AUNT JELLY INTERFERES

“What vows you made at the marriage altar,
For better and worse, to take your wife;
Yet at the moment of need you falter,
Quail at rumours of coming strife.
Nay, it were wiser to cling and cherish,
Altho’ things evil be said and done;
If in the future you both should perish,
Husband and wife should be lost as one.”

Aunt Jelly was looking very pale and ill on the day she elected to see
Guy in order to expostulate with him on the wild way in which he was
behaving. She was suffering from a very serious disease connected with
the heart, and Dr. Pargowker warned her against any undue excitement,
as it might prove fatal. He was seated with her now, a fat, oily man
of the Chadband species, and talked about her ill-health in his usual
unctuous manner.

In her accustomed chair sat Miss Corbin, looking worn with illness,
but as grim and defiant as ever, while the doctor standing near her
felt her pulse with one hand, and held his watch with the other.
Minnie, ever watchful of her patroness’s comfort, hovered round like
an unquiet spirit, bringing all sorts of unnecessary things, which
made Aunt Jelly very irritable and led her to say unpleasant things to
Miss Pelch which reduced the poetess to tears.

“Well?” said Miss Corbin sharply, when Dr. Pargowker had finished with
her pulse, “what do you say? Is this illness serious?”

The doctor lifted one fat white hand in gentle protest, and resumed
his seat with a comfortable sigh.

“No, dearest lady, no,” he said in his heavy, soft voice, “do not I
beg of you think you are so bad as all that. You remind me, if I may
be permitted to make the comparison, of a dear friend of mine who
departed—-”

“Bother your dear friend!” snapped Aunt Jelly in her grimmest manner.
“I didn’t ask you here to tell me other people’s histories. I want to
know about my own state of health.”

Dr. Pargowker folded his chubby hands complacently on his rotund
stomach and meekly ventured a protest against this language.

“Do not, oh dearest lady,” he said unctuously, “do not excite yourself
like this. It is bad for you, dearest lady, very bad.”

“Very bad, dear Miss Corbin,” echoed Minnie tearfully.

“And might lead to complications,” pursued the doctor, shaking his
head.

“Complications,” echoed Miss Pelch, putting her handkerchief to her
eyes.

“Minnie,” said Aunt Jelly politely, “you’re getting a bigger fool
every day. Have the goodness to hold your tongue and not talk of
things you know nothing about. Dr. Pargowker, if you will kindly leave
off nodding your head like a Chinese mandarin, and tell me straight
out what you mean, I should feel obliged.”

“Dearest lady,” growled the doctor, “it is useless to conceal from you
the painful fact that you are very ill.”

“I know that sir,” retorted Aunt Jelly coolly, “go on.”

“You must avoid all undue excitement, such as dances, theatres, and
seeing friends.”

“I haven’t been to a dance for the last twenty years,” said Miss
Corbin wrathfully, “and as for a theatre, I’ve got no time to waste on
that rubbish. What do you mean by talking such nonsense to me?”

“Easily upset, I see,” murmured Pargowker, apparently to himself,
“very easily upset.”

“Wouldn’t you like a little pillow for your head, dear Miss Jelly?”
said Minnie, holding one over Miss Corbin as though she were going to
play Othello to the old lady’s Desdemona.

“I’d like a little common sense,” retorted Miss Corbin, pushing away
the pillow, “but it seems I’m not likely to get it.”

“Be calm, dear lady, be calm,” observed Dr. Pargowker, nodding his
head. “If you will permit me, I will write out a prescription.”

“Pen, ink, and paper, Minnie!” ordered Aunt jelly, glaring at the
doctor.

The obliging Minnie flew to obtain these necessaries, and having done
so, placed them on a little table near the physician, who wheeled his
chair round and began to write.

Aunt Jelly and Dr. Pargowker were old friends, and never parted
without a fight, which, however, was principally conducted by Miss
Corbin, as the doctor resolutely kept his temper, and always left the
room as bland, cool, and unruffled as when he entered it. In spite of
his round-about way of putting things, Pargowker was really very
clever at his profession, and Aunt Jelly reposed the utmost confidence
in his power, although she never could resist using her sharp tongue
on him when occasion offered, and as it did so now, Aunt Jelly began
to talk, showing thereby that she was not so ill as she seemed.

