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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 3
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Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 3 Post by :Bizrus Category :Long Stories Author :Upton Sinclair Date :May 2012 Read :2055

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Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 3

BOOK II. SYLVIA AS MOTHER - PART III

20. There came in due course a couple of letters from Douglas van Tuiver. The one to Aunt Varina, which was shown to me, was vague and cautious--as if the writer were uncertain how much this worthy lady knew. He merely mentioned that Sylvia was to be spared every particle of "painful knowledge." He would wait in great anxiety, but he would not come, because any change in his plans might set her to questioning.

The letter to Dr. Perrin was not shown to me; but I judged that it must have contained more strenuous injunctions. Or had Aunt Varina by any chance got up the courage to warn the young doctor against me? His hints, at any rate, became more pointed. He desired me to realize how awkward it would be for him, if Sylvia were to learn the truth; it would be impossible to convince Mr. van Tuiver that this knowledge had not come from the physician in charge.

"But, Dr. Perrin," I objected, "it was I who brought the information to you! And Mr. van Tuiver knows that I am a radical woman; he would not expect me to be ignorant of such matters."

"Mrs. Abbott," was the response, "it is a grave matter to destroy the possibility of happiness of a young married couple."

However I might dispute his theories, in practice I was doing what he asked. But each day I was finding the task more difficult; each day it became more apparent that Sylvia was ceasing to believe me. I realized at last, with a sickening kind of fright, that she knew I was hiding something from her. Because she knew me, and knew that I would not do such a thing lightly, she was terrified. She would lie there, gazing at me, with a dumb fear in her eyes--and I would go on asseverating blindly, like an unsuccessful actor before a jeering audience.

A dozen times she made an effort to break through the barricade of falsehood; and a dozen times I drove her back, all but crying to her, "No, No! Don't ask me!" Until at last, late one night, she caught my hand and clung to it in a grip I could not break. "Mary! Mary! You must tell me the _truth!_"

"Dear girl--" I began.

"Listen!" she cried. "I know you are deceiving me! I know why--because I'll make myself ill. But it won't do any longer; it's preying on me, Mary--I've taken to imagining things. So you must tell me the truth!"

I sat, avoiding her eyes, beaten; and in the pause I could feel her hands shaking. "Mary, what is it? Is my baby going to die?"

"No, dear, indeed no!" I cried.

"Then what?"

"Sylvia," I began, as quietly as I could, "the truth is not as bad as you imagine--"

"Tell me what it is!"

"But it is bad, Sylvia. And you must be brave. You must be, for your baby's sake."

"Make haste!" she cried.

"The baby," I said, "may be blind."

"Blind!" There we sat, gazing into each other's eyes, like two statues of women. But the grasp of her hand tightened, until even my big fist was hurt. "Blind!" she whispered again.

"Sylvia," I rushed on, "it isn't so bad as it might be! Think--if you had lost her altogether!"

"_Blind!_"

"You will have her always; and you can do things for her--take care of her. They do wonders for the blind nowadays--and you have the means; to do everything. Really, you know, blind children are not unhappy--some of them are happier than other children, I think. They haven't so much to miss. Think--"

"Wait, wait," she whispered; and again there was silence, and I clung to her cold hands.

"Sylvia," I said, at last, "you have a newly-born infant to nurse, and its very life depends upon your health now. You cannot let yourself grieve."

"No," she responded. "No. But, Mary, what caused this?"

So there was the end of my spell of truth-telling. "I don't know, dear. Nobody knows. There might be a thousand things--"

"Was it born blind?"

"No."

"Then was it the doctor's fault?"

"No, it was nobody's fault. Think of the thousands and tens of thousands of babies that become blind! It's a dreadful accident that happens." So I went on--possessed with a dread that had been with me for days, that had kept me awake for hours in the night: Had I, in any of my talks with Sylvia about venereal disease, mentioned blindness in infants as one of the consequences? I could not rememher; but now was the time I would find out!

She lay there, immovable, like a woman who had died in grief; until at last I flung my arms about her and whispered, "Sylvia! Sylvia! Please cry!"

"I can't cry!" she whispered, and her voice sounded hard.

So, after a space, I said, "Then, dear, I think I will have to make you laugh."

"Laugh, Mary?"

"Yes-I will tell you about the quarrel between Aunt Varina and myself. You know what times we've been having-how I shocked the poor lady?"

She was looking at me, but her eyes were not seeing me. "Yes, Mary," she said, in the same dead tone.

"Well, that was a game we made for you. It was very funny!"

"Funny?"

"Yes! Because I really did shock her-though we started out just to give you something else to think about!"

And then suddenly I saw the healing tears begin to come. She could not weep for her own grief-but she could weep because of what she knew we two had had to suffer for her!

