"Ah, daddy, don't talk about that," Ralph murmured. "You mustn't deny that you're getting better."
"There will be no need of my denying it if you don't say it," the old man answered. "Why should we prevaricate just at the last? We never prevaricated before. I've got to die some time, and it's better to die when one's sick than when one's well. I'm very sick — as sick as I shall ever be. I hope you don't want to prove that I shall ever be worse than this? That would be too bad. You don't? Well then."
Having made this excellent point he became quiet; but the next time that Ralph was with him he again addressed himself to conversation. The nurse had gone to her supper and Ralph was alone in charge, having just relieved Mrs. Touchett, who had been on guard since dinner. The room was lighted only by the flickering fire, which of late had become necessary, and Ralph's tall shadow was projected over wall and ceiling with an outline constantly varying but always grotesque.
"Who's that with me — is it my son?" the old man asked.
"Yes, it's your son, daddy."
"And is there no one else?"
"No one else."
Mr. Touchett said nothing for a while; and then, "I want to talk a little," he went on.
"Won't it tire you?" Ralph demurred.
"It won't matter if it does. I shall have a long rest. I want to talk about YOU."
Ralph had drawn nearer to the bed; he sat leaning forward with his hand on his father's. "You had better select a brighter topic."
"You were always bright; I used to be proud of your brightness. I should like so much to think you'd do something."
"If you leave us," said Ralph, "I shall do nothing but miss you."
"That's just what I don't want; it's what I want to talk about. You must get a new interest."
"I don't want a new interest, daddy. I have more old ones than I know what to do with."
The old man lay there looking at his son; his face was the face of the dying, but his eyes were the eyes of Daniel Touchett. He seemed to be reckoning over Ralph's interests. "Of course you have your mother," he said at last. "You'll take care of her."
"My mother will always take care of herself," Ralph returned.
"Well," said his father, "perhaps as she grows older she'll need a little help."
"I shall not see that. She'll outlive me."
"Very likely she will; but that's no reason — !" Mr. Touchett let his phrase die away in a helpless but not quite querulous sigh and remained silent again.
"Don't trouble yourself about us," said his son, "My mother and I get on very well together, you know."
"You get on by always being apart; that's not natural."
"If you leave us we shall probably see more of each other."
"Well," the old man observed with wandering irrelevance, "it can't be said that my death will make much difference in your mother's life."
"It will probably make more than you think."
"Well, she'll have more money," said Mr. Touchett. "I've left her a good wife's portion, just as if she had been a good wife."
"She has been one, daddy, according to her own theory. She has never troubled you."
"Ah, some troubles are pleasant," Mr. Touchett murmured. "Those you've given me for instance. But your mother has been less — less — what shall I call it? less out of the way since I've been ill. I presume she knows I've noticed it."
"I shall certainly tell her so; I'm so glad you mention it."
"It won't make any difference to her; she doesn't do it to please me. She does it to please — to please — " And he lay a while trying to think why she did it. "She does it because it suits her. But that's not what I want to talk about," he added. "It's about you. You'll be very well off."
"Yes," said Ralph, "I know that. But I hope you've not forgotten the talk we had a year ago — when I told you exactly what money I should need and begged you to make some good use of the rest."
"Yes, yes, I remember. I made a new will — in a few days. I suppose it was the first time such a thing had happened — a young man trying to get a will made against him."
"It is not against me," said Ralph. "It would be against me to have a large property to take care of. It's impossible for a man in my state of health to spend much money, and enough is as good as a feast."
"Well, you'll have enough — and something over. There will be more than enough for one — there will be enough for two."