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Mrs. Henry Wood
PART THE FIRST.
CHAPTER I. DR. DAVENAL.
CHAPTER II. LADY OSWALD'S LETTER.
CHAPTER III. MISS BETTINA DAVENAL.
CHAPTER IV. OSWALD CRAY.
CHAPTER V. RETROSPECT.
CHAPTER VI. NEAL'S CURIOSITY.
CHAPTER VII. AN INTERRUPTION.
CHAPTER VIII. A TACIT BARGAIN.
CHAPTER IX. EDWARD DAVENAL.
CHAPTER X. A TREAT FOR NEAL.
CHAPTER XI. LADY OSWALD'S JOURNEY.
CHAPTER XII. WAITING FOR NEWS.
CHAPTER XIII. PAIN.
CHAPTER XIV. A WHIM OF LADY OSWALD'S.
CHAPTER XV. MARK CRAY'S MISTAKE.
CHAPTER XVI. NEAL'S DISMAY.
CHAPTER XVII. THE NIGHT VISITOR TO DR. DAVENAL.
CHAPTER XVIII. AFTER THE VISITOR'S DEPARTURE.
CHAPTER XIX. COMMOTION.
CHAPTER XX. GOING DOWN TO THE FUNERAL.
CHAPTER XXI. THE INTERVIEW WITH THE DOCTOR.
CHAPTER XXII. THE WILL.
CHAPTER XXIII. NEAL'S VISIT.
CHAPTER XXIV. DR. DAVENAL'S "FOLLY."
CHAPTER XXV. COMPANY FOR MR. OSWALD CRAY.
CHAPTER XXVI. MORE INSTILLED DOUBT.
CHAPTER XXVII. AN INCLEMENT AFTERNOON.
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE LAST MEETING.
CHAPTER XXIX. A SPECIAL FAVOUR FOR NEAL.
CHAPTER XXX. THE DOCTOR'S BIRTHDAY.
CHAPTER XXXI. BAD NEWS FOR HALLINGHAM.
CHAPTER XXXII. LAST HOURS.
CHAPTER XXXIII. SORROW.
CHAPTER XXXIV. WORK FOR THE FUTURE.
CHAPTER XXXV. MARK'S NEW PLANS.
CHAPTER XXXVI. IS MARK IN HIS SENSES?
PART THE SECOND.
CHAPTER XXXVII. ENTERING ON A NEW HOME.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. HOPE DEFERRED.
CHAPTER XXXIX. AN UNPLEASANT VISIT.
CHAPTER XL. A FLOURISHING COMPANY.
CHAPTER XLI. A SLIGHT CHECK.
CHAPTER XLII. IN THE TEMPLE GARDENS.
CHAPTER XLIII. AN IRRUPTION ON MARK CRAY.
CHAPTER XLIV. WAS SHE NEVER TO BE AT PEACE?
CHAPTER XLV. MRS. BENN'S WRONGS.
CHAPTER XLVI. AN UNWELCOME VISITOR.
CHAPTER XLVII. COMMOTION.
CHAPTER XLVIII. DAY-DREAMS RUDELY INTERRUPTED.
CHAPTER XLIX. THE EVENING OF THE BLOW.
CHAPTER L. HARD USAGE FOR DICK.
CHAPTER LI. WEARY DAYS.
CHAPTER LII. SOMETHING "TURNED UP" AT LAST.
CHAPTER LIII. A NEW HOME.
CHAPTER LIV. A BELL RINGING OUT AT MIDNIGHT.
CHAPTER LV. A DESOLATE NIGHT.
CHAPTER LVI. NO HOPE.
CHAPTER LVII. DREADFUL TREACHERY.
CHAPTER LVIII. THE GALLANT CAPTAIN HOME AGAIN.
CHAPTER LIX. THE SERGEANT-MAJOR'S WIFE.
CHAPTER LX. LIGHT.
CHAPTER LXI. THE BARGAIN SEALED.
CHAPTER LXII. "FINANCE," THIS TIME.
CHAPTER LXIII. SIX MONTHS LATER.
"One word of sympathy."
It was market-day at Hallingham. A moderate-sized and once beautiful town, cut up now by the ugly railroad which had chosen to take its way right through it, and to build a large station on the very spot where the Abbey Gardens used to flourish. Famous gardens once; and not so long ago the evening recreation of the townspeople, who would promenade there at sunset, whatever the time of year. Since the gardens had been seized upon for the railway purposes, a bitter feud of opinion had reigned in the place; the staid old inhabitants mourning and resenting their town's desecration; the younger welcoming the new rail, its station, and its bustle, with all their might and main, as a grateful inbreak on their monotonous life. The trains from London (distant some sixty or seventy miles) would go shrieking and whistling through the town at any hour of the day or night: and, so far, peace for Hallingham was over.
Possibly it was because the town was famous for little else, that these Abbey Gardens were so regretted. Hallingham Abbey had been renowned in the ages gone by; very little of its greatness was left to it now. The crumbling hand of time had partially destroyed the fine old building, an insignificant portion of it alone remaining: just sufficient to impart a notion of its style of architecture and the century of its erection: and this small portion had been patched and propped, and altogether altered and modernised, by way of keeping it together. It was little more than an ordinary dwelling-house now; and at the present moment was unoccupied, ready to be let to any suitable tenant who would take it. But, poor as it was in comparison with some of the modern dwellings in its vicinity, it was still in a degree bowed down to by Hallingham. There was something high-sounding in the address, "The Abbey, Hallingham," and none but a gentleman born and bred must venture to treat for it.
