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A Simpleton by Charles Reade

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rapidly up and down the dressing-room.

This was quite unusual, and made a noise.

Papa Lusignan thought it inconsiderate; and after a while,
remarking gently that he was not particularly fond of sound, he
proposed they should smoke the pipe of peace on the lawn.

They did so; but after a while, finding that Falcon was not
smoking, he said, "Don't let me detain you. Rosa is alone."

Falcon took the hint, and went to the drawing-room. Rosa met him
on the stairs, with a scarf over her shoulders. "I must speak to
papa," said she. "Where is he?"

"He is on the lawn, dear Rosa," said Falcon, in his most dulcet
tones. He was sure of his ally, and very glad to use him as a
buffer to receive the first shock.

So he went into the drawing-room, where all the lights were
burning, and quietly took up a book. But he did not read a line;
he was too occupied in trying to read his own future.

The mean villain, who is incapable of remorse, is, of all men, most
capable of fear. His villany had, to all appearance, reached the
goal; for he felt sure that all Rosa's struggles would, sooner or
later, succumb to her sense of gratitude and his strong will and
patient temper. But when the victory was won, what a life! He
must fly with her to some foreign country, pursued from pillar to
post by an enraged husband, and by the offended law. And if he
escaped the vindictive foe a year or two, how could he escape that
other enemy he knew, and dreaded--poverty? He foresaw he should
come to hate the woman he was about to wrong, and she would
instantly revenge herself, by making him an exile and, soon or
late, a prisoner, or a pauper.

While these misgivings battled with his base but ardent passion,
strange things were going on out of doors--but they will be best
related in another sequence of events, to which indeed they fairly
belong.

CHAPTER XXIX.

Staines and Mrs. Falcon landed at Plymouth, and went up to town by
the same train. They parted in London, Staines to go down to
Gravesend, Mrs. Falcon to visit her husband's old haunts, and see
if she could find him.

She did not find him; but she heard of him, and learned that he
always went down to Gravesend from Saturday till Monday.

Notwithstanding all she had said to Staines, the actual information
startled her, and gave her a turn. She was obliged to sit down,
for her knees seemed to give way. It was but a momentary weakness.
She was now a wife and a mother, and had her rights. She said to
herself, "My rogue has turned that poor woman's head long before
this, no doubt. But I shall go down and just bring him away by the
ear."

For once her bitter indignation overpowered every other sentiment,
and she lost no time, but late as it was went down to Gravesend,
ordered a private sitting-room and bedroom for the night, and took
a fly to Kent Villa.

But Christopher Staines had the start of her. He had already gone
down to Gravesend with his carpet-bag, left it at the inn, and
walked to Kent Villa that lovely summer night, the happiest husband
in England.

His heart had never for one instant been disturbed by Mrs. Falcon's
monstrous suspicion; he looked on her as a monomaniac; a sensible
woman insane on one point, her husband.

When he reached the villa, however, he thought it prudent to make
sure that Falcon had come to England at all, and discharged his
commission. He would not run the risk, small as he thought it, of
pouncing unexpected on his Rosa, being taken for a ghost, and
terrifying her, or exciting her to madness.

Now the premises of Kent Villa were admirably adapted to what they
call in war a reconnaissance. The lawn was studded with
laurestinas and other shrubs that had grown magnificently in that
Kentish air.

Staines had no sooner set his foot on the lawn, than he heard
voices; he crept towards them from bush to bush; and standing in
impenetrable shade, he saw in the clear moonlight two figures--
Mr. Lusignan and Reginald Falcon.

These two dropped out only a word or two at intervals; but what
they did say struck Staines as odd. For one thing, Lusignan
remarked, "I suppose you will want to go back to the Cape. Such
enormous estates as yours will want looking after."

"Enormous estates!" said Staines to himself. "Then they must have
grown very fast in a few months."

"Oh, yes," said Falcon; "but I think of showing her a little of
Europe first."

Staines thought this still more mysterious; he waited to hear more,
but the succeeding remarks were of an ordinary kind.

He noticed, however, that Falcon spoke of his wife by her Christian
name, and that neither party mentioned Christopher Staines. He
seemed quite out of their little world.

He began to feel a strange chill creep down him.

Presently Falcon went off to join Rosa; and Staines thought it was
quite time to ask the old gentleman whether Falcon had executed his
commission, or not.

He was only hesitating how to do it, not liking to pounce in the
dark on a man who abhorred everything like excitement, when Rosa
herself came flying out in great agitation.

