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AT THE PIANO.
When Faber called on Juliet, the morning after the last interview recorded, and found where she was gone, he did not doubt she had taken refuge with her new friends from his importunity, and was at once confirmed in the idea he had cherished through the whole wakeful night, that the cause of her agitation was nothing else than the conflict between her heart and a false sense of duty, born of prejudice and superstition. She was not willing to send him away, and yet she dared not accept him. Her behavior had certainly revealed any thing but indifference, and therefore must not make him miserable. At the same time if it was her pleasure to avoid him, what chance had he of seeing her alone at the rectory? The thought made him so savage that for a moment he almost imagined his friend had been playing him false.
"I suppose he thinks every thing fair in religion, as well as in love and war!" he said to himself. "It's a mighty stake, no doubt--a soul like Juliet's!"
He laughed scornfully. It was but a momentary yielding to the temptation of injustice, however, for his conscience told him at once that the curate was incapable of any thing either overbearing or underhand. He would call on her as his patient, and satisfy himself at once how things were between them. At best they had taken a bad turn.
He judged it better, however, to let a day or two pass. When he did call, he was shown into the drawing-room, where he found Helen at the piano, and Juliet having a singing-lesson from her. Till then he had never heard Juliet's song voice. A few notes of it dimly reached him as he approached the room, and perhaps prepared him for the impression he was about to receive: when the door opened, like a wind on a more mobile sea, it raised sudden tumult in his soul. Not once in his life had he ever been agitated in such fashion; he knew himself as he had never known himself. It was as if some potent element, undreamed of before, came rushing into the ordered sphere of his world, and shouldered its elements from the rhythm of their going. It was a full contralto, with pathos in the very heart of it, and it seemed to wrap itself round his heart like a serpent of saddest splendor, and press the blood from it up into his eyes. The ladies were too much occupied to hear him announced, or note his entrance, as he stood by the door, absorbed, entranced.
Presently he began to feel annoyed, and proceeded thereupon to take precautions with himself. For Juliet was having a lesson of the severest kind, in which she accepted every lightest hint with the most heedful attention, and conformed thereto with the sweetest obedience; whence it came that Faber, the next moment after fancying he had screwed his temper to stoic pitch, found himself passing from displeasure to indignation, and thence almost to fury, as again and again some exquisite tone, that went thrilling through all his being, discovering to him depths and recesses hitherto unimagined, was unceremoniously, or with briefest apology, cut short for the sake of some suggestion from Helen. Whether such suggestion was right or wrong, was to Faber not of the smallest consequence: it was in itself a sacrilege, a breaking into the house of life, a causing of that to cease whose very being was its justification. Mrs. Wingfold! she was not fit to sing in the same chorus with her! Juliet was altogether out of sight of her. He had heard Mrs. Wingfold sing many a time, and she could no more bring out a note like one of those she was daring to criticise, than a cat could emulate a thrush!
"Ah, Mr. Faber!--I did not know you were there," said Helen at length, and rose. "We were so busy we never heard you."
If she had looked at Juliet, she would have said I instead of we. Her kind manner brought Faber to himself a little.
"Pray, do not apologize," he said. "I could have listened forever."
"I don't wonder. It is not often one hears notes like those. Were you aware what a voice you had saved to the world?"
"Not in the least. Miss Meredith leaves her gifts to be discovered."
"All good things wait the seeker," said Helen, who had taken to preaching since she married the curate, some of her half-friends said; the fact being that life had grown to her so gracious, so happy, so serious, that she would not unfrequently say a thing worth saying.
In the interstices of this little talk, Juliet and Faber had shaken hands, and murmured a conventional word or two.
"I suppose this is a professional visit?" said Helen. "Shall I leave you with your patient?"
As she put the question, however, she turned to Juliet.
"There is not the least occasion," Juliet replied, a little eagerly, and with a rather wan smile. "I am quite well, and have dismissed my doctor."
Faber was in the mood to imagine more than met the ear, and the words seemed to him of cruel significance. A flush of anger rose to his forehead, and battled with the paleness of chagrin. He said nothing. But Juliet saw and understood. Instantly she held out her hand to him again, and supplemented the offending speech with the words,
"--but, I hope, retained my friend?"
The light rushed again into Faber's eyes, and Juliet repented afresh, for the words had wrought too far in the other direction.
"That is," she amended, "if Mr. Faber will condescend to friendship, after having played the tyrant so long."
"I can only aspire to it," said the doctor.
It sounded mere common compliment, the silliest thing between man and woman, and Mrs. Wingfold divined nothing more: she was not quick in such matters. Had she suspected, she might, not knowing the mind of the lady have been a little perplexed. As it was, she did not leave the room, and presently the curate entered, with a newspaper in his hand.
"They're still at it, Faber," he said, "with their heated liquids and animal life!"
"I need not ask which side you take," said the doctor, not much inclined to enter upon any discussion.
"I take neither," answered the curate. "Where is the use, or indeed possibility, so long as the men of science themselves are disputing about the facts of experiment? It will be time enough to try to understand them, when they are agreed and we know what the facts really are. Whatever they may turn out to be, it is but a truism to say they must be consistent with all other truth, although they may entirely upset some of our notions of it."
"To which side then do you lean, as to the weight of the evidence?" asked Faber, rather listlessly.
