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John Armstrong : the story of a life online

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At five o'clock the party assembled at St Nicholas.
The Rev. Mr Robinson, the vicar, shook hands with Mr
Paget, who was an old friend, and kindly showed the
numerous interesting things about the church.

After this, Evensong was said by the two clergyman.

At the conclusion Mr Middleton played selections
on the fine old organ.

Edith sitting with John in that ancient parish church,
while the wintry evening was drawing on and the
sacred music rolled through the aisles, thought earnestly
of the future. Would the manly form by her side
always be her protector ? Would it be hers to call him
husband ?

How different, on the other hand, were John's
thoughts. He was thinking little of his companion,
little of the future. His thoughts were busy over the


events of the day, Mary Elliot's accident, and her
absence from the Service, which he knew she missed

'Poor girl,' he thought, ( she specially alluded to it
at the hospital, when she asked me to come on the
excursion. What a disappointment women do like
this sort of thing ! '

After the Service, they made their way to the railway

A chair was obtained for Mary Elliot, and her removal
was superintended by John. Later in the evening the
whole party arrived safely at Norwich.

* Did you see the look that girl gave Dr Armstrong,
as he helped her out of the carriage,' said the elder
Miss Tallboys to her sister, as the two left the Norwich
railway station. ( I suppose she didn't sprain her ankle
on purpose?'



1 Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt
not escape calumny.'

MARY ELLIOT resided with a fellow post-office clerk,
Janet Tomkins. They shared the expense of a sitting
and two bedrooms.

Mrs Smith was their landlady, the widow of an old
Yare bargeman, who after a long life of thrift and industry,
had just managed to leave his widow a house with a small
pittance for housekeeping, which the good woman tried
to eke out, by letting the best part of her home when the
opportunity offered.

As the two girls had their dinner out most days, and
were, in fact, away the greater part of the time, the
widow had but little trouble, and the arrangement had
proved satisfactory for all parties. But when, on the
night of the excursion, Mrs Smith and Janet Tomkins
saw Mary carried into the house in a generally exhausted
condition, both were not a little frightened.

4 What is the matter with Mary ? ' said Janet to Emily,
who accompanied her sister.

4 She has sprained her ankle/ was the reply, 'and
Dr Armstrong says she must lie in bed for a few days.
She met with an accident in the afternoon, and fell


down. You might help me to get her upstairs, as her
foot is very painful.'

Both were at once all sympathy, and gave their best
assistance, and in a short time Mary was put to bed, and
her ankle placed in a comfortable position ; after which,
tired out with pain and excitement, she soon fell asleep.

Her sister descended to the sitting-room, where she
chatted with Janet, giving an account of all the day's
doings ; then after saying good -night, she went into the
kitchen to speak to the landlady, whom she found
enjoying a modest half-pint of porter before going to

( I do hope, Mrs Smith/ she said, * my sister's accident
won't throw much extra work on you. I shall call every
day to attend to her ankle, and we shall soon have her

4 Don't ye mind the extra work, dear,' said the landlady.
' I'm sure I'm sorry for the poor body ; the accident must
have spoilt the day for her, and she was always so gay
and cheerylike. Why, she was on the chatter about this
day for weeks past. What shall I give her for breakfast ?
And won't ye sit down, and have a taste of something
before ye return to the 'ospital ? ' And she tried to induce
Emily to sit down at her humble table.

' Thank you, Mrs Smith,' was the reply, ( it's very kind
of you, but I must get back, as it's late. Please give
Mary a little bread and milk, or a cup of tea with toast
in the morning.' Then, after a little hesitation, Emily
said, to the surprise of the landlady

' Might I ask a favour, Mrs Smith ? '

' Certainly, my dear.'

* If Dr Armstrong calls to see my sister, will you always
be sure to be in the room ? ' Then noticing the land-
lady's look of astonishment, she continued, 'You know
how people do talk, and Mary is so giddy/


4 Very well, my dear, I'll see to it,' said the good-
natured woman, who could not help admiring the tender
solicitude and maternal instinct of the elder sister.

As Emily walked back to the hospital, certain fears
began to be more pronounced in her mind, fears, which,
hardly formulated before, the events of the day had
clearly brought to her consciousness.

