In which mrs. st. felix refuses a splendid offer, which i am duly empowered to make to her.
I left old Nanny as soon as she was more composed, for I was so anxious to have some conversation with old Anderson. I did not call on my father, as it was not a case on which he was likely to offer any opinion, and I thought it better that the secret which I possessed should be known but to one other person. I refer to the knowledge which I had obtained relative to the husband of Mrs. St. Felix, who, it appeared, was not hanged, as supposed by her. The information received from Spicer accounted for Mrs. St. Felix's conduct when any reference was made to her husband, and I was now aware how much pain she must have suffered when his name was mentioned. I found Anderson alone in his office, and I immediately made him acquainted with what I had learned, and asked him his opinion as to the propriety of communicating it to Mrs. St. Felix. Anderson rested his head upon his hand for some time in silence; at last he looked up at me.
"Why, Tom, that she suffers much from the supposed ignominious fate of her husband is certain, but it is only occasionally; her spirits are good, and she is cheerful, except when reminded of it by any casual observation. That it would prove a great consolation to her to know that her husband did not forfeit his life on the scaffold is true; but what then? he is said to have entered the King's service under another name, and, of course, there is every probability of his being alive and well at this moment. Now she is comparatively tranquil and composed; but consider what anxiety, what suspense, what doubts, must ever fill her mind, must oppress her waking hours, must haunt her in her dreams, after she is made acquainted with his possible existence. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; and her existence would be one of continued tumult, of constant anticipation, and I may say of misery. He may be dead, and then will her new-born hopes be crushed when she has ascertained the fact; he may never appear again, and she may linger out a life of continual fretting. I think, Tom, that were she my daughter, and I in possession of similar facts, I would not tell her—at least, not at present. We may be able to make inquiries without her knowledge. We know his name; an advertisement might come to his eyes or ears; and, moreover, you have the telescope, which may be of use if it is constantly seen in your hands. Let us at present do all we can without her knowledge, and leave the result in the hands of Providence, who, if it thinks fit, will work by its own means. Are you of my opinion, Tom?"
"When I came to ask your advice, Anderson, it was with the intention of being guided by it, even if it had not coincided with my own opinion, which, now that I have heard your reasons, it certainly does. By the bye, I have not yet called upon Mrs. St. Felix, and I will go now. You will see old Nanny again?"
"I will, my boy, this evening. Good-by! I'm very busy now, for the officers will inspect to-morrow morning."
I quitted the hospital, and had arrived in Church Street, when, passing the doctor's house on my way to Mrs. St. Felix, Mr. Thomas Cobb, who had become a great dandy, and, in his own opinion at least, a great doctor, called to me, "Saunders, my dear fellow, just come in, I wish to speak with you particularly." I complied with his wishes. Mr. Cobb was remarkable in his dress. Having sprung up to the height of at least six feet in his stockings, he had become remarkably thin and spare, and the first idea that struck you when you saw him was that he was all pantaloons; for he wore blue cotton net tight pantaloons, and his Hessian boots were so low, and his waistcoat so short, that there was at least four feet, out of the sum total of six, composed of blue cotton net, which fitted very close to a very spare figure. He wore no cravat, but a turn-down collar with a black ribbon, his hair very long, with a very puny pair of mustachios on his upper lip, and something like a tuft on his chin. Altogether, he was a strange-looking being, especially when he had substituted for his long coat a short nankeen jacket, which was the case at the time I am speaking of.
"Well, Mr. Cobb, what maybe your pleasure with me? You must not detain me long, as I was about to call on Mrs, St. Felix."
"So I presumed, my dear sir," replied he; "and for that very reason I requested you to walk in. Take a chair. Friendship, Tom, is a great blessing; it is one of the charms of life. We have known each other long, and it is to tax your friendship that I have requested you to come in."
"Well, be as quick as you can, that's all," replied I.
"Festina lent, as Dr. Tadpole often says, adding that it is Latin for hat and boots. I am surprised at his ignorance of the classics; any schoolboy ought to know that caput is the Latin for hat, and Boötes for boots. But lately I have abandoned the classics, and have given up my soul to poetry."
"Yes; 'Friendship and Love' is my toast, whenever I am called upon at the club. What does Campbell say?"
"I'm sure I don't know."
"I'll tell you, Tom—
"'Without the smile from heav'nly beauty won, Oh, what were man? A world without a sun.'"
"Well, I daresay it's all true," replied I; "for if a woman does not smile upon a man he's not very likely to marry her, and therefore has no chance of having a son."
"Tom, you have no soul for poetry."
"Perhaps not; I have been too busy to read any."
"But you should; youth is the age of poetry."
