Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

appear, in producing a favourable impression on the ruffians about him. As I understand it, they began by respecting his courage in venturing among them alone; and they ended in discovering that he was really interested in promoting their welfare. It is to the other peril, indicated in my last letter, that he has fallen a victim—the peril of disease. Not long after he began his labours in the district fever broke out. We only heard that Julian had been struck down by the epidemic when it was too late to remove him from the lodging that he occupied in the neighbourhood. I made enquiries personally the moment the news reached us. The doctor in attendance refused to answer for his life.

'In this alarming state of things, poor Lady Janet, impulsive and unreasonable as usual, insisted on leaving Mablethorpe House and taking up her residence near her nephew.

'Finding it impossible to persuade her of the folly of removing from home and its comforts at her age, I felt it my duty to accompany her. We found accommodation (such as it was) in a riverside inn, used by ship-captains and commercial travellers. I took it on myself to provide the best medical assistance; Lady Janet's insane prejudices against doctors impelling her to leave this important part of the arrangements entirely in my hands.

'It is needless to weary you by entering into details on the subject of Julian's illness.

'The fever pursued the ordinary course, and was characterised by the usual intervals of delirium and exhaustion succeeding each other. Subsequent events,

which it is, unfortunately, necessary to relate to you, leave me no choice but to dwell (as briefly as possible) on the painful subject of the delirium. In other cases, the wanderings of fever-stricken people present, I am told, a certain variety of range. In Julian’s case they were limited to one topic. He talked incessantly of Mercy Merrick. His invariable petition to his medical attendants entrcated them to send for her to nurse him. Day and night that one idea was in his mind, and that one name on his lips. ‘ The doctors naturally made enquiries as to this absent person. I was obliged (in confidence) to state the circumstances to them plainly. ‘The eminent physician whom I had called in to superintend the treatment behaved admirably. Though he has risen from the lower order of the people, he has, strange to say, the instincts of a gentleman. He thoroughly understood our trying position, and felt all the importance of preventing such a person as Mercy Merrick from seizing the opportunity of intruding herself at the bedside. A soothing prescription (I have his own authority for saying it) was all that was required to meet the patient’s case. The local doctor, on the other hand, a young man ~and evidently a red-hot Radical), proved to be obstinate, and, considering his position, insolent as well. “ I have nothing to do with the lady’s character and with your opinion of it,” he said to me. “ I have only, to the best of my judgment, to point out to you the likeliest m.eans of saving the patient’s life. Our art is at the end of its resources. Send for Mercy Merrick, no matter who she is or what

Lady Janet's persuasion is backed by the opening of Lady Janet's purse. In one word—Settlements! But for the profanity of the woman's language, and the really lamentable credulity of the poor old lady, the whole thing would make a fit subject for a burlesque.

'But the saddest part of the story is still to come.

* In due course of time, the lady's decision was communicated to Julian Gray. He took leave of his senses on the spot. Can you believe it ?—he has resigned his curacy! At a time when the church is thronged every Sunday to hear him preach, this madman shuts the door and walks out of the pulpit. Even Lady Janet was not far enough gone in folly to abet him in this. She remonstrated, like the rest of his friends. Perfectly useless I He had but one answer to everything they could say: "My career is closed." What stuff!

'You will ask, naturally enough, what this perverse man is going to do next. I don't scruple to say that he is bent on committing suicide. Pray do not be alarmed! There is no fear of the pistol, the rope, or the river. Julian is simply courting death—within the limits of the law.

'This is strong language, I know. You shall hear what the facts are, and judge for yourself.

'Having resigned his curacy, his next proceeding was to offer his services, as volunteer, to a new missionary enterprise on the West Coast of Africa. The persons at the head of the Mission proved, most fortunately, to have a proper sense of their duty. Expressing their conviction of the value of Julian's assistance in the most handsome terms, they made it nevertheless a condition of entertaining his proposal that he should submit to examination by a competent medical man. After some hesitation he consented to this. The doctor's report was conclusive. In Julian's present state of health the climate of West Africa would in all probability kill him in three months' time.

'Foiled in his first attempt, he addressed himself next to a London Mission. Here, it was impossible to raise the question of climate: and here, I grieve to say, he has succeeded.

'He is now working—in other words, he is now deliberately risking his life—in the Mission to Green Anchor Fields. The district known by this name is situated in a remote part of London, near the Thames. It is notoriously infested by the most desperate and degraded set of wretches in the whole metropolitan population; and it is so thickly inhabited that it is hardly ever completely free from epidemic disease. In this horrible place, and among these dangerous people, Julian is now employing himself from morning to night. None of his old friends ever see him. Since he joined the Mission he has not even called on Lady Janet Roy.

'My pledge is redeemed—the facts are before you. Am I wrong in taking my gloomy view of the prospect? I cannot forget that this unhappy man was once my friend; and I really see no hope for him in the future. Deliberately self-exposed to the violence of ruffians and the outbreak of disease, who is to extricate him from his shocking position? The one person who can do it is the person whose association with him would be his ruin—Mercy Merrick. Heaven only knows what disasters it may be my painful duty to communicate to you in my next letter!

'You are so kind as to ask me to tell you something about myself and my plans.

'I have very little to say on either head. After what I have suffered—my feelings trampled on, my confidence betrayed—I am as yet hardly capable of deciding what I shall do. Returning to my old profession—to the army—is out of the question, in these levelling days, when any obscure person who can pass an examination may call himself my brother officer, and may one day perhaps command me as my superior in rank. If I think of any career, it is the career of diplomacy. Birth and breeding have not quite disappeared as essential qualifications in that branch of the public service. But I have decided nothing as yet.

'My mother and sisters, in the event of your returning to England, desire me to say that it will afford them the greatest pleasure to make your acquaintance. Sympathising with me, they do not forget what you too have suffered. A warm welcome awaits you when you pay your first visit at our house.

'Most truly yours,

'HORACE HOLMCROFT.'

« AnteriorContinuar »