She saw there was danger, great danger, in any increase
of intimacy between the doctor and her sister. In his
treatment of the latter during the day, she thought she
detected an unusual tenderness, that is, something more
than the tenderness befitting the relation of surgeon and

Then as to her sister, her behaviour, whether ingenuous
or not, was only too calculated to attract and fix the
attention of any susceptible youth ; and although Dr
Armstrong was the last man she would have thought
likely to be captivated in this way, she had lately begun
to have doubts.

When she entered the hospital, the porter told her
Dr Armstrong would like to see her before she went to
bed, so she called at his room.

* How is your sister to-night ? ' he said. * Have you
got her comfortably to bed ? '

* Yes, sir, she went to sleep almost directly/

4 1 will call and see her to-morrow,' continued John. *I
don't think it will be a long job, but it's rather a nasty

* Do you think, sir/ said the nurse with some hesita-
tion, * there is any necessity for you to call ? If I let you
know how the ankle is, would not that be sufficient ? '

* But why not call, nurse ? ' he answered, surprised
at her question. ' I presume you have no objection
to my calling.'

Emily looked as if she had an objection, but did not


say so. Thanking the doctor, she wished him good-night,
and retired.

John sat down and smoked. He thought of Edith,
Mary Elliot, and all that had happened that day.

Did he feel any inclination to fall in love with Mary
Elliot ? He now began to question himself on the

She was very pretty. What wonderful eyes she had !
What a beaming look of love and gratitude she gave him,
after he had eased her ankle ! What fee could compare
with such payment !

On the whole he did not quite answer the question,
but he could not help confessing that of all the ladies he
knew, Mary occupied most of his thoughts.

' I don't want to be talked about,' he thought, * people
are so fond of scandal. What did nurse Elliot mean by
almost objecting to my calling on her sister ? I've heard
Charley say Mary Elliot tries to flirt with me. It
wouldn't do for such a report to come to Mrs Dawson or
the doctor.'

On the following day he visited his patient, and found
the ankle better. Mary was profuse in her thanks,
and Mrs Smith, who, faithful to her promise of the
previous evening, took care to be present, after regarding
the pair, came to the conclusion that Emily's caution
was not altogether unnecessary ; this younger sister was
certainly somewhat of a flirt, and how soon these poor
creatures got into trouble ! Yes, she did not want harm
to come while under her roof.

Mary was soon downstairs on the sofa, but John called
every day, and although Mrs Smith used every en-
deavour to favour the pair with her company, it would
occasionally happen that a hitch took place in the
arrangement, and while an importunate milkman or


other tradesman engaged the attention of the worthy
landlady, the two were left entirely to themselves.

Then, it is to be regretted, John did not entirely
adhere to his character as a professional adviser only,
and Mary behaved with more familiarity than is usual
between doctor and young lady patient, and her conduct
was such as would certainly have brought her sister's
disapproval, had she been present.

The frequency, however, of the doctor's visits, and the
character Mary possessed, did excite comment, and one
evening Janet Tomkins on her return from the post-
office burst into the sitting-room, and startled Mary by
saying :

' Well, Mary, there's nice talk going about the town !
What do you think I heard to-day ? '

c How can I tell ? ' peevishly replied the other.

' Miss Knaggs, the superintendent, called me into her
office, and told me she had heard that there was nothing
much the matter with you, but that Dr Armstrong was
calling every day, and staying a long while ; that you
were always watching at the window, and that for a long
time past you had been setting your cap at him.'

* Oh, what a shame ! ' burst out the other, crying, ( what
a shame to try and ruin a poor girl ! Who can have been
telling such wicked lies ? ' and she sobbed bitterly.

'Well, Mary, don't take on so,' said her friend. 'I
think she mentioned a Miss Tallboys as the person who
spoke about your behaviour at the excursion. She said
she believed you pretended your ankle was bad to get
the doctor to carry you.'

1 Oh, the nasty, spiteful cat ! ' sobbed Mary.

At this moment her sister Emily entered the room.
She had just called, and was not a little surprised to see
Mary in tears.


Janet explained the matter, and told her of Miss
Knaggs' remarks.

* Isn't it spiteful ? ' sobbed her sister. ( Would you
have thought it possible, Emily ? '

1 Do you give occasion for gossip, Mary ? Does Dr
Armstrong come here every day ? ' asked her sister.
1 When he is here, Mrs Smith is always with us.'
Emily gave a sigh of relief, and felt very grateful to
the landlady. 4 But the world outside doesn't know that,
Mary,' she continued. ' It is so necessary to be careful.
I wonder Dr Armstrong is not more thoughtful.'

