Bessy Rane A Novel
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MRS. HENRY WOOD.
"EAST LYNNE," "THE CHANNINGS," "JOHNNY LUDLOW," ETC.
RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON,
Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.
(All rights reserved.)
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.
|I.||The Anonymous Letter.|
|III.||In Mrs. Gass's Parlour.|
|IV.||Alone with the Truth.|
|VI.||Watching the Funeral.|
|VII.||After the Funeral.|
|VIII.||Madam's Listening Closet.|
|IX.||In Lawyer Dale's Office.|
|X.||Put to his Conscience..|
|XI.||A Quiet Wedding.|
|I.||What was, and what might be.|
|II.||Mrs. Gass amid the Workmen.|
|IV.||Three Letters for Dr. Rane.|
|VII.||Love among the Roses.|
|IX.||At the Seaside.|
|X.||A Last Proposal.|
|XI.||Under the Cedar-tree.|
|XIV.||What Jelly saw.|
|XVI.||In the Churchyard.|
|XVII.||At Sir Nash Bohun's.|
|XIX.||Coming Home to Die.|
|XX.||Richard North's Revelation.|
|XXI.||Under the Same Roof.|
|XXIII.||Jelly's Two Evening Visits.|
|XXIV.||Mischief brewing in North Inlet.|
|XXV.||Days of Pain.|
|XXVI.||Mrs. Gass at Home.|
|XXVIII.||Coming very Near.|
|XXIX.||In the Shrubbery.|
|XXX.||Lying in Wait.|
|XXXI.||Disturbing the Grave.|
|XXXII.||A Night Expedition.|
|I.||In Grosvenor Place.|
|III.||Brought Home to him.|
THE ANONYMOUS LETTER.
It was an intensely dark night. What with the mist that hung aroundfrom below, and the unusual gloom above, Dr. Rane began to think hemight have done well to bring a lantern with him, to guide his stepsup Ham Lane, when he should turn into it. He would not be able tospare time to pick his way there. A gentleman--so news had beenbrought to him--was lying in sudden extremity, and his services as amedical man were being waited for.
Straight down, on the road before him, at only half-a-mile distance,lay the village of Dallory; so called after the Dallory family, whohad been of importance in the neighbourhood in the years gone by. Thislittle off-shoot was styled Dallory Ham. The latter name had givenrise to disputes amidst antiquarians. Some maintained that the wordHam was only a contraction of hamlet, and that the correct name wouldbe Dallory Hamlet: others asserted that the appellation arose from thecircumstance that the public green, or common, was in the shape of aham. As both sides brought logic and irresistible proof to bear ontheir respective opinions, contention never flagged. At no very remoteperiod the Ham had been a grassy waste, given over to stray donkeys,geese, and gipsies. They were done away with now that houses encircledit; pretty villas of moderate dimensions, some cottages and a fewshops: the high-road ran, as it always had done, straight through themiddle of it. Dallory Ham had grown to think itself of importance,especially since the time when two doctors had established themselvesin it: Dr. Rane and Mr. Alexander. Both lived in what might be calledthe neck of the Ham, which was nearest to Dallory proper.
Standing with your face towards Dallory (in the direction the doctorwas hastening), his house was on the right-hand side. He had only nowturned out of it. Dallory Hall, to which place Dr. Rane had beensummoned, stood a little beyond the entrance to the Ham, lying back onthe right in its grounds, and completely hidden by trees. It wasinhabited by Mr. North.
Oliver Rane had come forth in haste and commotion. He could notunderstand the message, excepting the one broad fact that EdmundNorth, Mr. North's eldest son, was supposed to be dying. The servant,who brought it, did not seem to understand it either. He spoke of ananonymous letter that had been received by Mr. North, of disturbancethereupon, of a subsequent encounter--a sharp, brief quarrel--betweenEdmund North and Mr. Alexander, the surgeon; and of some sort of fitin which Edmund North was now lying senseless.
Dr. Rane was a gentlemanly man of middle height and slender frame, hisage about thirty. The face in its small regular features might havebeen held to possess a dash of effeminacy, but for the resolutecharacter of the firm mouth and the pointed chin. His eyes--rather tooclose together--whiskers and hair, were of a reddish brown, the latterworn brushed aside from the forehead; his teeth were white and even:altogether a good-looking man; but one of rather too silent manners,of too inscrutable a countenance to be very pleasing.
"An anonymous letter!" Dr. Rane had repeated to himself, with a sortof groan, hastening from his house as one greatly startled, andpursued his course down the Ham. Glancing across at Mr. Alexander'shouse, he felt a momentary temptation to go over and learnparticulars--if, haply, the surgeon should be at home. The messengerhad said that Mr. Alexander flung out of Dallory Hall in a passion,right in the middle of the quarrel; hence the summons for Dr. Rane.For Mr. Alexander, not Dr. Rane, was the Hall's medical attendant:this was the first time the latter had been so called upon.
