Death, on Westminster Bridge

She was standing on Westminster Bridge. It was twilight, but the City was no longer dark. The street lamps along the Embankment were still dimmed, but in the buildings shutters and blinds and curtains had been removed or left undrawn, and the lights were coming out there like the first faint stars above. Those lights were the peace. It was true that formal peace was not yet in being; all that had happened was that fighting had ceased. The enemy, as enemy, no longer existed, and one more crisis of agony was done. Labour, intelligence, patience-much need for these; and much certainty of boredom and suffering and misery, but no longer the sick vigils and daily despair.

Lester Furnival stood and. looked at the City while the twilight deepened. The devastated areas were hidden; much was to be done but could be. In the distance she could hear an occasional plane. Its sound gave her a greater sense of relief than the silence. It was precisely not dangerous; it promised a truer safety than all the squadrons of fighters and bombers had held. Something was ended, and those remote engines told her so. The moon was not yet risen; the river was dark below. She put her hand on the parapet and looked at it; it should make no more bandages if she could help it. It was not a bad hand, though it was neither so clean nor so smooth as it had been years ago, before the war. It was twenty-five now, and to her that seemed a great age. She went on looking at it for a long while; in the silence and the peace, until it occurred to her that the silence was very prolonged, except for that recurrent solitary plane. No one, all the time she had been standing there, had crossed the bridge; no voice, no step, no car had sounded in the deepening night.

She took her hand off the wall, and turned. The bridge was as empty as the river; no vehicles or pedestrians here, no craft there. In all that City she might have been the only living thing. She had been so impressed by the sense of security and peace while she had been looking down at the river that only now did she begin to try and remember why she was there on the bridge. There was a confused sense in her mind that she was on her way somewhere; she was either going to or coming from her own flat. It might have been to meet Richard, though she had an idea that Richard, or someone with Richard, had told her not to come. But she could not think of anyone, except Richard, who was at all likely to do so, and anyhow she knew she had been determined to come. It was all mixed up with that crash which had put everything out of her head; and as she lifted her eyes, she saw beyond the Houses and the Abbey the cause of the crash, the plane lying half in the river and half on the Embankment. She looked at it with a sense of its importance to her, but she could not tell why it should seem so important. Her only immediate concern with it seemed to be that it might have blocked the direct road home to her flat, which lay beyond Millbank and was where Richard was or would be and her own chief affairs. She thought of it with pleasure; it was reasonably new and fresh, and they had been lucky to get it when Richard and she had been married yesterday. At least-yesterday? well, not yesterday but not very much longer than yesterday, only the other day. It had been the other day. The word for a moment worried her; it had been indeed another, a separate, day. She felt as if she had almost lost her memory of it, yet she knew she had not. She had been married, and to Richard.

The plane, in the thickening darkness, was now but a thicker darkness, and distinguishable only because her eyes were still fixed on it. If she moved she would lose it. If she lost it, she would be left in the midst of this-this lull. She knew the sudden London lulls well enough, but this lull was lasting absurdly long. All the lulls she had ever known were not as deep as this, in which there seemed no movement at all, if the gentle agitation of the now visible stars were less than movement, or the steady flow of the river beneath her; she had at least seen that flowing-or had she? was that also still? She was alone with this night in the City-a night of peace and lights and stars, and of bridges and streets she knew, but all in a silence she did not know, so that if she yielded to the silence she would not know those other things, and the whole place would be different and dreadful.

She stood up from the parapet against which she had been leaning, and shook herself impatiently. "I'm moithering," she said in a word she had picked up from a Red Cross companion, and took a step forward. If she could not get directly along Millbank, she must go round. Fortunately the City was at least partially lit now. The lights in the houses shone out, and by them she could see more clearly than in the bad old days. Also she could see into them; and somewhere in her there was a small desire to see someone-a woman reading, children playing, a man listening to the wireless; something of that humanity which must be near, but of which on that lonely bridge she could feel nothing. She turned her face towards Westminster and began to walk.
Charles Williams
All Hallows Eve (1948)
Chapter 1

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