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THE SURGERY DOOR.
That Juliet loved Faber as she had at one time resolved never to love man, she no longer attempted to conceal from herself; but she was far from being prepared to confess the discovery to him. His atheism she satisfactorily justified herself in being more ready to pity than to blame. There were difficulties! There were more than difficulties! Not a few of them she did not herself see how to get over! If her father had been alive, then indeed!--children must not break their parents' hearts. But if, as appeared the most likely thing, that father, tenderly as she had loved him, was gone from her forever, if life was but a flash across from birth to the grave, why should not those who loved make the best of it for each other during that one moment "brief as the lightning in the collied night"? They must try to be the more to one another, and the time was so short. All that Faber had ever pleaded was now blossoming at once in her thought. She had not a doubt that he loved her--as would have been enough once at all events. A man of men he was!--noble, unselfish, independent, a ruler of himself, a benefactor of his race! What right had those believers to speak of him as they did? In any personal question he was far their superior. That they undervalued him, came all of their narrow prejudices! He was not of their kind, therefore he must be below them! But there were first that should be last, and last first!
She felt herself no whit worthy of him. She believed herself not for a moment comparable to him! But his infinite chivalry, gentleness, compassion, would be her refuge! Such a man would bear with her weaknesses, love her love, and forgive her sins! If he took her God from her, he must take His place, and be a God-like man to her! Then, if there should be any further truth discoverable, why indeed, as himself said, should they not discover it together? Could they be as likely to discover it apart, and distracted with longing? She must think about it a little longer, though. She could not make up her mind the one way, and would not the other. She would wait and see. She dared not yet. Something might turn up to decide her. If she could but see into his heart for a moment!
All this later time, she had been going to church every Sunday, and listening to sermons in which the curate poured out the energy of a faith growing stronger day by day; but not a word he said had as yet laid hold of one root-fiber of her being. She judged, she accepted, she admired, she refused, she condemned, but she never did. To many souls hell itself seems a less frightful alternative than the agony of resolve, of turning, of being born again; but Juliet had never got so far as that: she had never yet looked the thing required of her in the face. She came herself to wonder that she had made any stand at all against the arguments of Faber. But how is it that any one who has been educated in Christianity, yet does not become the disciple of Jesus Christ, avoids becoming an atheist? To such the whole thing must look so unlike what it really is! Does he prefer to keep half believing the revelation, in order to attribute to it elements altogether unlovely, and so justify himself in refusing it? Were it not better to reject it altogether if it be not fit to be believed in? If he be unable to do that, if he dare not proclaim an intellectual unbelief, if some reverence for father or mother, some inward drawing toward the good thing, some desire to keep an open door of escape, prevent, what a hideous folly is the moral disregard! "The thing is true, but I don't mind it!" What is this acknowledged heedlessness, this apologetic arrogance? Is it a timid mockery, or the putting forth of a finger in the very face of the Life of the world? I know well how foolish words like these must seem to such as Faber, but for such they are not written; they are written for the men and women who close the lids of but half-blinded eyes, and think they do God service by not denying that there is not a sun in the heavens. There may be some denying Christ who shall fare better than they, when He comes to judge the world with a judgment which even those whom He sends from Him shall confess to be absolutely fair--a judgment whose very righteousness may be a consolation to some upon whom it falls heavily.
That night Juliet hardly knew what she had said to Faber, and longed to see him again. She slept little, and in the morning was weary and exhausted. But he had set her the grand example of placing work before every thing else, and she would do as he taught her. So, in the name of her lover, and in spite of her headache, she rose to her day's duty. Love delights to put on the livery of the loved.
After breakfast, as was their custom, Dorothy walked with her to the place where she gave her first lesson. The nearest way led past the house of the doctor; but hitherto, as often as she could frame fitting reason, generally on the ground that they were too early, and must make a little longer walk of it, Juliet had contrived to avoid turning the corner of Mr. Drew's shop. This day, however, she sought no excuse, and they went the natural road. She wanted to pass his house--to get a glimpse of him if she might.
