George Fenn.

Blind Policy





Chapter One.
In Raybeck Square

Oh, you wicked old woman! Ah, you dare to cry, and Ill send you to bed.

No, no, auntie, dont, please. What will dear Isabel think? Youre not going to spoil a delightful evening?

Of course she is not. Here, old lady; have another glass of claret medicinally.

Dr Chester jumped up, gave his sister and the visitor a merry look, took the claret to the head of the table and refilled his own glass.

But the lady shook her grey sausage curls slowly, and elaborately began to unfold a large bordered pocket-handkerchief, puckered up her plump countenance, gazed piteously at the sweet face on her right, bent her head over to her charming niece on the left, and then proceeded to up a few tears.

No, no, no, Fred; not a drop more. It only makes me worse; I cant help it, my love.

Yes, you can, old lady. Come, try and stop it. Youll make Bel cry too.

I wish she would, Fred, and repent before its too late.

What! cried the doctor.

Dont shout at me, my dear. I want to see her repent. Its very nice to see the carriages come trooping, and to know what a famous doctor you are; but you dont understand my complaint, Fred.

Oh yes, I do, old lady. Grumps, eh, Laury?

No, no, my dear. Its heart. Ive suffered too much, and the sight of Isabel Lee, here, coming and playing recklessly on the very brink of such a precipice, is too much for me.

The tears now began to fall fast, and the two girls rose from their seats simultaneously to try and comfort the sufferer.

Playing? Precipice? cried the young doctor. Step back, Bel dear; you shouldnt. Auntie, what do you mean?

Marriage, my dear, marriage, wailed the old lady.

Fudge? cried the doctor. Here, take your medicine. No; Ill pour you out a fresh glass. Youve poisoned that one with salt water.

I havent, Fred.

You have, madam. I saw two great drops fall in plop. Come, swallow your physic. Bel, give her one of those grapes to take after it.

No, no, no! cried the old lady, protesting. Dont, Laury; but her niece held the glass to her lips till she gulped the claret down, and it made her cough, while the visitor exchange glances with the doctor.

I I didnt want it, Fred; and its not fudge. Oh, my dear Isabel, be warned before it is too late. Marriage is a delusion and a snare.

Yes, and Bels caught fast, auntie. Just going to pop her finger into the golden wire.

Dont, my dear; be warned in time, cried the old lady, piteously. I was once as young and beautiful as you are, and I said yes, and was married, only to be forsaken at the end of ten years, to become a weary, unhappy woman, with only three thousand four hundred and twenty-two pounds left; and its all melting slowly away, while when its all gone Heaven only knows whats to become of me.

Poor old auntie! said Laura Chester soothingly, taking the old ladys head on her shoulder; but it would shake all the same.

I had a house of my own, and now I have come down to keeping my nephews.

Dont you marry, my poor child: take warning by me. Men are so deceitful.

Wrong, auntie. Men were deceivers ever.

Im not wrong, Fred. Youve been a very good boy to me, but youre a grown man now, and though I love you I couldnt trust you a bit.

Thank you, aunt dear.

I cant, my love, knowing what I do. Human nature is human nature.

Aunt dear, for shame! cried Laura.

No, my dear, its no shame, but the simple truth, and I always told your poor father it was a sin and a crime to expose a young man to such temptation.

Ha, ha, ha! laughed the doctor, boisterously. Here, Bel dear, dont you trust me.

The young peoples eyes met, full of confidence, and the old lady shook her head again.

I know what the world is and what men are, she continued, and nothing shall make me believe that some of these fashionable patients have anything the matter with them.

Oh, you wicked old woman! cried the doctor.

Im not, Fred, she cried angrily.

Oh yes, you are, old lady. You say I dont understand your complaint; its conscience.

It is not, sir. Ive nothing on my conscience at all.

I dont believe you, auntie, he cried banteringly. You must have been a wicked old flirt.

It is false, sir; and I dont hold with doctors being young and handsome.

No; I twig. Repentance. You used to go and see one when you were young, and give him guineas to feel your pulse.

How can you say such wicked things, Fred? cried the old lady, turning scarlet. But I will say it now. Im sure its not right for you to be seeing all these fine fashionable ladies, scores of them, every day.

Do take her upstairs, Laury, said the doctor, merrily. Help her, Bel dear. You hear; Im a horribly wicked man, and so fascinating that the ladies of Society flock to see me. Now, I appeal to you, dear. Did you ever hear such a wicked, suspicious old woman?

Dont, dont, dont, Fred, sobbed the lady in question. I only spoke for your good. But it cant last long now; and when Im dead and gone youll be sorry for all youve said.

