In a dark little house—17, Fawcett Street, Bloomsbury —lived the two Brandreths. There are still many houses in London where, it appears, all the dark scenes in Dickens must have been played— Quilp haunts the basements, Jonas Chuzzlewit skulks crafty-eyed from the mutton-reeking dining-room, Lady Dedlock watches the shadow of Mr. Tulkinghorn haunt the spidery ceiling of the little sitting-room. The ghosts of Victorian muffin-men dim the pavement and pale straw-smelling cabs totter home to ghostly stables.
In such a little house lived the Brandreths waiting for the end of the world. Their home had not been changed for thirty, years—not only they but everything in the house from the pink china shepherd and shepherdess on the sitting-room mantelpiece to the old dark clock with the yellow spotted face at the bottom of the stairs was also waiting for the end of the world.
The end of the world had been prophesied throughout the ages to take place exactly at 11:45 on the night of January 20th, 1929. It was strange when you considered that the prophecies had been so universal that only the Brandreths and some half-a-dozen other persons were aware of the important fact. Not strange on the other hand when you consider the important things that only Mr. Isaac Newton or Professor Einstein have known at different times, or even if you wish to consider a little further the strange things that only you yourself know, as for instance how the birds that sleep in the trees above the Rambla in Barcelona look like balls of silver, or that snails are best eaten with a flavour of lemon.
In any case Mr. Brandreth, now a bent silver-haired old bore of seventy, knew about the end of the world when he was twenty or so. He discovered it in the first place when in a temper with his mother. Because she had not cooked his Welsh Rarebit for his supper he sulked in his room (while she, poor lady, loving him, hurriedly cooked Welsh Rarebit to soothe him) and worked out the date from the Books of Isaiah and Ezekiel. He had had always a turn for mathematics, and it was late that night when, his mouth full of his desired toasted cheese, he made the astonishing discovery that the end of the world was arranged for precisely 11:45 on the night of January 20th, 1929. He went over his figures many times and found them quite correct, and in the rather hectic dreams that followed the cheese, God wrapped in a robe of silver wool came to him and congratulated him on having made a remarkable discovery.
Brandreth, like the rest of us, had a character commingled of many opposites. We are partly what others make of us, and to those who found Brandreth a bore that was exactly what he was. But there were others who saw in his pale thin hair, long bony nose and sharp watchful grey eyes a fascinating mystery. He never said very much and so seemed to be thinking the more. But, as a matter of fact he was, for most of the time, not thinking at all.
AH his life long he was clerk in a bank in Wigmore Street and his natural ability for figures allowed him to do his work most efficiently and without any need for imaginative effort.
It was true perhaps that he had a good deal of the poet in him. One evidence of this was that he never felt the slightest desire to write poetry and another that he bought soon after his marriage the china shepherd and shepherdess for no other reason than that he liked the look of them.
But he put no poetry into his relationship with God. That was as practical and accurate a relationship as his attitude to figures. His great discovery could not even be said to have made him a religious man: it only made him an extremely conceited one; and there is no conceit so all-absorbing as the one that must keep its reasons secret. He cherished his World-Destroying Date as another man would cherish a secret vice. It was for him a secret vice and gave him all the sense of luxury, the pride of rare personality, the rich incense-smoke of danger that secret vices give to their possessors. It gave him also an air of sacred mystery that irritated his fellow-clerks but attracted certain innocent persons, for the most part women. The clerks credited him with hidden mistresses (and wondered how he, mean as he was, managed to keep them) and the women, with hidden knowledge.
Mary Carter, an innocent child living with her parents who kept a boarding-house in Kensington, fell in love with him and saw him in a fire of poetry and golden mystery. He liked her figure and, being a most moral young man, married her.
They, went to live in Bloomsbury and there patiently awaited the end of the world. When Mary Brandreth heard the news it did not seem to her an impossible event. The world must end sometime, her husband was the cleverest man she had ever known, and she was so deeply in love that she would believe anything that he told her.
The date, moreover, was thirty years removed and her only anxiety at first was as to the effect of the catastrophe on their children. When, after some years, it was clear that there would be no children, she was immensely relieved.
