- chapter: V
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October the twenty-first.
THE great crises of life are not, I think, necessarily those which are in themselves the hardest to bear, but those for which we are least prepared. My present fate has the distinction of possessing both these features. Like many forms of distinction, it is more uncomfortable than enviable.
I suppose one ought to be glad if one is capable of the sardonic. Perhaps it is a healthy sign. Probably that class of people who pass their lives in a chronic fear of being or of being thought "morbid" would call it so. On the contrary, I doubt if it is a sign of anything but the mere struggle for human existence. I am the mother of a child, and I must live. Since I must live, I cannot suffer beyond a certain point. I dimly perceive that if I could rise to the level of something quite alien to my nature, I might thrust off by sheer mechanics a measure of what I endure. I wonder if this expulsive power is scorn?
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There should be schools of the prophets for a betrothed girl or a bride. She should be taught to pray: "I find myself deficient in the first trait of character necessary to womanhood. Lord, give me scorn."
I meant to record to-day--again to what end who knows?--something of what has happened. But I find I cannot sit up long enough. The pen shakes in my hand like a halyard in a storm.
October the twenty-seventh.
I HAVE written many letters to him, but have not sent one yet; I can't do it. If I am wrong, I shall be sorry and repent; so far, I do not find it possible.
He sailed on the seventh of the month, as he said he should. For a long time Dana has done everything that, and precisely as, he purposed. I cannot remember when he has yielded to an expressed wish of mine because I expressed it. Perhaps I should have given this more weight, as a sign of deviation in his feeling toward me; but in fact I have regarded it as a form of nervousness. Yet I cannot see that he is ill, except now and then, as everybody is. Indeed, much of the time he has been in better health than usual--vigorous, animated, often excitedly so. He has had many moods and phases, but in one
187 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFErespect he has undergone none: his determination to break away from his surroundings has been sustained till it became inflexible. A consulship is only the mold into which his will has hardened. It happened to be Montevideo. It might have been Venice or Constantinople, the Philippines or Hawaii. He cabled, as he had arranged, and said that he was safe and well.
What took place between him and Father I never knew, and probably I never shall. The inevitable interview occurred the next day after he hurled the news at me, for it could not be said that he broke it. He came from the other house with face like clay, gray and stiff, and locked his library door upon him. How he received this, the first and probably the worst of many strokes which he must meet, I am not likely ever to be told. Men wince under another man's rebuke, I observe, when a woman may pour her heart at their feet to no visible impression. Father is as dumb as he in the marble group of the Laocoon. He has aged ten years since Dana went, and weakens visibly every day. We have scarcely dared to talk about it, either he or I. He sent for me once, and I went over, and knelt beside his chair, and laid my head in his lap, and said:
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"Never mind, Father!"
He put his hands upon my hair, and seemed to grope for me; and then he began to sob--my father! I have never heard that sound before, since my mother died. I think he said: "Daughter Marna! My poor daughter!" But his words were broken. When I had comforted him a little, and kissed his wet face, and laid my cheek upon his gray hair, and blessed him, and calmed him, he struggled to his feet, and held me at arm's-length, and read my face with the look which used to be called "the governor's eye" when he was in his prime.
"You shall not stay--on my account," he said with the governor's voice. "You shall accompany your husband. I will not come between you. Ellen can take care of me; and I have been thinking perhaps some of the cousins would consent to live here and look after me a little. I should not need it very long. A wife's place is beside her husband. I will not consent to come between you and yours."
I know that my eyes fell before my father's. I think I thrust out my hands to ask him to spare me. But all I could say was:
"Don't, Father! don't!"
I tried to tell him that it was not he who came between me and my husband; but I
189 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEthink he understood without the telling, for he did spare me.
"I am not going to Montevideo," I said. "There is nothing to be done, Father. I have decided. I shall not accompany my husband--not now."
LIKE a hurricane, gust upon gust whirling, the days that were left drove by. Dana became suddenly quiet and strange, almost gentle. I helped him in all the ways I could think of about his packing, and little things. I sewed a good deal, and mended all his clothes myself, not letting Luella touch anything. And I asked Robert Hazelton to put up a case of medicines for him for sudden illness, and tucked it in between his golf-suits and his old blue velveteen coat--the coat I used to kiss. Robert hesitated, I thought, about the medicines. His face was set and stern. But he gave them to me. We did not talk about my husband's going to Uruguay; and I am sure that he had already heard of it.
Oh, I did my best! It was a miserable best, for I do not think I am a brave woman, and sometimes I crumbled to ashes. Then I would go away alone, for a while, to regain myself, or busy myself with some order--anything that I
190 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEcould think of that would give Dana any ease or comfort. I got everything that he liked for dinner, all his favorite soups and meats, and the pistachio cream and sponge-cake. I find myself wondering if he would not have liked escalloped potatoes better than soufflé. And I would have given five years of my life if the fire had not smoked in the dining-room, and annoyed him so, that last day but one.
The last day--the last day! If I write about it, should I stand a chance of forgetting it for, let us say, the span of one omitted pang? Sometimes it works that way. I slept a little toward four o'clock, between then and six. The banshee moaned so that I had to stifle her with a handkerchief. Once, in the night, I am sure his door opened, and once again I thought it did. And once I am sure that I heard him weeping.
I did not cry--not then. I only lay staring and still. That sea-song which he read to me in the Dowe Cottage before we were married kept coming into my head:
On the eve of the Day of the Last Awaking.
191 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEglad I had, for when he saw me, the first thing said was, "So you are not going to see me off?" with unmistakable relief. I think he was afraid there would be a scene in the station, or perhaps he really felt as if he could not bear it, himself. It would be something if I could believe that.
There was, in fact, nothing left to say or do, that time. He had arranged with Father about all sorts of business concerns, and taught me how to use my check-book (I never had one before), and he had done all the proper things. You might have thought he was only running over to London and back for three or four weeks.
