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London by Miss Carey, acting on behalf of one of the charitable societies that exist with a view of giving change and fresh air in the country to convalescents in London or other big cities. These people were evidently Londoners; the Cockney accent was clearly audible. Quite unconsciously Miss Carey had done a very wise thing in putting them under the roof of Mrs. Copman, rather than with any other person in the village who might have accommodation for them, for very certainly their town-bred wits would altogether have outrun the slow mental pace of all the rest. Mrs. Copman was the little man's match, and could give him back as good as he gave quite merrily, to the admiration of all whom they might have for audience. The little man had a hectic cough, which very likely might mean consumption. So at least said Dr. Charlton, calling, by Miss Carey's request, at Mrs. Copman's, to see her protégés. "May I ask, Amelia," he inquired of her, when he came to make his report after the visit, "where you picked up these people?"
Miss Carey thereon explained gently that they had been sent down to her by such and such a charitable society in London.
"With references, I suppose, Amelia?"
"Certainly, Richard; oh, certainly with references," Miss Carey had replied, "the society is SO very particular."
"I am very glad to hear it," was the doctor's answer. "Did they mention the profession followed by your friend? William White is his name, is it not?"
"I think they said he was a glazier, Richard; but what does it matter so long as the poor man is respectable and deserving?"
"So long as he is all that, Amelia, certainly nothing matters. A glazier!
So I had heard, but I did not notice any signs of putty about his hands or finger nails."
"I am glad to think he is so scrupulously clean and careful."
"His hands seem very nicely kept," the doctor admitted. "I should imagine it is not often that he does hard manual work."
Miss Carey's worst enemy, if she had an enemy, hardly could have said that her nature erred on the side of being over-prone to suspicion, yet even she was now led to suspect that there was more meaning latent in the doctor's words than appeared upon their surface. "Richard," she said, laying her hand gently on his arm, "you are meaning something; you are meaning something deeper than your words express. I am afraid I am not very clever in catching people's meanings. You must tell me clearly what it is. Do you suspect something? Do you suspect that poor man of being something other than he appears?"
Thus challenged to put his thoughts plainly into words, the doctor began to be a little ashamed of them. usual he covered his rising embarrassment by an affectation of more than his usual brusqueness. "I suspect the man, madam," he said, "of being a rascally little town-bred Cockney with a weak chest that it will take me and the Almighty some trouble to put to rights."
"Please do not be profane, Richard," Miss Carey gently pleaded. "Is that all you have to say against the poor That man, that he is a Cockney? hardly is his fault."
"Neither very likely is this also that I suspect of him his fault. Very likely this too is, properly speaking, more his misfortune- I suspect him very strongly to be a thief."
Miss Carey was greatly shocked. "I am sure. Richard," she said, "that I have the greatest respect for your
judgment, but at the same time I do think that this is an accusation you ought not to make unless you are very certain. Have you any reason? Has Mrs. Copman lost any of her things? If SO I certainly ought to be responsible."
"Mrs. Copman has lost none of her things, Amelia, so far as I have heard, nor do I apprehend at all that she will. It is not that. It is that I suspect him, most strongly, of belonging to the class of professional criminals."
Miss Carey was greatly horrified, I think more at the idea that Dr. Charlton should be capable of entertaining such a dreadful opinion about another human being than that any one should be so judged.
"But you have no proof, Richard," she said. "No proof whatever of these terrible suspicions."
"No, madam, no. I have no proofs. I have not the entry of William White in the Newgate calendar, but I have eyes and I observe-I see the restless, perpetually uneasy look of the man, his nervous hands that never are still, his slim clever fingers. I have questioned him too, about his work, if it did not sometimes take him out late at night— to account for the sad state of his chest-and startled him into the admission that sometimes it did. 'Mending glass?' I asked him; and then he saw at once the mistake he had made, and said nothing. One does not call in a glazier's services as a rule after dark. 'Or cutting glass?' I suggested. 'Working with a diamond, perhaps?' and then I could see that he wished still more he had not made that slip."
"Richard," Miss Carey declared, "you are dreadful. Do you mean to say that on such trifling evidences as these you really would judge so hardly of any human being-especially of one who is so ill as poor Mr. White?"
"My dear madam," the doctor retorted with impatience, "please do not
speak as if I presumed to judge the man. On the contrary, I have particularly said that I thought in all probability it was his misfortune rather than his fault. I do not judge any man. But this I do say, that all the evidences seem to me to point very strongly to the man's being a professional thief, no matter what references he may have got to humbug your precious society."
"Richard," Miss Carey replied with a quiet dignity, "you have been profane and now you are discourteous. Time will show. I am very sure that the poor man is not so bad as you suppose."
