“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 striking reflections are just the parts of a story-book that people never read.”
At the time of the stories that make up After Dark, William Wilkie Collins (1824–1889) was an established writer, but not yet the Big Name he would later become. We are several years away from The Woman in White (serialized 1859–60 in Charles Dickens’ All the Year Round, first book publication 1860), and a further eight years from The Moonstone (serial and book 1868). For more about the author, see the notes to Rambles beyond Railways.
Five of the six stories originally appeared in Household Words—also edited by Dickens—vols. 5-11, on various dates from April 1852 to July 1855. “The Lady of Glenwith Grange” was added for the book publication, as was the framing narrative of Leah’s diary.
|Leaves from Leah’s Diary.||1|
|Prologue to the First Story.||30|
|The Traveller’s Story of A Terribly Strange Bed.||46|
|Prologue to the Second Story.||79|
|The Lawyer’s Story of A Stolen Letter.||87|
|Prologue to the Third Story.||120|
|The French Governess’s Story of Sister Rose.||134|
|Epilogue to the Third Story.||314|
|Prologue to the Fourth Story.||1|
|The Angler’s Story of The Lady of Glenwith Grange.||13|
|Prologue to the Fifth Story.||50|
|The Nun’s Story of Gabriel’s Marriage.||59|
|Prologue to the Sixth Story.||133|
|The Professor’s Story of The Yellow Mask.||146|
|Last Leaves from Leah’s Diary.||318|
Typographical errors are marked with and are listed again at the bottom of each page. The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.
Typographic quirk: In all but the final story (“The Yellow Mask”), the book, following the serial, very often has ”—— (close quote followed by dash) where ——” (final dash inside quotation marks) might be expected.
The word “canvass” is consistently spelled that way—though it appears less often than one would think.
AUTHOR OF “BASIL,” “HIDE AND SEEK;” &c.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
SMITH, ELDER AND CO., 65 CORNHILL.
[The right of Translation is reserved.]
EDINBURGH: PRINTED BY OLIVER AND BOYD,
I have taken some pains to string together the various stories contained in these Volumes 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 fulfil another purpose besides that of serving as the framework for my collection of tales. In this part of the book, and subsequently in the Prologues to the stories, it has been my object to give the reader one more glimpse at that artist-life which circumstances have afforded me peculiar opportunities of studying, and which I have already tried to represent, under another aspect, in my last fiction, Hide and Seek. This time, I wish to ask some sympathy for the joys and sorrows of a poor travelling I.vi portrait-painter—presented from his wife’s point of view in Leah’s Diary, and supposed to be briefly and simply narrated by himself in the Prologues to the stories. I have purposely kept these two portions of the book within certain limits; only giving, in the one case, as much as the wife might naturally write in her diary at intervals of household leisure; and, in the other, as much as a modest and sensible man would be likely to say about himself and about the characters he met with in his wanderings. If I have been so fortunate as to make my idea intelligible by this brief and simple mode of treatment, and if I have, at the same time, achieved the necessary object of gathering several separate stories together as neatly fitting parts of one complete whole, I shall have succeeded in a design which I have for some time past been very anxious creditably to fulfil.
Of the tales themselves, taken individually, I have only to say, by way of necessary explanation, that The Lady of Glenwith Grange is now offered to the reader for the first time; and that the other stories have appeared in the columns of Household Words. I.vii My best thanks are due to Mr Charles Dickens, for his kindness in allowing me to set them in their present framework.
I must also gratefully acknowledge an obligation of another kind to the accomplished artist, Mr W. S. Herrick, to whom I am indebted for the curious and interesting facts on which the tales of “The Terribly Strange Bed” and “The Yellow Mask” are founded.
Although the statement may appear somewhat superfluous to those who know me, it may not be out of place to add, in conclusion, that these stories are entirely of my own imagining, constructing, and writing. The fact that the events of some of my tales occur on foreign ground, and are acted out by foreign personages, appears to have suggested in some quarters the inference that the stories themselves might be of foreign origin. Let me, once for all, assure any readers who may honour me with their attention, that in this, and in all other cases, they may depend on the genuineness of my literary offspring. The little children of my brain may be I.viii weakly enough, and may be sadly in want of a helping hand to aid them in their first attempts at walking on the stage of this great world; but, at any rate, they are not borrowed children. The members of my own literary family are indeed increasing so fast as to render the very idea of borrowing quite out of the question, and to suggest serious apprehensions that I may not have done adding to the large book-population, on my own sole responsibility, even yet.
