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THE MINISTER'S STUDY.
Helen was in the way of now and then writing music to any song that specially took her fancy--not with foolish hankering after publication, but for the pleasure of brooding in melody upon the words, and singing them to her husband. One day he brought her a few stanzas, by an unknown poet, which, he said, seemed to have in them a slightly new element. They pleased her more than him, and began at once to sing themselves. No sooner was her husband out of the room than she sat down to her piano with them. Before the evening, she had written to them an air with a simple accompaniment. When she now sung the verses to him, he told her, to her immense delight, that he understood and liked them far better. The next morning, having carried out one or two little suggestions he had made, she was singing them by herself in the drawing-room, when Faber, to whom she had sent because one of her servants was ill, entered. He made a sign begging her to continue, and she finished the song.
"Will you let me see the words," he said.
She handed them to him. He read them, laid down the manuscript, and, requesting to be taken to his patient, turned to the door. Perhaps he thought she had laid a music-snare for him.
The verses were these:
A YEAR SONG.
Sighing above, Rustling below, Through the woods The winds go. Beneath, dead crowds; Above, life bare; And the besom winds Sweep the air. Heart, leave thy woe; Let the dead things go.
Through the brown leaves Gold stars push; A mist of green Veils the bush. Here a twitter, There a croak! They are coming-- The spring-folk! Heart, be not dumb; Let the live things come.
Through the beach The winds go, With a long speech, Loud and slow. The grass is fine, And soft to lie in; The sun doth shine The blue sky in. Heart, be alive; Let the new things thrive.
Round again! Here now-- A rimy fruit On a bare bough! There the winter And the snow; And a sighing ever To fall and go! Heart, thy hour shall be; Thy dead will comfort thee.
Faber was still folded in the atmosphere of the song when, from the curate's door, he arrived at the minister's, resolved to make that morning a certain disclosure--one he would gladly have avoided, but felt bound in honor to make. The minister grew pale as he listened, but held his peace. Not until the point came at which he found himself personally concerned, did he utter a syllable.
I will in my own words give the substance of the doctor's communication, stating the facts a little more fairly to him than his pride would allow him to put them in his narrative.
Paul Faber was a student of St. Bartholomew's, and during some time held there the office of assistant house-surgeon. Soon after his appointment, he being then three and twenty, a young woman was taken into one of the wards, in whom he gradually grew much interested. Her complaint caused her much suffering, but was more tedious than dangerous.
Attracted by her sweet looks, but more by her patience, and the gratitude with which she received the attention shown her, he began to talk to her a little, especially during a slight operation that had to be not unfrequently performed. Then he came to giving her books to read, and was often charmed with the truth and simplicity of the remarks she would make. She had been earning her living as a clerk, had no friends in London, and therefore no place to betake herself to in her illness but the hospital. The day she left it, in the simplicity of her heart, and with much timidity, she gave him a chain she had made for him of her hair. On the ground of supplementary attention, partly desirable, partly a pretext, but unassociated with any evil intent, he visited her after in her lodging. The joy of her face, the light of her eyes when he appeared, was enchanting to him. She pleased every gentle element of his nature; her worship flattered him, her confidence bewitched him. His feelings toward her were such that he never doubted he was her friend. He did her no end of kindness; taught her much; gave her good advice as to her behavior, and the dangers she was in; would have protected her from every enemy, real and imaginary, while all the time, undesignedly, he was depriving her of the very nerve of self-defense. He still gave her books--and good books--Carlyle even, and Tennyson; read poetry with her, and taught her to read aloud; went to her chapel with her sometimes of a Sunday evening--for he was then, so he said, and so he imagined, a thorough believer in revelation. He took her to the theater, to pictures, to concerts, taking every care of her health, her manners, her principles. But one enemy he forgot to guard her against: how is a man to protect even the woman he loves from the hidden god of his idolatry--his own grand contemptible self?
