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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPaul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 33. Paul Faber's Dressing-Room
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Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 33. Paul Faber's Dressing-Room Post by :Sunil_Tanna Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1205

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Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 33. Paul Faber's Dressing-Room


Faber did not reach home till a few minutes before the dinner hour. He rode into the stable-yard, entered the house by the surgery, and went straight to his dressing-room; for the roads were villianous, and Ruber's large feet had made a wonderful sight of his master, who respected his wife's carpet. At the same time he hoped, as it was so near dinner-time, to find her in her chamber. She had, however, already made her toilet, and was waiting his return in the drawing-room. Her heart made a false motion and stung her when she heard his steps pass the door and go up stairs, for generally he came to greet her the moment he entered the house.--Had he seen any body!--Had he heard any thing? It was ten dreadful minutes before he came down, but he entered cheerily, with the gathered warmth of two days of pent-up affection. She did her best to meet him as if nothing had happened. For indeed what had happened--except her going to church? If nothing had taken place since she saw him--since she knew him--why such perturbation? Was marriage a slavery of the very soul, in which a wife was bound to confess every thing to her husband, even to her most secret thoughts and feelings? Or was a husband lord not only over the present and future of his wife, but over her past also? Was she bound to disclose every thing that lay in that past? If Paul made no claim upon her beyond the grave, could he claim back upon the dead past before he knew her, a period over which she had now no more control than over that when she would be but a portion of the material all?

But whatever might be Paul's theories of marriage or claims upon his wife, it was enough for her miserable unrest that she was what is called a living soul, with a history, and what has come to be called a conscience--a something, that is, as most people regard it, which has the power, and uses it, of making uncomfortable.

The existence of such questions as I have indicated reveals that already between her and him there showed space, separation, non-contact: Juliet was too bewildered with misery to tell whether it was a cleft of a hair's breadth, or a gulf across which no cry could reach; this moment it seemed the one, the next the other. The knowledge which caused it had troubled her while he sought her love, had troubled her on to the very eve of her surrender. The deeper her love grew the more fiercely she wrestled with the evil fact. A low moral development and the purest resolve of an honest nature afforded her many pleas, and at length she believed she had finally put it down. She had argued that, from the opinions themselves of Faber, the thing could not consistently fail to be as no thing to him. Even were she mistaken in this conclusion, it would be to wrong his large nature, his generous love, his unselfish regard, his tender pitifulness, to fail of putting her silent trust in him. Besides, had she not read in the newspapers the utterance of a certain worshipful judge on the bench that no man had any thing to do with his wife's ante-nuptial history? The contract then was certainly not retrospective. What in her remained unsatisfied after all her arguments, reasons, and appeals to common sense and consequences, she strove to strangle, and thought, hoped, she had succeeded. She willed her will, made up her mind, yielded to Paul's solicitations, and put the whole painful thing away from her.

The step taken, the marriage over, nothing could any more affect either fact. Only, unfortunately for the satisfaction and repose she had desired and expected, her love to her husband had gone on growing after they were married. True she sometimes fancied it otherwise, but while the petals of the rose were falling, its capsule was filling; and notwithstanding the opposite tendency of the deoxygenated atmosphere in which their thoughts moved, she had begun already to long after an absolute union with him. But this growth of her love, and aspiration after its perfection, although at first they covered what was gone by with a deepening mist of apparent oblivion, were all the time bringing it closer to her consciousness--out of the far into the near. And now suddenly that shape she knew of, lying in the bottom of the darkest pool of the stagnant Past, had been stung into life by a wind of words that swept through Nestley chapel, had stretched up a hideous neck and threatening head from the deep, and was staring at her with sodden eyes: henceforth she knew that the hideous Fact had its appointed place between her and her beautiful Paul, the demon of the gulfy cleft that parted them.

The moment she spoke in reply to his greeting her husband also felt something dividing them, but had no presentiment of its being any thing of import.

"You are over-tired, my love," he said, and taking her hand, felt her pulse. It was feeble and frequent.

"What have they been doing to you, my darling?" he asked. "Those little demons of ponies running away again?"

"No," she answered, scarce audibly.

