3. CHAPTER III
Consideration for poor Lady Verinder forbade me even to hint that I
had guessed the melancholy truth, before she opened her lips.
I waited her pleasure in silence; and, having privately arranged
to say a few sustaining words at the first convenient opportunity,
felt prepared for any duty that could claim me, no matter how painful it
"I have been seriously ill, Drusilla, for some time past," my aunt began.
"And, strange to say, without knowing it myself."
I thought of the thousands and thousands of perishing human creatures
who were all at that moment spiritually ill, without knowing it themselves.
And I greatly feared that my poor aunt might be one of the number.
"Yes, dear," I said, sadly. "Yes."
"I brought Rachel to London, as you know, for medical advice," she went on.
"I thought it right to consult two doctors."
Two doctors! And, oh me (in Rachel's state), not one clergyman!
"Yes, dear?" I said once more. "Yes?"
"One of the two medical men," proceeded my aunt, "was a stranger to me.
The other had been an old friend of my husband's, and had always felt
a sincere interest in me for my husband's sake. After prescribing
for Rachel, he said he wished to speak to me privately in another room.
I expected, of course, to receive some special directions for the
management of my daughter's health. To my surprise, he took me gravely
by the hand, and said, "I have been looking at you, Lady Verinder,
with a professional as well as a personal interest. You are, I am afraid,
far more urgently in need of medical advice than your daughter."
He put some questions to me, which I was at first inclined to treat
lightly enough, until I observed that my answers distressed him.
It ended in his making an appointment to come and see me, accompanied by a
medical friend, on the next day, at an hour when Rachel would not be at home.
The result of that visit--most kindly and gently conveyed to me--
satisfied both the physicians that there had been precious time lost,
which could never be regained, and that my case had now passed beyond
the reach of their art. For more than two years I have been suffering
under an insidious form of heart disease, which, without any symptoms
to alarm me, has, by little and little, fatally broken me down. I may live
for some months, or I may die before another day has passed over my head--
the doctors cannot, and dare not, speak more positively than this.
It would be vain to say, my dear, that I have not had some miserable moments
since my real situation has been made known to me. But I am more resigned
than I was, and I am doing my best to set my worldly affairs in order.
My one great anxiety is that Rachel should be kept in ignorance of the truth.
If she knew it, she would at once attribute my broken health to anxiety
about the Diamond, and would reproach herself bitterly, poor child,
for what is in no sense her fault. Both the doctors agree that the
mischief began two, if not three years since. I am sure you will keep
my secret, Drusilla--for I am sure I see sincere sorrow and sympathy for me
in your face."