Dr. Heidenhoff's Process

by Edward Bellamy

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Chapter II

That same night toward morning Henry suddenly awoke from a sound sleep. Drowsiness, by some strange influence, had been completely banished from his eyes, and in its stead he became sensible of a profound depression of spirits. Physically, he was entirely comfortable, nor could he trace to any sensation from without either this sudden awakening or the mental condition in which he found himself. It was not that he thought of anything in particular that was gloomy or discouraging, but that all the ends and aims, not only of his own individual life, but of life in general, had assumed an aspect so empty, vain, and colourless, that he felt he would not rise from his bed for anything existence had to offer. He recalled his usual frame of mind, in which these things seemed attractive, with a dull wonderment that so baseless a delusion should be so strong and so general. He wondered if it were possible that it should ever again come over him.

The cold, grey light of earliest morning, that light which is rather the fading of night than the coming of day, filled the room with a faint hue, more cheerless than pitchiest darkness. A distant bell, with slow and heavy strokes, struck three. It was the dead point in the daily revolution of the earth's life, that point just before dawn, when men oftenest die; when surely, but for the force of momentum, the course of nature would stop, and at which doubtless it will one day pause eternally, when the clock is run down. The long-drawn reverberations of the bell, turning remoteness into music, full of the pathos of a sad and infinite patience, died away with an effect unspeakably dreary. His spirit, drawn forth after the vanishing vibrations, seemed to traverse waste spaces without beginning or ending, and aeons of monotonous duration. A sense of utter loneliness--loneliness inevitable, crushing, eternal, the loneliness of existence, encompassed by the infinite void of unconsciousness--enfolded him as a pall. Life lay like an incubus on his bosom. He shuddered at the thought that death might overlook him, and deny him its refuge. Even Madeline's face, as he conjured it up, seemed wan and pale, moving to unutterable pity, powerless to cheer, and all the illusions and passions of love were dim as ball-room candles in the grey light of dawn.

Gradually the moon passed, and he slept again.

As early as half-past eight the following forenoon, groups of men with very serious faces were to be seen standing at the corners of the streets, conversing in hushed tones, and women with awed voices were talking across the fences which divided adjoining yards. Even the children, as they went to school, forgot to play, and talked in whispers together, or lingered near the groups of men to catch a word or two of their conversation, or, maybe, walked silently along with a puzzled, solemn look upon their bright faces.

For a tragedy had occurred at dead of night which never had been paralleled in the history of the village. That morning the sun, as it peered through the closed shutters of an upper chamber, had relieved the darkness of a thing it had been afraid of. George Bayley sat there in a chair, his head sunk on his breast, a small, blue hole in his temple, whence a drop or two of blood had oozed, quite dead.

This, then, was what he meant when he said that he had made arrangements for leaving the village. The doctor thought that the fatal shot must have been fired about three o'clock that morning, and, when Henry heard this, he knew that it was the breath of the angel of death as he flew by that had chilled the genial current in his veins.

Bayley's family lived elsewhere, and his father, a stern, cold, haughty-looking man, was the only relative present at the funeral. When Mr. Lewis undertook to tell him, for his comfort, that there was reason to believe that George was out of his head when he took his life, Mr. Bayley interrupted him.

"Don't say that," he said. "He knew what he was doing. I should not wish any one to think otherwise. I am prouder of him than I had ever expected to be again."

A choir of girls with glistening eyes sang sweet, sad songs at the funeral, songs which, while they lasted, took away the ache of bereavement, like a cool sponge pressed upon a smarting spot. It seemed almost cruel that they must ever cease. And, after the funeral, the young men and girls who had known George, not feeling like returning that day to their ordinary thoughts and occupations, gathered at the house of one of them and passed the hours till dusk, talking tenderly of the departed, and recalling his generous traits and gracious ways.

The funeral had taken place on the day fixed for the picnic. The latter, in consideration of the saddened temper of the young people, was put off a fortnight.

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