E-text prepared by Al Haines
DOCTOR LUTTRELL'S FIRST PATIENT
ROSA NOUCHETTE CAREY
Author of "Little Miss Muffet," "Cousin Mona," "The Mistress of Brae Farm," "Esther," Etc.
[Frontispiece: "I hope you do not think I was wrong?"]
Philadelphia J. B. Lippincott Company 1900
Copyright, 1896, by J. B. Lippincott Company.
AT THE CORNER HOUSE
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
DR. LUTTRELL'S FIRST PATIENT
A VISIT TO GALVASTON HOUSE
"I REMIND YOU OF SOMEONE?"
"'TIS A LOVE TOKEN, I RECKON"
THE CHRISTMAS GUEST
A GENTLEMANLY TRAMP
THE NIGHT-BELL RINGS
AN EVENTFUL DAY
"THEY WERE BOTH TO BLAME"
AUNT MADGE GIVES HER OPINION
DAME FORTUNE SMILES
SUNSHINE AND CLOUDS
"YOU MUST NOT LOSE HEART"
"I HAVE COME TO STAY"
"I hope you do not think I am wrong?" . . . Frontispiece
"Oh, Marcus, how happy we are!"
"Olive, look what Mr. Gaythorne has given me"
Mr. Gaythorne sat in his great ebony chair
"It is beautiful—it is perfectly charming!"
"They both looked so comfortable and contented"
Doctor Luttrell's First Patient
AT THE CORNER HOUSE.
"Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish."—Epictetus.
There is an old adage, worn almost threadbare with continual use, "When poverty looks in at the door, love flies out at the window," and, doubtless, there is an element of truth in the saying; nevertheless, though there were lines of care on Marcus Luttrell's face, and in the strong sunlight the seams of his wife's black gown looked a little shiny, there was still peace, and the patience of a great and enduring affection in the corner house at Galvaston Terrace.
When the brass plate, glittering with newness, had been first affixed to the door, Marcus Luttrell's heart had been sanguine with hope, and he had brought his young fiancee to see it. The small, narrow house, with its dark, square entry, its double parlours communicating with folding-doors, and the corner room, that would do for a surgery, had seemed to them both a most desirable abode.
Olivia, who prided herself on being unusually practical, pointed out its numerous advantages with great satisfaction. The side entrance in Harbut Street, for instance, and the front room where patients would be interviewed, and which had a window in Galvaston Terrace.
"It is so conspicuous, Marcus," she said, with legitimate pride in her voice. "No one can overlook it, it is worth paying a few pounds more rent, instead of being jammed in between two terrace houses. Harbut Street is ever so much nicer than Galvaston Terrace, and the houses are larger, and it is so convenient having those shops opposite."
Olivia was disposed to see everything in couleur de rose, but to most people Galvaston Terrace would have appeared woefully dingy. Two or three of the houses had cards in the sitting-room windows, with "Desirable apartments for a single gentleman" affixed thereon, and at the farther end a French dressmaker eked out a slender income.
The Terrace had by no means a prosperous look, a little fresh paint and cleaner blinds would have been improvements. Nevertheless, people lived out harmless lives there, and on the whole were tolerably contented with their lot.
When Marcus Luttrell made that fatal mistake of marrying in haste and repenting at leisure, things had not looked so badly with him. He had bought his partnership and had a little money in hand, and Olivia had had sufficient for her modest trousseau. How could either of them have suspected that the partnership was a deceit and a fraud—that old Dr. Slade had let Marcus in for a rotten concern—that no paying patients would crowd the small dining-room—and that two years of professional profits would be represented in shillings? Now and then when he was tired and discouraged Dr. Luttrell would accuse himself of rashness and folly in no measured terms.
"Your Aunt Madge is right, Olive," he would say, "we have been a couple of fools; but I was the biggest. What business had I to tempt Providence in this way? I do believe when a man is in love he loses his judgment; look at the life to which my selfishness has condemned you. You will be an old woman before your time, with the effort to make a sixpence go as far as a shilling! And there is Dot——" And here the young doctor sighed and frowned, but Olivia, who had plenty of spirit, refused to be depressed.
"You took me from such a luxurious home, did you not, Marcus?" she would say, with a genial laugh. "A hard-working daily governess leads such an enjoyable life, and it was so exhilarating and refreshing to sit in one's lodgings of an evening, with no one to care if one were tired and dull. Yes, dear old boy, of course I was ever so much happier without you and Dot to worry me——" And, somehow, at these cheering words the harassed frown on Marcus's brow relaxed.
Had he been so wrong after all. How could he know that old Slade would prove a rogue and a humbug; it would have been wiser to wait a little, but then human nature is liable to make mistakes, and in spite of it all, they had been so happy. Olive was such a splendid companion, she had brains as well as heart. Yes, he had been a fool, but he knew that under like circumstances many a man would have done the same.
He remembered the events that had led to their hasty marriage. Olivia had not long lost her mother, the widow's annuity had died with her, and Olivia, who had only her salary as a daily governess in a large family, had just moved into humbler lodgings.
He had gone round with some flowers and a book that he thought would interest her, and as she came forward to greet him, he could see her eyes were red and swollen.
"What is it, dear?" he had asked, kindly, and then the poor girl had utterly broken down.
"Oh, Marcus, what shall I do?" she said, when her sobs would allow her to speak. "I cannot bear it; it is all so dull and miserable. I am missing mother and I am so tired, and the children have been so cross all day." And Olivia, whose nerves were on edge with the strain of grief and worry, looked so pallid and woebegone that Marcus had been filled with consternation. Never had he seen his sweetheart in such distress, and then it was that the suggestion came to him.
Why should they both be lonely? Olivia could marry him and do her work as well, and there need be no more dull evenings for either of them.
"You will trust me to make you as happy as I can, dearest," he said, tenderly, as he pleaded for an early marriage. And as Olivia listened to him the sad burden seemed lifted from her heart.
"Are you quite sure we ought to do this, Marcus?" she had asked, a little dubiously, for in spite of her youth she had plenty of good sense, and then Marcus had been very ready with his arguments.
A doctor ought to be a married man, his house was too large for a bachelor, and needed a mistress. What was the use of Olivia paying for lodgings when he wanted a wife to make him comfortable? And if she liked she could still go on with her teaching.
It was this last proviso that overcame Olivia's objections. If she could keep her situation she would be no expense to Marcus. Her salary was good, and until paying patients came she could subscribe towards the housekeeping.
It was just one of those arrangements that look so promising and plausible until fairly tried, but before many months had passed there was a hitch—something out of gear in the daily machinery.
It was a dry summer, and Brompton is not exactly a bracing place. Olivia began to flag a little, the long hours of teaching, the hurried walks to and fro, tried her vigorous young frame. The little maids who followed each other in quick succession were all equally inefficient and unreliable. Marcus began to complain that such ill-cooked, tasteless meals would in time impair their digestion. The Marthas and Annes and Sallies, who clumped heavily about the corner house, with smudges on their round faces and bare red arms, had never heard of the School of Cookery at South Kensington. Olivia, fagged and weary, looked ready to cry when she saw the blackened steak and unwholesome chips set before Marcus. Not one man in a thousand, she thought, would have borne it all so patiently.
Then one hot oppressive evening the climax came. Olivia, who had never fainted in her life, found herself to her great astonishment lying on the little couch by the open window with her face very wet, and Marcus looking at her with grave professional eyes.
That night he spoke very plainly. There must be no more teaching. Olivia was simply killing herself, and he refused to sanction such madness any longer. In future he must be the only breadwinner. Until patients were obliging enough to send for him, they must just live on their little capital. Olivia must stay at home, and see after things and take care of herself, or he would not answer for the consequences.
"You have your husband to consider," he said, in a masterful tone, but how absurdly boyish he looked, as he stood on the rug, tossing back a loose wave of fair hair from his forehead. People always thought Dr. Luttrell younger than he was in reality. He was eight-and-twenty, and Olivia was six years younger. She was rather taller than her husband, and had a slim erect figure. She had no claims to beauty; her features were too irregular, but her clear, honest eyes and sweet smile and a certain effective dimple redeemed her from plainness, and the soft brown hair waving naturally over the temples had a sunny gleam in it.
When baby Dot made her appearance—Dorothy Maud Luttrell, as she was inscribed in the register—the young parents forgot their anxieties for a time in their joy in watching their first-born.
Marcus left his books to devote himself to nursing his pale wife back to health. And as Olivia lay on the couch with her baby near her, and feasted on the delicacies that Aunt Madge's thoughtfulness had provided, or listened to Marcus as he read to her, it seemed to her, as though the cup of her blessing were full.
"Oh, Marcus, how happy we are!" she would whisper, and Marcus would stifle a sigh bravely.
Alas! he knew the little capital was dwindling sadly—rent and taxes, bread and cheese, and even the modest wages of a second Martha were draining his purse too heavily. He had plenty of poor patients, but no one but the French dressmaker had yet sent for the late Dr. Slade's partner. It was then that those careworn lines came to the young doctor's brow.
It was bitterly hard, for Marcus loved his profession, and had studied hard. The poor people whom he attended were devoted to him.
"He allus tells a body the truth," said old Widow Bates. "I do hate a fellow who truckles and minces his words like that Sparks. Do you suppose Jem Arkwright would have let his leg be cut off in that lamb-like manner if it had been Benjamin Sparks to do it?
