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“Why—if all that you have said be correct, I own I fear it is a bad case-certainly a bad one,” I replied, looking at her scrutinizingly. “ You have mentioned some symptoms that are very unfavourable."
• Do you-think-her case hopeless, sir ?" she inquired in a feeble tone, and looking at me with sorrowful intensity.
Why, that is a very difficult question to answerin her absence. One ought to see her—to hear her tell her own story-to ask a thousand little questions. I suppose, by-the-way, that she is under the care of a regular professional man ?"
• Yes, I believe so--no, I am not sure; she has been, I believe.”
I felt satisfied that she was speaking of herself. I paused, scarce knowing what to say. " Are her circumstances easy ? Could she go to a warmer climate in the spring or early part of the summer?
I really think that change of scene would do her greater good than anything I could prescribe for her.” She sighed.
“ It might be so ; but-I know it could not be done. Circumstances, I believe--"
Is she living with her family ? Could not they—"
"Oh no, there's no hope there, sir!" she replied, with sudden impetuosity. “No, no; they would see both of us perish before they would lift a finger to save us,” she added with increasing vehemence of tone and
“So now it's all out—my poor, poor husband !" She fell into violent hysterics. The mystery was now dispelled—it was her husband's case that she had been all the while inquiring about. I saw it all ! Poor soul, to gain my candid, my real opinion, she had devised an artifice to the execution of which she was unequal; over estimating her own strength, or rather not calculating upon the severe test she would have to encounter.
Ringing the bell, I summoned a female servant, who, with my wife, (she had heard the violent cries of my
patient,) instantly made her appearance, and paid all necessary attentions to the mysterious sufferer, as surely I might call her. The letter from which, in order to aid her little artifice, she had affected to read, had fallen upon the floor. It was merely a blank sheet of paper, folded in the shape of a letter, and directed, in a lady's handwriting, to Mrs. Elliott, No. 5, street.' This I put into my pocketbook. She had also, in falling, dropped a small piece of paper, evidently containing my intended fee, neatly folded up. This I slipped into the reticule which lay beside her.
From what scene of wretchedness had this unhappy creature come to me?
The zealous services of my wife and her maid presently restored my patient, at least to consciousness, and her first look was one of gratitude for their assistance. She then attempted, but in vain, to speak, and her tears flowed fast. “ Indeed, indeed, sir, I am no impostor! and yet I own I have deceived you ! but pity me! Have mercy on a being quite forsaken and broken hearted! I meant to pay you, sir, all the while. I only wished to get your true opinion about my unhappy husband. Oh how very, very, very, wretched I am! What is to become of us ! So--my poor husband there's no hope! Oh that I had been content with ignorance of your fate!” She sobbed bitterly, and my worthy little wife exhibited so much firmness and presence of mind, as she stood beside her suffering sister, that I found it necessary gently to remove her from the room. What a melancholy picture of grief was before me in Mrs. Elliott, if that were her name. Her expressive features were flushed, and bedewed with weeping ; her eyes swollen, and her dark hair, partially dishevelled, gave a wildness to her countenance, which added to the effect of her incoherent exclamations. “ I do—I do thank you, sir, for your candour. I feel that you have told me the truth! But what is to become of us ! My most dreadful fears are
confirmed! But I ought to have been home before this, and am only keeping you—"
“ Not at all, ma'am-pray don't>"
“ But my husband, sir, is ill- and there is no one to keep the child but him. I ought to have been back long ago !” She rose feebly from the chair, hastily readjusted her hair, and replaced her bonnet, preparing to go. She seemed to miss something, and looked about the floor, obviously embarrassed at not discovering the object of her search.
“ It is in your reticule, ma'am," I whispered ; "and, unless you would affront and wound me, there let it remain. I know what you have been looking forhush! do not think of it again. My carriage is at the door; shall I take you as far as —
street? I am driving past it.”
