He had failed . . . Lawrence recalled his own first near glimpse of death, a fellow subaltern hideously killed at his side: he had turned faint as the nightmare shape fell and rose and fell again, spouting blood over his clothes: contact with elder men had steadied him. By night and alone? Well: even by night and alone Lawrence knew that he would have recovered himself and gone on. It was no more than they all had to fight through, thousands of officers, millions of men. Val had failed. . . . Yet how vast the disproportion between the crime and the punishment! Endurance is at a low ebb at nineteen when one’s eyelids are dropping and one’s head nodding with fatigue. Oh to sleep—sleep for twelve hours on a bed between clean sheets, and wake with a mind wiped clear of bloody memories! . . . memories above all . . . incommunicable things that even years later, even to men who have shared them, cannot be recalled except by a half-averted glance and a low “Do you remember—?” like frightened children holding hands in the dark of the world. . . . Had any one of them kept sane that night—those many nights? . . . But how should a civilian understand?
He felt Val’s heart. It was beating slower and slower. If one could only have one’s life over again! but the gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.
It was one March evening six mouths later, one of those warm, still, sunshot-and-grey March evenings when elm-root are blue with violets and the air is full of the faint indeterminate scent of tree flowers, that Lawrence brought his bride home to Farringay. March weather is uncertain, and he preferred to go where he could be sure of comfort, while Isabel, having once consented to be married, left all arrangements to him. It was eight o’clock before they reached the house, and Isabel never forgot the impression which it made on her when she came in out of the bloomy twilight; warm and dim and smelling of violets that were set about in bowls on bookcase and cabinet, while the flames of an immense wood fire on an open hearth flickered over the blue and rose of porcelain or the oakleaf and gold of morocco. She stood in the middle of an ocean of polished floor and looked round her as if she had lost her way in it, till Lawrence came to her and kissed her hands. “Isabel, do you like the look of your new home?”
“Very much. Thank you.”
“May I take off your furs for you?” Getting no answer he took them off. Framed in the sable cap and scarf that Yvonne had given her Isabel still parted her hair on one side, a fashion which Lawrence had grown to admire immensely, but her young throat and the fine straight masque of her features were thin and she had lost much of her colour since the autumn. Lawrence held her by the wrists and stood looking down at her, compelling her to raise her eyes, though they soon fell again with a flutter of the sensitive eyelids. “Are you tired, sweetheart?”