"I was down at their place, and I heard when Dr. Luttrell said, 'Now, my man, you must just make up your mind, and be quick about it. Will you be a brave chap and part with this poor useless limb, or will you leave your poor wife to bring up six fatherless children? I am telling you the truth, Jem. If you will not consent to part with your leg, there is no chance for you.' Laws' sakes, you would have thought he was a grey-headed old fellow to hear him; it kind of made one jump to see his young, beardless face; but there, he was good to Jem Arkwright, that he was. Polly can't say enough for him. She fairly cries if one mentions his name.
"'I should have been Jem's widow but for Dr. Luttrell,' she said one day. 'Why, before he came in Jem was lying there vowing "that he had sooner die than part with his leg." It was the thought of the little uns that broke him. My Jem always had a feeling heart.'"
And other folks, although they had not Widow Bates's garrulous tongue, were ready enough to sing the doctor's praises.
When Dot was a year old and able to pull herself up by the help of her mother's hand, things were no better at the corner house. Olivia had even consulted her Aunt Madge about the advisability of sending Martha away and doing the work of the house herself.
"Martha is the best girl we have had yet," she said. "Marcus owned that yesterday. She is rough, but her ways are nicer than Anne's or Sally's, and she keeps herself clean; but then, Aunt Madge, she has such a good appetite, and one cannot stint growing girls."
"I should keep her a little longer," was Aunt Madge's reply to this. "It will only take the heart out of Marcus, knowing that you have to scrub and black-lead stoves, and he is discouraged enough already. When Dot is able to run about, you may be able to dispense with Martha's services," and Olivia returned a reluctant assent to this.
But her conscience was not quite satisfied. Even Aunt Madge, she thought, hardly knew how bad things really were.
Mrs. Broderick was a chronic invalid, and never went beyond the two rooms that made her little world. Most people would have considered it a dull, narrow life, and one hardly worth living; but the invalid would have contradicted this.
Madge Broderick had learned the secret of contentment; she had lived through great troubles—the loss of the husband she had idolised, and her only little child. Since then acute suffering that the doctors had been unable to relieve had wasted her strength. Nevertheless, there was a peaceful atmosphere in the sunshiny room, where she lay hour after hour reading and working with her faithful companion Zoe beside her.
Zoe was a beautiful brown-and-white spaniel, with eyes that were almost human in their soft beseechingness, and Mrs. Broderick often lamented that she could not eulogise his doggish virtues as Mrs. Browning had immortalised her Flush.
Olivia was devoted to her Aunt Madge; they had a mutual admiration for each other's character, and her sister's child was dear to Mrs. Broderick's heart, and perhaps the saddest hours she ever spent now were passed in thinking over the young couple's future.
"I was wrong," she would say to herself, with a painful contraction of the brow. "I said too little at the time to discourage their marriage; if I had been firm and reasoned with the child, she would have listened to me. Livy is always so manageable, but I was a romantic old goose! And then she was in love, poor dear! And now—oh, it breaks one's heart to see their young anxious faces! I know so well what Marcus feels; he is ready to go out into the roads and break stones if he can only keep a roof over his wife's head." And there were tears in Madge Broderick's eyes as she took up her work.
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER.
"I at least will do my duty."—Caesar.
Young Mrs. Luttrell stood at the window one November afternoon, buttoning her gloves in an absent and perfunctory manner, as she looked out at the slushy road and greasy pavement. There was a crinkle on her smooth broad forehead, and an uneasy expression in her eyes—as though some troublesome thought had obtruded itself—presently the crinkle deepened and widened into a frown, and she walked impatiently to the fireplace, where a black, uninviting fire smouldered in a cheerless sort of way, and took up the poker in rather an aggressive manner, then shook her head, as she glanced at the half-empty coal-scuttle.
She was cold, and the clinging damp peculiar to November made her shiver; but a cheery blaze would be too great a self-indulgence; left to itself the fire would last until tea-time—she would be back in plenty of time for Marcus's late tea—he should have a warm clear fire to welcome him and a plate of smoking French toast, because it was so economical and only took half the amount of butter. It had been a favourite delicacy in her nursery days, and the revival had given her great solace.
Yes, he should have his tea first, and then she would bring in the vexed subject for argument; in spite of Aunt Madge's well-meant advice, it was a foregone conclusion in Olivia's mind that Martha must go. Of course it was a pity. She liked the girl, she was so willing and good-tempered; and her round childish face was always well washed and free from smudges, and she was so good to Dot, caring for her as if she were a baby sister of her own. Nevertheless, stern in her youthful integrity, Olivia had already decided that Martha's hours at the corner house were numbered.
And then there was the stuff for Dot's new winter pelisse. Marcus would give her the few shillings without a murmur, she was sure of that, but he would sigh furtively as he counted out the coins. Whatever deprivations they might be called upon to endure their little one must be warmly clad.
She must do without her new pair of gloves, that was all, and here Olivia looked disconsolately at her worn finger-tips; she could ink the seams and use her old muff, and no one would notice; what was the use of buying new gloves, when her hands would soon be as red and rough as Martha's. Olivia was just a little vain of her hands; they were not small, but the long slender fingers with almond-shaped nails were full of character, and Marcus had often praised them.
For his sake she would try to take care of them, but black-leading stoves and washing Dot's little garments would not help to beautify them. Of course, it was nonsense to care about such trifles, she must be strong-minded and live above such sublunary things. Marcus would only honour her the more for her self-forgetfulness and labours of love. Here the pucker vanished from Olivia's brow, and a sweet, earnest look came to her face.
The next moment her attention was distracted; a tall old man in a great-coat with a fur-lined collar passed the window; he was a little bent and walked feebly, leaning on a gold-headed stick.
Olivia watched him until he was out of sight; for some occult reason, not comprehensible even to her, she felt interested in the old man, although she had never spoken to him; but he looked old and ill and lonely; three decided claims on Olivia's bountiful and sympathetic nature.
She knew his name—Mr. Gaythorne—he was a neighbour of theirs, and he lived at Galvaston House, the dull-looking red brick house, with two stone lions on the gate-posts.
Olivia had amused her husband more than once with imaginary stories about their neighbour. "He was a miser—a recluse—a misanthrope—he had a wife in a lunatic asylum—he had known some great trouble that had embittered his life; he had made a vow never to let a human being cross his threshold; he was a Roman Catholic priest in disguise, an Agnostic, a Nihilist." There was no end to Olivia's quaint surmises, but she could only be certain of two facts—that the mysterious Mr. Gaythorne was methodical by nature, and whatever might be the weather always took his exercise at the same hour, and also that only tradespeople entered the lion-guarded portals of Galvaston House.
Olivia had only once come face to face with him. She was hurrying along one afternoon, when in turning a corner she almost ran against him, and pulled herself up with a confused word of apology.
A suppressed grunt answered her, a singular old face, with bright, deeply-sunken eyes, and a white, peaked beard and moustache seemed to rise stiffly from the fur-lined collar; then the old man's hand touched his slouched hat mechanically, and he walked on. It was that night that Olivia was convinced that Mr. Gaythorne was a Nihilist and an Agnostic, and hinted darkly at the storage of dynamite and infernal machines in the cellars of Galvaston House.
"My dear child, you might write a novel," had been her husband's remark on this. "Your imagination is really immense," but in spite of sarcasm and gibes on Marcus's part, Olivia chose to indulge in these harmless fancies. She had always enjoyed making up stories about her neighbours, and it did no one any harm.
When Mr. Gaythorne was out of sight she went to the kitchen to take a last look at Dot, who was slumbering peacefully in her cot; the kitchen was the warmest place, and Martha could clean her knives and wash her plates and keep an eye on her.
Martha gave her usual broad grin when her mistress entered; the little handmaid adored her master and mistress and Dot. During her rare holiday she always entertained her mother and brothers and sisters with wonderful descriptions of her mistress's cleverness and Miss Baby's ways.
Martha had eleven brothers and sisters, and the house in Somers Row was not a luxurious abode. Her mother took in washing, and eleven brothers and sisters of all ages, and of every variety of snub-nose, made any sort of privacy impossible. Nevertheless, on her previous holiday, as Martha, or Patty, as they called her at home, sat in her best blue merino frock, with her youngest sister on her lap and a paper-bag of sugar-sticks for distribution to the family, there were few happier girls to be found anywhere.
"And I have brought you half-a-pound of really good tea, mother," observed Martha, proudly. "I knew what a treat that would be to you and father."
"You are a good girl, Patty," returned her mother, winking away the moisture in her eyes, as she went on with her ironing. "Amabel, don't you be trampling on Patty's best dress, there's a good little lass. Well, as I was saying, Patty, only the children do interrupt so. There, Joe and Ben, just take your sugar-sticks and be off to play. I think I have found a nice little place for Susan. She is to sleep at home, but will have all her meals and half-a-crown a week, and the lady will teach her everything; that is pretty fair for a beginning, and as father says, the money will just find her in shoe-leather and aprons. Father's looking out for a place for Joe now."
"I wish Susan could have a place like mine, mother," returned Martha, proudly. "They are real gentlefolks, that is what they are. 'Will you be so good as to clean my boots, Martha?' or 'Thank you, Martha,' when I dry the paper of a morning. Oh, it is like play living at the corner house, and as for that darling Miss Baby——" but here words failed Martha.
