With which wretched pleasantry the little merchant nodded to his son, and snatching up his candle, trotted to the door.
“By the way, give a look round my room upstairs, to see all right when you’re going to turn in yourself,” he said, before disappearing.
The two fingers given him by his father to shake at parting, had told Wilfrid more than the words. And yet how small were these troubles around him compared with what he himself was suffering! He looked forward to the bittersweet hour verging upon dawn, when he should be writing to Emilia things to melt the vilest obduracy. The excitement which had greeted him on his arrival at Brookfield was to be thanked for its having made him partially forget his humiliation. He had, of course, sufficient rational feeling to be chagrined by calamity, but his dominant passion sucked sustaining juices from every passing event.
In obedience to his father’s request, Wilfrid went presently into the old man’s bedroom, to see that all was right. The curtains of the bed were drawn close, and the fire in the grate burnt steadily. Calm sleep seemed to fill the chamber. Wilfrid was retiring, with a revived anger at his father’s want of natural confidence in him, or cowardly secresy. His name was called, and he stopped short.
“Yes, sir?” he said.
The voice, buried in curtains, came after a struggle.
“You’ve done this, Wilfrid. Now, don’t answer:—I can’t stand talk. And you must undo it. Pericles can if he likes. That’s enough for you to know. He can. He won’t see me. You know why. If he breaks with me— it’s a common case in any business—I’m... we’re involved together.” Then followed a deep sigh. The usual crisp brisk way of his speaking was resumed in hollow tones: “You must stop it. Now, don’t answer. Go to Pericles to-morrow. You must. Nothing wrong, if you go at once.”
“But, Sir! Good heaven!” interposed Wilfrid, horrified by the thought of the penance here indicated.
The bed shook violently.
“If not,” was uttered with a sort of muted vehemence, “there’s another thing you can do. Go to the undertaker’s, and order coffins for us all. There—good night!”
The bed shook again. Wilfrid stood eyeing the mysterious hangings, as if some dark oracle had spoken from behind them. In fear of irritating the old man, and almost as much in fear of bringing on himself a revelation of the frightful crisis that could only be averted by his apologizing personally to the man he had struck, Wilfrid stole from the room.