"Well, I thought it was the time to work; moreover, I don't understand how youth can be age. But pray tell me what is it you want of me, for I want to see Mrs. St. Felix before dinner-time."
"Well, then, Tom, I am in love—deeply, desperately, irrevocably, and everlastingly in love."
"I wish you well out of it," replied I, with some bitterness. "And pray with whom may you be so dreadfully in love—Anny Whistle?"
"Anny Whistle!—to the winds have I whistled her long ago. No, that was a juvenile fancy. Hear me. I am in love with the charming widow."
"What, Mrs. St. Felix?"
"Yes. Felix means happy in Latin, and my happiness depends upon her. I must either succeed, or—Tom, do you see that bottle?"
"Well, it's laudanum; that's all."
"But, Tom, you forget; you certainly would not supplant your patron, your master, I may say your benefactor—the doctor?"
"Why not? he has tried, and failed. He has been trying to make an impression upon her these ten years, but it's no go. Ain't I a doctor, as good as he? Ay, better, for I'm a young doctor, and he is an old one! All the ladies are for me now. I'm a very rising young man."
"Well, don't rise much higher, or your head will reach up to the shop ceiling. Have you anything more to say to me?"
"Why, I have hardly begun. You see, Tom, the widow looks upon me with a favorable eye, and more than once I have thought of popping the question over the counter; but I never could muster up courage, my love is so intense. As the poet says—
"'Silence in love betrays more woe Than words, howe'er so witty; The beggar that is dumb, you know, Deserves our double pity.'
"Now, Tom, I wish to tax your friendship. I wish you to speak for me."
"What, speak to Mrs. St. Felix?"
"Yes, be my embassador. I have attempted to write some verses; but somehow or another I never could find rhymes. The poetic feeling is in me, nevertheless. Tell me, Tom, will you do what I ask?"
"But what makes you think that the widow is favorably inclined?"
"What? why, her behavior, to be sure. I never pass her but she laughs or smiles. And then the doctor is evidently jealous; accuses me of making wrong mixtures; of paying too much attention to dress; of reading too much; always finding fault. However, the time may come—I repeat my request; Tom, will you oblige me? You ought to have a fellow-feeling."
This last remark annoyed me. I felt convinced that Mrs. St. Felix was really laughing at him, so I replied, "I shall not refuse you, but recollect that he who has been so unsuccessful himself is not likely to succeed for others. You shall have your answer very soon."
"Thanks, Tom, thanks. My toast, as I said before, when called upon, is 'Friendship and Love.'"
I quitted the shop, and went into that of Mrs. St. Felix, who, I thought, looked handsomer than ever.
"Come at last, Tom!" said the widow, extending her hand. "I thought you would have called yesterday. Your sister was here."
"I have been less pleasantly engaged. You know that Spicer is dead."
"One of the pensioners—I never saw him that I know of, but I heard old Ben mention his death this morning, and that you were with him. Was he a friend of yours?"
"No, indeed, I thought you knew something of him, or I should not have mentioned his name." I then changed the conversation, telling her what had passed at Deal, and listening to her remarks upon old Nanny, my mother, and our mutual acquaintances.
"And the doctor—how is he?"
"As busy as ever. I'm sorry, however, that he complains very much of Tom Cobb, and says that he must dismiss him. He has made some very serious mistakes in mixing the medicines, and nearly killed five or six people."
"Had he killed them outright, their deaths must have been laid at your door," replied I, very seriously.
"Good Heavens! what do you mean, Tom?"
"I mean this, that your bright eyes have fascinated him; and that, to use his own expression, he is deeply, desperately, irrevocably, and everlastingly in love with you."
Here Mrs. St. Felix burst out in a laugh so violent that I thought that it would end in hysterics. As soon as she had recovered herself, I continued:
"It is all true, and independent of the five or six people half killed, you will have to answer for a whole death besides, for Tom has intimated to me that if he fails in his suit he will have recourse to the big bottle of laudanum. You must further know that he has taxed my friendship to make known to you his deplorable condition, being unequal to the task himself."
"He must be mad," observed Mrs. St. Felix, quietly.
"He flatters himself that you have given him encouragement. I asked in what way; he says you always laugh at him."
"True as the Bible—I can't help laughing at such a droll figure as he makes of himself. Mercy on me! what are men made of? Well, Tom, I'm sure I ought to be flattered, for (let it be a secret between us, Tom) this is the second offer I have received within these twenty-four hours."
"The doctor, I presume; Tom says that he is jealous."
"I mention no names. This is all very foolish."
"But you have not yet rejected both. Tom awaits his answer."
"Tell him anything that you please. By the bye, you may just as well add that, instead of taking the laudanum, he had better resort to his old remedy—of liquorice and water. It will look just as killing in the phial, and not be quite so fatal in its results."
