The Gates Between
by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
THE GATES BETWEEN.
ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS,
LONDON, NEW YORK, AND MELBOURNE.
If the narrative which I am about to recount perplex the reader, it
can hardly do so more than it has perplexed the narrator. Explanations,
let me say at the start, I have none to offer. That which took place I
relate. I have had no special education or experience as a writer; both
my nature and my avocation have led me in other directions. I can claim
nothing more in the construction of these pages than the qualities of a
faithful reporter. Such, I have tried to be.
It was on the twenty-fifth of November of the year 187-, that I,
Esmerald Thorne, fell upon the event whose history and consequences I
am about to describe.
Autobiographies I do not like. I should have been positive at any
time during my life of forty-nine years, that no temptation could drag
me over that precipice of presumption and illusion which awaits the man
who confides himself to the world. As it is the unexpected which
happens, so it is the unwelcome which we choose. I do not tell this
story for my own gratification. I tell it to fulfil the heaviest
responsibility of my life. However I may present myself upon these
pages is the least of my concern; whether well or ill, that is of the
smallest possible consequence. Touching the manner of my telling the
story, I have heavy thoughts; for I know that upon the manner of the
telling will depend effects too far beyond the scope of any one human
personality for me to regard them indifferently. I wish I could. I have
reason to believe myself the bearer of a message to many men. This
belief is in itself enough, one would say, to deplete a man of paltry
purpose. I wish to be considered only as the messenger, who comes and
departs, and is thought of no more. The message remains, and should
remain, the only material of interest.
Owing to some peculiarities in the situation, I am unable to
delegate, and do not see my way to defer, a dutyfor I believe it to
be a dutywhich I shall therefore proceed to perform with as little
apology as possible. I must trust to the gravity of my motive to
overcome every trifling consideration in the mind of my readers; as it
has solemnly done in my own.
In order to give force to my narrative, it will be necessary for me
to be more personal in some particulars than I could have chosen, and
to revert to certain details of my early history belonging to that
category which people of my profession or temperament are wont to
dismiss as emotional. I have had strange occasion to learn that this
is a deep and delicate word, which can never be scientifically used,
which cannot be so much as elementally understood, except by delicacy
and by depth. These are precisely the qualities of which this is to be
said,he who most lacks them will be most unaware of the lack.
There is a further peculiarity about such unconsciousness; that it
is not material for education. You can teach a man that he is not
generous, or true, or able. You can never teach him that he is
superficial, or that he is not fine.
I have been by profession a physician; the son of a chemist; the
grandson of a surgeon; a man fairly illustrative of the subtler
significance of these circumstances; born and bred, as the children of
science are;a physical fact in a world of physical facts; a man who
rises, if ever, by miracle, to a higher set of facts; who thinks the
thought of his father, who does the deed of his father's father, who
contests the heredity of his mother, who shuts the pressure of his
special education like a clasp about his nature, and locks it down with
the iron experience of his calling.
It was given to me, as it is not given to all men of my kind, to
know a woman strong enoughand sweet enoughto fit a key unto this
Strong enough or sweet enough, I should rather have said. The
two are truly the same. The old Hebrew riddle read well, that out of
strength shall come forth sweetness. There is the lioness behind the
Like others of my calling, I had seen the best and the worst and the
most of women. The pathological view of that complex subject is the
most unfortunate which a man can well have. The habit of classifying a
woman as neuralgic, hysteric, dyspeptic, instead of unselfish,
intellectual, high-minded, is not a wholesome one for the classifier.
Something of the abnormal condition of the clientèle extends to
the adviser. A physician who has a healthy and natural view of women
has the making of a great man in him.
I was not a great man. I was only a successful lector; more
conscious in those days of the latter fact, and less of the former, be
it admitted, than I am now. A man's avocation may be at once his ruin
and his exculpation. I do not know whether I was more self-confident or
even more wilful than other men to whom is given the autocracy of our
profession, and the dependence of women which accompanies it. I should
not wish to have the appearance of saying an unmanly thing, if I add
that this dependence had wearied me.
It is more likely to be true that I differed from most other men in
this: that in all my life I have known but one woman whom I loved, or
wished to make my wife. I was forty-five years old before I saw her.
Who of us has not felt at the Play, the strong allegorical power in
the coming of the first actress before the house? The hero may pose,
the clown dance, the villain plot, the warrior, the king, the merchant,
the page, fuddle the attention for the nonce: it is a dreary business;
it is like parsing poetry; it is a grammatical duty; the Play could
not, it seems, go on without these superfluities. We listen, weary,
regret, find fault, and acquire an aversion, when lo! upon the
monotonous, masculine scene, some slender creature, shining, all white
gown and yellow hair and soft arms and sweet curves comes glidingand,
hush! with the Everwomanly, the Play begins.
I do not think this feeling is one peculiar to our sex alone; I have
heard women express the same in the strongest terms.
So, I have sometimes thought it is with the coming of the Woman upon
the stage of a man's life. If the scenes have shifted for a while too
long, monopolized by the old dismal male actors whose trick and pose
and accent he knows so well and understands too easily,and if, then,
half-through the drama, late and longed-for, tardily and splendidly,
comes the Star, and if she be a fine creature, of a high fame, and
worthy of it,ah, then look you to her spectator. Rapt and rapturous
she will hold him till the Play is done.
So she found meheld meholds me. The best of it, thank God, is
the last of it. So, I can say, she holds me to this hour, where and as
It was on this wise. On my short summer vacation of that year from
which I date my happiness, and which I used to call The Year of my
Lady, as others say The Year of Our Lord, I tarried for a time in a
mountain village, unfashionable and beautiful, where my city patients
were not likely to hunt me down. Fifty-three of them had followed me to
the seashore the year before, and I went back to town a harder-worked
man than I left it. Even a doctor has a right to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of a vacation, and that time I struck out for my rights. I cut
adriftdenied my addresses even to my partnerand set forth upon a
walking tour alone, among the hills. Upon one point my mind was made
up: I would not see a sick woman for two weeks.
I arrived at this little town of which I speak upon a Saturday
evening. I remember that it was an extraordinary evening. Thunder came
up, and clouds of colours such as I found remarkable. I am not an adept
in describing these things, but I remember that they moved me. I went
out and followed the trout-brook, which was a graceful little stream,
and watched the pageant in the skies above the tops of the forest. The
trees on either side of the tiny current had the look of souls
regarding each other across a barrier, so solemn were they. They stood
with their gaze upon the heavens and their feet rooted to the earth,
and seemed like sentient creatures who knew why this was as it was.
I, walking with my eyes upon them, feet unguarded, and fancy
following a cloud of rose-colour that hung fashioned in the outline of
a mighty wing above me, caught my foot in a gnarled old hickory root
and fell heavily. When I tried to rise I found that I was considerably
I was a well, vigorous man, not accustomed to pain, which took a
vigorous form with me; and I was mortified to find myself quite faint,
too much so even to disturb myself over the situation, or to wonder who
would be likely to institute a searching-party for me,a stranger, but
an hour since, registered at the hotel.
With that ease which I condemned so hotly in my patients I abandoned
myself to the physical pang, got back somehow against the hickory, and
closed my eyes; devoid even of curiosity as to the consequences of the
accident; only attentive to my sensations, as a great writer of my
day put it. I had often quoted him to nervous people whom I considered
as exaggerating their sufferings; I did not recall the quotation at
Oh! you are hurt! a low voice said.
I was a bit fastidious in voices at that time of my life. To say
that this was the sweetest I had ever heard would not express what I
mean. It was the dearest I had ever heard. From that first
moment,before I saw her face,drowned as I was in that wave of mean
physical agony, given over utterly to myself, I knew, and to myself I
said: It is the dearest voice in all this world.
A woman on the further side of the trout-brook stood uncertain,
pitifully regarding me. She was not a girl,quite a woman; ripe, and
self-possessed in bearing. She had a beautiful head, and bright dark
hair; her head was bare, and her straw mountain-hat hung across one arm
by the strings. She had been bathing her face in the water, which was
of a pink tint like the wing above it. As she stood there, she seemed
to be shut in and guarded by, dripping with, that rose-colour,to
inhale it, to exhale it, to be a part of it, to be it. She
looked like a blossom of the live and wonderful evening.
You are seriously hurt, she repeated. I must get to you. Have
patience; I will find a way. I will help you.
The bridge was at some distance from us, and the little stream was
brawling and strong.
But it is not deep, she said. Do not feel any concern. It will do
me no harm. As she spoke, she swung herself lightly over into the
brook, stepping from stone to stone, till these came to an abrupt end
in the current. There for an instant poised, but one could not say
uncertain, she hung shining before mefor her dress was white, and it
took and took and took the rose-colour as if she were a white rose,
blushing. She then plunged directly into the water, which was knee-deep
at least, and waded straight across to me.
As she climbed the bank, her thick wet dress clinging to her lovely
limbs, and her hands outstretched as if in hurrying pity, I closed my
eyes again before her. I thought, as I did so, how much exquisite
pleasure was like perfect pain.
She climbed the bank and stooped from her tall height to look at me;
knelt upon the moss, and touched me impersonally, like the spirit that
You are very wet! I cried. The water is cold. I know these
mountain brooks. You will be chilled through. Pray get home and send
Where are you hurt? she answered, with a little authoritative wave
of the hand, as if she waved my words away. She had firm, fine hands.
I have injured the patellaI mean the knee-pan, I replied. She
smiled indulgently. She did not take the trouble to tell me that my
lesson in elementary anatomy was at all superfluous. But when I saw her
smile I said:
That was unconscious cerebration.
Why, of course, she answered, nodding pleasantly.
Go home, I urged. Go and get yourself out of these wet things. No
lady can bear it; it will injure you. She lifted her head,I thought
she carried it like a Greek,and regarded me with her wide, grave
eyes. I met hers firmly, and for a moment we considered each other.
It is plain that you are a doctor, she said lightly, with a second
smile. I presume you never see a well woman; at leastbelieve you see
one now. I shall mind this wetting no more than if I were a trout or a
gray squirrel. I am perfectly able to give you whatever help you
require. And by your leave, I shall not go home and get into a dry
dress until I see you properly cared for. Now! Can you step? Or shall I
get a waggon, and a farm-hand? I think we could back a horse down
almost to this spot. But it would take time. So?Will you try it?
Gently. Slowly. Don't let me hurt you, or blunder. I see that
you are in great pain. Don't be afraid to lean on me. I am quite
strong. I am able. If you can crawl a few steps
Steps! I would have crawled a few miles. For she put her
sweet arms about me as simply and nobly as if I had been a wounded
child; and with such strength of the flesh and unconsciousness of the
spirit as I had never beheld in any woman, she did indeed support me
out of the forest in such wise that my poor pain of the body became a
great and glorified fact, for the joy of soul that I had because of
It had begun to be easy, in my day, to make a mock at many dear and
delicate beliefs; not those alone which pertain to the life eternal,
but those belonging to the life below. The one followed from the other,
perhaps. That which we have been accustomed to call love was an angel
whose wings had been bruised by our unbelieving clutch. It was not the
fashion to love greatly. One of the leading scientists of my time and
of my profession had written: There is nothing particularly holy about
love. So far as I had given thought to the subject, I had, perhaps,
agreed with him. It is easy for a physician to agree to anything which
emphasizes the visible, and erases the invisible fact. If there were
any one form of the universal delusion more than all others gone out
in the days of which I speak, it was the dear, old-fashioned delirium
called loving at first sight. I was never exactly a scoffer; but I had
mocked at this fable as other men of my sort mock,a subject for
prophylactics, like measles or scarlet fever; and when you said that,
you had said the whole. Be it, then, recorded, be it admitted, without
let or hindrance, that I, Esmerald Thorne, physician and surgeon,
forty-five years old, and of sane mind, did love that one woman, and
her only, and her always, from the moment that my unworthy eyes first
looked into her own, as she knelt before me on the moss beside the
mountain brook,from that moment to this hour.
Thus half in perfect poetry, part in simplest prose, opened the
first canto of that long song which has made music in me; which has
made music of me, since that happy night. Of the countless words which
we have exchanged together in times succeeding, these, the few of our
first meeting are carved upon my brain as salutations are carved in
stone above the doorways of mansions. He that has loved as I did, may
say why this should be so, if he can. I cannot. Time and storm beat
against these inscriptions, and give them other colouring,the tints
of years and weather; but while the house lasts and the rock holds the
salutation lives. In most other matters, the force of recurring
experience weakens association. He who loves cherishes the first words
of the beloved as he cherishes her last.
The situation was simple enough: an injured man and a lovely woman,
guests of the same summer hotel; a slow recovery; a leisurely sweet
acquaintance; the light that never was on hill or shore; and so the
charm was wrought. My accident held me a prisoner for six weeks. But my
love put me in chains in six minutes.
Her name was Helen; like hers of old
Who fired the topmost towers of Ilium.
I liked the stately name of her, for she was of full
womanhood,thirty-three years old; the age at which the French
connoisseur said that a charming woman charmed the most.
Upon the evening before we parted, I venturedfor we sat at the
sheltered end of the piazza, away from the patterers and chatterers, a
little by ourselvesto ask her a brave question. I had learned that
one might ask her anything; she had originality; she was not of the
feminine pattern; she had no paltriness nor pettiness in her thoughts;
she looked out, as men do, upon a subject; not down, as women
are wont. She was a woman with whom a man could converse. He need not
adapt himself and conceal himself, and play the part of a gallant at
real matters which were above gallantry. He could confide in her. Now
it was new to me to consider that I could confide in any person. In my
calling, one becomes such a receptacle of human confidence,one soaks
up other people's lives till one becomes a great sponge, absorptive and
absorbing for ever, as sponges should. Who notices when the useful
thing gets too full? That is what it is there for. Pour onscalding
hot, or freezing cold, or pure or foulpour away. If one day it
refuses to absorb any more, and lies limp and valuelesswhy, the
Doctor has broken down; or the Doctor is dead. Who ever thought
anything could happen to the Doctor? One thing in the natural
history of the sponge is apt to be overlooked. When the process of
absorption reaches a certain point, let the true hand touch the wearied
thing, and grasp it in the right way, and lo! back rushes the instinct
of confidence, out, not in.
Something of this sort had happened to me. The novelty of real
acquaintance with a woman who did not need me had an effect upon me
which perhaps few outside of my profession can understand. This woman
truly needed nothing of me. She had not so much as a toothache or a
sore throat. If she had cares or troubles they were her own. She leaned
upon me no more than the sunrise did upon the mountain. She was as
radiant, as healthful, as vivid, and as calm; she surrounded me, she
overflowed me like the colour of the air. Nay, beyond this it was I who
had need; it was she who ministered. It was I who suffered the whims
and longings of weakness,the thousand little cravings of the sick for
the well. It was I who learned to know that I had never known the
meaning of what is called diversion. I learned to suspect that I had
yet to learn the true place of sympathy in therapeutics. I learned, in
short, some serious professional lessons which were the simplest human
But the question that I spoke of was on this wise. It did not indeed
wear the form, but she gave it the hospitality, of a question.
I wish I knew, I said, why you have not married. I wish you
thought me worthy to know.
The whole world might know, she answered, with her sweet
And I, then, as the most unworthy part of it? For my heart sank at
the terms upon which I was admitted to the answer.
I have never seen any man whom I wished to marry. I have no other
Nor I, I said, a woman And there I paused. Yes, precisely
there, where I had not meant to; for she gave me a large, grave look,
upon which I could no more have intruded than I could have touched her.
This was in September. The year had made the longest circuit of my
life before I gathered the courage to finish that sentence, broken by
the weight of a delicate look; before I dared to say to her:
Nor I a womanuntil now.
I hope I was what we call above the petty masculine instinct which
values a woman who is hard to win chiefly for that circumstance.
Perhaps I was not as I thought myself. But it seemed to me that the
anguish of wooing in doubt overcame all paltry sense of pleasure in
pursuit of my delight. My thoughts of her moved like slow travellers up
the sides of a mountain of snow. That other feeling would have been a
descent to me. So wholly did she rule my soulhow could I stoop to
care the more for hers, because she was beyond my reach?
Be this as it may, beyond my reach for yet another year she did
remain. Gently as she inclined toward me, to love she made no haste.
The force of my feeling was so great at times, it seemed incredible
that hers did not rush to meet me like part of the game incoming wave
broken by a coast island and joiningseemingly two, but in reality
oneupon the shoreward side. For the first time in my life, in that
rising tide of my great love, I truly knew humility. My unworthiness of
her was more present with me even than my longing for her. If I could
have scourged my soul clear of all unfitness for her as our Saviour was
said to have scourged the tradesmen out of the Temple, I should have
counted myself blessed, even though I never won her; though I beat out
my last hope of her with the very blows which I inflicted upon myself.
In the vibrations of my strong emotion it used to surprise me that
my will was such a cripple against the sensibilities of that delicate
creature. I was a man of as much will as was naturally good for me; and
my training had made it abnormal like a prize-fighter's bicepital
muscle. People of my profession need some counter-irritant, which they
seldom get, to the habit of command. To be the ultimate control for a
clientèle of a thousand people, to enforce the personal opinion in
every matter from a broken constitution to a broken heart, deprives a
man of the usual human challenges to an athletic will. In his case, if
ever, motion follows least resistance. His will-power grows by a
species of pommelling; not by the higher tactics of wrestling.
But I, who gave the fiat on which life or death hung poised as
unhesitatingly as I controlled the fluctuations of an influenza; and I,
to whom the pliability of the feminine will had long since become an
accepted and somewhat elemental fact, like the nature of milk-toast; I,
Dr. Thorne, who had the habit of success, who expected to make his
point, who was accustomed to receive obedience, who fought death or
hysteria, an opposing school or a tricky patient, with equal fidelity,
as one who pursues the avocation of life,I stood, conquered before
this slender woman whose eyes, like the sword of flame, turned this way
and that, guarding the barred gates of the only Eden I had ever chosen
In short, for the first time in my life I found myself a suppliant;
and I found myself thus and there for the sake of a feeling.
It was not for science' sake, it was not for the sake of personal
fame, or for the glory of an idea, or for the promulgation of a
discovery. I had not been overcome upon the intellectual side of my
nature. I had been conquered by an emotion. I had been beaten by a
thing for which, all my life, I had been prescribing as confidently as
I would for a sprain. Medical men will understand me, and some others
may, when I say that I experienced surprise to come face to face at
last, and in this unanswerable personal way, with an invisible,
intangible power of the soul and of the body, which could not be
treated as a symptom.
I loved her. That was enough, and beyond. I loved her. That was the
beginning and end. I loved her. I found nothing in the Materia Medica
that could cure the fact. I loved her. Science gave me no explanation
of the phenomenon. I did not love her scientifically. I loved her
I was a man of middle age, and had called myself a scientist and
philosopher. I had thought, if ever, to love soberly and
philosophically. Instead of that I loved as poets sing, as artists
paint, as the statues look, as the great romances read, as ideals
teach,as the young love.
As the young do? Nay. What young creature ever loved like that?
They know not love who sip it at the spring.
Youth is a fragile child that plays at love,
Tosses a shell, and trims a little sail,
Mimics the passion of the gathered years,
And is a loiterer on the shallow bank
Of the great flood that we have waited for.
I do not think of any other thing which a man cannot do better at
forty, than at twenty. Why, then, should he not the better love?
My lady had a stately soul; but she gave it sweet graciousness and
little womanly appeals and curves, that were to my heart as the touch
of her hand was to my pulse. I was so happy in her presence that I
could not believe I had ever been sad; and I longed so for her in
absence that I could scarcely believe I had become happy. She was to my
thoughts as the light is to the crystal. She came into my life as the
miracles came to the unbelieving. She moved through my days and through
my dreams, as the rose-cloud moved upon the mountain sky. She floated
between me and my sick. She hovered above me and my dying. She was a
mist between me and my books. Once when I took the knife for a
dangerous operation, the steel blade caught a sunbeam and flashed; and
I looked at the flashit seemed to contain a new worldand I thought:
She is my own. I am a happy man! But I was sorry for my patient. I
was not rough with him. And the operation succeeded.
What is to be said? I loved her. Love is like faith. He who has it
understands before you speak. But to him who has it not, it cannot be
A year from the time of my most blessed accident beside the
trout-brook,in one year and two months from that day, upon a warm and
wonderful September afternoon, my lady and I were married, and I
brought her from her mother's house to the mountain village where first
we saw each other. There we spent the first week of our happiness. It
was as near to Eden as we could find. The village was left almost to
its own rare resources; the summer tourists were well-nigh gone; the
peaceful roads gave no stare of intrusion to our joy. The hills looked
down upon us and made us feel how high love was. The forest inclosed
us, and made us understand that love was large. The holiness of beauty
was the hostess of our delight. Oh, I had won her! She was my wife. She
was my own. She loved me.
If I cherished her as my own soul, what could I give her back, who
had given herself to me?
I said, I will make you the happiest woman who was ever beloved by
man upon this earth.
But you have, she whispered, lifting her dear face. It is
worth being alive for, if it came to an end to-morrow.