21. I went out and told the others what I had done; and Mrs. Tuis rushed in to her niece and they wept in each other's arms, and Mrs. Tuis explained all the mysteries of life by her formula, "the will of the Lord."

Later on came Dr. Perrin, and it was touching to see how Sylvia treated him. She had, it appeared, conceived the idea that the calamity must be due to some blunder on his part, and then she had reflected that he was young, and that chance had thrown upon him a responsibility for which he had not bargained. He must be reproaching himself bitterly, so she had to persuade him that it was really not so bad as we were making it-that a blind child was a great joy to a mother's soul-in some ways even a greater joy than a perfectly sound child, because it appealed so to her protective instinct! I had called Sylvia a shameless payer of compliments, and now I went away by myself and wept.

Yet it was true in a way. When the infant was brought in to be nursed again, how she clung to it, a very picture of the sheltering and protecting instinct of motherhood! She knew the worst now--her mind was free, and she could partake of what happiness was allowed her. The child was hers to love and care for, and she would find ways to atone to it for the harshness of fate.

So little by little we got our existence upon a working basis. We lived a peaceful, routine life, to the music of cocoanut-palms rustling in the warm breezes which blew incessantly off the Mexican Gulf. Aunt Varina had, for the time, her undisputed way with the family; her niece reclined upon the veranda in true Southern lady fashion, and was read aloud to from books of indisputable respectability. I remember Aunt Varina selected the "Idylls of the King," and they two were in a mood to shed tears over these solemn, sorrowful tales. So it came that the little one got her name, after a pale and unhappy heroine.

I remember the long discussions of this point, the family-lore which Aunt Varina brought forth. It did not seem to her quite the thing to call a blind child after a member of one's family. Something strange, romantic, wistful--yes, Elaine was the name! Mrs. Tuis, it transpired, had already baptised the infant, in the midst of the agonies and alarms of its illness. She had called it "Sylvia," and now she was tremulously uncertain whether this counted--whether perhaps the higher powers might object to having to alter their records. But in the end a clergyman came out from Key West and heard Aunt Varina's confession, and gravely concluded that the error might be corrected by a formal ceremony. How strange it all seemed to me--being carried back two or three hundred years in the world's history! But I gave no sign of what was going on in my rebellious mind.

22. Dr. Overton on his return to New York, sent a special nurse to take charge of Sylvia's case. There was also an infant's nurse, and both had been taken into the doctor's confidence. So now there was an elaborate conspiracy--no less than five women and two men, all occupied in keeping a secret from Sylvia. It was a thing so contrary to my convictions that I was never free from the burden of it for a moment. Was it my duty to tell her?

Dr. Perrin no longer referred to the matter--I realised that both he and Dr. Gibson considered the matter settled. Was it conceivable that anyone of sound mind could set out, deliberately and in cold blood, to betray such a secret? But I had maintained all my life the right of woman to know the truth, and was I to back down now, at the first test of my convictions?

When the news reached Douglas van Tuiver that his wife had been informed of the infant's blindness, there came a telegram saying that he was coming. There was much excitement, of course, and Aunt Varina came to me, in an attempt to secure a definite pledge of silence. When I refused it, Dr. Perrin came again, and we fought the matter over for the better part of a day and night.

He was a polite little gentleman, and he did not tell me that my views were those of a fanatic, but he said that no woman could see things in their true proportion, because of her necessary ignorance concerning the nature of men, and the temptations to which they were exposed. I replied that I believed I understood these matters thoroughly, and I went on, quite simply and honestly, to make clear to him that this was so. In the end my pathetically chivalrous little Southern gentleman admitted everything I asked. Yes, it was true that these evils were ghastly, and that they were increasing, and that women were the worst sufferers from men. There might even be something in my idea that the older women of the community should devote themselves to this service, making themselves race-mothers, and helping, not merely in their homes, but in the schools and churches, to protect and save the future generations. But all that was in the future, he argued, while here was a case which had gone so far that "letting in the light" could only blast the life of two people, making it impossible for a young mother ever again to tolerate the father of her child. I argued that Sylvia was not of the hysterical type, but I could not make him agree that it was possible to predict what the attitude of any woman would be. His ideas were based on one peculiar experience he had had--a woman patient who had said to him: "Doctor, I know what is the matter with me, but for God's sake don't let my husband find out that I know, because then I should feel that my self-respect required me to leave him!"

