It has lately been objected to me, in studiously courteous terms of course, that I borrow from other books, and am a plagiarist. To this I reply that I borrow facts from every accessible source, and am not a plagiarist. The plagiarist is one who borrows from a homogeneous work: for such a man borrows not ideas only, but their treatment. He who borrows only from heterogeneous works is not a plagiarist. All fiction, worth a button, is founded on facts; and it does not matter one straw whether the facts are taken from personal experience, hearsay, or printed books; only those books must not be works of fiction.
Ask your common sense why a man writes better fiction at forty than he can at twenty. It is simply because he has gathered more facts from each of these three sources,--experience, hearsay, print.
To those who have science enough to appreciate the above distinction, I am very willing to admit that in all my tales I use a vast deal of heterogeneous material, which in a life of study I have gathered from men, journals, blue-books, histories, biographies, law reports, etc. And if I could, I would gladly specify all the various printed sources to which I am indebted. But my memory is not equal to such a feat. I can only say that I rarely write a novel without milking about two hundred heterogeneous cows into my pail, and that "A Simpleton" is no exception to my general method; that method is the true method, and the best, and if on that method I do not write prime novels, it is the fault of the man, and not of the method.
I give the following particulars as an illustration of my method:
In "A Simpleton," the whole business of the girl spitting blood, the surgeon ascribing it to the liver, the consultation, the final solution of the mystery, is a matter of personal experience accurately recorded. But the rest of the medical truths, both fact and argument, are all from medical books far too numerous to specify. This includes the strange fluctuations of memory in a man recovering his reason by degrees. The behavior of the doctor's first two patients I had from a surgeon's daughter in Pimlico. The servant-girl and her box; the purple-faced, pig-faced Beak and his justice, are personal experience. The business of house-renting, and the auction-room, is also personal experience.
In the nautical business I had the assistance of two practical seamen: my brother, William Barrington Reade, and Commander Charles Edward Reade, R.N.
In the South African business I gleaned from Mr. Day's recent handbooks; the old handbooks; Galton's "Vacation Tourist;" "Philip Mavor; or, Life among the Caffres;" "Fossor;" "Notes on the Cape of Good Hope," 1821; "Scenes and Occurrences in Albany and Caffre-land," 1827; Bowler's "South African Sketches;" "A Campaign in South Africa," Lucas; "Five Years in Caffre-land," Mrs. Ward; etc., etc., etc. But my principal obligation on this head is to Mr. Boyle, the author of some admirable letters to the Daily telegraph, which he afterwards reprinted in a delightful volume. Mr. Boyle has a painter's eye, and a writer's pen, and if the African scenes in "A Simpleton" please my readers, I hope they will go to the fountain-head, where they will find many more.
As to the plot and characters, they are invented.
The title, "A Simpleton," is not quite new. There is a French play called La Niaise. But La Niaise is in reality a woman of rare intelligence, who is taken for a simpleton by a lot of conceited fools, and the play runs on their blunders, and her unpretending wisdom. That is a very fine plot, which I recommend to our female novelists. My aim in these pages has been much humbler, and is, I hope, too clear to need explanation.
A YOUNG lady sat pricking a framed canvas in the drawing-room of Kent Villa, a mile from Gravesend; she was making, at a cost of time and tinted wool, a chair cover, admirably unfit to be sat upon--except by some severe artist, bent on obliterating discordant colors. To do her justice, her mind was not in her work; for she rustled softly with restlessness as she sat, and she rose three times in twenty minutes, and went to the window. Thence she looked down, over a trim flowery lawn, and long, sloping meadows, on to the silver Thames, alive with steamboats ploughing, white sails bellying, and great ships carrying to and fro the treasures of the globe. From this fair landscape and epitome of commerce she retired each time with listless disdain; she was waiting for somebody.
Yet she was one of those whom few men care to keep waiting. Rosa Lusignan was a dark but dazzling beauty, with coal-black hair, and glorious dark eyes, that seemed to beam with soul all day long; her eyebrows, black, straightish, and rather thick, would have been majestic and too severe, had the other features followed suit; but her black brows were succeeded by long silky lashes, a sweet oval face, two pouting lips studded with ivory, and an exquisite chin, as feeble as any man could desire in the partner of his bosom. Person--straight, elastic, and rather tall. Mind--nineteen. Accomplishments--numerous; a poor French scholar, a worse German, a worse English, an admirable dancer, an inaccurate musician, a good rider, a bad draughtswoman, a bad hairdresser, at the mercy of her maid; a hot theologian, knowing nothing, a sorry accountant, no housekeeper, no seamstress, a fair embroideress, a capital geographer, and no cook.
Collectively, namely, mind and body, the girl we kneel to.
This ornamental member of society now glanced at the clock once more, and then glided to the window for the fourth time. She peeped at the side a good while, with superfluous slyness or shyness, and presently she drew back, blushing crimson; then she peeped again, still more furtively; then retired softly to her frame, and, for the first time, set to work in earnest. As she plied her harpoon, smiling now, the large and vivid blush, that had suffused her face and throat, turned from carnation to rose, and melted away slowly, but perceptibly, and ever so sweetly; and somebody knocked at the street-door.
The blow seemed to drive her deeper into her work. She leaned over it, graceful as a willow, and so absorbed, she could not even see the door of the room open and Dr. Staines come in.
All the better: her not perceiving that slight addition to her furniture gives me a moment to describe him.
A young man, five feet eleven inches high, very square shouldered and deep chested, but so symmetrical, and light in his movements, that his size hardly struck one at first. He was smooth shaved, all but a short, thick, auburn whisker; his hair was brown. His features no more then comely: the brow full, the eyes wide apart and deep-seated, the lips rather thin, but expressive, the chin solid and square. It was a face of power, and capable of harshness; but relieved by an eye of unusual color, between hazel and gray, and wonderfully tender. In complexion he could not compare with Rosa; his cheek was clear, but pale; for few young men had studied night and day so constantly. Though but twenty-eight years of age, he was literally a learned physician; deep in hospital practice; deep in books; especially deep in German science, too often neglected or skimmed by English physicians. He had delivered a course of lectures at a learned university with general applause.
As my reader has divined, Rosa was preparing the comedy of a cool reception; but looking up, she saw his pale cheek tinted with a lover's beautiful joy at the bare sight of her, and his soft eye so divine with love, that she had not the heart to chill him. She gave him her hand kindly, and smiled brightly on him instead of remonstrating. She lost nothing by it, for the very first thing he did was to excuse himself eagerly. "I am behind time: the fact is, just as I was mounting my horse, a poor man came to the gate to consult me. He had a terrible disorder I have sometimes succeeded in arresting--I attack the cause instead of the symptoms, which is the old practice--and so that detained me. You forgive me?"
"Of course. Poor man!--only you said you wanted to see papa, and he always goes out at two."
When she had been betrayed into saying this, she drew in suddenly, and blushed with a pretty consciousness.
"Then don't let me lose another minute," said the lover. "Have you prepared him for--for--what I am going to have the audacity to say?"
Rosa answered, with some hesitation, "I must have--a little. When I refused Colonel Bright--you need not devour my hand quite--he is forty."
Her sentence ended, and away went the original topic, and grammatical sequence along with it. Christopher Staines recaptured them both. "Yes, dear, when you refused Colonel Bright--"
"Well, papa was astonished; for everybody says the colonel is a most eligible match. Don't you hate that expression? I do. Eligible!"
Christopher made due haste, and recaptured her. "Yes, love, your papa said--"
"I don't think I will tell you. He asked me was there anybody else; and of course I said 'No.'"
"Oh, that is nothing; I had not time to make up my mind to tell the truth. I was taken by surprise; and you know one's first impulse is to fib--about that."
"But did you really deceive him?"
"No, I blushed; and he caught me; so he said, 'Come, now, there was.'"
"And you said, 'Yes, there is,' like a brave girl as you are."
"What, plump like that? No, I was frightened out of my wits, like a brave girl as I am not, and said I should never marry any one he could disapprove; and then--oh, then I believe I began to cry. Christopher, I'll tell you something; I find people leave off teasing you when you cry--gentlemen, I mean. Ladies go on all the more. So then dear papa kissed me, and told me I must not be imprudent, and throw myself away, that was all; and I promised him I never would. I said he would be sure to approve my choice; and he said he hoped so. And so he will."
Dr. Staines looked thoughtful, and said he hoped so too. "But now it comes to the point of asking him for such a treasure, I feel my deficiencies."
"Why, what deficiencies? You are young, and handsome, and good, and ever so much cleverer than other people. You have only to ask for me, and insist on having me. Come, dear, go and get it over." She added, mighty coolly, "There is nothing so dreadful as suspense."
"I'll go this minute," said he, and took a step towards the door; but he turned, and in a moment was at her knees. He took both her hands in his, and pressed them to his beating bosom, while his beautiful eyes poured love into hers point-blank. "May I tell him you love me? Oh, I know you cannot love me as I love you; but I may say you love me a little, may I not?--that will go farther with him than anything else. May I, Rosa, may I?--a little?"
His passion mastered her. She dropped her head sweetly on his shoulder, and murmured, "You know you may, my own. Who would not love you?"
He parted lingeringly from her, then marched away, bold with love and hope, to demand her hand in marriage.
Rosa leaned back in her chair, and quivered a little with new emotions. Christopher was right; she was not capable of loving like him; but still the actual contact of so strong a passion made her woman's nature vibrate. A dewy tear hung on the fringes of her long lashes, and she leaned back in her chair and fluttered awhile.
That emotion, almost new to her, soon yielded, in her girlish mind, to a complacent languor; and that, in its turn, to a soft reverie. So she was going to be married! To be mistress of a house; settle in London (that she had quite determined long ago); be able to go out into the streets all alone, to shop, or visit; have a gentleman all her own, whom she could put her finger on any moment and make him take her about, even to the opera and the theatre; to give dinner-parties her own self, and even a little ball once in a way; to buy whatever dresses she thought proper, instead of being crippled by an allowance; have the legal right of speaking first in society, even to gentlemen rich in ideas but bad starters, instead of sitting mumchance and mock-modest; to be Mistress, instead of Miss--contemptible title; to be a woman, instead of a girl; and all this rational liberty, domestic power, and social dignity were to be obtained by merely wedding a dear fellow, who loved her, and was so nice; and the bright career to be ushered in with several delights, each of them dear to a girl's very soul: presents from all her friends; as many beautiful new dresses as if she was changing her body or her hemisphere, instead of her name; éclat; going to church, which is a good English girl's theatre of display and temple of vanity, and there tasting delightful publicity and whispered admiration, in a heavenly long veil, which she could not wear even once if she remained single.
This bright variegated picture of holy wedlock, and its essential features, as revealed to young ladies by feminine tradition, though not enumerated in the Book of Common Prayer writ by grim males, so entranced her, that time flew by unheeded, and Christopher Staines came back from her father. His step was heavy; he looked pale, and deeply distressed; then stood like a statue, and did not come close to her, but cast a piteous look, and gasped out one word, that seemed almost to choke him,--"REFUSED!"
Miss Lusignan rose from her chair, and looked almost wildly at him with her great eyes. "Refused?" said she, faintly.
"Yes," said he, sadly. "Your father is a man of business; and he took a mere business view of our love: he asked me directly what provision I could make for his daughter and her children. Well, I told him I had three thousand pounds in the Funds, and a good profession; and then I said I had youth, health, and love, boundless love, the love that can do, or suffer, the love that can conquer the world."
"Dear Christopher! And what could he say to all that?"
"He ignored it entirely. There! I'll give you his very words. He said, 'In that case, Dr. Staines, the simple question is, what does your profession bring you in per annum?'"
"Oh! There! I always hated arithmetic, and now I abominate it."
"Then I was obliged to confess I had scarcely received a hundred pounds in fees this year; but I told him the reason; this is such a small district, and all the ground occupied. London, I said, was my sphere."
"And so it is," said Rosa, eagerly; for this jumped with her own little designs. "Genius is wasted in the country. Besides, whenever anybody worth curing is ill down here, they always send to London for a doctor."
"I told him so, dearest," said the lover. "But he answered me directly, then I must set up in London, and as soon as my books showed an income to keep a wife, and servants, and children, and insure my life for five thousand pounds--"
"Oh, that is so like papa. He is director of an insurance company, so all the world must insure their lives."
"No, dear, he was quite right there: professional incomes are most precarious. Death spares neither young nor old, neither warm hearts nor cold. I should be no true physician if I could not see my own mortality." He hung his head and pondered a moment, then went on, sadly, "It all comes to this--until I have a professional income of eight hundred a year at least, he will not hear of our marrying; and the cruel thing is, he will not even consent to an engagement. But," said the rejected, with a look of sad anxiety, "you will wait for me without that, dear Rosa?"
She could give him that comfort, and she gave it him with loving earnestness. "Of course I will; and it shall not be very long. Whilst you are making your fortune, to please papa, I will keep fretting, and pouting, and crying, till he sends for you."
"Bless you, dearest! Stop!--not to make yourself ill! not for all the world." The lover and the physician spoke in turn.
He came, all gratitude, to her side, and they sat, hand in hand, comforting each other: indeed, parting was such sweet sorrow that they sat, handed, and very close to one another, till Mr. Lusignan, who thought five minutes quite enough for rational beings to take leave in, walked into the room and surprised them. At sight of his gray head and iron-gray eyebrows, Christopher Staines started up and looked confused; he thought some apology necessary, so he faltered out, "Forgive me, sir; it is a bitter parting to me, you may be sure."
Rosa's bosom heaved at these simple words. She flew to her father, and cried, "Oh, papa! papa! you were never cruel before;" and hid her burning face on his shoulder; and then burst out crying, partly for Christopher, partly because she was now ashamed of herself for having taken a young man's part so openly.
Mr. Lusignan looked sadly discomposed at this outburst: she had taken him by his weak point; he told her so. "Now, Rosa," said he, rather peevishly, "you know I hate a noise."
Rosa had actually forgotten that trait for a single moment; but, being reminded of it, she reduced her sobs in the prettiest way, not to offend a tender parent who could not bear noise. Under this homely term, you must know, he included all scenes, disturbances, rumpuses, passions; and expected all men, women, and things in Kent Villa to go smoothly--or go elsewhere.
"Come, young people," said he, "don't make a disturbance. Where's the grievance? Have I said he shall never marry you? Have I forbidden him to correspond? or even to call, say twice a year. All I say is, no marriage, nor contract of marriage, until there is an income." Then he turned to Christopher. "Now if you can't make an income without her, how could you make one with her, weighed down by the load of expenses a wife entails? I know her better than you do; she is a good girl, but rather luxurious and self-indulgent. She is not cut out for a poor man's wife. And pray don't go and fancy that nobody loves my child but you. Mine is not so hot as yours, of course; but believe me, sir, it is less selfish. You would expose her to poverty and misery; but I say no; it is my duty to protect her from all chance of them; and, in doing it, I am as much your friend as hers, if you could but see it. Come, Dr. Staines, be a man, and see the world as it is. I have told you how to earn my daughter's hand and my esteem: you must gain both, or neither."
Dr. Staines was never quite deaf to reason: he now put his hand to his brow and said, with a sort of wonder and pitiful dismay, "My love for Rosa selfish! Sir, your words are bitter and hard." Then, after a struggle, and with rare and touching candor, "Ay, but so are bark and steel; yet they are good medicines." Then with a great glow in his heart and tears in his eyes, "My darling shall not be a poor man's wife, she who would adorn a coronet, ay, or a crown. Good-by, Rosa, for the present." He darted to her, and kissed her hand with all his soul. "Oh, the sacrifice of leaving you," he faltered; "the very world is dark to me without you. Ah, well, I must earn the right to come again." He summoned all his manhood, and marched to the door. There he seemed to turn calmer all of a sudden, and said firmly, yet humbly, "I'll try and show you, sir, what love can do."
"And I'll show you what love can suffer," said Rosa, folding her beautiful arms superbly.
It was not in her to have shot such a bolt, except in imitation; yet how promptly the mimic thunder came, and how grand the beauty looked, with her dark brows, and flashing eyes, and folded arms! much grander and more inspired than poor Staines, who had only furnished the idea.
But between these two figures swelling with emotion, the representative of common sense, Lusignan père, stood cool and impassive; he shrugged his shoulders, and looked on both lovers as a couple of ranting novices he was saving from each other and almshouses.
For all that, when the lover had torn himself away, papa's composure was suddenly disturbed by a misgiving. He stepped hastily to the stairhead, and gave it vent. "Dr. Staines," said he, in a loud whisper (Staines was half way down the stairs: he stopped). "I trust to you as a gentleman, not to mention this; it will never transpire here. Whatever we do, no noise!"
ROSA LUSIGNAN set herself pining as she had promised; and she did it discreetly for so young a person. She was never peevish, but always sad and listless. By this means she did not anger her parent, but only made him feel she was unhappy, and the house she had hitherto brightened exceeding dismal.
By degrees this noiseless melancholy undermined the old gentleman, and he well-nigh tottered.
But one day, calling suddenly on a neighbor with six daughters, he heard peals of laughter, and found Rosa taking her full share of the senseless mirth. She pulled up short at sight of him, and colored high; but it was too late, for he launched a knowing look at her on the spot, and muttered something about seven foolish virgins.
He took the first opportunity, when they were alone, and told her he was glad to find she was only dismal at home.
But Rosa had prepared for him. "One can be loud without being gay at heart," said she, with a lofty, languid air. "I have not forgotten your last words to him. We were to hide our broken hearts from the world. I try to obey you, dear papa; but, if I had my way, I would never go into the world at all. I have but one desire now--to end my days in a convent."
"Please begin them first. A convent! Why, you'd turn it out of window. You are no more fit to be a nun than--a pauper."
Not having foreseen this facer, Rosa had nothing ready: so she received it with a sad, submissive, helpless sigh, as who would say, "Hit me, papa: I have no friend now." So then he was sorry he had been so clever; and, indeed, there is one provoking thing about "a woman's weakness"--it is invincible.
The next minute, what should come but a long letter from Dr. Staines, detailing his endeavors to purchase a practice in London, and his ill-success. The letter spoke the language of love and hope; but the facts were discouraging; and, indeed, a touching sadness pierced through the veil of the brave words.
Rosa read it again and again, and cried over it before her father, to encourage him in his heartless behavior.
About ten days after this, something occurred that altered her mood.
She became grave and thoughtful, but no longer lugubrious. She seemed desirous to atone to her father for having disturbed his cheerfulness. She smiled affectionately on him, and often sat on a stool at his knee, and glided her hand into his.
He was not a little pleased, and said to himself, "She is coming round to common-sense."
Now, on the contrary, she was farther from it than ever.
At last he got the clew. One afternoon he met Mr. Wyman coming out of the villa. Mr. Wyman was the consulting surgeon of that part.
"What! anybody ill?" said Mr. Lusignan. "One of the servants?"
"No; it is Miss Lusignan."
"Why, what is the matter with her?"
Wyman hesitated. "Oh, nothing very alarming. Would you mind asking her?"
"The fact is, she requested me not to tell you: made me promise."
"And I insist upon your telling me."
"And I think you are quite right, sir, as her father. Well, she is troubled with a little spitting of blood."
Mr. Lusignan turned pale. "My child! spitting of blood! God forbid!"
"Oh, do not alarm yourself. It is nothing serious."
"Don't tell me!" said the father. "It is always serious. And she kept this from me!"
Masking his agitation for the time, he inquired how often it had occurred--this grave symptom.
"Three or four times this last month. But I may as well tell you at once: I have examined her carefully, and I do not think it is from the lungs."
"From the throat, then?"
"No; from the liver. Everything points to that organ as the seat of derangement: not that there is any lesion; only a tendency to congestion. I am treating her accordingly, and have no doubt of the result."
"Who is the ablest physician hereabouts?" asked Lusignan, abruptly.
"Dr. Snell, I think."
"Give me his address."
"I'll write to him, if you like, and appoint a consultation." He added, with vast but rather sudden alacrity, "It will be a great satisfaction to my own mind."
"Then send to him, if you please, and let him be here to-morrow morning; if not, I shall take her to London for advice at once."
On this understanding they parted, and Lusignan went at once to his daughter. "O my child!" said he, deeply distressed, "how could you hide this from me?"
"Hide what, papa?" said the girl, looking the picture of unconsciousness.
"That you have been spitting blood."
"Who told you that?" said she, sharply.
"Wyman. He is attending you."
Rosa colored with anger. "Chatterbox! He promised me faithfully not to."
"But why, in Heaven's name? What! would you trust this terrible thing to a stranger, and hide it from your poor father?"
"Yes," replied Rosa, quietly.
The old man would not scold her now; he only said, sadly, "I see how it is: because I will not let you marry poverty, you think I do not love you." And he sighed.
"O papa! the idea!" said Rosa. "Of course, I know you love me. It was not that, you dear, darling, foolish papa. There! if you must know, it was because I did not want you to be distressed. I thought I might get better with a little physic; and, if not, why, then I thought, 'Papa is an old man; la! I dare say I shall last his time;' and so, why should I poison your latter days with worrying about me?"
Mr. Lusignan stared at her, and his lip quivered; but he thought the trait hardly consistent with her superficial character. He could not help saying, half sadly, half bitterly, "Well, but of course you have told Dr. Staines."
Rosa opened her beautiful eyes, like two suns. "Of course I have done nothing of the sort. He has enough to trouble him, without that. Poor fellow! there he is, worrying and striving to make his fortune, and gain your esteem--'they go together,' you know; you told him so." (Young cats will scratch when least expected.) "And for me to go and tell him I am in danger! Why, he would go wild. He would think of nothing but me and my health. He would never make his fortune: and so then, even when I am gone, he will never get a wife, because he has only got genius and goodness and three thousand pounds. No, papa, I have not told poor Christopher. I may tease those I love. I have been teasing you this ever so long; but frighten them, and make them miserable? No."
And here, thinking of the anguish that was perhaps in store for those she loved, she wanted to cry; it almost choked her not to. But she fought it bravely down: she reserved her tears for lighter occasions and less noble sentiments.
Her father held out his arms to her. She ran her footstool to him, and sat nestling to his heart.
"Please forgive me my misconduct. I have not been a dutiful daughter ever since you-- But now I will. Kiss me, my own papa! There! Now we are as we always were."
Then she purred to him on every possible topic but the one that now filled his parental heart, and bade him good-night at last with a cheerful smile.
Wyman was exact, and ten minutes afterwards Dr. Snell drove up in a carriage and pair. He was intercepted in the hall by Wyman, and, after a few minutes' conversation, presented to Mr. Lusignan.
The father gave vent to his paternal anxiety in a few simple but touching words, and was proceeding to state the symptoms as he had gathered them from his daughter; but Dr. Snell interrupted him politely, and said he had heard the principal symptoms from Mr. Wyman. Then, turning to the latter, he said, "We had better proceed to examine the patient."
"Certainly," said Mr. Lusignan. "She is in the drawing-room;" and he led the way, and was about to enter the room, when Wyman informed him it was against etiquette for him to be present at the examination.
"Oh, very well!" said he. "Yes, I see the propriety of that. But oblige me by asking her if she has anything on her mind."
Dr. Snell bowed a lofty assent; for, to receive a hint from a layman was to confer a favor on him.
The men of science were closeted full half an hour with the patient. She was too beautiful to be slurred over, even by a busy doctor: he felt her pulse, looked at her tongue, and listened attentively to her lungs, to her heart, and to the organ suspected by Wyman. He left her at last with a kindly assurance that the case was perfectly curable.
At the door they were met by the anxious father, who came with throbbing heart, and asked the doctors' verdict.
He was coolly informed that could not be given until the consultation had taken place; the result of that consultation would be conveyed to him.
"And pray, why can't I be present at the consultation? The grounds on which two able men agree or disagree must be well worth listening to."
"No doubt," said Dr. Snell; "but," with a superior smile, "my dear sir, it is not the etiquette."
"Oh, very well!" said Lusignan. But he muttered, "So, then, a father is nobody!"
And this unreasonable person retired to his study, miserable, and gave up the dining-room to the consultation.
They soon rejoined him.
Dr. Snell's opinion was communicated by Wyman. "I am happy to tell you that Dr. Snell agrees with me, entirely: the lungs are not affected, and the liver is congested, but not diseased."
"Is that so, Dr. Snell?" asked Lusignan, anxiously.
"It is so, sir." He added, "The treatment has been submitted to me, and I quite approve it."
He then asked for a pen and paper, and wrote a prescription. He assured Mr. Lusignan that the case had no extraordinary feature, whatever; he was not to alarm himself. Dr. Snell then drove away, leaving the parent rather puzzled, but, on the whole, much comforted.
And here I must reveal an extraordinary circumstance.
Wyman's treatment was by drugs.
Dr. Snell's was by drugs.
Dr. Snell, as you have seen, entirely approved Wyman's treatment.
His own had nothing in common with it. The Arctic and Antarctic poles are not farther apart than was his prescription from the prescription he thoroughly approved.
Amiable science! In which complete diversity of practice did not interfere with perfect uniformity of opinion.
All this was kept from Dr. Staines, and he was entirely occupied in trying to get a position that might lead to fortune, and satisfy Mr. Lusignan. He called on every friend he had, to inquire where there was an opening. He walked miles and miles in the best quarters of London, looking for an opening; he let it be known in many quarters that he would give a good premium to any physician who was about to retire, and would introduce him to his patients.
No: he could hear of nothing.
Then, after a great struggle with himself, he called upon his uncle, Philip Staines, a retired M.D., to see if he would do anything for him. He left this to the last, for a very good reason: Dr. Philip was an irritable old bachelor, who had assisted most of his married relatives; but, finding no bottom to the well, had turned rusty and crusty, and now was apt to administer kicks instead of checks to all who were near and dear to him. However, Christopher was the old gentleman's favorite, and was now desperate; so he mustered courage, and went. He was graciously received--warmly, indeed. This gave him great hopes, and he told his tale.
The old bachelor sided with Mr. Lusignan. "What!" said he, "do you want to marry, and propagate pauperism? I thought you had more sense. Confound it all I had just one nephew whose knock at my street-door did not make me tremble; he was a bachelor and a thinker, and came for a friendly chat; the rest are married men, highwaymen, who come to say, 'Stand and deliver;' and now even you want to join the giddy throng. Well, don't ask me to have any hand in it. You are a man of promise; and you might as well hang a millstone round your neck as a wife. Marriage is a greater mistake than ever now; the women dress more and manage worse. I met your cousin Jack the other day, and his wife with seventy pounds on her back; and next door to paupers. No; whilst you are a bachelor, like me, you are my favorite, and down in my will for a lump. Once marry, and you join the noble army of foot-pads, leeches, vultures, paupers, gone coons, and babblers about brats--and I disown you."
There was no hope from old Crusty. Christopher left him, snubbed and heart-sick. At last he met a sensible man, who made him see there was no short cut in that profession. He must be content to play the up-hill game; must settle in some good neighborhood; marry, if possible, since husbands and fathers of families prefer married physicians; and so be poor at thirty, comfortable at forty, and rich at fifty--perhaps.
Then Christopher came down to his lodgings at Gravesend, and was very unhappy; and after some days of misery, he wrote a letter to Rosa in a moment of impatience, despondency, and passion.
Rosa Lusignan got worse and worse. The slight but frequent hemorrhage was a drain upon her system, and weakened her visibly. She began to lose her rich complexion, and sometimes looked almost sallow; and a slight circle showed itself under her eyes. These symptoms were unfavorable; nevertheless, Dr. Snell and Mr. Wyman accepted them cheerfully, as fresh indications that nothing was affected but the liver; they multiplied and varied their prescriptions; the malady ignored those prescriptions, and went steadily on. Mr. Lusignan was terrified but helpless. Rosa resigned and reticent.
But it was not in human nature that a girl of this age could always and at all hours be mistress of herself. One evening in particular she stood before the glass in the drawing-room, and looked at herself a long time with horror. "Is that Rosa Lusignan?" said she, aloud; "it is her ghost."
A deep groan startled her. She turned; it was her father. She thought he was fast asleep; and so indeed he had been; but he was just awaking, and heard his daughter utter her real mind. It was a thunder-clap. "Oh, my child! what shall I do?" he cried.
Then Rosa was taken by surprise in her turn. She spoke out. "Send for a great physician, papa. Don't let us deceive ourselves; it is our only chance."
"I will ask Mr. Wyman to get a physician down from London."
"No, no; that is no use; they will put their heads together, and he will say whatever Mr. Wyman tells him. La! papa, a clever man like you, not to see what a cheat that consultation was. Why, from what you told me, one can see it was managed so that Dr. Snell could not possibly have an opinion of his own. No; no more echoes of Mr. Chatterbox. If you really want to cure me, send for Christopher Staines."
"Dr. Staines! he is very young."
"But he is very clever, and he is not an echo. He won't care how many doctors he contradicts when I am in danger. Papa, it is your child's one chance."
"I'll try it," said the old man, eagerly. "How confident you look! your color has come back. It is an inspiration. Where is he?"
"I think by this time he must be at his lodgings in Gravesend. Send to him to-morrow morning."
"Not I! I'll go to him to-night. It is only a mile, and a fine clear night."
"My own, good, kind papa! Ah! well, come what may, I have lived long enough to be loved. Yes, dear papa, save me. I am very young to die; and he loves me so dearly."
The old man bustled away to put on something warmer for his night walk, and Rosa leaned back, and the tears welled out of her eyes, now he was gone.
Before she had recovered her composure, a letter was brought her, and this was the letter from Christopher Staines, alluded to already.
She took it from the servant with averted head, not wishing it to be seen she had been crying, and she started at the handwriting; it seemed such a coincidence that it should come just as she was sending for him.
MY OWN BELOVED ROSA,--I now write to tell you, with a heavy heart, that all is vain. I cannot make, nor purchase, a connection, except as others do, by time and patience. Being a bachelor is quite against a young physician. If I had a wife, and such a wife as you, I should be sure to get on; you would increase my connection very soon. What, then, lies before us? I see but two things--to wait till we are old, and our pockets are filled, but our hearts chilled or soured; or else to marry at once, and climb the hill together. If you love me as I love you, you will be saving till the battle is over; and I feel I could find energy and fortitude for both. Your father, who thinks so much of wealth, can surely settle something on you; and I am not too poor to furnish a house and start fair. I am not quite obscure--my lectures have given me a name--and to you, my own love, I hope I may say that I know more than many of my elders, thanks to good schools, good method, a genuine love of my noble profession, and a tendency to study from my childhood. Will you not risk something on my ability? If not, God help me, for I shall lose you; and what is life, or fame, or wealth, or any mortal thing to me, without you? I cannot accept your father's decision; you must decide my fate.
You see I have kept away from you until I can do so no more. All this time the world to me has seemed to want the sun, and my heart pines and sickens for one sight of you. Darling Rosa, pray let me look at your face once more.
When this reaches you I shall be at your gate. Let me see you, though but for a moment, and let me hear my fate from no lips but yours.--My own love,
Your heart-broken lover,
This letter stunned her at first. Her mind of late had been turned away from love to such stern realities. Now she began to be sorry she had not told him. "Poor thing!" she said to herself, "he little knows that now all is changed. Papa, I sometimes think, would deny me nothing now; it is I who would not marry him--to be buried by him in a month or two. Poor Christopher!"
The next moment she started up in dismay. Why, her father would miss him. No; perhaps catch him waiting for her. What would he think? What would Christopher think?--that she had shown her papa his letter.
She rang the bell hard. The footman came.
"Send Harriet to me this instant. Oh, and ask papa to come to me."
Then she sat down and dashed off a line to Christopher. This was for Harriet to take out to him. Anything better than for Christopher to be caught doing what was wrong.
The footman came back first. "If you please, miss, master has gone out."
"Run after him--the road to Gravesend."
"No. It is no use. Never mind."
Then Harriet came in. "Did you want me, miss?"
"Yes. No--never mind now."
She was afraid to do anything for fear of making matters worse. She went to the window, and stood looking anxiously out, with her hands working. Presently she uttered a little scream and shrank away to the sofa. She sank down on it, half sitting, half lying, hid her face in her hands, and waited.
Staines, with a lover's impatience, had been more than an hour at the gate, or walking up and down close by it, his heart now burning with hope, now freezing with fear, that she would decline a meeting on these terms.
At last the postman came, and then he saw he was too soon; but now in a few minutes Rosa would have his letter, and then he should soon know whether she would come or not. He looked up at the drawing-room windows. They were full of light. She was there in all probability. Yet she did not come to them. But why should she, if she was coming out?
He walked up and down the road. She did not come. His heart began to sicken with doubt. His head drooped; and perhaps it was owing to this that he almost ran against a gentleman who was coming the other way. The moon shone bright on both faces.
"Dr. Staines!" said Mr. Lusignan surprised. Christopher uttered an ejaculation more eloquent than words.
They stared at each other.
"You were coming to call on us?"
"N--no," stammered Christopher.
Lusignan thought that odd; however, he said politely, "No matter, it is fortunate. Would you mind coming in?"
"No," faltered Christopher, and stared at him ruefully, puzzled more and more, but beginning to think, after all, it might be a casual meeting.
They entered the gate, and in one moment he saw Rosa at the window, and she saw him.
Then he altered his opinion again. Rosa had sent her father out to him. But how was this? The old man did not seem angry. Christopher's heart gave a leap inside him, and he began to glow with the wildest hopes. For, what could this mean but relenting?
Mr. Lusignan took him first into the study, and lighted two candles himself. He did not want the servants prying.
The lights showed Christopher a change in Mr. Lusignan. He looked ten years older.
"You are not well, sir," said Christopher gently.
"My health is well enough, but I am a broken-hearted man. Dr. Staines, forget all that passed here at your last visit. All that is over. Thank you for loving my poor girl as you do; give me your hand; God bless you. Sir, I am sorry to say it is as a physician I invite you now. She is ill, sir, very, very ill."
"Ill! and not tell me!"
"She kept it from you, my poor friend, not to distress you; and she tried to keep it from me, but how could she? For two months she has had some terrible complaint--it is destroying her. She is the ghost of herself. Oh, my poor child! my child!"
The old man sobbed aloud. The young man stood trembling, and ashy pale. Still, the habits of his profession, and the experience of dangers overcome, together with a certain sense of power, kept him up; but, above all, love and duty said, "Be firm." He asked for an outline of the symptoms.
They alarmed him greatly.
"Let us lose no more time," said he. "I will see her at once."
"Do you object to my being present?"
"Of course not."
"Shall I tell you what Dr. Snell says it is, and Mr. Wyman?"
"By all means--after I have seen her."
This comforted Mr. Lusignan. He was to get an independent judgment, at all events.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Dr. Staines paused and leaned against the baluster. "Give me a moment," said he. "The patient must not know how my heart is beating, and she must see nothing in my face but what I choose her to see. Give me your hand once more, sir; let us both control ourselves. Now announce me."
Mr. Lusignan opened the door, and said, with forced cheerfulness, "Dr. Staines, my dear! come to give you the benefit of his skill."
She lay on the sofa, just as we left her. Only her bosom began to heave.
Then Christopher Staines drew himself up, and the majesty of knowledge and love together seemed to dilate his noble frame. He fixed his eye on that reclining, panting figure, and stepped lightly but firmly across the room to know the worst, like a lion walking up to levelled lances.
THE young physician walked steadily up to his patient without taking his eye off her, and drew a chair to her side.
Then she took down one hand--the left--and gave it him, averting her face tenderly, and still covering it with her right; "For," said she to herself, "I am such a fright now." This opportune reflection, and her heaving bosom, proved that she at least felt herself something more than his patient. Her pretty consciousness made his task more difficult; nevertheless, he only allowed himself to press her hand tenderly with both his palms one moment, and then he entered on his functions bravely. "I am here as your physician."
"Very well," said she softly.
He gently detained the hand, and put his finger lightly to her pulse; it was palpitating, and a fallacious test. Oh, how that beating pulse, by love's electric current, set his own heart throbbing in a moment!
He put her hand gently, reluctantly down, and said, "Oblige me by turning this way." She turned, and he winced internally at the change in her; but his face betrayed nothing. He looked at her full; and, after a pause, put her some questions: one was as to the color of the hemorrhage. She said it was bright red.
"Not a tinge of purple?"
"No," said she hopefully, mistaking him.
He suppressed a sigh.
Then he listened at her shoulder-blade and at her chest, and made her draw her breath while he was listening. The acts were simple, and usual in medicine, but there was a deep, patient, silent intensity about his way of doing them.
Mr. Lusignan crept nearer, and stood with both hands on a table, and his old head bowed, awaiting yet dreading the verdict.
Up to this time, Dr. Staines, instead of tapping and squeezing, and pulling the patient about, had never touched her with his hand, and only grazed her with his ear; but now he said "Allow me," and put both hands to her waist, more lightly and reverently than I can describe; "Now draw a deep breath, if you please."
"If you could draw a deeper still," said he, insinuatingly.
"There, then!" said she, a little pettishly.
Dr. Staines's eye kindled.
"Hum!" said he. Then, after a considerable pause, "Are you better or worse after each hemorrhage?"
"La!" said Rosa; "they never asked me that. Why, better."
"Not a bit."
"Rather a sense of relief, perhaps?"
"Yes; I feel lighter and better."
The examination was concluded.
Dr. Staines looked at Rosa, and then at her father. The agony in that aged face, and the love that agony implied, won him, and it was to the parent he turned to give his verdict.
"The hemorrhage is from the lungs--"
Lusignan interrupted him: "From the lungs!" cried he, in dismay.
"Yes; a slight congestion of the lungs."
"But not incurable! Oh, not incurable, doctor!"
"Heaven forbid! It is curable--easily--by removing the cause."
"And what is the cause?"
"The cause?--" he hesitated, and looked rather uneasy.--"Well, the cause, sir, is--tight stays."
The tranquillity of the meeting was instantly disturbed. "Tight stays! Me!" cried Rosa. "Why, I am the loosest girl in England. Look, papa!" And, without any apparent effort, she drew herself in, and poked her little fist between her sash and her gown. "There!"
Dr. Staines smiled sadly and a little sarcastically: he was evidently shy of encountering the lady in this argument; but he was more at his ease with her father; so he turned towards him and lectured him freely.
"That is wonderful, sir; and the first four or five female patients that favored me with it, made me disbelieve my other senses; but Miss Lusignan is now about the thirtieth who has shown me that marvellous feat, with a calm countenance that belies the herculean effort. Nature has her every-day miracles: a boa-constrictor, diameter seventeen inches, can swallow a buffalo; a woman, with her stays bisecting her almost, and lacerating her skin, can yet for one moment make herself seem slack, to deceive a juvenile physician. The snake is the miracle of expansion; the woman is the prodigy of contraction."
"Highly grateful for the comparison," said Rosa. "Women and snakes!"
Dr. Staines blushed and looked uncomfortable. "I did not mean to be offensive; it certainly was a very clumsy comparison."
