The Blind See
THE BLIND SEE
THOUGH Chris Palmer was certainly among the most fortunate of men, though on him it seemed that Nature had lavished every gift, in making him clever, handsome, attractive, capable, cheerful, though he was married to a woman whose face was as lovely as her disposition was sweet, though he had two as bonny little children as a proud parent could delight in, yet people often spoke of him with sympathy and pity as "poor Chris Palmer." For there was one blot upon the shield of his content. His lovely and accomplished wife was blind, and, save for the first few months of her life, had never seen at all.
The gross stupidity of a nurse had cost the child her eyesight when she was not quite two years of age. No medical skill was of any avail, and doctors say that she will never see again.
But there is a story about that. It isn't credible and it isn't possible, and no one believes it except Chris and his wife and me and—and a man who is now working out a long term of penal servitude.
It is not a story Chris tells. Naturally, he doesn't care to be taken as romancing on such a subject as his wife's misfortune. The first hint I had of it was when he said one day, in allusion to some expression of sympathy—
"Her blindness once saved my life."
Another time something was said about it being such a pity that Mrs. Palmer had never seen the really charming garden in which their house stood, and the exquisite view beyond. Chris said—
"She has seen it—once."
No one quite liked to ask him what he meant, but afterwards our local doctor remarked on how strange it was that Mr. Palmer would insist that once his wife had seen both garden and view.
"Of course, everyone is a bit mad somewhere," he observed, in his best scientific manner, "and that is Mr. Palmer's little delusion—quite a harmless one, fortunately."
"But," I said, "mayn't he mean she saw it as a child? She wasn't born blind."
"No, but she was born fifty miles away, and was never in this neighbourhood before their marriage; she told me that herself," answered the doctor. "It's just a little insane spot, like the blind spot we all have." Then he grew scientific again.
I'm not a scientific person myself, and the doctor's theories only bored me. Besides, Chris didn't strike me as being insane, even in spots—far from it. But certainly his assertion that Mrs. Palmer had seen the garden and the view beyond puzzled me.
Very likely it was a somewhat impertinent curiosity that made me one afternoon, a little later—when I was alone with Mrs. Palmer in the garden, where she was giving me a cup of tea—begin to talk about the beauty of our surroundings and of the view beyond. She certainly seemed to know exactly what it was all like, as she turned her lovely sightless eyes from one point to another, and even drew my attention to details I had overlooked. It was hard to believe that she did not see what she spoke about with such feeling. Of course, I suppose that really it was nothing to be surprised at, since, no doubt, everything had been described to her over and over again. But at the same time her talk was very detailed, and had a quality of glow and vividness hard to understand. She had been blind for practically all her life—since one's memories before one is two years old hardly count in one's experience—and yet she seemed to understand light and colour in a way that people blind from birth seldom do. I think she felt this, for she said in almost the words Chris had used to me—
"You know I have seen once, though I never shall again."
I did not like to ask any questions, though my curiosity was certainly aroused. But I got Chris alone one day, and I asked him point-blank.
He hesitated a little.
"If I told you, you wouldn't believe me," he said.
"One seldom does when a thing's true," I remarked.
Finally he told me, and here's the story. I believe it, as I said before; but no one else is obliged to, and there is no explanation.
Mrs. Palmer's maiden name was Joyce, and as Miss Joyce she had fully intended never to marry. Her idea was to retire into some religious community when circumstances made that possible. She was always very cheerful and happy, in spite of her affliction, and certainly her music was a great consolation. She was a wonderful player, and would spend hours at the piano, entirely forgetting, and making everyone else forget, her misfortune. Blind as she was, there were plenty of suitors for her hand; but she would listen to none of them, declaring she would inflict on no man the burden of a blind wife.
"I can bear it myself very easily," she said, "for I have so much to be thankful for, but anyone else would soon come to feel it a burden."
Then Chris came on the scene, and he set himself to win her. She refused him steadily for three years, but he knew what he wanted, and he meant to get it. In the end she yielded. She would have yielded before, I think, had she loved him less.
She had made herself quite ill, for certainly his siege had been persistent and relentless; but when it was all settled, she soon recovered her health, and in due course they were married, and came to their present residence to settle down.
I am sure they were both very happy.
In spite of her affliction, Mrs. Palmer proved herself a highly competent house-keeper, and servants—as new ones sometimes did—who tried to take advantage of her were soon disillusioned. She could tell as well as anyone if the drawing-room had been properly dusted, for instance, and it was she who first found out that the butler was indulging in sundry peculations.
