- chapter: VIII
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"COME down-stairs," said Robert, "and I will tell you everything."
I looked at Dana and shook my head.
"He will not miss you," urged the doctor. He will know nothing more till it is time for the next dose."
I asked when that would be.
"At three in the morning. Eliot will attend to that. Leave him with Eliot; trust him entirely to Eliot. He has had the care of him for--some time."
I don't think I uttered a word; I scarcely experienced surprise. It seemed, now, that anything might happen, or might have happened. I followed Robert down-stairs in silence, and he shut the library door.
He bade me lie down upon the lounge, "because I needed all my strength for what was before me now," and he covered me carefully with the afghan, and drew up the Morris chair opposite me, and began at once. It was still
328 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEearly, scarcely nine o'clock, and we talked two hours--evading nothing, facing everything.
He began by telling me how he had at times suspected, before Dana went to Uruguay, that he was forming the morphine habit.
"But he was not my patient; I never had his confidence. The early symptoms are elusive; I was never sure. I could scarcely create a theory; I might have wronged him by the suspicion; I decided to keep it to myself."
"So you sent him atropine 3x!" I cried. Curiously, my mind fastened itself upon this unimportant detail. It seemed to me as if the important ones would come faster than I could bear them. As they did--as they did!
I tried to listen as quietly as he tried to speak; but it was not easy for either; and Robert, I could see, was greatly worn with all that he had endured for Dana's sake, and mine. My mind ran ahead of his, as a woman's mind does with a man's, and I would take loops in the mystery which he was unraveling slowly, and give the snarl a tear. I would say:
"Yes, yes! So those telephone messages were from him? I see--I see.
"And you traced him by them? It was you who found Dana! It was you who brought my husband back to me."
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Then, when I had collected myself a little: And you have done it all in these two weeks!"
On the contrary," replied the doctor, "I have had Mr. Herwin's movements watched ever since he put himself under the suspicion of having deserted you. He was met by my agents when the Marion landed ...Did you suppose I was sitting with my hands folded all that while? while your husband, your husband--There was nobody else to do it for you. Your father would have...We lost him between San Francisco and St. Paul; and that was the hardest part of it."
"Do you mean--" I began. "Do you mean--"
"Never mind what I mean."
"Your nurses? Eliot ? Peterkin?"
"Eliot and Peterkin and--It does not signify who, does it?"
"I will not interrupt you again, Robert," I said humbly. "Tell it in your own way."
So he told it all, and in his own way; simple, direct, modest, manly-- Robert's way. He told me how he had happened to know that there was a sanatorium in that little Western town with the queer name, Healer; and how he had telephoned by the longest long-distance wires in the land half across the continent, and
330 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEso traced Dana--a poor, wretched, outcast patient--in that place; how he had despatched. Eliot, and how he himself had followed; how Dana had left the sanatorium when Eliot reached it, and wandered back to Omaha and God knows where; how they pursued and how he eluded; how they tracked him down at Chicago--my poor Dana--in an opium den, and brought him with them; for he came willingly with Robert, making only one condition.
"Take me to your hospital and treat me till I am fit to see my wife;" entreated Dana. "I will not go to her as I am."
"So I did as he asked," said Robert. "He would not come on any other terms. My way would have been to bring him straight to you--there were so many risks. As it was,...when he escaped...I should never have forgiven myself--nor you me. I can't talk of it!--not yet."
Nor can I think of it--not yet.
For my Dana was the only patient who ever escaped the superintendent's guards; and when I think how he had come straight to me, and wandered about his own home that night, and did not dare come in--and how I saw him in the tree-house, outcast and despairing, and did not know--and he might never have come back--and yet I did not know--and how I
331 CONFESSIONS OF A' WIFEhardened my heart against him all that while, for I did not know--
My poor boy had fled to get the liberty of his slavery. And Robert tracked him down again; he was buying morphine in a poor place, some drug-store at the north end of the city. There, on the evening of the second day, Dana felt a hand on his arm. And he did not look up, but said: "That you, Hazelton? Well, I'm glad of it." And again he came with the doctor willingly, but this time without conditions, for he felt himself a beaten man. So he gave himself into Robert's hands, reserving nothing; and Robert brought him to the hospital, and treated him and battled with him and conquered him for those two days. And on Christmas evening suddenly they gave Dana his liberty, to see what use he would make of it; but it was a trap, for he had no liberty, all the exits of the hospital and the grounds being guarded, and the superintendent shadowing his every step.
And my poor boy came straight to me; but he was afraid to make himself known, so he loitered in the snow, uncertain and ashamed, till Job went out and found him.
332 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEand concisely, like people who sketch but the table of contents of a long, unfinished volume, the doctor rose abruptly and went up to see Dana. I begged leave to go, but he objected, and I yielded--I found that I must. I remembered what I had said to him in my foolish anger: "I can't even love my own husband without your help, it seems; I have come to that." Now I could not even see my husband without his permission; it had come to that. Robert came down again, in a few minutes, with shining eyes.
"He is doing remarkably well," he said. "But we had better finish talking while we can. I have important things to say to you, Marna....Are you comfortable? Resting? Be quiet. Do not agitate yourself. You are going to need all your strength."
"Before you begin," I said, "tell me this: what has become of my husband's wedding-ring? It is gone."
"I don't think you will be any happier to know."
"Do you know?"
"Was it--was it--"
"Pawned in Chicago in that place where we found him."
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"This is the worst?"
"So far as I know, it is the worst."
"Very well, Robert. There was no--one else?"
"It is my belief that there has been no one else. The perils of his condition are not that way, and I have made--some inquiries."
"Thank you, Robert," I said humbly, as if it were his doing. "Now I will listen to you."
