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and thank her kindly for all favours, and Jim's too ?—though it seems to me as it's only half of Jim as is lying in that theer bed.”
It was indeed a very different form from that of the agile wellgrown youth of a few months ago, the best cricketer and fastest runner in the parish. Those active limbs were limp and helpless now; the poor thin hand that lay outside the coverlet had wasted to transparency, the sharp delicate features seemed carved in ivory, and the large eyes burned with unearthly fire as they turned on the parson that eager, wistful look which is too surely a forerunner of death.
Lexley was little given to weeping, and no stranger to the deathbeds of rich and poor, but he kept his tears back with an effort while the boy tried to thank him for coming, in the faint whispers of utter exhaustion.
“Father said as you wouldn't keep away,” gasped poor Jim, “an' I knowed your voice, sir, whiles you was a-talkin' to mother in the door. D'ye mind, sir, when us played Middleton Eleven last Plumpton feast ? Doctor he says as I'm bound to mend now the warm weather has set in ; but I'm thinking, sir, maybe I'll never play one of Mr. Dodge's slows again.”
This is no place in which to repeat the serious and well-chosen words in which the clergyman reminded him that the issues of life and death are with One of whom he had first heard at his mother's knee, before he went to Sunday school; that the true courage of manhood consists in accepting the award of that One for good and for evil without a murmur, professing only gratitude for the past, resignation for the present, and humble hope for the future ; that pain and sin are the very conditions of this short span men call existence; that life is but to do a day's work honestly, and death, to come home for a day's wages when the sun goes down-not as of right, but because of the great unspeakable price that has purchased all who bow the head and bend the knee.
Poor Jim listened as a wayfarer listens to the directions that must guide him through the wilderness. Though his breath came fainter and fainter, the clasp of his wan fingers lying in the parson's hand denoted rapt attention; and his mother observed that her son's eyes followed her movements through the room fondly, yet helplessly and without meaning, as they did when he was a rosy baby boy in his cradle. She never knew exactly how they became fixed and dim, for it was already twilight ere the faint pressure of that failing hand relaxed, and from the dark corner by the bedside came forth the parson's firm and serious voice, saying:
“Your son is dead, yet liveth; take comfort, therefore; come, kneel down and pray with me to God.”
The stars were out, and the last gleam of sunset had faded in the west, when Lexley started for his homeward walk, leaving in that humble cottage a dead son and a mourning mother. Mourning, yet not altogether without comfort and without hope. “At such times as these,” he thought, while he passed gently between the high luxuriant hedges, through all the wealth and fragrance of the summer night, “a man feels how little he can depend on his own strength, his own energy, when affliction attacks him by means of his affections, and in the person of another; then it is he must look upward for assistance from without, leaning confidently on the arm that cannot fail; trusting implicitly to the hand that is ever stretched, when all other hope has passed away. If I could only reproduce, in my sermon next Sunday, the scene I have witnessed even now, how many hearts could I touch, how many consciences could I rouse, how many souls could I awaken to the one great truth of which life and labour are but the daily expositions ! May God help me to do my duty by these poor people, if it be but in humble thanks for the lot he has given me—surely the happiest lot on earth! and if I should ever be stricken to the dust, for my many sins and shortcomings, may He give me strength to bear my chastisement, not with human pride, but Christian resignation !"
Even while he thus reflected, a shudder crept to his very marrow, and he walked fiercely on, for he dared not think of one possible affliction that, his rebellious heart whispered, neither hope nor faith could render him strong enough to endure.
Half-way down the hill under Oakley village, Lexley met a slowly moving figure, looming large and square in the darkness. He recognised it by the gun on its shoulder for the bereaved father of poor Jim Loder. The keeper came on with firm dogged steps, and would have passed without speaking, but that Lexley again stood in his path.
“What's up?" ,exclaimed the old man, fiercely. “Oh! it's you, Mr. Lexley. Good night, sir.” But he stopped and faced round, letting the butt of his gun rest on the ground, and trembling in every limb.
“God's will be done !” said the parson, taking his hat off and looking reverently up towards the stars. Say the words after me, Loder, and go straight home. There are others need comfort, as well as you."
"God's will be done!" repeated the old man, in a broken voice, and moved on without another word; but to Lexley, looking after him through the dusk, it seemed that his gait was already enfeebled and his stature shrunken by a span.
And now our parson increased his pace, setting himself resolutely to get home. In honest truth he was longing for the restorative of his wife's sweet smile and kindly greeting ; nor, with the healthy appetite of a strong active man, was the prospect of dinner, at this late hour, by any means diepleasing. His spirits rose as he neared his own dwelling. He had come from a scene of solemn and sacred sorrow, but he felt he had done his duty, and however sympathetic a man's heart may be, the afflictions of others cannot affect it like its own. By the
time he reached the stile, now scarcely visible in the darkness, at which Laura turned back in the afternoon, he could have kissed the ground she had trodden, could have run, or leapt, or sung aloud, or committed any other absurdity, for very joy.
Nearing the turn of a lane that led to Oakley Station, his ear caught the roll of wheels, and a hundred yards farther on he recognised the broad grey back of Peter trotting merrily home with the basket carriage. His servant, recognising him, pulled up and touched his hat.
