The Two Destinies
31. The Physician's Opinion
SIX months have elapsed. Summer-time has come again.
The last parting is over. Prolonged by my care, the days of my mother's life have come to
their end. She has died in my arms: her last words have been spoken to me, her last look
on earth has been mine. I am now, in the saddest and plainest meaning of the words,
alone in the world.
The affliction which has befallen me has left certain duties to be performed that require
my presence in London. My house is let; I am staying at a hotel. My friend, Sir James
(also in London on business), has rooms near mine. We breakfast and dine together in my
sitting-room. For the moment solitude is dreadful to me, and yet I cannot go into society;
I shrink from persons who are mere acquaintances. At Sir James's suggestion, however,
one visitor at the hotel has been asked to dine with us, who claims distinction as no
ordinary guest. The physician who first warned me of the critical state of my mother's
health is anxious to hear what I can tell him of her last moments. His time is too precious
to be wasted in the earlier hours of the day, and he joins us at the dinner-table when his
patients leave him free to visit his friends.
The dinner is nearly at an end. I have made the effort to preserve my self-control; and in
few words have told the simple story of my mother's last peaceful days on earth. The
conversation turns next on topics of little interest to me: my mind rests after the effort
that it has made; my observation is left free to exert itself as usual.
Little by little, while the talk goes on, I observe something in the conduct of the
celebrated physician which first puzzles me, and then arouses my suspicion of some
motive for his presence which has not been acknowledged, and in which I am concerned.
Over and over again I discover that his eyes are resting on me with a furtive interest and
attention which he seems anxious to conceal. Over and over again I notice that he
contrives to divert the conversation from general topics, and to lure me into talking of
myself; and, stranger still (unless I am quite mistaken), Sir James understands and
encourages him. Under various pretenses I am questioned about what I have suffered in
the past, and what plans of life I have formed for the future. Among other subjects of
personal interest to me, the subject of supernatural appearances is introduced. I am asked
if I believe in occult spiritual sympathies, and in ghostly apparitions of dead or distant
persons. I am dexterously led into hinting that my views on this difficult and debatable
question are in some degree influenced by experiences of my own. Hints, however, are
not enough to satisfy the doctor's innocent curiosity; he tries to induce me to relate in
detail what I have myself seen and felt. But by this time I am on my guard; I make
excuses; I steadily abstain from taking my friend into my confidence. It is more and more
plain to me that I am being made the subject of an experiment, in which Sir James and
the physician are equally interested. Outwardly assuming to be guiltless of any suspicion
of what is going on, I inwardly determine to discover the true motive for the doctor's