Love has no end, I cried. Happiness is life. It cannot die. It
has an immortal soul. If ever I make you sad, if I am untender to
you,may God strike me
Hush, she cried, clinging to me, and closing my lips with a kiss
for which I would have died; Hush, love! hush!
It ought to be said, at this point in my story, that I had never
been what would be called an even-tempered man. Truth to tell, I was a
spoiled boy. My mother was a saint, but she was a soft-hearted one. My
father was a scholar. Like many another boy of decided individuality, I
came up anyhow. Nobody managed me. At an early age my profession made
it my duty to manage everybody else. I had a nervous temperament to
start on; neither my training nor my occupation had poised it. I do not
think I was malicious nor even ill-natured. As men go, I was perhaps a
kind man. The thing which I am trying to say is, that I was an
As I look back upon the whole subject I can see, from my present
point of view, that this irritability had seldom struck me as a
personal disadvantage. I do not think it usually makes that impression
upon temperaments similarly vitiated. As nearly as I can remember, I
thought of myself rather as the possessor of an eccentricity, than as
the victim of a vice. My father was an overworked college professor,a
quick-tempered man; my mother,so he told me with streaming tears,
upon the day that he buried her,my mother never spoke one irritated
word to him in all her life: he had chafed and she had soothed, he had
slashed and she had healed, from the beginning to the end of their days
together. A boy imitates for so many years before he reflects, that the
liberty to say what one felt like saying appeared to me a mere
identification of sex long before it occurred to me that mine might not
be the only sex endowed by nature with this form of expression. I
regarded it as one regards a beard, or a waistcoat,simple signs of
the variation of species.
My motherHeaven rest her sweet souldid not, that I recall,
obviously oppose me in this view. After the time of the first moustache
she obeyed her son, as she had obeyed her husband.
As has been already said, the profession to which I fell heir failed
to recommend to me a different personal attitude toward the will of
others. My sick people were my pawns upon the chess-board of life. I
played my game with humane intentions, not wholly, I believe, with
selfish ones. But I suffered the military dangers of character, without
the military apologies for them. He whose duty to God and men requires
him to command all with whom he comes in contact should pray God, and
not expect men, to have mercy on his soul.
It is possible, I do not deny, that I put this view of the case
without what literary critics call the light touch. It is quite
possible that I emphasize it. Circumstances have made this natural; and
if I need any excuse for it I must seek it in them. Whether literary or
not, it is not human to cherish a light view of a heavy experience.
I loved my wife. This, I think, I have sufficiently made plain. I
loved her as I might have discovered a new world; and I tried to
express this fact, as I should have learned a new, unworldly language.
I could no more have spoken unkindly to her than I could vivisect a
humming-bird. I obeyed her lightest look as if she had given me an
anaesthetic. Her love intoxicated me. I seemed to be the first lover
who had ever used this phrase. My heart originated it, with a sense of
surprise at my own imaginative quality. I was chloroformed with joy.
Oh, I loved her! I return to that. I find I can say nothing beyond it.
I loved her as other people loved,patients, and uninstructed persons.
I, Esmerald Thorne, President of the State Medical Society, and Foreign
Correspondent of the National Evolutionary Association, forty-six years
old, and a Darwinian,I loved my wife like any common, ardent,
It is easy to toss words and a smile at it all, now. There have been
times when either would have been impossible from very heart-break.
There, again, is another of the phrases to which experience has been my
only vocabulary. My patients used to talk to me about their broken
hearts. I took the temperature and wrote a prescription. I added that
she would be better to-morrow; I would call again in a week. I assured
her that I understood the case. I was as well fitted to diagnose the
diseases of the Queen of some purple planet which the telescope has not
yet given to astronomy.
I have said that I found it impossible to be irritable to my dear
wife. I cannot tell the precise time when it became possible. When does
the dawn become the day upon the summer sky? When does the high tide
begin to turn beneath the August moon? Rather, I might say, when does
the blue become the violet, within the prism? Did I love her the less,
because the distance of the worshipper had dwindled to the lover's
I could have shot the scoffer who told me so. What then? What shall
I call that difference with which the man's love differs when he has
won the woman? Had the miracle gone out of it? God forbid.
It was no longer the marvel of the fire come down from heaven to
smite the altar. It was the comfortable miracle of the daily manna. Had
my goddess departed from her divinity, my queen from her throne, my
star from her heaven? Rather, in becoming mine she had become myself,
and if there were a loss, that loss was in my own nature. I should have
risen by reason of hers. If I descended, it was by force of my own
gravitation. Her wing was too light to carry me.
It is easier to philosophize about these things than it is to record
them in cold fact. With shame and sorrow do I say it, but say it I
must: My love went the way of the love of other men who feel (this was
and remains the truth) far less than I. I, who had believed myself to
love like no other before me, and none to come after me, and I, who had
won the dearest woman in all the worldI stooped to suffer myself to
grow used to my blessedness, like any low man who was incapable of
winning or of wearing it.
It cannot be said, it shall not be said, that I loved my wife less
than the day I married her. It must be written that I became accustomed
to my happiness.
That ideal of myself, which my ideal of her created in me, and which
no emergency of fate could have shaken, slipped in the old, fatal
quicksand of use. Our ideal of ourselves is to our highest life like
the heart to the pulsation. It is the divinest art of the love of woman
for man that she clasps him to his vision of himself, as breath and
being are held together.
Until the time mentioned at the beginning of my narrative, I had in
no sense appreciated the state of the case, as it lay between my ideal
and my fact. That I had been more or less impatient of speech in my own
home for some time past, is probably true. The ungoverned lip is a
terrible master; and I had been a slave too long. I was in the habit of
finding fault with my patients. I was accustomed to be what we call
quick with servants. Neither had, I thought, as a rule, seemed to
care the less for me on this account. If I lost a patient or a coachman
now and then, I could afford to. The item did not trouble me. I was
inconsiderate at times with personal friends. They said, It is his way,
and bore with me. People usually bore with me; they always had. I
looked upon this as one of the rights of temperament, so far as I
looked upon it at all. I do not think this indulgence had occurred to
me as other than a tribute. It is common enough in dealing with men of
my sort. (And alas, there are enough of my sort; I must be looked upon
rather as a type than a specimen.) Such indulgence is a movement of
self-defence, or else of philosophy, upon the part of those who come in
contact with us. To this view of the subject I had given no attention.
I had lived to be almost fifty years old, and no person had ever
said: Esmerald Thorne, you trust your attractive qualities too far.
Power and charm do not give a man a permit to be disagreeable. Your
temperament does not release you from the common-place human duty of
self-restraint. A gentleman has no more right to get uncontrollably
angry than he has to get drunk. The patience with which others receive
you is not a testimony to your strength; it is a concession to your
weakness. You are living upon concessions like disease, or childhood,
No one had said thissurely not my wife. I can recall an expression
of bewilderment at times upon her beautiful face, which for the moment
perplexed me. After I had gone out, I would remember that I had been
nervous in my manner. I do not think I had ever spoken with actual
roughness to her, until this day of which I write. That I had been
sometimes cross enough, is undoubtedly the case.
On that November day I had been overworked. This was no novelty, and
I offer it as no excuse. I had been up for two nights with a dangerous
case. I had another in the suburbs, and a consultation out of town.
There was a quarrel at the hospital, and a panic in Stock Street. I had
seen sixty patients that day. I had been attacked in the Therapeutic
Quarterly upon my famous theory of Antisepsis. Perhaps I may add the
circumstance that my baby was teething.
This was, naturally, less important to me than to his mother, who
thought the child was ill. I knew better, and it annoyed me that my
knowledge did not remove her apprehension. In point of fact, he had
cried at night for a week or two, more than he ought to have done. She
could not understand why I denied him a Dover's powder. I needed sleep,
and could not get it. We were both worn, andI might fill my chapter
to the brim with the little reasons for my great error. Let it suffice
that they were small and that it was large.
We had been married three years, and our boy was a year old. He was
a fine fellow. Helen lost her Greek look and took on the Madonna
expression after he was born. Any woman who is fit to be a mother gains
that expression with her first child. My wife was a very happy mother.
She was sitting in the library when I came in that evening. It was a
warm, red library, with heavy curtains and an open firea deep room
that absorbed colour. I fancied the room, and it was my wife's pleasure
to await me in it with the child each evening at the earliest hour when
I might by any chance be expected home. She possessed to the full the
terrible power of waiting which women have. She could do nothing when
she expected me. Although three years married, she could not read, or
write, or play when she was listening for my step. I do not mean that
she told me this. I found it out. She never called my attention to such
little feminine weaknesses. She was never over-fond. My wife had a
noble reserve. I had never seen the hour when I felt that her
tenderness was a treasure to be lightly had, or indifferently treated.
It should be said that the library opened from the parlours, and was
at that time separated from them by a heavy portière of crimson stuff,
the doors not being drawn. This drapery she was in the habit of folding
apart at the hours of my probable return, and as I came through the
long parlours my eyes had the first greeting of her, before my voice or
arms. Upon this evening, as upon others, I entered by the parlour door,
and camemore quickly than usualtoward the library. I was in a great
hurry; one of the acute attacks of the chronic condition which besets
the busy doctor. As I crossed the length of the thick carpet, the rooms
shook beneath my tread; I burst into, rather than entered, the
library,not seeing her, I think, or not pausing to see her, in the
accustomed manner. When I had come to her I found that the child was
not with her, as usual. She was sitting alone by the library table
under the drop-light, which held a shade of red lace. She had a gown of
white wool trimmed with ermine; a costume which gave me pleasure, and
which she wore upon cool evenings, not too often for me to weary of it.
She regarded my taste in dress as delicately and as delightedly as she
did every other wish or will of mine.
She had been trying to read; but the magazine lay closed upon her
knee below her folded hands. Her face wore an anxious look as she
turned the fine contours of her head toward me.
Oh, she cried, at last!
She moved to reach me, swiftly, murmuring something which I did not
hear, or to which I did not attend; and under the crimson curtains met
me, warm and dear and white, putting up her sweet arms.
I kissed her carelesslywould to God that I could forget it! I
kissed her as if it did not matter much, and said:
Helen, I must have my dinner this instant!
Why, surely, she said, retreating from me with a little shock of
pained surprise, It is all ready, Esmerald. I will ring.
She melted from my arms. Oh, if I had known, if I had known! She
stirred and slipped and was gone from me, and I stood stupidly looking
at her; her figure, against the tall, full book-cases, shone mistily,
while she touched the old-fashioned bell-rope of gold cord.
Really, I hadn't time to come home at all, I added testily. I am
driven to death. I've got to go again in ten minutes. But I supposed
you would worry if I didn't show myself. It is a foolish waste of time.
I don't know how I am ever going to get through. I wish I hadn't come.
She changed colourfrom fair to flush, from red to white againand
her hand upon the gold cord trembled. I remembered it afterward, though
I was not conscious of noticing it at the time.
You need not, she replied, in her low, controlled voice, on my
account. You need never come again.
It is easier to come, I answered irritably, than to know that you
sit here making yourself miserable because I don't.
Have I ever fretted you about coming, Esmerald? I did not know it.
It would be easier if you did fret! I cried crossly. I'd rather
you'd say a thing than look it. Any man would.
Indeed, it would have been a paltry satisfaction to me just then if
I could have found her to blame. Her blamelessness irritated my
self-complacence as the light irritates defective eyes.
I am due at the hospital in twenty-two minutes, I went on,
excitedly. Chirugeon is behaving like Apollyon. If I'm not there to
handle him, nobody will. The whole staff are afraid of himeverybody
but me. We sha'n't get the new ward built these two years if he carries
the day to-night. I've got a consultation at Decker'sthe old lady is
dying. It's no sort of use dragging a tired man out there; I can't do
her any good; but they will have it. I'm at the beck and call of every
whim. Isn't that dinner ready? I wish I had time to change my boots!
They are wet through. My head aches horribly. Brake telegraphed me to
get down to Stock Street before two o'clock to save what is left of
that Santa Ma stock. I couldn't go. I had an enormous officeforty
people. I've lost ten thousand dollars in this panic. I've got to see
Brake on my way to Decker's. I lost a patient this morningthat little
girl of the Harrowhart's. She was a poor little scrofulous thing. But
they are terribly cut up about it.... Chowder? I wish you'd had a good
clear soup. I don't feel as if I could touch chowder. I hope you have
some roast beef, better than the last. You mustn't let Parsnip cheat
you. Quail? There's no nourishment in a quail for a man in my state.
The gas leaks. Can't you have it attended to? Hurry up the coffee. I
must swallow it and go. I've got more than ten men could do.
It is more than one woman can doshe began gently, when I came to
the end of this outbreak and my breath together.
What did you say? Do speak louder!
I said it seems to be more than one woman can do, to rest you.
Yes, I said carelessly, it is. You can't do the first thing for
me, except to do me the goodness to ring for a decent cup of coffee. I
can't drink this.
Oh, what? I can't stop to talk. There, I've burned my tongue, now.
If there's anything I can't stand, it is going to a consultation with a
How tired you are, Esmerald! I was only going to say that I am
sorry. I can't let you go without saying that.
I can't see that it helps it any. I am so tired I don't want to be
touched. Never mind my coat. I'll put it on myself. Tell Joeno. I
left the horse standing. I don't want Joe. I suppose Donna is uneasy by
this time. She won't stand at nightshe's got to. I'll get that whim
out of her. Now, don't look that way. The horse is safe enough. Don't
you suppose I know how to drive? You're always having opinions of your
own against mine. There. I must be off.
Where's the baby, Helen? I turned, with my hand upon the latch of
my heavy oaken door, and jerked the question out, as cross men do.
The baby isn't just right, somehow, Esmerald. I bated to bother
you, for you never think it is anything. I dare say he will be better,
but I thought I wouldn't let him come out of the nursery. Jane is with
him. I've been a little troubled about him. He has cried all the
He cries because you coddle him! I exploded. It is all nonsense,
Helen. Nothing ails the child. I won't encourage this sort of thing.
I'll see him when I come home. I can't possibly waitI am driven to
deathfor every little whim
But at the door I stopped. If the baby had been a patient he would
have seen no doctor that night. But the father in me got the better of
me, and without a word further to my wife I ran up to the nursery.
She stayed below; she perceived (Helen was always quick), although I
had not said so, that I did not wish her to follow me. I examined the
child hastily. The little fellow stopped crying at the sight of me, and
put up both arms to be taken. I said:
No, Boy. Papa can't stop now, and put him gently back into his
crib. When I had reached the nursery door I remember that I returned
and kissed him. I was very angry, but I could not be angry with my
baby. With the touch of his little lips, dewy and sweet, upon mine, I
rushed down to my wife, and tempestuously began again:
Helen, I must have an end to this nonsense. Nothing ails the baby;
he is only a trifle feverish with a new tooth. It really is very
unpleasant to me that you make such a fuss over him. If you had married
a greengrocer it might have been pardonable. Pray remember that you
have married a physician who understands his business, and do leave me
to manage it. Take the child out of the nursery. Carry him downstairs
as usual for a few minutes. He will sleep better. There! I'm eight
minutes behindhand already, all for this senseless anxiety of yours. It
is a pity you can't trust me, like other men's wives! I wish I'd
married a woman with a little wifely spirit!or else not married at
I shut the door; I am afraid I slammed it. I cleared the steps at a
bound, and ran fiercely out into the night air. The wind was rising,
and the weather was growing sharp. It was frosty and noisy. Donna, my
chestnut mare, stood pawing the pavement in high temper, and called to
me as she heard my step. She had dragged at her weight a little; she
was thoroughly displeased with the delay. It occurred to me that she
felt as I had acted. It even occurred to me to go back and tell my wife
that I was ashamed of myself.
I turned and looked in through the parlour windows. The shades were
up, and the gas was low. Dimly beyond, the bright panel of the lighted
library arose between the crimson curtains. She stood against it,
midway between the two rooms. Her hands had dropped closed one into the
other before her. Her face was toward the street. She seemed to be
gazing at me, whom she could not see. Her white dress, which hung in
thick folds, the pallor of her face and her delicate hands, gave her
the look of a statue; its purity, and to my fancy at that moment its
permanence. She seemed to be carved there, like something that must
I turned to go backyes, I would have gone. It is little enough for
a man to say for himself under circumstances like these; but perhaps I
may be allowed to say it, since to exculpate myself is the last of my
motives. I had made a stop or two up the flagging between the deep
grass-plots that fronted the house, when the mare, disturbed beyond
endurance at a movement of delay which she too well understood, gave a
shrill whinny, and reared, pulling and dragging at her weight fiercely.
She was a powerful creature, and the weight yielded, hitting at her
heels. In an instant she had cramped the wheels, and I saw that the
buggy would go over. To spring back, reach the bit, snatch the reins,
leap over the wheel, and whirl away in the reeling carriage was the
work of some thing less than a thought; it was the elemental instinct
by which a man must manage his horse, come life or death.
Like most doctors, I was something of a horseman, and the idea of
being thwarted by any of Donna's whims had never occurred to me. I knew
that the horse was pulling hard, but beyond that, I could not be said
to have knowledge, much less fear; the mad conflict between the brute
and the man possessed me to the exclusion of intelligence.
It was some moments before it struck me that my own horse was
running away with me.
My first, perhaps I may say my only emotion at the discovery was one
of overpowering rage.
I did not mean to strike her. No driver, ever if an angry one, would
have done that. But I had the whip in my hand, around which the reins
were knotted for the struggle, and when the horse broke into a gallop
the jerk gave her a flick. I was not in the habit of whipping her. She
felt herself insulted. It was now her turn to be angry; and an angry
runaway means a bad business. Donna put down her head, struck out
viciously from behind, and kicked the dasher flat. From that moment I
lost all control of her.
She is headed down town. At this rate, in five minutes she will be
in the thick of travel. I have so many minutes more.
For how long I cannot tell, I had beyond this no other intelligent
idea. Then I thought;
I should not like to be the man who has got to tell Helen. This
repeated itself dully: I should not care to be the fellow who will be
sent to tell Helen.
I had ceased to call to the mare; it only made matters worse; but
there was great hubbub in the streets as we leaped on. There were
several attempts to head her off, I think. One man caught at her
bridle. This frightened her; she threw him off, and threw him down. I
think she must have hurt him. We were now well down town. Window lights
and carriage lights flared by deliriously. The wind, which was high, at
speed like that seemed something demoniac. I remember how much it added
to my sense of danger. I remember that my favourite phrase occurred to
I am driven to death.
Suddenly I saw approaching an open landau. The street was full of
vehicles, some of which I was sure to run down; but none of them seemed
to give me concern except this one carriage. It contained a lady and a
little boy, patients of mine. I recognized them forty feet away. He was
a pretty little fellow, and she was fond of me; sent for me for
everything; trusted me beyond reason; could not live without her
doctorthat kind of patient. She had been a great sufferer. It seemed
infernal to me that it should be they.
I shouted to her coachman:
Henry! For God's saketo the left! To the left!
But Henry stared at me like one struck dead. I thought I heard him
Marm, it's the doctor! and after that I heard no more.
As the crash came, I saw the woman's face. She had recognized me
with her look of sweet trustfulness; it froze to mortal horror. She
clasped the child. I saw his cap come off from his yellow curls, and
one little hand tossed out as the landau went over. The mare, now mad
as any maniac, ran on.
Something had broken, but it mattered little what. I think we turned
a corner. I think she struck a lamp-post or a tree. At all events, the
buggy went over; and, scooped into the top, and dragged, and blinded,
and stunned, I came to the ground.
As I went down, I uttered the two words of all that are human, most
solemn; perhaps, one may add, most automatic. Believer or sceptic,
saint or sinner, mortal danger hurls them from us, as it wrests the
soul from out our bodies.
I said, My God! precisely as I threw out my arms, to catch
at whatever could hold me when I could no longer hold myself.
How long I had lain stunned upon the pavement I had no means of
knowing; I thought not long. I was surprised, on coming to myself, to
find that my injuries were not more severe.
My head felt uncomfortable, and I had a certain numbness or
stiffness, as one does from the first trial of long-disused limbs. I
had always limped a trifle since that accident beside the trout-brook;
and, as I staggered to my feet, I thought:
This will play the mischief with that old injury. I shouldn't
wonder if it came to crutches.
On the contrary, when I had walked some dozen steps I found that an
interesting thing had happened. The shock had dispersed the limp.
It was with a perfectly even and natural gait, although, as I say,
rather a weak one, that I trod the pavement to try what manner of man
the runaway had left me. I said:
It is one of those cases of nervous rearrangement. The shock has
acted like a battery upon the nerve-centres. Instead of a broken neck,
I have a cured leg. I'm a lucky fellow.