It stood alone: the extensive gardens in front of it; the space once occupied by the chapel behind it. All traces of the chapel building were gone now, but its mossy gravestones were imbedded in the ground still, and the spot remained as sacred as a graveyard. The Latin inscriptions on some of these stones could be yet made out: and that on one attracted as much imaginative speculation as the famed gravestone in the cloisters of Worcester Cathedral. A few Latin words only were on it, signifying "buried in misery:" no name, no date. Thoughtful natures would glance at that stone as they passed it, with an inward breath of hope—perhaps of prayer—that the misery experienced by its unhappy tenant in this world had been exchanged for a life of immortality. This graveyard was not a thoroughfare, and few cared to walk there who were absorbed in the bustle and pleasures of life; but the aged, the invalid, the mourner might be seen there on fine days, seated on its one solitary bench, and buried in solemn reflections. A short space of time, more or less, as it might happen, and they would be lying under gravestones in their turn: a short space of time, my friends, and you and I shall be equally lying there.
The broad space of the public road running along the Abbey's front divided it from the gardens, the gardens being the public property of the town. On the opposite side of these gardens, furthest from the Abbey, were the buildings of the new station and the lines upon lines of rails.
It is well to say lines upon lines of rails! Hallingham said it—said it with a groan. Not content with a simple line, or a double line of rails, sufficient for ordinary traffic, the railway authorities had made it into a "junction"—"Hallingham Junction!"—and more lines branched off from it than you would care to count. This was at the east end of the town; beyond it was the open country. Some of the lines made a sort of semicircle, cut off a corner of the town, and branched off into space. It's true it was a very shabby little corner of the town that had thus been cut off, but Hallingham did not the less resent the invasion.
Walking down to Hallingham along the broad road leading from the Abbey, its busiest part was soon gained. Let us look at it today: Tuesday. It is market-day at Hallingham, and the hot July sun streams full on the people's heads, for there's no room for the raised umbrellas, and they afford little continuous shade. It is the large, wide, open space in front of the town-hall where we have halted, and here from time immemorial the market people have sat to chaffer and change, barter and sell. Country women expose their poultry and eggs, their butter and cream cheese, and their other wares, all on this spot. No matter what the weather—in the dog-days of summer, in the sharp snow, the pitiless storm of winter—here they are every Tuesday under their sea of umbrellas, which must be put down to allow space to the jostling crowd when the market gets full. The town had been talking the last ten years of erecting a covered market-house; but it was not begun yet.
Still on, down the principal street, leaving this market-place to the left, and what was called the West-end of the town was gained. Proud Hallingham had named it West-end in imitation of London. It was nothing but a street; its name, New Street, proclaiming that it was of more recent date than some of the other parts. It was really a fine street, wide and open, with broad white pavements, and its houses were mostly private ones, their uniformity of line being broken by a detached house here and there. It was a long street, and five or six other by-streets and turnings branched off from it at right angles.
Lying back from the street at the corner of one of these turnings was a handsome white house, detached, with a fine pillared-portico entrance in its centre and a plate on the door. It was fully as conspicuous to the street as were the other houses which abutted on the pavement. A level lawn was before it, divided from the street by low light iron railings, its small light gate in the midst, opposite the entrance-door. Narrow flower-beds, filled with gay and charming flowers, skirted the lawn before the rails; on the sides, but not in front, flourished evergreens close to the railings behind the flower-beds, making a sort of screen. An inclosed garden lay at the back of the house, and beyond the garden were the stables. On the brass plate—you could read it from the street,—was inscribed "Dr. Davenal."
He was the chief surgeon of Hallingham. Why he had taken his degree—a recent accession of dignity—people were puzzled to tell. Had he cared for high-sounding titles they could have understood it; but he did not care for them: had he been a slave to example, that might have accounted for it, for this degree-taking, as you must be aware, has come into fashion of late years: had he wished to court notoriety, he might have thought that a means to bring it to him. But Hallingham knew Dr. Davenal better. He was a simple-minded man; he liked to be out of the fashion instead of in it; and whether he wrote "doctor" or "surgeon" after his name, he could not be more deservedly renowned in his locality than he already was. He was a skilful surgeon, a careful and successful operator, and his advice in purely medical cases was sought in preference to that of any physician in Hallingham. A rumour arose, untraceable to any certain source, that his son Edward, a dashing young captain of infantry, had urged the step upon him with a view to enhance his own standing with his brother officers. The son of Mr. Davenal, a country surgeon, might be thought slightingly of: the son of Dr. Davenal need not be. Be that as it might, the rumour gained some credence, but it died away again. One patient only ventured to question Dr. Davenal as to its truth, and the doctor laughed heartily in his patient's face, and said he expected handsome Ned could hold his own without reference to whether his father might be a royal physician or a parish apothecary.
Before we go on, I may tell you that you will like Dr. Davenal. He was a good man. He had his faults, as we all have; but he was a good man.
On this same hot July afternoon, there came careering down the street, in its usual quick fashion, a handsome open carriage drawn by a pair of beautiful bays. Dr. Davenal did not see why, because he was a doctor, his carriage should be a sober one, his horses tame and rusty. Truth to say, he was given to spend rather than to save. I have told you he had faults, and perhaps you will call that one. He sat in his accustomed seat, low in the carriage, his servant Roger mounted far above him. He rarely drove, himself; never when paying professional visits: a surgeon needs to keep his hands steady. Roger was a favourite servant: fourteen years he had been in his present service, and was getting fat upon it. Dr. Davenal sometimes told him jokingly that he should have to pension him off, for his weight was getting too much for the bays. The same could not be said of Dr. Davenal; he was a spare man of middle height, with a broad white forehead, dark eyes, and a careworn expression.
The carriage was bowling quickly past the market-place—Dr. Davenal's time was too precious to allow of his being driven slowly—when a woman suddenly descried it. Quitting her sitting-place in the market, she set off to run towards it, flinging up her hands in agitation, and overturning her small board of wares with the haste she made. Poor wares!—gooseberries and white and red currants displayed on cabbage leaves to attract the eager eyes and watering lips of juvenile passers-by; and common garden flowers tied up in nosegays—a halfpenny a nosegay, a halfpenny a leaf. Roger saw the movement.
"Here's Dame Hundley flying on to us, sir."
Dr. Davenal, who was very much in the habit of falling into thought, seeing and hearing nothing as he went along, raised his head, and turning it in the direction of the market, met her anxious countenance.
"Pull up, Roger," he said to his servant.
