Eve – A Novel (Chapter 9)



Jasper drew in full draughts of the delicious air, leaning back on the bench, himself in shade, watching the trees, hearing the hum of the bees, and the voices of the harvesters, pleasant and soft in the distance, as if the golden sun had subdued all the harshness in the tones of the rough voices. Then the waggon drew nigh; the garden was above the level of the farmyard, terraced so that Jasper could not see the cart and horses, or the men, but he saw the great load of grey-green hay move by, with Eve and Barbara seated on it, the former not only crowned with roses, but holding a pole with a bunch of roses and a flutter of ribands at the top. Eve’s golden hair had fallen loose and was about her shoulders. She was in an ecstasy of gaiety. As the load travelled along before the garden, both Eve and her sister saw the sick man on his bench. He seemed so thin, white, and feeble in the midst of a fresh and vigorous nature that Barbara’s heart grew soft,

and she had to bite her lip to control its quiver. Eve waved her staff topped with flowers and streamers, stood up in the hay and curtsied to him, with a merry laugh, and then dropped back into the hay, having lost her balance through the jolting of the wheels. Jasper brightened, and, removing his hat, returned the salute with comic majesty. Then, as Eve and Barbara disappeared, he fell back against the wall, and his eyes rested on the fluttering leaves of a white poplar, and some white butterflies that might have been leaves reft from the trees, flickering and pursuing each other in the soft air. The swallows that lived in a colony of inverted clay domes under the eaves were darting about, uttering shrill cries, the expression of exuberant joy of life. Jasper

sank into a summer dream.

He was roused from his reverie by a man coming between him and the pretty garden picture that filled his eyes. He recognised the surgeon, Mr.—or as the country people called him, Doctor—Coyshe. The young medical man had no objection to being thus entitled, but he very emphatically protested against his name being converted into Quash, or even Squash. Coyshe is a very respectable and ancient Devonshire family name, but it is a name that lends itself readily to phonetic degradation, and the young surgeon had to do daily battle to preserve it from being vulgarised. ‘Good afternoon, patient!’ said he cheerily; ‘doing well, thanks to my treatment.’

Jasper made a suitable reply.

‘Ah! I dare say you pull a face at seeing me now, thinking I am paying visits for the sake of my fee, when need for my attendance is past. That, let me tell you, is the way of some doctors; it is, however, not mine. Lord love you, I knew a case of a man who sent for a doctor because his wife was ill, and was forced to smother her under pillows to cut short the attendance and bring the bill within the compass of his means. Bless your stars, my man, that you fell into my hands, not

into those of old Crooke.’

‘I am assured,’ said Jasper, ‘that I am fallen into the best possible hands.’

‘Who assured you of that?’ asked Coyshe sharply; ‘Miss Eve or the other?’

‘I am assured by my own experience of your skill.’

‘Ah! an ordinary practitioner would have trepanned you; the whole run of them, myself and myself only excepted, have an itch in their fingers for the saw and the scalpel. There is far too much bleeding, cupping, and calomel used in the profession now—but what are we to say? The people love to have it so, to see blood and have a squeal for their money. I’ve had before now to administer a bread pill and give it a Greek name.’

Mr. Jordan from his study, the girls from the stackyard (or moway, as it is locally called), saw or heard the surgeon. He was loud in his talk and made himself heard. They came to him into the garden. Eve, with her natural coquetry, retained the crown of roses and her sceptre.

‘You see,’ said Mr. Coyshe, rubbing his hands, ‘I have done wonders. This would have been a dead man but for me. Now, sir, look at me,’ he said to Jasper; ‘you owe me a life.’

‘I know very well to whom I owe my life,’ answered Jasper, and glanced at Barbara. ‘To my last hour I shall not forget the obligation.’

‘And do you know _why_ he owes me his life?’ asked the surgeon of Mr. Jordan. ‘Because I let nature alone, and kept old Crooke away. I can tell you the usual practice. The doctor comes and shrugs his shoulders and takes snuff. When he sees a proper impression made, he says, “However; we will do our best, only we don’t work miracles.” He sprinkles his victim with snuff, as if about to embalm the body. If the man dies, the reason is clear. Crooke was not sent for in time. If he recovers, Crooke has wrought a miracle. That is not my way, as you all know.’ He looked about him complacently.

