The Rosery Folkñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Finish for me, my dear madam? I do not understand.”
“Then I will, Saxby: you thought that if you came down and brought the cheque, you might perhaps see my niece.”
“My dear madam! My dear Miss Raleigh! Really, my dear madam!”
“Don’t be a sham, Saxby. Own it like a man.”
Mr Saxby looked helplessly round the room, as if in search of help, even of an open door through which he could escape; but there was none; and whenever he looked straight before him, there was the unrelenting eye of the elderly maiden lady fixed upon him, and seeming to read him through and through. He wished that he had not come; he wished that he could bring his office effrontery down with him; he wished that he could make Aunt Sophia quail, as he could his clerks; but all in vain. Aunt Sophia, to use her own words, could turn him round her finger when she had him there, and at last he gasped out:
“Well, there, I’ll be honest about it – I did.”
“I didn’t need telling,” said Aunt Sophia. “I believe, Saxby, I could even tell you what you are thinking now.”
“Oh nonsense, ma’am – nonsense!”
“Oh yes, I could,” said Aunt Sophia sharply. “You were thinking that I was a wretched old griffin, and you wished I was dead.”
“Wrong!” cried Saxby triumphantly, and speaking more like himself. “I’ll own to the griffin; but hang me if I will to the wishing you dead!”
“Why, you know you think she’ll have my money, Saxby.”
“Hang your money, ma’am!” cried the stockbroker sharply. “I’ve got plenty of my own, and can make more; and as to yours – why, if it hadn’t been for me, you wouldn’t have a penny. It would be all gone in some swindling company. I – I beg your pardon, Miss Raleigh; I – ah – really – ah – I’m afraid I rather forgot myself – I – ”
“You’re quite right, Saxby, quite right,” said Aunt Sophia quietly. “I’m afraid I am a very stupid, sanguine old woman over money matters, and you have saved me several times. But now about Naomi. Whatever is it you want?”
“What do I want?” said Saxby.
“Yes. Why do you come hanging about here like this? Do you want to marry the girl?”
“Well – er – yes, my dear madam; to be candid, that is what I thought. For ever since the day when I first set – ”
“Thank you: that will do, Saxby. Rhapsodies do sound such silly stuff to people at my age. Really, if you talk like that, I shall feel as if it would be madness to come to consult you again on business.”
“But really, my dear madam – ”
“Yes,” said Aunt Sophia, interrupting; “I know. Well, then, we’ll grant that you like her.”
“Like her, madam? I worship her?”
“No: don’t, my good man. Let’s be sensible, if we can. My niece Naomi is a very nice, amiable, good girl.”
“She’s an angel, ma’am!”
“No; she is not,” said Aunt Sophia stiffly; “and so the man who marries her will find. She’s only a nice English girl, and I don’t want her feelings hurt by any one.”
“Miss Raleigh, it would be my study to spare her feelings in every way.”
“If you had the opportunity, my good man.
As it happens, I must speak plainly to you, and tell you that I am afraid she has formed an attachment to Mr Prayle.”
“To him!” groaned Saxby.
“Now, look here, Mr Saxby; if you are going to act sensibly, I’ll talk to you; if you are going on like that, I’ve done. This is not part of a play.”
“Yes, ma’am, it is,” said Saxby dolefully; “the tragedy of my life.”
“Now, don’t be a goose, Saxby. If the girl likes somebody else better than you, don’t go making yourself miserable about it. Have some common-sense.”
Saxby shook his head.
“There’s no common-sense in love.”
Aunt Sophia looked at him in a half-pitying, half-contemptuous manner. “It isn’t very deep, is it?” she said good-humouredly.
“I don’t know,” he said; “only, that somehow she’s seemed to me to be like the flowers; and when I’ve gone to my office every morning, I’ve bought a rose or something of that kind, and put it in water, and it’s been company to me, as if she were there all the time. And now, after what you’ve told me, ma’am, I don’t think I shall ever buy a rose again.” He got up, walked to the window and looked out, so that Aunt Sophia should not see his face.
