However, my attention was suddenly snatched from such matters;
our child began to lose ground again, and we had to go to sitting
up with her, her case became so serious. We couldn't bear to allow
anybody to help in this service, so we two stood watch-and-watch,
day in and day out. Ah, Sandy, what a right heart she had, how
simple, and genuine, and good she was! She was a flawless wife
and mother; and yet I had married her for no other particular
reasons, except that by the customs of chivalry she was my property
until some knight should win her from me in the field. She had
hunted Britain over for me; had found me at the hanging-bout
outside of London, and had straightway resumed her old place at
my side in the placidest way and as of right. I was a New Englander,
and in my opinion this sort of partnership would compromise her,
sooner or later. She couldn't see how, but I cut argument short
and we had a wedding.
Now I didn't know I was drawing a prize, yet that was what I did
draw. Within the twelvemonth I became her worshiper; and ours
was the dearest and perfectest comradeship that ever was. People
talk about beautiful friendships between two persons of the same
sex. What is the best of that sort, as compared with the friendship
of man and wife, where the best impulses and highest ideals of
both are the same? There is no place for comparison between
the two friendships; the one is earthly, the other divine.
In my dreams, along at first, I still wandered thirteen centuries
away, and my unsatisfied spirit went calling and harking all up
and down the unreplying vacancies of a vanished world. Many a
time Sandy heard that imploring cry come from my lips in my sleep.
With a grand magnanimity she saddled that cry of mine upon our
child, conceiving it to be the name of some lost darling of mine.
It touched me to tears, and it also nearly knocked me off my feet,
too, when she smiled up in my face for an earned reward, and played
her quaint and pretty surprise upon me:
"The name of one who was dear to thee is here preserved, here made
holy, and the music of it will abide alway in our ears. Now
thou'lt kiss me, as knowing the name I have given the child."
But I didn't know it, all the same. I hadn't an idea in the
world; but it would have been cruel to confess it and spoil her
pretty game; so I never let on, but said:
"Yes, I know, sweetheart--how dear and good it is of you, too!
But I want to hear these lips of yours, which are also mine, utter
it first--then its music will be perfect."
Pleased to the marrow, she murmured:
I didn't laugh--I am always thankful for that--but the strain
ruptured every cartilage in me, and for weeks afterward I could
hear my bones clack when I walked. She never found out her mistake.
The first time she heard that form of salute used at the telephone
she was surprised, and not pleased; but I told her I had given
order for it: that henceforth and forever the telephone must
always be invoked with that reverent formality, in perpetual honor
and remembrance of my lost friend and her small namesake. This
was not true. But it answered.
Well, during two weeks and a half we watched by the crib, and in
our deep solicitude we were unconscious of any world outside of
that sick-room. Then our reward came: the center of the universe
turned the corner and began to mend. Grateful? It isn't the term.
There _isn't_ any term for it. You know that yourself, if you've
watched your child through the Valley of the Shadow and seen it
come back to life and sweep night out of the earth with one
all-illuminating smile that you could cover with your hand.
Why, we were back in this world in one instant! Then we looked
the same startled thought into each other's eyes at the same
moment; more than two weeks gone, and that ship not back yet!
In another minute I appeared in the presence of my train. They
had been steeped in troubled bodings all this time--their faces
showed it. I called an escort and we galloped five miles to a
hilltop overlooking the sea. Where was my great commerce that
so lately had made these glistening expanses populous and beautiful
with its white-winged flocks? Vanished, every one! Not a sail,
from verge to verge, not a smoke-bank--just a dead and empty
solitude, in place of all that brisk and breezy life.
I went swiftly back, saying not a word to anybody. I told Sandy
this ghastly news. We could imagine no explanation that would
begin to explain. Had there been an invasion? an earthquake?
a pestilence? Had the nation been swept out of existence? But
guessing was profitless. I must go--at once. I borrowed the king's
navy--a "ship" no bigger than a steam launch--and was soon ready.
The parting--ah, yes, that was hard. As I was devouring the child
with last kisses, it brisked up and jabbered out its vocabulary!--
the first time in more than two weeks, and it made fools of us
for joy. The darling mispronunciations of childhood!--dear me,
there's no music that can touch it; and how one grieves when it
wastes away and dissolves into correctness, knowing it will never
visit his bereaved ear again. Well, how good it was to be able
to carry that gracious memory away with me!
I approached England the next morning, with the wide highway of
salt water all to myself. There were ships in the harbor, at
Dover, but they were naked as to sails, and there was no sign
of life about them. It was Sunday; yet at Canterbury the streets
were empty; strangest of all, there was not even a priest in sight,
and no stroke of a bell fell upon my ear. The mournfulness of
death was everywhere. I couldn't understand it. At last, in
the further edge of that town I saw a small funeral procession--
just a family and a few friends following a coffin--no priest;
a funeral without bell, book, or candle; there was a church there
close at hand, but they passed it by weeping, and did not enter it;
I glanced up at the belfry, and there hung the bell, shrouded in
black, and its tongue tied back. Now I knew! Now I understood
the stupendous calamity that had overtaken England. Invasion?
Invasion is a triviality to it. It was the INTERDICT!
I asked no questions; I didn't need to ask any. The Church had
struck; the thing for me to do was to get into a disguise, and
go warily. One of my servants gave me a suit of clothes, and
when we were safe beyond the town I put them on, and from that time
I traveled alone; I could not risk the embarrassment of company.
A miserable journey. A desolate silence everywhere. Even in
London itself. Traffic had ceased; men did not talk or laugh, or
go in groups, or even in couples; they moved aimlessly about, each
man by himself, with his head down, and woe and terror at his heart.
The Tower showed recent war-scars. Verily, much had been happening.
Of course, I meant to take the train for Camelot. Train! Why,
the station was as vacant as a cavern. I moved on. The journey
to Camelot was a repetition of what I had already seen. The Monday
and the Tuesday differed in no way from the Sunday. I arrived
far in the night. From being the best electric-lighted town in
the kingdom and the most like a recumbent sun of anything you ever
saw, it was become simply a blot--a blot upon darkness--that is
to say, it was darker and solider than the rest of the darkness,
and so you could see it a little better; it made me feel as if
maybe it was symbolical--a sort of sign that the Church was going to
_keep_ the upper hand now, and snuff out all my beautiful civilization
just like that. I found no life stirring in the somber streets.
I groped my way with a heavy heart. The vast castle loomed black
upon the hilltop, not a spark visible about it. The drawbridge
was down, the great gate stood wide, I entered without challenge,
my own heels making the only sound I heard--and it was sepulchral
enough, in those huge vacant courts.