- chapter: VI
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July the thirtieth.
HEATED seven times, the days pass through the furnace. Only the nights are possible, and one lies awake much to realize the fact. Really, I find them more merciful than they often are in this terrible month. While the moon lived they were solemn and unreal, like the nights of an unknown planet in which one was a chance visitor. My brain burned, my head swam; I thought strange thoughts and felt new emotions, and was an alien to myself. Now that the moon is dead, there is a singular quality in the darkness; it creeps on compassionately, like delicate and tender feeling, shielding one from the fiery trouble of the obscured sun. I long for the dark, and when it comes I feel as if it were a cool hand, and I lay my cheek upon it, and am quieted and comforted--no, I am not comforted. I have not heard from Dana for eighteen days.
236 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEof a husband and wife who could not live together, and she smiled and said:
"Dear Bertie is on a yacht."
But after a good while "people began to think that yachting trip had lasted rather long." I wonder if people think that Uruguay is lasting rather long? But I am astonished at my fixed indifference to that sort of sting; what I endure is so much more important than any one else's view of what I endure. Married man and woman are a universe to themselves. Other persons look small to me, and quite distant, as if they were the inhabitants of a different solar system.
The telephone people have changed our number. It is now 26--6, and went, I believe, into the new book.
August the fifth.
MARION'S head hangs like a sun-smitten flower, for the first dog-days are cruel to her, and the doctor has been to see her every day for nearly a week. She is better for the tireless attention which he never fails to give her, and she has grown very fond of him; he, I think, of her. I found him to-day with the child on his lap, and Dombey in his arms; Banny Doodle suspended head first from his necktie, which had been untied and retied for the purpose (who can fathom the mental process which leads my daughter
237 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEsystematically to deny to this unfortunate doll the right to stand upon its feet?); and Job was crawling up his back. Job was engaged, I think, in the noble purpose of rescuing Banny Doodle. Job is attached to the doctor, but not devotedly so. If the truth were known, I think Job misses his master, though he would not admit it for a pound of chops. The doctor is not the master, and the master instinct in the dog is stronger than his affections or inclinations. I have found him several times, lately, sleeping on a glove or a slipper of Dana's. I think Job's jealousy of my husband has yielded to a sense of anxiety about him. We are all growing a little anxious. The doctor's eyes ask every day, and he telephoned me last evening to know if I had heard.
What would become of me without Robert? He never forgets, he never fails, he never neglects. He carries my hapless lot as if it were a shield that he might be brought home dead upon and not regret it. He guards me, he comforts me, he "keeps me from sinking down." He counts himself out; he never thinks of his own ease, of the burden that I am, of the price that I may cost him.
238 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEall, there are none too many,--but now I perceive him to be a Knight of the Sacred Circle where honor and tenderness are one quality. He is faithful to "the highest when he sees it," because that is his nature, and he can trust himself to his nature; and I--I can trust" him.
I write to Dana sometimes how kind Robert; is to us, and I have tried to explain to my husband precisely how I feel about the doctor. I think Robert is very much troubled about Dana's long silence. To-day I took him unawares and asked him quite quickly:
"Have you written to Mr. Herwin?"
His face took on its transparent look, whitening visibly, but otherwise he showed no emotion, and certainly nothing that could be called embarrassment.
"Why the question, Mrs. Herwin?"
"Don't you wish me to ask it, Dr. Hazelton?"
"It is your right, of course. But--no--I do not wish it."
"Very well, Doctor. I will not ask it again."
He got up and paced the room, with his hands in his pockets, and went to the window. The blinds were closed and the light smote through, and I saw the man as I did once before, standing in a gleaming stream with the sun-
239 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEmotes whirling about his head. He wheeled unexpectedly.
"I will not confuse you. I have not written to your husband. But if I should ever see occasion to do so, I wish to take the liberty without being questioned."
"Take it," I said. I held out my hands toward him. "It is an unrestricted deed."
"You are quite sure that you trust me?" he asked, with just a perceptible catch in his breath. Then I said:
"I would trust you, Robert, to the uttermost ends of fate." And so I would. Who in all my life has proved trustworthy, if not this old friend? Only my dear dead father; no one else. As I write, the candle is lighted by Marion's crib, and I can see the compass pointing north. There is something about this effect of gold and candlelight that I wish I knew how to explain to myself--I mean the sense of rest that it gives me. It melts upon the nerve like late sunlight upon green branches, or firelight upon happiness. And yet that is not what I wish to say. I am losing my power to express beautiful thoughts, so many tragic ones devour me. Is the sense of beauty meant only for the young, the inexperienced, and the happy? I have always thought it was safer for the old and the sad.
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August the sixth.
I USED to dream incessantly about Dana. At first there was scarcely a night that was not cruel with him; then it would happen for three or four together, with spaces of mercy between. He was generally in some trouble--ill, or in prison, or lost. There is one Uruguay swamp which I think must be on the map, I know it so by heart: it has palmettos, and yucca-bushes, and seven cypress-trees in the foreground; there is an old bright-green log with a viper on it, coiled (he wrote me about one called vivora de la cruz because it had marks like a cross on its head). Dana stands at the end of the log, the end which dips into the water; he stretches out his hands to me, and the log sinks, and then the snake springs.
There is a prison in that country, somewhere, barred with iron crosses at the windows, and he comes to the window of his dungeon,--he is far below the ground,--and lifts his arms, and I can see his fingers and enough of his left hand to recognize his wedding-ring. But I cannot see his face, and I wake calling, "Dana!"
241 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEI cannot say that it was his freezing face, but he was always inscrutably displeased with me. Sometimes he retreated from me across a wide country, and I--for I would not pursue him--stood with vast spaces between us, and wrung my hands. At other times I could hear him calling me repeatedly and anxiously, but I could not see him at all. Thrice I lay staring and sleepless all night, and at two o'clock I heard his voice distinctly in my room. "Marna? Marna?" he said loudly.
