- chapter: VII
|<< chapter 6||< chapter 1||chapter 8 >|
December the first.
THERE have been no more telephonic mysteries; the call-bell hangs mute all night. I think Eliot has been ordered to sleep with his door open. Only the banshee parts her lips, and there are times when she wails from bedtime till breakfast; usually this happens with a west wind. The doctor is absorbed, and the horizontal lines of anxiety in his forehead are heavily carved. I cannot make out what he is thinking, for I am never told unless he chooses to have me know, while yet, oddly enough, I do not feel at all hurt if he does not tell. It was, in fact, three days after the last midnight summons before I knew that he had suceeeded in tracing the first telephone call to its source. The company, it seems, had put every agency at his disposal, and had hunted down this last message. Twelve hundred miles between it and me! It had started from one of the uttermost stations where the blue bell hangs; beyond which there is no practicable | | 290 conversation between the West and the East. I asked the name of the place.
"This message came," replied the doctor, "from a pay-station in a drug-store. The name was Pooltiss--a queer one, wasn't it? The number was 207--3."
He did not look at me as he dwelt on these unnecessary details.
"And the town?"
"He may be dying!" I cried.
Robert shook his head.
"Sick? In trouble? In need? Wandering from place to place--homeless! He has gone back, farther West, hasn't he?"
The doctor did not answer.
"Or he may be--thoughtless. He used so often to say, 'Oh, I didn't mean anything.' He may not mean anything by this. Or it may not be he at all."
"Any of these things is possible."
"He ought to come home to his wife!" I said below my breath. I have never spoken so before, not even to Robert. But there is something, as I told him once, in the roused pride of a tender woman with which a man must reckon, first or last. Mine battles with my tenderness and plays victor with me now, at this bewil- | | 291 dered time--of all times, that when I should have expected myself to melt with love and longing. I feel but little longing for my husband, and how much love I will not, must not, dare not, ask myself. The strongest tie between the married is the love of the wife; I am convinced that more marriages are saved from destruction by this than by any other fact in life. If my love for Dana is perishing--whose fault is that? How has he flung from him the treasure that he had? I who gave him my uttermost, I who made a subject of my sovereign soul before his lightest whim, I who bent my will before his, as if one melted a steel blade in a mighty fire and folded it back upon itself, laying it white and gleaming at his feet,--I, Wilderness Girl made Wife, Pride beaten into Love,--how, God forgive him, has he treated me?...
"He ought to come home to his wife!" I repeated aloud. It was as if I were willing the whole world should know what I said. Then I heard my old friend speaking; his voice seemed to come from a great distance.
"Be patient, Marna. Be gentle. Believe the best. Wait a little. There may be reasons--"
He turned away from me, halted, came back, and looked at me with wretched, noble eyes.| | 292
"Love him as long as you can," he said gently. "Try for a while longer. It is worth...trying...suffering...to save a married love."
Before I could answer, he had shut the door and gone. I went up and took hold of the knob, and I am not ashamed to write what I did. I went up and bent my face and put my cheek to the door, where his hand had touched it.
"You are the best man I ever knew," I thought.
I CANNOT sleep. I have been thinking of the evening when Robert asked me to marry him. It was the first winter that Dana was reading to Father. They were in the library, and Robert and I were in the drawing-room; and I had on a rose-pink dress with white chiffon, and the slippers matched, and Robert liked the dress.
To him I said: "I am fond of you, Robert, but I do not love you. I could never love you so as to marry you. I do not want to be anybody's wife." In my own mind I said: "You are too short. And you are very plain. And you are very old--as much as thirty."
December the second.
ELIOT does not come any more; I don't know why. He has been suddenly taken away and | | 293 put on duty elsewhere. The doctor suggested another nurse--I think his name was Peterkin; but I objected to Peterkin.
"Then," be observed, "you will lock the front door?"
I shook my head. Now why, I wonder, did I shake my head? Why, when I feel so about Dana, why, when Dana has treated me so, why do I not bolt the door?"
I cannot perplex the doctor worse than I puzzle myself. He has sent our old James over to stay nights here till Eliot is at liberty again. James is quite shocked at sleeping in the library. He never did such a thing in the governor's house. But he calls me Miss Marna, and there's some comfort in that. I wonder what has become of Eliot?
There have been no more telephone calls, which is convenient, for I am sure the last trumpet would have its hands full if it tried to wake up James. He used to sleep in the coach-house, with four horses trampling beneath.
So I listen for the telephone. I do not sleep much.
