A Simpleton by Charles Reade
The young physician walked steadily up to his patient without taking his eye off her, and drew a chair to her side.
Then she took down one hand--the left--and gave it him, averting her face tenderly, and still covering it with her right; "For," said she to herself, "I am such a fright now." This opportune reflection, and her heaving bosom, proved that she at least felt herself something more than his patient. Her pretty consciousness made his task more difficult; nevertheless, he only allowed himself to press her hand tenderly with both his palms one moment, and then he entered on his functions bravely. "I am here as your physician."
"Very well," said she softly.
He gently detained the hand, and put his finger lightly to her pulse; it was palpitating, and a fallacious test. Oh, how that beating pulse, by love's electric current, set his own heart throbbing in a moment!
He put her hand gently, reluctantly down, and said, "Oblige me by turning this way." She turned, and he winced internally at the change in her; but his face betrayed nothing. He looked at her full; and, after a pause, put her some questions: one was as to the color of the hemorrhage. She said it was bright red.
"Not a tinge of purple?"
"No," said she hopefully, mistaking him.
He suppressed a sigh.
Then he listened at her shoulder-blade and at her chest, and made her draw her breath while he was listening. The acts were simple, and usual in medicine, but there was a deep, patient, silent intensity about his way of doing them.
Mr. Lusignan crept nearer, and stood with both hands on a table, and his old head bowed, awaiting yet dreading the verdict.
Up to this time, Dr. Staines, instead of tapping and squeezing, and pulling the patient about, had never touched her with his hand, and only grazed her with his ear; but now he said "Allow me," and put both hands to her waist, more lightly and reverently than I can describe; "Now draw a deep breath, if you please."
"If you could draw a deeper still," said he, insinuatingly.
"There, then!" said she, a little pettishly.
Dr. Staines's eye kindled.
"Hum!" said he. Then, after a considerable pause, "Are you better or worse after each hemorrhage?"
"La!" said Rosa; "they never asked me that. Why, better."
"Not a bit."
"Rather a sense of relief, perhaps?"
"Yes; I feel lighter and better."
The examination was concluded.
Dr. Staines looked at Rosa, and then at her father. The agony in that aged face, and the love that agony implied, won him, and it was to the parent he turned to give his verdict.
"The hemorrhage is from the lungs"--
Lusignan interrupted him: "From the lungs!" cried he, in dismay.
"Yes; a slight congestion of the lungs."
"But not incurable! Oh, not incurable, doctor!"
"Heaven forbid! It is curable--easily--by removing the cause."
"And what is the cause?"
"The cause?"--he hesitated, and looked rather uneasy.--"Well, the cause, sir, is--tight stays."
The tranquillity of the meeting was instantly disturbed. "Tight stays! Me!" cried Rosa. "Why, I am the loosest girl in England. Look, papa!" And, without any apparent effort, she drew herself in, and poked her little fist between her sash and her gown. "There!"
Dr. Staines smiled sadly and a little sarcastically: he was evidently shy of encountering the lady in this argument; but he was more at his ease with her father; so he turned towards him and lectured him freely.
"That is wonderful, sir; and the first four or five female patients that favored me with it, made me disbelieve my other senses; but Miss Lusignan is now about the thirtieth who has shown me that marvellous feat, with a calm countenance that belies the herculean effort. Nature has her every-day miracles: a boa-constrictor, diameter seventeen inches, can swallow a buffalo; a woman, with her stays bisecting her almost, and lacerating her skin, can yet for one moment make herself seem slack, to deceive a juvenile physician. The snake is the miracle of expansion; the woman is the prodigy of contraction."
"Highly grateful for the comparison!" cried Rosa. "Women and snakes!"
Dr. Staines blushed and looked uncomfortable. "I did not mean to be offensive; it certainly was a very clumsy comparison."
"What does that matter?" said Mr. Lusignan, impatiently. "Be quiet, Rosa, and let Dr. Staines and me talk sense."
"Oh, then I am nobody in the business!" said this wise young lady.
"You are everybody," said Staines, soothingly. "But," suggested he, obsequiously, "if you don't mind, I would rather explain my views to your father--on this one subject."
"And a pretty subject it is!"