Once I had a dear dream, and cried for joy of it. I thought he came home and in at the door suddenly, and ran his hand through his dark curls, and said in his old way:
"Marna, what a darn fool I was to leave you! I can't stand it any longer." I never had this dream except that one time; and he took me to his heart, in the dream, and he cried out: "Have I been too sure you would forgive me?" Then he found my lips, although I would have denied them (for my heart was sore with its long hurt), and he said: "This is the kiss that lives."
I do not dream of Dana so often lately. I think I am rather glad of this, because the dreams lasted for days, and I was ill as long as they lasted.
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August the seventh.
MINNIE CURTIS came over to-day, and asked what I heard from my husband. He was quite well, I said, by the last letter. I thought she regarded me with a certain pity, expressed in her blonde way, without the complexion of reserve, and I wondered why it did not annoy me. Only yesterday the doctor said to me:
"The strongest trait in your character is your indifference to inferior minds."
"Some one has been talking," I said at once. "Not about--" I stopped, for I felt ashamed to have begun, and the color smote my face.
"Don't be foolish, Marna," replied the doctor, gently. "Spare yourself. I shall take care of all that."
"Some one has been talking about Uruguay," I finished.
"I am glad you mind it so little," he returned in his comfortable, comforting tone.
"Doctor," I demanded, "when your patients are on the operating-table, would they mind a wasp? Or a hornet?"
The doctor smiled: "I cannot say that I remember ever to have seen an insect of the species, or any other, in an operating-room."
"You have said it," I maintained. "They are never admitted."
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When Minnie got up to go, she went over to the piano and began brushing the music about. I never knew a girl with Minnie's nose who was not, somewhere in sensibility, a defective.
"Ah," she said, "the 'Bedouin Love-Song'?" She drummed a few chords of the prelude. Then indeed I rose upon Minnie Curtis. I think I actually took her by the shoulder, rather hard, and I know that I pushed her hand back.
"You will not touch that music, if you please. I do not like it disturbed."
Minnie colored and stared.
"You don't mean to say--" she began.
In point of fact, Dana's music remains just as he left it the last time he sang and played to me. I never allow any person to touch it, for any reason, and Luella and Ellen are forbidden to dust the piano. But even Minnie Curtis's nose was equal to the situation. She did not finish her sentence.
When she had gone, I sat and eyed the music.
With a love that shall not die!
244 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFErecord that I thought it for the first time in my: life:
A man selects whom he pleases, and wins her if he can; he slights the object of his love when he will, and ceases to love when he chooses. A woman's choice is among her choosers, and she is denied the terrible advantage of the right to woo. Why should eternal tenderness be expected of the more disabled, the less elective feeling? Why should the life everlasting be. demanded of a woman's love? I had got so far when Marion came up and pecked at my muslin dress (it was the old May-flower dress that her father used to like), and said something about Pity Popper; so I took her in my lap and kissed her hair, and I wished that I could cry.
When I looked up, the doctor was standing in the middle of the room. I do not know how long he had been there. He glanced at the. music on the rack.
"I am not going to use my horses this afternoon," he said, prosaically enough. "I have ordered James to come over and take you and Marion to drive at four o'clock, when it cools a little. You need the air."
245 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEDombey to kiss. This fact was the more impressive because she had just fed Dombey on raspberries and cream.
August the tenth.
OH, at last!...Dana's letters came yesterday--three of them, stalled somewhere; whether in the mails, or in his pockets, or on his desk, who can say? He used to keep letters over sometimes, and I would find them in such queer places--once I found two in the umbrella-rack.
I say "he used to" as if my husband were dead. In all separations there are the elements of eternity; and in every farewell to the being we love we set foot upon an undug grave.
Dana writes quite definitely and kindly. "I shall resign the consulship," he says. "You may expect me home this fall. I have had enough of it. I am convinced that the climate does not agree with me, and, in fact, I am not very well." He sends more love than usual to Marion, and his grateful regards to the doctor, to whom I am to set forth the fact that he is taking atropine 3X. He adds a postscript:
"I have been thinking how patient you were with me when I had that devil of a grippe. You were a dear old girl, Marna. A fellow misses his home in a blank of a country like this. When I get better shall you want me back?"
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SENT"August the tenth. "MY DEAR HUSBAND:
Your letters were so long delayed that we all had begun to be anxious. I do not think I will try to tell you how I felt when Ellen brought them in yesterday and laid them on my lap. There was war on her old face--tears and smiles. In my heart, too, were battling forces. Between anxiety and joy, between my hurt and my love, I was rent. I had waited a good while for these letters, Dana.
"Shall I want you back? Try me and see! I hurry this off by the outgoing steamer to tell you what an empty home waits for you how longingly, and what a"Loyal, loving "WIFE.
"P.S. Marion is better, thanks to the doctor; she has not been at all well lately. I will write at more length to-night about her, and about whatever I think will interest you. This note goes only to hold out the arms of"Your MARNA."
August the eleventh.
247 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEnews to him yesterday, as soon as I received it, and he came in shining. One would have thought it was his own happiness, not mine, that was in the question. He had a high expression.
"I did not dare to hope for so much," he said joyously, "nor quite so soon."
"At least," I sobbed (for I could not help it), "he is alive. He had been silent so long, I had begun to--suffer, Doctor. And I did not want to cable and make myself troublesome to him."
Something in Robert's face or manner perplexed me, and I said abruptly:
"You have been writing to him!"
"I have not written to Mr. Herwin."
"You might as well tell me what you have done. I think I ought to know."
"You were so kind as to say that you trusted me."
"And I do! I do! Never mind, Doctor."
"But I do mind, and I will tell you. I took steps to learn if he were still at the consulate. Of course I did this very quietly--and suitably."
"How long ago?"
"You did not tell me."
248 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
"I did not think it would make you any--happier, on the whole."
"Have you ever done this before?"
He hesitated. "It is not the first time, I admit. I want you to feel that I shall do whatever is necessary and best for--you--"
"Robert," I tried to say, "you are a good man. I bless you from my heart."
"I receive," he said, "the benediction."
