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We left Julia Dodd a district visitor. Working in a dense parish she learned the depths of human misery, bodily and mental.
She visited an honest widow, so poor that she could not afford a farthing dip, but sat in the dark. When friends came to see her they sometimes brought a candle to talk by.
She visited a cripple who often thanked God sincerely for leaving her the use of one thumb.
She visited a poor creature who for sixteen years had been afflicted with a tumour in the neck, and had lain all those years on her back with her head in a plate; the heat of a pillow being intolerable. Julia found her longing to go, and yet content to stay: and praising God in all the lulls of that pain which was her companion day and night.
But were I to enumerate the ghastly sights, the stifling loathsome odours, the vulgar horrors upon horrors this refined young lady faced, few of my readers would endure on paper for love of truth what she endured in reality for love of suffering humanity, and of Him whose servant she aspired to be.
Probably such sacrifices of selfish ease and comfort are never quite in vain; they tend in many ways to heal our own wounds: I won't say that bodily suffering is worse than mental; but it is realised far more vividly by a spectator. The grim heart-breaking sights she saw arrayed Julia's conscience against her own grief; the more so when she found some of her most afflicted ones resigned, and even grateful. "What," said she, "can they, all rags, disease and suffering, bow so cheerfully to the will of Heaven, and have I the wickedness, the impudence, to repine?"
And then, happier than most district visitors, she was not always obliged to look on helpless, or to confine her consolations to good words. Mrs. Dodd was getting on famously in her groove. She was high in the confidence of Cross and Co., and was inspecting eighty ladies, as well as working; her salary and profits together were not less than five hundred pounds a year, and her one luxury was charity, and Julia its minister. She carried a good honest basket, and there you might see her Bible wedged in with wine and meat, and tea and sugar: and still, as these melted in her round, a little spark of something warm would sometimes come in her own sick heart. Thus by degrees she was attaining not earthly happiness, but a grave and pensive composure.
Yet across it gusts of earthly grief came sweeping often; but these she hid till she was herself again.
To her mother and brother she was kinder, sweeter, and dearer, if possible, than ever. They looked on her as a saint; but she knew better; and used to blush with honest shame when they called her so. "Oh don't, pray don't, she would say with unaffected pain. "Love me as if I was an angel; but do not praise me; that turns my eyes inward and makes me see myself. I am not a Christian yet, nor anything like one."
Returning one day from her duties very tired, she sat down to take off her bonnet in her own room, and presently heard snatches of an argument that made her prick those wonderful little ears of hers which could almost hear through a wall. The two concluding sentences were a key to the whole dialogue.
"Why disturb her?" said Mrs. Dodd. "She is getting better of 'the Wretch;' and my advice is, say nothing: what harm can that do?"
"But then it is so unfair, so ungenerous, to keep anything from the poor girl that may concern her."
At this moment Julia came softly into the room with her curiosity hidden under an air of angelic composure.
Her mother asked after Mrs. Beecher, to draw her into conversation. She replied quietly that Mrs. Beecher was no better, but very thankful for the wine Mrs. Dodd had sent her. This answer given, she went without any apparent hurry and sat by Edward, and fixed two loving imploring eyes on him in silence. Oh, subtle sex! This feather was to turn the scale, and make him talk unquestioned. It told. She was close to him too, and mamma at the end of the room.
"Look here, Ju," said he, putting his hands in his pockets, "we two have always been friends as well as brother and sister; and somehow it does not seem like a friend to keep things dark;" then to Mrs. Dodd: "She is not a child, mother, after all; and how can it be wrong to tell her the truth, or right to suppress the truth? Well then, Ju, there's an advertisement in the 'Tiser, and it's a regular riddle. Now mind, I don't really think there is anything in it; but it is a droll coincidence, very droll; if it wasn't there are ladies present, and one of them a district visitor, I would say, d--d droll. So droll," continued he, getting warm, "that I should like to punch the advertiser's head."
