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The spring was bursting in bud and leaf before the workmen were out of the Old House. The very next day, Dorothy commenced her removal. Every stick of the old furniture she carried with her; every book of her father's she placed on the shelves of the library he had designed. But she took care not to seem neglectful of Juliet, never failing to carry her the report of her husband as often as she saw him. It was to Juliet like an odor from Paradise making her weep, when Dorothy said that he looked sad--"so different from his old self!"
One day Dorothy ventured, hardly to hint, but to approach a hint of mediation. Juliet rose indignant: no one, were he an angel from Heaven, should interfere between her husband and her! If they could not come together without that, there should be a mediator, but not such as Dorothy meant!
"No, Dorothy!" she resumed, after a rather prolonged silence; "the very word mediation would imply a gulf between us that could not be passed. But I have one petition to make to you, Dorothy. You will be with me in my trouble--won't you?"
"Certainly, Juliet--please God, I will."
"Then promise me, if I can't get through--if I am going to die, that you will bring him to me. I must see my Paul once again before the darkness."
"Wouldn't that be rather unkind--rather selfish?" returned Dorothy.
She had been growing more and more pitiful of Paul.
Juliet burst into tears, called Dorothy cruel, said she meant to kill her. How was she to face it but in the hope of death? and how was she to face death but in the hope of seeing Paul once again for the last time? She was certain she was going to die; she knew it! and if Dorothy would not promise, she was not going to wait for such a death!
"But there will be a doctor," said Dorothy, "and how am I----"
Juliet interrupted her--not with tears but words of indignation: Did Dorothy dare imagine she would allow any man but her Paul to come near her? Did she? Could she? What did she think of her? But of course she was prejudiced against her! It was too cruel!
The moment she could get in a word, Dorothy begged her to say what she wished.
"You do not imagine, Juliet," she said, "that I could take such a responsibility on myself!"
"I have thought it all over," answered Juliet. "There are women properly qualified, and you must find one. When she says I am dying,--when she gets frightened, you will send for my husband? Promise me."
"Juliet, I will," answered Dorothy, and Juliet was satisfied.
But notwithstanding her behavior's continuing so much the same, a change, undivined by herself as well as unsuspected by her friend, had begun to pass upon Juliet. Every change must begin further back than the observation of man can reach--in regions, probably, of which we have no knowledge. To the eyes of his own wife, a man may seem in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity, when "larger, other eyes than ours" may be watching with delight the germ of righteousness swell within the inclosing husk of evil. Sooner might the man of science detect the first moment of actinic impact, and the simultaneously following change in the hitherto slumbering acorn, than the watcher of humanity make himself aware of the first movement of repentance. The influences now for some time operative upon her, were the more powerful that she neither suspected nor could avoid them. She had a vague notion that she was kind to her host and hostess; that she was patronizing them; that her friend Dorothy, with whom she would afterwards arrange the matter, filled their hands for her use; that, in fact, they derived benefit from her presence;--and surely they did, although not as she supposed. The only benefits they reaped were invaluable ones--such as spring from love and righteousness and neighborhood. She little thought how she interfered with the simple pleasures and comforts of the two; how many a visit of friends, whose talk was a holy revelry of thought and utterance, Polwarth warded, to avoid the least danger of her discovery; how often fear for her shook the delicate frame of Ruth; how often her host left some book unbought, that he might procure instead some thing to tempt her to eat; how often her hostess turned faint in cooking for her. The crooked creatures pitied, as well they might, the lovely lady; they believed that Christ was in her; that the deepest in her was the nature He had made--His own, and not that which she had gathered to herself--and thought her own. For the sake of the Christ hidden in her, her own deepest, best, purest self; that she might be lifted from the dust-heap of the life she had for herself ruined, into the clear air of a pure will and the Divine Presence, they counted their best labor most fitly spent. It is the human we love in each other--and the human is the Christ. What we do not love is the devilish--no more the human than the morrow's wormy mass was the manna of God. To be for the Christ in a man, is the highest love you can give him; for in the unfolding alone of that Christ can the individuality, the genuine peculiarity of the man, the man himself, be perfected--the flower of his nature be developed, in its own distinct loveliness, beauty, splendor, and brought to its idea.
