Under the circumstances of the case it was impossible to decline this
request. I wrote to say that time should be made and the notes were
forwarded to me at Robin Hood's Bay. I began by reading carefully and
twice over so as to get a grip of the story and the novelist's
intention the part that had already appeared and the proofs so far as
the author had gone. I then turned to the notes. I found that these
were not merely notes such as I expected--simple indications of the
plot and the development of events but an actual detailed scenario in
which every incident however trivial was carefully laid down: there
were also fragments of dialogue inserted at those places where dialogue
was wanted to emphasise the situation and make it real. I was much
struck with the writer's perception of the vast importance of dialogue
in making the reader seize the scene. Description requires attention:
dialogue rivets attention.
It is not an easy task nor is it pleasant to carry on another man's
work: but the possession of this scenario lightened the work
enormously. I have been careful to adhere faithfully and exactly to the
plot scene by scene down to the smallest detail as it was laid down
by the author in this book. I have altered nothing. I have preserved
and incorporated every fragment of dialogue. I have used the very
language wherever that was written so carefully as to show that it was
meant to be used. I think that there is only one trivial detail where I
had to choose because it was not clear from the notes what the author
had intended. The plot of the novel every scene every situation from
beginning to end is the work of Wilkie Collins. The actual writing is
entirely his up to a certain point: from that point to the end it is
partly his but mainly mine. Where his writing ends and mine begins I
need not point out. The practised critic will no doubt at once lay
his finger on the spot.
I have therefore carried out the author's wishes to the best of my
ability. I would that he were living still if only to regret that he
had not been allowed to finish his last work with his own hand!
SOON after sunrise on a cloudy morning in the year 1881 a special
messenger disturbed the repose of Dennis Howmore at his place of
residence in the pleasant Irish town of Ardoon.
Well acquainted apparently with the way upstairs the man thumped on a
bed-room door and shouted his message through it: "The master wants
you and mind you don't keep him waiting."
The person sending this peremptory message was Sir Giles Mountjoy of
Ardoon knight and banker. The person receiving the message was Sir
Giles's head clerk. As a matter of course Dennis Howmore dressed
himself at full speed and hastened to his employer's private house on
the outskirts of the town.
He found Sir Giles in an irritable and anxious state of mind. A letter
lay open on the banker's bed his night-cap was crumpled crookedly on
his head he was in too great a hurry to remember the claims of
politeness when the clerk said "Good morning."
"Dennis I have got something for you to do. It must be kept a secret
and it allows of no delay."
"Is it anything connected with business sir?"
The banker lost his temper. "How can you be such an infernal fool as to
suppose that anything connected with business could happen at this time
in the morning? Do you know the first milestone on the road to Garvan?"
"Very well. Go to the milestone and take care that nobody sees you
when you get there. Look at the back of the stone. If you discover an
Object which appears to have been left in that situation on the ground
bring it to me; and don't forget that the most impatient man in all
Ireland is waiting for you."
Not a word of explanation followed these extraordinary instructions.
The head clerk set forth on his errand with his mind dwelling on the
national tendencies to conspiracy and assassination. His employer was
not a popular person. Sir Giles had paid rent when he owed it; and
worse still was disposed to remember in a friendly spirit what England
had done for Ireland in the course of the last fifty years. If
anything appeared to justify distrust of the mysterious Object of which
he was in search Dennis resolved to be vigilantly on the look-out for
a gun-barrel whenever he passed a hedge on his return journey to the
Arrived at the milestone he discovered on the ground behind it one
Object only--a fragment of a broken tea-cup.
Naturally enough Dennis hesitated. It seemed to be impossible that the
earnest and careful instructions which he had received could relate to
such a trifle as this. At the same time he was acting under orders
which were as positive as tone manner and language could make them.
Passive obedience appeared to be the one safe course to take--at the
risk of a reception irritating to any man's self-respect when he
returned to his employer with a broken teacup in his hand.
The event entirely failed to justify his misgivings. There could be no
doubt that Sir Giles attached serious importance to the contemptible
discovery made at the milestone. After having examined and re-examined
the fragment he announced his intention of sending the clerk on a
second errand--still without troubling himself to explain what his
incomprehensible instructions meant.