"What does that matter?" said Mr. Lusignan, impatiently. "Be quiet, Rosa, and let Dr. Staines and me talk sense."
"Oh, then I am nobody in the business!" said this wise young lady.
"You are everybody," said Staines, soothingly. "But," suggested he, obsequiously, "if you don't mind, I would rather explain my views to your father--on this one subject."
"And a pretty subject it is!"
Dr. Staines then invited Mr. Lusignan to his lodgings, and promised to explain the matter anatomically. "Meantime," said he, "would you be good enough to put your hands to my waist, as I did to the patient's."
Mr. Lusignan complied; and the patient began to titter directly, to put them out of countenance.
"Please observe what takes place when I draw a full breath.
"Now apply the same test to the patient. Breathe your best, please, Miss Lusignan."
The patient put on a face full of saucy mutiny.
"To oblige us both."
"Oh, how tiresome!"
"I am aware it is rather laborious," said Staines, a little dryly; "but to oblige your father!"
"Oh, anything to oblige papa," said she, spitefully. "There! And I do hope it will be the last--la! no; I don't hope that, neither."
Dr. Staines politely ignored her little attempts to interrupt the argument. "You found, sir, that the muscles of my waist, and my intercostal ribs themselves, rose and fell with each inhalation and exhalation of air by the lungs."
"I did; but my daughter's waist was like dead wood, and so were her lower ribs."
At this volunteer statement, Rosa colored to her temples. "Thanks, papa! Pack me off to London, and sell me for a big doll!"
"In other words," said the lecturer, mild and pertinacious, "with us the lungs have room to blow, and the whole bony frame expands elastic with them, like the woodwork of a blacksmith's bellows; but with this patient, and many of her sex, that noble and divinely framed bellows is crippled and confined by a powerful machine of human construction; so it works lamely and feebly: consequently too little air, and of course too little oxygen, passes through that spongy organ whose very life is air. Now mark the special result in this case: being otherwise healthy and vigorous, our patient's system sends into the lungs more blood than that one crippled organ can deal with; a small quantity becomes extravasated at odd times; it accumulates, and would become dangerous; then Nature, strengthened by sleep, and by some hours' relief from the diabolical engine, makes an effort and flings it off: that is why the hemorrhage comes in the morning, and why she is the better for it, feeling neither faint nor sick, but relieved of a weight. This, sir, is the rationale of the complaint; and it is to you I must look for the cure. To judge from my other female patients, and from the few words Miss Lusignan has let fall, I fear we must not count on any very hearty co-operation from her: but you are her father, and have great authority; I conjure you to use it to the full, as you once used it--to my sorrow--in this very room. I am forgetting my character. I was asked here only as her physician. Good-evening."
He gave a little gulp, and hurried away, with an abruptness that touched the father and offended the sapient daughter.
However, Mr. Lusignan followed him, and stopped him before he left the house, and thanked him warmly; and to his surprise, begged him to call again in a day or two.
"Well, Rosa, what do you say?"
"I say that I am very unfortunate in my doctors. Mr. Wyman is a chatterbox and knows nothing. Dr. Snell is Mr. Wyman's echo. Christopher is a genius, and they are always full of crotchets. A pretty doctor! Gone away, and not prescribed for me!"
Mr. Lusignan admitted it was odd. "But, after all," said he, "if medicine does you no good?"
"Ah! but any medicine he had prescribed would have done me good, and that makes it all the unkinder."
"If you think so highly of his skill, why not take his advice? It can do no harm."
"No harm? Why, if I was to leave them off I should catch a dreadful cold; and that would be sure to settle on my chest, and carry me off, in my present delicate state. Besides, it is so unfeminine not to wear them."
This staggered Mr. Lusignan, and he was afraid to press the point; but what Staines had said fermented in his mind.
Dr. Snell and Mr. Wyman continued their visits and their prescriptions.
The patient got a little worse.
Mr. Lusignan hoped Christopher would call again, but he did not.
When Dr. Staines had satisfied himself that the disorder was easily curable, then wounded pride found an entrance even into his loving heart. That two strangers should have been consulted before him! He was only sent for because they could not cure her.
As he seemed in no hurry to repeat his visit, Mr. Lusignan called on him, and said, politely, he had hoped to receive another call ere this. "Personally," said he, "I was much struck with your observations; but my daughter is afraid she will catch cold if she leaves off her corset, and that, you know, might be very serious."
Dr. Staines groaned, and, when he had groaned, he lectured. "Female patients are wonderfully monotonous in this matter; they have a programme of evasions; and whether the patient is a lady or a housemaid, she seldom varies from that programme. You find her breathing life's air with half a bellows, and you tell her so. 'Oh, no,' says she; and does the gigantic feat of contraction we witnessed that evening at your house. But, on inquiry, you learn there is a raw red line ploughed in her flesh by the cruel stays. 'What is that?' you ask, and flatter yourself you have pinned her. Not a bit. 'That was the last pair. I changed them, because they hurt me.' Driven out of that by proofs of recent laceration, they say, 'If I leave them off I should catch my death of cold,' which is equivalent to saying there is no flannel in the shops, no common sense nor needles at home."
He then laid before him some large French plates, showing the organs of the human trunk, and bade him observe in how small a space, and with what skill, the Creator has packed so many large yet delicate organs, so that they should be free and secure from friction, though so close to each other. He showed him the liver, an organ weighing four pounds, and of large circumference; the lungs, a very large organ, suspended in the chest and impatient of pressure; the heart, the stomach, the spleen, all of them too closely and artfully packed to bear any further compression.
Having thus taken him by the eye, he took him by the mind.
"Is it a small thing for the creature to say to her Creator, 'I can pack all this egg-china better than you can,' and thereupon to jam all those vital organs close, by a powerful, a very powerful and ingenious machine? Is it a small thing for that sex, which, for good reasons, the Omniscient has made larger in the waist than the male, to say to her Creator, 'You don't know your business; women ought to be smaller in the waist than men, and shall be throughout the civilized world?'"
In short, he delivered so many true and pointed things on this trite subject, that the old gentleman was convinced, and begged him to come over that very evening and convince Rosa.
Dr. Staines shook his head dolefully, and all his fire died out of him at having to face the fair. "Reason will be wasted. Authority is the only weapon. My profession and my reading have both taught me that the whole character of her sex undergoes a change the moment a man interferes with their dress. From Chaucer's day to our own, neither public satire nor private remonstrance has ever shaken any of their monstrous fashions. Easy, obliging, pliable, and weaker of will than men in other things, do but touch their dress, however objectionable, and rock is not harder, iron is not more stubborn, than these soft and yielding creatures. It is no earthly use my coming--I'll come."
He came that very evening, and saw directly she was worse. "Of course," said he, sadly, "you have not taken my advice."
Rosa replied with a toss and an evasion, "I was not worth a prescription!"
"A physician can prescribe without sending his patient to the druggist; and when he does, then it is his words are gold."
Rosa shook her head with an air of lofty incredulity.
He looked ruefully at Mr. Lusignan and was silent. Rosa smiled sarcastically; she thought he was at his wit's end.
Not quite: he was cudgelling his brains in search of some horribly unscientific argument, that might prevail; for he felt science would fall dead upon so fair an antagonist. At last his eye kindled; he had hit on an argument unscientific enough for anybody, he thought. Said he, ingratiatingly, "You believe the Old Testament?"
"Of course I do, every syllable."
"And the lessons it teaches?"
"Then let me tell you a story from that book. A Syrian general had a terrible disease. He consulted Elisha by deputy. Elisha said, 'Bathe seven times in a certain river, Jordan, and you will get well.' The general did not like this at all; he wanted a prescription; wanted to go to the druggist; didn't believe in hydropathy to begin, and, in any case, turned up his nose at Jordan. What! bathe in an Israelitish brook, when his own country boasted noble rivers, with a reputation for sanctity into the bargain? In short, he preferred his leprosy to such irregular medicine. But it happened, by some immense fortuity, that one of his servants, though an Oriental, was a friend, instead of a flatterer; and this sensible fellow said, 'If the prophet told you to do some great and difficult thing, to get rid of this fearful malady, would not you do it, however distasteful? and can you hesitate when he merely says, Wash in the Jordan, and be healed?' The general listened to good sense, and cured himself. Your case is parallel. You would take quantities of foul medicine; you would submit to some painful operation, if life and health depended on it; then why not do a small thing for a great result? You have only to take off an unnatural machine which cripples your growing frame, and was unknown to every one of the women whose forms in Parian marble the world admires. Off with that monstrosity, and your cure is as certain as the Syrian general's; though science, and not inspiration, dictates the easy remedy."
Rosa had listened impatiently, and now replied with some warmth, "This is shockingly profane. The idea of comparing yourself to Elisha, and me to a horrid leper! Much obliged! Not that I know what a leper is."
"Come, come! that is not fair," said Mr. Lusignan. "He only compared the situation, not the people."
"But, papa, the Bible is not to be dragged into the common affairs of life."
"Then what on earth is the use of it?"
"Oh, papa! Well, it is not Sunday, but I have had a sermon. This is the clergyman, and you are the commentator--he! he! And so now let us go back from divinity to medicine. I repeat" (this was the first time she had said it) "that my other doctors give me real prescriptions, written in hieroglyphics. You can't look at them without feeling there must be something in them."
An angry spot rose on Christopher's cheek, but he only said, "And are your other doctors satisfied with the progress your disorder is making under their superintendence?"
"Perfectly! Papa, tell him what they say, and I'll find him their prescriptions." She went to a drawer, and rummaged, affecting not to listen.
Lusignan complied. "First of all, sir, I must tell you they are confident it is not the lungs, but the liver."
"The what!" shouted Christopher.
"Ah!" screamed Rosa. "Oh, don't!--bawling!"
"And don't you screech," said her father, with a look of misery and apprehension impartially distributed on the resounding pair.
"You must have misunderstood them," murmured Staines, in a voice that was now barely audible a yard off. "The hemorrhage of a bright red color, and expelled without effort or nausea?"
"From the liver--they have assured me again and again," said Lusignan.
Christopher's face still wore a look of blank amazement, till Rosa herself confirmed it positively.
Then he cast a look of agony upon her, and started up in a passion, forgetting once more that his host abhorred the sonorous. "Oh, shame! shame!" he cried, "that the noble profession of medicine should be disgraced by ignorance such as this." Then he said, sternly, "Sir, do not mistake my motives; but I decline to have anything further to do with this case, until those two gentlemen have been relieved of it; and, as this is very harsh, and on my part unprecedented, I will give you one reason out of many I could give you. Sir, there is no road from the liver to the throat by which blood can travel in this way, defying the laws of gravity; and they knew, from the patient, that no strong expellent force has ever been in operation. Their diagnosis, therefore, implies agnosis, or ignorance too great to be forgiven. I will not share my patient with two gentlemen who know so little of medicine, and know nothing of anatomy, which is the A B C of medicine. Can I see their prescriptions?"
These were handed to him. "Good heavens!" said he, "have you taken all these?"
"Most of them."
"Why, then you have drunk about two gallons of unwholesome liquids, and eaten a pound or two of unwholesome solids. These medicines have co-operated with the malady. The disorder lies, not in the hemorrhage, but in the precedent extravasation that is a drain on the system; and how is the loss to be supplied? Why, by taking a little more nourishment than before; there is no other way; and probably Nature, left to herself, might have increased your appetite to meet the occasion. But those two worthies have struck that weapon out of Nature's hand; they have peppered away at the poor ill-used stomach with drugs and draughts, not very deleterious I grant you, but all more or less indigestible, and all tending, not to whet the appetite, but to clog the stomach, or turn the stomach, or pester the stomach, and so impair the appetite, and so co-operate, indirectly, with the malady."
"This is good sense," said Lusignan. "I declare, I--I wish I knew how to get rid of them."
"Oh, I'll do that, papa."
"No, no; it is not worth a rumpus."
"I'll do it too politely for that. Christopher, you are very clever--terribly clever. Whenever I threw their medicines away, I was always a little better that day. I will sacrifice them to you. It is a sacrifice. They are both so kind and chatty, and don't grudge me hieroglyphics; now you do."
She sat down and wrote two sweet letters to Dr. Snell and Mr. Wyman, thanking them for the great attention they had paid her; but finding herself getting steadily worse, in spite of all they had done for her, she proposed to discontinue her medicines for a time, and try change of air.
"And suppose they call to see whether you are changing the air?"
"In that case, papa--'not at home.'"
The notes were addressed and despatched.
Then Dr. Staines brightened up, and said to Lusignan, "I am now happy to tell you that I have overrated the malady. The sad change I see in Miss Lusignan is partly due to the great bulk of unwholesome esculents she has been eating and drinking under the head of medicines. These discontinued, she might linger on for years, existing, though not living--the tight-laced cannot be said to live. But if she would be healthy and happy, let her throw that diabolical machine into the fire. It is no use asking her to loosen it; she can't. Once there, the temptation is too strong. Off with it, and, take my word, you will be one of the healthiest and most vigorous young ladies in Europe."
Rosa looked rueful, and almost sullen. She said she had parted with her doctors for him, but she really could not go about without stays. "They are as loose as they can be. See!"
"That part of the programme is disposed of," said Christopher. "Please go on to No. 2. How about the raw red line where the loose machine has sawed you?"
"What red line? No such thing! Somebody or other has been peeping in at my window. I'll have the ivy cut down to-morrow."
"Simpleton!" said Mr. Lusignan, angrily. "You have let the cat out of the bag. There is such a mark, then, and this extraordinary young man has discerned it with the eye of science."
"He never discerned it at all," said Rosa, red as fire; "and, what is more, he never will."
"I don't want to. I should be very sorry to. I hope it will be gone in a week."
"I wish you were gone now--exposing me in this cruel way," said Rosa, angry with herself for having said an idiotic thing, and furious with him for having made her say it.
"Oh, Rosa!" said Christopher, in a voice of tenderest reproach.
But Mr. Lusignan interfered promptly. "Rosa, no noise. I will not have you snapping at your best friend and mine. If you are excited, you had better retire to your own room and compose yourself. I hate a clamor."
Rosa made a wry face at this rebuke, and then began to cry quietly.
Every tear was like a drop of blood from Christopher's heart. "Pray don't scold her, sir," said he, ready to snivel himself. "She meant nothing unkind: it is only her pretty sprightly way; and she did not really imagine a love so reverent as mine--"
"Don't you interfere between my father and me," said this reasonable young lady, now in an ungovernable state of feminine irritability.
"No, Rosa," said Christopher, humbly. "Mr. Lusignan," said he, "I hope you will tell her that, from the very first, I was unwilling to enter on this subject with her. Neither she nor I can forget my double character. I have not said half as much to her as I ought, being her physician; and yet you see I have said more than she can bear from me, who, she knows, love her and revere her. Then, once for all, do pray let me put this delicate matter into your hands: it is a case for parental authority."
"Unfatherly tyranny, that means," said Rosa. "What business have gentlemen interfering in such things? It is unheard of. I will not submit to it, even from papa."
"Well, you need not scream at me," said Mr. Lusignan; and he shrugged his shoulders to Staines. "She is impracticable, you see. If I do my duty, there will be a disturbance."
Now this roused the bile of Dr. Staines. "What, sir!" said he, "you could separate her and me by your authority, here in this very room; and yet, when her life is at stake, you abdicate! You could part her from a man who loved her with every drop of his heart,--and she said she loved him, or, at all events, preferred him to others,--and you cannot part her from a miserable corset, although you see in her poor wasted face that it is carrying her to the churchyard. In that case, sir, there is but one thing for you to do,--withdraw your opposition and let me marry her. As her lover I am powerless; but invest me with a husband's authority, and you will soon see the roses return to her cheek, and her elastic figure expanding, and her eye beaming with health and the happiness that comes of perfect health."
Mr. Lusignan made an answer neither of his hearers expected. He said, "I have a great mind to take you at your word. I am too old and fond of quiet to drive a Simpleton in single harness."
This contemptuous speech, and, above all, the word Simpleton, which had been applied to her pretty freely by young ladies at school, and always galled her terribly, inflicted so intolerable a wound on Rosa's vanity, that she was ready to burst: on that, of course, her stays contributed their mite of physical uneasiness. Thus irritated mind and body, she burned to strike in return; and as she could not slap her father in the presence of another, she gave it Christopher back-handed.
"You can turn me out of doors," said she, "if you are tired of your daughter, but I am not such a simpleton as to marry a tyrant. No; he has shown the cloven foot in time. A husband's authority, indeed!" Then she turned her hand, and gave it him direct. "You told me a different story when you were paying your court to me; then you were to be my servant,--all hypocritical sweetness. You had better go and marry a Circassian slave. They don't wear stays, and they do wear trousers; so she will be unfeminine enough, even for you. No English lady would let her husband dictate to her about such a thing. I can have as many husbands as I like, without falling into the clutches of a tyrant. You are a rude, indelicate-- And so please understand it is all over between you and me."
Both her auditors stood aghast, for she uttered this conclusion with a dignity of which the opening gave no promise, and the occasion, weighed in masculine balances, was not worthy.
"You do not mean that. You cannot mean it," said Dr. Staines, aghast.
"I do mean it," said she, firmly; "and, if you are a gentleman, you will not compel me to say it twice--three times, I mean."
At this dagger-stroke Christopher turned very pale, but he maintained his dignity. "I am a gentleman," said he, quietly, "and a very unfortunate one. Good-by, sir; thank you kindly. Good-by, Rosa; God bless you! Oh, pray take a thought! Remember, your life and death are in your own hand now. I am powerless."
And he left the house in sorrow, and just, but not pettish, indignation.
When he was gone, father and daughter looked at each other, and there was the silence that succeeds a storm.
Rosa, feeling the most uneasy, was the first to express her satisfaction. "There, he is gone, and I am glad of it. Now you and I shall never quarrel again. I was quite right. Such impertinence! Such indelicacy! A fine prospect for me if I had married such a man! However, he is gone, and so there's an end of it. The idea! telling a young lady, before her father, she is tight-laced! If you had not been there I could have forgiven him. But I am not; it is a story. Now," suddenly exalting her voice, "I know you believe him."
"I say nothing," whispered papa, hoping to still her by example. This ruse did not succeed.
"But you look volumes," cried she: "and I can't bear it. I won't bear it. If you don't believe me, ask my maid." And with this felicitous speech, she rang the bell.
"You'll break the wire if you don't mind," suggested her father, piteously.
"All the better! Why should not wires be broken as well as my heart? Oh, here she is! Now, Harriet, come here."
"And tell the truth. Am I tight-laced?"
Harriet looked in her face a moment to see what was required of her, and then said, "That you are not, miss. I never dressed a young lady as wore 'em easier than you do."
"There, papa! That will do, Harriet."
Harriet retired as far as the keyhole; she saw something was up.
"Now," said Rosa, "you see I was right; and, after all, it was a match you did not approve. Well, it is all over, and now you may write to your favorite, Colonel Bright. If he comes here, I'll box his old ears. I hate him. I hate them all. Forgive your wayward girl. I'll stay with you all my days. I dare say that will not be long, now I have quarrelled with my guardian angel; and all for what? Papa! papa! how can you sit there and not speak me one word of comfort? 'Simpleton?' Ah! that I am to throw away a love a queen is scarcely worthy of; and all for what? Really, if it wasn't for the ingratitude and wickedness of the thing, it is too laughable. Ha! ha!--oh! oh! oh!--ha! ha! ha!"
And off she went into hysterics, and began to gulp and choke frightfully.
Her father cried for help in dismay. In ran Harriet, saw, and screamed, but did not lose her head; this veracious person whipped a pair of scissors off the table, and cut the young lady's stay laces directly. Then there was a burst of imprisoned beauty; a deep, deep sigh of relief came from a bosom that would have done honor to Diana; and the scene soon concluded with fits of harmless weeping, renewed at intervals.
When it had settled down to this, her father, to soothe her, said he would write to Dr. Staines, and bring about a reconciliation, if she liked.
"No," said she, "you shall kill me sooner. I should die of shame."
She added, "Oh, pray, from this hour, never mention his name to me."
And then she had another cry.
Mr. Lusignan was a sensible man: he dropped the subject for the present; but he made up his mind to one thing--that he would never part with Dr. Staines as a physician.
Next day Rosa kept her own room until dinner-time, and was as unhappy as she deserved to be. She spent her time in sewing on stiff flannel linings and crying. She half hoped Christopher would write to her, so that she might write back that she forgave him. But not a line.
At half-past six her volatile mind took a turn, real or affected. She would cry no more for an ungrateful fellow,--ungrateful for not seeing through the stone walls how she had been employed all the morning; and making it up. So she bathed her red eyes, made a great alteration in her dress, and came dancing into the room humming an Italian ditty.
As they were sitting together in the dining-room after dinner, two letters came by the same post to Mr. Lusignan from Mr. Wyman and Dr. Snell.
Mr. Wyman's letter:--
DEAR SIR,--I am sorry to hear from Miss Lusignan that she intends to discontinue medical advice. The disorder was progressing favorably, and nothing to be feared, under proper treatment.
Dr. Snell's letter:--
DEAR SIR,--Miss Lusignan has written to me somewhat impatiently and seems disposed to dispense with my visits. I do not, however, think it right to withdraw without telling you candidly that this is an unwise step. Your daughter's health is in a very precarious condition.
Rosa burst out laughing. "I have nothing to fear, and I'm on the brink of the grave. That comes of writing without a consultation. If they had written at one table, I should have been neither well nor ill. Poor Christopher!" and her sweet face began to work piteously.
"There! there! drink a glass of wine."
She did, and a tear with it, that ran into the glass like lightning.
Warned by this that grief sat very near the bright, hilarious surface, Mr. Lusignan avoided all emotional subjects for the present. Next day, however, he told her she might dismiss her lover, but no power should make him dismiss his pet physician, unless her health improved.
"I will not give you that excuse for inflicting him on me again," said the young hypocrite.
She kept her word. She got better and better, stronger, brighter, gayer.
She took to walking every day, and increasing the distance, till she could walk ten miles without fatigue.
Her favorite walk was to a certain cliff that commanded a noble view of the sea. To get to it she must pass through the town of Gravesend; and we may be sure she did not pass so often through that city without some idea of meeting the lover she had used so ill, and eliciting an apology from him. Sly puss!
When she had walked twenty times, or thereabouts, through the town, and never seen him, she began to fear she had offended him past hope. Then she used to cry at the end of every walk.
But by and by bodily health, vanity, and temper combined to rouse the defiant spirit. Said she, "If he really loved me, he would not take my word in such a hurry. And besides, why does he not watch me, and find out what I am doing, and where I walk?"
At last she really began to persuade herself that she was an ill-used and slighted girl. She was very angry at times, and disconsolate at others; a mixed state in which hasty and impulsive young ladies commit lifelong follies.
Mr. Lusignan observed the surface only: he saw his invalid daughter getting better every day, till at last she became a picture of health and bodily vigor. Relieved of his fears, he troubled his head but little about Christopher Staines. Yet he esteemed him, and had got to like him; but Rosa was a beauty, and could do better than marry a struggling physician, however able. He launched out into a little gayety, resumed his quiet dinner-parties; and, after some persuasion, took his now blooming daughter to a ball given by the officers of Chatham.
She was the belle of the ball beyond dispute, and danced with ethereal grace and athletic endurance. She was madly fond of waltzing, and here she encountered what she was pleased to call a divine dancer. It was a Mr. Reginald Falcon, a gentleman who had retired to the seaside to recruit his health and finances sore tried by London and Paris. Falcon had run through his fortune, but had acquired, in the process, certain talents which, as they cost the acquirer dear, so they sometimes repay him, especially if he is not overburdened with principle, and adopts the notion that, the world having plucked him, he has a right to pluck the world. He could play billiards well, but never so well as when backing himself for a heavy stake. He could shoot pigeons well, and his shooting improved under that which makes some marksmen miss--a heavy bet against the gun. He danced to perfection; and being a well-bred, experienced, brazen, adroit fellow, who knew a little of everything that was going, he had always plenty to say. Above all, he had made a particular study of the fair sex; had met with many successes, many rebuffs; and, at last, by keen study of their minds, and a habit he had acquired of watching their faces, and shifting his helm accordingly, had learned the great art of pleasing them. They admired his face; to me, the short space between his eyes and his hair, his aquiline nose, and thin straight lips, suggested the bird of prey a little too much: but to fair doves, born to be clutched, this similitude perhaps was not very alarming, even if they observed it.
Rosa danced several times with him, and told him he danced like an angel. He informed her that was because, for once, he was dancing with an angel. She laughed and blushed. He flattered deliciously, and it cost him little; for he fell in love with her that night, deeper than he had ever been in his whole life of intrigue. He asked leave to call on her: she looked a little shy at that, and did not respond. He instantly withdrew his proposal, with an apology and a sigh that raised her pity. However, she was not a forward girl, even when excited by dancing and charmed with her partner; so she left him to find his own way out of that difficulty.
He was not long about it. At the end of the next waltz he asked her if he might venture to solicit an introduction to her father.
"Oh, certainly," said she. "What a selfish girl I am! this is terribly dull for him."
The introduction being made, and Rosa being engaged for the next three dances, Mr. Falcon sat by Mr. Lusignan and entertained him. For this little piece of apparent self-denial he was paid in various coin: Lusignan found out he was the son of an old acquaintance, and so the door of Kent Villa opened to him; meantime, Rosa Lusignan never passed him, even in the arms of a cavalry officer, without bestowing a glance of approval and gratitude on him. "What a good-hearted young man!" thought she. "How kind of him to amuse papa; and now I can stay so much longer."
Falcon followed up the dance by a call, and was infinitely agreeable: followed up the call by another, and admired Rosa with so little disguise that Mr. Lusignan said to her, "I think you have made a conquest. His father had considerable estates in Essex. I presume he inherits them."
"Oh, never mind his estates," said Rosa, "he dances like an angel, and gossips charmingly, and is so nice."
Christopher Staines pined for this girl in silence: his fine frame got thinner, his pale cheek paler, as she got rosier and rosier; and how? Why, by following the very advice she had snubbed him for giving her. At last, he heard she had been the belle of a ball, and that she had been seen walking miles from home, and blooming as a Hebe. Then his deep anxiety ceased, his pride stung him furiously; he began to think of his own value, and to struggle with all his might against his deep love. Sometimes he would even inveigh against her, and call her a fickle, ungrateful girl, capable of no strong passion but vanity. Many a hard term he applied to her in his sorrowful solitude; but not a word when he had a hearer. He found it hard to rest: he kept dashing up to London and back. He plunged furiously into study. He groaned and sighed, and fought the hard and bitter fight that is too often the lot of the deep that love the shallow. Strong, but single-hearted, no other lady could comfort him. He turned from female company, and shunned all for the fault of one.
The inward contest wore him. He began to look very thin and wan; and all for a Simpleton!
Mr. Falcon prolonged his stay in the neighborhood, and drove a handsome dog-cart over twice a week to visit Mr. Lusignan.
He used to call on that gentleman at four o'clock, for at that hour Mr. Lusignan was always out, and his daughter always at home.
She was at home at that hour because she took her long walks in the morning. While her new admirer was in bed, or dressing, or breakfasting, she was springing along the road with all the elasticity of youth, and health, and native vigor, braced by daily exercise.
Twenty-one of these walks did she take, with no other result than health and appetite; but the twenty-second was more fertile--extremely fertile. Starting later than usual, she passed through Gravesend while Reginald Falcon was smoking at his front window. He saw her, and instantly doffed his dressing-gown and donned his coat to follow her. He was madly in love with her, and being a man who had learned to shoot pigeons and opportunities flying, he instantly resolved to join her in her walk, get her clear of the town, by the sea-beach, where beauty melts, and propose to her. Yes, marriage had not been hitherto his habit, but this girl was peerless: he was pledged by honor and gratitude to Phoebe Dale; but hang all that now. "No man should marry one woman when he loves another; it is dishonorable." He got into the street and followed her as fast as he could without running.
It was not so easy to catch her. Ladies are not built for running; but a fine, tall, symmetrical girl who has practised walking fast can cover the ground wonderfully in walking--if she chooses. It was a sight to see how Rosa Lusignan squared her shoulders and stepped out from the waist like a Canadian girl skating, while her elastic foot slapped the pavement as she spanked along.
She had nearly cleared the town before Falcon came up with her.
He was hardly ten yards from her when an unexpected incident occurred. She whisked round the corner of Bird Street, and ran plump against Christopher Staines; in fact, she darted into his arms, and her face almost touched the breast she had wounded so deeply.
ROSA cried "Oh!" and put up her hands to her face in lovely confusion, coloring like a peony.
"I beg your pardon," said Christopher, stiffly, but in a voice that trembled.
"No," said Rosa, "it was I ran against you. I walk so fast now. Hope I did not hurt you."
"Well, then, frighten you?"
"Oh, please don't quarrel with me in the street," said Rosa, cunningly implying that he was the quarrelsome one. "I am going on the beach. Good-by!" This adieu she uttered softly, and in a hesitating tone that belied it. She started off, however, but much more slowly than she was going before; and, as she went, she turned her head with infinite grace, and kept looking askant down at the pavement two yards behind her: moreover she went close to the wall, and left room at her side for another to walk.
Christopher hesitated a moment; but the mute invitation, so arch yet timid, so pretty, tender, sly, and womanly, was too much for him, as it has generally proved for males, and the philosopher's foot was soon in the very place to which the Simpleton with the mere tail of her eye directed it.
They walked along, side by side, in silence, Staines agitated, gloomy, confused, Rosa radiant and glowing, yet not knowing what to say for herself, and wanting Christopher to begin. So they walked along without a word.
Falcon followed them at some distance to see whether it was an admirer or only an acquaintance. A lover he never dreamed of; she had shown such evident pleasure in his company, and had received his visits alone so constantly.
However, when the pair had got to the beach, and were walking slower and slower, he felt a pang of rage and jealousy, turned on his heel with an audible curse, and found Phoebe Dale a few yards behind him with a white face and a peculiar look. He knew what the look meant; he had brought it to that faithful face before to-day.
"You are better, Miss Lusignan."
"Better, Dr. Staines? I am health itself thanks to-- Hem!"
"Our estrangement has agreed with you?" This very bitterly.
"You know very well it is not that. Oh, please don't make me cry in the streets."
This humble petition, or rather meek threat, led to another long silence. It was continued till they had nearly reached the shore. But, meantime, Rosa's furtive eyes scanned Christopher's face, and her conscience smote her at the signs of suffering. She felt a desire to beg his pardon with deep humility; but she suppressed that weakness. She hung her head with a pretty, sheepish air, and asked him if he could not think of something agreeable to say to one after deserting one so long.
"I am afraid not," said Christopher, bluntly. "I have an awkward habit of speaking the truth; and some people can't bear that, not even when it is spoken for their good."
"That depends on temper, and nerves, and things," said Rosa, deprecatingly; then softly, "I could bear anything from you now."
"Indeed!" said Christopher, grimly. "Well, then, I hear you had no sooner got rid of your old lover, for loving you too well and telling you the truth, than you took up another,--some flimsy man of fashion, who will tell you any lie you like."
"It is a story, a wicked story," cried Rosa, thoroughly alarmed. "Me, a lover! He dances like an angel; I can't help that."
"Are his visits at your house like angels'--few and far between?" And the true lover's brow lowered black upon her for the first time.
Rosa changed color, and her eyes fell a moment. "Ask papa," she said. "His father was an old friend of papa's."
"Rosa, you are prevaricating. Young men do not call on old gentlemen when there is an attractive young lady in the house."
The argument was getting too close; so Rosa operated a diversion. "So," said she, with a sudden air of lofty disdain, swiftly and adroitly assumed, "you have had me watched?"
"Not I; I only hear what people say."
"Listen to gossip and not have me watched! That shows how little you really cared for me. Well, if you had, you would have made a little discovery, that is all."
"Should I?" said Christopher, puzzled. "What?"
"I shall not tell you. Think what you please. Yes, sir, you would have found out that I take long walks every day, all alone; and what is more, that I walk through Gravesend, hoping--like a goose--that somebody really loved me, and would meet me, and beg my pardon; and if he had, I should have told him it was only my tongue, and my nerves, and things; my heart was his, and my gratitude. And after all, what do words signify, when I am a good, obedient girl at bottom? So that is what you have lost by not condescending to look after me. Fine love!--Christopher, beg my pardon."
"May I inquire for what?"
"Why, for not understanding me; for not knowing that I should be sorry the moment you were gone. I took them off the very next day, to please you."
"Took off whom?--Oh, I understand. You did? Then you are a good girl."
"Didn't I tell you I was? A good, obedient girl, and anything but a flirt."
"I don't say that."
"But I do. Don't interrupt. It is to your good advice I owe my health; and to love anybody but you, when I owe you my love and my life, I must be a heartless, ungrateful, worthless-- Oh, Christopher, forgive me! No, no; I mean, beg my pardon."
"I'll do both," said Christopher, taking her in his arms. "I beg your pardon, and I forgive you."
Rosa leaned her head tenderly on his shoulder, and began to sigh. "Oh, dear, dear! I am a wicked, foolish girl, not fit to walk alone."
On this admission, Christopher spoke out, and urged her to put an end to all these unhappy misunderstandings, and to his new torment, jealousy, by marrying him.
"And so I would this very minute, if papa would consent. But," said she, slyly, "you never can be so foolish to wish it. What! a wise man like you marry a simpleton!"
"Did I ever call you that?" asked Christopher, reproachfully.
"No, dear; but you are the only one who has not; and perhaps I should lose even the one, if you were to marry me. Oh, husbands are not so polite as lovers! I have observed that, simpleton or not."
Christopher assured her that he took quite a different view of her character; he believed her to be too profound for shallow people to read all in a moment: he even intimated that he himself had experienced no little difficulty in understanding her at odd times. "And so," said he, "they turn round upon you, and instead of saying, 'We are too shallow to fathom you,' they pretend you are a simpleton."
This solution of the mystery had never occurred to Rosa, nor indeed was it likely to occur to any creature less ingenious than a lover: it pleased her hugely; her fine eyes sparkled, and she nestled closer still to the strong arm that was to parry every ill, from mortal disease to galling epithets.
She listened with a willing ear to all his reasons, his hopes, his fears, and, when they reached her father's door, it was settled that he should dine there that day, and urge his suit to her father after dinner. She would implore the old gentleman to listen to it favorably.
The lovers parted, and Christopher went home like one who has awakened from a hideous dream to daylight and happiness.
He had not gone far before he met a dashing dog-cart, driven by an exquisite. He turned to look after it, and saw it drive up to Kent Villa.
In a moment he divined his rival, and a sickness of heart came over him. But he recovered himself directly, and said, "If that is the fellow, she will not receive him now."
She did receive him though: at all events, the dog-cart stood at the door, and its master remained inside.
Christopher stood, and counted the minutes: five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, and still the dog-cart stood there.
It was more than he could bear. He turned savagely, and strode back to Gravesend, resolving that all this torture should end that night, one way or other.
Phoebe Dale was the daughter of a farmer in Essex, and one of the happiest young women in England till she knew Reginald Falcon, Esq.
She was reared on wholesome food, in wholesome air, and used to churn butter, make bread, cook a bit now and then, cut out and sew all her own dresses, get up her own linen, make hay, ride anything on four legs; and, for all that, was a great reader, and taught in the Sunday school to oblige the vicar; wrote a neat hand, and was a good arithmetician, kept all the house accounts and farm accounts. She was a musician, too,--not profound, but very correct. She would take her turn at the harmonium in church, and, when she was there, you never heard a wrong note in the bass, nor an inappropriate flourish, nor bad time. She could sing, too, but never would, except her part in a psalm. Her voice was a deep contralto, and she chose to be ashamed of this heavenly organ, because a pack of envious girls had giggled, and said it was like a man's.
In short, her natural ability and the range and variety of her useful accomplishments were considerable; not that she was a prodigy; but she belonged to a small class of women in this island who are not too high to use their arms, nor too low to cultivate their minds; and, having a faculty and a habit deplorably rare amongst her sex, viz., Attention, she had profited by her miscellaneous advantages.
Her figure and face both told her breed at once: here was an old English pastoral beauty; not the round-backed, narrow-chested cottager, but the well-fed, erect rustic, with broad, full bust and massive shoulder, and arm as hard as a rock with health and constant use; a hand finely cut, though neither small nor very white, and just a little hard inside, compared with Luxury's soft palm; a face honest, fair, and rather large than small; not beautiful, but exceedingly comely; a complexion not pink and white, but that delicately blended brickdusty color, which tints the whole cheek in fine gradation, outlasts other complexions twenty years, and beautifies the true Northern, even in old age. Gray, limpid, honest, point-blank, searching eyes; hair true nut-brown, without a shade of red or black; and a high, smooth forehead, full of sense. Across it ran one deep wrinkle that did not belong to her youth. That wrinkle was the brand of trouble, the line of agony. It had come of loving above her, yet below her, and of loving an egotist.
Three years before our tale commenced, a gentleman's horse ran away with him, and threw him on a heap of stones by the roadside, not very far from Farmer Dale's gate. The farmer had him taken in. The doctor said he must not be moved. He was insensible; his cheek like delicate wax; his fair hair like silk stained with blood. He became Phoebe's patient, and, in due course, her convalescent: his pale, handsome face and fascinating manners gained one charm more from weakness; his vices were in abeyance.
The womanly nurse's heart yearned over her child; for he was feeble as a child; and, when he got well enough to amuse his weary hours by making love to her, and telling her a pack of arrant lies, she was a ready dupe. He was to marry her as soon as ever his old uncle died, and left him the means, etc., etc. At last he got well enough to leave her, and went away, her open admirer and secret lover. He borrowed twenty pounds of her the day he left.
He used to write her charming letters, and feed the flame; but one day her father sent her up to London, on his own business, all of a sudden, and she called on Mr. Falcon at his real address. She found he did not live there--only received letters. However, half-a-crown soon bought his real address, and thither Phoebe proceeded with a troubled heart, for she suspected that her true lover was in debt or trouble, and obliged to hide. Well, he must be got out of it, and hide at the farm meantime.
So the loving girl knocked at the door, asked for Mr. Falcon, and was shown in to a lady rather showily dressed, who asked her business.
Phoebe Dale stared at her, and then turned pale as ashes. She was paralyzed, and could not find her tongue.
"Why, what is the matter now?" said the other, sharply.
"Are you married to Reginald Falcon?"
"Of course I am. Look at my wedding-ring."
"Then I am not wanted here," faltered Phoebe, ready to sink on the floor.
"Certainly not, if you are one of the bygones," said the woman, coarsely; and Phoebe Dale waited to hear no more, but found her way, Heaven knows how, into the street, and there leaned, half-fainting, on a rail, till a policeman came, and told her she had been drinking, and suggested a cool cell as the best cure.
"Not drink; only a breaking heart," said she, in her low, mellow voice that few could resist.
He got her a glass of water, drove away the boys that congregated directly, and she left the street. But she soon came back again, and waited about for Reginald Falcon.