The main channel through which the influences of the gnomes reached the princess, was their absolute simplicity. They spoke and acted what was in them. Through this open utterance, their daily, common righteousness revealed itself--their gentleness, their love of all things living, their care of each other, their acceptance as the will of God concerning them of whatever came, their general satisfaction with things as they were--though it must in regard to some of them have been in the hope that they would soon pass away, for one of the things Juliet least could fail to observe was their suffering patience. They always spoke as if they felt where their words were going--as if they were hearing them arrive--as if the mind they addressed were a bright silver table on which they must not set down even the cup of the water of life roughly: it must make no scratch, no jar, no sound beyond a faint sweet salutation. Pain had taught them not sensitiveness but delicacy. A hundred are sensitive for one that is delicate. Sensitiveness is a miserable, a cheap thing in itself, but invaluable if it be used for the nurture of delicacy. They refused to receive offense, their care was to give none. The burning spot in the center of that distorted spine, which ought to have lifted Ruth up to a lovely woman, but had failed and sunk, and ever after ached bitterly as if with defeat, had made her pitiful over the pains of humanity: she could bear it, for there was something in her deeper than pain; but alas for those who were not thus upheld! Her agony drove her to pray for the whole human race, exposed to like passion with her. The asthmatic choking which so often made Polwarth's nights a long misery, taught him sympathy with all prisoners and captives, chiefly with those bound in the bonds of an evil conscience: to such he held himself specially devoted. They thought little of bearing pain: to know they had caused it would have been torture. Each, graciously uncomplaining, was tender over the ailing of the other.
Juliet had not been long with them before she found the garments she had in her fancy made for them, did not fit them, and she had to devise, afresh. They were not gnomes, kobolds, goblins, or dwarfs, but a prince and princess of sweet nobility, who had loved each other in beauty and strength, and knew that they were each crushed in the shell of a cruel and mendacious enchantment. How they served each other! The uncle would just as readily help the niece with her saucepans, as the niece would help the uncle to find a passage in Shakespeare or a stanza in George Herbert. And to hear them talk!
For some time Juliet did not understand them, and did not try. She had not an idea what they were talking about. Then she began to imagine they must be weak in the brain--a thing not unlikely with such spines as theirs--and had silly secrets with each other, like children, which they enjoyed talking about chiefly because none could understand but themselves. Then she came to fancy it was herself and her affairs they were talking about, deliberating upon--in some mental if not lingual gibberish of their own. By and by it began to disclose itself to her, that the wretched creatures, to mask their misery from themselves, were actually playing at the kingdom of Heaven, speaking and judging and concluding of things of this world by quite other laws, other scales, other weights and measures than those in use in it. Every thing was turned topsy-turvy in this their game of make-believe. Their religion was their chief end and interest, and their work their play, as lightly followed as diligently. What she counted their fancies, they seemed to count their business; their fancies ran over upon their labor, and made every day look and feel like a harvest-home, or the eve of a long-desired journey, for which every preparation but the last and lightest was over. Things in which she saw no significance made them look very grave, and what she would have counted of some importance to such as they, drew a mere smile from them. She saw all with bewildered eyes, much as his neighbors looked upon the strange carriage of Lazarus, as represented by Robert Browning in the wonderful letter of the Arab physician. But after she had begun to take note of their sufferings, and come to mark their calm, their peace, their lighted eyes, their ready smiles, the patience of their very moans, she began to doubt whether somehow they might not be touched to finer issues than she. It was not, however, until after having, with no little reluctance and recoil, ministered to them upon an occasion in which both were disabled for some hours, that she began to feel they had a hold upon something unseen, the firmness of which hold made it hard to believe it closed upon an unreality. If there was nothing there, then these dwarfs, in the exercise of their foolish, diseased, distorted fancies, came nearer to the act of creation than any grandest of poets; for these their inventions did more than rectify for them the wrongs of their existence, not only making of their chaos a habitable cosmos, but of themselves heroic dwellers in the same. Within the charmed circle of this their well-being, their unceasing ministrations to her wants, their thoughtfulness about her likings and dislikings, their sweetness of address, and wistful watching to discover the desire they might satisfy or the solace they could bring, seemed every moment enticing her. They soothed the aching of her wounds, mollified with ointment the stinging rents in her wronged humanity.