December the tenth.
THE telephone continues dumb. I do not believe those calls were from anybody in particular at all; some operator's blunder, most | | 294 likely, as I told the doctor. The doctor made no answer.
In fact, nothing has happened, and everything has happened, for Robert has gone away on a vacation. He has had no vacation since he started the hospital; all summer he stood by his post, when other men were off. I suppose he does need it. I should not have believed that I would miss the doctor so.
December the thirteenth.
MARION has a cold, and we have had to send for Dr. Packard. I don't think he understands the child in the least. I wish Robert would come back. I am lost in a hieroglyph. I thought I knew what solitude was; now I perceive that I never had the key to the cipher. I am so lonely that I am frightened. If there were a spot in the world where I could go and hurl myself into space, I think I should do it. I used to have fancies about letting myself out of a window in easterly storms when I was a girl and comfortable. Now that I am a wife and wretched, a window seems a small outlet. I want something vast and daring--a desperate leap into a fathomless fate. What could be worse than to go on | | 295 tamely where and as I am? Who will teach me how to escape myself? What philosophy is there for a woman whose whole being has been turned back upon itself, a mighty current dammed, and toppling--forbidden in the essence of her nature? What shall be done for an undervalued tenderness? What can friendship offer to a deserted wife?
The doctor does not write to me. I suppose, in fact, he is under no obligation to do so.
December the fourteenth.
I HAVE had a note from the doctor. It was mailed on the cars somewhere,--I could not make out where,--and it was so hurriedly written that he forgot to date it. He writes most kindly, most thoughtfully. He begs me to be quiet and brave, not to give up either hope or anything else. He is sorry to have to leave me just at this trying time; he will not be gone a day longer than is really necessary,--he reminds me with a touching gentleness that he really needed the vacation, for he is pretty tired,--and he will write me when he can. If I have any more telephone messages, I am to repeat them to him, in care of the Central Exchange both in New York and in Chicago, as his movements are a little uncertain, and he would not wish to | | 296 be beyond my reach in any emergency. And I am not to feel that he has forgotten my difficulties for an hour, but that he is doing the best he can for all concerned. He signs the letter:
"Faithfully your friend, and Dana's,
Oh, God bless him, God bless him! And I don't care if that is "equal to a kiss." Of such is the tenderness that the whole wide world might see and be the better for. The grateful affection of an unhappy woman, indebted above measure to a good, unselfish man, is not a thing to feel ashamed of or to hide.
December the fifteenth.
THIS evening the telephone called again. It was quite early, hardly nine o'clock, and James had not come in. Mercibel had been over, but did not stay; it was her evening off duty, and she was on her way to see her children; they live with their grandmother. If I had to board Marion with relatives, and work for my living and hers, I wonder should I be more, or less, unhappy?
"Sorrow has her elect," Mercibel says. The relativity of trouble is a mystery of which I am just beginning to be aware. The doctor has a | | 297 paralyzed patient who says her ideal of human happiness is to be able to walk across the room and get her own tooth-brush. (He is curing the patient.)
My telephone call was from the doctor. It seemed to be a long-distance call, but I could hear his voice quite readily and perfectly--his dear voice. Oh, I will be honest with my own soul! It is a dear voice to me; there is not a cadence of its quietness and strength which does not hold just so much self-forgetting, me-remembering melody. There are certain tones at which my spirits rise like leaves in a strong wind, and seek the skies--my poor, disordered, disheartened spirits--as if they were birds. There are certain others before which every nerve in my soul and body calms and rests. The voice is the man, and Robert's has stood between me and despair (I believe I have said this before, at some time; whether I have or not, I think it all the time)--his voice has stood between me and despair so long that I cannot help loving it. Why need I?
He did not say very much by the telephone; only to ask if I kept well, and Marion, and if I had heard any news that I wished him to know.
"Do not feel that you are forgotten," he said. | | 298 "I shall not be beyond reach of helping you in any emergency."
"Have courage," he added. "Be hopeful. Better things than you fear may be possible. I am telephoning you to-night to say this. Keep well. Be quiet. Be strong. Be brave."
His resonant voice reverberates in my ears yet, like a rich Belgian bell. As he shut the wire off, he said comfortably:
"Expect me home in three or four days." He forgot to tell me where he was telephoning from.
December the sixteenth.
TO-DAY the doctor called again from he knows where. There is a snow-storm, and the wires are pneumonic, and roar wildly. I could scarcely make out what he was trying to say, and we had to give the message up. If I understood at all correctly, Robert said a singular thing:
"Pray for one you love."
