Percy Fitzgerald: An Experience

"Percy Fitzgerald" is a pseudonym of Emily Jolly

IN TWO CHAP­TERS

CHAP­TER I.

It was on a warm, early June af­ter­noon that I was called into the con­sult­ing-room to see her.

It was out of the usual hours for see­ing pa­tients, and I re­mem­ber that I re­sent­ed the in­ter­rup­tion, and the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ty; for I was busy in the anatom­i­cal de­part­ment of the hos­pi­tal, deep in the study of an ex­traor­di­nar­i­ly in­ter­est­ing spec­i­men of but, you won't care for these de­tails.

How­ev­er, when I read the note of in­tro­duc­tion she had brought with her, I was rec­on­ciled to the dis­tur­bance; the rather, be­cause it seemed that just such a case as we had long been lying in wait for, now pre­sent­ed it­self.

I was then young; an en­thu­si­ast in my pro­fes­sion, full of faith in sci­ence and in one whom I will call Dr. Fearn­well, under whom I had chiefly stud­ied; with­out any con­scious­ness of other kind of faith.

I was am­bi­tious; up to this time, iron-nerved and hard-head­ed; pos­si­bly, I should add, hard-heart­ed. Yet I don't know that I was spe­cial­ly cal­lous, care­less, or cruel. It was more be­cause such cul­ture as I had had, was ex­clu­sive­ly of the head, that I knew noth­ing about hav­ing a heart, than that I did not care to have one.

I be­lieved my­self to have, and I glo­ried in hav­ing, un­usu­al power of brain. As many men I knew, boast­ed of the many hours they could run, row, or ride, I boast­ed of the many hours I could read hard and work hard. I had never spared my­self, and, up to this time of which I write, had never had any warn­ing that it might be wise to do so.

I dimly sus­pect, how­ev­er, that this warn­ing was on its way, that even with­out the shock of which I am going to tell, some crash would have come.

I re­mem­ber that when I was in­ter­rupt­ed to read the note which the porter brought me, the per­spi­ra­tion was stream­ing from my fore­head. And yet the af­ter­noon, though warm, was not sul­try. And I had been em­ployed in a way that called for ex­treme del­i­ca­cy and ac­cu­ra­cy of in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ob­ser­va­tion: not for phys­i­cal force.

"Won't you wash your hands, sir, first? It's a woman and a child," was the sug­ges­tion of the good-heart­ed porter.

Though with some mut­tered ex­ple­tives against the folly of such " fid­dle-fad­dle," I took the man's hint, and, also, but­toned my coat over my shirt front, and pushed my wrist­bands up out of sight.

The Vene­tian- blinds were down in the con­sult­ing-room, for the af­ter­noon sun poured against its win­dows. Thus, until my eyes a lit­tle ac­cus­tomed them­selves to the dim­ness of the room I could not well dis­tin­guish its oc­cu­pants.

After a few mo­ments I saw the palest woman, of the most corpse-like pal­lor, I ever, be­fore or since, be­held. She was seat­ed near a table, with a fe­male child of some two or three years old upon her knees.

She did not rise when I went in. Pos­si­bly prob­a­bly she could not. A woman with a face like that, could hard­ly stand up and hold so large a child. She wore a widow's cap, its bor­der brought so close round her face as hard­ly to show an in­di­ca­tion of hair. Her eye­brows were dark, at once de­cid­ed and del­i­cate; her eye­lash­es were pe­cu­liar­ly long and full, still dark­er than the brows, and al­most startling­ly con­spic­u­ous on the dead white of a fair-skinned face. Not even on her lips, was there, now, any tinge of other colour.

The child upon her knees was a lit­tle mir­a­cle of exquisite love­li­ness. But I no­ticed lit­tle of this then.

At the first mo­ment of being in this woman's pres­ence, I felt some slight em­bar­rass­ment. I had ex­pect­ed to see "a com­mon per­son." I felt that about this woman there was some­thing, in all sens­es, un­com­mon.

My em­bar­rass­ment was not less­ened by the steady earnest­ness with which she fixed her deep dark eyes on mine, nor by the first words she spoke, slow­ly mov­ing those white lips:

"You are very young; sure­ly it is not to you, the let­ter I brought was ad­dressed! You are very young."

The voice was the fit voice to come from such a corpse-like face. It was not her or­di­nary voice, any more than that was her or­di­nary (or could have been any liv­ing woman's or­di­nary) com­plex­ion.

I was still young enough to be an­noyed at look­ing " very young." I was im­pa­tient of my own em­bar­rass­ment under her search­ing study of my face. I an­swered, rather rough­ly:

"My time is valu­able; let me know what I can do for you un­less, in­deed, you think me 'too young' to do any­thing."

"It may be the bet­ter that you are so young," she said. There had been no re­lax­ation in her study of me, and her voice now was a lit­tle more like a nat­u­ral voice like her nat­u­ral voice, as I af­ter­wards learned to know it only too well; soft and sweet; a slow and mea­sured, but in­tense, music. " Being so young, you must re­mem­ber some­thing of your moth­er's love. It is not like­ly your moth­er loved you as I love this child of mine; still, no doubt, she loved you; and you re­mem­ber­ing her love, may have some pity left in you for* all moth­ers. This child of mine is all I have; my only hold on hope in this world, or in an­oth­er. Life does not seem long enough to love her in; with­out her, one day's life would seem im­pos­si­ble." Striv­ing against the awe that would steal over me, look­ing into that solemn face, fixed by those deep still eyes, hear­ing that solemn voice, I said, with brusque im­pa­tience:

"I have told you my time is valu­able. If you wish me to do any­thing, at once tell me what."

"Have you not read the let­ter I brought?"

"I have; but that ex­plains noth­ing."

"My child is lame."

"That much I know."

"I am ready to an­swer any ques­tions about what you do not know."

Then I ques­tioned her as to the na­ture, ex­tent, and what she thought prob­a­ble cause, of her child's lame­ness. She an­swered al­ways in few, fit words. I ex­am­ined the child: she watch­ing me with those deep, still eyes of hers. My height­ened colour, my in­creas­ing an­i­ma­tion, my eager looks, seemed to stir her a lit­tle.

My in­ter­est was thor­ough­ly roused. This was ex­act­ly such a case as we de­sired to ex­per­i­ment upon; a case in which to try a new op­er­a­tion, on the suc­cess of which, under fair con­di­tions, I was ready to stake all I cared for in fife. She, with that mon­strous ego­tism of ma­ter­ni­ty, mis­took me so far as that she took my in­ter­est to be con­cen­trat­ed on this one suf­fer­er.

"Can she be cured?" was asked so hun­gri­ly by the whole face that there was no need for the lips to form the words.

"Yes, yes, yes!" I an­swered, with joy­ous tri­umphant con­fi­dence. " She can be cured! She shall be! She shall walk as well as the best of us!"

Be­fore I knew what was hap­pen­ing not that there was any quick­ness of move­ment, but that I was ut­ter­ly un­pre­pared for any such demon­stra­tion the woman was on her knees at my feet. With one hand she held the child; with the other she had taken my hand, on which she pressed her lips.

There was a speech­less rap­ture over her face, and the most exquisite soft flush upon it, as she did this.

A queer feel­ing came over me, as I awk­ward­ly with­drew my hand my hand that for a long time af­ter­wards tin­gled with con­scious­ness of the touch of the woman's lips.

She rose, with no awk­ward­ness, no haste; re­seat­ed her­self, bent over, and kissed her child.

The child had been al­ways watch­ing us, its soft se­ri­ous un­child­like eyes fixed some­times on me, and some­times on its moth­er. I had never be­fore, and have never since, seen any­thing like that child's eyes. They but why vol­un­tar­i­ly recal them, when the ef­fort of my life for so long, was to keep them from al­ways float­ing be­fore me!

Sud­den­ly the woman's face re­sumed its dead­ly pal­lor.

"Will it be very painful?" she asked.

"That is as you will."

"What do you mean?"

I ex­plained. It was my ad­vice that she should let her child be put to sleep with the then new­ly-dis­cov­ered agent, chlo­ro­form.

"Is there dan­ger in it?"

"None if the stuff is care­ful­ly ad­min­is­tered, as, I need not say, it shall be to your child. You can un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult it is to keep a child still enough under pain, to give an op­er­a­tor a fair chance."

"It would be dif­fi­cult with any other child, per­haps: with mine it is not dif­fi­cult. She is so docile, so pa­tient: she would keep still, and bear, un­com­plain­ing­ly, any­thing I asked her to bear. She has al­ready un­der­gone great agony from a fruit­less at­tempt at cure. But, of course, if, in­deed, there is no dan­ger, I would wish " here she paused " oh the weak folly of words! to save my dar­ling pain."

"Do you judge your child to have a good con­sti­tu­tion? The ex­treme de­bil­i­ty you speak of, is preter­nat­u­ral."

She an­swered me ea­ger­ly, as­sur­ing me that her child, ex­cept for this lame­ness, which she con­sid­ered to be not the re­sult of con­sti­tu­tion­al dis­ease but of an ac­ci­dent, had al­ways had per­fect health. She added:

"You are too young for me to tell my story to, or I might, by the cir­cum­stances of her birth, ac­count to you for her ex­treme docil­i­ty."

I then ques­tioned her as to what had been done in at­tempt to cure the child, and I blamed her for not hav­ing at first come to us.

