“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 bedrooms 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.”
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 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?”