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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWatersprings - Chapter 34. The Dream-Child
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Watersprings - Chapter 34. The Dream-Child Post by :johnnyk Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :2336

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Watersprings - Chapter 34. The Dream-Child


For some days Howard was in an intolerable agony of mind about Maud; she lay in a sort of stupor of weakness and weariness, recognising no one, hardly speaking, just alive, indifferent to everything. They could not let him be with her, they would allow no one to speak to her. The shock had been too great, and the frail life seemed flickering to its close: once or twice he was just allowed to see her; she lay like a tired child, her head on her hand, lost in incommunicable dreams. Howard dared not leave the house, and the tension of his nerves became so acute that the least thing--a servant entering the room, or anyone coming out to speak with him as he paced up and down the garden--caused him an insupportable horror; had they come to summon him to see the end? The frightful thing was the silence, the blank silence of the one he loved best. If she had moaned or wept or complained, he could have borne it better; but she seemed entirely withdrawn from him. Even when a little strength returned, they feared for her reason. She seemed unaware of where she was, of what had happened, of all about her. The night was the worst time of all. Howard, utterly wearied out, would go to bed, and sink into sleep, sleep so profound that it seemed like descending into some deep and oblivious tide; then a current of misery would mingle with his dreams, a sense of unutterable depression; and then he would suddenly wake in the grip of fear, formless and bodiless fear. The smallest sound in the house, the creaking of a door, a footfall, would set his heart beating with fierce hammer strokes. He would light his candles, wander restlessly about, gaze out from his window into the blackness of the garden, where the trees outlined themselves against the dark sky, pierced with stars; or he would try to read, but wholly in vain. No thought, no imagination seemed to have any meaning for him, in the presence of that raging dread. Had he, he wondered, come in sight of the ultimate truth of life? The pain he suffered seemed to him the strongest thing in the world, stronger than love, stronger than death. The thick tides of the night swept past him thus, till the light began to outline the window crannies; and then there was a new day to face, with failing brain and shattered strength.

The only comfort he received was in the presence of his aunt. She alone seemed strong, almost serene, till he wondered if she was not hard. She did not encourage him to speak of his fears: she talked quietly about ordinary things, not demanding an answer; she saw the doctors, whom Howard could not bear to see, and told him their report. The fear changed its character as the days went on; Maud would live, they thought; but to what extent she would regain her strength they could not say, while her mental powers seemed in abeyance.

Mr. Sandys often looked in, but he seemed at first helpless in Howard's presence. Howard used to bestir himself to talk to him, with a sickening sense of unreality. Mr. Sandys took a very optimistic view of Maud's case; he assured Howard that he had seen the same thing a dozen times; she had great reserves of strength, he believed; it was but nature insisting upon rest and quiet. His talk became a sort of relief to Howard, because he refused to admit any possibility of ultimate disaster. No tragedy could keep Mr. Sandys silent; and Howard began to be aware that the Vicar must have thought out a series of topics to talk to him about, and even prepared the line of conversation beforehand. Jack had been sent for at the crisis, but when the imminent danger lessened, Howard suggested that he should go back to Cambridge, in which Jack gratefully acquiesced.

One day Mrs. Graves came suddenly in upon Howard, as he sate drearily trying to write some letters, and said, "There is a great improvement this morning. I went in to see her, and she has come back to herself; she mentioned your name, and the doctor says you can see her for a few minutes; she must not talk, but she is herself. You may just come and sit by her for a few minutes; it will be best to come at once."

Howard got up, and was seized by a sudden giddiness. He grasped his chair, and was aware that Mrs. Graves was looking at him anxiously.

"Can you manage it, dear boy?" she said. "You have had a great strain."

"Manage it?" said Howard, "why, it's new life. I shall be all right in a moment. Does she know what has happened?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, "she knows all--it is you she is anxious about--she isn't thinking of herself at all."

