The laird of Glenfernie turned to his ancient house on the craggy hill.... That night he made him a fire in his old loved room in the keep. He sat beside it; he lighted candles and opened books, and now and then he sat so still before them that he may have thought that he read. But the books slipped away, and the candles guttered down, and the fire went out. At last, in the thick darkness, he spread his arms upon the table and bowed his head in them, and his frame shook with a man’s slow weeping.
The bright autumn sank into November, November winds and mists into a muffled, gray-roofed, white-floored December. And still the laird of Glenfernie lived with the work of the estate and, when that was done, and when the long, lonely, rambling daily walk or ride was over, with books. The room in the keep had now many books. He sat among them, and he built his fire higher, and his candles burned into late night. Whether he read or did not read, he stayed among them and drew what restless comfort he might. Strickland, from his own high room, waking in the night, saw the loophole slit of light.
He felt concern. The change that had come to his old pupil was marked enough. Strickland’s mind dwelt on the old laird. Was that the personality, not of one, but of two, of the whole line, perhaps, developing all the time, step by step with what seemed the plastic, otherwise, free time of youth, appearing always in due season, when its hour struck? Would Alexander, with minor differences, repeat his father? How of the mother? Would the father drown the mother? In the enormous all-one, the huge blend, what would arrive? Out of all fathers and mothers, out of all causes?
It could not be said that Alexander was surly. Nor, if the weather was dark with him, that he tried to shake his darkness into others’ skies. Nor that he meanly succumbed to the weight, whatever it was, that bore upon him. He did his work, and achieved at least the show of equanimity. Strickland wondered. What was it that had happened? It never occurred to him that it had happened here in this dale. But in all that life of Alexander’s in the wider world there must needs have been relationships of lands established. Somewhere, something had happened to overcloud his day, to uncover ancestral resemblances, possibilities. Something, somewhere, and he had had news of it this autumn.... It happened that Strickland had never seen Glenfernie with Elspeth Barrow.
Mrs. Grizel was not observant. So that her nephew came to breakfast, dinner, and supper, so that he was not averse to casual speech of household interests, so that he seemed to keep his health, so that he gave her now and then words and a kiss of affection, she was willing to believe that persons addicted to books and the company of themselves had a right to stillness and gravity. Alice stayed in Edinburgh; Jamie soldiered it in Flanders. Strickland wrote and computed for and with the laird, then watched him forth, a solitary figure, by the fir-trees, by the leafless trees, and down the circling road into the winter country. Or he saw firelight in the keep and knew that Alexander walked to and fro, to and fro, or sat bowed over a book. Late at night, waking, he saw that Glenfernie still watched.