'He deserves a holiday after nearly getting burnt to death to save his novel. Imagine the old fellow plunging headlong into the flames to rescue his manuscript! Don't say that authors can't be heroic!'
Another morning broke. It was possible, said the doctors (a second had been summoned), that a crisis which drew near might bring the favourable turn; but Amy formed her own opinion from the way in which the nurse expressed herself. She felt sure that the gravest fears were entertained. Before noon Reardon awoke from what had seemed natural sleep--save for the rapid breathing- -and of a sudden recollected the number of the house in Cleveland Street at which Biffen was now living. He uttered it without explanation. Amy at once conjectured his meaning, and as soon as her surmise was confirmed she despatched a telegram to her husband's friend.
That evening, as Amy was on the point of returning to the sick- room after having dined at her friend's house, it was announced that a gentleman named Biffen wished to see her. She found him in the dining-room, and, even amid her distress, it was a satisfaction to her that he presented a far more conventional appearance than in the old days. All the garments he wore, even his hat, gloves, and boots, were new; a surprising state of things, explained by the fact of his commercial brother having sent him a present of ten pounds, a practical expression of sympathy with him in his recent calamity. Biffen could not speak; he looked with alarm at Amy's pallid face. In a few words she told him of Reardon's condition.
'I feared this,' he replied under his breath. 'He was ill when I saw him off at London Bridge. But Willie is better, I trust?'
Amy tried to answer, but tears filled her eyes and her head drooped. Harold was overcome with a sense of fatality; grief and dread held him motionless.
They conversed brokenly for a few minutes, then left the house, Biffen carrying the hand-bag with which he had travelled hither. When they reached the hotel he waited apart until it was ascertained whether he could enter the sick-room. Amy rejoined him and said with a faint smile:
'He is conscious, and was very glad to hear that you had come. But don't let him try to speak much.'
The change that had come over his friend's countenance was to Harold, of course, far more gravely impressive than to those who had watched at the bedside. In the drawn features, large sunken eyes, thin and discoloured lips, it seemed to him that he read too surely the presage of doom. After holding the shrunken hand for a moment he was convulsed with an agonising sob, and had to turn away.