"Let her" was correct; but the time came--and it came in the spring of the next year when it was no longer a question of George's letting his mother come home. He had to bring her, and to bring her quickly if she was to see her father again; and Amberson had been right: her danger of never seeing him again lay not in the Major's feebleness of heart but in her own. As it was, George telegraphed his uncle to have a wheeled chair at the station, for the journey had been disasterous, and to this hybrid vehicle, placed close to the platform, her son carried her in his arms when she arrived. She was unable to speak, but patted her brother's and Fanny's hands and looked "very sweet," Fanny found the desperate courage to tell her. She was lifted from the chair into a carriage, and seemed a little stronger as they drove home; for once she took her hand from George's, and waved it feebly toward the carriage window.
"Changed," she whispered. "So changed."
"You mean the town," Amberson said. "You mean the old place is changed, don't you, dear?"
She smiled and moved her lips: "Yes."
"It'll change to a happier place, old dear," he said, "now that you're back in it, and going to get well again."
But she only looked at him wistfully, her eyes a little frightened.
When the carriage stopped, her son carried her into the house, and up the stairs to her own room, where a nurse was waiting; and he came out a moment later, as the doctor went in. At the end of the hall a stricken group was clustered: Amberson, and Fanny, and the Major. George, deathly pale and speechless, took his grandfather's hand, but the old gentleman did not seem to notice his action.
"When are they going to let me see my daughter?" he asked querulously. "They told me to keep out of the way while they carried her in, because it might upset her. I wish they'd let me go in and speak to my daughter. I think she wants to see me."
He was right--presently the doctor came out and beckoned to him; and the Major shuffled forward, leaning on a shaking cane; his figure, after all its Years of proud soldierliness, had grown stooping at last, and his untrimmed white hair straggled over the back of his collar. He looked old--old and divested of the world--as he crept toward his daughter's room. Her voice was stronger, for the waiting group heard a low cry of tenderness and welcome as the old man reached the open doorway. Then the door was closed.
Fanny touched her nephew's arm. "George, you must need something to eat--I know she'd want you to. I've had things ready: I knew she'd want me to. You'd better go down to the dining room: there's plenty on the table, waiting for you. She'd want you to eat something."
He turned a ghastly face to her, it was so panic-stricken. "I don't want anything to eat !" he said savagely. And he began to pace the floor, taking care not to go near Isabel's door, and that his footsteps were muffled by the long, thick hall rug. After a while he went to where Amberson, with folded arms and bowed head, had seated himself near the front window. "Uncle George," he said hoarsely. "I didn't--"
"Oh, my God, I didn't think this thing the matter with her could ever be serious! I--" He gasped. "When that doctor I had meet us at the boat--" He could not go on.
Amberson only nodded his head, and did not otherwise change his attitude.
Isabel lived through the night. At eleven O'clock Fanny came timidly to George in his room. "Eugene is here," she whispered. "He's downstairs. He wants--" She gulped. "He wants to know if he can't see her. I didn't know what to say. I said I'd see. I didn't know-- the doctor said--"
"The doctor said we 'must keep her peaceful,'" George said sharply. "Do you think that man's coming would be very soothing? My God! if it hadn't been for him this mightn't have happened: we could have gone on living here quietly, and--why, it would be like taking a stranger into her room! She hasn't even spoken of him more than twice in all the time we've been away. Doesn't he know how sick she is? You tell him the doctor said she had to be quiet and peaceful. That's what he did say, isn't it?"
Fanny acquiesced tearfully. "I'll tell him. I'll tell him the doctor said she was to be kept very quiet. I--I didn't know--" And she pottered out.
An hour later the nurse appeared in George's doorway; she came noiselessly, and his back was toward her; but he jumped as if he had been shot, and his jaw fell, he so feared what she was going to say.
"She wants to see you."
The terrified mouth shut with a click; and he nodded and followed her; but she remained outside his mother's room while he went in.
Isabel's eyes were closed, and she did not open them or move her head, but she smiled and edged her hand toward him as he sat on a stool beside the bed. He took that slender, cold hand, and put it to his cheek.
"Darling, did you--get something to eat?" She could only whisper, slowly and with difficulty. It was as if Isabel herself were far away, and only able to signal what she wanted to say.
She did not speak again for a time; then, "Are you sure you didn't-- didn't catch cold coming home?"
"I'm all right, mother."
"That's good. It's sweet--it's sweet--"
"What is, mother darling?"
"To feel--my hand on your cheek. I--I can feel it."
But this frightened him horribly--that she seemed so glad she could feel it, like a child proud of some miraculous seeming thing accomplished. It frightened him so that he could not speak, and he feared that she would know how he trembled; but she was unaware, and again was silent. Finally she spoke again:
"I wonder if--if Eugene and Lucy know that we've come--home."
"I'm sure they do."
"Has he--asked about me?"
"Yes, he was here."
She sighed faintly. "I'd like--"
"I'd like to have--seen him." It was just audible, this little regretful murmur. Several minutes passed before there was another. "Just--just once," she whispered, and then was still.
She seemed to have fallen asleep, and George moved to go, but a faint pressure upon his fingers detained him, and he remained, with her hand still pressed against his cheek. After a while he made sure she was asleep, and moved again, to let the nurse come in, and this time there was no pressure of the fingers to keep him. She was not asleep, but thinking that if he went he might get some rest, and be better prepared for what she knew was coming, she commanded those longing fingers of hers--and let him go.
He found the doctor standing with the nurse in the hall; and, telling them that his mother was drowsing now, George went back to his own room, where he was startled to find his grandfather lying on the bed, and his uncle leaning against the wall. They had gone home two hours before, and he did not know they had returned.
"The doctor thought we'd better come over," Amberson said, then was silent, and George, shaking violently, sat down on the edge of the bed. His shaking continued, and from time to time he wiped heavy sweat from his forehead.
The hours passed, and sometimes the old man upon the bed would snore a little, stop suddenly, and move as if to rise, but George Amberson would set a hand upon his shoulder, and murmur a reassuring word or two. Now and then, either uncle or nephew would tiptoe into the hall and look toward Isabel's room, then come tiptoeing back, the other watching him haggardly.
Once George gasped defiantly: "That doctor in New York said she might get better! Don't you know he did? Don't you know he said she might?"
Amberson made no answer.
Dawn had been murking through the smoky windows, growing stronger for half an hour, when both men started violently at a sound in the hall; and the Major sat up on the bed, unchecked. It was the voice of the nurse speaking to Fanny Minafer, and the next moment, Fanny appeared in the doorway, making contorted efforts to speak.
Amberson said weakly: "Does she want us--to come in?"
But Fanny found her voice, and uttered a long, loud cry. She threw her arms about George, and sobbed in an agony of loss and compassion:
"She loved you!" she wailed. "She loved you! She loved you! Oh, how she did love you!"
Isabel had just left them.