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The Bird of Paradise

Chapter XXX. Vallie's Offerings on the Grave. The Thief in the Dark

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Chapter XXX. Vallie's Offerings on the Grave. The Thief in the Dark.

The death of little Percy had a profound and revolutionary effect upon Marvel. She missed his baby smiles, she experienced a feeling of ennui at having nothing to do. She had for the former six months been accustomed to devote almost all her time ministering to the little requirements of Percy: now she sat for hours in the alcoves of Bendemeer, overwhelmed with the remorse of not having mentioned the ailment to the doctor when it first appeared. Now, while weighed down in the deeps of despondency and the punishment of regret, her big dark eyes were with her thoughts once again, and her thoughts were far away. Alternately vibrating between hope and despair, extremes met in Marvel. Now in the cloud-capt heights of rapture and now in the deeps of the doldrums, she would bring trouble upon herself, and was always prone to meet it half-way. With fierce alternations of passion, in merriment she was the merriest of the merry, in sorrow she was such as grief might call her own. A month passed away drearily; here and there, scattered about the marigolds in the garden or the wild blue-bells in the vineyard of Paradise, she would find a little woollen bootie or some emblem of her erstwhile solicitude for the lost little cherub. Her brooding and remorse were beginning to jeopardise her health.

Feeling that she was taking the bereavement too much to heart, and noticing that her health was being impaired by her musing and moping at home, her husband conceived the idea of taking her away for a change with the children. He had been working hard in a laborious and difficult practice for over two years without intermission and was in need of a holiday himself.

"Would you like to go to the seaside for a few weeks, Marvel?" he said one evening as she sat pining on the verandah: "we could go to Florida and Galveston and stay away a month with the children; it would do you and them a vast amount of good. I can spare a few weeks and get a locum tenens from town; while we are away we can arrange about getting the baby's name engraved on the monument."

"Just as you please," said Marvel resignedly. With the exception of the christening of Valentine it was the first time since her honeymoon holiday that she had consented to go anywhere with her husband and to do just as he pleased. How trouble does humble us all!

"Pearly and Vallie can come too, eh Pearly?" said her father as she jumped up on his knee.

"Oh! Yes, puppa, Pearly go: Pearly not f'ightened gee-gees. Puppa take mumma: Pearly take Vallie and show Vallie little Percy in the big hole;" but independent Valentine said he would go by his own self.

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"Very well then." said their father, "we will all go next week to Florida Bay and we can see little Percy while we are away."

Pearly seemed to know the difference between being alive and being dead; but poor little Valentine actually thought he was going to meet his baby brother and play with him in the flowery-land over the grave. "I'll give illie Percy my wa'sh, eh puppa," he said in high glee, "and when I see him I'll b'ing him home here."

A locum tenens was engaged in the city at the medical bureau, and at the end of the month of August the little family in mourning took train and steamboat to Florida Bay. On board the steamer the delight of the children was to hang over the railing in the engine-room and watch the vertical movements of the piston-rods in the big triple cylinders of the s.s. "Orange." So eager was Valentine for his father to buy him a triple-expansion engine that it was fancied he was gifted with the nucleus of a penchant for the avocation of his uncle, the Flying Dutchman.

Arriving late in the evening, the little family lodged in the Bunch of Roses Hotel for the night, and after a good breakfast of fresh, briny herring they set out in a buggy early, driving across the peninsula past the heads out to the foreshore of the open ocean. On the milk-white sand before the crisping white of the rolling breakers, Pearly and Valentine as merrily as sand-boys romped and piled up sandy cones and cowrie shell pyramids on the beach, and raced together in joyous emulation, with toy-buckets and spades gathering pretty specimens of seaweed and pearly shells, while Marvel and her husband strolled together on the shore, and gladdened their hearts at the health and exuberance of their children.

