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"Second period. The Discovery of the Truth. (1848-1849.) First Narrative. Contributed by Miss Clack; niece of the late Sir John Verinder." Chapter 3 — initial illustration for the sixteenth instalment in Harper's Weekly (18 April 1868), page 245. Wood-engraving, 8.5 x 5.5 cm. [In an effort to effect the spiritual salvation of her wealthy relative and hostess, Miss Clack hiding one of her "improving" religious tracts in a music portfolio at the townhouse of Lady Julia Verinder in Montagu Square, London.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.]

Illustrations courtesy of the E. J. Pratt Fine Arts Library, University of Toronto, and the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia.

Passage forming a context for the Headnote Vignette for the Sixteenth Instalment

I possessed a little library of works, all suitable to the present emergency, all calculated to arouse, convince, prepare, enlighten, and fortify my aunt. "You will read, dear, won't you?" I said, in my most winning way. "You will read, if I bring you my own precious books? Turned down at all the right places, aunt. And marked in pencil where you are to stop and ask yourself, 'Does this apply to me?'" Even that simple appeal — so absolutely heathenising is the influence of the world — appeared to startle my aunt. She said, "I will do what I can, Drusilla, to please you," with a look of surprise, which was at once instructive and terrible to see. Not a moment was to be lost. The clock on the mantel-piece informed me that I had just time to hurry home; to provide myself with a first series of selected readings (say a dozen only); and to return in time to meet the lawyer, and witness Lady Verinder's Will. Promising faithfully to be back by five o'clock, I left the house on my errand of mercy.

When no interests but my own are involved, I am humbly content to get from place to place by the omnibus. Permit me to give an idea of my devotion to my aunt's interests by recording that, on this occasion, I committed the prodigality of taking a cab.

I drove home, selected and marked my first series of readings, and drove back to Montagu Square, with a dozen works in a carpet-bag, the like of which, I firmly believe, are not to be found in the literature of any other country in Europe. I paid the cabman exactly his fare. He received it with an oath; upon which I instantly gave him a tract. If I had presented a pistol at his head, this abandoned wretch could hardly have exhibited greater consternation. He jumped up on his box, and, with profane exclamations of dismay, drove off furiously. Quite useless, I am happy to say! I sowed the good seed, in spite of him, by throwing a second tract in at the window of the cab.

The servant who answered the door — not the person with the cap-ribbons, to my great relief, but the foot-man — informed me that the doctor had called, and was still shut up with Lady Verinder. Mr. Bruff, the lawyer, had arrived a minute since and was waiting in the library. I was shown into the library to wait too.

Mr. Bruff looked surprised to see me. He is the family solicitor, and we had met more than once, on previous occasions, under Lady Verinder's roof. A man, I grieve to say, grown old and grizzled in the service of the world. A man who, in his hours of business, was the chosen prophet of Law and Mammon; and who, in his hours of leisure, was equally capable of reading a novel and of tearing up a tract.

"Have you come to stay here, Miss Clack?" he asked, with a look at my carpet-bag.

To reveal the contents of my precious bag to such a person as this would have been simply to invite an outburst of profanity. I lowered myself to his own level, and mentioned my business in the house.

"My aunt has informed me that she is about to sign her Will," I answered. "She has been so good as to ask me to be one of the witnesses."

"Aye? aye? Well, Miss Clack, you will do. You are over twenty-one, and you have not the slightest pecuniary interest in Lady Verinder's Will." — "Second period. The Discovery of the Truth. (1848-1849.) First Narrative. Contributed by Miss Clack; niece of the late Sir John Verinder," Ch. III, p. 245.


The headnote vignette emphasizes the point that control of the narrative has passed from the genial old family retainer, Gabriel Betteredge, to the judgmental, overly puritanical old maid, Miss Drusilla Clack, a poor relation of the Verinders and a great admirer of that "Christian hero," Godfrey Ablewhite. She is, in fact, one of Collins's most brilliant comic creations in the ironic mode; as Steve Farmer notes in the "Introduction" to the Broadview edition, there is something Dickensian about the sanctimonious, evangelical old maid who resents the young, the beautiful, — and the rich. "Both Ablewhite and Clack . . . play a large role in the novel, but in any discussion of the book, each initiatyes only very restricted single-track discussions of Collins's abhorence of organized religious hypocrisy" (18). The American illustrator has not been able to resist the urge to make Miss Clack remarkably plain.

The headnote vignette specifically identifies a music portfolio as the hiding place that Drusilla has chosen; in fact, she is hiding such religious tracts wherever Julia Verinder is likely to find them in Chapter 4:

"You might feel stronger, dear, in an hour or two," I said. "Or you might wake, to-morrow morning, with a sense of something wanting, and even this unpretending volume might be able to supply it. You will let me leave the book, aunt? The doctor can hardly object to that!"

I slipped it under the sofa cushions, half in, and half out, close by her handkerchief, and her smelling-bottle. Every time her hand searched for either of these, it would touch the book; and, sooner or later (who knows?) the book might touch her. After making this arrangement, I thought it wise to withdraw. "Let me leave you to repose, dear aunt; I will call again to-morrow." I looked accidentally towards the window as I said that. It was full of flowers, in boxes and pots. Lady Verinder was extravagantly fond of these perishable treasures, and had a habit of rising every now and then, and going to look at them and smell them. A new idea flashed across my mind. "Oh! may I take a flower?" I said—and got to the window unsuspected, in that way. Instead of taking away a flower, I added one, in the shape of another book from my bag, which I left, to surprise my aunt, among the geraniums and roses. The happy thought followed, "Why not do the same for her, poor dear, in every other room that she enters?" I immediately said good-bye; and, crossing the hall, slipped into the library. Samuel, coming up to let me out, and supposing I had gone, went down-stairs again. On the library table I noticed two of the "amusing books" which the infidel doctor had recommended. I instantly covered them from sight with two of my own precious publications. In the breakfast-room I found my aunt's favourite canary singing in his cage. She was always in the habit of feeding the bird herself. Some groundsel was strewed on a table which stood immediately under the cage. I put a book among the groundsel. In the drawing-room I found more cheering opportunities of emptying my bag. My aunt's favourite musical pieces were on the piano. I slipped in two more books among the music. I disposed of another in the back drawing-room, under some unfinished embroidery, which I knew to be of Lady Verinder's working. A third little room opened out of the back drawing-room, from which it was shut off by curtains instead of a door. My aunt's plain old-fashioned fan was on the chimney-piece. I opened my ninth book at a very special passage, and put the fan in as a marker, to keep the place. — Second period. The Discovery of the Truth. (1848-1849.) First Narrative. Contributed by Miss Clack; niece of the late Sir John Verinder," Ch. IV, p. 246.

Relevant Illustrations of Miss Clack from the Serial (1868), Chatto and Windus (1890), and Doubleday Literary Guild Edition (1946)

Left: The earlier scene in which Godfrey Ablewhite attempts to comfort Lady Julia and Rachel as Miss Clack (right) looks on admiringly, "She stopped — ran across the room — and fell on her knees at her mother's feet." (fifteenth instalment). Centre: F. A. Fraser's depiction of the same scene, juxtaposing Godfrey Ablewhite and Miss Clack as dispassionate observers of the mother and daughter, "She stopped, ran across the room — and fell on her knees at her mother's feet." (1890). Right: William Sharp's full-page depiction of the sanctimonious poor relation, Miss Clack and Her Diary [uncaptioned] (1946) [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

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Last updated 28 November 2016