Then he began to talk to me very gravely, very kindly, with the terrible frankness of the physician, and the merciful gentleness of my old friend. He spoke in short sentences, something like these:
"I have brought your husband back to you, but I have not saved him. I do not even know that I can. That depends as much on you as on me, and more on the patient than on either of us. In this case he has taken the drug hypodermically, the most difficult form of the habit to cure, as it is the easiest and subtlest to create. There are several ways of treating the morphine habit. A man may have the drug taken away from him abruptly; he may recover, and he may not. He may be put upon substitute anodynes; they may serve, and they may fail. He may be treated by a process of gradual reduction, by lessening the drug as fast as the diminution
334 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEcan be borne; he may be rehabilitated by this process, or he may not. I shall adopt this last method in treating Mr. Herwin. If I were a stranger to him, I might not, necessarily, do so. Since I know him, I select it as being, in my opinion, the only method for him. It is the slowest, but the safest. It will mean a great deal that you do not understand, Marna. The experiment will probably last a year, even if it is successful. He must suffer, and so will you. He must be guarded like a perishing soul--and so interpreted. He must be cherished and loved--above all, he must be borne with perfectly; he must be loved perfectly. It will not do to offer him any half measure--not to feel to him doubtfully, or critically, or with reservations. You will need all the patience, all the purpose, of your nature. You will need--I was going to say that you will need the infinite qualities. Forgive everything. Forget all you can. Bear anything. Trust. Hope. Endure. Something depends on me, but everything on you. Between us we may save him. I can promise you nothing, but I will do my best; and if I fail, you will forgive me, won't you, Marna?...
335 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEif we were one being--for Dana's sake. I shall regulate every detail of your life and his--tell you when to devote yourself to him, when to leave him to nurses, how to do this, when not to do that. I shall seem a tyrant to you, often mysterious, sometimes cold. But there is no other chance. Do you think you can trust me?"
Then I said: "If I cannot, if I do not, I cannot trust the God in heaven above us, Robert."
"There is one other thing," said Robert, without smiling. "I am going to speak out to you, soul to soul. Too much is at stake for any paltry reservations--and I can consider nothing but the salvation of my patient. I can't stand on anything--not even on wounding you, Marna--if I must. I think you will understand me; but if you don't, I cannot help that. I must speak and run my risk."
He rose and paced the library, showing his first sign of disturbance in all that tense, tremendous evening.
"Speak, Robert," I said; "I am not dull."
He stopped and looked down upon me with the most solemn and the most beautiful spirit that I ever saw imprisoned in the eyes of any man.
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"Marna," he said, "to save your husband you must love him without any qualifications. You must love him altogether. You must serve him altogether. Nothing must come between yourself and him--not even the shadow of that which never has been and can never be--no other feeling, no other thought. Not even a friendship must divert your interest in Dana's cure--no, not even ours. You will think of it--and express it--as little as possible, Marna. It is the only way. And if I do not...express it, you will not allow yourself to believe that I...do not think of it. You said you would trust me, you know. And I shall be always here. We must fight this fight together--yet--apart--sacredly."... His voice broke. He turned abruptly, went up-stairs to his patient, and so left me.
I slipped to my knees and hid my face in my hands. I can never say again that I do not know what it is to pray.
January the thirtieth.
WE are living so intensely that I wonder I ever thought I knew what it was to live before. How small are the simple joys and sorrows beside the great dramas where soul and body are intervolved--the tremendous pathological
337 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEsecrets upon which a human home may lock its doors! There the physician stands high priest, and sacred. There a wife finds herself perhaps for the first time in her married life at peace with her wifehood; she comes to her valuation; all the tenderness of her nature is employed, all that which had not been cherished, that which she had come to count as superfluous and wasted. It is impossible for me to say how happy I am to find myself so necessary to Dana. My poor boy is gaining upon himself day by day, each one bringing a little advance that we can see and he can feel. I heard my father say once, when he was recovering from some illness:
"The happiest people in this world are the convalescents."
There are times when I think the happiest man I ever saw is Dana. There are others when the blackness of the spaces before God said "Let there be light" seems to envelope him; and darkness which can be felt rolls between his soul and mine. But when this happens I have learned to say: "This, too, will pass."
There are days when Eliot is not suffered to leave his patient for the lifting of an eyelash. There are nights when the house is guarded, and when James or Peterkin sleeps in the library. There are others when the doctor himself stays
338 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEwith us from dark to dawn; but these are rare, and are becoming rarer. Not once yet has Dana fled from us, or obtained it for himself from any source. There is everything in preserving the patient's self-respect and his reputation, Robert says. This he has most skilfully succeeded in doing. Such tact, such gentleness and firmness--but I cannot write of it.
It is understood that Dana has come home from Uruguay with some malarial condition due to the climate. We are often seen walking or driving together. From this circumstance the neighborhood seems to derive a kind of reflected joy. We are so happy that I find no time to write of anything.
To-day Dana asked a great privilege--that Eliot should go out of the house, and that I should spend the whole day with him. The doctor consented without hesitation. There is something, he says, in trusting a patient. Dana and I took a long walk in the morning; in the afternoon Robert sent over his horses, and we had a sleigh-ride, and Marion went with us. Between-whiles my dear boy asked me to sit by him, to read to him, and once to brush his hair as I used to do. When he slept he held my hand, and I sat on the edge of the bed, cramped and uncomfortable, and well content. When he woke he said:
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"You're a dear, sweet girl!"
Often he calls me pathetically:
"Marna, can you spare time to stay with me a little? It seems to me you have been gone a great while. I miss you, Marna." Or perhaps it is: "Eliot, where is my wife? I want my wife." Or, "Marion, run and call your mother. I want your mother. Ask her to come and bring her sewing in here. I want her to sit where I can see her."
So Marion runs, and, being overcome with the importance of her mission, tumbles upon her words, and gets no further than:
"Pity Popper! Pity Popper!"
