Mr. Holt closed the door silently, flung himself into a chair, and groaned. That was a blow from where he had least expected it. The child had judged him and found him wanting. His Carina, his darling, who had always been closest to his heart, no longer responded to his affection! Was the pilot's prayer being fulfilled? Was he losing his own child in return for the one he had refused to save? With a pang in his breast, which was like an aching wound, he walked up and down on the floor and marvelled at his own blindness. He had erred indeed; and there was no hope that any chance would come to him to remedy the wrong.
The twilight had deepened into darkness while he revolved this trouble in his mind. The night was stormy, and the limbs of the trees without were continually knocking and bumping against the walls of the house. The rusty weather-vane on the roof whined and screamed, and every now and then the sleet dashed against the window-panes like a handful of shot. The wind hurled itself against the walls, so that the timbers creaked and pulled at the shutters, banged stray doors in out-of-the-way garrets, and then, having accomplished its work, whirled away over the fields with a wild and dismal howl. The pastor sat listening mournfully to this tempestuous commotion. Once he thought he heard a noise as of a door opening near by him, and softly closing; but as he saw no one, he concluded it was his overwrought fancy that had played him a trick. He seated himself again in his easy-chair before the stove, which spread a dim light from its draught-hole into the surrounding gloom.
While he sat thus absorbed in his meditations, he was startled at the sound of something resembling a sob. He arose to strike a light, but found that his match-safe was empty. But what was that? A step without, surely, and the groping of hands for the door-knob.
"Who is there?" cried the pastor, with a shivering uneasiness.
He sprang forward and opened the door. A broad figure, surmounted by a sou'wester, loomed up in the dark.
"What do you want?" asked Mr. Holt, with forced calmness.
"I want to know," answered a gruff, hoarse voice, "if you'll come to my son now, and help him into eternity?"
The pastor recognized Atle Pilot's voice, though it seemed harsher and hoarser than usual.