"I will find some kind of home for you when I can look about," he said several times. To this I made no reply.
"I will let you know at once, as soon as I come across anything," he repeated. But I felt that there was nothing to be said.
"You don't seem particularly anxious to join me," he complained. "Of course I don't wish to make myself disagreeable about it. I will write often," he added, "and shall cable as soon as I arrive."
When I asked (still not replying), "Have you packed your thick silk flannels?" he flushed.
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"Other husbands do such things," he urged. "Other wives accept and accommodate themselves; they do not claim a martyr's crown for the ordinary episodes of political life. You will get along, I am sure. You are very clever; I never knew you fail to do anything that you tried to do; and your father will relieve you of all business cares. You will do nicely until we can be together again--"
"Do you want a photograph of the baby to take with you?" I interrupted. I folded one in an envelope, and handed it to him, writing on it her name and age. Nothing was said about a picture of myself; nor did I speak of our being together again; I could as well have said it in the throat of the grave. I watched him strapping his trunks as if I were watching the earth being shoveled between us.
Marion ran up and sat on the steamer-trunk, and commanded him, stamping her little foot: "Pity Popper take Baby widing! Take Dombey! Take Baby!"
While we were packing his valise, a hand-organ came up Father's avenue, and began to play negro melodies. There was a woman with the man, and she sang shrilly, to a tambourine:
193 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEIt was a bright day, and the maples on, the avenues were of the topaz color, and had the topaz fire; they met against the sky like the arch of joy in some strange world where people were happy. But the woodbine on the tree-house, the one we planted the fall we were married, was ruby-red.
At the last, some power not myself compelled and I ran out and picked a leaf of the red woodbine from the tree-house, and looked for a photograph to pin it on, but could not find any. It seems he had taken one, after all. And so I put the leaf into his dressing-case; but first I kissed it. He did not know.
When he had said good-by to Father and to servants, he kissed the baby, and put her down, and looked about for me. I was up-stairs, for all I could think was to get away, not to be seen by anybody; and he followed me. I thought he would. He came into our own rooms, and shut the door. I think he held out his arms, I think he spoke my name several times, but in very truth I do not know. I only know that the fountains of the great deep stirred and rose upon me. A woman's poise, self-control, self-respect, purpose, pride, resolve--these are grand sounds, great words: a woman's breaking heart defies them all.
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I think when he tried to kiss me that I hid my face, and slid from his lips to his breast, and down, with my arms around him, till I clasped his knees, and so sinking, I fell and reached his feet. And then I called upon him, and cried out to him--God knows what--such cries as heartbreak utters and the whole-hearted cannot understand. I suppose I begged him not to go. I suppose I prayed him for love's sake, for mine, for the child's, and, above all and everything, for his own. I suppose I spent myself in a passion of entreaty which I cannot remember, and he will not forget,--I, Marna, his wife,--wetting his feet with my tears. I have moments of wondering why I am not ashamed of it. I think of it stupidly, without emotion, as something which had to be--the inevitable, the revenge of nature upon herself. It was as if I watched the scene upon some strange stage, and criticized some woman, not myself; for an excessive part she played.
Last night I dreamed it all over, as if it were a play, and I sat in the audience, and Dana and I were on the stage. But when I looked about me, I found that the audience was serried with women, thousands upon thousands--that all Womanhood had thronged to the drama, and sat weeping; and suddenly I saw that the house rose
195 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEupon me, because I alone did not weep, but criticized the woman on the stage.
She is nature!" they cried. "She is ours, of us, forever."
But I looked into my husband's face, and I saw him debonair and smiling, and I cried out upon the women:
Then is nature set against nature, and womanhood and manhood are at civil war."
So I woke, and the door into Dana's room was open, and I remembered what had happened.
A SHORT letter has come from him; it said that he was comfortable, and would give details by the next mail, and sent his love to Marion.
November the eighth.
I WILL not be ill, and I cannot be well, and therefore am I racked. Dr. Hazelton wishes me to suffer him to offer some professional service; I think he said there might be consequences which I did not foresee if I received no care. I shook my head, and he turned away; and then I called him back and thanked him, and shook my head again.
What could he do. I am broken on this wheel.
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SENT"November the tenth. "MY DEAR HUSBAND:
I have your letters and your cable, and thank you for them. I have not written, partly because I have not been very well; but I am not at all ill. When you write more particularly, I shall know better what to say. So far, I feel as if I were writing into the air. I shall become accustomed, no doubt, to the new conditions, and adjust myself to them. Marion is well, except for one of her throats. She talks a good deal about Pity Popper. Father remains about the same, and there is no news except domestic items, which would not interest, and might annoy, you."I am, faithfully, "MARNA, your Wife."
UNSENTUndated. "DEAR DARLING:
I write you a thousand letters in my heart, and I fold them there, and seal them with my kisses, and blur them with my tears, till the words lean one upon another, and cling to each other so that they are illegible for very clinging, as lovers are lost in oneness for very loving.
197 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEit--oh, believe I try! I keep hard at work, and am busy with Marion, and I am a good deal with Father, for I will not wade into my misery. If I do, I shall be swept away. There is terrible undertow in a woman's nature--it would hurl me into an abyss. I wish I had been a different woman for your sake, Dana--not to mind things so, and not to grieve. I think if I had been of another fiber, coarser-grained, if I had not cared when you were not tender, or when I was alone so much, if I had been ruder of nerve or tissue--do you suppose you would have liked me better? I spend my nights thinking how I could have been a better wife to you. I can see so many mistakes I have made, so many ways in which I could have done differently and pleased you better. I dream a good deal about it, and always that you have come back, and that we are happy again, and that you love me, and are glad to be near me, as you used to be. But I do not ask you to come back. Act your own nature. Have your will. If it kills me, remember that I tried to bear it. Though it slay me, I will not pursue you with my love--my bruised and broken love.
