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THE DOCTOR'S HOUSE.
The holidays came, and Juliet took advantage of them to escape from what had begun to be a bondage to her--the daily intercourse with people who disapproved of the man she loved. In her thoughts even she took no intellectual position against them with regard to what she called doctrine, and Faber superstition. Her father had believed as they did; she clung to his memory; perhaps she believed as he did; she could not tell. There was time yet wherein to make up her mind. She had certainly believed so once, she said to herself, and she might so believe again. She would have been at first highly offended, but the next moment a little pleased at being told that in reality she had never believed one whit more than Faber, that she was at present indeed incapable of believing. Probably she would have replied, "Then wherein am I to blame?" But although a woman who sits with her child in her arms in the midst of her burning house, half asleep, and half stifled and dazed with the fierce smoke, may not be to blame, certainly the moment she is able to excuse herself she is bound to make for the door. So long as men do not feel that they are in a bad condition and in danger of worse, the message of deliverance will sound to them as a threat. Yea, the offer of absolute well-being upon the only possible conditions of the well-being itself, must, if heard at all, rouse in them a discomfort whose cause they attribute to the message, not to themselves; and immediately they will endeavor to justify themselves in disregarding it. There are those doing all they can to strengthen themselves in unbelief, who, if the Lord were to appear plainly before their eyes, would tell Him they could not help it, for He had not until then given them ground enough for faith, and when He left them, would go on just as before, except that they would speculate and pride themselves on the vision. If men say, "We want no such deliverance," then the Maker of them must either destroy them as vile things for whose existence He is to Himself accountable, or compel them to change. If they say, "We choose to be destroyed," He, as their Maker, has a choice in the matter too. Is He not free to say, "You can not even slay yourselves, and I choose that you shall know the death of living without Me; you shall learn to choose to live indeed. I choose that you shall know what I know to be good"? And however much any individual consciousness may rebel, surely the individual consciousness which called that other into being, and is the Father of that being, fit to be such because of Himself He is such, has a right to object that by rebellion His creature should destroy the very power by which it rebels, and from a being capable of a divine freedom by partaking of the divine nature, should make of itself the merest slave incapable of will of any sort! Is it a wrong to compel His creature to soar aloft into the ether of its origin, and find its deepest, its only true self? It is God's knowing choice of life against man's ignorant choice of death.
But Juliet knew nothing of such a region of strife in the human soul. She had no suspicion what an awful swamp lay around the prison of her self-content--no, self-discontent--in which she lay chained. To her the one good and desirable thing was the love and company of Paul Faber. He was her saviour, she said to herself, and the woman who could not love and trust and lean upon such a heart of devotion and unselfishness as his, was unworthy of the smallest of his thoughts. He was nobility, generosity, justice itself! If she sought to lay her faults bare to him, he would but fold her to his bosom to shut them out from her own vision! He would but lay his hand on the lips of confession, and silence them as unbelievers in his perfect affection! He was better than the God the Wingfolds and Drakes believed in, with whom humiliation was a condition of acceptance!
She told the Drakes that, for the air of Owlkirk, she was going to occupy her old quarters with Mrs. Puckridge during the holidays. They were not much surprised, for they had remarked a change in her manner, and it was not long unexplained: for, walking from the Old House together one evening rather late, they met her with the doctor in a little frequented part of the park. When she left them, they knew she would not return; and her tears betrayed that she knew it also.
Meantime the negotiation for the purchase of the Old House of Glaston was advancing with slow legal sinuosity. Mr. Drake had offered the full value of the property, and the tender seemed to be regarded not unfavorably. But his heart and mind were far more occupied with the humbler property he had already secured in the town: that was now to be fortified against the incursions of the river, with its attendant fevers and agues. A survey of the ground had satisfied him that a wall at a certain point would divert a great portion of the water, and this wall he proceeded at once to build. He hoped in the end to inclose the ground altogether, or at least to defend it at every assailable point, but there were many other changes imperative, with difficulties such that they could not all be coped with at once. The worst of the cottages must be pulled down, and as they were all even over-full, he must contrive to build first. Nor until that was done, could he effect much toward rendering the best of them fit for human habitation.
