Outside we took the westward road, and our horses broke into a trot. As yet we had not exchanged a word; but now he asked a question or two about his people and his friends; kindly, yet most casually, as one might who returns after a week’s holidaying. I answered as well as I could, with trivial news of their health. His mother had borne the winter better than usual—to be sure, there had been as yet no cold weather to speak of; but she and Ethel intended, I believed, to start for the south of France early in February. He inquired about you. His comments were such as a man makes on hearing just what he expects to hear, or knows beforehand. And for some time it seemed to be tacitly taken for granted between us that I should ask him no questions.
“As for me—” I began, after a while.
He checked the mare’s pace a little. “I know,” he said, looking straight ahead between her ears; then, after a pause, “it has been a bad time for you, You are in a bad way altogether. That is why I came.”
“But it was for you!” I blurted out. “Harry, if only I had known why you were taken—and what it was to you!”
He turned his face to me with the old confident comforting smile.
“Don’t you trouble about that. That’s nothing to make a fuss about. Death?” he went on musing—our horses had fallen to a walk again— “It looks you in the face a moment: you put out your hands: you touch— and so it is gone. My dear boy, it isn’t for us that you need worry.”
“For whom, then?”
“Come,” said he, and he shook Vivandiere into a canter.
I cannot remember precisely at what point in our ride the country had ceased to be familiar. But by-and-by we were climbing the lower slopes of a great down which bore no resemblance to the pastoral country around Sevenhays. We had left the beaten road for short turf—apparently of a copper-brown hue, but this may have been the effect of the moonlight. The ground rose steadily, but with an easy inclination, and we climbed with the wind at our backs; climbed, as it seemed, for an hour, or maybe two, at a footpace, keeping silence. The happiness of having Harry beside me took away all desire for speech.
This at least was my state of mind as we mounted the long lower slopes of the down. But in time the air, hitherto so exhilarating, began to oppress my lungs, and the tranquil happiness to give way to a vague discomfort and apprehension.
“What is this noise of water running?”
I reined up Grey Sultan as I put the question. At the same moment it occurred to me that this sound of water, distant and continuous, had been running in my ear for a long while.
Harry, too, came to a halt. With a sweep of the arm that embraced the dim landscape around and ahead, he quoted softly—
en detithei potamoio mega
antyga par pymaten sakeos pyka poietoio . . . .