Fie! Fie!
or,
The Fair Physician


Wilkie Collins

First published in 1882.

This edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

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First published in The Spirit of the Times 23 December 1882 and in London in The Pictorial World Christmas Supplement in December 1882. The story was reprinted in The Seaside Library in April 1883.

In January 1887 Collins wrote a note concerning “The Devil’s Spectacles”, “Love’s Random Shot” and “Fie! Fie! Or, the Fair Physician”:

“These stories have served their purpose in periodicals, but are not worthy of republication in book form. They were written in a hurry, and the sooner they are drowned in the waters of oblivion the better. I desire that they shall not be republished after my death.”

Fie! Fie! or the Fair Physician

1

On Christmas Eve, Mrs Crossmichael made an interesting announcement in her family circle. She said, ‘I am positively determined to write an account of it; I shall furnish the raw material, and an editor shall manufacture the narrative.’

Whatever is said of Mrs Crossmichael’s family in these pages must be said from Mrs Crossmichael’s point of view. The editor would prefer his own point of view; but he knows his lady, and uses his pen cautiously when he mentions her father, her mother, and her unmarried sister. A profound scholar and a handsome old man; a venerable lady with grand remains of beauty; a sweet girl, who is also an accomplished musician — named respectively Reverend and Mrs Skirton, and Miss Salome Slirton — comprise the audience addressed by Mrs Crossmichael, when she expressed her resolution to produce the present narrative.

‘My mind being quite made up,’ she said, ‘I am now ready to hear what you think of it.’ Her husband came in at the moment; but she took no notice of him.

Mrs Skirton smiled over her knitting, and made no remark. In the cases of some rare persons, silent smiles have a meaning of their own: Mrs Skirton’s smile meant gentle encouragement. Reverend Mr Skirton expressed himself in words. ‘Have it privately printed, my dear, and it cannot fail to be productive of advantage to others.’ Miss Salome modestly exhibited her father’s view in detail. ‘It will be productive,’ she said ‘of a warning to young ladies.’ Nobody consulted Mr Crossmichael, sitting modestly in a corner. Like the present Editor (but with infinitely superior opportunities), he knew his lady, and he kept his opinions to himself. Had he not promised at the altar (as Mrs Crossmichael frequently reminded him) to love, honour, and obey his wife? They were the happiest married couple in all England.

Venerable and learned and charming as they were, the family had failed, nevertheless, to penetrate the object which Mrs Crossmichael had in view. It was not to please her excellent mother; it was not to ‘prove of advantage to others;’ it was not to ‘offer a warning to young ladies,’ that she had determined to take up her pen. Her one motive for favouring the Editor with his ‘raw material’ shall be stated in the lady’s own words——‘I hate her.’

Who was she? And why did Mrs Crossmichael hate her?

Here, again, the expressive brevity of ‘the raw material’ may be quoted with advantage. The instructions run as follows: ‘Say the worst you can of her at starting; and condemn her unheard by means of her own visiting card.’

Here it is:

Sophia Pillico, M.D.

Is M.D. sufficiently intelligible? Let no hasty persons answer, ‘Of course!’ There are full-grown inhabitants of the civilised universe who have never heard of Julius Cæsar, Oliver Cromwell, or Napoleon the Great. There may be other inhabitants, who are not aware that we have invented fair physicians in these latter days. M.D. (let it be known to these benighted brethren) means that Sophia has passed her examination, and has taken her Doctor’s degree. Mrs Crossmichael is further willing to admit that Miss Pillico is sufficiently young, and — we all know there is no accounting for tastes — passably pretty. (NOTE, attached to the instructions: ‘We are not on oath, and we may be allowed our own merciful reserves. Never mind her figure — oh dear no, never mind her figure: Men-doctors get on very well with clumsy legs and no waists. Why should women doctors not do the same? Equal justice to the two sexes, Sophia, was the subject of your last lecture — I was present, and heard you say it!’)

The second question still remains unanswered. Why did Mrs Crossmichael hate her?

For three good reasons. Because she delivered lectures on the rights of women in our Assembly Room. Because she set herself up in medical practice, and in our south-eastern suburb of London, and within five minutes walk of our house. Because she became acquainted with our next-door neighbours, and to my sister Salome. The Editor can bear witness to this. (He bears witness with pleasure.) The Editor can describe our next-door neighbours. (No: he is not sufficiently well acquainted with them. He knows a lady who can take the story, at the present stage of it, out of his hands — and to that lady he makes his bow, and offers his pen.)

Mrs Crossmichael abhors flattery, and considers descriptions to be the bane of literature. If she is to accept the pen, it must be on one condition. The next-door neighbours shall describe themselves.

2

Our suburb possesses the most convenient detached houses in all England. The gardens are worthy of the houses — and the rents are frightful. A sudden death, and an executor in a hurry, offered the lease of the next house a bargain. Alderman Sir John Dowager took it on speculation, and is waiting to dispose of it on his own outrageous terms. In the meantime, he and his family occupy the premises. Sir John is stingy; his wife is deaf; his daughter is sour, his son is sulky. The one other member of this detestable family is an interesting exception to the rest: he is Lady Dowager’s son, by her first husband. Let this gentleman wait a little while, and be introduced presently by himself.

Our new neighbours took possession during an excessively hot summer. On the first day, they were occupied in settling themselves in their house. On the second day, they enjoyed their garden. We were sitting on our lawn; and they were sitting on their lawn. In consideration of Lady Dowager’s deafness, they talked loud enough (especially the daughter, Miss Bess, and the son, Young John) to be heard all over our grounds. This said, let them describe their own characters in an extract from their conversation. I am the reporter. And I own I peeped over the wall.

