Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 10/Lord Oakburn's daughters - Part 1
LORD OAKBURN’S DAUGHTERS.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "EAST LYNNE."
CHAPTER I.THE ARRIVAL.
A small country town in the heart of England was the scene some few years ago of a sad tragedy. I must ask my readers to bear with me while I relate it. These crimes, having their rise in the evil passions of our nature, are not the most pleasant for the pen to record; but it cannot be denied that they do undoubtedly bear for many of us an interest amounting well nigh to fascination. I think the following account of what took place will bear such an interest for you.
South Wennock, the name of this place, was little more than a branch or offshoot of Great Wennock, a town of some importance, situated at two miles’ distance from it. The lines of rail from London and from other places, meeting at Great Wennock did not extend themselves to South Wennock, consequently any railway travellers arriving at the large town, had to complete their journey by the omnibus if they wished to go on to the small one.
The two miles of road which the omnibus had to traverse were about the worst to be met with in a civilized country. When it, the omnibus, had jolted its way over this road, it made its entrance to South Wennock in the very middle of the town. South Wennock might be said to consist of one long, straggling street, called High Street. Much building had been recently added to both ends of this old street. At the one end the new buildings, chiefly terraces and semi-detached houses, had been named Palace Street, from the fact that the way led to the country palace of the bishop of the diocese. The new buildings at the other end of High Street were called the Rise, from the circumstance that the ground rose there gradually for a considerable distance; and these were mostly detached villas, some small, some large.
On the afternoon of Friday, the 10th of March, 1848, the railway omnibus, a cramped vehicle constructed to hold six, came jolting along its route as usual. South Wennock lay stretched out in a line right across it in front, for the road was at a right angle with the town, and could the omnibus have dashed on without reference to houses and such-like slight obstructions, as a railway engine does, it would have cut the town in half, leaving part of High Street and the Rise to its right, the other part and Palace Street to its left.
The omnibus was not so fierce, however. It drove into High Street by the accustomed opening, turned short round to the left, and pulled up a few yards further at its usual place of stoppage, the Red Lion Inn. Mrs. Fitch, the landlady, an active, buxom dame with a fixed colour in her cheeks, and a bustling, genial manner, came hastening out to receive the guests it might have brought.
It had brought only a young lady and a trunk: and the moment Mrs. Fitch cast her eyes on the former’s face, she thought it the most beautiful she had ever looked upon.
“Your servant, miss. Do you please to stay here?”
“For a short time, while you give me a glass of wine and a biscuit,” was the reply of the traveller: and the tone, accent, and manner were unmistakeably those of a gentlewoman. “I shall be glad of the refreshment, for I feel exhausted. The shaking of the omnibus has been terrible.”
She was getting out as she spoke, and something in her appearance more particularly attracted the attention of Mrs. Fitch, as the landlady helped her down the high and awkward steps, and marshalled her in-doors.
“Dear ma'am, I beg your pardon! It does shake, that omnibus—and you not in a condition to bear it! And perhaps you have come far besides, too! You shall have something in a minute. I declare I took you for a young unmarried lady.”
“If you happen to have any cold meat, I would prefer a sandwich to the biscuit,” was all the reply given by the traveller.
She sat down in the landlady’s cushioned chair, for it was to her own parlour Mrs. Fitch had conducted her, untied her bonnet, and threw back the strings. The bonnet was of straw, trimmed with white ribbons, and her dress and mantle were of dark silk. Never was bonnet thrown back from a more lovely face, with its delicate bloom and its exquisitely refined features.
“Can you tell me whether there are any lodgings to be had in South Wennock?” she inquired, when the landlady came in again with the sandwiches and wine.
“Lodgings?” returned Mrs. Fitch. “Well, now, they are not over plentiful here; this is but a small place, you see, ma'am—not but what it’s a deal larger than it used to be,” continued the landlady, as she stroked her chin in deliberation. “There’s Widow Gould’s. I know her rooms were empty a week ago, for she was up here asking me if I couldn’t hear of anybody wanting such. You’d be comfortable there, ma'am, if she’s not let. She’s a quiet, decent body. Shall I send and inquire?”
“No, I would rather go myself. I should not like to fix upon rooms without seeing them. Should these you speak of be engaged, I may see bills in other windows. Thank you, I cannot eat more: I seem to feel the jolting of the omnibus still; and the fright it put me into has taken away my appetite. You will take care of my trunk for the present.”
“Certainly, ma'am. What name?”
The landlady stepped outside to direct the stranger on her way. Widow Gould’s house was situated in the first terrace in Palace Street, and a walk of six or seven minutes brought Mrs. Crane to it. It had a card in the window, indicating that its rooms were to let. Widow Gould herself, a shrinking little woman, with a pinched, red face, came to the door. The lady wanted a sitting-room and bed-room: could she be accommodated? Mrs. Gould replied that she could, mentioned a very moderate charge, and invited her in to see the rooms. They were on the first floor; not large, but clean and nice and convenient, the one room opening into the other. Mrs. Crane liked them very much.
