See here--these shoes--how worn they are--she kept them to remind her of our last long journey. You see where the little feet went bare upon the ground. They told me, afterwards, that the stones had cut and bruised them. She never told me that. No, no, God bless her! and, I have remembered since, she walked behind me, sir, that I might not see how lame she was--but yet she had my hand in hers, and seemed to lead me still.'
He pressed them to his lips, and having carefully put them back again, went on communing with himself--looking wistfully from time to time towards the chamber he had lately visited.
'She was not wont to be a lie-abed; but she was well then. We must have patience. When she is well again, she will rise early, as she used to do, and ramble abroad in the healthy morning time. I often tried to track the way she had gone, but her small footstep left no print upon the dewy ground, to guide me. Who is that? Shut the door. Quick!--Have we not enough to do to drive away that marble cold, and keep her warm!'
The door was indeed opened, for the entrance of Mr Garland and his friend, accompanied by two other persons. These were the schoolmaster, and the bachelor. The former held a light in his hand. He had, it seemed, but gone to his own cottage to replenish the exhausted lamp, at the moment when Kit came up and found the old man alone.
He softened again at sight of these two friends, and, laying aside the angry manner--if to anything so feeble and so sad the term can be applied--in which he had spoken when the door opened, resumed his former seat, and subsided, by little and little into the old action, and the old, dull, wandering sound.
Of the strangers, he took no heed whatever. He had seen them, but appeared quite incapable of interest or curiosity. The younger brother stood apart. The bachelor drew a chair towards the old man, and sat down close beside him. After a long silence, he ventured to speak.
'Another night, and not in bed!' he said softly; 'I hoped you would be more mindful of your promise to me. Why do you not take some rest?'
'Sleep has left me,' returned the old man. 'It is all with her!'
'It would pain her very much to know that you were watching thus,' said the bachelor. 'You would not give her pain?'
'I am not so sure of that, if it would only rouse her. She has slept so very long. And yet I am rash to say so. It is a good and happy sleep--eh?'
'Indeed it is,' returned the bachelor. 'Indeed, indeed, it is!'
'That's well!--and the waking--' faltered the old man.
'Happy too. Happier than tongue can tell, or heart of man conceive.'
They watched him as he rose and stole on tiptoe to the other chamber where the lamp had been replaced. They listened as he spoke again within its silent walls. They looked into the faces of each other, and no man's cheek was free from tears. He came back, whispering that she was still asleep, but that he thought she had moved. It was her hand, he said--a little--a very, very little-- but he was pretty sure she had moved it--perhaps in seeking his. He had known her do that, before now, though in the deepest sleep the while. And when he had said this, he dropped into his chair again, and clasping his hands above his head, uttered a cry never to be forgotten.
The poor schoolmaster motioned to the bachelor that he would come on the other side, and speak to him. They gently unlocked his fingers, which he had twisted in his grey hair, and pressed them in their own.
'He will hear me,' said the schoolmaster, 'I am sure. He will hear either me or you if we beseech him. She would, at all times.'
'I will hear any voice she liked to hear,' cried the old man. 'I love all she loved!'
'I know you do,' returned the schoolmaster. 'I am certain of it. Think of her; think of all the sorrows and afflictions you have shared together; of all the trials, and all the peaceful pleasures, you have jointly known.'
'I do. I do. I think of nothing else.'
'I would have you think of nothing else to-night--of nothing but those things which will soften your heart, dear friend, and open it to old affections and old times.