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"For a long job like this, chloroform is much more satisfactory," said the anesthetist. "However, we can start with a mixture and see how she stands it."
The amazing vision of Kitty broke off their conversation. She had never looked prettier in her life. The long, blue gown, the butterfly cap, the delicately reddened lips, brought out the intensity of her great, dark eyes, alive with spirit and laughter. She wrinkled up her nose as she entered.
"You poor old things! How hot you have made it for yourselves!" she said. "I shall be the only comfortable person in the room."
She shook hands with Laurence and the anesthetist, and with a quick movement sprang sidewise to the table, swinging her feet toward the floor.
"You did n't think I could do that with one arm in a sling, did you?” she asked gaily. "That 's the advantage of being light."
Her breathing came as swiftly and easily as a child's. Anthony stood on one side of her, his hand on her wrist, and the anesthetist on the other.
Her eyes smiled across the table at Hilton Laurence, and then closed. She opened them as the anesthetist, satisfied by his examination, began to give her his last directions in soothing professional tones. Her lips curved in a faint mocking smile. She looked away from him to Anthony; behind the laughter in her eyes was a sudden gleam of reassurance. It was as if her spirit gathered itself up together and called to him not for help, but to give him help. She had never said in words that she loved him, but her eyes said it now, definitely, completely, without wavering. Then they closed finally and did not open again.
"She 's off like a bird," said the anesthetist, with satisfaction.
Hilton Laurence reappeared from behind a screen ready to begin his task. No one spoke for a time.
Then Anthony became aware that there was another presence in the room. It was the same power he had fought the night before.
It filled the room with a strange, preliminary tension before it began to act.
Anthony's outer attention was fixed upon Laurence's needs, but his inner faculties concentrated to encounter this new element. As he did so, he discovered that the whole force of his centered will was useless. Hilton Laurence and his unrivaled skill, the anesthetist and his intent watchfulness, were nothing against this unseen power; they were blown before it like leaves in a wind.
In a moment of terrible despair Anthony felt himself flung back and beaten before the battle had begun. The unseen force had swept them all aside and broken its way into the life of Kitty. There was a moment of suspense, and then as quickly as his despair there shot into Anthony's brain an amazing and sharp relief.
He knew in a flash that this power was not an enemy. It was true it tore to pieces the husk of the beloved life, but mercy was at the root of the destruction. It was tearing her to pieces because the pieces were in the way, life itself was in the way of Kitty; and Anthony became aware that what he thought was his enemy was an immense reinforcement.
Once more he centered his will in the struggle, but he went with the stream now and no longer threw his impotence against it.
He alone was aware of the unseen power, but he saw the others moving at its bidding.
Anthony knew what had happened to Kitty before the eyes of the anesthetist had caught the sudden change. He leaned forward and said quietly,-he heard the words slip out into the room without effort or excitement,-"She 's gone."
Hilton Laurence, bending over a severed vein, said:
"Nonsense! my dear chap, keep your head! She's as right as rain." But he looked up sharply as the anesthetist cried:
"By Jove! he 's right! She's gone!" Anthony stood by them curiously unconcerned, while Laurence and the anesthetist tried one after the other their useless remedies. He obeyed their flung directions automatically, threw open the window, drew out the oxygen-cylinder,
and filled it; but there was no flicker of a response.
He had prepared everything. Nothing had been forgotten or overlooked, and all the time they used their ineffectual, puny efforts over Kitty's little broken body, Anthony felt his heart. singing within him. They could not set back the clock. Kitty had escaped them. She was no longer there.
Swiftly, simply as the lift of a gull's wing, she had flown, and not for anything in all the world would Anthony have recalled her.
After a time Hilton Laurence turned away from the table.
"I'm awfully sorry, old boy," he said defensively. "You see for yourself, don't you; it's no damned good?"
"I'm sure I don't understand it," said the anesthetist more defensively still. "I took every precaution. I've never had a case slip like that before. It's most disconcerting. I need n't say, Arden, I'm most terribly sorry."
They stood looking at Anthony like school-boys detected in crime by the head-master. Anthony turned away his face, so that they could not see the triumph in his eyes.
"Of course you did everything," he said reassuringly, "everything you could. I am perfectly satisfied that nothing could have saved her. The lungs were not working properly, and the heart could n't carry on. It was always a risk, but I feel we were justified in trying it."
"More than justified," said Laurence in a relieved tone. "In my opinion it would have been criminal not to have tried. I am most thankful, my dear boy, you can see it all so sanely."
"I think I'll carry her back into her room now," said Anthony, uncertainly. The two men stood aside to let him pass with his light burden.
Peckham was standing by the bed in Kitty's room. He laid her down without speaking, and looked across at Peckham.
"She's all right," he said gently; "more all right now than we could ever have made her, Peckham."
Peckham bowed her head.
"Yes, sir," she murmured, between her sobs. "I felt she was going to be
took. She do look just as she did, poor lamb, when she was a little girl, sir. One could n't, if I may say so, take her naughtiness to heart, and I can't go for to believe the good Lord will be any harder."
