Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Irving Bacheller > Master of Silence: A Romance > This page

The Master of Silence: A Romance, a novel by Irving Bacheller

Chapter 6

< Previous
Table of content
Next >

I shrank from the hand that touched me and, moving quickly aside, struck a match and peered around. By its light I could discern the form of a man standing near the edge of the thicket. Rising to my feet I took down the lantern and lighted it. There, standing before me, was the grinning mute who had admitted me to the house. My uncle, who was still kneeling, rose feebly to his feet, his eyes wet with tears.

"Good friend!" said he, taking the lantern from me and handing it to the mute. "He alway comes for me here."

We followed the old servant in silence through the thick boughs of cedar until we came to the door of a low-roofed wooden building that stood by itself in the thicket. The mute opened the door, ushering us into a small room containing a bed and some simple furniture. A comfortable wood fire was burning in a large open stove, and we both sat down in front of it, shivering from exposure to the chilly air of the night. My uncle handed a key to the mute, who unlocked a cupboard, taking from it a decanter of whiskey, which he set before us with glasses.

"It will warm you," said my uncle, pouring out the spirits: "I have seen my wife. She always comes to me there--when the light goes out. She knows your heart better than I. We shall leave Rayel to your care. It is the last time I shall come here. My work is nearly finished."

We emptied our glasses in silence, but my mind was busy thinking on those impressive words, "She always comes to me there--when the light goes out."

It was strange--this going out of the light just at that moment. Was it not possible, I asked myself, that the lantern, being always hung on the same projection, was thus in the way of a current of air passing down the trunk of the tree when a gust of wind struck its lofty branches? If so, the knot would naturally conduct the current into the opening at the top of the lantern. My reflections were interrupted by my uncle, who rose, and, taking a candle, asked me to accompany him. I followed him into a cellar filled with casks and barrels containing, as I supposed, wine and provisions for future use. Returning, we passed through a large room, in one end of which many boxes and barrels were stored. I afterward learned that there was a large garden and poultry yard in this lonely nook where my uncle's only servant was sequestered.

I was glad when we started back through the thicket, for the hour was late and I felt the need of sleep.

"He gives us our food," said my uncle, when we were at length in the courtyard. "We have enough of everything needful--but little meat. It destroys mental power. It is fools' food."

Next day my uncle was unable to leave his bed. I determined to go to the hotel for my baggage and to post some letters, one of which gave Mr. Earl an account of my experiences since the October night when I became an inmate of that house.

It was midwinter now, and the long stretches of pasturage and meadow land outside the walls were blasted and sere when the old mute, whom I had seen twice before, let me out of the big gate. When I returned he was there to open the gate for me and help me with my baggage.

I found Rayel at his father's bedside. The sick man was asleep, and I went at once to the library, where Rayel soon came, as was his custom in the afternoon, for a lesson in talking. Both my uncle and myself had taken great pains to teach him this accomplishment, and his progress had been even more rapid than we thought possible. He caught the significance of words with astonishing ease, but found some difficulty in producing their sound. He went about it with great patience, however, repeating the hardest words after me until he was able to pronounce them correctly. But although the work was often tedious we both got much fun out of it. I had never heard the sound of laughter in that house. One day I broke its solemn spell by laughing heartily at the grotesque distortion of my cousin's face incidental to the production of a difficult sound. He stopped suddenly and looked at me, half alarmed. This made me laugh more heartily, and he grasped my hand with the serious air of a physician feeling the pulse of his patient. Being assured there was no danger, he indulged in a little offhand cachinnation himself and was, I judged, well pleased with the trial, for he repeated it frequently afterward, and greatly to his amusement.

The word "woman," and others related to it, puzzled him not a little, for he had never seen a woman, except through the medium of my own mind and that of his father. The subject interested him, and he gave much serious thought to it, questioning me closely at some of our interviews, as if dissatisfied with the idea conveyed to him. Our discussions, however, had reached some slumbering chord in him, which, once touched, stirred his blood with its vibrations. I do not think his isolation could have lasted much longer, for he became restless and eager to see the world.

Rayel was greatly depressed by his father's illness. For months after that night, the excitement of which had so hastened the failure of the old man's strength, the silence of the great house was rarely broken by the sound of our voices. My uncle lay helpless in a deep sleep most of the time, never able to leave his bed until, revived by the freshness of approaching summer, he had strength enough to sit in an easy-chair by the window. Some fatal malady, the nature of which he did not disclose to me, was evidently sapping his strength. I had urged him more than once to let me summon a physician, but he would not permit me to do so. When summer came at last, he grew stronger, and was able to walk, supported by Rayel, to his chair in the open courtyard among the flowers.

The lion, which had been confined in its cage most of the time since my uncle had grown so feeble as to need Rayel's constant attention sickened and died in the warm days of early June. Rayel was sorely grieved by the death of his pet, and although he stood in the shadow of a far greater sorrow, he felt deeply the loss of this lifelong friend. The summer passed slowly, one day like another, casting on us the same burden of anxiety and silence. I spent much of the time in my uncle's library, poring over his books and trying to shake off the melancholy thoughts suggested by my daily life.

One day in early autumn, Rayel was sitting with me near an open window overlooking the courtyard, where his father was enjoying the open air.

"He will die to-day," said Rayel, calmly. "He told me he would die to-day."

"He seems the same as usual," I said. "We cannot tell; he may live for months yet."

Rayel shook his head incredulously, and sat for a long time looking out of the window in silence.

"And I will go with you then?" he asked suddenly turning toward me.

"Yes," I answered.

It was the first time he had ever asked me a question, for he could read my mind like an open book, and to him all questioning was unnecessary.

While we were sitting there, thinking over our plans, my uncle summoned us by rapping with his cane. Rayel turned pale, and, with a whispered ejaculation, hurried out of the room and ran down the path to his father, followed closely by myself. My uncle was breathing heavily.

"Count it," said he, feebly extending his hand. Rayel counted his pulse-beats.

"Ninety-four, and growing quicker!" he exclaimed, turning toward me with a frightened look.

"It won't increase much," my uncle whispered, feebly, but with a cool and professional air. "It will go down soon, and then death will follow."

"Be calm, Rayel," he continued, almost sternly, as his son began weeping. "Be calm, I say! That music! do you hear it, child? Do you see what is passing now? Tell it. Let me hear you."

"I cannot hear it," said Rayel, looking earnestly into his father's face.

"Hallucination!" he whispered, groping about until his hand rested on the head of his son, who was kneeling beside him. "I seem to see millions of forms around me. I seem to hear them, but I cannot see you--nor hear you."

As if exhausted by the effort, his head fell back upon Rayel's shoulder, and he lay for a time, his eyes closed, struggling for breath. The dying man's faculties would no longer obey the whip of his mighty will. Indeed, they had done him their final service, for in a few moments he was dead. Tenderly and manfully, uttering no sound of grief, Rayel lifted the lifeless body of his father, and bore it into the house. _

Read next: Chapter 7

Read previous: Chapter 5

Table of content of Master of Silence: A Romance


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book