“Lord knows how you get patients,” she said, folding her bony hands,
“it’s all chat with you and nothing else.”

“Dear, dear,” murmured Pargowker, going on placidly with his writing,
“this is bad, very, very bad.”

“Are you talking about your prescription, or yourself?” snapped Miss
Corbin, dauntlessly. “I daresay they’re much of a muchness. If one
doesn’t kill me, I’ve no doubt the other will.”

“Pardon me, dearest lady,” said the doctor, smiling blandly, “you are
in error. This prescription will do you a great deal of good. Oh, we
will pull you round, yes–yes. I think I may venture to say we will
pull you round.”

“Pull me round or square, it’s easily seen I’m not long for this
world,” replied Miss Corbin.

“Oh, do not speak like that, Miss Jelly,” whimpered Minnie, “you will
get quite well, I’m sure of it.”

“Aye! aye!” remarked Pargowker, folding up his prescription. “While
there’s life, there’s hope.”

“Don’t quote your proverbs to me,” said Aunt Jelly, determined not to
be pleased by anything, “they’re nothing but traditional lies; but
seriously speaking, doctor, if you can speak seriously, which I’m very
much inclined to doubt, I want to see my nephew, Sir Guy Errington,
to-day.”

“No! dearest lady, no!” said Pargowker, rising from his seat, and
raising one hand in protest, “pardon me, no!–the very worst person
you could see!”

“If you knew him as well as I do, you might well say that,” replied
Miss Corbin, malignantly, “but I must see him. It’s imperative.”

“If you will not excite yourself—-”

“I’m not going to excite myself,” retorted Aunt Jelly, “but I’m going
to excite him.”

Dr. Pargowker took up his hat and buttoned his coat with the air of a
man who washed his hands of the whole affair.

“If you attend to my orders,” he said, speaking more sharply than was
usual with him, “you will see no one. But I know you of old, Miss
Corbin. You expect to be cured, but won’t do what you’re told.”

“Good Heavens!” ejaculated Aunt Jelly, with feeble merriment. “Have
you taken to poetry also? The idea is good, doctor, but the poetry is
worse than Minnie’s.”

“Oh, Miss Jelly!” murmured Minnie, in tearful protest.

“Well, well,” said Pargowker, good-humouredly, shaking hands with Miss
Corbin, “poetry or not, dear lady, do what I tell you. Keep yourself
calm, see no one, take this prescription, and I think, yes, I think
you will be quite safe.”

“I’ve no doubt about it,” cried Aunt Jelly, as he paused at the door,
“safe for the nearest cemetery. Go along with you, doctor. I tell you
I’ve made up my mind to see my nephew. It’s a case of life and death.”

“Certainly with you, dear lady–certainly with you,” said Dr.
Pargowker emphatically. “Miss Pelch, will you honour me by seeing me
to the door?”

“You want to talk about me behind my back,” said Miss Corbin,
suspiciously. “It’s no use. I’ll make Minnie tell me everything.” She
darted a threatening look at that young lady, which made her shake,
and then Minnie disappeared through the door, while the doctor
prepared to follow, first giving a parting word to his refractory
patient.

“It’s no use, dear lady,” he said, with playful ponderousness,
“calling in the doctor if you don’t intend to obey him.”

“I never obeyed anyone in my life,” said Aunt Jelly, stiffening her
back, “and I’m certainly not going to begin with you.”

“Dearest Miss Corbin, I am in earnest.”

“So am I,” retorted the old lady, frowning. “There! there! go away,
I’ll do everything you tell me, but I must see my nephew to-day.”

Dr. Pargowker sighed, yielded to stern necessity, and spoke.

“Well, you can do so, my dear, old friend, but only for five
minutes–only for five minutes.”

“Quite enough for all I’ve got to say.”

The doctor looked waggishly at Miss Corbin, in order to keep up her
spirits, but his face grew very grave as he spoke to Minnie at the
door.