Dr. Staines then invited Mr. Lusignan to his lodgings, and promised to explain the matter anatomically. "Meantime," said he, "would you be good enough to put your hands to my waist, as I did to the patient's."
Mr. Lusignan complied; and the patient began to titter directly, to put them out of countenance.
"Please observe what takes place when I draw a full breath.
"Now apply the same test to the patient. Breathe your best, please, Miss Lusignan."
The patient put on a face full of saucy mutiny.
"To oblige us both."
"Oh, how tiresome!"
"I am aware it is rather laborious," said Staines, a little dryly; "but to oblige your father!"
"Oh, anything to oblige papa," said she, spitefully. "There! And I do hope it will be the last--la! no; I don't hope that, neither."
Dr. Staines politely ignored her little attempts to interrupt the argument. "You found, sir, that the muscles of my waist, and my intercostal ribs themselves, rose and fell with each inhalation and exhalation of air by the lungs."
"I did; but my daughter's waist was like dead wood, and so were her lower ribs."
At this volunteer statement, Rosa colored to her temples. "Thanks, papa! Pack me off to London, and sell me for a big doll!"
"In other words," said the lecturer, mild and pertinacious, "with us the lungs have room to blow, and the whole bony frame expands elastic with them, like the woodwork of a blacksmith's bellows; but with this patient, and many of her sex, that noble and divinely framed bellows is crippled and confined by a powerful machine of human construction; so it works lamely and feebly: consequently too little air, and of course too little oxygen, passes through that spongy organ whose very life is air. Now mark the special result in this case: being otherwise healthy and vigorous, our patient's system sends into the lungs more blood than that one crippled organ can deal with; a small quantity becomes extravasated at odd times; it accumulates, and would become dangerous; then Nature, strengthened by sleep, and by some hours' relief from the diabolical engine, makes an effort and flings it off: that is why the hemorrhage comes in the morning, and why she is the better for it, feeling neither faint nor sick, but relieved of a weight. This, sir, is the rationale of the complaint; and it is to you I must look for the cure. To judge from my other female patients, and from the few words Miss Lusignan has let fall, I fear we must not count on any very hearty co-operation from her: but you are her father, and have great authority; I conjure you to use it to the full, as you once used it--to my sorrow--in this very room. I am forgetting my character. I was asked here only as her physician. Good-evening."
He gave a little gulp, and hurried away, with an abruptness that touched the father and offended the sapient daughter.
However, Mr. Lusignan followed him, and stopped him before he left the house, and thanked him warmly; and to his surprise, begged him to call again in a day or two.
"Well, Rosa, what do you say?"
"I say that I am very unfortunate in my doctors. Mr. Wyman is a chatterbox and knows nothing. Dr. Snell is Mr. Wyman's echo. Christopher is a genius, and they are always full of crotchets. A pretty doctor! Gone away, and not prescribed for me!"
Mr. Lusignan admitted it was odd. "But, after all," said he, "if medicine does you no good?"
"Ah! but any medicine he had prescribed would have done me good, and that makes it all the unkinder."
"If you think so highly of his skill, why not take his advice? It can do no harm."
"No harm? Why, if I was to leave them off I should catch a dreadful cold; and that would be sure to settle on my chest, and carry me off, in my present delicate state. Besides, it is so unfeminine not to wear them."
This staggered Mr. Lusignan, and he was afraid to press the point; but what Staines had said fermented in his mind.
Dr. Snell and Mr. Wyman continued their visits and their prescriptions.
The patient got a little worse.
Mr. Lusignan hoped Christopher would call again, but he did not.
When Dr. Staines had satisfied himself that the disorder was easily curable, then wounded pride found an entrance even into his loving heart. That two strangers should have been consulted before him! He was only sent for because they could not cure her.
As he seemed in no hurry to repeat his visit, Mr. Lusignan called on him, and said, politely, he had hoped to receive another call ere this. "Personally," said he, "I was much struck with your observations; but my daughter is afraid she will catch cold if she leaves off her corset, and that, you know, might be very serious."
