A Simpleton by Charles Reade
I suspect Dr. Staines merely meant to say that she had concealed from him an alarming symptom for several weeks; but she answered in a hurry, to excuse herself, and let the cat out of the bag--excuse my vulgarity.
"It was all that Mrs. Vivian's fault. She laughed at me so for not wearing them; and she has a waist you can span--the wretch!"
"Oh, then, you have been wearing stays clandestinely?"
"Why, you know I have. Oh, what a stupid! I have let it all out."
"How could you do it, when you knew, by experience, it is your death?"
"But it looks so beautiful, a tiny waist."
"It looks as hideous as a Chinese foot, and, to the eye of science, far more disgusting; it is the cause of so many unlovely diseases."
"Just tell me one thing; have you looked at Mrs. Vivian?"
"Minutely. I look at all your friends with great anxiety, knowing no animal more dangerous than a fool. Vivian--a skinny woman, with a pretty face, lovely hair, good teeth, dying eyes"--
"A sure proof of a disordered stomach--and a waist pinched in so unnaturally, that I said to myself, 'Where on earth does this idiot put her liver?' Did you ever read of the frog who burst, trying to swell to an ox? Well, here is the rivalry reversed; Mrs. Vivian is a bag of bones in a balloon; she can machine herself into a wasp; but a fine young woman like you, with flesh and muscle, must kill yourself three or four times before you can make your body as meagre, hideous, angular, and unnatural as Vivian's. But all you ladies are mono-maniacs; one might as well talk sense to a gorilla. It brought you to the edge of the grave. I saved you. Yet you could go and-- God grant me patience. So I suppose these unprincipled women lent you their stays to deceive your husband?"
"No. But they laughed at me so that-- Oh, Christie, I'm a wretch; I kept a pair at the Lucases, and a pair at Madame Cie's, and I put them on now and then."
"But you never appeared here in them?"
"What, before my tyrant? Oh no, I dared not."
"So you took them off before you came home?"
Rosa hung her head, and said "Yes" in a reluctant whisper.
"You spent your daylight dressing. You dressed to go out; dressed again in stays; dressed again without them; and all to deceive your husband, and kill yourself, at the bidding of two shallow, heartless women, who would dance over your grave without a pang of remorse, or sentiment of any kind, since they live, like midges, only to dance in the sun, and suck some worker's blood."
"Oh, Christie! I'm so easily led. I am too great a fool to live. Kill me!"
And she kneeled down, and renewed the request, looking up in his face with an expression that might have disarmed Cain ipsum.
He smiled superior. "The question is, are you sorry you have been so thoughtless?"
"Yes, dear. Oh! oh!"
"Will you be very good to make up?"
"Oh, yes. Only tell me how; for it does not come natural to poor me."
"Keep out of those women's way for the rest of the season."
"Bring your stays home, and allow me to do what I like with them."
"Of course. Cut them in a million pieces."
"Till you are recovered, you must be my patient, and go nowhere without me."
"That is no punishment, I am sure."
"Punishment! Am I the man to punish you? I only want to save you."
"Well, darling, it won't be the first time."
"No; but I do hope it will be the last."