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John Armstrong : the story of a life online

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breath, and the faces of the watchers showed clearly
their anxiety.

It was at this time that Dr Armstrong, visiting his
son about eight o'clock one evening, found Edith sitting
before the patient's bed in great distress, and her pallid
face and trembling hands showed all the signs of
imminent exhaustion.

4 My child,' said the doctor, 'this will never do. You
must go to bed at once. You are not in a fit state to
watch another hour. 7

' Is he going to die, Dr Armstrong ? ' she said. ' Is
he going to die ? ' and the tears coursed down her

The doctor gazed long and steadily at his son, felt his
pulse, noted his temperature and respirations.

* There is hope yet, Edith, but you must go to bed,


and I will take your place till nurse relieves me. I will
be sure to let you know of any change, my child, he
added, noticing her wistful look of anxiety.

1 Thank you, thank you,' she said, as she pressed the
doctor's hand, and silently left the room.

* Ah/ he muttered, when he found himself alone, ' to-
night will clear the matter. How that dear girl loves
him, and he has always been so cold and impassive to-
wards her. Surely, if he gets well, and hears of her noble
devotion, he will have some gratitude. And he shall
hear of it ' looking towards the bed ( if he lives.'

The patient was very restless, and his face covered
with perspiration. Ever and anon he muttered inco-
herent words. Once or twice his father distinctly heard
the name ' Mary ' pronounced.

He started. i Surely,' he thought, * there can be
nothing between him and that girl Charley was aljuding
to on Christmas day. I hope Edith has not heard him
mention that name/

He wiped his son's face with a handkerchief, moistened
his lips, and placed a small piece of ice in his mouth.
Then he renewed the cold compress to his head.

He next took out his thermometer, and proceeded to
take the temperature.

4 It is falling,' he said a few minutes later, on looking
at the register, ' and the pulse still holds. He will pull
through, thank God,' and the old man tottered to a chair,
and sank down almost overcome by his feelings.

An hour later he administered a stimulant with some
liquid food, and the patient sank into a calm sleep,
such as had not been since the commencement of the

When, shortly after, the nurse relieved the father, he
pointed out to her the favourable change, and left the
room with an unutterable feeling of relief. Passing by


Edith's room he knocked at the door, which was im-
mediately opened by that lady, who had evidently made
no attempt to go to bed.

1 All is well, Edith/ he said joyfully, ' the change has
come. John will get well.'

He smiled as he saw the happy look in Edith's eyes,
and added, * Now child, go to bed at once go to bed
we don't want another patient on our hands.'

Dr Armstrong was right. The change had come.

From that night John steadily improved, but his con-
valescence was slow, showing how the virulence of the
fever had undermined his constitution. Three weeks
later he was only able to sit up for short intervals, and
he looked no more than the wreck of his former strength.

During convalescence, he could not help noticing
Edith's tender solicitude for his welfare, the thousand
and one little things which showed clearly enough the
cause of all this care, and drew his attention to the fact
that such a devotion in a woman could be the outcome
of but one influence.

He now, for the first time, felt that there could be no
doubt he was loved by Edith.

On one memorable morning when his convalescence
was advanced, and he was beginning to get about between
two or three rooms, March was now half through, and in
April the marriage of his sister and Charley was to take
place, his father came into the room where he was
sitting with Edith and Alice, who were discussing the
wedding. On his entrance, Alice exclaimed, 'Now,
Edith, father is going to talk to John, so you need
not mind leaving him, and come and have a look at
those new dresses. I very much want you to give me
your opinion, for I'm not satisfied.'

( Oh, yes,' laughed John, ( do go ! For goodness sake
don't let Alice remain in suspense about a dress ! '


Dr Armstrong sat down by the side of his son, and
watched Edith as she left the room. When the door
closed, he looked earnestly at his son, and said :

* Ah, John, we shall soon have a wedding in the family,
how I wish it were going to be a double one/

John blushed, as he could not help seeing what his
father had in his mind.

' If you had only seen her, my boy,' he continued,
( watching over you when you were so ill ; the tender-
ness, the attention, the affectionate solicitude she dis-
played ! Could you only appreciate all this ! Could you
only have seen her as I did, on the night when your
illness took its final turn, you could have little doubt
in what direction to seek for a wife ! '

4 1 assure you, father, I do appreciate Edith's care. I
am deeply grateful, and I think she loves me.'

