Page images
PDF
EPUB

dreamed of, it naturally embarrasses him at the moment. May I ask if you ladies have come from Australia alone?"

"Oh, not alone; the children are at the hotel. Nettie said it was no use coming unless we all came," said his new sister-in-law, with a half-sob.

another word to me-I know my duty-I shall stay here."

With which speech she seated herself resolutely in that same easy-chair which Fred had lolled in last night, took off her bonnet, for hats were not in these days, and shed off from her face, with two tiny hands, exquisite "The children!" Dr. Rider's gasp of in shape if a little brown in color, the great dismay was silent, and made no sound. He braids of dark brown silky hair which enstood staring blankly at those wonderful in-cumbered her little head. The gesture molvaders of his bachelor house, marvelling what was to be done with them in the first place. Was he to bring Fred down all slovenly and half-awakened? was he to leave them in possession of his private sanctuary? The precious morning moments were passing while he pondered, and his little groom fidgeted outside with a message for the doctor. While he stood irresolute, the indefatigable Nettie once more darted forward.

"Give me Fred's address, please," said this managing woman. "I'll see him and prepare him for meeting Susan. He can say what he pleases to me; I don't mind it in the very least ; but Susan of course must be taken care of. Now, look here, Dr. Edward, Susan is your sister-in-law, and I am her sister. We don't want to occupy your time. I can manage every thing; but it is quite necessary in the first place that you should confide in me."

"Confide!" cried the bewildered man. "Fred is not under my authority. He is here in my house much against my will. He is in bed, and not fit to be awakened; and I am obliged to tell you simply, ladies," said the unfortunate doctor, "that my house has no accommodation for a family. If you will go back to the hotel where you left the children "—and here the speaker gave another gasp of horror-" I'll have him roused and sent to you. It is the only thing I can do." "Susan can go," said the prompt Nettie; "I'll stay here until Fred is ready, and take him to see them. It is necessary he should be prepared, you know. Don't talk nonsense, Susan-I shall stay here, and Dr. Rider, of course, will call a cab for you."

"But Nettie, Nettie dear, it isn't proper. I can't leave you all by yourself in a strange house," remonstrated her sister.

"Don't talk such stuff; I am perfectly well able to take care of myself; I am not a London young lady," said the courageous Nettie. It is perfectly unnecessary to say

66

lified Dr. Rider in the most unaccountable way in spite of himself. The intolerable idea of leaving these two in his house, became less intolerable, he could not tell how. And the little groom outside fairly knocked at the door in that softening moment with a message which could be delayed no longer. The doctor put his head out to receive the call, and looked in again perplexed and uncertain. Nettie had quite established herself in the easy-chair. She sat there looking with her bright eyes into the vacant air before her, in a pretty attitude of determination and readiness, beating her little foot on the carpet. Something whimsical, odd, and embarrassing, about her position made it all the more piquant to the troubled eyes which, in spite of all their worldly wisdom, were still the eyes of a young man. He could not tell in the world what to say to her. To order that creature out of his house was simply impossible; to remain there was equally so; to leave them in possession of the field-what could the unfortunate young doctor do? One thing was certain, the impatient patient could no longer be neglected; and after a few minutes longer of bewildered uncertainty Dr. Rider went off in the wildest confusion of mind, leaving his brother's unknown family triumphant in his invaded house.

To describe the feelings with which the unfortunate doctor went fasting about his day's work—the manner in which that scene returned to him after every visit he made— the continual succession in which wrath, dismay, alarm, bitter disgust with the falsehood of the brother who, no further gone than last night, had pretended to confide in him, but never breathed a syllable of this biggest unconcealable secret, swept through the mind of the victim; all culminating, however, in the softening of that moment, in the tiny figure, indomitable elf or fairy, shedding back with dainty fingers those soft abundant locks

in comparison with the commotion of his thoughts; so was the sitting-room where he had left Nettie resolutely planted in the easychair; there was nobody there now; the boxes were out of the hall, not a sound was to be heard in the house. He turned rather blankly upon Mary, who was going away quite composedly, as if there was nothing which she wanted to tell or he to hear.

"Where is my brother and the ladies?" said the amazed doctor.

