The Bag of Diamonds, by George Manville Fenn.
This is a short book, and indeed later editions added some short stories to bring the book up to a respectable size. The story is also unusual for this author, for much of the action takes place on the lower floors of a doctor's house in nineteenth century London.
The edition used was one of the worst-printed books your reviewer has ever seen, yet with diligence the story has been extracted from it and is here presented. The doctor had for some years been obsessed with an idea that he could make an elixir of eternal life, and at some point in the recent past he had started to neglect his patients, so that he had very few new patients, so there was not much money in the house, and times were hard. The most amusing character in the book is Bob, the "boots" boy, and it is he who at almost the last chapter rediscovers the Bag of Diamonds, that had somehow got lost in almost the first.
There are villains, heroes, heroines—and Bob with his antics—in this book, and you will enjoy it. For the whole middle part of the book the people in it are blundering about, none of them ever quite sure what was going on. You, as the reader, may well have a better idea than they do, but be prepared to be wrong in your surmises. Makes a good audiobook.
THE BAG OF DIAMONDS, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
IN A FOG.
"Ugh! what a night! And I used to grumble about Hogley Marsh! Why, it's like living in a drain!"
Ramillies Street, W.C., was certainly not attractive at twelve o'clock on that December night, for it had been snowing in the early part of the evening; that snow was suffering from a fall of blacks: and as evil communications corrupt good manners, the evil communication of the London soot was corrupting the good manners of the heavenly snow, which had become smirched by the town's embrace, and was sorrowfully weeping itself away in tears beneath a sky—
No, there was not any sky. For four days there had not been a breath of air to dissipate the heavy mist, and into this mist the smoke of a million chimneys had rolled, mingled, and settled down in the streets in one horrible yellowish-black mirk.
There were gas lamps in Ramillies Street—here and there distinguishing themselves by a faint glow overhead; but John Whyley, policeman on the beat, was hardly aware of their existence till he laid his hand upon each post.
"Now, only that Burglar Bill and Company aren't such fools as to come out on such a night as this, here's their chance. Why, they might burgle every house on one side of the street while the whole division was on the other. Blest if I know hardly where I am!"
J.W. stopped and listened, but it seemed as if utter silence as well as utter darkness had descended upon the great city. But few people were about, and where a vehicle passed along a neighbouring street the patter of hoofs and roll of wheels was hushed by the thick snow.
"It is a puzzler," muttered the man. "Blind man's buff's nothing to it, and no pretty gals to catch. Now, whereabouts am I? I should say I'm just close to the corner by the square, and—well, now, look at that!"
He uttered a low chuckle, and stared up from the curbstone at a dull, red glare that seemed like the eye of some fierce monster swimming in the sea of fog, and watching the man upon his beat.
"And if I didn't think I was t'other side of the street! Ah, how you do 'member me of old times," he continued, apostrophising the red glare; "seems like being back at Hogley, and looking off the station platform to see if you was burning all right after I'd been and lit you up. Red signals for trains—red signals for them as wants help," he muttered as, with his hands within his belt, he stepped slowly up under an arch of iron scroll-work rusting away, a piece of well-forged ornamentation, which had once borne an oil lamp, and at whose sides were iron extinguishers, into which, in the bygone days when Ramillies was a fashionable street, footmen had thrust their smoking links. But fashion had gone afar, and Ichabod was written metaphorically upon the door of that old Queen Anne house, while really there was a tarnished brass plate bearing the inscription "Dr Chartley," with blistered panels above and below. Arched over the doorstep was an architect's idea of a gigantic shell, supported by two stout boys, whom a lively imagination might have thought to be suffering from the doctor's prescriptions, as they glared wildly at the red bull's-eye in the centre of the fanlight above the door.
"Nothing like a red signal to show you where you are," said John Whyley, stepping slowly back on to the pavement, to the very edge of the curbstone, and then keeping to it as his guide for a few yards, till he had passed a second door, also displaying the red light, and beneath it, in letters nearly rubbed away, though certainly not from cleaning, the word "Surgery."
"That's where that young nipper of a buttons lives, him as took a sight at me when I ketched him standing on his head a-top of the dustbin down the area. Hullo!"
John Whyley stood perfectly still and invisible in the fog, as the surgery door was opened; there was a low scuffling noise, and a hurried whispering.
"Get your arm well under him. Hold hard? Shut the door. Mind he don't slip down. It's dark as pitch. Now then, come on."
At that moment a bright light shone upon the scene in front of Dr Chartley's surgery door, for John Whyley gave a turn to the top of the bull's-eye lantern looped on to his belt, and threw up the figures of three men, two of whom were supporting on either side another, whose head hung forward and sidewise, whose legs were bent, and his body in a limp, helpless state, which called forth all the strength of the others to keep him from subsiding in a heap upon the snow. He seemed to be young, heavily bearded, and, as far as his costume could be seen in the yellow glare, he wore high boots and a pea-jacket; while his companions, one of whom was a keen-faced man, with clean-shaved face and a dark moustache, the other rather French-looking from his shortly cropped beard, wore ulsters and close travelling-caps.
As the light flashed upon the group, one of the men drew his breath sharply between his teeth, and for a space no one stirred.
"Acciden', gentlemen?" said John Whyley, giving a sniff as if he smelt a warm sixpence, but it was only caused by the soot-charged fog.
The constable's speech seemed to break the spell, and one of the men spoke out thickly:
"Axe'den', constable? Yes, it's all right. Hold him up, Smith. Wants to lie down, constable. Thinks snow is clean sheets."
"Oh, that's it, is it, sir?" said John Whyley, examining each face in turn a little suspiciously. "Thought as it was a patient—"
"Yes," said the man with the moustache, speaking in a high-pitched voice, "doctor keeps some good stuff. Not all physic, policeman. Here, hold up." This last to the man he was supporting, and upon whose head he now placed a soft felt hat, which he had held in his hand.
"Gent seems rather on, sir," said John Whyley, going up more closely.
"Ah!" said the first speaker, "you smelt his breath."
"'Nough to knock you down, sir," said the constable. "He'll want to come and see the doctor again to-morrow morning."
There was a very strong odour of spirits, and in the gloom it did not occur to the constable that the two men who seemed most intoxicated were very bright-eyed, and yet ghastly pale. He merely drew back for the group to pass.
"Got to take him far, sir?"
"Far? No, constable. Let him lie down and go to sleep. Dishgusting thing man can't come to see friend without getting drunk. Look at me— and Shmith."
"Yes, sir; you're all right enough," said the constable. "Shall I lend you a hand?"
"No," said the man with the moustache, "we're all right; get us a cab."
"Where, sir?" said the constable, with a grin; "don't believe such a thing's to be got, sir, a night like this. All gone home."
At that moment from out of the fog there was a sudden jolt and the whish of a whip.
"Hullo?" shouted the policeman.
"Hullo!" came back in a husky voice, as if spoken through layers of flannel, "what street's this?"
"Ramillies. Here's a fare."
There was a muttering, then a bump, jolt, and jangle of a cab heard, and a huge figure slowly seemed to loom up out of the fog in a spectral way, leading a gigantic horse, beyond which was something dark.
"What's the row?" said the husky voice.
"These gents want a cab."
"Oh, but I can't drive nowheres to-night. I drove right into one pub, and then nearly down two areas. Where do you want to go."
"John's Hotel, Surrey Street, old man. Look sharp. Five bob."
"Five what, sir? Why, I wouldn't stir a step under ten. I'm just going to get my old horse into the first mews, shove on his nosebag and then get inside and go to sleep. I can't drive. I shall have to lead him."
"Give him ten," said the man with the sharp voice.
"All right. Here, hold up, old man," said the other. "Look sharp! See never I come out with him again."
"Yes, don't make a noise, or you'll bring out the doctor," said the other man, and the policeman went to the cab door.
The cab evidently objected to the fare, for the door stuck, and only yielded at last with a rattle, and so suddenly that John Whyley nearly went on his back. But he recovered himself, and held his light so that the utterly helpless man, who seemed as if composed of jelly, was pulled by one of his companions, thrust by the other, into the cab, and forced up on the back seat. "There y'are, const'ble," said the man with the thick voice, "there's something to get glass; but don't take too much— like that chap—my deares' frien', it's s'prising ain't it? Tell cabman John's Hotel."
"All right, sir, he knows. Go ahead, cabby."
He took a few slow steps towards where the cabman stood by the horse's head.
"Think they're all right?" said the cabman, in a husky whisper.
"Give me half-a-crown," said John Whyley.
"Did they? Wish I'd stood out for a sovereign."
As he spoke he started his horse slowly, and the cab went by the constable, whose lamp showed the interior very indistinctly, the cab window being drawn up, and then the sight and sound of the vehicle died out in the fog, and all was once more still.
"Ill wind as blows no one any good!" said the constable, slowly continuing his beat. "Rather have my half-crown than their sick headaches in the morning. Rather rum that no one came out with all that talking."
John Whyley hummed a tune and tried two or three front-doors and area gates, and then he took off his helmet and scratched his head as if puzzled.
"Now, have I done right?" he said suddenly. "Seemed to be square. Smelt of drink horrid. Other two 'peared to be on all but once or twice. I say! Was it acting?"
He gave his helmet a sharp blow with his doubled fist, stuck it on tightly, and took a few quick steps in the direction in which the cab had moved off.
"Tchah!" he ejaculated, stopping short; "that's the worst o' my trade; makes a man suspicious of everything and everybody. Why, I nearly accused the missus of picking my pockets of that sixpence I forgot I spent with a mate. It's all right. They were as tight as tight. Ugh! What a night."
John Whyley's beat took him in another direction, but something—a feeling of dissatisfaction with his late act, or the suspicion engendered by his calling made him turn back and go slowly to the doctor's door.
All was perfectly still; the red lamp burned over the principal door, while over the surgery door the three last letters were more indistinct than ever, and "Surg" somehow looked like a portion of "Resurgam" on a memorial stone.
John Whyley went close up to the latter door, and listened. All was still.
He hesitated a few moments, and then tapped and listened again, when there seemed to be a slight rustling sound within, but he could not be sure.
Turning on his light, there, beside him, was a bell-pull with the hole half-filled with snow.
"Shall I?" he said, hesitating. "People don't like being called up for a cock-and-bull story, and what have I got to say? These gents came away tight."
