"What for my dear? I am really very busy at present."
They started at the touch, and rose like men waked suddenly from a dream. They cast a glance round, and seemed to take in for the first time the real state of things, the raging wind, the flying scud, the waves which rose round the boat, and struck her with a force that threatened to break her into fragments. And then Edward said, "Yes! by all means, if indeed it is not already too late. God forgive us for bringing you out into it; peccavi, culpa mea." And then the brothers, influenced not by fear for themselves, but for the lives of those whom they had brought into danger, commenced rapidly uttering, in a low voice, the prayers of their Church for those in peril.
But he did not give up drinking. He told Sophy that he would stop at home of an evening if she would not interfere with him, but that he could not give up drink till the will was found or they started for Australia: in either of which cases, he swore a great oath that he would never touch spirits again.
She was very fond of papa, and was in her way proud to see him so much looked up to and admired by other people; but I do not think that she appreciated him for himself as it were, and would have been far happier had he been a common humdrum country doctor. She could not understand his devotion to science, his eager inquiry into every novelty of the day, and his disregard for society in the ordinary sense of the word; still less could she understand his untiring zeal in his profession. Why he should be willing to be called up in the middle of a winter's night, get upon his horse, and ride ten miles into the country on a sudden summons to some patient, perhaps so poor that to ask payment for his visit never even entered into the Doctor's mind, was a thing she could not understand. Home, and home cares occupied all her thoughts, and it was to her inexpressibly annoying, when, after taking extreme care to have the nicest little dinner in readiness for his return from work, he would come in an hour late, be perfectly unconcerned at his favourite dish being spoilt, and, indeed, be so completely absorbed in the contemplation of some critical case in his day's practice, as not even to notice what there was for dinner, but to eat mechanically whatsoever was put before him.
All this history of the Harmers I have told nearly as I heard it, passing briefly over such parts as were not essential to the understanding of the story, and retaining all that was necessary to be told in order that the relative position of the various inmates of Harmer Place may be quite understood by any one who may hereafter read this story of mine. And having done so, I can now proceed with the regular course of my journal.
"Most assuredly I did," the doctor answered; "I heard of it at the time when he died. And now, Miss Harmer, I trust that I have quite dissipated your suspicions. Robert Gregory is dead, his wife is on a sick bed, and my children, you acknowledge, are very unlikely to have entered into a plot of this sort."
In truth we both needed it. I was pale and nervous; all the scenes and emotions of the last three months had shaken me very much, and I think that had I not gone to the sea-side I should have had a serious illness of some sort. Papa, too, looked ill and worn. He had felt mamma's loss very much; and, indeed, the long watching and the constant noting the signs of her rapid decay, all so clear to his medical eye, must have been a terrible trial.
Of this his father of course knew nothing; but the people of the village soon noticed these visits, and shook their heads when they saw the young squire go in at the cottage door, for William's character stood by no means high, and such companionship could do no good. Sometimes, too, Long William would not have returned from his duties when Gerald sauntered down, and then the task of entertaining him till his return would fall on William's pretty sister, Madge, who kept house for her brother. Altogether it would have been far better for Gerald to have accompanied his father, than to spend the evening sitting there smoking, and occasionally drinking; not truly that he was fond of drink for its own sake, but as he felt obliged to send Long William out for a bottle of spirits, he felt equally bound to keep him in countenance while he drank it.