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It was five hours later. Mrs. Nagle had bidden her reverend guest good night, and she was now moving about her large, barely furnished bedchamber, waiting for her husband to come upstairs.
The hours which had followed James Mottram's departure had seemed intolerably long. Catherine felt as if she had gone through some terrible physical exertion which had left her worn out—stupefied. And yet she could not rest. Even now her day was not over; Charles often grew restless and talkative at night. He and Mr. Dorriforth were no doubt still sitting talking together downstairs.
Mrs. Nagle could hear her husband's valet moving about in the next room, and the servant's proximity disturbed her.
She waited awhile and then went and opened | | 170 the door of the dressing-room. "You need not sit up, Collins," she said.
The man looked vaguely disturbed. "I fear that Mr. Nagle, madam, has gone out of doors," he said.
Catherine felt dismayed. The winter before Charles had once stayed out nearly all night.
"Go you to bed, Collins," she said. "I will wait up till Mr. Nagle comes in, and I will make it right with him."
He looked at her doubtingly. Was it possible that Mrs. Nagle was unaware of how much worse than usual his master had been the last few days ?
"I fear Mr. Nagle is not well to-day," he ventured. "He seems much disturbed to-night."
"Your master is disturbed because Mr. Mottram is again leaving England for the Indies." Catherine forced herself to say the words. She was dully surprised to see how quietly news so momentous to her was received by her faithful servant.
"That may be it," said the man consideringly, "but I can't help thinking that the master is still much concerned about the railroad. I fear that he has gone down to the wood to-night."
Catherine was startled. "Oh, surely he would | | 171 not do that, Collins?" She added in a lower tone, "I myself locked the orchard gate."
"If that is so," he answered, obviously relieved, "then with your leave, madam, I'll be off to bed."
Mrs. Nagle went back into her room, and sat down by the fire, and then, sooner than she had expected to do so, she heard a familiar sound. It came from the chapel, for Charles was fond of using that strange and secret entry into his house.
She got up and quietly opened her bedroom door.
From the hall below was cast up the dim light of the oil-lamp which always burnt there at night, and suddenly Catherine saw her husband emerge from the chapel passage, and begin walking slowly round the opposite side of the gallery. She watched him with languid curiosity.
Charles Nagle was treading softly, his head bent as if in thought. Suddenly he stayed his steps by a half-moon table on which stood a large Chinese bowl filled with pot-pourri; and into this he plunged his hands, seeming to lave them in the dry rose-leaves. Catherine felt no surprise, she was so used to his strange ways; and more than once he had hidden things—magpie fashion—in that great bowl. | | 172 She turned and closed her door noiselessly; Charles much disliked being spied on.
At last she heard him go into his dressing-room. Then came the sounds of cupboard doors being flung open, and the hurried pouring out of water. . . . But long before he could have had time to undress, she heard the familiar knock.
She said feebly, "Come in," and the door opened.
It was as she had feared; her husband had no thought, no intention, of going yet to bed. Not only was he fully dressed, but the white evening waistcoat he had been wearing had been changed by him within the last few moments for a waistcoat she had not seen before, though she had heard of its arrival from London. It was of cashmere, the latest freak of fashion. She also saw with surprise that his nankeen trousers were stained, as if he had been kneeling on damp ground. He looked very hot, his wavy hair lay damply on his brow, and he appeared excited, oppressively alive.
"Catherine!" he exclaimed, hurrying up to the place where she was standing near the fire. "You will bear witness that I was always and most positively averse to the railroad being brought here?" He did not wait for her to | | 173 answer him. "Did I not always say that trouble would come of it—trouble to us all? Yet sometimes it's an ill thing to be proved right."
"Indeed it is, Charles," she answered gently. "But let us talk of this to-morrow. It's time for bed, my dear, and I am very weary."
He was now standing by her, staring down into the fire.
Suddenly he turned and seized her left arm. He brought her unresisting across the room, then dragged aside the heavy yellow curtains which had been drawn before the central window.
