Chapter XVIII.

In Which Gerald Delanne Makes a Bargain.

On leaving Chester Square Gerald took a hansom and returned home.

“Has anyone been for me?” he asked of the servant.

“No, sir.”

He asked the question with a certain amount of anxiety, and seemed to be satisfied with the reply.

“And the doctor?” he continued.

“The doctor was here this morning, soon after you went out, sir. He did not think the mistress so well, and he said he would come again late in the day. He is upstairs now.”


He took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair with some disquietude.

“Make me a cup of coffee, Elizabeth,” said he; “and if anyone calls show them into my room.”

He slowly mounted the stairs to the first floor, where was the bedroom of the sick woman, and softly opened the door. The room was darkened, and the air of stillness peculiar to a sick chamber was at once apparent. On the bed lay Mrs. Delanne, her face deadly pale, her features distorted, and her eyes glassy and staring. She was lying perfectly motionless, and might have been a corpse for anything one could tell to the contrary. On the table stood medicine bottles, a glass, a plate on which was a portion of jelly, and a mug of beef tea. A trained nurse, in her black stuff gown, white collar and cuffs, and neat apron, sat by the side of the table; while leaning on the footboard of the bedstead was Dr. Cathcart, calm, watchful, and professional. He turned at the entrance of Gerald, and greeted him silently. The latter took his hand, and gazed in his face with an inquiring look.

“Well,” said he, in a low voice, “how is she?”

“Not so well,” returned the doctor emphatically. “Since this morning there has been a decided change for the worse.”

“Is there no hope, then?” returned the young man.

“Very little, I fear.”

At that moment the sick woman moved, and something like a sigh escaped her pallid lips.

“Did she hear what you said, do you think?” asked Gerald.

“It is not possible. She neither hears nor sees.”

He shifted his position from the foot of the bed, and went round to the side. Taking up the wrist of the patient, he counted the pulsations carefully. Then he bent over her, and looked steadfastly at her eyes.

“Look here,” said he, softly.

Gerald approached, and obeyed him. The eyes which met his were vacant and staring. There was not a gleam of intelligence in them.

“Mother,” said he, in a quiet tone, “do you know me? It is I​—​Gerald.”

The immovable features betrayed not the least sign of recognition. The fingers twitched mechanically at the quilt. This was the only sign of life.

“You see,” observed Dr. Cathcart, “all sense has disappeared.”

“Poor creature!” muttered the young man. “Is she in pain, do you think?”

“Not in the least, I should imagine​—​at all events, not just now.”

“It is terrible to think of her passing away in this condition. Is there no chance of her recovering her reason? You know a little of our history, Cathcart? You will understand me, I dare say, when I tell you that for her to die without my assuring her of my forgiveness for the injury she has inflicted upon me would be to me a constant source of regret.”

“I understand you perfectly, my dear fellow. I only wish that I could give you that hope. According to medical knowledge and experience, which, after all, when the wide field of nature is remembered, are very limited, she cannot live; but it is impossible to say for certain, especially in a complicated case like this. Of course, if the brain can once exercise its functions she may be able to rally.”

“And then would she speak?​—​would she recognise me?”

“In all probability she would. But do not expect much from this. It might be but the last flicker of the candle. Death is a key which unlocks the earthly casket which confines the spirit.”

“But she would have her reason even in such a moment as this?”

“Undoubtedly. But why do you ask?”

“Because a word from Mrs. Delanne is of vital importance to me.”

“Yes, I remember,” returned the young doctor, gravely. “I wish, for your sake, I could give you that promise.”

He turned once more to the inanimate woman, and, after looking at her in silence, said that he could then do no more. He had several patients to visit, and would look in at a later hour.

“In the meantime, Gerald, were I in your place, I would not leave her for long. Consciousness might arrive, when it is least expected, and disappear again as rapidly.”

Gerald accompanied him downstairs to the door, and bade him adieu, and then ascended to his own room. He had scarcely sat down five minutes before the servant tapped at the door, and said a gentleman wished to see him.

Gerald frowned, and threw down the pen impatiently.

“Did he tell you his name?” he called out.

“Yes, sir. He said his name was Lavey.”

“The deuce take it!” muttered the young man. “I was in hopes the old rascal would let me alone to-day. Well, let him come up.”

