A LAPSE OF MEMORY.
When he woke out of his sleep he found himself repeating those words which he had left unfinished when he was talking to the barefooted woman on the hill.
"I give thanks to the Eternal Father Who created you!—and to Jesus Christ Who redeemed you!—and to the Holy Ghost Who sanctified you!"
He imagined he was still lying on the moss-plot, and he thought she was there beside him, but without his being able to see her. When he moved his hand and found the bed-clothes on him he was filled with wonder. A still greater wonder seized him when he looked about him and saw the walls and roof-timbers of the house. He began to meditate and to think and to reason in his mind to try to make out how he had come in from the hill. He could not understand the thing at all. He looked toward the window. He saw a person over near the window. It was a woman. Moreover, she was a nurse—the same nurse that had been taking care of Grey Dermot when he was ill! Shiana's wonder and amazement reached their height when he saw her. He did not know in the world what had brought her there, nor what had brought himself where he was, whereas it was outside on the hill, on the moss-plot, he had lain down to sleep in the beginning of the previous night, as he thought. What had brought him in from the hill? Or if he had come in of himself how was it that he did not remember coining in? Was it that he had walked in in his sleep? He felt his bones sore. He looked at his two hands. They were nothing but bones. He put his hand down upon his chest. His ribs were as bare as an old basket!
"I don't know in the earth or the world," said he to himself, "what has happened to me!"
He called the woman. He did not recognise his own voice, it was so weak. She ran to him at once.
"Oh, praise for ever to God, Shiana," said she, "you have your sense and your reason at last! You have got over it. There is no danger of you now, with the help of God!"
"What have I got over?" said he.
"Why," said she, "the worst brain fever I ever met with. But it is gone, great thanks to God for it! Don't talk any more now; you are too weak to talk much. You will soon be strong enough for it, with the help of God. I have a drink here for you. Take it and drink it. It will do you good. There!"
"How long have I been here, Mary?" said he.
"It is three weeks since I came," said she, "and I think you were three days ill before I was sent for."
Shiana lay back and closed his eyes, but it was not to sleep.
"Three weeks! What has happened to me at all?" said he to himself. "Mary!" said he to the woman.
"Yes, Shiana," said she.
"Have you any idea how the illness came upon me?"
"I heard them saying," said she, "that probably you had slept out in the open, and that you had been attacked by some serious illness which affected your head. Your head was very bad, anyway. It was bad during the whole time. Four people were hardly able to keep you in bed sometimes. But whatever it was that was troubling your brain, it is gone. You will soon be as well as ever you were. Go to sleep now for a bit, my dear. Don't talk any more for a while. Much talk would only do you harm. Sleep is what will do you good. Lie back now, my son, and see if you can get a good sleep, fine and quiet and sound." And she settled the pillow under his head. "There!" said she, "don't speak any more now for a while."
He closed his eyes, pretending that he was falling asleep; but instead of sleeping at all, he began to think. He had cause for thinking. Three weeks gone, if the words of the nurse were true; whereas he himself could have sworn that it was only three hours since he was outside on the hill, on the mossplot, talking to the barefooted woman! Whatever way he looked at the thing, he could not account for any more time in it than that. But then, on the other hand, what had made him so weak as he was? What had made him so thin? He was as weak, and as thin, and as much wasted away as a person would be who had gone through three months' illness! How could such a change have come upon his body and limbs in only three hours? If he had had so much pain and sickness and disturbance of mind as the nurse had said, was it not a very extraordinary thing that he had not the smallest remembrance of it? However heavily or soundly a man might sleep, when he would wake out of that sleep he would have some notion of the length or shortness of the time he had spent in sleep, even though he might not remember anything that had happened to him during the time. It was not so with Shiana. It was not alone that everything that had happened to him had gone clean out of his remembrance, but that the time itself had clean gone from him. He felt quite sure that it was three hours, or thereabouts, since he had been out on the hill, talking to the barefooted woman, and he felt in his mind that it was impossible for any more time to have passed. Where had the three weeks come from? That was the question.
The time was completely gone out of his remembrance and out of his mind. He would swear that it was not more than three hours or so since he was on the moss-plot, on the mountain, speaking with the barefooted woman. He had no remembrance whatever of all that had happened to him from the moment he parted from her, until the moment he recovered his senses on his bed. That time, and all that had happened to him during that time, and that portion of his sense and of his memory which belonged to that time, were as clean gone out of his mind as if they had been cut out of his head with a knife. He had not a particle of recollection of the fine day he had had on the mountain, nor of the beautiful view, nor of the fine tracts of country, nor of his climbing the mountains, nor of his picking the monadauns, nor of the treat that Nance had given him, nor of how he had returned home, nor of the strain that was on his mind while he was waiting for the Black Man, nor of the arrival of the Black Man, nor of the discussion that was between them, nor of the way in which they had parted company.
But he did remember that the thirteen years had come to an end.
