The cart jolted away. Trenholme stood in the farmyard. The light of a lantern made a little flare about the stable door. The black, huge barns, around seemed to his weary sense oppressive in their nearness. The waggon disappeared down the dark lane. The farmer talked more roughly, now that kindness no longer restrained him, of the night’s event. Trenholme leaned against a white-washed wall, silent but not listening. He almost wondered he did not faint with the pain in his ankle; the long strain he had put upon the hurt muscle rendered it almost agonising, but faintness did not come: it seldom does to those who sigh for it, as for the wings of a dove, that they may go far away with it and be at rest. The farmer shut the stable door, put out the light, and Trenholme limped out the house with him to wait for his brother.
All this time Alec was walking, like a sentry, up and down beside the old man’s corpse. He was not alone. When the others had gone he found that the young American had remained with him. He came back from the lower trees whence he had watched the party disappear.
“Come to think of it,” he said, “I’ll keep you company.”
Something in his manner convinced Alec that this was no second thought; he had had no intention of leaving. He was a slight fellow, and, apparently too tired now to wish to stand or walk longer, he looked about him for a seat. None offered in the close vicinity of the corpse and Alec, its sentinel; but, equal to his own necessity, he took a newspaper from his pocket, folded it into a small square, laid it on the wet beaten grass, and sat thereon, arching his knees till only the soles of his boots touched the ground. To Alec’s eye his long, thin figure looked so odd, bent into this repeated angle, that he almost suspected burlesque, but none was intended. The youth clasped his hands round his knees, the better to keep himself upright, and seated thus a few yards from the body, he shared the watch for some time as mute as was all else in that silent place.
Alec’s curiosity became aroused. At last he hesitated in his walk.
“You are from the States?”
“Well, yes; I am. But I reckon I’m prouder of my country than it has reason to be of me. I’m down in the mouth to-night—that’s a fact.”
A fine description of sorrow would not have been so eloquent, but exactly what he sorrowed for Alec did not know. It could hardly be for the death merely.
Alec paced again. He had made himself an uneven track in the ragged grass. Had the lineaments of the dead been more clearly seen, death would have had a stronger influence; but even as it was, death, darkness, and solitude had a language of their own, in which the hearts of the two men shared more or less.
At length the American spoke, arresting Alec’s walk.
“See here,” he said, “if what they say is true—and as far as I know it is—he’s got up from being dead once already.”