A Simpleton by Charles Reade
To be a father; to have an image of his darling Rosa, and a fruit of their love to live and work for: this gave the sore heart a heavenly glow, and elasticity to bear. Should this dear object be born to an inheritance of debt, of poverty? Never.
He began to act as if he was even now a father. He entreated Rosa not to trouble or vex herself; he would look into their finances, and set all straight.
He paid all the bills, and put by a quarter's rent and taxes. Then there remained of his little capital just ten pounds.
He went to his printers, and had a thousand order-checks printed. These forms ran thus:--
"Dr. Staines, of 13 Dear Street, Mayfair (blank for date), orders of (blank here for tradesman and goods ordered), for cash. Received same time (blank for tradesman's receipt). Notice: Dr. Staines disowns all orders not printed on this form, and paid for at date of order."
He exhibited these forms, and warned all the tradespeople, before a witness whom he took round for that purpose.
He paid off Pearman on the spot. Pearman had met Clara, dressed like a pauper, her soldier having emptied her box to the very dregs, and he now offered to stay. But it was too late.
Staines told the cook Mrs. Staines was in delicate health, and must not be troubled with anything. She must come to him for all orders.
"Yes, sir," said she. But she no sooner comprehended the check system fully than she gave warning. It put a stop to her wholesale pilfering. Rosa's cooks had made fully a hundred pounds out of her amongst them since she began to keep accounts.
Under the male housekeeper every article was weighed on delivery, and this soon revealed that the butcher and the fishmonger had habitually delivered short weight from the first, besides putting down the same thing twice. The things were sent back that moment, with a printed form, stating the nature and extent of the fraud.
The washerwoman, who had been pilfering wholesale so long as Mrs. Staines and her sloppy-headed maids counted the linen, and then forgot it, was brought up with a run, by triplicate forms, and by Staines counting the things before two witnesses, and compelling the washerwoman to count them as well, and verify or dispute on the spot. The laundress gave warning--a plain confession that stealing had been part of her trade.
He kept the house well for three pounds a week, exclusive of coals, candles, and wine. His wife had had five pounds, and whatever she asked for dinner-parties, yet found it not half enough upon her method.
He kept no coachman. If he visited a patient, a man in the yard drove him at a shilling per hour.
By these means, and by working like a galley slave, he dragged his expenditure down almost to a level with his income.
Rosa was quite content at first, and thought herself lucky to escape reproaches on such easy terms.
But by and by so rigorous a system began to gall her. One day she fancied a Bath bun; sent the new maid to the pastry-cook's. Pastry-cook asked to see the doctor's order. Maid could not show it, and came back bunless.
Rosa came into the study to complain to her husband.
"A Bath bun," said Staines. "Why, they are colored with annotto, to save an egg, and annotto is adulterated with chromates that are poison. Adulteration upon adulteration. I'll make you a real Bath bun." Off coat, and into the kitchen, and made her three, pure, but rather heavy. He brought them her in due course. She declined them languidly. She was off the notion, as they say in Scotland.
"If I can't have a thing when I want it, I don't care for it at all." Such was the principle she laid down for his future guidance.
He sighed, and went back to his work; she cleared the plate.
One day, when she asked for the carriage, he told her the time was now come for her to leave off carriage exercise. She must walk with him every day, instead.
"But I don't like walking."
"I am sorry for that. But it is necessary to you, and by and by your life may depend on it."
Quietly, but inexorably, he dragged her out walking every day.
In one of these walks she stopped at a shop window, and fell in love with some baby's things. "Oh! I must have that," said she. "I must. I shall die if I don't; you'll see now."
"You shall," said he, "when I can pay for it," and drew her away.
The tears of disappointment stood in her eyes, and his heart yearned over her. But he kept his head.
He changed the dinner hour to six, and used to go out directly afterwards.
She began to complain of his leaving her alone like that.
"Well, but wait a bit," said he; "suppose I am making a little money by it, to buy you something you have set your heart on, poor darling!"
In a very few days after this, he brought her a little box with a slit in it. He shook it, and money rattled; then he unlocked it, and poured out a little pile of silver. "There," said he, "put on your bonnet, and come and buy those things."
She put on her bonnet, and on the way she asked how it came to be all in silver.
"That is a puzzler," said he, "isn't it?"
"And how did you make it, dear? by writing?"
"By fees from the poor people?"
"What, undersell my brethren! Hang it, no! My dear, I made it honestly, and some day I will tell you how I made it; at present, all I will tell you is this: I saw my darling longing for something she had a right to long for; I saw the tears in her sweet eyes, and--oh, come along, do. I am wretched till I see you with the things in your hand."
They went to the shop; and Staines sat and watched Rosa buying baby-clothes. Oh, it was a pretty sight to see this modest young creature, little more than a child herself, anticipating maternity, but blushing every now and then, and looking askant at her lord and master. How his very bowels yearned over her!
