Long before anybody else was astir he arose and stole softly downstairs. The sunlight was stealing in at every crevice, and flashing in long streaks across the darkened rooms. The dining-room into which he looked struck chill and cheerless in the dark yellow light which came through the lowered blinds. He remembered that it had the same appearance when his father lay dead in the house; now, as then, everything seemed ghastly and unreal; the very chairs standing as their occupants had left them the night before seemed to be indulging in some dark communication of ideas.
Slowly and noiselessly he opened the hall door and passed into the fragrant air beyond. The sun was shining on the drenched grass and trees, and a slowly vanishing white mist rolled like smoke about the grounds. For a moment he stood, breathing deeply the sweet air of the morning, and then walked slowly in the direction of the stables.
The rusty creaking of a pump-handle and a spatter of water upon the red-tiled courtyard showed that somebody else was astir, and a few steps farther he beheld a brawny, sandy-haired man gasping wildly under severe self-infliction at the pump.
“Everything ready, George?” he asked quietly.
“Yes, sir,” said the man, straightening up suddenly and touching his forehead. “Bob’s just finishing the arrangements inside. It’s a lovely morning for a dip. The water in that well must be just icy.”
“Be as quick as you can,” said Benson, impatiently.
“Very good, sir,” said George, burnishing his face harshly with a very small towel which had been hanging over the top of the pump. “Hurry up, Bob.”
In answer to his summons a man appeared at the door of the stable with a coil of stout rope over his arm and a large metal candlestick in his hand.
“Just to try the air, sir,” said George, following his master’s glance, “a well gets rather foul sometimes, but if a candle can live down it, a man can.”
His master nodded, and the man, hastily pulling up the neck of his shirt and thrusting his arms into his coat, followed him as he led the way slowly to the well.
“Beg pardon, sir,” said George, drawing up to his side, “but you are not looking over and above well this morning. If you’ll let me go down I’d enjoy the bath.”
“No, no,” said Benson, peremptorily.
“You ain’t fit to go down, sir,” persisted his follower. “I’ve never seen you look so before. Now if—”
“Mind your business,” said his master curtly.
George became silent and the three walked with swinging strides through the long wet grass to the well. Bob flung the rope on the ground and at a sign from his master handed him the candlestick.
“Here’s the line for it, sir,” said Bob, fumbling in his pockets.
Benson took it from him and slowly tied it to the candlestick. Then he placed it on the edge of the well, and striking a match, lit the candle and began slowly to lower it.