Hide and Seek, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter XV. The Discovery of Arthur Carr.

While Matthew Grice was traveling backwards and forwards between town and town in the midland counties, the life led by his young friend and comrade in the metropolis, was by no means devoid of incident and change. Zack had met with his adventures as well as Mat; one of them, in particular, being of such a nature, or, rather, leading to such results, as materially altered the domestic aspect of the lodgings in Kirk Street.

True to his promise to Valentine, Zack, on the morning of his friend’s departure for the country, presented himself at Mr. Strather’s house, with his letter of introduction, punctually at eleven o’clock; and was fairly started in life by that gentleman, before noon on the same day, as a student of the Classic beau-ideal in the statue-halls of the British Museum. He worked away resolutely enough till the rooms were closed; and then returned to Kirk Street, not by any means enthusiastically devoted to his new occupation; but determined to persevere in it, because he was determined to keep to his word.

His new profession wore, however, a much more encouraging aspect when Mr. Strather introduced him, in the evening, to the private Academy. Here, live people were the models to study from. Here he was free to use the palette, and to mix up the pinkest possible flesh tints with bran-new brushes. Here were high-spirited students of the fine arts, easy in manners and picturesque in personal appearance, with whom he contrived to become intimate directly. And here, to crown all, was a Model, sitting for the chest and arms, who had been a great prize-fighter, and with whom Zack joyfully cemented the bonds of an eternal (pugilistic) friendship, on the first night of his admission to Mr. Strather’s Academy.

All through the second day of his probation as a student, he labored at his drawing with immense resolution and infinitesimal progress. All through the evening he daubed away industriously under Mr. Strather’s supervision, until the Academy sitting was suspended. It would have been well for him if he had gone home as soon as he laid down his brushes. But in an evil hour be lingered after the studies of the evening were over, to have a gossip with the prize-fighting Model; and in an indiscreet moment he consented to officiate as one of the patrons at an exhibition of sparring, to be held that night in a neighboring tavern, for the ex-pugilist’s benefit.

After being conducted in an orderly manner enough for some little time, the pugilistic proceedings of the evening were suddenly interrupted by one of the Patrons present (who was also a student at the Drawing Academy), declaring that his pocket had been picked, and insisting that the room door should be closed and the police summoned immediately. Great confusion and disturbance ensued, amid which Zack supported the demand of his fellow-student — perhaps a little too warmly. At any rate, a gentleman sitting opposite to him, with a patch over one eye, and a nose broken in three places, swore that young Thorpe had personally insulted him by implying that he was the thief; and vindicated his moral character by throwing a cheese-plate at Zack’s head. The missile struck the mark (at the side, however, instead of in front), and breaking when it struck, inflicted what appeared to every unprofessional eye that looked at the injury like a very extensive and dangerous wound.

The chemist to whom Zack was taken in the first instance to be bandaged, thought little of the hurt; but the local doctor who was called in, after the lad’s removal to Kirk Street, did not take so reassuring a view of the patient’s case. The wound was certainly not situated in a very dangerous part of the head; but it had been inflicted at a time when Zack’s naturally full-blooded constitution was in a very unhealthy condition, from the effects of much more ardent spirit-drinking than was at all good for him. Bad fever symptoms set in immediately, and appearances became visible in the neighborhood of the wound, at which the medical head shook ominously. In short, Zack was now confined to his bed, with the worst illness he had ever had in his life, and with no friend to look after him except the landlady of the house.

Fortunately for him, his doctor was a man of skill and energy, who knew how to make the most of all the advantages which the patient’s youth and strength could offer to assist the medical treatment. In ten days’ time, young Thorpe was out of danger of any of the serious inflammatory results which had been apprehended from the injury to his head.