He paused and removed his helmet for another refreshing scratch.
"Was it acting? I've heerd a chap on the stage drawl just like that one with the thick voice. Now, stop a moment. Let's argufy. Couldn't be burglary. Yes, it could—body burglary!"
John Whyley grew excited as a strange train of thought ran through his head in connection with what he had heard tell about surgeons and their investigations, and purchases delivered in the dead of night.
"I don't care," he said; "wrong or right, I wish I hadn't let that cab go, and I'll get to the bottom of it before I've done."
It might have been connected with visions of another possible half-crown, or it might have been in an honest desire to do his duty as a guardian of the public safety. At any rate, John Whyley gave a vigorous tug at Dr Chartley's night-bell and waited.
"No answer; that's a suspicious fact," he said to himself; and he rang again, listened, waited, and rang again.
Hardly had the wire ceased to grate, when a curious whispering voice, close to his ear, said "What is it?" so strangely that John, who had only been a year in London, bounded back into the snow, and half drew his truncheon.
"What is it? Who's there?" came then.
"What a fool I am! Speaking trumpet!" muttered the man, and directing his light toward the doorpost he saw a raised patch of snow, which upon being removed displayed a hole.
To this, full of confidence now, John Whyley applied his lips.
"Police!" he said. "Anything wrong?" There was a pause, and then the same strange voice came again.
"Wait. I'll come down."
Waiting was cold work, and John Whyley took at trot up, and was returning when he saw a dim light shine through the long glazed slits at the sides of the principal door, and directly after he heard a click a if a candlestick were set down on a marble slab, and one of the narrow windows showed a human shape in a misty way.
The bull's-eye was turned on, and, after the momentary glimpse of a face, the rattling of a chain was heard and the front-door was opened a few inches to reveal a pale, haggard, but very handsome face, with large lustrous eyes, which looked dilated and strange.
"I did not understand you, policeman. Is anything the matter?"
"Well, Miss, that's for you to say;" and he related what he had seen.
"It is very strange. My father's door is locked, and there is no light."
"Yes, Miss—one over the door."
"Yes, but that only shines into the surgery. My brother has not come back."
"But the doctor had company, Miss: that gentleman who had taken too much."
"Oh, no; impossible."
"Then I have been done!" cried the man, striking his left hand a blow with his fist, as if to clinch the thought which had been troubling him.
"I don't understand you."
"Well, Miss, I'm afraid there's something wrong. But the doctor?"
"He is not in his room."
"But how about the speaking trumpet?"
"I heard the night-bell. He is not in his chamber, and the passage door is locked. Perhaps—" a few moments' pause; then in a firm decided tone, "Yes, you had better come in."
The door was closed, so that the chain could be unfastened; and as the door was being reopened, John Whyley pulled himself together, and cleared his throat.
"Don't be alarmed, Miss," he said, as he stood in the large blank hall, and rubbed his shoes upon a very old mat. "I don't like scaring you but its better to make sure than to let anything go wrong. That's partly, you see, Miss, what we're for."
"Yes, yes, but come at once to the surgery."
"One minute, Miss," said the constable, examining carefully the handsome frightened face, and noting that its owner was tall, graceful, rather dark, and about three or four and twenty, while though her hair was in disorder as if from lying down, the lady was fully dressed.
"What do you want?" she said, with the wild look in her eyes intensifying.
"To do everything in order, Miss. First, who lives here?"
"My father, Dr Chartley."
"Who else on the premises?"
"The servant-girl. Our boy. My brother, a medical student, lives here, but he has not yet returned. He is at a friend's house—a little party."
"And you've had a party here, Miss?"
"Oh, no; we never have company."
"That'll do, Miss. Now for the surgery. One moment: your name, please?"
"That'll do. Rum name," he muttered; and following the lady, who led the way with a chamber candlestick in past the open door of a gloomy-looking dining-room, constable John Whyley found himself at the end of a passage to the left, in front of a half-glass door, whose panes were covered on the other side by a thick dark blind.
"My father's surgery," said the lady in answer to an inquiring look.
The constable nodded, and tried the door twice before kneeling down and holding his light to the key hole.
"Key in," he said gruffly, "locked inside. Who's likely to be here?"
"My father. He always sits in the consulting-room beyond at night— studying."
Another short nod, and the constable rapped loudly. No response.
He rapped again, with the same result. Then he drew a long breath, and the man showed that he possessed feeling as well as decision.
"I don't want to alarm you, Miss, but I ought to force open this door."
"But you do alarm me, man. Yes, you are right. No! let me come."
She rapped smartly on the door.
"Father! Father! Are you here?"
Still no reply; and she drew back, looking wildly in the constable's eyes, while her hands seemed as if drawn together to clasp each other and cheek the nervous trembling and be of mutual support.
"Yes," she said, "force it open. Stop! break one of the panes."
The constable leaned his shoulder against the pane nearest the lock, and there was a sharp crackling noise, the splintered glass being caught by the blind inside; but as the man thrust his hand through the great hole he had made, to draw the blind on one side, a fragment or two fell, making a musical tinkling.
The man's next act was to take his lantern from his belt, and pass it through, directing the light in all directions, as he peered through the glass above, and then he withdrew the light with a low "Ha!"
"What can you see?"
"Hold hard, please, Miss, and keep back. This isn't ladies' work. I want some help here."
"Then something has happened?"
"Well, Miss, seeing what I did see to-night, it may be nothing worse than a drop too much, but it looks ugly."
"Who is it? My father?"
"Can't say, Miss. Elderly gent with bald head."
"Oh, what you say is possible! Quick! burst open the door!"
The constable placed his shoulder to the door, but drew back with an angry gesture.
"Of course!" he muttered, and thrusting his arm through, he reached the lock, turned the key, and the door swung open with a dismal creak.
"Now, Miss, I'll see first, and come back and tell you."
"Man! do you think I am a child?" was the sharp reply; and rushing by him, the speaker passed into the room, and went down upon her knees directly beside a figure in a shabby old dressing-gown, lying face downward on the floor.
"Quick! turn on that gas."
The constable took a step to obey, and kicked against something which rattled as it flew forward, and struck the wainscot board, while the next moment a dim, blue spark of light in a ground-glass burst into a flame, and lit up a dingy-looking, old-fashioned surgery just as the kneeling girl uttered a piteous cry.
"That's enough," muttered the constable, stooping and picking up the object he had kicked against—a short whalebone-handled life-preserver, and slipping it into his pocket. "Tells tales. Now, Miss," he continued aloud, bending over the prostrate figure. "Hah! yes! I thought as much."
It was plain enough. A slight thread of blood was trickling slowly from a spot on the smooth glistening bald head of the prostrate man, while as, with a moan of anguish, the girl thrust her arm softly beneath his neck, and raised the head, the mark of another blow was visible above the temple.
"Now, Miss, I can't leave you like this. Let me stay while you go for help. We must have some one here."
These words seemed to rouse the girl into fierce action, and she gently supported the wounded head, her hand sought the injured man's wrist, and seized it in a professional way.
"Man," she cried with angry energy, "while we are seeking help he may— Yes; still beating. Quick! Open that door. No, no; that's the way into the street! The other door—the consulting-room. Prop it open with a chair. We must get him on to the sofa, and do something at once."
"Yes, Miss; but a doctor."
"I am a doctor's daughter, man, and know what to do. Quick!"
"Well, of all—" muttered the constable, as he proceeded to the door in question; and then, without finishing the sentence, "Well, she is a plucked one!"
He stepped into a shabbily furnished room, in whose grate a fire was just aglow; and as the door swung to, and he cast the light round to seek for a chair, he caught sight of a vacant couch, a table with bottle, glasses, and sugar thereon, and the cover drawn all on one side, so that the glasses were within an ace of being off; and then, drawing in his breath, he stepped to the other side of the table, and held down the light, which fell upon a drawn and ghastly face, while, hidden by the table-cover, there lay the figure of a well-dressed man.
"Fit," muttered the constable, bending lower. "No; I ain't a doctor, but I know what that means."
He stepped back quickly, and shut the door after him.
"No, no! prop it open."
"Let it be, Miss," he replied sternly. "There's something else wrong there."
The girl stared up at him aghast.
"Here's a sofy will do," he continued, pointing to a kind of settee, cushioned, and with a common moreen valance hanging down, while a rough kind of pillow was fastened to one end. "You get up, Miss, and lift a bit. I won't hurt him more than I can help. That's it. Sorry, Miss, I thought what I did."
A low moan escaped the sufferer as he was lifted with difficulty upon the rough settee, and this being done, the constable renewed his request.
"Now, Miss, it's a thing as wants doing at once. Call help."
"Hold up his head," was the quick imperious reply; and as the man obeyed, he saw to his surprise the girl go quickly to the row of shelves at one side of the room, take down a labelled bottle, remove the stopper, and pour some of its contents into a graduated glass. To this she added a portion of the contents of another bottle, taking them down, replacing stoppers, and proceeding in the most matter-of-fact, businesslike way, as if accustomed to the task, and returning to try and trickle a little fluid between the patient's lip, supplementing it by bathing his temples.
This done, she ran to a drawer, to return with a roll and scissors; then getting sponge, water, and basin, and proceeding deftly to bathe and strap up the bleeding wound, before turning to her assistant, who looked dim, as the fog seemed to have filtered into the room. "Now," she said sharply, "is there some one injured in that room?"
"Yes, Miss; but stop. I will have help now," said the constable hoarsely. "You shan't go in there!"
At that moment, as the man stepped before the consulting-room door, there was the quick rattle of a latch-key heard faintly from the front-door, and as the opening door affected that of the surgery, and made it swing slightly and creak, the girl ran to it.
"Here, Hendon! quick!"
There was a heavy step in the passage, and a young man, who looked flushed, hurried into the surgery, hat in hand, his ulster over his arm.
"What's the matter?" he said thickly. The constable directed at him a sharp glance.
"I don't know. Look! My father attacked, and—Oh? Hendon, pray, pray see!"
The young man had evidently been drinking; and the suddenness of this encounter seemed for a moment to confuse him; but as he caught sight of the injured doctor, the policeman peering at him with a sternly inquiring look, and the tall, handsome girl, with wild eyes and parted lips, pointing towards the consulting-room door, he threw back his head, gave it a shake as if to clear it, and spoke more clearly.
