Lily Dale’s constitution was good, and her recovery was retarded by no relapse or lingering debility; but, nevertheless, she was forced to keep her bed for many days after the fever had left her. During all this period Dr Crofts came every day. It was in vain that Mrs Dale begged him not to do so; telling him in simple words that she felt herself bound not to accept from him all this continuation of his unremunerated labours now that the absolute necessity for them was over. He answered her only by little jokes, or did not answer her at all; but still he came daily, almost always at the same hour, just as the day was waning, so that he could sit for a quarter of an hour in the dusk, and then ride home to Guestwick in the dark. At this time Bell had been admitted into her sister’s room, and she would always meet Dr Crofts at Lily’s bedside; but she never sat with him alone, since the day n which he had offered her his love with half-articulated words, and she had declined it with words also half articulated. She had seen him alone since that, on the stairs, or standing in the hall, but she had not remained with him, talking to him after her old fashion, and no further word of his love had been spoken in speech either half or wholly articulate.
Nor had Bell spoken of what had passed to any one else. Lily would probably have told both her mother and sister instantly; but then no such scene as that which had taken place with Bell would have been possible with Lily. In whatever way the matter might have gone with her, there would certainly have been some clear tale to tell when the interview was over. She would have known whether or no she loved the man, or could love him, and would have given him some true and intelligible answer. Bell had not done so, but had given him an answer which, if true, was not intelligible, and if intelligible was not true. And yet, when she had gone away to think over what had passed — she had been happy and satisfied, and almost triumphant. She had never yet asked herself whether she expected anything further from Dr Crofts, nor what that something further might be — and yet she was happy!
Lily had now become pert and saucy in her bed, taking upon herself the little airs which are allowed to a convalescent invalid as compensation for previous suffering and restraint. She pretended to much anxiety on the subject of her dinner, and declared that she would go out on such or such a day, let Dr Crofts be as imperious as he might. “He’s an old savage, after all,” she said to her sister, one evening after he was gone, “and just as bad as the rest of them.”
“I do not know who the rest of them are,” said Bell, “but at any rate he’s not very old.”
“You know what I mean. He’s just as grumpy as Dr Gruffen, and thinks everybody is to do what he tells them. Of course, you take his part.”
“And of course you ought, seeing how good he has been.”
“And of course I should, to anybody but you. I do like to abuse him to you.”
“So I do. It’s so hard to knock any fire out of you, that when one does find the place where the flint lies, one can’t help hammering at it. What did he mean by saying that I shouldn’t get up on Sunday? Of course I shall get up if I like it.”
“Not if mamma asks you not?”
“Oh, but she won’t, unless he interferes and dictates to her. Oh, Bell, what a tyrant he would be if he were married!”
“And how submissive you would be, if you were his wife! It’s a thousand pities that you are not in love with each other — that is, if you are not.”
“Lily, I thought that there was a promise between us about that.”
“Ah! but that was in other days. Things are all altered since that promise was given — all the world has been altered.” And as she said this the tone of her voice was changed, and it had become almost sad. “I feel as though I ought to be allowed to speak about anything I please.”
“You shall, if it pleases you, my pet.”
“You see how it is, Bell; I can never again have anything of my own to talk about.”
“Oh, my darling, do not say that.”
“But it is so, Bell; and why not say it? Do you think I never say it to myself in the hours when I am all alone, thinking over it — thinking, thinking, thinking. You must not — you must not grudge to let me talk of it sometimes.”
“I will not grudge you anything — only I cannot believe that it must be so always.”
“Ask yourself, Bell, how it would be with you. But I sometimes fancy that you measure me differently from yourself.”
“Indeed I do, for I know how much better you are.”
“I am not so much better as to be ever able to forget all that. I know I never shall do so. I have made up my mind about it clearly and with an absolute certainty.”
“Lily, Lily, Lily! pray do not say so.”
“But I do say it. And yet I have not been very mopish and melancholy; have I, Bell? I do think I deserve some little credit, and yet, I declare, you won’t allow me the least privilege in the world.”