“You perceive that I am expecting to be laid by,” she said. “Would that be an objection?”
“N—o, I don’t see that it need,” replied the widow, after some consideration. " Of course you would have proper attendance, ma'am? I could not undertake that.”
“Of course I should,” said Mrs. Crane.
So the bargain was made. Mrs. Crane taking the rooms for a month certain, intimating that she preferred engaging them only from month to month, and the Widow Gould undertaking to supply all ordinary attendance. Mrs. Crane went back to the inn, to pay for the refreshment of which she had partaken, and to desire her trunk to be sent to her, having ordered tea to be ready against her return to Palace Street.
She foundprepared for her, a nice fire burning in the sitting-room grate, the tea on the table, and Mrs. Gould in the adjoining room putting sheets upon the bed. The widow was in spirits at the prospect of her rooms being wanted for some months, as she believed they would be, and had placed the last weekly South Wennock newspaper on the table beside the tea-tray, a little mark of extra attention to her new lodger.
In obedience to the ring when tea was over, Mrs. Gould came up to remove the things. Mrs. Crane was seated before them. A fair young girl she looked with her bonnet off, in her silk dress and her golden brown hair. The widow kept no servant, but waited on her lodgers herself. Her parlours were let to a permanent lodger, who was at that time absent from South Wennock.
“Be so good as take a seat,” said Mrs. Crane to her, laying down the newspaper, which she appeared to have been reading. But Mrs. Gould preferred to stand, and began rubbing one shrivelled hand over the other, her habit when in waiting. “I have some information to ask of you. Never mind the tray; it can wait. First of all, what medical men have you at South Wennock?”
“There’s the Greys,” was Widow Gould’s response.
A pause ensued, Mrs. Crane probably waiting to hear the list augmented. “The Greys”? she repeated, finding her informant did not continue.
“Mr. John and Mr. Stephen Grey, ma'am. There was another brother, Mr. Robert, but he died last year. Nice pleasant gentlemen all three, and they have had the whole of the practice here. Their father and their uncle had it before them.”
“Do you mean to say there are no other medical men?” exclaimed the stranger, in some surprise. “I never heard of such a thing in a place as large as this appears be.”
“South Wennock has only got large lately, ma'am. The Greys were very much liked and respected in the place; and being three of them, they could get through the work, with an assistant. They always keep one. But there is another doctor here now, a gentleman of the name of Carlton.”
“Who is he?”
“Well, I forget where it was said he came from; London, I think. A fine dashing gentleman as ever you saw, ma'am; not above thirty, at the most. He came suddenly among us a few months ago, took a house at the other end of the town, and set up against the Greys. He is getting on, I believe, especially with the people that live on the Rise, mostly fresh comers; and he keeps his cabrioly.”
“Keeps his what?”
“His cabrioily—a dashing one-horse carriage with a head to it. It is more than the Greys have ever done, ma'am; they have had their plain gig, and nothing else. Some think that Mr. Carlton has private property, and some think he is making a show to get into practice.”
“Is he clever—Mr. Carlton?”
“There are those here who’ll tell you he is cleverer than the two Greys put together; but, ma'am, I don’t forget the old saying, New brooms sweep clean. Mr. Carlton, being new in the place, and having a practice to make, naturally puts out his best skill to make it.”
The remark drew forth a laugh from Mrs. Crane. “But unless a doctor has the skill within him, he cannot put it out,” she said.
“Well, of course there’s something in that,” returned the Widow, reflectively. “Any ways, Mr. Carlton is getting into practice, and it’s said he is liked. There’s a family on the Rise where he attends constantly, and I’ve heard they think a great deal of him. It’s a Captain Chesney, an old gentleman, who has the gout perpetual. They came strangers to the place from a distance, and settled here; very proud, exclusive people, it’s said. There’s three Miss Chesneys; one of them beautiful: t’other’s older; and the little one, she’s but a child. Mr. Carlton attends there a great deal, for the old gentleman——Good heart alive! what’s the matter?”
Mrs. Gould might well cry out. The invalid—and an invalid she evidently was-had turned of a ghastly whiteness, and was sinking back motionless in her chair.
Mrs. Gould was timid by nature, nervous by habit. Very much frightened, she raised the lady’s head, but it fell back unconscious. In the excitement induced by the moment’s terror, she flew down the stairs, shrieking out in the empty house, burst out at her own back door, ran through the yard, and burst into the back door of the adjoining house. Two young women were in the kitchen; the one ironing, the other sitting by the fire and not doing anything.
“For the love of Heaven, come back with me, one of you!” called out the widow, in a tremor. “The new lady lodger I told you of this afternoon has gone and died right off in her chair.”
Without waiting for assent or response, she flew back again. The young woman at the fire started from her seat, alarm depicted on her countenance. The other calmly continued her ironing.
