“He did,” replied Jan. “It is to be myself, now. West is gone.”
“Gone!” was the universal echo. And Jan gave an explanation.
It was received in silence. The rumours affecting Dr. West had reached Deerham Court.
“What is the matter with Mrs. Verner?” asked Lionel. “She appeared as well as usual when I quitted her last night.”
“I don’t know that there’s anything more the matter with her than usual,” returned Jan, sitting down on a side-table. “She has been going in some time for apoplexy.”
“Oh, Jan!” uttered Lucy.
“So she has, Miss Lucy—as Dr. West has said. I have not attended her.”
“Has she been told it, Jan?”
“Where’s the good of telling her?” asked Jan. “She knows it fast enough. She’d not forego a meal, if she saw the fit coming on before night. Tynn came round to me, just now, and said his mistress felt poorly. The Australian mail is in,” continued Jan, passing to another subject.
“Is it?” cried Decima.
“I met the postman as I was coming out, and he told me. I suppose there’ll be news from Fred and Sibylla.”
After this little item of information, which called the colour into Lucy’s cheek—she best knew why—but which Lionel appeared to listen to impassively, Jan got off the table—
“Good-bye, Lionel,” said he, holding out his hand.
“What’s your hurry, Jan?” asked Lionel.
“Ask my patients,” responded Jan, “I am off the first thing to Mrs. Verner, and then shall take my round. I wish you luck, Lionel.”
“Thank you, Jan,” said Lionel. “Nothing less than the woolsack, of course.”
“My gracious!” said literal Jan. “I say, Lionel, I’d not count upon that. If only one in a thousand gets to the woolsack, and all the lot expect it, what an amount of heart-burning must be wasted.”
“Right, Jan. Only let me lead my circuit and I shall deem myself lucky.”
“How long will it take you before you can accomplish that?” asked Jan. “Twenty years?”
A shade crossed Lionel’s countenance. That he was beginning late in life, none knew better than he. Jan bade him farewell, and departed for Verner’s Pride.
Lady Verner was down before Lionel went. He intended to take the quarter-past ten o’clock train.
“When are we to meet again?” she asked, holding her hand in his.
“I will come home to see you soon, mother.”
“Soon! I don’t like the vague word,” returned Lady Verner. “Why cannot you come for Christmas?”
“Christmas! I shall scarcely have gone.”
“You will come, Lionel?”
“Very well, mother. As you wish it, I will.”
A crimson flush—a flush of joy—rose to Lucy’s countenance. Lionel happened to have glanced at her. I wonder what he thought of it!
His luggage had gone on, and he walked with a hasty step to the station. The train came in two minutes after he reached it. Lionel took his ticket, and stepped into a first-class carriage.