“I should go, and say nothing to her beforehand,” observed Dr. West. “When she found you were really off, and that there was no remedy for it, she must perforce reconcile herself to it.”
Every fond feeling within Lionel revolted at the suggestion. “We are speaking of my mother, doctor,” was his courteously-uttered rebuke.
“Well, if you would not like to do that, there’s nothing for it but patience,” the doctor rejoined, as he drew open one of the iron gates. “Lady Verner may be no better than she is now for weeks to come. Good-day, Mr. Lionel.”
Lionel paced into the house with a slow step, and went up to his mother’s chamber. She was lying on a couch by the fire, her eyes closed, her pale features contracted as if with pain. Her maid Therese appeared to be busy with her, and Lionel called out Decima.
“There’s no improvement, I hear, Decima.”
“No. But, on the other hand, there is no danger. There’s nothing even very serious, if Dr. West may be believed. Do you know, Lionel, what I fancy he thinks?”
“What?” asked Lionel.
“That if mamma were obliged to exert and rouse herself—were like any poor person, for instance, who cannot lie by and be nursed—she would be well directly. And—unkind, unlike a daughter as it may seem in me to acknowledge it—I do very much incline to the same opinion.”
Lionel made no reply.
“Only Dr. West has not the candour to say so,” went on Decima. “So long as he can keep her lying here, he will do it; she is a good patient for him. Poor mamma gives way, and he helps her to do it. I wish she would discard him, and trust to Jan.”
“You don’t like Dr. West, Decima?”
“I never did,” said Decima. “And I believe that, in skill, Jan is quite equal to him. There’s this much to be said of Jan, that he is sincere and open as if he were made of glass. Jan will never keep a patient in bed unnecessarily, or give the smallest dose more than is absolutely requisite. Did you hear of Sir Rufus Hautley sending for Jan?”
“He is ill, it seems. And when he sent to Dr. West’s, he expressly desired that it might be Mr. Jan Verner to answer the summons. Dr. West will not forgive that in a hurry.”
“That comes of prejudice,” said Lionel; “prejudice not really deserved by Dr. West. Since the reading of the will, Sir Rufus has been bitter against the Massingbirds; and Dr. West, as connected with them, comes in for his share of the feeling.”
“I hope he may not deserve it in any worse way than as connected with them,” returned Decima, with more acrimony than she, in her calm gentleness, was accustomed to speak.
The significant tone struck Lionel. “What do you mean, Decima?”
Decima glanced round. They were standing at the far end of the corridor at the window which overlooked the domains of Sir Rufus Hautley. The doors of the several rooms were closed, and no one was about. Decima spoke in a whisper—