He bowed his head and stood beside me quite silently; and before I could think what I should say, he was gone.
August the twentieth.
IT is on record that the fakirs really do live buried for forty days, and are reanimated. It is with me as if I had held my breath since the seventh of October last, and now began to inhale--feebly, for the long asphyxia. Now that I know I need not suffer, I scarcely know how to be happy. In the morning I wake and think: "It will soon be over." At night I fall asleep saying something that perhaps religious people would call a prayer. I have not learned to pray, for I am not yet religious: I am only disillusioned with the irreligious. I find that paganism has not helped perceptibly in that form of fate which has been appointed to me. "After
249 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEall," I say, "there is a God, and He is merciful." And then I sleep--long, blessed nights. Anything can be borne, I think, if one sleeps, even joy.
The days have wings. They fly from me like strange birds lost on their way from some tropical country. There are forest fires somewhere, and here the August air is impearled with haze, or smoke, or both. There is an unreal light all the time. The sun sinks like a burning ship in a sullen sea, and if there were a moon, she would be the ghost of a lovely mermaid diving. I feel excited every minute, as if--God knows what--would befall. I suppose it is because I am so happy.
"Try to be calmer," said Mercibel, to-day. "It is quite unnecessary to wreck yourself."
"Mercibel," I demanded, "have you seen me shed a tear? Or do any foolish thing?"
"If I had," retorted Mercibel, dimpling, "I might have spared myself any comments on the subject." I can see that she watches me furtively.
So does the doctor. No; the adverb is misplaced: I never saw Robert do a furtive thing. Rather should I say that he guards me quite openly. I think he has caused it to be generally known that my husband will soon be at
250 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEhome. He took us to ride yesterday, Marion and me; it is the first time that he has done so. He looks a little pale, but every recurrence of feeling on his face is receptive, as if he reflected my happiness. He has borne my troubles so long and so uncomplainingly, how glad I am to lighten his load! I wish I could be merrier. I am conscious of trying to express the expected amount of gladness for the doctor's sake. It is remarkable how rigid the emotions grow when they have set in certain attitudes too long.
August the thirty-first.
WE are very happy. Dana's letters come more regularly than they did, and I reply frequently and comfortably; I find myself much more at ease in writing to my husband. He tells me to expect him when his year's service is over, if not, indeed, before, and that he will soon be able to be more definite. The neighbors (including Minnie Curtis) come in and wish me joy, and some old friends who have had the delicacy to keep silent while I have been filling the röle of the neglected wife hasten to share my relief from the position, and particularly to congratulate me in that I did not accompany my husband to Montevideo. "The child made it impossible," they say politely.
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Marion talks incessantly about Pity Popper, and orders for a new bicycle-suit have been issued in Dombey's behalf, while Job is destined to a Yale-blue plush ulster; but Banny Doodle, whose wedding-dress is as gray and dim as an outlived honeymoon, is to have nothing at all unless the clothes-wringer, a dark fate on the teeth of which this hapless doll is forever clutched. "Tell Ellen sqush her frough!" commands my daughter, contemptuously. Mercibel asked me to-day, with some embarrassment, if I did not think I needed some new dresses myself. I had not thought of it. I believe have not had a new gown since Dana left. I compromised with Mercibel upon a long white cape to catch up and run about the grounds in.
A lady told me once that she never in her life had ordered a black street-dress but that there was a death in the family, and she had given up black street-dresses.
I wonder, if I instituted a new ruby house-gown, if Dana would come home any sooner? Or if we should be any happier when he did come? Colors are forces, I think, and their power lies among the subtleties and the sorceries. Who knows where it begins or ends? If the heart of the wife is in the ruby jewel, the arms
252 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEof the wife are in the ruby velvet....Shall I extend them?
My old gown is quite crushed and paled; it has a grieved look. Why do I hesitate to have more wife velvet? Why is it so difficult to renew a faded rapture? And is it a duty? Or a sacrilege?
"You are looking tired," the doctor said day; "we must have a better color before Mr. Herwin comes." He talks a good deal about Mr. Herwin's coming. He seems to think of it all the time. He is so kind to Marion and to me that I can but dwell on his kindness continually. It runs through my happiness--a comfort within a hope--like a thread of silver twisted with a thread of gold. The other evening I ran out with Job about the grounds, and I saw the doctor's shadow on the shades of his office window; he was sitting at his desk, with his face bowed on his hands, and he looked to me (in the shadow) a lonely man. It occurs to me that it is rather noble in Robert to be so happy in my happiness. So was he grieved in my grieving; so was he broken on my rack.
Sometimes it seems to me that he shelters my joy as if it were a faint flame that a rude wind might blow out--as if he put his hand around it carefully.
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SENT"September the third. "DANA MY DEAR:
I hurry this--it is but a postscript to my letter--to say that I am beginning to dream of you again (I have not lately), and that last night I had the dearest dream that ever a wife had of her husband in the dream-history of separated married people. I thought you came home sooner than we expected you, a and hurried in, and said--But when you come home I shall tell you all about it, if you will care to hear. I shall not forget it. Some dreams are more real than facts, I find, so I treasure this for you. I am treasuring much. I am preserving my power to be happy (for that is a faculty which weakens rapidly with disuse), and am flinging off my experience of suffering. I am forgetting that you have hurt me, and remembering that you are coming to me. I am forgetting that we have ever failed to make each other happy, and I am thinking that we loved each other dearly. And, Dear, I began to write this only to tell you that I have begun to count the days. I think you will sail on the 17th of October; don't you? And that is forty-and-four days.
"And I am four-and-forty times your waiting"WIFE."
254 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
September the fifth.
LAST night I dreamed again of Dana, and I write it out to rid me of it. It was a composite dream, and worse than any. There was the log and the swamp, the seven cypresses and the yucca, and the viper; the coil, the spring, and the fall; and there were the bars of crosses, and the dungeon, and his uplifted hand with the wedding-ring. And there was always his dark, offended face.
