Red Pottage, by Mary Cholmondeley

Chapter LIII

Ueber allen gipfeln

    Ist Ruh;

In allen Wipfeln

    Spürest Du

Kaum einen Hauch;

Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.

Warte nur, balde

Ruhest Du auch.

GOETHE.

THE doctor was very late. Rachel, who was going to the Watch Service, waited for the Bishop in the hall till he came out of his study with the curate, who had doubts.

When the young man had left, Rachel said, hesitating:

“I shall not go to the service if Dr. Brown does not arrive before then. Hugh was to have come with us. I don’t want him to go all through the night thinking — perhaps if I am prevented going you will see him, and speak a word to him.”

“My dear,” said the Bishop, “I went across to his rooms two hours ago, directly you went up to Hester.”

He loved Rachel, but he wondered at her lack of imagination.

“Two hours ago! And what did you say to him?”

“I did not see him. I was too late. He was gone.”

“Gone!” said Rachel faintly. “Where?”

“I do not know. I went up to his rooms. All his things were still there.”

“Where is he now?”

“I do not know.”

The Bishop looked at her compassionately. She had been a long time forgiving him. While she hesitated he had said to her, “Where is he now?” and she had not understood.

Her face became pinched and livid. She understood now, after the event.

“I am frightened for him,” she said.

The Bishop had been alarmed while she poured out his tea before they began to talk.

“Perhaps he has gone back to London,” she said, her eyes widening with a vague dread.

The Bishop had gone on to the station, and had ascertained that Hugh had not left by the one train which had stopped at Southminster between seven and nine. But he did not add to her anxiety by saying so.

The doctor’s brougham, coming at full speed, drew up suddenly at the door.

“There he is at last,” said the Bishop, and before the bell could be rung he opened the door.

A figure was already on the threshold, but it was not Dr. Brown. It was Dick.

“Where is Dr. Brown?” said Rachel and the Bishop simultaneously, looking at the doctor’s well known brougham and smoking horses.

“He asked me to come,” said Dick, measuring Rachel with his eye. Then he did as he would be done by, and added slowly. “He was kept. He was on his way here from Wilderleigh, where one of the servants is ill, and as I was dining there he offered me a lift back. And when we were passing that farm near the wood a man stopped us. He said there had been an accident — some one nearly drowned. I went, too. It turned out to be Scarlett. Dr. Brown remained with him, and sent me to take you to him.”

“Is he dead?” asked Rachel, her eyes never leaving Dick’s face.

“No, but he is very ill.”

“I will come now.”

The chaplain came slowly across the hall, laden with books and papers.

“Let Canon Sebright know at once that I cannot take part in the service,” said the Bishop sharply; and he hurried down the steps after Rachel, and got into the carriages with her. Dick turned up the collar of his fur coat, and climbed up beside the coachman.

The carriage turned warily, and then set off at a great pace.

The cathedral loomed up suddenly, all aglow with light within. Out into the night came the dirge of the organ for the dying year.

The Bishop kept his eyes fixed on the pane. The houses were left behind. They were in the country.

“Who is that?” said Rachel suddenly, as a long shadow ran beside them along the white hedgerow.

“It is only Dick. There is a rise in the ground here, and he is running to ease the horses.”

There was a long silence.

“I believe he did it on purpose,” said Rachel at last. “I forsook him in his great need, and now he has forsaken me.”

“He would never forsake you, Rachel.”

“Not knowingly,” she said. “I did it knowing. That is the difference between him and me.”

She did not speak again.

For a lifetime, as it seemed to the Bishop, the carriage swayed from side to side of the white road. At last, when he had given up all hope, it turned into a field and jolted heavily over the frozen ruts. Then it came to a standstill.

Rachel was out of the carriage before Dick could get off the box.

She looked at him without speaking, and he led the way swiftly through the silent wood under the moon. The Bishop followed.

The keeper’s cottage had a dim yellow glimmer in it. Man’s little light looked like a kind of darkness in the great white, all-pervading splendour of the night. The cottage door was open. Dr. Brown was looking out.

Rachel went up to him.

“Where is he?” she said.

He tried to speak; he tried to hold her gently back while he explained something. But he saw she was past explanation, blind and deaf except for one voice, one face.

“Where is he?” she repeated, shaking her head impatiently.

“Here,” said the doctor, and he led her through the kitchen. A man and woman rose up from the fireside as she came in. He opened the door into the little parlour.

