The Day of Uniting/Chapter 19

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pp. 58–61.


It was dawn on the morning of the sixteenth and a big Rolls stood at the door of Blake's priory. Jimmy came out of the house fastening his gloves and cast an eye at the sky. The chauffeur was waiting.

“I shall not want you, Jones,” said Jimmy. “You had better go to your home and your people.”

Jones grinned.

“I've got neither home nor people, sir,” he said cheerfully, “and if I don't go with you, I shall stay here.”

“Well, you'd better come along,” said jimmy. “No, you'd better stay,” he said after a moment's thought.

It was curious how he had to readjust his system of conduct in the light of the great factor. He could not take the man with him, because that would mean Jones would have to be told, and he could not trust any man to receive that stunning news with philosophy.

Joe came out, buttoned to the neck in a heavy overcoat, for the morning was chilly, and then Delia came, and Jimmy took both her hands in his and smiled into her face.

“You look lovely, Delia,” said Jimmy, “Did you sleep well?”

She nodded.

“It was absurd to sleep, wasn't it?” she laughed. “But one cannot break the habit of a lifetime, even though——

She looked at Jones and cut her words short. Joe climbed into the back of the car, lit his pipe, and pulled a rug over his legs.

“Good-by, Jones,” said Jimmy.

“Good morning, sir,” said Jones, walking by the side of the slowly moving car. “What time do you expect to come back? You'll be back to-night, of course, sir?”

“I don't think so,” said Jimmy, and with a wave of his hand was gone. He did not look back at Blake's priory. This “Day of Uniting” was a day of looking forward.

The streets were deserted, the world was sleeping, and the only people he saw were the policemen slowly pacing their beats.

They stopped at Guildford for breakfast, and Guildford was en fête. The “Day of Uniting” had coincided with the unveiling of the new war memorial and the streets were alive with holiday folk. Here, apparently, the instructions in the proclamation were not being observed. Servants were on duty at the hotel where they breakfasted, though one of them told him that they were being released at twelve o'clock, to spend the day with their families.

The newspapers had been published that morning, since their publication did not involve working very far into “The Day.” Jimmy bought a copy on the street and gazed at it with interest. In billions of years' time perhaps a new civilization would reach its zenith. Would there be brains that could understand, supposing their owners discovered a newspaper which had escaped the world's destruction and the passage of ages, just what all these little figures in black upon white signified to a bygone age?

He turned to the principal news page. There was a story of a crime which had been committed a week before and which had excited attention. There was a statement concerning a new measure for the adjustment of income tax which was to be introduced at the next session of Parliament, there was a speech or two, and the record of a meeting of the royal society, where a professor had lectured upon the peculiar properties which had been discovered in radioactive clay. Jimmy folded the paper with a sigh and put it into his pocket.

“A very uninteresting newspaper,” he said, “and thank God for it!”

“What did they do with this man Palythorpe?” asked the girl.

Jimmy shook his head.

“I think he has been sent to the Tower of London. It is very likely,” he added simply, “that he is dead.”

Their progress was a leisurely one. Jimmy had one hand on the steering wheel, in the other he held Delia's. Her calmness was anodyne to his troubled spirit, and he marveled at her serenity. She had extracted the sting from death and he worshiped her. At a little village where they stopped, they met the vicar outside the parish church, and he gossiped pleasantly.

“Did you see the comet last night? I am told it was a wonderful sight.”

“No,” said Jimmy. “I did not see it.”

“Some of my parishioners saw it. The men who went to work very early in the morning. They said it was extremely beautiful, much larger than any comet they had seen. In fact, it was visible after daybreak.”

“How fascinating!” said Jimmy and changed the subject.

They had to avoid the big military camp which the government had created on Salisbury Plain during the war, and at last they came to a spot in a fold of land, where a little stream trickled and trees cast a pleasant shade. Jimmy turned the car from the road and brought it across country into the tiny valley.

