“Found dead? Found dead? Where?”
“In your house, Mr. Sabre. And her baby, dead with her.”
“Found dead? Found dead? Effie? And her baby? Found dead? Oh, dear God.... Catch hold of my arm a minute. All right, let me go. Let me go, I say. Can’t you? Found dead? What d’you mean, found dead?”
“Well, sir, that’s rather for the coroner to say, sir. There’s to be an inquest to-morrow. That’s what you’re wanted for.”
“Inquest? Inquest?” Sabre’s speech was thick. He knew it was thick. His tongue felt enormously too big for his mouth. He could not control it properly. He felt that all his limbs and members were swollen and ponderous and out of his control. “Inquest? Found dead? Inquest? Found dead? Goo’ God, can’t you tell me something? You come up to me in the street, and all the place going round and round, and you say to me, ‘Found dead.’ Can’t you say anything except ‘Found dead’? Can’t you tell me what you mean, found dead? Eh? Can’t you?”
The man said, “Now look here, sir. I say that’s for the coroner. Least said best. And least you say best, sir, if you understand me. Looks as if the young woman took poison. That’s all I can say. Looks as if she took poison. Oxalic acid.”
“Now, see here, sir. You’ve no call to say anything to me and I’ve no call to say more to you than I’ve told you. Is that your cab, sir? Because if so—”
They went to the cab.
One of two questions is commonly the first words articulated by one knocked senseless in a disaster. Recovering consciousness, or recovering his scattered wits, “What’s happened?” he asks; or “Where am I?” In the first shock he has not known he was hurt. He recovers his senses. He then is aware of himself mangled, maimed, delivered to the torturers.
In that day and through the night Sabre was numb to coherent thought, numb to any realisation of the meaning to himself of this that had befallen him. The roof had crashed in upon him; but he lay stunned. As one pinned beneath scaffolding knows not his agony till the beams are being lifted from him, so stupefaction inhibited his senses until, on the morrow, he was dug down to in the coroner’s court and there awakened.
He could not think. Through the day and through the night his mind groped with outstretched arms as one groping in a dark room, or as a blind man tapping with a stick. He could not think. He could attend to things; he could notice things; he could perform necessary actions; but “Effie is dead.” “Effie has killed herself.” “Effie has killed herself and her child—now what?” In pursuit of these his mind could only grope with outstretched hands; these, in the dark room of his calamity, eluded his mind. He groped and stumbled after them. They stole and slipped away.