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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Faith Doctor: A Story Of New York - Chapter 21. Mrs. Hilbrough's Information
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The Faith Doctor: A Story Of New York - Chapter 21. Mrs. Hilbrough's Information Post by :JV619 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :2819

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The Faith Doctor: A Story Of New York - Chapter 21. Mrs. Hilbrough's Information


Casting about in his thoughts for an ally, he hit upon Mrs. Hilbrough. In her he would find an old friend of Phillida's who was pretty sure to be free from brain-fogs. He quickly took a resolution to see her. It was too late in the afternoon to walk uptown. On a fine Sunday like this the street cars would not have strap-room left, and the elevated trains would be in a state of extreme compression long before they reached Fourteenth street. He took the best-looking cab he could find in Union Square as the least of inconveniences; and just as the slant sun, descending upon the Jersey lowlands, had set all the windows on the uptown side of the cross streets in a ruddy glow, he alighted at the Hilbrough door, paid his cabman a full day's wages, after the manner of New York, and sent up his card to Mrs. Hilbrough with a message that he hoped it would not incommode her to see him, since he had some inquiries to make. Mrs. Hilbrough descended promptly, and there took place the usual preliminary parley on the subject of the fine day, a parley carried on by Millard with as little knowledge of what he was saying as a phonographic doll has. Then begging her pardon for disturbing her on Sunday afternoon, he asked:

"Have you heard anything about Miss Callender's course as a faith-healer?"

Mrs. Hilbrough took a moment to think before replying. Here was a direct, even abrupt, approach to a matter of delicacy. There was a complete lack of the diplomatic obliquity to be expected in such a case. This was not like Millard, and though his exterior was calm and suave enough from mere force of habit, she quickly formed an opinion of his condition of internal ebullition from his precipitancy.

"I did not hear anything about it until Thursday, two weeks ago, and I learned certainly about it only yesterday," she replied, resting as non-committal as possible until the drift of Millard's inquiry should be disclosed.

"May I ask from whom?" He was now sitting bolt upright, and his words were uttered without any of that pleasing deference of manner that usually characterized his speech.

"From Mrs. Maginnis--Mrs. California Maginnis," she added for the sake of explicitness and with an impulse to relax the tension of Millard's mind by playfulness.

"Mrs. Maginnis?" he said with something like a start. "How does Mrs. Maginnis know anything about what takes place in Mackerelville?"

"It wasn't the Mackerelville case, but one a good deal nearer home, that she was interested in," said Mrs. Hilbrough. "It's too warm here," she added, seeing him wipe his brow with his handkerchief. She put her hand to the bell, but withdrew it without ringing, and then crossed the room and closed the register.

Millard proceeded in a straightforward, businesslike voice, "Tell me, please, what Mrs. Maginnis had to do with Miss Callender's faith-cures?"

"Her relation to them came about through Mrs. Frankland."

"No doubt," said Millard; "I expected to find her clever hand in it."

The mordant tone in which this was said disconcerted Mrs. Hilbrough. She felt that she was in danger of becoming an accomplice in a lovers' quarrel that might prove disastrous to the pretty romance that had begun in her own house. She paused and said:

"I beg pardon, Mr. Millard, but I ought hardly to discuss this with you, if you make it a matter of feeling between you and Phillida. She is my friend--"

"Mrs. Hilbrough," he interrupted, taking a softer tone than before, and leaning forward and resting his left hand on his knee, and again wiping his forehead with his handkerchief, "my whole destiny is involved in the welfare of Phillida Callender. I haven't quarreled with her, but I should like to show her that this faith-curing is a mistake and likely to make her ridiculous. You said that Mrs. Frankland--"

"Mrs. Frankland," said Mrs. Hilbrough, "through somebody connected with the Mackerelville Mission got hold of the story of the cure of a poor German girl somewhere down about what they call Tompkins Square. Is that the name of a square? Well, on Thursday, two weeks ago, when Phillida was not present, Mrs. Frankland told this story--"

"Trotted it out as a fine illustration of faith," broke in Millard, with something between a smile and a sneer, adding, "with Phillida's name attached."