Wretchedly weak and reduced — unwilling to alarm his mother by informing her of his illness — without Valentine to console him, or Mat to amuse him, Zack’s spirits now sank to a far lower ebb than they had ever fallen to before. In his present state of depression, feebleness, and solitude, there were moments when he doubted of his own recovery, in spite of all that the doctor could tell him. While in this frame of mind, the remembrance of the last sad report he had heard of his father’s health, affected him very painfully, and he bitterly condemned himself for never having written so much as a line to ask Mr. Thorpe’s pardon since he had left home. He was too weak to use the pen himself; but the tobacconist’s wife — a slovenly, showy, kind-hearted woman — was always ready to do anything to serve him; and he determined to make his mind a little easier by asking her to write a few penitent lines for him, and by having the letter despatched immediately to his father’s address in Baregrove Square. His landlady had long since been made the confidant of all his domestic tribulations (for he freely communicated them to everybody with whom he was brought much in contact); and she showed, therefore, no surprise, but on the contrary expressed great satisfaction, when his request was preferred to her. This was the letter which Zack, with tearful eyes and faltering voice, dictated to the tobacconist’s wife:—

“MY DEAR FATHER, — I am truly sorry for never having written to ask you to forgive me before. I write now, and beg your pardon with all my heart, for I am indeed very penitent, and ashamed of myself. If you will only let me have another trial, and will not be too hard upon me at first, I will do my best never to give you any more trouble. Therefore, pray write to me at 14, Kirk Street, Wendover Market, where I am now living with a friend who has been very kind to me. Please give my dear love to mother, and believe me your truly penitent son,

                        “Z. THORPE, jun.”

Having got through this letter pretty easily, and finding that the tobacconist’s wife was quite ready to write another for him if he pleased, Zack resolved to send a line to Mr. Blyth, who, as well as he could calculate, might now be expected to return from the country every day. On the evening when he had been brought home with the wound in his head, he had entreated that his accident might be kept a secret from Mrs. Blyth (who knew his address), in case she should send after him. This preliminary word of caution was not uselessly spoken. Only three days later a note was brought from Mrs. Blyth, upbraiding him for never having been near the house during Valentine’s absence, and asking him to come and drink tea that evening. The messenger, who waited for an answer, was sent back with the most artful verbal excuse which the landlady could provide for the emergency, and no more notes had been delivered since. Mrs. Blyth was doubtless not overwell satisfied with the cool manner in which her invitation had been received.

In his present condition of spirits, Zack’s conscience upbraided him soundly for having thought of deceiving Valentine by keeping him in ignorance of what had happened. Now that Mat seemed, by his long absence, to have deserted Kirk Street for ever, there was a double attraction and hope for the weary and heart-sick Zack in the prospect of seeing the painter’s genial face by his bedside. To this oldest, kindest, and most merciful of friends, therefore, he determined to confess, what he dare not so much as hint to his own father.

The note which, by the assistance of the tobacconist’s wife, he now addressed to Valentine, was as characteristically boyish, and even childish in tone, as the note which he had sent to his father. It ran thus:

“MY DEAR BLYTH, — I begin to wish I had never been born; for I have got into another scrape — having been knocked on the head by a prize-fighter with a cheese-plate. It was wrong in me to go where I did, I know. But I went to Mr. Strather, just as you told me, and stuck to my drawing — I did indeed! Pray do come, as soon as ever you get back — I send this letter to make sure of getting you at once. I am so miserable and lonely, and too weak still to get out of bed.

“My landlady is very good and kind to me; but, as for that old vagabond, Mat, he has been away in the country, I don’t know how long, and has never written to me. Please, please do come! and don’t blow me up much if you can help it, for I am so weak I can hardly keep from crying when I think of what has happened. Ever yours,

                        “Z. THORPE, jun.

“P. S. If you have got any of my money left by you, I should be very glad if you would bring it. I haven’t a farthing, and there are several little things I ought to pay for.”

This letter, and the letter to Mr. Thorpe, after being duly sealed and directed, were confided for delivery to a private messenger. They were written on the same day which had been occupied by Matthew Grice in visiting Mr. Tatt and Mr. Nawby, at Dibbledean. And the coincidences of time so ordered it, that while Zack’s letters were proceeding to their destinations, in the hand of the messenger, Zack’s fellow-lodger was also proceeding to his destination in Kirk Street, by the fast London train.

