At ten o’clock profound gymnastics of the mind in search of a hidden word beginning with e and ending with l were interrupted by the entry of the startled Kate. One hand writhed between her shoulders for the apron string, the other held a note. “Please, Mr. Sabre, I think it’s for you, Mr. Sabre. A young boy took it to your house and said you was to have it most particular, and please, your Rebecca sent him on here, please.”
“For me? Who on earth—?”
He opened it. He did not recognise the writing on the envelope. He had not the remotest idea—It was a jolly evening.... could Enamel be that word in e and l? He unfolded it. Ah!
“Freddie’s killed. Please do come at once. I think she’s dying.—E.B.”
He was alone in the room where Mrs. Perch lay,—not even Effie. One o’clock. This war! He had thought to shut it away for a night, and here was the inconceivable occupation to which it had brought him: alone in here—
The doctor had been and was coming again in the morning. There was nothing to be done, he had said; just watch her.
Watch her? How long had he been standing at the foot of the huge bed—the biggest bed he had ever seen—and what was there to watch? She gave no sign. She scarcely seemed to breathe. He would not have recognised her face. It had the appearance of a mask. “Sinking,” the doctor had said. In process here before his eyes, but not to be seen by them, awful and mysterious things. Death with practised fingers about his awful and mysterious surgery of separating the spirit from the flesh, the soul from the body, the incorruptible from the corruptible.
It could not be! There was not a sign; there was not a sound; and what should he be doing to be alone here, blind watcher of such a finality? It was not real. It was an hallucination. He was not really here. The morning—and days and weeks and years—would come, and he would know that this never had really happened.
But Young Perch was dead. Young Perch was killed. It was real. He was here. This war!
He had gone downstairs with the doctor and had remained there some little time after his departure. Effie had been left kneeling by the bed. When he came back she was sound asleep where she knelt, worn out. The news had come on the previous evening. This was Effie’s second night without sleep. Now she was overcome; collapsed; suffocated and bound and gagged in the opiates and bonds she had for thirty hours resisted. He touched her. She did not stir. He shook her gently; still no response. He lifted her up and carried her along the passage to the room he knew to be hers; laid her on her bed and covered her with a quilt. Inconceivable occupation. Was all this really happening?