly orthodox man in the matter of wine and mutton; he never started disagreeable theories about people’s future destinies in the pulpit, never quarreled with anybody out of the pulpit, never buttoned up his pockets when the necessities of his poor brethren (Dissenters included) pleaded with him to open them. His course through the world was a steady march along the high and dry middle of a safe turnpike-road. The serpentine side-paths of controversy might open as alluringly as they pleased on his right hand and on his left, but he kept on his way sturdily, and never regarded them. Innovating young recruits in the Church army might entrappingly open the Thirty-nine Articles under his very nose, but the veteran’s wary eye never looked a hair’s -breadth further than his own signature at the bottom of them. He knew as little as possible of theology, he had never given the Privy Council a minute’s trouble in the whole course of his life, he was innocent of all meddling with the reading or writing of pamphlets, and he was quite incapable of finding his way to the platform of Exeter Hall. In short, he was the most unclerical of clergymen — but, for all that, he had such a figure for a surplice as is seldom seen. Fifteen stone weight of upright muscular flesh, without an angry spot or sore place in any part of it, has the merit of suggesting stability, at any rate — an excellent virtue in pillars of all kinds, but an especially precious quality, at the present time, in a pillar of the Church.

As soon as the vicar entered the breakfast-parlor, the children assailed him with a chorus of shouts. He was a severe disciplinarian in the observance of punctuality at meal-times; and he now stood convicted by the clock of being too late for breakfast by a quarter of an hour.

“Sorry to have kept you waiting, Miss Sturch,” said the vicar; “but I have a good excuse for being late this morning”

“Pray don’t mention it, Sir,” said Miss Sturch, blandly rubbing her plump little hands one over the other. “A beautiful morning. I fear we shall have another warm day. — Robert, my love, your elbow is on the table. — A beautiful morning, indeed!”

“Stomach still out of order — eh, Phippen?” asked the vicar, beginning to carve the ham.

Mr. Phippen shook his large head dolefully, placed his yellow forefinger, ornamented with a large turquoise ring, on the centre check of his light-green summer waistcoat — looked piteously at Doctor Chennery, and sighed — removed the finger, and produced from the breast pocket of his wrapper a little mahogany case — took out of it a neat pair of apothecary’s scales, with the accompanying weights, a morsel of ginger, and a highly polished silver nutmeg-grater. “Dear Miss Sturch will pardon an invalid?” said Mr. Phippen, beginning to grate the ginger feebly into the nearest tea-cup.

“Guess what has made me a quarter of an hour late this morning,” said the vicar, looking mysteriously all round the table.

“Lying in bed, papa,” cried the three children, clapping their hands in triumph.

“What do you say, Miss Sturch?” asked Doctor Chennery.

Miss Sturch smiled as usual, rubbed her hands as usual, cleared her throat softly as usual, looked at the tea-urn, and begged, with the most graceful politeness, to be excused if she said nothing.

“Your turn now, Phippen,” said the vicar. “Come, guess what has kept me late this morning.”

“My dear friend,” said Mr. Phippen, giving the Doctor a brotherly squeeze of the hand, “don’t ask me to guess — I know! I saw what you ate at dinner yesterday — I saw what you drank after dinner. No digestion could stand it — not even yours. Guess what has made you late this morning? Pooh! pooh! I know. You dear, good soul, you have been taking physic!”

“Hav’n’t touched a drop, thank God, for the last ten years!” said Doctor Chennery, with a look of devout gratitude. “No, no; you’re all wrong. The fact is, I have been to church; and what do you think I have been doing there? Listen, Miss Sturch — listen, girls, with all your ears. Poor blind young Frankland is a happy man at last — I have married him to our dear Rosamond Treverton this very morning!”

“Without telling us, papa!” cried the two girls together in their shrillest tones of vexation and surprise. “Without telling us, when you know how we should have liked to see it!”

