Doctor Staines begged leave to distinguish; he had not said he would set up a carriage at the first one hundred guinea fee, but only that he would not set up one before. There are misguided people who would call this logic: but Rosa said it was equivocating, and urged him so warmly that at last he burst out, "Who can go on forever saying 'No,' to the only creature he loves?"--and caved. In forty-eight hours more a brougham waited at Mrs. Staines's door. The servant engaged to drive it was Andrew Pearman, a bachelor, and, hitherto, an under-groom. He readily consented to be coachman, and to do certain domestic work as well. So Mrs. Staines had a man-servant as well as a carriage.
Ere long, three or four patients called, or wrote, one after the other. These Rosa set down to brougham, and crowed; she even crowed to Lady Cicely Treherne, to whose influence, and not to brougham's, every one of these patients was owing. Lady Cicely kissed her, and demurely enjoyed the poor soul's self-satisfaction.
Staines himself, while he drove to or from these patients, felt more sanguine, and buoyed as he was by the consciousness of ability, began to hope he had turned the corner.
He sent an account of Lord Ayscough's case to a medical magazine: and so full is the world of flunkeyism, that this article, though he withheld the name, retaining only the title, got the literary wedge in for him at once: and in due course he became a paid contributor to two medical organs, and used to study and write more, and indent the little stone yard less than heretofore.
It was about this time circumstances made him acquainted with Phoebe Dale. Her intermediate history I will dispose of in fewer words than it deserves. Her ruin, Mr. Reginald Falcon, was dismissed from his club, for marking high cards on the back with his nail. This stopped his remaining resource--borrowing: so he got more and more out at elbows, till at last he came down to hanging about billiard-rooms, and making a little money by concealing his game; from that, however, he rose to be a marker.
Having culminated to that, he wrote and proposed marriage to Miss Dale, in a charming letter: she showed it to her father with pride.
Now, if his vanity, his disloyalty, his falsehood, his ingratitude, and his other virtues had not stood in the way, he would have done this three years ago, and been jumped at.
But the offer came too late; not for Phoebe--she would have taken him in a moment--but for her friends. A baited hook is one thing, a bare hook is another. Farmer Dale had long discovered where Phoebe's money went: he said not a word to her; but went up to town like a shot; found Falcon out, and told him he mustn't think to eat his daughter's bread. She should marry a man that could make a decent livelihood; and if she was to run away with him, why they'd starve together. The farmer was resolute, and spoke very loud, like one that expects opposition, and comes prepared to quarrel. Instead of that, this artful rogue addressed him with deep respect and an affected veneration, that quite puzzled the old man; acquiesced in every word, expressed contrition for his past misdeeds, and told the farmer he had quite determined to labor with his hands. "You know, farmer," said he, "I am not the only gentleman who has come to that in the present day. Now, all my friends that have seen my sketches, assure me I am a born painter; and a painter I'll be--for love of Phoebe."
The farmer made a wry face. "Painter! that is a sorry sort of a trade."
"You are mistaken. It's the best trade going. There are gentlemen making their thousands a year by it."
"Not in our parts, there bain't. Stop a bit. What be ye going to paint, sir? Housen, or folk?"
"Oh, hang it, not houses. Figures, landscapes."
"Well, ye might just make shift to live at it, I suppose, with here and there a signboard. They are the best paid, our way: but, Lord bless ye, they wants headpiece. Well, sir, let me see your work. Then we'll talk further."
"I'll go to work this afternoon," said Falcon eagerly; then with affected surprise, "Bless me; I forgot. I have no palette, no canvas, no colors. You couldn't lend me a couple of sovereigns to buy them, could you?"
"Ay, sir; I could. But I woan't. I'll lend ye the things, though, if you have a mind to go with me and buy 'em."
Falcon agreed, with a lofty smile; and the purchases were made.
Mr. Falcon painted a landscape or two out of his imagination. The dealers to whom he took them declined them; one advised the gentleman painter to color tea-boards. "That's your line," said he.
"The world has no taste," said the gentleman painter: "but it has got lots of vanity: I'll paint portraits."
He did; and formidable ones: his portraits were amazingly like the people, and yet unlike men and women, especially about the face. One thing, he didn't trouble with lights and shades, but went slap at the features.
His brush would never have kept him; but he carried an instrument, in the use of which he was really an artist, viz., his tongue. By wheedling and underselling--for he only charged a pound for the painted canvas--he contrived to live; then he aspired to dress as well as live. With this second object in view, he hit upon a characteristic expedient.