Stingy Sir John. — I gave orders, my dear, about those two pieces of bread that were left yesterday; and I find nobody can give any account of them. Is this the manner in which I am to be treated by my own servants?

Deaf Lady Dowager(addressing her daughter). — What does your papa say, Bess?

Sour Bess. — Pa’s abusing the servants; and all about two bits of bread.

Sir John. — I’ll thank you, miss, not to misrepresent me to my own face. You do it on purpose.

Sulky Young John. — She does everything on purpose.

Miss Bess. — That’s a lie.

Lady Dowager. — What is it? I can’t hear. What is it?

Sir John. — My dear, your deafness is certainly growing on you.

Young John. — And a good thing too, in such a family as ours.

Sir John. — That is a most improper observation to make.

Miss Bess. — He looked at me when he made it.

Lady Dowager. — Who’s speaking now? Bess! what is the matter?

Miss Bess. — Papa and John are quarrelling with me as usual.

Sir John. — How dare you speak in that way of your father? Over and over again, Miss Elizabeth, I have had occasion to remark —Young John. — It’s a perfect misery to live in the same house with her.

Sir John. — What do you mean, sir, by interrupting me?

Lady Dowager. — I think it’s rather hard on me that nobody speaks loud enough to be heard. I shall go into the house.

Sir John (looking after his wife). — Her temper gets more irritable every day.

Bess (looking at Young John) — No wonder!

Young John (looking at Bess)

There are our next-door neighbours presented by themselves. Why do I introduce such people into these pages? Alas! I am not able to keep them out. They are mixed up, by the inscrutable decrees of Providence, with Sophia Pillico wickedness, and with my sister Salome’s dearest hopes in life. Does my sister’s Christian name sound disagreeably? Let me mention the associations; and no reasonable person will object to it. She was called Salome, and I was called Lois, after my father’s two maiden sisters. Excellent women! They lived in the West of England — they left us their money — and they went to Heaven. (Instructions to the Editor: Now go on.)

3

The Editor introduces Mr and Mrs Wholebrook; directors of the famous Hydropathic Establishment at Cosgrove.

As man and wife, they were naturally accustomed to talk over the affairs of the day, in bed. One night, they held an especially interesting conversation. Both agreed — they had not been very long married — in lamenting the departure of a retiring member of the household; registered in the books by the odd name of, ‘Otto Fitzmark.’

‘Why should he leave us?’ Mr Wholebrook asked. ‘He has not gone through the cure; and, when I inquired if he had any complaint to make, he spoke in the most gratifying manner of the comfort of the house, and the excellence of the cooking.’

‘My dear, if you knew him as well as I do —’

‘What do you mean, Louisa? Has Mr Fitzmark been —?’

‘Don’t be a fool, James. Mr Fitzmark is a ladies’ man; young and handsome, and in delicate health. He likes to confide in women, poor fellow; especially when they happen to be — there! that will do; I forgive you: don’t interrupt me again. And understand this: I, who am in Mr Otto’s confidence, expected him to say he was going back to London, at least a week since.’

‘Is it business, my dear?’

‘Business! Mr Fitzmark has absolutely nothing to do. His valet is a treasure; and he has a comfortable income left him by his father.’

‘His father was a foreigner, wasn’t he?

‘Good Heavens! what has that got to do with it?’

‘I only spoke. If I am to be taken up short because I only speak, we’ll say good night.’

‘Don’t be angry, darling! Won’t you forgive me? won’t you? won’t you?’

‘What were we talking about, dear?’

‘What indeed! Wasn’t it Mr Fitzmark’s father? You were quite right about him: he was sort of half foreigner. He settled in England, and married an Englishwoman; she led him a horrid life. Mr Otto — you don’t mind my calling him by his Christian name? I like manly men, James, like you; I only pity Mr Otto. Always delicate, brought up at home, indulged in everything. His stupid mother married again; and he didn’t get on with the new family; and he had a private tutor; and he and the tutor went abroad; and there he had it all his own way, and was flattered by everybody. Are you going to sleep, dear?’

‘No! No!’

‘You see I want you to understand that Mr Otto has his whim and caprices — and soon gets tired when the novelty of a thing wears off. But, there’s another reason for his leaving our place; there’s a lady in the case. He hasn’t mentioned her name to me: she lives in London or in the neighbourhood, I’m not sure which. Plays divinely on the piano, and is lovely and elegant, and all that. He hasn’t openly avowed his admiration — not having made up his mind yet about her family. She has a married sister, who rather frightens him; clever, and a will of her own, and so on. However, to come to the point, his main reason for trying our place — What? his main reason must be his health? Nothing of the sort, you dear simple creature! He never expects to be well again. Not that he disbelieves in the cold water cure; but what he really wanted was to try if absence from the young lady would weaken the impression — or, as he put it, rather funnily, if deluges of cold water could drown his memory of a charming girl. She’s not to be disposed of, James, in that way. Wet sheets won’t pack her out; and ten tumblers of cold water a day only make her more lively than ever. Well, it’s past a joke; he is really going back to her tomorrow. Love — ah, We know it, don’t we? — love is a wonderful thing! What? Asleep? He is asleep. Snoring, positively snoring. And kicking me. Brute! brute!’

4

Mr Otto Fitzmark reached London, late in the evening.

