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THE BOTTOMLESS POOL.
She came to herself in the gray dawn. She was cold as ice--cold to the very heart, but she did not feel the cold: there was nothing in her to compare it against; her very being was frozen. The man who had given her life had thrown her from him. He cared less for her than for the tortured dog. She was an outcast, defiled and miserable. Alas! alas! this was what came of speaking the truth--of making confession! The cruel scripture had wrought its own fulfillment, made a mock of her, and ruined her husband's peace. She knew poor Paul would never be himself again! She had carried the snake so long harmless in her bosom only to let it at last creep from her lips into her husband's ear, sting the vital core of her universe, and blast it forever! How foolish she had been!--What was left her to do? What would her husband have her to do? Oh misery! he cared no more what she did or did not do. She was alone--utterly alone! But she need not live.
Dimly, vaguely, the vapor of such thoughts as these passed through her despairing soul, as she lifted herself from the floor and tottered back to her room. Yet even then, in the very midst of her freezing misery, there was, although she had not yet begun to recognize it, a nascent comfort in that she had spoken and confessed. She would not really have taken back her confession. And although the torture was greater, yet was it more endurable than that she had been suffering before. She had told him who had a right to know.--But, alas! what a deception was that dream of the trumpet and the voice! A poor trick to entrap a helpless sinner!
Slowly, with benumbed fingers and trembling hands, she dressed herself: that bed she would lie in no more, for she had wronged her husband. Whether before or after he was her husband, mattered nothing. To have ever called him husband was the wrong. She had seemed that she was not, else he would never have loved or sought her; she had outraged his dignity, defiled him; he had cast her off, and she could not, would not blame him. Happily for her endurance of her misery, she did not turn upon her idol and cast him from his pedestal; she did not fix her gaze upon his failure instead of her own; she did not espy the contemptible in his conduct, and revolt from her allegiance.
But was such a man then altogether the ideal of a woman's soul? Was he a fit champion of humanity who would aid only within the limits of his pride? who, when a despairing creature cried in soul-agony for help, thought first and only of his own honor? The notion men call their honor is the shadow of righteousness, the shape that is where the light is not, the devil that dresses as nearly in angel-fashion as he can, but is none the less for that a sneak and a coward.
She put on her cloak and bonnet: the house was his, not hers. He and she had never been one: she must go and meet her fate. There was one power, at least, the key to the great door of liberty, which the weakest as well as the strongest possessed: she could die. Ah, how welcome would Death be now! Did he ever know or heed the right time to come, without being sent for--without being compelled? In the meantime her only anxiety was to get out of the house: away from Paul she would understand more precisely what she had to do. With the feeling of his angry presence, she could not think. Yet how she loved him--strong in his virtue and indignation! She had not yet begun to pity herself, or to allow to her heart that he was hard upon her.
She was leaving the room when a glitter on her hand caught her eye: the old diamond disk, which he had bought of her in her trouble, and restored to her on her wedding-day, was answering the herald of the sunrise. She drew it off: he must have it again. With it she drew off also her wedding-ring. Together she laid them on the dressing table, turned again, and with noiseless foot and desert heart went through the house, opened the door, and stole into the street. A thin mist was waiting for her. A lean cat, gray as the mist, stood on the steps of the door opposite. No other living thing was to be seen. The air was chill. The autumn rains were at hand. But her heart was the only desolation.
Already she knew where she was going. In the street she turned to the left.
Shortly before, she had gone with Dorothy, for the first time, to see the Old House, and there had had rather a narrow escape. Walking down the garden they came to the pond or small lake, so well known to the children of Glaston as bottomless. Two stone steps led from the end of the principal walk down to the water, which was, at the time, nearly level with the top of the second. On the upper step Juliet was standing, not without fear, gazing into the gulf, which was yet far deeper than she imagined, when, without the smallest preindication, the lower step suddenly sank. Juliet sprung back to the walk, but turned instantly to look again. She saw the stone sinking, and her eyes opened wider and wider, as it swelled and thinned to a great, dull, wavering mass, grew dimmer and dimmer, then melted away and vanished utterly. With "stricken look," and fright-filled eyes, she turned to Dorothy, who was a little behind her, and said,
"How will you be able to sleep at night? I should be always fancying myself sliding down into it through the darkness."