Hanover Terrace, Regent’s Park,
16th February 1827.—The doctor has just called for the third time to examine my husband’s eyes. Thank God, there is no fear at present of my poor William losing his sight, provided he can be prevailed on to attend rigidly to the medical instructions for preserving it. These instructions, which forbid him to exercise his profession for the next six months at least, are, in our case, very hard to follow. They will but too probably sentence us to poverty, perhaps to actual want; but they must be borne resignedly, and even thankfully, seeing that my husband’s forced cessation from work will save him from the dreadful I.2 affliction of loss of sight. I think I can answer for my own cheerfulness and endurance, now that we know the worst. Can I answer for our children also? Surely I can, when there are only two of them. It is a 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 as well 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 sometimes deceive their patients, from what has always seemed to me to be misdirected kindness of heart. The mere suspicion that I had been trifled with on the subject of my husband’s illness, caused me such uneasiness, that I made an excuse to get out, and went in secret to the doctor. Fortunately, I found him at home, and in three words I confessed to 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 six months, my husband must allow his eyes to have the most perfect repose?”
“Exactly,” the doctor answered. “Mind, I I.3 say that he may not dispense with his green shade, indoors, for an hour or two at a time, as the inflammation gets subdued. But I do most positively repeat that he must not employ his eyes. He must not touch a brush or pencil; he must not think of taking another likeness, on any consideration whatever, for the 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 all the bad symptoms that we have had to combat ever since. I warned him (if you remember, Mrs Kerby?) when he first came to practise in our neighbourhood.”
“I know you did, sir,” I replied. “But what was a poor travelling portrait-painter like my husband, who lives by taking likenesses first in one place and then in another, to do? Our bread depended on his using his 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 get by portrait-painting?” asked the doctor.
“None,” I answered, with a sinking at my heart as I thought of his bill for medical attendance.
“Will you pardon me?” he said, colouring and I.4 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 the practice of his profession? Don’t,” he went on anxiously, before I could reply—“pray don’t think I make this inquiry from a motive of impertinent curiosity!”
I felt quite satisfied that he could have no improper motive for asking the question, and so answered it at once plainly and truly.
“My husband makes but a small income,” I said. “Famous London portrait-painters get great prices from their sitters; but poor unknown artists, who only travel about the country, are obliged to work hard and be contented with very small gains. After we have paid all that we owe here, I am afraid we shall have little enough left to retire on, when we take refuge in some cheaper place.”
“In that case,” said the good doctor (I am so glad and proud to remember that I always liked him from the first!) “in that case, don’t make yourself anxious about my bill when you are thinking of clearing off your debts here. I can afford to wait till Mr Kerby’s eyes are well again, and I shall then ask him for a likeness of my little daughter. By that arrangement I.5 we are sure to be both quits, and both perfectly satisfied.”
He considerately shook hands and bade me farewell before I could say half the grateful words to him that were on my lips. Never, never shall I forget that he relieved me of my two heaviest anxieties at the most anxious time of my life. The merciful, warm-hearted man! I could almost have 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 look only at the cheerful side of things for the future, the events of to-day would have robbed me of all my courage, at the very outset of our troubles. First, there was the casting up of our bills, and the discovery, when the amount of them was balanced against all the money we have saved up, that we shall only have between three and four pounds left in the cash-box, after we have got out of debt. Then there was the sad necessity of writing letters in my husband’s name to the rich people who were ready to employ him, telling them of the affliction that had overtaken him, and of the impossibility of his executing their orders for portraits for the next six months to come. And, lastly, there was the I.6 heart-breaking business for me to go through of giving our landlord warning, just as we had got comfortably settled in our new abode. If William could only have gone on with his work, we might have stopped in this town and in these clean comfortable lodgings for at least three or 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 so pleasant to deal with in the kitchen as the landlady here. And now we must leave all this comfort and happiness, and go—I hardly know where. William, in his bitterness, says to the workhouse; but that shall never be, if I have to go out to service to prevent it. The darkness is coming on, 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 it began; and that was in the morning, when I set my little Emily to work on a bead-purse for the kind doctor’s daughter. My child, young as she is, is wonderfully neat-handed at stringing beads; and even a poor little empty purse as a token of our gratitude, is better than nothing at all.