198 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEevery morning and every night--a good many times at night. It is fortunate that it is an old coat, for the shoulders and sleeves get pretty wet. "Your desolate "MARNA."
December the tenth.
DR. ROBERT allows me to go down to dinner to-day, the first time for some weeks. I think I must have been pretty sick, yet I cannot see that anything in particular has been the matter; everything is in good condition, unless there has been a little feebleness of the heart's action; but there is no real disorder, Dr. Curtis says. He has been in a few times to see me, but left the case, as he leaves most of his cases now, to Dr. Hazelton. Possibly there has been some congestion in the brain, hardly enough to call a fever--and, really, I don't care enough what ails me to insist on knowing, unless I am told. Neither of them has shown any uncontrollable desire to tell me what has been the matter.
One night when I was lying in a sort of stupor, seeing strange things and thinking stranger, and not supposed, I am sure, to be capable of hearing any, I must have absorbed fragments of conversation between the old doctor and the young.
199 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEDr. Curtis, with a doubt and a dogma warring in his voice. "If there should be anything in the nature of a concealed inflammation--"
Would you operate for heartbreak'?" demanded Robert, fiercely. "There is absolutely nothing else."
"Damn him!" cried our old doctor.
Dr. Robert did not answer. He got up and went to the window, and stood with his back to Dr. Curtis;--a short, strong figure, as stern as granite, he trembled like the river of light which broke through the closed blinds against which he stood. I saw the sun-motes whirling about his head and shoulders at the moment when I recognized him in that flaming stream.
Now that I am better, and look back upon it all, I can see that it must have been Dr. Robert's face which I saw so often when I was the sickest--a calm, protecting presence, tireless and strong. I scarcely remember seeing Fanny at all. I could have blessed Robert, but I do not think I did. I dreamed so much of Dana, and had such visions, all the while. I thought I should die, and Dana so many thousand miles away. Nothing was of any consequence but Dana.
200 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEcheerfully be put to the second question, but he would not tell. I am glad that the doctor is not a stranger, if there must be a doctor at all. I suppose, really, he has been very kind to me. I must remember to thank him.
To-day I found some of my letters to Dana put away carefully in a drawer in his desk, but not locked. I have taken out a few, and put them into the Accepted Manuscript: they will be safer there.
December the eleventh.
IT occurred to me to ask the doctor if anybody had told Dana that I had been ill.
"Your father," he said, "and I."
"You did not cable for him?" I fired. I felt the color slap my cheeks. Dr. Robert made no reply. "I will never forgive you," I cried, "if you asked him to come home--for this!"
"The danger was not so imminent as to make it really necessary," he answered quickly. Afterward this reply struck me as less candid than it might have been; but I did not pursue the subject, for I saw that I had pained the doctor.
201 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEquest to be promptly informed of any change for better or for worse.
What is it about that phrase? Oh, I remember. It was for better and for worse that we gave ourselves to each other.
Wonderful, those ancient oaths, sanctified by centuries of bridals! One must reverence language drawn out of the live, beating human heart--an artery of love through which a mighty experience has poured.
"In sickness and in health"? "Till death us do part"'? Who knows but the time will come when the marriage service shall be thus amended?--
Till sickness us do disenchant." "Till distance us do part."
Fanny Freer took her heart in her mouth to-day, and warned me in so many words that I was becoming vitriolic.
"It is quite unnecessary," she said. Fanny has taken care of me since I have been ill; I have named her Mercibel--Angel of Sickness, Beautiful Mercy. When her dimple dips into her bow-and-arrow mouth she is irresistible. How divine is the tenderness of a woman! It has ineffable delicacy, the refinement of a self-abnegating nature, a something passing the affection of man. A woman hungers and thirsts for the
202 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEcompassion of her own kind. I lean to Mercibel; "for my race is of the Asra."
Men have little tenderness, I think.
I HAD written so far when the doctor called. I must say Robert is very kind to me. There is a certain quality in his manner which I do not know how to define; an instinctive or an acquired forgetfulness of himself, a way of thinking no suffering too small if he can relieve it, no relief too insignificant if he can offer it. I am told that his patients love him devotedly, and that he sacrifices himself for poor and obscure persons to an unfashionable extent, so that Dr. Curtis and the older men feel quite concerned about him.
"Are there not hospitals and dispensaries?" they say. I believe they are plotting to tie him to a hospital of his own. Many people lean on him; they "clamor" for him, Mercibel says, and she has worked for him a good deal; I suppose she knows. One need not clamor, and one may not lean, but I do feel grateful to Robert. Now that I am getting better, Marion is ailing; the doctor thinks this delicacy of her throat needs careful attention, and I am sure he gives it. Dr. Curtis tells me to trust her entirely to Dr. Hazelton, and that he has not
203 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEhis superior among the young physicians of the State.
It is difficult to believe that Robert was ever a lover and suitor of mine. I have quite forgotten it and I am sure he has. I wish he would marry Minnie Curtis.
I wonder if Dana has written to Minnie? She does not mention it. I think she would if he had. I have written to Dana to-day. The doctor offered to mail it for me direct from the post-office on his way down-town, that it might catch the outgoing steamer. I wish I did not find it so hard to write naturally to my husband; but I think that my embarrassment grows worse and worse. I feel so bruised all the time; it is as if he had beaten me--my soul is black. And he never raised his hand against me in my life. Mercibel tells me that husbands sometimes do such things. And he was often very angry with me--God knows why.
I am glad he never did that. I should have taken the baby and gone out of the house forever. I can't say that I should not have wished I hadn't, but I should have gone; I am quite sure of that, for I am so constituted. I am called a tender woman; but there is a shield of implacability in me, steel, deep down beneath my satin. If there were not, I think I should be dead.