"Where thewhere on earth have you been at this time of night?” asked the clergyman, running over a thousand wild speculations in his mind to account for this apparition.
“Oakley Station,"answered the groom, who was a man of few words, handing his master the reins.
“And who sent you to Oakley Station ? Go on, Peter,” continued the clergyman.
“Missus drove there to catch the train, and I was to bring the carriage back and let you know," was the answer.
It was lucky for Peter that his trotting powers, as I have already stated, were of the swiftest. In a very few minutes he stood at the door of the parsonage, untouched by the whip, but blowing hard and covered with lather; while Lexley, white and scared, rushed into the drawing-room, looking about for the note he felt sure his wife must have written to explain her departure.
Here he found Perigord, calmly waiting for dinner, the less impatiently that at six o'clock he had fortified nature with a heavy tea.
His composure acted as a sedative. “I've a message for you, sir, from Mrs. Lexley. She's off to London-went by the 7.50. She is to write and tell you all about it. I hope there's not much the matter, but she looked very pale when she started."
“ Matter! pale!” gasped the other. “She's not ill, is she ?"
"Neuralgia,” answered the young gentleman. “Subject to it, she said, and gone off to the only man in London who can do any good. Squirts something into the nerve. My sister Jane has it too, but they give her port wine and sandwiches."
The explanation was so far satisfactory that Lexley sat down to dinner reassured. The whole business, though unusual, seemed natural enough, and he was conscious of no other feeling than a vague surprise when his pupil, rising from the table, observed meditatively, "That prowling vagabond was about again this afternoon, and, would you believe it, sir? the scoundrel had the impudence to stop Mrs. Lexley's carriage and speak to her, as she drove out at the gate !"
HOCKED to find how late it was when she awoke Patricia hurried
over her dressing, afraid of having kept her uncle waiting for breakfast; which was one of the domestic offences he found it hard to forgive. The temper of the commander still clung to him, and with the kindest heart in the world he had one of the tightest hands when he exercised any discipline at all. He was always captain in his own ship, he used to say, and always intended to be ; and if his laws were few they were positive.
Patricia however was needlessly alarmed. When she got downstairs, full an hour after her usual time, she found that her uncle had not yet risen. She was glad of this as it enabled her to help Sarah with the breakfast; and with a womanly instinct of the right sort she took pains to make it a breakfast of special niceness, in reference to her uncle's fatigue and seizure of the night before. But though it took rather a long time to get ready, still the Captain, usually so punctual and so early, was not astir. She went up to his room and knocked at the door. There was no
She knocked again ; still no answer. Again and again ; each time louder than before as the imperiousness of fear made itself felt. And then, holding her breath for she knew not what unspoken dread, she opened the door and went in.
On the bed lay the old man still in the wet clothes of the evening before. He had evidently flung himself there, weary and exhausted, when Gordon had left him ; and so had fallen asleep. Asleep? Was that white face sleeping ? When she took his hand, and it hung so coldly strange and still in hers—when she kissed his face and found that so cold too, so rigid underneath the skin, the glassy eyes not
quite closed, the mouth opened, the jaw dropped-was that sleep ? Was it not rather the thing she had seen only a day ago? It was Death ; and she knew it.
Soon the servant came hurrying up to her loud call; and then the doctor from St. John's, who happened to be passing through the village at the moment, was brought in; and in less than ten minutes the house downstairs was thronged with eager questioners crowding up to hear the news, which had spread as if the birds of the air had carried it, confirmed at the fountain head. It was like a social earthquake in the village; and even brave men felt scared when they saw the cottage flag floating half-mast high-the coastguardsman who came in had done that; it would have been shameful and indelicate else, as bad as a piano playing, or the first Sunday at church in bright colours—and heard that the fine old captain who was like a father in the place, had been found dead in his bed—God save his soul alive !—and that a life which looked as if it had had many years yet to run was cut short just when it was most wanted. For the fate of the poor fatherless and motherless girl, whom they had seen grow up among them like one of their own, touched them all with pity; and many a man's eyes were moist that day, and many a woman felt her mother's heart ache with pain, for the bright and friendly,“ maid ” who had always been the first to lend a helping hand when a neighbour was down; but who now wanted a stronger hand to help her than any to be found in Barsands.
Whether she was pitied or deserted Patricia neither know nor for the moment cared. She would not leave the room where her dead uncle lay, and she would not let go his hand. She did not speak nor cry nor stir, but stood quite still with a dazed kind of air, looking at him. Only once, when the doctor handled him as she thought roughly, she put her arms over him in the manner of protection, saying, “Don't do that you will hurt him.”
She could not realise the fact that this body, this person of the one she had loved so tenderly and lived with so long was no more now than the stones in the fields or the wood in the forest. She was intellectually conscious that he was dead, but she had still the feeling that he felt and saw and understood though he was not able to speak to her, and that she must take care of him against those who did not love him as she loved him. But indeed she had not much conscious thought of any kind. She had only a general sense of darkness and a dull kind of pain, mixed up with a mocking and incongruous activity of eyesight that seemed half sacrilegious, as when she found herself counting the worn buttons of his waistcoat and the stripes on his grey flannel shirt.
The doctor spoke to her, and tried to reason with her; but though she heard his voice clearly enough, she did not understand what he