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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Sevier - Chapter 41. Mirage
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Dr. Sevier - Chapter 41. Mirage Post by :jonbd Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :1640

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Dr. Sevier - Chapter 41. Mirage


"This spoils some of your arrangements, doesn't it?" asked Dr. Sevier of Richling, stepping again into his carriage. He had already said the kind things, concerning Reisen, that physicians commonly say when they have little hope. "Were you not counting on an early visit to Milwaukee?"

Richling laughed.

"That illusion has been just a little beyond reach for months." He helped the Doctor shut his carriage-door.

"But now, of course--" said the physician.

"Of course it's out of the question," replied Richling; and the Doctor drove away, with the young man's face in his mind bearing an expression of simple emphasis that pleased him much.

Late at night Richling, in his dingy little office, unlocked a drawer, drew out a plump package of letters, and began to read their pages,--transcripts of his wife's heart, pages upon pages, hundreds of precious lines, dates crowding closely one upon another. Often he smiled as his eyes ran to and fro, or drew a soft sigh as he turned the page, and looked behind to see if any one had stolen in and was reading over his shoulder. Sometimes his smile broadened; he lifted his glance from the sheet and fixed it in pleasant revery on the blank wall before him. Often the lines were entirely taken up with mere utterances of affection. Now and then they were all about little Alice, who had fretted all the night before, her gums being swollen and tender on the upper left side near the front; or who had fallen violently in love with the house-dog, by whom, in turn, the sentiment was reciprocated; or whose eyes were really getting bluer and bluer, and her cheeks fatter and fatter, and who seemed to fear nothing that had existence. And the reader of the lines would rest one elbow on the desk, shut his eyes in one hand, and see the fair young head of the mother drooping tenderly over that smaller head in her bosom. Sometimes the tone of the lines was hopefully grave, discussing in the old tentative, interrogative key the future and its possibilities. Some pages were given to reminiscences,--recollections of all the droll things and all the good and glad things of the rugged past. Every here and there, but especially where the lines drew toward the signature, the words of longing multiplied, but always full of sunshine; and just at the end of each letter love spurned its restraints, and rose and overflowed with sweet confessions.

Sometimes these re-read letters did Richling good; not always. Maybe he read them too often. It was only the very next time that the Doctor's carriage stood before the bakery that the departing physician turned before he reentered the vehicle, and--whatever Richling had been saying to him--said abruptly:--

"Richling, are you falling out of love with your work?"

"Why do you ask me that?" asked the young man, coloring.

"Because I no longer see that joy of deliverance with which you entered upon this humble calling. It seems to have passed like a lost perfume, Richling. Have you let your toil become a task once more?"

Richling dropped his eyes and pushed the ground with the toe of his boot.

"I didn't want you to find that out, Doctor."

"I was afraid, from the first, it would be so," said the physician.

"I don't see why you were."

"Well, I saw that the zeal with which you first laid hold of your work was not entirely natural. It was good, but it was partly artificial,--the more credit to you on that account. But I saw that by and by you would have to keep it up mainly by your sense of necessity and duty. 'That'll be the pinch,' I said; and now I see it's come. For a long time you idealized the work; but at last its real dulness has begun to overcome you, and you're discontented--and with a discontentment that you can't justify, can you?"

"But I feel myself growing smaller again."

"No wonder. Why, Richling, it's the discontent makes that."

"Oh, no! The discontent makes me long to expand. I never had so much ambition before. But what can I do here? Why, Doctor, I ought to be--I might be"--

The physician laid a hand on the young man's shoulder.

"Stop, Richling. Drop those phrases and give us a healthy 'I am,' and 'I must,' and 'I will.' Don't--_don't be like so many! You're not of the many. Richling, in the first illness in which I ever attended your wife, she watched her chance and asked me privately--implored me--not to let her die, for your sake. I don't suppose that tortures could have wrung from her, even if she realized it,--which I doubt,--the true reason. But don't you feel it? It was because your moral nature needs her so badly. Stop--let me finish. You need Mary back here now to hold you square to your course by the tremendous power of her timid little 'Don't you think?' and 'Doesn't it seem?'"

"Doctor," replied Richling, with a smile of expostulation, "you touch one's pride."

"Certainly I do. You're willing enough to say that you love her and long for her, but not that your moral manhood needs her. And yet isn't it true?"

"It sha'n't be true," said Richling, swinging a playful fist. "'Forewarned is forearmed;' I'll not allow it. I'm man enough for that." He laughed, with a touch of pique.

"Richling,"--the Doctor laid a finger against his companion's shoulder, preparing at the same time to leave him,--"don't be misled. A man who doesn't need a wife isn't fit to have one."

"Why, Doctor," replied Richling, with sincere amiability, "you're the man of all men I should have picked out to prove the contrary."

"No, Richling, no. I wasn't fit, and God took her."

