George Fenn.

The Rosery Folk

Dang her! Ill make her thoroughly disgusted with me, he said to himself. I hate the handsome Semiramis! Shed like to drag me at her chariot-wheels, and she shall not.

I believe, he continued, that I could do something far better than the well-known specimen about the litter of rose-leaves and the noise of the nightingales.

Indeed, doctor, said her Ladyship, with a curl of her lip.

O yes, cried Scales. Now, for instance, suppose that Leigh Court were to be let.

Leigh Court is not likely to be let, said her Ladyship haughtily.

No? said the doctor, raising his eyebrows slightly. Well, perhaps not, though one never knows. Your Ladyship might take a dislike to it, say; and if it were to go into the estate-agents list

It never will, Doctor Scales! I should consider it a profanation, said her Ladyship haughtily. Pray, change the subject.

Oh, certainly, said Scales politely. Been up to the Academy, of course?

Yes, said Lady Martlett coldly. There was nothing, though, worth looking at. I was terribly bored.

Hah! I suppose you would be. I had a couple of hours. All I could spare. There is some admirable work there, all the same.

I was not aware that Doctor Scales was an art critic.

Neither was I; but when I see a landscape that is a faithful rendering of nature in some beautiful or terrible mood, I cannot help admiring it.

Some people profess to be very fond of pictures.

I am one of those foolish people, Lady Martlett.

And have you a valuable collection, Doctor Scales?

Collection? Well, I have a folio with a few water-colours in it, given me by artist friends instead of fees, and I have a few photographs; that is about all. As to their value well, if sold, they would perhaps fetch thirty shillings.

Lady Martlett looked at him angrily, for she felt that he was assuming poverty to annoy her.

Your Ladyship looks astonished; but I can assure you that a poor crotchety physician does not get much besides the thanks of grateful patients.

I noticed that there were a great many portraits at the Academy, said her Ladyship, portraits of great and famous men.

Yes; of men, too, who are famous without being great, said the doctor, laughing.

Indeed! said Lady Martlett. I thought the two qualities went together.

In anyone else, said Jack, that would be a vulgar error: in your Ladyship, of course, though it may be an error, it cannot be vulgar.

How dearly I should like to box your ears! thought Lady Martlett, as she gazed at the provoking face before her. He doesnt respect me a bit. He doesnt care for me. The man is a very stone.

Did you notice the portraits of some of the fashionable beauties, Doctor Scales? she continued, ignoring his compliment, and leading him back to the topic on hand.

O yes, he said; several of them, and it set me thinking.

No? Really! said her Ladyship, with a mocking laugh.

Was Doctor Scales touched by the beauty of some of the painted canvases with speaking eyes?

No; not a bit, he said cheerily not a bit. It set me wondering how it was that Lady Martletts portrait was not on the walls.

I am not a fashionable beauty, said the lady haughtily.

Well, let us say a beauty, and not fashionable.

A flash of triumph darted from Lady Martletts eyes. He had granted, then, that she was beautiful at last.

But Jack Scales saw the look.

I have no desire to be painted for an exhibition, said Lady Martlett quietly.

But I thought all ladies loved to be admired.

Surely not all, she replied. Are all women so weak?

Well, I dont know. That is a question that needs discussing. I am disposed to think they are. It is a womans nature; and when she does not care for admiration, she is either very old, or there is something wrong.

Why, you libel our sex.

By no means, madam. I did not say that they love the admiration of many. Surely she must be a very unpleasant woman indeed who does not care for the admiration of one man.

He is caught! thought Lady Martlett, with a strange feeling of triumph. Perhaps there was something else in her sensation, but she would not own it then.

Perhaps you are right, she said quietly. It may be natural; but in these days, Doctor Scales, education teaches us to master our weakness.

Which most of us do, he said, with a bow, But really, if your Ladyships portrait, painted by a masterly hand, had been hung. He stopped short, as if thinking how to say his next words.

Well, doctor? she said, giving him a look that he caught, weighed, and valued on the instant at its true worth.

It would have had a crowd around it to admire.

The artists work, doctor?

No, madam; the beauty of the features the artist had set himself to limn.

Is this a compliment, doctor, or a new form of bantering Lady Scarletts guest? said the visitor, rather bitterly.

Neither the one nor the other, but the simple truth.

Lady Martlett fought hard to conceal the exultation; nay, more, the thrill of pleasure that ran through her nerves as she heard these words; but though outwardly she seemed quite calm, her cheeks were more highly coloured than usual, and her voice sounded deeper and more rich.

