After I got back to school I had two letters from my mother. And then one came from my father telling me she was ailing, and the doctors thought a slight operation might be needed, so he was bringing her up to Dublin to the Portobello Hospital where the two best Irish surgeons, Ben Taylor and Sir Philip Smyley would examine her. Then I got another letter from him saying the surgeons were very hopeful and that the operation would take place at three that afternoon and there was no use my coming into town as I could not see her for a few days. After reading the letter I did not go down to cricket practice, though my name was on the board for fagging at the nets. I went up to my cubicle instead and drew the curtain and got out the little Testament she had given me. I kneeled down and read over and over the words she had marked:
Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do....
And I prayed, asking Him to keep danger away from her and believing it would be kept away from her because I asked it in His name, the way she had told me to ask.
Then I heard someone coming, and the curtain was pulled back roughly and a voice said:
"Why aren't you down at the nets? You know you're fagging for Read."
It was a new prefect named Neal.
"They are operating on my mother in Dublin," I said, "I am praying for her."
"Well," Neal said, "you're half an hour late already. You know what that means."
He went away, but in a few minutes he came back.
"If there is any trouble, tell Read you were doing an errand for me."
"Thanks, Neal," I said,
For two days I had no news. I spent the nights praying for her. And then the warden sent for me. He was with the matron. For the first time he treated me kindly. He put his hand on my shoulder and said:
"I'm afraid there is not much hope...in fact...." He did not finish, and walked over to the window. Then he said:
"The trap is at the door, it will take you to the train. Your father is waiting for you at Leinster Road."
"Then—then she's out of hospital?" I asked anxiously.
"Yes," he said, "she is out of hospital."
As I left him I was wondering if she would be well enough to recognize me.
When I got to my grandmother's house on Leinster Road my father was at the door.
"Little son," he said, and put his arms around me.
"Where is she?" I asked.
He hesitated, and then, with his hand on my shoulder, led me down the hall past the Louis XV mirror and the black marble lady on the console to the room I had shared with my aunt. A heavy odor of flowers came from it as he opened the door. I paused before I went in. The winged dragons were still there on the mantelpiece. I stepped into the room.... The blinds were down and candles were burning and there she was lying, with white draperies over her and lilies all around her and the same trace of a smile on her lips.
I went over to her, tiptoeing softly.
"Sweetheart," I whispered, and stooped over and kissed her forehead. It was cold. And then I saw what I had not seen when I came into the room, for the white draperies covered the sides of it: she was lying in a coffin.