"Let me see it, dear," said Julia. "I dare say it is nothing worth punching about."
"There," said Edward. "I've marked it."
Julia took the paper, and her eye fell on this short advertisement:
AILEEN AROON.--DISTRUST APPEARANCES.
Looking at her with some anxiety, they saw the paper give one sharp rustle in her hands, and then quiver a little. She bowed her head over it, and everything seemed to swim. But she never moved: they could neither of them see her face, she defended herself with the paper. The letters cleared again, and, still hiding her face, she studied and studied the advertisement.
"Come, tell us what you think of it," said Edward. "Is it anything? or a mere coincidence?"
"It is a pure coincidence," said Mrs. Dodd, with an admirable imitation of cool confidence.
Julia said nothing; but she now rose and put both arms round Edward's neck, and kissed him fervidly again and again, holding the newspaper tight all the time.
"There," said Mrs. Dodd: "see what you have done."
"Oh, it is all right," said Edward cheerfully. "The British fireman is getting hugged no end. Why, what is the matter? have you got the hiccough, Ju?"
"No; no! You are a true brother. I knew all along that he would explain all if he was alive: and he is alive." So saying she kissed the 'Tiser violently more than once; then fluttered away with it to her own room ashamed to show her joy, and yet not able to hide it.
Mrs. Dodd shook her head sorrowfully: and Edward began to look rueful, and doubt whether he had done wisely. I omit the discussion that followed. But the next time his duties permitted him to visit them Mrs. Dodd showed him the 'Tiser in her turn, and with her pretty white taper finger, and such a look, pointed to the following advertisement:
AILEEN AROON.--I do DISTRUST APPEARANCES. But if you ever loved me explain them at once. I have something for you from your dear sister.
"Poor simple girl," said Mrs. Dodd, "not to see that, if he could explain at all, he would explain, not go advertising an enigma after acting a mystification. And to think of my innocent dove putting in that she had something for him from his sister; a mighty temptation for such a wretch!"
"It was wonderfully silly," said Edward; "and such a clever girl, too; but you ladies can't stick to one thing at a time; begging your pardon, mamma."
Mrs. Dodd took no notice of this remark.
"To see her lower herself so!" she said. "Oh, my son, I am mortified." And Mrs. Dodd leaned her cheek against Edward's, and sighed.
"Now don't you cry, mammy," said he sorrowfully. "I'll break every bone in his skin for your comfort."
"Heaven forbid!" cried Mrs. Dodd anxiously; "what, are you not aware she would hate you?"
"Hate me: her brother!"
"She would hate us all if we laid a finger on that wretch. Pray interfere no more, love; foolish child, talking to me about women, and it is plain you know nothing of their hearts: and a good thing for you." She then put on maternal authority (nobody could do it more easily) and solemnly forbade all violence.
He did not venture to contradict her now; but cherished his resolution all the more, and longed for the hour when he might take "the Wretch" by the throat, and chastise him, the more publicly the better.
Now, the above incident that revealed Julia's real heart, which she had been hiding more or less all this time from those who could not sympathise with her, took eventually a turn unfavourable to "the Wretch." So he might well be called. Her great and settled fear had always been that Alfred was dead. Under the immediate influence of his father's cunning, she had for a moment believed he was false; but so true and loving a heart could not rest in that opinion. In true love so long as there is one grain of uncertainty, there is a world of faith and credulous ingenuity. So, as Alfred had never been seen since, as nobody could say he was married to another, there was a grain of uncertainty as to his unfaithfulness, and this her true heart magnified to a mountain.
But now matters wore another face. She was sure he had written the advertisement. Who but he, out of the few that take the words of any song to heart, admired Aileen Aroon? Who but he out of the three or four people who might possibly care for that old song, had appearances to explain away? And who but he knew they took in the Morning Advertiser? She waited then for the explanation she had invited. She read the advertising column every day over and over.
Not a word more.
Then her womanly pride was deeply wounded. What, had she courted an explanation where most ladies would have listened to none; and courted it in vain!