“Don’t be frightened, Judith,” said she. “You are not so well used to Dame Gould as I am. If a blackbeetle falls on the floor, she’ll cry out for aid. I used to think it was put on, but I have come at last to the belief that she can’t help it. You may as well go in, however, and see what it is.”
Judith hastened away. She was a sensible-looking young woman, pale, with black hair and eyes, and was dressed in new and good mourning. Mrs. Gould was already in her lodger’s sitting-room. She had torn a feather from the small feather-duster hanging by the mantelpiece, had scorched the end, and was holding it to the unhappy lady’s nose. Judith dashed the feather to the ground.
“Don’t be so stupid, Mrs. Gould! What good do you suppose that will do? Get some water.”
The water was procured, and Judith applied it to the face and hands, the widow looking timidly on. As the lady revived, Mrs. Gould burst into tears.
“It’s my feelings that overcomes me, Judith,” said she. “I can’t abear the sight of illness.”
“You need not have been alarmed,” the invalid faintly said, as soon as she could speak. “For the last few months, since my health has been delicate, I have been subject to these attacks of faintness; they come on at any moment. I ought to have warned you.”
When fully restored they left her to herself, Mrs. Gould carrying away the tea-things; having first of all unlocked the lady’s trunk by her desire, and brought to her from it a small writing-case.
“Don’t go away, Judith,” the widow implored, when they reached the kitchen. “She may have another of those fits, for what we can tell—you heard her say she was subject to them—and you know what a one I am to be left with illness. It would be a charity to stop with me; and you are a lady at large just now.”
“I’ll go and get my work, then, and tell Margaret. But where’s the sense of your calling it a fit, as if you were speaking of apoplexy?” added Judith.
“When the girl came back—though, indeed, she was not much of a girl, being past thirty—Mrs. Gould had lighted a candle, for it was growing dark, and was washing the tea-things. Judith sat down to her sewing, her thoughts intent upon the lady upstairs.
“Who is she, I wonder?” she said aloud.
“Some stranger. Mrs. Fitch sent her down to me—I told Margaret about it this afternoon when you were out. I say, isn’t she young?”
Judith nodded. “I wonder if she is married?”
“Married!” angrily retorted Mrs. Gould. “If the wedding-ring upon her finger had been a bear it would have bit you. Where were your eyes?”
“All wedding-rings have not been put on in churches,” was the composed answer of the girl. “Not but that I daresay she is married, for she seems a modest, good lady; it was her being so young, and coming here in this sudden manner, all unprotected, that set me on the other thought. Where is her husband?”
“Gone abroad,” she said. “I made free to ask her.”
“Why does she come here?”
“I can’t tell. It does seem strange. She never was near the place in her life before this afternoon, she told me, and had no friends in it. She has been inquiring about the doctors———"
“That’s her bell,” interrupted Judith, as the bell hanging over Mrs. Gould’s head began to sound. “Make haste. I dare say she wants lights.”
“She has got them. The candles were on the mantelpiece, and she said she’d light them herself.”
A sealed note lay on the table when Mrs. Gould entered the drawing room. The lady laid her hand upon it.
“Mrs. Gould, I must trouble you to send this note for me. I did not intend to see about a medical man until to-morrow; but I feel fatigued and sick, and I think I had better see one to-night. He may be able to give me something to calm me.”
“Yes, ma'am. They live almost close by, the Greys. But, dear lady, I hope you don’t feel as if you were going to be ill!”
Mrs. Crane smiled. Her nervous landlady was rubbing her hands together in an access of trembling.
“Not ill in the sense I conclude you mean it. I do not expect that for these two months. But I don’t want to alarm you with a second fainting fit. I am in the habit of taking drops, which do me a great deal of good, and I unfortunately left them behind me, so I had better see a doctor. Was that your daughter who come up just now? She seemed a nice young woman.”
The question offended Mrs. Gould’s vanity beyond everything. She believed herself to be remarkably young-looking, and Judith was two-and-thirty if she was a day.
“No, indeed, ma'am, she’s not; and I have neither chick nor child,” was the resentful answer. “She’s nothing but Judith Ford, sister to the servant at the next door; and being out of place, her sister’s mistress said she might come there for a few days while she looked out. I’ll get her to carry the note for me.”
Mrs Gould took the note from the table, and was carrying it away without looking at it, when the lady called her back.
“You see to whom it is addressed, Mrs. Gould?”
Mrs. Gould stopped, and brought the note close to her eyes. She had not her spectacles upstairs, and it was as much as she could do to see anything without them.
“Why—ma'am! It—it—it’s to Mr. Carlton.”
The lady looked surprised in her turn. “Why should it not be to Mr. Carlton?” she demanded.
“But the Greys are sure and safe, ma'am. Such a thing has never been known as for them to lose one of their lady patients.”
Mrs. Crane paused, apparently in indecision. “Has Mr. Carlton lost them?”
