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Title: A Strange Story — Volume 01
Author: Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron
Language: English
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A STRANGE STORY

by Edward Bulwer Lytton
(Lord Lytton)



PREFACE.

Of the many illustrious thinkers whom the schools of France have
contributed to the intellectual philosophy of our age, Victor Cousin,
the most accomplished, assigns to Maine de Biran the rank of the most
original.

In the successive developments of his own mind, Maine de Biran may,
indeed, be said to represent the change that has been silently at work
throughout the general mind of Europe since the close of the last
century.  He begins his career of philosopher with blind faith in
Condillac and Materialism.  As an intellect severely conscientious in
the pursuit of truth expands amidst the perplexities it revolves,
phenomena which cannot be accounted for by Condillac's sensuous theories
open to his eye.  To the first rudimentary life of man, the animal life,
"characterized by impressions, appetites, movements, organic in their
origin and ruled by the Law of Necessity," [1] he is compelled to add,
"the second, or human life, from which Free-will and Self-consciousness
emerge."  He thus arrives at the union of mind and matter; but still a
something is wanted,--some key to the marvels which neither of these
conditions of vital being suffices to explain.  And at last the
grand self-completing Thinker attains to the Third Life of Man in Man's
Soul.

   "There are not," says this philosopher, towards the close of his last
    and loftiest work,--"there are not only two principles opposed to
    each other in Man,--there are three.  For there are in him three
    lives and three orders of faculties.  Though all should be in accord
    and in harmony between the sensitive and the active faculties
    which constitute Man, there would still be a nature superior, a
    third life which would not be satisfied; which would make felt
    (ferait sentir) the truth that there is another happiness, another
    wisdom, another perfection, at once above the greatest human
    happiness, above the highest wisdom, or intellectual and moral
    perfection of which the human being is susceptible." [2]

Now, as Philosophy and Romance both take their origin in the Principle of
Wonder, so in the "Strange Story" submitted to the Public it will be
seen that Romance, through the freest exercise of its wildest vagaries,
conducts its bewildered hero towards the same goal to which Philosophy
leads its luminous Student, through far grander portents of Nature, far
higher visions of Supernatural Power, than Fable can yield to Fancy.
That goal is defined in these noble words:--

   "The relations (rapports) which exist between the elements and the
    products of the three lives of Man are the subjects of meditation,
    the fairest and finest, but also the most difficult.  The Stoic
    Philosophy shows us all which can be most elevated in active life;
    but it makes abstraction of the animal nature, and absolutely fails
    to recognize all which belongs to the life of the spirit.
    Its practical morality is beyond the forces of humanity.  Christianity
    alone embraces the whole Man.  It dissimulates none of the sides of
    his nature, and avails itself of his miseries and his weakness in
    order to conduct him to his end in showing him all the want that he
    has of a succor more exalted." [3]

In the passages thus quoted, I imply one of the objects for which
this tale has been written; and I cite them, with a wish to acknowledge
one of those priceless obligations which writings the lightest and most
fantastic often incur to reasoners the most serious and profound.

But I here construct a romance which should have, as a romance,
some interest for the general reader.  I do not elaborate a treatise
submitted to the logic of sages.  And it is only when "in fairy fiction
drest" that Romance gives admission to "truths severe."

I venture to assume that none will question my privilege to avail
myself of the marvellous agencies which have ever been at the legitimate
command of the fabulist.

To the highest form of romantic narrative, the Epic, critics, indeed,
have declared that a supernatural machinery is indispensable.  That the
Drama has availed itself of the same license as the Epic, it would be
unnecessary to say to the countrymen of Shakspeare, or to the generation
that is yet studying the enigmas of Goethe's "Faust."  Prose Romance has
immemorially asserted, no less than the Epic or the Drama, its heritage
in the Realm of the Marvellous.  The interest which attaches to the
supernatural is sought in the earliest Prose Romance which modern times
take from the ancient, and which, perhaps, had its origin in the lost
Novels of Miletus; [4] and the right to invoke such interest has, ever
since, been maintained by Romance through all varieties of form and
fancy,--from the majestic epopee of "Telemaque" to the graceful fantasies
of "Undine," or the mighty mockeries of "Gulliver's Travels" down to
such comparatively commonplace elements of wonder as yet preserve
from oblivion "The Castle of Otranto" and "The Old English Baron."

Now, to my mind, the true reason why a supernatural agency is
indispensable to the conception of the Epic, is that the Epic is the
highest and the completest form in which Art can express either Man or
Nature, and that without some gleams of the supernatural, Man is not
man nor Nature, nature.

It is said, by a writer to whom an eminent philosophical
critic justly applies the epithets of "pious and profound:" [5]

   "Is it unreasonable to confess that we believe in God, not by reason
    of the Nature which conceals Him, but by reason of the Supernatural
    in Man which alone reveals and proves Him to exist?...  Man reveals
    God: for Man, by his intelligence, rises above Nature; and in virtue
    of this intelligence is conscious of himself as a power not only
    independent of, but opposed to, Nature, and capable of resisting,
    conquering, and controlling her."[6]


If the meaning involved in the argument, of which I have here made
but scanty extracts, be carefully studied, I think that we shall find
deeper reasons than the critics who dictated canons of taste to the last
century discovered,--why the supernatural is indispensable to the Epic,
and why it is allowable to all works of imagination, in which Art looks
on Nature with Man's inner sense of a something beyond and above her.

But the Writer who, whether in verse or prose, would avail himself
of such sources of pity or terror as flow from the Marvellous, can
only attain his object in proportion as the wonders he narrates are of a
kind to excite the curiosity of the age he addresses.

In the brains of our time, the faculty of Causation is very markedly
developed.  People nowadays do not delight in the Marvellous according
to the old childlike spirit.  They say in one breath, "Very extraordinary!"
and in the next breath ask, "How do you account for it?"  If the Author of
this work has presumed to borrow from science some elements of interest for
Romance, he ventures to hope that no thoughtful reader--and certainly no
true son of science--will be disposed to reproach him.  In fact, such
illustrations from the masters of Thought were essential to the
completion of the purpose which pervades the work.

That purpose, I trust, will develop itself in proportion as the story
approaches the close; and whatever may appear violent or melodramatic in
the catastrophe, will, perhaps, be found, by a reader capable
of perceiving the various symbolical meanings conveyed in the story,
essential to the end in which those meanings converge, and towards
which the incidents that give them the character and interest of
of fiction, have been planned and directed from the commencement.

Of course, according to the most obvious principles of art, the
narrator of a fiction must be as thoroughly in earnest as if he were
the narrator of facts.  One could not tell the most extravagant
fairy-tale so as to rouse and sustain the attention of the most
infantine listener, if the tale were told as if the taleteller did not
believe in it.  But when the reader lays down this "Strange Story,"
perhaps he will detect, through all the haze of romance, the outlines of
these images suggested to his reason:  Firstly, the image of sensuous,
soulless Nature, such as the Materialist had conceived it; secondly, the
image of Intellect, obstinately separating all its inquiries from
the belief in the spiritual essence and destiny of man, and incurring all
kinds of perplexity and resorting to all kinds of visionary speculation
before it settles at last into the simple faith which unites the
philosopher and the infant; and thirdly, the image of the erring but
pure-thoughted visionary, seeking over-much on this earth to separate
soul from mind, till innocence itself is led astray by a phantom, and
reason is lost in the space between earth and the stars.  Whether in
these pictures there be any truth worth the implying, every reader
must judge for himself; and if he doubt or deny that there be any
such truth, still, in the process of thought which the doubt or
denial enforces, he may chance on a truth which it pleases himself
to discover.

   "Most of the Fables of AEsop,"--thus says Montaigne in his
    charming essay "Of Books"[7]--"have several senses and meanings, of
    which the Mythologists choose some one that tallies with the fable.
    But for the most part 't is only what presents itself at the first
    view, and is superficial; there being others more lively, essential,
    and internal, into which they had not been able to penetrate;
    and"--adds Montaigne--"the case is the very same with me."

[1] OEuvres inedites de Maine de Biran, vol. i.  See introduction.

[2] OEuvres inedites de Maine de Biran, vol. iii. p. 546 (Anthropologie).

[3] OEuvres inedites de Maine de Biran, vol. iii. p. 524.

[4] "The Golden Ass" of Apuleius.

[5] Sir William Hamilton: Lectures on Metaphysics, p. 40.

[6] Jacobi: Von der Gottlichen Dingen; Werke, p. 424-426.

[7] Translation, 1776, Yol. ii. p. 103.



CHAPTER I.

In the year 18-- I settled as a physician at one of the wealthiest
of our great English towns, which I will designate by the initial L----.
I was yet young, but I had acquired some reputation by a professional
work, which is, I believe, still amongst the received authorities on
the subject of which it treats.  I had studied at Edinburgh and at
Paris, and had borne away from both those illustrious schools of medicine
whatever guarantees for future distinction the praise of professors
may concede to the ambition of students.  On becoming a member of
the College of Physicians, I made a tour of the principal cities of
Europe, taking letters of introduction to eminent medical men, and
gathering from many theories and modes of treatment hints to enlarge
the foundations of unprejudiced and comprehensive' practice.  I had
resolved to fix my ultimate residence in London.  But before this
preparatory tour was completed, my resolve was changed by one of
those unexpected events which determine the fate man in vain would work
out for himself.  In passing through the Tyro, on my way into the
north of Italy, I found in a small inn, remote from medical attendance, an
English traveller seized with acute inflammation of the lungs, and
in a state of imminent danger.  I devoted myself to him night and
day; and, perhaps more through careful nursing than active remedies, I
had the happiness to effect his complete recovery.  The traveller
proved to be Julius Faber, a physician of great distinction, contented
to reside, where he was born, in the provincial city of L----, but whose
reputation as a profound and original pathologist was widely spread, and
whose writings had formed no unimportant part of my special studies.  It
was during a short holiday excursion, from which he was about to return
with renovated vigour, that he had been thus stricken down.  The patient
so accidentally met with became the founder of my professional fortunes.
He conceived a warm attachment for me,--perhaps the more affectionate
because he was a childless bachelor, and the nephew who would succeed
to his wealth evinced no desire to succeed to the toils by which the
wealth had been acquired.  Thus, having an heir for the one, he had
long looked about for an heir to the other, and now resolved on finding
that heir in me.  So when we parted Dr. Faber made me promise to
correspond with him regularly, and it was not long before he disclosed
by letter the plans he had formed in my favour.  He said that he was
growing old; his practice was beyond his strength; he needed a partner;
he was not disposed to put up to sale the health of patients whom he had
learned to regard as his children: money was no object to him, but it was
an object close at his heart that the humanity he had served, and the
reputation he had acquired, should suffer no loss in his choice of
a successor.  In fine, he proposed that I should at once come to
L---- as his partner, with the view of succeeding to his entire
practice at the end of two years, when it was his intention to retire.

The opening into fortune thus afforded to me was one that rarely
presents itself to a young man entering upon an overcrowded profession;
and to an aspirant less allured by the desire of fortune than the hope of
distinction, the fame of the physician who thus generously offered
to me the inestimable benefits of his long experience and his cordial
introduction was in itself an assurance that a metropolitan practice
is not essential to a national renown.

I went, then, to L----, and before the two years of my partnership
had expired, my success justified my kind friend's selection, and far
more than realized my own expectations.  I was fortunate in effecting
some notable cures in the earliest cases submitted to me, and it is
everything in the career of a physician when good luck wins betimes for
him that confidence which patients rarely accord except to lengthened
experience.  To the rapid facility with which my way was made, some
circumstances apart from professional skill probably contributed.  I was
saved from the suspicion of a medical adventurer by the accidents of
birth and fortune.  I belonged to an ancient family (a branch of the
once powerful border-clan of the Fenwicks) that had for many generations
held a fair estate in the neighbourhood of Windermere.  As an only
son I had succeeded to that estate on attaining my majority, and had
sold it to pay off the debts which had been made by my father, who had
the costly tastes of an antiquary and collector.  The residue on the
sale insured me a modest independence apart from the profits of a
profession; and as I had not been legally bound to defray my father's
debts, so I obtained that character for disinterestedness and integrity
which always in England tends to propitiate the public to the successes
achieved by industry or talent.  Perhaps, too, any professional ability
I might possess was the more readily conceded, because I had cultivated
with assiduity the sciences and the scholarship which are collaterally
connected with the study of medicine.  Thus, in a word, I established a
social position which came in aid of my professional repute, and
silenced much of that envy which usually embitters and sometimes impedes
success.

Dr. Faber retired at the end of the two years agreed upon.  He went
abroad; and being, though advanced in years, of a frame still robust, and
habits of mind still inquiring and eager, he commenced a lengthened
course of foreign travel, during which our correspondence, at first
frequent, gradually languished, and finally died away.

I succeeded at once to the larger part of the practice which the labours
of thirty years had secured to my predecessor.  My chief rival was a Dr.
Lloyd, a benevolent, fervid man, not without genius, if genius be present
where judgment is absent; not without science, if that may be science which
fails in precision,--one of those clever desultory men who, in adopting
a profession, do not give up to it the whole force and heat of their
minds.  Men of that kind habitually accept a mechanical
routine, because in the exercise of their ostensible calling their
imaginative faculties are drawn away to pursuits more alluring.
Therefore, in their proper vocation they are seldom bold or
inventive,--out of it they are sometimes both to excess.  And when they do
take up a novelty in their own profession they cherish it with an obstinate
tenacity, and an extravagant passion, unknown to those quiet
 philosophers who take up novelties every day, examine them with the
sobriety of practised eyes, to lay down altogether, modify in part, or
accept in whole, according as inductive experiment supports or destroys
conjecture.

