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AS Andrew Falconer grew better, the longing of his mind after former excitement and former oblivion, roused and kept alive the longing of his body, until at length his thoughts dwelt upon nothing but his diseased cravings. His whole imagination, naturally not a feeble one, was concentrated on the delights in store for him as soon as he was well enough to be his own master, as he phrased it, once more. He soon began to see that, if he was in a hospital, it must be a private one, and at last, irresolute as he was both from character and illness, made up his mind to demand his liberty. He sat by his bedroom fire one afternoon, for he needed much artificial warmth. The shades of evening were thickening the air. He had just had one of his frequent meals, and was gazing, as he often did, into the glowing coals. Robert had come in, and after a little talk was sitting silent at the opposite corner of the chimney-piece.
'Doctor,' said Andrew, seizing the opportunity, 'you've been very kind to me, and I don't know how to thank you, but it is time I was going. I am quite well now. Would you kindly order the nurse to bring me my clothes to-morrow morning, and I will go.'
This he said with the quavering voice of one who speaks because he has made up his mind to speak. A certain something, I believe a vague molluscous form of conscience, made him wriggle and shift uneasily upon his chair as he spoke.
'No, no,' said Robert, 'you are not fit to go. Make yourself comfortable, my dear sir. There is no reason why you should go.'
'There is something I don't understand about it. I want to go.'
'It would ruin my character as a professional man to let a patient in your condition leave the house. The weather is unfavourable. I cannot--I must not consent.'
'Where am I? I don't understand it. I want to understand it.'
'Your friends wish you to remain where you are for the present.'
'I have no friends.'
'You have one, at least, who puts his house here at your service.'
'There's something about it I don't like. Do you suppose I am incapable of taking care of myself?'
'I do indeed,' answered his son with firmness.
'Then you are quite mistaken,' said Andrew, angrily. 'I am quite well enough to go, and have a right to judge for myself. It is very kind of you, but I am in a free country, I believe.'
'No doubt. All honest men are free in this country. But--'
He saw that his father winced, and said no more. Andrew resumed, after a pause in which he had been rousing his feeble drink-exhausted anger,
'I tell you I will not be treated like a child. I demand my clothes and my liberty.'
'Do you know where you were found that night you were brought here?'
'No. But what has that to do with it? I was ill. You know that as well as I.'
'You are ill now because you were lying then on the wet ground under a railway-arch--utterly incapable from the effects of opium, or drink, or both. You would have been taken to the police-station, and would probably have been dead long before now, if you had not been brought here.'
He was silent for some time. Then he broke out,
'I tell you I will go. I do not choose to live on charity. I will not. I demand my clothes.'
'I tell you it is of no use. When you are well enough to go out you shall go out, but not now.'
'Where am I? Who are you?'
He looked at Robert with a keen, furtive glance, in which were mingled bewilderment and suspicion.
'I am your best friend at present.'
He started up--fiercely and yet feebly, for a thought of terror had crossed him.
'You do not mean I am in a madhouse?'
Robert made no reply. He left him to suppose what he pleased. Andrew took it for granted that he was in a private asylum, sank back in his chair, and from that moment was quiet as a lamb. But it was easy to see that he was constantly contriving how to escape. This mental occupation, however, was excellent for his recovery; and Robert dropped no hint of his suspicion. Nor were many precautions necessary in consequence; for he never left the house without having De Fleuri there, who was a man of determination, nerve, and, now that he ate and drank, of considerable strength.
As he grew better, the stimulants given him in the form of medicine at length ceased. In their place Robert substituted other restoratives, which prevented him from missing the stimulants so much, and at length got his system into a tolerably healthy condition, though at his age, and after so long indulgence, it could hardly be expected ever to recover its tone.