It could not be denied that Olivia was unusually depressed that afternoon, fog and damp always had this effect on her. Her nature needed sunshine and crisp, bracing air.
There was no buoyancy and elasticity in her tread. When people looked at her, as they often did, for her pliant, slim figure rather attracted notice, she thought they were only commenting on her old black hat and jacket. Only one article of her dress satisfied her; her boots were neat and strong. Marcus had found her one wet day warming her feet at the fire and had gone off to examine her boots without a word. Olivia had flushed up and looked uncomfortable when he came back with the boots in his hand.
"Do you want to be laid up with bronchitis or congestion of the lungs?" he asked, rather sadly, as he showed her the thin, worn soles; "do you think that will make things easier for me, Livy?" The next day he had taken her himself to the bootmaker's and had had her fitted with a serviceable stout pair.
Somehow in spite of her pleasure in the boots and Marcus's thoughtfulness she had felt rather like a scolded child.
Her unusual pessimism had a moment's distraction, for as she passed the print-shop, at the corner of Harbut Street, she saw her mysterious old gentleman standing still on the pavement fixedly regarding a small oil-painting.
Olivia had a good view of the lean, cadaverous face and peaked white beard; the heavy grey eyebrows seemed to beetle over the dark sunken eyes.
"After all he looks more like a Spaniard than a Russian," she thought, and again her theory of the Roman Catholic priest came into her mind. "If I could only see him without his hat, I should know if he had a tonsure," and then with youthful curiosity she looked to see what picture had interested him.
It was a small painting of the Prodigal Son, but was evidently by no amateur, the face of both father and son were admirably portrayed. The strong Syrian faces were mellowed by the ruddy gleams of sunset. A tame kid was gambolling behind them, and two women were grinding corn, with the millstone between them. On the flat white roof of the house, another woman had just laid aside her distaff in a hurry. The father's arms with their gold bracelets were clasping the gaunt, sharp shoulders of the starving youth.
Olivia knew the picture well. Marcus had been very much struck with it, it was good work, he said; the Syrian faces were perfect types, and he had made Olivia notice the strong resemblance between father and son.
"That is the mother, I suppose?" had been her comment; "she has just caught sight of them, there is a puzzled look in her eyes as she lays aside her distaff, as though she is not quite sure that that wild-looking figure in sheep-skin is her own long-lost son."
"It must be a grand thing to be an artist," was Marcus's reply to this. "Goddard, I do not know the name; the picture is cheap, too, only 25 pounds, but I would wager any money that it was painted in Syria."
Olivia stole a second glance at the old man, but he never moved; then she shivered, and walked faster. It was bitterly cold, a miserable afternoon for Marcus, who was visiting his poor patients in the squalid back streets and slums that fringed Brompton.
Mayfield Villas were about ten minutes' walk from Galvaston Terrace; the villas had verandahs and long, narrow gardens, but most of them had lodgings to let.
Mrs. Broderick and her maid occupied the first floor at number six, the drawing-room and back bedroom belonged to the invalid, and Deborah had a tiny room close by her mistress, the other room had been converted into a kitchen; none of the rooms were large, but they were well-furnished, and thoroughly comfortable. During her husband's lifetime Mrs. Broderick had been comfortably off, and had had a good house—the carved book-cases, Turkey-carpet, and deep easy-chairs, and a few proof-engravings handsomely framed, all spoke of better days.
When Olivia's foot sounded on the stairs, a tall, hard-featured woman came out of the kitchen.
"I knew it was you," she said. "Come in. My mistress is just wearying for you. She never sleeps in daylight, and it is ill-reading and working in the fading light. I will soon have the tea ready. I have been baking some scones."
Olivia sniffed the warm perfume delightedly. She was hungry, oh, so hungry! although two hours had not elapsed since dinner-time, and Deb's scones, with sweet, fresh country butter, was ambrosial food.
"Don't let Deb keep you with her chatter, come ben, my woman, as my poor Fergus would have said."
The voice was peculiarly youthful and melodious, the timbre exquisite in modulation and volume, but the face belonged to a woman aged more by pain and trouble than years.
Madge Broderick had never been a handsome woman, her nose was too long, and her skin too sallow for beauty, but her bright eyes and a certain gracefulness of figure, and her beautiful voice had been her charms. Fergus Broderick, a rough Scotchman, with a tongue as uncouth as his native dales, had fallen in love with her at their first meeting; he had been invited to dine at the house of the senior partner, in whose employ he was, and as the awkward, bashful young Scotchman entered the firelit room, a clear laugh from amongst a group of girls gathered round the hearth penetrated like music to his ear.
"Parting is such sweet sorrow," said the voice, with much pathos, "that I could say good-bye until the morrow; those are your sentiments, Katie, are they not?"
"Hush, Madge! here is Mr. Broderick waiting for us to speak to him," and the daughter of the house rose with a laugh to greet him.
When the lamps were lighted Fergus Broderick had scanned all the girlish faces with furtive eagerness. He had felt a shock of disappointment when the owner of the exquisite voice had revealed her identity. Madge's long nose and sallow skin were no beauties certainly; nevertheless, before the evening was over, Fergus Broderick knew he had found his mate; and for eight blissful years Madge dwelt in her woman's kingdom, and gathered more roses than thorns.
Her first trouble had been the loss of her boy; he had succumbed to some childish ailment; her husband's death—the result of an accident—had followed a few months later.
The strain of the long nursing and excessive grief had broken down Madge Broderick's strength. The seeds of an unsuspected disease latent in her system now showed itself, and for some two or three years her sufferings, both mental and physical, would have killed most women.
Then came alleviation and the lull that resembles peace; the pain was no longer so acute; the disease had reached a stage when there would be days and even weeks of tolerable comfort; then Madge courageously set herself to make the most of her life.
With a courage that was almost heroic, she divided and subdivided the hours of each day—so many duties, so many hours of recreation. She had her charity work, her fancy work, her heavy and light reading; books and flowers were her luxuries; the newest books, the sweetest flowers, were always to be found on the table beside her couch.
Madge often said laughingly that she lived in a world of her own. "But I have very good society," she would add; "the best and wisest of all ages give me their company. This morning I was listening to Plato's Dialogues, and this afternoon Sir Edwin Arnold was entertaining me at the Maple Club in Tokio. This evening—well, please do not think me frivolous, but affairs at Rome and a certain Prince Saracinesca claim my attention.
"A good novel puts me in a better humour and disposes me to sleep, you know," she would finish, brightly, "that I always read aloud to Fergus in the evening; we were going through a course of Thackeray—we were in the middle of 'Philip on his way through the world' when the accident happened. After that he could only bear a few verses or a psalm."
"It is more delightful and more honourable to give than receive."—Epicurus.
Most people thought it a strange thing that Mrs. Broderick spoke so constantly of her husband. Mrs. Tolman, the Vicar's wife, who was a frequent visitor, had been scandalised more than once, and had expressed herself rather strongly on the subject to her husband.
"I know you think very highly of poor Mrs. Broderick, Stephen, and so do I," she remarked one day. "Very few women would bear things in that quiet, uncomplaining way, and the amount of work she gets through is astonishing; but that perpetual dragging in of her husband's name seems to me such bad taste."
"Upon my word, Isabella, I cannot say that I agree with you." And the Vicar straightened himself on the rug in his favourite attitude. He was a heavy, ponderous man, with an expression of shrewd good sense on his face that won people's confidence. "I wish other women were as faithful to their husband's memory, that flighty little Mrs. Martin, for example."
"My dear Stephen, what an absurd idea! Fancy talking of Lydia Martin, every one knows she is making a dead set at Mr. Germaine, although poor Jack Martin has hardly been dead a year. She is Mrs. Broderick's exact opposite. Please do not misunderstand me in this tiresome way," and here Mrs. Tolman frowned slightly. "It is the manner in which Mrs. Broderick speaks of her husband that offends my tastes. In my opinion"—compressing her lips as she spoke—"our departed dear ones are sacred, and should not be mentioned in a secular manner."
At the word "secular" there was a twinkle in the Vicar's eyes, though he held his peace. And to tell the truth, Mrs. Tolman had been unable to find the expression she needed.
"But with Mrs. Broderick it is 'Fergus here' and 'Fergus there,' just as though he were alive and in the next room, and she was expecting him in every moment. Sometimes in the twilight it makes me quite creepy to hear her speaking in that sprightly voice, just as though she were making believe that he heard her."
"Poor soul!" was the Vicar's answer to this; but he was used to keeping his thoughts to himself—he and Mrs. Broderick understood each other perfectly. She had not a firmer friend in the world, unless it was her kind physician, Dr. Randolph. "Poor soul!" he repeated when his wife in silent dudgeon had retired from the room.
"It is not likely that Isabella would understand her; Mrs. Broderick is the bravest and the brightest woman I know, and yet the furnace was heated sevenfold for her. Make believe that he is alive! Why, he has never been dead to her! It is her vivid faith and her vivid imagination that has helped her to live all these years instead of lying there a crushed wreck for people to patronise and pity."
And here again there was a wicked little twinkle in the Vicar's eyes. Did he not know his Isabella, and how good she was to those who would allow her to advise and lecture them.