Poor old darling! said the doctor, affectionately; she shant have her feelings hurt. Now then, toddle up to the drawing-room. Lie down a bit; and have an early cup of tea, Laury.

No, no, no, sobbed the old lady. Im only a poor, worn-out, useless creature, and the sooner the grave closes over me the better.

She was out at the foot of the stairs, leaning upon her nieces arm, before she had finished her sentence, and Isabel Lee, half troubled, half amused, was following through the door, which the doctor kept open, but he let it go and held out his hands, as the girl looked tenderly up a him. Then the door swung to, and the next moment she was clasped in his arms.

My darling! he whispered; and then in the silence which followed they could hear faintly the voice of the old lady on the stairs.

Im so sorry, Bel dear, said the doctor tenderly. She has one of her fits on to-day. Poor old soul, she has had a great deal of trouble.

I know, Fred dear. I dont mind.

But its rather hard on our visitor, whom we want to entertain queer entertainment.

Dont talk about it, Fred. Let me go now.

Without any balm for the suffering, deceitful wretch? Just one.

Well, only one. Come up soon.

It was, as the doctor said, a very tiny one, and then the girl had struggled free and hurried up to the drawing-room, while the giver went back to his seat.

Bless her! I honestly believe shes the most amiable girl in the world, said the doctor; as he sat sipping his claret. Only a fortnight now, and then no more going away. I do love her with all my heart, and I say devoutly, thank God for giving me the chance of possessing so good a partner for life.

He sat sipping thoughtfully.

Bother the old woman! he cried suddenly. To break out like that. Suspicious as ever; but Bel took it the right way. I didnt know I was such a Lothario. How absurd! Now about to-morrows engagements. Lets see.

He took out a memorandum book, wrinkled up his forehead, and the next minute was deep in thought over first one and then another of the serious cases in which he had to do battle with the grim Shade, ending by getting up and pacing the room, forgetful of all social ties and the presence of his betrothed overhead.

Oh, Fred! brought him back to the present.

Eh? Whats the matter, dear?

Matter? Well, if ever I have a lover I hope hell be different to you. Theres auntie fast asleep, and poor Isabel sitting watching the door with the tears in her eyes.

Tut-tut-tut! ejaculated the brother. Yes; too bad, but I have a very serious case on hand, dear, and I am obliged to give it a great deal of careful consideration.

Youre always like that now, Fred, said his sister, pettishly. I hope you dont mean to see patients on your wedding-day.

Oh, hang it! no, Laury. Here, Ill come up and have some music; but you neednt be so sharp, little one. Gentlemen are allowed to sit over their wine, and you havent been gone five minutes.

Monster! cried Laura. Its over half an hour!

Oh! ejaculated the doctor, get out of the way.

He dashed by his sister, and went up the stair three at a time to enter the back drawing-room where he was saluted by a snore from the sofa, and then passed through the folding-doors, his steps inaudible upon the soft carpet. He stood gazing tenderly at the picture he saw in a great mirror of a sweet, sad face resting upon its owners hand; and his conscience smote him as he saw that the eyes were indeed full of tears.

The next moment there was a faint cry of joy, and the face lit up, for he had stolen behind, sunk upon one knee, passed his arm round the slight waist, and was in the act of pressing his lips to those of his betrothed, when there was a gentle cough, and they started apart, to turn and see Lauras head between the nearly closed folding-doors, with a mischievous look in her eyes.

Oh, Bel! For shame! she whispered merrily. You dont seem to take poor Aunt Graces words a bit to heart.

You come in and behave yourself, said the doctor. Dont you begin making mischief.

Im not coming in, Fred, said the girl, saucily. I dont like to see such goings-on. Is that the way people make love?

The doctor sprang up threateningly and made for the doors, but the head disappeared.

Shell never grow into a woman, Bel dear, said the doctor, turning to her.

Oh yes, I shall, came from the door, as the head was thrust in again. Now Im going to sit with auntie till she wakes. Go on with your love-making, Daphnis and Chloe. Oh, I shall be so glad when youve both come to your senses again.

This time the door closed with a click, and the doctor sank on his knee again by Isabel, and drew her to him fondly.

Been thinking of what poor old aunt said, Bel? he whispered, as her head sank upon his shoulder.

No, not at all I only wanted you to come.

And you trust me fully?

Of course, Fred. You know I do.

And always will?

How can you ask me?

It is so pleasant to be told that you have the fullest confidence in your husband to be. Tell me you trust me.

