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A chill that seemed to shake the marrow in his bones and
the core in his heart, seized upon Percy as he laid the letter down. He
disrobed as quickly as possible, and rolled himself up in the covers of
his warm bed, but he felt as if he were packed in ice, despite all his
efforts, until the return of the fever set his veins on fire.
Dr. Sydney smiled grimly, with an "I told you so" expression, when he again stood by Percy's bed-side. But Percy did not wait to hear his accusing words.
"I have resigned myself to my fate, you see, doctor," he said, "and I am convinced that you know more than I do. I think I am going to be very sick; and I want you to tell me the exact truth about myself, as I have some very important directions to leave concerning my affairs, if there is the least hope of my death."
"Hope!" echoed Dr. Sydney, "Tut, tut, man, what are you talking in that vein for--a young, handsome, fortunate fellow like you, with all your life before you?" Percy smiled sadly.
"My life is all behind me, unfortunately, Doctor," he said. "At least the best opportunities of it are, and they lie among tares--lost in a rank growth of wild oats. It is all very well to say that every man must plant that crop--but I realize when too late that I must reap the harvest as well; and it has filled my store-house so full, there is no room for one golden sheaf of wheat."
"Might thresh your wheat then, in the stack, and sell it without storing it," suggested the old doctor, facetiously, as he held Percy's pulse between his thumb and finger. "Fall wheat brings good prices now. H'm! pretty high fever--how's your tongue?"
"Pretty sick, pretty sick, my boy!" he said, as he finished his examination. "Liver in an awful state. That's what makes you want to die, and all that. A diseased liver and melancholy views of life are as natural companions as a boy and a piece of string. If you don't object, I'll call counsel?"
Percy looked up quickly.
"Then I am in danger?"
"Possibly, not positively. I see indications that lead me to think an abcess is forming on your liver. But I am not sure of it."
"In case there is?"
"In case there is, you will have to submit to an operation."
"And such operations are often fatal, are they not, in their results? Frequently so."
Dr. Sydney hesitated.
"They are sometimes fatal," he said. "You would require skillful treatment, and careful nursing. I must obtain a good nurse for you, at once, and I would like to call in Dr. Manville."
Dr. Manville, after a thorough examination, and diagnosis of the case, agreed with Dr. Sydney in relation to the symptoms of the disease.
"They are obscure, and it is at this time difficult to locate the abcess," he said to Percy, who insisted upon knowing his exact condition. "But I am convinced that an operation must take place before long. Your case is serious; and I would advise you to send for your relatives."
Percy shook his head sadly.
"I have only one relative in the world," he said, "and she is now in Europe with her husband and children. But I have friends I wish to send for at once. Will you kindly give me the utensils to write out a telegram, Doctor?"
The telegram, when completed, was addressed to "Mr. Thomas Griffith, Centerville, N. Y.," and read : "Come at once. Bring your wife and Helena. A matter of life and death." Then followed his name and address.
A few hours later, they came--startled, wondering, anxious. Dr. Sydney was alone with the patient, awaiting the arrival of the nurse. He ushered the pale trio to Percy's bed-side, and was about to retire to an adjoining room, when Percy detained him.
"Wait!" he said. "I want you to tell my friends, Doctor, my exact condition, just as you have told me. Spare nothing."
Dr. Sydney did as Percy requested. "And now," added Percy, "I wish to say for myself that I have no expectations of recovery. I do not want to live, and I shall make no effort to assist my medical advisers in restoring me to health. And since I must die, Helena, let me make you my wife. Let me leave you the lawful heir of my otherwise useless wealth--and let your hands minister to my last wants while on earth. It will not be long; but that brief time will be rendered the happiest of my whole life, if I can have your care, and companionship. Helena will you not consent?"
Mrs. Griffith was sobbing and Mr. Griffith and Dr. Sydney were wiping their eyes.
Helena alone was tearless. But her heart seemed dying within her, so sudden, so terrible, so unexpected was this situation.