Having already, however, considered myself a lucky fellow for the
greater part of my life, this conclusion did not impress me with the
force which it might some other men; and, laughing lightly, as lucky
people do, at fortune, I turned to examine the condition of my horse
Donna was not to be seen. She had broken the traces, the breeching,
the shafts, everything, in short, she could, and cleared herself. I had
been unconscious long enough to give her time to make herself
invisible, and she had made the most of it; in what direction she had
gone, it was impossible for me to tell. The buggy was a wreck. No one
was in sight who seemed to have interest or anxiety in the matter. I
wondered that I did not find myself the victim of a gaping crowd. But I
reflected that the mishap had taken place in a quiet dwelling street,
not travelled at that hour, and that my fate, therefore, had attracted
no attention. I remembered, too, my patient, Mrs. Faith, and her boy,
and that dolt of a Henry's helpless facethe whole thing came to mind,
vividly. It occurred to me that the crowd might be at the scene of an
accident so terrible that no loafer was left to regard my lesser
misfortune. It was they who had been sacrificed. It was I who escaped.
My first thought was to go at once and learn the worst; but I found
myself a little out of my way. I really did not recognize the street in
which I stood. I had been for so many years accustomed to driving
everywhere that, like other doctors, I hardly knew how to walk; and by
the time I made my way back to the great thoroughfare where I had
collided with Mrs. Faith's carriage, no trace of the tragedy was to be
found; or at least I could not find any. After looking in vain, for a
while, I stopped a man, and asked him if there had not been a carriage
accident there within half an hour. He lifted his eyes to me stupidly,
and went on. I put the same question to some one elsea lazy fellow,
who was leaning against an iron railing and staring at me. But he shook
his head decidedly.
A young priest passed by, at this moment, saying an Ave with moving
lips and unworldly eyes, and I made inquiries of him whether a lady and
a child had just been injured in that vicinity by a runaway.
Nay, he said, gazing at me with a luminous look. Nay, I see
After an instant's hesitation the priest made the sign of the cross
both upon himself and me; and then stretched his hands in blessing over
me, and silently went his way. I thought this very kind in him; and I
bowed, as we parted, saying aloud:
Thank you, Father, for my heart was touched, despite myself, at
the manner of the young devotee.
It had surely been my intention, on failing to find any traces of
the accident in the spot where I supposed that it had taken place, to
go at once to the house of Mrs. Faith, and inquire for her welfare and
the boy's. It was the least I could do, under the circumstances.
Apparently, however, I myself was more shaken than I had thought;
for after my brief interview with the priest I speedily lost my way,
and could not find my patient's street or number. I searched for it for
some time confusedly; but the brain was clearly still affected by the
concussionso much so that it was not long before I forgot what I was
searching for, and went my ways with a dim and idle purpose, such as
must accompany much of the action of those in whom the relation between
mind and body has become, for any cause, disarranged.
After an intervalhow long I cannot tellof this suspended
intelligence, my brain grew more clear and natural, and I remembered
that I was very late at the hospital, at the consultation, at Brake's,
at every appointment of the evening; so late that my accustomed sense
of haste now began to possess me to the exclusion of everything else. I
remembered my wife, indeed, and wondered if I had better go back and
tell her that I was not hurt. But it did not strike me as necessary.
Donna, if she had not broken her neck somewhere, by this time, would
run straight for the stable; she would not go home. The buggy was a
wreck, and the police might clear it away. There was no reason to
suppose that Helen would hear of the accident, that I could see, from
any source. There would be no scare. I had better go about my business,
and tell her when I got home. News like this would keep an hour or two,
and everybody the better for the keeping.
Reasoning in this manner, if it can be said to be reasoning, I took
my way to the hospital as fast as possible. I did not happen to find a
cab; and I gave myself the unusual experience of hailing a horse-car.
The car did not stop for my signal, and I flung myself aboard as best I
might; for a man so recently shaken up, with creditable ease, I
Trusting to this circumstance, when we reached the hospital I leaped
from the car, which was going at full speed; it was not till I was well
up the avenue that I recalled having forgotten to offer my fare, which
the conductor had forgotten to demand.
My head is not straight yet, I said. The little incident annoyed
In the hospital I found, as I expected, a professional cyclone
raging. The staff were all there except myself, and so hotly engaged in
discussion that my arrival was treated with indifference. This was
undoubtedly good for me, but it was not, therefore, agreeable to me;
and I entered at once with some emphasis upon the dispute in hand.
You are entirely wrong, I began, turning upon my opponents. This
institution had seven hundred more applicants than it could accommodate
last year. We are not chartered to turn away suffering. We exist to
relieve it. It is our business to find the means to do so, as much as
it is to find the true remedy for the individual case. It is
It is an act of financial folly, interrupted my most systematic
professional enemy, a certain Dr. Gazell. He had a bland voice which
irritated me like sugar sauce put upon horse-radish. It cannot be done
without mortgaging ourselves up to our earsor our eaves. I maintain
that the hospital can better bear to turn off patients than to turn on
And I maintain, I cried, tempestuously, that this hospital cannot
bear to do either! If the gentlemen gathered here to-nightthe members
of this staff, representing, as they do, the wealthiest and most
influential clientèles in the cityif we cannot among us pledge
from our patients the sum needed to put this thing through, I say it is
a poor show for ourselves. I, for one, am ready to raise fifteen
thousand dollars within three months. If the rest of you will do your
share in proportion
Dr. Thorne has always been a little too personal, in this matter,
said Gazell, reddening; he did not look at me, for embarrassment, but
addressed the chairman of the meeting with a vague air of being in
earnest, if any one could be got to believe it.
No doubt about that, said one of the staff in an undertone.
Thorne isI thought I caught the added words, unreasonable fellow,
but I would not give myself the appearance of having done so.
But we can't afford to quarrel with him altogether, suggested
Chirugeon, still in a tone not meant for me to overhear. And with this
they went at it again, till the discussion reached such warmth, and the
motion to leave the subject with the trustees, such favour, that, in
disgust, I seized my hat and strode out of the room.
Smarting, I rushed away from them, and angrily out-of-doors again. I
was exceedingly angry; but this gave me no more, perhaps (though I
thought, a little), than the usual discomfort.
From the hospital I hurried to the consultation; where I was now
well over-due. I found the attendant physician about to leave; in fact,
I met him on the stairs, up which I had run rapidly, as soon as my ring
was answered in the familiar house. This man was followed by old Madam
Decker's daughter, who was weeping.
She died at six o'clock, Dr. Halt, Miss Decker sobbed, at six
precisely, for I noticed. We didn't expect it so soon.
Nor I, either, said Halt, soothingly, I did not anticipate
Dead! I cried. Mrs. Decker dead? I did my bestI have met with
an accident. I could not come till now. Did she ask for me?
She talked of Dr. Thorne, sobbed Miss Decker, as long as she
could talk of anything. She wondered if he knew, she said, how sick she
I hastened to explain, to protest, to sympathize, to say the idle
words with which we waste ourselves and weary mourners, at such times;
but the daughter paid little attention to me. She was evidently hurt at
my delay; and, thinking it best to spare her my presence, I bowed my
head in silence, and left the house.
Halt followed me, and we stood together for a moment outside, where
his carriage and driver awaited him.
Was she conscious to the end? I asked.
Yes, he murmured. Yes, yes, yes. It is a pity. I'm sorry for that
Nodding shortly in my direction, he sprang into his coupé, and drove
I had now begun to be very restless to get home. It seemed suddenly
important to see Helen. I felt, I knew not why, uneasy and impatient,
and turned my steps toward town.
But I must stop at Brake's, I thought. This seemed imperative; so
much so that I went out of my course a little, to reach his house, a
pretty, suburban place. I remember passing under trees; and the depth
of their shadow; it seemed like a bay of blackness into which the night
flowed. I looked up through it at the sky; stars showed through the
massed clouds which the wind whipped along like a flock of titanic
celestial creatures. I had not looked up before, since the accident.
The act gave me strange sensations, as if the sky had lowered, or I had
risen; the sense of having lost the usual scale of measurement. This
reminded me that I was still not altogether right.
I have really hurt my head, I thought, I ought to get home. I
must hurry this business with Brake. I must get to Helen.
But Brake was not at home. As I went up the steps, his servant was
ushering out some one, to whom I heard the man say that Mr. Brake had
left word not to expect him to-night.
Does he ever stay late at the office? I asked, thinking that the
panic might render this possibly.
The man turned the expressionless countenance of a well-trained
servant upon me; and repeated:
Mr. Brake is not at home. I know nothing further about Mr. Brake's
This reply settled the matter in my own mind, and I made my way to
Stock Street as fast as I might. I could not make it seem unnecessary
to see Brake. But HelenHelen The sooner this wretched detention was
over, the sooner to see her. I had begun to be as nervous as a woman;
and, I might add, as unreasonable as a sick one. I had got myself under
the domination of one of those fixed ideas with which I had so little
patience in the sick. I could not see Helen till I had seen Brake: this
was the delusion. I succumbed to it, and knew that I succumbed to it,
and could not help it, and knew that I could not help it, and did the
deed it bade me. As I hurried on my way, I thought:
There has been considerable concussion. But Helen will take care of
me. It's a pity I spoke so to Helen.
Stock Street, when I reached it, had a strange look to me. I was not
used to being there at such an hour; few of us are. The relative
silence, the few passers, the long empty spaces in the great
thoroughfare, told me that the hour was later than I thought. This
added to my restlessness, and I sought to look at my watch, for the
first time since the accident; it was gone. I glanced at the high clock
at the head of the street; but the light was imperfect, and with the
vertigo which I had I did not make out the hour. It might, indeed, be
really late. This troubled me, and I hastened my steps till I broke
into a run.
It occurred to me, indeed, that I might be arrested for the
suspicions under which such a pace, at such an hour and in such a
street, would place me. But as I knew most of the members of the force
in that region more or less well, this did not trouble me. I ran on,
undisturbed, passing a watchman or two, and came quickly to Brake's
place. It was locked.
This distressed me. I think I had confidently expected to find him
there. It did not seem to me possible to go home without seeing my
broker. I stood, uncertain, rattling at the heavy door with imbecile
impatience. This act brought the police to the spot in three minutes.
It was Inspector Drayton who came up, the well-known inspector, so
long on duty in Stock Street; a man famed for his professional
shrewdness and his gentlemanly manner.
I wish, I said, Mr. Inspector, that you would be good enough to
let me in. I want to see Brake. I have reason to believe he is in his
office. I must get in.
It is very important, I added; for the inspector did not answer
immediately, but looked at me searchingly.
There was certainly some one meddling with this lock, he said,
after a moment's hesitation, looking stealthily up and down and around
It was I, I replied, eagerly. It was only I, Dr. Thorne. Come,
Drayton, you know me. I want to see Brake. I must see Brake. It is a
matter brought up by this panicyou knowthe Santa Ma. He sent for
me. I absolutely must see Brake. It is a matter of thousands to me. Let
me in, Mr. Inspector.
Come, for he still delayed and doubted, let me in somehow. You
fellows have a way. Communicate with his watchmando the proper
thinganyhowI don't careonly let me in.
I will see, murmured the inspector, with a perplexed air; he had
not his usual cordial manner with me, though he was still as polished
as possible, and wore the best of kid gloves. I think the inspector
touched one of their electric signalsI am not clear about thisbut
at any rate, a sleepy watchman came from within, holding a safety
lantern before him, and gingerly opened the huge door an inch or two.
Let me come in, said the inspector, decidedly. It is IDrayton.
I have a reason. I wish to go to Mr. Brake's rooms, if you please.
The inspector slipped in like a ghost, and I followed him. Neither
of us said anything further to the watchman; we went directly to
Brake's place. He was not there.
I will wait a few minutes, I said. I think he will be here. I
must see Brake.
The inspector glanced at me as one does at a fellow who is behaving
a little out of the common course of human conduct; but he did not
enter into conversation with me, seeing me averse to it. I sank down
wearily upon Brake's biggest brown leather office chair, and put my
head down upon his table. I was now thoroughly tired and confused. I
wished with all my heart that I had gone straight home to Helen. The
inspector and the watchman busied themselves in examining the building,
for some purpose to which I paid no attention. They conversed in low
tones, I heard a noise at the door, sir, myself, the watchman said.
Why don't you tell him it was I? I called; but I did not lift my
head. I was too tired to trouble myself. I must have fallen into a kind
I do not know how long I had remained in this position and
condition, whether minutes or hours; but when at last I roused myself,
and looked about, a singular thing had happened.
The inspector had gone. The watchman had gone. I was alone in the
broker's office. And I was locked in.
So often and so idly it is our custom to say, I shall never forget!
that the words scarcely cause a ripple of comment in the mind; whereas,
in fact, they are among the most audacious which we ever take upon our
lips. How know we what law of selection our memories will obey in that
system of mental relations which we call forever?
I, who believe myself to have obtained some especial knowledge upon
this point, not possessed by all my readers, and to be more free than
many another to use such language, still retreat before the phrase, and
content myself with saying, I have never forgotten. Up to this time I
have never been able to forget the smallest detail of that night whose
history I am now to record. It seems to me impossible in any set of
conditions that memory could blot that experience from my being; but of
that what know I? No more than I know of the politics of a meteor.
Upon discovering my predicament I was, of course, greatly disturbed.
I tried the door, and tried again; I urged the latch violently; I
exerted myself till the mere moral sense of my helplessness overcame my
strength. I called to the watchman, whose distant steps I heard, or
fancied that I heard, pacing the corridors. There was a Safe Deposit in
the basement, and the great building was heavily guarded. I shouted for
my liberty, I pleaded for it, I demanded it; but I did not get it. No
one answered me. I ran to the barred windows and shook the iron
casement as prisoners and madmen do. Nobody heard me. I bethought me of
the private telegraph which stood by Brake's desk, mute and mysterious,
like a thing that waited an order to speak. I could not help wondering,
with something like superstition, what would be the next words which
would pass the lips of the silent metal. It occurred to me, of course,
to telegraph for relief; but I did not know how, and a kind of respect
for the intelligence and power of the instrument deterred me from
meddling with it to no visible end. Suddenly I remembered the electric
signal which so often communicates with watchman or police in places of
this kind. This, after some search, I found in a corner, over the desk
of Brake's assistant, and this I touched. My effort brought no reply. I
pressed the button again with more force and more desperation; I might
say, with more personality.
Obey me! I cried, setting my teeth, and addressing the electric
influence as a man addresses a menial.
Instantly a thrill passed from the wire to the hand. A distant sound
jarred upon the air. Steps shuffled somewhere beyond the massive walls.
I even thought that I heard voices, as of the watchman and others in
possible consultation. No one approached the broker's door. I urged the
signal again and again. I became quite frantic, for I had now begun to
think with dismay of the effect of all this upon my wife. I railed upon
that signal like a delirious patient at the order of a physician. A
commotion seemed to follow, in some distant part of the building. But
no one came within hearing of my voice; the noise soon ceased, and my
efforts at freedom with it.
It having now become evident that I must spend the night where I
was, I proceeded to make the best of it; and a very bad best it was. I
was exhausted, I was angry, and I was distressed.
The full force of the situation was beginning to fall upon me. The
inspector had put a not unnatural interpretation upon my condition; he
thought so little of a gentleman who had dined too freely; it was a
perfectly normal incident in his experience. He had mistaken the
character of the stupor caused by my accident, and left me in that
office for a drunken man. The fact that he was not accustomed to view
me in such a light in itself probably explained the originality of his
method. We were on pleasant terms. Drayton was a good fellow. Who knew
better than he what would be the professional significance of the
circumstance that Dr. Thorne was seen intoxicated down town at
midnight? The city would ring with it in twelve hours, and it would not
be for me, though I had been the most popular doctor in town, to undo
the deed of that slander, if once it so much as lifted its invisible
hand against the proud and pure reputation in whose shelter I lived and
laboured, and had been suffered to become what we call eminent. It
was possible, too, that the inspector had some human regard for my
family in this matter, and reasoned that to spare them the knowledge of
my supposed disgrace was the truest kindness wherewith it was in his
power to serve me. He meant to leave me where I was and as I was to
sleep it off till morning. He would return in good season and release
me quietly, and nobody the wiser but the watchman; who could be feed.
This was plainly the purpose and the programme.
I returned to the table near which I had been sitting, and took the
office chair again, and tried, like a reasonable creature, to calm
What would Helen think by this time? I looked about the office
stupidly. At first the dreary scene presented few details to me; but
after a time they took on the precision and permanence which trifles
acquire in emergencies. The gas was not lighted, but I could see with
considerable ease, owing to the overwrought brain condition. It
occurred to me that I saw like a cat or a medium; I noted this, as
indicative of a certain remedy; and then it further occurred to me that
I might as well doctor myself, having nothing better to do; and plainly
there was something wrong. I therefore put my hand in my pocket for my
case. It was gone.
Now, a physician of my sort is as ill at ease without his case as he
would be without his body; and this little circumstance added
disproportionately to my discomfort. With some irritable exclamation on
my lips I leaned back in the chair, and once more regarded my
environment. It was a rather large room, dim now, and as solitary as a
graveyard after twilight. Before me stood the table, an oblong table
covered with brown felt. A blue blotter, of huge dimensions, was spread
from end to end; it was a new blotter, not much blurred. Inkstand,
pens, paper-weight, calendar, and other trifles of a strictly necessary
nature stood upon the blotter. Letters on file, and brokers' memoranda
neatly stabbed by the iron stilettoI forget the name of the
thingfor that purpose made and provided, attracted my sick attention.
An advertisement from a Western mortgage firm had escaped the neat hand
of the clerk who put the office in order for the night, and fell
fluttering to my feet. It would be impossible to say how important this
seemed to me. I picked it up conscientiously and filed it, to the best
of my remembrance, with an invitation to the Merchant's Banquet, and a
subscription list in behalf of the blind man who sold tissue-paper
roses at the head of the street.
In one corner of the room, as I have said, was the clerk's desk; the
electric signal shone faintly above it; it had, to my eyes, a certain
phosphorescent appearance. Opposite, the steam radiator stood like a
skeleton. There was a grate in the room, with a Cumberland coal fire
laid. On the wall hung a map of the State, and another setting forth
the proportions of a great Western railroad. At the extreme end of the
room stood chairs and settees provided for auctions. Between myself and
these, the high, guarded public desk of the broker rose like a rampart.
In this sombre and severe place I now abandoned myself to my
thoughts; and these gave me no mercy.
My wife was a reasonable woman; but she was a loving and sensitive
one. I was accustomed to spare her all unnecessary uncertainty as to my
movementsbeing more careful in this respect, perhaps, than most
physicians would be; our profession covers a multitude of little
domestic sins. I had not taken the ground that I was never to be
expected till I came. A system of affectionate communication as to my
whereabouts existed between us; it was one of the pleasant customs of
our honeymoon which had lasted over. The telegraph and the messenger
boy we had always with us; it was a little matter for a man to take the
trouble to tell his wife why and where he was kept away all night. I do
not remember that I had ever failed to do so. It was a bother
sometimes, I admit, but the pleasure it gave her usually repaid me;
such is the small, sweet coin of daily love.
As I sat there at the broker's desk, like a creature in a trap, all
that long and wretched night, the image of my wife seemed to devour my
brain and my reason.
The great clock on the neighbouring church struck one with a heavy
and a solemn intonation, of which I can only say that it was to me
unlike anything I had ever heard before. It gave me a shudder to hear
it, as if I listened to some supernatural thing. The first hour of the
new day rang like a long cry. Some freak of association brought to my
mind that angel in the Apocalypse who proclaimed with a mighty voice
that Time should be no more. I caught myself thinking this preposterous
thing: Suppose it were all over? Suppose we never saw each other again?
Suppose my wife were to die? To-night? Suppose some accident befell
her? If she tripped upstairs? If the child's crib took fire and she put
it out, and herself received one of those deadly shocks from burns not
in themselves mortal?
Supposeshe herself opening the door to let in the messenger
expected from methat some drunken fellow, or some tramp
This, I said aloud, is the kind of thing she does when I am
delayed. This is what it means to wait. Men don't do it often enough to
know what it is. I wonder if we have any scale of measurement for what
What she, for instance, by that time was suffering, oh, who in the
wide world else could guess or dream? There were such suffering cells
in that exquisite nature! Who but me could understand?
I brought my clinched hand down upon the broker's blue
blotting-paper, and laid my heavy head upon it.
Suppose somebody had got the news to her that the horse had been
seen dashing free of the buggy, or had returned alone to the stable,
panting and cut?
Suppose Helen thought that my unaccountable absence had something to
do with that scene between us? Suppose she thoughtor if she
suspectedperhaps she imagined
I hid my face within my shaking hands and groaned. A curse upon the
cruel words that I had spoken to the tenderest of souls, to the dearest
and the gentlest of women! A curse upon the lawless temper that had
fired them! Accursed the hot lips that had uttered them, the unmanly
heart that could have let them slip!
I thought of her faceI really had not thought of her face before,
that wretched night. I had not strictly dared. Now I found that daring
had nothing to do with it. I thought because I had to think. I dwelt
upon her expression when I spoke to herGod forgive me!as I did; her
attitude, the way her hands fell, her silence, the quiver in her
delicate mouth. I saw the dim parlour, the lighted room beyond her, the
scarlet shade upon the gas; she standing midway, tall and mute, like a
statue carved by one stroke of a sword.