Then he came home, in the dream, and he was--as he used to be before he went away; and he spoke and he did--as he used to speak and do. And, oh, it all happened all over again! My husband was not kind to me- he was not kind!
I WENT to church to-day with Marion. They sang: "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be."...What if, when he comes back, it should be just the same? Will the ice in his nature solidify? Or the fire of it melt? It is a war of the elements. It is a strange thing when a wife must say: "I know no more than any other woman, any chance acquaintance, what my husband will do, how his character will express itself."
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September the tenth.
AND yet we are very happy. It is as if the bow of pain had bent, and the arrow of joy were flying to its mark. We live in a kind of exaltation. I can see my excitement reflected in every face--Mercibel's, Marion's, Ellen's, and, most sensitively of all, in Job's; more unerringly than any person, Job knows when I am glad or sad.
The doctor's sympathy is a fact by itself, something apart from that of other friends. It is like the atmosphere, or the law of gravitation. I breathe it, and I stand upon it. What was I writing the other day about elements? There is elemental peace as well as elemental war.
I am young and well (as women go), and I inherit physical health, but I think, as I look back on the closing record of this year, that if it had not been for Robert I might have died.
I told him so this evening.
"Do not overestimate that," he said quickly. We were sitting on the piazza, for there is a warm starlight, and he had come over to see if I had heard any news from Dana.
"It would not be possible," I persisted, "to tell you, Robert, how I feel about what you have done for me--the kindness, the care, the trouble you have taken for us--the obligation--"
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Ellen, from the nursery above, where she was putting Marion to bed, began to sing shrilly:
"It is chilly for you here," said the doctor. "You will come indoors." He did not speak quite naturally, though quietly and firmly, as he always does. He rose, and stood for me to pass in at the door.
"Aren't you coming in?" I cried. I felt disappointed; I am alone so much, and it is such a comfort to me to see my old friends--I have not too many. No; I will be quite candid: it is a comfort to me to see the doctor. How could I help that? How could I? If I ought, I would. And I should be willing to show him my whole heart and all that is therein, and I am sure he knows that, too. I have not a thought nor a feeling that I should be uncomfortable to
257 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEhave him see, and when Dana comes I shall tell them all to Dana-- every one.
"I don't think I will come in to-night," replied the doctor. "My patients--" He paused.
"How is the old lady " I demanded. "How many has she had to-day?"
"Only two. I should soon discharge her, but she doesn't want to go." He laughed....That laugh seemed to clear the air of I know not what, and I know not why.
"There!" I said. "You see for yourself it is much better to come in. Your patients are all quite comfortable just now. There is not one of them who needs you as much as I."
Hesitating perceptibly, he came in. There was a fire laid on the library hearth, and he took a match and lighted it. The blaze leaped and struck him in the face....I was shocked at its expression.
"I have hurt you!" I managed to say.
"Child," he faltered, "you cannot help it."
"--I wish to change Marion's medicine," he hastened to add in his usual voice, "while I am here. Will you ring for a glass? Or shall I?"
I rang, and Luella brought the tumbler, and the doctor prepared the medicine silently. He had not sat down, and I pushed a chair toward him; he did not appear to see it.
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"Two teaspoonfuls once in four hours, if you please, Mrs. Herwin." His tone was quite professional, and the muscles of his face had stiffened; I perceived that he did not mean to stay--perhaps, God knows, that he did not dare....Then swiftly it seemed to me as if I could have gone up and sat at his feet and put my head on his knee--like Marion--and cried; and I thought how he would have put his hand on my head and comforted me--as he does the child. And I was not ashamed that I thought it; but I did not tell him my thoughts. I opened my lips to say: "Don't go, Doctor!" and I closed them. I should be glad to remember that I did not say it, only that I am afraid I said a thing less kind, more weak. For everything that I had ever read and heard about friendships that people may have--men and women, right women, good men--came crowding to my mind. Once I thought it impossible that I could experience friendship, or need it, after I married Dana: now, to-night, I remembered all that haughtiness of happiness and that bigotry of inexperience with a kind of scorn of myself, for I perceived that I am more pitiable, needing friendship, than I was happy, having love. My head swam a little, and Dr. Hazelton's face seemed to blur and recede from me like a countenance
259 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEwithin a cloud, so exalted was the man's look.
"Doctor!" I cried, "what is this?...Is it friendship, Robert?"
Then across his eyes there passed the sacred war which no woman, witnessing, could forget: for she would reverence the man and do him obeisance in her soul forever, because his knew no reproach, as it had known no fear; and because the affection with which he had honored her was a matter to be proud of, and nobler for, and better for, as long as she should live, or he.
"Call it friendship, child," said Robert, not quite steadily. "It is a good word, safe and strong, and it is respected of God and men."
"It is quite a true word, too," he added more distinctly--"for you, Marna." His eyes did not evade me, but met mine wistfully and straight; they were as remote and as mournful as the eyes of some higher being set to watch the sealed tomb of a lower life. He spoke more quickly: "We must be honest with ourselves in everything...you and I. And very careful. I try to be!"
"I know you do! I know you are!" I cried. "God bless you, Robert!"
260 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEmine into it, trembling; for I felt afraid--but not of him.
September the thirteenth.
WHO was it who wrote that "God bless you!" was equal to a kiss? Sterne, I think. But what could Sterne know of the holy war? the sacred victories? the high nature of a man like this? the soul of a desolate woman, saved from despair because she had been understood, and guarded, too?
September the fifteenth.
WHERE did I track that ballad about the skipper's daughter?
"Why not to Heaven?" quo' she....
September the twentieth.
THERE is no letter from Dana. And it is our wedding-day. What a freak of fate that a woman should try to forget her wedding-day! The doctor has not been over to-day at all.
September the twenty-first.
261 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEand called me, in a low voice, from the foot of the stairs. I ran down, and Marion and Job came tumbling after. The doctor detained the child gently, that she should not follow us into the library; but Job slid in. Then Robert shut the door, and then I saw the cold autumn morning light full upon my old friend's face.