"Helena, will you consent?" Percy repeated.
"I cannot, oh, I cannot!" she cried.
"Helena!" It was Mrs. Griffith who spoke now through her sobs. "Helena, you are cruel. Don't you know it is a dying man you are refusing to make happy upon his death-bed?"
"There maybe one chance for his life, and you are ruining that. It is murder!" Mr. Griffith added.
"He needs some tender woman's care--he must have it!" said the Doctor. "No money can buy the kind of care and nursing he needs during the next month or six weeks."
Helena put her hands to her temple, with a distracted gesture. "Oh--you do not any of you understand!" she cried; "it is not my place--Percy, may I see you alone a moment?"
"H'm--h'm! quite a romance here!" mused Dr. Sydney, as he trotted out of the room with his hands clasped under his coat-tails. ''Liver trouble and love affairs together--bad complication--very bad. Enough to pull any man down. Hope the girl will marry him and nurse him. She has the look of a born mother in her face. Some women have. They always make good nurses."
Meanwhile, Helena was kneeling by Percy's bed-side, her hands clasping his, her face luminous with love and her heart torn with conflicting emotions.
"Oh, my darling, my darling!" she cried, passionately, "it is not that I do not love you enough to forgive all that has occurred, in this solemn hour, and devote myself to your care. But I think of her--you have belonged to her--she has loved you and shared your life; and now, to come suddenly forward, to displace her, to take your name, your fortune, and the sad, sacred duty of ministering to perhaps your last wants on earth--oh, it seems cruel--heartless! It is her right--not mine."
"And now listen to me quietly," Percy answered, as he stroked her hair gently. "She whom you mention is not within call, even if I desired her presence. When I returned from Centerville, I found her all packed to go to California. I bade her adieu--with the understanding that it was our last farewell--and she supposes me now preparing for a trip to Europe. She does not need my fortune, and she never desired my name. I shall die happier to bestow both on you. If I believed there remained one possibility of recovery for me, I would never ask you to be my wife, Helena. I am not, I never can be worthy of you here. But I think I shall make greater progress in the spirit world, and be better fitted to journey on beside you there, if I die knowing you are my wife. Will you consent, Helena?"
"I will," she said, solemnly; and leaned her face, wet now with tears, upon his breast. And that was their betrothal.
Then, as gently as he could, he told her of the strange discovery he had made during his last interview with Dolores : a discovery Helena's clairvoyant perceptions had already half divined. From the hour he first told her his story, she had constantly associated his unknown and unnamed friend with the thought of Dolores.
Though bitter and painful the actual knowledge of the truth, she was yet spared the ordeal of a stunning surprise as she listened to his revelation.
An hour later, the always solemn and now doubly-impressive marriage service was responded to by a bride clothed all in black, and a pallid groom lying upon his death-bed.
Scarcely was the ceremony concluded, when Percy was seized by a violent chill, followed by intense pain, and other alarming symptoms. The morning found him greatly reduced in strength, and unable to move upon the pillow without a groan of agony; throughout the day he grew rapidly worse, and every hope of ultimate recovery was abandoned.
"I doubt if he lives to endure the operation which must take place shortly," Dr. Sydney said to Mr. Griffith in the afternoon, as he paused by the door before descending the stairs. "He has passed through too much mental excitement during the last twenty-four hours. He has developed most alarming symptoms since midnight, which complicate the case seriously. Permit no one to see him to-day; leave this door open occasionally to allow circulation of fresh air."
As he turned to go, a boy in messenger's costume, presented himself at the door. "Message for Mr. Durand," he said, smartly. "Thirty cents due."
Dr. Sydney gave the boy a slight push.
"Go along with you," he growled. "Mr. Durand is sick--he may not live till morning. Go tell your employer not to bother us at such a time with messages."
The boy hurried away, as if frightened at the close proximity of death to the locality.
"I shall call again this evening," Dr. Sydney added, as he went slowly down the stairs; and then he muttered to himself: "A serious case, a serious case."
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