THE warm sunlight of July shining softly through a green blind; an open window with fresh flowers set on the sill; a strange bed, in a strange room; a giant figure of the female sex (like a dream of Mrs. Wragge) towering aloft on one side of the bed, and trying to clap its hands; another woman (quickly) stopping the hands before they could make any noise; a mild expostulating voice(like a dream of Mrs. Wragge again) breaking the silence in these words, "She knows me, ma'am, she knows me; if I mustn't be happy, it will be the death of me!" -- such were the first sights, such were the first sounds, to which, after six weeks of oblivion, Magdalen suddenly and strangely awoke.
After a little, the sights grew dim again, and the sounds sank into silence. Sleep, the merciful, took her once more, and hushed her back to repose.
Another day -- and the sights were clearer, the sounds were louder. Another -and she heard a man's voice, through the door, asking for news from the sick-room. The voice was strange to her; it was always cautiously lowered to the same quiet tone. It inquired after her, in the morning, when she woke -- at noon, when she took her refreshment -- in the evening, before she dropped asleep again. "Who is so anxious about me?" That was the first thought her mind was strong enough to form -- "Who is so anxious about me?"
More days -- and she could speak to the nurse at her bedside; she could answer the questions of an elderly man, who knew far more about her than she knew about herself, and who told her he was Mr. Merrick, the doctor; she could sit up in bed, supported by pillows, wondering what had happened to her, and where she was; she could feel a growing curiosity about that quiet voice, which still asked after her, morning, noon, and night, on the other side of the door.
Another day's delay -- and Mr. Merrick asked her if she was strong enough to see an old friend. A meek voice, behind him, articulating high in the air, said, "It's only me." The voice was followed by the prodigious bodily apparition of Mrs. Wragge, with her cap all awry, and one of her shoes in the next room. "Oh, look at her! look at her!" cried Mrs. Wragge, in an ecstasy, dropping on her knees at Magdalen's bedside, with a thump that shook the house. "Bless her heart, she's well enough to laugh at me already. 'Cheer, boys, cheer -- !' I beg your pardon, doctor, my conduct isn't ladylike, I know. It's my head, sir; it isn't me. I must give vent somehow, or my head will burst!" No coherent sentence, in answer to any sort of question put to her, could be extracted that morning from Mrs. Wragge. She rose from one climax of verbal confusion to another -- and finished her visit under the bed, groping inscrutably for the second shoe.
The morrow came -- and Mr. Merrick promised that she should see another old friend on the next day. In the evening, when the inquiring voice asked after her, as usual, and when the door was opened a few inches to give the reply, she answered faintly for herself: "I am better, thank you." There was a moment of silence -- and then, just as the door was shut again, the voice sank to a whisper, and said, fervently, "Thank God!" Who was he? She had asked them all, and no one would tell her. Who was he?
The next day came; and she heard her door opened softly. Brisk footsteps tripped into the room; a lithe little figure advanced to the bed-side. Was it a dream again? No! There he was in his own evergreen reality, with the copious flow of language pouring smoothly from his lips; with the lambent dash of humor twinkling in his party-colored eyes -- there he was, more audacious, more persuasive, more respectable than ever, in a suit of glossy black, with a speckless white cravat, and a rampant shirt frill -- the unblushing, the invincible, unchangeable Wragge!
"Not a word, my dear girl!" said the captain, seating himself comfortably at the bedside, in his old confidential way. "I am to do all the talking; and, I think you will own, a more competent man for the purpose could not possibly have been found. I am really delighted -- honestly delighted, if I may use such an apparently inappropriate word -- to see you again, and to see you getting well. I have often thought of you; I have often missed you; I have often said to myself -- never mind what! Clear the stage, and drop the curtain on the past. Dum vivimus, vivamus! Pardon the pedantry of a Latin quotation, my dear, and tell me how I look. Am I, or am I not, the picture of a prosperous man?"
Magdalen attempted to answer him. The captain's deluge of words flowed over her again in a moment.