It was night when he appeared. She seized him by the breast, and taxed him with his villany.
What with her iron grasp, pale face, and flashing eyes, he lost his cool impudence, and blurted out excuses. It was an old and unfortunate connection; he would give the world to dissolve it, if he could do it like a gentleman.
Phoebe told him to please himself: he must part with one or the other.
"Don't talk nonsense," said this man of brass; "I'll un-Falcon her on the spot."
"Very well," said Phoebe. "I am going home; and, if you are not there by to-morrow at noon"-- She said no more, but looked a great deal. Then she departed, and refused him her hand at parting. "We will see about that by and by," said she.
At noon my lord came down to the farm, and, unfortunately for Phoebe, played the penitent so skilfully for about a month, that she forgave him, and loved him all the more for having so nearly parted with him.
Her peace was not to endure long. He was detected in an intrigue in the very village.
The insult struck so home that Phoebe herself, to her parents' satisfaction, ordered him out of the house at once.
But, when he was gone, she had fits of weeping, and could settle to nothing for a long time.
Months had elapsed, and she was getting a sort of dull tranquillity, when, one evening, taking a walk she had often with him, and mourning her solitude and wasted affection, he waylaid her, and clung to her knees, and shed crocodile tears on her hands, and, after a long resistance, violent at first, but fainter and fainter, got her in his power again, and that so completely that she met him several times by night, being ashamed to be seen with him in those parts by day.
This ended in fresh promises of marriage, and in a constant correspondence by letter. This pest knew exactly how to talk to a woman, and how to write to one. His letters fed the unhappy flame; and, mind you, he sometimes deceived himself, and thought he loved her; but it was only himself he loved. She was an invaluable lover; a faithful, disinterested friend; hers was a vile bargain; his, an excellent one, and he clung to it.
And so they went on. She detected him in another infidelity, and reproached him bitterly; but she had no longer the strength to break with him. Nevertheless, this time she had the sense to make a struggle. She implored him, on her very knees, to show her a little mercy in return for all her love. "For pity's sake, leave me!" she cried. "You are strong, and I am weak. You can end it forever, and pray do. You don't want me; you don't value me: then, leave me, once and for all, and end this hell you keep me in."
No; he could not, or he would not, leave her alone. Look at a bird's wings!--how like an angel's! Yet so vile a thing as a bit of birdlime subdues them utterly; and such was the fascinating power of this mean man over this worthy woman. She was a reader, a thinker, a model of respectability, industry, and sense; a businesswoman, keen and practical; could encounter sharp hands in sharp trades; could buy or sell hogs, calves, or beasts with any farmer or butcher in the country, yet no match for a cunning fool. She had enshrined an idol in her heart, and that heart adored it, and clung to it, though the superior head saw through it, dreaded it, despised it.
No wonder three years of this had drawn a tell-tale wrinkle across the polished brow.
Phoebe Dale had not received a letter for some days; that roused her suspicion and stung her jealousy; she came up to London by fast train, and down to Gravesend directly.
She had a thick veil that concealed her features; and with a little inquiring and bribing, she soon found out that Mr. Falcon was there with a showy dog-cart. "Ah!" thought Phoebe, "he has won a little money at play or pigeon-shooting; so now he has no need of me."
She took the lodgings opposite him, but observed nothing till this very morning, when she saw him throw off his dressing-gown all in a hurry and fling on his coat. She tied on her bonnet as rapidly, and followed him, until she discovered the object of his pursuit. It was a surprise to her, and a puzzle, to see another man step in, as if to take her part. But as Reginald still followed the loitering pair, she followed Reginald, till he turned and found her at his heels, white and lowering.
She confronted him in threatening silence for some time, during which he prepared his defence.
"So it is a lady this time," said she, in her low, rich voice, sternly.
"Yes, and I should say she is bespoke--that tall, fine-built gentleman. But I suppose you care no more for his feelings than you do for mine."
"Phoebe," said the egotist, "I will not try to deceive you. You have often said you are my true friend."
"And I think I have proved it."
"That you have. Well, then, be my true friend now. I am in love--really in love--this time. You and I only torment each other; let us part friends. There are plenty of farmers in Essex that would jump at you. As for me, I'll tell you the truth; I have run through every farthing; my estate mortgaged beyond its value--two or three writs out against me--that is why I slipped down here. My only chance is to marry Money. Her father knows I have land, and he knows nothing about the mortgages; she is his only daughter. Don't stand in my way, that is a good girl; be my friend, as you always were. Hang it all, Phoebe, can't you say a word to a fellow that is driven into a corner, instead of glaring at me like that? There! I know it is ungrateful; but what can a fellow do? I must live like a gentleman or else take a dose of prussic acid; you don't want to drive me to that. Why, you proposed to part, last time, yourself."
She gave him one majestic, indescribable look, that made even his callous heart quiver, and turned away.
Then the scamp admired her for despising him, and could not bear to lose her. He followed her, and put forth all those powers of persuading and soothing, which had so often proved irresistible. But this time it was in vain. The insult was too savage, and his egotism too brutal, for honeyed phrases to blind her.
After enduring it a long time with a silent shudder, she turned and shook him fiercely off her like some poisonous reptile.
"Do you want me to kill you? I'd liever kill myself for loving such a thing as thou. Go thy ways, man, and let me go mine." In her passion she dropped her cultivation for once, and went back to the thou and thee of her grandam.
He colored up and looked spiteful enough; but he soon recovered his cynical egotism, and went off whistling an operatic passage.
She crept to her lodgings, and buried her face in her pillow, and rocked herself to and fro for hours in the bitterest agony the heart can feel, groaning over her great affection wasted, flung into the dirt.
While she was thus, she heard a little commotion. She came to the window and saw Falcon, exquisitely dressed, drive off in his dog-cart, attended by the acclamations of eight boys. She saw at a glance he was gone courting; her knees gave way under her, and, such is the power of the mind, this stalwart girl lay weak as water on the sofa, and had not the power to go home, though just then she had but one wish, one hope--to see her idol's face no more, nor hear his wheedling tongue, that had ruined her peace.
The exquisite Mr. Falcon was received by Rosa Lusignan with a certain tremor that flattered his hopes. He told her, in charming language, how he had admired her at first sight, then esteemed her, then loved her.
She blushed and panted, and showed more than once a desire to interrupt him, but was too polite. She heard him out with rising dismay, and he offered her his hand and heart.
But by this time she had made up her mind what to say. "O Mr. Falcon!" she cried, "how can you speak to me in this way? Why, I am engaged. Didn't you know?"
"No; I am sure you are not, or you would never have given me the encouragement you have."
"Oh, all engaged young ladies flirt--a little; and everybody here knows I am engaged to Dr. Staines."
"Why, I never saw him here."
Rosa's tact was a quality that came and went; so she blushed, and faltered out, "We had a little tiff, as lovers will."
"And you did me the honor to select me as cat's-paw to bring him on again. Was not that rather heartless?"
Rosa's fitful tact returned to her.
"Oh, sir, do not think so ill of me. I am not heartless, I am only unwise; and you are so superior to the people about you; I could not help appreciating you, and I thought you knew I was engaged, and so I was less on my guard. I hope I shall not lose your esteem, though I have no right to anything more. Ah! I see by your face I have behaved very ill: pray forgive me."
And with this she turned on the waters of the Nile, better known to you, perhaps, as "crocodile tears."
Falcon was a gentleman on the surface, and knew he should only make matters worse by quarrelling with her. So he ground his teeth, and said, "May your own heart never feel the pangs you have inflicted. I shall love you and remember you till my dying day."
He bowed ceremoniously and left her.
"Ay," said he to himself, "I will remember you, you heartless jilt, and the man you have jilted me for. Staines is his d--d name, is it?"
He drove back crestfallen, bitter, and, for once in his life, heart-sick, and drew up at his lodgings. Here he found attendants waiting to receive him.
A sheriff's officer took his dog-cart and horse under a judgment; the disturbance this caused collected a tiny crowd, gaping and grinning, and brought Phoebe's white face and eyes swollen with weeping to the window.
Falcon saw her and brazened it out. "Take them," said he, with an oath. "I'll have a better turn-out by to-morrow, breakfast-time."
The crowd cheered him for his spirit.
He got down, lit a cigar, chaffed the officer and the crowd, and was, on the whole, admired.
Then another officer, who had been hunting him in couples with the other, stepped forward and took him, for the balance of a judgment debt.
Then the swell's cigar fell out of his mouth, and he was seriously alarmed. "Why, Cartwright," said he, "this is too bad. You promised not to see me this month. You passed me full in the Strand."
"You are mistaken, sir," said Cartwright, with sullen irony. "I've got a twin-brother; a many takes him for me, till they finds the difference." Then, lowering his voice, "What call had you to boast in your club you had made it right with Bill Cartwright, and he'd never see you? That got about, and so I was bound to see you or lose my bread. There's one or two I don't see, but then they are real gentlemen, and thinks of me as well as theirselves, and doesn't blab."
"I must have been drunk," said Falcon apologetically. "More likely blowing a cloud. When you young gents gets a-smoking together, you'd tell on your own mothers. Come along, colonel, off we go to Merrimashee."
"Why, it is only twenty-six pounds. I have paid the rest."
"More than that; there's the costs."
"Come in, and I'll settle it."
"All right, sir. Jem, watch the back."
"Oh, I shall not try that game with a sharp hand like you, Cartwright."
"You had better not, sir," said Cartwright; but he was softened a little by the compliment.
When they were alone, Falcon began by saying it was a bad job for him.
"Why, I thought you was a-going to pay it all in a moment."
"I can't; but I have got a friend over the way that could, if she chose. She has always got money, somehow."
"Oh, if it is a she, it is all right."
"I don't know. She has quarrelled with me; but give me a little time. Here! have a glass of sherry and a biscuit, while I try it on."
Having thus muffled Cartwright, this man of the world opened his window and looked out. The crowd had followed the captured dog-cart, so he had the street to himself. He beckoned to Phoebe, and after considerable hesitation she opened her window.
"Phoebe," said he, in tones of tender regret, admirably natural and sweet, "I shall never offend you again; so forgive me this once. I have given that girl up."
"Not you," said Phoebe, sullenly.
"Indeed I have. After our quarrel, I started to propose to her; but I had not the heart; I came back and left her."
"Time will show. If it is not her, it will be some other, you false, heartless villain."
"Come, I say, don't be so hard on me in trouble. I am going to prison."
"So I suppose."
"Ah! but it is worse than you think. I am only taken for a paltry thirty pounds or so."
"Thirty-three, fifteen, five," suggested Cartwright, in a muffled whisper, his mouth being full of biscuit.
"But once they get me to a sponging-house, detainers will pour in, and my cruel creditors will confine me for life."
"It is the best place for you. It will put a stop to your wickedness, and I shall be at peace. That's what I have never known, night or day, this three years."
"But you will not be happy if you see me go to prison before your eyes. Were you ever inside a prison? Just think what it must be to be cooped up in those cold grim cells all alone; for they use a debtor like a criminal now."
Phoebe shuddered; but she said, bravely, "Well, tell them you have been a-courting. There was a time I'd have died sooner than see a hair of your head hurt; but it is all over now; you have worn me out."
Then she began to cry.
Falcon heaved a deep sigh. "It is no more than I deserve," said he. "I'll pack up my things, and go with the officer. Give me one kind word at parting, and I'll think of it in my prison, night and day."
He withdrew from the window with another deep sigh, told Cartwright, cheerfully, it was all right, and proceeded to pack up his traps.
Meantime Phoebe sat at her window and cried bitterly. Her words had been braver than her heart.
Falcon managed to pay the trifle he owed for the lodgings, and presently he came out with Cartwright, and the attendant called a cab. His things were thrown in, and Cartwright invited him to follow. Then he looked up, and cast a genuine look of terror and misery at Phoebe. He thought she would have relented before this.
Her heart gave way; I am afraid it would, even without that piteous and mute appeal. She opened the window, and asked Mr. Cartwright if he would be good enough to come and speak to her.
Cartwright committed his prisoner to the subordinate, and knocked at the door of Phoebe's lodgings. She came down herself and let him in. She led the way upstairs, motioned him to a seat, sat down by him, and began to cry again. She was thoroughly unstrung.
Cartwright was human, and muttered some words of regret that a poor fellow must do his duty.
"Oh, it is not that," sobbed Phoebe. "I can find the money. I have found more for him than that, many's the time." Then, drying her eyes, "But you must know the world, and I dare say you can see how 'tis with me."
"I can," said Cartwright, gravely. "I overheard you and him; and, my girl, if you take my advice, why, let him go. He is a gentleman skin deep, and dresses well, and can palaver a girl, no doubt; but bless your heart, I can see at a glance he is not worth your little finger, an honest, decent young woman like you. Why, it is like butter fighting with stone. Let him go; or I will tell you what it is, you will hang for him some day, or else make away with yourself."
"Ay, sir," said Phoebe, "that's likelier; and if I was to let him go to prison, I should sit me down and think of his parting look, and I should fling myself into the water for him before I was a day older."
"Ye mustn't do that anyway. While there's life there's hope."
Upon this Phoebe put him a question, and found him ready to do anything for her, in reason--provided he was paid for it. And the end of it all was, the prisoner was conveyed to London; Phoebe got the requisite sum; Falcon was deposited in a third-class carriage bound for Essex. Phoebe paid his debt, and gave Cartwright a present, and away rattled the train conveying the handsome egotist into temporary retirement, to wit, at a village five miles from the Dales' farm. She was too ashamed of her young gentleman and herself to be seen with him in her native village. On the road down he was full of little practical attentions; she received them coldly; his mellifluous mouth was often at her car, pouring thanks and praises into it; she never vouchsafed a word of reply. All she did was to shudder now and then, and cry at intervals. Yet, whenever he left her side, her whole body became restless; and when he came back to her, a furtive thrill announced the insane complacency his bare contact gave her. Surely, of all the forms in which love torments the heart, this was the most terrible and pitiable.
Mr. Lusignan found his daughter in tears.
"Why, what is the matter now?" said he, a little peevishly. "We have had nothing of this sort of thing lately."
"Papa, it is because I have misconducted myself. I am a foolish, imprudent girl. I have been flirting with Mr. Falcon, and he has taken a cruel advantage of it--proposed to me--this very afternoon--actually!"
"Has he? Well, he is a fine fellow, and has a landed estate in Norfolk. There's nothing like land. They may well call it real property--there is something to show; you can walk on it, and ride on it, and look out of window at it: that is property."
"Oh, papa! what are you saying? Would you have me marry one man when I belong to another?"
"But you don't belong to any one except to me."
"Oh, yes; I do. I belong to my dear Christopher."
"Why, you dismissed him before my very eyes; and very ill you behaved, begging your pardon. The man was your able physician and your best friend, and said nothing that was not for your good; and you treated him like a dog."
"Yes, but he has apologized."
"What for? being treated like a dog?"
"Oh, don't say so, papa! At all events, he has apologized, as a gentleman should whenever--whenever--"
"Whenever a lady is in the wrong."
"Don't, papa; and I have asked him to dinner."
"With all my heart. I shall be downright glad to see him again. You used him abominably."
"But you need not keep saying so," whined Rosa. "And that is not all, dear papa; the worst of it is, Mr. Falcon proposing to me has opened my eyes. I am not fit to be trusted alone. I am too fond of dancing, and flirting will follow somehow. Oh, think how ill I was a few months ago, and how unhappy you were about me! They were killing me. He came and saved me. Yes, papa, I owe all this health and strength to Christopher. I did take them off, the very next day, and see the effect of it and my long walks. I owe him my life, and what I value far more, my good looks. La! I wish I had not told you that. And after all this, don't I belong to my Christopher? How could I be happy or respect myself if I married any one else? And oh, papa! he looks wan and worn. He has been fretting for his Simpleton. Oh, dear! I mustn't think of that--it makes me cry; and you don't like scenes, do you?"
"Well, then," said Rosa, coaxingly, "I'll tell you how to end them. Marry your Simpleton to the only man who is fit to take care of her. Oh, papa! think of his deep, deep affection for me, and pray don't snub him if--by any chance--after dinner--he should happen to ask you--something."
"Oh, then it is possible that, by the merest chance, the gentleman you have accidentally asked to dinner, may, by some strange fortuity, be surprised into asking me a second time for something very much resembling my daughter's hand, eh?"
Rosa colored high. "He might, you know. How can I tell what gentlemen will say when the ladies have retired and they are left alone with--with--"
"With the bottle. Ay, that's true; when the wine is in, the wit is out."
Said Rosa, "Well, if he should happen to be so foolish, pray think of me; of all we owe him, and how much I love him, and ought to love him." She then bestowed a propitiatory kiss, and ran off to dress for dinner; it was a much longer operation to-day than usual.
Dr. Staines was punctual. Mr. Lusignan commented favorably on that.
"He always is," said Rosa, eagerly.
They dined together. Mr. Lusignan chatted freely, but Staines and Rosa were under a feeling of restraint, Staines in particular; he could not help feeling that before long his fate must be settled. He would either obtain Rosa's hand, or have to resign her to some man of fortune who would step in; for beauty such as hers could not long lack brilliant offers. Longing, though dreading, to know his fate, he was glad when dinner ended.
Rosa sat with them a little while after dinner, then rose, bestowed another propitiatory kiss on her father's head, and retired with a modest blush, and a look at Christopher that was almost divine.
It inspired him with the courage of lions, and he commenced the attack at once.
"MR. LUSIGNAN," said he, "the last time I was here you gave me some hopes that you might be prevailed on to trust that angel's health and happiness to my care."
"Well, Dr. Staines, I will not beat about the bush with you. My judgment is still against this marriage; you need not look so alarmed; it does not follow I shall forbid it. I feel I have hardly a right to, for my Rosa might be in her grave now but for you; and, another thing, when I interfered between you two I had no proof you were a man of ability; I had only your sweetheart's word for that; and I never knew a case before where a young lady's swan did not turn out a goose. Your rare ability gives you another chance in the professional battle that is before you; indeed, it puts a different face on the whole matter. I still think it premature. Come now, would it not be much wiser to wait, and secure a good practice before you marry a mere child? There! there! I only advise; I don't dictate; you shall settle it together, you two wiseacres. Only I must make one positive condition. I have nothing to give my child during my lifetime; but one thing I have done for her; years ago I insured my life for six thousand pounds; and you must do the same. I will not have her thrown on the world a widow, with a child or two, perhaps, to support, and not a farthing; you know the insecurity of mortal life."
"I do! I do! Why, of course I will insure my life, and pay the annual premium out of my little capital, until income flows in."
"Will you hand me over a sum sufficient to pay that premium for five years?"
"Then I fear," said the old gentleman, with a sigh, "my opposition to the match must cease here. I still recommend you to wait; but--there! I might just as well advise fire and tow to live neighbors and keep cool."
To show the injustice of this simile, Christopher Staines started up with his eyes all aglow, and cried out, rapturously, "Oh, sir, may I tell her?"
"Yes, you may tell her," said Lusignan, with a smile. "Stop--what are you going to tell her?"
"That you consent, sir. God bless you! God bless you! Oh!"
"Yes, but that I advise you to wait."
"I'll tell her all," said Staines, and rushed out even as he spoke, and upset a heavy chair with a loud thud.
"Ah! ah!" cried the old gentleman in dismay, and put his fingers in his ears--too late. "I see," said he, "there will be no peace and quiet now till they are out of the house." He lighted a soothing cigar to counteract the fracas.
"Poor little Rosa!--a child but yesterday, and now to encounter the cares of a wife, and perhaps a mother. Ah! she is but young, but young."
The old gentleman prophesied truly; from that moment he had no peace till he withdrew all semblance of dissent, and even of procrastination.
Christopher insured his life for six thousand pounds, and assigned the policy to his wife. Four hundred pounds was handed to Mr. Lusignan to pay the premiums until the genius of Dr. Staines should have secured him that large professional income, which does not come all at once, even to the rare physician, who is Capax, Efficax, Sagax.
The wedding-day was named. The bridesmaids were selected, the guests invited. None refused but Uncle Philip. He declined, in his fine bold hand, to countenance in person an act of folly he disapproved. Christopher put his letter away with a momentary sigh, and would not show it Rosa. All other letters they read together--charming pastime of that happy period. Presents poured in. Silver teapots, coffeepots, sugar-basins, cream-jugs, fruit-dishes, silver-gilt inkstands, albums, photograph-books, little candlesticks, choice little services of china, shell salt-cellars in a case lined with maroon velvet; a Bible, superb in binding and clasps, and everything but the text--that was illegible; a silk scarf from Benares; a gold chain from Delhi, six feet long or nearly; a Maltese necklace, a ditto in exquisite filagree from Genoa; English brooches, a trifle too big and brainless; apostle spoons; a treble-lined parasol with ivory stick and handle; an ivory card-case, richly carved; workbox of sandal-wood and ivory, etc. Mr. Lusignan's City friends, as usual with these gentlemen, sent the most valuable things. Every day one or two packages were delivered, and, in opening them, Rosa invariably uttered a peculiar scream of delight, and her father put his fingers in his ears; yet there was music in this very scream, if he would only have listened to it candidly, instead of fixing his mind on his vague theory of screams--so formed was she to please the ear as well as the eye.
At last came a parcel she opened and stared at, smiling and coloring like a rose, but did not scream, being too dumfounded and perplexed; for lo! a teapot of some base material, but simple and elegant in form, being an exact reproduction of a melon; and inside this teapot a canvas bag containing ten guineas in silver, and a wash-leather bag containing twenty guineas in gold, and a slip of paper, which Rosa, being now half recovered from her stupefaction, read out to her father and Dr. Staines--
"People that buy presents blindfold give duplicates and triplicates; and men seldom choose to a woman's taste; so be pleased to accept the enclosed tea-leaves, and buy for yourself. The teapot you can put on the hob, for it is nickel."
Rosa looked sore puzzled again. "Papa," said she, timidly, "have we any friend that is--a little--deranged?"
"Oh, then, that accounts."
"Why no, love," said Christopher. "I have heard of much learning making a man mad, but never of much good sense."
"What! Do you call this sensible?"
"I'll read it again," said Rosa. "Well--yes--I declare--it is not so mad as I thought; but it is very eccentric."
Lusignan suggested there was nothing so eccentric as common sense, especially in time of wedding. "This," said he, "comes from the City. It is a friend of mine, some old fox; he is throwing dust in your eyes with his reasons; his real reason was that his time is money; it would have cost the old rogue a hundred pounds' worth of time--you know the City, Christopher--to go out and choose the girl a present; so he has sent his clerk out with a check to buy a pewter teapot, and fill it with specie."
"Pewter!" cried Rosa. "No such thing! It's nickel. What is nickel, I wonder?"
The handwriting afforded no clew, so there the discussion ended: but it was a nice little mystery, and very convenient; made conversation. Rosa had many an animated discussion about it with her female friends.
The wedding-day came at last. The sun shone--actually, as Rosa observed. The carriages drove up. The bridesmaids, principally old schoolfellows and impassioned correspondents of Rosa, were pretty, and dressed alike and delightfully; but the bride was peerless; her Southern beauty literally shone in that white satin dress and veil, and her head was regal with the Crown of orange-blossoms. Another crown she had--true virgin modesty. A low murmur burst from the men the moment they saw her; the old women forgave her beauty on the spot, and the young women almost pardoned it; she was so sweet and womanly, and so sisterly to her own sex.
When they started for the church she began to tremble, she scarce knew why; and when the solemn words were said, and the ring was put on her finger, she cried a little, and looked half imploringly at her bridesmaids once, as if seared at leaving them for an untried and mysterious life with no woman near.
They were married. Then came the breakfast, that hour of uneasiness and blushing to such a bride as this; but at last she was released. She sped up-stairs, thanking goodness it was over. Down came her last box. The bride followed in a plain travelling dress, which her glorious eyes and brows and her rich glowing cheeks seemed to illumine: she was handed into the carriage, the bridegroom followed. All the young guests clustered about the door, armed with white shoes--slippers are gone by.
They started; the ladies flung their white shoes right and left with religious impartiality, except that not one of their missiles went at the object. The men, more skilful, sent a shower on to the roof of the carriage, which is the lucky spot. The bride kissed her hand, and managed to put off crying, though it cost her a struggle. The party hurrahed; enthusiastic youths gathered fallen shoes, and ran and hurled them again with cheerful yells, and away went the happy pair, the bride leaning sweetly and confidingly with both her white hands on the bridegroom's shoulder, while he dried the tears that would run now at leaving home and parent forever, and kissed her often, and encircled her with his strong arm, and murmured comfort, and love, and pride, and joy, and sweet vows of lifelong tenderness into her ears, that soon stole nearer his lips to hear, and the fair cheek grew softly to his shoulder.
DR. STAINES and Mrs. Staines visited France, Switzerland, and the Rhine, and passed a month of Elysium before they came to London to face their real destiny and fight the battle of life.
And here, methinks, a reader of novels may perhaps cry out and say, "What manner of man is this, who marries his hero and heroine, and then, instead of leaving them happy for life, and at rest from his uneasy pen and all their other troubles, flows coolly on with their adventures?"
To this I can only reply that the old English novel is no rule to me, and life is; and I respectfully propose an experiment. Catch eight old married people, four of each sex, and say unto them, "Sir," or "Madam, did the more remarkable events of your life come to you before marriage or after?" Most of them will say "after," and let that be my excuse for treating the marriage of Christopher Staines and Rosa Lusignan as merely one incident in their lives; an incident which, so far from ending their story, led by degrees to more striking events than any that occurred to them before they were man and wife.
They returned, then, from their honey tour, and Staines, who was methodical and kept a diary, made the following entry therein:--
"We have now a life of endurance, and self-denial, and economy, before us; we have to rent a house, and furnish it, and live in it, until professional income shall flow in and make all things easy: and we have two thousand five hundred pounds left to do it with."
They came to a family hotel, and Dr. Staines went out directly after breakfast to look for a house. Acting on a friend's advice, he visited the streets and places north of Oxford Street, looking for a good commodious house adapted to his business. He found three or four at fair rents, neither cheap nor dear, the district being respectable and rather wealthy, but no longer fashionable. He came home with his notes, and found Rosa beaming in a crisp peignoir, and her lovely head its natural size and shape, high-bred and elegant. He sat down, and with her hand in his proceeded to describe the houses to her, when a waiter threw open the door-- "Mrs. John Cole."
"Florence!" cried Rosa, starting up.
In flowed Florence: they both uttered a little squawk of delight, and went at each other like two little tigresses, and kissed in swift alternation with a singular ardor, drawing their crests back like snakes, and then darting them forward and inflicting what, to the male philosopher looking on, seemed hard kisses, violent kisses, rather than the tender ones to be expected from two tender creatures embracing each other.
"Darling," said Rosa, "I knew you would be the first. Didn't I tell you so, Christopher?--My husband--my darling Florry! Sit down, love, and tell me everything; he has just been looking out for a house. Ah! you have got all that over long ago: she has been married six months. Florry, you are handsomer than ever; and what a beautiful dress! Ah! London is the place. Real Brussels, I declare," and she took hold of her friend's lace and gloated on it.
Christopher smiled good-naturedly, and said, "I dare say you ladies have a good deal to say to each other."
"Oceans," said Rosa.
"I will go and hunt houses again."
"There's a good husband," said Mrs. Cole, as soon as the door closed on him, "and such a fine man! Why, he must be six feet. Mine is rather short. But he is very good; refuses me nothing. My will is law."
"That is all right--you are so sensible; but I want governing a little, and I like it--actually. Did the dressmaker find it, dear?"
"Oh, no! I had it by me. I bought it at Brussels on our wedding tour: it is dearer there than in London."
She said this as if "dearer" and "better" were synonymous.
"But about your house, Rosie dear?"
"Yes, darling, I'll tell you all about it. I never saw a moire this shade before. I don't care for them in general; but this is so distingue."
Florence rewarded her with a kiss.
"The house," said Rosa. "Oh, he has seen one in Portman Street, and one in Gloucester Place."
"Oh, that will never do," cried Mrs. Cole. "It is no use being a physician in those out-of-the-way places. He must be in Mayfair."
"Of course. Besides, then my Johnnie can call him in when they are just going to die. Johnnie is a general prac., and makes two thousand a year; and he shall call your one in; but he must live in Mayfair. Why, Rosie, you would not be such a goose as to live in those places--they are quite gone by."
"I shall do whatever you advise me, dear. Oh, what a comfort to have a dear friend: and six months married, and knows things. How richly it is trimmed! Why, it is nearly all trimmings."
"That is the fashion."
And after that big word there was no more to be said.
These two ladies in their conversation gravitated towards dress, and fell flat on it every half-minute. That great and elevating topic held them by a silken cord, but it allowed them to flutter upwards into other topics; and in those intervals, numerous though brief, the lady who had been married six months found time to instruct the matrimonial novice with great authority, and even a shade of pomposity. "My dear, the way ladies and gentlemen get a house--in the first place, you don't go about yourself like that, and you never go to the people themselves, or you are sure to be taken in, but to a respectable house-agent."
"Yes, dear, that must be the best way, one would think."
"Of course it is; and you ask for a house in Mayfair, and he shows you several, and recommends you the best, and sees you are not cheated."
"Thank you, love," said Rosa; "now I know what to do; I'll not forget a word. And the train so beautifully shaped! Ah! it is only in London or Paris they can make a dress flow behind like that," etc., etc.
Dr. Staines came back to dinner in good spirits; he had found a house in Harewood Square; good entrance hall, where his gratuitous patients might sit on benches; good dining-room where his superior patients might wait; and good library, to be used as a consulting-room. Rent only £85 per annum.
But Rosa told him that would never do; a physician must be in the fashionable part of the town.
"Eventually," said Christopher; "but surely at first starting--and you know they say little boats should not go too far from shore."
Then Rosa repeated all her friend's arguments, and seemed so unhappy at the idea of not living near her, that Staines, who had not yet said the hard word "no" to her, gave in; consoling his prudence with the reflection that, after all, Mr. Cole could put many a guinea in his way, for Mr. Cole was middle-aged,--though his wife was young,--and had really a very large practice.
So next day, the newly-wedded pair called on a house-agent in Mayfair, and his son and partner went with them to several places. The rents of houses equal to that in Harewood Square were £300 a year at least, and a premium to boot.
Christopher told him these were quite beyond the mark. "Very well," said the agent. "Then I'll show you a Bijou."
Rosa clapped her hands. "That is the thing for us. We don't want a large house, only a beautiful one, and in Mayfair."
"Then the Bijou will be sure to suit you."
He took them to the Bijou.
The Bijou had a small dining-room with one very large window in two sheets of plate glass, and a projecting balcony full of flowers; a still smaller library, which opened on a square yard enclosed. Here were a great many pots, with flowers dead or dying from neglect. On the first floor a fair-sized drawing-room, and a tiny one at the back: on the second floor, one good bedroom, and a dressing-room, or little bedroom: three garrets above.
Rosa was in ecstasies. "It is a nest," said she.
"It is a bank-note," said the agent, stimulating equal enthusiasm, after his fashion. "You can always sell the lease again for more money."
Christopher kept cool. "I don't want a house to sell, but to live in, and do my business; I am a physician: now the drawing-room is built over the entrance to a mews; the back rooms all look into a mews: we shall have the eternal noise and smell of a mews. My wife's rest will be broken by the carriages rolling in and out. The hall is fearfully small and stuffy. The rent is abominably high; and what is the premium for, I wonder?"
"Always a premium in Mayfair, sir. A lease is property here: the gentleman is not acquainted with this part, madam."
"Oh, yes, he is," said Rosa, as boldly as a six years' wife: "he knows everything."
"Then he knows that a house of this kind at a £130 a year in Mayfair is a bank-note."
Staines turned to Rosa. "The poor patients, where am I to receive them?"
"In the stable," suggested the house agent.
"Oh!" said Rosa, shocked.
"Well, then, the coach-house. Why, there's plenty of room for a brougham, and one horse, and fifty poor patients at a time: beggars musn't be choosers; if you give them physic gratis, that is enough: you ain't bound to find 'em a palace to sit down in, and hot coffee and rump steaks all round, doctor."
This tickled Rosa so that she burst out laughing, and thenceforward giggled at intervals, wit of this refined nature having all the charm of novelty for her.
They inspected the stables, which were indeed the one redeeming feature in the horrid little Bijou; and then the agent would show them the kitchen, and the new stove. He expatiated on this to Mrs. Staines. "Cook a dinner for thirty people, madam."
"And there's room for them to eat it--in the road," said Staines.
The agent reminded him there were larger places to be had, by a very simple process, viz., paying for them.
Staines thought of the large, comfortable house in Harewood Square. "£130 a year for this poky little hole?" he groaned.
"Why, it is nothing at all for a Bijou."
"But it is too much for a bandbox."
Rosa laid her hand on his arm, with an imploring glance.
"Well," said he, "I'll submit to the rent, but I really cannot give the premium, it is too ridiculous. He ought to bribe me to rent it, not I him."
"Can't be done without, sir."
"Well, I'll give a £100 and no more."
"Then good morning. Now, dearest, just come and see the house at Harewood Square; £85 and no premium."
"Will you oblige me with your address, doctor?" said the agent.
"Dr. Staines, Morley's Hotel."
And so they left Mayfair.
Rosa sighed and said, "Oh, the nice little place; and we have lost it for £200."
"Two hundred pounds is a great deal for us to throw away."
"Being near the Coles would soon have made that up to you: and such a cosey little nest."
"Well the house will not run away."
"But somebody is sure to snap it up. It is a Bijou." She was disappointed, and half inclined to pout. But she vented her feelings in a letter to her beloved Florry, and appeared at dinner as sweet as usual.
During dinner a note came from the agent, accepting Dr. Staine's offer. He glozed the matter thus: he had persuaded the owner it was better to take a good tenant at a moderate loss, than to let the Bijou be uninhabited during the present rainy season. An assignment of the lease--which contained the usual covenants--would be prepared immediately, and Dr. Staines could have possession in forty-eight hours, by paying the premium.
Rosa was delighted, and as soon as dinner was over, and the waiters gone, she came and kissed Christopher.
He smiled, and said, "Well, you are pleased; that is the principal thing. I have saved two hundred pounds, and that is something. It will go towards furnishing."
"La! yes," said Rosa, "I forgot. We shall have to get furniture now. How nice!" It was a pleasure the man of forecast could have willingly dispensed with; but he smiled at her, and they discussed furniture, and Christopher, whose retentive memory had picked up a little of everything, said there were wholesale upholsterers in the City who sold cheaper than the West-end houses, and he thought the best way was to measure the rooms in the Bijou, and go to the city with a clear idea of what they wanted; ask the prices of various necessary articles, and then make a list, and demand a discount of fifteen per cent on the whole order, being so considerable, and paid for in cash.
Rosa acquiesced, and told Christopher he was the cleverest man in England.
About nine o'clock Mrs. Cole came in to condole with her friend, and heard the good news. When Rosa told her how they thought of furnishing, she said, "Oh no, you must not do that; you will pay double for everything. That is the mistake Johnnie and I made; and after that a friend of mine took me to the auction-rooms, and I saw everything sold--oh, such bargains; half, and less than half, their value. She has furnished her house almost entirely from sales, and she has the loveliest things in the world--such ducks of tables, and jardinières, and things; and beautiful rare china--her house swarms with it--for an old song. A sale is the place. And then so amusing."
"Yes, but," said Christopher, "I should not like my wife to encounter a public room."
"Not alone, of course; but with me. La! Dr. Staines, they are too full of buying and selling to trouble their heads about us."
"Oh, Christopher, do let me go with her. Am I always to be a child?"
Thus appealed to before a stranger, Staines replied warmly, "No, dearest, no; you cannot please me better than by beginning life in earnest. If you two ladies together can face an auction-room, go by all means; only I must ask you not to buy china or ormulu, or anything that will break or spoil, but only solid, good furniture."
"Won't you come with us?"
"No; or you might feel yourself in leading-strings. Remember the Bijou is a small house; choose your furniture to fit it, and then we shall save something by its being so small."
This was Wednesday. There was a weekly sale in Oxford Street on Fridays; and the ladies made the appointment accordingly.
Next day, after breakfast, Christopher was silent and thoughtful awhile, and at last said to Rosa, "I'll show you I don't look on you as a child; I'll consult you in a delicate matter."
Rosa's eyes sparkled.
"It is about my Uncle Philip. He has been very cruel; he has wounded me deeply; he has wounded me through my wife. I never thought he would refuse to come to our marriage."
"And did he? You never showed me his letter."
"You were not my wife then. I kept an affront from you; but now, you see, I keep nothing."
"I am so happy, I have got over that sting--almost; and the memory of many kind acts comes back to me; and I don't know what to do. It seems ungrateful not to visit him--it seems almost mean to call."
"I'll tell you; take me to see him directly. He won't hate us forever, if he sees us often. We may as well begin at once. Nobody hates me long."
Christopher was proud of his wife's courage and wisdom. He kissed her, begged her to put on the plainest dress she could, and they went together to call on Uncle Philip.
When they got to his house in Gloucester Place, Portman Square, Rosa's heart began to quake, and she was right glad when the servant said "Not at home."
They left their cards and address; and she persuaded Christopher to take her to the sale-room to see the things.
A lot of brokers were there, like vultures; and one after another stepped forward and pestered them to employ him in the morning. Dr. Staines declined their services civilly but firmly, and he and Rosa looked over a quantity of furniture, and settled what sort of things to buy.
Another broker came up, and whenever the couple stopped before an article, proceeded to praise it as something most extraordinary. Staines listened in cold, satirical silence, and told his wife, in French, to do the same. Notwithstanding their marked disgust, the impudent, intrusive fellow stuck to them, and forced his venal criticism on them, and made them uncomfortable, and shortened their tour of observation.
"I think I shall come with you to-morrow," said Christopher, "or I shall have these blackguards pestering you."
"Oh, Florry will send them to the right-about. She is as brave as a lion."
Next day Dr. Staines was sent for into the City at twelve to pay the money and receive the lease of the Bijou, and this and the taking possession occupied him till four o'clock, when he came to his hotel.
Meantime, his wife and Mrs. Cole had gone to the auction-room.
It was a large room, with a good sprinkling of people, but not crowded except about the table. At the head of this table--full twenty feet long--was the auctioneer's pulpit, and the lots were brought in turn to the other end of the table for sight and sale.
"We must try and get a seat," said the enterprising Mrs. Cole, and pushed boldly in; the timid Rosa followed strictly in her wake, and so evaded the human waves her leader clove. They were importuned at every step by brokers thrusting catalogues on them, with offers of their services, yet they soon got to the table. A gentleman resigned one chair, a broker another, and they were seated.
Mrs. Staines let down half her veil, but Mrs. Cole surveyed the company point-blank.
The broker who had given up his seat, and now stood behind Rosa, offered her his catalogue. "No, thank you," said Rosa; "I have one;" and she produced it, and studied it, yet managed to look furtively at the company.