"Mrs. Broderick has just laughed and put her foot down, that is why Isabella is always complaining of her. They have not exactly hit it off." And here the Vicar laughed softly as he sat down to consider his sermon.
"Aunt Madge, how cosy you look!" exclaimed Olivia, as she stood on the threshold of the warm firelit room; and then a swift transition of thought carried her back to the dismal little dining-room at Galvaston Terrace, with its black smouldering fire, and the damp clinging to the window-panes, and an involuntary shiver crossed her as she knelt down beside her aunt's couch.
"My dear Livy, you are a perfect iceberg!" exclaimed Mrs. Broderick. "No, you shall not kiss me again until you are warmer. Sit down in that easy-chair close to the fire where I can see you, and take that handscreen for the good of your complexion.—Now, Deb, bring the tea-things, like a good soul, for Mrs. Luttrell has made a poor dinner."
"How could you guess that, Aunt Madge? Are you a witch or a magician?" asked Olivia, in her astonished voice. It was pure guess-work on Mrs. Broderick's part, but as usual her keen wits had grazed the truth.
Olivia, who had a healthy girlish appetite, had risen from the midday meal almost as hungry as when she had sat down. The dish of hashed mutton had been small, and if Olivia had eaten her share, Martha would have fared badly. A convenient flower-pot, a gift from Aunt Madge, had prevented Marcus from seeing his wife's plate. Olivia, who had dined off potatoes and gravy, was already faint from exhaustion. As usual, she confessed the truth.
"It was my fault, Aunt Madge," she said, basking like a blissful salamander in the warm glow. "I ought to have known the meat would not go round properly; but happily Marcus did not notice, or else there would have been a fuss. He and Martha dined properly, and I mean to enjoy my tea."
But Mrs. Broderick's only answer was to ring her handbell.
"Deb, boil two of those nice new-laid eggs that Mrs. Broughton sent me. Mrs. Luttrell has had no dinner; if the scones are ready we will have tea at once." And as Deborah nodded and vanished, she shook her head a little sadly. "Olive dear, it won't pay; you are not the sort of person who can safely starve. I thought there was something wrong about you when you came in; you had a peaky, under-fed look. Oh, I thought so!" as the tears rose to Olivia's eyes. "Now, I am not going to say another word until you have had your tea. Look at Zoe; she thinks you are in trouble about something, and wants to lick your face. Is not the sympathy of a dumb creature touching? They don't understand what is wrong, but they see plainly that their human friend is unhappy. Come to me, Zoe, and I will explain matters. It is not much of a trouble. Olive is not really miserable; she is only cold and hungry and weak, and wants petting and cosseting."
"I think I am rather unhappy, Aunt Madge," returned Olivia, in a sad voice. "Things are getting worse, and Marcus looks so careworn; he was talking in his sleep last night. We have so little money left—only just enough for six months' rent and the coals, and ever so little for housekeeping, and no patients come, and now I have made up my mind to tell him to-night that Martha must go."
"My dear Olivia, we talked that over a few weeks ago, and we decided then that you had better keep her."
"Yes, Aunt Madge, I know; but indeed, indeed we cannot afford her food—these growing girls must be properly fed, and the amount of bread and butter she eats would astonish Deb——" and here Olivia heaved a harassed sigh.
"Well, well, we will talk it over again"—and then Deb brought in the tea-things, and the scones, and the new-laid eggs, and as Mrs. Broderick sipped her tea it did her kind heart good to see how her niece enjoyed the good things before her.
"There now, you feel ever so much better," she said, when the meal was finished. "Now we can talk comfortably. I have been thinking over what you have said, and I suppose you are right from your point of view, and that if you cannot afford Martha's food she must go, but I have been thinking of Marcus. He is at the turning-point of his career. Everything depends on his making a practice. When patients send for him, and they will send for him by-and-by, do you think it will look well for his wife to open the door to them."
"But, Aunt Madge——"
"Olive, you were always a good, honest little girl, and you have grown up an honest woman; you want to do your duty and slave for Marcus and Dot, and you have begun nobly by starving yourself until you are on the verge of an hysterical attack, but we must think of Marcus. Martha must not go, at least, not until the winter is over. I have been saving a few pounds for your Christmas present I meant you to have had a new dress and jacket, and a few other little things you needed; but if you like to pay Martha's wages with it until Easter you can please yourself—only take it and say no more—what, crying again! What nonsense, as though I may not give my own niece a little present."
"It is the goodness and the kindness," returned Olivia, with a low sob. "Aunt Madge, why are you so good to me? You have saved all this, and you have so little to spare—as though I do not know what a small income you really have."
"It is a very respectable income, and my dear Fergus worked hard to make it. I never professed to be a rich woman, but I have everything I want. If people would only cut their coat by their cloth, as Fergus used to say, there would be less distress in the world; well, my wants are few; I have no milliner's bills;" here there was a gleam of fun in the invalid's eyes. "No smart bonnets or fashionable mantles needed at this establishment; only just a cosy tea-gown now and then when the old one is too shabby. Come, Olive, are you not going to count your money?" And then Olivia emptied the contents of the little purse on her lap.
"Well?" as the slim fingers sorted the gold and silver; "will there be enough for Martha's wages until Easter?"
"Yes, indeed, Aunt Madge, and there will be some over. I can buy the stuff for baby's winter pelisse without troubling Marcus, and do you know," knitting her brows in careful calculation, "I do believe that with a little contrivance and management I can get some new trimming for my Sunday hat, and a pair of chevrette gloves; good chevrette gloves are dear, but they wear splendidly, and a pair would last me most of the winter—yes," her eyes brightening, "I am sure I could do it; it does fret Marcus so to see me shabby."
Mrs. Broderick nodded in a sympathising way—she knew the joy of these small economies and contrivances; the little purse of savings had not been gathered together without some self-denial; but as she saw the lovely rainbow smile on Olivia's face, she felt that she had her reward.
"This is my red-letter day," she said, quaintly; "it is always a red-letter day when I can really help someone. I have my black-letter days when I can do nothing special, when it is all noughts and crosses in my diary, I have had my Christmas treat beforehand, and I shall be quite happy till bed-time thinking about Dot's pelisse and the new hat-trimming; by-the-bye, what colour is the pelisse to be?"
"Blue, baby is so fair, and blue suits her best; I think I shall get some cotton-backed velvet just to trim it;—I must not dream of fur."
"How would miniver look round the cape and neck? I have two or three yards in very good condition. Deb picked it off my wadded satin mantle years ago. I was keeping it for some special occasion. If you buy a really good cashmere, and trim it with my old miniver, Dot will have a grand pelisse," and then Mrs. Broderick hunted in her key-basket for a certain key, and instructed her niece to unlock a drawer in her wardrobe.
It was growing late by this time, and Olivia was obliged to take her leave. Marcus had promised to be back by seven, and it was six o'clock now; but as she walked briskly through the quiet streets she felt as light-hearted as a child.
What a happy evening she and Marcus would spend! There would be no need now to tell him about Martha, or to beg him to give her the few shillings for Dot's pelisse; he should have a nice tea. Aunt Madge had made her take a couple of the new-laid eggs and a pot of Deb's delicious marmalade home with her, and she knew how Marcus would enjoy the little treat.
"Dear Aunt Madge, how I love her? I think she is the very best woman in the world;" but here Olivia gave a surprised start. She had reached the print-shop at the corner of Harbut Street, and in the strong glare of the gas-lamp she distinctly saw the tall, bent form of her mysterious neighbour.
He was coming out of the shop, and walking stiffly and with difficulty in the direction of his house. She had never known him out so late before. His afternoon walk was always timed for him to be back by four. She glanced at the shop window, but there was no picture of "The Prodigal Son" to be seen.
Had he bought it? Was this the reason why he was out so late? Olivia felt a little anxious as she noticed how feebly he walked; the greasy pavements were rather slippery, and Galvaston Terrace was not a well-lighted thoroughfare. Perhaps it was nonsense, but she would not enter her house until she had seen him safely across the road, and within the lion-guarded portals.
It was just kindly womanly instinct, but all her life long Olivia was glad that she had yielded to that impulse. She was still standing upon the step, and the old man was nearly across the road, when she saw him slip. A piece of orange-peel on the curb had escaped him in the darkness, and he had put his foot on the slippery substance. Olivia gave a quick exclamation as she saw him try to recover his balance, and then fall forward rather heavily. No one was passing just then, and happily the road was clear of vehicles. Olivia ran across and picked up his stick, then she took him by the arm and helped him to rise.
"I trust you have not hurt yourself," she said, anxiously. "Please do not be afraid of leaning on me, I am very strong. Ah," as the old man uttered a groan, "you have injured yourself in some way. The curb is rather steep just here."
"It is my ankle, but I must get home somehow. You are very good, madam; if you will allow me to take your arm, I think I can manage those few yards. I live there," pointing to the grim doorway.
"Yes, I know: Mr. Gaythorne, of Galvaston House; we are neighbours of yours, and I have seen you come out of the house frequently. Shall I ring the bell for you, and perhaps"—hesitating a little, as though she were taking a liberty—"you will allow me to go as far as the hall-door with you."
But to her alarm the old man suddenly stood still. It was pitchy dark under the overhanging trees, and only a faint gleam from a large bow window showed her the length of the garden-path that they would have to traverse.
