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   Chapter 2 No.2

Old Fires and Profitable Ghosts: A Book of Stories By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 4249

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In this unhappy condition of mind, then, I was lying in my library chair here at Sevenhays, at two o'clock on the morning of January 4th. I had just finished another reading of the Tenth Vision and had tossed my book into the lap of an armchair opposite. Fire and lamp were burning brightly. The night outside was still and soundless, with a touch of frost.

I lay there, retracing in thought the circumstances of Harry's last parting from me, and repeating to myself a scrap here and there from the three letters he wrote on his way-the last of them, full of high spirits, received a full three weeks after the telegram which announced his death. There was a passage in this last letter describing a wonderful ride he had taken alone and by moonlight on the desert; a ride (he protested) which wanted nothing of perfect happiness but me, his friend, riding beside him to share his wonder. There was a sentence which I could not recall precisely, and I left my chair and was crossing the room towards the drawer in the writing-table where I kept his letters, when I heard a trampling of hoofs on the gravel outside, and then my Christian name called-with distinctness, but not at all loudly.

I went to the window, which was unshuttered; drew up the blind and flung up the sash. The moon, in its third quarter and about an hour short of its meridian, shone over the deodars upon the white gravel. And there, before the front door, sat Harry on his sorrel mare Vivandiere, holding my own Grey Sultan ready bridled and saddled. He was dressed in his old khaki riding suit, and his face, as he sat askew in his saddle and looked up towards my window, wore its habitual and happy smile.

Now, call this and what follows a dream, vision, hallucination, what you will; but understand, please, that from the first moment, so far as I considered the matter at all, I had never the least illusion that this was Harry in flesh and blood. I knew quite well all the while that Harry was dead and his body in his grave. But, soul or phantom- whatever relation to Harry this might bear-it had come to me, and the great joy of that w

as enough for the time. There let us leave the question. I closed the window, went upstairs to my dressing-room, drew on my riding-boots and overcoat, found cap, gloves, and riding-crop, and descended to the porch.

Harry, as I shall call him, was still waiting there on the off side of Grey Sultan, the farther side from the door. There could be no doubt, at any rate, that the grey was real horseflesh and blood, though he seemed unusually quiet after two days in stall. Harry freed him as I mounted, and we set off together at a walk, which we kept as far as the gate.

Outside we took the westward road, and our horses broke into a trot. As yet we had not exchanged a word; but now he asked a question or two about his people and his friends; kindly, yet most casually, as one might who returns after a week's holidaying. I answered as well as I could, with trivial news of their health. His mother had borne the winter better than usual-to be sure, there had been as yet no cold weather to speak of; but she and Ethel intended, I believed, to start for the south of France early in February. He inquired about you. His comments were such as a man makes on hearing just what he expects to hear, or knows beforehand. And for some time it seemed to be tacitly taken for granted between us that I should ask him no questions.

"As for me-" I began, after a while.

He checked the mare's pace a little. "I know," he said, looking straight ahead between her ears; then, after a pause, "it has been a bad time for you, You are in a bad way altogether. That is why I came."

"But it was for you!" I blurted out. "Harry, if only I had known why you were taken-and what it was to you!"

He turned his face to me with the old confident comforting smile.

"Don't you trouble about that. That's nothing to make a fuss about.

Death?" he went on musing-our horses had fallen to a walk again-

"It looks you in the face a moment: you put out your hands: you touch-

and so it is gone. My dear boy, it isn't for us that you need worry."

"For whom, then?"

"Come," said he, and he shook Vivandiere into a canter.

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