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The two sisters then departed, leaving John Armstrong
once more to his thoughts.

The series of ideas that their coming had interrupted
did not recur ; the face of Mary Elliot seemed to excite
quite other thoughts.

He greatly admired her beauty, which he had watched
developing for some time. Although it was not alto-
gether of the most refined type, there was a freshness
and innocence about it, which had repeatedly riveted his
attention. He had frequently met her, when she visited
her sister at the hospital, and could not help admiring
her. Her sister, too, had more than once consulted him
as to the health of the younger, so that a certain amount
of intimacy might be said to exist between them.

The Elliots were the daughters of a small Suffolk
farmer, who lived at Fritton, a few miles south-east of
Norwich. He belonged to a class of English yeomen,
who are, unfortunately, getting rarer every year. His
family had farmed the land for generations, and although
there had been a time when they had farmed much
more, and when a large part of their farm had belonged
to them in fee simple, yet from various causes the
history of the family for a long time past had been one
of decadence.

Farmer Elliot, the present representative of the family,
was a thoroughly good man, and by no means an unskil-
ful agriculturist, so that in the recent bad times he had
done quite as well as his neighbours. But it must be
confessed, as far as his education went, he could boast of
no more than a good acquaintance with the three R's,
and what general knowledge a lifetime's careful perusal
of such instructive organs as the Norwich Argus, and
the East Anglian Gazette, could give him. He was a
sturdy upholder of the rights of his class, but, so far as
his own particular interests were not adversely affected,



1 6 JOHN ARMSTRONG [CHAP, n

he had a conservative tendency, and by no means
favoured the extreme radical principles of late years.
Indeed, it would seem that although cut down to a few
small fields, there yet lurked in him some of those feel-
ings inherited from the Elliots of long ago, which had
their origin when they were the lords of half the country
round.

Farmer Elliot, however, was shrewd enough to see the
value of education, and took care that his daughters
should not be wanting in this respect that is, as far as
lay in his power to prevent it. But the local schools,
supplemented though they might be, by a year or two
at Norwich, could only give a moderate grounding in all
the various subjects, which are now considered necessary
to make up a good modern education : so that Emily
and Mary although superior in this respect to their
own class generally, could not boast of more than an
average middle class education.

Their mother had been a personal friend of the
matron of the Norwich Hospital, so that as Emily at
an early age showed an aptitude for work of this kind,
it was thought that she could not do better than
enter the profession of nursing under the auspices of
her mother's old friend.

Mary's tastes on the other hand had been very
different, and it would be hard to say that she was
fond of work of any kind. She could be useful about
the house, but had very little application : though she
liked to teach at the Sunday School, visit in the parish,
and other occupations of this kind, which although
useful, can hardly be said to be remunerative.

The pleasure she took in this work was more on
account of the social intercourse it cultivated, than
from any love of the work itself.

Mary was in fact something of a butterfly, and, as she



CHAP. II] THE NURSE AND HER SISTER 17

grew up, became very pretty and attractive, and like
others, who have natural gifts, she thought she was
entitled to make the most of hers : and although I
do not say she knowingly did so as some more designing
members of her sex have been known to do she acted
instinctively with this object, and, as is well known,
ars est celare artem, so her behaviour in proportion
as it was natural was the more captivating, and was
applauded by all, but the envious members of her own
sex, who put her down as an ' artful creature,' and ' out
and out flirt.'

Mary's parents first tried to make a governess of her,
but without success. To be a governess, nowadays,
means to be terribly learned, with all sorts of certificates,
and above all many accomplishments. Of these Mary
had the barest modicum, so that the governess scheme
had to be abandoned.

Attempts were next made to find employment as a
lady's companion, but there again the lack of ac-
complishments stood in her way, and her good looks
were rather adverse than otherwise ladies are apt to be
jealous of companions with more than their share of
feminine charms.

Shortly after an opportunity occurred of getting a
post of telegraph clerk at Norwich, and a year before
this period Mary Elliot had entered upon her public
duties, and up to the present seemed to be as satisfied
with her lot as she was likely to be with anything re-
quiring work and application.