"I shall certainly execute your commission in as delicate a way as I possibly can."
"Do, Tom, and pray let me hear no more of this nonsense, for, ridiculous as it may appear, it is to me very painful. Leave now—I am nervous and low-spirited. Good-by. Come this evening with your sister, I shall be better then."
Mrs. St. Felix went into the back parlor, and I left the shop. I had turned the wrong way, almost forgetting to give Tom his answer, when I recollected myself, and returned to the doctor's house.
"Well?" said Tom, eagerly.
"Why," replied I, hardly having made my mind up what to say, yet not wishing to hurt his feelings, "the fact is, Tom, that the widow has a very good opinion of you."
"I knew that," interrupted Tom.
"And if she were ever to marry again—why, you would have quite as good a chance as the doctor."
"I was sure of that," said he.
"But at present, the widow—for reasons which she cannot explain to anybody—cannot think of entering into any new engagement."
"I see—no regular engagement."
"Exactly so; but as soon as she feels herself at liberty—"
"Yes," said Tom, breathless.
"Why, then she'll send, I presume, and let you know."
"I see, then, I may hope."
"Why, not exactly—but there will be no occasion to take laudanum."
"Not a drop, my dear fellow, depend upon it."
"There is no saying what may come to pass, you see, Tom: two, or three, or four years may—"
"Four years—that's a very long time."
"Nothing to a man sincerely in love."
"No, nothing—that's very true."
"So all you have to do is to follow up your profession quietly and steadily, and wait and see what time may bring forth."
"So I will—I'll wait twenty years, if that's all."
I wished Tom good-by, thinking that it was probable that he would wait a great deal longer; but at all events, he was pacified and contented for the time, and there would be no great harm done, even if he did continue to make the widow the object of his passion for a year or two longer. It would keep him out of mischief, and away from Anny Whistle.
On my return home I met with a severe shock, in consequence of information which my mother did not scruple to communicate to me. Perhaps it was all for the best, as it broke the last link of an unhappy attachment. She informed me very abruptly that the shutters of Mr. Wilson's house were closed in consequence of his having received intelligence of the death of Lady ——. Poor Janet had expired in her first confinement, and the mother and child were to be consigned to the same tomb. This intelligence drove me to my chamber, and I may be considered weak, but I shed many tears for her untimely end. I did not go with my sister to Mrs. St. Felix, but remained alone till the next day, when Virginia came, and persuaded me to walk with her to the hospital, as she had a message for my father.
After we had seen my father we walked down to the hospital terrace, by the riverside. We had been there but a few minutes when we heard Bill Harness strike up with his fiddle:
Oh, cruel was my parents as tore my love from me, And cruel was the press-gang as took him off to sea; And cruel was the little boat as row'd him from the strand, But crueler the big ship as sail'd him from the land. Sing tura-la, tura-la, tura-lara ley. Oh, cruel was the water as bore my love from Mary, And cruel was the fair wind as wouldn't blow contrary; And cruel was the captain, his boatswain, and his men, As didn't care a farding if we never meet again. Sing tura-la, tura-la, tura-lara ley. Oh, cruel was th' engagement in which my true love fought, And cruel was the cannon-ball as knock'd his right eye out; He used to ogle me with peepers full of fun, But now he looks askew at me, because he's only one. Sing tura-la, etc., etc.
"Eh! wid your turla-la. You call dat singing?" cried Opposition Bill, stumping up, with his fiddle in his hand. "Stop a little. How you do, Mr. Tom? how you do, pretty lady? Now I sing you a song, and show dat fellow how to make music. Stop a little, Miss Virginny."
"Well," said Bill Harness, "I'll just let you sing, that Miss Saunders may judge between us."
Virginia felt half inclined to go away; but as the pensioners always treated her with as much respect as any of the ladies of the officers of the hospital, I pressed her arm that she might stay. Opposition Bill then struck up as follows, saying, "Now I give you a new 'Getting upstairs.'"
On board of a man-of-war dey hauled me one day, And pitch me up de side just like one truss of hay. Such a getting upstairs I nebber did see, Such a getting upstairs. Dey show me de masthead, and tell me I must go, I tumble on de rattling, and break my lilly toe. Such a getting upstairs I nebber did see, etc. Dey pipe de hands up anchor, and Massa Boatswain's cane Come rattle on our backs, for all de world like rain. Such a getting upstairs, etc. And den dey man de rigging, the topsails for to reef, And up we scull together, just like a flock of sheep. Such a getting upstairs, etc. Dey send de boats away, a Frenchman for to board, We climb de side with one hand, de oder hold de sword. Such a getting upstairs, etc. Now here I sent to Greenwich because I lost a leg, And ab to climb up to de ward upon my wooden peg. Such a getting upstairs, etc.