“Poor fellow!” she said softly to herself, and it was evident that her sympathies were touched.
“Mr Prayle has not spoken to Naomi yet,” she said, and there was a smile in her eye as she saw the sudden start that Saxby gave, and the look of hope that came back into his countenance as he turned round and faced her.
“Does he – does he – care for her very much?” said Saxby.
Aunt Sophia hesitated for a few moments, and then seemed to make up her mind. “I don’t know,” she said; “but I’ll speak plainly to you, Saxby, for I like you.”
“You – Miss Raleigh! – you – like – me?”
“Yes. Why shouldn’t I?”
“Because – because – ”
“Yes; I know. Because you opposed me sometimes. Well, a woman likes to be opposed. Some stupid people say that a woman likes to have her own way in everything. It isn’t true. She likes to find some one who will and who does master her. It’s her nature, Saxby, and whenever you find anyone who asserts the contrary, set him or her down as ignorant or an impostor.”
“But don’t raise my hopes, Miss Raleigh, don’t, pray, if there’s no chance for me.”
“I’m not going to raise your hopes – not much. I shall only say to you, that I am sorry about my niece’s leanings, and that, perhaps, after all, it is but a girlish fancy. If I were a man – ”
“Yes, Miss Raleigh, if you were a man?”
“And cared for a woman, I should never give her up till I saw that my case was quite hopeless.”
“Miss Raleigh,” cried the stockbroker excitedly, “your words are like fresh air in a hot office. One thinks more clearly; life seems better worth living for; and there’s a general rise of one’s natural stock all over a fellow’s market. – Might I kiss your hand?”
“No,” cried Aunt Sophia; “but you may behave sensibly. Stop down a day or two, and see how the land lies.”
“Yes; I’ll answer for your welcome. – And now, mind this: I’m not going to interfere with my niece and her likes and dislikes; but let me give you a bit of advice.”
“If you would!” exclaimed Saxby.
“Then don’t go about sighing like a bull-goose. Women don’t care for such weak silly creatures. Naomi’s naturally weak, and what she looks for in a man is strength both in brain and body.”
“Yes, I see,” said Saxby sadly. “I under stand stocks and shares, but I don’t understand women.”
“Of course you don’t. No man yet ever did; not even Solomon, with all his experience; and no man ever will.”
“But, I thought, Miss Raleigh – I hoped – ”
“Well, what did you think and hope?”
“That you might help me – as an old and trustworthy friend – about Miss Naomi.”
“Why, bless the boy – man, I mean – if I were to tell Naomi to love you, or that she was to be your wife, she’d do as all girls do.”
“What’s that, Miss Raleigh?”
“What’s that? Why, go off at a tangent, whatever that may be, and marry Prayle at once.”
“Ah, yes, I suppose so,” faltered Saxby.
“Well, well, pluck up your spirits, man, and be what you are at your office. I do trust you Saxby; and to show you my confidence, I’ll tell you frankly that I should be deeply grieved if anything came of her leanings towards that smooth, good-looking fellow. – There, what stuff I am talking. You ought to be able to get on without advice from me.”
Then Aunt Sophia smiled and nodded her head at the stockbroker, after which she sailed out of the room, leaving him hopeful and ready to take heart of grace, even though just then he saw Arthur Prayle go by in company with the object of his aspirations. Certainly, though, Lady Scarlett, was with them; while directly after, Sir James Scarlett passed, hanging upon Scales’s arm; and the aspect of the baronet’s face startled Saxby, who was clever enough at reading countenances, possessing as he did all the shrewdness of the dealer in questions of the purse. For in that face he read, or fancied he read, hopeless misery, jealousy, and distrust mingled in one.
“Why,” exclaimed Saxby, as they passed out of sight beyond the bushes, “the poor fellow looks worse than ever; and – everything – is drifting into the hands of that Prayle. I hope he’s honest. Hang him! I hate him.
