- chapter: IV
|<< chapter 3||< chapter 1||chapter 5 >||chapter 8 >>|
November the tenth.
I HEARD of a man the other day whose wife went into his room to kiss him good night, and he said: "Mary, why do you do this? I do not love you. There is no other woman in the case. I have not wronged you. But I no longer love you. If I were you, I should not kiss my husband under these circumstances."
This is a true story. Minnie Curtis told me the names of the people. I repeated it to Dana to-day, and he said, yes, she had told him that yarn. He finds it quite a relief, he says, when | | 141 he is tired and the baby is crying, to run in to the Curtises'. He met Robert Hazelton there, the last time, consulting with Dr. Curtis. The old doctor is not well, and makes over a good deal of his practice to Robert. I asked Dana if he thought Robert saw much of Minnie; but Dana says that Robert has no time to talk to girls--he says he doesn't think he is that kind of doctor. It leaped to my lips to ask Dana why he was that kind of lawyer. But I did not do it. If I had, all the answer I should have got would have been: "You don't classify quite correctly. I'm going into politics," or some equally clever parry. Nothing would have been gained, and something lost--something of that indefinable advantage which a wife (more than a husband, I think) retains with self-possession. A woman can never afford to be cross. Why is it that a man can?
The first lesson of a wife is to learn when not to speak; I doubt if she ever learns why not. I am a dull pupil in the school of marriage. No Wilderness Girl takes to the higher mathematics with any natural grace. If it were not for my daughter--well, if it were not for my daughter? It is for my daughter--the insurmountable fact, the unanswerable question, the key that locks me to my lot. If I fled back to my forest, she | | 142 would cry for me. And if I strapped her on my back and ran--I don't think the governor's granddaughter would make a successful papoose. She is much more like her grandfather than like me, thank Heaven. She has his equable mouth, though it curls at the corners more than his. I think she will grow up into a comfortable young lady, and marry a congressman, and be happy ever after. There is nothing of her father about her yet, except his eyes; hers already have the insouciance, but not the insolence, the superfluous merriment refined by her sex. I have studied her anxiously. She bears my mother's name.
"Marion," I said to-day, "I am glad you are not a boy baby."
She gave me an elfish glance, and the corners of her mouth curled. I never saw a sarcastic baby before.
November the twentieth.
I HAVE the outlines of a Greek tragedy before me. A girl I used to go to school with married a brilliant young fellow of her own social class, whom she adored with that kind of too tolerant tenderness for which, as a sex, we seem to be distinguished. Some overlooked heredity, rooted two generations back, resulted in drinking, and drinking resulted in worse. He left | | 143 her last spring for a woman such as Fanny never saw in her life. Fanny has two children, and that sort of ill health which heartbreak creates in women, a disorder not catalogued in the medical books. Her family lost their property when her father died, and to-day I had her advertising cards. They set forth the fact that Mrs. Fanny Freer, masseuse, will treat patients at their own homes for one dollar an hour. She will also repair ladies' dresses, and cut and make children's clothes.
I call it Greek because she has not made any fuss about it, but has endured her fate with a terrible and splendid dumbness for which, again, as a sex, we are not distinguished. She is a little blonde thing, too, with a dimple, and a bow-and-arrow mouth, and always had more gloves than I did at school.
I have been ailing lately, I don't know just why. I wonder if I could afford to send for her a few times? It might be at least a comfort to her to come here, where she will be asked to sit at table with the family.
In face of a fate like this, how my half-grown troubles hang their heads! I seem to see them in a row, standing like school-boys punished for playing at Indian massacre. "You foolish fellows!" I say. "You are a shabby lot. There | | 144 isn't an Indian among you! Any respectable tomahawk would disown you."
I am beginning to understand that happiness in marriage is an art. I used to think it was a gift. In short, what I thought was a right proves to be a privilege.
November the twenty-third.
...I HOPE I have not been exacting with Dana. He calls me so, when he is vexed about anything. I never was thought exacting in any other relation of life; but marriage makes a new being of a woman: a wife is as truly born into an unknown world as her child is. It seems to me that I have my own character to form, as completely as my daughter's. I, Marna Trent, slain on my wedding-day, am a transmigrated soul--the "twice-born," as the Buddhist calls it. I am in my second existence....Will there be any others?
I found something in one of Max Müller's Oriental Bibles yesterday over in Father's library, when I went to sit with him and read to him, for Father is not quite well this fall, and it is touching to me to see how he clings to what he calls my "womanly tenderness." (He never said that I was exacting.) Here is what I read to Father:
Though I go along trembling, like a cloud driven by a strong wind, have mercy, Almighty, have mercy!
November the twenty-seventh.
WE took our Thanksgiving dinner with Father, and Dana went to the Curtises' later in the evening. I had to come back and stay with the baby, to let the girls go out. She is asleep, and the house is as still as resignation. I cannot write, and have been trying to read. Dana says I do not keep up with current thought, and that a wife should make herself as attractive to her husband intellectually as she was before marriage. The first sentence I fell upon was this, from a French critic:
It is well that passionate love is rare. Its principal effect is to detach men from all their surroundings, to isolate them, ...and a civilized society composed of lovers would return infallibly to misery and barbarism.