23. The Master-of-the-House was coming! You could feel the quiver of excitement in the air of the place. The boatmen were polishing the brasses of the launch; the yard-man was raking up the dry strips of palm from beneath the cocoanut trees; Aunt Varina was ordering new supplies, and entering into conspiracies with the cook. The nurses asked me timidly, what was He like, and even Dr. Gibson, a testy old gentleman who had clashed violently with me on the subject of woman's suffrage, and had avoided me ever since as a suspicious character, now came and confided his troubles. He had sent home for a trunk, and the graceless express companies had sent it astray. Now he was wondering if it was necessary for him to journey to Key West and have a suit of dinner clothes made over night. I told him that I had not sent for any party-dresses, and that I expected to meet Mr. Douglas van Tuiver at his dinner-table in plain white linen. His surprise was so great that I suspected the old gentleman of having wondered whether I meant to retire to a "second-table" when the Master-of-the-House arrived.

I went away by myself, seething with wrath. Who was this great one whom we honoured? Was he an inspired poet, a maker of laws, a discoverer of truth? He was the owner of an indefinite number of millions of dollars--that was all, and yet I was expected, because of my awe of him, to abandon the cherished convictions of my lifetime. The situation was one that challenged my fighting blood. This was the hour to prove whether I really meant the things I talked.

On the morning of the day that van Tuiver was expected, I went early to Aunt Varina's room. She was going in the launch, and was in a state of flustration, occupied in putting on her best false hair. "Mrs. Tuis," I said, "I want you to let me go to meet Mr. van Tuiver instead of you."

I will not stop to report the good lady's outcries. I did not care, I said, whether it was proper, nor did I care whether, as she finally hinted, it might not be agreeable to Mr. van Tuiver. I was sorry to have to thrust myself upon him, but I was determined to go, and would let nothing prevent me. And all at once she yielded, rather surprising me by the suddenness of it. I suppose she concluded that van Tuiver was the man to handle me, and the quicker he got at it the better.

It is a trying thing to deal with the rich and great. If you treat them as the rest of the world does, you are a tuft-hunter; if you treat them as the rest of the world pretends to, you are a hypocrite; whereas, if you deal with them truly, it is hard not to seem, even to yourself, a bumptious person. I remember trying to tell myself on the launch-trip that I was not in the least excited; and then, standing on the platform of the railroad station, saying: "How can you expect not to be excited, when even the railroad is excited?"

"Will Mr. van Tuiver's train be on time?" I asked, of the agent.

"'Specials' are not often delayed," he replied, "at least, not Mr. van Tuiver's."

The engine and its two cars drew up, and the traveller stepped out upon the platform, followed by his secretary and his valet. I went forward to meet him. "Good morning, Mr. van Tuiver."

I saw at once that he did not remember me. "Mrs. Abbott," I prompted. "I came to meet you."

"Ah," he said. He had never got clear whether I was a sewing-woman, or a tutor, or what, and whenever he erred in such matters, it was on the side of caution.

"Your wife is doing well," I said, "and the child as well as could be expected."

"Thank you," he said. "Did no one else come?"

"Mrs. Tuis was not able," I said, diplomatically, and we moved towards the launch.

24. He did not offer to help me into the vessel, but I, crude Western woman, did not miss the attention. We seated ourselves in the upholstered leather seats in the stern, and when the "luggage" had been stowed aboard, the little vessel swung away from the pier. Then I said: "If you will pardon me, Mr. van Tuiver, I should like to talk with you privately."

He looked at me for a moment, and then answered, abruptly: "Yes, madam." The secretary rose and went forward.

The whirr of the machinery and the strong breeze made by the boat's motion, made it certain that no one could hear us, and so I began my attack: "Mr. van Tuiver, I am a friend of your wife's. I came here to help her in this crisis, and I came to-day to meet you because it was necessary for someone to talk to you frankly about the situation. You will understand, I presume, that Mrs. Tuis is not-- not very well informed about the matters in question."

His gaze was fixed intently upon me, but he said not a word. After waiting, I continued: "Perhaps you will wonder why your wife's physicians could not have handled the matter. The reason is, there is a woman's side to such questions and often it is difficult for men to understand it. If Sylvia knew the truth, she could speak for herself; so long as she does not know it, I shall have to take the liberty of speaking for her."

Again there was a pause. He did nothing more than watch me, yet I could feel his affronted maleness rising up for battle. I waited on purpose to compel him to speak.

"May I ask," he inquired, at last, "what you mean by the 'truth' that you refer to?"

"I mean," I said, "the cause of the infant's affliction."

His composure was a thing to wonder at. He did not show by the flicker of an eyelash any sign of uneasiness.

"Let me explain one thing," I continued. "I owe it to Dr. Perrin to make clear that he had nothing whatever to do with my coming into possession of the secret. In fact, as he will no doubt tell you, I knew it before he did; it is possible that you owe it to me that the infant is not disfigured as well as blind."