At first, when she found they had no set prayers in the house, she concluded that, for all the talk of the old gnome in the garden, they were not very religious. But by and by she began to discover that no one could tell when they might not be praying. At the most unexpected times she would hear her host's voice somewhere uttering tones of glad beseeching, of out-poured adoration. One day, when she had a bad headache, the little man came into her room, and, without a word to her, kneeled by her bedside, and said, "Father, who through Thy Son knowest pain, and Who dost even now in Thyself feel the pain of this Thy child, help her to endure until Thou shall say it is enough, and send it from her. Let it not overmaster her patience; let it not be too much for her. What good it shall work in her, Thou, Lord, needest not that we should instruct Thee." Therewith he rose, and left the room.
For some weeks after, she was jealous of latent design to bring their religion to bear upon her; but perceiving not a single direct approach, not the most covert hint of attack, she became gradually convinced that they had no such intent. Polwarth was an absolute serpent of holy wisdom, and knew that upon certain conditions of the human being the only powerful influences of religion are the all but insensible ones. A man's religion, he said, ought never to be held too near his neighbor. It was like violets: hidden in the banks, they fill the air with their scent; but if a bunch of them is held to the nose, they stop away their own sweetness.
Not unfrequently she heard one of them reading to the other, and by and by, came to join them occasionally. Sometimes it would be a passage of the New Testament, sometimes of Shakespeare, or of this or that old English book, of which, in her so-called education, Juliet had never even heard, but of which the gatekeeper knew every landmark. He would often stop the reading to talk, explaining and illustrating what the writer meant, in a way that filled Juliet with wonder. "Strange!" she would say to herself; "I never thought of that!" She did not suspect that it would have been strange indeed if she had thought of it.
In her soul began to spring a respect for her host and hostess, such as she had never felt toward God or man. When, despite of many revulsions it was a little established, it naturally went beyond them in the direction of that which they revered. The momentary hush that preceded the name of our Lord, and the smile that so often came with it; the halo, as it were, which in their feeling surrounded Him; the confidence of closest understanding, the radiant humility with which they approached His idea; the way in which they brought the commonest question side by side with the ideal of Him in their minds, considering the one in the light of the other, and answering it thereby; the way in which they took all He said and did on the fundamental understanding that His relation to God was perfect, but His relation to men as yet an imperfect, endeavoring relation, because of their distance from His Father; these, with many another outcome of their genuine belief, began at length to make her feel, not merely as if there had been, but as if there really were such a person as Jesus Christ. The idea of Him ruled potent in the lives of the two, filling heart and brain and hands and feet: how could she help a certain awe before it, such as she had never felt!
Suddenly one day the suspicion awoke in her mind, that the reason why they asked her no questions, put out no feelers after discovery concerning her, must be that Dorothy had told them every thing: if it was, never again would she utter word good or bad to one whose very kindness, she said to herself, was betrayal! The first moment therefore she saw Polwarth alone, unable to be still an instant with her doubt unsolved, she asked him, "with sick assay," but point-blank, whether he knew why she was in hiding from her husband.
"I do not know, ma'am," he answered.
"Miss Drake told you nothing?" pursued Juliet.
"Nothing more than I knew already: that she could not deny when I put it to her."
"But how did you know any thing?" she almost cried out, in a sudden rush of terror as to what the public knowledge of her might after all be.
"If you will remember, ma'am," Polwarth replied, "I told you, the first time I had the pleasure of speaking to you, that it was by observing and reasoning upon what I observed, that I knew you were alive and at the Old House. But it may be some satisfaction to you to see how the thing took shape in my mind."
Thereupon he set the whole process plainly before her.
Fresh wonder, mingled with no little fear, laid hold upon Juliet. She felt not merely as if he could look into her, but as if he had only to look into himself to discover all her secrets.
"I should not have imagined you a person to trouble himself to that extent with other people's affairs," she said, turning away.
"So far as my service can reach, the things of others are also mine," replied Polwarth, very gently.