“She must not see anyone,” he said emphatically, “mind that, Miss
Pelch. I was obliged to say she could speak to Sir Guy Errington for
five minutes, as she grows so excited over being contradicted. If he
does come, let her see him for that time, but don’t let her grow
excited. I’ll call in again to-night, to see how she is.”

“Is she very ill?” asked Minnie in dismay.

“So ill,” said Pargowker, putting on his hat, “that if she’s not kept
absolutely quiet, she won’t recover.”

“Oh!” said Miss Pelch in an alarmed tone, and would have asked more
questions, only Dr. Pargowker was already in his brougham, on his way
to another patient.

Minnie returned to the drawing-room, with a cheerful face, so as not
to let Miss Corbin see her feelings, but that indomitable lady was
determined to have the truth, and tackled her at once.

“Well, what did he say?” she demanded, sharply.

“Only that you were to keep yourself quiet, dear Miss Jelly,” replied
Minnie, taking up her work, a green parrot being embroidered on a red
tree, against a yellow ground and a purple sky.

“What else?”

“Nothing!”

“Minnie, you are deceiving me,” said Aunt Jelly solemnly. “I can see
it in your face. Do you think it’s right to deceive a dying person?”

“You’re not dying,” whimpered Minnie, beginning to cry.

“I’m not far off it, at all events,” retorted Miss Corbin, with a
sigh. “I know my own constitution quite as well as that fool of a
doctor, and I’m pretty sure I won’t get well this time.”

“Oh, but you will–you will,” cried Minnie, weeping.

“Pooh! nonsense, child,” said Miss Corbin, kindly, “don’t waste your
tears over an old woman like me. I’ve had a long life, but by no means
a happy one. Quantity not quality, I suppose. If I can only see
Victoria engaged to that nice Macjean boy, and persuade my nephew out
of his folly, I’ll not be sorry to go.”

“Dr. Pargowker said you were not to see Sir Guy longer than five
minutes, Miss Jelly.”

“Quite long enough.”

“And were not to excite yourself.”

“There, there, Minnie!” said Miss Jelly, impatiently. “I’ll take good
care of myself, you may be sure. What time did Sir Guy say he would be
here?”

“Four o’clock, dear Miss Corbin.”

“It’s nearly that now,” observed Aunt Jelly, looking at the clock. “I
hope he won’t keep me waiting. Young men are so careless now-a-days.
Miss Sheldon has gone out?”

“Yes! to the Academy with Mrs. Trubbles and Mr. Macjean.”

“Neither of whom know anything about pictures. It means flirting, not
art, I’ve no doubt. Well! well, we must not be too hard on the young.
Let me leave the world in peace, that’s all I ask.”

Minnie put down her work, and came close to Miss Corbin, whose thin
cold hand she took in her own.

“Dear Miss jelly, don’t talk like that,” she said, softly, “indeed you
will get well, I’m sure you will.”

“No, child, no!”

“Oh, but, yes,” persisted her companion, fondly. “Why, whatever would
I do, if you did not live to read my little volume?”

“Oh, it’s coming out, then?” said Aunt Jelly, grimly, with a flash of
her old spirit.

“Yes, Mr. Gartney has arranged it all. I was going to keep it a
secret, but when you talk about dying, I can’t,” and poor Minnie
fairly broke down, which touched Aunt Jelly more than she liked to
acknowledge.

“There! there!” she said, touching Minnie’s face, with unaccustomed
tenderness, “you’re a good child, Minnie. Tell me all about this
poetry book.”

“It’s going to be called ‘Heart Throbs and Sad Sobs, by Minnie
Pelch,'” said the poetess, radiantly, “‘dedicated to Miss Angelica
Corbin, by her sincere friend, the Authoress.'”

Aunt Jelly was silent for a few minutes, feeling, rather a choking in
her throat. She had laughed at poor Minnie’s simple rhymes on many
occasions, and now the poetess had returned good for evil, paying her
the high compliment of inscribing her name on the front of the book.
Minnie mistook her silence for indignation at not having asked
permission, and tried to pacify the old lady.

“I hope you’re not angry,” she said, timidly smoothing Aunt Jelly’s
hand, “but I wanted to surprise you by the dedication. There’s a
poem about you too, Miss Jelly, and I think it’s the best in the
book–really the best.”

