A Simpleton by Charles Reade
Rosa Lusignan set herself pining as she had promised; and she did it discreetly for so young a person. She was never peevish, but always sad and listless. By this means she did not anger her parent, but only made him feel she was unhappy, and the house she had hitherto brightened exceeding dismal.
By degrees this noiseless melancholy undermined the old gentleman, and he well-nigh tottered.
But one day, calling suddenly on a neighbor with six daughters, he heard peals of laughter, and found Rosa taking her full share of the senseless mirth. She pulled up short at sight of him, and colored high; but it was too late, for he launched a knowing look at her on the spot, and muttered something about seven foolish virgins.
He took the first opportunity, when they were alone, and told her he was glad to find she was only dismal at home.
But Rosa had prepared for him. "One can be loud without being gay at heart," said she, with a lofty, languid air. "I have not forgotten your last words to him. We were to hide our broken hearts from the world. I try to obey you, dear papa; but, if I had my way, I would never go into the world at all. I have but one desire now--to end my days in a convent."
"Please begin them first. A convent! Why, you'd turn it out of window. You are no more fit to be a nun than--a pauper."
Not having foreseen this facer, Rosa had nothing ready; so she received it with a sad, submissive, helpless sigh, as who would say, "Hit me, papa: I have no friend now." So then he was sorry he had been so clever; and, indeed, there is one provoking thing about "a woman's weakness"--it is invincible.
The next minute, what should come but a long letter from Dr. Staines, detailing his endeavors to purchase a practice in London, and his ill-success. The letter spoke the language of love and hope; but the facts were discouraging; and, indeed, a touching sadness pierced through the veil of the brave words.
Rosa read it again and again, and cried over it before her father, to encourage him in his heartless behavior.
About ten days after this, something occurred that altered her mood.
She became grave and thoughtful, but no longer lugubrious. She seemed desirous to atone to her father for having disturbed his cheerfulness. She smiled affectionately on him, and often sat on a stool at his knee, and glided her hand into his.
He was not a little pleased, and said to himself, "She is coming round to common-sense."
Now, on the contrary, she was farther from it than ever.
At last he got the clew. One afternoon he met Mr. Wyman coming out of the villa. Mr. Wyman was the consulting surgeon of that part.
"What! anybody ill?" said Mr. Lusignan. "One of the servants?"
"No; it is Miss Lusignan."
"Why, what is the matter with her?"
Wyman hesitated. "Oh, nothing very alarming. Would you mind asking her?"
"The fact is, she requested me not to tell you: made me promise."
"And I insist upon your telling me."
"And I think you are quite right, sir, as her father. Well, she is troubled with a little spitting of blood."
Mr. Lusignan turned pale. "My child! spitting of blood! God forbid!"
"Oh, do not alarm yourself. It is nothing serious."
"Don't tell me!" said the father. "It is always serious. And she kept this from me!"
Masking his agitation for the time, he inquired how often it had occurred, this grave symptom.
"Three or four times this last month. But I may as well tell you at once: I have examined her carefully, and I do not think it is from the lungs."
"From the throat, then?"
"No; from the liver. Everything points to that organ as the seat of derangement: not that there is any lesion; only a tendency to congestion. I am treating her accordingly, and have no doubt of the result."
"Who is the ablest physician hereabouts?" asked Lusignan, abruptly.
"Dr. Snell, I think."
"Give me his address."
"I'll write to him, if you like, and appoint a consultation." He added, with vast but rather sudden alacrity, "It will be a great satisfaction to my own mind."
"Then send to him, if you please, and let him be here to-morrow morning; if not, I shall take her to London for advice at once."
On this understanding they parted, and Lusignan went at once to his daughter. "O my child!" said he, deeply distressed, "how could you hide this from me?"
"Hide what, papa?" said the girl, looking the picture of unconsciousness.
"That you have been spitting blood."
"Who told you that?" said she, sharply.