He had been making some experiments of his own in the direction referred to. They were not so complete as he would have liked, for he found a large country practice unfriendly to investigation; but, such as they were, they favored the conclusion that no form of life appeared where protection from the air was thorough.
"I take the evidence," answered the curate, "to be in favor of what they so absurdly call spontaneous generation."
"I am surprised to hear you say so," returned Faber. "The conclusions necessary thereupon, are opposed to all your theology."
"Must I then, because I believe in a living Truth, be myself an unjust judge?" said the curate. "But indeed the conclusions are opposed to no theology I have any acquaintance with; and if they were, it would give me no concern. Theology is not my origin, but God. Nor do I acknowledge any theology but what Christ has taught, and has to teach me. When, and under what circumstances, life comes first into human ken, can not affect His lessons of trust and fairness. If I were to play tricks with the truth, shirk an argument, refuse to look a fact in the face, I should be ashamed to look Him in the face. What he requires of his friends is pure, open-eyed truth."
"But how," said the doctor, "can you grant spontaneous generation, and believe in a Creator?"
"I said the term was an absurd one," rejoined the curate.
"Never mind the term then: you admit the fact?" said Faber.
"What fact?" asked Wingfold.
"That in a certain liquid, where all life has been destroyed, and where no contact with life is admitted, life of itself appears," defined the doctor.
"No, no; I admit nothing of the sort," cried Wingfold. "I only admit that the evidence seems in favor of believing that in some liquids that have been heated to a high point, and kept from the air, life has yet appeared. How can I tell whether all life already there was first destroyed? whether a yet higher temperature would not have destroyed yet more life? What if the heat, presumed to destroy all known germs of life in them, should be the means of developing other germs, further removed? Then as to spontaneity, as to life appearing of itself, that question involves something beyond physics. Absolute life can exist only of and by itself, else were it no perfect thing; but will you say that a mass of protoplasm--that proto by the way is a begged question--exists by its own power, appears by its own will? Is it not rather there because it can not help it?"
"It is there in virtue of the life that is in it," said Faber.
"Of course; that is a mere truism," returned Wingfold, "equivalent to, It lives in virtue of life. There is nothing spontaneous in that. Its life must in some way spring from the true, the original, the self-existent life."
"There you are begging the whole question," objected the doctor.
"No; not the whole," persisted the curate; "for I fancy you will yourself admit there is some blind driving law behind the phenomenon. But now I will beg the whole question, if you like to say so, for the sake of a bit of purely metaphysical argument: the law of life behind, if it be spontaneously existent, can not be a blind, deaf, unconscious law; if it be unconscious of itself, it can not be spontaneous; whatever is of itself must be God, and the source of all non-spontaneous, that is, all other existence."
"Then it has been only a dispute about a word?" said Faber.
"Yes, but a word involving a tremendous question," answered Wingfold.
"Which I give up altogether," said the doctor, "asserting that there is nothing spontaneous, in the sense you give the word--the original sense I admit. From all eternity a blind, unconscious law has been at work, producing."
"I say, an awful living Love and Truth and Right, creating children of its own," said the curate--"and there is our difference."
"Yes," assented Faber.
"Anyhow, then," said Wingfold, "so far as regards the matter in hand, all we can say is, that under such and such circumstances life appears--whence, we believe differently; how, neither of us can tell--perhaps will ever be able to tell. I can't talk in scientific phrase like you, Faber, but truth is not tied to any form of words."
"It is well disputed," said the doctor, "and I am inclined to grant that the question with which we started does not immediately concern the great differences between us."
It was rather hard upon Faber to have to argue when out of condition and with a lady beside to whom he was longing to pour out his soul--his antagonist a man who never counted a sufficing victory gained, unless his adversary had had light and wind both in his back. Trifling as was the occasion of the present skirmish, he had taken his stand on the lower ground. Faber imagined he read both triumph and pity in Juliet's regard, and could scarcely endure his position a moment longer.
"Shall we have some music?" said Wingfold. "--I see the piano open. Or are you one of those worshipers of work, who put music in the morning in the same category with looking on the wine when it is red?"
"Theoretically, no; but practically, yes," answered Faber, "--at least for to-day. I shouldn't like poor Widow Mullens to lie listening to the sound of that old water-wheel, till it took up its parable against the faithlessness of men in general, and the doctor in particular. I can't do her much good, poor old soul, but I can at least make her fancy herself of consequence enough not to be forgotten."
The curate frowned a little--thoughtfully--but said nothing, and followed his visitor to the door. When he returned, he said,
"I wonder what it is in that man that won't let him believe!"
"Perhaps he will yet, some day," said Juliet, softly.
"He will; he must," answered the curate. "He always reminds me of the young man who had kept the law, and whom our Lord loved. Surely he must have been one of the first that came and laid his wealth at the apostles' feet! May not even that half of the law which Faber tries to keep, be school-master enough to lead him to Christ?--But come, Miss Meredith; now for our mathematics!"
Every two or three days the doctor called to see his late patient. She wanted looking after, he said. But not once did he see her alone. He could not tell from their behavior whether she or her hostess was to blame for his recurring disappointment; but the fact was, that his ring at the door-bell was the signal to Juliet not to be alone.
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