"No, she didn't give the name; she spoke of her as a noble Christian young woman, the daughter of a devoted missionary to the heathen, which made me suspect Phillida. She also alluded to her as a person accustomed to attend these meetings, and again as 'my very dear friend,' and 'my beloved young friend.' Mrs. Maginnis listened eagerly, and longed to know who this was, for she had a little girl troubled with Saint Vitus's dance. She had just been to see Dr. Legammon, the specialist."

"Who always begins his treatment by scaring a patient half to death, I believe, especially if the patient has money," said Millard, who, in his present biting mood, found a grim satisfaction even in snapping at Dr. Legammon's heels.

"He told Mrs. Maginnis that it was an aggravated case of chorea, and that severe treatment would be necessary," continued Mrs. Hilbrough. "There must be eyeglasses, and an operation by an oculist, and perhaps electricity, and it would require nearly a year to cure the child even under Dr. Legammon; and he didn't even give her much assurance that her child would get well at all. He especially excited Mrs. Maginnis's apprehension by saying, 'We must be hopeful, my dear madam.' Mrs. Maginnis, you know, is strung away up above concert-pitch, and this melancholy encouragement threw her into despair, and came near to making her a fit patient for the doctor's specialistic attentions in a private retreat. She couldn't bring herself to have the eyes operated on, or even to have electricity applied. It was just after this first visit to the doctor, while Mrs. Maginnis was in despondency and her usual indecision, that she heard Mrs. Frankland's address in which the cure of the poor girl in the tenement-house was told as an illustration of the power of prayer."

"Mrs. Frankland worked up all the details with striking effect, no doubt," said Millard, with an expression of disgust.

"Well, you know Mrs. Frankland can't help being eloquent. Everybody present was deeply affected as she pictured the scene. As soon as the meeting closed, Mrs. Maginnis, all in a sputter of excitement, I fancy, sailed up to Mrs. Frankland, and laid her troubles before her, and wondered if Mrs. Frankland couldn't get her young friend to pray for her daughter Hilda. Phillida, by solicitation of Mrs. Frankland, visited the Maginnises every day for a week. They sent their carriage for her every afternoon, I believe. At the end of a week 'the motions disappeared,' as Mrs. Maginnis expressed it."

"I believe it isn't uncommon for children to get well of Saint Vitus's dance," said Millard.

"You couldn't make Mrs. Maginnis believe that. She regards it as one of the most remarkable cures of a wholly incurable ailment ever heard of. The day after Phillida's last visit she sent her a check for three hundred dollars for her services."

"Sent her money?" said Millard, reddening, and contracting his brows. "Did Phillida take it?" This last was spoken in a low-keyed monotone.

"Hasn't she told you a word about it?"

"Not a word," said Millard, with eyes cast down.

"She sent back the check by the next postman, saying merely that it was 'respectfully declined.'"

"And Mrs. Maginnis?" asked Millard, his face lighting up.

"Didn't understand," said Mrs. Hilbrough. "These brutally rich people think that cash will pay for everything, you know. Mrs. Maginnis concluded that she had offered too little."

"It was little enough," said Millard, "considering her wealth and the nature of the service she believed to have been rendered to her child."

"She thought so herself, on reflection," said Mrs. Hilbrough. "She also had grace enough to remember that she might have been a little more delicate in her way of tendering the money. She likes to do things royally, so she dispatched her footman to Mrs. Callender with a note inclosing a check for a thousand dollars, asking the mother to use it for the benefit of her daughter. Mrs. Callender took the check to Mrs. Gouverneur, and asked her, as having some acquaintance with Mrs. Maginnis, to explain that Phillida could not accept any pay for religious services or neighborly kindness. Mrs. Gouverneur"--here Mrs. Hilbrough smiled--"saw the ghosts of her grandfathers looking on, I suppose. She couched her note to Mrs. Maginnis in rather chilling terms, and Mrs. Maginnis understood at last that she had probably given offense. She went to Mrs. Frankland, who referred her to me, as Phillida's friend, and she called here yesterday in a flutter of hysterical importance to get me to apologize, and to ask me what she _could do."

Millard was almost amused at this turn in the affair, but his smile had a tang of bitterness.

