“Mr. Lyndsay, there is something horrible in this house.”
“Have you seen it?”
He shook his head.
“I saw nothing; it is what I felt.”
I looked towards the grate. The fire had long been out, but the wood was still unconsumed, and I managed, inexpertly enough, to relight it. When a long blue flame sprang up, he drew his chair near the hearth and stretched towards the blaze his still tremulous hands.
“Mr. Lyndsay,” he said, in a voice as strangely altered as his whole appearance, “may I sit here a little—till it is light? I dread to go back to that room. But don’t let me keep you up.”
I said, and in all honesty, that I had no inclination to sleep. I put on my dressing-gown, threw a rug over his knees, and took my place opposite to him on the other side of the fire; and thus we kept our strange vigil, while slowly above us broke the grim, cold dawn of early spring-time, which even the birds do not brighten with their babble.
Silently staring into the fire, he vouchsafed no further explanations, and I did not venture to ask for any; but I doubt if even such language as he could command would have been so full of horrible suggestion as that grey set face, and the terror-stricken gaze, which the growing light made every minute more distinct, more weird. What had so suddenly and so completely overthrown, not his own strength merely, but the defences of his faith? He groped amongst them still, for, from time to time, I heard him murmuring to himself familiar verses of prayer and psalm and gospel, as if he sought therewith to banish some haunting fear, to quiet some torturing suspicion. And at last, when the dull grey day had fully broken, he turned towards me, and cried in tones more heart-piercing than ever startled the great congregations in church or cathedral—
“What if it were all a delusion, and there be no Father, no Saviour?”
And the horror of that abyss into which he looked, flashing from his mind to my own, left me silent and helpless before him. Yet I longed to give him comfort; for, with the regal self-possession which had fallen from him, there had slipped from me too some undefined instinct of distrust and disapproval. All that I felt now was the sad tie of brotherhood which united us, poor human atoms, strong only in our capacity to suffer, tossed and driven, whitherward we knew not, in the purposeless play of soulless and unpitying forces.
“He did not see the ghost, you say; he only felt it? I should think he did—on his chest. I never heard of a clearer case of nightmare. You must be careful whom you tell the story to, old chap; for at the first go-off it sounds as if it was not merely eating too much that was the matter. It was, however, indigestion sure enough. No wonder! If a man of his age who takes no exercise will eat three square meals a day, what else can he expect? And Mallet is rather liberal with her cream.”