And when they got home, she spread the things on a table, and they sat hand in hand, and looked at them, and she leaned her head on his shoulder, and went quietly to sleep there.
And yet, as time rolled on, she became irritable at times, and impatient, and wanted all manner of things she could not have, and made him unhappy.
Then he was out from six o'clock till one, and she took it into her head to be jealous. So many hours to spend away from her! Now that she wanted all his comfort.
Presently, Ellen, the new maid, got gossiping in the yard, and a groom told her her master had a sweetheart on the sly, he thought; for he drove the brougham out every evening himself; "and," said the man, "he wears a mustache at night."
Ellen ran in, brimful of this, and told the cook; the cook told the washerwoman; the washerwoman told a dozen families, till about two hundred people knew it.
At last it came to Mrs. Staines in a roundabout way, at the very moment when she was complaining to Lady Cicely Treherne of her hard lot. She had been telling her she was nothing more than a lay- figure in the house.
"My husband is housekeeper now, and cook, and all, and makes me delicious dishes, I can tell you; such curries! I couldn't keep the house with five pounds a week, so now he does it with three: and I never get the carriage, because walking is best for me; and he takes it out every night to make money. I don't understand it."
Lady Cicely suggested that perhaps Dr. Staines thought it best for her to be relieved of all worry, and so undertook the housekeeping.
"No, no, no," said Rosa; "I used to pay them all a part of their bills, and then a little more, and so I kept getting deeper; and I was ashamed to tell Christie, so that he calls deceit; and oh, he spoke to me so cruelly once! But he was very sorry afterwards, poor dear! Why are girls brought up so silly? all piano, and no sense; and why are men sillier still to go and marry such silly things? A wife! I am not so much as a servant. Oh, I am finely humiliated, and," with a sudden hearty naivete all her own, "it serves me just right."
While Lady Cicely was puzzling this out, in came a letter. Rosa opened it, read it, and gave a cry like a wounded deer.
"Oh!" she cried, "I am a miserable woman. What will become of me?"
The letter informed her bluntly that her husband drove his brougham out every night to pursue a criminal amour.
While Rosa was wringing her hands in real anguish of heart, Lady Cicely read the letter carefully.
"I don't believe this," said she quietly.
"Not true! Why, who would be so wicked as to stab a poor, inoffensive wretch like me, if it wasn't true?"
"The first ugly woman would, in a minute. Don't you see the witer can't tell you where he goes? Dwives his bwougham out! That is all your infaumant knows."
"Oh, my dear friend, bless you! What have I been complaining to you about? All is light, except to lose his love. What shall I do? I will never tell him. I will never affront him by saying I suspected him."
"Wosa, if you do that, you will always have a serpent gnawing you. No; you must put the letter quietly into his hand, and say, 'Is there any truth in that?'"
"Oh, I could not. I haven't the courage. If I do that, I shall know by his face if there is any truth in it."
"Well, and you must know the twuth. You shall know it. I want to know it too; for if he does not love you twuly, I will nevaa twust myself to anything so deceitful as a man."
Rosa at last consented to follow this advice.
After dinner she put the letter into Christopher's hand, and asked him quietly was there any truth in that: then her hands trembled, and her eyes drank him.
Christopher read it, and frowned; then he looked up, and said, "No, not a word. What scoundrels there are in the world! To go and tell you that, now! Why, you little goose! have you been silly enough to believe it?"
"No," said she irresolutely. "But do you drive the brougham out every night?"
"My dear wife, I never loved you as I love you now; and if it was not for you, I should not drive the brougham out of nights. That is all I shall tell you at present; but some day I'll tell you all about it."
He took such a calm high hand with her about it, that she submitted to leave it there; but from this moment the serpent doubt nibbled her.
It had one curious effect, though. She left off complaining of trifles.
Now it happened one night that Lady Cicely Treherne and a friend were at a concert in Hanover Square. The other lady felt rather faint, and Lady Cicely offered to take her home. The carriages had not yet arrived, and Miss Macnamara said to walk a few steps would do her good: a smart cabman saw them from a distance and drove up, and touching his hat said, "Cab, ladies?"
It seemed a very superior cab, and Miss Macnamara said "Yes" directly.
The cabman bustled down and opened the door; Miss Macnamara got in first, then Lady Cicely; her eye fell on the cabman's face, which was lighted full by a street-lamp, and it was Christopher Staines!
He started and winced; but the woman of the world never moved a muscle.
"Where to?" said Staines, averting his head.
She told him where, and when they got out, said, "I'll send it you by the servant."
A flunkey soon after appeared with half-a-crown, and the amateur coachman drove away. He said to himself, "Come, my mustache is a better disguise than I thought."
Next day, and the day after, he asked Rosa, with affected carelessness, had she heard anything of Lady Cicely.
