I scarcely know how we got through that day. Stroeve could not bear to be alone, and I exhausted myself in efforts to distract him. I took him to the Louvre, and he pretended to look at pictures, but I saw that his thoughts were constantly with his wife. I forced him to eat, and after luncheon I induced him to lie down, but he could not sleep. He accepted willingly my invitation to remain for a few days in my apartment. I gave him books to read, but after a page or two he would put the book down and stare miserably into space. During the evening we played innumerable games of piquet, and bravely, not to disappoint my efforts, he tried to appear interested. Finally I gave him a draught, and he sank into uneasy slumber.
When we went again to the hospital we saw a nursing sister. She told us that Blanche seemed a little better, and she went in to ask if she would see her husband. We heard voices in the room in which she lay, and presently the nurse returned to say that the patient refused to see anyone. We had told her that if she refused to see Dirk the nurse was to ask if she would see me, but this she refused also. Dirk’s lips trembled.
“I dare not insist,” said the nurse. “She is too ill. Perhaps in a day or two she may change her mind.”
“Is there anyone else she wants to see?” asked Dirk, in a voice so low it was almost a whisper.
“She says she only wants to be left in peace.”
Dirk’s hands moved strangely, as though they had nothing to do with his body, with a movement of their own.
“Will you tell her that if there is anyone else she wishes to see I will bring him? I only want her to be happy.”
The nurse looked at him with her calm, kind eyes, which had seen all the horror and pain of the world, and yet, filled with the vision of a world without sin, remained serene.
“I will tell her when she is a little calmer.”
Dirk, filled with compassion, begged her to take the message at once.
“It may cure her. I beseech you to ask her now.”
With a faint smile of pity, the nurse went back into the room. We heard her low voice, and then, in a voice I did not recognise the answer:
“No. No. No.”
The nurse came out again and shook her head.
“Was that she who spoke then?” I asked. “Her voice sounded so strange.”
“It appears that her vocal cords have been burnt by the acid.”
Dirk gave a low cry of distress. I asked him to go on and wait for me at the entrance, for I wanted to say something to the nurse. He did not ask what it was, but went silently. He seemed to have lost all power of will; he was like an obedient child.
“Has she told you why she did it?” I asked.
“No. She won’t speak. She lies on her back quite quietly. She doesn’t move for hours at a time. But she cries always. Her pillow is all wet. She’s too weak to use a handkerchief, and the tears just run down her face.”
It gave me a sudden wrench of the heart-strings. I could have killed Strickland then, and I knew that my voice was trembling when I bade the nurse good-bye.
I found Dirk waiting for me on the steps. He seemed to see nothing, and did not notice that I had joined him till I touched him on the arm. We walked along in silence. I tried to imagine what had happened to drive the poor creature to that dreadful step. I presumed that Strickland knew what had happened, for someone must have been to see him from the police, and he must have made his statement. I did not know where he was. I supposed he had gone back to the shabby attic which served him as a studio. It was curious that she should not wish to see him. Perhaps she refused to have him sent for because she knew he would refuse to come. I wondered what an abyss of cruelty she must have looked into that in horror she refused to live.