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THE CHAMBER AT THE COTTAGE.
Meanwhile Faber was making a round, with the village of Owlkirk for the end of it. Ere he was half-way thither, his groom was tearing after him upon Niger, with a message from Mrs. Puckridge, which, however, did not overtake him. He opened the cottage-door, and walked up stairs, expecting to find his patient weak, but in the fairest of ways to recover speedily. What was his horror to see her landlady weeping and wringing her hands over the bed, and find the lady lying motionless, with bloodless lips and distended nostrils--to all appearance dead! Pillows, sheets, blankets, looked one mass of red. The bandage had shifted while she slept, and all night her blood had softly flowed. Hers was one of those peculiar organizations in which, from some cause but dimly conjectured as yet, the blood once set flowing will flow on to death, and even the tiniest wound is hard to stanch. Was the lovely creature gone? In her wrists could discern no pulse. He folded back the bed-clothes, and laid his ear to her heart. His whole soul listened. Yes; there was certainly the faintest flutter. He watched a moment: yes; he could see just the faintest tremor of the diaphragm.
"Run," he cried, "--for God's sake run and bring me a jug of hot water, and two or three basins. There is just a chance yet! If you make haste, we may save her. Bring me a syringe. If you haven't one, run from house to house till you get one. Her life depends on it." By this time he was shouting after the hurrying landlady.
In a minute or two she returned.
"Have you got the syringe?" he cried, the moment he heard her step.
To his great relief she had. He told her to wash it out thoroughly with the hot water, unscrew the top, and take out the piston. While giving his directions, he unbound the arm, enlarged the wound in the vein longitudinally, and re-bound the arm tight below the elbow, then quickly opened a vein of his own, and held the syringe to catch the spout that followed. When it was full, he replaced the piston, telling Mrs. Puckridge to put her thumb on his wound, turned the point of the syringe up and drove a little out to get rid of the air, then, with the help of a probe, inserted the nozzle into the wound, and gently forced in the blood. That done, he placed his own thumbs on the two wounds, and made the woman wash out the syringe in clean hot water. Then he filled it as before, and again forced its contents into the lady's arm. This process he went through repeatedly. Then, listening, he found her heart beating quite perceptibly, though irregularly. Her breath was faintly coming and going. Several times more he repeated the strange dose, then ceased, and was occupied in binding up her arm, when she gave a great shuddering sigh. By the time he had finished, the pulse was perceptible at her wrist. Last of all he bound up his own wound, from which had escaped a good deal beyond what he had used. While thus occupied, he turned sick, and lay down on the floor. Presently, however, he grew able to crawl from the room, and got into the garden at the back of the house, where he walked softly to the little rude arbor at the end of it, and sat down as if in a dream. But in the dream his soul felt wondrously awake. He had been tasting death from the same cup with the beautiful woman who lay there, coming alive with his life. A terrible weight was heaved from his bosom. If she had died, he would have felt, all his life long, that he had sent one of the loveliest of Nature's living dreams back to the darkness and the worm, long years before her time, and with the foam of the cup of life yet on her lips. Then a horror seized him at the presumptuousness of the liberty he had taken. What if the beautiful creature would rather have died than have the blood of a man, one she neither loved nor knew, in her veins, and coursing through her very heart! She must never know it.
"I am very grateful," he said to himself; then smiled and wondered to whom he was grateful.
"How the old stamps and colors come out in the brain when one least expects it!" he said. "What I meant was, How glad I am!"
Honest as he was, he did not feel called upon to examine whether glad was really the word to represent the feeling which the thought of what he had escaped, and of the creature he had saved from death, had sent up into his consciousness. Glad he was indeed! but was there not mingled with his gladness a touch of something else, very slight, yet potent enough to make him mean grateful when the word broke from him? and if there was such a something, where did it come from? Perhaps if he had caught and held the feeling, and submitted it to such a searching scrutiny as he was capable of giving it, he might have doubted whether any mother-instilled superstition ever struck root so deep as the depth from which that seemed at least to come. I merely suggest it. The feeling was a faint and poor one, and I do not care to reason from it. I would not willingly waste upon small arguments, when I see more and more clearly that our paltriest faults and dishonesties need one and the same enormous cure.
But indeed never had Faber less time to examine himself than now, had he been so inclined. With that big wound in it, he would as soon have left a shell in the lady's chamber with the fuse lighted, as her arm to itself. He did not leave the village all day. He went to see another patient in it, and one on its outskirts, but he had his dinner at the little inn where he put up Ruber, and all night long he sat by the bedside of his patient. There the lovely white face, blind like a statue that never had eyes, and the perfect arm, which now and then, with a restless, uneasy, feeble toss, she would fling over the counterpane, the arm he had to watch as the very gate of death, grew into his heart. He dreaded the moment when she would open her eyes, and his might no longer wander at will over her countenance. Again and again in the night he put a hand under her head, and held a cooling draught to her lips; but not even when she drank did her eyes open: like a child too weak to trust itself, therefore free of all anxiety and fear, she took whatever came, questioning nothing. He sat at the foot of the bed, where, with the slightest movement, he could, through the opening of the curtains, see her perfectly.
By some change of position, he had unknowingly drawn one of them back a little from between her and him, as he sat thinking about her. The candle shone full upon his face, but the other curtain was between the candle and his patient. Suddenly she opened her eyes.
A dream had been with her, and she did not yet know that it was gone. She could hardly be said to know any thing. Fever from loss of blood; uneasiness, perhaps, from the presence in her system of elements elsewhere fashioned and strangely foreign to its economy; the remnants of sleep and of the dream; the bewilderment of sudden awaking--all had combined to paralyze her judgment, and give her imagination full career. When she opened her eyes, she saw a beautiful face, and nothing else, and it seemed to her itself the source of the light by which she saw it. Her dream had been one of great trouble; and when she beheld the shining countenance, she thought it was the face of the Saviour: he was looking down upon her heart, which he held in his hand, and reading all that was written there. The tears rushed to her eyes, and the next moment Faber saw two fountains of light and weeping in the face which had been but as of loveliest marble. The curtain fell between them, and the lady thought the vision had vanished. The doctor came softly through the dusk to her bedside. He felt her pulse, looked to the bandage on her arm, gave her something to drink, and left the room. Presently Mrs. Puckridge brought her some beef tea.
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