Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/279

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Aug. 30, 1862.]

not understand buying things for show. “Ten minutes yet! I shall eat a double share of bacon this morning.—Good morning, Miss Deb.”

Miss Deb was stealing into the surgery with a scared look and a white face. Miss Deb wore her usual winter morning costume, a huge brown cape. She was of a shivery nature at the best of times, but she shivered palpably now.

“Mr. Jan, have you got a drop of ether?” asked she, her poor teeth chattering together. Jan was too goodnatured to tell Deerham those teeth were false, though Dr. West had betrayed the secret to Jan.

“Who’s it for?” asked Jan. “For you? Aren’t you well, Miss Deb? Eat some breakfast: that’s the best thing.”

“I have had a dreadful shock, Mr. Jan. I have had bad news. That is—what has been done to the surgery?” she broke off, casting her eyes around it in wonder.

“Not much,” said Jan. “I have been making some odds and ends of alterations. Is the news from Australia?” he continued, the open letter in her hand helping him to the suggestion. “A mail’s due.”

Miss Deborah shook her head. “It is from my father, Mr. Jan. The first thing I saw, upon going into the breakfast parlour, was this note for me, propped against the vase on the mantel-piece. Mr. Jan,”—dropping her voice to confidence—“it says he is gone! That he is gone away for an indefinite period.”

“You don’t mean to say he never told you of it before!” exclaimed Jan.

“I never heard a syllable from him,” cried poor Deborah. “He says you’ll explain to us as much as is necessary. You can read the note. Mr. Jan, where’s he gone?”

Jan ran his eyes over the note: feeling himself probably in somewhat of a dilemma, as to how much or how little it might be expedient to explain. “He thought some travelling might be beneficial to his health,” said Jan. “He has got a rare good post as travelling doctor to some young chap of quality.”

Miss Deborah was looking very hard at Jan. Something seemed to be on her mind; some great fear. “He says he may not be back for ever so long to come, Mr. Jan.”

“So he told me,” said Jan.

“And is that the reason he took you into partnership, Mr. Jan?”

“Yes,” said Jan. “Couldn’t leave an assistant for an indefinite period.”

“You will never be able to do it all yourself. I little thought, when all this bustle and changing of bed-rooms was going on, what was up. You might have told me, Mr. Jan,” she added, in a reproachful tone.

“It wasn’t my place to tell you,” returned Jan. “It was the doctor’s, if anybody’s.”

Miss Deborah looked timidly round, and then sunk her voice to a lower whisper. “Mr. Jan, why has he gone away?”

“For his health,” persisted Jan.

“They are saying—they are saying—Mr. Jan, what is it that they are saying, about papa and those ladies at Chalk Cottage?”

Jan laid hold of the pestle and mortar, popped in a big lump of some hard looking white substance, and began pounding away at it. “How should I know anything about the ladies at Chalk Cottage?” asked he. “I never was inside their door; I never spoke to any one of ’em.”

“But you know that things are being said,” urged Miss Deborah, with almost feverish eagerness. “Don’t you?”

“Who told you anything was being said?” asked Jan.

“It was Master Cheese. Mr. Jan, folks have seemed queer lately. The servants have whispered together, and then have glanced at me and at Amilly, and I knew there was something wrong, but I could not get at it. This morning, when I picked up this note—it’s not five minutes ago, Mr. Jan—in my fright and perplexity I shrieked out; and Master Cheese, he said something about Chalk Cottage.”

“What did he say?” asked Jan.

Miss Deborah’s pale face turned to crimson. “I can’t tell,” she said. “I did not hear the words rightly. Master Cheese caught them up again. Mr. Jan, I have come to you to tell me.”

Jan answered nothing. He was pounding very fiercely.

“Mr. Jan, I ought to know it,” she went on. “I am not a child. If you please I must request you to tell me.”

“What are you shivering for?” asked Jan.

“I can’t help it. Is—is it anything that—that he can be taken up for?”

“Taken up!” replied Jan, ceasing from his pounding, and fixing his wide-open eyes on Miss Deborah. “Can I be taken up for doing this?”—and he brought down the pestle with such force as to threaten the destruction of the mortar.

“You’ll tell me, please,” she shivered.

“Well,” said Jan, “if you must know it, the doctor had a misfortune.”

“A misfortune! He! What misfortune? A misfortune at Chalk Cottage?”

Jan gravely nodded. “And they were in an awful rage with him, and said he should pay expenses, and all that. And he wouldn’t pay expenses: the chimney-glass alone was twelve pound fifteen; and there was a regular quarrel, and they turned him out.”

“But what was the nature of the misfortune?”

“He set the parlour chimney on fire.”

Miss Deborah’s lips parted with amazement; she appeared to find some difficulty in closing them again.

“Set the parlour chimney on fire, Mr. Jan!”

“Very careless of him,” continued Jan, with composure. “He had no business to carry gunpowder about with him. Of course they won’t believe but he flung it in purposely.”

Miss Deborah could not gather her senses.

“Who won’t?—the ladies at Chalk Cottage?”

“The ladies at Chalk Cottage,” assented Jan. “If I saw all these bottles go to smithereens, through Cheese carrying about gunpowder in his trousers’ pockets, I might go into a passion too, Miss Deb.”

“But, Mr. Jan—this is not what’s being said in Deerham?”