During the first week of their sojourn at the seaside, a telegram had come to the doctor asking him to return to Sabinnia, as the luocum tenens had been unable to re-introduce a drainage tube which he had withdrawn in a case of surgical operation. Going back to Sabinnia and returning to Florida Bay the next day, he rejoined his wife and children and found the little boy provided with a new wheel-barrow. Running up to his father as he saw him coming through the sand, Valentine drew his attention to the new acquisition.

"Very nice one, Vallie, very nice," said his father: "did mumma buy it for you?"

"No fear," cried out little rosy-cheeked Pearly; "a man gave it to him in that shop up there; but he didn't give Pearly one: buy one for Pearly, puppa."

"What man was it, Pearly?" said her father; but Marvel stopped her from answering and bundled her off to play; while he fancied he heard the words—"kissed mumma." His curiosity at the unaccounted possession of the wheel-barrow by his little boy excited, and his suspicions about the visitor during his absence aroused, he asked Marvel if her father had been down. Marvel replied that he had not, and gave him no satisfaction about the donor of the wheel-barrow, whose name he did not discover for some little time. Marvel complained of getting tired of the seaside and its page 231bleak quietude, but it must be remembered that the bird of Paradise is a land bird and a migratory bird. Accordingly he arranged to leave the peninsula at the end of the week, pay a visit to the grave of Percy by taking the next mail-boat to Galveston as promised to the children, who seemed very anxious to visit the cemetery, and after a trip to the Rocky Mountains to return through New Orleans home again.

The following day they inspected the fortifications opposite the Florida Keys at the invitation of an old soldierly acquaintance of Marvel's girlhood. He had known her pretty well before she was married, and gave them a most painstaking description of the forts, the drill-sheds and the disappearing guns. Furthermore, he permitted the infantile Valentine to fall in with the recruits, who were being drilled in the barrack yard, and play what Valentine thought was a réveillé upon a real big soldier's bugle. It was a mistake on Valentine's part to imagine that what he produced was a codified réveillé, and it was also a mistake on his mother's part to let him play what he thought was a codified réveillé, or even to arouse his martial spirit at all by letting him fall into the ranks. He whimpered, he cried, he howled, he sulked, he kicked, he ran away and planted himself in a rock-cave till his mother thought he was lost at sea, all on account of that soldier's big brass bugle. If it had been for sale there would have been no bother at all, but his father remembered the multiplicity of forms which he had filled in when preferring a request to the English government for a sum of two hundred pounds, and surmising that equally as many would be required for the American government before the bugle would be forthcoming, he bought for the disappointed infantile cadet a drum and a triangle instead. Ever since that memorable day the market for musical and military toys must have experienced a decided rise, for nothing would please either Valentine or Pearly unless it was a trumpet, a bugle, a cornet, a kettle-drum, a triangle, a tambourine, a pop-gun, a sword or a cane, and when their father had no money to buy even these, they contented themselves with penny-whistles, jew's-harps, squeaking dolls, and a band-box with a rope for a drum-strap.

In a few days after that never-to-be-forgotten visit to the fortifications, they bade farewell to the rock-bound coast and the sand-hemmed shores of Florida. With a fortnight still to spare for the holiday making, they sailed away in the mail steamer for Galveston, where they stayed at the Rosemary Branch Hotel on the bay, from which on the following morning they wandered to the scene of Percy's grave. It would have charmed the hearts of the muses among the purple waving grass and the white wild flowers of the outlying plains on that fresh September morning to see that devoted little boy toddling along without saying a word. His general behaviour was a kind of engaging naughtiness, but sometimes he was as solemn as a judge. His little heart was full of the expected reunion with his departed little brother as he trudged along with a bundle strapped like an enormous knapsack over his shoulder, comprising the wheel-barrow, the drum, the triangle and the remains of the gilded watch, which he had page 232secreted in his pocket ever since he left Bendemeer; marching to the spirit-stirring music of a long penny whistle, and depositing the offerings to little Percy on the grave. Arriving at the tomb after a two-mile walk, at last he spoke, and said, "Oh, puppa! Pearly didn't bing the spade; illie Percy can't get 'em till I dig up the big hole. Pearly tole me just now, puppa."

