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Villette - Chapter X - DR. JOHN Post by :jtl10023 Category :Long Stories Author :Charlotte Bronte Date :June 2011 Read :913

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Villette - Chapter X - DR. JOHN

CHAPTER X - DR. JOHN


Madame Beck was a most consistent character; forbearing with all the
world, and tender to no part of it. Her own children drew her into no
deviation from the even tenor of her stoic calm. She was solicitous
about her family, vigilant for their interests and physical well-
being; but she never seemed to know the wish to take her little
children upon her lap, to press their rosy lips with her own, to
gather them in a genial embrace, to shower on them softly the
benignant caress, the loving word.

I have watched her sometimes sitting in the garden, viewing the little
bees afar off, as they walked in a distant alley with Trinette, their
_bonne_; in her mien spoke care and prudence. I know she often
pondered anxiously what she called "leur avenir;" but if the youngest,
a puny and delicate but engaging child, chancing to spy her, broke
from its nurse, and toddling down the walk, came all eager and
laughing and panting to clasp her knee, Madame would just calmly put
out one hand, so as to prevent inconvenient concussion from the
child's sudden onset: "Prends garde, mon enfant!" she would say
unmoved, patiently permit it to stand near her a few moments, and
then, without smile or kiss, or endearing syllable, rise and lead it
back to Trinette.

Her demeanour to the eldest girl was equally characteristic in another
way. This was a vicious child. "Quelle peste que cette Desiree! Quel
poison que cet enfant la!" were the expressions dedicated to her,
alike in kitchen and in schoolroom. Amongst her other endowments she
boasted an exquisite skill in the art, of provocation, sometimes
driving her _bonne and the servants almost wild. She would steal
to their attics, open their drawers and boxes, wantonly tear their
best caps and soil their best shawls; she would watch her opportunity
to get at the buffet of the salle-a-manger, where she would smash
articles of porcelain or glass--or to the cupboard of the storeroom,
where she would plunder the preserves, drink the sweet wine, break
jars and bottles, and so contrive as to throw the onus of suspicion on
the cook and the kitchen-maid. All this when Madame saw, and of which
when she received report, her sole observation, uttered with matchless
serenity, was:

"Desiree a besoin d'une surveillance toute particuliere." Accordingly
she kept this promising olive-branch a good deal at her side. Never
once, I believe, did she tell her faithfully of her faults, explain
the evil of such habits, and show the results which must thence ensue.
Surveillance must work the whole cure. It failed of course. Desiree
was kept in some measure from the servants, but she teased and
pillaged her mamma instead. Whatever belonging to Madame's work-table
or toilet she could lay her hands on, she stole and hid. Madame saw
all this, but she still pretended not to see: she had not rectitude of
soul to confront the child with her vices. When an article disappeared
whose value rendered restitution necessary, she would profess to think
that Desiree had taken it away in play, and beg her to restore it.
Desiree was not to be so cheated: she had learned to bring falsehood
to the aid of theft, and would deny having touched the brooch, ring,
or scissors. Carrying on the hollow system, the mother would calmly
assume an air of belief, and afterwards ceaselessly watch and dog the
child till she tracked her: to her hiding-places--some hole in the
garden-wall--some chink or cranny in garret or out-house. This done,
Madame would send Desiree out for a walk with her _bonne_, and
profit by her absence to rob the robber. Desiree proved herself the
true daughter of her astute parent, by never suffering either her
countenance or manner to betray the least sign of mortification on
discovering the loss.

The second child, Fifine, was said to be like its dead father.
Certainly, though the mother had given it her healthy frame, her blue
eye and ruddy cheek, not from her was derived its moral being. It was
an honest, gleeful little soul: a passionate, warm-tempered, bustling
creature it was too, and of the sort likely to blunder often into
perils and difficulties. One day it bethought itself to fall from top
to bottom of a steep flight of stone steps; and when Madame, hearing
the noise (she always heard every noise), issued from the salle-a-
manger and picked it up, she said quietly,--"Cet enfant a un os
casse."

At first we hoped this was not the case. It was, however, but too
true: one little plump arm hung powerless.

"Let Meess" (meaning me) "take her," said Madame; "et qu'on aille tout
de suite chercher un fiacre."

In a _fiacre she promptly, but with admirable coolness and self-
possession, departed to fetch a surgeon.

It appeared she did not find the family-surgeon at home; but that
mattered not: she sought until she laid her hand on a substitute to
her mind, and brought him back with her. Meantime I had cut the
child's sleeve from its arm, undressed and put it to bed.