"Wyman. He is attending you."
Rosa colored with anger. "Chatterbox! He promised me faithfully not to."
"But why, in Heaven's name? What! would you trust this terrible thing to a stranger, and hide it from your poor father?"
"Yes," replied Rosa, quietly.
The old man would not scold her now; he only said, sadly, "I see how it is: because I will not let you marry poverty, you think I do not love you." And he sighed.
"O papa! the idea!" said Rosa. "Of course, I know you love me. It was not that, you dear, darling, foolish papa. There! if you must know, it was because I did not want you to be distressed. I thought I might get better with a little physic; and, if not, why, then I thought, 'Papa is an old man; la! I dare say I shall last his time;' and so, why should I poison your latter days with worrying about me?"
Mr. Lusignan stared at her, and his lip quivered; but he thought the trait hardly consistent with her superficial character. He could not help saying, half sadly, half bitterly, "Well, but of course you have told Dr. Staines."
Rosa opened her beautiful eyes, like two suns. "Of course I have done nothing of the sort. He has enough to trouble him, without that. Poor fellow! there he is, worrying and striving to make his fortune, and gain your esteem--'they go together,' you know; you told him so." (Young cats will scratch when least expected.) "And for me to go and tell him I am in danger! Why, he would go wild. He would think of nothing but me and my health. He would never make his fortune: and so then, even when I am gone, he will never get a wife, because he has only got genius and goodness and three thousand pounds. No, papa, I have not told poor Christopher. I may tease those I love. I have been teasing you this ever so long; but frighten them, and make them miserable? No!"
And here, thinking of the anguish that was perhaps in store for those she loved, she wanted to cry; it almost choked her not to. But she fought it bravely down: she reserved her tears for lighter occasions and less noble sentiments.
Her father held out his arms to her. She ran her footstool to him, and sat nestling to his heart.
"Please forgive me my misconduct. I have not been a dutiful daughter ever since you--but now I will. Kiss me, my own papa! There! Now we are as we always were."
Then she purred to him on every possible topic but the one that now filled his parental heart, and bade him good-night at last with a cheerful smile.
Wyman was exact, and ten minutes afterwards Dr. Snell drove up in a carriage and pair. He was intercepted in the hall by Wyman, and, after a few minutes' conversation, presented to Mr. Lusignan.
The father gave vent to his paternal anxiety in a few simple but touching words, and was proceeding to state the symptoms as he had gathered them from his daughter; but Dr. Snell interrupted him politely, and said he had heard the principal symptoms from Mr. Wyman. Then, turning to the latter, he said, "We had better proceed to examine the patient."
"Certainly," said Mr. Lusignan. "She is in the drawing-room;" and he led the way, and was about to enter the room, when Wyman informed him it was against etiquette for him to be present at the examination.
"Oh, very well!" said he. "Yes, I see the propriety of that. But oblige me by asking her if she has anything on her mind."
Dr. Snell bowed a lofty assent; for, to receive a hint from a layman was to confer a favor on him.
The men of science were closeted full half an hour with the patient. She was too beautiful to be slurred over, even by a busy doctor: he felt her pulse, looked at her tongue, and listened attentively to her lungs, to her heart, and to the organ suspected by Wyman. He left her at last with a kindly assurance that the case was perfectly curable.
At the door they were met by the anxious father, who came with throbbing heart, and asked the doctors' verdict.
He was coolly informed that could not be given until the consultation had taken place; the result of that consultation would be conveyed to him.
"And pray, why can't I be present at the consultation? The grounds on which two able men agree or disagree must be well worth listening to."
"No doubt," said Dr. Snell; "but," with a superior smile, "my dear sir, it is not the etiquette."
"Oh, very well," said Lusignan. But he muttered, "So, then, a father is nobody!"
And this unreasonable person retired to his study, miserable, and gave up the dining-room to the consultation.
They soon rejoined him.
