Chapter XXXIV: Waiting
Mr. Hilton telegraphed at once countermanding, for the present, the
nurse for whom he had sent.
That night, when the household had all retired, he came quietly to
his patient's room, and entering noiselessly, sat silent in a far
corner. There was no artificial right; the patient had to be kept in
darkness. There was, however, a bright moonlight; sufficient light
stole in through the edges of the blinds to allow him, when his eyes
grew accustomed, to see what might happen.
Harold lay quite still till the house was quiet. He had been
thinking, ever since he had ascertained the identity of Stephen. In
his weakness and the paralysing despair of his blindness all his
former grief and apprehension had come bank upon him in a great wave;
veritably the tide of circumstances seemed to run hard against him.
He had had no idea of forcing himself upon Stephen; and yet here he
was a guest in her house, without her knowledge or his own. She had
saved his life by her energy and resource. Fortunately she did not
as yet know him; the bandages, and his act in suppressing his voice,
had so far protected him. But such could not last for long. He
could not see to protect himself, and take precautions as need arose.
And he knew well that Stephen's nature would not allow her to be
satisfied without doing all that was possible to help one who had
under her eyes made a great effort on behalf of others, and to whom
there was the added bond that his life was due to her. In but a
little time she must find out to whom she ministered.
What then would happen? Her kindness was such that when she realised
the blindness of her old friend she might so pity him that out of the
depths of her pity she would forgive. She would take back all the
past; and now that she knew of his old love for her, would perhaps be
willing to marry him. Back flooded the old memory of her
independence and her theory of sexual equality. If out of any
selfish or mistaken idea she did not hesitate to ask a man to marry
her, would it be likely that when the nobler and more heroic side of
her nature spoke she would hesitate to a similar act in pursuance of
So it might be that she would either find herself once again flouted,
or else married to a man she did not love.
Such a catastrophe should not happen, whatever the cost to him. He
would, blind as he was, steal away in the night and take himself out
of her life; this time for ever. Better the ingratitude of an
unknown man, the saving of whose life was due to her, than the long
dull routine of a spoiled life, which would otherwise be her unhappy
When once this idea had taken root in his mind he had taken such
steps as had been open to him without endangering the secrecy of his
motive. Thanks to his subtle questioning of the Doctor, he now knew
that his room was close to the ground, so that he would easily drop
from the window and steal away with out immediate danger of any
restraining accident. If he could once get away he would be all
right. There was a large sum to his credit in each of two London
banks. He would manage somehow to find his way to London; even if he
had to walk and beg his way.
He felt that now in the silence of the night the time had come.
Quietly he rose and felt his way to the door, now and again stumbling
and knocking against unknown obstacles in the manner of the recently
blind. After each such noise he paused and listened. He felt as if
the very walls had ears. When he reached the door he turned the key
softly. Then he breathed more freely. He felt that he was at last
alone and free to move without suspicion.
Then began a great and arduous search; one that was infinitely
difficult and exasperating; and full of pathos to the sympathetic man
who watched him in silence. Mr. Hilton could not understand his
movements as he felt his way about the room, opening drawers and
armoires, now and again stooping down and feeling along the floor.
He did not betray his presence, however, but moved noiselessly away
as the other approached. It was a hideously real game of blindman's-
buff, with perhaps a life as the forfeit.
Harold went all over the room, and at last sat down on the edge of
his bed with a hollow suppressed groan that was full of pain. He had
found his clothes, but realised that they were now but rags. He put
on the clothes, and then for a long time sat quiet, rocking gently to
and fro as one in pain, a figure of infinite woe. At last he roused
himself. His mind was made up; the time for action had come. He
groped his way towards the window looking south. The Doctor, who had
taken off his shoes, followed him with catlike stealthiness.
He easily threw open the window, for it was already partly open for
When Mr. Hilton saw him sit on the rail of the balcony and begin to
raise his feet, getting ready to drop over, he rushed forward and
seized him. Harold instinctively grappled with him; the habit of his
Alaskan life amidst continual danger made in such a case action swift
as thought. Mr. Hilton, with the single desire to prevent him from
killing himself, threw himself backward and pulled Harold with him to
the stone floor.
Harold, as he held him in a grip of iron, thundered out, forgetful in
the excitement of the moment the hushed voice to which he had limited
'What do you want? who are you?'
'H-s-s-sh! I am Mr. Hilton.' Harold relaxed the rigour of his grasp
but still held him firmly:
'How did you come here? I locked my door!'
'I have been in the room a long time. I suspected something, and
came to watch; to prevent your rash act.'
'Rash act! How?'
'Why, man, if you didn't kill, you would at least cripple yourself.'
'How can I cripple myself when the flower-bed is only a few feet
'There are other dangers for a man who--a man in your sad state.
And, besides, have I no duty to prevent a suicide!' Here a brilliant
idea struck Harold. This man had evidently got some wrong
impression; but it would serve to shield his real purpose. He would
therefore encourage it. For the moment, of course, his purpose to
escape unnoticed was foiled; but he would wait, and in due time seize
another opportunity. In a harder and more determined tone than he
had yet used he said:
'I don't see what right you have to interfere. I shall kill myself
if I like.'