It is needless to set the foot of narration upon every step of the slow-descending stair. With all his tender feelings and generous love of his kind, Paul Faber had not yet learned the simplest lesson of humanity--that he who would not be a murderer, must be his brother's keeper--still more his sister's, protecting every woman first of all from himself--from every untruth in him, chiefly from every unhallowed approach of his lower nature, from every thing that calls itself love and is but its black shadow, its demon ever murmuring I love, that it may devour. The priceless reward of such honesty is the power to love better; but let no man insult his nature by imagining himself noble for so carrying himself. As soon let him think himself noble that he is no swindler. Doubtless Faber said to himself as well as to her, and said it yet oftener when the recoil of his selfishness struck upon the door of his conscience and roused Don Worm, that he would be true to her forever. But what did he mean by the words? Did he know? Had they any sense of which he would not have been ashamed even before the girl herself? Would such truth as he contemplated make of him her hiding-place from the wind, her covert from the tempest? He never even thought whether to marry her or not, never vowed even in his heart not to marry another. All he could have said was, that at the time he had no intention of marrying another, and that he had the intention of keeping her for himself indefinitely, which may be all the notion some people have of eternally. But things went well with them, and they seemed to themselves, notwithstanding the tears shed by one of them in secret, only the better for the relation between them.
At length a child was born. The heart of a woman is indeed infinite, but time, her presence, her thoughts, her hands are finite: she could not seem so much a lover as before, because she must be a mother now: God only can think of two things at once. In his enduring selfishness, Faber felt the child come between them, and reproached her neglect, as he called it. She answered him gently and reasonably; but now his bonds began to weary him. She saw it, and in the misery of the waste vision opening before her eyes, her temper, till now sweet as devoted, began to change. And yet, while she loved her child the more passionately that she loved her forebodingly, almost with the love of a woman already forsaken, she was nearly mad sometimes with her own heart, that she could not give herself so utterly as before to her idol.
It took but one interview after he had confessed it to himself, to reveal the fact to her that she had grown a burden to him. He came a little seldomer, and by degrees which seemed to her terribly rapid, more and more seldom. He had never recognized duty in his relation to her. I do not mean that he had not done the effects of duty toward her; love had as yet prevented the necessity of appeal to the stern daughter of God. But what love with which our humanity is acquainted can keep healthy without calling in the aid of Duty? Perfect Love is the mother of all duties and all virtues, and needs not be admonished of her children; but not until Love is perfected, may she, casting out Fear, forget also Duty. And hence are the conditions of such a relation altogether incongruous. For the moment the man, not yet debased, admits a thought of duty, he is aware that far more is demanded of him than, even for the sake of purest right, he has either the courage or the conscience to yield. But even now Faber had not the most distant intention of forsaking her; only why should he let her burden him, and make his life miserable? There were other pleasures besides the company of the most childishly devoted of women: why should he not take them? Why should he give all his leisure to one who gave more than the half of it to her baby?
He had money of his own, and, never extravagant upon himself, was more liberal to the poor girl than ever she desired. But there was nothing mercenary in her. She was far more incapable of turpitude than he, for she was of a higher nature, and loved much where he loved only a little. She was nobler, sweetly prouder than he. She had sacrificed all to him for love--could accept nothing from him without the love which alone is the soul of any gift, alone makes it rich. She would not, could not see him unhappy. In her fine generosity, struggling to be strong, she said to herself, that, after all, she would leave him richer than she was before--richer than he was now. He would not want the child he had given her; she would, and she could, live for her, upon the memory of two years of such love as, comforting herself in sad womanly pride, she flattered herself woman had seldom enjoyed. She would not throw the past from her because the weather of time had changed; she would not mar every fair memory with the inky sponge of her present loss. She would turn her back upon her sun ere he set quite, and carry with her into the darkness the last gorgeous glow of his departure. While she had his child, should she never see him again, there remained a bond between them--a bond that could never be broken. He and she met in that child's life--her being was the eternal fact of their unity.
Both she and he had to learn that there was yet a closer bond between them, necessary indeed to the fact that a child could be born of them, namely, that they two had issued from the one perfect Heart of love. And every heart of perplexed man, although, too much for itself, it can not conceive how the thing should be, has to learn that there, in that heart whence it came, lies for it restoration, consolation, content. Herein, O God, lies a task for Thy perfection, for the might of Thy imagination--which needs but Thy will (and Thy suffering?) to be creation!