“Well, I must be civil to him while I’m here. But I’ll wager he hates me too; and knows that I have stood in his way just the same as he does in mine. No, not the same,” he added, as he opened the French window to go out on the lawn. “In my case it is a lady, in his money. Which of us will win?”
Volume Two – Chapter Five.
Although an Old Maid
“Well, Miss Raleigh.”
“You do not bring him round.”
“I don’t. He is worried mentally, and I can’t get at his complaint.”
“Why not take him away, and give him a complete change?”
Doctor Scales injured John Monnick’s beautiful turf, that he had been at such trouble to make grow under the big mulberry tree, by suddenly screwing round his garden-seat, to stare in Aunt Sophia’s face. “I say,” he exclaimed, “are you a reader of thoughts or a prophetess?”
“Because you are proposing what I have planned.”
“Indeed! Well, is it not a good proposal?”
“Excellent; but he will not listen to it. He dare not go outside the place, he says; and I believe that at first he would suffer terribly, for it is quite shocking how weak his nerves have become. He has a horror of the most trivial things; and above all, there is something troubling the brain.”
“What can it be?” said Aunt Sophia.
“Well – I’m speaking very plainly to you, Miss Raleigh.”
“Of course. We trust each other, doctor.”
“Exactly. Well, in a case like this, it is only natural that the poor fellow should feel his position deeply, and be troubling himself about his wife.”
“But she seems to be most attentive to him.”
“O yes; she never neglects him,” replied the doctor, hurriedly going into another branch of his subject. “His money affairs, too, seem to worry him a great deal; and I know it causes him intense agony to be compelled by his weakness to leave so much to other hands.”
“But his cousin – Mr Prayle – seems to be devoting himself heart and soul to their management.”
“O yes; he seems indefatigable; and Lady Scarlett is always watching over his interests; but no man can find an adequate substitute for himself.”
Aunt Sophia watched the doctor anxiously, asking herself what he really thought, and then half bitterly reflecting how very shallow after all their trust was of each other upon this delicate question of Sir James Scarlett’s health. As she looked, she could not help seeing that the doctor’s eyes were fixed upon hers with a close scrutiny; and it was with almost a malicious pleasure that she said quietly a few words, and watched the result: “You know, I suppose, that Lady Martlett is coming here to dinner this evening?”
“Coming here? To dinner? This evening?”
“Yes. Is there anything so wonderful in that?”
“O no; of course not. Only – that is – I am a little surprised.”
“I don’t see why you should be surprised. Lady Martlett always made a great friend of Lady Scarlett, from the time she first came down.”
“Yes; I think I have heard so. Of course, there is nothing surprising, except in their great diversity of tastes.”
“Extremes meet, doctor,” said Aunt Sophia, smiling; “and that will be the case when you take her Ladyship down to dinner.”
“I? Take her down? – No, not I,” said Scales quickly. “In fact, I was thinking of running up to town to-day. There is an old friend of mine, who has studied nervous diseases a great deal in the Paris hospitals; he is over for a few weeks, and I thought I would consult him.”
“At the expense of running away, and making it appear to be because Lady Martlett is coming to dinner.”
“Oh; but that idea would be absurd.”
“I don’t know that, doctor, because, you see, it would be so true. There, there: don’t look cross. I am not an obstinate patient. Why, doctor, are you afraid of her?”
“No; I am more afraid of myself,” he said bitterly; “and I have some pride, Miss Raleigh.”
“Too much – far too much. – Do you know, doctor, I am turning match-maker in my old age?”
“A worthy pursuit, if you could make good matches.”
“Well, would it not be a good one between you and Lady Martlett?”
“Admirable!” he cried, in a bitterly ironical tone. “The union of a wealthy woman, who has a right to make a brilliant contract with some one of her own class, to a beggarly, penniless doctor, whose head is full of absurd crotchets. – Miss Raleigh, Miss Raleigh, where is your discrimination!”