"Look over there, Catherine," he said meaningly. "Can you see the Eype? The moon gives but little light to-night, but the stars are bright. I can see a glimmer at yon window. They must be still waiting for James to come home."
"I see the glimmer you mean," she said dully. "No doubt they leave a lamp burning all night, as we do. James must have got home hours ago, Charles." She saw that the cuff of her husband's coat was also covered with dark, damp stains, and again she wondered uneasily what he had been doing out of doors.
"Catherine?" Charles Nagle turned her round, ungently, and forced her to look up | | 174 into his face. "Have you ever thought what 'twould be like to live at the Eype?"
The question startled her. She roused herself to refute what she felt to be an unworthy accusation. "No, Charles," she said, looking at him steadily. "God is my witness that at no time did I think of living at the Eype! Such a wish never came to me——"
"Nor to me!" he cried, "nor to me, Catherine! All the long years that James Mottram was in Jamaica the thought never once came to me that he might die, and I survive him. After all we were much of an age, he had but two years the advantage of me. I always thought that the boy—my aunt's son, curse him!—would get it all. Then, had I thought of it—and I swear I never did think of it—I should have told myself that any day James might bring a wife to the Eype——"
He was staring through the leaded panes with an intent, eager gaze. "It is a fine house, Catherine, and commodious. Larger, airier than ours—though perhaps colder," he added thoughtfully. "Cold I always found it in winter when I used to stay there as a boy—colder than this house. You prefer Edgecombe, Catherine? If you were given a choice, is it here that you would live?" He looked at her, as if impatient for an answer.| | 175
"Every stone of Edgecombe, our home, is dear to me," she said solemnly. "I have never admired the Eype. It is too large, too cold for my taste. It stands too much exposed to the wind."
"It does! it does!" There was a note of regret in his voice. He let the curtain fall and looked about him rather wildly.
"And now, Charles," she said, "shall we not say our prayers and retire to rest."
"If I had only thought of it," he said, "I might have said my prayers in the chapel. But there was much to do. I thought of calling you, Catherine, for you make a better sacristan than I. Then I remembered Boney—poor little Boney crushed by the miller's dray—and how you cried all night, and that though I promised you a far finer, cleverer dog than that poor old friend had ever been. Collins said, ' Why, sir, you should have hid the old dog's death from the mistress till the morning!' A worthy fellow, Collins. He meant no disrespect to me. At that time, d'you remember, Collins had only been in my service a few months?"
It was an hour later. From where she lay in bed, Catherine Nagle with dry, aching eyes stared into the fire, watching the wood embers | | 176 turn from red to grey. By her side, his hand in hers, Charles slept the dreamless, heavy slumber of a child.
Scarcely breathing, in her anxiety lest he should wake, she loosened her hand, and with a quick movement slipped out of bed. The fire was burning low, but Catherine saw everything in the room very clearly, and she threw over her night-dress a long cloak, and wound about her head the scarf which she had worn during her walk to the wood.
It was not the first time Mrs. Nagle had risen thus in the still night and sought refuge from herself and from her thoughts in the chapel; and her husband had never missed her from his side.
As she crept round the dimly lit gallery she passed by the great bowl of pot-pourri by which Charles Nagle had lingered, and there came to her the thought that it might perchance be well for her to discover, before the servants should have a chance of doing so, what he had doubtless hidden there.
Catherine plunged both her hands into the scented rose-leaves, and she gave a sudden cry of pain—for her fingers had closed on the sharp edge of a steel blade. Then she drew out a narrow damascened knife, one which | | 177 her husband, taken by its elegant shape, had purchased long before in Italy.
Mrs. Nagle's brow furrowed in vexation—Collins should have put the dangerous toy out of his master's reach. Slipping the knife into the deep pocket of her cloak, she hurried on into the unlit passage leading to the chapel.
Save for the hanging lamp, which since Mr. Dorriforth had said Mass there that morning signified the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the chapel should have been in darkness. But as Catherine passed through the door she saw, with sudden, uneasy amazement, the farther end of the chapel in a haze of brightness.
