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The House Surgeon
by [?]

The door opened, and M’Leod reappeared. I thanked him politely, saying I was charmed with my room, anxious to meet Mrs. M’Leod, much refreshed with my wash, and so on and so forth. Beyond a little stickiness at the corners of my mouth, it seemed to me that I was managing my words admirably; the while that I myself cowered at the bottom of unclimbable pits. M’Leod laid his hand on my shoulder, and said “You’ve got it now already, ain’t it?”

“Yes,” I answered. “It’s making me sick!”

“It will pass off when you come outside. I give you my word it will then pass off. Come!”

I shambled out behind him, and wiped my forehead in the hall.

“You musn’t mind,” he said. “I expect the run tired you. My good lady is sitting there under the copper beech.”

She was a fat woman in an apricot-coloured gown, with a heavily powdered face, against which her black long-lashed eyes showed like currants in dough. I was introduced to many fine ladies and gentlemen of those parts. Magnificently appointed landaus and covered motors swept in and out of the drive, and the air was gay with the merry outcries of the tennis players.

As twilight drew on they all went away, and I was left alone with Mr. and Mrs. M’Leod, while tall menservants and maidservants took away the tennis and tea things. Miss M’Leod had walked a little down the drive with a light-haired young man, who apparently knew everything about every South American railway stock. He had told me at tea that these were the days of financial specialisation.

“I think it went off beautifully, my dear,” said Mr. M’Leod to his wife; and to me: “You feel all right now, ain’t it? Of course you do.”

Mrs. M’Leod surged across the gravel. Her husband skipped nimbly before her into the south verandah, turned a switch, and all Holmescroft was flooded with light.

“You can do that from your room also,” he said as they went in. “There is something in money, ain’t it?”

Miss M’Leod came up behind me in the dusk. “We have not yet been introduced,” she said, “but I suppose you are staying the night?”

“Your father was kind enough to ask me,” I replied.

She nodded. “Yes, I know; and you know too, don’t you? I saw your face when you came to shake hands with mamma. You felt the depression very soon. It is simply frightful in that bedroom sometimes. What do you think it is–bewitchment? In Greece, where I was a little girl, it might have been; but not in England, do you think? Or do you?”

“Cheer up, Thea. It will all come right,” he insisted.

“No, papa.” She shook her dark head. “Nothing is right while it comes.”

“It is nothing that we ourselves have ever done in our lives that I will swear to you,” said Mrs. M’Leod suddenly. “And we have changed our servants several times. So we know it is not them.”

“Never mind. Let us enjoy ourselves while we can,” said Mr. M’Leod, opening the champagne.

But we did not enjoy ourselves. The talk failed. There were long silences.

“I beg your pardon,” I said, for I thought some one at my elbow was about to speak.

“Ah! That is the other thing!” said Miss M’Leod. Her mother groaned.

We were silent again, and, in a few seconds it must have been, a live grief beyond words–not ghostly dread or horror, but aching, helpless grief–overwhelmed us, each, I felt, according to his or her nature, and held steady like the beam of a burning glass. Behind that pain I was conscious there was a desire on somebody’s part to explain something on which some tremendously important issue hung.

Meantime I rolled bread pills and remembered my sins; M’Leod considered his own reflection in a spoon; his wife seemed to be praying, and the girl fidgetted desperately with hands and feet, till the darkness passed on–as though the malignant rays of a burning-glass had been shifted from us.”