Chapter VII
 

In Hume's house at midnight Lepage lay asleep with his wife's letters-- received through the factor--in his hand. The firelight played upon a dark, disappointed face--a doomed, prematurely old face, as it seemed to the factor.

"You knew him, then," the factor said, after a long silence, with a gesture towards the bed.

"Yes, well, years ago," replied Hume.

Just then the sick man stirred in his sleep, and he said disjointedly: "I'll make it all right to you, Hume." Then came a pause, and a quicker utterance: "Forgive--forgive me, Rose." The factor got up, and turned to go, and Hume, with a sorrowful gesture, went over to the bed.

Again the voice said: "Ten years--I have repented ten years--I dare not speak--"

The factor touched Hume's arm. "He has fever. You and I must nurse him, Hume. You can trust me--you understand."

"Yes, I can trust you," was the reply. "But I can tell you nothing."

"I do not want to know anything. If you can watch till two o'clock I will relieve you. I'll send the medicine chest over. You know how to treat him."

The factor passed out, and the other was left alone with the man who had wronged him. The feeling most active in his mind was pity, and, as he prepared a draught from his own stock of medicines, he thought the past and the present all over. He knew that however much he had suffered, this man had suffered more. In this silent night there was broken down any barrier that may have stood between Lepage and his complete compassion. Having effaced himself from the calculation, justice became forgiveness.

He moistened the sick man's lips, and bathed his forehead, and roused him once to take a quieting powder. Then he sat down and wrote to Rose Lepage. But he tore the letter up again and said to the dog: "No, Bouche, I can't; the factor must do it. She needn't know yet that it was I who saved him. It doesn't make any burden of gratitude, if my name is kept out of it. The factor mustn't mention me, Bouche--not yet. When he is well we will go to London with It, Bouche, and we needn't meet her. It will be all right, Bouche, all right!"

The dog seemed to understand; for he went over to the box that held It; and looked at his master. Then Jaspar Hume rose, broke the seal, unlocked the box and opened it; but he heard the sick man moan, and he closed it again and went over to the bed. The feeble voice said: "I must speak--I cannot die so--not so." Hume moistened the lips once, put a cold cloth on the fevered head, and then sat down by the fire again.

Lepage slept at last. The restless hands grew quiet, the breath became more regular, the tortured mind found a short peace. With the old debating look in his eyes, Hume sat there watching until the factor relieved him.