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THE DOCTOR'S STUDY.
Paul Faber's condition, as he sat through the rest of that night in his study, was about as near absolute misery as a man's could well be, in this life, I imagine. The woman he had been watching through the first part of it as his essential bliss, he had left in a swoon, lying naked on the floor, and would not and did not go near her again. How could he? Had he not been duped, sold, married to----?--That way madness lay! His pride was bitterly wounded. Would it had been mortally! but pride seems in some natures to thrive upon wounds, as in others does love. Faber's pride grew and grew as he sat and brooded, or, rather, was brooded upon.
He, Paul Faber, who knew his own worth, his truth, his love, his devotion--he, with his grand ideas of woman and purity and unity, conscious of deserving a woman's best regards--he, whose love (to speak truly his unworded, undefined impression of himself) any woman might be proud to call hers--he to be thus deceived! to have taken to his bosom one who had before taken another to hers, and thought it yet good enough for him! It would not bear thinking! Indignation and bitterest sense of wrong almost crazed him. For evermore he must be a hypocrite, going about with the knowledge of that concerning himself which he would not have known by others! This was how the woman, whom he had brought back from death with the life of his own heart, had served him! Years ago she had sacrificed her bloom to some sneaking wretch who flattered a God with prayers, then enticed and bewitched and married him!
In all this thinking there was no thought but for himself--not one for the woman whose agony had been patent even to his wrath-blinded eyes. In what is the wretchedness of our condition more evident than in this, that the sense of wrong always makes us unjust? It is a most humbling thought. God help us. He forgot how she had avoided him, resisted him, refused to confess the love which his goodness, his importunities, his besieging love had compelled in her heart. It was true she ought either to have refused him absolutely and left him, or confessed and left the matter with him; but he ought to have remembered for another, if ever he had known it for himself, the hardness of some duties; and what duty could be more torturing to a delicate-minded woman than either of those--to leave the man she loved in passionate pain, sore-wounded with a sense of undeserved cruelty, or to give him the strength to send her from him by confessing to his face what she could not recall in the solitude of her own chamber but the agony would break out wet on her forehead! We do our brother, our sister, grievous wrong, every time that, in our selfish justice, we forget the excuse that mitigates the blame. That God never does, for it would be to disregard the truth. As He will never admit a false excuse, so will He never neglect a true one. It may be He makes excuses which the sinner dares not think of; while the most specious of false ones shrivel into ashes before Him. A man is bound to think of all just excuse for his offender, for less than the righteousness of God will not serve his turn.
I would not have my reader set Faber down as heartless, His life showed the contrary. But his pride was roused to such furious self-assertion, that his heart lay beaten down under the sweep of its cyclone. Its turn was only delayed. The heart is always there, and rage is not. The heart is a constant, even when most intermittent force. It can bide its time. Nor indeed did it now lie quite still; for the thought of that white, self-offered sacrifice, let him rave as he would against the stage-trickery of the scene, haunted him so, that once and again he had to rouse an evil will to restrain him from rushing to clasp her to his bosom.
Then there was the question: why now had she told him all--if indeed she had made a clean breast of it? Was it from love to him, or reviving honesty in herself? From neither, he said. Superstition alone was at the root of it. She had been to church, and the preaching of that honest idiotic enthusiast, Wingfold, had terrified her.--Alas! what refuge in her terror had she found with her husband?
Before morning he had made up his mind as to the course he would pursue. He would not publish his own shame, but neither would he leave the smallest doubt in her mind as to what he thought of her, or what he felt toward her. All should be utterly changed between them. He would behave to her with extreme, with marked politeness; he would pay her every attention woman could claim, but her friend, her husband, he would be no more. His thoughts of vengeance took many turns, some of them childish. He would always call her Mrs. Faber. Never, except they had friends, would he sit in the same room with her. To avoid scandal, he would dine with her, if he could not help being at home, but when he rose from the table, it would be to go to his study. If he happened at any time to be in the room with her when she rose to retire, he would light her candle, carry it up stairs for her, open the door, make her a polite bow, and leave her. Never once would he cross the threshold of her bedroom. She should have plenty of money; the purse of an adventuress was a greedy one, but he would do his best to fill it, nor once reproach her with extravagance--of which fault, let me remark, she had never yet shown a sign. He would refuse her nothing she asked of him--except it were in any way himself. As soon as his old aunt died, he would get her a brougham, but never would he sit in it by her side. Such, he thought, would be the vengeance of a gentleman. Thus he fumed and raved and trifled, in an agony of selfish suffering--a proud, injured man; and all the time the object of his vengeful indignation was lying insensible on the spot where she had prayed to him, her loving heart motionless within a bosom of ice.