No man ever asked me to pray for anything before; I suppose it never occurred to any person that I could be a praying woman.
Poor little "sumptuous pagan"! how should she be? The gods die with the joys, I think; Christianity must be the religion of patience, of denial; and I am not patient.
Pray for one I love?...Suppose I tried?| | 299
I HAVE tried. I do not know how. I think I shall educate my daughter in what George Sand calls "la science de Dieu"; for she shall not come to eight-and-twenty years with an uncultivated spiritual nature--not so ignorant a person as I.
An hour later.
PRAY for one I love?...Then for whom shall I pray? Pagan beauty stole my heart and toyed with it, and cast it petulantly down. Patient duty gathered the bruised thing, and cherished it, and guarded it gently, from itself and from its guardian. How should a woman pray? Prayer, I think, must be as honest as love, or joy, or anguish; it is one of the elemental emotions; it cannot confuse anything, or beguile God.
Sudden expressions of my husband's face start out upon the paper where I write, like pictures which my pen traces against its will. Words that he has spoken--scenes that I would perish to forget--leap upon me. All the anguish of this deserted year surges pounding through my arteries; I can understand how people die of heartbreak in one great, significant moment of self-revelation.
Cruelty flung me into the hands of kindness; | | 300 neglect left me to devotion; coldness hurled me at the feet of tenderness, a disregarded, undervalued woman; selfishness tossed me--where? Into what? Upon the truest heart, against the noblest nature, that I ever knew.
Suppose I knelt and tried to pray--I could only repeat the Morning Lesson or some of the Collects. Perhaps if I wrote a prayer it would be the most genuine thing possible--to me. I found in Father's Greek Testament yesterday this, copied in his own hand, and called "The Prayer of Fénelon":
Lord, take my heart, for I cannot give it to Thee. And when Thou hast it, keep it, for I would not take it from Thee. And save me in spite of myself, for Christ's sake.
December the seventeenth.
THOU great God! Invisible! Almighty! I am not a religious woman, and I do not know how to express myself, but I will not soil my soul by one uncandid word. Be Thou to me the utter Truth. Then shall my heart utter it, and give Thee back Thyself.
I am a woman unhappy and perplexed. I have not even the excuse of a great temptation to justify what I feel--only a subtle one, like a mist that blurs my vision.| | 301
Thou God! I do not care so much--for any other thing--except to do what is right. Teach me where rightness is! I am willing to count its price, to pay its cost. I am willing to be very lonely, lonelier than I need to be, if I can be sure of doing right. I am willing to give up the only comfort I have, if I ought to do that....Hear my first prayer, O God!--Dana, Dana, Dana! Wherever in this wide world my poor husband is--I pray for him! If he is sick, or sinful, if he is in any trouble, if he has forgotten me, though he should come back and be cruel to me--I pray for him, for him!
December the eighteenth.
THE doctor has got home. I think he arrived at dusk, but it was late before he came over, nearly ten o'clock. He looked fatigued beyond description, and yet he had a radiance. All the room seemed to shine when he entered it. I had that old feeling that he stood in a stream of light, and it was as if I crossed the current when I moved to take his outstretched hand. There was a solemn elation in his eyes.
"You have had a good rest!" I cried, "a happy journey!"
"A happy journey, yes." Smiling, he studied me as if my too candid face were a Chaldean | | 302 seal. For the first time in my life I felt uncomfortable before my old friend, and I took refuge in the best of all civilized disguises--elaborate frankness.
"I missed you, Doctor, ridiculously. I think you ought either never to go away, or else to stay all the time. I have yet to learn to do without you, Robert."
"All that will take care of itself," said Robert, gently. "There are first that shall be last. And I am glad that you missed me, too. It harmed nobody, and it touches me."
If Robert's face had frosted, or assumed any of the masculine defenses which a commonplace man throws out between himself and a woman whom he is capable of misinterpreting, I think, dear as he is to me, I could have spurned him in my heart. But his comfortable, matter-of-fact words restored the poise of my own nature; the vertigo steadied instantly. By a divination he put me delicately at my ease, like the gentleman he is.
We talked awhile quietly. The radiance that I spoke of remained translucent on his face. He said he would come in to-morrow, and ran up and kissed Marion in her crib, and played with Job a little, and then he went away. What was that curious thing he said? There are first | | 303 that shall be last?...Robert is usually so direct; he is never given to conversational sorceries.
December the nineteenth.