"But, madam," Dr. Charlton answered despairingly, "I have already said that I do not look on him as bad, whatever he may be. I look on him as unfortunate that is all."
Miss Carey again laid her hand on his arm pleadingly. "Forgive me, Richard, I ought not to have spoken hastily as I did." The doctor looked at her a moment in silence, as if to ask whether she really could be serious in what she said.
"You, Amelia-bastily!" he repeated then. "Can you really mean that you are asking me to forgive you for speaking hastily? Ah no! Forgive me, if you can, I want your forgiveness, and every one's forgiveness, for hastiness every hour of my life."
Miss Carey gave him her hand, which the doctor laid, with old-fashioned gallantry, on his heart.
"He is very ill, is he not, the poor man?" Miss Carey asked, when the bond was thus sealed.
"He is ill, but he is for the present convalescent. It is for his daughter that I really am more concerned than for himself."
"The daughter! I did not knowthey did not tell me that she was ill."
"The symptoms, I take it, are only
beginning to develop. Hot hand, quick pulse, high temperature. I have ordered her immediately to bed."
"I will call at once," Miss Carey said, "and see how the poor girl is. Is there anything you can recommend that I should take to her-some soup or jelly ?"
"I'd be very glad of a little jelly for her, Amelia, but for the present I must absolutely forbid you going to see her. It is impossible to tell, for the moment, into what it may develop."
"And you fear something of an infectious nature? I am sorry indeed for Mrs. Copman."
"Mrs. Copman won't catch it, Amelia, whatever it is. You may be sure of that. You might as well expect her oak 'burry' to catch something as Mrs. Copman. A microbe couldn't get an honest living off her. But I'm afraid for the girl herself. These anæmic town-bred girls have got no stamina. If anything should attack her now it might go badly with her."
Within the next twenty-four hours the symptoms developed themselves rapidly, and justified Dr. Charlton in the precautions he had taken of forbidding access to the patient to all whose services about her were not needed. It was a distinct case of diphtheria with complications in the tonsal region. The temperature continued high and tended to rise, with the inevitable wasting of the girl's slight strength, which was so precious to her now that it became a question of fighting for each breath she drew.
The doctor was in and out of the cottage every hour, and at each visit his face appeared more grave and anxious. Miss Carey was often down the village street with her maid, Phoebe, bringing one or other of the innumerable small things that are needed in a sick-room. The Vicar had met the doctor in the course of the afternoon on the little bricked path that led from
Mrs. Copman's house door to the wicket gate giving on the road. The meeting was their first since their disagreement, and the path was at once so short and so narrow that there was no possibility of avoiding it. The Vicar blushed hotly with the embarrassment of the moment, but Dr. Charlton, whose mind was absorbed with the sufferings and needs of the poor girl within, nodded to him in a friendly way as if there had never been any trouble, for the moment probably forgetting it.
Towards evening the doctor summoned Miss Carey and the Vicar into Mrs. Copman's parlor, where Mr. White, the father of the girl, already was waiting, and held an informal kind of consultation.
"I am afraid," he said to the little man, "that there is but one chance of saving your daughter's life, that is by making an incision into the larynx and extracting the poison by means of the insertion of a tube. You will please to understand that I cannot answer for its success. It may save your girl's life-it may not. On the other hand, I fear that unless that operation is performed her death is inevitable. But before I perform it I should like to have your consent to it, as she, poor thing, is past giving her own, and I should like to have that consent given in the presence of our two friends here." (Miss Carey remarked with pleasure that he referred to the Vicar as a friend.) "It is not that I shrink from the responsibility, please to understand, but that I think it right that you should give your consent to it before I proceed."
Miss Carey told me that the little man stood with his eyes blinking and his hands restlessly working all the while that the doctor addressed him, and when the latter concluded, and he had to make his decision, the restless movements became more agitated still.
"You say, doctor, as it's the only chance to save my poor Louisy's life?" he asked then; and the doctor answered firmly, "Most emphatically I do."
"Then, doctor," he said, "I'd thank you kindly to do your best." And with that he put up his sleeve across his eyes to wipe the tears and went out of the room, Miss Carey following to give him such words of consolation as her kindly heart might suggest.
"Poor fellow, poor fellow," the Vicar said pityingly. "We may be sorry for him, even if he is what Miss Carey tells me you suspect."
"Even if he is a thief," the doctor remarked, putting the dots upon the "i's." "Yes, your Scripture, I think, gives you some high authority for showing pity even on a thief."
The while the doctor and the Vicar exchanged these words the former was busied with taking out from his black bag the instruments he needed for the operation; but at his last sentence he glanced up and looked keenly at the clergyman. The words seemed to give him a new thought. "You do not understand the nature of this operation, I suppose?" he said.
