If the thought of the artist crossed Uncle William’s mind, it did not disturb him. He was accustomed to do what he called his duty; and it had for him the simplicity, common to big men, of being the thing next at hand. Like a force of nature he laid hold on it, and out of the ground and the sky and the thrill of life, he wrought beauty upon it. If this were philosophy or religion, Uncle William did not know it. He called it “jest livin’ along.”
It was ten o’clock before he reached the artist’s rooms, and his rap at the door, gentle as a woman’s, brought no response. He rapped again.
“What’s wanted?” It was the querulous voice of a sick man.
Uncle William set the door ajar with his foot while he reached behind him for his box.
The artist had sprung up in bed and was staring at the door. In the dim light from the street below, his face stood out rigidly white.
Uncle William looked at it kindly as he came across. “There, there,” he said soothingly. “I guess I’d lie down.” He put his hands on the young man’s shoulders, pushing him back gently.
The artist yielded to the touch, staring at him with wide eyes. “Who—are—you?” he said. The words were a whisper.
Uncle Williams’ smile deepened. “I guess ye know me all right, don’t ye?”
The artist continued to stare at him. “You came through the door. It was locked.”
“Shucks, no!” said Uncle William. “’T wa’n’t locked any more’n I be. You jest forgot it.”
“Did I?” The tense look broke. “I thought you had come again.”
“Well, I hev.”
“I don’t mean that way. Sit down.” He looked feebly for a chair.
Uncle William had drawn one up to the bed. He sat down, bending forward a little. One big hand rested on the young man’s wrist. “Now, tell me all about it,” he said quietly.
The artist raised his eyes with a smile. He drew a deep breath. “Yes—you’ve come,” he said. “You’ve come.”
“I’ve come,” said Uncle William. His big bulk had not stirred. It seemed to fill the room.
The sick man rested in it. His eyes closed. “I’ve wanted—you.”
Uncle William nodded. “Sick folks get fancies,” he said.
“—and I kept seeing you in the fever—and you—” The voice droned away and was still.
Uncle William sat quiet, one hand on the thin wrist. The galloping pulse slowed—and leaped again—and fluttered, and fell at last to even beats. The tense muscles relaxed. The parted lips closed with a half-smile.
Uncle William bent forward, watching it. In the dim light of the room, his face had a kind of gentleness—a kindliness and bigness that watched over the night and reached out beyond it to the ends of the earth.
In the morning the big form was still there. The artist turned to it as he opened his eyes. “You are not gone!”