Then Peckham left him.
He was alone now with his wife. She was broken like a toy by the hand of science to which he had entrusted her. All his desires were frustrated and his endeavors destroyed. He had not even saved Kitty. Something else had intervened to save her. Anthony was not aware of this power now; the unresponsiveness of death closed down on him.
His eyes fixed themselves on Kitty's, little lace cap made in the shape of butterflies, and this last futility broke his heart.
GRIEF slows all the processes of time. To Anthony it might have been weeks that he had been alone with silence in Kitty's empty room, and yet it was only two hours before Henry, calling to inquire for Kitty, became aware of what had taken place.
Henry was aghast to discover that nothing had been done. Anthony, though a doctor, had ignored the urgencies of death.
Peckham, who had made tea twice, but never even knocked at Kitty's door, had received no instructions. Anthony remained for two hours, "apparently," as Henry said to himself, "brooding."
Henry always considered time spent upon thought as "brooding," unless it was accompanied by paper, a writingtable, and ink; then it became thinking.
When Anthony came down-stairs, Henry was surprised to observe no outward change in him. He bore none of the marks of grief, and he was disinclined to speak in a hushed voice.
Henry came forward with an out stretched hand.
"My dear fellow," he said in a low tone, "I am shocked and distressed beyond words."
Of course Henry was not distressed beyond words. Words did very nicely. for him. He was, as a matter of fact, intensely relieved.
Providence had acted, as it could only occasionally be relied upon to act, with considerable tact and promptitude.
Perhaps the promptitude was a little overdone; six weeks later, considering the date of the marriage, would have been less startling and no less convenient. But Henry was prepared to overlook this slight lapse of taste on the part of the higher powers in view of the fact that they had carried out his main intention. They had got rid of Kitty.
Henry was not, however, in the least prepared for Anthony's saying in an off-hand tone:
"Yes, I suppose it was the best possible thing, really," quite as if he were answering Henry's thoughts and not his words. Henry was sorry for Kitty. He had been charmed by her, and he was readily sorry for those who were capable of charming him; but the fact remained that Kitty was not respectable and that all Ardens married respectable women. Now that Kitty was dead, he thought it would have been better taste on Anthony's part not to refer to her disabilities. To admit death as a solution was, Henry felt, a direct slur upon Kitty.
"Let's have something to eat," Anthony unexpectedly suggested. "Peck-. ham, have you got some tea hot for us?"
"Yes, sir," said Peckham, fluttering, but justified. "It 's in the dining-room now, sir, and an egg, if you could face it."
"I'll eat anything you 've got," said Anthony, with conviction. He did not even have to be tempted.
Henry felt a little bitterly how much more devastating grief would have been to him. He had had his lunch two hours earlier, and he did not want tea now, though Kitty had only been his sister-in-law.
"I thought perhaps," he said gravely, "I might be of use to you, my dear fellow. There are certain things—”
"Yes, I know," interrupted Anthony, who was standing to eat his food in a thoroughly uncomfortable, restless way by the door. "There are heaps of things -telegrams, undertakers, the registrar. I'd be awfully obliged if you'd do them for me. Hilton Laurence said he 'd
look in and help later. I want to go out for a walk."
"People will expect to hear from you direct," suggested Henry, who did not think that widowers should go for walks before the funeral.
"Sign my name, do anything you like," said Anthony, hastily. "She had n't any wishes. Will you see Costrelle for me? Don't interrupt his bridge; he plays between five and seventhirty."
"On an occasion like this-" said Henry, severely. He was going to give up his own bridge.
"Yes, yes, I know," said Anthony, hurriedly; "but Costrelle does n't think in occasions; he won't like being interrupted. It's awfully good of you, my dear old chap, to do these things for me. I think I think I must get out."
"There will be questions which you alone can decide," said Henry. "When shall I expect you back?"
Anthony looked for the first time as if he was a little changed. He fumbled perceptibly for an answer.
"I don't know what time it is now," he said jerkily, and without waiting for Henry to tell him he walked out into the hall, shutting the door after him.
The day had grown unexpectedly mild and sunny. Anthony walked listlessly and without any definite direction. He wanted to get to some open space where people would cease to pour past him like part of a great procession. He found himself at last by the river. The light lay faint and thin over its gray waters, gleaming with a pale, transparent silver upon the distant towers of Westminster. The huddled low waterside houses looked full of the stubborn comfort and unconsciousness of England. Westminster brooded high and bright above a flock of little, ugly dwelling-places. There was no background to the ancient river but the smoke from factory chimneys and the low, dim sky.
Anthony was not aware of his grief, but he was aware of a great desire, a compulsion of his inner being, to get away from all pity and arrangements. He wanted to place between himself and Kitty's death a host of less immediate objects.
The towers of Westminster rested him, the rocking motion of the motorbusses, passing like broad-sided ships down the stream of the open thoroughfares, lulled him. The slow pressure of the river upon its unhurrying journey to the sea placed a merciful image between his thoughts and Kitty.