She resided at Norwich in the house of a widow, and
as she assisted at the Sunday School of St Margaret, she
became acquainted with Mr Paget, and others, who took
an interest in the parish work : and among them she
had numerous admirers. In fact, as her sister had
implied to Dr Armstrong, she had no lack of sweethearts,

B



18 JOHN ARMSTRONG [CHAP. II

and could very easily have found a suitable settlement in
life had she so desired, but although guilty of a few
flirtations of a harmless character, though her head may
have been turned at times, she did not seem to have
suffered much in her heart.

She stood in great awe of Dr Armstrong, whom she
regarded as a sort of prodigy of understanding, and it
was always noticed that she was more shy in his presence
than at any other time. Great, too, was her pride, when
he singled her out, but whether any other more ambitious
idea concerning him had ever entered into her head is
exceedingly doubtful, although there were not wanting
among her enemies, some who asserted she had the
audacity to * set her cap at him.'

As to John Armstrong, there could be no doubt that
he regarded Mary Elliot as nothing more than an
acquaintance. He certainly admired her good looks,
and thought she had engaging ways, but where was the
harm in that ? It is true that at odd times for instance
after the recent interview he found himself thinking
of her with rather more interest than he displayed
towards any other member of the opposite sex ; and if
the truth were confessed, it was her presence that gave
the chief zest to the proposed excursion, though x he
would probably have denied it, and considered his going
an exercise of pure philanthropy.

On the other hand, the idea that he would ever
marry such a person as Mary Elliot had never entered
into his head, and, if it had been suggested, would have
seemed to him little short of an absurdity. What
possible union could there be from a mental point of
view between him, the highly educated man of science
with all his strange abstruse theories, and her, the
little telegraph clerk, who could not have comprehended
the least of them.



CHAP. II] THE NURSE AND HER SISTER 19

Yet, when two young people of opposite sexes begin to
take interest in each other, no matter what the cause
may be, or what may first give rise to it, who will be
daring enough to say that a union little dreamt of at the
beginning may not be the result, though they be
separated mentally from each other to any extent ?

An attraction, that cannot be comprehended by the
outside world, may, as a matter of fact, be irresistible;
and circumstances, which were at one time within
control, may pass beyond it, and give rise to inevitable
consequences ; though their exact character will be
different, according to the peculiarity of the individual
temperament.

How great a thing it would be what heart-burnings
it would prevent, if we could only know the importance
of some of our actions, which at the time seem trifling !

How often the cry the bitter cry, * Had I but known ! '
escapes from us long afterwards, when the course of
events has brought consequences little recked of ; when
much as we may repent the past, we cannot alter it, and
sometimes, happy shall we be, if we may escape with a
temporary and retrievable loss, and not be bound to
carry to our graves an evil blight brought upon us, it
may be, by a single thoughtless step !

Let no man say, ' I am so strong, I can look after
myself ; I can play with fire without being burnt/ or ( I
can go without danger to the edge of the precipice.'
Pride goes before a fall, and a time may come when he
will bitterly repent of his confidence.

John Armstrong sat down again in his easy chair, and
relighted his pipe. Once more his thoughts reverted to
the events of the day, but the vision of Mary Elliot
would not cease recurring, and he found himself involun-
tarily thinking of the following Thursday.

After a time he rose to retire for the night, and was



20 JOHN ARMSTRONG [CHAP, n

opening his door, when the wife of his late patient
presented herself before him.

She had just been compelled on account of the lateness
of the hour to leave the bedside of her dead husband, and
she was weeping bitterly.

1 Oh, sir, can't I be allowed to stay by him during the
night ? He was so good, and has worked so hard for me !
For twenty-five years before he came here he has never
been away from me, and we have never had a quarrel.
And now, what shall I do ? ' and the widow broke down
utterly.

Dr Armstrong tried to comfort her ; he led her to a
chair, and spoke kindly. He had a wonderfully soft
way with patients, and the sympathy he felt for all mis-
fortune, he poured forth abundantly.

1 Your husband,' he said, * had everything done for him
that was possible. I know how terribly distressing it is
to you, and I feel for you. We doctors see much of such
distress, for troubles of this kind are always taking place
somewhere. It is your husband to-day ; it will be some
one else's husband to-morrow.'