“Well—no; I can’t remember that he has. But, ma'am, he attends one where the Greys attend ten.”
“When you were speaking this evening of the doctors, I nearly made up my mind to engage Mr. Carlton,” observed Mrs. Crane. “I think men of skill struggling into practice should be encouraged. If you have anything really serious to urge against him, that is quite a different thing, and you should speak out.”
“No, ma'am, no,” was the widow’s reply; “and I am sure it has been rude of me to object to him if your opinion lies that way. I don’t know a thing against Mr. Carlton; people call him clever. I am naturally prejudiced in favour of the Greys, for Mr. John has attended me ever since he grew up, as his father did before him. I’ll send this down to Mr. Carlton’s.”
“Let it go at once, if you please. I should like, if possible, to see him to-night.”
Mrs. Gould descended to the kitchen. On the dresser, staring her in the face when she entered, lay her spectacles. She put them on and looked at the superscription on the note.
“Well, now, that’s a curious thing, if ever there was one! ‘Lewis Carlton, Esq.!’ How did she know his name was Lewis? I never mentioned it. I couldn’t mention it, for I did not know it myself. Is his name Lewis?”
“For all I can tell,” responded Judith. “Yes,” she added, more decisively, “of course it is Lewis; it is on his door-plate. Perhaps Mrs. Fitch told her.”
“There! that’s it!” exclaimed the widow, struck with sudden conviction. “Mrs. Fitch has been speaking up for him, and that’s what has put her on to Mr. Carlton, and off the Greys. There was a traveller ill at the Red Lion in the winter, and he had Mr. Carlton. It’s a shame of Mrs. Fitch to turn round on old friends.”
“I can tell you where she got the named from, though perhaps Mrs. Fitch did speak for him,” cried Judith, suddenly. “There’s his card—as they call it—in that newspaper you lent her, ‘Mr. Lewis Carlton: Consulting Surgeon.’ She couldn’t fail to see it. Is she ill, that she is sending for him? She looks not unlikely to be.”
“I say, Judy, don’t go frightening a body like that,” cried the woman, in tremor. “She won’t be ill for these two months; but that nasty omnibus has shook her, and I suppose the faint finished it up. Oh, it rattles over the road without regard to folk’s bones. You’ll take this for me, won’t you, Judith?”
“I daresay!” returned Judith.
“Come, do; there’s a good woman! I can’t go myself, for fear her bell should ring. It’s a fine night, and the run will do you good.”
Judith, not unaccommodating, rose from her seat. “There, now!” she exclaimed, in a tone of vexation, as she took the note, “how am I to get my things? Margaret’s gone out, and she is sure to have bolted the back-door. I don’t like to disturb old Mrs. Jenkinson; the night’s coldish, or I’d go without my bonnet rather than do it.”
“Put on mine,” suggested Mrs. Gould. “You are welcome to it, and to my shawl too.”
Judith laughed; and she laughed still more when arrayed in Mrs. Gould’s things. The shawl did very well, but the bonnet was large, one of those called a “poke,” and she looked like an old woman in it. “Nobody will fall in love with me to-night, that’s certain,” said she, as she sped off.
Mr. Carlton’s house was situated at the other end of the town, just before the commencement of the Rise. It stood by itself, on the left; a. handsome white house, with iron rails round it, and a pillared portico in front. Judith ascended the steps and rang at the bell.
The door was flung open by a young man in livery. “Can I see Mr. Carlton?” she asked.
The man superciliously threw back his head, Judith’s large old bonnet did not tell in her favour. “Is it on perfessional business?” he questioned.
“Yes, it is.”
“Then perhaps, mem, you’ll have the obleegance to walk round to the perfessional entrance; and that’s on that there side.”
He waved his hand condescendingly to the side of the house. Judith complied, but she gave him a word at parting.
“Pray how much wages do you earn?”
“If ever I heered such a. question put to a gentleman?” cried the man in astonishment. “What is it to you?”
“Because 1 should judge that you get so much paid you for clothes, and so much for airs.”
Passing down the steps, and out of reach of sundry compliments he honoured her with in return, she went to the side, and found herself in front of a door with “Surgery” written on it. It opened to a passage, and thence to a small square room, whose walls were lined with bottles. A boy in buttons was lying at full length on the counter, whistling a shrill note, and kicking his heels in the air. The entrance startled him, and he tumbled off feet foremost.
It was but twilight yet, and not at first did he gather in Judith’s appearance; but soon the poke bonnet disclosed itself to view.
“Hulloa!” cried he. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I want Mr. Carlton. Is he at home?”
“No, he isn’t.”
“Then you must go out and find him. This note must be instantly given to him. A lady wants to see him to—night.”
“Then I’m afeard want must be the lady’s master,” returned the impudent boy. “Perhaps we might get this note tied on to the telegraph wires, and send it to him that fashion; there ain’t no other way of doing it. Mr. Carlton went off to London this morning.”