"Marion, Marion!" I say, "I do pity Popper with all my heart." And I hurry to him, and he turns his poor face with the havoc on it, and lifts his wasted hand, and draws my cheek to his. Then I see that he is sore beset, and I challenge my love that it may be strength to him, and all my strength that it may be love for him. The tenderness that he used to disregard I can pour upon him, as Radha did on Krishna, "give to him in fullest measure"--now. I am not afraid of loving him too much--now. I am not ashamed to show him how I feel to him--now. If I touch him, if I kiss him, he cherishes me--now. He cannot live without this wine.
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February the twelfth.
DANA is beginning to refer sometimes to things that happened while he was away. Until now he has scarcely alluded to the abyss which he thrust between us. Last night he said:
"Oh, I was so homesick, Marna! But I was ashamed to come back. Nobody knows how a man feels... so many thousand miles away...and sick. Oh, it was such a blanked country!"
The other day he said:
"The nights were the worst. I could not get any sleep without it. One night I said--two nights I said: 'If I die for it, I will not increase the dose to-night.' And it got to be two o'clock, and those sinking-turns came on, and I thought it was all up with me. Then I called you. I cried out very loud: 'Marna! Marna!' Upon my word, dear girl, I believe I thought you'd hear me."
Then I said:
"I did hear, Dana." For I remembered the nights when I heard his voice quite plainly and it was just two o'clock, and he called: "Marna!"
341 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEwatch is gone. What has she witnessed? She keeps her counsel well.
February the twentieth.
I WAS looking over some of Dana's things to-day, for we have been so absorbed with our patient, and so busy with downright nursing, that, really, I have never straightened anything out properly since he came back. The doctor had taken him out driving (with Marion), and I had an hour altogether to myself. In one of his pockets I found my photograph--the old one in the May-flower dress. It was in a leather case that folded over, and it was very much worn. He seems to have lost Marion's, but this--the tears smarted to my eyes when I saw how often he must have handled my picture--my poor boy!
Afterward I was dusting out his traveling dressing-case, and mending it, for the lining had broken away, and under the lining, carefully pinned in so that it should not slip, I found the leaf of the woodbine that I ran and picked for him from the tree-house on that morning--that last one, when he sailed, when the woman with the hand-organ sang, "Keep me from sinking down!" The ruby-red leaf has faded to a dull color, and is quite frail and brittle. I won-
342 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEder that it has lasted at all. I kissed the leaf for I thought perhaps he might have kissed it if he cared enough to keep it. At first I thought I would ask him. But I have concluded that a wife is wiser (consequently happier) not to put emotional catechisms to her husband. Few men take kindly to this feminine habit, even well ones; and a sick man resents it. And a few drops of resentment will extinguish a forest fire of tenderness. The doctor said to me one day when Dana first came home:
"Take as much for granted as possible. Assume all you can."
I have no time in these days to think much--not too much--about the doctor; but once in a while I wonder how he has become a master of the magicians: how he should be expert in the occult art of married life--this lonely man. I suppose it may be partly because he belongs to one of the confessional professions.
March the first.
TO-DAY there has been a blasting storm. We have sat within a white whirlwind, as if we were on the outside of a blind planet, spinning through frozen ether on a mysterious errand, directed by the moving finger of the unseen God. So, I think, a human love whirls blindly before
343 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEits fate, driven by the Power not itself, through fire, through frost, through midnight, through dawn; and the heart rides upon it, like organized life upon the globe, fixed there without consent or power to rebel, whirling on anyhow, anywhere, gladly or madly, yet, on the whole, enjoying the ride!
Though I go along trembling, like a leaf driven by along wind, have mercy, Almighty, have mercy!
That verse from the pagan scriptures which Father used to like comes to me differently lately. I should put it like this:
Though I am a leaf driven by a strong wind, I bless Thee, Almighty, I bless Thee!
We have had a hard day with him, for it was impossible for him to go out, and Eliot is off duty on an experiment--Dana pleaded so. The doctor waded over in the blizzard to see him early this morning; no horse could live in the drifts. Robert sat with his patient a long time, and left me with the day's orders, and would come again.
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"Give up everything else," he said. "Devote yourself utterly. Days like this are traps. Watch him, but do not seem to. Repeat the dose, but not till four o'clock. Lock everything carefully. Run no chances."
Dana has been very restless all day. At two he asked me timidly " if it were not time." At three he asked again. At half-past three he grew suddenly very faint and went a deathly color, and I telephoned, and Robert came, struggling and panting, through the snow. When he came, he sat with his watch in his hand and a finger on Dana's pulse. But he sat till the time appointed, yielding nothing, I am sure, in this piteous battle; nor did my poor boy beg for quarter, not once. They fought it out together, man to man.
"Can't you give us a little music, Mrs. Herwin?" asked the doctor, in a matter-of-fact way. But the interrogation was a command. I went to the piano and played for a while, blundering along with old things of Schubert and Schumann that Dana and I used to like, but stupidly enough; and I do not sing. After a time I stopped and went into the library. Dana was there reading quietly, and Marion and Job were playing about his feet. Robert had gone. Dana's eyes had their varnished look--but, ah,
345 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEso much less of it, and softer; it is no longer painful. I went to him, and he clung to my hand a little. Then I sat down and began to mend a tear in the flounce of Dombey's second wife; and while I was sewing quietly, suddenly the long-silent power of his hand upon the piano-keys smote every nerve in my body. Then his shaken voice uprose:
Home-keeping hearts are happiest.
For those that wander they know not where
Are full of trouble and full of care--
To stay at home is best.
"You're the sweetest woman in the world!" he said. "I never did deserve you, Marna; and now--"
Then I said:
"I always loved you, Dana; but now I honor you. It is a manly fight, and you battle like a man."
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"It wasn't a manly fall," he quivered pitifully. "I hadn't any good excuse--no terrible suffering, as some have. I thought I could stop any time. But, before God, Marna, nobody knows! Nobody can."