'You need have no doubt about it,' interpolated his

'I also think/ continued his son, 'I am exceedingly
fond of Edith. I always used to admire her and
father if you approve of it I I was thinking of asking
her to be my wife.'

( John, you have made me a happy man,' was the
glad reply. ' It is the one thing I have always desired.
You never could find throughout the wide world a better
wife than Edith will make you. It's a pity we can't
have the weddings together.

At this moment the girls returned.

* Well, Alice, how about the dress ? ' said her brother.
* Edith thinks it all right, so I suppose it will have to do.'

4 But, if it's all right,' said John, ' you wouldn't have it
altered, would you ? '

1 Perhaps, when Edith is going to be married, she will
be more particular,' retorted his sister with some


A day or two later John was sitting in the dining-
room reading a newspaper, and Edith was busy over
some finery for the wedding.

The former let his paper drop from his hands, and fell
into a reverie for a few minutes. Then looking up and
noticing that Edith had been observant of it, and was
wondering whether he was not so well, he replied to her
thoughts :

* Fm quite well, Edith, but I was thinking of you.'
His companion blushed.

' Yes, Edith, I have been thinking that I love you
very dearly, and T don't think I should be alive now, if
it had not been for you/

* Now, I want to ask a question a very important
one Charley and Alice are shortly to become one,
may I tell my father and your parents, that we have
agreed to follow their example ? Do you love me well
enough for that, Edith ? '

* Yes, John, I do,' was the reply, * I love you more than
I can tell you.' And she came close, and placed her
hands in his. ( But, John,' she added after a pause, ' you
don't love me only for nursing you, do you ? ' and she
looked wistfully into his face. * You don't want to marry
me only because you think I saved your life ? '

4 Oh no, dear,' he replied, 1 1 don't mean that. I must
have loved you for a long while. You know, I always
liked you.'

' Yes/ she replied, but a little doubtfully, as she thought
of the excursion to Yarmouth.

' Do you know,' continued John, * I have never thought
much about marriage ; during my illness I have seen
things in another light, and I now feel sure I must have
loved you all along.'

Ah ! when the poor fever-stricken patient had been
unconsciously murmuring the name of * Mary ' on and off


through that terrible interval, when life and death
battled for his possession, this delirium, though possibly
evidence of a certain sort, that he had been in love,
hardly proved that Edith had been the object of his

He remembered nothing of this, all was quite a blank
here and fortunately Edith had not heard the wild
words. Had she done so, she would have understood
their meaning, and very different might have been her
answer on this eventful morning.

But the nurse had listened to them, and so also had
John's father, and even now John was deceiving himself,
and in reality was no more in love with Edith than Mary
Elliot was with George Burrows.

Still he felt and he was right that Edith loved him,
and that no girl deserved to be loved more devotedly, and
that it would be wise to seize the opportunity of gaining
so good a wife.

Yes, there was a spice of selfishness that ran through
John's mental calculations, and it was more disastrous in
reality because it was a selfishness of which he was
unconscious. For had he understood he was simply
sacrificing Edith for his own welfare, the iniquity of the
action would have been palpable ; and as he was by
no means wanting in all principle, he might have
studied Edith's future, and have considered whether it
was right to mislead her as to the reality of his love.

There can be no doubt that if Edith had had any
reason to suspect the truth of his love, she would never
have consented to wed him. But, alas ! we all believe
only too easily what we wish to believe, and it did not
occur to her to question in the least this apparently
spontaneous confession.

She simply said, 'Yes, John, I will be your wife,
and will try to make you happy,' and in the embrace


that followed, John felt more than ever that the pleasing
delusion into which he had fallen was in fact the truth.

Vanity of vanities ! How often it happens in the
world that shams take the place of reality, that fiction
supplants truth. The professing lover is accepted at his
own valuation, the true one is not even listened to.

On this same day, many miles distant, Edith's true
lover, James Paget, was thinking of her with sadness in
his heart.

He had heard of John's illness, and that Edith had
stayed at Driffield to nurse him, and with his usual
shrewdness had foreseen what had happened.