Her high spirit revolted. Her heart swelled against the repeated insults she had received: this last one filled the bitter cup too high.
And then her mother came in and assured her he had only inserted that advertisement to keep her in his power. He has heard you are recovering, and are admired by others more worthy of your esteem.
Julia cried bitterly at these arguments, for she could no longer combat them.
And Mr. Hurd was very attentive and kind. And when he spoke to Julia, and Julia turned away, her eye was sure to meet Mrs. Dodd's eye imploring her secretly not to discourage the young man too much. And so she was gently pulled by one, and gently thrust by another, away from her first lover and towards his successor.
It is an old, old story. Fate seems to exhaust its malice on our first love. For the second the road is smoother. Matters went on so some weeks, and it was perfectly true that Mr. Hurd escorted both ladies one day to Drayton House, at Julia's request, and not Mrs. Dodd's. Indeed, the latter lady was secretly hurt at his being allowed to come with them.
One Saturday afternoon, Mrs. Dodd went alone to Drayton House by appointment. David was like a lamb, but, as usual, had no knowledge of her. Mrs. Archbold told her a quiet, intelligent, patient had taken a great fancy to him, and she thought this was adding much to his happiness. "May I see him to thank him?" asked Mrs. Dodd. "Oh, certainly," said Mrs. Archbold; "I'll inquire for him." She went out but soon returned, saying, "He is gone out for a walk with the head keeper: we give him as much air and amusement as we can; we hope soon to send him out altogether cured." "Truly kind and thoughtful," said Mrs. Dodd. Soon after, she kissed Mrs. Archbold, and pressed a valuable brooch upon her: and then took leave. However, at the gate she remembered her parasol. Mrs. Archbold said she would go back for it. Mrs. Dodd would not hear of that: Mrs. Archbold insisted, and settled the question by going. She was no sooner in the house, than young Frank Beverley came running to Mrs. Dodd, and put the missing parasol officiously into her hand. "Oh, thank you, sir," said she; "will you be so kind as to tell Mrs. Archbold I have it." And with this they parted, and the porter opened the gate to her, and she got into her hired cab. She leaned her head back, and, as usual was lost in the sorrowful thoughts of what had been, and what now was. Poor wife, each visit to Drayton House opened her wound afresh. On reaching the stones, there was a turnpike This roused her up; she took out her purse and paid it. As she drew back to her seat, she saw out of the tail of her feminine eye the edge of something white under her parasol. She took up the parasol, and found a written paper pinned on to it: she detached this paper, and examined it all over with considerable curiosity. It consisted of a long slip about an inch and a quarter broad, rolled like tape, and tied with packthread. She could not see the inside, of course, but she read the superscription: it was firmly but clearly written, in red ink apparently.
Of the words I shall only say at present that they were strong and simple, and that their effect on the swift intelligence and tender heart of Mrs. Dodd was overpowering. They knocked at her heart; they drew from her an audible cry of pity more eloquent than a thousand speeches: and the next moment she felt a little faint; for she knew now the appeal was not in red ink, but in something very fit to pass between the heart of woe and the heart of pity. She smelt at her salts, and soon recovered that weakness: and next her womanly bosom swelled so with the milk of human kindness that her breath came short. After a little struggle she gushed out aloud, "Ah, that I will, poor soul; this very moment."
Now, by this time she was close to her own house.
She stopped the cab at her door, and asked the driver if his horse was fresh enough to carry her to the Board of Lunacy: "It is at Whitehall, sir," said she. "Lord bless you, ma'am," said the cabman, "Whitehall? Why, my mare would take you to Whitechapel and back in an hour, let alone Whitehall."
Reassured on that point Mrs. Dodd went in just to give the servant an order: but as she stood in the passage, she heard her children's voices and also a friend's; the genial, angry tones of Alexander Sampson, M. D.
She thought, "Oh, I must just show them all the paper, before I go with it;" and so after a little buzz about dinner and things with Sarah, mounted the stairs, and arrived among them singularly apropos, as it happened.
