Dr. Oleander descended the stairs, passed through the lower hall, and entered the kitchen—a big, square room, bleak and draughty, like all the rest of the old, rickety place, but lighted by a roaring fire.
Old Sally was bustling about over pots and stew-pans, getting supper; old Peter stood at the table peeling potatoes. In an arm-chair before the fire sat another old woman with snaky-black eyes, hooked nose, and incipient black mustache.
Old Sally was volubly narrating what had transpired upstairs, and cut herself short upon the entrance of her master.
“How are you, mother?” said Dr. Oleander, nodding to the venerable party in the arm-chair. “Sally’s telling you about my patient, is she?”
His mother’s answer was a stifled scream, which Sally echoed.
“Well, what now?” demanded the doctor.
“You look like a ghost! Gracious me, Guy!” cried his mother, in consternation; “you’re whiter than the tablecloth.”
Dr. Oleander ground out an oath.
“I dare say I am. I’ve just had a scare from that little, crazy imp that would blanch any man. I thought, in my soul, she was going to spring upon me like a panther and choke me. She would have, too, by Jove, if I hadn’t cleared out.”
“Lor’!” cried Sally, in consternation, “and I’ve just been a-telling the missis how sweet, and gentle, and innocent, and pretty she looked.”
“Innocent and gentle be—hanged!” growled the doctor. “She’s the old Satan in female form. If you don’t look out, Sally, she’ll throttle you to-morrow when you go in.”
Sally gave a little yelp of dismay.
“Lor’ a massy, Master Guy! then I’ll not go near her. I ain’t a-going to be scared out of my senses by mad-women in my old age. I won’t go into her room a step to-morrow, Master Guy. If you wants to turn honest people’s houses into lunatic asylums, then set lunatic-keepers to see after them. I shan’t do it, and so I tell you.”
With which short and sharp ultimatum Sally began vigorously laying the cloth for supper.
Before Dr. Oleander could open his mouth to expostulate, his mother struck in:
“I really don’t think it’s safe to live in the house with such a violent lunatic, Guy. I wish you had taken your crazy patient elsewhere.”
“Oh, it’s all right, mother. She’s only subject to these noisy fits at periodical times. On certain occasions she appears and talks as sanely as you or I. Sally can tell you.”
“That I can,” said Sally. “You’d oughter heerd her, missis, when she fust came in, a-pleading, you know, with me to assist her, and not help to keep her a prisoner here. I declare, it quite went to my heart. And she looked so little, and so young, and so helpless, poor creature!”
“You’re sure her room’s all safe and secure, Sally—windows and all?”