* Surely,' replied her sister, 'you are not going to
blame him for being kind to me ? '

I Is it kind,' indignantly rejoined Emily ; * what are you
going to do when you return to your duties ? Miss
Knaggs may report you to the post-office authorities.'

* She did say,' interrupted Janet, ' she must know more
about this.'

I 1 will call and speak to her/ said Emiy ; ' and now,
Mary, something must be done to put an end to this.
I have just received a letter from father. He writes to
ask us to come to the farm before Christmas ; that he
expected both of us then, but would be glad to see
either of us earlier. Now, to-day is Wednesday : I shall
write and ask him to meet you at Fritton station on
Friday. Your ankle is much better, and a change to the
country would be very natural under the circumstances/

' I won't be sent home, as if I had misbehaved,' replied
Mary, with flashing eyes. 'People will think there's
something in these lies.'

'They certainly will if you don't go/ rejoined the

'I should do what your sister advises, Mary,' mildly
suggested Janet Tomkins, ' that would most likely satisfy
Miss Knaggs, and all the gossip would soon subside.'


* Of course Mary will,' said the elder sister imperi-
ously ; ' and I'll take care Dr Armstrong doesn't call

1 No, no, Emily, I won't have it,' and Mary again gave
way to a fit of hysterical sobbing. * You are not to go
to Dr Armstrong with these spiteful stories. What will
he think of me ? I will go home if you like, but promise
me you won't say anything. Promise me that, anyhow/
and she stamped her foot upon the ground.

( Well,' was the reply, * whether I say anything to Dr
Armstrong or not will depend entirely on your own
promptness in doing all you can to stop this scandal.'

Mary could get no more favourable terms, so she was
forced to be contented, and shortly after Mrs Smith
brought the tea things into the room, and the three sat
down to tea.

* Will you be able to leave the hospital and go home
for Christmas, Emily ? ' asked Janet.

4 1 think so,' was the answer. * I spoke to Dr Arm-
strong, and he said he would take care I had leave of
absence ; that he would make it his business to see to it
before he went home to the north to spend Christmas.'

1 Do you know, Emily,' said Mary, ' the Dawsons are
going to spend Christmas with Dr Armstrong's father ? '

* Indeed,' rejoined her sister, ' I was not aware of it.'
' Oh, yes, Dr Armstrong told me so.'

Emily made no further comment, but looked closely
at Janet, who did not, however, seem to have paid any
attention to this remark of Mary's.

After tea the three girls sat together chatting and
doing needlework for a couple of hours, and Mary's
good spirits returned. So much so, that she got talking
to her sister about their home, and the Christmas they
hoped to spend together.

4 1 shall be glad to see them all again,' she said. * Do



you remember, Emily, George Burrows burning his
fingers last Christmas at snapdragon ? '

i I thought George was a sweetheart, Mary? You
were much together last year.'

'Well, yes, I liked him very well. He's the best
dancer at Fritton.'

' He's a most respectable man, Mary. Owns his own
farm, and I am quite sure is thoroughly honourable.'

Mary yawned. 'Very likely he's all that. I shall
see him when I go home. I daresay he won't be long in
finding me out.'

A little later Emily rose to return.

She thought the scandal about her sister serious, and
felt surprised at Dr Armstrong. How could it be
necessary to go every day to see her sister ? So clever
a man must know what people would be likely to say.
How could he run the risk of doing so terrible an injury
to Mary?

Emily was not altogether correct in her surmises.
Your clever men are by no means necessarily the first
to grasp what is often sufficiently plain to an ordinary
intelligence, and to do the doctor justice, Emily's view
of his conduct, though a true one, had never presented
itself in this light to his mind.

Emily thought she ought to speak to the doctor, but
it seemed a very difficult thing to do.

How could she, a nurse only, criticise the conduct of the
chief resident ocffier of the institution ?

Then the thought occurred to her that they had no
mother, and that it was incumbent on her to protect her
younger sister, and supply a mother's place. She
remembered her mother's delight in Mary when a child ;
laughing and happy, wayward and spoiled, filling the
house with sunshine, and bringing smiles to the faces
of her parents.


