CHAPTER V: Candlelight View of the Man. Free audiobook of Wilkie Collins’s “Poor Miss Finch”. Audio courtesy of Librivox.
CHAPTER THE FIFTH
Candlelight View of the Man
THERE had been barely light enough left for me to read by. Zillah lit the candles and drew the curtains. The silence which betokens a profound disappointment reigned in the room.
“Who can he be?” repeated Lucilla, for the hundredth time. “And why should your looking at him have distressed him? Guess, Madame Pratolungo!”
The last sentence in the gazetteer’s description of Exeter hung a little on my mind–in consequence of there being one word in it which I did not quite understand–the word “Assizes.” I have, I hope, shown that I possess a competent knowledge of the English language, by this time. But my experience fails a little on the side of phrases consecrated to the use of the law. I inquired into the meaning of “Assizes,” and was informed that it signified movable Courts, for trying prisoners at given times, in various parts of England. Hearing this, I had another of my inspirations. I guessed immediately that the interesting stranger was a criminal escaped from the Assizes.
Worthy old Zillah started to her feet, convinced that I had hit him off (as the English saying is) to a T. “Mercy preserve us!” cried the nurse, “I haven’t bolted the garden door!”
She hurried out of the room to defend us from robbery and murder, before it was too late. I looked at Lucilla. She was leaning back in her chair, with a smile of quiet contempt on her pretty face. “Madame Pratolungo,” she remarked, “that is the first foolish thing you have said, since you have been here.”
“Wait a little, my dear,” I rejoined. “You have declared that nothing is known of this man. Now you mean by that–nothing which satisfies you. He has not dropped down from Heaven, I suppose? The time when he came here, must be known. Also, whether he came alone, or not. Also, how and where he has found a lodging in the village. Before I admit that my guess is completely wrong, I want to hear what general observation in Dimchurch has discovered on the subject of this gentleman. How long has he been here?”
Lucilla did not, at first, appear to be much interested in the purely practical view of the question which I had just placed before her.
“He has been here a week,” she answered carelessly.
“Did he come, as I came, over the hills?”
“With a guide, of course?”
Lucilla suddenly sat up in her chair.
“With his brother,” she said. “His twin brother, Madame Pratolungo.”
I sat up in my chair. The appearance of his twin-brother in the story was a complication in itself. Two criminals escaped from the Assizes, instead of one!
“How did they find their way here?” I asked next.
“Where did they go to, when they got here?”
“To the Cross-Hands–the little public-house in the village. The landlord told Zillah he was perfectly astonished at the resemblance between them. It was impossible to know which was which–it was wonderful, even for twins. They arrived early in the day, when the tap-room was empty; and they had a long talk together in private. At the end of it, they rang for the landlord, and asked if he had a bed-room to let in the house. You must have seen for yourself that The Cross-Hands is a mere beer-shop. The landlord had a room that he could spare–a wretched place, not fit for a gentleman to sleep in. One of the brothers took the room for all that.”
“What became of the other brother?”
“He went away the same day–very unwillingly. The parting between them was most affecting. The brother who spoke to us to-night insisted on it–or the other would have refused to leave him. They both shed tears—-”
“They did worse than that,” said old Zillah, re-entering the room at the moment. “I have made all the doors and windows fast, downstairs; he can’t get in now, my dear, if he tries.”
“What did they do that was worse than crying?” I inquired.
“Kissed each other!” said Zillah, with a look of profound disgust. “Two men! Foreigners, of course.”
“Our man is no foreigner,” I said. “Did they give themselves a name?”
“The landlord asked the one who stayed behind for his name,” replied Lucilla. “He said it was ‘Dubourg.'”
This confirmed me in my belief that I had guessed right. “Dubourg” is as common a name in my country as “Jones” or “Thompson” is in England–just the sort of feigned name that a man in difficulties would give among us. Was he a criminal countryman of mine? No! There had been nothing foreign in his accent when he spoke. Pure English–there could be no doubt of that. And yet he had given a French name. Had he deliberately insulted my nation? Yes! Not content with being stained by innumerable crimes, he had added to the list of his atrocities–he had insulted my nation!
“Well?” I resumed. “We have left this undetected ruffian deserted in the public-house. Is he there still?”