With per­fect sim­plic­i­ty she gave me the in­cred­i­ble an­swer that she had never, till a few weeks since, heard of "us." Then, when she had replied to all my ques­tions, seem­ing to win con­fi­dence in me, be­cause of my con­fi­dence in cure, she spoke to me, with quiet in­ten­si­ty, of the child's pe­cu­liar pre­cious­ness to her.

To this I lis­tened, or seemed to lis­ten, pa­tient­ly.

I was con­scious that she was speak­ing to me; I was also con­scious of her child's eyes watch­ing me; but while she spoke and the child watched, I was ar­rang­ing for the op­er­a­tion, the when, the how, all the de­tails. There were dif­fi­cul­ties in my way, ob­sta­cles to be sur­mount­ed. I was not at all sure of win­ning Dr. Fearn­well's con­sent that this child should be the first sub­ject upon which the new op­er­a­tion should be tried. Dr. Fearn­well had said, I re­mem­bered, " "We must first try this on some coarsely­born child, some child of ro­bust peas­ant par­ents: some child, too, who, should its life be sac­ri­ficed, would be, poor lit­tle wretch! no loss, and no great loser."

I had more faith in Dr. Fearn­well al­ways, than Dr. Fearn­well had in him­self. I had, also, more faith in sci­ence than the more ex­pe­ri­enced man had. Be­sides this, Dr. Fearn­well was of ex­treme sen­si­tive­ness and ten­der-heart­ed­ness; his hand could be firmer than any, and his courage cool­er, but he re­quired first to be con­vinced of the un­ques­tion­able benef­i­cence of the tor­ture he in­flict­ed.

Dr. Fearn­well's see­ing this child be­fore­hand would be a risk (when I looked at it with Dr. Fearn­well's eyes, I recog­nised its ex­treme fragili­ty), but his hear­ing the moth­er speak of it, and of its ex­treme pre­cious­ness to her, would be fatal. He would warn, and ques­tion, and cau­tion, till the woman's courage would fail; he would think it bet­ter that the widow should keep her lame child, than run the risk of los­ing it to cure its lame­ness. He was quite ca­pa­ble of telling her that this lame­ness would not kill, and that the at­tempt to cure it might; and then how could one ex­pect a poor, weak, self­ish woman to de­cide?

Once in­ter­est­ed in the woman, Dr. Fearn­well would think noth­ing of the glory to sci­ence, and the gain to the human race, of suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tion, com­pared with the loss to this woman if she should lose her child.

This "weak­ness" (so I thought it) of Dr. Fearn­well's filled me with some­thing as like con­tempt as it was pos­si­ble for me to feel to­wards one who was my hero. Against it, I de­ter­mined as far as pos­si­ble to pro­tect him. Though I had no con­scious­ness that the child's eyes touched me, I knew how they would ap­peal to Dr. Fearn­well.

While the moth­er talked, there­fore, I was schem­ing and con­triv­ing. I re­ceived the sounds of her words on my ear, and they con­veyed cor­re­spond­ing ideas to my brain; for af­ter­wards I knew things she then, and only then, told me. But at the time I heard with­out hear­ing, in the same way that we often see with­out see­ing, things that vivid­ly re­pro­duce them­selves af­ter­wards.

"When can it be done?"

That ques­tion brought her speak­ing and my think­ing to a pause.

"Do you stay here long?"

"Not longer than is need­ful for my child. I am poor. It is dear liv­ing in a strange place. But any­thing that is need­ful for my child is pos­si­ble."

"If it can be done at all, it shall be done with­in the week."

"' If it can be done at all!' You said it could be done; you said it should be done."

The way in which this was said, the look in the eyes with which it was said, re­vealed some­thing of the stormy pos­si­bil­i­ties of this woman's na­ture.

"I spoke with in­dis­creet haste when I said it could and should be done. There are many dif­fi­cul­ties."

I then ex­plained the na­ture of th6se dif­fi­cul­ties in the man­ner I thought most politic, and most cal­cu­lat­ed to in­duce her to con­nive with me in over­com­ing them. I dwelt much on the mor­bid over- sen­si­tive­ness which would paral­yse the hand of the good doc­tor, were she to speak to Mm as she had spo­ken to me about the ex­treme pre­cious­ness of her child.

She stud­ied my face with a new in­ten­si­ty; then she said:

"He need know noth­ing about me. I need not see him till all is ar­ranged. The child can, for him, be any­body's child."

"Ex­act­ly what I would de­sire. I am glad to find you so sen­si­ble. Bring the child here to-mor­row morn­ing, at ten."

White to the lips again, she fal­tered:

"You don't mean that it will be done to-mor­row?"

"No, no, no. No such luck as that," I an­swered, im­pa­tient­ly. " There are pre­lim­i­nar­ies to be gone through. The child will have to be ex­am­ined by a coun­cil of sur­geons. All that is noth­ing to you. Bring her to me, here, at ten to-mor­row. That is all I ask of you. This is my name" giv­ing her a card " You know from the su­per­scrip­tion of the note you brought me, that my name is Bertram Dowlass. You may trust me to do the best I can for you."

She rose to take leave.

The quiet in­ten­si­ty of her grat­i­tude, and her im­plic­it, pa­tient be­lief in me, did not touch me. I let these things pass me by; there was no con­tact.

"I have no claim what­ev­er on your grat­i­tude," was my most true an­swer to what she said. "It is not the cure of your child that I care about, but the proof that human skill, aided by sci­ence, can cure thou­sands,"

She smiled slight­ly, in gen­tle dep­re­ca­tion of my self-in­jus­tice per­haps, too, in in­creduli­ty of my in­dif­fer­ence to­wards her child.

That was the end of our first in­ter­view.

All the rest of that day I worked with di­vid­ed at­ten­tion, and with a strange un­set­tled feel­ing. This was a new ex­pe­ri­ence, and it made me un­easy. Or­di­nar­i­ly I was my own mas­ter. I now put on the screw as I had never had to do be­fore, and with lit­tle re­sult be­yond a painful sense of strain and ef­fort,

It was nat­u­ral that I should be under some ex­cite­ment. I would not own to my­self that my ex­cite­ment was more than nat­u­ral; nor would I, for an in­stant, lis­ten to any in­ter­nal sug­ges­tion that it had any other cause than that to which I chose to at­tribute it.

At the ap­point­ed time next morn­ing, she brought the child.

There was no quail­ing yet, as I had feared there might be. She was still in­tent upon the cure, still full of con­fi­dence in me.

When she gave the small soft crea­ture into my hold, and it put one of its lit­tle arms round my neck, vol­un­tar­i­ly, confid­ing­ly I ex­pe­ri­enced a sen­sa­tion I had never be­fore known.

It turned out as I had ex­pect­ed. I had a hard bat­tle to fight; my pa­tience and tem­per were pret­ty well tried.

Dr. Fearn­well took the small being upon his knee, stroked its hair, looked into its eyes, felt its arms, and de­clared that this was not a safe case for op­er­a­tion; that the child was too del­i­cate.

I and one or two oth­ers, equal­ly bent on test­ing the new dis­cov­ery, at last over­ruled his judg­ment, and car­ried our point not till I was con­scious of the per­spi­ra­tion stand­ing in great beads on my fore­head. I do not know that I ex­act­ly lied about the lit­tle thing, but I de­lib­er­ate­ly al­lowed Dr. Fearn­well to sup­pose that the child's po­si­tion was such that it had far bet­ter die than live a crip­ple pos­si­bly had bet­ter die than live at all; that it was a child whose ex­is­tence in the world was an in­con­ve­nience rather than any­thing else, and a con­stant memo­ri­al of what was best for­got­ten. I was flushed with tri­umph when I re­turned to Mrs. Ross­car so she called her­self bear­ing the child in my arms.

"With the sweat of my brow, I have earned the heal­ing of your child," I said to her, as I wiped my fore­head.

She was stand­ing up close to the door; her arms ea­ger­ly re­ceived the bur­den of mine; her tongue made me no an­swer, but her face replied to me.

"On Mon­day at eleven," I told her. " This is Thurs­day. In the in­ter­ven­ing days, keep your child as quiet as you can: give her as much fresh air and as much nour­ish­ing food as you can. Dr. Fearn­well sent you this" slip­ping five sovereigns into her hand " to help to pay your ex­pens­es. He will help you as much as you may find nec­es­sary. He is rich and kind. You need have no scru­ples."

The money was my own; it would have been more, but that I was short of funds just then. Her face had flushed.

"I take the money for my child's sake. I thank him for my child's sake," she said, proud­ly.

I was now wait­ing for her to go. The door of the room was open; she stood fac­ing the open­ing, and the light from the great stair-win­dow fell full upon her.

For the first time I noted her great beau­ty.

She was still young, I dare­say, but hers was not the beau­ty that de­pends upon the first fresh­ness of youth. It was the beau­ty of per­fect­ly har­mo­nious pro­por­tion. Her form was at least as per­fect as her coun­te­nance. She had the most stat­uesque grace I ever saw in liv­ing woman, as she stood there hold­ing her child; hold­ing it with no more ef­fort than a Hebe shows in hold­ing the cup of nec­tar.

Her deep, still eyes were fas­tened upon me. A cu­ri­ous shock went through me, even be­fore she spoke.

Her face had now again that ex­treme pal­lor, such as I had never seen on any other liv­ing face.