TELEPHONE MESSAGE"November the thirtieth.
"Main-20. "To Mr. Dana Herwin, from Mrs. Herwin.
"By the maid to the office-boy. Peter will deliver as soon as Mr. Herwin comes in.| | 146
"Dr. Curtis sent Dr. Hazelton over to see the baby this noon. He calls it croup. When will you be out?MARNA."
TELEGRAM"New York, November 30. "To Mrs. Dana Herwin.
"Called suddenly to New York on business. Did not return to office. Hope child is better. Address Astor House.DANA."
"The office-boy to the maid.
"Say, Luella, you tell her he ain't got that message. He took the Limited, and never showed up, only a district messenger that sassed me, and I showed him the door."PETER."
TELEGRAM"Astor House, New York, December 1. "To Mrs. Dana Herwin.
"Yours received too late for midnight express. Will return Limited. Hazelton all right. He'll bring her through. Cheer up. Will catch the 3:12. If baby better, telephone station. In that case, take later train.DANA."
TELEPHONE MESSAGE"December the first. To Mr. Dana Herwin,
"Care of Chief Operator, West Station.
"Marion is out of danger. Do as you please about hurrying home. She is still sick, but safe."MARNA."
December the first, 10 P.M.
I KNEW he was a good, true, clever man, but I did not know before that Robert Hazelton could work a miracle. I never thought to see the day when I should be glad that old Dr. Curtis could not get to my sick child; but it is my belief that if he had--The new methods and the new remedies are wonder-workers in the control of an able and alert mind, fresh from everything and afraid of nothing. Robert was always a courageous fellow; but he is so quiet about it that one must know him pretty well to rate his intellectual and moral independence at anything like its value.
Together we fought for the baby's life all night. What a night! Solemn, separate from all nights, it stands apart in my life--the look of my child's face, the way her little hands clutched at the air; and the strong, still figure beside me, grasping her from death....He | | 148 told me to go to bed, and that she could be trusted with Luella. I can't do it. I don't think I could do it even if Dana had got home; and he won't be here till half-past eleven. He telephoned that it was very important, something political, and that if the child were out of danger, he would take the eleven-two; unless, he said, I wished him to come right out? I told him to do as he pleased, and that it was not at all necessary.
He is away so much that he does not seem necessary in these days to very much of anything. I suppose most wives have that feeling. I hope they do not all have another, which persists and pursues me--this feeling hurt, hurt all the time. My whole soul is raw, as if it were flayed with some petty instrument or utensil, like an awl or a grater; something not to be dignified as a weapon.
He says he loves the child as much as I do. I thought at first that we should grow nearer and be dearer on account of the baby. But I am kept at home so much with her, and I can't go about, as I used to do, with him; and Dana hates sickness, and all babies are ailing more or less. Even the experience of parentage, which I thought was to unite, seems subtly to divide us. Everything almost that we experience de- | | 149 velops the sundering, not the soldering, quality. One day Mrs. Gray said to me:
"My dear, marriage is full of phases. Don't mistake them for finalities."
I suppose that is my tendency--to look upon the stages of a thing as the end of it. When one is caught on a barbed-wire fence, one does not contemplate the beauties of the horizon.
I am writing because I cannot sleep till he gets home. There would be no use in keeping Luella up, and I am happier to watch the baby. Only to hear her breathe is ecstasy. All last night I had a strange, scared feeling. It seemed monstrous that her father should not be there if she died. And when she lived, it seemed somehow abnormal that it should be Robert who saved her. I have never thought of him as a doctor, only as one of my old friends. In fact, since I have been married, I have scarcely thought of him at all.
He, on his side, seemed to have forgotten that we were ever friends. He was all doctor. I don't think he had an idea in his head except to save my baby's life--not because she was mine, but because she was a baby. His face was set and stern; it was as strong as bronze. His peremptory orders rang like those of some military man, a stranger, or some one you had only hap- | | 150 pened to meet. I always liked his voice. I don't think he looked as short as he used to. It seemed to me as if he had grown. He came again at noon, and again this evening. When he went away at nine, he said: "Go to sleep. The child is safe. Do not sit up for your husband. You are exhausted."
"I will meet him at the station and tell him to come in softly," he added, as he shut the door.
I did not even thank him, or think, till afterward, how kind that was, or how like him. If I had, I doubt if I could have spoken. His manner was as impersonal as if he had been a physiological laboratory. Now that I think of it, I don't believe he gave the least evidence of anything that could possibly be called sympathy in all that terrible time. I begin, now that the strain is over, to perceive how kind this was in him. I wanted my husband so all the time, I perished so for Dana, that one tender word would have demoralized me. I should have cried my soul out. And that would have been bad for the baby. I suppose physicians acquire a sorcery about all these things; they never cross the magic circles.
I wonder if I ought not to write to Robert and thank him properly?| | 151
I disobeyed you, for I cannot sleep till my husband gets home. So I am writing. And I know that I shall rest better if I try to tell you how we feel about what you have done for the baby. But, now that I try, I cannot tell you; all my words deny me. Her father will see you at once, and express to you our affectionate gratitude for the professional skill and the personal kindness which have saved our child. I expect him now, every minute."Yours gratefully and as ever sincerely, "MARNA HERWIN."
