But it was Adela herself who failed next time. I had seen her during the reading draw her shawl about her as if she were cold. She seemed quite well when the friends left, but she had caught a chill; and before the morning she was quite feverish, and unable to leave her bed.
"You see, Colonel," said Mrs. Cathcart at breakfast, "that this doctor of yours is doing the child harm instead of good. He has been suppressing instead of curing the complaint; and now she is worse than ever."
"When the devil--" I began to remark in reply.
"Mr. Smith!" exclaimed Mrs. Cathcart.
"Allow me, madam, to finish my sentence before you make up your mind to be shocked.--When the devil goes out of a man, or a woman either, he gives a terrible wrench by way of farewell. Now, as the prophet Job teaches us, all disease is from the devil; and--"
"The prophet Job!--Mr. Smith?"
"Well, the old Arab Scheik, if you like that epithet better."
"Really, Mr. Smith!"
"Well, I don't mind what you call him. I only mean to say that a disease sometimes goes out with a kind of flare, like a candle--or like the poor life itself. I believe, if this is an intermittent fever--as, from your description, I expect it will prove to be--it will be the best thing for her."
"Well, we shall see what Dr. Wade will say."
"Dr. Wade?" I exclaimed.
"Of course, my brother will not think of trusting such a serious case to an inexperienced young man like Mr. Armstrong."
"It seems to me," I replied, "that for some time the case has ceased to be a serious one. You must allow that Adela is better."
"Seemed to be better, Mr. Smith. But it was all excitement, and here is the consequence. I, as far as I have any influence, decidedly object to Mr. Armstrong having anything more to do with the case."
"Perhaps you are right, Jane," said the colonel. "I fear you are. But how can I ask Dr. Wade to resume his attendance?"
Always nervous about Adela, his sister-in-law had at length succeeded in frightening him.
"Leave that to me," she said; "I will manage him."
"Pooh!" said I, rudely. "He will jump at it. It will be a grand triumph for him. I only want you to mind what you are about. You know Adela does not like Dr. Wade."
"And she does like Doctor Armstrong?" said Mrs. Cathcart, stuffing each word with significance.
"Yes," I answered, boldly. "Who would not prefer the one to the other?"
But her arrow had struck. The colonel rose, and saying only, "Well, Jane, I leave the affair in your hands," walked out of the room. I was coward enough to follow him. Had it been of any use, coward as I was, I would have remained.
But Mrs. Cathcart, if she had not reckoned without her host, had, at least, reckoned without her hostess. She wrote instantly to Dr. Wade, in terms of which it is enough to say that they were successful, for they brought the doctor at once. I saw him pass through the hall, looking awfully stiff, important, and condescending. Beeves, who had opened the door to him, gave me a very queer look as he showed him into the drawing-room, ringing, at the same time, for Adela's maid.
Now Mrs. Cathcart had not expected that the doctor would arrive so soon, and had, as yet, been unable to make up her mind how to communicate to the patient the news of the change in the physical ministry. So when the maid brought the message, all that her cunning could provide her with at the moment was the pretence, that he had called so opportunely by chance.
"Ask him to walk up," she said, after just one moment's hesitation.
Adela heard the direction her aunt gave, through the cold shiver which was then obliterating rather than engrossing her attention, and concluded that they had sent for Mr. Armstrong. But Mrs. Cathcart, turning towards her, said--
"Adela, my love, Dr. Wade had just called; and I have asked him to step up stairs."
The patient started up.
"Aunt, what do you mean? If that old wife comes into this room, I will make him glad to go out of it!"
You see she was feverish, poor child, else I am sure she could not have been so rude to her aunt. But before Mrs. Cathcart could reply, in came Dr. Wade. He walked right up to the bed, after a stately obeisance to the lady attendant.
"I am sorry to find you so ill, Miss Cathcart."
"I am perfectly well, Dr. Wade. I am sorry you have had the trouble of walking up stairs."