“What privilege would you wish me to give you?”
“To talk about Dr Crofts.”
“Lily, you are a wicked, wicked tyrant.” And Bell leaned over her, and fell upon her, and kissed her, hiding her own face in the gloom of the evening. After that it came to be an accepted understanding between them that Bell was not altogether indifferent to Dr Crofts.
“You heard what he said, my darling,” Mrs Dale said the next day, as the three were in the room together after Dr Crofts was gone. Mrs Dale was standing on one side of the bed, and Bell on the other, while Lily was scolding them both. “You can get up for an hour or two tomorrow, but he thinks you had better not go out of the room.”
“What would be the good of that, mamma? I am so tired of looking always at the same paper. It is such a tiresome paper. It makes one count the pattern over and over again. I wonder how you ever can live here.”
“I’ve got used to it, you see.”
“I never can get used to that sort of thing; but go on counting, and counting, and counting. I’ll tell you what I should like; and I’m sure it would be the best thing, too.”
“And what would you like?” said Bell.
“Just to get up at nine o’clock tomorrow, and go to church as though nothing had happened. Then, when Dr Crofts came in the evening, you would tell him I was down at the school.”
“I wouldn’t quite advise that,” said Mrs Dale.
“It would give him such a delightful start. And when he found I didn’t die immediately, as of course I ought to do according to rule, he would be so disgusted.”
“It would be very ungrateful, to say the least of it,” said Bell.
“No, it wouldn’t, a bit. He needn’t come, unless he likes it. And I don’t believe he comes to see me at all. It’s all very well, mamma, your looking in that way; but I’m sure it’s true. And I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll pretend to be bad again, otherwise the poor man will be robbed of his only happiness.”
“I suppose we must allow her to say what she likes till she gets well,” said Mrs Dale, laughing. It was now nearly dark, and Mrs Dale did not see that Bell’s hand had crept under the bed-clothes, and taken hold of that of her sister. “It’s true, mamma,” continued Lily, “and I defy her to deny it. I would forgive him for keeping me in bed if he would only make her fall in love with him.”
“She has made a bargain, mamma,” said Bell, “that she is to say whatever she likes till she gets well.”
“I am to say whatever I like always; that was the bargain, and I mean to stand to it.”
On the following Sunday Lily did get up, but did not leave her mother’s bedroom. There she was, seated in that half-dignified and half-luxurious state which belongs to the first getting up of an invalid, when Dr Crofts called. There she had eaten her tiny bit of roast mutton, and had called her mother a stingy old creature, because she would not permit another morsel; and there she had drunk her half glass of port wine, pretending that it was very bad, and twice worse than the doctor’s physic; and there, Sunday though it was, she had fully enjoyed the last hour of daylight, reading that exquisite new novel which had just completed itself, amidst the jarring criticisms of the youth and age of the reading public.
“I am quite sure she was right in accepting him, Bell,” she said, putting down the book as the light was fading, and beginning to praise the story.
“It was a matter of course,” said Bell. “It always is right in the novels. That’s why I don’t like them. They are too sweet.”
“That’s why I do like them, because they are so sweet. A sermon is not to tell you what you are, but what you ought to be, and a novel should tell you not what you are to get, but what you’d like to get.”
“If so, then, I’d go back to the old school, and have the heroine really a heroine, walking all the way up from Edinburgh to London, and falling among thieves; or else nursing a wounded hero, and describing the battle from the window. We’ve got tired of that; or else the people who write can’t do it nowadays. But if we are to have real life, let it be real.”
“No, Bell, no,” said Lily. “Real life sometimes is so painful.” Then her sister, in a moment, was down on the floor at her feet, kissing her hand and caressing her knees, and praying that the wound might be healed.
On that morning Lily had succeeded in inducing her sister to tell her all that had been said by Dr Crofts. All that had been said by herself also, Bell had intended to tell; but when she came to this part of the story, her account was very lame. “I don’t think I said anything,” she said. “But silence always gives consent. He’ll know that,” Lily had rejoined.