"Something has gone wrong with you," he persisted. "Have you caught cold? None of the old symptoms, I hope?"

"None, Paul. There is nothing the matter," she answered, laying her head lightly, as if afraid of the liberty she took, upon his shoulder. His arm went round her waist.

"What is it, then, my wife?" he said tenderly.

"Which would you rather have, Paul--have me die, or do something wicked?"

"Juliet, this will never do!" he returned quietly but almost severely. "You have been again giving the reins to a morbid imagination. Weakness and folly only can come of that. It is nothing better than hysteria."

"No, but tell me, dear Paul," she persisted pleadingly. "Answer my question. Do, please."

"There is no such question to be answered," he returned. "You are not going to die, and I am yet more certain you are not going to do any thing wicked. Are you now?"

"No, Paul. Indeed I am not. But----"

"I have it!" he exclaimed. "You went to church at Nestley last night! Confound them all with their humbug! You have been letting their infernal nonsense get a hold of you again! It has quite upset you--that, and going much too long without your dinner. What _can be keeping it?" He left her hurriedly and rang the bell. "You must speak to the cook, my love. She is getting out of the good habits I had so much trouble to teach her. But no--no! you shall not be troubled with _my servants. I will speak to her myself. After dinner I will read you some of my favorite passages in Montaigne. No, you shall read to me: your French is so much better than mine."

Dinner was announced and nothing more was said. Paul ate well, Juliet scarcely at all, but she managed to hide from him the offense. They rose together and returned to the drawing-room.

The moment Faber shut the door Juliet turned in the middle of the room, and as he came up to her said, in a voice much unlike her own:

"Paul, if I _were to do any thing very bad, as bad as could be, would you forgive me?"

"Come, my love," expostulated Faber, speaking more gently than before, for he had had his dinner, "surely you are not going to spoil our evening with any more such nonsense!"

"Answer me, Paul, or I shall think you do not love me," she said, and the tone of her entreaty verged upon demand. "Would you forgive me if I had done something _very bad?"

"Of course I should," he answered, with almost irritated haste, "--that is, if I could ever bring myself to allow any thing you did was wrong. Only, you would witch me out of opinion and judgment and every thing else with two words from your dear lips."

"Should I, Paul?" she said; and lifting her face from his shoulder, she looked up in his from the depths of two dark fountains full of tears. Never does the soul so nearly identify itself with matter as when revealing itself through the eyes; never does matter so nearly lose itself in spiritual absorption, as when two eyes like Juliet's are possessed and glorified by the rush of the soul through their portals. Faber kissed eyes and lips and neck in a glow of delight. She was the vision of a most blessed dream, and she was his, all and altogether his! He never thought then how his own uncreed and the prayer-book were of the same mind that Death would one day part them. There is that in every high and simple feeling that stamps it with eternity. For my own part I believe that, if life has not long before twinned any twain, Death can do nothing to divide them. The nature of each and every pure feeling, even in the man who may sin away the very memory of it, is immortal; and who knows from under what a depth of ashes the love of the saving God may yet revive it!

The next moment the doctor was summoned. When he returned, Juliet was in bed, and pretended to be asleep.

In the morning she appeared at the breakfast table so pale, so worn, so troubled, that her husband was quite anxious about her. All she would confess to was, that she had not slept well, and had a headache. Attributing her condition to a nervous attack, he gave her some medicine, took her to the drawing-room, and prescribed the new piano, which he had already found the best of all sedatives for her. She loathed the very thought of it--could no more have touched it than if the ivory keys had been white hot steel. She watched him from the window while he mounted his horse, but the moment the last red gleam of Ruber vanished, she flung her arms above her head, and with a stifled cry threw herself on a couch, stuffed her handkerchief into her mouth, and in fierce dumb agony, tore it to shreds with hands and teeth. Presently she rose, opened the door almost furtively, and stole softly down the stair, looking this way and that, like one intent on some evil deed. At the bottom she pushed a green baize-covered door, peeped into a passage, then crept on tiptoe toward the surgery. Arrived there she darted to a spot she knew, and stretched a trembling hand toward a bottle full of a dark-colored liquid. As instantly she drew it back, and stood listening with bated breath and terrified look. It _was a footstep approaching the outer door of the surgery! She turned and fled from it, still noiseless, and never stopped till she was in her own room. There she shut and locked the door, fell on her knees by the bedside, and pressed her face into the coverlid. She had no thought of praying. She wanted to hide, only to hide. Neither was it from old habit she fell upon her knees, for she had never been given to kneeling. I can not but think, nevertheless, that there was a dumb germ of prayer at the heart of the action--that falling upon her knees, and that hiding of her face. The same moment something took place within her to which she could have given no name, which she could have represented in no words, a something which came she knew not whence, was she knew not what, and went she knew not whither, of which indeed she would never have become aware except for what followed, but which yet so wrought, that she rose from her knees saying to herself, with clenched teeth and burning eyes, "I _will tell him."

