When we again met, which was at the mess-table, it was not without evidence on either side of that peculiar consciousness which persons feel who have, or think they have, some secret in common, which the world wots not of. Curzon's unusually quick and excited manner would at once have struck any close observer as indicating the eve of some important step, no less than continual allusions to whatever was going on, by sly and equivocal jokes and ambiguous jests. Happily, however, on the present occasion, the party were otherwise occupied than watching him—being most profoundly and learnedly engaged in discussing medicine and matters medical with all the acute and accurate knowledge which characterises such discussions among the non-medical public.
The present conversation originated from some mention our senior surgeon Fitzgerald had just made of a consultation which he was invited to attend on the next morning, at the distance of twenty miles, and which necessitated him to start at a most uncomfortably early hour. While he continued to deplore the hard fate of such men as himself, so eagerly sought after by the world, that their own hours were eternally broken in upon by external claims, the juniors were not sparing of their mirth on the occasion, at the expense of the worthy doctor, who, in plain truth, had never been disturbed by a request like the present within any one's memory. Some asserted that the whole thing was a puff, got up by Fitz. himself, who was only going to have a day's partridge-shooting; others hinting that it was a blind to escape the vigilance of Mrs. Fitzgerald —a well-known virago in the regiment—while Fitz. enjoyed himself; and a third party, pretending to sympathise with the doctor, suggested that a hundred pounds would be the least he could possibly be offered for such services as his on so grave an occasion.
"No, no, only fifty," said Fitz. gravely.
"Fifty! Why, you tremendous old humbug, you don't mean to say you'll make fifty pounds before we are out of our beds in the morning?" cried one.
"I'll take your bet on it," said the doctor, who had, in this instance, reason to suppose his fee would be a large one.
During this discussion, the claret had been pushed round rather freely; and fully bent, as I was, upon the adventure before me, I had taken my share of it as a preparation. I thought of the amazing prize I was about to be instrumental in securing for my friend—for the lady had really thirty thousand pounds—and I could not conceal my triumph at such a prospect of success in comparison with the meaner object of ambition. They all seemed to envy poor Fitzgerald. I struggled with my secret for some time—but my pride and the claret together got the better of me, and I called out, "Fifty pounds on it, then, that before ten to-morrow morning, I'll make a better hit of it than you—and the mess shall decide between us afterwards as to the winner."
"And if you will," said I, seeing some reluctance on Fitz.'s part to take the wager, and getting emboldened in consequence, "let the judgment be pronounced over a couple of dozen of champaigne, paid by the loser."
This was a coup d'etat on my part, for I knew at once there were so many parties to benefit by the bet, terminate which way it might, there could be no possibility of evading it. My ruse succeeded, and poor Fitzgerald, fairly badgered into a wager, the terms of which he could not in the least comprehend, was obliged to sign the conditions inserted in the adjutant's note-book—his greatest hope in so doing being in the quantity of wine he had seen me drink during the evening. As for myself, the bet was no sooner made than I began to think upon the very little chance I had of winning it; for even supposing my success perfect in the department allotted to me, it might with great reason be doubted what peculiar benefit I myself derived as a counterbalance to the fee of the doctor. For this, my only trust lay in the justice of a decision which I conjectured would lean more towards the goodness of a practical joke than the equity of the transaction. The party at mess soon after separated, and I wished my friend good night for the last time before meeting him as a bride-groom.
I arranged every thing in order for my start. My pistol-case I placed conspicuously before me, to avoid being forgotten in the haste of departure; and, having ordered my servant to sit up all night in the guard-room until he heard the carriage at the barrack-gate, threw myself on my bed, but not to sleep. The adventure I was about to engage in suggested to my mind a thousand associations, into which many of the scenes I have already narrated entered. I thought how frequently I had myself been on the verge of that state which Curzon was about to try, and how it always happened that when nearest to success, failure had intervened. From my very school-boy days my love adventures had the same unfortunate abruptness in their issue; and there seemed to be something very like a fatality in the invariable unsuccess of my efforts at marriage. I feared, too, that my friend Curzon had placed himself in very unfortunate hands—if augury were to be relied upon. Something will surely happen, thought I, from my confounded ill luck, and all will be blown up. Wearied at last with thinking I fell into a sound sleep for about three-quarters of an hour, at the end of which I was awoke by my servant informing me that a chaise and four were drawn up at the end of the barrack lane.