Some of the householders in the lower part of the adjoining street shook their heads when they saw what the bricklayers were about. They had reason to fear they were turning the water more upon them; and it seemed a wrong that the wretched cottages which had from time immemorial been accustomed to the water, should be now protected from it at the cost of respectable houses! It did not occur to them that it might be time for Lady Fortune to give her wheel a few inches of a turn. To common minds, custom is always right so long as it is on their side.
In the meantime the chapel in the park at Nestley had been advancing, for the rector, who was by nature no dawdler where he was interested, had been pushing it on; and at length on a certain Sunday evening in the autumn, the people of the neighborhood having been invited to attend, the rector read prayers in it, and the curate preached a sermon. At the close of the service the congregation was informed that prayers would be read there every Sunday evening, and that was all. Mrs. Bevis, honest soul, the green-mantled pool of whose being might well desire a wind, if only from a pair of bellows, to disturb its repose, for not a fish moved to that end in its sunless deeps--I say deeps, for such there must have been, although neither she nor her friends were acquainted with any thing there but shallows--was the only one inclined to grumble at the total absence of ceremonial pomp: she did want her husband to have the credit of the great deed.
About the same time it was that Juliet again sought the cottage at Owlkirk, with the full consciousness that she went there to meet her fate. Faber came to see her every day, and both Ruber and Niger began to grow skinny. But I have already said enough to show the nature and course of the stream, and am not bound to linger longer over its noise among the pebbles. Some things are interesting rather for their results than their process, and of such I confess it is to me the love-making of these two.--"What! were they not human?" Yes: but with a truncated humanity--even shorn of its flower-buds, and full only of variegated leaves. It shall suffice therefore to say that, in a will-less sort of a way, Juliet let the matter drift; that, although she withheld explicit consent, she yet at length allowed Faber to speak as if she had given it; that they had long ceased to talk about God or no God, about life and death, about truth and superstition, and spoke only of love, and the days at hand, and how they would spend them; that they poured out their hearts in praising and worshiping each other; and that, at last, Juliet found herself as firmly engaged to be Paul's wife, as if she had granted every one of the promises he had sought to draw from her, but which she had avoided giving in the weak fancy that thus she was holding herself free. It was perfectly understood in all the neighborhood that the doctor and Miss Meredith were engaged. Both Helen and Dorothy felt a little hurt at her keeping an absolute silence toward them concerning what the country seemed to know; but when they spoke of it to her, she pointedly denied any engagement, and indeed although helplessly drifting toward marriage, had not yet given absolute consent even in her own mind. She dared not even then regard it as inevitable. Her two friends came to the conclusion that she could not find the courage to face disapproval, and perhaps feared expostulation.
"She may well be ashamed of such an unequal yoking!" said Helen to her husband.
"There is no unequal yoking in it that I see," he returned. "In the matter of faith, what is there to choose between them? I see nothing. They may carry the yoke straight enough. If there be one of them further from the truth than the other, it must be the one who says, I go sir, and goes not. Between don't believe and don't care, I don't care to choose. Let them marry and God bless them. It will be good for them--for one thing if for no other--it is sure to bring trouble to both."
"Indeed, Mr. Wingfold!" returned Helen playfully.
"So that is how you regard marriage!--Sure to bring trouble!"
She laid her head on his shoulder.
"Trouble to every one, my Helen, like the gospel itself; more trouble to you than to me, but none to either that will not serve to bring us closer to each other," he answered. "But about those two--well, I am both doubtful and hopeful. At all events I can not wish them not to marry. I think it will be for both of them a step nearer to the truth. The trouble will, perhaps, drive them to find God. That any one who had seen and loved our Lord, should consent to marry one, whatever that one was besides, who did not at least revere and try to obey Him, seems to me impossible. But again I say there is no such matter involved between them.--Shall I confess to you, that, with all her frankness, all her charming ways, all the fullness of the gaze with which her black eyes look into yours, there is something about Juliet that puzzles me? At times I have thought she must be in some trouble, out of which she was on the point of asking me to help her; at others I have fancied she was trying to be agreeable against her inclination, and did not more than half approve of me. Sometimes, I confess, the shadow of a doubt crosses me: is she altogether a true woman? But that vanishes the moment she smiles. I wish she could have been open with me. I could have helped her, I am pretty sure. As it is, I have not got one step nearer the real woman than when first I saw her at the rector's."