His one anxiety and only care was for Edith, and he
had prayed earnestly that John would really love her ; for
his greatest fear was lest he should marry her under a
false impression that he loved her, and should find out his
mistake when too late.

But all was in God's hands. He could do nothing
except look on, and when a few days later he learnt of
Edith's engagement, he finally made his decision to go
abroad with Bishop Jackson.

In the afternoon, John presented Edith to his father.
1 Father,' he said, ( all is settled, Edith is going to be my

* Why couldn't you have come to this understanding
quicker, John ? ' said his sister, who was sitting by her
father. ' It will be impossible now for Edith to be
married with me, as she is to be my bridesmaid, and I
can't possibly get another in time.'

( Never mind, Alice,' said her father with a joyful
smile, ' we'll have another wedding before long, and you
shall have the pleasure of being at both.'

* Edith,' said Alice, * I shall be very pleased to have
you for a sister. You know I always thought you would
be my sister, but, heigh-ho ! you and John have been so


long making up your minds that I was beginning to
think he would be a confirmed old bachelor.'

Three weeks later, there was great excitement in the
ancestral mansion of the Armstrongs ; it was the day of
Charley and Alice's wedding.

All the Christmas visitors were once again under the
old roof. Dr Dawson warmly shook hands with John,
and congratulating him on his convalescence, told him
he would be glad to have him as a son-in-law.

Edith's mother was also well pleased, and as she kissed
her daughter, she exclaimed :

' I'm so glad everything has happened as we wished,
after all. I was getting a little afraid about John. Do
you know, I actually heard there was talk about him and
a post-office clerk of the name of Elliot. I was sure
there couldn't be anything in it.'

Edith paled a little, but said nothing. Whenever this
girl was mentioned a cloud came across her happiness.
She could not forget seeing her in John's arms, when she
had been so maliciously pointed out by Miss Tallboys on
the day of the excursion.

It was a fine spring morning, and the whole neighbour-
hood were out of doors to see the wedding of Dr
Armstrong's daughter, who had lived among them all
her life, and was deservedly popular.

The sun was shining brightly, and the bells ringing
merrily as the cortege drew up at the porch of the parish

Inside it was crowded, and the party was met by the
old rector, who shook hands warmly with the bride's
father, who introduced his son to the rector's notice, and
intimated that before long he would require his services
to tie another knot.

1 Well, doctor,' said the clergyman, ' I'm always ready
to serve you. I wish all happiness to the young folks.'


Alice was a trifle nervous, and anxious about her dress,
but as every one admired it she grew calmer. Charley
was as cool and collected as usual.

' Aren't you ashamed of yourself,' he said with mock
solemnity to John, * to allow your younger brother to go
through this ordeal without having first set him the
example ? '

' Never mind, old man,' replied his friend, ' cheer up,
it'll soon be over.'

The marriage service then proceeded, and Alice and
Charley became man and wife. The organ peeled forth
the wedding march, and amid showers of rice and
cheering, the party returned to Dr Armstrong's house
for the breakfast.

This repast went off with the greatest success, and
after the usual toasts, John, in replying for the ' brides-
maids,' intimated amid cheers, that one of them was
shortly about to follow the example so courageously
set that morning. Charley and Alice retired to pre-
pare for their journey ; and shortly after, amid quite a
shower of old shoes, they were seen to gallop along the
drive en route for the railway station and Scarborough,
where the first portion of the honeymoon was to be

On the following day, Dr and Mrs Dawson and their
daughter left for Norwich, and John accompanied them
to make a stay at their house till he was a little stronger.
He then proposed to go to London to prosecute his
professional studies at one of the metropolitan hospitals,
and to take a survey of the metropolis generally, with
all its sights and fascinations, before returning to marry
Edith in the autumn.

John was to have plenty of Edith's company, for he
was to escort her and her mother to London, where


they would shortly go to make Charley's home ready
for the return of the pair from their honeymoon.

A suburban villa of fair size had been taken and
furnished at Finchley, and it was determined by mother
and daughter that nothing should be omitted to make
this home without speck or blemish.