He used to prowl about, and when he saw a young woman sweeping the afternoon streets with a long silk train, and, in short, dressed to ride in the park, yet parading the streets, he would take his hat off to her, with an air of profound respect, and ask permission to take her portrait. Generally he met a prompt rebuff; but if the fair was so unlucky as to hesitate a single moment, he told her a melting tale; he had once driven his four-in-hand; but by indorsing his friends' bills, was reduced to painting likeness, admirable likenesses in oil, only a guinea each.
His piteous tale provoked more gibes than pity, but as he had no shame, the rebuffs went for nothing: he actually did get a few sitters by his audacity: and some of the sitters actually took the pictures, and paid for them; others declined them with fury as soon as they were finished. These he took back with a piteous sigh, that sometimes extracted half a crown. Then he painted over the rejected one and let it dry; so that sometimes a paid portrait would present a beauty enthroned on the debris of two or three rivals, and that is where few beauties would object to sit.
All this time he wrote nice letters to Phoebe, and adopted the tone of the struggling artist, and the true lover, who wins his bride by patience, perseverance, and indomitable industry; a babbled of "Self Help."
Meantime, Phoebe was not idle: an excellent business woman, she took immediate advantage of a new station that was built near the farm, to send up milk, butter, and eggs to London. Being genuine, they sold like wildfire. Observing that, she extended her operations, by buying of other farmers, and forwarding to London: and then, having of course an eye to her struggling artist, she told her father she must have a shop in London, and somebody in it she could depend upon.
"With all my heart, wench," said he; "but it must not be thou. I can't spare thee."
"May I have Dick, father?"
"Dick! he is rather young."
"But he is very quick, father, and minds every word I tell him."
"Ay, he is as fond of thee as ever a cow was of a calf. Well, you can try him."
So the love-sick woman of business set up a little shop, and put her brother Dick in it, and all to see more of her struggling artist. She stayed several days, to open the little shop, and start the business. She advertised pure milk, and challenged scientific analysis of everything she sold. This came of her being a reader; she knew, by the journals, that we live in a sinful and adulterating generation, and anything pure must be a godsend to the poor poisoned public.
Now, Dr. Staines, though known to the profession as a diagnost, was also an analyst, and this challenge brought him down on Phoebe Dale. He told her he was a physician, and in search of pure food for his own family--would she really submit the milk to analysis?
Phoebe smiled an honest country smile, and said, "Surely, sir." She gave him every facility, and he applied those simple tests which are commonly used in France, though hardly known in England.
He found it perfectly pure, and told her so; and gazed at Phoebe for a moment, as a phenomenon.
She smiled again at that, her broad country smile. "That is a wonder in London, I dare say. It's my belief half the children that die here are perished with watered milk. Well, sir, we shan't have that on our souls, father and I; he is a farmer in Essex. This comes a many miles, this milk."
Staines looked in her face, with kindly approval marked on his own eloquent features. She blushed a little at so fixed a regard. Then he asked her if she would supply him with milk, butter, and eggs.
"Why, if you mean sell you them, yes, sir, with pleasure. But for sending them home to you in this big town, as some do, I can't; for there's only brother Dick and me: it is an experiment like."
"Very well," said Staines: "I will send for them."
"Thank you kindly, sir. I hope you won't be offended, sir; but we only sell for ready money."
"All the better: my order at home is, no bills."
When he was gone, Phoebe, assuming vast experience, though this was only her third day, told Dick that was one of the right sort: "and oh, Dick," said she, "did you notice his eye?"
"Not particklar, sister."
"There now; the boy is blind. Why, 'twas like a jewel. Such an eye I never saw in a man's head, nor a woman's neither."
Staines told his wife about Phoebe and her brother, and spoke of her with a certain admiration that raised Rosa's curiosity, and even that sort of vague jealousy that fires at bare praise. "I should like to see this phenomenon," said she. "You shall," said he. "I have to call on Mrs. Manly. She lives near. I will drop you at the little shop, and come back for you."
He did so, and that gave Rosa a quarter of an hour to make her purchases. When he came back he found her conversing with Phoebe, as if they were old friends, and Dick glaring at his wife with awe and admiration. He could hardly get her away.