“To London!” repeated Judith, surprise checking her inclination to box the young gentleman’s ears. “When is he coming home again?”
“When his legs brings him. There! He’ll be home in a couple of days,” added the boy, dodging out of Judith’s reach, and deeming it as well to cease his banter. “His father, Dr. Carlton, was took ill, and sent for him. Now you know.”
“Well,” said Judith, after a pause of consideration, “you had better take charge of this note, and give it to him when he does come home. I don’t know anything else that can be done. And I’d recommend yon not to be quite so free with your tongue, unless you want to come to grief,” was her parting salutation, as she quitted the boy and the house.
CHAPTER II.HAPPILY OVER.
As Judith Ford went back through the lighted streets, the landlady of the Red Lion was standing at her door.
“Good evening, Mrs. Fitch”
“Why, who—why, Judith, it’s never you! What on earth have you been making yourself such a guy as that for?”
Judith laughed, and explained how it was that she happened to be out in Mrs. Gould’s things, and where she had been to. “After all, my visit has been a useless one,” she remarked, “for Mr. Carlton is away. Gone to London, that impudent boy, of his, said.”
“I could have told you so, and saved you the trouble of a walk, had I seen you passing,” said Mrs. Fitch. “His groom drove him to the Great Wennock station this morning, and called here as he came back for a glass of ale. Is the lady ill?”
“She does not seem well; she had a fainting-fit just after tea, and thought she had better see a doctor at once.”
“And Dame Gould could send for Mr. Carlton! What have the Greys done to her?”
“Dame Gould thought you recommended Mr. Carlton to the lady.”
“I!” exclaimed Mrs. Fitch, “Well, that’s good! I never opened my lips to the lady about any doctor at all.”
“It was her own doing to send for Mr. Carlton, and Mrs. Gould thought you must have spoken for him.”
“Not I. If I had spoken for any it would have been for the Greys, who are our old fellow townspeople; not but what Mr. Carlton is a nice pleasant gentleman, skilful too. Look here, Judith, you tell Dame Gould that when the time comes for the young lady to be ill, if there’s currant jelly wanted for her, or any little matter of that sort, she can send to me for it, and welcome. I don’t know when I have seen such a sweet young lady.”
Judith gave a word of thanks, and sped on towards Palace Street. She had barely rung the bell when she heard Mrs. Gould floundering down-stairs in hot haste. She flung open the door, and seized hold of Judith.
“Oh, Judith, thank Heaven you are come!, What on earth’s to he done? She is taken ill!”
“Taken ill!” repeated Judith.
“She is, she is, really ill; it’s as true as that you are alive. Where’s Mr. Carlton?”
Judith made no reply. Shaking off the timorous woman, and the shawl and bonnet at the same time, which she thrust into her hands, she sped up to the sitting-room. Mrs. Crane was clasping the arm of the easy-chair in evident pain; the combs were out of her hair, which now fell in wavy curls on her neck, and she moaned aloud in what looked like terror, as she cast her fair girlish face up to Judith. Never, Judith thought, had she seen eyes so wondrously beautiful; they were large tender brown eyes, soft and mournful, and they and their peculiarly sweet expression became fixed from that hour in Judith’s memory.
“Don’t be cast down, poor child,” she said, forgetting ceremony in her compassion. “Lean on me, it will be all right.”
She laid her head on Judith’s shoulder. “Will Mr. Carlton be long?” she moaned. “Cannot some one go and hurry him?”
“Mr. Carlton can’t come, ma'am,” was Judith’s answer. “He went to London this morning.”
A moment’s lifting of the head, a sharp cry of disappointment, and the poor head fell again and the face was hidden. Judith strove to impart comfort.
“They are all strangers to you, ma'am, so what can it matter? I know you cannot fail to like the Greys as well as you would Mr. Carlton. Nay, dear young lady, don’t take on so. Everybody likes Mr. John and Mr. Stephen Grey. Why should you have set your mind on Mr. Carlton?”
She lifted her eyes, wet with tears, whispering into Judith’s ear.
“I cannot afford to pay both, and it is Mr. Carlton I have written to.”
“Pay both! of course not!” responded Judith in a warm tone. “If Mr. Carlton can’t come because he is away and Mr. Gray attends for him, there’ll be only one of them to pay. Doctors understand all that, ma'am. Mr. Carlton might take Mr. Grey’s place with you as soon as he is back again, if you particularly wish for him.”
“I did wish for him, I do wish for him. Some friends of mine know Mr. Carlton well, and they speak highly of his skill. They recommended him to me.”
That explains it, thought Judith, but she was interrupted by a quaking, quivering voice beside her.
“What in the world will be done?”
It was Widow Gould’s, of course; Judith scarcely condescended to answer: strong in sense herself, she had no sympathy with that sort of weakness.