There were not above a dozen private persons visible from where Rosa sat; perhaps as many more in the whole room. They were easily distinguishable by their cleanly appearance: the dealers, male or female, were more or less rusty, greasy, dirty, aquiline. Not even the amateurs were brightly dressed; that fundamental error was confined to Mesdames Cole and Staines. The experienced, however wealthy, do not hunt bargains in silk and satin.
The auctioneer called "Lot 7. Four saucepans, two trays, a kettle, a bootjack, and a towel-horse."
These were put up at two shillings, and speedily knocked down for five to a fat old woman in a greasy velvet jacket; blind industry had sewed bugles on it, not artfully, but agriculturally.
"The lady on the left!" said the auctioneer to his clerk. That meant "Get the money."
The old lady plunged a huge paw into a huge pocket, and pulled out a huge handful of coin--copper, silver, and gold--and paid for the lot; and Rosa surveyed her dirty hands and nails with innocent dismay. "Oh, what a dreadful creature!" she whispered; "and what can she want with those old rubbishy things? I saw a hole in one from here." The broker overheard, and said, "She is a dealer, ma'am, and the things were given away. She'll sell them for a guinea, easy."
"Didn't I tell you?" said Mrs. Cole.
Soon after this the superior lots came on, and six very neat bedroom chairs were sold to all appearance for fifteen shillings.
The next lot was identical, and Rosa hazarded a bid,--"Sixteen shillings."
Instantly some dealer, one of the hook-nosed that gathered round each lot as it came to the foot of the table, cried "Eighteen shillings."
"Nineteen," said Rosa.
"A guinea," said the dealer.
"Don't let it go," said the broker behind her. "Don't let it go, ma'am."
She colored at the intrusion, and left off bidding directly, and addressed herself to Mrs. Cole. "Why should I give so much, when the last were sold for fifteen shillings?"
The real reason was that the first lot was not bid for at all, except by the proprietor. However, the broker gave her a very different solution; he said, "The trade always run up a lady or a gentleman. Let me bid for you; they won't run me up; they know better."
Rosa did not reply, but looked at Mrs. Cole.
"Yes, dear," said that lady; "you had much better let him bid for you."
"Very well," said Rosa; "you can bid for this chest of drawers--lot 25."
When lot 25 came on, the broker bid in the silliest possible way, if his object had been to get a bargain. He began to bid early and ostentatiously; the article was protected by somebody or other there present, who now of course saw his way clear; he ran it up audaciously, and it was purchased for Rosa at about the price it could have been bought for at a shop.
The next thing she wanted was a set of oak chairs.
They went up to twenty-eight pounds; then she said, "I shall give no more, sir."
"Better not lose them," said the agent; "they are a great bargain;" and bid another pound for her on his own responsibility.
They were still run up, and Rosa peremptorily refused to give any more. She lost them, accordingly, by good luck. Her faithful broker looked blank; so did the proprietor.
But, as the sale proceeded, she being young, the competition, though most of it sham, being artful and exciting, and the traitor she employed constantly puffing every article, she was drawn in to wishing for things, and bidding by her feelings.
Then her traitor played a game that has been played a hundred times, and the perpetrators never once lynched, as they ought to be, on the spot. He signalled a confederate with a hooked nose; the Jew rascal bid against the Christian scoundrel, and so they ran up the more enticing things to twice their value under the hammer.
Rosa got flushed, and her eye gleamed like a gambler's, and she bought away like wildfire. In which sport she caught sight of an old gentleman, with little black eyes that kept twinkling at her.
She complained of these eyes to Mrs. Cole. "Why does he twinkle so? I can see it is at me. I am doing something foolish--I know I am."
Mrs. Cole turned, and fixed a haughty stare on the old gentleman. Would you believe it? instead of sinking through the floor, he sat his ground, and retorted with a cold, clear grin.
But now, whenever Rosa's agent bid for her, and the other man of straw against him, the black eyes twinkled, and Rosa's courage began to ooze away. At last she said, "That is enough for one day. I shall go. Who could bear those eyes?"
The broker took her address; so did the auctioneer's clerk. The auctioneer asked her for no deposit; her beautiful, innocent, and high-bred face was enough for a man who was always reading faces, and interpreting them.
And so they retired.
But this charming sex is like that same auctioneer's hammer, it cannot go abruptly. It is always going--going--going--a long time before it is gone. I think it would perhaps loiter at the door of a jail, with the order of release in its hand, after six years' confinement. Getting up to go quenches in it the desire to go. So these ladies having got up to go, turned and lingered, and hung fire so long, that at last another set of oak chairs came up. "Oh! I must see what these go for," said Rosa, at the door.
The bidding was mighty languid now Rosa's broker was not stimulating it; and the auctioneer was just knocking down twelve chairs--oak and leather--and two arm-chairs, for twenty pounds, when, casting his eyes around, he caught sight of Rosa looking at him rather excited. He looked inquiringly at her. She nodded slightly; he knocked them down to her at twenty guineas, and they were really a great bargain.
"Twenty-two," cried the dealer.
"Too late," said the auctioneer.
"I spoke with the hammer, sir."
"After the hammer, Isaacs."
"Shelp me God, we was together."
One or two more of his tribe confirmed this pious falsehood, and clamored to have them put up again.
"Call the next lot," said the auctioneer, peremptorily. "Make up your mind a little quicker next time, Mr. Isaacs; you have been long enough at it to know the value of oak and moroccar."
Mrs. Staines and her friend now started for Morley's Hotel, but went round by Regent Street, whereby they got glued at Peter Robinson's window, and nine other windows; and it was nearly five o'clock when they reached Morley's. As they came near the door of their sitting-room, Mrs. Staines heard somebody laughing and talking to her husband. The laugh, to her subtle ears, did not sound musical and genial, but keen, satirical, unpleasant; so it was with some timidity she opened the door, and there sat the old chap with the twinkling eyes. Both parties stared at each other a moment.
"Why, it is them," cried the old gentleman. "Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!"
Rosa colored all over, and felt guilty somehow, and looked miserable.
"Rosa dear," said Dr. Staines, "this is our Uncle Philip."
"Oh!" said Rosa, and turned red and pale by turns; for she had a great desire to propitiate Uncle Philip.
"You were in the auction-room, sir?" said Mrs. Cole, severely.
"I was, madam. He! he!"
"Furnishing a house?"
"No, ma'am. I go to a dozen sales a week; but it is not to buy--I enjoy the humors. Did you ever hear of Robert Burton, ma'am?"
"No. Yes; a great traveller, isn't he? Discovered the Nile--or the Niger--or something."
This majestic vagueness staggered old Crusty at first, but he recovered his equilibrium, and said, "Why, yes, now I think of it, you are right; he has travelled farther than most of us, for about two centuries ago he visited that bourn whence no traveller returns. Well, when he was alive--he was a student of Christchurch--he used to go down to a certain bridge over the Isis and enjoy the chaff of the bargemen. Now there are no bargemen left to speak of; the mantle of Bobby Burton's bargees has fallen on the Jews and demi-semi-Christians that buy and sell furniture at the weekly auctions; thither I repair to hear what little coarse wit is left us. Used to go to the House of Commons; but they are getting too civil by half for my money. Besides, characters come out in an auction. For instance, only this very day I saw two ladies enter, in gorgeous attire, like heifers decked for sacrifice, and reduce their spoliation to a certainty by employing a broker to bid. Now, what is a broker? A fellow who is to be paid a shilling in the pound for all articles purchased. What is his interest, then? To buy cheap? Clearly not. He is paid in proportion to the dearness of the article."
Rosa's face began to work piteously.
"Accordingly, what did the broker in question do? He winked to another broker, and these two bid against one another, over their victim's head, and ran everything she wanted up at least a hundred per cent above the value. So open and transparent a swindle I have seldom seen, even in an auction-room. Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!"
His mirth was interrupted by Rosa going to her husband, hiding her head on his shoulder, and meekly crying.
Christopher comforted her like a man. "Don't you cry, darling," said he; "how should a pure creature like you know the badness of the world all in a moment? If it is my wife you are laughing at, Uncle Philip, let me tell you this is the wrong place. I'd rather a thousand times have her as she is, than armed with the cunning and suspicions of a hardened old worldling like you."
"With all my heart," said Uncle Philip, who, to do him justice, could take blows as well as give them; "but why employ a broker? Why pay a scoundrel five per cent to make you pay a hundred per cent? Why pay a noisy fool a farthing to open his mouth for you when you have taken the trouble to be there yourself, and have got a mouth of your own to bid discreetly with? Was ever such an absurdity?" He began to get angry.
"Do you want to quarrel with me, Uncle Philip?" said Christopher, firing up; "because sneering at my Rosa is the way, and the only way, and the sure way."
"Oh, no," said Rosa, interposing. "Uncle Philip was right. I am very foolish and inexperienced, but I am not so vain as to turn from good advice. I will never employ a broker again, sir."
Uncle Philip smiled and looked pleased.
Mrs. Cole caused a diversion by taking leave, and Rosa followed her down-stairs. On her return she found Christopher telling his uncle all about the Bijou, and how he had taken it for £130 a year and £100 premium, and Uncle Philip staring fearfully.
At last he found his tongue. "The Bijou!" said he. "Why, that is a name they gave to a little den in Dear Street, Mayfair. You haven't ever been and taken that! Built over a mews."
Christopher groaned. "That is the place, I fear."
"Why the owner is a friend of mine; an old patient. Stables stunk him out. Let it to a man; I forget his name. Stables stunk him out. He said, 'I shall go.' 'You can't,' said my friend; 'you have taken a lease.' 'Lease be d--d,' said the other; 'I never took your house; here's quite a large stench not specified in your description of the property--it can't be the same place;' flung the lease at his head, and cut like the wind to foreign parts less odoriferous. I'd have got you the hole for ninety; but you are like your wife--you must go to an agent. What! don't you know that an agent is a man acting for you with an interest opposed to yours? Employing an agent! it is like a Trojan seeking the aid of a Greek. You needn't cry, Mrs. Staines; your husband has been let in deeper than you have. Now, you are young people beginning life; I'll give you a piece of advice. Employ others to do what you can't do, and it must be done; but never to do anything you can do better for yourselves! Agent! The word is derived from a Latin word 'agere,' to do; and agents act up to their etymology, for they invariably do the nincompoop that employs them, or deals with them, in any mortal way. I'd have got you that beastly little Bijou for £90 a year."
Uncle Philip went away crusty, leaving the young couple finely mortified and discouraged.
That did not last very long. Christopher noted the experience and Uncle Phil's wisdom in his diary, and then took his wife on his knee, and comforted her, and said, "Never mind; experience is worth money, and it always has to be bought. Those who cheat us will die poorer than we shall, if we are honest and economical. I have observed that people are seldom ruined by the vices of others; these may hurt them, of course; but it is only their own faults and follies that can destroy them."
"Ah! Christie," said Rosa, "you are a man! Oh, the comfort of being married to a man! A man sees the best side. I do adore men. Dearest, I will waste no more of your money. I will go to no more sales."
Christopher saw she was deeply mortified, and he said, quietly, "On the contrary, you will go to the very next. Only take Uncle Philip's advice, employ no broker; and watch the prices things fetch when you are not bidding; and keep cool."
She caressed his ears with both her white hands, and thanked him for giving her another trial. So that trouble melted in the sunshine of conjugal love.
Notwithstanding the agent's solemn assurance, the Bijou was out of repair. Dr. Staines detected internal odors, as well as those that flowed in from the mews. He was not the man to let his wife perish by miasma; so he had the drains all up, and actually found brick drains, and a cesspool. He stopped that up, and laid down new pipe drains, with a good fall, and properly trapped. The old drains were hidden, after the manner of builders. He had the whole course of his new drains marked upon all the floors they passed under, and had several stones and boards hinged to facilitate examination at any period.
But all this, with the necessary cleaning, whitewashing, painting, and papering, ran away with money. Then came Rosa's purchases, which, to her amazement, amounted to £190, and not a carpet, curtain, or bed amongst the lot. Then there was the carriage home from the auction-room, an expense one avoids by buying at a shop, and the broker claimed his shilling in the pound. This, however, Staines refused. The man came and blustered. Rosa, who was there, trembled. Then, for the first time, she saw her husband's brow lower; he seemed transfigured, and looked terrible. "You scoundrel," said he, "you set another villain like yourself to bid against you, and you betrayed the innocent lady that employed you. I could indict you and your confederate for a conspiracy. I take the goods out of respect for my wife's credit, but you shall gain nothing by swindling her. Be off, you heartless miscreant, or I'll--"
"I'll take the law, if you do."
"Take it, then! I'll give you something to howl for;" and he seized him with a grasp so tremendous that the fellow cried out in dismay, "Oh! don't hit me, sir; pray don't."
On this abject appeal, Staines tore the door open with his left hand, and spun the broker out into the passage with his right. Two movements of this angry Hercules, and the man was literally whirled out of sight with a rapidity and swiftness almost ludicrous; it was like a trick in a pantomime. A clatter on the stairs betrayed that he had gone down the first few steps in a wholesale and irregular manner, though he had just managed to keep his feet.
As for Staines, he stood there still lowering like thunder, and his eyes like hot coals; but his wife threw her tender arms around him, and begged him consolingly not to mind.
She was trembling like an aspen.
"Dear me," said Christopher, with a ludicrous change to marked politeness and respect, "I forgot you, in my righteous indignation." Next he became uxorious. "Did they frighten her, a duck? Sit on my knee, darling, and pull my hair, for not being more considerate--there! there!"
This was followed by the whole absurd soothing process, as practised by manly husbands upon quivering and somewhat hysterical wives, and ended with a formal apology. "You must not think that I am passionate; on the contrary, I am always practising self-government. My maxim is, Animum rege qui nisi paret imperat; and that means, Make your temper your servant, or else it will be your master. But to ill-use my dear little wife--it is unnatural, it is monstrous, it makes my blood boil."
"Oh, dear! don't go into another. It is all over. I can't bear to see you in a passion; you are so terrible, so beautiful. Ah! they are fine things, courage and strength. There's nothing I admire so much."
"Why, they are as common as dirt. What I admire is modesty, timidity, sweetness; the sensitive cheek that pales or blushes at a word, the bosom that quivers, and clings to a fellow whenever anything goes wrong."
"Oh, that is what you admire, is it?" said Rosa dryly.
"Admire it?" said Christopher, not seeing the trap; "I adore it."
"Then, Christie, dear, you are a Simpleton, that is all. And we are made for one another."
The house was to be furnished and occupied as soon as possible; so Mrs. Staines and Mrs. Cole went to another sale-room. Mrs. Staines remembered all Uncle Philip had said, and went plainly dressed; but her friend declined to sacrifice her showy dress to her friend's interests. Rosa thought that a little unkind, but said nothing.
In this auction-room they easily got a place at the table, but did not find it heaven; for a number of secondhand carpets were in the sale, and these, brimful of dust, were all shown on the table, and the dirt choked, and poisoned our fair friends. Brokers pestered them, until at last Rosa, smarting under her late exposure, addressed the auctioneer quietly, in her silvery tones: "Sir, these gentlemen are annoying me by forcing their services on me. I do not intend to buy at all unless I can be allowed to bid for myself."
When Rosa, blushing and amazed at her own boldness, uttered these words, she little foresaw their effect. She had touched a popular sore.
"You are quite right, madam," said a respectable tradesman opposite her. "What business have these dirty fellows, without a shilling in their pockets, to go and force themselves on a lady against her will?"
"It has been complained of in the papers again and again," said another.
"What! mayn't we live as well as you?" retorted a broker.
"Yes, but not to force yourself on a lady. Why, she'd give you in charge of the police if you tried it on outside."
Then there was a downright clamor of discussion and chaff.
Presently up rises very slowly a countryman so colossal, that it seemed as if he would never have done getting up, and gives his experiences. He informed the company, in a broad Yorkshire dialect, that he did a bit in furniture, and at first starting these brokers buzzed about him like flies, and pestered him. "Aah damned 'em pretty hard," said he, "but they didn't heed any. So then ah spoke 'em civil, and ah said, 'Well, lads, I dinna come fra Yorkshire to sit like a dummy and let you buy wi' my brass; the first that pesters me again ah'll just fell him on t' plaace, like a caulf, and ah'm not very sure he'll get up again in a hurry.' So they dropped me like a hot potato; never pestered me again. But if they won't give over pestering you, mistress, ah'll come round and just stand behind your chair, and bring nieve with me," showing a fist like a leg of mutton.
"No, no," said the auctioneer, "that will not do. I will have no disturbance here. Call the policeman."
While the clerk went to the door for the bobby, a gentleman reminded the auctioneer that the journals had repeatedly drawn attention to the nuisance.
"Fault of the public, not mine, sir. Policeman, stand behind that lady's chair, and if anybody annoys her put him quietly into the street."
"This auction-room will be to let soon," said a voice at the end of the table.
"This auction-room," said the auctioneer, master of the gay or grave at a moment's notice, "is supported by the public and the trade; it is not supported by paupers."
A Jew upholsterer put in his word. "I do my own business; but I like to let a poor man live."
"Jonathan," said the auctioneer to one of his servants, "after this sale you may put up the shutters; we have gone and offended Mr. Jacobs. He keeps a shop in Blind Alley, Whitechapel. Now then, lot 69."
Rosa bid timidly for one or two lots, and bought them cheap.
The auctioneer kept looking her way, and she had only to nod.
The obnoxious broker got opposite her, and ran her up a little out of spite; but as he had only got half a crown about him, and no means of doubling it, he dared not go far.
On the other side of the table was a figure to which Rosa's eyes often turned with interest--a fair young boy about twelve years old; he had golden hair, and was in deep mourning. His appearance interested Rosa, and she wondered how he came there, and why; he looked like a lamb wedged in among wolves, a flower among weeds. As the lots proceeded, the boy seemed to get uneasy; and at last, when lot '73 was put up, anybody could see in his poor little face that he was there to bid for it.
"Lot '73, an armchair covered in morocco. An excellent and useful article. Should not be at all surprised if it was made by Gillow."
"Gillow would though," said Jacobs, who owed him a turn.
Chorus of dealers.--"Haw! haw!"
The auctioneer.--"I like to hear some people run a lot down; shows they are going to bid for it in earnest. Well, name your own price. Five pounds to begin?"
Now if nobody had spoken the auctioneer would have gone on, "Well, four pounds then--three, two, whatever you like," and at last obtained a bona fide offer of thirty shillings; but the moment he said "Five pounds to begin," the boy in black lifted up his childish treble and bid thus, "Five pound ten"--"six pounds"--"six pound ten"--"seven pounds"--"seven pound ten"--"eight pounds"-- "eight pound ten"--"nine pounds"--"nine pound ten"--"ten pounds!" without interruption, and indeed almost in a breath.
There was a momentary pause of amazement, and then an outburst of chaff.
"Nice little boy!"
"Didn't he say his lesson well?"
"Favor us with your card, sir. You are a gent as knows how to buy."
"What did he stop for? If it's worth ten, it is worth a hundred."
"Bless the child!" said a female dealer, kindly, "what made you go on like that? Why, there was no one bid against you! you'd have got it for two pounds--a rickety old thing."
Young master began to whimper. "Why, the gentleman said, 'Five pounds to begin.' It was the chair poor grandpapa always sat in, and all the things are sold, and mamma said it would break her heart to lose it. She was too ill to come, so she sent me. She told me I was not to let it be sold away from us for less than ten pounds, or she sh--should be m--m--miserable," and the poor little fellow began to cry. Rosa followed suit promptly but unobtrusively.
"Sentiment always costs money," said Mr. Jacobs, gravely.
"How do you know?" asked Mr. Cohen. "Have you got any on hand? I never seen none at your shop."
Some tempting things now came up, and Mrs. Staines bid freely; but all of a sudden she looked down the table, and there was Uncle Philip, twinkling as before. "Oh, dear! what am I doing now!" thought she. "I have got no broker."
She bid on, but in fear and trembling, because of those twinkling eyes. At last she mustered courage, wrote on a leaf of her pocket-book, and passed it down to him: "It would be only kind to warn me. What am I doing wrong?"
He sent her back a line directly: "Auctioneer running you up himself. Follow his eye when he bids; you will see there is no bona fide bidder at your prices."
Rosa did so, and found that it was true.
She nodded to Uncle Philip; and, with her expressive face, asked him what she should do.
The old boy must have his joke. So he wrote back: "Tell him, as you see he has a fancy for certain articles, you would not be so discourteous as to bid against him."
The next article but one was a drawing-room suite Rosa wanted; but the auctioneer bid against her; so at eighteen pounds she stopped.
"It is against you, madam," said the auctioneer.
"Yes, sir," said Rosa; "but as you are the only bidder, and you have been so kind to me, I would not think of opposing you."
The words were scarcely out of her mouth, when they were greeted with a roar of Homeric laughter that literally shook the room, and this time not at the expense of the innocent speaker.
"That's into your mutton, governor."
"Sharp's the word this time."
"I say, governor, don't you want a broker to bid for ye?"
"Wink at me next time, sir; I'll do the office for you."
"No greenhorns left now."
"That lady won't give a ten-pund note for her grandfather's armchair."
"Oh, yes, she will, if it's stuffed with banknotes."
"Put the next lot up with the owner's name and the reserve price. Open business."
"And sing a psalm at starting."
"A little less noise in Judaea, if you please," said the auctioneer, who had now recovered from the blow. "Lot 97."
This was a very pretty marqueterie cabinet; it stood against the wall, and Rosa had set her heart upon it. Nobody would bid. She had muzzled the auctioneer effectually.
"Your own price."
"Two pounds," said Rosa.
A dealer offered guineas; and it advanced slowly to four pounds and half a crown, at which it was about to be knocked down to Rosa, when suddenly a new bidder arose in the broker Rosa had rejected. They bid slowly and sturdily against each other, until a line was given to Rosa from Uncle Philip.
"This time it is your own friend, the snipe-nosed woman. She telegraphed a broker."
Rosa read, and crushed the note. "Six guineas," said she.
"Ten guineas," said Rosa; and then, with feminine cunning, stealing a sudden glance, caught her friend leaning back and signalling the broker not to give in.
"It is yours, my faithful friend," said Rosa, turning suddenly round to Mrs. Cole, with a magnificent glance no one would have thought her capable of.
Then she rose and stalked away.
Dumfounded for the moment, Mrs. Cole followed her, and stopped her at the door.
"Why, Rosie dear, it is the only thing I have bid for. There I've sat by your side like a mouse."
Rosa turned gravely towards her. "You know it is not that. You had only to tell me you wanted it. I would never have been so mean as to bid against you."
"Mean, indeed!" said. Florence, tossing her head.
"Yes, mean; to draw back and hide behind the friend you were with, and employ the very rogue she had turned off. But it is my own fault. Cecilia warned me against you. She always said you were a treacherous girl."
"And I say you are an impudent little minx. Only just married, and going about like two vagabonds, and talk to me like that!"
"We are not going about like two vagabonds. We have taken a house in Mayfair."
"Say a stable."
"It was by your advice, you false-hearted creature."
"You are a fool."
"You are worse; you are a traitress."
"Then don't you have anything to do with me."
"Heaven forbid I should, you treacherous thing!"
"You insolent--insolent--I hate you."
"And I despise you."
"I always hated you at bottom."
"That's why you pretended to love me, you wretch."
"Well, I pretend no more. I am your enemy for life."
"Thank you. You have told the truth for once in your life."
"I have. And he shall never call in your husband; so you may leave Mayfair as soon as you like."
"Not to please you, madam. We can get on without traitors."
And so they parted, with eyes that gleamed like tigers.
Rosa drove home in great agitation, and tried to tell Christopher; but choked, and became hysterical. The husband-physician coaxed and scolded her out of that; and presently in came Uncle Philip, full of the humors of the auction-room. He told about the little boy with a delight that disgusted Mrs. Staines, and then was particularly merry on female friendships. "Fancy a man going to a sale with his friend, and bidding against him on the sly."
"She is no friend of mine. We are enemies for life."
"And you were to be friends till death," said Staines, with a sigh.
Philip inquired who she was.
"Mrs. John Cole."
"Not of Curzon Street?"
"And you have quarrelled with her?"
"Well, but her husband is a general practitioner."
"She is a traitress."
"But her husband could put a good deal of money in Christopher's way."
"I can't help it. She is a traitress."
"And you have quarrelled with her about an old wardrobe."
"No, for her disloyalty, and her base good-for-nothingness. Oh! oh! oh!"
Uncle Philip got up, looking sour. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Christopher," said he, very dryly.
Christopher accompanied him to the foot of the stairs. "Well, Christopher," said he, "matrimony is a blunder at the best; and you have not done the thing by halves. You have married a simpleton. She will be your ruin."
"Uncle Philip, since you only come here to insult us, I hope in future you will stay at home."
"Oh! with pleasure, sir. Good-by!"
CHRISTOPHER STAINES came back looking pained and disturbed. "There," said he, "I feared it would come to this. I have quarrelled with Uncle Philip."
"Oh! how could you?"
"He affronted me."
"Never you mind. Don't let us say anything more about it, darling. It is a pity, a sad pity--he was a good friend of mine once."
He paused, entered what had passed in his diary, and then sat down, with a gentle expression of sadness on his manly features. Rosa hung about him, soft and pitying, till it cleared away, at all events for the time.
Next day they went together to clear the goods Rosa had purchased. Whilst the list was being made out in the office, in came the fair-haired boy, with a ten-pound note in his very hand. Rosa caught sight of it, and turned to the auctioneer, with a sweet, pitying face:
"Oh! sir, surely you will not take all that money from him, poor child, for a rickety old chair."
The auctioneer stared with amazement at her simplicity, and said, "What would the vendors say to me?"
She looked distressed, and said, "Well, then, really we ought to raise a subscription, poor thing!"
"Why, ma'am," said the auctioneer, "he isn't hurt: the article belonged to his mother and her sister; the brother-in-law isn't on good terms; so he demanded a public sale. She will get back four pun ten out of it." Here the clerk put in his word. "And there's five pounds paid, I forgot to tell you."
"Oh! left a deposit, did he?"
"No, sir. But the laughing hyena gave you five pounds at the end of the sale."
"The laughing hyena, Mr. Jones?"
"Oh! beg pardon; that is what we call him in the room. He has got such a curious laugh."
"Oh! I know the gent. He is a retired doctor. I wish he'd laugh less and buy more: and he gave you five pounds towards the young gentleman's arm-chair! Well, I should as soon have expected blood from a flint. You have got five pounds to pay, sir: so now the chair will cost your mamma ten shillings. Give him the order and the change, Mr. Jones."
Christopher and Rosa talked this over in the room whilst the men were looking out their purchases. "Come," said Rosa; "now I forgive him sneering at me; his heart is not really hard, you see." Staines, on the contrary, was very angry. "What!" he cried, pity a boy who made one bad bargain, that, after all, was not a very bad bargain; and he had no kindness, nor even common humanity, for my beautiful Rosa, inexperienced as a child, and buying for her husband, like a good, affectionate, honest creature, amongst a lot of sharpers and hard-hearted cynics--like himself."
"It was cruel of him," said Rosa, altering her mind in a moment, and half inclined to cry.
This made Christopher furious. "The ill-natured, crotchety, old-- The fact is, he is a misogynist."
"Oh, the wretch!" said Rosa warmly. "And what is that?"
"Oh! is that all? Why, so do I--after that Florence Cole. Women are mean, heartless things. Give me men; they are loyal and true."
"All of them?" inquired Christopher, a little satirically. "Read the papers."
"Every soul of them," said Mrs. Staines, passing loftily over the proposed test. "That is, all the ones I care about; and that is my own, own one."
Disagreeable creatures to have about one--these simpletons!
Mrs. Staines took Christopher to shops to buy the remaining requisites: and in three days more the house was furnished, two female servants engaged, and the couple took their luggage over to the Bijou.
Rosa was excited and happy at the novelty of possession and authority, and that close sense of house proprietorship which belongs to woman. By dinner-time she could have told you how many shelves there were in every cupboard, and knew the Bijou by heart in a way that Christopher never knew it. All this ended, as running about and excitement generally does, with my lady being exhausted, and lax with fatigue. So then he made her lie down on a little couch, while he went through his accounts.
When he had examined all the bills carefully he looked very grave, and said, "Who would believe this? We began with £3000. It was to last us several years--till I got a good practice. Rosa, there is only £1440 left."
"Oh, impossible!" said Rosa. "Oh, dear! why did I ever enter a saleroom?"
"No, no, my darling; you were bitten once or twice, but you made some good bargains too. Remember there was £400 set apart for my life policy."
"What a waste of money!"
"Your father did not think so. Then the lease; the premium; repairs of the drains that would have poisoned my Rosa; turning the coach-house into a dispensary; painting, papering, and furnishing; china, and linen, and everything to buy. We must look at this seriously. Only £1440 left. A slow profession. No friends. I have quarrelled with Uncle Philip: you with Mrs. Cole; and her husband would have launched me."
"And it was to please her we settled here. Oh, I could kill her: nasty cat!"
"Never mind; it is not a case for despondency, but it is for prudence. All we have to do is to look the thing in the face, and be very economical in everything. I had better give you an allowance for housekeeping; and I earnestly beg you to buy things yourself whilst you are a poor man's wife, and pay ready money for everything. My mother was a great manager, and she always said, 'There is but one way: be your own market-woman, and pay on the spot; never let the tradesmen get you on their books, or, what with false weight, double charges, and the things your servants order that never enter the house, you lose more than a hundred a year by cheating.'"
Rosa yielded a languid assent to this part of his discourse, and it hardly seemed to enter her mind; but she raised no objection; and in due course he made her a special allowance for housekeeping.
It soon transpired that medical advice was to be had, gratis, at the Bijou, from eight till ten: and there was generally a good attendance. But a week passed, and not one patient came of the class this couple must live by. Christopher set this down to what people call "the transition period:" his Kent patients had lost him; his London patients not found him. He wrote to all his patients in the country, and many of his pupils at the university, to let them know where he was settled: and then he waited.
Not a creature came.
Rosa bore this very well for a time, so long as the house was a novelty; but when that excitement was worn out, she began to be very dull, and used to come and entice him out to walk with her: he would look wistfully at her, but object that, if he left the house, he should be sure to lose a patient.
"Oh, they won't come any more for our staying in--tiresome things!" said Rosa.
But Christopher would kiss her, and remain firm. "My love," said he, "you do not realize how hard a fight there is before us. How should you? You are very young. No, for your sake, I must not throw a chance away. Write to your female friends: that will while away an hour or two."
"What, after that Florence Cole?"
"Write to those who have not made such violent professions."
"So I will, dear. Especially to those that are married and come to London. Oh, and I'll write to that cold-blooded thing, Lady Cicely Treherne. Why do you shake your head?"
"Did I? I was not aware. Well, dear, if ladies of rank were to come here, I fear they might make you discontented with your lot."
"All the women on earth could not do that. However, the chances are she will not come near me: she left the school quite a big girl, an immense girl, when I was only twelve. She used to smile at my capriccios; and once she kissed me--actually. She was an awful Sawny, though, and so affected: I think I will write to her."
These letters brought just one lady, a Mrs. Turner, who talked to Rosa very glibly about herself, and amused Rosa twice: at the third visit, Rosa tried to change the conversation. Mrs. Turner instantly got up, and went away. She could not bear the sound of the human voice, unless it was talking about her and her affairs.
And now Staines began to feel downright uneasy. Income was going steadily out: not a shilling coming in. The lame, the blind, and the sick frequented his dispensary, and got his skill out of him gratis, and sometimes a little physic, a little wine, and other things that cost him money: but of the patients that pay, not one came to his front door.
He walked round and round his little yard, like a hyena in its cage, waiting, waiting, waiting: and oh! how he envied the lot of those who can hunt for work, instead of having to stay at home and wait for others to come, whose will they cannot influence. His heart began to sicken with hope deferred, and dim forebodings of the future; and he saw, with grief, that his wife was getting duller and duller, and that her days dragged more heavily, far than his own; for he could study.
At last his knocker began to show signs of life: his visitors were physicians. His lectures on "Diagnosis" were well known to them; and one after another found him out. They were polite, kind, even friendly; but here it ended: these gentlemen, of course, did not resign their patients to him; and the inferior class of practitioners avoided his door like a pestilence.
Mrs. Staines, who had always lived for amusement, could strike out no fixed occupation; her time hung like lead; the house was small; and in small houses the faults of servants run against the mistress, and she can't help seeing them, and all the worse for her. It is easier to keep things clean in the country, and Rosa had a high standard, which her two servants could never quite attain. This annoyed her, and she began to scold a little. They answered civilly, but in other respects remained imperfect beings; they laid out every shilling they earned in finery; and, this, I am ashamed to say, irritated Mrs. Staines, who was wearing out her wedding garments, and had no excuse for buying, and Staines had begged her to be economical. The more they dressed, the more she scolded; they began to answer. She gave the cook warning; the other, though not on good terms with the cook, had a gush of esprit du corps directly, and gave Mrs. Staines warning.
Mrs. Staines told her husband all this: he took her part, though without openly interfering; and they had two new servants, not so good as the last.
This worried Rosa sadly; but it was a flea-bite to the deeper nature, and more forecasting mind of her husband, still doomed to pace that miserable yard, like a hyena, chafing, seeking, longing for the patient that never came.
Rosa used to look out of his dressing-room window, and see him pace the yard. At first, tears of pity stood in her eyes. By and by she got angry with the world; and at last, strange to say, a little irritated with him. It is hard for a weak woman to keep up all her respect for the man that fails.
One day, after watching him a long time unseen, she got excited, put on her shawl and bonnet, and ran down to him: she took him by the arm: "If you love me, come out of this prison, and walk with me; we are too miserable. I shall be your first patient if this goes on much longer." He looked at her, saw she was very excited, and had better be humored; so he kissed her and just said, with a melancholy smile, "How poor are they that have not patience!" Then he put on his hat, and walked in the Park and Kensington Gardens with her. The season was just beginning. There were carriages enough, and gay Amazons enough, to make poor Rosa sigh more than once.
Christopher heard the sigh; and pressed her arm, and said, "Courage, love, I hope to see you among them yet."
"The sooner the better," said she, a little hardly.
"And, meantime, which of them all is as beautiful as you?"
"All I know is, they are more attractive. Who looks at me, walking tamely by?"
Christopher said nothing: but these words seemed to imply a thirst for admiration, and made him a little uneasy.
By and by the walk put the swift-changing Rosa in spirits, and she began to chat gayly, and hung prattling and beaming on her husband's arm, when they entered Curzon Street. Here, however, occurred an incident, trifling in itself, but unpleasant. Dr. Staines saw one of his best Kentish patients get feebly out of his carriage, and call on Dr. Barr. He started, and stopped. Rosa asked what was the matter. He told her. She said, "We are unfortunate."
Staines said nothing; he only quickened his pace; but he was greatly disturbed. She expected him to complain that she had dragged him out, and lost him that first chance. But he said nothing. When they got home, he asked the servant had anybody called.
"Surely you are mistaken, Jane. A gentleman in a carriage!"
"Not a creature have been since you went out, sir."
"Well, then, dearest," said he sweetly, "we have nothing to reproach ourselves with." Then he knit his brow gloomily. "It is worse than I thought. It seems even one's country patients go to another doctor when they visit London. It is hard. It is hard."
Rosa leaned her head on his shoulder, and curled round him, as one she would shield against the world's injustice; but she said nothing; she was a little frightened at his eye that lowered, and his noble frame that trembled a little, with ire suppressed.
Two days after this, a brougham drove up to the door, and a tallish, fattish, pasty-faced man got out, and inquired for Dr. Staines.
He was shown into the dining-room, and told Jane he had come to consult the doctor.
Rosa had peeped over the stairs, all curiosity; she glided noiselessly down, and with love's swift foot got into the yard before Jane. "He is come! he is come! Kiss me."
Dr. Staines kissed her first, and then asked who was come.
"Oh, nobody of any consequence. Only the first patient. Kiss me again."
Dr. Staines kissed her again, and then was for going to the first patient.
"No," said she; "not yet. I met a doctor's wife at Dr. Mayne's, and she told me things. You must always keep them waiting; or else they think nothing of you. Such a funny woman! 'Treat 'em like dogs, my dear,' she said. But I told her they wouldn't come to be treated like dogs or any other animal."
"You had better have kept that to yourself, I think."
"Oh! if you are going to be disagreeable, good-by. You can go to your patient, sir. Christie, dear, if he is very--very ill--and I'm sure I hope he is--oh, how wicked I am; may I have a new bonnet?"
"If you really want one."
On the patient's card was "Mr. Pettigrew, 47 Manchester Square."
As soon as Staines entered the room, the first patient told him who and what he was, a retired civilian from India; but he had got a son there still, a very rising man; wanted to be a parson; but he would not stand that; bad profession; don't rise by merit; very hard to rise at all;--no, India was the place. "As for me, I made my fortune there in ten years. Obliged to leave it now--invalid this many years; no tone. Tried two or three doctors in this neighborhood; heard there was a new one, had written a book on something. Thought I would try him."
To stop him, Staines requested to feel his pulse, and examine his tongue and eye.
"You are suffering from indigestion," said he. "I will write you a prescription; but if you want to get well, you must simplify your diet very much."
While he was writing the prescription, off went this patient's tongue, and ran through the topics of the day and into his family history again.
Staines listened politely. He could afford it, having only this one.
At last, the first patient, having delivered an octavo volume of nothing, rose to go; but it seems that speaking an "infinite deal of nothing" exhausts the body, though it does not affect the mind; for the first patient sank down in his chair again. "I have excited myself too much--feel rather faint."
Staines saw no signs of coming syncope; he rang the bell quietly, and ordered a decanter of sherry to be brought; the first patient filled himself a glass; then another; and went off, revived, to chatter elsewhere. But at the door he said, "I had always a running account with Dr. Mivar. I suppose you don't object to that system. Double fee the first visit, single afterwards."
Dr. Staines bowed a little stiffly; he would have preferred the money. However, he looked at the Blue Book, and found his visitor lived at 47 Manchester Square; so that removed his anxiety.
The first patient called every other day, chattered nineteen to the dozen, was exhausted, drank two glasses of sherry, and drove away.
Soon after this a second patient called. This one was a deputy patient--Collett, a retired butler--kept a lodging-house, and waited at parties; he lived close by, but had a married daughter in Chelsea. Would the doctor visit her, and he would be responsible?
Staines paid the woman a visit or two, and treated her so effectually, that soon her visits were paid to him. She was cured, and Staines, who by this time wanted to see money, sent to Collett.
Collett did not answer.
Staines wrote warmly.
Collett dead silent.
Staines employed a solicitor.
Collett said he had recommended the patient, that was all. He had never said he would pay her debts. That was her husband's business.
Now her husband was the mate of a ship; would not be in England for eighteen months.
The woman, visited by lawyer's clerk, cried bitterly, and said she and her children had scarcely enough to eat.