The countenance was a tearful one by the time it had reached the doctor's side; and then the woman seemed to become aware that she had done an unwarrantable thing in thus summarily arresting Dr. Davenal—not that there was anything in his face or manner to remind her of it.
"Oh, sir, I beg ten thousand pardons for making thus bold! Seeing your carriage, I started off in the moment's impulse. I've been a-fearing all the morning as I sat there, that maybe you might be out when I called, after market was over. He is no better, sir: he is worser and weaker."
"Ah!" remarked the doctor. "Couldn't he come in today?"
"I don't believe there'll ever be any more coming in again for him," was the woman's answer, as she strove to suppress her tears. "'Mother,' says he to me this morning, when I tried to get him up, 'it's o' no use trying. I—I'"—She fairly broke down.
"Does the parish doctor see him regularly?"
"He comes, sir, about every third day. He caught his eye on that bottle of physic that you wrote for and told me to get made up, and he laid hold of it and asked where I got that, and I told him I had made bold to take my poor boy in to Dr. Davenal. So then he was put up about it, and said if we was going to be grand patients of Dr. Davenal's we didn't want him. And I thought perhaps he mightn't come again. But he did: he came in last night at dusk."
"Has your son taken the physic?"
"Yes, sir. I gave him the last dose afore I come away this morning. But he's worse; he's a deal worse, sir: maybe it's these hot days that's trying him."
Dr. Davenal could have told her that he never would be anything but worse in this world; a little better, a little worse, according to the phases of the disease, and then would come the ending.
"I shall, I expect, be driving out of Hallingham your way this evening, Mrs. Hundley, and I'll call and see him. Should anything prevent it this evening, you may look for me tomorrow. I'll be sure to come."
The same good, considerate man that he had ever been, sparing no trouble, no kindness, when life or health was at stake. "I'll be sure to come!" and the woman knew that he would be sure to come. How few medical men in his position would have condescended to say to this poor woman, "I'll be sure to come!" to say it in the kind tone, with the promise in his eyes as they looked straight into here, as well as on his lips! He had fellow-practitioners in that town, their time not half taken up as his was, who would have loftily waved off poor Dame Hundley, a profitless patient in every sense, and sent her sorrow to the winds.
Roger drove quickly on down the street between the rows of gay shops, and Dr. Davenal sat thinking of that poor woman's sorrow. She was a widow, and this was her only son. Did the anticipated loss of that son strike on the chords of his own heart, and send them vibrating? He had lost a son, and under unhappy auspices. Save that woman's son he knew he could not: his death fiat had gone forth in the fell disease which had attacked him: but he might possibly, by the exertion of his skill, prolong the life by a trifle, and certainly lighten its sufferings. Mrs. Hundley had toiled for this son, and brought him up well, in her poor way, and had looked brightly forward to his helping her on in her old age: as he would have done, for he was steady, loving, and dutiful. But it was not to be: God was taking him: and the mother in her alarm and grief scarcely saw why this should be. Not at the time that affliction falls, in its first brunt, can we see or believe in the love and wisdom that are always hidden within it.
Roger pulled up at the doctor's house, set his master down, and turned his horses round into the side lane—for it could not be called a street—to drive them to the stables. Dr. Davenal went through the gate, and wound round the grass-plat to the house. As he was about to open the door with his latch-key, it was drawn open for him by his attentive indoor manservant.
You never saw so respectable a servant in all your life: a very model of a servant in looks, voice, and manner. About forty years of age, his tall, slim, active figure gave him the appearance of being a younger man. His hair, brushed smooth and flat, was of a shiny black, and his white necktie and orthodox black clothes were without a spot. But—in spite of his excessive respectability as a man and a servant—there was something in the sharp features of his white face, in the furtive black eyes, that would lose their look of slyness when flung boldly into yours, which had never been cordially liked by Dr. Davenal.
"You saw me, Neal?"
"I was in your room, sir, speaking to Mr. Cray," was the man's answer: and in his low, respectful tones, his superior accent, there was really a sound of refinement pleasant to the ear. That refinement of voice and manner that may be caught from associating with the educated; not the refinement springing from the mind where it is innate.
"Has anybody been here?"
"Lady Oswald, sir. She apologised for coming when it was not your day for receiving town-patients, but she said she particularly wished to see you. I think she scarcely believed me, sir, when I said you were out."
Dr. Davenal took his gold repeater from his pocket, where it lay loose, unattached to any chain, and glanced at it. A valuable watch: the grateful present of a rich man years ago, who believed that he owed his life, humanly speaking, to Richard Davenal's care and skill.
"Scarcely believed you! Why, she knows I am never home much before three o'clock. It wants two minutes now. Mr. Cray, if he is here, might have seen her."
"Mr. Cray has but just come, sir. I was showing him in when your carriage drove to the door. Lady Oswald said she would call again later, sir."
Two minutes more, when three o'clock should strike, and Dr. Davenal's door would be beset by patients. By country patients today; on Tuesdays he would be very busy with them, and the townspeople did not intrude unnecessarily upon him on that day; all the rest of the week-days were for them. They would come, these patients, and lay down their fee of a guinea to the surgeon, as they laid it down for a physician. Dr. Davenal would see them twice for that; sometimes more—several times more; he was not a covetous man, and he distinguished between those who could well afford to pay him, and those who could not. When these last would timidly put down the sovereign and shilling, rarely in paper, he would push it back to them. "No, you paid me last time or so; you don't owe me anything yet."
Of far and wide reputation, he had scarcely a minute in the day that he could call his own, or that was not in some way or other devoted to his profession. Chief visiting surgeon to the Hallingham Infirmary, always taking the operations there in difficult cases, part of every day had to be spent at it. Early in the morning he saw patients at home, twice a week gratuitously; at a quarter to ten he went out, and between that time and three o'clock paid his round of calls and visited the Infirmary. At three he was at home to receive patients again; at six he dined; and it very rarely happened that he had not second visits to pay afterwards. Of course this usual routine of duty was often varied; visits at a distance had to be paid, necessitating post-horses to his close carriage, if no rail conducted to the place; patients hovering between life and death must be seen oftener than once or twice in the day, perhaps in the night; and sometimes a terrible case of accident would be brought into the Infirmary, demanding the utmost skill that the most perfect operator could give. In those cases of accident it was Dr. Davenal who was sent for by the house-surgeon; none other of the visiting surgeons were so sure as he: and Dr. Davenal, though he had a whole dining-room full of patients waiting their turn to go in to him, guinea in hand, abandoned them all, and strode away to the Infirmary with his fleetest step.