"Don't exert yourself," he said. "I'll put all your questions for you. What have I been about? Why do I look so remarkably well off? And how in the world did I find my way to this house? My dear girl, I have been occupied, since we last saw each other, in slightly modifying my old professional habits. I have shifted from Moral Agriculture to Medical Agriculture. Formerly I preyed on the public sympathy, now I prey on the public stomach. Stomach and sympathy, sympathy and stomach -- look them both fairly in the face when you reach the wrong side of fifty, and you will agree with me that they come to much the same thing. However that may be, here I am -- incredible as it may appear -- a man with an income, at last. The founders of my fortune are three in number. Their names are Aloes, Scammony, and Gamboge. In plainer words, I am now living -- on a Pill. I made a little money (if you remember) by my friendly connection with you. I made a little more by the happy decease (Requiescat in Pace!) of that female relative of Mrs. Wragge's from whom, as I told you, my wife had expectations. Very good. What do you think I did? I invested the whole of my capital, at one fell swoop, in advertisements, and purchased my drugs and my pill-boxes on credit. The result is now before you. Here I am, a Grand Financial Fact. Here I am, with my clothes positively paid for; with a balance at my banker's; with my servant in livery, and my gig at the door; solvent, flourishing, popular -- and all on a Pill."
Magdalen smiled. The captain's face assumed an expression of mock gravity; he looked as if there was a serious side to the question, and as if he meant to put it next.
"It's no laughing matter to the public, my dear," he said. "They can't get rid of me and my Pill; they must take us. There is not a single form of appeal in the whole range of human advertisement which I am not making to the unfortunate public at this moment. Hire the last new novel, there I am, inside the boards of the book. Send for the last new Song -- the instant you open the leaves, I drop out of it. Take a cab -- I fly in at the window in red. Buy a box of tooth-powder at the chemist's -- I wrap it up for you in blue. Show yourself at the theater -- I flutter down on you in yellow. The mere titles of my advertisements are quite irresistible. Le t me quote a few from last week's issue. Proverbial Title: 'A Pill in time saves Nine.' Familiar Title:
'Excuse me, how is your Stomach?' Patriotic Ti tle: 'What are the three characteristics of a true-born Englishman? His Hearth, his Home, and his Pill.' Title in the form of a nursery dialogue:
'Mamma, I am not well.' 'What is the matter, my pet?' 'I want a little Pill.' Title in the form of a Historical Anecdote: 'New Discovery in the Mine of English History. When the Princes were smothered in the Tower, their faithful attendant collected all their little possessions left behind them. Among the touching trifles dear to the poor boys, he found a tiny Box. It contained the Pill of the Period. Is it necessary to say how inferior that Pill was to its Successor, which prince and peasant alike may now obtain?' -- Et cetera, et cetera. The place in which my Pill is made is an advertisement in itself. I have got one of the largest shops in London. Behind one counter (visible to the public through the lucid medium of plate-glass) are four-and-twenty young men, in white aprons, making the Pill. Behind another counter are four-and-twenty young men, in white cravats, making the boxes. At the bottom of the shop are three elderly accountants, posting the vast financial transactions accruing from the Pill in three enormous ledgers. Over the door are my name, portrait, and autograph, expanded to colossal proportions, and surrounded in flowing letters, by the motto of the establishment, 'Down with the Doctors!' Even Mrs. Wragge contributes her quota to this prodigious enterprise. She is the celebrated woman whom I have cured of indescribable agonies from every complaint under the sun. Her portrait is engraved on all the wrappers, with the following inscription beneath it: 'Before she took the Pill you might have blown this patient away with a feather. Look at her now!!!' Last, not least, my dear girl, the Pill is the cause of my finding my way to this house. My department in the prodigious Enterprise already mentioned is to scour the United Kingdom in a gig, establishing Agencies everywhere. While founding one of those Agencies, I heard of a certain friend of mine, who had lately landed in England, after a long sea-voyage. I got his address in London -- he was a lodger in this house. I called on him forthwith, and was stunned by the news of your illness. Such, in brief, is the history of my existing connection with British Medicine; and so it happens that you see me at the present moment sitting in the present chair, now as ever, yours truly, Horatio Wragge." In these terms the captain brought his personal statement to a close. He looked more and more attentively at Magdalen, the nearer he got to the conclusion. Was there some latent importance attaching to his last words which did not appear on the face of them? There was. His visit to the sick-room had a serious object, and that object he had now approached.
