A Simpleton by Charles Reade
During this period, the most remarkable things that happened to Dr. and Mrs. Staines were really those which I have related as connecting them with Phoebe Dale and her brother; to which I will now add that Dr. Staines detailed Dick's case in a remarkable paper, entitled "Oedema of the Glottis," and showed how the patient had been brought back from the grave by tracheotomy and artificial respiration. He received a high price for this article.
To tell the truth, he was careful not to admit that it was he who had opened the windpipe; so the credit of the whole operation was given to Mr. Jenkyn; and this gentleman was naturally pleased, and threw a good many consultation fees in Staines's way.
The Lucases, to his great comfort--for he had an instinctive aversion to Miss Lucas--left London for Paris in August, and did not return all the year.
In February he reviewed his year's work and twelve months' residence in the Bijou. The pecuniary result was, outgoings, nine hundred and fifty pounds; income, from fees, two hundred and eighty pounds; writing, ninety pounds.
He showed these figures to Mrs. Staines, and asked her if she could suggest any diminution of expenditure. Could she do with less housekeeping money?
"Oh, impossible! You cannot think how the servants eat; and they won't touch our home-made bread."
"The fools! Why?"
"Oh, because they think it costs us less. Servants seem to me always to hate the people whose bread they eat."
"More likely it is their vanity. Nothing that is not paid for before their eyes seems good enough for them. Well, dear, the bakers will revenge us. But is there any other item we could reduce? Dress?"
"Dress! Why, I spend nothing."
"Forty-five pounds this year."
"Well, I shall want none next year."
"Well, then, Rosa, as there is nothing we can reduce, I must write more, and take more fees, or we shall be in the wrong box. Only eight hundred and sixty pounds left of our little capital; and, mind, we have not another shilling in the world. One comfort, there is no debt. We pay ready money for everything."
Rosa colored a little, but said nothing.
Staines did his part nobly. He read; he wrote; he paced the yard. He wore his old clothes in the house; he took off his new ones when he came in. He was all genius, drudgery, patience.
How Phoebe Dale would have valued him, co-operated with him, and petted him, if she had had the good luck to be his wife!
The season came back, and with it Miss Lucas, towing a brilliant bride, Mrs. Vivian, young, rich, pretty, and gay, with a waist you could span, and athirst for pleasure.
This lady was the first that ever made Rosa downright jealous. She seemed to have everything the female heart could desire; and she was No. 1 with Miss Lucas this year. Now, Rosa was No. 1 last season, and had weakly imagined that was to last forever. But Miss Lucas had always a sort of female flame, and it never lasted two seasons.
Rosa did not care so very much for Miss Lucas before, except as a convenient friend; but now she was mortified to tears at finding Miss Lucas made more fuss with another than with her.
This foolish feeling spurred her to attempt a rivalry with Mrs. Vivian, in the very things where rivalry was hopeless.
Miss Lucas gave both ladies tickets for a flower-show, where all the great folk were to be, princes and princesses, etc.
"But I have nothing to wear," sighed Rosa.
"Then you must get something, and mind it is not pink, please; for we must not clash in colors. You know I'm dark, and pink becomes me. (The selfish young brute was not half so dark as Rosa.) Mine is coming from Worth's, in Paris, on purpose. And this new Madame Cie, of Regent Street, has such a duck of a bonnet, just come from Paris. She wanted to make me one from it; but I told her I would have none but the pattern bonnet--and she knows very well she can't pass a copy off on me. Let me drive you up there, and you can see mine, and order one, if you like it."
"Oh, thank you! let me just run and speak to my husband first."
Staines was writing for the bare life, and a number of German books about him, slaving to make a few pounds--when in comes the buoyant figure and beaming face his soul delighted in.
He laid down his work, to enjoy the sunbeam of love.
"Oh, darling, I've only come in for a minute. We are going to a flower-show on the 13th; everybody will be so beautifully dressed-- especially that Mrs. Vivian. I have got ten yards of beautiful blue silk in my wardrobe, but that is not enough to make a whole dress--everything takes so much stuff now. Madame Cie does not care to make up dresses unless she finds the silk, but Miss Lucas says she thinks, to oblige a friend of hers, she would do it for once in a way. You know, dear, it would only take a few yards more, and it would last as a dinner-dress for ever so long."
