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110. CHAPTER CX
Christmas that year falling on Thursday, the shop was to close for four days: Philip wrote to his uncle asking whether it would be convenient for him to spend the holidays at the vicarage. He received an answer from Mrs. Foster, saying that Mr. Carey was not well enough to write himself, but wished to see his nephew and would be glad if he came down. She met Philip at the door, and when she shook hands with him, said:
"You'll find him changed since you was here last, sir; but you'll pretend you don't notice anything, won't you, sir? He's that nervous about himself."
Philip nodded, and she led him into the dining-room.
"Here's Mr. Philip, sir."
The Vicar of Blackstable was a dying man. There was no mistaking that when you looked at the hollow cheeks and the shrunken body. He sat huddled in the arm-chair, with his head strangely thrown back, and a shawl over his shoulders. He could not walk now without the help of sticks, and his hands trembled so that he could only feed himself with difficulty.
"He can't last long now," thought Philip, as he looked at him.
"How d'you think I'm looking?" asked the Vicar. "D'you think I've changed since you were here last?"
"I think you look stronger than you did last summer."
"It was the heat. That always upsets me."
Mr. Carey's history of the last few months consisted in the number of weeks he had spent in his bed-room and the number of weeks he had spent downstairs. He had a hand-bell by his side and while he talked he rang it for Mrs. Foster, who sat in the next room ready to attend to his wants, to ask on what day of the month he had first left his room.
"On the seventh of November, sir."
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