As if she had known the moment of her death near, she began mechanically to set every thing in order in the room, and as she came to herself she was saying, "Let him kill me. I wish he would. I am quite willing to die by his hand. He will be kind, and do it gently. He knows so many ways!"

It was a terrible day. She did not go out of her room again. Her mood changed a hundred times. The resolve to confess alternated with wild mockery and laughter, but still returned. She would struggle to persuade herself that her whole condition was one of foolish exaggeration, of senseless excitement about nothing--the merest delirium of feminine fastidiousness; and the next instant would turn cold with horror at a fresh glimpse of the mere fact. What could the wretched matter be to him now--or to her? Who was the worse, or had ever been the worse but herself? And what did it amount to? What claim had any one, what claim could even a God, if such a being there were, have upon the past which had gone from her, was no more in any possible sense within her reach than if it had never been? Was it not as if it had never been? Was the woman to be hurled--to hurl herself into misery for the fault of the girl? It was all nonsense--a trifle at worst--a disagreeable trifle, no doubt, but still a trifle! Only would to God she had died rather--even although then she would never have known Paul!--Tut! she would never have thought of it again but for that horrid woman that lived over the draper's shop! All would have been well if she had but kept from thinking about it! Nobody would have been a hair the worse then!--But, poor Paul!--to be married to such a woman as she!

If she were to be so foolish as let him know, how would it strike Paul? What would he think of it? Ought she not to be sure of that before she committed herself--before she uttered the irrevocable words? Would he call it a trifle, or would he be ready to kill her? True, he had no right, he _could have no right to know; but how horrible that there should be any thought of right between them! still worse, any thing whatever between them that he had no right to know! worst of all, that she did not belong to him so utterly that he must have a right to know _every thing about her! She _would tell him all! She would! she would! she had no choice! she must!--But she need not tell him now. She was not strong enough to utter the necessary words. But that made the thing very dreadful! If she could not speak the words, how bad it must really be!--Impossible to tell her Paul! That was pure absurdity.--Ah, but she _could not! She would be certain to faint--or fall dead at his feet. That would be well!--Yes! that would do! She would take a wine-glass full of laudanum just before she told him; then, if he was kind, she would confess the opium, and he could save her if he pleased; if he was hard, she would say nothing, and die at his feet. She had hoped to die in his arms--all that was left of eternity. But her life was his, he had saved it with his own--oh horror! that it should have been to disgrace him!--and it should not last a moment longer than it was a pleasure to him.

Worn out with thought and agony, she often fell asleep--only to start awake in fresh misery, and go over and over the same torturing round. Long before her husband appeared, she was in a burning fever. When he came, he put her at once to bed, and tended her with a solicitude as anxious as it was gentle. He soothed her to sleep, and then went and had some dinner.

On his return, finding, as he had expected, that she still slept, he sat down by her bedside, and watched. Her slumber was broken with now and then a deep sigh, now and then a moan. Alas, that we should do the things that make for moan!--but at least I understand why we are left to do them: it is because we can. A dull fire was burning in her soul, and over it stood the caldron of her history, and it bubbled in sighs and moans.