"Accident?" he said. "Look?"
"Yes, for pity's sake, look."
He strode to the consulting-room door, stepped in and was turning to come back, but the policeman was following.
"What is it?" he said. "Here! a light."
He snatched the lantern from the constable's hand, and the light fell directly upon the face of the prostrate figure beyond the table.
"Who's this?" he said, going down on one knee. "Why, constable, what's up? This man is dead!"
"Yes, sir, I see that."
"Yes, quite dead. But what does it mean? Has my sister—"
"Seen him? No, sir, I wouldn't let her come. Now, then, as you're here, I'll go for a doctor and some of our men."
"One minute. I'm a medical student—bit thick, constable—been at a party—but I know what I'm doing. Yes, this man's dead—shot, I think. But my father? Here, come back. That poor girl must be half wild."
He ran back into the surgery.
"Here, Rich, my girl, this is a terrible business. Yes, yes," he added, slowly examining what his sister had done, and then drawing in his breath, as he passed his hand over the smooth bald head. "How did it happen?"
"I—I don't know," gasped the girl, wildly; and now that the burden was partly shifted from her shoulders, her feminine nature began to reassert itself, and she uttered a low wail.
"But—here, constable, how did this come about?"
The man explained in a few words, all the time gazing searchingly at the inquirer, but shaking his head to himself, as if feeling that the suspicions he harboured were wrong.
"And now, sir, I must have some one in," said the man in conclusion.
"Yes; of course, of course. But my father? We cannot leave him like that. To take him up to his bedroom would not be wise, and we cannot— here, Rich, I say, where are you? Constable, help me carry out this sofa."
John Whyley followed, and the comfortable couch was carried from its neighbourhood by the ghastly figure lying beyond the table, into the surgery, placed close to the wall, and the wounded man carefully placed upon it in an easier position.
"Now, sir, just one look round," said the constable, as Richmond knelt down, weeping silently by her father's side, "and then I'm off. Got this, sir."
He drew out the life-preserver, and showed it to the young student before going into the consulting-room, and after a glance round, kneeling by the dead man to make a rapid search of his pockets.
"Surely this is not necessary now?"
"Yes, sir, it is. One of the first questions my sergeant will ask me will be about recognitions. That will do, sir. Not a scrap of anything about him after a sooperficial search. Now the other place."
He returned to the surgery, looked round, peered into a closet, and then examined the door.
"No signs of violence," he said; and then the settee caught his attention, and he advanced cautiously, drew up the valance, but only to reveal that it was a great chest, and had not harbour beneath for concealment of person or article connected with the case. "Chest, eh?" he said; and placing his hand to the cushion, he found that it was fastened to the great lid, which he raised with one hand, and directed the light into it with the other; but before it was open many inches he banged it down and started away as if horrified.
"Bah, man! scared by a few bones. Articulations, and preparations used in surgical lectures."
"Yes, I see," said the man, recovering himself, "but coming upon 'em sudden like, they looked rather horrid. Now, sir, I'm off. I shall send on the first of our men I see, and come back with the doctor. One two streets off, ain't there? if I can find him in the fog."
"Yes; Mr Clayton Bell. Be quick."
The man hurried off, and in a remarkably short time, or so it seemed to the brother and sister, who were conversing in whispers as they strove to restore the unconscious man to consciousness, there was a ring at the bell, and the constable had returned with a grave, portly-looking surgeon and a sergeant of police.
"Yes," said the newcomer, after a careful examination, "two heavy blows, given, I should say, the first from behind, the second as Dr Chartley was turning round. As you surmised, Mr Chartley, the skull is fractured, and there is a severe pressure upon the brain. And the other case?"
The surgeon was led into the next room, where a long and careful examination was made.
"No, Mr Chartley, no firearms here; the man has been poisoned."
"Poisoned!" cried Hendon Chartley, turning to the table, and taking up one of the glasses to raise it to his nose, and then touch the liquid in the bottom with the tip of his finger and taste it. "Brandy," he said, "only pure brandy."
He set it down, and took up the second glass, which he smelt.
"Ha! there's something here," he cried; and dipping his finger again, he tasted it, and spat quickly two or three times, before passing the glass to the surgeon, who contented himself with raising it to his nostrils.
"Yes; Mr Chartley; no doubt about that," he said. "How did all this come about?"
He turned to the young student, who looked at the sergeant, and the sergeant at John Whyley, while the latter stared stolidly at the surgeon.
"That's what we're going to see, sir," said Whyley.
"Quite right, my man, quite right. Now, Mr Chartley, I can do no more here. I should like to have in a colleague in consultation over your father's case. Nothing more can be done now. We will be here quite early."
He gave a few directions as he passed through the consulting-room, and then son and daughter were left to their painful vigil, and the thick fog covered all as with a funeral pall.
Breakfast-time in the dull dining-room, with its sombre old furniture, carpet dotted with holes worn by the legs of chairs, and the drab-painted panelled walls, made cheerful by a set of engravings in tarnished gilt, fly-pecked frames of the princes of the blood royal: H.R.H. the Prince Regent, with his brothers the Dukes of York, Clarence, Kent, Cumberland, Sussex, and Cambridge, each with a little square tasselled pillow at the top of the frame, and, reposing thereon, a very shabby coronet; while the two windows, with their faded curtains, looked across a row of rusty spikes at a prospect composed of a gaunt old house, evidently let in lodgings.
Richmond Chartley, looking as charming as a handsome girl will look, in spite of a line of care upon her her head and a twitch of anxiety upon the corners of her lips, was distributing coffee, and alternating the task by cutting bread-and-butter—thin-thick for her brother Hendon, who was reading a sporting paper, and thin-thin for Dr Chartley, who was gazing in an abstracted manner at a paper before him, and making notes from time to time with a gilt pencil-case.
He was a bland-looking, handsome man, with stiff white cravat, and that suave, softly-smiling aspect peculiar to fashionable physicians; but the fashion had gone, though the smile remained, to be shed upon his two children instead of upon the patients who came no more.
The breakfast progressed, with Hendon eagerly taking in the detail of the last Australian boat-race, and the doctor making a calculation for the variation of the compound that was the dream of his life, till, as it was finally ended, he bent forward, and said softly, "Truly thankful, amen!"
Hendon Chartley rustled his paper, and doubled it up, and thrust it into his pocket.
"But no fried bacon," he said bitterly. Dr Chartley turned his beams upon his son, and shook his head slowly.
"Indigestible, Hendon. But never mind. Work as I do. Get to the top of the tree, and then you can keep your carriage, and destroy your liver with Strasburg pie."
"Bah!" said Hendon; but his father's countenance did not change.
"Going to the hospital, my boy?"
"Yes, the old dismal round. But to allay suffering. A great profession."
"Wish it had less profession and more solid satisfaction!" said the young man. "Good-bye, Rich."
He hurried out of the room, and the next minute the door was heard to bang.
"An ornament to the profession some day, Richmond."
"Yes, dear, but—"
"Well, my love?" said the doctor, beaming upon her softly.
"Don't think me unkind, dear, now you are so deep in your study; but I do really want a little help."
"Certainly, my darling, certainly. Now, that's what I like; frank confidence on your part. You are the best of housekeepers, my child; but I don't want you to take all the burden on your shoulders."
Richmond Hartley sighed, and the line on her broad handsome forehead; took to itself so many puckers, which, however, did not detract from her beauty.
"Well, my dear; speak out. You want something?"
"Yes, father; money."
"Ah!" said Dr Chartley softly, as he tapped the table with the top of his worn pencil-case. "Money; you want money."
"Yes, father. I am horribly pressed. Poor Hendon has really not enough to pay for his lunch, and—"
"Yes, my dear; but Hendon will soon be in a position to provide comfortably for himself," said the doctor blandly.
The old proverb about the growing grass and the starving steed occurred to Richmond, but he only sighed.
"I don't think you need trouble yourself about Hendon, my dear."
"But there is the rent, father," said Richmond desperately, as the full extent of their position flashed upon her; and she felt impelled to speak.
"Ah, yes; the rent. I had forgotten the rent," said the doctor dreamily.
"Final and threatening notices have been left about the rates and taxes."
"Yes," said the doctor musingly. "The idea is Utopian, but I have often thought how pleasant life would be were there no rents or rates and taxes."
"Dear father, I must tell you all my troubles now I have begun," said Richmond, leaving her chair to kneel down before the handsome elderly man, and lay her hand upon his breast.
"Certainly, my darling, certainly," he said, bending down to kiss her brow in the most gentlemanly manner, and then caress her luxuriant hair.
"They have threatened to cut off both the gas and water."
"Tut! tut! how unreasonable, Richmond! Really a severe letter ought to be addressed to the companies' directors."
"And, father dear, the tradespeople are growing not only impatient, but absolutely insulting. What am I to do?"
"Wait, my darling, wait. Little clouds in our existence while we are attending the breaking forth of the sun. Not long, my dear. I am progressing rapidly with my discovery, and while I shall be extent with the fame, you shall be my dear banker, and manage everything as you do now."
"Yes, yes, dear, I will; but it is so sad. No patient seems to come to you now."
"No, my dear, no," he replied calmly; "I'm afraid I neglected several, and they talked about it among themselves. These things will spread."
"Are there any means left of—pray forgive me, dear—of raising a little money?"
"No, my dear, I think not. But don't trouble about it. Any day now I may have my discovery complete, and then—but really, my dear, this is wasting time. I must get on with my work."
He rose, and Richmond sighed as with courtly grace he raised her hand and kissed it, smiling it her sadly and shaking his head.
"So like your dear mother," he said; "even to the tones of your voice. Don't let me be disturbed, Richmond. I am getting to a critical point."
He slowly crossed the room, gazing dreamily before him, and passed out, while his child stood listening to his step along the passage at the back of the side-board till the door of the surgery was heard to close, when, clasping her hands, she gazed up at the Prince Regent, as if he were some kind of a fat idol, and exclaimed passionately, "What shall I do? What shall I do?"
A violent twitch made her raise her hand to her face, which was contracted with pain, and she drew her breath hard; but the pang seemed to pass away, and after ringing the bell she began busily to pack the breakfast-things together.