‘What will you take, Mr. Coyshe?’ asked Barbara; ‘some of our haysel ale, or claret? And will you come indoors for refreshment?’

‘Indoors! O dear me, no!’ said the young doctor; ‘I keep out of the atmosphere impregnated with four or five centuries of dirt as much as I can. If I had my way I would burn down every house with all its contents every ten years, and so we might get rid of half the diseases which ravage the world. I wouldn’t live in your old ramshackle Morwell if I were paid ten guineas a day. The atmosphere must be poisoned, charged with particles of dust many centuries old. Under every

cupboard, ay, and on top of it, is fluff, and every stir of a gown, every tread of a foot, sets it floating, and the currents bring it to your lungs or pores. What is that dust made up of? Who can tell? The scrapings of old monks, the scum of Protestant reformers, the detritus of any number of Jordans for ages, some of whom have had measles, some scarlet-fever, some small-pox. No, thank you. I’ll have my claret in the garden. I can tell you without looking what goes to make up the air in that pestilent old box; the dog has carried old bones behind the cupboard, the cat has been set a saucer of milk under the chest, which has been forgotten and gone sour. An old stocking which one of the ladies was mending was thrust under a sofa cushion, when the front door bell rang, and she had to receive callers—and that also was forgotten.’

Miss Jordan waxed red and indignant. ‘Mr. Coyshe,’ she said, ‘I cannot hear you say this, it is not true. Our house is perfectly sweet and clean; there is neither a store of old bones, nor a half-darned stocking, nor any of the other abominations you mentioned about it.’

‘Your eyes have not seen the world through a microscope. Mine have,’ answered the unabashed surgeon. ‘When a ray of sunlight enters your rooms, you can see the whole course of the ray.’


‘Very well, that is because the air is dirty. If it were clean you would be unable to see it. No, thank you. I will have my claret in the garden; perhaps you would not mind having it sent out to me. The air out of doors is pure compared to that of a house.’

A little table, wine, glasses and cake were sent out. Barbara and Eve did not reappear.

Mr. Jordan had a great respect for the young doctor. His self-assurance, his pedantry, his boasting, imposed on the timid and half-cultured mind of the old man. He hoped to get information from the surgeon about tests for metals, to interest him in his pursuits without letting him into his secrets; he therefore overcame his shyness sufficiently to appear and converse when Mr. Coyshe arrived.

‘What a very beautiful daughter you have got!’ said Coyshe; ‘one that is only to be seen in pictures. A man despairs of beholding such loveliness in actual life, and see, here, at the limit of the world, the vision flashes on one! Not much like you, Squire, not much like her sister; looks as if she belonged to another breed.’

Jasper Babb looked round startled at the audacity and rudeness of the surgeon. Mr. Jordan was not offended; he seemed indeed flattered. He was very proud of Eve.

‘You are right. My eldest daughter has almost nothing in common with her younger sister—only a half-sister.’

‘Really,’ said Coyshe, ‘it makes me shiver for the future of that fairy being. I take it for granted she will be yoked to some county booby of a squire, a Bob Acres. Good Lord! what a prospect! A jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, as Solomon says.’

‘Eve shall never marry one unworthy of her,’ said Ignatius Jordan vehemently. She will be under no constraint. She will be able to afford to shape her future according to her fancy. She will be comfortably off.’

‘Comfortably off fifty years ago means pinched now, and pinched now means screwed flat fifty years hence. Everything is becoming costly. Living is a luxury only for the well-to-do. The rest merely exist under sufferance.’

‘Miss Eve will not be pinched,’ answered Mr. Jordan, unconscious that he was being drawn out by the surgeon. ‘Seventeen years ago I lent fifteen hundred pounds, which is to be returned to me on Midsummer Day. To that I can add about five hundred; I have saved something since— not much, for somehow the estate has not answered as it did of old.’

‘You have two daughters.’