Dr. Lloyd had been esteemed a learned naturalist long before he was
admitted to be a tolerable physician.  Amidst the privations of his youth
he had contrived to form, and with each succeeding year he had
perseveringly increased, a zoological collection of creatures, not
alive, but, happily for the be holder, stuffed or embalmed.  From what I
have said, it will be truly inferred that Dr. Lloyd's early career as a
physician had not been brilliant; but of late years he had gradually
rather aged than worked himself into that professional authority and
station which time confers on a thoroughly respectable man whom no one
is disposed to envy, and all are disposed to like.

Now in L---- there were two distinct social circles,--that of the
wealthy merchants and traders, and that of a few privileged families
inhabiting a part of the town aloof from the marts of commerce, and
called the Abbey Hill.  These superb Areopagites exercised over the
wives and daughters of the inferior citizens to whom all of L----,
except the Abbey Hill, owed its prosperity, the same kind of mysterious
influence which the fine ladies of May Fair and Belgravia are reported
to hold over the female denizens of Bloomsbury and Marylebone.

Abbey Hill was not opulent; but it was powerful by a concentration of
its resources in all matters of patronage.  Abbey Hill had its own
milliner and its own draper, its own confectioner, butcher, baker, and
tea-dealer; and the patronage of Abbey Hill was like the patronage of
royalty,--less lucrative in itself than as a solemn certificate of
general merit.  The shops on which Abbey Hill conferred its custom were
certainly not the cheapest, possibly not the best; but they were
undeniably the most imposing.  The proprietors were decorously pompous,
the shopmen superciliously polite.  They could not be more so if they had
belonged to the State, and been paid by a public which they benefited and
despised.  The ladies of Low Town (as the city subjacent to the Hill had
been styled from a date remote in the feudal ages) entered those shops
with a certain awe, and left them with a certain pride.  There they had
learned what the Hill approved; there they had bought what the Hill had
purchased.  It is much in this life to be quite sure that we are in the
right, whatever that conviction may cost us.  Abbey Hill had been in the
habit of appointing, amongst other objects of patronage, its own
physician.  But that habit had fallen into disuse during the latter years
of my predecessor's practice.  His superiority over all other medical men
in the town had become so incontestable, that, though he was emphatically
the doctor of Low Town, the head of its hospitals and infirmaries, and by
birth related to its principal traders, still as Abbey Hill was
occasionally subject to the physical infirmities of meaner mortals, so on
those occasions it deemed it best not to push the point of honour to the
wanton sacrifice of life.  Since Low Town possessed one of the most
famous physicians in England, Abbey Hill magnanimously resolved not to
crush him by a rival.  Abbey Hill let him feel its pulse.

When my predecessor retired, I had presumptuously expected that the
Hill would have continued to suspend its normal right to a special
physician, and shown to me the same generous favour it had shown to him,
who had declared me worthy to succeed to his honours.  I had the more
excuse for this presumption because the Hill had already allowed me to
visit a fair proportion of its invalids, had said some very gracious
things to me about the great respectability of the Fenwick family, and
sent me some invitations to dinner, and a great many invitations to tea.

But my self-conceit received a notable check.  Abbey Hill declared
that the time had come to reassert its dormant privilege; it must have a
doctor of its own choosing,--a doctor who might, indeed, be permitted to
visit Low Town from motives of humanity or gain, but who must
emphatically assert his special allegiance to Abbey Hill by fixing his
home on that venerable promontory.  Miss Brabazon, a spinster of
uncertain age but undoubted pedigree, with small fortune but high nose,
which she would pleasantly observe was a proof of her descent from
Humphrey Duke of Gloucester (with whom, indeed, I have no doubt, in spite
of chronology, that she very often dined), was commissioned to inquire of
me diplomatically, and without committing Abbey Hill too much by the
overture, whether I would take a large and antiquated mansion, in which
abbots were said to have lived many centuries ago, and which was still
popularly styled Abbots' House, situated on the verge of the Hill, as in
that case the "Hill" would think of me.

"It is a large house for a single man, I allow," said Miss Brabazon,
candidly; and then added, with a sidelong glance of alarming sweetness,
"but when Dr. Fenwick has taken his true position (so old a family!)
amongst us, he need not long remain single, unless he prefer it."

I replied, with more asperity than the occasion called for, that I had
no thought of changing my residence at present, and if the Hill wanted me,
the Hill must send for me.

Two days afterwards Dr. Lloyd took Abbots' House, and in less than a
week was proclaimed medical adviser to the Hill.  The election had been
decided by the fiat of a great lady, who reigned supreme on the sacred
eminence, under the name and title of Mrs. Colonel Poyntz.

"Dr. Fenwick," said this lady, "is a clever young man and a
gentleman, but he gives himself airs,--the Hill does not allow any airs
but its own.  Besides, he is a new comer: resistance to new corners, and,
indeed, to all things new, except caps and novels, is one of the bonds that
keep old established societies together.  Accordingly, it is by my advice
that Dr. Lloyd has taken Abbots' House; the rent would be too high for his
means if the Hill did not feel bound in honour to justify the trust he
has placed in its patronage.  I told him that all my friends, when they
were in want of a doctor, would send for him; those who are my friends
will do so.  What the Hill does, plenty of common people down there will
do also,--so that question is settled!"  And it was settled.

Dr. Lloyd, thus taken by the hand, soon extended the range of his
visits beyond the Hill, which was not precisely a mountain of gold to
doctors, and shared with myself, though in a comparatively small degree,
the much more lucrative practice of Low Town.

I had no cause to grudge his success, nor did I.  But to my theories
of medicine his diagnosis was shallow, and his prescriptions obsolete.
When we were summoned to a joint consultation, our views as to the proper
course of treatment seldom agreed.  Doubtless he thought I ought to have
deferred to his seniority in years; but I held the doctrine which youth
deems a truth and age a paradox,--namely, that in science the young men
are the practical elders, inasmuch as they are schooled in the latest
experiences science has gathered up, while their seniors are cramped by
the dogmas they were schooled to believe when the world was some decades
the younger.

Meanwhile my reputation continued rapidly to advance; it became more
than local; my advice was sought even by patients from the metropolis.
That ambition, which, conceived in early youth, had decided my career and
sweetened all its labours,--the ambition to take a rank and leave a name
as one of the great pathologists to whom humanity accords a grateful, if
calm, renown,--saw before it a level field and a certain goal.

I know not whether a success far beyond that usually attained at the
age I had reached served to increase, but it seemed to myself to
justify, the main characteristic of my moral organization,--intellectual
pride.

Though mild and gentle to the sufferers under my care, as a necessary
element of professional duty, I was intolerant of contradiction from
those who belonged to my calling, or even from those who, in general
opinion, opposed my favourite theories.  I had espoused a school of
medical philosophy severely rigid in its inductive logic.  My creed was
that of stern materialism.  I had a contempt for the understanding of men
who accepted with credulity what they could not explain by reason.  My
favourite phrase was "common-sense."  At the same time I had no prejudice
against bold discovery, and discovery necessitates conjecture, but
I dismissed as idle all conjecture that could not be brought to a
practical test.

As in medicine I had been the pupil of Broussais, so in
metaphysics I was the disciple of Condillac.  I believed with that
philosopher that "all our knowledge we owe to Nature; that in the
beginning we can only instruct ourselves through her lessons; and that
the whole art of reasoning consists in continuing as she has compelled us
to commence."  Keeping natural philosophy apart from the doctrines of
revelation, I never assailed the last; but I contended that by the first
no accurate reasoner could arrive at the existence of the soul as a third
principle of being equally distinct from mind and body.  That by a
miracle man might live again, was a question of faith and not of
understanding.  I left faith to religion, and banished it from
philosophy.  How define with a precision to satisfy the logic of
philosophy what was to live again?  The body?  We know that the
body rests in its grave till by the process of decomposition its
elemental parts enter into other forms of matter.  The mind?  But the
mind was as clearly the result of the bodily organization as the music of
the harpsichord is the result of the instrumental mechanism.  The mind
shared the decrepitude of the body in extreme old age, and in the
full vigour of youth a sudden injury to the brain might forever destroy
the intellect of a Plato or a Shakspeare.  But the third principle,--the
soul,--the something lodged within the body, which yet was to survive it?
Where was that soul hidden out of the ken of the anatomist?  When
philosophers attempted to define it, were they not compelled to confound
its nature and its actions with those of the mind?  Could they reduce it
to the mere moral sense, varying according to education, circumstances,
and physical constitution?  But even the moral sense in the most virtuous
of men may be swept away by a fever.  Such at the time I now speak of
were the views I held,--views certainly not original nor pleasing; but I
cherished them with as fond a tenacity as if they had been consolatory
truths of which I was the first discoverer.  I was intolerant to those who
maintained opposite doctrines,--despised them as irrational, or disliked
them as insincere.  Certainly if I had fulfilled the career which my
ambition predicted,--become the founder of a new school in pathology, and
summed up my theories in academical lectures,--I should have added
another authority, however feeble, to the sects which circumscribe the
interest of man to the life that has its close in his grave.

Possibly that which I have called my intellectual pride was more
nourished than I should have been willing to grant by the self-reliance
which an unusual degree of physical power is apt to bestow.  Nature had
blessed me with the thews of an athlete.  Among the hardy youths of the
Northern Athens I had been preeminently distinguished for feats of
activity and strength.  My mental labours, and the anxiety which is
inseparable from the conscientious responsibilities of the medical
profession, kept my health below the par of keen enjoyment, but had in no
way diminished my rare muscular force.  I walked through the crowd with
the firm step and lofty crest of the mailed knight of old, who felt
himself, in his casement of iron, a match against numbers.  Thus the
sense of a robust individuality, strong alike in disciplined reason and
animal vigour, habituated to aid others, needing no aid for itself,
contributed to render me imperious in will and arrogant in opinion.  Nor
were such defects injurious to me in my profession; on the contrary,
aided as they were by a calm manner, and a presence not without that kind
of dignity which is the livery of self-esteem, they served to impose
respect and to inspire trust.



CHAPTER II.

I had been about six years at L---- when I became suddenly involved
in a controversy with Dr. Lloyd.  Just as this ill-fated man appeared at
the culminating point of his professional fortunes, he had the imprudence
to proclaim himself not only an enthusiastic advocate of mesmerism as
a curative process, but an ardent believer of the reality of somnambular
clairvoyance as an invaluable gift of certain privileged organizations.
To these doctrines I sternly opposed myself,--the more sternly, perhaps,
because on these doctrines Dr. Lloyd founded an argument for the
existence of soul, independent of mind, as of matter, and built thereon a
superstructure of physiological fantasies, which, could it be
substantiated, would replace every system of metaphysics on which
recognized philosophy condescends to dispute.

About two years before he became a disciple rather of Puysegur than
Mesmer (for Mesmer hard little faith in that gift of clairvoyance of
which Puysegur was, I believe, at least in modern times, the first
audacious asserter), Dr. Lloyd had been afflicted with the loss of a wife
many years younger than himself, and to whom he had been tenderly
attached.  And this bereavement, in directing the hopes that consoled him
to a world beyond the grave, had served perhaps to render him more
credulous of the phenomena in which he greeted additional proofs of
purely spiritual existence.  Certainly, if, in controverting the
notions of another physiologist, I had restricted myself to that
fair antagonism which belongs to scientific disputants anxious only for
the truth, I should need no apology for sincere conviction and honest
argument; but when, with condescending good-nature, as if to a man
much younger than himself, who was ignorant of the phenomena which he
nevertheless denied, Dr. Lloyd invited me to attend his seances and
witness his cures, my amour propre became aroused and nettled, and it
seemed to me necessary to put down what I asserted to be too gross an
outrage on common-sense to justify the ceremony of examination.  I wrote,
therefore, a small pamphlet on the subject, in which I exhausted all the
weapons that irony can lend to contempt.  Dr. Lloyd replied; and as he was
no very skilful arguer, his reply injured him perhaps more than my
assault.  Meanwhile, I had made some inquiries as to the moral character
of his favourite clairvoyants.  I imagined that I had learned enough to
justify me in treating them as flagrant cheats, and himself as their
egregious dupe.

Low Town soon ranged itself, with very few exceptions, on my side.
The Hill at first seemed disposed to rally round its insulted physician,
and to make the dispute a party question, in which the Hill would have
been signally worsted, when suddenly the same lady paramount, who had
secured to Dr. Lloyd the smile of the Eminence, spoke forth against him,
and the Eminence frowned.

"Dr. Lloyd," said the Queen of the Hill, "is an amiable creature,
but on this subject decidedly cracked.  Cracked poets may be all the
better for being cracked,--cracked doctors are dangerous.  Besides, in
deserting that old-fashioned routine, his adherence to which made his
claim to the Hill's approbation, and unsettling the mind of the Hill with
wild revolutionary theories, Dr. Lloyd has betrayed the principles on
which the Hill itself rests its social foundations.  Of those principles
Dr. Fenwick has made himself champion; and the Hill is bound to support
him.  There, the question is settled!"

