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Chapter Thirty-Five

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« on: June 19, 2023, 07:29:17 am »

ANNIE Jackson made no reply. She had been a little way ahead. Now she was gone, running quickly and lightly along the path which led to the back door.

Miss Silver stood where she was and waited until a gleam of light through the shrubbery informed her that the door had been opened to let Annie in. She went on waiting until she heard it close behind her. It was then, and not until then, that she was aware of what seemed at first to be just a vibration on the air, but which, as it swelled, she recognized to be the sound of organ music coming from the church. With one of those quick decisions which sometimes made her actions unpredictable she turned from the house and took her way along the churchyard path to the side door of the church. She was, in fact, doing just what Mildred Blake had done when she left the Vicarage work-party on the night of William Jackson’s death. Like her she tried the door, found it unlocked, and passed quietly within. As she did so, the music sounded in the empty place like the rolling of drums, the crashing of a stormy tide, the sound of wind, and the sound of thunder.

Miss Silver recognized this music. It was the Dies Irae. “Day of wrath, day of mourning”---with its picture of the Last Judgment---heaven and earth consumed in the burning wrath of the Judge. But she had never heard it played like this before. If it was Arnold Random who was playing, there must be something behind that grey, controlled façade. She did not count herself to be musical, but she could recognize that here was a musician, and, what mattered a good deal more, someone in an extremity of pain.

She came forward until she was level with the curtain. It was not quite drawn. Arnold Random sat there in the light. The sweat ran down his ravaged face. He looked like a man in torment, and he played as if he was possessed. She had no plan in her mind. She just stood there and watched him. The storm of sound died down. Very high and soft, a long wailing note came stealing upon the empty silence. Words from the old Latin hymn rose in Miss Silver’s mind—“Recordare Jesu pie”. Mercy after judgment? There were a few more of those soft mourning notes. Then Arnold Random dropped his hands from the keyboard with a groan. He spoke in a dead voice, as a man may speak to himself when he has come to a place where he can no longer go on.

“It’s too late----”

As he spoke he turned with a kind of groan and saw Miss Silver standing there. She did not speak. They looked at one another. After quite a long time she said, “You are very unhappy, Mr. Random.”

“Yes---very----”

After another pause she spoke again.

“There is always a right thing to do, as well as a wrong one.”

His hands had fallen upon his knees. He lifted one of them now and let it fall again.

“It is too late----”

“I do not believe it. We may not see the whole of the way, but it is always possible to take the first step.”

Afterwards he was to look back upon this conversation and wonder how it had come about. He had been in extremity. His sleep had gone from him. He had thoughts which he could no longer control, and from which there was no escape. He saw himself slipping with an ever-increasing velocity into an abyss of loneliness and shame. And just when the whole nightmare had reached its unendurable climax, there was, as it were, a gleam from the daylight world which he had lost. And with this gleam a sense of assurance, of calm authority, a sense of goodness. He had known the presence of evil and been tortured by it. Now he knew the presence of good. It did not matter to him that it was a stranger who laid this tranquillizing touch upon the fever of his thoughts. If you are dying of thirst, it does not matter to you that it is a stranger who holds the cup of cool water to your lips.

He looked at her and said in a bewildered voice, “What am I to do?”

Miss Silver shook her head.

“I cannot tell you that. You will know what it is yourself. It is only the first step which is hard.”

He went on looking at her. In the end he said, “There are things I must do---I should have done them long ago. Good-bye.”

She said, “Good-night, Mr. Random,” and turned to go.

His voice followed her.

“I don’t know your name. You are staying with Mrs. Ball, are you not?”

“Yes. My name is Maud Silver.”

He came as far as the door and held it for her to pass out. A streak of light fell from it upon the gravel path and remained there until she had turned the corner of the church.

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