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- Dr. Heidenhoff's Process - 10/18 -
in white, with crimson braid about her neck and wrists, and a red feather in the hat so jauntily perched above the low forehead--altogether a maiden exceedingly to be desired. Perhaps, somewhere, she was standing before a mirror at that moment. But what sort of a flush is it upon her cheeks? What sort of a look is it in her eyes? What is this fell shadow that has passed upon her face?
By the time Henry was ready to leave the poor mother had ceased her upbraidings, and had yielded quite to the sense of a sympathy, founded in a loss as great as her own, which his presence gave her. Re was the only one in all the world from whom she could have accepted sympathy, and in her lonely desolation it was very sweet. And at the last, when, as he was about to go, her grief burst forth afresh, he put his arm around her and drew her head to his shoulder, and tenderly soothed her, and stroked the thin grey hair, till at last the long, shuddering sobs grew a little calmer. It was natural that he should be the one to comfort her. It was his privilege. In the adoption of sorrow, and not of joy, he had taken this mother of his love to be his mother.
"Don't give her up," he said. "I will find her if she is alive."
A search, continued unintermittingly for a week among the hotels and lodging-houses of Boston, proved finally successful. He found her. As she opened the door of the miserable apartment which she occupied, and saw who it was that had knocked, the hard, unbeautiful red of shame covered her face. She would have closed the door against him, had he not quickly stepped within. Her eyelids fluttered a moment, and then she met his gaze with a look of reckless hardihood. Still holding the door half open, she said--
"Henry Burr, what do you want?"
The masses of her dark hairs hung low about her neck in disorder, and even in that first glance his eye bad noted a certain negligent untidiness about her toilet most different from her former ways. Her face was worn and strangely aged and saddened, but beautiful still with the quenchless beauty of the glorious eyes, though sleepless nights had left their dark traces round them;
"What do you want? Why do you come here?" she demanded again, in harsh, hard tones; for he had been too much moved in looking at her to reply at once.
Now, however, he took the door-handle out of her hand and closed the door, and said, with only the boundless tenderness of his moist eyes to mend the bluntness of the words--
"Madeline, I want you. I want you for my wife."
The faintest possible trace of scorn was perceptible about her lips, but her former expression of hard indifference was otherwise quite unchanged as she replied, in a spiritless voice--
"So you came here to mock me? It was taking a good deal of trouble, but it is fair you should have your revenge."
He came close up to her.
"I'm not mocking. I'm in earnest. I'm one of those fellows who can never love but one woman, and love her for ever and ever. If there were not a scrap of you left bigger than your thumb, I'd rather have it than any woman in the world."
And now her face changed. There came into it the wistful look of those before whom passes a vision of happiness not for them, a look such as might be in the face of a doomed spirit which, floating by, should catch a glimpse of heavenly meads, and be glad to have had it, although its own way lay toward perdition. With a sudden impulse she dropped upon her knee, and seizing the hem of his coat pressed it to her lips, and then, before he could catch her, sprang away, and stood with one arm extended toward him, the palm turned outward, warning him not to touch her. Her eyes were marvellously softened with the tears that suffused them, and she said--
"I thank you, Henry. You are very good. I did not think any man could be so good. Now I remember, you always were very good to me. It will make the laudanum taste much sweeter. No! no! don't! Pity my shame. Spare me that! Oh, don't!"
But he was stronger than she, and kissed her. It was the second time he had ever done it. Her eyes flashed angrily, but that was instantly past, and she fell upon a chair crying as if her heart would break, her hands dropping nervously by her sides; for this was that miserable, desolate sorrow which does not care to hide its flowing tears and wrung face.
"Oh, you might have spared me that! O God! was it not hard enough before?" she sobbed.