Baregrove Square was nearer to the messenger than Valentine’s house, so the first letter that he delivered was that all-important petition for the paternal pardon, on the favorable reception of which depended Zack’s last chance of reconciliation with home.

Mr. Thorpe sat alone in his dining-parlor — the same dining-parlor in which, so many weary years ago, he had argued with old Mr. Goodworth, about his son’s education. Mrs. Thorpe, being confined to her room by a severe cold, was unable to keep him company — the doctor had just taken leave of him — friends in general were forbidden, on medical authority, to excite him by visits — he was left lonely, and he had the prospect of remaining lonely for the rest of the day. That total prostration of the nervous system, from which the doctor had declared him to be now suffering, showed itself painfully, from time to time, in his actions as well as his looks — in his sudden startings when an unexpected noise occurred in the house, in the trembling of his wan yellowish-white hand whenever he lifted it from the table, in the transparent paleness of his cheeks, in the anxious uncertainty of his ever-wandering eves.

His attention was just now directed on an open letter lying near him — a letter fitted to encourage and console him, if any earthly hopes could still speak of happiness to his heart, or any earthly solace still administer repose to his mind.

But a few days back, his wife’s entreaties and the doctor’s advice had at length prevailed on him to increase his chances of recovery, by resigning the post of secretary to one of the Religious Societies to which he belonged. The letter he was now looking at, had been written officially to inform him that the members of the Society accepted his resignation with the deepest regret; and to prepare him for a visit on the morrow from a deputation charged to present him with an address and testimonial — both of which had been unanimously voted by the Society “in grateful and affectionate recognition of his high character and eminent services, while acting as their secretary.” He had not been able to resist the temptation of showing this letter to the doctor; and he could not refrain from reading it once again now, before he put it back in his desk. It was, in his eyes, the great reward and the great distinction of his life.

He was still lingering thoughtfully over the last sentence, when Zack’s letter was brought in to him. It was only for a moment that he had dared to taste again the sweetness of a well-won triumph — but even in that moment, there mingled with it the poisoning bitter of every past association that could pain him most! — With a heavy sigh, he put away the letter from the friends who honored him, and prepared to answer the letter from the son who had deserted him.

There was grief, but no anger in his face, as he read it over for the second time. He sat thinking for a little while — then drew towards him his inkstand and paper — hesitated — wrote a few lines — and paused again, putting down the pen this time, and covering his eyes with his thin trembling hand. After sitting thus for some minutes, he seemed to despair of being able to collect his thoughts immediately, and to resolve on giving his mind full time to compose itself. He shut up his son’s letter and his own unfinished reply together in the paper-case. But there was some re-assuring promise for Zack’s future prospects contained even in the little that he had already written; and the letter suggested forgiveness at the very outset; for it began with, “My dear Zachary.”

On delivering Zack’s second note at Valentine’s house, the messenger was informed that Mr. Blyth was expected back on the next day, or on the day after that, at the latest. Having a discretionary power to deal as she pleased with her husband’s correspondence, when he was away from home, Mrs. Blyth opened the letter as soon as it was taken up to her. Madonna was in the room at the time, with her bonnet and shawl on, just ready to go out for her usual daily walk, with Patty the housemaid for a companion, in Valentine’s absence.

“Oh, that wretched, wretched Zack!” exclaimed Mrs. Blyth, looking seriously distressed and alarmed, the moment her eyes fell on the first lines of the letter. “He must be ill indeed,” she added, looking closely at the handwriting; “for he has evidently not written this himself.”

Madonna could not hear these words, but she could see the expression which accompanied their utterance, and could indicate by a sign her anxiety to know what had happened. Mrs. Blyth ran her eye quickly over the letter, and ascertaining that there was nothing in it which Madonna might not be allowed to read, beckoned to the girl to look over her shoulder, as the easiest and shortest way of explaining what was the matter.

