“Hello, Katy! Hello, Bobby! You shown your face at last? I hope you’ve come sober.”
The thin, quarrelsome voice of Silas Blackburn echoed in the mouldy court. The stout, bent figure in the candlelight studied them suspiciously. Katherine clung to Bobby, trembling, startled beyond speech by the apparition. They both stared at the gray face, at the thick figure, which, three days after death, they had seen buried that noon in the overgrown cemetery. Bobby recalled how Doctor Groom had reminded him that an activity like this might emerge from such places. He had suggested that the condition of the family burial ground might be an inspiration to such strayings. Yet why should the spirit of Silas Blackburn have escaped? Why should it have returned forthwith to the Cedars, unless to face his grandson as his murderer?
Afterward Bobby experienced no shame for these reflections. The encounter was a fitting sequel to the moment in the dark room when he had felt Howells move beneath his hand. He had a fleeting faith that the void between the living and the dead had, indeed, been bridged.
Then he wondered that the familiar figure failed to disintegrate, and he noticed smoke curling from the blackened briar pipe. He caught its pungent aroma in the damp air of the court. Moreover, Silas Blackburn had spoken, challenging him as usual with a sneer.
“Let us go past,” Katherine whispered.
But Silas Blackburn stepped out, blocking their way. He spoke again. His whining accents held a reproach.
“What’s the matter with you two? You might ‘a’ seen a ghost. Or maybe you’re sorry to have me back. Didn’t you wonder where I was, Katy? Reckon you hoped I was dead, Bobby.”
Bobby answered. He had a fancy of addressing emptiness.
“Why have you come? That is what you are to us—dead.”
Silas Blackburn chuckled. He took the pipe from his mouth and tapped the tobacco down with a knotted forefinger.
“I’ll show you how dead I am! Trying to be funny, ain’t you? I’ll make you laugh on the wrong side of your face. It’s cold here. I’m going in.”
The same voice, the same manner! Yet his presence denied that great fact which during three days had been impressed upon them with a growing fear.
The old man jerked his thumb toward the dimly lighted windows of the wing.
“What you got the old room lighted up for? What’s going on there? I tried to sleep there the other night—”
Katherine sprang forward. She stretched out her hand to him with a reluctance as pronounced as Graham’s when he had touched Howells’s body. Her fingers brushed his hand. Her shoulders drooped. She clung to his arm. To Bobby this resolution was more of a shock, less to be explained, than his first assurance of an immaterial visitor. What did it mean to him? Was it an impossible assurance of safety?