`You mean that you can't accept--'
`How can I?' I interposed, as Herbert paused. `Think of him!Look at him!'
An involuntary shudder passed over both of us.
`Yet I am afraid the dreadful truth is, Herbert, that he is attached to me, strongly attached to me. Was there ever such a fate!'
`My poor dear Handel,' Herbert repeated.
`Then,' said I, `after all, stopping short here, never taking another penny from him, think what I owe him already! Then again: I am heavily in debt - very heavily for me, who have now no expectations - and I have been bred to no calling, and I am fit for nothing.'
`Well, well, well!' Herbert remonstrated. `Don't say fit for nothing.'
`What am I fit for? I know only one thing that I am fit for, and that is, to go for a soldier. And I might have gone, my dear Herbert, but for the prospect of taking counsel with your friendship and affection.'
Of course I broke down there: and of course Herbert, beyond seizing a warm grip of my hand, pretended not to know it.
`Anyhow, my dear Handel,' said he presently, `soldiering won't do. If you were to renounce this patronage and these favours, I suppose you would do so with some faint hope of one day repaying what you have already had. Not very strong, that hope, if you went soldiering! Besides, it's absurd. You would be infinitely better in Clarriker's house, small as it is. I am working up towards a partnership, you know.'
Poor fellow! He little suspected with whose money.
`But there is another question,' said Herbert. `This is an ignorant determined man, who has long had one fixed idea. More than that, he seems to me (I may misjudge him) to be a man of a desperate and fierce character.'
`I know he is,' I returned. `Let me tell you what evidence I have seen of it.' And I told him what I had not mentioned in my narrative; of that encounter with the other convict.
`See, then,' said Herbert; `think of this! He comes here at the peril of his life, for the realization of his fixed idea. In the moment of realization, after all his toil and waiting, you cut the ground from under his feet, destroy his idea, and make his gains worthless to him. Do you see nothing that he might do, under the disappointment?'
`I have seen it, Herbert, and dreamed of it, ever since the fatal night of his arrival. Nothing has been in my thoughts so distinctly, as his putting himself in the way of being taken.'
`Then you may rely upon it,' said Herbert, `that there would be great danger of his doing it. That is his power over you as long as he remains in England, and that would be his reckless course if you forsook him.'
I was so struck by the horror of this idea, which had weighed upon me from the first, and the working out of which would make me regard myself, in some sort, as his murderer, that I could not rest in my chair but began pacing to and fro. I said to Herbert, meanwhile, that even if Provis were recognized and taken, in spite of himself, I should be wretched as the cause, however innocently. Yes; even though I was so wretched in having him at large and near me, and even though I would far far rather have worked at the forge all the days of my life than I would ever have come to this!
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