"My poor boy!" I sobbed. "My poor, poor boy!"
I do not cry in these days--never for Dana to see me. I think this was the first time, and I was ashamed and terrified at what I had done. But it did not seem to harm him any; I think it even did him good. He looked at me with such a look as I would have died for joy to see upon his face once, in that time before he went away.
"If it hadn't been for you, my girl--" he faltered. He whirled and struck the piano with a few resounding chords. "When I get well, Marna, I will make it up to you," he said. He played and sang no more; but we passed a gentle evening, and he went quietly to bed.
I don't think I ever knew real, live happiness before--not growing happiness, with roots. "The madness has gone, but the dearness remains."
April the fifth.
347 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEthem to some lonely upper ether where I could not follow him. There is no solitude, I believe, after all, like that of the soldier in a profound moral struggle; it is more separate than that of any mere misery. Dana looked exalted and remote. Lately he has made great advances and gains upon himself in the process of his cure. These have weakened his physical but intensified his moral vitality. He said abruptly:
"You see, I thought if I went away I could get rid of it. I didn't want to have anybody know--I felt ashamed. There was one time I thought if you knew, I should dislike you. I couldn't tell how you would take it--a man can't bear to be lectured. If I had only known! Marna, you have been a lovely girl. You're too good 'for the likes of me.'" He tried to laugh it off but his lip trembled.
"I thought the voyage would do something; but it made everything worse. When I got to California--a man wouldn't ever need naturalization papers in hell, not after that."...
..."Thought I had deserted you, Marna? Well, I had, I suppose. I couldn't come home--like that. I thought I should drop out of sight, die of an overdose some night, and be out of everybody's way, It put itself to me in that light. I used to say: 'You're a disgraceful
348 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEwreck. You'd only shame her. Perish, and rid her of you. It's the only manly thing left for you to do.' Three or four times I mixed the overdose, and lay down to take it and die; and I had a letter that I kept ready for you when everything was over. Then I would see that little quiver of your chin--"
"Where is that letter, Dear?" I asked.
"I gave it to the doctor," he said. "He didn't want me to have it around. I asked him to burn it. If it hadn't been for Hazelton, Marna--Say, Marna, have you any idea what that fellow has done for me?"
He checked the horse, and we turned toward home. Dana drove rapidly and in silence. When we came in sight of the hospital we met the doctor, driving too. He had the paralytic patient in the buggy, and no speech or language could tell the transfiguration of the poor thing's face. But Robert looked worn.
"Marna," said Dana, abruptly, "I wonder you never fell in love with him. I shouldn't have blamed you."
I slid my hand into my husband's, and his closed upon my wrist.
May the twenty-second.
349 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEof any trouble or any danger. He had been so much better, and Eliot has not been required to stay for quite a while. Dana and I have fought it out alone--I giving the diminished dose, by the doctor's orders; it had grown quite small. About two weeks ago my poor boy asked Robert's permission to handle the dose himself. "Don't you think I am fit to be trusted now?" he asked abruptly. So Robert trusted him. And everything went well, for the quantity was carefully prescribed and watched, and it lessened regularly and rapidly, day by day. The doctor says that he has never seen any person show the pluck and determination that Dana has shown in ridding himself of his affliction.
"It is a manly record," Robert said. "Mr. Herwin has won my unqualified respect."
I had begun to feel very proud of Dana.
On this evening that I refer to (it was Sunday evening) Dana had been playing a little, and he tried to sing the "Bedouin Love-Song"; but he could not do it, for it seemed to move him too much, and emotion saps his strength. He began:
350 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEin the little ways he likes, and kissed him good night, and went to Marion, for she cried for me. Then I locked the front door, and Job came up with me, and trotted into Dana's room at once. Job has slept on his master's bed every night since Dana came home. Dana was sleeping quietly, so I went to bed, the doors being open between our rooms, and the compass-candle burning on Dana's table.
Once or twice in the night I crept in to make sure that all was well, and once he kissed me and said I was a dear, sweet girl; but I slept betweenwhiles, feeling quite at ease about him, and I was asleep when Job came into my room. I think the dog had tried to wake me without at first succeeding, for he was pulling hard at my hand with his thin old paws when I became aware of him. I understood at once, and I sprang. Job never cries "Wolf!" and he is wiser than most people.
"Is Master sick, Job " I cried; but I ran.
The compass-candle was burning brightly; and when it showed me Dana's face, I gave such a cry that Ellen rushed from the nursery, and the house was aroused in a moment. I managed to articulate, "The telephone! the doctor!" while I lifted my dear boy to the air and did what I could for him. This was little enough,
351 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEfor he could take no stimulants, and he seemed to me to be dying in my arms. I had nothing to offer him but love and air--the two elements on which human life depends. Some one had flung up the window, and I held him to my heart and whispered to him:
"Live, Dana, live! I love you, Dana. Oh, try to live!"
I was babbling in this way, like a bride, when I looked up and saw the doctor's startled face. It was now half-past two o'clock, the fatal hour "between the night and dawning" when mortal strength is at its lowest, the dead-line of imperiled life.
From then till seven o'clock we fought for Dana--science and love, the doctor and I. To my fading hour I shall see Robert as he looked that night. Beyond a few curt professional orders he did not speak. His jaws shut like steel locks. His gentle eyes grew terrible, and challenged death. Again and again my dear boy sank away from us, and once the pulse stopped altogether; but the doctor called my husband's spirit back.
352 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEa little jewel put there for safe-keeping, and blown through sheltering fingers by a whirlwind.
Afterward, when it was over, I lifted my eyes to the doctor's face. Dana's had been no whiter in all those hours.
"I suppose it was an overdose " I breathed. "He took too much?"
"There was no dose at all," said Robert. "Mr. Herwin has taken no morphine for twenty-four hours."
He held up the vial with the thick white liquid, and showed me the ebb-line.