1 He told me he was going to die,' she sobbed, { but I
wouldn't believe him. Now, how I wish I had ! I would
never have left his side.'

1 But would that have done him any good ? ' replied the
other ; * and the long watching would have made you ill.
Perhaps it is better as it is. You know he had the
priest.'

The poor woman thanked the house surgeon, and
when leaving, implored him not to allow any post
mortem examination on her husband's body ; and Dr
Armstrong, much as he regretted it on professional
grounds, good naturedly acceded to her request.



CHAPTER III

AN EMERGENCY AT THE NORWICH HOSPITAL
' The course of true love never did run smooth.'

ON the following day John Armstrong received a letter
from his father, who wrote that Alice was very anxious
about Charles Dawson, a rumour having reached her that
he was far from well. The letter concluded by saying
that the writer particularly wanted both himself and the
Dawsons to spend the Christmas, which was approaching,
in the old home in the north.

As John had not heard anything about his friend being
ill, later in the day he called at the house of Dr Dawson.

He found Charley in the dining-room in front of a
blazing fire, reclining at his ease in a dressing-gown.

( Why, what's the matter ? ' he said ; * you were all
right yesterday. How on earth did Alice get to know
you were poorly? I have just had a letter from my
father to say she is quite in a way about it.'

* Yes,' replied his friend, ( I have had a letter from Alice
too. It's all the mater's doing. Two or three days ago
I had rather a troublesome cough in the night, so she
immediately came to the conclusion I was in consumption,
and made the governor knock my chest about, and listen
through that stethoscope of his. I don't think he heard
much. He said I had bronchial catarrh I suppose that



22 JOHN ARMSTRONG [CHAP, in

means a cold. The mater must have written to your
people in fact, Alice says she did.'

1 You didn't seem to have much of a cold yesterday,'
said John.

1 No, it was better then,' was the reply, ' but the very
enlivening episode that occurred at your place last night
didn't do my nerves any good, and this morning I've
got a sore throat, and am aching all over, so the mater
has positively made me lie up for a few days. It's a
nuisance, too, for Paget wants me to go with him in that
excursion to-morrow, and you know, the pretty Miss
Elliot is goipg, and several other nice girls.'

1 Perhaps,' said John, * Alice might not be so sorry you
are laid by the heels temporarily, if she were to hear
you talk so glibly of the " pretty Miss Elliot." '

* Rubbish ! ' replied his friend, ( Alice, I'm sure, wouldn't
mind my enjoying myself occasionally in an innocent
manner. The worst of it is everything is against me.
The mater ridicules the time of year as being most
unsuitable and it must be confessed November is late
but Paget has had the Coffer of a steam yacht for next
to nothing, and he thought the offer too good to refuse,
as the weather seemed to have set in so fine and mild.
He has, however, made arrangements for taking the
party by rail if wet, for of course they return that way.
Now, Paget wants Edith to go, and I think my sister
rather fancies it, and had I gone, I could have looked
after her, that is, the mater would have trusted her
with me, but she doesn't seem to like to trust her with
Paget. I don't know why she should suspect the Church,
but so it is. I say, old fellow, why don't you go ? The
mater would trust Edith with you, and Paget said he
was going to ask you, and quite forgot to do so when in
your room yesterday. The argument put it out of
his mind.'



CHAP, in] AN EMERGENCY A T NOR WICH HOSPITAL 23

1 Yes,' said John, ' he did ask me, and I accepted the
invitation.'

* Why, when could you have seen him ? ' replied Charley,
with an air of astonishment. ' I know he didn't ask you
yesterday, for he told me so, and he left Norwich
early this morning to go to a special service at Ely
Cathedral. When did you see him ? '

'Well,' said John, a little nonplussed by his friend's

sharpness, 'perhaps I ought to say he asked me by

deputy, but qui facit per alterum facit per se, you know.'

'And who might have been the deputy, if I may

ask ? ' inquired his friend.

' If you must know, the Elliots asked me : they said
Paget told them to do so.'

Charley burst out laughing. 'Oh, it seems I'm not
the only one who takes interest in the "pretty Miss
Elliot." But I suppose you are not an engaged man.
Well done, John, my boy ! ' and Charley again burst
into a laugh.