Before she had half done, the door opened softly, and a rather dirty face was thrust in. It was the face of an old-looking boy with snub-nose, large mouth, and a rough, shock head bristling over his prominent forehead, and all redeemed by as bright and roguish-looking a pair of eyes as ever shone out from beneath a low type of head.
The door was only opened wide enough at first to admit the head, but as soon as its owner had given a glance round, the door opened farther, and the rest of a rather small person appeared, dressed in a well-worn page's button suit, partly hidden by a dirty green-baize bibbed apron.
The boy's sleeves were tucked up, and he was carrying a pair of old-fashioned Wellington boots by the tops, and these boots he held up on high.
"Didn't know, Miss, whether the doctor had gone. Been a-cleaning his boots. Look, Miss, there's a shine!"
"Yes, yes, Bob, they look very nice. Take them, up-stairs, and then come and clear away."
"All right, Miss. I made a whole bottle o' blacking outer half a cake as a chap I knows give me."
"Yes, yes, Bob."
"Stunning blacking it is, too. He's in the Brigade, and I minded his box for him, and took sixpence while he went and had a game of marbles. That's why he give me the cake."
"Now, Bob, my good lad, I don't want to know anything about that. Take those boots up-stairs."
"All right, Miss; but do look how they shines. I polished tops and all. Look, Miss."
"Yes, yes, yes; they are beautifully clean."
"I allus thinks about legs, Miss, when I cleans boots; and when I thinks about legs, I think about the doctor making such a good job o' mine arter I was run over. It's stronger than the other; I am glad as it was broke."
"Yes, Miss. Why, if I hadn't been run over, my leg wouldn't have been broke, and then the doctor wouldn't have mended it, and I shouldn't be here. What's she gone away for?" said the boy to himself, as he stared after Richmond. "She's been a-crying; one of her eyes was wet. What cowards gals are to cry!"
The boy went to the door and listened, but all was perfectly still; so he set down the boots, rolled his apron into what he called a cow's tail, the process consisting in twisting it up very tightly and tucking it round his waist.
This done he listened again, and finding all still, he thrust his arms into the doctor's boots and indulged in a hearty laugh of a silently weird description before going down on all fours, and walking as slowly and solemnly round the table as a tom cat, whose movements he accurately copied, rubbing himself up against the legs of the table, and purring loudly.
This over, he rose to his feet and listened, but all being still, he went down upon all fours again and trotted round the table, leaped on to a chair, leaped down again, and ran out of the room and along the dark passage towards the head of the kitchen stairs, looking in the gloom wonderfully like some large ape.
Active as he was, a descent of the dark stone stairs on all fours was beyond him; so he rose up, and reaching over, glided silently down the balustrade, to the great detriment of his buttons. But, arrived upon the mat at the bottom, he once more resumed his quadrupedal attitude, thrust his hands well into the Wellington boots, and trotted with a soft patter into a dark back kitchen, out of which came a droning noise uttered by some one at work, and apparently under the impression that it was a song.
The boy, more animal-like than ever, disappeared in the gloom, with the boots making a low pat-pat, pat-pat, and then there was a loud shriek, and Bob bounded out, skimmed up the stairs, after evidently having alarmed some one, and disappeared with the boots, which he sedately carried up to the bedroom. Then he descended, to listen at the head of the stairs to a complaining voice relating to Richmond Chartley an account of how an "ormuz" great dog had come down the area, run into the back kitchen, and frighted some one almost out of her wits!
Bob's face expressed happiness approaching the sublime, and he hurriedly cleared the breakfast-things, and took them down in time to be sent down by a not over-clean-looking maid-of-all-work to shut that there gate.
The boy was in the act of performing this duty when a neatly-dressed girlish-looking body approached, carrying a large folio under one arm—a folio so bound that the neatly-mended and well-fitting little glove which covered a very small hand could hardly reach to the bottom.
"Is your mistress in?"
"Yes, Miss," said Bob, whose face seemed to reflect the sweet, sunny smile which greeted him. "I'll slip round and let you in."
This was the utterance of the new arrival, as she saw the boy apparently hurl himself over the iron balustrade of the area-steps, and plunge into the dust-hole region beyond. But Bob had long practiced the keeping of his equilibrium, as the polished slat of the iron rail proved, and, instead of dashing out his brains on the stones, he reached the bottom with a bound, and diving into the house, reappeared in a marvellously short space of time at the front-door.
"She's in the dining-room, Miss," said Bob, making a rush at the folio, and feasting his eyes the while on the natty fur-trimmed jacket and little furry hat, whose hue harmonised admirably with the wavy dark brown hair, neatly braided up beneath; for the visitor was remarkably well-dressed, and her fresh young face set off everything so well that no one thought of noticing that the dress had been turned, and that the jacket's rough exterior had certainly last winter been upon the other side.
Bob hurriedly closed the door, and ran into the chilly dining-room with the folio, which he banged down on the table with—
"Here's Miss Heath, Miss;" and then darted out of the room, leaving the two girls face to face. "They don't like me to see 'em cuddling," he said with a grin; and, urged by the enormous amount of vitality that was in him, Bob bounded to the kitchen stairs to slide down, and, directly after, a gritty rubbing noise, made metrical to accompany the shrill whistling of a tune, arose, the result of the fact that Bob Hartnup, the doctor's boy, who clung to the house with the fidelity of a cat, was cleaning the knives. Bob's facts were correct, if unrefined in expression, for the two girls flew to each other's arms, and as they kissed affectionately, each displayed tears in her eyes, while without relinquishing hands, they sat down together near the window.
"No news, Janet?" whispered Richmond. Her visitor shook her head slowly, gazing wistfully the while into her companion's eyes.
"We must wait, Rich dear. Africa is a horribly great place, and some day we shall hear that he is coming back."
Richmond Chartley made no reply, but sat gazing straight out through the uncleaned window, as if her large clear eyes were looking straight away over the ocean in search of the man she loved.
"Don't, don't, darling; don't look like that," whispered the younger girl. "Don't think all that again. It's cruel, it's wicked of them to have said such things. He was too young, and strong, and brave to die."
"Please God, yes!" said Richmond simply, but with a deep heart-stirring pathos in the tones of her rich voice.
"And one of these days he'll come, dear, like the good prince in the fairy tale, all rich and handsome, as my darling brother always was, and marry my own dear Rich, and make her happy again."
"Please God, yes!" said Richmond once more; and this time there was resignation, and despair so plainly marked that her companion flung her arms about her neck and began to sob.
"Rich, dear Rich, don't, pray don't, or you'll drive me half mad. I've all my lessons to give to-day. And my hand will tremble, and I shall be so unnerved that I can do nothing."
"Janet dear, I try so hard not to despair, but the weary months roll by, and it is two years now since you have had a line."
"Yes, but what of that? Perhaps he is where there are no post-offices, or perhaps he is not getting on; and, poor boy, he is too proud to write till he is doing better. Why, he has only been away four years."
"Four years!" said Richmond sadly; "is it only four years?"
"That's all, dear, though it has seemed like eight, and we will not despair, even though it is so hard to bear. Why, Rich, I feel sometimes when I kneel down at night that if he were dead I should know it; he would not let us go on suffering if it were so."
"Janet dear, I feel sometimes as if it was wrong to have loved him."
"What, dear Mark?"
"Wrong? For shame! How could any girl who knew my darling old Mark as you did help loving him?"
"But it made him dissatisfied. I was the cause of his going away."
"That foolish thought again! You were not, dear. It would have been the same if he had loved any girl. He said that he would not ask any woman to be his wife while he was tied down here without any prospects; and he went off to make his fortune, as many another brave young Englishman has gone before."
"But I made him discontented, dear."
"You made him behave nobly. Why, what other man would have said as he did, 'I hold you to no engagement. I ask nothing of you: I only tell you that I love you with all my heart'?"
"'And some day I will return,'" said Richmond, in a low deep voice.
"Yes, and some day he will return, dear: I do believe it, I will believe it, and—Oh, Rich, Rich, Rich, why, why are we such unhappy girls?"
It was the elder's turn now to try and comfort the younger, who had burst into a passionate fit of weeping, so full of anguish that, at last, Richmond raised her friend's hand, kissed it, and holding the bonny little head between her hands, she said, with almost motherly tenderness.
"Janet, Hendon has been speaking to you again?"
There was no reply.
"I knew it," said Richmond half angrily. "It was thoughtless and cruel of him!"
"No, no, don't blame him, dear. No one could be more noble and more good. You know how hard he works."
"Yes," said Richmond, with a sigh.
"And if he is impatient with his home and your father, why, you must recollect that he is a man, and men are not meant to be patient and suffering, like women."
"He is too thoughtless, Janet, and—I don't like to say it of my own brother—too selfish."
"No, no!" cried Janet, flushing.
"Yes, dear, yes. Could he have had his way, you two would have been man and wife, and he half living on the earnings of these poor tiny little hands."
"I don't think he would have pressed me to it, Rich; and after all, it was because he loved me so."
"Yes, and would have taken advantage of your loneliness here in this great cruel city, and dragged you down to poverty and misery such as I am bearing now. Janet, Janet dear, I feel sometimes as if I cannot bear this miserable degradation longer, and that all these troubles must be a punishment for my not telling my father about Mark."
"Why, Rich," said Janet, turning comforter once more, "what was there to tell? You made no engagement. And look here, if so much trouble is to come of love, why, you and I will take vows, and be single all our days. There, now, you look more like yourself; and I'm going to tell you my news."
"News?" cried Richmond, starting eagerly, and then looking sadly at her friend.
"Yes, two more pupils. I'm getting along famously now. And it does make me so happy and resigned. There, I must go, but—"
"You have something more to say to me?"
"Yes, only—there, I will be firm. Don't be angry with me, Rich dear, for I seem to have no one to care for here but you, and some day you shall pay me again, and I want you to borrow this."
She slipped a tiny little purse into Richmond's hands, and then turned scarlet, as she saw her companion's pallid face.
"No, no, Janet, I could not: your little scraped together earnings. Pray don't speak to me like that again."
"I must. I will!" cried the girl with passionate earnestness. "I don't want it, dear, and it is only a loan. Do, do, pray take it."
"I could not," said Richmond, thrusting the purse into her friend's hand.
"For Mark's sake, dear."
"For Mark's sake!" faltered Richmond hoarsely.