She was far more extravagant in her praises than Dr. Staines had been. "What a good creature!" said she. "And how clever! To think of her setting up a shop like that all by herself; for her Dick is only seventeen."
Dr. Staines recommended the little shop wherever he went, and even extended its operations. He asked Phoebe to get her own wheat ground at home, and send the flour up in bushel bags. "These assassins, the bakers," said he, "are putting copper into the flour now, as well as alum. Pure flour is worth a fancy price to any family. With that we can make the bread of life. What you buy in the shops is the bread of death."
Dick was a good, sharp boy, devoted to his sister. He stuck to the shop in London, and handed the money to Phoebe, when she came for it. She worked for it in Essex, and extended her country connection for supply as the retail business increased.
Staines wrote an article on pure food, and incidentally mentioned the shop as a place where flour, milk, and butter were to be had pure. This article was published in the Lancet, and caused quite a run upon the little shop. By and by Phoebe enlarged it, for which there were great capabilities, and made herself a pretty little parlor, and there she and Dick sat to Falcon for their portraits; here, too, she hung his rejected landscapes. They were fair in her eyes; what matter whether they were like nature? his hand had painted them. She knew, from him, that everybody else had rejected them. With all the more pride and love did she have them framed in gold, and hung up with the portraits in her little sanctum.
For a few months Phoebe Dale was as happy as she deserved to be. Her lover was working, and faithful to her--at least she saw no reason to doubt it. He came to see her every evening, and seemed devoted to her: would sit quietly with her, or walk with her, or take her to a play, or a music-hall--at her expense.
She now lived in a quiet elysium, with a bright and rapturous dream of the future; for she saw she had hit on a good vein of business, and should soon be independent, and able to indulge herself with a husband, and ask no man's leave.
She sent to Essex for a dairymaid, and set her to churn milk into butter, coram populo, at a certain hour every morning. This made a new sensation. At other times the woman was employed to deliver milk and cream to a few favored customers.
Mrs. Staines dropped in now and then, and chatted with her. Her sweet face and her naivete won Phoebe's heart; and one day, as happiness is apt to be communicative, she let out to her, in reply to a feeler or two as to whether she was quite alone, that she was engaged to be married to a gentleman. "But he is not rich, ma'am," said Phoebe plaintively; "he has had trouble: obliged to work for his living, like me; he painted these pictures, every one of them. If it was not making too free, and you could spare a guinea--he charges no more for the picture, only you must go to the expense of the frame."
"Of course I will," said Rosa warmly. "I'll sit for it here, any day you like."
Now, Rosa said this, out of her ever ready kindness, not to wound Phoebe: but having made the promise, she kept clear of the place for some days, hoping Phoebe would forget all about it. Meantime she sent her husband to buy.
In about a fortnight she called again, primed with evasions if she should be asked to sit; but nothing of the kind was proposed. Phoebe was dealing when she went in. The customers disposed of, she said to Mrs. Staines, "Oh, ma'am, I am glad you are come. I have something I should like to show you." She took her into the parlor, and made her sit down: then she opened a drawer, and took out a very small substance that looked like a tear of ground glass, and put it on the table before her. "There, ma'am," said she, "that is all he has had for painting a friend's picture."
"Oh! what a shame."
"His friend was going abroad--to Natal; to his uncle that farms out there, and does very well; it is a first-rate part, if you take out a little stock with you, and some money; so my one gave him credit, and when the letter came with that postmark, he counted on a five- pound note; but the letter only said he had got no money yet, but sent him something as a keepsake: and there was this little stone. Poor fellow! he flung it down in a passion; he was so disappointed."
Phoebe's great gray eyes filled; and Rosa gave a little coo of sympathy that was very womanly and lovable.
Phoebe leaned her cheek on her hand, and said thoughtfully, "I picked it up, and brought it away; for, after all--don't you think, ma'am, it is very strange that a friend should send it all that way, if it was worth nothing at all?"
"It is impossible. He could not be so heartless."
"And do you know, ma'am, when I take it up in my fingers, it doesn't feel like a thing that was worth nothing."
"No more it does: it makes my fingers tremble. May I take it home, and show it my husband? he is a great physician and knows everything."
"I am sure I should be obliged to you, ma'am."
Rosa drove home, on purpose to show it to Christopher. She ran into his study: "Oh, Christopher, please look at that. You know that good creature we have our flour and milk and things of. She is engaged, and he is a painter. Oh, such daubs! He painted a friend, and the friend sent that home all the way from Natal, and he dashed it down, and she picked it up, and what is it? ground glass, or a pebble, or what?"