"I could not understand why you repeated the dose," I whispered. "It terrified me to see you do it."
The doctor made no comment then, except to say that he would send Eliot over at once. But the next day Robert talked with me a little about what had happened. He told me that a man who could do what Dana had done had in him that which physicians call the vital essence; Dana had shown that he possessed the moral basis for physical renewal. "I am now ready to tell you that your husband is capable of cure," the doctor said. "He will recover, by God's grace."
353 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFErefused me. They seemed like beggars in a palace.
June the sixteenth.
MINNIE CURTIS came over to-day. She brought Dana's violin; for it seems she has kept it all this while. Dana thanked her indifferently. She asked him to play a duet, but he said he did not feel well enough, and added that he was out of practice. She took up the "Bedouin Love-Song," and drummed the prelude. Dana looked annoyed and left the room. When Minnie started to go it was dusk, and I asked Dana if he did not feel like walking home with her.
"Certainly," he said; "put your hat on, Marna."
So Dana and Job and I escorted Minnie home. On the way back I asked him:
"Did she write to you while you were in Uruguay?"
"Oh, bother Minnie Curtis!" cried my husband.
When we had got home we sat down in the tree-house for a while, and the scent of the June lilies was so strong that it made Dana faint. But the breath of the climbing roses was so delicate and so joyous that I could have wept with comfort.
354 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEDana, comfortably; "but when it comes to real life and--trouble--there's nothing for a man like an unselfish wife....Marna, you're a lovely girl!"
We sat in the tree-house with clasped hands. Something dearer than betrothal, finer than our bridal, drew us together. Dana's worn face held an expression which touched me indescribably. But the faintness increased upon him, and I had to get him into the house. The sad thing about Dana's convalescent strength is that it deserts him so abruptly, at unexpected moments and for unthought-of causes. Yet he is gaining sturdily. I am very happy.
Robert thinks I am overdoing--but I am quite happy. Dana begins to show more interest in Marion than he did. At first it was only of me that he seemed to think. He sits in the air and sun for hours, with Marion and Job laughing and barking about him. Lately he has begun to read; I often find him with his law-books. Mr. J. Harold Mellenway has been out to see him. Next week Dana is to be allowed to go to town alone; the doctor has given this permission. All that varnished look has gone from Dana's eyes; they do not regain their old insouciance, and the bright insolence is beaten out of my poor boy's beauty;
355 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEbut I am watching for the debonair in him that I loved so. Will it never revisit him? Or me?
"You expect the miracles," said Robert, once, when I spoke of this.
"Because you work them," I replied.
Robert's eyes filled; they do not often. He said:
"The miracle may be in a man's own heart."
"Or in a woman's," I answered him. Yet afterward I was not quite sure that I understood the purport of his words; nor, perhaps, of my own. But I had the consciousness, so frequent with me, that Robert understood everything, and that it did not matter whether I did or not.
So it was not Dana, and it was not Man. I am spared that great dilemma. And all the scenery has changed joyously, and the house, though serried of women, seems to cry out upon me no more, but only to lift to me gently murmuring eyes. There is a soft, pleased look in the eyes of contented women, not unlike that in the eyes of kindly treated animals. I wonder if I have it myself; "for my race is of the Asra."
356 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEsketch of William Blake's. Death, the Divider, has divorced this elemental marriage, sundered the bliss of the spirit and the flesh. It is the Resurrection Day. Out of the grave clambers the body--a man in the glory of his youth and vigor. Down from the ether sweeps the soul--a woman fair and swift and tender. Anything finer than the rapture on whose wings these twain rush together I never saw expressed by any art of pencil or of pen. It is one of the embraces that imagination dares, but on whose mystery and ecstasy hope does not intrude.
The Dowe Cottage, August the twelfth.
WE have been here ten days, and are to stay the month out, by the doctor's orders. We both needed it, he said. Dana has gained blessedly since we came, and is now thought to be quite in condition to go back to his law office in the fall. Mr. Mellenway comes over from his place (he is a neighbor this summer), now and then, to see Dana, and they talk about it. It is inexpressibly touching to see how happy my poor boy is in the prospect of doing a man's work again. In fact, we are so light-hearted that I do not feel as if it could last. One never again quite trusts human happiness, I find, after one has experienced great misery.
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We are all children playing on the sea-shore together--Marion and Job and Ellen and Luella; but I think Dana and I are the biggest children of all. We spend hours of every day upon the sand, not reading, not talking, leaning on that silence which is more than reverie but less than thought. Mercibel came out and took Sunday with us. She said:
"Joy has her elect, as well as sorrow."
Mercibel has her vacation just now, and she and her children are in our house at home for the month that we are here. It is a delight to see the happiness this gives. The doctor comes out once a week. We miss the doctor--sometimes Dana more than I, sometimes I more than Dana; we strike a fair average, I think. He is expected next Saturday.
August the seventeenth.
YESTERDAY I had a shock and fright. It came to be dark, and I could not find Dana anywhere. He had seemed very quiet and well all day, and we had been together a good deal; but fearing to sate him with tenderness,--for the happiest wife should reserve herself, I am beginning to believe,--I went up to put Marion to bed, and lingered, leaving her father alone on the piazza. He was watching for Robert, who was delayed,
358 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEand had telegraphed us not to expect him until we should see him.
When I got down-stairs Dana was gone, and Job. It was then quite black, for the clouds were piling for a shower, and the sea was thundering. I ran down to the rocks and the little beach. The surf was throwing up its hands,and seemed to me--for I was excited and startled--to wring them. A flash of lightning revealed the fretted outlines of the weir and the fishermen's dories. In one of these I saw the figure of a man. He was rowing, and the boat was turning out. Clinging to the stem seat sat a little patient, watchful dog. I threw the whole force of my soul and body into my voice, and my "Dana!" might have called a spirit from the grave, I thought. But he did not hear me, being absorbed in God knows what abyss.