And it was settled.

From the moment Mrs. Colonel Poyntz thus issued the word of
command, Dr. Lloyd was demolished.  His practice was gone, as well as his
repute.  Mortification or anger brought on a stroke of paralysis which,
disabling my opponent, put an end to our controversy.  An obscure
Dr. Jones, who had been the special pupil and protege of Dr. Lloyd,
offered himself as a candidate for the Hill's tongues and pulses.  The
Hill gave him little encouragement.  It once more suspended its electoral
privileges, and, without insisting on calling me up to it, the Hill
quietly called me in whenever its health needed other advice than that of
its visiting apothecary.  Again it invited me, sometimes to dinner,
often to tea; and again Miss Brabazon assured me by a sidelong glance
that it was no fault of hers if I were still single.

I had almost forgotten the dispute which had obtained for me so
conspicuous a triumph, when one winter's night I was roused from sleep by
a summons to attend Dr Lloyd, who, attacked by a second stroke a few
hours previously, had, on recovering sense, expressed a vehement desire
to consult the rival by whom he had suffered so severely.  I dressed
myself in haste and hurried to his house.

A February night, sharp and bitter; an iron-gray frost below, a
spectral melancholy moon above.  I had to ascend the Abbey Hill by a
steep, blind lane between high walls.  I passed through stately gates,
which stood wide open, into the garden ground that surrounded the old
Abbots' House.  At the end of a short carriage-drive the dark and
gloomy building cleared itself from leafless skeleton trees,--the moon
resting keen and cold on its abrupt gables and lofty chimney-stacks.
An old woman-servant received me at the door, and, without saying a
word, led me through a long low hall, and up dreary oak stairs, to a
broad landing, at which she paused for a moment, listening.  Round
and about hall, staircase, and landing were ranged the dead specimens
of the savage world which it had been the pride of the naturalist's
life to collect.  Close where I stood yawned the open jaws of the fell
anaconda, its lower coils hidden, as they rested on the floor
below, by the winding of the massive stairs.  Against the dull wainscot
walls were pendent cases stored with grotesque unfamiliar mummies, seen
imperfectly by the moon that shot through the window-panes, and the
candle in the old woman's hand.  And as now she turned towards me,
nodding her signal to follow, and went on up the shadowy passage,
rows of gigantic birds--ibis and vulture, and huge sea glaucus--glared
at me in the false light of their hungry eyes.

So I entered the sick-room, and the first glance told me that my
art was powerless there.

The children of the stricken widower were grouped round his bed, the
eldest apparently about fifteen, the youngest four; one little girl--the
only female child--was clinging to her father's neck, her face pressed
to his bosom, and in that room her sobs alone were loud.

As I passed the threshold, Dr. Lloyd lifted his face, which had been
bent over the weeping child, and gazed on me with an aspect of strange
glee, which I failed to interpret.  Then as I stole towards him softly
and slowly, he pressed his lips on the long fair tresses that streamed
wild over his breast, motioned to a nurse who stood beside his pillow to
take the child away, and in a voice clearer than I could have expected in
one on whose brow lay the unmistakable hand of death, he bade the nurse
and the children quit the room.  All went sorrowfully, but silently, save
the little girl, who, borne off in the nurse's arms, continued to sob as
if her heart were breaking.

I was not prepared for a scene so affecting; it moved me to the
quick.  My eyes wistfully followed the children so soon to be orphans, as
one after one went out into the dark chill shadow, and amidst the
bloodless forms of the dumb brute nature, ranged in grisly vista beyond
the death-room of man.  And when the last infant shape had vanished, and
the door closed with a jarring click, my sight wandered loiteringly
around the chamber before I could bring myself to fix it on the broken
form, beside which I now stood in all that glorious vigour of frame which
had fostered the pride of my mind.  In the moment consumed by my mournful
survey, the whole aspect of the place impressed itself ineffaceably on
lifelong remembrance.  Through the high, deepsunken casement, across
which the thin, faded curtain was but half drawn, the moonlight rushed,
and then settled on the floor in one shroud of white glimmer, lost under
the gloom of the death-bed.  The roof was low, and seemed lower still by
heavy intersecting beams, which I might have touched with my lifted hand.
And the tall guttering candle by the bedside, and the flicker from the
fire struggling out through the fuel but newly heaped on it, threw their
reflection on the ceiling just over my head in a reek of quivering
blackness, like an angry cloud.

Suddenly I felt my arm grasped; with his left hand (the right side was
already lifeless) the dying man drew me towards him nearer and nearer,
till his lips almost touched my ear, and, in a voice now firm, now
splitting into gasp and hiss, thus he said, "I have summoned you to gaze
on your own work!  You have stricken down my life at the moment when it
was most needed by my children, and most serviceable to mankind.  Had I
lived a few years longer, my children would have entered on manhood, safe
from the temptations of want and undejected by the charity of strangers.
Thanks to you, they will be penniless orphans.  Fellow-creatures
afflicted by maladies your pharmacopoeia had failed to reach came to me
for relief, and they found it.  'The effect of imagination,' you say.
What matters, if I directed the imagination to cure?  Now you have mocked
the unhappy ones out of their last chance of life.  They will suffer and
perish.  Did you believe me in error?  Still you knew that my object was
research into truth.  You employed against your brother in art venomous
drugs and a poisoned probe.  Look at me!  Are you satisfied with your
work?"

I sought to draw back and pluck my arm from the dying man's grasp.  I
could not do so without using a force that would have been inhuman.  His
lips drew nearer still to my ear.

"Vain pretender, do not boast that you brought a genius for epigram to
the service of science.  Science is lenient to all who offer experiment
as the test of conjecture.  You are of the stuff of which inquisitors are
made.  You cry that truth is profaned when your dogmas are questioned.
In your shallow presumption you have meted the dominions of nature, and
where your eye halts its vision, you say, 'There nature must close;' in
the bigotry which adds crime to presumption, you would stone the
discoverer who, in annexing new realms to her chart, unsettles your
arbitrary landmarks.  Verily, retribution shall await you!  In those
spaces which your sight has disdained to explore you shall yourself be a
lost and bewildered straggler.  Hist!  I see them already!  The gibbering
phantoms are gathering round you!"

The man's voice stopped abruptly; his eye fixed in a glazing stare;
his hand relaxed its hold; he fell back on his pillow.  I stole from the
room; on the landing-place I met the nurse and the old woman-servant.
Happily the children were not there.  But I heard the wail of the female
child from some room not far distant.

I whispered hurriedly to the nurse, "All is over!" passed again under
the jaws of the vast anaconda, and on through the blind lane between the
dead walls, on through the ghastly streets, under the ghastly moon, went
back to my solitary home.



CHAPTER III.

It was some time before I could shake off the impression made on me by
the words and the look of that dying man.

It was not that my conscience upbraided me.  What had I done?
Denounced that which I held, in common with most men of sense in or out
of my profession, to be one of those illusions by which quackery draws
profit from the wonder of ignorance.  Was I to blame if I refused to
treat with the grave respect due to asserted discovery in legitimate
science pretensions to powers akin to the fables of wizards?  Was I to
descend from the Academe of decorous science to examine whether a
slumbering sibyl could read from a book placed at her back, or tell me at
L---- what at that moment was being done by my friend at the Antipodes?

And what though Dr. Lloyd himself might be a worthy and honest man,
and a sincere believer in the extravagances for which he demanded an
equal credulity in others, do not honest men every day incur the penalty
of ridicule if, from a defect of good sense, they make themselves
ridiculous?  Could I have foreseen that a satire so justly provoked would
inflict so deadly a wound?  Was I inhumanly barbarous because the
antagonist destroyed was morbidly sensitive?  My conscience, therefore,
made me no reproach, and the public was as little severe as my conscience.
The public had been with me in our contest; the public knew nothing of my
opponent's deathbed accusations; the public knew only that I had attended
him in his last moments; it saw me walk beside the bier that bore him to
his grave; it admired the respect to his memory which I evinced in the
simple tomb that I placed over his remains, inscribed with an epitaph that
did justice to his unquestionable benevolence and integrity; above all, it
praised the energy with which I set on foot a subscription for his orphan
children, and the generosity with which I headed that subscription by a
sum that was large in proportion to my means.

To that sum I did not, indeed, limit my contribution.  The sobs of the
poor female child rang still on my heart.  As her grief had been keener
than that of her brothers, so she might be subjected to sharper trials
than they, when the time came for her to fight her own way through the
world; therefore I secured to her, but with such precautions that the
gift could not be traced to my hand, a sum to accumulate till she was
of marriageable age, and which then might suffice for a small wedding
portion; or if she remained single, for an income that would place her
beyond the temptation of want, or the bitterness of a servile dependence.

That Dr. Lloyd should have died in poverty was a matter of
surprise at first, for his profits during the last few years had been
considerable, and his mode of life far from extravagant.  But just before
the date of our controversy he had been induced to assist the brother of
his lost wife, who was a junior partner in a London bank, with the loan
of his accumulated savings.  This man proved dishonest; he embezzled that
and other sums intrusted to him, and fled the country.  The same sentiment
of conjugal affection which had cost Dr. Lloyd his fortune kept him
silent as to the cause of the loss.  It was reserved for his executors to
discover the treachery of the brother-in-law whom he, poor man, would
have generously screened from additional disgrace.

The Mayor of L----, a wealthy and public-spirited merchant, purchased the
museum, which Dr. Lloyd's passion for natural history had induced him to
form; and the sum thus obtained, together with that raised by subscription,
sufficed not only to discharge all debts due by the deceased, but to
insure to the orphans the benefits of an education that might fit at
least the boys to enter fairly armed into that game, more of skill than
of chance, in which Fortune is really so little blinded that we see, in
each turn of her wheel, wealth and its honours pass away from the lax
fingers of ignorance and sloth, to the resolute grasp of labour and
knowledge.

Meanwhile a relation in a distant county undertook the charge of the
orphans; they disappeared from the scene, and the tides of life in a
commercial community soon flowed over the place which the dead man had
occupied in the thoughts of his bustling townsfolk.

One person at L----, and only one, appeared to share and inherit the
rancour with which the poor physician had denounced me on his death-bed.
It was a gentleman named Vigors, distantly related to the deceased, and who
had been, in point of station, the most eminent of Dr. Lloyd's partisans
in the controversy with myself, a man of no great scholastic
acquirements, but of respectable abilities.  He had that kind of power
which the world concedes to respectable abilities when accompanied
with a temper more than usually stern, and a moral character more than
usually austere.  His ruling passion was to sit in judgment upon others;
and being a magistrate, he was the most active and the most rigid of all
the magistrates L---- had ever known.

Mr. Vigors at first spoke of me with great bitterness, as having
ruined, and in fact killed, his friend, by the uncharitable and unfair
acerbity which he declared I had brought into what ought to have been an
unprejudiced examination of simple matter of fact.  But finding no
sympathy in these charges, he had the discretion to cease from making them,
contenting himself with a solemn shake of his head if he heard my
name mentioned in terms of praise, and an oracular sentence or two, such
as "Time will show," "All's well that ends well," etc.  Mr. Vigors,
however, mixed very little in the more convivial intercourse of the
townspeople.  He called himself domestic; but, in truth, he was
ungenial,--a stiff man, starched with self-esteem.  He thought that his
dignity of station was not sufficiently acknowledged by the merchants of
Low Town, and his superiority of intellect not sufficiently recognized by
the exclusives of the Hill.  His visits were, therefore, chiefly confined
to the houses of neighbouring squires, to whom his reputation as a
magistrate, conjoined with his solemn exterior, made him one of
those oracles by which men consent to be awed on condition that the awe is
not often inflicted.  And though he opened his house three times a week,
it was only to a select few, whom he first fed and then biologized.
Electro-biology was very naturally the special entertainment of a man whom
no intercourse ever pleased in which his will was not imposed upon others.
Therefore he only invited to his table persons whom he could stare into
the abnegation of their senses, willing to say that beef was lamb, or
brandy was coffee, according as he willed them to say.  And, no doubt, the
persons asked would have said anything he willed, so long as they had, in
substance, as well as in idea, the beef and the brandy, the lamb and the
coffee.  I did not, then, often meet Mr. Vigors at the houses in which I
occasionally spent my evenings.  I heard of his enmity as a man safe in
his home hears the sough of a wind on a common without.  If now and then
we chanced to pass in the streets, he looked up at me (he was a small man
walking on tiptoe) with a sullen scowl of dislike; and from the height of
my stature, I dropped upon the small man and sullen scowl the affable
smile of supreme indifference.



CHAPTER IV.

I had now arrived at that age when an ambitious man, satisfied with
his progress in the world without, begins to feel in the cravings of
unsatisfied affection the void of a solitary hearth.  I resolved to marry,
and looked out for a wife.  I had never hitherto admitted into my life the
passion of love.  In fact, I had regarded that passion, even in my earlier
youth, with a certain superb contempt,--as a malady engendered by an
effeminate idleness, and fostered by a sickly imagination.