The dining-room was on the left of the entrance-hall: it wan of large proportions. Opposite to it, on the right, was a much smaller apartment, called by way of distinction "Dr. Davenal's room." It was in this last the doctor saw his patients, who would go into it from the dining-room, one by one, each in his turn. The two rooms looked to the front, on either side the door, and the window in each was very large. They were not bay windows, but were divided into three compartments, all of which might be opened separately. Dwarf Venetian blinds were carried up to the first pane in both windows, for the house was not sufficiently removed from the street to prevent curious passers-by from gazing in. Behind the doctor's room was another room, opening from it, the windows of which looked on the evergreens skirting the very narrow path that ran between the side of the house and the railings bordering the lane: a path so narrow that nobody was supposed ever to go down it. This second room was Dr. Davenal's bedchamber, used by him as such ever since the death of his wife. At the back of this chamber was another apartment, partially partitioned into two, one portion being used as a butler's pantry, the other as Neal's sleeping-closet, which looked to the garden at the rear of the house.
Neal had an uncommon partiality for that pantry, and would be in it all hours of the day or night, though it was never meant that he should sit in it. It was to all intents and purposes a pantry only, and a very scantily lighted one. It had a high window of four square panes, looking dead on the evergreens, very dense just there, and on nothing else. There was a door by its side, opening on the evergreens also; and one with a slim figure—as slim as Neal's, for instance—could go out at that door if so disposed, and entwine himself along the narrow path, braving the shrubs, past the windows of Dr. Davenal's bedchamber, and emerge in front of the house. It was not at all, however, in Neal's stipulated duties to do so. Quite the contrary. When Neal entered Dr. Davenal's service, he was expressly ordered to keep that pantry door always fastened. It was impressed upon him by Miss Davenal that there was no necessity ever to unlock it: his plate was there, she observed, and light-fingered beggars frequented Hallingham, as they frequent most other places.
On the opposite side, behind the dining-room, was the prettiest apartment in the house. It was called the garden-parlour, and opened to the garden at the back by means of glass doors. The state drawing-room was above, over the hall and dining-room, and the kitchens were downstairs.
Davenal's room was scantily furnished. A shabby Kidderminster carpet, a square table, some horsehair chairs, and a writing-desk. Nothing else, except some books ranged round the walls, and a plaster bust or two. On the table, which was covered with a green-baize cloth bordered with yellow, lay some writing and blotting paper by the side of a large inkstand, and the desk was underneath the table on the carpet. It was the doctor's habit to keep the desk there; he could not have told why. If he required to open it, which was very seldom—for he never used it for writing on—he would lift it to the table and put it back when he had done with it. Some of his patients sitting at the table waiting for the doctor to come in, or enlarging on their complaints as he sat before them, had surreptitiously used it as a footstool, and the result was a considerably scratched surface of the polished mahogany; but Dr. Davenal did not move it from its abiding-place.
Tilting himself on a chair, in a fashion that threatened an overthrow backwards, with his feet on the edge of this very desk, sat a young man, carelessly humming a popular song. You heard Neal tell his master he was there—Mr. Cray. His face was a sufficiently pleasing one, its complexion fair, its eyes a light blue. It was not a remarkable face in anyway; might have been a somewhat insipid one, but for these same blue eyes that lighted it up, and a gay smile that was ever ready on it. All that Mr. Cray appeared likely to be remarkable for as yet, was a habit of pushing his hair back—rather light hair, of a shade between brown and flaxen, and he pushed it off his forehead inveterately, at all times and seasons. But what with the blue eyes, the winning smile, and a very taking voice and manner, he was beginning to win his way in Hallingham. Dr. Davenal was glad that it should be so. He had taken this young man, Marcus Cray, by the hand, had made him his partner, and he desired nothing better than that he should win his way.
But to win a way in a town is one thing; to win hearts in it is another; and Dr. Davenal was certainly not prepared to hear, as he was about to do, that Mr. Cray had gained one particular heart, and had come then to ask his, Dr. Davenal's, approbation to his having done it.
Neal threw open the door of this room for his master, bowed him in with the air of a groom of the chambers, and Mr. Cray started from his tilting position to find his feet. As they stood together his height was somewhat under the doctor's, and his only reached the middle height.
"Is it you, Mark?" said the doctor, quietly, rather surprised that he should be there at that hour of the day; for Mr. Cray's routine of duties did not lie at the house of Dr. Davenal. "Any bad report for me?"
Mr. Cray had no bad report. He entered upon a different sort of report, speaking rapidly, but not in the least agitatedly. He wanted the doctor's consent to his marriage with Miss Caroline Davenal. Perhaps it was the knowledge that they must so soon be interrupted by three o'clock and the doctor's country patients, that prompted Mr. Cray to enter upon the subject at that not over-seasonable hour. There would be less time for the doctor's objections, he may have deemed—not that Mr. Cray was one to anticipate objections to any project he set his fancy on, or to pay much attention to them if they came.
Dr. Davenal stood against the wall near the window, looking very grave in his surprise and, it may be said, vexation. He had never dreamt of this. Mr. Cray had certainly been intimate with his family; many an evening when the doctor had been out professionally, Mr. Cray had spent with them; but he had never given a thought to anything of this sort arising from it. His connection with Mr. Cray was a professional connection, and perhaps that fact had blinded his eyes and kept his thoughts from glancing to the possibility that anything different might supervene.
"You look grave, Dr. Davenal," said Mr. Cray, breaking the silence, and retaining, in a remarkable degree, his self-possession.