Time stood still. The hours hung on Anthony heavily with the weight of
As he leaned over the bridge and watched the long, slow ripples pass his thoughts unnumbered, he felt eternity. The sun sank into the misty west; there was a faint deepening of color and light along the Embankment. Five white swans rose on massive wings high above Battersea Bridge; they slipped dazzling across a path of light into the darkening sky, taking the day with them.
Twilight slipped gray and blue in long lanes between the shadowy houses; the lights at the street corners had misty haloes round them, like a cloudencircled opal moon.
dark. He was not that sane man now, with his iron-like securities. He had lost the rapier-like decision of the unbroken. His mind saw many issues, his will flickered at a choice of opportunities; a long day's work unstrung him like a delicate girl. His memory was uncertain, his clean slate was written across with undecipherable, lost activities. He was not sure of anything at all.
Anthony became aware of an overwhelming physical fatigue; it was so intense that, despite the chill of the falling night, he sank with relief on to one of the benches. It was empty, for it was too early for the prowlers of the night to seek their rest there, and too late for the belated children playing their last games.
Anthony could no longer see the river, but he was aware of it moving quietly beside him in the dark. It seemed to help his mind to turn slowly and without pain back to the thought of Kitty. He thought what a wonderful and easy chance his life would afford a cynic for laughter. Only a few years ago his career had been so shapely and definite a fact. He knew what he meant to do, and he had the means and the ability with which to do it. He was as sure of his surgical powers and his unshakable nerve as of the continuity of bread upon his table. He had no bad habits, no overmastering temptations. His life. was a clear and steadfast plan, and in due time, with substantial success behind him and ripened ambition for the future, he meant to seek and find a fitting mate.
He laughed out suddenly into the
And his love, that reserved and whole-hearted quality on which Anthony meant to found a home, had been called out and wasted on a light woman, happily dead. Destiny had applauded him for his equipment and destroyed it.
And yet he was aware, sitting there in the dark and cold, with his weaknesses and his great grief, that he would not for anything in the world be the old Anthony, secure and hidebound, moving with blind assurance among infinite things. The old Anthony had been a master of material facts; he had not been a servant of reality. Broken and twisted and sore, unsure of his aims, diffident of his remaining powers, Anthony knew that there was nothing in him that reserved itself for its own purposes.
He could meet all that came with his naked new possession. The old Anthony had given his faculties only to his work; he himself remained aloof, fastidious, and unused. He had been imprisoned in a fortress of privilege.
An unseen hand had plucked him out of it, and plunged him into a fettered, dreadful intimacy with miserable human beings, so that he should learn the reality of pain. Pain had taught Anthony his own insignificance and broken a little of his isolation away from him. Anthony had given more of himself that he knew to his fellowprisoners, but he had not given all. His sympathies were touched and widened, but his heart remained intact. He could still blame men for their weaknesses.
He thought of his return to England, and how its beauty and serenity had rebuilt him. But he was not the same again; there was more that was accessible in him, or he would never have known Kitty.
She would have been to him either what she intended to be, a few weeks' amusement, or perhaps merely a fresh peg upon which to hang his measured morality. It would have been so easy for the old Anthony to have dispensed with Kitty. But his new responsiveness to pain had saved him from this ignoble security. Her need had called to him, and his whole being had rushed out to answer it.
Kitty had taken from him one by one his old immunities. She had shaken him with a passion so vivid that he saw his code as a little thing, and she had roused in him a tenderness that was stronger than any self-control. She had not done these things of a set purpose; she had no purposes. She was one of the instruments of life.
She could not give him the completeness of love because love's completeness had been defaced in her, but out of the shattered gifts and, images of their hours together she had left him one changeless memory: Kitty had never blamed or judged a human soul.
From her father to the vicar's wife she absolved them all. All women were her natural enemies before their faces, but behind their backs she was their indignant advocate. She could even stand up for the self-righteous with a whimsical admiration. Anthony re
membered with a pang of shame how easily and quickly she had let him off his own rigidities.
He had felt his rigidity was his strength. Even now he was aware of the loss of it, with a certain sense of formidable exposure; but he was no longer afraid of the exposure.
He did not want to get out of anything until he had taken with him the comradeship of what was in it.
Kitty's little, narrow life was like the foam of a wave. It had been lived for pleasure; and, miscarried by the wind, had broken itself against the iron rocks of life.
Anthony's wider being was like the force and purpose of the waters beneath; but for a moment the powerless foam had lit it onward and enlightened its purposes.
Kitty had not changed the direction of Anthony's life, but she had changed the angle of his vision. She had told him that she was only an atom of dust dancing in a sunbeam, and that when the light went, there would be nothing left of her but dust. It seemed to Anthony that it was the dust that had gone, and left him with the memory of light.
A cold, wet wind rose from the river, cutting against his weariness. He rose, and set his face toward home. THE END
By REGINALD WRIGHT KAUFFMAN
Have I not loved you? I had lived
I knew your soul before your name.
Each night your heart against my own
And then we did meet, and at once
My soul cried out that it was you:
Your soul was in your eyes. I knew!