"On Mon­day, at eleven," she re­peat­ed. Her mar­ble-pale lips seemed stiff­en­ing to mar­ble-rigid­i­ty. They seemed to form the words with dif­fi­cul­ty. "You would not de­ceive me? There is not more dan­ger than you tell me? For­give me; but, now it is set­tled, my heart seems turn­ing to ice. You would not de­ceive me? I know some­thing of the cal­lous­ness, the cru­el­ty, of men; but this would be too cruel. In all this world I have, as I have told you, noth­ing but this," hug­ging the child as she spoke, clos­er to that breast whose su­perb lines were not to be whol­ly hid­den by the heavy muf­fling weeds she wore. " I have noth­ing but this to hope for, to work for, to live for. This is all I have saved from the past, all that is left to me in the fu­ture."

Her del­i­cate dark brows gath­ered them­selves threat­en­ing­ly over her in­tense eyes, as she added, in a soft deep voice:

"There would be one thing left for me to do if I lost my child. One thing, and only one. To curse the hand whether it were the hand of God or of man that took her from me."

I an­swered her cold­ly; as far as I could, care­less­ly. I steeled my­self against the trag­ic truth of her words; but I was con­scious of a creep­ing of my flesh.

"Madam," I said, "you are at lib­er­ty to change your mind. All ar­range­ments that have been made, can be un­made. I would, how­ev­er, ad­vise you to avoid ag­i­tat­ing the child."

This drew her eyes from mine to the small face on her breast. She had not raised her voice, had not in­dulged in any ges­ture; had not be­trayed, ex­cept in the blanch­ing of her face and the in­tense pas­sion of her eyes, her ag­i­ta­tion; the child was too young to un­der­stand her words. And yet, as we both looked at it now, its lips had part­ed, its face had flushed, its eyes and mouth and chin were quiv­er­ing with emo­tion.

Per­haps the lit­tle crea­ture was dis­tressed by the vi­bra­tions of its moth­er's strong­ly­pul­sat­ing heart, against which it was held so close­ly.

She bent over it, held her face against its face, mur­mured sooth­ing sounds. I was hold­ing the door open. She now passed out with­out an­oth­er word, and began to de­scend the stairs.

I stood look­ing after her: my eyes were caught by the glo­ri­ous great knot of bright hair, which, all pulled back from her face, es­caped from her bon­net be­hind. A slant­ing beam from the win­dow had touched and fired it as she passed down the stairs.

Half-way down she stopped, turned, and looked back and up at me. When the moth­er looked, her child looked too. They re­mained so, for per­haps half a minute.

How often af­ter­wards, in dreams of the night, in wak­ing vi­sions of the dark, and worse, far worse, in the broad day­light and peo­pling the sun­shine, look­ing up from the grass, or from the water, look­ing forth from the trees, or the flow­ers, hov­er­ing be­tween her and other faces, did I meet those haunt­ing eyes: the two pairs of eyes, so like in their dif­fer­ence, gaz­ing at me with vary­ing ex­pres­sions of ap­peal, re­proach, agony, or worst of all res­ig­na­tion!

"Good- evening, Mrs. Ross­car."

I turned back into the room, but could not hin­der my­self, a few mo­ments after, from look­ing out to see if she were still there. She was gone.

Dur­ing the Fri­day and Sat­ur­day in­ter­ven­ing be­tween that day and the Mon­day, I hard­ly thought of the moth­er and child. I thought con­stant­ly, and with fever­ish ea­ger­ness, of the op­er­a­tion, and of the tri­umph of its suc­cess; but I did not re­alise the quiv­er­ing agony of body and spir­it the child's body (even if all sen­sa­tion were dead­ened for the mo­ments of op­er­a­tion, there must be keen suf­fer­ing af­ter­wards), the moth­er's spir­it im­plied even in suc­cess. As to fail­ure, I did not admit its pos­si­bil­i­ty.

On the Sun­day I was rest­less. I felt it need­ful to do some­thing. I could not apply to book- study, and from the more prac­ti­cal part of study the day shut me off. I got on board one of the river steam­ers, not de­sign­ing any­thing but to get out in the coun­try, and have a good walk. But the first per­son my eye fell on, when I looked round the crowd­ed deck, was Mrs. Ross­car; her child, of course, in her arms.

For a mo­ment I felt afraid lest this might mean that my pa­tient was es­cap­ing me.

"Where are you going?" I asked her, abrupt­ly.

"I do not know," she an­swered, with her quiet voice and rare smile. " You rec­om­mend­ed me to give the child all the air I could. I thought of land­ing at one of the pleas­ant green places, and sit­ting about in the fields for a few hours, and then tak­ing the evening boat back again. I thought, at some farm­house or small inn, I could get some food for her at all events, milk and eggs and bread-and-but­ter."

I was stand­ing on the deck, in front of her. I said, what sud­den­ly oc­curred to me:

"You are much too beau­ti­ful and too young, to go about alone in this way, among I such peo­ple."

"I dare say I am beau­ti­ful, and I know I am not old; but my beau­ty is not of the sort to draw on me the im­per­ti­nence of com­mon peo­ple. I am not young in my soul. I know how to pro­tect my­self."

"If yon don't mind my com­pa­ny, I'll man­age for yon. Yon are not strong enongh to slave abont with that weight al­ways in yonr arms. Yon can do it, I know; bnt yon shon­ld not over­tax yonr strength to-day; yonr nerves shon­ld be in good order to-mor­row."

She blanched, sud­den­ly, to that ab­so­lute pal­lor again.

"Will they let me be in the room? Will they let her lie in my lap?" she asked.

I shook my head.

"In nine­ty-nine cases out of a hun­dred this would not an­swer, though it might in yours; it is dif­fi­cult to make ex­cep­tions."

She gave a pa­tient sigh; sat some time with her eyes fixed on. the glid­ing shore; then said, look­ing at me again:

"Will it take long?"

"Oh, no, no; a very short time; a few mo­ments."

"And she will feel no pain?"

"None."

She said, as if to her­self, her eyes sub­sid­ing from my face to set­tle on the shore again:

"After all, God is some­times mer­ci­ful. I al­most feel as if I could love Him. When these lit­tle feet" touch­ing them with a ten­der hand " walk, I will try with all my soul to love Him."

I don't know what pos­sessed me this day. I laid aside all my ha­bit­u­al shy­ness. I hard­ly thought of ex­pos­ing my­self to the ridicule of my col­leagues, should I en­counter any of them. But think­ing of this chance, I glanced at Mrs. Ross­car's dress; try­ing to dis­cov­er how she would strike a stranger, and to what rank she would be sup­posed to be­long.

Of the dress I could make noth­ing; it was all deep and long- worn mourn­ing. As far as I could tell, noth­ing of her sta­tion could be learned from her dress.

She was stand­ing. She had moved to the side of the ves­sel, a lit­tle way apart from me. She was point­ing out some­thing to the child. From the poise of her head, down all the lines of her form, to the firm­ly-plant­ed beau­ti­ful foot, from which, by times, the wind swept back the drap­ery, there was some­thing regal about her. The child was dain­ti­ly dressed in white; it looked all soft swans­down and del­i­cate em­broi­deries. It might, I thought, have been a queen's child.

I went to her side, and pro­posed that we should land at the first stop­ping place, and take a row-boat. She agreed. She would have agreed to any­thing I pro­posed; she

had a feel­ing that the child's life was in my hand. So, we were soon glid­ing along the shady bank of the river she and I and the child some­times, among the wa­ter-lilies and close to the swans; some­times, al­most touched by droop­ing boughs; some­times, for a mo­ment held en­tan­gled by the sedges. All very silent.

Mrs. Ross­car was one of those women who have a tal­ent for si­lence, and, more than that, who seem hard­ly to need speech. To-day she was con­tent to watch the child. The child sat on her knees, with mus­ing eyes and tran­quil face, watch­ing the glid­ing water.

Now and then, the child smiled up into the moth­er's face; now and then, the moth­er bent over and kissed the child; there seemed no need, be­tween them, for any other kind of speech. That child's smile was of the most won­der­ful sad sweet­ness. It was the loveli­est and ten­der­est ex­pres­sion. I did not then, you must un­der­stand, con­scious­ly note all the things I speak of as I go along; they re­turned upon me af­ter­wards. I had time enough, in time to come, to re­mem­ber the past. Time enough, Heav­en knows!

Early in the af­ter­noon, we stopped at a com­par­a­tive­ly un­fre­quent­ed place, and dined.

Mrs. Ross­car's quiet un­demon­stra­tive, and yet pleased and grate­ful, ac­cep­tance of all my ser­vices, her ac­qui­es­cence in all I pro­posed, did not seem to me strange. The day was al­to­geth­er a dream-day. I was in the sort of mood in which to find my­self the hero of a fairy-tale's ad­ven­tures would hard­ly have sur­prised me: a most un­wont­ed mood for me.

I have thought about it since, and won­dered if she acted as she did, from in­ex­pe­ri­ence, or from in­dif­fer­ence. Was she ig­no­rant, or was she care­less, as to what might be con­clud­ed about her? I be­lieve the fact was, that she thought nei­ther of her­self, nor of me, but mere­ly of " a good day" for the child.