He was so fatigued by the journey, that he went straight to the rooms prepared for him in Sir John’s house. On those occasions when he visited his mother, his step-father arranged — with absolute shamelessness peculiar to misers — to receive compensation privately for trouble and expense. When Lady Dowager sometimes complained that her son treated the house as if it were an hotel, she little thought what a defence of his conduct lay hidden in Sir John’s guilty pocket.

The next morning, the valet — a grave, ponderous, and respectable English servant — came in with coffee and the news, as usual.

‘I have had a wretched night, Frederick. Sir John must have got his beastly bed a bargain. What’s the news? The last time I was here I was driven away by a row in the family. Any more quarrels this time?’

‘The worst row I remember, sir (if I may be allowed to say so), in all our experience,’ Frederick answered.

‘Is my mother in it?’

‘It’s said to be Lady Dowager’s doing, sir.’

‘The devil it is! Give me some more sugar. Did you make this coffee yourself?’

‘Certainly, sir.’

‘Go to the place in Piccadilly, and buy something that really is coffee: this is muck. Well? what’s the new row about?’

‘About a woman, sir.’

‘You don’t mean to say Sir John —’

‘I beg your pardon, sir, I ought to have expressed myself more correctly. The woman in question is a She–Doctor.’

‘No wonder there’s a row! The fair physician is a bony old wretch with a wig and spectacles, of course?’

‘That’s not the account given to me, sir, by the footman. Except Miss Salome, next door, Sir John’s man says she’s the prettiest young woman he’s seen for many a long day past.’

Otto stared at the valet in astonishment. Frederick went steadily on with his story.

‘The lady has lately set up in practice, in the neighbourhood. And, what with her good looks and her lectures, she’s turned the people’s heads hereabouts, already. The resident medical man has got a red nose, and is suspected of drinking. He’s losing his lady-patients as fast as he can. They say Miss Pillico —’

‘Miss — who?’

‘The lady’s name, sir, is Miss Sophia Pillico.’

‘I pity Sophia with all my heart. The sooner she changes her name the better.’

‘That’s the joke among the women downstairs, sir. I was about to say that Miss Pillico is not content to doctor her own sex only. She considers it a part of the Rights of Women to doctor the men; and she has begun with Sir John —’

Here Frederick incomprehensibly checked himself, and prepared for shaving his master by sharpening the razor.

‘Why don’t you go on?’ said Otto. ‘Sophia means to doctor the men; and she’s beginning with Sir John —’

He suddenly checked himself, and started up in the bed. His next question seemed to burst out of him irrepressibly. ‘You don’t mean to say, Frederick, that my mother is jealous?’

The valet, still sharpening the razor, looked up. ‘That’s the row, sir,’ he answered as gravely as ever.

Otto fell back on the bed, and pulled the clothes over his face. Deaf Lady Dowager owned to having arrived at sixty years of age. Sir John’s biography (in the past time when he had been Lord Mayor of London) fixed the date of his birth at a period of seventy-four years since. The bedclothes heaved, and the bed shook; violent emotion of some kind was overwhelming Lady Dowager’s son. Not the ghost of a smile — though he was at liberty to indulge his sense of humour as things were now — appeared on the wooden face of Frederick. He laid out his shaving materials, and waited until Mr Fitzmark’s beard was ready for him.

Otto rose again above the horizon of the bedclothes. He looked completely exhausted — but that was all. The altar of appearances, waiting for the sacrifice, claimed and received the necessary recognition. Having first got out of bed — by way of separating himself from irreverent associations possibly lurking in the mind of his valet — Otto posed, as the French say, in an attitude of severe propriety.

‘Drop the subject,’ he said.

Frederick gently lathered his master’s chin, and answered, ‘Just so, sir.’

5

Otto breakfasted in his own room.

His mother’s maid brought word that her ladyship was ill in bed, with a sick headache: she would see Mr Fitzmark towards luncheon time. The valet not being present to draw his own conclusions, Otto privately extracted information from the maid. Miss Doctor Pillico would professionally visit Sir John, at her usual hour — two o’clock. And in what part of the house would Sir John receive her? He looked at himself in the glass when he put that question. The maid began to understand the nature of his interest in the medical young woman. She took the liberty of smiling, and answered, ‘In the library, sir.’

Towards two o’clock, Otto called for his hat and cane, and said he would take a turn in the garden.

Before he went downstairs he once more surveyed himself in the glass. Yes: he could not have been more becomingly dressed — and he looked, in his own delicate way, surprisingly well. His auburn hair and whiskers; his fair complexion; his sensitive mouth, and his long white hands were in perfect order. In the garden he met Young John, sulkily smoking.

‘How is Bess?’ he asked indulgently. Young John answered, ‘I don’t know; I’ve not been on speaking terms with my sister since yesterday.’ ‘And how is your father?’ Young John answered, ‘I don’t care. He told me last week I was a sulky lout, and he has not apologised yet; I don’t speak to him, either.’ Otto left his half-brother, cordially agreeing with his half-brother’s father.

The library opened, by means of French windows, on the terrace. He picked a flower for his button-hole, and sauntered that way. The windows being open, he entered the room in a genial impulsive manner. ‘Ha, Sir John, how are you? Oh, I beg your pardon!’

