Noel straightened himself in the bed. He was becoming aware of a fiery, throbbing torture beneath the bandages. With clenched teeth and hands hard gripped he set himself to endure.
But in a few minutes he turned his head again. “Are you still there, Maloney?”
“Still here, my son,” said Maloney.
“Well, go and find someone—anyone who knows—to tell me exactly what happened last night.”
“I can tell ye meself,” began Maloney.
But Noel interrupted. “No; not you! You’re such a liar. No offence meant! You can’t help it. Find—find Nick, will you?”
“It isn’t visitors ye ought to be having with your pulse in this state,” objected Maloney.
“Do as I say!” commanded Noel stubbornly.
His will prevailed. The Irish doctor saw the futility of argument, and departed, having extracted a promise from his patient not to move during his absence.
And then came silence as well as darkness, an awful sense of being entombed, an isolation that appalled him added to the torture that racked. With an acuteness of consciousness more harrowing than delirium, he faced this thing that had come upon him, grabbing all his courage to endure the ordeal.
He felt as if his brain were on fire, each nerve-centre agonizing separately in the intolerable, all-enveloping flames. And through the dreadful stillness he heard the beat, beat, beat, of his heart, like the feet of a runaway along a desert road.
He turned his head again restlessly from side to side. The agony was beginning to master him. His powers of endurance were dwindling.
Suddenly he found himself speaking, scarcely knowing what he said, feeling that he must cry out or die.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O God!” Just the one sentence over and over to save him from raving insanity. “Lighten our darkness! Lighten our darkness! Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee!”
He broke off abruptly. What was the good? Prayers were for white-souled children like Peggy. Was it likely that any cry of his would pierce the veil?
Yet the words came back to him, so urgent was his distress, so unbearable the silence of his desert. He said them again with a desperate earnestness, and almost instinctively began to listen for an answer. He felt almost a child again himself in his utter need, as he wrestled to drive the awful darkness from his soul. But no answer came to his cry and the brave heart of him slowly sank. He was deserted then, hurled down into hell to die a living death. In a single flashing second he had been torn from the world he loved—that bright, gay world in which he had revelled all his life—and flung into this inferno of endless darkness. The iron began to bite into his soul.
The glory of his youth was quenched. From thenceforth he would hear the music from afar, he would be barred out from the splendour of life, he would wander along the outside edge of things, forlorn and lonely. His popularity, his brilliance, his joy of living, had all been crushed to atoms with that single, sledge-hammer blow of Fate. Better—ten thousand times better—to have killed him outright! For this thing was infinitely worse than death.