19th. A visit from our best friend—our only friend here—the doctor. After he had examined I.7 William’s eyes, and had reported that they were getting on as well as can be hoped at present, he asked where we thought of going to live? I said in the cheapest place we could find, and added that I was about to make inquiries in the by-streets of the town that very day. “Put off those inquiries,” he said, “till you hear from me again. I am going now to see a patient at a farm-house five miles off. (You needn’t look at the children, Mrs Kerby, it’s nothing infectious—only a clumsy lad who has broken his collar-bone by a fall from a horse.) They receive lodgers occasionally at the farm-house, and I know no reason why they should not be willing to receive you. If you want to be well housed and well fed at a cheap rate, and if you like the society of honest, hearty people, the farm of Appletreewick is the very place for you. Don’t thank me till you know whether I can get you these new lodgings or not. And in the meantime, settle all your business affairs here, so as to be able to move at a moment’s notice.” With those words the kind-hearted gentleman nodded and went out. Pray heaven he may succeed at the farm-house! We may be sure of the children’s health, at least, if we live in the country. Talking of the children, I must not omit to record that I.8 Emily has nearly done one end of the bead-purse already.
20th. A note from the doctor, who is too busy to call. Such good news! They will give us two bedrooms and board us with the family, at Appletreewick, for seventeen shillings a-week. By my calculations, we shall have three pounds sixteen shillings left, after paying what we owe here. That will be enough, at the outset, for four weeks’ living at the farm-house, with eight shillings to spare besides. By embroidery work I can easily make nine shillings more to put to that, and there is a fifth week provided for. Surely, in five weeks’ time—considering the number of things I can turn my hand to—we may hit on some plan for getting a little 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 light-hearted a view of the future as I do. He says that the prospect of sitting idle and being kept by his wife for months to come, is something more wretched and hopeless than words can describe. I try to raise his spirits by reminding him of his years of honest hard work for me and the children, and of the doctor’s assurance that his eyes will get the better, in good I.9 time, of their present helpless state. But he still sighs and murmurs—being one of the most independent and high-spirited of men—about living a burden on his wife. I can only answer, what in my heart of hearts I feel, that I took him for Better and for Worse—that I have had many years of the Better, and that, even in our present trouble, the Worse shows no signs of coming yet!
The bead-purse is getting on fast. Red and blue, in a pretty striped pattern.
21st. A busy day. We go to Appletreewick to-morrow. Paying bills and packing up. All poor William’s new canvasses and painting-things huddled together into a packing case. He looked so sad, sitting silent with his green shade on, while his old familiar working materials were disappearing around him, as if he and they were never to come together again, that the tears would start into my eyes, though I am sure I am not one of the crying sort. Luckily, the green shade kept him from seeing 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 tassels for it? I am not justified now I.10 in spending sixpence unnecessarily, even for 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 up for past omissions.
My first occupation on the morning of the move had, oddly enough, nothing to do with our departure for the farm-house. The moment breakfast was over, I began the day by making Emily as smart and nice-looking as I could, to go to the doctor’s with the purse. She had her best silk frock on, showing the mending a little in some places, I am afraid; and her straw hat trimmed with my bonnet ribbon. Her father’s neckscarf, turned and 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 to be regretted I had no gloves for her). They were delighted with the purse—which I ought to mention was finished with some white beads; we found them in rummaging among our boxes, and they made beautiful rings I.11 and tassels, contrasting charmingly with the blue and red of the rest of the purse. The doctor and his little girl were, as I have said, delighted with the present; and they gave Emily in return a work-box for herself, and a box of sugar-plums for her baby-sister. The child came back all flushed with the pleasure of the visit, and quite helped to keep up her father’s spirits with talking to him about it. So much for the highly interesting history of the bead-purse.