Lawyer advised Staines to abandon the case, and pay him two pounds fifteen shillings expenses. He did so.
"This is damnable," said he. "I must get it out of Pettigrew; by-the-by, he has not been here this two days."
He waited another day for Pettigrew, and then wrote to him. No answer. Called. Pettigrew gone abroad. House in Manchester Square to let.
Staines went to the house-agent with his tale. Agent was impenetrable at first; but, at last, won by the doctor's manner and his unhappiness, referred him to Pettigrew's solicitor; the solicitor was a respectable man, and said he would forward the claim to Pettigrew in Paris.
But by this time Pettigrew was chattering and guzzling in Berlin; and thence he got to St. Petersburg. In that stronghold of gluttony, he gormandized more than ever, and, being unable to talk it off his stomach, as in other cities, had apoplexy, and died.
But long before this Staines saw his money was as irrecoverable as his sherry; and he said to Rosa, "I wonder whether I shall ever live to curse the human race?"
"Heaven forbid!" said Rosa. "Oh, they use you cruelly, my poor, poor Christie!"
Thus for months the young doctor's patients bled him, and that was all.
And Rosa got more and more moped at being in the house so much, and pestered Christopher to take her out, and he declined: and, being a man hard to beat, took to writing on medical subjects, in hopes of getting some money from the various medical and scientific publications; but he found it as hard to get the wedge in there as to get patients.
At last Rosa's remonstrances began to rise into something that sounded like reproaches. One Sunday she came to him in her bonnet, and interrupted his studies, to say he might as well lay down the pen, and talk. Nobody would publish anything he wrote.
Christopher frowned, but contained himself, and laid down the pen.
"I might as well not be married at all as be a doctor's wife. You are never seen out with me, not even to church. Do behave like a Christian, and come to church with me now."
Dr. Staines shook his head.
"Why, I wouldn't miss church for all the world. Any excitement is better than always moping. Come over the water with me. The time Jane and I went, the clergyman read a paper that Mr. Brown had fallen down in a fit. There was such a rush directly, and I'm sure fifty ladies went out--fancy, all Mrs. Browns! Wasn't that fun?"
"Fun? I don't see it. Well, Rosa, your mind is evidently better adapted to diversion than mine is. Go you to church, love, and I'll continue my studies."
"Then all I can say is, I wish I was back in my father's house. Husband! friend! companion!--I have none."
Then she burst out crying violently; and, being shocked at what she had said, and at the agony it had brought into her husband's face, she went off into hysterics; and as his heart would not let him bellow at her, or empty a bucket on her as he would on another patient, she had a good long bout of them: and got her way, for she broke up his studies for that day, at all events.
Even after the hysterics were got under, she continued to moan and sigh very prettily, with her lovely, languid head pillowed on her husband's arm; in a word, though the hysterics were real, yet this innocent young person had the presence of mind to postpone entire convalescence, and lay herself out to be petted all day. But fate willed it otherwise: while she was sighing and moaning, came to the door a scurrying of feet, and then a sharp, persistent ringing that meant something. The moaner cocked eye and ear, and said, in her every-day voice, which, coming so suddenly, sounded very droll, "What is that, I wonder?"
Jane hurried to the street-door, and Rosa recovered by magic; and, preferring gossip to hysterics, in an almost gleeful whisper, ordered Christopher to open the door of the study. The Bijou was so small that the following dialogue rang in their ears:--
A boy in buttons gasped out, "Oh, if you please, will you ast the doctor to come round directly; there's a haccident."
"La, bless me!" said Jane, and never budged.
"Yes, miss. It's our missus's little girl fallen right off an i-chair, and cut her head dreadful, and smothered in blood."
"La, to be sure!" And she waited steadily for more.
"Ay, and missus she fainted right off; and I've been to the regler doctor, which he's out; and Sarah, the housemaid, said I had better come here; you was only just set up, she said; you wouldn't have so much to do, says she."
"That is all she knows," said Jane. "Why, our master--they pulls him in pieces which is to have him fust."
"What an awful liar! Oh, you good girl!" whispered Dr. Staines and Rosa in one breath.
"Ah, well," said Buttons, "any way, Sarah says she knows you are clever, 'cos her little girl as lives with her mother, and calls Sarah aunt, has bin to your 'spensary with ringworm, and you cured her right off."
"Ay, and a good many more," said Jane, loftily. She was a housemaid of imagination; and while Staines was putting some lint and an instrument case into his pocket, she proceeded to relate a number of miraculous cures. Dr. Staines interrupted them by suddenly emerging, and inviting Buttons to take him to the house.
Mrs. Staines was so pleased with Jane for cracking up the doctor, that she gave her five shillings; and, after that, used to talk to her a great deal more than to the cook, which judicious conduct presently set all three by the ears.
Buttons took the doctor to a fine house in the same street, and told him his mistress's name on the way--Mrs. Lucas. He was taken up to the nursery, and found Mrs. Lucas seated, crying and lamenting, and a woman holding a little girl of about seven, whose brow had been cut open by the fender, on which she had fallen from a chair; it looked very ugly, and was even now bleeding.
Dr. Staines lost no time; he examined the wound keenly, and then said kindly to Mrs. Lucas, "I am happy to tell you it is not serious." He then asked for a large basin and some tepid water, and bathed it so softly and soothingly that the child soon became composed; and the mother discovered the artist at once. He compressed the wound, and explained to Mrs. Lucas that the principal thing really was to avoid an ugly scar. "There is no danger," said he. He then bound the wound neatly up, and had the girl put to bed. "You will not wake her at any particular hour, nurse. Let her sleep. Have a little strong beef-tea ready, and give it her at any hour, night or day, she asks for it. But do not force it on her, or you will do her more harm than good. She had better sleep before she eats."
Mrs. Lucas begged him to come every morning; and, as he was going, she shook hands with him, and the soft palm deposited a hard substance wrapped in paper. He took it with professional gravity and seeming unconsciousness; but, once outside the house, went home on wings. He ran up to the drawing-room, and found his wife seated, and playing at reading. He threw himself on his knees, and the fee into her lap; and, while she unfolded the paper with an ejaculation of pleasure, he said, "Darling, the first real patient--the first real fee. It is yours to buy the new bonnet."
"Oh, I'm so glad!" said she, with her eyes glistening. "But I'm afraid one can't get a bonnet fit to wear--for a guinea."
Dr. Staines visited his little patient every day, and received his guinea. Mrs. Lucas also called him in for her own little ailments, and they were the best possible kind of ailments: for, being imaginary, there was no limit to them.
Then did Mrs. Staines turn jealous of her husband. "They never ask me," said she; "and I am moped to death."
"It is hard," said Christopher, sadly. "But have a little patience. Society will come to you long before practice comes to me."
About two o'clock one afternoon a carriage and pair drove up, and a gorgeous footman delivered a card--"Lady Cicely Treherne."
Of course Mrs. Staines was at home, and only withheld by propriety from bounding into the passage to meet her school-fellow. However, she composed herself in the drawing-room, and presently the door was opened, and a very tall young woman, richly but not gayly dressed, drifted into the room, and stood there a statue of composure.
Rosa had risen to fly to her; but the reverence a girl of eighteen strikes into a child of twelve hung about her still, and she came timidly forward, blushing and sparkling, a curious contrast in color and mind to her visitor; for Lady Cicely was Languor in person--her hair whitey-brown, her face a fine oval, but almost colorless; her eyes a pale gray, her neck and hands incomparably white and beautiful--a lymphatic young lady, a live antidote to emotion. However, Rosa's beauty, timidity, and undisguised affectionateness were something so different from what she was used to in the world of fashion, that she actually smiled, and held out both her hands a little way. Rosa seized them, and pressed them; they left her; and remained passive and limp.
"O Lady Cicely," said Rosa, "how kind of you to come."
"How kind of you to send to me," was the polite, but perfectly cool reply. "But how you are gwown, and--may I say impwoved?--You la petite Lusignan! It is incwedible," lisped her ladyship, very calmly.
"I was only a child," said Rosa. "You were always so beautiful and tall, and kind to a little monkey like me. Oh, pray sit down, Lady Cicely, and talk of old times."
She drew her gently to the sofa, and they sat down hand in hand; but Lady Cicely's high-bred reserve made her a very poor gossip about anything that touched herself and her family; so Rosa, though no egotist, was drawn into talking about herself more than she would have done had she deliberately planned the conversation. But here was an old school-fellow, and a singularly polite listener, and so out came her love, her genuine happiness, her particular griefs, and especially the crowning grievance, no society, moped to death, etc.
Lady Cicely could hardly understand the sentiment in a woman who so evidently loved her husband. "Society!" said she, after due reflection, "why, it is a boa." (And here I may as well explain that Lady Cicely spoke certain words falsely, and others affectedly; and as for the letter r, she could say it if she made a hearty effort, but was generally too lazy to throw her leg over it.) "Society! I'm dwenched to death with it. If I could only catch fiah like other women, and love somebody, I would much rather have a tete-a-tete with him than go teawing about all day and all night, from one unintwisting cwowd to another. To be sure," said she, puzzling the matter out, "you are a beauty, and would be more looked at."
"The idea! and--oh no! no! it is not that. But even in the country we had always some society."
"Well, dyar, believe me, with your appeawance, you can have as much society as you please; but it will boa you to death, as it does me, and then you will long to be left quiet with a sensible man who loves you."
Said Rosa, "When shall I have another tete-a-tete with you, I wonder? Oh, it has been such a comfort to me. Bless you for coming. There--I wrote to Cecilia, and Emily, and Mrs. Bosanquet that is now, and all my sworn friends, and to think of you being the one to come--you that never kissed me but once, and an earl's daughter into the bargain."
"Ha! ha! ha!--" Lady Cicely actually laughed for once in a way, and did not feel the effort. "As for kissing," said she, "if I fall shawt, fawgive me. I was nevaa vewy demonstwative."
"No; and I have had a lesson. That Florence Cole--Florence Whiting that was, you know--was always kissing me, and she has turned out a traitor. I'll tell you all about her." And she did.
Lady Cicely thought Mrs. Staines a little too unreserved in her conversation; but was so charmed with her sweetness and freshness that she kept up the acquaintance, and called on her twice a week during the season. At first she wondered that her visits were not returned; but Rosa let out that she was ashamed to call on foot in Grosvenor Square.
Lady Cicely shrugged her beautiful shoulders a little at that; but she continued to do the visiting, and to enjoy the simple, innocent rapture with which she was received.
This lady's pronunciation of many words was false or affected. She said "good murning" for "good morning," and turned other vowels to diphthongs, and played two or three pranks with her "r's." But we cannot be all imperfection: with her pronunciation her folly came to a full stop. I really believe she lisped less nonsense and bad taste in a year than some of us articulate in a day. To be sure, folly is generally uttered in a hurry, and she was too deplorably lazy to speak fast on any occasion whatever.
One day Mrs. Staines took her up-stairs, and showed her from the back window her husband pacing the yard, waiting for patients. Lady Cicely folded her arms, and contemplated him at first with a sort of zoological curiosity. Gentleman pacing back yard, like hyena, she had never seen before.
At last she opened her mouth in a whisper, "What is he doing?"
"Waiting for patients."
"For patients that never come, and never will come."
"Cuwious! How little I know of life."
"It is that all day, dear, or else writing."
Lady Cicely, with her eyes fixed on Staines, made a motion with her hand that she was attending.
"And they won't publish a word he writes."
"Nice for me; is it not?"
"I begin to understand," said Lady Cicely quietly; and soon after retired with her invariable composure.
Meantime, Dr. Staines, like a good husband, had thrown out occasional hints to Mrs. Lucas that he had a wife, beautiful, accomplished, moped. More than that, he went so far as to regret to her that Mrs. Staines, being in a neighborhood new to him, saw so little society; the more so, as she was formed to shine, and had not been used to seclusion.
All these hints fell dead on Mrs. Lucas. A handsome and skilful doctor was welcome to her: his wife--that was quite another matter.
But one day Mrs. Lucas saw Lady Cicely Treherne's carriage standing at the door. The style of the whole turnout impressed her. She wondered whose it was.
On another occasion she saw it drive up, and the lady get out. She recognized her; and the very next day this parvenue said adroitly, "Now, Dr. Staines, really you can't be allowed to hide your wife in this way. (Staines stared.) Why not introduce her to me next Wednesday? It is my night. I would give a dinner expressly for her; but I don't like to do that while my husband is in Naples."
When Staines carried the invitation to his wife, she was delighted, and kissed him with childish frankness.
But the very next moment she became thoughtful, uneasy, depressed. "Oh, dear; I've nothing to wear."
"Oh, nonsense, Rosa. Your wedding outfit."
"The idea! I can't go as a bride. It's not a masquerade."
"But you have other dresses."
"All gone by, more or less; or not fit for such parties as she gives. A hundred carriages!"
"Bring them down, and let me see them."
"Oh yes." And the lady, who had nothing to wear, paraded a very fair show of dresses.
Staines saw something to admire in all of them. Mrs. Staines found more to object to in each.
At last he fell upon a silver-gray silk, of superlative quality.
"That! It is as old as the hills," shrieked Rosa.
"It looks just out of the shop. Come, tell the truth; how often have you worn it?"
"I wore it before I was married."
"Ay, but how often?"
"Twice. Three times, I believe."
"I thought so. It is good as new."
"But I have had it so long by me. I had it two years before I made it up."
"What does that matter? Do you think the people can tell how long a dress has been lurking in your wardrobe? This is childish, Rosa. There, with this dress as good as new, and your beauty, you will be as much admired, and perhaps hated, as your heart can desire."
"I am afraid not," said Rosa naively. "Oh, how I wish I had known a week ago."
"I am very thankful you did not," said Staines dryly.
At ten o'clock Mrs. Staines was nearly dressed; at a quarter past ten she demanded ten minutes; at half-past ten she sought a reprieve; at a quarter to eleven, being assured that the street was full of carriages, which had put down at Mrs. Lucas's, she consented to emerge; and in a minute they were at the house.
They were shown first into a cloak-room, and then into a tea-room, and then mounted the stairs. One servant took their names, and bawled them to another four yards off, he to another about as near, and so on; and they edged themselves into the room, not yet too crowded to move in.
They had not taken many steps, on the chance of finding their hostess, when a slight buzz arose, and seemed to follow them.
Rosa wondered what that was; but only for a moment; she observed a tall, stout, aquiline woman fix an eye of bitter, diabolical, malignant hatred on her; and as she advanced, ugly noses were cocked disdainfully, and scraggy shoulders elevated at the risk of sending the bones through the leather, and a titter or two shot after her. A woman's instinct gave her the key at once; the sexes had complimented her at sight; each in their way; the men with respectful admiration; the women, with their inflammable jealousy and ready hatred in another of the quality they value most in themselves. But the country girl was too many for them: she would neither see nor bear, but moved sedately on, and calmly crushed them with her Southern beauty. Their dry, powdered faces could not live by the side of her glowing skin, with nature's delicate gloss upon it, and the rich blood mantling below it. The got-up beauties, i.e., the majority, seemed literally to fade and wither as she passed.
Mrs. Lucas got to her, suppressed a slight maternal pang, having daughters to marry, and took her line in a moment; here was a decoy duck. Mrs. Lucas was all graciousness, made acquaintance, and took a little turn with her, introducing her to one or two persons; among the rest, to the malignant woman, Mrs. Barr. Mrs. Barr, on this, ceased to look daggers and substituted icicles; but on the hateful beauty moving away, dropped the icicles, and resumed the poniards.
The rooms filled; the heat became oppressive, and the mixed odors of flowers, scents, and perspiring humanity, sickening. Some, unable to bear it, trickled out of the room, and sat all down the stairs.
Rosa began to feel faint. Up came a tall, sprightly girl, whose pertness was redeemed by a certain bonhomie, and said, "Mrs. Staines, I believe? I am to make myself agreeable to you. That is the order from headquarters."
"Miss Lucas," said Staines.
She jerked a little off-hand bow to him, and said, "Will you trust her to me for five minutes?"
"Certainly." But he did not much like it.
Miss Lucas carried her off, and told Dr. Staines, over her shoulder, now he could flirt to his heart's content.
"Thank you," said he dryly. "I'll await your return."
"Oh, there are some much greater flirts here than I am," said the ready Miss Lucas; and whispering something in Mrs. Staines's ear, suddenly glided with her behind a curtain, pressed a sort of button fixed to a looking-glass door. The door opened, and behold they were in a delicious place, for which I can hardly find a word, since it was a boudoir and a conservatory in one: a large octagon, the walls lined from floor to ceiling with looking-glasses of moderate width, at intervals, and with creepers that covered the intervening spaces of the wall, and were trained so as to break the outline of the glasses without greatly clouding the reflection. Ferns, in great variety, were grouped in a deep crescent, and in the bight of this green bay were a small table and chairs. As there were no hot-house plants, the temperature was very cool, compared with the reeking oven they had escaped; and a little fountain bubbled, and fed a little meandering gutter that trickled away among the ferns; it ran crystal clear over little bright pebbles and shells. It did not always run, you understand; but Miss Lucas turned a secret tap, and started it.
"Oh, how heavenly!" said Rosa, with a sigh of relief; "and how good of you to bring me here!"
"Yes; by rights I ought to have waited till you fainted. But there is no making acquaintance among all those people. Mamma will ask such crowds; one is like a fly in a glue-pot."
Miss Lucas had good nature, smartness, and animal spirits; hence arose a vivacity and fluency that were often amusing, and passed for very clever. Reserve she had none; would talk about strangers, or friends, herself, her mother, her God, and the last buffoon-singer, in a breath. At a hint from Rosa, she told her who the lady in the pink dress was, and the lady in the violet velvet, and so on; for each lady was defined by her dress, and, more or less, quizzed by this show-woman, not exactly out of malice, but because it is smarter and more natural to decry than to praise, and a little médisance is the spice to gossip, belongs to it, as mint sauce to lamb. So they chatted away, and were pleased with each other, and made friends, and there, in cool grot, quite forgot the sufferings of their fellow-creatures in the adjacent Turkish bath, yclept society. It was Rosa who first recollected herself. "Will not Mrs. Lucas be angry with me, if I keep you all to myself?"
"Oh no; but I'm afraid we must go into the hot-house again. I like the greenhouse best, with such a nice companion."
They slipped noiselessly into the throng again, and wriggled about, Miss Lucas presenting her new friend to several ladies and gentlemen.
Presently Staines found them, and then Miss Lucas wriggled away; and in due course the room was thinned by many guests driving off home, or to balls, and other receptions, and Dr. Staines and Mrs. Staines went home to the Bijou. Here the physician prescribed bed; but the lady would not hear of such a thing until she had talked it all over. So they compared notes, and Rosa told him how well she had got on with Miss Lucas, and made a friendship. "But for that," said she, "I should be sorry I went among those people, such a dowdy."
"Dowdy!" said Staines. "Why, you stormed the town; you were the great success of the night, and, for all I know, of the season." The wretch delivered this with unbecoming indifference.
"It is too bad to mock me, Christie. Where were your eyes?"
"To the best of my recollection, they were one on each side of my nose."
"Yes, but some people are eyes and no eyes."
"I scorn the imputation; try me."
"Very well. Then did you see that lady in sky-blue silk, embroidered with flowers, and flounced with white velvet, and the corsage point lace; and oh, such emeralds?"
"I did; a tall, skinny woman, with eyes resembling her jewels in color, though not in brightness."
"Never mind her eyes; it is her dress I am speaking of. Exquisite; and what a coiffure! Well, did you see her in the black velvet, trimmed so deep with Chantilly lace, wave on wave, and her head-dress of crimson flowers, and such a rivière of diamonds; oh, dear! oh, dear!"
"I did, love. The room was an oven, but her rubicund face and suffocating costume made it seem a furnace."
"Stuff! Well, did you see the lady in the corn-colored silk, and poppies in her hair?"
"Of course I did. Ceres in person. She made me feel hot, too; but I cooled myself a bit at her pale, sickly face."
"Never mind their faces; that is not the point."
"Oh, excuse me; it is always a point with us benighted males, all eyes and no eyes."
"Well, then, the lady in white, with cherry-velvet bands, and a white tunic looped with crimson, and headdress of white illusion, a la vierge, I think they call it."
"It was very refreshing; and adapted to that awful atmosphere. It was the nearest approach to nudity I ever saw, even amongst fashionable people."
"It was lovely; and then that superb figure in white illusion and gold, with all those narrow flounces over her slip of white silk glacé, and a wreath of white flowers, with gold wheat ears amongst them, in her hair; and oh! oh! oh! her pearls, oriental, and as big as almonds!"
"And oh! oh! oh! her nose! reddish, and as long as a woodcock's."
"Noses! noses! stupid! That is not what strikes you first in a woman dressed like an angel."
"Well, if you were to run up against that one, as I nearly did, her nose would be the thing that would strike you first. Nose! it was a rostrum! the spear-head of Goliah."
"Now, don't, Christopher. This is no laughing matter. Do you mean you were not ashamed of your wife? I was."
"No, I was not; you had but one rival; a very young lady, wise before her age; a blonde, with violet eyes. She was dressed in light mauve-colored silk, without a single flounce, or any other tomfoolery to fritter away the sheen and color of an exquisite material; her sunny hair was another wave of color, wreathed with a thin line of white jessamine flowers closely woven, that scented the air. This girl was the moon of that assembly, and you were the sun."
"I never even saw her."
"Eyes and no eyes. She saw you, and said, 'Oh, what a beautiful creature!' for I heard her. As for the old stagers, whom you admire so, their faces were all clogged with powder, the pores stopped up, the true texture of the skin abolished. They looked downright nasty, whenever you or that young girl passed by them. Then it was you saw to what a frightful extent women are got up in our day, even young women, and respectable women. No, Rosa, dress can do little for you; you have beauty--real beauty."
"Beauty! That passes unnoticed, unless one is well dressed."
"Then what an obscure pair the Apollo Belvidere and the Venus de Medicis must be."
"Oh! they are dressed--in marble."
Christopher Staines stared first, then smiled.
"Well done," said he, admiringly. "That is a knock-down blow. So now you have silenced your husband, go you to bed directly. I can't afford you diamonds; so I will take care of that little insignificant trifle, your beauty."
Mrs. Staines and Mrs. Lucas exchanged calls, and soon Mrs. Staines could no longer complain she was out of the world. Mrs. Lucas invited her to every party, because her beauty was an instrument of attraction she knew how to use; and Miss Lucas took a downright fancy to her; drove her in the park, and on Sundays to the Zoological Gardens, just beginning to be fashionable.
The Lucases rented a box at the opera, and if it was not let at the library by six o'clock, and if other engagements permitted, word was sent round to Mrs. Staines, as a matter of course, and she was taken to the opera. She began almost to live at the Lucases, and to be oftener fatigued than moped.
The usual order of things was inverted; the maiden lady educated the matron; for Miss Lucas knew all about everybody in the Park, honorable or dishonorable; all the scandals, and all the flirtations; and whatever she knew, she related point-blank. Being as inquisitive as voluble, she soon learned how Mrs. Staines and her husband were situated. She took upon her to advise her in many things, and especially impressed upon her that Dr. Staines must keep a carriage, if he wanted to get on in medicine. The piece of advice accorded so well with Rosa's wishes, that she urged it on her husband again and again.
He objected that no money was coming in, and therefore it would be insane to add to their expenses. Rosa persisted, and at last worried Staines with her importunity. He began to give rather short answers. Then she quoted Miss Lucas against him. He treated the authority with marked contempt; and then Rosa fired up a little. Then Staines held his peace; but did not buy a carriage to visit his no patients.
So at last Rosa complained to Lady Cicely Treherne, and made her the judge between her husband and herself. Lady Cicely drawled out a prompt but polite refusal to play that part. All that could be elicited from her, and that with difficulty, was, "Why quall with your husband about a cawwige; he is your best fwiend."
"Ah, that he is," said Rosa; "but Miss Lucas is a good friend, and she knows the world. We don't; neither Christopher nor I."
So she continued to nag at her husband about it, and to say that he was throwing his only chance away.
Galled as he was by neglect, this was irritating, and at last he could not help telling her she was unreasonable. "You live a gay life, and I a sad one. I consent to this, and let you go about with these Lucases, because you were so dull; but you should not consult them in our private affairs. Their interference is indelicate and improper. I will not set up a carriage till I have patients to visit. I am sick of seeing our capital dwindle, and no income created. I will never set up a carriage till I have taken a hundred-guinea fee."
"Oh! Then we shall go splashing through the mud all our days."
"Or ride in a cab," said Christopher, with a quiet doggedness that left no hope of his yielding.
One afternoon Miss Lucas called for Mrs. Staines to drive in the Park, but did not come up-stairs; it was an engagement, and she knew Mrs. Staines would be ready, or nearly. Mrs. Staines, not to keep her waiting, came down rather hastily, and in the very passage whipped out of her pocket a little glass, and a little powder puff, and puffed her face all over in a trice. She was then going out; but her husband called her into the study. "Rosa, my dear," said he, "you were going out with a dirty face."
"Oh!" cried she, "give me a glass."
"There is no need of that. All you want is a basin and some nice rain-water. I keep a little reservoir of it."
He then handed her the same with great politeness. She looked in his eye, and saw he was not to be trifled with. She complied like a lamb, and the heavenly color and velvet gloss that resulted were admirable.
He kissed her and said, "Ah! now you are my Rosa again. Oblige me by handing over that powder-puff to me." She looked vexed, but complied. "When you come back I will tell you why."
"You are a pest," said Mrs. Staines, and so joined her friend, rosy with rain-water and a rub.
"Dear me, how handsome you look to-day!" was Miss Lucas's first remark.
Rosa never dreamed that rain-water and rub could be the cause of her looking so well.
"It is my tiresome husband," said she. "He objects to powder, and he has taken away my puff."
"And you stood that?"
"Why, you poor-spirited little creature, I should like to see a husband presume to interfere with me in those things. Here, take mine."
Rosa hesitated a little. "Well--no--I think not."
Miss Lucas laughed at her, and quizzed her so on her allowing a man to interfere in such sacred things as dress and cosmetics, that she came back irritated with her husband, and gave him a short answer or two. Then he asked what was the matter.
"You treat me like a child--taking away my very puff."
"I treat you like a beautiful flower, that no bad gardener shall wither whilst I am here."
"What nonsense! How could that wither me? It is only violet powder--what they put on babies."
"And who are the Herods that put it on babies?"
"Their own mothers, that love them ten times more than the fathers do."
"And kill a hundred of them for one a man ever kills. Mothers!--the most wholesale homicides in the nation. We will examine your violet-powder: bring it down here."
While she was gone he sent for a breakfast-cupful of flour, and when she came back he had his scales out, and begged her to put a teaspoonful of flour into one scale and of violet powder into another. The flour kicked the beam, as Homer expresses himself.
"Put another spoonful of flour."
The one spoonful of violet powder outweighed the two of flour.
"Now," said Staines, "does not that show you the presence of a mineral in your vegetable powder? I suppose they tell you it is made of white violets dried, and triturated in a diamond mill. Let us find out what metal it is. We need not go very deep into chemistry for that." He then applied a simple test, and detected the presence of lead in large quantities. Then he lectured her: "Invisible perspiration is a process of nature necessary to health and to life. The skin is made porous for that purpose. You can kill anybody in an hour or two by closing the pores. A certain infallible ass, called Pope Leo XII., killed a little boy in two hours, by gilding him to adorn the pageant of his first procession as Pope. But what is death to the whole body must be injurious to a part. What madness, then, to clog the pores of so large and important a surface as the face, and check the invisible perspiration: how much more to insert lead into your system every day of your life; a cumulative poison, and one so deadly and so subtle, that the Sheffield file-cutters die in their prime, from merely hammering on a leaden anvil. And what do you gain by this suicidal habit? No plum has a sweeter bloom or more delicious texture than the skin of your young face; but this mineral filth hides that delicate texture, and substitutes a dry, uniform appearance, more like a certain kind of leprosy than health. Nature made your face the rival of peaches, roses, lilies; and you say, 'No; I know better than my Creator and my God; my face shall be like a dusty miller's.' Go into any flour-mill, and there you shall see men with faces exactly like your friend Miss Lucas's. But before a miller goes to his sweetheart, he always washes his face. You ladies would never get a miller down to your level in brains. It is a miller's dirty face our mono-maniacs of woman imitate, not the face a miller goes a-courting with."
"La! what a fuss about nothing!"
"About nothing! Is your health nothing? Is your beauty nothing? Well, then, it will cost you nothing to promise me never to put powder on your face again."
"Very well, I promise. Now what will you do for me?"
"Work for you--write for you--suffer for you--be self-denying for you--and even give myself the pain of disappointing you now and then--looking forward to the time when I shall be able to say 'Yes' to everything you ask me. Ah! child, you little know what it costs me to say 'No' to you."
Rosa put her arms round him and acquiesced. She was one of those who go with the last speaker; but, for that very reason, the eternal companionship of so flighty and flirty a girl as Miss Lucas was injurious to her.
One day Lady Cicely Treherne was sitting with Mrs. Staines, smiling languidly at her talk, and occasionally drawling out a little plain good sense, when in came Miss Lucas, with her tongue well hung, as usual, and dashed into twenty topics in ten minutes.
This young lady in her discourse was like those little oily beetles you see in small ponds, whose whole life is spent in tacking--confound them for it!--generally at right angles. What they are in navigation was Miss Lucas in conversation: tacked so eternally from topic to topic, that no man on earth, and not every woman, could follow her.
At the sight and sound of her, Lady Cicely congealed and stiffened. Easy and unpretending with Mrs. Staines, she was all dignity, and even majesty, in the presence of this chatterbox; and the smoothness with which the transfiguration was accomplished marked that accomplished actress the high-bred woman of the world.
Rosa, better able to estimate the change of manner than Miss Lucas was, who did not know how little this Sawny was afflicted with misplaced dignity, looked wistfully and distressed at her. Lady Cicely smiled kindly in reply, rose, without seeming to hurry,--catch her condescending to be rude to Charlotte Lucas,--and took her departure, with a profound and most gracious courtesy to the lady who had driven her away.
Mrs. Staines saw her down-stairs, and said, ruefully, "I am afraid you do not like my friend Miss Lucas. She is a great rattle, but so good-natured and clever."
Lady Cicely shook her head. "Clevaa people don't talk so much nonsense before strangaas."
"Oh, dear!" said Rosa. "I was in hopes you would like her."
"Do you like her?"
"Indeed I do; but I shall not, if she drives an older friend away."
"My dyah, I'm not easily dwiven from those I esteem. But you undastand that is not a woman for me to mispwonownce my 'ah's' befaw--NOR FOR YOU TO MAKE A BOSOM FRIEND OF--ROSA STAINES."
She said this with a sudden maternal solemnity and kindness that contrasted nobly and strangely with her yea-nay style, and Mrs. Staines remembered the words years after they were spoken.
It so happened that after this Mrs. Staines received no more visits from Lady Cicely for some time, and that vexed her. She knew her sex enough to be aware that they are very jealous, and she permitted herself to think that this high-minded Sawny was jealous of Miss Lucas.
This idea, founded on a general estimate of her sex, was dispelled by a few lines from Lady Cicely, to say her family and herself were in deep distress; her brother, Lord Ayscough, lay dying from an accident.
Then Rosa was all remorse, and ran down to Staines to tell him. She found him with an open letter in his hand. It was from Dr. Barr, and on the same subject. The doctor, who had always been friendly to him, invited him to come down at once to Hallowtree Hall, in Huntingdonshire, to a consultation. There was a friendly intimation to start at once, as the patient might die any moment.
Husband and wife embraced each other in a tumult of surprised thankfulness. A few necessaries were thrown into a carpet-bag, and Dr. Staines was soon whirled into Huntingdonshire. Having telegraphed beforehand, he was met at the station by the earl's carriage and people, and driven to the Hall. He was received by an old, silver-haired butler, looking very sad, who conducted him to a boudoir; and then went and tapped gently at the door of the patient's room. It was opened and shut very softly, and Lady Cicely, dressed in black, and looking paler than ever, came into the room.
"Dr. Staines, I think?"
"Thank you for coming so promptly. Dr. Barr is gone. I fear he thinks--he thinks--O Dr. Staines--no sign of life but in his poor hands, that keep moving night and day."
Staines looked very grave at that. Lady Cicely observed it, and, faint at heart, could say no more, but led the way to the sick-room.
There in a spacious chamber, lighted by a grand oriel window and two side windows, lay rank, title, wealth, and youth, stricken down in a moment by a common accident. The sufferer's face was bloodless, his eyes fixed, and no signs of life but in his thumbs, and they kept working with strange regularity.
In the room were a nurse and the surgeon; the neighboring physician, who had called in Dr. Barr, had just paid his visit and gone away.
Lady Cicely introduced Dr. Staines and Mr. White, and then Dr. Staines stood and fixed his eyes on the patient in profound silence. Lady Cicely scanned his countenance searchingly, and was struck with the extraordinary power and intensity it assumed in examining the patient; but the result was not encouraging. Dr. Staines looked grave and gloomy.
At last, without removing his eye from the recumbent figure, he said quietly to Mr. White, "Thrown from his horse, sir?"
"Horse fell on him, Dr. Staines."
"Any visible injuries?"
"Yes. Severe contusions, and a rib broken and pressed upon the lungs. I replaced and set it. Will you see?"
"If you please."
He examined and felt the patient, and said it had been ably done.
Then he was silent and searching.
At last he spoke again. "The motion of the thumbs corresponds exactly with his pulse."
"Is that so, sir?"
"It is. The case is without a parallel. How long has he been so?"
"Nearly a week."
"It is so, sir."
Lady Cicely confirmed this.
"All the better," said Dr. Staines upon reflection. "Well, sir," said he, "the visible injuries having been ably relieved, I shall look another way for the cause." Then, after another pause, "I must have his head shaved."
Lady Cicely demurred a little to this; but Dr. Staines stood firm, and his lordship's valet undertook the job.
Staines directed him where to begin; and when he had made a circular tonsure on the top of the head, had it sponged with tepid water.
"I thought so," said he. "Here is the mischief;" and he pointed to a very slight indentation on the left side of the pia mater. "Observe," said he, "there is no corresponding indentation on the other side. Underneath this trifling depression a minute piece of bone is doubtless pressing on the most sensitive part of the brain. He must be trephined."
Mr. White's eyes sparkled.
"You are an hospital surgeon, sir?"
"Yes, Dr. Staines. I have no fear of the operation."
"Then I hand the patient over to you. The case at present is entirely surgical."
White was driven home, and soon returned with the requisite instruments. The operation was neatly performed, and then Lady Cicely was called in. She came trembling; her brother's fingers were still working, but not so regularly.
"That is only habit," said Staines; "it will soon leave off, now the cause is gone."
And, truly enough, in about five minutes the fingers became quiet. The eyes became human next; and within half an hour after the operation the earl gave a little sigh.
Lady Cicely clasped her hands, and uttered a little cry of delight.
"This will not do," said Staines, "I shall have you screaming when he speaks."
"Oh, Dr. Staines! will he ever speak?"
"I think so, and very soon. So be on your guard."
This strange scene reached its climax soon after, by the earl saying, quietly,--
"Are her knees broke, Tom?"
Lady Cicely uttered a little scream, but instantly suppressed it.
"No, my lord," said Staines, smartly; "only rubbed a bit. You can go to sleep, my lord. I'll take care of the mare."
"All right," said his lordship; and composed himself to slumber.
Dr. Staines, at the earnest request of Lady Cicely, stayed all night; and in course of the day advised her how to nurse the patient, since both physician and surgeon had done with him.
He said the patient's brain might be irritable for some days, and no women in silk dresses or crinoline, or creaking shoes, must enter the room. He told her the nurse was evidently a clumsy woman, and would be letting things fall. She had better get some old soldier used to nursing. "And don't whisper in the room," said he; "nothing irritates them worse; and don't let anybody play a piano within hearing; but in a day or two you may try him with slow and continuous music on the flute or violin if you like. Don't touch his bed suddenly; don't sit on it or lean on it. Dole sunlight into his room by degrees; and when he can bear it, drench him with it. Never mind what the old school tell you. About these things they know a good deal less than nothing."
Lady Cicely received all this like an oracle.
The cure was telegraphed to Dr. Barr, and he was requested to settle the fee. He was not the man to undersell the profession, and was jealous of nobody, having a large practice, and a very wealthy wife. So he telegraphed back--"Fifty guineas, and a guinea a mile from London."
So, as Christopher Staines sat at an early breakfast, with the carriage waiting to take him to the train, two notes were brought him on a salver.
They were both directed by Lady Cicely Treherne. One of them contained a few kind and feeling words of gratitude and esteem; the other, a check, drawn by the earl's steward, for one hundred and thirty guineas.
He bowled up to London, and told it all to Rosa. She sparkled with pride, affection, and joy.
"Now, who says you are not a genius?" she cried. "A hundred and thirty guineas for one fee! Now, if you love your wife as she loves you--you will set up a brougham."
DR. STAINES begged leave to distinguish; he had not said he would set up a carriage at the first one hundred guinea fee, but only that he would not set up one before. There are misguided people who would call this logic: but Rosa said it was equivocating, and urged him so warmly that at last he burst out, "Who can go on forever saying 'No,' to the only creature he loves?"--and caved. In forty-eight hours more a brougham waited at Mrs. Staines's door. The servant engaged to drive it was Andrew Pearman, a bachelor, and, hitherto, an under-groom. He readily consented to be coachman, and to do certain domestic work as well. So Mrs. Staines had a man-servant as well as a carriage.
Ere long, three or four patients called, or wrote, one after the other. These Rosa set down to brougham, and crowed; she even crowed to Lady Cicely Treherne, to whose influence, and not to brougham's, every one of these patients was owing. Lady Cicely kissed her, and demurely enjoyed the poor soul's self-satisfaction.
Staines himself, while he drove to or from these patients, felt more sanguine, and buoyed as he was by the consciousness of ability, began to hope he had turned the corner.
He sent an account of Lord Ayscough's case to a medical magazine: and so full is the world of flunkeyism, that this article, though he withheld the name, retaining only the title, got the literary wedge in for him at once: and in due course he became a paid contributor to two medical organs, and used to study and write more, and indent the little stone yard less than heretofore.
It was about this time circumstances made him acquainted with Phoebe Dale. Her intermediate history I will dispose of in fewer words than it deserves. Her ruin, Mr. Reginald Falcon, was dismissed from his club, for marking high cards on the back with his nail. This stopped his remaining resource--borrowing: so he got more and more out at elbows, till at last he came down to hanging about billiard-rooms, and making a little money by concealing his game; from that, however, he rose to be a marker.
Having culminated to that, he wrote and proposed marriage to Miss Dale, in a charming letter: she showed it to her father with pride.
Now, if his vanity, his disloyalty, his falsehood, his ingratitude, and his other virtues had not stood in the way, he would have done this three years ago, and been jumped at.