The old lady was so touched by Minnie’s poor little attempt to
propitiate her, that she could not trust herself to speak, and when
she did there were tears rolling down her hard old face, as she bent
down and kissed her.

“It’s very good of you, child,” she said, in a tremulous voice, “and I
feel very much honoured, indeed. Perhaps I’ve not been so kind to you
as I ought to have been.

“Oh, but you have!–you have!” cried Minnie, throwing herself on her
knees, with tears in her eyes. “If it had not been for you, I would
have starved, dear Miss Jelly. Indeed, I would. It is so hard to get
paid for poetry. And you have been such a kind, good friend–such a
kind good friend!”

“If I have spoken harshly to you, dear, on occasions,” said Aunt
Jelly, brokenly, “it was from no want of feeling. Age, my dear Minnie,
age, and an embittered nature. But the heart was there, my dear, all
the time the heart was there.”

“I know it was!–I know it was!” wept Minnie, patting the withered
hand of her old friend. “I have never doubted that.”

“Yes! yes!” muttered the old dame dreamily, “the heart was there.”

And there was silence for a few minutes, only broken by the sobs of
Minnie, then Aunt Jelly recovered her usual manner with an effort, and
ordered wine and cake to be placed on the table. Miss Pelch had barely
time to do this, when there came a ring at the front door, and shortly
afterwards Sir Guy Errington entered the room. Aunt Jelly, now quite
her own grim self, received her nephew coldly, and then sent Minnie
out of the room, as she wanted to talk to Sir Guy in private. Miss
Pelch, however, mindful of the doctor’s order, did not go far, but
waited in the hall, so as to be ready to enter when the five minutes
had expired.

Guy looked rather haggard about the face, as he sat down near his
elderly relation, which Aunt Jelly put down to fast living, although,
in reality, it was due to worrying about his wife. This idea did not
make her feel very tenderly towards Errington, and she prepared
herself to do battle.

“So you’ve come at last?” she said, straightening her back, and
folding her hands on her knees.

“I came as soon as you sent for me,” answered Guy, quietly.

“You should have come without an invitation,” said Aunt Jelly, with a
frown, “but young men of the present day seem to take a delight in
neglecting those nearest and dearest to them.”

This was said pointedly, with a view to drawing forth some remark
about Alizon, but Guy did not take it in that sense.

“I don’t want to neglect you, aunt,” he said moodily, “but our
conversations are not so pleasant that I should look forward to them.”

“I only speak for your good.”

“People always do that when they make disagreeable remarks,” replied
Errington sarcastically. “You’re not looking well to-day, Aunt Jelly.”

“I don’t feel well either,” responded his aunt shortly. “I’m dying.”

“Oh, no, don’t say that,” said Guy, heartily shocked at her remark.

“But I will say it,” retorted Miss Corbin, nodding her head
vigorously, “and I’ll say something else too that you won’t like.”

“I’ve no doubt you will,” answered Guy crossly, rising to his feet.
“Look here, Aunt Jelly, you’re not well to-day, and if you brought me
here to quarrel, I’m not fit for it.”

“You’re fit for nothing in my opinion except the Divorce Court,” said
Aunt Jelly viciously. “Sit down.”

“I don’t know what you mean by talking about the Divorce Court,”
answered Errington calmly, obeying her command.

“Think and see.”

“What’s the good of my doing that?” cried Errington angrily, “I don’t
know what you mean.”

“Don’t shriek,” said Miss Corbin coolly, “it goes through my head.”

“I beg your pardon aunt,” replied Guy politely, “but if you would tell
me what you’re driving at I would feel obliged.”

Aunt Jelly sat in silence for a moment, rapping the fingers of one
hand on the knuckles of the other, then spoke out sharply.

“What’s all this talk about you and Mrs. Veilsturm?” Guy sat bolt
upright in his chair and stared at her in amazement.

“Oh, is that it?” he said with a short laugh. “Don’t worry your head
about Mrs. Veilsturm, aunt. All the world can know the relations that
exist between us.”

“All the world does know.”

