THE GARDEN AT OWLKIRK.
No sooner had Faber left the cottage that same morning, than the foolish
Mrs. Puckridge proceeded to pour out to the patient, still agitated both
with her dream and her waking vision, all the terrible danger she had
been in, and the marvelous way in which the doctor had brought her back
from the threshold of death. Every drop of the little blood in her body
seemed to rush to her face, then back to her heart, leaving behind it a
look of terror. She covered her face with the sheet, and lay so long
without moving that her nurse was alarmed. When she drew the sheet back,
she found her in a faint, and it was with great difficulty she brought
her out of it. But not one word could she get from her. She did not seem
even to hear what she said. Presently she grew restless, and soon her
flushed cheek and bright eye indicated an increase of fever. When Faber
saw her, he was much disappointed, perceived at once that something had
excited her, and strongly suspected that, for all her promises, Mrs.
Puckridge had betrayed the means by which he recovered her.
He said to himself that he had had no choice, but then neither had the
lady, and the thing might be hateful to her. She might be in love, and
then how she must abominate the business, and detest him! It was
horrible to think of her knowing it. But for knowing it, she would never
be a whit the worse, for he never had a day's illness in his life and
knew of no taint in his family.
When she saw him approach her bedside, a look reminding him of the
ripple of a sudden cold gust passing with the shadow of a cloud over
still water swept across her face. She closed her eyes, and turned a
little from him. What color she had, came and went painfully. Cursing in
his heart the faithlessness of Mrs. Puckridge, he assumed his coldest,
hardest professional manner, felt her pulse with the gentlest, yet most
peremptory inquiry, gave her attendant some authoritative directions,
and left her, saying he would call again in the afternoon.
During seven days he visited her twice a day. He had good cause to be
anxious, and her recovery was very slow. Once and again appeared
threatenings of the primary complaint, while from the tardiness with
which her veins refilled, he feared for her lungs. During all these
visits, hardly a word beyond the most necessary passed between them.
After that time they were reduced to one a day. Ever as the lady grew
stronger, she seemed to become colder, and her manner grew more distant.
After a fortnight, he again reduced them to one in two days--very
unwillingly, for by that time she had come to occupy nearly as much of
his thoughts as all the rest of his patients together. She made him feel
that his visits were less than welcome to her, except for the help they
brought her, allowed him no insight into her character and ways of
thinking, behaved to him indeed with such restraint, that he could
recall no expression of her face the memory of which drew him to dwell
upon it; yet her face and form possessed him with their mere perfection.
He had to set himself sometimes to get rid of what seemed all but her
very presence, for it threatened to unfit him for the right discharge of
his duties. He was haunted with the form to which he had given a renewal
of life, as a murderer is haunted with the form of the man he has
killed. In those marvelous intervals betwixt sleep and waking, when the
soul is like a camera obscura, into which throng shapes unbidden, hers
had displaced all others, and came constantly--now flashing with
feverous radiance, now pale and bloodless as death itself. But ever and
always her countenance wore a look of aversion. She seemed in these
visions, to regard him as a vile necromancer, who first cast her into
the sepulcher, and then brought her back by some hellish art. She had
fascinated him. But he would not allow that he was in love with her. A
man may be fascinated and hate. A man is not necessarily in love with
the woman whose form haunts him. So said Faber to himself; and I can not
yet tell whether he was in love with her or not. I do not know where the
individuality of love commences--when love begins to be love. He must
have been a good way toward that point, however, to have thus betaken
himself to denial. He was the more interested to prove himself free,
that he feared, almost believed, there was a lover concerned, and that
was the reason she hated him so severely for what he had done.
He had long come to the conclusion that circumstances had straitened
themselves around her. Experience had given him a keen eye, and he had
noted several things about her dress. For one thing, while he had
observed that her under-clothing was peculiarly dainty, he had once or
twice caught a glimpse of such an incongruity as he was compelled to set
down to poverty. Besides, what reason in which poverty bore no part,
could a lady have for being alone in a poor country lodging, without
even a maid? Indeed, might it not be the consciousness of the
peculiarity of her position, and no dislike to him, that made her treat
him with such impenetrable politeness? Might she not well dread being
She would be wanting to pay him for his attendance--and what was he to
do? He must let her pay something, or she would consider herself still
more grievously wronged by him, but how was he to take the money from
her hand? It was very hard that ephemeral creatures of the earth, born
but to die, to gleam out upon the black curtain and vanish again, might
not, for the brief time the poor yet glorious bubble swelled and
throbbed, offer and accept from each other even a few sunbeams in which
to dance! Would not the inevitable rain beat them down at night, and
"mass them into the common clay"? How then could they hurt each
other--why should they fear it--when they were all wandering home to the
black, obliterative bosom of their grandmother Night? He well knew a
certain reply to such reflection, but so he talked with himself.