December the twelfth.
I HAVE been shut in so much with the baby, lately, that I have read rather more than usual. I hoped this would please Dana, but I can't say I that he has seemed aware of any accumulated intellectual force in me. He says I am narrowing to a domestic horizon. Thinking to amuse him to-day, I carried him this, from an old author:
Woman ought every morning to put on the slippers of humility, the shift of decorum, the corset of charity, the garters of steadfastness, the pins of patience....
...But it is by no means proved that even then a man would not find his wife a little overdressed.
"That makes a good point," he said. "A | | 152 fixed sense of moral superiority has a tendency to become tiresome. A fellow resents being always put in the wrong."
"Even if he is wrong?" I asked.
"Possibly because he is wrong," replied my husband, with a changed expression. He glanced over the book, and left the room abruptly. I saw him go over to the Curtises' on his way to the trolley; there were fifteen minutes to spare. I did not feel at all surprised--perhaps not really altogether sorry--that he did not spend those fifteen minutes with me. Once I should have grieved. I could hear him playing a duet with Minnie, some rollicking thing. He says she accompanies very finely; his violin has been over there for some time. After he had gone, I took up the book, which he had laid face down upon the baby's crib. His swift and slender pencil-point had run beside these words:
Only a saint can endure a wearing woman.
"December the thirteenth.
Will you be patient with one of my constitutional notes? It is a good while since I have written you any, for I see that they sometimes annoy you in these days, and indeed I do not mean to be troublesome. But do | | 153 you realize, my dear, how hard it is becoming for us to talk? I so often displease you, God knows why. Or you hurt me, though I am sure you do not mean to. I find sometimes that if I have anything of any consequence to say to you, I must write it, or not say it at all. You call it second nature in me to write my heart out. I wonder if it is first nature, and speech only the second one?
"At all events, I found the sentence you had marked in that old English book yesterday. I think you can understand that it has troubled me a little. Do you mind telling me, Dana, what you meant by marking it?"Your loving "MARNA, Wife."
If you have really forgotten what sentence it was, there is nothing to be said."MARNA."
DID he forget? Had he truly forgotten? If so, either I am "too strenuous," as he calls me, or he was too frivolous. If not, then I am not strenuous enough, and my husband was not--quite--no, no, no! Forever, no! Not to my | | 154 own heart, not to this secret page, will I pronounce the word.
A "wearing woman"? She who was the dearest, the sweetest, the gentlest, the most tender, the loveliest of girls, the noblest of wives--to him ? I who had all the superlatives of love crowded at my feet, treasures heaped for my sake in a passion of such adoring madness as an older and wiser woman than I might have spent herself upon, and must have trusted--I, Marna Trent, once free and glad, now afraid to own to my own soul how sad I am--now bond-slave to this man for my love's sake, and for his--do I wear upon my husband?
Then God help us, both the man and the woman, if this be true!
If I had been like some girls I have seen, if I had not cared, or taken pains to please him--Why, I know a young wife who danced all night one night when her husband lay battling for his life at the crisis of typhoid pneumonia, and he lived too, poor fellow. Even in our own set, and we are not at all " smart," thank Heaven! such things go on as I cannot, I cannot understand--other men and other pleasures, any other pleasures but those he shares with her, and their children abandoned to nurses, and a wall of snow forming all the time between the husband and | | 155 the wife; glittering snow, beautiful, carved, like the mattress that Catharine of Russia presented as a bridal gift to some persons whose marriage she did not favor, and the mattress was found to be cut out of solid ice....
...AND yet, if a woman does not make a man happy, has she any right to assume that it is his fault? It seems to me as if the blame must be my own, in some perplexing way that I do not understand. If my mother were alive, I suppose he could tell me where I am wrong. To whom can I turn? The popular creed that married people should never seek advice of any third person seems to me a doubtful dogma. The two-in-one life tends, by a subtle chemistry the formula of which is too abstruse for me, to definitely distinct points of view, and only the ideal oneness can reconcile these; if not reconciled, they may need a third view as much as hydrogen and oxygen need an electric spark to combine them. There are times when I think that Dana is wholly in the wrong, because his offense is so obvious. There are whole weeks when I try to feel myself in error, implicit if not explicit. My standards of right and wrong are wavering, like flags in the breeze; serving to show only which way the wind is, and sometimes so twisted | | 156 around their poles that they are of no sort of use--as flags. Then, there is more or less wet weather, when they hang limp and soaked.
I SAW a steam-carriage the other day take fire from its own gasolene, owing to some defect in the machinery; it burned up, yet it did not explode; the sealed tank remained true to its duty. Is it miracle or science that married happiness may come so near destruction and yet retain the sealed tank--fire within fire--solid and safe?
IF he is right, then I must be radically wrong. God knows, if He knows anything about me, how much I would rather suffer than not to be right in this subtle and fatal contention which marriage evolves from love. Or, again, I would, how gladly, be proved to be in the wrong, if that would make him right. I do not ask to be this or that, if only he is blameless. Sometimes I think nothing else in life matters at all.