"Yes; how could I look him in the face again, if I had not behaved to you as he bade me when we said good-bye on board the ship?"
"As he bade you?"
"Yes; to be as a sister to you always, and to look to you as a sister for help and comfort when I was in need. Yes, dear, for Mark's sake."
For answer, Richmond Chartley took her friend once more in her arms, and kissed her, but only to press the purse back into her hand before going with her to the door, from which they both shrank on opening it, for a loud voice exclaimed, "Thank you! How do? Ah! Miss Chartley, is the doctor within?"
THE DOCTOR AT HOME.
"Yes, my father is at home, Mr Poynter," said Richmond, speaking calmly, and drawing back for the visitor to enter.
Then to Janet, in a whisper.
"Can you stay with me a few minutes?"
"I daren't, dear; I am late now, and—Yes, I understand. I will."
It was Richmond's turn to display her firmness, and mastering a nervous trepidation which she felt, she bent down, kissed her friend, and, with a meaning pressure of the hand, said "good-bye," and ushered the fresh visitor, who was busily turning a crimson silk handkerchief round a painfully glossy hat, into the dining-room.
"Thankye," he said, sitting down, but jumping up again, and placing another chair, "beg pardon, won't you sit down? I'm in no hurry if the doctor's engaged."
He nervously seized a very thick gold chain, and dragged a great gold watch from his pocket to consult.
"Eleven," he said; "thought I'd come and see him as I went into the City. Nothing the matter, much, but it's as well to see your medical man."
"I'll tell my father you are here, Mr Poynter."
"No, don't hurry. I'm very busy at my place, but plenty of time. How's Hendon?"
"My brother is quite well."
"Is he, now? That's right. Fine thing, good health, ain't it?"
"Of course," said Richmond quietly.
"Yes, of course; so it is, Miss Chartley. Hendon always seems to be a fine strong fellow. I always liked him since I met him at a fellow's rooms. Not at home now?"
"Oh, no; he has gone on to the hospital."
"Ah, yes. Feel sometimes as if I should go to the hospital."
The visitor appeared to be a florid, strongly-built man, in the most robust health, save that probably a love of too many of the good things of this life had made its mark upon him.
"I will tell my father you are here," said Richmond again; and this time she escaped from the room, to come suddenly upon Bob outside, striking an attitude indictive of a determination to crush the glossy hat left upon the table in the hall; and so sudden was Richmond's appearance that the boy stood fast, as if struck with catalepsy, for a few seconds before he bethought himself of a way out of his difficulty, when, pretending to catch a fly which did not exist, he turned upon his heel, and beat an ignominious retreat to the lower regions.
Dr Chartley's patient was no sooner left alone than he started up, and began smoothing his short, carefully-parted hair, took off a second glove to display half a dozen jewelled rings, and wetting fingers and thumbs, he twirled the begummed points of his moustache, and fell into a state of agitation about the cut of his ultra-fashionably made clothes.
He looked round in vain, for there was no looking-glass; still, he had some satisfaction, for he was able to see that his tightly-fitting patent-leather boots were spotless, and that the drab gaiters with pearl buttons were exactly in their places; though the largely-checked trousers he wore did give him trouble as to the exact direction the outer seams should take, whilst his sealskin vest would look spotty in certain lights.
He was in the act of re-smoothing his hair when Richmond returned, and, hard City man as he was, he could not avoid an increase of depth in his colour as he saw that the handsome woman before him was watching him intently.
"My father will come to you directly, Mr Poynter," she said quietly.
"Oh, all right; but don't let me drive you away, Miss Chartley. I don't see much society, and chat's pleasant sometimes, ain't it?"
"Of course," said Richmond quietly; "but I thought my brother said you were fond of society."
"Fond of it? yes, of course," said Poynter hastily; and he smoothed his double fringe over his forehead again, where the hairdresser had cut it into a pattern which he had assured him was in the height of fashion, but only with the result of making him look like butcher turned betting-man. "Yes, fond of it," he said again, "and of course I can get plenty with fellows, but—er—ladies' society is what I like."
James Poynter directed at Richmond a smiling leer, one which had proved very successful at more than one metropolitan bar, where he had paved the way for its success with gifts of flowers and a cheap ring or two; but it was utterly lost here, for its intended recipient was looking another way, and as it faded from its inventor's face there was a blank, inane expression left, bordering upon the grotesque.
"You should go more into ladies' society, then, Mr Poynter, as soon as your health permits," said Richmond, with provoking coolness.
"Oh, I'm not ill," he said hastily; and his forehead grew damp as he floundered about, looking fishy now about the eyes and mouth, which opened and shut at intervals, as if to give passage to words which never came. "Felt I was—er—little out of sorts, you know, and thought I'd see the doctor. Let's see, I said so before, didn't I?"
"Yes, I think you did, Mr Poynter. Here is my father."
There was a slight cough just then, the door opened, and the doctor entered, his bland, aristocratic presence contrasting broadly with that of his patient.
"Ah, Poynter," he said, "good-morning. Don't go, my dear; Mr Poynter will come into my consulting-room, I daresay."
"Yes, of course," cried the patient, shaking hands, and forgetting to leave off. "I shall—shall you?—good-morning, Miss Chartley."
He released the doctor's hand, to turn and shake Richmond's which he pressed desperately, and then followed the bland, calm, stately doctor out of the room, when he caught up his hat savagely and ground his teeth in the dark passage.
"I feel just like a fool when I'm with her!" he said to himself. "I never feel so anywhere else. And I ain't a fool. I should just like to see the man who would say I was."
The doctor led the way through the glazed door into the dim surgery, with its rows of bottles, and stoppered glass jars containing unpleasant looking specimens preserved in spirits, all carefully labelled and inscribed in the doctor's own neat hand, but grown yellow with time; and as he closed the door after his patient, the latter's nostrils distended slightly, and an air of disgust chased the inane look as he breathed the unpleasant medicinal druggy air.
"I was just busy over my discovery," continued the doctor blandly, "and I thought as a friend you would not mind coming here—it is the consulting-room, my dear Poynter; and I could go on, and we could chat over your ailment the while."
"Oh, it's all the same to me," said Poynter; and, once out of Richmond's presence, he seemed another being. Instead of carrying his glossy hat in his hand, he had resumed it, and wore it with a vulgar cock; he walked with the swagger of the low-class City man; and his face shone as he whisked out a second crimson silk handkerchief redolent of perfume, and blew his nose with a loud blast, which sounded defiant.
"Here we are," said the doctor, smiling at his patient, as if after a long search he had found the ill which troubled him, and pulled it up by the roots. "Take that chair, my dear Poynter," he continued, pointing to one by the fire, where a bright copper kettle was on the hob, and closing the door, while his patient took off his hat, glanced round the room, and blew the dust off the top of a side table before depositing thereon his new head-covering.
There was a litter on the table, a chemist's set of weights and scales, divers papers, a spatula, pestle and mortar of glass, toy-like in size, and a book with memoranda, and pen and ink.
"Very busy, you see, Poynter; I've nearly completed my task, and in a few months, perhaps weeks, the medical world will be startled by my discovery."
"What are you going to do with it when you've done?"
"Do with it?"
"Yes. Now, if I was you, I should say to a friend, 'Lend me a thou.,' and then take a little shop, put it up in bottles, with three-halfpenny stamps, and advertise it well as the new patent medicine."
"My dear Mr Poynter!"
"Hold hard, doctor, I haven't done," he cried, speaking in a hard, browbeating manner, as if he were giving orders. "Give it a spanking name, 'Heal-all,' or 'Cure all;' won't do to say Kill-all eh? Haw, haw, haw!"
He burst into a coarse, loud laugh, and the doctor sank back in his chair, with his brows twitching slightly.
"Hold hard, I have it. Nothing like a good name for the fools who swallow everything. Get something out of one of your Greek and Latin physic-books—one of those words like hippocaustus or allegorus, or something they can't understand."
"I do not quite see the force of your argument, my dear Mr Poynter," said the doctor blandly.
"Not see? Why, man, it would be patent medicine then, and no one could take it from you. Look at Hannodyne—good stuff, too, when you've got a headache in the morning—Government stamp, to imitate which is forgery!"
"But still, I—"
"Don't see? Nonsense! Make a fortune. You want it. Patients pretty scarce, eh?"
He laughed again offensively, and the doctor winced, but kept up his bland smooth smile.
"And suppose I took your advice, my dear Poynter, where is the friend to lend me a thousand pounds?"
"Ah! where's the friend!" said Poynter, with a meaning look. "P'r'aps I know the friend, if things went as he wanted."
The doctor's face changed slightly, but his visitor was too obtuse to see it.
"And would you suggest that I should—er—preside in the little shop and sell the allegorus?"
"Ah, that ain't a bad name, is it?" said Poynter, giving his head a shake in the stiff collar in which it rested as an egg does in a cup. "No, not you; not businesslike enough. Make Hendon do that."
"Ah," said the doctor slowly, as he took up the bottle, removed the stopper, and smelled the contents before moistening one finger and tasting it.
"You'll end by poisoning yourself with that stuff, doctor," said Poynter, chuckling.
"No," he said blandly, "no, my dear James Poynter, no; it is a life-giver, not a destroyer. Now, if you were to take, say, twenty drops in water—"
"With sugar?" said Poynter, grinning.
"Yes, with sugar, if you liked. There's no objection to flavouring the vehicle—water."
"Vehicle—water? Why, I never heard of water being called a vehicle! Thought vehicle meant a carriage or trap."
"In this case the water would be the vehicle, Poynter, and, as I was saying, if you were to take twenty drops of this extract, or rather, compound, you would feel as if a new lease of life were beginning—that everything looked brighter; that nerve and muscle were being strung up; your power of thought greater, and—try a little, my dear sir."
"No, thankye, doctor; but if you've got a drop of brandy in the place and a bottle of soda, you may make it more than twenty drops of that."
"I have some brandy," said the doctor, rising, "but no soda-water. I can mix you a little soda and tartaric acid, though, in a glass of water, and it will have all the effect."
James Poynter showed his great white teeth in a broad grin, threw himself back in the patients' chair, and unhooking his watch-chain, began to swing round the big seal, pencil-case, and sovereign-purse which hung at the end.