"Humph!--by its shape, and the great--brilliancy--and refraction of light, on this angle, where the stone has got polished by rubbing against other stones, in the course of ages, I'm inclined to think it is--a diamond."
"A diamond!" shrieked Rosa. "No wonder my fingers trembled. Oh, can it be? Oh, you good, cold-blooded Christie!--Poor things!-- Come along, Diamond! Oh you beauty! Oh you duck!"
"Don't be in such a hurry. I only said I thought it was a diamond. Let me weigh it against water, and then I shall know."
He took it to his little laboratory, and returned in a few minutes, and said, "Yes. It is just three times and a half heavier than water. It is a diamond."
"Are you positive?"
"I'll stake my existence."
"What is it worth?"
"My dear, I'm not a jeweller: but it is very large and pear-shaped, and I see no flaw: I don't think you could buy it for less than three hundred pounds."
"Three hundred pounds! It is worth three hundred pounds."
"Or sell it for more than a hundred and fifty pounds."
"A hundred and fifty! It is worth a hundred and fifty pounds."
"Why, my dear, one would think you had invented 'the diamond.' Show me how to crystallize carbon, and I will share your enthusiasm."
"Oh, I leave you to carbonize crystal. I prefer to gladden hearts: and I will do it this minute, with my diamond."
"Do, dear; and I will take that opportunity to finish my article on Adulteration."
Rosa drove off to Phoebe Dale.
Now Phoebe was drinking tea with Reginald Falcon, in her little parlor. "Who is that, I wonder?" said she, when the carriage drew up.
Reginald drew back a corner of the gauze curtain which had been drawn across the little glass door leading from the shop.
"It is a lady, and a beautiful--Oh! let me get out." And he rushed out at the door leading to the kitchen, not to be recognized.
This set Phoebe all in a flutter, and the next moment Mrs. Staines tapped at the little door, then opened it, and peeped. "Good news! may I come in?"
"Surely," said Phoebe, still troubled and confused by Reginald's strange agitation.
"There! It is a diamond!" screamed Rosa. "My husband knew it directly. He knows everything. If ever you are ill, go to him and nobody else--by the refraction, and the angle, and its being three times and a half as heavy as water. It is worth three hundred pounds to buy, and a hundred and fifty pounds to sell."
"So don't you go throwing it away, as he did. (In a whisper.) Two teacups? Was that him? I have driven him away. I am so sorry. I'll go; and then you can tell him. Poor fellow!"
"Oh, ma'am, don't go yet," said Phoebe, trembling. "I haven't half thanked you."
"Oh, bother thanks. Kiss me; that is the way."
"You may, and must. There--and there--and there. Oh dear, what nice things good luck and happiness are, and how sweet to bring them for once."
Upon this Phoebe and she had a nice little cry together, and Mrs. Staines went off refreshed thereby, and as gay as a lark, pointing slyly at the door, and making faces to Phoebe that she knew he was there, and she only retired, out of her admirable discretion, that they might enjoy the diamond together.
When she was gone, Reginald, whose eye and ear had been at the keyhole, alternately gloating on the face and drinking the accents of the only woman he had ever really loved, came out, looking pale, and strangely disturbed; and sat down at table, without a word.
Phoebe came back to him, full of the diamond. "Did you hear what she said, my dear? It is a diamond; it is worth a hundred and fifty pounds at least. Why, what ails you? Ah! to be sure! you know that lady."
"I have cause to know her. Cursed jilt!"
"You seem a good deal put out at the sight of her."
"It took me by surprise, that is all."
"It takes me by surprise too. I thought you were cured. I thought my turn had come at last."
Reginald met this in sullen silence. Then Phoebe was sorry she had said it; for, after all, it wasn't the man's fault if an old sweetheart had run into the room, and given him a start. So she made him some fresh tea, and pressed him kindly to try her home- made bread and butter.
My lord relaxed his frown and consented, and of course they talked diamond.
He told her, loftily, he must take a studio, and his sitters must come to him, and must no longer expect to be immortalized for one pound. It must be two pounds for a bust, and three pounds for a kitcat.
"Nay, but, my dear," said Phoebe, "they will pay no more because you have a diamond."
"Then they will have to go unpainted," said Mr. Falcon.