I wished to find in a wife a rational companion, an affectionate and
trustworthy friend.  No views of matrimony could be less romantic, more
soberly sensible, than those which I conceived.  Nor were my requirements
mercenary or presumptuous.  I cared not for fortune; I asked nothing from
connections.  My ambition was exclusively professional; it could be
served by no titled kindred, accelerated by no wealthy dower.  I was no
slave to beauty.  I did not seek in a wife the accomplishments of a
finishing-school teacher.

Having decided that the time had come to select my helpmate, I imagined
that I should find no difficulty in a choice that my reason would approve.
But day upon day, week upon week, passed away, and though among the
families I visited there were many young ladies who possessed more than
the qualifications with which I conceived that I should be amply
contented, and by whom I might flatter myself that my proposals would not
be disdained, I saw not one to whose lifelong companionship I should not
infinitely have preferred the solitude I found so irksome.

One evening, in returning home from visiting a poor female patient
whom I attended gratuitously, and whose case demanded more thought than
that of any other in my list,--for though it had been considered hopeless
in the hospital, and she had come home to die, I felt certain that I
could save her, and she seemed recovering under my care,--one evening--it
was the fifteenth of May--I found myself just before the gates of the
house that had been inhabited by Dr. Lloyd.  Since his death the house
had been unoccupied; the rent asked for it by the proprietor was
considered high; and from the sacred Hill on which it was situated,
shyness or pride banished the wealthier traders.  The garden gates stood
wide open, as they had stood on the winter night on which I had passed
through them to the chamber of death.  The remembrance of that deathbed
came vividly before me, and the dying man's fantastic threat rang again in
my startled ears.  An irresistible impulse, which I could not then account
for, and which I cannot account for now,--an impulse the reverse of that
which usually makes us turn away with quickened step from a spot that
recalls associations of pain,--urged me on through the open gates up the
neglected grass-grown road, urged me to look, under the weltering sun of
the joyous spring, at that house which I bad never seen but in the gloom
of a winter night, under the melancholy moon.  As the building came in
sight, with dark-red bricks, partially overgrown with ivy, I perceived
that it was no longer unoccupied.  I saw forms passing athwart the open
windows; a van laden with articles of furniture stood before the door; a
servant in livery was beside it giving directions to the men who were
unloading.  Evidently some family was just entering into possession.  I
felt somewhat ashamed of my trespass, and turned round quickly to retrace
my steps.  I had retreated but a few yards, when I saw before me, at
the entrance gates, Mr. Vigors, walking beside a lady apparently of middle
age; while, just at hand, a path cut through the shrubs gave view of a
small wicketgate at the end of the grounds.  I felt unwilling not only to
meet the lady, whom I guessed to be the new occupier, and to whom I should
have to make a somewhat awkward apology for intrusion, but still more to
encounter the scornful look of Mr. Vigors in what appeared to my pride a
false or undignified position.  Involuntarily, therefore, I turned down
the path which would favour my escape unobserved.  When about half way
between the house and the wicket-gate, the shrubs that had clothed the
path on either side suddenly opened to the left, bringing into view a
circle of sward, surrounded by irregular fragments of old brickwork
partially covered with ferns, creepers, or rockplants, weeds, or wild
flowers; and, in the centre of the circle, a fountain, or rather well,
over which was built a Gothic monastic dome, or canopy, resting on small
Norman columns, time-worn, dilapidated.  A large willow overhung this
unmistakable relic of the ancient abbey.  There was an air of antiquity,
romance, legend about this spot, so abruptly disclosed amidst the delicate
green of the young shrubberies.  But it was not the ruined wall nor the
Gothic well that chained my footstep and charmed my eye.

It was a solitary human form, seated amidst the mournful ruins.

The form was so slight, the face so young, that at the first
glance I murmured to myself, "What a lovely child!"  But as my eye
lingered it recognized in the upturned thoughtful brow, in the sweet,
serious aspect, in the rounded outlines of that slender shape, the
inexpressible dignity of virgin woman.

A book was on her lap, at her feet a little basket, half-filled
with violets and blossoms culled from the rock-plants that nestled amidst
the ruins.  Behind her, the willow, like an emerald waterfall, showered
down its arching abundant green, bough after bough, from the tree-top to
the sward, descending in wavy verdure, bright towards the summit, in the
smile of the setting sun, and darkening into shadow as it neared the
earth.

She did not notice, she did not see me; her eyes were fixed upon the
horizon, where it sloped farthest into space, above the treetops and the
ruins,--fixed so intently that mechanically I turned my own gaze to follow
the flight of hers.  It was as if she watched for some expected, familiar
sign to grow out from the depths of heaven; perhaps to greet, before
other eyes beheld it, the ray of the earliest star.

The birds dropped from the boughs on the turf around her so fearlessly
that one alighted amidst the flowers in the little basket at her feet.
There is a famous German poem, which I had read in my youth, called the
Maiden from Abroad, variously supposed to be an allegory of Spring, or of
Poetry, according to the choice of commentators: it seemed to me as if the
poem had been made for her.  Verily, indeed, in her, poet or painter might
have seen an image equally true to either of those adornments of the
earth; both outwardly a delight to sense, yet both wakening up thoughts
within us, not sad, but akin to sadness.

I heard now a step behind me, and a voice which I recognized to be that
of Mr. Vigors.  I broke from the charm by which I had been so lingeringly
spell-bound, hurried on confusedly, gained the wicket-gate, from which a
short flight of stairs descended into the common thoroughfare.  And there
the every-day life lay again before me.  On the opposite side, houses,
shops, church-spires; a few steps more, and the bustling streets!  How
immeasurably far from, yet how familiarly near to, the world in which we
move and have being is that fairy-land of romance which opens out from the
hard earth before us, when Love steals at first to our side, fading back
into the hard earth again as Love smiles or sighs its farewell!



CHAPTER V.

And before that evening I had looked on Mr. Vigors with supreme
indifference!  What importance he now assumed in my eyes!  The lady with
whom I had seen him was doubtless the new tenant of that house in which
the young creature by whom my heart was so strangely moved evidently had
her home.  Most probably the relation between the two ladies was that of
mother and daughter.  Mr. Vigors, the friend of one, might himself be
related to both, might prejudice them against me, might--Here, starting
up, I snapped the thread of conjecture, for right before my eyes, on the
table beside which I had seated myself on entering my room, lay a card
of invitation:--

            MRS. POYNTZ.
              At Home,
         Wednesday, May 15th.
      Early.


Mrs. Poyntz,--Mrs. Colonel Poyntz, the Queen of the Hill?  There,
at her house, I could not fail to learn all about the new comers, who
could never without her sanction have settled on her domain.

I hastily changed my dress, and, with beating heart, wound my way up the
venerable eminence.

I did not pass through the lane which led direct to Abbots' House
(for that old building stood solitary amidst its grounds a little apart
from the spacious platform on which the society of the Hill was
concentrated), but up the broad causeway, with vistaed gaslamps; the gayer
shops still-unclosed, the tide of busy life only slowly ebbing from the
still-animated street, on to a square, in which the four main
thoroughfares of the city converged, and which formed the boundary of Low
Town.  A huge dark archway, popularly called Monk's Gate, at the angle of
this square, made the entrance to Abbey Hill.  When the arch was passed,
one felt at once that one was in the town of a former day.  The pavement
was narrow and rugged; the shops small, their upper stories projecting,
with here and there plastered fronts, quaintly arabesque.  An ascent,
short, but steep and tortuous, conducted at once to the old Abbey Church,
nobly situated in a vast quadrangle, round which were the genteel and
gloomy dwellings of the Areopagites of the Hill.  More genteel and less
gloomy than the rest--lights at the windows and flowers on the
balcony--stood forth, flanked by a garden wall at either side, the mansion
of Mrs. Colonel Poyntz.

As I entered the drawing-room, I heard the voice of the hostess; it
was a voice clear, decided, metallic, bell-like, uttering these words:
"Taken Abbots' House?  I will tell you."



CHAPTER VI.

Mrs. Poyntz was seated on the sofa; at her right sat fat Mrs. Bruce,
who was a Scotch lord's grand-daughter; at her left thin Miss Brabazon,
who was an Irish baronet's niece.  Around her--a few seated, many
standing--had grouped all the guests, save two old gentlemen, who had
remained aloof with Colonel Poyntz near the whist-table, waiting for the
fourth old gentleman who was to make up the rubber, but who was at that
moment spell-bound in the magic circle which curiosity, that strongest of
social demons, had attracted round the hostess.

"Taken Abbots' House?  I will tell you.--Ah, Dr. Fenwick, charmed to
see you.  You know Abbots' House is let at last?  Well, Miss Brabazon,
dear, you ask who has taken it.  I will inform you,--a particular friend
of mine."

"Indeed!  Dear me!" said Miss Brabazon, looking confused.  "I hope I
did not say anything to--"

"Wound my feelings.  Not in the least.  You said your uncle Sir
Phelim employed a coachmaker named Ashleigh, that Ashleigh was an uncommon
name, though Ashley was a common one; you intimated an appalling suspicion
that the Mrs. Ashleigh who had come to the Hill was the coach maker's
widow.  I relieve your mind,--she is not; she is the widow of Gilbert
Ashleigh, of Kirby Hall."

"Gilbert Ashleigh," said one of the guests, a bachelor, whose parents
had reared him for the Church, but who, like poor Goldsmith, did not think
himself good enough for it, a mistake of over-modesty, for he matured into
a very harmless creature.  "Gilbert Ashleigh?  I was at Oxford with
him,--a gentleman commoner of Christ Church.  Good-looking man, very;
sapped--"

"Sapped! what's that?--Oh, studied.  That he did all his life.  He
married young,--Anne Chaloner; she and I were girls together; married the
same year.  They settled at Kirby Hall--nice place, but dull.  Poyntz and
I spent a Christmas there.  Ashleigh when he talked was charming, but he
talked very little.  Anne, when she talked, was commonplace, and she
talked very much.  Naturally, poor thing,---she was so happy.  Poyntz and
I did not spend another Christmas there.  Friendship is long, but life is
short.  Gilbert Ashleigh's life was short indeed; he died in the seventh
year of his marriage, leaving only one child, a girl.  Since then, though
I never spent another Christmas at Kirby Hall, I have frequently spent a
day there, doing my best to cheer up Anne.  She was no longer talkative,
poor dear.  Wrapped up in her child, who has now grown into a beautiful
girl of eighteen--such eyes, her father's--the real dark blue--rare; sweet
creature, but delicate; not, I hope, consumptive, but delicate; quiet,
wants life.  My girl Jane adores her.  Jane has life enough for two."

"Is Miss Ashleigh the heiress to Kirby Hall?" asked Mrs. Bruce, who
had an unmarried son.

"No.  Kirby Hall passed to Ashleigh Sumner, the male heir, a cousin.
And the luckiest of cousins!  Gilbert's sister, showy woman (indeed all
show), had contrived to marry her kinsman, Sir Walter Ashleigh Haughton,
the head of the Ashleigh family,--just the man made to be the reflector of
a showy woman!  He died years ago, leaving an only son, Sir James, who was
killed last winter, by a fall from his horse.  And here, again, Ashleigh
Summer proved to be the male heir-at-law.  During the minority of this
fortunate youth, Mrs. Ashleigh had rented Kirby Hall of his guardian.  He
is now just coming of age, and that is why she leaves.  Lilian Ashleigh
will have, however, a very good fortune,--is what we genteel paupers call
an heiress.  Is there anything more you want to know?"

Said thin Miss Brabazon, who took advantage of her thinness to wedge
herself into every one's affairs, "A most interesting account.  What a
nice place Abbots' House could be made with a little taste!  So
aristocratic!  Just what I should like if I could afford it!  The
drawing-room should be done up in the Moorish style, with
geranium-coloured silk curtains, like dear Lady L----'s boudoir at
Twickenham.  And Mrs. Ashleigh has taken the house on lease too, I
suppose!"  Here Miss Brabazon fluttered her fan angrily, and then
exclaimed, "But what on earth brings Mrs. Ashleigh here?"

Answered Mrs. Colonel Poyntz, with the military frankness by which she
kept her company in good humour, as well as awe,--

"Why do any of us come here?  Can any one tell me?"

There was a blank silence, which the hostess herself was the first to
break.

"None of us present can say why we came here.  I can tell you why
Mrs. Ashleigh came.  Our neighbour, Mr. Vigors, is a distant connection of
the late Gilbert Ashleigh, one of the executors to his will, and the
guardian to the heir-at-law.  About ten days ago Mr. Vigors called on me,
for the first time since I felt it my duty to express my disapprobation of
the strange vagaries so unhappily conceived by our poor dear friend Dr.
Lloyd.  And when he had taken his chair, just where you now sit,
Dr. Fenwick, he said in a sepulchral voice, stretching out two fingers,
so,--as if I were one of the what-do-you-call-'ems who go to sleep when he
bids them, 'Marm, you know Mrs. Ashleigh?  You correspond with her?'
'Yes, Mr. Vigors; is there any crime in that?  You look as if there were.'
'No crime, marm,' said the man, quite seriously.  'Mrs. Ashleigh is a lady
of amiable temper, and you are a woman of masculine understanding.'"