Errington arose from his seat with a smothered ejaculation, and
thrusting his hands into his pockets, began to walk backwards and
forwards.

“You needn’t use bad language, my dear Guy,” said Aunt Jelly, with
aggravating placidity. “All I want to know is what you mean by leaving
your wife and running after Mrs. Veilsturm?”

“I’m not running after Mrs. Veilsturm,” said her nephew angrily, “and
I’ve not left my wife. I’m simply up in Town for a spell, and have
called once or twice to see a very pleasant woman.”

“A very pleasant woman, indeed,” sneered Aunt Jelly scornfully.

“If you think so badly of her, I wonder you let your ward go near
her.”

“I don’t know anything against the woman’s character,” replied Miss
Corbin, “so there’s no reason I should keep Victoria away. I daresay
she’s as bad as the rest of them, and conceals it better. But that’s
nothing to do with my question. It has come to my ears that you are
paying marked attentions to Mrs. Veilsturm, and I want to know if it
is true.”

“No, it is not true?” answered Errington slowly. “I have been a great
deal with Mrs. Veilsturm since I came up to Town, but that was simply
because she asked me to visit her, and without being absolutely rude,
I could not refuse.”

“A very nice explanation,” said his aunt disbelievingly, “but do you
think it is one your wife will accept?”

“My wife knows nothing about my visits to Mrs. Veilsturm.”

“Indeed she does,” replied Aunt Jelly coolly. “I wrote and told her
all about them.”

Guy’s face grew as pale as that of a corpse, and he stared at Miss
Corbin as if he had been turned into stone. At length, with an effort,
he arose to his feet and repeated her answer in a harsh, strained
voice.

“You wrote and told her all about them?”

“Yes! I did not think your conduct was right, so, as your wife has
most influence with you, I wrote and told her to call you back to
Ellington.”

All the blood in his body seemed to surge up into his head with the
violent effort he made to suppress his anger. Had it been any one else
but this feeble old woman, he would have simply let his passion master
him, but in this case, with such an adversary he could do nothing.

“God forgive you, Aunt Jelly,” he said at length, “you’ve done a cruel
thing,” and he turned and walked slowly to the door.

“I have done what was right,” said Miss Corbin bravely. “You were
deceiving your wife, and I was determined she should know of your
deception.”

Sir Guy turned towards her as he paused at the door, and when she
finished speaking, answered her slowly and deliberately.

“You are quite wrong. I was not deceiving my wife, as I can prove to
you. As you know, my wife has treated me very cruelly during the last
year, and neglected me in every way, giving all her love to the child.
Eustace came down the other day, and advised me to leave my wife for a
few weeks, thinking she would not be so indifferent on my return. I
took his advice and came up to Town. Eustace took me to Mrs.
Veilsturm, and finding her a very pleasant woman, I simply went there
in order to amuse myself. But as for caring about her, I love and
respect my wife and my name too much to degrade myself so far.
Unluckily, until the other day, I did not remember that Alizon
disliked Mrs. Veilsturm, because she was mixed up with her father in
some way, and forbade her to visit at the Hall. Had I remembered this,
I would not have gone there, but it’s too late now to think of it. By
believing all these malicious stories, which I give you my word of
honour have no foundation, and writing to her, she will believe that I
went to see this woman on purpose, and she will never forgive me. I am
going down to the Hall by to-night’s train, and will try and explain
everything to her, but I’m afraid she will not believe me. No doubt
you acted for the best, Aunt Jelly, but in doing so you have simply
ruined my life.”

“Guy! Guy!” moaned the old woman, who had listened to all this with a
sense of stunned amazement. “Forgive me! I did it for the best, but I
will write again and tell her how wrong I have been.”

“It is too late,” he replied sadly, “too late.”

“No, it’s not too late, Guy. But forgive me! forgive me!”

Errington looked at her coldly.

“If my wife forgives me I will forgive you,” he answered, and left the
room.

Aunt Jelly stared at the closed door, and strove to call him back, but
her voice died in her throat, a mist came before her eyes, and
overwhelmed by the fatal discovery she had made, and the excitement
she had undergone, she fell back in a dead faint.