Little Vallie's mind was still imbued with the delusion that if not on the surface Percy was playing about the grave somewhere—that his little brother was still alive, and living in a beautiful land in the region of the shells within the iron fence, where nothing died or ever grew old.

"Put them on the top of the grave, Vallie," said his father, and the manes of the raised Laban Jarves seemed to Eugene to appear. Throwing the swag off his shoulder, Vallie placed the toys on the mound within the enclosure, and, scraping away some of the gravelly shells with his hands, he buried the tin watch for the use of little Percy in the flowery land, while Pearly strewed the grave with seaweed and wild buttercups which she had gathered on the way.

The task of engraving the name on the monument had been accomplished the month before by Miriam, who knelt down with the little children by her side singing requiem hymns, and the collect for the seventh Sunday after Trinity, and listening to the lispings of their well-known prayers until it was time to go back home.

After a glimpse at their former abodes, Glenaveril and The Elms, where Pearly and Valentine were born, and where Eugene had spent so many sleepless nights in anxiety about his wife's return, they all left for a final excursion to the Rocky Mountains, and eventually returned through the city to Bendemeer, with the childrens' cheeks like rosy apples, the carmine tints of Marvel's face returned, and all the family robust and resuscitated.

Home; sweet, sweet home! Since their departure some of the autumn blooms had appeared: the gay laurustinus and the laughing white marguerites—great spheres with tiny dewdrops on every petal—seemed to reflect the fresh faces of the children, while the heavy concentrated odours of the magnolias lingered around Bendemeer. Dainty little waxeyes deftly balanced themselves on the swinging twigs sipping the juice of the laurel and the elderberries; the green linnet sang in the yellow bloom of the golden acacias, and picked the seed from the rustling blossoms, swinging on his light aerial trapeze. The passion-flower had burst into bloom on the walls; the trumpet-lily opened her white bodice to the scented breezes playing along the liliputian walks of the flower-beds, and the full blown tea-roses and the Ethel chrysanthemums looked up at the trailing eglantine on the trellised verandah, and down on the nodding violet, the meek cowslip and the flaming phlox; while the little blue-cap flitted here and there among the vines or the blackbird called to the waking Aurora and the dying day and the chaffinch whistled from the elms. The same servants, who had been enjoying high holiday during the absence of Marvel, had everything in order and readiness for her return. The page 233balm of home suffused her every thought. Next day the locum tenens was relieved and paid off by Eugene, and his work resumed with renewed vigour by himself. Frederick had distinguished himself by knocking out the local boxing champion in a mill of two rounds clean off the Working Men's Institute stage, but in every other respect the circumstances of the household were the same.

The grief over the death of Percy seemed to have worn off prematurely from his mother. Marvel soon recovered her light-hearted gaiety and the natural exuberance of her spirits. The Methodist parson called, the melancholial wife stayed for hours, and the dangerous acquaintance, Mrs. Blackhall, clung to Marvel closer than ever, infusing into her mind the poisonous doctrines which she had always inculcated; discoursing upon every occasion of her visits on the topic that men were not made to tyrannise over women; that if they did not resist, maintain their rights and rebel, they would be crushed under the heels of their tyrants for ever; that "men were deceivers ever, to one thing constant never," and that women were by far their superiors.

