ADAM turned his face towards Broxton and walked with his swiftest stride,
looking at his watch with the fear that Mr. Irwine might be gone out--hunting,
perhaps. The fear and haste together produced a state of strong excitement
before he reached the rectory gate, and outside it he saw the deep marks of a
recent hoof on the gravel.
But the hoofs were turned towards the gate, not away from it, and though there
was a horse against the stable door, it was not Mr. Irwine's: it had evidently had a
journey this morning, and must belong to some one who had come on business.
Mr. Irwine was at home, then; but Adam could hardly find breath and calmness to
tell Carroll that he wanted to speak to the rector. The double suffering of certain
and uncertain sorrow had begun to shake the strong man. The butler looked at
him wonderingly, as he threw himself on a bench in the passage and stared
absently at the clock on the opposite wall. The master had somebody with him,
he said, but he heard the study door open--the stranger seemed to be coming
out, and as Adam was in a hurry, he would let the master know at once.
Adam sat looking at the clock: the minute-hand was hurrying along the last five
minutes to ten with a loud, hard, indifferent tick, and Adam watched the
movement and listened to the sound as if he had had some reason for doing so.
In our times of bitter suffering there are almost always these pauses, when our
consciousness is benumbed to everything but some trivial perception or
sensation. It is as if semi-idiocy came to give us rest from the memory and the
dread which refuse to leave us in our sleep.
Carroll, coming back, recalled Adam to the sense of his burden. He was to go
into the study immediately. "I can't think what that strange person's come about,"
the butler added, from mere incontinence of remark, as he preceded Adam to the
door, "he's gone i' the dining-room. And master looks unaccountable--as if he
was frightened." Adam took no notice of the words: he could not care about other
people's business. But when he entered the study and looked in Mr. Irwine's
face, he felt in an instant that there was a new expression in it, strangely different
from the warm friendliness it had always worn for him before. A letter lay open on
the table, and Mr. Irwine's hand was on it, but the changed glance he cast on
Adam could not be owing entirely to preoccupation with some disagreeable
business, for he was looking eagerly towards the door, as if Adam's entrance
were a matter of poignant anxiety to him.
"You want to speak to me, Adam," he said, in that low constrainedly quiet tone
which a man uses when he is determined to suppress agitation. "Sit down here."
He pointed to a chair just opposite to him, at no more than a yard's distance from
his own, and Adam sat down with a sense that this cold manner of Mr. Irwine's