Oh! the thrill he felt at the sight of her! With all his self-
possession, he would have sprung forward and taken her in his arms
with a mighty cry of love, if she had not immediately spoken words
that rooted him to the spot with horror. But she came with the
words in her very mouth; "Papa, I am come to tell you I cannot, and
will not, marry Mr. Falcon."

"Oh, yes, you will, my dear."

"Never! I'll die sooner. Not that you will care for that. I tell
you I saw my Christopher last night--in a dream. He had a beard;
but I saw him, oh, so plain; and he said, 'Is this the way you keep
your promise?' That is enough for me. I have prayed, again and
again, to his star, for light. I am so perplexed and harassed by
you all, and you make me believe what you like. Well, I have had a
revelation. It is not my poor lost darling's wish I should wed
again. I don't believe Mr. Falcon any more. I hear nothing but
lies by day. The truth comes to my bedside at night. I will not
marry this man."

"Consider, Rosa, your credit is pledged. You must not be always
jilting him heartlessly. Dreams! nonsense. There--I love peace.
It is no use your storming at me; rave to the moon and the stars,
if you like, and when you have done, do pray come in, and behave
like a rational woman, who has pledged her faith to an honorable
man, and a man of vast estates--a man that nursed your husband in
his last illness, found your child, at a great expense, when you
had lost him, and merits eternal gratitude, not eternal jilting. I
have no patience with you."

The old gentleman retired in high dudgeon.

Staines stood in the black shade of his cedar-tree, rooted to the
ground by this revelation of male villany and female credulity.

He did not know what on earth to do. He wanted to kill Falcon, but
not to terrify his own wife to death. It was now too clear she
thought he was dead.

Rosa watched her father's retiring figure out of sight. "Very
well," said she, clenching her teeth; then suddenly she turned, and
looked up to heaven. "Do you hear?" said she, "my Christie's star?
I am a poor perplexed creature. I asked you for a sign, and that
very night I saw him in a dream. Why should I marry out of
gratitude? Why should I marry one man, when I love another? What
does it matter his being dead? I love him too well to be wife to
any living man. They persuade me, they coax me, they pull me, they
push me. I see they will make me. But I will outwit them. See--
see!" and she held up a little phial in the moonlight. "This shall
cut the knot for me; this shall keep me true to my Christie, and
save me from breaking promises I ought never to have made. This
shall unite me once more with him I killed, and loved."

She meant she would kill herself the night before the wedding,
which perhaps she would not, and perhaps she would. Who can tell?
The weak are violent. But Christopher, seeing the poison so near
her lips, was perplexed, took two strides, wrenched it out of her
hand, with a snarl of rage, and instantly plunged into the shade
again.

Rosa uttered a shriek, and flew into the house.

The farther she got, the more terrified she became, and soon
Christopher heard her screaming in the drawing-room in an alarming
way. They were like the screams of the insane.

He got terribly anxious, and followed her. All the doors were
open.

As he went up-stairs, he heard her cry, "His ghost! his ghost! I
have seen his ghost! No, no. I feel his hand upon my arm now. A
beard! and so he had in the dream! He is alive. My darling is
alive. You have deceived me. You are an impostor--a villain. Out
of the house this moment, or he shall kill you."

"Are you mad?" cried Falcon. "How can he be alive, when I saw him
dead?"

This was too much. Staines gave the door a blow with his arm, and
strode into the apartment, looking white and tremendous.

Falcon saw death in his face; gave a shriek, drew his revolver, and
fired at him with as little aim as he had at the lioness; then made
for the open window. Staines seized a chair, followed him, and
hurled it at him; and the chair and the man went through the window
together, and then there was a strange thud heard outside.

Rosa gave a loud scream, and swooned away.

Staines laid his wife flat on the floor, got the women about her,
and at last she began to give the usual signs of returning life.

Staines said to the oldest woman there, "If she sees me, she will
go off again. Carry her to her room; and tell her, by degrees,
that I am alive."

All this time Papa Lusignan had sat trembling and whimpering in a
chair, moaning, "This is a painful scene--very painful." But at
last an idea struck him--"WHY, YOU HAVE ROBBED THE OFFICE!"

Scarcely was Mrs. Staines out of the room, when a fly drove up, and
this was immediately followed by violent and continuous screaming
close under the window.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Papa Lusignan.

They ran down, and found Falcon impaled at full length on the
spikes of the villa, and Phoebe screaming over him, and trying in
vain to lift him off them. He had struggled a little, in silent
terror, but had then fainted from fear and loss of blood, and lying
rather inside the rails, which were high, he could not be
extricated from the outside.