"Dere, now; I ask you, Mister Tom, and de young lady, which sing best, dat fellow, or your humble servant Bill—dat's me?"
"You sing very well, Bill," said Virginia, laughing, "but I'm not able to decide such a difficult point."
"Nor more can I; it is impossible to say which I like best," continued I. "We must go home now, so good-by."
"Thanky you, Mister Tom; thanky you, Missy. I see you wish to spare him feelings; but I know what you tink in your heart."
Virginia and I now left the hospital. There was one subject which was often discussed between my sister and me, which was, my situation with regard to Bramble and Bessy. I had no secrets from her, and she earnestly advised me to try if I could not make up my mind to a union with a person of whom I could not possibly speak but with the highest encomiums.
"Depend upon it, my dear Tom," said she, "she will make you a good wife; and with her as a companion you will soon forget the unhappy attachment which has made you so miserable. I am not qualified from experience to advise you on this point, but I have a conviction in my own mind that Bessy is really just the sort of partner for life who will make you happy. And then, you owe much to Bramble, and you are aware how happy it would make him; and as her partiality for you is already proved, I do wish that you would think seriously upon what I now say. I long to see and make her acquaintance, but I really long much more to embrace her as a sister."
I could not help acknowledging that Bessy was as perfect as I could expect any one to be, where none are perfect. I admitted the truth and good sense of my sister's reasoning, and the death of Janet contributed not a little to assist her arguments; but she was not the only one who appeared to take an interest in this point: my father would hint at it jocosely, and Mrs. St. Felix did once compliment me on my good fortune in having the chance of success with a person whom every one admired and praised. The party, however, who had most weight with me was old Anderson, who spoke to me unreservedly and seriously.
"Tom," said he, "you must be aware that Bramble and I are great friends, and have been so for many years. He has no secrets from me, and I have no hesitation in telling you that his regards and affections are so equally bestowed between you and his adopted child that it is difficult for himself to say to which he is the most attached; further, as he has told me, his fervent and his dearest wish—the one thing which will make him happy, and the only one without which he will not be happy, although he may be resigned—is that a union should take place between you and Bessy. I am not one of those who would persuade you to marry her out of gratitude to Bramble. Gratitude may be carried too far; but she is, by all accounts, amiable and beautiful, devoted to excess, and capable of any exertion and any sacrifice for those she loves; and, Tom, she loves you. With her I consider that you have every prospect of being happy in the most important step in life. You may say that you do not love her, although you respect, and admire, and esteem her: granted, but on such feelings toward a woman is the firmest love based, and must eventually grow. Depend upon it, Tom, that that hasty and violent attachment which is usually termed love, and which so blinds both parties that they cannot before marriage perceive each other's faults, those matches which are called love matches, seldom or ever turn out happily. I do not mean to say but that they sometimes do; but, like a lottery, there are many blanks for one prize. Believe me, Tom, there is no one who has your interest and welfare at heart more than I have. I have known you since you were a child, and have watched you with as much solicitude as any parent. Do you think, then, that I would persuade you to what I thought would not contribute to your happiness? Do, my dear boy, make Bramble, Bessy, yourself, and all of us happy, by weaning yourself from the memory of one who was undeserving of you, and fixing your affections upon her who will be as steadfast and as true to you as the other was false and capricious."
I promised Anderson that I would think seriously of what he said; and I kept my word, using all my endeavors to drive the image of Janet from my memory, and substitute that of Bessy. I often recalled the latter to my mind as she lay, beautiful and motionless, after having rescued her father from the waves, and at last dwelt upon the image with something more than interest. The great point when you wish to bring yourself to do anything is to make up your mind to it. I did so, and soon found that Bessy was rapidly gaining possession of my heart.
I remained several days at Greenwich. My mother was still as busy as ever, attempting to obtain lodgers in her house who were people of family; and this unwearied system was a source of great vexation to my sister. "Oh, Tom," she would sometimes say, "I almost wish sometimes, selfish as it is, that you were married to Bessy, for then I should be able to live with you, and escape from this persecution."
"Better marry yourself, dear," replied I.
"There is but little chance of that, Tom," replied Virginia, shaking her head.
On my return to Deal I found that Bramble had remained at the cottage ever since my departure. Our greeting was warm, and when I went over to Bessy, for the first time since she had returned from school, I kissed her. She colored up, poor girl, burst into tears, and hastened to her own room.
"I hope that was in earnest, Tom," said Bramble, fixing his eye upon me inquiringly, "otherwise it was cruel."
"It was indeed, father," replied I, taking him by the hand.
"Then all's right, and God bless you, my dear good boy. You don't know how happy you have made me—yes, and now I will say it—poor Bessy also."