As they approached it, they were startled by a sudden noise of strife. The next instant the door of the surgery, which was a small building connected with the house by a passage, flew open, and a young man was shot out. He half jumped, half fell down the six or eight steps, turned at once, and ran up again. He had rather a refined look, notwithstanding the annoyance and resentment that discomposed his features. The mat had caught the door and he was just in time to prevent it from being shut in his face.
"I will not submit to such treatment, Mr. Faber," cried the youth. "It is not the part of a gentleman to forget that another is one."
"To the devil with your gentleman!" they heard the doctor shout in a rage, from behind the half-closed door. "The less said about the gentleman the better, when the man is nowhere!"
"Mr. Faber, I will allow no man to insult me," said the youth, and made a fierce attempt to push the door open.
"You are a wretch below insult," returned the doctor; and the next moment the youth staggered again down the steps, this time to fall, in awkward and ignominious fashion, half on the pavement, half in the road.
Then out on the top of the steps came Paul Faber, white with wrath, too full of indignation to see person or thing except the object of it.
"You damned rascal!" he cried. "If you set foot on my premises again, it will be at the risk of your contemptible life."
"Come, come, Mr. Faber! this won't do," returned the youth, defiantly, as he gathered himself up. "I don't want to make a row, but--
"You don't want to make a row, you puppy! Then I do. You don't come into my house again. I'll have your traps turned out to you.--Jenkins!--You had better leave the town as fast as you can, too, for this won't be a secret."
"You'll allow me to call on Mr. Crispin first?"
"Do. Tell him the truth, and see whether he'll take the thing up! If I were God, I'd damn you!"
"Big words from you, Faber!" said the youth with a sneer, struggling hard to keep the advantage he had in temper. "Every body knows you don't believe there is any God."
"Then there ought to be, so long as such as you 'ain't got your deserts. You set up for a doctor! I would sooner lose all the practice I ever made than send you to visit woman or child, you heartless miscreant!"
The epithet the doctor really used here was stronger and more contemptuous, but it is better to take the liberty of substituting this.
"What have I done then to let loose all this Billingsgate?" cried the young man indignantly. "I have done nothing the most distinguished in the profession haven't done twenty times over."
"I don't care a damn. What's the profession to humanity! For a wonder the public is in the right on this question, and I side with the public. The profession may go to--Turkey!"--Probably Turkey was not the place he had intended to specify, but at the moment he caught sight of Juliet and her companion.--"There!" he concluded, pointing to the door behind him, "you go in and put your things up--and be off."
Without another word, the young man ascended the steps, and entered the house.
Juliet stood staring, motionless and white. Again and again Dorothy would have turned back, but Juliet grasped her by the arm, stood as if frozen to the spot, and would not let her move. She must know what it meant. And all the time a little crowd had been gathering, as it well might, even in a town no bigger than Glaston, at such uproar in its usually so quiet streets. At first it was all women, who showed their interest by a fixed regard of each speaker in the quarrel in turn, and a confused staring from one to the other of themselves. No handle was yet visible by which to lay hold of the affair. But the moment the young man re-entered the surgery, and just as Faber was turning to go after him, out, like a bolt, shot from the open door a long-legged, gaunt mongrel dog, in such a pitiful state as I will not horrify my readers by attempting to describe. It is enough to say that the knife had been used upon him with a ghastly freedom. In an agony of soundless terror the poor animal, who could never recover the usage he had had, and seemed likely to tear from himself a part of his body at every bound, rushed through the spectators, who scattered horror-stricken from his path. Ah, what a wild waste look the creature had!--as if his spirit within him were wan with dismay at the lawless invasion of his humble house of life. A cry, almost a shriek, rose from the little crowd, to which a few men had now added themselves. The doctor came dashing down the steps in pursuit of him. The same instant, having just escaped collision with the dog, up came Mr. Drew. His round face flamed like the sun in a fog with anger and pity and indignation. He rushed straight at the doctor, and would have collared him. Faber flung him from him without a word, and ran on. The draper reeled, but recovered himself, and was starting to follow, when Juliet, hurrying up, with white face and flashing eyes, laid her hand on his arm, and said, in a voice of whose authoritative tone she was herself unconscious,
"Stop, Mr. Drew."
