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HOME > Classical Novels > The Shuttle50 > CHAPTER 42 IN THE BALLROOM
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 Though Dunstan village was cut off, by its misfortune, from its usual intercourse1 with its neighbours, in some mystic manner villages even at twenty miles' distance learned all it did and suffered, feared or hoped. It did not hope greatly, the rustic3 habit of mind tending towards a discouraged outlook, and cherishing the drama of impending5 calamity6. As far as Yangford and Marling inmates7 of cottages and farmhouses8 were inclined to think it probable that Dunstan would be “swep away,” and rumours9 of spreading death and disaster were popular. Tread, the advanced blacksmith at Stornham, having heard in his by-gone, better days of the Great Plague of London, was greatly in demand as a narrator of illuminating10 anecdotes11 at The Clock Inn.  
Among the parties gathered at the large houses Mount Dunstan himself was much talked of. If he had been a popular man, he might have become a sort of hero; as he was not popular, he was merely a subject for discussion. The fever-stricken patients had been carried in carts to the Mount and given beds in the ballroom13, which had been made into a temporary ward4. Nurses and supplies had been sent for from London, and two energetic young doctors had taken the place of old Dr. Fenwick, who had been frightened and overworked into an attack of bronchitis which confined him to his bed. Where the money came from, which must be spent every day under such circumstances, it was difficult to say. To the simply conservative of mind, the idea of filling one's house with dirty East End hop2 pickers infected with typhoid seemed too radical14. Surely he could have done something less extraordinary. Would everybody be expected to turn their houses into hospitals in case of village epidemics15, now that he had established a precedent16? But there were people who approved, and were warm in their sympathy with him. At the first dinner party where the matter was made the subject of argument, the beautiful Miss Vanderpoel, who was present, listened silently to the talk with such brilliant eyes that Lord Dunholm, who was in an elderly way her staunch admirer, spoke17 to her across the table:
“Tell us what YOU think of it, Miss Vanderpoel,” he suggested.
She did not hesitate at all.
“I like it,” she answered, in her clear, well-heard voice. “I like it better than anything I have ever heard.”
“So do I,” said old Lady Alanby shortly. “I should never have done it myself—but I like it just as you do.”
“I knew you would, Lady Alanby,” said the girl. “And you, too, Lord Dunholm.”
“I like it so much that I shall write and ask if I cannot be of assistance,” Lord Dunholm answered.
Betty was glad to hear this. Only quickness of thought prevented her from the error of saying, “Thank you,” as if the matter were personal to herself. If Mount Dunstan was restive18 under the obviousness of the fact that help was so sorely needed, he might feel less so if her offer was only one among others.
“It seems rather the duty of the neighbourhood to show some interest,” put in Lady Alanby. “I shall write to him myself. He is evidently of a new order of Mount Dunstan. It's to be hoped he won't take the fever himself, and die of it He ought to marry some handsome, well-behaved girl, and re-found the family.”
Nigel Anstruthers spoke from his side of the table, leaning slightly forward.
“He won't if he does not take better care of himself. He passed me on the road two days ago, riding like a lunatic. He looks frightfully ill—yellow and drawn19 and lined. He has not lived the life to prepare him for settling down to a fight with typhoid fever. He would be done for if he caught the infection.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Lord Dunholm, with quiet decision. “Unprejudiced inquiry20 proves that his life has been entirely21 respectable. As Lady Alanby says, he seems to be of a new order of Mount Dunstan.”
“No doubt you are right,” said Sir Nigel suavely22. “He looked ill, notwithstanding.”
“As to looking ill,” remarked Lady Alanby to Lord Dunholm, who sat near her, “that man looks as if he was going to pieces pretty rapidly himself, and unprejudiced inquiry would not prove that his past had nothing to do with it.”
Betty wondered if her brother-in-law were lying. It was generally safest to argue that he was. But the fever burned high at Mount Dunstan, and she knew by instinct what its owner was giving of the strength of his body and brain. A young, unmarried woman cannot go about, however, making anxious inquiries24 concerning the welfare of a man who has made no advance towards her. She must wait for the chance which brings news.
. . . . .
The fever, having ill-cared for and habitually25 ill fed bodies to work upon, wrought26 fiercely, despite the energy of the two young doctors and the trained nurses. There were many dark hours in the ballroom ward, hours filled with groans27 and wild ravings. The floating Terpsichorean28 goddesses upon the lofty ceiling gazed down with wondering eyes at haggard faces and plucking hands which sometimes, behind the screen drawn round their beds, ceased to look feverish29, and grew paler and stiller, until they moved no more. But, at least, none had died through want of shelter and care. The supplies needed came from London each day. Lord Dunholm had sent a generous cheque to the aid of the sufferers, and so, also, had old Lady Alanby, but Miss Vanderpoel, consulting medical authorities and hospitals, learned exactly what was required, and necessities were forwarded daily in their most easily utilisable form.
“You generously told me to ask you for anything we found we required,” Mr. Penzance wrote to her in his note of thanks. “My dear and kind young lady, you leave nothing to ask for. Our doctors, who are young and enthusiastic, are filled with delight in the completeness of the resources placed in their hands.”
She had, in fact, gone to London to consult an eminent30 physician, who was an authority of world-wide reputation. Like the head of the legal firm of Townlinson & Sheppard, he had experienced a new sensation in the visit paid him by an indubitably modern young beauty, who wasted no word, and whose eyes, while he answered her amazingly clear questions, were as intelligently intent as those of an ardent31 and serious young medical student. What a surgical32 nurse she would have made! It seemed almost a pity that she evidently belonged to a class the members of which are rich enough to undertake the charge of entire epidemics, but who do not usually give themselves to such work, especially when they are young and astonishing in the matter of looks.
In addition to the work they did in the ballroom ward, Mount Dunstan and the vicar found much to do among the villagers. Ignorance and alarm combined to create dangers, even where they might not have been feared. Daily instruction and inspection33 of the cottages and their inmates was required. The knowledge that they were under control and supervision34 was a support to the frightened people and prevented their lapsing35 into careless habits. Also, there began to develop among them a secret dependence36 upon, and desire to please “his lordship,” as the existing circumstances drew him nearer to them, and unconsciously they were attracted and dominated by his strength. The strong man carries his power with him, and, when Mount Dunstan entered a cottage and talked to its inmates, the anxious wife or surlily depressed37 husband was conscious of feeling a certain sense of security. It had been a queer enough thing, this he had done—bundling the infected hoppers out of their leaking huts and carrying them up to the Mount itself for shelter and care. At the most, gentlefolk generally gave soup or blankets or hospital tickets, and left the rest to luck, but, “gentry-way” or not, a man who did a thing like that would be likely to do other things, if they were needed, and gave folk a feeling of being safer than ordinary soup and blankets and hospital tickets could make them.
But “where did the money come from?” was asked during the first days. Beds and doctors, nurses and medicine, fine brandy and unlimited38 fowls39 for broth23 did not come up from London without being paid for. Pounds and pounds a day ............
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