We none of us, I suppose (by _we I mean the bonne, the cook, the
portress, and myself, all which personages were now gathered in the
small and heated chamber), looked very scrutinizingly at the new
doctor when he came into the room. I, at least, was taken up with
endeavouring to soothe Fifine; whose cries (for she had good lungs)
were appalling to hear. These cries redoubled in intensity as the
stranger approached her bed; when he took her up, "Let alone!" she
cried passionately, in her broken English (for she spoke English as
did the other children). "I will not you: I will Dr. Pillule!"

"And Dr. Pillule is my very good friend," was the answer, in perfect
English; "but he is busy at a place three leagues off, and I am come
in his stead. So now, when we get a little calmer, we must commence
business; and we will soon have that unlucky little arm bandaged and
in right order."

Hereupon he called for a glass of _eau sucree_, fed her with some
teaspoonfuls of the sweet liquid (Fifine was a frank gourmande;
anybody could win her heart through her palate), promised her more
when the operation should be over, and promptly went to work. Some
assistance being needed, he demanded it of the cook, a robust, strong-
armed woman; but she, the portress, and the nurse instantly fled. I
did not like to touch that small, tortured limb, but thinking there
was no alternative, my hand was already extended to do what was
requisite. I was anticipated; Madame Beck had put out her own hand:
hers was steady while mine trembled.

"Ca vaudra mieux," said the doctor, turning from me to her.

He showed wisdom in his choice. Mine would have been feigned stoicism,
forced fortitude. Hers was neither forced nor feigned.

"Merci, Madame; tres bien, fort bien!" said the operator when he had
finished. "Voila un sang-froid bien opportun, et qui vaut mille elans
de sensibilite deplacee."

He was pleased with her firmness, she with his compliment. It was
likely, too, that his whole general appearance, his voice, mien, and
manner, wrought impressions in his favour. Indeed, when you looked
well at him, and when a lamp was brought in--for it was evening and
now waxing dusk--you saw that, unless Madame Beck had been less than
woman, it could not well be otherwise. This young doctor (he
_was young) had no common aspect. His stature looked imposingly
tall in that little chamber, and amidst that group of Dutch-made
women; his profile was clear, fine and expressive: perhaps his eye
glanced from face to face rather too vividly, too quickly, and too
often; but it had a most pleasant character, and so had his mouth; his
chin was full, cleft, Grecian, and perfect. As to his smile, one could
not in a hurry make up one's mind as to the descriptive epithet it
merited; there was something in it that pleased, but something too
that brought surging up into the mind all one's foibles and weak
points: all that could lay one open to a laugh. Yet Fifine liked this
doubtful smile, and thought the owner genial: much as he had hurt her,
she held out her hand to bid him a friendly good-night. He patted the
little hand kindly, and then he and Madame went down-stairs together;
she talking in her highest tide of spirits and volubility, he
listening with an air of good-natured amenity, dashed with that
unconscious roguish archness I find it difficult to describe.

I noticed that though he spoke French well, he spoke English better;
he had, too, an English complexion, eyes, and form. I noticed more. As
he passed me in leaving the room, turning his face in my direction one
moment--not to address me, but to speak to Madame, yet so standing,
that I almost necessarily looked up at him--a recollection which had
been struggling to form in my memory, since the first moment I heard
his voice, started up perfected. This was the very gentleman to whom I
had spoken at the bureau; who had helped me in the matter of the
trunk; who had been my guide through the dark, wet park. Listening, as
he passed down the long vestibule out into the street, I recognised
his very tread: it was the same firm and equal stride I had followed
under the dripping trees.

* * * * *

It was, to be concluded that this young surgeon-physician's first
visit to the Rue Fossette would be the last. The respectable Dr.
Pillule being expected home the next day, there appeared no reason why
his temporary substitute should again represent him; but the Fates had
written their decree to the contrary.

Dr. Pillule had been summoned to see a rich old hypochondriac at the
antique university town of Bouquin-Moisi, and upon his prescribing
change of air and travel as remedies, he was retained to accompany the
timid patient on a tour of some weeks; it but remained, therefore, for
the new doctor to continue his attendance at the Rue Fossette.

I often saw him when he came; for Madame would not trust the little
invalid to Trinette, but required me to spend much of my time in the
nursery. I think he was skilful. Fifine recovered rapidly under his
care, yet even her convalescence did not hasten his dismissal. Destiny
and Madame Beck seemed in league, and both had ruled that he should
make deliberate acquaintance with the vestibule, the private staircase
and upper chambers of the Rue Fossette.

No sooner did Fifine emerge from his hands than Desiree declared
herself ill. That possessed child had a genius for simulation, and
captivated by the attentions and indulgences of a sick-room, she came
to the conclusion that an illness would perfectly accommodate her
tastes, and took her bed accordingly. She acted well, and her mother
still better; for while the whole case was transparent to Madame Beck
as the day, she treated it with an astonishingly well-assured air of
gravity and good faith.