As soon as his miserable condition was discovered, the servants ran
down into the kitchen, and so up to the rails by the area steps.
These rails had caught him; one had gone clean through his arm, the
other had penetrated the fleshy part of the thigh, and a third
pierced his ear.

They got him off; but he was insensible, and the place drenched
with his blood.

Phoebe clutched Staines by the arm. "Let me know the worst," said
she. "Is he dead?"

Staines examined him, and said "No."

"Can you save him?"

"I?"

"Yes. Who can, if you cannot? Oh, have mercy on me!" and she went
on her knees to him, and put her forehead on his knees.

He was touched by her simple faith; and the noble traditions of his
profession sided with his gratitude to this injured woman. "My
poor friend," said he, "I will do my best, for YOUR sake."

He took immediate steps for stanching the blood; and the fly
carried Phoebe and her villain to the inn at Gravesend.

Falcon came to on the road; but finding himself alone with Phoebe,
shammed unconsciousness of everything but pain.

Staines, being thoroughly enraged with Rosa, yet remembering his
solemn vow never to abuse her again, saw her father, and told him
to tell her he should think over her conduct quietly, not wishing
to be harder upon her than she deserved.

Rosa, who had been screaming, and crying for joy, ever since she
came to her senses, was not so much afflicted at this message as
one might have expected. He was alive, and all things else were
trifles.

Nevertheless, when day after day went by, and not even a line from
Christopher, she began to fear he would cast her off entirely; the
more so as she heard he was now and then at Gravesend to visit Mrs.
Falcon at the inn.

While matters were thus, Uncle Philip burst on her like a bomb.
"He is alive! he is alive! he is alive!" And they had a cuddle
over it.

"Oh, Uncle Philip! Have you seen him?"

"Seen him? Yes. He caught me on the hop, just as I came in from
Italy. I took him for a ghost."

"Oh, weren't you frightened?"

"Not a bit. I don't mind ghosts. I'd have half a dozen to dinner
every day, if I might choose 'em. I couldn't stand stupid ones.
But I say, his temper isn't improved by all this dying: he is in an
awful rage with you; and what for?"

"O uncle! what for? Because I'm the vilest of women!"

"Vilest of fiddlesticks! It's his fault, not yours. Shouldn't
have died. It's always a dangerous experiment."

"I shall die if he will not forgive me. He keeps away from me and
from his child."

"I'll tell you. He heard, in Gravesend, your banns had been cried:
that has moved the peevish fellow's bile."

"It was done without my consent. Papa will tell you so; and, O
uncle, if you knew the arts, the forged letter in my darling's
hand, the way he wrought on me! O villain! villain! Uncle,
forgive your poor silly niece, that the world is too wicked and too
clever for her to live in."

"Because you are too good and innocent," said Uncle Philip.
"There, don't you be down-hearted. I'll soon bring you two
together again--a couple of ninnies. I'll tell you what is the
first thing: you must come and live with me. Come at once, bag and
baggage. He won't show here, the sulky brute."

Philip Staines had a large house in Cavendish Square, a crusty old
patient, like himself, had left him. It was his humor to live in a
corner of this mansion, though the whole was capitally furnished by
his judicious purchases at auctions.

He gave Rosa and her boy and his nurse the entire first floor, and
told her she was there for life. "Look here," said he, "this last
affair has opened my eyes. Such women as you are the sweeteners of
existence. You leave my roof no more. Your husband will make the
same discovery. Let him run about, and be miserable a bit. He
will have to come to book."

She shook her head sadly.

"My Christopher will never say a harsh word to me. All the worse
for me. He will quietly abandon a creature so inferior to him."

"Stuff!"

Now, she was always running to the window, in hope that Christopher
would call on his uncle, and that she might see him; and one day
she gave a scream so eloquent, Philip knew what it meant. "Get you
behind that screen, you and your boy," said he, "and be as still as
mice. Stop! give me that letter the scoundrel forged, and the
ring."

This was hardly done, and Rosa out of sight, and trembling from
head to foot, when Christopher was announced. Philip received him
very affectionately, but wasted no time.

"Been to Kent Villa yet?"

"No," was the grim reply.

"Why not?"

"Because I have sworn never to say an angry word to her again; and,
if I was to go there, I should say a good many angry ones. Oh,
when I think that her folly drove me to sea, to do my best for her,
and that I was nearer death for that woman than ever man was, and
lost my reason for her, and went through toil and privations,
hunger, exile, mainly for her, and then to find the banns cried in
open church, with that scoundrel!--say no more, uncle. I shall
never reproach her, and never forgive her."

"She was deceived."

"I don't doubt that; but nobody has a right to be so great a fool
as all that."

