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But while the two ladies were free of all suspicion of danger, and indeed were quite safe, they were not alone in the knowledge of their secret. There was one who, for some time, had been on the track of it, and had long ago traced it with certainty to its covert: indeed he had all but seen into it from the first. But, although to his intimate friends known as a great and indeed wonderful talker, he was generally regarded as a somewhat silent man, and in truth possessed to perfection the gift of holding his tongue. Except that his outward insignificance was so great as to pass the extreme, he was not one to attract attention; but those who knew Wingfold well, heard him speak of Mr. Polwarth, the gate-keeper, oftener than of any other; and from what she heard him say, Dorothy had come to have a great reverence for the man, although she knew him very little.
In returning from Nestley with Juliet by her side, Helen had taken the road through Osterfield Park. When they reached Polwarth's gate, she had, as a matter of course, pulled up, that they might have a talk with the keeper. He had, on the few occasions on which he caught a passing glimpse of Miss Meredith, been struck with a something in her that to him seemed to take from her beauty--that look of strangeness, namely, which every one felt, and which I imagine to have come of the consciousness of her secret, holding her back from blending with the human wave; and now, therefore, while the carriage stood, he glanced often at her countenance.
From long observation, much silence and gentle pondering; from constant illness, and frequent recurrence of great suffering; from loving acceptance of the same, and hence an overflowing sympathy with every form of humanity, even that more dimly revealed in the lower animals, and especially suffering humanity; from deep acquaintance with the motions of his own spirit, and the fullest conviction that one man is as another; from the entire confidence of all who knew him, and the results of his efforts to help them; above all, from persistently dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, and thus entering into the hidden things of life from the center whence the issues of them diverged--from all these had been developed in him, through wisest use, an insight into the natures of men, a power of reading the countenance, an apprehension of what was moving in the mind, a contact, almost for the moment a junction with the goings on of their spirits, which at times revealed to him not only character, and prevailing purpose or drift of nature, but even the main points of a past moral history. Sometimes indeed he would recoil with terror from what seemed the threatened dawn in him of a mysterious power, probably latent in every soul, of reading the future of a person brought within certain points of spiritual range. What startled him, however, may have been simply an involuntary conclusion, instantaneously drawn, from the plain convergence of all the forces in and upon the individual toward a point of final deliverance or of near catastrophe: when "the mortal instruments" are steadily working for evil, the only hope of deliverance lies in catastrophe.
When Polwarth had thus an opportunity of reading Juliet's countenance, it was not wearing its usual expression: the ferment set at work in her mind by the curate's sermon had intensified the strangeness of it, even to something almost of definement; and it so arrested him that after the ponies had darted away like birds, he stood for a whole minute in the spot and posture in which they had left him.
"I never saw Polwarth look distrait before," said the curate, and was about to ask Juliet whether she had not been bewitching him, when the far-away, miserable look of her checked him, and he dropped back into his seat in silence.
But Polwarth had had no sudden insight into Juliet's condition; all he had seen was, that she was strangely troubled--and that with no single feeling; that there was an undecided contest in her spirit; that something was required of her which she had not yet resolved to yield. Almost the moment she vanished from his sight, it dawned upon him that she had a secret. As one knows by the signs of the heavens that the matter of a storm is in them and must break out, so Polwarth had read in Juliet's sky the inward throes of a pent convulsion.
He knew something of the doctor, for he had met him again and again where he himself was trying to serve; but they had never had conversation together. Faber had not an idea of what was in the creature who represented to him one of Nature's failures at man-making; while Polwarth, from what he heard and saw of the doctor, knew him better than he knew himself; and although the moment when he could serve him had not begun to appear, looked for such a moment to come. There was so much good in the man, that his heart longed to give him something worth having. How Faber would have laughed at the notion! But Polwarth felt confident that one day the friendly doctor would be led out of the miserable desert where he cropped thistles and sage and fancied himself a hero. And now in the drawn look of his wife's face, in the broken lights of her eye, in the absorption and the start, he thought he perceived the quarter whence unwelcome deliverance might be on its way, and resolved to keep attention awake for what might appear. In his inmost being he knew that the mission of man is to help his neighbors. But in as much as he was ready to help, he recoiled from meddling. To meddle is to destroy the holy chance. Meddlesomeness is the very opposite of helpfulness, for it consists in forcing your self into another self, instead of opening your self as a refuge to the other. They are opposite extremes, and, like all extremes, touch. It is not correct that extremes meet; they lean back to back. To Polwarth, a human self was a shrine to be approached with reverence, even when he bore deliverance in his hand. Anywhere, everywhere, in the seventh heaven or the seventh hell, he could worship God with the outstretched arms of love, the bended knees of joyous adoration, but in helping his fellow, he not only worshiped but served God--ministered, that is, to the wants of God--doing it unto Him in the least of His. He knew that, as the Father unresting works for the weal of men, so every son, following the Master-Son, must work also. Through weakness and suffering he had learned it. But he never doubted that his work as much as his bread would be given him, never rushed out wildly snatching at something to do for God, never helped a lazy man to break stones, never preached to foxes. It was what the Father gave him to do that he cared to do, and that only. It was the man next him that he helped--the neighbor in need of the help he had. He did not trouble himself greatly about the happiness of men, but when the time and the opportunity arrived in which to aid the struggling birth of the eternal bliss, the whole strength of his being responded to the call. And now, having felt a thread vibrate, like a sacred spider he sat in the center of his web of love, and waited and watched.
In proportion as the love is pure, and only in proportion to that, can such be a pure and real calling. The least speck of self will defile it--a little more may ruin its most hopeful effort.
Two days after, he heard, from some of the boys hurrying to the pond, that Mrs. Faber was missing. He followed them, and from a spot beyond the house, looking down upon the lake, watched their proceedings. He saw them find her bonnet--a result which left him room to doubt. Almost the next moment a wavering film of blue smoke rising from the Old House caught his eye. It did not surprise him, for he knew Dorothy Drake was in the habit of going there--knew also by her face for what she went: accustomed to seek solitude himself, he knew the relations of it. Very little had passed between them. Sometimes two persons are like two drops running alongside of each other down a window-pane: one marvels how it is they can so long escape running together. Persons fit to be bosom friends will meet and part for years, and never say much beyond good-morning and good-night.
But he bethought him that he had not before known her light a fire, and the day certainly was not a cold one. Again, how was it that with the cries of the boys in her ears, searching for a sight of the body in her very garden, she had never come from the house, or even looked from a window? Then it came to his mind what a place for concealment the Old House was: he knew every corner of it; and thus he arrived at what was almost the conviction that Mrs. Faber was there. When a day or two had passed, he was satisfied that, for some reason or other, she was there for refuge. The reason must be a good one, else Dorothy would not be aiding--and it must of course have to do with her husband.
He next noted how, for some time, Dorothy never went through his gate, although he saw reason to believe she went to the Old House every day. After a while, however, she went through it every day. They always exchanged a few words as she passed, and he saw plainly enough that she carried a secret. By and by he began to see the hover of words unuttered about her mouth; she wished to speak about something but could not quite make up her mind to it. He would sometimes meet her look with the corresponding look of "Well, what is it?" but thereupon she would invariably seem to change her mind, would bid him good morning, and pass on.
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