Six months passed and the routine of Marvel's life was a repetition of her previous history: the melancholy woman and the Italo-Mexican her close companions, together with her cousin, whose last consignment was a watch-faced triplet and who had now a step-and-stairs family of seven, while the puppy-dog corner at Rotojingolong was the most frequent place she visited. Her visits to the archery ground were becoming so regular and apparently so eagerly anticipated, that it frequently became a great source of inconvenience to the doctor as the groom was so often away when he was wanted at home. Furthermore, from some unaccountable cause, probably a word or name uttered by Marvel in a forgetful moment, or some trifle as light as air betraying her, his suspicions were aroused and soon confirmed. He had noticed himself the counterfeit quality of the visitors from the city and the habitués of the archery ground the year before. He often had casual sights of them, like harlequinading merry-andrews playing together, as he drove past with the groom on the road, but never had he received any tangible proof that his wife's constant attendance and ostensible devotion to the sport were due to anything more than her inborn inveterate habits of pleasure-seeking and mixing in what she called good society—the covetousness of the bird for the balloon.

Passing through a field near Rotojingolong one day as he was out for an afternoon's heron shooting, he suddenly encountered Lady Harriet just as she was stepping off a little footbridge over the creek and walking in the direction of the railway station, one of the puppies following a short distance behind. "Good afternoon, my lady," said the doctor; "is archery the ruling passion still out here?"

Lady Harriet replied she was not taking part that afternoon, but was going with a telegram to the railway station, when, not recognising Eugene in his shooting costume, with his back turned towards the puppy-dog page 234straggling from the show, the latter came up as he was speaking to the young lady.

"Dr. Whitworth," said Lady Harriet, "this is a friend of mine from"——

"I'm sorry to hear you say so," returned the doctor, ramming his hands down into his pockets and walking away. It was the interloper whom he had confronted on the pier at Galveston! He had been living for some time in the city, where his powers of fascination had a wider scope.

There was the sweet milk in the sweet cocoanut. There was the solution of Marvel's extraordinary passion for archery. It came like an ominous thunderclap upon him—the meeting of that destroyer of his peace of mind, that demoniacal usurper of his home in The Elms; that smiling, fascinating, bejewelled and cigarette-smoking coxcomb, who had insulted his wife while she held his little girl in her arms, and who had paraded his generosity by presenting his little boy with the wheel-barrow that lay on his dead child's grave. His gift of the lost locket turned out to be nugatory1, as one of the ladies from the city established her claim to it, and Marvel explaining how she came by it was obliged to hand it over to the owner. When the bird of Paradise had left Edenhall he had soon after come away to the city. Now that Marvel was in Sabinnia, it was as convenient to his purposes as when she had lived in Maconville, and much more so than when she resided in Galveston. He had heard of her contemplated sojourn at the seaside, presumably from Marvel herself during their visits to the archery ground, and had chosen a day to visit her—the very day that Eugene was obliged to leave her and the children at Florida Bay. He had wormed himself—worm and viper that he was—into the society of the Earl's daughters, bolstered up by the hope of coming across the object of his vile affections there. Had it not been for the presence of Lady Harriet, what might have happened?—he ground his teeth in the yearning for revenge. He took up the gun and making a détour without shooting over the fields any longer, he walked away hastily home.

"Fred," he said when be arrived there, "Mrs. Whitworth can walk home this evening; we can't spare the buggy for that tomfoolery out there any more."

Vague suspicions floated through the congested brain of Marvel when she waited and waited but found no buggy to meet her, and she knew her husband had been out shooting in the neighbourhood that afternoon. Walking with vacillating footsteps homeward through the fields, amongst the stately upright trees of the forest that sombre evening in solitude, the grandeur of the sunset scene, the idle wandering here and there of the light and fleecy clouds, the crimson and magenta hues changing into that ill-fated blue-green, and all resolving into a dull dismal grey, pourtrayed the perturbed mind of the conscience-stricken Marvel, as she felt that her husband knew of her liaisons on the archery ground; while to Eugene the sun of his paradisal home had set that day for ever.

On her return she entered in a nervous and guilty way; her face was page 235ashy pale and the improvement which she had made during her marine holiday was annulled by the walk that evening through the forest. Her first thoughts were to confront her husband, but she thought of his passionate nature when provoked, and smarting under the prickings of her uneasy forebodings within, she waited till she had an opportunity of cross-questioning the groom. Stealing up to the stable in the dark, as he sat alone in his room, after bedding down the horses, "Frederick," she said, "why didn't you come for me this evening?"

