He turned back towards the window. The rush of air played steadily, and then in pulses, upon his face. Then even the wind ceased; as if it, too, were waiting. Not a sound. But silence has a greater voice than discord or music. It seemed to Byrne that he could tell how fast each heart was beating.
The old man had closed his eyes again. And yet the rigid forefinger remained raised, and the faint smile touched at the corners of his mouth. Buck Daniels sat lunging forward in his chair, his knees supporting his elbows, and scowled up at the window with a sort of sullen terror.
Then Byrne heard it—so small a voice that at first he thought it was only a part of the silence. It grew and grew—in a sudden burst it was clear to every ear—the honking of the wild geese!
And Byrne knew the picture they made. He could see them far up in the sky—a dim triangle of winter grey—moving with the beat of lightning wings each in an arrowy flight north, and north, and north. Creatures for sport all the world over; here alone, in all the earth, in the heart of this mountain-desert, they were in some mysterious wise messengers. Once more the far discord showered down upon them, died as they rose, perhaps, to a higher level, and was heard no more.
Then a padding step, light, lighter than the sound of the softest thought. It was passing near; the faint breeze blew the sound to them, around them, behind them. Each man felt as if some creature were stalking him, unseen. Next—it appeared by magic against the blue black of the night—the head of a great wolf, quite black, shaggy, with sharply pointed ears. And the eyes stared at them, green eyes with lights that swirled as the flame jumped in the throat of the lamp. For a long moment the horror lasted. Then the head, as it had come, disappeared, and the light, light foot fall, faded away.
Buck Daniels had risen, now. The sound of his whisper made them start.
“I’m going up—to my room—and lock the door—for God’s sake—keep—him away!”
And so he stole soundlessly away, and then they heard the creaks which announced his progress up the stairs.
Not Buck Daniels alone. In the deadly silence Kate rose to her feet; and the old man, the invalid—he with the dead body and the living brain, rose from his couch and stood as erect as a soldier on parade. The doctor was conscious of repeating to himself, hurriedly, a formula something like this: “The thing which is coming is human; it cannot be more than human; as long as it is human it is nothing to fear; the laws of truth are irrevocably fixed; the laws of science will not change.” Yet in spite of this formula he was deadly cold, as if a wind were blowing through his naked soul. It was not fear. It was something beyond fear, and he would not have been otherwhere for any reward. All his mind remained poised, expectant, as the astronomer waits for the new star which his calculations have predicted to enter the field of his telescope.