The Well - Beloved HTML version
'Alas For This Grey Shadow, Once A Man!'
In the month of November which followed Pierston was lying dangerously ill of a fever
at his house in London.
The funeral of the second Avice had happened to be on one of those drenching afternoons
of the autumn, when the raw rain flies level as the missiles of the ancient inhabitants
across the beaked promontory which has formed the scene of this narrative, scarcely
alighting except against the upright sides of things sturdy enough to stand erect. One
person only followed the corpse into the church as chief mourner, Jocelyn Pierston--
fickle lover in the brief, faithful friend in the long run. No means had been found of
communicating with Avice before the interment, though the death had been advertised in
the local and other papers in the hope that it might catch her eye.
So, when the pathetic procession came out of the church and moved round into the
graveyard, a hired vehicle from Budmouth was seen coming at great speed along the
open road from Top-o'-Hill. It stopped at the churchyard gate, and a young man and
woman alighted and entered, the vehicle waiting. They glided along the path and reached
Pierston's side just as the body was deposited by the grave.
He did not turn his head. He knew it was Avice, with Henri Leverre--by this time, he
supposed, her husband. Her remorseful grief, though silent, seemed to impregnate the
atmosphere with its heaviness. Perceiving that they had not expected him to be there
Pierston edged back; and when the service was over he kept still further aloof, an act of
considerateness which she seemed to appreciate.
Thus, by his own contrivance, neither Avice nor the young man held communication with
Jocelyn by word or by sign. After the burial they returned as they had come.
It was supposed that his exposure that day in the bleakest churchyard in Wessex, telling
upon a distracted mental and bodily condition, had thrown Pierston into the chill and
fever which held him swaying for weeks between life and death shortly after his return to
town. When he had passed the crisis, and began to know again that there was such a state
as mental equilibrium and physical calm, he heard a whispered conversation going on
around him, and the touch of footsteps on the carpet. The light in the chamber was so
subdued that nothing around him could be seen with any distinctness. Two living figures
were present, a nurse moving about softly, and a visitor. He discerned that the latter was
feminine, and for the time this was all.
He was recalled to his surroundings by a voice murmuring the inquiry: 'Does the light try