Cursed by a Fortune, Page 2George Manville Fenn
"Morning, Doctor. Hardly expected to find you at home. Thought you'dbe on your rounds."
The speaker was mounted on a rather restive cob, which he now checked bythe gate of the pretty cottage in one of the Northwood lanes; and as hespoke he sprang down and placed his rein through the ring on the postclose by the brass plate which bore the words--"Pierce Leigh, M.D.,Surgeon, etc.," but he did not look at the ring, for his eyes gave afurtive glance at the windows from one to the other quickly.
He was not a groom, for his horse-shoe pin was set with diamonds, and alarge bunch of golden charms hung at his watch chain, but his coat, hat,drab breeches, and leggings were of the most horsey cut, and on a nearapproach anyone might have expected to smell stables. As it was, theodour he exhaled was Jockey Club, emanating from a white pockethandkerchief dotted with foxes' heads, hunting crops and horns, andsaturated with scent.
"My rounds are not very regular, Mr Wilton," said the gentlemanaddressed, and he looked keenly at the commonplace speaker, whose earsstood out widely from his closely-cropped hair. "You people aredreadfully healthy down here," and he held open the garden gate and drewhimself up, a fairly handsome, dark, keen-eyed, gentlemanly-looking manof thirty, slightly pale as if from study, but looking wiry and strongas an athlete. "You wished to see me?"
"Yes. Bit off my corn. Headache, black spots before my eyes, and thatsort of thing. Thought I'd consult the Vet."
"Will you step in?"
"Eh? Yes. Thankye."
The Doctor led the way into his flower-decked half-study,half-consulting room, where several other little adornments suggestedthe near presence of a woman; and the would-be patient coughedunnecessarily, and kept on tapping his leg with the hunting crop hecarried, as he followed, and the door was closed, and a chair was placedfor him.
"Eh? Chair? Thanks," said the visitor, taking it by the back, swingingit round, and throwing one leg across as if it were a saddle, crossinghis arms and resting his chin there--the while he stared ratherenviously at the man before him. "Not much the matter, and you mustn'tmake me so that I can't get on. Got a chap staying with me, and we'regoing after the pheasants. I say, let me send you a brace."
"You are very good," said the Doctor, smiling rather contemptuously,"but as I understand it they are not yet shot?"
"Eh? Oh, no; but no fear of that. I can lick our keeper; pretty surewith a gun. Want to see my tongue and feel my pulse?"
"Well, no," said the Doctor, with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "Ican pretty well tell."
"By your looks."
"Eh? Don't look bad, do I?"
"Something nasty coming on?" said the young man nervously.
"Yes; bad bilious attack, if you are not careful. You have beendrinking too much beer and smoking too many strong cigars."
"Not a bad guess," said the young man with a grin. "Last boxes areenough to take the top of your head off. Try one."
"Thank you," was the reply, and a black-looking cigar was taken from theproffered case.
"Mind, I've told you they are roofers."
"I can smoke a strong cigar," said the Doctor, quietly.
"You can? Well, I can't. Now then, mix up something; I want to beoff."
"There is no need to give you any medicine. Leave off beer and tobaccofor a few days, and you will be all right."
"But aren't you going to give me any physic?"
"Not a drop."
"Glad of it. But I say, the yokels down here won't care for it if youdon't give them something."
"I have found out that already. There, sir, I have given you the bestadvice I can."
"Thankye. When am I to come again?"
"Not until you are really ill. Not then," said the Doctor, smilingslightly as he rose, "for I suppose I should be sent for to you."
"That's all then?"
"Yes, that is all."
"Well, send in your bill to the guv'nor," said the young man, renewinghis grin; "he pays all mine. Nice morning, ain't it, for December?Soon have Christmas."
"Yes, we shall soon have Christmas now," said the Doctor, backing hisvisitor toward the door.
"But looks more like October, don't it?"
"Yes, much more like October."
"Steady, Beauty! Ah, quiet, will you!" cried the young man, as hemounted the restive cob. "She's a bit fresh. Wants some of the dancetaken out of her. Morning.--Sour beggar, no wonder he don't get on,"muttered the patient. "Take that and that. Coming those games when I'mmounting! How do you like that? Wanted to have me off."
There was a fresh application of the spurs, brutally given, and afterplunging heavily the little mare tore off as hard as she could go, whilethe Doctor watched till his patient turned a corner, and then resumedhis walk up and down the garden--a walk interrupted by the visit.
"Insolent puppy!" he muttered, frowning. "A miserable excuse."
"Pierce, dear, where are you?" cried a pleasant voice, and a piquantlittle figure appeared at the door. "Oh, there you are. Shall I want ahat? Oh, no, it's quite mild." The owner of the voice hurried out likea beam of sunshine on the dull grey morning, and taking the Doctor's armtried to keep step with him, after glancing up in his stern face, herown looking merry and arch with its dimples.
"What is it, Jenny?" he said.
"What is it, sir? Why, I want fresh air as well as you; but don'tstride along like that. How can I keep step? You have such long legs."
"That's better," he said, trying to accommodate himself to the littlebody at his side.
"Rather. So you have had a patient," she said.
"Yes, I've had a patient, Sis," he replied, looking down at her; and afaint colour dawned in her creamy cheeks.
"And you always grumbling, sir! There, I do believe that is thebeginning of a change. Who was the patient?"
The Doctor's hand twitched, and he frowned, but he said, calmly enough,"That young cub from the Manor."
"Mr Claud Wilton?" said the girl innocently; "Oh, I am glad. Beginningwith the rich people at the Manor. Now everyone will come."