Mary Brandreth was, in the early years of her married life, a very simple woman. She believed utterly in the good Victorian doctrine taught her by her mother that a woman only truly, lived when serving her husband and children. She had received no regular education but knew everything about how to help in running a boarding-house—that is she knew how to deal with lying guests, ill-mannered servants, insolent tradespeople, and an ailing mother. This knowledge made her in no way a cynic. She was a bright little thing when she married Brandreth. She thought on her wedding day that a splash of Heaven had fallen on to the carpet and would never leave it again. Thirty years of marriage destroyed her sense of magic. What did it give her in exchange? It gave her a permanent horror of conjugal embraces, neuralgia behind the right ear, a tolerant but amused contempt of men, and a sense that God was the head of a large banking concern and sat in a dark room counting up figures.
Although it in no wise disturbed the regular pattern of her life it was nevertheless a memorable moment when she heard God’s decision about the world’s extinction. It was memorable for another reason: namely, that it was at this same time that she realized that she loved her husband no longer. How does love disappear from marriage? Ask the innumerable banging of doors, colds in the nose, buying of things that must be paid for, white lies, and a too confiding physical intimacy.
The stars in their courses fight against the dying of love, but not always with success. Women are patient and blind because they wish to be. Men are selfish and consider love only part of life. Poverty prevents separation and monotony gives unreal importance to ears that are too red, complacences that are too stupid, preoccupations that are too selfishly trivial.
So Mary woke up on this foggy winter evening when her husband was most offensively peeling an orange with his finger-nails and had forgotten, as he lazily informed her, to speak to the landlord about the leak in the lavatory, to discover that her husband was less to her than a piece of dough but that, on the whole, she would rather live with him than with anyone else. She looked about the little stuffy room with the paper fans, the photographs, the china shepherd and shepherdess and the picture of the Fall of Jerusalem and sighed.
“I suppose,” she said, “we shall go on like this, evening after evening, for ever and ever.”
“No,” he answered, chasing a piece of orange round his teeth with his finger, “only until 11:45, January 20th, 1929.”
“Whatever do you mean, Henry?”
“Just what I say.” A faint colour of excitement tinged his cheeks. “No one will be living with anyone after 11:45, January 20th, 1929, That’s the end of the world.”
For a moment she thought that he had gone mad and regarded him with a new interest, for she thought that she might begin to love him again were he truly, out of his senses; he would be a more romantic figure, would be more dependent upon her care and would touch her heart again.
But no. He was extremely practical. He brought out his papers and proceeded to show her in his most lucid and bank-clerkly manner exactly why his calculations were so certain. They seemed to her to be so. She had no capacity for figures and an immense respect for her husband in that direction. Moreover he acquired a new character as he talked to her. His thin hair seemed to glow, his nose showed a noble curve, his eyes had fire—and this not at all because the End of the World seemed to him a poetic and romantic event but because the mathematical accuracy of his figures inspired him. It inspired Mary also. She sat near to him at the table, her round soft figure gathered into a kind of ball of eagerness. She was plump and pink, neat and amiable, then and ever. Nothing disordered her appearance. It was as though the necessity of appearing for so many years neat and undisturbed before her mother’s lodgers had stamped itself forever on her soul. Neat and orderly she would always be.
When he came to the end of his announcement and sat back with an air of completed triumph, she could almost have loved him again. Her sense of his cleverness swallowed up completely any shock at the gravity, of his news. Nineteen Twenty-Nine! What a long way away! In three weeks it would be Nineteen Hundred. Thirty years! Thirty years! Why, Henry, was already forty and she herself thirty-five. They would probably both be dead by Nineteen Twenty-Nine.
The years passed with incredible swiftness but, oddly enough, the threatened date came no nearer. As is fortunate for the aged we live for the actual moment only. The past is dust, the future a fairy-tale. Thirty years in Fawcett Street gave Mary Brandreth two layers of experience. The top layer littered with things like bacon-rind, gloves in holes, holidays at Ramsgate and a book by the fire. The lower layer, which was concerned with the growth of her soul, seemed bare enough until you looked closely at it. No one looked closely, least of all Mary. The truth was she did not think of herself but only of the things that, day by day, she must do. Love being gone and her life emptied of all personal relations she busied herself with her daily duties: rise at 7:30, breakfast for Henry, slapping the house to keep it in order, choosing cabbages in the cheapest shops, a poached egg for lunch, slapping the house again, gossip with a shiny nose, a pair of pince-nez, or a new pink blouse (the shiny nose is called Miss Morrison, the pince-nez Mrs. Blunt, the pink blouse silly Miss Scatchard), then Henry home again, Henry blowing on his soup, Henry reading the paper, Henry snoring at her side.
