The Purple Cloud Part 28

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'Not I.'

'You would!'

'Why should I? I prefer England.'

'But Flance is nice too: and Flance wants to be fliends with England, and is waiting, oh waiting, for England to come over, and be fliends.

Couldn't some _lapplochement_ be negotiated?'

'Good-bye. This talking spoils my morning smoke....'

So we speak together across the sea, my G.o.d.

On the morning of the 8th April, when I had been separated thirteen weeks from her, I boarded several s.h.i.+ps in the Inner Port, a lunacy in my heart, and selected what looked like a very swift boat, one of the smaller Atlantic air-steamers called the _Stettin_, which seemed to require the least labour in oiling, &c., in order to fit her for the sea: for the boat in which I had come to England was a mere tub, though sound, and I pined for the wings of a dove, that I might fly away to her, and be at rest.

I toiled with fluttering hands that day, and I believe that I was of the colour of ashes to my very lips. By half-past two o'clock I was finished, and by three was coasting down Southampton Water by Netley Hospital and the Hamble-mouth, having said not one word about anything at the telephone, or even to my own guilty heart not a word. But in the silent depths of my being I felt this fact: that this must be a 35-knot boat, and that, if driven hard, hard, in spite of the heavy garment of seaweed which she trailed, she would do 30; also that Havre was 120 miles away, and at 7 P.M. I should be on its quay.

And when I was away, and out on the bright and breezy sea, I called to her, crying out: '_I am coming!_' And I knew that she heard me, and that her heart leapt to meet me, for mine leapt, too, and felt her answering.

The sun went down: it set. I was tired of the day's work, and of standing at the high-set wheel; and I could not yet see the coast of France. And a thought smote me, and after another ten minutes I turned the s.h.i.+p's head back, my face screwed with pain, G.o.d knows, like a man whose thumbs are ground between the screws, and his body drawn out and out on the rack to tenuous length, and his flesh ma.s.sacred with pincers: and I fell upon the floor of the bridge contorted with anguish: for I could not go to her. But after a time that paroxysm pa.s.sed, and I rose up sullen and resentful, and resumed my place at the wheel, steering back for England: for a fixed resolve was in my breast, and I said: 'Oh no, no more. If I could bear it, I would, I would ... but if it is impossible, how can I? To-morrow night as the sun sets--without fail--so help me G.o.d--I will kill myself.'

So it is finished, my good G.o.d.

On the early morning of the next day, the 9th, I having come back to Portsmouth about eleven the previous night, when I bid her 'Good morning' through the telephone, she said 'Good morning,' and not another word. I said:

'I got my hookah-bowl broken last night, and shall be trying to mend it to-day.'

No answer.

'Are you there?' said I.

'Yes,' says she.

'Then why don't you answer?' said I.

'Where were you all yesterday?' says she.

'I went for a little cruise in the basin,' said I.

Silence for three minutes: then she says:

'What is the matter?'

'Matter?' said I, 'nothing!'

'_Tell me!_' she says--with such an intensity and rage, as to make me shudder.

'There is nothing to tell, Leda!'

'Oh, but how can you be so _cluel_ to me?' she cries, and ah, there was anguish in that voice! 'There is something to tell--there _is!_ Don't I know it vely well by your voice?'

Ah, the thought took me then, how, on the morrow, she would ring, and have no answer; and she would ring again, and have no answer; and she would ring all day, and ring, and ring; and for ever she would ring, with white-flowing hair and the staring eye-b.a.l.l.s of frenzy, battering reproaches at the doors of G.o.d, and the Universe would cry back to her howls and ravings only one eternal answer of Silence, of Silence. And as I thought of that--for very pity, for very pity, my G.o.d--I could not help sobbing aloud:

'May G.o.d pity you, woman!'

I do not know if she heard it: she _must_, I think, have heard: but no reply came; and there I, s.h.i.+vering like the sheeted dead, stood waiting for her next word, waiting long, dreading, hoping for, her voice, thinking that if she spoke and sobbed but once, I should drop dead, dead, where I stood, or bite my tongue through, or shriek the high laugh of distraction. But when at last, after quite thirty or forty minutes she spoke, her voice was perfectly firm and calm. She said:

'Are you there?'

'Yes,' said I, 'yes, Leda.'

'What was the color,' says she, 'of the poison-cloud which destroyed the world?'

'Purple, Leda,' said I.

'And it had a smell like almonds or peach blossoms, did it not?' says she.

'Yes,' said I, 'yes.'

'Then,' says she, 'there is _another_ eruption. Every now and again I seem to scent strange whiffs like that ... and there is a purple vapour in the East which glows and glows ... just see if you can see it....'

I flew across the room to an east window, threw up the grimy sash, and looked. But the view was barred by the plain brick back of a tall warehouse. I rushed back, gasped to her to wait, rushed down the two stairs, and out upon the Hard. For a minute I ran dodging wildly about, seeking a purview to the East, and finally ran up the dockyard, behind the storehouses to the Semaph.o.r.e, and reached the top, panting for life.

I looked abroad. The morning sky, but for a bank of cloud to the north-west, was cloudless, the sun blazing in a region of clear azure pallor. And back again I flew.

'I cannot see it...!' I cried.

'Then it has not tlavelled far enough to the north-west yet,' she said with decision.

'My wife!' I cried: 'you are my wife now!'

'Am I?' says she: 'at last? Are you glad?... But shall I not soon die?'

'No! You can escape! My home! My heart! If only for an hour or two, then death--just think, together--on the same couch, for ever, heart to heart--how sweet!'

'Yes! how sweet! But how escape?'

'It travelled slowly before. Get quick--will you?--into one of the smaller boats by the quay--there is one just under the crane that is an air-boat--you have seen me turn on the air, haven't you?--that handle on the right as you descend the steps under the dial-thing--get first a bucket of oil from the shop next to the clock-tower in the quay-street, and throw it over everything that you see rusted. Only, spend no time--for me, my heaven! You can steer by the tiller and compa.s.s: well, the wheel is quite the same, only just the opposite. First unmoor, then to the handle, then to the wheel. The course is directly North-East by North. I will meet you on the sea--go now--'

I was wild with bliss. I thought that I should take her between my arms, and have the little freckles against my face, and taste her short firm-fleshed upper-lip, and moan upon her, and whimper upon her, and mutter upon her, and say 'My wife.' And even when I knew that she was gone from the telephone, I still stood there, hoa.r.s.ely calling after her: 'My wife! My wife!'

I flew down to where the steamer lay moored that had borne me the previous day. Her joint speed with the speed of Leda's boat would be forty knots: in three hours we must meet. I had not the least fear of her dying before I saw her: for, apart from the deliberate movement of the vapour that first time, I fore-tasted and trusted my love, that she would surely come, and not fail: as dying saints fore-tasted and trusted Eternal Life.

I was no sooner on board the _Stettin_ than her engines were straining under what was equivalent to forced draught. On the previous day it would have little surprised me at any moment, while I drove her, to be carried to the clouds in an explosion from her deep-rusted steel tanks: but this day such a fear never crossed my mind: for I knew very well that I was immortal till I saw her.

The Purple Cloud Part 28

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The Purple Cloud Part 28 summary

You're reading The Purple Cloud Part 28. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: M. P. Shiel already has 243 views.

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