THE doctor came in this noon. He asked if I could spare James, who is needed in the coach-house, and suggested the objectionable Peterkin as a substitute. I demurred.
"I saw Eliot about the grounds this morning. If he is at liberty now, why can't I have Eliot?--if you insist on anybody."
"Eliot is on night duty," replied the doctor. "I thought perhaps Peterkin--but never mind. Keep James, if you prefer, by all means."
Now, penitent, I protested. For Peterkin I now entreated. Peterkin, only Peterkin, could protect my imperiled household or assuage my troubled spirit. But the doctor smiled and shook his head. He did not ask me to abjure my folly and bolt my doors. He has ceased to fret me on this topic. One of the remarkable things about Robert is that he conforms to a weakness as generously as he admires a strong point. He accepts a woman just as she is, and if she does a foolish thing, he takes it as a matter of course, like a symptom. If he had the chance he might cure it, but he never exasperates her by resenting it. I know, when he loved me | | 304 long ago, before I was married, I used to feel that he loved me for my very faults.
It would be difficult to say how much happier and safer I feel now that the doctor has come back. I have been listening lately at night for the telephone--it is impossible to say why. But it has not called again. I dusted all Dana's music to-day.
December the twentieth; noon.
THERE was a savage storm last night--sleet and snow fighting. James dug my paths before he went to the hospital, and came back after a while, plowing his way over with Father's little old snow-plow and the doctor's white horse. There is quite a clear path all around the tree-house. It makes me feel less shut in and cut off. Mercibel, at the office window, waved her nurse's apron and blew a kiss to me. The doctor will hardly come over, I think. I understand there are some pretty sick patients. There seems to be some agitation at the hospital. The countenance of my father's house has a tense expression, as if it concealed drama--as it does, as it must. All the tragedy of all that disabled and disordered life crowds crushing upon the superintendent. How seldom this occurs to me! I am engrossed in my own drama. I think I must be yet very young.| | 305
The telephone wires are furred with sleet and sag heavily, but still hold their thin lips between myself and the world; between myself and the watchful, patient, unrewarded kindness which has never failed me anywhere.
December the twenty-first.
AN extraordinary thing has happened.
The storm has been a wild caprice, lulling and rousing without any visible reason; but by mid-afternoon the snow ceased sullenly. There was no sun, but a vicious wind, and a stinging powder filled the air. James came over and cleared out all my paths again, and brought the doctor's remembrances, and was I quite comfortable? or did I need anything that he could do? The doctor did not telephone. Mercibel did once or twice, but I thought her absentminded, for some reason.
After dinner, between half-past seven and eight o'clock, the ghost of the Wilderness Girl got me, for I have stayed indoors too long. I put myself into rubber boots and waterproof, pulled the hood over my head, and ran out. A young moon wandered somewhere in a waste of clouds, but it seemed to me only to make everything darker; all the shadows of the shrubbery crouched like creatures about to spring, and the | | 306 tree-house stood in such a jungle of blackness that I was afraid of it. I tramped about for a while, running up and down the paths, and crunching the snow, as children do. But I did not stay long; I could not have told why, but I was definitely afraid. I came back and into the house, threw off my waterproof, but, I don't know for what reason, did not remove my rubber boots. I stood in the hall, by the register, warming my feet. As I did this, I thought the handle of the front door turned.
"It is the doctor," I said. But it was not the doctor, and the door did not open. I started to call Job, but he was in the kitchen with Luella. At this moment the banshee up in my room began to wail, and made such a noise that I called up to Ellen to stifle her with a handkerchief. Ellen, having obeyed me, came to the balusters over my head, and said that Marion would not go to sleep without Dombey, and should she give in to such as that? I answered: "Oh, she may have Dombey; I'll get him and toss him up to you," and I went into the library for the doll. The shades were not drawn--Dana never liked to have them. When I stooped to pick up Dombey, I saw upon the window-sill the fingers of a man's hand.
I stood quite still, with Dombey in my arms. | | 307 and looked at the window. The hand slid, finger by finger, and slipped away. It reminded me of the hand I saw in my dream of the Uruguay dungeon, and it was a left hand, too; but had no ring. I threw on my waterproof, unlatched the front door, and opened it wide.
"At last," I thought, "we have the burglar." It did not occur to me to be afraid. Such a sense of wrong overtook me, the rage of the home against its violator, that I cared for nothing but to defy the fellow. I understand now, perfectly, how small women, timid ones, have sprung upon tramps and thieves, and choked them and held them till the neighbors came. By this time Job had begun to growl from the kitchen, and Luella had let him out. I ran down the steps and out into the snow, and Job met me at the comer of the house. The dog moved stealthily; he did not bark.