It is insulting you, Fred, said the girl gently as she gazed in his eyes. How could I accept you if I did not know you to be the truest, bravest Oh, Fred!

I was obliged to stop those flattering lips, he said. Im vain enough of having won my darling, and Oh, hang it!

I beg pardon, sir; I did knock, said the servant. Urgent, sir. A lady in your consulting-room.

All right; down directly, said the doctor, who had started up. I say, Bel darling, I must be more professional. You mustnt lock me in your dear arms like this without you turn the key. I shant be long.

Isabel Lee uttered a low sigh as her betrothed made for the door, and as he passed out there was the sound of voices in the back drawing-room, Aunt Grace having finished her nap.

Who is it, Laury?

I dont know, aunt dear; something urgent. Smith said a lady.

Another lady? and at this time of night?

People fall ill at all times, aunt dear, said the girl, coldly. Hush! dont say any more please; Isabel will hear you.

But I cant help it, my dear, said the lady in a peevish whisper, every word of which reached the visitors ears. Oh dear me, I wish Fred was not so good-looking. Well, its only another fortnight. I begin to think he ought to be married at once.

Chapter Two.
A Strange Case

Two gloveless hands caught Dr Chesters as he entered his consulting-room, and a strange thrill ran through him as a beautiful face, wild-eyed and agitated, was thrust close to his.

Dr Chester? Oh, at last! Come quickly! before it is too late.

Pray be calm, he said, motioning his visitor to a seat, but she threw back her head.

Come! she cried imperiously. The brougham is at the door. Quick! He is dying.

Pray explain yourself, madam, said the doctor.

Oh, how can you be so cold-blooded? Man, I tell you that Robert is dying. He must not he shall not die. Come come!

But, my dear madam!

Ill explain everything as we go, cried the visitor, passionately, as she drew him towards the door. A terrible accident. Come and save his life.

At another time Fred Chester might have hesitated, but there was a strange magnetism in the eyes of his beautiful visitor an appeal in the quivering lip. Every feature was drawn by the agitation from which she suffered. It was his profession to help in emergencies evidently some terrible crisis had arisen, and he felt it impossible to resist.

He threw open the door, there was a faint gasp of satisfaction as he caught up his hat, and the next moment, with his visitor holding still tightly by his hand, he was descending the broad steps, perfectly ignorant of the fact that Aunt Grace was standing at the top of the first flight of stairs, watching intently.

By the light of the gas lamps Chester saw a handsomely-appointed brougham drawn up at the kerb. His companion said the one word Home, then stepped quickly into the carriage, the doctor followed, and they were driven off at a rapid pace.

The night was dark, and it was by flashes of the lamps they passed that he had glimpses of the beautiful, quivering face leaning earnestly toward his. He was conscious of the delicate scent emanating from the dress; the warm perfumed breath reached his face, and there was, as it were, a magic in the contact with her rustling robe, as they sped along the streets. A wild intoxication seemed to have seized upon him in those moments, before he could master himself sufficiently to say

Will you explain the accident?

Yes, yes, as soon as I can speak, was panted out. I I ah h ah!

The speaker lurched toward him, and he caught her, fainting, in his arms. But her strong will mastered the weakness, and she struggled free.

Better now, she panted. Doctor, we had heard of you, I came myself. He is dying. Oh, faster faster! she cried, and leaning forward she beat upon the front window, there was a quick movement on the part of the driver, and the horses seemed to fly.

It was like this. We were at dessert. Robert was examining a pistol. It went off, and he is horribly wounded. Dr Chester, oh, for Heavens sake, save my poor boys life!

With Heavens help, madam, I will, said the doctor, earnestly, if we are not too late.

Too late too late? Oh no, no, no, we cannot be too late! Quicker! Quicker! These horses seem to crawl. Oh, it is too horrible too horrible! I cannot bear it!

By a quick, impulsive movement the speaker threw herself forward, to sink upon her knees in the bottom of the brougham, pressing her hands to her mouth, and resting her face upon them against the padded cushion by the front window; while, feeling strangely moved, Chester leaned slightly over her with his hands half raised, in the desire he dared not gratify, to raise her to her seat and whisper gentle words of comfort. At that time it did not occur to him that it seemed strange for a gentleman he must be a gentleman; everything suggested it to be handling a pistol at dessert. All he could think of was the terrible suffering of his companion, and his attention was centred upon her as he saw the agony she suffered, while as yet he could do nothing.

She sprang up as suddenly as she had thrown herself down, and her voice and look thrilled him again as she said sharply

I cant pray: it is too horrible. Dont notice me; dont speak to me, please, doctor. I am half mad.

