Before the next meeting took place, namely, after breakfast on the following morning, Percy having gone to visit the dogs, Mrs. Cathcart addressed me:
"I had something to say to my brother, Mr. Smith, but--"
"And you wish to be alone with him? With all my heart," I said.
"Not at all, Mr. Smith," she answered, with one of her smiles, which were quite incomprehensible to me, until I hit upon the theory that she kept a stock of them for general use, as stingy old ladies keep up their half worn ribbons to make presents of to servant-maids; "I only wanted to know, before I made a remark to the colonel, whether Dr. Armstrong--"
"Mr. Armstrong lays no claim to the rank of a physician."
"So much the better for my argument. But is he a friend of yours, Mr. Smith?"
"Yes--of nearly a week's standing."
"Oh, then, I am in no danger of hurting your feelings."
"I don't know that," thought I, but I did not say it.
"Well, Colonel Cathcart--excuse the liberty I am taking--but surely you do not mean to dismiss Dr. Wade, and give a young man like that the charge of your daughter's health at such a crisis."
"Dr. Wade is dismissed already, Jane. He did her no more good than any old woman might have done."
"But such a young man!"
"Not so very young," I ventured to say. "He is thirty at least."
But the colonel was angry with her interference; for, an impetuous man always, he had become irritable of late.
"Jane," he said, "is a man less likely to be delicate because he is young? Or does a man always become more refined as he grows older? For my part--" and here his opposition to his unpleasant sister-in-law possibly made him say more than he would otherwise have conceded--"I have never seen a young man whose manners and behaviour I liked better."
"Much good that will do her! It will only hasten the mischief. You men are so slow to take a hint, brother; and it is really too hard to be forced to explain one's self always. Don't you see that, whether he cures her or not, he will make her fall in love with him? And you won't relish that, I fancy."
"You won't relish it, at all events. But mayn't he fall in love with her as well?" thought I; which thought, a certain expression in the colonel's face kept me from uttering. I saw at once that his sister's words had set a discord in the good man's music. He made no reply; and Mrs. Cathcart saw that her arrow had gone to the feather. I saw what she tried to conceal--the flash of success on her face. But she presently extinguished it, and rose and left the room. I thought with myself that such an arrangement would be the very best thing for Adela; and that, if the blessedness of woman lies in any way in the possession of true manhood, she, let her position in society be what it might compared with his, and let her have all the earls in the kingdom for uncles, would be a fortunate woman indeed, to marry such a man as Harry Armstrong;--for so much was I attracted to the man, that I already called him Harry, when I and Myself talked about him. But I was concerned to see my old friend so much disturbed. I hoped however that his good generous heart would right its own jarring chords before long, and that he would not spoil a chance of Adela's recovery, however slight, by any hasty measures founded on nothing better than paternal jealousy. I thought, indeed, he had gone too far to make that possible for some time; but I did not know how far his internal discomfort might act upon his behaviour as host, and so interfere with the homeliness of our story-club, upon which I depended not a little for a portion of the desired result.
The motive of Mrs. Cathcart's opposition was evident. She was a partizan of Percy; for Adela was a very tolerable fortune, as people say.
These thoughts went through my mind, as thoughts do, in no time at all; and when the lady had closed the door behind her with protracted gentleness, I was ready to show my game; in which I really considered my friend and myself partners.
"Those women," I said, (women forgive me!), with a laugh which I trust the colonel did not discover to be a forced one--"Those women are always thinking about falling in love and that sort of foolery. I wonder she isn't jealous of me now! Well, I do love Adela better than any man will, for some weeks to come. I've been a sweetheart of hers ever since she was in long clothes." Here I tried to laugh again, and, to judge from the colonel, I verily believe I succeeded. The cloud lightened on his face, as I made light of its cause, till at last he laughed too. If I thought it all nonsense, why should he think it earnest? So I turned the conversation to the club, about which I was more concerned than about the love-making at present, seeing the latter had positively no existence as yet.
"Adela seemed quite to enjoy the reading last night," I said.
"I thought she looked very grave," he answered.
The good man had been watching her face all the time, I saw, and evidently paying no heed to the story. I doubted if he was the better judge for this--observing only ab extra, and without being in sympathy with her feelings as moved by the tale.