"I know," said Helen. "But don't you think it may be that she has never yet come to know any thing about herself--to perceive either fact or mystery of her own nature? If she is a stranger to herself, she cannot reveal herself--at least of her own will--to those about her. She is just what I was, Thomas, before I knew you--a dull, sleepy-hearted thing that sat on her dignity. Be sure she has not an idea of the divine truth you have taught me to see underlying creation itself--namely, that every thing possessed owes its very value as possession to the power which that possession gives of parting with it."
"You are a pupil worth having, Helen!--even if I had had to mourn all my days that you would not love me."
"And now you have said your mind about Juliet," Helen went on, "allow me to say that I trust her more than I do Faber. I do not for a moment imagine him consciously dishonest, but he makes too much show of his honesty for me. I can not help feeling that he is selfish--and can a selfish man be honest?"
"Not thoroughly. I know that only too well, for I at all events am selfish, Helen."
"I don't see it; but if you are, you know it, and hate it, and strive against it. I do not think he knows it, even when he says that every body is selfish. Only, what better way to get rid of it than to love and marry?"
"Or to confirm it," said Wingfold thoughtfully.
"I shouldn't wonder a bit if they're married already!" said Helen.
She was not far from wrong, although not quite right. Already Faber had more than hinted at a hurried marriage, as private as could be compassed. It was impossible of course, to be married at church. That would be to cast mockery on the marriage itself, as well as on what Faber called his beliefs. The objection was entirely on Faber's side, but Juliet did not hint at the least difference of feeling in the matter. She let every thing take its way now.
At length having, in a neighboring town, arranged all the necessary preliminaries, Faber got one of the other doctors in Glaston to attend to his practice for three weeks, and went to take a holiday. Juliet left Owlkirk the same day. They met, were lawfully married, and at the close of the three weeks, returned together to the doctor's house.
The sort of thing did not please Glaston society, and although Faber was too popular as a doctor to lose position by it, Glaston was slow in acknowledging that it knew there was a lady at the head of his house. Mrs. Wingfold and Miss Drake, however, set their neighbors a good example, and by degrees there came about a dribbling sort of recognition. Their social superiors stood the longest aloof--chiefly because the lady had been a governess, and yet had behaved so like one of themselves; they thought it well to give her a lesson. Most of them, however, not willing to offend the leading doctor in the place, yielded and called. Two elderly spinsters and Mrs. Ramshorn did not. The latter declared she did not believe they were married. Most agreed they were the handsomest couple ever seen in that quarter, and looked all right.
Juliet returned the calls made upon her, at the proper retaliatory intervals, and gradually her mode of existence fell into routine. The doctor went out every day, and was out most of the day, while she sat at home and worked or read. She had to amuse herself, and sometimes found life duller than when she had to earn her bread--when, as she went from place to place, she might at any turn meet Paul upon Ruber or Niger. Already the weary weed of the commonplace had begun to show itself in the marriage garden--a weed which, like all weeds, requires only neglect for perfect development, when it will drive the lazy Eve who has never made her life worth living, to ask whether life be worth having. She was not a great reader. No book had ever yet been to her a well-spring of life; and such books as she liked best it was perhaps just as well that she could not easily procure in Glaston; for, always ready to appreciate the noble, she had not moral discernment sufficient to protect her from the influence of such books as paint poor action in noble color. For a time also she was stinted in her natural nourishment: her husband had ordered a grand piano from London for her, but it had not yet arrived; and the first touch she laid on the tall spinster-looking one that had stood in the drawing-room for fifty years, with red silk wrinkles radiating from a gilt center, had made her shriek. If only Paul would buy a yellow gig, like his friend Dr. May of Broughill, and take her with him on his rounds! Or if she had a friend or two to go and see when he was out!--friends like what Helen or even Dorothy might have been: she was not going to be hand-in-glove with any body that didn't like her Paul! She missed church too--not the prayers, much; but she did like hearing what she counted a good sermon, that is, a lively one. Her husband wanted her to take up some science, but if he had considered that, with all her gift in music, she expressed an utter indifference to thorough bass, he would hardly have been so foolish.
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