While staying with the Dawsons at Norwich, John
revisited his old friends, and everywhere introduced
Edith as his future wife ; so that his engagement became
generally known, and among others who became aware
of it was Emily Elliot, who had returned to her duties
at the hospital.

She was not sorry to hear of the engagement, but in
writing to her sister at Fritton she did not mention
it, as she wished, as far as possible, to keep John's
name from her, hoping she might forget all about

The Rev. James Paget had not yet resigned his
curacy, but was leaving in a few months. He shook
hands heartily with John on meeting him, and con-
gratulated him.

( You have got a pearl, Armstrong, a pearl of price,
and I trust you will know how to prize it. God has
indeed been good to you. Remember me to Miss Edith,
and say I trust to see her before I leave Norwich.'

John thanked him, and again remonstrated with him
about his going abroad, but the die was cast, and the
curate told his friend that nothing could shake his
determination in that respect.

After the interview, James Paget became thoughtful.
He had misgivings that all was not well, and by some
power of intuition he seemed to see into the future.
If anything did go wrong affecting Edith, how hard it
would be to hear of it in some distant part of the
world, where he could render no assistance! 'Does



John really love her ? * he asked himself, and the answer
in his mind was far from satisfactory.

He had said he would call on Edith, but he did not
feel sure it would be well to do so. He would not for
the world that she should have any idea of his passion ;
but he rightly conjectured that she, absorbed in her
own affection for John, would not be likely to notice
the state of his heart, or to spy out a secret, which in
spite of his utmost caution, her mother had more than

When just before his departure he did call, she
received him kindly, and told him how greatly she
admired his self-sacrifice, and that she would always
remember him as one of her oldest friends.

' Thank you, Miss Edith,' he said, * it is very good of
you, but I want one favour and see, here is a little
Church Service, which I am going to ask you to accept
as a memento. If at any time you are in trouble, and
I could be of assistance, promise me you will give me
that privilege.'

' Thank you, Mr Paget. Yes, indeed I will. But,'
she added smiling, ( I hope I am not going to have any

* Heaven forbid,' he replied, * but you have made me
happy by your promise.*

He bade her 'adieu,' and as he left, Edith observed
him more closely. His kind sympathetic manner had
a wonderful attraction, and when he was gone, it seemed
as if a true friend had departed.

She took up the Church Service, and opened the fly-
leaf, * Edith Dawson, from her sincere well-wisher,
James Paget,' was written in the curate's handwriting.

'I feel sure,' thought Edith, 'that if I wanted a
friend, he would be a true one.'

A few days before Charley and Alice were expected


home, Mrs Dawson, Edith, and John went to London.
The two former were to stay at the house at Finchley,
while John, who had quite recovered his health, was to
reside with an old college friend, who practised in a
West-end square.

Charley's house was found to be in apple-pie order.
The two servants that had been engaged, were all that
could be expected, and as there appeared little further to
be done in the way of preparation, John told them,
jokingly, he must take them to see some of the sights of
the town, or they would upset the house in order to have
something to do.

Mrs Dawson's health would not allow her to be out at
night, so that Edith only could accompany him to the
theatre, and other evening entertainments.

On the third day, Charley and Alice arrived home
apparently well satisfied with their holiday, and looking
the picture of happiness.

'Ah,' said that gentleman, * it will be your turn next,
John, but, do you know, I wish mine had to come over
again ! '

He said it with a sly glance at his wife, who answered
with a smile, and a look of supreme satisfaction

' I believe you would, Charley, but you know you've
got some work to do, you can't always be in idleness.'

* Yes, there's that confounded office ! ' murmured her
husband, ' thank your stars, John, you have nothing to
do with an office.'



1 How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds
Makes ill deeds done.*

AFTER the return of the married couple Mrs Dawson
went back to Norwich, but Edith stayed on at her
brother's house.

John busied himself during the day at the Medical
School of St Barnabas, but in the evening would find his
way to Finchley.

As time went by, however, Charley noticed he was not
quite so frequent a visitor, and Edith, who saw that her
brother was vexed on her account, became uncomfortable,
and shortly after returned home.

John had thrown himself again heart and soul into his
studies, and diligently attended in the wards of St
Barnabas. He was well known to the chief surgeons and
physicians of that institution, who gave him every
opportunity of pursuing his bent.

