"I suppose I must just do the best I can, sir," said Elsie on the landin_utside the bedroom. She smiled timidly, cheerfully and benevolently.
The doctor looked at her, startled. It seemed to him that in some magic wa_he had vanquished the difficulties of a most formidable situation by merel_acing and accepting them. She did not argue about them, complain about them,
nor expatiate upon their enormity. She was ready to go on living and workin_ithout any fuss from one almost impossible moment to the next. During hi_areer in Clerkenwell Dr. Raste had become a connoisseur of choice examples o_ractical philosophy, and none better than he could appreciate Elsie'_ttitude. That it should have startled him was a genuine tribute to her.
"Yes, that's about it," he said nonchalantly, with the cunning of an exper_ho has seen an undervalued unique piece in an antique shop. "Well, goo_orning, Elsie. Good morning."
He was in a hurry; he had half a hundred urgent matters on his professiona_onscience. What could he do but leave Elsie alone with her ordeal? He coul_ot help her, and she did not need help in this particular work, which was,
after all, part of her job at twenty pounds a year and food given and stolen.
She was beginning to see the top of his hat as he descended the stairs. Th_tupid, plump, practical philosopher wanted to call him back for an affair o_he very highest importance, and could not open her mouth, because Mr.
Earlforward's desperate plight somehow inhibited her from doing so.
"Doctor!" she exclaimed with a strange shrillness as soon as he had passe_rom her sight into the shop.
"What now?" demanded Dr. Raste sharply, afraid that his connoisseurship shoul_ave been mistaken and she would stampede.
She ran down after him. His gaze indicated danger. He did not mean to have an_onsense.
"I suppose you couldn't just see Joe for a minute?" she stammered, with _lush. This now faltering creature had a moment earlier been calmly ready t_o the best she could in circumstances which would scarcely bear looking at.
"Joe? What Joe?"
"Your old Joe. He's here, sir. Upstairs. Came last night, sir. He's very ill.
I'm looking after him too. Master doesn't know."
"What in God's name are you talking about, my girl?" said the doctor, move_ut of his impassibility.
She told him the facts, as though confessing a mortal sin for which she coul_ot expect absolution.
"I really haven't a minute to spare," said he, and went upstairs with her t_he second-floor.
By the time they got there Elsie had resumed her self-possession.
The doctor, for all his detached and frigid poses, was on occasion capable,
like nearly every man, of being as irrational as a woman. On this occasion h_as guilty of a perfectly indefensible prejudice against both Elsie and Joe.
He had a prejudice against Elsie because he was convinced that had it not bee_or her affair with Joe, Joe would still have been in his service. And he wa_rejudiced against Joe because he had suffered much from a whole series o_oe's successors. For the moment he was quite without a Joe. Also he resente_lsie having a secret sick man in the house—and that man Joe—and demanding s_nexpectedly his attention when he was in a hurry and over-fatigued by th_lls of the people of Clerkenwell. He would have justly contemned suc_rejudices in another, and especially in, for example, his wife; and it mus_e admitted he was not the god-like little being he thought he was.
Fortunately Joe was in a state which made all equal before him.
"Oh dear I do so ache, and I'm thirsty," the second patient groane_esperately, showing no emotion-surprise, awe or shame—at sight of the docto_nd employer whom he had so cruelly wronged by leaving him in the lurch fo_nadequate reasons originating in mere sentiment. He had been solitary fo_alf an hour and could not bear it. He wanted, and wanted ravenously,
something from everybody he saw. The world existed solely to succour him. An_ertainly he looked very ill, forlorn, and wistfully savage in the miserabl_ed in the miserable bedroom of the ex-charwoman. He looked quite as ill a_r. Earlforward, and to Elsie even worse.
"It's malaria," said the doctor in a casual tone, after he had gone throug_he routine of examination. "Temperature, of course. He'll be better in a fe_ays. I've no doubt he had it in France first, but he never told me. When the_rought back troops to France from the East, malaria came with them. All th_orth of France is covered with mosquitoes, and they carry the disease. I'l_end down some quinine. You must feed him on liquids—milk, barley-water, beef-
tea, milk-and-soda. Hot water to drink, not cold. And you ought to sponge hi_own twice a day."
Elsie, listening intently to this mixture of advice and information, could no_elieve that Joe's case was not more serious than the doctor's manner implied.
Well implanted in her lay the not groundless conviction that doctors were ap_o be much more summary with the sick poor than with the sick rich. And sh_as revisited by her old sense of this doctor's harsh indifference. He had no_ven greeted his former servant, had regarded him simply as he would regar_ny ordinary number in a panel.
"You won't have a great deal to do downstairs. In fact, scarcely anything,"
the doctor added, who apparently saw nothing excessive in leaving two patient_n charge of one unaided woman, she being also housekeeper, shopkeeper, an_omestic servant.
"Of course you can send him to the hospital if you care to," said the docto_ightly. "I dare say they'd take him in." He, was, in fact, not anxious t_nsist on Joe's removal, thinking that he had already sufficiently worried th_ospital authorities about the dwellers in Riceyman Steps.
To send Joe to the hospital would have relieved Elsie of the terrifi_esponsibility which she had incurred by bringing him unpermitted into th_ouse. But she did not want to surrender him. She hated to part with him. An_rivately, when it came to the point, she shared Mr. Earlforward's objectio_o hospitals. Joe might be neglected, she feared, in the hospital; he might b_ictimized by some rule. She had no confidence in the nursing of anybod_xcept herself. She was persuaded that if she could watch him she might sav_im.
"I think I can manage him here, sir," she smiled.
But it was a reserved smile, which said: "I have my own ideas about thi_atter and I don't swallow all I hear."
Dr. Raste began to put on his gloves; in the servant's room he had not take_ff his hat, much less his overcoat. She escorted him downstairs. At the shop-
door he suddenly said:
"If he _does_ want another doctor there's Mr. Adhams—other side of Myddelto_quare." His features relaxed. This remark was his repentance to Elsie,
induced in him by her cheerful and unshrinking attitude towards destiny.
"You mean for master, sir?"
"Yes. _He_ may be able to do something with him. You never know."
"I'm sure I'm very much obliged, sir," said Elsie eagerly, her kindlines_pringing up afresh and rushing out to meet the doctor's spark of feeling. H_odded. He had not said whether or not he would call again to see Joe, and sh_ad not dared to suggest it. She shut the door and locked herself in the hous_ith the two men?