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“If it had been the library,” said the Dean, “I never should have forgiven him."
This was the harshest observation he made, or, at least, the harshest that was reported in England. From one of Mrs. Wyndham's letters, it appeared that he was sometimes even jocular upon the subject, and observed that his grandson had very early begun to illuminate the world.
If Mrs. Medlicott was not surprised at the popularity of Reuben with everybody at Westbury, it must at all events have delighted her. Wherever she went she heard nothing but the praises of his amiable disposition, and his various talents and accomplishments. She received congratulations from everybody on being the mother of such a clever son. It was the universal opinion that there had never been such a wonderful patient, such a wonderful fever, or such a wonderful recovery. carpenter and the sentimental glazier took care to throw themselves in her way, and give vent to their feelings; while Dorothy, the gardener's daughter, with her flowers and fruits, Jenny of the dairy, with her creams, and Molly, the sub-henwife, with her new-laid eggs, more than satisfied Mrs. Medlicott that Reuben stood as well as it was desirable that any young man should stand with his fellow creatures of the softer sex. Finally, Dr. Page pronounced the highest possible eulogium upon our accomplished hero,
“Madam,” said he to Mrs. Medlicott, “ until I knew your son, I always thought myself a cleverer man than my patients, but, by Jove, since I have attended him, I have come to the conclusion that the patient is a cleverer fellow than the doctor. He talks like an angel, ma'am ; by Jove he does. He'll astonish the world some of those days."
“I do so wish you were settled in our neighbourhood, Dr. Page,” replied the gratified mother.
“You would see a great deal of me at the Vicarage, madam, if I were,” replied the Doctor. “We could never see too much, sir,” said the lady; “but
perhaps, when my husband comes to take us home, which, now that Reuben is so strong, will be in a few days, he will be able to induce you to accompany us back to Underwood, and pay us a short visit.”
" That I shall do with pleasure, madam,” said the Doctor; “but until your husband arrives, I must insist upon your being my guest, for I perceive that the painters are approaching this
side of the house, and the smell of the paint would not accelerate my young friend's recovery."
“ We are very thankful to you, indeed,” said Mrs. Medlicott.
“ Not at all,” said Page, “ I am only prescribing sweet air for you; you will find my bachelor's house fresh and clean at all events; only tell your son not to expect such a library as he has here, for I have only three books in the world,-a Bible, a Shakspeare, and the Pharmocopoeia.”
A BOLD STROKE FOR A DINNER.-HOW THE APOTIIECARY GOT BACK TO
THE VICARAGE, AND HOW HE TURNED THE VICAR OUT OF IT.
Mrs. Medlicott had very little notion of the state of things at the Vicarage when she was inviting Dr. Page to pay
her The Pigwidgeons seemed to have been placed by Providence in the parish of Underwood to be the plague of the Vicar's life; for as to his wife she was no more to be pitied than people in general are who bring their own troubles on themselves.
For a considerable time after his wife left him the Vicar saw little or nothing of his friend the apothecary. In nourishing his resentment so long, Mr. Pigwidgeon was probably not more influenced by his wounded feelings, than by the consideration that during the serious illness of Reuben, and the absence of the mother of the family, there was likely to be a suspension, or at least a marked diminution of the good cheer which no man loved better than he did, when it was not at his own expense. Once or twice during this period, Mr. Medlicott met Pigwidgeon about the neighbourhood accompanied by two dumpy red-faced daughters of his, treasures which the Vicar knew the apothecary possessed, for he had christened them, but he had scarcely ever seen them since that ceremony, the young ladies having been at an economical school in Yorshire, from which they were now just returned. Nothing could well be colder than Mr. Pigwidgeon was upon these occasions; his voice was husky when he enquired for Reuben, and he looked as bitter as if it would have been a satisfaction to him to have heard of some serious mistake made by Dr. Page in his treatment of the case. The Vicar was, indeed, beginning to think that the breach was irreparable ; sometimes he would reproach himself with having unnecessarily wounded the self-love of an old acquaintance; then again he would sum up, as he worked in his garden, or sat at his solitary meals, the advantages and disadvantages of Mr. Pigwidgeon's friendship, the balance being always of a nature to console him under the apprehension of having offended past reconciliation.
While he was musing on this very point one morning after his breakfast, walking about his garden, he heard a smart tap at the green door in the hedge. Opening it with reasonable haste, he found that his visitor was the Rural Dean of his district, who was on his tour of inspection, and who made it a rule to dine at Underwood whenever he came there—a rule which Mr. Barber extended to most of the parsonages which he visited in his peregrinations. The Vicar was a hospitable little fellow to the extent of his means, even when he was in mental trouble, as he was at present; accordingly, after the transaction of some trifling business with Mr. Barber, he went through the usual and expected formality of inviting him to dinner, adding that there was a bed for him also, if it would suit his convenience to accept it. These preliminaries settled, Mr. Medlicott begged his guest to excuse him during a short absence, and after warning his cook-maid that increased activity would be necessary that day in her province, he sallied forth into the village to provide the things needful, and to pick up, if he could, a couple more guests to make the party a square one. He had not gone far before he met one of the churchwardens, a farmer of the better class, with whom he was on friendly terms, and he booked him without much difficulty, for the farmer having a termagant wife never spent an evening at home when he could avoid it. Now, if only a fourth could be found, all would be right. The Vicar first called on the lawyer of the village, but he was engaged to an election dinner at Chichester.
