“Not of friendship. It was Christian charity, eh, Gilbert? If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; and so on. It was not the act of a friend?”
“No, John Saltram, between you and me there can never again be any such word as friendship. What little I have done for you I think I would have done for a stranger, had I found a stranger as helpless and unfriended as I found you. I am quite sure that to have done less would have been to neglect a sacred duty. There is no question of obligation. Till you are on your feet again, a strong man, I will stand by you; when that time comes, we part for ever.”
John Saltram sank back upon his pillow with a heavy sigh, but uttered no protest against this sentence. And this was all that came of Gilbert’s vengeful passion against the man who had wronged him; this was the end of a long-cherished anger. “A lame and impotent conclusion,” perhaps, but surely the only end possible under the circumstances. He could not wage war against a feeble creature, whose hold on life was still an uncertainty; he could not forget his promise to Marian, that no harm should come to her husband through any act of his. So he sat quietly by the bedside of his prostrate foe, watched him silently as he fell into a brief restless slumber, and administered his medicine when he woke with a hand that was as gentle as a woman’s.
Between four and five o’clock the nurse came in from the next room to take her place, refreshed by a sleep of several hours; and then Gilbert departed in the chill gloom of the winter’s morning, still as dark as night,—departed with his mind lightened of a great load; for it had been very terrible to him to think that the man who had once been his friend might go down to the grave without an interval of reason.
A FULL CONFESSION.
Gilbert did not go to the Temple again till he had finished his day’s work at St. Helen’s, and had eaten his modest dinner at a tavern in Fleet-street. He found that Mr. Mew had already paid his second visit to the sick-room, and had pronounced himself much relieved and delighted by the favourable change.
“I have no fear now,” he had said to the nurse. “It is now only a question of getting back the physical strength, which has certainly fallen to a very low ebb. Perfect repose and an entire freedom from care are what we have to look to.”
This the nurse told Gilbert. “He has been very restless all day,” she added, “though I’ve done what I could to keep him quiet. But he worries himself, now that his senses have come back, poor gentleman; and it isn’t easy to soothe him any way. He keeps on wondering when he’ll be well enough to move, and so on, over and over again. Once, when I left the room for a minute and went back again, I found him attempting to get out of bed—only to try his strength, he said. But he’s no more strength than a new-born baby, poor soul, and it will be weeks before he’s able to stir. If he worries and frets, he’ll put himself back for a certainty; but I daresay you’ll have more influence over him than I, sir, and that you may be able to keep him quiet.”