To this place of terror she was now on the road. When consciousness returned to her as she lay on the floor of her husband's dressing-room, it brought with it first the awful pool and the sinking stone. She seemed to stand watching it sink, lazily settling with a swing this way and a sway that, into the bosom of the earth, down and down, and still down. Nor did the vision leave her as she came more to herself. Even when her mental eyes were at length quite open to the far more frightful verities of her condition, half of her consciousness was still watching the ever sinking stone; until at last she seemed to understand that it was showing her a door out of her misery, one easy to open.
She went the same way into the park that Dorothy had then taken her--through a little door of privilege which she had shown her how to open, and not by the lodge. The light was growing fast, but the sun was not yet up. With feeble steps but feverous haste she hurried over the grass. Her feet were wet through her thin shoes. Her dress was fringed with dew. But there was no need for taking care of herself now; she felt herself already beyond the reach of sickness. The still pond would soon wash off the dew.
Suddenly, with a tremor of waking hope, came the thought that, when she was gone from his sight, the heart of her husband would perhaps turn again toward her a little. For would he not then be avenged? would not his justice be satisfied? She had been well drilled in the theological lie, that punishment is the satisfaction of justice.
"Oh, now I thank you, Paul!" she said, as she hastened along. "You taught me the darkness, and made me brave to seek its refuge. Think of me sometimes, Paul. I will come back to you if I can--but no, there is no coming back, no greeting more, no shadows even to mingle their loves, for in a dream there is but one that dreams. I shall be the one that does not dream. There is nothing where I am going--not even the darkness--nothing but nothing. Ah, would I were in it now! Let me make haste. All will be one, for all will be none when I am there. Make you haste too, and come into the darkness, Paul. It is soothing and soft and cool. It will wash away the sin of the girl and leave you a----nothing."
While she was hurrying toward the awful pool, her husband sat in his study, sunk in a cold fury of conscious disgrace--not because of his cruelty, not because he had cast a woman into hell--but because his honor, his self-satisfaction in his own fate, was thrown to the worms. Did he fail thus in consequence of having rejected the common belief? No; something far above the common belief it must be, that would have enabled him to act otherwise. But had he known the Man of the gospel, he could not have left her. He would have taken her to his sorrowful bosom, wept with her, forgotten himself in pitiful grief over the spot upon her whiteness; he would have washed her clean with love and husband-power. He would have welcomed his shame as his hold of her burden, whereby to lift it, with all its misery and loss, from her heart forever. Had Faber done so as he was, he would have come close up to the gate of the kingdom of Heaven, for he would have been like-minded with Him who sought not His own. His honor, forsooth! Pride is a mighty honor! His pride was great indeed, but it was not grand! Nothing reflected, nothing whose object is self, has in it the poorest element of grandeur. Our selves are ours that we may lay them on the altar of love. Lying there, bound and bleeding and burning if need be, they are grand indeed--for they are in their noble place, and rejoicing in their fate. But this man was miserable, because, the possessor of a priceless jewel, he had found it was not such as would pass for flawless in the judgment of men--judges themselves unjust, whose very hearts were full of bribes. He sat there an injured husband, a wronged, woman-cheated, mocked man--he in whose eyes even a smutch on her face would have lowered a woman--who would not have listened to an angel with a broken wing-feather!
Let me not be supposed to make a little of Juliet's loss! What that amounted to, let Juliet feel!--let any woman say, who loves a man, and would be what that man thinks her! But I read, and think I understand, the words of the perfect Purity: "Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more."
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