The new doctor.
Next forenoon, wishing to have a little private talk with my friend, I went to his room, and found him busy writing to Dr. Wade. He consulted me on the contents of the letter, and I was heartily pleased with the kind way in which he communicated to the old gentleman the resolution he had come to, of trying whether another medical man might not be more fortunate in his attempt to treat the illness of his daughter.
"I fear Dr. Wade will be offended, say what I like," said he.
"It is quite possible to be too much afraid of giving offence," I said; "But nothing can be more gentle and friendly than the way in which you have communicated the necessity."
"Well, it is a great comfort you think so. Will you go with me to call on Mr. Armstrong?"
"With much pleasure," I answered; and we set out at once.
Shown into the doctor's dining-room, I took a glance at the books lying about. I always take advantage of such an opportunity of gaining immediate insight into character. Let me see a man's book-shelves, especially if they are not extensive, and I fancy I know at once, in some measure, what sort of a man the owner is. One small bookcase in a recess of the room seemed to contain all the non-professional library of Mr. Armstrong. I am not going to say here what books they were, or what books I like to see; but I was greatly encouraged by the consultation of the auguries afforded by the backs of these. I was still busy with them, when the door opened, and the doctor entered. He was the same man whom I had seen in church looking at Adela. He advanced in a frank manly way to the colonel, and welcomed him by name, though I believe no introduction had ever passed between them. Then the colonel introduced me, and we were soon chatting very comfortably. In his manner, I was glad to find that there was nothing of the professional. I hate the professional. I was delighted to observe, too, that what showed at a distance as a broad honest country face, revealed, on a nearer view, lines of remarkable strength and purity.
"My daughter is very far from well," said the colonel, in answer to a general inquiry.
"So I have been sorry to understand," the doctor rejoined. "Indeed, it is only too clear from her countenance."
"I want you to come and see if you can do her any good."
"Is not Dr. Wade attending her?"
"I have already informed him that I meant to request your advice."
"I shall be most happy to be of any service; but--might I suggest the most likely means of enabling me to judge whether I can be useful or not?"
"Then will you give me the opportunity of seeing her in a non- professional way first? I presume, from the fact that she is able to go to church, that she can be seen at home without the formality of an express visit?"
"Certainly," replied the colonel, heartily. "Do me the favour to dine with us this evening, and, as far as that can go you will see her--to considerable disadvantage, I fear," he concluded, smiling sadly.
"Thank you; thank you. If in my power, I shall not fail you. But you must leave a margin for professional contingencies."
"Of course. That is understood."
I had been watching Mr. Armstrong during this brief conversation, and the favourable impressions I had already received of him were deepened. His fine manly vigour, and the simple honesty of his countenance, were such as became a healer of men. It seemed altogether more likely that health might flow from such a source, than from the pudgey, flabby figure of snuff-taking Dr. Wade, whose face had no expression except a professional one. Mr. Armstrong's eyes looked you full in the face, as if he was determined to understand you if he could; and there seemed to me, with my foolish way of seeing signs everywhere, something of tenderness about the droop of those long eyelashes, so that his interpretation was not likely to fail from lack of sympathy. Then there was the firm-set mouth of his brother the curate, and a forehead as broad as his, if not so high or so full of modelling. When we had taken our leave, I said to the colonel,
"If that man's opportunity has been equal to his qualification, I think we may have great hopes of his success in encountering this unknown disease of poor Adela."
"God grant it!" was all my friend's reply.
When he informed Adela that he expected Mr. Henry Armstrong to dinner, she looked at him with a surprised expression, as much as to say--"Surely you do not mean to give me into his hands!" but she only said:
"Very well, papa."
So Mr. Armstrong came, and made himself very agreeable at dinner, talking upon all sorts of subjects, and never letting drop a single word to remind Adela that she was in the presence of a medical man. Nor did he seem to take any notice of her more than was required by ordinary politeness; but behavior without speciality of any sort, he drew his judgments from her general manner, and such glances as fell naturally to his share, of those that must pass between all the persons making up a small dinner-company. This enabled him to see her as she really was, for she remained quite at such ease as her indisposition would permit. He drank no wine at dinner, and only one glass after; and then asked the host if he might go to the drawing- room.