A NATURE may crumble from sheer disharmony in its own elements. A man may be a beautiful amalgam: gold on his brow, and iron in his arms; but if his feet are clay, he falls.
Women kiss the clay, and cover it with their | | 157 hair, and baptize it with their tears, even as she of the sacred story kissed the Holy Feet, as white as marble, and as strong, which trod the dust of Palestine patiently--never any less the feet of a man because they left the imprint of the God.
I READ to-day about a vine that is impelled by hunger and thirst. "During a severe drought, if you place a basin of water at night say two feet to the left or right of a stray vine, in the morning it will be found bathing in the basin!" It was a squash-vine, by the way.
Camille Flammarion said that he knew "an heroic jasmine which went eight times through a board that kept the light away from it." Some teasing person would put back the jasmine in the shade, "hoping to wear out the flower's energy, but he did not succeed."
If a woman were a jasmine, she would be "heroic." If I were a squash, I should at least be respected for the hunger and thirst of my nature.
December the twenty-third.
POOR Fanny Freer came here to-day, for I have not been very well. I kept her to luncheon, and gave up everything else and sat with her as long as she could stay. She has not many pa- | | 158 tients, and sewed for Marion in the afternoon. She carries herself with a touching dignity. I watched her dimple and her bow-and-arrow mouth, and then the lines on her forehead, as if I had seen a baby crucified. Neither of us mentioned her husband in any way, though she spoke of her children freely. We talked a little about the perplexities of modern life, as they affect women. I think I expected to find her embittered, or inclined to rate marriage by her own pitiable experience. Nothing could be further from the fact. I think she makes a point of her sweet reasonableness--a definite struggle. And she thinks there is no country where there are more happy marriages than in America.
Then I suggested that women are apt to reason too much from personal data. I did not add that she had developed the force of character to rise above this racial trait, but I wished to do so. Fanny is one of those rose-petals that unexpectedly produce the strength of oak-leaves; not falling before storm and sleet, but holding the harder. One sees such women.
I asked her--she has had some experience in her business in town, before she moved out here--whether she found patients infatuated with their doctors.
"Very seldom," replied the masseuse, "unless | | 159 now and then a married woman whose husband neglects her because she is sick." She added that a doctor would find it hard work to cultivate illusions about his patients, and that this fact alone was enough to clear the atmosphere.
I never cared for Fanny at school, but now I could love her if I had time. When she went away, I wanted to throw my arms about her and cry:
"How did it happen? How do you bear it? Why are you alive?"
Instead, we talked of neuralgia and patterns. I never knew anything about patterns before. It seems there is a vast world where these things are important to women.
I wonder if I do not overweigh my troubles Dana says I do. He says I have a genius for being unhappy. Yet it seems to me as if I did not ask much to make me happy--a kind word, a kiss, some little thoughtful act. All a woman wants is to be considered, to be valued. All she wants is love--all she wants is the Life Eternal. I suppose this is an immoderate demand--something like the demand of a moth for personal immortality.
December the twenty-fifth.
CHRISTMAS again! I have had a happy day. Dana has been at home all day, and last evening | | 160 he came in laughing, and splendid, with Marion's first Christmas tree across his shoulder--he handsome enough to break a woman's heart if he did not love her, and perhaps (God knows) if he did. Mine melted before the vision of him as the ice was melting on the tree-house. It is a South Carolina Christmas, and needs only a wild pink azalea in the tree-house, or the scent of jasmine on the wet, warm air.
"You beauty!" I cried. " You look like the Santa Claus ideal. I've always thought it a mistake to make an old man of him. You are young, immortal fatherhood. Kiss her, Dana!"
I held the baby up, and he kissed her rapturously; then he put her down and took me. No, it was not rapturous--no. And yet I think it was love. I tried not to think, not to reason about it. I have learned that it is not wise for a woman to philosophize about love, and that it is dangerous for a wife to do so.
Job began to whine when my husband kissed me, as he has always done from the very first; he never gets used to it, and lately he has had something of a respite from this source of melancholy. There is that in the dog's constancy which touches me, I must say. He has become accustomed to the baby, though he still cherishes a smoldering jealousy of her. But his feeling
Dana and I covered the Landseer dogs to-night (they had grown too shabby) with a dado or frieze of Greek figures. I cut up an old book of Parthenon plates for it, and Dana helped me paste them on; he did not once object--he was very kind. And he patted the Landseer dogs, and called them David and Dora, and Job growled and snarled at them, and Marion laughed like a brook at Job: she has developed her father's laugh. He has given her a boy doll (of all things) nearly as large as herself, and she is flirting with it like a summer girl with the only man in the hotel. Dana named the doll Dombey.
We went to Father's after Marion was in bed, for he is too feeble to get over here; and I read to him awhile. Dana asked me if I minded his running over to the Curtises' for some music while I was reading. I said, "Not in the least." I was so pleased at his asking me that I didn't care at all. And when we came home he sat down at his own piano, and tossed his curling head, and sang:
"You're a dear old girl!" he said.
December the thirty-first.