Jack Scales told himself she was plotting to humble him to the very dust, so he stood upon his guard.

Perhaps he did not know himself. Who does? If he had, he might have acted differently as he met Lady Martletts eyes when she raised hers and said; Ah, then, Doctor Scales has turned courtier and flatterer.

No; I was speaking very sincerely.

Ought I to sit here, said Lady Martlett, and listen to a gentleman who tells me I am more handsome than one of the fashionable beauties of the season?

Why not? he said, smiling. Is the truthful compliment so displeasing?

No, she said softly; I do not think it is; and beneath her lowered lashes, the look of triumph intensified as she led him on to speak more plainly.

It ought not to be, he said, speaking warmly now. I have paid you a compliment, Lady Martlett, but it is in all sincerity.

He will be on his knees to me directly, she thought, and then

For, he continued, woman generally is a very beautiful work of creation: complicated, wonderful mentally and corporeally perfect.

Perfect, Doctor Scales?

Yes, madam; perfect. Your Ladyship, for instance, is one of the most I think I may say the most perfect woman I ever saw.

Doctor Scales? she said quickly, as she drew herself up, half-angry, but thoroughly endorsing his words; and then to herself, in the triumph that flushed her as she saw the animation in his eyes and the colour in his checks: At last he is moved; he never spoke or looked like that before. Then aloud: You are really very complimentary, Doctor Scales; and she gave him a sharp arrow-like glance, that he saw was barbed with contempt.

Well, yes, Lady Martlett, I suppose I am, he said; but it was truly honest, and I will be frank with you. Really, I never come into your presence I never see you But no; I ought not to venture to say so much.

Why not? she said, with an arch look. I am not a silly young girl, but a woman who has seen something of the world.

True, yes, he said, as if encouraged; and Lady Martletts bosom rose and fell with the excitement of her expected triumph.

Still he hesitated, and asked himself whether he was misjudging her in his belief that she intended to lead him on to a confession of his love, and then cast him off with scorn and insult; but as he looked at her handsome face and shifting eager eyes, he told himself that there was something mingled with the partiality for him which she might possess, and he became hard as steel.

Well, she said, smiling, and that smile had in it a power that nearly brought him to her feet; you were saying: I never see you

Exactly. Yes, he said quickly; I will say it. Youll pardon me, I know. I am but a weak man, with an intense love

She drew a long breath, and half turned away her head.

For the better parts of my profession. Lady Martletts face became fixed, and she listened to him intently.

Yes; I confess I do love my profession, and I never see you in your perfection of womanly beauty, without feeling an intense desire to dissect you.

Lady Martlett started up from the seat, where, in a studied attitude, she had well displayed the graceful undulations of her figure, and stood before Jack Scales, proud, haughty, and indignant. Her eyes flashed; there was an ardent colour in her cheeks, which then seemed to flood back to her heart, leaving her white with anger.

How dare you! she began, in the mortification and passion that came upon her; and then, thoroughly mastered, and unable to control herself longer, she burst into a wild hysterical fit of laughter and hurried out of the room.

Jack Scales rose and stood watching the door as it swung to, and there was a look of tenderness and regret in his countenance as he muttered: Too bad too bad! Brutal and insulting! And to a woman a lady of her position and refinement! Ill go and beg her pardon ask her to forgive me make confession of why I spoke so. No. Put my head beneath her heel, to be crushed by her contempt! It wouldnt do. She goaded me to it. She wants to triumph over me. I could read her looks. If she cared for me, and those looks were real, Id go down upon my knees humbly and tell her my sorrow; and then then then What should I do then?

Hah! he cried, after a pause, what would you do then, Jack Scales! Go away, and never set eyes upon her again, for it would not do. It is impossible, and I am a fool. He stood with his brows knit for a few minutes, and then said, in quite a different mood: And now I am a man of the world again. Yes; you are about the most handsome woman I ever saw; but a woman is but a woman to a doctor, be she titled or only a farmers lass. Blue blood is only a fiction after all; for if I blooded my lady there, pretty Fanny Cressy, and one of Brother William Cressys pigs into separate test tubes, and placed them in a rack; and if, furthermore, I left them for a few minutes, and some busybody took them up and changed their places, I might, when I returned, fiddle about for long enough with the various corpuscles, but I could not tell which was which. Lady Martlett, I am your very obedient servant, but I am not going to be your rejected slave.