"Whoever you are," I cried, "make your errand known, or leave my house!"
There was no person to be seen. I pushed toward the tree-house. There, cringing, blotted into the jungle of shadows, I perceived, or I thought I did, the figure of a man. It was a pitiable figure, poor and outcast.
"Who are you," I said more gently, "and what do you want?"| | 308
There was no reply, and I stood, uncertain what to do. The thin young moon at this moment dived into a sea of clouds, and when she emerged the man had gone. I called to Job, but he was nowhere to be seen. I came back into the house and shut the door. From long habit, even then I did not bolt it. I sat down by the register, shivering and drying my wet skirts. It did not occur to me to telephone the doctor what had happened, or, if it did, I thought I would spare him. He has care enough, and I knew James would be over soon. It was by then perhaps half-past eight o'clock. Ellen came down and asked me what had happened.
"Nothing," I said. "Go back to Marion."
"I won't do, without the boy-doll," argued Ellen, studying me furtively. I now perceived that the old servant was distinctly scared, and also that I still held Dombey affectionately clasped to my heart. I gave her the doll, and she went up-stairs reluctantly. When she had gone, I slid to the front door and opened it, and looked out and about. No person was to be seen. There was now moon enough to show the tree-house clearly; it was quite empty. I shut the door and came back, and sat down by the hall register again. I had forgotten about Job.| | 309
I was sitting there when the door opened in earnest, swiftly though softly, and the doctor entered. To my last hour I shall not be able to forget the expression of his face.
"You have had a fright!" he began. "Tell all about it--quickly."
I now saw Eliot behind the doctor, and James, and Peterkin--a good match between them all for a gang of housebreakers.
"How in the world did you know?" I parried foolishly.
Robert interrupted me with real impatience. I thought, for the instant, he would have liked to shake me--but not hard.
"Speak, can't you?" he cried. "There is no time to lose. Did he annoy you? Did you see the man?"
I collected myself, and told him all there was to tell It was little enough, and seemed to disappoint him. The two nurses had by this time vanished, directed, I thought, by a single upward motion of the superintendent's heavy eyelids.
"What do you say you said," demanded the doctor, "when you first opened the door?"
"I said: 'Whoever you are, make your errand known or leave my house.'"
The doctor turned the high collar of his fur-lined coat, half concealing his averted face.| | 310
"Go up to bed," he said. "Peterkin will sleep here to-night. I have need of James. If you are disturbed again, call me instantly, Marna. Do you understand?"
"Don't be cross to me, Doctor," I quavered childishly. "I will do whatever you say."
He went, and Peterkin came. I am too excited to sleep, and so I write. Job has but just come in. He is wet through, and shivers violently. He must have been out a long time.
December the twenty-second.
OUR tramp has not done us the honor again, and nothing whatever has happened. In fact, life is more than commonly dull, for I took cold that night in the snow, and am cherishing a sore throat in unexampled obscurity; the doctor having gone away. So, I surmise, has Eliot. So, I think, has Peterkin. James appears every night as before, only now very early, by six o'clock. Mercibel comes over and stays through the day--I suppose because I have a sore throat; at all events, those seem to be her orders. She answers the telephone, which rings occasionally. Now and then she seems to have messages from the doctor, who inquires for me, with his remembrances. He does not ask me to come to the telephone. Mercibel says he says I am to be | | 311 very careful of this throat, and not to strain my voice. I am trying to finish Marion's Christmas presents--chiefly am I dressing a new wife for Dombey. I have got her a doll's house from her father, for I could not have her think he had forgotten to send her anything. I am very lonely. I can't see why the doctor should have to go away so soon again. Mercibel says it is a professional errand and he could not help it. I miss him cruelly--I am quite demoralized by missing him; I may as well own to this as to experience it.
What will become of me if Robert is so necessary to me as this?...
A woman may be made very unhappy, I find, for the sake of a man whom she does not love, whom she must not love. Friendship takes hold of women more seriously than of men, I think. Is it a disorder to which we are temperamentally more subject?
December the twenty-third.
THE doctor has come home again. He called at once, very early this morning, to see about my throat. I was startled at his appearance; he must have had a hard trip. But yet he has happy eyes. As I watched them I felt that mine might safely say anything, for it was as if | | 312 he did not exactly see me. He talked more than usual. He spoke of Dana, of his absence and silence, and of what I had endured.
