The Lieutenant came a step forward and put his hand on the table. He was looking strangely from face to face.
Outside the court was very still. The footstep that had passed on the flagstones a minute before had ceased; and there was no sound but the chirp of a bird under the eaves.
“You have not heard then?” said the Lieutenant again.
“Oh! for God’s sake—” cried the old man suddenly.
“I have just come from your son,” said the other steadily. “You are only just in time. He is at the point of death.”
It was morning, and they still sat in Ralph’s cell.
* * * * *
The attendant had brought in stools and a tall chair with a broken back, and these were grouped round the low wooden bed; the old man in the chair on one side, from where he could look down on his son’s face, with Beatrice beside him, Chris and Nicholas on the other side. Mr. Morris was everywhere, sitting on a form by the door, in and out with food and medicine, at his old master’s bedside, lifting his pillow, turning him in bed, holding his convulsive hands.
He had been ill six days, the Lieutenant told them. The doctor who had been called in from outside named the disease phrenitis. It was certain that he would not recover; and a message to that effect had been sent across on the morning before, with the usual reports to Greenwich.
They had supped as they sat—silently—on what the gaoler brought; and had slept by turns in the tall chair, wakening at a sound from the bed; at the movement of the light across the floor as Morris slipped to and fro noiselessly; at the chirp of the birds and the noises of the stirring City as the daylight broadened on the wall, and the narrow window grew bright and luminous.
And now the morning was high, and they were waiting for the end.
* * * * *
A little table stood by the door, white-covered, with two candles, guttering now in their sockets, and a tall crucifix, ivory and black, lifting its arms in the midst. Before it stood two veiled vessels.
“He will speak before he passes,” the doctor had told them the evening before; “I do not know whether he will be able to receive Viaticum.”
* * * * *
Chris raised himself a little in his chair—he was stiff with leaning elbows on knees; and he stretched out his feet softly; looking down still at the bed.
His brother lay with his back to him; the priest could see the black hair, longer than Court fashion allowed now, the brown sinewy neck beneath; and one arm outlined over his hip beneath the piled clothes. The fingers were moving a little, contracting and loosening, contracting and loosening; and he could hear the long slow breaths.