“That's unlucky,” said Mr. Medlicott.
“Very unlucky for me," said the lawyer, “I would a thousand times rather dine with your reverence upon bacon and beans than with those noisy fellows in Chichester upon turtle and venison.”
The Vicar was a simple man, but he did not implicitly believe this strong assertion nevertheless. However, he thanked the lawyer for the civil speech, and proceeded elsewhere in search of what he wanted. It is highly probable there were several people that morning in the parish who would gladly have profited by Mr. Medlicott's hospitable intentions, had it pleased Providence to throw them in his way, but it was otherwise ordered; so that the Vicar at length made up his mind for an odd number, and turned his attention to the necessary provision for them. Attended by a boy carrying a hand-basket, he went to and fro in the village, until the basket was nearly as full as it could conveniently hold of the various articles which he considered proper for a plain, substantial, pastoral dinner, and which his own small farm did not supply. During these marketing transactions he had to pass and
repass the apothecary's house repeatedly, but the numerous phials in the windows, with the coloured globes, would have prevented him from distinguishing anybody in the shop, had he been ever so desirous to do so. The same obstructions, however, did not prevent Mr. Pigwidgeon from accurately observing every motion of the Vicar; and he observed them the more accurately on account of the contents of the basket, which became more interesting every moment, as they increased in variety and bulk. The basket, indeed, was of such a construction as to afford too clear a view of the good things deposited in it, amongst which a fat goose and a leg of Southdown mutton fascinated the apothe cary particularly. There must certainly be something in good cheer and hospitable preparations, which melts the human heart and disposes it to kindly feelings, for unquestionably the good Vicar with his basket of provisions had not passed more than two or three times before Mr. Pigwidgeon's, when his breast began wonderfully to relent towards his old friend, and he commenced examining himself for the first time, whether he had not been too hasty in taking huff at a hasty word, uttered too at a moment when the poor Vicar was agitated by the news of his only child's dangerous illness. In a very few moments (so rapidly did the ice melt when the thaw had once set in), the apothecary had so far got the better of the paltry little grudge which he had been cherishing towards the Medlicotts, that he felt not only prepared to resume convivial relations with them, but actually conceived the idea of seizing the earliest opportunity of putting that truly Christian principle into practice. In short, he figured to himself a charming little love-feast, consisting of the fat goose and the joint of Southdown which he had seen, eked out with other toothsome additions which he was well able to fancy. In this tender frame of mind he made the circuit of his counter, displayed his slovenly person at his shop-door just as the Vicar went out of sight, returning home after completing his purchases. There the apothecary stood musing for nearly a quarter of an hour, leaning against one of the posts, debating with himself what steps he should take, and also whether the dinner in contemplation was to be given that very day, or on some succeeding one. At length a sudden thought seemed to seize him, for he withdrew hastily, and appeared instantly again with his broad-brimmed, slouched white hat on. Beyond a doubt (judging from his wellknown habits) he was going to the butcher's or the poulterer's to file a bill of discovery to ascertain the day fixed for the cooking of the goose and the mutton. But a certain phenomenon of a meteoric kind, partly terrestrial and partly celestial, saved him the trouble of making the inquiry. This was a spiral column of deep blue smoke which began at that very moment to ascend over the trees in the direction of the Vicarage, the bearings of which the apothecary knew as well as if he had taken an Ordnance survey of the parish. Nay, he knew the smoke at once to be that of the kitchen chimney, so nice an observer was he, for this was not the first time that similar indications over the same trees had determined his course of proceedings for the day. No time was to be lost. Mr. Pigwidgeon struck a bold stroke for a dinner.
The Vicar's dinner-hour was five o'clock, and at a little before four, as he and his brother parson were sauntering about, talking of tithes and dilapidations, and sometimes of better things, he was not a little surprised by the arrival of Mr. Pigwidgeon's apprentice with a present of a fresh trout from that gentleman, accompanied with a message to the effect that he had been prevented by his professional engagements from calling at the Vicarage for some time, but he would look in the first evening he had an hour to spare, as he was most anxious to hear from Mr. Medlicott's own lips the latest account of his son. The Vicar was trapped. There seemed to him no alternative but to accept the present, or como to actual daggers-drawn; and to have eaten the trout without inviting the giver to partake of it would have been against all Mr. Medlicott's notions of the fitness of things. Besides, he bore no ill-will to the apothecary, although inclined to despise him, and finally he wanted somebody to make a fourth at dinner, a point which was the more important in his eyes, as his table was a square one.
Mr. Pigwidgeon was invited, after which it was needless to say that Mr. Pigwidgeon came; and it was something like getting in the end of a wedge, for the apothecary had no sooner