"I can do no more," he said, faintly; "I believe I have broken my ankle. Mrs. Crampton and the maids must find some way of getting me in. Perhaps, madam, you will be so good as to explain the matter to them. I see the door is open," and Olivia at once left him and went up to the house.
"Your master has met with a slight accident," she said to the astonished maid. "He has fallen and hurt his foot, and it is quite impossible for him to walk up to the house. He mentioned Mrs. Crampton; perhaps you will ask her what is to be done," and the girl, a good-natured, buxom country lass, at once ran off.
Olivia stood patiently for a few minutes. The hall with its handsome rugs and blazing fire looked delightfully inviting. A lean, old hound, stretched on a tiger skin, turned its head and then rose stiffly and came towards her. As its slender nose touched her dress, she saw the poor thing was blind. The next moment a cheerful-looking, grey-haired woman hurried towards her, followed by two maids.
"What is it that Phoebe tells me, ma'am; Mr. Gaythorne has met with an accident? Times out of number I have begged and prayed him not to go out alone; but he was not to be persuaded."
"He is down there by the gate, the trees hide him," returned Olivia, hastily. "I think it would be best to take an arm-chair, if you think we could carry him in. He is in dreadful pain and cannot walk a step farther."
"Phoebe, tell cook to light the lantern, and then you two girls bring one of the study chairs—the lantern first, mind.
"Now, ma'am, perhaps we had better find my master, and the lasses will follow us. There are four of us, and Mr. Gaythorne is not so very heavy, and we will have him on the library couch in no time."
DR. LUTTRELL'S FIRST PATIENT.
"Sudden the worst, turns the best to the brave,"—Browning.
Olivia felt as if she were dreaming as she followed the little procession down the dark garden-path. Once she pinched her wrist slightly to assure herself that she was awake. Mrs. Crampton held the lantern, and the cook and the two maids carried the arm-chair, with jolting uneven footsteps, that brought a suppressed groan to Mr. Gaythorne's lips. As they lifted him on the couch he looked so white that Olivia thought he was going to faint, and begged the housekeeper to give him some wine; he was evidently in severe pain.
"It would be better not to touch the foot until the doctor comes," she observed. And then Mrs. Crampton looked perplexed.
"My master does not hold with doctors, ma'am. I don't remember one ever crossing the threshold since poor Miriam had typhoid fever. The foot is swelling already, and it will be a job to get the boot off. Ah, I thought so"—as Mr. Gaythorne winced and motioned her away—"he will be afraid of one touching it!"
"My husband lives just opposite—the corner house with the red lamp in Harbut Street. He is a doctor and very clever, and I am nearly sure that he is in just now." Olivia spoke a little breathlessly and anxiously; then she bent over the old man.
"If Mrs. Crampton does not know of another doctor would you mind one of the maids running across the road for Dr. Luttrell? You are suffering so much, and your foot ought to be treated at once. It is impossible for any one to know if it be only a sprain until the boot is removed. You fell so heavily that perhaps a small bone might be broken."
"Yes—send—send," returned the invalid, irritably. "Clear the room, Crampton. You know that I hate to have a parcel of women round me.—There is no need for you to go, madam"—with an attempt at civility as Olivia was about to withdraw at this plain speaking. "Give the lady a chair, Phoebe."
But Olivia, who had excellent tact, only smiled pleasantly, and shook her head.
"I think it will be best for me to send the doctor across, there is nothing that I can do for you until he comes."
She took the old man's hand as she spoke and pressed it gently.
"I am so sorry to leave you in such pain, but I hope you will soon be relieved. Perhaps you will not mind my inquiring another day, but a stranger is only in the way to-night."
Olivia's soft, well-modulated voice was so full of kindly sympathy, that Mr. Gaythorne opened his weary eyes again.
"Thank you," was all he said; but he watched her keenly as she crossed the long room.
Olivia walked so quickly that she was almost out of breath when she reached her own door. The dining-room looked cold and comfortless. Martha was on her knees before the fireplace trying to revive the blackened embers with the help of the kitchen bellows, and Dr. Luttrell, with a tired face and puckered brow, was watching the proceedings somewhat impatiently. A tallow candle was guttering uncomfortably on the table.
"Is the fire out? Oh, Marcus, I am so sorry, but Martha and I will soon put things to rights. Will you go across to Galvaston House at once, please?"—and here Olivia's voice was full of suppressed excitement. "Mr. Gaythorne has slipped against the curb and hurt his foot; he is in great pain. I have been helping him, and then I said I would send you. I have left the gate open so you can just go up to the door."
Marcus listened to these details with an astonished face; then he caught up his black bag and nodded acquiescence. The tired frown left his face, and he moved away with his quiet, professional step.
Olivia watched him from the doorstep. As she closed the door after him, she could have clapped her hands with sheer delight and excitement. It was her doing that Marcus had his first patient. Those foolish maids would never have thought of sending for him. Dot was awake and singing to herself in her usual chuckling fashion in the firelight, but Olivia had no time to play with her pet.
"The bellows are no good, Martha," she said, quickly. "You must just fetch a bundle of sticks and a newspaper, and relay the fire, while I kindle the lamp and set the table for tea; the room feels like a vault."
"There is a good fire in the kitchen, ma'am, if you want to make toast," observed Martha, rising reluctantly from her knees; "I have been ironing Miss Baby's pinnys." Olivia, who was drawing the heavy curtain across the window, was relieved to hear this.
In another quarter of an hour the little room wore a more cheerful aspect. The sticks crackled and blazed lustily; the green-shaded lamp diffused a mellow light. The tea-tray was set and the plate of French toast was frizzling gently on a brass trivet. At the sound of her master's footstep Martha had orders to fill up the teapot and boil the eggs.
After this Olivia played with Dot, and undressed her, and then brought her in to say good-night to her father. But she waxed sleepy long before he let himself in with his latch-key.
Marcus paused on the threshold a moment as though something struck him. Olivia's face looked fair and sweet as she sat in her low chair with the sleepy child in her arms. She put back her head with a soft questioning smile as he bent down to kiss her face.
"Dot is nearly asleep, but I had not the heart to put her in her cot until you had seen her; tea is quite ready, and Martha is boiling some new-laid eggs. Aunt Madge has sent you, too, a pot of her home-made marmalade, because she knows how fond you are of it. Sit down and begin, I shall not be a moment," and Olivia's voice was so full of suppressed excitement, that Marcus laughed as he drew his chair to the table; he was tired and hungry, but he no longer felt impatient and depressed.
"Now tell me everything," she exclaimed, when she came back. "What have you done? Was the foot very bad? Will you have to go to Galvaston House again?"
"Rather!" returned Marcus; "it is a pretty bad sprain, I can tell you. Why, I should not be surprised if Mr. Gaythorne is laid up for the next two or three weeks; he is not in good condition and the shaking and fright have upset him. He will want good nursing and plenty of attention, as I told his housekeeper. I am going again early in the morning."
"And was he civil to you? Mrs. Crampton says he hates doctors," and Olivia's tone was a trifle anxious.
"Well, he was a bit grumpy at first, but I had my work to do, and took no notice, but when I had helped him upstairs and put him comfortable for the night, he waxed a shade more gracious and thanked me quite civilly. I fancy he is a character and has lived so long alone that he has grown morose and unsociable. That blind hound of his followed us upstairs and would not leave him. Did you notice him, Livy?"
"Yes; and is it not a nice house, Marcus? That library is a beautiful room. All those hundreds of well-bound books, and the massive oak furniture. I had not time to notice things, but I could not help feeling how deliciously soft and warm the carpets felt to one's feet, and then those lovely rugs and skins in the hall."
"His bedroom was just as luxurious. Mr. Gaythorne is evidently a rich man, though he keeps no carriage. Mrs. Crampton told me so. He is very fond of flowers; there is a sort of conservatory on the first floor full of beautiful plants, and an alcove where he can sit and enjoy them. I could not help stopping a moment to admire them, but Mrs. Crampton did not invite me to go in. You may depend upon it the old gentleman is a strict martinet, and rules his household with a rod of iron. Mrs. Crampton seems a good creature, but he spoke pretty sharply to her once or twice."
"But he was in such pain, Marcus."
"Yes, my dear, I know that. Oh, by-the-bye, he sent his compliments to you. 'I am greatly indebted to Mrs. Luttrell, and I trust that I shall soon have an opportunity of thanking her properly for her kind helpfulness.' There, Livy, now we shall hear no more of the Nihilist or the Roman priest."
Dr. Luttrell was in spirits; it was easy to see that. The first patient, the first brief, the first book—aye, and the first love. What a halo remains round them!
Our first-fruits may be immature, unripe, but to us they have a goodly flavour, a subtle, sweet aroma of their own. All through his successful life Dr. Luttrell will look back to this evening as the turning-point of his career, when; he stood cold and tired watching Martha's bellows, and his wife's voice with a triumphant ring in it had called to him from the threshold.
Marcus's first piece of good luck had so absorbed them that it was some time before Olivia remembered to tell him about Aunt Madge's present. Marcus forgot to go on with his tea when he saw the little heap of coins in his wife's hand. Martha's wages, Dot's pelisse, and even the gloves and new hat-trimming were all duly canvassed. When Marcus said, abruptly, "Aunt Madge is a trump," his glistening eyes were eloquent enough. They had so much to discuss that it was nearly bedtime before he offered to go on with the book he was reading aloud, but after all they were neither in the mood for other people's stories.