He would take his leave as if she were a duchess. But he would not until
she made him feel another visit would be an intrusion.
One day Mrs. Puckridge met him at the door, looking mysterious. She
pointed with her thumb over her shoulder to indicate that the lady was
in the garden, but at the same time nudged him with her elbow, confident
that the impartment she had to make would justify the liberty, and led
the way into the little parlor.
"Please, sir, and tell me," she said, turning and closing the door,
"what I be to do. She says she's got no money to pay neither me nor the
doctor, so she give me this, and wants me to sell it. I daren't show it!
They'd say I stole it! She declares that if I mention to a living soul
where I got it, she'll never speak to me again. In course she didn't
mean you, sir, seein' as doctors an' clergymen ain't nobody--leastways
nobody to speak on--and I'm sure I beg your pardon, sir, but my meanin'
is as they ain't them as ain't to be told things. I declare I'm most
terrified to set eyes on the thing!"
She handed the doctor a little morocco case. He opened it, and saw a
ring, which was plainly of value. It was old-fashioned--a round mass of
small diamonds with a good-sized central one.
"You are quite right," he said. "The ring is far too valuable for you to
dispose of. Bring it to my house at four o'clock, and I will get rid of
it for you."
Mrs. Puckridge was greatly relieved, and ended the interview by leading
the way to the back-door. When she opened it, he saw his patient sitting
in the little arbor. She rose, and came to meet him.
"You see I am quite well now," she said, holding out her hand.
Her tone was guarded, but surely the ice was melting a little! Was she
taking courage at the near approach of her deliverance?
She stooped to pick a double daisy from the border. Prompt as he
generally was, he could say nothing: he knew what was coming next. She
spoke while still she stooped.
"When you come again," she said, "will you kindly let me know how much I
am in your debt?"
As she ended she rose and stood before him, but she looked no higher
than his shirt-studs. She was ashamed to speak of her indebtedness as an
amount that could be reckoned. The whiteness of her cheek grew warm,
which was all her complexion ever revealed of a blush. It showed plainer
in the deepened darkness of her eyes, and the tremulous increase of
light in them.
"I will," he replied, without the smallest response of confusion, for he
had recovered himself. "You will be careful!" he added. "Indeed you
must, or you will never be strong."
She answered only with a little sigh, as if weakness was such a
weariness! and looked away across the garden-hedge out into the
infinite--into more of it at least I think, than Faber recognized.
"And of all things," he went on, "wear shoes--every time you have to
step off a carpet--not mere foot-gloves like those."
"Is this a healthy place, Doctor Faber?" she asked, looking haughtier,
he thought, but plainly with a little trouble in her eyes.
"Decidedly," he answered. "And when you are able to walk on the heath
you will find the air invigorating. Only please mind what I say about
your shoes.--May I ask if you intend remaining here any time?"
"I have already remained so much longer than I intended, that I am
afraid to say. My plans are now uncertain."
"Excuse me--I know I presume--but in our profession we must venture a
little now and then--could you not have some friend with you until you
are perfectly strong again? After what you have come through, it may be
years before you are quite what you were. I don't want to frighten
you--only to make you careful."
"There is no one," she answered in a low voice, which trembled a little.
"No one--?" repeated Faber, as if waiting for the end of the sentence.
But his heart gave a great bound.
"No one to come to me. I am alone in the world. My mother died when I
was a child and my father two years ago. He was an officer. I was his
only child, and used to go about with him. I have no friends."
Her voice faltered more and more. When it ceased she seemed choking a
"Since then," she resumed, "I have been a governess. My last situation
was in Yorkshire, in a cold part of the county, and my health began to
fail me. I heard that Glaston was a warm place, and one where I should
be likely to get employment. But I was taken ill on my way there, and
forced to stop. A lady in the train told me this was such a sweet, quiet
little place, and so when we got to the station I came on here."
