Chapter 7 | Agony Point | The Bag of Diamonds

“Is that all? What a fuss over a little pain!” What many would say to a suffering friend when sound and well themselves. What Richmond Chartley was ready to say to herself as she paced the room, with one hand pressed to her face, where the agonising pain seemed to start as a centre, and then ramify in jerks through every nerve.

Toothache, face-ache, neuralgia, according to fashion, but maddening all the same. A pain born of care and anxiety, close confinement, abstinence, the damp unchanging foggy air, and settled in the face of a heroine, to take, as it were, all the romance of her history.

But there it was all the same, fiercely stabbing, jerking, as if some virulent little demon were holding ends of the facial nerves in a pair of pincers, and waiting till the sufferer was a little calm for a few moments before giving the nerve a savage jig.

After the tug a pause of sickening agony, and then that slow, red-hot suffering again, as if a blunt augur was being made to form a channel beneath the teeth, so that the aching pains, as of hot lead, might run round without let or hindrance.

Neuralgia, with sleepless nights; neuralgia, with Hendon Chartley’s progress at the hospital; neuralgia, with the trouble about Janet; neuralgia, with James Poynter’s coarse vulgar face full of effrontery always before her, flaunting his possessions, his power, and his influence, and staring with parted lips over the words which somehow he had never yet dared to utter, but which sooner or later she knew must come.

Neuralgia, with the constant dread that some day her father would indulge too deeply in the opiate she knew he took every evening; neuralgia, with the constant carking care of the unpaid tradespeople: and, above all, that wearisome agony, mingled with the chilling heartache and those memories of the man from whom she had parted when in his ardent desire he had told her that it was for her sake he was going to leave England, to come back some day a rich man, and ask her to be his wife.

“Dead, dead, dead!” moaned Rich, as she paced the room; “and if I, too, could only be sleeping, for it is more than I can bear!”

But as the words left her lips, she threw her head back, and pressed her long hair from her face.

“What a coward I am!” she cried, “with others looking to me for help, and shrinking from bearing a little pain!”

She hurried to the door, telling herself that there was relief in the surgery for all she suffered; but as she went along the dark passage to the door she felt that there was one only anodyne for the greater pain she bore.

As she slowly approached there was a quick scuffing noise, a dull rattle as of something falling, and the loud closing of a heavy lid; then, as she opened the door, she found Bob turning to meet her with an innocent smile upon his face, while he was uttering a low humming noise, as if he were practising the art of imitating a musical bee.

“What have you been doing, Bob?” said Rich hastily.

“Me, Miss? Doing?” said the boy wonderingly. “I ain’t a-been doing nothing. ’Tain’t likely, ’mong all these here dangerous thinks;” and Bob waved his hand round the surgery, as if indicating the bottles and specimen jars.

“Because you have been warned frequently, sir, not to meddle.”

“Course I have, Miss, and I wouldn’t do no harm.”

“Is my father asleep?”

“Jist like a top, Miss. He took his drops, and he’s lying on the sofy, sleeping beautiful. You can hear him breathe if you come and put your ear to the keyhole.”

“No, no,” said Rich hastily; but, all the same, she walked quickly to the consulting-room door, and opened it softly, to look in and see across the table, with its chemical apparatus, the light of the shaded lamp thrown upon the calm, placid, handsome face, as the doctor lay back on the couch, taking his drug-bought rest according to his nightly custom.

Rich sighed and walked right in, the door closing behind her as she crossed the room, and stood gazing down, her head bent, and handy clasped, while for the moment she forgot her nerve-pains, and the tears started to her eyes.

“Poor father!” she sighed; “always so kind and gentle in spite of all. How do I know what he may suffer beneath the mask he wears?”

She thought of the prosperity they had once enjoyed, the many patients who came, and how, in this very room, as a child, he used to play with her long curling hair, while she, with childlike delight, emptied the little wooden bowl, and counted how many guineas papa had received that morning.

She recalled, too, the carriage in which she had sat waiting, while he, the handsome young doctor, had made his calls upon rich patients; and then, like a cloud, came creeping up the memories of the gradual decline of his practice, as he had devoted himself more and more to the dream of his life—this discovery of a vital fluid which should repair the waste of all disease, and with the indulgence in his chimera came the poverty and despair.

“Poor father!” she sighed again, bending down and kissing the broad white forehead; “there has never been anything between us but love.”

She rose slowly, went to a corner where a faded old dressing-gown hung upon a chair, and this she softly laid over the sleeping man, gazed at the fire, which was burning brightly, and then stole away with the agonising pang, forgotten for the moment, sweeping back, and seeming to drive her mad.

“I see yer a-kissing of him, Miss,” said Bob, grinning, as she closed the door.

Rich turned upon him angrily; but the boy was looking dreamily towards the doctor, and rubbing his shock head of hair.

“Don’t he look niste when he’s asleep like that? There ain’t such a good-looking gent nowhere’s about here as our master.”

There was so much genuine admiration in the boy’s tones that the angry look gave place to one of half amusement, half pity.