In describing the circumstances under which he had become acquainted with Magdalen's present position, Captain Wragge had skirted, with his customary dexterity, round the remote boundaries of truth. Emboldened by the absence of any public scandal in connection with Noel Vanstone's marriage, or with the event of his death as announced in the newspaper obituary, the captain, roaming the eastern circuit, had ventured back to Aldborough a fortnight since, to establish an agency there for the sale of his wonderful Pill. No one had recognized him but the landlady of the hotel, who at once insisted on his entering the house and reading Kirke's letter to her husband. The same night Captain Wragge was in London, and was closeted with the sailor in the second-floor room at Aaron's Buildings.
The serious nature of the situation, the indisputable certainty that Kirke must fail in tracing Magdalen's friends unless he first knew who she really was, had decided the captain on disclosing part, at least, of the truth. Declining to enter into any particulars -- for family reasons, which Magdalen might explain on her recovery, if she pleased -- he astounded Kirke by telling him that the friendless woman whom he had rescued, and whom he had only known up to that moment as Miss Bygrave -- was no other than the youngest daughter of Andrew Vanstone. The disclosure, on Kirke's side, of his father's connection with the young officer in Canada, had followed naturally on the revelation of Magdalen's real name. Captain Wragge had expressed his surprise, but had made no further remark at the time. A fortnight later, however, when the patient's recovery forced the serious difficulty on the doctor of meeting the questions which Magdalen was sure to ask, the captain's ingenuity had come, as usual, to the rescue.
"You can't tell her the truth," he said, "without awakening painful recollections of her stay at Aldborough, into which I am not at liberty to enter. Don't acknowledge just yet that Mr. Kirke only knew her as Miss Bygrave of North Shingles when he found her in this house. Tell her boldly that he knew who she was, and that he felt (what she must feel) that he had a hereditary right to help and protect her as his father's son. I am, as I have already told you," continued the captain, sticking fast to his old assertion, "a distant relative of the Combe-Raven family; and, if there is nobody else at hand to help you through this difficulty, my services are freely at your disposal."
No one else was at hand, and the emergency was a serious one. Strangers undertaking the responsibility might ignorantly jar on past recollections, which it would, perhaps, be the death of her to revive too soon. Near relatives might, by their premature appearance at the bedside, produce the same deplorable result. The alternative lay between irritating and alarming her by leaving her inquiries unanswered, or trusting Captain Wragge. In the doctor's opinion, the second risk was the least serious risk of the two -- and the captain was now seated at Magdalen's bedside in discharge of the trust confided to him.
Would she ask the question which it had been the private object of all Captain Wragge's preliminary talk lightly and pleasantly to provoke? Yes; as soon as his silence gave her the opportunity, she asked it: "Who was that friend of his living in the house?"
"You ought by rights to know him as well as I do," said the captain. "He is the son of one of your father's old military friends, when your father was quartered with his regiment in Canada. Your cheeks mustn't flush up! If they do, I shall go away."
She was astonished, but not agitated. Captain Wragge had begun by interesting her in the remote past, which she only knew by hearsay, before he ventured on the delicate ground of her own experience.
In a moment more she advanced to her next question: "What was his name?"
"Kirke," proceeded the captain. "Did you never hear of his father, Major Kirke, commanding officer of the regiment in Canada? Did you never hear that the major helped your father through a great difficulty, like the best of good fellows and good friends?"
