The question of how I am to start the story properly I have tried to settle in two
ways. First, by scratching my head, which led to nothing. Second, by consulting
my daughter Penelope, which has resulted in an entirely new idea.
Penelope's notion is that I should set down what happened, regularly day by day,
beginning with the day when we got the news that Mr. Franklin Blake was
expected on a visit to the house. When you come to fix your memory with a date
in this way, it is wonderful what your memory will pick up for you upon that
compulsion. The only difficulty is to fetch out the dates, in the first place. This
Penelope offers to do for me by looking into her own diary, which she was taught
to keep when she was at school, and which she has gone on keeping ever since.
In answer to an improvement on this notion, devised by myself, namely, that she
should tell the story instead of me, out of her own diary, Penelope observes, with
a fierce look and a red face, that her journal is for her own private eye, and that
no living creature shall ever know what is in it but herself. When I inquire what
this means, Penelope says, "Fiddlesticks!" I say, Sweethearts.
Beginning, then, on Penelope's plan, I beg to mention that I was specially called
one Wednesday morning into my lady's own sitting-room, the date being the
twenty-fourth of May, Eighteen hundred and forty-eight.
"Gabriel," says my lady, "here is news that will surprise you. Franklin Blake has
come back from abroad. He has been staying with his father in London, and he is
coming to us to-morrow to stop till next month, and keep Rachel's birthday."
If I had had a hat in my hand, nothing but respect would have prevented me from
throwing that hat up to the ceiling. I had not seen Mr. Franklin since he was a
boy, living along with us in this house. He was, out of all sight (as I remember
him), the nicest boy that ever spun a top or broke a window. Miss Rachel, who
was present, and to whom I made that remark, observed, in return, that SHE
remembered him as the most atrocious tyrant that ever tortured a doll, and the
hardest driver of an exhausted little girl in string harness that England could
produce. "I burn with indignation, and I ache with fatigue," was the way Miss
Rachel summed it up, "when I think of Franklin Blake."
Hearing what I now tell you, you will naturally ask how it was that Mr. Franklin
should have passed all the years, from the time when he was a boy to the time
when he was a man, out of his own country. I answer, because his father had the
misfortune to be next heir to a Dukedom, and not to be able to prove it.
In two words, this was how the thing happened:
My lady's eldest sister married the celebrated Mr. Blake-- equally famous for his
great riches, and his great suit at law. How many years he went on worrying the
tribunals of his country to turn out the Duke in possession, and to put himself in
the Duke's place--how many lawyer's purses he filled to bursting, and how many
otherwise harmless people he set by the ears together disputing whether he was
right or wrong-- is more by a great deal than I can reckon up. His wife died, and