Dr. Staines groaned, and, when he had groaned, he lectured. "Female patients are wonderfully monotonous in this matter; they have a programme of evasions; and whether the patient is a lady or a housemaid, she seldom varies from that programme. You find her breathing life's air with half a bellows, and you tell her so. 'Oh, no,' says she; and does the gigantic feat of contraction we witnessed that evening at your house. But, on inquiry, you learn there is a raw red line ploughed in her flesh by the cruel stays. 'What is that?' you ask, and flatter yourself you have pinned her. Not a bit. 'That was the last pair. I changed them, because they hurt me.' Driven out of that by proofs of recent laceration, they say, 'If I leave them off I should catch my death of cold,' which is equivalent to saying there is no flannel in the shops, no common sense nor needles at home."
He then laid before him some large French plates, showing the organs of the human trunk, and bade him observe in how small a space, and with what skill, the Creator has packed so many large yet delicate organs, so that they should be free and secure from friction, though so close to each other. He showed him the liver, an organ weighing four pounds, and of large circumference; the lungs, a very large organ, suspended in the chest and impatient of pressure; the heart, the stomach, the spleen, all of them too closely and artfully packed to bear any further compression.
Having thus taken him by the eye, he took him by the mind.
"Is it a small thing for the creature to say to her Creator, 'I can pack all this egg-china better than you can,' and thereupon to jam all those vital organs close, by a powerful, a very powerful and ingenious machine? Is it a small thing for that sex, which, for good reasons, the Omniscient has made larger in the waist than the male, to say to her Creator, 'You don't know your business; women ought to be smaller in the waist than men, and shall be throughout the civilized world'?"
In short, he delivered so many true and pointed things on this trite subject, that the old gentleman was convinced, and begged him to come over that very evening and convince Rosa.
Dr. Staines shook his head dolefully, and all his fire died out of him at having to face the fair. "Reason will be wasted. Authority is the only weapon. My profession and my reading have both taught me that the whole character of her sex undergoes a change the moment a man interferes with their dress. From Chaucer's day to our own, neither public satire nor private remonstrance has ever shaken any of their monstrous fashions. Easy, obliging, pliable, and weaker of will than men in other things, do but touch their dress, however objectionable, and rock is not harder, iron is not more stubborn, than these soft and yielding creatures. It is no earthly use my coming--I'll come."
He came that very evening, and saw directly she was worse. "Of course," said he, sadly, "you have not taken my advice."
Rosa replied with a toss and an evasion, "I was not worth a prescription!"
"A physician can prescribe without sending his patient to the druggist; and when he does, then it is his words are gold."
Rosa shook her head with an air of lofty incredulity.
He looked ruefully at Mr. Lusignan and was silent. Rosa smiled sarcastically; she thought he was at his wit's end.
Not quite: he was cudgelling his brains in search of some horribly unscientific argument, that might prevail; for he felt science would fall dead upon so fair an antagonist. At last his eye kindled; he had hit on an argument unscientific enough for anybody, he thought. Said he, ingratiatingly, "You believe the Old Testament?"
"Of course I do, every syllable."
"And the lessons it teaches?"
"Then let me tell you a story from that book. A Syrian general had a terrible disease. He consulted Elisha by deputy. Elisha said, 'Bathe seven times in a certain river, Jordan, and you will get well.' The general did not like this at all; he wanted a prescription; wanted to go to the druggist; didn't believe in hydropathy to begin, and, in any case, turned up his nose at Jordan. What! bathe in an Israelitish brook, when his own country boasted noble rivers, with a reputation for sanctity into the bargain? In short, he preferred his leprosy to such irregular medicine. But it happened, by some immense fortuity, that one of his servants, though an Oriental, was a friend, instead of a flatterer; and this sensible fellow said, 'If the prophet told you to do some great and difficult thing, to get rid of this fearful malady, would not you do it, however distasteful? and can you hesitate when he merely says, Wash in the Jordan, and be healed?' The general listened to good sense, and cured himself. Your case is parallel. You would take quantities of foul medicine; you would submit to some painful operation, if life and health depended on it; then why not do a small thing for a great result? You have only to take off an unnatural machine which cripples your growing frame, and was unknown to every one of the women whose forms in Parian marble the world admires. Off with that monstrosity, and your cure is as certain as the Syrian general's; though science, and not inspiration, dictates the easy remedy."