"It was not her folly, but her innocence, that was imposed on. You
a philosopher, and not know that wisdom itself is sometimes imposed
on, and deceived by cunning folly! Have you forgotten your
Milton?--

"'At Wisdom's gate, Suspicion sleeps,
And deems no ill where no ill seems.'

Come, come! are you sure you are not a little to blame? Did you
write home the moment you found you were not dead?"

Christopher colored high.

"Evidently not," said the keen old man. "Ah, my fine fellow! have
I found the flaw in your own armor?"

"I did wrong, but it was for her. I sinned for her. I could not
bear her to be without money, and I knew the insurance--I sinned
for her. She has sinned AGAINST me."

"And she had much better have sinned against God, hadn't she? He
is more forgiving than we perfect creatures that cheat insurance
companies. And so, my fine fellow, you hid the truth from her for
two or three months."

No answer.

"Strike off those two or three months; would the banns have ever
been cried?"

"Well, uncle," said Christopher, hard pressed, "I am glad she has
got a champion; and I hope you will always keep your eye on her."

"I mean to."

"Good-morning."

"No; don't be in a hurry. I have something else to say, not so
provoking. Do you know the arts by which she was made to believe
you wished her to marry again?"

"I wished her to marry again! Are you mad, uncle?"

"Whose handwriting is on this envelope?"

"Mine, to be sure."

"Now, read the letter."

Christopher read the forged letter.

"Oh, monstrous!"

"This was given her with your ruby ring, and a tale so artful that
nothing we read about the devil comes near it. This was what did
it. The Earl of Tadcaster brought her title, and wealth, and
love."

"What, he too! The little cub I saved, and lost myself for--blank
him! blank him!"

"Why, you stupid ninny! you forget you were dead; and he could not
help loving her. How could he? Well, but you see she refused him.
And why? because he came without a forged letter from YOU. Do you
doubt her love for you?"

"Of course I do. She never loved me as I loved her."

"Christopher, don't you say that before me, or you and I shall
quarrel. Poor girl! she lay, in my sight, as near death for you as
you were for her. I'll show you something."

He went to a cabinet, and took out a silver paper; he unpinned it,
and laid Rosa's beautiful black hair upon her husband's knees.
"Look at that, you hard-hearted brute!" he roared to Christopher,
who sat, anything but hard-hearted, his eyes filling fast, at the
sad proof of his wife's love and suffering.

Rosa could bear no more. She came out with her boy in her hand.
"O uncle, do not speak harshly to him, or you will kill me quite!"

She came across the room, a picture of timidity and penitence, with
her whole eloquent body bent forward at an angle. She kneeled at
his knees, with streaming eyes, and held her boy up to him: "Plead
for your poor mother, my darling. She mourns her fault, and will
never excuse it."

The cause was soon decided. All Philip's logic was nothing,
compared with mighty nature. Christopher gave one great sob, and
took his darling to his heart, without one word; and he and Rosa
clung together, and cried over each other. Philip slipped out of
the room, and left the restored ones together.

I have something more to say about my hero and heroine, but must
first deal with other characters, not wholly uninteresting to the
reader, I hope.

Dr. Staines directed Phoebe Falcon how to treat her husband. No
medicine, no stimulants; very wholesome food, in moderation, and
the temperature of the body regulated by tepid water. Under these
instructions, the injured but still devoted wife was the real
healer. He pulled through, but was lame for life, and ridiculously
lame, for he went with a spring halt,--a sort of hop-and-go-one
that made the girls laugh, and vexed Adonis.

Phoebe found the diamonds, and offered them all to Staines, in
expiation of his villany. "See," she said, "he has only spent
one."

Staines said he was glad of it, for her sake, for he must be just
to his own family. He sold them for three thousand two hundred
pounds; but for the big diamond he got twelve thousand pounds, and
I believe it was worth double the money.

Counting the two sums, and deducting six hundred for the stone Mr.
Falcon had embezzled, he gave her over seven thousand pounds.

She stared at him, and changed color at so large a sum. "But I
have no claim on that, sir."

"That is a good joke," said he. "Why, you and I are partners in
the whole thing--you and I and Dick. Was it not with his horse and
rifle I bought the big diamond? Poor dear, honest, manly Dick!
No, the money is honestly yours, Mrs. Falcon; but don't trust a
penny to your husband."

"He will never see it, sir. I shall take him back, and give him
all his heart can ask for, with this; but he will be little more
than a servant in the house now, as long as Dick is single; I know
that;" and she could still cry at the humiliation of her villain.