Faber was ready enough to attribute every thing human to a physical origin, but as he sat there pondering her condition, recalling her emotion and strange speech of the night before, and watching the state she was now in, an uneasiness began to gather--undefined, but other than concerned her health. Something must be wrong somewhere. He kept constantly assuring himself that at worst it could be but some mere moleheap, of which her lovelily sensitive organization, under the influence of a foolish preachment, made a mountain. Still, it was a huge disorder to come from a trifle! At the same time who knew better than he upon what a merest trifle nervous excitement will fix the attention! or how to the mental eye such a speck will grow and grow until it absorb the universe! Only a certain other disquieting thought, having come once, would keep returning--that, thoroughly as he believed himself acquainted with her mind, he had very little knowledge of her history. He did not know a single friend of hers, had never met a person who knew any thing of her family, or had even an acquaintance with her earlier than his own. The thing he most dreaded was, that the shadow of some old affection had returned upon her soul, and that, in her excessive delicacy, she heaped blame upon herself that she had not absolutely forgotten it. He flung from him in scorn every slightest suggestion of blame. _His Juliet! his glorious Juliet! Bah!--But he must get her to say what the matter was--for her own sake; he must help her to reveal her trouble, whatever it might be--else how was he to do his best to remove it! She should find he knew how to be generous!

Thus thinking, he sat patient by her side, watching until the sun of her consciousness should rise and scatter the clouds of sleep. Hour after hour he sat, and still she slept, outwearied with the rack of emotion. Morning had begun to peer gray through the window-curtains, when she woke with a cry.

She had been dreaming. In the little chapel in Nestley Park, she sat listening to the curate's denouncement of hypocrisy, when suddenly the scene changed: the pulpit had grown to a mighty cloud, upon which stood an archangel with a trumpet in his hand. He cried that the hour of the great doom had come for all who bore within them the knowledge of any evil thing neither bemoaned before God nor confessed to man. Then he lifted the great silver trumpet with a gleam to his lips, and every fiber of her flesh quivered in expectation of the tearing blast that was to follow; when instead, soft as a breath of spring from a bank of primroses, came the words, uttered in the gentlest of sorrowful voices, and the voice seemed that of her unbelieving Paul: "I will arise and go to my Father." It was no wonder, therefore, that she woke with a cry. It was one of indescribable emotion. When she saw his face bending over her in anxious love, she threw her arms round his neck, burst into a storm of weeping, and sobbed.

"Oh Paul! husband! forgive me. I have sinned against you terribly--the worst sin a woman can commit. Oh Paul! Paul! make me clean, or I am lost."

"Juliet, you are raving," he said, bewildered, a little angry, and at her condition not a little alarmed. For the confession, it was preposterous: they had not been many weeks married! "Calm yourself, or you will give me a lunatic for a wife!" he said. Then changing his tone, for his heart rebuked him, when he saw the ashy despair that spread over her face and eyes, "Be still, my precious," he went on. "All is well. You have been dreaming, and are not yet quite awake. It is the morphia you had last night! Don't look so frightened. It is only your husband. No one else is near you."

With the tenderest smile he sought to reassure her, and would have gently released himself from the agonized clasp of her arms about his neck, that he might get her something. But she tightened her hold.

"Don't leave me, Paul," she cried. "I was dreaming, but I am wide awake now, and know only too well what I have done."

"Dreams are nothing. The will is not in them," he said. But the thought of his sweet wife even dreaming a thing to be repented of in such dismay, tore his heart. For he was one of the many--not all of the purest--who cherish an ideal of woman which, although indeed poverty-stricken and crude, is to their minds of snowy favor, to their judgment of loftiest excellence. I trust in God that many a woman, despite the mud of doleful circumstance, yea, even the defilement that comes first from within, has risen to a radiance of essential innocence ineffably beyond that whose form stood white in Faber's imagination. For I see and understand a little how God, giving righteousness, makes pure of sin, and that verily--by no theological quibble of imputation, by no play with words, by no shutting of the eyes, no oblivion, willful or irresistible, but by very fact of cleansing, so that the consciousness of the sinner becomes glistering as the raiment of the Lord on the mount of His transfiguration. I do not expect the Pharisee who calls the sinner evil names, and drags her up to judgment, to comprehend this; but, woman, cry to thy Father in Heaven, for He can make thee white, even to the contentment of that womanhood which thou hast thyself outraged.

