The Ladies’ Aid Meeting was plainly an excuse for a deliberate shirking of responsibility. Or, worse still, Mrs. Coombe, divining Esther’s double motive, may have left the house purposely to escape seeing the doctor on her own account. Esther well knew the stubbornness of which she was capable upon this one question, and the cunningness of it was like her. She had made no objections; she had not troubled to refuse or to argue—she had simply gone out.
Well, it was something to feel that she, Esther, had done what she could. At any rate, there was no time to worry, for the doctor was already coming up the walk.
Esther hurried to the door. It relieved her to find that he seemed to expect her, and showed no offence on realising that the patient’s nearest relative was not at home to receive him. Indeed, he seemed to think of no one save the patient herself. His manner, Esther thought, was perfect. Had she been a little older she might have suspected such perfection, deducing from it that Callandar, like herself, was subconsciously aware of an interest in the situation not altogether professional. But the girl made no deductions and certainly there was no trace of any embarrassment in the doctor’s way with his patient. It took only a moment for Esther to decide that here, at least, she had done the right thing. She waited only long enough to see the frightened look in Aunt Amy’s eyes replaced by one of timid confidence and then, murmuring an excuse, slipped away, leaving them together.
Callandar also waited while the startled eyes grew quiet and then lifted the fluttering hand into his own firm one.
“Creatures of habit, we doctors, aren’t we?” he said, smiling. “Always taking people’s temperatures.”
Aunt Amy ventured upon a vague answering smile.
“I understand,” continued the doctor, “that you have reason to fear that you have been poisoned?”
The hand began to flutter again, but quieted as the pleasant, confident voice went on:
“Your niece has told me something of the case but no details. Perhaps you can supply them for me. When exactly did it happen and what kind of poison was it?”
The fluttering hand became quite still and the eyes of Aunt Amy slowly filled with a great amazement. Here was an unbelievable thing—a doctor who did not argue or deny or playfully scold her for “fancies.” A doctor who took her seriously and showed every intention of believing what she said. No one, save Dr. Coombe, had ever done that—
“It is always best in these cases to get the details from the patient herself,” went on the doctor, encouragingly.
No, he was not laughing! Aunt Amy could detect nothing save the gravest of interest in his kindly eyes. An immense relief stole over her. A relief so great that Callandar, watching, felt his heart grow hot with pity.
“Oh, doctor!” she cried feebly, “I—” a rush of easy tears drowned the rest of the sentence.