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to dine early, and I am a great tea-drinker. If we might have a huge
tea-kettle on the fire, and tea-pot to correspond on the table, and I,
as I read my story, and the rest of the company, as they listen, might
help ourselves, I think it would be very jolly, and very homely."

To this the colonel readily agreed. I heard the ladies whispering a
little, and the words - "Very considerate indeed!" from Mrs.
Bloomfield, reached my ears. Indeed I had thought that the colonel's
hospitality was making him forget his servants. And I could not help
laughing to think what Beeves's face would have been like, if he had
heard us all invited to dinner again, the next day.

Whether Adela suspected us now, I do not know. She said nothing to
show it.

Just before the doctor left, with his brother and sister, he went up
to her, and said, in a by-the-bye sort of way:

"I am sorry to hear that you have not been quite well of late, Miss
Cathcart. You have been catching cold, I am afraid. Let me feel your

She gave him her wrist directly, saying:

"I feel much better to-night, thank you."

He stood - listening to the pulse, you would have said - his whole
attitude was so entirely that of one listening, with his eyes doing
nothing at all. He stood thus for a while, without consulting his
watch, looking as if the pulse had brought him into immediate
communication with the troubled heart itself, and he could feel every
flutter and effort which it made. Then he took out his watch and

Now that his eyes were quite safe, I saw Adela's eyes steal up to his
face, and rest there for a half a minute with a reposeful expression.
I felt that there was something healing in the very presence and touch
of the man - so full was he of health and humanity; and I thought Adela
felt that he was a good man, and one to be trusted in.

He gave her back her hand, as it were, so gently did he let it go, and

"I will send you something as soon as I get home, to take at once. I
presume you will go to bed soon?"

"I will, if you think it best."

And so Mr. Henry Armstrong was, without more ado, tacitly installed as
physician to Miss Adela Cathcart; and she seemed quite content with
the new arrangement.

Chapter VI.

The bell.

Before the next meeting took place, namely, after breakfast on the
following morning, Percy having gone to visit the dogs, Mrs. Cathcart
addressed me:

"I had something to say to my brother, Mr. Smith, but - "

"And you wish to be alone with him? With all my heart," I said.

"Not at all, Mr. Smith," she answered, with one of her smiles, which
were quite incomprehensible to me, until I hit upon the theory that
she kept a stock of them for general use, as stingy old ladies keep up
their half worn ribbons to make presents of to servant-maids; "I only
wanted to know, before I made a remark to the colonel, whether
Dr. Armstrong - "

"Mr. Armstrong lays no claim to the rank of a physician."

"So much the better for my argument. But is he a friend of yours,
Mr. Smith?"

"Yes - of nearly a week's standing."

"Oh, then, I am in no danger of hurting your feelings."

"I don't know that," thought I, but I did not say it.

"Well, Colonel Cathcart - excuse the liberty I am taking - but surely
you do not mean to dismiss Dr. Wade, and give a young man like that
the charge of your daughter's health at such a crisis."

"Dr. Wade is dismissed already, Jane. He did her no more good than any
old woman might have done."

"But such a young man!"

"Not so very young," I ventured to say. "He is thirty at least."

But the colonel was angry with her interference; for, an impetuous man
always, he had become irritable of late.

"Jane," he said, "is a man less likely to be delicate because he is
young? Or does a man always become more refined as he grows older? For
my part - " and here his opposition to his unpleasant sister-in-law
possibly made him say more than he would otherwise have conceded - "I
have never seen a young man whose manners and behaviour I liked

"Much good that will do her! It will only hasten the mischief. You men
are so slow to take a hint, brother; and it is really too hard to be
forced to explain one's self always. Don't you see that, whether he
cures her or not, he will make her fall in love with him? And you
won't relish that, I fancy."