Sir John was seated bolt upright in his chair, looking at vacancy, and drawing in and puffing out his breath in a highly elaborate manner. A finely-developed young woman, with brown hair and eyes, and warm rosy cheeks, dressed to perfection in a style of severe simplicity, was sitting close by him. Her arm was around his neck, and her ear was at his breast. So absorbed was this charming creature in listening that she held up a pretty plump little hand, in mute entreaty for silence. ‘Yes,’ she said, in clear, positive tones, ‘you confirm my diagnosis, Sir John; I persist in saying that your medical attendant has mistaken the case.’ Her bright resolute eyes, turning towards Otto, softened as they rested on his beautiful hair and his sensitive lips: a little increase of colour deepened the delicately ruddy tint of her cheeks. ‘Pray excuse me,’ she resumed, with a captivating smile; ‘I am, in a professional point of view, naturally interested in Sir John. His life is public property: if I make any mistake here, I disgrace myself — and my cause! — in the eyes of the nation.’ Otto’s countenance preserved a gravity worthy of his valet. ‘Permit me to introduce myself,’ he said, ‘before I renew my apologies. I am Sir John’s step-son, Otto Fitzmark.’ The charming Doctor bowed with a look of modest interest. Sir John did what he had done from the first — he sat in solemn silence, looking foolish. It was not everybody who remembered that he had once been Lord Mayor of London, and who attended to him as a famous personage. It was also the first occasion (for at least forty years past) on which he had felt the arm of a handsome young woman round his neck, and the head of a handsome young woman on his breast. Add that the fair physician had said, on the first day of her attendance, ‘It is a rule of mine never to accept fees from public characters’ — and the catalogue of Sir John’s overwhelming emotions will be complete.

‘I can only atone for my intrusion in one way,’ Otto proceeded. ‘Permit me to hope for an early opportunity of improving our acquaintance — and to return to the garden.’

‘Not on my account, Mr Fitzmark! In any other case, my visit would be at an end. But I am perhaps morbidly anxious to “make assurance doubly sure” (the words of Shakespeare, I think?) in the case of Sir John. Besides, I have the prejudice of the world against me; always on the look-out for an opportunity of asserting that a woman is not fit to be a doctor.’

This seemed to be the right place for a burst of enthusiasm: Otto did it with perfect tact and dexterity. ‘Miss Pillico, I sincerely sympathise with you in the battle you are fighting against ignorance and stupidity. The Woman–Movement, in all its departments, has my heartfelt admiration and good wishes!’ His heavenly blue eyes became irresistible as this expression of generous feeling escaped him.

Sophia was too proud and too grateful to be able to reply in words. She rewarded the friend of the Women by a look — and turned with a sigh to business and Sir John.

‘May I try once more before I write my prescription?’ she asked. ‘No, my dear sir, your back this time. Lean well forward — so — and now draw a long breath.’ Her pretty hand grasped his shoulder, and her little rosy ear pressed (medically pressed) Sir John’s broad back.

At this interesting moment the library door opened. Lady Dowager appeared — and paused indignantly on the threshold. Otto advanced to salute his mother. Her ladyship waved him back with one hand, and pointed to the Doctor and the patient with the other. Sir John visibly trembled. Sophia kept her ear at his back as composedly as if nothing had happened.

‘Look at her!’ said Lady Dowager, addressing Otto in the muffled monotonous tones peculiar to the deaf. ‘Hugging my husband before my face — and he seventy-four years old, last birthday. You unnatural hussy, let go of him. You a doctor indeed? I know what you are. Fie! fie!’

‘My dear mother!’

‘I can’t hear you, Otto.’

‘My dear mother!’

‘Yes, yes; I’ll kiss you directly. Look at that old fool, your step-father! He a knight; he an alderman? Ha! ha! a nasty, mangy, rusty old Tom-cat. I won’t live with him any longer. You’re a witness, Otto — you see what’s going on in that chair — I’ll have a divorce. Ha! look at her hair,’ said Lady Dowager, as Sir John’s physician quietly lifted her head from Sir John’s back — ‘look at her hair, all rumpled with her horrid passions. I blush for my sex. Fie, Miss Pillico — fie!’

Sophia sat down at the desk, and wrote her prescription. ‘Two tablespoonfuls, Sir John, by measure glass, three times in the twenty-four hours. Your lungs are as sound as mine. Suppressed gout — that’s what is the matter with you — suppressed gout.’

She put on her bonnet (laid aside in the interests of auscultation), and held out her hand to Otto, with modest frankness. ‘A friend to my cause, Mr Fitzmark, is my friend. Your excellent mother,’ she continued, encountering the furious eyes of Lady Dowager with a little pleasant smile, ‘is naturally prejudiced against me. Early education — on the narrow stand-point of fifty years since — has much to answer for. I am sorry to have made this excellent lady angry; and I heartily forgive the heard words she has said to me. On the day after tomorrow, Sir John, I will look in, and see what my prescription has done for you. Thank you, Mr Fitzmark, I have no carriage to call; I am not rich enough to keep a carriage. Besides, my next visit is only next door. Ah, you know the Skirtons? The daughter is indeed a sweet girl. And the dear old father,’ Miss Pillico added, demurely announcing the medical conquest of another elderly gentleman, ‘is my patient. Neuralgia, ignorantly treated as pure rheumatism. Good morning, my lady.’

She bowed respectfully to the formidable enemy of the Rights of Women — posted at the doorway, and following her with glaring eyes as she glided out.

‘Ha! she’s going to the other old fool now,’ said Lady Dowager. ‘Susannah and the Elders! Do you hear, Miss Pillico? I call you Susannah and the Elders!’ She turned to her guilty husband (rising to retreat), with a look which threw him back into his chair. ‘Now, Sir John!’

Otto was too wise to remain in the room. He slipped into the garden.