“The first thing for you to do is to leave off being an idiot; the second, is to go and fetch one of the Mr. Greys.”
“I will not have the Mr. Greys,” spoke the young lady peremptorily, lifting her head from the cushion of the easy-chair, where she had now laid it. “I don’t like the Mr. Greys, and I will not have them.”
“Then, ma'am, you must have been prejudiced against them!” exclaimed Judith.
“True,” said Mrs. Crane; “so far as that I have heard they are not clever.”
Judith could only look her utter astonishment. The Greys not clever! But Mrs. Crane interposed against further discussion.
“I may not want either of them, after all,” she said; “I am feeling easy again now. Perhaps if you leave me alone I shall get a bit of sleep.”
They arranged the cushions about her comfortably, and went down-stairs, where a half dispute ensued. Judith reproached Mrs. Gould for her childish cowardice, and that lady retorted that if folks were born timid they couldn’t help themselves. In the midst of it, a great cry came from above, and Judith flew up. Mrs. Gould followed, taking her leisure over it, and met the girl, who had come quickly down again, making for the front door.
“One of the Mr. Greys must be got here, whether or not,” she said in passing; “she’s a great deal worse.”
“But, Judy, look here,” were the arresting words of the widow. “Who’ll be at the responsibility? She says she won’t have the Greys, and I might have to pay them out of my own pocket.”
“Nonsense!” retorted Judith. “I’d not bring up pockets, if I were you, when a fellow-creature’s life is at stake. You go up to her; perhaps you can do that.”
Judith hastened into the street. The two brothers lived in houses contiguous to each other, situated about midway between Mrs. Gould’s and the Red Lion inn. Mr. John, generally called Mr. Grey, occupied the larger house, which contained the surgery and laboratory; Mr. Stephen the smaller one adjoining. Mr. Stephen, the younger, had married when he was only twenty-one, and he now wanted a year or two of forty; Mr. John had more recently married, and had a troop of very young children.
The hall door of Mr. John’s house stood open, and Judith went in, guided by the bright lamp in the fanlight. Too hurried to stand upon ceremony, she crossed the hall and pushed open the surgery door. A handsome, gentlemanly lad of sixteen stood there, pounding drugs with a pestle and mortar. Not perhaps that the face was so handsome in itself, but the exceeding intelligence pervading it, the broad, intellectual forehead, and the honest expression of the large, earnest blue eyes, would have made the beauty of any countenance. He was the son and only child of Mr. Stephen Grey.
“What, is it you, Judith?” he exclaimed, turning his head quickly as she entered. “You come gliding in like a ghost.”
“Because I am in haste, Master Frederick. Are the gentlemen at home?”
“Papa is. Uncle John’s not.”
“I want to see one of them, if you please, sir.”
The boy vaulted off, and returned with Mr. Stephen: a merry-hearted man with a merry and benevolent countenance, who never suffered the spirits of his patients to go down while he could keep them up. A valuable secret in medical treatment.
“Well, Judith? and what’s the demand for you?” he jokingly asked. “Another tooth to be drawn?”
“I’ll tell my errand to yourself, sir, if you please.”
Without waiting to be sent, Frederick Grey retired from the surgery and closed the door. Judith gave an outline of the case she had come upon to Mr. Stephen Grey.
He looked grave; grave for him; and paused a moment when she had ceased.
“Judith, girl, we would prefer not to interfere with Mr. Carlton’s patients. It might appear, look you, as though we grudged him the few he had got together, and would wrest them from him. We wish nothing of the sort: the place is large enough for us all.”
“And what is the poor young lady to do, sir? To die?”
“To die!” echoed Stephen Grey. “Goodness forbid.”
“But she may die, sir, unless you or Mr. Grey can come to her aid. Mr. Carlton can be of no use to her, he is in London.”
Mr. Stephen Grey felt the force of the argument. While Mr. Carlton was in London, the best part of a hundred miles off, he could not be of much use to anybody in South Wennock.
“True, true,” said he, nodding his head. “I’ll go back with you, Judith. Very young, you say? Where’s her husband?”
“Gone travelling abroad, Sir,” replied Judith, somewhat improving upon the information supplied by Mrs. Gould. “Is there no nurse that can be got in, sir?” she continued. “I never saw such a stupid woman as that Mrs. Gould is in illness.”
“Nurse? To be sure. Time enough for that. Frederick,” Mr. Stephen called out to his son, as he crossed the hall, “if your uncle comes in before I am back, tell him I am at Widow Gould’s. A lady who has come to lodge there is taken ill.”
Judith ran on first, and got back before Mr. Stephen. Somewhat to her surprise, she found Mrs. Crane seated at the table, writing.
“You are better, ma'am!”
“No, I am worse. This has come upon me unexpectedly, and I must write to apprize a friend.”
The perspiration induced by pain was running off her as she spoke. She appeared to have written but two or three lines, and was thrusting the letter into an envelope. Mrs. Gould stood by, helplessly rubbing her hands, her head shaking with a tremulous motion, as though she had St. Vitus’s dance.