In youth life is so interesting. No chapters of past memories, no wide experiences are so beguiling and absorbing. "Oh, we lived then." How often we hear that phrase, as the old man looks back over a long life, to the time when lad's love filled his days with sunshine.
When Marcus lay awake that night there was no deadly coldness at his heart, no lurking demon of despondency, waiting for the small dark hours to assail him. On the contrary, hope with seraph wings fanned him blissfully. Marcus Luttrell was young, but he was no coward. For two years he had waited patiently until the tide should turn. "Wait till the clouds roll by," he used to say, cheerily, but only his wife guessed how he was really losing heart, as day after day and month after month passed and no paying patients presented themselves at the corner house at Galvaston Terrace.
Olivia was at the window the following morning with Dot in her arms. As Dr. Luttrell, with his shabby black bag crossed the road, he looked back once, and Dot kissed her dimpled hand to him. Olivia, who admired her husband with all her honest girlish heart, watched eagerly until the slight, well-built figure passed between the stone lions.
"If he were only a little older-looking," she thought, regretfully, but his smooth face and fair hair gave him a boyish look.
It was absurd, of course, but she could settle to nothing until he came back; but Marcus, who had a bad accident case on his mind, was in too great a hurry to satisfy his wife's curiosity. "The foot was going on as well as he expected, but Mr. Gaythorne was unable to leave his bed. He was going again in the evening, and now he must be off to the model lodging-house to see if the poor fellow had pulled through the night."
Olivia had planned out her morning. She had her marketing to do, and her purchases to make. Then it was only right to go round and tell Aunt Madge of the wonderful piece of good fortune that had befallen them.
Mrs. Broderick was unfeignedly pleased. "Still, Olive," she remarked, with commendable prudence, "one swallow does not make a summer."
"No, Aunt Madge, of course not; but, as Marcus says, one patient brings others. Galvaston House is a big place, and when the neighbours see him going in and out, it will be a sort of testimonial; besides, I shall quote Deb's favourite proverb, 'Every mickle makes a muckle.' Now I really must go, for I want to cut out Dot's pelisse."
"And the dinner, Olive; are you sure it will go round to-day?"
Then Olivia laughed in a shamefaced way.
"Yes, indeed; I have been dreadfully extravagant, and we are going to have steaks and chips because it is Marcus's favourite dish, and Martha does it so well. There is a whole pound of steak and just a little over. I saw it cut myself, and it was such good weight." And hesitating a little, "There are currant dumplings too."
"Come—this is feasting indeed!"
But Aunt Madge smiled a little sadly when she found herself alone.
"Does Olive half realise how happy she is!" she said to herself. "She is a rich woman in spite of all her poverty and cares. When one has youth and love and health and a good conscience, every day is a feast and a delight. One day Marcus will drive in his carriage and pair. He is a clever fellow and there is real grit in him, and people will find it out, they always do. And Olive will wear silk dresses, and get stout with prosperity and good living; but I doubt if she will be quite as happy as she is to-day—cutting out Dot's pelisse, and enjoying her day-dreams."
And very probably Mrs. Broderick was right. Marcus was more communicative that evening when he returned from his second visit to Galvaston House. Mr. Gaythorne was not exactly an ideal patient; he had a will and a temper of his own, and already his opinion clashed with his doctor's.
Marcus had laid great stress on perfect rest. He wished his patient to remain in bed for the next two or three days, but Mr. Gaythorne perversely refused to do anything of the kind; he would put on his dressing-gown and lie on the couch. He hated bed in the daytime—it made him nervous, and spoilt his night's sleep.
"I shall have to give in to him," went on Marcus, a little irritably. "If I were in good practice I should just throw up the case. 'My good sir,' I should say, 'if you will not follow my directions it will be useless for me to prescribe for you. My professional reputation is at stake, and I cannot stand by and see you retard your cure.' Can't you fancy me saying it, Livy?"—and Marcus tossed back his wave of hair in his old boyish way.
"Yes, dear; but people will soon find out what a splendid doctor you are; and so that poor glazier in the Models will recover, you think?"
"Yes, I hope so; the chances are in his favour, poor chap; it was hard lines crashing through the roof of that conservatory. If I had not been on the spot he would have bled to death before they could have got him to a hospital. You might go and see them, Livy; they are decent people. She is a pleasant, hard-working young woman, and they have two little children, and the place is as clean as possible. I told Mr. Gaythorne about them just to amuse him, but he only grunted and looked bored. By-the-way, you are right in one of your surmises—he has bought your favourite picture of the Prodigal Son. It was on a chair beside his bed, and he consulted me as to where he could have it hung. I was going to suggest over the mantel-piece, but then I saw there was a large picture there with a silk curtain over it."
"That must be his wife's picture, Marcus. How nice of him to have curtains over it!"
"Very nice if we could be sure that Mr. Gaythorne has been married and had a wife," he returned, a little dryly; "but I should not be surprised to find that he was an old bachelor; he is far too fussy and precise for a widower. But, my dear child, we are getting into very gossiping ways, and I must really get on with that book Aunt Madge lent us." And then Olivia consented to hold her tongue and let him read aloud to her as usual.
A VISIT TO GALVASTON HOUSE.
"He who knows how to speak knows also when to speak."—Plutarch.
The next morning as Olivia sat at work with Dot on the rug at her feet, playing with a limp furry monkey, over which she was gurgling and cooing like a baby dove, Dr. Luttrell entered the room; there was a pleased look on his face.
"Olive," he said, "look what Mr. Gaythorne has given me for poor Jack Travers," and he held a five-pound note before his wife's eyes. "Don't you think we owe him a handsome apology for calling him a miser? it does not do to judge by appearances in this world; Mr. Gaythorne is eccentric, and a trifle cantankerous, but he is not stingy."
"Jack Travers! is that the poor man in the Models? Oh, Marcus, how splendid of him to give all that; it will be quite a fortune to the poor things."
"Yes, it will pay their rent until Travers gets about again; he is not going to die this journey. Was it not liberal of the old fellow? but if you had only seen the way he gave it to me, as though he were ashamed of the whole thing.
"'That is for the man you told me about last night,' he said, in quite a grumpy voice; and he had hardly seemed as though he had listened yesterday; and he would not let me thank him, he turned testy at once; by-the-bye, Livy, he wants you to go and see him; you have evidently won his heart, my dear. 'If Mrs. Luttrell has half an hour's leisure I shall be pleased to see her,' those were his very words."
"I hope you told him that it would be rather difficult to find leisure with all my numerous engagements," returned Olivia, saucily, "but that I would do my best for him. How many callers have we had since we were married, Marcus? let me see, the Vicar and Mrs. Tolman, oh, and one day Mrs. Tolman brought a friend. I remember how excited I was that afternoon, and that horrid little Sarah Jane had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows when she opened the door, and I dared not offer them tea because I knew she would never have had boiling water. Oh, yes," continued Olivia, merrily, "I will look over my visiting list, and see how I am to squeeze in a call at Galvaston House. What hour do you think would suit him best, Marcus?"
Then Dr. Luttrell, who had been much amused by his wife's drollery, gravely considered the point.
"About three o'clock, I should say; I think he wants to show you his flowers; he is going to have his couch wheeled into the conservatory, or his winter garden, as he calls it. Why should you not go across this afternoon? Now I must be off to the Models;" and as Olivia took up her work again there was a soft flush on her cheek, and a happy look in her eyes as she listened to his light springing tread.
"Dear Marcus," she said to herself; "how pleased he is about this, it has done him good already. Oh, how I hope Mr. Gaythorne will take a fancy to him; he is rich and liberal, I am sure of that; he will pay Marcus well, and perhaps before long someone else will send for him. What, Dot, my sweet, must I love Jacko too?" as Dot laid her treasure on her mother's lap.
When Olivia rang at the bell of Galvaston House that afternoon the same rosy-cheeked maid admitted her.
"If you will step into the library a minute, ma'am," she observed, "I will tell Mrs. Crampton," and Olivia was left alone in the beautiful room she remembered so well.
A bright fire burned cheerily on the hearth and the blind hound lay on the rug; he came up to Olivia and thrust his slender nose into her hand in a friendly fashion. It was in this room that Mr. Gaythorne evidently passed his days; the tables bore signs of his numerous occupations; one table seemed loaded with books of reference. A pile of neatly written manuscripts were on the escritoire. Portfolios of engravings and a microscope on a pedestal stand occupied one corner, and a small inner room seemed full of cabinets and cases of stuffed birds and butterflies.
Mr. Gaythorne was evidently a collector and a man of culture; the volumes in the carved oak book-cases were mostly bound in Russian calf. Olivia had only time to read a few titles when Mrs. Crampton appeared; her comely face had a pleased smile on it.
"Mr. Gaythorne will be extremely obliged if you will step upstairs and see him, ma'am," she said, civilly; "he has been wheeled into the conservatory; my master thinks a deal of his flowers—books and flowers—they are his main amusements when his cough keeps him from going out Oh! you must come too, Eros, of course," as the hound followed them closely.
Galvaston House had been built in rather an unusual fashion; a conservatory had been thrown out at the back of the first floor landing and ran along one side of the house, forming a sort of verandah to the lower rooms.