"Dana is dead!" I cried.
"No--no--no!" he gasped. "It is only--this."
He held out a cablegram; his hand shook more than mine. I read it, and folded it, handing it, without speaking, to the doctor, who extended his fingers to take it back. This was the despatch:
"Sail Saturday San Francisco. Advised voyage round Cape for health. Have written. Tell my wife.HERWIN."
I could not see quite clearly for a little, and I got to the Morris chair and put my head back. Job jumped into my lap and began to kiss me, whining as he did so. It was so dark about me that still I could not see any object in the room except the face of the Yorkshire, and I clung to my dog; I think I said: "You love me, Job, at any rate!" but I am not sure. I did not think
262 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEabout Marion, nor about any person. It was as if I were a girl again, and had only Job. I believe I said: "Father! I want my father!" but I cannot tell; and then I suppose the doctor caught me and lifted me, for I felt that I was slipping sidewise to the floor.
...When my head cleared and the room had lightened, I was on the lounge. Mercibel was doing something to my clothes, and rubbing my feet; the doctor had my hands in his, and warmed them gently; there was brandy on the table, and his medicine-case. As I turned, he drew my little girl between us, and put her in my arms. Marion began to babble: "Pity Popper!" Then my voice came to me, and broke upon me, overcoming me against my will. I am afraid I said:
"Oh, pity Mommer, Marion! Pity Mommer!"
No one spoke in answer to me. In the stillness I heard the dog whining. They had put him down, and he crawled back upon the lounge, and made his way to my neck, and clung there and kissed me with compassionate rapture--my truest and most helpless friend.
September the twenty-second.
263 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEthe doctor suffered me to talk of what has happened, though he would not yesterday; but now I am much stronger, and stiller, for I will not break under this broadside, nor will I be shamed by it to my own soul.
"You have gained perceptibly since last evening," he began in his usual voice. "You are brave."
"I am the veriest coward who ever was selected to stand under heavy fire," I protested. "The only thing is that I know it, and so don't run."
"That is the way the best soldiers are made," replied the doctor, smiling sadly.
"Run I will not--from this," I said. "It is a battle to the death now. There is one thing on which he has not counted--the roused pride of a tender woman. The powder was belated," I added, "and it is smokeless, Doctor; but it will do some execution yet." Something in my voice seemed to wring his heart.
"Marna!" he entreated me, "Marna, don't!"
"Robert," I demanded, "tell me the holy truth. Nothing less and nothing else will serve me now....Has my husband deserted me?"
He had now quite regained himself. His averted profile did not betray him; it was gray and pinched, but it is often so. He turned his head and looked me nobly in the eye.
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"I will not deceive you," he said. "It may be so. I do not know."
"Believe the best," he added in his reasonably cheerful voice, "until your letter comes. There is to be a letter yet."
I said: "Oh, is there?" I had forgotten all about the letter.
October the first.
AND once I was writing notes to ghosts--my mother, who ceased from me when I was a little girl, and pretty Ina, dead in her teens. There are no ghost letters on these pages now. Life has accepted my manuscript, and edited it sternly, drawing his dele-mark through all the fantasies.
And yet, I think if I could see my father for one moment--perhaps he would find a way to help me. He always did; he was full to the brim of love-inventions. And if he came in at the door and said, "Now, Daughter--" I should expect the miracle. In the last few days I think I have prayed to my father.
If Dana should never come in at the door again--there is no letter yet. I have come to regard the door as an enemy, as something forced between us, and I have stolen down for several nights and drawn the bolts, and slept with the house unlocked.
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October the third.
THE letter has come. I suppose it is what I should expect, and yet I cannot say that it is. He sets forth the fact that he has not been well, and that the only doctor he could get hold of in that blanked country who seems to possess a dose of sense ordered the sea-voyage. He takes a coasting steamer, by name the Marion. He will cable from San Francisco, and I am to write to the hotel whose name he gives me. He is sorry to disappoint me, and I shall hear from him as often as possible. He cannot yet set a date for his return, but hopes that it will not be long delayed. He sends his love to the baby, and his regards to the doctor, to whom I am to express my husband's warmest gratitude for the faithful care which has been given to the family. The letter reads like a copy-book with broken sentences; there are several such, and the whole thing is a reluctant medley. There is not a genuine word in it from beginning to end. He adds that he is glad to leave a country where there are two thousand species of insects and where the spiders are as large as--something that I could not make out.
266 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEexcited,--and it wavered away and dropped somewhere. Job has just found it and brought it to me, wagging joyously. When I read the scrap, I kissed Job and blessed him, for this is it:
"P.S. You 're a sweet old girl, Marna. For God's sake, think as well of me as you can."
October the fourth.
I SHOWED the letter to the doctor, for I felt that I had better.
"Is this all " he asked.
"There is a postscript," I admitted. "I do not know whether to show it to you or not."
"Have you written?" he persisted.
"Aren't you going to do either? or both?"
"I have not made up my mind."
"Let me see the postscript," he replied authoritatively.
I unfastened it from this page and showed it to him, and pinned it back again in its place. Neither of us spoke. The doctor went to the window in that way he has, and stood with his hands in his pockets, looking out--a sturdy
267 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEfigure, all man, from his strong head to his firm foot. I wondered that I had ever called him "too short," and that I used to think him plain.
"You stand between me and despair," I thought. But the thing I said was:
"Robert, what shall I do?"
"Give me time," he answered patiently; "I must think." He left me without looking at me.
October the fifth.
TO-DAY he came again, and began at once:
"Mrs. Herwin, I have come to say that I do not know how to advise you. This situation has passed beyond me. It has passed from the ordinary to the extraordinary perplexity. I am I am afraid....I am sorry to seem to fail you!" He broke suddenly.
"There is a point," he hurried on, "where the third soul cannot trespass. Your tragedy has reached that point. It may not remain there: it may take on new phases...something where I can be of use again. If I can--you know you will not have to ask."
