The Postmaster of Market Deighton
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“The assistant withdraws, and the physician returns to his labours. Four more patients in turn occupy that low easy-chair, drawn so that the light from the high windows shall fall as far as possible upon their faces. The physician who listens to the recital of their symptoms, checking them but rarely to ask a few terse questions, sits back in the shadows, his perfectly impassive features and tone thrown into strong relief by the nervousness of the men and women who have come to consult him. In one or two cases he makes a brief examination and notes the result with a few careless dashes of his pen.
One by one they enter and pass out, unconsciously typifying in their entrances and exits the whole range of human drama. There is one who passes out with a dull pain at the heart-strings and eyes suddenly blurred. No need to ask his sentence! Others find their way out into the street with lightened eyes and hearts suddenly freed from a great load. Their fate or their reprieve is spoken in a few words and in the same tone.
The physician whose counsel they have come to seek is, for a young man, marvellously hardened in his profession, but today his stoicism is something more than normal. The patients who have come and gone have seemed to him like moving figures in a curious dream. Behind the mask of set-calm features and stern self-repression smoulders a very furnace of unrest.
They are all gone. As the door closes upon the last, he leans back in his chair with a little gesture of relief. It is like the withdrawal of an iron band. The routine of the morning is over; his brain no longer has any need of its enforced labours. His thoughts are his own.
Gradually the physician falls away, and the man steals out. A tinge of colour usurps the studious pallor of his cheeks, and his deep-set eyes are suddenly bright. He has unlocked a drawer, and a letter and a photograph He before him. The letter is from a man, but the photograph is of a woman.
He reads the former before he glances at the latter — reads it slowly and with knitted brows, as though he expects to find in it something more than appears upon the surface. Yet a simpler or more straightforward letter could scarcely have been written.”
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