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THE METTLESOME MAID
ON the evening of that day Fanny Mere, entering the dining-room with
the coffee, found Lord Harry and Mr. Vimpany alone, and discovered (as
soon as she opened the door) that they changed the language in which
they were talking from English to French.
She continued to linger in the room, apparently occupied in setting the
various objects on the sideboard in order. Her master was speaking at
the time; he asked if the doctor had succeeded in finding a bed-room
for himself in the neighbourhood. To this Mr. Vimpany replied that he
had got the bed-room. Also, that he had provided himself with something
else, which it was equally important to have at his disposal. "I mean,"
he proceeded, in his bad French, "that I have found a photographic
apparatus on hire. We are ready now for the appearance of our
interesting Danish guest."
"And when the man comes," Lord Harry added, "what am I to say to my
wife? How am I to find an excuse, when she hears of a hospital patient
who has taken possession of your bed-room at the cottage--and has done
it with my permission, and with you to attend on him?"
The doctor sipped his coffee. "We have told a story that has satisfied
the authorities," he said coolly. "Repeat the story to your wife."
"She won't believe it," Lord Harry replied.
Mr. Vimpany waited until he had lit another cigar, and had quite
satisfied himself that it was worth smoking.
"You have yourself to thank for that obstacle," he resumed. "If you had
taken my advice, your wife would have been out of our way by this time.
I suppose I must manage it. If you fail, leave her ladyship to me. In
the meanwhile, there's a matter of more importance to settle first. We
shall want a nurse for our poor dear invalid. Where are we to find
As he stated that difficulty, he finished his coffee, and looked about
him for the bottle of brandy which always stood on the dinner-table. In
doing this, he happened to notice Fanny. Convinced that her mistress
was in danger, after what she had already heard, the maid's anxiety and
alarm had so completely absorbed her that she had forgotten to play her
part. Instead of still busying herself at the sideboard, she stood with
her back to it, palpably listening. Cunning Mr. Vimpany, possessing
himself of the brandy, made a request too entirely appropriate to
"Some fresh cold water, if you please," was all that he said.
The moment that Fanny left the room, the doctor addressed his friend in
English, with his eye on the door: "News for you, my boy! We are in a
pretty pickle--Lady Harry's maid understands French."
"Quite impossible," Lord Harry declared.
"We will put that to the test," Mr. Vimpany answered. "Watch her when
she comes in again."
"What are you going to do."
"I am going to insult her in French. Observe the result."
In another minute Fanny returned with the fresh water. As she placed
the glass jug before Mr. Vimpany he suddenly laid his hand on her arm
and looked her straight in the face. "Vous nous avez mis dedans,
drolesse!"* he said.
*In English: "You have taken us in, you jade!"
An uncontrollable look of mingled rage and fear made its plain
confession in Fanny's face. She had been discovered; she had heard
herself called "drolesse;" she stood before the two men self-condemned.
Her angry master threatened her with instant dismissal from the house.
The doctor interfered.
"No, no," he said; "you mustn't deprive Lady Harry, at a moment's
notice, of her maid. Such a clever maid, too," he added with his
rascally smile. "An accomplished person, who understands French, and is
too modest to own it!"
The doctor had led Fanny through many a weary and unrewarded walk when
she had followed him to the hospitals; he had now inflicted a
deliberate insult by calling her "drolesse" and he had completed the
sum of his offences by talking contemptuously of her modesty and her
mastery of the French language. The woman's detestation of him, which
under ordinary circumstances she might have attempted to conceal, was
urged into audaciously asserting itself by the strong excitement that
now possessed her. Driven to bay, Fanny had made up her mind to
discover the conspiracy of which Mr. Vimpany was the animating spirit,
by a method daring enough to be worthy of the doctor himself.
"My knowledge of French has told me something," she said. "I have just
heard, Mr. Vimpany, that you want a nurse for your invalid gentleman.
With my lord's permission, suppose you try Me?"
Fanny's audacity was more than her master's patience could endure. He
ordered her to leave the room.
The peace-making doctor interfered again: "My dear lord, let me beg you
will not be too hard on the young woman." He turned to Fanny, with an
effort to look indulgent, which ended in the reappearance of his
rascally smile. "Thank you, my dear, for your proposal," he said; "I
will let you know if we accept it, to-morrow."
Fanny's unforgiving master pointed to the door; she thanked Mr.
Vimpany, and went out. Lord Harry eyed his friend in angry amazement.
"Are you mad?" he asked.
"Tell me something first," the doctor rejoined. "Is there any English
blood in your family?"
Lord Harry answered with a burst of patriotic feeling: "I regret to say
my family is adulterated in that manner. My grandmother was an
Mr. Vimpany received this extract from the page of family history with
a coolness all his own.
"It's a relief to hear that," he said. "You may be capable (by the
grandmother's side) of swallowing a dose of sound English sense. I can
but try, at any rate. That woman is too bold and too clever to be
treated like an ordinary servant--I incline to believe that she is a
spy in the employment of your wife. Whether I am right or wrong in this
latter case, the one way I can see of paring the cat's claws is to turn
her into a nurse. Do you find me mad now?"
"Madder than ever!"
"Ah, you don't take after your grandmother! Now listen to me. Do we run
the smallest risk, if Fanny finds it her interest to betray us? Suppose
we ask ourselves what she has really found out. She knows we have got a
sick man from a hospital coming here--does she know what we want him
for? Not she! Neither you nor I said a word on that subject. But she
also heard us agree that your wife was in our way. What does that
matter? Did she hear us say what it is that we don't want your wife to
discover? Not she, I tell you again! Very well, then--if Fanny acts as
Oxbye's nurse, shy as the young woman may be, she innocently associates
herself with the end that we have to gain by the Danish gentleman's
death! Oh, you needn't look alarmed! I mean his natural death by lung
disease--no crime, my noble friend! no crime!"
The Irish lord, sitting near the doctor, drew his chair back in a
"If there's English blood in my family," he declared, "I'll tell you
what, Vimpany, there's devil's blood in yours!"
"Anything you like but Irish blood," the cool scoundrel rejoined.
As he made that insolent reply, Fanny came in again, with a sufficient
excuse for her reappearance. She announced that a person from the
hospital wished to speak to the English doctor.
The messenger proved to be a young man employed in the secretary's
office. Oxbye still persisting in his desire to be placed under Mr.
Vimpany's care; one last responsibility rested on the official
gentlemen now in charge of him. They could implicitly trust the medical
assistance and the gracious hospitality offered to the poor Danish
patient; but, before he left them, they must also be satisfied that he
would be attended by a competent nurse. If the person whom Mr. Vimpany
proposed to employ in this capacity could be brought to the hospital,
it would be esteemed a favour; and, if her account of herself satisfied
the physician in charge of Oxbye's case, the Dane might be removed to
his new quarters on the same day.
The next morning witnessed the first in a series of domestic incidents
at the cottage, which no prophetic ingenuity could have foreseen. Mr.
Vimpany and Fanny Mere actually left Passy together, on their way to
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