As she said this, she rang the bell at the head of her bed. Her maid, who had been listening at the door, entered at once.--I had all this from Adela herself afterwards.
"Emma, bring me my desk. Dr. Wade, there must be some mistake. It was my aunt, Mrs. Cathcart, who sent for you. Had she given me the opportunity, I would have begged that the interview might take place in her room instead of mine."
Dr. Wade retreated towards the fireplace, where Mrs. Cathcart stood, quite aware that she had got herself into a mess of no ordinary complication. Yet she persisted in her cunning. She lifted her finger to her forehead.
"Ah?" said Dr. Wade.
"Yes," said Mrs. Cathcart.
After some more whispering, the doctor sat down to write a prescription. But meantime, Adela was busy writing another. What she wrote was precisely to this effect--
"Dear Mr. Armstrong,
"I have caught a bad cold, and my aunt has let loose Dr. Wade upon me. Please come directly, if you will save me from ever so much nasty medicine, at the least. My aunt is not my mother, thank heaven! though she would gladly usurp that relationship.
"Yours most truly,
She folded and sealed the note--sealed it carefully--and gave it to Emma, who vanished with it, followed instantly by Mrs. Cathcart. As to what took place outside the door--shall I confess it?--Beeves is my informant.
"Where are you going, Emma? Emma, come here directly," said Mrs. Cathcart.
"I am going a message for mis'ess."
"Who is that note for?"
"I didn't ask. John can read well enough."
"Show it me."
Emma, I presume, closed both lips and hand very tight. "I command you."
"Miss Cathcart pays me my wages, ma'am," said Emma, and turning, sped down-stairs like a carrier-pigeon.
In the hall she met Beeves, and told him the story.
"There she comes!" cried he. "Give me the letter. I'll take it myself."
"You're not going without your hat, surely, Mr. Beeves," said Emma.
"Bless me! It's down-stairs. There's master's old one! He'll never want it again. And if he does, it'll be none the worse."
And he was out of the door in a moment. Beeves's alarm, however, as to Mrs. Cathcart's approach, was a false one. She returned into the sick chamber, with a face fiery red, and found Dr. Wade just finishing an elaborate prescription.
"There!" said he, rising. "Send for that at once, and let it be taken directly. Good morning."
He left the room instantly, making signs that he was afraid of exciting his patient, as she did not appear to approve of his presence.
"What is the prescription?" said Adela, quite quietly, as Mrs. Cathcart approached the bed, apparently trying to decipher it.
"I am glad to see you so much calmer, my dear. You must not excite yourself. The prescription?--I cannot make it out. Doctors do write so badly. I suppose they consider it professional."
"They consider a good many things professional which are only stupid. Let me see it."
Mrs. Cathcart, thrown off her guard, gave it to her. Adela tore it in fragments, and threw it in a little storm on the floor.
"Adela!" screamed Mrs. Cathcart. "What is to be done?"
"Pay Dr. Wade his fee, and tell him I shall never be too ill to refuse his medicines. Now, aunt! You find I am determined.--I declare you make me behave so ill that I am ashamed of myself."
Here the poor impertinent child crept under the clothes, and fell a-weeping bitterly. Mrs. Cathcart had sense enough to see that nothing could be done, and retired to her room. Getting weary of her own society after a few moments of solitude, she proceeded to go down-stairs. But half-way down, she was met full in the face by Harry Armstrong ascending two steps at a time. He had already met Dr. Wade, as he came out of the dining-room, where he had been having an interview with the colonel. Harry had turned, and held out his hand with a "How do you do, Dr. Wade?" But that gentleman had bowed with the utmost stiffness, and kept his hand at home.
"So it is to be open war and mutual slander, is it, Dr. Wade?" said Harry. "In that case, I want to know how you come to interfere with my patient. I have had no dismissal, which punctilio I took care to know was observed in your case."
"Sir, I was sent for," said Dr. Wade, haughtily.
"I have in my pocket a note from the lady of this house, requesting my immediate attendance. If you have received a request to the same purport from a visitor, you obey it at your own risk. Good morning."
