Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/278

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270
[Aug. 30, 1862.
ONCE A WEEK.

same aperture which enabled him to see out, enabled Jan to see in.

“Why! what’s up?” cried unceremonious Jan.

Jan might well ask it. The room contained a table, a desk or two,—some sets of drawers, and other receptacles for the custody of papers. All these were turned out, desks and drawers alike stood open, and their contents, a mass of papers, were scattered everywhere.

The doctor could not, in good manners, shut the door right in his proposed new partner’s face. He opened it an inch or two more. His own face was purple: it wore a startled, perplexed look, and the drops of moisture had gathered on his forehead. That he was not in the most easy frame of mind, was evident. Jan put one foot into the room: he could not put two, unless he had stepped upon the papers.

“What’s the matter?” asked Jan, perceiving the signs of perturbation on the doctor’s countenance.

“I have had a loss,” said the doctor. “It’s the most extraordinary thing, but a—a paper, which was here this morning, I cannot find anywhere. I must find it!” he added, in ill-suppressed agitation. “I’d rather lose everything I possess, than lose that.”

“Where did you put it? Where did you have it?” cried Jan, casting his eyes around.

“I kept it in a certain drawer,” replied Dr. West, too much disturbed to be anything but straightforward. “I have not had it in my hand for—oh, I cannot tell how long—months and months, until this morning. I wanted to refer to it then, and got it out. I was looking it over when a rough, ill-bred fellow burst the door open——

“I heard of that,” interrupted Jan. “Cheese told me.”

“He burst the door open, and I put the paper back in its place before I spoke to him,” continued Dr. West. “Half an hour ago I went to take it out again, and I found it had disappeared.”

“The fellow must have walked it off,” cried Jan. Not an unnatural conclusion.

“He could not,” said Dr. West; “it is quite an impossibility. I went back there,”—pointing to a bureau of drawers behind him—“and put the paper hastily in, and locked it in, returning the keys to my pocket. The man had not stepped over the threshold of the door then; he was a little taken to, I fancy, at his having burst the door, and he stood there staring.”

“Could he have got at it afterwards?” asked Jan.

“It is, I say, an impossibility. He never was within a yard or two of the bureau; and, if he had been, the place was firmly locked. That man it certainly was not. Nobody has been in the room since, save myself, and you for a few minutes to-day when I called you in. And yet the paper is gone!”

“Could anybody have come into the room by the other door?” asked Jan.

“No. It opens with a latchkey only, as this does. And the key was safe in my pocket.”

“Well, this beats everything,” cried Jan. “It’s like the codicil at Verner’s Pride.”

“The very thing it put me in mind of,” said Dr. West. “I’d rather—I’d rather have lost that codicil, had it been mine, than lose this, Mr. Jan.”

Jan opened his eyes. Jan had a knack of opening his eyes when anything surprised him: tolerably wide, too. “What paper was it, then?” he cried.

“It was a prescription, Mr. Jan.”

“A prescription!” returned Jan, the answer not lessening his wonder. “That’s not much. Isn’t it in the book?”

“No, it is not in the book,” said Dr. West. “It was too valuable to be in the book. You may look, Mr. Jan, but I mean what I say. This was a private prescription of inestimable value, a secret prescription, I may say. I would not have lost it for the whole world.”

The doctor wiped the dew from his perplexed forehead: the doctor strove, unsuccessfully, to control his agitated voice to calmness. Jan could only stare. All this fuss about a prescription!

“Did it contain the secret for compounding Life’s Elixir?” asked he.

“It contained what was more to me than that,” said Dr. West. “But you can’t help me, Mr. Jan. I would rather be left to the search alone.”

“I hope you’ll find it yet,” returned Jan, taking the hint and retreating to the surgery. “You must have overlooked it amongst some of these papers.”

“I hope I shall,” replied the doctor.

And he shut himself up to the search, and turned over the papers. But he never found what he had lost, although he was still turning and turning them at morning light.

 

CHAPTER XX. AN INTERCEPTED JOURNEY.

One dark morning, the beginning of November: in fact, it was the first morning of that gloomy month. Jan was busy in the surgery. Jan was arranging things there according to his own pleasure; for Dr. West had departed that morning early, and Jan was master of the field.

Jan had risen betimes. Never a sluggard, he had been up now for some hours, and had effected so great a metamorphosis in the surgery that the doctor himself would hardly have known it again: things in it previously never having been arranged to Jan’s satisfaction. And now he was looking at his watch to see whether breakfast time was coming on, Jan’s hunger reminding him that it might be acceptable. He had not yet been into the house; his bedroom now being the room you have heard of, the scene of Dr. West’s lost prescription. The doctor had gone by the six o’clock train, after a cordial farewell to Jan; he had gone—as it was soon to turn out—without having previously informed his daughters. But of this Jan knew nothing.

“Twenty minutes past eight,” quoth Jan, consulting his watch, a silver one, the size of a turnip. Jan had bought it when he was poor: had given about two pounds for it, second-hand. It never occurred to Jan to buy a better one while that legacy of his was lying idle. Why should he? Jan’s turnip kept time to a moment, and Jan did