Towards the afternoon, the light cart from the farm-house came to fetch us and our things to Appletreewick. It was quite a warm spring-day, and I 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 the cheerful sunlight. “God only knows, Leah, how this will succeed with us,” he said, as we started—then sighed, and fell silent again.
Just outside the town the doctor met us. “Good luck go with you!” he cried, swinging his stick in his usual hasty way: “I shall come and see you as soon as you are all settled at the farm-house.”—“Good-bye, sir,” says Emily, struggling up with all her might among the bundles in the bottom of the I.12 cart; “Good-bye, and thank you again for the work-box and the sugar-plums.” That was my child all over! she never wants telling. The doctor kissed his hand, and gave another flourish with his stick. So we 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 steady breeze; at the shadows flying over the smooth fields; at the high white clouds moving on and on in their grand airy procession over the gladsome blue sky! It was a hilly road, and I begged the lad who drove us not to press the horse; so we were nearly an hour, at our slow rate of going, before we drew up at the gate of Appletreewick.
24th February to 2d March.—We have now been here long enough to know something of the place and the people. First, as to the place:—Where the farm-house now is, there was once a famous priory. The tower is still standing, and the great room where the monks ate and drank—used at present as a granary. The house itself seems to have been tacked on to the ruins anyhow. No two rooms in it are on the same level. The children do nothing but tumble about the passages, because there always happens to I.13 be a step up or down, just at the darkest part of every one of them. As for staircases, there seems to me to be one for each bedroom. I do nothing but lose my way—and the farmer says, drolling, that he must have signposts put up for me in every corner of the house from top to bottom. On the ground-floor, besides the usual domestic offices, we have the best parlour—a dark, airless, expensively furnished solitude, never invaded by anybody—the kitchen, and a kind of hall, with a fireplace as big as the drawing-room at our town lodgings. Here we live and take our meals; here the children can racket about to their hearts’ content; here the dogs come lumbering in, whenever they can get loose; here wages are paid, visitors are received, bacon is cured, cheese is tasted, pipes are smoked, and naps are taken every evening by the male members of the family. Never was such a comfortable, friendly dwelling-place devised as this 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 of smooth grazing-fields, each shut off from the other by its neat hedgerow and its sturdy gate. Beyond the fields, the I.14 hills seem to flow away gently from us into the far blue distance, till they are lost in the bright softness of the sky. At one point, which we can see from our bedroom windows, they dip suddenly into the plain, and show, over the rich marshy flat, a strip of distant sea,—a strip, sometimes blue, sometimes grey; sometimes, when the sun sets, a streak of fire; sometimes, on showery days, a flash of silver light.
The inhabitants of the farm-house have one great and rare merit—they are people whom you can make friends with at once. Between not knowing them at all, and knowing them well enough to shake hands at first sight, there is no ceremonious interval or formal gradation whatever. They received us, on our arrival, exactly as if we were old friends returned from some long travelling expedition. Before we had been ten minutes in the hall, William had the easiest chair and the snuggest corner; the children were eating bread and jam on the window-seat; and I was talking to the farmer’s wife, with the cat on my lap, of the time when Emily had the measles.
The family numbers seven, exclusive of the indoor servants of course. First come the farmer and his wife—he a tall, sturdy, loud-voiced, active old man—she the easiest, plumpest, and gayest woman of sixty I ever I.15 met with. They have three sons and two daughters. The two eldest of the young men are employed on the farm; the third is a sailor, and is making holiday-time of it just now at Appletreewick. The daughters are pictures of health and freshness. I have but one complaint to make against them—they are beginning to spoil the children already.
In this tranquil place, and among these genial, natural people, how happily my time might be passed, were it not for the saddening sight of William’s affliction, and the wearing uncertainty of how we are to provide for future necessities! It is a hard thing for my husband and me, after having had the day made pleasant by kind words and friendly offices, to feel this one anxious thought always forcing itself on us at night:—Shall we have the means of stopping in our new home in a month’s time?