"No, thankye, doctor," he said. "Let's have the brandy-and-water, and sugar purissima, as you folks call it now, and you can mix me up a tonic and send it on."
"Certainly, my dear Poynter, certainly," said the doctor, going to a closet, and taking out a spirit decanter, tumbler, and sugar, which he placed upon the stained green-baize table-cover, smilingly looking on afterwards with a little bright copper kettle in his hand as his visitor poured out liberally into his glass.
"All right, eh, doctor?" said the young man, looking up in the bland, smooth face, with a good many wrinkles about his right eye.
"I—er—do not understand you."
"Brandy all right? No pilly-coshy or anything of that sort in it? Fill right up."
"No," said the doctor, smiling. "It's the best brandy, and I'll take a little with you."
He filled up his guest's glass, and then smilingly took a second tumbler from the cupboard, and mixed himself a draught.
"Yes, not bad brandy, doctor, but wants age," said Poynter, rinsing his mouth with the hot spirit and water, as if he had been cleaning his teeth. "Now, I have a few dozen of a fine old cognac in my cellar that would give this fifty in a hundred, and lick it hollow."
Perhaps to be expressive, Mr James Poynter shuffled his shoulders against the cushion of the chair and licked his lips, ending with a fish-like smack.
"Let me send you a dozen, doctor."
"No, no, my dear sir. I did not know you were in the wine and spirit trade."
"Stuff and nonsense!"
"And I could not afford—"
"Yah! Who asked you to? I meant as a present. Wine and spirit trade, indeed! Hang it! Do I look like a publican?"
Dr Chartley told an abominable lie, for if ever man, from the crown of his pomatumed head, down over his prominent nubbey forehead, small eyes, prominent cheekbones, unpleasant nose, and heavy jaw, to the toes of his boots, looked like a fast, race-attending licenced victualler, it was James Poynter.
Dr Chartley said, in answer to the indignant question, "No."
"Humph!" ejaculated the visitor, mollifying himself with a large draught of brandy-and-water. "I should think not, indeed. I shall send you a dozen of that brandy."
"No, no, I beg!" said the doctor earnestly; and his white forehead puckered up.
"Yes, I shall. May I smoke?"
A very large, well-filled cigar case was already in the visitor's hands.
"No, thanks. I never smoke."
"Never mind, Hendon does. Here, I shall leave those six for him."
"I really would rather you did not, Poynter; indeed I would."
"Get out? What's the good of having these things if some one else don't enjoy 'em too? Make Hendon a bit more civil to me. He is so jolly—so jolly—what do you call it?—soopercilious with me. Because I'm not a doctor, I suppose. There's half a dozen good ones for him when he comes in. Now then, doctor, go ahead. Want to see my tongue?"
"No—no," said the doctor; "the look of your eye is sufficient, Mr Poynter. It is much clearer. Felt any more of the chest symptoms?"
"No, not so much of them; but I don't sleep as I should: feverish and tossy—spend half my nights punching my pillow."
"Have you given up the suppers?"
"Well, not quite. You see a man can't drop everything. I know a lot of men, and one's obliged, you see, to do as they do. But now look here; doctor. You've been treating me these three months."
"Dear me! is it so long as that?"
"More. You've poked my chest about, and listened to my works, and given me all sorts of stuff to take, and told me to eat this and drink that, and now I suppose you think I'm sound, wind and limb?"
"Certainly, my dear sir, certainly. I told you so at the first, and that no treatment was necessary."
"Yes, yes, all right; but I'd got to be a bit nervous doctor, and now, as I say, you think me sound, wind and limb?"
"Then you'll agree, won't you?"
"Agree?" said the doctor, looking over the glasses he had put on when commencing to be professional.
"Yes. I'm as good a man as there is at Mincing Lane over a tea bargain; but a job like this knocks the wind out of me, makes me feel a damaged lot where the sea-water's got in, or a Maloo mixture. Can't do it: but you understand."
"Really, Mr Poynter, I—"
"Now don't run away, doctor; don't, please. I'm a warm man, and I'm getting warmer. My house is tip-top. I gave two-fifty for the piano, I did, 'pon my soul, and fifty apiece for the cut-glass chandies in the drawing-room. There ain't a better garden in Sydenham. You're willing, ain't you?"
"Do you mean—"
"Yes, that's it. Say the word. There, I've loved her ever since I first saw her. And situated as you are, doctor—"
"No offence meant—far from it; but of course I can't help seeing how things are. Come, you'll give your consent, and get hers, and I'll make settlements—anything you like. You shall come and have a bit o' dinner with us every Sunday, and a glass o' real port wine; and if you'd rather have a cab to come home, why, there you are. Come, there's my hand. Where's yours?"
"Do I understand—"
"Stop a moment, doctor. Of course you'll attend us, whether we're ill or whether we ain't. Keep us in order, like; and as to your fees, why, I ask you now, as a man, what is a fee to me?"
"One moment, doctor. I don't say anything about a brougham. If Miss Richmond—I say, doctor, what made you call her Richmond and him Hendon?"
"A foolish whim—eccentricity," said the doctor coldly. "One child was born on the North Road, the other at the pretty old place on the south west."
"I see. Well, as I was saying, if Miss Richmond likes it to be a brougham, either the real thing, or on the job, she has only got to speak, and it's lies."
"Am I to understand, Mr Poynter, that this is a formal proposal for my daughter's hand?"
"That's it. How you can put it, doctor! You're right; it is, and there's my hand."
"Mr Poynter," said the doctor, drawing himself up in his chair, and without taking the extended hand, "that is a matter upon which I am not prepared to speak."
"Why, you're her father, ain't you?"
"Does my daughter sanction this?"
"Well—er—yes—no—hardly, because I've never put it to her plump. But you know what women are—sealskins, a carriage, bit o' jewellery, and their own way. Why, of course she does; did you ever know a woman as didn't want to marry? They often say so, but—you know. There, say the word: I'll just go in and see her, and it'll be a good job for all of us, and I shall go away with the day fixed."
"No, Mr Poynter," said the doctor gravely; "I have been a medical man for thirty years—a great student, but I must frankly confess that I do not know what women are. As to my daughter, she is of an age to judge for herself, and when she accepts a man for her husband—"
"I say, hold hard; there's nothing on, is there?"
"You have told me that you love my child."
"Like all that, doctor. But you know what I mean: old lover, prior attachment, and that sort of thing."
"As far as I know, there has never been any attachment. Richmond is not like most girls."
"Right doctor. She isn't. That fetched me. Why, in her plain shabby things—"
The doctor winced. "She knocks my sister into fits, and Lyddy spends two-fifty a year in dressmaking and millinery, without counting jewellery and scent."
"I may say," continued the doctor, "that my daughter has always devoted herself to her brother and me."
"Oh, yes, doctor, I've spotted that," said the visitor, smoking furiously.
"And I have never seen any sign of an attachment. I once thought that there was a liking between her and young Mark Heath."
"What, brother to that Miss Janet who comes here?" cried Poynter eagerly.
"The same; but that was years ago."
"And he's abroad, isn't he?"
"He went to the Cape—to seek his fortune," said the doctor gravely; "but he has not been heard of now for two years."
"Dead, safe!" said Poynter, drawing a breath full of relief.
"I'm afraid so."
"It would be sad if the young man had ended his career like that."
"Of course. But they weren't engaged?"
"Certainly not, Mr Poynter."
"And you've no objection to me, doctor?"
"N-no—I—that is, Mr Poynter, I look upon this as a matter for my daughter to decide."
"Of course, doctor. Well, I'll just finish my cigar and grog, and then I'll go and put it to her, plump and plain; and, as I said before, it'll be a fine day's work for us all."
The doctor sighed.
"I say, you know," continued his visitor, with the wrinkles coming about his eyes, "it was all a dodge of mine."
"I beg your pardon."
"There wasn't anything the matter with me when I came."
"Nothing whatever," said the doctor, nodding acquiescence.
"What! you knew that?"
"Of course I did. I looked upon it as all imaginary."
"But you took the fees, doctor?" said the young man, laughing.
"You took up my time."
"But I say, doctor, isn't that too bad?"
"Not at all. My dear sir, the medical profession. Won't I be a poor one if we had no patients with imaginary ills. We treat them; they think we do them good; and they grow better. Surely we earn our fees."
"Oh, but, doctor," said the young man jocularly, "why not honestly tell them they are all right, instead of taking their coin?"
"Because if we did they would not believe us, and would go to some other medical man."
"Then you knew I was all right?"
"Certainly I did."
"And made me up that wretched physic to take."
"You would not have been satisfied without."
"Ah, well," said the young man, with a chuckle which resulted in his wiping his eyes with his highly scented handkerchief, "I never took a drop."
"I know that too," said the doctor.
"Ah, well; we understand one another now, and I'd better go."
James Poynter, however, seemed to be in no hurry to go, but sipped his brandy-and-water, smoked his cigar down to the throwing-away length, and then brought out from his vest-pocket an amber and meerschaum mouthpiece, tipped with gold, into which he fitted the wet end of the cigar, and smoked till he could smoke no longer, when he rose, flush-faced, and with the dew upon his forehead.
"I suppose I must go and get it done, doctor," he said; "but it's rather a—well, it makes a man feel—I say, doctor, what is there in a pretty woman that makes a man feel half afraid of her, like?"
"I told you, Mr Poynter, a short time back, that I did not understand women," said the doctor gravelly. "I cannot tell. Say Nature's heaven-gift for her defence."
"Humph!" said Poynter, staring. "I say, doctor—cigar, you know. Could you give a fellow a mouthful of something that would take the taste out of one's mouth? Going to see a lady."
"Try cold water," said the doctor, in a tone of voice which sounded like throwing that fluid upon he young man's hopes; but he had so much faith in himself that the verbal water glanced from his fine feathers, and after rinsing his mouth, he shook hands clumsily, intending to leave the doctor's fee within his palm, but managed to drop the more valuable of the two coins on the edge of the fender, when it flew beneath the grate, and had to be fished out with the tongs.
"Dodgy stuff, money, doctor," said Poynter, setting down the fire-iron, and blowing the coin.
"Don't take all that trouble, pray."
"Oh, it's no trouble, doctor. I was never above picking up a sov. There, don't you come. I know my way;" and he left the consulting-room to go into the house and learn his fate.
