“And—” he began.
“Yes; she was shriven and anointed, thank God; she could not receive Viaticum.”
Ralph did not know whether he was glad or sorry at that news. It was a proper proceeding at any rate; as proper as the candles and the shroud and the funeral rites. As regards grief, he did not feel it yet; but he was aware of a profound sensation in his soul, as of a bruise.
There was silence for a moment or two; then the wind bellowed suddenly in the chimney, the tall window gave a crack of sound, and the smoke eddied out into the room. Ralph turned round.
“They are with her still,” said Sir James; “we can go up presently.”
The other shook his head abruptly.
“No,” he said, “I will wait until to-morrow. Which is my room?”
“Your old room,” said his father. “I have had a truckle-bed set there for your man. Will you find your way? I must stay here for Mistress Atherton.”
Ralph nodded sharply, and went out, down the hill.
* * * * *
It was half an hour more before Beatrice appeared; and then Sir James looked up from his chair at the sound of a footstep and saw her coming up the matted floor. Her face was steady and resolute, but there were dark patches under her eyes, for she had not slept for two nights.
Sir James stood up, and held out his hands.
“Ralph has come,” he said. “He is gone to his room. Where are the others?”
“The priests are at prayers and Meg too,” she said, “It is all ready, sir. You may go up when you please.”
“I must say a word first,” said Sir James. “Sit down, Mistress Atherton.”
He drew forward his chair for her; and himself stood up on the hearth, leaning his head on his hand and looking down into the fire.
“It is this,” he said: “May our Lord reward you for what you have done for us.”
Beatrice was silent.
“You know she asked my pardon,” he said, “when we were left alone together. You do not know what that means. And she gave me her forgiveness for all my folly—”
Beatrice drew a sharp breath in spite of herself.
“We have both sinned,” he went on; “we did not understand one another; and I feared we should part so. That we have not, we have to thank you—”
His old voice broke suddenly; and Beatrice heard him draw a long sobbing breath. She knew she ought to speak, but her brain was bewildered with the want of sleep and the long struggle; she could not think of a word to say; she felt herself on the verge of hysteria.
“You have done it all,” he said again presently. “She took all that Mr. Carleton said patiently enough, he told me. It is all your work. Mistress Atherton—”
She looked up questioningly with her bright tired eyes.
“Mistress Atherton; may I know what you said to her?”
Beatrice made a great effort and recovered her self-control.