“How distressed Valentine will be to hear of this!” thought Mrs. Blyth, summoning Patty up-stairs by a pull at her bell-rope, while Madonna was eagerly reading the letter. The housemaid appeared immediately, and was charged by her mistress to go to Kirk Street at once; and after inquiring of the landlady about Zack’s health, to get a written list of any comforts he might want, and bring it back as soon as possible. “And mind you leave a message,” pursued Mrs. Blyth, in conclusion, “to say that he need not trouble himself about money matters, for your master will come back from the country, either to-morrow or next day.”

Here her attention was suddenly arrested by Madonna, who was eagerly and even impatiently signing on her fingers: “What are you saying to Patty? Oh! do let me know what you are saying to Patty?”

Mrs. Blyth repeated, by means of the deaf-and-dumb alphabet, the instructions which she had just given to the servant; and added — observing the paleness and agitation of Madonna’s face — “Let us not frighten ourselves unnecessarily, my dear, about Zack; he may turn out to be much better than we think him from reading his letter.”

“May I go with Patty?” rejoined Madonna, her eyes sparkling with anxiety, her fingers trembling as they rapidly formed these words. “Let me take my walk with Patty, just as if nothing had happened. Let me go! pray, let me go!”

“She can’t be of any use, poor child,” thought Mrs. Blyth; “but if I keep her here, she will only be fretting herself into one of her violent headaches. Besides, she may as well have her walk now, for I shan’t be able to spare Patty later in the day.” Influenced by these considerations, Mrs. Blyth, by a nod, intimated to her adopted child that she might accompany the housemaid to Kirk Street. Madonna, the moment this permission was granted, led the way out of the room; but stopped as soon as she and Patty were alone on the staircase, and, making a sign that she would be back directly, ran up to her own bed-chamber.

When she entered the room, she unlocked a little dressing-case that Valentine had given to her; and, emptying out of one of the trays four sovereigns and some silver, all her savings from her own pocket-money, wrapped them up hastily in a piece of paper, and ran down stairs again to Patty. Zack was ill, and lonely, and miserable; longing for a friend to sit by his bedside and comfort him — and she could not be that friend! But Zack was also poor; she had read it in his letter; there were many little things he wanted to pay for; he needed money — and in that need she might secretly be a friend to him, for she had money of her own to give away.

“My four golden sovereigns shall be the first he has,” thought Madonna, nervously taking the housemaid’s offered arm at the house-door. “I will put them in some place where he is sure to find them, and never to know who they come from. And Zack shall be rich again — rich with all the money I have got to give him.” Four sovereigns represented quite a little fortune in Madonna’s eyes. It had taken her a long, long time to save them out of her small allowance of pocket-money.

When they knocked at the private door of the tobacco-shop, it was opened by the landlady, who, after hearing what their errand was from Patty, and answering some preliminary inquiries after Zack, politely invited them to walk into her back parlor. But Madonna seemed — quite incomprehensibly to the servant — to be bent on remaining in the passage till she had finished writing some lines which she had just then begun to trace on her slate. When they were completed, she showed them to Patty, who read with considerable astonishment these words: “Ask where his sitting-room is, and if I can go into it. I want to leave something for him there with my own hands, if the room is empty.”

After looking at her young mistress’s eager face in great amazement for a moment or two, Patty asked the required questions; prefacing them with some words of explanation which drew from the tobacconist’s wife many voluble expressions of sympathy and admiration for Madonna. At last, there came to an end; and the desired answers to the questions on the slate were readily given enough, and duly, though rather slowly, written down by Patty, for her young lady’s benefit. The sitting-room belonging to Mr. Thorpe and the other gentleman, was the front room on the first floor. Nobody was in it now. Would the lady like to be shown —

Here Madonna arrested the servant’s further progress with the slate pencil — nodded to indicate that she understood what had been written — and then, with her little packet of money ready in her hand, lightly ran up the first flight of stairs; ascending them so quickly that she was on the landing before Patty and the landlady had settled which of the two ought to have officially preceded her.

The front room was indeed empty when she entered it, but one of the folding doors leading into the back room had been left ajar; and when she looked towards the opening thus made, she also looked, from the particular point of view she then occupied, towards the head of the bed on which Zack lay, and saw his face turned towards her, hushed in deep, still, breathless sleep.