Volume Two Chapter Seven.
The Doctor Discourses

My backs a sight better, sir, wi that stuff you said I was to get, and I thank you kindly for it, said John Monnick, as the doctor seated himself one day close by where the old man was busy weeding a bed in the flower-garden a special task that he would not entrust to any one else.

Im glad of it, Monnick very glad.

But master dont seem no better, sir, if youll excuse me for saying so.

Yes, Monnick, Ill excuse you, said the doctor sadly. As you say, he is very little better if any. Im afraid that pond emptying began the work the accident finished.

It frets me, sir, it do it do indeed. For only to think of it: him so stout and straight and hearty one day, and as wan and thin and bad the next as an old basket. Ah! its a strange life this here.

True Monnick, true, said the doctor.

I felt a bit cut up when his father died, sir, but thank the Lord he arent here now to see the boy as he most worshipped pulled down as he be. Why, I were down in Sucksix, sir, in the marshes, for two years, twix Hastings and Rye, and I had the ager awful bad, but it never pulled me down like this. Do try your best with Sir James, do, pray.

I will, Monnick, I will, said the doctor.

Monnick went on with his weeding, and the doctor sat watching in a low-spirited way the motions of a beautiful little robin that kept popping down and seizing some worm which, alarmed by the disturbance of the ground, was trying to escape.

What humbug popular favouritism is, he exclaimed suddenly.

Beg pardon, sir, said Monnick, glad of an excuse to straighten his back.

I say what humbug there is in the world, said the doctor. Look at that robin, Monnick.

Yes, sir; he be a pretty one too. Theres lots on em here, and welcome as rain.

Yes, said the doctor, but what humbug it is.

Monnick stared, and the robin hopped on the top of a garden stick and chirruped a few notes.

Just imagine, said the doctor, who was in a didactic mood; try and imagine a stout, well-built man, six feet high, a fine, handsome brawny savage, seizing a boa constrictor in his teeth, shaking the, say, eighteen feet of writhing bone and muscle till it had grown weak and limp, and, by a complete reverse of all rule, swallowing the lengthy monster without an effort. The idea partakes of the nature of the serpent, and is monstrous; but all the same, that little petted and be-praised impostor will hop up to a great earthworm three times his length, give it a few digs with his sharp beak, and then as the Americans would say get outside it apparently without effort or ruffling a feather, after which he will hop away, flit to a twig, and indulge in a short, sharp song of triumph over his deed. It is his nature to, no doubt, and so are a good many more of his acts; but in these days, when it has grown to be the custom to run tilt at no end of our cherished notions; when we are taught that Alfred did not burn the cakes; that Caractacus never made that pathetic speech about the wealth of Rome: it is only fair to strip the hypocritical feather cloak of hypocrisy off that flagrant little impostor, the robin.

The robin and the wren be Gods cock and hen, said John Monnick solemnly, pairing according to old custom two birds of different kinds.

Yes, said the doctor, and terrible are the penalties supposed to attach to the man or boy who takes the nest, steals the egg, or destroys old or young of their sacred progeny. As a matter of course, no one ever did take egg, nest, or destroy the young of this couple, inasmuch as they are two distinct birds.

Yes, sir, two of em, said John Monnick solemnly. The robin and the wren be Gods cock and hen, and nobody never takes their eggs but jays and magpies and such like, robins is always the friends of man.

Friend of man, eh? said the doctor. Well, go where you will, there is the pretty bird to be seen, with his orange-scarlet breast, olive-green back, and large, bright, intelligent eyes. Winter or summer, by the homestead, at the window-pane, amongst the shrubs of the garden, or in the wood, there is the robin ready to perch near you and watch your every act, while from time to time he favours you with his tuneful lay. All pure affection for man, of course so the unobservant have it, and so poets sing; when the fact of the matter is that the familiarity of the bird comes from what Mr Roger Riderhood termed cheek, for, the sparrow not excepted, there is no bird in which the sense of fear seems so small; while the motive power which brings the pretty little fellow so constantly in mans society is that love which is known as cupboard. Probably the robin first learned from Adam that when man begins to garden he turns up worms; and, as these ringed creepers are this birds daily bread, he has attached himself to man ever since, and will come and pick the worms from his very feet, whether it be in a garden or during a botanical ramble in the depths of some wood.

Yes, sir, said John Monnick, they follows mankind everywhere. Ive had em with me wherever I go.

