To go back . . . They found him dead. And then arose an unpicturable scene of horror. It seems that the cook, a stolid woman, on the point of starting for a Christmas visit, took charge of the situation, sent for the doctor, despatched the telegram to us, and with the help of the porter’s wife, saw to Adrian. The elder Mrs. Boldero collapsed, a futile mass of sodden hysteria. Much that was fascinating and feminine in Adrian came from this amiable and incapable lady.
We went into the dining-room and helped ourselves to whisky and soda—we needed it—and talked of the catastrophe. As yet, of course, we knew nothing of the clot of blood. Presently Barbara came in and put her hands on my shoulders.
“I must stay here, Hilary, dear. You must get a bed at your club. Jaffery will take the car and bring us what we want from Northlands, and will look after things with Eileen. And put off Euphemia and the others, if you can.”
And that was the Christmas to which we had looked forward with such joyous anticipation. Adrian dead; his child stillborn: Doria hovering on the brink of life and death. I did what was possible on a Christmas eve in the way of last arrangements. But to-morrow was Christmas Day. The day after, Boxing Day. The day after that, Sunday. The whole world was dead. And all those awful days the thin yellow fog that was not fog but mere blight of darkness hung over the vast city.
God spare me such another Christmastide.
The first stages of our grievous task were accomplished. We had buried Adrian in Highgate Cemetery with the yellow fog around us. His mother had been put into a train that would carry her to the quiet country cottage wherein she longed to be alone with her sorrow. Doria still lay in the Valley of the Shadow unconscious, perhaps fortunately, of the stealthy footsteps and muffled sounds that strike a note of agony through a house of death. And it was many days before she awoke to knowledge and despair. Barbara stayed with her.
We had found Adrian’s will, leaving everything to Doria and appointing Jaffery and myself joint executors and trustees for his wife and the child that was to come, among his private papers in the Louis XV cabinet in the drawing-room. We had consulted his bankers and put matters in a solicitor’s hands with a view to probate. Everything was in order. We found his own personal bills and receipts filed, his old letters tied up in bundles and labelled, his contracts, his publisher’s returns, his lease, his various certificates neatly docketed. It was the private desk of a careful business man, rather than that of our old unmethodical Adrian. There are few things more painful than to pry into the intimacies of those we have loved; and Jaffery and I had to pry alone, because Doria, who might have saved our obligatory search from impertinence, lay, herself, on the Borderland.