The Death of the Poet
The Death of the Poet
BY RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
THE poet lay dying. He was not a good gray poet. Indeed, some of those who pass judgments upon complex lives, with the spontaneity of simple ignorance, would no doubt have called him the bad gray poet. Though he was hardly forty, there were already snow-drifts here and there among his thick locks.
For a long while he had known that he was soon to die. Dreams had told him, and he had seen it written on the faces that looked at him in the street. The foreknowledge did not in the least trouble him. Indeed, while he was far from being a lachrymose sentimentalist, and life had for him even more zest than when he was a boy, yet he had for some time been weary of the long battle, and the news was less the threat of death than the promise of rest.
And now the rest was coming. There was only one consideration that made him cling to life; or rather, suddenly rouse himself to wrest a short reprieve. It was the last sentiment his numerous detractors would have believed of him. Like all really great poets, he was much in debt. Debt, indeed, had hovered like a raven, or rather a cloud of ravens, croaking over the whole course of his life. In his secret heart, and even in occasional outspoken utterance, he held that the world owed him far more than he owed it; yet it should not be said of him that he died in debt! Therefore he had girded himself up to one last tremendous orgy of creation, so that his creditors should be paid to the uttermost farthing. His friends, who knew nothing of the summons that had come to him, for he looked like living for years, marvelled at the sudden outburst of his energy. Sometimes, in a mood of fantastic irony, he would say to them, "Do you know what keeps me alive?" And he would answer, "My creditors"—to their shouts of derisive laughter. Imagine Pagan Wasteneys giving a thought to his creditors! But it was true for all that, as Wasteneys's familiar doctor could attest; for on one occasion Wasteneys, being taken with a sudden attack of the heart and apparently near death, had burst into tears—not at the thought of his wife, not at the thought of his two little girls, but at the thought of his creditors. After all, he was to die in debt! That thought alone obsessed him, leaving room for no other—tenderness. However, oxygen granted him still another reprieve, and once more he worked like a madman, till at last he had written enough.
Then, laying down his pen upon the desk for the last time, he said, "I am ready to die."
Thereon his valet undressed him, taking away the clothes he had worn for the last time, and the poet luxuriously stretched himself in the white bed, from which no duty would ever call him to rise again.
For a long while he lay back dreamily enjoying the thought—of his readiness to die. At last he had been able to wring from life the privilege to die.
The faces of his creditors came back to him with a positive beauty, haloed, so to speak, with this last shining achievement. Honest, true-hearted men, he felt that he should care a little to look in their faces once more and shake their hands. Indeed, he almost regretted that he had to die when he thought of their honest faces. What a beautiful world—when to the eyes of a dying poet his creditors even seem beautiful!
Presently he sent for his lawyer, who had helped him through many a difficult pass,—and when the lawyer had come, he stretched out his hands to him.
"Old friend," he cried, "congratulate me. At last the bankrupt has his discharge. The court allows me to die ..."
"Rubbish!" answered the lawyer; "none of your death's-head humor. But you really mean that you have finished your book? I do indeed congratulate you ..."
"Yes! My last book. Unless I should be expected to write for my living in some other world, I have written my last word, dipped my pen in ink for the last time ..."
The lawyer gently bantered him. "If only it were true," he said, "what good news for your readers! ..."
"Laugh as much as you like ... but you will see. A very few days will show."
"You fantastic fellow ... what do you mean? You know there is nothing whatever the matter with you. You cannot die without some disease, or by some accident—unless you intend to be so commonplace as to commit suicide ..."
"No! none of those," answered Wasteneys, with his odd smile; "I am going to die—out of sheer weariness; and, by the way, I want you to insist upon this epitaph being engraved upon my urn:, 'Pagan Wasteneys. Born 1866; bored to death—1905.'"
"Of course I will promise no such thing," answered the lawyer.
"Well, then I must instruct some mortuary engraver myself.... But tell me,—you have brought with you the schedule of my debts? How much exactly do they amount to?"
The lawyer drew a bulky paper from his pocket.
"Here is the schedule," he said, and then glancing at the total of many pages of figures, he answered, "They are close on ten thousand pounds ..."
"'Tis a good round sum," said the poet, "but in two years I have earned it, every penny, and more besides."
"It is marvellous," said the lawyer.
"It sounds like a dream," said the poet, "but it is true. Think what fun one might have with ten thousand pounds—if one were not going to die ..."
"Or pay one's debts at last," laughed the lawyer.