"You have behaved like a queen at her execution," he said. He talked about my husband for quite a while. My thoughts were of him, but his were of Dana. But I was so glad he had come back that nothing troubled me. Job sat on my lap and listened with a portentous solemnity to our conversation; there are times when that dog seems like a brownie. Job has been restless and unhappy these last few days; he sleeps on the foot of my bed, and starts frequently, and has bad dreams and little Yorkshire nightmares out of which I have to wake him up and reassure him.
December the twenty-fourth; afternoon.
MARION hit the Parthenon frieze behind the library sofa a hard whack with Banny Doodle, and the paper broke away; the paste had dried, and the frieze has hung loosely for a long time. I went up to fix it, and I saw the Landseer dogs that I had forgotten about--David and Dora.
Then I remembered when I first put them on the bruise in the calcimine, and how Dana made fun of me, and how he helped me to put the frieze up. I thought how he teased Job by | | 313 patting David and Dora, and how Job snarled with jealousy and sprang at the picture, and how Dana laughed out--nobody ever had such such a laugh as Dana. How happy was I! How dear was he! And we did love each other--God knows.
"Pity Mommer!" cooed Marion behind me.
"Go and get Job," I commanded wildly, for I could not have the child behold my overthrow.
Something beat about me like a whirlwind rising from-the woman's God knows where....I have tried to forget, I have tried to forget!--not to suffer, not to feel, to divert my soul, to supplant Almighty Love by something else; and I thought I had succeeded, but I had climbed a ladder which rested in the air--and now, in a moment, it toppled with me. And David and Dora had brought it down...that little thing, that little foolish dear home thing, that Dana and I had done, and laughed about, together.
"Why don't you do as I bid you " I demanded, crossly enough, of Marion. "Why don't you go for Job?"
My daughter put up a grieved lip.
"Job came his own self. And I fink I will go make a call on Ellen." Holding her little head haughtily, my baby scornfully left me. | | 314 Ashamed, I turned to follow her, and hurried a little, and so stumbled over something in the hall--and it was Dana's old blue velveteen coat. Job was curled up on it, fixed and watchful. How he had found it, why he had brought it, only Job can say. It was plain that he had meant to bring the coat to me, and, laboriously dragging it, had wavered in his purpose at the foot of the stairs. Perhaps a glimpse of David and Dora had arrested his inner motive; one never can tell: a highly organized dog is very complex.
Commending Job and comforting Marion, I took the coat and came up with it into Dana's room, and locked the doors; and I thought I would hang the coat up first--but oh, the touch of it, the touch of it!...
At first I only laid my cheek upon it, for I dared no more. But remembrance has her Judgment Day, when the books are opened. And the illuminated text of married love which I have sealed with seven seals stared at me from silver and from crimson pages--and there was no more power in me to close the book.
I caught my husband's coat to my heart, and clasped it, and kissed it, and then I kissed it again--oh, and again, till the tears stopped the kisses; and when the sobs came, I felt that some- | | 315 thing finer than reason was saved in me. I myself on Dana's bed, and sunk my face in the coat, and stroked it.
I thought of everything that I had tried to forget, and I forgot everything that I had been remembering. I got down from the bed, and knelt, my face in the coat, and lifted my hands, and thought I would try to pray again; but all I could say was:
For we did love each other--and I am his wife. All the awful power of the marriage tie closed about me,--its relentlessness, its preciousness,--not to be escaped. The dead joys got out of their graves and looked upon me. I thought of all that faith and sacredness, and of the honor in which we cherished it. I thought how I had barred these things from my heart because it was broken and so it could not hold them.
Who said: "It is worth trying...suffering...to save a married love"? That must have been Robert. I got up from my knees and walked to and fro across my husband's room. I went to the window and drew his curtains and looked out at his stars. And, by the holy name of the happiest hour that we had ever known, I charged myself with a vow, for Dana's sake.| | 316
As soon as I was something composed, I sent for the doctor so urgently that he came at once. Marion had gone to bed, and the library was littered with her Christmas things. I was tying up Dombey's second wife in silver paper with a crimson ribbon.
"Let me help you," said Robert, directly. He took the doll, and tied the package neatly; in fact, he saw that my fingers trembled so I could not do it.
Abruptly I began:
"Doctor, I am going to find my husband. I shall take the child and start."
"Where are you going?"
"I do not know."
"At once--to-morrow, I think."
"He may need me--who knows?"
"I," said Robert, gravely.