This was intended for a threat. Phoebe instinctively felt that it might not be so received; she counselled moderation. "It is a great thing to have earned a diamond," said she: "but 'tis only once in a life. Now, be ruled by me: go on just as you are. Sell the diamond, and give me the money to keep for you. Why, you might add a little to it, and so would I, till we made it up two hundred pounds. And if you could only show two hundred pounds you had made and laid by, father would let us marry, and I might keep this shop-- it pays well, I can tell you--and keep my gentleman in a sly corner; you need never be seen in it."
"Ay, ay," said he, "that is the small game. But I am a man that have always preferred the big game. I shall set up my studio, and make enough to keep us both. So give me the stone, if you please. I shall take it round to them all, and the rogues won't get it out of me for a hundred and fifty; why, it is as big as a nut."
"No, no, Reginald. Money has always made mischief between you and me. You never had fifty pounds yet, you didn't fall into temptation. Do pray let me keep it for you; or else sell it--I know how to sell; nobody better--and keep the money for a good occasion."
"Is it yours, or mine?" said he, sulkily.
"Why yours, dear; you earned it."
"Then give it me, please." And he almost forced it out of her hand.
So now she sat down and cried over this piece of good luck, for her heart filled with forebodings.
He laughed at her, but at last had the grace to console her, and assure her she was tormenting herself for nothing.
"Time will show," said she, sadly.
Time did show.
Three or four days he came, as usual, to laugh her out of her forebodings. But presently his visits ceased. She knew what that meant: he was living like a gentleman, melting his diamond, and playing her false with the first pretty face he met.
This blow, coming after she had been so happy, struck Phoebe Dale stupid with grief. The line on her high forehead deepened; and at night she sat with her hands before her, sighing, and sighing, and listening for the footsteps that never came.
"Oh, Dick!" she said, "never you love any one. I am aweary of my life. And to think that, but for that diamond--oh, dear! oh, dear! oh, dear!"
Then Dick used to try and comfort her in his way, and often put his arm round her neck, and gave her his rough but honest sympathy. Dick's rare affection was her one drop of comfort; it was something to relieve her swelling heart.
"Oh, Dick!" she said to him one night, "I wish I had married him."
"What, to be ill-used?"
"He couldn't use me worse. I have been wife, and mother, and sweetheart, and all, to him; and to be left like this. He treats me like the dirt beneath his feet."
"'Tis your own fault, Phoebe, partly. You say the word, and I'll break every bone in his carcass."
"What, do him a mischief! Why, I'd rather die than harm a hair of his head. You must never lift a hand to him, or I shall hate you."
"Hate me, Phoebe?"
"Ay, boy: I should. God forgive me: 'tis no use deceiving ourselves; when a woman loves a man she despises, never you come between them; there's no reason in her love, so it is incurable. One comfort, it can't go on forever; it must kill me, before my time and so best. If I was only a mother, and had a little Reginald to dandle on my knee and gloat upon, till he spent his money, and came back to me. That's why I said I wished I was his wife. Oh! why does God fill a poor woman's bosom with love, and nothing to spend it on but a stone; for sure his heart must be one. If I had only something that would let me always love it, a little toddling thing at my knee, that would always let me look at it, and love it, something too young to be false to me, too weak to run away from my long--ing--arms--and--year--ning heart!" Then came a burst of agony, and moans of desolation, till poor puzzled Dick blubbered loudly at her grief; and then her tears flowed in streams.
Trouble on trouble. Dick himself got strangely out of sorts, and complained of shivers. Phoebe sent him to bed early, and made him some white wine whey very hot. In the morning he got up, and said he was better; but after breakfast he was violently sick, and suffered several returns of nausea before noon. "One would think I was poisoned," said he.
At one o'clock he was seized with a kind of spasm in the throat that lasted so long it nearly choked him.
Then Phoebe got frightened, and sent to the nearest surgeon. He did not hurry, and poor Dick had another frightful spasm just as he came in.
"It is hysterical," said the surgeon. "No disease of the heart, is there? Give him a little sal-volatile every half hour."
In spite of the sal-volatile these terrible spasms seized him every half hour; and now he used to spring off the bed with a cry of terror when they came; and each one left him weaker and weaker; he had to be carried back by the women.