The draper obeyed, but stood speechless with anger, not yet doubting it was the doctor who had so misused the dog.
"I have been here from the first," she went on. "Mr. Faber is as angry as you are.--Please, Dorothy, will you come?--It is that assistant of his, Mr. Drew! He hasn't been with him more than three days."
With Dorothy beside her, Juliet now told him, loud enough for all to hear, what they had heard and seen. "I must go and beg his pardon," said the draper. "I had no right to come to such a hasty conclusion. I hope he will not find it hard to forgive me."
"You did no more than he would have done in your place," replied Juliet. "--But," she added, "where is the God of that poor animal, Mr. Drew?"
"I expect He's taken him by this time," answered the draper. "But I must go and find the doctor."
So saying, he turned and left them. The ladies went also, and the crowd dispersed. But already rumors, as evil as discordant, were abroad in Glaston to the prejudice of Faber, and at the door of his godlessness was from all sides laid the charge of cruelty.
How difficult it is to make prevalent the right notion of any thing! But only a little reflection is required to explain the fact. The cause is, that so few people give themselves the smallest trouble to understand what is told them. The first thing suggested by the words spoken is taken instead of the fact itself, and to that as a ground-plan all that follows is fitted. People listen so badly, even when not sleepily, that the wonder is any thing of consequence should ever be even approximately understood. How appalling it would be to one anxious to convey a meaning, to see the shapes his words assumed in the mind of his listening friend! For, in place of falling upon the table of his perception, kept steady by will and judgment, he would see them tumble upon the sounding-board of his imagination, ever vibrating, and there be danced like sand into all manner of shapes, according to the tune played by the capricious instrument. Thus, in Glaston, the strangest stories of barbarity and cruelty were now attributed to a man entirely incapable of them. He was not one of the foul seekers after knowledge, and if he had had a presentiment of the natural tendency of his opinions, he would have trembled at the vision, and set himself to discover whether there might not be truth in another way of things.
As he went about in the afternoon amongst his sick and needy, the curate heard several of these ill reports. Some communicated them to ease their own horror, others in the notion of pleasing the believer by revolting news of the unbeliever. In one house he was told that the poor young man whom Dr. Faber had enticed to be his assistant, had behaved in the most gentlemanly fashion, had thrown up his situation, consenting to the loss of his salary, rather than connive at the horrors of cruelty in which the doctor claimed his help. Great moan was made over the pity that such a nice man should be given to such abominations; but where was the wonder, some said, seeing he was the enemy of God, that he should be the enemy of the beasts God had made? Much truth, and many wise reflections were uttered, only they were not "as level as the cannon to his blank," for they were pointed at the wrong man.
There was one thing in which Wingfold differed from most of his parishioners: he could hear with his judgment, and make his imagination lie still. At the same time, in order to arrive the more certainly at the truth, in any matter presented to him, he would, in general, listen to the end of what any body had to say. So doing he let eagerness exhaust itself, and did not by opposition in the first heat of narration, excite partisan interest, or wake malevolent caution. If the communication was worthy, he thus got all the worth of it; if it was evil, he saw to the bottom of it, and discovered, if such were there, the filthy reptile in the mud beneath, which was setting the whole ugly pool in commotion. By this deliberateness he also gave the greater weight to what answer he saw fit to give at last--sometimes with the result of considerable confusion of face to the narrator. In the present instance, he contented himself with the strongest assurance that the whole story was a mistake so far as it applied to Mr. Faber, who had, in fact, dismissed his assistant for the very crime of which they accused himself. The next afternoon, he walked the whole length of Pine street with the doctor, conversing all the way.
Nor did he fail to turn the thing to advantage. He had for some time been awaiting a fit opportunity for instructing his people upon a point which he thought greatly neglected: here was the opportunity, and he made haste to avail himself of it.
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