So the thirty years passed and were it not for the second layer you might ask yourself (but Mary never asked herself) whether this is life. She had no curiosity about her soul. She went to church every Sunday at Saint Elizabeth’s, Roswell Street, and there, like the rest, she said that she was a miserable sinner without meaning it and prayed for light to lighten her darkness without considering her words, because for years and years she had slept like one of the dead.
There came at last a time when she didn’t sleep so well and—this was really irritating—Henry didn’t sleep so well either. Henry’s nights were broken with a cough that he had, and this cough became one of Mary’s burdens.
It was a cough with a life all its own. This was strange about it, that it never came near Henry in the day-time and always chose its moment for disturbing Mary when, after much difficulty, she had at last sunk into her first sound sleep.
Kingdoms have been lost and won for causes less epochal than this cough. It was a cough with a histoiy and progress all of its own. First it was a whisper, a murmuring strangling suggestion of what was to come; then it hesitated and the world held its breath while the chances were balancing; then, deciding on action, it broke into the silence, angry, rasping, indignant, protesting; then it raged in shrill feminine uproar; then seemed to die away, returned again, more complaining than ever, faded at last into a long scratching, teasing anticlimax, sighing finally to its death.
Henry was rather proud of his cough than otherwise. He had all man’s odd determination to applaud his possessions as magnificently unique, simply because they were his. Mary at last proposed that she should sleep elsewhere. Henry said very little but showed her that he would strangle her in that event and count it no murder. So she remained.
But, lying awake and running races with the loud-voiced, yellow-faced clock, seeing the Cough walk the bedroom in person as a white-faced, spindle-shanked old man in a nightshirt, she began at last to consider her latter end and indeed the end of all the world.
The years passed. There was the War with air-raids that shared the Cough’s idle irresponsibility, there was the rationing of sugar and butter, the death in Flanders of Mrs. Tallon’s youngest boy and May Cross’s lover, there was the Armistice with its disappointing wet evening, there was 1919 and there was 1920 and there was 1921. Nineteen Twenty-Nine was not now so very far away.
She began then consciously to share with Henry his secret. They were now two old people. They had for one another that attitude, customary in human beings who have lived so long together in physical contact, of emphasizing half-a-dozen small things. Mary saw Henry as a Cough, a Pretence of Deafness when an answer would be a bore, a Wearer of Loose Slippers, a Master of Accounts, and a lover of Welsh Rarebit. Henry saw Mary as a Spendthrift (which she was not), an incorrigible Lover of Idle Pleasure (which she was not), and a Dullard. Nevertheless their secret—to which they never alluded—bound them together.
One night, in the Spring of 1922, Mary, wakened by the Cough, had a sudden startling conviction of Sin. She was a tender-hearted, generous woman and it came to her in a flash that they were behaving wickedly because they kept their secret to themselves. Here in another brief year or two everything would come to an end. How it would come she had never in all these years considered. It might be Bang! like a shot from a gigantic gun, or it might be an immediate slipping into darkness and icy cold, or it might be a blast from a Trumpet—whatever way it came it would be the End for millions and millions of poor souls who, had they but known, could have made preparations, wound up their affairs, said their farewells to those whom they loved.
It was strange that never had she doubted the certain truth of her husband’s calculations. For one thing the fact had been with her so long that it was now part of herself like the ache in the soles of her feet when she shopped or the earache that came with an easterly wind. For another, she had an immense respect for figures and especially for her husband’s mastery of them. He had made his calculations and he was never wrong.
Well then, what about all these others? Was it not awful that they should not be warned? Although she had no very close friends there were yet a number of men and women for whom she cared. How could she face them now knowing what she knew and yet keeping it from them?
At last, after much considering hesitation she spoke to Henry. Did he not think it right that some others should share their knowledge with them?
He was not, to her surprize, as scornful as usual. He had a way, when she suggested anything, of looking at her as though she were a candidate for the nearest mad-house, and it had been always one of the exasperations of their life together that, while he regarded her proposals with contempt, the merest neighbour might, afterwards, make the very, same suggestion and be welcomed.
On this occasion, however, she caught a glimpse of something in him deeper than she had for a long time realized. This had worried him also—his duty to others. Perhaps there had been some vanity mingled with it, the desire to extract from some beside his poor imbecile wife awe and admiration.