After taking a turn or two, reflection convinced him that it was his duty to pay a visit next door. He had an opportunity of comparing two different orders of beauty, as represented by Sophia and Salome, which it would be injudicious on his part to neglect. A man of his tastes would be naturally interested in comparing the two girls together. At the same time, he had not ceased to feel the attraction that had lured him back to London: he was true to his young lady. When he entered Mr Skirton’s house, it was with loyal conviction that Salome’s superiority would be proved by comparison.

6

In ten day’s time events had made a great advance. Miss Pillico’s patients felt the powerful influence of Miss Pillico treatment. Sir John’s improved health bore witness to the capacity of his new doctor; Mr Skirton was well enough to give a small musical party at his house; Mr Otto Fitzmark, false to Mrs Wholebrook and Hydropathy, was entered triumphantly on Miss Pillico’s sick list. Last, but by no means least, Lady Dowager had anticipated her divorce by retiring to the seaside.

The case of Mr Fitzmark was not sufficiently formidable, in the opinion of his new physician, to seclude him from the pleasures of Society. He was allowed to accept an invitation to Mr and Mrs Skirton’s musical entertainment — and, by a happy combination of circumstances, he and his medical adviser entered the drawing-room together.

The primitive little party began at eight o’clock. By half-past eleven, the guests had retired, the master and mistress of the house has gone to bed — and Mr and Mrs Crossmichael and Salome were left together in an empty room.

Mrs Crossmichael issued her orders to her husband. ‘Go to the club, and return in half-an-hour. You needn’t come in again. Wait for me in the cab.’

The one person in the way having been disposed of, the conference between the sisters began.

‘Now, Salome, we can have a little talk. You have been wretchedly out of spirits all the evening.’

‘You would have been out of spirits, Lois, in my place, if you had seen them come into the room together as if they were man and wife already!’

‘Aggravating,’ Mrs Crossmichael admitted; ‘but you might have controlled yourself when you went to the piano; I never heard you play so badly. Let us get back to Mr Fitzmark. My opinion of him doesn’t matter — I may, and do, think him a poor effeminate creature, quite unworthy of such a girl as you are. The question is, what do you think? Are you, or are you not, seriously in love with him?’

‘I know it’s weak of me,’ Salome answered piteously; ‘and I haven’t got any reasons to give. Oh, Lois, I do love him!’

‘Stop!’ said Mrs Crossmichael. ‘If you begin to cry, I leave you to your fate. Stop it! stop it! I won’t have your eyes dim; I won’t have your nose red. I want your eyes, and I want your nose, for my argument.’

This extraordinary announcement effectually controlled the flow of Salome’s tears.

‘Now look at me,’ the resolute lady resumed. ‘Yes, you will do. You see the glass, at the other end of the room. Go, and look at yourself. I mean what I say. Go!’

Salome obeyed, and contemplated the style of beauty, immortalised by Byron in one line: ‘A kind of sleepy Venus was Dudu.’ The glass drew a pretty picture, presenting soft drowsy languishing grey eyes — plentiful hair, bright with the true golden colour, as distinguished from the hideous counterfeit — a pure pale complexion, a mild smile, and a weak little chin, made to be fondled and kissed. A more complete contrast to the brown and brisk beauty of Sophia Pillico could not have been found, through the whole range of female humanity.

‘Well,’ said Mrs Crossmichael, ‘are you quite satisfied that you have no reason to be afraid of Sophia, on personal grounds? Yes! yes! I know it’s his opinion that is of importance to us — but I want you to be confident. Sophia is confident; and humility is thrown away upon the molly-coddle who has taken your foolish fancy. Come, and sit by me. There was a fat guest in my way, when Mr Fitzmark said good night. Did he squeeze your hand; and did he look at you — like this?’

Mrs Crossmichael’s eyes assumed an amorous expression.

Salome blushed, and said, ‘Yes, he did.’

‘Now another question. When you got up from the piano (Chopin would have twisted your neck, and you would have deserved it, for murdering his music) Mr Fitzmark followed you into a corner. I saw that he was tender and confidential — did he come to the point? How stupid you are, Salome! Did he make a proposal?’

‘Not exactly, in words, dear. But if you had seen how he looked at me —’

‘Nonsense! He must be made to speak out — and I will help you to do it. I want a perfect bonnet for the flower-show next month; and I have ordered my husband to take me to Paris. For you sake, I will put it off for a week; and we will come and stay here, instead — so that I may be ready on the spot for anything that happens. No; you needn’t kiss me — you will do infinitely better if you listen to what I have too say. I have been carefully watching Sophia and your young man, and I have arrived at the conclusion that his doctor is certainly in love with him. (Haven’t I told you to listen? Then why don’t you let me go on?) I am equally certain, Salome, that he is not in love with her. (Will you listen?) But she flatters his conceit — and many a woman has caught her man in that way. Besides this danger, she has one terrible advantage over you: she is his doctor. And she has the devil’s own luck — I am too excited to choose my language — with papa and Sir John. Otto is disposed to believe in her; and papa and that wretched Alderman just get well enough to encourage him. Did you notice, at supper, that she ordered him to take this, and forbade him to take that — and treated the poor creature like a child? Oh, I can tell you, we have no time to lose!’

‘What are we to do, Lois?’

‘Will you listen? This is the second of the month. Give my love to the dear old people upstairs, and say that we must have another party, a garden-party, on the fifth. It is the safest way of getting at Pillico. If I call on her, she’s quite sharp enough to suspect that I have a reason for it. What’s the matter now?’

Salome looked towards the door. ‘Don’t I hear the cab? Oh, dear, your husband has come back already!’