“That was the very reason why I did not tell you, my dears,” answered the vicar. “Young Frankland has not got so used to his affliction yet, poor fellow, as to bear being publicly pitied and stared at in the character of a blind bridegroom. He had such a nervous horror of being an object of curiosity on his wedding-day, and Rosamond, like a kind-hearted girl as she is, was so anxious that his slightest caprices should be humored, that we settled to have the wedding at an hour in the morning when no idler’s were likely to be lounging about the neighborhood of the church. I was bound over to the strictest secrecy about the day, and so was my clerk Thomas. Excepting us two, and the bride and bridegroom, and the bride’s father, Captain Treverton, nobody knew — ”

“Treverton!” exclaimed Mr. Phippen, holding his tea-cup, with the grated ginger in the bottom of it, to be filled by Miss Sturch. “Treverton! (No more tea, dear Miss Sturch.) How very remarkable! I know the name. (Fill up with water, if you please.) Tell me, my dear doctor (many, many thanks; no sugar — it turns acid on the stomach), is this Miss Treverton whom you have been marrying (many thanks again; no milk, either) one of the Cornish Trevertons?”

“To be sure she is!” rejoined the vicar. “Her father, Captain Treverton, is the head of the family. Not that there’s much family to speak of now. The Captain, and Rosamond, and that whimsical old brute of an uncle of hers, Andrew Treverton, are the last left now of the old stock — a rich family, and a fine family, in former times — good friends to Church and State, you know, and all that — ”

“Do you approve, Sir, of Amelia having a second helping of bread and marmalade?” asked Miss Sturch, appealing to Doctor Chennery, with the most perfect unconsciousness of interrupting him. Having no spare room in her mind for putting things away in until the appropriate time came for bringing them out, Miss Sturch always asked questions and made remarks the moment they occurred to her, without waiting for the beginning, middle, or end of any conversations that might be proceeding in her presence. She invariably looked the part of a listener to perfection, but she never acted it except in the case of talk that was aimed point-blank at her own ears.

“Oh, give her a second helping, by all means!” said the vicar, carelessly; “if she must over-eat herself, she may as well do it on bread and marmalade as on anything else.”

“My dear, good soul,” exclaimed Mr. Phippen, “look what a wreck I am, and don’t talk in that shockingly thoughtless way of letting our sweet Amelia over-eat herself. Load the stomach in youth, and what becomes of the digestion in age? The thing which vulgar people call the inside — I appeal to Miss Sturch’s interest in her charming pupil as an excuse for going into physiological particulars — is, in point of fact, an Apparatus. Digestively considered, Miss Sturch, even the fairest and youngest of us is an Apparatus. Oil our wheels, if you like; but clog them at your peril. Farinaceous puddings and mutton-chops; mutton-chops and farinaceous puddings — those should be the parents’ watch-words, if I had my way, from one end of England to the other. Look here, my sweet child — look at me. There is no fun, dear, about these little scales, but dreadful earnest. See! I put in the balance on one side dry bread (stale, dry bread, Amelia!), and on the other some ounce weights. ‘Mr. Phippen, eat by weight. Mr. Phippen! eat the same quantity, day by day, to a hair’s -breadth. Mr. Phippen! exceed your allowance (though it is only stale, dry bread) if you dare!’ Amelia, love, this is not fun — this is what the doctors tell me — the doctors, my child, who have been searching my Apparatus through and through for thirty years past with little pills, and have not found out where my wheels are clogged yet. Think of that, Amelia — think of Mr. Phippen’s clogged Apparatus — and say ‘No, thank you,’ next time. Miss Sturch, I beg a thousand pardons for intruding on your province; but my interest in that sweet child — Chennery, you dear, good soul, what were we talking about? Ah! the bride — the interesting bride! And so she is one of the Cornish Trevertons? I knew something of Andrew years ago. He was a bachelor, like myself, Miss Sturch. His Apparatus was out of order, like mine, dear Amelia. Not at all like his brother, the Captain, I should suppose? And so she is married? A charming girl, I have no doubt. A charming girl!”

“No better, truer, prettier girl in the world,” said the vicar.

“A very lively, energetic person,” remarked Miss Sturch.

“How I shall miss her!” cried Miss Louisa. “Nobody else amused me as Rosamond did, when I was laid up with that last bad cold of mine.”

“She used to give us such nice little early supper-parties,” said Miss Amelia.

“She was the only girl I ever saw who was fit to play with boys,” said Master Robert. “She could catch a ball, Mr. Phippen, Sir, with one hand, and go down a slide with both her legs together.”

“Bless me!” said Mr. Phippen. “What an extraordinary wife for a blind man! You said he was blind from his birth, my dear doctor, did you not? Let me see, what was his name? You will not bear too hardly on my loss of memory, Miss Sturch? When indigestion has done with the body, it begins to prey on the mind. Mr. Frank Something, was it not?”