But the offer came too late; not for Phoebe--she would have taken him in a moment--but for her friends. A baited hook is one thing, a bare hook is another. Farmer Dale had long discovered where Phoebe's money went: he said not a word to her; but went up to town like a shot; found Falcon out, and told him he mustn't think to eat his daughter's bread. She should marry a man that could make a decent livelihood; and if she was to run away with him, why they'd starve together. The farmer was resolute, and spoke very loud, like one that expects opposition, and comes prepared to quarrel. Instead of that, this artful rogue addressed him with deep respect and an affected veneration, that quite puzzled the old man; acquiesced in every word, expressed contrition for his past misdeeds, and told the farmer he had quite determined to labor with his hands. "You know, farmer," said he, "I am not the only gentleman who has come to that in the present day. Now, all my friends that have seen my sketches, assure me I am a born painter; and a painter I'll be--for love of Phoebe."
The farmer made a wry face. "Painter! that is a sorry sort of a trade."
"You are mistaken. It's the best trade going. There are gentlemen making their thousands a year by it."
"Not in our parts, there bain't. Stop a bit. What be ye going to paint, sir? Housen, or folk?"
"Oh, hang it, not houses. Figures, landscapes."
"Well, ye might just make shift to live at it, I suppose, with here and there a signboard. They are the best paid, our way: but, Lord bless ye, they wants head-piece. Well, sir, let me see your work. Then we'll talk further."
"I'll go to work this afternoon," said Falcon eagerly; then with affected surprise, "Bless me; I forgot. I have no palette, no canvas, no colors. You couldn't lend me a couple of sovereigns to buy them, could you?"
"Ay, sir; I could. But I woan't. I'll lend ye the things, though, if you have a mind to go with me and buy 'em."
Falcon agreed, with a lofty smile; and the purchases were made.
Mr. Falcon painted a landscape or two out of his imagination. The dealers to whom he took them declined them; one advised the gentleman painter to color tea-boards. "That's your line," said he.
"The world has no taste," said the gentleman painter: "but it has got lots of vanity: I'll paint portraits."
He did; and formidable ones: his portraits were amazingly like the people, and yet unlike men and women, especially about the face. One thing, he didn't trouble with lights and shades, but went slap at the features.
His brush would never have kept him; but he carried an instrument, in the use of which he was really an artist, viz., his tongue. By wheedling and underselling--for he only charged a pound for the painted canvas--he contrived to live; then he aspired to dress as well as live. With this second object in view, he hit upon a characteristic expedient.
He used to prowl about, and when he saw a young woman sweeping the afternoon streets with a long silk train, and, in short, dressed to ride in the park, yet parading the streets, he would take his hat off to her, with an air of profound respect, and ask permission to take her portrait. Generally he met a prompt rebuff; but if the fair was so unlucky as to hesitate a single moment, he told her a melting tale; he had once driven his four-in-hand; but by indorsing his friends' bills, was reduced to painting likeness, admirable likenesses in oil, only a guinea each.
His piteous tale provoked more gibes than pity, but as he had no shame, the rebuffs went for nothing: he actually did get a few sitters by his audacity: and some of the sitters actually took the pictures, and paid for them; others declined them with fury as soon as they were finished. These he took back with a piteous sigh, that sometimes extracted half a crown. Then he painted over the rejected one and let it dry; so that sometimes a paid portrait would present a beauty enthroned on the débris of two or three rivals, and that is where few beauties would object to sit.
All this time he wrote nice letters to Phoebe, and adopted the tone of the struggling artist, and the true lover, who wins his bride by patience, perseverance, and indomitable industry; a babbled of "Self-help."
Meantime, Phoebe was not idle: an excellent business woman, she took immediate advantage of a new station that was built near the farm, to send up milk, butter, and eggs to London. Being genuine, they sold like wildfire. Observing that, she extended her operations, by buying of other farmers, and forwarding to London: and then, having of course an eye to her struggling artist, she told her father she must have a shop in London, and somebody in it she could depend upon.
"With all my heart, wench," said he; "but it must not be thou. I can't spare thee."
"May I have Dick, father?"
"Dick! he is rather young."
"But he is very quick, father, and minds every word I tell him."
"Ay, he is as fond of thee as ever a cow was of a calf. Well, you can try him."
So the love-sick woman of business set up a little shop, and put her brother Dick in it, and all to see more of her struggling artist. She stayed several days, to open the little shop, and start the business. She advertised pure milk, and challenged scientific analysis of everything she sold. This came of her being a reader; she knew, by the journals, that we live in a sinful and adulterating generation, and anything pure must be a godsend to the poor poisoned public.
Now, Dr. Staines, though known to the profession as a diagnost, was also an analyst, and this challenge brought him down on Phoebe Dale. He told her he was a physician, and in search of pure food for his own family--would she really submit the milk to analysis?
Phoebe smiled an honest country smile, and said, "Surely, sir." She gave him every facility, and he applied those simple tests which are commonly used in France, though hardly known in England.
He found it perfectly pure, and told her so; and gazed at Phoebe for a moment, as a phenomenon.
She smiled again at that, her broad country smile. "That is a wonder in London, I dare say. It's my belief half the children that die here are perished with watered milk. Well, sir, we shan't have that on our souls, father and I; he is a farmer in Essex. This comes a many miles, this milk."
Staines looked in her face, with kindly approval marked on his own eloquent features. She blushed a little at so fixed a regard. Then he asked her if she would supply him with milk, butter, and eggs.
"Why, if you mean sell you them, yes, sir, with pleasure. But for sending them home to you in this big town, as some do, I can't; for there's only brother Dick and me: it is an experiment like."
"Very well," said Staines: "I will send for them."
"Thank you kindly, sir. I hope you won't be offended, sir; but we only sell for ready money."
"All the better: my order at home is, no bills."
When he was gone, Phoebe, assuming vast experience, though this was only her third day, told Dick that was one of the right sort: "and oh, Dick," said she, "did you notice his eye?"
"Not particklar, sister."
"There now; the boy is blind. Why, 'twas like a jewel. Such an eye I never saw in a man's head, nor a woman's neither."
Staines told his wife about Phoebe and her brother, and spoke of her with a certain admiration that raised Rosa's curiosity, and even that sort of vague jealousy that fires at bare praise. "I should like to see this phenomenon," said she. "You shall," said he. "I have to call on Mrs. Manly. She lives near. I will drop you at the little shop, and come back for you."
He did so, and that gave Rosa a quarter of an hour to make her purchases. When he came back he found her conversing with Phoebe, as if they were old friends, and Dick glaring at his wife with awe and admiration. He could hardly get her away.
She was far more extravagant in her praises than Dr. Staines had been. "What a good creature!" said she. "And how clever! To think of her setting up a shop like that all by herself; for her Dick is only seventeen."
Dr. Staines recommended the little shop wherever he went, and even extended its operations. He asked Phoebe to get her own wheat ground at home, and send the flour up in bushel bags. "These assassins, the bakers," said he, "are putting copper into the flour now, as well as alum. Pure flour is worth a fancy price to any family. With that we can make the bread of life. What you buy in the shops is the bread of death."
Dick was a good, sharp boy, devoted to his sister. He stuck to the shop in London, and handed the money to Phoebe, when she came for it. She worked for it in Essex, and extended her country connection for supply as the retail business increased.
Staines wrote an article on pure food, and incidentally mentioned the shop as a place where flour, milk, and butter were to be had pure. This article was published in the Lancet, and caused quite a run upon the little shop. By and by Phoebe enlarged it, for which there were great capabilities, and made herself a pretty little parlor, and there she and Dick sat to Falcon for their portraits; here, too, she hung his rejected landscapes. They were fair in her eyes; what matter whether they were like nature? his hand had painted them. She knew, from him, that everybody else had rejected them. With all the more pride and love did she have them framed in gold, and hung up with the portraits in her little sanctum.
For a few months Phoebe Dale was as happy as she deserved to be. Her lover was working, and faithful to her--at least she saw no reason to doubt it. He came to see her every evening, and seemed devoted to her: would sit quietly with her, or walk with her, or take her to a play, or a music-hall--at her expense.
She now lived in a quiet elysium, with a bright and rapturous dream of the future; for she saw she had hit on a good vein of business, and should soon be independent, and able to indulge herself with a husband, and ask no man's leave.
She sent to Essex for a dairymaid, and set her to churn milk into butter, coram populo, at a certain hour every morning. This made a new sensation. At other times the woman was employed to deliver milk and cream to a few favored customers.
Mrs. Staines dropped in now and then, and chatted with her. Her sweet face and her naïveté won Phoebe's heart; and one day, as happiness is apt to be communicative, she let out to her, in reply to a feeler or two as to whether she was quite alone, that she was engaged to be married to a gentleman. "But he is not rich, ma'am," said Phoebe plaintively; "he has had trouble: obliged to work for his living, like me; he painted these pictures, every one of them. If it was not making too free, and you could spare a guinea--he charges no more for the picture, only you must go to the expense of the frame."
"Of course I will," said Rosa warmly. "I'll sit for it here, any day you like."
Now, Rosa said this, out of her ever ready kindness, not to wound Phoebe: but having made the promise, she kept clear of the place for some days, hoping Phoebe would forget all about it. Meantime she sent her husband to buy.
In about a fortnight she called again, primed with evasions if she should be asked to sit; but nothing of the kind was proposed. Phoebe was dealing when she went in. The customers disposed of, she said to Mrs. Staines, "Oh, ma'am, I am glad you are come. I have something I should like to show you." She took her into the parlor, and made her sit down: then she opened a drawer, and took out a very small substance that looked like a tear of ground glass, and put it on the table before her. "There, ma'am," said she, "that is all he has had for painting a friend's picture."
"Oh! what a shame."
"His friend was going abroad--to Natal; to his uncle that farms out there, and does very well; it is a first-rate part, if you take out a little stock with you, and some money; so my one gave him credit, and when the letter came with that postmark, he counted on a five-pound note; but the letter only said he had got no money yet, but sent him something as a keepsake: and there was this little stone. Poor fellow! he flung it down in a passion; he was so disappointed."
Phoebe's great gray eyes filled; and Rosa gave a little coo of sympathy that was very womanly and lovable.
Phoebe leaned her cheek on her hand, and said thoughtfully, "I picked it up, and brought it away; for, after all--don't you think, ma'am, it is very strange that a friend should send it all that way, if it was worth nothing at all?"
"It is impossible. He could not be so heartless."
"And do you know, ma'am, when I take it up in my fingers, it doesn't feel like a thing that was worth nothing."
"No more it does: it makes my fingers tremble. May I take it home, and show it my husband? he is a great physician and knows everything."
"I am sure I should be obliged to you, ma'am."
Rosa drove home, on purpose to show it to Christopher. She ran into his study: "Oh, Christopher, please look at that. You know that good creature we have our flour and milk and things of. She is engaged, and he is a painter. Oh, such daubs! He painted a friend, and the friend sent that home all the way from Natal, and he dashed it down, and she picked it up, and what is it? ground glass, or a pebble, or what?"
"Humph!--by its shape, and the great--brilliancy--and refraction of light, on this angle, where the stone has got polished by rubbing against other stones, in the course of ages, I'm inclined to think it is--a diamond."
"A diamond!" shrieked Rosa. "No wonder my fingers trembled. Oh, can it be? Oh, you good, cold-blooded Christie!--Poor things!-- Come along, Diamond! Oh you beauty! Oh you duck!"
"Don't be in such a hurry. I only said I thought it was a diamond. Let me weigh it against water, and then I shall know."
He took it to his little laboratory, and returned in a few minutes, and said, "Yes. It is just three times and a half heavier than water. It is a diamond."
"Are you positive?"
"I'll stake my existence."
"What is it worth?"
"My dear, I'm not a jeweller: but it is very large and pear-shaped, and I see no flaw: I don't think you could buy it for less than three hundred pounds."
"Three hundred pounds! It is worth £300!"
"Or sell it for more than £150."
"A hundred and fifty! It is worth £150!"
"Why, my dear, one would think you had invented 'the diamond.' Show me how to crystallize carbon, and I will share your enthusiasm."
"Oh, I leave you to carbonize crystal. I prefer to gladden hearts: and I will do it this minute, with my diamond."
"Do, dear; and I will take that opportunity to finish my article on Adulteration."
Rosa drove off to Phoebe Dale.
Now Phoebe was drinking tea with Reginald Falcon, in her little parlor. "Who is that, I wonder?" said she, when the carriage drew up.
Reginald drew back a corner of the gauze curtain which had been drawn across the little glass door leading from the shop.
"It is a lady, and a beautiful-- Oh! let me get out." And he rushed out at the door leading to the kitchen, not to be recognized.
This set Phoebe all in a flutter, and the next moment Mrs. Staines tapped at the little door, then opened it, and peeped. "Good news! may I come in?"
"Surely," said Phoebe, still troubled and confused by Reginald's strange agitation.
"There! It is a diamond!" screamed Rosa. "My husband knew it directly. He knows everything. If ever you are ill, go to him and nobody else--by the refraction, and the angle, and its being three times and a half as heavy as water. It is worth £300 to buy, and £150 to sell."
"So don't you go throwing it away, as he did. (In a whisper.) Two teacups? Was that him? I have driven him away. I am so sorry. I'll go; and then you can tell him. Poor fellow!"
"Oh, ma'am, don't go yet," said Phoebe, trembling. "I haven't half thanked you."
"Oh, bother thanks. Kiss me; that is the way."
"You may, and must. There--and there--and there. Oh dear, what nice things good luck and happiness are, and how sweet to bring them for once."
Upon this Phoebe and she had a nice little cry together, and Mrs. Staines went off refreshed thereby, and as gay as a lark, pointing slyly at the door, and making faces to Phoebe that she knew he was there, and she only retired, out of her admirable discretion, that they might enjoy the diamond together.
When she was gone, Reginald, whose eye and ear had been at the keyhole, alternately gloating on the face and drinking the accents of the only woman he had ever really loved, came out, looking pale, and strangely disturbed; and sat down at table, without a word.
Phoebe came back to him, full of the diamond. "Did you hear what she said, my dear? It is a diamond; it is worth £150 at least. Why, what ails you? Ah! to be sure! you know that lady."
"I have cause to know her. Cursed jilt!"
"You seem a good deal put out at the sight of her."
"It took me by surprise, that is all."
"It takes me by surprise too. I thought you were cured. I thought my turn had come at last."
Reginald met this in sullen silence. Then Phoebe was sorry she had said it; for, after all, it wasn't the man's fault if an old sweetheart had run into the room, and given him a start. So she made him some fresh tea, and pressed him kindly to try her home-made bread and butter.
My lord relaxed his frown and consented, and of course they talked diamond.
He told her, loftily, he must take a studio, and his sitters must come to him, and must no longer expect to be immortalized for £1. It must be £2 for a bust, and £3 for a kitcat.
"Nay, but, my dear," said Phoebe, "they will pay no more because you have a diamond."
"Then they will have to go unpainted," said Mr. Falcon.
This was intended for a threat. Phoebe instinctively felt that it might not be so received; she counselled moderation. "It is a great thing to have earned a diamond," said she: "but 'tis only once in a life. Now, be ruled by me: go on just as you are. Sell the diamond, and give me the money to keep for you. Why, you might add a little to it, and so would I, till we made it up £200. And if you could only show £200 you had made and laid by, father would let us marry, and I might keep this shop--it pays well, I can tell you--and keep my gentleman in a sly corner; you need never be seen in it."
"Ay, ay," said he, "that is the small game. But I am a man that have always preferred the big game. I shall set up my studio, and make enough to keep us both. So give me the stone, if you please. I shall take it round to them all, and the rogues won't get it out of me for a hundred and fifty; why, it is as big as a nut."
"No, no, Reginald. Money has always made mischief between you and me. You never had fifty pounds yet, you didn't fall into temptation. Do pray let me keep it for you; or else sell it--I know how to sell; nobody better--and keep the money for a good occasion."
"Is it yours, or mine?" said he, sulkily.
"Why yours, dear; you earned it."
"Then give it me, please." And he almost forced it out of her hand.
So now she sat down and cried over this piece of good luck, for her heart filled with forebodings.
He laughed at her, but at last had the grace to console her, and assure her she was tormenting herself for nothing.
"Time will show," said she, sadly.
Time did show.
Three or four days he came, as usual, to laugh her out of her forebodings. But presently his visits ceased. She knew what that meant: he was living like a gentleman, melting his diamond, and playing her false with the first pretty face he met.
This blow, coming after she had been so happy, struck Phoebe Dale stupid with grief. The line on her high forehead deepened; and at night she sat with her hands before her, sighing, and sighing, and listening for the footsteps that never came.
"Oh, Dick!" she said, "never you love any one. I am aweary of my life. And to think that, but for that diamond--oh, dear! oh, dear! oh, dear!"
Then Dick used to try and comfort her in his way, and often put his arm round her neck, and gave her his rough but honest sympathy. Dick's rare affection was her one drop of comfort; it was something to relieve her swelling heart.
"Oh, Dick!" she said to him one night, "I wish I had married him."
"What, to be ill-used?"
"He couldn't use me worse. I have been wife, and mother, and sweetheart, and all, to him; and to be left like this. He treats me like the dirt beneath his feet."
"'Tis your own fault, Phoebe, partly. You say the word, and I'll break every bone in his carcass."
"What, do him a mischief! Why, I'd rather die than harm a hair of his head. You must never lift a hand to him, or I shall hate you."
"Hate me, Phoebe?"
"Ay, boy: I should. God forgive me: 'tis no use deceiving ourselves; when a woman loves a man she despises, never you come between them; there's no reason in her love, so it is incurable. One comfort, it can't go on forever; it must kill me, before my time and so best. If I was only a mother, and had a little Reginald to dandle on my knee and gloat upon, till he spent his money, and came back to me. That's why I said I wished I was his wife. Oh! why does God fill a poor woman's bosom with love, and nothing to spend it on but a stone; for sure his heart must be one. If I had only something that would let me always love it, a little toddling thing at my knee, that would always let me look at it, and love it, something too young to be false to me, too weak to run away from my long--ing--arms--and--year--ning heart!" Then came a burst of agony, and moans of desolation, till poor puzzled Dick blubbered loudly at her grief; and then her tears flowed in streams.
Trouble on trouble. Dick himself got strangely out of sorts, and complained of shivers. Phoebe sent him to bed early, and made him some white wine whey very hot. In the morning he got up, and said he was better; but after breakfast he was violently sick, and suffered several returns of nausea before noon. "One would think I was poisoned," said he.
At one o'clock he was seized with a kind of spasm in the throat that lasted so long it nearly choked him.
Then Phoebe got frightened, and sent to the nearest surgeon. He did not hurry, and poor Dick had another frightful spasm just as he came in.
"It is hysterical," said the surgeon. "No disease of the heart, is there? Give him a little sal-volatile every half hour."
In spite of the sal-volatile these terrible spasms seized him every half hour; and now he used to spring off the bed with a cry of terror when they came; and each one left him weaker and weaker; he had to be carried back by the women.
A sad, sickening fear seized on Phoebe. She left Dick with the maid, and tying on her bonnet in a moment, rushed wildly down the street, asking the neighbors for a great doctor, the best that could be had for money. One sent her east a mile, another west, and she was almost distracted, when who should drive up but Dr. and Mrs. Staines, to make purchases. She did not know his name, but she knew he was a doctor. She ran to the window, and cried, "Oh, doctor, my brother! Oh, pray come to him. Oh! oh!"
Dr. Staines got quickly, but calmly, out; told his wife to wait; and followed Phoebe up-stairs. She told him in a few agitated words how Dick had been taken, and all the symptoms; especially what had alarmed her so, his springing off the bed when the spasm came.
Dr. Staines told her to hold the patient up. He lost not a moment, but opened his mouth resolutely, and looked down.
"The glottis is swollen," said he: then he felt his hands, and said, with the grave, terrible calm of experience, "He is dying."
"Oh, no! no! Oh, doctor, save him! save him!"
"Nothing can save him, unless we had a surgeon on the spot. Yes, I might save him, if you have the courage: opening his windpipe before the next spasm is his one chance."
"Open his windpipe! Oh, doctor! It will kill him. Let me look at you."
She looked hard in his face. It gave her confidence.
"Is it the only chance?"
"The only one: and it is flying while we chatter."
He whipped out his lancet.
"But I can't look on it. I trust to you and my Saviour's mercy."
She fell on her knees, and bowed her head in prayer.
Staines seized a basin, put it by the bedside, made an incision in the windpipe, and got Dick down on his stomach, with his face over the bedside. Some blood ran, but not much. "Now!" he cried, cheerfully, "a small bellows! There's one in your parlor. Run."
Phoebe ran for it, and at Dr. Staines' direction lifted Dick a little, while the bellows, duly cleansed, were gently applied to the aperture in the windpipe, and the action of the lungs delicately aided by this primitive but effectual means.
He showed Phoebe how to do it, tore a leaf out of his pocket-book, wrote a hasty direction to an able surgeon near, and sent his wife off with it in the carriage.
Phoebe and he never left the patient till the surgeon came with all the instruments required; amongst the rest, with a big, tortuous pair of nippers, with which he could reach the glottis, and snip it. But they consulted, and thought it wiser to continue the surer method; and so a little tube was neatly inserted into Dick's windpipe, and his throat bandaged; and by this aperture he did his breathing for some little time.
Phoebe nursed him like a mother; and the terror and the joy did her good, and made her less desolate.
Dick was only just well when both of them were summoned to the farm, and arrived only just in time to receive their father's blessing and his last sigh.
Their elder brother, a married man, inherited the farm, and was executor. Phoebe and Dick were left £1,500 apiece, on condition of their leaving England and going to Natal.
They knew directly what that meant. Phoebe was to be parted from a bad man, and Dick was to comfort her for the loss.
When this part of the will was read to Phoebe, she turned faint, and only her health and bodily vigor kept her from swooning right away.
But she yielded. "It is the will of the dead," said she, "and I will obey it; for, oh, if I had but listened to him more when he was alive to advise me, I should not sit here now, sick at heart and dry-eyed, when I ought to be thinking only of the good friend that is gone."
When she had come to this she became feverishly anxious to be gone. She busied herself in purchasing agricultural machines, and stores, and even stock; and to see her pinching the beasts' ribs to find their condition, and parrying all attempts to cheat her, you would never have believed she could be a love-sick woman.
Dick kept her up to the mark. He only left her to bargain with the master of a good vessel; for it was no trifle to take out horses and cows, and machines, and bales of cloth, cotton, and linen.
When that was settled they came in to town together, and Phoebe bought shrewdly, at wholesale houses in the city, for cash, and would have bargains: and the little shop in ----- Street was turned into a warehouse.
They were all ardor, as colonists should be; and what pleased Dick most, she never mentioned Falcon; yet he learned from the maid that worthy had been there twice, looking very seedy.
The day drew near. Dick was in high spirits.
"We shall soon make our fortune out there," he said; "and I'll get you a good husband."
She shuddered, but said nothing.
The evening before they were to sail, Phoebe sat alone, in her black dress, tired with work, and asking herself, sick at heart, could she ever really leave England, when the door opened softly, and Reginald Falcon, shabbily dressed, came in, and threw himself into a chair.
She started up with a scream, then sank down again, trembling, and turned her face to the wall.
"So you are going to run away from me!" said he savagely.
"Ay, Reginald," said she meekly.
"This is your fine love, is it?"
"You have worn it out, dear," she said softly, without turning her head from the wall.
"I wish I could say as much; but, curse it, every time I leave you I learn to love you more. I am never really happy but when I am with you."
"Bless you for saying that, dear. I often thought you must find that out one day; but you took too long."
"Oh, better late than never. Phoebe! Can you have the heart to go to the Cape, and leave me all alone in the world, with nobody that really cares for me? Surely you are not obliged to go."
"Yes; my father left Dick and me fifteen hundred pounds apiece to go: that was the condition. Poor Dick loves his unhappy sister. He won't go without me--I should be his ruin--poor Dick, that really loves me; and he lay a-dying here, and the good doctor and me--God bless him--we brought him back from the grave. Ah, you little know what I have gone through. You were not here. Catch you being near me when I am in trouble. There, I must go. I must go. I will go; if I fling myself into the sea half way."
"And, if you do, I'll take a dose of poison; for I have thrown away the truest heart, the sweetest, most unselfish, kindest, generous-- oh! oh! oh!"
And he began to howl.
This set Phoebe sobbing. "Don't cry, dear," she murmured through her tears; "if you have really any love for me, come with me."
"What, leave England, and go to a desert?"
"Love can make a desert a garden."
"Phoebe, I'll do anything else. I'll swear not to leave your side. I'll never look at any other face but yours. But I can't live in Africa."
"I know you can't. It takes a little real love to go there with a poor girl like me. Ah, well, I'd have made you so happy. We are not poor emigrants. I have a horse for you to ride, and guns to shoot; and me and Dick would do all the work for you. But there are others here you can't leave for me. Well, then, good-by, dear. In Africa, or here, I shall always love you; and many a salt tear I shall shed for you yet, many a one I have, as well you know. God bless you. Pray for poor Phoebe, that goes against her will to Africa, and leaves her heart with thee."
This was too much even for the selfish Reginald. He kneeled at her knees, and took her hand, and kissed it, and actually shed a tear or two over it.
She could not speak. He had no hope of changing her resolution; and presently he heard Dick's voice outside, so he got up to avoid him. "I'll come again in the morning, before you go."
"Oh, no! no!" she gasped. "Unless you want me to die at your feet. I am almost dead now."
Reginald slipped out by the kitchen.
Dick came in, and found his sister leaning with her head back against the wall. "Why, Phoebe," said he, "whatever is the matter?" and he took her by the shoulder.
She moaned, and he felt her all limp and powerless.
"What is it, lass? Whatever is the matter? Is it about going away?"
She would not speak for a long time.
When she did speak, it was to say something for which my male reader may not be prepared. But it will not surprise the women.
"O Dick--forgive me!"
"Why, what for?"
"Forgive me, or else kill me: I don't care which."
"I do, though. There, I forgive you. Now what's your crime?"
"I can't go. Forgive me!"
"I can't. Forgive me!"
"I'm blessed if I don't believe that vagabond has been here tormenting of you again."
"Oh, don't miscall him. He is penitent. Yes, Dick, he has been here crying to me--and I can't leave him. I can't--I can't. Dear Dick! you are young and stout-hearted; take all the things over, and make your fortune out there, and leave your poor foolish sister behind. I should only fling myself into the salt sea if I left him now, and that would be peace to me, but a grief to thee."
"Lordsake, Phoebe, don't talk so. I can't go without you. And do but think, why, the horses are on board by now, and all the gear. It's my belief a good hiding is all you want, to bring you to your senses; but I han't the heart to give you one, worse luck. Blessed if I know what to say or do."
"I won't go!" cried Phoebe, turning violent all of a sudden. "No, not if I am dragged to the ship by the hair of my head. Forgive me!" And with that word she was a mouse again.
"Eh, but women are kittle cattle to drive," said poor Dick ruefully. And down he sat at a nonplus, and very unhappy.
Phoebe sat opposite, sullen, heart-sick, wretched to the core; but determined not to leave Reginald.
Then came an event that might have been foreseen, yet it took them both by surprise.
A light step was heard, and a graceful, though seedy, figure entered the room with a set speech in his mouth: "Phoebe, you are right. I owe it to your long and faithful affection to make a sacrifice for you. I will go to Africa with you. I will go to the end of the world, sooner than you shall say I care for any woman on earth but you."
Both brother and sister were so unprepared for this, that they could hardly realize it at first.
Phoebe turned her great, inquiring eyes on the speaker, and it was a sight to see amazement, doubt, hope, and happiness animating her features, one after another.
"Is this real?" said she.
"I will sail with you to-morrow, Phoebe; and I will make you a good husband, if you will have me."
"That is spoke like a man," said Dick. "You take him at his word, Phoebe; and if he ill-uses you out there, I'll break every bone in his skin."
"How dare you threaten him?" said Phoebe. "You had best leave the room."
Out went poor Dick, with the tear in his eye at being snubbed so. While he was putting up the shutters, Phoebe was making love to her pseudo penitent. "My dear," said she, "trust yourself to me. You don't know all my love yet; for I have never been your wife, and I would not be your jade; that is the only thing I ever refused you. Trust yourself to me. Why, you never found happiness with others; try it with me. It shall be the best day's work you ever did, going out in the ship with me. You don't know how happy a loving wife can make her husband. I'll pet you out there as man was never petted. And besides, it isn't for life; Dick and me will soon make a fortune out there, and then I'll bring you home, and see you spend it any way you like but one. Oh, how I love you! do you love me a little? I worship the ground you walk on. I adore every hair of your head!" Her noble arm went round his neck in a moment, and the grandeur of her passion electrified him so far that he kissed her affectionately, if not quite so warmly as she did him: and so it was all settled. The maid was discharged that night instead of the morning, and Reginald was to occupy her bed. Phoebe went up-stairs with her heart literally on fire, to prepare his sleeping-room, and so Dick and Reginald had a word.
"I say, Dick, how long will this voyage be?"
"Two months, sir, I am told."
"Please to cast your eyes on this suit of mine. Don't you think it is rather seedy--to go to Africa with? Why, I shall disgrace you on board the ship. I say, Dick, lend me three sovs., just to buy a new suit at the slop-shop."
"Well, brother-in-law," said Dick, "I don't see any harm in that. I'll go and fetch them for you."
What does this sensible Dick do but go up-stairs to Phoebe, and say, "He wants three pounds to buy a suit; am I to lend it him?"
Phoebe was shaking and patting her penitent's pillow. She dropped it on the bed in dismay. "Oh, Dick, not for all the world! Why, if he had three sovereigns, he'd desert me at the water's edge. Oh, God help me, how I love him! God forgive me, how I mistrust him! Good Dick! kind Dick! say we have suits of clothes, and we'll fit him like a prince, as he ought to be, on board ship; but not a shilling of money: and, my dear, don't put the weight on me. You understand?"
"Ay, mistress, I understand."
"Oh, all right! and then don't you snap this here good, kind Dick's nose off at a word again."
"Never. I get wild if anybody threatens him. Then I'm not myself. Forgive my hasty tongue. You know I love you, dear!"
"Oh, ay! you love me well enough. But seems to me your love is precious like cold veal, and your love for that chap is hot roast beef."
"Ha, ha, ha, ha!"
"Oh, ye can laugh now, can ye?"
"Ha, ha, ha!"
"Well, the more of that music, the better for me."
"Yes, dear; but go and tell him."
Dick went down, and said, "I've got no money to spare, till I get to the Cape; but Phoebe has got a box full of suits, and I made her promise to keep it out. She will dress you like a prince, you may be sure."
"Oh, that is it, is it?" said Reginald dryly.
Dick made no reply.
At nine o'clock they were on board the vessel; at ten she weighed anchor, and a steam-vessel drew her down the river about thirty miles, then cast off, and left her to the south-easterly breeze. Up went sail after sail; she nodded her lofty head, and glided away for Africa.
Phoebe shed a few natural tears at leaving the shores of Old England; but they soon dried. She was demurely happy, watching her prize, and asking herself had she really secured it, and all in a few hours?
They had a prosperous voyage: were married at Cape Town, and went up the country, bag and baggage, looking out for a good bargain in land. Reginald was mounted on an English horse, and allowed to zigzag about, and shoot, and play, while his wife and brother-in-law marched slowly with their cavalcade.
What with air, exercise, wholesome food, and smiles of welcome, and delicious petting, this egotist enjoyed himself finely. He admitted as much. Says he, one evening to his wife, who sat by him for the pleasure of seeing him feed, "It sounds absurd; but I never was so happy in all my life."
At that, the celestial expression of her pastoral face, and the maternal gesture with which she drew her pet's head to her queenly bosom, was a picture for celibacy to gnash the teeth at.
DURING this period, the most remarkable things that happened to Dr. and Mrs. Staines were really those which I have related as connecting them with Phoebe Dale and her brother; to which I will now add that Dr. Staines detailed Dick's case in a remarkable paper, entitled Oedema of the Glottis, and showed how the patient had been brought back from the grave by tracheotomy and artificial respiration. He received a high price for this article.
To tell the truth, he was careful not to admit that it was he who had opened the windpipe; so the credit of the whole operation was given to Mr. Jenkyn; and this gentleman was naturally pleased, and threw a good many consultation fees in Staines's way.
The Lucases, to his great comfort--for he had an instinctive aversion to Miss Lucas--left London for Paris in August, and did not return all the year.
In February he reviewed his year's work and twelve months' residence in the Bijou. The pecuniary result was, outgoings, £950; income, from fees, £280; writing, £90.
He showed these figures to Mrs. Staines, and asked her if she could suggest any diminution of expenditure. Could she do with less housekeeping money?
"Oh, impossible! You cannot think how the servants eat; and they won't touch our home-made bread."
"The fools! Why?"
"Oh, because they think it costs us less. Servants seem to me always to hate the people whose bread they eat."
"More likely it is their vanity. Nothing that is not paid for before their eyes seems good enough for them. Well, dear, the bakers will revenge us. But is there any other item we could reduce? Dress?"
"Dress! Why, I spend nothing."
"Forty-five pounds this year."
"Well, I shall want none next year."
"Well, then, Rosa, as there is nothing we can reduce, I must write more, and take more fees, or we shall be in the wrong box. Only £860 left of our little capital; and, mind, we have not another shilling in the world. One comfort, there is no debt. We pay ready money for everything."
Rosa colored a little, but said nothing.
Staines did his part nobly. He read; he wrote; he paced the yard. He wore his old clothes in the house; he took off his new ones when he came in. He was all genius, drudgery, patience.
How Phoebe Dale would have valued him, co-operated with him, and petted him, if she had had the good luck to be his wife!
The season came back, and with it Miss Lucas, towing a brilliant bride, Mrs. Vivian, young, rich, pretty, and gay, with a waist you could span, and athirst for pleasure.
This lady was the first that ever made Rosa downright jealous. She seemed to have everything the female heart could desire; and she was No. 1 with Miss Lucas this year. Now, Rosa was No. 1 last season, and had weakly imagined that was to last forever. But Miss Lucas had always a sort of female flame, and it never lasted two seasons.
Rosa did not care so very much for Miss Lucas before, except as a convenient friend; but now she was mortified to tears at finding Miss Lucas made more fuss with another than with her.
This foolish feeling spurred her to attempt a rivalry with Mrs. Vivian, in the very things where rivalry was hopeless.
Miss Lucas gave both ladies tickets for a flower-show, where all the great folk were to be, princes and princesses, etc.
"But I have nothing to wear," sighed Rosa.
"Then you must get something, and mind it is not pink, please; for we must not clash in colors. You know I'm dark, and pink becomes me. (The selfish young brute was not half so dark as Rosa.) Mine is coming from Worth's, in Paris, on purpose. And this new Madame Cie, of Regent Street, has such a duck of a bonnet, just come from Paris. She wanted to make me one from it; but I told her I would have none but the pattern bonnet--and she knows very well she can't pass a copy off on me. Let me drive you up there, and you can see mine, and order one, if you like it."
"Oh, thank you! let me just run and speak to my husband first."
Staines was writing for the bare life, and a number of German books about him, slaving to make a few pounds--when in comes the buoyant figure and beaming face his soul delighted in.
He laid down his work, to enjoy the sunbeam of love.
"Oh, darling, I've only come in for a minute. We are going to a flower-show on the 13th; everybody will be so beautifully dressed--especially that Mrs. Vivian. I have got ten yards of beautiful blue silk in my wardrobe, but that is not enough to make a whole dress--everything takes so much stuff now. Madame Cie does not care to make up dresses unless she finds the silk, but Miss Lucas says she thinks, to oblige a friend of hers, she would do it for once in a way. You know, dear, it would only take a few yards more, and it would last as a dinner-dress for ever so long."
Then she clasped him round the neck, and leaned her head upon his shoulder, and looked lovingly up in his face. "I know you would like your Rosa to look as well as Mrs. Vivian."
"No one ever looks as well, in my eyes, as my Rosa. There, the dress will add nothing to your beauty; but go and get it, to please yourself; it is very considerate of you to have chosen something of which you have ten yards, already. See, dear, I'm to receive twenty pounds for this article; if research was paid it ought to be a hundred. I shall add it all to your allowance for dresses this year. So no debt, mind; but come to me for everything."
The two ladies drove off to Madame Cie's, a pretty shop lined with dark velvet and lace draperies.
In the back room they were packing a lovely bridal dress, going off the following Saturday to New York.
"What, send from America to London?"
"Oh, dear, yes!" exclaimed Madame Cie. "The American ladies are excellent customers. They buy everything of the best, and the most expensive."
"I have brought a new customer," said Miss Lucas; "and I want you to do a great favor, and that is to match a blue silk, and make her a pretty dress for the flower-show on the 13th."
Madame Cie produced a white muslin polonaise, which she was just going to send home to the Princess -----, to be worn over mauve.
"Oh, how pretty and simple!" exclaimed Miss Lucas.
"I have some lace exactly like that," said Mrs. Staines.
"Then why don't you have a polonaise? The lace is the only expensive part, the muslin is a mere nothing; and it is such a useful dress, it can be worn over any silk."
It was agreed Madame Cie was to send for the blue silk and the lace, and the dresses were to be tried on on Thursday.
On Thursday, as Rosa went gayly into Madame Cie's back room to have the dresses tried on, Madame Cie said, "You have a beautiful lace shawl, but it wants arranging; in five minutes I could astonish you with what I could do to that shawl."
"Oh, pray do," said Mrs. Staines.
The dressmaker kept her word. By the time the blue dress was tried on, Madame Cie had, with the aid of a few pins, plaits, and a bow of blue ribbon, transformed the half lace shawl into one of the smartest and most distingué things imaginable; but when the bill came in at Christmas, for that five minutes' labor and distingué touch, she charged one pound eight.
Before they left, Mrs. Staines ordered a bonnet like the pattern bonnet from Paris; and Madame Cie, with oily tongue, persuaded her to let her send home the pink bonnet, which was so becoming to her; it was only slightly soiled, and there were certainly two good wears out of it, and they would not quarrel about the price, which the Simpleton understood to mean the price was to be small; whereas it meant this, "I, in my brutal egotism, cannot conceive that you object to any price I charge, however high."
Madame Cie then told the ladies, in an artfully confidential tone, she had a quantity of black silk coming home, which she had purchased considerably below cost price; and that she should like to make them each a dress--not for her own sake, but theirs--as she knew they would never meet such a bargain again.
"You know, Miss Lucas," she continued, "we don't want our money, when we know our customers. Christmas is soon enough for us."
"Christmas is a long time off," thought the young wife, "nearly ten months. I think I'll have a black silk, Madame Cie; but I must not say anything to the doctor about it just yet, or he might think me extravagant."
"No one can ever think a lady extravagant for buying a black silk; it's such a useful dress; lasts forever--almost."