Here there was a general titter.  Mrs. Colonel Poyntz hushed it
with a look of severe surprise.  "What is there to laugh at?  All women
would be men if they could.  If my understanding is masculine, so much the
better for me.  I thanked Mr. Vigors for his very handsome compliment, and
he then went on to say that though Mrs. Ashleigh would now have to leave
Kirby Hall in a very few weeks, she seemed quite unable to make up her
mind where to go; that it had occurred to him that, as Miss Ashleigh was
of an age to see a little of the world, she ought not to remain buried in
the country; while, being of quiet mind, she recoiled from the dissipation
of London.  Between the seclusion of the one and the turmoil of the other,
the society of L---- was a happy medium.  He should be glad of my opinion.
He had put off asking for it, because he owned his belief that I had
behaved unkindly to his lamented friend, Dr. Lloyd; but he now found
himself in rather an awkward position.  His ward, young Sumner, had
prudently resolved on fixing his country residence at Kirby Hall, rather
than at Haughton Park, the much larger seat which had so suddenly passed
to his inheritance, and which he could not occupy without a vast
establishment, that to a single man, so young, would be but a cumbersome
and costly trouble.  Mr. Vigors was pledged to his ward to obtain him
possession of Kirby Hall, the precise day agreed upon, but Mrs. Ashleigh
did not seem disposed to stir,--could not decide where else to go.  Mr.
Vigors was loth to press hard on his old friend's widow and child.  It was
a thousand pities Mrs Ashleigh could not make up her mind; she had had
ample time for preparation.  A word from me at this moment would be an
effective kindness.  Abbots' House was vacant, with a garden so extensive
that the ladies would not miss the country.  Another party was after it,
but--'Say no more,' I cried; 'no party but my dear old friend Anne
Ashleigh shall have Abbots' House.  So that question is settled.'  I
dismissed Mr. Vigors, sent for my carriage, that is, for Mr. Barker's
yellow fly and his best horses,--and drove that very day to Kirby Hall,
which, though not in this county, is only twenty-five miles distant.  I
slept there that night.  By nine o'clock the next morning I had secured
Mrs. Ashleigh's consent, on the promise to save her all trouble; came
back, sent for the landlord, settled the rent, lease, agreement; engaged
Forbes' vans to remove the furniture from Kirby Hall; told Forbes to begin
with the beds.  When her own bed came, which was last night, Anne Ashleigh
came too.  I have seen her this morning.  She likes the place, so does
Lilian.  I asked them to meet you all here to-night; but Mrs. Ashleigh
was tired.  The last of the furniture was to arrive today; and though dear
Mrs. Ashleigh is an undecided character, she is not inactive.  But it is
not only the planning where to put tables and chairs that would have
tried her today: she has had Mr.  Vigors on her hands all the afternoon,
and he has been--here's her little note--what are the words?  No doubt
'most overpowering and oppressive;' no, 'most kind and attentive,'--
different words, but, as applied to Mr. Vigors, they mean the same thing.

"And now, next Monday---we must leave them in peace till then--you
will all call on the Ashleighs.  The Hill knows what is due to itself; it
cannot delegate to Mr.  Vigors, a respectable man indeed, but who does
not belong to its set, its own proper course of action towards those
who would shelter themselves on its bosom.  The Hill cannot be kind and
attentive, overpowering or oppressive by proxy.  To those newborn
into its family circle it cannot be an indifferent godmother; it has
towards them all the feelings of a mother,--or of a stepmother, as
the case may be.  Where it says 'This can be no child of mine,' it is a
stepmother indeed; but in all those whom I have presented to its
arms, it has hitherto, I am proud to say, recognized desirable
acquaintances, and to them the Hill has been a mother.  And now,
my dear Mr. Sloman, go to your rubber; Poyntz is impatient, though he
don't show it.  Miss Brabazon, love, we all long to see you seated
at the piano,--you play so divinely!  Something gay, if you please;
something gay, but not very noisy,--Mr. Leopold Symthe will turn the
leaves for you.  Mrs. Bruce, your own favourite set at vingt-un, with
four new recruits.  Dr. Fenwick, you are like me, don't play cards, and
don't care for music; sit here, and talk or not, as you please, while I
knit."

The other guests thus disposed of, some at the card-tables, some round
the piano, I placed myself at Mrs. Poyntz's side, on a seat niched in the
recess of a window which an evening unusually warm for the month of May
permitted to be left open.  I was next to one who had known Lilian as a
child, one from whom I had learned by what sweet name to call the image
which my thoughts had already shrined.  How much that I still longed to
know she could tell me!  But in what form of question could I lead to the
subject, yet not betray my absorbing interest in it?  Longing to speak, I
felt as if stricken dumb; stealing an unquiet glance towards the face
beside me, and deeply impressed with that truth which the Hill had long
ago reverently acknowledged,--namely, that Mrs. Colonel Poyntz was a very
superior woman, a very powerful creature.

And there she sat knitting, rapidly, firmly; a woman somewhat on
the other side of forty, complexion a bronze paleness, hair a bronze
brown, in strong ringlets cropped short behind,--handsome hair for a man;
lips that, when closed, showed inflexible decision, when speaking, became
supple and flexible with an easy humour and a vigilant finesse; eyes of a
red hazel, quick but steady,--observing, piercing, dauntless eyes;
altogether a fine countenance,--would have been a very fine countenance in
a man; profile sharp, straight, clear-cut, with an expression, when in
repose, like that of a sphinx; a frame robust, not corpulent; of middle
height, but with an air and carriage that made her appear tall; peculiarly
white firm hands, indicative of vigorous health, not a vein visible on the
surface.

There she sat knitting, knitting, and I by her side, gazing now on
herself, now on her work, with a vague idea that the threads in the skein
of my own web of love or of life were passing quick through those
noiseless fingers.  And, indeed, in every web of romance, the fondest, one
of the Parcae is sure to be some matter-of-fact She, Social Destiny, as
little akin to romance herself as was this worldly Queen of the Hill.



CHAPTER VII.

I have given a sketch of the outward woman of Mrs. Colonel Poyntz.  The
inner woman was a recondite mystery deep as that of the sphinx, whose
features her own resembled.  But between the outward and the inward woman
there is ever a third woman,--the conventional woman,--such as the whole
human being appears to the world,--always mantled, sometimes masked.

I am told that the fine people of London do not recognize the
title of "Mrs. Colonel."  If that be true, the fine people of London must
be clearly in the wrong, for no people in the universe could be finer than
the fine people of Abbey Hill; and they considered their sovereign had
as good a right to the title of Mrs. Colonel as the Queen of England
has to that of "our Gracious Lady."  But Mrs. Poyntz herself never
assumed the title of Mrs. Colonel; it never appeared on her cards,--any
more than the title of "Gracious Lady" appears on the cards which
convey the invitation that a Lord Steward or Lord Chamberlain is
commanded by her Majesty to issue.  To titles, indeed, Mrs. Poyntz
evinced no superstitious reverence.  Two peeresses, related to her, not
distantly, were in the habit of paying her a yearly visit which
lasted two or three days.  The Hill considered these visits an honour to
its eminence.  Mrs. Poyntz never seemed to esteem them an honour to
herself; never boasted of them; never sought to show off her grand
relations, nor put herself the least out of the way to receive
them.  Her mode of life was free from ostentation.  She had the advantage
of being a few hundreds a year richer than any other inhabitant of
the Hill; but she did not devote her superior resources to the
invidious exhibition of superior splendour.  Like a wise sovereign, the
revenues of her exchequer were applied to the benefit of her subjects, and
not to the vanity of egotistical parade.  As no one else on the Hill
kept a carriage, she declined to keep one.  Her entertainments were
simple, but numerous.  Twice a week she received the Hill, and was
genuinely at home to it.  She contrived to make her parties proverbially
agreeable.  The refreshments were of the same kind as those which the
poorest of her old maids of honour might proffer; but they were better of
their kind, the best of their kind,--the best tea, the best lemonade, the
best cakes.  Her rooms had an air of comfort, which was peculiar to them.
They looked like rooms accustomed to receive, and receive in a friendly
way; well warmed, well lighted, card-tables and piano each in the place
that made cards and music inviting; on the walls a few old family
portraits, and three or four other pictures said to be valuable and
certainly pleasing,--two Watteaus, a Canaletti, a Weenix; plenty of
easy-chairs and settees covered with a cheerful chintz,--in the
arrangement of the furniture generally an indescribable careless elegance.
She herself was studiously plain in dress, more conspicuously free from
jewelry and trinkets than any married lady on the Hill.  But I have heard
from those who were authorities on such a subject that she was never
seen in a dress of the last year's fashion.  She adopted the mode as it
came out, just enough to show that she was aware it was out; but
with a sober reserve, as much as to say, "I adopt the fashion as far as
it suits myself; I do not permit the fashion to adopt me."  In short,
Mrs. Colonel Poyntz was sometimes rough, sometimes coarse, always
masculine, and yet somehow or other masculine in a womanly way;
but she was never vulgar because never affected.  It was impossible
not to allow that she was a thorough gentlewoman, and she could do things
that lower other gentlewomen, without any loss of dignity.  Thus
she was an admirable mimic, certainly in itself the least ladylike
condescension of humour.  But when she mimicked, it was with so
tranquil a gravity, or so royal a good humour, that one could only
say, "What talents for society dear Mrs. Colonel has!"  As she was
a gentlewoman emphatically, so the other colonel, the he-colonel,
was emphatically a gentleman; rather shy, but not cold; hating trouble
of every kind, pleased to seem a cipher in his own house.  If the
sole study of Mrs. Colonel had been to make her husband comfortable,
she could not have succeeded better than by bringing friends about him
and then taking them off his hands.  Colonel Poyntz, the he-colonel,
had seen, in his youth, actual service; but had retired from his
profession many years ago, shortly after his marriage.  He was a
younger brother of one of the principal squires in the country;
inherited the house he lived in, with some other valuable property
in and about L----, from an uncle; was considered a good landlord; and
popular in Low Town, though he never interfered in its affairs.  He was
punctiliously neat in his dress; a thin youthful figure, crowned with a
thick youthful wig.  He never seemed to read anything but the newspapers
and the "Meteorological Journal:" was supposed to be the most weatherwise
man in all L----.  He had another intellectual predilection,--whist;
but in that he had less reputation for wisdom.  Perhaps it requires a
rarer combination of mental faculties to win an odd trick than to
divine a fall in the glass.  For the rest, the he-colonel, many
years older than his wife, despite the thin youthful figure, was an
admirable aid-de-camp to the general in command, Mrs. Colonel; and
she could not have found one more obedient, more devoted, or more
proud of a distinguished chief.

In giving to Mrs. Colonel Poyntz the appellation of Queen of the
Hill, let there be no mistake.  She was not a constitutional sovereign;
her monarchy was absolute.  All her proclamations had the force of laws.

Such ascendancy could not have been attained without considerable
talents for acquiring and keeping it.  Amidst all her off-hand, brisk,
imperious frankness, she had the ineffable discrimination of tact.
Whether civil or rude, she was never civil or rude but what she carried
public opinion along with her.  Her knowledge of general society must
have been limited, as must be that of all female sovereigns; but she
seemed gifted with an intuitive knowledge of human nature, which she
applied to her special ambition of ruling it.  I have not a doubt that if
she had been suddenly transferred, a perfect stranger, to the world of
London, she would have soon forced her way to its selectest circles,
and, when once there, held her own against a duchess.

I have said that she was not affected: this might be one cause of
her sway over a set in which nearly every other woman was trying rather to
seem, than to be, a somebody.

Put if Mrs. Colonel Poyntz was not artificial, she was artful, or
perhaps I might more justly say artistic.  In all she said and did there
were conduct, system, plan.  She could be a most serviceable friend, a
most damaging enemy; yet I believe she seldom indulged in strong likings
or strong hatreds.  All was policy,--a policy akin to that of a grand
party chief, determined to raise up those whom, for any reason of state,
it was prudent to favour, and to put down those whom, for any reason of
state, it was expedient to humble or to crush.

Ever since the controversy with Dr. Lloyd, this lady had honoured me
with her benignest countenance; and nothing could be more adroit than the
manner in which, while imposing me on others as an oracular authority, she
sought to subject to her will the oracle itself.

She was in the habit of addressing me in a sort of motherly way,
as if she had the deepest interest in my welfare, happiness, and
reputation.  And thus, in every compliment, in every seeming mark of
respect, she maintained the superior dignity of one who takes from
responsible station the duty to encourage rising merit; so that, somehow
or other, despite all that pride which made me believe that I needed no
helping and to advance or to clear my way through the world, I could not
shake off from my mind the impression that I was mysteriously patronized
by Mrs. Colonel Poyntz.

We might have sat together five minutes, side by side in silence as
complete as if in the cave of Trophonius--when without looking up from her
work, Mrs. Poyntz said abruptly,--

"I am thinking about you, Dr. Fenwick.  And you--are thinking
about some other woman.  Ungrateful man!"

"Unjust accusation!  My very silence should prove how intently my
thoughts were fixed on you, and on the weird web which springs under your
hand in meshes that bewilder the gaze and snare the attention."

Mrs. Poyntz looked up at me for a moment--one rapid glance of the
bright red hazel eye--and said,--

"Was I really in your thoughts?  Answer truly."

"Truly, I answer, you were."

"That is strange!  Who can it be?"