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One day the doctor said to me in quite a casual way:
"Did you have occasion to notice any marked nervous irritability in Mr. Herwin before he went to Uruguay--say the last six months?"
"Why do you ask?" I suggested.
"I am answered," said Robert. He bent over the powders which he was folding collectedly; his profile was as impersonal as a symbolic medallion.
"You will take these," he said, "one dry on the tongue every night. You will give Marion the others, in six tablespoonfuls of water, one teaspoonful every two hours."
He rose, snapping the elastic on his medicine-case, and his lips parted. I saw that he would have spoken. In fact, he left without another word.
December the twentieth.
TO-DAY the doctor said abruptly:
"Write to your husband often; and--pardon me--write as kindly as you can."
I sat staring. Robert has never spoken so to me before. I was inclined to resent his words; but it would have been impossible to resent his manner. This is something so fine and compassionate that I do not know how to qualify it. Mercibel calls it his oxygen. "That is what
205 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEthey clamor for," she says, "an invigoration that can be breathed. Every patient feels the same him."
I wonder if Fanny wanted me to understand that the doctor had no particular manner reserved for myself? She need not have undergone any anxieties. She does not know that Robert and I meet like two spirits, having left all personal relations far behind us in an old, forgotten world.
SENT"January the third. MY DEAR HUSBAND:
I have not been quite strong enough to write you any details before now and I knew that Dr. Hazelton had cabled you, though I did not know it until several days afterward. I shall hear from you soon, no doubt.
I had been over to see Father rather late that evening, and had carried him our little presents, Marion's and mine, and he kissed me good night three times, and blessed me, and said:
"'Daughter, you have never given me one hour's anxiety; you have been nothing but a comfort to me from the first moment that they laid you in my arms.'
206 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEme, and said that the doctor was down-stairs and wished to see me for a moment. Even then I did not understand; I thought perhaps he was called away on some long case, or out-of-town consultation, and had come to leave directions about Marion,--for he takes such care of Marion as I am sure you will be grateful to him for,--and I dressed and hurried down, stupidly.
"Robert was standing in the middle of the library, and when I saw his face I said:
"'Something has happened to Father! I will go right over.'
"I started, and pushed open the front door, and out into the snow, for it had stormed (and the banshee had cried as she does in storms) all night. James had not begun to shovel the paths, and it was pretty deep. But before I had waded in I felt myself held strongly back by the shoulders, and the doctor said:
"Do not go, Marna. There is nothing you can do--nor I.'
"Ellen had found him at six o'clock, 'looking that happy,' she says. And the doctor got there in a few minutes, but he is sure that nobody could have saved Father. It was an embolism in brain or heart, they think.
207 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEcould not get here, and I tried not to think of it. He left a sealed letter for you. Shall I send it on? Or would you rather wait?
You will forgive a short note, for I have not been quite well, and there are many cares and perplexities to be met."Your affectionate wife, "MARNA."
UNSENTUndated. MY DARLING:
I know you do not realize what I am undergoing, and I tell myself so every moment, lest I should lose myself and think hardly of you. I say: 'It was so sudden that he could not come, and now that it is over, why should he come?' It is true I long for you so that it seems as if I could not live. But I do not like to tell you so. I am not used to bearing so much quite alone. I never had a real bereavement before--I see now that I never did. I think if I could creep into your arms, and hear you say, 'Poor little wife!' that I could cry. I find it impossible to cry.
"I begin to understand for the first time something of what people mean when they say: 'It was easiest for him, but hardest for us.' All those truisms of grief and consolation have never had meaning for me; in truth, I don't think I have
208 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFErespected them--the uncandid prattle about resignation, the religious phraseology made to do duty for honest anguish. But now I think of all the old human expedients enviously. Perhaps if I had been a devout woman I might know how to bear this better. Do you think I should? Dana, it sometimes comes to me, on long nights when I cannot sleep, to ask myself, with the terrible frankness of vigil, whether, if you and I had been what are called religious people, we should have found marriage any less a mystery--for us, I mean; any easier to adapt ourselves to. There may be something in the trained sense of duty, something--who knows?--in that old idea of sacrifice, in the putting aside of one's own exacting personality, in the yielding of lower to higher laws. Do you suppose that the Christian idea can come to the rescue of the love idea? I do not know. I am teaching Marion to say her prayers. I hope you will not mind?
"Dana, Dana, I love you! Sometimes I wish I did not; but I do. I cannot help it. I must be honest and tell you; sometimes I try to help it. I think that I must stop loving you or die; and I grope about for something to take the place of loving you, some interest that I could tolerate, any diversion or occupation, some little
209 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEpassing comfort, the kindness of other people to me, something to 'keep me from sinking down.' "Your lonely and your loving "MARNA."
SENT"January the fifteenth. "MY DEAR HUSBAND:
You will be notified, of course, in the proper way by Father's lawyers, but I am sure you should hear it first from me. The property is found to be in a strange condition--depleted, Dr. Hazelton calls it. There are some shrunken investments, and there has been some mismanagement at the factories since he has been obliged to delegate everything so to other men, who have not proved conscientious. Then there are those lawsuits about his patent on the linen thread--you know you used to take a good deal of that off his hands; but lately I think he has been wronged somehow, and was too feeble to right himself. At all events, something like a couple of hundred thousand is swept away. And, in fact, my inheritance will prove so small that I am thinking seriously of renting the old place. Do you object? I have only Father's friends to take counsel of, and Mr. Gray advises me to do this, decidedly.
Please reply by next steamer."Your affectionate WIFE."
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CABLE MESSAGE"January 20. "Herwin, United States Consulate,
"Drs. Curtis and Hazelton wish Father's house sanatorium. Twenty years' lease. Cable reply."MARNA."
