MISS HAMILTON’S LITTLE SCHOLAR
Miss Darrell’s innuendoes were not to be borne with any degree of patience. Mr. Hamilton’s opinion might be nothing to me,—how often I repeated that!—but all the same I owed it to my dignity to seek an explanation with him.
The opportunity came the very next day.
He called to speak to me about a new patient, a little cripple boy who had broken his arm; the father was a labourer, and there were ten children, and the mother took in washing. ’Poor Robin has not much chance of good nursing,’ he went on; ’Mrs. Bell is not a bad mother, as mothers go, but she is overworked and overburdened; she has a good bit of difficulty in keeping her husband out of the alehouse. Good heavens! what lives these women lead! it is to be hoped that it will be made up to them in another world: no washing-tubs and ale-houses there, no bruised bodies and souls, eh, Miss Garston?’
Mr. Hamilton was talking in his usual fashion; he had taken the arm-chair I had offered him, and seemed in no hurry to leave it, although his dinner-hour was approaching. When he had given me full directions about Robin, and I had promised to go to him directly after my breakfast the next morning, I said to him in quite a careless manner that I hoped Miss Hamilton was well and had sustained no ill effects from her visit to me.
’Oh no: she is better than usual. I think you roused her and did her good. Gladys mopes too much at home. All the same,’ in a tolerant tone, ’you ought not to have kept her so late; as Etta very wisely remarked, it was no good for her to stay in on Sundays and remain out a couple of hours later another night; you see, Gladys takes cold so easily.’
’I hear you were very much inclined to blame the village nurse, Mr. Hamilton.’
‘Who?—I?’ looking at me in a little surprise. ’I do not remember that I said anything very dreadful. Etta was in a fuss, as usual; you managing women like to make a fuss sometimes: she sent off Leah, and wanted me to lecture Gladys for her imprudence; but I was not inclined to be bothered, and said it was Gladys’s affair if she chose to make herself ill, but all the same she ought to be ashamed of such skittishness at her age. I don’t believe Gladys knew I was joking; that is the worst of her, she never sees a joke; Etta does, though, for she burst out laughing when my lady walked off to bed in rather a dignified manner. I hope you are not easily offended too, Miss Garston?’
‘Oh dear, no,’ I returned coolly, ’only I should be sorry if you had in any way changed your opinion of my steadiness. Miss Darrell hinted that you were vexed with me for keeping your sister, and thought that I was to blame.’
Mr. Hamilton looked so bewildered at this that I exonerated him from that moment.