"You won't relish it, at all events. But mayn't he fall in love with
her as well?" thought I; which thought, a certain expression in the
colonel's face kept me from uttering. I saw at once that his sister's
words had set a discord in the good man's music. He made no reply; and
Mrs. Cathcart saw that her arrow had gone to the feather. I saw what
she tried to conceal - the flash of success on her face. But she
presently extinguished it, and rose and left the room. I thought with
myself that such an arrangement would be the very best thing for
Adela; and that, if the blessedness of woman lies in any way in the
possession of true manhood, she, let her position in society be what
it might compared with his, and let her have all the earls in the
kingdom for uncles, would be a fortunate woman indeed, to marry such a
man as Harry Armstrong; - for so much was I attracted to the man, that
I already called him Harry, when I and Myself talked about him. But I
was concerned to see my old friend so much disturbed. I hoped however
that his good generous heart would right its own jarring chords before
long, and that he would not spoil a chance of Adela's recovery,
however slight, by any hasty measures founded on nothing better than
paternal jealousy. I thought, indeed, he had gone too far to make that
possible for some time; but I did not know how far his internal
discomfort might act upon his behaviour as host, and so interfere with
the homeliness of our story-club, upon which I depended not a little
for a portion of the desired result.

The motive of Mrs. Cathcart's opposition was evident. She was a
partizan of Percy; for Adela was a very tolerable fortune, as people

These thoughts went through my mind, as thoughts do, in no time at
all; and when the lady had closed the door behind her with protracted
gentleness, I was ready to show my game; in which I really considered
my friend and myself partners.

"Those women," I said, (women forgive me!), with a laugh which I trust
the colonel did not discover to be a forced one - "Those women are
always thinking about falling in love and that sort of foolery. I
wonder she isn't jealous of me now! Well, I do love Adela better than
any man will, for some weeks to come. I've been a sweetheart of hers
ever since she was in long clothes." Here I tried to laugh again, and,
to judge from the colonel, I verily believe I succeeded. The cloud
lightened on his face, as I made light of its cause, till at last he
laughed too. If I thought it all nonsense, why should he think it
earnest? So I turned the conversation to the club, about which I was
more concerned than about the love-making at present, seeing the
latter had positively no existence as yet.

"Adela seemed quite to enjoy the reading last night," I said.

"I thought she looked very grave," he answered.

The good man had been watching her face all the time, I saw, and
evidently paying no heed to the story. I doubted if he was the better
judge for this - observing only _ab extra_, and without being in
sympathy with her feelings as moved by the tale.

"Now that is just what I should have wished to see," I answered.
"We don't want her merry all at once. What we want is, that she
should take an interest in something. A grave face is a sign of
interest. It is all the world better than a listless face."

"But what good can stories do in sickness?"

"That depends on the origin of the sickness. My conviction is, that,
near or far off, in ourselves, or in our ancestors - say Adam and Eve,
for comprehension's sake - all our ailments have a moral cause. I think
that if we were all good, disease would, in the course of generations,
disappear utterly from the face of the earth."

"That's just like one of your notions, old friend! Rather peculiar.
Mystical, is it not?"

"But I meant to go on to say that, in Adela's case, I believe, from
conversation I have had with her, that the operation of mind on body
is far more immediate than that I have hinted at."

"You cannot mean to imply," said my friend, in some alarm, that Adela
has anything upon her conscience?"

"Certainly not. But there may be moral diseases that do not in the
least imply personal wrong or fault. They may themselves be
transmitted, for instance. Or even if such sprung wholly from present
physical causes, any help given to the mind would react on those
causes. Still more would the physical ill be influenced through the
mental, if the mind be the source of both.

"Now from whatever cause, Adela is in a kind of moral atrophy, for she
cannot digest the food provided for her, so as to get any good of
it. Suppose a patient in a corresponding physical condition, should
show a relish for anything proposed to him, would you not take it for
a sign that that was just the thing to do him good? And we may accept
the interest Adela shows in any kind of mental pabulum provided for
her, as an analogous sign. It corresponds to relish, and is a ground
for expecting some benefit to follow - in a word, some nourishment of
the spiritual life. Relish may be called the digestion of the palate;
interest, the digestion of the inner ears; both significant of further
digestion to follow. The food thus relished may not be the best food;
and yet it may be the best for the patient, because she feels no
repugnance to it, and can digest and assimilate, as well as swallow
it. For my part, I believe in no cramming, bodily or mental. I think
nothing learned without interest, can be of the slightest after
benefit; and although the effort may comprise a moral good, it
involves considerable intellectual injury. All I have said applies
with still greater force to religious teaching, though that is not
definitely the question now."