"Now that is just what I should have wished to see," I answered. "We don't want her merry all at once. What we want is, that she should take an interest in something. A grave face is a sign of interest. It is all the world better than a listless face."
"But what good can stories do in sickness?"
"That depends on the origin of the sickness. My conviction is, that, near or far off, in ourselves, or in our ancestors--say Adam and Eve, for comprehension's sake--all our ailments have a moral cause. I think that if we were all good, disease would, in the course of generations, disappear utterly from the face of the earth."
"That's just like one of your notions, old friend! Rather peculiar. Mystical, is it not?"
"But I meant to go on to say that, in Adela's case, I believe, from conversation I have had with her, that the operation of mind on body is far more immediate than that I have hinted at."
"You cannot mean to imply," said my friend, in some alarm, that Adela has anything upon her conscience?"
"Certainly not. But there may be moral diseases that do not in the least imply personal wrong or fault. They may themselves be transmitted, for instance. Or even if such sprung wholly from present physical causes, any help given to the mind would react on those causes. Still more would the physical ill be influenced through the mental, if the mind be the source of both.
"Now from whatever cause, Adela is in a kind of moral atrophy, for she cannot digest the food provided for her, so as to get any good of it. Suppose a patient in a corresponding physical condition, should show a relish for anything proposed to him, would you not take it for a sign that that was just the thing to do him good? And we may accept the interest Adela shows in any kind of mental pabulum provided for her, as an analogous sign. It corresponds to relish, and is a ground for expecting some benefit to follow--in a word, some nourishment of the spiritual life. Relish may be called the digestion of the palate; interest, the digestion of the inner ears; both significant of further digestion to follow. The food thus relished may not be the best food; and yet it may be the best for the patient, because she feels no repugnance to it, and can digest and assimilate, as well as swallow it. For my part, I believe in no cramming, bodily or mental. I think nothing learned without interest, can be of the slightest after benefit; and although the effort may comprise a moral good, it involves considerable intellectual injury. All I have said applies with still greater force to religious teaching, though that is not definitely the question now."
"Well, Smith, I can't talk philosophy like you; but what you say sounds to me like sense. At all events, if Adela enjoys it, that is enough for me. Will the young doctor tell stories too?"
"I don't know. I fancy he could. But to-night we have his brother."
"I shall make them welcome, anyhow."
This was all I wanted of him; and now I was impatient for the evening, and the clergyman's tale. The more I saw of him the better I liked him, and felt the more interest in him. I went to church that same day, and heard him read prayers, and liked him better still; so that I was quite hungry for the story he was going to read to us.
The evening came, and with it the company. Arrangements, similar to those of the evening before, having been made, with some little improvements, the colonel now occupying the middle place in the half-circle, and the doctor seated, whether by chance or design, at the corner farthest from the invalid's couch, the clergyman said, as he rolled and unrolled the manuscript in his hand:
"To explain how I came to write a story, the scene of which is in Scotland, I may be allowed to inform the company that I spent a good part of my boyhood in a town in Aberdeenshire, with my grandfather, who was a thorough Scotchman. He had removed thither from the south, where the name is indigenous; being indeed a descendant of that Christy, whom his father, Johnie Armstrong, standing with the rope about his neck, ready to be hanged--or murdered, as the ballad calls it--apostrophizes in these words:
'And God be with thee, Christy, my son, Where thou sits on thy nurse's knee! But an' thou live this hundred year, Thy father's better thou'lt never be.'
But I beg your pardon, ladies and gentlemen all, for this has positively nothing to do with the story. Only please to remember that in those days it was quite respectable to be hanged."
We all agreed to this with a profusion of corroboration, except the colonel; who, I thought, winced a little. But presently our attention was occupied with the story, thus announced:
"_The Bell. A Sketch in Pen and Ink_."
He read in a great, deep, musical voice, with a wealth of pathos in it--always suppressed, yet almost too much for me in the more touching portions of the story.
"One interruption more," he said, before he began. "I fear you will find it a sad story."
And he looked at Adela.
I believe that he had chosen the story on the homoeopathic principle.
"I like sad stories," she answered; and he went on at once.