"The boss—he told me, when he come home, not to go no more," answered Frederick.

It was enough for Marvel. The conspiracy had been detected—the secret of the wheelbarrow had been laid bare, all the concomitant revelations of her clandestine scheming with the dangerous exquisite opened out, hissing and grinning at her like demons let loose upon her tormented soul. When her husband had gone out in the night without saying a word, she stole into the surgery and with a lancet she niggled away at the lip of the envelope, withdrawing the letter which he had written. With tremulous hands she opened out the black-bordered note-paper and held it before her keen black eyes wide open and staring at the contents, every word of which was like an arrow in her side, and nervously starting at every extraneous, insignificant sound, as she read—"Dear mother,—Take Valentine's wheel-barrow off the baby's grave and send it here; he is going to give it away to the Industrial School children.—Eugene."

Would it not be wiser, she thought, to make a clean breast of the accursed thing; but she had no time to consult with her sympathising cousin, and dreaded the passion of her husband. When he returned she was sitting idly and listlessly striking the chords of the Mignon piano, but he walked straight past the open door, down the hall into the surgery. On the impulse of the moment she followed him and, on one of the rare occasions in her life, she addressed him by his Christian name.

"Eugene," she said, "how long have we been here now?" and her husband replied that he had been there himself over two years.

"I wish you would leave here soon," she said, "there is nothing all the year round here for me but trees and flowers and those idiots at Rotojingolong."

The word was a flash of genius on Marvel's part: it disarmed the charge simmering in his mind and melted it away altogether. Replying that he did not want to stay there any longer, as the district from a medical point of view was getting exhausted, and that he had made up his mind to go to the city next day to make some inquiries into a partnership in a New Orleans practice, he returned at his wife's solicitation, absent-mindedly, to the drawingroom. The music of the agitated Marvel, while the recoiling consolation thrilled along her nerves was never heard to greater perfection, as amongst a treasury of charming gems she interweaved installments of the Myosotis. She conjectured at the rationale of his complaisance in leaving, but she feared to touch upon the subject of causation and effect page 236in his hearing, for she felt and whispered to herself that the less said the sooner the mischief already done was likely to be mended. Knowing his candid nature so well, she could not imagine him to be dissembling, and she deemed it politic to endeavour to divert as strenuously as she could his thoughts and her own with the music, while Eugene deceived himself with the belief that there was nothing reprehensible in her liaisons at all. He had not then fathomed the depths of his wife's chicanery. He loved her; he loved his children beyond all measure; he studied their welfare and happiness, present and to come, and he meditated on the babe in the tomb. Hope and patience was the motto oft repeated to himself — hope and patience—the polestars that shine eternal on the human heart.

The very next day in New Orleans he entered in effect into partnership with a well-known surgeon of the city, who had attained to his prominent position not at all from any intrinsic abilities or from any signal successes in the domain of surgery, but chiefly from the fact that he was the son of a very influential statesman, who propped him up and advertised him under the electric light of Government departments, and who by dint of toadyism to the then ministry, logrolling, axe-grinding, and wire-pulling in Congress had procured for him an important position among the government medical offices, as well as one of the most coveted medical appointments in the Louisiana State militia.

The salient terms of the deed of partnership were that Eugene should pay the sum of four thousand dollars for his share in the partnership; should reside in the house in Fifth Avenue, to be vacated in his favour; should attend to all patients and perform all surgical operations, while, after a trip to Australia and round the world, his partner should devote his atention to the work of visiting the lunatic asylums, reporting on all rail-way accidents, and carrying out his sinecure duties as medical officer of the military forces.

