Hugh Conway - Called Back
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Although this is not the only novel by this writer, it is the only one that achieved any renown. It had so extraordinary a success for a time that it outsold every other book of its year, and went through many editions, later being dramatized and successfully presented on the stage.
GILBERT VAUGHAN, a rich young Londoner who had become temporarily blind, strayed too far from his home late one night and was obliged to request a somewhat intoxicated man to guide him to a corner of the square on which he lived, saying that he could trust himself to find his own residence. He let himself in with his latch-key and ascended the stairs, only to find that he was in a strange house after all. He was about to knock on the door of a room from which came the sound of conversation, when his hand was arrested by a woman's voice singing a song from a new opera which he had heard on the Continent. Suddenly the song was interrupted by a long, deep groan, the woman's voice shrieked, and the listener heard a heavy thud on the floor.
Vaughan forgot his blindness and burst into the room, but stumbled and fell upon the body of a man. Before he could rise, his throat was gripped by strong hands and he heard the click of a pistol. Quickly he cried :
"Spare me! I am blind! blind! blind!"
The moaning continued, and Vaughan heard also an excited conversation in a foreign tongue and in whispers. Then he was conscious that his eyes were being tested. Apparently satisfied that the intruder had told the truth, the men questioned him closely about himself, then placed him in a chair with his face to the wall and warned him against speaking. What followed he could imagine from the sounds he heard; undoubtedly a dead body was being disposed of. When this work was completed he was required to drink an aromatic fluid which was placed to his lips; he was told that it was an opiate and would not harm him, and that he might choose between it and a pistol whose muzzle was placed against his head. He swallowed the draft and woke the next morning in his own bed, having been found in a police station by his nurse, who had missed him and. sent out a general alarm.
The experiences and sounds of that dreadful night remained vivid in his memory long after he had recovered his sight. He tried to forget them by traveling on the Continent with a friend, but he did not succeed fairly until with his restored vision he saw in a Turin church a girl so beautiful that he could think of nothing but her face. He haunted the church without ever seeing her again in that place, yet, after his return to London, he found himself one day face to face with her in the street, accompanied by an old woman, apparently a servant or a nurse, who had been with her in the Italian church. He followed them to their lodgings, secured a room in the same house, and attempted to become acquainted with the girl. But his ardor was often abated by a puzzle; the young woman, who spoke English perfectly, was apparently sane but seemed to lack intelligence. She exchanged greetings with him but could not converse on any subject; she was apparently as ignorant as an infant.
Nevertheless Vaughan resolved that she should be his wife. He approached her through her nurse, who insisted that her mistress was "not for love or marriage." Generous bribes to the guardian elicited the information that the young lady had no immediate family whom the young man could ask for her hand. Suddenly mistress and maid disappeared, but within a few days Vaughan received a call from an Italian gentleman, who introduced himself as Dr. Ceneri, uncle and only relative of the beautiful girl, whose name was Pauline March. Vaughan recalled the doctor's face as that of a man he had seen conversing with Pauline's maid, or nurse, in front of the Italian church. Ceneri knew of Vaughan's passion for the girl, and of his character, means, and social station; he was willing that his niece should marry, but talked of her as if she was a mere parcel of merchandise. His conditions were that the marriage should take place within forty-eight hours, as he him-self must depart immediately on a very long journey; he asserted that the girl was well born and virtuous, but insisted that no questions should be asked about her past.
Vaughan, who had no family or relatives to consider, and whose infatuation was complete, was impatient enough to promise anything, so within two days he had wedded Pauline, who manifested neither love nor aversion for him. Vaughan said of her:
"In two days' time I had learned the whole truth—all that I might ever learn about Pauline. The reason why Ceneri had stipulated that her husband should be content to take her with-out inquiring into her early life was clear. Pauline, my wife, my love, had no past—no knowledge of the past! Slowly at first, then with swift steps, the truth came home to me. Now I knew how to account for the puzzled, strange look in those beautiful eyes; knew the reason for the indifference, the apathy she displayed. The face of the woman I had married was fair as the morn; her figure as perfect as that of a Grecian statue; her voice was low and sweet; but the one thing which animates every charm—the mind—was missing, as much missing as a limb may be from a body. Memory, except for comparatively recent events, she seemed to have none. Sorrow and delight she seemed incapable of feeling. Unless her attention was called to them, she noticed neither persons nor places. She lived as by instinct; rose, ate, drank, and lay down to rest as one not knowing why she did so. Perhaps I should not be far wrong in comparing her mind to that of a child; but, alas, it was a child's mind in a woman's body, and that woman was my wife!"