"To-day he is to come," said he to himself. "It is a bad time, when I am so weak—— But what is that I am saying?" said he again. "This woman says it is three weeks since I fell ill! I was not ill yesterday. It was on the morrow of yesterday that he was to come. It is a strange thing if there are three weeks between yesterday and to-day! And if the three weeks are there, the day has passed and that villain has not come! Perhaps he may not come at all! They are a queer three weeks! Where is there room for them! It is not more than three hours since I was talking to her, and listening to her, and looking at her! Oh! what an angel she is! What an angel of light she is!"
He remained for a long time thinking of her, of her beautiful face, and of the light that shone from her eyes, and her forehead, and her mouth. He thought of how the light went from her eyes into his own eyes and deep into his head and down into his heart. He remembered the words he had said when he felt the happiness that came upon him, and when he was giving thanks to the Eternal Father for having created her, and to the Only Son for having redeemed her, and to the Holy Ghost for having sanctified her. He remembered that she spoke, but he did not remember what she said. He remembered having heard her voice and the sound of her speech, but he did not remember that he understood what she said. He had no recollection at all of the meaning of the speech. No matter how long or how short a time he would go on thinking he found it impossible to discover in his mind that there was any longer space of time between him and when he parted from her on the mountain, than the one while of the night, three hours or so. He thought the sleep which came upon him when he was parting from her, was the sleep out of which he had just awakened that moment.
Grey Dermot came to see him.
"How long is it since I fell ill, Dermot?" said he. "I don't remember exactly."
"That is not the way with me," said Dermot. "I remember quite exactly, and it is no wonder for me to do so. I have a good right to be exact about it. It will soon be three weeks. No fear of the time coming unawares upon me. As soon as Michael heard you were in bed he rushed up here, and I had to mind the shop myself, though I was but badly fit for it. There hasn't been a night since you fell ill that he did not come up. He used to go down again at day-break, but even so he was very little use below. He used to be found asleep in the shop when people came in looking for leather. He used to stay here helping the nurse until Short Mary would come. Mary used to come nearly every night, at the latter end of the night. She was here this morning before Michael went down, but not a ray of consciousness had come to you at that time. You knew nobody. For my part, I never saw a sick man so clean out of his senses as you were during the whole time. You couldn't speak a single word. When I was sick I was delirious, but even if I was, I was not out of my mind altogether; I had sense and memory in a sort of way. I used to know the people, and understand what they said, and speak to them, although there might not be much coherence in my speech sometimes. But there was never as much as a single word to be heard out of your mouth. From what I am told, I don't think that as much as a single word came from your lips from the day you fell sick until you spoke to-day to Art's daughter Mary. Not only that, but one would think that you had no feeling in you. You took no notice of anything. Nobody thought you would recover. The priest was here very often, and he failed to get a word out of you. I dare say it won't be long until he will be here now, and I promise you he will be surprised and glad. Everybody will be surprised and glad, for nobody had any hope of your recovery. But indeed you have thrown it off, great thanks to God for it! Anyone looking at you now would never think you were the same man who was there yesterday. No one was able to make out what was the matter with you. The nurse said it was brain fever, but I don't think anybody believed her. The priest sent two or three doctors here during the time to see if they could do anything for you. None of them did anything but look at you and go away. You never saw such a state of bewilderment as we were all in."
So Shiana gathered the truth of the matter from one neighbour and another, and at length it was borne in upon him that no doubt the time had been passed, in whatever way room was found for it. But how the room was found, or how more than three weeks could have been spent while there were, in his own mind, only three hours instead of three weeks, he failed utterly to make out, and he had to give it up.
But it was all the same. As soon as his sense and reason returned to him he began to improve rapidly. The flesh began to come. Bare as his ribs were, it was not long before it ceased to be possible to count them. Soon his limbs were getting stout, thin as they had been. He recovered more rapidly than even Grey Dermot did. If the sort of illness he had was a puzzle to people, the recovery he made puzzled them still more. When people saw the sort of sickness he had, and how he was out of his right mind and senses, without consciousness or speech, some of them said there was no possibility of his ever rising out of the bed he was in. Others said that, should it happen that he recovered from the sickness, that would be little good for him, because he would never be anything but a fool, and that it would be better for him to die than to be such an object of pity before the people. Others said that things would be worse with him than even that, because his speech was as much ruined as his mind, and that if he were to live eighty years he would never speak a word during his life.
When they all found that he was up, and recovering fast, and that he had his speech in full vigour, and that there was nothing defective or missing in his sense or in his reason, but that he was as discerning and as sharp-witted as ever, they were very glad, no doubt, but their wonder was as great as their joy, and I promise you they were sorry enough that they had not kept silence until they knew what he would do. What they said between themselves was, "If it had been any other man than himself one might make some guess as to what he would do, but nobody ever yet made a guess about that fellow that didn't go wide of the mark."