She flung herself back in the corner and covered her face with her hands, while, totally oblivious of the direction taken by the driver, Chester sat back in his own place, gazing at his companion, and weaving a romance.

It was some story of love, he told himself love and jealousy for the woman at his side was beautiful enough to tempt a saint. That was it, he was sure, and the distracted husband had attempted to or had committed suicide.

What is it to me? he said to himself, fiercely, and he wondered now that he should have been so strangely moved. His professional instincts had the mastery again, and for the first time he looked out through the drawn-up glass to try and see what street they were in. But at that moment his companion started again.

Shall we never be there? she cried in her agony. Ah! at last!

For the horses were pulled up suddenly, there was a flash of light from an open hall, and a gentleman ran down and tore open the brougham door.

Brought him?

Yes, yes! cried the lady, springing out and turning to snatch at the doctors wrist and hurry him up the steps.

Once more the strange thrill ran through Fred Chesters nerves and his heart throbbed heavily. Then they were inside a handsome entry, and he saw statuary, pictures, a cluster of electric lights, in rapid sequence, as he hurried over soft carpets to the back of the house, and into a handsome dining-room in which some eight or nine ladies and gentlemen in evening dress were clustered about a couch drawn up near a table covered with glass and plate, flowers, fruit, and the signs of the interrupted dessert, seen by a bouquet of soft incandescent lights.

The sight of the figure on the couch was enough, and Chester was fully himself as his companion ran to the sufferer, threw herself on her knees, and kissed the white face there.

Be my own brave boy, she whispered hoarsely. The doctor is here.

Be kind enough to leave the room, all but two of you gentlemen, said Chester, sternly.

No; I shall stay, cried the lady, firmly, as she threw off the thick mantilla and fur-lined cloak, to stand there bare-armed and palpitating. I will not leave you, Rob, she cooed over the wounded man. Doctor, I will be nurse.

The doctor bowed his head, and as all left the room but two of the gentlemen, he hurriedly made his examination, and probed in vain for the bullet, which had passed in under the left shoulder-blade, inflicting a dangerous wound, against which, at intervals, the lady pressed her handkerchief.

The patient bore all with remarkable fortitude, and in the moments of his greatest agony set his teeth and held on by his nurses hand, while she bent down from time to time from watching every movement of the doctor, and pressed her trembling lips to the sufferers hand.

At last the examination was over, and the wounded man lay very white and still; while Chester made use of a finger-glass and napkin to remove the ugly marks from the white hands.

Drink this, doctor, whispered one of the gentlemen who had waited upon him, no servant having been seen.

Chester, who had had eyes only for his patient, turned sharply, and took a tumbler of Burgundy from the well-bred man who offered it, drank a few mouthfuls, and set the glass down close by the weapon which had caused the wound, and which lay near a dish containing a large pine.

Chester raised his brows a little as he now saw the richness of the table appointments, and at the same time grasped the fact that he was in some wealthy home. Then this was endorsed as he turned and his eyes lit upon the lady kneeling on the other side of the couch, pale and beautiful, for he noted that she had magnificent diamonds in her hair, about her neck, and clasped upon her soft white wrists.

Say something, doctor, she whispered pleadingly.

I cannot, madam, yet.

But he will live? she wailed.

Please God, madam. Gentlemen, the case is serious, he said, turning to those who were watching him. I should like someone else called in for consultation.

No, said one of the gentlemen, decisively. If you cannot save him, no one can.

Jem, said the other, hoarsely, its murder not to

Silence! said the first speaker, sternly. Dr Chester will save him if he is to be saved.

Oh, Jem, Jem! moaned the lady.

Be quiet, Marion. He is in the right hands. No, doctor, we will have no one else called in.

A low moan from the wounded man took Chesters attention, and he knelt down again to bathe his face and lips with brandy, while the two gentlemen went to a door at the other end, passed out, and a low, hurried dispute arose, all in whispers.

Chester heard a word or two angry words and grasped the fact that there must have been some desperate quarrel, ending in the unfortunate man before him being shot down. A chair was overturned, and glasses and decanters upset, as if from a struggle. But the patient was apparently slipping away, and for hour after hour through that night Chester fought the grim Spectre, striving to tear the victim from his hands, seeing nothing, nothing, nothing, forgetting everything home, Isabel, the anxious woman at his side. His every nerve was strung to the fight, and at last he felt that he had won.

His face showed it as he rose, uttering a sigh of relief, and his fellow-watcher at the other side of the couch sprang from her knees, caught his hands in hers, and kissed them passionately, while the rest of the company came slowly back into the room.





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