She accused the man to his face, and he was rude to her, very rude. Chris was an even-tempered man, and gentle and quiet in his ways, but that upset him altogether, though I must admit he went a little too far. The magistrates said they were afraid he had been really much too severe, and very certainly Mrs. Palmer would never have permitted him to go to anything like such extremes had she had the least idea of what was happening. But, you see, Chris smiled on the fellow and spoke him fair, and took him into the garden, well out of hearing, and then set to work and flogged him till he dropped where he stood. There is no doubt Chris went too far, and he was lucky to get off with a fine. He didn't mind in the least—in fact, he at once presented the magistrates with twice the amount of the fine as a contribution to their poor-box.
No more was heard of the butler for some time. After he came out of hospital, he sent Chris a threatening letter, which Chris threw in the fire at once, and never even troubled to mention to the police. The fellow meant it, however. He had really been very soundly thrashed, he knew the fine Chris had paid meant nothing at all, and he knew also he would never get employment in a decent house again. His face was permanently marked, for one thing, I believe, where the lash of the whip had caught it while he struggled to escape.
I suppose Chris and most other people had entirely forgotten the affair when he turned up again. It was one Sunday, and Chris and his wife were alone after their midday dinner. They dined at one on Sundays, and had a cold meal they called supper at night. Mrs. Palmer did exquisite crochet work, and she was busy with some, while Chris read aloud, and all at once, and for no visible cause, she appeared to grow uneasy.
She said at first that she thought there was going to be a storm; but Chris only laughed, for the sky was perfectly clear. She insisted that she could feel thunder in the air, and he went to look at the glass in the hall. He came back, and said it was perfectly steady, and that there wasn't a cloud to be seen.
Still she showed herself uneasy. Chris described to me very graphically how she turned her beautiful sightless eyes one way and another, and seemed to scent the air with her delicate, quivering nostrils as you may see a frightened deer do.
"My dear child, what is the matter with you?" Chris said.
She lifted her hand and pointed.
"There is a man there, behind that bush," she said.
Chris turned and stared with all his eyes.
"How do you know?" he said, imagining she had heard some sound and mistaken it, perhaps, for a footstep.
"I saw him," she answered.
At the moment this astounding statement did not, it seems, strike either her or him as in any way remarkable.
Chris jumped up at once and walked towards the bush to which she had pointed.
As he came near, the butler showed himself. He bowed and scraped and whined, and began a long tale about being nearly starving, and would Chris give him some help, even if he wouldn't take him back.
"I certainly shall not take you back," said Chris decisively.
He knew he had given the fellow a severe punishment, and he had it in his mind to offer to pay his fare to one of the Dominions, where he could, perhaps, make a fresh start in life. Unfortunately, he did not say so, but stood considering, while the ex-butler went on whining for help and gradually edging nearer and nearer.
"Oh, stop that whining!" said Chris impatiently.
All the time the scoundrel was getting nearer and nearer. Chris had his hands deep in his pockets, and stood absolutely defenceless to any sudden attack. He suspected nothing. Mrs. Palmer had come a step or two towards them, and then stood still. At Chris's sharp order the ex-butler stopped his whining, but he came a little nearer yet, and in doing so, in edging round, he turned his back to Mrs. Palmer, of whom, knowing her to be blind, he took no notice. But she called out at once, very loudly and clearly—
"Take care, Chris! He is holding an open knife behind his back!"
Chris says that still for the moment he did not think it strange, or wonder how she could tell; but the ex-butler whipped round like a flash, and he was very pale.
"How do you know?" he cried. "God, she sees!" he screamed.
"I see the knife in your hand," she answered.
Chris saw it, too, now, and forthwith he knocked the fellow down and took the thing away from him—an ugly-looking weapon it was, too. Chris has it still, and he showed it to me after he had finished his story. He kicked the fellow off the place, and warned him that he would be given in charge if he came near again for any reason whatever. Luckily, he had no cause to feel worried about him much longer, as shortly afterwards the man was arrested on a very serious charge and sentenced to a long term of penal servitude. It was only after Chris had seen the would-be murderer safely off the place that he began to wonder. Going back to his wife, he said to her—
"How did you know?"
"For the moment I saw," she answered.
As I said before, there's no explanation. The doctors still insist that she will never see again. Whether her sight was given to her for the moment by a direct act of Divine mercy, as she believes, or whether she knew what was happening through some obscure, unknown sixth sense, I cannot tell. But this I do know—that she knows what the garden is like, and the view beyond, and the play of light and shade upon the hills, and the colour of it all in a way that is very rare in a person born blind. She says, in explanation, that she has a good memory.
Copyright, 1916, by E. R. Punshon, in the United States of America.