"Well, Smith, I can't talk philosophy like you; but what you say
sounds to me like sense. At all events, if Adela enjoys it, that is
enough for me. Will the young doctor tell stories too?"

"I don't know. I fancy he _could_. But to-night we have his brother."

"I shall make them welcome, anyhow."

This was all I wanted of him; and now I was impatient for the evening,
and the clergyman's tale. The more I saw of him the better I liked
him, and felt the more interest in him. I went to church that same
day, and heard him read prayers, and liked him better still; so that I
was quite hungry for the story he was going to read to us.

The evening came, and with it the company. Arrangements, similar to
those of the evening before, having been made, with some little
improvements, the colonel now occupying the middle place in the
half-circle, and the doctor seated, whether by chance or design, at
the corner farthest from the invalid's couch, the clergyman said, as
he rolled and unrolled the manuscript in his hand:

"To explain how I came to write a story, the scene of which is in
Scotland, I may be allowed to inform the company that I spent a good
part of my boyhood in a town in Aberdeenshire, with my grandfather,
who was a thorough Scotchman. He had removed thither from the south,
where the name is indigenous; being indeed a descendant of that
Christy, whom his father, Johnie Armstrong, standing with the rope
about his neck, ready to be hanged - or murdered, as the ballad calls
it - apostrophizes in these words:

'And God be with thee, Christy, my son,
Where thou sits on thy nurse's knee!
But an' thou live this hundred year,
Thy father's better thou'lt never be.'

But I beg your pardon, ladies and gentlemen all, for this has
positively nothing to do with the story. Only please to remember that
in those days it was quite respectable to be hanged."

We all agreed to this with a profusion of corroboration, except the
colonel; who, I thought, winced a little. But presently our attention
was occupied with the story, thus announced:

"_The Bell. A Sketch in Pen and Ink_."

He read in a great, deep, musical voice, with a wealth of pathos in
it - always suppressed, yet almost too much for me in the more touching
portions of the story.

"One interruption more," he said, before he began. "I fear you will
find it a sad story."

And he looked at Adela.

I believe that he had chosen the story on the homoeopathic principle.

"I like sad stories," she answered; and he went on at once.



"Elsie Scott had let her work fall on her knees, and her hands on her
work, and was looking out of the wide, low window of her room, which
was on one of the ground floors of the village street. Through a gap
in the household shrubbery of fuchsias and myrtles filling the
window-sill, one passing on the foot-pavement might get a momentary
glimpse of her pale face, lighted up with two blue eyes, over which some
inward trouble had spread a faint, gauze-like haziness. But almost
before her thoughts had had time to wander back to this trouble, a
shout of children's voices, at the other end of the street, reached
her ear. She listened a moment. A shadow of displeasure and pain
crossed her countenance; and rising hastily, she betook herself to an
inner apartment, and closed the door behind her.

"Meantime the sounds drew nearer; and by and by, an old man, whose
strange appearance and dress showed that he had little capacity either
for good or evil, passed the window. His clothes were comfortable
enough in quality and condition, for they were the annual gift of a
benevolent lady in the neighbourhood; but, being made to accommodate
his taste, both known and traditional, they were somewhat peculiar in
cut and adornment. Both coat and trousers were of a dark grey cloth;
but the former, which, in its shape, partook of the military, had a
straight collar of yellow, and narrow cuffs of the same; while upon
both sleeves, about the place where a corporal wears his stripes, was
expressed, in the same yellow cloth, a somewhat singular device. It
was as close an imitation of a bell, with its tongue hanging out of
its mouth, as the tailor's skill could produce from a single piece of
cloth. The origin of the military cut of his coat was well known. His
preference for it arose in the time of the wars of the first Napoleon,
when the threatened invasion of the country caused the organization of
many volunteer regiments. The martial show and exercises captivated
the poor man's fancy; and from that time forward nothing pleased his
vanity, and consequently conciliated his good will more, than to style
him by his favourite title - the _Colonel_. But the badge on his arm
had a deeper origin, which will be partially manifest in the course of
the story - if story it can be called. It was, indeed, the baptism of
the fool, the outward and visible sign of his relation to the infinite
and unseen. His countenance, however, although the features were not
of any peculiarly low or animal type, showed no corresponding sign of
the consciousness of such a relation, being as vacant as human
countenance could well be.