‘Oh, yes, there is Barbara,’ said Jordan in a tone of indifference. ‘Of course she will have something, but then—she can always manage for herself—with the other it is different.’

‘Are you ill?’ asked Coyshe, suddenly, observing that Jasper had turned very pale, and dark under the eyes. ‘Is the air too strong for you?’

‘No, let me remain here. The sun does me good.’

Mr. Jordan was rather glad of this opportunity of publishing the fortune he was going to give his younger daughter. He wished it to be known in the neighbourhood, that Eve might be esteemed and sought by suitable young men. He often said to himself that he could die content were Eve in a position where she would be happy and admired.

‘When did Miss Eve’s mother die?’ asked Coyshe abruptly. Mr. Jordan started.

‘Did I say she was dead? Did I mention her?’

Coyshe mused, put his hand through his hair and ruffled it up; then folded his arms and threw out his legs.

‘Now tell me, squire, are you sure of your money?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘That money you say you lent seventeen years ago. What are your securities?’

‘The best. The word of an honourable man.’

‘The word!’ Mr. Coyshe whistled. ‘Words! What are words?’

‘He offered me a mortgage, but it never came,’ said Mr. Jordan. ‘Indeed, I never applied for it. I had his word.’

‘If you see the shine of that money again, you are lucky.’ Then looking at Jasper: ‘My patient is upset again—I thought the air was too strong for him. He must be carried in. He is going into a fit.’

Jasper was leaning back against the wall, with distended eyes, and hands and teeth clenched as with a spasm.

‘No,’ said Jasper faintly, ‘I am not in a fit.’

‘You looked much as if going into an attack of lock-jaw.’

At that moment Barbara came out, and at once noticed the condition of the convalescent.

‘Here,’ said she, ‘lean on me as you did coming out. This has been too much for you. Will you help me, Doctor Coyshe?’

‘Thank you,’ said Jasper. ‘If Miss Jordan will suffer me to rest on her arm, I will return to my room.’

When he was back in his armchair and the little room he had occupied, Barbara looked earnestly in his face and said, ‘What has troubled you? I am sure something has.’

‘I am very unhappy,’ he answered, ‘but you must ask me no questions.’

Miss Jordan went in quest of her sister. ‘Eve,’ she said, ‘our poor patient is exhausted. Sit in the parlour and play and sing, and give a look into his room now and then. I am busy.’

The slight disturbance had not altered the bent of Mr. Jordan’s thoughts. When Mr. Coyshe rejoined him, which he did the moment he saw Jasper safe in his room, Mr. Jordan said, ‘I cannot believe that I ran any risk with the money. The man to whom I lent it is honourable. Besides, I have his note of hand acknowledging the debt; not that I would use it against him.’

‘A man’s word,’ said Coyshe, ‘is like india-rubber that can be made into any shape he likes. A word is made up of letters, and he will hold to the letters and permute their order to suit his own convenience, not yours. A man will stick to his word only so long as his word will stick to him. It depends entirely on which side it is licked. Hark! Is that Miss Eve singing? What a voice! Why, if she were trained and on the stage——’

Mr. Jordan stood up, agitated and angry.

‘I beg your pardon,’ said Coyshe. ‘Does the suggestion offend you? I merely threw it out in the event of the money lent not turning up.’

Just then his eyes fell on something that lay under the seat. ‘What is that? Have you dropped a pocket-book?’

A rough large leather pocket-book that was to which he pointed. Mr. Jordan stooped and took it up. He examined it attentively and uttered an exclamation of surprise.

‘Well,’ said the surgeon mockingly, ‘is the money come, dropped from the clouds at your feet?’

‘No,’ answered Mr. Jordan, under his breath, ‘but this is most extraordinary, most mysterious! How comes this case here? It is the very same which I handed over, filled with notes, to that man seventeen years ago! See! there are my initials on it; there on the shield is my crest. How comes it here?’

‘The question, my dear sir, is not how comes it here? but what does it contain?’


The surgeon put his hands in his pockets, screwed up his lips for a whistle, and said, ‘I foretold this, I am always right.’

‘The money is not due till Midsummer-day.’

‘Nor will come till the Greek kalends. Poor Miss Eve!’

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