"And will you oblige me by coming with me, Mr. Smith? I can see that you are at home here."
Of course the colonel consented, and I was at his service. Adela rose from her couch when we entered the room. Mr. Armstrong went up to her gently, and said:
"Are you able to sing something, Miss Cathcart? I have heard of your singing."
"I fear not," she answered; "I have not sung for months."
"That is a pity. You must lose something by letting yourself get out of practice. May I play something to you, then?"
She gave him a quick glance that indicated some surprise, and said:
"If you please. It will give me pleasure."
"May I look at your music first?"
He turned over all her loose music from beginning to end. Then without a word seated himself at the grand piano.
Whether he extemporized or played from memory, I, as ignorant of music as of all other accomplishments, could not tell, but even to stupid me, what he did play spoke. I assure my readers that I hardly know a term in the whole musical vocabulary; and yet I am tempted to try to describe what this music was like.
In the beginning, I heard nothing but a slow sameness, of which I was soon weary. There was nothing like an air of any kind in it. It seemed as if only his fingers were playing, and his mind had nothing to do with it. It oppressed me with a sense of the common-place, which, of all things, I hate. At length, into the midst of it, came a few notes, like the first chirp of a sleepy bird trying to sing; only the attempt was half a wail, which died away, and came again. Over and over again came these few sad notes, increasing in number, fainting, despairing, and reviving again; till at last, with a fluttering of agonized wings, as of a soul struggling up out of the purgatorial smoke, the music- bird sprang aloft, and broke into a wild but unsure jubilation. Then, as if in the exuberance of its rejoicing it had broken some law of the kingdom of harmony, it sank, plumb-down, into the purifying fires again; where the old wailing, and the old struggle began, but with increased vehemence and aspiration. By degrees, the surrounding confusion and distress melted away into forms of harmony, which sustained the mounting cry of longing and prayer. Then all the cry vanished in a jubilant praise. Stronger and broader grew the fundamental harmony, and bore aloft the thanksgiving; which, at length, exhausted by its own utterance, sank peacefully, like a summer sunset, into a grey twilight of calm, with the songs of the summer birds dropping asleep one by one; till, at last, only one was left to sing the sweetest prayer for all, before he, too, tucked his head under his wing, and yielded to the restoring silence.
Then followed a pause. I glanced at Adela. She was quietly weeping.
But he did not leave the instrument yet. A few notes, as of the first distress, awoke; and then a fine manly voice arose, singing the following song, accompanied by something like the same music he had already played. It was the same feelings put into words; or, at least, something like the same feelings, for I am a poor interpreter of music:
Rejoice, said the sun, I will make thee gay With glory, and gladness, and holiday; I am dumb, O man, and I need thy voice. But man would not rejoice.
Rejoice in thyself said he, O sun; For thou thy daily course dost run. In thy lofty place, rejoice if thou can: For me, I am only a man.
Rejoice, said the wind, I am free and strong; I will wake in thy heart an ancient song. In the bowing woods--hark! hear my voice! But man would not rejoice.
Rejoice, O wind, in thy strength, said he, For thou fulfillest thy destiny. Shake the trees, and the faint flowers fan: For me, I am only a man.
I am here, said the night, with moon and star; The sun and the wind are gone afar; I am here with rest and dreams of choice. But man would not rejoice.
For he said--What is rest to me, I pray, Who have done no labour all the day? He only should dream who has truth behind. Alas! for me and my kind!
Then a voice, that came not from moon nor star, From the sun, nor the roving wind afar, Said, Man, I am with thee--rejoice, rejoice! And man said, I will rejoice!
"A wonderful physician this!" thought I to myself. "He must be a follower of some of the old mystics of the profession, counting harmony and health all one."