"Why, surely, they are too early, Stubber? It's only four o'clock."
"Yes, sir; but they say that the road for eight miles is very bad, and they must go it almost at a walk."
That is certainly pleasant, thought I, but I'm in for it now, so can't help it.
In a few minutes I was up and dressed, and so perfectly transformed by the addition of a brown scratch-wig and large green spectacles, and a deep-flapped waistcoat, that my servant, on re-entering my room, could not recognise me. I followed him now across the barrack-yard, as, with my pistol-case under one arm and a lantern in his hand, he proceeded to the barrack-gate.
As I passed beneath the adjutant's window, I saw a light—the sash was quickly thrown open, and Curzon appeared.
"Is that you, Harry?"
"Yes—when do you start?"
"In about two hours. I've only eight miles to go—you have upwards of twelve, and no time to lose. God bless you, my boy—we'll meet soon."
"Here's the carriage, sir; this way."
"Well, my lads, you know the road I suppose?"
"Every inch of it, your honour's glory; we're always coming it for doctors and 'pothecaries; they're never a week without them."
I was soon seated, the door clapped to, and the words "all right" given, and away we went.
Little as I had slept during the night, my mind was too much occupied with the adventure I was engaged in, to permit any thoughts of sleep now, so that I had abundant opportunity afforded me of pondering over all the bearings of the case, with much more of deliberation and caution than I had yet bestowed upon it. One thing was certain, whether success did or did not attend our undertaking, the risk was mine and mine only; and if by any accident the affair should be already known to the family, I stood a very fair chance of being shot by one of the sons, or stoned to death by the tenantry; while my excellent friend Curzon should be eating his breakfast with his reverend friend, and only interrupting himself in his fourth muffin, to wonder "what could keep them;" and besides for minor miseries will, like the little devils in Don Giovanni, thrust up their heads among their better-grown brethren, my fifty-pound bet looked rather blue; for even under the most favourable light considered, however Curzon might be esteemed a gainer, it might be well doubted how far I had succeeded better than the doctor, when producing his fee in evidence. Well, well, I'm in for it now; but it certainly is strange, all these very awkward circumstances never struck me so forcibly before; and after all, it was not quite fair of Curzon to put any man forward in such a transaction; the more so, as such a representation might be made of it at the Horse-Guards as to stop a man's promotion, or seriously affect his prospects for life, and I at last began to convince myself that many a man so placed, would carry the lady off himself, and leave the adjutant to settle the affair with the family. For two mortal hours did I conjure up every possible disagreeable contingency that might arise. My being mulcted of my fifty and laughed at by the mess seemed inevitable, even were I fortunate enough to escape a duel with the fire-eating brother. Meanwhile a thick misty rain continued to fall, adding so much to the darkness of the early hour, that I could see nothing of the country about me, and knew nothing of where I was.
Troubles are like laudanum, a small dose only excites, a strong one sets you to sleep—not a very comfortable sleep mayhap—but still it is sleep, and often very sound sleep; so it now happened with me. I had pondered over, weighed, and considered all the pros, cons, turnings, and windings of this awkward predicament, till I had fairly convinced myself that I was on the high road to a confounded scrape; and then, having established that fact to my entire satisfaction, I fell comfortably back in the chaise, and sunk into a most profound slumber.
If to any of my readers I may appear here to have taken a very despondent view of this whole affair, let him only call to mind my invariable ill luck in such matters, and how always it had been my lot to see myself on the fair road to success, only up to that point at which it is certain, besides—but why explain? These are my confessions. I may not alter what are matters of fact, and my reader must only take me with all the imperfections of wrong motives and headlong impulses upon my head, or abandon me at once.