A SUBMERGED country! The Atlantis of the New England climate has evaded us, and it is incredible that azaleas can swing their pink lamps anywhere, or that jasmine can breathe its heart out on any loving air. The tree-house is stiff with icicles this morning, and the world has got itself into armor, and stirs formidably and heavily, like a medieval lord who kisses his lady in the evening and leaves her in the morning for the wars.
The transformation happened in the night. It was still warm last evening, and Dana brought Minnie Curtis over to play for him here; but the furnace was overheated, and they went out on Ararat and serenaded me, instead; he played his violin, and they both sang "Where'er you walk," and some other things that he used to sing to me. He asked me if I did not enjoy it, and said he thought he was giving me a treat.
"Why in thunder didn't you come out with us?" he asked when he came in, after taking Minnie home.
"You knew Marion had one of her throats," | | 163 I said. "I couldn't leave her even if I had been invited."
"A wife should never wait to be invited," he retorted. "It looked queer, that's all. A wife ought to think how things look."
"And a husband?" I ventured. "What about him?"
The moment I had said it, I would have unsaid it at any estimable cost. I think it was George Eliot who suggested that half the misery of women's lives would be prevented if they could only teach themselves to keep back the things which they had resolved not to say. But a resolution is a mathematical matter,--takes perceptible time,--and my fate was too swift for me.
"I shouldn't have thought," observed my husband, coldly, "that you had it in you, Marna, to be a jealous woman."
Then, indeed, I turned upon him.
"I? Jealous? Of Minnie Curtis?...I should as soon think of being jealous of Dombey!"
"I wouldn't insult your neighbors, if I were you," he blazed. "A rag doll--"
"Dombey isn't rag; he's wax," I interrupted.
"Wax, then," said Dana, pettishly. He went into his own room and shut the door--hard.| | 164
This morning I scarcely dared to speak to him, he was so manifestly offended, and he went to his day's work without the ceremony of a kiss. That a kiss should ever become a ceremony--is this most pitiable or most merciful?
WHEN a liner is in fear of invisible icebergs she takes the temperature of the sea to test the question of their vicinity.
When my husband came home to dinner, I took all the temperatures I could, dipping here and there, and recording my poor little thermometers, as women do. Half the time I am sawn asunder by the conflict between love and self-respect. In men these two are one flesh; in women--oh, in women they must be sometimes, or the race would be exterminated by civil war. (I think there is a declaration of war between my metaphors, but, thank Heaven, I am not writing for the magazines.)
At all events, I found a field of icebergs driving straight across the bows, and put the ship about. Marion and Job and I are spending the evening up here by ourselves--and Dombey. Marion is asleep in her crib, and Dombey reposes beside her, as usual, with his head hanging over the crib-rail, and his feet on the pillow. I have some doubts of the effects of this habit upon my daughter's manners, Dombey is so big | | 165 and so very boy; but Dana thinks it an excellent joke. Marion has begun to demand a little brother, and perhaps Dombey may fill the deficiency. Dombey has become a painful subject to me all at once, since last night. I could burn him up, or snip him to pieces. I took Marion to-day to see a big lady doll in a shop, in hopes of effecting an honorable exchange; but though the lady doll, two feet high, and glorious in a wedding-dress spangled with gold-dust, hung upon the arm of a red bridegroom in a fireman's uniform, my daughter clung obstinately to Dombey. I must say I respected her loyalty, while I cannot say that I did not pity her for it. Where will it take her twenty years hence?
Does Dana expect me to come down and storm his tenderness? Must a woman make all the advances after marriage, as she must make none before? Then shall we never be happy, for I cannot, cannot do it.
Must she always be the first to institute reconciliations? Must she forever forswear herself, and say,"I was wrong," though she knows, on the honor of her own soul, that she was right?
VOLTAIRE said that a man could never be in the wrong if he made the first advance toward an offended woman.| | 166
NOTE SENT BY LUELLA"DEAR DARLING:
Don't let us make each other miserable any longer! I cannot bear it. My heart will break, to live this way. I will come down if you wish me to--or perhaps, even, you would come up? I will do whichever you wish, whatever you want, anything to make you happy, Dear. Only be kind to me, Dana! Only be tender and loving, as you used to be, and I will try harder to please you, to do as you wish, to be what you require:
Laying flesh and spirit
In thy hands.
"Darling, shall I come down to you? Or | | 167 would you rather--Do whatever you would like best, only loveYour "WIFE."
An hour later.
I HAVE stopped crying,--it waked the baby,--and have lain crushed upon the pillows as long as I can bear it. He sent a note by Luella--the first he has ever written to me in the same house. He did not come up at all. I pin the note upon this page.
I don't feel very happy to-night, and I doubt if we can amuse each other successfully. Your note is all right, and I accept your apology, of course, and we won't say any more about it. But I think I'll go to town for the evening, and come out on the last electric. If I don't get out, don't worry. I should be at the club. Go to bed and to sleep."Aff'ately, DANA."