"Yes," replied the doctor, "for Caroline's sake. Mark, I believe I had cherished more ambitious dreams for her."
"Ambitious dreams!" repeated Mr. Cray. "She will at least occupy a position as good as yours, sir."
"As good as mine!" echoed the doctor. "But when, Mark?—when?" he added after a pause.
"Ay—in time. There it is. How long must you wait for it?"
"We shall rub on until then, doctor. As others do."
"Mark, I do not think Caroline is one to rub on, as you call it, so smoothly as some might, unless fortune is smooth about her. Remember what your income is."
"It is two hundred a-year," said Mark, pushing his hair from his brow, and speaking with as much equanimity as though he had said two thousand. "But I thought perhaps you might be induced to increase it—for her sake."
Dr. Davenal pulled open the green Venetian blind and threw the window higher up, as if the air of the room were growing too hot for him. It was the window—or rather the compartment of it—nearest to the lane, and the doctor was fond of keeping it a little raised. Summer and winter would the passers-by see that window raised behind the green staves of the blind.
"Were I to double your income, Mark, and make it four hundred a-year—a thing which you have no right to expect me to do at present, or to ask me to do—it would still be an inadequate income for Caroline Davenal," resumed the doctor, closing the blind again, and setting his back against it. "I don't believe—it is my opinion, Mark, and I only give it you as such—that she is one to make the best of a small income, or to be happy on it."
Mr. Cray had caught up one of the doctor's pens, and stood opposite to him picking the feather-end of it off bit by bit. His attitude was a careless one, and his eyes were bent upon the pen, as if to pick those pieces off and litter the carpet were of more consequence than looking at Dr. Davenal. Mr. Cray was inclined to be easy over most things, to take life coolly, and he was characteristically easy over this.
"Four hundred a-year is not so small an income," he observed.
"That depends," said Dr. Davenal. "Incomes are large or small in comparison; in accordance with the requirements, the habits, the notions if you will, of those who have to live upon them. Caroline has enjoyed the advantages derivable from one amounting to three times four."
"She may come into that fortune yet," said Mr. Cray.
The first gleam of real displeasure shone now in the eyes of the doctor as he threw them searchingly on his partner. "Have you been counting upon that?—Is it the inducement which has called forth this proposal?"
"No," burst forth Mr. Cray, feeling vexed in his turn and speaking impulsively, as he flung the dilapidated pen back in the inkstand and drew nearer the doctor. "I declare that I never thought of the money or the suit; it did not so much as cross my mind; and were Carine never to have a penny-piece to the end of her life, it would make no difference. It is her I want; not money."
Dr. Davenal drew in his lips. "Carine!" They must have become tolerably intimate for him familiarly to call her that. "Pretty Carine" was her fond name in the household.
"It was Caroline herself who spoke of the money," resumed Mark Cray. "We were consulting together as to how far my two hundred a-year would keep us, and she remembered the Chancery suit. 'Mark,' she said, 'that fortune may come to me, and then we should have no care.' It was not I who thought of it, Dr. Davenal. And I am sure I don't count upon it: Caroline herself would be wise not to do so. Chancery suits generally absorb the oyster and leave the shell for the claimants."
"You have spoken to Caroline, then?" questioned Dr. Davenal.
Mark pushed off his hair again. "O dear yes."
"May I ask when?"
"Well—I don't know," answered Mr. Cray, after considering the point. "I have been—I have been"—
"What?" cried Dr. Davenal, surprised at the unusual hesitation, "Speak out, Mark."
"I was going to say I have been making love to her ever so long," continued Mark, with a laugh. "In fact, sir, we have understood each other for some time past; but as to the precise period that I actually spoke out to her by words, I am not sure when it was."
The contrast between the two men was observable in the silence that ensued. Dr. Davenal grave, absorbed, full of thought and care; Mr. Cray self-satisfied, looking as if neither thought nor care had ever come to him, or could come. He lightly watched the passers-by in the street, over the Venetian blind of the middle window, nodding and smiling to any acquaintances that happened to appear. Mr. Cray had made up his mind to marry Miss Caroline Davenal, and it was entirely out of his creed to suppose that any insurmountable objection could supervene.
"Mark," said Dr. Davenal, interrupting the gentleman as he was flourishing his hand to somebody, "you must be aware that circumstances render it imperative upon me to be more than commonly watchful over the interests of Caroline."
"Do you think so? But, Dr. Davenal, I would be sure to make her happy. I would spend my life in it: none would make her as happy as I."
"How do you know that?" asked Dr. Davenal.
A smile hovered on the young surgeon's lips. "Because she cares for me, sir; and for none other in the wide world."
"I had thought—I had thought that another cared for her," returned Dr. Davenal, speaking impulsively. "At least, a doubt of it has sometimes crossed me."
Mark Cray opened his eyes widely in his astonishment. "Who?" he asked.
But Dr. Davenal did not satisfy him: not that he had any particular motive for observing reticence on the point. "It is of no consequence. I must have been mistaken," was all he said.
"You will not forbid her to me, sir?" pleaded Mr. Cray.
A spasm of pain passed across the face of Dr. Davenal; the words had called up bitter recollections.
"So long as I live I shall never forbid a marriage to any over whom I hold control," he said, in a tone of subdued anguish; and Mark Cray knew where the sting had pointed, and wished in his good-nature he had not put the question. "I will urge all reflection, caution, prudence in my power to urge; but I will not forbid. Least of all have I a right to do so by Caroline."
The younger man's face lighted up. "Then you will give her to me, Dr. Davenal?"
"I give you no promise," was the doctor's answer. "I must have leisure to reflect on this; it has taken me entirely by surprise. And I must speak to Caroline. There's plenty of time. To marry yet would indeed be premature."
"Premature!" echoed Mr. Cray.
"Premature in the extreme. A man who does not know how to wait for good things, Mark, does not deserve them."
A lady, with a slow walk and pale face, turned in at the front gate. It was patient the first. Dr. Davenal made no observation; he scarcely saw her, so deeply had he plunged into thought. Mr. Cray, who stood closer to the window than a doctor expecting patients generally does stand, smiled and bowed.