1 If mother could see me/ she mused, * I think she
would wish me to speak.'

So she determined she would have an interview with
Dr Armstrong, and as no time was like the present, she
would see him that very night.

On reaching the hospital she ascertained that he was
in his room, and thither she accordingly directed her
steps. She hesitated for a moment before the door, and
then knocked boldly. When she heard his voice bidding
her enter, although she felt a trembling in her limbs, she
resolved to carry out what she had undertaken.

* What ! is it you, Nurse Elliot ? Nothing wrong, I
hope ? '

( I have just returned, Dr Armstrong, from seeing my

c Well, you find her much better, don't you ? She'll
soon be able to get about now.'

'Yes, doctor, her ankle is much better,' said Emily,
' but it was not about that I came '

1 Why, nurse, what on earth's the matter ? ' said John,
in a tone of surprise.

* I hope, Dr Armstrong, you won't be offended at what
I say but Mary has no mother ' the tears came to her
eyes, and her voice was a little broken ' and I don't want
to write to father, so I thought I would be so bold as to
come and ask you why you are so regardless of my sister's
good name ? '

John's face turned crimson. ' Nurse Elliot, what do
you mean ? I have done my best to cure your sister,
and now you speak to me in this way ! ' And he regarded
her sternly, but she replied :

1 Do you know what people are saying about Mary, and
how they are putting your name with hers in a way
which may be ruin to her ? What matters curing her
ankle, doctor, if her character be lost ? '


A change came over his face, and again the colour
rushed to his cheeks ; the weakness of his position was
apparent, and it was not so easy to answer the indignant

' Is it really so ? ' he said. * How uncharitable people
are ! It would seem that a doctor can't visit a patient's
house without giving rise to scandal.'

4 But Mary has been much better for some time. Why
should a doctor call every day ? '

Dr Armstrong blushed still more deeply, he felt his
position untenable.

' I have been thoughtless, nurse ; can I do anything to
repair my fault ? '

'Mary is going on Friday to stay with father till
after Christmas, but I do hope, sir, you will not call
again while she is in Norwich/

Dr Armstrong promised not to do so, and with many
expressions of regret for the harm he had inadvertently
done, he wished Emily good-night.

The other retired with a feeling of relief that the
ordeal was over, and that she had done her duty as far
as lay in her power.

But John was upset by the occurrence. Was he
becoming the talk of Norwich ?

He must, indeed, take care. Did Dr Dawson know of
this, and Christmas close at hand, when they were all to
meet round his father's hearth ?

How could he have been so foolish ? For a moment
he felt angry with Mary Elliot, and it must be confessed
with sorrow, that most of his regret was of a selfish
character, and proceeded from a fear of injury to his
own reputation.

Dr Dawson was surgeon to the Norwich post-office,
and on making one of his official visits a few days later,
he was not a little surprised when the superintendent


of the female staff asked to have a few words in

On entering her office Miss Knaggs rose to meet him,
and said she wished to consult him about a delicate
matter. Dr Dawson regarded the superintendent with
some astonishment.

* Do you know a Miss Mary Elliot, doctor ? ' she said.

1 No, I don't but stay,' he added, * one of our nurses
at the hospital is called Elliot, and I think she has a

* Right,' said Miss Knaggs. ( Nurse Elliot has just been
to see me ; this sister is one of our clerks, and has been
away from her duties for some time past with a bad

* Oh, now I remember,' exclaimed the doctor, ' I heard
from Dr Armstrong that Nurse Elliot's sister met with
an accident at an excursion last month.'

4 This is the point, Dr Dawson,' said the other.
* I find there is scandal being talked about the town in
which the names of Mary Elliot and Dr Armstrong are
mixed up, and as the latter is your house-surgeon, and
I have always heard the best reports about him, I thought
I ought to speak to you on the subject. I never saw
harm in the girl ; she has struck me as flighty and
inclined to dress and finery, and I have thought her
general intelligence below the average, but she is just
the girl who might be led astray by an unscrupulous
man wanting in principle, and '

1 Stay, madam, I must ask you to pause/ interrupted
Dr Dawson, sternly. ' Dr Armstrong is neither unscrupu-
lous nor wanting in principle, and what you are
suggesting is an infamous slander on him. I may
inform you, Miss Knaggs, I have known him all his life,
and his sister is going to marry my son. Who spread
this report ? It must be looked to ! '


* Oh, no offence, doctor I'm sure I meant no offence,'
replied the superintendent, taken aback at the other's
vehemence. 'I'm very glad to hear you say so, but I
must be so particular. These girls of mine do require
such looking after. Mr Johnstone ' (he was the super-
intendent of the male clerks) l is always complaining of
the trouble the men give, but his difficulties are nothing
to mine. You don't think, then, there is anything in
this ? Your nurse tells me her sister has gone home till
after Christmas.'

