“What shall I do?” he said to himself, helplessly.
The unearthly voice, and the discovery to which it had led, following the other events of the night, had made Bressant unfit to deal with this matter after his usual ready and practical style. But he would have found the problem an awkward one at his best. How could he appear at the Parsonage? What account could he give there of this lifeless body? What account could he give of it to himself? He was utterly bewildered and aghast. It seemed that the dead had risen from the grave, to drag him relentlessly back to the fullest glare of earthly ignominy—to the keenest experience of human suffering. And yet, did he quite deserve it? Was there no grain of leaven in his lump of sinfulness and weakness, if all were known? He is a hardened criminal, indeed, who can find no hope in the thought of appealing from human judgment to Divine!
Meanwhile, Mr. Reynolds had been luxuriating in a very unmistakable sense of injury. To some persons there are a positive relief and gratification in being really wronged: it raises their estimate of their own importance: by virtue of their title to feel angry, disappointed, or deceived, they can take their place in a higher than their ordinary rank. So Mr. Reynolds, finding himself qualified to plead a clear case of absolute and unwarrantable desertion, held up his head, and bore himself with becoming dignity.
His dignity did not, however, interfere with his seeking to drown his slight in the good, old-fashioned way. He solaced himself beyond prudence with the varied products of the hotel bar, and then settled himself solitary in his sleigh and jingled homeward. His road took him past the Parsonage, and he enlivened the lonely way by scraps of songs, reflections upon the perfidy of women, and portentous yawns at intervals of two or three minutes. In fact, by the time he had gone a mile the most predominant sensation he had was sleepiness, and half a mile more came very near making a second Endymion of him. From this, however, he was preserved by the very sudden stoppage of his sleigh, which threw him on his knees against the dasher, and forcibly knocked his eyes open. He rolled over to the ground, but, happening to light on his feet, he stood unsteadily erect, and asked a very tall and powerful man, who was holding his horse’s head, when he was going to let that drop?
Receiving no intelligible answer, he stumbled in the powerful man’s direction, perhaps contemplating the performance of some deed of desperate valor. Meanwhile the object of his hostility had relinquished his hold of the horse, and appeared kneeling on the ground, supporting the form of a woman, dressed in a tasteful white dress, with dark, disordered hair lying around her colorless face.
Mr. Reynolds immediately paused, and regarded this group for some moments with an air of singular sagacity and archness.