“I can’t think until I know more. But from what you tell me, it looks as if this medicine she is taking might have something to do with it. If it does no good, it probably does harm. Perhaps it was never intended to be used as she is using it. Otherwise, as you say, the attacks would diminish. At the same time a blind faith in a certain medicine is not at all uncommon. One meets it constantly. Also the prejudice against consulting a physician. It is probable that Mrs. Coombe does not realise that she is steadily growing worse. Could you let me examine the medicine?”
“It is kept locked up. But, I might manage it. If I asked her for it she would certainly refuse. I—I should hate to steal it,” miserably.
“I see. Well, try asking first. It is just a question of how far one has the right to interfere with another’s deliberately chosen course of action. The medicine is probably injurious, even dangerous. I should warn her, at least. If she will do nothing and you still feel responsible I should say that you have a moral right to have your own mind reassured upon the matter.”
Esther smiled. “I believe I feel reassured already. Perhaps I have been foolishly apprehensive and it never occurred to me that the medicine might be at fault; at the worst I thought it might be useless, not harmful. If I could only manage to have you see it without taking it! There must be a way. I’ll think of something and let you know.”
“Do.” The doctor picked up his hat for the second time. He was genuinely interested. He had not expected to find a problem of any complexity in sleepy Coombe. The cases of Aunt Amy and the peculiar Mrs. Coombe seemed to justify his staying on. It was pleasant also to help this charming young girl—although that, naturally, was a secondary consideration!
Esther ran upstairs with a lightened heart.
“I really could not help being late, Esther! I tried to hurry them but Mrs. Lewis was there. You know what she is!”
Mrs. Coombe sank gracefully into a veranda chair. Out of the corners of her eyes she cast a swift glance at the face of her step-daughter and, as the girl was not looking, permitted herself a tiny smile of malicious amusement. She was a small woman but one in whom smallness was charm and not defect. Once she had been exceedingly pretty; she was moderately pretty still. The narrow oval of her face remained unspoiled but the small features, once delicately clear, appeared in some strange way to be blurred and coarsened. The fine grained skin which should have been delicate and firm had coarsened also and upon close inspection showed multitudes of tiny lines. Her fluffy hair was very fair, ashy fair almost, and would have been startlingly lovely only that it, too, was spoiled by a dryness and lack of gloss which spoke of careless treatment or ill health, or both. Still, at a little distance, Mary Coombe appeared a young and attractive woman. The surprise came when one looked into her eyes. Her eyes did not fit the face at all; they were old eyes, tired yet restless, and clouded with a peculiar film which robbed them of all depth. Curiously disturbing eyes they were, like windows with the blinds down!