‘Haven’t I told him to wait? They say marriage strengthens girls’ minds — and I sincerely hope they are right! In all probability Mr Fitzmark will call tomorrow, to make polite inquiries. You must not be at home. What do you mean by saying, “Oh!” If you don’t take my advice, I shall go to Paris.’

‘I beg your pardon, Lois: I’ll do whatever you tell me.’

Mrs Crossmichael rose, and rang for her cloak. ‘There’s on e thing more you must do — provoke his jealousy. The mother of that other young fellow who is dangling after you is just the person you want for the purpose. I heard her ask you to fix a day for visiting them at Windsor. You promised to write. Write tomorrow; and propose the day after, for your visit — returning the next morning, of course, for the garden-party. Leave word where you have gone, when the beautiful Otto calls again. In the language of Miss Pillico, my dear, he wants a stimulant. I know what I am about. Good night.’

7

Mr Fitzmark called the next day, as Mrs Crossmichael had anticipated, and returned to his quarters at Sir John’s a disappointed man. An hour later his doctor arrived, and found him in the garden, consoling himself with a cigarette. She took it out of his mouth with a fascinating familiarity, and threw it away.

‘I find I must speak seriously, Mr Fitzmark. There’s nobody in the garden. Suppose we sit down in the summer-house?’

They took their chairs, and Miss Pillico produced her stethoscope.

‘Open your waistcoat, please. Thank you — that will do.’ She used her stethoscope, and then she used her ear; and then she took his hand. Not to press it! Only to put him into the right position to have his pulse felt. ‘I have already told you that there is really no danger,’ she said. ‘The action of your heart is irregular — and I find I have underrated the necessity of taking certain precautions. But I have no doubt of being able to restore you to health, if —’ she let go of his hand, and looked at him tenderly — ‘if you will believe in your doctor, and do your best to help me.’

Otto only waited for his instructions. ‘I am careful about my diet,’ he said; ‘I never hurry myself in going upstairs; and, now I know you object to it, I won’t smoke. Is there anything more?’

‘One thing more,’ said Sophia softly. ‘After what I saw last night, I cannot conceal from myself that Society is bad for you. You were excited — oh, you were! Your doctor thought of your heart, and had her eye on you when you were talking to that lovely girl. Of course you are invited to the garden-party? Do me a favour (in my medical capacity) — help your poor heart; write an excuse.’

Otto consented, not very willingly, to make a sacrifice to the necessities, as distinguished from the inclinations, of his heart. Sophia’s pretty brown eyes stole a look at him — a gentle, appealing look. ‘I am afraid you hate me for keeping you away from Miss Salome,’ she said.

This demand on Otto’s gallantry only admitted of one reply. ‘Miss Pillico, the man doesn’t live who could hate you.’

The Doctor blushed. ‘I wonder whether I may put a bold question,’ she murmured — ‘entirely in the interest of your health?’ She hesitated, and toyed confusedly with her stethoscope. ‘I hardly know how to put it. Pray remember what I have already told you about your heart! Pleasurable excitement is just as bad for it as painful excitement. Bear that in mind, and let me suppose something quite likely — an event in which all your friends must feel the deepest interest. Let me suppose (professionally) that you are going to be married.’

Otto denied it, without stopping to think first. The effect he produced on Miss Pillico rather alarmed him. She clasped her hands, and exclaimed fervently, ‘What a relief!’

She was a strong-minded woman, and she followed a man’s profession. Would she take a man’s privilege, and make him an offer of marriage? Otto’s weak heart began to flutter. Sophia still played with her stethoscope.

‘I was thinking of my medical responsibility,’ she explained. ‘Please let me listen again.’

Otto submitted. There was a prolonged examination. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘under present conditions there can be no doubt of it. You mustn’t! Indeed, you mustn’t!’

‘Mustn’t — what?’ Otto asked.

‘Marry!’ Miss Pillico answered sternly.

‘Never?’ Otto persisted piteously.

Sophia informed him that it depended on the treatment. ‘What I have said to you,’ she proceeded, not unmindful of the future in her own interests, ‘refers to the present time. If you had been engaged to marry some young lady, for instance, I should have said, Put it off. Or, if you only contemplated such a thing, I should say, Pause. In one word, we have an interval to pass: long or short, is more than I can yet tell.’ She rose, and laid her hand persuasively on his arm. ‘Pray be regular with your medicine,’ she pleaded, ‘and let me know directly if you feel any change in your heart.’ They passed a flower-bed on their way back to the house. Miss Pillico admired the roses. Otto instantly presented her with a rose. She put it in her bosom — and sighed — and gave him a farewell look. For the first time he left the look unreturned. He had accidentally picked the rose which bore Salome’s favourite colour — he was thinking of the grey-eyed girl with golden hair. Before Sophia could win back his attention to herself, Young John, with his pipe in his mouth, appeared at a turn in the path. The Doctor took her leave in depressed spirits.

Otto hesitated about giving up the garden-party. It was only on the next day that he decided on staying at home. He wrote his excuses to Salome.

In the meanwhile Young John advanced lazily towards the summer-house, and discovered his sister in ambush at the back of the building. Sour Bess was in such a state of excitement that she actually forgot her quarrel with her brother. ‘I’ve heard every word they said to each other!’ she burst out. ‘That hateful wretch is sweet on Otto, and means to make him marry her. Oh, Johnny! how can I stop it? Who can I speak to first?’