I said something--I don't know what--half inarticulate; but he spoke again, before I had finished:
268 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEother advice to-day. When I have considered the matter further I may have more to say. For the present, do not depend upon my judgment, but upon your own instincts."
As he moved to leave me, a shaft of sunlight which his figure had interrupted fell across the hair of my little daughter, who, running in, had sprung upon me and at that moment laid her face upon my lap. I put out my hand to smooth her curls,--her father's curls,--and the ruby on my finger received the light deep to the core of the splendor.
"It is the heart of the wife," I thought.
Yet at that moment--so perplexed am I, so torn and troubled--it seemed to me that if the doctor left me so I should perish of my bewildered desolation. And I did utter these weak and bitter words:
"I am sorry to have been so troublesome to you."
He wheeled as if I had smitten him.
"I think, Mrs. Herwin, I have deserved to be better understood by you than that."
Then indeed I followed the counsel of my heart, for it urged me, and I cried out:
"Forgive me, Robert!...I am so wretched!...I have nobody but you!..."
269 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEing--and I could not have helped it if I had been slain for it. I shut the door, and put my head on the top of the Morris chair, and, so standing, I cried and cried.
And then I heard from between the teeth of my old friend these five half-strangled words:
"Good God! How could he?"
I do not think he knew I heard them, and I hope he did not. I motioned him to leave me, and he did so instantly. I didn't see his face, for I did not lift my own.
October the tenth.
THERE have been burglars about us lately, and the neighborhood is uneasy. I wonder why I am not? A burglar is such a small trouble! I have scarcely seen the doctor for almost a week, and although I have been really ill with I don't know what, I have not summoned him. To-day Mercibel came over, and ran back, and sent him immediately. He was so entirely himself that he put me at my ease at once. Neither of us alluded to the circumstances of his last call. He prepared his powders, gave me some quiet professional advice, and rose to go. Then, quite naturally, as he has been in the habit of speaking, he observed:
"Have you cabled?"
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"Are you going to?"
"I have not made up my mind. Of course he is at sea now. Is there any hurry?"
He did not reply.
"If this is desertion--" I began.
"And if it is not?" interrupted the doctor, quickly.
"Robert," I said, "if you knew anything about Dana that I didn't--should you tell me?"
"And yet, if I needed to know, if I ought to know--"
"Have you ceased to trust me, Marna?" Robert asked.
I held out my hand. He took it, laid it down, and looked at me.
"You may not have all the perplexity," he said gently. "I am trying to do the best I can."
"If the worst were true, if he means--this," I insisted, "would you have me pursue him?"
A terrible gleam flickered in Robert's eyes, but his pale lips were locked.
"And if the worst were not true--if there were some reason, something that I do not understand--"
271 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEimpetuously than he is apt to speak; "in making our decision, allow for such a margin....If I knew, I should be able to counsel you. I cannot advise you on a working hypothesis. As the thing stands at this crisis, I would rather trust your heart than my head."
"Child," he added, "remember that I am not--unwilling to do--anything. I have a good deal to consider...not for myself...but for you, Marna."
Then he fell upon the phrase that he had used before:
"We must do--God help us!--the best we can."
November the tenth.
WHERE is that cataract which spends itself before it becomes spray and falls, so great the height from which it leaps? Nothing but mist reaches the ground.
What shall a woman do with the current of a feeling fixed at too far a height, and dashing over to its own destruction in too deep a gulf? My love is a spent cataract, wasted in mid-air. Last night I waked suddenly and found myself saying: "I wish I had never seen my husband's face." I have never said that before. It is as if I had blasphemed for the first time in my life. I quiver with it yet. When I
272 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEslept again, I waked again, and that time I was saying:
The brave man does it with a sword,
The coward with a kiss.
SENT"MY DEAR DANA:
I try to write, as you asked, but my pen is dumb. What would you have me say? If a 'man would kill the thing he loves,' he smites to slay, he does not torture. If you would tear the tie between us--be a man and tell me so. There is, I think, a circle of fate where a woman's love will parley with neglect no more. Mine has reached that invisible circumference. It used to be eternal growth and motion, like the ripples of the ether, when a sacred word has been spoken, widening on and out forever. Now, everywhere that I turn I meet the boundary; and I must say that I am afraid to measure it, lest I should perceive that
273 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEit is narrowing. Are you playing with your own soul or with my tenderness? Be candid with me, for your own sake, for the child's, and for mine. MARNA.
"P.S. Dana! Dana! You ask me to think the best I can of you. Then tell me what to think, I pray you, Dear. Are you sick? I would come to you anywhere, anyhow--and, oh, I would cherish you still. Are you in any trouble? I would share it to the uttermost pang. Have you done anything wrong, Dana? I would be the first to forgive it, to forget it. I would help you to put it behind you, to bear the consequences, no matter what they are or might become. Trust me, Dana. Confide in me--even now. Tell me the worst, and I will believe the best. Share with me your trouble--I don't care what it is--even if it is the trouble of ceasing to love me. Let us meet that misery together as once we met love together, and help each other to bear it as best we can, because we chose each other, and you did love me, and I amYour WIFE."
There has been no answer to this letter. The spray of the cataract turns sleet, and I can imagine that in time there might a glacier form in the gulf below.
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I can see that the doctor grows anxious. He has ceased to ask me whether I have written to my husband. Nor do I longer question him. I can see that Mercibel pities me. I thought I was fond of Mercibel, but now I do not like to have her near me very often. I do not care to see any person,--I wince at every point of human contact,--yet I cannot show it. I am like an animal fixed in a torture-trough by experimenters. My house has become my world. I see my servants, my child, and the doctor. He does not come as often as he did. I perceive that even he is affected by the position I am in, and that, in fact, I can take no natural hold on life anywhere. Robert is very careful. The Knight of the Sacred Circle makes no weak mistakes. Yet I feel from my soul that my fate bears upon his continually. I may be wrong,--a desolate woman is apt to lose her sense of proportion in measuring her effect upon a man who cares for her at all,--but it seems to me as if my old friend did not forget me for an hour. And when he does come--oh, God bless him! God bless him as I never can, but as I would, and I am not afraid or ashamed to say so ! I would so bless him, if I could, that he should be happier, having my friendship, than he could be
275 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEhaving the love of any gladder, freer woman in the world.
