He had been hastening to a patient when encountered by Lionel and Captain Cannonby. From that patient he had to hasten to others, in a succession of relays, as it were, all day long; sometimes his own legs in requisition, sometimes the horse’s. About seven o’clock he got home to tea, at which Miss Deborah made him comfortable. Truth to say, Miss Deborah felt rather inclined to pet Jan as a son. He had gone there a boy, and Miss Deb, though the years since had stolen on and on, and had changed Jan into a man, had not allowed her ideas to keep pace with them. So do we cheat ourselves! There were times when a qualm of conscience came over Miss Deb. Remembering how hard Jan worked, and that her father took more than the lion’s share of the profits, it appeared to her scarcely fair. Not that she could alter it, poor thing! All she could do was to be as economical as possible, and to study Jan’s comforts. Now and again she had been compelled to go to Jan for money, over and above the stipulated sum paid to her. Jan gave it as freely and readily as he would have filled Miss Amilly’s glass pot with castor oil. But Deborah West knew that it came out of Jan’s own pocket; and, to ask for it, went terribly against her feelings and her sense of justice.
The tea was over. But she took care of Jan’s—some nice tea, and toasted tea-cakes, and a plate of ham. Jan sat down by the fire, and, as Miss Deb said, took it in comfort. Truth to say, had Jan found only the remains of the teapot, and stale bread-and-butter, he might have thought it comfortable enough for him; he would not have grumbled had he found nothing.
“Any fresh messages in, do you know, Miss Deb?” he inquired.
“Now, do pray get your tea in peace, Mr. Jan, and don’t worry yourself over ‘fresh messages,’” responded Miss Deb. “Master Cheese was called out to the surgery at tea-time, but I suppose it was nothing particular, for he was back again directly.”
“Of course!” cried Jan. “He’d not lose his tea without a fight for it.”
Jan finished his tea and departed to the surgery, catching sight of the coat-tails of Mr. Bitterworth’s servant leaving it. Master Cheese was seated with the leech basin before him. It was filled with Orleans plums, of which he was eating with uncommon satisfaction. Liking variations of flavour in fruit, he occasionally diversified the plums with a sour codlin apple, a dozen or so of which he had stowed away in his trousers’ pockets. Bob stood at a respectful distance, his eyes wandering to the tempting collation, and his mouth watering. Amongst the apples Master Cheese had come upon one three parts eaten away by the grubs, and this he benevolently threw to Bob. Bob had disposed of it, and was now vainly longing for more.
“What did Bitterworth’s man want?” inquired Jan of Master Cheese.
“The missis is took bad again, he says,” responded that gentleman, as distinctly as he could speak for the apples and the plums: “croup, or something. Not as violent as it was before. Can wait.”