Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/136

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128
[July 26, 1862.
ONCE A WEEK.

He brother to courtly Lionel, to stately Decima, son to refined Lady Verner? He certainly was: though Lady Verner in her cross moods would declare that Jan must have been changed at nurse—an assertion without foundation, since he had been nursed at home under her own eye. Never in his life had he been called anything but Jan: address him as Janus, or as Mr. Verner, and it may be questioned if Jan would have answered to it. People called him “droll,” and, if to be of plain, unvarnished manners and speech was droll, Jan decidedly was so. Some said Jan was a fool, some said he was a bear. Lady Verner did not accord him any great amount of favour herself. She had tried to make Jan what she called a gentleman, to beat into him suavity, gracefulness, tact, gloss of speech and bearing; something between a Lord Chesterfield and a Sir Roger de Coverley, and she had been obliged to give it up as a hopeless job. Jan was utterly irreclaimable: Nature had made him plain and straightforward, and so he remained. But there was many a one that the world would bow down to as a model, whose intrinsic worth was poor, compared to unoffending Jan’s. Lady Verner would tell Jan he was undutiful. Jan tried to be as dutiful to her as ever he could; but he could not change his ungainly person, his awkward manner. As well try to wash a negro white.

Lady Verner had proposed that Jan should go into the army. Jan (plain spoken as a boy, like he was now) had responded that he’d rather not go out to be shot at. What was she to do with him? Lady Verner peevishly asked: she had no money, and she would take care Jan was not helped from Mr. Verner. To make him a barrister, or a clergyman, or a member of parliament (it was what Lady Verner said), would cost vast sums of money: a commission could be obtained for him gratis, in consideration of his father’s services.

“Make me an apothecary,” said Jan.

“An apothecary!” echoed Lady Verner, aghast. “That’s not a gentleman’s calling.”

Jan opened his great eyes. Had he taken a liking for carpentering, he would have deemed it gentlemanly enough for him.

“What on earth has put an apothecary’s business into your head?” cried Lady Verner.

“I should like the pounding,” replied Jan.

“The pounding!” reiterated Lady Verner, in astonishment.

“I should like it altogether,” concluded Jan. “I wish you’d let me go apprentice to Dr. West.”

Jan held to his liking. In due course of time he was apprenticed to Dr. West, and pounded away to his heart’s content. Thence he went to London to walk the hospitals, and completed his studies in Paris. It was at the latter period that the accident happened to Jan which called Lionel to Paris. Jan was knocked down by a carriage in the street, his leg broken, and he was otherwise injured. Time and skill cured him. Time and perseverance completed his studies, and Jan became a licensed surgeon of no mean skill. He returned to Deerham, and was engaged as assistant to Dr. West. No very ambitious position, but “it’s good enough for Jan,” slightingly said Lady Verner. Jan probably thought the same, or he would have sought a better. He was four-and-twenty now. Dr. West was a general practitioner, holding an Edinburgh degree only. There was plenty to do in Deerham and its neighbourhood, what with the rich and what with the poor. Dr. West chiefly attended the rich himself, and left Jan to take care of the poor. It was all one to Jan.

Jan sat on the counter in the surgery, pounding and pounding. He had just come in from his visit to Deerham Court, summoned thither by the slight accident to his sister Decima. Leaning his two elbows on the counter, and his pale puffy cheeks on his hands, intently watching Jan with his light eyes, was a young gentleman of sixteen, with an apron tied round his waist. This was Master Cheese, an apprentice, as Jan once had been. In point of fact, the pounding now was Master Cheese’s proper work, but he was fat and lazy, and so sure as Jan came into the surgery, so sure would young Cheese begin to grunt and groan, and vow that his arms were “knocked off” with the work. Jan, in his indolent manner,—and in motion and manner Jan appeared intensely indolent, as if there was no hurry in him; he would bring his words, too, out indolently,—would lift the pounding machine aloft, sit himself down on the counter, and complete the work.

“I say,” said young Cheese, watching the progress of the pestle with satisfaction, “Dame Dawson has been here.”

“What did she want?” asked Jan.

“Bad in her inside, she says. I gave her three good doses of jalap.”

“Jalap!” echoed Jan. “Well, it won’t do her much harm. She won’t take ’em; she’ll throw ’em away.”

“Law, Jan!” For, in the private familiarity of the surgery, young Cheese was thus accustomed unceremoniously to address his master—as Jan was. And Jan allowed it with composure.

“She’ll throw ’em away,” repeated Jan. “There’s not a worse lot for physic in all the parish than Dame Dawson. I know her of old. She thought she’d get peppermint and cordials ordered for her: an excuse for running up a score at the public-house. Where’s the doctor?”

“He’s off somewhere. I saw one of the Bitterworth grooms come to the house this afternoon, so perhaps something’s wrong there. I say, Jan, there’ll be a stunning pie for supper!”

“Have you seen it?”

“Haven’t I! I went into the kitchen when she was making it. It has got a hare inside it, and forcemeat balls.”

“Who?” asked Jan—alluding to the maker.

“Miss Deb,” replied young Cheese. “It’s sure to be something extra good, for her to go and make it. If she doesn’t help me to a rare good serving, shan’t I look black at her!”

“It mayn’t be for supper,” debated Jan.

“Cook said it was. I asked her. She thought somebody was coming. I say, Jan, if you miss any of the castor oil, don’t go and say I drank it.”

Jan lifted his eyes to a shelf opposite, where various glass bottles stood. Among them was the