PART IV. The White Mulberry Tree
7. CHAPTER VII (continued)
At the wheatfield corner, where the orchard hedge ended and the
path led across the pasture to the Bergsons', Frank stopped. In
the warm, breathless night air he heard a murmuring sound, perfectly
inarticulate, as low as the sound of water coming from a spring,
where there is no fall, and where there are no stones to fret it.
Frank strained his ears. It ceased. He held his breath and began
to tremble. Resting the butt of his gun on the ground, he parted
the mulberry leaves softly with his fingers and peered through
the hedge at the dark figures on the grass, in the shadow of the
mulberry tree. It seemed to him that they must feel his eyes,
that they must hear him breathing. But they did not. Frank, who
had always wanted to see things blacker than they were, for once
wanted to believe less than he saw. The woman lying in the shadow
might so easily be one of the Bergsons' farm-girls. . . . Again
the murmur, like water welling out of the ground. This time he
heard it more distinctly, and his blood was quicker than his brain.
He began to act, just as a man who falls into the fire begins to
act. The gun sprang to his shoulder, he sighted mechanically and
fired three times without stopping, stopped without knowing why.
Either he shut his eyes or he had vertigo. He did not see anything
while he was firing. He thought he heard a cry simultaneous with
the second report, but he was not sure. He peered again through
the hedge, at the two dark figures under the tree. They had fallen
a little apart from each other, and were perfectly still-- No,
not quite; in a white patch of light, where the moon shone through
the branches, a man's hand was plucking spasmodically at the grass.
Suddenly the woman stirred and uttered a cry, then another, and
another. She was living! She was dragging herself toward the
hedge! Frank dropped his gun and ran back along the path, shaking,
stumbling, gasping. He had never imagined such horror. The
cries followed him. They grew fainter and thicker, as if she were
choking. He dropped on his knees beside the hedge and crouched
like a rabbit, listening; fainter, fainter; a sound like a whine;
again--a moan--another--silence. Frank scrambled to his feet and
ran on, groaning and praying. From habit he went toward the house,
where he was used to being soothed when he had worked himself into
a frenzy, but at the sight of the black, open door, he started back.
He knew that he had murdered somebody, that a woman was bleeding
and moaning in the orchard, but he had not realized before that
it was his wife. The gate stared him in the face. He threw his
hands over his head. Which way to turn? He lifted his tormented
face and looked at the sky. "Holy Mother of God, not to suffer!
She was a good girl--not to suffer!"