Rosa had listened impatiently, and now replied with some warmth, "This is shockingly profane. The idea of comparing yourself to Elisha, and me to a horrid leper! Much obliged! Not that I know what a leper is."
"Come, come! that is not fair," said Mr. Lusignan. "He only compared the situation, not the people."
"But, papa, the Bible is not to be dragged into the common affairs of life."
"Then what on earth is the use of it?"
"Oh, papa! Well, it is not Sunday, but I have had a sermon. This is the clergyman, and you are the commentator--he! he! And so now let us go back from divinity to medicine. I repeat" (this was the first time she had said it) "that my other doctors give me real prescriptions, written in hieroglyphics. You can't look at them without feeling there must be something in them."
An angry spot rose on Christopher's cheek, but he only said, "And are your other doctors satisfied with the progress your disorder is making under their superintendence?"
"Perfectly! Papa, tell him what they say, and I'll find him their prescriptions." She went to a drawer, and rummaged, affecting not to listen.
Lusignan complied. "First of all, sir, I must tell you they are confident it is not the lungs, but the liver."
"The what!" shouted Christopher.
"Ah!" screamed Rosa. "Oh, don't!--bawling!"
"And don't you screech," said her father, with a look of misery and apprehension impartially distributed on the resounding pair.
"You must have misunderstood them," murmured Staines, in a voice that was now barely audible a yard off. "The hemorrhage of a bright red color, and expelled without effort or nausea?"
"From the liver--they have assured me again and again," said Lusignan.
Christopher's face still wore a look of blank amazement, till Rosa herself confirmed it positively.
Then he cast a look of agony upon her, and started up in a passion, forgetting once more that his host abhorred the sonorous. "Oh, shame! shame!" he cried, "that the noble profession of medicine should be disgraced by ignorance such as this." Then he said, sternly, "Sir, do not mistake my motives; but I decline to have anything further to do with this case, until those two gentlemen have been relieved of it; and, as this is very harsh, and on my part unprecedented, I will give you one reason out of many I could give you. Sir, there is no road from the liver to the throat by which blood can travel in this way, defying the laws of gravity; and they knew, from the patient, that no strong expellent force has ever been in operation. Their diagnosis, therefore, implies agnosis, or ignorance too great to be forgiven. I will not share my patient with two gentlemen who know so little of medicine, and know nothing of anatomy, which is the A B C of medicine. Can I see their prescriptions?"
These were handed to him. "Good heavens!" said he, "have you taken all these?"
"Most of them."
"Why, then you have drunk about two gallons of unwholesome liquids, and eaten a pound or two of unwholesome solids. These medicines have co-operated with the malady. The disorder lies, not in the hemorrhage, but in the precedent extravasation that is a drain on the system; and how is the loss to be supplied? Why, by taking a little more nourishment than before; there is no other way; and probably Nature, left to herself, might have increased your appetite to meet the occasion. But those two worthies have struck that weapon out of Nature's hand; they have peppered away at the poor ill-used stomach with drugs and draughts, not very deleterious I grant you, but all more or less indigestible, and all tending, not to whet the appetite, but to clog the stomach, or turn the stomach, or pester the stomach, and so impair the appetite, and so co-operate, indirectly, with the malady."
"This is good sense," said Lusignan. "I declare, I--I wish I knew how to get rid of them."
"Oh, I'll do that, papa."
"No, no; it is not worth a rumpus."
"I'll do it too politely for that. Christopher, you are very clever--terribly clever. Whenever I threw their medicines away, I was always a little better that day. I will sacrifice them to you. It is a sacrifice. They are both so kind and chatty, and don't grudge me hieroglyphics; now you do."
She sat down and wrote two sweet letters to Dr. Snell and Mr. Wyman, thanking them for the great attention they had paid her; but finding herself getting steadily worse, in spite of all they had done for her, she proposed to discontinue her medicines for a time, and try change of air.
"And suppose they call to see whether you are changing the air?"
"In that case, papa--'not at home.'"
The notes were addressed and despatched.
