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The Midnight Visitor

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"No one -will come to-night," said he doctor, glancipg at the clock on the mantel piece, as he drew his chair close ;o the flre; settling himself comfortably n it, and planting his feet on the f ender, ie began ío read. The servant had gone to bed an hour jefore; the boy was in his dormitory; ;he cat and dog ooeupied the center of ;he hearth-rug, nnder their master's egs, in a strangely-complicated emarace, just as they had fallen asleep in ;he midst of their play, Bnft, the cat, iaving his fore-paws round Nelson's neck, and Nelson, a beautiful young water spaniel, with his nose snugly bedded in the thick, tancolored fur which had given a name to his friend. The doctor laid his book upm his knee, and, takiug up the poker, gently tapped and played with a large coal, Ihrough whose fisstires the blazing gas spirted with a sputter and fume that in the deep midnight silence sounded clear and loud. He was enjoying to the full that senee of security from interruption which medical men so seldom have an opportunity of feeling. He had in immediate prospect none of those urgent cases ■wbich have no regard for time nor tide, and the wind that prowled in the chimneys and the heavy rain thal beat furiously against tbe windows promiaed him security from all cases of minor neceesity. 8o lie played with the blazing coal, and enjoyed his comfortable flreside as much as a man can who has no wife to share it with him. As the sound of the wheels rumbling along the street mingled with the noise of the storm, L e gave an exulting poko to the coal, which left it a heap of nam ing ruins ; and then he nestled deepe into his chair, with serious thoughts o setting public opinión at deflance b; smoking a cigar. But suddenly th spaniel raised his head, erected his silky ears, aud uttered a short, intjuisjtiv bark. In the next moment the doctor heard that the wheels stopped before his door. Pulling a long face that seemed to coinmiserate himself on the disturbanco of his quiet, he sat upright waiting for the summons, and muttering, philosophically, "Put not thy faith in aDy sort of weather !" Then carne a ring at the night-beil, and a female voice that called from the vehicle : Jk "W " Don't knock ! You need not ronse the whole house." " I hope they'll make haste and come, then," replied a gruff voice, the tones of which carried with them a strong conviction that the vehicle outside must be a cab ; " if I don't knock 'em up, I shall be kept waiting here for an hour I" "There is some one coming - I see a light," replied the voice from the cab. "Inquire if tüe gentleman is at home." "Here's the doctor himself, I suppose," said the cabman, as ths street door opened and showed the figure in slippers and morning-gown that stood ■with in. " Open the door and let me out ! " said the lady, impatiently; and no sooner had the driver, in his delibérate, sleepy way, obeyed her commands, than three light bounds placed her safel.y on the door-mat. She seemed youn'g, but her thick veil effectually hid her face. " Do you want me to go anywhere ? " said the doctor, glancing at his slippers; "forif so, I'll-" ■ No - oh, no ! " she interrupted. " I wish to speak with you. "Wait for mt," she added, addressing the cabman; " I will pay you doublé for you? time, in eonsideration of the bad weather." The door was shut, and the driver, divesting himself of his water-proof coat, which he threw over the reeking flanks of his horse, ensconsed himself in the inside of his carriage to exohange his habitual dozy condition for a state of complete somnoleney. Tn the meantime the doctor had politely bowed his visitoi into the parlor, and seated her on the sofa. "This is dreadful weather for you to have to come out in, ma'am," he began ; " but I suppose the case is very urgent. I should judge from the liveliness of your movements that you cannot have come on your own account." "You are mistaken, sir," she replied ; "I seek your adrice and assistance for myself, being at the same time in perfect health." " I must ask you to be more explicit," said the doctor, quite mystified. "To enablo you to judge correctly of the case, I must explain all the circumstances," she said. "To begin, then: I have a father and mother, two aunts, one a widow and the other an old maid, living with them; a married sister on the other side of the street, and several grown-up brothers; so you may easily imagine what an overpowering weight of family influence can be brought to bear upou my individual will, in any case in which it dares to act for itself. Well, urged by the wishes of my family, and also, I must own, in accordance with my own inclination, I some months ago entered into an engagement with a gentleman who was a great friend, or perhaps I should say a constant companion of my eldest brother. To-morrow is the day fixed for the wedding. I am certain bat I should not have made this en;agement if I had had greater freedom f intercourse with other men, so as to e able to compare and judge of charac;er. This freedom I have never enjoyed tntil lately, and the result of my obervatione has been anything but favorble to my intended. Daily I discovered n him traits of character which effectully destroyed all the romance of my iredilection. But still I forbore to jreak off