"Job! Job!" I cried. "Oh, Job! Tell Master!"
Job's bark came instantly to me--excited and anxious, the high bark of aroused canine responsibility. There was lightning again, and I saw that the little dog had crawled over in the rocking boat and put his arms about his master's neck. But now it was thundering, and no voice could carry, either mine or Job's. While I stood distressed and uncertain in the dark,--for it
359 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEdid not lighten any more, and the shower babbled away foolishly,--suddenly the keel grated under my very feet. Job sprang into the surf, and dashed himself, drenched and ecstatic, upon me. Dana slowly tied the painter to the hauling-line, and drew the dory out, hand over hand.
"Frightened, Marna?" he said.
I went down quietly, and helped him haul the dory off. I did not speak.
"I 'm all right," he muttered; "I was only--hard put to it, that's all."
We pulled on the hauling-line together till the dory was out, and then we came up the rocks, silently. Dana did not take my outstretched hand, and I perceived that his plight was too sore for sympathy. A wife has learned half the lesson of life, I think, if she has learned when (and when not) to leave a man to fight his direst battles without her.
Half-way up to the house we met the doctor. Dana uttered a piteous exclamation:
"Hazelton! I thought you weren't coming! I swore I wouldn't send for you," he added.
"I did my best," sighed Robert. "I have some pretty sick people at home."
He fell into step with his patient. I slid away and left the two men alone. The doctor remained with Dana all the night.
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In the morning Robert and I found a few moments apart.
"Is it always going to be like this?" I asked at once.
"Has he got to fight so--to the end?"
"Was he in danger?"
"Yet you count upon a sound recovery?"
"I count upon recovery because he fights."
"It is so hard for him!" I said. "And so splendid in him!"
"I respect your husband, Marna"--Robert drew a hard, slow breath--"as much as any patient I ever had in my life, and I want you to know it. Doctors don't always, you know--they see so much moral weakness; it wears on them. I wish you to understand that, from my point of view, you have reason to be very proud of Mr. Herwin."
"Robert," I demanded, "tell me the utter truth. How long can he fight like this? It seems to me as if his body weakened while his soul strengthens. I must know what is before me. Will my husband live--for many years?"
"By God's grace," said Robert, using the solemn words that he had used before.
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"You do not tell me all you think!" I cried.
"Be Love incarnate to him, Marna," evaded Robert, gently. "Give him all its price. All a man's chance lies in the heart of his wife. And yours," he added, "yours--" The doctor did not finish his sentence, and we talked no more; for Dana, with the havoc on his happy face, came up and joined us.
September the nineteenth.
TO-MORROW is our wedding-day, and I have a surprise for Dana. My poor boy has never spoken to me of his missing marriage-ring; nor I of it to him. But I can see him sometimes looking wistfully at his bare left hand; and last night he kissed my rings, both of them, the ruby and the gold, in a way that went to my heart, but he said nothing at all. Dana has grown so kind, so gentle, that it frightens me. That terrible irritability of his is melting away from him. Sometimes I wish I could see more of it, and there are moments when I think if he were a little cruel, as he used to be, I should feel happier about him. When he swears, or is downright cross, my spirits are quite good. It is not natural for Dana to be patient, and it troubles me to see him unnaturally considerate. Character has its price, as well as love; and it seems to me
362 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEas if he paid the cost of his in the treasury of his life.
I have got a wedding-ring for Dana.
September the twenty-first.
How easy after sorrow!
WE had a dear day. It was bride's weather without and within. Dana got up very early, for he was restless and sleepless, and began to decorate the cottage with pearl-white roses and ferns--the fine ones, no large fronds.
"You shall be a bride again, Marna," he said. "I have no other present for you, Dear. I looked at a lot of--little things; but nothing suited me."
We were smothered in flowers. Everybody sent something--the Grays, the Mellenways, Mercibel, and a few old friends in town who knew; the neighbors, the servants, Minnie Curtis and the old doctor, the staff from the hospital, and two or three of the patients. The paralytic produced hydrangeas and a Bible text. But the old lady distinguished by fits offered a wreath of immortelles (as if we had been a funeral), and wrote upon her card: "I haven't had one for six weeks."
363 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEthroats the day before). I put her in the old May-flower muslin that I have made over for her, and Job wore a white necktie. Marion had varnished the doll's house for the occasion, and the effect was heightened by the fact that she had performed this work of art with the mucilage-brush, which she had dipped into the ink-bottle in the process. Dombey was induced to ride to the festivities in an automobile; but Dombey's second wife followed at a deferential distance, dragging a baby-carriage with twins. Poor Banny Doodle was conspicuously absent, having at last met a final fate in the clothes-wringer; she is temporarily interred at the foot of the tree-house. Invitations to a ceremonious funeral are to be out, it is understood, next week. Marion develops a quaint quality, and something like imagination. She begins to be old enough to interest her father. He does not like too new a baby. When she was born he asked if she were Maltese.
THE doctor did not come over yesterday at all; nor did he send us any flowers or message with the others. I could not deny to myself that I should have felt happier through the day if he had. It is a strange matter that love, which exiles friendship at the first, may recall it at the last; yes, and love the truer and be the
364 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEgladder for it. At least, that is the road of my experience. I wonder if it is a forest path, unbeaten though not untrodden? I think of that old question that I used to ask myself about Man and Dana. To me, beyond the lot of women, has been given faith in a fair and noble friendship. Is it Man? Or is it Robert?
Just as the sun sank, James came over with something under his arm, and the doctor's love. Dana untied the package excitedly,--he was as happy about everything as if he had been a boy at a birthday party,--and we thought it was a picture. But it was not a picture: it was a prayer. There was a deep frame of bright gold, and a panel of dulled gold, and the letters flickered from it like little flames of crimson and of white. The words were eight, and they prayed the Prayer of Tobit in the Apocrypha:
THAT WE MAY BECOME AGED
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"What follows is to the Music Varadi and the Mode Rupaka." So it ran in the Indian Song of Songs, when Radha, forgiving Krishna, took him to her heart, and they were married.