Then Dr. Staines brightened up, and said to Lusignan, "I am now happy to tell you that I have overrated the malady. The sad change I see in Miss Lusignan is partly due to the great bulk of unwholesome esculents she has been eating and drinking under the head of medicines. These discontinued, she might linger on for years, existing, though not living--the tight-laced cannot be said to live. But if she would be healthy and happy, let her throw that diabolical machine into the fire. It is no use asking her to loosen it; she can't. Once there, the temptation is too strong. Off with it, and, take my word, you will be one of the healthiest and most vigorous young ladies in Europe."
Rosa looked rueful, and almost sullen. She said she had parted with her doctors for him, but she really could not go about without stays. "They are as loose as they can be. See!"
"That part of the programme is disposed of," said Christopher. "Please go on to No. 2. How about the raw red line where the loose machine has sawed you?"
"What red line? No such thing! Somebody or other has been peeping in at my window. I'll have the ivy cut down to-morrow."
"Simpleton!" said Mr. Lusignan, angrily. "You have let the cat out of the bag. There is such a mark, then, and this extraordinary young man has discerned it with the eye of science."
"He never discerned it at all," said Rosa, red as fire; "and, what is more, he never will."
"I don't want to. I should be very sorry to. I hope it will be gone in a week."
"I wish you were gone now--exposing me in this cruel way," said Rosa, angry with herself for having said an idiotic thing, and furious with him for having made her say it.
"Oh, Rosa!" said Christopher, in a voice of tenderest reproach.
But Mr. Lusignan interfered promptly. "Rosa, no noise. I will not have you snapping at your best friend and mine. If you are excited, you had better retire to your own room and compose yourself. I hate a clamor."
Rosa made a wry face at this rebuke, and then began to cry quietly.
Every tear was like a drop of blood from Christopher's heart. "Pray don't scold her, sir," said he, ready to snivel himself. "She meant nothing unkind: it is only her pretty sprightly way; and she did not really imagine a love so reverent as mine"--
"Don't you interfere between my father and me," said this reasonable young lady, now in an ungovernable state of feminine irritability.
"No, Rosa," said Christopher, humbly. "Mr. Lusignan," said he, "I hope you will tell her that, from the very first, I was unwilling to enter on this subject with her. Neither she nor I can forget my double character. I have not said half as much to her as I ought, being her physician; and yet you see I have said more than she can bear from me, who, she knows, love her and revere her. Then, once for all, do pray let me put this delicate matter into your hands: it is a case for parental authority."
"Unfatherly tyranny, that means," said Rosa. "What business have gentlemen interfering in such things? It is unheard of. I will not submit to it, even from papa."
"Well, you need not scream at me," said Mr. Lusignan; and he shrugged his shoulders to Staines. "She is impracticable, you see. If I do my duty, there will be a disturbance."
Now this roused the bile of Dr. Staines. "What, sir!" said he, "you could separate her and me by your authority, here in this very room; and yet, when her life is at stake, you abdicate! You could part her from a man who loved her with every drop of his heart,-- and she said she loved him, or, at all events, preferred him to others,--and you cannot part her from a miserable corset, although you see in her poor wasted face that it is carrying her to the churchyard. In that case, sir, there is but one thing for you to do,--withdraw your opposition and let me marry her. As her lover I am powerless; but invest me with a husband's authority, and you will soon see the roses return to her cheek, and her elastic figure expanding, and her eye beaming with health and the happiness that comes of perfect health."
Mr. Lusignan made an answer neither of his hearers expected. He said, "I have a great mind to take you at your word. I am too old and fond of quiet to drive a Simpleton in single harness."
This contemptuous speech, and, above all, the word Simpleton, which had been applied to her pretty freely by young ladies at school, and always galled her terribly, inflicted so intolerable a wound on Rosa's vanity, that she was ready to burst: on that, of course, her stays contributed their mite of physical uneasiness. Thus irritated mind and body, she burned to strike in return; and as she could not slap her father in the presence of another, she gave it Christopher back-handed.