SENT"January the twenty-fifth. "MY DEAR DANA:
Your cable came after a little delay. I suppose you may have been out of town? We do not altogether understand it, but I fancy that happens with the cable. It seems clear, however, that you interpose no objections, and, not knowing anything better to do, I have closed with the sanatorium offer for the old place. I think I would gladly be in Uruguay if I need not see my decision carried into effect. I have put the whole affair into Mr. Mellenway's hands, so that there shall be no blunder.
"It seems this sanatorium idea has long been a fad of Dr. Curtis's and a dream of Robert's; and the other day that rich old man Pendleton, whom Robert has kept alive for years, surrendered his ghost and his will. Everything goes absolutely to Robert to support a private hospital after his own unrestricted pleasure. Robert
211 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEsays it is such an opportunity as some men in his profession would give their lives for. Dr. Curtis is to be the figurehead, but Dr. Hazelton will be in virtual control, being resident superintendent, but with a staff of subordinates which will permit him to retain portions of his private practice. Otherwise, Fanny says, his clientèle would rise and mob him. If I must see anybody in the old house, I would rather it were friends than strangers. I am trying to mold my mind to it without grumbling. I think there is this about the great troubles--they teach us the art of cheerfulness; whereas the small ones cultivate the industry of discontent. I hope you will be pleased with what I have done. You see, Dana, that what I have of Mother's has dwindled with the rest, and, I suppose, for the same reason. I hated to have to tell you, but really, Dear, I don't see just how we could get along if I did not rent the place.
"Thank you for your last letter. If they were a little longer sometimes, I could feel that I could from a better idea of your life. You seem as far from me as if you swung in a purple star upon a frosty night--at the end of dark miles measured by billions in mid-space. But I am"Loyally your wife, MARNA.
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"P.S. Marion is becoming dangerously pretty and your eyes grow older in her every day. She sends her love to Pity Popper, and commands that you kiss Dombey, distinctly omitting Banny Doodle, who is, at this writing, head down in the umbrella-rack, by way of punishment for invisible offenses. Last Monday Banny Doodle was saved by old Ellen, at the brink of fate, from being scornfully run through the clothes-wringer.
"Ellen has asked my permission to spend the winter with me, refusing any wages. Thank you for the last draft. I shall use it as wisely as I can, and I am learning to live economically, because I must. We have given up the telephone."
May the twenty-fifth.
IT is one of the days that make one believe that everything is coming out right in some world, and might do so in this one if the weather would last. Showers of sunshine drench the brightest grass, the mistiest leaf, I think I ever saw. The apple-tree is snowing pearl and coral upon the tree-house. (If Dana could see it, I should be quite happy.) The world is one bud, blossoming to a faithful sky.
213 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEter, the baby herself seems but a May-flower, a pink, sweet May-flower, opening in a shady place. If it had not been for the doctor--well, if it had not been for the doctor, I cannot think what would have happened, or what would yet happen. I cannot, now, imagine myself without him. He who saves her child's life recreates a mother.
The old home and the new sanatorium are wedded more comfortably than I should have thought possible; and I have outgrown the first pangs of jealousy. They call it the Pendleton, as if it were an apartment-house. The patients are not so many yet, of course, as to be disturbing, and the whole thing moves on rubber-tired wheels. Mercibel has a permanent position there.
It is said that all sanatoriums, or such institutions, are replicas of their superintendents. About this one there is a certain gentle cheerfulness, a subtle invigoration, which is Dr. Robert all over again. He is the soul of his hospital.
I have noticed that the preoccupations of very busy men do service as apologies for neglect of friendly claims to an extent which is deified in the spirit of our day, like a scientific error, or any other false cult. I, who have no claim upon this overworked man, either of his seeking, or
214 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEof my wishing, or of the world's providing, am touched by a thoughtfulness which I have no right to exact and no reason to expect. When I think of the intricacies which have resulted in the simple circumstance that my father's house has become a private hospital, I must feel that the hand of mercy has remembered me.
Once when Father was calling on Whittier at Amesbury, Mr. Whittier said: "I wish I had thee for a neighbor." I have often wished I had a neighbor, a soul-neighbor who was a house-neighbor. I never had before.
All this cruel winter my old friend has befriended and defended me from every harm between which and myself he could, by any ingenuity of the heart, interpose his indefatigable tenderness.
I choose the word, but I do not give it the lower translations. He has taught me what few women learn, what fewer men can teach, that there is such a thing as trustworthy tenderness. I might almost call it impersonal tenderness. Language does not betray it; expression does not weaken it. It is as firm as the protection of a spirit, and as safe. Swept into the desert of desolation as I am, something upholds me, that I do not perish. Is it mirage, or is it miracle? There is a marvel which many women dream of
215 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEbut do not overtake--the friendly kindness of a strong, good man.
May the twenty-seventh.
No letter has come yet from Dana. It is now three weeks since I have heard. Once, in the winter, it was four.
"I would keep on writing," the doctor says. How did he know that I had not? Sometimes it seems to me as if I could drop into the unfathomable silences, and at other times as if I must. Dana's letters are no more natural, I perceive, than mine. Some of them are curiously involved and elaborate, and others are one dash of the pen, like a tongue of fire that may reach anything or nothing.
He writes so frostily in one letter that my heart freezes; and in the next I find a kind of piteous affectionateness before which I melt and weep.
He has ceased to speak of making a home for me in Montevideo. At first he wrote about hotels and the discomforts of housekeeping--about the spiders and lizards. After that he said that the climate would not do for Marion, and there was no doctor in the whole blanked country to whom I would be willing to trust the child, There is a certain something in his let-
216 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEters which perplexes me. I showed one of them in April to Robert.
"Do not resent this," he said. "Be patient; be gentle."
He walked across the room, and returned.
"As if," he added, "you were ever anything else!" I could have thought that his grieving lip was tremulous. He has a delicate mouth; but it is stronger than most delicate things, and never betrays him.