"That reminds me that I have a fancy for the manner of paying them, in which I hope you will humor me. I wish to pay each creditor in person, and I wish to pay him in solid gold. I would, therefore, ask you to send out a notice inviting them here at noon to-day week; that is, Wednesday week—I shall not die till Friday."
Though he was quite serious, the poet could not help laughing at the final touch, and the lawyer joined in. "You humbug!" he exclaimed; but, for all that, the poet was able to convince him of his seriousness after a while.
"I would have them pass before me one by one, as I lie propped up on pillows on my death-bed, and I shall expect each one first to bend down and kiss my hand. Then a clerk will call out his name in a loud voice, and the amount of the debt, and another clerk shall weigh out to him the amount in gold ... I intend it to be a kind of triumphal lying in state. But we can discuss the exact details later. I feel a little tired. The shadows are already weighing down my eyelids ..." and the poet laughed again his sad sinister laugh; though, indeed, it was true enough, as the lawyer, looking at him, could not fail to note.
"Good night, old friend," said the poet; "come and see me again to-morrow;" and when the lawyer had gone he once more stretched himself out in the bed, luxuriously murmuring the lines he had murmured nightly for so many years:
"If rest be sweet at close of day
For tired hands and tired feet,
How good at last to rest for aye—
If rest be sweet."
The lying in state, as the poet grimly called it, was conducted exactly as he had conceived it. At first the lawyer had protested that to expect your honest English tradesman to bow the knee and kiss the hand of one of his debtors was out of the question.
"Take my word, friend," said the poet, "when a tradesman is going to be paid a debt he had given up for lost, he will not be particular as to the manner in which he receives it. Indeed, he will be so thankful for it that it will be a natural impulse to fall upon his knees ... And if they demur," he added, laughing his half-boyish, half-wicked, and quite creepy laugh, "tell them that it is the fancy of a dying man."
When the noon of Wednesday came, the poet lay in his great bed awaiting his creditors. There had only been a week since his talk with his lawyer, but even that good-natured sceptic had come to admit the truth of his client's prediction. No one could look on that weary form stretched so straight and slim under the clothes, or upon that worn ivory face, without reading the unmistakable signs.
"Do you believe it now?" said the poet to his lawyer. "It is only a jest—you must not take it too seriously. It is only death. Don't be unhappy, old friend. I wish I could make you know how good it feels—to be dying."
Then a little soft-voiced clock chimed twelve times.
"Now for the fun ..." said the poet, looking up to his friend, with his eyes filled with laughter.
It had been his whim to have his room draped in purple, and over his bed hung a great wreath of laurel still in flower. At one side of the large room was a table also covered in purple, on which were arranged twelve great pyramids of gold pieces, and on two other tables close by were two large bags of orange-colored leather overflowing with silver.
As the clock chimed twelve, two footmen clad in a livery of dull-gold silk, with sprigs of laurel worked upon the collars of their coats, threw open the folding-doors of the spacious room, and a crowd of awed and almost sepulchral English tradesmen entered in a hushed and timorous fashion. They were dressed appropriately, as for a funeral, and a few of them wore crape round their hats. They trod softly, like butlers, and were evidently a good deal overawed and indeed frightened.
And in truth it was a scene calculated to astonish. Tor as they entered, there facing them in the middle of the room lay Wasteneys, with his eyes closed and his hands crossed, and the great laurel wreath over his head; and to his right, at one side of the room, stood the table heaped with gold, which glittered still more brightly beneath the beams of twelve immense candlesticks. If anything could gleam brighter, it was the eyes of the creditors, whose expression was a mixture of gaping astonishment at the piled-up gold and hushed wonder at the white distinguished figure in the bed.
When they were seated on the gilded Empire chairs provided for them, a secretary clad in black rose from a seat by the dying man's side and read a brief salutation, in which Pagan Wasteneys, a poet of the realm of England, desired upon his death-bed to thank in person those honorable mercers and general purveyors who had for so many years shown him so great a consideration in respect of certain moneys which he owed them in exchange for certain necessities of existence—among which necessities luxuries, of course, being included. Mr. Wasteneys desired to add that his delay to satisfy these obligations had come of no wilful neglect on his part, but had been occasioned by the many sorrows—not to speak of the many expenses—incident to the profession of a poet. He had invited them to meet him for the last time in this way that he might personally express his gratitude to them—at the same moment that he satisfied his indebtedness, with compound interest at five per cent.