My own words came back to me; and I was not apt to remember things I
said to people. So many impressions passed in and out of my mind in the
course of one busy day, that I became their victim rather than their
master. But now my language to my wife that unhappy evening returned to
my consciousness with incredible vividness and minuteness. It will be
seen from the precision with which I have already recorded it, how
inexorable this minuteness was.
It occurred to me that I might as well have struck her.
In this kind of moral pommelling which sensitive women feelas they
dohow could I have indulged! I, who knew what a sensitive woman is,
what fearful and wonderful nervous systems these delicate creatures
have to manage; I, with what I was pleased to term my high organization
and special trainingI, like any brutal hind, had berated my wife. I,
who was punctilious to draw the silken portière for her, who could not
let her pick up so much as her own lace handkerchief, nor allow her to
fold a wrap of the weight of a curlew's feather about her own soft
throatI had belaboured her with the bludgeons that bruise the life
out of women's souls. I wondered, indeed, if I should have been a less
amiable fellow if I had worn cow-hide boots and kicked her.
My reproaches, my remorses, my distresses, it is now an idle tale to
tell. That night passed like none before it, and none which have come
after it. My mind moved with a piteous monotony over and over and about
the aching thought: to see Helento see Helento be patient till
morning, and tell HelenOnly to get through this horrible night, and
hurry, rushing to the morning air, to the nearest cab dashing down the
street, and making the mad haste of love and shame, to see my wifeto
tell my wife
As never in all our lives before, I should tell her how dear she
was; how unworthy was I to love her; how I loved her just as much as if
I were worthy, and could not help it though I triedor (as we say)
could not help it though I died! I should run up, ringing the bell,
never waiting to find the latch-keyfor I could wait for nothing. I
should spring into the house, and find her upstairs, in our own room;
it would be so early; she would be only half-dressed yet, pale and
lovely, looking like a spirit, far across the rich colours of the room,
her long hair loose about her. I should gather her to my heart before
she saw me; my arms and lips should speak before my breaking voice. I
should kiss my soul out on her lifted face. I should love her so, she
should forgive me before I could so much as say, Forgive! And when I
had herto myself againwhen these arms were sure of their own, and
these lips of hers, when her precious breath was on this cheek again,
and I could say;
Helen, Helen, Helen
and could say no more, for love and shame and sorrow, but only
Yes, said the watchman's voice in the corridor. It is all right,
sir. Me and Inspector Drayton, we thought we beard a noise, last night,
and we considered it safe to look about. We had a thorough search. We
thought we'd better. But there wasn't nothing. It's all straight, sir.
It was morning, and Brake's clerk was coming in. It was very early,
earlier than he usually came, perhaps; but I could not tell. He did not
notice me at first, and, remembering Drayton's hypothesis, I shrank
behind the tall desk, and instinctively kept out of sight for a few
uncertain minutes, wondering what I had better do. The clerk called the
janitor, and scolded a little about the fire, which he ordered lighted
in the grate. It was a cold morning. He said the room would chill a
corpse. He had the morning papers in his hand. He unfolded the
Herald, and laid it down upon his own desk, as if about to read it.
At that instant, the telegraph clicked, and he pushed the damp,
fresh paper away from him, and went immediately to the wires. The young
man listened to the message with an expression of great intentness, and
wrote rapidly. Moved by some unaccountable impulse, I softly rose and
glanced over his shoulder.
The dispatch was dated at midnight, and was addressed to Henry
Brake. It said:
Have you seen my husband, to-night? and it was signed,
Oh, poor Helen!...
Now, maniac with haste to get to her, it occurred to me that the
moment while the clerk was occupied in recording this message was as
good a time as I could ask for in which to escape unobserved, as I
greatly wished to do. As quietly as I couldand I succeeded in doing
it very quietlyI therefore moved to leave the broker's office. As I
did so, my eye caught the heading, in large capitals, of the morning
news in the open Herald which lay upon the desk behind the clerk. I
stopped, and stooped, and read. This is what I read:
RUNAWAY AT THE WEST END.
The eminent and popular physician.
Dr. Esmerald Thorne,
At this moment, the broker entered the office.
With the Herald in my hand, I made haste to meet him.
Brake! I cried, Mr. Brake! Thank Heaven, you have come! I have
passed such a nightand look here! Have you seen this abominable
canard? This is what has come of my being locked into your
The broker regarded me with a strange look; so strange, that for
very amazement I stood still before it. He did not advance to meet me;
neither his hand nor his eyes gave me the human sign of welcome; he
looked over me, he looked through me, as a man does at one whose
acquaintance he has no desire to recognize.
Drayton has crammed him. He too believes that I was shut in here to
sleep it off. The story will get out in two hours. I am doomed in this
town henceforth for a drunken doctor. I'd better have been killed
instantly, as this infernal paper says.
But I said,
Mr. Brake? You don't recognize me, I think. It is I, Dr. Thorne. I
couldn't get here before two. I went to your house last evening. I got
the impression you were here, so I came after you. I was locked in here
by your confounded watchman. They have this minute let me free. I am in
a great hurry to get home. Nice job this is going to be! Have you seen
I put my shaking finger upon the Herald's fiery capitals, and held
the column folded towards him.
Jason, he said, after an instant's pause, pick up the 'Herald,'
will you? A gust of wind has blown it from the table. There must be a
draught. Please shut the door.
To say that I know of no earthly language which can express the
sensation that crawled over me as the broker uttered these words is to
say little or nothing about it. I use the expression crawled with
some faint effort to define the slowness and the repulsiveness with
which the suspicion of that to which I dared not and did not give a
name, made itself manifest to my mind.
Excuse me, Brake, I said with some agitation, you did not hear
what I said. I was locked in. I am in a hurry to get home. Ask Drayton.
Drayton let me in. I must get home at once. I shall sue the 'Herald'
for that outrageous piece of work What do you suppose my wife Good
God! She must have read it by this time! Let me by, Brake!
Jason, said the broker, this is a terrible thing! I feel quite
broken up about it.
Brake! I cried, Henry Brake! Let me pass you! Let me home to my
wife! You're in my waydon't you see? You're standing directly between
me and the door. Let me pass!
There's a private dispatch come, said the clerk Badly. It is for
you, sir. It is from Mrs. Thorne herself.
Brake! I pleaded, Brake, Brake!Jason!Mr. Brake! Don't you
Give me the message, Jason, said Brake, holding out his hand; he
seated himself, as he did so, at the office table, where I had sat the
night out; he looked troubled and pale; he handled the message
reluctantly, as people do in the certainty of bad news.
In the name of mercy, Henry Brake! I cried, what is the meaning
of this? Don't you hear a word I say? Don't you feel me?There! I
gripped the broker by the shoulder, and clinched both hands upon him
with all my might. Don't you feel me? God Almighty! don't you
see me, Brake?
When did this dispatch come, Jason? said the broker. He laid
Helen's message gently down; he had tears in his eyes.
Henry Brake, I pleaded brokenly, for my heart failed me with a
mighty fear, answer me, in human pity's name. Are you gone deaf and
blind? Or am I struck dumb? Or am I
It came ten minutes ago, sir, replied Jason. It is dated, I see,
at midnight. They delivered it as soon as anybody was likely to be
stirring, here; a bit before, too; considering the nature of the
message, I suppose, sir.
It is a terrible affair! repeated the broker nervously. I have
known the doctor a good many years. He had his peculiarities; but he
was a good fellow. SayJason!
How does it happen that Mrs. Thorne You say this message was
dated at midnight?
At midnight, sir. 12.15.
How is it she didn't know by that time? I pity the fellow
who had to tell her. She's a very attractive woman.... The 'Herald'
says Where is that paper?
The 'Herald' says, answered Jason decorously, that he was scooped
into the buggy-top, and dragged, and dashed against Here it is.
He handed his employer the paper, as I had done, or had thought I
did, with his finger on the folded column. The broker took the paper,
and slowly put on his glasses, and slowly read aloud:
'Dr. Thorne was dragged for some little distance, it is thought,
before the horse broke free. He must have hit the lamp-post, or the
pavement. He was found in the top of the buggy, which was a wreck. The
robe was over him, and his face was hidden. His medicine case lay
beneath him; the phials were crushed to splinters. Life was extinct
when he was discovered. His watch had stopped at five minutes past
seven o'clock. It so happened that he was not immediately identified,
though our reporter could not learn the reason of this extraordinary
mischance. By some unpardonable blunder, the body of the distinguished
and favourite physician was taken to the Morgue'
That accounts for it, said Jason.
'Was taken to the Morgue,' read on Mr. Brake with agitated
voice. 'It was not until midnight that the mistake was discovered. A
messenger was dispatched at twenty minutes after twelve o'clock to the
elegant residence of the popular doctor, in Delight Street. The news
was broken to the widow as agreeably as possible. Mrs. Thorne is a
young and very beautiful woman, on whom this shocking blow falls with
'The body was carried to Dr. Thorne's house at one o'clock. The
time of the funeral is not yet appointed. The Herald will be informed
as soon as a decision is reached.
'The death of Dr. Thorne is a loss to this community which it is
impossible to,'hmm'his distinguished talents'hmmhmm.
The broker laid down the paper, and sighed.
I sent for him yesterday, to consult about his affairs, he
observed gently. It is a pity for her to lose that Santa Ma. She will
need it now. I'm sorry for her. I don't know how he left her, exactly.
He did a tremendous business, but he spent as he went. He was a good
fellowI always liked the doctor! Terrible affair! Terrible affair!
Jason! Where is that advertisement of Grope County Iowa Mortgage? You
have filed it in the wrong place! Be more careful in future.
...Mr. Brake! I tried once more; and my voice was the voice
of mortal anguish to my own appalled and ringing ear.
Do you not hear? Can you not see? Is there no one in this
place who hears? Or sees me, either?
An early customer had strayed in; Drayton was there; and the
watchman had entered. The men (there were five in all) collected by the
broker's desk, around the morning papers, and spoke to each other with
the familiarity which bad news of any public interest creates. They
conversed in low tones. Their faces wore a shocked expression. They
spoke of me; they asked for more particulars of the tragedy reported by
the morning press; they mentioned my merits and defects, but said more
about merits than defects, in the merciful, foolish way of people who
discuss the newly dead.
I've known him ten years, said the broker.
I've had the pleasure of the doctor's acquaintance myself a good
while, said the inspector politely.
Wasn't he a quick-tempered man? asked the customer.
He cured a baby of mine of the croup, said the watchman. It was
given up for dead. And he only charged me a dollar and a half. He was
very kind to the little chap.
He set an ankle for me, once, after a football match, suggested
the clerk. I wouldn't ask to be better treated. He wasn't a bit
...Gentlemen, I entreated, stretching out my hands toward the
group, there is some mistakeI must make it understood. I am here. It
is I, Dr. Thorne; Dr. Esmerald Thorne. I am in this office. Gentlemen!
Listen to me! Look at me! Look in this direction! For God's sake,
try to see mesome of you!...
He drove too fast a horse, said the customer. He always has.
I must answer Mrs. Thorne's message, said the broker sadly, rising
and pushing back the office chair.
...I shrank, and tried no more. I bowed my head, and said no other
word. The truth, incredible and terrible though it were, the truth
which neither flesh nor spirit can escape, had now forced itself upon
I looked across the broker's office at those five warm human beings
as if I had looked across the width of the breathing world. Naught had
I now to say to them; naught could they communicate to me. Language was
not between us, nor speech, nor any sign. Need of mine could reach them
not, nor any of their kind. For I was in the dead, and they the living
...Here is your dog, sir, said Jason. He has followed you in. He
is trying to speak to you, in his way.
The broker stooped and patted the dumb brute affectionately. I
understand, Lion, he said. Yes, I understand you.
The dog looked lovingly up into his master's face, and whined for
This incident, trifling as it was, I think, did more than anything
which had preceded it to make me aware of the nature of that which had
befallen me. The live brute could still communicate with the living
man. Skill of scientist and philosopher was as naught to help the human
spirit which had fled the body to make itself understood by one which
occupied it still. More blessed in that moment was Lion, the dog, than
Esmerald Thorne, the dead man. I said to myself:
I am a desolate and an outcast creature. I am become a dumb thing
in a deaf world.
I thrust my hands before me, and wrung them with a groan. It seemed
incredible to me that I could die; that was more wonderful, even, than
to know that I was already dead.
It is all over, I moaned. I have died. I am dead. I am what they
call a dead man.
Now, at this instant, the dog turned his head. No human tympanum in
the room vibrated to my cry. No human retina was recipient of my
anguish. What fine, unclassified senses had the highly-organized animal
by which he should become aware of me? The dog turned his noble
headhe was a St. Bernard, with the moral qualities of the breed well
marked upon his physiognomy; he lifted his eyes and solemnly regarded
After a moment's pause he gave vent to a long and mournful cry.
Don't, Lion, I said. Keep quiet, sir. This is dreadful!
The dog ceased howling when I spoke to him; after a little
hesitation he came slowly to the spot where I was standing, and looked
earnestly into my face, as if he saw me. Whether he did, or how he did,
or why he did, I knew not, and I know not now. The main business of
this narrative will be the recording of facts. Explanations it is not
mine to offer; and of speculations I have but few, either to give or to
A great wistfulness came into my soul, as I stood shut apart there
from those living men, within reach of their hands, within range of
their eyes, within the vibration of their human breath. I looked into
the animal's eyes with the yearning of a sudden and an awful sense of
Speak to me, Lion, I whispered. Won't you speak to me?
What is that dog about? asked the customer, staring. He is
standing in the middle of the room and wagging his tail as if he had
The dog at this instant, with eager signs of pleasure or of pityI
could not, indeed, say whichput his beautiful face against my hand,
and kissed, or seemed to kiss it, sympathetically.
He has queer ways, observed Jason, the clerk, carelessly; he
knows more than most folks I know.
True, said his master, laughing. I don't feel that I am Lion's
equal more than half the time, myself. He is a noble fellow. He has a
very superior nature. My wife declares he is a poet, and that when he
goes off by himself, and gazes into vacancy with that sort of look, he
is composing verses.
Another customer had strolled in by this time; he laughed at the
broker's easy wit; the rest joined in the laugh; some one said
something which I did not understand, and Drayton threw back his head
and guffawed heartily. I think their laughter made me feel more isolate
from them than anything had yet done.
Why! exclaimed the broker sharply, what is this? Jason! What does
His face, as he turned it over his shoulder to address the clerk,
had changed colour; he was indeed really pale. He held his fingers on
the great sheet of blue blotting-paper, to which he pointed,
Upon my soul, sir, said Jason, flushing and then paling in his
turn. That is a queer thing! May I show it to Mr. Drayton?
The inspector stepped forward, as the broker nodded; and examined
the blotting-paper attentively.
It is written over, he said in a professional tone, from end to
end. I see that. It is written with one name. It is the name of
Helen! interrupted the broker.
Yes, replied the inspector. Yes, it is: Helen; distinctly, Helen.
Someone must have
But I stayed to hear no more. What some one must have done, I sprang
and left the live men to decideas live men do decide such
thingsamong themselves. I sprang, and crying: Helen! Helen! Helen!
with one bound I brushed them by, and fled the room, and reached the
outer air and sought for her.
As nearly as one can characterize the emotion of such a moment I
should say that it was one of mortal intensity; perhaps of what in
living men we should call maniac intensity. Up to this moment I could
not be said to have comprehended the effect of what had taken place
upon my wife.
The full force of her terrible position now struck me like the edge
of a weapon with whose sheath I had been idling.
Hot in the flame of my anger I had gone from her; and cold indeed
had I returned. Her I had left dumb before my cruel tongue, but dumb
was that which had come back to her in my name.
I was a dead man. But like any living of them alloh, more than any
livingI loved my wife. I loved her more because I had been cruel to
her than if I had been kind. I loved her more because we had parted so
bitterly than if we had parted lovingly. I loved her more because I had
died than if I had lived. I must see my wife! I must find my wife! I
must say to herI must tell her Why, who in all the world but me
could do anything for Helen now?
Out into the morning air I rushed, and got the breeze in my face,
and up the thronging street as spirits do, unnoted and unknown of men,
I passed; solitary in the throng, silent in the outcry, unsentient in
The sun was strong. The day was cool. The dome of the sky hung over
me, too, as over those who raised their breathing faces to its beauty.
I, too, saw, as I fled on, that the day was fair. I heard the human
What a morning!
It puts the soul into you! said a burly stock speculator to a
railroad treasurer; they stood upon the steps of the Exchange,
laughing, as I brushed by.
It makes life worth while, said a healthy elderly woman, merrily,
making the crossing with the light foot that a light heart gives.
It makes life possible, replied a pale young girl beside her,
coming slowly after.
Poor fellow! sighed a stranger whom I hit in hurrying on. It was
an ugly way to die. Nice air, this morning!
He will be a loss to the community, replied this man's companion.
There isn't a doctor in town who has his luck with fevers. You can't
convince my wife he didn't save her life last winter. Frost, last
night, wasn't there? Very invigorating morning!
Now, at the head of the street some ladies were standing, waiting
for a car. I was delayed in passing them, and as I stepped back to
change my course I saw that one of them was speaking earnestly, and
that her eyes showed signs of weeping.
He wouldn't remember me, she said; it was eleven years ago. But
sick women don't forget their doctors. He was as kind to me
Oh, poor Mrs. Thorne! a soft voice answered, in the
accented tone of an impulsive, tender-hearted woman. It's bad enough
to be a patient. But, oh, his wife!
Let me pass, ladies! I cried, or tried to cry, forgetting, in the
anguish which their words fanned to its fiercest, that I could not be
heard and might not be seen. There seems to be some obstruction. Let
me by, for I am in mortal haste!
Obstruction there was, alas! but it was not in them whom I would
have entreated. Obstruction there was, but of what nature I could not
and I cannot testify. While I had the words upon my lips, even as the
group of women broke and left a space about me while they scattered on
their ways, there on the corner of the thoroughfare, in the heart of
the town, by an invisible force, by an inexplicable barrier, I, the
dead man fleeing to my living wife, was beaten back.
Whence came that awful order? How came it? And wherefore? I knew no
more than the November wind that passed me by, and went upon its errand
as it listed.
I was thrust back by a blast of Power Incalculable; it was like the
current of an unknown natural force of infinite capability. Set the
will of soul and body as I would, I could not pass the head of the
Struggling to bear the fate which I had met, I turned as manfully as
I might, and retraced my steps down the thronging street, within whose
limits I now learned that my freedom was confined. It was a sickening
discovery. I had been a man of will so developed and freedom so
sufficient that helplessness came upon me like a change of temperament;
it took the form of hopelessness almost at once.
What was death? The secret of life. What knew I of the system of
things on which a blow upon the head had ushered me all unready,
reluctant, and uninstructed as I was? No more than the ruddiest live
stockbroker in the street, whose blood went bounding, that fresh
morning, to the antics of the Santa Ma. I was not accustomed to be
uninformed; my ignorance appalled me. Even in the deeps of my misery, I
found space for a sense of humiliation; I felt profoundly mortified. In
that spot, in that way, of all others, why was I withheld? Was it the
custom of the black country called Death, which we mark unexplored
upon the map of life,was it the habit to tie a man to the place where
he had died? But this was not the spot where I had died. It was the
spot where I had learned that I had died. It was the place where the
consciousness of death had wrought itself, not upon the nerves of the
body, but upon the faculties of the mind. I had been dead twelve hours
before I found it out.
I looked up and down the street, where the living men scurried to
and fro upon their little errands. These seemed immeasurably small. I
looked upon them with disgust. Fettered to that pavement, like a
convict to his ball-and-chain, I passed and repassed in wretchedness
whose quality I cannot express, and would not if I could.
I am punished, I said; I am punished for that which I have done.
This is my doom. I am imprisoned here.
Sometimes I broke into uncontrollable misery, crying upon my wife's
dear name. Then I would hush the outbreak, lest some one overhear me;
and then I would remember that no one could overhear. I looked into the
faces of the people whom I met and passed, with such longings for one
single sign of recognition as are not to be described. It even occurred
to me that among them all one might be found of whom my love and grief
and will might make a messenger to Helen. But I found none such, or I
gained no such power; and, sick at heart, I turned away.
Suddenly, as I threaded the thick of the press, beating to and fro,
and up and down, as dead leaves move before the wind, some one softly
touched my hand.
It was the St. Bernard, the broker's dog. This time, as before, he
looked into my face with signs of pleasure or of pity, or of both, and
made as if he would caress me.
Lion! I cried, you know me, don't you? Bless you, Lion!