“Will you post it for me?”
“Yes, sure I will, ma'am” replied Judith, taking the note which she held out. “But I fear it is too late to go to-night.”
“It cannot be helped: put it in the post at all risks. And you had better call on one of the medical gentlemen you spoke of, and ask him to come and see me.”
“I have been, ma'am,” replied Judith, in a glow of triumph. “He is following me down. And that’s his ring,” she added, as the bell was heard. “It is Mr. Stephen Grey, ma'am; Mr. Grey was not at home. Of the two brothers Mr. Stephen is the pleasantest, but they are both nice gentlemen. You can’t fail to like Mr. Stephen.”
She went out with the letter, glancing at the superscription. It was addressed to London, to Mrs. Smith. On the stairs she encountered Mr. Stephen Grey.
“I suppose I am too late for the post tonight, sir?” she asked. “It is a letter from the lady.”
Mr. Stephen took out his watch. “Not if you make a run for it, Judith. It wants four minutes to the time of closing.”
Judith ran off. She was light and active, one of those to whom running is easy; and she saved the post by half a minute. Mr. Stephen Grey meanwhile, putting the widow Gould aside with a merry nod, entered the room alone. Mrs. Crane was standing near the table, one hand lay on it, the other was pressed on her side, and her anxious, beautiful eyes were strained on the door. As they fell on the doctor an expression of relief came into her face. Mr. Stephen went up to her, wondering at her youth. He took one of her hands in his, and looked down with his reassuring smile.
“And now tell me all about what’s the matter?”
She kept his hand, as if there were protection in it, and the tears came into her eyes as she raised them to him, speaking in a whisper.
“I am in great pain: such pain! Do you think I shall die?”
“Die!” cheerily echoed Mr. Stephen. “Not you. You may talk about dying in some fifty or sixty years to come, perhaps; but not now. Come, sit down, and let us have a little quiet chat together.”
“You seem very kind, and I thank you,” she said; “but before going further, I ought to tell you that I am Mr. Carlton’s patient, for I had written to engage him before I knew he was away. I am came an entire stranger to South Wennock, and I had heard of Mr. Carlton’s skill from some friends.”
“Well, we will do the best we can for you until Mr. Carlton’s return, and then leave you in his hands. Are you quite alone?”
“It happens unfortunately that I am. I have just sent a note to the post to summon a friend. You see I never expected to be ill for the next two months.”
“And very likely you will not be,” returned Mr. Stephen. “When you shall have got half-a-dozen children about you, young lady, you will know what importance to attach to false alarms. Your husband is abroad, I hear?”
And she inclined her head in the affirmative.
But it was no false alarm. The lady got worse with every minute; and when Judith came back Mr. Stephen met her, coming forth from the bedroom.
“You must help me, Judith,” he said. “Dame Gould is utterly useless. First of all, look in the lady’s travelling trunk. She says there are baby’s clothes and other things there. Make haste over it.”
“I’ll do anything and everything I can, sir,” replied Judith; “but I’d make her useful. I have no patience with her.”
“I’ll make her useful in one way if I don’t in another. Where is she now?”
“Sitting on the stairs outside, sir, with her hands to her ears.”
“Oh!” said Mr. Stephen, and he went out to the widow.
“Mrs. Gould, you know Grote’s Buildings?”
“In course, sir, I do,” was the whimpered answer, as she rose. “Oh, sir, I’m shook!”
“Go there without delay: you can shake as you go along, you know. Ask for Mrs. Hutton, and desire her to come here to me immediately. Tell her the nature of the case.”
Mrs. Gould lost no time in starting, glad to be out of the house. She returned with a short, stout barrel of a woman, with grizzled hair and black eyes. She was attired in a light-coloured print gown, and went simpering into the room, carrying a bundle, and dropping curtsies to Mr. Stephen Grey. Mr. Stephen stared at the woman for a full minute, as if in disbelief of his own eyes, and his face turned to severity.
“Who sent for you, Mrs. Pepperfly?”
“Well, sir; please, sir, I came,” was the response, the curtseys dropping all the while. “You sent for Hutton, sir; but she were called out this afternoon; and I was a stopping at number three, and thought I might come in her place.”
“Hutton was called out this afternoon?”
“This very blessed afternoon what’s gone, sir, just as four o’clock was a striking from St. Mark’s church. Mrs. Gilbert on the Rise is took with her fever again, sir, and she won’t have nobody but Hutton to nurse her.”
Mr. Stephen Grey ran over the sisterhood in his mind, but could think of none available just then. He beckoned the woman from the room.
“Hark ye, Mother Pepperfly,” he said, in a stern tone. “You know your failing; new if you dare to give way to it this time, as you have done before, you shall never again nurse a patient of mine or my brother’s. You can do your duty—none better—if you choose to keep in a fit state to do it. Take care you do so.”
