He took his pen, and steadied his hand, and wrote:
“And your reply, when I ask you, whichever it is, shall bring me light into darkness, unutterable darkness.—M.”
He could hear the homeward movements about the office. It was time to go. He wheeled his bicycle to the letter box at the corner of The Precincts. As he dropped in his letter, the evening edition of Pike’s paper came bawling around the corner.
He shook his head at the paper the boy held out to
him and rode away.
What had that kind of thing to do with him?
Unutterable darkness! He lived within it during the days that followed while he awaited the day appointed to write to Nona again. He had put away that for which, with a longing that was almost physical in its pain, his spirit craved; and craved the more terribly for his denial of it. Whatever she said when he asked, whichever way she answered him, he would be brought relief from his intolerable stress. If she maintained honour above love, his weakness, he knew, would be welded into strength, as the presence of another brings enormous support to timidity; if she declared for love,—his mind surged within him at the imagination of bursting away once and for ever the squeamish principles which for years, hedging about his conduct on this side and on that, had profited nothing those on whose behalf they had been erected and his own life had desolated into barrenness.
He was little disposed, in these dismays and in this darkness, to divert attention to the international disturbances which now were rumbling across the newspapers in portentous and enormous headlines. Ireland was pressed away. It was all Europe now—thrones, chancelleries, councils, armies. He tried to say, “What of it?” Many in Great Britain tried to say, “What of it?” Crises and deadlocks again! Meaningless and empty words, for months and years past worked to death and rendered hollow as empty vessels. Some one would climb down. Some one always climbed down.
Nobody climbed down.
The cauldron whose seething and bubbling had entertained some, fidgeted some, some nothing at all concerned, suddenly boiled over, and poured in boiling fat upon the flames, and poured in flames upon the hearth of every man’s concerns.
On Friday the Stock Exchange closed. On Saturday Germany declared war on Russia. In Sunday’s papers Sabre read of the panic run on the banks, people fighting to convert their notes into gold. One London bank had suspended payment. Many had shut out failure only by minutes when midday permitted them to close their doors. People were besieging the provision shops to lay in stores of food.
And poured in flames upon the hearth of every man’s concerns....