Young John’s sympathy with his sister — when she happened to be in an especially malicious mood — expressed itself in a broad grin. United by their mutual interest in making mischief, these amiable young people met, in reconciliation, on common ground. ‘It’s no use speaking to Otto,’ Johnny remarked, ‘he’s such a fool. And, as for my father, he’d sooner believe Pillico than either of us. The girl next door is fond of Otto. How would it be if you told her?’

Bess refused even to consider the suggestion. ‘No,’ she said, ‘it might be doing a service to Salome, and we are not on speaking terms.’

Young John, under these circumstances, counselled patience. ‘Don’t throw away a good chance, Bess, by being in a hurry. It won’t hurt to wait for Skirton’s garden-party. Miss Pillico will be there; she’ll give you another opportunity.’

Bess was struck by his last suggestion. ‘I didn’t intend to go to the party,’ she said. ‘You’re quite right; I’ll accept the invitation.’

8

The servant who had delivered Otto’s written excuses came back with a message. His letter would be given to Miss Salome on her return from Windsor.

This announcement at once proved Mrs Crossmichael’s calculations to be correct. Otto was at no loss to interpret the meaning of Salome’s absence at Windsor. She was visiting the mother of his rival, at a time when her son was staying in the house. In other words, she was indirectly encouraging a man who was reported to have already made her an unsuccessful offer of marriage, and to be prepared to try again. Otto sent the servant back to ascertain the exact time at which Miss Salome was expected to return. The reply informed him that she was to travel by an early train, and that she would be at home on the morning of the garden-party by twelve o’clock. A second letter was thereupon despatched, asking for an interview soon after that time. Jealousy had determined Otto to take the gloomiest view of the state of his heart. Instead of asking Salome to make loving allowance for the formidable revelations of the stethoscope, he proposed to retire from the field in favour of the ‘fortunate gentleman whom she preferred.’ Such was the vindictive feeling with which this otherwise inoffensive young man regarded his sweetheart’s visit to Windsor; and so had Mrs Crossmichael’s clever calculations defeated themselves.

At two o’clock on the day of the party, Salome’s devoted sister performed her promise.

She and her husband arrived, to occupy the room which was always reserved for them in Mr Skirton’s house. Asking at once for her sister, she was informed that Salome was behaving very strangely; she had locked herself up in her room, and would open the door to nobody. Mrs Crossmichael applied for admission, with the energy peculiar to herself. ‘You know that my husband invariably obeys my orders, and that he is one of the biggest men in England. If you don’t let me in, I shall call him up, and say, Burst open that door.’ Salome gave way. Her eyes were red, her cheeks were stained with tears. ‘You’re the worst enemy I have!’ she cried passionately, as her sister entered the room; ‘I’ll never forgive you for sending me to Windsor.’

‘A row with Otto?’ Mrs Crossmichael asked quietly.

‘Otto has given me up! Otto leave the other man (whom I hate and detest) free to marry me! That’s what comes of taking your advice.’

Mrs Crossmichael preserved her temper. ‘Had he any other reason to give,’ she continued, ‘besides jealousy of the other man? If that was his only motive, you will have reason to be grateful to me, Salome, as long as you live.’

‘He had another reason — a dreadful reason — a mysterious reason. Marriage is forbidden to him. And, when I wanted to know why, he looked the picture of despair, and said, “Ask no more!”’

‘Is he coming to the party?’

‘Of course not!’

‘What’s his excuse?’

‘Ill-health.’

‘Wait here, Salome, till I come back.’

Mrs Crossmichael immediately presented herself at the next house. Mr Fitzmark was not well enough to see her. the message was positive; and the wooden-faced valet was impenetrable. Not daunted yet, the obstinate visitor asked for Miss Pillico. Miss Pillico was not in the house. Mrs Crossmichael returned, defeated, but not discouraged yet.

She appeared to be quite satisfied when Salome told her that the fair physician would be present at the garden-party.

The guests began to arrive; and Sophia was among them.

Her two faithful patients, Sir John and Mr Skirton, noticed that she was serious and silent. Mr Skirton asked if she had visited Otto that day. No; she had not thought it necessary, and he had not sent to say that he wanted her. Mrs Crossmichael, waiting her opportunity, got into conversation with Sophia, in a quiet part of the grounds. Salome waylaid her sister, when the interview was over: ‘What have you found out?’ Mrs Crossmichael whispered back, ‘Pillico was not born yesterday. She has some reason for being discontented with Otto — that’s all I can discover so far. Hush! don’t turn round too suddenly. Do you see that cat?’

The ‘cat’ was Sir John’s daughter. She had just met Miss Pillico on the lawn, and had only been noticed by a formal bow. Sour Bess looked after the lady-doctor with an expression of devilish malice which was not lost on Mrs Crossmichael. ‘An enemy to Sophia!’ she whispered to her sister. ‘Ah, Miss Dowager, it’s a long time since we have seen each other. You’re looking remarkably well. Have you, too, been consulting Miss Pillico?’ She took Bess’s arm in the friendliest manner, and walked away with her to the farther end of the garden.

9

‘Well Lois!’

‘Don’t come near me, or you will spoil everything! One word. Did that man make you another offer when you were at Windsor?’

‘Yes.’

‘And you refused him again?’

‘Certainly!’

‘And you still think Otto is worth having?’

‘I can’t live without him!’

‘Otto is yours.’

‘Half an hour afterwards, Mr Fitzmark received a letter, marked Private: ‘After such conduct as yours no young lady, in my sister’s position, could condescend to explain herself. I think it right, however, to inform you — merely to remove a false impression from your mind — that the gentleman who has excited your jealousy (and no wonder, for he is in every way your superior) has made her a proposal of marriage, and has, to my sincere regret, been refused. It is needless to add that you will not be received, if you venture to call again at my father’s house. — L. C.’