Mrs. Pepperfly squeezed out a tear. She’d be upon her Bible oath, if Mr. Stephen chose to put her to it, not to touch nothing no stronger than table beer. Mr. Stephen, however, did not put her to the ordeal.
There was sufficient hustle in the house that might; but by the morning quiet and peace had supervened; and Nurse Pepperfly, on her best behaviour, was carrying about, wrapped in flannel, a wee wee infant.
Judith had not left Mrs. Crane’s side during the night, and the latter appeared to be drawn to her by some attraction, to find comfort in her genuine sympathy.
“You have been a good girl, Judith,” Mr. Stephen said to her as he was leaving in the morning, and she went down to open the door for him.
“Will she do well, sir?” asked Judith.
“Famously,” answered Mr. Stephen. “Never had a safer case in my life. Give a look to Mother Pepperfly, Judith. I trust her as far as I can see her. I shall be back in a couple of hours.”
Things went on well during the day. Mrs. Pepperfly busied herself chiefly with the baby, nursing it by the fire in the sitting-room; Judith attended on the sick lady. In the afternoon, Mrs. Crane, who was lying awake, suddenly addressed her.
“Judith, how is it you are able to be with me? I thought the landlady told me you were in service.”
“Not just now, ma'am. I have been in service, but have left my place, and am stopping with my sister, at the next door, while I look out for another.”
“Does your sister let lodgings, as Mrs. Gould does?”
“A lady lives at the next door, a Mrs. Jenkinson,” was Judith’s reply, “and my sister is her servant. Margaret has lived with her going on for eleven years.”
“So that just now you are at liberty?”
“Quite so, ma'am.”
“See now how merciful God is!” spoke Mrs. Crane, placing her hands together in an attitude of reverence. “Last night when I began to feel ill, and thought I should have nobody about me but that timid Mrs. Gould, I turned sick with perplexity,—with fear, I may say,—at the prospect of being left with her. And then you seemed to be raised up for me, as it were on purpose, and can be with me without let or hindrance. None but those who have stood in need of it,” she added after a pause, “can know the full extent of God’s mercy.”
A glow, partly of pleasure partly of shame, came over Judith’s face as she listened. In a little corner of her inmost heart there had lurked a doubt whether it was all as straight as it ought to be with the young lady who had come there in so strange a manner—whether that plain gold ring on her finger had been a genuine wedding-ring, or but a false bauble placed there to deceive. The above reverential words of trust convinced Judith that the lady, whoever she might be, and whatever might be the mystery, was as honest as she was, and she took shame to herself for doubting her. No girl, living a life of sin, could so speak with unaffected simplicity of the goodness of God. At least, so felt Judith.
“I think, Judith, you must have been accustomed to attend on the sick?”
“Pretty well, ma'am. In my last place, where I lived four years, my mistress’s sister was bed-ridden, and I waited on her. She was a great sufferer. She died just three weeks ago, and they did not want me any more: that’s why I am changing places.”
“The mourning you wear is for her?”
“Yes it is, ma'am. Mr. Stephen Grey was her doctor, and never failed to come every day all those four years; so that I feel quite at home with him, if that is a proper expression for a servant to use when speaking of a gentleman.”
“What was the matter with her?”
“It was an inward complaint, causing her distressing pain. We were always trying fresh remedies to give her ease, but they did not do much good. I don’t fancy Mr. Stephen ever thought they would; but she would have them tried. Ah, ma'am! we talk about suffering, and pity it, when people are laid up far a week or two; but only think what it must be to lie by for years, and be in acute pain night and day!”
The tears had come into Judith’s eyes at the remembrance. Mrs. Crane looked at her. She had a large, full forehead, strongly marked. One, gifted with phrenological lore, would have pronounced her largely gifted with concentration and reticence. Good qualities when joined to an honest heart.
“Judith, Where was my work-box put?”
“It is here, ma'am, on the drawers.”
“Unlock it, will you. You will find my keys somewhere about. Inside the little compartment that 1ifts up, you will see a locket set round with pearls.”
Judith did as she was bid, and brought forth the locket. It was a charming little trinket of blue enamel, the gold ring round it studded with pearls, and a place for hair in the front. A very fine gold chain about two inches long was attached, so that it could be worn to a necklace, or pendant to a bracelet.
“Take it, Judith. It is for you.”
“That is my own hair inside; but you can take it out if you like, and put in your sweetheart’s. I daresay you have one.”
“A costly toy like this is not fit for me, ma'am. I could not think of taking it.”
“But it is fit for you, and I am glad to give it you; and I owe you a great deal more than that, for what I should have done without you I don’t know,” reiterated the invalid. “Put it up in your treasure-box, Judith.”
“I’m sure I don’t know how to say enough thanks,” spoke Judith in her gratitude. “I shall keep it to my dying day, dear lady, and store up the hair in it for ever.”