What follows is in the mode solitary, and to the music of love and of repentance. For I have now come to a page in my record which my husband will not see, and through it I draw the dele-sign of my separate soul. The happiest marriage may have these erasures in shared experience, and perhaps finish the great, completed sentence of life not the less comfortably for that. I do not deceive myself. I do not suppose that Dana and I have had the happiest marriage. But the end is not yet. And if we have saved our sacred opportunity, where may it lead us? The salvation of an imperiled peace has I do not know what of exquisite privilege. We seem to be all the while expecting the unknown, the untried, as we did when we were betrothed, as we did when newly wedded. Still we have the elusive to overtake; even yet the eidolon flies before us. There is an Indian summer of married life. In that deep and purple atmosphere, sun-smitten, warmed to the heart, will April seem a pale affair? I cannot tell. "There is burning haze, on all the hills. My eyes are dim. I can see but a very little way."
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Now one thought has troubled me for this many a week; and on my wedding-day it took definite thorn-shape and hid in my bride-roses.
As it grew to be dusk, a question which I have often considered presented itself to me in such a way that I could parry it no longer, and I decided suddenly, and for myself, that I would write to my husband the note which I append. I decided this without consulting the doctor, and risking something of the effect on Dana of what I meant to do; but it is as true that there are times when no risks can come between the souls of wife and husband as it is that there can be no third estate in marriage. So I wrote the note, and slipped it into his hand, and evaded him, and left him to read it.
"Our Wedding-day; twilight.
Before we were married and since--and while you were away--I have kept a secret from you. I cannot be happy to keep it any longer. All this while, Dana, I have written something that you have never seen. It is rather long, and it will pain you sometimes; and it will tell you--perhaps it will tell you what you do not know, perhaps not: I cannot say. You may feel that you have something to forgive me; for I, too, have had
367 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEmy holy war, and if I have come out of it unwounded, that is owing not so much to any superior quality in me as it is to the loyalty and high nature of one who has fought for us both, and saved us--you from ruin and death, and me from misery or from mistake.
"I have a wedding-present for you, Dear--a, little one; but before I give it to you I feel that I must show you all my heart; for I must be honest with you to my uttermost--you know you used to say that was my weakness. This writing that I speak of holds me. I keep back no part of the price. Will you take it--the Book of the Heart of the Wife?
"It is like your ruby on my finger, blazing deep to the core, if you look at it in the right light (and all the crimson fires are yours, my dear); but if you were to look at it in the wrong way--I dare not think of it! I will not!
"Give me no time to think, Dana, lest my courage fail me, but answer me at once."Your trembling "MARNA, Wife."
368 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEthink, have repented and compromised, and withheld the Book of the Heart from my husband, after all, or until another day. But he strode into my room where I sat quaking, and imperiously commanded me, and I found myself but a reed before the wind of his aroused will, as I used to be when we first loved each other.
"I must have the book," he said. "Don't be afraid. Give it to me." So I gave him the book-saving only this which I am writing now, and that one page where it was written in the Dowe Cottage that the doctor evaded one of my questions about Dana if the battle with his affliction continued so sore and so exhausting.
I gave him the book, and he went away into his own room, and locked his door, and read. I went into my room, and got out of my wedding-dress and into my ruby gown,--the dear old faded thing!--and threw up the window, lest I suffocate with the beating of my heart; and I took down my hair and braided it for the night, and lay down on my bed, and said to myself:
"I have committed the worst mistake of my life. In my obstinate impulse to be honest--just to set my own soul at ease--I have run the risk of estranging Dana forever. And this foolish manuscript may make him ill; it might
369 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEeven be very dangerous for him....What have I done?"
Two whirling hours spun between us, and he made no sign. All the rooms were still. The child was asleep; the servants were gone out: Dana and I were alone in the house. The air seemed to have absorbed the scent of the souls of all the bridal flowers--hundreds of them--in our rooms, and in the silent spaces of the house down-stairs. Job was wandering about the house, neglected and forlorn. He crept in on tiptoe, as if he knew that he ought not to intrude. When he found me alone, he sprang and kissed me rapturously, and put his poor old paws about my neck, and I said aloud:
"You've stood by me through it all, Job!"
That trifling, commonplace thing and the sound of my own voice somehow steadied me. I got up and took Job into the nursery, and put him to bed in his basket by Marion's crib, and kissed them both, the child and the dog, and came back into my own room.
When I had done so, I found that Dana was there. He had brought the compass-candle and set it down upon the table. Beside the candle lay the Book of the Heart, a mass of crushed and crumpled manuscript, scattered anyhow. Dana was very pale. His face was, in
370 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEfact, so rigid and unsmiling that I shrank from him, and slipped back into a dark corer of the hall. I do not think he saw me, for he strode by with ringing feet, and down the stairs, and out of the front door.
I came to my senses at that, and ran down after him, calling: "Dana! Dana dear!" But he did not hear me, or he did not answer, and melted into the darkness while I spoke. Such a consciousness of what this might mean surged within me that I could have shrieked for help; but I restrained myself, and only followed him quietly, catching up my white cape to cover me as I flew by the sofa in the hall.
He walked rapidly, but I ran, and so I came within sight of him half-way between the tree-house and the avenue. I did not cry out to him, or in any way make my presence known, for the power to do so had gone out in me, like the bubbling of a drowning voice under water. When I saw that he had his face set toward the hospital I followed no farther, but crushed myself into the spiræ-bushes where it was darkest, and so stood, shaking. Dana went on to the hospital, and up the steps, and in. After a little hesitation, I ran back to the house, and to the telephone. Mercibel answered the call-bell.
"Is he with the doctor?" I panted.