Dr. Jonas Peck was a flat-headed, cunning and grasping Welshman, of the worst and meanest variety, and he attached as much arrogant importance to the rank and position in the military forces into which he had been pitchforked by his scheming, trimming father, as if he were Napoleon Premier. His height was about five feet three inches and a quarter; his hair had the hue of the parsnep, and his weight was nearly eight stone—just a nice handy weight for Moss Rose in first-class company for a mile, with a cup hanging at the end of it. Mounted on a scraggy mule, he could maintain his seat in the saddle quite as well as a good clown or a circus billy-goat, and when his imperial medicalship was on view in the streets or on the field, he looked "like a monkey riding on a donkey, singing out charcoal—charcoal,"2 and he fumed and sweated instead of the lop-eared mule. There he sat bumping the pigskin on the ewe-necked mule with the Roman nose like a little god on a tin-wheel3, with an eye like a damson to threaten and command any old woman lying sick in bed; and at night he went about like a Chinese soldier armed with an umbrella and a lantern. He wore his vizor down, but on his mailed page 237breast he had no medal to wear. His face was the colour of mahogany, and his fingers were like ten thin sausages. He was as hairy as Esau4. He was a bachelor: nobody wondered at that. The bird of Paradise considered he was more like a useful man at the gasworks than a doctor; so did the urchins in the streets, for they advised him to get inside the mule one afternoon when he fell off as he was going away on parade, with Eugene and the pearl of a remount Rosie by his side.

Eugene still retained his old liking for the service and his connection with the militia, as lieutenant of the cavalry corps. Upon leaving Sabinnia he was transferred to the metropolitan detachment, where his shapely charger, Rosie, was as much a pet of the regiment as she had been in the country districts.

Shifting in all speed his goods and chattels to New Orleans with almost as much expedition as the noted and flagitious Brick Bore had left the castle, he returned to Sabinnia for his wife and children. Marvel, on arriving at Bendemeer he ascertained, was consorting to the bitter end with the woman from Mexico. She was comfortably ensconced within the woman's house. The children were jubilant at the prospect of gazing upon the wonderful illusions and sights from all the world to be seen collected together in the great metropolis, and they left in eager expectation of seeing all the glories of the universe. Marvel showed particular bon homie in her prés prendre congé5 visits to her friends, and concocted in her mind visions of private balls, hospital balls, mayor's balls, ministerial balls, bachelor's balls, hunt-club balls, naval balls, military balls, naval and military balls, theatres, operas, presidential receptions and town-hall concerts thick as autumn leaves.

On the first of December, when Eugene was just twenty-eight years old and the bird of Paradise was thirty—and merging into the shady side of thirty—his brass plate was fixed on the iron gate, almost diametrically opposite to the emporium where the doctor of dental surgery of Apricot Street, Chicago, U.S.A. had shone in his meteoric flight, and the great undertaking of harmonious medical practice, in defiance of the traditions about the disagreements of rogues and medical practitioners, was duly announced and begun.

The house in New Orleans was as a residence much inferior to Bendemeer: it had no name, but its number was A777½. In many respects A777½ was rather uncomfortable, and the horrid flight of stairs harassed the tranquillity of Marvel. The want of a garden irritated still further her fancies; but so as to make the bird of Paradise and the Air collapse altogether, turn up the whites of her eyes like a dying duck in a thunderstorm, and sit down to faint on a kerosene tin in the kitchen, there was no more room at the back than would afford fresh air to the magpie which Valentine had brought from the Sabine River. It—the magpie—hopped about on the cemented area and screwed its neck for a peep with one eye sideways at the bluesky, directing the other eye down upon the gurgling pellucid stream in the sink. A prisoner for evermore, it died of a broken heart the week page 238after, and moistened by the tears of Valentine it was consigned to the dust-bin outside in the blind alley, so that the undertaker—the scavenger—might call for it next day.