Dr. Snell's opinion was communicated by Wyman. "I am happy to tell you that Dr. Snell agrees with me, entirely: the lungs are not affected, and the liver is congested, but not diseased."
"Is that so, Dr. Snell?" asked Lusignan, anxiously.
"It is so, sir." He added, "The treatment has been submitted to me, and I quite approve it."
He then asked for a pen and paper, and wrote a prescription. He assured Mr. Lusignan that the case had no extraordinary feature, whatever; he was not to alarm himself. Dr. Snell then drove away, leaving the parent rather puzzled, but, on the whole, much comforted.
And here I must reveal an extraordinary circumstance.
Wyman's treatment was by drugs.
Dr. Snell's was by drugs.
Dr. Snell, as you have seen, entirely approved Wyman's treatment.
His own had nothing in common with it. The Arctic and Antarctic poles are not farther apart than was his prescription from the prescription he thoroughly approved.
Amiable science! In which complete diversity of practice did not interfere with perfect uniformity of opinion.
All this was kept from Dr. Staines, and he was entirely occupied in trying to get a position that might lead to fortune, and satisfy Mr. Lusignan. He called on every friend he had, to inquire where there was an opening. He walked miles and miles in the best quarters of London, looking for an opening; he let it be known in many quarters that he would give a good premium to any physician who was about to retire, and would introduce him to his patients.
No: he could hear of nothing.
Then, after a great struggle with himself, he called upon his uncle, Philip Staines, a retired M.D., to see if he would do anything for him. He left this to the last, for a very good reason: Dr. Philip was an irritable old bachelor, who had assisted most of his married relatives; but, finding no bottom to the well, had turned rusty and crusty, and now was apt to administer kicks instead of checks to all who were near and dear to him. However, Christopher was the old gentleman's favorite, and was now desperate; so he mustered courage, and went. He was graciously received--warmly, indeed. This gave him great hopes, and he told his tale.
The old bachelor sided with Mr. Lusignan. "What!" said he, "do you want to marry, and propagate pauperism? I thought you had more sense. Confound it all I had just one nephew whose knock at my street-door did not make me tremble; he was a bachelor and a thinker, and came for a friendly chat; the rest are married men, highwaymen, who come to say, 'Stand and deliver;' and now even you want to join the giddy throng. Well, don't ask me to have any hand in it. You are a man of promise; and you might as well hang a millstone round your neck as a wife. Marriage is a greater mistake than ever now; the women dress more and manage worse. I met your cousin Jack the other day, and his wife with seventy pounds on her back; and next door to paupers. No; whilst you are a bachelor, like me, you are my favorite, and down in my will for a lump. Once marry, and you join the noble army of foot-pads, leeches, vultures, paupers, gone coons, and babblers about brats--and I disown you."
There was no hope from old Crusty. Christopher left him, snubbed and heart-sick. At last he met a sensible man, who made him see there was no short cut in that profession. He must be content to play the up-hill game; must settle in some good neighborhood; marry, if possible, since husbands and fathers of families prefer married physicians; and so be poor at thirty, comfortable at forty, and rich at fifty--perhaps.
Then Christopher came down to his lodgings at Gravesend, and was very unhappy; and after some days of misery, he wrote a letter to Rosa in a moment of impatience, despondency, and passion.
Rosa Lusignan got worse and worse. The slight but frequent hemorrhage was a drain upon her system, and weakened her visibly. She began to lose her rich complexion, and sometimes looked almost sallow; and a slight circle showed itself under her eyes. These symptoms were unfavorable; nevertheless, Dr. Snell and Mr. Wyman accepted them cheerfully, as fresh indications that nothing was affected but the liver; they multiplied and varied their prescriptions; the malady ignored those prescriptions, and went steadily on. Mr. Lusignan was terrified but helpless. Rosa resigned and reticent.