As the secretary concluded with this eloquent peroration, Wasteneys opened his eyes for the first time, and raised his head from the pillow, with a weary attempt at a bow, and motioned with his hand towards the company—his hand thereafter lying white and fragile on the side of the bed. For a moment a smile flickered over his lips, but only his lawyer observed it, and, next moment, he was gravely prepared for the conclusion of the ceremony.
Presently a clerk dressed in a prim costume of the finest broadcloth rose and called out the name of Peter Allardyce, vintner—the names of the creditors being called out in alphabetical order,—at the same time naming the sum of £763.19.7 as due to him, inclusive of interest at five per cent. At the summons, a shy, ruddy man of country build rose from his chair, and being led by one of the footmen to the dying man's side, bent down and kissed the frail hand on the coverlet. Wasteneys acknowledged the courtesy with a tired smile, and Mr. Allardyce was then conducted by the footman to the table piled with gold, where another clerk, also dressed in broadcloth, like his fellow, weighed out to him the amount of his debt, pouring the bright gold into a great bag of purple leather.
"William Dimmock," once more cried out the first clerk, "livery-stable keeper, for carriage-hire, the sum of £378.10.3, inclusive of interest at five per cent."
A lean, horsy little man thereon rose from his chair and went through the same ceremony as his predecessor, retiring also with a great bag of purple leather bursting with gold pieces.
And so the odd ceremony proceeded. It would be tedious to follow it through its details; though one may observe that of all the creditors that followed, the heaviest were Peter Markham, florist, and Jasper Dyce, jeweller, for flowers and gems lavished by the dying man on forgotten women.
When it was all over, and Wasteneys was left alone with his lawyer and his physician, he buried his face in the pillows, and laughed as if his heart would break—laughed indeed so violently that his physician had to warn him that such mirth was dangerous in his present state—unless, indeed, he wished to die of laughter.
"No, indeed," said Wasteneys; "I have other farewells to make. But, oh, wasn't it delicious! And think of it—like the village blacksmith,. I owe not any man! What honest, kind fellows they were! I am so glad to have seen them before I die."
"You must see no one else to-day," said his physician, presently, "if you wish to make those other farewells."
"I have still to-morrow and most of Friday. I shall go out, like Falstaff, even at the turning of the tide," he said, laughing softly at himself, as he had done all his life, and repeating to himself the phrase that had romantically touched his fancy—"even at the turning of the tide! ... even at the turning of the tide!"
"What am I dying of, doctor?" he said, presently.
"I can see no reason why you should be dying at all," answered the physician, "unless it is pure whim."
"Perhaps it is partly that," said the poet, "but I think it is chiefly because—I have lived. To live longer would be mere repetition. I have just enjoyed the last new experience life had to give me—and I almost think it was the most wonderful of all. It was the last touch of romance needed to complete a romantic life—to have paid my debts! You are right. That was indeed enough excitement for one day. I will sleep now—the happiest man in the world."
He had hardly finished speaking before he had fallen into one of those sudden deep sleeps that come and go fitfully with the dying. He lay on his back, his hands crossed, and a smile of infinite serenity and thankfulness on his face. Over his head hung the great laurel wreath, still in flower ...
Still in flower!
"It is strange that he should choose so deliberately to die—for he has still a great future in store for him," said the physician to himself as he went out, giving on his way certain instructions to the nurse-in-waiting.
The physician, like the majority of human beings, confounded the length of a man's life with the success of it—as was, perhaps, peculiarly natural in a man whose business was the lengthening of human existence. To die before sixty was to him a form of failure, and he himself, already sixty-three, was still, with childish eagerness, pursuing certain prizes, professional and social, at which Wasteneys would indeed have smiled. He dreamed, for instance, of a knighthood. Now one of Wasteneys's great fears had been that he should not be in a position to die before he was knighted. That had in some degree accounted for the fury of his production during the last two years. He would not indeed have disdained to have been made a lord, but that necessitated living so much longer, and writing so many more words—and really it was not worth it. He regarded his life as completed—at least to his own satisfaction. To take it up again would be to begin an entirely new career. Already, as rich men are said to go through two or three fortunes, Wasteneys had run through three careers. Three seemed enough. He had won all the prizes he cared for. The rest could only be humorous. So, "Good-by, proud world; I'm going home!"
Next morning, when his toilet had been made for him by the beautiful nurse-in-waiting and his faithful man servant, Wasteneys received his physician and his lawyer; and then, as the little clock chimed the hour of noon, he said,
"It is time for me to begin my farewells."
