* * * * *
“It is all perfectly right,” she said to the old lady.
“Are the cigarettes there?”
“Yes: I noticed them particularly.”
“Yes, flowers too.”
“What time is it, my dear? I can’t see.”
Maggie peered at the clock.
“It’s just after six, Auntie. Will you have the candles?”
The old lady shook her head.
“No, my dear: my eyes can’t stand the light. Why hasn’t the boy come?”
“Why, it’s hardly time yet. Shall I bring him up at once?”
“Just for two minutes,” sighed the old lady. “My head’s bad again.”
“Poor dear,” said Maggie.
“Sit down, my dearest, for a few minutes. You’ll hear the wheels from here.... No, don’t talk or read.”
There, then, the two women sat waiting.
* * * * *
Outside the twilight was falling, layer on layer, over the spring garden, in a great stillness. The chilly wind of the afternoon had dropped, and there was scarcely a sound to be heard from the living things about the house that once more were renewing their strength. Yet over all, to the Catholic’s mind at least, there lay a shadow of death, from associations with that strange anniversary that was passing, hour by hour....
As to what Maggie thought during those minutes of waiting, she could have given afterwards no coherent description. Matters were too complicated to think clearly; she knew so little; there were so many hypotheses. Yet one emotion dominated the rest—expectancy with a tinge of fear. Here she sat, in this peaceful room, with all the homely paraphernalia of convalescence about her—the fire, the bed laid invitingly open with a couple of books, and a reading-lamp on the little table at the side, the faint smell of sandalwood; and before the fire dozed a peaceful old lady full too of gentle expectation of her son, yet knowing nothing whatever of the vague perils that were about him, that had, indeed, whatever they were, already closed in on him.... And that son was approaching nearer every instant through the country lanes....
She rose at last and went on tiptoe to the window. The curtains had not yet been drawn, and she could see in the fading light the elaborate ironwork of the tall gate in the fence, and the common road outside it, gleaming here and there in puddles that caught the green color from the dying western sky. In front, on the lawn on this side, burned tiny patches of white where the crocuses sprouted.
As she stood there, there came a sound of wheels, and a carriage came in sight. It drew up at the gate, and the door opened.
“He is come,” said the girl softly, as she saw the tall ulstered figure appear from the carriage. There was no answer, and as she went on tiptoe to the fire, she saw that the old lady was asleep. She went noiselessly out of the room, and stood for an instant, every pulse racing with horrible excitement, listening to the footsteps and voices in the hall. Then she drew a long trembling breath, steadied herself with a huge effort of the will, and went downstairs.