Red Pottage, by Mary Cholmondeley

Chapter XXXV

When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?

SHAKESPEARE.

TWO nights had passed since Lord Newhaven had left the Abbey. And now the second day, the first day of December, was waning to its close. How Rachel had lived through them she knew not. The twenty-ninth had been the appointed day. Both women had endured till then, feeling that that day would make an end. Neither had contemplated the possibility of hearing nothing for two days more. Long afterwards in quiet years Rachel tried to recall those two days and nights. But memory only gave lurid glimpses as of lightning across darkness. In one of those glimpses she recalled that Lady Newhaven had become ill, that the doctor had been sent for, that she had been stupefied with narcotics. In another she was walking in the desolate frost-nipped gardens, and the two boys were running towards her across the grass.

As the sun sank on the afternoon of the second day it peered in at her sitting alone by her window. Lady Newhaven after making the whole day frightful was mercifully asleep. Rachel sat looking out into the distance beyond the narrow confines of her agony. Has not every man and woman who has suffered sat thus by the window, looking out, seeing nothing, but still gazing blindly out hour after hour?

Perhaps the quiet mother earth watches us, and whispers to our deaf ears —

Warte nur, balde

Ruhest du auch.

Little pulse of life writhing in your shirt of fire, the shirt is but of clay of your mother’s weaving, and she will take it from you presently when you lay back your head on her breast.

There had been wind all day, a high, dreadful wind, which had accompanied all the nightmare of the day as a wail accompanies pain. But now it had dropped with the sun, who was setting with little pageant across the level land. The whole sky, from north to south, from east to west, was covered with a wind-threshed floor of thin wan clouds, and shreds of clouds, through which, as through a veil, the steadfast face of the heaven beyond looked down.

And suddenly, from east to west, from north to south, as far as the trees and wolds in the dim, forgotten east, the exhausted livid clouds blushed wave on wave, league on league, red as the heart of a rose. The wind-whipped earth was still. The trees held their breath. Very black against the glow the carved cross on the adjoining gable stood out. And in another moment the mighty tide of colour went as it had come, swiftly ebbing across its infinite shores of sky. And the waiting night came down suddenly.

“Oh! my God,” said Rachel, stretching out her hands to ward off the darkness. “Not another night. I cannot bear another night.”

A slow step came along the gravel; it passed below the window and stopped at the door. Some one knocked. Rachel tore open the throat of her gown. She was suffocating. Her long-drawn breathing seemed to deaden all other sounds. Nevertheless she heard it — the faint footfall of some one in the hall, a distant opening and shutting of doors. A vague, indescribable tremor seemed to run through the house.

She stole out of her room and down the passage. At Lady Newhaven’s door her French maid was hesitating, her hand on the handle.

Below, on the stairs, stood a clergyman and the butler.

“I am the bearer of sad tidings,” said the clergyman. Rachel recognised him as the Archdeacon at whom Lord Newhaven had so often laughed. “Perhaps you would prepare Lady Newhaven before I break them to her.”

The door was suddenly opened, and Lady Newhaven stood in the doorway. One small clenched hand held together the long white dressing-gown which she had hastily flung round her, while the other was outstretched against the door-post. She swayed as she stood. Morphia and terror burned in her glassy eyes fixed in agony upon the clergyman. The light in the hall below struck upwards at her colourless face. In later days this was the picture which Lady Newhaven recalled to mind as the most striking of the whole series.

“Tell her,” said Rachel, sharply.

The Archdeacon advanced.

“Prepare yourself, dear Lady Newhaven,” he said sonorously. “Our dear friend, Lord Newhaven, has met with a serious accident. Er — the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

“Is he dead?” whispered Lady Newhaven.

The Archdeacon bowed his head.

Every one except the children heard the scream which rang through the house.

Rachel put her arms round the tottering, distraught figure, drew it gently back into the room, and closed the door behind her.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37