She laid aside her bon­net, and her cap with it, be­fore she sat down to table: show­ing that wealth of brown hair, and, what much more in­ter­est­ed me, that head fit to be the head of a god­dess. " And yet," I thought, " she seems a very or­di­nary woman; she seems, even more fool­ish­ly than most women, ab­sorbed and sat­is­fied by the pos­ses­sion of a child."

In lay­ing aside her bon­net and cap, she had laid aside, also, her shape­less cloak; her close-fit­ting black dress dis­played the lines of shoul­ders, bust, and waist, fit to be those of that same god­dess.

She was a splen­did woman. The well-formed white soft hands made me con­clude that she was also, by con­ven­tion­al rank, a lady.

We re­turned as we had come; only that the sun­set mir­rored in the river, the swans, the sedges, the rip­pling run of the water, the capri­cious warm breath­ings of the soft wind seemed, yet more than the morn­ing bright­ness, things of a dream. We reached the widow's lodg­ing at about the child's bed­time.

She did not ask me to go in, but I went in.

She told the child to thank me for "a happy, happy time;" which the lit­tle thing did with a pret­ti­ness pa­thet­ic to think of af­ter­wards, adding, of her own ac­cord:

"And for show­ing me the lilies and the pret­ty swans."

The moth­er hung on her words with rap­ture, and then, rais­ing her face to mine, said:

"If you make my child able to walk in the warm sunny grass, on her own lit­tle feet, I will learn to be­lieve in a lov­ing Grod, that I may call His choic­est bless­ings down upon you. I will en­treat Him to pros­per you in all your do­ings, to glad­den your whole life, to let the love of women and of lit­tle chil­dren sweet­en all your days."

I pressed, in part­ing, the hand she held out to me. After I had left her, her last words went echo­ing through my brain.

When I got home I tried to apply my­self to hard study quite vain­ly. But I do not think that she, alone, was re­spon­si­ble for this. I be­lieve that, just at the time when I first met her, my brain was on the point of giv­ing- in, and of re­sent­ing the strain of some years.

This phase, at all events', of my col­lapse, had a strange de­li­cious­ness about it. Soft thoughts and sweet fan­cies thronged upon me. I gave my­self up to them, weary of the ef­fort of self-mas­tery.

Again and again, as I fell asleep, I was glid­ing soft­ly down a sunny river. I seemed to hear the dip and splash of oars, to feel the move­ment of the boat under the im­pulse given by them, and then the words, " May the love of women and of lit­tle chil­dren sweet­en all your days!" sound­ed in my ears with such dis­tinct­ness, and seemed to come from a voice so near, that I awoke with a start, and a feel­ing that I should see the speak­er stand­ing be­side my bed, and that I had felt her breath upon my brow.

Then, like a fool as I was, I lay think­ing of the woman who had spo­ken those words. " What a rich low voice she has; what sweet deep eyes she has; what a shape­ly foot she has; what a splen­did form it is; what a soft white steady hand she has!"

"Yes," I then said to my­self, try­ing to de­ceive my­self. " She would make a first-rate hos­pi­tal nurse; strong, calm, gen­tle, wise."

Next day, a day of in­tense ex­cite­ment to me, the op­er­a­tion was per­formed. It was suc­cess­ful­ly per­formed. Ev­ery­thing that hap­pened at about this time, after that Sun­day on the river, seems wrapped in a dream-haze.

But I have a dis­tinct rec­ol­lec­tion that Dr. Fearn­well said to me, " Dowlass, you are over- doing it; I don't like the look of your eyes; take a hol­i­day." But whether this was be­fore the op­er­a­tion, or after it, I don't know. I know that I made him some jest­ing an­swer, and laughed at his grave con­cern.

I know that late in that day, when I first saw Mrs. Ross­car after the op­er­a­tion, her ex­pres­sion of her pas­sion­ate joy and grat­i­tude made me half deliri­ous with an un­com­pre­hend­ed feel­ing and that part of it was fear.

The child, after the op­er­a­tion, was placed in one of the wards of the hos­pi­tal. The moth­er left it nei­ther night nor day. I had pre­vailed in get­ting this ex­cep­tion to rule al­lowed; and for this her grat­i­tude was al­most as great as for our other suc­cess.

Through the day after the op­er­a­tion, and the day fol­low­ing that, I often stole a few mo­ments to go and look at the lit­tle pa­tient su­fier­er, and at the joy-il­lu­mined ra­di­ant face of the moth­er. The more ra­di­ant the moth­er's face was, and the more en­tire­ly all seemed well, the more I felt afraid.

When, on the third day, the child sank died in its sleep I knew it was of that, I had been afraid.

I can­not even now ac­count for the child's death. It should have lived and grown strong; there was no in­flam­ma­tion; the suc­cess of the op­er­a­tion was per­fect.

Per­haps it was a child born not to live. Per­haps the con­stant pres­ence of its moth­er made it keep up too strong a strain of self-con­trol, for its strength. It must have suf­fered, but it did not moan, or cry, or give any sign of suf­fer­ing, ex­cept what was to be read on the of­ten- damp brow and in the over- di­lat­ed eyes. "Eyes!" Yes. It is al­ways " eyes." Eyes are al­ways haunt­ing me. Often the child's eyes, as they looked rip at me, when I bent over it. I have fan­cied since that it would have spo­ken to me then, com­plained of pain, but for the moth­er being al­ways close and with­in hear­ing. I have fan­cied since, that it looked at me, with that in­tent look, hop­ing that I should un­der­stand.

A poor sick­ly tree I think a sycamore grew out­side one of the win­dows of the ward in which the child lay. It was sway­ing and swing­ing in the evening wind and evening sun­light, and its shad­ow was wav­ing to and fro on the child's bed when I went into the ward on the af­ter­noon of that third day.

The child liked to watch the shad­ow and had begged not to have the blind pulled down.

"Had I best wake her?" Mrs. Ross­car asked me, the mo­ment I ap­proached the bed. She was look­ing strained to-day, and anx­ious. " It is rather long since she took nour­ish­ment. And last time she was awake, I thought she seemed more weak and faint than she has seemed since Mon­day."

"When was she last awake?"

Mrs. Ross­car looked at her watch.

"Half an hour and three min­utes ago; but she took noth­ing then, for she smiled at me, and then dozed off, just as I was going to give her her ar­row­root and wine. It is an hour and a half since she had any­thing."

"By all means wake her," I said. It struck me that her lit­tle face looked pinched and cold. " The sleep of ex­haus­tion will do her no good," I added.

Mrs. Ross­car bent her face over the child's face. I stood by, with my heart strik­ing sledge-ham­mer blows against me.

"Mamma wants her dar­ling to wake up and take some wine," she said, with her cheek lying against the child's cheek.

No move­ment or mur­mur of reply.

Lift­ing her head, and look­ing into my face, she said, in what then seemed to me an awful voice:

"She is very cold!"

I pushed the moth­er aside, I bent over the child, I felt for its pulse, watched for its breath. In vain.

I or­dered flan­nels to be heat­ed, and the lit­tle body to be wrapped in them and rubbed with them. I tried every means I knew of, for restor­ing an­i­ma­tion.

In vain.

While the moth­er was prepar­ing food for it, the child, hav­ing smiled at her, had fall­en into a doze. That doze was the doze of death.

When we de­sist­ed from our ef­forts to wake it, and left the poor tor­tured lit­tle body in peace, Mrs. Ross­car, who had been kneel­ing by the bed, rose. She stood mo­tion­less and speech­less for mo­ments that seemed to me no por­tion of time, but an ex­pe­ri­ence of eter­ni­ty.

I re­solved that I would not meet her eyes; but she was the stronger willed, and our eyes did meet. I shrank; I shiv­ered; I looked, I know, ab­ject, craven, self-con­vict­ed. I felt I was the mur­der­er she thought me.

Slow­ly, with her eyes on mine which watched her with a hor­ri­ble fas­ci­na­tion, she lift­ed her grand arms, and clasped her hands above her head.

The up­lift­ed arms, the awful eyes, the in­def­i­nite hor­ror of that pause be­fore speech were enough for me.

As her lips opened, to give ut­ter­ance to the first words of her curse, I, lift­ing my own arms, as if to ward off from my head an im­mi­nent blow (they told me af­ter­wards of these things), and strug­gling for power to ar­tic­u­late some dep­re­ca­tion I, meet­ing her eyes with un­speak­able hor­ror in my own, stag­gered a mo­ment, then fell, as if she had struck me down.
  

CHAP­TER II

When I was again aware of any­thing that could have be­longed to the real world and not to the dread­ful world of hor­rors, some ter­ri­ble, some grotesque, in which my dis­eased brain had, dur­ing an in­ex­pli­ca­ble pe­ri­od, lived such life as it had known I was in my own room in Strath­cairn-street. One of the first things I con­scious­ly no­ticed and thought about, was

the fact that my bed had been moved, from the sleep­ing and dress­ing clos­et in which it usu­al­ly stood, out into the open room.

My dreamy eyes took this fact in slow­ly; after a while, my drowsy brain lan­guid­ly de­cid­ed that this meant I had been some time ill, and that the bed had been moved in order to give me more air.

This set­tled, my weak mind was free to take note of, and fee­bly to spec­u­late about, other facts.

A woman sat at work not far from my bed­side. Which of the hos­pi­tal nurs­es would this be, I won­dered. She was work­ing by the light of a shad­ed lamp. This was night, then, I sup­posed, or, at least, evening.

Was it sum­mer or win­ter?

