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- The Whole Family - 3/38 -
who visited in the family, but was now away on one of the many other visits in which she passed her life. She was always going or coming somewhere, but at the moment she was gone. My wife inferred from the generation to which her brother belonged that she had long been a lady of that age when ladies begin to be spoken of as maiden. Mrs. Talbert spoke of her as if they were better friends than sisters-in-law are apt to be, and said that she was to be with them soon, and she would bring her with her when she returned my wife's call. From the general impression in Eastridge we gathered that Miss Talbert was not without the disappointment which endears maiden ladies to the imagination, but the disappointment was of a date so remote that it was only matter of pathetic hearsay, now. Miss Talbert, in her much going and coming, had not failed of being several times in Europe. She especially affected Florence, where she was believed to have studied the Tuscan School to unusual purpose, though this was not apparent in any work of her own. We formed the notion that she might be uncomfortably cultured, but when she came to call with Mrs. Talbert afterward, my wife reported that you would not have thought, except for a remark she dropped now and then, that she had ever been out of her central New York village, and so far from putting on airs of art, she did not speak of any gallery abroad, or of the pensions in which she stayed in Florence, or the hotels in other cities of Italy where she had stopped to visit the local schools of painting.
In this somewhat protracted excursion I have not forgotten that I left Mr. Talbert leaning against our party fence, with his arms resting on the top, after a keen if not critical survey of his dwelling. He did not take up our talk at just the point where we had been in it, but after a reflective moment, he said, "I don't remember just whether Mrs. Temple told my mother-in-law you were homoeopaths or allopaths."
"Well," I said, "that depends. I rather think we are homoeopaths of a low-potency type." My neighbor's face confessed a certain disappointment. "But we are not bigoted, even in the article of appreciable doses. Our own family doctor in our old place always advised us, in stress of absence from him, to get the best doctor wherever we happened to be, so far as we could make him out, and not mind what school he was of. I suppose we have been treated by as many allopaths as homoeopaths, but we're rather a healthy family, and put it all together we have not been treated a great deal by either."
Mr. Talbert looked relieved. "Oh, then you will have Dr. Denbigh. He puts your rule the other way, and gets the best patient he can, no matter whether he is a homoeopath or an allopath. We have him, in all our branches; he is the best doctor in Eastridge, and he is the best man. I want you to know him, and you can't know a doctor the way you ought to, unless he's your family physician."
"You're quite right, I think, but that's a matter I should have to leave two-thirds of to my wife: women are two-thirds of the patients in every healthy family, and they ought to have the ruling voice about the doctor." We had formed the habit already of laughing at any appearance of joke in each other, and my neighbor now rolled his large head in mirth, and said:
"That's so, I guess. But I guess there won't be any trouble about Mrs. Temple's vote when she sees Denbigh. His specialty is the capture of sensible women. They all swear by him. You met him, didn't you, at my office, the other day?"
"Oh yes, and I liked him so much that I wished I was sick on the spot!"
"That's good!" my neighbor said, joyfully.
"Well, you could meet the doctor there almost any afternoon of the week, toward closing-up hours, and almost any evening at our house here, when he isn't off on duty. It's a generally understood thing that if he isn't at home, or making a professional visit, he's at one place or the other. The farmers round stop for him with their buggies, when they're in a hurry, and half our calls over the 'phone are for Dr. Denbigh. The fact is he likes to talk, and if there's any sort of man that _I_ like to talk with better than another, it's a doctor. I never knew one yet that didn't say something worth while within five minutes' time. Then, you know that you can be free with them, be yourself, and that's always worth while, whether you're worth while yourself or not. You can say just what you think about anybody or anything, and you know it won't go farther. You may not be a patient, but they've always got their Hippocratic oath with them, and they're safe. That so?"
My neighbor wished the pleasure of my explicit assent; my tacit assent he must have read in my smile. "Yes," I said, "and they're always so tolerant and compassionate. I don't want to say anything against the reverend clergy; they're oftener saints upon earth than we allow; but a doctor is more solid comfort; he seems to understand you exponentially."
"That's it! You've hit it! He's seen lots of other cases like yours, and next to a man's feeling that he's a peculiar sufferer, he likes to know that there are other fellows in the same box."
We both laughed at this; it was, in fact, a joke we were the joint authors of.
"Well, we don't often talk about my ailments; I haven't got a great many; and generally we get on some abstract topic. Just now we're running the question of female education, perhaps because it's impersonal, and we can both treat of it without prejudice."
"The doctor isn't married, I believe?"
