The visit was prolonged for nearly an hour, while recollections of Alick’s parents were talked over, and Rachel thought him more cheered and gratified than by any other tribute that had been paid to his sister. He was promised an extension of leave, if it were required on account of Lord Keith’s state, though under protest that he would have the aguish fever as long as he remained overlooking the water meadows, and did not put himself under Dr. M’Vicar. Through these meadows Colonel Hammond meant to walk back to the station, and Alick and Rachel conducted him far enough to put him into the right path, and in going back again, they could not but go towards the stile leading to that corner of the churchyard where the sexton had finished his work, and smoothed the sods over that new grave.
Some one was standing at the foot—not the sexton—but a young man bending as with an intolerable load of grief. Rachel saw him first, when Alick was helping her down the step, and her start of dismay made him turn and look round. His brow contracted, and she clutched his arm with an involuntary cry of, “Oh, don’t,” but he, with a gesture that at once awed and tranquillized her, unclasped her hold and put her back, while he stepped forward.
She could hear every word, though his voice was low and deep with emotion. “Carleton, if I have ever been harsh or unjust in my dealings towards you, I am sorry for it. We have both had the saddest of all lessons. May we both take it as we ought.”
He wrung the surprised and unwilling hand, and before the youth, startled and overcome, had recovered enough to attempt a reply, he had come back to Rachel, resumed her arm, and crossed the churchyard, still shivering and trembling with the agitation, and the force he had put on himself. Rachel neither could nor durst speak; she only squeezed his hand, and when he had shut himself up in his own room, she could not help repairing to his uncle, and telling him the whole. Mr. Clare’s “God bless you, my boy,” had double meaning in it that night.
Not long after, Alick told Rachel of his having met poor young Carleton in the meadows, pretending to occupy himself with his fishing-rod, but too wretched to do anything. And in a short time Mrs. Carleton again called to pour out to Mrs. Keith her warm thanks to the Captain, for having roused her son from his moody, unmanageable despair, and made him consent to accept a situation in a new field of labour, in a spirit of manful duty that he had never evinced before.
This was a grave and subdued, but not wholly mournful, period at Bishopsworthy—a time very precious to Rachel in the retrospect— though there was much to render it anxious. Alick continued to suffer from recurrences of the fever, not very severe in themselves after the first two or three, but laying him prostrate with shivering and headache every third day, and telling heavily on his strength and looks when he called himself well. On these