A GREAT mood has taken the weather since sunset. The ice has suddenly yielded again (like a woman), and a storm is coming up; it will be a fight between sleet and tears all night. The wind raves about the tree-house, and the banshee in my | | 168 room begins to moan slowly and subtly, as if she were trying her voice with a view to a mighty outcry by and by. The soul of the storm is in me, as it was in the beginning and ever shall be. Worn and worried as I am, half disillusioned of myself, yet would I escape myself for the storm's sake, and because I feel in every fiber of my being as if it would shelter me. I would fling the window up, and let myself go, and ride upon the wings of the east wind, for it understands me, and I love it, and I would trust it, though it took me God knows where. And I would be borne into some wide caverns of the night, where love is always tender (being love), and tenderness, because it is gentle, is always true; and where a woman, lest she perish, is cherished by the mystery that won her.
...And what, pray, would become of my daughter? And Dombey?
January the twentieth.
SOME people came to dinner at Father's yesterday, with wives; and he asked me to come over and help him out. Dana was away, so I went alone. After dinner the ladies discussed various social phenomena of the day; they did this with delicacy and earnestness; they spoke of noble | | 169 friendships as distinct from ignoble follies, and one of them suggested that salvation from the last might lie partly in the existence of the first. The other hesitated.
"Friendship needs nourishment as well as love," she said, "and one goes hungry in a week."
"I should call it--about-five days," replied the other, slowly. Then they both laughed, and changed the subject--to the religious views of the new governor.
I could not join in the conversation intelligently, and I did not find it amusing. I have never felt the need of friendship. My husband has always been my friend. Now--is he so much as that? He seems to be eluding my real life by a strange and fatal process. I do not know how to account for it, or how to define it. It is as if I stood on the edge of a precipice, and saw him disappearing from my sight, a hundred feet below, drawn down by a quicksand of the true nature of which he is, or chooses to appear, ignorant. The descent is subtle and slow; it is not even dignified by the anguish of conscious death; debonair, and smiling steadily, he sinks by inches. I can even hear him sing, as he succumbs without a struggle: | | 170
And the stars are old--
"A wife should not annoy her husband."
It is possible that he might select the word "pursue"; he is capable of it; and that would outrage me so that I should quite regret my amiable impulse. If we could sink together, there would be some comfort in it. I am sure I should not mind a quicksand in the least. I would rather suffer with him than be happy without him. But he--he would be happy at any cost. I do not think it is at all clear to him whether default of happiness is to be attributed to the institution of marriage or is (more simply) my fault.
DANA has lost his engagement-ring; he says the tourmalins were growing shabby, anyway, and one of them was broken.
After what has happened to-day, I cannot--no, I cannot see you again | | 171 to-night. Luella will bring up Marion's supper, and I do not want any. I am sorry to leave you alone on Sunday evening.
"No, I shall not say anything to Father. I must bear it as best I can."Your WIFE."
"OH, ask me to forgive you! Ask me, Dana! For love's sake and your own sake--not for mine. All my being stretches out its arms to you. I would forget--would love you, trust you, and begin again, if you will try to be more patient with me, if you will remember to be kind to"Your "MISERABLE MARNA."
March the thirteenth.
DANA has the grippe, the real thing; he has been sick for ten days, and persistently refuses to have a doctor, so of course it has gone hard with him, poor fellow. I have taken care of him as best I could. I have not had my clothes off for three nights, for he needs a good many things, and one takes cold so easily, getting in and out of a warm bed. I brush his hair a good deal, to make him sleepy, and I read to him hours at a | | 172 time. A man is so unused to suffering that a woman, if she loves him, cannot help being patient with him; that is a matter of course. If she can help it, if she resents the natural irritability of his race too much, I am almost prepared to say that she does not love him.
Sometimes, when I am very tired, when I can scarcely keep on my feet, and he does seem almost unreasonable, I say to myself:
"Suppose you had never had the right to take care of him? Suppose he were sick in some remote place, and you could not get to him?"
An hour ago he fell heavily asleep, for he insisted on taking a dose of laudanum (I could not help it; he will, now and then, when he has pain to bear), and I was on the edge of the bed beside him, for I had been trying to magnetize the pain in his head with passes of my hands. I could, for the first year after we were married, quite often, but not lately. I had hoped to forestall the laudanum in that way to-night; but he would not give me the chance; he would not wait. So I was sitting cramped and crooked (that is why I am writing, to try to drive the ache out of my body by a little exercise of my brain), and his handsome head lay upon my arm and shoulder, and his curling hair stirred with my | | 173 breath. He looked more than ill--he looked lonely and wretched; and for the first time I saw lines across his forehead, the real carving of life cut clearly.
"He, too, has unhappiness," I thought. "It is not I alone. In marriage one cannot do anything alone--not even suffer."
"You poor, poor boy!" I thought. And I laid my cheek upon his, and then I kissed him softly. He did not wake, and I kissed him a good many times--as I used to do. He did not know it.1
"July the sixth.
"OH, Dana, can't we begin again? Is there no way of blazing our path back through the forest of married life? I tell you, from my soul, if there is not, we are lost. I do not know how it is with you--I do not know how anything is with you in these times on which we have fallen; sometimes I think I understand almost any other friend I have better than I do my husband. But, for me, I perish. All my nature is astray, a homeless, hapless thing.
