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of the apothecary received another blow which he did not stomach so easily as the wound to his amour propre.
REUBEN'S RECOVERY AND THE JOY IT OCCASIONED.
“ The young incendiary !” said the Vicar, when he heard of the events at Westbury.
Mrs. Reeves was slow at writing and walking, but she had employed the parish clerk to write to Underwood, and had thus informed Reuben's parents of his serious illness and the causes that led to it. The same letter mentioned that the best medical advice in the neighbourhood had been provided, which was that of a Doctor Page, who turned out to be an old acquaintance of Mr. Medlicott's.
The Vicar was unable to leave home at the time, owing to the
pressure of his pastoral duties, so the anxious mother determined to set out immediately. While she was making her little preparations, Mr. Pigwidgeon dropped in, and no sooner did he hear of Reuben's illness, and Mrs. Medlicott's intended journey, than he proffered the services of his son to accompany her to Westbury, and save the expense of a regular physician. The escort would have been extremely agreeable, but with all Mrs. Medlicott's high opinion of her friend Theodore, her regard for her son was too strong to allow her to think seriously for a moment of the latter part of the apothecary's proposal. It placed her, however, in a difficulty, which she tried to evade by thanking the father, and saying that “the company of Theodore would no doubt be a great comfort to her on the road.”
“ And a greater comfort to you,” said Pigwidgeon, when you come to the end of your journey."
“ What do you allude to ?” asked the Vicar, who just came in at the moment and only heard the last words.
Mrs. Medlicott repeated the offer which the apothecary had so kindly made.
“ It will save you some guineas, let me tell you,” said Pigwidgeon, accompanying the coarse speech with an equally coarse action, a little punch under the ribs with his forefinger.
The words and the action together made the Vicar forget himself for a moment, and he thanked Mr. Pigwidgeon in a manner so little gracious that it provoked from that gentleman a still less becoming observation on the slight to his son's medical skill, which he said he could not but take as a slight to himself. The Vicar replied as softly as he could that it was nonsense to say he had offered a slight to either father or son; at all events he had meant to do no such thing; he felt that Mr. Pigwidgeon's proposition was a very kind one, but he could not think of putting his son to the trouble and expense of such a journey, particularly as Reuben was fortunately already in the hands of a very skilful local physician, his old friend Dr. Page.
Directly the Vicar named this gentleman he saw that it had the same effect upon the apothecary that oil has upon
fire. Mr. Pigwidgeon had evidently some bitter personal enmity to the physician of Westbury, for he lost the command of his temper when he was mentioned, and went away in high dudgeon, saying as he went “that his son Theodore, although he had not got his diploma, had more knowledge in his little finger than a whole college of Dr. Pages; he called Page twenty quacks and mountebanks; vowed he would not trust him with the life of a kitten, much less the life of one of his children; but he had done his duty, and now he washed his hands of it."
This was a favourite phrase with Pigwidgeon, and nobody could hear him use it, without wishing him to perform the operation literally, for his hands always looked as if they required washing extremely, though this was in some measure owing to the colour of the skin which was precisely that which arises from a chronic neglect of soap and water.
Mrs. Medlicott left the Vicarage that night, not even taking a maid with her, for she was not one of those women who can do nothing for themselves, and the Vicar's small means made even a small increase of expense a matter of serious consideration. At starting she was the only inside passenger, but the coach stopped at Mrs. Winning's gate and took in two gentlemen. Mrs. Medlicott recognised neither of them; indeed it was too dark to distinguish their faces, even if they had been old acquaintances. They were polite to her; left the best seat to her exclusive occupation, but only conversed with one another. They had been laughing before they entered the coach, and they were still in the same vein, whatever it was that diverted them, and this was not very long a secret from their fair fellow traveller, for the elder said to the younger
“Of all the preposterous marriages I ever heard of, this of Dean Wyndham is the most preposterous. There is an account of it in the Times' of yesterday, copied from the ‘Hereford Express'—why the Dean must be near seventy.”
“ So they say."
“I have often met him, but I can't say I know him; he keeps fellows like me at an awful distance. There was a grandson of his at Finchley, a great friend of mine. We were all intimate with those Barsacs. Your nephew George, Primrose, Medlicott, and myself, were invited to all their balls ;—but you have not heard the most amusing circumstance about the marriage in question.”
“Medlicott, I hear, was in love with the girl who turned out to be his grandfather's flame, and who is now of course his grandmother.”
" The girl herself may have behaved indiscreetly, but I have no doubt my susceptible friend acted as sentimental and soft a part as possible.”
“ With his grandfather's example before his eyes, what less could he do ?”
“ Yet Medlicott is a very clever and promising fellow; too clever in fact; 'tis almost the only fault he has.”
“ He takes that from his mother. Do you know her ? Very blue, I am told.”