He made it evident that he wished to be alone, except for his old friend the lawyer. So, when the two were left together in the room, he turned to the lawyer and said,
"Dear friend, bring me the Beautiful Face ..." adding, "the key is here under my pillow."
Taking the key, the lawyer unlocked an old cabinet in a shadowy corner of the room, and presently returned to the bedside, carrying in his hands a small urn of exquisite workmanship. Placing it on a low table near to the poet's hand, the lawyer, who had been the confidant of the poet's tragedy, made a sign of understanding, and left the room.
On the wall facing the end of the poet's bed had hung for seven years the picture of a marvellously beautiful girl. She was so exceptional in her beauty that to attempt description of her would be futile. Suffice it that her face—framed in night-black hair, and tragically lit by enormous black eyes—was chiefly remarkable for the nobility of its expression and for its sense of elemental power. It was a face full of silence—a dark flower of a face, so to say, rooted deep down in the mysterious strengths of nature. If one may use such an expression of a thing so delicate, she seemed like a rock of beauty, against which a whole world of men might dash their tribute hearts in vain. Other faces might seem more attractive, more formally beautiful, but to few faces had it been given to concentrate the cold imperialism of beauty as it was concentrated in this exquisite face.
This face was the real meaning of the poet's life. The rest was mere badinage, screening a sad heart. This face was the real meaning of the poet's gladness at his approaching death. This life held no more expectations for him—but the next? Who knows?—perhaps to-morrow night he would be with her in Paradise. Looking long at the picture of the Beautiful Pace, he turned—to the Beautiful Face itself; for it had now been silver dust for four years. Drawing the urn to him, he read once more the name upon the little gold plate let into the bronze:
Meriel Wasteneys: Died March 16, 1900.
And underneath the name he read some lines inscribed upon the gold:
O Beauty, art thou also dust?
These silver ashes—can it be
That you, thus silting through my hand,
Once made a madman out of me!
"And a madman still," he added, laughing sadly to himself.
Then raising the lid of the urn, he looked in. The white ash filled but half the little urn. Gently thrusting in his hand, he let the ashes sift through his long fingers over and over again, and as he did so he gazed at the Beautiful Face upon the wall ...
After a while he replaced the lid upon the urn, and lay back with closed eyes—thinking of it all.
Presently the lawyer returned softly into the room, and fancying him asleep, was about to leave again, but Wasteneys had heard him.
"Is that you?" he said. "Come to me. I have said good-by. You know where my ashes are to lie."
The lawyer assented, locking the urn once more in the cabinet, and bringing the key back again to Wasteneys. The little urn, as I have said, was as yet only half filled.
The two friends sat silent together for a long time, saying nothing, for there was nothing to say. Both knew all.
After a while the poet turned to his friend. "Will you ask Isabel, my wife, to come to me?" he said. And presently there entered the room a woman so fragilely beautiful that she seemed to be made of moonbeams. She was indeed, compared to the Beautiful Face on the wall, as the moon to the sun. That, alas! had been her place in the poet's life. She had been the moon to the Beautiful Face. And yet, in his strange way, the poet had always loved her, deep down—
"Very deep down!" she used to say sometimes, with a sad smile.
As she came and sat beside him, he took her face tenderly in his hands, and looked and looked into her fairy blue eyes without a word. A curiously lined face it was for so young a woman—all beautiful silver lines filled with delicate refinements of thought and feeling. "Suffering," said the ignorant world, attributing these silver lines to the unfaithfulness of the poet. Yet, as a matter of fact, Isabel's face had been hardly less lined when she was twenty. The poet and the years together had barely added half a dozen lines. In fact, nature had seemed to intend, when making Isabel's face, to show that beauty is something more than velvet skin and dreamy eyes and rounded contours; to prove that nothing is needed for the making of a beautiful face but—light. Isabel's face, indeed, seemed made of light. The lines in it were like rays of brightness, and her eyes like deep springs of purest radiance.
There was, after all, something in Isabel's face that the poet had seen only there, something "fairy" that he had never ceased loving better than anything else in the world. But Life had had its way with them. Strong currents beyond the control of either had torn them apart, brought them together again, and then again torn them apart. Still, they had never really lost faith in each other's natures, and though an impertinent world had misunderstood their mutual forbearance, they had never misunderstood each other.
"Isabel!" said the poet, still holding her face like a star in his hands, "I am going to die, and I have called you to congratulate me—as I know so wise a girl will. For we both know, better than any one, that it is best."