"It is Mrs. Scott," he observed, as the knocker sounded. "She looks very ill today."
Attentive Neal was heard to come forth instantly from his pantry, open the door, and show the lady into the dining-room. Then he made his appearance in his master's room.
"Mrs. Scott, sir!"
Instead of the "Show her in," as Neal expected, Dr. Davenal merely nodded. Mr. Cray made a movement to depart, glancing as he did so, at the very grave face of his senior partner.
"I have vexed you, sir!"
"I feel vexed in this first moment, Mark; I can't deny it," was the candid answer. "It is not altogether that Caroline might have been expected to do better; it is not exclusively that I think her peculiarly unfitted for a making-shift life, or that with regard to her I feel my responsibility is weighty: but it is a mixture of all three."
"You consider, perhaps, I have done wrong to ask for her!"
"I consider you have done wrong to ask for her so prematurely. In your place, I think I should have waited a little while, until circumstances had been more propitious."
"And perhaps have lost Caroline!"
"Nay," said the doctor; "a girl that cannot wait, and be true while she waits, is not worth a brass button."
He quitted the room as he spoke. At the risk of keeping his patients waiting, he must find and question Caroline. His mind was not at ease.
Mr. Cray went out at the hall-door. Before Neal, who was on the alert, had shut it, a carriage drove up to the gate, and stopped with a clatter. A well-appointed close carriage, its servants in claret-coloured livery, and its claret-coloured panels bearing the insignia of England's baronetage—the bloody hand.
The footman leaped down for his orders. Mr. Cray, stepping across the lawn, in too much haste to wind round it by means of the gravel-path, held out his hand with a smile to its only inmate—a little, grey, nervous-looking woman, in an old-fashioned purple silk dress.
"How are you today, Lady Oswald?"
And Neal, with his quiet, cat-like steps, had followed in the wake of Mr. Cray, unseen by that gentleman, and stood behind him in his respectful attention: there might be some message to carry in to his master—leaving three patients, who had entered the gate together, to show themselves in alone.
The room at the back, looking into the garden, on the opposite side of the passage to Neal's pantry, was the most charming apartment in all the house. Not for its grandeur; it was small and very simple indeed, compared to the grand drawing-room upstairs: not for its orderly neatness, for it was usually in a litter; a fascinating, pleasant-looking litter; and perhaps that made its charm. It was called the garden-parlour. The great drawing-room was kept sacred by its presiding mistress, to whom you will soon have the honour of an introduction: sacred, and uncomfortably tidy. Not so much as a pocket-handkerchief must be laid for an instant on one of its handsome tables, its luxurious satin sofas and ottomans; not a footstool must be drawn from its appointed place, let tired legs be hanging down with weariness; not a hand-screen must be removed from the handsomely-furnished mantelpiece, were lovely cheeks being roasted to crimson. Methodically proper, everything in its appointed spot, must that room be kept: a book put down in the wrong place was treason; a speck of dust all but warning to Jessy, the unhappy housemaid. The dining-room was tidy, too; no extraneous things were allowed there, it must be kept free for the reception of the patients: the "Times" newspaper and the newest local journal lay daily on the large mahogany table, and there the litter ended. Perhaps, therefore, it was no wonder that that other room was not always in the order it might have been.
A charming room, nevertheless, on a sunny day. Watercoloured drawings and pencil sketches in plain frames lined the delicately-papered walls, loose music was strewed near the piano and harp, books lay anywhere, pretty little ornamental trifles met the eye, and fancy-work might be seen in more places than one. The glass doors at the window, large and high, stood open to the few wide steps that led to the green lawn—a lawn particularly grateful on a sultry summer's day.
For that lawn lay in the shade; the sun in the afternoon shone full on the front of the house, and the lawn was sheltered. The scent of the roses, the syringa, the heliotrope, and other powerfully-perfumed flowers, filled the air, and butterflies and bees flitted from blossom to blossom. It was quite a contrast to the other side of the house, with its busy street, its hot pavement, its jostling traversers, and its garish sunshine. Here lay the cool shade on the mossy lawn—the quiet and the repose of the tinted flowers.
Seated on the lawn, on a garden-bench, was a young lady reading. A graceful girl of middle height, with large hazel eyes quite luminous in their brightness, a well-formed gentle face, rather pale, and brown hair that took almost a golden tinge when the sun shone through it. There was no very great beauty to boast of in the face, but it was one of those that the eye likes to rest upon—and love. A far more beautiful face was that of another young girl, who was restlessly moving amidst the side clusters of shrubs and flowers, plucking the choicest. A face whose beauty could not be denied, with its dark violet eyes, its nearly black hair, and the damask complexion all too bright: these strangely brilliant complexions do not always go with the soundest of constitutions. She was little, fairy-like, somewhat pettish and wilful in her movements. A stranger would say they were sisters, and be puzzled to tell which of the two was the elder, which the younger. There was really no likeness between them, save in the dress—that was precisely similar: a thin gauzy silken material, cool but rich, and no doubt expensive, with a good deal of delicate coloured trimming upon it, and open sleeves over white lace. Sisters they were not—only cousins.
Suddenly there was a scream from the midst of the flowers, and the young lady on the garden-bench raised her eyes to speak.
"What is it, Caroline?"
She came forth in her beauty, flinging down the flowers she had gathered, and holding out the back of her hand. A deep scratch lay right across it.
"Just look! I am always tearing myself with those wild-rose brambles!"
"Poor hand! Sit still, Carine; it is too hot for anything else today. What do you want with the flowers, that you need trouble yourself to get them?"
"I don't know what I want with them. Nothing. Picking them helped to pass away the time."
"Why are you so restless this afternoon!"
"Am I restless? One can't be always as quiet as you—read, read, read for ever."
An amused smile parted the reader's lips, bringing to view the pretty teeth, so white and regular. "I will retort in nearly your own words, Carine—am I quiet? I think not."