In the morning he went to his dressing-room, had his bath, and went down to breakfast, half-desiring his wife's appearance, that he might begin his course of vindictive torture. He could not eat, and was just rising to go out, when the door opened, and the parlor-maid, who served also as Juliet's attendant, appeared.
"I can't find mis'ess nowhere, sir," she said. Faber understood at once that she had left him, and a terror, neither vague nor ill-founded, possessed itself of him. He sprung from his seat, and darted up the stair to her room. Little more than a glance was necessary to assure him that she had gone deliberately, intending it should be forever. The diamond ring lay on her dressing-table, spending itself in flashing back the single ray of the sun that seemed to have stolen between the curtains to find it; her wedding ring lay beside it, and the sparkle of the diamonds stung his heart like a demoniacal laughter over it, the more horrible that it was so silent and so lovely: it was but three days since, in his wife's presence, he had been justifying suicide with every argument he could bring to bear. It was true he had insisted on a proper regard to circumstances, and especially on giving due consideration to the question, whether the act would hurt others more than it would relieve the person contemplating it; but, after the way he had treated her, there could be no doubt how Juliet, if she thought of it at all, was compelled to answer it. He rushed to the stable, saddled Ruber, and galloped wildly away. At the end of the street he remembered that he had not a single idea to guide him. She was lying dead somewhere, but whether to turn east or west or north or south to find her, he had not the slightest notion. His condition was horrible. For a moment or two he was ready to blow his brains out: that, if the orthodox were right, was his only chance for over-taking her. What a laughing-stock he would then be to them all! The strangest, wildest, maddest thoughts came and went as of themselves, and when at last he found himself seated on Ruber in the middle of the street, an hour seemed to have passed. It was but a few moments, and the thought that roused him was: could she have betaken herself to her old lodging at Owlkirk? It was not likely; it was possible: he would ride and see.
"They will say I murdered her," he said to himself as he rode--so little did he expect ever to see her again. "I don't care. They may prove it if they can, and hang me. I shall make no defense. It will be but a fit end to the farce of life."
He laughed aloud, struck his spurs in Ruber's flanks, and rode wildly. He was desperate. He knew neither what he felt nor what he desired. If he had found her alive, he would, I do not doubt, have behaved to her cruelly. His life had fallen in a heap about him; he was ruined, and she had done it, he said, he thought, he believed. He was not aware how much of his misery was occasioned by a shrinking dread of the judgments of people he despised. Had he known it, he would have been yet more miserable, for he would have scorned himself for it. There is so much in us that is beyond our reach!
Before arriving at Owlkirk, he made up his mind that, if she were not there, he would ride to the town of Broughill--not in the hope of any news of her, but because there dwelt the only professional friend he had in the neighborhood--one who sympathized with his view of things, and would not close his heart against him because he did not believe that this horrid, ugly, disjointed thing of a world had been made by a God of love. Generally, he had been in the habit of dwelling on the loveliness of its developments, and the beauty of the gradual adaptation of life to circumstance; but now it was plainer to him than ever, that, if made at all, it was made by an evil being; "--for," he said, and said truly, "a conscious being without a heart must be an evil being." This was the righteous judgment of a man who could, by one tender, consoling word, have made the sun rise upon a glorious world of conscious womanhood, but would not say that word, and left that world lying in the tortured chaos of a slow disintegration. This conscious being with a heart, this Paul Faber, who saw that a God of love was the only God supposable, set his own pride so far above love, that his one idea was, to satisfy the justice of his outraged dignity by the torture of the sinner!--even while all the time dimly aware of rebuke in his soul. If she should have destroyed herself, he said once and again as he rode, was it more than a just sacrifice to his wronged honor? As such he would accept it. If she had, it was best--best for her, and best for him! What so much did it matter! She was very lovely!--true--but what was the quintessence of dust to him? Where either was there any great loss? He and she would soon be wrapped up in the primal darkness, the mother and grave of all things, together!--no, not together; not even in the dark of nothingness could they two any more lie together! Hot tears forced their way into his eyes, whence they rolled down, the lava of the soul, scorching his cheeks. He struck his spurs into Ruber fiercely, and rode madly on.
At length he neared the outskirts of Broughill. He had ridden at a fearful pace across country, leaving all to his horse, who had carried him wisely as well as bravely. But Ruber, although he had years of good work left in him, was not in his first strength, and was getting exhausted with his wild morning. For, all the way, his master, apparently unconscious of every thing else, had been immediately aware of the slightest slackening of muscle under him, the least faltering of the onward pace, and, in the temper of the savage, which wakes the moment the man of civilization is hard put to it, the moment he flagged, still drove the cruel spurs into his flanks, when the grand, unresenting creature would rush forward at straining speed--not, I venture to think, so much in obedience to the pain, as in obedience to the will of his master, fresh recognized through the pain.
