Altogether, taking one thing with another, Dr. West’s visit to Deerham had not been quite so satisfactory as he had anticipated it might be made. After quitting John Massingbird, he went to Deerham Court and remained a few hours with Sibylla. The rest of the day he divided between his daughters in their sitting-room, and Jan in the surgery, taking his departure again from Deerham by the night train.
And Deborah and Amilly, drowned in tears, said his visit could be compared only to the flash of a comet’s tail; no sooner seen than gone again.
A SIN AND A SHAME.
As the spring advanced, sickness began to prevail in Deerham. The previous autumn, the season when the enemy chiefly loved to show itself, had been comparatively free, but he appeared to be about taking his revenge now. In every third house people were down with ague and fever. Men who ought to be strong for their daily toil, women whose services were wanted for their households and their families, children whose young frames were unfitted to battle with it, were indiscriminately attacked. It was capricious as a summer’s wind. In some dwellings it would be the strongest and bravest that were singled out; in some the weakest and most delicate. Jan was worked off his legs. Those necessary appendages to active Jan generally were exercised pretty well; but Jan could not remember the time when they had been worked as they were now. Jan grew cross. Not at the amount of work: it may be questioned whether Jan did not rather prefer that, than the contrary; but at the prevailing state of things. “It’s a sin and a shame that precautions are not taken against this periodical sickness,” said Jan, speaking out more forcibly than was his wont. “If the place were drained and the dwellings improved, the ague would run away to more congenial quarters. I’d not own Verner’s Pride, unless I could show myself fit to be its owner.”
The shaft may have been levelled at John Massingbird, but Lionel Verner took it to himself. How full of self-reproach he was, he alone knew. He had had the power in his own hands to make these improvements, and in some manner or other he had let the time slip by: now, the power was wrested from him. It is ever so. Golden opportunities come into our hands, and we look at them complacently, and—do not use them. Bitter regrets, sometimes remorse, take their places when they have flitted away for ever; but neither the regret nor the remorse can recall the opportunity lost.
Lionel pressed the necessity upon John Massingbird. It was all he could do now. John received it with complacent good-humour, and laughed at Lionel for making the request. But that was all.
“Set about draining Clay Lane, and build up new tenements in place of the old?” cried he. “What next, Lionel?”
“Look at the sickness the present state of things brings,” returned Lionel. “It is what ought to have been altered years ago.”