He sat still, for a few moments, before the instrument, perhaps to compose his countenance, and then rose and turned to the company.
The colonel and Percy had entered by this time. The traces of tears were evident on Adela's face, and Percy was eyeing first her and then Armstrong, with some signs of disquietude. Even during dinner it had been clear to me that Percy did not like the doctor, and now he was as evidently jealous of him.
A little general conversation ensued, and the doctor took his leave. The colonel followed him to the door. I would gladly have done so too, but I remained in the drawing-room. All that passed between them was:
"Will you oblige me by calling on Sunday morning, half an hour before church-time, colonel?"
"Will you come with me, Smith?" asked my friend, after informing me of the arrangement.
"Don't you think I might be in the way?"
"Not at all. I am getting old and stupid. I should like you to come and take care of me. He won't do Adela any good, I fear."
"Why do you think so?"
"He has a depressing effect on her already. She is sure not to like him. She was crying when I came into the room after dinner."
"Tears are not grief," I answered; "nor only the signs of grief, when they do indicate its presence. They are a relief to it as well. But I cannot help thinking there was some pleasure mingled with those tears, for he had been playing very delightfully. He must be a very gifted man."
"I don't know anything about that. You know I have no ear for music.--That won't cure my child anyhow."
"I don't know," I answered. "It may help."
"Do you mean to say he thinks to cure her by playing the piano to her? If he thinks to come here and do that, he is mistaken."
"You forget, Cathcart, that I have had no more conversation with him than yourself. But surely you have seen no reason to quarrel with him already."
"No, no, my dear fellow. I do believe I am getting a crusty old curmudgeon. I can't bear to see Adela like this."
"Well, I confess, I have hopes from the new doctor; but we will see what he says on Sunday."
"Why should we not have called to-morrow?"
"I can't answer that. I presume he wants time to think about the case."
"And meantime he may break his neck over some gate that he can't or won't open."
"Well, I should be sorry."
"But what's to become of us then?"
"Ah! you allow that? Then you do expect something of him?"
"To be sure I do, only I am afraid of making a fool of myself, and that sets me grumbling at him, I suppose."
Next day was Saturday; and Mrs. Cathcart, Percy's mother, was expected in the evening. I had a long walk in the morning, and after that remained in my own room till dinner time. I confess I was prejudiced against her; and just because I was prejudiced, I resolved to do all I could to like her, especially as it was Christmas-tide. Not that one time is not as good as another for loving your neighbour, but if ever one is reminded of the duty, it is then. I schooled myself all I could, and went into the drawing-room like a boy trying to be good; as a means to which end, I put on as pleasant a face as would come. But my good resolutions were sorely tried.
* * * * *
These asterisks indicate the obliteration of the personal description which I had given of her. Though true, it was ill-natured. And besides, so indefinite is all description of this kind, that it is quite possible it might be exactly like some woman to whom I am utterly unworthy to hold a candle. So I won't tell what her features were like. I will only say, that I am certain her late husband must have considered her a very fine woman; and that I had an indescribable sensation in the calves of my legs when I came near her. But then, although I believe I am considered a good-natured man, I confess to prejudices (which I commonly refuse to act upon), and to profound dislikes, especially to certain sorts of women, which I can no more help feeling, than I can help feeling the misery that permeates the joints of my jaws when I chance to bite into a sour apple. So my opinions about such women go for little or nothing.
When I entered the drawing-room, I saw at once that she had established herself as protectress of Adela, and possibly as mistress of the house. She leaned back in her chair at a considerable angle, but without bending her spine, and her hands lay folded in her lap. She made me a bow with her neck, without in the least altering the angle of her position, while I made her one of my most profound obeisances. A few common-places passed between us, and then her brother-in-law leading her down to dinner, the evening passed by with politeness on both sides. Adela did not appear to heed her presence one way or the other. But then of late she had been very inexpressive.
Percy seemed to keep out of his mother's way as much as possible. How he amused himself, I cannot imagine.
