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CHAPTER IX

On leaving Nettlefold, Miltoun had gone straight back to his rooms,
and begun at once to work at his book on the land question. He
worked all through that night--his third night without sleep, and all
the following day. In the evening, feeling queer in the head, he
went out and walked up and down the Embankment. Then, fearing to go
to bed and lie sleepless, he sat down in his arm-chair. Falling
asleep there, he had fearful dreams, and awoke unrefreshed. After
his bath, he drank coffee, and again forced himself to work. By the
middle of the day he felt dizzy and exhausted, but utterly
disinclined to eat. He went out into the hot Strand, bought himself
a necessary book, and after drinking more coffee, came back and again
began to work. At four o'clock he found that he was not taking in
the words. His head was burning hot, and he went into his bedroom to
bathe it. Then somehow he began walking up and down, talking to
himself, as Barbara had found him.

She had no sooner gone, than he felt utterly exhausted. A small
crucifix hung over his bed, and throwing himself down before it, he
remained motionless with his face buried in the coverlet, and his
arms stretched out towards the wall. He did not pray, but merely
sought rest from sensation. Across his half-hypnotized consciousness
little threads of burning fancy kept shooting. Then he could feel
nothing but utter physical sickness, and against this his will
revolted. He resolved that he would not be ill, a ridiculous log for
women to hang over. But the moments of sickness grew longer and more
frequent; and to drive them away he rose from his knees, and for some
time again walked up and down; then, seized with vertigo, he was
obliged to sit on the bed to save himself from falling. From being
burning hot he had become deadly cold, glad to cover himself with the
bedclothes. The heat soon flamed up in him again; but with a sick
man's instinct he did not throw off the clothes, and stayed quite
still. The room seemed to have turned to a thick white substance
like a cloud, in which he lay enwrapped, unable to move hand or foot.
His sense of smell and hearing had become unnaturally acute; he
smelled the distant streets, flowers, dust, and the leather of his
books, even the scent left by Barbara's clothes, and a curious.
odour of river mud. A clock struck six, he counted each stroke; and
instantly the whole world seemed full of striking clocks, the sound
of horses' hoofs, bicycle bells, people's footfalls. His sense of
vision, on the contrary, was absorbed in consciousness of this white
blanket of cloud wherein he was lifted above the earth, in the midst
of a dull incessant hammering. On the surface of the cloud there
seemed to be forming a number of little golden spots; these spots
were moving, and he saw that they were toads. Then, beyond them, a
huge face shaped itself, very dark, as if of bronze, with eyes
burning into his brain. The more he struggled to get away from these
eyes, the more they bored and burned into him. His voice was gone,
so that he was unable to cry out, and suddenly the face marched over
him.

When he recovered consciousness his head was damp with moisture
trickling from something held to his forehead by a figure leaning
above him. Lifting his hand he touched a cheek; and hearing a sob
instantly suppressed, he sighed. His hand was gently taken; he felt
kisses on it.

The room was so dark, that he could scarcely see her face--his sight
too was dim; but he could hear her breathing and the least sound of
her dress and movements--the scent too of her hands and hair seemed
to envelop him, and in the midst of all the acute discomfort of his
fever, he felt the band round his brain relax. He did not ask how
long she had been there, but lay quite still, trying to keep his eyes
on her, for fear of that face, which seemed lurking behind the air,
ready to march on him again. Then feeling suddenly that he could not
hold it back, he beckoned, and clutched at her, trying to cover
himself with the protection of her breast. This time his swoon was
not so deep; it gave way to delirium, with intervals when he knew
that she was there, and by the shaded candle light could see her in a
white garment, floating close to him, or sitting still with her hand
on his; he could even feel the faint comfort of the ice cap, and of
the scent of eau de Cologne. Then he would lose all consciousness of
her presence, and pass through into the incoherent world, where the
crucifix above his bed seemed to bulge and hang out, as if it must
fall on him. He conceived a violent longing to tear it down, which
grew till he had struggled up in bed and wrenched it from off the
wall. Yet a mysterious consciousness of her presence permeated even
his darkest journeys into the strange land; and once she seemed to be
with him, where a strange light showed them fields and trees, a dark
line of moor, and a bright sea, all whitened, and flashing with sweet
violence.

Soon after dawn he had a long interval of consciousness, and took in
with a sort of wonder her presence in the low chair by his bed. So
still she sat in a white loose gown, pale with watching, her eyes
immovably fixed on him, her lips pressed together, and quivering at
his faintest motion. He drank in desperately the sweetness of her
face, which had so lost remembrance of self.




The Patrician by John Galsworthy
Category:
Contemporary

General Fiction
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