“Has he lost interest in the things which formerly attracted and occupied him?”
“Yes, he minds nothing now. He has no care for the condition of the cattle, or for profit or loss in the sales. He has simply stepped out of every employment.”
“Ah, a gradual diminution of the faculties of attention.”
“In a way, yes. But also he is more alive than he has ever been. He seems to hear with uncanny distinctness, for instance.”
The doctor frowned.
“I was inclined to attribute his decline to the operation of old age,” he remarked, “but this is unusual. This—er—inner acuteness is accompanied by no particular interest in any one thing?”.
As she did not reply for the moment he was about to accept the silence for acquiescence, but then through the dimness he was arrested by the lustre of her eyes, fixed, apparently, far beyond him.
“One thing,” she said at length. “Yes, there is one thing in which he retains an interest.”
The doctor nodded brightly.
“Good!” he said. “And that—?”
The silence fell again, but this time he was more roused and he fixed his eyes keenly upon her through the gloom. She was deeply troubled; one hand gripped the horn of her saddle strongly; her lips had parted; she was like one who endures inescapable pain. He could not tell whether it was the slight breeze which disturbed her blouse or the rapid panting of her breath.
“Of that,” she said, “it is hard to speak—it is useless to speak!”
“Surely not!” protested the doctor. “The cause, my dear madame, though perhaps apparently remote from the immediate issue, is of the utmost significance in diagnosis.”
She broke in rapidly: “This is all I can tell you: he is waiting for something which will never come. He has missed something from his life which will never come back into it. Then why should we discuss what it is that he has missed.”
“To the critical mind,” replied the doctor calmly, and he automatically adjusted his glasses closer to his eyes, “nothing is without significance.”
“It is nearly dark!” she exclaimed hurriedly. “Let us ride on.”
“First,” he suggested, “I must tell you that before I left Elkhead I heard a hint of some remarkable story concerning a man and a horse and a dog. Is there anything—”
But it seemed that she did not hear. He heard a sharp, low exclamation which might have been addressed to her horse, and the next instant she was galloping swiftly down the slope. The doctor followed as fast as he could, jouncing in the saddle until he was quite out of breath.
They had hardly passed the front door of the house when they were met by a tall man with dark hair and dark, deep-set eyes. He was tanned to the bronze of an Indian, and he might have been termed handsome had not his features been so deeply cut and roughly finished. His black hair was quite long, and as the wind from the opened door stirred it, there was a touch of wildness about the fellow that made the heart of Randall Byrne jump. When this man saw the girl his face lighted, briefly; when his glance fell on Byrne the light went out.