Isabel's eyes filled with tears, and releasing her face from his hands, she buried it in the bedclothes. Presently mastering her feeling, she raised her head again, and looking with infinite pity into the poet's eyes, she said:
"Oh, my dear boy,—cannot you be human at last: just once before you die? I have always thought of you like some Undine, a beautiful, gentle, elemental being,—lacking only a human soul. Indeed, sometimes I have thought of you as a god—sitting aloof from our everyday little interests,—but God knows I have loved you all the time, and you only shall I love in all my life ..."
The poet once more took her face in his hands, and looking into her Nereid eyes, he said: "Wife, dear wife,—forgive the sorrow I have brought you. If there was any joy, remember that. Life is very difficult, very strange. It was all no fault of ours, not even mine. I see it now very clearly—now that I am dying. I see how wrong I have been,—I see how right. I see how right you have been,—I see how wrong. Let us forgive each other. Let us be in love again before I die. Give me your eyes. Let me kiss them once before I die ..."
Then, a sudden thought taking him, "I wonder, dear," he said, "if you can find my Euripides. There is a passage I am thinking of in the Alcestis. It would comfort me to hear it again ...."
Presently his wife brought him the volume, and turning over the pages, the poet at last found the passage he was in search of.
"Yes! this is it," he said:
"'Now have I moored my bark of life in a happier haven than before, and so will own myself a happy man.'"
Then leaning back on his pillow, "Tell me, Isabel," he said, "why is there so mysterious a comfort in words?"
"Alas! dear, it is for you to tell me," she said, stroking his hair; "you have loved words so well—and made so many beautiful words."
"I know you think that I have loved nothing but words," said the poet; "I wonder if it is true? ... I think not."
"I think you meant to love life as well," she answered, kissing his brow gently.
She smoothed his hair a long while as they sat in silence together—the past rolling over them like a river.
Presently Wasteneys broke the silence. "I have walked in a vague course!" he said,—"walked in a vague course! ... if you will forgive," he added, presently, "my quoting once more. A dying man should not quote. He is expected to say something original. Well, I will try to-morrow ...."
Then there fell over him once more that antelethal drowsiness of death, and murmuring again, "I have walked in a vague course!" he fell asleep.
When she was sure he was asleep, his wife bent over him and kissed his lips.
"After all," she said, "he has never grown up. He is a baby still—just a child, that is all ...."
Wasteneys awoke after a little while, to find himself alone, save for the silent presence of his lawyer.
"I fell asleep," he said, "foolishly enough—for I have little time to waste; and I shall soon have all the sleep I want ..." Then, after a pause, he added: "I wish to say good-by to my little girls. Will you have them brought to me?"
Presently there entered the room two beautiful children, one about twelve years old, and the other five. They came hand in hand, laughing, and ran to their father's bed, gleefully ignorant of the significance of the still room, of the purple hangings, of the white figure in the bed.
"Daddy! daddy!" they cried, climbing upon the bed. "What a time it is since we saw you! .... Tell us a story right away."
The father took the long brown-gold curls of the elder girl in his hands, and stroked the sunshine head of the little one.
"Kiddies," he said, after a while, "your daddy is going on a long journey. Will you think of him and love him while he is gone?"
"Where are you going, daddy?" asked the two young voices.
"Oh, ever so far! It's a country called 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon.'"
"Oh, take us with you, daddy. It sounds such a lovely place."
"I cannot take you with me, kiddies,—but perhaps mother and you and I will meet there one of these days ... if we're all very good!"
"I wish we could go with you now, daddy," said the elder girl; and the younger, out of sheer reverence for her elder sister, repeated her.
"I wish we could go with you now, daddy," she said.
"No," said the father; "you must stay behind and look after Little Mother. She would be so lonely without you."
The children, with the volatility of their age, accepted this explanation, and presently once more turned to their father with a demand for a story.
"No!" he said; "it is your turn to tell me a story. I am tired to-day. You, Pervenche, must say for me 'The Three Kings,' and you, Yolla, must say 'The White Bird.' I haven't heard you say them for quite a long time." And each standing up in turn, like a corporal saluting his captain, Pervenche and Yolla recited their little pieces; and as they recited, the tears rolled down their father's cheeks.
"You are crying, daddy," suddenly exclaimed the little one. "What are you crying for?"
The poet was crying because, among all the many human experiences he had missed, he had missed his children too.
Their nurse near at hand rescued him from the dilemma. "Daddy is tired," she said; "bid him good-by ..."
And, wonderingly, the little creatures obeyed; but the tiny Yolla, already a sturdy sceptic, kept asking, when they were once more in the nursery, "I wonder why daddy cried!"
