3.

Mabel stood perfectly still until she heard the locking of the door and the withdrawal of the key. Then once more she went to the window and clasped the sill.

From where she stood there was visible to her first the courtyard beneath, with its lawn in the centre, and a couple of trees growing there—all plain in the brilliant light that now streamed from her window, and secondly, above the roofs, a tremendous pall of ruddy black. It was the more terrible from the contrast. Earth, it seemed, was capable of light; heaven had failed.

It appeared, too, that there was a curious stillness. The house was, usually, quiet enough at this hour: the inhabitants of that place were in no mood for bustle: but now it was more than quiet; it was deathly still: it was such a hush as precedes the sudden crash of the sky’s artillery. But the moments went by, and there was no such crash: only once again there sounded a solemn rolling, as of some great wain far away; stupendously impressive, for with it to the girl’s ears there seemed mingled a murmur of innumerable voices, ghostly crying and applause. Then again the hush settled down like wool.

She had begun to understand now. The darkness and the sounds were not for all eyes and ears. The nurse had seen and heard nothing extraordinary, and the rest of the world of men saw and heard nothing. To them it was no more than the hint of a coming storm.

Mabel did not attempt to distinguish between the subjective and the objective. It was nothing to her as to whether the sights and sounds were generated by her own brain or perceived by some faculty hitherto unknown. She seemed to herself to be standing already apart from the world which she had known; it was receding from her, or, rather, while standing where it had always done, it was melting, transforming itself, passing to some other mode of existence. The strangeness seemed no more strange than anything else than that … that little painted box upon the table.

Then, hardly knowing what she said, looking steadily upon that appalling sky, she began to speak… .

O God!” she said. “If You are really there really there—-“

Her voice faltered, and she gripped the sill to steady herself. She wondered vaguely why she spoke so; it was neither intellect nor emotion that inspired her. Yet she continued… .

O God, I know You are not there—of course You are not. But if You were there, I know what I would say to You. I would tell You how puzzled and tired I am. No—No—I need not tell You: You would know it. But I would say that I was very sorry for all this. Oh! You would know that too. I need not say anything at all. O God! I don’t know what I want to say. I would like You to look after Oliver, of course, and all Your poor Christians. Oh! they will have such a hard time… . God. God—You would understand, wouldn’t You?” …

 

Again came the heavy rumble and the solemn bass of a myriad voices; it seemed a shade nearer, she thought… . She never liked thunderstorms or shouting crowds. They always gave her a headache …

Well, well,” she said. “Good-bye, everything—-“

Then she was in the chair. The mouthpiece—yes; that was it… .

She was furious at the trembling of her hands; twice the spring slipped from her polished coils of hair… . Then it was fixed … and as if a breeze fanned her, her sense came back… .

She found she could breathe quite easily; there was no resistance—that was a comfort; there would be no suffocation about it… . She put out her left hand and touched the handle, conscious less of its sudden coolness than of the unbearable heat in which the room seemed almost suddenly plunged. She could hear the drumming pulses in her temples and the roaring of the voices… . She dropped the handle once more, and with both hands tore at the loose white wrapper that she had put on this morning… .

Yes, that was a little easier; she could breathe better so. Again her fingers felt for and found the handle, but the sweat streamed from her fingers, and for an instant she could not turn the knob. Then it yielded suddenly… .

 

For one instant the sweet languid smell struck her consciousness like a blow, for she knew it as the scent of death. Then the steady will that had borne her so far asserted itself, and she laid her hands softly in her lap, breathing deeply and easily.

She had closed her eyes at the turning of the handle, but now opened them again, curious to watch the aspect of the fading world. She had determined to do this a week ago: she would at least miss nothing of this unique last experience.

It seemed at first that there was no change. There was the feathery head of the elm, the lead roof opposite, and the terrible sky above. She noticed a pigeon, white against the blackness, soar and swoop again out of sight in an instant… .

 … Then the following things happened… .

There was a sudden sensation of ecstatic lightness in all her limbs; she attempted to lift a hand, and was aware that it was impossible; it was no longer hers. She attempted to lower her eyes from that broad strip of violet sky, and perceived that that too was impossible. Then she understood that the will had already lost touch with the body, that the crumbling world had receded to an infinite distance—that was as she had expected, but what continued to puzzle her was that her mind was still active. It was true that the world she had known had withdrawn itself from the dominion of consciousness, as her body had done, except, that was, in the sense of hearing, which was still strangely alert; yet there was still enough memory to be aware that there was such a world—that there were other persons in existence; that men went about their business, knowing nothing of what had happened; but faces, names, places had all alike gone. In fact, she was conscious of herself in such a manner as she had never been before; it seemed as if she had penetrated at last into some recess of her being into which hitherto she had only looked as through clouded glass. This was very strange, and yet it was familiar, too; she had arrived, it seemed, at a centre, round the circumference of which she had been circling all her life; and it was more than a mere point: it was a distinct space, walled and enclosed… . At the same instant she knew that hearing, too, was gone… .

Then an amazing thing happened—yet it appeared to her that she had always known it would happen, although her mind had never articulated it. This is what happened.

The enclosure melted, with a sound of breaking, and a limitless space was about her—limitless, different to everything else, and alive, and astir. It was alive, as a breathing, panting body is alive—self-evident and overpowering—it was one, yet it was many; it was immaterial, yet absolutely real—real in a sense in which she never dreamed of reality… .

Yet even this was familiar, as a place often visited in dreams is familiar; and then, without warning, something resembling sound or light, something which she knew in an instant to be unique, tore across it… .

 

Then she saw, and understood… .