The Dead Secret Page 01
The Dead Secret
by Wilkie Collins
"THE DEAD SECRET" made its first appeal to readers, in periodical portions, week by week. On its completion, it was reprinted in two volumes. The edition so produced having been exhausted, the story makes its public appearance in the present form.
Having previously tried my hand at short serial stories (collected and reprinted in "After Dark," and "The Queen of Hearts"), I ventured on my first attempt, in this book, to produce a sustained work of fiction, intended for periodical publication during many successive weeks. The experiment proved successful both in this country and in America. Two of the characters which appear in these pages--"Rosamond," and "Uncle Joseph"--had the good fortune to find friends everywhere who took a hearty liking to them. A more elaborately drawn personage in the story--"Sarah Leeson"--was, I think, less generally understood. The idea of tracing, in this character, the influence of a heavy responsibility on a naturally timid woman, whose mind was neither strong enough to bear it, nor bold enough to drop it altogether, was a favourite idea with me, at the time, and is so much a favourite still, that I privately give "Sarah Leeson" the place of honour in the little portrait-gallery which my story contains. Perhaps, in saying this, I am only acknowledging, in other words, that the parents of literary families share the well-known inconsistencies of parents in general, and are sometimes unreasonably fond of the child who has always given them the most trouble.
It may not be out of place, here, to notice a critical objection which was raised, in certain quarters, against the construction of the narrative. I was blamed for allowing the "Secret" to glimmer on the reader at an early period of the story, instead of keeping it in total darkness till the end. If this was a mistake (which I venture to doubt), I committed it with both eyes open. After careful consideration, and after trying the experiment both ways, I thought it most desirable to let the effect of the story depend on expectation rather than surprise; believing that the reader would be all the more interested in watching the progress of "Rosamond" and her husband towards the discovery of the Secret, if he previously held some clue to the mystery in his own hand. So far as I am enabled to judge, from the opinions which reached me through various channels, this peculiar treatment of the narrative presented one of the special attractions of the book to a large variety of readers.
I may add, in conclusion, that "The Dead Secret" was admirably rendered into French by Monsieur E. D. Forgues, of Paris. The one difficulty which neither the accomplished translator nor anyone else proved able to overcome, was presented, oddly enough, by the English title. When the work was published in Paris, its name was of necessity shortened to "Le Secret"--because no French equivalent could be found for such an essentially English phrase as a "dead secret."
HARLEY STREET, LONDON
I. THE TWENTY-THIRD OF AUGUST, 1829
II. THE CHILD
III. THE RIDING OF THE SECRET
I. FIFTEEN YEARS AFTER
II. THE SALE OF PORTHGENNA TOWER
III. THE BRIDE AND BRIDEGROOM
I. TIMON OF LONDON
II. WILL THEY COME?
III. MRS. JAZEPH
IV. THE NEW NURSE
V. A COUNCIL OF THREE
VI. ANOTHER SURPRISE
I. A PLOT AGAINST THE SECRET
II. OUTSIDE THE HOUSE
III. INSIDE THE HOUSE
IV. MR. MUNDER ON THE SEAT OF JUDGMENT
V. MOZART PLAYS FAREWELL
I. AN OLD FRIEND AND A NEW SCHEME
II. THE BEGINNING OF THE END
III. APPROACHING THE PRECIPICE
IV. STANDING ON THE BRINK
V. THE MYRTLE ROOM
VI. THE TELLING OF THE SECRET
I. UNCLE JOSEPH
II. WAITING AND HOPING
III. THE STORY OF THE PAST
IV. THE CLOSE OF DAY
V. FORTY THOUSAND POUNDS
VI. THE DAWN OF A NEW LIFE
THE DEAD SECRET.
THE TWENTY-THIRD OF AUGUST, 1829.
"Will she last out the night, I wonder?"
"Look at the clock, Mathew."
"Ten minutes past twelve! She has lasted the night out. She has lived, Robert, to see ten minutes of the new day."
These words were spoken in the kitchen of a large country house situated on the west coast of Cornwall. The speakers were two of the men-servants composing the establishment of Captain Treverton, an officer in the navy, and the eldest male representative of an old Cornish family. Both the servants communicated with each other restrainedly, in whispers--sitting close together, and looking round expectantly toward the door whenever the talk flagged between them.
"It's an awful thing," said the elder of the men, "for us two to be alone here, at this dark time, counting out the minutes that our mistress has left to live!"
"Robert," said the other, "you have been in the service here since you were a boy--did you ever hear that our mistress was a play-actress when our master married her?"
"How came you to know that?" inquired the elder servant, sharply.
"Hush!" cried the other, rising quickly from his chair.
A bell rang in the passage outside.
"Is that for one of us?" asked Mathew.
"Can't you tell, by the sound, which is which of those bells yet?" exclaimed Robert, contemptuously. "That bell is for Sarah Leeson. Go out into the passage and look."
The younger servant took a candle and obeyed. When he opened the kitchen-door, a long row of bells met his eye on the wall opposite. Above each of them was painted, in neat black letters, the distinguishing title of the servant whom it was specially intended to summon. The row of letters began with Housekeeper and Butler, and ended with Kitchen-maid and Footman's Boy.
Looking along the bells, Mathew easily discovered that one of them was still in motion. Above it were the words Lady's-maid. Observing this, he passed quickly along the passage, and knocked at an old-fashioned oak door at the end of it. No answer being given, he opened the door and looked into the room. It was dark and empty.
"Sarah is not in the housekeeper's room," said Mathew, returning to his fellow-servant in the kitchen.
"She is gone to her own room, then," rejoined the other. "Go up and tell her that she is wanted by her mistress."
The bell rang again as Mathew went out.
"Quick!--quick!" cried Robert. "Tell her she is wanted directly. Wanted," he continued to himself in lower tones, "perhaps for the last time!"
Mathew ascended three flights of stairs--passed half-way down a long arched gallery--and knocked at another old-fashioned oak door. This time the signal was answered. A low, clear, sweet voice, inside the room, inquired who was waiting without? In a few hasty words Mathew told his errand. Before he had done speaking the door was quietly and quickly opened, and Sarah Leeson confronted him on the threshold, with her candle in her hand.
Not tall, not handsome, not in her first youth--shy and irresolute in manner--simple in dress to the utmost limits of plainness--the lady's-maid, in spite of all these disadvantages, was a woman whom it was impossible to look at without a feeling of curiosity, if not of interest. Few men, at first sight of her, could have resisted the desire to find out who she was; few would have been satisfied with receiving for answer, She is Mrs. Treverton's maid; few would have refrained from the attempt to extract some secret information for themselves from her face and manner; and none, not even the most patient and practiced of observers, could have succeeded in discovering more than that she must have passed through the ordeal of some great suffering at some former period of her life. Much in her manner, and more in her face, said plainly and sadly: I am the wreck of something that you might once have liked to see; a wreck that can never be repaired--that must drift on through life unnoticed, unguided, unpitied--drift till the fatal shore is touched, and the waves of Time have swallowed up these broken relics of me forever.