[ocr errors]

-would be impossible. The young man him. He went in with a little thrill of curigot through his work somehow, in a maze of osity; the house was very quiet-dead-quiet confusion and excitement - angry excitement, indignant confusion, determination to yield nothing further, but to defend himself and his house once for all from the inroads of what he angrily pronounced in his own mind, "another man's family "-yet, withal, a curiosity and interest which gave zest greater than usual to the idea of going home. When he was able at last to turn his horse's head towards his own dwelling, it was with feelings very different from the usual unexpecting blank of sullen displeasure. What They all went off to the 'otel, sir, as soon he should find there, was a curious, exciting, as Mr. Rider came down-stairs," said Mary, alarming question; perhaps an entire nur- complacently. "I assured Miss as it was sery with Nettie in charge; perhaps a recu- the best thing she could do, sir, for that I sant husband, with Nettie mounting guard was 'amost sure you'd never have the chilover him; perhaps a thrilling scene of fam-dren here,-as to be sure there wasn't no ily explanation and reconciliation. The day room neither," said the doctor's factotum. had been a specially long and hard one. He "As soon as Mr. Frederick came down, she had been obliged to snatch a hurried lunch called a cab, did Miss, and took 'em both at one of his patient's houses, and to post-away." pone his hard-earned dinner to the most fash- "Oh! so they're gone, are they?" said ionable of hours. It was indeed quite even- the doctor. ing, almost twilight, when he made his way home at last. As he neared the scene of action, the tired man condoled with himself over the untimely excitement that awaited him. He said to himself with pathetic selfpity that it was hard indeed for a man who had earned a little repose to go in upon all the troubles of another man's family. He And with this assurance, which she evihad denied himself-he had not undertaken dently thought a very grateful one, Mary upon his own shoulders that pleasing bur- went off to get the doctor's dinner. He den; and now what was he to be saddled walked to the end of the room, and then with the burden without the consolation-back again, with solemnity-then threw himthe responsibility without the companion- self into that easy-chair. "Blessed ridship. All this Dr. Rider represented to dance!" said the doctor; but somehow he himself very pathetically as he wended his homeward way. Yet it is astonishing, notwithstanding, with what alacrity he hastened upon that path, and how much the curiosity, the excitement, the dramatic stir and commotion made in his monotonous life by this entirely new, unexpected incident, occupied his mind. With expectations highly roused, he drew up once more before his own house. It was surprising to him to see how exactly it looked like itself. The blinds half drawn down in the genteelest calm as they always were no faces peeping at the windows-no marks of an arrival on the pave- trials-it is mortifying, to say the least, when ment, or in the composed countenance of Mary, who stood holding the door open for

"Hours and hours ago," answered Mary; "dinner'll be up in two minutes. But I wouldn't say much for the potatoes, sir. When a gentleman's irreg'lar, its hard laws on the poor servants-nothink will keep, going on for two hours, and not take no harm; but all's quiet and comfortable in your room.”

looked glum, wonderfully glum. There was no accounting for those blank looks of his ; he who had been condoling with himself over the exciting scene he expected, so uncomfortable a conclusion to a long day's labor, how was it he did not look relieved when that scene was spared him? To tell the truth, when one has been expecting something to happen, of whatever description, and has been preparing one's courage, one's temper, one's fortitude, in anticipatory rehearsalswhen one has placed one's self in the attitude of a martyr, and prepared to meet with fiery

one finds all the necessities of the case disappear, and the mildest calm replace that

tragical anticipation: the quiet falls blank that gloomy coffee. Fred had faded from

upon the excited imagination. Of course, Dr. Rider was relieved; but it was with something mightily like disappointment that he leant back in his chair and knitted his brows at the opposite wall. Not for the world would he have acknowledged himself to be disappointed; but the calm was wonderfully monotonous after all those expectations. He was never so bored and sick of a night by himself. He tried to read, but reading did not occupy his mind. He grew furious over his charred chops and sodden potatoes. As for the tea Mary brought, he would have gladly pitched it at her by way of diversifying that blank evening with an incident. The contrast between what he had looked for, and what he had, was wonderful. How delicious this stillness should have been, this consciousness of having his house to himself, and nobody to interrupt his brief repose! But somehow it appears that human nature takes best with not having its wishes granted. It is indescribable how Dr. Rider yawned-how dull he found his newspaper -how few books worth reading there were in the house-how slow the minutes ran on. If somebody had chosen to be ill that night, of all nights the best for such a purpose, the doctor would not have objected to such an interruption. Failing that, he went to bed early, dreadfully tired of his own society. Such were the wonderful results of that invasion so much dreaded, and that retreat so much hoped for. Perhaps his own society had never in his life been so distasteful to him before.

CHAPTER III.