Meanwhile the chaise rolled along, and the road being better and the pace faster, my sleep became more easy; thus, about an hour and a half after I had fallen asleep, passed rapidly over, when the sharp turning of an angle distended me from my leaning position, and I awoke. I started up and rubbed my eyes; several seconds elapsed before I could think where I was or whither going. Consciousness at last came, and I perceived that we were driving up a thickly planted avenue. Why, confound it, they can't have mistaken it, thought I, or are we really going up to the house, instead of waiting at the lodge? I at once lowered the sash, and stretching out my head, cried out, "Do you know what ye are about, lads; is this all right?" but unfortunately, amid the rattling of the gravel and the clatter of the horses, my words were unheard; and thinking I was addressing a request to go faster, the villains cracked their whips, and breaking into a full gallop, before five minutes flew over, they drew up with a jerk at the foot of a long portico to a large and spacious cut-stone mansion. When I rallied from the sudden check, which had nearly thrown me through the window, I gave myself up for lost: here I was vis a vis to the very hall-door of the man whose daughter I was about to elope with, whether so placed by the awkwardness and blundering of the wretches who drove me, or delivered up by their treachery, it mattered not, my fate seemed certain; before I had time to determine upon any line of acting in this confounded dilemma, the door was jerked open by a servant in a sombre livery; who, protruding his head and shoulders into the chaise, looked at me steadily for a moment, and said, "Ah! then, doctor darlin', but ye're welcome." With the speed with which sometimes the bar of an air long since heard, or the passing glance of an old familiar fact can call up the memory of our very earliest childhood, bright and vivid before us, so that one single phrase explained the entire mystery of my present position, and I saw in one rapid glance that I had got into the chaise intended for Dr. Fitzgerald, and was absolutely at that moment before the hall-door of the patient. My first impulse was an honest one, to avow the mistake and retrace my steps, taking my chance to settle with Curzon, whose matrimonial scheme I foresaw was doomed to the untimely fate of all those I had ever been concerned in. My next thought, how seldom is the adage true which says "that second thoughts are best," was upon my luckless wager; for, even supposing that Fitzgerald should follow me in the other chaise, yet as I had the start of him, if I could only pass muster for half an hour, I might secure the fee, and evacuate the territory; besides that there was a great chance of Fitz's having gone on my errand, while I was journeying on his, in which case I should be safe from interruption. Meanwhile, heaven only could tell, what his interference in poor Curzon's business might not involve. These serious reflections took about ten seconds to pass through my mind, as the grave-looking old servant proceeded to encumber himself with my cloak and my pistol-case, remarking as he lifted the latter, "And may the Lord grant ye won't want the instruments this time, doctor, for they say he is better this morning;" heartily wishing amen to the benevolent prayer of the honest domestic, for more reasons than one, I descended leisurely, as I conjectured a doctor ought to do, from the chaise, and with a solemn pace and grave demeanour followed him into the house.
In the small parlour to which I was ushered, sat two gentlemen somewhat advanced in years, who I rightly supposed were my medical confreres. One of these was a tall, pale, ascetic-looking man, with grey hairs, and retreating forehead, slow in speech, and lugubrious in demeanour. The other, his antithesis, was a short, rosy-cheeked, apoplectic-looking subject, with a laugh like a suffocating wheeze, and a paunch like an alderman; his quick, restless eye, and full nether lip denoting more of the bon vivant than the abstemious disciple of Aesculapius. A moment's glance satisfied me, that if I had only these to deal with, I was safe, for I saw that they were of that stamp of country practitioner, half-physician, half-apothecary, who rarely come in contact with the higher orders of their art, and then only to be dictated to, obey, and grumble.
"Doctor, may I beg to intrude myself, Mr. Phipps, on your notice? Dr. Phipps or Mr. It's all one; but I have only a license in pharmacy, though they call me doctor."
"Surgeon Riley, sir; a very respectable practitioner," said he, waving his hand towards his rubicund confrere.
I at once expressed the great happiness it afforded me to meet such highly informed and justly celebrated gentlemen; and fearing every moment the arrival of the real Simon Pure should cover me with shame and disgrace, begged they would afford me as soon as possible, some history of the case we were concerned for. They accordingly proceeded to expound in a species of duet, some curious particulars of an old gentleman who had the evil fortune to have them for his doctors, and who laboured under some swelling of the neck, which they differed as to the treatment of, and in consequence of which, the aid of a third party (myself, God bless the mark!) was requested.