“No, he will not; my silence didn’t give any consent; I’m sure of that. And he didn’t think that it did.”
“But you didn’t mean to refuse him?”
“I think I did. I don’t think I knew what I meant; and it was safer, therefore, to look no, than to look yes. If I didn’t say it, I’m sure I looked it.”
“But you wouldn’t refuse him now?” asked Lily.
“I don’t know,” said Bell. “It seems as though I should want years to make up my mind; and he won’t ask me again.”
Bell was still at her sister’s feet, caressing them, and praying with all her heart that that wound might be healed in due time, when Mrs Dale came in and announced the doctor’s daily visit.
“Then I’ll go,” said Bell.
“Indeed you won’t,” said Lily. “He is coming simply to make a morning call, and nobody need run away. Now, Dr Crofts, you need not come and stand over me with your watch, for I won’t let you touch my hand except to shake hands with me;” and then she held her hand out to him.”
“And all you’ll know of my tongue you’ll learn from the sound.”
“I don’t care in the least for your tongue.”
“I dare say not, and yet you may some of these days. I can speak out if I like it; can’t I, mamma?”
“I should think Dr Crofts knows that by this time, my dear.”
“I don’t know. There are some things gentlemen are very slow to learn. But you must sit down, Dr Crofts, and make yourself comfortable and polite; for you must understand that you are not master here any longer. I am out of bed now, and your reign is over.”
“That’s the gratitude of the world, all through,” said Mrs Dale.
“Who is ever grateful to a doctor? He only cures you that he may triumph over some other doctor, and declare, as he goes by Dr Gruffen’s door, ‘There, had she called you in, she’d have been dead before now; or else would have been ill for twelve months.’ Don’t you jump for joy when Dr Gruffen’s patients die?”
“Of course I do — out in the market-place, so that everybody shall see me,” said the doctor.
“Lily, how can you say such shocking things?” said her sister.
Then the doctor did sit down, and they were all very cosy together over the fire, talking about things which were not medical, or only half medical in their appliance. By degrees the conversation came round to Mrs Eames and to John Eames. Two or three days since Crofts had told Mrs Dale of that affair at the railway station, of which up to that time she had heard nothing. Mrs Dale, when she was assured that young Eames had given Crosbie a tremendous thrashing — the tidings of the affair which had got themselves substantiated at Guestwick so described the nature of the encounter — could not withhold some meed of applause.
“Dear boy!” she said, almost involuntarily. “Dear boy! it came from the honestness of his heart!” And then she gave special injunctions to the doctor — injunctions which were surely unnecessary — that no word of the matter should be whispered before Lily.
“I was at the manor, yesterday,” said the doctor, “and the earl would talk about nothing but Master Johnny. He says he’s the finest fellow going.” Whereupon Mrs Dale touched him with her foot, fearing that the conversation might be led away in the direction of Johnny’s prowess.
“I am so glad,” said Lily. “I always knew that they’d find John out at last.”
“And Lady Julia is just as fond of him,” said the doctor.
“Dear me!” said Lily. “Suppose they were to make up a match!”
“Lily, how can you be so absurd?”
“Let me see; what relation would he be to us? He would certainly be Bernard’s uncle, and Uncle Christopher’s half brother-in-law. Wouldn’t it be odd?”
“It would rather,” said Mrs Dale.
“I hope he’ll be civil to Bernard. Don’t you, Bell? Is he to give up the Income-tax Office, Dr Crofts?”
“I didn’t hear that that was settled yet.” And so they went on talking about John Eames.
“Joking apart,” said Lily, “I am very glad that Lord de Guest has taken him by the hand. Not that I think an earl is better than anybody else, but because it shows that people are beginning to understand that he has got something in him. I always said that they who laughed at John would see him hold up his head yet.” All which words sank deep into Mrs Dale’s mind. If only, in some coming time, her pet might be taught to love this new young hero! But then would not that last heroic deed of his militate most strongly against any possibility of such love!