As Mrs. Crampton opened the glass door, the warm fragrant air met them deliciously. At the farther end Mr. Gaythorne lay on a couch under a tall palm, with an oriental quilt thrown over him; his dark crimson dressing-gown, and black velvet cap gave him a picturesque appearance; with his white peaked beard and moustache, and his dark sunken eyes, he would have passed for a Venetian Doge; the mass of brilliant bloom, and the warm flower-scented air made Olivia slightly giddy.
"This is very kind of you, Mrs. Luttrell," observed Mr. Gaythorne, in a slow, precise voice, as she stooped over him and took his hand. "Crampton, bring a chair for the lady. I have been wanting to thank you for your kind assistance that unlucky evening. I told the doctor so, and he has been good enough to give you my message."
"Indeed, I did very little," returned Olivia, in her mellow voice. "You seemed so feeble that I could not help watching you cross the road; and then you slipped, and I felt you had hurt yourself. I fear from what my husband tells me that it will be some little time before you will be able to get out again."
"So he says, and he threatens me with crutches," returned the old man, grimly; "but, as I seldom cross the threshold in winter, I need not trouble myself about that. Are you fond of flowers, Mrs. Luttrell?" as Olivia's eyes wandered to the splendid exotics round her. "Crampton shall cut you some presently. My library and my winter garden form my entire world now."
"And you live among all these lovely things!" observed Olivia, almost in a tone of awe. "Oh, if only Aunt Madge could see these flowers!"
She spoke impulsively without considering her words, and blushed a little when she saw Mr. Gaythorne lift his eyebrows cynically.
"I was only thinking of my aunt, Mrs. Broderick," she said, apologetically. "She is such a sad invalid; she has never been out once since Uncle Fergus died, and that is ever so many years ago, and she suffers such dreadful pain sometimes. The doctors say her complaint is incurable, and she is not at all old. She lives all alone with her maid, and never goes beyond her two rooms, and yet no one hears her complain."
"Mrs. Broderick must be a wonderful person. She beats Job," returned Mr. Gaythorne, with a cynical curl of his lip; but Olivia was too much engrossed with her subject to notice it.
"Oh, she is wonderful!" she returned, earnestly. "I never met any one like her. She is the bravest woman I know. Even the Vicar says so. Don't you love pluck, Mr. Gaythorne? So few people are plucky in that sense. Aunt Madge has lost everything she cares for—husband and child and health; but she bears it all so beautifully, and makes the best of things. I could not help thinking of her when I saw all those lovely flowers; she simply dotes on flowers! There are always some on her little table; flowers and books, those are her sole pleasures."
"What on earth made you hold forth on Aunt Madge's virtues, you absurd child?" was Marcus's comment when Olivia repeated this portion of her conversation. "Fancy entertaining Mr. Gaythorne with an account of your relations!"—and Olivia blushed guiltily.
"It does sound odd if you put it in that way, Marcus," she returned; "but when I saw all those beautiful flowers, Aunt Madge just jumped into my head, and I always do speak out my thoughts so. But I could see he was interested. He said little sharp sneering things at first, but afterwards he questioned me a good deal. Oh, we got on splendidly! He began asking me about ourselves, and if you had much of a practice. Oh, he said it quite nicely!" as Marcus dropped the loaf he was cutting and frowned anxiously. "He was quite gentlemanly, and only hinted at things; but I understood him, of course."
"And you told him, I suppose, that he was my first patient," in an annoyed tone. "You may as well own it, Livy; you are honest enough even for that," and there was no denying that Marcus's voice was decidedly sarcastic. With all her virtues Olivia never did know when to hold her tongue.
"Oh, Marcus dear, how could I help it," replied Olivia, nervously. "Of course I had to tell him that we were just beginners, and how Dr. Slade had deceived us; that there was no redress, as he was dead. But I told him, too, how hard you worked among the poor—— He did not say much. I don't think he is a great talker, but he stroked that funny beard of his and nodded his head. Then when Mrs. Crampton came up he told her to bring coffee, and he made me stay and pour it out for him. There was such a lovely chased coffee-pot and cream-jug, and such delicious cakes, and when I said at last that I must go he thanked me quite pleasantly. 'It is long since I have been so well amused, and I hope you will come and see me again.' Yes, he said that, Marcus, so I am sure he did not mind my frankness. But oh, dear! he quite forgot to tell Mrs. Crampton to cut me some flowers."
"You need not expect any flowers now," returned her husband, impatiently. "You have done for yourself and me too I expect. A beginner you said, Livy, and you a sensible woman! When I go this evening, I have no doubt I shall be civilly told that a second opinion will be desirable. My dear girl, don't you know that a modest reticence, a judicious silence, is sometimes the safest policy. A professional beggar may whine and show his sores, but a needy doctor out at elbows must wear a good appearance;" but Olivia, who was on the verge of tears from sheer vexation at her own impulsiveness, did not seek to defend herself.
If she had imperilled Marcus's professional reputation by her carelessness, she felt she should never hold up her head again, but Marcus, who was tired and a little out of humour, was not disposed to comfort her.
He had had a worrying day among his poor patients, the one bright spot had been his visit to the Models, when Jack Travers had sobbed and broken down in the attempt to speak his gratitude. And now just as they were getting on so well, Olivia's want of tact and that terribly honest tongue of hers had spoilt everything. Was it likely—was it within the bounds of possibility—that a man of the world—a rich man too—would be content with the services of an unknown practitioner? If he put himself in Mr. Gaythorne's place, he knew that he should be disposed to request Dr. Bevan to call. It was not only a sprained ankle. Mr. Gaythorne was an ailing man, and needed medical care. Marcus, who was clever and quick-witted, had already formed a pretty correct diagnosis of the case. "There is mental as well as physical trouble," he had said to himself the previous evening, and with professional reticence he had kept this opinion to himself, but he was already deeply interested in his patient. So much was at stake, and their fortunes were at so low an ebb, that Marcus might be pardoned for his unusual touchiness. Yet when he left the room without further remark, Olivia's heart sank within her.
"Why could I not have held my tongue," she thought, with tardy repentance. "What could have induced me to talk so much, but Mr. Gaythorne really seemed interested, and somehow he encouraged me to go on. If he had appeared bored or tired I should have stopped at once, but he seemed so curious about Aunt Madge, he even asked if she had a good doctor. Oh, dear, surely that is not Marcus going out!" as the street door opened; and now there were actual tears in Olivia's eyes.
In all the two years of their happy married life they had never had more than a momentary misunderstanding. If a hasty word had been uttered by one of them, the other had always an eager protest or a smooth answer ready. When Olivia had been impatient and captious, Marcus had only laughed and coaxed her into good humour again. And even when he had indulged in a few sarcastic speeches, Olivia's soft voice and ready acquiescence had avoided friction.
Marcus often told her that they were a model couple, and had earned the Dunmow Flitch over and over again, but in reality their mutual respect and thorough understanding of each other's salient points had conduced to this harmony.
That Marcus should leave the house therefore without speaking to her alarmed Olivia excessively. She must have vexed him, indeed, if he could do such a thing as that, and here one or two bright drops ran down on the blue pelisse.
She was actually crying like a scolded child, when two or three minutes later the parlour-door opened and Marcus entered. His face wore a queer expression, and in each hand he held an exquisite bunch of hot-house flowers; their perfume reached Olivia before he laid them before her.
"There, Olive," he said, "I take back my words;" then, as he caught sight of her tear-stained face: "Oh, you foolish little woman, you absurd child," but his hand rested affectionately on her soft, brown hair, as she put back her head against him.
"Oh, Marcus, I could not help crying to think I had vexed you so. Somehow it is the one thing I cannot bear, to think my foolish tongue should have harmed you."
"I was in an awful funk, certainly," returned Marcus, frankly, "but I never meant to bother you like that. Cheer up, Livy, I daresay it is all right, and I know you will be a model of discretion for the future. Aren't you going to look at your flowers?" and then Olivia did permit herself to be consoled.
"Think of his cutting all those lovely flowers for me," she cried, ecstatically. "Is he not an old dear, Marcus? But why two bouquets?" knitting her brows in a puzzled fashion.
"You had better open that folded slip of paper," suggested her husband, sensibly, "it may explain matters," and Olivia took his advice.
"Mrs. Luttrell, with Mr. Gaythorne's compliments," was pencilled in a shaky hand, and on the second slip, almost illegibly, "For Mrs. Luttrell's aunt."
"Oh, Marcus, how sweet of him!" and Olivia looked almost lovely in her excitement, and Marcus agreed that he was a good old sort.
"If you are going to write a note of thanks, you must just hurry up, as it is nearly time for me to go across," and then Olivia put the flowers in water, and got out her writing-case.
"I REMIND YOU OF SOMEONE?"
"The fire in the flint Shows not till it be struck."—Timon of Athens.
Although Marcus had other visits to pay, and would not be back until quite late, Olivia sat up for him on pretence of finishing Dot's pelisse, but to her disappointment he had very little to tell her on his return.
Mr. Gaythorne had been tired and out of spirits, and he had had no inducement to prolong his visit; he had not read Olivia's note, only placed it beside him.
