Chapter 71

THE DULL, red glow of a wood fire—for no lamp or candle burnt within the room—showed him a figure seated on the hearth with its back towards him, bending over the fitful light. The attitude was that of one who sought the heat. It was, and yet was not. The stooping posture and the cowering form were there, but no hands were stretched out to meet the grateful warmth, no shrug or shiver compared its luxury with the piercing cold outside. With limbs huddled together, head bowed down, arms crossed upon the breast, and fingers tightly clenched, it rocked to and fro upon its seat without a moment’s pause, accompanying the action with the mournful sound he had heard.

The heavy door had closed behind him on his entrance, with a crash that made him start. The figure neither spoke nor turned to look, nor gave in any other way the faintest sign of having heard the noise. The form was that of an old man, his white head akin in colour to the mouldering embers upon which he gazed. He, and the failing light and dying fire, the time-worn room, the solitude, the wasted life, and gloom, were all in fellowship. Ashes, and dust, and ruin!

Kit tried to speak, and did pronounce some words, though what they were he scarcely knew. Still the same terrible low cry went on—still the same rocking in the chair—the same stricken figure was there, unchanged and heedless of his presence.

He had his hand upon the latch, when something in the form—distinctly seen as one log broke and fell, and, as it fell, blazed up—arrested it. He returned to where he had stood before—advanced a pace—another—another still. Another, and he saw the face. Yes! Changed as it was, he knew it well.

‘Master!’ he cried, stooping on one knee and catching at his hand. ‘Dear master. Speak to me!’

The old man turned slowly towards him; and muttered in a hollow voice,

‘This is another!—How many of these spirits there have been tonight!’

‘No spirit, master. No one but your old servant. You know me now, I am sure? Miss Nell—where is she—where is she?’

‘They all say that!’ cried the old man. ‘They all ask the same question. A spirit!’

‘Where is she?’ demanded Kit. ‘Oh tell me but that—but that, dear master!’

‘She is asleep—yonder—in there.’

‘Thank God!’

‘Ay! Thank God!’ returned the old man. ‘I have prayed to Him, many, and many, and many a livelong night, when she has been asleep, He knows. Hark! Did she call?’

‘I heard no voice.’

‘You did. You hear her now. Do you tell me that you don’t hear that?’

He started up, and listened again.

‘Nor that?’ he cried, with a triumphant smile, ‘Can anybody know that voice so well as I! Hush! hush!’

Motioning to him to be silent, he stole away into another chamber. After a short absence (during which he could be heard to speak in a softened soothing tone) he returned, bearing in his hand a lamp.

‘She is still asleep,’ he whispered. ‘You were right. She did not call—unless she did so in her slumber. She has called to me in her sleep before now, Sir; as I sat by, watching, I have seen her lips move, and

  By PanEris using Melati.

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