Now, at the dumb thing's recognition, I could have wept for
pleasure. The dog, when I spoke to him, followed me; and for some time
walked up and down and athwart the street, beside me. This was a
comfort to me. At last his master came out upon the sidewalk and looked
for him. Brake whistled merrily, and the dog, at the first call, went
Ordinary writers upon usual topics, addressing readers of their own
condition, have their share of difficulties; at best one conquers the
art of expression as a General conquers an enemy. But the obstacles
which present themselves to the recorder of this narrative are such as
will be seen at once to have peculiar force. Almost at the outset they
dishearten me. How shall I tell the story unless I be understood? And
how should I be understood if I told the story? Were it for me, a man
miserable and erring, gone to his doom as untrained for its
consequences, or for the use of them, as a drayman for the use of
hypnotism in surgery,were it for me to play the interpreter between
life and death? Were it for me to expect to be successful in that
solemn effort which is as old as time, and as hopeless as the eyes of
What shall I say? It is willed that I shall speak. The angel said
unto me: Write. How shall I obey, who am the most unworthy of any soul
upon whom has been laid the burden of the higher utterance? Sacred be
the task. Would that its sacredness could sanctify the unfitness of him
who here fulfils it.
The experience which I have already narrated was followed by an
indefinite period of great misery. How long I remained a prisoner in
that unwelcome spot I cannot accurately tell.
What are called by dwellers in the body days and nights, and dawns
and darks, succeeded each other, little remarked by my wretchedness, or
by the sense of remoteness from these things which now began to grow
upon me. The life of what we call a spirit had begun for me in the form
of a moral dislocation. The wrench, the agony, the process of setting
the nature under its new conditions, took place in due order, but with
bitter laggardness. The accident of death did not heal in my soul by
what surgeons call the first intention. I retained for a long time
the consciousness of being an injured creature.
As I paced and repaced the narrow street where the money-makers and
money-lovers of the town jostled and thronged, a great disgust
descended upon me. The place, the springs of conduct, wearied me,
something in the manner that an educated person is wearied by low
conversation. It seemed to be like this:that the moral motives of the
living created the atmosphere of the dead therein confined. It was as
if I inhaled the coarse friction, the low aspiration, the feverishness,
the selfishness, the dishonour, that the getting of gain, when it
became the purpose of life, involved. I experienced a sense of being
stifled, and breathed with difficulty; much as those live men would
have done, if the gas-pipes had burst in the street.
It did not detract from this feeling of asphyxia that I was aware of
having, to a certain extent, shared the set of moral compounds which I
now found resolved to their elements, by the curious chemistry of
I had loved money and the getting of money, as men of the world, and
of success in it, are apt to do. I was neither better nor worse than
others of my sort. I had speculated with the profits of my profession,
idly enough, but hotly, too, at times. I had told myself that I did
this out of anxiety for the future of my family. I had viewed myself in
the light of the model domestic man, who guards his household against
an evil day. It had never occurred to me to classify myself with the
mere money-changers, into whose atmosphere I had elected to put myself.
Now, as I glided in and out among them, unseen, unheard,
unrecognized, a spirit among their flesh, there came upon me a
humiliating sense of my true relation to them. Was it thus, I said, or
so? Did I this or that? Was the balance of motives so disproportionate
after all? Was there so little love of wife and child? So much of self
and gain? Was the item of the true so small? The sum of the false so
large? Had I been so much less that was noble, so much more that was
I mingled with the mass of haggard men at a large stock auction
which half the street attended. The panic had spread. Sleeplessness and
anxiety had carved the crowding faces with hard chisels. The shouts,
the scramble, the oaths, the clinched hands, the pitiful pushing,
affected me like a dismal spectacular play on some barbarian stage. How
shall I express the sickening aspect of the scene to a man but newly
The excitement waxed with the morning. The old and placid Santa Ma
throbbed like any little road of yesterday. The stock had gained 32
points in ten minutes, and down again, and up again to Heaven knows
what. Men ran from despair to elation, and behaved like maniacs in
both. Men who were gentlemen at home turned savages here. Men who were
honourable in society turned sharpers here. Madness had them, as I
watched them. A kind of pity for them seized me. I glided in among
them, and lifted my whole heart to stay them if I could. I stretched
the hands that no one saw. I raised the voice that none could hear.
Gentlemen! I cried, count me the market value of iton the
margin of two lives! By the bonds wherewith you bind yourselves you
shall be bound!... What is the sum of wealth represented within these
walls to-day? Name it to me.... The whole of it, for the power to leave
this place! The whole of it, the whole of it, for one half-hour in a
dead man's desolated home! A hundred-fold the whole of it for
But here I lost command of myself, and fleeing from the place where
my presence and my misery and my entreaty alike were lost upon the
attention of the living throng as were the elements of the air they
breathed, I rushed into the outer world again; there to wander up and
down the street, and hate the place, and hate myself for being there,
and hate the greed of gain I used to love, and hate myself for having
loved it; and yet to know that I was forced to act as if I loved it
still, and to be the ghost before the ghost of a desire.
It is my doom, I said. I am punished. I am fastened to this
worldly spot, and to this awful way of being dead.
Now, while I spoke these words, I came, in the stress of my
wretchedness, fleeing to the head of the street; and there, I cannot
tell you how, I cannot answer why, as the arrow springs from the bow,
or the conduct from the heart, or the spirit from the flesh,in one
blessed instant I knew that I was free to leave the spot, and crying,
Helen, Helen! broke from it.
But no. Alas, no, no! I was and was not free. All my soul turned
toward her, but something stronger than my soul constrained me. It
seemed to me that I longed for her with such longing as might have
killed a live man, or might have made a dead one live again. This
emotion added much to my suffering, but nothing to my power to turn one
footstep toward her or to lift my helpless face in her direction. It
was not permitted to me. It was not willed.
Now this, which might in another temperament have produced a sense
of fear or of desire to placate the unknown Force which overruled me,
created in me at first a stinging rage. This is the truth, and the
truth I tell.
In my love and misery, and the shock of this disappointmentagainst
the unknown opposition to my will, I turned and raved; even as when I
was a man among men I should have raved at him who dared my purpose.
You are playing with me! I wailed. You torture a miserable man.
Who and what are you, that make of death a bitterer thing than life can
guess? Show me what I have to fight, and let me wrestle for my
liberty,though I am a ghost, let me wrestle like a man! Let me to my
wife! Give way, and let me seek her!
Shocking and foreign as words like these must be to many of those
who read these pages, it must be remembered that they were uttered by
one to whom faith and the knowledge that comes by way of it were the
leaves of an abandoned text-book. For so many years had the tenets of
the Christian religion been put out of my practical life, even as I put
aside the opinions of the laity concerning the treatment of disease,
that I do not over-emphasize; I speak the simplest truth in saying that
my first experience of death had not in any sense revived the vividness
of lost belief to me. As the old life had ended had the new begun.
Where the tree had fallen it did lie. What was habit before death was
habit after. What was natural then was natural now. What I loved living
I loved dead. That which interested Esmerald Thorne the man interested
Esmerald Thorne the spirit. The incident of death had raised the
temperature of intellect; it had, perhaps, I may say, by this time
quickened the pulse of conscience; but it had in no wise wrought any
miracle upon me, nor created a religious believer out of a worldly and
indifferent man of science. Dying had not forthwith made me a devout
person. Incredible as it may seem, it is the truth that up to this time
I had not, since the moment of dissolution, put to myself the solemn
queries concerning my present state which occupy the imaginations of
the living so much, while yet death is a fact remote from their
It was the habit of long years with me, after the manner of my kind,
to settle all hard questions by a few elastic phrases, which, once
learned, are curiously pliable to the intellectual touch. Phenomena,
for instance,how plastic to cover whatever one does not understand!
Law,how ready to explain away the inexplicable! Up to this point
death had struck me as a most unfortunate phenomenon. Its personal
disabilities I found it easy to attribute to some natural law with
which my previous education had left me unfamiliar. Now, standing
baffled there in that incredible manner half of tragedy, half of the
absurd,even the petty element of the undignified in the position
adding to my distress,a houseless, homeless, outcast spirit, struck
still in the heart of that great town, where in hundreds of homes was
weeping for me, where I was beloved and honoured and bemoaned, and
where my own wife at that hour broke her heart with sorrow for me and
for the manner of my parting from her,then and there to be beaten
back, and battered down, and tossed like an atom in some primeval
flood, whithersoever I would not,what a situation was this!
Now, indeed, I think for the first time, my soul lifted itself, as a
sick man lifts himself upon his elbows, in his painful bed. Now,
flashing straight back upon the outburst of my defiance and despair,
like the reflex action of a strong muscle, there came into my mind, if
not into my heart, these impulsive and entreating words:
What art Thou, who dost withstand me? I am a dead and helpless man.
What wouldst Thou with me? Where gainest Thou Thy force upon me? Art
Thou verily that ancient Myth which we were wont to call Almighty God?
Simultaneously with the utterance of these words that blast of Will
to which I have referred fell heavily upon me. A Power not myself
overshadowed me and did environ me. Guided whithersoever I would not, I
passed forth upon errands all unknown to me, rebelling and obeying as I
I am become what we used to call a spirit, I thought, bitterly,
and this is what it means. Better might one become a molecule, for
those, at least, obey the laws of the universe, and do not suffer.
Now, as I took my course, it being ordered on me, it led me past the
door of a certain open church, whence the sound of singing issued. The
finest choir in the city, famous far and near, were practising for the
Sunday service, and singing like the sons of God, indeed, as I passed
by. With the love of the scientific temperament for harmony alert in
me, I lingered to listen to the anthem which these singers were
rendering in their customary great manner. With the instinct of the
musically educated, I felt pleasure in this singing, and said:
Magnificently done! as I went on. It was some moments before the
words which the choir sang assumed any vividness in my mind. When they
did I found that they were these;
For God is a Spirit. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him
must worship Him in spirit
Now it fell out that my steps were directed to the hospital; and to
the hospital I straightway went. I experienced some faint comfort at
this improvement in my lot, and hurried up the avenue and up the steps
and into the familiar wards with eagerness. All the impulses of the
healer were alive in me. I felt it a mercy for my nature to be at its
own again. I hastened in among my sick impetuously.
The hospital had been a favourite project of mine; from its start,
unreasonably dear to me. Through the mounting difficulties which
blockade such enterprises, I had hewn and hacked, I had fathered and
doctored, I had trusteed and collected, I had subscribed and directed
and persisted and prophesied and fulfilled, as one ardent person must
in most humanitarian successes; and I had loved the success
accordingly. I do not think it had ever once occurred to me to question
myself as to the chemical proportions of my motives in this great and
popular charity. Now, as I entered the familiar place, some query of
this nature did indeed occupy my mind; it had the strangeness of all
mental experiences consequent upon my new condition, and somewhat, if I
remember, puzzled me.
The love of healing? The relief of suffering? Sympathy with the
wretched? Chivalry for the helpless? Generosity to the poor? Friendship
to the friendless? Were these the motives, all the motives, the
whole motives, of him who had in my name ministered in that place
so long? Even the love of science? Devotion to a therapeutic creed?
Sacrifice for a surgical doctrine? Enthusiasm for an important
professional cause? Did these, and only these, sources of conduct
explain the great hospital? Or the surgeon who had created and
Where did the motive deteriorate? Where did the alloy come in? How
did the sensitiveness to self, the passion for fame, the joy of power,
amalgamate with all that noble feeling? How much residuum was there in
the solution of that absorption which (outside of my own home) I had
thought the purest and highest of my interests in life?
For the first of all the uncounted times that I had entered the
hospital for now these many years, I crossed the threshold questioning
myself in this manner, and doubting of my fitness to be there, or to be
what I had been held to be in that place. Life had carried me gaily and
swiftly, as it carries successful men. I had found no time, or made
none, to cross-question the sources of conduct. My success had been my
I had the conviction of a prosperous person that the natural
emotions of prosperity were about right. Added to this was something of
the physician's respect for what was healthful in human life. Good
luck, good looks, good nerves, a good income, an enviable reputation
for professional skill, personal popularity, and private
happiness,these things had struck me as so wholesome that they must
be admirable. Behind the painted screen which a useful and successful
career sets before the souls of men I had been too busy or too light of
heart to peer. Now it was as if, in the act or the fact of dying, I had
moved a step or two, and looked over the edge of the bright shield.
Thoughts like these came to me so quietly and so naturally, now,
that I wondered why I had not been familiar with them before; it even
occurred to me that being very busy did not wholly excuse a live man
for not thinking; and it was something in the softened spirit of this
strange humility that I opened the noiseless door, and found myself
among my old patients in the large ward.
Never before had I entered that sad place that the electric thrill
of welcome, which only a physician knows, had not pulsated through it,
preceding me, from end to end of the long room. The peculiar
lighting of the ward that flashes with the presence of a favourite
doctor; the sudden flexible smile on pain-pinched lips; the yearning
motion of the eyes in some helpless body where only the eyes can stir;
the swift stretching-out of wasted hands; the half-inaudible cry of
welcome: The doctor's come! Oh, there's the doctor! Why, it's the
doctor!the loving murmur of my name; the low prayer of blessing
on it,oh, never before had I entered my hospital, and missed the
least of these.
I thought I was prepared for this, but it was not without a shock
that I stood among my old patients, mute and miserable, glancing
piteously at them, as they had so often done at me; seeking for their
recognition, which I might not have; longing for their welcome, which
was not any more for me.
The moans of pain, the querulous replies to nurses, the weary cough
or plethoric breathing, the feeble convalescent laughter,these
greeted me; and only these. Like the light that entered at the window,
or the air that circulated through the ward, I passed unnoticed and
unthanked. Some one called out petulantly that a door had got
unfastened, and bade a nurse go shut it, for it blew on her. But when I
came up to the bedside of this poor woman, I saw that she was crying.
She's cried herself half-dead, a nurse said, complainingly.
Nobody can stop her. She's taking on so for Dr. Thorne.
I don't blame her, said a little patient from a wheeled-chair.
Everybody knows what he did for her. She's got one of her
attacks,and look at her! There can't anybody but him stop it.
Whatever we're going to do without the doctor
Her own lip quivered, though she was getting well.
I don't see how the doctor could die! moaned the very sick
woman, weeping afresh, when there's those that nobody but him can keep
alive. It hadn't oughter to be let to be. How are sick folks going to
get along without their doctor? It ain't right!
Lord have mercy on ye, poor creetur, said an old lady from the
opposite cot. Don't take on so. It don't help it any. It ain't
agoing to bring the doctor back!
Sobs arose at this. I could hear them from more beds than I cared to
count. Sorrow sat heavily in the ward for my sake. It distressed me to
think of the effect of all this depression upon the nervous systems of
these poor people. I passed from case to case, and watched the
ill-effects of the general gloom with a sense of professional
disappointment which only physicians will understand as coming
uppermost in a man's mind under circumstances such as these.
My discomfort was increased by the evidences of what I considered
mistakes in treatment on the part of my colleagues; some of which had
peculiarly disagreed with certain patients since my death had thrown
them into other hands. My helplessness before these facts chafed me
I made no futile effort to make myself known to any of the hospital
patients. I had learned too well the limitations of my new condition
now. I had in no wise learned to bear them. In truth, I think I bore
them less, for my knowledge that these poor creatures did truly love
me, and leaned on me, and mourned for me; I found it hard. I think it
even occurred to me that a dead man might not be able to bear it to see
his wife and child.
Doctor! said a low, sweet voice, Doctor? My heart leaped within
me, as I turned. Where was the highly organized one of all my patients,
who had baffled death for love of me? Who had the clairvoyance or
clairaudience, or the wonderful tip in the scale of health and disease,
which causes such phenomena?
With hungry eyes I gazed from cot to cot. No answering gaze returned
to me. Craving their recognition more sorely than they had ever, in the
old life, craved mine, in such need of their sympathy as never had the
weakest of the whole of them for mine, I scanned them all. Nono.
There was not a patient in the ward who knew me. No.
Stung with the disappointment, I sank into a chair beside the
weeping woman's bed, and bowed my face upon my hands. At this instant I
was touched upon the shoulder.
Doctor! Why, Doctor! said the voice again.
I sprang and caught the speaker by the hands. It was Mrs. Faith. She
stood beside me, sweet and smiling.
The carriage overturned, she said in her quiet way, I was badly
hurt. I only died an hour ago. I started out at once to find you. I
want you to see Charley. Charley's still alive. Those doctors don't
understand Charley. There's nobody I'd trust him to but you. You can
save him. Come! You can't think how he asked for you, and cried for
you.... I thought I should find you at the hospital. Come quickly,
Some homesick traveller in a foreign land, where he is known of none
and can neither speak nor understand the language of the country; taken
ill, let us say, at a remote inn, his strength and credit gone, and he,
in pain and fever, hears, one blessed day, the voice of an old friend
in the court below. Such a man may think he hasbut I doubt if he
havesome crude conception of the state of feeling in which I found
myself, when recognized in this touching manner by my old patient.
My emotion was so great that I could not conceal it; and she, in her
own quick and delicate way, perceiving this almost before I did myself,
made as if she saw it not, and lightly adding:
Hurry, Doctor! I will go before you. Let us lose no time! led me
at once out of the hospital and rapidly away.
In an incredibly, almost confusingly short space of time, we reached
her house; this was done by some method of locomotion not hitherto
experienced by me, and which I should, at that time, have found it
difficult to describe, unless by saying that she thought us where we
wished to be. Perhaps it would be more exact to say, She felt us. It was as if the great power of the mother's love in her had become a
new bodily faculty by which she was able, with extraordinary disregard
of the laws of distance, to move herself and to draw another to the
suffering child. I should say that I perceived at once, in the presence
of this sweet woman, that there were possibilities and privileges in
the state immediately succeeding death, which had been utterly denied
to me, and were still unknown to me. It was easy to see that her
personal experience in the new condition differed as much from mine as
our lives had differed in the time preceding death. She had been a
patient, unworldly, and devout sufferer; a chronic invalid, who bore
her lot divinely. Her soul had been as full of trust and gentleness, of
the forgetting of self and the service of others, of the scorn of pain,
and of what she called trust in Heaven, as any woman's soul could be.
I had never seen the moment when I could withhold my respect from
the devout nature of Mrs. Faith, any more than I could from her manner
of enduring suffering; or, I might add, if I could expect the remark to
be properly understood,from her strong and intelligent trust in me.
Physicians know what sturdy qualities it takes to make a good patient.
Perhaps they are, to some extent, the same which go to make a good
believer; but in this direction I am less informed.
During our passage from the hospital to the house, Mrs. Faith had
not spoken to me; her whole being seemed, as nearly as I could
understand it, to be absorbed in the process of getting there. It
struck me that she was still unpractised in the use of a new and
remarkable faculty, which required strict attention from her, like any
other as yet unlearned art.
You are not turned out of your own home it seems! I
exclaimed impulsively, as we entered the house together.
Oh, no, no! she cried. Who is? Who could be? Why, Doctor,
Death is a terrible respecter of persons, I answered drearily. I
could not further explain myself at that moment.
I have been away from Charley a good while, she anxiously replied;
it is the first time I have left him since I died. But I had to find
you, Doctor. Charley should not dieI can't have Charley diefor his
poor father's sake. But I feel quite safe about him now I have got
She said these words in her old bright, trustful way. The thought of
my helplessness to justify such trust smote me sorely; but I said
nothing then to undeceive her,how could I?and we made haste
together to the bedside of the injured child.
I saw at a glance that the child was in a bad case. Halt was there,
and Dr. Gazell; they were consulting gloomily. The father, haggard with
his first bereavement, seemed to have accepted the second as a foregone
conclusion; he sat with his face in his hands, beside the little
fellow's bed. The boy called for his mother at intervals. A nurse hung
about weeping. It was a dismal scene; there was not a spark of hope, or
energy, or fight in the whole room. I cried out immoderately that it
was enough to kill the well, and protested against the management of
the case with the ardent conviction to which my old patient was so
used, and in which she believed more thoroughly than I did myself.
They are giving the wrong remedy, I hotly said. This surgical fever
could be controlled,the boy need not die. But he will! You may as
well make up your mind to it, Mrs. Faith. Gazell doesn't understand the
little fellow's constitution, and Halt doesn't understand anything.
Now it was that, as I had expected, the mother turned upon me with
all a mother's hopeless and heart-breaking want of logic. Surely, I,
and only I, could save the boy. Why, I had always taken care of
Charley! Was it possible that I could stand by and see Charley die
? She should not have died herself if I had been there. She
depended upon me to find some waythere must be a way. She never
thought I was the kind of a man to be so changed byby what had
I used to be so full of hope and vigour, and so inventive in a
sick-room. It was not reasonable! It was not right! It was not possible
that, just because I was a spirit, I could not control the minds or
bodies of those live men who were so inferior to me. Why, she thought I
could control any_body. She thought I could conquer any_thing.
I don't understand it, Doctor, she said, with something like
reproach. You don't seem to be able to do as muchyou don't even know
as much as I do, now. And you know what a sick and helpless
little woman I've always been,how ignorant, beside you! I thought you
were so wise, so strong, so great. Where has it all gone to, Doctor?
What has become of your wisdom and your power? Can't you help me? Can't
I can do nothing, I interrupted her,nothing. I am shorn of it
all. It has all gone from me, like the strength of Samson. Spare me,
and torment me not.... I cannot heal your child. I am not like you. I
was not prepared forthis condition of things. I did not expect to
die. I never thought of becoming a spirit. I find myself
extraordinarily embarrassed by it. It is the most unnatural state I
ever was in.