She started violently — trembled a little — then stood motionless, looking towards him through the door; the tears standing thick in her eyes, the color gone from her cheeks, the yearning pulses of grief and pity beating faster and faster in her heart. Ah! how pale and wan and piteously still he lay there, with the ghastly white bandages round his head, and one helpless, languid hand hanging over the bedside! How changed from that glorious creature, all youth, health, strength, and exulting activity, whom it had so long been her innocent idolatry to worship in secret! How fearfully like what might be the image of him in death, was the present image of him as he lay in his hushed and awful sleep! She shuddered as the thought crossed her mind, and drying the tears that obscured her sight, turned a little away from him, and looked round the room. Her quick feminine eyes detected at a glance all its squalid disorder, all its deplorable defects of comfort, all its repulsive unfitness as a habitation for the suffering and the sick. Surely a little money might help Zack to a better place to recover in! Surely her money might be made to minister in this way to his comfort, his happiness, and even his restoration to health!

Full of this idea, she advanced a step or two, and sought for a proper place on the one table in the room, in which she might put her packet of money.

While she was thus engaged, an old newspaper, with some hair lying in it, caught her eye. The hair was Zack’s and was left to be thrown away; having been cut off that very morning by the doctor, who thought that enough had not been removed from the neighborhood of the wound by the barber originally employed to clear the hair from the injured side of the patient’s head. Madonna had hardly looked at the newspaper before she recognized the hair in it as Zack’s by its light-brown color, and by the faint golden tinge running through it. One little curly lock, lying rather apart from the rest, especially allured her eyes; she longed to take it as a keepsake — a keepsake which Zack would never know that she possessed! For a moment she hesitated, and in that moment the longing became an irresistible temptation. After glancing over her shoulder to assure herself that no one had followed her upstairs, she took the lock of hair, and quickly hid it away in her bosom.

Her eyes had assured her that there was no one in the room; but, if she had not been deprived of the sense of hearing, she would have known that persons were approaching it, by the sound of voices on the stairs — a man’s voice being among them. Necessarily ignorant, however, of this, she advanced unconcernedly, after taking the lock of hair, from the table to the chimney-piece, which it struck her might be the safest place to leave the money on. She had just put it down there, when she felt the slight concussion caused by the opening and closing of the door behind her; and turning round instantly, confronted Patty, the landlady, and the strange swarthy-faced friend of Zack’s, who had made her a present of the scarlet tobacco-pouch.

Terror and confusion almost overpowered her, as she saw him advance to the chimney-piece and take up the packet she had just placed there. He had evidently opened the room-door in time to see her put it down; and he was now deliberately unfolding the paper and examining the money inside.

While he was thus occupied, Patty came close up to her, and, with rather a confused and agitated face, began writing on her slate, much faster and much less correctly than usual. She gathered, however, from the few crooked lines scrawled by the servant, that Patty had been very much startled by the sudden entrance of the landlady’s rough lodger, who had let himself in from the street, just as she was about to follow her young mistress up to the sitting-room, and had uncivilly stood in her way on the stairs, while he listened to what the good woman of the house had to tell him about young Mr. Thorpe’s illness. Confused as the writing was on the slate, Madonna contrived to interpret it thus far, and would have gone on interpreting more, if she had not felt a heavy hand laid on her arm, and had not, on looking round, seen Zack’s friend making signs to her, with her money loose in his hand.

She felt confused, but not frightened now; for his eyes, as she looked into them, expressed neither suspicion nor anger. They rested on her face kindly and sadly, while he first pointed to the money in his hand, and then to her. She felt that her color was rising, and that it was a hard matter to acknowledge the gold and silver as being her own property; but she did so acknowledge it. He then pointed to himself; and when she shook her head, pointed through the folding doors into Zack’s room. Her cheeks began to burn, and she grew suddenly afraid to look at him; but it was no harder trial to confess the truth than shamelessly to deny it by making a false sign. So she looked up at him again, and bravely nodded her head.

