The Woman of His Dream by Ethel M. Dell
"And the sea--gave up--the dead--that were in it." Haltingly the words fell through the silence. There was a certain monotony about them, as if they had been often repeated. The speaker turned his head from side to side upon the pillow uneasily, as if conscious of restraint, then spoke again in the tone of one newly awakened. "Why doesn't that fellow come?" he demanded restlessly. "Did you tell him I couldn't wait?"
"He is coming," a quiet voice answered at his side. "He will soon be here."
He moved his head again at the words, seeming to listen intently.
"Ah, Naomi, my girl," he said, "you've turned up trumps at last. It won't have been such a desperate sacrifice after all, eh, dear? It's wonderful how things get squared. Is that the doctor there? I can't see very well."
The doctor bent over him.
"Are you wanting anything?"
"Nothing--nothing, except that fellow Carey. Why in thunder doesn't he come? No; there's nothing you can do. I'm pegging out. My time is up. You can't put back the clock. I wouldn't let you if you could--not as things are. I have been a blackguard in my time, but I'll take my last hedge straight. I'll die like a man."
Again he turned his head, seeming to listen.
"I thought I heard something. Did someone open the door? It's getting very dark."
Yes; the door had opened, but only the dying brain had caught the sound. As Carey came noiselessly forward only the dying man greeted him.
"Ah, here you are! Come quite close to me! I want to see you, if I can. You're the little newspaper chap who saved my life at Magersfontein?"
"Yes," Carey said.
He sat down by Coningsby's side, facing the light.
"I was told you wanted me," he said.
"Yes; I want you to give me a promise." Coningsby spoke rapidly, with brows drawn together. "I suppose you know I'm a dead man?"
"I don't believe in death," Carey answered very quietly.
Coningsby's eyes burned with a strange light.
"Nor I," he said. "Nor I. I've been too near it before now to be afraid. Also, I've lived too long and too hard to care overmuch for what is left. But there's one thing I mean to do before I go. And you'll give me your promise to see it through?"
He paused, breathing quick and short; then went on hurriedly, as a man whose time is limited.
"You'll stick to it, I know, for you're a fellow that speaks the truth. I nearly thrashed you for it, once. Remember? You said I wasn't fit for the society of any good woman. And you were right--quite right. I never have been. Yet you ended by sending me the best woman in the world. What made you do that, I wonder?"
Carey did not answer. His face was sternly composed. He had not once glanced at the woman who sat on the other side of Coningsby's bed.
Coningsby went on unheeding.
"I drove her away from me, and you--you sent her back. I don't think I could have done that for the woman I loved. For you do love her, eh, Carey? I remember seeing it in your face that first night I brought you here. It comes back to me. You were standing before her portrait in the library. You didn't know I saw you. I was drunk at the time. But I've remembered it since."
Again he paused. His breath was slowing down. It came spasmodically, with long silences between.
Carey had listened with his eyes fixed and hard, staring straight before him, but now slowly at length he turned his head, and looked down at the man who was dying.
"Hadn't you better tell me what it is you want me to do?" he said.
"Ah!" Coningsby seemed to rouse himself. "It isn't much, after all," he said. "I made my will only this morning. It was on my way back that I had the smash. I was quite sober, only I couldn't see very well, and I lost control. All my property goes to my wife. That's all settled. But there's one thing left--one thing left--which I am going to leave you. It's the only thing I value, but there's no nobility about it, for I can't take it with me where I'm going. I want you, Carey--when I'm dead--to marry the woman you love, and give her happiness. Don't wait for the sake of decency! That consideration never appealed to me. I say it in her presence, that she may know it is my wish. Marry her, man--you love each other--did you think I didn't know? And take her away to some Utopia of your own, and--and--teach her--to forget me."
His voice shook and ceased. His wife had slipped to her knees by the bed, hiding her face. Carey sat mute and motionless, but the grim look had passed from his face. It was almost tender.
Gaspingly at length Coningsby spoke again: "Are you going to do it, Carey? Are you going to give me your promise? I shall sleep the easier for it."
Carey turned to him and gripped one of the man's powerless hands in his own. For a moment he did not speak--it almost seemed he could not. Then at last, very low, but resolute his answer came:
"I promise to do my part," he said.
In the silence that followed he rose noiselessly and moved away.
He left Naomi still kneeling beside the bed, and as he passed out he heard the dying man speak her name. But what passed between them he never knew.
When he saw her again, nearly an hour later, Geoffrey Coningsby was dead.