I paused again. "If that be true," he said, with unshaken formality, "I am obliged to you." What a man!

I continued: "My one desire and purpose is to protect my friend. So far, the secret has been kept from her. I consented to this, because her very life was at stake, it seemed to us all. But now she is well enough to know, and the question is SHALL she know. I need hardly tell you that Dr. Perrin thinks she should not, and that he has been using his influence to persuade me to agree with him; so also has Mrs. Tuis----"

Then I saw the first trace of uncertainty in his eyes. "There was a critical time," I explained, "when Mrs. Tuis had to be told. You may be sure, however, that no hint of the truth will be given by her. I am the only person who is troubled with the problem of Sylvia's rights."

I waited. "May I suggest, Mrs.--Mrs. Abbott--that the protection of Mrs. van Tuiver's rights can be safely left to her physicians and her husband?"

"One would wish so, Mr. van Tuiver, but the medical books are full of evidence that women's rights frequently need other protection."

I perceived that he was nearing the end of his patience now. "You make it difficult for me to talk to you," he said. "I am not accustomed to having my affairs taken out of my hands by strangers."

"Mr. van Tuiver," I replied, "in this most critical matter it is necessary to speak without evasion. Before her marriage Sylvia made an attempt to safeguard herself in this very matter, and she was not dealt with fairly."

At last I had made a hole in the mask! His face was crimson as he replied: "Madam, your knowledge of my private affairs is most astonishing. May I inquire how you learned these things?"

I did not reply at once, and he repeated the question. I perceived that this was to him the most important matter--his wife's lack of reserve!

"The problem that concerns us here," I said, "is whether you are willing to repair the error you made. Will you go frankly to your wife and admit your responsibility----"

He broke in, angrily: "Madam, the assumption you are making is one I see no reason for permitting."

"Mr. van Tuiver," said I, "I hoped that you would not take that line of argument. I perceive that I have been _naive._"

"Really, madam!" he replied, with cruel intent, "you have not impressed me so!"

I continued unshaken: "In this conversation it will be necessary to assume that you are responsible for the presence of the disease."

"In that case," he replied, haughtily, "I can have no further part in the conversation, and I will ask you to drop it at once."

I might have taken him at his word and waited, confident that in the end he would have to come and ask for terms. But that would have seemed childish to me, with the grave matters we had to settle. After a minute or two, I said, quietly: "Mr. van Tuiver, you wish me to believe that previous to your marriage you had always lived a chaste life?"

He was equal to the effort it cost to control himself. He sat examining me with his cold grey eyes. I suppose I must have been as new and monstrous a phenomenon to him as he was to me.

At last, seeing that he would not reply, I said, coldly: "It will help us to get forward if you will give up the idea that it is possible for you to put me off, or to escape this situation."

"Madam," he cried, suddenly, "come to the point! What is it that you want? Money?"

I had thought I was prepared for everything; but this was an aspect of his world which I could hardly have been expected to allow for. I stared at him and then turned from the sight of him. "And to think that Sylvia is married to such a man!" I whispered, half to myself.

"Mrs. Abbott," he exclaimed, "how can anyone understand what you are driving at?"

But I turned away without answering, and for a long time sat gazing over the water. What was the use of pleading with such a man? What was the use of pouring out one's soul to him? I would tell Sylvia the truth at once, and leave him to her!

25. I heard him again, at last; he was talking to my back, his tone a trifle less aloof. "Mrs. Abbott, do you realize that I know nothing whatever about you--your character, your purpose, the nature of your hold upon my wife? So what means have I of judging? You threaten me with something that seems to me entirely insane--and what can I make of it? If you wish me to understand you, tell me in plain words what you want."

I reflected that I was in the world, and must take it as I found it. "I have told you what I want," I said; "but I will tell you again, if it is necessary. I hoped to persuade you that it was your duty to go to your wife and tell her the truth."

He took a few moments to make sure of his self-possession. "And would you explain what good you imagine that could do?"

"Your wife," I said, "must be put in position to protect herself in future. There is no means of making sure in such a matter, except to tell her the truth. You love her--and you are a man who has never been accustomed to do without what he wants."

"Great God, woman!" he cried. "Don't you suppose one blind child is enough?"

It was the first human word that he had spoken, and I was grateful for it. "I have already covered that point," I said, in a low voice. "The medical books are full of painful evidence that several blind children are often not enough. There can be no escaping the necessity--Sylvia must _know. The only question is, who shall tell her? You must realize that in urging you to be the person, I am thinking of your good as well as hers. I will, of course, not mention that I have had anything to do with persuading you, and so it will seem to her that you have some realization of the wrong you have done her, some desire to atone for it, and to be honourable and fair in your future dealings with her. When she has once been made to realize that you are no more guilty than other men of your class--hat you have done no worse than all of them----

"You imagine she could be made to believe that?" he broke in, impatiently.