At this moment the dining-room door opened, and
two ladies entered the room. One of them was an
elderly lady of some sixty years of age, who bore on her
face an anxious, care-worn, expression, that betokened an
invalid constitution. She had been a sufferer for years
with delicate health, and her son was supposed to take
after her.

The other was twenty-three, and although she looked
fragile, Edith Dawson as a rule enjoyed excellent health.
She was certainly beautiful, and well proportioned, but
her beauty was of a very different order to that of the
4 pretty Miss Elliot,' and one of Edith's chief attractions
was her highly refined cast of features. Intellect formed
the principal charm of her beauty, while there was more
than an average deficiency of that voluptuousness, which
was one of Mary Elliot's chief attractions.



24 JOHN ARMSTRONG [CHAP, in

Yet was she truly womanly, and her mother confessed
that in her worst paroxysms never could any nurse be
found equal to her own daughter in delicacy of touch, or
sympathy of action ; and her father had at times playfully
observed that people would think she had gone through
a curriculum of nursing at his hospital, so skilful was she
in the general management of the sick room.

Her education, too, had been of a thorough character ;
in addition to being a consummate musician, she had
more than an ordinary grounding in modern science, and
John had on many occasions found her a by-no-means-
to-be-despised antagonist in a scientific argument.

John Armstrong and Edith Dawson had known each
other all their lives. Owing to the intimacy of their
parents they had been thrown not a little together, and
had grown up like brother and sister. When Charles
Dawson fell in love with, and gained the affection of, John's
sister, the parents on both sides had hoped that Edith
and John would follow their example, so that the families
might be still more closely drawn together.

Edith was an especial favourite of the elder Dr
Armstrong, and to see his son united to her had been for
years one of the dreams of the old man.

Apparently according to the fitness of things, this result
ought in some way or other to have come about, but is it
not in the experience of every one that this is frequently
not the case ? Indeed, it is more than questionable
whether what actually does occur is not generally the
reverse, and that we find fixed as consummated facts
more often what ought not to be than the contrary.

Be this, however, as it may, although John had grown
up from his earliest youth in close association with Edith,
he had hitherto regarded her with no other feelings than
those of the warmest friendship. He well recognised her
great qualities, that her merits were of a sterling char-



CHAP, in] AN EMERGENCY A T NORWICH HOSPITAL 25

acter, and that her education fitted her to be the life
companion of any man, however intellectual. Still
strange though it may seem he had never thought of
her as his wife.

It is true that up to this time the idea of wife, and all
that it brings with it to the mature man of healthy mind
and healthy body had not presented itself to him : and
he had scarcely considered what kind of wife he would
choose, if called upon to do so. And, although repeatedly
chaffed on the subject by friends especially by his
brother-in-law that was to be he had paid little heed,
finding at present, in the mental activity in which he
lived, sufficient and to spare for all his energy.

He greatly admired Edith, and respected her opinion
on many subjects : he moreover regarded her as one on
the same intellectual level as himself, and had certainly
on many occasions found the time slip away happily in
her company.

But beyond that, it could not be said this lady had in
any other way disturbed the equilibrium of his thoughts.

With regard to Mary Elliot it was different. From
his acquaintance with and experience of Edith's great
faculties he was compelled to see the intrinsic inferiority
of the other. He thoroughly recognised the fact that
she, at least, was not his intellectual equal, that she
could never think as he did, or take pleasure in his
pleasures.

Nevertheless, with all her failings, she had an attrac-
tion which Edith Dawson with all her superiority did
not possess ; an attraction which at first he by no
means realised, and even at the present time might have
denied, had he been questioned on the subject.

To a shrewd observer who knew John intimately,
there might have been physical signs, which, though
then by no means capable of proving a settled passion,



26 JOHN ARMSTRONG [CHAP, m

would at least have afforded grounds of reasonable con-
jecture that sparks were being struck, which might at a
no distant period give unmistakable evidence of its exis-
tence, and might doom him to a life of misery, or create
for him the nearest approach to happiness, which, perhaps,
life is capable of.

