Alec Trenholme ran and sprang upon the man who had struck the blow. Some other man, he did not see which, wrested the club from the fellow’s hand. In the moments Alec was grappling with him he became conscious that the old man lying near his feet on the grass was more to him than revenge, and, with the caprice of a boy who turns from what interests him less to what interests him more, he contented himself with hurling the assailant from him, so that he fell heavily down the sloping ground to where his companions stood. Then Alec pushed others aside and lifted the wounded man.
Wounded? His hair was wet with warm blood. There was something done—a good deal done, by many people—to restore him. Alec remembered afterwards that the young man who had previously spoken to him had been active, showing a more personal solicitude than was seen in the awed kindness even of the women. One lives through such scenes with little real perception of their details. He knew at last for certain that he put his burden from him, and throwing himself down laid his ear on the broad, muscular breast. Long as he listened, there was no movement there. The mad old preacher was dead.
When Alec Trenholme rose from the dead man’s side he felt his shoulder taken hold of by a familiar hand. He knew at once that it was his brother. It was quite what he would have expected, that Robert should be there; it was surely his business to come after straying sheep.
The manslayer, awed and sobered by finding what he had done, had been easily overpowered. Even his comrades helped to bind him. He was a poor creature at best, and was now in the misery that comes with sudden reaction from the exaltation of strong drink.
Alec saw that his brother was limping, that he seemed in actual pain; he was anxious to know how this was, yet he did not say so. He asked rather if Robert thought that the old man had consciously awakened from his trance of expectation, and they both, in spite of all that pressed, stooped with a lantern some one had lit to look again at the dead face. Just as he might have looked when the heavens seemed to open above him, so he looked now. They talked together, wondering who he really was, as men find words for what is easiest to say, although not relevant to the moment’s necessity.
So absorbing is the interest of death to those who live in peaceful times that, now that there was a lamp, all there required to slake their curiosity by lingering gaze and comment before they would turn away. Even the prisoner, when he saw the lantern flashed near the face of the dead, demanded to be allowed to look before they led him down the hill. His poor wife, who had expected his violence to fall only on herself, kept by him, hysterically regretting that she had not been the victim.