Close to the high road, where they were now approaching it through the fields, a rail-fence had just been put up, inclosing a piece of ground which the owner wished to let for building. That the fact might be known, he was about to erect a post with a great board announcing it. For this post a man had dug the hole, and then gone to his dinner. The inclosure lay between Faber and the road, in the direct line he was taking. On went Ruber blindly--more blindly than his master knew, for, with the prolonged running, he had partially lost his sight, so that he was close to the fence before he saw it. But he rose boldly, and cleared it--to light, alas! on the other side with a foreleg in the hole. Down he came with a terrible crash, pitched his master into the road upon his head, and lay groaning with a broken leg. Faber neither spoke nor moved, but lay as he fell. A poor woman ran to his assistance, and finding she could do nothing for him, hurried to the town for help. His friend, who was the first surgeon in the place, flew to the spot, and had him carried to his house. It was a severe case of concussion of the brain.
Poor old Ruber was speedily helped to a world better than this for horses, I trust.
Meantime Glaston was in commotion. The servants had spread the frightful news that their mistress had vanished, and their master ridden off like a madman. "But he won't find her alive, poor lady! I don't think," was the general close of their communication, accompanied by a would-be wise and really sympathetic shake of the head. In this conclusion most agreed, for there was a general impression of something strange about her, partly occasioned by the mysterious way in which Mrs. Puckridge had spoken concerning her illness and the marvelous thing the doctor had done to save her life. People now supposed that she had gone suddenly mad, or, rather, that the latent madness so plain to read in those splendid eyes of hers had been suddenly developed, and that under its influence she had rushed away, and probably drowned herself. Nor were there wanting, among the discontented women of Glaston, some who regarded the event--vaguely to their own consciousness, I gladly admit--as almost a judgment upon Faber for marrying a woman of whom nobody knew any thing.
Hundreds went out to look for the body down the river. Many hurried to an old quarry, half full of water, on the road to Broughill, and peered horror-stricken over the edge, but said nothing. The boys of Glaston were mainly of a mind that the pond at the Old House was of all places the most likely to attract a suicide, for with the fascination of its horrors they were themselves acquainted. Thither therefore they sped; and soon Glaston received its expected second shock in the tidings that a lady's bonnet had been found floating in the frightful pool: while in the wet mass the boys brought back with them, some of her acquaintance recognized with certainty a bonnet they had seen Mrs. Faber wear. There was no room left for doubt; the body of the poor lady was lying at the bottom of the pool! A multitude rushed at once to the spot, although they knew it was impossible to drag the pool, so deep was it, and for its depth so small. Neither would she ever come to the surface, they said, for the pikes and eels would soon leave nothing but the skeleton. So Glaston took the whole matter for ended, and began to settle down again to its own affairs, condoling greatly with the poor gentleman, such a favorite! who, so young, and after such a brief experience of marriage, had lost, in such a sad way, a wife so handsome, so amiable, so clever. But some said a doctor ought to have known better than marry such a person, however handsome, and they hoped it would be a lesson to him. On the whole, so sorry for him was Glaston, that, if the doctor could then have gone about it invisible, he would have found he had more friends and fewer enemies than he had supposed.
For the first two or three days no one was surprised that he did not make his appearance. They thought he was upon some false trail. But when four days had elapsed and no news was heard of him, for his friend knew nothing of what had happened, had written to Mrs. Faber, and the letter lay unopened, some began to hint that he must have had a hand in his wife's disappearance, and to breathe a presentiment that he would never more be seen in Glaston. On the morning of the fifth day, however, his accident was known, and that he was lying insensible at the house of his friend, Dr. May; whereupon, although here and there might be heard the expression of a pretty strong conviction as to the character of the visitation, the sympathy both felt and uttered was larger than before. The other medical men immediately divided his practice amongst them, to keep it together against his possible return, though few believed he would ever again look on scenes darkened by the memory of bliss so suddenly blasted.
For weeks his recovery was doubtful, during which time, even if they had dared, it would have been useless to attempt acquainting him with what all believed the certainty of his loss. But when at length he woke to a memory of the past, and began to desire information, his friend was compelled to answer his questions. He closed his lips, bowed his head on his breast, gave a great sigh, and held his peace. Every one saw that he was terribly stricken.
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