Yes; she faintly fancied she had heard something about her father and an officer who had once been very good to him when he was a young man. But she could not look back so long. "Was Mr. Kirke poor?" Even Captain Wragge's penetration was puzzled by that question. He gave the true answer at hazard. "No," he said, "not poor."
Her next inquiry showed what she had been thinking of. "If Mr. Kirke was not poor, why did he come to live in that house?"
"She has caught me!" thought the captain. "There is only one way out of it -- I must administer another dose of truth. Mr. Kirke discovered you here by chance," he proceeded, aloud, "very ill, and not nicely attended to. Somebody was wanted to take care of you while you were not able to take care of yourself. Why not Mr. Kirke? He was the son of your father's old friend -- which is the next thing to being your old friend. Who had a better claim to send for the right doctor, and get the right nurse, when I was not here to cure you with my wonderful Pill? Gently! gently! you mustn't take hold of my superfine black coat-sleeve in that unceremonious manner."
He put her hand back on the bed, but she was not to be checked in that way. She persisted in asking another question . -- How came Mr. Kirke to know her? She had never seen him; she had never heard of him in her life.
"Very likely," said Captain Wragge. "But your never having seen him is no reason why he should not have seen you."
"When did he see me?"
The captain corked up his doses of truth on the spot without a moment's hesitation. "Some time ago, my dear. I can't exactly say when."
Captain Wragge suddenly saw his way to the administration of another dose. "Yes," he said, "only once."
She reflected a little. The next question involved the simultaneous expression of two ideas, and the next question cost her an effort.
"He only saw me once," she said, "and he only saw me some time ago. How came he to remember me when he found me here?"
"Aha!" said the captain. "Now you have hit the right nail on the head at last. You can't possibly be more surprised at his remembering you than I am. A word of advice, my dear. When you are well enough to get up and see Mr. Kirke, try how that sharp question of yours sounds in his ears, and insist on his answering it himself." Slipping out of the dilemma in that characteristically adroit manner, Captain Wragge got briskly on his legs again and took up his hat.
"Wait!" she pleaded. "I want to ask you -- "
"Not another word, "said the captain. "I have given you quite enough to think of for one day. My time is up, and my gig is waiting for me. I am off, to scour the country as usual. I am off, to cultivate the field of public indigestion with the triple plowshare of aloes, scammony and gamboge." He stopped and turned round at the door. "By-the-by, a message from my unfortunate wife. If you will allow her to come and see you again, Mrs. Wragge solemnly promises not to lose her shoe next time. I don't believe her. What do you say? May she come?"
"Yes; whenever she likes," said Magdalen. "If I ever get well again, may poor Mrs. Wragge come and stay with me?"
"Certainly, my dear. If you have no objection, I will provide her beforehand with a few thousand impressions in red, blue, and yellow of her own portrait ('You might have blown this patient away with a feather before she took the Pill. Look at her now!'). She is sure to drop herself about perpetually wherever she goes, and the most gratifying results, in an advertising point of view, must inevitably follow. Don't think me mercenary -- I merely understand the age I live in." He stopped on his way out, for the second time, and turned round once more at the door. "You have been a remarkably good girl," he said, "and you deserve to be rewarded for it. I'll give you a last piece of information before I go. Have you heard anybody inquiring after you, for the last day or two, outside your door? Ah! I see you have. A word in your ear, my dear. That's Mr. Kirke." He tripped away from the bedside as briskly as ever. Magdalen heard him advertising himself to the nurse before he closed the door. "If you are ever asked about it," he said, in a confidential whisper, "the name is Wragge, and the Pill is to be had in neat boxes, price thirteen pence half-penny, government stamp included. Take a few copies of the portrait of a female patient, whom you might have blown away with a feather before she took the Pill, and whom you are simply requested to contemplate now. Many thanks. Good-morning."
The door closed and Magdalen was alone again. She felt no sense of solitude; Captain Wragge had left her with something new to think of. Hour after hour her mind dwelt wonderingly on Mr. Kirke, until the evening came, and she heard his voice again through the half-opened door.
