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   Chapter 34 THE INTERVIEW.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 6655

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

We left August on that summer day on the levee at Louisville without employment. He was not exactly disheartened, but he was homesick. That he was forbidden to go back by threats of prosecution for his burglarious manner of entering Samuel Anderson's house was reason enough for wanting to go; that his father's family were not yet free from danger was a stronger reason; but strongest of all, though he blushed to own it to himself, was the longing to be where he might perchance sometimes see the face he had seen that spring morning in the bottom of a sun-bonnet. Right manfully did he fight against his discouragement and his homesickness, and his longing to see Julia. It was better to stay where he was. It was better not to go back beaten. If he surrendered so easily, he would never put himself into a situation where he could claim Julia with self-respect. He would stay and make his way in the world somehow. But making his way in the world did not seem half so easy now us it had on that other morning in March when he stood in the barn talking to Julia. Making your fortune always seems so easy until you've tried it. It seems rather easy in a novel, and still easier in a biography. But no Samuel Smiles ever writes the history of those who fail; the vessels that never came back from their venturous voyages left us no log-books. Many have written the History of Success. What melancholy Plutarch shall arise to record, with a pen dipped in wormwood, the History of Failure?

No! he would not go back defeated. August said this over bravely, but a little too often, and with a less resolute tone at each repetition. He contemned himself for his weakness, and tried, but tried in vain, to form other plans. Had he known how much one's physical state has to do with one's force of character, he might have guessed that he did not deserve the blame he meted out to himself. He might have remembered what Shakespeare's Portia says to Brutus, that "humour hath his hour with every man." But with a dull and unaccountable aching in his head and back he compromised with himself. He would go to the castle and pass a day or two. Then he would return and fight it out.

So he got on the packet Isaac Shelby, and was soon shaking with a chill that showed how thoroughly malaria had pervaded his system. His very bones seemed frozen. But if you ever shook with such a chill, or rather if you were ever shaken by such a chill, taking hold of you like a demoniacal possession; if you ever felt your brain congealing, your icy bones breaking, your frosty heart becoming paralyzed, with a cold no fire could reach, you know what it is; and if you have not felt it, no words of mine can make you understand the sensations. After the chill came the period when August felt himself between two parts of Milton's hell, between a sea of ice and a sea of fire; sometimes the hot wave scorched him, then it retired again before the icy one. At last it was all hot, and the boiling blood scalded his palms and steamed to his brain, bewildering his thoughts and almost blinding his eyes. He had determined when he started to get off at a wood-yard three miles below Andrew's castle, to avoid observation and the chance of arrest; and now in his delirium the purpose as he had planned it remained fixed. He got up at two o'clock, craz

ed with fever, dressed himself, and went out into the rainy night. He went ashore in the mud and bushes, and, guided more by instinct than by any conscious thought, he started up the wagon-track along the river bank. His furious fever drove him on, talking to himself, and splashing recklessly into the pools of rain-water standing in the road. He never remembered his debarkation. He must have fallen once or twice, for he was covered with mud when he rang the alarm at the castle. In answer to Andrew's "Who's there?" he answered, "You'll have to send a harder rain than that if you want to put this fire out!"

And so, what with the original disease, the mental discouragement, and the exposure to the rain, the fever had well-nigh consumed the life, and now that the waves of the hot sea after days of fire and nights of delirium had gone back, there was hardly any life left in the body, and the doctors said there was no hope. One consuming desire remained. He wanted to see Julia once before he went away; and that one desire it seemed impossible to gratify. When he learned of the failure of Jonas to get any message to Julia through Cynthy, he had felt the keenest disappointment, and had evidently been sinking since the hope that kept him up had been taken away.

The mother sat by his bed, Gottlieb sat stupefied at the foot, with Jonas by his side, and Wilhelmina was crying in a still fashion in one corner of the room. August lay breathing feebly, and with his life evidently ebbing.

"August!" said Andrew, as he stood over his bed, having come to announce the arrival of Julia. "August!" Andrew tried to speak quietly, but there was a something of hope in the inflection, a tremor of eagerness in the utterance, that made the mother look up quickly and inquiringly.

August opened his eyes slowly and looked into the face of the Philosopher. Then he slowly closed his eyes again, and a something, not a smile--he was too weak for that--but a look of infinite content, spread over his wan face.

"I know," he whisperd.

"Know what?" asked Andrew, leaning down to catch his words.

"Julia." And a single tear crept out from under the closed lid. The tender mother wiped it away.

After resting a moment, August looked up at Andrew's face inquiringly.

"She is coming," said the Philosopher.

August smiled very faintly, but Andrew was sure he smiled, and again leaned down his ear.

"She is here," whispered August; "I heard Charon bark, and I--saw--your--face."

Andrew now stepped to the closet-door and opened it, and Julia came out.

"Blamed ef he a'n't a witch!" whispered Jonas. "Cunjures a angel out of his cupboard!"

Julia did not see anybody or anything but the white and wasted face upon the pillow. The eyes were now closed again, and she quickly crossed the floor, and--not without a faint maidenly blush--stooped and kissed the parched lips, from which the life seemed already to have fled.

And August with difficulty disengaged his wasted hand from the cover, and laid his nerveless fingers--alas! like a skeleton's now--In the warm hand of Julia, and said--she leaned down to listen, an he whispered feebly through his dry lips out of a full heart--"Thank God!"

And the Philosopher, catching the words, said audibly, "Amen!"

And the mother only wept.

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