THE next night, as if by a common understanding, for it was without word spoken, the three met again in the housekeeper's room, where she had supper waiting. Of business nothing was said until that was over. Mistress Brookes told them two or three of the stories of which she had so many, and Donal recounted one or two of those that floated about his country-side.
|I've been thinkin',| said mistress Brookes at length, |seein' it's a bonny starry nicht, we couldna do better than lift an' lay doon this varra nicht. The hoose is asleep.|
|What do you say to that place in the park where was once a mausoleum?| said Donal.
|It's the varra place! -- an' the sooner the better -- dinna ye think, my lady?|
Arctura with a look referred the question to Donal.
|Surely,| he answered. |But will there not be some preparations to make?|
|There's no need o' mony!| returned the housekeeper. |I'll get a fine auld sheet, an' intil 't we'll put the remains, an' row them up, an' carry them to their hame. I'll go an' get it, my lady. -- But wouldna 't be better for you and me, sir, to get a' that dune by oorsel's? My leddy could j'in us whan we cam up.|
|She wouldn't like to be left here alone. There is nothing to be called fearsome!|
|Nothing at all,| said Arctura.
|The forces of nature,| said Donal, |are constantly at work to destroy the dreadful, and restore the wholesome. It is but a few handfuls of clean dust.|
The housekeeper went to one of her presses, and brought out a sheet. Donal put a plaid round lady Arctura. They went up to her room, and so down to the chapel. Half-way down the narrow descent mistress Brookes murmured, |Eh, sirs!| and said no more.
Each carried a light, and the two could see the chapel better. A stately little place it was: when the windows were unmasked, it would be beautiful!
They stood for some moments by the side of the bed, regarding in silence. Seldom sure had bed borne one who slept so long! -- one who, never waking might lie there still! When they spoke it was in whispers.
|How are we to manage it, mistress Brookes?| said Donal.
|Lay the sheet handy, alang the side o' the bed, maister Grant, an' I s' lay in the dist, han'fu' by han'fu'. I hae that respec' for the deid, I hae no difficlety aboot han'lin' onything belongin' to them.|
|Gien it hadna been that he tuik it again,| said Donal, |the Lord's ain body wad hae come to this.|
As he spoke he laid the sheet on the bed, and began to lay in it the dry dust and air-wasted bones, handling them as reverently as if the spirit had but just departed. Mistress Brookes would have prevented Arctura, but she insisted on having her share in the burying of her own: who they were God knew, but they should be hers anyhow, and one day she would know! For to fancy we go into the other world a set of spiritual moles burrowing in the dark of a new and unknown existence, is worthy only of such as have a lifeless Law to their sire. We shall enter it as children with a history, as children going home to a long line of living ancestors, to develop closest relations with them. She would yet talk, live face to face, with those whose dust she was now lifting in her two hands to restore it to its dust. Then they carried the sheet to the altar, and thence swept into it every little particle, back to its mother dust. That done, Donal knotted the sheet together, and they began to look around them.
Desirous of discovering where the main entrance to the chapel had been, Donal spied under the windows a second door, and opened it with difficulty. It disclosed a passage below the stair, three steps lower than the floor of the chapel, parallel with the wall, and turning, at right angles under the gallery. Here he saw signs of an obliterated door in the outer wall, but could examine no farther for the present.
In the meantime his companions had made another sort of discovery: near the foot of the bed was a little table, on which were two drinking vessels, apparently of pewter, and a mouldering pack of cards! Card-playing and the hidden room did hold some relation with each other! The cards and the devil were real!
Donal took up the sheet -- a light burden, and Arctura led the way. Arrived at her room, they went softly across to the door opening on Donal's stair -- not without fear of the earl, whom indeed they might meet anywhere -- and by that descending, reached the open air, and took their way down the terraces and through the park to the place of burial.
It was a frosty night, with the waning sickle of a moon low in the heaven, and many brilliant stars above it. Followed by faint ethereal shadows, they passed over the grass, through the ghostly luminous dusk -- of funereal processions one of the strangest that ever sought a tomb.
The ruin was in a hollow, surrounded by trees. Donal removed a number of fallen stones and dug a grave. They lowered into it the knotted sheet, threw in the earth again, heaped the stones above, and left the dust with its dust. Then silent they went back, straight along the green, moon-regarded rather than moon-lit grass: if any one had seen them through the pale starry night, he would surely have taken them for a procession of the dead themselves!
No dream of death sought Arctura that night, but in the morning she woke suddenly from one of disembodied delight.