But it was not in human nature that a girl of this age could always and at all hours be mistress of herself. One evening in particular she stood before the glass in the drawing-room, and looked at herself a long time with horror. "Is that Rosa Lusignan?" said she, aloud; "it is her ghost."
A deep groan startled her. She turned; it was her father. She thought he was fast asleep; and so indeed he had been; but he was just awaking, and heard his daughter utter her real mind. It was a thunder-clap. "Oh, my child! what shall I do?" he cried.
Then Rosa was taken by surprise in her turn. She spoke out. "Send for a great physician, papa. Don't let us deceive ourselves; it is our only chance."
"I will ask Mr. Wyman to get a physician down from London."
"No, no; that is no use; they will put their heads together, and he will say whatever Mr. Wyman tells him. La! papa, a clever man like you, not to see what a cheat that consultation was. Why, from what you told me, one can see it was managed so that Dr. Snell could not possibly have an opinion of his own. No; no more echoes of Mr. Chatterbox. If you really want to cure me, send for Christopher Staines."
"Dr. Staines! he is very young."
"But he is very clever, and he is not an echo. He won't care how many doctors he contradicts when I am in danger. Papa, it is your child's one chance."
"I'll try it," said the old man, eagerly. "How confident you look! your color has come back. It is an inspiration. Where is he?"
"I think by this time he must be at his lodgings in Gravesend. Send to him to-morrow morning."
"Not I! I'll go to him to-night. It is only a mile, and a fine clear night."
"My own, good, kind papa! Ah! well, come what may, I have lived long enough to be loved. Yes, dear papa, save me. I am very young to die; and he loves me so dearly."
The old man bustled away to put on something warmer for his night walk, and Rosa leaned back, and the tears welled out of her eyes, now he was gone.
Before she had recovered her composure, a letter was brought her, and this was the letter from Christopher Staines, alluded to already.
She took it from the servant with averted head, not wishing it to be seen she had been crying, and she started at the handwriting; it seemed such a coincidence that it should come just as she was sending for him.
MY OWN BELOVED ROSA,--I now write to tell you, with a heavy heart, that all is vain. I cannot make, nor purchase, a connection, except as others do, by time and patience. Being a bachelor is quite against a young physician. If I had a wife, and such a wife as you, I should be sure to get on; you would increase my connection very soon. What, then, lies before us? I see but two things--to wait till we are old, and our pockets are filled, but our hearts chilled or soured; or else to marry at once, and climb the hill together. If you love me as I love you, you will be saving till the battle is over; and I feel I could find energy and fortitude for both. Your father, who thinks so much of wealth, can surely settle something on you; and I am not too poor to furnish a house and start fair. I am not quite obscure--my lectures have given me a name--and to you, my own love, I hope I may say that I know more than many of my elders, thanks to good schools, good method, a genuine love of my noble profession, and a tendency to study from my childhood. Will you not risk something on my ability? If not, God help me, for I shall lose you; and what is life, or fame, or wealth, or any mortal thing to me, without you? I cannot accept your father's decision; you must decide my fate.
You see I have kept away from you until I can do so no more. All this time the world to me has seemed to want the sun, and my heart pines and sickens for one sight of you.
Darling Rosa, pray let me look at your face once more.
When this reaches you I shall be at your gate. Let me see you, though but for a moment, and let me hear my fate from no lips but yours.--My own love, your heart-broken lover,
This letter stunned her at first. Her mind of late had been turned away from love to such stern realities. Now she began to be sorry she had not told him. "Poor thing!" she said to herself, "he little knows that now all is changed. Papa, I sometimes think, would deny me nothing now; it is I who would not marry him--to be buried by him in a month or two. Poor Christopher!"
The next moment she started up in dismay. Why, her father would miss him. No; perhaps catch him waiting for her. What would he think? What would Christopher think?--that she had shown her papa his letter.
She rang the bell hard. The footman came.
"Send Harriet to me this instant. Oh, and ask papa to come to me."