"I will undertake to see that she believes it," I replied.

"You seem to have great confidence in your ability to manage my wife!"

"If you continue to resent my existence," I answered, gravely, "you will make it impossible for me to help you."

"Pardon me," he said--but he did not say it cordially.

I went on: "There is much that can be said in your behalf. I realize it is quite possible that you were not wholly to blame when you wrote to Bishop Chilton that you were fit to marry; I know that you may have believed it--that you might even have found physicians to tell you so. There is wide-spread ignorance on the subject of this disease. Men have the idea that the chronic forms of it cannot be communicated to women, and it is difficult to make them realize what modern investigations have proven. You can explain that to Sylvia, and I will back you up in it. You were in love with her, you wanted her. Go to her now, and admit to her honestly that you have wronged her. Beg her to forgive you, and to let you help make the best of the cruel situation that has arisen."

So I went on, pouring out my soul. And when I had finished, he said, "Mrs. Abbott, I have listened patiently to your most remarkable proposition. My answer is that I must ask you to withdraw from this intimate matter, which concerns only my wife and myself."

He was back where we started! Trying to sweep aside these grim and terrible realities with the wave of a conventional hand! Was this the way he met Sylvia's arguments? I felt moved to tell him what I thought of him.

"You are a proud man, Mr. van Tuiver--an obstinate man, I fear. It is hard for you to humble yourself to your wife--to admit a crime and beg forgiveness. Tell me--is that why you hesitate? Is it because you fear you will have to take second place in your family from now on--that you will no longer be able to dominate Sylvia? Are you afraid of putting into her hands a weapon of self-defence?"

He made no response.

"Very well," I said, at last. "Let me tell you, then--I will not help any man to hold such a position in a woman's life. Women have to bear half the burdens of marriage, they pay half, or more than half, the penalties; and so it is necessary that they have a voice in its affairs. Until they know the truth, they can never have a voice."

Of course my little lecture on Feminism might as well have been delivered to a sphinx. "How stupid you are!" I cried. "Don't you know that some day Sylvia must find out the truth for herself?"

This was before the days when newspapers and magazines began to discuss such matters frankly; but still there were hints to be picked up. I had a newspaper-item in my bag--the board of health in a certain city had issued a circular giving instructions for the prevention of blindness in newly-born infants, and discussing the causes thereof; and the United States post office authorities had barred the circular from the mails. I said, "Suppose that item had come under Sylvia's eyes; might it not have put her on the track. It was in her newspaper the day before yesterday; and it was only by accident that I got hold of it first. Do you suppose that can go on forever?"

"Now that I am here," he replied, "I will be glad to relieve you of such responsibilities."

Which naturally made me cross. I drew from my quiver an arrow that I thought would penetrate his skin. "Mr. van Tuiver," I said, "a man in your position must always be an object of gossip and scandal. Suppose some enemy were to send your wife an anonymous letter? Or suppose there were some woman who thought that you had wronged her?"

I stopped. He gave me one keen look--and then again the impenetrable mask! "My wife will have to do as other women in her position do--pay no attention to scandal-mongers of any sort."

I paused, and then went on: "I believe in marriage. I consider it a sacred thing; I would do anything in my power to protect and preserve a marriage. But I hold that it must be an equal partnership. I would fight to make it that; and wherever I found that it could not be that, I would say it was not marriage, but slavery, and I would fight just as hard to break it. Can you not understand that attitude upon a woman's part?"

He gave no sign that he could understand. But still I would not give up my battle. "Mr. van Tuiver," I pleaded, "I am a much older person than you. I have seen a great deal of life--I have seen suffering even worse than yours. And I am trying most earnestly to help you. Can you not bring yourself to talk to me frankly? Perhaps you have never talked with a woman about such matters--I mean, with a good woman. But I assure you that other men have found it possible, and never regretted the confidence they placed in me."

I went on to tell him about my own sons, and what I had done for them; I told him of a score of other boys in their class who had come to me, making me a sort of mother-confessor. I do not think that I was entirely deceived by my own eloquence--there was, I am sure, a minute or two when he actually wavered. But then the habits of a precocious life-time reasserted themselves, and he set his lips and told himself that he was Douglas van Tuiver. Such things might happen in raw Western colleges, but they were not according to the Harvard manner, nor the tradition of life in Fifth Avenue clubs.

