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.
There is a man among our actors here who may not be known to you. It had become the habit of Sir Purcell Barren’s mind to behold himself as under a peculiarly malign shadow. Very young men do the same, if they are much afflicted: but this is because they are still boys enough to have the natural sense to be ashamed of ill-luck, even when they lack courage to struggle against it. The reproaching of Providence by a man of full growth, comes to some extent from his meanness, and chiefly from his pride. He remembers that the old Gods selected great heroes whom to persecute, and it is his compensation for material losses to conceive himself a distinguished mark for the Powers of air. One who wraps himself in this delusion may have great qualities; he cannot be of a very contemptible nature; and in this place we will discriminate more closely than to call him fool. Had Sir Purcell sunk or bent under the thong that pursued him, he might, after a little healthy moaning, have gone along as others do. Who knows?—though a much persecuted man, he might have become so degraded as to have looked forward with cheerfulness to his daily dinner; still