"Brute!" said the doctor, with a look of disgust, as he sank into his chair. "Why is Fate so unfair with her gold! I thought as much, but Richmond will say no."
"Old lunatic!" said James Poynter, with his fat upper lip curling in disgust, as his eyes lit on the row of glass jars with their ghastly contents. "Once I get my lady home, I don't mean to see much of him. Here, boy," he said, as he reached the hall, and so suddenly that there was nearly a serious accident, for Bob was coming down the balustrade from the first floor, gliding upon the central part of his person with arms and legs extended—taking hold having grown common.
The sharp "Here, boy!" so startled him that he overbalanced himself, went right over, but caught at the upright spindly bars, and so far saved himself that he came down upon his feet in a couple of somersaults, recovering himself directly, and coming forward with a grin upon his bloodless face, as if the feat had been intended.
"Ah, you'll break your neck some day. Here's a shilling for you. Take me into Miss Chartley at once."
Bob bit the coin, and slipped it into his pocket before he replied, "Gone out."
"Gone out? Will she be long?"
"Dessay she'll be hours, sir."
James Poynter stamped with his foot, and muttered something unparliamentary.
"Tell Miss Chartley," he said. "No, don't tell her anything. Here, let me out."
Bob ran to the ponderous old door, and stood holding it open with his eyes glittering as he stared at the visitor, till he had hurried out with his hat set very much on one side, and walked sharply away.
"Thought he'd want the bob again," said the boy. "Just do for the old gal. Well, I'm blessed!"
This last consequent upon his catching sight of a shabby-looking figure in black, with a damaged bonnet, and a weirdly dissipated look, rising slowly into sight up the area-steps, and then coming out of the creaking gate to the boy, who grew more serious the nearer the figure came.
It was not a pleasant face to look upon, for it was not over-clean; the black and grey hair was ill-arranged, and the eyes that shone above the flushed cheeks belied the woman sadly if they did not tell the truth about potations.
"Why, Bob, my darling," she said, with an exaggerated fawning smile, "and how is my bonny boy?"
"Here stow that, mother," cried the lad, struggling from an embrace. "Don't! Can't yer see I've been brushing my hair?"
"Yes, and it looks beautiful, ducky. I've been knocking ever so long at the hairy door, and that fine madam saw me, and wouldn't let me in."
"No; she says I ain't never to let you in no more."
"Not let me in no more to see my own boy?"
"No; she says you took some fresh butter last time you was here, and you sha'n't come."
"Then you sha'n't stay, Bob; I'll take you away, my darling. Oh, it's a wicked, cruel world!"
"Here, I say, mother, stow that. Whatcher want?"
"What, my darling? Yes, that's it: want—staring want; but you sha'n't stay here."
"Get out. I shall."
"No, you sha'n't, you ungrateful boy. I won't be separated from my own child. Bob dear, have you got any money?"
"Anybody give you anything?" whined the woman. "There ain't been nothing pass my lips this blessed day."
"Oho! what a wunner!" cried the boy. "Why, I can smell yer."
"No, no, my dear; that's Mrs Billson as you can smell. I've been talking to her, and she drink 'orrid. Ain'tcher got a few pence for your poor lone mother, who's ready to break her heart sometimes because she's parted from her boy?"
"Will you go away if I give you something?"
"Go away? Oho!" whined the woman, wiping off a maudlin tear with the end of her shawl.
"Here, I say, don't cry on the front-doorsteps. Come down in the hairy, where nobody can't see you."
"Driven away by my own boy! Oho, oho!"
"'Tain't my fault. Doctor said you wasn't to come, and if you did he'd send me away."
"Then come home, Bob, to your poor heartbroken mother."
"Walker!" cried the boy. "Why yer ain't got no home to give a chap."
"Well, I don't call that a home, living up in a hattic along o' old Mother Billson."
"Oh, you ungrateful boy! Ain't it enough for me to have come down so that I'm obliged to see my own son in liveries, without him turning against me."
"Who's a-turning again you? Don't cry, I tell yer," he said, angrily stamping a foot.
"Then you shall come home."
"Sha'n't. I ain't going to leave the doctor and Miss Rich for nobody, so there."
"Ugh, you viper!"
"Here, stow that. Who's a viper? See what they've done for me when I was runned over. Why, if it hadn't been for Miss Rich a-nussing of me when you was allus tipsy, you wouldn't have had no boy at all, only a dead 'un berrid out at Finchley along o' the old man."
"Ah, you wicked ungrateful little serpent! They've been setting you again' your poor suffering mother."
"Stow that, I say. You'll have the doctor hear you if you don't be quiet."
"I won't be quiet, you wicked, wicked—"
"Look here! If you don't hold your row, I won't give you the bob and two coppers I've got for you."
"Have you got some money for your poor mother, then?"
"I've got a bob a gent give me, and twopence, my half of what we got for the bones me and 'Lisbeth sold."
"Ah? I'm a poor suffering woman, and I do say things sometimes as I don't mean," whined the wretched creature. "Give me the money, dear, and let me go."
"If I give it to yer, you won't say no more about my coming away?"
"No, dear; I only want to see you happy."
"Well, there, then," he said, giving her the coins; "and, I say—"
"Yes, my precious."
"You ain't to spend none of it in gin."
"Gin? Oh, no, my dear."
"Get some pudding out of Holborn, and a saveloy; and, I say, mother, get yourself a bit o' tea."
"Yes, my darling."
"And don't let Mrs Billson gammon you into lending her none of it."
"No, my dear. And there, good-bye, Bob; be a good boy. I won't come wherriting of you no more'n I can help."
The miserable object, from whom out of compassion Richmond Chartley had rescued the boy, shuffled along the street to the nearest public-house, to buy more plus spirit with which to attack her miserable minus spirit, with the result that, as a mathematical problem, one would kill the other as sure as Fate.
Meanwhile Bob stood on the step watching her.
"Wonder whether the old gal does like me? Somehow she allus goes as soon as she gets all a chap's got. Now she'll go and have a drop. She allus does when she says she won't."
"Bob! you Bob!" came in a shrill voice from the kitchen stairs.
"Can't you see I'm a-coming?" cried the boy; and hurriedly closing the door, he returned to his work.
PUBLIC OPINION ON CURRENT EVENTS.
These was a desperate scuffle going on round the corner as Hendon Chartley came by one day, and he would have passed on without seeing it, only that his English blood was stirred at the way in which the odds were all on one side—four boys being engaged in pummelling one who, in spite of the thrashing he was getting, fought on boldly, till, with a couple of sharp cuts of his cane, Hendon settled two of the combatants, when the other two ran away.
"You young dog, is it you?" cried Hendon.
"Yes, sir; and I should ha' licked all on 'em if you hadn't come."
"Why, you ungrateful young rascal, be off back and wash your face. Look here: I'll have you turned away."
"No, sir; please, sir, don't, sir. I couldn't help it, sir, I was obliged to fight, sir; I was indeed, sir. Oh, don't, sir; you hurts!"
Hendon listened to no remonstrance, but catching the boy by the collar he thrust him back till he reached the door, which he opened with his latch-key, and, bundling the boy in, sent him staggering along the hall as he closed the door, and went on once more.
"Yah! who cares for you?" cried the boy angrily; and then his countenance changed, and he broke into a smile as he found himself face to face with Rich.
"Why, Bob," she exclaimed, "what is the matter?"
"I couldn't help it, Miss. Mr Hendon shoved me in like that. I meant to come in by the area."
"But why did he bring you back like that? Did he know where you had been?"
"Oh, no, Miss! I never tells anybody where I'm going with a note for you; not even Mr Poynter, Miss. Here's the letter; and Miss Heath said I was to give her love to you, and she hadn't been because she was so busy."
Bob drew a letter from his pocket, and as he did so made upon it an ugly mark.
"Why, Bob, your hand's bleeding!"
"Is it, Miss? Oh, ah! so it is. That ain't nothink."
"You are all over mud, too. Have you met with an accident again?"
The boy's lips parted to say "Yes," but as he gazed up into the clear searching eyes which looked down so kindly into his, he shook his head.
"No, Miss," he said boldly.
"Why, Bob, you have not been fighting?"
"I didn't want to fight, Miss; but what's a chap to do?"
"Surely not fight when he is sent on an errand," said Rich severely.
"I didn't want to fight," said the boy again: "but I was fighting, and Mr Hendon ketched me."
"I'm afraid, Bob, I shall be obliged to speak to my father, and have you sent away."
"No, no! don't do that, Miss; please don't. I will be so very useful, and I will do everythink 'Lisbeth tells me. Don't send a feller away."
"We cannot keep a boy who behaves so badly," continued Rich, who was trying to hide being amused and pleased at the boy's affectionate earnestness.
"Then I won't fight no more," said Bob. "But you don't know what it is, Miss. You don't know how the fellers tease yer. They're allers at yer. Soon as yer goes down the street, some one shouts 'Bottles!' Jest because I takes out the physic. I should jest like to make some on 'em take it. I'd give 'em a dose."
"But, Bob, you ought to be too sensible to take any notice about a rude boy calling you names."
"So I am, Miss," cried the boy, "ever so much. I never did nothing till they began on the doctor."
"Began on the doctor?"
"Yes, Miss; saying all sorts o' things about him. I shouldn't like to tell you what."
"And I should not like to hear, Bob," said Rich gravely, as she went up-stairs; while after waiting till he heard a door close, Bob went cautiously into the surgery, crept to the door of the consulting-room, and listened to find out whether the doctor was there, and finding him absent, the boy went nimbly to the nest of drawers, opened one, and took out a pair of scissors before lifting a tin case from a corner—a case which looked like the holder of a map.
Bob removed the lid, drew out a roll of diachylon, and after cutting off a strip, he replaced the lid and scissors, and descended to the kitchen, where Elizabeth was peeling potatoes, and making the droning noise which she evidently believed to be a song.
"Look ye here!" cried the boy, triumphantly showing his bleeding knuckles.
Elizabeth uttered a faint cry.
"Why, you've been fighting!" she cried. "Oh, you bad wicked boy!"
"So are you," cried Bob tauntingly: "you'd fight if the chaps served you as they did me, and said what they did about the doctor."
"What did they say?" said the girl, giving her nose a rub as if to make it more plastic.
"You bathe them cuts nistely and put some sticking-plaister on, and I'll tell you."