"The cause of Elsie's annoyance was that the fool was annoyed; for, he
was turned his rank into scorn, and assailed him with epithets hateful
to him. Although the most harmless of creatures when let alone, he was
dangerous when roused; and now he stooped repeatedly to pick up stones
and hurl them at his tormentors, who took care, while abusing him, to
keep at a considerable distance, lest he should get hold of them.
Amidst the sounds of derision that followed him, might be heard the
words frequently repeated - '_Come hame, come hame._' But in a few
minutes the noise ceased, either from the interference of some
friendly inhabitant, or that the boys grew weary, and departed in
search of other amusement. By and by, Elsie might be seen again at her
work in the window; but the cloud over her eyes was deeper, and her
whole face more sad.

"Indeed, so much did the persecution of the poor man affect her, that
an onlooker would have been compelled to seek the cause in some yet
deeper sympathy than that commonly felt for the oppressed, even by
women. And such a sympathy existed, strange as it may seem, between
the beautiful girl (for many called her a _bonnie lassie_) and this
'tatter of humanity.' Nothing would have been farther from the
thoughts of those that knew them, than the supposition of any
correspondence or connection between them; yet this sympathy sprung in
part from a real similarity in their history and present condition.

"All the facts that were known about _Feel Jock's_ origin were these:
that seventy years ago, a man who had gone with his horse and cart
some miles from the village, to fetch home a load of peat from a
desolate _moss_, had heard, while toiling along as rough a road on as
lonely a hill-side as any in Scotland, the cry of a child; and,
searching about, had found the infant, hardly wrapt in rags, and
untended, as if the earth herself had just given him birth, - that
desert moor, wide and dismal, broken and watery, the only bosom for
him to lie upon, and the cold, clear night-heaven his only covering.
The man had brought him home, and the parish had taken parish-care of
him. He had grown up, and proved what he now was - almost an idiot.
Many of the townspeople were kind to him, and employed him in fetching
water for them from the river and wells in the neighbourhood, paying
him for his trouble in victuals, or whisky, of which he was very
fond. He seldom spoke; and the sentences he could utter were few; yet
the tone, and even the words of his limited vocabulary, were
sufficient to express gratitude and some measure of love towards those
who were kind to him, and hatred of those who teased and insulted him.
He lived a life without aim, and apparently to no purpose; in this
resembling most of his more gifted fellow-men, who, with all the tools
and materials needful for the building of a noble mansion, are yet
content with a clay hut.

"Elsie, on the contrary, had been born in a comfortable farmhouse,
amidst homeliness and abundance. But at a very early age, she had lost
both father and mother; not so early, however, but that she had faint
memories of warm soft times on her mother's bosom, and of refuge in
her mother's arms from the attacks of geese, and the pursuit of pigs.
Therefore, in after-times, when she looked forward to heaven, it was
as much a reverting to the old heavenly times of childhood and
mother's love, as an anticipation of something yet to be revealed.
Indeed, without some such memory, how should we ever picture to
ourselves a perfect rest? But sometimes it would seem as if the more a
heart was made capable of loving, the less it had to love; and poor
Elsie, in passing from a mother's to a brother's guardianship, felt a
change of spiritual temperature, too keen. He was not a bad man, or
incapable of benevolence when touched by the sight of want in anything
of which he would himself have felt the privation; but he was so
coarsely made, that only the purest animal necessities affected him;
and a hard word, or unfeeling speech, could never have reached the
quick of his nature through the hide that enclosed it. Elsie, on the
contrary, was excessively and painfully sensitive, as if her nature
constantly protended an invisible multitude of half-spiritual,
half-nervous antennae, which shrunk and trembled in every current of air
at all below their own temperature. The effect of this upon her behaviour
was such, that she was called odd; and the poor girl felt that she was
not like other people, yet could not help it. Her brother, too,
laughed at her without the slightest idea of the pain he occasioned,
or the remotest feeling of curiosity as to what the inward and
consistent causes of the outward abnormal condition might be.
Tenderness was the divine comforting she needed; and it was altogether
absent from her brother's character and behaviour.