In his loving stupidity, thinking to reassure her, he had wounded the pride of shame, the last retreat of self-respect, that cruellest hurt of all. There was a long silence. She seemed to have forgotten that he was there. Looking down upon her as she sat desolate, degraded, hopeless before him, not caring to cover her face, his heart swelled till it seemed as if it would burst, with such a sense of piteous loyalty and sublimed devotion as a faithful subject in the brave old times might have felt towards his queen whom he has found in exile, rags, and penury. Deserted by gods and men she might be, but his queen for ever she was, whose feet he was honoured to kiss. But what a gulf between feeling this and making her understand his feeling!
At length, when her sobs had ceased, he said, quietly--
"Forgive me. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
"It's all the same. It's no matter," she answered, listlessly, wiping her eyes with her hand. "I wish you would go away, though, and leave me alone. What do you want with me?"
"I want what I have always wanted: I want you for my wife."
She looked at him with stupid amazement, as if the real meaning of this already once declared desire had only just distinctly reached her mind, or as if the effect of its first announcement had been quite effaced by the succeeding outburst.
"Why, I thought you knew! You can't have heard--about me," she said.
"I have heard, I know all," he exclaimed, taking a step forward and standing over her. "Forgive me, darling! forgive me for being almost glad when I heard that you were free, and not married out of my reach. I can't think of anything except that I've found you. It is you, isn't it? It is you. I don't care what's happened to you, if it is only you."
As he spoke in this vehement, fiery way, she had been regarding him with an expression of faint curiosity. "I believe you do really mean it," she said, wonderingly, lingering over the words; "you always were a queer fellow."
"Mean it!" he exclaimed, kneeling before her, his voice all tremulous with the hope which the slightly yielding intonation of her words had given him. "Yes--yes--I mean it."
The faint ghost of a smile, which only brought out the sadness of her face, as a taper in a crypt reveals its gloom, hovered about her eyes.
"Poor boy!" she said; "I've, treated you very badly. I was going to make an end of myself this afternoon, but I will wait till you are tired of your fancy for me. It will make but little difference. There! there! Please don't kiss me."
He did not insist on their marriage taking place at once, although in her mood of dull indifference she would not have objected to anything he might have proposed. It was his hope that after a while she might become calmer, and more cheerful. He hoped to take in his at the altar a hand a little less like that of a dead person.
Introducing her as his betrothed wife, he found her very pleasant lodgings with an excellent family, where he was acquainted, provided her with books and a piano, took her constantly out to places of amusement, and, in every way which his ingenuity could suggest, endeavoured to distract and divert her. To all this she offered neither objection nor suggestion, nor did she, beyond the usual conventional responses, show the slightest gratitude. It was as if she took it for granted that he understood, as she did, that all this was being done for himself, and not for her, she being quite past having anything done for her. Her only recognition of the reverential and considerate tenderness which he showed her was an occasional air of wonder that cut him to the quick. Shame, sorrow, and despair had incrusted her heart with a hard shell, impenetrable to genial emotions. Nor would all his love help him to get over the impression that she was no longer an acquaintance and familiar friend, but somehow a stranger.
So far as he could find out, she did absolutely nothing all day except to sit brooding. He could not discover that she so much as opened the books and magazines he sent her, and, to the best of his knowledge, she made little more use of her piano. His calls were sadly dreary affairs. He would ask perhaps half a dozen questions, which he had spent much care in framing with a view to interesting her. She would reply in monosyllables, with sometimes a constrained smile or two, and then, after sitting a while in silence, he would take his hat and bid her good-evening.
She always sat nowadays in an attitude which he had never seen her adopt in former times, her hands lying in her lap before her, and an absent expression on her face. As he looked at her sitting thus, and recalled her former vivacious self-assertion and ever-new caprices, he was overcome with the sadness of the contrast.
Whenever he asked her about her health, she replied that she was well; and, indeed, she had that appearance. Grief is slow to sap the basis of a healthy physical constitution. She retained all the contour of cheek and rounded fulness of figure which had first captivated his fancy in the days, as it seemed, so long ago.
He took her often to the theatre, because in the action of the play she seemed at times momentarily carried out of herself. Once, when they were coming home from a play, she called attention to some feature of it. It was the first independent remark she had made since he had brought her to her lodgings. In itself it was of no importance at all, but he was
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