It was commonly understood in the town of Rockland that Dudley Venner had had a great deal of trouble with that daughter of his, so handsome, yet so peculiar, about whom there were so many strange stories. There was no end to the tales which were told of her extraordinary doings. Yet her name was never coupled with that of any youth or man, until this cousin had provoked remark by his visit; and even then it was oftener in the shape of wondering conjectures whether he would dare to make love to her, than in any pretended knowledge of their relations to each other, that the public tongue exercised its village-prerogative of tattle.
The more common version of the trouble at the mansion-house was this: Elsie was not exactly in her right mind. Her temper was singular, her tastes were anomalous, her habits were lawless, her antipathies were many and intense, and she was liable to explosions of ungovernable anger. Some said that was not the worst of it. At nearly fifteen years old, when she was growing fast, and in an irritable state of mind and body, she had had a governess placed over her for whom she had conceived an aversion. It was whispered among a few who knew more of the family secrets than others, that, worried and exasperated by the presence and jealous oversight of this person, Elsie had attempted to get finally rid of her by unlawful means, such as young girls have been known to employ in their straits, and to which the sex at all ages has a certain instinctive tendency, in preference to more palpable instruments for the righting of its wrongs. At any rate, this governess had been taken suddenly ill, and the Doctor had been sent for at midnight. Old Sophy had taken her master into a room apart, and said a few words to him which turned him as white as a sheet. As soon as he recovered himself, he sent Sophy out, called in the old Doctor, and gave him some few hints, on which he acted at once, and had the satisfaction of seeing his patient out of danger before he left in the morning. It is proper to say, that, during the following days, the most thorough search was made in every nook and cranny of those parts of the house which Elsie chiefly haunted, but nothing was found which might be accused of having been the intentional cause of the probably accidental sudden illness of the governess. From this time forward her father was never easy. Should he keep her apart, or shut her up, for fear of risk to others, and so lose every chance of restoring her mind to its healthy tone by kindly influences and intercourse with wholesome natures? There was no proof, only presumption, as to the agency of Elsie in the matter referred to. But the doubt was worse, perhaps, than certainty would have been,—for then he would have known what to do.
He took the old Doctor as his adviser. The shrewd old man listened to the father’s story, his explanations of possibilities, of probabilities, of dangers, of hopes. When he had got through, the Doctor looked him in the face steadily, as if he were saying, Is that all?