Then Harry walked quietly up the first half of the stair, while Beeves hastened to open the door to the crest-fallen Dr. Wade; but by the time he met Mrs. Cathcart, his rate of ascent had considerably increased. As soon as she saw him, however, without paying any attention to the usual formality of a greeting, she turned and re-entered her niece's room. Her eyes were flashing, and her face spotted red and white with helpless rage. But she would not abandon the field. Harry bowed to her, and passed on to the bed, where he was greeted with a smile.
"There's not much the matter, I hope?" he said, returning the smile.
"It may suit you to make light of my niece's illness, Mr. Armstrong; but I beg to inform you that her father thought it serious enough to send for Dr. Wade. He has been here already, and your attendance is quite superfluous."
"No doubt; no doubt. But as I am here, I may as well prescribe."
"Dr. Wade has already prescribed."
"And I have taken his prescription, have I not, aunt?--and destroyed it, Mr. Armstrong, instead of my own chance."
"Of what?" said Mrs. Cathcart, with vulgar significance.
"Of getting rid of two officious old women at once," said Adela--in a rage, I fear I must confess, as the only excuse for impertinence.
"Come, come," said Harry, "this won't do. I cannot have my patient excited in this way. Miss Cathcart, may I ring for your maid?"
For answer, Adela rang the bell herself. Her aunt was pretending to look out of the window.
"Will you go and ask your master," said Harry, when Emma made her appearance, "to be so kind as come here for a moment?"
The poor colonel--an excellent soldier, a severe master, with the highest notions of authority and obedience, found himself degraded by his own conduct, as other autocrats have proved before, into a temporizing incapable. It was the more humiliating that he was quite aware in his own honest heart that it was jealousy of Harry that had brought him into this painful position. But he obeyed the summons at once; for wherever there was anything unpleasant to be done, there, with him, duty assumed the sterner command. As soon as he entered the room, Harry, without giving time for anyone else to determine the course of the conference, said:
"There has been some mistake, Colonel Cathcart, between Dr. Wade and myself, which has already done Miss Cathcart no good. As I find her very feverish, though not by any means alarmingly ill, I must, as her medical attendant, insist that no one come into her room but yourself or her maid."
Every one present perfectly understood this; and however, in other circumstances, the colonel might have resented the tone of authority with which Harry spoke, he was compelled, for his daughter's sake, to yield; and he afterwards justified Harry entirely. Mrs. Cathcart walked out of the room with her neck invisible from behind. The colonel sat down by the fire. Harry wrote his prescription on the half sheet from which Dr. Wade had torn his; and then saying that he would call in the evening, took his leave of the colonel, and bowed to his patient, receiving a glance of acknowledgment which could not fail to generate the feeling that there was a secret understanding between them, and that he had done just what she wanted. He mounted his roan horse, called Rhubarb, with a certain elation of being, which he tried to hide from everyone but himself.
When doctors forget that their patients are more like musical instruments than machines, they will soon need to be reminded that they are men and women, and not dogs or horses. Yet, alas for the poor dogs and horses that fall into the hands of a man without a human sympathy even with them! I, John Smith, bless you, my doctor-friends, that ye are not doctors merely, but good and loving men; and, in virtue thereof, so much the more--so exceedingly the more Therapeutae.
I need not follow the course of the fever. Each day the arrival of the cold fit was longer delayed, and the violence of both diminished, until they disappeared altogether. But a day or two before this happy result was completed, Adela had been allowed to go down to the drawing-room, and had delighted her father with her cheerfulness and hopefulness. It really seemed as if the ague had carried off the last remnants of the illness under which she had been so long labouring. But then, you can never put anything to the experimentum crucis; and there were other causes at work for Adela's cure, which were perhaps more powerful than even the ague. However this may have been, she got almost quite well in a very short space of time; and with her father's consent, issued invitations to another meeting of the story-club. They were at once satisfactorily responded to.