The servants of Bendemeer not caring, so they said, about leaving their mother's side for the city, in spite of the affection which they dissembled before Marvel, refused her offers of an increase of wages, so that new and smarter ones were procured at a servants' registry office round the corner. One of the girls, who had been appointed to the duty of answering the door-bell, was invested with a nurse's white cap and a new white embroidered apron in the mornings, while in her engrossing charge were packed off every afternoon sharp at half-past two the dignified Pearly and the mercurial Valentine, with full and explicit instructions to be on the qui vive6 for the latter.

On their first day's outing they brought home from a cosmopolitan fair a multi-coloured bird with one eye. It wasn't a paraquêt, nor was it even a rosella; it had one wing like a king-lory, and still the top of its head was like the top of the head of a macaw; it had never seen the Mexican mountains, but might possibly have come form New Guinea, although there was not trace discernible of any remote connection with the bird of Paradise. An hour in the rain on the asphalted area cleared up all disputes as to its individuality, washing all its gaudy plumage away and proving it to be beyond all manner of doubt a young hawk painted by the rascal who had palmed it off upon Valentine. One eye had been knocked clean out, probably in a battle with a game-cock bantam when a mean advantage was taken of it by chaining it in a corner by the leg; but the empty orbit had been considerately stuffed with a split pea previously dipped in red ink. The doctor was obliged to accompany Valentine back to the fair with the brummagem7 cockatoo, interview the genre artist in water-colour, and demand a more natural and thoroughbred specimen. The mission proved to be a great success. The more natural and thoroughbred specimen was suspended aloft in the area over the babbling brook in the sink, where it praised itself and danced away and danced away without lifting its feet off the hillocky crystallized slime on the perch, and, after reciting a vocabulary of choice extracts from the golden treasury of the grand old father of poetry, it survived the magpie by fully a week; further, next morning, all the way down the back lane it lay perfectly still on the shoulder of the dayman, who ruthlessly heaved pretty polly among the garbage into corporation cart No xlix.

The doctor bought—through the agency of Brosie—a fine pure-bred St. Bernard, a perfect monarch of dogs, for the children, as Moss Rose's companion stayed at the Old White Horse hotel; and after an altercation as to whom he should belong he was proclaimed a joint partnership from the tip of his nose to the last hair of his tail—the joint possession of Pearly and Valentine—although it was hard to say afterwards whether the St. Bernard belonged to the children or the children to the St. Bernard. Prince, as he was called, made it his business to follow the children page 239whithersoever they rambled and maintained a more vigilant watch upon them than the flippant attendant on them and the door. He would lie all night at their bedroom door and wait till they came out in the morning. Wherever Prince was seen, it was concluded that Pearly and Valentine were with him, and if the St. Bernard appeared to be at ease in his mind, it was abundant proof that the children were perfectly safe. He was an uncommonly useful dog, for he often allayed the fears and anxieties of Marvel, who would rush to the door every time she heard the bell of the omnibus, and appeared to look upon every driver as an enemy endeavoring to run the bus over the children.

One duty which the deed of the medical partnership did not disclose in any of its clauses, as if it were something quite foreign to the management of the business, was the compiling of the monthly accounts, the entering up of the books, of which the original partner at his own expense purchased three nearly as long as his arm and, finally, the receipt of the moneys paid into the medical firm. These arduous tasks were appropriated by Dr. Jonas Peck to himself. His regular practice consisted in his calling at A777½, the house where all the business was conducted and the iron Milner safe was kept, unlocking the safe with a key, of which there was no duplicate, and which he kept in a pocket at the back of his pants; sleeping with it under his pillow, carrying it away with him to the field all gory, and proceeding with the work of book-keeping and fiction after the professional work for the day was done. Being of a gallant and cavalierly turn of mind, when his works of fiction were ended he would condescend to sit in the surgery for a while, confident that no patients were likely to put his skill in medical diagnosis to the test. Slowly and by tentative degrees, he cunningly inveigled the bird of Heaven into secret conversations while her husband was busy outside with the patients. One clause in the agreement which he had artfully introduced was to the effect that each partner should devote himself diligently to the work of the practice. After dissecting out the nominal share for himself, the burthen of the work with the patients was thrown upon the shoulders of Eugene. It was seldom that a railway accident or a lunatic demanded his attention, and the office of medical attendant upon the militia was quite a sinecure.