Next morning we went to call on the doctor, on our way to church.
"Well, Mr. Armstrong, what do you think of my daughter?" asked the colonel.
"I do not think she is in a very bad way. Has she had any disappointment that you know of?"
"Ah--I have seen such a case before. There are a good many of them amongst girls at her age. It is as if, without any disease, life were gradually withdrawn itself--ebbing back as it were to its source. Whether this has a physical or a psychological cause, it is impossible to tell. In her case, I think the later, if indeed it have not a deeper cause; that is, if I'm right in my hypothesis. A few days will show me this; and if I am wrong, I will then make a closer examination of her case. At present it is desirable that I should not annoy her in any such way. Now for the practical: my conviction is that the best thing that can be done for her is, to interest her in something, if possible--no matter what it is. Does she take pleasure in anything?"
"She used to be very fond of music. But of late I have not heard her touch the piano."
"May I be allowed to speak?" I asked.
"Most certainly," said both at once.
"I have had a little talk with Miss Cathcart, and I am entirely of Mr. Armstrong's opinion," I said. "And with his permission--I am pretty sure of my old friend's concurrence--I will tell you a plan I have been thinking of. You remember, colonel, how she was more interested in the anecdotes our friend the Bloomfields told the other evening, than she has been in anything else, since I came. It seems to me that the interest she cannot find for herself, we might be able to provide for her, by telling her stories; the course of which everyone should be at liberty to interrupt, for the introduction of any remark whatever. If we once got her interested in anything, it seems to me, as Mr. Armstrong has already hinted, that the tide of life would begin to flow again. She would eat better, and sleep better, and speculate less, and think less about herself--not of herself--I don't mean that, colonel; for no one could well think less of herself than she does. And if we could amuse her in that way for a week or two, I think it would give a fair chance to any physical remedies Mr. Armstrong might think proper to try, for they act most rapidly on a system in movement. It would be beginning from the inside, would it not?"
"A capital plan," said the doctor, who had been listening with marked approbation; "and I know one who I am sure would help. For my part, I never told a story in my life, but I am willing to try--after awhile, that is. My brother, however, would, I know, be delighted to lend his aid to such a scheme, if colonel Cathcart would be so good as to include him in the conspiracy. It is his duty as well as mine; for she is one of his flock. And he can tell a tale, real or fictitious, better than any one I know."
"There can be no harm in trying it, gentlemen--with kindest thanks to you for your interest in my poor child," said the colonel. "I confess I have not much hope from such a plan, but--"
"You must not let her know that the thing is got up for her," interrupted the doctor.
"Certainly not. You must all come and dine with us, any day you like. I will call on your brother to-morrow."
"This Christmas-tide gives good opportunity for such a scheme," I said. "It will fall in well with all the festivities; and I am quite willing to open the entertainment with a funny kind of fairy-tale, which has been growing in my brain for some time."
"Capital!" said Mr. Armstrong. "We must have all sorts."
"Then shall it be Monday at six--that is, to-morrow?" asked the colonel. "Your brother won't mind a short invitation?"
"Certainly not. Ask him to-day. But I would suggest five, if I might, to give us more time afterwards."
"Very well. Let it be five. And now we will go to church."
The ends of the old oak pews next the chancel were curiously carved. One had a ladder and a hammer and nails on it. Another a number of round flat things, and when you counted them you found that there were thirty. Another had a curious thing--I could not tell what, till one day I met an old woman carrying just such a bag. On another was a sponge on the point of a spear. There were more of such carvings; but these I could see from where I sat. And all the sermon was a persuading of the people that God really loved them, without any if or but.
Adela was very attentive to the clergy man; but I could see her glance wander now and then from his face to that of his brother, who was in the same place he had occupied on Christmas-day. The expression of her aunt's face was judicial.
When we came out of church, the doctor shook hands with me and said:
"Can I have a word with you, Mr. Smith?"
"Most gladly," I answered. "Your time is precious: I will walk your way."
