Willy was unmanned. “You don’t mean that you know that father—”
He could say no more. Ralph had raised the lantern to the level of the mare’s creels to remove the strap that bound them, and the light had fallen on his face.
“Ralph, is he hurt—much hurt?”
Willy fell back as one that had been dealt a blow.
“God help me! O God, help me!” he cried.
“Give me the reins,” said Ralph, “and be here when I come back. I can’t be long. Keep the door of the kitchen shut—mother is there. Go into his room, and see that all is ready.”
“No, no, I can’t do that.” Willy was shuddering visibly.
“Remain here, at least, and give no warning when I return.”
“Take me with you, Ralph; I can’t stay here alone.”
“Take the lantern, then,” said Ralph.
And the brothers walked, with the mare between them, to where the path was, under the shadow of the trees. What shadow had fallen that night on their life’s path, which Time might never raise? Again and again the horse slipped its foot on the frozen road. Again and again Willy would have stopped and turned back; but he went on-he dared not to leave his brother’s side. The dog howled in front of them. They reached the spot at last.
Angus Ray lay there, his face downwards. The mighty frame was still and cold and stiff as the ice beneath it. The strong man had fallen from the saddle on to his head, and, dislocating his neck, had met with instant death. Close at hand were the marks of the horse’s sliding hoofs. She had cast one of her shoes in the fall, and there it lay. Her knees, too, were still bleeding.
“Give me the lantern, Willy,” said Ralph, going down on his knees to feel the heart. He had laid his hand on it before, and knew too well it did not beat. But he opened the cloak and tried once more. Willy was walking to and fro across the road, not daring to look down. And in the desolation of that moment the great heart of his brother failed him too, and he dropped his head over the cold breast beside which he knelt, and from eyes unused to weep the tears fell hot upon it.
“Take the lantern again, Willy,” Ralph said, getting up. Then he lifted the body on to the back of the mare that stood quietly by their side.
As he did so a paper slipped away from the breast of the dead man.
Willy picked it up, and seeing “Ralph Ray” written on the back of it, he handed it to his brother, who thrust it into a pocket unread.
Then the two walked back, their dread burden between them.
THE HOUSE ON THE MOSS.