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CHAPTER XX. DRIFTING AWAY. GILBERT FENTON found Jacob Nowell worse; so much worse,
u that he had been obliged to take to his bed, and was lying in a dull shabby room upstairs, faintly lighted by one tall tallow candle on the mantelpiece. Marian was there when Gilbert went in. She had arrived a couple of hours before, and had taken her place at once by the sick-bed. Her bonnet and shawl were thrown carelessly upon a dilapidated couch by the window. Gilbert fancied she looked like a ministering angel as she sat by the bed, her soft brown hair falling loosely round the lovely face, her countenance almost divine in its expression of tenderness and pity.
•You came to town alone, Marian ?' he asked in a low voice. The old man was in a doze at this moment, lying with his pinched withered face turned towards his granddaughter, his feeble hand in hers.
Yes, I came alone. My husband had not come back, and I would not delay any longer after receiving your letter. I am very glad I came. My poor grandfather seemed so pleased to see me. He was wandering a little when I first came in, but brightened wonderfully afterwards, and quite understood who I was.'
The old man awoke presently. He was in a semi-delirious state, but seemed to know his granddaughter, and clung to her, calling her by name with senile fondness. His mind wandered back to the past, and he talked to his son as if he had been in the room, reproaching him for his extravagance, his college debts, which had been the ruin of his careful hard-working father. At another moment he fancied that his wife was still alive, and spoke to her, telling her that their grandchild had been christened after her, and that she was to
Second Series, Vol. II. F.S. VOL. XII.
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love the girl. And then the delirium left him for a time, his mind grew clearer, and he talked quite rationally in his slow feeble way.
'Is that Mr. Fenton ?' he asked; the room's so dark, I can't see very well. She has come to me, you see. She's a good girl. Her eyes are like my wife's. Yes, she's a good girl. It seems a hard thing that I should have lived all these years without knowing her; lived alone, with no one about me but those that were on the watch for my money, and eager to cheat me at every turn. My life might have been happier if I'd had a grandchild to keep me company, and I might have left this place and lived like a gentleman for her sake. But that's all past and gone. You'll be rich when I'm dead, Marian; yes, what most people would count rich. You won't squander the money, will you, my dear, as your father would, if it were left to him ?
“No, grandfather. But tell me about my father. Is he still living ?' the girl asked eagerly.
Never mind him, child,' answered Jacob Nowell. He hasn't troubled himself about you, and you can't do better than keep clear of him. No good ever came of anything he did yet, and no good ever will come. Don't you have anything to do with him, Marian. He'll try to get all your money away from you, if you give him a chance-depend upon that.'
He is living, then ? O, my dear grandfather, do tell me something more about him. Remember that whatever his errors may have been, he is my father—the only relation I have in the world except yourself.'
His whole life has been one long error,' answered Jacob Nowell. I tell you, child, the less you know of him the better.'
He was not to be moved from this, and would say no more about his son, in spite of Marian's earnest pleading. The doctor came in presently, for the second time that evening, and forbade his patient's talking any more. He told Gilbert as he left the house, that the old man's life was now only a question of so many days or so many hours.
The woman who did all the work of Jacob Nowell's establishment-a dilapidated-looking widow, whom nobody in that quarter ever remembered in any other condition than that of widowhoodhad prepared a small bedroom at the back of the house for Marian; a room in which Percival had slept in his early boyhood, and where the daughter found faint traces of her father's life. Mr. Macready as Othello, in a spangled tunic, with vest of actual satin let into the picture, after the pre-Raphaelite or realistic tendency commonly found in such juvenile works of art, hung over the narrow painted mantelpiece. The fond mother had had this masterpiece framed and glazed in the days when her son was still a little lad, unspoiled by University life and those splendid aspirations which afterwards made his home hateful to him. There were some tattered books upon a little shelf by the bed-school prizes, an old Virgil, a Robinson Crusoe shorn of its binding. The boy's name was written in them in a scrawling schoolboy hand; not once, but many times, after the fashion of juvenile bibliopoles, with primitive rhymes in Latin and English setting forth his proprietorship in the volumes. Caricatures were scribbled upon the fly-leaves and margins of the books, the date whereof looked very old to Marian, long before her own birth.
It was not till very late that she consented to leave the old man's side and go to the room which had been got ready for her, to lie down for an hour. She would not hear of any longer rest, though the humble widow was quite pathetic in her entreaties that the dear young lady would try to get a good night's sleep, and would leave the care of Mr. Nowell to her, who knew his ways, poor dear gentleman, and would watch over him as carefully as if he'd been her own poor husband, who kept his bed for a twelvemonth before he died, and had to be waited on hand and foot. Marian told this woman that she did not want rest. She had come to town on purpose to be with her grandfather, and would stay with him as long as he needed her care.
She did, however, consent to go to her room for a little in the early November dawn, when Jacob Nowell had fallen into a profound sleep; but when she did lie down, sleep would not come to her. She could not help listening to every sound in the opposite room—the falling of a cinder, the stealthy footfall of the watcher moving cautiously about now and then ; listening still more intently when all was silent, expecting every moment to hear herself summoned suddenly. The sick-room and the dark shadow of coming death brought back the thought of that bitter time when her uncle was lying unconscious and speechless in the pretty room at Lidford, with the wintry light shining coldly upon his stony face; while she sat by his pillow, watching him in hopeless silent agony, waiting for that dread change which they had told her was the only change that could come to him on earth. The scene reacted itself in her mind to-night, with all the old anguish. She shut it out at last with a great effort, and began to think of what her grandfather had said to her.
She was to be rich. She who had been a dependent upon others all her life was to know the security and liberty that must needs go along with wealth. She was glad of this, much more for her husband's sake than her own. She knew that the cares which had clouded their life of late, which had made him seem to love her less than he had loved her at first, had their chief origin in want of money. What happiness it would be for her to lift this burden from his life, to give him peace and security for the years to come! Her