THE END OF ALL THINGS

We may have died in being born to earth
Perchance our dying is another birth.

The shriek was uttered by Patience Allerby, and when the whole
party, recovering from their surprise, went upstairs they found her
leaning against the door of the squire’s room, with pale face and
terrified-looking eyes. Beyond, half seen in the dim candlelight
which illuminated the room, lay a dark shapeless object on the floor.

There was no need to say what had happened, for in the air there was
that indescribable feeling which tells of the presence of the great
destroyer. Leaving Patience to the care of Beaumont, to whom she clung
with convulsive terror, Dr. Larcher reverently entered as he thought
the chamber of death. He bent down to the form lying so still on the
floor, and turned the face to the light with tender hand. It was
ghastly pale, and from the thin lips there flowed a thin stream of
blood; still the vicar saw at a glance that life yet remained, so
calling softly to Reginald and Dick, the three men lifted the body up
gently and placed it on the bed.

Beaumont had succeeded in somewhat pacifying Patience, and induced the
women to go downstairs while he sent for the doctor to examine the
sick man. They all re-assembled in the oak parlour, and terrified
faces and subdued whispers took the place of merry looks and jocund
laughter.

Attracted by the housekeeper’s shriek, Dr. Nestley now entered the
room, and proceeded to see what he could do towards reviving the
squire. Beaumont glanced keenly at him as he passed, but though his
face was pale and heavy-looking, still he was perfectly sober. He
caught the artist scrutinising him, and drawing himself up with an
angry frown, passed him by without a word.

“What is the matter, doctor?” asked the vicar anxiously, when the
young man had concluded his examination.

“Aneurism,” he replied briefly. “The body is thoroughly
debilitated–he has burst a main artery.”

“Is it his heart?” asked Reginald.

“If he had burst any artery in the vicinity of the heart, he would
have died at once–even now he cannot live very long–I expected
this?”

“What produced the rupture?”

“Some sudden emotion, I presume, or violent exercise–here comes the
housekeeper; she will tell us all about it.”

Patience, looking pale but composed, and in answer to the
interrogatories of the doctor, told the following story:

“The squire was quietly sleeping in bed,” she exclaimed calmly, “and I
fell asleep in the chair by the side of the bed–he must have arisen
and gone to his desk, for I was awakened by a fall, and saw him lying
on the floor. I was so startled that I cried out and you came up–I
know nothing more.”

Owing to the remedies which Dr. Nestley was applying, the sick man now
revived, and moaned feebly. Shortly afterwards, opening his eyes he
stared wildly at the figures surrounding his bed, and tried to speak,
but seemed unable to make any sound beyond an indistinct murmur.

Dr. Larcher came close to the bed, and bending down spoke distinctly
and slowly to the dying man.

“You are very ill,” he said in a pitying voice. “I hope you have made
your peace with heaven.”

With a superhuman effort Garsworth raised himself on his elbow, and
stretching out his hand pointed to the desk.

“In there,” he gasped. “Blake–there.”

The effort was too much for him, for with a choking cry he fell back
on the bed a corpse.

Nestley, starting to his feet, bent over the bed, and tearing open the
squire’s shirt, put his hand on his heart–it had ceased to beat.

“He is dead,” he said, in a coldly professional manner, “that last
effort killed him.”

“Dead!” echoed Patience, who was leaning against the curtains with
staring eyes and a white terrified face.

“Yes–dead,” repeated Dr. Larcher gravely. “We can do no good now,”
and followed by Reginald and Dick he left the room, wondering in his
own heart what the old man had meant by pointing at the desk while
pronouncing Blake’s name.

The melancholy news was conveyed to the terrified women downstairs,
and shortly afterwards everyone departed, leaving the inmates of the
Grange alone with its dead master. Una and Miss Cassy, stunned by the
suddenness of the event, retired early to bed, and Jellicks, with the
help of Patience, laid the corpse out on the bed ready for the
undertaker. Nestley went to his own room and solaced himself with
brandy; Patience remained by the side of the corpse to watch it during
the night, and over all the house there hung a shadow of fear and
dread which invested the place with awesome terror.

And that which once held the soul of Randal Garsworth lay on the bed
under the heavily-draped canopy–a still white-faced form with the
dead hands crossed on the dead breast, and on the white lips a
terrible smile. Candles burned on each side of the body with a sickly
light, and a woman with her face buried in her hands knelt praying for
the dead man’s soul.

“_Oh God who art the Judge of all have mercy upon the soul of this
wretched man_.”

Not a breath of air in the vastness of the room, no sound, no blaze of
light–only the pale glimmer of the candles hollowing out a gulf of
luminous light in the sombre blackness of the brooding night.

“_Oh God who art all powerful and just, let not the soul of this man
suffer for the sins of his life, for the mind which should have ruled
the soul was a wreck and incapable of so ruling_.”

Was there not a sneer upon the still features of the dead man at this
prayer for his misspent, useless life–he that despised prayer and
only looked upon his soul as useful to inhabit a new body so that he
could make it an instrument by which to enjoy the sensual things of
this earth.

Midnight, and the wind is rising–with querulous voice it sweeps
through the leafless trees and whistles through the chinks and
crannies of the old house, making the dim light of the candles flicker
and flare in the dense darkness. No prayer now sounds from the thin
lips of the watcher, for a sudden thought has darted through her
brain.

“_The letter for my son–I must get it from the desk_.”

She rises softly from her knees, and putting her hand under the pillow
whereon rests the head of the corpse, draws forth the keys of the dead
man, holding her breath meantime, fearful lest he should arise and lay
cold hands upon her. The keys chink musically in the silence, then
with stealthy stride and sound of sweeping dress, she crosses to the
desk, bent on obtaining the letter written by the squire to Reginald
Blake.

The minutes slowly pass, and the wind is still rising; now howling
furiously round the house, shaking the shutters and fluttering the
curtains as though wroth at witnessing the sacrilegious theft it is
powerless to prevent.

With the letter in her hand, the woman who has committed this crime
against the dead for the sake of her son, softly crosses the room
toward the bed, replaces the keys in their old place under the pillow,
and slipping the letter into her bosom, falls once more upon her knees
with tearful eyes and outstretched hands.

“_God! God! if I have sinned in this I pray for pardon, it is for my
son’s sake, oh God, not for my own_.”

Fearfully she looks at the frozen face, cold and still in the
glimmering light of the candles; the dead has not seen, the dead has
not heard–her crime is unknown to anyone on earth, but involuntarily
she looks upward as though dreading to see the all-seeing eye of God
burning menacingly through the gloom. Then with an effort she betakes
herself once more to prayer.

“_Oh God, pardon me for my sins, and pardon those of this poor soul
who has of late gone into Thy presence_.”

One sinner fresh from the committal of a crime praying for the soul of
another sinner.

Oh, the irony–the irony of the prayer.