Men like Sampson, who make many foes, do also make stauncher friends than ever the Hare does, and are faithful friends themselves. The boisterous doctor had stuck to the Dodds in all their distresses; and if they were ever short of money, it certainly was not his fault: for almost his first word, when he found them in a lodging, was, "Now, ye'll be wanting a Chick. Gimme pen and ink, and I'll just draw ye one; for a hundre." This being declined politely by Mrs. Dodd, he expostulated. "Mai--dear--Madam, how on airth can ye go on in such a place as London without a Chick?"
He returned to the charge at his next visit and scolded her well for her pride. "Who iver hard of refusing a Chick? a small inoffensive chick, from an old friend like me? Come now, behave! Just a wee chick, I'll let y' off for fifty."
"Give us your company and your friendship," said Mrs. Dodd; "we value them above gold: we will not rob your dear children, while we have as many fingers on our hands as other people."
On the present occasion Dr. Sampson, whose affectionate respect for the leading London physicians has already displayed itself, was inveighing specially against certain specialists, whom, in the rapidity of his lusty eloquence, he called the Mad Ox. He favoured Julia and Edward with a full account of the maniform enormities he had detected them in during thirty years' practice; and so descended to his present grievance. A lady, an old friend of his, was being kept in a certain asylum month after month because she had got money and relations, and had once been delirious. "And why was she delirious? because she had a brain fever, she got well in a fortnight." This lady had thrown a letter over the wall addressed to him; somebody had posted it: he had asked the Commissioners to let him visit her; they had declined for the present. "Yon Board always sides with the strong against the weak," said he. So now he had bribed the gardener, and made a midnight assignation with the patient; and was going to it with six stout fellows to carry her off by force. "That is my recipe for alleged Insanity," said he. "The business will be more like a mejaeval knight carrying off a namorous nun out of a convint, than a good physician saving a pashint from the Mad Ox. However, Mrs. Saampson's in the secret; I daunt say sh' approves it; for she doesn't. She says, 'Go quietly to the Board o' Commissioners.' Sis I, 'My dear, Boards are a sort of cattle that go too slow for Saampson, and no match at all for the Mad Ox.'"
At this conjuncture, or soon after, Mrs. Dodd came in with her paper in her hand, a little flurried for once, and after a hasty curtsey, said--
"Oh, Doctor Sampson, oh, my dears, what wickedness there is in the world! I'm going to Whitehall this moment; only look at what was pinned on my parasol at Drayton House."
The writing passed from hand to hand, and left the readers looking very gravely at one another. Julia was quite pale and horror-stricken. All were too deeply moved, and even shocked, to make any commonplace comment; for it looked and read like a cry from heart to hearts.
"If you are a Christian, if you are human, pity a sane man here confined in, fraud, and take this to the Board of Lunacy at Whitehall. Torn by treachery from her I love, my letters all intercepted, pens and paper kept from me, I write this with a toothpick and my blood on a rim of 'The Times.' Oh God, direct it to some one who has suf- fered, and can feel for an- other's agony."
Dr. Sampson was the first to speak. "There," said he, under his breath: "didn't I tell you? This man is sane. There's sanity in every line."
"Well, but," said Edward, "do you mean to say that in the present day--"
"Mai--dearr--sirr. Mankind niver changes. Whativer the muscles of man can do in the light, the mind and conscience of man will consent to do in the dark."
Julia said never a word.
Mrs. Dodd, too, was for action not for talk. She bade them all a hasty adieu, and went on her good work.
Ere she got to the street door, she heard a swift rustle behind her; and it was Julia flying down to her, all glowing and sparkling with her old impetuosity, that had seemed dead for ever. "No, no," she cried, panting with generous emotion; "it is to me it was sent. I am torn from him I love, and by some treachery I dare say: and I have suffered--oh you shall never know what I have suffered. Give it me, oh pray, pray, pray give it me. I'll take it to Whitehall"
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