I wish that I could tell him so.
November the twelfth.
HE came to-day, and I tried to tell him; it seemed to me as if I must--as if I owed so great debt to his chivalry, and his pure and high affection, that the least I could do was to express as much as that to him. Why, I could say it before all the world! But he forbade me by a gentle motion of the hand.
"Hush, Marna. You need not explain it. I understand."
"It is true," he added, as if he had really understood the very words upon which he sealed my lips. "I do feel in that way. And I am happier--as it is--than I could be..."
"You need not explain, either," I interrupted, smiling. "I, too, can understand."
We shook hands and parted quietly. His presence remains for a long while after he has visibly left me. I read the other day:
It is easy to throw off a hand of flesh, but not the clasp of a human soul.
276 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEMight there be some subtle and sacred advantage reserved for that which begins with the spirit and does not descend?
Love is like God, omnipotent, immutable, inscrutable, and they that worship it must worship it in spirit and in truth.
Next to God, the best thing is a true-hearted and high-minded friend.
November the fifteenth.
MARION was taken suddenly last night with one of her croupy throats (she is entirely relieved to-day), and Ellen telephoned for the doctor. It was half-past two. He got over on the wings of the wind, and lavished himself upon the baby for an hour; nor did he speak to me at all, except to give me professional orders. When the child was relieved, he asked me to step downstairs for a moment. We stood together in the hall. There was no light except from the compass-candle, which I had carried down; it had a gentle flame.
"I found the front door unlocked," he began with abrupt severity. "You had sent Ellen to draw the bolts for me, I presume?"
277 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
"Was it intentionally unlocked?"
"I cannot explain why. I...feel happier so."
"Oh, for quite a while, I think. It seems as if I could not lock it. I tried."
"This has been so since your husband cabled last?"
"Don't you know that it is positively unsafe--for yourself, your family? You must know that the autumn burglaries in the suburbs have been worse this year. You are as liable to have trouble as any one else, and you are--quite unprotected."
"We sleep with all our bedrooms bolted, Doctor--thoroughly."
"You should sleep with your front door locked and bolted after this."
I made no reply.
"Will you do so, Mrs. Herwin?"
"No, Dr. Hazelton."
"Why not, Marna?"
"I cannot bolt that door, Robert."
278 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEnurses. I can spare Eliot, just now, perfectly well; he is on day duty, and likely to be. He is entirely trustworthy, and too well trained to ask for reasons why. You will make up the sofa-bed for him in the library, if you please. He will come over to-morrow night at ten o'clock."
I offered no protest,--indeed, it did not occur to me till to-day that I could,--and the doctor left without another word. As he opened the front door, the wind puffed out the compass-candle and left me staring.
"What should I do without it?" I thought as I groped up-stairs in the dark.
November the sixteenth.
ELIOT came over at ten o'clock last night, and disappeared from public life in the library sofa-bed. I slid down and unbolted the front door, as usual, and slept as I have not done for weeks--not listening, nor quivering. Eliot is so used to watching that he would stir at any sound.
November the seventeenth.
279 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEthe paper from my hand. In his eyes I saw unfathomable compassion.
"I will attend to all that," he said.
"If there should be any wreck?" I whispered.
"There is no wreck," answered Robert. "The Marion has arrived in port quite safely."
"How long have you known this?" I asked, when my head ceased whirling.
"About two weeks."
"Why did you not tell me?"
"Would it have done any good? been any easier? I tried to choose the lesser pang for you."
There was nothing to be said. I felt that the misery in my eyes leaned upon the chivalry in is too utterly, too heavily. I turned my face away.
November the twentieth.
TOLSTOI says that people should marry in the same way as they die--"only when they cannot do otherwise."
In the main condition of civilized human happiness, is there a terrible structural fault? Is the flaw in the institution of marriage itself? Or is it in the individual?
280 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEbeneath? Is my lot only more crudely or vulgarly expressed than others selected from the general experience--a cry instead of a satire? Dana loved me--madly once, dearly afterward. Why did not the dearness remain when the madness had gone? Must a man cease to value because he has won? Is this a racial trait? Or Dana's trait? Am I meeting the personal misery? or the fate of my sex? Why, when I endured so much, could he bear so little? How, when I cherished, could he neglect? Why, when my tenderness clung, could his unclasp?
Once I was a proud girl. Plainly I should never have become a loving wife. That was a mistranslation of nature. It was the Descent of Woman. If this which has befallen me is Man, not Dana, then some woman of us should lift her voice and warn the women of the world what woe awaits them in the subterfuge of love. Now I remember my dream--how I sat in the amphitheater and saw myself and Dana on the stage, and blamed myself for the excessive part that I played in my tragedy, and the house rose upon me, for it was serried of women, and they said: "You are ours, and of us, forever"; and I cried out upon them: "Then womanhood and manhood are at civil war!"
281 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
Why does a woman trust herself to love or to her lover? Friendship is the safer as it is the saner thing.
If it is Man, not Dana--what then, I say? It is conceivable that the time might come when the Princess in the great Medley of Life should make no feint of battle,--to be beaten, poor girl, by all the military laws,--but in some later, wiser day should gather her forces, and order her heralds, and proclaim the evolution of her will: "We give you all that history has taught us you can be trusted with--our friendship, sirs. For the rest, we do reserve ourselves."
There is no word from Dana, yet, of any kind. Every one has ceased to speak to me about my husband.
November the twenty-fourth.
LAST night a strange thing happened. It was pretty late, as much as half-past eleven, and Eliot had come in and was asleep (or he says he was) in the sofa-bed. I had not slept at all. The telephone called sharply--I think it was twenty-five minutes to twelve, for the compass-candle showed my watch as I sprang. I got into my old ruby negligée and ran. Eliot, in his nurse's dressing-gown, stood tall and lank in the hall. He had the receiver at his ear. As I flew down the stairs he was saying:
282 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
"26--6? Yes, this is 26--6."
