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- This Freedom - 61/61 -


other side upon his knees and never raised his head. Benji was there that loved his sister so. Across the unblinded window strove a moon that fought with mass on mass of fierce, submerging clouds as it might be a soul that rose through infinite calamity to God. That child was in much torment. That child was in delirium and often cried aloud. That child burned with a fever, incredible, at touch of her poor flesh, to think that human flesh such flame could hold and not incinerate. That child in her delirium moaned often names and sometimes cried them out. Nicknames that in the sexless jargon of her day and of her kind might have been names of women and might be names of men. Darkie, Topsy, Skipper, Kitten, Bluey, Tip, Bill, Kid. Names, sometimes, more familiar. Once Huggo; once father; once loud and very piteously, "Benji, Benji, Benji, Benji, Benji!"

She never once said mother.

She calmed and a long space was mute. The moon, its duress passed, stood high, serene, alone. The doctor breathed, "She's passing." That child raised her lids and her eyes looked out upon her watchers.

Rosalie cried, "Oh, Doda!"

That child sighed. "Oh, mother!"

There was no note of love. There was of tenderness no note. There only was in that child's sigh a deathly weariness. "Oh, mother!" That child passed out.

They came home in the very early morning. Rosalie was in her working room. She had some things to do. She wrote to Mr. Field a letter of her resignation from Field's Bank. She only wrote two lines. They ended, "This is Final. I have done."

She sealed that letter and she moved about the room unlaying and as she unlaid, destroying, all evidences, all treasures, all landmarks, all that in any way referred to or touched upon her working life. There were cherished letters, there were treasured papers. She destroyed them all. From one bundle, not touched for years, dust-covered and time-discoloured, there came out a battered volume. She turned it over. "Lombard Street." She opened it and saw the eager underlinings and saw the eager margin notes, and ghosts... (it's written earlier in these pages). She rent the book across its perished cover and pressed it on the fire and on to the flames in the fire. "I have done."

But she was not done with and she had the feeling that she was not done with. She said to Harry, "This is not the children's tragedy. This is my tragedy. These were not the children's faults. These were my transgressions. Life is sacrifice. I never sacrificed. Sacrifice is atonement. It now is not possible for me to atone."

She was on her knees beside his chair. He stroked her hair.

There was an inquest. Harry went. She stayed at home and Benji stayed with her to be with her. Benji was not to be consoled. His mood was very dreadful. A report was printed in the evening paper before Harry came home. Benji read it and told Rosalie a witness, a man, had been arrested on the coroner's warrant. Benji said, "I think I'll go out now, mother, for a little."

Later in the afternoon when Rosalie was with Harry a maid came into the room and looked at Harry and saw how sunk he was in his chair and so went to Rosalie and whispered to her. Rosalie went out. There was a man wished to see the master. Rosalie spoke to him. He was a large, burly man with a strong face. He looked like, and was, a police officer in plain clothes. Rosalie heard what he began to say and said she would go with him. In the cab, the man told her about it. All his sentences began with or contained "The young gentleman."

"The young gentleman... the prisoner, when the young gentleman came rushing in, happened to be in the charge-room writing out a statement.... The young gentleman, before any one could stop him, rushed at this prisoner and caught him by the throat and threw him and the table over and banged the man's head against the floor, fair trying to kill him. They got the young gentleman off. They ought to have arrested the young gentleman, and they did most earnestly wish they had of arrested him, and blamed themselves properly that they didn't arrest him. But they felt cruelly sorry for the young gentleman and they got him outside and let him go and no more said. Of course, as madam knew, the police office wasn't very far from Gower Street station, the underground station with them steep stairs leading straight down from the street to the platform, as madam might be aware.... The young gentleman was seen by witnesses, whose names were took, to come rushing down these stairs on to the platform as if some one was after him.... The young gentleman come rushing down and there was a train just coming in, and whether he couldn't stop or whether he.... There's some say one thing and some say the other.... Whichever way it was the young gentleman...."

Rosalie did her errand with the man and then came back to Harry. She had to tell Harry.

He was sitting in his chair. He had an open book on his knees. She saw, as one notices these things, it was a Shakespeare. She stood up there at the door before him and she said, "Harry--Benji!"

He saw it in her face.

He groaned.

He took the book off his knees and fumbled it, and with a groaning mutter dropped it: "'Unarm, Eros, the long day's work is done.'"

She came to him and saw, as one sees things, above his head the picture he had hung when raven was his hair and radiant his face, and had hit his thumb, and jumped, and cried out, "Mice and Mumps!" and had laughed and wrung his hands, and cried out, "Mice and Mumps!" and laughed again. She came to him and saw him wilt and crumple in his chair, and could have sworn she saw the iron of his head, that had been raven, go grey anew and greyer yet. She came to him and she said, "Harry--Benji--an accident--not an accident--on the railway--killed."

His voice went, not exclamatorily, but in a thick mutter, as one agrope, in sudden darkness, befogged, betrayed. "My God, my God, my God, my God, my God!"

She fell on her knees; and on her arms and on his lap she buried then her face.

He suddenly stooped to her, and caught his arms about her, and raised her to him, and pressed his face to hers, and held her there; and his cry was as once before, passionately holding her, his cry had been; then from his heart to her heart, now from the abysses of his soul to her soul's depths, "Rosalie! Rosalie!"

POSTSCRIPT.

There was to have been some more of it; but there, they're in each other's arms, and one has suffered so with them one cannot any more go on. One's suffered so! One has looked backward with her. The heart must break but for a forward glimpse:--

They're all right now. Huggo's in Canada. He writes every week. They're all right now. That other Rosalie that they brought in is looking after them. She's looking after them, that elf, that sprite, that tricksy scrap, that sunshine thing. She calls Harry father and Rosalie she calls mother. She has all her meals with them. There's no nurse. It's breakfast she loves best. She's on the itch all breakfast. When breakfast's done she's off her chair and hopping. She trumpets in her tiny voice, "Lessons! Lessons!" She trumpets in her tiny voice, "Lessons, lessons! On mother's knee! On mother's knee!"

THE END


This Freedom - 61/61

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