« Blue as Minerva," said the younger.
Here Reuben's mother, who had been listening to the dialogue with the greatest interest and curiosity, gave a little cough, which whether intended to be admonishing or not, had the effect of recalling the attention of her companions to her presence, and suggesting the imprudence of carrying their personal remarks further. Indeed the conversation ceased at this point; the elder gentleman (who was Sir John de Tabley, uncle to the young epicure of Finchley) drew out a sort of travelling night-cap and sank into his corner where he soon fell asleep. Henry Winning who sat opposite the lady, folded his arms and probably courted repose also. In a few minutes Mrs. Medlicott was the only waking person of the three; she would probably not have slept a great deal under any circumstances, but in addition to her former anxieties about Reuben, the conversation she had just heard gave her fresh grounds of uneasiness upon his account. Towards morning, however, she yielded a little to slumber herself, for maternal solicitude will sometimes nod as well as the father of poetry, and when she awoke she was the only passenger in the coach. She reached Westbury greatly fatigued, on the evening of the second day of her journey, from which it may safely be inferred that England was not covered with railways at the period of our story, as it is in the days we live in.
Reuben was still seriously ill, but had already been pronounced out of danger. The sleep in which his mother found him, when she first entered his room, would alone have satisfied her that he had got through the worst of the attack. She knelt down at the side of his bed, and thanked Heaven for his preservation ; then went down to the library to write immediately to her husband, and in the library she found Dr. Page. He was standing gazing at the circles and figures which still remained on the floor where Reuben had traced them, and Mrs. Reeves was at his elbow making an ineffectual attempt to explain the doctrines of judicial astrology.
As Mrs. Medlicott was accustomed to country doctors, she was less surprised at Dr. Page's exterior than if she had spent her life in London. You might have taken him for a farmer, or a horsejockey, but he was as little like a doctor as possible, unless indeed the veterinary art was his branch of the profession. He was a short, florid, confident man, with a good expression of countenance, but forward and blunt manners; it was his dress, however, that would have led you astray as to his profession, for he wore a short green coat with gilt buttons, waistcoat and breeches of white cord, a crimson silk cravat, and gaiters of yellow buckskin which came up to his knees—a costume which nobody surely would adopt at a masquerade if he intended to impersonate a physician. However, as “honour peereth through the meanest habit,” so do knowledge and skill through any habiliments, however singular; and Dr. Page had not been five minutes in company with Mrs. Medlicott before he convinced her that he was a man of sense and experience, whose confidence in himself was not without good grounds, though perhaps a little too ostentatious.
“ Madam,” said Page, making a low and too flourishing obeisance to the lady as she entered, “I should have been most happy to have saved you the fatigue of your long journey, but that was out of my power. I did my best, with the assistance of
Mrs. Reeves, to make your trouble superfluous, but you won't be displeased with us for that, particularly when I have the pleasure of adding that we have succeeded in our endeavours, and that your amiable, talented, and accomplished son has decidedly turned the corner.
“Believe me, sir,” said Mrs. Medlicott, “my husband and I will never forget your services to our dear boy upon this occasion. Under Heaven we are indebted to you for his life ; but unless I could make you conceive all a mother's feelings, I should fail to convey all a mother's gratitude.”
“I have had the greater pleasure,” replied the Doctor, “ in affording your son the benefit of such little skill as I
possess, because, from what Mrs. Reeves informs me, I am inclined to believe that I had formerly the pleasure of enjoying his father's friendship."
“My husband was struck by the name of Page,” said Mrs. Medlicott; “I am delighted indeed to find that you are his old acquaintance and schoolfellow.”
“Yes, ma'am,” rejoined the rural doctor, “Page and Medlicott were Pylades and Orestes ; his vocation was the cure of souls, mine was the cure of bodies; we took different courses; he sailed east, and I sailed west; but he was the wiser fellow of the two, for he had the sense and the taste to pick up a companion on his voyage, and I must say he could not have made a discreeter choice."
Mrs. Medlicott was too weary to do more than smile languidly in reply to this, while she threw herself into the nearest chair. The Doctor took the hint, became practical in a moment, apologised for having kept her standing so long, prescribed a cup of tea and an early bed, and after giving some brief directions to Mrs. Reeves, made another flourishing bow and took his leave for
It was a short illness, but a tedious convalescence. Several weeks elapsed before Reuben's strength was restored even enough to enable him to walk down with his mother to the farm-yard, and give her the details of the conflagration. The Dean had gone to Switzerland immediately after his wedding. He was at Frankfort when the news reached him of the memorable manner in which his grandson had celebrated his nuptials; and whether it was that distance made him less sensitive to the loss he sustained, or that his young wife softened his feelings, or that the damage was covered by a fair insurance, he surprised everybody by the patience with which he bore the consequences of Reuben's indiscretion.