Why, I find it as natural as life, she said, more gently. She had
now moved to the bedside, and taken the little fellow in her arms.
You are not as I, I replied morosely. We differedand we differ.
Truly, I believe that if there is anything to be done for your boy, it
rests with you, and not with me.
Halt and Gazell were now consulting in an undertone, touching the
selection of a certain remedy; no one noticed them, and they droned on.
The mother crooned over the child, and caressed him, and breathed
upon his sunken little face, and poured her soul out over him in
precious floods and wastes of tenderness as mothers do.
Live, my little son! she whispered. Live, live!
But I, meanwhile, was watching the two physicians miserably.
There! I said, they have dropped the phial on the floor. See, that
is the one they ought to have. It rolled away. They don't mean to take
it. They will give him the wrong thing. Oh, how can they?
But now the mother, when she heard me speak, swiftly and gently
removed her arms from beneath the boy, and, advancing to the hesitating
men, stood silently between them, and laid a hand upon the arm of each.
While she stood there she had a rapt, high look of such sort that I
could in no wise have addressed her.
Are you sure, Dr. Gazell? asked Halt.
I think so, said Gazell.
He stooped, after a moment's hesitation, and picked up the phial
from the floor, read its label; laid it down, looked at the child, and
The mother at this juncture sunk upon her knees and bowed her
shining face. I thought she seemed to be at prayer. I too bowed my
head; but it was for reverence at the sight of her. It was long since I
had prayed. I did not find it natural to do so. A strange discontent,
something almost like an inclination to prayer, came upon me. But that
was all. I would rather have had the power to turn those two men out of
the room, and pour the saving remedy upon my little patient's burning
tongue with my own flesh-and-blood fingers, and a hearty objurgation on
the professional blunder which I had come in time to rectify.
Dr. Halt, said Dr. Gazell, slowly, with your approval I think I
will change my mind. On the whole, the indications point tothis. I
trust it is the appropriate remedy.
He removed the cork from the phial as he spoke, and, rising, passed
quickly to the bedside of the child.
The mother had now arisen from her knees, and followed him, and got
her arms about the boy again, and set her soul to brooding over him in
the way that loving women have. I was of no further service to her, and
I had vanished from her thought, which had no more room at that moment
for anything except the child than the arms with which she clasped him.
It amazed meI was going to say it appalled methat no person in
the room should seem to have consciousness of her presence. She was
like an invisible star. How incredible that love like that, and the
power of it, could be dependent upon the paltry senses of what are
called live people for so much as the proofs of its existence.
It is not scientific, I caught myself saying, as I turned away,
there is a flaw in the logic somewhere. There seems to be a snapped
link between two sets of facts. There is no deficiency of data; the
difficulty lies wholly in collating them.
How, indeed, should Ihow did I but a few days sincemyself regard
such data as presumed to indicate the continuance of human life
beyond the point of physical decay!
After all, I thought, as I wandered from the house in which I felt
myself forgotten and superfluous, and pursued my lonely way, I knew not
whither and I knew not why,after all, there is another life. I
really did not think it.
It seemed now to have been an extraordinary narrowness of intellect
in me that I had not at least attached more weight to the universal
human hypothesis. I did not precisely wonder from a personal point of
view that I had not definitely believed it; but I wondered that I had
not given the possibility the sort of attention which a view of so much
dignity deserved. It really annoyed me that I had made that kind of
We, at least, were alive,my old patient and I. Whether others, or
how many, or of what sort, I could not tell; I had yet seen no other
spirit. What was the life-force in this new condition of things? Where
was the central cell? What made us go on living? Habit? Or
selection? Thought? Emotion? Vigour? If the last, what species of
vigour? What was that in the individual which gave it strength to stay?
Whence came the reproductive power which was able to carry on the
species under such terrible antagonism as the fact of death? If in the
body, where was the common element between that attenuated invalid and
my robust organization? If in the soul, between the suffering saint and
the joyous man of the world, where again was our common moral
Nothing occurred to me at the time, at least, as offering any
spiritual likeness between myself and Mrs. Faith, but the fact that we
were both people of strong affections which had been highly cultivated.
Might not a woman love herself into continued existence who felt
for any creature what she did for that child?
And IGod knew, if there were a God, how it was with me. If I had
never done anything, if I had never been anything, if I had never felt
anything else in all my life, that was fit to last, I had loved
one woman, and her only, and had thought high thoughts for her, and
felt great emotions for her, and forgotten self for her sake, and
thought it sweet to suffer for her, and been a better man for love of
her. And I had loved her,oh, I had so loved her, that I knew in my
soul ten thousand deaths could not murder that living love.
And I had spoken to herI had said to herlike any low and brutal
fellow, any common wife-tormentorI had gone from her dear presence to
this mute life wherein there was neither speech nor language; where
neither earth, nor heaven, nor my love, nor my remorse, nor all my
anguish, nor my shame, could give my sealed lips the power to say,
Now, while I was cast thus abroad upon the night,for it was
night,sorely shaken and groaning in spirit, taking no care where my
homeless feet should lead me, I lifted my eyes suddenly, and looked
straight on before me, and behold! shining afar, fair and sweet and
clear, I saw and recognized the lights of my own home.
I was still at some distance from the spot, and, beside myself with
joy, I started to run unto it. With the swift motions which spirits
make, and which I was beginning now to master in a clumsy manner and
low degree, I came, compassing the space between myself and all I loved
or longed for, and so brought myself tumultuously into the street where
the house stood; there, at a stone's throw from it, I felt myself
suddenly stifled with my haste, or from some cause, and, pausing (as we
used to say) to gather breath, I found that I was stricken back, and
fettered to the ground.
There was no wind. The night was perfectly still. Not a leaf
quivered on the topmost branch of the linden which tapped our
chamber-window. Yet a Power like a mighty rushing blast gainsaid me and
smote me where I was.
Not a step, though I writhed for it, not a breath nearer, though my
heart should break for it, could I take or make to reach her. This was
my doom. Within clasp of her dear arms, within sight of her sweet
face,for there! while I stood struggling, I saw a woman's shadow rise
and stir upon the dimly lighted wall,thus to be denied and bidden
back from her seemed to me more than heart could bear.
While I stood, quite unmanned by what had happened, incredulous of
my punishment, and yearning to her through the little distance, and
stretching out my hands toward her, and brokenly babbling her dear
name, she moved, and I saw her quite distinctly, even as I had seen her
that last time. She stood midway between the unlighted parlour and the
lighted library beyond. The drop-light with the scarlet shade blazed
I noticed that to-night, as on that other night, the baby was not
with her; and I wondered why. She stood alone. She moved up and down
the room; she had a weary step. Her dress, I saw, was black, dead
black. Her white hands, clasped before her, shone with startling
brilliancy upon the sombre stuff she wore. Her lovely head was bent a
little, and she seemed to be gazing at me whom she could not see. Then
I cried with such a cry, it seemed as if the very living must needs
Helen! Helen! Helen!
But she stood quite still; leaning her pale face toward me, like
some listening creature that was stricken deaf.
The sight was more sorrowful than I could brave; for the first time
since I had died I succumbed into something like a swoon, and lost my
miserable consciousness in the street before her door.
When I came again to myself I found that what I should once have
called a phenomenon had taken place. The city, the dim street, the
familiar architecture of my home, the streams of light from the long
windows, the leaves of the linden tapping on the glass, the woman's
shadow on the wall, and the stirring toward me of the form and face I
loved,these had vanished.
I was in a strange place; and I was a stranger in it. It seemed
rather a lonely place at first, though it was not unpleasing to me as I
looked abroad. The scenery was mountainous and solemn, but it was
therefore on a large scale and restful to the eye. It had more grandeur
than beauty, to my first impression; but I remembered that I was not in
a condition of mind to be receptive of the merely beautiful, which
might exist for me without my perception of it, even as the life of the
dead existed without the perception of the living. Death, if it had
taught me less up to that time than it might have done to nobler men,
had at least done so much as this: it had accustomed me to respect the
unseen, and to regard its possible action upon the seen as a matter of
import. As I looked forth upon the hills and skies, the plains and
forests, and on to the distant signs of human habitation in the scenery
about me, I thought:
I am in a world where it is probable that there exist a thousand
things which I cannot understand to one which I can.
It seemed to me a very uncomfortable state of affairs, whatever it
was. I felt estranged from this place, even before I was acquainted
with it. Nothing in my nature responded to its atmosphere; or, if so,
petulantly and with a kind of helpless antagonism, like the first cry
of the new-born infant in the old life.
As I got myself languidly to my feet, and idly trod the path which
lay before me, for lack of knowing any better thing to do, I began to
perceive that others moved about the scene; that I was not, as I had
thought, alone, but one of a company, each going on his errand as he
would. I only seemed to have no errand; and I was at a great distance
from these people, whose presence, however, though so remote, gave me
something of the sense of companionship which one whose home is in a
lonely spot upon a harbour coast has in watching the head-lights of
anchored ships upon dark nights. Communication there is none, but
desolation is less for knowing that there could be, or for fancying
that there might.
Across the space between us, I looked upon my fellow-citizens in
this new country, with a dull emotion not unlike gratitude for their
existence; but I felt little curiosity about them. I was too unhappy to
be so easily diverted. It seemed to me that the memory of my wife would
become a mania to me, if I could in no way make known to her how
utterly I loved her and how I scorned myself. I cannot say that I felt
much definite interest in the novel circumstances surrounding me,
except as possible resources for some escape from the situation, as it
stood between herself and me. If I could compass any means of
communicating with her, I believed that I could accept my doom, let it
take me where it might or make of me what it would.
Walking thus drearily, alone, and not sorry to be alone in that
unfamiliar company, lost in the fixed idea of my own misery, I suddenly
heard light footsteps hurrying behind me. I thought:
There is another spirit; one more of the newly dead, come to this
But I did not find it worth my while to turn and greet him, being so
wrapt in my own fate; and when a soft hand touched my arm, I moved from
it with something like dismay.
Why, Doctor! said the gentle voice of Mrs. Faith, did I startle
you? I have been hunting for you everywhere, she added, laughing
lightly. I was afraid you would feel rather desolate. It is a pity.
Now, I am as happy!
Did Charley live? I asked immediately.
Oh yes, Charley lived; what we used to call living, when we were
there. Poor Charley! I keep thinking how he would enjoy everything if
he were here with me. But his father needed him. It makes me so happy!
I am very happy! Tell me, Doctor, what do you think of this place? How
does it strike you?
It is a foreign country, I said sadly.
Is it, Doctor? Poor Doctor! Why, I feel so much at home!
She lifted a radiant face to me; it was touching to see her
expression, and marvellous to behold the idealization of health on
features for so many years adjusted to pain and patience.
Dear Doctor! she cried joyously, you never thought to see me
well! They call this death. Why, I never knew what it was to be
I must make you acquainted with some of the people who live here,
she added, quickly recalling herself from her own interests to mine,
with her natural unselfishness, it is pitiful to come into this
placeas you have done. You always knew so many people. You had such
friends about you. I never saw you walk alone in all your life before.
I wish to be alone, I answered moodily. I care nothing for this
place, or for the men who live here. It is all unfamiliar to me. I am
not happy in it. I am afraid I have not been educated for it. It is the
most unhomelike place I ever saw.
Her eyes filled; she did not answer me at once; when she did it was
It will be better. It will be better by and by. Have you seen
She stopped and hesitated.
Have you seen the Lord? she asked, in a low voice. She was wont, I
remember, to use this word in a way peculiarly her own; as if she were
referring to some personal acquaintance, near to her heart. I shook my
head, looking drearily upon her.
Don't you want to see Him?
I want to see my wife!
Oh, I am sorry for you, she said, with forbearing gentleness. It
is pretty hard. But I wish you wanted Him.
I want to see my wife! I want to see my wife! I interrupted
bitterly. And with this I turned away from her and hid my face, for I
could speak no more. When I lifted my eyes, she had gone from me, and I
was again alone. When it was thus too late, it occurred to me that I
had lost an opportunity which might not easily return to me, and I
sought far and wide for Mrs. Faith. I did not find her, though I
aroused myself to the point of accosting some of the inhabitants of the
country, and making definite inquiries for her. I was answered with
great courtesy and uncommon warmth of manner, as if it were the custom
of this place to take a genuine interest in the affairs of strangers;
but I was not able, by any effort on my part, to bring myself in
proximity to her. This trifling disappointment added to my sense of
helplessness in the new life on which I had entered; and I was still as
incredulous of helplessness and as galled by it as I should have been
by the very world of woe which had formed so irritating a dogma to me
in the theology of my day on earth, and which I had regarded as I did
the nightmares of a dyspeptic patient.
In this state of feeling, it was the greatest comfort to me when, at
some period of time which I have no means of defining, but which could
not have been long afterward, Mrs. Faith came suddenly again across my
path. She radiated happiness and health and beauty, and when she held
out both her hands to me in greeting they seemed to glitter, as if she
had stepped from a bath of delight.
Oh, she said joyously, have you seen Him yet? It
embarrassed me to be forced to answer in the negative; it gave me a
strange feeling, as if I had been a convict in the country, and denied
the passport of honourable men. I therefore waived her question as well
as I might, and proceeded to make known to her the thought which had
been occupying me.
You have the entrée of the dear earth, I said sadly.
They do not treat you in thein the very singular manner with which I
am treated. It is important beyond explanation that I get a message to
my wife. A beggar in the street may be admitted to her charity,I saw
one at the door the night I stood there. I, only I, am forbidden to
enter. Whatever may be the natural laws which are sot in opposition to
me, they have extraordinary force; I can do nothing against them. I
suppose I do not understand them. If I had an opportunity to study
thembut I have no opportunities at anything. It is a new experience
to me to be soso disregarded by the general scheme of things. I seem
to be of no more consequence in this place than a bootblack was in the
world, or a paralytic person. It seems useless for me to fly in the
face of fate, since this is fate. I have no hope of being able to reach
my wife. You have privileges in this condition which are evidently far
superior to mine. I have been thinking that possibly you may be
ableand willingto approach her for me?
I don't think it would succeed, Doctor, replied my old patient
quickly. I'd do it! You know I would! But if I were HelenShe
is a very reserved person; she never talks about her husband, as
different women do; her feeling is of such a sort; I do not think she
would understand, if another woman were to speak from you to
Perhaps not, I sighed.
I am afraid it would be the most hopeless experiment you could
make, said Mrs. Faith. She loves you too much for it, she added,
with the divination of her sex. Comforted a little by Mrs. Faith, I
quickly abandoned this project; indeed, I soon abandoned every other
which concerned itself with Helen, and yielded myself with a kind of
desperate lethargy, if I may be allowed the expression, to the fate
which separated me from her. Of resignation I knew nothing. Peace was
the coldest stranger in that strange land to me. I yielded because I
could not help it, not because I would have willed it; and with that
dull strength which grows into the sinews of the soul from necessity,
sought to adjust myself in such fashion as I might to my new
conditions. It occurred to me from time to time that it would have been
an advantage if I had felt more interest in the conditions themselves;
that it would even have spared me something if I had ever cultivated
any familiarity with the possibilities of such a state of existence. I
could not remember that I had in the old life satisfactorily proved
that another could not follow it. It seemed to me that if I had
only so much as exercised my imagination upon the possible course of
events in case another did, it would have been of some practical
service to me now. I was in the position of a man who is become the
victim of a discovery whose rationality he has contemptuously denied.
It was like being struck by a projectile while one is engaged in
disproving the existence of gunpowder.
If a soul may properly be said to be stunned, mine at this time, was
In this condition solitude was still so natural to me that I made no
effort to approach the people of the place, and contented myself with
observing them and their affairs from a distance. They seemed a very
happy people. There could be no mistake about that. I did not see a
clouded countenance; nor did I hear an accent of discomfort, or of
pain. I wondered at their joyousness, which I found it as impossible to
share as the sick find it impossible to share what has been called the
insolence of health. It did, indeed, appear to me as something almost
impertinent, as possession always appears to denial. But I had never
been denied before. I perceived, also, that the inhabitants of this
country were a busy people. They came and went, they met and parted,
with the eagerness of occupation; though there was a conspicuous
absence of the fretful haste to which I had been used in the conduct of
business. I looked upon the avocations of this strange land, and
wondered at them. I could not see with what they were occupied, or why,
or to what end. They affected me perhaps something as the concerns of
the human race may affect the higher animals. I looked on with an
One day, as I was strolling miserably about, a child came up and
spoke to me. He, like myself, was alone. He was a beautiful child,a
little boy; he seemed scarcely more than an infant. He appeared to be
in search of some one or of something; his brilliant eyes roved
everywhere; he had a noble little head, and carried himself
courageously. He gave no evidence of fear or sadness at his isolated
position but ran right on,for he was running when I saw him,as if
he had gone forth upon some happy, childish errand.
But at sight of me he paused; regarded me a moment with the piercing
candour of childhood, as if he took my moral measure after some
inexplicable personal scale of his own; then came directly and put his
hand into my own.
I grasped it heartily,who could have helped it?and lifting the
little fellow in my arms kissed him affectionately, as one does a
pretty stranger child. This seemed to gratify him rather than to
satisfy him; he nestled in my neck, but moved restlessly, slipping to
the ground, and back again into my arms; jabbering incoherently and
pleasantly; seeming to be diverted rather than comforted; ready to
stay, but alert to go; in short, behaving like a baby on a visit. After
awhile the child adjusted himself to the situation; grew quiet, and
clung to me; and at last, putting both his arms about my neck, he gave
the long, sweet sigh of healthy infant weariness, and babbling
something to the general effect that Boy was tired, he dropped into a
sound and happy sleep.
Here, indeed, was a situation! It drew from me the first smile which
had crossed my lips since I had died. What, pray, was I, who seemed to
be of no consequence whatever in this amazing country, and who had more
than I knew how to do in looking after myself, under its mysterious
conditions,what was I to do with the spirit-baby gone to sleep upon
I must go and find the Orphan Asylum, I 'thought; doubtless they
have them in this extraordinary civilization. I must take the little
fellow to some women as soon as possible. At this juncture, my friend
Mrs. Faith appeared, making a mock of being out of breath, and laughing
He ran away from me, she merrily explained. I had the care of
him, and he ran on; he came straight to you. I couldn't hold him. What
a comfort he will be to you!... Why, Doctor! Do you mean to say you
don't know who the child is?
It seems to me, she added, with a mother's sublime superiority,
I should know my own baby! If I were so fortunate as to find one
here!How much less you know, she proceeded naively, than I used to
think you did!
Did the child die? I asked, trembling so that I had to put
the little fellow down lest he should fall from my startled arms. Did
something really ail him that night when his motherthat miserable
The child died, she answered gravely. Dear little Boy! Take him
up again, Doctor. Don't you see? He is uneasy unless you hold him
I took Boy up; I held him close; I kissed him, and I clung to him,
and melted into unintelligible cries above him, never minding Mrs.
Faith, for I quite forgot her.
But what I felt was for my child's poor mother, and all my thought
was for her, and my heart broke for her, that she should be so bereft.
I should like to know if you suppose for one minute that she
wouldn't rather you would have the little fellow, if he is the
least bit of comfort to you in the world?
Mrs. Faith said this; she spoke with a kind of lofty, feminine
Why, Helen loves you! she said, superbly.
I believe, said my old patient, I believe that was the highest
moment of your life.
A man of my sort seldom comprehends a woman of hers. I did not
understand her, and I told her so, looking at her across the clinging
There was no self in it! she answered eagerly.
Oh, I said indifferently, is that all?
It is everything, replied the wiser spirit, in the place that we
have come to. It is like a birth. Such a moment has to go on living.
One is never the same after as one was before it. Changes follow. May
the Lord be in them!
But stay! I cried, as she made a signal of farewell, are you not
going to help meis nobody going to help me take care of this child?
She shook her head, smiling; then laughed outright at my perplexity;
and with a merry air of enjoyment in my extraordinary position, she
went her ways and left me.
There now began for me a singular life. Changes followed, as Mrs.
Faith had said. The pains and the privileges of isolation were possible
to me no longer. Action of some sort, communion of some kind with the
world in which I lived, became one of the imperative necessities about
which men do not philosophize. For there was the boy! Whatever my views
about a spiritual state of existence, there always was the boy. No
matter how I had demonstrated the unreasonableness of living after
death, the child was alive. However I might personally object to my own
share of immortality, I was a living father, with my motherless baby in
Up to this time I had lived in an indifferent fashion; in the old
world, we should have called it anyhow. Food I scarcely took, or if
at all, it was to snatch at such wild fruits as grew directly before
me, without regard to their fitness or palatableness; paying, in short,
as little attention to the subject as possible. Home I had none. I
wandered till I was weary of wandering, and rested till I could rest no
more; seeking such shelter as the country afforded me in lonely and
beautiful spots; discontented with what I had, but desiring nothing
further; with my own miserable thoughts for housemates and for
neighbours, and the absence of hope forbidding the presence of energy.
Nothing that I could see interested me. Much or most that I took the
trouble to observe, I should have been frankly obliged to admit that I
did not understand.