He thought about it: for days he forgot his business and did What he had not done for many years, gave his imagination freedom. The possibility of telling others opened suddenly a new light on his own convictions. Incredulity, scorn, public laughter . . . after all, was he so sure? He had for so many years trusted confidently in his calculations. Now he renewed them all, spent hours of the evening at home in delicate company of prophecy with prophecy, of year with year, of text with text. His task was of course at the heart of it absurd. He was no Hebrew scholar, had no especial knowledge of biblical criticism, trusted in the main to an old faded brown volume “Human Destiny as Revealed by the Prophets” written by one Jacob Rampion fifty years ago.
Indeed he was too honest a man to cheat himself as to his own ignorance. He knew that he knew nothing, but it was this very ignorance that seemed to fortify him—”out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.” Someone had chosen him for this especial knowledge. Had he been more of a scholar he would have doubted more. Behind all the figures, the doubts, the hesitations that certainly seemed to beat: “Eleven forty-five, January Twentieth, Nineteen Twenty-nine. This is my word to you and you must keep it.”
He reached indeed now a very close personal intimacy with God. This did not give him at all the air of a prophet. He remained for his fellow clerks and all the outside world a neat, white-bearded, reticent, sharp-tempered old man who knew his business and did it without an unnecessary word to anyone.
“Thinks he’s God Almighty,” they sometimes said of him, but not because he was inspired, only because he was conceited.
At last, after much anxious thought, some six persons were informed. They were chosen with the utmost care: first Amy Durham, an old maid who worshipped him and thought he could do no wrong; then James Saxton, a wizened old man who came in sometimes of an evening to play dominoes with him, and old Clara his wife. Later there were three more: Rumbold, a cigar merchant who had found God in a vision some ten years back—he was the only visionary of the little group; Jane, his daughter, a simple-minded girl who believed anything her father told her; and old Miss Turtis, a friend of Mary’s and so desperately afraid of God that she looked under her bed for Him every night before climbing into bed.
There they were: Amy Durham, James and Clara Sax-ton, William Rumbold and his daughter Jane, and old Miss Turtis. They all for different reasons believed in Henry’s statement, being in fact like most human beings, only too ready to believe in anything, were they only let alone.
There was no appearance among them of religious sectarianism; there was no appearance of any religion at all, but as time wore on and the date approached more nearly, they formed ever more strongly the habit of staying closely together. They did feel that they were marked out from the rest of the world. William Rumbold, who daily walked with God, had long worn the air of a mystic although Nature had ill-designed him for the role, making him square of figure and stout of belly. Miss Turtis became a little mad, waving her hands in the air and talking aloud to herself in the street. The others stayed outwardly unchanged.
Mary, who was old and often in pain and always with too much work to do, found that she awaited the date with increasing eagerness. Life had not given her so many delights that she should shrink from leaving it. She was weary of the monotony of event, the scantiness of finances, above all of Henry.
Whether there were another life or no—and of this she could never be quite determined—the probabilities were that after January 20th, 1929, she would be relieved of Henry’s cough, of his complaints about his meals, his exasperating habit of scratching his beard, his certainty so often expressed that she herself was a fool.
When the Last Trump sounded, Henry would go with the rest and it would be surely to credit Providence with too persistently malicious an attention to details to suppose that she should still be compelled to remain with him. Every night now when he awoke her with his cough, she counted the months to her relief from it and, lying there beside him, watching his thin body shaken with it, stepping out onto the cold oil-cloth to fetch him his drops, she would mutter: “Not for much longer, Henry.”
As time went on she became extremely weary of the rest of the group; Miss Turtis with her holy mutterings, Rum-bold with his stout ecstasies that were like so many stomach-exercises, the Saxtons with their air of being in on an especially lucrative betting action.
She was kind of heart but desperately, desperately fatigued. The thought that in another year and a half the buying of cabbages would be over for her forever was as strong a relief to her brain as her evening cup of tea was to her body.
On Christmas Day, 1927, she and Henry had a word or two. He had invited the Group for a quiet Christmas evening, Mary had been willing enough that they should come, had even prepared a little supper for them, but when at last they were all there, eating and drinking as though they would never have another Christmas meal (and they would, poor things, have but one more), eyeing one another with a sort of tyrannous intimacy (as though they despised one another but were held together and must put up with it), she felt that it needed all her self-control not to slap their faces and bang their heads together. Afterwards they played cards for infinitesimal points and squabbled over their gains and losses. It looked bad because Henry and Mary had won more than any of their guests and, although the winnings were but a few shillings, the principle was the same.