3d. A rainy day; the children difficult to manage; William miserably despondent. Perhaps he influenced me, or perhaps I felt my little troubles with the children more than usual—but, however it was, I have not been so heavy-hearted since the day when my husband first put on the green shade. A listless, hopeless sensation would steal over me—but why write about it? Better to try and forget it. I.16 There is always to-morrow to look to when to-day is at the worst.
4th. To-morrow has proved worthy of the faith I put in it. Sunshine again out of doors; and as clear and true a reflection of it in my own heart as I can hope to have just at this time. Oh! that month, that one poor 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 before tea-time—little thinking of events destined to happen with the evening that would be really worth chronicling, for the sake of the excellent results to which they are sure to lead. My tendency is to be too sanguine about everything, I know; but I am, nevertheless, firmly persuaded that I can see a new way out of our present difficulties—a way of getting money enough to keep us all in comfort at the farm-house until William’s eyes are well again.
The new project which is to relieve us from all uncertainties for the next six months actually originated with me! It has raised me many inches higher in my own estimation already. If the doctor only agrees with my view of the case when he comes to-morrow, William will allow himself to be persuaded, I.17 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, was talking with the young sailor, who is jocosely called here by the very ugly name of “Foul-weather Dick.” The farmer and his two eldest sons were composing themselves on the oaken settles for their usual nap. The Dame 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 not a very propitious state of things for the creation of new ideas—and yet my idea grew out of it for all that. Talking with my husband on various subjects connected with life in ships, the young sailor began giving us a description of his hammock; telling us how it was slung, how it was impossible to get into it any other way than “stern foremost” (whatever that 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 a rate as to bump bodily against the ship’s side and wake him up with the sensation of having just received a punch on the head from a remarkably hard fist. Hearing I.18 all this, I ventured to suggest that it must be an immense relief to him to sleep on shore in a good, motionless, solid four-post bed. But to my surprise he scoffed at the idea; said he never slept comfortably out of his hammock; declared that he quite missed his occasional punch on the head from the ship’s side; and ended by giving a most comical account of all the uncomfortable sensations he felt when he slept in a four-post bed. The odd nature of one of the young 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 French Gambling-house, which he once heard from a gentleman whose likeness he took. “You’re laughing at me,” says honest Foul-weather Dick, seeing William turn towards me and smile.—“No indeed,” says my husband—“that last objection of yours to the four-post beds on shore seems by no means ridiculous to me at any rate. I once knew a gentleman, Dick, who practically realized your objection.”
“Excuse me, sir,” says Dick, after a pause, and with an appearance of great bewilderment and curiosity; “but could you put ‘practically realized’ into plain English, so that a poor man like me might have a chance of understanding you?”—“Certainly!” I.19 says my husband, laughing. “I mean that I once knew a gentleman who actually saw and felt what, you say in jest, you are afraid of seeing and feeling whenever you sleep in a four-post bed. Do you understand that?” Foul-weather Dick understood it perfectly, and begged with great eagerness to hear what the gentleman’s adventure really was. The Dame, who had been listening to our talk, backed her son’s petition; the two girls sat down expectant at the half-cleared tea-table; even the farmer and his drowsy sons roused themselves lazily on the settle—my husband saw that he stood fairly committed to the relation of the story, so he told it without more ado.
I have often heard him relate that strange adventure (William is the best teller of a story I ever met with) to friends of all ranks, in many different parts of England, and I never yet knew it fail of producing an effect. The farm-house audience were, I may almost say, petrified by it. I never before saw people look so long in the same direction, and sit so long in the same attitude, as they did. Even the servants stole away from their work in the kitchen, and, unrebuked by master or mistress, stood quite spell-bound in the doorway to listen. Observing all this in silence, I.20 while my husband was going on with his narrative, the thought suddenly flashed across me:—“Why should William not get a wider audience for that story, as well as for others which he has heard from time to time from his sitters, and which he has hitherto only repeated in private among a few friends? People tell stories in books and get money for them. What if we told our stories in a book? and what if the book sold?—Why, freedom surely from the one great anxiety that is now preying on us! Money enough to stop at the farm-house till William’s eyes are fit for work again!” I almost jumped up from my chair as my thought went on shaping itself in this manner. When great men make wonderful discoveries, do they feel sensations like mine, I wonder? Was Sir Isaac Newton within an ace of skipping into the air when he first found out the law of gravitation? Did Friar Bacon long to dance when he lit the match and heard the first charge of gunpowder in the world go off with a bang?