"You can turn me out of doors," said she, "if you are tired of your daughter, but I am not such a simpleton as to marry a tyrant. No; he has shown the cloven foot in time. A husband's authority, indeed!" Then she turned her hand, and gave it him direct. "You told me a different story when you were paying your court to me; then you were to be my servant,--all hypocritical sweetness. You had better go and marry a Circassian slave. They don't wear stays, and they do wear trousers; so she will be unfeminine enough, even for you. No English lady would let her husband dictate to her about such a thing. I can have as many husbands as I like, without falling into the clutches of a tyrant. You are a rude, indelicate-- And so please understand it is all over between you and me."
Both her auditors stood aghast, for she uttered this conclusion with a dignity of which the opening gave no promise, and the occasion, weighed in masculine balances, was not worthy.
"You do not mean that. You cannot mean it," said Dr. Staines, aghast.
"I do mean it," said she, firmly; "and, if you are a gentleman, you will not compel me to say it twice--three times, I mean."
At this dagger-stroke Christopher turned very pale, but he maintained his dignity. "I am a gentleman," said he, quietly, "and a very unfortunate one. Good-by, sir; thank you kindly. Good-by, Rosa; God bless you! Oh, pray take a thought! Remember, your life and death are in your own hand now. I am powerless."
And he left the house in sorrow, and just, but not pettish, indignation.
When he was gone, father and daughter looked at each other, and there was the silence that succeeds a storm.
Rosa, feeling the most uneasy, was the first to express her satisfaction. "There, he is gone, and I am glad of it. Now you and I shall never quarrel again. I was quite right. Such impertinence! Such indelicacy! A fine prospect for me if I had married such a man! However, he is gone, and so there's an end of it. The idea! telling a young lady, before her father, she is tight-laced! If you had not been there I could have forgiven him. But I am not; it is a story. Now," suddenly exalting her voice, "I know you believe him."
"I say nothing," whispered papa, hoping to still her by example. This ruse did not succeed.
"But you look volumes," cried she: "and I can't bear it. I won't bear it. If you don't believe me, ask my maid." And with this felicitous speech, she rang the bell.
"You'll break the wire if you don't mind," suggested her father, piteously.
"All the better! Why should not wires be broken as well as my heart? Oh, here she is! Now, Harriet, come here."
"And tell the truth. Am I tight-laced?"
Harriet looked in her face a moment to see what was required of her, and then said, "That you are not, miss. I never dressed a young lady as wore 'em easier than you do."
"There, papa! That will do, Harriet."
Harriet retired as far as the keyhole; she saw something was up.
"Now," said Rosa, "you see I was right; and, after all, it was a match you did not approve. Well, it is all over, and now you may write to your favorite, Colonel Bright. If he comes here, I'll box his old ears. I hate him. I hate them all. Forgive your wayward girl. I'll stay with you all my days. I dare say that will not be long, now I have quarrelled with my guardian angel; and all for what? Papa! papa! how can you sit there and not speak me one word of comfort? 'Simpleton?' Ah! that I am to throw away a love a queen is scarcely worthy of; and all for what? Really, if it wasn't for the ingratitude and wickedness of the thing, it is too laughable. Ha! ha!--oh! oh! oh!--ha! ha! ha!"
And off she went into hysterics, and began to gulp and choke frightfully.
Her father cried for help in dismay. In ran Harriet, saw, and screamed, but did not lose her head; this veracious person whipped a pair of scissors off the table, and cut the young lady's stay- laces directly. Then there was a burst of imprisoned beauty; a deep, deep sigh of relief came from a bosom that would have done honor to Diana; and the scene soon concluded with fits of harmless weeping, renewed at intervals.
When it had settled down to this, her father, to soothe her, said he would write to Dr. Staines, and bring about a reconciliation, if she liked.
"No," said she, "you shall kill me sooner. I should die of shame."
She added, "Oh, pray, from this hour, never mention his name to me."
And then she had another cry.
Mr. Lusignan was a sensible man: he dropped the subject for the present; but he made up his mind to one thing--that he would never part with Dr. Staines as a physician.
Next day Rosa kept her own room until dinner-time, and was as unhappy as she deserved to be. She spent her time in sewing on stiff flannel linings and crying. She half hoped Christopher would write to her, so that she might write back that she forgave him. But not a line.