Mary, in spite of her round rosy placidity, was very grim. After the guests’ departure Henry, moving bedwards, threw over his shoulder.
“Never knew you so grumpy. What was the matter with you?”
“Sick of it,” Mary answered. “Simply sick of it.”
“Sick of what?” he asked her.
“Everything. Eveiy day. Every, hour.”
He was shocked. “That’s blasphemous,” he said,
“Anyway,” she answered. “There’s only another year of it, thank God,”
That made him very angry. By tacit agreement they never alluded to the Event. He scolded her volubly. At the end of it she simply nodded her head.
“It’s all veiy well for you, Henry, Your work interests you, but I’ve got nothing. You’re as wearisome to me as all the rest—you and your cough.”
This shocked him so deeply that he could say nothing but only stood there, a pathetic figure perhaps with his bones and untidy hair and mouth gaping.
Then, as the year advanced, she discovered that there was something she was afraid of. Of what? She could not conceive. Certainly not of death, for if it were eternal sleep it were a blessing, and if it were something more active then at least there woidd be a change.
Certainly it was not fear of leaving anyone, for there was no one to leave. There was no lonelier person in all the world than she. She had not now a friend in the world and to leave Henry would be a miracle of relief. She was no poet. She did not see the world as a masterpiece of stars, tapestries, and cloth of gold, but rather as a messy arrangement of unwashed plates, unpaid bills, and ‘shooing’ the cat. She was no investigator. She had never asked the reason for anything in her life. She was no ironist; the sense that life was a ridiculous affair gave her no satisfaction at all.
No. . . . And yet there it was. One day she would discover of what she was afraid and then it might be too late.
When the foggy autumn days arrived—days when every London face seemed the ghost of every other—the Group began to show nerves. They kept ever closer the one to the other. They led lives of the most scrupulous purity and honesty. They guarded every word that fell from their lips and spoke most kindly of their neighbours.
No one of them had any near and dear to leave behind them, but they, began to develop a curious affection for everyone whom they encountered, as one does on the day before a long journey into a distant and perilous land. It was now a regular thing for them to meet in the dingy little house in Fawcett Street every evening. Henry and Rum-bold played dominoes, Miss Turtis patience, Mary worked about the house. They said very little to one another, for what could they say that was of any kind of importance?
Every event, whether it were King George’s illness, the cricket in Australia, the sad plight of the poor miners in Wales and Northern England, reached triviality, in comparison with the approaching End of Everything. They developed indeed a kind of grim interest in the King’s sickness. Poor man! Did he but know the vain uselessness of all this struggle! At one time eleven doctors came to see him! What an expense and all for nothing! Little Miss Turtis felt very badly about it indeed. Once and again it was announced that someone had committed suicide. Here most truly was wasted effort!
Mary alone found that she could take no interest at all in any outside event. So tired and exhausted was she that she could scarcely think. Dimly sometimes she speculated on the nature of the Event. Would it be a fearful explosion? She did hope not. She could not abide a sudden noise and always put her hands to her cars in a theatre when anyone handled a revolver. But the relief, the blessed relief! No more Henry, no more Cough, no more drying of dishes, no more shabby shopping, no more earache, no more. . . . And yet. . . . And yet. . . . There was this doubt, this hesitation. Some discovery that she would make. Something that she had yet to learn. . . .
Christmas evening was damp and disagreeable. They sat, all of them, about the fire, quite silent. Not a word was spoken. When twelve struck they whispered one another good-night and crept away.
A clear sparkling brittle frost caught the town. London was crystallized, suggesting like a frosted mirror that a magical view hung only just beyond sight. You walked the streets as though their walls were hung with the sparkling globes of the Christmas Tree and, in the little Squares, where no sound came, the thin rind of frost lay all day on the sheet of green. Everyone was expectant but of what no one knew. King George V was better in his health, the cricketers played well in Australia, and so Englishmen were happy.
It is true that the miners were uncomfortable, but that trouble would right itself very shortly.