Again Faber could not speak. The thought of a lady like her traveling
about alone looking for work was frightful! "And they talk of a God in
the world!" he said to himself--and felt as if he never could forgive
"I have papers to show," she added quietly, as if bethinking herself
that he might be taking her for an impostor.
All the time she had never looked him in the face. She had fixed her
gaze on the far horizon, but a smile, half pitiful, half proud,
flickered about the wonderful curves of her upper lip.
"I am glad you have told me," he said. "I may be of service to you, if
you will permit me. I know a great many families about here."
"Oh, thank you!" she cried, and with an expression of dawning hope,
which made her seem more beautiful than ever, she raised her eyes and
looked him full in the face: it was the first time he had seen her eyes
lighted up, except with fever. Then she turned from him, and, apparently
lost in relief, walked toward the arbor a few steps distant. He followed
her, a little behind, for the path was narrow, his eyes fixed on her
exquisite cheek. It was but a moment, yet the very silence seemed to
become conscious. All at once she grew paler, shuddered, put her hand to
her head, and entering the arbor, sat down. Faber was alarmed. Her hand
was quite cold. She would have drawn it away, but he insisted on feeling
"You must come in at once," he said.
She rose, visibly trembling. He supported her into the house, made her
lie down, got a hot bottle for her feet, and covered her with shawls and
"You are quite unfit for any exertion yet," he said, and seated himself
near her. "You must consent to be an invalid for a while. Do not be
anxious. There is no fear of your finding what you want by the time you
are able for it. I pledge myself. Keep your mind perfectly easy."
She answered him with a look that dazzled him. Her very eyelids seemed
radiant with thankfulness. The beauty that had fixed his regard was now
but a mask through which her soul was breaking, assimilating it. His
eyes sank before the look, and he felt himself catching his breath like
a drowning man. When he raised them again he saw tears streaming down
her face. He rose, and saying he would call again in the evening, left
During the rest of his round he did not find it easy to give due
attention to his other cases. His custom was to brood upon them as he
rode; but now that look and the tears that followed seemed to bewilder
him, taking from him all command of his thought.
Ere long the shadow that ever haunts the steps of the angel, Love, the
shadow whose name is Beneficence, began to reassume its earlier tyranny.
Oh, the bliss of knowing one's self the source of well-being, the stay
and protector, the comfort and life, to such a woman! of wrapping her
round in days of peace, instead of anxiety and pain and labor! But ever
the thought of her looking up to him as the source of her freedom, was
present through it all. What a glory to be the object of such looks as
he had never in his dearest dreams imagined! It made his head swim, even
in the very moment while his great Ruber, astonished at what his master
required of him that day, rose to some high thorny hedge, or stiff rail.
He was perfectly honest; the consequence he sought was only in his own
eyes--and in hers; there was nothing of vulgar patronage in the feeling;
not an atom of low purpose for self in it. The whole mental condition
was nothing worse than the blossom of the dream of his childhood--the
dream of being the benefactor of his race, of being loved and
worshiped for his kindness. But the poison of the dream had grown more
active in its blossom. Since then the credit of goodness with himself
had gathered sway over his spirit; and stoical pride in goodness is a
far worse and lower thing than delight in the thanks of our fellows. He
was a mere slave to his own ideal, and that ideal was not brother to the
angel that beholds the face of the Father. Now he had taken a backward
step in time, but a forward step in his real history, for again another
than himself had a part in his dream. It would be long yet, however, ere
he learned so to love goodness as to forget its beauty. To him who is
good, goodness has ceased to be either object or abstraction; it is in
him--a thirst to give; a solemn, quiet passion to bless; a delight in
beholding well-being. Ah, how we dream and prate of love, until the holy
fire of the true divine love, the love that God kindles in a man toward
his fellows, burns the shadow of it out!
In the afternoon Mrs. Puckridge appeared with the ring. He took it, told
her to wait, and went out. In a few minutes he returned, and, to the
woman's astonishment, gave her fifty pounds in notes. He did not tell
her he had been to nobody but his own banker. The ring he laid carefully
aside, with no definite resolve concerning it, but the great hope of
somehow managing that it should return to her one day. The thought shot
across his heaven--what a lovely wedding present it would make! and the
meteor drew a long train of shining fancies after it.