"Who can it be?  What do you mean?"

"If you were thinking of me, it was in connection with some other
person,--some other person of my own sex.  It is certainly not poor dear
Miss Brabazon.  Who else can it be?"

Again the red eye shot over me, and I felt my cheek redden beneath it.

"Hush!" she said, lowering her voice; "you are in love!"

"In love!--I!  Permit me to ask you why you think so?"

"The signs are unmistakable; you are altered in your manner, even in
the expression of your face, since I last saw you; your manner is
generally quiet and observant,--it is now restless and distracted; your
expression of face is generally proud and serene,--it is now humbled and
troubled.  You have something on your mind!  It is not anxiety for your
reputation,--that is established; nor for your fortune,--that is made; it
is not anxiety for a patient or you would scarcely be here.  But anxiety
it is,--an anxiety that is remote from your profession, that touches your
heart and is new to it!"

I was startled, almost awed; but I tried to cover my confusion with a
forced laugh.

"Profound observer!  Subtle analyst!  You have convinced me that I must
be in love, though I did not suspect it before.  But when I strive to
conjecture the object, I am as much perplexed as yourself; and with you, I
ask, who can it be?"

"Whoever it be," said Mrs. Poyntz, who had paused, while I spoke, from
her knitting, and now resumed it very slowly and very carefully, as if her
mind and her knitting worked in unison together,--"whoever it be, love in
you would be serious; and, with or without love, marriage is a serious
thing to us all.  It is not every pretty girl that would suit Allen
Fenwick."

"Alas! is there any pretty girl whom Allen Fenwick would suit?"

"Tut!  You should be above the fretful vanity that lays traps for a
compliment.  Yes; the time has come in your life and your career when you
would do well to marry.  I give my consent to that," she added with a
smile as if in jest, and a slight nod as if in earnest.  The knitting here
went on more decidedly, more quickly.  "But I do not yet see the person.
No!  'T is a pity, Allen Fenwick" (whenever Mrs. Poyntz called me by my
Christian name, she always assumed her majestic motherly manner),--"a
pity that, with your birth, energies, perseverance, talents, and, let me
add, your advantages of manner and person,--a pity that you did not choose
a career that might achieve higher fortunes and louder fame than the most
brilliant success can give to a provincial physician.  But in that very
choice you interest me.  My choice has been much thesame,--a small circle,
but the first in it.  Yet, had I been a man, or had my dear Colonel been a
man whom it was in the power of a woman's art to raise one step higher in
that metaphorical ladder which is not the ladder of the angels, why,
then--what then?  No matter!  I am contented.  I transfer my ambition to
Jane.  Do you not think her handsome?"

"There can be no doubt of that," said I, carelessly and naturally.

"I have settled Jane's lot in my own mind," resumed Mrs. Poyntz,
striking firm into another row of knitting.  "She will marry a country
gentleman of large estate.  He will go into parliament.  She will study
his advancement as I study Poyntz's comfort.  If he be clever, she will
help to make him a minister; if he be not clever, his wealth will make
her a personage, and lift him into a personage's husband.  And, now that
you see I have no matrimonial designs on you, Allen Fenwick, think if it
will be worth while to confide in me.  Possibly I may be useful--"

"I know not how to thank you; but, as yet, I have nothing to confide."

While thus saying, I turned my eyes towards the open window beside
which I sat.  It was a beautiful soft night, the May moon in all her
splendour.  The town stretched, far and wide, below with all its
numberless lights,--below, but somewhat distant; an intervening space was
covered, here, by the broad quadrangle (in the midst of which stood,
massive and lonely, the grand old church), and, there, by the gardens and
scattered cottages or mansions that clothed the sides of the hill.

"Is not that house," I said, after a short pause, "yonder with the
three gables, the one in which--in which poor Dr. Lloyd lived--Abbots'
House?"

I spoke abruptly, as if to intimate my desire to change the
subject of conversation.  My hostess stopped her knitting, half rose,
looked forth.

"Yes.  But what a lovely night!  How is it that the moon blends
into harmony things of which the sun only marks the contrast?  That
stately old church tower, gray with its thousand years, those vulgar
tile-roofs and chimney-pots raw in the freshness of yesterday,--now,
under the moonlight, all melt into one indivisible charm!"

As my hostess thus spoke, she had left her seat, taking her work
with her, and passed from the window into the balcony.  It was not often
that Mrs. Poyntz condescended to admit what is called "sentiment" into the
range of her sharp, practical, worldly talk; but she did so at
times,--always, when she did, giving me the notion of an intellect much
too comprehensive not to allow that sentiment has a place in this life,
but keeping it in its proper place, by that mixture of affability and
indifference with which some high-born beauty allows the genius, but
checks the presumption, of a charming and penniless poet.  For a few
minutes her eyes roved over the scene in evident enjoyment; then, as they
slowly settled upon the three gables of Abbots' House, her face regained
that something of hardness which belonged to its decided character; her
fingers again mechanically resumed her knitting, and she said, in her
clear, unsoftened, metallic chime of voice, "Can you guess why I took so
much trouble to oblige Mr. Vigors and locate Mrs. Ashleigh yonder?"

"You favoured us with a full explanation of your reasons."

"Some of my reasons; not the main one.  People who undertake the task
of governing others, as I do, be their rule a kingdom or a hamlet, must
adopt a principle of government and adhere to it.  The principle that
suits best with the Hill is Respect for the Proprieties.  We have not much
money; entre nous, we have no great rank.  Our policy is, then, to set up
the Proprieties as an influence which money must court and rank is afraid
of.  I had learned just before Mr. Vigors called on me that Lady Sarah
Bellasis entertained the idea of hiring Abbots' House.  London has set its
face against her; a provincial town would be more charitable.  An earl's
daughter, with a good income and an awfully bad name, of the best manners
and of the worst morals, would have made sad havoc among the Proprieties.
How many of our primmest old maids would have deserted tea and Mrs. Poyntz
for champagne and her ladyship!  The Hill was never in so imminenta
danger.  Rather than Lady Sarah Bellasis should have had that house, I
would have taken it myself, and stocked it with owls.

"Mrs. Ashleigh turned up just in the critical moment.  Lady Sarah is
foiled, the Proprieties safe, and so that question is settled."

"And it will be pleasant to have your early friend so near you."

Mrs. Poyntz lifted her eyes full upon me.

"Do you know Mrs. Ashleigh?"

"Not in the least."

"She has many virtues and few ideas.  She is commonplace weak, as I am
commonplace strong.  But commonplace weak can be very lovable.  Her
husband, a man of genius and learning, gave her his whole heart,--a heart
worth having; but he was not ambitious, and he despised the world."

"I think you said your daughter was very much attached to Miss
Ashleigh?  Does her character resemble her mother's?"

I was afraid while I spoke that I should again meet Mrs. Poyntz's
searching gaze, but she did not this time look up from her work.

"No; Lilian is anything but commonplace."

"You described her as having delicate health; you implied a hope
that she was not consumptive.  I trust that there is no serious reason for
apprehending a constitutional tendency which at her age would require the
most careful watching!"

"I trust not.  If she were to die--Dr. Fenwick, what is the matter?"

So terrible had been the picture which this woman's words had brought
before me, that I started as if my own life had received a shock.

"I beg pardon," I said falteringly, pressing my hand to my heart; "a
sudden spasm here,--it is over now.  You were saying that--that--"

"I was about to say-" and here Mrs. Poyntz laid her hand lightly
on mine,--"I was about to say that if Lilian Ashleigh were to die, I
should mourn for her less than I might for one who valued the things of
the earth more.  But I believe there is no cause for the alarm my words so
inconsiderately excited in you.  Her mother is watchful and devoted; and
if the least thing ailed Lilian, she would call in medical advice.  Mr.
Vigors would, I know, recommend Dr. Jones."

Closing our conference with those stinging words, Mrs. Poyntz here
turned back into the drawing-room.

I remained some minutes on the balcony, disconcerted, enraged.  With
what consummate art had this practised diplomatist wound herself into my
secret!  That she had read my heart better than myself was evident from
that Parthian shaft, barbed with Dr. Jones, which she had shot over her
shoulder in retreat.  That from the first moment in which she had decoyed
me to her side, she had detected "the something" on my mind, was perhaps
but the ordinary quickness of female penetration.  But it was with no
ordinary craft that the whole conversation afterwards had been so shaped
as to learn the something, and lead me to reveal the some one to whom the
something was linked.  For what purpose?  What was it to her?  What motive
could she have beyond the mere gratification of curiosity?  Perhaps, at
first, she thought I had been caught by her daughter's showy beauty, and
hence the half-friendly, half-cynical frankness with which she had avowed
her ambitious projects for that young lady's matrimonial advancement.
Satisfied by my manner that I cherished no presumptuous hopes in that
quarter, her scrutiny was doubtless continued from that pleasure in the
exercise of a wily intellect which impels schemers and politicians to an
activity for which, without that pleasure itself, there would seem no
adequate inducement.  And besides, the ruling passion of this petty
sovereign was power; and if knowledge be power, there is no better
instrument of power over a contumacious subject than that hold on his
heart which is gained in the knowledge of its secret.

But "secret"!  Had it really come to this?  Was it possible that the
mere sight of a human face, never beheld before, could disturb the whole
tenor of my life,--a stranger of whose mind and character I knew nothing,
whose very voice I had never heard?  It was only by the intolerable pang
of anguish that had rent my heart in the words, carelessly, abruptly
spoken, "if she were to die," that I had felt how the world would be
changed to me, if indeed that face were seen in it no more!  Yes, secret
it was no longer to myself, I loved!  And like all on whom love descends,
sometimes softly, slowly, with the gradual wing of the cushat settling
down into its nest, sometimes with the swoop of the eagle on his
unsuspecting quarry, I believed that none ever before loved as I loved;
that such love was an abnormal wonder, made solely for me, and I for it.
Then my mind insensibly hushed its angrier and more turbulent thoughts, as
my gaze rested upon the roof-tops of Lilian's home, and the shimmering
silver of the moonlit willow, under which I had seen her gazing into the
roseate heavens.



CHAPTER VIII.

When I returned to the drawing-room, the party was evidently about to
break up.  Those who had grouped round the piano were now assembled round
the refreshment-table.  The cardplayers had risen, and were settling or
discussing gains and losses.  While I was searching for my hat, which I
had somewhere mislaid, a poor gentleman, tormented by tic-doloureux, crept
timidly up to me,--the proudest and the poorest of all the hidalgos
settled on the Hill.  He could not afford a fee for a physician's advice;
but pain had humbled his pride, and I saw at a glance that he was
considering how to take a surreptitious advantage of social intercourse,
and obtain the advice without paying the fee.  The old man discovered the
hat before I did, stooped, took it up, extended it to me with the profound
bow of the old school, while the other hand, clenched and quivering, was
pressed into the hollow of his cheek, and his eyes met mine with wistful
mute entreaty.  The instinct of my profession seized me at once.  I could
never behold suffering without forgetting all else in the desire to
relieve it.

"You are in pain," said I, softly.  "Sit down and describe the
symptoms.  Here, it is true, I am no professional doctor, but I am a
friend who is fond of doctoring, and knows something about it."

So we sat down a little apart from the other guests, and after a
few questions and answers, I was pleased to find that his "tic" did not
belong to the less curable kind of that agonizing neuralgia.  I was
especially successful in my treatment of similar sufferings, for which I
had discovered an anodyne that was almost specific.  I wrote on a leaf of
my pocketbook a prescription which I felt sure would be efficacious, and
as I tore it out and placed it in his hand, I chanced to look up, and saw
the hazel eyes of my hostess fixed upon me with a kinder and softer
expression than they often condescended to admit into their cold and
penetrating lustre.  At that moment, however, her attention was drawn from
me to a servant, who entered with a note, and I heard him say, though in
an undertone, "From Mrs. Ashleigh."

She opened the note, read it hastily, ordered the servant to wait
without the door, retired to her writing-table, which stood near the place
at which I still lingered, rested her face on her hand, and seemed musing.
Her meditation was very soon over.  She turned her head, and to my
surprise, beckoned to me.  I approached.

"Sit here," she whispered: "turn your back towards those people, who are no
doubt watching us.  Read this."

She placed in my hand the note she had just received.  It contained but
a few words, to this effect:--

   DEAR MARGARET,--I am so distressed.  Since I wrote to you a few
   hours ago, Lilian is taken suddenly ill, and I fear seriously.  What
   medical man should I send for?  Let my servant have his name and
   address.

                                                    A.  A.

I sprang from my seat.

"Stay," said Mrs. Poyntz.  "Would you much care if I sent the servant to
Dr. Jones?"

"Ah, madam, you are cruel!  What have I done that you should become my
enemy?"

"Enemy!  No.  You have just befriended one of my friends.  In this world
of fools intellect should ally itself with intellect.  No; I am not your
enemy!  But you have not yet asked me to be your friend."

Here she put into my hands a note she had written while thus speaking.
"Receive your credentials.  If there be any cause for alarm, or if I can
be of use, send for me."  Resuming the work she had suspended, but with
lingering, uncertain fingers, she added, "So far, then, this is settled.
Nay, no thanks; it is but little that is settled as yet."



CHAPTER IX.