Did I once think him a plain person? At times his strong, unostentatious face assumes transfigurations. There have been moments in my desperate and desolate life this year when he has looked to me like one of the sons of God.
How manifold may be the simplest, sanest feeling! I cherish in my soul two gratitudes--that of the patient, and that of the mother--to this kind, wise man. I might add a third: the thankfulness of an old friend for a new loyalty. To-day the doctor said to me, quite incidentally: "The next time you write to Mr. Herwin, pray tell him that I suggested that he should hunt up that medicine-case, and take atropine 3X twice daily."
"What for? Malaria?" I asked.
217 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
"I think you said he complained of malaria," replied Dr. Hazelton.
June the first.
MARION had one of her feverish turns last night, and Ellen went for the doctor. It was a warm, soft night, and we had only candle-light in the room. I use Robert's candlestick a good deal for sickness; it holds an English candle that burns all night.
When he had stirred Marion's medicine, and covered the tumbler in his conscientious way, he nodded at the gold candlestick.
"You keep it well polished," he said, smiling.
"It has proved a faithful compass," I answered, smiling too. "I believe they don't always, do they? I heard the other day of a wreck on the coast of Norway which was caused by the deflection of the needle."
"Yes," said the doctor, "I read that. It was attributed to a magnetic rock. There really are such, I think, though they are rare." He began to talk about the coast of Norway with more interest, I thought, than the subject called for. It was as if he deflected my mind from the compass. I felt a trifle hurt, and a certain pugnacity into which I lapse now and then (and for which I am generally sorry) befell me. I took the compass up and shook it. The candle flared out.
218 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEI lighted it again as quickly as I could, for the baby complained that I had "grown it dark" and she could not see "her doctor." He watched the needle mounting steadily.
"See!" I cried, "the candle went out. But the compass holds true. The needle points due north, Doctor."
"And always will," he answered solemnly. In the vague light, and moving away from me as he was, for he had risen abruptly to end his call, his strong features were molded by massive shadows. Even in stature he seemed to change before my eyes, and to grow tall, as figures do that one sees in a fog.
June the fifteenth.
DANA'S letter has come at last. It is a very strange letter. He offers no explanation of his silence, no apology for the neglect. He writes with a certain vagueness which is almost too impalpable to be called cold, and yet which chills me to the soul, like a mist when the sun is down. He sends his love to Marion, and I am to remember him to the doctor. He is glad I am in such good medical hands. He mentions again that there is not a decent doctor in that country, and adds that he does not think the climate agrees with him, that he was fooled on the cli-
219 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEmate, and that the whole blanked nation is a malaria microbe. He incloses a draft (a small one), and inquires whether I had not better have the telephone put in again; in fact, he makes a particular request of it. I wonder why his mind should fasten on this, the only detail about my life which has seemed, for some time, to take a very distinct form to his imagination, or even to his recollection.
I handed the letter to the doctor. Although I hesitated about troubling him, I did not hesitate about the letter. There is seldom anything now in my husband's letters which I could not show to another person, unless, indeed, I should not for the very reason that I could. Now and then some sharp word or phrase pierces the soft, elaborate surface,--some expression like a stone, or a tool, which did not take the frost-work, or from which a clouded sun has melted it,--but for the most part Dana has ceased to be cross to me. Sometimes I wish he were. I read a story once of a poor woman who fled and hid herself from her husband (but he was one of the brutes), and, being illuminated by repentance, he sought and found her. His first expression of endearment was a volley of oaths. "The familiar profanity," so ran the tale, "reassured the wife. She nestled to him in ecstasy."
220 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
There is something in Dana's excessive and courteous good nature which troubles me.
Dr. Robert read this letter slowly. I had the ill manners to watch his face boldly while he did so. It was inscrutable. He folded the letter and handed it back without a word.
To-day Mercibel brought me this note from him--the first that Robert has written me since those old days in the other world where I was dear to him. It is a comfort to know that I am so no longer, and I am sure he has forgotten that I ever was. I am quite ashamed of myself that I recall it. Women have relentless memories about the men who have once loved and honored them; I think they cherish these tender ghosts of experience after a man himself has virtually forgotten them.
I fasten in the doctor's note:
I have given the matter some thought, and I suggest that you have your telephone reconnected, as your husband seems to wish it. I do not know that my reasons for the advice are so definite to myself that I can very well make them clear to you; but, in fact, I urge it."Sincerely yours, "ROBERT HAZELTON.
221 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE"Later.
"P.S. I am called out of town on a distant consultation, and expect you and Marion will both keep quite well till I return. I shall be gone till day after to-morrow. In case of any sudden need, my first assistant, Dr. Packard, will do excellently, if Dr. Curtis should not be able to come to you. Dr. Packard has access to my case-books and Marion's remedies.
"I have taken the liberty of asking the telephone people to call and receive your orders this afternoon. It may save you some trouble."
I am ashamed to say that my discreditable impulse was to refuse to see the telephone manager when he came; for once I was a girl of what is called spirit, and certainly Robert has taken upon himself--
What? What can the doctor take upon himself but a thankless and uneased burden, a neglected woman and her ailing child? What can he take upon himself but sacrifices without hopes, duty without comfort? What shall I take upon myself but the ashes of repentance? I am not worthy of such high comradeship.
I have ordered the telephone put in again.
222 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEyou. The wire will be reconnected by Sunday, and I shall send my first message by way of that old and reestablished friend--if I may?--to yourself.
"I do not find it easy to express my sense of obligation to you, but I find it harder not to do so.