There was no fire burn­ing in the grate, and, by the mov­ing to and fro of a blind, I knew a win­dow was open; so I con­clud­ed it was sum­mer.

Night-time and sum­mer-time. I had, then, set­tled some­thing.

Next, who was this woman? I seemed to need to set­tle this also.

I could not see her face from where I lay. I watched the swift out-fly­ing and re­turn of the busy hand, and won­dered about her, and im­pa­tient­ly fret­ted for her to turn round to­wards me, that I might see her face.

But she worked on.

I re­mem­ber a lady once say­ing to me (long years after this time, but when she said it this scene re­turned upon me), " Work, in­deed! nee­dle- work!" she spoke with a bit­ter in­to­na­tion and an in­fi­nite con­tempt. " Amuse my­self with my nee­dle! How often have I been coun­selled to do that! Such a sweet, sooth­ing, quiet, gra­cious em­ploy­ment! So it is, for the sat­is­fied, the happy, the oc­cu­pied. Noth­ing can be sweet­er than to sit at one's nee­dle through a long sum­mer-day, and dream over one's hap­pi­ness, and think out one's thoughts. But if one be not happy, and if one's thoughts be dan­ger­ous? Or, if one be ut­ter­ly weary and en­nuy­ee, and the mind seems empty of all thought?

"To you men it is all one. To see a woman sit­ting at her nee­dle makes you con­tent. You think she is safe, out of mis­chief, just suf­fi­cient­ly amused, and so suit­ably oc­cu­pied! Not too much en­grossed to be ready to lis­ten to and to serve your lord­ships; not so far en­nuy­ee as to be dis­posed to make ex­act­ing claims upon your at­ten­tion and your sym­pa­thy.

"Your eyes rest or her with sat­is­fac­tion; she forms such a charm­ing pic­ture of house­wife­ly re­pose and in­dus­try ' Ohne Hast ohne Bast.' You like to let your eyes rest upon her when you choose to look up from your paper, your re­view, or your wine. You feel at lib­er­ty to study her at your leisure, as you might a pic­ture. It never oc­curs to you that mock­ing, mis­er­able, mad thoughts may be haunt­ing her brain that pas­sion, des­per­a­tion, de­spair, or that utter weari­ness, worse than all, may be in her soul!"

This woman, sit­ting by the shad­ed lamp in my room, worked on and on.

By-and-by, some lines of the throat and bust and shoul­ders began to be sug­ges­tive to my slow brain. They seemed to be­long to some re­mem­bered per­son. To whom?

As well as I could see, this woman was dressed in white; a white, short gown, such as the peas­ant women wear, open at the throat, loose at the sleeve; prob­a­bly be­cause of the heat, she had taken off her outer dress. As I was strain­ing to re­mem­ber, a great sense of pres­sure upon my brain, de­scend­ing on me, and grasp­ing me with the tight­en­ing grasp of a cold and heavy hand, stopped me. I should have swooned into sleep, but just then the woman laid down her work, looked at a watch hang­ing near her, rose, and came to­wards the bed.

Im­me­di­ate­ly, I closed my eyes; but vol­un­tar­i­ly.

She came close, bent- over me, as if lis­ten­ing for my breath. I felt her breath: was con­scious even of the warmth and fra­grance of her vi­tal­i­ty, as she stooped over me. Present­ly she laid her hand upon my clam­my fore­head.

In­stinct re­vealed to me who she was: with­out open­ing my eyes, I saw her. A cold sweat of hor­ror broke out over me; such life as was left me, seemed ooz­ing away through my pores; I was ready to sink into a swoon of death-like depth.

But I heard these words:

"That he may not die, great God, that he may not die!" And they ar­rest­ed me on the brink of that hor­ri­ble sink­ing away, to hold me on the brink in­stead of let­ting me fall through.

Some­how, those words, though they saved me for that mo­ment, did not re­move my sense of hor­ror and fear, any more than is the vic­tim who knows him­self sin­gled out for death by slow tor­ture, com­fort­ed and re­as­sured by the means taken to bring him back from his first swoon to con­scious­ness of his next agony.

Was it, that phys­i­cal weak­ness, and near­ness to death, gave me clear­er vi­sion than that with which I saw later, when my sens­es had gath­ered power?

It was fear. I now ex­pe­ri­enced there is no deny­ing it a most hor­ri­ble fear. A shrink­ing of the spir­it and of the flesh.

Why was I given over to her?

Was this an­oth­er world, in which she had power given her to tor­ment me? Was this my hell?

I, weak as a child, was alone with her. That awful woman with the ter­ri­ble eyes, and the arms up­lift­ed to curse me! The woman of my dread and dread­ful dreams and fever-fan­cies.

Here, I be­lieve, the icy wa­ters of that hor­ri­ble cold swoon closed over my con­scious­ness.

But by-and-by (and whether after mo­ments, hours, or even days, I had no means of know­ing), when I felt the gen­tle­ness of the hand that was busy about me wip­ing the clam­my mois­ture from my fore­head, bathing it with ether, hold­ing to my nos­trils a strong re­viv­ing essence, wet­ting my stiff lips with brandy; when I felt a soft strong arm under my neck, slight­ly rais­ing my head to lean it on the yield­ing breast when I felt the sooth­ing com­fort of the warmth, the soft­ness, the fra­grance of vi­tal­i­ty, after the wormy chill of the grave, whose taste and smell seemed to linger in my mouth and nos­trils then it seemed not hell but heav­en to which I was de­liv­ered.

Present­ly she gave me to drink some restora­tive medicine which was mea­sured out ready for me. I swal­lowed it. She wiped my lips. I closed my eyes. Si­lence was, as yet, un­bro­ken be­tween us.

That medicine was strong stuff: a few mo­ments after I had taken it, life, and con­scious de­light in the sense of life, went tin­gling through me.

Al­most afraid to speak, and yet too full of won­der to re­main silent, after I had for some mo­ments lis­tened to the steady, some­what heavy, pul­sa­tions of the heart so near which I leaned, I asked:

"Have I been long ill?"

"A month."

She had paused be­fore she spoke, and her breast had heaved high was it, I have won­dered since, in proud dis­gust to bear my hated head upon it?

She did not look at me as she spoke, I knew, for I didn't feel her breath.

"What sort of ill­ness?"

"Con­ges­tion of the brain."

"Is the dan­ger past?"

"If yon can be kept from dying of weak­ness."

"And how comes it that y on nurse me?"

"I have given my­self np to be a nurse."

"And have yon nursed me all this month?"

"No, not the first week: not till after my child was buried."

The tone of that last an­swer made me shud­der. It was so un­nat­u­ral, in its per­fect free­dom from all emo­tion.

"I shall tire you," I said; "lay me down."

Fear was re­gain­ing its em­pire over me.

She did as I asked her, and, after she had ar­ranged my pil­lows and the bed­clothes neat­ly, moved to her work-table. The de­li­cions sense of warm life was fast dying away out of me.

"Are yon Mrs. Ross­car?" I asked, present­ly, rais­ing my­self on one elbow, for an in­stant, to look at her.

"I am your nurse," she an­swered me, with­out look­ing np from her work.

I made an­oth­er ef­fort to try and get things ex­plained and dis­en­tan­gled; but they were too much for me. Be­fore I had framed an­oth­er ques­tion I was over­whelmed by sleep.

That was my sec­ond "lucid in­ter­val." The first in which I was ca­pa­ble of speech, I be­lieve. A week elapsed be­fore I had an­oth­er.

I knew some­thing of what passed; I dis­tin­guished voic­es; I knew that Dr. Eearn­well was often in the room; I was con­scious that I had a sec­ond nurse. I knew who she was: one of the hos­pi­tal-nurs­es, a good, hon­est, hearty crea­ture, but coarse and rough a woman never en­trust­ed with the care of del­i­cate cases; but she seemed to act here as ser­vant to Mrs. Ross­car. I knew all these things, but they seemed to con­cern some other per­son. When I tried to recog­nise my­self in things, to take hold of any­thing with dis­tinct self-con­scious­ness, then came those hor­ri­ble sweats and swoons, and over­whelmed mev."

It was a strange wild phase of se­mi-ex­is­tence, in­struc­tive to a man of my pro­fes­sion to pass through.

For some time after I had got on a good way to­wards re­cov­ery, I talked and thought of my­self as "that sick man:" seemed to watch what was done to me, as if it were being done to some other per­son.

When this phase cleared off, the sense of re­lief was not un­mixed: for I had so la­bo­ri­ous­ly to take my­self to my­self again to learn that that sick man's his­to­ry was mine, that his mem­o­ries were mine, his re­mors­es mine, that I often groaned at the labour of it.

"You would never have strug­gled through, but for the skill and the de­vo­tion of your nurse," Dr. Fearn­well said to me.

"So he thinks I have strug­gled through now," I re­marked to Mrs. Ross­car when he was gone. " I must call you some­thing dif­fer­ent from ' nurse.' " I went on. " It is im­pos­si­ble that you and that good rough crea­ture should share one title be­tween you."

"I should share no title with any good crea­ture."

"You know it was not that I meant."

"I know it was not that you meant."

"What may I call you?"

"You may call me, if you choose, by my own name, Hul­dah."

"Hul­dah!" I re­peat­ed. "I wish you had a soft­er name. It is dif­fi­cult to say Hul­dah soft­ly, and "

"I have known it said soft­ly," she an­swered. " I have never, since I was a child, been called by that name, ex­cept by one per­son. You may call me by it."