"Yes you are, except when the boys are at home. You are noisy enough then. I shall go and eat some fruit."
"Lend me your pencil first, Caroline."
Miss Caroline Davenal put her hand into her pocket and could not find her pencil. "I must have left it somewhere indoors," she said. "You'll see it if you look."
"I must mark a passage here."
"What will Mr. Oswald Cray say to your marking his book?"
"Mr. Oswald Cray asked me to mark anything that struck me. It is a delightful book."
Caroline Davenal went joyously down the garden, singing a snatch of a song, as she put her handkerchief over her head to guard it from the sun. The upper half of the long piece of ground was all pleasure and flowers; the lower half all usefulness, vegetables and fruit-trees. Her cousin, book in hand, went up the steps and in at the glass doors to find a pencil. She was bending over the centre table, searching for one, when Dr. Davanel entered the room.
"Is Caroline here?"
"She is in the garden, papa."
Dr. Davenal advanced to the window, and stood at it, ostensibly looking for Caroline. He could not see her; the fruit-trees in the distance had effectually hidden her, and the doctor appeared lost in thought. Presently he spoke, without looking round.
"Sara, did you know that—that—in short, have you ever observed that an attachment was arising between Mr. Cray and Caroline?"
Sara looked up, but did not at once reply. The question was one, put from a father to a daughter, that brought up the blushes on her cheeks in her maiden modesty.
"N—o," she replied, at length. But the no, in its hesitation, sounded almost as much like yes.
"My dear, I did not ask you to deceive me," was the grave answer; "I ask for the truth."
"O papa, you know—you know I would not deceive you," she replied, quite in distress. And Dr. Davenal, pained by the tone, drew her to him and kissed her cheek. He knew how good, how loving, how dutiful, was this daughter of his.
"The real truth is this, papa. Very recently, only since a day or two, a faint suspicion has arisen in my mind that it might be so. Caroline has not spoken, and I have had nothing to guide me to it, except the fact that Mr. Cray is so much here. Indeed, I do not know whether it is so or not."
"I believe I have been a little blind," observed Dr. Davenal speaking quite as much to himself as to his daughter. "The fact is, Sara, I had a notion in my head that some one else had taken a fancy to Caroline; and I suppose I could see nothing beyond it. I speak of Mr. Oswald Cray."
It was well that Dr. Davenal's eyes were fixed on the garden, or he might have wondered at the startled change in his daughter's face. It had turned of one glowing crimson. She moved again to the table, and stood there with her back to the light.
"I suppose I was mistaken; that there was nothing in it, Sara?"
"Nothing, papa, I think; nothing whatever," came the low-toned answer.
"But Mr. Oswald Cray does come here a great deal when he is at Hallingham?" pursued the doctor, as if willing to debate the question.
The crimson grew deeper. Dr. Davenal did not seem to observe that there was no answer.
"How the idea came to arise, I do not understand. Heaven knows I should be the last man in the world to scheme and plan out marriages—for Caroline or for anybody else. Such matters are best left to come about of themselves. But, Sara, I wish one thing—that it had been Mr. Oswald Cray, instead of Mark."
"Do you, papa?" with the blushing face still turned from him.
"Ay, I do. I could have trusted her to Oswald. How could she choose the other in preference to him?"
Sara lifted her face. Eager words were on her lips—to the effect that perhaps Mr. Oswald Cray might not have chosen Caroline. But they died away unspoken.
"I wish you would go and tell her I want her here, Sara."
Sara slipped by the doctor, passed over the cool lawn to the distant sunny paths, and met her cousin.
"Papa wants you, Carine."
Caroline recoiled in her self-conscious timidity. "What about?" she whispered. "Did he say what about?"
"I think," said Sara slowly, scarcely knowing whether she was doing right to speak or not, "that it is something about Mr. Cray."
For a moment Caroline made no rejoinder. She walked on and had nearly gained the lawn when she turned her head again. Sara had lingered behind.
"Sara! Sara! Did he seem angry?" she whispered.
"Not exactly angry. Vexed, I thought."
Dr. Davenal stood at the glass doors still. He put out his hand as she approached him.
"Did you want me, Uncle Richard?"
"Mr. Cray has been making an application to me concerning you. Caroline, were you cognisant of it?"
"Now, Uncle Richard! If you are going to be cross, I—I shall be so unhappy."
"When did you ever know me cross?" he gravely rejoined, and Caroline Davenal burst into tears.
"Caroline, my dear, we must put away this childishness. You are but affecting it, and this is a serious moment. I must talk to you very earnestly. Come in, Sara. It is cooler indoors than out."
Sara, who in her delicacy of feeling would have remained outside, went within the room and sat down to the table with her book. Caroline had dried her passing tears, and was stealing a glance at Dr. Davenal.
"You are angry, Uncle Richard."
"If I am, Caroline, it is for your sake; a loving anger. My chief emotion, I believe, is surprise. I never gave a thought to this; not a suspicion of it crossed me."
"I fancied you must have guessed it," was the murmured answer.
"Guessed that! No, child. But the blindness was my own, I believe. When we ourselves place one view deliberately before us, it tends to shut out others. I had got it into my head, Carine, that it was to your score we were indebted for the frequent visits of Mr. Oswald Cray."
Caroline lifted her face, and Dr. Davenal observed how genuine was the surprise depicted on it. "Uncle Richard!"
"I see. I see now, child, that the idea was void of foundation. But, Caroline," he gravely added, "I would rather it had been Oswald than Mark. All the world must respect Oswald Cray."
"I should think it was void of foundation!" indignantly returned Caroline, resenting the disparagement cast on Mark. "Why, Uncle Richard, Oswald Cray likes Sara a thousand times better than he likes me! But not with that sort of liking," she hastened to add, lest a construction should be put upon the words which most certainly she never meant to put. "General liking, I mean. Oswald Cray's heart is buried in his ambition, in his busy life; he gives little thought to aught else. Uncle Richard, I would not many Oswald Cray if he were worth his weight in gold. He would find fault with me all day long."
