“Then why did they not let me know it?” exclaimed Val, in his astonishment and anger.
“Perhaps you didn’t ask,” said the surgeon. “But no visitors were sought. Time enough for that when the house shall have been fumigated.”
“They might have sent to me,” he cried, in resentment. “To go away and never let me know it!”
“They may have thought you were too agreeably engaged to care to be disturbed,” remarked the surgeon.
“What do you mean?” demanded Val, hotly.
Mr. Hillary laughed. “People will talk, you know; and rumour has it that Lord Hartledon has found attractions in his own home, whilst the Rectory was debarred to him.”
Val wheeled round on his heel, and walked away in displeasure. Home truths are never palatable. But the kindly disposition of the man resumed its sway immediately: he turned back, and pointed to the shed.
“Is that interesting patient of yours on his legs again?”
“He is getting better. The disease attacked him fiercely and was unusually prolonged. It’s strange he should have been the only one to take it.”
“Gum’s wife has been nursing him, I hear?”
“She has gone in and out to do such necessary offices as the sick require. I put it to her from a Christian point of view, you see, and on the score of humanity. She was at hand; and that’s a great thing where the nurse is only a visiting one.”
“Look here, Hillary; don’t let the man want for anything; see that he has all he needs. He is a black sheep, no doubt; but illness levels us all to one standard. Good day.”
“Good day, Lord Hartledon.”
And when the surgeon had got to a distance with his quick step, Lord Hartledon turned back to the Rectory.
It was a mild day in spring. The air was balmy, but the skies were grey and lowering; and as a gentleman strolled across a field adjoining Hartledon Park he looked up at them more than once, as if asking whether they threatened rain.
Not that he had any great personal interest in the question. Whether the skies gave forth sunshine or rain is of little moment to a mind not at rest. He had only looked up in listlessness. A stranger might have taken him at a distance for a gamekeeper: his coat was of velveteen; his boots were muddy: but a nearer inspection would have removed the impression.
It was Lord Hartledon; but changed since you last saw him. For some time past there had been a worn, weary look upon his face, bespeaking a mind ill at ease; the truth is, his conscience was not at rest, and in time that tells on the countenance.
He had been by the fish-pond for an hour. But the fish had not shown themselves inclined to bite, and he grew too impatient to remain. Not altogether impatient at the wary fish, but in his own mental restlessness. The fishing-rod was carried in his hand in pieces; and he splashed along, in a brown study, on the wet ground, flinging himself over the ha-ha with an ungracious movement. Some one was approaching across the park from the house, and Lord Hartledon walked on to a gate, and waited there for him to come up. He began beating the bars with the thin end of the rod, and—broke it!