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Chapter 34


Three days had elapsed since the events just narrated. The first bursts of grief in the two bereaved households were appeased, and though there were still tears there were no longer sobs.

Karl grew better and better; for two days past he had raised himself in his bed and had been able to give signs of consciousness, not only by broken utterances, tender exclamations, and endearing words, but by taking part in conversation. His brain, which like the rest of his body had been greatly enfeebled, was gradually recovering the supremacy which it exercises over the rest of the body in health.

Helen, who beheld this resurrection, and was at the age when youth gives one hand to love and one to hope, rejoiced in this visible recovery as though heaven itself had promised that no accident should come to disturb it. Twice a day the surgeon visited the wounded man, and without destroying Helen's hopes he persisted in withholding any assurance of complete safety. Karl saw her hope; but he remarked, too, the reserve with which the surgeon received all her joyful schemes for the future. He, also, was making schemes, but of a sadder kind.

"Helen," said he, "I know all you have done for me. Benedict has told me of your tears, your despair, your weariness. I love you with so selfish a love, Helen, that I wish, before I die—"

And as Helen made a movement, he added:

"If I die, I wish first to call you my wife, so that in case there exists—as they tell us, and as our own pride leads us to believe—a world beyond this, I may find my wife there as here. Promise me, then, my sweet nurse, that if any one of those accidents that trouble the doctor's mind should occur, promise me that you will instantly send for a priest, and with your hand in mine say: 'Give us your blessing, father, Karl von Freyberg is my husband.' And I swear to you, Helen, that my death will be as easy and calm then as it would be full of despair if I could not say: 'Farewell, my beloved wife.'"

Helen listened with that smile of hope upon her lips with which she made answer to all Karl's words, whether sad or happy. From time to time, when she saw her patient becoming excited, she would sign to him to be still, and taking down from her bookshelves Uhland, or Goethe, or Schiller, would read aloud to him, and almost always Karl would close his eyes and presently fall asleep to the sound of her melodious, liquid voice. His need of sleep, after so great a loss of blood, was enormous; and then, as though she could see the sleep-bringing shadows thickening over his brain, she would let her voice grow dim, little by little, and with her eyes half upon the sick man and half upon her page would cease to speak at the very moment when he began to sleep.

At night she allowed Benedict to take her place by Karl for two or three hours, because Karl entreated it, but she did not go out of the room. A curtain was drawn across the recess in which her bed—now brought into the middle of the room for the patient, previously stood, and behind the curtain she slept on a couch, slept so lightly that at the least movement in the room, or the first word uttered, the curtain would be lifted and her voice would ask anxiously:

"What is it?"

Helen was a sister of those delightful creations that are to be found on every page of Germany's popular poetry. We attribute great merit to those poetic dreamers who perceive Loreleis in the mist of the Rhine and Mignons in the foliage of thickets, and do not remind ourselves that there is, after all, no such great merit in finding these charming images, because they are not the visions of genius, but actual copies, whose originals the misty nature of England and of Germany sets before them as models weeping or smiling, but always poetical. Observe, too, that on the shores of the Rhine, the Main, or the Danube, it is not necessary to seek these types—rare, if not unknown among ourselves—in the ranks of the aristocracy, but they may be seen at the citizen's window or the peasant's doorway, where Schiller found his Louisa, and Goethe his Margaret. Thus Helen accomplished deeds that seem to us the height of devotion with the most entire simplicity, and never knew that her loving toil deserved a glance of approval from man, or even from God.

On the nights when Helen sat up, Benedict rested in Frederic's room, throwing himself fully dressed upon the bed, so as to be ready at the first call to run to Helen's assistance or to go for the surgeon. We have already said that a carriage ready harnessed was always at the door, and, oddly enough, the further recovery progressed, the more the doctor insisted that this precaution should not be neglected.

July 30th had been reached, when, after having watched by Karl during a part of the night, Benedict had yielded his post to Helen, had returned to Frederic's room and flung himself upon the bed, when, all at once he thought he heard himself loudly called. Almost at the same moment his door opened, and Helen, pale, dishevelled, and covered with blood, appeared in the doorway making inarticulate sounds that seemed to stand for "Help!"

Benedict guessed what had happened. The doctor, less reserved towards him than towards the young girl, had told him what possibilities he feared, and evidently one of these possibilities had come to pass.

He rushed to Karl's room; the ligature of the artery had burst and blood was flowing in waves and in jets. Karl had fainted.

