“Mr. O’Neill,” barked Don, “Dr. Barrington particularly said you—you were not to go up there. He said that Brian’s got to have the—the quiet kind around—”
Joan’s quick stare of reproach brought the color to his face.
“I—I beg your pardon, Mr. O’Neill,” he blurted. “He said—he said he must have quiet.”
“It’s all right,” said Kenny ruefully. “Quite all right. You’ve been up?” he added quietly.
Don dug his toe into the floor and a hot flush suffused his forehead.
“To tell you the truth,” he said with some annoyance, “Doctor Barrington wouldn’t let me in. He seems to be able to manage a good many things at once.”
“Ah!” said Kenny.
“We must find still another cot,” said Joan, pouring coffee at the stove.
So in the dark hours of nervous unrestraint that marked for Don and Kenny that lagging period of terror and suspense, Joan stepped to the helm and steered. And there was need of steering.
Chaos would have reigned without it.
Vagueness lay for Brian in that shack room where the noise of forest trees mourned always at the window. Only pain was sharp . . . colossal, rearing misshapen out of the blur induced by an awful weakness. Sleep wrenched him for horrible dreaming minutes from his world of pain. Pain wrenched him back. At times a mammoth terror lay in his soul, undefined yet grotesquely positive, as if, pushing back, his consciousness foresaw that horrific catastrophe of noise and belching terror, and waited, unable to sense any of its details save the single one of personal tragedy and pain. There were cramped minutes when the rafters of the peaked roof seemed pressing down upon him . . . and minutes of a diffused reaching out when the world, torn by internal explosion, seemed flying away from him in fragments, even walls receding from his cot which stayed, by a miracle, alone upon a wind-swept moor.
Intervals were an eternity. Familiarity with the detail of the room engendered frantic loathing. His brain conned over the faded colors in the rag rug and encountered the unchangeable, bayonet-like crack in the mirror with nervous fury. No peace came with the darkness. Each familiar thing persisted, looming clearer to his tired mind by the very effort his straining eyes made to reach it. There was the table clogged with doctors’ litter . . . and there the other cot where Frank pretended to sleep and kept his vigil . . . there the chair . . . and there the dab of yellow in the rug that the sun struck into faded gayety in the morning . . . and there the crack across the mirror, the wriggling, distorted, foolish crack that seemed alive for all its sameness. And there was always the noise of wind which became a corollary of his pain, pulsing with it, never quiet, an overtone that tragically would not yield.