“All my life—” he said; but something seemed to click deep down in his throat, and he sank back in his seat.
“Go!” whispered Christian, “go!” But Mr. Treffry found his voice again: “It’s for the child to say. Well, Chris!”
Christian did not speak.
It was Harz who broke the silence. He pointed to Mr. Treffry.
“You know I can’t tell you to come with—that, there. Why did you send for me?” And, turning, he went out.
Christian sank on her knees, burying her face in her hands. Mr. Treffry pressed his handkerchief with a stealthy movement to his mouth. It was dyed crimson with the price of his victory.
A telegram had summoned Herr Paul from Vienna. He had started forthwith, leaving several unpaid accounts to a more joyful opportunity, amongst them a chemist’s bill, for a wonderful quack medicine of which he brought six bottles.
He came from Mr. Treffry’s room with tears rolling down his cheeks, saying:
“Poor Nicholas! Poor Nicholas! Il n’a pas de chance!”
It was difficult to find any one to listen; the women were scared and silent, waiting for the orders that were now and then whispered through the door. Herr Paul could not bear this silence, and talked to his servant for half an hour, till Fritz also vanished to fetch something from the town. Then in despair Herr Paul went to his room.
It was hard not to be allowed to help—it was hard to wait! When the heart was suffering, it was frightful! He turned and, looking furtively about him, lighted a cigar. Yes, it came to every one—at some time or other; and what was it, that death they talked of? Was it any worse than life? That frightful jumble people made for themselves! Poor Nicholas! After all, it was he that had the luck!
His eyes filled with tears, and drawing a penknife from his pocket, he began to stab it into the stuffing of his chair. Scruff, who sat watching the chink of light under the door, turned his head, blinked at him, and began feebly tapping with a claw.
It was intolerable, this uncertainty—to be near, and yet so far, was not endurable!
Herr Paul stepped across the room. The dog, following, threw his black-marked muzzle upwards with a gruff noise, and went back to the door. His master was holding in his hand a bottle of champagne.
Poor Nicholas! He had chosen it. Herr Paul drained a glass.
Poor Nicholas! The prince of fellows, and of what use was one? They kept him away from Nicholas!
Herr Paul’s eyes fell on the terrier. “Ach! my dear,” he said, “you and I, we alone are kept away!”
He drained a second glass.
What was it? This life! Froth-like that!
He tossed off a third glass.
Forget! If one could not help, it was better to forget!