At half-past six her volatile mind took a turn, real or affected. She would cry no more for an ungrateful fellow,--ungrateful for not seeing through the stone walls how she had been employed all the morning; and making it up. So she bathed her red eyes, made a great alteration in her dress, and came dancing into the room humming an Italian ditty.
As they were sitting together in the dining-room after dinner, two letters came by the same post to Mr. Lusignan from Mr. Wyman and Dr. Snell.
Mr. Wyman's letter:--
DEAR SIR,--I am sorry to hear from Miss Lusignan that she intends to discontinue medical advice. The disorder was progressing favorably, and nothing to be feared, under proper treatment.
Dr. Snell's letter:--
DEAR SIR,--Miss Lusignan has written to me somewhat impatiently and seems disposed to dispense with my visits. I do not, however, think it right to withdraw without telling you candidly that this is an unwise step. Your daughter's health is in a very precarious condition.
Rosa burst out laughing. "I have nothing to fear, and I'm on the brink of the grave. That comes of writing without a consultation. If they had written at one table, I should have been neither well nor ill. Poor Christopher!" and her sweet face began to work piteously.
"There! there! drink a glass of wine."
She did, and a tear with it, that ran into the glass like lightning.
Warned by this that grief sat very near the bright, hilarious surface, Mr. Lusignan avoided all emotional subjects for the present. Next day, however, he told her she might dismiss her lover, but no power should make him dismiss his pet physician, unless her health improved.
"I will not give you that excuse for inflicting him on me again," said the young hypocrite.
She kept her word. She got better and better, stronger, brighter, gayer.
She took to walking every day, and increasing the distance, till she could walk ten miles without fatigue.
Her favorite walk was to a certain cliff that commanded a noble view of the sea. To get to it she must pass through the town of Gravesend; and we may be sure she did not pass so often through that city without some idea of meeting the lover she had used so ill, and eliciting an apology from him. Sly puss!
When she had walked twenty times, or thereabouts, through the town, and never seen him, she began to fear she had offended him past hope. Then she used to cry at the end of every walk.
But by and by bodily health, vanity, and temper combined to rouse the defiant spirit. Said she, "If he really loved me, he would not take my word in such a hurry. And besides, why does he not watch me, and find out what I am doing, and where I walk?"
At last she really began to persuade herself that she was an ill- used and slighted girl. She was very angry at times, and disconsolate at others; a mixed state in which hasty and impulsive young ladies commit lifelong follies.
Mr. Lusignan observed the surface only: he saw his invalid daughter getting better every day, till at last she became a picture of health and bodily vigor. Relieved of his fears, he troubled his head but little about Christopher Staines. Yet he esteemed him, and had got to like him; but Rosa was a beauty, and could do better than marry a struggling physician, however able. He launched out into a little gayety, resumed his quiet dinner-parties; and, after some persuasion, took his now blooming daughter to a ball given by the officers of Chatham.
She was the belle of the ball beyond dispute, and danced with ethereal grace and athletic endurance. She was madly fond of waltzing, and here she encountered what she was pleased to call a divine dancer. It was a Mr. Reginald Falcon, a gentleman who had retired to the seaside to recruit his health and finances sore tried by London and Paris. Falcon had run through his fortune, but had acquired, in the process, certain talents which, as they cost the acquirer dear, so they sometimes repay him, especially if he is not overburdened with principle, and adopts the notion that, the world having plucked him, he has a right to pluck the world. He could play billiards well, but never so well as when backing himself for a heavy stake. He could shoot pigeons well, and his shooting improved under that which makes some marksmen miss--a heavy bet against the gun. He danced to perfection; and being a well-bred, experienced, brazen, adroit fellow, who knew a little of everything that was going, he had always plenty to say. Above all, he had made a particular study of the fair sex; had met with many successes, many rebuffs; and, at last, by keen study of their minds, and a habit he had acquired of watching their faces, and shifting his helm accordingly, had learned the great art of pleasing them. They admired his face; to me, the short space between his eyes and his hair, his aquiline nose, and thin straight lips, suggested the bird of prey a little too much: but to fair doves, born to be clutched, this similitude perhaps was not very alarming, even if they observed it.