I pushed the second wife into the doll's house, anyhow, and she slid out into the doctor's lap. He picked her up, and put her carefully somewhere, before he spoke again.
"Tired of trusting me, Marna?"
Then I said: "I must act for myself. I have borne all I can. If he is alive, I will find him. If he is dead--"| | 317
"Would you be willing," interrupted Robert, gently, "to wait a little--perhaps two or three days? I can advise you better if you give me a little time. I have some pretty sick patients just now," he added wearily, "and such a step would be very important. You would need advice."
"I should need you, I grant you!" I cried out cruelly. "I can't even love my own husband without your help--I have come to that."
"Marna!" pleaded Robert, in a voice that wrung my heart.
I took one look at his face, and then something in me gave way suddenly, and I slid to the hassock on the floor below me, and--what might I have done? I cannot tell. I do not know. Put my head upon his knee, like the child that I sometimes seem to myself to have been to him, and so sobbed out the "Forgive me Robert!" which came surging to my lips? I do not know. I cannot tell. Instantly he had lifted me to my feet.
"You are tired out," he said. "Go up to bed at once. Sleep if you can. Don't try to talk to me. I understand. Child, I understand you better than you do yourself. I know...I know how you love your husband; better than any man of us--is--apt to be loved."| | 318
"I will see you to-morrow," he added in his usual manner. "We will talk everything over. Trust me till then."
"I will trust you till I am dead, and after," I answered him. We shook hands as if nothing had happened. At the door, he turned and regarded me mournfully and something solemnly, I thought--as if the man were looking his last upon some dear and sacred privilege.
"If I can keep--trustworthy--" he said; and so he shut the door.
I HAPPENED on this, to-day, that Stevenson said of himself: "I came about like a well-handled ship. There stood at the wheel that unknown steersman whom we call God."
January the fifteenth.
UNTIL this I have had no moments. Now, while my patient is sleeping naturally, my heart draws its first breath. It will rest me more to write than to sleep.
I see that my record broke asunder abruptly on Christmas eve, and with the doctor's call. I slept that night, by God's good grace, though no one could have been more surprised at this fact than myself. I dreamed that Marion and I started out together on Christmas day to find | | 319 her father, and that we went to Uruguay, and crossed the swamp with the log and the snake, and Dana was in the dungeon with the crosses, and he put up his left hand with the wedding-ring upon it, and so I knew him; and I tore away the bars, for they were old and rusty, and set him free. And he said--I was dreaming what he said when Marion waked me by slapping me with Dombey's second wife.
The day went wildly to me. It was not a pleasant day, but snowed a little and blew more. The wind was savage, and the sky frowned. The doctor did not come over, though Mercibel did. Now and then I got away from Marion's Christmas litter, and went up-stairs and put things into bags, at random. I think my idea was to start as soon as the doctor came--to what place, to what end, I knew no more than the child. My head whirled. I kept repeating:
"I will find my husband."
In the afternoon I telephoned the doctor impatiently, but he was not in. As it grew to be dusk, everything looked differently to me, and I felt suddenly weakened in soul and body, like a person spent by a delirium, and I thought
"I can never find him without Robert. I must wait for Robert."
But Robert did not come over. Marion and | | 320 I had our supper, and Luella went out; but Ellen stayed, and James came over; Peterkin did not, so I was alone with my father's old servants.
It still snowed fitfully, not steadily nor much. There was some sleet, and it rapped on the windows like little knuckles. The banshee did not cry, and, except for the sleet, there was not any sound. Marion had gone to bed, but Job was playing with his rubber chicken. The chicken had a gamboge head, and Job had cut its throat already. I sat dully watching Job and the chicken. He dropped the chicken while I did this, and went to the door. I said:
"Oh, you don't want to go out again so soon, Job; it's snowing." But the dog insisted. I let him out, and came back and sat down again. I picked up Dombey's second wife, and Dombey, and Banny Doodle, and put them all in the doll's house, arranging them childishly, as if I had been a little girl myself.
"We are all dolls," I thought, "and fate plays with us." I added Job's chicken to the collection, stupidly.
I went out into the hall and stood by the register, and called up to Ellen to see if Marion were happy; but Ellen had shut the nursery door, for the night was cold, and so she did not | | 321 me. I was quite alone when Job scratched on the front door to be let in.
I opened the door immediately, but the dog did not come in. He ran off again into the snow, and I shut the door again. Presently I heard him scratching at the door once more, and this time he whined impatiently. Once more I opened the door, and spoke to him rather sharply:
"Don't keep me waiting here! Come in, if you are coming at all!"