About this time, excited by the dazzling splendour of the lions and lights of the city social club, and all the notable company which he met when he became a member himself, Eugene often spent an hour or so in the evenings among his newly-made friends. These occasions were not lost sight of by his partner, whose primary object had been to swindle him out of the four thousand dollars which he had received for the half-share enjoyed by Eugene. Accordingly, in a most captious manner he seized upon the clause relating to diligence as a stalking-horse for the dissolution of the partnership.

After it had existed for the space of three months, Eugene began to reflect that he had been unfairly dealt with, and drew the attention of Dr. Jonas Peck to the extraordinary amount of work which he had to do page 240without receiving any assistance from his partner. The remarks were flouted by Dr. Jonas Peck, and Eugene for the first time felt convinced that his case was another historical instance of the truth of the fable of the spider and the fly. In dogged determination he refused to attend to everything that his partner had planned out for him, and now and then he left a straggling patient to the mercies and skill of Dr. Peck. These patients complained, and withdrew their patronage from the partnership, but its withdrawal was just what Dr. Peck wanted. It suited his purposes beautifully, and, together with the waste of time by Eugene at the club, it afforded him a continual ground of complaint, which he instilled into the private ear of the bird of Paradise after the books were made up for the day in the surgery, where Eugene had during the day attended to as many as forty or fifty cases. He would stand for half-an-hour in the military costume, which he donned for the illusion of Marvel, descanting upon this little episode at the club, and that little episode of neglect, while the faithful, honourable and devoted wife of Eugene would incline her ear to his little confidences, sympathise with the deceived little medical soldier, and enhance his charges against the doctor by manufacturing a few imaginary ones of her own; rejoicing in betraying the cause of her husband to the very man who was longing to put his knife into that self-same husband.

Often, as he came in unexpectedly, she would hastily withdraw from the surgery, or when the conspiracy was being hatched in the passage they would hurriedly separate and retreat—the bird of Paradise in a state of perturbation to her bedroom, the poultice and pill-box soldier to the surgery, the books and the safe, as if he were in a hurry to get inside. To give further proof of his asseverations, he would invite her into his buggy and take her to the house of some patient, where her husband had not thought it necessary to go for a couple of days. The playful Jonas would lay traps for Eugene at the social club, and poison the mind of his wife against him by every means that lay in his power. His charges, his unfathomable duplicity, and his dissembling sympathies with the false grievances of the much injured Marvel were balmy incense and sweetest music to the bird of the sun. She never missed one solitary evening's chat in the surgery to exchange her confidences with the enemy who had inveigled her husband into paying him nearly all the money he possessed—the man who strived and contrived by all manner of means to work him out from the position which he had given four thousand silver dollars to obtain. Fellow-conspirator as she was she listened to his schemes for the explosion of her husband's fortunes and fame: his treachery was like honey to her lips, and she strained every nerve to assist in the nefarious work of the destruction of her husband—of him, who, in his generosity, had condoned her improprieties and had suffered in silence her cowardly desertion and her prolonged absences from his side, and who, ever since the night when he had asked her under the sheen of the yellow moon to come home with him and be his wife, bad set himself heart and soul to the work of her delectation—glorying in the sunshine and the love of his children and his home.

1 Worthless. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

2 Uncertain.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

3 Possibly referring to 'Little Tin Gods on Wheels' in Rudyard Kipling's poem Public Waste.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

4 Esau, the son of Isaac. The Bible, Genesis 25:25.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

5 Possibly 'Pour Prendre Congé', meaning to take leave. Jones 1963:317.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

6 On the alert. Jones 1963:327.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

7 Fake or inferior. Green 2005.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]