“I say, though, it’s you that must take care and not let it go off,” returned Master Cheese, edging nevertheless a little away. “But, about that room—If old West——”
The words were interrupted. The door of the room in question was pushed open, and Dr. West came out of it. Had Master Cheese witnessed the arrival of an inhabitant from the other world, introduced by the most privileged medium extant, he could not have experienced more intense astonishment. He had truly believed, as he had just expressed it, that Dr. West was at that moment a good mile away.
“Put your hat on, Cheese,” said Dr. West.
Cheese put it on, going into a perspiration at the same time. He thought nothing less but that he was about to be dismissed.
“Take this note up to Sir Rufus Hautley’s.”
It was a great relief, and Master Cheese took the note in his hand, and went off whistling.
“Step in here, Mr. Jan,” said the doctor.
Jan took one of his long legs over the counter, jumped off, and stepped in: into the doctor’s sanctum. Had Jan been given to speculation, he might have wondered what was coming: but it was Jan’s mode to take things cool and easy, as they came, and not anticipate them.
“My health has been bad of late,” began the doctor.
“Law!” cried Jan. “What has been the matter?”
“A general disarrangement of the system altogether, I fancy,” returned Dr. West. “I believe that the best thing to restore me will be change of scene—travelling; and an opportunity to embrace it has presented itself. I am solicited by an old friend of mine, in practice in London, to take charge of a nobleman’s son for some months: to go abroad with him.”
“Is he ill?” asked literal Jan, to whom it never occurred to ask whether Dr. West had first of all applied to his old friend to seek after such a post for him.
“His health is delicate, both mentally and bodily,” replied Dr. West. “I should like to undertake it: the chief difficulty is, the leaving you here alone.”
“I dare say I can do it all,” said Jan. “My legs get over the ground quick. I can take to your horse.”
“If you find you cannot do it, you might engage an assistant,” suggested Dr. West.
“So I might,” said Jan.
“I should see no difficulty at all in the matter, if you were my partner. It would be the same as leaving myself, and the patients could not grumble. But, it is not altogether the thing to leave only an assistant, as you are, Mr. Jan.”
“Make me your partner, if you like,” said cool Jan. “I don’t mind. What’ll it cost?”
“Ah, Mr. Jan, it will cost more than you have got. At least, it ought to cost it.”
“I have got five hundred pounds,” said Jan. “I wanted Lionel to have it, but he won’t. Is that of any use?”
Dr. West coughed.
“Well, under the circumstances—But it is very little! I am sure you must know that it is. Perhaps, Mr. Jan, we can come to some arrangement by which I take the larger share for the present. Say that, for this year, you forward me——”
“Why, how long do you mean to be away?” interrupted Jan.
“I can’t say. One year, two years, three years,—it may be even more than that. I expect this will be a long and a lucrative engagement. Suppose, I say, that for the first year you transmit to me the one-half of the net profits, and, beyond that, hand over to Deborah a certain sum, as shall be agreed upon, towards housekeeping.”
“I don’t mind how it is,” said easy Jan. “They’ll stop here, then?”
“Of course they will. My dear Mr. Jan, everything, I hope, will go on just as it goes on now, save that I shall be absent. You and Cheese—whom I hope you’ll keep in order—and the errand boy: it will all be just as it has been. As to the assistant, that will be a future consideration.”
“I’d rather be without one, if I can do it,” cried Jan, “and Cheese will be coming on. Am I to live with ’em?”
“With Deb and Amilly? Why not? Poor, unprotected old things, what would they do without you? And now, Mr. Jan, as that is settled so far, we will sit down, and go further into details. I know I can depend upon your not mentioning this abroad.”
“If you don’t want me to mention it, you can. But where’s the harm?”
“It is always well to keep these little arrangements private,” said the doctor. “Matiss will draw up the deed, and I will take you round and introduce you as my partner. But there need not be anything said beforehand. Neither need there be anything said at all about my going away, until I actually go. You will oblige me in this, Mr. Jan.”
“It’s all the same to me,” said accommodating Jan. “Whose will be this room, then?”
“Yours to do as you please with, of course, so long as I am away.”
“I’ll have a turn-up bedstead put in it and sleep here, then,” quoth Jan. “When folks come in the night, and ring me up, I shall be handy. It’ll be better than disturbing the house, as is the case now.”
The doctor appeared struck with the proposition.
“I think it would be a very good plan, indeed,” he said. “I don’t fancy the room’s damp.”
“Not it,” said Jan. “If it were damp, it wouldn’t hurt me. I have no time to be ill, I haven’t. Damp——Who’s that?”
It was a visitor to the surgery—a patient of Dr. West’s. And, for the time, the conference was broken up.
Not to be renewed until evening. Dr. West and Jan were both fully occupied all the afternoon. When business was over—as much so as a doctor’s business ever can be over—Jan knocked at the door of this room, where Dr. West again was.
It was opened about an inch, and the face of the doctor appeared in the aperture, peering out to ascertain who it might be disturbing him. The