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   Chapter 29 No.29

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 17155

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


In the Book of Job it all happened, to Job, in the apparent compass of one piece of time not broken by diurnal intervals, not mitigated by recuperative cessations between blow and blow. It seemed to Rosalie that it was like that it happened also to her. There seemed no interval. It seemed to her wrath on wrath, visitation upon visitation, judgment upon judgment.

It seemed to her that she was no sooner come down out of the Old Bailey-her hand touching at things for support, her vision vertiginous, causing the solid ground to be in motion, her ears resonant, crying through her brain the words she saw in Huggo's look as they removed him; it seemed to her she was no sooner out from there than she was at the telephone and summoned by the foreign friend and was there with Doda and was in process of "Oh, Doda!"-"Oh, mother!"; it seemed to her she was no sooner out from that than she was with that burly messenger, going with him, returning from him. There were days and nights walled up in weeks and months between these things, but that is how they seemed to Rosalie.

The syndicate was laid by the heels, one here, one there, Huggo in France, very shortly after the warning that had put Huggo in flight. The syndicate went through the police court where was unfolded a story sensational with surprising sums of money, captivating with ingenuity of fraud covered up by fraud to help new fraud again. The syndicate stood in the dock at the Old Bailey. Those two of the syndicate described by the prosecution and by the judge as the principals were sentenced to three years' penal servitude. "You," said the judge, addressing with a new note in his voice the third prisoner, "You, Occleve, stand in a different-"

Rosalie began to pray.

Harry would not attend the trial. He had done all that could be done, and of his position there was very much that he was able to do, and had attended the police court during the initial proceedings. He would not go to the Old Bailey. He would not go out. He would not read the papers. He used to sit about the house. "My son a felon.... My boy a felon. My son.... My eldest son...."

Rosalie was given a seat in the floor of the court on the first days of the hearing. On the day when the verdict was to be given and sentence passed she could not bear that. An usher, much pitying, obtained her a place in the gallery. She looked down immediately upon her Huggo. Her hands, upon the ledge before her, were all the time clasped. Her eyes alternately were in her hands and on her Huggo. Her heart moved between her Huggo and her God.

"You, Occleve, stand in a different position. . . ."

She began to pray. All of her being, all of her soul, all of her life, with a spiritual and a physical intensity transcending all that her body and her mind had ever known, was in apotheosis of supplication. "O God the Father! O God the Father! O God the Father!"

Her Huggo! Those words that only in snatches she heard were being addressed to her Huggo.

"... Your counsel has most eloquently pleaded for you.... You bear an honoured name.... You bear a name held in these precincts in honour, in esteem, in love, in admiration.... You have had a good home, a great and a noble father, a distinguished and devoted mother...."

That suppliant crouched lower in her supplication.

"... You have been the dupe, you have been the tool, you have been in large part, as your counsel has pleaded, and as I believe, the unsuspecting agent.... Nevertheless, the least sentence I can pass on you-"

"O God the Father, the Father!"

"... is six months' imprisonment."

That boy, whose head had been hung and eyes downcast, lifted his head and raised his eyes and gave one look into the eyes of that suppliant for him that sat above him. There was recalled by that suppliant a look that had passed from the place of accusation to the place of assembly in the place called the Sanhedrin.

Her Huggo!

They took him away.

Doda didn't stop going out. She seemed to go out more. The pain within that house, brought there by Huggo, seemed to make that house more than before unbearable to Doda. She often spent the night, or the week end away, staying with the foreign friend, she generally said. She would have nothing whatever to do with the baby now installed in the house. She never would go near it. Once she passed it in the hall in its perambulator. She stopped and stooped over the face of lovely innocence that lay there and gazed upon it with an extraordinary intensity. She drew back with a sharp catch at her breath and sharply stepped away and turned and ran very quickly upstairs. After that when she chanced to pass the child, she turned aside and would not look upon the child. She began not to look well, Rosalie thought. There often was upon her lovely face a pinched and drawn expression, disfiguring it. On the rare occasions when she was in to dinner she sat strangely moody. There only was a moodiness about that table then; but the moodiness of Doda was noticeable to Rosalie. She ate hardly at all. She sometimes would get up suddenly before a meal was ended and go away, generally to her own room. Very many times Rosalie would seek anxiously to question her, but apart from the independence which commonly she maintained towards Rosalie, Doda seemed very much to resent solicitude upon her health. "What should be the matter? I look perfectly well, don't I?"

"Doda, you don't. I've noticed it a long time."

"Well, I am perfectly well. If I wasn't I'd say so."

Strike on!