"But you could not have had the smallest idea of serving me when you made all those observations concerning me."
"I had long desired to serve your husband, ma'am. Never from curiosity would I have asked a single question about you or your affairs. But what came to me I was at liberty to understand if I could, and use for lawful ends if I might."
Juliet was silent. She dared hardly think, lest the gnome should see her very thoughts in their own darkness. Yet she yielded to one more urgent question that kept pushing to get out. She tried to say the words without thinking of the thing, lest he should thereby learn it.
"I suppose then you have your own theory as to my reasons for seeking shelter with Miss Drake for a while?" she said--and the moment she said it, felt as if some demon had betrayed her, and used her organs to utter the words.
"If I have, ma'am," answered Polwarth, "it is for myself alone. I know the sacredness of married life too well to speculate irreverently on its affairs. I believe that many an awful crisis of human history is there passed--such, I presume, as God only sees and understands. The more carefully such are kept from the common eye and the common judgment, the better, I think."
If Juliet left him with yet a little added fear, it was also with growing confidence, and some comfort, which the feeble presence of an infant humility served to enlarge.
Polwarth had not given much thought to the question of the cause of their separation. That was not of his business. What he could not well avoid seeing was, that it could hardly have taken place since their marriage. He had at once, as a matter of course, concluded that it lay with the husband, but from what he had since learned of Juliet's character, he knew she had not the strength either of moral opinion or of will to separate, for any reason past and gone, from the husband she loved so passionately; and there he stopped, refusing to think further. For he found himself on the verge of thinking what, in his boundless respect for women, he shrank with deepest repugnance from entertaining even as a transient flash of conjecture.
One trifle I will here mention, as admitting laterally a single ray of light upon Polwarth's character. Juliet had come to feel some desire to be useful in the house beyond her own room, and descrying not only dust, but what she judged disorder in her landlord's little library--for such she chose to consider him--which, to her astonishment in such a mere cottage, consisted of many more books than her husband's, and ten times as many readable ones, she offered to dust and rearrange them properly: Polwarth instantly accepted her offer, with thanks--which were solely for the kindness of the intent, he could not possibly be grateful for the intended result--and left his books at her mercy. I do not know another man who, loving his books like Polwarth, would have done so. Every book had its own place. He could--I speak advisedly--have laid his hand on any book of at least three hundred of them, in the dark. While he used them with perfect freedom, and cared comparatively little about their covers, he handled them with a delicacy that looked almost like respect. He had seen ladies handle books, he said, laughing, to Wingfold, in a fashion that would have made him afraid to trust them with a child. It was a year after Juliet left the house before he got them by degrees muddled into order again; for it was only as he used them that he would alter their places, putting each, when he had done with it for the moment, as near where it had been before as he could; thus, in time, out of a neat chaos, restoring a useful work-a-day world.
Dorothy's thoughts were in the meantime much occupied for Juliet. Now that she was so sadly free, she could do more for her. She must occupy her old quarters as soon as possible after the workmen had finished. She thought at first of giving out that a friend in poor health was coming to visit her, but she soon saw that would either involve lying or lead to suspicion, and perhaps discovery, and resolved to keep her presence in the house concealed from the outer world as before. But what was she to do with respect to Lisbeth? Could she trust her with the secret? She certainly could not trust Amanda. She would ask Helen to take the latter for a while, and do her best to secure the silence of the former.
She so represented the matter to Lisbeth as to rouse her heart in regard to it even more than her wonder. But her injunctions to secrecy were so earnest, that the old woman was offended. She was no slip of a girl, she said, who did not know how to hold her tongue. She had had secrets to keep before now, she said; and in proof of her perfect trustworthiness, was proceeding to tell some of them, when she read her folly in Dorothy's fixed regard, and ceased.
"Lisbeth," said her mistress, "you have been a friend for sixteen years, and I love you; but if I find that you have given the smallest hint even that there is a secret in the house, I solemnly vow you shall not be another night in it yourself, and I shall ever after think of you as a wretched creature who periled the life of a poor, unhappy lady rather than take the trouble to rule her own tongue."
Lisbeth trembled, and did hold her tongue, in spite of the temptation to feel herself for just one instant the most important person in Glaston.
