By Charles Reade
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, viz., 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; eclat; 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—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 pere, 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!" cried 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 dogcart 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 dogcart, 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 dogcart stood at the door, and its master remained inside.
Christopher stood, and counted the minutes: five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, and still the dogcart 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.