Rosa danced several times with him, and told him he danced like an angel. He informed her that was because, for once, he was dancing with an angel. She laughed and blushed. He flattered deliciously, and it cost him little; for he fell in love with her that night, deeper than he had ever been in his whole life of intrigue. He asked leave to call on her: she looked a little shy at that, and did not respond. He instantly withdrew his proposal, with an apology and a sigh that raised her pity. However, she was not a forward girl, even when excited by dancing and charmed with her partner; so she left him to find his own way out of that difficulty.
He was not long about it. At the end of the next waltz he asked her if he might venture to solicit an introduction to her father.
"Oh, certainly," said she. "What a selfish girl I am! this is terribly dull for him."
The introduction being made, and Rosa being engaged for the next three dances, Mr. Falcon sat by Mr. Lusignan and entertained him. For this little piece of apparent self-denial he was paid in various coin: Lusignan found out he was the son of an old acquaintance, and so the door of Kent Villa opened to him; meantime, Rosa Lusignan never passed him, even in the arms of a cavalry officer, without bestowing a glance of approval and gratitude on him. "What a good-hearted young man!" thought she. "How kind of him to amuse papa; and now I can stay so much longer."
Falcon followed up the dance by a call, and was infinitely agreeable: followed up the call by another, and admired Rosa with so little disguise that Mr. Lusignan said to her, "I think you have made a conquest. His father had considerable estates in Essex. I presume he inherits them."
"Oh, never mind his estates," said Rosa, "he dances like an angel, and gossips charmingly, and is so nice."
Christopher Staines pined for this girl in silence: his fine frame got thinner, his pale cheek paler, as she got rosier and rosier; and how? Why, by following the very advice she had snubbed him for giving her. At last, he heard she had been the belle of a ball, and that she had been seen walking miles from home, and blooming as a Hebe. Then his deep anxiety ceased, his pride stung him furiously; he began to think of his own value, and to struggle with all his might against his deep love. Sometimes he would even inveigh against her, and call her a fickle, ungrateful girl, capable of no strong passion but vanity. Many a hard term he applied to her in his sorrowful solitude; but not a word when he had a hearer. He found it hard to rest: he kept dashing up to London and back. He plunged furiously into study. He groaned and sighed, and fought the hard and bitter fight that is too often the lot of the deep that love the shallow. Strong, but single-hearted, no other lady could comfort him. He turned from female company, and shunned all for the fault of one.
The inward contest wore him. He began to look very thin and wan; and all for a Simpleton!
Mr. Falcon prolonged his stay in the neighborhood, and drove a handsome dogcart over twice a week to visit Mr. Lusignan.
He used to call on that gentleman at four o'clock, for at that hour Mr. Lusignan was always out, and his daughter always at home.
She was at home at that hour because she took her long walks in the morning. While her new admirer was in bed, or dressing, or breakfasting, she was springing along the road with all the elasticity of youth, and health, and native vigor, braced by daily exercise.
Twenty-one of these walks did she take, with no other result than health and appetite; but the twenty-second was more fertile-- extremely fertile. Starting later than usual, she passed through Gravesend while Reginald Falcon was smoking at his front window. He saw her, and instantly doffed his dressing-gown and donned his coat to follow her. He was madly in love with her, and being a man who had learned to shoot pigeons and opportunities flying, he instantly resolved to join her in her walk, get her clear of the town, by the sea-beach, where beauty melts, and propose to her. Yes, marriage had not been hitherto his habit, but this girl was peerless: he was pledged by honor and gratitude to Phoebe Dale; but hang all that now. "No man should marry one woman when he loves another; it is dishonorable." He got into the street and followed her as fast as he could without running.
It was not so easy to catch her. Ladies are not built for running; but a fine, tall, symmetrical girl who has practised walking fast can cover the ground wonderfully in walking--if she chooses. It was a sight to see how Rosa Lusignan squared her shoulders and stepped out from the waist like a Canadian girl skating, while her elastic foot slapped the pavement as she spanked along.
She had nearly cleared the town before Falcon came up with her.
He was hardly ten yards from her when an unexpected incident occurred. She whisked round the corner of Bird Street, and ran plump against Christopher Staines; in fact, she darted into his arms, and her face almost touched the breast she had wounded so deeply.