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- Mrs. Falchion, Volume 1. - 3/25 -
before the acid had more than slightly scalded them. She glanced at his startled face; hers was without emotion. She looked down, and said petulantly: "You have spoiled my dress; I cannot go into the street."
The boy's clothes were burnt also. He was poor, and to replace them must be a trial to him; her father owned the shop, and was well-to-do. Still, he grieved most that she should be annoyed, though he saw her injustice. But she turned away and left him.
Another scene then crossed the disc of smoke:
The boy and girl, now man and woman, standing alone in the chemist's shop. He had come out of the big working world, after travel in many countries. His fame had come with him. She was to be married the next day to a seller of purple and fine linen. He was smiling a good-bye, and there was nothing of the old past in the smile. The flame now was in her eyes, and she put out both her hands to stop him as he turned to go; but his face was passionless. "You have spoiled my heart," she said; "I cannot go into the world so."
"It is too late; the measures are empty," he replied.
"I love you to-day, I will loathe you to-morrow," was the answer.
But he turned and left her, and she blindly stretched out her hands and followed him into the darkness, weeping.
Was it the scent of the chemicals in my cabin, coupled with some subterranean association of things, which brought these scenes vividly before me at this moment? What had they to do with Mrs. Falchion?
A time came when the occurrence appeared to me in the light of prescience, but that was when I began to understand that all ideas, all reason and philosophy, are the result of outer impression. The primal language of our minds is in the concrete. Afterwards it becomes the cypher, and even at its highest it is expressed by angles, lines, and geometrical forms--substances and allusive shapes. But now, as the scene shifted by, I had involuntarily thrust forward my hands as did the girl when she passed out into the night, and, in doing so, touched the curtain of my cabin door swinging in towards me. I recovered myself, and a man timidly stepped inside, knocking as he did so. It was the Intermediate Passenger. His face was pale; he looked ill.
Poor as his dress was, I saw that he had known the influences and practised the graces of good society, though his manner was hesitating and anxious now. I knew at a glance that he was suffering from both physical pain and mental worry. Without a word, I took his wrist and felt his pulse, and he said: "I thought I might venture to come--"
I motioned him not to speak. I counted the irregular pulse-beats, then listened to the action of his heart, with my ear to his breast. There lay his physical trouble. I poured out a dose of digitalis, and, handing it to him, asked him to sit down. As he sat and drank the medicine, I rapidly studied him. The chin was firm, and the eyes had a dogged, persistent look that, when turned on you, saw not you, but something beyond you. The head was thrown slightly forward, the eyes looking up at an angle. This last action was habitual with him. It gave him a peculiar earnestness. As I noted these peculiarities, my mind was also with his case; I saw that his life was threatened. Perhaps he guessed what was going on in me, for he said in a low, cultured voice: "The wheels will stop too long some time, and there will be no rebound;" --referring to the irregular action of his heart.
"Perhaps that is true," I said; "yet it depends a good deal upon yourself when it will be. Men can die if they wish without committing suicide. Look at the Maori, the Tongan, the Malay. They can also prolong life (not indefinitely, but in a case like yours considerably), if they choose. You can lengthen your days if you do not brood on fatal things --fatal to you; if you do not worry yourself into the grave."
I knew that something of this was platitude, and that counsel to such a man must be of a more possible cast, if it is to be followed. I was aware also that, in nine cases out of ten, worry is not a voluntary or constitutional thing, but springs from some extraneous cause.
He smiled faintly, raised his head a little higher, and said: "Yes, that's just it, I suppose; but then we do not order our own constitutions; and I believe, Doctor, that you must kill a nerve before it ceases to hurt. One doesn't choose to worry, I think, any more than one chooses to lay bare a nerve." And then his eyes dropped, as if he thought he had already said too much.
Again I studied him, repeating my definitions in my mind. He was not a drunkard; he might have had no vice, so free was his face from any sign of dissipation or indulgence; but there was suffering, possibly the marks of some endured shame. The suffering and shadows showed the more because his features were refined enough for a woman. And altogether it struck me that he was possessed by some one idea, which gave his looks a kind of sorrowful eloquence, such as one sees on occasion in the face of a great actor like Salvini, on the forehead of a devout Buddhist, or in the eyes of a Jesuit missionary who martyrs himself in the wilds.
I felt at once for the man a sympathy, a brotherliness, the causes of which I should be at a loss to trace. Most people have this experience at one time or another in their lives. It is not a matter of sex; it may be between an old man and a little child, a great man and a labourer, a schoolgirl and an old native woman. There is in such companionships less self-interest than in any other. As I have said, I thought that this man had a trouble, and I wished to know it; not from curiosity,--though my mind had a selfish, inquiring strain,--but because I hoped I might be able to help him in some way. I put my hand on his shoulder, and replied: "You will never be better unless you get rid of your worry."