I had to put a strong constraint on myself, or I should have communicated all that was passing in my mind to William before our friends at the farm-house. But I knew it was best to wait until we were alone, and I did wait. What a relief it I.21 was, when we all got up at last to say Good-night!
The moment we were in our own room, I could not stop to take so much as a pin out of my dress before I began. “My dear,” said I, “I never heard you tell that gambling-house adventure so well before. What an effect it had upon our friends! what an effect indeed it always has wherever you tell it!”
So far, he did not seem to take much notice. He just nodded, and began to pour out some of the lotion in which he always bathes his poor eyes the last thing at night.
“And, as for that, William,” I went on, “all your stories seem to interest people. What a number you have picked up, first and last, from different sitters, in the fifteen years of your practice as a portrait-painter! Have you any idea how many stories you really do know?”
No: he could not undertake to say how many just then. He gave this answer in a very indifferent tone, dabbing away all the time at his eyes with the sponge and lotion. He did it so awkwardly and roughly, as it seemed to me, that I took the sponge from him and applied the lotion tenderly myself.
“Do you think,” said I, “if you turned over one I.22 of your stories carefully in your mind beforehand—say the one you told to-night, for example—that you could repeat it all to me, so perfectly and deliberately, that I should be able to take it down in writing from your lips?”
Yes: of course he could. But why ask that question?
“Because I should like to have all the stories that you have been in the habit of relating to our friends set down fairly in writing, by way of preserving them from ever being forgotten.”
Would I bathe his left eye now, because that felt the hottest to-night? I began to forebode that his growing indifference to what I was saying would soon end in his fairly going to sleep before I had developed my new idea, unless I took some means forthwith of stimulating his curiosity, or, in other words, of waking him into a proper state of astonishment and attention. “William,” said I, without another syllable of preface; “I have got a new plan for finding all the money we want for our 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 from following your profession as an artist, I.23 does it not? Very well! What are you to do with your idle time, my dear? Turn author! And how are you to get 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 I always take when I want to persuade him to anything with as few words as possible).
“Now, William, listen patiently to me,” I said. “An artist lies under this great disadvantage in case of accidents—his talents are of no service to him unless he can use his eyes and fingers. An author, on the other hand, can turn his talents to account just as well by means of other people’s eyes and fingers as by means of his own. In your present situation, therefore, you have nothing for it, as I said before, but to turn author. Wait! and hear me out. The book I want you to make is a book of all your stories. You shall repeat them, and I will write them down from your dictation. Our manuscript shall be printed—we will sell the book to the public, and so support ourselves honourably in adversity, by doing the best we can to interest and amuse others.”
While I was saying all this—I suppose in a very I.24 excitable manner—my husband looked, as our young sailor-friend would phrase it, quite taken aback. “You were always quick at contriving, Leah,” he said; “but how in the world came you to think of this plan?”
“I thought of it while you were telling them the gambling-house adventure down stairs,” 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 another thing 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 called writing 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 experiment successfully. Besides, in our case, we have the materials ready to our hands—surely we can succeed in shaping them presentably, if we aim at nothing 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 striking reflections are just the parts of a story-book that people never read. Whatever we do, I.25 let us not, if we can possibly help it, write so much as a single sentence that can be conveniently skipped. Come! come!” I continued, seeing him begin to shake his head again; “no more objections, William, I am too certain of the success of my plan to endure them. If you still doubt, let us refer the new project to a competent arbitrator. The doctor is coming to see you to-morrow. I will tell 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 to send me to bed in the best spirits. For, of course, I should never have thought of mentioning the doctor as an arbitrator, if I had not known beforehand that he was sure to be on my side.