Before any improvement could be hoped for, it was necessary to learn the cause of Pauline's malady, its duration and other details, so Vaughan went in search of Ceneri, who he had reason to believe resided in Geneva. But in that city no one had heard of a physician of that name; strangely, however, Vaughan met an Italian, named Macari, whom also he had seen in front of the Italian church where he had first beheld Pauline. Through him he found the doctor, who admitted that he had not treated Vaughn fairly, but confessed that he had wished the girl to marry rich, for he had himself made away with her fortune, using it for the benefit of the patriot cause in Italy when Garibaldi's volunteers fought against Austria and for Italian unity. But of Pauline's peculiar mental condition he would only say that he believed it would change for the better, and that he would be very glad to know of such a change; of its cause he refused to say anything. Of his whilom companion, Macari, through whom Vaughan had traced him, he was willing to say that he too had aspired to Pauline's hand and heart—should she ever show real intelligence.
Vaughan returned to his wife and called renowned specialists for consultation, but all insisted that they must know the cause of her malady before they could suggest a cure. Macari called to ask Vaughan's assistance in getting before the Italian government a petition for the repayment of some of the moneys advanced by patriots for the uprising that had created the united nation. Incidentally he declared that he was in reality Pauline's brother, not her suitor, and admitted that he, like Ceneri, was a political conspirator by profession. As Italy needed them no longer, Ceneri had worked against the Russian government, had been detected, convicted, and sent to Siberia.
Vaughan distrusted Macari he did not believe him to be Pauline's brother, yet he permitted him to call frequently, for he alone seemed to rouse the girl from her lethargy. He paid very little attention to her, yet she would fix her eyes on him with an eager, troubled look that sometimes suggested fear; and Vaughan welcomed any expression that promised the dawn of returning reason. One night while Macari was recalling some military adventures he illustrated a hand-to-hand contest by seizing a knife that lay on the table, raising it in air and bringing it down on the shoulder of an imaginary Austrian. Pauline sighed; her eyes closed; she had fainted. Vaughan removed her to her room, and Macari departed after expressing concern. Vaughan returned to his wife to find her still insensible; when she awoke her eyes were sightless, and she appeared utterly nerveless; apparently her mental condition had become worse than it had been since her marriage.
Suddenly she rose, left the room, and went out of the house into the night. Vaughan snatched a cloak to throw over her and followed her; then he walked by her side, but she did not notice his presence. She walked rapidly as if knowing where she was going, nor did she pause until she was stopped by the door of a house which she attempted to enter. A bill on the door indicated that the building was without a tenant; so, to humor his wife, Vaughan tried the latch-lock with his own key; to his surprise, it yielded, as another lock had done on an ex-citing night many months before.
Pauline entered, and ascended the dark stair as steadily as if familiar with it. Vaughan followed her through the darkness, and as she crossed a landing and entered a room he recalled with horror that the position of stairs, landing, hall, and room was identical with that in the house he had entered by mistake when blind. He struck a pocket-light and looked about him, lighted a half-burned candle that was on the mantel-piece, and gazed at his wife. She was excited; her fingers were playing convulsively round her temples as if she were trying to conjure back some thoughts that had escaped. Her husband threw open folding-doors at the rear of the room and saw a dust-covered piano. Under the spell of memories of the most eventful night of his life, he struck a few notes of the great song he had then heard in England for the first time. What followed is so strange that it must be described in Vaughan's own words:
"Pauline came toward me and there was a look in her face that made me wonder and fear. She seated herself on the music-bench, and striking the keys with a master hand played brilliantly and faultlessly the prelude to the song of which I had struck a few vagrant notes. I was thunderstruck, for never till now had she shown the slightest taste for music. But after the first few bars my astonishment ceased. I was even prepared to hear Pauline sing as faultlessly as she was playing; with breathless emotion I waited till the song came to the very note at which it finished when once before I listened to it. I was so fully prepared that when she started wildly to her feet with a cry of horror my arms were round her in a moment. To her, as well as to me, all the occurrences of that dreadful night were being reproduced. The past had come back to Pauline—come back at the moment it left her!"