“And here we are,” he said gently. “We'll have lunch in a jiffy. I'm starving.”

He and the girl set the cloth while Joe wandered off on to the plain, and they talked of picnics and discussed food in “a perfectly animal way,” said Delia apologetically.

Jim looked round. Joe was nowhere in sight.

“Delia, I haven't spoken to you about our marriage,” he said. “When you came to me and—and—asked me, you knew, didn't you?”

She nodded.

“And you wanted this to happen before the——

She raised her grave eyes to his.

“I wanted just to know that you were mine,” she said. “I wanted the spiritual union, the sense of belonging to you—I wonder if you understand?”

“I think I do,” said Jimmy quietly. “You don't know what comfort these hours bring and how cheerfully I can face whatever comes because of that very union you spoke Of”

He put his arm round her shoulders and drew her to him. For the second time in his life he kissed her, and he thought how lovely it would be if there were a to-morrow, and wincing, put the thought from his mind.

Joe came back soon after. He was never a loquacious man; he had hardly spoken a word all the day.

“What are you thinking about, Joe?” asked Jimmy, after the lunch was cleared away.

“Oh, just things,” said Joe vaguely. “I wasn't thinking of this afternoon—except in a way. I was just hoping.”

“Hoping? For what?”

Joe shook his head.

“I had a thought this morning as I was dressing. Just a pin-point thought, and it took me a long time before I could hold it for my own comfort.”

“Pass it along,” said Jimmy with a smile. “We all want a little comforting.”

But Joe smiled and shook his head again.

“I think not,” he said.

The morning was hot. The early part of the afternoon was sultry, On the southern horizon great cumulus clouds were piling up, and an occasional gust of wind ruffled the leaves of the tree under which they sat.

“A storm is coming up,” said Jimmy. He looked at his watch; it was half past three.

“I hope it rains,” said the girl. “I love rain.”

For half an hour it seemed that the clouds did not move and then the storm began to move with extraordinary rapidity. The white thunderheads towered higher and higher and the horizon was fringed with a purple haze. Presently they heard the low rumble of thunder.

“I think we'd better get into the car,” said Jimmy. “Help me put up the hood, Joe.”

They had it fixed and were in the car when the first few drops of rain fell. Almost immediately after, there was a blinding flash of light, and a crash that sent the girl shivering closer to Jimmy.

“It is only a storm, my dear,” he smiled.

“I know—only my nerves are just a little—a little upset,” she said faintly.

Jimmy had thought the storm would be a severe one, and in this he was not mistaken.

The fitful wind strengthened to a steady gale. The rolling plains were rimmed with quick, blue flashes of ribbon lightning. The thunder grew from a roll to a roar, and rose to an incessant crackle and crash. And then the rain came down. It poured a solid sheet, blotting out all view of the plain, and through it and above it the blue lightning went “flick-flick!” The air suddenly cooled and the twilight, which the forerunners of the storm had brought, darkened to a terrifying gloom.

Delia pressed her face against Jimmy's breast and put her hands to her ears.

Suddenly there came a terrifying explosion, that deafened and stunned them. It was followed by a sound as though giant hands had torn a sheet of steel as men tear paper. Jimmy drew the girl tighter and pulled a rug over her head and shoulders. He glanced at Joe Sennett. The old man was sucking at his pipe, his blue eyes fixed on vacancy.

“That must have been a tree that was struck,” said Jimmy presently, glancing out and straining his head backward. “Yes,” he nodded, “it was only a tree, Delia, and lightning, my darling, never strikes——

A blue light so intensely brilliant that it blinded him blazed suddenly before his eyes; an ear-splitting crash and the car shook.

“In the same place twice,” murmured Jimmy.

But he knew that it was the second of the trees which had been shattered, for he had seen a molten rivulet of liquid light running along the ground.