6th. The arbitrator has shown that he deserved my confidence in him. He ranked himself entirely on my side before I had half done explaining to him what my new project really was. As to my husband’s doubts and difficulties, the dear good man would not so much as hear them mentioned. “No objections,” he cried gaily; “set to work, Mr Kerby, and make your fortune. I always said your wife was worth her weight in gold—and here she is now, all ready to I.26 get into the bookseller’s scales and prove it. Set to work! set to work!”
“With all my heart,” said William, beginning at last to catch the infection of our enthusiasm. “But when my part of the work and my wife’s has been completed, what are we to do with the produce of our labour?”
“Leave that to me,” answered the doctor. “Finish your book and send it to my house; I will show it at once to the Editor of our county newspaper. He has plenty of literary friends in London, and he will be just 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 name yet for the new book?”
At that question, it was my turn to be “taken aback.” The idea of naming the book had never once entered my head.
“A good title is of vast importance,” said the doctor, knitting his brows 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,” my husband suggested. “Talking of work,” he continued, turning to me; “how are I.27 you to find time, Leah, with your nursery occupations, for writing down all the stories as I tell them?”
“I have been thinking of that this morning,” said I, “and have come to the conclusion that I shall have but little leisure to write from your dictation in the daytime. What with dressing and washing the children, teaching them, giving them their meals, taking them out to walk, and keeping them amused at home—to say nothing of sitting sociably at work with the Dame and her two girls in the afternoon—I am afraid I shall have few opportunities of doing my part of the book between breakfast and tea-time. But when the children are in bed, and the farmer and his family are reading or dozing, I should have at least three unoccupied hours to spare. So, if you don’t mind putting off our working-time till after dark”————
“There’s the title!” shouted the doctor, jumping out of his chair as if he 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 the walls of the room.
“In your last words, to be sure!” rejoined the doctor. “You said just now, that you would not have leisure to write from Mr Kerby’s dictation till I.28 after dark. What can we do better than name the book after the time 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 name looks on paper.”
I opened my writing-desk in a great flutter. The doctor selected the largest sheet of paper and the broadest-nibbed pen he could find, and wrote in majestic round-text letters, with alternate thin and thick strokes beautiful to see, the two cabalistic words:—
We all three laid our heads together over the paper, and in breathless silence studied the effect of the round text: William raising his green shade in the excitement of the moment, and actually disobeying the doctor’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 faces, and nodded. There was no doubt whatever on the subject after seeing the round-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 hat to go. “And now I leave it to you two to write the book.”I.29
Since then I have mended four pens and bought a quire of letter-paper at the village shop. William is to ponder well over his stories in the daytime, so as to be quite ready for me “after dark.” We are to commence our new occupation this evening. My heart beats fast and my eyes moisten when I think of it. How many of our dearest interests depend upon the one little beginning that we are to make to-night!II.318
3d June.—Our stories are ended: our pleasant work is done. It is a lovely summer afternoon. The great hall at the farm-house, after having been filled with people, is now quite deserted. I sit alone at my little work-table, with rather a crying sensation at my heart, and with the pen trembling in my fingers, as if I was an old woman already. Our manuscript has been sealed up and taken away; the one precious object of all our most anxious thoughts for months past—our third child, as we have got to call it—has gone out from us on this summer’s day, to seek its fortune in the world.
A little before twelve o’clock last night, my husband dictated to me the last words of “the Yellow Mask.” I laid down the pen, and closed the paper thoughtfully. With that simple action the work that we had wrought at together so carefully and so long, came to a close. We were both so silent and II.319 still, that the murmuring of the trees in the night-air sounded audibly and solemnly in our room.
