The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/The Sinner's Comedy/Chapter 10

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Anna wrote to him at last to come and see her.

The day was dim: rain seemed to be falling, though it left no trace on the damp road and pavements. Carbury Street—at best a cheerless row of unhomelike dwellings—had to Sacheverell's overwrought mind a terribly ominous gloom. In Number 14, one light was burning on the second floor; he guessed it was Anna's sitting-room. He walked up the steps slowly—with no gladness, no hope, only a weight at his heart. A dull little maid-servant ushered him up the stairs; he gave his name in a voice he did not recognise; the servant girl disappeared behind a portière, came out again and left him. As the door closed, the portière moved and Anna stood before him.

"Well?" she said, smiling, "well?"

Sacheverell put out his hand and just touched her. She was not a Spirit. She wore the dress he had last seen her in—one he knew well—a black garment of very ordinary make, threadbare but exquisitely neat. Her eyes were large, and shone with unearthly brightness; her face had a white radiance which wasneither deathlike nor human. The beauty of her countenance made him dumb; he felt she had seen a glory he knew not of—nor guessed. She led him into an inner room—a tiny room lit by a flaring oil-lamp, badly trimmed and smelling of paraffin. Again they faced each other.

"I cannot see you very well," said Anna, at last, "but you are the same—a little thinner—but the same. Is it the light on your hair or—is it grey? How I wish I could see you better. I have lived for this."

"Am I granite?" wondered Sacheverell, "am I human?" But he said nothing.

"Tell me about you" said Anna; "tell me about your Palace. Have you a nice, big study—with a large window and long shelves for your books? Does it open on to the garden?"

"Oh, my dearest," said Sacheverell, "have you been well taken care of? Have you everything you wish? I want to know—and I don't seem able——"

She laughed, and took his hand. "I thought it was all ended twice. George was very frightened—he soon loses his nerve—but, you see, I am here." She bent over him, and he thought she kissed his forehead. "When can we have one of our old walks together? I cannot go far yet. Not more than two miles——"

"Two miles! My dearest——"

"Don't you believe me? I can—I am sure I could—with you."

"No," he stammered, "no—not yet. The weather—the weather is not bright enough. You must rest a little longer. Perhaps in March."

Her eyes looked far away: she seemed a little disappointed. "In March," she repeated; " but it is only February, now. In March!"

"Anna," he said, " I have known—I have always known—when you were suffering. Where is Christian? Does he take care of you?"

"He thinks he is being very kind," she said; "he means to be, at any rate."

"I will forgive him everything," said Sacheverell, "if he takes care of you."

"Don't you see," she said, "don't you understand—that his care is what is killing me? That it has killed me? I feel as though I were in prison. I cannot tell him so. I cannot tell the doctors so. Besides, I am too weak to be moved. Mine was the mistake. I should not have returned to him. But I could not let him die. The very sight of him," she said again, "kills me."

"I know—I know, I knew," he said.

"Don't let us talk of it. In March—perhaps something will happen in March. You said March, didn't you? I am supposed to be suffering from a sort of overwork. I shall never finish 'Pompilia' now. But tell me about you."

"How are your money matters?" he said, abruptly. The question was wrung from him. He looked round the shabby, cold room, and hated himself and his palace.

"In a few weeks I shall be in the poorhouse," said Anna, laughing. "A new experience! It will all be useful to my work. Local colour!"

"Anna," he said, desperately, "you must let me— —"

"I am only in fun, of course," she said. " If I wanted anything, I would tell you. You know I would. But I shall soon be well again, and away from here. If only my eyes—— Let me look at you once more." She sighed at once, and turned away. He saw a tear roll down her cheek. "Do you think," she said, "we shall ever see the Studio—again?"

He made no answer, but, following a blind instinct, caught her hand. He knew afterwards that it was a pitiful effort to hold her from Death.

"I suppose you must go now," she said. He felt that this was her way of telling him that her strength was failing. He rose, and kissed her good-bye. "I have lived, dearest," said Anna.

A little later he found himself in the street. All feeling had left him: he had no mind—not even enough to wonder whether his soul were dead. He walked into the gathering darkness—on and on. Then by degrees he remembered that the meeting he had longed, without hoping for—had taken place. He had gained his heart's desire: he had seen Anna once more—spoken to her—touched her—heard her voice. Swifter than words the thought rushed over him that he must see her again and explain: he had been cold, distant, speechless, impossible.

He drove back to Carbury Street.

The landlady opened the door this time. She told him that Mrs. Christian was resting on the sofa: she had not felt quite strong enough yet to go upstairs to her room. She was wonderful easy tired. But she would, no doubt, see him.

"I was obliged to come back, Anna," he said, when he saw her. "I think my heart is broken; but, you know—I love you. Words are nothing."

Anna laughed. "I understand, of course," she said. "How could I misunderstand you? My dearest and best—my very dearest."

He drew a long sigh. "If you understand," he said, "that is enough. But I wanted to make sure." He knelt down by her side and kissed her hands.

"It is not every one," she said, "who can say—as I can say—I have found perfect happiness and perfect love. I think of that, and forget everything else. Good-bye. You will come again—soon?"

"Soon," he said.

In the hall he met a man, drunken, not ill-featured, but of evil expression. He reeled past Sacheverell with a dull stare, and groped his way up the staircase, bawling:—

"It is not mine to sing the stately grace,

The sweet soul shining in my lady's face.

Not mine in glo-glorious melodies— —"

It was George Christian. And it was for him to close her eyes in death.