“Keep off’n me,” growled Mac Strann, “because when you touch me, it feels like somethin’ dead was next to my skin. Keep off’n me!”
Haw-Haw dragged himself back into the saddle with effort, for it was slippery with rain. His face convulsed with something black as hate.
“It ain’t long you’ll do the orderin’ and be so free with your hands. He’s comin’—soon! Mac, I’d like to stay—I’d like to see the finish——” he stopped, his buzzard eyes glittering against the face of the giant.
The rain blotted out the figure of the coming horseman, and at the same instant the whistling leaped close upon them. It was as if the whistling man had disappeared at the place where the rain swallowed his form, and had taken body again at their very side. Mac Strann shrank back against the wall, bracing his shoulders, and gripped the butts of his guns. But Haw-Haw Langley cast a frightened glance on either side; his head making birdlike, pecking notions, and then he leaned over the pommel of his saddle with a wail of despair and spurred off into the rain.
He disappeared, instantly, in that shivering curtain of greyness. Mac Strann sat by the ruined house alone.
Now, in a time of danger a child will give courage to the strong man. There is a wonderful communion between any two in time of crisis; and when Haw-Haw Langley disappeared through the rain it was to Mac Strann as it was to Patroclus when Apollo struck the base of his neck and his armour of proof fell from him. Not only was there a singular sense of nakedness, but it seemed to him also that the roaring of the rain became a hostile voice of threatening at the same instant.
He had never in his life feared any living thing. But now there was a certain hollowness in the region of his stomach, and his heart fluttered like a bird in the air, with appalling lightness. And he wished to be far away.
With a clear heaven above him—ay, that would be different, but God had arranged this day and had set the earth like a stage in readiness for a death. And that was why the rain lashed the earth so fiercely. He looked down. After his death the wind would still continue to beat that muddy water to foam. Ay, in that very place all would be as it was at this moment. He would be gone, but the sky and the senseless earth would remain unchanged. A sudden yearning seized him for the cabin among the mountains, with the singing of the coffee pot over the fire—the good, warm, yellow fire that smoked between the rocks. And the skins he had left leaning against the walls of the cabin to dry—he remembered them all in one glance of memory.
Why was he here, then, when he should have been so far away, making his roof snug against this torrent of rain. Now, there would be no rain, surely, in those kindly mountains. Their tall peaks would shut out the storm clouds. Only this plain, these low hills, were the place of hell!