Then she sat down and dashed off a line to Christopher. This was for Harriet to take out to him. Anything better than for Christopher to be caught doing what was wrong.
The footman came back first. "If you please, miss, master has gone out."
"Run after him--the road to Gravesend."
"No. It is no use. Never mind."
Then Harriet came in. "Did you want me, miss?"
"Yes. No--never mind now."
She was afraid to do anything for fear of making matters worse. She went to the window, and stood looking anxiously out, with her hands working. Presently she uttered a little scream and shrank away to the sofa. She sank down on it, half sitting, half lying, hid her face in her hands, and waited.
Staines, with a lover's impatience, had been more than an hour at the gate, or walking up and down close by it, his heart now burning with hope, now freezing with fear, that she would decline a meeting on these terms.
At last the postman came, and then he saw he was too soon; but now in a few minutes Rosa would have his letter, and then he should soon know whether she would come or not. He looked up at the drawing-room windows. They were full of light. She was there in all probability. Yet she did not come to them. But why should she, if she was coming out?
He walked up and down the road. She did not come. His heart began to sicken with doubt. His head drooped; and perhaps it was owing to this that he almost ran against a gentleman who was coming the other way. The moon shone bright on both faces.
"Dr. Staines!" said Mr. Lusignan surprised. Christopher uttered an ejaculation more eloquent than words.
They stared at each other.
"You were coming to call on us?"
"N--no," stammered Christopher.
Lusignan thought that odd; however, he said politely, "No matter, it is fortunate. Would you mind coming in?"
"No," faltered Christopher, and stared at him ruefully, puzzled more and more, but beginning to think, after all, it might be a casual meeting.
They entered the gate, and in one moment he saw Rosa at the window, and she saw him.
Then he altered his opinion again. Rosa had sent her father out to him. But how was this? The old man did not seem angry. Christopher's heart gave a leap inside him, and he began to glow with the wildest hopes. For, what could this mean but relenting?
Mr. Lusignan took him first into the study, and lighted two candles himself. He did not want the servants prying.
The lights showed Christopher a change in Mr. Lusignan. He looked ten years older.
"You are not well, sir," said Christopher gently.
"My health is well enough, but I am a broken-hearted man. Dr. Staines, forget all that passed here at your last visit. All that is over. Thank you for loving my poor girl as you do; give me your hand; God bless you. Sir, I am sorry to say it is as a physician I invite you now. She is ill, sir, very, very ill."
"Ill! and not tell me!"
"She kept it from you, my poor friend, not to distress you; and she tried to keep it from me, but how could she? For two months she has had some terrible complaint--it is destroying her. She is the ghost of herself. Oh, my poor child! my child!"
The old man sobbed aloud. The young man stood trembling, and ashy pale. Still, the habits of his profession, and the experience of dangers overcome, together with a certain sense of power, kept him up; but, above all, love and duty said, "Be firm." He asked for an outline of the symptoms.
They alarmed him greatly.
"Let us lose no more time," said he. "I will see her at once."
"Do you object to my being present?"
"Of course not."
"Shall I tell you what Dr. Snell says it is, and Mr. Wyman?"
"By all means--after I have seen her."
This comforted Mr. Lusignan. He was to get an independent judgment, at all events.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Dr. Staines paused and leaned against the baluster. "Give me a moment," said he. "The patient must not know how my heart is beating, and she must see nothing in my face but what I choose her to see. Give me your hand once more, sir; let us both control ourselves. Now announce me."
Mr. Lusignan opened the door, and said, with forced cheerfulness, "Dr. Staines, my dear, come to give you the benefit of his skill."
She lay on the sofa, just as we left her. Only her bosom began to heave.
Then Christopher Staines drew himself up, and the majesty of knowledge and love together seemed to dilate his noble frame. He fixed his eye on that reclining, panting figure, and stepped lightly but firmly across the room to know the worst, like a lion walking up to levelled lances.