NEXT day Dr. Rider audibly congratulated himself at breakfast upon having once more his house to himself-audibly, as if it were really necessary to give utterance to the thought before he could quite feel its force. A week before, if Fred had departed, however summarily, there can be no doubt that his brother's feelings of relief and comfort would have been unfeigned; now, however, he began to think the matter over, and to justify to himself his extraordinary sense of disappointment. As he poured out his own coffee with a sober face, his eye rested upon that easy-chair, which had been brought into such prominence in the history of the last two days. He kept looking at it as he sipped

the great chair; his big image threw no shadow upon it. There sat a little fairy queen, tiny as Titania, but dark as an elf of the East, putting up those two shapely tiny hands, brown and beautiful, to push aside the flood of hair, which certainly would have veiled her little figure all over, the doctor thought, had it been let down. Wonderful little sprite! She, no doubt, had dragged her plaintive sister over the seas— she it was that had forced her way into Edward Rider's house, taken her position in it, ousted the doctor; and she doubtless it was who swept the husband and wife out of it again, leaving no trace behind. Waking up from a little trance of musing upon this too interesting subject, Dr. Rider suddenly raised himself into an erect position, body and mind, with an involuntary movement, as if to shake off the yoke of the enchantress. He reminded himself instinctively of his brother's falsehood and ingratitude. After throwing himself a most distasteful burden on Edward's charity for five long dreary months, the bugbear of the doctor's dreams, and heavy ever-recurring climax of his uncomfortable thoughts, here had Fred departed without a word of explanation or thanks, or even without saying good-by. The doctor thought himself quite justified in being angry. He began to feel that the suspicious uneasiness which possessed him was equally natural and inevitable. Such a thankless, heartless departure was enough to put any man out. To imagine that Fred could be capable of it, naturally went to his brother's heart.

That day there was still no word of the party who had disappeared so mysteriously out of the doctor's house. Dr. Rider went to his hard day's work vaguely expectant, feeling sure he must hear of them somehow, and more interested in hearing of them than was to be expected from his former low ebb of fraternal affection. When he returned and found still no letter, no message, the blank disappointment of the former night closed still more blankly upon him. When one is all by one's self, and has nothing at best but an easy-chair to go home to, and goes home expecting a letter, or a message, or a visitor, who has not arrived, and has no chance of arriving, the revulsion of feeling is not agreeable. It did not improve the doctor's temper in the first place. The chill

was at the hotel door punctually at one o'clock. It was in the principal street of Carlingford, George Street, where all the best shops, and indeed some of the best From the corner window of houses, were.

loneliness of that trim room, with its drawn | last Sunday? The doctor could not tell. curtains, and tidy pretence of being com- He put Nettie's note in his pocket-book, and fortable, exasperated him beyond bearing. He felt shut up in it, and yet would not leave it. Somebody certainly might come even to-night. Fred himself, perhaps, if he could escape from the rigid guardianship he was under; or was that miraculous Australian Nettie a little witch, who had spirited the whole party in a nutshell over the seas? Never was man delivered from a burden with a worse grace than was Dr. Rider; and the matter had not mended in these twenty-four hours.

Next morning, however, this fear of fraternal suspense was assuaged. A three-cornered note, addressed in an odd feminine hand, very thin, small, and rapid, came among Dr. Rider's letters. He signalled it out by instinct, and opened it with an impatience wonderful to behold.

the hotel you could see down into the bowery seclusion of Grange Lane, and Mr. Wodehouse's famous apple-trees holding tempting clusters over the high wall. The prospect was very different from that which extended before Dr. Rider's window. Instinctively he marvelled within himself whether, if Dr. Marjoribanks were to diepeople cannot live forever even in Carlingford-whether it might not be a disadvantage to a man to live so far out of the world. No doubt it was a temptation of the Evil One. Happily the young man did not take sufficient time to answer himself, but walked forward briskly through the mazy old pas"SIR,-We are all at the Angel until we can get lodgings, which I hope to be to-day. sages of the old inn, to a room from which I am utterly ashamed of Fred for not having sundry noises issued. Dr. Rider walked in let you know, and indeed of myself for trust- with the natural confidence of a man who ing to him. I should not wonder but we has an appointment. The room was in unmay have been under a mistake about him disturbed possession of three childrenand you. If you could call about one, I three children making noise enough for six should most likely be in to see you, and per--all very small, very precocious, with starhaps you could give me your advice about ing round eyes, and the most complete inthe lodgings. Neither of them have the least dependence of speech and manners. judgment in such matters. I am sorry to trouble you; but being a stranger, perhaps doctor confronted the little rabble thunderyou will excuse me. I understand you are struck; they were his brother's children, unonly at home in the evening, and that is just recognizable little savages as they were. the time I can't come out, as I have the One little fellow, in a linen pinafore, was whole of them to look to, which is the rea-mounted on the arm of a sofa, spurring vigson I ask you to call on me. Begging you will pardon me, I remain,

"NETTIE UNDERWOOD."

