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If there was anything in the world as to which Isabella Dale was quite certain, it was this
- that she was not in love with Dr. Crofts. As to being in love with her cousin Bernard, she had never had occasion to ask herself any question on that head. She liked him very well, but she had never thought of marrying him; and now, when he made his proposal, she could not bring herself to think of it. But as regards Dr. Crofts, she had thought of it, and had made up her mind; —
, in the manner above described.
It may be said that she could not have been justified in discussing the matter even within her own bosom, unless authorized to do so by Dr. Crofts himself. Let it then be considered that Dr. Crofts had given her some such authority. This may be done in more ways than one; and Miss Dale could not have found herself asking herself questions about him, unless there had been fitting occasion for her to do so.
The profession of a medical man in a small provincial town is not often one which gives to its owner in early life a large income. Perhaps in no career has a man to work barder for what he earns, or to do more work without earning anything. It has sometimes seemed to me as though the young doctors and the old doctors had agreed to divide between them the different results of their profession, the
all the work and the old doctors taking all the money. If this be so it may account for that appearance of premature gravity which is borne by so many of the medical profession. Under such an arrangement a man may be excused for a desire to put away childish things very early in life.
Dr. Crofts had now been practising in Guestwick nearly seven years, having settled himself in that town when he was twenty-three years old, and being at this period about thirty. During those seven years his skill and industry had been so fully admitted that he had succeeded in obtaining the medical care of all the paupers in the union, for which work he was paid at the rate of one hundred pounds a year. also assistant-surgeon at a small hospital which was maintained in that town, and held two or three other similar public positions, all of which attested his respectability and general proficiency. They, moreover, thoroughly saved him from any of the dangers of idleness; but, unfortunately, they did not enable him to regard himself as a successful professional man. Whereas old Dr. Gruffen, of whom but few people spoke well, had made a fortune in Guestwick, and even still drew from the ailments of the town a considerable and hardly yet decreasing income. Now this was hard upon Dr. Crofts unless there was existing some such well-understood arrangement as that above named.
He had been known to the family of the Dales. long previous to his settlement at Guestwick, and had been very intimate with them from that time to the present day. Of all the men, young or old, whom Mrs. Dale counted among her intimate friends, he was
the one whom she most trusted and admired. And he was a man to be trusted by those who knew him well. He was not bright and always ready, as was Crosbie, nor had he all the practical worldly good sense of Bernard Dale.
In mental power I doubt whether he was superior to John Eames; – to John Eames, such as he might become when the period of his hobbledehoyhood should have altogether passed away. But Crofts, compared with the other three, as they all were at present, was a man more to be trusted than any of them. And there was, moreover, about him an occasional dash of humour, without which Mrs. Dale would hardly have regarded him with that thorough liking which she had for him. But it was a quiet humour, apt to show itself when he had but one friend with him, rather than in general society. Crosbie, on the other hand, would be much more bright among a dozen, than he could with a single companion. Bernard Dale was never bright; and as for Johnny Eames
but in this matter of brightness, Johnny Eames had not yet shown to the world what his character might be. ,
It was now two years since Crofts had been called upon for medical advice on behalf of his friend Mrs. Dale. . She had then been ill for a long period some two or three months, and Dr. Crofts had been frequent in his visits at Allington. At that time he became very intimate with Mrs. Dale's daughters, and especially so with the eldest. Young unmarried doctors ought perhaps to be excluded from houses in which there are young ladies. I know, at any rate, that many sage matrons hold very strongly to that opinion, thinking, no doubt, that doctors ought to get themselves married before they venture to begin working for a living. Mrs. Dale, perhaps, regarded her own girls as still merely children, for Bell, the elder, was then hardly eighteen; or perhaps she held imprudent and heterodox opinions on this subject; or it may be that she selfishly preferred Dr. Crofts, with all the danger to her children, to Dr. Gruffen, with all the danger to herself. But the result was that the young doctor one day informed himself, as he was riding back to Guestwick, that much of his happiness in this world would depend on his being able to marry Mrs. Dale's eldest daughter. At that time his total income amounted to little more than two hundred a year, and he had resolved within his own mind that Dr. Gruffen was esteemed as much the better doctor by the general public opinion of Guestwick, and that Dr. Gruffen's sandy-haired assistant would even have a better chance of success in the town than himself, should it ever come to pass that the doctor was esteemed too old for personal practice. Crofts had no fortune of his own, and he was aware that Miss Dale had none. Then, under those circumstances, what was he to do?
It is not necessary that we should inquire at any great length into those love passages of the doctor's life which took place three years before the commencement of this narrative. He made no declaration to Bell; but Bell, young as she was, 'understood well that he would fain have done so, had not his courage failed him, or rather had not his prudence prevented him. To Mrs. Dale he did speak, not openly avowing his love even to her, but hinting at it, and then talking to her of his unsatisfied hopes and professional disappointments. "It is not that I complain of being
poor as I am,” said he; "or at any rate, not so poor that my poverty must be any source of discomfort to me; but I could hardly marry with such an income as I have at present."
“But it will increase, will it not?” said Mrs. Dale.
“It may some day, when I am becoming an old man," he said. “But of what use will it be to me then?”
Mrs. Dale could not tell him that, as far as her voice in the matter went, he was welcome to woo her daughter and marry her, poor as he was, and doubly poor as they would both be together on such a pittance. He had not even mentioned Bell's name, and had he done so she could only have bade him wait and hope. After that he said nothing further to her upon the subject. To Bell he spoke no word of overt love; but on an autumn day, when Mrs. Dale was already convalescent, and the repetition of his professional visits had become unnecessary, he got her to walk with him through the half-hidden shrubbery paths, and then told her things which he should never have told her, if he really wished to bind her heart to his. He repeated that story of his income, and explained to her that his poverty was only grievous to him in that it prevented him from thinking of marriage. “I suppose it must," said Bell. “I should think it wrong to ask any lady to share such an income as mine," said he. Whereupon Bell had suggested to him that some ladies had incomes of their own, and that he might in that way get over the difficulty. “I should be afraid of myself in marrying a girl with money," said he; “besides, that is altogether out of the question now."
Of course Bell did not ask him why it was out of the question,