At length, after a long silence, the peculiar sounds of obstructed breathing indicated the end at hand. The jaw fell, and the eyes were fixed. The old man closed the mouth and the eyes of his old companion, weeping like a child, and I prayed aloud, giving thanks to God for taking her to Himself. It went to my heart to leave the old man alone with the dead; but it was better to let him be alone for a while, ere the women should come to do the last offices for the abandoned form.
I went to Old Rogers, told him the state in which I had left poor Tomkins, and asked him what was to be done.
“I’ll go and bring him home, sir, directly. He can’t be left there.”
“But how can you bring him in such a night?”
“Let me see, sir. I must think. Would your mare go in a cart, do you think?”
“Quite quietly. She brought a load of gravel from the common a few days ago. But where’s your cart? I haven’t got one.”
“There’s one at Weir’s to be repaired, sir. It wouldn’t be stealing to borrow it.”
How he managed with Tomkins I do not know. I thought it better to leave all the rest to him. He only said afterwards, that he could hardly get the old man away from the body. But when I went in next day, I found Tomkins sitting, disconsolate, but as comfortable as he could be, in the easy chair by the side of the fire. Mrs Rogers was bustling about cheerily. The storm had died in the night. The sun was shining. It was the first of the spring weather. The whole country was gleaming with water. But soon it would sink away, and the grass be the thicker for its rising.
A Council of friends.
My reader will easily believe that I returned home that Sunday evening somewhat jaded, nor will he be surprised if I say that next morning I felt disinclined to leave my bed. I was able, however, to rise and go, as I have said, to Old Rogers’s cottage.
But when I came home, I could no longer conceal from myself that I was in danger of a return of my last attack. I had been sitting for hours in wet clothes, with my boots full of water, and now I had to suffer for it. But as I was not to blame in the matter, and had no choice offered me whether I should be wet or dry while I sat by the dying woman, I felt no depression at the prospect of the coming illness. Indeed, I was too much depressed from other causes, from mental strife and hopelessness, to care much whether I was well or ill. I could have welcomed death in the mood in which I sometimes felt myself during the next few days, when I was unable to leave my bed, and knew that Captain Everard was at the Hall, and knew nothing besides. For no voice reached me from that quarter any more than if Oldcastle Hall had been a region beyond the grave. Miss Oldcastle seemed to have vanished from my ken as much as Catherine Weir and Mrs Tomkins—yes, more—for there was only death between these and me; whereas, there was something far worse—I could not always tell what—that rose ever between Miss Oldcastle and myself, and paralysed any effort I might fancy myself on the point of making for her rescue.