“She’s a-settin’ there—Miss Grace just a-settin’ there—” she began, and choked and stammered.
“What is it?” cried Doctor Bond, sharply, and sprang at the door. I heard him go up the stairs lightly as though he were a boy. We all followed, plying the girl with questions.
“I went in to make up the room,” blubbered she, “an’ she was just settin’ there, an’ I spoke to her an’ she didn’t answer—an’ I called to her, an’ she didn’t answer—she’s just a-settin’ there right now.”
As a cloud sweeps over a gray, broken moor, so now horror swept upon us in our distress and grief. We paused one moment to listen, then went on to see what we knew we must see.
I say that we men of Virginia were slow to suspect a woman. I hope we are still slower to gossip regarding one. Not one of us ever asked Doctor Bond a question, fearing lest we might learn what perhaps he knew.
He stood beyond her now, his head bowed, his hand touching her wrist, feeling for the pulse that was no longer there. The solemnity of his face was louder than speech. It seemed to me that I heard his silent demand that we should all hold our peace forever.
Grace Sheraton, her lips just parted in a little crooked smile, such as she might have worn when she was a child, sat at a low dressing table, staring directly into the wide mirror which swung before her at its back. Her left arm lay at length along the table. Her right, with its hand under her cheek and chin, supported her head, which leaned but slightly to one side. She gazed into her own face, into her own heart, into the mystery of human life and its double worlds, I doubt not. She could not tell us what she had learned.
Her father stepped to her side, opposite the old doctor. I heard sobs as they placed her upon her little white bed, still with that little crooked smile upon her face, as though, she were young, very young again.
I went to the window, and Harry, I think, was close behind me. Before me lay the long reaches of our valley, shimmering in the midday autumn sun. It seemed a scene of peace and not of tragedy.
But even as I looked, there came rolling up our valley, slowly, almost as though visible, the low, deep boom of the signal gun from the village below. It carried news, the news from America!
We started, all of us. I saw Colonel Sheraton half look up as he stood, bent over the bed. Thus, stunned by horror as we were, we waited. It was a long time, an interminable time, moments, minutes, it seemed to me, until there must have been thrice time for the repetition of the signal, if there was to be one.
There was no second sound. The signal was alone, single; ominous.
“Thank God! Thank God!” cried Colonel Sheraton; swinging his hands aloft, tears rolling down his old gray cheeks. “It is war! Now we may find forgetfulness!”