Then she clasped him round the neck, and leaned her head upon his shoulder, and looked lovingly up in his face. "I know you would like your Rosa to look as well as Mrs. Vivian."
"No one ever looks as well, in my eyes, as my Rosa. There, the dress will add nothing to your beauty; but go and get it, to please yourself; it is very considerate of you to have chosen something of which you have ten yards, already. See, dear, I'm to receive twenty pounds for this article; if research was paid it ought to be a hundred. I shall add it all to your allowance for dresses this year. So no debt, mind; but come to me for everything."
The two ladies drove off to Madame Cie's, a pretty shop lined with dark velvet and lace draperies.
In the back room they were packing a lovely bridal dress, going off the following Saturday to New York.
"What, send from America to London?"
"Oh, dear, yes!" exclaimed Madame Cie. "The American ladies are excellent customers. They buy everything of the best, and the most expensive."
"I have brought a new customer," said Miss Lucas; "and I want you to do a great favor, and that is to match a blue silk, and make her a pretty dress for the flower-show on the 13th."
Madame Cie produced a white muslin polonaise, which she was just going to send home to the Princess -----, to be worn over mauve.
"Oh, how pretty and simple!" exclaimed Miss Lucas.
"I have some lace exactly like that," said Mrs. Staines.
"Then why don't you have a polonaise? The lace is the only expensive part, the muslin is a mere nothing; and it is such a useful dress, it can be worn over any silk."
It was agreed Madame Cie was to send for the blue silk and the lace, and the dresses were to be tried on on Thursday.
On Thursday, as Rosa went gayly into Madame Cie's back room to have the dresses tried on, Madame Cie said, "You have a beautiful lace shawl, but it wants arranging; in five minutes I could astonish you with what I could do to that shawl."
"Oh, pray do," said Mrs. Staines.
The dressmaker kept her word. By the time the blue dress was tried on, Madame Cie had, with the aid of a few pins, plaits, and a bow of blue ribbon, transformed the half lace shawl into one of the smartest and distingue things imaginable; but when the bill came in at Christmas, for that five minutes' labor and distingue touch, she charged one pound eight.
Madame Cie then told the ladies, in an artfully confidential tone, she had a quantity of black silk coming home, which she had purchased considerably below cost price; and that she should like to make them each a dress--not for her own sake, but theirs--as she knew they would never meet such a bargain again. "You know, Miss Lucas," she continued, "we don't want our money, when we know our customers. Christmas is soon enough for us."
"Christmas is a long time off," thought the young wife, "nearly ten months. I think I'll have a black silk, Madame Cie; but I must not say anything to the doctor about it just yet, or he might think me extravagant."
"No one can ever think a lady extravagant for buying a black silk; it's such a useful dress; lasts forever--almost."
Days, weeks, and months rolled on, and with them an ever-rolling tide of flower-shows, dinners, at-homes, balls, operas, lawn- parties, concerts, and theatres.
Strange that in one house there should be two people who loved each other, yet their lives ran so far apart, except while they were asleep: the man all industry, self-denial, patience; the woman all frivolity, self-indulgence, and amusement; both chained to an oar, only--one in a working boat, the other in a painted galley.
The woman got tired first, and her charming color waned sadly. She came to him for medicine to set her up. "I feel so languid."
"No, no," said he; "no medicine can do the work of wholesome food and rational repose. You lack the season of all natures, sleep. Dine at home three days running, and go to bed at ten."
On this the doctor's wife went to a chemist for advice. He gave her a pink stimulant; and, as stimulants have two effects, viz., first to stimulate, and then to weaken, this did her no lasting good. Dr. Staines cursed the London season, and threatened to migrate to Liverpool.
But there was worse behind.
Returning one day to his dressing-room, just after Rosa had come down-stairs, he caught sight of a red stain in a wash-hand-basin. He examined it; it was arterial blood.
He went to her directly, and expressed his anxiety.
"Oh, it is nothing," said she.
"Nothing! Pray, how often has it occurred?"
"Once or twice. I must take your advice, and be quiet, that is all."
Staines examined the housemaid; she lied instinctively at first, seeing he was alarmed; but, being urged to tell the truth, said she had seen it repeatedly, and had told the cook.
He went down-stairs again, and sat down, looking wretched.
"Oh, dear!" said Rosa. "What is the matter now?"
"Rosa," said he, very gravely, "there are two people a woman is mad to deceive--her husband and her physician. You have deceived both."