Mr. Strafford sat and watched; and while he watched, he thought over all that he had known of the lives of these two, Christian and his wife, who now occupied his mind so fully. He was still thinking when the doctor came to pay his daily visit. The two had not met before, but each knew the other well by report; and to-day each was anxious to question the other on the same subject. Mr. Strafford, however, was most anxious, and began first.
“You know, of course,” he said, “what I suppose all Cacouna is talking of. I want to know whether Clarkson’s confession has really come too late?”
“Too late for what, my dear sir? For this poor fellow’s justification?”
“Not exactly that, but for his liberation.”
The doctor shook his head.
“I have my doubts,” he said. “The only thing to be hoped is, that when he hears that he is really at liberty, it may give him a little rousing—just stimulate him sufficiently to allow of his being moved into freer air.”
“If that is the only hope, it has failed already,” Mr. Strafford answered, and told what had taken place.
“Then,” said the doctor, “I give him up. I am afraid his life is just a matter of days, perhaps of hours; but let me go and talk to him a little, and then I will tell you my opinion.”
He went to the bedside, and began talking in his brisk, cheerful way, to his patient, who was now awake. It was evident, however, that the effort to understand and remember was weaker even than it had been yesterday, and that this was the effect of increased physical prostration. There was no longer any fever to supply temporary strength; but life was dying out quietly, but hopelessly.
Mr. Strafford still waited, with some anxiety, for the decisive sentence. He had made up his mind that other questions beside and beyond that of Christian’s own fate might be made to depend upon it; and it cannot be said truly that he felt much sorrow at the idea of its being unfavourable. It was clear and decided enough, at any rate.
“He may live for two or three days. To attempt to move him would be only to hasten his death.”
“You are certain that there is no hope?”
“Not a shadow.”
“Do you think it likely his mind will grow any clearer towards the last?”
“I do not think it; in fact, it is extremely improbable. You see, his wandering is simply the result of weakness; as the weakness increases, the mental faculties will probably cease gradually to act at all. One can’t, of course, say positively when; if he becomes quite unconscious to-night, death will probably follow in the course of the next twenty-four hours.”
“Poor fellow! There is little, then, that can be done for him?”
“Next to nothing. He wants a nurse to give him some little nourishment when he wakes up, and that is pretty nearly all.”
“I shall bring him the best possible nurse,” Mr. Strafford said. “Mrs. Costello wishes to come and remain here.”