"Her neighbours looked on her with some interest, but they rather
shunned than courted her acquaintance; especially after the return of
certain nervous attacks, to which she had been subject in childhood,
and which were again brought on by the events I must relate. It is
curious how certain diseases repel, by a kind of awe, the sympathies
of the neighbours: as if, by the fact of being subject to them, the
patient were removed into another realm of existence, from which, like
the dead with the living, she can hold communion with those around her
only partially, and with a mixture of dread pervading the intercourse.
Thus some of the deepest, purest wells of spiritual life, are, like
those in old castles, choked up by the decay of the outer walls. But
what tended more than anything, perhaps, to keep up the painful unrest
of her soul (for the beauty of her character was evident in the fact,
that the irritation seldom reached her _mind_), was a circumstance at
which, in its present connection, some of my readers will smile, and
others feel a shudder corresponding in kind to that of Elsie.

"Her brother was very fond of a rather small, but ferocious-looking
bull-dog, which followed close at his heels, wherever he went, with
hanging head and slouching gait, never leaping or racing about like
other dogs. When in the house, he always lay under his master's
chair. He seemed to dislike Elsie, and she felt an unspeakable
repugnance to him. Though she never mentioned her aversion, her
brother easily saw it by the way in which she avoided the animal; and
attributing it entirely to fear - which indeed had a great share in the
matter - he would cruelly aggravate it, by telling her stories of the
fierce hardihood and relentless persistency of this kind of animal. He
dared not yet further increase her terror by offering to set the
creature upon her, because it was doubtful whether he might be able to
restrain him; but the mental suffering which he occasioned by this
heartless conduct, and for which he had no sympathy, was as severe as
many bodily sufferings to which he would have been sorry to subject
her. Whenever the poor girl happened inadvertently to pass near the
dog, which was seldom, a low growl made her aware of his proximity,
and drove her to a quick retreat. He was, in fact, the animal
impersonation of the animal opposition which she had continually to
endure. Like chooses like; and the bull-dog _in_ her brother made
choice of the bull-dog _out of_ him for his companion. So her day was
one of shrinking fear and multiform discomfort.

"But a nature capable of so much distress, must of necessity be
_capable_ of a corresponding amount of pleasure; and in her case this
was manifest in the fact, that sleep and the quiet of her own room
restored her wonderfully. If she was only let alone, a calm mood,
filled with images of pleasure, soon took possession of her mind.

"Her acquaintance with the fool had commenced some ten years previous
to the time I write of, when she was quite a little girl, and had come
from the country with her brother, who, having taken a small farm
close to the town, preferred residing in the town to occupying the
farm-house, which was not comfortable. She looked at first with some
terror on his uncouth appearance, and with much wonderment on his
strange dress. This wonder was heightened by a conversation she
overheard one day in the street, between the fool and a little
pale-faced boy, who, approaching him respectfully, said, 'Weel, cornel!'
'Weel, laddie!' was the reply. 'Fat dis the wow say, cornel?' 'Come
hame, come hame!' answered the _colonel_, with both accent and
quantity heaped on the word _hame_. She heard no more, and knew not
what the little she had heard, meant. What the _wow_ could be, she had
no idea; only, as the years passed on, the strange word became in her
mind indescribably associated with the strange shape in yellow cloth
on his sleeves. Had she been a native of the town, she could not have
failed to know its import, so familiar was every one with it, although
the word did not belong to the local vocabulary; but, as it was, years
passed away before she discovered its meaning. And when, again and
again, the fool, attempting to convey his gratitude for some kindness
she had shown him, mumbled over the words - _'The wow o' Rivven - the
wow o' Rivven,'_ the wonder would return as to what could be the idea
associated with them in his mind, but she made no advance towards

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 1 → online text (page 9 of 12)