Howard followed his aunt out of the room, feeling suddenly alert and strong. They entered the room; as they did so, Maud turned and looked at him--the faintest tinge of colour had returned to her face; she held out her hands to him, and let them fall again. Howard stepped quickly to the side of the bed, dropped on his knees, and took his wife in his arms. She nestled close to him for a moment, and then looked at him with a smile--then speaking in a very low voice, almost a whisper, she said:

"Yes, I know--you will help me, dearest; yes, I have come back to you--I have been wandering far away, with the child--you know--he wanted me, I think; but I have left him somewhere, safe, and I am sent back--I didn't think I could come back, but I had to choose; I have chosen . . ." her voice died away, and she looked long and anxiously at him. "You are not well," she said; "it is my fault."

"Ah, you must not talk, darling," said Howard; "we will talk later on; just let me be sure that you won't leave me--that is enough, that's all I want, just we two together again, and the dear child, ours for ever."

"The dear child," said Maud, "that is right--he is ours, beloved. I will tell you about him."

"Not now," said Howard, "not now."

Maud gave him a nod, in her old way, just the ghost of a nod; and then just put her face beside his own, and lay in silence, till he was called away. Then she kissed his hand as he bent over her, and said, "Don't be afraid, dearest--I am coming back--it is like a great staircase, with light at the top. I went just to the edge--it's full of sweet sound there, and now I am coming down again. Those are my dreams," she added; "I am not out of my dreams yet."

Howard went out, waving his hand; he found Mrs. Graves beside him.

"Yes," she said, "I have no more fear."

Howard was suddenly seized with faintness, uncontrollable dizziness. Mrs. Graves took him to the library, and made him sit down, but his weakness continued in spite of himself.

"I really am ashamed of myself," he said, "for this dreadful exhibition."

"Exhibition!" said Mrs. Graves, "it's the best thing that can happen. I must tell you that I have been even more anxious about you than Maud, because you either couldn't or wouldn't break down--those are the people who are in danger at a time like this! Why the sight of you has half killed me, dear boy! If you had ever said you were miserable, or been rude or irritable, or forgotten yourself for a moment, I should have been happier. It's very chivalrous and considerate, of course; though you will say that you didn't think of that; but it's hardly human--and now at last I see you are flesh and blood again."

"Well, I am not sure that it isn't what I thought about you," said Howard.

"Ah," said Mrs. Graves, "I am an old woman; and I don't think death is so terrible to me. Life is interesting enough, but I should often be glad to get away; there is something beyond that is a good deal easier and more beautiful. But I don't expect you to feel that."

"You think she will get well?" said Howard faintly.

"Yes, she will get well, and soon," said Mrs. Graves. "She has been resting in her own natural way. The poor dearest baby--you don't know, you can't know, what that means to Maud and even to me; you will have to be very good to her for a long time yet; you won't understand her sorrow--she won't expect you to; but you mustn't fail her; and you must do as you are bid. This afternoon you must just go out for a walk, and you must SLEEP, dear; that's what you want; you don't know what a spectre you are; and you must just get well as quick as you can, for Maud's sake and mine."

That afternoon there fell on Howard after his walk--though the world was sweet to him and dear again, he was amazed to find how weak he was--an unutterable drowsiness against which he could hardly fight. The delicious weariness came on him like a summer air; he stumbled to bed that night, and oh, the wonder of waking in a new world, the incredible happiness that greeted him, happiness that merged again in a strange and serene torpor of the senses, every sight and sound striking sharp and beautiful on his eye and ear.

For some days he was only allowed to see Maud for little lengthening periods; they said little, but just sate in silence with a few whispered words. Maud recovered fast, and was each day a little stronger.