"She explained that she had not understood that Miss Callender was that kind of person," said Mrs. Hilbrough. "She had always supposed that ministers and missionaries and their families expected presents. When she was a little girl her father used to send a whole hog to each minister in the village every fall when he killed his pigs. But it seemed Miss Callender and her mother held themselves above presents. Were they 'people of wealth'? That is her favorite phrase. I told her that they were one of the best old families in the city, without much property but with a great deal of pride, and that they were very admirable people. 'You know, these very old and famous families hold themselves rather above the rest of us, no matter how rich we may get to be,' I said, maliciously.

"This seemed almost to subdue her. She said that she supposed people would expect her to do something at such a time. It was always expected that 'people of wealth' should show themselves grateful. What could she do that would not offend such touchy people?

"I suggested that Hilda should buy some article, not too expensive, for a love token for Miss Callender. 'Treat her as you would if she were Mrs. Van Horne's daughter,' I said, 'and she will be content.' 'I don't want to seem mean,' she replied, 'and I didn't think so pious a girl would carry her head so high. Now, Mrs. Hilbrough, do you think a Christian girl like Miss Callender ought to be so proud?' 'Would you like to take money for a friendly service?' I asked. 'Oh, no! But then I--you see, my circumstances are different; however, I will do just what you say.' I warned her when she left that the present must not be too costly, and that Hilda ought to take it in person. She was still a little puzzled. 'I didn't suppose people in their circumstances would feel that way,' she said in a half-subdued voice, 'but I'll do just as you say, Mrs. Hilbrough.'"

This action of Phillida's was a solace to Millard's pride. But one grain of sugar will not perceptibly sweeten the bitterness of a decoction of gentian, and this overflow into uptown circles of Phillida's reputation as a faith-doctor made the matter extremely humiliating.

When Mrs. Hilbrough had finished her recital Millard sat a minute absorbed in thought. It occurred to him that if he had not spoken so impetuously to Phillida and then left her so abruptly he might have had this story in her own version, and thus have spared himself the imprudence and indecorum of discussing Phillida with Mrs. Hilbrough. But he could not refrain from making the request he had had in mind when he came, and which alone could explain and justify to Mrs. Hilbrough his confidence.

"I came here to-day on an impulse," he said. "Knowing your friendliness for Phillida, and counting on your kindness, I thought perhaps you might bring your influence to bear--to--to--what shall I say?--to modify Phillida's zeal and render her a little less sure of her vocation to pursue a course that must make her talked about in a way that is certain to vulgarize her name."

Mrs. Hilbrough shook her head. She was flattered by Millard's confidence, but she saw the difficulty of the task he had set for her.

"Count on me for anything I can do, but that is something that I suppose no one can accomplish. What Phillida thinks right she will do if she were to be thrown to the wild beasts for it."

"Yes, yes; that is her great superiority," he added, with mingled admiration and despondency.

"You, who have more influence than any one else," said Mrs. Hilbrough, "have talked with her. I suppose her mother has said what could be said, and Agatha must have been a perfect thorn in the flesh to her since the matter became known at home."

"Yes," said Millard, ruefully; "she must have suffered a great deal, poor child!"

"I don't suppose Mrs. Gouverneur let her off cheaply," continued Mrs. Hilbrough. "She must have made Phillida feel that she was overthrowing the statues of her great-grandfathers, and she no doubt urged the unhappiness she would cause you."

Millard saw at this moment the origin of Phillida's sensitiveness in talking with him.

"I don't care for myself, but I wish to heaven that I could shelter her a little from the ridicule she will suffer." He was leaning forward with his hand on his knee and his eyes cast down.

Mrs. Hilbrough felt herself moved at sight of so much feeling in one not wont to show his emotions to others.

"I will see if anything can be done, Mr. Millard; but I am afraid not. I'll ask Phillida here to lunch some day this week."

The winter sunshine had all gone, the lights in the streets were winning on the fast-fading twilight, and Mrs. Hilbrough's reception-room was growing dusk when Millard slowly, as one whose purposes are benumbed, rose to leave. Once in the street, he walked first toward one avenue and then toward the other. He thought to go to his apartment, but he shrank from loneliness; he would go to dinner at a neighboring restaurant; then he turned toward his club; and then he formed the bold resolution to make himself welcome, as he had before, at Mrs. Callender's Sunday-evening tea-table. But reflecting on the unlucky outcome of his interview with Phillida, he gave this up, and after some further irresolution dined at a table by himself in the club. He had small appetite for food, for human fellowship he had none at all, and he soon sought solitude in his apartment.

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