“I’ve often wondered whether if ever I’d had a father, he’d ha’ been like the doctor, Miss. Ain’t yer proud on him?”

“Yes, Bob, yes,” she cried, laying her hand upon the boy’s shoulder, while a strange sensation of depression, as of impending trouble, came over her, making her forget everything, and hardly notice the next act of the boy.

It is hardly fair to say that Bob’s hands were dirty, but they were very coarse in grain, and discoloured, the nails were worn down, and the fingers were blue with chilblains where they were not red with the chaps which roughened them; and those were the hands which took hold of Rich’s and held it for a few moments against the boy’s cheek; while he rubbed the said cheek softly against the smooth palm, his bright eyes looking up at her as a spaniel might at its mistress. In fact, there was something dog-like and fawning in the ways of the lad, till the hand was drawn away.

“So’m I proud on him, Miss. He is a good ’un. For it’s like ’evin being here. Why, I’ve been here two years now, and he never kicked me once.”

“And used you to be kicked before you came here, Bob?” said Rich, feeling amused, in spite of herself, at the boy’s estimate of true happiness.

“Kicked, Miss? Ha, ha, ha! Why, it was ’most all kicks when it warn’t pots. Old woman never kicked me; but when she’d had a drop, and couldn’t get no more, she was allus cross, and then she’d hit you with what come first—pewter pot, poker, anything, if you didn’t get out of the way.”

Rich’s brow contracted, and then for the moment the pain neutralised that of the mind.

“But she didn’t often hit me,” said Bob, grinning. “I used to get too sharp for her; and she didn’t mean no harm. Want me to do anything, Miss?”

“No, Bob, no,” said Rich, turning away to the shelves, where the bottles stood as in a chemist’s shop. “Poor boy! and the place is to him like heaven!” she thought.

“Want some physic, Miss?” said the boy excitedly; “which on ’em? I knows ’most all on ’em now.”

“I want the belladonna,” said Rich, with her face contracted once more.

“Why, that’s one o’ they little bottles up a-top where they’re all pisons! Whatcher want that for?” said Bob suspiciously. Then, as he read her countenance. “Whatcher got—toothache?”

Rich nodded.

“Here, hold hard! you can’t reach it, Miss. Let me get on a chair. Oh, I say! Let me pull it out.”

The boy’s eager sympathy and desire to afford relief, grotesque as it was, seemed so genuine, so grateful to the lonely girl, that she smiled at her poor coarse companion’s troubled face.

“No, no, Bob,” she said gently.

“Wish I could have it instead,” he cried. “I do, s’elp me!”

“It will be better soon, Bob,” she said, as the boy climbed up and obtained the little stoppered bottle from the top shelf.

“That’s good stuff for it, Miss,” said the boy. “Bottle’s quite clean. I dusted all on ’em yesterday. Here, I know! let me put some on.”

“You, Bob?” said Rich.

“Yes, Miss; I know. I’ve seen the doctor do it twiced to gals as come and wanted him to pull out their teeth, and he wouldn’t. I’ll show yer.”

Bob ran to a drawer and took out a camel-hair pencil, and operated with it dry upon his own face.

“I’ll show yer,” he cried. “You begins just in front o’ the ear and makes a round spot, and then yer goes on right down the cheek and along yer chin, just as if you was trying to paint whiskers. Let me do it, Miss.”

Rich hesitated for a moment, and then sat down and held her face on one side, while the boy carefully painted the place with the tincture, frowning the while and balancing himself upon the tips of his toes.

“Stop a moment, Miss,” cried Bob. “Then he dropped two drops out o’ this here blue bottle on a bit o’ glass, and finished off with it just as you does with gum when you paint a picture.”

Rich watched the boy anxiously as he took down a bottle labelled “Chloroform,” but smiled and submitted patiently as the painting operation was completed.

“Feel better, Miss?” said the boy.

“Not yet, Bob; but I daresay this will do it good. Now put back those bottles, and don’t meddle with them, mind.”

“As if I didn’t know, Miss! Why, I’m up to all the doctor’s dodges now. There ain’t a bottle on any o’ them shelves I ain’t smelled; and look at them things in sperrits,” he continued, pointing to the various preparations standing upon one shelf, the relics of the doctor’s lecturing days. “I knows ’em all by heart. I had to fill ’em with fresh sperrit once.”

Rich turned and smiled at the boy as she reached the door; and then once more the young student was left alone, to go and peep through the keyhole to see if the doctor was fast asleep, and this being so, he ran to the door by the street, turned suddenly with his head on one side, raised his hands with the helpless, appealing gesture of the sick, and walked feebly to the cushioned chest, upon which he sank, with a low moan.

It was a clever piece of acting, studied from nature, and sinking back, he lay for a moment or two sufficiently long for the supposed patient to compose himself, before he assumed another part.