As the time went on, Juliet became more fretful, and more confiding. She was never cross with Ruth--why, she could not have told; and when she had been cross to Dorothy, she was sorry for it. She never said she was sorry, but she tried to make up for it. Her husband had not taught her the virtue, both for relief and purification, that lies in the acknowledgment of wrong. To take up blame that is our own, is to wither the very root of it.
Juliet was pleased at the near prospect of the change, for she had naturally dreaded being ill in the limited accommodation of the lodge. She formally thanked the two crushed and rumpled little angels, begged them to visit her often, and proceeded to make her very small preparations with a fitful cheerfulness. Something might come of the change, she flattered herself. She had always indulged a vague fancy that Dorothy was devising help for her; and it was in part the disappointment of nothing having yet justified the expectation, that had spoiled her behavior to her. But for a long time Dorothy had been talking of Paul in a different tone, and that very morning had spoken of him even with some admiration: it might be a prelude to something! Most likely Dorothy knew more than she chose to say! She dared ask no question for the dread of finding herself mistaken. She preferred the ignorance that left room for hope. But she did not like all Dorothy said in his praise; for her tone, if not her words, seemed to imply some kind of change in him. He might have his faults, she said to herself, like other men, but she had not yet discovered them; and any change would, in her eyes, be for the worse. Would she ever see her own old Paul again?
One day as Faber was riding at a good round trot along one of the back streets of Glaston, approaching his own house, he saw Amanda, who still took every opportunity of darting out at an open door, running to him with outstretched arms, right in the face of Niger, just as if she expected the horse to stop and take her up. Unable to trust him so well as his dear old Ruber, he dismounted, and taking her in his arms, led Niger to his stable. He learned from her that she was staying with the Wingfolds, and took her home, after which his visits to the rectory were frequent.
The Wingfolds could not fail to remark the tenderness with which he regarded the child. Indeed it soon became clear that it was for her sake he came to them. The change that had begun in him, the loss of his self-regard following on the loss of Juliet, had left a great gap in his conscious being: into that gap had instantly begun to shoot the all-clothing greenery of natural affection. His devotion to her did not at first cause them any wonderment. Every body loved the little Amanda, they saw in him only another of the child's conquests, and rejoiced in the good the love might do him. Even when they saw him looking fixedly at her with eyes over clear, they set it down to the frustrated affection of the lonely, wifeless, childless man. But by degrees they did come to wonder a little: his love seemed to grow almost a passion. Strange thoughts began to move in their minds, looking from the one to the other of this love and the late tragedy.
"I wish," said the curate one morning, as they sat at breakfast, "if only for Faber's sake, that something definite was known about poor Juliet. There are rumors in the town, roving like poisonous fogs. Some profess to believe he has murdered her, getting rid of her body utterly, then spreading the report that she had run away. Others say she is mad, and he has her in the house, but stupefied with drugs to keep her quiet. Drew told me he had even heard it darkly hinted that he was making experiments upon her, to discover the nature of life. It is dreadful to think what a man is exposed to from evil imaginations groping after theory. I dare hardly think what might happen should these fancies get rooted among the people. Many of them are capable of brutality. For my part, I don't believe the poor woman is dead yet."
Helen replied she did not believe that, in her sound mind, Juliet would have had the resolution to kill herself; but who could tell what state of mind she was in at the time? There was always something mysterious about her--something that seemed to want explanation.
Between them it was concluded that, the next time Faber came, Wingfold should be plain with him. He therefore told him that if he could cast any light on his wife's disappearance, it was most desirable he should do so; for reports were abroad greatly to his disadvantage. Faber answered, with a sickly smile of something like contempt, that they had had a quarrel the night before, for which he was to blame; that he had left her, and the next morning she was gone, leaving every thing, even to her wedding-ring, behind her, except the clothes she wore; that he had done all he could to find her, but had been utterly foiled. More he could not say.
The next afternoon, he sought an interview with the curate in his study, and told him every thing he had told Mr. Drake. The story seemed to explain a good deal more than it did, leaving the curate with the conviction that the disclosure of this former relation had caused the quarrel between him and his wife, and more doubtful than ever as to Juliet's having committed suicide.
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