"Thank you.--I like your plan heartily. But to tell the truth, I fancy it is more a case for my brother than for me. But that may come about all in good time, especially as she will now have an opportunity of knowing him. He is the best fellow in the world. And his wife is as good as he is. But--I feel I may say to you what I could not well say to the colonel--I suspect the cause of her illness is rather a spiritual one. She has evidently a strong mental constitution; and this strong frame, so to speak, has been fed upon slops; and an atrophy is the consequence. My hope in your plan is, partly, that it may furnish a better mental table for her, for the time, and set her foraging in new direction for the future."
"But how could you tell that from the very little conversation you had with her?"
"It was not the conversation only--I watched everything about her; and interpreted it by what I know about women. I believe that many of them go into a consumption just from discontent--the righteous discontent of a soul which is meant to sit at the Father's table, and so cannot content itself with the husks which the swine eat. The theological nourishment which is offered them is generally no better than husks. They cannot live upon it, and so die and go home to their Father. And without good spiritual food to keep the spiritual senses healthy and true, they cannot see the thing's about them as they really are. They cannot find interest in them, because they cannot find their own place amoungst them. There was one thing though that confirmed me in this idea about Miss Cathcart. I looked over her music on purpose, and I did not find one song that rose above the level of the drawing-room, or one piece of music that had any deep feeling or any thought in it. Of course I judged by the composers."
"You astonish me by the truth and rapidity of your judgements. But how did you, who like myself are a bachelor, come to know so much about the minds of women?"
"I believe in part by reading Milton, and learning from him a certain high notion about myself and my own duty. None but a pure man can understand women--I mean the true womanhood that is in them. But more than to Milton am I indebted to that brother of mine you heard preach to-day. If ever God made a good man, he is one. He will tell you himself that he knows what evil is. He drank of the cup, found it full of thirst and bitterness; cast it from him, and turning to the fountain of life, kneeled and drank, and rose up a gracious giant. I say the last--not he. But this brother kept me out of the mire in which he soiled his own garments, though, thank God! they are clean enough now. Forgive my enthusiasm, Mr. Smith, about my brother. He is worthy of it."
I felt the wind cold to my weak eyes, and did not answer for some time, lest he should draw unfair conclusions.
"You should get him to tell you his story. It is well worth hearing; and as I see we shall be friends all, I would rather you heard it from his own mouth."
"I sincerely hope I may call that man my friend, some day."
"You may do so already. He was greatly taken with you on the journey down."
"A mutual attraction then, I am happy to think. Good-bye, I am glad you like my plan."
"I think it excellent. Anything hearty will do her good. Isn't there any young man to fall in love with her?"
"I don't know of any at present."
"Only the best thing will make her well; but all true things tend to healing."
"But how is it that you have such notions--so different from those of the mass of your professional brethren?"
"Oh!" said he, laughing, "if you really want an answer, be it known to all men that I am a student of Van Helmont."
He turned away, laughing; and I, knowing nothing of Van Helmont, could not tell whether he was in jest or in earnest.
At dinner some remark was made about the sermon, I think by our host.
"You don't call that the gospel!" said Mrs. Cathcart, with a smile.
"Why, what do you call it, Jane?"
"I don't know that I am bound to put a name upon it. I should, however, call it pantheism."
"Might I ask you, madam, what you understand by pantheism?"
"Oh! neology, and all that sort of thing."
"And neology is--?"
"Really, Mr. Smith, a dinner-table is not the most suitable place in the world for theological discussion."
"I quite agree with you, madam," I responded, astonished at my own boldness.--I was not quite so much afraid of her after this, although I had an instinctive sense that she did not at all like me. But Percy was delighted to see his mother discomfited, and laughed into his plate. She regarded him with lurid eyes for a moment, and then took refuge in her plate in turn. The colonel was too polite to make any remark at the time, but when he and I were alone, he said:
"Smith, I didn't expect it of you. Bravo, my boy!"
And I, John Smith, felt myself a hero.