Mr. Lavey, or Levy, as some of his friends, much to his annoyance, would persist in calling him, was a gentleman of an uncertain age. At a distance, looking at his well-shaped figure and dark hair, he might be taken for thirty. Close to, when the crows-feet at the corner of his eyes were visible, when the jet black colour of his hair, with its hard, unnatural outline, betrayed the art of the perriquire, and the glittering whiteness of his teeth showed them to be false, you would not have been far from the mark had you put him down at sixty. He affected a juvenility of manner and a heartiness which not unfrequently took in the unwary. He had an inexhaustible fund of anecdote, had a large acquaintance among celebrities, both male and female, and was desirous of being taken for one of those individuals known as “jolly fellows.” In spite, however, of his jokes, his bonhommie, and his flow of spirits, Mr. Lavey could, if he liked, be extremely unpleasant, as many had found to their cost. He was believed to be rich, but he never appeared to be of any particular business, and was always ready to accommodate a friend with a loan, small or large, on the most reasonable terms. Indeed, so good-natured was he that, when you borrowed, it almost seemed as if he were giving you the money. He was never in a hurry, would always renew a bill; in fact, seemed to prefer that method of doing business, and never, excepting when he was “much pressed” himself, as he put it, would he trouble you for payment. And yet there were ill-natured people who asserted Lavey always screwed his seventy per cent! Of course, this was only calumny, as Mr. Lavey himself could indisputably prove. He came up the stairs with an air of briskness and glee, passed the girl, much to her indignation, and tapped at Gerald’s door, and, hardly waiting for the young man to say “Come in,” entered the room.

“Ha, ha, my learned bookworm! still poring over musty tomes. I wonder you don’t turn into one yourself. Perhaps you will some day, only it will be a tomb, you know. Ha, ha! Forget, though; oughtn’t to make a jest of such subjects, ’specially just now. Really, I’m awfully sorry to hear your mother’s so ill.”

Gerald could scarcely disguise his disgust, but he said nothing, and simply rose and politely handed his visitor a chair.

“And how are you, dear boy, hay? Too much of the midnight oil, I fancy. A little whiter about the gills that you ought to be, hay?”

Gerald answered that he was pretty well, and, in return, inquired after his visitor’s health with much apparent interest.

“Can’t complain. Eat well, sleep well, drink well, and what more can a man want, hay?” And Mr. Lavey leaned back in his chair, expanded his mouth into a grin, and caressed his dyed whiskers. “And how is mademoiselle?” he added, with a disagreeable air.

“Quite well; I thank you,” returned the young man, coldly. “But I suppose you did not come to talk about her?”

“Faith no,” said Mr. Lavey, with a boisterous laugh. “Although, mind you, the subject’s pleasant enough, you young Alki—— What the doose is the Greek fellow’s name​—​though it ain’t the least consequence​—​that that bill of yours is due to-day. Devillish unlucky that I’ve got to meet an acceptance myself, or wouldn’t bother you.”

Gerald looked at him in surprise.

“Did you not get my letter telling you I should not be able to meet the bill, and asking you to renew it? I wrote to you quite a fortnight ago.”

Mr. Lavey took a cigar from his case, lighted it, and deliberately puffed three or four times.

“Yes, I received your letter,” said he at last.

“Well, and what then?”

“As you did not receive any reply from me I concluded you would perfectly understand that I did not intend to accede to your wish. That’s my way of doing business, dear boy​—​saves heaps of trouble.”

There was a disagreeable gleam in Mr. Lavey’s eye, which those who knew him best said he always had when he was inclined to be unpleasant.

Gerald bit his lips.

“I am sorry you did not write, because I interpreted your silence the other way.”

“Silence gives consent, hay? No, no. There’s no rule with an exception, and I was obliged to make an exception in your case. The bills have been renewed four times already. Hang it! must draw the line somewhere.”

“Very well; but you forget that if the bill had been renewed the interest has been proportionately high, and this I’ve always met.”

“My dear boy, don’t think that I complain. No one could have acted more fairly and liberally that you have done. I’ve said over and over again that it was a shame to take your money.”

“And yet I do not remember you ever having refused it,” observed Gerald, sarcastically.

“No, by Jove, that I haven’t! Ha, ha! Can’t do without money, you know. Must have some enjoyment in this life,” and he puffed vigorously at his cigar, adding in a tone of apparent carelessness, “It’s worth something to keep the bills out of circulation. No one knows of this little affair but myself. Why should they? It’s between friends, and while we’re friends we’ll ‘act as sich.’ Ha, ha!”

He knocked off the ash of his cigar, and looked Gerald full in the face. He evidently knew the vulnerable points in the armour of his companion. The latter did not reply, but with his elbow resting on his desk and his head on his hand, was apparently absorbed in his thoughts.

“Don’t you think, now,” observed the money lender, crossing his legs and settling himself comfortably, “that if these bills of yours had passed out of my hands you would have found some way of meeting them? Publicity is a great spur. But I know what you young fellows say​—​‘Oh, Lavey’s a good-natured fool; he don’t mind waiting;’ and this is how I’m served. By Jove, sir! you don’t know the amount of cash I’ve lost through being such a confounded fool. ’Pon my word, if everybody paid me honourably I shouldn’t want to be dunning you.”

“It’s no use mincing matters,” said the young man, after a pause. “The fact is, I have not the money to pay you just now, nor do I know where to turn for it.”

“The devil! so much the worse. I can’t afford to lose it. I suppose you do not want me to issue a writ?”