“In my brains, I suppose,” said Aunt Sophia; “though I do not see how that portion of our organisation can make plans and plots.”
“Then you are plotting and planning to marry me to Lady Martlett.”
“It needed neither,” said Aunt Sophia. “You worked out the union yourselves. She is very fond of you.”
“Ha-ha-ha!” laughed the doctor harshly. “And you think her the most attractive woman you ever saw.”
“Granted. But that does not prove that I love her. No; I love my profession. James Scarlett’s health is my idol, until I have cured him – if I ever do. Then I shall look out for another patient, Miss Raleigh.”
“It is my turn now to laugh, doctor. Why, what a transparent man you are!”
“I hope so,” he replied. “But you will stay to dinner this evening?”
“No, madam; I shall go to town.”
“You will not!” said Aunt Sophia, smiling. “It would be too cowardly for you.”
“No, no; I must go,” he said. “She would make me her slave, and trample upon my best instincts. It would not do, Miss Raleigh. As it is, I am free. Poor enough, heaven knows! but independent, and – I hope – a gentleman.”
“Of course,” said Aunt Sophia gravely.
“Granting that I could win her – the idea seems contemptible presumption – what would follow? In her eyes, as well as in those of the whole world, I should have sacrificed my independence. I should have degraded myself; and in place of being spoken of in future as a slightly clever, eccentric doctor, I should sink into a successful fortune-hunter – a man admitted into the society that receives his wife, as her lapdog would be, at the end of a string. I couldn’t do it, my dear madam; I could not bear it; for the galling part would be that I deserved my fate.”
“I hope you do not exaggerate your patients’ cases as you do your own, doctor.”
“No exaggeration, my dear madam. Take another side of the question. Suppose I did sink my pride – suppose my lady did condescend from her high pedestal to put a collar round my neck – how then? What should I be worth, leading such a lapdog existence? What would become of my theories, my efforts to make discoveries in our grand profession? Oh, Miss Raleigh, Miss Raleigh, I did think I had won some little respect from you! What would you say if you saw me lower myself to such an extent as that?”
Aunt Sophia smiled. “There would be something extremely droll to a bystander, if he heard all this. You talking of stooping!”
“Well, would it not be?” he cried. “With some women, yes; but you don’t yet know Lady Martlett. – Oh, most apropos: she has come early, so as to have a pleasant afternoon without form. Doctor Scales, you are too late; you will have to stay.”
“Confound the woman!” cried the doctor, as he saw Lady Martlett, very simply dressed, coming towards the lawn in company with Scarlett and his wife.
“I’ll tell her you said so.”
“I’ll tell her myself.”
“No; you will not,” said Aunt Sophia quietly. “At one time, I thought that you needed a rival to bring you to your senses, but I venture to say that it will not be necessary.” As she spoke, she advanced to meet the visitor, who embraced her cordially, and then bowed coldly to the doctor, as he raised his straw hat and then walked away.
Lady Martlett bit her lip, but took no further notice, devoting herself to her hostess, and talking a great deal to Scarlett, who, however, met her advances only peevishly, and seemed as if he found some under-thought in everything that was said, watching Lady Scarlett suspiciously, and whenever he left the group, hanging about so as to be within hearing and then suddenly rejoining them. This went on for some time, and then they adjourned to the house, where Lady Scarlett was soon after called away, and the visitor was left alone.
Volume Two – Chapter Six.
How Lady Martlett Humbled the Doctor
“I hate him, and I’ll humble him yet!” said Lady Martlett, with her eyes flashing, as she saw Jack Scales coming along the path towards the drawing-room window. “How dares he assume such a high tone towards me! How dares he speak to me as if I were an inferior, or a woman at whom he laughs as unworthy of his notice! I will humble him, proud as he may be.” She watched him through the window as he walked very thoughtfully along the path; and probably it was anger that made her countenance show a higher colour than usual. The visit did not seem pleasant. The weather was all that could be desired; but there was to her something unrestful in the atmosphere. Kate Scarlett was nervous and excited, for some reason or other, and was constantly leaving her alone. Aunt Sophia had seemed more touchy than usual; and Naomi looked as if she were afraid of the visitor.