A sad, sickening fear seized on Phoebe. She left Dick with the maid, and tying on her bonnet in a moment, rushed wildly down the street, asking the neighbors for a great doctor, the best that could be had for money. One sent her east a mile, another west, and she was almost distracted, when who should drive up but Dr. and Mrs. Staines, to make purchases. She did not know his name, but she knew he was a doctor. She ran to the window, and cried, "Oh, doctor, my brother! Oh, pray come to him. Oh! oh!"
Dr. Staines got quickly, but calmly, out; told his wife to wait; and followed Phoebe up-stairs. She told him in a few agitated words how Dick had been taken, and all the symptoms; especially what had alarmed her so, his springing off the bed when the spasm came.
Dr. Staines told her to hold the patient up. He lost not a moment, but opened his mouth resolutely, and looked down.
"The glottis is swollen," said he: then he felt his hands, and said, with the grave, terrible calm of experience, "He is dying."
"Oh, no! no! Oh, doctor, save him! save him!"
"Nothing can save him, unless we had a surgeon on the spot. Yes, I might save him, if you have the courage: opening his windpipe before the next spasm is his one chance."
"Open his windpipe! Oh, doctor! It will kill him. Let me look at you."
She looked hard in his face. It gave her confidence.
"Is it the only chance?"
"The only one: and it is flying while we chatter."
He whipped out his lancet.
"But I can't look on it. I trust to you and my Saviour's mercy."
She fell on her knees, and bowed her head in prayer.
Staines seized a basin, put it by the bedside, made an incision in the windpipe, and got Dick down on his stomach, with his face over the bedside. Some blood ran, but not much. "Now!" he cried, cheerfully, "a small bellows! There's one in your parlor. Run."
Phoebe ran for it, and at Dr. Staines' direction lifted Dick a little, while the bellows, duly cleansed, were gently applied to the aperture in the windpipe, and the action of the lungs delicately aided by this primitive but effectual means.
He showed Phoebe how to do it, tore a leaf out of his pocket-book, wrote a hasty direction to an able surgeon near, and sent his wife off with it in the carriage.
Phoebe and he never left the patient till the surgeon came with all the instruments required; amongst the rest, with a big, tortuous pair of nippers, with which he could reach the glottis, and snip it. But they consulted, and thought it wiser to continue the surer method; and so a little tube was neatly inserted into Dick's windpipe, and his throat bandaged; and by this aperture he did his breathing for some little time.
Phoebe nursed him like a mother; and the terror and the joy did her good, and made her less desolate.
Dick was only just well when both of them were summoned to the farm, and arrived only just in time to receive their father's blessing and his last sigh.
Their elder brother, a married man, inherited the farm, and was executor. Phoebe and Dick were left fifteen hundred pounds apiece, on condition of their leaving England and going to Natal.
They knew directly what that meant. Phoebe was to be parted from a bad man, and Dick was to comfort her for the loss.
When this part of the will was read to Phoebe, she turned faint, and only her health and bodily vigor kept her from swooning right away.
But she yielded. "It is the will of the dead," said she, "and I will obey it; for, oh, if I had but listened to him more when he was alive to advise me, I should not sit here now, sick at heart and dry-eyed, when I ought to be thinking only of the good friend that is gone."
When she had come to this she became feverishly anxious to be gone. She busied herself in purchasing agricultural machines, and stores, and even stock; and to see her pinching the beasts' ribs to find their condition, and parrying all attempts to cheat her, you would never have believed she could be a love-sick woman.
Dick kept her up to the mark. He only left her to bargain with the master of a good vessel; for it was no trifle to take out horses and cows, and machines, and bales of cloth, cotton, and linen.
When that was settled they came in to town together, and Phoebe bought shrewdly, at wholesale houses in the city, for cash, and would have bargains: and the little shop in ----- Street was turned into a warehouse.
They were all ardor, as colonists should be; and what pleased Dick most, she never mentioned Falcon; yet he learned from the maid that worthy had been there twice, looking very seedy.
The day drew near. Dick was in high spirits.
"We shall soon make our fortune out there," he said; "and I'll get you a good husband."
She shuddered, but said nothing.
The evening before they were to sail, Phoebe sat alone, in her black dress, tired with work, and asking herself, sick at heart, could she ever really leave England, when the door opened softly, and Reginald Falcon, shabbily dressed, came in, and threw himself into a chair.
She started up with a scream, then sank down again, trembling, and turned her face to the wall.
"So you are going to run away from me!" said he savagely.
"Ay, Reginald," said she meekly.
"This is your fine love, is it?"
