“What is it?” she cried. “Is not this the residence of Monsieur Law?” The officer saluted, and the few loiterers gave back and made room, as she stepped fully into the street and advanced with decision towards those whom she saw.
“Madam,” replied the Swiss, “this is the residence of Monsieur L’as, and this is Monsieur L’as himself. I fear he is taken suddenly ill.”
The lady stepped quickly to his side. As she did so, Law, as one not fully hearing, half raised his head. He looked full into her face, and releasing himself from the arms of his servant, stood thus, staring directly at the visitor, his face haggard, his fixed eyes bearing no sign of actual recognition.
“Catharine! Catharine!” he exclaimed. “Oh God, how cruel of you too to mock me! Catharine!”
The unspeakable yearning of the cry went to the heart of her who heard it. She put out a hand and laid it on his forehead. The Swiss motioned toward the house. And even as the officer wheeled his troop to depart, these two again ascended the steps, half carrying between them a stumbling man, who but repeated mumblingly to himself the same words:
THE QUALITY OF MERCY
Within the great house there was silence, for the vistas of the wide interior led far back from the street and its tumult; nor did there arise within the walls any sound of voice or footfall. Of the entire household there was but one left to do the master service.
They entered the great hall, passed the foot of the wide stairway, and turned at the first entresol, where were seats and couches. The servant paused for a moment and looked inquiringly at the lady with whom he now found himself in company.
“The times are serious,” he began. “I would not intrude, Madame, yet perhaps you are aware—”
“I am a friend of monsieur,” replied Lady Catharine. “He is ill. See, he is not himself. Tell me, what is this illness?”
“Madame,” said the Swiss, gravely, “his illness is that of grief. Monsieur’s failure sits heavily upon him.”
“How long is it since he slept?” asked the lady, for she noted the drooping head of the man now reclining upon the couch.
“Not for many days and nights,” replied the Swiss. “He has for the last few days been under much strain. But shall I not assist you, Madame? You are, perhaps—pardon me, since I do not know your relationship with monsieur—”
“A friend of years ago. I knew Mr. Law when he lived in England.”
“I perceive. Perhaps Madame would be alone for a time? If you please, I will seek aid.”
They approached the side of the couch. Law’s head lay back upon the cushions. His breath came deeply and slowly, not stertorously nor labored.
“How strange,” whispered the Swiss, “he sleeps!”