"Perhaps he was a shade more civil than usual," observed Marcus, dryly, "but his manners certainly want mending. Could you not illuminate that motto, Livy, 'Manners makyth man?' and we would frame it, and give it him as a Christmas present." But Olivia could not be induced to see the joke; Mr. Gaythorne was still an old dear, and the perfume of his flowers was sweet to her.
Marcus would have wondered if he had intercepted one of the searching glances that were reading him so acutely; those deep-set, melancholy eyes could pierce like a gimlet; sometimes a vivid blue light seemed to dart from them. "When master has one of his awful looks on, I dare not face him," Phoebe would say, and Mrs. Crampton, conscious as she was of rectitude and the claim of long and faithful service, felt there were limitations to her intercourse with her master.
Once, and once only, had she ventured on a tabooed subject, and had retired from the room with her comely face quite pale with fear.
"I thought he would have struck me," she said to her confidante, the middle-aged housemaid, "or that he would have had a fit; I should have one myself if I ever tried it on again; but I never will, Rebecca, I will take my oath of that."
"Master has an awful temper when he is drove wrong," returned Rebecca, primly; "I don't wonder at Mr. Alwyn myself. I don't hold with keeping too tight a hand over a young man, it fairly throttles all the goodness out of them. He was none so bad that he would not have done better, if only he had had a word of encouragement instead of all those flouts and jibes."
"Those are exactly my sentiments, Becky," returned Mrs. Crampton, wiping her eyes with her snowy-frilled apron, "and having a boy of my own, bless him, I am a pretty fair judge. Tom was a pickle before he went to sea, but neither his poor father nor me ever cast it at him. He ran away and took the Queen's shilling, though it nigh broke our hearts. Well, he is a sergeant now, and Polly makes him a good wife, and all's well that ends well. But I must be looking after master's supper," and Mrs. Crampton bustled away to her duties.
Olivia took her flowers round to Aunt Madge as soon as her household duties were done in the morning. Mrs. Broderick, who had had a sleepless night of pain, looked more worn and languid than usual, but she brightened up at the sight of the flowers, and poked her long nose into the heart of a rose with an air of rapt enjoyment, but the next moment she frowned.
"Livy," she said, severely, "I am extremely angry! how dare you be guilty of such extravagance, even if it be my birthday! Don't I know what these exquisite flowers must have cost!" then Olivia's face fell a little.
"Oh, Aunt Madge, I had no idea it was your birthday, and I have brought you nothing, nothing at all. Do let me explain," and then Mrs. Broderick listened with much interest to Olivia's recital.
"The flowers are even sweeter than I thought them," she said, presently, and her face flushed a little. "I thought the day would be so blank, and that I should just lie here missing Fergus. He always made such a fuss on my birthdays; they were red-letter days to him, and now this friendly message has come to me. Give me my writing-case, Livy. I must scrawl a few lines to your old gentleman," and she refused to dictate the note to Olivia.
"MY DEAR SIR," she wrote, "do you know what you have done? You have given a poor invalid a very happy day. Your beautiful flowers have come to me like a lovely message of sympathy and goodwill from an unknown friend.
"If you were ever sad and lonely, if life has not always been easy to you, it will sweeten your solitary hours to know that you have given enjoyment to a crippled sufferer.
"To-day is my birthday, the forty-sixth milestone on my life's journey. During a long, wakeful night of pain I have been counting up past blessings, and the new day seemed a blank to me, and then your flowers came, and I thanked God and took courage.
"Dear sir, I remain, "Yours gratefully, "MARGARET BRODERICK (widow)."
That was one of Aunt Madge's fads, one of her harmless little peculiarities, to sign herself in that fashion. "There is so much in the word widow," she would say; "if it were not for seeming odd or making people smile, I would always sign myself 'Fergus's widow,' instead of my proper name," but nothing could induce her to send even a note without that curious signature.
Olivia could not quite get over her grievance of forgetting Aunt Madge's birthday.
"It was so horrid of me," she said, with a long face, "but, anyhow, I will come to tea."
"No, dear, not to-day," returned Mrs. Broderick, quietly. "To-morrow Deb and I will be delighted to welcome you. And Deb shall bake some shortbread and scones. Marcus might come too, it is long since I saw him."
"But why not to-day, dear Aunt Madge?" persisted Olivia, rather curiously.
"Fergus and I always spent the day alone together, and I keep up the custom still," returned Mrs. Broderick, in a dreamy voice. "He never gave me his present until the evening, and it was always such a grand surprise. His last present to me was that revolving book-table. How splendid I thought it, and what a comfort it has been to me all these years. Don't look so serious, Livy, I don't mean to be dull, I never am, but I like to fancy that on my birthday I have Fergus near me still," and nothing that Olivia could say would shake her resolution.
Olivia hesitated to repeat her visit to Galvaston House, and when she consulted Marcus he advised her to wait a little.
"We must not be too pushing. I daresay one of these days Mr. Gaythorne will send you another message. He is rather ailing and out of sorts just now, and inclined to bristle up at a word," but, though Marcus laughed in this way, he had not found his berth an easy one.
Mr. Gaythorne was often irritable, and the least contradiction—even the assertion of an opinion—would ruffle him. Once, when Marcus had proposed discontinuing his evening visits, Mr. Gaythorne had appeared quite affronted.
"If I can afford to pay for medical advice, I suppose I may be allowed to have it," he had returned, testily. "Of course, if your time is too valuable——"
But Marcus, flushing at the covert sneer, answered, in his quick, straightforward way:
"I wish it were more valuable; but as I have no wish to pick your pocket, I thought it would be only honest to tell you that the evening visit is no longer necessary."
"Very well, then we will regard it in the light of a luxury," returned Mr. Gaythorne, a little less grimly. "By-the-bye, Dr. Luttrell, I want to ask you if you will kindly let me have your account at the end of the month. Monthly payments are my rule, if it will not inconvenience you."
Marcus assured him he was quite ready to meet his wishes.
Olivia, who had few amusements, often thought longingly of that beautiful winter garden, and wished to revisit it. She had described it so vividly and graphically to Aunt Madge, that Mrs. Broderick declared she could picture it exactly. She was never weary of hearing her niece's description.
"I feel as though my world were enlarged, and that I had got a new friend," she said one day, and Olivia was amused to hear that the faded flowers had been carefully pressed.
She was much delighted then when one raw, foggy November morning Marcus brought her a message. Mr. Gaythorne felt himself better, and would be very pleased if Mrs. Luttrell would give him an hour that afternoon.
Her visit was a very pleasant one. The yellow fog outside had been extremely depressing, but as she stepped into the hall, the whole house seemed brightly illuminated. Mr. Gaythorne, who was on crutches, met her at the head of the staircase. He had discarded his dressing-gown, and wore a black velvet coat that became him still better.
The conservatory, lighted up by lamps cunningly concealed among the foliage, looked more like fairyland than ever. And the deep easy-chairs, with their crimson cushions, were deliciously inviting.
Her admiration seemed to gratify Mr. Gaythorne, and as he pointed out his favourite flowers, and descanted on their habits and peculiar beauties, Olivia listened with such intelligent interest, and asked such sensible and pertinent questions, that he was drawn insensibly into giving her a botanical lesson.
They were so engrossed with their subject that it was almost an effort to break off when coffee was brought.
Mrs. Crampton had sent up a profusion of dainty cakes, and as Olivia drank her coffee and feasted on the various delicacies, the one drawback to her pleasure was that Marcus was not there to share it. At this present moment he was in some slum or other supplementing the labours of the overworked parish doctor.
How surprised Dr. Luttrell would have been if he could have seen the transformation in his patient's appearance—the lean, cadaverous face had lost its fretful look, the melancholy dark eyes had grown bright and vivid, the slow precise voice had waxed animated and even eloquent as he discoursed learnedly on his floral treasures.
Flowers, butterflies, and birds were his great hobbies, and his magnificent collections had been gathered from all parts of the world; he had been a great traveller in his early manhood.
"I have been everywhere and seen everything," he said once. Towards the end of the afternoon Olivia had been much touched by a little incident; she had asked him a question about a curious cactus. "If you will come with me, my dear," he had answered, "I could show you a better specimen"—and then a dull red had risen to his forehead. "Excuse me, Mrs. Luttrell. I forgot whom I was addressing—and—and—you——" but here he checked himself.
"Oh, do finish your sentence!" she said, in her bright persuasive voice. "You were going to say that I remind you of someone?"—and as he met her kind friendly glance, his shy stiffness relaxed.
"Yes," he said, simply, and a great sadness came into his eyes, "you remind me of my daughter. That first evening when you spoke to me you reminded me of her then."
"And you have lost her! Oh, I am so sorry! Does it pain you to speak of her? I should so like to know her name!"
"Her name was Olivia," he returned, slowly, "but we always called her Olive. She was born at Beyrout, under the Syrian sun, and in the land of grey olive-trees."
"How strange! What a curious coincidence!" returned young Mrs. Luttrell, softly. "That is my name too, and Marcus often calls me Olive; and I remind you of her?"
"Yes, Olive spoke in just that brisk, cheerful manner. She was so full of life and energy. She died of fever at Rome—we were staying there. She was only two-and-twenty, and she was to have been married that summer. Her poor mother never got over the shock; before the autumn she had followed her."
"Oh, how sad—how dreadfully sad!" observed Olivia, with tears in her eyes. "What a tragedy to live through. And her poor lover too!"