Rosalie was called up on the telephone by the foreign friend. It was the evening, about ten o'clock. Doda was away for a week at Brighton with the foreign friend. She was due back to-morrow. Harry was out with Benji. Benji was nineteen then and was home on vacation from Oxford. Harry never could bear Benji out of his sight when Benji was home. In the affliction that had come upon them, he seemed to cling to Benji. Rosalie had persuaded him that evening to go with Benji to a concert. Harry said the idea of anything like that was detestable to him, but Rosalie had pleaded with him. Just a little chamber concert was different. It would do him so much good to have an evening away and to hear a little music and Benji would love it. Harry allowed himself to be persuaded and went off arm-in-arm with Benji. He always put his arm in Benji's when he walked with Benji.

Rosalie was waiting for them when the telephone bell rang and she was spoken to by the foreign friend.

It then happened like this.

The voice of the foreign friend was very alarmingly urgent. "Would she come and see Doda at once, at once, at once?"

The voice struck a chill to the heart of Rosalie. "But where are you? You're at Brighton, aren't you? Are you speaking from Brighton?"

"No, no. At my flat. At my flat."

"But what is it? What is it? Why don't you tell me what it is?"

"It's an-it's an-." The voice stammered and hesitated.

"Oh, speak! Oh, speak."

She could hear the voice gulping.

"Oh, please do speak!"

"Doda isn't very well. Doda's very ill. It's an-it's an accident."

"I'll come. I'll come."

"Is Mr. Occleve there?"

"He isn't. He's out."

"Can you get him?"

"No. Yes. I don't know. I can't think. Oh, tell me. Tell me."

"Will you leave a message for him to come at once?"

"At once. At once."

She wrote a message for Harry and she picked up a wrap and she ran out hatless to find a cab.

She found a cab and went to Doda.

This all happened as quickly as bewilderingly. It was not like a dream, and it was not like a nightmare. It was like a kind of trance to Rosalie.

The foreign friend was not seen at the flat. She was in some other room and did not appear. She said afterwards, and proved, that she had been away the previous night, leaving Doda at the flat, and had returned to find her-as she was found; and had immediately called the nearest doctor and then Doda's mother.

It was the doctor that opened the door to Rosalie. He was a Scotchman; a big and rugged man, all lines and whiskers and with a rugged accent.

He said, "You'rre her mother, arren't ye? Where's her father?"

"He's coming. Where is my child?"

The doctor jerked his head towards a wall. "She's yon."

"Tell me, please."

He pushed a chair towards her but she shook her head. "Please tell me."

"Ye'll want your courage." He again indicated the chair. She again shook her head. "It'll try ye. She's dying."

The lips of Rosalie formed the words: "Tell me." There was no sound

in her.

The doctor said, "I cannot tell ye. It is for your husband to hear."

The heart of Rosalie stood still. She put both her hands upon her heart and she said to the doctor, "Tell me. I am strong."

The doctor looked upon Rosalie intently and he said: (he was perhaps dexterously giving her time that she might weld herself) he said, "Ye'll need be strong. Ye look sensible. Ye'll need be sensible." He said, "There's been before me here another-There's been a creature here before me. There's been blackguarrd work here. There's been-that poor child there..." He told her.

She moaned: "O God, be merciful!"

That child, as that night went, was in delirium. She seemed to lie upon a bed. She lay, in fact, upon the altar of her gods, of self, of what is vain, of liberty undisciplined, of restless itch for pleasure, and of the gods of Rosalie, a piteous sacrifice to them. You that have tears to shed prepare to shed them now. Or if you have no tears, but for emotion only sneers, do stop and put the thing away. It is intolerable to think to have beside that bed, beside that child, beside that Rosalie, your sneers. It's not for you, and you do but exacerbate the frightful pain there's been in feeling it with them.

Rosalie was all night with that child. Harry was there upon the other side upon his knees and never raised his head. Benji was there that loved his sister so. Across the unblinded window strove a moon that fought with mass on mass of fierce, submerging clouds as it might be a soul that rose through infinite calamity to God. That child was in much torment. That child was in delirium and often cried aloud. That child burned with a fever, incredible, at touch of her poor flesh, to think that human flesh such flame could hold and not incinerate. That child in her delirium moaned often names and sometimes cried them out. Nicknames that in the sexless jargon of her day and of her kind might have been names of women and might be names of men. Darkie, Topsy, Skipper, Kitten, Bluey, Tip, Bill, Kid. Names, sometimes, more familiar. Once Huggo; once father; once loud and very piteously, "Benji, Benji, Benji, Benji, Benji!"

She never once said mother.

She calmed and a long space was mute. The moon, its duress passed, stood high, serene, alone. The doctor breathed, "She's passing." That child raised her lids and her eyes looked out upon her watchers.

Rosalie cried, "Oh, Doda!"

That child sighed. "Oh, mother!"

There was no note of love. There was of tenderness no note. There only was in that child's sigh a deathly weariness. "Oh, mother!" That child passed out.

They came home in the very early morning. Rosalie was in her working room. She had some things to do. She wrote to Mr. Field a letter of her resignation from Field's Bank. She only wrote two lines. They ended, "This is Final. I have done."