"Very vaguely," the Vicar admitted. "It consists," the doctor explained, "in making an incision down to the inflammatory centre, inserting a tube, and extracting, so far as is possible, the poison by means of suction."
The Vicar nodded, not yet perceiving the full significance of the explanation.
"The matter is highly poisonous," the doctor said.
The Vicar began to take his meaning. "Do I understand you to imply that the operation will be attended with risk?"
"That is my meaning," said the doctor. "It will be attended with considerable risk, with very great risk, to the person-not necessarily to the person who performs the operation in the
sense of making the incision and inserting the tube, but to the person who shall suck the poison through the tube."
"I see," the Vicar said meditatively, "I see."
He told us afterwards that he thought he ought to have been astute enough to perceive that a trap of some sort was being laid for him, for it was wholly unlike the doctor to insist on the danger that he was about to incur, unless his insistence had some special motive. As it was, the Vicar's thoughts were engaged in a direction which did not lead to the detection of the motive.
The doctor watched him curiously.
Presently the Vicar said: "I suppose this is a thing-this sucking the tubethat could be done just as well by an unskilled person as by a practised surgeon?"
"Just as well-oh, every bit as well," the doctor replied, still closely watching him.
There was silence again, while the doctor went on with his arrangements. Subsequently the doctor has stated that these moments while he thus waited were among the most intensely interesting, the most exciting, of his life. And then, at length, came that which he had been expecting a hand was laid heavily, yet not without a tremor, on his shoulder, and the Vicar said, in a voice that he tried to steady, though it shook a little despite himself, "Doctor, I should esteem it a great favor if you would let me be the one to suck the tube."
The doctor laughed with a little chuckle of irony. "What," he said, "you would risk your life for the daughter of a thief?"
The other just nodded. "Yes," he said. "I am willing to do it if you will let me."
The doctor laughed again, without any note of irony this time. "You are
"Perhaps it I don't
a good fellow," he said. is a pity you are a parson. know. But at all events I beg your pardon most sincerely for the words I said to you the other day, and I certainly won't let you suck that tube. That is my business. I am in charge of this case. It is my operation, and I am going to see it through. You may make yourself easy on that point. I want no help with it."
His tone assured the Vicar, if he had required assurance that there was no good arguing with him.
"Well," he said, "if you say so, it must be. I am sorry."
The doctor laughed, a laugh of genuine amusement then. "Oh no, you are not," he said. "You are not sorry. You are very glad, immensely relieved. You are a good fellow and a plucky fellow, and I am sorry for what I said to you, but look into your heart and tell me what you find there, honestly. You find, I know very well, that you are very much relieved."
It was the Vicar's turn to laugh, in a slightly embarrassed way, at that. “Certainly, doctor," he said, “you are the one man that makes me wish sometimes that I was not a parson, for you are the one man that makes me want to swear."
"Is that so, really," the doctor replied briskly. "Why, there are a score of men a day that make me want to swear. And I generally yield to the inclination. Now I must get to business and that poor girl."
If the doctor had found it difficult to effect this reconciliation with the Vicar, I am sure he had his reward in Miss Carey's pleasure when he related to her all the circumstances, for, as Miss Carey herself said to him, it was a reconciliation which was likely to be lasting because based on mutual esteem.
The doctor had concluded his concillatory words to the Vicar by saying
that he must get "to business and that poor girl." It is a business into which we certainly do not want to follow him too closely. It was told us afterwards by Mrs. Copman and by the Vicar, who showed a nobly forgiving spirit, that his coolness and cheerfulness were wonderful while he made his preparations. The Vicar had volunteered his services in administering the anesthetic, but the doctor had preferred to put his faith in Mrs. Copman. "It takes a woman, my dear fellow, to have the nerve for a thing of this kind. A man is no good in it, unless he is used to it."
So the doctor said, softening his rejection of the other's proffered help by his kindly tone and by a hand laid sympathetically on his shoulder. As each instrument had served its turn, in course of the actual operation, Mrs. Copman related that he threw it behind him with an utter disregard of such trifles as the probable turning of its edge or point and the injury it might do any object that it struck. No doubt all lesser matters that might have claimed attention were forgotten when he was concentrated on a task of such delicacy.
Although he accepted with perfect readiness and composure the dangerous task that he had set himself of sucking the poisonous matter from the girl's swollen throat, he neglected no precaution to diminish the risk. It is a risk that has been removed since that date by the invention of a mechanical means of suction, but no such means was in any general use at the time that Dr. Charlton performed the operation. All the while that the dreadful work was in progress, Miss Carey and the Vicar remained below in Mrs. Copman's parlor. William White, the poor girl's father, was walking up and down the village street in a state of agitation that forbade his exchanging even the ordinary courtesies with a gossip.