Staines made her promise to write to him; and she did write him a
sweet, womanly letter, to say that they were making an enormous
fortune, and hoped to end their days in England. Dick sent his
kind love and thanks.

I will add, what she only said by implication, that she was happy
after all. She still contrived to love the thing she could not
respect. Once, when an officious friend pitied her for her
husband's lameness, she said, "Find me a face like his. The lamer
the better; he can't run after the girls, like SOME."

Dr. Staines called on Lady Cicely Treherne; the footman stared. He
left his card.

A week afterwards, she called on him. She had a pink tinge in her
cheeks, a general animation, and her face full of brightness and
archness.

"Bless me!" said he bluntly, "is this you? How you are improved!"

"Yes," said she; "and I am come to thank you for your pwescwiption:
I followed it to the lettaa."

"Woe is me! I have forgotten it."

"You diwected me to mawwy a nice man."

"Never: I hate a nice man."

"No, no--an Iwishman: and I have done it."

"Good gracious! you don't mean that! I must be more cautious in my
prescriptions. After all, it seems to agree."

"Admiwably."

"He loves you?"

"To distwaction."

"He amuses you?"

"Pwodigiously. Come and see."

Dr. and Mrs. Staines live with Uncle Philip. The insurance money
is returned, but the diamond money makes them very easy. Staines
follows his profession now under great advantages: a noble house,
rent free; the curiosity that attaches to a man who has been canted
out of a ship in mid-ocean, and lives to tell it; and then Lord
Tadcaster, married into another noble house, swears by him, and
talks of him; so does Lady Cicely Munster, late Treherne; and when
such friends as these are warm, it makes a physician the centre of
an important clientele; but his best friend of all is his
unflagging industry, and his truly wonderful diagnosis, which
resembles divination. He has the ball at his feet, and above all,
that without which worldly success soon palls, a happy home, a
fireside warm with sympathy.

Mrs. Staines is an admiring, sympathizing wife, and an admirable
housekeeper. She still utters inadvertencies now and then, commits
new errors at odd times, but never repeats them when exposed.
Observing which docility, Uncle Philip has been heard to express a
fear that, in twenty years, she will be the wisest woman in
England. "But, thank heaven!" he adds, "I shall be gone before
that."

Her conduct and conversation afford this cynic constant food for
observation; and he has delivered himself oracularly at various
stages of the study: but I cannot say that his observations, taken
as a whole, present that consistency which entitles them to be
regarded as a body of philosophy. Examples: In the second month
after Mrs. Staines came to live with him, he delivered himself
thus: "My niece Rosa is an anomaly. She gives you the impression
she is shallow. Mind your eye: in one moment she will take you out
of your depth or any man's depth. She is like those country
streams I used to fish for pike when I was young; you go along,
seeing the bottom everywhere; but presently you come to a corner,
and it is fifteen deep all in a moment, and souse you go over head
and ears: that's my niece Rosa."

In six months he had got to this--and, mind you, each successive
dogma was delivered in a loud, aggressive tone, and in sublime
oblivion of the preceding oracle--"My niece Rosa is the most artful
woman. (You may haw! haw! haw! as much as you like. You have not
found out her little game--I have.) What is the aim of all women?
To be beloved by an unconscionable number of people. Well, she
sets up for a simpleton, and so disarms all the brilliant people,
and they love her. Everybody loves her. Just you put her down in
a room with six clever women, and you will see who is the favorite.
She looks as shallow as a pond, and she is as deep as the ocean."

At the end of the year he threw off the mask altogether. "The
great sweetener of a man's life," said he, "is 'a simpleton.' I
shall not go abroad any more; my house has become attractive: I've
got a simpleton. When I have a headache, her eyes fill with tender
concern, and she hovers about me and pesters me with pillows: when
I am cross with her, she is afraid I am ill. When I die, and leave
her a lot of money, she will howl for months, and say I don't want
his money: 'I waw-waw-waw-waw-want my Uncle Philip, to love me, and
scold me.' One day she told me, with a sigh, I hadn't lectured her
for a month. 'I am afraid I have offended you,' says she, 'or else
worn you out, dear.' When I am well, give me a simpleton, to make
me laugh. When I am ill, give me a simpleton to soothe me with her
innocent tenderness. A simpleton shall wipe the dews of death, and
close my eyes: and when I cross the river of death, let me be met
by a band of the heavenly host, who were all simpletons here on
earth, and too good for such a hole, so now they are in heaven, and
their garments always white--because there are no laundresses there."

Arrived at this point, the Anglo-Saxon race will retire, grinning,
to fresh pastures, and leave this champion of "a Simpleton," to
thunder paradoxes in a desert.

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