Say­ing this, she let her eyes, which I had hard­ly ever, till then, for one mo­ment, been able to meet, rest on mine with a heavy ful­ness of ex­pres­sion that sent a lan­guid sub­tle fire through my veins that, also, made me again afraid: after meet­ing it, I watched, covert­ly, for its re­cur­rence.

Mine was a long-pro­tract­ed un­cer­tain con­va­les­cence. I did not set my will to­wards grow­ing well. I yield­ed my­self up rather to the lux­u­ry of my po­si­tion, yield­ed my­self up, body and soul, as it were. I was under a spell of fas­ci­na­tion not de­void of fear. The shock that felled me had come upon me when my whole health of mind and body was at a low ebb. In look­ing back, I recog­nise this, though I had not at the time been con­scious of it. I had never, since I was a boy, given my­self a hol­i­day; never given one hour's in­dul­gence to any pas­sion but that of am­bi­tion, till I knew Mrs. Ross­car.

At the time of my meet­ing her, I had just come to the dregs of my pow­ers, but was not yet con­scious of the bit­ter­ness of those dregs.

Now, it seemed as if my whole na­ture moral, in­tel­lec­tu­al, phys­i­cal vol­un­tar­i­ly suc­cumbed. I lay, as I have said, under a spell, and lux­u­ri­at­ed in my own pow­er­less­ness. As yet it was not the bit­ter but the sweet dregs of the cup that were pass­ing over my lips.

The weath­er was hot; boxes of mignonette, some he­liotropes, and lemon-scent­ed ver­be­nas, were in my bal­cony. She wa­tered them of an evening, and let the win­dows be open and the scent of them float in to me as I lay and watched her at her work.

While this de­li­cions lan­guid lux­u­ry of con­va­les­cence last­ed, and did not pall upon me, why should I wish to get well? While she was there to feed me, I would not raise a hand to feed my­self.

The truth was, that my nurse, my per­fect nurse, of whom Dr. Eearn­well now and again spoke with an en­thu­si­asm and ef­fu­sion that would fire my weak brain with sud­den jeal­ousy; my nurse, who would, in un­tir­ing watch­ful­ness and self-for­get­ting de­vo­tion to her task, have been a per­fect nurse for any man who had been in­dif­fer­ent to her, to whom she had been in­dif­fer­ent, was now a most per­ni­cious nurse to me.

I loved her with a des­per­ate sort of pas­sion: a love far more of the sens­es than the heart.

She was nei­ther an in­no­cent nor an ig­no­rant woman. She knew ex­act­ly what to do and what to leave un­done. She gave me no chance of grow­ing in­dif­fer­ent through fa­mil­iar­i­ty, if, in­deed, with such beau­ty as hers that could have been pos­si­ble. As I grew bet­ter, though al­ways on duty near me, she was less and less in my room; ever of­ten­er and of­ten­er, when I longed in those cold half-swoon­ings and icy sweats of weak­ness, with an al­most deliri­ous long­ing to feel my­self soothed and cher­ished, as on that first sea­son of con­scious­ness, by her close pres­ence, there came to my call, not Mrs. Ross­car, but the other nurse, with her coarse good-tem­pered face, and her form, from which re­duc­ing, as it did, the sub­lime to the ridicu­lous, and the love­ly to the loath­some, in its car­i­ca­tur­ing ex­ag­ger­a­tion of all fem­i­nine charms I turned in dis­gust.

Every day Mrs. Ross­car seemed to me more beau­ti­ful. Every day I seemed to feel her beau­ty more be­wil­der­ing­ly and over­pow­er­ing­ly. Not so much the beau­ty of her face; it was strange how un­fa­mil­iar that re­mained to me, and how sel­dom I had a full look into it; when­ev­er it was pos­si­ble, it was avert­ed from me; her eyes shunned mine, and she kept the room so dim, that I had lit­tle chance of study­ing her ex­pres­sion. If I no­ticed this, I ac­count­ed to my­self for it by sup­pos­ing her to be grow­ing con­scious of the burn­ing fever of my pas­sion. Not so much did the beau­ty of her face, I say, bind me pris­on­er. It was the beau­ty of her pres­ence that so grew upon me: of her whole phys­i­cal self, as it were. Of her mind and heart I knew noth­ing. With the music of her move­ment, the gra­cious del­i­ca­cy and har­mo­ny of all she did, I was more and more cap­ti­vat­ed.

The ac­ci­dents of the sick room, the per­fect pos­tures into which her limbs would fall when she slept the sleep of ex­haus­tion, on the couch at the far end of my cham­ber, made me more and more con­scious of the won­der­ful and rare per­fec­tion of pro­por­tion of her phys­i­cal beau­ty. And yet it was some­thing be­yond this that en­chained me.

Has the body a soul apart from the soul's soul?

Is there a soul of phys­i­cal beau­ty?

But what I mean, es­capes me as I strug­gle to ex­press it.

In my strange pas­sion for her, there was al­ways some­thing of fear.

Some­times, in the night, I would lie awake, lean­ing on my elbow, and watch her sleep, and fol­low the ris­ing and the falling of the now child­less breast. At those times I al­ways thought about the child, and won­dered how she thought and how she suf­fered, and I won­dered with a great awe. Was her heart dead? About all her soft gen­tle­ness there was no touch of ten­der­ness. Did she nurse me me­chan­i­cal­ly, not car­ing whether it was I or an­oth­er? Then re­curred to me the first words I had heard her speak when I re­vived to con­scious­ness: " That he may not die, great God, that he may not die!"

Re­mem­ber­ing these first words of hers, I could hard­ly think her ten­dance me­chan­i­cal or in­dif­fer­ent. Was she grate­ful to me, know­ing I would have saved and healed her child? Then re­turned to me the scene by the small bed the awful eyes, the up­lift­ed arms. Often, at this point of my think­ing, I would cry aloud to find my­self bathed in thao ter­ri­ble cold sweat, and my cry would wake her, and her ap­proach would then fill me with dread.

For a long time, things went on with­out change. I got nei­ther worse nor bet­ter. Dr. Fearn­well grew im­pa­tient.

"Your heart con­tin­ues strange­ly weak and ir­ri­ta­ble," he said one day; say­ing it, he looked I be­lieve it was a pure ac­ci­dent from me to Mrs. Ross­car, and back to me. The sud­den rush of heat to my face, then, pos­si­bly, sug­gest­ed some­thing to him; for he con­sid­ered me grave­ly, and Mrs. Ross­car ju­di­cial­ly. I wished, how I wished, that, for the time of the good doc­tor's eyes being on her, she could have looked ugly!

"We must try change," he said. "It will not do to go on like this; we must try change. You are a man with work to do in the world; you must be braced up to do it. The air of the town, and es­pe­cial­ly of your room, is en­er­vat­ing in this warm weath­er."

"I am far too weak to go out," I said. " It would kill me to move."

He paid no at­ten­tion to that; he was re­flect­ing.

"To-mor­row," he went on, " I will call for you, in the af­ter­noon; you can quite well bear a short jour­ney in my car­riage. I will take you to a farm-house in the coun­try, pret­ty high up among the hills. There, you will soon get strong and well. You will be your­self again be­fore the cold weath­er comes."

"I shall die of weari­ness," I an­swered, pee­vish­ly.

"Noth­ing of the kind; you will grow calm and strong."

"I can't pos­si­bly do with­out a great deal of nurs­ing yet."

"The good woman of the farm is a kind moth­er­ly crea­ture; she will do all that is nec­es­sary she and one of her cows, from which you must take plen­ty of new milk."

At that mo­ment I hated Dr. Fearn­well. I do not know what an­swer I might not have made him, but Mrs. Ross­car spoke, and my at­ten­tion was im­me­di­ate­ly ar­rest­ed.

"I am very glad you pro­posed this change, Dr. Fearn­well," she said. " It re­lieves me of a dif­fi­cul­ty. I am un­able to re­main here longer. I have had news from my own neigh­bour­hood that calls me south. Nurse Wilkins is hard­ly com­pe­tent to un­der­take the sole charge of my pa­tient in his pre­sent stage of con­va­les­cence; but the farmer's wife and the cow, be­tween them" she smiled, one of her very rare and very brief smiles "will get me over my dif­fi­cul­ty."

"We are to lose you? You are un­able to re­main here longer?" Dr. Fearn­well said.

He paid me a long visit that day, but very lit­tle of his at­ten­tion was given to me; he seemed to be study­ing Mrs. Ross­car with roused in­ter­est.

"She is too beau­ti­ful and too young for the vo­ca­tion she has cho­sen," he said, byand-by, when she had, for a few mo­ments, left the room. "Be­sides that, she is a woman with a pre­oc­cu­pied mind, with a mem­o­ry, or a pur­pose."

His last words made me shud­der, but I re­turned him some sulky dis­sent­ing an­swer. That this woman was the moth­er of the poor lit­tle child on whom we had op­er­at­ed, he did not know, or sus­pect.

"My poor fel­low, I see you're in a devil of a tem­per. But I don't care; what I'm doing is for your good if only I have done it soon enough."

"Oh! Peo­ple are so very brave, al­ways, in their op­er­a­tions for other peo­ple's good," I re­marked, still as sulky as a bear, and yet trou­bled by the sound of my own words. I was mad enough to be­lieve that Dr. Fearn­well was him­self in love with my nurse, and jeal­ous of me!