In accordance with Dr. Sevier's request Richling essayed to lift the mind of the baker's wife, in the matter of her husband's affliction, to that plane of conviction where facts, and not feelings, should become her motive; and when he had talked until his head reeled, as though he had been blowing a fire, and she would not blaze for all his blowing--would be governed only by a stupid sentimentality; and when at length she suddenly flashed up in silly anger and accused him of interested motives; and when he had demanded instant retraction or release from her employment; and when she humbly and affectionately apologized, and was still as deep as ever in hopeless, clinging sentimentalisms, repeating the dictums of her simple and ignorant German neighbors and intimates, and calling them in to argue with him, the feeling that the Doctor's exhortation had for the moment driven away came back with more force than ever, and he could only turn again to his ovens and account-books with a feeling of annihilation.

"Where am I? What am I?" Silence was the only answer. The separation that had once been so sharp a pain had ceased to cut, and was bearing down upon him now with that dull, grinding weight that does the damage in us.

Presently came another development: the lack of money, that did no harm while it was merely kept in the mind, settled down upon the heart.

"It may be a bad thing to love, but it's a good thing to have," he said, one day, to the little rector, as this friend stood by him at a corner of the high desk where Richling was posting his ledger.

"But not to seek," said the rector.

Richling posted an item and shook his head doubtingly.

"That depends, I should say, on how much one seeks it, and how much of it he seeks."

"No," insisted the clergyman. Richling bent a look of inquiry upon him, and he added:--

"The principle is bad, and you know it, Richling. 'Seek ye first'--you know the text, and the assurance that follows with it--'all these things shall be added'"--

"Oh, yes; but still"--

"'But still!'" exclaimed the little preacher; "why must everybody say 'but still'? Don't you see that that 'but still' is the refusal of Christians to practise Christianity?"

Richling looked, but said nothing; and his friend hoped the word had taken effect. But Richling was too deeply bitten to be cured by one or two good sayings. After a moment he said:--

"I used to wonder to see nearly everybody struggling to be rich, but I don't now. I don't justify it, but I understand it. It's flight from oblivion. It's the natural longing to be seen and felt."

"Why isn't it enough to be felt?" asked the other. "Here, you make bread and sell it. A thousand people eat it from your hand every day. Isn't that something?"

"Yes; but it's all the bread. The bread's everything; I'm nothing. I'm not asked to do or to be. I may exist or not; there will be bread all the same. I see my remark pains you, but I can't help it. You've never tried the thing. You've never encountered the mild contempt that people in ease pay to those who pursue the 'industries.' You've never suffered the condescension of rank to the ranks. You don't know the smart of being only an arithmetical quantity in a world of achievements and possessions."

"No," said the preacher, "maybe I haven't. But I should say you are just the sort of man that ought to come through all that unsoured and unhurt. Richling,"--he put on a lighter mood,--"you've got a moral indigestion. You've accustomed yourself to the highest motives, and now these new notions are not the highest, and you know and feel it. They don't nourish you. They don't make you happy. Where are your old sentiments? What's become of them?"

"Ah!" said Richling, "I got them from my wife. And the supply's nearly run out."

"Get it renewed!" said the little man, quickly, putting on his hat and extending a farewell hand. "Excuse me for saying so. I didn't intend it; I dropped in to ask you again the name of that Italian whom you visit at the prison,--the man I promised you I'd go and talk to. Yes--Ristofalo; that's it. Good-by."

That night Richling wrote to his wife. What he wrote goes not down here; but he felt as he wrote that his mood was not the right one, and when Mary got the letter she answered by first mail:--

"Will you not let me come to you? Is it not surely best? Say but the word, and I'll come. It will be the steamer to Chicago, railroad to Cairo, and a St. Louis boat to New Orleans. Alice will be both company and protection, and no burden at all. O my beloved husband! I am just ungracious enough to think, some days, that these times of separation are the hardest of all. When we were suffering sickness and hunger together--well, we were _together_. Darling, if you'll just say come, I'll come in an _instant_. Oh, how gladly! Surely, with what you tell me you've saved, and with your place so secure to you, can't we venture to begin again? Alice and I can live with you in the bakery. O my husband! if you but say the word, a little time--a few days will bring us into your arms. And yet, do not yield to my impatience; I trust your wisdom, and know that what you decide will be best. Mother has been very feeble lately, as I have told you; but she seems to be improving, and now I see what I've half suspected for a long time, and ought to have seen sooner, that my husband--my dear, dear husband--needs me most; and I'm coming--I'm _coming_, John, if you'll only say come.

Your loving

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CHAPTER XL. SWEET BELLS JANGLEDThose who knew New Orleans just before the civil war, even though they saw it only along its riverfront from the deck of some steam-boat, may easily recall a large sign painted high up on the side of the old "Triangle Building," which came to view through the dark web of masts and cordage as one drew near St. Mary's Market. "Steam Bakery" it read. And such as were New Orleans householders, or by any other chance enjoyed the experience of making their way in the early morning among the hundreds of baskets that on hundreds of