"If I am not mistaken" he began "the Reading Rooms in our town open
as early as nine. Very well. Go to the Rooms this morning on the
stroke of the clock." He stopped and consulted the letter which lay
open on his bed. "Ask the librarian" he continued "for the third
volume of Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.' Open the
book at pages seventy-eight and seventy-nine. If you find a piece of
paper between those two leaves take possession of it when nobody is
looking at you and bring it to me. That's all Dennis. And bear in
mind that I shall not recover the use of my patience till I see you
On ordinary occasions the head clerk was not a man accustomed to
insist on what was due to his dignity. At the same time he was a
sensible human being conscious of the consideration to which his
responsible place in the office entitled him. Sir Giles's irritating
reserve not even excused by a word of apology reached the limits of
his endurance. He respectfully protested.
"I regret to find sir" he said "that I have lost my place in my
employer's estimation. The man to whom you confide the superintendence
of your clerks and the transaction of your business has I venture to
think some claim (under the present circumstances) to be trusted."
The banker was now offended on his side.
"I readily admit your claim" he answered "when you are sitting at
your desk in my office. But even in these days of strikes
co-operations and bank holidays an employer has one privilege
left--he has not ceased to be a Man and he has not forfeited a man's
right to keep his own secrets. I fail to see anything in my conduct
which has given you just reason to complain."
Dennis rebuked made his bow in silence and withdrew.
Did these acts of humility mean that he submitted? They meant exactly
the contrary. He had made up his mind that Sir Giles Mountjoy's motives
should sooner or later cease to be mysteries to Sir Giles Mountjoy's
CAREFULLY following his instructions he consulted the third volume of
Gibbon's great History and found between the seventy-eighth and
seventy-ninth pages something remarkable this time.
It was a sheet of delicately-made paper pierced with a number of
little holes infinitely varied in size and cut with the smoothest
precision. Having secured this curious object while the librarian's
back was turned Dennis Howmore reflected.
A page of paper unintelligibly perforated for some purpose unknown
was in itself a suspicious thing. And what did suspicion suggest to the
inquiring mind in South-Western Ireland before the suppression of the
Land League? Unquestionably---Police!
On the way back to his employer the banker's clerk paid a visit to an
old friend--a journalist by profession and a man of varied learning
and experience as well. Invited to inspect the remarkable morsel of
paper and to discover the object with which the perforations had been
made the authority consulted proved to be worthy of the trust reposed
in him. Dennis left the newspaper office an enlightened man--with
information at the disposal of Sir Giles and with a sense of relief
which expressed itself irreverently in these words: "Now I have got
The bewildered banker looked backwards and forwards from the paper to
the clerk and from the clerk to the paper. "I don't understand it" he
said. "Do you?"
Still preserving the appearance of humility Dennis asked leave to
venture on a guess. The perforated paper looked as he thought like a
Puzzle. "If we wait for a day or two" he suggested "the Key to it may
possibly reach us."
On the next day nothing happened. On the day after a second letter
made another audacious demand on the fast failing patience of Sir Giles
Even the envelope proved to be a Puzzle on this occasion; the postmark
was "Ardoon." In other words the writer had used the postman as a
messenger while he or his accomplice was actually in the town posting
the letter within half-a-minute's walk of the bank! The contents
presented an impenetrable mystery the writing looked worthy of a
madman. Sentences appeared in the wildest state of confusion and words
were so mutilated as to be unintelligible. This time the force of
circumstances was more than Sir Giles could resist. He took the clerk
into his confidence at last.
"Let us begin at the beginning" he said. "There is the letter you saw
on my bed when I first sent for you. I found it waiting on my table
when I woke; and I don't know who put it there. Read it."
Dennis read as follows:
"Sir Giles Mountjoy--I have a disclosure to make in which one of the
members of your family is seriously interested. Before I can venture to
explain myself I must be assured that I can trust to your good faith.
As a test of this I require you to fulfil the two conditions that
follow--and to do it without the slightest loss of time. I dare not
trust you yet with my address or my signature. Any act of
carelessness on my part might end fatally for the true friend who
writes these lines. If you neglect this warning you will regret it to
the end of your life."