“ No, sir, I thank you ; but—not for the world! My husband has no idea that I have been here ; he thinks I have been only to the druggist. I would not have him know of this visit on any account. He would instantly suspect all.” She grew again excited. what a wretch I am ! How long must I play the hypocrite! I must look happy, and say that I have hope when I am despairing--and he dying daily before my eyes! Oh how terrible will home be after this! But how long have I suspected all this !"
I succeeded, at length, in allaying her agitation, imploring her to strive to regain her self-possession before reappearing in the presence of her husband. She promised to contrive some excuse for summoning me to see her husband, as if in the first instance, as though it were the first time I had seen or heard of either of them, and assured me that she would call upon me again in a few days' time. “But sir," she whispered, hesitatingly, as I accompanied her through the hall to the street door, “ I am really afraid we cannot afford to trouble you often.”
"Madam, you will greatly grieve and offend me if you ever allude to this again before I mention it to
you. Indeed you will, ma'am,” I added peremptorily but kindly; and reiterating my injunctions, that she should let me soon see her, or hear from her again, I closed the door upon her, satisfied that ere long would be laid before me another dark page in the volume of human life.
Having been summoned to visit a patient somewhere in the neighbourhood of — street that evening, and being on foot, it struck me, as it was beginning again to rain heavily, that if I were to step into some one of the little shops close by, I might be sheltered a while from the rain, and also possibly gain some information as to the character and circumstances of my morning visiter. I pitched upon a small shop that was “licensed" to sell everything, but especially groceries. The proprietor was a little lame old man, who was busy, as I entered, making up small packets of snuff and tobacco. He allowed the plea of the rain, and .permitted me to sit down on the bench near the window. A couple of candles shed their dull light over the miscellaneous articles of merchandise with which the shop was stuffed. He looked like an old rat in his hoard! He was civil and communicative, and I was not long in gaining the information I desired. He knew the Elliotts ; they lived at number five, up two pairs of stairs—but had not been there above three or four months. He thought Mr. Elliott was.“ ailing ;" and for the matter of that, his wife didn't look the strongest woman in the world. “And pray what business or calling is he?” The old man put his spectacles back upon his head, and after musing a moment, replied, “Why, now, I can't take upon me to say precisely like-but I think he's something in the city, in the mercantile way—at least I've got it into my head that he has been such; but he also teaches music, and I know she sometimes takes in needlework.”.
“ Needlework! does she indeed ?" I echoed, taking her letter from my pocketbook, and looking at the beautiful, the fashionable hand in which the direction
was written, and which, I felt confident, was ber own. “Ah then I suppose they're not over well to do in the world ?"
Why-you an't a going to do anything to them, sir, are you? May I ask if you're a lawyer, sir?"
“ No, indeed, I am not,” said I, with a smile“nor is this a writ! It's only the direction of a letter, I assure you; I feel a little interested about these people -at the same time, I don't know much about them, as you may perceive. Were not you saying that you thought them in difficulties ?”
"Why," he replied, somewhat reassured, “ maybe you're not far from the mark in that either. They deal here and they pay me for what they have-but their custom an't very heavy! 'Deed they has uncommon little in the grocery way, but pays reg'lar; and that's better than them that has a good deal, and yet doesn't
pay at all-an't it, sir ?" I assented. “ They used, when they first came here, to have six-and-sixpenny tea and lump sugar, but this week or two back they've had only five-and-sixpenny tea and worst sugar
five-and-sixpenny tea is an uncommon good article, and as good as many people's six-shilling tea! -only smell it sir!" And whisking himself round, he briskly dislodged a japanned canister, and whipping off the lid, put a handful of the contents into it. The conclusion I arrived at was not a very favourable one; the stuff he handed me seemed an abominable compound of raisin stalks and sloe leaves. They're uncommon economical, sir," he continued, putting back again his precious commodity, "for they makes two or three ounces of this do for a week-unless they goes elsewhere, which I don't think they do, by-theway: and I'm sure they oughtn't ; for, though I say it as shouldn't, they might go farther and fare worse, and without going a mile from here either--hem! Bythe-way, Mrs. Elliott was in here not an hour ago, for a moment, asking for some sago, because she said Mr. Elliott had taken a fancy to have some sago milk for