It seemed as though the pandemonium had lasted two hours. Then he looked at his watch. It was half past four, and the storm was passing. Rain still fell, but it was lighter. He waited, every second an agony, his watch gripped so tightly in his hand that he broke the glass without realizing the fact. He looked down at the girl and, miracle of miracles, she was asleep! Exhausted nature was taking its toll, and in the midst of that horrific moment, she had surrendered.

Jimmy uttered a prayer of thankfulness. He did not dare turn to Joe, for fear he should wake her, but presently he heard a movement behind him and the old man bent over the back of the seat and looked down at the girl and Jimmy saw a smile on his face.

They waited. How long Jimmy did not know. His senses were numbed, his mind a blank. Then suddenly the girl moved, opened her eyes, and sat up.

“I've been asleep,” she said aghast. “What is the time?”

Jimmy peered at his watch. It was a quarter after five! They looked at one another, and it was Joe Sennett who made the first move. He rose, opened the door of the car, and stepped out. The rain had ceased. Far away to the northward they saw the black bulk of the storm sweeping on its way, but above, the patches of blue between the cloud rack were growing bigger and the sun, showing under the western edge of the cloud line, flooded the plains with golden splendor.

“I think we'll have some tea,” said Jimmy huskily.

And when he looked at his father-in-law he found that Joe Sennett had already lighted the vapor stove they had brought with them. A solemn trio they were. They sat on the running board and sipped at their tea, each busy with his own thoughts. Presently the girl asked:

“What was in the telegram, Jimmy?”

“Telegram?” said Jimmy with a start.

“The telegram I brought over to you at the Warden's Lodge?”

Jimmy gaped at her.

“I never read it,” he said. “Whatever made you think of it?”

“Whatever makes one think of anything at any time?” she asked.

Jimmy realized that he was wearing the same suit of clothes that he had worn on the night he had been taken to the Warden's Lodge. He put his hand in his side pocket, without, however, discovering the telegram. It was in the inside breast pocket that he found it.

“Rather bulky, isn't it?” he asked as he tore it open.

There were three sheets and they were written in German. He looked hurriedly at the last page.

“Schaffer,” he said with a groan. “And I don't understand a word——

He heard the girl's laugh. She took the pages from his hand and read them through, and he saw a frown gathering on her forehead and waited for her to speak. When she did her voice was shaky.

“I don't understand it quite,” she said, “and yet——

“Read it,' said Jimmy.

She smoothed the folds of the sheets on her lap and began:

“My letter to Van Roon was to point out four extraordinary inaccuracies in Maggerson's Calculus of Variations. These are obviously printer's mistakes, but unless they are immediately corrected, there will be grave and serious errors in all astronomical tables which are worked out from the calculus. Please see Maggerson and tell him. As an instance of the danger, I might tell him that I worked out parallax of the new comet, and according to his calculus it would collide with the earth on the sixteenth of May, whereas it really crosses the earth's orbit twenty-three days before the earth reaches line of supposed contact. Schaffer.”

It was Joe Sennett who spoke first.

“That was my thought,” he said in a low voice.

“Did you know?”

“I only know that that dog Elmers deliberately tampered with the type of three books, and I could only pray that he had also done the same with Mr. Maggerson's tables. It was a faint hope, but if he had and had done the work so cleverly that it could not be detected at sight, then it was possible that Mr. Maggerson had made a great error.”

Jimmy rose and stretched himself, and on his face dawned a smile which was a veritable smile of life.

“That is what happened,” he said softly. “I know it, I know it!” And then he laughed, a long, low, hearty laugh that ended in something like a sob. He picked up the girl in his arms, kissed her, and seated her in the car.

“Let us go back to life,' he said as he started the motor.

The sunlight was still in the sky, though the stars were shining brightly overhead, when the mud-spattered Rolls turned into the drive of Blake's priory, to the consternation of Mr. Jones, the chauffeur, who was entertaining a lady friend to supper in the dining room.