He did all he could to provide him with healthy amusement--played backgammon, draughts, and cribbage with him, brought him Sir Walter's and other novels to read, and often played on his violin, to which he listened with great delight. At times of depression, which of course were frequent, the Flowers of the Forest made the old man weep. Falconer put yet more soul into the sounds than he had ever put into them before. He tried to make the old man talk of his childhood, asking him about the place of his birth, the kind of country, how he had been brought up, his family, and many questions of the sort. His answers were vague, and often contradictory. Indeed, the moment the subject was approached, he looked suspicious and cunning. He said his name was John Mackinnon, and Robert, although his belief was strengthened by a hundred little circumstances, had as yet received no proof that he was Andrew Falconer. Remembering the pawn-ticket, and finding that he could play on the flute, he brought him a beautiful instrument--in fact a silver one--the sight of which made the old man's eyes sparkle. He put it to his lips with trembling hands, blew a note or two, burst into the tears of weakness, and laid it down. But he soon took it up again, and evidently found both pleasure in the tones and sadness in the memories they awakened. At length Robert brought a tailor, and had him dressed like a gentleman--a change which pleased him much. The next step was to take him out every day for a drive, upon which his health began to improve more rapidly. He ate better, grew more lively, and began to tell tales of his adventures, of the truth of which Robert was not always certain, but never showed any doubt. He knew only too well that the use of opium is especially destructive to the conscience. Some of his stories he believed more readily than others, from the fact that he suddenly stopped in them, as if they were leading him into regions of confession which must be avoided, resuming with matter that did not well connect itself with what had gone before. At length he took him out walking, and he comported himself with perfect propriety.
But one day as they were going along a quiet street, Robert met an acquaintance, and stopped to speak with him. After a few moments' chat he turned, and found that his father, whom he had supposed to be standing beside him, had vanished. A glance at the other side of the street showed the probable refuge--a public-house. Filled but not overwhelmed with dismay, although he knew that months might be lost in this one moment, Robert darted in. He was there, with a glass of whisky in his hand, trembling now more from eagerness than weakness. He struck it from his hold. But he had already swallowed one glass, and he turned in a rage. He was a tall and naturally powerful man--almost as strongly built as his son, with long arms like his, which were dangerous even yet in such a moment of factitious strength and real excitement. Robert could not lift his arm even to defend himself from his father, although, had he judged it necessary, I believe he would not, in the cause of his redemption, have hesitated to knock him down, as he had often served others whom he would rather a thousand times have borne on his shoulders. He received his father's blow on the cheek. For one moment it made him dizzy, for it was well delivered. But when the bar-keeper jumped across the counter and approached with his fist doubled, that was another matter. He measured his length on the floor, and Falconer seized his father, who was making for the street, and notwithstanding his struggles and fierce efforts to strike again, held him secure and himself scathless, and bore him out of the house.
A crowd gathers in a moment in London, speeding to a fray as the vultures to carrion. On the heels of the population of the neighbouring mews came two policemen, and at the same moment out came the barman to the assistance of Andrew. But Falconer was as well known to the police as if he had a ticket-of-leave, and a good deal better.
'Call a four-wheel cab,' he said to one of them. 'I'm all right.'
The man started at once. Falconer turned to the other.
'Tell that man in the apron,' he said, 'that I'll make him all due reparation. But he oughtn't to be in such a hurry to meddle. He gave me no time but to strike hard.'
'Yes, sir,' answered the policeman obediently. The crowd thought he must be a great man amongst the detectives; but the bar-keeper vowed he would 'summons' him for the assault.
'You may, if you like,' said Falconer. 'When I think of it, you shall do so. You know where I live?' he said, turning to the policeman.
'No, sir, I don't. I only know you well enough.'
'Put your hand in my coat-pocket, then, and you'll find a card-case. The other. There! Help yourself.'
He said this with his arms round Andrew's, who had ceased to cry out when he saw the police.
'Do you want to give this gentleman in charge, sir?'
'No. It is a little private affair of my own, this.'
'Hadn't you better let him go, sir, and we'll find him for you when you want him?'
'No. He may give me in charge if he likes. Or if you should want him, you will find him at my house.'
Then pinioning his prisoner still more tightly in his arms, he leaned forward, and whispered in his ear,
'Will you go home quietly, or give me in charge? There is no other way, Andrew Falconer.'
He ceased struggling. Through all the flush of the contest his face grew pale. His arms dropped by his side. Robert let him go, and he stood there without offering to move. The cab came up; the policeman got out; Andrew stepped in of his own accord, and Robert followed.
'You see it's all right,' he said. 'Here, give the barman a sovereign. If he wants more, let me know. He deserved all he got, but I was wrong. John Street.'
His father did not speak a word, or ask a question all the way home. Evidently he thought it safer to be silent. But the drink he had taken, though not enough to intoxicate him, was more than enough to bring back the old longing with redoubled force. He paced about the room the rest of the day like a wild beast in a cage, and in the middle of the night, got up and dressed, and would have crept through the room in which Robert lay, in the hope of getting out. But Robert slept too anxiously for that. The captive did not make the slightest noise, but his very presence was enough to wake his son. He started at a bound from his couch, and his father retreated in dismay to his chamber.
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