His partner having prepared me for that, I was less surprised than he thought.
“We shall lose a fine opportunity if I put off going to Cairo, and I am very much afraid I must go, Handel, when you most need me.”
“Herbert, I shall always need you, because I shall always love you; but my need is no greater now, than at another time.”
“You will be so lonely.”
“I have not leisure to think of that,” said I. “You know that I am always with him to the full extent of the time allowed, and that I should be with him all day long, if I could. And when I come away from him, you know that my thoughts are with him.”
The dreadful condition to which he was brought, was so appalling to both of us, that we could not refer to it in plainer words.
“My dear fellow,” said Herbert, “let the near prospect of our separation — for, it is very near — be my justification for troubling you about yourself. Have you thought of your future?”
“No, for I have been afraid to think of any future.”
“But yours cannot be dismissed; indeed, my dear dear Handel, it must not be dismissed. I wish you would enter on it now, as far as a few friendly words go, with me.”
“I will,” said I.
“In this branch house of ours, Handel, we must have a—”
I saw that his delicacy was avoiding the right word, so I said, “A clerk.”
“A clerk. And I hope it is not at all unlikely that he may expand (as a clerk of your acquaintance has expanded) into a partner. Now, Handel — in short, my dear boy, will you come to me?”
There was something charmingly cordial and engaging in the manner in which after saying “Now, Handel,” as if it were the grave beginning of a portentous business exordium, he had suddenly given up that tone, stretched out his honest hand, and spoken like a schoolboy.
“Clara and I have talked about it again and again,” Herbert pursued, “and the dear little thing begged me only this evening, with tears in her eyes, to say to you that if you will live with us when we come together, she will do her best to make you happy, and to convince her husband’s friend that he is her friend too. We should get on so well, Handel!”
I thanked her heartily, and I thanked him heartily, but said I could not yet make sure of joining him as he so kindly offered. Firstly, my mind was too preoccupied to be able to take in the subject clearly. Secondly — Yes! Secondly, there was a vague something lingering in my thoughts that will come out very near the end of this slight narrative.
“But if you thought, Herbert, that you could, without doing any injury to your business, leave the question open for a little while—”
“For any while,” cried Herbert. “Six months, a year!”
“Not so long as that,” said I. “Two or three months at most.”
Herbert was highly delighted when we shook hands on this arrangement, and said he could now take courage to tell me that he believed he must go away at the end of the week.