For worms, Monnick, and in winter they will come for crumbs to the window sill, or pick pieces of meat and gristle from the bones inside the dogs kennel; while in autumn time, when the flies grow sluggish and little spiders fat, where is there a better hunting-ground than the inside of a house where there is an open window, or, best of all, a church? What other bird, it may be asked, would take delight in making its way into a country church to flit about as the robin will? A sparrow would awaken at once to its sacrilegious behaviour, and beat the window-pane to escape; a robin never. On the contrary, he seems to take delight in making the little boys laugh, in impishly attracting the attention of people from the secondly and thirdly of the sermon.

Yes, sir, Ive seed em pick the dogs bones often, and I have seen em in a church.

Seen them, Monnick? Have seen them? Why, but the other day, in an old church with a regular three-decker pulpit, I saw a robin perch upon the cushion just over the parsons head as he read the lessons, and mockingly begin to preach in song, indulging afterwards in a joyous flit round the church, out at the open door, and back again, to make a sharp snap with its bill at the flies. If, you might say, the robin bore love to man he would not play tricks in church.

I dont quite see what youre a trying to sow on me, sir, but, you being a doctor, I suppose its all right, said Monnick.

John Monnick, said the doctor bitterly, I am trying to give you a lesson on humbugs. Robins do not pair out of their station out of their kind. Men do when they are wed, but the wisest do not. Robins pair with robins, not with wrens.

Well, sir, I never seed em, said Monnick, but thats what they say the robin and the wren be Gods cock and hen.

Stuff! Robins pair with robins. Should I, being a sparrow, pair with a swallow that flies high above me three mullets on a field azure flying across the blue sky.

Well, no, sir, said Monnick thoughtfully; I suppose not.

It would be humbug, John Monnick, humbug; and the robin is a humbug, John. As to his behaviour to his kind, it seems grievous to have to lift the veil that covers so much evil; but it must be done. What do you say to your belauded robin being one of the most sanguinary little monsters under the sun? Not merely is he a murderer of his kind, but he will commit parricide, matricide, or fratricide without the smallest provocation. Put half-a-dozen robins in an aviary, and go the next morning to see the result. I dont say that, as in the case of the celebrated Kilkenny cats, there will be nothing left but one tail; but I guarantee that five of the robins will be dead, and the survivor in anything but the best of plumage, for a gamecock is not more pugnacious than our little friend.

That be true enough, sir, said John, rubbing his back softly, Ive seen em. But you must ha taken a mort o notice of em, sir. I didnt know you ever see such things.

You thought I dealt only in physic and lotions, John, eh? But I have noticed robins and a few other things. But about Cock Robin. It might be thought that this fighting propensity would only exist at pairing time, and that it was a question of fighting for the smiles of some fair Robinetta; but nothing of the kind: a robin will not submit to the presence of another in or on its beat, and will slay the intruder without mercy, or be slain in the attempt. It might almost be thought that the ruddy stain upon its breast-feathers was the proof-mark of some late victory, where the feathers had been imbrued in the victims blood; but I will not venture upon the imagery lest it should jar. It is no uncommon thing to see a couple of robins in a walk, flitting round each other with wings drooping and tails erect: they will bend and bow, and utter short, defiant notes, retreat, as if to take up more strategic positions, and, after an inordinate amount of fencing, dash in and fight till there seems to be a sort of feathery firework going off amongst the bushes; and so intent are they on their battle, so careless of mans approach, that they may at times be picked up panting, exhausted, bleeding, and dying, holding tightly on to one another by their slender bills.

Yes, sir, and Ive picked em up dead moren once.

Ah! yes! Pace, good Doctor Watts, birds do not in their little nests agree, nor yet out of them. The old country idea is that in the autumn the young robins kill off the old: undoubtedly the strong do slay the weak. It can be often seen, and were it not so, we should have robins in plenty, instead of coming upon the solitary little fellows here and there, popping out silently like spies upon our every act. Come late autumn and wintry weather, the small birds can be seen in companies, sparrows and finches mixing up in friendly concourse; but the robin never seems to flock, but always to be comparatively scarce. He never joins their companies, though he comes in their midst to the window for wintry alms of crumbs, but when he does, as Artemus Ward would say, there is a fite. He attacks the stranger birds all round, and audaciously takes the best pieces for himself, robins do not remain scarce from not being prolific, for you may find the nest a couple have built in an ivy tod, an old watering-pot, or in a corner of the toolshed, with five or six reddish blotchy eggs in it. They have two or three broods every season, while their brown speckled young ones, wanting in the olive and red of their ciders, are a cry familiar objects, hopping sedately about in the sunny summer-time.

: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18