with him, consolmg myself with the reflection that no man is perèct, and that I must expect to meet with efects in whomsoever I might take for my husband. I teil you this that you may understand why I did not seek to )ut an end to this engagement until it ïad approached so near to its compleion. " I fejt dissatisfied, and xvisüed ;hat I were free;. but it was not till this vening that I perceivud in him points of character which excited my contempt. need not explain what those poiDts are it is snfficient that I feel contempt or him; and, with such a sentiment in my heart, can it be right that I should marry him ?" "Decidedly not," said the doctor, mphatically. " Then what conrse would you advise me to adopt to be rid of him ?" demanded the lady. ' : Would not this be a question for a clergyman or a lawyer to settle ?" asked ,he doctor, gently, "rather than for a mysician, whose skill is mainly directed'to curing the ills of the body ? Nevertheless, as you ask my advice, I cannot but give it to the best of my knowledge and judgment. It seems to me that you have one of two courses to pursue ; either to decline openly to keep your engagement, or to throw yourself upon the honor of the gentleman. He could not insist on your keeping a promise of this nature if you expressed your wish to retract it." "Under ordinary circumstances, and with ordinary people to deal with," said the lady, " either of these plans, or a combination of thetwo, woulu, no doubt, 5e successful. But I have already told rou in what a formidable array my 'amily can muster to oppose me ; and ;hey wouid do so, every one of them, if [ were to attempt to bring such disgrace on them (for such they would all consider it) as to refuse this marriage, from apparent caprice, at the eieventh hour." " In á matter so entirely concerning yourself, and in which your happiness :or life is involved, I should imagine that, in these enlightened days, every one would yield to your -wishes and udgment," said the doctor. ilThe days are certainly past when a ladv could be stormed and carried at the point of the bayonet," replied the visitor ; "but an immense amount oL coerción can etill be used, of a kind that no laws can protect us from." " Then it seems to me that your owa firmness and resolution should snpply the deficiency," said the doctor. " You are qf age, I presume?" "Yes," she replied, " and ajear beyond it. But my being legally entitled to act for myself does nat, as I told you, protect me from the peculiar kind of coerción whiih I dread. Do you remembcr the bailad of ' Auld Kobin Graiy ?' " ' My father urged me sair, but my mither didna speak ; Yet she lookit in my face, tlll my heart was liko to break.' " Can you say there was no coerción toward the heroine of that sad talo ? And it is precisely this kind of influencc that I fear ; and I fear my own strength to withstand it. Oa every hand I shal be beset with argument, anger, re proaches, upbraidings, lectures, appeals to ülial and eisterly affection, sobbings sighiogs, and hysterics. My conduc will be ascribed to every motive but the true one, because tbey liave geen no ] change in the gentleman, and will not ( allow tb at I am blessed with keener sight. At ono moment I shall be told i that I am a shameless jilt aud an arrant ( coquette ; that I orave bo inordinately ] for notoriety at any cost that I can coolly J sacrifico the most sacred i'eelings of a í confiding lover, in order to become a nine-days' talk. And the next moment i I shall be informed that suoh oonduct i as mine eau only be explained on the ; siipposition of my having formed sonie i attachment so exeessively unworthy of my birth and connection that I am i ashamed to acknowledge it ; and this ' kind surmise will come from my Aunt f Matilda, my maiden aunt, who is so only because she was stopped when about to i run away with my grandf ather's valet. I should iu fact be assailed by an aroount 1 of talk against which it would be irnpossible to stasd." " Then why not take the other ' native I mentioned," said the doctor, ■ "and throw yourself upon the honor : and generosity of the gentleman?" " Simply because there is nothing ' of the kind to throw myself ' upon," she replied. " If there wero, I ' should not wish to be freed from him. He possesses neither honer nor generosity; but in their place there are tbc most groveliug deffereuce to the world's opinión, and an intense selfishness. The first of these paramount feelings would prompt him to compel me to keep to my engagement, lest he should be sneered at as a jiltecl man; and the second would not allow him to forego his own pecuniary expectations for the sake of a mere i woman's wish. ' ' I retired to rest this evening racked by anxious thoughts of how to escape him, and at one time the only means of escape seemed to be in running away : with some ono else; and, really, sogreat was my misery that, if I could have guessed at any one that had a predileetion for me, I should have gone to him and asked him to elope with me. Then another and a better idea carne to my aid. I had once, in play, stolen a latchkey from one of my brothers. I took this key, disguised myself in a suit of discarded mourning, went out into the street, found a cab, and told the driver to take me to adoctor's, resolved to state my difficulties to the gentleman to whom Providence or chance might conduct me, and to beg his