Page:The Yellow Book - 01.djvu/22

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The Death of the Lion

the others, as I had seen cashiers in banks, weighing mounds of coin, drop a final sovereign into the tray, I became conscious of a sudden prudent alarm.

“My dear master, how, after all, are you going to do it?” I asked. “It's infinitely noble, but what time it will take, what patience and independence, what assured, what perfect conditions it will demand! Oh for a lone isle in a tepid sea!”

“Isn't this practically a lone isle, and aren't you, as an encircling medium, tepid enough?” he replied; alluding with a laugh to the wonder of my young admiration and the narrow limits of his little provincial home. “Time isn't what I've lacked hitherto: the question hasn't been to find it, but to use it. Of course my illness made a great hole, but I daresay there would have been a hole at any rate. The earth we tread has more pockets than a billiard-table. The great thing is now to keep on my feet.”

“That's exactly what I mean.”

Neil Paraday looked at me with eyes—such pleasant eyes as he had—in which, as I now recall their expression, I seem to have seen a dim imagination of his fate. He was fifty years old, and his illness had been cruel, his convalescence slow. “It isn't as if I weren't all right.”

“Oh, if you weren't all right I wouldn't look at you!” I tenderly said.

We had both got up, quickened by the full sound of it all, and he had lighted a cigarette. I had taken a fresh one, and, with an intenser smile, by way of answer to my exclamation, he touched it with the flame of his match. “If I weren't better I shouldn't have thought of that!” He flourished his epistle in his hand.

“I don't want to be discouraging, but that’s not true,” I returned. “I'm sure that during the months you lay here in pain you had visitations sublime. You thought of a thousand things.