He could not be a boy! He had never had any boyhood, any childhood--he had been a state personage ever since he had known that he was anything. I found myself thinking suddenly of the thin-lipped old family lawyer, who had had much to do with shaping his character, and whom Sylvia described to me, sitting at her dinner-table and bewailing the folly of people who "admitted things." That was what made trouble for family lawyers--not what people did, but what they admitted. How easy it was to ignore impertinent questions! And how few people had the wit to do it!-it seemed as if the shade of the thin-lipped old family lawyer were standing by Douglas van Tuiver's side.

In a last desperate effort, I cried, "Even suppose that I grant your request, even suppose I agree not to tell Sylvia the truth--still the day will come when you will hear from her the point-blank question: 'Is my child blind because of this disease?' And what will you answer?"

He said, in his cold, measured tones, "I will answer that there are a thousand ways in which the disease can be innocently acquired."

For a long time there was silence between us. At last he spoke again, and his voice was as emotionless as if we had just met: "Do I understand you, madam, that if I reject your advice and refuse to tell my wife what you call the truth, it is your intention to tell her yourself?"

"You understand me correctly," I replied.

"And may I ask when you intend to carry out this threat?"

"I will wait," I said, "I will give you every chance to think it over--to consult with the doctors, in case you wish to. I will not take the step without giving you fair notice."

"For that I am obliged to you," he said, with a touch of irony; and that was our last word.

26. Our island was visible in the distance and I was impatient for the time when I should be free from this man's presence. But as we drew nearer, I noticed a boat coming out; it proved to be one of the smaller launches heading directly for us. Neither van Tuiver nor I spoke, but both of us watched it, and he must have been wondering, as I was, what its purpose could be. When it was near enough, I made out that its passengers were Dr. Perrin and Dr. Gibson.

We slowed up, and the other boat did the same, and they lay within a few feet of each other. Dr. Perrin greeted van Tuiver, and after introducing the other man, he said: "We came out to have a talk with you. Would you be so good as to step into this boat?"

"Certainly," was the reply. The two launches were drawn side by side, and the transfer made; the man who was running the smaller launch stepped into ours--evidently having been instructed in advance.

"You will excuse us please?" said the little doctor to me. The man who had stepped into our launch spoke to the captain of it, and the power was then put on, and we moved away a sufficient distance to be out of hearing. I thought this a strange procedure, but I conjectured that the doctors had become nervous as to what I might have told van Tuiver. So I dismissed the matter from my mind, and spent my time reviewing the exciting adventure I had just passed through.

How much impression had I made? It was hard for me to judge such a man. He would pretend to be less concerned than he actually was. But surely he must see that he was in my power, and would have to give way in the end!

There came a hail from the little vessel, and we moved alongside again. "Would you kindly step in here with us, Mrs. Abbott?" said Dr. Perrin, and when I had done so, he ordered the boatman to move away once more. Van Tuiver said not a word, but I noted a strained look upon his face, and I thought the others seemed agitated also.

As soon as the other vessel was out of hearing, Dr. Perrin turned to me and said: "Mrs. Abbott, we came out to see Mr. van Tuiver, to warn him of a distressing accident which has just happened. Mrs. van Tuiver was asleep in her room, and Miss Lyman and another of the nurses were in the next room. They indiscreetly made some remarks on the subject which we have all been discussing--how much a wife should be told about these matters, and suddenly they discovered Mrs. van Tuiver standing in the doorway of the room."

My gaze had turned to Douglas van Tuiver. "So she _knows!_" I cried.

"We don't think that she knows, but she has a suspicion and is trying to find out. She asked to see you."

"Ah, yes!" I said.

"She declared that she wished to see you as soon as you returned--that she would not see anyone else, not even Mr. van Tuiver. You will understand that this portends trouble for all of us. We judged it necessary to have a consultation about the matter."

I bowed in assent.

"Now, Mrs. Abbot," began the little doctor, solemnly, "there is no longer a question of abstract ideas, but of an immediate emergency. We feel that we, as the physicians in charge of the case, have the right to take control of the matter. We do not see----"

"Dr. Perrin," I said, "let us come to the point. You want me to spin a new web of deception?"

"We are of the opinion, Mrs. Abbott, that in such matters the physicians in charge----"

"Excuse me," I said, quickly, "we have been over all this before, and we know that we disagree. Has Mr. van Tuiver told you of the proposition I have just made?"

"You mean for him to go to his wife----"

"Yes."

"He has told us of this, and has offered to do it. We are of the opinion that it would be a grave mistake."

"It has been three weeks since the birth of the baby," I said. "Surely all danger of fever is past. I will grant you that if it were a question of telling her deliberately, it might be better to put it off for a while. I would have been willing to wait for months, but for the fact that I dreaded something like the present situation. Now that it has happened, surely it is best to use our opportunity while all of us are here and can persuade her to take the kindest attitude towards her husband."