In a very few minutes I was once more in the grounds of that old gable
house; the servant, who went before me, entered them by the stairs and
the wicket-gate of the private entrance; that way was the shortest.  So
again I passed by the circling glade and the monastic well,--sward, trees,
and ruins all suffused in the limpid moonlight.

And now I was in the house; the servant took up-stairs the note
with which I was charged, and a minute or two afterwards returned and
conducted me to the corridor above, in which Mrs. Ashleigh received me.  I
was the first to speak.

"Your daughter--is--is--not seriously ill, I hope.  What is it?"

"Hush!" she said, under her breath.  "Will you step this way for
a moment?"  She passed through a doorway to the right.  I followed her,
and as she placed on the table the light she had been holding, I looked
round with a chill at the heart,--it was the room in which Dr. Lloyd had
died.  Impossible to mistake.  The furniture indeed was changed, there was
no bed in the chamber; but the shape of the room, the position of the high
casement, which was now wide open, and through which the moonlight
streamed more softly than on that drear winter night, the great square
beams intersecting the low ceiling,--all were impressed vividly on my
memory.  The chair to which Mrs. Ashleigh beckoned me was placed just on
the spot where I had stood by the bedhead of the dying man.

I shrank back,--I could not have seated myself there.  So I remained
leaning against the chimney-piece, while Mrs. Ashleigh told her story.

She said that on their arrival the day before, Lilian had been in more
than usually good health and spirits, delighted with the old house, the
grounds, and especially the nook by the Monk's Well, at which Mrs.
Ashleigh had left her that evening in order to make some purchases in the
town, in company with Mr. Vigors.  When Mrs. Ashleigh returned, she and
Mr. Vigors had sought Lilian in that nook, and Mrs. Ashleigh then
detected, with a mother's eye, some change in Lilian which alarmed her.
She seemed listless and dejected, and was very pale; but she denied that
she felt unwell.  On regaining the house she had sat down in the room in
which we then were,--"which," said Mrs. Ashleigh, "as it is not required
for a sleeping-room, my daughter, who is fond of reading, wished to fit up
as her own morning-room, or study.  I left her here and went into the
drawing-room below with Mr. Vigors.  When he quitted me, which he did very
soon, I remained for nearly an hour giving directions about the placing of
furniture, which had just arrived, from our late residence.  I then went
up-stairs to join my daughter, and to my terror found her apparently
lifeless in her chair.  She had fainted away."

I interrupted Mrs. Ashleigh here.  "Has Miss Ashleigh been subject
to fainting fits?"

"No, never.  When she recovered she seemed bewildered, disinclined
to speak.  I got her to bed, and as she then fell quietly to sleep, my
mind was relieved.  I thought it only a passing effect of excitement, in a
change of abode; or caused by something like malaria in the atmosphere of
that part of the grounds in which I had found her seated."

"Very likely.  The hour of sunset at this time of year is trying to
delicate constitutions.  Go on."

"About three quarters of an hour ago she woke up with a loud cry, and
has been ever since in a state of great agitation, weeping violently, and
answering none of my questions.  Yet she does not seem light-headed,
but rather what we call hysterical."

"You will permit me now to see her.  Take comfort; in all you tell me I
see nothing to warrant serious alarm."



CHAPTER X.

To the true physician there is an inexpressible sanctity in the sick
chamber.  At its threshold the more human passions quit their hold on his
heart.  Love there would be profanation; even the grief permitted to
others he must put aside.  He must enter that room--a calm intelligence.
He is disabled for his mission if he suffer aught to obscure the keen
quiet glance of his science.  Age or youth, beauty or deformity, innocence
or guilt, merge their distinctions in one common attribute,-human
suffering appealing to human skill.

Woe to the households in which the trusted Healer feels not on his
conscience the solemn obligations of his glorious art!  Reverently as in a
temple, I stood in the virgin's chamber.  When her mother placed her hand
in mine, and I felt the throb of its pulse, I was aware of no quicker beat
of my own heart.  I looked with a steady eye on the face more beautiful
from the flush that deepened the delicate hues of the young cheek, and the
lustre that brightened the dark blue of the wandering eyes.  She did not
at first heed me, did not seem aware of my presence; but kept murmuring to
herself words which I could not distinguish.

At length, when I spoke to her, in that low, soothing tone which we
learn at the sick-bed, the expression of her face altered suddenly; she
passed the hand I did not hold over her forehead, turned round, looked at
me full and long, with unmistakable surprise, yet not as if the surprise
displeased her,--less the surprise which recoils from the sight of a
stranger than that which seems doubtfully to recognize an unexpected
friend.  Yet on the surprise there seemed to creep something of
apprehension, of fear; her hand trembled, her voice quivered, as she
said,--

"Can it be, can it be?  Am I awake?  Mother, who is this?"

"Only a kind visitor, Dr. Fenwick, sent by Mrs. Poyntz, for I was uneasy
about you, darling.  How are you now?"

"Better.  Strangely better."

She removed her hand gently from mine, and with an involuntary modest
shrinking turned towards Mrs. Ashleigh, drawing her mother towards
herself, so that she became at once hidden from me.

Satisfied that there was here no delirium, nor even more than the
slight and temporary fever which often accompanies a sudden nervous attack
in constitutions peculiarly sensitive, I retired noiselessly from the
room, and went, not into that which had been occupied by the ill-fated
Naturalist, but down-stairs into the drawing-room, to write my
prescription.  I had already sent the servant off with it to the chemist's
before Mrs. Ashleigh joined me.

"She seems recovering surprisingly; her forehead is cooler; she is
perfectly self-possessed, only she cannot account for her own
seizure,--cannot account either for the fainting or the agitation with
which she awoke from sleep."

"I think I can account for both.  The first room in which she
entered--that in which she fainted--had its window open; the sides of the
window are overgrown with rank creeping plants in full blossom.  Miss
Ashleigh had already predisposed herself to injurious effects from the
effluvia by fatigue, excitement, imprudence in sitting out at the fall of
a heavy dew.  The sleep after the fainting fit was the more disturbed,
because Nature, always alert and active in subjects so young, was making
its own effort to right itself from an injury.  Nature has nearly
succeeded.  What I have prescribed will a little aid and accelerate that
which Nature has yet to do, and in a day or two I do not doubt that your
daughter will be perfectly restored.  Only let me recommend care to avoid
exposure to the open air during the close of the day.  Let her avoid also
the room in which she was first seized, for it is a strange phenomenon in
nervous temperaments that a nervous attack may, without visible cause, be
repeated in the same place where it was first experienced.  You had better
shut up the chamber for at least some weeks, burn fires in it, repaint and
paper it, sprinkle chloroform.  You are not, perhaps, aware that Dr. Lloyd
died in that room after a prolonged illness.  Suffer me to wait till your
servant returns with the medicine, and let me employ the interval in
asking you a few questions.  Miss Ashleigh, you say, never had a fainting
fit before.  I should presume that she is not what we call strong.  But
has she ever had any illness that alarmed you?"

"Never."

"No great liability to cold and cough, to attacks of the chest or lungs?"

"Certainly not.  Still I have feared that she may have a tendency to
consumption.  Do you think so?  Your questions alarm me!"

"I do not think so; but before I pronounce a positive opinion, one
question more.  You say you have feared a tendency to consumption.  Is
that disease in her family?  She certainly did not inherit it from you.
But on her father's side?"

"Her father," said Mrs. Ashleigh, with tears in her eyes, "died young,
but of brain fever, which the medical men said was brought on by over
study."

"Enough, my dear madam.  What you say confirms my belief that your
daughter's constitution is the very opposite to that in which the seeds of
consumption lurk.  It is rather that far nobler constitution, which the
keenness of the nervous susceptibility renders delicate but elastic,--as
quick to recover as it is to suffer."

"Thank you, thank you, Dr. Fenwick, for what you say.  You take a load
from my heart; for Mr. Vigors, I know, thinks Lilian consumptive, and Mrs.
Poyntz has rather frightened me at times by hints to the same effect.  But
when you speak of nervous susceptibility, I do not quite understand you.
My daughter is not what is commonly called nervous.  Her temper is
singularly even."

"But if not excitable, should you also say that she is not
impressionable?  The things which do not disturb her temper may, perhaps,
deject her spirits.  Do I make myself understood?"

"Yes, I think I understand your distinction; but I am not quite sure if
it applies.  To most things that affect the spirits she is not more
sensitive than other girls, perhaps less so; but she is certainly
very impressionable in some things."

"In what?"

"She is more moved than any one I ever knew by objects in external
nature, rural scenery, rural sounds, by music, by the books that she
reads,--even books that are not works of imagination.  Perhaps in all this
she takes after her poor father, but in a more marked degree,--at least, I
observe it more in her; for he was very silent and reserved.  And perhaps
also her peculiarities have been fostered by the seclusion in which she
has been brought up.  It was with a view to make her a little more like
girls of her own age that our friend, Mrs. Poyntz, induced me to come
here.  Lilian was reconciled to this change; but she shrank from the
thoughts of London, which I should have preferred.  Her poor father could
not endure London."

"Miss Ashleigh is fond of reading?"

"Yes, she is fond of reading, but more fond of musing.  She will sit by
herself for hours without book or work, and seem as abstracted as if in a
dream.  She was so even in her earliest childhood.  Then she would tell me
what she had been conjuring up to herself.  She would say that she had
seen--positively seen--beautiful lands far away from earth; flowers and
trees not like ours.  As she grew older this visionary talk displeased me,
and I scolded her, and said that if others heard her, they would think
that she was not only silly but very untruthful.  So of late years she
never ventures to tell me what, in such dreamy moments, she suffers
herself to imagine; but the habit of musing continues still.  Do you not
agree with Mrs. Poyntz that the best cure would be a little cheerful
society amongst other young people?"

"Certainly," said I, honestly, though with a jealous pang.  "But here
comes the medicine.  Will you take it up to her, and then sit with her
half an hour or so?  By that time I expect she will be asleep.  I will
wait here till you return.  Oh, I can amuse myself with the newspapers and
books on your table.  Stay! one caution: be sure there are no flowers in
Miss Ashleigh's sleeping-room.  I think I saw a treacherous rose-tree in a
stand by the window.  If so, banish it."

Left alone, I examined the room in which, oh, thought of joy!  I had
surely now won the claim to become a privileged guest.  I touched the
books Lilian must have touched; in the articles of furniture, as yet so
hastily disposed that the settled look of home was not about them, I
still knew that I was gazing on things which her mind must associate with
the history of her young life.  That luteharp must be surely hers, and the
scarf, with a girl's favourite colours,--pure white and pale blue,--and
the bird-cage, and the childish ivory work-case, with implements too
pretty for use,--all spoke of her.

It was a blissful, intoxicating revery, which Mrs. Ashleigh's entrance
disturbed.

Lilian was sleeping calmly.  I had no excuse to linger there any longer.

"I leave you, I trust, with your mind quite at ease," said I.  "You will
allow me to call to-morrow, in the afternoon?"

"Oh, yes, gratefully."

Mrs. Ashleigh held out her hand as I made towards the door.

Is there a physician who has not felt at times how that ceremonious fee
throws him back from the garden-land of humanity into the market-place of
money,--seems to put him out of the pale of equal friendship, and say,
"True, you have given health and life.  Adieu! there, you are paid for
it!"  With a poor person there would have been no dilemma, but Mrs.
Ashleigh was affluent: to depart from custom here was almost impertinence.
But had the penalty of my refusal been the doom of never again beholding
Lilian, I could not have taken her mother's gold.  So I did not appear to
notice the hand held out to me, and passed by with a quickened step.

"But, Dr. Fenwick, stop!"

"No, ma'am, no!  Miss Ashleigh would have recovered as soon without me.
Whenever my aid is really wanted, then--but Heaven grant that time may
never come!  We will talk again about her to-morrow."

I was gone,--now in the garden ground, odorous with blossoms; now in
the lane, inclosed by the narrow walls; now in the deserted streets, over
which the moon shone full as in that winter night when I hurried from the
chamber of death.  But the streets were not ghastly now, and the moon was
no longer Hecate, that dreary goddess of awe and spectres, but the sweet,
simple Lady of the Stars, on whose gentle face lovers have gazed ever
since (if that guess of astronomers be true) she was parted from earth to
rule the tides of its deeps from afar, even as love, from love divided,
rules the heart that yearns towards it with mysterious law.



CHAPTER XI.

With what increased benignity I listened to the patients who visited me
the next morning!  The whole human race seemed to be worthier of love, and
I longed to diffuse amongst all some rays of the glorious hope that had
dawned upon my heart.  My first call, when I went forth, was on the poor
young woman from whom I had been returning the day before, when an
impulse, which seemed like a fate, had lured me into the grounds where I
had first seen Lilian.  I felt grateful to this poor patient; without her
Lilian herself might be yet unknown to rue.

The girl's brother, a young man employed in the police, and whose pay
supported a widowed mother and the suffering sister, received me at the
threshold of the cottage.

"Oh, sir, she is so much better to-day; almost free from pain.  Will
she live now; can she live?"

"If my treatment has really done the good you say; if she be really
better under it, I think her recovery may be pronounced.  But I must first
see her."

The girl was indeed wonderfully better.  I felt that my skill was
achieving a signal triumph; but that day even my intellectual pride was
forgotten in the luxurious unfolding of that sense of heart which had so
newly waked into blossom.