"Do not think that I blame you, Dear, or throw our mutual misery too solidly upon your | | 174 shoulders. I know that I was very young, that I gain the tact of experience more slowly than most wives, that I crave a good deal of tenderness--perhaps I am 'exacting,' as you say. I know that I do not learn to be alone readily, and that I grieve over little things. I am afraid my heart is a ganglion, not a muscle, for it quivers and winces at everything. Indeed, I try to be different, to be patient, not to expect too much. Oh, believe that I do try to be the kind of woman you prefer.
"It seems to me that if we could go back and try all over again, we might be happy yet. Love does not die. Love is the life everlasting. It suffers maladies and syncopes, and it may be hard beset, and have to fight for its life--but it is alive, Dana, and it must be cherished like any other living thing. We have laws and penalties for the slayers of men. What court sits in judgment on the murderers of love? Somewhere in the spaces and silences there must be such an inviolate bar. Shall you and I go there, handcuffed together, waiting judgment? Oh, my darling, what can we plead? Mighty joy was in our power, and we slew it, between us. We were the happiest lovers, ours was the maddest, gladdest bridal, we had reverence and ecstasy, and our real went so far to outrun our ideal that | | 175 we left our ideal behind us--and now the feet our real move heavily, and the race is spent. We covered the face of delight with our marriage pillows, and smothered it till it breathed no more. So we buried it, for it stared upon us. We two, man and woman, elected to a great fate, slayers of a supreme love, recreant to a mighty trust--who will take our brief?"MARNA, a Wife."
I have reached the point where I cannot live and go on as we are."Your loving and unhappy "MARNA."
I think if I could die, I should not hesitate long.MARNA."
"July the tenth.
What happened this morning distresses me so that I cannot wait till to-morrow, and you said you should not come back to-night. What can I do for you to make you happier, more calm? You have not been yourself for months, I think. Are you ill? | | 176 Does something ail you that you keep from me? I am sorry if I called you cross when you were suffering. I ought not to mind things so much, I know. I think this terrible weather is too much for you. I feel it a little myself. If I were you, I would go directly to the sea somewhere, and I send this in to the office to propose it with all my heart. I will not mourn, and I will try not to miss you.
"As you say, we cannot afford to move the whole family; and as you see, I cannot leave Father this summer, he is so feeble. He spoke of the Dowe Cottage in the spring, but lately he has said nothing about it; he acts a little strangely about his affairs. Has it ever occurred to you that he has lost anything--any property, I mean? Once he would have told you; but lately you have been so busy, and you see so little of him. And he never talks business to me.
"As long as Marion keeps well, I can stand it. Dear, I don't mind it much. I can take her over to Father's, where the rooms are large enough to shut up; and we shall get along nicely. I think you had better go to Bar Harbor or to Nova Scotia at once, if you feel like it."Your loyal and loving "MARNA."
TELEGRAM"To Dana Herwin, Digby, Nova Scotia.
"Yours received. I did not mean that at all. Oh, try to understand!MARNA."
July the thirtieth.
I telegraphed because I could not bear it that you should mistake me so. I am sure by this time that you will have re-read my letter and my meaning. Must it come to this, that you and I need a new vocabulary to interpret each other--in small, common matters like this? The 'little language' of love we have lost the art of, like electives one learns at school or college, and then forgets. But the Queen's English, Dana! Do I use it so stupidly? Am I so crass with it that you cannot take me right?
"Try to understand me, Dana! A loving wife is not abstruse. I don't feel in cipher. If I express myself so, it is because I am so afraid of offending you that I am not natural, and so I am not simple. I do not feel at home with my own husband. I try too hard to please you, Dear! I need so to be comprehended that I cease to be comprehensible.| | 178 "Oh, try, Dana, try to understand
"Your wholly longing, always loving "WIFE."
August the seventeenth.
THE date when a woman accepts the fact that the man she loves cannot or will not understand her, and that she must abandon the attempt to make him do so, is one of the birthdays of experience. These are as definite as the other sort of birthday--as my daughter's, for instance, which occurs to-day.
I don't know whether her father has forgotten it, or whether his letter is delayed. He has been in Washington on some business (I do not know what; I have given up asking now; he gave up telling some time ago), and was so overcome by the cruel heat of the place that he has fled to Maine to cool. I think I read yesterday that the President is in the Rangeleys on a fishing-trip. Dana knows the President, who was a friend of Senator Herwin's, and I have fancied that he values this important acquaintance as one which he does not owe to my father. It is a week since I have heard from Dana. I must say it occurs to me to wonder whether he has gone fishing with the President. In that case, letters will be uncertain. Dana likes to do the | | 179 uncertain, and I will try to be prepared for anything.
I have bought the big lady doll for Marion, but she regards this acquisition to her family indifferently. Her devotion to Dombey is unassailable. In deference to this feminine weakness, I contributed a golf-suit to Dombey's wardrobe. She has named the lady doll Banny Doodle--a mystical appellation, intended, I think, to be a term of reproach. She is two years old to-night. She calls her father "Pretty Popper," and cried, when she woke up, because Pretty Popper had not come home. To be exact, she calls him "Pity Popper."
