To the visitors, however, Austin Selwyn paid no heed. He was enduring the lassitude which follows a fever. He knew that the crisis had come, the hour when he must face fairly the crash and ruin of his work; but he put it off as something to which his brain was unequal. Like slow drifting wisps of cloud, different phrases and incidents floated across his mind, shadows of things that had left a clear imprint upon his senses. With the odd vagrancy of an undirected mind, he found himself recalling a few of Hamlet’s lines, and smiled wanly to think how, after all those years, the immortal Shakespeare could still give words to his own thoughts: ’This goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, . . . this brave overhanging firmament—this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.’
The wings of memory bore him back to Harvard, where once in a scene from Hamlet he had mouthed those very words, little dreaming that in a few short years he would lose the sense of euphony in the cruel realisation of their meaning.
Then, before he saw her or heard her step, he knew that SHE had come. His heart quickened, and his breathing was tremulous with mingled emotions.
‘Well,’ she said, coming to his bedside and offering her hand, ’how is the invalid?’
‘Elise,’ he said, ‘it is wonderful of you to come.’ He looked at her khaki uniform, at the driver’s cap which imprisoned her hair. ‘Now,’ he went on dreamily, ’it all comes back to me. It was you who brought me here.’
‘Had you forgotten that already?’ she said, bringing a chair to the bedside.
‘I couldn’t remember,’ he answered weakly. ’All I know is that I was walking alone—and there came a blank. When I woke up I was here with a head that didn’t feel quite like my own. But I knew, somehow, that you had been with me.’
‘What does the doctor say about your wound?’
‘It is not serious.’
‘You have heard since what happened?’
‘It was absolutely topping the way you fought for that child’s life.’
He made a deprecatory gesture, and for a moment conversation ceased. He was wondering at her voice. A subtle change had come over it. Her words were just as uncomfortably rapid as in the first days of their friendship, but there was a hidden quality caught by his ear which he could not analyse. Looking at her with eyes that had waited so long for her coming, he felt once more the affinity she held with things of nature. Her presence obliterated everything else. They were alone—the two of them. The hospital, London, the world, were dimmed to a distant background.
‘After such a night,’ he said, ’it is very kind of you to make this effort.’
‘Not at all. We’re cousins, you know.’