Read VILLA RUBEIN - XXIV of Villa Rubein and Other Stories , free online book, by John Galsworthy, on ReadCentral.com.

Mr. Treffry’s gaze was fixed on a tortoise-shell butterfly fluttering round the ceiling.  The insect seemed to fascinate him, as things which move quickly always fascinate the helpless.  Christian came softly in.

“Couldn’t stay in bed, Chris,” he called out with an air of guilt.  “The heat was something awful.  The doctor piped off in a huff, just because o’ this.”  He motioned towards a jug of claret-cup and a pipe on the table by his elbow.  “I was only looking at ’em.”

Christian, sitting down beside him, took up a fan.

“If I could get out of this heat ­” he said, and closed his eyes.

‘I must tell him,’ she thought; ‘I can’t slink away.’

“Pour me out some of that stuff, Chris.”

She reached for the jug.  Yes!  She must tell him!  Her heart sank.

Mr. Treffry took a lengthy draught.  “Broken my promise; don’t matter ­won’t hurt any one but me.”  He took up the pipe and pressed tobacco into it.  “I’ve been lying here with this pain going right through me, and never a smoke!  D’you tell me anything the parsons say can do me half the good of this pipe?” He leaned back, steeped in a luxury of satisfaction.  He went on, pursuing a private train of thought:  “Things have changed a lot since my young days.  When I was a youngster, a young fellow had to look out for peck and perch ­he put the future in his pocket.  He did well or not, according as he had stuff in him.  Now he’s not content with that, it seems ­trades on his own opinion of himself; thinks he is what he says he’s going to be.”

“You are unjust,” said Christian.

Mr. Treffry grunted.  “Ah, well!  I like to know where I am.  If I lend money to a man, I like to know whether he’s going to pay it back; I may not care whether he does or not, but I like to know.  The same with other things.  I don’t care what a man has ­though, mind you, Chris, it’s not a bad rule that measures men by the balance at their banks; but when it comes to marriage, there’s a very simple rule, What’s not enough for one is not enough for two.  You can’t talk black white, or bread into your mouth.  I don’t care to speak about myself, as you know, Chris, but I tell you this ­when I came to London I wanted to marry ­I hadn’t any money, and I had to want.  When I had the money ­but that’s neither here nor there!” He frowned, fingering his pipe.

“I didn’t ask her, Chris; I didn’t think it the square thing; it seems that’s out of fashion!”

Christian’s cheeks were burning.

“I think a lot while I lie here,” Mr. Treffry went on; “nothing much else to do.  What I ask myself is this:  What do you know about what’s best for you?  What do you know of life?  Take it or leave it, life’s not all you think; it’s give and get all the way, a fair start is everything.”

Christian thought:  ‘Will he never see?’

Mr. Treffry went on: 

“I get better every day, but I can’t last for ever.  It’s not pleasant to lie here and know that when I’m gone there’ll be no one to keep a hand on the check string!”

“Don’t talk like that, dear!” Christian murmured.

“It’s no use blinking facts, Chris. I’ve lived a long time in the world; I’ve seen things pretty well as they are; and now there’s not much left for me to think about but you.”

“But, Uncle, if you loved him, as I do, you couldn’t tell me to be afraid!  It’s cowardly and mean to be afraid.  You must have forgotten!”

Mr. Treffry closed his eyes.

“Yes,” he said; “I’m old.”

The fan had dropped into Christian’s lap; it rested on her white frock like a large crimson leaf; her eyes were fixed on it.

Mr. Treffry looked at her.  “Have you heard from him?” he asked with sudden intuition.

“Last night, in that room, when you thought I was talking to Dominique ­”

The pipe fell from his hand.

“What!” he stammered:  “Back?”

Christian, without looking up, said: 

“Yes, he’s back; he wants me ­I must go to him, Uncle.”

There was a long silence.

“You must go to him?” he repeated.

She longed to fling herself down at his knees, but he was so still, that to move seemed impossible; she remained silent, with folded hands.

Mr. Treffry spoke: 

“You’ll let me know ­before ­you ­go.  Goodnight!”

Christian stole out into the passage.  A bead curtain rustled in the draught; voices reached her.

“My honour is involved, or I would give the case up.”

“He is very trying, poor Nicholas!  He always had that peculiar quality of opposition; it has brought him to grief a hundred times.  There is opposition in our blood; my family all have it.  My eldest brother died of it; with my poor sister, who was as gentle as a lamb, it took the form of doing the right thing in the wrong place.  It is a matter of temperament, you see.  You must have patience.”

“Patience,” repeated Dawney’s voice, “is one thing; patience where there is responsibility is another.  I’ve not had a wink of sleep these last two nights.”

There was a faint, shrill swish of silk.

“Is he so very ill?”

Christian held her breath.  The answer came at last.

“Has he made his will?  With this trouble in the side again, I tell you plainly, Mrs. Decie, there’s little or no chance.”

Christian put her hands up to her ears, and ran out into the air.  What was she about to do, then ­to leave him dying!