'Not whilst you are in my care!' This was spoken with a resolution
equal to his own. Then Mr. Hilton went on, more softly and with
infinite compassion: 'Moreover, I want to have a talk with you which
may alter your views.' Harold interrupted, still playing the game of
hiding his real purpose:
'I shall do as I wish; as I intend.'
'You are injuring yourself even now by standing in the draught of
that open window. Your eyes will feel it before long ... Are you
mad ... ?'
Harold felt a prick like a pin in his neck; and turned to seize his
companion. He could not find him, and for a few moments stumbled
through the dark, raging ...
It seemed a long time before he remembered anything. He had a sense
of time lapsed; of dreamland thoughts and visions. Then gradually
recollection came back. He tried to move; but found it impossible.
His arms and legs were extended wide and were tied; he could feel the
cord hurting his wrists and ankles as he moved. To him it was awful
to be thus blind and helpless; and anger began to surge up. He heard
the voice of Mr. Hilton close by him speaking in a calm, grave,
'My poor fellow, I hated to take such a step; but it was really
necessary for your own safety. You are a man, and a brave one.
Won't you listen to me for a few minutes? When you have heard what I
have to say I shall release you. In the meantime I apologise for the
outrage, as I dare say you consider it!' Harold was reasonable; and
he was now blind and helpless. Moreover, there was something in the
Doctor's voice that carried a sense of power with it.
'Go on! I shall listen!' He compelled himself to quietude. The
Doctor saw, and realised that he was master of himself. There were
some snips of scissors, and he was free.
'See! all I want is calm for a short time, and you have it. May I go
'Go on!' said Harold, not without respect. The Doctor after a pause
'My poor fellow, I want you to understand that I wish to help you, to
do all in my power to restore to you that which you seem to have
lost! I can sympathise with your desire to quit life altogether now
that the best part of it, sight, seems gone. I do not pretend to
judge the actions of my fellows; and if you determine to carry out
your purpose I shall not be able to prevent you for ever. I shall
not try to. But you certainly shall not do so till you know what I
know! I had wished to wait till I could be a little more certain
before I took you into confidence with regard to my guessing as to
the future. But your desire to destroy yourself forces my hand. Now
let me tell you that there is a possibility of the removal of the
cause of your purpose.'
'What do you mean?' gasped Harold. He was afraid to think outright
and to the full what the other's words seemed to imply.
'I mean,' said the other solemnly, 'that there is a possibility, more
than a possibility, that you may recover your sight!' As he spoke
there was a little break in his voice. He too was somewhat unnerved
at the situation.
Harold lay still. The whole universe seemed to sway, and then whirl
round him in chaotic mass. Through it at length he seemed to hear
the calm voice:
'At first I could not be sure of my surmise, for when I used the
ophthalmoscope your suffering was too recent to disclose the cause I
looked for. Now I am fairly sure of it. What I have since heard
from you has convinced me; your having suffered from rheumatic fever,
and the recrudescence of the rheumatic pain after your terrible
experience of the fire and that long chilling swim with so seemingly
hopeless an end to it; the symptoms which I have since noticed,
though they have not been as enlightening to me as they might be.
Your disease, as I have diagnosed it, is an obscure one and not
common. I have not before been able to study a case. All these
things give me great hopes.'
'Thank God! Thank God!' the voice from the bed was now a whisper.
'Thank God! say I too. This that you suffer from is an acute form of
inflammation of the optic nerve. It may of course end badly; in
permanent loss of sight. But I hope--I believe, that in your case it
will not be so. You are young, and you are immensely strong; not
merely muscularly, but in constitution. I can see that you have been
an athlete, and no mean one either. All this will stand to you. But
it will take time. It will need all your own help; all the calm
restraint of your body and your mind. I am doing all that science
knows; you must do the rest!' He waited, giving time to the other to
realise his ideas. Harold lay still for a long time before he spoke:
'Doctor.' The voice was so strangely different that the other was
more hopeful at once. He had feared opposition, or conflict of some
kind. He answered as cheerily as he could:
'Yes! I am listening.'
'You are a good fellow; and I am grateful to you, both for what you
have done and what you have told me. I cannot say how grateful just
yet; hope unmans me at present. But I think you deserve that I
should tell you the truth!' The other nodded; he forgot that the
speaker could not see.
'I was not intending to commit suicide. Such an idea didn't even
enter my head. To me, suicide is the resource of a coward. I have
been in too many tight places to ever fear that.'
'Then in the name of goodness why were you trying to get out of that
'I wanted to escape; to get away!'
'In your shirt and trousers; and they are not over much! Without
even slippers!' A faint smile curled round the lips of the injured
man. Hope was beginning to help already.
'Even that way!'
'But man alive! you were going to your death. How could you expect
to get away in such an outfit without being discovered? When you
were missed the whole countryside would have been up, and even before
the hue-and-cry the first person who saw you would have taken charge
'I know! I know! I had thought of it all. But I was willing to
chance it. I had my own reasons!' He was silent a while. The
Doctor was silent too. Each man was thinking in his own way.