"He's a widower of long standing, and that's the best kind of doctor to have: then he's a kind of a bachelor with practical wisdom added. You see, I've always had the idea that women, beginning with little girls and ending with grandmothers, ought to be brought up as nearly like their brothers as can be--that is, if they are to be the wives of other women's brothers. It don't so much matter how an old maid is brought up, but you can't have her destiny in view, though I believe if an old maid could be brought up more like an old bachelor she would be more comfortable to herself, anyway."
"And what does Dr. Denbigh say?"
"Well, you must hear him talk. I guess he rather wants to draw me out, for the most part."
"I don't wonder at that. I wish you'd draw yourself out. I've thought something in the direction of your opinion myself."
"Have you? That's good! We'll tackle the doctor together sometime. The difficulty about putting a thing like that in practice is that you have to co-operate in it with women who have been brought up in the old way. A man's wife is a woman--"
"Generally," I assented, as if for argument's sake.
He gave himself time to laugh. "And she has the charge of the children as long as they're young, and she's a good deal more likely to bring up the boys like girls than the girls like boys. But the boys take themselves out of her hands pretty soon, while the girls have to stay under her thumb till they come out just the kind of women we've always had."
"We've managed to worry along with them."
"Yes, we have. And I don't say but what we fancy them as they are when we first begin to 'take notice.' One trouble is that children are sick so much, and their mothers scare you with that, and you haven't the courage to put your theories into practice. I can't say that any of my girls have inherited my constitution but this one." I knew he meant the one whose engagement was the origin of our conversation. "If you've heard my mother-in-law talk about her constitution you would think she belonged to the healthiest family that ever got out of New England alive, but the fact is there's always something the matter with her, or she thinks there is, and she's taking medicine for it, anyway. I can't say but what my wife has always been strong enough, and I've been satisfied to have the children take after her; but when I saw this one's sorrel-top as we used to call it before we admired red hair, I knew she was a Talbert, and I made up my mind to begin my system with her." He laughed as with a sense of agreeable discomfiture. "I can't say it worked very well, or rather that it had a chance. You see, her mother had to apply it; I was always too busy. And a curious thing was that though the girl looked like me, she was a good deal more like her mother in temperament and character."
"Perhaps," I ventured, "that's the reason why she was your favorite."
He dropped his head in rather a shamefaced way, but lifted it with another laugh. "Well, there may be something in that. Not," he gravely retrieved himself, "that we have ever distinguished between our children."
"No, neither have we. But one can't help liking the ways of one child better than another; one will rather take the fancy more than the rest."
"Well," my neighbor owned, "I don't know but it's that kind of shyness in them both. I suppose one likes to think his girl looks like him, but doesn't mind her being like her mother. I'm glad she's got my constitution, though. My eldest daughter is more like her grandmother in looks, and I guess she's got her disposition too, more. I don't know," he said, vaguely, "what the last one is going to be like. She seems to be more worldly. But," he resumed, strenuously, as if the remembrance of old opposition remained in his nerves, "when it came to this going off to school, or college, or whatever, I put my foot down, and kept it down. I guess her mother was willing enough to do my way, but her sister was all for some of those colleges where girls are educated with other girls and not with young men. She said they were more ladylike, and a lot more stuff and nonsense, and were more likely to be fit for society. She said this one would meet a lot of jays, and very likely fall in love with one; and when we first heard of this affair of Peggy's I don't believe but what her sister got more satisfaction out of it than I did. She's quick enough! And a woman likes to feel that she's a prophetess at any time of her life. That's about all that seems to keep some of them going when they get old." I knew that here he had his mother-in-law rather than his daughter in mind, and I didn't interrupt the sarcastic silence into which he fell. "You've never met the young man, I believe?" he asked, at quite another point, and to the negation of my look he added, "To be sure! We've hardly met him ourselves; he's only been here once; but you'll see him--you and Mrs. Temple. Well!" He lifted his head, as if he were going away, but he did not lift his arms from the fence, and so I knew that he had not emptied the bag of his unexpected confidences; I did not know why he was making them to me, but I liked him the better for them, and tried to feel that I was worthy of them. He began with a laugh, "They both paid it into me so," and now I knew that he meant his eldest daughter as well as her grandmother, "that my wife turned round and took my part, and said it was the very best thing that could happen; and she used all the arguments that I had used with her, when she had her misgivings about it, and she didn't leave them a word to say. A curious thing about it was, that though my arguments seemed to convince them, they didn't convince me. Ever notice, how when another person repeats what you've said, it sounds kind of weak and foolish?" I
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