As I could by no means divest myself of the fear of Fitz.'s arrival, I pleaded the multiplicity of my professional engagements as a reason for at once seeing the patient; upon which I was conducted up stairs by my two brethren, and introduced to a half-lighted chamber. In a large easy chair sat a florid-looking old man, with a face in which pain and habitual ill-temper had combined to absorb every expression.
"This is the doctor of the regiment, sir, that you desired to see," said my tall coadjutor.
"Oh! then very well; good morning, sir. I suppose you will find out something new the matter, for them two there have been doing so every day this two months."
"I trust, sir," I replied stiffly, "that with the assistance of my learned friends, much may be done for you. Ha! hem! So this is the malady. Turn your head a little to that side;" here an awful groan escaped the sick man, for I, it appears, had made considerable impression upon rather a delicate part, not unintentionally I must confess; for as I remembered Hoyle's maxim at whist, "when in doubt play a trump," so I thought it might be true in physic, when posed by a difficulty to do a bold thing also. "Does that hurt you, sir?" said I in a soothing and affectionate tone of voice. "Like the devil," growled the patient. "And here?" said I. "Oh! oh! I can't bear it any longer." "Oh! I perceive," said I, "the thing is just as I expected." Here I raised my eyebrows, and looked indescribably wise at my confreres.
"No aneurism, doctor," said the tall one.
"Maybe," said the short man, "maybe it's a stay-at-home-with-us tumour after all;" so at least he appeared to pronounce a confounded technical, which I afterwards learned was "steatomatous;" conceiving that my rosy friend was disposed to jeer at me, I gave him a terrific frown, and resumed, "this must not be touched."
"So you won't operate upon it," said the patient.
"I would not take a thousand pounds and do so," I replied. "Now if you please gentlemen," said I, making a step towards the door, as if to withdraw for consultation; upon which they accompanied me down stairs to the breakfast-room. As it was the only time in my life I had performed in this character, I had some doubts as to the propriety of indulging a very hearty breakfast appetite, not knowing if it were unprofessional to eat; but from this doubt my learned friends speedily relieved me, by the entire devotion which they bestowed for about twenty minutes upon ham, rolls, eggs, and cutlets, barely interrupting these important occupations by sly allusions to the old gentleman's malady, and his chance of recovery.
"Well, doctor," said the pale one, as at length he rested from his labours, "what are we to do?"
"Ay," said the other, "there's the question."
"Go on," said I, "go on as before; I can't advise you better." Now, this was a deep stroke of mine; for up to the present moment I do not know what treatment they were practising; but it looked a shrewd thing to guess it, and it certainly was civil to approve of it.
"So you think that will be best."
"I am certain—I know nothing better," I answered.
"Well, I'm sure, sir, we have every reason to be gratified for the very candid manner you have treated us. Sir, I'm your most obedient servant," said the fat one.
"Gentlemen, both your good healths and professional success also:" here I swallowed a petit verre of brandy; thinking all the while there were worse things than the practice of physic.
"I hope you are not going," said one, as my chaise drew up at the door.
"Business calls me," said I, "and I can't help it."
"Could not you manage to see our friend here again, in a day or two?" said the rosy one.
"I fear it will be impossible," replied I; "besides I have a notion he may not desire it."
"I have been commissioned to hand you this," said the tall doctor, with a half sigh, as he put a check into my hand.
I bowed slightly, and stuffed the crumpled paper with a half careless air into my waistcoat pocket, and wishing them both every species of happiness and success, shook hands four times with each, and drove off; never believing myself safe 'till I saw the gate-lodge behind me, and felt myself flying on the road to Kilkenny at about twelve miles Irish an hour.