Days, weeks, and months rolled on, and with them an ever-rolling tide of flower-shows, dinners, at-homes, balls, operas, lawn-parties, concerts, and theatres.
Strange that in one house there should be two people who loved each other, yet their lives ran so far apart, except while they were asleep: the man all industry, self-denial, patience; the woman all frivolity, self-indulgence, and amusement; both chained to an oar, only--one in a working boat, the other in a painted galley.
The woman got tired first, and her charming color waned sadly. She came to him for medicine to set her up. "I feel so languid."
"No, no," said he; "no medicine can do the work of wholesome food and rational repose. You lack the season of all natures, sleep. Dine at home three days running, and go to bed at ten."
On this the doctor's wife went to a chemist for advice. He gave her a pink stimulant; and, as stimulants have two effects, viz., first to stimulate, and then to weaken, this did her no lasting good. Dr. Staines cursed the London season, and threatened to migrate to Liverpool.
But there was worse behind.
Returning one day to his dressing-room, just after Rosa had come down-stairs, he caught sight of a red stain in a wash-hand-basin. He examined it; it was arterial blood.
He went to her directly, and expressed his anxiety.
"Oh, it is nothing," said she.
"Nothing! Pray, how often has it occurred?"
"Once or twice. I must take your advice, and be quiet, that is all."
Staines examined the housemaid; she lied instinctively at first, seeing he was alarmed; but, being urged to tell the truth, said she had seen it repeatedly, and had told the cook.
He went down-stairs again, and sat down, looking wretched.
"Oh, dear!" said Rosa. "What is the matter now?"
"Rosa," said he, very gravely, "there are two people a woman is mad to deceive--her husband and her physician. You have deceived both."
I suspect Dr. Staines merely meant to say that she had concealed from him an alarming symptom for several weeks; but she answered in a hurry, to excuse herself, and let the cat out of the bag--excuse my vulgarity.
"It was all that Mrs. Vivian's fault. She laughed at me so for not wearing them; and she has a waist you can span--the wretch!"
"Oh, then, you have been wearing stays clandestinely?"
"Why, you know I have. Oh, what a stupid! I have let it all out."
"How could you do it, when you knew, by experience, it is your death?"
"But it looks so beautiful, a tiny waist."
"It looks as hideous as a Chinese foot, and, to the eye of science, far more disgusting; it is the cause of so many unlovely diseases."
"Just tell me one thing; have you looked at Mrs. Vivian?"
"Minutely. I look at all your friends with great anxiety, knowing no animal more dangerous than a fool. Vivian--a skinny woman, with a pretty face, lovely hair, good teeth, dying eyes--"
"A sure proof of a disordered stomach--and a waist pinched in so unnaturally, that I said to myself, 'Where on earth does this idiot put her liver?' Did you ever read of the frog who burst, trying to swell to an ox? Well, here is the rivalry reversed; Mrs. Vivian is a bag of bones in a balloon; she can machine herself into a wasp; but a fine young woman like you, with flesh and muscle, must kill yourself three or four times before you can make your body as meagre, hideous, angular, and unnatural as Vivian's. But all you ladies are mono-maniacs; one might as well talk sense to a gorilla. It brought you to the edge of the grave. I saved you. Yet you could go and--God grant me patience. So I suppose these unprincipled women lent you their stays to deceive your husband?"
"No. But they laughed at me so that-- Oh, Christie, I'm a wretch; I kept a pair at the Lucases, and a pair at Madame Cie's, and I put them on now and then."
"But you never appeared here in them?"
"What, before my tyrant? Oh no, I dared not."
"So you took them off before you came home?"
Rosa hung her head, and said "Yes" in a reluctant whisper.
"You spent your daylight dressing. You dressed to go out; dressed again in stays; dressed again without them; and all to deceive your husband, and kill yourself, at the bidding of two shallow, heartless women, who would dance over your grave without a pang of remorse, or sentiment of any kind, since they live, like midges, only to dance in the sun, and suck some worker's blood."
"Oh, Christie! I'm so easily led. I am too great a fool to live. Kill me!"
And she kneeled down, and renewed the request, looking up in his face with an expression that might have disarmed Cain ipsum.
He smiled superior. "The question is, Are you sorry you have been so thoughtless?"
"Yes, dear. Oh! oh!"
"Will you be very good to make up?"
"Oh, yes. Only tell me how; for it does not come natural to poor me."
"Keep out of those women's way for the rest of the season."
"Bring your stays home, and allow me to do what I like with them."
"Of course. Cut them in a million pieces."
"Till you are recovered, you must be my patient, and go nowhere without me."
"That is no punishment, I am sure."
"Punishment! Am I the man to punish you? I only want to save you."
"Well, darling, it won't be the first time."
"No; but I do hope it will be the last."
"Sublata causa tollitur effectus." The stays being gone, and dissipation moderated, Mrs. Staines bloomed again, and they gave one or two unpretending little dinners at the Bijou. Dr. Staines admitted no false friends to these. They never went beyond eight; five gentlemen, three ladies. By this arrangement the terrible discursiveness of the fair, and man's cruel disposition to work a subject threadbare, were controlled and modified, and a happy balance of conversation established. Lady Cicely Treherne was always invited, and always managed to come; for she said, "They were the most agweeable little paaties in London, and the host and hostess both so intewesting." In the autumn, Staines worked double tides with the pen, and found a vehicle for medical narratives in a weekly magazine that did not profess medicine.
This new vein put him in heart. His fees, towards the end of the year, were less than last year, because there was no hundred-guinea fee; but there was a marked increase in the small fees, and the unflagging pen had actually earned him £200, or nearly. So he was in good spirits.
Not so Mrs. Staines; for some time she had been uneasy, fretful, and like a person with a weight on her mind.
One Sunday she said to him, "Oh, dear, I do feel so dull. Nobody to go to church with, nor yet to the Zoo."
"I'll go with you," said Staines.
"You will! To which?"
"To both; in for a penny, in for a pound."
So to church they went; and Staines, whose motto was "Hoc age," minded his book. Rosa had intervals of attention to the words, but found plenty of time to study the costumes.
During the Litany in bustled Clara, the housemaid, with a white jacket on so like her mistress's, that Rosa clutched her own convulsively, to see whether she had not been skinned of it by some devilish sleight-of-hand.
No, it was on her back; but Clara's was identical.
In her excitement, Rosa pinched Staines, and with her nose, that went like a water-wagtail, pointed out the malefactor. Then she whispered, "Look! How dare she? My very jacket! Earrings too, and brooches, and dresses her hair like mine."
"Well, never mind," whispered Staines. "Sunday is her day. We have got all the week to shine. There, don't look at her--'From all evil speaking, lying, and slandering'--"
"I can't keep my eyes off her."
"Attend to the Litany. Do you know, this is really a beautiful composition?"
"I'd rather do the work fifty times over myself."
"Hush! people will hear you."
When they walked home after church, Staines tried to divert her from the consideration of her wrongs; but no--all other topics were too flat by comparison.
She mourned the hard fate of mistresses--unfortunate creatures that could not do without servants.
"Is not that a confession that servants are good, useful creatures, with all their faults? Then as to the mania for dress, why, that is not confined to them. It is the mania of the sex. Are you free from it?"
"No, of course not. But I am a lady, if you please."
"Then she is your intellectual inferior, and more excusable. Anyway, it is wise to connive at a thing we can't help."
"What keep her, after this? no, never."
"My dear, pray do not send her away, for she is tidy in the house, and quick, and better than any one we have had this last six months; and you know you have tried a great number."
"To hear you speak, one would think it was my fault that we have so many bad servants."
"I never said it was your fault; but I think, dearest, a little more forbearance in trifles--"
"Trifles! trifles--for a mistress and maid to be seen dressed alike in the same church? You take the servants' part against me, that you do."
"You should not say that, even in jest. Come now, do you really think a jacket like yours can make the servant look like you, or detract from your grace and beauty? There is a very simple way; put your jacket by for a future occasion, and wear something else in its stead at church."
"A nice thing, indeed, to give in to these creatures. I won't do it."
"Why won't you, this once?"
"Because I won't--there!"
"That is unanswerable," said he.
Mrs. Staines said that; but when it came to acting, she deferred to her husband's wish; she resigned her intention of sending for Clara and giving her warning. On the contrary, when Clara let her in, and the white jackets rubbed together in the narrow passage, she actually said nothing, but stalked to her own room, and tore her jacket off, and flung it on the floor.
Unfortunately, she was so long dressing for the Zoo, that Clara came in to arrange the room. She picks up the white jacket, takes it in both hands, gives it a flap, and proceeds to hang it up in the wardrobe.
Then the great feminine heart burst its bounds.
"You can leave that alone. I shall not wear that again."
Thereupon ensued an uneven encounter, Clara being one of those of whom the Scripture says, "The poison of asps is under their tongues."
"La, ma'am," said she, "why, 'tain't so very dirty."
"No; but it is too common."
"Oh, because I've got one like it. Ay. Missises can't abide a good-looking servant, nor to see 'em dressed becoming."
"Mistresses do not like servants to forget their place, nor wear what does not become their situation."
"My situation! Why, I can pay my way, go where I will. I don't tremble at the tradesmen's knock, as some do."
"Leave the room! Leave it this moment."
"Leave the room, yes--and I'll leave the house too, and tell all the neighbors what I know about it."
She flounced out and slammed the door; and Rosa sat down, trembling.
Clara rushed to the kitchen, and there told the cook and Andrew Pearman how she had given it to the mistress, and every word she had said to her, with a good many more she had not.
The cook laughed and encouraged her.
But Andrew Pearman was wroth, and said, "You to affront our mistress like that! Why, if I had heard you, I'd have twisted your neck for ye."
"It would take a better man than you to do that. You mind your own business. Stick to your one-horse chay."
"Well, I'm not above my place, for that matter. But you gals must always be aping your betters."
"I have got a proper pride, that is all, and you haven't. You ought to be ashamed of yourself to do two men's work; drive a brougham and wait on a horse, and then come in and wait at table, You are a tea-kettle groom, that is what you are. Why, my brother was coachman to Lord Fitz-James, and gave his lordship notice the first time he had to drive the children. Says he, 'I don't object to the children, my lord, but with her ladyship in the carriage.' It's such servants as you as spoil places. No servant as knows what's due to a servant ought to know you. They'd scorn your 'quaintance, as I do, Mr. Pearman."
"You are a stuck-up hussy, and a soldier's jade," roared Andrew.
"And you are a low tea-kettle groom."
This expression wounded the great equestrian soul to the quick; the rest of Sunday he pondered on it; the next morning he drove the doctor, as usual, but with a heavy heart.
Meantime, the cook made haste and told the baker Pearman had "got it hot" from the housemaid, and she had called him a tea-kettle groom; and in less than half an hour after that it was in every stable in the mews. Why, as Pearman was taking the horse out of the brougham, didn't two little red-headed urchins call out, "Here, come and see the tea-kettle groom!" and at night some mischievous boy chalked on the black door of the stable a large white tea-kettle, and next morning a drunken, idle fellow, with a clay pipe in his mouth, and a dirty pair of corduroy trousers, no coat, but a shirt very open at the chest, showing inflamed skin, the effect of drink, inspected that work of art with blinking eyes and vacillating toes, and said, "This comes of a chap doing too much. A few more like you, and work would be scarce. A fine thing for gentlefolks to make one man fill two places! but it ain't the gentlefolks' fault, it's the man as humors 'em."
Pearman was a peaceable man, and made no reply, but went on with his work; only during the day he told his master that he should be obliged to him if he would fill his situation as soon as convenient.
The master inquired the cause, and the man told him, and said the mews was too hot for him.
The doctor offered him five pounds a year more, knowing he had a treasure; but Pearman said, with sadness and firmness, that he had made up his mind to go, and go he would.
The doctor's heart fairly sank at the prospect of losing the one creature he could depend upon.
Next Sunday evening Clara was out, and fell in with friends, to whom she exaggerated her grievance.
Then they worked her up to fury, after the manner of servants' friends. She came home, packed her box, brought it down, and then flounced into the room to Doctor and Mrs. Staines, and said, "I shan't sleep another night in this house."
Rosa was about to speak, but Dr. Staines forbade her: he said, "You had better think twice of that. You are a good servant, though for once you have been betrayed into speaking disrespectfully. Why forfeit your character, and three weeks' wages?"
"I don't care for my wages. I won't stay in such a house as this."
"Come, you must not be impertinent."
"I don't mean to, sir," said she, lowering her voice suddenly; then, raising it as suddenly, "There are my keys, ma'am, and you can search my box."
"Mrs. Staines will not search your box; and you will retire at once to your own part of the house."
"I'll go farther than that," said she, and soon after the street door was slammed; the Bijou shook.
At six o'clock next morning, she came for her box. It had been put away for safety. Pearman told her she must wait till the doctor came down. She did not wait, but went at eleven A.M. to a police-magistrate, and took out a summons against Dr. Staines, for detaining a box containing certain articles specified--value under fifteen pounds.
When Dr. Staines heard she had been for her box, but left no address, he sent Pearman to hunt for her. He could not find her. She avoided the house, but sent a woman for her diurnal love letters. Dr. Staines sent the woman back to fetch her. She came, received her box, her letters, and the balance of her wages, which was small, for Staines deducted the three weeks' wages.
Two days afterwards, to his surprise, the summons was served.
Out of respect for a court of justice, however humble, Dr. Staines attended next Monday to meet the summons.
The magistrate was an elderly man, with a face shaped like a hog's, but much richer in color, being purple and pimply; so foul a visage Staines had rarely seen, even in the lowest class of the community.
Clara swore that her box had been opened, and certain things stolen out of it; and that she had been refused the box next morning.
Staines swore that he had never opened the box, and that, if any one else had, it was with her consent, for she had left the keys for that purpose. He bade the magistrate observe that if a servant went away like this, and left no address, she put it out of the master's power to send her box after her; and he proved he had some trouble to force the box on her.
The pig-faced beak showed a manifest leaning towards the servant, but there wasn't a leg to stand on; and he did not believe, nor was it credible, that anything had been stolen out of her box.
At this moment, Pearman, sent by Rosa, entered the court with an old gown of Clara's that had been discovered in the scullery, and a scribbling-book of the doctor's, which Clara had appropriated, and written amorous verses in, very superior--in number--to those that have come down to us from Anacreon.
"Hand me those," said the pig-faced beak.
"What are they, Dr. Staines?"
"I really don't know. I must ask my servant."
"Why, more things of mine that have been detained," said Clara.
"Some things that have been found since she left," said Staines.
"Oh! those that hide know where to find."
"Young woman," said Staines, "do not insult those whose bread you have eaten, and who have given you many presents besides your wages. Since you are so ready to accuse people of stealing, permit me to say that this book is mine, and not yours; and yet, you see, it is sent after you because you have written your trash in it."
The purple, pig-faced beak went instantly out of the record, and wasted a deal of time reading Clara's poetry, and trying to be witty. He raised the question whose book this was. The girl swore that it was given her by a lady who was now in Rome. Staines swore he bought it of a certain stationer, and happening to have his passbook in his pocket, produced an entry corresponding with the date of the book.
The pig-faced beak said that the doctor's was an improbable story, and that the gown and the book were quite enough to justify the summons. Verdict, one guinea costs.
"What, because two things she never demanded have been found and sent after her? This is monstrous. I shall appeal to your superiors."
"If you are impertinent I'll fine you five pounds."
"Very well, sir. Now hear me: if this is an honest judgment, I pray God I may be dead before the year's out; and, if it isn't, I pray God you may be."
Then the pig-faced beak fired up, and threatened to fine him for blaspheming.
He deigned no reply, but paid the guinea, and Clara swept out of the court, with a train a yard long, and leaning on the arm of a scarlet soldier who avenged Dr. Staines with military promptitude.
Christopher went home raging internally, for hitherto he had never seen so gross a case of injustice.
One of his humble patients followed him, and said, "I wish I had known, sir; you shouldn't have come here to be insulted. Why, no gentleman can ever get justice against a servant girl when he is sitting. It is notorious, and that makes these hussies so bold. I've seen that jade here with the same story twice afore."
Staines reached home more discomposed than he could have himself believed. The reason was that barefaced injustice in a court of justice shook his whole faith in man. He opened the street door with his latch-key, and found two men standing in the passage. He inquired what they wanted.
"Well, sir," said one of them, civilly enough, "we only want our due."
"For goods delivered at this house, sir. Balance of account." And he handed him a butcher's bill, £88, 11s. 5 1/2d.
"You must be mistaken; we run no bills here. We pay ready money for everything."
"Well, sir," said the butcher, "there have been payments; but the balance has always been gaining; and we have been put off so often, we determined to see the master. Show you the books, sir, and welcome."
"This instant, if you please." He took the butcher's address, who then retired, and the other tradesman, a grocer, told him a similar tale; balance, sixty pounds odd.
He went to the butcher's, sick at heart, inspected the books, and saw that, right or wrong, they were incontrovertible; that debt had been gaining slowly, but surely, almost from the time he confided the accounts to his wife. She had kept faith with him about five weeks, no more.
The grocer's books told a similar tale.
The debtor put his hand to his heart, and stood a moment. The very grocer pitied him, and said, "There's no harry, doctor; a trifle on account, if settlement in full not convenient just now. I see you have been kept in the dark."
"No, no," said Christopher; "I'll pay every shilling." He gave one gulp, and hurried away.
At the fishmonger's, the same story, only for a smaller amount.
A bill of nineteen pounds at the very pastrycook's; a place she had promised him, as her physician, never to enter.
At the draper's, thirty-seven pounds odd.
In short, wherever she had dealt, the same system: partial payments, and ever-growing debt.
Remembering Madame Cie, he drove in a cab to Regent Street, and asked for Mrs. Staines's account.
"Shall I send it, sir?"
"No; I will take it with me."
"Miss Edwards, make out Mrs. Staines's account, if you please."
Miss Edwards was a good while making it out; but it was ready at last. He thrust it into his pocket, without daring to look at it there; but he went into Verrey's, and asked for a cup of coffee, and perused the document.
MRS. DR. STAINES,
TO MADAME CIE, DR.
To 1 black silk costume
To 1 costume of reseda fallie, with cashmere polonaise
To 1 bonnet of pink velvet, with plume
To making trained dress of blue gros grain
To 12 yards of gros grain for do., with trimmings
To draping lace shawl
To 1 Sicilenne Dolman
To 1 round hat of fallie and crape
To 1 cashmere morning dress
To 2 camisoles
To 1 crinoline bustle
He went home, and into his studio, and sat down on his hard beech chair; he looked round on his books and his work, and then, for the first time, remembered how long and how patiently he had toiled for every hundred pounds he had made; and he laid the evidences of his wife's profusion and deceit by the side of those signs of painful industry and self-denial, and his soul filled with bitterness. "Deceit! deceit!"
Mrs. Staines heard he was in the house, and came to know about the trial. She came hurriedly in, and caught him with his head on the table, in an attitude of prostration, quite new to him; he raised his head directly he heard her, and revealed a face, pale, stern, and wretched.
"Oh! what is the matter now?" said she.
"The matter is what it has always been, if I could only have seen it. You have deceived me, and disgraced yourself. Look at those bills."
"What bills? Oh!"
"You have had an allowance for housekeeping."
"It wasn't enough."
"It was plenty, if you had kept faith with me, and paid ready money. It was enough for the first five weeks. I am housekeeper now, and I shall allow myself two pounds a week less, and not owe a shilling either."
"Well, all I know is, I couldn't do it: no woman could."
"Then, you should have come to me, and said so; and I would have shown you how. Was I in Egypt, or at the North Pole, that you could not find me, to treat me like a friend? You have ruined us: these debts will sweep away the last shilling of our little capital; but it isn't that, oh, no! it is the miserable deceit."
Rosa's eye caught the sum total of Madame Cie's bill, and she turned pale. "Oh, what a cheat that woman is!"
But she turned paler when Christopher said, "That is the one honest bill; for I gave you leave. It is these that part us: these! these! Look at them, false heart! There, go and pack up your things. We can live here no longer; we are ruined. I must send you back to your father."
"I thought you would, sooner or later," said Mrs. Staines, panting, trembling, but showing a little fight. "He told you I wasn't fit to be a poor man's wife."
"An honest man's wife, you mean: that is what you are not fit for. You will go home to your father, and I shall go into some humble lodging to work for you. I'll contrive to keep you, and find you a hundred a year to spend in dress--the only thing your heart can really love. But I won't have an enemy here in the disguise of a friend; and I won't have a wife about me I must treat like a servant, and watch like a traitor."
The words were harsh, but the agony with which they were spoken distinguished them from vulgar vituperation.
They overpowered poor Rosa; she had been ailing a little some time, and from remorse and terror, coupled with other causes, nature gave way. Her lips turned white, she gasped inarticulately, and, with a little piteous moan, tottered, and swooned dead away.
He was walking wildly about, ready to tear his hair, when she tottered; he saw her just in time to save her, and laid her gently on the floor, and kneeled over her.
Away went anger and every other feeling but love and pity for the poor, weak creature that, with all her faults, was so lovable and so loved.
He applied no remedies at first: he knew they were useless and unnecessary. He laid her head quite low, and opened door and window, and loosened all her dress, sighing deeply all the time at her condition.
While he was thus employed, suddenly a strange cry broke from him: a cry of horror, remorse, joy, tenderness, all combined: a cry compared with which language is inarticulate. His swift and practical eye had made a discovery.
He kneeled over her, with his eyes dilating and his hands clasped, a picture of love and tender remorse.
Then he made haste, and applied his remedies, and brought her slowly back to life; he lifted her up, and carried her in his arms quite away from the bills and things, that, when she came to, she might see nothing to revive her distress. He carried her to the drawing-room, and kneeled down and rocked her in his arms, and pressed her again and again gently to his heart, and cried over her. "O my dove, my dove! the tender creature God gave me to love and cherish, and have I used it harshly? If I had only known! if I had only known!"
While he was thus bemoaning her, and blaming himself, and crying over her like the rain,--he, whom she had never seen shed a tear before in all his troubles,--she was coming to entirely, and her quick ears caught his words, and she opened her lovely eyes on him.
"I forgive you, dear," she said feebly. "BUT I HOPE YOU WILL BE A KINDER FATHER THAN A HUSBAND."
These quiet words, spoken with rare gravity and softness, went through the great heart like a knife.
He gave a sort of shiver, but said not a word.
But that night he made a solemn vow to God that no harsh word from his lips should ever again strike a being so weak, so loving, and so beyond his comprehension. Why look for courage and candor in a creature so timid and shy, she could not even tell her husband that until, with her subtle sense, she saw he had discovered it?
TO be a father; to have an image of his darling Rosa, and a fruit of their love to live and work for: this gave the sore heart a heavenly glow, and elasticity to bear. Should this dear object be born to an inheritance of debt, of poverty? Never.
He began to act as if he was even now a father. He entreated Rosa not to trouble or vex herself; he would look into their finances, and set all straight.
He paid all the bills, and put by a quarter's rent and taxes. Then there remained of his little capital just £10.
He went to his printers, and had a thousand order-checks printed. These forms ran thus:--
"Dr. Staines, of 13 Dear Street, Mayfair (blank for date), orders of (blank here for tradesman and goods ordered), for cash. Received same time (blank for tradesman's receipt). Notice: Dr. Staines disowns all orders not printed on this form, and paid for at date of order."
He exhibited these forms, and warned all the tradespeople, before a witness whom he took round for that purpose.
He paid off Pearman on the spot. Pearman had met Clara, dressed like a pauper, her soldier having emptied her box to the very dregs, and he now offered to stay. But it was too late.
Staines told the cook Mrs. Staines was in delicate health, and must not be troubled with anything. She must come to him for all orders.
"Yes, sir," said she. But she no sooner comprehended the check system fully than she gave warning. It put a stop to her wholesale pilfering. Rosa's cooks had made fully £100 out of her amongst them since she began to keep accounts.
Under the male housekeeper every article was weighed on delivery, and this soon revealed that the butcher and the fishmonger had habitually delivered short weight from the first, besides putting down the same thing twice. The things were sent back that moment, with a printed form, stating the nature and extent of the fraud.
The washer-woman, who had been pilfering wholesale so long as Mrs. Staines and her sloppy-headed maids counted the linen, and then forgot it, was brought up with a run, by triplicate forms, and by Staines counting the things before two witnesses, and compelling the washerwoman to count them as well, and verify or dispute on the spot. The laundress gave warning--a plain confession that stealing had been part of her trade.
He kept the house well for £3 a week, exclusive of coals, candles, and wine. His wife had had £5, and whatever she asked for dinner-parties, yet found it not half enough upon her method.
He kept no coachman. If he visited a patient, a man in the yard drove him at a shilling per hour.
By these means, and by working like a galley slave, he dragged his expenditure down almost to a level with his income.
Rosa was quite content at first, and thought herself lucky to escape reproaches on such easy terms.
But by and by so rigorous a system began to gall her. One day she fancied a Bath bun; sent the new maid to the pastry-cook's. Pastry-cook asked to see the doctor's order. Maid could not show it, and came back bunless.
Rosa came into the study to complain to her husband.
"A Bath bun," said Staines. "Why, they are colored with annotto, to save an egg, and annotto is adulterated with chromates that are poison. Adulteration upon adulteration. I'll make you a real Bath bun." Off coat, and into the kitchen, and made her three, pure, but rather heavy. He brought them her in due course. She declined them languidly. She was off the notion, as they say in Scotland.
"If I can't have a thing when I want it, I don't care for it at all." Such was the principle she laid down for his future guidance.
He sighed, and went back to his work; she cleared the plate.
One day, when she asked for the carriage, he told her the time was now come for her to leave off carriage exercise. She must walk with him every day, instead.
"But I don't like walking."
"I am sorry for that. But it is necessary to you, and by and by your life may depend on it."
Quietly, but inexorably, he dragged her out walking every day.
In one of these walks she stopped at a shop window, and fell in love with some baby's things. "Oh! I must have that," said she. "I must. I shall die if I don't; you'll see now."
"You shall," said he, "when I can pay for it," and drew her away.
The tears of disappointment stood in her eyes, and his heart yearned over her. But he kept his head.
He changed the dinner hour to six, and used to go out directly afterwards.
She began to complain of his leaving her alone like that.
"Well, but wait a bit," said he; "suppose I am making a little money by it, to buy you something you have set your heart on, poor darling!"
In a very few days after this, he brought her a little box with a slit in it. He shook it, and money rattled; then he unlocked it, and poured out a little pile of silver. "There," said he, "put on your bonnet, and come and buy those things."
She put on her bonnet, and on the way she asked how it came to be all in silver.
"That is a puzzler," said he, "isn't it?"
"And how did you make it, dear? by writing?"
"By fees from the poor people?"
"What, undersell my brethren! Hang it, no! My dear, I made it honestly, and some day I will tell you how I made it; at present, all I will tell you is this: I saw my darling longing for something she had a right to long for; I saw the tears in her sweet eyes, and--oh, come along, do. I am wretched till I see you with the things in your hand."
They went to the shop; and Staines sat and watched Rosa buying baby-clothes. Oh, it was a pretty sight to see this modest young creature, little more than a child herself, anticipating maternity, but blushing every now and then, and looking askant at her lord and master. How his very bowels yearned over her!
And when they got home, she spread the things on a table, and they sat hand in hand, and looked at them, and she leaned her head on his shoulder, and went quietly to sleep there.
And yet, as time rolled on, she became irritable at times, and impatient, and wanted all manner of things she could not have, and made him unhappy.
Then he was out from six o'clock till one, and she took it into her head to be jealous. So many hours to spend away from her! Now that she wanted all his comfort.
Presently, Ellen, the new maid, got gossiping in the yard, and a groom told her her master had a sweetheart on the sly, he thought; for he drove the brougham out every evening himself; "and," said the man, "he wears a mustache at night."
Ellen ran in, brimful of this, and told the cook; the cook told the washerwoman; the washerwoman told a dozen families, till about two hundred people knew it.
At last it came to Mrs. Staines in a roundabout way, at the very moment when she was complaining to Lady Cicely Treherne of her hard lot. She had been telling her she was nothing more than a lay-figure in the house.
"My husband is housekeeper now, and cook, and all, and makes me delicious dishes, I can tell you; such curries! I couldn't keep the house with five pounds a week, so now he does it with three: and I never get the carriage, because walking is best for me; and he takes it out every night to make money. I don't understand it."
Lady Cicely suggested that perhaps Dr. Staines thought it best for her to be relieved of all worry, and so undertook the housekeeping.
"No, no, no," said Rosa; "I used to pay them all a part of their bills, and then a little more, and so I kept getting deeper; and I was ashamed to tell Christie, so that he calls deceit; and oh, he spoke to me so cruelly once! But he was very sorry afterwards, poor dear! Why are girls brought up so silly? all piano, and no sense; and why are men sillier still to go and marry such silly things? A wife! I am not so much as a servant. Oh, I am finely humiliated, and," with a sudden hearty naïveté all her own, "it serves me just right."
While Lady Cicely was puzzling this out, in came a letter. Rosa opened it, read it, and gave a cry like a wounded deer.
"Oh!" she cried, "I am a miserable woman. What will become of me?"
The letter informed her bluntly that her husband drove his brougham out every night to pursue a criminal amour.
While Rosa was wringing her hands in real anguish of heart, Lady Cicely read the letter carefully.
"I don't believe this," said she quietly.
"Not true! Why, who would be so wicked as to stab a poor, inoffensive wretch like me, if it wasn't true?"
"The first ugly woman would, in a minute. Don't you see the witer can't tell you where he goes? Dwives his bwougham out! That is all your infaumant knows."
"Oh, my dear friend, bless you! What have I been complaining to you about? All is light, except to lose his love. What shall I do? I will never tell him. I will never affront him by saying I suspected him."
"Wosa, if you do that, you will always have a serpent gnawing you. No; you must put the letter quietly into his hand, and say, 'Is there any truth in that?'"
"Oh, I could not. I haven't the courage. If I do that, I shall know by his face if there is any truth in it."
"Well, and you must know the twuth. You shall know it. I want to know it too; for if he does not love you twuly, I will nevaa twust myself to anything so deceitful as a man."
Rosa at last consented to follow this advice.
After dinner she put the letter into Christopher's hand, and asked him quietly was there any truth in that: then her hands trembled, and her eyes drank him.
Christopher read it, and frowned; then he looked up, and said, "No, not a word. What scoundrels there are in the world! To go and tell you that, now! Why, you little goose! have you been silly enough to believe it?"
"No," said she irresolutely. "But do you drive the brougham out every night?"
"My dear wife, I never loved you as I love you now; and if it was not for you, I should not drive the brougham out of nights. That is all I shall tell you at present; but some day I'll tell you all about it."
He took such a calm high hand with her about it, that she submitted to leave it there; but from this moment the serpent doubt nibbled her.
It had one curious effect, though. She left off complaining of trifles.
Now it happened one night that Lady Cicely Treherne and a friend were at a concert in Hanover Square. The other lady felt rather faint, and Lady Cicely offered to take her home. The carriages had not yet arrived, and Miss Macnamara said to walk a few steps would do her good: a smart cabman saw them from a distance and drove up, and touching his hat said, "Cab, ladies?"
It seemed a very superior cab, and Miss Macnamara said "Yes" directly.
The cabman bustled down and opened the door; Miss Macnamara got in first, then Lady Cicely; her eye fell on the cabman's face, which was lighted full by a street-lamp, and it was Christopher Staines!
He started and winced; but the woman of the world never moved a muscle.
"Where to?" said Staines, averting his head.
She told him where, and when they got out, said, "I'll send it you by the servant."
A flunkey soon after appeared with half-a-crown, and the amateur coachman drove away. He said to himself, "Come, my mustache is a better disguise than I thought."
Next day, and the day after, he asked Rosa, with affected carelessness, had she heard anything of Lady Cicely.
"No, dear; but I dare say she will call this afternoon: it is her day."
She did call at last, and after a few words with Rosa, became a little restless, and asked if she might consult Dr. Staines.
"Certainly, dear. Come to his studio."
"No; might I see him here?"
"Certainly." She rang the bell, and told the servant to ask Dr. Staines if he would be kind enough to step into the drawing-room.
Dr. Staines came in, and bowed to Lady Cicely, and eyed her a little uncomfortably.
She began, however, in a way that put him quite at his ease. "You remember the advice you gave us about my little cousin Tadcastah."
"Perfectly: his life is very precarious; he is bilious, consumptive, and, if not watched, will be epileptical; and he has a fond, weak mother, who will let him kill himself."
"Exactly: and you wecommended a sea voyage, with a medical attendant to watch his diet, and contwol his habits. Well, she took other advice, and the youth is worse; so now she is fwightened, and a month ago she asked me to pwopose to you to sail about with Tadcastah; and she offered me a thousand pounds a year. I put on my stiff look, and said, 'Countess, with every desiah to oblige you, I must decline to cawwy that offah to a man of genius, learning, and weputation, who has the ball at his feet in London.'"
"Lord forgive you, Lady Cicely."
"Lord bless her for standing up for my Christie."
Lady Cicely continued: "Now, this good lady, you must know, is not exactly one of us: the late earl mawwied into cotton, or wool, or something. So she said, 'Name your price for him.' I shwugged my shoulders, smiled affably, and as affectedly as you like, and changed the subject. But since then things have happened. I am afwaid it is my duty to make you the judge whether you choose to sail about with that little cub--Rosa, I can beat about the bush no longer. Is it a fit thing that a man of genius, at whose feet we ought all to be sitting with reverence, should drive a cab in the public streets? Yes, Rosa Staines, your husband drives his brougham out at night, not to visit any other lady, as that anonymous wretch told you, but to make a few misewable shillings for you."
"It is no use, Dr. Staines; I must and will tell her. My dear, he drove me three nights ago. He had a cabman's badge on his poor arm. If you knew what I suffered in those five minutes! Indeed it seems cruel to speak of it--but I could not keep it from Rosa, and the reason I muster courage to say it before you, sir, it is because I know she has other friends who keep you out of their consultations; and, after all, it is the world that ought to blush, and not you."
Her ladyship's kindly bosom heaved, and she wanted to cry; so she took her handkerchief out of her pocket without the least hurry, and pressed it delicately to her eyes, and did cry quietly, but without any disguise, like a brave lady, who neither cried nor did anything else she was ashamed to be seen at.
As for Rosa, she sat sobbing round Christopher's neck, and kissed him with all her soul.
"Dear me!" said Christopher. "You are both very kind. But, begging your pardon, it is much ado about nothing."
Lady Cicely took no notice of that observation. "So, Rosa dear," said she, "I think you are the person to decide whether he had not better sail about with that little cub, than--oh!"
"I will settle that," said Staines. "I have one beloved creature to provide for. I may have another. I must make money. Turning a brougham into a cab, whatever you may think, is an honest way of making it, and I am not the first doctor who has coined his brougham at night. But if there is a good deal of money to be made by sailing with Lord Tadcaster, of course I should prefer that to cab-driving, for I have never made above twelve shillings a night."
"Oh, as to that, she shall give you fifteen hundred a year."
"Then I jump at it."
"What! and leave me?"
"Yes, love: leave you--for your good; and only for a time. Lady Cicely, it is a noble offer. My darling Rosa will have every comfort--ay, every luxury, till I come home, and then we will start afresh with a good balance, and with more experience than we did at first."
Lady Cicely gazed on him with wonder. She said, "Oh! what stout hearts men have! No, no; don't let him go. See; he is acting. His great heart is torn with agony. I will have no hand in parting man and wife--no, not for a day." And she hurried away in rare agitation.
Rosa fell on her knees, and asked Christopher's pardon for having been jealous; and that day she was a flood of divine tenderness. She repaid him richly for driving the cab. But she was unnaturally cool about Lady Cicely; and the exquisite reason soon came out. "Oh yes! She is very good; very kind; but it is not for me now! No! you shall not sail about with her cub of a cousin, and leave me at such a time."
"Christie, you shall not see that lady again. She came here to part us. She is in love with you. I was blind not to see it before."
Next day, as Lady Cicely sat alone in the morning-room thinking over this very scene, a footman brought in a card and a note. "Dr. Staines begs particularly to see Lady Cicely Treherne."
The lady's pale cheek colored; she stood irresolute a single moment. "I will see Dr. Staines," said she.
Dr. Staines came in, looking pale and worn; he had not slept a wink since she saw him last.
She looked at him full, and divined this at a glance. She motioned him to a seat, and sat down herself, with her white hand pressing her forehead, and her head turned a little away from him.
HE told her he had come to thank her for her great kindness, and to accept the offer.
She sighed. "I hoped it was to decline it. Think of the misery of separation, both to you and her."
"It will be misery. But we are not happy as it is, and she cannot bear poverty. Nor is it fair she should, when I can give her every comfort by just playing the man for a year or two." He then told Lady Cicely there were more reasons than he chose to mention: go he must, and would; and he implored her not to let the affair drop. In short, he was sad but resolved, and she found she must go on with it, or break faith with him. She took her desk, and wrote a letter concluding the bargain for him. She stipulated for half the year's fee in advance. She read Dr. Staines the letter.
"You are a friend!" said he. "I should never have ventured on that; it will be a godsend to my poor Rosa. You will be kind to her when I am gone?"
"So will Uncle Philip, I think. I will see him before I go, and shake hands. He has been a good friend to me; but he was too hard upon her, and I could not stand that."
Then he thanked and blessed her again, with the tears in his eyes, and left her more disturbed and tearful than she had ever been since she grew to woman. "O cruel poverty!" she thought, "that such a man should be torn from his home, and thank me for doing it--all for a little money--and here are we poor commonplace creatures rolling in it."
Staines hurried home, and told his wife. She clung to him convulsively, and wept bitterly; but she made no direct attempt to shake his resolution; she saw, by his iron look, that she could only afflict, not turn him.
Next day came Lady Cicely to see her. Lady Cicely was very uneasy in her mind, and wanted to know whether Rosa was reconciled to the separation.
Rosa received her with a forced politeness and an icy coldness that petrified her. She could not stay long in face of such a reception. At parting, she said, sadly, "You look on me as an enemy."
"What else can you expect, when you part my husband and me?" said Rosa, with quiet sternness.
"I meant well," said Lady Cicely sorrowfully; "but I wish I had never interfered."
"So do I," and she began to cry.
Lady Cicely made no answer. She went quietly away, hanging her head sadly.
Rosa was unjust, but she was not rude nor vulgar; and Lady Cicely's temper was so well governed that it never blinded her heart. She withdrew, but without the least idea of quarrelling with her afflicted friend, or abandoning her. She went quietly home, and wrote to Lady ----, to say that she should be glad to receive Dr. Staines's advance as soon as convenient, since Mrs. Staines would have to make fresh arrangements, and the money might be useful.
The money was forthcoming directly. Lady Cicely brought it to Dear Street, and handed it to Dr. Staines. His eyes sparkled at the sight of it.
