[from Hall Caine Drink]
ON my way to London I picked up the evening papers at Rugby. They were full of my quondam acquaintance, La Mothe. He had made a sensation by improvising a sort of private hospital for the cure of inebriates. The Society for Psychical Research had investigated certain of his cases, and their report was favourable. His success was already very great. In a country house a few miles out of London he was at full swing. The patients were chiefly ladies.
Late that night I was sitting alone: in my chambers, thinking of all that had happened so strangely, when I heard footsteps on the pavement below and voices approaching my own building.
"This is Pump Court, sir, and this is number five." It was the porter from the lodge outside. " Thank you, thank you," was the _ answer in a cheery tone, which came to me as a ghost of some old memory.
Then there was a heavy and uncertain step on the naked wooden stairs. I knew that the stranger was coming to me, and before he had knocked - at my door I had got up to open it. At the next moment my father and I stood face to face.
" Does Mr. Har--" he began, and then, looking into my face, he cried " Robert! " and laid hold of me by both hands.
I had not seen him for nearly fifteen years. His hair had become white and he was now an elderly man. But if the change in my father was great, the change in me must have been still greater.
" Let me look at you, my boy," he said, and without releasing my hands he drew me to the lamp, held me at arms' length, threw back his head, and scanned me from head to foot. I remember that I laughed during this scrutiny, and bore it, with that indulgence which in a son comes so near to condescension.
My father was much affected, but he did all he could to conceal his emotion under a boisterous manner. " So I've taken you by surprise, eh? Come earlier than I was expected, have I ? Well, I thought I would take you on the hop, young fellow. Here I am, at all events, straight away from Charing Cross, and all my luggage in the hands of the Customs. Couldn't wait for the examination, you see. And now you've just got to put me up, for I'm not going to budge out of these rooms to-night! " Thus he laughed and rattled on, telling me of his journey, his vacation, the time of his return, and interrupting every other sentence with exclamations ,on the change in myself which had transformed me from boy to man. By and bye he stopped in the torrent of his talk, looked round at.a photograph of Lucy which stood on the mantel-piece, blinked .at it, picked it up, and said.-
" This ? "
I nodded my head, and he settled his glasses and gazed into the face of the photograph with a long and earnest gaze.
" Well," I asked.
"She's beautiful ! " he answered. "Beautiful ! " lie said again, with a long, warm utterance of the word; and, after a moment, "She's a good woman," :he said tenderly.
We sat late, and talked on every subject except one subject, and that was the subject nearest to my heart. Of Lucy's illness I could tell my father nothing, and I occupied myself at every pause : in devising subterfuges by which I could prevent Sir George Chute from telling him. Somewhere in the early hours of morning my father unwittingly struck at an angle the thought that was dominant in my mind. He was talking of my mother, of whom I had no memories, for she had died in my childhood. "Poor, dear mother!- She had strange fancies," he said. " The last of them came just before her death. It was an odd thought, and of course a harmless one, but I really believe it brightened and cheered the sweet soul at the dark hour of the end." What was it? " I asked.
You'll laugh. It was nothing-nothing a man could ever mention except to his son. In fact, it was about your son."
"Yes. You were only a child then, but she thought she saw you as you might be at seventy, and with a son of your own by your side." .
You were a judge yourself, and your son- well, your son was being made Lord Chancellor of England!"
I laughed; we both laughed; and then we sighed and were silent. My father.was thinking of my mother; I was thinking of Lucy. Here was an idea, a dream, a fancy, a madness exactly the opposite in nature and effect of that which had clouded the life of my dear girl. Just as the curse that had taken possession of the mind of Lucy's grandfather had overshadowed his life, and carried its darkness onwards to the lives of his son and his granddaughter, so had the blessing that had germinated in the weakness, perhaps, of my mother's failing mind brightened the end of her days and brought some after-glow, some shadow as of sunset flame into my own existence! Now, if I could oppose the one superstition against the other! If I could only believe what my mother had believed, as Lucy believed what her grandfather had believed! If imagination could bring about the fate it feared, why could it not also bring about the fortune for which it hoped?
My father slept that night in my bed, and I made shift with the couch in my study. The sound of his measured breathing came to me through the door between during the long hours in which I lay awake.