“Ay,” he said, with a breath like a sob. “’Tis over.”
His big body seemed to collapse, he shrank so in the bed-clothes.
“What day o’ the year is it?” he asked.
“The tenth of August,” was her answer.
“Sixty-nine years from this day was I born,” he said, “and now ’tis done.”
“Nay,” said she—“nay—God grant—”
“Ay,” he said, “done. Would there were nine and sixty more. What a man I was at twenty. I want not to die, Clo. I want to live—to live—live, and be young,” gulping, “with strong muscle and moist flesh. Sixty-nine years—and they are gone!”
He clung to her hand, and stared at her with awful eyes. Through all his life he had been but a great, strong, human carcass; and he was now but the same carcass worn out, and at death’s door. Of not one human thing but of himself had he ever thought, not one creature but himself had he ever loved—and now he lay at the end, harking back only to the wicked years gone by.
“None can bring them back,” he shuddered. “Not even thou, Clo, who art so strong. None—none! Canst pray, Clo?” with the gasp of a craven.
“Not as chaplains do,” she answered. “I believe not in a God who clamours but for praise.”
“What dost believe in, then?”
“In One who will do justice, and demands that it shall be done to each thing He has made, by each who bears His image—ay, and mercy too—but justice always, for justice is mercy’s highest self.”
Who knows the mysteries of the human soul—who knows the workings of the human brain? The God who is just alone. In this man’s mind, which was so near a simple beast’s in all its movings, some remote, unborn consciousness was surely reached and vaguely set astir by the clear words thus spoken.
“Clo, Clo!” he cried, “Clo, Clo!” in terror, clutching her the closer, “what dost thou mean? In all my nine and sixty years—” and rolled his head in agony.
In all his nine and sixty years he had shown justice to no man, mercy to no woman, since he had thought of none but Jeoffry Wildairs; and this truth somehow dimly reached his long-dulled brain and wakened there.
“Down on thy knees, Clo!” he gasped—“down on thy knees!”
It was so horrible, the look struggling in his dying face, that she went down upon her knees that moment, and so knelt, folding his shaking hands within her own against her breast.
“Thou who didst make him as he was born into Thy world,” she said, “deal with that to which Thou didst give life—and death. Show him in this hour, which Thou mad’st also, that Thou art not Man who would have vengeance, but that justice which is God.”
“Then—then,” he gasped—“then will He damn me!”
“He will weigh thee,” she said; “and that which His own hand created will He separate from that which was thine own wilful wrong—and this, sure, He will teach thee how to expiate.”