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THE NURSE IS SENT AWAY
"YOU have repented and changed your mind, Vimpany?" said Lord Harry.
"I repented?" the doctor repeated, with a laugh. "You think me capable
of that, do you?"
"The man is growing stronger and better every day. You are going to
make him recover, after all. I was afraid"--he corrected himself--"I
thought"--the word was the truer--"that you were going to poison him."
"You thought I was going--we were going, my lord--to commit a stupid
and a useless crime. And, with our clever nurse present, all the time
watching with the suspicions of a cat, and noting every change in the
symptoms? No--I confess his case has puzzled me because I did not
anticipate this favourable change. Well--it is all for the best. Fanny
sees him grow stronger every day--whatever happens she can testify to
the care with which the man has been treated. So far she thought she
would have us in her power, and we have her."
"You are mighty clever, Vimpany; but sometimes you are too clever for
me, and, perhaps, too clever for yourself."
"Let me make myself clearer"--conscious of the nurse's suspicions, he
leaned forward and whispered: "Fanny must go. Now is the time. The man
is recovering. The man must go: the next patient will be your lordship
himself. Now do you understand?"
"Enough. If I am to act it is sufficient for you to understand step by
step. Our suspicious nurse is to go. That is the next step. Leave me to
Lord Harry walked away. He left the thing to the doctor. It hardly
seemed to concern him. A dying man; a conspiracy; a fraud:--yet the
guilty knowledge of all this gave him small uneasiness. He carried with
him his wife's last note: "May I hope to find on my return the man whom
I have trusted and honoured?" His conscience, callous as regards the
doctor's scheme, filled him with remorse whenever--which was fifty
times a day--he took this little rag of a note from his pocket-book and
read it again. Yes: she would always find the man, on her return--the
man whom she had trusted and honoured--the latter clause he passed
over--it would be, of course the same man: whether she would still be
able to trust and honour him--that question he did not put to himself.
After all, the doctor was acting--not he, himself.
And he remembered Hugh Mountjoy. Iris would be with him--the man whose
affection was only brought out in the stronger light by his respect,
his devotion, and his delicacy. She would be in his society: she would
understand the true meaning of this respect and delicacy: she would
appreciate the depth of his devotion: she would contrast Hugh, the man
she might have married, with himself, the man she did marry.
And the house was wretched without her; and he hated the sight of the
doctor--desperate and reckless.
He resolved to write to Iris: he sat down and poured out his heart, but
not his conscience, to her.
"As for our separation," he said, "I, and only I, am to blame. It is my
own abominable conduct that has caused it. Give me your pardon, dearest
Iris. If I have made it impossible for you to live with me, it is also
impossible for me to live without you. So am I punished. The house is
dull and lonely; the hours crawl, I know not how to kill the time; my
life is a misery and a burden because you are not with me. Yet I have
no right to complain; I ought to rejoice in thinking that you are happy
in being relieved of my presence. My dear, I do not ask you to come at
present"--he remembered, indeed, that her arrival at this juncture
might be seriously awkward--"I cannot ask you to come back yet, but let
me have a little hope--let me feel that in the sweetness of your nature
you will believe in my repentance, and let me look forward to a speedy
reunion in the future."
When he had written this letter, which he would have done better to
keep in his own hands for awhile, he directed it in a feigned hand to
Lady Harry Norland, care of Hugh Mountjoy, at the latter's London
hotel. Mountjoy would not know Iris's correspondent, and would
certainly forward the letter. He calculated--with the knowledge of her
affectionate and impulsive nature--that Iris would meet him half-way,
and would return whenever he should be able to call her back. He did
not calculate, as will be seen, on the step which she actually took.
The letter despatched, he came back to the cottage happier--he would
get his wife again. He looked in at the sick-room. The patient was
sitting up, chatting pleasantly; it was the best day he had known; the
doctor was sitting in a chair placed beside the bed, and the nurse
stood quiet, self-composed, but none the less watchful and suspicious.