"Madam!" broke in Dr. Gibson. (He was having difficulty in controlling his excitement.) "You are asking us to overstep the bounds of our professional duty. It is not for the physician to decide upon the attitude a wife should take toward her husband."

"Dr. Gibson," I replied, "that is what you propose to do, only you wish to conceal the fact. You would force Mrs. van Tuiver to accept your opinion of what a wife's duty is."

Dr. Perrin took command once more. "Our patient has asked for you, and she looks to you for guidance. You must put aside your own convictions and think of her health. You are the only person who can calm her, and surely it is your duty to do so!"

"I know that I might go in and lie again to my friend, but she knows too much to be deceived for very long. You know what a mind she has--a lawyer's mind! How can I persuade her that the nurses--why, I do not even know what she heard the nurses say!"

"We have that all written down for you," put in Dr. Perrin, quickly.

"You have their recollection of it, no doubt--but suppose they have forgotten some of it? Sylvia has not forgotten, you may be sure--every word is burned with fire into her brain. She has put with this everything she ever heard on the subject--the experience of her friend, Harriet Atkinson-all that I've told her in the past about such things----"

"Ah!" growled Dr. Gibson. "That's it! If you had not meddled in the beginning----"

"Now, now!" said the other, soothingly. "You ask me to relieve you of the embarrassment of this matter. I quite agree with Mrs. Abbott that there is too much ignorance about these things, but she must recognise, I am sure, that this is not the proper moment for enlightening Mrs. van Tuiver."

"I do not recognise it at all," I said. "If her husband will go to her and tell her humbly and truthfully----"

"You are talking madness!" cried the old man, breaking loose again. "She would be hysterical--she would regard him as something loathsome--some kind of criminal----"

"Of course she would be shocked," I said, "but she has the coolest head of anyone I know--I do not think of any man I would trust so fully to take a rational attitude in the end. We can explain to her what extenuating circumstances there are, and she will have to recognise them. She will see that we are considering her rights----"

"Her _rights!_" The old man fairly snorted the words.

"Now, now, Dr. Gibson!" interposed the other. "You asked me----"

"I know! I know! But as the older of the physicians in charge of this case----"

Dr. Perrin managed to frown him down, and went on trying to placate me. But through the argument I could hear the old man muttering in his collar a kind of double bass _pizzicato_: "Suffragettes! Fanatics! Hysteria! Woman's Rights!"

27. The breeze was feeble, and the sun was blazing hot, but nevertheless I made myself listen patiently for a while. They had said it all to me, over and over again; but it seemed that Dr. Perrin could not be satisfied until it had been said in Douglas van Tuiver's presence.

"Dr. Perrin," I exclaimed, "even supposing we make the attempt to deceive her, we have not one plausible statement to make----"

"You are mistaken, Mrs. Abbott," said he. "We have the perfectly well-known fact that this disease is often contracted in ways which involve no moral blame. And in this case I believe I am in position to state how the accident happened."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know whether you heard that just before Mrs. van Tuiver's confinement, I was called away to one of the other keys to attend a negro-woman. And since this calamity has befallen us, I have realized that I was possibly not as careful in sterilizing my instruments as I might have been. It is of course a dreadful thing for any physician to have to believe----"

He stopped, and there was a long silence. I gazed from one to another of the men. Two of them met my gaze; one did not. "He is going to let you say that?" I whispered, at last.

"Honour and fairness compel me to say it, Mrs. Abbott. I believe----"

But I interrupted him. "Listen to me, Dr. Perrin. You are a chivalrous gentleman, and you think you are helping a man in desperate need. But I say that anyone who would permit you to tell such a tale is a contemptible coward!"

"Madam," cried Dr. Gibson, furiously, "there is a limit even to a woman's rights!"

A silence followed. At last I resumed, in a low voice, "You gentlemen have your code: you protect the husband--you protect him at all hazards. I could understand this, if he were innocent of the offence in question; I could understand it if there were any possibility of his being innocent. But how can you protect him, when you know that he is guilty?"

"There can be no question of such knowledge!" cried the old doctor.

"I have no idea," I said, "how much he has admitted to you; but let me remind you of one circumstance, which is known to Dr. Perrin--that I came to this place with the definite information that symptoms of the disease were to be anticipated. Dr. Perrin knows that I told that to Dr. Overton in New York. Has he informed you of it?"

There was an awkward interval. I glanced at van Tuiver, and I saw that he was leaning forward, staring at me. I thought he was about to speak, when Dr. Gibson broke in, excitedly, "All this is beside the mark! We have a serious emergency to face, and we are not getting anywhere. As the older of the physicians in charge of this case----"

And he went on to give me a lecture on the subject of authority. He talked for five minutes, ten minutes--I lost all track of the time. I had suddenly begun to picture how I would act and what I would say when I went into Sylvia's room. What a state must Sylvia be in, while we sat out here in the blazing mid-day sun, discussing her right to freedom and knowledge!