The customs of the people bewildered me. Their evident happiness
irritated me. Their activity produced in me only the desire to get out
of sight of it. Their personal health and beautyfor they were a very
comely peoplegave me something the kind of nervous shrinking that I
had so often witnessed in the sick, when some buoyant, inconsiderate,
bubbling young creature burst into the room of pain. I felt in the
presence of the universal blessedness about me like some hurt animal,
who cares only to crawl in somewhere and be forgotten. If I drew near,
as I had on several occasions done, to give some attention to the
occupations of the inhabitants, all these feelings were accentuated so
much that I was fain to withdraw before I had studied the subject.
Study there was in that country, and art and industry; even traffic,
if traffic it might be called; it seemed to be an interchange of
possessions, conducted upon principles of the purest consideration for
the public, as opposed to personal welfare.
Homes there were, and the construction of them, and the happiest
natural absorption in their arrangement and management. There were
families and household devotion; parents, children, lovers, neighbours,
friends. I saw schools and other resorts of learning, and what seemed
to be institutions of benevolence and places of worship, a series of
familiar and yet wholly unfamiliar sights. In them all existed a
spirit, even as the spirit of man exists in his earthly body, which was
and willed and acted as that does, and which, like that, defied
analysis. I could perceive at the hastiest glance that these people
conducted themselves upon a set of motives entirely strange to me. What
they were doingwhat they were doing it forI simply did not
know. A great central purpose controlled them, such as controls masses
of men in battle or at public prayer; a powerful and universal Law had
hold of them; they treated it as if they loved it. They seemed to feel
affectionately toward the whole system of things. They loved, and
thought, and wrought straight onward with it; no one put the impediment
of a criticism against it,no one that I could see or suspect, in all
the place, except my isolated self. They had the air of those engaged
in some sweet and solemn object, common to them all; an object,
evidently set above rather than upon the general level. Their faces
shone with pleasure and with peace. Often they wore a high, devout
look. They never showed an irritated expression, never an anxious nor
that I could see a sad one. It was impossible to deny the marked
nobility of their appearance.
If this, I thought, be what is called a spiritual life, I was not
ready to become a spirit.
Now, when my child awaited and called me, as he had begun, in the
dear old days on earth, to learn to do, and like any live human baby
proceeded to give vent to a series of incoherent remarks bearing upon
the fact that Boy would like his supper, I was fain to perceive that
being a spirit did not materially change the relation of a man to the
plainer human duties; and that, whether personally agreeable or no, I
must needs bring myself into some sort of connection with the
civilization about me. I might be a homesick fellow, but the baby was
hungry. I might be at odds with the whole scheme of things, but the
child must have a shelter. I might be a spiritual outcast, but what was
to become of Boy? The heart of the father arose in me; and, gathering
the little fellow to my breast, I set forth quickly to the nearest
Here, after some hesitation, I accosted a stranger, whose appearance
pleased me, and besought his assistance in my perplexity. He was a man
of lofty bearing; his countenance was strong and benign as the western
wind; he had a gentle smile, but eyes which piercingly regarded me. He
was of superior beauty, and conducted himself as one having authority.
He was much occupied, and hastening upon some evidently important
errand; but he stopped at once, and gave his attention to me with the
hearty interest in others characteristic of the people.
Are you a stranger in the countrybut newly come to us?
A stranger, sir, but not newly arrived.
And the child?
The child ran into my arms about an hour ago.
Is the boy yours?
He is my only child.
What do you desire for him?
I would fain provide for him those things which a father must
desire. I seek food and shelter. I wish a home, and means of
subsistence, and neighbourhood, and the matters which are necessary to
the care and comfort of an infant. Pray, counsel me. I do not
understand the conditions of life in this remarkable place.
I do not know that it is of consequence that I should, I added,
less courteously, but I cannot see the boy deprived. He must be made
comfortable as speedily as possible. I shall be obliged to you for some
suggestion in the matter.
Come hither, replied the stranger, laconically. Forthwith, he led
me, saying nothing further, and I followed, asking nothing more.
This embarrassed me somewhat, and it was with some discomfort that I
entered the house of entertainment to which I was directed, and asked
for those things which were needful for my child. These were at once
and lavishly provided. It soon proved that I had come to a luxurious
and hospitable place. The people were most sympathetic in their manner.
Boy especially excited the kindest of attention; some women fondled
him, and all the inmates of the house interested themselves in the
little motherless spirit.
In spite of myself this touched me, and my heart warmed toward my
Tell me, I said, turning toward him who had brought me thither,
how shall I make compensation for my entertainment? What is the custom
of the country? Iwhat we used to call propertyyou will understand
that I necessarily left behind me. I am accustomed to the use of it. I
hardly know what to do without it. I am accustomed tosome abundance.
I wish to remunerate the people of this house.
What did you bring with you? asked my new acquaintance,
with a half-sorrowful look, as if he would have helped me out of an
unpleasant position if he could.
Nothing, I replied, after some thought, nothing but my misery.
That does not seem to be a marketable commodity in this happy place. I
could spare some, if it were.
What had you? pursued my questioner, without noticing my ill-timed
satire. What were your possessions in the life yonder?
Health. Love. Happiness. Home. Prosperity. Work. Fame. Wealth.
Ambition. I numbered these things slowly and bitterly. None of them
did I bring with me. I have lost them all upon the way. They do not
serve me in this differing civilization.
Was there by chance nothing more?
Nothing more. Unless you count a little incidental usefulness.
And that? he queried eagerly.
I therefore explained to him that I had been a very busy doctor;
that I used to think I took pleasure in relieving the misery of the
sick, but that it seemed a mixed matter now, as I looked back upon
it,so much love of fame, love of power, love of love itself,and
that I did not put forth my life's work as of importance in his scale
That would not lessen its value, replied my friend. I myself was
a healer of the sick. Your case appeals to me. I was known as
He whispered a name which gave me a start of pleasure. It was a name
famous in its day, and that a day long before my own; a name immortal
in medical history. Few men in the world had done as much as this one
to lessen the sum of human suffering. It excited me greatly to meet
But you, I cried, you were not like the rest of us or the most of
us. You believed in theseinvisible things. You were a man of
what is called faith. I have often thought of that. I never laid down a
biography of you without wondering that a man of your intelligence
should retain that superstitious element of character. I ought to beg
your pardon for the adjective. I speak as I have been in the habit of
Do you wonder now? asked the great surgeon, smiling benignly. I
shook my head. I wondered at nothing now.
But I felt myself incapable of discussing a set of subjects upon
which, for the first time in my life, I now knew myself to be really
I took the pains to explain to my new friend that in matters of what
he would call spiritual import I was, for aught I knew to the contrary,
the most ignorant person in the community. I added that I supposed he
would expect me to feel humiliated by this.
Do you? he asked, abruptly.
It makes me uncomfortable, I replied, candidly. I don't know that
I can say more than that. I find it embarrassing.
That is straightforward, said the great physician. There is at
least no diseased casuistry about you. I do not regard the indications
He said this with something of the professional manner; it amused
me, and I smiled. Take the case, Doctor, if you will, I humbly said.
I could not have happened on any person to whom I would have been so
willing to intrust it.
We will consider the question, he said gravely.
In this remarkable community, and under the guidance of this
remarkable man, I now began a difficult and to me astonishing life. The
first thing which happened was not calculated to soothe my personal
feeling: this was no less than the discovery that I really had nothing
wherewith to compensate the citizens who had provided for the comfort
of my child and of myself; in short, that I was no more nor less than
an object of charity at their hands. I writhed under this, as may be
well imagined; and with more impatience than humility urged that I be
permitted to perform some service which at least would bring me into
relation with the commercial system of the country. I was silenced by
being gently asked: What could I do?
But have you no sick here? I pleaded, no hospitals or places of
need? I am not without experience, I may say that I am even not without
attainment, in my profession. Is there no use for it all, in this state
of being which I have come to?
Sick we have, replied the surgeon, and hospitals. I myself am
much occupied in one of these. But the diseases that men bring here are
not of the body. Our patients are chiefly from among the newly arrived,
like yourself; they are those who are at odds with the spirit of the
place; hence they suffer discomfort.
They do not harmonize with the environment, I suppose, I
interrupted eagerly. I was conscious of a wish to turn the great man's
thought from a personal to a scientific direction. It occurred to me
with dismay that I might be selected yet to become a patient under this
extraordinary system of things. That would be horrible. I could think
of nothing worse.
I proceeded to suggest that if anything could be found for me to do,
in this superior art of healing, or if, indeed, I could study and
perfect myself in it, I was more than willing to learn, or to perform.
Canst thou heal a sick spirit? inquired my friend, solemnly.
Canst thou administer holiness to a sinful soul?
I bowed my head before him; for I had naught to say. Alas, what art
had I, in that high science so far above me, that my earth-bound gaze
had never reached unto it?
I was not like my friend, who seemed to have carried on the whole
range of his great earthly attainments, by force of what I supposed
would have to be called his spiritual education. Here in this world of
spirits I was an unscientific, uninstructed fellow.
Give me, I said brokenly, but the lowliest chance to make an
honourable provision for the comfort of my child in your community. I
ask no more.
The boy ran chattering to me as I said these words, he sprang and
clasped my knees, and clasped my neck, and put his little lips to mine,
and rubbed his warm, moist curls across my cheek, and asked me where
his mother was. And then he crooned my own name over and over again,
and kissed and kissed me, and did stroke me with such pretty excesses
of his little tenderness that I took heart and held him fast, and loved
him and blessed fate for him, as much as if I had not been a spirit;
more than any but a lonely and remorseful spirit could.
In consequence, as I suspected, of some private influence on the
part of my famous friend, whose importance in this strange world seemed
scarcely below that which he held in the other,a marked contrast to
my own lot, which had been thus far in utter reversal of every law and
every fact of my earthly life,a humble position was found for me,
connected with the great institution of healing which he superintended;
and here, for an indefinite time, I worked and served. I found myself
of scarcely more social importance than, let us say, the janitor or
steward in my old hospital at home. This circumstance, however galling,
could no longer surprise me. I had become familiar enough with the
economy of my new surroundings now thoroughly to understand that I was
destitute of the attainments which gave men eminence in them. I was
conscious that I had become an obscure person; nay, more than this,
that I had barely brought with me the requisites for being tolerated at
all in the community. It had begun to be evident to me that I was
fortunate in obtaining any kind of admission to citizenship. This alone
was an experience so novel to me that it was an occupation in itself,
for a time, to adjust myself to it.
I now established myself with my boy in such a home as could be made
for us, under the circumstances. It was far inferior to most of the
homes which I observed about me; but the child lacked no necessary
comfort, and the luxuries of a spiritual civilization I did not
personally crave; they had a foreign air to me, as the customs of the
Tuileries might have had to Pocahontas.
With dull gratitude for such plain possessions as now were granted
to me, I set myself to my daily tasks, and to the care and rearing of
Work I found an unqualified mercy. It even occurred to me to be
thankful for it, and to desire to express what I felt about it to the
unknown Fate or Force which was controlling my history. I had been all
my life such a busy man that the vacuity of my first experience after
dying had chafed me terribly. To be of no consequence; not to be in
demand; not to be depended upon by a thousand people, and for a
thousand things; not to dash somewhere upon important errands; not to
feel that a minute was a treasure, and that mine were valued as hid
treasures; not to know that my services were superior; to feel the
canker of idleness eat upon me like one of the diseases which I had
considered impossible to my organization; to observe the hours, which
had hitherto been invisible, like rear forces pushing me to the front;
to watch the crippled moments, which had always flown past me like
mocking-birds; to know to the full the absence of movement in life; to
feel deficiency of purpose like paralysis stiffen me; to have no hope
of anything better, and not to know what worse might be before
me,such had been my first experience of the new life. It had done as
much as this for me: it had fitted me for the humblest form of activity
which my qualifications made possible; it had taught me the elements of
gratitude for an improved condition, as suffering, when it vibrates to
the intermission of relief, teaches cheerfulness to the sick.
An appreciable sense of gratification, which, if it could not be
called pleasure, was at least a diminution of pain, came to me from the
society of my friend, the distinguished man and powerful spirit who had
so befriended me. I admit that I was glad to have a man to deal with;
though I did not therefore feel the less a loyalty to my dear and
faithful patient, whose services to me had been so true and tender. I
missed her. I needed her counsel about the child. I would fain have
spoken to her of many little matters. I watched for her, and wondered
that she came no more to us. Although so new a comer, Mrs. Faith proved
to be a person of position in the place; her name was well and
honourably known about the neighbourhood; and I therefore easily
learned that she was absent on a journey. It was understood that she
had been called to her old home, where for some reason her husband and
her child had need of her. It was her precious privilege to minister to
them, I knew not how; it was left to me to imagine why. Bitterly I
thought of Helen. Between herself and me the awful gates of death had
shut; to pass them, though I would have died again for it,to pass
them, for one hour, for one moment, for love's sake, for grief's sake,
or for shame's, or for pity's own,I was forbidden.
I had confided the circumstances of my parting from my wife to no
one of my new acquaintances. In the high order of character pervading
these happy people, such a confession would have borne the proportions
that a crime might in the world below. Bearing my secret in my own
heart, I felt like a felon in this holier society. I cherished it
guiltily and miserably, as solitary people do such things; it seemed to
me like an ache which I should go on bearing for ever. I remembered how
men on earth used to trifle with a phrase called endless punishment.
What worse punishment were there, verily, than the consciousness of
having done the sort of deed that I had? It seemed to me, as I brooded
over it, one of the saddest in the universe. I became what I should
once have readily called morbid over this thought. There seemed to me
nothing in the nature of remorse itself which should, if let alone,
ever come to a visible end. My longing for the forgiveness of my wife
gnawed upon me.
Sometimes I tried to remind myself that I was as sure of her love
and of her mercy as the sun was of rising beyond the linden that tapped
the chamber window in my dear lost home; that her unfathomable
tenderness, so far passing the tenderness of women, leaned out, as
ready to take me back to itself as her white arms used to be to take me
to her heart, when I came later than usual, after a hard day's work,
tired and weather-beaten, into the house, hurrying and calling to her.
But the anguish of the thought blotted the comfort out of it, till,
for very longing for her, I would fain almost have forgotten her; and
then I would pray never to forget her before I had forgotten, for I
loved her so that I would rather think of her and suffer because of her
than not to think of her at all. In all this memorable and unhappy
period, my boy was the solace of my soul. I gave myself to the care of
him lovingly, and as nearly as I can recollect I did not chafe against
the narrow limits of my lot in that respect.
It occurred to me sometimes that I should once have called this a
humble service to be the visible boundary of a man's life. To what had
all those old attainments come? Command of science? Developed skill?
Public power? Extended fame? All those forms of personality which go
with intellectual position and the use of it? Verily, I was brought to
lowly tasks; we left them to women in the world below. But really, I
think this troubled me less than it might have done; perhaps less than
it should have done. I accepted the strange reversal of my fate as one
accepts any turn of affairs which, he is convinced, is better than he
might have expected. It had begun to be evident to me that it was
better than I had deserved. If I am exceptional in being forced to
admit that this consciousness was a novelty in my experience, the
admission is none the less necessary for that. I had been in the habit
of considering myself rather a good fellow, as a man with no vices in
particular is apt to. I had possessed no standards of life below which
my own fell to an embarrassing point. The situation to which I was now
brought, was not unlike that of one who finds himself in a land where
there are new and delicate instruments for indicating the state of the
weather. I was aware, and knew that my neighbours were, of fluctuations
in the moral atmosphere which had never before come under my attention.
The whole subtle and tremendous force of public sentiment now bore upon
me to make me uneasy before achievements with which I had hitherto been
complacent. It had inconceivable effects to live in a community where
spiritual character formed the sole scale of social position.
I, who had been always socially distinguished, found myself now
exposed to incessant mortifications, such as spring from the fact that
one is of no consequence.
I should say, however, that I felt this much less for myself than
for my child; indeed, that it was because of Boy that I first felt the
fact at all, or brooded over it after I had begun to feel it.
The little fellow developed rapidly, much faster than children of
his age do in the human life; he ceased to be a baby, and was a little
boy while I was yet wondering what I should do with him when he had
outgrown his infancy. His intellect, his character, his physique,
lifted themselves with a kind of luxuriance of growth, such as plants
show in tropical countries; he blossomed as a thing does which has
every advantage and no hindrance; nature moved magnificently to her
ends in him; it was a delight to watch such vigorous processes; he was
a rich, unthwarted little creature. With all a father's heart and a
physician's sensibility, I was proud of him.
I was proud of him, alas! until I began to perceive that, as matters
were working, the boy was morally certain to be ashamed of me. This was
a hard discovery; and it went hard with me after I had made it. But
nothing could reduce the poignancy of the inquiry with which I had
first gathered him to my heart, in the solitudes where he had found me
lurking: If I were a spiritual outcast, what would become of Boy?
As the child waxed in knowledge and in strength questions like these
dropped from his lips so frequently that they distressed me:
Papa, what is God?
Papa, who is worship?
Tell me how boys pray.
Is it a kind of game?
What is Christ, papa? Is it people's Mother? What is it for?
My friend, the eminent surgeon, left me much to myself in these
perplexities; regarding my natural reserve, and trusting, I thought, to
nature, or to some Power beyond nature, to assist me. But on one
occasion, happening to be present when the child interrogated me in
this manner, he bent a piercing gaze upon me.
Why do you not answer the child, Esmerald Thorne? he asked me in a
voice of authority.
Alas, I said, I have no answer. I know nothing of these matters.
They have been so foreign to my temperament, thatI
But here I faltered. I felt ashamed of my excuse, and of myself for
It is a trying position for a man to be put in, I ventured to add,
putting an arm about my boy; naturally, I wish my child to develop in
accordance with the social and educational system of the place.
Naturally, I should suppose, replied he, dryly. He offered me no
further suggestion on the subject and with some severity of manner
moved to leave me. Now it happened to be the vesper hour in the
hospital, and my visitor was going to his patients, the sick of soul,
with whom he was wont to join in the evening chant which, at a certain
hour, daily arose from every roof in the wide city, and waxed mightily
to the sides. It was music of a high order, and I always enjoyed it; no
person of any musical taste could have done otherwise.
Listen! said my friend, as he turned to depart from me. I had only
to glance at his rapt and noble countenance to perceive the high
acoustic laws which separated his sensibility to the vesper from my
own. To him it was religious expression. To me it was classical music.
While I was thus thinking, from the great wards of the Home of
Healing the prayer went up. The sinful, the sorely stricken, the
ungodly, the ignorant of heavenly mercy, all the diseased of spirit who
were gathered there in search of the soul's health, sang together: not
as the morning-stars which shouted for joy, but like living hearts that
cried for purity; yea, like hearts that so desired it, they would have
broken for it, and blessed God.
God is a Spirit. God is a Spirit. We would worship Him. We would
worship Him in spirit. Yea, in spirit. And in truth.
My little boy was playing in the garden, decking himself with the
strange and beautiful flowers which luxuriated in the spot. I remember
that he had tall white lilies and scarlet passion flowers, or something
like them, held above one shoulder, and floating like a banner in the
bright, white air. He was absorbed in his sport, and had the sweet
intentness of expression between the eyes that his mother used to wear.
When the vesper anthems sounded out, the child stopped, and turned his
nobly moulded head toward the unseen singers. A puzzled and afterward a
saddened look clouded his countenance; he listened for a moment, and
then walked slowly to me, trailing the white and scarlet flowers in the
grass behind him as he came.
Father, teach me how to sing! The other children do. I'm the only
little boy I know that can't sing that nice song. Teach me it! he
Alas, my son! I answered, how can I teach you that which I myself
I thought boys' fathers knew everything, objected the child,
bending his brows severely on me.
A certain constraint, a something not unlike distrust, a subtle
barrier which one could not define, but which one felt the more
uncomfortably for this very reason, after this incident, seemed to
arise in the child's consciousness between himself and me. As docile,
as dutiful, as beautiful as ever, as loving and as lovable, yet the
little fellow would at times withdraw from me and stand off; as if he
looked on at me, and criticised me, and kept his criticism to himself.
Verily the child was growing. He had become a separate soul. In a world
of souls, what was minemiserable, ignorant, half-developed, wholly
unfitwhat was mine to do with his? How was I to foster him?
When I came face to face with the problem of Boy's general
education, this question pressed upon me bitterly. Looking abroad upon
the people and their principles of life, the more I studied them, the
more did I stand perplexed before them. I was in the centre of a vast
Theocracy. Plainly, our community was but one of who knew how
many?governed by an unseen Being, upon laws of which I knew nothing.
The service of this invisible Monarch vied only with the universal
affection for Him. So far as I could understand the spiritual life at
all, it seemed to be the highest possible development and expression of
love. What these people did that was noble, pure, and fine, they did,
not because they must, but because they would. They believed because
they chose. They were devout because they wished to be. They were
unselfish and true, and what below we should have called unworldly,
because it was the most natural thing in the world. They seemed so
happy, they had such content in life, that I could have envied them
from my soul.
