He stopped with hand on the gate and called her.
“What is the matter?” she asked, checking her walk. “Are you ill? What is it?”
He supposed that his strange voice would tell her all, but, although she was evidently puzzled, to his further astonishment, she did not realise that he was a stranger.
“Why do you speak like that?” she asked. And she talked on rapidly about some waggon she expected to find at the foot of the path. She went on, in fact, as if unable to endure the loss of time; and he, thinking of the waggon and waggoner as a further point of safety for her, ran after. In a minute they both came out of the lane on a small common. Here were two horses tied under a tree and an open waggon with its shafts laid down.
“Call the man,” she said.
To Alec’s call a man came sleepily from a small barn that was near. He said he had brought about a dozen women in the waggon, and they had gone up the hill. Impatiently she demanded of him how long it was since they had started to walk, and heard it was about a quarter of an hour. She went on once more, with what seemed to Alec incredible speed. But this time he gave way to no further indecision. Where she had darted under the trees he followed in her path.
They were just under the covert of the first trees on a steep footpath when he stopped her, and above him she turned, listening. The scent of moss and fern and overhanging leaf was sweet. So perfect a woodland bower was the place, so delicate did the lady seem to his imagination, that he wished he could tell his concern for her alarm and readiness to devote himself to her cause. But when he saw her shrink from him, he could only stand awkwardly, tell her in a few clumsy words that he and the other man had changed places, he did not know how, and he had thought to take her to the farm.
“Your voice is very like his,” she said, looking at him strangely.
But he now knew certainly, what for the last hour had seemed to him almost impossible, that in very truth the religious assembly was to take place that night; and the thought of it, and of the strange excitement with which others had gone before them on that same path took from Alec, and, he supposed, from the lady also, the power to give much consideration to their own strange encounter. When he had told her of the time he had seen old Cameron at prayer in the lone wintry fields, and how far he had just walked to see him again in the strange conditions of to-night, they climbed on together.
There is nothing of which men take less heed than the infection of emotion, a thing as real as that mysterious influence which in some diseases leaps forth from one to another till all are in the same pain. With the exception, perhaps, of the infection of fear, which societies have learnt to dread by tragic experience, man still fondly supposes that his emotions are his own, that they must rise and fall within himself, and does not know that they can be taken in full tide from another and imparted again without decrease of force. May God send a healthful spirit to us all! for good or evil, we are part of one another.