Faber unconsciously prided himself on the severity of his requirements of woman, and saw his own image reflected in the polish of his ideal; and now a fear whose presence he would not acknowledge began to gnaw at his heart, a vague suggestion's horrid image, to which he would yield no space, to flit about his brain.

"Would to God it were a dream, Paul!" answered the stricken wife.

"You foolish child!" returned the nigh trembling husband, "how can you expect me to believe, married but yesterday, you have already got tired of me!"

"Tired of you, Paul! I should desire no other eternal paradise than to lie thus under your eyes forever."

"Then for my sake, my darling wife, send away this extravagance, this folly, this absurd fancy that has got such a hold of you. It will turn to something serious if you do not resist it. There can be no truth in it, and I am certain that one with any strength of character can do much at least to prevent the deeper rooting of a fixed idea." But as he spoke thus to her, in his own soul he was as one fighting the demons off with a fan. "Tell me what the mighty matter is," he went on, "that I may swear to you I love you the more for the worst weakness you have to confess."

"Ah, my love!" returned Juliet, "how like you are now to the Paul I have dreamed of so often! But you will not be able to forgive me. I have read somewhere that men never forgive--that their honor is before their wives with them. Paul! if you should not be able to forgive me, you must help me to die, and not be cruel to me."

"Juliet, I will not listen to any more such foolish words. Either tell me plainly what you mean, that I may convince you what a goose you are, or be quiet and go to sleep again."

"_Can it be that after all it does not signify so much?" she said aloud, but only to herself, meditating in the light of a little glow-worm of hope. "Oh if it could be so! And what is it really so much? I have not murdered any body!--I _will tell you, Paul!"

She drew his head closer down, laid her lips to his ear, gave a great gasp, and whispered two or three words. He started up, sundering at once the bonds of her clasped hands, cast one brief stare at her, turned, walked, with a great quick stride to his dressing-room, entered, and closed the door.

As if with one rush of a fell wind, they were ages, deserts, empty star-spaces apart! She was outside the universe, in the cold frenzy of infinite loneliness. The wolves of despair were howling in her. But Paul was in the next room! There was only the door between them! She sprung from her bed and ran to a closet. The next moment she appeared in her husband's dressing-room.

Paul sat sunk together in his chair, his head hanging forward, his teeth set, his whole shape, in limb and feature, carrying the show of profound, of irrecoverable injury. He started to his feet when she entered. She did not once lift her eyes to his face, but sunk on her knees before him, hurriedly slipped her night-gown from her shoulders to her waist, and over her head, bent toward the floor, held up to him a riding-whip.

They were baleful stars that looked down on that naked world beneath them.

To me scarce any thing is so utterly pathetic as the back. That of an animal even is full of sad suggestion. But the human back!--It is the other, the dark side of the human moon; the blind side of the being, defenseless, and exposed to every thing; the ignorant side, turned toward the abyss of its unknown origin; the unfeatured side, eyeless and dumb and helpless--the enduring animal of the marvelous commonwealth, to be given to the smiter, and to bend beneath the burden--lovely in its patience and the tender forms of its strength.

An evil word, resented by the lowest of our sisters, rushed to the man's lips, but died there in a strangled murmur.

"Paul!" said Juliet, in a voice from whose tone it seemed as if her soul had sunk away, and was crying out of a hollow place of the earth, "take it--take it. Strike me."

He made no reply--stood utterly motionless, his teeth clenched so hard that he could not have spoken without grinding them. She waited as motionless, her face bowed to the floor, the whip held up over her head.

"Paul!" she said again, "you saved my life once: save my soul now. Whip me and take me again."

He answered with only a strange unnatural laugh through his teeth.

"Whip me and let me die then," she said.

He spoke no word. She spoke again. Despair gave her both insight and utterance--despair and great love, and the truth of God that underlies even despair.

