In a richly furnished chamber overlooking the street a dim light was burning; so dimly, in fact, that the emaciated form of Mr. Stevens was scarcely discernible amidst the pillows and covering of the bed on which he was lying. Above him a brass head of curious workmanship held in its clenched teeth the canopy that overshadowed the bed; and as the light occasionally flickered and brightened, the curiously carved face seemed to light up with a sort of sardonic grin; and the grating of the curtain-rings, as the sick man tossed from side to side in his bed, would have suggested the idea that the odd supporter of the canopy was gnashing his brazen teeth at him.
On the wall, immediately opposite the light, hung a portrait of Mrs. Stevens; not the sharp, hard face we once introduced to the reader, but a smoother, softer countenance—yet a worn and melancholy one in its expression. It looked as if the waves of grief had beaten upon it for a long succession of years, until they had tempered down its harsher peculiarities, giving a subdued appearance to the whole countenance.
“There is twelve o’clock—give me my drops again, Lizzie,” he remarked, faintly. At the sound of his voice Lizzie emerged from behind the curtains, and essayed to pour into a glass the proper quantity of medicine. She was twice obliged to pour back into the phial what she had just emptied forth, as the trembling of her hands caused her each time to drop too much; at last, having succeeded in getting the exact number of drops, she handed him the glass, the contents of which he eagerly drank.
“There!” said he, “thank you; now, perhaps, I may sleep. I have not slept for two nights—such has been my anxiety about that man; nor you either, my child—I have kept you awake also. You can sleep, though, without drops. To-morrow, when you are prepared to start, wake me, if I am asleep, and let me speak to you before you go. Remember, Lizzie, frighten him if you can! Tell him, I am ill myself—that I can’t survive this continued worriment and annoyance. Tell him, moreover, I am not made of gold, and will not be always giving. I don’t believe he is sick—dying—do you?” he asked, looking into her face, as though he did not anticipate an affirmative answer.
“No, father, I don’t think he is really ill; I imagine it is another subterfuge to extract money. Don’t distress yourself unnecessarily; perhaps I may have some influence with him—I had before, you know!”
“Yes, yes, dear, you managed him very well that time—very well,” said he, stroking down her hair affectionately. “I—I—my child, I could never have told you of that dreadful secret; but when I found that you knew it all, my heart experienced a sensible relief. It was a selfish pleasure, I know; yet it eased me to share my secret; the burden is not half so heavy now.”
“Father, would not your mind be easier still, if you could be persuaded to make restitution to his children? This wealth is valueless to us both. You can never ask forgiveness for the sin whilst you cling thus tenaciously to its fruits.”