They had come to Dallory within a day of each other, these twodoctors, in consequence of the sudden death of its old practitioner;each hoping to secure the practice for himself. It was Mr. Alexanderwho chiefly gained it. Both were clever men; and it might have been atleast an even race between them, but for the fact that Mrs. North, ofDallory Hall, set her face resolutely against Dr. Rane. The reason wasinexplicable, since he had been led to believe that he should have thecountenance of Mr. and Mrs. North. She did her best in a covert way toprevent his obtaining practice, pushing his rival--whom she reallydespised, and did not care a tittle for--into favour. Her object mightnot be to drive Oliver Rane from the spot, but it certainly seemed tolook like it. So Mr. Alexander had obtained the lion's share of thepractice in the best families, Dr. Rane but little; as to the poor,they were divided between them pretty equally. Both acted as generalpractitioners, and Mr. Alexander dispensed his own medicines. Therivals were outwardly cordial with each other; but Dr. Rane, no doubt,felt an inward smart at his want of success.
The temptation to dash over to Mr. Alexander's passed with thethought; there was no time for it. Dr. Rane pursued his course untilhe came to Ham Lane, an opening on the right, into which he turned,for it was a nearer way to the Hall. A narrow lane, green and lovelyin early summer, with wild flowers nestling on its banks, dog-rosesand honeysuckles clustering in its hedges. Here was the need of thelantern. But Dr. Rane sped on without regard to inadvertent stepsthat might land him in the ditch. Some excitement appeared to be uponhim, far beyond any that might arise from the simple fact of beingcalled out to a gentleman in a fit; yet he was by temperament veryself-possessed, one of the calmest-mannered men living. A stile in thehedge on the left, which he found as if by instinct, took him at onceinto the grounds of Dallory Hall; whence there came wafting to him thescent of hyacinths, daffodils, and other spring flowers in delicioussweetness, spite of the density of the night-air. Not that Dr. Ranederived much advantage from the sweetness; nothing could seemdelicious to him just then.
It was more open here, as compared with the lane, and not so intenselydark. Three minutes of the same heedless pace in and out of thewinding walks, when he turned a point, and the old stone mansion wasbefore him. A long, grey, sensible-looking house, of only two storieshigh, suggesting spacious rooms within. Lights shone from some of thewindows and through the fan-light over the entrance-door. One of thegardeners crossed Dr. Rane's path.
"Is that you, Williams? Do you know how young Mr. North is?"
"I've not been told, sir. There's something wrong with him, we hear."
"Is this blight?" called back the doctor, alluding to the curiouslydark mist.
"Not it, sir. It's nothing but the vapour rising from the day's heat.It have been hot for the first day o' May."
The door yielded to Dr. Rane's hand, and he went into the hallit was of fair size, and paved with stone. On the left were thedrawing-rooms, on the right the dining-room, and also a room that wascalled Mr. North's parlour; a handsome staircase of stone wound up atthe back. All the doors were closed; and as Dr. Rane stood for amoment in hesitation, a young lady in grey silk came swiftly andsilently down the stairs. Her figure was small and slight, her facefair, pale, gentle, with the meekest look in her dove-like grey eyes.Her smooth, fine hair, of an exceedingly light brown, was worn incurls all round the head, after the manner of girls in a bygone time.It made her look very young, but she was in reality thirty years ofage; three months younger than Dr. Rane. Miss North was very simple intastes and habits, and adhered to many customs of her girlhood.Moreover, since an illness seven years ago, her hair had never grownvery long or thick. She saw Dr. Rane, and came swiftly to him. Theirhands met in silence.
"What is this trouble, Bessy?"
"Oh, I am so glad you are here!" she exclaimed, in the soft, subduedtones characteristic of dangerous sickness in a house. "He is lying asthough he were dead. Papa is with him. Will you come?"
"One moment," he whispered. "Tell me, in a word, what it all is. Thecause, I mean, not the illness."
"It was caused by an anonymous letter to papa. Edmund----"
"But how could any anonymous letter to your papa have caused illnessto Edmund?" he interrupted. And the tone of his voice was so sharp,and the dropping of her hand, clasped until then, so sudden, that MissNorth thought he was angry with her, and glanced upwards through hertears.
"I beg your pardon, Bessy. My dear, I feel so grieved and confoundedat this, that I am scarcely myself. It is to me utterlyincomprehensible. What were the contents of the letter?" he continued,as they hastened upstairs to the sick-chamber. And Bessy North toldhim in a whisper as much as she knew.
The facts of the case were these. By the six o'clock post that sameevening, Mr. North received an anonymous letter, reflecting on his sonEdmund. His first wife, dead now just eight-and-twenty years, had lefthim three children, Edmund, Richard, and Bessy. When the letterarrived, the family had sat down to dinner, and Mr. North did not openit until afterwards. He showed it to his son Edmund, as soon as theywere left alone. The charges it contained were true, and Edmund Northjumped to the conclusion that only one man in the whole world couldhave written it, and that was Alexander, the surgeon. He went into afrightful passion; he was given to doing so on occasions; and he had,besides, taken rather more wine at dinner than was good for him--whichalso he was somewhat addicted to. As ill fate had it, Mr. Alexandercalled just at the moment, and Mr. North, a timid man in nervoushealth, grew frightened at the torrent of angry words, and left themtogether in the dining-room. There was a short, sharp storm. Mr.Alexander came out almost immediately, saying, "You are mad; you aremad. I will talk to you when you are calmer." "I would rather be madthan bad," shouted Edmund North, coming after him. But the surgeon hadalready let himself out at the hall-door; and Edmund North went backto the dining-room, and shut himself in. Two of the servants,attracted by the sounds of dispute, had been lingering in the hall,and they saw and heard this. In a few minutes