"You'll live to thank me for what I'm doing, or to re­proach me for not hav­ing done it soon­er," he said, and then took leave of me.

Mrs. Ross­car re­turned to the room, find­ing me, of course, in the deep­est de­jec­tion and sul­len­ness. She looked at me, as she en­tered, with some cu­rios­i­ty or in­ter­est. It was very rarely that she spoke, ex­cept in reply; very rarely that she ap­proached me, ex­cept when some ser­vice made it need­ful she should do so. To-day, she spoke first, com­ing to my side, with­in reach of my hand, but avert­ing her face from me. She took up her work, and then said:

"So it is set­tled? You go into the coun­try to-mor­row?"

"I don't know that it is at all set­tled. I am not an idiot, or a baby, that I should do ex­act­ly what I'm told. I am well enough now, to have a will of my own. Prob­a­bly, when he calls for me, I shall say, 'I will not go!'"

"Do not say that," she re­turned, earnest­ly. " Go, I ad­vise you. It is true that I can­not stay here longer."

"It is true that here, or there, or any­where, I can­not live with­out you," I said, in a pas­sion­ate out­burst.

"I own that you are not yet well enough to go with­out your ac­cus­tomed nurse," she an­swered, " and your nurse does not like to have an in­com­plete case taken out of her hands. But, after the way in which Dr. Fearn­well spoke to-day, after the in­sin­u­a­tions con­tained in his look to-day, I could no longer nurse you here, where I am al­ways li­able to be seen by him."

"Do you mean " I began, with a

great throb­bing joy.

"I mean that if you go with the doc­tor to-mor­row, you may find that your nurse will soon join you, if "

"I will promise any­thing," I cried, grasp­ing her hand.

"If you will be con­trolled and pru­dent, and will not again ex­pose me to the doc­tor's re­marks."

"I will do, or not do, any­thing you tell me to do, or not to do."

"Have you a sis­ter?"

"No."

"Does Dr. Fearn­well know you have no sis­ter?"

"He knows noth­ing of me, ex­cept as a stu­dent."

"Tell him to-mor­row, then, and tell the peo­ple at the farm, that your sis­ter is com­ing to join you. Dr. Fearn­well won't come out often: when he does, it will be easy to de­vise some rea­son for his not see­ing ' your sis­ter.' "

She stopped the out­burst of my grat­i­tude by ris­ing to leave the room. Not only by this, but by the look she gave me a dark, in­scrutable, ter­ri­ble look pon­der­ing over which I grew cold.

Next day, she asked Dr. Fearn­well, when he came to fetch me, how to ad­dress to me at the farm, giv­ing no rea­son for her ques­tion, which, in­deed, re­quired none. It was nat­u­ral that she should wish to write to the pa­tient to whom she had for two months de­vot­ed her­self un­weary­ing­ly.

In late Au­gust and early Septem­ber, the Haunt­ed Holly Farm, under the edge of the Grey Moor, was a de­li­cious place. Dr. Fearn­well, who had, no doubt, cho­sen it for its aus­tere sever­i­ty of sit­u­a­tion, and the ab­sence of all soft­ness and lux­u­ri­ance in its sur­round­ings, had no knowl­edge of the old walled south- slop­ing gar­den, lying at some dis­tance from the house, where, be­cause of the bleak­ness of the spot, all flow­ers blos­somed late: Mid­sum­mer blos­soms post­pon­ing them­selves often till Au­gust; and where, be­cause of the good soil and the pure air, they blos­somed pro­fuse­ly. Nor did he take note of the one great mead­ow, now grey for the scythe, into which the flagged path, rose-bor­dered, of this gar­den opened through a grand old gate, with carved pil­lars and sculp­tured urns, and, on each side, an an­cient lime­tree, the sole rem­nants of a glo­ri­ous old av­enue. The farm had been one of the de­pen­den­cies of a great man­sion.

On the sec­ond af­ter­noon after I had come to the farm for more than four-andtwen­ty hours she had let me know what it was to be with­out her Mrs. Ross­car, ' my sis­ter,' sat with me in the old gar­den, a pro­fuse wilder­ness of roses and of hon­ey­suck­les; and in the mead­ow be­fore us the hay was down, and the air full of its fra­grance. She let me hold her hand in mine, she let me press close to her with a pas­sion­ate de­sire to sat­is­fy the hunger for her pres­ence, cre­at­ed by her ab­sence.

"God bless Dr. Fearn­well!" I cried. " To be ill in that dingy room in Strath­cairn- street was exquisite be­yond any­thing I have known, while you nursed me; but to grow well in this en­chant­ing place, where the air feels like the elixir of life, with you al­ways be­side me!"

She smiled, a smile of which I saw the be­gin­ning only; for she turned her head aside. Then she sighed, and said, soft­ly:

"And when you are well? "When you have no longer any ex­cuse for claim­ing 1 nurse' or ' sis­ter'?"

There was in her voice, as she said this, for the first time, a slight tremu­lous­ness.

"Then," I cried, pas­sion­ate­ly; the air, the beau­ty of the place, her beau­ty, com­plete­ly in­tox­i­cat­ing me; " I shall claim a wife. I can never again do with­out you. You must marry me!"

Her hand moved in mine, but not with any ef­fort to with­draw it­self. She turned her face still fur­ther aside, but through the muslin that cov­ered her bosom she had in these days dis­card­ed her close black dress­es, though wear­ing al­ways mourn­ing I saw that the warm blood rushed across her snowy neck and throat.

By that em­bold­ened, I pressed her for an an­swer, for a promise of her love. She turned on me.

"That I should love you!" she said. " Is it cred­i­ble?"

She rose and left me. I sat where she had left me, pon­der­ing what might be the mean­ing of those words, of the voice in which they were spo­ken, of the look that ac­com­pa­nied them. The voice had none of the music of her voice; the look was in­com­pre­hen­si­ble; I could read in it, it seemed to me, any­thing rather than love. And yet I con­fi­dent­ly, au­da­cious­ly, be­lieved that she loved me, but that she strug­gled against her love.

What mo­tive could she have, but love, for de­vot­ing her­self to me thus? Why risk good name and fame, which to so proud a woman as I thought her, could hard­ly be in­dif­fer­ent. What could I con­clude but that she loved me? And yet with what a strange fash­ion of love so cold, so pas­sive, so ir­re­spon­sive! With so slight a dif­fer­ence, if with any dif­fer­ence, one might so eas­i­ly ex­press dis­gust.

I must have sat a long time where she had left me; for when a hand was laid on my shoul­der, and a voice said, near my ear: " My pa­tient, you must come in, the dew be­gins to fall," look­ing up, I found that the sun­set was burn­ing in the west, and that the stars were be­gin­ning to show.

Some­how, the way that hand touched my shoul­der, and the slight ac­cen­tu­a­tion on that word "my," made me shud­der. She was like Fate claim­ing a vic­tim. It was only the chill of the evening that sent such a thought through me. In­doors, by-and-by, when the cur­tains were drawn and the logs blazed on the open hearth, and she made my tea and brought it to me, and tend­ed me with all watch­ful ob­ser­vance, I en­tered again into my fool's par­adise.

And so, again, next day, as, through the hot drowsy af­ter­noon hours, she sat, and I lay be­side her, on the warm hay, under the shad­ow of the still fra­grant boughs of one of those late-blos­som­ing limes. My head was in her lap, and my cheek was pressed against the blue- veined inner side of that warm white arm.

Be­yond this mead­ow, stretched wave after wave of yel­low corn, all in a shim­mer and glim­mer of heat, run­ning down the hill, over­flow­ing the plain, seem­ing, from where we were, to wash up to the very feet of the cas­tle- dom­i­nat­ed ro­man­tic old city.

With eyes grow­ing more dreamy and more drowsy every mo­ment, I watched the glis­ten and sheen till I fell asleep. I fancy I slept some time. I awoke sud­den­ly and with a sense of alarm. I had had a strange and dread­ful dream; words of dead­ly hate had been hissed into my ear by a ser­pent, and its cold coil had been wound round my throat.

My hand went quick­ly to my throat when I awoke, and there lay across it noth­ing dread­ful only a heavy tress of Mrs. Ross­car's hair, which, slip­ping loose, had un­coiled it­self as she bent over me.

I looked up into her eyes with the hor­ror of my dream still on me. Did I ex­pect to find love shed down on me from them? They held mine a mo­ment; they were full of dark­ness, but, as I looked up some­thing soft­ened the dark­ness. She smiled; in her smile there was some pity.

"I was half afraid to let you sleep," she said, " but on such an af­ter­noon, I thought there could be no dan­ger."

"Dan­ger! What dan­ger?"

"Of your tak­ing cold. What other dan­ger could there be? You look as if you had been dream­ing painful­ly, my poor boy."

She had never so ad­dressed me be­fore.

"I have been dream­ing hor­ri­bly, " I said. " Lying on your lap, on such a day, in such a place, how could that be pos­si­ble!"

She would not meet my eyes.

"I am not at all sure I have not taken cold," I said, with a shud­der, half real and half as­sumed.

"You must come in at once, and take some hot drink. Come."

We both rose and walked to the house. I leaned on her arm: not that I now need­ed its sup­port, but I liked to feel the soft, warm arm under my hand, and I liked to re­mind her of my de­pen­dence upon her.