"You have worn it out, dear," she said softly, without turning her head from the wall.
"I wish I could say as much; but, curse it, every time I leave you I learn to love you more. I am never really happy but when I am with you."
"Bless you for saying that, dear. I often thought you must find that out one day; but you took too long."
"Oh, better late than never. Phoebe! Can you have the heart to go to the Cape, and leave me all alone in the world, with nobody that really cares for me? Surely you are not obliged to go."
"Yes; my father left Dick and me fifteen hundred pounds apiece to go: that was the condition. Poor Dick loves his unhappy sister. He won't go without me--I should be his ruin--poor Dick, that really loves me; and he lay a-dying here, and the good doctor and me--God bless him--we brought him back from the grave. Ah, you little know what I have gone through. You were not here. Catch you being near me when I am in trouble. There, I must go. I must go. I will go; if I fling myself into the sea half way."
"And, if you do, I'll take a dose of poison; for I have thrown away the truest heart, the sweetest, most unselfish, kindest, generous-- oh! oh! oh!"
And he began to howl.
This set Phoebe sobbing. "Don't cry, dear," she murmured through her tears; "if you have really any love for me, come with me."
"What, leave England, and go to a desert?"
"Love can make a desert a garden."
"Phoebe, I'll do anything else. I'll swear not to leave your side. I'll never look at any other face but yours. But I can't live in Africa."
"I know you can't. It takes a little real love to go there with a poor girl like me. Ah, well, I'd have made you so happy. We are not poor emigrants. I have a horse for you to ride, and guns to shoot; and me and Dick would do all the work for you. But there are others here you can't leave for me. Well, then, good-by, dear. In Africa, or here, I shall always love you; and many a salt tear I shall shed for you yet, many a one I have, as well you know. God bless you. Pray for poor Phoebe, that goes against her will to Africa, and leaves her heart with thee."
This was too much even for the selfish Reginald. He kneeled at her knees, and took her hand, and kissed it, and actually shed a tear or two over it.
She could not speak. He had no hope of changing her resolution; and presently he heard Dick's voice outside, so he got up to avoid him. "I'll come again in the morning, before you go."
"Oh, no! no!" she gasped. "Unless you want me to die at your feet. I am almost dead now."
Reginald slipped out by the kitchen.
Dick came in, and found his sister leaning with her head back against the wall. "Why, Phoebe," said he, "whatever is the matter?" and he took her by the shoulder.
She moaned, and he felt her all limp and powerless.
"What is it, lass? Whatever is the matter? Is it about going away?"
She would not speak for a long time.
When she did speak, it was to say something for which my male reader may not be prepared. But it will not surprise the women.
"O Dick--forgive me!"
"Why, what for?"
"Forgive me, or else kill me: I don't care which."
"I do, though. There, I forgive you. Now what's your crime?"
"I can't go. Forgive me!"
"I can't. Forgive me!"
"I'm blessed if I don't believe that vagabond has been here tormenting of you again."
"Oh, don't miscall him. He is penitent. Yes, Dick, he has been here crying to me--and I can't leave him. I can't--I can't. Dear Dick! you are young and stout-hearted; take all the things over, and make your fortune out there, and leave your poor foolish sister behind. I should only fling myself into the salt sea if I left him now, and that would be peace to me, but a grief to thee."
"Lordsake, Phoebe, don't talk so. I can't go without you. And do but think, why, the horses are on board by now, and all the gear. It's my belief a good hiding is all you want, to bring you to your senses; but I han't the heart to give you one, worse luck. Blessed if I know what to say or do."
"I won't go!" cried Phoebe, turning violent all of a sudden. "No, not if I am dragged to the ship by the hair of my head. Forgive me!" And with that word she was a mouse again.
"Eh, but women are kittle cattle to drive," said poor Dick ruefully. And down he sat at a nonplus, and very unhappy.
Phoebe sat opposite, sullen, heart-sick, wretched to the core; but determined not to leave Reginald.
Then came an event that might have been foreseen, yet it took them both by surprise.
A light step was heard, and a graceful, though seedy, figure entered the room with a set speech in his mouth: "Phoebe, you are right. I owe it to your long and faithful affection to make a sacrifice for you. I will go to Africa with you. I will go to the end of the world, sooner than you shall say I care for any woman on earth but you."
Both brother and sister were so unprepared for this, that they could hardly realize it at first.