As I recrossed the threshold, I smiled on the brother, who was still
lingering there,--

"Your sister is saved, Wady.  She needs now chiefly wine, and good
though light nourishment; these you will find at my house; call there for
them every day."

"God bless you, sir!  If ever I can serve you--"  His tongue faltered,
he could say no more.

Serve me, Allen Fenwick--that poor policeman!  Me, whom a king could not
serve!  What did I ask from earth but Fame and Lilian's heart?  Thrones
and bread man wins from the aid of others; fame and woman's heart he can
only gain through himself.

So I strode gayly up the hill, through the iron gates, into the fairy
ground, and stood before Lilian's home.

The man-servant, on opening the door, seemed somewhat confused, and
said hastily before I spoke,--

"Not at home, sir; a note for you."

I turned the note mechanically in my hand; I felt stunned.

"Not at home!  Miss Ashleigh cannot be out.  How is she?"

"Better, sir, thank you."

I still could not open the note; my eyes turned wistfully towards the
windows of the house, and there--at the drawing-room window--I encountered
the scowl of Mr. Vigors.  I coloured with resentment, divined that I was
dismissed, and walked away with a proud crest and a firm step.

When I was out of the gates, in the blind lane, I opened the note.  It
began formally.  "Mrs. Ashleigh presents her compliments," and went on to
thank me, civilly enough, for my attendance the night before, would not
give me the trouble to repeat my visit, and inclosed a fee, double the
amount of the fee prescribed by custom.  I flung the money, as an asp that
had stung me, over the high wall, and tore the note into shreds.  Having
thus idly vented my rage, a dull gnawing sorrow came heavily down upon all
other emotions, stifling and replacing them.  At the mouth of the lane I
halted.  I shrank from the thought of the crowded streets beyond; I shrank
yet more from the routine of duties, which stretched before me in the
desert into which daily life was so suddenly smitten.  I sat down by the
roadside, shading my dejected face with a nervous hand.  I looked up as
the sound of steps reached my ear, and saw Dr. Jones coming briskly along
the lane, evidently from Abbots' House.  He must have been there at the
very time I had called.  I was not only dismissed but supplanted.  I rose
before he reached the spot on which I had seated myself, and went my way
into the town, went through my allotted round of professional visits; but
my attentions were not so tenderly devoted, my kill so genially quickened
by the glow of benevolence, as my poorer patients had found them in the
morning.  I have said how the physician should enter the sick-room.  "A
Calm Intelligence!"  But if you strike a blow on the heart, the intellect
suffers.  Little worth, I suspect, was my "calm intelligence" that day.
Bichat, in his famous book upon Life and Death, divides life into two
classes,--animal and organic.  Man's intellect, with the brain for its
centre, belongs to life animal; his passions to life organic, centred in
the heart, in the viscera.  Alas! if the noblest passions through which
alone we lift ourselves into the moral realm of the sublime and beautiful
really have their centre in the life which the very vegetable, that lives
organically, shares with us!  And, alas! if it be that life which we
share with the vegetable, that can cloud, obstruct, suspend, annul that
life centred in the brain, which we share with every being howsoever
angelic, in every star howsoever remote, on whom the Creator bestows the
faculty of thought!



CHAPTER XII.

But suddenly I remembered Mrs. Poyntz.  I ought to call on her.  So I
closed my round of visits at her door.  The day was then far advanced, and
the servant politely informed me that Mrs. Poyntz was at dinner.  I could
only leave my card, with a message that I would pay my respects to her the
next day.  That evening I received from her this note:--

   Dear Dr. Fenwick,--I regret much that I cannot have the pleasure of
   seeing you to-morrow.  Poyntz and I are going to visit his brother, at
   the other end of the county, and we start early.  We shall be away some
   days.  Sorry to hear from Mrs. Ashleigh that she has been persuaded by
   Mr. Vigors to consult Dr. Jones about Lilian. Vigors and Jones both
   frighten the poor mother, and insist upon consumptive tendencies.
   Unluckily, you seem to have said there was little the matter.  Some
   doctors train their practice as some preachers fill their churches,--by
   adroit use of the appeals to terror.  You do not want patients, Dr.
   Jones does.  And, after all, better perhaps as it is.
                           Yours, etc.
                                                 M. Poyntz.

To my more selfish grief, anxiety for Lilian was now added.  I had seen
many more patients die from being mistreated for consumption than from
consumption itself.  And Dr. Jones was a mercenary, cunning, needy man,
with much crafty knowledge of human foibles, but very little skill in the
treatment of human maladies.  My fears were soon confirmed.  A few days
after I heard from Miss Brabazon that Miss Ashleigh was seriously ill,
kept her room.  Mrs. Ashleigh made this excuse for not immediately
returning the visits which the Hill had showered upon her.  Miss Brabazon
had seen Dr. Jones, who had shaken his head, said it was a serious case;
but that time and care (his time and his care!) might effect wonders.

How stealthily at the dead of the night I would climb the Hill and look
towards the windows of the old sombre house,--one window, in which a light
burned dim and mournful, the light of a sick-room,--of hers!

At length Mrs. Poyntz came back, and I entered her house, having fully
resolved beforehand on the line of policy to be adopted towards the
potentate whom I hoped to secure as an ally.  It was clear that neither
disguise nor half-confidence would baffle the penetration of so keen an
intellect, nor propitiate the good will of so imperious and resolute a
temper.  Perfect frankness here was the wisest prudence; and after all, it
was most agreeable to my own nature, and most worthy of my own honour.

Luckily, I found Mrs. Poyntz alone, and taking in both mine the hand
she somewhat coldly extended to me, I said, with the earnestness of
suppressed emotion,--

"You observed when I last saw you, that I had not yet asked you to be
my friend.  I ask it now.  Listen to me with all the indulgence you can
vouchsafe, and let me at least profit by your counsel if you refuse to
give me your aid."

Rapidly, briefly, I went on to say how I had first seen Lilian, and
how sudden, how strange to myself, had been the impression which that
first sight of her had produced.

"You remarked the change that had come over me," said I; "you
divined the cause before I divined it myself,--divined it as I sat there
beside you, thinking that through you I might see, in the freedom of
social intercourse, the face that was then haunting me.  You know what has
since passed.  Miss Ashleigh is ill; her case is, I am convinced, wholly
misunderstood.  All other feelings are merged in one sense of anxiety,--of
alarm.  But it has become due to me, due to all, to incur the risk of your
ridicule even more than of your reproof, by stating to you thus candidly,
plainly, bluntly, the sentiment which renders alarm so poignant, and
which, if scarcely admissible to the romance of some wild dreamy boy, may
seem an unpardonable folly in a man of my years and my sober calling,--due
to me, to you, to Mrs. Ashleigh, because still the dearest thing in life
to me is honour.  And if you, who know Mrs. Ashleigh so intimately, who
must be more or less aware of her plans or wishes for her daughter's
future,--if you believe that those plans or wishes lead to a lot far more
ambitious than an alliance with me could offer to Miss Ashleigh, then aid
Mr. Vigors in excluding me from the house; aid me in suppressing a
presumptuous, visionary passion.  I cannot enter that house without love
and hope at my heart; and the threshold of that house I must not cross if
such love and such hope would be a sin and a treachery in the eyes of its
owner.  I might restore Miss Ashleigh to health; her gratitude might--I
cannot continue.  This danger must not be to me nor to her, if her mother
has views far above such a son-in-law.  And I am the more bound to
consider all this while it is yet time, because I heard you state that
Miss Ashleigh had a fortune, was what would be here termed an heiress.
And the full consciousness that whatever fame one in my profession may
live to acquire, does not open those vistas of social power and grandeur
which are opened by professions to my eyes less noble in themselves,--that
full consciousness, I say, was forced upon me by certain words of your
own.  For the rest, you know my descent is sufficiently recognized as that
amidst well-born gentry to have rendered me no mesalliance to families the
most proud of their ancestry, if I had kept my hereditary estate and
avoided the career that makes me useful to man.  But I acknowledge that on
entering a profession such as mine--entering any profession except that of
arms or the senate--all leave their pedigree at its door, an erased or
dead letter.  All must come as equals, high-born or low-born, into that
arena in which men ask aid from a man as he makes himself; to them his
dead forefathers are idle dust.  Therefore, to the advantage of birth I
cease to have a claim.  I am but a provincial physician, whose station
would be the same had he been a cobbler's son.  But gold retains its grand
privilege in all ranks.  He who has gold is removed from the suspicion
that attaches to the greedy fortune-hunter.  My private fortune, swelled
by my savings, is sufficient to secure to any one I married a larger
settlement than many a wealthy squire can make.  I need no fortune with a
wife; if she have one, it would be settled on herself.  Pardon these
vulgar details.  Now, have I made myself understood?"

"Fully," answered the Queen of the Hill, who had listened to me
quietly, watchfully, and without one interruption, "fully; and you have
done well to confide in me with so generous an unreserve.  But before I
say further, let me ask, what would be your advice for Lilian, supposing
that you ought not to attend her?  You have no trust in Dr. Jones; neither
have I.  And Annie Ashleigh's note received to-day, begging me to call,
justifies your alarm.  Still you think there is no tendency to
consumption?"

"Of that I am certain so far as my slight glimpse of a case that
to me, however, seems a simple and not uncommon one, will permit.  But in
the alternative you put--that my own skill, whatever its worth, is
forbidden--my earnest advice is that Mrs. Ashleigh should take her
daughter at once to London, and consult there those great authorities to
whom I cannot compare my own opinion or experience; and by their counsel
abide."

Mrs. Poyntz shaded her eyes with her hand for a few moments, and seemed
in deliberation with herself.  Then she said, with her peculiar smile,
half grave, half ironical,--

"In matters more ordinary you would have won me to your side long ago.
That Mr. Vigors should have presumed to cancel my recommendation to a
settler on the Hill was an act of rebellion, and involved the honour of my
prerogative; but I suppressed my indignation at an affront so unusual,
partly out of pique against yourself, but much more, I think, out of
regard for you."

"I understand.  You detected the secret of my heart; you knew that Mrs.
Ashleigh would not wish to see her daughter the wife of a provincial
physician."

"Am I sure, or are you sure, that the daughter herself would accept
that fate; or if she accepted it, would not repent?"

"Do you not think me the vainest of men when I say this,--that I cannot
believe I should be so enthralled by a feeling at war with my reason,
unfavoured by anything I can detect in my habits of mind, or even by the
dreams of a youth which exalted science and excluded love, unless I was
intimately convinced that Miss Ashleigh's heart was free, that I could
win, and that I could keep it!  Ask me why I am convinced of this, and I
can tell you no more why I think that she could love me than I can tell
you why I love her!"

"I am of the world, worldly; but I am a woman, womanly,--though I may
not care to be thought it.  And, therefore, though what you say is,
regarded in a worldly point of view, sheer nonsense, regarded in a womanly
point of view, it is logically sound.  But still you cannot know Lilian as
I do.  Your nature and hers are in strong contrast.  I do not think she
is a safe wife for you.  The purest, the most innocent creature
imaginable, certainly that, but always in the seventh heaven; and you in
the seventh heaven just at this moment, but with an irresistible
gravitation to the solid earth, which will have its way again when the
honeymoon is over--I do not believe you two would harmonize by
intercourse.  I do not believe Lilian would sympathize with you, and I am
sure you could not sympathize with her throughout the long dull course of
this workday life.  And, therefore, for your sake, as well as hers, I was
not displeased to find that Dr. Jones had replaced you; and now, in return
for your frankness, I say frankly, do not go again to that house.  Conquer
this sentiment, fancy, passion, whatever it be.  And I will advise Mrs.
Ashleigh to take Lilian to town.  Shall it be so settled?"

I could not speak.  I buried my face in my hands-misery, misery,
desolation!

I know not how long I remained thus silent, perhaps many minutes.  At
length I felt a cold, firm, but not ungentle hand placed upon mine; and a
clear, full, but not discouraging voice said to me,--

"Leave me to think well over this conversation, and to ponder well the
value of all you have shown that you so deeply feel.  The interests of
life do not fill both scales of the balance.  The heart, which does not
always go in the same scale with the interests, still has its weight in
the scale opposed to them.  I have heard a few wise men say, as many a
silly woman says, 'Better be unhappy with one we love, than be happy with
one we love not.'  Do you say that too?"

"With every thought of my brain, every beat of my pulse, I say it."

"After that answer, all my questionings cease.  You shall hear from me
to-morrow.  By that time, I shall have seen Annie and Lilian.  I shall
have weighed both scales of the balance,--and the heart here, Allen
Fenwick, seems very heavy.  Go, now.  I hear feet on the stairs, Poyntz
bringing up some friendly gossiper; gossipers are spies."

I passed my hand over my eyes, tearless, but how tears would have
relieved the anguish that burdened them! and, without a word, went down
the stairs, meeting at the landing-place Colonel Poyntz and the old man
whose pain my prescription had cured.  The old man was whistling a merry
tune, perhaps first learned on the playground.  He broke from it to thank,
almost to embrace me, as I slid by him.  I seized his jocund blessing as a
good omen, and carried it with me as I passed into the broad sunlight.
Solitary--solitary!  Should I be so evermore?





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