"You pressed me to marry you," she said: "what was I to do? How could I tell you? And I loved you so! I persuaded myself I was safe with you--you were so generous. You would protect me from every thing, even my own past. In your name I sent it away, and would not think of it again. I said to myself you would not wish me to tell you the evil that had befallen me. I persuaded myself you loved me enough even for that. I held my peace trusting you. Oh my husband! my Paul! my heart is crushed. The dreadful thing has come back. I thought it was gone from me, and now it will not leave me any more. I am a horror to myself. There is no one to punish and forgive me but you. Forgive me, my husband. You are the God to whom I pray. If you pardon me I shall be content even with myself. I shall seek no other pardon; your favor is all I care for. If you take me for clean, I _am clean for all the world. You can make me clean--you only. Do it, Paul; do it, husband. Make me clean that I may look women in the face. Do, Paul, take the whip and strike me. I long for my deserts at your hand. Do comfort me. I am waiting the sting of it, Paul, to know that you have forgiven me. If I should cry out, it will be for gladness.--Oh, my husband,"--here her voice rose to an agony of entreaty--"I was but a girl--hardly more than a child in knowledge--I did not know what I was doing. He was much older than I was, and I trusted him!--O my God! I hardly know what I knew and what I did not know: it was only when it was too late that I woke and understood. I hate myself. I scorn myself. But am I to be wretched forever because of that one fault, Paul? Will you not be my saviour and forgive me my sin? Oh, do not drive me mad. I am only clinging to my reason. Whip me and I shall be well. Take me again, Paul. I will not, if you like, even fancy myself your wife any more. I will be your slave. You shall do with me whatever you will. I will obey you to the very letter. Oh beat me and let me go."

She sunk prone on the floor, and clasped and kissed his feet.

He took the whip from her hand.

Of course a man can not strike a woman! He may tread her in the mire; he may clasp her and then scorn her; he may kiss her close, and then dash her from him into a dung-heap, but he must not strike her--that would be unmanly! Oh! grace itself is the rage of the pitiful Othello to the forbearance of many a self-contained, cold-blooded, self-careful slave, that thinks himself a gentleman! Had not Faber been even then full of his own precious self, had he yielded to her prayer or to his own wrath, how many hours of agony would have been saved them both!--"What! would you have had him really strike her?" I would have had him do _any thing rather than choose himself and reject his wife: make of it what you will. Had he struck once, had he seen the purple streak rise in the snow, that instant his pride-frozen heart would have melted into a torrent of grief; he would have flung himself on the floor beside her, and in an agony of pity over her and horror at his own sacrilege, would have clasped her to his bosom, and baptized her in the tears of remorse and repentance; from that moment they would have been married indeed.

When she felt him take the whip, the poor lady's heart gave a great heave of hope; then her flesh quivered with fear. She closed her teeth hard, to welcome the blow without a cry. Would he give her many stripes? Then the last should be welcome as the first. Would it spoil her skin? What matter if it was his own hand that did it!

A brief delay--long to her! then the hiss, as it seemed, of the coming blow! But instead of the pang she awaited, the sharp ring of breaking glass followed: he had thrown the whip through the window into the garden. The same moment he dragged his feet rudely from her embrace, and left the room. The devil and the gentleman had conquered. He had spared her, not in love, but in scorn. She gave one great cry of utter loss, and lay senseless.

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Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 34. The Bottomless Pool Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 34. The Bottomless Pool

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CHAPTER XXXIV. THE BOTTOMLESS POOLShe came to herself in the gray dawn. She was cold as ice--cold to the very heart, but she did not feel the cold: there was nothing in her to compare it against; her very being was frozen. The man who had given her life had thrown her from him. He cared less for her than for the tortured dog. She was an outcast, defiled and miserable. Alas! alas! this was what came of speaking the truth--of making confession! The cruel scripture had wrought its own fulfillment, made a mock of her, and ruined her husband's peace.

Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 32. The Old House Of Glaston Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 32. The Old House Of Glaston

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CHAPTER XXXII. THE OLD HOUSE OF GLASTONThe same evening Dorothy and her father walked to the Old House. Already the place looked much changed. The very day the deeds were signed, Mr. Drake, who was not the man to postpone action a moment after the time for it was come, had set men at work upon the substantial repairs. The house was originally so well built that these were not so heavy as might have been expected, and when completed they made little show of change. The garden, however, looked quite another thing, for it had lifted itself up from the