Then Margaret had to be attended to, for she was half-wild with remorse; she declared to Beatrice when they went upstairs together that she had been a wicked daughter, that she had resented her mother’s words again and again, had behaved insolently, and so forth. Beatrice took her in her arms.
“My dear,” she said, “indeed you must leave all that now. Come and see her; she is at peace, and you must be.”
The bedroom where Lady Torridon had died was arranged as a chapelle ardente; the great bed had been moved out into the centre of the room. Six tall candlesticks with escutcheons and yellow tapers formed a slender mystical wall of fire and light about it; the windows were draped a couple of kneeling desks were set at the foot of the bed. Chris was kneeling at one beside his father as they went in, and Mary Maxwell, who had arrived a few hours before death had taken place, was by herself in a corner.
Beatrice drew Margaret to the second desk, pushed the book to her, and knelt by her. There lay the body of the strange, fierce, lonely woman, with her beautiful hands crossed, pale as wax, with a crucifix between them; and those great black eyebrows beyond, below which lay the double reverse curve of the lashes. It seemed as if she was watching them both, as her manner had been in life, with a tranquil cynicism.
And was she at peace, thought Beatrice, as she had told her daughter just now? Was it possible to believe that that stormy, vicious spirit had been quieted so suddenly? And yet that would be no greater miracle than that which death had wrought to the body. If the one was so still, why not the other? At least she had asked pardon of her husband for those years of alienation; she had demanded the sacraments of the Church!
Beatrice bowed her head, and prayed for the departed soul.
* * * * *
She was disturbed by the soft opening of a door, and lifted her eyes to see Ralph stand a moment by the head of the bed, before he sank on his knees. She could watch every detail of his face in the candlelight; his thin tight lips, his heavy eyebrows so like his mother’s, his curved nostrils, the clean sharp line of his jaw.
She found herself analysing his processes of thought. His mother had been the one member of his family with whom he had had sympathy; they understood one another, these two bitter souls, as no one else did, except perhaps Beatrice herself. How aloof they had stood from all ordinary affections; how keen must have been their dual loneliness! And what did this snapped thread mean to him now? To what, in his opinion, did the broken end lead that had passed out from the visible world to the invisible? Did he think that all was over, and that the one soul that had understood his own had passed like a candle flame into the dark? And she too—was she crying for her son, a thin soundless sobbing in the world beyond sight? Above all, did he understand how alone he was now—how utterly, eternally alone, unless he turned his course?