“Yes, you took that very well,” he said, still meeting her eyes steadily. “Stop.... Keep a strong hold on yourself. That is the worst you have to hear, for the present. Now tell me immediately whether you think Mrs. Baxter should be informed or not.”
Her leaping heart slowed down into three or four gulping blows at the base of her throat. She swallowed with difficulty.
“How do you know—”
“Kindly answer my question,” he said. “Do you think Mrs. Baxter—”
“Oh, God! Oh, God!” sobbed Maggie.
“Steady, steady,” said the old man. “Take my arm, Miss Deronnais.”
She shook her head, keeping her eyes fixed on his.
He smiled in his grey beard.
“Very good,” he said, “very good. And do you think—”
She shook her head again.
“No: not one word. She is his mother. Besides—she is not the kind—she would be of no use.”
“Yes: it is as I thought. Very well, Miss Deronnais; you will have to be responsible. You can wire for me at any moment. You have my address?”
“Then I have one or two things to add. Whatever happens, do not lose heart for one moment. I have seen these cases again and again.... Whatever happens, too, do not put yourself into a doctor’s hands until I have seen Mr. Baxter for myself. The thing may come suddenly or gradually. And the very instant you are convinced it is coming, telegraph to me. I will be here two hours after.... Do you understand?”
They halted twenty yards from the turning into the hamlet. He looked at her again with his kindly humorous eyes.
She nodded slowly and deliberately, repeating in her own mind his instructions; and beneath, like a whirl of waters, questions surged to and fro, clamoring for answer. But her self-control was coming back each instant.
“You understand, Miss Deronnais?” he said again.
“I understand. Will you write to me?”
“I will write this evening.... Once more, then. Get him down next week. Watch him carefully when he comes. Consult no doctor until you have telegraphed to me, and I have seen him.”
She drew a long breath, nodding almost mechanically.
“Good-bye, Miss Deronnais. Let me tell you that you are taking it magnificently. Fear nothing; pray much.”
He took her hand for a moment. Then he raised his hat and left her standing there.
Mrs. Baxter was exceedingly absorbed just now in a new pious book of meditations written by a clergyman. A nicely bound copy of it, which she had ordered specially, had arrived by the parcels post that morning; and she had been sitting in the drawing-room ever since looking through it, and marking it with a small silver pencil. Religion was to this lady what horticulture was to Maggie, except of course that it was really important, while horticulture was not. She often wondered that Maggie did not seem to understand: of course she went to mass every morning, dear girl; but religion surely was much more than that; one should be able to sit for two or three hours over a book in the drawing-room, before the fire, with a silver pencil.