“No, no — Frankland,” answered the vicar, “Leonard Frankland. And not blind from his birth by any means. It is not much more than a year ago since he could see almost as well as any of us.”

“An accident, I suppose!” said Mr. Phippen. “You will excuse me if I take the arm-chair? — a partially reclining posture is of great assistance to me after meals. So an accident happened to his eyes? Ah, what a delightfully easy chair to sit in!”

“Scarcely an accident,” said Doctor Chennery. “Leonard Frankland was a difficult child to bring up: great constitutional weakness, you know, at first. He seemed to get over that with time, and grew into a quiet, sedate, orderly sort of boy — as unlike my son there as possible — very amiable, and what you call easy to deal with. Well, he had a turn for mechanics (I am telling you all this to make you understand about his blindness), and, after veering from one occupation of that sort to another, he took at last to watch-making. Curious amusement for a boy; but anything that required delicacy of touch, and plenty of patience and perseverance, was just the thing to amuse and occupy Leonard. I always said to his father and mother, ‘Get him off that stool, break his magnifying-glasses, send him to me, and I’ll give him a back at leap-frog, and teach him the use of a bat.’ But it was no use. His parents knew best, I suppose, and they said he must be humored. Well, things went on smoothly enough for some time, till he got another long illness — as I believe, from not taking exercise enough. As soon as he began to get round, back he went to his old watch-making occupations again. But the bad end of it all was coming. About the last work he did, poor fellow, was the repairing of my watch — here it is; goes as regular as a steam-engine. I hadn’t got it back into my fob very long before I heard that he was getting a bad pain at the back of his head, and that he saw all sorts of moving spots before his eyes. ‘String him up with lots of port wine, and give him three hours a day on the back of a quiet pony’ — that was my advice. Instead of taking it, they sent for doctors from London, and blistered him behind the ears and between the shoulders, and drenched the lad with mercury, and moped him up in a dark room. No use. The sight got worse and worse, flickered and flickered, and went out at last like the flame of a candle. His mother died — luckily for her, poor soul — before that happened. His father was half out of his mind: took him to oculists in London and oculists in Paris. All they did was to call the blindness by a long Latin name, and to say that it was hopeless and useless to try an operation. Some of them said it was the result of the long weaknesses from which he had twice suffered after illness. Some said it was an apoplectic effusion in his brain. All of them shook their heads when they heard of the watch-making. So they brought him back home, blind; blind he is now; and blind he will remain, poor dear fellow, for the rest of his life.”

“You shock me; my dear Chennery, you shock me dreadfully,” said Mr. Phippen. “Especially when you state that theory about long weakness after illness. Good Heavens! Why, I have had long weaknesses — I have got them now. Spots did he see before his eyes? I see spots, black spots, dancing black spots, dancing black bilious spots. Upon my word of honor, Chennery, this comes home to me — my sympathies are painfully acute — I feel this blind story in every nerve of my body; I do, indeed!”

“You would hardly know that Leonard was blind, to look at him,” said Miss Louisa, striking into the conversation with a view to restoring Mr. Phippen’s equanimity. “Except that his eyes look quieter than other people’s, there seems no difference in them now. Who was that famous character you told us about, Miss Sturch, who was blind, and didn’t show it any more than Leonard Frankland?”

“Milton, my love. I begged you to remember that he was the most famous of British epic poets,” answered Miss Sturch with suavity. “He poetically describes his blindness as being caused by ‘so thick a drop serene.’ You shall read about it, Louisa. After we have had a little French, we will have a little Milton, this morning. Hush, love, your papa is speaking.”

“Poor young Frankland!” said the vicar, warmly. “That good, tender, noble creature I married him to this morning seems sent as a consolation to him in his affliction. If any human being can make him happy for the rest of his life, Rosamond Treverton is the girl to do it.”

“She has made a sacrifice,” said Mr. Phippen; “but I like her for that, having made a sacrifice myself in remaining single. It seems indispensable, indeed, on the score of humanity, that I should do so. How could I conscientiously inflict such a digestion as mine on a member of the fairer portion of creation? No; I am a sacrifice in my own proper person, and I have a fellow-feeling for others who are like me. Did she cry much, Chennery, when you were marrying her?”

