“It’s not inconvenient to your room, my retaining it I hope?” asked the doctor. “I don’t know where else I should put my papers.”
“Not a bit of it,” said Jan. “Have another in here as well, if you like. It’s safe here.”
“Do you know, Mr. Jan, I feel as if I’d rather sleep in your little bed to-night than indoors,” said the doctor looking at Jan’s bed. “The room seems like an old friend to me: I feel at home in it.”
“Sleep in it, if you like,” returned Jan, in his easy good nature. “Miss Deb can put me into some room or other. I say, doctor, it’s past tea-time. Wouldn’t you like some refreshment?”
“I had a good dinner on my road,” replied Dr. West; which Jan might have guessed, for Dr. West was quite sure to take care of himself. “We will go in, if you like; Deb and Amilly will wonder what has become of me. How old they begin to look!”
“I don’t suppose any of us look younger,” answered Jan.
They went into the house. Deborah and Amilly were in a flutter of hospitality, lading the tea-table with good things that it would have gladdened Master Cheese’s heart to see. They had been upstairs to smooth out their curls, to put on clean white sleeves and collars, a gold chain, and suchlike little additions, setting themselves off as they were now setting off the tea-table, all in their affectionate welcome to their father. And Dr. West, who liked eating as well as ever did Master Cheese, surveyed the table with complacency as he sat down to it, ignoring the dinner he had spoken of to Jan. Amilly sat by him, heaping his plate with what he liked best, and Deborah made the tea.
“I have been observing to Mr. Jan that you are beginning to look very old, Deb,” remarked the doctor; “Amilly also.”
It was a cruel shaft. A bitter return for their loving welcome. Perhaps they were looking older, but he need not have said it so point blank, and before Jan. They turned crimson, poor ladies, and bent to sip their tea, and tried to turn the words off with a laugh, and did not know where to look. In true innate delicacy of feeling, Dr. West and his daughter, Sibylla, rivalled each other.
The meal over, the doctor proposed to pay a visit to Deerham Court, and did so, Jan walking with him, first of all mentioning to Deborah the wish expressed by Dr. West as to occupying Jan’s room for the night, that she might see the arrangement carried out.
Which she did. And Jan, at the retiring hour—though this is a little anticipating, for the evening is not yet over—escorted the doctor to the door of the room, and wished him a good night’s rest, never imagining but that he enjoyed one. But had fire, or any other accident, burst open the room to public gaze in the lone night hours, Dr. West would have been seen at work, instead of asleep. Every drawer of the bureau was out, every paper it contained was misplaced. The doctor was evidently searching for something, as sedulously as he had once searched for that lost prescription, which at the time appeared so much to disturb his peace.