|Back||1 2 3||Next|
Lawford slept far into the cloudy Monday morning, to wake steeped in sleep, lethargic, and fretfully haunted by inconclusive remembrances of the night before. When Sheila, with obvious and capacious composure, brought him his breakfast tray, he watched her face for some time without speaking.
'Sheila,' he began, as she was about to leave the room again.
She paused, smiling.
'Did anything happen last night? Would you mind telling me, Sheila? Who was it was here?'
Her lids the least bit narrowed. 'Certainly, Arthur; Mr Danton was here.'
'Then it was not a dream?'
'Oh no,' said Sheila.
'What did I say? What did HE say? It was hopeless, anyhow.'
'I don't quite understand what you mean by "hopeless," Arthur. And must I answer the other questions?'
Lawford drew his hand over his face, like a tired child. 'He didn't--believe?'
'No, dear,' said Sheila softly.
'And you, Sheila?' came the subdued voice.
Sheila crossed slowly to the window. 'Well, quite honestly, Arthur, I was not very much surprised. Whatever we are agreed about on the whole, you were scarcely yourself last night.'
Lawford shut his eyes, and re-opened them full on his wife's calm scrutiny, who had in that moment turned in the light of the one drawn blind to face him again.
'Who is? Always?'
'No,' said Sheila; 'but--it was at least unfortunate. We can't, I suppose, rely on Dr Bethany alone.'
Lawford crouched over his food. 'Will he blab?'
'Blab! Mr Danton is a gentleman, Arthur.'
Lawford rolled his eyes as if in temporary vertigo. 'Yes,' he said. And Sheila once more prepared to make a reposefui exit.
'I don't think I can see Simon this morning.'
'Oh. Who, then?'
'I mean I would prefer to be left alone.'
'Believe me, I had no intention to intrude.' And this time the door really closed.
'He is in a quiet, soothing sleep,' said Sheila a few minutes later.
'Nothing could be better,' said Dr Simon; and Lawford, to his inexpressible relief, heard the fevered throbbing of the doctor's car reverse, and turned over and shut his eyes, dulled and exhausted in the still unfriendliness of the vacant room. His spirits had sunk, he thought, to their lowest ebb. He scarcely heeded the fragments of dreams--clear, green landscapes, amazing gleams of peace, the sudden broken voices, the rustling and calling shadowiness of subconsciousness--in this quiet sunlight of reality. The clouds had broken, or had been withdrawn like a veil from the October skies. One thought alone was his refuge; one face alone haunted him with its peace; one remembrance soothed him--Alice. Through all his scattered and purposeless arguments he strove to remember her voice, the loving-kindness of her eyes, her untroubled confidence.
In the afternoon he got up and dressed himself. He could not bring himself to stand before the glass and deliberately shave. He even smiled at the thought of playing the barber to that lean chin. He dressed by the fireplace.
'I couldn't rest,' he told Sheila, when she presently came in on one of her quiet, cautious, heedful visits; 'and one tires of reading even Quain in bed.'
'Have you found anything?' she inquired politely.
'Oh yes,' said Lawford wearily; 'I have discovered that infinitely worse things are infinitely commoner. But that there's nothing quite so picturesque.'
'Tell me,' said Sheila, with refreshing naivete. 'How does it feel? does it even in the slightest degree affect your mind?'
He turned his back and looked up at his broad gilt portrait for inspiration. 'Practically, not at all,' he said hollowly. 'Of course, one's nerves--that fellow Danton--when one's overtired. You have'--his voice, in spite of every effort, faintly quavered--'YOU haven't noticed anything? My mind?'
'Me? Oh dear, no! I never was the least bit observant; you know that, Arthur. But apart from that, and I hope you will not think me unsympathetic--but don't you think we must sooner or later be thinking of what's to be done? At present, though I fully agree with Mr Bethany as to the wisdom of hushing this unhappy business up as long as possible, at least from the gossiping outside world, still we are only standing still. And your malady, dear, I suppose, isn't. You WILL help me, Arthur? You will try and think? Poor Alice!'
'What about Alice?'
'She mopes, dear, rather. She cannot, of course, quite understand why she must not see her father, and yet his not being, or, for the matter of that, even if he was, at death's door.'
'At death's door,' murmured Lawford under his breath; 'who was it was saying that? Have you ever, Sheila, in a dream, or just as one's thoughts go sometimes, seen that door?...its ruinous stone lintel carved into lichenous stone heads...stonily silent in the last thin sunlight, hanging in peace unlatched. Heated, hunted, in agony--in that cold, green-clad shadowed porch is haven and sanctuary....But beyond--O God, beyond!'
Sheila stood listening with startled eyes. 'And was all that in Quain?' she inquired rather flutteringly.
Lawford turned a sidelong head, and looked steadily at his wife.
She shook herself, with a slight shiver. 'Very well, then,' she said and paused in the silence.
Her husband yawned, and smiled, and almost as if lit with that thin last sunshine seemed the smile that passed for an instant across the reverie of his shadowy face. He drew a hand wearily over his eyes. 'What has he been saying now?' he inquired like a fretful child.
Sheila stood very quiet and still, as if in fear of scaring some rare, wild, timid creature by the least stir. 'Who?' she merely breathed.
Lawford paused on the hearth-rug with his comb in his hand. 'It's just the last rags of that beastly influenza,' he said, and began vigorously combing his hair. And yet, simple and frank though the action was, it moved Sheila, perhaps, more than any other of the congested occurrences of the last few days. Her forehead grew suddenly cold, the palms of her hands began to ache, she had to hasten out of the room to avoid revealing the sheer physical repulsion she had experienced.
But Lawford, quite unmindful of the shock, continued in a kind of heedless reverie to watch, as he combed, the still visionary thoughts that passed in tranced stillness before his eyes. He longed beyond measure for freedom that until yesterday he had not even dreamed existed outside the covers of some old impossible romance--the magic of the darkening sky, the invisible flocking presences of the dead, the shock of imaginations that had no words, of quixotic emotions which the stranger had stirred in that low, mocking, furtive talk beside the broken stones of the Huguenot. Was the 'change' quite so monstrous, so meaningless? How often, indeed, he remembered curiously had he seemed to be standing outside these fast-shut gates of thought, that now had been freely opened to him.
|Back||1 2 3||Next|
The Return -by- Walter de la MareBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.