To the conditions on which the letter insisted there is no need to
allude. They had been complied with when the discoveries were made at
the back of the milestone and between the pages of Gibson's history.
Sir Giles had already arrived at the conclusion that a conspiracy was
in progress to assassinate him and perhaps to rob the bank. The wiser
head clerk pointed to the perforated paper and the incomprehensible
writing received that morning. "If we can find out what these mean" he
said "you may be better able sir to form a correct opinion."
"And who is to do that?" the banker asked.
"I can but try sir" was the modest reply "if you see no objection to
my making the attempt."
Sir Giles approved of the proposed experiment silently and
satirically by a bend of his head.
Too discreet a man to make a suspiciously ready use of the information
which he had privately obtained Dennis took care that his first
attempt should not be successful. After modestly asking permission to
try again he ventured on the second occasion to arrive at a happy
discovery. Lifting the perforated paper he placed it delicately over
the page which contained the unintelligible writing. Words and
sentences now appeared (through the holes in the paper) in their right
spelling and arrangement and addressed Sir Giles in these terms:
"I beg to thank you sir for complying with my conditions. You have
satisfied me of your good faith. At the same time it is possible that
you may hesitate to trust a man who is not yet able to admit you to his
confidence. The perilous position in which I stand obliges me to ask
for two or three days more of delay before I can safely make an
appointment with you. Pray be patient--and on no account apply for
advice or protection to the police."
"Those last words" Sir Giles declared "are conclusive! The sooner I
am under the care of the law the better. Take my card to the
"May I say a word first sir?"
"Do you mean that you don't agree with me?"
"I mean that."
"You were always an obstinate man Dennis; and it grows on you as you
get older. Never mind! Let's have it out. Who do _you_ say is the
person pointed at in these rascally letters?"
The head clerk took up the first letter of the two and pointed to the
opening sentence: "Sir Giles Mountjoy I have a disclosure to make in
which one of the members of your family is seriously interested."
Dennis emphatically repeated the words: "one of the members of your
family." His employer regarded him with a broad stare of astonishment.
"One of the members of my family?" Sir Giles repeated on his side.
"Why man alive what are you thinking of? I'm an old bachelor and I
haven't got a family."
"There is your brother sir."
"My brother is in France--out of the way of the wretches who are
threatening me. I wish I was with him!"
"There are your brother's two sons Sir Giles."
"Well? And what is there to be afraid of? My nephew Hugh is in
London--and mind! not on a political errand. I hope before long to
hear that he is going to be married--if the strangest and nicest girl
in England will have him. What's wrong now?"
Dennis explained. "I only wished to say sir that I was thinking of
your other nephew."
Sir Giles laughed. "Arthur in danger!" he exclaimed. "As harmless a
young man as ever lived. The worst one can say of him is that he is
throwing away his money--farming in Kerry."
"Excuse me Sir Giles; there's not much chance of his throwing away his
money where he is now. Nobody will venture to take his money. I met
with one of Mr. Arthur's neighbours at the market yesterday. Your
nephew is boycotted."
"So much the better" the obstinate banker declared. "He will be cured
of his craze for farming; and he will come back to the place I am
keeping for him in the office."
"God grant it!" the clerk said fervently.
For the moment Sir Giles was staggered. "Have you heard something that
you haven't told me yet?" he asked.
"No sir. I am only bearing in mind something which--with all
respect--I think you have forgotten. The last tenant on that bit of
land in Kerry refused to pay his rent. Mr. Arthur has taken what they
call an evicted farm. It's my firm belief" said the head clerk rising
and speaking earnestly "that the person who has addressed those
letters to you knows Mr. Arthur and knows he is in danger--and is
trying to save your nephew (by means of your influence) at the risk of
his own life."
Sir Giles shook his head. "I call that a far-fetched interpretation
Dennis. If what you say is true why didn't the writer of those
anonymous letters address himself to Arthur instead of to me?"
"I gave it as my opinion just now sir that the writer of the letter
knew Mr. Arthur."
"So you did. And what of that?"
Dennis stood to his guns.