1 Nothing in it ? Of course there's nothing in it,'
retorted the doctor, * that is, as far as Dr Armstrong is
concerned. Who set this going ? '

I Well, Miss 1 allboys gave me some rather curious
information as to Mary Elliot's behaviour at the
excursion, where the accident happened, and I heard
several of my clerks tittering the other day, and the
names of Dr Armstrong and this girl being bandied about.
When I made inquiries, I found that the attention the
doctor was paying her was the topic of conversation.'

I 1 could have sworn,' said Dr Dawson, ' that malicious
old woman was at the bottom of it. It is all the merest
chatter. Dr Armstrong has probably been attending to
the girl's ankle a sprain is sometimes serious as he was
present when the accident occurred, he has no doubt gone
on with the treatment.'

' You have greatly relieved me, doctor. You have
taken quite a weight off my mind. I thought you were
the right person to consult.'

Dr Dawson said ' Good morning ' to the superin-
tendent, and retired.

As he drove home, however, the matter recurred again
to his mind, and the reasoning he had found efficacious
with Miss Knaggs did not seem so satisfying to himself.

Could it be possible he had made a mistake in his


estimate of John, to whom he hoped at a no distant date
to give Edith ? He thought he could remember Charley
rallying him about some pretty girl. Could it have
been this Mary Elliot ?

What would his wife think ? Should he tell her ?
No, on the whole he thought it would be better to say
nothing, but he would look a little more closely after

Probably there was very little in it after all.


' I had a dream, which was not all a dream.'

IT was Christmas morning, and the snow was falling
heavily. Dawn was just breaking over Northcote Farm,
and Farmer Elliot, rising betimes to look after the
necessary work, shivered as he peeped through the
heavily frosted panes.

' 'Twill be a seasonable Christmas,' he muttered. l It
looks snowy and the frost severe. The stock will want
seeing to,' and he hurried to dress himself, and was soon
facing the snow and the keen wind, on his way to the
stables to look after the young colts.

Farmer Elliot was fifty years of age, and from his
earliest youth had risen with the sun, and worked on
his own or his father's farm.

He was hale and hearty, and enjoyed to the full that
health which avocations of this kind are known to

He was well aware that at the present day, if profit is
to be got out of a farm, the master must see after the
work himself.

The noise made by the farmer in dressing aroused two
others who occupied adjoining rooms. Emily and Mary
Elliot were sleeping together, and the former, ac-


customed to early rising, was first to hear her father
getting up, and at once decided to follow his example,
and see if she could be of any use downstairs, where the
supply of servants was limited.

She accordingly began to dress, and in so doing
aroused her sister, who in a sleepy manner endeavoured
to dissuade her from rising.

' Why, it can't be six o'clock, Emily ? '

* Oh, yes it is, Mary, I must get up. What sort of
breakfast will you get if we both lie abed ? You don't
expect father to see to it all ? '

' There's Betsy,' said the other.

Betsy was an old woman, who had been forty years in
the family, and was general servant.

( Betsy can't do everything,' replied her sister ; ' we
must be reasonable, and give some help as we make
extra work.'

Mary made an ambiguous answer, and relapsed into
slumber, while Emily hastened to put on her clothes
and descend to assist in the general work.

She found her father returning from a visit to the
stables, and shaking the snow from his boots.

'What, Emily, lass, ye're early down. It looks like
a cold morning : the water's froze hard ; we'll have some
trouble with the stock.'

* A happy Christmas to you, father, a very happy one,'
said Emily, putting her arms round his neck, and kissing
him. ' Now you must let me help all I can.'

1 Ah, Emily, ye always were a useful body. The old
farm is quite another place when ye are here. I want
Betsy to make a mash for a sick horse, so ye might see

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Online LibraryMajor GreenwoodJohn Armstrong : the story of a life → online text (page 5 of 22)