She sealed that letter and she moved about the room unlaying and as she unlaid, destroying, all evidences, all treasures, all landmarks, all that in any way referred to or touched upon her working life. There were cherished letters, there were treasured papers. She destroyed them all. From one bundle, not touched for years, dust-covered and time-discoloured, there came out a battered volume. She turned it over. "Lombard Street." She opened it and saw the eager underlinings and saw the eager margin notes, and ghosts... (it's written earlier in these pages). She rent the book across its perished cover and pressed it on the fire and on to the flames in the fire. "I have done."

But she was not done with and she had the feeling that she was not done with. She said to Harry, "This is not the children's tragedy. This is my tragedy. These were not the children's faults. These were my transgressions. Life is sacrifice. I never sacrificed. Sacrifice is atonement. It now is not possible for me to atone."

She was on her knees beside his chair. He stroked her hair.

There was an inquest. Harry went. She stayed at home and Benji stayed with her to be with her. Benji was not to be consoled. His mood was very dreadful. A report was printed in the evening paper before Harry came home. Benji read it and told Rosalie a witness, a man, had been arrested on the coroner's warrant. Benji said, "I think I'll go out now, mother, for a little."

Later in the afternoon when Rosalie was with Harry a maid came into the room and looked at Harry and saw how sunk he was in his chair and so went to Rosalie and whispered to her. Rosalie went out. There was a man wished to see the master. Rosalie spoke to him. He was a large, burly man with a strong face. He looked like, and was, a police officer in plain clothes. Rosalie heard what he began to say and said she would go with him. In the cab, the man told her about it. All his sentences began with or contained "The young gentleman."

"The young gentleman... the prisoner, when the young gentleman came rushing in, happened to be in the charge-room writing out a statement.... The young gentleman, before any one could stop him, rushed at this prisoner and caught him by the throat and threw him and the table over and banged the man's head against the floor, fair trying to kill him. They got the young gentleman off. They ought to have arrested the young gentleman, and they did most earnestly wish they had of arrested him, and blamed themselves properly that they didn't arrest him. But they felt cruelly sorry for the young gentleman and they got him outside and let him go and no more said. Of course, as madam knew, the police office wasn't very far from Gower Street station, the underground station with them steep stairs leading straight down from the street to the platform, as madam might be aware.... The young gentleman was seen by witnesses, whose names were took, to come rushing down these stairs on to the platform as if some one was after him.... The young gentleman come rushing down and there was a train just coming in, and whether he couldn't stop or whether he.... There's some say one thing and some say the other.... Whichever way it was the young gentleman...."

Rosalie did her errand with the man and then came back to Harry. She had to tell Harry.

He was sitting in his chair. He had an open book on his knees. She saw, as one notices these things, it was a Shakespeare. She stood up there at the door before him and she said, "Harry-Benji!"

He saw it in her face.

He groaned.

He took the book off his knees and fumbled it, and with a groaning mutter dropped it: "'Unarm, Eros, the long day's work is done.'"

She came to him and saw, as one sees things, above his head the picture he had hung when raven was his hair and radiant his face, and had hit his thumb, and jumped, and cried out, "Mice and Mumps!" and had laughed and wrung his hands, and cried out, "Mice and Mumps!" and laughed again. She came to him and saw him wilt and crumple in his chair, and could have sworn she saw the iron of his head, that had been raven, go grey anew and greyer yet. She came to him and she said, "Harry-Benji-an accident-not an accident-on the railway-killed."

His voice went, not exclamatorily, but in a thick mutter, as one agrope, in sudden darkness, befogged, betrayed. "My God, my God, my God, my God, my God!"

She fell on her knees; and on her arms and on his lap she buried then her face.

He suddenly stooped to her, and caught his arms about her, and raised her to him, and pressed his face to hers, and held her there; and his cry was as once before, passionately holding her, his cry had been; then from his heart to her heart, now from the abysses of his soul to her soul's depths, "Rosalie! Rosalie!"

* * *

POSTSCRIPT.

There was to have been some more of it; but there, they're in each other's arms, and one has suffered so with them one cannot any more go on. One's suffered so! One has looked backward with her. The heart must break but for a forward glimpse:-

They're all right now. Huggo's in Canada. He writes every week. They're all right now. That other Rosalie that they brought in is looking after them. She's looking after them, that elf, that sprite, that tricksy scrap, that sunshine thing. She calls Harry father and Rosalie she calls mother. She has all her meals with them. There's no nurse. It's breakfast she loves best. She's on the itch all breakfast. When breakfast's done she's off her chair and hopping. She trumpets in her tiny voice, "Lessons! Lessons!" She trumpets in her tiny voice, "Lessons, lessons! On mother's knee! On mother's knee!"

THE END

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