It was past two o'clock when I reached the town. On entering the barrack-yard, I perceived a large group of officers chatting together, and every moment breaking into immoderate fits of laughter. I went over, and immediately learned the source of their mirth, which was this: No sooner had it been known that Fitzgerald was about to go to a distance, on a professional call, than a couple of young officers laid their heads together, and wrote an anonymous note to Mrs. Fitz. who was the very dragon of jealousy, informing her, that her husband had feigned the whole history of the patient and consultation as an excuse for absenting himself on an excursion of gallantry; and that if she wished to satisfy herself of the truth of the statement, she had only to follow him in the morning, and detect his entire scheme; the object of these amiable friends being to give poor Mrs. Fitz. a twenty miles' jaunt, and confront her with her injured husband at the end of it.
Having a mind actively alive to suspicions of this nature, the worthy woman made all her arrangements for a start, and scarcely was the chaise and four, with her husband, out of the town, than was she on the track of it, with a heart bursting with jealousy, and vowing vengeance to the knife, against all concerned in this scheme to wrong her.
So far the plan of her persecutors had perfectly succeeded; they saw her depart, on a trip of, as they supposed, twenty miles, and their whole notions of the practical joke were limited to the eclaircissement that must ensue at the end. Little, however, were they aware how much more nearly the suspected crime, was the position of the poor doctor to turn out; for, as by one blunder I had taken his chaise, so he, without any inquiry whatever, had got into the one intended for me; and never awoke from a most refreshing slumber, till shaken by the shoulder by the postillion, who whispered in his ear—"here we are sir; this is the gate."
"But why stop at the gate? Drive up the avenue, my boy."
"His honor told me, sir, not for the world to go farther than the lodge; nor to make as much noise as a mouse."
"Ah! very true. He may be very irritable, poor man! Well stop here, and I'll get out."
Just as the doctor had reached the ground, a very smart-looking soubrette tripped up, and said to him—
"Beg pardon, sir; but you are the gentleman from the barrack, sir?"
"Yes, my dear," said Fitz., with a knowing look at the pretty face of the damsel, "what can I do for you?"
"Why sir, my mistress is here in the shrubbery; but she is so nervous, and so frightened, I don't know how she'll go through it."
"Ah! she's frightened, poor thing; is she? Oh! she must keep up her spirits, while there's life there's hope."
"I say, my darling, she must not give way. I'll speak to her a little. Is not he rather advanced in life?"
"Oh, Lord! no sir. Only two-and-thirty, my mistress tells me?"
"Two-and-thirty! Why I thought he was above sixty."
"Above sixty! Law! sir. You have a bright fancy. This is the gentleman, ma'am. Now sir, I'll just slip aside for a moment, and let you talk to her."
"I am grieved, ma'am, that I have not the happiness to make your acquaintance under happier circumstances."
"I must confess, sir—though I am ashamed"—
"Never be ashamed, ma'am. Your grief, although, I trust causeless, does you infinite honor."
"Upon my soul she is rather pretty," said the doctor to himself here.
"Well, sir! as I have the most perfect confidence in you, from all I have heard of you, I trust you will not think me abrupt in saying that any longer delay here is dangerous."
"Dangerous! Is he in so critical a state as that then?"
"Critical a state, sir! Why what do you mean?"
"I mean, ma'am, do you think, then, it must be done to-day?"
"Of course I do, sir, and I shall never leave the spot without your assuring me of it."
"Oh! in that case make your mind easy. I have the instruments in the chaise."
"The instruments in the chaise! Really, sir, if you are not jesting—I trust you don't think this is a fitting time for such—I entreat of you to speak more plainly and intelligibly."
"Jesting, ma'am! I'm incapable of jesting at such a moment."
"Ma'am! ma'am! I see one of the rangers, ma'am, at a distance; so don't lose a moment, but get into the chaise at once."
"Well, sir, let us away; for I have now gone too far to retract."
"Help my mistress into the chaise, sir. Lord! what a man it is."
A moment more saw the poor doctor seated beside the young lady, while the postillions plied whip and spur with their best energy; and the road flew beneath them. Meanwhile the delay caused by this short dialogue, enabled Mrs. Fitz.'s slower conveyance to come up with the pursuit, and her chaise had just turned the angle of the road as she caught a glimpse of a muslin dress stepping into the carriage with her husband.