Elizabeth set down the potato basin, wiped her hands, and after filling a tin bowl full of cold water, and fetching a towel, she tenderly bathed the boy's dirty injured hands.
"Now tell me what they said about the doctor," she said coaxingly.
"Why, they gets saying things to try and get me took away. My old woman don't like me stopping."
"She's a dreadful old creature," said Elizabeth angrily, "and I won't have her here."
"So's your old woman a dreadful old creature," retorted Bob, "and I won't have her here."
"My mother's been dead ten years," said Elizabeth, battling with an obstinate bit of mud, "and I won't have you speak to me in that impudent way."
"Then you leave my poor old woman alone."
"You let her stop away instead of always coming down them area-steps, and you encouraging her."
"That I don't, so come now. She's my old woman and I'm very fond on her, but I wish she wouldn't come. She allus comes when I'm busy."
"And she ought to be very glad you are here."
"But she ain't. She says doctors are bad 'uns. And that they do all sorts o' things as they oughtn't to. She was in the orspittle once, and she said it was horrid, and if she hadn't made haste and got well they'd have 'sected her."
"Lor!" said Elizabeth, drying the boy's hands with a series of gentle pats of the towel.
"And she says she knows the doctor does them sort o' things on the sly, and that she shall take me away, and I don't want to go."
"Well, that didn't make you fight, did it?"
"Yes, it did, now. I was going to tell you, on'y you're in such a hurry, I went to take a letter for Miss Rich this morning, and as I was coming back, I meets mother, and she was asking me if I'd got any—"
"Money?" said Elizabeth promptly.
"Well, s'pose she did? If your mother warn't dead, and hadn't any money, p'raps if she met you in the street she'd ask you for money. Then how would you like it if four chaps come and said, 'Hallo, Bottles, how many dead 'uns have you got in the dust-hole?'"
"Lor! did they say that?" said Elizabeth, squeezing the boy's hand in the interest she took.
"I say don't! You hurt. Here, cut up some o' that dacklum and warm it, and stick it on. Then one on 'em said he looked through the keyhole one day, and saw the doctor sharpening his knife; and that set mother off crying, and she sets down on a doorstep, and goes on till she made me wild; and the more she cried and said she'd take me away the more they danced about, and called me body-snatcher."
"How awful!" said Elizabeth, holding a strip of diachylon at the end of the scissors to warm at the fire.
"But I got the old woman off at last for twopence, and soon as she'd gone I was coming home, and I met them four again, and they began at me once more."
"Did they, though?" said Elizabeth.
"Yes, and I pitched into 'em: and so would any one, I say. Why, it's enough to make the old woman fetch me away. I say, Liz, you don't want me to go, do you?"
"Indeed, but I do, sir."
"No, you don't. I say, Liz, I'm so precious hungry. Got anything to give a fellow?"
"No. You took out two slices of bread and dripping to eat as you went."
"Why you never went and give them to that old woman, did you?"
"Ah, your mother's been dead ten years," said Bob sententiously. "S'pose I did give it to her? It was mine, and I wasn't obliged to eat it, was I? Thankye, that'll do."
Bob patted the plaister down on his knuckles, and had reached the kitchen door, when Elizabeth of the smudgy face called him by name, and, with as near an approach to a smile as she could display, showed him a piece of pudding on the cupboard shell.
"And you said you wanted me to go," said Bob, with his mouth full, after a busy pause; "but I know'd you didn't mean it. I say, Liz, is that big gent with the rings and chains and shiny hat going to marry Miss Rich?"
"I don't know," said Elizabeth, suddenly growing deeply interested. "Why?"
"Because he's always coming to see the doctor, and whenever I let him in he asks me where Miss Rich is, and gives me something."
"Yes, and he looks at her so."
"Do he, now? And what does Miss Rich say?"
"Oh, she only talks to him about its being fine or rainy, and as if she didn't want to stop in the room."
"Then she is," said Elizabeth triumphantly.
"Is? Is what?"
"Going to marry him. That's the proper way to a lady to behave."
"Oh!" said Bob shortly, and a curious frown came over his countenance. "I don't like him, somehow. I wish one didn't want money quite so bad."
Bob went up-stairs, and the place being empty he shut himself up in the surgery, to indulge in a morbid taste for trying flavour or odour of everything in the place, and fortunately so far without fatal or even dangerous results.
After a time he had a fit, and prescribed for himself Syrup Aurantii— so much in cold water, leaving himself in imagination in the chair while he mixed the medicine, and going back to the chair to take it. After recovering from his imaginary fit, he spelled over a number of the Lancet, dwelling long over in account of an operation of a novel kind; and ending by standing upon a chair and carefully noting the contents of the doctor's glass jars of preparations, which he turned round and round till he was tired, and came down, to finish the morning by helping himself to about a teaspoonful of chlorate of potassium, which he placed in his trousers-pocket, not from any intention of taking it to purify his blood, but to drop in pinches in the kitchen fire and startle Elizabeth.
"Teach her not to say things agen my old woman," said Bob. "Just as if she can help being old!"
A SISTER'S TRIAL.
"Don't ask questions. There's the money; take it. You don't think I stole it, do you?"
"Stole it, Hendon dear? No, of course. How can you talk so?"
"Then, why don't you take it?"
"Because, as your sister, I think I have a right to know whence it comes."
"And, as your brother, seeing how we live here, in everybody's debt, I don't think you need be so jolly particular."
"However poor we are, Hendon, we need not lose our self-respect."
"Self-respect! How is a man to have self-respect, without a penny in his pocket?"
"You just showed me pounds."
"How did you come by it, Hendon?"
"Don't ask," he cried impatiently. "Take it, and pay that poor girl some wages on account, and give young Bob a tightener. Don't be so squeamish, Rich."
"I will not take the money. You deceived me once before."
"Well, if I'd told you I won it at pool you wouldn't have taken it."
"No," said Rich firmly, "I would sooner have lived on dry bread. This money, then, is part of some gambling transaction?"
"Then how did you come by it?"
"Well, then, if you will have it, Poynter lent it to me."
"Oh, Hendon, Hendon, has it come to this?" cried Richmond piteously.
"Yes, it has. What is a fellow to do? Home's wretched; one never has a shilling. The guvnor's mad over his essence, as he calls it, and I believe, if he saw us starve, he would smile and sigh."
"No, no. He is so intent upon his discovery, that he does not realise our position."
"His discovery! Bah! Lunacy! There isn't a fellow at Guy's who wouldn't laugh at me if I told him what the guvnor does. Rich, old girl, I'm sick of it! It was madness for me to go through all this training, when I might have been earning money as porter or a clerk. Everything has been swallowed up in the fees. Why, if Jem Poynter hadn't come forward like a man, and paid the last—"
"Well, what are you shouting at?"
"Did Mr Poynter pay your last fees at Guy's?"
"Of course he did. Do you suppose the money was caught at the bottom of a spout after a shower?"
"Hendon, dear Hendon!"
"There, it's no use to be so squeamish. If those last hadn't been paid, it would have been like throwing away all that had been paid before."
"I did not know of this—I did not know of this!"
"Don't, don't, dear! I couldn't help it. I used to feel as bad as you do; but this cursed poverty hardens a man. I fought against it; but Poynter was always after me, tempting me, standing dinners when I was as hungry as a hound; giving me wine and cigars. He has almost forced money on me lots of times; and at—at other times—when I've had a few glasses—I haven't refused it. It's all Janet's fault."
"Well, so it is!" cried the young fellow passionately. "If she hadn't thrown me over as she did—"
"To save you from additional poverty."
"No, it didn't; it made me desperate, and ready to drink when a chap like Poynter was jolly, and forced champagne on me. I was as proud as you are once, but my pride's about all gone!"
"Hush! I will not hear you speak like that, Hendon, my own darling brother! For Janet's sake—"
"She's nothing to me now. I was thrown over for some other fellow."
"How dare you, sir! You know it is not true! Dear Janet! Working daily like a slave, and offering me her hard earnings when we were so pressed."
"Did she—did she?" cried Hendon excitedly, and with his pale face flushing up.
"There," cried Richmond half-laughingly, half-scornfully, "confess, sir, that a lying spirit was on your lips. Say you believe that of Janet and that you do not still love her, if you dare!"
Hendon Chartley let his head fall into his hands, and bent down, with his shoulders heaving with the emotion he could not conceal, while his sister bent over him and laid her hand upon his head.
He started up at her touch, seized and kissed her hand, and then, going to the side of the room, he laid his arm against the panel and his brow upon it, to stand talking there.
"I can't help it, Rich dear," he groaned; "I feel like a brute beast sometimes, and as if I can never look her in the face again. I've drunk; I've gone wild in a kind of despair; and Poynter seems to have been always by me to egg me on, and get me under his thumb."
"My own brother!"
"Don't touch me, dear. I can't stop here. I'll do as Mark Heath did, and if Janet'll wait, perhaps some day I may come back to her a better man, and she may forgive me."
There was a pause.
"I don't believe anything of her but what is good and true; God bless her for a little darling—Why, Rich!"
He turned sharply, for a low moan had escaped his sister, and he found that she had sunk into a chair, and was sobbing bitterly, with her face in her hands.
"Rich darling, I did not mean it. What have I said?"
"Nothing, nothing, dear; only you—you must not leave me."
"But Mark Heath—Ah! what a fool I am!" he cried, catching his sister in his arms. "I did not think what I was saying; and, Rich dear, hold up, I don't believe the dear old boy is dead."
"Hush, Hendon dear," said Richmond, mastering her emotion; "I want—I want to talk to you about Mr Poynter."
"Yes, all right. Sit down, dear, and I won't be such a fool."
"You must not leave me."
"I won't. I'll stop and fight it out like a man. And as for James Poynter, I wish I hadn't let him pay those rates."
"I didn't like to tell you, but I let out to him about the gas and water and the rest of it, and next day he gave me all the receipts. It was one night after I'd dined with him at his club, and I was a bit primed. I thought it was very noble of him then, but when I saw it all I did nothing but curse and swear. It was nearly the death of a patient at Guy's, for I forget what I was about. Hang it, Rich dear! don't look so white as that."
"I—I was wondering why we had not been troubled more," she stammered; and then, with her face flushing, she turned fiercely upon her brother.