"I have been everything that is burdensome and trying, and you have been everything that is kind and wise and strong. I have been all care and no comfort; believe that I understand that, even though I do not seem to. You are always nobly giving, and I am always pitiably receiving, some unselfish, friendly service. Sometimes I feel ashamed to allow you to be so considerate of my child and of myself; and then I am ashamed that I have been ashamed; for God knows we have needed you, Marion and I. What would have befallen us without you I do not find myself able to imagine. I often try to explain to my husband, when I write him, all that you have done and been and are to us.
"Far better than I can ever do, he will acknowledge your faithful kindness when he returns to us, and to himself. Oh, Robert! do you think he ever will? I am"Your grateful patient and
your sincere friend, "MARNA HERWIN."
223 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
July the fifth.
YESTERDAY I was really ill. I think it was the terrible weather (of course I miss the sea), and something that troubles me, and the loss of sleep caused by the excess of patriotism on our street; in fact, this has lasted five nights, culminating on the night of the third. The doctor says that his patients, some of whom are of the nervous species, have suffered to such an extent that he is prepared to wish the American nation had remained in a colonial condition. He divided the entire night between his sick people and the ruffians on the street, for the private guard that he had provided proved incompetent to cope with them. Once, in the night, I heard footsteps outside my cottage, and looking out, I saw the doctor's patrolman softly pacing around our house. Nothing has been said to me about this, and I have not told him that I know it; but the tears smarted to my eyes--that little act of thoughtful care was so divinely like him.
As I write, Ellen is singing to Marion in the nursery:
Lov-ing ki-i-ind-ness, oh, how great!
224 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEI have always maintained, is a Unitarian. I think Job misses his master's singing. The piano has been mute, now, nearly a year; I have never touched it since he left. Ours has become the home of the unsung songs.
I am writing on in this preposterous way because something has happened. It would be easier to record any histrionic episode, any thrilling incident of fate or of fiction, than the intangible circumstance which I wish to enter upon this candid page.
What (I think I have said before) are the plots of event before those of feeling? They seem to me inartistic and dull.
I, who live--more quietly than most of my class and my years--the secluded life of a New England lady; who play only the poor rôle of the slighted wife, not even dramatically deserted; I, who have not the splendors of a great tragedy to throw high lights upon my gray story--I, too, experience drama.
How shall I maintain my untaught part upon this stage of the spirit? For me it confuses more than if I were a woman of the world. I perceive that I am not representative of my day, that, young as I am, I belong to an elder time: I am an anachronism. For I am a woman of the home, and the homing nature has sheltered me. Mme. de Staël, when she was dying, said:
225 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE"I have loved God, my father, and liberty." I have loved my father, my husband, and my child. Now every thought is a spectator in this, to me, unneducated action; every hope, every feeling, every nerve, is an actor. My nature seems to be taxed with a new and imperious expression of itself. Am I appointed to some solitary scene, some thrilling monologue, where duty and desolation are at war?
WHEN the doctor was called to-day, he seemed distressed at finding me more ill than he had supposed, though, really, I think it was what any physicians would have dismissed as a nervous attack, and disregarded. He said at once:
"Did you have a letter yesterday?"
"I did not sleep," I answered; "the boys in the street--"
"Yes, yes, I know. Can I see the letter?"
"I think not--this time, Doctor."
"Very well. Any news in it?"
"None. About the same thing."
"It is not necessary for me to know details. What I must know is, has there been an emotional strain? It makes a difference with the prescription. Your pulse is not quite as firm as it ought to be. You were grieved at something? You need give me no particulars--"
226 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEof us spoke. Marion did the talking; she trotted up to my lounge, and asked when Pity Popper would come home.
"You are to sleep, no matter how much trouble it takes to keep the house still," the doctor said peremptorily. "I will give orders to the servants myself as I go down. Ellen shall take the child over to Mrs. Freer for a few hours. I will ring and direct this."
He rang, and Ellen came, and Marion went. The doctor went on folding powders calmly. I turned my face upon the sofa-pillow, and closed my eyes. I had on one of my thin white gowns, and the lace at my throat stirred with my breath, and tickled my cheek a little, so that it annoyed me, and I started quickly to brush it away.
The suddenness of the motion took him unawares, and my eyes unexpectedly surprised his. He had finished folding powders, and sat looking at me, thinking that I would not see, believing that I would not know, perhaps--God grant it!--himself not knowing how it was with him.
227 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEswiftly before his. The defense was something so subtle but so instantaneous as to be superb. I honored him for it from my heart.
But, ah me, ah me! Some other man, some stranger, some new friend, might perplex me, but not this one. For I had seen Robert look like that--how long ago!--when he was free to love me, and I to be beloved.
July the sixth.
I SAID that something had happened. What? the lifting of an eyelash, the foray of a soul. Nothing more. Yet am I hurled by the movement of the drama.
To-day Dr. Packard came to make the professional call. He reported Dr. Hazelton as excessively busy, and summoned off on a consultation by an early train. How haggard Robert looked that last time he was here! He had slept less than any of us. His eyes had the insomniac brilliance and the insomniac honesty. I do not think I even told him that I was sorry for him. The omission taunts me now that I cannot see him.
SENT"July the seventh. "MY DEAR HUSBAND:
228 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEyou must have felt truly ill to write just as you, did, and I am distressed and anxious. I cannot; think that the climate agrees with you, as you say. Your intimation that you may not serve, out a much longer term in the consulate would have given me pleasure but for--you know what. There seems to be always a lost bolt in the machinery of human happiness. As you say, the mill never turns with the water that is passed. New currents sweep the whirling wheel, and new forces start the life and fill the heart.
"Marion is well, and I am better."Your affectionate wife, "MARNA HERWIN.
"P.S. No; I do not mind that gossip about, you. I would not stoop. I could no more believe it than I would believe it of myself. Give yourself no concern on that score. Whatever else may happen, you are incapable of that.
"I cannot deny that it wounds me that I am not in a position to defy the world and the worst with my confidence in my husband--my ultimate confidence burning deep in the dimness where the great elements of character are forged. But of this we need not speak. Let it suffice that I trust you, Dana.