. . . .
"Mrs. Herwin's? Yes. This is Mrs. Herwin's house. Yes, she is at home--yes. I will call her."
. . . .
"Yes; Mrs. Herwin is coming. Hold the wire."
I took the receiver from his hand, and he stepped back. I motioned to him to return to the library. He did so, and I think he shut the door. I said:
"Who wishes Mrs. Herwin?"
There was no reply. I repeated my question, more loudly and quite distinctly; but there was no answer. In a kind of nervous fright I rang the Central peremptorily. The night operator, stupid with sleep, was inclined to view the summons in the light of a personal offense.
"You've cut me off!" I cried. "Give me my message."
The night operator made some inarticulate answer--Dana would have called it actionable. He said the baby used actionable language when she cried.
"Please give me my message!" I pleaded. "It may be very important. I must have that message. Oh, do give me my message!"
283 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
"Great Scott!" said the night operator. The night was windy and cold, and the wires sang wildly. As I stood waiting, the noise deepened; it was as if the electric forces pitted themselves against me, that I should not have the message. I threw the whole power of my voice upon them:
"Who wants Mrs. Herwin? Here she is. I am here," I repeated clearly.
Faint, far, infinitely far, jarred and jagged, like a cry coming from a falling star, it seemed to me as if a voice replied. But what it said I could not hear--I do not know. The rage of the wires increased. I called till I was spent. The electric protest, as if hurled from a mighty throat, grew into a roar. It was now impossible to communicate even with our own exchange. The cold drops started upon me--I do not know why. I experienced a kind of supernatural fear.
The library door opened and the nurse stepped out.
"Come away, Mrs. Herwin," said Eliot, suddenly. "It is of no use. I will call the doctor."
"You can't" I protested; "the wires won't work. Listen to that roar! Horrible!" I put the receiver to his ear.
284 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEwas now dressed, and he put on his hat to go for the doctor.
"Go back to bed," I said peremptorily. "There is nothing in the world that the doctor can do. Why should you rouse that tired man? Tell him in the morning."
"I am not your patient," I maintained, when the nurse hesitated; "I am your hostess. Go back to bed, Mr. Eliot."
With no more words, he went. I crawled upstairs, and lay staring till dawn. The white electric light of the street-lamp that I have always loved, and Dana used to like, flooded the lonely room. The telephone wires raved on the roof of the house, and the banshee suddenly joined them.
November the twenty-fifth.
THE doctor was disturbed by the telephone story, but he would not discuss it with me. He and Eliot have been in some sort of consultation, and it is my opinion that Robert went in person to the exchange to-day. It did not occur to me to do as much--I am so used to the doctor's thinking of everything.
"Have you found out where the message came from?" I asked him suddenly.
He shook his head. I was so sure, however, he had heard something, that I insisted:
285 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
"What was it, Robert?"
"It was a long-distance call," he said.
There was no repetition of the call last night.
November the twenty-seventh.
LAST night at half-past twelve--I had not slept, but was lying in my old red gown, all ready for any summons--the telephone called again, and again I ran.
This time I was in advance of Eliot; in fact, the nurse seemed to have slept through the ringing of the call-bell, at which I was surprised; he did not come out of the library, and I answered the call myself.
The night was as mute as eternity, and the wires were clear and calm. Again, as before, a distant operator asked:
"Is this 26--6?"
"This is 26--6."
"Mrs. Herwin's house?"
"It is Mrs. Herwin's house."
"I wish to speak with Mrs. Herwin."
"I am Mrs. Herwin."
A clumsy silence intervened. Then I heard the distant operator say:
"Here 's your party. Why don't you speak up?"
A faint voice feebly uttered an indeterminate sound.
286 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFE
"Who wants Mrs. Herwin? Oh, who are you?" I cried.
The unsuccessful articulation struggled and fell feebly from the wire. The distant operator took offense.
"Why don't you talk, now you've got your party? You've got no more voice than a ghost. Speak up, man, in Heaven's name! Can't? Mrs. Herwin, the party can't talk. He can't be heard. And he won't talk through me. He seems to be an obstinate party--he--"
The distant operator's voice died down. I called, I rang, I threatened, I pleaded. The message was cut off as utterly as the voices of the dead.
The receiver shook so in my hand that I could not hang it up, and while I was fumbling to do so I felt it taken from me. I said: "Thank you, Eliot." But it was not Eliot. Ashen and stiff the doctor's face regarded mine.
"Am I too late?" he asked hoarsely. Eliot did as well as he could. It took time. Let me come, Mrs. Herwin."
As I stepped aside for him to take my place at the telephone, I perceived the impassive face of the nurse; he was shutting the library door to go back to his sofa-bed. What orders had
287 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEhe received and (I must say admirably) executed?
To leave me to answer the call-bell? To slip out of the window and summon the doctor?
Peremptorily, in the professional tone, this order came:
"Mrs. Herwin, go into the parlor and lie down on the sofa till I call you."
I obeyed. The doctor stood at the telephone a long time. Fragments of what he was saying fell, but I did not try to gather them. I knew everything would be right, everything would be done, now that he was there. Presently he hung up the receiver and came into the dark room; he had the compass-candle in his hand.
"I have learned where the call came from," he said in a matter-of-fact tone as if it were hardly worth speaking of.
"From a town in Minnesota," proceeded Robert, quietly. "The name is Healer--one of those queer Western names."
I tried to speak, but I do not think I succeeded. I believe I meant to ask if he thought it were a real town, and my dry lips stupidly struggled with the words: "I never heard of such a place"--as if that fact bore upon the case at all.
288 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEledge of the village," observed the doctor, "though that doesn't amount to much. It is near St. Paul--this side. St. Paul is about as far as the telephone goes."
Then I cried out upon him:
"Oh, is there no way? Can't you find out anything more?"
"I have done my best," said Robert, patiently.
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