assistance in furthering my plan." " Wbat is that plan ?" demanded the doctor, dryly. "Not to ask him to marryme," she answered, quickly, with a nod of the head that seemed to imply that she detected in him a suspicion of that nature. " I want you to give me tomo medicine that will make me ill." "That is a dangerous experiment," said the doctor, dubiously. " But one that I am resolved to try," replied, the high-spirited girl. "What is a temporary physical discomfort compared with the degradation of being linked for life with a man whom I despise? I know very well that there are medicines that will bring on all the appearance of disease ; but I wish to keep on the safe side as much as poseible, and íherefore I como to consult you. Give me that which is the sai est to, and 1 ell me the proper quantities ; otherwise I must have recourse to more desperate means." "Are you aware," said he, "that when the effect of this medicine is over you will be in exactly the same position as at present?" "Not at all," sho .inswered ; "the wedding-day will have passed without a wedding, and I shall take care not to fix another. All that I want is time. Enable me to obtain that, and I am safe." "Itis a singular duty that yon require of me," said the doctor; " but under the circumstances I do not see how I can refuse you. I wiü fetch you something." " Not a policeman !" she cried, springing between him and the door - " for mercy's sake, don't fetch a polioeman I" "Nothing is further from my intention," he replied, quite unable to represa a laugh at her hasty suspicion; "I am going to fetch the medicine you wish for." " I beg your pardon," she said, returning to her seat. " ' Conscience does make cowards of us all.' I know that I must appear to merit a lunaUc's cel!, or a reprimand from a pólice magistrate; jut answer me candidly - do you not ihink I am acting wisely and conscieniously ?" " Oonscientiously, without doubt," said the doctor; " but I think moro wisdom wouid bo ahown in rofraining from ,ampering with your health, and in makng a bold stand upon your right of free choice." " It is very well for a man to talk of standing by his rights," she replied; ' but you forget that I am a woman, irought up in strict subserviency to the will of others, and neyer accustomed to dream of possessing rights. The only hing that could make a woman so trained rhrow off her shackles and assert what ittle independence the law allows her would be the ímpetus given by a new affection." "Then why don't you - " he began, jut suddeHly broke off and hurried into lis surgery, muttering, "What a con'onnded fooi I was going to make of myself ! She muy be a mere adventuress, 'or aught I know." In a few minutes he returned to the young lady witn medicine and full direc;ions for its use, and also an antidote, in case she should require it. Before leaving she asked his name and address, and put his card safely in her book. Theii, with a slight inclination, she laid a folded white paper on the mantelpiece and requestcd him to summon the cabman. The doctor listened with some curiosity, in the hope of guessing whereabouts she lived from her directions to the driver, butthey were morely couched in the very mdefinite words, ' ' Keturn to the place where you took me up." The surgeon returned to his parlor, and, with the air of a man futly prepared to laugh at himself for being "taken iu," he opencd the little paper which the lady had evidently placed there as his iee. Ho was agreeably surprised to iind that she had proportioned her acknowledgmenta rather to the service rendered to herself than to the trouble she had givon him, nd in token thereof had left a ten-pound noto behind her. "Alter all," said the doctor, as ho placed it in his pocket-book, "I don't rogret having had my rest disturbed." Two ycars after this occurrence the same doctor was suddeDly summoned to attend a lady whose name was quite unknown to him, although thero were tones in her voice which soundcd strangely familiar to his ears. "Have you any recollection of having Been me ou some former occasion. Dr. ?" ske askei him, during one of his visits. " I certainly recollect your voice," he replied, " but I could not have forgotten your face jf I liad neen it, and this part'ial recolleotion lias puzzled me froni tlio first moment I heard yon speak." " Do you no remember once receiving a visit, during a midniht storm, from a lady in black, who came to beg your assistance in avoiding a disagreeable marriage?" she said, smiling. " Certainly I do- of courso I do !" ke exolaimed; " and you are tliat lady ! I wonder that I did uot recollect you sooner. " "I onl y wonder that yen remember bo muoh of me," she replied. "May I ask if your plan succeeded ?" he inquired; " or is Mr. " "No, no," she interrupted, laughing; " I did not make such a mistake in the character of myformer suitor, otherwise I should not have been so happy as I am now. The plan succeeded admirably. My apparent illnees enabled me to enlist the sympathies of my mother and aunts, and, to a certain extent, the sympathy of all my relations. Then I contrived to show the gentleman's character in its true light. Their eyes were gradually opened, and liberation was afterward easy. My present marriage was entirely of my own choice, and, il it continúes as happy as it has been hitherto, I shall have no reason to repent of it."


Old News
Michigan Argus