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- A SIMPLETON - 5/84 -
She took it from the servant with averted head, not wishing it to be seen she had been crying, and she started at the handwriting; it seemed such a coincidence that it should come just as she was sending for him.
MY OWN BELOVED ROSA,--I now write to tell you, with a heavy heart, that all is vain. I cannot make, nor purchase, a connection, except as others do, by time and patience. Being a bachelor is quite against a young physician. If I had a wife, and such a wife as you, I should be sure to get on; you would increase my connection very soon. What, then, lies before us? I see but two things--to wait till we are old, and our pockets are filled, but our hearts chilled or soured; or else to marry at once, and climb the hill together. If you love me as I love you, you will be saving till the battle is over; and I feel I could find energy and fortitude for both. Your father, who thinks so much of wealth, can surely settle something on YOU; and I am not too poor to furnish a house and start fair. I am not quite obscure--my lectures have given me a name--and to you, my own love, I hope I may say that I know more than many of my elders, thanks to good schools, good method, a genuine love of my noble profession, and a tendency to study from my childhood. Will you not risk something on my ability? If not, God help me, for I shall lose you; and what is life, or fame, or wealth, or any mortal thing to me, without you? I cannot accept your father's decision; YOU must decide my fate.
You see I have kept away from you until I can do so no more. All this time the world to me has seemed to want the sun, and my heart pines and sickens for one sight of you.
Darling Rosa, pray let me look at your face once more.
When this reaches you I shall be at your gate. Let me see you, though but for a moment, and let me hear my fate from no lips but yours.--My own love, your heart-broken lover,
This letter stunned her at first. Her mind of late had been turned away from love to such stern realities. Now she began to be sorry she had not told him. "Poor thing!" she said to herself, "he little knows that now all is changed. Papa, I sometimes think, would deny me nothing now; it is I who would not marry him--to be buried by him in a month or two. Poor Christopher!"
The next moment she started up in dismay. Why, her father would miss him. No; perhaps catch him waiting for her. What would he think? What would Christopher think?--that she had shown her papa his letter.
She rang the bell hard. The footman came.
"Send Harriet to me this instant. Oh, and ask papa to come to me."
Then she sat down and dashed off a line to Christopher. This was for Harriet to take out to him. Anything better than for Christopher to be caught doing what was wrong.
The footman came back first. "If you please, miss, master has gone out."
"Run after him--the road to Gravesend."
"No. It is no use. Never mind."
Then Harriet came in. "Did you want me, miss?"
"Yes. No--never mind now."
She was afraid to do anything for fear of making matters worse. She went to the window, and stood looking anxiously out, with her hands working. Presently she uttered a little scream and shrank away to the sofa. She sank down on it, half sitting, half lying, hid her face in her hands, and waited.
Staines, with a lover's impatience, had been more than an hour at the gate, or walking up and down close by it, his heart now burning with hope, now freezing with fear, that she would decline a meeting on these terms.
At last the postman came, and then he saw he was too soon; but now in a few minutes Rosa would have his letter, and then he should soon know whether she would come or not. He looked up at the drawing-room windows. They were full of light. She was there in all probability. Yet she did not come to them. But why should she, if she was coming out?
He walked up and down the road. She did not come. His heart began to sicken with doubt. His head drooped; and perhaps it was owing to this that he almost ran against a gentleman who was coming the other way. The moon shone bright on both faces.
"Dr. Staines!" said Mr. Lusignan surprised. Christopher uttered an ejaculation more eloquent than words.
They stared at each other.
"You were coming to call on us?"
"N--no," stammered Christopher.
Lusignan thought that odd; however, he said politely, "No matter, it is fortunate. Would you mind coming in?"
"No," faltered Christopher, and stared at him ruefully, puzzled more and more, but beginning to think, after all, it might be a casual meeting.
They entered the gate, and in one moment he saw Rosa at the window, and she saw him.
Then he altered his opinion again. Rosa had sent her father out to him. But how was this? The old man did not seem angry. Christopher's heart gave a leap inside him, and he began to glow with the wildest hopes. For, what could this mean but relenting?
Mr. Lusignan took him first into the study, and lighted two candles himself. He did not want the servants prying.
The lights showed Christopher a change in Mr. Lusignan. He looked ten years older.
"You are not well, sir," said Christopher gently.
"My health is well enough, but I am a broken-hearted man. Dr. Staines, forget all that passed here at your last visit. All that is over. Thank you for loving my poor girl as you do; give me your hand; God bless you. Sir, I am sorry to say it is as a physician I invite you now. She is ill, sir, very, very ill."
"Ill! and not tell me!"
"She kept it from you, my poor friend, not to distress you; and she tried to keep it from me, but how could she? For two months she has had some terrible complaint--it is destroying her. She is the ghost of herself. Oh, my poor child! my child!"
The old man sobbed aloud. The young man stood trembling, and ashy pale. Still, the habits of his profession, and the experience of dangers overcome, together with a certain sense of power, kept him up; but, above all, love and duty said, "Be firm." He asked for an outline of the symptoms.
They alarmed him greatly.
"Let us lose no more time," said he. "I will see her at once."
"Do you object to my being present?"
"Of course not."
"Shall I tell you what Dr. Snell says it is, and Mr. Wyman?"
"By all means--after I have seen her."
This comforted Mr. Lusignan. He was to get an independent judgment, at all events.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Dr. Staines paused and leaned against the baluster. "Give me a moment," said he. "The patient must not know how my heart is beating, and she must see nothing in my face but what I choose her to see. Give me your hand once more, sir; let us both control ourselves. Now announce me."
Mr. Lusignan opened the door, and said, with forced cheerfulness, "Dr. Staines, my dear, come to give you the benefit of his skill."
She lay on the sofa, just as we left her. Only her bosom began to heave.
Then Christopher Staines drew himself up, and the majesty of knowledge and love together seemed to dilate his noble frame. He fixed his eye on that reclining, panting figure, and stepped lightly but firmly across the room to know the worst, like a lion walking up to levelled lances.
The young physician walked steadily up to his patient without taking his eye off her, and drew a chair to her side.
Then she took down one hand--the left--and gave it him, averting her face tenderly, and still covering it with her right; "For," said she to herself, "I am such a fright now." This opportune reflection, and her heaving bosom, proved that she at least felt herself something more than his patient. Her pretty consciousness made his task more difficult; nevertheless, he only allowed himself to press her hand tenderly with both his palms one moment, and then he entered on his functions bravely. "I am here as your physician."
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