Benedict did not lose an instant; twisting his handkerchief into a rope he tied it round Karl's upper arm, broke the bar of a chair with a kick, slipped the bar into the knot of the handkerchief, and turning the stick upon its axis, made what is known in medical language as a tourniquet. The blood stopped instantly.

Helen flung herself distractedly upon the bed, she seemed to have gone mad. She did not hear Benedict calling to her: "The doctor! the doctor!"

With his free hand—the other was pressing upon Karl's arm—Benedict pulled the bell so violently that Hans, guessing something unusual to be the matter, arrived quite scared.

"Take the carriage and fetch the doctor," cried Benedict. Hans understood everything, for in one glance he had seen all. He flung himself downstairs and into the carriage, calling out in his turn: "To the doctor's!"

As it was scarcely six o'clock in the morning, the doctor was at home, and within ten minutes walked into the room.

Seeing the blood streaming over the floor, Helen, half fainting, and, above all, Benedict compressing the wounded man's arm, he understood what had happened, the rather that he had dreaded this.

"Ah, I foresaw this!" he exclaimed, "a secondary haemorrhage, the artery has given way."

At his voice Helen sprang up and flung her arms about him.

"He will not die! he will not die!" she cried, "you will not let him die, will you?"

The doctor disengaged himself from her grasp, and approached the bed. Karl had not lost nearly so much blood as last time, but to judge from the pool that was spreading across the room he must have lost over twenty-eight ounces, which in his present state of weakness was exorbitant.

However, the doctor did not lose courage; the arm was still bare; he made a fresh incision and sought with his forceps for the artery, which, fortunately, having been compressed by Benedict, had moved only a few centimetres. In a second the artery was tied, but the wounded man was completely unconscious. Helen, who had watched the first operation with anxiety, followed this one with terror. She had then seen Karl lying mute, motionless, and cold, with the appearance of death, but she had not seem him pass, as he had just done, from life to death. His lips were white, his eyes closed, his cheeks waxen; clearly Karl had gone nearer to the grave than even on the former occasion. Helen wrung her hands.

"Oh, his wish! his wish!" she cried, "he will not have the joy of seeing it fulfilled. Sir," she said to the doctor, "will he not reopen his eyes? Will he not speak again before he dies? I do not ask for his life—only a miracle could grant that. But, make him open his eyes, doctor. Doctor! make him speak to me! Let a priest join our hands! Let us be united in this world, so that we may not be separated in the next."

The doctor, despite his usual calm, could not remain cold in the presence of such sorrow; though he had done all that was in the power of his art and felt that he could do no more, he tried to reassure Helen with those commonplaces that physicians keep in reserve for the last extremities.

But Benedict, going up to him, and taking him by the hand, said:

"Doctor, you hear what she asks; she does not ask for her lover's life, she asks for a few moments' revival, long enough for the priest to utter a few words and place a ring upon her finger."

"Yes, yes!" cried Helen, "only that! Senseless that I was not to have yielded when he asked and sent at once for the priest. Let him open his eyes, let him say 'Yes,' so that his wish may be accomplished and I may keep my promise to him."

"Doctor," said Benedict, pressing the hand which he had retained in his, "how, if we asked from science the miracle that Heaven seems to deny? How if we were to try transfusion of blood?"

"What is that?" asked Helen.

The doctor considered for a second and looked at the patient: then he said:

"There is no hope; we risk nothing."

"I asked you," said Helen, "what is transfusion of blood?"

"It consists," replied the doctor, "in passing into the exhausted veins of a sick man enough warm, living blood to give him back, if only for a moment, life, speech, and consciousness. I have never performed the operation, but have seen it once or twice in hospitals."

"So have I," said Benedict, "I have always been interested in strange things, so I attended Majendie's lectures, and I have always seen the experiment succeed when the blood infused belonged to an animal of the same species."

"Well," said the doctor, "I will go and try to find a man willing to sell us some twenty or thirty ounces of his blood."

"Doctor," said Benedict, throwing off his coat, "I do not sell my blood to my friends, but I give it. Your man is here."

At these words Helen uttered a cry, flung herself violently between Benedict and the doctor, and proudly holding out her bare arm to the surgeon, said to Benedict:

"You have done enough for him already. If human blood is to pass from another into the veins of my beloved Karl it shall be mine; it is my right."

Benedict fell on his knees before her and kissed the hem of her skirt. The less impressionable doctor merely said:

"Very well! We will try. Give the patient a spoonful of some cordial. I will go home and get the instruments."

Alexandre Dumas pere