"I am very grateful," she said to him, before the nurse could answer his inquiries -- "very, very grateful for all your goodness to me."
"Try to get well," he replied, kindly. "You will more than reward me, if you try to get well."
The next morning Mr. Merrick found her impatient to leave her bed, and be moved to the sofa in the front room. The doctor said he supposed she wanted a change. "Yes," she replied; "I want to see Mr. Kirke." The doctor consented to move her on the next day, but he positively forbade the additional excitement of seeing anybody until the day after. She attempted a remonstrance -- Mr. Merrick was impenetrable. She tried, when he was gone, to win the nurse by persuasion -- the nurse was impenetrable, too.
On the next day they wrapped her in shawls, and carried her in to the sofa, and made her a little bed on it. On the table near at hand were some flowers and a number of an illustrated paper. She immediately asked who had put them there. The nurse (failing to notice a warning look from the doctor) said Mr. Kirke had thought that she might like the flowers, and that the pictures in the paper might amuse her. After that reply, her anxiety to see Mr. Kirke became too ungovernable to be trifled with. The doctor left the room at once to fetch him.
She looked eagerly at the opening door. Her first glance at him as he came in raised a doubt in her mind whether she now saw that tall figure and that open sun-burned face for the first time. But she was too weak and too agitated to follow her recollections as far back as Aldborough. She resigned the attempt, and only looked at him. He stopped at the foot of the sofa and said a few cheering words. She beckoned to him to come nearer, and offered him her wasted hand. He tenderly took it in his, and sat down by her. They were both silent. His face told her of the sorrow and the sympathy which his silence would fain have concealed. She still held his hand -- consciously now -- as persistently as she had held it on the day when he found her. Her eyes closed, after a vain effort to speak to him, and the tears rolled slowly over her wan white cheeks.
The doctor signed to Kirke to wait and give her time. She recovered a little and looked at him. "How kind you have been to me!" she murmured. "And how little I have deserved it!"
"Hush! hush!" he said. "You don't know what a happiness it was to me to help you."
The sound of his voice seemed to strengthen her, and to give her courage. She lay looking at him with an eager interest, with a gratitude which artlessly ignored all the conventional restraints that interpose between a woman and a man. "Where did you see me," she said, suddenly, "before you found me here?"
Kirke hesitated. Mr. Merrick came to his assistance.
"I forbid you to say a word about the past to Mr. Kirke," interposed the doctor; "and I forbid Mr. Kirke to say a word about it to you. You are beginning a new life to-day, and the only recollections I sanction are recollections five minutes old."
She looked at the doctor and smiled. "I must ask him one question," she said, and turned back again to Kirke. "Is it true that you had only seen me once before you came to this house?"
"Quite true!" He made the reply with a sudden change of color which she instantly detected. Her brightening eyes looked at him more earnestly than ever, as she put her next question.
"How came you to remember me after only seeing me once?"
His hand unconsciously closed on hers, and pressed it for the first time. He attempted to answer, and hesitated at the first word. "I have a good memory," he said at last; and suddenly looked away from her with a confusion so strangely unlike his customary self-possession of manner that the doctor and the nurse both noticed it.
Every nerve in her body felt that momentary pressure of his hand, with the exquisite susceptibility which accompanies the first faltering advance on the way to health. She looked at his changing color, she listened to his hesitating words, with every sensitive perception of her sex and age quickened to seize intuitively on the truth. In the moment when he looked away from her, she gently took her hand from him, and turned her head aside on the pillow. "Can it be?" she thought, with a flutter of delicious fear at her heart, with a glow of delicious confusion burning on her cheeks. "Can it be?"
The doctor made another sign to K irke. He understood it, and rose immediately. The momentary discomposure in his face and manner had both disappeared. He was satisfied in his own mi nd that he had successfully kept his secret, and in the relief of feeling that conviction he had become himself again.