When his little girls had gone, Wasteneys turned to his lawyer.
"What time is high tide to-day?"
He asked the question wearily, almost querulously; for, after all, he was seriously dying.
"I will look in the newspaper," said the lawyer; and having looked, he answered, "At three minutes past four."
"When will the tide turn?" asked the dying poet.
"It keeps at full for perhaps a quarter of an hour, and then begins to ebb."
"That gives us from now about four hours," said the poet. "Four hours. At the turning of the tide. Four hours ... and then!"
Wasteneys lay still after this, with his eyes closed.
Presently he roused himself. "I have one more farewell to make," he said; "will you ask them to bring me my children? ..."
"Your children?" The lawyer, good friend as he was, did not at first understand.
"Yes! My children. Please have them bring me my children."
Wasteneys's servant, happening to come into the room at the moment, beckoned the lawyer, and explained his master's meaning.
"Yes!" answered the lawyer, soothingly, after this informatory pause, "they shall be brought to you."
Then presently there entered two men servants carrying two high piles of books. Placing them on a table, they left the room, returning in a few moments with two more piles. Once more they went out and returned, their arms still laden with books.
Meanwhile a new life seemed suddenly to have animated the poet's frame. His eyes shone, and he struggled to raise himself in the bed. The lawyer packed the pillows at his back, and he sat up.
"Put them at the end of the bed," he said; "let me see them all, let me touch them ..."
When his wish had been carried out; and the servants departed, he leaned over the books and stroked them affectionately again and again.
"So you are really mine—really my children," he said.
"Did I really write them?" he said, presently, turning to his friend. "So many?"
"Yes, dear friend, you wrote them all," answered the lawyer, too solemnized to jest; for he saw that it was close on the turning of the tide.
"How many are there?" asked Wasteneys, leaning back, already weary with the excitement.
"I will count them ...." said his friend, and presently announced that there were fifty-three volumes.
"Fifty-three!" exclaimed Wasteneys; "and how old am I?"
"Thirty-nine, next month," said the lawyer.
"Next month!" said the poet.
Then he turned again to his friend.
"Read me a page here and there," he said; "I will be my own critic. Even a critic at the point of death may be expected to tell the truth. Read to me, that I may know before I die that something in all those fifty-three volumes may perhaps be worth while."
"What shall I read?" asked the lawyer.
"Read me 'What of the Darkness?'"
And the lawyer read:
"What of the Darkness? Is it very fair?
Are there great calms, and find ye silence there?
Like soft-shut lilies, all your faces glow
With some strange peace our faces never know,
With some great faith our faces never dare—
Dwells it in Darkness? Did ye find it there?
"Is it a Bosom where tired heads may lie?
Is it a Mouth to kiss our weeping dry?
Is it a Hand to still the pulse's leap?
Is it a Voice that holds the runes of sleep?
Day shows us not such comfort anywhere—
Dwells it in Darkness? Did ye find it there?
"Out of the day's deceiving light we call—
Day that shows man so great, and God so small,
That hides the stars, and magnifies the grass—
O is the Darkness too a lying glass?
Or undistracted, do ye find truth there?
What of the Darkness? Is it very fair?"
"Are you quite sure that I wrote that?" asked the poet. "Look carefully. Is it really my book?"
"It is, indeed. Printed when you were twenty."
"I am so happy," said the poet,—"so happy to think I wrote that. Time itself cannot rob me of that."
Very soon it was plainly to be seen that the poet was on the very border-line of life and death.
"Is there no one you would care to see?" asked the lawyer, gently.
"No, no one," answered the poet.
"Not your physician?" asked the lawyer.
"Oh no, indeed," answered the poet, with a flash of his odd smile. "Give him my love. But tell him that I want to die—not to be killed."
"What time is it?" he asked, presently.
"Five minutes to four."
The poet lay silent a while, and then he turned to his lawyer with the look of an old friendship. Indeed, his friendship for his lawyer was, odd as it may sound, one of the realities of his unearthly life.
"Friend," he said, "I am afraid it is almost time for us also to say good-by. God bless you—for all. Look after—them, won't you?" and he waved his hand towards his wife's quarters. "Good-by ..."
"But," said his friend, "will you have no one with you?"
"Don't you hear the turning of the tide?" answered the poet.
"No one?" reiterated the lawyer, agonized out of his professional demeanor.
"No one!" answered Wasteneys, rising commandingly in his bed, and sweeping his hand across the volumes at its foot,—"No one—but my children!"