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"Manage to get a message. Tell the doctor not to lose sight of him, for God's sake!"
"Don't disturb yourself," said Mercibel. "It is quite unnecessary."
Dizzy both with my fright and with my fear, I staggered out into the air again, and got as far as the tree-house. There I stopped, and sat, quaking and cold. It seemed to me as if my own nature stood aloof and looked at me critically, and took sides against me, and stripped me comfortless, and I argued with my nature.
"Happiness was in your arms," I said, "and you opened them and let it drop; that's all. Probably there are plenty of people just as honest as you are who don't make so much fuss about it. It takes this to teach you that reserve may be just as right and honorable as expression, and sometimes more necessary....Dana will never forgive you, never. He has read it all, and gone straight to the doctor with it. Probably Robert will never forgive you, either. You have lost them both."
While I sat there, stabbing myself with these poniards, footsteps crackled on the gravel walk, and I got out of the tree-house and fled before them, wrapping my long white cloak about me as I ran, drawing the girdle of my shabby gown,
372 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEand fastening the lace somehow at the throat, for I was not dressed to be seen. In my distress and hurry I stumbled on the piazza steps and fell, and I heard a low, disturbed exclamation from the doctor; but it was my husband who ran and lifted me. As he did so his arm went about me, and I leaned upon it, for I could not stand, I trembled so.
"Don't be a goose now, Marna," said Dana. "You've been magnificent too long!"
He tried to laugh in his old, boyish way, but he could not do it. His face was very white; it had his beautiful look.
"Here, Marna," he said, "is the best man I ever knew in my life. I've been over to tell him so."
Before I knew what my husband meant to do, he had fallen on his knees before the doctor, and had drawn me with him.
"Bless us, old fellow," said Dana. "We--we need it. There isn't any saint or minister I'd ask it of but you. It's a kind of a--second ceremony, don't you see? My wife and I--"
But Dana choked. I think that Robert's hands trembled for a moment upon our bowed heads. I think he said:
"The Lord bless you, and keep you,...and give you peace."
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But when I raised my raining eyes my husband and I were alone upon the dark piazza. Dana led me into the house, and shut the door, and locked it; then drew me up the stairs and into our own rooms. And when the doors of these were shut, he held out both his arms; so I ran to them, and they closed about me.
"You 're a lovely girl!" said Dana. "I never half deserved you, Marna....I never shall. Have I been too sure you would forgive me, dear?...Say, Marna, after all that--are you sure you want me?"
Then I took out the ring that I had worn all day on a chain against my heart, till I could gather my courage to show it to Dana--the wedding-ring, all warm as it was. I put it to my lips before I put it on his finger. Then I laid my cheek upon his hand. But when I raised my face, I heard him say, as he had said it in my dream: "This is the kiss that lives."
WE sat on in the dim room; it was rose-scented and still. Dana got into the easy-chair, and took me in his lap.
"I am too heavy," I said; "you are too tired to hold me, Dear."
But Dana laughed.
374 CONFESSIONS OF A WIFEhe said. He took a piece of the faded velvet and lifted it slowly to his lips.
September the twenty-second.
DANA has been worse for all the excitement, as I feared. He kept up joyously until yesterday afternoon, when he suffered one of his sudden reactions, and we sent for the doctor quickly. He was not in, so I had to do the best I could for my dear boy alone. As it happened, I made out pretty well, and he did not sink, as he used to do, but only grew faint, and then stronger, and faint again; but in the end he rallied grandly. I have not felt so encouraged about Dana at any time.
When I was reading a novel to him afterward, to divert him from his suffering, suddenly he interrupted me:
"Put it down, Marna. It seems dull after the Book of the Heart. Real things are the only interesting ones, aren't they? That wasn't much of a fellow, that hero. Say, Marna, there's one thing I want you to understand. You don't know men, and I do. I tell you, Hazelton is no common sort. He is like a fellow seen in a mist--taller than the rest of us; yet when you come up to him he is just as real, a man all the same--God bless him anyhow!"
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When it came to be evening, Dana asked for the doctor.
"I haven't seen him for two days!" he complained.
The telephone was out of order, and Ellen was putting Marion to bed, so I caught up my white cape and slipped out and over to call Robert myself.
I ran up the steps of my father's old home, and into the office of the hospital. No one was there, and I sat down in Robert's chair to wait for him. His desk was brightly lighted, and an open book lay upon it--not a medical book, plainly. I picked it up (I felt sure he would not mind) and glanced at it. It was in French. I translate from memory, and negligently enough, for I read too quickly to recall the French:
"Yet I love her."
"But she does not love you."
"Yet I adore her."
"But she will never come to meet you beneath the tree."
"Yet I am waiting for her."...
My eyes ran down. the page and stayed at this, against which Robert's pencil had slid and paused:
"But with what do you appease your hunger?"
"And with what do you quench your thirst?"
"That, too, I know not," replied the youth. "Perchance I have sometimes stooped over the brook which flows hard by."
As I sat with the book on my lap, Robert came in. At first I did not speak; I could not. For I felt that the Book of his Heart lay open before me, and he felt that I felt it, and there was nothing to be said.
"My husband sent me--" I faltered.
"I will go at once," replied the doctor, quietly. He put on his hat and drew my falling cape over my shoulders, and we started out.
He asked me one or two professional questions naturally enough, and I answered them in the same way. We crossed the hospital grounds, and the lawn, and came up to the tree-house.
When we reached the tree-house, suddenly the night seemed to quiver and to be smitten through and through with reeling music; for Dana, with the restlessness of his nature and of his convalescence, had come to the piano and begun to sing--the dearest, the longest silent of his songs:
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On my Arab shod with fire.
With a love that shall not die!
Till the sun grows cold,
And the stars are old,
And the leaves of the Judgment Book unfold!
"Go to him," said Robert, in a low voice. "I will wait till he has finished singing. Then I shall follow you."
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