"Good-by till to-morrow," he said, as he left the room.
"Good-by," she answered, softly, without looking at him.
Mr. Merrick took the chair which Kirke had resigned, and laid his hand on her pulse. "Just what I feared," remarked the doctor; "too quick by half."
She petulantly snatched away her wrist. "Don't!" she said, shrinking from him. "Pray don't touch me!"
Mr. Merrick good-humoredly gave up his place to the nurse. "I'll return in half an hour," he whispered, "and carry her back to bed. Don't let her talk. Show her the pictures in the newspaper, and keep her quiet in that way."
When the doctor returned, the nurse reported that the newspaper had not been wanted. The patient's conduct had been exemplary. She had not been at all restless, and she had never spoken a word.
The days passed, and the time grew longer and longer which the doctor allowed her to spend in the front room. She was soon able to dispense with the bed on the sofa -- she could be dressed, and could sit up, supported by pillows, in an arm-chair. Her hours of emancipation from the bedroom represented the great daily event of her life. They were the hours she passed in Kirke's society.
She had a double interest in him now -- her interest in the man whose protecting care had saved her reason and her life; her interest in the man whose heart's deepest secret she had surprised. Little by little they grew as easy and familiar with each other as old friends; little by little she presumed on all her privileges, and wound her way unsuspected into the most intimate knowledge of his nature.
Her questions were endless. Everything that he could tell her of himself and his life she drew from him delicately and insensibly: he, the least self-conscious of mankind, became an egotist in her dexterous hands. She found out his pride in his ship, and practiced on it without remorse. She drew him into talking of the fine qualities of the vessel, of the great things the vessel had done in emergencies, as he had never in his life talked yet to any living creature on shore. She found him out in private seafaring anxieties and unutterable seafaring exultations which he had kept a secret from his own mate. She watched his kindling face with a delicious sense of triumph in adding fuel to the fire; she trapped him into forgetting all considerations of time and place, and striking as hearty a stroke on the rickety little lodging-house table, in the fervor of his talk, as if his hand had descended on the solid bulwark of his ship. His confusion at the discovery of his own forgetfulness secretly delighted her; she could have cried with pleasure when he penitently wondered what he could possibly have been thinking of.
At other times she drew him from dwelling on the pleasures of his life, and led him into talking of its perils -- the perils of that jealous mistress the sea, which had absorbed so much of his existence, which had kept him so strangely innocent and ignorant of the world on shore. Twice he had been shipwrecked. Times innumerable he and all with him had been threatened with death, and had escaped their doom by the narrowness of a hair-breadth. He was always unwilling at the outset to speak of this dark and dreadful side of his life: it was only by adroitly tempting him, by laying little snares for him in his talk, that she lured him into telling her of the terrors of the great deep. She sat listening to him with a breathless interest, looking at him with a breathless wonder, as those fearful stories -- made doubly vivid by the simple language in which he told them -- fell, one by one, from his lips. His noble unconsciousness of his own heroism -- the artless modesty with which he described his own acts of dauntless endurance and devoted courage, without an idea that they were anything more than plain acts of duty to which he was bound by the vocation that he followed -- raised him to a place in her estimation so hopelessly high above her that she became uneasy and impatient until she had pulled down the idol again which she herself had set up. It was on these occasions that she most rigidly exacted from him all those little familiar attentions so precious to women in their intercourse with men. "This hand," she thought, with an exquisite delight in secretly following the idea while he was close to her -- "this hand that has rescued the drowning from death is shifting my pillows so tenderly that I hardly know when they are moved. This hand that has seized men mad with mutiny, and driven them back to their duty by main force, is mixing my lemonade and peeling my fruit more delicately and more neatly than I could do it for myself. Oh, if I could be a man, how I should like to be such a man as this!"
