THE COMING OF NIGHT
It was not yet full dusk, for the shadows were still swinging out from the mountains and a ghost of colour lingered in the west, but midnight lay in the open eyes of Jerry Strann. There had been no struggle, no outcry, no lifting of head or hand. One instant his eyes were closed, and then, indeed, he looked like death; the next instant the eyes open, he smiled, the wind stirred in his bright hair. He had never seemed so happily alive as in the moment of his death. Fatty Matthews held the mirror close to the faintly parted lips, examined it, and then drew slowly back towards the door, his eyes steady upon Mac Strann.
“Mac,” he said, “it’s come. I got just this to say: whatever you do, for God’s sake stay inside the law!”
And he slipped through the door and was gone.
But Mac Strann did not raise his head or cast a glance after the marshal. He sat turning the limp hand of Jerry back and forth in his own, and his eyes wandered vaguely through the window and down to the roofs of the village.
Night thickened perceptibly every moment, yet still while the eastern slope of every roof was jet black, the western slopes were bright, and here and there at the distance the light turned and waned on upper windows. Sleep was coming over the world, and eternal sleep had come for Jerry Strann.
It did not seem possible.
Some night at sea, when clouds hurtled before the wind across the sky and when the waves leaped up mast-high; when some good ship staggered with the storm, when hundreds were shrieking and yelling in fear or defiance of death; there would have been a death-scene for Jerry Strann.
Or in the battle, when hundreds rush to the attack with one man in front like the edge before the knife—there would have been a death-scene for Jerry Strann. Or while he rode singing, a bolt of lightning that slew and obliterated at once—such would have been a death for Jerry Strann.
It was not possible that he could die like this, with a smile. There was something incompleted. The fury of the death-struggle which had been omitted must take place, and the full rage of wrath and destruction must be vented. Can a bomb explode and make no sound and do no injury?
Yet Jerry Strann was dead and all the world lived on. Someone cantered his horse down the street and called gayly to an acquaintance, and afterwards the dust rose, invisible, and blew through the open window and stung the nostrils of Mac Strann. A child cried, faintly, in the distance, and then was hushed by the voice of the mother, making a sound like a cackling hen. This was all!
There should have been wailing and weeping and cursing and praying, for handsome Jerry Strann was dead. Or there might have been utter and dreadful silence and waiting for the stroke of vengeance, for the brightest eye was misted and the strongest hand was unnerved and the voice that had made them tremble was gone.