Leaping up, he went on tiptoe to the consulting-room again, peeped to see that all was right, and then, drawing himself up exactly as he had seen the doctor act scores of times, he slowly approached the settee, his face full of smiling interest, and sitting down in a chair beside the imaginary patient, he went through a magnificent piece of pantomime—so good that it was a pity there was no audience present to admire. For Bob had taken the doctor’s glasses from the chimney-piece, put them on, and bent over the patient.

“Put out your tongue,” he said. “Hum—ha! yes! a little foul.”

Then he felt an imaginary pulse, his head on one side, and an imaginary watch in his hand.

“That will do,” he said, returning the imaginary watch to its airy fob. “Now sit up.”

Bob’s ear was applied for a few moments to the phantom patient’s chest.

“Breathe hard. That’s it. Now more fully. Yes. Now a very long breath.”

So real was the proceeding that a spectator would have filled up the void in his mind as Bob changed his position, holding his head now at the patient’s back.

“Hah!” he ejaculated, as he rose. “A little congestion! Stop a moment.”

He fetched a stethoscope from the chimney-piece, but instead of using it at once, proceeded to lay his hand here and there upon his imaginary patient’s breast, and tap the back over and over again.

“Hah!” he ejaculated once more, as he applied his stethoscope now after a most accurate pantomimic unbuttoning of vest and opening of a shirt-front. “Yes, a little congestion!” he said again; and going back to the chimney-piece, he set the stethoscope on end as if it were a little fancy candlestick, took up a morocco case, and unhooking it, extracted therefrom a tiny thermometer, whose bulb he placed beneath his patient’s arm-pit, and he was just about to see to what height the sufferer’s temperature had risen, when there were steps again, and the boy had hardly time to hide the little tester, when the door opened, and, with a wild, dilated look in her eyes, Rich appeared again.

“Get me a small bottle,” she said hastily.

“’Ain’t it no better, Miss?”

“Don’t talk to me!” cried Rich; “the pain is maddening. Is my father still asleep?”

“Yes, Miss; shall I wake him?”

“No, no. The bottle—the bottle!”

The boy hastily took a clean bottle from a drawer, and fitted it with a new cork from another, by which time, with the knowledge of one who had before now made up prescriptions for her father, Rich took down the chloral hydrate, and a graduated glass, pouring out a goodly quantity ready to transfer to the bottle the boy handed her, while he still retained the cork.

This done, Rich returned the chloral hydrate to the shelf, and took down another bottle labelled quin. sulph. sol. From this she poured out a certain quantity, and by the time the glass had shed its last drop, Bob was ready to hand another and larger bottle, which he had taken down with eager haste, as if fearing she would be first.

Rich glanced at it, saw that it was labelled aq. dest., and filled up the medicine-bottle, the boy handing the cork, and then gazing sympathetically in the pain-drawn face before him.

“Hadn’t you better let me take it out, Miss?” he said, but there was no smile in answer—no reply, Rich hurrying away, while the boy listened to her footsteps.

“Ain’t she got it!” he muttered, and he stood listening still, for he heard voices at the end of the passage.

“’Lisbeth,” he said, and there was a knock.

The boy opened the passage door softly, and a voice said.

“I’ve cut you some bread and cheese; it’s on the kitchen table.”

“Goin’ to bed, ’Lisbeth?”

There was a grunt, and the sound of departing steps, while the boy stood gazing along the passage.

“So are you?” he exclaimed, closing the door, “Ain’t she got a temper! I can’t help my old woman coming. ’Tain’t my fault. I shouldn’t turn sulky if it was hern.”

Bob did not go down for a moment, but stood thinking. Then he ran out softly, and down-stairs into the dark kitchen to fetch his supper, which he preferred to eat with the fragrant odours of drugs about him, and seated upon the chest which contained the grisly relics of mortality, and against whose receptacle the boy’s heels softly drummed.

The stale bread and hard Dutch cheese rapidly disappeared, the boy looking very stolid during the process of deglutition. Then his face lit up, and for a space he went through his pantomime again, seeing patients, pocketing their fees, dressing wounds, setting limbs, and, above all, prescribing a medicine which he compounded carefully, and, to give realism to the proceedings, himself took.

It was not an objectionable medicine, being composed of small portions of tartaric acid and soda, dropped into a wineglass which contained so much water, into which had been dropped a little syrup of ginger, afterwards flavoured with orange or lemon.

Tiring of this at last, Bob turned to the settee, whose lid he had opened, and he had lifted out certain anatomical specimens for his farther delectation, when there was a sharp ring at the surgery bell, and an unmistakable sound in the consulting-room—a combination which made the boy leap up, and, quick as lightning, turn out the gas, which projected on its bracket just over the settee.

This done, there was a rapid click or two of bones being replaced, the sound of the closing lid in the darkness, and by the time the consulting-room door as thrown open, and a warm glow of light shone across the surgery, Bob had effected his retreat.

“Lights out?” said the doctor going back from the door, to return directly with a burning spill, when the gas once more illumined the gloomy surgery, and to this the doctor added the ruddy glow of the street lamp, as he opened the door of the little fog-filled lobby, which intervened between him and the street.