“And now I may as well be going,” said the doctor, rising from his chair. At this time Bell had left the room, but Mrs Dale was still there.
“You need not be in such a hurry, especially this evening,” said Lily.
“Why especially this evening?”
“Because it will be the last. Sit down again, Dr Crofts. I’ve got a little speech to make to you. I’ve been preparing it all the morning, and you must give me an opportunity of speaking it.”
“I’ll come the day after tomorrow, and I’ll hear it then.”
“But I choose, sir, that you should hear it now. Am I riot to be obeyed when I first get up on to my own throne? Dear, dear Dr Crofts, how am I to thank you for all that you have done?”
“How are any of us to thank him?” said Mrs Dale.
“I hate thanks,” said the doctor. “One kind glance of the eye is worth them all, and I’ve had many such in this house.”
“You have our hearts’ love, at any rate,” said Mrs Dale.
“God bless you all!” said he, as he prepared to go.
“But I haven’t made my speech yet,” said Lily. “And to tell the truth, mamma, you must go away, or I shall never be able to make it. It’s very improper, is it not, turning you out, but it shall only take three minutes.” Then Mrs Dale, with some little joking word, left the room; but, as she left it, her mind was hardly at ease. Ought she to have gone, leaving it to Lily’s discretion to say what words he might think fit to Dr Crofts? Hitherto she had never doubted her daughters — not even their discretion; and therefore it had been natural to her to go when she was bidden. But as she went downstairs she had her doubts whether she was right or no.
“Dr Crofts,” said Lily, as soon as they were alone. “Sit down there, close to me. I want to ask you a question. What was it you said to Bell when you were alone with her the other evening in the parlour?”
The doctor sat for a moment without answering, and Lily, who was watching him closely, could see by the light of the fire that he had been startled — had almost shuddered as the question was asked him.
“What did I say to her?” and he repeated her words in a very low voice.
“I asked her if she could love me, and be my wife.”
“And what answer did she make to you?”
“What answer did she make? She simply refused me.”
“No, no, no; don’t believe her, Dr Crofts. It was not so — I think it was not so. Mind you, I can say nothing as coming from her. She has not told me her own mind. But if you really love her, she will be mad to refuse you.”
“I do love her, Lily; that at any rate is true.”
“Then go to her again. I am speaking for myself now. I cannot afford to lose such a brother as you would be. I love you so dearly that I cannot spare you. And she — I think she’ll learn to love you as you would wish to be loved. You know her nature, how silent she is, and averse to talk about herself. She has confessed nothing to me but this — that you spoke to her and took her by surprise. Are we to have another chance? I know how wrong I am to ask such a question. But, after all, is not the truth the best?”
“I know what you mean, and I think she is worthy to be your wife. I do, indeed; and if so, she must be very worthy. You won’t tell of me, will you now, doctor?”
“No; I won’t tell of you.”
“And you’ll try again?”
“Yes; I’ll try again.”
“God bless you, my brother! I hope — I hope you’ll be my brother.” Then, as he put out his hand to her once more, she raised her head towards him, and he, stooping down, kissed her forehead.
“Make mamma come to me,” were the last words she spoke as he went out at the door.
“So you’ve made your speech,” said Mrs Dale.
“I hope it was a discreet speech.”
“I hope it was, mamma. But it has made me so tired, and I believe I’ll go to bed. Do you know I don’t think I should have done much good down at the school today?”
Then Mrs Dale, in her anxiety to repair what injury might have been done to her daughter by over-exertion, omitted any further mention of the farewell speech.
Dr Crofts as he rode home enjoyed but little of the triumph of a successful lover.
“It may be that she’s right,” he said to himself; “and, at any rate, I’ll ask again.” Nevertheless, that “No” which Bell had spoken, and had repeated, still sounded in his ears harsh and conclusive. There are men to whom a peal of noes rattling about their ears never takes the sound of a true denial, and others to whom the word once pronounced, be it whispered ever so softly, comes as though it were an unchangeable verdict from the supreme judgment-seat.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01