Below the altar, striking upwards from the floor of the sanctuary, gleamed a corona of light. Charles—she could not for a moment doubt that it was Charles's doing—had moved the six high, heavy silver candlesticks which always stood on either side of the altar, and had placed them on the ground.
There, in a circle, the wax candles blazed, standing sentinel-wise about a dark, round object which was propped up on a pile of altar-linen carefully arranged to support it.
Fear clutched at Catherine's heart—such fear as even in the early days of Charles's madness | | 178 had never clutched it. She was filled with a horrible dread, and a wild, incredulous dismay.
What was the Thing, at once so familiar and so terribly strange, that Charles had brought out of the November night and placed with so much care below the altar?
But the thin flames of the candles, now shooting up, now guttering low, blown on by some invisible current of strong air, gave no steady light.
Staying still close to the door, she sank down on her knees, and desiring to shut out, obliterate, the awful sight confronting her, she pressed both her hands to her eyes. But that availed her nothing.
Suddenly there rose up before Catherine Nagle a dreadful scene of that great Revolution drama of which she had been so often told as a child. She saw, with terrible distinctness, the severed heads of men and women borne high on iron pikes, and one of these blood-streaked, livid faces was that of James Mottram—the wide-open, sightless eyes, his eyes. . . .
There also came back to her as she knelt there, shivering with cold and anguish, the story of a French girl of noble birth who, having bought her lover's head from the executioner, had walked with it in her arms | | 179 to the village near Paris where stood his deserted chateau.
Slowly she rose from her knees, and with her hands thrown out before her, she groped her way to the wall and there crept along, as if a precipice lay on her other side.
At last she came to the narrow oak door which gave on to the staircase leading into the open air. The door was ajar; it was from there that blew the current of air which caused those thin, fantastic flames to flare and gutter in the awful stillness.
She drew the door to, and went on her way, so round to the altar. In the now steadier light Catherine saw that the large missal lay open at the Office for the Dead.
She laid her hands with a blind instinct upon the altar, and felt a healing touch upon their palms. Henceforth—and Catherine Nagle was fated to live many long years—she remained persuaded that it was then there had come to her a shaft of divine light piercing the dark recesses of her soul. For it was at that moment that there came to her the conviction, and one which never faltered, that Charles Nagle had done no injury to James Mottram. And there also came to her then the swift understanding of what others would believe, were there to be found in the private chapel of Edgecombe | | 180 Manor that which now lay on the ground behind her, close to her feet.
So understanding, Catherine suddenly saw the way open before her, and the dread thing which she must do if Charles were to be saved from a terrible suspicion—one which would undoubtedly lead to his being taken away from her and from all that his poor, atrophied heart held dear, to be asylumed.
With steps that did not falter, Catherine Nagle went behind the altar into the little sacristy, there to seek in the darkness an altar-cloth.
Holding the cloth up before her face she went back into the lighted chapel, and kneeling down, she uncovered her face and threw the cloth over what lay before her.
And then Catherine's teeth began to chatter, and a mortal chill overtook her. She was being faced by a new and to her a most dread enemy, for till to-night she and that base physical fear which is the coward's foe had never met. Pressing her hands together, she whispered the short, simple prayer for the Faithful Departed that she had said so often and, she now felt, so unmeaningly. Even as she uttered the familiar words, base Fear slunk away, leaving in his place her soul's old companion, Courage, and his attendant, Peace.| | 181
She rose to her feet, and opening wide her eyes forced herself to think out what must be done by her in order that no trace of Charles's handiwork should remain in the chapel.
Snuffing out the wicks, Catherine lifted the candlesticks from the ground and put them back in their accustomed place upon the altar. Then, stooping, she forced herself to wrap up closely in the altar-cloth that which must be her burden till she found James Mottram's headless body where Charles had left it, and placing that same precious burden within the ample folds of her cloak, she held it with her left hand and arm closely pressed to her bosom. . . .
With her right hand she gathered up the pile of stained altar-linen from the ground, and going once more into the sacristy she thrust it into the oak chest in which were kept the Lenten furnishings of the altar. Having done that, and walking slowly lest she should trip and fall, she made her way to the narrow door Charles had left open to the air, and going down the steep stairway was soon out of doors in the dark and windy night.