"Give my love to Rosa," said she softly, and cut her visit very short.
Staines took the money to Rosa, and said, "See what our best friend has brought us. You shall have four hundred, and I hope, after the bitter lessons you have had, you will be able to do with that for some months. The two hundred I shall keep as a reserve fund for you to draw on."
"No, no!" said Rosa. "I shall go and live with my father, and never spend a penny. O Christie, if you knew how I hate myself for the folly that is parting us! Oh, why don't they teach girls sense and money, instead of music and the globes?"
But Christopher opened a banking account for her, and gave her a check-book, and entreated her to pay everything by check, and run no bills whatever; and she promised. He also advertised the Bijou, and put a bill in the window: "The lease of this house, and the furniture, to be sold."
Rosa cried bitterly at sight of it, thinking how high in hope they were, when they had their first dinner there, and also when she went to her first sale to buy the furniture cheap.
And now everything moved with terrible rapidity. The Amphitrite was to sail from Plymouth in five days; and, meantime, there was so much to be done, that the days seemed to gallop away.
Dr. Staines forgot nothing. He made his will in duplicate, leaving all to his wife; he left one copy at Doctors' Commons and another with his lawyer; inventoried all his furniture and effects in duplicate, too; wrote to Uncle Philip, and then called on him to seek a reconciliation. Unfortunately, Dr. Philip was in Scotland. At last this sad pair went down to Plymouth together, there to meet Lord Tadcaster and go on board H.M.S. Amphitrite, lying out at anchor, under orders for the Australian Station.
They met at the inn, as appointed; and sent word of their arrival on board the frigate, asking to remain on shore till the last minute.
Dr. Staines presented his patient to Rosa; and after a little while drew him apart and questioned him professionally. He then asked for a private room. Here he and Rosa really took leave; for what could the poor things say to each other on a crowded quay? He begged her forgiveness, on his knees, for having once spoken harshly to her, and she told him, with passionate sobs, he had never spoken harshly to her; her folly it was had parted them.
Poor wretches! they clung together with a thousand vows of love and constancy. They were to pray for each other at the same hours: to think of some kind word or loving act, at other stated hours; and so they tried to fight with their suffering minds against the cruel separation; and if either should die, the other was to live wedded to memory, and never listen to love from other lips; but no! God was pitiful; He would let them meet again ere long, to part no more. They rocked in each other's arms; they cried over each other--it was pitiful.
At last the cruel summons came; they shuddered, as if it was their death-blow. Christopher, with a face of agony, was yet himself, and would have parted then: and so best. But Rosa could not. She would see the last of him, and became almost wild and violent when he opposed it.
Then he let her come with him to Milbay Steps; but into the boat he would not let her step.
The ship's boat lay at the steps, manned by six sailors, all seated, with their oars tossed in two vertical rows. A smart middy in charge conducted them, and Dr. Staines and Lord Tadcaster got in, leaving Rosa, in charge of her maid, on the quay.
"Shove off"--"Down"--"Give way."
Each order was executed so swiftly and surely that, in as many seconds, the boat was clear, the oars struck the water with a loud splash, and the husband was shot away like an arrow, and the wife's despairing cry rang on the stony quay, as many a poor woman's cry had rung before.
In half a minute the boat shot under the stern of the frigate.
They were received on the quarter-deck by Captain Hamilton. He introduced them to the officers--a torture to poor Staines, to have his mind taken for a single instant from his wife--the first lieutenant came aft, and reported, "Ready for making sail, sir."
Staines seized the excuse, rushed to the other side of the vessel, leaned over the taffrail, as if he would fly ashore, and stretched out his hands to his beloved Rosa; and she stretched out her hands to him. They were so near, he could read the expression of her face. It was wild and troubled, as one who did not yet realize the terrible situation, but would not be long first.
"HANDS MAKE SAIL--AWAY, ALOFT--UP ANCHOR," rang in Christopher's ear, as if in a dream. All his soul and senses were bent on that desolate young creature. How young and amazed her lovely face! Yet this bewildered child was about to become a mother. Even a stranger's heart might have yearned with pity for her: how much more her miserable husband's!
The capstan was manned, and worked to a merry tune that struck chill to the bereaved; yards were braced for casting, anchor hove, catted, and fished, sail was spread with amazing swiftness, the ship's head dipped, and slowly and gracefully paid off towards the breakwater, and she stood out to sea under swiftly-swelling canvas and a light north-westerly breeze.
Staines only felt the motion: his body was in the ship, his soul with his Rosa. He gazed, he strained his eyes to see her eyes, as the ship glided from England and her. While he was thus gazing and trembling all over, up came to him a smart second lieutenant, with a brilliant voice that struck him like a sword. "Captain's orders to show you berths; please choose for Lord Tadcaster and yourself."
The man's wild answer made the young officer stare. "Oh, sir! not now--try and do my duty when I have quite lost her--my poor wife--a child--a mother--there--sir--on the steps--there!--there!"
Now this officer always went to sea singing "Oh be joyful." But a strong man's agony, who can make light of it? It was a revelation to him; but he took it quickly. The first thing he did, being a man of action, was to dash into his cabin, and come back with a short, powerful double glass. "There!" said he roughly, but kindly, and shoved it into Staines's hand. He took it, stared at it stupidly, then used it, without a word of thanks, so wrapped was he in his anguish.
This glass prolonged the misery of that bitter hour. When Rosa could no longer tell her husband from another, she felt he was really gone, and she threw her hands aloft, and clasped them above her head, with the wild abandon of a woman who could never again be a child; and Staines saw it, and a sharp sigh burst from him, and he saw her maid and others gather round her. He saw the poor young thing led away, with her head all down, as he had never seen her before, and supported to the inn; and then he saw her no more.
His heart seemed to go out of his bosom in search of her, and leave nothing but a stone behind: he hung over the taffrail like a dead thing. A steady foot-fall slapped his ear. He raised his white face and filmy eyes, and saw Lieutenant Fitzroy marching to and fro like a sentinel, keeping everybody away from the mourner, with the steady, resolute, business-like face of a man in whom sentiment is confined to action; its phrases and its flourishes being literally terra incognita to the honest fellow.
Staines staggered towards him, holding out both hands, and gasped out, "God bless you. Hide me somewhere--must not be seen so--got duty to do--Patient--can't do it yet--one hour to draw my breath--oh, my God, my God!--one hour, sir. Then do my duty, if I die--as you would."
Fitzroy tore him down into his own cabin, shut him in and ran to the first lieutenant, with a tear in his eye. "Can I have a sentry, sir?"
"Sentry! What for?"
"The doctor--awfully cut up at leaving his wife: got him in my cabin. Wants to have his cry to himself."
"Fancy a fellow crying at going to sea!"
"It is not that, sir; it is leaving his wife."
"Well, is he the only man on board that has got a wife?"
"Why, no, sir. It is odd, now I think of it. Perhaps he has only got that one."
"Curious creatures, landsmen," said the first lieutenant. "However, you can stick a marine there."
"And I say, show the youngster the berths, and let him choose, as the doctor's aground."
So Fitzoy planted his marine, and then went after Lord Tadcaster: he had drawn up alongside his cousin, Captain Hamilton. The captain, being an admirer of Lady Cicely, was mighty civil to his little lordship, and talked to him more than was his wont on the quarterdeck; for though he had a good flow of conversation, and dispensed with ceremony in his cabin, he was apt to be rather short on deck. However, he told little Tadcaster he was fortunate; they had a good start, and, if the wind held, might hope to be clear of the Channel in twenty-four hours. "You will see Eddystone lighthouse about four bells," said he.
"Shall we go out of sight of land altogether?" inquired his lordship.
"Of course we shall, and the sooner the better." He then explained to the novice that the only danger to a good ship was from the land.
While Tadcaster was digesting this paradox, Captain Hamilton proceeded to descant on the beauties of blue water and its fine medicinal qualities, which, he said, were particularly suited to young gentlemen with bilious stomachs, but presently, catching sight of Lieutenant Fitzroy standing apart, but with the manner of a lieutenant not there by accident, he stopped, and said, civilly but smartly, "Well, sir?"
Fitzroy came forward directly, saluted, and said he had orders from the first lieutenant to show Lord Tadcaster the berths. His lordship must be good enough to choose, because the doctor--couldn't.
"Brought to, sir--for the present--by--well, by grief."
"Brought to by grief! Who the deuce is grief? No riddles on the quarter-deck, if you please, sir."
"Oh no, sir. I assure you he is awfully cut up; and he is having his cry out in my cabin."
"Having his cry out! why, what for?"
"Leaving his wife, sir."
"Oh, is that all?"
"Well, I don't wonder," cried little Tadcaster warmly. "She is, oh, so beautiful!" and a sudden blush o'erspread his pasty cheeks. "Why on earth didn't we bring her along with us here?" said he, suddenly opening his eyes with astonishment at the childish omission.
"Why, indeed?" said the captain comically, and dived below, attended by the well-disciplined laughter of Lieutenant Fitzroy, who was too good an officer not to be amused at his captain's jokes. Having acquitted himself of that duty--and it is a very difficult one sometimes--he took Lord Tadcaster to the main-deck, and showed him two comfortable sleeping-berths that had been screened off for him and Dr. Staines; one of these was fitted with a standing bed-place, the other had a cot swung in it. Fitzroy offered him the choice, but hinted that he himself preferred a cot.
"No, thank you," says my lord mighty dryly.
"All right," said Fitzroy cheerfully. "Take the other, then, my lord."
His little lordship cocked his eye like a jackdaw, and looked almost as cunning. "You see," said he, "I have been reading up for this voyage."
"Oh, indeed! Logarithms?"
"Of course not."
"Why, Peter Simple--to be sure."
"Ah, ha!" said Fitzroy, with a chuckle that showed plainly he had some delicious reminiscences of youthful study in the same quarter.
The little lord chuckled too, and put one finger on Fitzroy's shoulder, and pointed at the cot with another. "Tumble out the other side, you know--slippery hitches--cords cut--down you come flop in the middle of the night."
Fitzroy's eye flashed merriment: but only for a moment. His countenance fell the next. "Lord bless you," said he sorrowfully, "all that game is over now. Her Majesty's ship!--it is a church afloat. The service is going to the devil, as the old fogies say."
"Ain't you sorry?" says the little lord, cocking his eye again like the bird hereinbefore mentioned.
"Of course I am."
"Then I'll take the standing bed."
"All right. I say, you don't mind the doctor coming down with a run, eh?"
"He is not ill: I am. He is paid to take care of me: I am not paid to take care of him," said the young lord sententiously.
"I understand," replied Fitzroy, dryly. "Well, every one for himself, and Providence for us all--as the elephant said when he danced among the chickens."
Here my lord was summoned to dine with the captain. Staines was not there; but he had not forgotten his duty; in the midst of his grief he had written a note to the captain, hoping that a bereaved husband might not seem to desert his post if he hid for a few hours the sorrow he felt himself unable to control. Meantime he would be grateful if Captain Hamilton would give orders that Lord Tadcaster should eat no pastry, and drink only six ounces of claret, otherwise he should feel that he was indeed betraying his trust.
The captain was pleased and touched with this letter. It recalled to him how his mother sobbed when she launched her little middy, swelling with his first cocked hat and dirk.
There was champagne at dinner, and little Tadcaster began to pour out a tumbler. "Hold on!" said Captain Hamilton; "you are not to drink that;" and he quietly removed the tumbler. "Bring him six ounces of claret."
While they were weighing the claret with scientific precision, Tadcaster remonstrated; and, being told it was the doctor's order, he squeaked out, "Confound him! why did not he stay with his wife? She is beautiful." Nor did he give it up without a struggle. "Here's hospitality!" said he. "Six ounces!"
Receiving no reply, he inquired of the third lieutenant, which was generally considered the greatest authority in a ship--the captain, or the doctor.
The third lieutenant answered not, but turned his head away, and, by violent exertion, succeeded in not splitting.
"I'll answer that," said Hamilton politely. "The captain is the highest in his department, and the doctor in his: now Doctor Staines is strictly within his department, and will be supported by me and my officers. You are bilious, and epileptical, and all the rest of it, and you are to be cured by diet and blue water."
Tadcaster was inclined to snivel: however, he subdued that weakness with a visible effort, and, in due course, returned to the charge. "How would you look," quavered he, "if there was to be a mutiny in this ship of yours, and I was to head it?'
"Well, I should look sharp--hang all the ringleaders at the yardarm, clap the rest under hatches, and steer for the nearest prison."
"Oh!" said Tadcaster, and digested this scheme a bit. At last he perked up again, and made his final hit. "Well, I shouldn't care, for one, if you didn't flog us."
"In that case," said Captain Hamilton, "I'd flog you--and stop your six ounces."
"Then curse the sea; that is all I say."
"Why, you have not seen it; you have only seen the British Channel." It was Mr. Fitzroy who contributed this last observation.
After dinner all but the captain went on deck, and saw the Eddystone lighthouse ahead and to leeward. They passed it. Fitzroy told his lordship its story, and that of its unfortunate predecessors. Soon after this Lord Tadcaster turned in.
Presently the captain observed a change in the thermometer, which brought him on deck. He scanned the water and the sky, and as these experienced commanders have a subtle insight into the weather, especially in familiar latitudes, he remarked to the first lieutenant that it looked rather unsettled; and, as a matter of prudence, ordered a reef in the topsails, and the royal yards to be sent down: ship to be steered W. by S. This done, he turned in, but told them to call him if there was any change in the weather.
During the night the wind gradually headed; and at four bells in the middle watch a heavy squall came up from the south-west.
This brought the captain on deck again: he found the officer of the watch at his post, and at work. Sail was shortened, and the ship made snug for heavy weather.
At four A.M. it was blowing hard, and, being too near the French coast, they wore the ship.
Now, this operation was bad for little Tadcaster. While the vessel was on the starboard tack, the side kept him snug; but, when they wore her, of course he had no leeboard to keep him in. The ship gave a lee-lurch, and shot him clean out of his bunk into the middle of the cabin.
He shrieked and shrieked, with terror and pain, till the captain and Staines, who were his nearest neighbors, came to him, and they gave him a little brandy, and got him to bed again. Here he suffered nothing but violent seasickness for some hours. As for Staines, he had been swinging heavily in his cot; but such was his mental distress that he would have welcomed seasickness, or any reasonable bodily suffering. He was in that state when the sting of a wasp is a touch of comfort.
Worn out with sickness, Tadcaster would not move. Invited to breakfast, he swore faintly, and insisted on dying in peace. At last exhaustion gave him a sort of sleep, in spite of the motion, which was violent, for it was now blowing great guns, a heavy sea on, and the great waves dirty in color and crested with raging foam.
They had to wear ship again, always a ticklish manoeuvre in weather like this.
A tremendous sea struck her quarter, stove in the very port abreast of which the little lord was lying, and washed him clean out of bed into the lee scuppers, and set all swimming around him.
Didn't he yell, and wash about the cabin, and grab at all the chairs and tables and things that drifted about, nimble as eels, avoiding his grasp!
In rushed the captain, and in staggered Staines. They stopped his "voyage autour de sa chambre," and dragged him into the after saloon.
He clung to them by turns, and begged, with many tears, to be put on the nearest land; a rock would do.
"Much obliged," said the captain; "now is the very time to give rocks a wide berth."
"A dead whale, then--a lighthouse--anything but a beast of a ship."
They pacified him with a little brandy, and for the next twenty-four hours he scarcely opened his mouth, except for a purpose it is needless to dwell on. We can trust to our terrestrial readers' personal reminiscences of lee-lurches, weather-rolls, and their faithful concomitant.
At last they wriggled out of the Channel, and soon after that the wind abated, and next day veered round to the northward, and the ship sailed almost on an even keel. The motion became as heavenly as it had been diabolical, and the passengers came on deck.
Staines had suffered one whole day from sea-sickness, but never complained. I believe it did his mind more good than harm.
As for Tadcaster, he continued to suffer, at intervals, for two days more, but on the fifth day out he appeared with a little pink tinge on his cheek and a wolfish appetite. Dr. Staines controlled his diet severely, as to quality, and, when they had been at sea just eleven days, the physician's heavy heart was not a little lightened by the marvellous change in him. The unthinking, who believe in the drug system, should have seen what a physician can do with air and food, when circumstances enable him to enforce the diet he enjoins. Money will sometimes buy even health, if you avoid drugs entirely, and go another road.
Little Tadcaster went on board, pasty, dim-eyed, and very subject to fits, because his stomach was constantly overloaded with indigestible trash, and the blood in his brain-vessels was always either galloping or creeping, under the first or second effect of stimulants administered, at first, by thoughtless physicians. Behold him now--bronzed, pinky, bright-eyed, elastic; and only one fit in twelve days.
The quarter-deck was hailed from the "look-out" with a cry that is sometimes terrible, but in this latitude and weather welcome and exciting. "Land, ho!"
"Where away?" cried the officer of the watch.
"A point on the lee-bow, sir."
It was the island of Madeira: they dropped anchor in Funchal Roads, furled sails, squared yards, and fired a salute of twenty-one guns for the Portuguese flag.
They went ashore, and found a good hotel, and were no longer dosed, as in former days, with oil, onions, garlic, eggs. But the wine queer, and no Madeira to be got.
Staines wrote home to his wife: he told her how deeply he had felt the bereavement; but did not dwell on that; his object being to cheer her. He told her it promised to be a rapid and wonderful cure, and one that might very well give him a fresh start in London. They need not be parted a whole year, he thought. He sent her a very long letter, and also such extracts from his sea journal as he thought might please her. After dinner they inspected the town, and what struck them most was to find the streets paved with flag-stones, and most of the carts drawn by bullocks on sledges. A man every now and then would run forward and drop a greasy cloth in front of the sledge, to lubricate the way.
Next day, after breakfast, they ordered horses; these on inspection, proved to be of excellent breed, either from Australia or America--very rough shod, for the stony roads. Started for the Grand Canal--peeped down that mighty chasm, which has the appearance of an immense mass having been blown out of the centre of the mountain.
They lunched under the great dragon tree near its brink, then rode back admiring the bold mountain scenery. Next morning at dawn, rode on horses up the hill to the convent. Admired the beautiful gardens on the way. Remained a short time; then came down in hand-sleighs--little baskets slung on sledges, guided by two natives; these sledges run down the hill with surprising rapidity, and the men guide them round corners by sticking out a foot to port or starboard.
Embarked at 11.30 A.M.
At 1.30, the men having dined, the ship was got under way for the Cape of Good Hope, and all sail made for a southerly course, to get into the north-east trades.
The weather was now balmy and delightful, and so genial that everybody lived on deck, and could hardly be got to turn in to their cabins, even for sleep.
Dr. Staines became a favorite with the officers. There is a great deal of science on board a modern ship of war, and, of course, on some points Staines, a Cambridge wrangler, and a man of many sciences and books, was an oracle. On others he was quite behind, but a ready and quick pupil. He made up to the navigating officer, and learned, with his help, to take observations. In return he was always at any youngster's service in a trigonometrical problem; and he amused the midshipmen and young lieutenants with analytical tests; some of these were applicable to certain liquids dispensed by the paymaster. Under one of them the port wine assumed some very droll colors and appearances not proper to grape-juice.
One lovely night that the ship clove the dark sea into a blaze of phosphorescence, and her wake streamed like a comet's tail, a waggish middy got a bucketful hoisted on deck, and asked the doctor to analyze that. He did not much like it, but yielded to the general request; and by dividing it into smaller vessels, and dropping in various chemicals, made rainbows and silvery flames and what not. But he declined to repeat the experiment: "No, no; once is philosophy; twice is cruelty. I've slain more than Samson already."
As for Tadcaster, science had no charms for him; but fiction had; and he got it galore; for he cruised about the forecastle, and there the quartermasters and old seamen spun him yarns that held him breathless.
But one day my lord had a fit on the quarter-deck, and a bad one; and Staines found him smelling strong of rum. He represented this to Captain Hamilton. The captain caused strict inquiries to be made, and it came out that my lord had gone among the men, with money in both pockets, and bought a little of one man's grog, and a little of another, and had been sipping the furtive but transient joys of solitary intoxication.
Captain Hamilton talked to him seriously; told him it was suicide.
"Never mind, old boy," said the young monkey; "a short life and a merry one."
Then Hamilton represented that it was very ungentleman-like to go and tempt poor Jack with his money, to offend discipline, and get flogged. "How will you feel, Tadcaster, when you see their backs bleeding under the cat?"
"Oh, d--n it all, George, don't do that," says the young gentleman, all in a hurry.
Then the commander saw he had touched the right chord. So he played on it, till he got Lord Tadcaster to pledge his honor not to do it again.
The little fellow gave the pledge, but relieved his mind as follows: "But it is a cursed tyrannical hole, this tiresome old ship. You can't do what you like in it."
"Well, but no more you can in the grave: and that is the agreeable residence you were hurrying to but for this tiresome old ship."
"Lord! no more you can," said Tadcaster, with sudden candor. "I forgot that."
The airs were very light; the ship hardly moved. It was beginning to get dull, when one day a sail was sighted on the weather-bow, standing to the eastward: on nearing her, she was seen, by the cut of her sails, to be a man-of-war, evidently homeward bound: so Captain Hamilton ordered the main-royal to be lowered (to render signal more visible) and the "demand" hoisted. No notice being taken of this, a gun was fired to draw her attention to the signal. This had the desired effect; down went her main-royal, up went her "number." On referring to the signal book, she proved to be the Vindictive from the Pacific Station.
This being ascertained, Captain Hamilton, being that captain's senior, signalled "Close and prepare to receive letters." In obedience to this she bore up, ran down, and rounded to; the sail in the Amphitrite was also shortened, the maintopsail laid to the mast, and a boat lowered. The captain having finished his despatches, they, with the letter-bags, were handed into the boat, which shoved off, pulled to the lee side of the Vindictive, and left the despatches, with Captain Hamilton's compliments. On its return, both ships made sail on their respective course, exchanging "bon voyage" by signal, and soon the upper sails of the homeward-bounder were seen dipping below the horizon: longing eyes followed her on board the Amphitrite.
How many hurried missives had been written and despatched in that half-hour. But as for Staines, he was a man of forethought, and had a volume ready for his dear wife.
Lord Tadcaster wrote to Lady Cicely Treherne. His epistle, though brief, contained a plum or two.
He wrote: "What with sailing, and fishing, and eating nothing but roast meat, I'm quite another man."
This amused her ladyship a little, but not so much as the postscript, which was indeed the neatest thing in its way she had met with, and she had some experience, too.
"P.S.--I say, Cicely, I think I should like to marry you. Would you mind?"
Let us defy time and space to give you Lady Cicely's reply: "I should enjoy it of all things, Taddy. But, alas! I am too young."
N.B.--She was twenty-seven, and Tad sixteen. To be sure, Tad was four feet eleven, and she was only five feet six and a half.
To return to my narrative (with apologies), this meeting of the vessels caused a very agreeable excitement that day; but a greater was in store. In the afternoon, Tadcaster, Staines, and the principal officers of the ship, being at dinner in the captain's cabin, in came the officer of the watch, and reported a large spar on the weather-bow.
"Well, close it, if you can; and let me know if it looks worth picking up."
He then explained to Lord Tadcaster that, on a cruise, he never liked to pass a spar, or anything that might possibly reveal the fate of some vessel or other.
In the middle of his discourse the officer came in again, but not in the same cool business way: he ran in excitedly, and said, "Captain, the signalman reports it alive!"
"Alive?--a spar! What do you mean? Something alive on it, eh?"
"No, sir; alive itself."
"How can that be? Hail him again. Ask him what it is."
The officer went out, and hailed the signalman at the mast-head. "What is it?"
"Sea-sarpint, I think."
This hail reached the captain's ears faintly. However, he waited quietly till the officer came in and reported it; then he burst out, "Absurd! there is no such creature in the universe. What do you say, Dr. Staines?--It is in your department."
"The universe in my department, captain?"
"Haw! haw! haw!" went Fitzroy and two more.
"No, you rogue, the serpent."
Dr. Staines, thus appealed to, asked the captain if he had ever seen small snakes out at sea.
"Why, of course. Sailed through a mile of them once, in the archipelago."
"Sure they were snakes?"
"Quite sure; and the biggest was not eight feet long."
"Very well, captain; then sea-serpents exist, and it becomes a mere question of size. Now which produces the larger animals in every kind,--land or sea? The grown elephant weighs, I believe, about five tons. The very smallest of the whale tribe weighs ten; and they go as high as forty tons. There are smaller fish than the whale, that are four times as heavy as the elephant. Why doubt, then, that the sea can breed a snake to eclipse the boa-constrictor? Even if the creature had never been seen, I should, by mere reasoning from analogy, expect the sea to produce a serpent excelling the boa-constrictor, as the lobster excels a crayfish of our rivers: see how large things grow at sea! the salmon born in our rivers weighs in six months a quarter of a pound, or less; it goes out to sea, and comes back in one year weighing seven pounds. So far from doubting the large sea-serpents, I believe they exist by the million. The only thing that puzzles me is, why they should ever show a nose above water; they must be very numerous, I think."
Captain Hamilton laughed, and said, "Well, this is new. Doctor, in compliment to your opinion, we will go on deck, and inspect the reptile you think so common." He stopped at the door, and said, "Doctor, the saltcellar is by you. Would you mind bringing it on deck? We shall want a little to secure the animal."
So they all went on deck right merrily.
The captain went up a few ratlines in the mizzen rigging, and looked to windward, laughing all the time: but, all of a sudden, there was a great change in his manner. "Good heavens, it is alive--LUFF!"
The helmsman obeyed; the news spread like wildfire. Mess kids, grog kids, pipes, were all let fall, and some three hundred sailors clustered on the rigging like bees, to view the long-talked-of monster.
It was soon discovered to be moving lazily along, the propelling part being under water, and about twenty-five feet visible. It had a small head for so large a body, and, as they got nearer, rough scales were seen, ending in smaller ones further down the body. It had a mane, but not like a lion's, as some have pretended. If you have ever seen a pony with a hog-mane, that was more the character of this creature's mane, if mane it was.
They got within a hundred yards of it, and all saw it plainly, scarce believing their senses.
When they could get no nearer for the wind, the captain yielded to that instinct which urges man always to kill a curiosity, "to encourage the rest," as saith the witty Voltaire. "Get ready a gun--best shot in the ship lay and fire it."
This was soon done. Bang went the gun. The shot struck the water close to the brute, and may have struck him under water, for aught I know. Any way, it sorely disturbed him; for he reared into the air a column of serpent's flesh that looked as thick as the maintopmast of a seventy-four, opened a mouth that looked capacious enough to swallow the largest buoy anchor in the ship, and, with a strange grating noise between a bark and a hiss, dived, and was seen no more.
When he was gone, they all looked at one another like men awaking from a dream.
Staines alone took it quite coolly. It did not surprise him in the least. He had always thought it incredible that the boa-constrictor should be larger than any sea-snake. That idea struck him as monstrous and absurd. He noted the sea-serpent in his journal, but with this doubt, "Semble--more like a very large eel."
Next day they crossed the line. Just before noon a young gentleman burst into Staines's cabin, apologizing for want of ceremony; but if Dr. Staines would like to see the line, it was now in sight from the mizzentop.
"Glad of it, sir," said Staines; "collect it for me in the ship's buckets, if you please. I want to send a line to friends at home."
Young gentleman buried his hands in his pockets, walked out in solemn silence, and resumed his position on the lee-side of the quarter-deck.
Nevertheless, this opening, coupled with what he had heard and read, made Staines a little uneasy, and he went to his friend Fitzroy, and said, "Now, look here: I am at the service of you experienced and humorous mariners. I plead guilty at once to the crime of never having passed the line; so, make ready your swabs, and lather me; your ship's scraper, and shave me; and let us get it over. But Lord Tadcaster is nervous, sensitive, prouder than he seems, and I'm not going to have him driven into a fit for all the Neptunes and Amphitrites in creation."
Fitzroy heard him out, then burst out laughing. "Why, there is none of that game in the Royal Navy," said he. "Hasn't been this twenty years."
"I'm so sorry," said Dr. Staines. "If there's a form of wit I revere, it is practical joking."
"Doctor, you are a satirical beggar."
Staines told Tadcaster, and he went forward and chaffed his friend the quartermaster, who was one of the forecastle wits.
"I say, quartermaster, why doesn't Neptune come on board?"
"I wonder what has become of poor old Nep?"
"Gone ashore!" growled the seaman. "Last seen in Rateliff Highway. Got a shop there--lends a shilling in the pound on seamen's advance tickets."
"Oh! and Amphitrite?"
"Married the sexton at Wapping."
"And the Nereids?"
"Neruds!" (scratching his head.) "I harn't kept my eye on them small craft. But I believe they are selling oysters in the port of Leith."
A light breeze carried them across the equator; but soon after they got becalmed, and it was dreary work, and the ship rolled gently, but continuously, and upset Lord Tadcaster's stomach again, and quenched his manly spirit.
At last they were fortunate enough to catch the southeast trade, but it was so languid at first that the ship barely moved through the water, though they set every stitch, and studding sails alow and aloft, till really she was acres of canvas.
While she was so creeping along, a man in the mizzentop noticed an enormous shark gliding steadily in her wake. This may seem a small incident, yet it ran through the ship like wildfire, and caused more or less uneasiness in three hundred stout hearts; so near is every seaman to death, and so strong the persuasion in their superstitious minds, that a shark does not follow a ship pertinaciously without a prophetic instinct of calamity.
Unfortunately, the quartermaster conveyed this idea to Lord Tadcaster, and confirmed it by numerous examples to prove that there was always death at hand when a shark followed the ship.
Thereupon Tadcaster took it into his head that he was under a relapse, and the shark was waiting for his dead body: he got quite low-spirited.
Staines told Fitzroy. Fitzroy said, "Shark be hanged! I'll have him on deck in half an hour." He got leave from the captain: a hook was baited with a large piece of pork, and towed astern by a stout line, experienced old hands attending to it by turns.
The shark came up leisurely, surveyed the bait, and, I apprehend, ascertained the position of the hook. At all events, he turned quietly on his back, sucked the bait off, and retired to enjoy it.
Every officer in the ship tried him in turn, but without success; for, if they got ready for him, and, the moment he took the bait, jerked the rope hard, in that case he opened his enormous mouth so wide that the bait and hook came out clear. But, sooner or later, he always got the bait, and left his captors the hook.
This went on for days, and his huge dorsal fin always in the ship's wake.
Then Tadcaster, who had watched these experiments with hope, lost his spirit and appetite.
Staines reasoned with him, but in vain. Somebody was to die; and, although there were three hundred and more in the ship, he must be the one. At last he actually made his will, and threw himself into Staines's arms, and gave him messages to his mother and Lady Cicely; and ended by frightening himself into a fit.
This roused Staines's pity, and also put him on his mettle. What, science be beaten by a shark!
He pondered the matter with all his might; and at last an idea came to him.
He asked the captain's permission to try his hand. This was accorded immediately, and the ship's stores placed at his disposal very politely, but with a sly, comical grin.
Dr. Staines got from the carpenter some sheets of zinc and spare copper, and some flannel: these he cut into three-inch squares, and soaked the flannel in acidulated water. He then procured a quantity of bell-wire, the greater part of which he insulated by wrapping it round with hot gutta percha. So eager was he, that he did not turn in all night.
In the morning he prepared what he called an electric fuse--he filled a soda-water bottle with gunpowder, attaching some cork to make it buoyant, put in the fuse and bung, made it water-tight, connected and insulated his main wires--enveloped the bottle in pork--tied a line to it, and let the bottle overboard.
The captain and officers shook their heads mysteriously. The tars peeped and grinned from every rope to see a doctor try and catch a shark with a soda-water bottle and no hook; but somehow the doctor seemed to know what he was about, so they hovered round, and awaited the result, mystified, but curious, and showing their teeth from ear to ear.
"The only thing I fear," said Staines, "is that, the moment he takes the bait, he will cut the wire before I can complete the circuit, and fire the fuse."
Nevertheless, there was another objection to the success of the experiment. The shark had disappeared.
"Well," said the captain, "at all events, you have frightened him away."
"No," said little Tadcaster, white as a ghost; "he is only under water, I know; waiting--waiting."
"There he is," cried one in the ratlines.
There was a rush to the taffrail--great excitement.
"Keep clear of me," said Staines quietly but firmly. "It can only be done at the moment before he cuts the wire."
The old shark swam slowly round the bait.
He saw it was something new.
He swam round and round it.
"He won't take it," said one.
"He suspects something."
"Oh, yes, he will take the meat somehow, and leave the pepper. Sly old fox!"
"He has eaten many a poor Jack, that one."
The shark turned slowly on his back, and, instead of grabbing at the bait, seemed to draw it by gentle suction into that capacious throat, ready to blow it out in a moment if it was not all right.
The moment the bait was drawn out of sight, Staines completed the circuit; the bottle exploded with a fury that surprised him and everybody who saw it; a ton of water flew into the air, and came down in spray, and a gory carcass floated, belly uppermost, visibly staining the blue water.
There was a roar of amazement and applause.
The carcass was towed alongside, at Tadcaster's urgent request, and then the power of the explosion was seen. Confined, first by the bottle, then by the meat, then by the fish, and lastly by the water, it had exploded with tenfold power, had blown the brute's head into a million atoms, and had even torn a great furrow in its carcass, exposing three feet of the backbone.
Taddy gloated on his enemy, and began to pick up again from that hour.
The wind improved, and, as usual in that latitude, scarcely varied a point. They had a pleasant time,--private theatricals and other amusements till they got to latitude 26 deg. S. and longitude 27 deg. W. Then the trade wind deserted them. Light and variable winds succeeded.
The master complained of the chronometers, and the captain thought it his duty to verify or correct them; and so shaped his course for the island of Tristan d'Acunha, then lying a little way out of his course. I ought, perhaps, to explain to the general reader that the exact position of this island being long ago established and recorded, it was an infallible guide to go by in verifying a ship's chronometers.
Next day the glass fell all day, and the captain said he should double-reef topsails at nightfall, for something was brewing.
The weather, however, was fine, and the ship was sailing very fast, when, about half an hour before sunset, the mast-head man hailed that there was a bulk of timber in sight, broad on the weather-bow.
The signalman was sent up, and said it looked like a raft.
The captain, who was on deck, levelled his glass at it, and made it out a raft, with a sort of rail to it, and the stump of a mast.
He ordered the officer of the watch to keep the ship as close to the wind as possible. He should like to examine it if he could.
The master represented, respectfully, that it would be unadvisable to beat to windward for that. "I have no faith in our chronometers, sir, and it is important to make the island before dark; fogs rise here so suddenly."
"Very well, Mr. Bolt; then I suppose we must let the raft go."
"MAN ON THE RAFT TO WINDWARD!" hailed the signalman.
This electrified the ship. The captain ran up the mizzen rigging, and scanned the raft, now nearly abeam.
"It is a man!" he cried, and was about to alter the ship's course when, at that moment, the signalman hailed again,--
"IT IS A CORPSE."
"How d'ye know?"
"By the gulls."
Then succeeded an exciting dialogue between the captain and the master, who, being in his department, was very firm; and went so far as to say he would not answer for the safety of the ship, if they did not sight the land before dark.
The captain said, "Very well," and took a turn or two. But at last he said, "No. Her Majesty's ship must not pass a raft with a man on it, dead or alive."
He then began to give the necessary orders; but before they were all out of his mouth, a fatal interruption occurred.
Tadcaster ran into Dr. Staines's cabin, crying, "A raft with a corpse close by!"
Staines sprang to the quarter port to see, and craning eagerly out, the lower port chain, which had not been well secured, slipped, the port gave way, and as his whole weight rested on it, canted him headlong into the sea.
A smart seaman in the forechains saw the accident, and instantly roared out, "MAN OVERBOARD!" a cry that sends a thrill through a ship's very ribs.
Another smart fellow cut the life-buoy adrift so quickly that it struck the water within ten yards of Staines.
The officer of the watch, without the interval of half a moment, gave the right orders, in the voice of a stentor;
"Let go life-buoy.
"Life-boat's crew away.
"Hands shorten sail.
"Main topsel to mast."
These orders were executed with admirable swiftness. Meantime there was a mighty rush of feet throughout the frigate, every hatchway was crammed with men eager to force their way on deck.
In five seconds the middy of the watch and half her crew were in the lee cutter, fitted with Clifford's apparatus.
"Lower away!" cried the excited officer; "the others will come down by the pendants."
The man stationed, sitting on the bottom boards, eased away roundly, when suddenly there was a hitch--the boat would go no farther.
"Lower away there in the cutter! Why don't you lower?" screamed the captain, who had come over to leeward expecting to see the boat in the water.
"The rope has swollen, sir, and the pendants won't unreeve," cried the middy in agony.
"Volunteers for the weather-boat!" shouted the first lieutenant; but the order was unnecessary, for more than the proper number were in her already.
"Plug in--lower away."
But mishaps never come singly. Scarcely had this boat gone a foot from the davit, than the volunteer who was acting as coxswain, in reaching out for something, inadvertently let go the line, which, in Kynaston's apparatus, keeps the tackles hooked; consequently, down went the boat and crew twenty feet, with a terrific crash; the men were struggling for their lives, and the boat was stove.
But, meantime, more men having been sent into the lee cutter, their weight caused the pendants to render, and the boat got afloat, and was soon employed picking up the struggling crew.
Seeing this, Lieutenant Fitzroy collected some hands, and lowered the life-boat gig, which was fitted with common tackles, got down into her himself by the falls, and pulling round to windward, shouted to the signalman for directions.
The signalman was at his post, and had fixed his eye on the man overboard, as his duty was; but his mess-mate was in the stove boat, and he had cast one anxious look down to see if he was saved, and, sad to relate, in that one moment he had lost sight of Staines; the sudden darkness--there was no twilight--confused him more, and the ship had increased her drift.
Fitzroy, however, made a rapid calculation, and pulled to windward with all his might. He was followed in about a minute by the other sound boat powerfully manned, and both boats melted away into the night.
There was a long and anxious suspense, during which it became pitch dark, and the ship burned blue lights to mark her position more plainly to the crews that were groping the sea for that beloved passenger.
Captain Hamilton had no doubt that the fate of Staines was decided, one way or other, long before this; but he kept quiet until he saw the plain signs of a squall at hand. Then, as he was responsible for the safety of boats and ship, he sent up rockets to recall them.
The cutter came alongside first. Lights were poured on her, and quavering voices asked, "Have you got him?"
The answer was dead silence, and sorrowful, drooping heads.
Sadly and reluctantly was the order given to hoist the boat in.
Then the gig came alongside. Fitzroy seated in her, with his hands before his face; the men gloomy and sad.
Soon the ship was battling a heavy squall.
At midnight all quiet again, and hove to. Then, at the request of many, the bell was tolled, and the ship's company mustered bareheaded, and many a stout seaman in tears, as the last service was read for Christopher Staines.
Chapters 13 - 28
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