“Cry!” exclaimed the vicar, contemptuously. “Rosamond Treverton is not one of the puling, sentimental sort, I can tell you. A fine, buxom, warm-hearted, quick-tempered girl, who looks what she means when she tells a man she is going to marry him. And, mind you, she has been tried. If she hadn’t loved him with all her heart and soul, she might have been free months ago to marry anybody she pleased. They were engaged long before this cruel affliction befell young Frankland — the fathers, on both sides, having lived as near neighbors in these parts for years. Well, when the blindness came, Leonard at once offered to release Rosamond from her engagement. You should have read the letter she wrote to him, Phippen, upon that. I don’t mind confessing that I blubbered like a baby over it when they showed it to me. I should have married them at once the instant I read it, but old Frankland was a fidgety, punctilious kind of man, and he insisted on a six months’ probation, so that she might be certain of knowing her own mind. He died before the term was out, and that caused the marriage to be put off again. But no delays could alter Rosamond — six years, instead of six months, would not have changed her. There she was this morning as fond of that poor, patient blind fellow as she was the first day they were engaged. ‘You shall never know a sad moment, Lenny, if I can help it, as long as you live’ — these were the first words she said to him when we all came out of church. ‘I hear you, Rosamond,’ said I. ‘And you shall judge me, too, Doctor,’ says she, quick as lightning. ‘We will come back to Long Beckley, and you shall ask Lenny if I have not kept my word.’ With that she gave me a kiss that you might have heard down here at the vicarage, bless her heart! We’ll drink her health after dinner, Miss Sturch — we’ll drink both their healths, Phippen, in a bottle of the best wine I have in my cellar.”

“In a glass of toast-and-water, so far as I am concerned, if you will allow me,” said Mr. Phippen, mournfully. “But, my dear Chennery, when you were talking of the fathers of these two interesting young people, you spoke of their living as near neighbors here, at Long Beckley. My memory is impaired, as I am painfully aware; but I thought Captain Treverton was the eldest of the two brothers, and that he always lived, when he was on shore, at the family place in Cornwall?”

“So he did,” returned the vicar, “in his wife’s lifetime. But since her death, which happened as long ago as the year ‘twenty-nine — let me see, we are now in the year ‘forty-four — and that makes — ”

The vicar stopped for an instant to calculate, and looked at Miss Sturch.

“Fifteen years ago, Sir,” said Miss Sturch, offering the accommodation of a little simple subtraction to the vicar, with her blandest smile.

“Of course,” continued Doctor Chennery. “Well, since Mrs. Treverton died, fifteen years ago, Captain Treverton has never been near Porthgenna Tower. And, what is more, Phippen, at the first opportunity he could get, he sold the place — sold it, out and out, mine, fisheries, and all — for forty thousand pounds.”

“You don’t say so!” exclaimed Mr. Phippen. “Did he find the air unhealthy? I should think the local produce, in the way of food, must be coarse now, in those barbarous regions? Who bought the place?”

“Leonard Frankland’s father,” said the vicar. “It is rather a long story, that sale of Porthgenna Tower, with some curious circumstances involved in it. Suppose we take a turn in the garden, Phippen? I’ll tell you all about it over my morning cigar. Miss Sturch, if you want me, I shall be on the lawn somewhere. Girls! mind you know your lessons. Bob! remember that I’ve got a cane in the hall, and a birch-rod in my dressing-room. Come, Phippen, rouse up out of that arm-chair. You won’t say No to a turn in the garden?”

“My dear fellow, I will say Yes — if you will kindly lend me an umbrella, and allow me to carry my camp-stool in my hand,” said Mr. Phippen. “I am too weak to encounter the sun, and I can’t go far without sitting down. The moment I feel fatigued, Miss Sturch, I open my camp-stool, and sit down anywhere, without the slightest regard for appearances. I am ready, Chennery, whenever you are — equally ready, my good friend, for the garden and the story about the sale of Porthgenna Tower. You said it was a curious story, did you not?”

“I said there was some curious circumstances connected with it,” replied the vicar. “And when you hear about them, I think you will say so too. Come along! you will find your camp-stool, and a choice of all the umbrellas in the house, in the hall.”

With those words, Doctor Chennery opened his cigar-case, and led the way out of the breakfast-parlor.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52