Charles had been right, the moon gave but little light; enough, however, so she told herself, for the accomplishment of her task.
She sped swiftly along the terrace, keeping | | 182 close under the house, and then more slowly walked down the stone steps where last time she trod them Mottram had been her companion, his living lips as silent as were his dead lips now.
The orchard gate was wide open, and as she passed through there came to Catherine Nagle the knowledge why Charles on his way back from the wood had not even latched it; he also, when passing through it, had been bearing a burden....
She walked down the field path; and when she came to the steep place where Mottram had told her that he was going away, the tears for the first time began running down Catherine's face. She felt again the sharp, poignant pain which his then cold and measured words had dealt her, and the blow this time fell on a bruised heart. With a convulsive gesture she pressed more closely that which she was holding to her desolate breast.
At night the woodland is strangely, curiously alive. Catherine shuddered as she heard the stuffless sounds, the tiny rustlings and burrowings of those wild, shy creatures whose solitude had lately been so rudely invaded, and who now of man's night made their day. Their myriad presence made her human loneliness more intense than it had been in the open | | 183 fields, and as she started walking by the side of the iron rails, her eyes fixed on the dark drift of dead leaves which dimly marked the path, she felt solitary indeed, and beset with vague and fearsome terrors.
At last she found herself nearing the end of the wood. Soon would come the place where what remained of the cart-track struck sharply to the left, up the hill towards the Eype.
It was there, close to the open, that Catherine Nagle's quest ended; and that she was able to accomplish the task she had set herself, of making that which Charles had rendered incomplete, complete as men, considering the flesh, count completeness.
Within but a few yards of safety, James Mottram had met with death; a swift, merciful death, due to the negligence of an engine-driver not only new to his work but made blindly merry by Mottram's gift of ale.
Charles Nagle woke late on the morning of St. Catherine's Day, and the pale November sun fell on the fully dressed figures of his wife and Mr. Dorriforth standing by his bedside.
But Charles, absorbed as always in himself, saw nothing untoward in their presence.
"I had a dream!" he exclaimed. "A most horrible and gory dream this night! I | | 184 thought I was in the wood; James Mottram lay before me, done to death by that puffing devil we saw slithering by so fast. His head nearly severed—à la guillotine, you understand, my love?—from his poor body——" There was a curious, secretive smile on Charles Nagle's pale, handsome face.
Catherine Nagle gave a cry, a stifled shriek of horror.
The priest caught her by the arm and led her to the couch which stood across the end of the bed.
"Charles," he said sternly, "this is no light matter. Your dream—there's not a doubt of it—was sent you in merciful preparation for the awful truth. Your kinsman, your almost brother, Charles, was found this morning in the wood, dead as you saw him in your dream."
The face of the man sitting up in bed stiffened—was it with fear or grief? "They found James Mottram dead?" he repeated with an uneasy glance in the direction of the couch where crouched his wife. "And his head, most reverend sir—what of his head?"
"James Mottram's body was terribly mangled. But his head," answered the priest solemnly, "was severed from his body, as you saw it in your dream, Charles. A strangely clean cut, it seems——"| | 185
"Ay," said Charles Nagle. "That was in my dream too; if I said nearly severed, I said wrong."
Catherine was now again standing by the priest's side.
"Charles," she said gravely, "you must now get up; Mr. Dorriforth is only waiting for you, to say Mass for James's soul."
She made the sign of the cross, and then, with her right hand shading her sunken eyes, she went on, "My dear, I entreat you to tell no one—not even faithful Collins—of this awful dream. We want no such tale spread about the place——"
She looked at the old priest entreatingly, and he at once responded. " Catherine is right, Charles. We of the Faith should be more careful with regard to such matters than are the ignorant and superstitious."
But he was surprised to hear the woman by his side say insistently, "Charles, if only to please me, vow that you will keep most secret this dreadful dream. I fear that if it should come to your Aunt Felwake's ears——"
"That I swear it shall not," said Charles sullenly.
And he kept his word.
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