“Will you come for a rehearsal to-morrow?” he asked her. “Otto comes back the day after.”
“No, no! I won’t hear anything, not a note—till he comes! But is he strong enough?” she added wistfully. Strong enough, she meant, to bear agitation and surprise. But Falloden reported that Sorell knew everything that was intended, and approved. Otto had been very listless and depressed in town; a reaction no doubt from his spurt of work before the musical exam. Sorell thought the pleasure of the gift might rouse him, and gild the return to Oxford.
“Have some tea, old man, and warm up,” said Falloden, on his knees before a fire already magnificent, which he was endeavouring to improve.
“What do you keep such a climate for?” growled Radowitz, as he hung shivering over the grate.
Sorell, who had come with the boy from the station, eyed him anxiously. The bright red patches on the boy’s cheeks, and his dry, fevered look, his weakness and his depression, had revived the most sinister fears in the mind of the man who had originally lured him to Oxford, and felt himself horribly responsible for what had happened there. Yet the London doctors on the whole had been reassuring. The slight hemorrhage of the summer had had no successor; there were no further signs of active mischief; and for his general condition it was thought that the nervous shock of his accident, and the obstinate blood-poisoning which had followed it, might sufficiently account. The doctors, however, had pressed hard for sunshine and open-air—the Riviera, Sicily, or Algiers. But the boy had said vehemently that he couldn’t and wouldn’t go alone, and who could go with him? A question that for the moment stopped the way. Falloden’s first bar examination was immediately ahead; Sorell was tied to St. Cyprian’s; and every other companion so far proposed had been rejected with irritation.
Unluckily, on this day of his return, the Oxford skies had put on again their characteristic winter gloom. The wonderful fortnight of frost and sun was over; tempests of wind and deluges of rain were drowning it fast in flood and thaw. The wind shrieked round the little cottage, and though it was little more than three o’clock, darkness was coming fast.
Falloden could not keep still. Having made up the fire, he brought in a lamp himself; he drew the curtains, then undrew them again, apparently that he might examine a stretch of the Oxford road just visible through the growing dark; or he wandered in and out of the room, his hands in his pockets whistling. Otto watched him with a vague annoyance. He himself was horribly tired, and Falloden’s restlessness got on his nerves.
At last Falloden said abruptly, pausing in front of him—
“You’ll have some visitors directly!”
Otto looked up. The gaiety in Falloden’s eyes informed him, and at the same time, wounded him.