A Strange Story, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 11.

With what increased benignity I listened to the patients who visited me the next morning! The whole human race seemed to be worthier of love, and I longed to diffuse amongst all some rays of the glorious hope that had dawned upon my heart. My first call, when I went forth, was on the poor young woman from whom I had been returning the day before, when an impulse, which seemed like a fate, had lured me into the grounds where I had first seen Lilian. I felt grateful to this poor patient; without her Lilian herself might be yet unknown to rue.

The girl’s brother, a young man employed in the police, and whose pay supported a widowed mother and the suffering sister, received me at the threshold of the cottage.

“Oh, sir, she is so much better today; almost free from pain. Will she live now; can she live?”

“If my treatment has really done the good you say; if she be really better under it, I think her recovery may be pronounced. But I must first see her.”

The girl was indeed wonderfully better. I felt that my skill was achieving a signal triumph; but that day even my intellectual pride was forgotten in the luxurious unfolding of that sense of heart which had so newly waked into blossom.

As I recrossed the threshold, I smiled on the brother, who was still lingering there —

“Your sister is saved, Wady. She needs now chiefly wine, and good though light nourishment; these you will find at my house; call there for them every day.”

“God bless you, sir! If ever I can serve you —” His tongue faltered, he could say no more.

Serve me, Allen Fenwick — that poor policeman! Me, whom a king could not serve! What did I ask from earth but Fame and Lilian’s heart? Thrones and bread man wins from the aid of others; fame and woman’s heart he can only gain through himself.

So I strode gayly up the hill, through the iron gates, into the fairy ground, and stood before Lilian’s home.

The man-servant, on opening the door, seemed somewhat confused, and said hastily before I spoke —

“Not at home, sir; a note for you.”

I turned the note mechanically in my hand; I felt stunned.

“Not at home! Miss Ashleigh cannot be out. How is she?”

“Better, sir, thank you.”

I still could not open the note; my eyes turned wistfully towards the windows of the house, and there — at the drawing-room window — I encountered the scowl of Mr. Vigors. I coloured with resentment, divined that I was dismissed, and walked away with a proud crest and a firm step.

When I was out of the gates, in the blind lane, I opened the note. It began formally. “Mrs. Ashleigh presents her compliments,” and went on to thank me, civilly enough, for my attendance the night before, would not give me the trouble to repeat my visit, and inclosed a fee, double the amount of the fee prescribed by custom. I flung the money, as an asp that had stung me, over the high wall, and tore the note into shreds. Having thus idly vented my rage, a dull gnawing sorrow came heavily down upon all other emotions, stifling and replacing them. At the mouth of the lane I halted. I shrank from the thought of the crowded streets beyond; I shrank yet more from the routine of duties, which stretched before me in the desert into which daily life was so suddenly smitten. I sat down by the roadside, shading my dejected face with a nervous hand. I looked up as the sound of steps reached my ear, and saw Dr. Jones coming briskly along the lane, evidently from Abbots’ House. He must have been there at the very time I had called. I was not only dismissed but supplanted. I rose before he reached the spot on which I had seated myself, and went my way into the town, went through my allotted round of professional visits; but my attentions were not so tenderly devoted, my kill so genially quickened by the glow of benevolence, as my poorer patients had found them in the morning. I have said how the physician should enter the sick-room. “A Calm Intelligence!” But if you strike a blow on the heart, the intellect suffers. Little worth, I suspect, was my “calm intelligence” that day. Bichat, in his famous book upon Life and Death, divides life into two classes — animal and organic. Man’s intellect, with the brain for its centre, belongs to life animal; his passions to life organic, centred in the heart, in the viscera. Alas! if the noblest passions through which alone we lift ourselves into the moral realm of the sublime and beautiful really have their centre in the life which the very vegetable, that lives organically, shares with us! And, alas! if it be that life which we share with the vegetable, that can cloud, obstruct, suspend, annul that life centred in the brain, which we share with every being howsoever angelic, in every star howsoever remote, on whom the Creator bestows the faculty of thought!

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31