Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

"Dear aunt Jemima, he never takes anything. You forget he is a doctor," said Miss Marjoribanks. "It always puts him out when he has to go out in the evening; and he is sad about Mrs Chiley, though he would not say so." But nevertheless Lucilla knocked at his door when she went up-stairs. And the Doctor, though he did not open, growled within with a voice which reassured his dutiful daughter. "What should I want, do you think, but to be left quiet?" the Doctor said. And even Mrs John, who had waited at his door, with her candle in her hand, to hear the result, shrank within at the sound and was seen no more. And Miss Marjoribanks, too, went to her rest, with more than one subject of thought which kept her awake. In the first place, the Eector was popular in his way, and if he chose to call all his forces to rally round a penitent, there was no saying what might come of it; and then Lucilla could not help going back in the most illogical manner to her father's caress, and wondering what was the meaning of it. Meantime the snow fell heavily outside, and wrapped everything in a soft and secret whiteness. And amid the whiteness and darkness, the lamp burned steadily outside at the gardengate, which pointed out the Doctor's door amid all the closed houses and dark garden-walls in Grange Lane— a kind of visible succour and help always at hand for those who were suffering. And though Dr Marjoribanks was not like a young man making a practice, but had perfect command of Carlingford, and was one of the richest men in it, it was well known in the town that the very poorest, if in extremity, in the depths of the wildest night that ever blew, would not seek help there in vain. The bell that had roused him when he was young, still hung near him in the silence of his closed-up house when he was old, and still could make him spring up, all self-possessed and ready, when the enemy Death had to be fought with. But that night the snow cushioned the wire outside, and even made white cornices and columns about the steady lamp, and the Doctor slept within, and no one disturbed him; for except Mrs Chiley and a few chronic patients, there was nothing particularly amiss in Carlingford, and then it was Dr Eider whom all the new people went to, the people who lived in the innumerable new houses at the other end of Carlingford, and had no hallowing tradition of the superior authority of Grange Lane.

CHAPTER XLIII.

The talk of this evening might not have been considered of any importance to speak of, but for the extraordinary and most unlooked-for event which startled all Carlingford next morning. Nobody could believe that it was true. Dr Marjoribanks's patients waited for him, and declared to their nurses that it was all a made-up story, and that he would come and prove that he was not dead. How could he be dead? He had been as well as he ever was that last evening. He had gone down Grange Lane in the snow, to see the poor old lady who was now sobbing in her bed, and saying it was all a mistake, and that it was she who ought to have died. But all those protestations were of no avail against the cold and stony fact which had frightened Thomas out of his senses, when he went to call the Doctor. He had died in the night without calling or disturbing anybody. He must have felt faint, it seemed, for he had got up and taken a little brandy, the remains of which still stood on the table by his bedside; but that was all that anybody could tell about it. They brought Dr Rider, of course; but all that he could do was to examine the strong, still frame—old, and yet not old enough to be weakly, or to explain such sudden extinction—which had ceased its human functions. And then the news swept over Carlingford like a breath of wind, though there was no wind even on that silent snowy day to carry the matter. Dr Marjoribanks was dead. It put the election out of people's heads, and even their own affairs for the time being; for had he not known all about the greater part of them—seen them come into the world and kept them in it—and put himself always in the breach when the pale Death approached that way? He had never made very much boast of his friendliness or been large in sympathetic expressions, but yet he had never flinched at any time, or deserted his patients for any consideration. Carlingford was sorry, profoundly sorry, with that true sorrow which is not so much for the person mourned as for the mourner's self, who feels a sense of something lost. The people said to themselves, Whom could they ever find who would know their constitutions so well, and who was to take care of So-and-so if he had another attack? To be sure Dr Rider was at hand, who felt a little agitated about it, and was conscious of the wonderful opening, and was very ready to answer, " I am here;" but a young doctor is different from an old one, and a living man all in commonplace health and comfort is not to be compared with a dead one, on the morning at least of his sudden ending. Thank heaven, when a life is ended there is always that hour or two remaining to set straight the defective balances, and do a hasty late justice to the dead, before the wave sweeps on over him and washes out the traces of his steps, and lets in the common crowd to make their thoroughfare over the grave.

"It cannot be the Doctor," Mrs Chiley said, sobbing in her bed, "or else it has been in mistake for me. He was always a healthy man, and never had anything the matter with him—and a great deal younger than we are, you know. If anything has happened to him it must have been in mistake for me," said the poor old lady, and she was so hysterical that they had to send for Dr Eider, and she was thus the first to begin to build the new world on the foundations of the old, little as she meant it. But for the moment everything was paralysed in Grange Lane, and canvassing came to a standstill, and nothing was discussed but Dr Marjoribanks—how he was dead, though nobody could or would believe it; and how Lucilla would be left, and who her trustees were, and how the place could ever get used to the want of him, or would ever look

« ForrigeFortsett »