January 20th arrived and was damp and foggy once more. Expectancy was over. Once more the promise of beauty was not fulfilled. A young man in Paris on his honeymoon wrote discontentedly in his diary: “At the Louvre. The Gioconda has a smut in her eye.” Someone in Stockholm, a painter, discovered a new way of immortalizing the right shade of purple. In Rome a lady lost her Pekinese, in Granada some Americans from a Mediterranean cruise whilst visiting the Alhambra thought of a new fancy-dress for the dance aboard-ship to-morrow night. All those were important events to the persons concerned. In 17 Fawcett Street, Bloomsbury, London, the old yellow-faced clock struck eleven-thirty. The Group was gathered round the table with the faded red table-cloth that had a hole in its right-hand corner. Miss Turtis, Mr. Rumbold and his daughter were praying, Miss Turtis aloud but the Rumbolds with their heads bowed. The Saxtons, James and Clara, sat with their hands clasped. They looked at one another dimly but with the eyes of love. Their lives had been to any outside person completely useless and uninteresting, but for themselves both dramatic and eventful, for they had discovered with every month that love, when it really sets to work and intends to make a good job of it, can pierce depth after depth of new experience and that there is no end to its discoveries. Not that they, thought of it like that. They only held hands and waited in perfect confidence. It was for them as though they were moving out of one house into another one. And so long as they were together it did not matter to them what sort of house it might be.
Mary, looking at them, envied them. How wonderful could she but feel like that about Henry,! But, looking across the table at him, even at this ultimate moment he irritated her. He was sitting there, his hands folded in front of him, in a state of maddening self-complacency. The great moment of his life had come, not at all because he was about to meet his God or pierce the splendours of Heaven or answer once and for all the great overwhelming Question; simply because in another ten minutes the cleverness of his mathematical calculations would be proved.
Yes, Mary knew of what he was thinking. Her own thoughts were too wearily confused for any summary. She was thinking perhaps of nothing at all, except of the intense relief that the End would bring her. Or was it that? Was there not an apprehension? She moved restlessly, clasping and unclasping her hands.
Their eyes were now all fixed upon the clock. There was absolute stillness save for its ticking. No sound without the house or within it. Mary’s thoughts ran to old Ellen, the ‘char’ who came in mornings to clean. They had had many relations together during these years, Ellen and Mary. Relations friendly, hostile, humourous, pathetic. It had been cruel not to tell her. But was it cruel? Was it not better for her to move unconsciously, not knowing, asleep by, now … ?
The hands moved. Six minutes, five, four. . . . Miss Turtis cried out with a sharp hysterical whine: “Oh God, receive me, receive me, into Thy Kingdom! Oh God, receive me, receive me!”
She sprang to her feet, staring at the clock. The clock, that was now for them the only thing alive in the world, gave the little drunken twisted whirr that always came before it struck.
“NOW!” cried Llenry, leaping to his feet, his eyes on fire.
The clock wheezed the three-quarters—then, after another little chirrup of self-satisfaction, went on quietly ticking. The silence was as profound as before.
Nothing had happened.
Nothing had happened.
They waited in silence for five minutes, ten, then the clock struck the hour. They listened to all the twelve strokes. They heard dimly from the Church two streets away midnight sound.
Then Rumbold rose.
“I fancy your calculations were out, friend,” he said, then got his hat and coat and, followed by his daughter, stole away.
The others, without a word, followed him.
Henry and Mary sat at the table for an hour longer and no word spoken.
At last Henry, his face dulled, blanched, his eyes weary, his voice wretchedly dejected, murmured: “The figures were wrong. It was like Rumbold said. I miscalculated. All these years I’ve been cheating you.”
Then Mary knew. A flood of warmth, of exhilaration, of discovery swept over her. That was what she had feared, not death, not pain, not punishment, but the leaving the little daily things, the plates, the Cough, the shopping, the London streets, the barrows of fruits and vegetables, the pages of the Daily Express, the buying a new ribbon for her hat, the smell of eggs and bacon, the chatter of a morning with Ellen—even the pains and weariness, the earache, the weariness of the feet, the damp of a wet day, the climbing of the stairs at night—everything was to go on after all. She was old, but there would still be some years of it, years of Fawcett Street and Henry and light and dark, sleep and waking. She would not leave them. They were with her still. She was happy as she had never been since she was a young girl in love.
He stole a frightened look at her. She would laugh at him now, the one thing that he always feared.
“You’ll despise me now, deceiving you so.”
She looked at him. She did not love him any more than she had done. It was not love that she felt. But she was glad that he was there, just as he was—just exactly as he was.
He began to cough. She slowly climbed the stairs to his bedroom to fetch him his drops.