If the young doctor had noted his own sensations as
carefully as he did those of his patients, he might have
drawn important conclusions from the fact that his heart
beat more quickly in Mary Elliot's presence ; that
whatever might be the drift of his thoughts when he
met her, these thoughts invariably took another channel,
however important the problems might be they were
busy over. For he found himself insensibly admiring
her beauty, was full of a desire to prolong the interview,
and, when she had gone, was aware of a feeling of
disappointment.

Edith, on the other hand, had always admired John.
His depth of thought, broadness of views, and scientific
attainments, had great fascination. She believed that
some day he would be a great man, and watched his
career with the utmost interest. The constant associa-
tion with him had had its effect, and had helped to
develop and stimulate an attachment, which at this
time was well established ; although, by reason of her
mental discipline she was able to disguise it from the
eyes of nearly all the world.

She had heard rumours of Dr Armstrong being fas-
cinated by Mary Elliot, and had even, with the acuteness
of love's instinct, noticed changes in his behaviour when
in the presence of the latter, which made her sick at
heart.

That ordinary jealousy had something to do with this
might readily be admitted for are we not all human ?
but I will aver that jealousy formed but a small portion



CHAP, in] AN EMERGENCY A T NOR WICH HOSPITAL 27

of the mental distress occasioned by the thought of a
closer association in the future between John Armstrong
and Mary Elliot.

It was in reality the terrible danger to her hero
that dismayed her. She saw that nothing but harm
could come of such an association, and that a promising
career would in all likelihood be blighted if her
foreboding were correct for she knew well that
between two such opposite individuals as John and
Mary there could be no true union of hearts, and
any other union, what could it mean but ruin for
one or both ?

She was able also to gauge correctly the character
of Mary Elliot. She saw she was beautiful, and that
her beauty was of a kind specially attractive to men,
and apt to draw attention away from the lack, or
poverty, of mental attainments. She had, moreover,
marked, as only women can, that the lady in question
had, in a mild way, shown a tendency to ' set her
cap ' at the young doctor.

She did not believe Mary was really in love with
John, for she had become strongly imbued with the
notion perhaps not always correct that true love
can only exist between equals. She believed Mary
was chiefly attracted by the doctor's reputation, and
by the expectation held by many that he would some
day occupy a distinguished position.

As a matter of fact this estimation of Mary's ambition
was sound, and not far from the truth. If it erred at all,
it was in assuming that she was quite in earnest in
endeavouring to captivate John, and it did not make
sufficient allowance for Mary's natural tendency to seek
for admiration, wherever she could get it : and although
the idea of making so important a conquest might have
been pleasing to her, she as yet felt no disposition to break



28 JOHN ARMSTRONG [CHAP, in

her heart on John's account, and had not by any means
fallen in love with that gentleman in the sense which is
usually ascribed to the catastrophe in novels.

The flow of conversation between the two young men
was interrupted by the advent of Mrs Dawson and her
daughter. The former hoped that her son was better,
and with the usual custom of a chronic invalid dilated
on the necessity of various precautions, which could not
fail to be irritating to her son, who did not receive the
advice altogether with the respect that the motives of
the adviser warranted, but rather shortly replied,

* Oh, I'm all right, mother, don't worry about me.'

Then he referred to the excursion, and pointed out
that John was to be of the party, and that therefore there
could be no reason why Edith should not go with the
others, even if he were not there.

Edith, who had entered the room with her mother,
had fancied she had caught the name of Miss Elliot in
their conversation. She had distinctly heard her brother's
laugh, and as her eyes fell upon John's face, she
imagined his look indicated annoyance.

The sound of Miss Elliot's name in such a conversa-
tion was by no means agreeable, and she consequently
greeted the doctor somewhat coldly.

On hearing, however, her brother's proposal that John
should take charge of her, she could not help her face
expressing pleasurable surprise. Her mother observed it,
and at once fell in with the proposal, which John could
not help warmly seconding, even had the arrangement
displeased him, which it did not.

'I am quite willing to trust Edith with you, John,'
said her mother, * but with no one else, if her brother
is not there : although I must say it seems an odd idea


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Online LibraryMajor GreenwoodJohn Armstrong : the story of a life → online text (page 2 of 22)