I think he has looked Death in the face, as nearly as any one ever did without falling utterly into his cold embrace, but he pulls through.
By very slow, small, and faltering steps, he creeps back to convalescence. His recovery is a tedious business, with many tiresome checks, and many ebbings and flowings of the tide of life; but—he lives. Weak as any little tottering child—white as the sheets he lies on; with prominent cheek-bones, and great and languid eyes, he is given back to us.
Life, worsted daily in a thousand cruel fights, has gained one little victory. To-day, for the first time, we all three at once leave him— leave him coolly and quietly asleep, and dine together in Mrs. Huntley’s little dusk-shaded dining-room.
We are quite a party. Mother is here, come to rejoice over her restored first-born son; the Brat is here; he has run over from Oxford. Musgrave is here. I am in such spirits; I do not know what has come to me. It seems to me as if I were newly born into a fresh and altogether good and jovial world.
Not even the presence of Musgrave lays any constraint upon my spirits.
For the first time since the dark day in Brindley Wood, I meet him without embarrassment. I answer him: I even address him now and then.
All the small civilizations of life—the flower-garnished table; the lamps softly burning; the evening-dresses (for the first time we have dressed for dinner)—fill me with a keen pleasure, that I should have thought such little etceteras were quite incapable of affording.
I seem as if I could not speak without broad smiles. I am tired, indeed, still, and my eyes are heavy. But what does that matter? Life has won! Life has won! We are still all six here!
“Nancy!” says the Brat, regarding me with an eye of friendly criticism, “I think you are cracked to-night!—Do you remember what our nurses used to tell us? Much laughing always ends in much crying.”
But I do not heed: I laugh on. Barbara is not nearly so boisterously merry as I, but then she never is. She is more overdone with fatigue than I, I think; for she speaks little—though what she does say is full of content and gladness—and there are dark streaks of weariness and watching under the serene violets of her eyes. She is certainly very tired; as we go to bed at night she seems hardly able to get up the stairs, but leans heavily on the banisters—one who usually runs so lightly up and down.
Yes, very tired, but what of that? it would be unnatural, most unnatural if she were not; she will be all right to-morrow, after a good long night’s rest—yes, all right.
I say this to her, still gayly laughing as I give her my last kiss, and she smiles and echoes, “All right!”
“So mayst thou die, as I do; fear
Being subdued. Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!”