"Anybody who is acquainted with Mr. Arthur" he persisted "knows that
(with all sorts of good qualities) the young gentleman is headstrong
and rash. If a friend told him he was in danger on the farm that would
be enough of itself to make him stop where he is and brave it out.
Whereas you sir are known to be cautious and careful and farseeing
and discreet." He might have added: And cowardly and obstinate and
narrow-minded and inflated by stupid self-esteem. But respect for his
employer had blindfolded the clerk's observation for many a long year
past. If one man may be born with the heart of a lion another man may
be born with the mind of a mule. Dennis's master was one of the other
"Very well put" Sir Giles answered indulgently. "Time will show if
such an entirely unimportant person as my nephew Arthur is likely to be
assassinated. That allusion to one of the members of my family is a
mere equivocation designed to throw me off my guard. Rank money
social influence unswerving principles mark ME out as a public
character. Go to the police-office and let the best man who happens to
be off duty come here directly."
Good Dennis Howmore approached the door very unwillingly. It was
opened from the outer side before he had reached that end of the
room. One of the bank porters announced a visitor.
"Miss Henley wishes to know sir if you can see her."
Sir Giles looked agreeably surprised. He rose with alacrity to receive
WHEN Iris Henley dies there will in all probability be friends left
who remember her and talk of her--and there may be strangers present at
the time (women for the most part) whose curiosity will put questions
relating to her personal appearance. No replies will reward them with
trustworthy information. Miss Henley's chief claim to admiration lay in
a remarkable mobility of expression which reflected every change of
feeling peculiar to the nature of a sweet and sensitive woman. For this
reason probably no descriptions of her will agree with each other. No
existing likenesses will represent her. The one portrait that was
painted of Iris is only recognisable by partial friends of the artist.
In and out of London photographic likenesses were taken of her. They
have the honour of resembling the portraits of Shakespeare in this
respect--compared with one another it is not possible to discover that
they present the same person. As for the evidence offered by the loving
memory of her friends it is sure to be contradictory in the last
degree. She had a charming face a commonplace face an intelligent
face--a poor complexion a delicate complexion no complexion at
all--eyes that were expressive of a hot temper of a bright intellect
of a firm character of an affectionate disposition of a truthful
nature of hysterical sensibility of inveterate obstinacy--a figure
too short; no just the right height; no neither one thing nor the
other; elegant if you like--dress shabby: oh surely not; dress quiet
and simple; no something more than that; ostentatiously quiet
theatrically simple worn with the object of looking unlike other
people. In one last word was this mass of contradictions generally
popular in the time when it was a living creature? Yes--among the men.
No--not invariably. The man of all others who ought to have been
fondest of her was the man who behaved cruelly to Iris--her own father.
And when the poor creature married (if she did marry) how many of you
attended the wedding? Not one of us! And when she died how many of you
were sorry for her? All of us! What? no difference of opinion in that
one particular? On the contrary perfect concord thank God.
Let the years roll back and let Iris speak for herself at the
memorable time when she was in the prime of her life and when a stormy
career was before her.
BEING Miss Henley's godfather Sir Giles was a privileged person. He
laid his hairy hands on her shoulders and kissed her on either cheek.
After that prefatory act of endearment he made his inquiries. What
extraordinary combination of events had led Iris to leave London and
had brought her to visit him in his banking-house at Ardoon?
"I wanted to get away from home" she answered; "and having nobody to
go to but my godfather I thought I should like to see You."
"Alone!" cried Sir Giles.
"No--with my maid to keep me company."
"Only your maid Iris? Surely you have acquaintances among young ladies
"Acquaintances--yes. No friends."
"Does your father approve of what you have done?"
"Will you grant me a favour godpapa?"
"Yes--if I can."
"Don't insist on my answering your last question."
The faint colour that had risen in her face when she entered the room
left it. At the same time the expression of her mouth altered. The
lips closed firmly; revealing that strongest of all resolutions which
is founded on a keen sense of wrong. She looked older than her age:
what she might be ten years hence she was now. Sir Giles understood
her. He got up and took a turn in the room. An old habit of which he
had cured himself with infinite difficulty when he was made a Knight