She never allowed her thoughts, while she was in his presence, to lead her beyond that point. It was only when the night had separated them that she ventured to let her mind dwell on the self-sacrificing devotion which had so mercifully rescued her. Kirke little knew how she thought of him, in the secrecy of her own chamber, during the quiet hours that elapsed before she sank to sleep. No suspicion crossed his mind of the influence which he was exerting over her -- of the new spirit which he was breathing into that new life, so sensitively open to impression in the first freshness of its recovered sense. "She has nobody else to amuse her, poor thing," he used to think, sadly, sitting alone in his small second-floor room. "If a rough fellow like me can beguile the weary hours till her friends come here, she is heartily welcome to all that I can tell her."
He was out of spirits and restless now whenever he was by himself. Little by little he fell into a habit of taking long, lonely walks at night, when Magdalen thought he was sleeping upstairs. Once he went away abruptly in the day-time -on business, as he said. Something had passed between Magdalen and himself the evening before which had led her into telling him her age. "Twenty last birthday," he thought. "Take twenty from forty-one. An easy sum in subtraction -- as easy a sum as my little nephew could wish for." He walked to the Docks, and looked bitterly at the shipping. "I mustn't forget how a ship is made," he said. "It won't be long before I am back at the old work again." On leaving the Docks he paid a visit to a brother sailor -- a married man. In the course of conversation he asked how much older his friend might be than his friend's wife. There was six years' difference between them. "I suppose that's difference enough?" said Kirke. "Yes," said his friend; "quite enough. Are you looking out for a wife at last? Try a seasoned woman of thirty-five -- that's your mark, Kirke, as near as I can calculate."
The time passed smoothly and quickly -- the present time, in which she was recovering so happily -- the present time, which he was beginning to distrust already.
Early one morning Mr. Merrick surprised Kirke by a visit in his little room on the second floor.
"I came to the conclusion yesterday," said the doctor, entering abruptly on his business, "that our patient was strong enough to justify us at last in running all risks, and communicating with her friends; and I have accordingly followed the clew which that queer fellow, Captain Wragge, put into our hands. You remember he advised us to apply to Mr. Pendril, the lawyer? I saw Mr. Pendril two days ago, and was referred by him -- not overwillingly, as I thought -- to a lady named Miss Garth. I heard enough from her to satisfy me that we have exercised a wise caution in acting as we have done. It is a very, very sad story; and I am bound to say that I, for one, make great allowances for the poor girl downstairs. Her only relation in the world is her elder sister. I have suggested that the sister shall write to her in the first instance, and then, if the letter does her no harm, follow it personally in a d ay or two. I have not given the address, by way of preventing any visits from being paid here without my permission. All I have done is to undertake to forward the letter, and I shall probably find it at my house when I get back. Can you stop at home until I send my man with it? There is not the least hope of my being able to bring it myself. All you need do is to watch for an opportunity when she is not in the front room, and to put the letter where she can see it when she comes in. The handwriting on the address will break the news before she opens the letter. Say nothing to her about it -- take care that the landlady is within call -- and leave her to herself. I know I can trust you to follow my directions, and that is why I ask you to do us this service. You look out of spirits this morning. Natural enough. You're used to plenty of fresh air, captain, and you're beginning to pine in this close place."
"May I ask a question, doctor? Is she pining in this close place, too? When her sister comes, will her sister take her away?"
"Decidedly, if my advice is followed. She will be well enough to be moved in a week or less. Good-day. You are certainly out of spirits, and your hand feels feverish. Pining for the blue water, captain -- pining for the blue water!" With that expression of opinion, the doctor cheerfully went out.
In an hour the letter arrived. Kirke took it from the landlady reluctantly, and almost roughly, without looking at it. Having ascertained that Magdalen was still engaged at her toilet, and having explained to the landlady the necessity of remaining within call, he went downstairs immediately, and put the letter on the table in the front room. Magdalen heard the sound of the familiar step on the floor. "I shall soon be ready," she called to him, through the door.
He made no reply; he took his hat and went out. After a momentary hesitation, he turned his face eastward, and called on the ship-owners who employed him, at their office in Cornhill.Next