"Well, well; let us drop Oswald Cray, and return to the point, Caroline. If"——
"Lady Oswald, sir."
The interruption came from Neal. They had not heard him open the door, and the announcement was the first intimation of his presence. Of course all private conversation was at an end, and the doctor half groaned as he turned to Lady Oswald. She came in, her warm cashmere scarf drawn round her, and her purple gown held up gracefully on the right side, after the style of walking in the fashionable world in the days when Lady Oswald was young.
Lady Oswald was one of those imaginary invalids who give more trouble to their medical attendants than a whole score of patients with real maladies. Fussy and fidgety, she exacted constant attendance from Dr. Davenal. She paid him well; but she worried him nearly out of his life. On his leisure days, when he could really afford the visit to her, and the quarter-of-an-hour's chat spent in condoling with her upon her array of ailments and in giving her the gossip of Hallingham, he spared the time with a good grace; but in a season of pressure he did chafe at having to pay this daily visit, when dying men were waiting for him. He had been with her that morning between ten and eleven: Neal had said she called while he was out; and now here she was again! Once or twice latterly he had sent Mr. Cray in his stead, and she had not seemed to object to it. But she had come for a different object now.
"Only two minutes' conversation with you, doctor," she said, in a voice naturally feeble. "You must spare it me, though it is Tuesday afternoon, and I see your dining-room's getting full. Neal said you were here, so I came in straight, not to be confounded with the patients. Only look at this letter which was delivered to me this morning, and see what it must have been to my nerves. Parkins has been giving me red lavender ever since."
"But you know, Lady Oswald, that I object to your taking red lavender."
"What am I to do when a shock like that comes to me? Do read it, doctor."
Dr. Davenal, feeling that he had no time for letters or nerves just then, was yet compelled in good manners to accede. He opened the note, which was a very short one, and ran his eyes over the contents; once and then again; the first time he did not quite master them.
It was written to Lady Oswald by her landlord, a gentleman of the name of Low. It appeared that Mr. Low had some little time back received an intimation from the railway company that they should require to take a small portion of the grounds attached to the residence occupied by Lady Oswald, for the purpose of erecting certain sheds necessary at that bend of the line. This note was to inform her that he had given his consent, and it ended with a polite hope and belief that neither the sheds nor the process of their erection would prove any annoyance to her.
Dr. Davenal folded the letter when read. Lady Oswald looked at him. "What would you advise me to do?" she asked in a fretful tone.
"Indeed, Lady Oswald, I do not see what you can do," he thoughtfully answered, "except submit to it."
"Submit to it! submit to their erecting railway sheds in my very garden!" she ejaculated in astonishment.
"From the very first hour that I knew they were carrying that new line of rail close to your grounds, I felt sure it would prove an annoyance to you in some shape or other," observed Dr. Davenal, speaking more to himself than to Lady Oswald. "It is a great pity, but we all have to submit occasionally to these untoward things, Lady Oswald, as we go through life."
"I shall not submit to this," she resolutely returned. "They have no more right to erect sheds on my grounds, than they have to erect them upon me. I shall forbid it."
"But the power to do so does not lie with you," objected Dr. Davenal. "You are but a tenant on lease. In point of fact, I do not suppose such power lies with any one, not even with Low himself. The railway companies seem to do pretty much as they please in the kingdom. Mr. Low will be sure to get well paid, and his consent, according to the tenor of this note, is already given."
Lady Oswald pushed her grey hair nervously from her brow. "Dr. Davenal, I don't believe that the law has power so to annoy innocent people and drive them from their homes. Do you know how long I have lived in that house?"
"A great many years now. Ever since the death of Sir John."
"I have lived in it fourteen years, and I will not be driven forth at their pleasure. I expected to die in it, and I will die in it. If they attempt to touch my grounds, I shall have them warned off as trespassers, and I will keep a couple of policemen on the watch day and night."
Dr. Davenal did not then dispute the policy of the avowed plan with her, or point out its futility. In her present mood he knew it would be useless, even if he had the time, to attempt it.
"Because I am a widow woman they think that they can put upon me with impunity," she resumed; "but they will find their mistake. I have telegraphed for Mr. Oswald Cray, and expect him down by night-time."
"You have telegraphed for him?" cried Dr. Davenal.
"Of course I have. Who else is there to take my part, doctor, save him or you? That letter was delivered just after you left me this morning, and I seat to the telegraph at once. Oswald can fight them; and he has influence: they will be clever to overreach him."
Dr. Davenal opened his mouth to speak, but suppressed the impulsive words upon his tongue. To what end recall to Lady Oswald's attention the fact that Mr. Oswald Cray, as one of the engineers to the line, must necessarily be against her, if she had not the sense to remember it? He said a few words to the effect that he must go to his patients, gave Lady Oswald a half promise to see her that night, and left her to be entertained by his daughter.
"My dear, why need Miss Carine have run away from me the moment I came in?"
Sara smiled. "Not from you, Lady Oswald; I think she wanted to run from us all. And perhaps she thought your visit was only to papa."
"How is Miss Davenal?"
"Quite well. Will you see her? She is in the drawing-room."
Lady Oswald hesitated.
"My dear, of course I should be glad to see her; I wish to pay her every respect; but—you know it is so great a trial to me—with my little weak voice. However, I will go up, as I am here. Is her deafness better?"
"Not at all," was Sara's answer. "I don't suppose it ever will be better. It gets worse, we think, as she grows old."
"Grows what?" cried Lady Oswald.
Sara had quick perceptions, and she felt that the word old, as applied to her aunt, had offended Lady Oswald's ear. How changed do our ideas of age become as our own years change! To Sara Davenal, with her twenty years, her aunt, verging on fifty, was old; to Lady Oswald, who would count seventy-one her next birthday Miss Davenal seemed but as a youngish woman!
Lady Oswald stepped slowly up the wide staircase, one foot at a time. Sara followed her, and threw open the door of the handsome drawing-room. A large square room, beautiful as a show place; and to keep it beautiful was the hobby of Miss Bettina Davenal.