Presently the Doctor spoke:
'Look here, old chap! I don't want to pry into your secrets; but,
won't you let me help you? I can hold my tongue. I want to help
you. You have earned that wish from any man, and woman too, who saw
the burning ship and what you did to save those on board. There is
nothing I would not do for you. Nothing! I don't ask you to tell me
all; only enough for me to understand and help. I can see that you
have some overpowering wish to get away. Some reason that I cannot
fathom, certainly without a clue. You may trust me, I assure you.
If you could look into my face, my eyes, you would understand. But--
There! take my hand. It may tell you something!'
Harold took the hand placed in his, and held it close. He pressed
his other hand over it also, as though the effect of the two hands
would bring him double knowledge. It was infinitely pathetic to see
him trying to make his untrained fingers do the duty of his trained
eyes. But, trained or not, his hands had their instinct. Laying
down gently the hand he held he said, turning his bandaged eyes in
the direction of his companion:
'I shall trust you! Are we alone; absolutely alone?'
'Have I your solemn promise that anything I say shall never go beyond
'I promise. I can swear, if it will make your mind more easy in the
'What do you hold most sacred in the world?' Harold had an odd
thought; his question was its result.
'All told, I should think my profession! Perhaps it doesn't seem to
you much to swear by; but it is all my world! But I have been
brought up in honour, and you may trust my promise--as much as
anything I could swear.'
'All right! My reason for wanting to get away was because I knew
Lady de Lannoy!'
'What!' Then after a pause: 'I should have thought that was a
reason for wanting to stay. She seems not only one of the most
beautiful, but the sweetest woman I ever met.'
'She is all that! And a thousand times more!'
'Then why-- Pardon me!'
'I cannot tell you all; but you must take it that my need to get away
is imperative.' After pondering a while Mr. Hilton said suddenly:
'I must ask your pardon again. Are you sure there is no mistake.
Lady de Lannoy is not married; has not been. She is Countess in her
own right. It is quite a romance. She inherited from some old
branch of more than three hundred years ago.' Again Harold smiled;
he quite saw what the other meant.
He answered gravely
'I understand. But it does not alter my opinion; my purpose. It is
needful--absolutely and imperatively needful that I get away without
her recognising me, or knowing who I am.'
'She does not know you now. She has not seen you yet.'
'That is why I hoped to get away in time; before she should recognise
me. If I stay quiet and do all you wish, will you help me?'
'I will! And what then?'
'When I am well, if it should be so, I shall steal away, this time
clothed, and disappear out of her life without her knowing. She may
think it ungrateful that one whom she has treated so well should
behave so badly. But that can't be helped. It is the lesser evil of
'And I must abet you? All right! I will do it; though you must
forgive me if you should ever hear that I have abused you and said
bad things of you. It will have to be all in the day's work if I am
not ultimately to give you away. I must take steps at once to keep
her from seeing you. I shall have to invent some story; some new
kind of dangerous disease, perhaps. I shall stay here and nurse you
myself!' Harold spoke in joyful gratitude:
'Oh, you ARE good. But can you spare the time? How long will it all
'Some weeks! Perhaps!' He paused as if thinking. 'Perhaps in a
month's time I shall unbandage your eyes. You will then see; or ... '
'I understand! I shall be patient!'
In the morning Mr. Hilton in reporting to Lady de Lannoy told her
that he considered it would be necessary to keep his patient very
quiet, both in mind and body. In the course of the conversation he
'Anything which might upset him must be studiously avoided. He is
not an easy patient to deal with; he doesn't like people to go near
him. I think, therefore, it will be well if even you do not see him.
He seems to have an odd distrust of people, especially of women. It
may be that he is fretful in his blindness, which is in itself so
trying to a strong man. But besides, the treatment is not calculated
to have a very buoyant effect. It is apt to make a man fretful to
lie in the dark, and know that he has to do so for indefinite weeks.
Pilocarpin, and salicylate of soda, and mercury do not tend towards
cheerfulness. Nor do blisters on the forehead add to the content of
'I quite understand,' said Stephen, 'and I will be careful not to go
near him till he is well. Please God! it may bring him back his
sight. Thank you a thousand times for your determination to stay
So it was that for more than two weeks Harold was kept all alone. No
one attended him but the Doctor. He slept in the patient's room for
the whole of the first week, and never had him out of sight for more
than a few minutes at a time. He was then able to leave him alone
for longer periods, and settled himself in the bedroom next to him.
Every hour or two he would visit him. Occasionally he would be away
for half a day, but never for more. Stephen rigidly observed the
Doctor's advice herself, and gave strict orders that his instructions
were to be obeyed.
Harold himself went through a period of mental suffering. It was
agony to him to think of Stephen being so near at hand, and yet not
to be able to see her, or even to hear her voice. All the pain of
his loss of her affection seemed to crowd back on him, and with it
the new need of escaping from her unknown. More than ever he felt it
would not do that she should ever learn his identity. Her pity for
him, and possibly her woman's regard for a man's effort in time of
stress, might lead through the gates of her own self-sacrifice to his
restoration to his old place in her affections. Nay! it could not be
his old place; for at the close of those days she had learned of his
love for her.