Phoebe turned her great, inquiring eyes on the speaker, and it was a sight to see amazement, doubt, hope, and happiness animating her features, one after another.
"Is this real?" said she.
"I will sail with you to-morrow, Phoebe; and I will make you a good husband, if you will have me."
"That is spoke like a man," said Dick. "You take him at his word, Phoebe; and if he ill-uses you out there, I'll break every bone in his skin."
"How dare you threaten him?" said Phoebe. "You had best leave the room."
Out went poor Dick, with the tear in his eye at being snubbed so. While he was putting up the shutters, Phoebe was making love to her pseudo penitent. "My dear," said she, "trust yourself to me. You don't know all my love yet; for I have never been your wife, and I would not be your jade; that is the only thing I ever refused you. Trust yourself to me. Why, you never found happiness with others; try it with me. It shall be the best day's work you ever did, going out in the ship with me. You don't know how happy a loving wife can make her husband. I'll pet you out there as man was never petted. And besides, it isn't for life; Dick and me will soon make a fortune out there, and then I'll bring you home, and see you spend it any way you like but one. Oh, how I love you! do you love me a little? I worship the ground you walk on. I adore every hair of your head!" Her noble arm went round his neck in a moment, and the grandeur of her passion electrified him so far that he kissed her affectionately, if not quite so warmly as she did him: and so it was all settled. The maid was discharged that night instead of the morning, and Reginald was to occupy her bed. Phoebe went up- stairs with her heart literally on fire, to prepare his sleeping- room, and so Dick and Reginald had a word.
"I say, Dick, how long will this voyage be?"
"Two months, sir, I am told."
"Please to cast your eyes on this suit of mine. Don't you think it is rather seedy--to go to Africa with? Why, I shall disgrace you on board the ship. I say, Dick, lend me three sovs., just to buy a new suit at the slop-shop."
"Well, brother-in-law," said Dick, "I don't see any harm in that. I'll go and fetch them for you."
What does this sensible Dick do but go up-stairs to Phoebe, and say, "He wants three pounds to buy a suit; am I to lend it him?"
Phoebe was shaking and patting her penitent's pillow. She dropped it on the bed in dismay. "Oh, Dick, not for all the world! Why, if he had three sovereigns, he'd desert me at the water's edge. Oh, God help me, how I love him! God forgive me, how I mistrust him! Good Dick! kind Dick! say we have suits of clothes, and we'll fit him like a prince, as he ought to be, on board ship; but not a shilling of money: and, my dear, don't put the weight on me. You understand?"
"Ay, mistress, I understand."
"Oh, all right! and then don't you snap this here good, kind Dick's nose off at a word again."
"Never. I get wild if anybody threatens him. Then I'm not myself. Forgive my hasty tongue. You know I love you, dear!"
"Oh, ay! you love me well enough. But seems to me your love is precious like cold veal, and your love for that chap is hot roast beef."
"Ha, ha, ha, ha!"
"Oh, ye can laugh now, can ye?"
"Ha, ha, ha!"
"Well, the more of that music, the better for me."
"Yes, dear; but go and tell him."
Dick went down, and said, "I've got no money to spare, till I get to the Cape; but Phoebe has got a box full of suits, and I made her promise to keep it out. She will dress you like a prince, you may be sure."
"Oh, that is it, is it?" said Reginald dryly.
Dick made no reply.
At nine o'clock they were on board the vessel; at ten she weighed anchor, and a steam-vessel drew her down the river about thirty miles, then cast off, and left her to the south-easterly breeze. Up went sail after sail; she nodded her lofty head, and glided away for Africa.
Phoebe shed a few natural tears at leaving the shores of Old England; but they soon dried. She was demurely happy, watching her prize, and asking herself had she really secured it, and all in a few hours?
They had a prosperous voyage: were married at Cape Town, and went up the country, bag and baggage, looking out for a good bargain in land. Reginald was mounted on an English horse, and allowed to zigzag about, and shoot, and play, while his wife and brother-in- law marched slowly with their cavalcade.
What with air, exercise, wholesome food, and smiles of welcome, and delicious petting, this egotist enjoyed himself finely. He admitted as much. Says he, one evening to his wife, who sat by him for the pleasure of seeing him feed, "It sounds absurd; but I never was so happy in all my life."
At that, the celestial expression of her pastoral face, and the maternal gesture with which she drew her pet's head to her queenly bosom, was a picture for celibacy to gnash the teeth at.