Lady Martlett had come, telling herself that she wanted company; now she was at The Rosery, she felt that she wanted to be alone. And now that, for the second time, Lady Scarlett had left her alone, she had been sitting fretfully, and thinking it very tiresome that she should be left.
Then came the sound of the footsteps of the doctor – a doctor who would have treated her complaint to perfection, had she not scornfully declared to herself that it was out of his power, and that he was an ignorant pretender, who did not understand her ailment in the least; and at last her eyes filled with tears.
“I’m a miserable woman!” she said to herself, as she called to mind the fact that she was a very rich young widow with beauty and a title; that there were scores of opportunities for making a good match, did she wish to wed; that she had only to give an order to have it obeyed; and – yes – here was this careless, indifferent young doctor, always ready to insult her, always treating her with a cool flippancy of manner, metaphorically snapping his fingers at her beauty of person, her title, and her wealth, and all the time utterly refusing to become her slave.
Just then, Lady Martlett uttered a low sigh, biting her lip directly after, in vexation at her weakness, for Scales had sauntered by the French window, engagingly open as it was like a trap, with her inside as a most attractive bait, and without so much as once glancing in.
“I believe he knows I’m in here alone,” she said to herself angrily; “and he has gone by on purpose to pique me. It is his conceit. He thinks I care for him. Oh, it is unbearable!” she cried impetuously. “I’ll bring him as a supplicant to my knees; and when I do,” she continued, with a flash of triumph in her dark eyes, “he shall know what it is to have slighted and laughed at me!”
She fanned her flaming cheeks, and started up to pace the room, when once more there was the sound of the doctor’s footsteps, as, in utter ignorance of Lady Martlett’s presence, he returned along the gravel walk, thinking deeply over the knotty points of his patient’s case.
Lady Martlett threw herself back in her seat, composed her features, but could not chase away the warm flush of resentment upon her checks. She, however, assumed an air of haughty languor, and appeared to be gazing at the landscape framed in by the open window.
“Heigh-ho-ha-hum!” sighed, or rather half-yawned Jack Scales, as he turned in at the window very slowly and thoughtfully, and for the moment did not see that the room was occupied.
Lady Martlett put her own interpretation upon the noise made by the doctor – she mentally called it a sigh, and her heart gave a satisfied throb as she told herself that he was touched – that her triumph was near at hand when she would humble him; and then – well, cast him off.
“Ah, Lady Martlett, you here?” he said coolly. – “What a lovely day!”
“Yes, doctor; charming,” she said, softening her voice.
“And this is a lovely place. – Your home, the Court, is, of course, far more pretentious.”
“I was not aware that there was anything pretentious about Leigh Court,” said Lady Martlett coldly.
“Well, pretentious is perhaps not the word,” said Jack, “I mean big and important, and solid and wealthy, and that sort of thing.”
“Oh, I see,” said Lady Martlett.
“And what I meant was, that this place is so much more charming, with its undulating lawn, its bosky clumps of evergreens, the pillar roses, and that wonderful clematis of which poor Scarlett is so fond.”
“You speak like a house-agent’s catalogue. Doctor Scales,” said Lady Martlett scornfully.
“Yes, I do; don’t I?” said Jack quietly, “But do you know, Lady Martlett, I often think that I could turn out a better description of a country estate than some of those fellows do?”
“Indeed?” said her Ladyship. “Yes, indeed,” said Jack, who eagerly assumed his bantering tones as soon as he was alone with Lady Martlett, telling himself it was a rest, and that it was a necessity to bring down her Ladyship’s haughtiness.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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