On the floor on a mattress lay a tall figure. The head, supported on a pillow, was turned towards the door, the wide eyes were fixed on the candle on the table. The lips moved continually. The hands were picking at the blankets.

For the first moment Rachel did not know him. How could this be Hugh? How could these blank, unrecognising eyes be Hugh’s eyes, which had never until now met hers without love?

But it was he. Yes, it was he. She traced the likeness as we do in a man’s son to the man himself.

She fell on her knees beside him and took the wandering hands and kissed them.

He looked at her, through her, with those bright unseeing eyes, and the burning hands escaped from hers back to their weary work.

Dick, whose eyes had followed Rachel, turned away biting his lip, and sat down in a corner of the kitchen. The keeper and his wife had slipped away into the little scullery.

The Bishop went up to Dick and put his arm round his shoulders. Two tears of pain were standing in Dick’s hawkeyes. He had seen Rachel kiss Hugh’s hands. He ground his heel against the brick floor.

The Bishop understood, and understood, too, the sudden revulsion of feeling.

“Poor chap!” said Dick huskily. “It’s frightful hard luck on him to have to go just when she was to have married him. If it had been me I could not have borne it; but then I would have taken care I was not drowned. I’d have seen to that. But it’s frightful hard luck on him, all the same.”

“I suppose he was taking a short cut across the ice.”

“Yes,” said Dick, “and he got in where any one who knew the look of ice would have known he would be sure to get in. The keeper watched him cross the ice. It was some time before they could get near him to get him out, and it seems there is some injury.”

Dr. Brown came slowly out, half closing the parlour-door behind him.

“I can do nothing more,” he said. “If he lived he would have brain fever. But he is dying.”

“Does he know her?”

“No. He may know her at the last, but it is doubtful. I can do nothing, and I am wanted elsewhere.”

“I will stop,” said the Bishop.

“Shall I take you back?” said Dr. Brown, looking at Dick. But Dick shook his head.

“I might be of use to her,” he said when the doctor had gone.

So the two men who loved Rachel sat in impotent compassion in the little kitchen through the interminable hours of the night. At long intervals the Bishop went quietly into the parlour, but apparently he was not wanted there. Once he went out and got a fresh candle, and put it into the tin candlestick, and set it among the china ornaments on wool-work mats.

Hugh lay quite still now with his eyes half closed. His hands lay passive in Rachel’s. The restless fever of movement was past. She almost wished it back, so far, so far was his life ebbing away from hers.

“Hughie,” she whispered to him over and over again. “I love you. Do not leave me.”

But he muttered continually to himself and took no heed of her.

At last she gave up the hopeless task of making him hear, and listened intently. She could make no sense of what he said. The few words she could catch were repeated a hundred times amid an unintelligible murmur. The boat, and Loftus, and her own name — and Crack. Who was Crack? She remembered the little dog which had been drowned. And the lips which were so soon to be silent talked on incoherently while Rachel’s heart broke for a word.

The night was wearing very thin. The darkness before the dawn, the deathly chill before the dawn were here. Through the low uncurtained window Rachel could see the first wan light of the new day and the new year.

Perhaps he would know her with the daylight.

The new day came up out of the white east in a great peace, pale as Christ newly risen from the dead, with the splendour of God’s love upon Him.

A great peace and light stole together into the little room.

Hugh stirred, and Rachel saw a change pass over his pinched, sunken face.

“It was the only way to reach her,” he said slowly and distinctly; “the only way. I shall get through, and I shall find her upon the other side, as I did before. It is very cold, but I shall get through. I am nearly through now.”

He sat up, and looked directly at her. He seemed suddenly freed, released. A boyish look that she had never seen came into his face, a look which remained in Rachel’s heart while she lived.

Would he know her?

The pure light was upon his face, more beautiful than she had ever seen it. He looked at her with tender love and trust shining in his eyes, and laughed softly.

“I have found you,” he said, stretching out his arms towards her. “I lost you, I don’t remember how, but I came to you through the water. I knew I should find you, my Rachel, my sweet wife.”

He was past the place of our poor human forgiveness. He might have cared for it earlier, but he did not want it now. He had forgotten that he had any need of it, for the former things had passed away. Love only remained.

She took him in her arms. She held him to her heart.

“I knew you would,” he said, smiling at her. “I knew it. We will never part again.”

And with a sigh of perfect happiness he turned wholly to her, his closed eyes against her breast.

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