He drew in a sharp breath, and said: "I know that. I am afraid I shall never be better."
There was a silence in which we looked at each other steadily, and then he added, with an intense but quiet misery: "Never--never!"
At that he moved his hand across his forehead wearily, rose, and turned toward the door. He swayed as he did so, and would have fallen, but I caught him as he lost consciousness, and laid him on the cabin sofa. I chafed his hands, unloosed his collar, and opened the bosom of his shirt. As the linen dropped away from his throat, a small portrait on ivory was exposed on his breast. I did not look closely at it then, but it struck me that the woman's head in the portrait was familiar, though the artistic work was not recent, and the fashion of the hair was of years before. When his eyes opened, and he felt his neck bare, he hurriedly put up his hand and drew the collar close, and at the same time sent a startled and inquiring look at me. After a few moments I helped him to his feet, and, thanking me more with a look than with words, he turned towards the door again.
"Wait," I said, "until I give you some medicine, and then you shall take my arm to your cabin." With a motion of the hand, signifying the uselessness of remedies, he sat down again. As I handed him the phial, I continued: "I know that it is none of my business, but you are suffering. To help your body, your mind should be helped also. Can't you tell me your trouble? Perhaps I should be able to serve you. I would if I could."
It may be that I spoke with a little feeling and an apparent honesty; for his eyes searched mine in a kind of earnest bewilderment, as if this could not be true--as if, indeed, life had gone so hard with him that he had forgotten the way of kindness. Then he stretched out his hand and said brokenly: "I am grateful, believe me. I cannot tell you just now, but I will soon, perhaps." His hand was upon the curtain of the door, when my steward's voice was heard outside, calling my name. The man himself entered immediately, and said that Mrs. Falchion sent her compliments, and would I come at once to see her companion, Miss Caron, who had injured herself.
The Intermediate Passenger turned towards me a strange look; his lips opened as if about to speak, but he said nothing. At the instant there came to my mind whom the picture on his breast resembled: it was Mrs. Falchion.
I think he saw this new intelligence in my face, and a meaning smile took the place of words, as he slowly left the cabin, mutely refusing assistance.
I went to Mrs. Falchion's cabin, and met her outside the door. She looked displeased. "Justine has hurt herself," she said. "Please attend to her; I am going on deck."
The unfeeling nature of this remark held me to the spot for a moment; then I entered the cabin. Justine Caron, a delicate but warm-faced girl of little more than twenty, was sitting on the cabin sofa, her head supported against the wall, and her hand wound in a handkerchief soaked in blood. Her dress and the floor were also stained. I undid the handkerchief and found an ugly wound in the palm of the hand. I called the steward, and sent him to my dispensary for some necessaries; then I asked her how it happened. At the moment I saw the cause--a broken bottle lying on the floor. "The ship rolled," she said. "The bottle fell from the shelf upon the marble washstand, and, breaking, from there to the floor. Madame caught at my arm to save herself from falling; but I slipped, and was cut on the bottle--so."
As she ended there was a knock, but the curtain was not drawn, and Mrs. Falchion's voice was heard. "My dress is stained, Justine."
The half-fainting girl weakly replied: "I am very sorry, madame, indeed."
To this Mrs. Falchion rejoined: "When you have been attended to, you may go to bed, Justine. I shall not want you again to-night. But I shall change my dress. It is so unpleasant; I hate blood. I hope you will be well in the morning."
To this Justine replied: "Ah, madame, I am sorry. I could not help it; but I shall be quite well in the morning, I am sure." Then she added quietly to me: "The poor madame! She will not see suffering. She hates pain. Sickness troubles her. Shall I be able to use my hand very soon, monsieur?"
There was a wistful look in her eyes, and guessing why it was there, I said: "Yes, soon, I hope--in a few days, no doubt."
Her face lighted up, and she said: "Madame likes about her people who are happy and well." Then, as if she might have said too much, she hurriedly added: "But she is very kind;" and, stooping down quickly, her face whitening with the effort, she caught up the broken glass and threw it through the port-hole into the sea.
A half-hour later I went on deck, and found Mrs. Falchion comfortably seated in her deck-chair. I brought a stool over, and sat down beside her. To this hour the quickness with which I got upon friendly terms with her astonishes me.
"Justine is better?" she said, and her hand made a slight motion of disgust.
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