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We now saw that, of the Sukhur, two stood together to the

time:2023-12-07 06:06:48 source:check net author:hot read:352次

Then suddenly came certainty, a rainbow set in the intolerable cloud. On Monday afternoon, when the House of Commons met, all parties were known to have sunk their private differences and to be agreed on one point that should take precedence of all other questions. Germany should not, with England's consent, violate the neutrality of Belgium. As far as England was concerned, all negotiations were at an end, diplomacy had said its last word, and Germany was given twenty-four hours in which to reply. Should a satisfactory answer not be forthcoming, England would uphold the neutrality she with others had sworn to respect by force of arms. And at that one immense sigh of relief went up from the whole country. Whatever now might happen, in whatever horrors of long- drawn and bloody war the nation might be involved, the nightmare of possible neutrality, of England's repudiating the debt of honour, was removed. The one thing worse than war need no longer be dreaded, and for the moment the future, hideous and heart-rending though it would surely be, smiled like a land of promise.

We now saw that, of the Sukhur, two stood together to the

Michael woke on the morning of Tuesday, the fourth of August, with the feeling of something having suddenly roused him, and in a few seconds he knew that this was so, for the telephone bell in the room next door sent out another summons. He got straight out of bed and went to it, with a hundred vague shadows of expectation crossing his mind. Then he learned that his mother was gravely ill, and that he was wanted at once. And in less than half an hour he was on his way, driving swiftly through the serene warmth of the early morning to the private asylum where she had been removed after her sudden homicidal outburst in March.

We now saw that, of the Sukhur, two stood together to the

Michael was sitting that same afternoon by his mother's bedside. He had learned the little there was to be told him on his arrival in the morning; how that half an hour before he had been summoned, she had had an attack of heart failure, and since then, after recovering from the acute and immediate danger, she had lain there all day with closed eyes in a state of but semi-conscious exhaustion. Once or twice only, and that but for a moment she had shown signs of increasing vitality, and then sank back into this stupor again. But in those rare short intervals she had opened her eyes, and had seemed to see and recognise him, and Michael thought that once she had smiled at him. But at present she had spoken no word. All the morning Lord Ashbridge had waited there too, but since there was no change he had gone away, saying that he would return again later, and asking to be telephoned for if his wife regained consciousness. So, but for the nurse and the occasional visits of the doctor, Michael was alone with his mother.

We now saw that, of the Sukhur, two stood together to the

In this long period of inactive waiting, when there was nothing to be done, Michael did not seem to himself to be feeling very vividly, and but for one desire, namely, that before the end his mother would come back to him, even if only for a moment, his mind felt drugged and stupefied. Sometimes for a little it would sluggishly turn over thoughts about his father, wondering with a sort of blunt, remote contempt how it was possible for him not to be here too; but, except for the one great longing that his mother should cleave to him once more in conscious mind, he observed rather than felt. The thought of Sylvia even was dim. He knew that she was somewhere in the world, but she had become for the present like some picture painted in his mind, without reality. Dim, too, was the tension of those last days. Somewhere in Europe was a country called Germany, where was his best friend, drilling in the ranks to which he had returned, or perhaps already on his way to bloodier battlefields than the world had ever dreamed of; and somewhere set in the seas was Germany's arch-foe, who already stood in her path with open cannon mouths pointing. But all this had no real connection with him. From the moment when he had come into this quiet, orderly room and saw his mother lying on the bed, nothing beyond those four walls really concerned him.

But though the emotional side of his mind lay drugged and insensitive to anything outside, he found himself observing the details of the room where he waited with a curious vividness. There was a big window opening down to the ground in the manner of a door on to the garden outside, where a smooth lawn, set with croquet hoops and edged with bright flower-beds, dozed in the haze of the August heat. Beyond was a row of tall elms, against which a copper beech glowed metallically, and somewhere out of sight a mowing-machine was being used, for Michael heard the click of its cropping journey, growing fainter as it receded, followed by the pause as it turned, and its gradual crescendo as it approached again. Otherwise everything outside was strangely silent; as the hot hours of midday and early afternoon went by there was no note of bird-music, nor any sound of wind in the elm-tops. Just a little breeze stirred from time to time, enough to make the slats of the half-drawn Venetian blind rattle faintly. Earlier in the day there had come in from the window the smell of dew-damp earth, but now that had been sucked up by the sun.

Close beside the window, with her back to the light and facing the bed, which projected from one of the side walls out into the room, sat Lady Ashbridge's nurse. She was reading, and the rustle of the turned page was regular; but regular and constant also were her glances towards the bed where her patient lay. At intervals she put down her book, marking the place with a slip of paper, and came to watch by the bed for a moment, looking at Lady Ashbridge's face and listening to her breathing. Her eye met Michael's always as she did this, and in answer to his mute question, each time she gave him a little head-shake, or perhaps a whispered word or two, that told him there was no change. Opposite the bed was the empty fireplace, and at the foot of it a table, on which stood a vase of roses. Michael was conscious of the scent of these every now and then, and at intervals of the faint, rather sickly smell of ether. A Japan screen, ornamented with storks in gold thread, stood near the door and half-concealed the washing-stand. There was a chest of drawers on one side of the fireplace, a wardrobe with a looking- glass door on the other, a dressing-table to one side of the window, a few prints on the plain blue walls, and a dark blue drugget carpet on the floor; and all these ordinary appurtenances of a bedroom etched themselves into Michael's mind, biting their way into it by the acid of his own suspense.

Finally there was the bed where his mother lay. The coverlet of blue silk upon it he knew was somehow familiar to him, and after fitful gropings in his mind to establish the association, he remembered that it had been on the bed in her room in Curzon Street, and supposed that it had been brought here with others of her personal belongings. A little core of light, focused on one of the brass balls at the head of the bed, caught his eye, and he saw that the sun, beginning to decline, came in under the Venetian blind. The nurse, sitting in the window, noticed this also, and lowered it. The thought of Sylvia crossed his brain for a moment; then he thought of his father; but every train of reflection dissolved almost as soon as it was formed, and he came back again and again to his mother's face.

It was perfectly peaceful and strangely young-looking, as if the cool, soothing hand of death, which presently would quiet all trouble for her, had been already at work there erasing the marks that the years had graven upon it. And yet it was not so much young as ageless; it seemed to have passed beyond the register and limitations of time. Sometimes for a moment it was like the face of a stranger, and then suddenly it would become beloved and familiar again. It was just so she had looked when she came so timidly into his room one night at Ashbridge, asking him if it would be troublesome to him if she sat and talked with him for a little. The mouth was a little parted for her slow, even breathing; the corners of it smiled; and yet he was not sure if they smiled. It was hard to tell, for she lay there quite flat, without pillows, and he looked at her from an unusual angle. Sometimes he felt as if he had been sitting there watching for uncounted years; and then again the hours that he had been here appeared to have lasted but for a moment, as if he had but looked once at her.


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