The despatch of this letter was followed by a bolder experiment still.

When the garden-party had come to an end, and the guests were at home again, Miss Pillico received Mrs Crossmichael’s visiting card — with a line on it in pencil: ‘I should be glad to say two words, if quite convenient.’ Mrs Crossmichael had produced a favourable impression in the garden — the interview was immediately granted.

‘You are naturally surprised to see me again, after I have already had the pleasure of meeting you. Events have happened — no! I had better not trouble you with the events, except on condition. The condition is, that you will kindly reply to a question which I must ask first.’ So Salome’s sister opened fire on the enemy. The enemy only bowed.

‘A lady possessed of your personal advantages, who follows your profession,’ Mrs Crossmichael proceeded, ‘excites admiration (especially among the men) for other qualities besides her medical ability —’

‘I don’t desire such admiration,’ Miss Pillico interposed; ‘and I never notice it.’

‘Not even in the case of one of your most ardent admirers — Mr Otto Fitzmark?’

‘Certainly not!’

‘Allow me to beg your pardon, Miss Pillico, for an intrusion which has, now, no excuse. I came here — without Mr Fitzmark’s knowledge — to make a very painful communication (so far as our family is concerned), in which, as I foolishly imagined, a duty — a friendly duty — might be involved towards yourself. Pray accept my excuses. Good evening.’

‘Stop, Mrs Crossmichael! Did you say duty was involved?’

‘I did, Miss Pillico.’

‘An act of duty is too serious to be trifled with. Will it help you if we suppose that I have noticed the feeling of admiration to which you refer?’

‘Thank you — it will help very much.’

‘Pray go on.’

‘I trust to your honour, Miss Pillico, to keep what I am about to say, a profound secret. Before Mr Fitzmark had the honour of becoming acquainted with you, his attentions to my sister were a subject of general remark among our friends. He called this morning in a state of indescribable confusion and distress, to inform her that his sentiments had undergone a change; the attractions of some other lady, as I strongly suspect, being answerable for this result. I have merely to add (speaking from my own experience) that he is an exceedingly shy man. He is also — according to his own account of it — subject to some extraordinary delusion, which persuades him that he can never marry. My own idea is, that this is a mere excuse; a stupid falsehood invented to palliate his conduct to my sister. As I think, she is well out of it. I have no opinion of Mr Fitzmark; and I should consider it my duty,’ Mrs Crossmichael proceeded, with an expression of undisguised malignity — ‘my bounden duty to warn any lady, in whom I was interested, against encouraging the addresses of such a false and fickle man. If you ask how you are interested in hearing this, I can only own that, like other foolish women, I act on impulse, and often regret it too late. Once more, good evening.’

Salome was waiting at home, eager to know how the interview had ended. Mrs Crossmichael described it in these words:

‘I have assumed the character, my dear, of your vindictive sister; eager to lower the man who has jilted you, in Sophia’s estimation. The trap is set — thanks to that charming girl, Sir John’s daughter. To-morrow will show if Pillico walks into it.’

10

To-morrow did show. Mrs Crossmichael received a reply to her letter, from Mr Fitzmark.

‘I entreat you to intercede for me. No words can tell how ashamed I am of my conduct, and how I regret the inexcusable jealousy which led to it. Salome — no! I dare not speak of her in that familiar way — Miss Salome is too good and too noble not to forgive a sincerely penitent man. I know how utterly unworthy of her I am; and I dare not hope to obtain more than my pardon. May she be happy! — is the only wish I can now presume to form.

‘One word more, relating to myself, before I close these lines.

‘I was foolish enough, when I made that ever-to-be-regretted visit, to hint at an obstacle to my entering the marriage state. It all originated in a mistaken view, taken by Miss Sophia Pillico, of the state of my heart. She called medically this morning, and applied the stethoscope as before: the result seemed to surprise her. She asked how many times I had taken my medicine, — I said, Twice. Digitalis, she thereupon remarked, was a wonderful remedy. She also said that she might, in her anxiety, have taken an exaggerated view of my case, and have alarmed me without reason. Her conduct, after this, was so extraordinary that I cannot pretend to describe it. She waited, after the examination was over, and seemed to expect me to say something more. I waited, on my side, for a word of explanation. She flew into a rage, and told me to provide myself with another doctor. What does it mean?

‘Being naturally interested in finding out whether there was anything the matter with me or not, I called on the resident medical man in this neighbourhood. He took great pains with me; and he admitted that I had an overburdened heart.

‘God knows that this is true enough! But the cause assigned makes me blush while I write. It seems that I eat too much — and my full stomach presses against my heart, “Live moderately, and take a long walk every day,” the doctor said; “and there isn’t an Office in London that won’t be glad to insure your life.”

‘Do me one last favour. Pray don’t let Miss Salome know about my stomach!’


Private Note by the Editor — When Mrs Crossmichael showed this letter to her sister, she said, ‘Now I have bowled Pillico out at last!’ Quite a mistake. Sophia publicly alluded to her brief professional connection with Mr Fitzmark, in these terms: ‘Other women view the approach of age with horror — I look to it myself with impatience and hope. At my present time of life, stupid male patients persist in falling in love with me. Mr Fitzmark was a particularly offensive instance of this. No words can say what a relief it is to me to hear, that he is going to marry Miss Salome Skirton.’

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