One evening, as he sate with her, she said, "I want to tell you now what has been happening to me, dearest. You must hear it all. You must not grieve yourself about the little child, because you cannot have known it as I did--but you must let me grieve a little . . . you will see when I tell you. I won't go back too far. There was all the pain first--I hope I did not behave very badly, but I was beside myself with pain, and then I went off . . . you know . . . I don't remember anything of that . . . and then I came back again, feeling that something very strange had happened to me, and I was full of joy; and then I saw that something was wrong, and it came over me what had happened. The strange thing is that though I was so weak--I could hardly think and I could not speak--yet I never felt more clear or strong in mind--no, not in mind either, but in myself. It seems so strange that I have never even SEEN our child, not with my eyes, though that matters little. But then when I understood, I did indeed fail utterly; you seemed to me so far away; I felt somehow that you were thinking only about me, and I could simply think of nothing but the child--my own child, gone from me in a moment. I simply prayed with all my soul to die and have done with everything, and then there was a strange whirl in the air like a great wind, and loud confused noises, and I fell away out of life, and thought it was death. And then I awoke again, but it was not here--it was in a strange wide place--a sort of twilight, and there were hills and trees. I stood up, and suddenly felt a hand in my own, and there was a little child beside me, looking up at me. I can't tell you what happened next--it is rather dim to me, but I sate, or walked, or wandered, carrying the child--and it TALKED to me; yes, it talked in a little clear voice, though I can't remember anything it said; but I felt somehow as if it was telling me what might have been, and that I was getting to KNOW it somehow--does that seem strange? It seems like months and years that I was with it; and I feel now that I not only love it, but know it, all its thoughts, all its desires, all its faults--it had FAULTS, dearest; think of that--faults such as I have, and other faults as well. It was not quite content, but it was not unhappy; but it wasn't a dream-child at all, not like a little angel, but a perfectly real child. It laughed sometimes, and I can hear its little laughter now; it found fault with me, it wanted to go on--it cried sometimes, and nothing would please it; but it loved me and wanted to be with me; and I told it about you, and it not only listened, but asked me many times over to tell it more, about you, about me, about this place--I think it had other things in its mind, recollections, I thought, which it tried to tell me; so it went on. Once or twice I found myself here in bed--but I thought I was dying, and only wanted to lose myself and get back to the child--and then it all came to an end. There was a great staircase up which we went together; there was cloud at the top, but it seemed to me that there was life and movement behind it; there was no shadow behind the cloud, but light . . . and there was sound, musical sound. I went up with the child's hand clasped close in my own, but at the top he disengaged himself, and went in without a word to me or a sign, not as if he were leaving me, but as if his real life, and mine too, were within--just as a child would run into its home, if you came back with it from a walk, and as if it knew you were following, and there was no need of good-byes. I did not feel any sorrow at all then, either for the child or myself--I simply turned round and came down . . . and then I was back in my room again . . . and then it was you that I wanted."

"That's all very wonderful," said Howard, musing, "wonderful and beautiful. . . . I wish I had seen that!"

"Yes, but you didn't need it," said Maud; "one sees what one needs, I think. And I want to add something, dearest, which you must believe. I don't want to revert to this, or to speak of it again--I don't mean to dwell upon it; it is just enough for me. One mustn't press these things too closely, nor want other people to share them or believe them. That is the mistake one makes, that one thinks that other people ought to find one's own feelings and fancies and experiences as real as one finds them oneself. I don't even want to know what you think about it--I don't want you to say you believe in it, or to think about it at all. I couldn't help telling you about it, because it seems as real to me as anything that ever happened in my life; but I don't want you to have to pretend, or to accept it in order to please me. It is just my own experience; I was ill, unconscious, delirious, anything you please; but it is just a blessed fact for me, for all that, a gift from God. Do you really trust me when I say this, dearest? I don't claim a word from you about it, but it will make all the difference to me. I can go on now. I don't want to die, I don't want to follow--I only want you to feel, or to learn to feel, that the child is a real child, our very own, as much a part of our family as Jack or Cousin Anne; and I don't even want you to SAY that. I want all to be as before; the only difference is that I now don't feel as if I was CHOOSING. It isn't a case of leaving him or leaving you. I have you both--and I think you wanted me most; and I haven't a wish or a desire in my heart but to be with you."

"Yes, dearest," said Howard, "I understand. It is perfect to be trusted so. I won't say anything now about it. I could not say anything. But you have put something into my heart which will spring up and blossom. Just now there isn't room for anything in my mind but the fact that you are given back to me; that's all I can hold; but it won't be all. I am glad you told me this, and utterly thankful that it is so. That you should be here, given back to me, that must be enough now. I can't count up my gains; but if you had come back, leaving your heart elsewhere, how could I have borne that?"

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