About an hour after, old Dulcibella came to the door and knocked. Charles Fairfield had slept a little, and was again awake. Into that still darkened room she came to whisper her message.
“Mr. Harry’s come, and he’s downstairs, and he’d like to see you, and he wanted to know whether he could see the master.”
“I’ll go down and see him; say I’ll see him with pleasure,” said Alice. “Harry is here, darling,” she said gently, drawing near to the patient, “but you can’t see him, of course.”
“I must,” whispered the invalid peremptorily.
“Darling, are you well enough? I’m sure you ought not. If the doctor were here he would not allow it. Don’t think of it, darling Ry, and he’ll come again in a few days, when you are stronger.”
“It will do me good,” whispered Charles. “Bring him—you tire me; wait, she can tell him. I’ll see him alone; go, go. Ally, go.”
She would have remonstrated, but she saw that in his flushed and irritated looks, which warned her against opposing him further.
“You are to go down, Dulcibella, and bring Sir. Harry to the room to see your master; and, Dulcibella, like a dear good creature, won’t you tell him how weak Master Charles is?” she urged, following her to the lobby, “and beg of him not to stay long.’
In a minute or two more the clank of Harry Fairfield’s boot was heard on the stair. He pushed open the door, and stepped in.
“Hullo! Charlie—dark enough to blind a horse here—all right, now. I hear you’ll be on your legs again—I can’t see you, upon my soul, not a stim a’most—before you see three Sundays—you mustn’t be tiring yourself. I’m not talking too loud, eh? Would you mind an inch or two more of the shutter open?”
“No,” said Charles, faintly. “A little.”
“There, that isn’t much. I’m beginning to see a bit now. You’ve had a stiff bout this time, Charlie, ’twasn’t typhus, nothing infectious, chiefly the upper story; but you had a squeak for it, my lad. I’d ’a came over to look after you but my hands was too full.”
“No good, Harry; could not have spoken, or seen you. Better now.”
“A bit shaky still,” said Harry, lowering his voice. “You’ll get o’er that, though, fast enough. Keeping your spirits up, I see,” and Harry winked at the decanters. “Summat better than that rot-gut claret, too. This is the stuff to put life in you. Port, yes.” He filled his brother’s glass, smelled to it, and drank it off. “So it is, and right good port. I’ll drink your health, Charlie,” he added, playfully filling his glass again.
“I’m glad you came, Harry, I feel better,” said the invalid, and he extended his thin hand upon the bed to his brother.
“Hoot! of course you do,” said Harry’, looking hard at him, for he was growing accustomed to the imperfect light. “You’ll do very well, and Alice, I hear, is quite well also. And so you’ve had a visit from the old soldier, and a bit of a row, eh?”
“Very bad, Harry. Oh! God help me,” moaned Charles.
“She ain’t pretty, and she ain’t pleasant—bad without and worse within, like a collier’s sack,” said Harry, with a disgusted grimace, lifting his eyebrows and shaking his head.
“She’s headlong and headstrong, and so there has been bad work. I don’t know what’s to be done.”
“The best thing to be done’s to let her alone,” said Harry. “They’ve put her up at Hatherton, I hear.”
“That’s one thing,” murmured Charles, with a great sigh. “I’m a heart-broken man, Harry.”
“That’s easy mended. Don’t prosecute, that’s all. Get out o’ the country when you’re well enough, and they must let her go, and maybe the lesson won’t do her no great harm.”
“I’m glad I have you to talk to,” murmured Charles, with another great sigh. “I can’t get it out of my head. You’ll help me, Harry?”
“All I can—’taint much.”
“And, Harry, there’s a thing that troubles me.” He paused, it seemed, exhausted.
“Don’t mind it now, you’re tirin’ yourself. Drink a glass o’ this.”
And he filled the glass from which he had been drinking his port.
“No, I hate wine,” he answered. “No, no, by-and-by, perhaps.”
“You know best,” he acquiesced. “I suppose I must drink it myself,” which necessity he complied with accordingly. “I heard the news, you know, and I’d a come sooner but I’m taking an action next ’sizes on a warranty about the grey filly against that damned rogue Farmer Lundy, and had to be off t’other side o’ Wyvern wi’ the lawyer. ’Taint easy to hold your own wi’ the cheatin’ chaps that’s going now, I can tell ye.”
“I’m no good to talk now, Harry. You’ll find me better next time, only, Harry, mind, remember, I mayn’t be long for this world, and—I give you my honour—I swear, in the presence of God, who’ll judge me, I never was married to Bertha. It’s a lie. I knew she’d give me trouble some day; but it’s a lie. Alice is my wife. I never had a wife but Alice, by G—— Almighty! That other’s a lie. Don’t you know it’s a lie, Harry?”
“Don’t be botherin’ yourself about that now,” said Harry, coldly, with rather a sullen countenance, looking askance through the open space in the window shutter to the distant horizon. “Long heads, my lad, and lawyers lear for the quips and cranks o’ law. What should I know?”
“Harry, I know you love me; you won’t let wrong be believed,” said Charles Fairfield, in a voice suddenly stronger than he had spoken in before.
“I won’t let wrong be believed,” he answered coolly, perhaps sulkily; and he looked at him steadily for a little with his mouth sullenly open.
“You know, Harry,” he pleaded, “there’s a little child coming: it would not do to wrong it. Oh! Harry, don’t you love your poor, only brother.”
Harry looked as if he was going to say something saucy, but instead of that, he broke into a short laugh.
“Upon my soul, Charlie, a fellow’d think you took me for an affidavit-man. When did I ever tell now’t but the truth? Sich rot! A chap like me, that’s faulted always for bein’ too blunt and plain-spoken, and as for likin’ I’d like to know what else brings me here. Of course I don’t say I love anyone, all out, as well as Harry Fairfield. You’re my brother, and I stand by you according; but as I said before, I love my shirt very well, but I like my skin better. Hey ! And that’s all fair.”
“All fair, Harry—I’ll—I’ll talk no more now, Harry. I’ll lie down for a little, and we’ll meet again.”
Harry was again looking through the space of the open shutter, and he yawned. He was thinking of taking his leave.
In this “brown study” he was interrupted by a sound. It was like the beginning of a little laugh. He looked at Charlie, who had uttered it; his thin hand was extended toward the little table at the bed-side, and his long arm in its shirt-sleeve. His eyes were open, but his face was changed. Harry had seen death often enough to recognise it. With a dreadful start, he was on his feet, and had seized his brother by the shoulder.
“Charlie, man,—Charlie! look at me—my God!” and he seized the brandy bottle and poured ever so much into the open lips. It flowed over from the corners of the mouth, over cheek and chin; the throat swallowed not; the eyes stared their earnest stare, unchanging into immeasurable distance. Charles Fairfield was among the Fairfields of other times; hope and fear, the troubles and the dream, ended.
Last updated Monday, March 30, 2015 at 21:19