229 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEa wicked proverb. It may not be the same water that turns the mill, but it is the same stream, Dana."
July the eighth.
TO-DAY the doctor came. He has resumed himself altogether. Except for a sheen of his transparent pallor, he was much as usual--cheerful, quiet, strong. He made a strictly professional call, and it was brief. He regretted that he did not find me better, and I protested that I was quite well; and we talked of the weather, and of Marion, and of the climate of Uruguay, which, it seems, bears an excellent reputation.
He left a new remedy, and rose to go. Swiftly my common sense deserted me, and I lapsed into one of the lunacies for which sick women, above the remainder of our race, are, I believe, distinguished. In point of fact, I felt physically weak enough to cry my soul out, and leave it for the doctor to pick up and put back--as if one dropped a bracelet, or a flower. It seemed to me a laudable evidence of self-restraint that I should only say:
"Why did you send Dr. Packard? I missed you, Robert."
230 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEthen he laid it down upon the folds of my white dress.
"I think you are right," he said quietly. "It was not very brave. I do not mean that you shall miss me too much--nor--"
The sentence broke. His eyes said: "Nor do I mean that you shall need me too much, either." But his lips said nothing at all.
UNSENT (ADDRESSED, STAMPED, AND HELD OVER)Undated. 'DANA! Dana!
Come back to me! I fling my pride to the stars; I never had any too much of it, so far as you are concerned, my dear,--not since the day you made the Wilderness Girl your prisoner,--and I clasp you with my heart, and cling to you. Do not stay away too long, not too long! Do not push the risks of separation too far, I do entreat you. I am a young wife, Dana, not used to solitude and care, and I never was neglected in my life before--and you know I don't bear loneliness as well as some women do. I thought I was a constant woman, and I think so. But I cannot answer for myself, Dana, if this should last, if I should be tried too cruelly. There is an invisible line in a woman's nature of the existence of which I begin, for the first time, to be aware. Once crossed, I perceive
231 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEthat all the powers and principalities of love cannot recross it. I have often thought it must be the final anguish if I should be compelled to admit to my own soul that you had ceased to love me. Dana, there is a finality worse than that. If I should cease to love you--then God help us both! Everything is mine as long as love is. I sacredly believe that anything may be ours as long as I love you. Hope can live as long as love does. I could be so tender to you--yet. I could be so patient, and try so hard to make you happy--yet.
"There have been times (I wrote you so, candidly) when I have tried not to love you, in very self-defense. I commit that spiritual gaucherie no more. Now I summon my love, and cherish it, like some precious escaping bird, lest it evade me. Ah, help me to cage it, Dana! You only can.
"Did you ever think what it means to be a desolate woman, to sit alone every day and all the evenings? Do you understand how far a little kindness goes to a lonely wife--thoughtfulness, unselfishness--the being remembered and cared for? Did you never put the question to yourself--No; I know you never did. And I say you never shall.
232 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEfirst time, you will bear witness to me. And I cannot tell you all the reasons why I do. Indeed, I do not think I understand them quite myself. But I think you would respect them, and I must tell you that I shall not ask again. "Loyally and longingly, "MARNA, your Wife.
July the tenth.
I THOUGHT I would go out myself, to-night, and post that letter in the old box that has stood for years on the elm at the opening of the governor's avenue; it was put there by way of honoring my father and making his large mail easier for him to deal with.
It is a hot night, and there is a burning moon. I ran across the lawn with Job, as I used to do, as if I still had the right, not coming very near to the Pendleton Hospital; but I could see it quite plainly--the patients on the piazzas, the lights in the long dining-room windows and in the library, which is the doctor's office now. He was sitting at his desk, absorbed and busy. I ran on to mail my letter. When I got to the box, I changed my mind, and thought I would not do it. So I came back slowly, by the avenue, meaning to cut athwart the shrubbery and come out by the tree-house quite unnoticed, for I felt
233 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEas if all the moonlight of the world were concentrating on my organdie; white dresses do give that impression on moonlit nights.
When I reached the tree-house the doctor was walking slowly up the garden path, between the July flowers. He had one of his patients with him, a deaf old lady who is gifted with fits.
"I ain't had but six to-day," she announced.
Now Job does not like that old lady, and he has acquired an unfortunate tendency to take her by the hem of her dress and spin her round. As I turned to anticipate Job in this too evident intention, I dropped my letter. The doctor picked it up and handed it to me.
"You did not mail it," he said.
"I decided not to, Doctor."
When I made no answer, his face settled sternly.
"Wait a moment, Mrs. Herwin," he commanded in his professional voice. "I shall return directly."
"And only seven yesterday," put in the old lady.
"Doctor," I said, "she will have sixteen if Job plays top with her in his present frame of mind. I can't manage him much longer." For Job was barking, and wriggling out of his collar to get at the old lady.
234 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
Smiling indulgently, the doctor drew his patient away, and Job and I went up into the tree-house to wait for him, and the large moon regarded me solemnly through the vines. "Not here," I thought, "not here!" For I remembered Dana. So I came down from the tree-house, and went into my own home, and Job went with me. In a few minutes Robert came in, knocking lightly on the open door, and waiting for no answer. He did not sit down, but began at once:
"Tell me, why did you not mail that letter to your husband?"
"Tell me why you ask."
He sighed, and turned.
"I know I seem to presume," he said wearily "But I thought you would forgive me, Marna. And I had the feeling--of course I may be wrong--that the letter had better go. Anything that comes from your heart--anything that could do any good--"
He did not finish his sentence, but abruptly left me. I went to the door, and watched his sturdy figure quickly crossing the lawn and the hospital grounds, till it disappeared in the sacred shadows of my father's house. I waited till he had been gone awhile, and then ran out with Job and mailed my letter.
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