One evening when he paid her a visit after the absence of a week, he found her charmingly dressed, and merry, but in a strange fashion which he could not understand. The baby, she said, was down stairs with the landlady, and she free for her Paul. She read to him, she sang to him, she bewitched him afresh with the graces he had helped to develop in her. He said to himself when he left her that surely never was there a more gracious creature--and she was utterly his own! It was the last flicker of the dying light--the gorgeous sunset she had resolved to carry with her in her memory forever. When he sought her again the next evening, he found her landlady in tears. She had vanished, taking with her nothing but her child, and her child's garments. The gown she had worn the night before hung in her bedroom--every thing but what she must then be wearing was left behind. The woman wept, spoke of her with genuine affection, and said she had paid every thing. To his questioning she answered that they had gone away in a cab: she had called it, but knew neither the man nor his number. Persuading himself she had but gone to see some friend, he settled himself in her rooms to await her return, but a week rightly served to consume his hope. The iron entered into his soul, and for a time tortured him. He wept--but consoled himself that he wept, for it proved to himself that he was not heartless. He comforted himself further in the thought that she knew where to find him and that when trouble came upon her, she would remember how good he had been to her, and what a return she had made for it. Because he would not give up every thing to her, liberty and all, she had left him! And in revenge, having so long neglected him for the child, she had for the last once roused in her every power of enchantment, had brought her every charm into play, that she might lastingly bewitch him with the old spell, and the undying memory of their first bliss--then left him to his lonely misery! She had done what she could for the ruin of a man of education, a man of family, a man on the way to distinction!--a man of genius, he said even, but he was such only as every man is: he was a man of latent genius.
But verily, though our sympathy goes all with a woman like her, such a man, however little he deserves, and however much he would scorn it, is far more an object of pity. She has her love, has not been false thereto, and one day will through suffering find the path to the door of rest. When she left him, her soul was endlessly richer than his. The music, of which he said she knew nothing, in her soul moved a deep wave, while it blew but a sparkling ripple on his; the poetry they read together echoed in a far profounder depth of her being, and I do not believe she came to loathe it as he did; and when she read of Him who reasoned that the sins of a certain woman must have been forgiven her, else how could she love so much, she may well have been able, from the depth of such another loving heart, to believe utterly in Him--while we know that her poor, shrunken lover came to think it manly, honest, reasonable, meritorious to deny Him.
Weeks, months, years passed, but she never sought him; and he so far forgot her by ceasing to think of her, that at length, when a chance bubble did rise from the drowned memory, it broke instantly and vanished. As to the child, he had almost forgotten whether it was a boy or a girl.
But since, in his new desolation, he discovered her, beyond a doubt, in the little Amanda, old memories had been crowding back upon his heart, and he had begun to perceive how Amanda's mother must have felt when she saw his love decaying visibly before her, and to suspect that it was in the self-immolation of love that she had left him. His own character had been hitherto so uniformly pervaded with a refined selfishness as to afford no standpoint of a different soil, whence by contrast to recognize the true nature of the rest; but now it began to reveal itself to his conscious judgment. And at last it struck him that twice he had been left--by women whom he loved--at least by women who loved him. Two women had trusted him utterly, and he had failed them both! Next followed the thought stinging him to the heart, that the former was the purer of the two; that the one on whom he had looked down because of her lack of education, and her familiarity with humble things and simple forms of life, knew nothing of what men count evil, while she in whom he had worshiped refinement, intellect, culture, beauty, song--she who, in love-teachableness had received his doctrine against all the prejudices of her education, was--what she had confessed herself!
But, against all reason and logic, the result of this comparison was, that Juliet returned fresh to his imagination in all the first witchery of her loveliness; and presently he found himself for the first time making excuses for her; if she had deceived him she had deceived him from love; whatever her past, she had been true to him, and was, from the moment she loved him, incapable of wrong.--He had cast her from him, and she had sought refuge in the arms of the only rival he ever would have had to fear--the bare-ribbed Death!
Naturally followed the reflection--what was he to demand purity of any woman?--Had he not accepted--yes, tempted, enticed from the woman who preceded her, the sacrifice of one of the wings of her soul on the altar of his selfishness! then driven her from him, thus maimed and helpless, to the mercy of the rude blasts of the world! She, not he ever, had been the noble one, the bountiful giver, the victim of shameless ingratitude. Flattering himself that misery would drive her back to him, he had not made a single effort to find her, or mourned that he could never make up to her for the wrongs he had done her. He had not even hoped for a future in which he might humble himself before her! What room was there here to talk of honor! If she had not sunk to the streets it was through her own virtue, and none of his care! And now she was dead! and his child, but for the charity of a despised superstition, would have been left an outcast in the London streets, to wither into the old-faced weakling of a London workhouse!
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