There are no words capable of conveying the faintest idea of the feelings that agitated Mrs. Fitz. at this moment. The fullest confirmation to her worst fears was before her eyes—just at the very instant when a doubt was beginning to cross over her mind that it might have been merely a hoax that was practised on her, and that the worthy Doctor was innocent and blameless. As for the poor Doctor himself, there seemed little chance of his being enlightened as to the real state of matters; for from the moment the young lady had taken her place in the chaise, she had buried her face in her hands, and sobbed continually. Meanwhile he concluded that they were approaching the house by some back entrance, to avoid noise and confusion, and waited, with due patience, for the journey's end.
As, however, her grief continued unabated, Fitz. at length began to think of the many little consolatory acts he had successfully practised in his professional career, and was just insinuating some very tender speech on the score of resignation, with his head inclined towards the weeping lady beside him, when the chaise of Mrs. Fitz. came up along-side, and the postillions having yielded to the call to halt, drew suddenly up, displaying to the enraged wife the tableau we have mentioned.
"So, wretch," she screamed rather than spoke, "I have detected you at last."
"Lord bless me! Why it is my wife."
"Yes, villain! your injured, much-wronged wife! And you, madam, may I ask what you have to say for thus eloping with a married man?"
"Shame! My dear Jemima," said Fitz. "how can you possibly permit your foolish jealousy so far to blind your reason. Don't you see I am going upon a professional call?"
"Oh! you are. Are you? Quite professional, I'll be bound."
"Oh, sir! Oh, madam! I beseech you, save me from the anger of my relatives, and the disgrace of exposure. Pray bring me back at once."
"Why, my God! ma'am, what do you mean? You are not gone mad, as well as my wife."
"Really, Mr. Fitz." said Mrs. F. "this is carrying the joke too far. Take your unfortunate victim—as I suppose she is such—home to her parents, and prepare to accompany me to the barrack; and if there be law and justice in—"
"Well! may the Lord in his mercy preserve my senses, or you will both drive me clean mad."
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" sobbed the young lady, while Mrs. Fitzgerald continued to upbraid at the top of her voice, heedless of the disclaimers and protestations of innocence poured out with the eloquence of despair, by the poor doctor. Matters were in this state, when a man dressed in a fustian jacket, like a groom, drove up to the side of the road, in a tax-cart; he immediately got down, and tearing open the door of the doctor's chaise, lifted out the young lady, and deposited her safely in his own conveyance, merely adding—
"I say, master, you're in luck this morning, that Mr. William took the lower road; for if he had come up with you instead of me, he'd blow the roof off your scull, that's all."
While these highly satisfactory words were being addressed to poor Fitz. Mrs. Fitzgerald had removed from her carriage to that of her husband, perhaps preferring four horses to two; or perhaps she had still some unexplained views of the transaction, which might as well be told on the road homeward.
Whatever might have been the nature of Mrs. F.'s dissertation, nothing is known. The chaise containing these turtle doves arrived late at night at Kilkenny, and Fitz. was installed safely in his quarters before any one knew of his having come back. The following morning he was reported ill; and for three weeks he was but once seen, and at that time only at his window, with a flannel night-cap on his head, looking particularly pale, and rather dark under one eye.
As for Curzon—the last thing known of him that luckless morning, was his hiring a post-chaise for the Royal Oak, from whence he posted to Dublin, and hastened on to England. In a few days we learned that the adjutant had exchanged into a regiment in Canada; and to this hour there are not three men in the _th who know the real secret of that morning's misadventures.
EBOOK EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Air of one who seeks to consume than enjoy his time Always a pleasure felt in the misfortunes of even our best friend Chew over the cud of his misfortune Daily association sustains the interest of the veriest trifles Dear, dirty Dublin—Io te salute Every misfortune has an end at last Fighting like devils for conciliation Half pleased and whole frightened with the labour before him Hating each other for the love of God He first butthers them up, and then slithers them down He was very much disguised in drink Least important functionaries took the greatest airs upon them Might almost excite compassion even in an enemy Misfortune will find you out, if ye were hid in a tay chest Profoundly and learnedly engaged in discussing medicine Rather a dabbler in the "ologies" Recovered as much of their senses as the wine had left them Seems ever to accompany dullness a sustaining power of vanity The tone of assumed compassion