What surprised me was, that Dr. John (so the young Englishman had
taught Fifine to call him, and we all took from her the habit of
addressing him by this name, till it became an established custom, and
he was known by no other in the Rue Fossette)--that Dr. John consented
tacitly to adopt Madame's tactics, and to fall in with her manoeuvres.
He betrayed, indeed, a period of comic doubt, cast one or two rapid
glances from the child to the mother, indulged in an interval of self-
consultation, but finally resigned himself with a good grace to play
his part in the farce. Desiree eat like a raven, gambolled day and
night in her bed, pitched tents with the sheets and blankets, lounged
like a Turk amidst pillows and bolsters, diverted herself with
throwing her shoes at her bonne and grimacing at her sisters--over-
flowed, in short, with unmerited health and evil spirits; only
languishing when her mamma and the physician paid their diurnal visit.
Madame Beck, I knew, was glad, at any price, to have her daughter in
bed out of the way of mischief; but I wondered that Dr. John did not
tire of the business.

Every day, on this mere pretext of a motive, he gave punctual
attendance; Madame always received him with the same empressement, the
same sunshine for himself, the same admirably counterfeited air of
concern for her child. Dr. John wrote harmless prescriptions for the
patient, and viewed her mother with a shrewdly sparkling eye. Madame
caught his rallying looks without resenting them--she had too much
good sense for that. Supple as the young doctor seemed, one could not
despise him--this pliant part was evidently not adopted in the design
to curry favour with his employer: while he liked his office at the
pensionnat, and lingered strangely about the Rue Fossette, he was
independent, almost careless in his carriage there; and yet, too, he
was often thoughtful and preoccupied.

It was not perhaps my business to observe the mystery of his bearing,
or search out its origin or aim; but, placed as I was, I could hardly
help it. He laid himself open to my observation, according to my
presence in the room just that degree of notice and consequence a
person of my exterior habitually expects: that is to say, about what
is given to unobtrusive articles of furniture, chairs of ordinary
joiner's work, and carpets of no striking pattern. Often, while
waiting for Madame, he would muse, smile, watch, or listen like a man
who thinks himself alone. I, meantime, was free to puzzle over his
countenance and movements, and wonder what could be the meaning of
that peculiar interest and attachment--all mixed up with doubt and
strangeness, and inexplicably ruled by some presiding spell--which
wedded him to this demi-convent, secluded in the built-up core of a
capital. He, I believe, never remembered that I had eyes in my head,
much less a brain behind them.

Nor would he ever have found this out, but that one day, while he sat
in the sunshine and I was observing the colouring of his hair,
whiskers, and complexion--the whole being of such a tone as a strong
light brings out with somewhat perilous force (indeed I recollect I
was driven to compare his beamy head in my thoughts to that of the
"golden image" which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up), an idea new,
sudden, and startling, riveted my attention with an over-mastering
strength and power of attraction. I know not to this day how I looked
at him: the force of surprise, and also of conviction, made me forget
myself; and I only recovered wonted consciousness when I saw that his
notice was arrested, and that it had caught my movement in a clear
little oval mirror fixed in the side of the window recess--by the aid
of which reflector Madame often secretly spied persons walking in the
garden below. Though of so gay and sanguine a temperament, he was not
without a certain nervous sensitiveness which made him ill at ease
under a direct, inquiring gaze. On surprising me thus, he turned and
said, in a tone which, though courteous, had just so much dryness in
it as to mark a shade of annoyance, as well as to give to what was
said the character of rebuke, "Mademoiselle does not spare me: I am
not vain enough to fancy that it is my merits which attract her
attention; it must then be some defect. Dare I ask--what?"

I was confounded, as the reader may suppose, yet not with an
irrecoverable confusion; being conscious that it was from no emotion
of incautious admiration, nor yet in a spirit of unjustifiable
inquisitiveness, that I had incurred this reproof. I might have
cleared myself on the spot, but would not. I did not speak. I was not
in the habit of speaking to him. Suffering him, then, to think what he
chose and accuse me of what he would, I resumed some work I had
dropped, and kept my head bent over it during the remainder of his
stay. There is a perverse mood of the mind which is rather soothed
than irritated by misconstruction; and in quarters where we can never
be rightly known, we take pleasure, I think, in being consummately
ignored. What honest man, on being casually taken for a housebreaker,
does not feel rather tickled than vexed at the mistake?

Content of CHAPTER X - DR. JOHN (Charlotte Bronte's novel: Villette)

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