"You are going on so well, my man," Doctor Vimpany was saying, "That we
shall have you out and about again in a day or two. Not quite yet,
though--not quite yet," he pulled out his stethoscope and made an
examination with an immense show of professional interest. "My
treatment has succeeded, you see"--he made a note or two in his
pocket-book--"has succeeded," he repeated. "They will have to
"Gracious sir, I am grateful. I have given a great deal too much
"A medical case can never give too much trouble--that is impossible.
Remember, Oxbye, it is Science which watches at your bedside. You are
not Oxbye; you are a case; it is not a man, it is a piece of machinery
that is out of order. Science watches: she sees you through and
through. Though you are made of solid flesh and bones, and clothed, to
Science you are transparent. Her business is not only to read your
symptoms, but to set the machinery right again."
The Dane, overwhelmed, could only renew his thanks.
"Can he stand, do you think, nurse?" the doctor went on. "Let us
try--not to walk about much to-day, but to get out of bed, if only to
prove to himself that he is so much better; to make him understand that
he is really nearly well. Come, nurse, let us give him a hand."
In the most paternal manner possible the doctor assisted his patient,
weak, after so long a confinement to his bed, to get out of bed, and
supported him while he walked to the open window, and looked out into
the garden. "There," he said, "that is enough. Not too much at first.
To-morrow he will have to get up by himself. Well, Fanny, you agree at
last, I suppose, that I have brought this poor man round? At last, eh?"
His look and his words showed what he meant. "You thought that some
devilry was intended." That was what the look meant. "You proposed to
nurse this man in order to watch for and to discover this devilry. Very
well, what have you got to say?"
All that Fanny had to say was, submissively, that the man was clearly
much better; and, she added, he had been steadily improving ever since
he came to the cottage.
That is what she said; but she said it without the light of confidence
in her eyes--she was still doubtful and suspicious. Whatever power the
doctor had of seeing the condition of lungs and hidden machinery, he
certainly had the power of reading this woman's thoughts. He saw, as
clearly as if upon a printed page, the bewilderment of her mind. She
knew that something was intended---something not for her to know. That
the man had been brought to the cottage to be made the subject of a
scientific experiment she did not believe. She had looked to see him
die, but he did not die. He was mending fast; in a little while he
would be as well as ever he had been in his life. What had the doctor
done it for? Was it really possible that nothing was ever intended
beyond a scientific experiment, which had succeeded? In the case of any
other man, the woman's doubts would have been entirely removed; in the
case of Dr. Vimpany these doubts remained. There are some men of whom
nothing good can be believed, whether of motive or of action; for if
their acts seem good, their motive must be bad. Many women know, or
fancy they know, such a man--one who seems to them wholly and
hopelessly bad. Besides, what was the meaning of the secret
conversation and the widespread colloquies of the doctor and my lord?
And why, at first, was the doctor so careless about his patient?
"The time has come at last," said the doctor that evening, when the two
men were alone, "for this woman to go. The man is getting well rapidly,
he no longer wants a nurse; there is no reason for keeping her. If she
has suspicions there is no longer the least foundation for them; she
has assisted at the healing of a man desperately sick by a skilful
physician. What more? Nothing--positively nothing."
"Can she tell my wife so much and no more?" asked Lord Harry. "Will
there be no more?"
"She can tell her ladyship no more, because she will have no more to
tell," the doctor replied quietly. "She would like to learn more; she
is horribly disappointed that there is no more to tell; but she shall
hear no more. She hates me: but she hates your lordship more."
"Because her mistress loves you still. Such a woman as this would like
to absorb the whole affection of her mistress in herself. You laugh.
She is a servant, and a common person. How can such a person conceive
an affection so strong as to become a passion for one so superior? But
it is true. It is perfectly well known, and there have been many
recorded instances of such a woman, say a servant, greatly inferior in
station, conceiving a desperate affection for her mistress, accompanied
by the fiercest jealousy. Fanny Mere is jealous--and of you. She hates
you; she wants your wife to hate you. She would like nothing better
than to go back to her mistress with the proofs in her hand of such
acts on your part--such acts, I say," he chose his next words
carefully, "as would keep her from you for ever."