His eyes seemed to grow clearer and softer as they still rested kindly on her; but he made her take back the money immediately, and, holding her hand as he did so, detained it for a moment with a curious awkward gentleness. Then, after first pointing again to Zack’s room, he began to search in the breast-pocket of his coat, took from it at one rough grasp some letters tied together loosely, and a clumsy-looking rolled-up strip of fur, put the letters aside on the table behind him, and, unrolling the fur, showed her that there were bank-notes in it. She understood him directly — he had money of his own for Zack’s service, and wanted none from her.

After he had replaced the strip of fur in his pocket, he took up the letters from the table to be put back also. As he reached them towards him, a lock of hair, which seemed to have accidentally got between them, fell out on the floor just at her feet. She stooped to pick it up for him; and was surprised, as she did so, to see that it exactly resembled in color the lock of Zack’s hair which she had taken from the old newspaper, and had hidden in her bosom.

She was surprised at this; and she was more than surprised, when he angrily and abruptly snatched up the lock of hair, just as she touched it. Did he think that she wanted to take it away from him? If he did, it was easy to show him that a lock of Zack’s hair was just now no such rarity that people need quarrel about the possession of it. She reached her hand to the table behind, and, taking some of the hair from the old newspaper, held it up to him with a smile, just as he was on the point of putting his own lock of hair back in his pocket.

For a moment he did not seem to comprehend what her action meant; then the resemblance between the hair in her hand and the hair in his own, struck him suddenly.

The whole expression of his face changed in an instant — changed so darkly that she recoiled from him in terror, and put back the hair into the newspaper. He pounced on it directly; and, crunching it up in his hand, turned his grim threatening face and fiercely-questioning eyes on the landlady. While she was answering his inquiry, Madonna saw him look towards Zack’s bed; and, as he looked, another change passed over his face — the darkness faded from it, and the red scars on his cheek deepened in color. He moved back slowly to the further corner of the room from the folding-doors; his restless eyes fixed in a vacant stare, one of his hands clutched round the old newspaper, the other motioning clumsily and impatiently to the astonished and alarmed women to leave him.

Madonna had felt Patty’s hand pulling at her arm more than once during the last minute or two. She was now quite as anxious as her companion to quit the house. They went out quickly, not venturing to look at Mat again; and the landlady followed them. She and Patty had a long talk together at the street door — evidently, judging by the expression of their faces, about the conduct of the rough lodger up-stairs. But Madonna felt no desire to be informed particularly of what they were saying to each other. Much as Matthew’s strange behavior had surprised and startled her, he was not the uppermost subject in her mind just then. It was the discovery of her secret, the failure of her little plan for helping Zack with her own money, that she was now thinking of with equal confusion and dismay. She had not been in the front room at Kirk Street much more than five minutes altogether — yet what a succession of untoward events had passed in that short space of time!

For a long while after the women had left him, Mat stood motionless in the furthest corner of the room from the folding-doors, looking vacantly towards Zack’s bedchamber. His first surprise on finding a stranger talking in the passage, when he let himself in from the street; his first vexation on hearing of Zack’s accident from the landlady; his momentary impulse to discover himself to Mary’s child, when he saw Madonna standing in his room, and again when he knew that she had come there with her little offering, for the one kind purpose of helping the sick lad in his distress — all these sensations were now gone from his memory as well as from his heart; absorbed in the one predominant emotion with which the discovery of the resemblance between Zack’s hair and the hair from Jane Holdworth’s letter now filled him. No ordinary shocks could strike Mat’s mind hard enough to make it lose its balance — this shock prostrated it in an instant.

In proportion as he gradually recovered his self-possession so did the desire strengthen in him to ascertain the resemblance between the two kinds of hair once more — but in such a manner as it had not been ascertained yet. He stole gently to the folding-doors and looked into young Thorpe’s room. Zack was still asleep.