William’s collection of stories has not, thus far, been half exhausted yet; but those who understand the public taste and the interests of bookselling better than we, think it advisable not to risk offering too much to the reader at first. If individual opinions can be accepted as a fair test, our prospects of success seem hopeful. The doctor (but we must not forget that he is a friend) was so pleased with the two specimen stories we sent to him, that he took them at once to his friend, the editor of the newspaper; who showed his appreciation of what he read in a very gratifying manner. He proposed that William should publish in the newspaper, on very fair terms, any short anecdotes and curious experiences of his life as a portrait-painter, which might not be important enough to put into a book. The money which my husband has gained from time to time in this way, has just sufficed to pay our expenses at the farm-house up to within the last month; and now our excellent friends here say they will not hear anything more from us on the subject of the rent until the book is sold and we have plenty of money. This is one great relief and happiness. Another, for which I feel even more grateful, is, that William’s eyes have gained so much by their long rest, that even the doctor is surprised at II.320 the progress he has made. He only puts on his green shade now when he goes out into the sun, or when the candles are lit. His spirits are infinitely raised, and he is beginning to talk already of the time when he will unpack his palette and brushes, and take to his old portrait-painting occupations again.
With all these reasons for being happy, it seems unreasonable and ungracious in me to be feeling sad, as I do just at this moment. I can only say in my own justification, that it is a mournful ceremony to take leave of an old friend; and I have taken leave, twice over, of the book that has been like an old friend to me—once when I had written the last word in it, and once again when I saw it carried away to London.
I packed the manuscript up with my own hands this morning, in thick brown paper, wasting a great deal of sealing-wax I am afraid, in my anxiety to keep the parcel from bursting open in case it should be knocked about on its journey to town. Oh me, how cheap and common it looked, in its new form, as I carried it down stairs! A dozen pairs of worsted stockings would have made a larger parcel; and half-a-crown’s worth of groceries would have weighed a great deal heavier.
Just as we had done dinner the doctor and the editor came in. The first had called to fetch the II.321 parcel—I mean the manuscript: the second had come out with him to Appletreewick for a walk. As soon as the farmer heard that the book was to be sent to London, he insisted that we should drink success to it all round. The children, in high glee, were mounted up on the table, with a glass of currant wine a-piece; the rest of us had ale; the farmer proposed the toast, and his sailor-son led the cheers. We all joined in (the children included), except the editor—who being the only important person of the party, could not, I suppose, afford to compromise his dignity by making a noise. He was extremely polite, however, in a lofty way, to me, waving his hand and bowing magnificently every time he spoke. This discomposed me a little; and I was still more flurried when he said that he had written to the London publishers that very day, to prepare them for the arrival of our book.
“Do you think they will print it, sir?” I ventured to ask.
“My dear madam, you may consider it settled,” said the editor confidently. “The letter is written—the thing is done. Look upon the book as published already; pray oblige me by looking upon the book as published already!”
“Then the only uncertainty now is about how the II.322 public will receive it?” said my husband, fidgeting in his chair, and looking nervously at me.
“Just so, my dear sir, just so,” answered the editor. “Everything depends upon the public—everything, I pledge you my word of honour.”
“Don’t look doubtful, Mrs Kerby; there isn’t a doubt about it,” whispered the kind doctor, giving the manuscript a confident smack as he passed by me with it on his way to the door.
In another minute he and the editor and the poor cheap-looking brown paper parcel were gone. The others followed them out, and I was left in the hall alone.
Oh, Public! Public! it all depends now upon you! The children are to have new clothes from top to toe; I am to have a black silk gown; William is to buy a beautiful travelling colour-box; the rent is to be paid; all our kind friends at the farm-house are to have little presents, and our future way in this hard world is to be smoothed for us at the outset, if you will only accept a poor painter’s stories which his wife has written down for him After Dark!
that artist-life which circumstances have afforded me peculiar opportunities of studying
[Wilkie Collins’s father was a noted landscape painter, and several other close relatives were artists. In fact, Collins’s first published book was a biography of his father.]
My best thanks are due to Mr Charles Dickens
[Household Words was edited by Charles Dickens from 1850 to 1859, after which Dickens moved on to another magazine, All the Year Round.]
the events of some of my tales occur on foreign ground, and are acted out by foreign personages
[Of the five stories published serially, three are set in France and one in Italy.]
16th February 1827
[This choice of dramatic date will turn out to be unfortunate, since several events in the various stories can only have happened long after 1827.]
“Mind, I don’t say
text has “don’t with superfluous open quote at top of page
the first charge of gunpowder in the world
[As so often: If it didn’t happen in Europe, it doesn’t count.]
This final section appeared at the end of Volume 2, after the sixth story.