I often won­dered, and with un­easy won­der, that she never spoke of her child: never, so far as I knew, wept for it. But she was a strange­ly silent woman. As I have said, she very rarely spoke first, or, as it were, vol­un­tar­i­ly; and when she re­spond­ed to what was said to her, it was al­ways as briefly as pos­si­ble. It seemed as if she un­der­stood how ex­pres­sive was every move­ment of her gra­cious form; how need­less for her, com­pared with other be­ings, was speech, even of the eyes, far more of the lips. Any­thing ap­proach­ing to live­li­ness of move­ment, or of voice, would have been out of har­mo­ny with her being. She was more fit to be set on a cost­ly pedestal and gazed at, than to move in the com­mon ways of this com­mon world, I thought. And each un­con­scious pose of hers was so com­plete­ly beau­ti­ful that I al­ways thought until I noted the next "that is how I would have you stand, that I might gaze on you for ever!"

Though I be­lieved she loved me, I was not sat­is­fied. I re­mem­bered her as she had been upon the river that day, and I felt that she was changed. I re­mem­bered the smiles she had shed upon her child. If only she would smile so, once, at me but she never did. Once, I had im­plored her for a full eye to eye look, and for a smile. Then, she had turned her face to mine; had fixed her eyes on mine; but the dark quiet eyes were in­scrutable. Sud­den­ly, just as I be­lieved I was going to read them, she cov­ered them with her hands, and turned her head away.

One evening, as we sat to­geth­er in the warm twi­light by the hearth, I tried to break down the si­lence be­tween us about the child.

"Hul­dah!" I said, "you have not told me where your lit­tle child is lying. Let us go to­geth­er to the grave. Let me weep there with you let " I stopped sud­den­ly, with a cold damp on my brow, as I re­mem­bered the awful eyes, the arms raised, and the lips mov­ing to curse me, of this very woman by whom I sat. I felt a slight con­vul­sion of the frame round which I had drawn my arm; but when she spoke it was in the qni­etest voice:

"We will go there to­geth­er; but not yet."

"When?"

"When you are stronger; when I am your wife."

"And you will let that be soon?"

"Yes, it must be soon."

It seemed to me her heart was beat­ingvery heav­i­ly. I told her so.

"It is full," she said, draw­ing a deep breath. " It is over-full."

"Of what?"

"Can­not you guess?" She leaned her face close down to mine, too close for me to be able to read it. "It is strange if you can­not guess," she added.

"If only I dared to read it by my own," I said.

"Dare to read it by your own," she an­swered.

"My heart is heavy and over-full with love of you, Hul­dah."

"And must not mine be heavy and full with love of you? Of you so gen­er­ous that you are will­ing to make of an un­known woman your wife: to give her your name, not ask­ing her right to the name she bears, or to any name."

She spoke more quick­ly than I had ever heard her speak: still with her face so close to mine that I could not read it.

"Gen­er­ous? I gen­er­ous in being ready to give for that with­out which ev­ery­thing else is worth­less, all that is only any worth through that."

"That is it!" she said, with some­thing ap­proach­ing to ea­ger­ness (so an­swer­ing, I thought af­ter­wards, some in­ward scru­ple). " It is to your­self you are ready to sac­ri­fice your­self: not to me. Sup­pose I tell you I have no right to the name you call me by, or to any name; that though a moth­er, I have never been a wife; that I shame your name if I take it; that "

"You can shame noth­ing; you and shame are not to be named to­geth­er. I want to know noth­ing of your past. What you are, is enough for me, and what you will be my wife!"

She an­swered me never a word. She suf­fered my ca­ress­es as she suf­fered my other forms of speech. Not one slight­est hand- pres­sure, even of a fin­ger.

My woo­ing of her, was like the woo­ing of a stat­ue, if only a stat­ue could have been exquisite­ly warm and soft and, by con­tact, could have thrilled one with in­tens­est life.

A day was fixed for our mar­riage. The time went on. I can­not say that it lin­gered, or that it flew; it was, to me, a time of in­tox­i­ca­tion not quite un­trou­bled by oc­ca­sion­al pangs, and paus­es of so­bri­ety, for some­times in those deep dark eyes of hers I sur­prised ex­pres­sions that trou­bled me some­times looks of pity some­times dark­er looks than I could un­der­stand.

At last there came an evening when, as we part­ed for the night, I said: " After this night, only one night more, and then a day after which noth­ing but Death shall part us!"

An hour af­ter­wards, not being able to sleep, I came back into the sit­ting-room for a book. She was sit­ting be­fore the em­bers, which threw a lurid light upon her face, and upon her hands clasped round her knees.

She was so far ab­sorbed that she did not hear the ap­proach of my slip­pered feet across the floor.

I spoke to her, throw­ing my­self at her feet. I poured out a pas­sion of fool­ish elo­quence. To my won­der, to my hor­ror, to my fear, to my de­light, she burst into a ter­ri­ble storm of weep­ing.

I tried to soothe her as a lover might; but she rose, with­drew her­self, and leaned against the oaken chim­ney-piece until the storm sub­sid­ed.

I pressed to know the cause of this, grasp­ing her hands to de­tain her.

"I find I am not a fiend, not an aveng­ing spir­it, only a woman a weak, mis­er­able, wretched woman." She would tell me no more; she rid her­self of my grasp, as if my hands had had no more strength in them than an in­fant's. " To-mor­row," she said, " by my child's grave, I will tell you more." So, she left me; to be all that night sleep­less, and haunt­ed by her per­plex­ing words.

Soon after break­fast we set out, through the soft grey au­tumn morn­ing, for the child's grave.

I had not known, until now, where the lit­tle crea­ture was buried.

It was not a short walk; chiefly across the moors till the close of it, when we dropped down sud­den­ly, into a lit­tle jewel of a green dell, where was the small­est of church­es, over­shad­owed by the biggest of yew-trees.

Through all the walk she had hard­ly spo­ken. The few times I spoke to her, she did not seem to hear me. Per­haps she had never, since the loss of her child, looked so soft­ly beau­ti­ful. I had never felt my­self held fur­ther aloof from her, had never been more afraid of her. I fol­lowed her through the church­yard gate to the lit­tle grave.

"She lies here."

The turf on that small grave had not yet drunk deep enough of the au­tumn rains, to look fresh and green.

"It has had no tears shed on it. It is dry and scorched, like my heart, like my heart!"

She stood mo­tion­less and speech­less for a time that seemed to me im­mense; her drooped eyes seemed to be look­ing into the earth. Present­ly she sank npon her knees, then dropped npon the grave, press­ing her breast against it, and lay­ing on it, first one cheek and then the other. By-and-by, she rose again to her knees. When she spoke it was bro­ken­ly, piteon­sly.

"I can­not do it, I can­not do it! The moth­er in me will not let me. My child will not let me. Yon were once kind to her. Yon made her happy for one bright blessed day. Bertram, poor boy! I had thought to do it, when I was yonr wife. But here, on my child's grave, I recal the cnrse I in­voked npon yon by her deathbed. I am only a weak mis­er­able woman, not even able to hate or to cnrse! . Ev­ery­thing, even re­venge, is lost to me with what lies here!"

She threw her­self down again npon the grave in ntter aban­don­ment of grief; and I, lean­ing against the yew-tree, watched her, weep­ing there. I have not mnch con­scious­ness of what trans­act­ed it­self in my brain, mean­while. I think I re­alised noth­ing clear­ly. I fancy I had a feel­ing of say­ing to my­self, " I told you so" as if some­thing I had been ex­pect­ing long, had hap­pened at last. A soft driz­zling rain that blot­ted out the dis­tance, and blurred the land­scape, began to fall. Of this she, lying al­ways with her face pressed down upon the turf, was not aware, though I saw her shawl grow sod­den under it. I re­mem­ber well the words with which I re­called her to her­self. They showed the blank­ness of my brain and how lit­tle I com­pre­hend­ed the sit­u­a­tion; yet, even as I spoke them, I was smit­ten by their im­be­cil­i­ty.

"It is rain­ing," I said. "I am cold and wet. It drips through this shel­ter. I shall be ill again. Let us go home."

I was tired, be­numbed, mind and body. I stum­bled and walked vague­ly. She made me lean on her arm, and led me

home. Even more silent­ly than we had come, we went.

I was try­ing to be­lieve all the way, that I be­lieved that to-mor­row ev­ery­thing would be as it was to have been, in spite of this episode, and in spite of my sense of my utter pow­er­less­ness under my bondage to her. When we reached the house she was ten­der­ly care­ful of me.

That evening she told me her his­to­ry, and what had been her pro­posed re­venge. She had de­signed to make me love her madly. That she had done. She had de­signed to let me marry her, who had been a moth­er and not a wife. She had de­signed, as the wife of my in­fat­u­at­ed love and un­speak­able pas­sion, to have cursed me as her child's butch­er, at her child's grave. She had de­signed or was the name­less dread and hor­ror of my ill­ness tak­ing this ter­rif­ic form in its flight? when she had thus slow­ly ground down my heart to its last grain of mis­ery and grief, to mur­der me in my bed.

"I could have mar­ried you for hate," she said; " but for such love as has arisen in my soul for you if in­deed it is love, or any­thing but com­pas­sion and kind­ness to­wards the poor wretch I have helped back to life never!"

She left the farm that night. I never saw her again.