After pausing for a moment, and shaking his head sorrowfully, as he noticed how pale and wasted the lad’s face looked, he approached the pillow, and laid the lock of Arthur Carr’s hair upon it, close to the uninjured side of Zack’s head. It was then late in the afternoon, but not dusk yet. No blind hung over the bedroom window, and all the light in the sky streamed full on to the pillow as Mat’s eyes fastened on it.

The similarity between the sleeper’s hair and the hair of Arthur Carr was perfect! Both were of the same light brown color, and both had running through that color the same delicate golden tinge, brightly visible in the light, hardly to be detected at all in the shade.

Why had this extraordinary resemblance never struck him before? Perhaps because he had never examined Arthur Carr’s hair with attention until he had possessed himself of Mary’s bracelet, and had gone away to the country. Perhaps also because he had never yet taken notice enough of Zack’s hair to care to look close at it. And now the resemblance was traced, to what conclusion did it point? Plainly, from Zack’s youth, to none in connection with him. But what elder relatives had he? and which of them was he most like?

Did he take after his father?

Mat was looking down at the sleeper, just then; something in the lad’s face troubled him, and kept his mind from pursuing that last thought. He took the lock of hair from the pillow, and went into the front room. There was anxiety and almost dread in his face, as he thought of the fatally decisive question in relation to the momentous discovery he had just made, which must be addressed to Zack when he awoke. He had never really known how fond he was of his fellow lodger until now, when he was conscious of a dull, numbing sensation of dismay at the prospect of addressing that question to the friend who had lived as a brother with him, since the day when they first met.

As the evening closed in, Zack woke. It was a relief to Mat, as he went to the bedside, to know that his face could not now be clearly seen. The burden of that terrible question pressed heavily on his heart, while he held his comrade’s feeble hand; while he answered as considerately, yet as briefly as he could, the many inquiries addressed to him; and while he listened patiently and silently to the sufferer’s long, wandering, faintly-uttered narrative of the accident that had befallen him. Towards the close of that narrative, Zack himself unconsciously led the way to the fatal question which Mat longed, yet dreaded to ask him.

“Well, old fellow,” he said, turning feebly on his pillow, so as to face Matthew, “something like what you call the ‘horrors’ has been taking hold of me. And this morning, in particular, I was so wretched and lonely, that I asked the landlady to write for me to my father, begging his pardon, and all that. I haven’t behaved as well as I ought; and, somehow, when a fellow’s ill and lonely he gets homesick — ”

His voice began to grow faint, and he left the sentence unfinished.

“Zack,” said Mat, turning his face away from the bed while he spoke, though it was now quite dark. “Zack, what sort of a man is your father?”

“What sort of a man! How do you mean?”

“To look at. Are you like him in the face?”

“Lord help you, Mat! as little like as possible. My father’s face is all wrinkled and marked.”

“Aye, aye, like other old men’s faces. His hair’s grey, I suppose?”

“Quite white. By-the-by — talking of that — there is one point I’m like him in — at least, like what he was, when he was a young man.”

“What’s that?”

“What we’ve been speaking of — his hair. I’ve heard my mother say, when she first married him — just shake up my pillow a bit, will you, Mat?”

“Yes, yes. And what did you hear your mother say?”

“Oh, nothing particular. Only that when he was a young man, his hair was exactly like what mine is now.”

As those momentous words were spoken, the landlady knocked at the door, and announced that she was waiting outside with candles, and a nice cup of tea for the invalid. Mat let her into the bedchamber — then immediately walked out of it into the front room, and closed the folding-doors behind him. Brave as he was, he was afraid, at that moment, to let Zack see his face.

He walked to the fireplace, and rested his head and arm on the chimney-piece — reflected for a little while — then stood upright again — and searching in his pocket, drew from it once more that fatal lock of hair, which he had examined so anxiously and so often during his past fortnight in the country.

Your work’s done,” he said, looking at it for a moment, as it lay in his hand — then throwing it into the dull red fire which was now burning low in the grate. “Your work’s done; and mine won’t be long a-doing.” He rested his head and arm again wearily on the chimney-piece, and added:

“I’m brothers with Zack — there’s the hard part of it! — I’m brothers with Zack.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30