"She's a devil, I dare say," said Lord Harry, carelessly. "What do I
care? What does it matter to me whether a lady's maid, more or less,
hates me or loves me?"
"There spoke the aristocrat. My lord, remember that a lady's maid is a
woman. You have been brought up to believe, perhaps, that people in
service are not men and women. That is a mistake--a great mistake.
Fanny Mere is a woman--that is to say, an inferior form of man; and
there is no man in the world so low or so base as not to be able to do
mischief. The power of mischief is given to every one of us. It is the
true, the only Equality of Man--we can all destroy. What? a shot in the
dark; the striking of a lucifer match; the false accusation; the false
witness; the defamation of character;--upon my word, it is far more
dangerous to be hated by a woman than by a man. And this excellent and
faithful Fanny, devoted to her mistress, hates you, my lord, even
more"--he paused and laughed--"even more than the charming Mrs. Vimpany
hates her husband. Never mind. To-morrow we see the last of Fanny Mere.
She goes; she leaves her patient rapidly recovering. That is the fact
that she carries away--not the fact she hoped and expected to carry
away. She goes to-morrow and she will never come back again."
The next morning the doctor paid a visit to his patient rather earlier
than usual. He found the man going on admirably: fresh in colour,
lively and cheerful, chatting pleasantly with his nurse.
"So," said Dr. Vimpany, after the usual examination and questions,
"this is better than I expected. You are now able to get up. You can do
so by-and-by, after breakfast; you can dress yourself, you want no more
help. Nurse," he turned to Fanny, "I think that we have done with you.
I am satisfied with the careful watch you have kept over my patient. If
ever you think of becoming a nurse by profession, rely on my
recommendation. The experiment," he added, thoughtfully, "has fully
succeeded. I cannot deny that it has been owing partly to the
intelligence and patience with which you have carried out my
instructions. But I think that your services may now be relinquished."
"When am I to go, sir?" she asked, impassively.
"In any other case I should have said, 'Stay a little longer, if you
please. Use your own convenience.' In your case I must say, 'Go to your
mistress.' Her ladyship was reluctant to leave you behind. She will be
glad to have you back again. How long will you take to get ready?"
"I could be ready in ten minutes, if it were necessary."
"That is not necessary. You can take the night mail _via_ Dieppe and
Newhaven. It leaves Paris at 9.50. Give yourself an hour to get from
station to station. Any time, therefore, this evening before seven
o'clock will do perfectly well. You will ask his lordship for any
letters or messages he may have."
"Yes, sir," Fanny replied. "With your permission, sir, I will go at
once, so as to get a whole day in Paris."
"As you please, as you please," said the doctor, wondering why she
wanted a day in Paris; but it could have nothing to do with his sick
man. He left the room, promising to see the Dane again in an hour or
two, and took up a position at the garden gate through which the nurse
must pass. In about half an hour she walked down the path carrying her
box. The doctor opened the gate for her.
"Good-bye, Fanny," he said. "Again, many thanks for your care and your
watchfulness--especially the latter. I am very glad," he said, with
what he meant for the sweetest smile, but it looked like a grin, "that
it has been rewarded in such a way as you hardly perhaps expected."
"Thank you, sir," said the girl. "The man is nearly well now, and can
do without me very well indeed."
"The box is too heavy for you, Fanny. Nay, I insist upon it: I shall
carry it to the station for you."
It was not far to the station, and the box was not too heavy, but Fanny
yielded it. "He wants to see me safe out of the station," she thought.
"I will see her safe out of the place," he thought.
Ten minutes later the doors of the _salle d'attente_ were thrown open,
the train rolled in, and Fanny was carried away.
The doctor returned thoughtfully to the house. The time was come for
the execution of his project. Everybody was out of the way.
"She is gone," he said, when Lord Harry returned for breakfast at
eleven. "I saw her safely out of the station."
"Gone!" his confederate echoed: "and I am alone in the house with you
"The sick man--henceforth, yourself, my lord, yourself."
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