Even the struggles and moans of that awful night were repeated, but when the sufferer became calm a greater wonder followed :
"Call it what you like; dream, hallucination, overheated imagination, call it anything but invention; I shall not be annoyed. This is what happened: I held my wife's hand a few seconds, and then a strange, indefinable feeling crept over me—the kind of feeling sometimes experienced in a dream in which two persons appear and the dreamer cannot be certain with which one's thoughts and acts he identifies himself. The room was so full of light that I could see everything it contained. Round a table in the center were grouped four men, and the faces of two of them were well known to me! Leaning across the table, his features full of alarmed surprise, his eyes fixed on an object a few feet away from him, was Dr. Ceneri, Pauline's uncle and guardian. The man who stood on Ceneri's right, in the attitude of one ready to repel a possible attack, whose face was fierce and full of passion, whose dark eyes were blazing, was Macari. He also was looking at the same object as Ceneri. The man in the background was a stranger to me; he was looking in the same direction, and the object they all looked at was a young man who appeared to be falling out of his chair, and whose hand grasped convulsively the hilt of a dagger, the blade of which was buried in his heart; buried, I knew, by a blow which had been struck downward by one standing over him.
"All this I saw and realized in a second. The whole scene was taken in by me as one takes in with a single glance the purport of a picture. Then I dropped Pauline's hand and sprang to my feet. Where was the lighted room? Where were the figures I had seen? Where was the tragic scene which was taking place before my eyes? Vanished into thin air! The candle was burning dimly behind me; Pauline and I were the only living creatures in the place!"
Again and again he called up that phantasmagoria, merely by touching Pauline's hand. He studied the victim's face closely; it was a very handsome one, even in its death-agony.
" Who could have struck him down ? Without doubt Macari, who was standing nearest to him, in the attitude of one expecting an attack. It must have been a burning desire to fathom the mysteries of that long-past night, the wish to learn exactly what shock had disarranged my wife's intellect, the hope of bringing the criminal to justice, which gave me strength to produce and reproduce that scene until I was satisfied that I knew all that dumb show could tell me."
Pauline was taken home unconscious; the next day and for many days after she was in a delirium of fever. Macari called, and expressed great sorrow and sympathy. Vaughan bluntly, yet with careful detail, charged him with the murder, and the Italian was astonished beyond measure, but soon he told a story that afterward drove Vaughan almost insane with suspicion. The victim, he said, was his sister's—that is, Pauline's —lover, after the worst Italian significance of the word, so that the family honor required that he be killed. Vaughan charged the Italian with falsehood, but the story filled his mind with dread, for was not Pauline, in her delirium, showering loving words on some one with whom she also pleaded sorrowfully ? Who could or would tell him the truth? Apparently no one but Ceneri.
To allay his own fears, and to clear his wife's reputation, Vaughan went to Russia and through the British ambassador obtained the Czar's permission to follow Ceneri to Siberia, find him, and question him. His search was rewarded; Ceneri made a clean breast of the whole affair. The slain man, not Macari, was Pauline's brother; Ceneri, who had dissipated his patrimony, feared him, and Macari hated him for having spurned him as a suitor for Pauline's hand; so the two men had conspired to get the youth into a lunatic asylum, from which he would probably be glad to purchase freedom by favoring Macari and forgiving his defaulting guardian. But a scornful outburst against Macari enraged the rejected suitor and caused him to strike the fatal blow; Pauline, who was in an adjoining room at the piano, heard her brother's dying groan, and when she recovered from the temporary madness of grief the action of her mind and memory seemed to have stopped forever.
Vaughan hurried back to England and found Pauline as rational and vivacious as she was beautiful; she was glad to see him, yet she seemed not to know that she was his wife. Fearing to unsettle her mind anew, he was unwearyingly considerate, spending much time with her, but hardly referring to their legal relation to each other. As time went on, Pauline's interest in him seemed to wane; he feared she did not love him. Rather than annoy her with his presence he decided that he would leave her forever; he had provided her with a good home and a trustworthy attendant, so that no harm could come to her.
But one day he woke suddenly from slumber beside a brook and found Pauline looking at him with something in her eyes that no loving man could fail to read rightly. Then it transpired that she had remembered and loved him ever since her restoration to health; she had hesitated to acknowledge it because she feared his own affection had been killed by her inane and irresponsive condition in the earlier days of their married life, before she had been "called back."