The delights of metropolitan practice once more began
to attract him, and he thought, with regret, that in a few
more months he must leave the great centre of pro-
fessional education to immure himself in a small country
town, and engage in the tiresome routine of general

CHAP, vni J JOHN BECOMES A ' LOCUM $&$* ' : ''' ioV

But, then, as a recompense, there was Edith. At first
he was able to get up a sort of enthusiasm on her account,
and to imagine that her society would compensate for all
such annoyances. By degrees, however, the glamour
faded from the pleasant picture, and the future seemed
more and more distasteful.

He still pretended that he was in love with Edith, but
occasionally his mind reverted to Mary Elliot, and he
wondered if she ever thought of him now. He even
felt tempted to go down to Fritton, but his better
feelings prevailed, and he acknowledged that such a
step would be unjustifiable. What a scandal, too, would
arise, if by any chance Emily Elliot were to know
of it, and what would Edith think, if it came to
her ears.

About the middle of June, John had occasion to run
down to Norwich. He had got a small portmanteau
with necessary luggage, and intended to ask Dr Dawson
to let him stay with him for a few days.

As he stepped out on the platform he was accosted in
well known tones :

1 What ! Is it you, Armstrong ? You are the very man
sent by Providence at my direst need.'

The speaker was Dr Ling, an old friend, known to
John for many years, who was in practice at Fritton.

' How can I serve you, my dear fellow ? ' said John.
* It's an age since I saw you last ! '

' Come and have some dinner at the hotel, Armstrong,
I must catch the express at 6.30, and it is just five

John acceded, and the two were soon sitting face to
face at one of the tables in the grill room of the Great
Eastern Railway Hotel.

1 Look here, Armstrong,' said his friend, ' I'm in a fix,
and I want you to help me ! I've had a telegram to go

''lob.' f! ' 'JOHN ARMSTRONG [CHAP, vm

to Edinburgh at once. My father has had an apoplectic
seizure, and is reported to be dying. I have wired to
Crocker and all the other medical agents, and find I
cannot get a locum tenens for love or money at least
for a day or two. There has been a rush upon them lately
on account of the Medical Congress at Paris, which has
taken away so many English practitioners. Now, could
you, my dear fellow, just take my place for a day or two ?
You won't be overworked, as there is but little doing ;
only one or two important cases that want looking after.'
He glanced anxiously at John, who replied :

* Well, Ling, I didn't expect this, but you do seem in a
fix, so I'll do what I can.'

( You always were a trump, Armstrong/ said the other
joyfully. ' I can't tell you how much obliged I am ! Now,
there's a train at 7.30 to Fritton, and I told my groom to
meet it with the gig, as I hoped to be able to send some
one back. He will drive you and your luggage to my
house, and I'm sure Mrs Ling will make you comfortable.'

1 There are only two patients of importance I need
mention. One, Sir James Scrope of Fritton Manor, who
has recently hurt his knee by a fall from his horse ; he
will require to be seen every day, not that there's much
the matter with the knee, but the baronet is a nervous
patient. The other is one of the daughters of Farmer
Rokeby, who is bad with pneumonia. Beyond these two
you will not have to make half-a-dozen visits a day, and
there's good fishing in the broad.'

' By the way,' said John, ' Farmer Elliot is a neighbour
of yours, is he not ? '

4 Yes, and he is one of my patients, that is, when
he is ill, which is not often. But I attended his
wife when she died. He has got a pretty daughter,
Mary, who is engaged to be married to another
patient of mine, Mr Burrows. You will very likely


run across her, for she's very thick with Agnes Rokeby
it is Kate who is ill and I often see her at the
farm when I make my visits. But how do you know
anything about the Elliots ? '

* One of the girls is a nurse here at the hospital,' was
the reply.

' Yes, I remember now, that's Emily.'

Dinner had been served, and the two did ample justice
to it, and in asking questions about mutual friends who
had been lost sight of, and in recalling episodes of the
past, the time soon slipped away.

When thefclock struck six, Dr Ling rose and said it

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Online LibraryMajor GreenwoodJohn Armstrong : the story of a life → online text (page 7 of 22)