September the fifteenth.
I ONCE knew a discontented woman who lost an eye and lived in danger of perfect blindness. She became suddenly cheerful and charming.
"It is so much to keep one eye," she said.
It is two weeks since he came back. He did go fishing with the President, and I heard no thing from him for ten days; but that seems now so small a trouble, all my troubles are such dwarfs beside this which has happened, that I look upon myself with contempt for having ever been disturbed by them. Life seems to be a long chromatic scale, all its major notes expressed by | | 180 its minors, or the other way if you choose. Suffering is purely relative.
Who said, "The young are only happy when they experience pleasure; the old are happy when they are free from pain"? I have ceased to be young, but have not learned to be old.
My husband is going as consul to Montevideo. The appointment was offered him, virtually, on that fishing-trip, and he formally accepted it the day before he came home: He did this without consulting me.
September the seventeenth.
IT is only by fragments, as I have the strength or can compass the courage, that I can write anything about it. Yet I have a confused consciousness that I had better record (though to what end God knows) some of the events of these days--which flee by me like racers running on thorns, blood-tracked.
He began the night he got home, nervously, as if he were flayed to have it over:
"Marna, I have accepted an appointment."
"A pleasant one, I hope, Dana?"
"To me--yes. I don't think I have been well lately. I want travel, and distance, and a pretty abrupt change of scene. It is a foreign appointment."| | 181
One quick "Ah!" escaped me. After that I did not speak for a good while. I took up the baby, and put her in my lap, as if she were a shield between me and my husband. When I could not look at him, I could bow my face on her soft hair, and it steadied me a little.
"The President was glad to oblige my father's son. He would have done something different, Something better, I think, if he could. There was no other post open but this just now. I don't mind it; I want a different climate--I am really not well, though you never have found it out. Besides, I want something out of the common course--a new experience--fresh life. A man of my type is not adapted to New England. He perishes of ennui in the life I lead here. At any rate, I'm going. I am going in October."
"You did not--speak to me--about it." My lips were so stiff that I am not sure they articulated the words, but I thought they did. "I am--your wife. You did not--tell me."
"What would have been the use?" he said. "You would only have made a fuss. My mind is quite made. I am going to Uruguay."
Then I know I spoke out, I think I cried out: "Uruguay?"
I held out the baby at my arm's length between us. I felt as if she might, as if she must, | | 182 protect me from what would happen next. I sat staring.
"Do shut your mouth," he said fretfully. "That expression is not becoming."
I put the baby down, for my head swam; I thought I should drop her. She ran over to him, calling "Pity Popper!" and poked Dombey into his arms to be kissed. He did not touch them, either doll or child. I thought he dared not trust himself. His face worked. I think he said;
"We might as well have this scene over."
"And I?" I said. "And Marion? And Father? Father is failing; he is a dying man. You knew I could not leave Father--now! You knew we could not take the baby--to Uruguay."
"You can do as you please," he replied stiffly. "You are my wife. You have the right to come, of course. Or I have the right to ask it, for that matter. But I do not press the matter. I wish you to please yourself."
I got up and went to the window and looked out at the tree-house. It was moonlight, as it was the night he kissed me for the first time, and the shadows from the vines were floating over us. I could hear Minnie Curtis warbling at her piano. She was practising one of Dana's songs: | | 183
And the stars are old,
And the leaves of the Judgment Book unfold!
"Do you desert me " I asked.
He threw my hand off with an oath.
"Put me in the wrong--as usual! You always do. I'm tired of your everlasting superiority. If I did leave you, you couldn't blame me. Nobody could. We ought to be apart--we wear on each other--we need absence, a good dose of it, too. We only make each other miserable. We--"
This was not all. I cannot write the rest. Some of his words will sound in my ears till my funeral bell.
"Very well, Dana," I said. "Do as you please."
"I do not leave you, you understand!" he cried hotly. "You are welcome to come with me. Or I will send for you by the next steamer, after I have found some sort of a place for you--if you prefer. You are at perfect liberty--come, if you choose."
His eye wavered.
"I did not marry your father. You are my | | 184 wife. You can accompany me, if you wish, of course."
"I shall sail," he added, "the seventh of October."
He was as white, by then, as the wedding-dress of Banny Doodle, whom Marion had dragged contemptuously by one leg, and flung head downward in her father's arms. I stood staring at those two spots of whiteness--the doll's dress and the man's face. Everything else in the room had turned black. I could not even see my child. But I heard her rippling:
I think she asked him to kiss her. And I think he did.
Page 140 - 1.
Upon careful examination of the
manuscript of which these confessions are composed, the system of
dating is found to be, after the manner of women, quite a matter of
accident. Days of the month or week are usually observed with
something like accuracy, but there is no reliable calendar of the
The next available record occurs apparently a year and some months from the date of the last entry given in these columns, and which was coincident with the birth of the young wife's child.
A close study of the copy reveals the fact that certain pages of the Accepted Manuscript are missing, having been torn rather than cut away, and presumably destroyed.
What letters, if any, have shared the same fate, it is impossible to say.-M. A.
|<< chapter 3||< chapter 1||chapter 5 >||chapter 8 >>|