But Job ran down the steps and off. I thought of our tramp, but I felt no fear of any kind, unless that some one should steal Job, and I did not shut the door. I stood still in the hall and called the dog more gently:
"Come right in, Dear. Don't stay out in the the storm any longer!"
As I spoke, the dog leaped up the steps, shouting wildly; ran to me and looked back; sprang to my arms, kissed me, and ran back. Without hesitation I followed Job, and stepped out into the light, fresh snow.
At the foot of the steps a man leaned against piazza pillar, heavily. He did not start when he saw me; and Job was in his arms. The man regarded me steadily.
"In God's name," I cried out upon him, "who are you?"| | 322
"Well," he said, "Job knows, if you don't."
I did not answer, for I did not dare. I felt that the wrong word would pull the whirling world crashing on my head. I went up to the man, and held out my hand, and led him up the steps, and the light smote his face, and it was my husband's face.
"I did n't know," he said timidly, "whether you'd want me back or not."
Without a word, I led him into the house and shut the door behind him. I don't know why I did it, but I slid the key, and put it in my pocket. He stood still, like a child or a sick person, just where I left him. The snow dripped from his beard. I took off his hat, and then, in the full gas-light, I saw his face...the havoc on it: shame, disease, despair, and desolation--oh, desolation worse, by all the agonies, than mine!
"I was a darn fool to leave you, Marna," he said, just as I had heard him say it in my dream. "I can't stand it any longer. I thought I'd come in-awhile--even if you didn't want to keep me."
"--What? You don't say very much, I notice. Well, I don't blame you, Marna."
"-- Don't try, Marna--if it comes so hard as that. Don't stand on ceremony. I'd rather | | 323 you didn't make such an effort to--be glad to see a fellow. It doesn't matter very much. I can--go away again."
He turned his shattered face and tottered toward the door. I slid between him and it, and stretched out my hands.
"I 'm pretty--wet," he said uncertainly.
I went straight up to him and clasped him to my heart, and his shaking arms closed fast about me.
WHEN I lifted my face, the doctor was there, and my father's old servants. Dana did not speak to any of them; he looked about passively.
"Get off his wet things," said the doctor; and James came up to help us. It did not occur to me till afterward to wonder how Robert got into the house, for I had the front-door key in my pocket. Nothing occurred to me. Dana had come home.
We led him into the library and up to the fire, and the doctor rolled up the Morris chair for him. I now saw for the first time that my husband was a very sick man. He had a singular expression. His eyes looked as if they had been varnished. He looked around the room, noticed the Christmas clutter, the doll's house and the dolls, and the Parthenon frieze which | | 324 he had helped me to paste over David and Dora.
"It all looks so--natural," he said pitifully. All this while he kept hold of my hand. Job came up quietly, and got into his lap. We were standing just so--the doctor on the other side of him, and Ellen and James behind--when Marion melted into the room. Her little bare feet had made no sound upon the padded stairs, and she startled us all. Job jumped down from Dana's lap, and went and brought his chicken to his master. No one spoke. Her father turned his head slowly, and by the time that he saw the little girl, she was quite near him. For an instant I think she was frightened; she backed off, wide-eyed and wondering, but advanced again, and leaned up, in her little white night-gown, against his knee.
"Why, she remembers me!" he whispered. His face worked; he hid it on the child's soft head and wept aloud.
"Pity Popper!" said Marion, distinctly. She put up both her hands and stroked his hollow cheeks.
WE got him up-stairs as soon as we could, the doctor and I--into his own room and his own bed. Ellen had warmed the sheets, and every-
"You're a dear old girl!" he said.
"I think," said the doctor, unexpectedly, "that you had better leave him to us for a while."
And suddenly I saw that Eliot was in the room. But I did not move.
"Go down-stairs, Mrs. Herwin," commanded Dr. Hazelton, peremptorily.
Wondering and pondering, I obeyed.
When they called me back, Dana was asleep. It was a dense sleep, and he did not rouse as I sat down on the edge of the bed beside him. His gleaming pallor was replaced by a stagnant, crimson color that I liked no better.
"Has he a fever?" I whispered.
"Aren't you going to tell me what ails him?"| | 326
"Certainly I am."
"What is it, Doctor?"
"Morphine." He drew up Dana's sleeve and showed me his poor marred arm. Dana did not stir as the doctor gently replaced the sleeve.
|<< chapter 6||< chapter 1||chapter 8 >|