This was bad enough, but there were other things behind. I had never been vaccinated since infancy, over fifty years ago, and was therefore practically unprotected with the enemy that all my lifetime I had dreaded, as I dreaded no other thing or imagination, actually standing at my door. I could not go away because of the election; I dared not show fear, because they would cry: “Look at the hangman when he sees the rope.” Here, since compulsory vaccination had been abandoned, we fought smallpox by a system of isolation so rigorous that under its cruel provisions every one of whatever age, rank or sex in whom the disease declared itself was instantly removed to a hospital, while the inhabitants of the house whence the patient came were kept practically in prison, not being allowed to mix with their fellows. We had returned to the preventive measures of centuries ago, much as they were practised in the time of the Great Plague.
But how could I send my daughter to one of those dreadful pest-pits, there at the moment of struggle to be a standing advertisement of the utter failure and falsity of the system I had preached, backing my statements with the wager of her life? Moreover, to do so would be to doom myself to defeat at the poll, since under our byelaws, which were almost ferocious in their severity, I could no longer appear in public to prosecute my canvass, and, if my personal influence was withdrawn, then most certainly my adversary would win.
Oh, truly I who had sown bounteously was reaping bounteously. Truly the birds which I had sent out on their mission of evil had come home to roost upon my roof-tree.
Another five days went by—to me they were days of most unspeakable doubt and anguish. Each morning at breakfast I waited for the coming of Jane with an anxiety which was all the more dreadful because I forced myself to conceal it. There had been no further conversation between us about the matter that haunted both our minds, and so fearful was I lest she should divine my suspense that except in the most casual way I did not even dare to look at her as she entered the room.
On the fifth morning she was late for breakfast, not a common thing, for as a rule she rose early. I sent one of the parlour-maids to her room to ask if she was coming down, and stood awaiting the answer with much the same feeling as a criminal on his trial awaits the verdict of the jury. Presently the girl returned with the message that Miss Therne would be down in a few minutes, whereat I breathed again and swallowed a little food, which till then I had been unable to touch.
Soon she came, and I saw that she was rather pale and languid, owing to the heat, perhaps, but that otherwise she looked much as usual.
“You are late, dear,” I said unconcernedly.
“Yes, father,” she answered; “I woke up with a little headache and went to sleep again. It has gone now; I suppose that it is the heat.”