The

orously; another was pursuing his sister about the room, trying to catch her feet with the tongs, and filling the air with repeated "She remains Nettie Underwood," said loud snaps of disappointment. They interthe doctor unawares. He laughed to him-mitted their occupations to stare at him. self at that conclusion. Then an odd gleam" Look here-here's a man," said the youngcame across his face. It was probably the est, meditatively beholding his dismayed unfirst time he had laughed in a natural fash- cle with a philosophic eye. "Can't some ion for some months back, and the unusual one go and tell Nettie ?" said the little girl, exertion made his cheeks tingle. His tem- gazing also with calm equanimity. "If he per was improved that morning. He went wants Nettie he'll have to wait," said the eloff to his patients almost in a good-humor. der boy. A pause followed; the unhappy When he passed the great house where Bes- doctor stood transfixed by the steady stare sie Christian now reigned, he recalled her of their three pair of eyes. Suddenly the image with a positive effort. Astonishing little girl burst out of the room, and ran what an effect of distance had floated over screaming along the passage. "Mamma, the apparition of that bride. Was it a year mamma, here's a man come," cried the wonsince he saw her and gnashed his teeth at derful colonial child. A few minutes afterthe thought of his own folly or was it only wards their mother appeared, languid and

"Please to sit down," said Mrs. Fred, and stood leaning on the table, looking at her brother-in-law with a calm curiosity, not unlike that of her children. "Nettie and my husband have gone out together; but now that we are all so happy and united," she continued, with a sort of feeble spitefulness, "I am sure it is quite a pity to trouble you. You could not take us in, you know. You said that very plain, Mr. Edward."

faded as before. Perhaps she had been even | that pretty faded face to turn upon the chilprettier than Nettie in her bright days, if dren. Dreadful imps! If Fred had only any had ever been bright for Fred Rider's taken to evil ways after he became poswife. She was fairer, larger, smoother than sessed of such a family, his brother could her sister; but these advantages had lapsed have forgiven him. While these thoughts in a general fade, which transformed her passed through Dr. Rider's mind, however, color into washy pinkness, made her figure deliverance approached. He heard Nettie's stoop, and her footsteps drag. She came voice in the passage, long before she reached remonstrating all the way in feeble ac- the door. Not that it was loud like the cents. It was not for her, certainly, that the voices of this dreadful household; but the doctor had taken the trouble to come to the tone was sufficiently peculiar to be recogBlue Boar. nized anywhere. With a most penetrating clearness, it came through the long passages, words inaudible, only the sound of a voice, rapid, breathless, decided-with the distant sound of Fred's long, shambling, uncertain footstep coming in as the strange accompaniment. Then they enter the room-the one tiny, bright, dauntless, an intrepid, undiscouragable little soul; the other with his heavy, large limbs, his bemused face, his air of hopeless failure, idleness, content. Edward Rider gazed involuntarily from one to another of this two. He saw the sprite place herself between the husband and wife, a vain little Quixote, balancing these extremes of helplessness and ruin. He could not help looking at her with a certain unconscious admiration and amazement, as he might have looked at a forlorn hope. Thousands of miles away from her friends, wherever and whatever they might be, with Fred and his wife and children on her hands, a household of incapables-what was that little creature to do?

"It was perfectly true, madam," said the doctor. "I have not ventured on the step my brother has taken, and have naturally no accommodation for a family. But I am not here for my own pleasure. Your sister, I presume it is, wrote to me. I was requested to call here to-day."

"Oh, yes; Nettie is very self-willedvery; though, of course, we could not get on without her. She attacked Fred like a wildcat for not writing you: but I dare say, if the truth were known, you did not expect to hear from my husband," said the wife, recovering voice, and fixing a vindic- "Good-morning, Dr. Edward," said Nettive gaze upon her visitor, who felt himself tie. "I thought I should have been back betrayed. sooner; but Fred is so slow, I cannot man"I came by Miss Underwood's instructions age to get him along at all. We have and at her request," said the unfortunate found some lodgings a little way out of Car"We need not enter into any ques-lingford, near that chapel, you know, or tion between Fred and myself." church, or something that stands a little "Ah, yes, that is very safe and wise for off the road; where it's open, and there's you," laughed Fred's wife.

man.

The doctor was deeply exasperated, as was only natural: he eyed the feeble, helpless creature for a moment angrily, provoked to answer her; but his gaze became one of wonder and dismay before he withdrew it. Surely, of all incomprehensible entities, the most amazing is a fool-a creature insensate, unreasoning, whom neither argument nor fact can make any impression upon. Appalled and impressed, the doctor's gaze left

morning service, and such a handsome young clergyman. Who is he? We went into the chapel, and it's so fine, you would not believe it. Well, just a hundred yards from there is the house. Four rooms, exactly what I wanted, with a garden for the children to play in—quite quiet and fresh and pleasant. Tell me who the people are-their name is Smith. If they're respectable, I'll go back and take it. I can afford the rent."

"Near St. Roque's? They belong to the

« PreviousContinue »