28. "I have always been positive," Dr. Gibson was saying, "but the present discussion has made me more positive than ever. As the older of the physicians in charge of this case, I say most emphatically that the patient shall not be told!"

I could not stand him any longer. "I am going to tell the patient," I said.

"You shall _not tell her!"

"But how will you prevent me?"

"You shall not _see her!"

"But she is determined to see _me!_"

"She will be told that you are not there."

"And how long do you imagine that that will satisfy her?"

There was a pause. They looked at van Tuiver, expecting him to speak. And so I heard once more his cold, deliberate voice. "We have done all we can. There can no longer be any question as to the course to be taken. Mrs. Abbott will not return to my home."

"What?" I cried. I stared at him, aghast. "What do you mean?"

"I mean what I say--that you will not be taken back to the island."

"But where will I be taken?"

"You will be taken to the mainland."

I stared at the others. No one gave a sign. At last I whispered, "You would _dare?_"

"You leave us no other alternative," replied the master.

"You--you will practically kidnap me!" My voice must have been rather wild at that moment.

"You left my home of your own free will. I think I need hardly point out to you that I am not compelled to invite you back to it."

"And what will Sylvia----" I stopped; appalled at the vista the words opened up.

"My wife," said van Tuiver, "will ultimately choose between her husband and her most remarkable acquaintance."

"And you gentlemen?" I turned to the others. "You would give your sanction to this outrageous action?"

"As the older of the physicians in charge of this case----" began Dr. Gibson.

I turned to van Tuiver again. "When your wife finds out what you have done to me--what will you answer?"

"We will deal with that situation when we come to it."

"Of course," I said, "you understand that sooner or later I shall get word to her!"

He answered, "We shall assume from now on that you are a mad woman, and shall take our precautions accordingly."

Again there was a silence.

"The launch will return to the mainland," said van Tuiver at last. "It will remain there until Mrs. Abbott sees fit to go ashore. May I ask if she has sufficient money in her purse to take her to New York?"

I could not help laughing. The thing was so wild--and yet I could see that from their point of view it was the only thing to do. "Mrs. Abbott is not certain that she is going back to New York," I replied. "If she does go, it will not be with Mr. van Tuiver's money."

"One thing more," said Dr. Perrin. It was the first time he had spoken since van Tuiver's incredible announcement. "I trust, Mrs. Abbott, that this unfortunate situation may at all costs be concealed from servants, and from the world in general."

From which I realized how badly I had them frightened. They actually saw me making physical resistance!

"Dr. Perrin," I replied, "I am acting in this matter for my friend. I will add this: that I believe that you are letting yourself be overborne, and that you will regret it some day."

He made no answer. Douglas van Tuiver put an end to the discussion by rising and signalling the other launch. When it had come alongside, he said to the captain, "Mrs. Abbott is going back to the railroad. You will take her at once."

Then he waited; I was malicious enough to give him an anxious moment before I rose. Dr. Perrin offered me his hand; and Dr. Gibson said, with a smile, "Good-bye, Mrs. Abbott. I'm sorry you can't stay with us any longer."

I think it was something to my credit that I was able to play out the game before the boatmen. "I am sorry, too," I countered. "I am hoping I shall be able to return."

And then came the real ordeal. "Good-bye, Mrs. Abbott," said Douglas van Tuiver, with his stateliest bow; and I managed to answer him!

As I took my seat, he beckoned his secretary. There was a whispered consultation for a minute or two, and then the master returned to the smaller launch with the doctors. He gave the word, and the two vessels set out--one to the key, and the other to the railroad. The secretary went in the one with me!

29. And here ends a certain stage of my story. I have described Sylvia as I met her and judged her; and if there be any reader who has been irked by this method, who thinks of me as a crude and pushing person, disposed to meddle in the affairs of others, here is where that reader will have his satisfaction and revenge. For if ever a troublesome puppet was jerked suddenly off the stage--if ever a long-winded orator was effectively snuffed out--I was that puppet and that orator. I stop and think--shall I describe how I paced up and down the pier, respectfully but emphatically watched by the secretary? And all the melodramatic plots I conceived, the muffled oars and the midnight visits to my Sylvia? My sense of humour forbids it. For a while now I shall take the hint and stay in the background of this story. I shall tell the experiences of Sylvia as Sylvia herself told them to me long afterwards; saying no more about my own fate--save that I swallowed my humiliation and took the next train to New York, a far sadder and wiser social-reformer!

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