"No, my dear; everyone will not come, and the sooner we pack up and goback to town the better."
"What, sell the practice?"
"Sell the practice," he cried contemptuously. "Sell the furniture, Sis.One man--fool, I mean--was enough to be swindled over this affair.Practice! The miserable scoundrel! Much good may the money hedefrauded me of do him. No, but we shall have to go."
"Don't, Pierce," said the girl, looking up at him wistfully.
"Why?" he said angrily.
"Because it did do me good being down here, and I like the place somuch."
"Any place would be better than that miserable hole at Westminster,where you were getting paler every day, but I ought to have been morebusinesslike. It has not done you good though; and if you like theplace the more reason why we should go," he cried angrily.
"Oh, Pierce, dear, what a bear you are this morning. Do be patient, andI know the patients will come."
"Bah! Not a soul called upon us since we've been here, except thetradespeople, so that they might get our custom."
"But we've only been here six months, dear."
"It will be the same when we've been here six years, and I'm wastingtime. I shall get away as soon as I can. Start the New Year afresh intown."
"Pierce, oh don't walk so fast. How can I keep up with you?"
"I beg your pardon."
"That's better. But, Pierce, dear," she said, with an arch look; "don'ttalk like that. You wouldn't have the heart to go."
"Indeed! But I will."
"I know better, dear."
"What do you mean?"
"You couldn't go away now. Oh, Pierce, dear, she is sweet! I couldlove her so. There is something so beautiful and pathetic in her faceas she sits there in church. Many a time I've felt the tears come intomy eyes, and as if I could go across the little aisl
e and kiss her andcall her sister."
He turned round sharply and caught her by the arm, his eyes flashingwith indignation.
"Jenny," he cried, "are you mad?"
"No, only in pain," she said, with her lip quivering. "You hurt me.You are so strong."
"I--I did not mean it," he said, releasing her.
"But you hurt me still, dear, to see you like this. Oh, Pierce,darling," she whispered, as she clung to his arm and nestled to him;"don't try and hide it from me. A woman always knows. I saw it fromthe first when she came down, and we first noticed her, and she came tochurch looking like some dear, suffering saint. My heart went out toher at once, and the more so that I saw the effect it had on you.Pierce, dear, you do love me?"
"You know," he said hoarsely.
"Then be open with me. What could be better?"
He was silent for a few moments, and then he answered the pretty,wistful eyes, gazing so inquiringly in his.
"Yes," he said. "I will be open with you, Sis, for you mean well; butyou speak like the pretty child you have always been to me. Has it evercrossed your mind that I have never spoken to this lady, and that she isa rich heiress, and that I am a poor doctor who is making a failure ofhis life?"
"What!" cried the girl proudly. "Why, if she were a princess she wouldnot be too grand for my brave noble brother."
"Hah!" he cried, with a scornful laugh; "your brave noble brother!Well, go on and still think so of me, little one. It's very pleasant,and does not hurt anyone. I hope I'm too sensible to be spoiled by mylittle flatterer. Only keep your love for me yet awhile," he saidmeaningly. "Let's leave love out of the question till we can pay ourway and have something to spare, instead of having no income at all butwhat comes from consols."
"That will do. You're a dear little goose. We must want the Queen'sCrown from the Tower because it's pretty."
"Now you're talking nonsense, Pierce," she said, firmly, and she heldhis arm tightly between her little hands. "You can't deny it, sir. Youfell in love with her from the first."
"Jenny, my child," he said quietly. "I promised our father I would bean honorable man and a gentleman."
"And so you would have been, without promising."
"I hope so. Then now listen to me; never speak to me in this wayagain."
"I will," she cried flushing. "Answer me this; would it be acting likean honorable man to let that sweet angel of a girl marry Claud Wilton?"
"What!" he cried, starting, and gazing at his sister intently. "Her owncousin? Absurd."
"I've heard that it is to be so."
"People say so, and where there's smoke there's fire. Cousins marry,and I don't believe they'll let a fortune like that go out of thefamily."
"They're rich enough to laugh at it."
"They're not rich; they're poor, for the Squire's in difficulties."
"Petty village tattle. Rubbish, girl. Once more, no more of this.You're wrong, my dear. You mean well, but there's an ugly saying aboutgood intentions which I will not repeat. Now listen to me. The comingdown to Northwood has been a grave mistake, and when people blunder thesooner they get back to the right path the better. I have made up mymind to go back to London, and your words this morning have hastened iton. The sooner we are off the better."
"No, Pierce," said the girl firmly. "Not to make you unhappy. Youshall not take a step that you will repent to the last day of your life,dear. We must stay."
"We must go. I have nothing to stay for here. Neither have you," headded, meaningly.
"Pierce!" she cried, flushing.
"Beg pardon, sir; Mr Leigh, sir."
They had been too much intent upon their conversation to notice theapproach of a dog-cart, or that the groom who drove it had pulled up onseeing them, and was now talking to them over the hedge.
"Yes, what is it?" said Leigh, sharply.
"Will you come over to the Manor directly, sir? Master's out, andMissus is in a trubble way. Our young lady, sir, Miss Wilton, tookbad--fainting and nervous. You're to come at once."
Jenny uttered a soft, low, long-drawn "Oh!" and, forgetful of everythinghe had said, Pierce Leigh rushed into the house, caught up his hat, andhurried out again, to mount into the dog-cart beside the driver.
"Poor, dear old brother!" said Jenny, softly, as with her eyeshalf-blinded by the tears which rose, she watched the dog-cart drivenaway. "I don't believe he will go to town. Oh, how strangely things docome about. I wish I could have gone too."