"No, dear; but I dare say she will call this afternoon: it is her day."
She did call at last, and after a few words with Rosa, became a little restless, and asked if she might consult Dr. Staines.
"Certainly, dear. Come to his studio."
"No; might I see him here?"
"Certainly." She rang the bell, and told the servant to ask Dr. Staines if he would be kind enough to step into the drawing-room.
Dr. Staines came in, and bowed to Lady Cicely, and eyed her a little uncomfortably.
She began, however, in a way that put him quite at his ease. "You remember the advice you gave us about my little cousin Tadcastah."
"Perfectly: his life is very precarious; he is bilious, consumptive, and, if not watched, will be epileptical; and he has a fond, weak mother, who will let him kill himself."
"Exactly: and you wecommended a sea voyage, with a medical attendant to watch his diet, and contwol his habits. Well, she took other advice, and the youth is worse; so now she is fwightened, and a month ago she asked me to pwopose to you to sail about with Tadcastah; and she offered me a thousand pounds a year. I put on my stiff look, and said, 'Countess, with every desiah to oblige you, I must decline to cawwy that offah to a man of genius, learning, and weputation, who has the ball at his feet in London.'"
"Lord forgive you, Lady Cicely."
"Lord bless her for standing up for my Christie."
Lady Cicely continued: "Now, this good lady, you must know, is not exactly one of us: the late earl mawwied into cotton, or wool, or something. So she said, 'Name your price for him.' I shwugged my shoulders, smiled affably, and as affectedly as you like, and changed the subject. But since then things have happened. I am afwaid it is my duty to make you the judge whether you choose to sail about with that little cub--Rosa, I can beat about the bush no longer. Is it a fit thing that a man of genius, at whose feet we ought all to be sitting with reverence, should drive a cab in the public streets? Yes, Rosa Staines, your husband drives his brougham out at night, not to visit any other lady, as that anonymous wretch told you, but to make a few misewable shillings for you."
"It is no use, Dr. Staines; I must and will tell her. My dear, he drove me three nights ago. He had a cabman's badge on his poor arm. If you knew what I suffered in those five minutes! Indeed it seems cruel to speak of it--but I could not keep it from Rosa, and the reason I muster courage to say it before you, sir, it is because I know she has other friends who keep you out of their consultations; and, after all, it is the world that ought to blush, and not you."
Her ladyship's kindly bosom heaved, and she wanted to cry; so she took her handkerchief out of her pocket without the least hurry, and pressed it delicately to her eyes, and did cry quietly, but without any disguise, like a brave lady, who neither cried nor did anything else she was ashamed to be seen at.
As for Rosa, she sat sobbing round Christopher's neck, and kissed him with all her soul.
"Dear me!" said Christopher. "You are both very kind. But, begging your pardon, it is much ado about nothing."
Lady Cicely took no notice of that observation. "So, Rosa dear," said she, "I think you are the person to decide whether he had not better sail about with that little cub, than--oh!"
"I will settle that," said Staines. "I have one beloved creature to provide for. I may have another. I must make money. Turning a brougham into a cab, whatever you may think, is an honest way of making it, and I am not the first doctor who has coined his brougham at night. But if there is a good deal of money to be made by sailing with Lord Tadcaster, of course I should prefer that to cab-driving, for I have never made above twelve shillings a night."
"Oh, as to that, she shall give you fifteen hundred a year."
"Then I jump at it."
"What! and leave me?"
"Yes, love: leave you--for your good; and only for a time. Lady Cicely, it is a noble offer. My darling Rosa will have every comfort--ay, every luxury, till I come home, and then we will start afresh with a good balance, and with more experience than we did at first."
Lady Cicely gazed on him with wonder. She said, "Oh! what stout hearts men have! No, no; don't let him go. See; he is acting. His great heart is torn with agony. I will have no hand in parting man and wife--no, not for a day." And she hurried away in rare agitation.
Rosa fell on her knees, and asked Christopher's pardon for having been jealous; and that day she was a flood of divine tenderness. She repaid him richly for driving the cab. But she was unnaturally cool about Lady Cicely; and the exquisite reason soon came out. "Oh yes! She is very good; very kind; but it is not for me now! No! you shall not sail about with her cub of a cousin, and leave me at such a time."
"Christie, you shall not see that lady again. She came here to part us. She is in love with you. I was blind not to see it before."
Next day, as Lady Cicely sat alone in the morning-room thinking over this very scene, a footman brought in a card and a note. "Dr. Staines begs particularly to see Lady Cicely Treherne."
The lady's pale cheek colored; she stood irresolute a single moment. "I will see Dr. Staines," said she.
Dr. Staines came in, looking pale and worn; he had not slept a wink since she saw him last.
She looked at him full, and divined this at a glance. She motioned him to a seat, and sat down herself, with her white hand pressing her forehead, and her head turned a little away from him.