How, now, was I to compass this national kind of happiness for my
son? Misery I could bear; I was sick and sore with it, but I was used
to it. My child must never suffer. Passed beyond the old system of
suffering, why should he? Joy was his birthright in this blessed place.
How was I, being at discord from it, to bring my child into harmony
with it? I was at odds, to start on, with the whole system of
education. The letters, art, science, industry, of the country were of
a sort that I knew not. They were consecrated to ends with which I was
unfamiliar. They were pursued in a spirit incomprehensible to me. They
were dedicated to the interests of a Being, Himself a stranger to me.
Proficiency, superiority, were rated on a scale quite out of my
experience. To be distinguished was to possess high spiritual traits.
Deep at the root of every public custom, of every private deed, there
hid the seed of one universal emotion,the love of a living soul for
the Being who had created it.
I, who knew not of this feeling, I, who was as a savage among this
intelligence, who was no more than an object of charity at the hands of
this community,what had I to offer to my son?
A father's personal position? Loving influence? Power to push the
little fellow to the front? A chance to endow him with every social
opportunity, every educational privilege, such as it is a father's
pride to enrich his child wherewith?
Nay, verily. An obscure man ignorant of the learning of the land,
destitute of its wealth, unacquainted among its magnates, and without a
share in its public interestsnothing was I; nothing had I; nothing
could I hope to do, or be, for which my motherless boy should live to
bless his father's name. Stung by such thoughts as these, which rankled
the more in me the longer I cherished them, I betook myself to brooding
and to solitary strolling in quiet places, where I could ponder on my
I was in great intellectual and spiritual stress, less for myself
than for the child; not more for him, than because of his mother. What
would Helen say?
How would she hold me to account for him? How should I meet herif
I ever saw her face againto own myself scarcely other than a pauper
in this spiritual kingdom; our child an untaught, unimportant little
fellow, of no more consequence in this place than the gamins of
the street before her door?
In these cold and solitary experiences which many a man has known
before me, and many more will follow after me, the soul is like a
skater, separated from his fellows upon a field of ice. Every movement
that he makes seems to be bearing him farther from the society and the
sympathy of his kind. Too benumbed, perhaps, to turn, he glides on,
helpless as an ice-boat before the wind. Conscious of his mistake, of
his danger, and knowing not how to retract the one or avoid the other,
his helpless motions, seemingly guided by idleness, by madness, or by
folly, lead him to the last place whither he would have led
himself,the weak spot in the ice.
Suddenly, he falls crashing, and sinks. Then lo! as he goes under,
crying out that he is lost because no man is with him, hands are
down-stretched, swimmers plunge, the crowd gathers, and it seems the
whole world stoops to save him. The sympathy of his kind wanted nothing
but a chance to reach him.
I cannot tell; no man can tell such things; I cannot explain how I
came to do it, or even why I came to do it. But it was on this wise
with me. Being alone one evening in a forest, at twilight, taking
counsel with myself and pondering upon the mystery from which I could
not gather light, these words came into my heart; and when I had
cherished them in my heart for a certain time, I uttered them aloud:
Thou great God! If there be a God. Reveal Thyself unto my immortal
soul! If I have a soul immortal.
My little boy came flying to me one fair day; he cried out that he
had news for me, that great things were going on in the town. A visitor
was expected, whose promised arrival had set the whole place astir with
joy. The child knew nothing of what or whom he spoke, but I gathered
the impression that some distinguished guest was about to reach us, to
whom the honours of the city would be extended. The matter did not
interest me; I had so little in common with the people; and I was about
to dismiss it idly, when Boy posed me by demanding that I should
personally conduct him through the events of the gala day. He was
unusually insistent about this; for he was a docile little fellow, who
seldom urged his will uncomfortably against my own. But in this case I
could not compromise with him, and half reluctantly I yielded. I had no
sooner done so than an urgent message to the same effect reached me
from my friend the surgeon.
Go with the current to-day, he wrote; it sets strongly. Question
it not. Resist it not. Follow and be swept.
Immediately upon this some neighbours came hurriedly in, and spoke
with me of the same matter eagerly. They pleaded with me on no account
to miss the event of the day, upon whose specific nature they were
somewhat reticent. They evinced the warmest possible interest in my
personal relation to it; as people do who possess a happy secret that
they wish, but may not feel at liberty, fully to share with another.
They were excited, and overflowed with happiness. Their very
presence raised my spirits. I could not remember when I had received
precisely this sort of attention from my neighbours; and it was,
somehow, a comfort to me. I should not have supposed that I should
value being made of consequence in this trifling way; yet it warmed my
heart. I felt less desolate than usual, when I took the hand of my
happy boy, and set forth.
The whole vicinity was aroused. Everybody moved in one direction,
like a current, as my friend had said. Shining, solemn, and joyous
faces filled the streets and fields. The voices of the people were
subdued and sweet. There was no laughter, only smiles, and gentle
expectation, and low consulting together, and some there were who mused
apart. The sick of soul were present with the happier folk: these
first had a wistful look, as of those not certain of themselves or of
their welcome; but I saw that they were tenderly regarded by the more
fortunate. I myself was most gently treated; many persons spoke with
me, and I heard expressions of pleasure at my presence. In the crowd,
as we moved on, I began to recognize here and there a face;
acquaintances, whom I had known in the lower life, became visible to
me. Now and then, some one, hastening by, said:
Why, Doctor! and then I would perceive some old patients; the look
which only loving patients wear was on their faces, the old impulse of
trust and gratitude; they would grasp me heartily by the hand; this
touched me; I began to feel a stir of sympathy with the general
excitement; I was glad that I had joined the people.
I pressed the hand of my little boy, who was running and leaping at
my side. He looked confidingly up into my face, and asked me questions
about the day's event; but these I could not answer.
God knows, my child, I said. Your father is not a learned man.
As we swept on, the crowd thickened visibly. The current from the
city met streams from the fields, the hills, the forests; all the
distance overflowed; the concourse began to become imposing. Here and
there I observed still other faces that were not strange to me; flashes
of recognition passed between us; some also of my own kin, dead years
ago, I saw, far off, and I felt drawn to them. In the distance, not
near enough to speak with her, shining and smiling, I thought that I
perceived Mrs. Faith, once more. My boy threw kisses to her and laughed
merrily; he was electric with the universal joy; he seemed to dance
upon the air like a tuft of thistledown; to be light-hearted was to
be light-bodied; the little fellow's frame seemed to exist only as the
expression of his soul. I thought:
If he is properly educated in this place, what a spirit he will
make! I was amazed to see his capacity for happiness. I thought of his
mother. I wished to be happy, too.
Now, as we moved on toward the plain, the sound of low chanting
began to swell from the crowd. The strain gained in distinctness; power
gathered on it; passion grew in it; prayer ascended from it. I could
not help being moved by this billow of sweet sound. The forms and faces
of the people melted together before my eyes; their outlines seemed to
quiver in the flood of song; it was as if their manifold personalities
blurred in the unity of their feeling; they seemed to me, as I regarded
them, like the presence of one great, glad, loving human soul. This was
their supplication. Thus arose the heavenly song:
Thou that takest away
The sins of the world!
Shall have life.
Whosoever believeth on Thee
Shall have eternal life.
Thou that takest away
The sins of the world!
And givestand givest
I cannot sing that pretty song, said my boy sadly. There is
nobody to teach me. Father, I wish you were a learned man!
Now, this smote me to the heart, so that I would even have lifted my
voice and sought to join the chant, for the child's sake, and to
comfort him; but when I would have done so, behold, I could not lift my
soul; it resisted me like a weight too heavy for my lips; for, in this
land, song never rises higher than the level of the soul; there are
fine laws governing this fact whose nature I may not explain, and could
not at that time even understand, but of the fact itself I testify.
Alas, alas, my son! I said, would God I were!
Now suddenly, while I was conversing with my child, I perceived a
stir among the people, as if they moved to greet some person who was
advancing toward them. I looked in the direction whither all eyes were
turned; but I saw nothing to account for the excitement. While I stood
gazing and wondering, at one movement, as if it were by one heart-heat,
the great throng bowed their heads. Some object, some Presence of which
I could not catch a glimpse, had entered among them. Whispers ran from
lip to lip. I heard men say that He was here, that He was there, that
He was yonder, that He had passed them, that He touched them.
He blesseth me! they murmured.
And me! And me!
Oh, even me!
I heard low cries of delight and sobs of moving tenderness. I heard
strange, wistful words from the disabled of soul who were among
us,pleadings for I knew not what, offered to I knew not whom. I heard
words of sorrow and words of utter love, and I saw signs of shame, and
looks of rapture, and attitudes of peace and eager hope. I saw men
kneeling in reverence. I saw them prostrate in petition. I saw them as
if they were clinging affectionately to hands that they kissed and wept
upon. I saw them bowed as one bows before the act of benediction.
These things I perceived, but alas, I could perceive no more. What
went I out, with the heavenly, happy people, for to see?
Naught, God help me, worse than naught; for mine eyes were holden.
Dark amid that spiritual vision, I stood stricken. Alone in all that
blessedness, was I bereft?
Whom, for very rapture, did they melt to welcome? Whom greeted they,
with that great wave of love, so annihilating to their consciousness of
themselves that I knew when I beheld it, I had never seen the face of
Among them all, I stood aloneblind, blind. Them I saw, and their
blessedness, till I was filled with such a sacred envy of it that I
would have suffered some new misery to share it. But He who did move
among them thus royally and thus benignly, who passed from each man to
each man, like the highest longing and the dearest wish of his own
heart, who was to them one knew not whether the more of Master or of
chosen Friend,Him, alas, I saw not. To me He was denied. No spiritual
optic nerve in me announced His presence. I was blind,I was blind.
Overcome by this discovery, I did not notice that my boy had
loosened his hold upon my hand until his little fingers were quite
disengaged from my clasp; and then, turning to speak to him, I found
that he had slipped from me in the crowd. This was so great and the
absorption so universal that no one noticed the mishap; and grateful,
indeed, at that miserable moment, to be unobserved, I went in search of
Now, I did not find the child, though I sought long and patiently;
and when I was beginning to feel perplexed, and to wonder what chance
could have befallen him, I turned, and behold, while I had been
searching, the throng had dispersed.
Night was coming on All the citizens were strolling to their homes.
On street, and plain, and hill stirred the shadows of the departing
people. They passed quietly. Every voice was hushed. All the world was
as still as a heart is after prayer.
In the silent purple plain, only I was left alone. Moved by
solitude, which is the soul's sincerity, I yielded myself to strange
impulses, and turning to the spot, where He who was invisible had
passed or seemed to pass, I sought to find upon the ground and in the
dusk some chance imprint of His steps. To do this it was necessary for
me to stoop; and while I was bowed, searching for some least sign of
Him, in the dew and dark, I knew not what wave of shame and sorrow came
upon me, but I fell upon my knees. There was no creature to hear me,
and I spoke aloud, and said:
Thou departest from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord! ...
Lord, I said, that I may receive my sight!
I thought I had more to say than this, but when I had uttered these
words no more did follow them. They seemed to fill my soul and flood it
till it overflowed.
And when I had lifted up my eyes, the first sight which did meet
them was the face of my own child. I saw at once that he was quite safe
and happy. But I saw that he was not alone.
One towered above me, strange and dim, who held the little fellow in
His arms. When I cried out to Him, He smiled. And He did give the child
to me, and spoke with me.
The natural step to knowledge is through faith. Even human science
teaches as much as this. The faith of the scholar in the theoretic
value of his facts precedes his intelligent use of them. Invention
dreams before it does. Discovery believes before it finds. Creation
imagines before it achieves.
Spiritual intelligence, when it came at last, to me, came with
something of the jar of all abnormal processes. The wholesome movements
of trust I had omitted from my soul's economy. The function of faith
was a disused thing in me. Truth had to treat me as an undeveloped
In the depth of my consciousness, I knew that, come what might, I
had for ever lost the chance to be a symmetrical healthy human
creature, whose spiritual faculties are exercised like his brain or
muscle; who has lived upon the earth, and loved it, and gathered its
wealth and sweetness and love of living into his being, as visible food
whereby to create invisible stature; whose earthly experience has
carried him on, as Nature carries growthunconsciously, powerfully,
perfectly, into a diviner life. For ever it must remain with me that I
had missed the natural step.
If I say that the realization of knowledge was the first thing to
teach me the value of faith, I shall be understood by those who may
have read this narrative with any sort of sympathy to the present
point; and, for the rest, some wiser, better man than I must write.
I do not address those who follow these pages as I myself should
once have done. I do not hope to make myself intelligible to you, as I
would to God I could! Personal misery is intelligible, and the shock of
belated discovery. But the experience of another in matters of this
kind has not a scientific character.
No one can know better than I how my story will be dismissed as
something which is not a fact.
In the times to be, it is my belief that there shall yet arise a
soul, worthier of the sacred task than I to which shall be given the
perilous and precious commission of interpreter between the visible
life and the life invisible. On this soul high privilege will be
bestowed, and awful opportunity. Through it the deaf shall hear, the
dumb shall speak. The bereaved shall bless it, and the faint of heart
shall lean on it, and those who know not God shall listen to it, and
the power of God shall be upon it. But mine is not that soul.
Even as One who was above man did elect to experience the earthly
lot of man to save him; so one who is a man among men may yet be
permitted to use the heavenly lot in such wise as to comfort them. The
first mission called for superhuman power. The second may need only
I now enter upon a turn in my narrative, where my vehicle of
communication begins to fail me. Human language, as employed upon the
earth, has served me to some extent to express those phases of
celestial fact upon which I still looked with earth-blind eyes. With
spiritual vision comes the immediate need of a spiritual vocabulary.
Like most men of my temperament and training, I have been accustomed to
some caution in the use of words. I know not any, which would be
intelligible to the readers of this record, that can serve to express
my experiences onward from this point.
A man becomes terrestrialized as he grows older, said an
unbeliever of our day, once, to me.
It is at least true that the terrestrial intellect celestializes by
the hardest; and it remains obvious, as it was written, that the things
which are prepared may not enter into the heart of man.
This is only another way of saying that my life from the solemn hour
which I have recorded underwent revolutions too profound for me to
desire to utter them, and that most of my experiences were of a nature
which I lack the means to report. My story draws to a stop, as a cry of
anguish comes to a hush of peace. What word is there to say?
There is, indeed, one. With lips that tremble and praise God, I add
At a period not immediately following the event which I have
described, yet not so far beyond it that the time, as I recall it,
seemed wearisome to me, I received a summons to go upon an errand to a
distant place. It was the first time that I had been intrusted with any
business of a wider nature than the care of my own affairs or the
immediate offices of neighbourhood, and I was gratified thereby. I had,
indeed, longed to be counted worthy to perform some special service at
the will of Him who guided all our service, and had cherished in my
secret heart some project of praying that I might be elected to a
special task which had grown, from much musing, dear to me. I did most
deeply desire to become worthy to wear the seal of a commission to the
earth; but I had ceased to urge the selfish cry of my personal
heart-break. I did not pray now for the precious right to visit my own
home, nor weary the Will in which I had learned to confide with
passionate demands for my beloved. I may rather say that I had come
almost to feel that when I was worthy to see Helen I should be worthy
of life eternal; and that I had dropped my love and my longing and my
shame into the Hands of Infinite Love, and seen them close over these,
as over a trust.
The special matter to which I refer was this: I desired to be
permitted to visit human homes, and set myself, as well as I might, to
the effort of cultivating their kindliness. I longed to cherish the
sacred graces of human speech. I wished to emphasize the opportunity of
those who love each other. I groaned within me, till I might teach the
preciousness and the poignancy of words. It seemed to me that if
I might but set the whole force of a man's experience and a spirit's
power to make an irritable scene in loving homes held as degrading as a
blow, that I could say what no man ever said before, and do what no
spirit would ever do again.
If this be called an exaggerated view of a specific case, I can only
say that every human life learns one lesson perfectly, and is qualified
to teach that, and that alone, as no other can. This was mine.
When, therefore, I received the summons to which I have alluded, I
inferred that the wish of my heart had been heard, and I set forth
joyfully, expecting to be sent upon some service of the nature at which
I have hinted. My soul was full of it, and I made haste to depart,
putting no question in the way of my obedience. No information, indeed,
was granted to me beyond the fact that I should follow a certain course
until I came to its apparent end, and there await what should occur,
and act as my heart prompted. The vagueness of this command stirred my
curiosity a little, I confess; but that only added to the pleasure of
the undertaking. It would be difficult to say how much relief I found
in being occupied once again to some purpose, like a man. But it would
be impossible to tell the solemn happiness I had in being counted fit
humbly to fulfil the smallest trust placed in me by Him who was
revealed, at this late, last moment, after all, to me, unworthy.
I set forth alone. The child was left behind me with a neighbour,
for so I thought the way of wisdom in this matter. Following only the
general directions which I had received, I found myself soon within the
open country toward the region of the hills. As I advanced, the scenery
became familiar to me, and I was not slow to recognize the path as the
one which I myself had trodden on my first entrance to the city wherein
of recent days I had found my home. I stopped to consider this fact,
and to gather landmarks, gazing about me diligently and musing on my
unknown course; for the ways divided before me as foot-paths do in
fields, each looking like all and all like each. While I stood
uncertain, and sensitively anxious to make no mistake, I heard the hit!
hit! of light feet patting the grass behind me, and, turning, saw a
little fellow coming like the morning wind across the plain. His bright
hair blew straight before him, from his forehead. He ran sturdily. How
beautiful he was!
He did not call me nor show the slightest fear lest he should fail
to overtake me. Ha had already learned that love always overtakes the
beloved in that blessed land.
You forgot your little boy, he said reproachfully, and put his
hand quietly within mine and walked on beside me, and forgot that he
had been forgotten immediately, and looked upward at me radiantly.
Remembering the command to await what should occur, and do as my
heart prompted, I accepted this accident as part of a purpose wiser
than my own, and kissed the little fellow, and we travelled on
As we came into the hill country, our way grow wilder and more
desolate. The last of the stray travellers whom we chanced to meet was
now well behind us. In the wide spaces we were quite alone. Behind us,
dim and distant, shimmering like an opal in a haze of fair half-tints,
the city shone. On either side of us, the forest trees began to tread
solemnly, like a vast procession which no man could number, keeping
step to some inaudible march. Before us, the great crest of the
mountains towered dark as death against the upper sky. As we drew near,
the loneliness of these hills was to me as something of which I had
never conceived before. Earth did not hold their likeness, and my heart
had never held their meaning. I could almost have dreaded them, as we
came nearer to them; but the deviation of the paths had long since
ceased. In the desolate country which we were now crossing choice was
removed from conduct. There was but one course for me to take; I took
it unhesitatingly and without fear, which belongs wholly to the lower
As we advanced, the great mountain barrier rose high and higher
before us, till it seemed to shut out the very sky from our sight, and
to crush us apart from all the worldnay, from either world or any, I
could have thought, so desolate and so awful was the spot. But when we
had entered the shadow formed by the mighty range, and had accustomed
our eyes to it for a time, I perceived, not far ahead of me, but in
fact quite near and sudden to the view, a long, dark, sharp defile cut
far into the heart of the hills. The place had an unpleasant look, and
I stopped before it to regard it. It was so grim of aspect and so
assured of outline, like a trap for travellers which had hung there
from all eternity, that I liked it not, and would not that the child
should enter till I had first inspected it. Therefore, I bade him sit
and rest upon a bed of crimson mosses which grew at the feet of a great
rock, and to remain until he saw me turn to him again; and with many
cautions and the most minute directions for his obedience and his
comfort, I left him, and advanced alone.
My way had now grown quite or almost dark. The light of heaven and
earth alike seemed banished from the dreadful spot. As it narrowed, the
footing grew uncertain and slippery, and the air dense and damp. I had
to remind myself that I was now become a being for whom physical danger
had ceased for ever.
What a place, I thought, for one less fortunate!
As these words were in my mind, I lifted my eyes and looked, and saw
that I was not alone in the dark defile. A figure was coming toward me,
slight of build and delicate; yet it had a firm tread, and moved with
well-nigh the balance of a spirit over the rough and giddy way. As I
watched it, I saw that it was a woman. Uncertain for the moment what to
do, I remembered the command.
Await what shall occur, and do as thy heart prompteth. And
thereforefor my heart prompted me, as a man's must, to be of service
to the womanI hastened, and advanced, and midway of the place I met
It was now perfectly dark. I could not see her face.
When I would have spoken with her, and given her good cheer, I could
not find my voice. If she said aught to me, I could not hear her. But I
gathered her hands, and held her, and led her on, and shielded her, and
gave her such comfort as a man by strength and silence may give a woman
when she has need of him; and as I supported her and aided her, I
thought of my dear wife, and prayed God that there might be found some
soul of fire and snowsince to me it was deniedto do as much as this
for her in some hour of her unknown need.
But when I had led the woman out into the lighter space, and turned
to look upon her, lo, it was none other. It was she herself. It was my
wife. It was no man's beloved but my own....
So, then, crying,
And Forgive me, Helen! till the dark place rang with her dear
name, I bowed myself and sunk before her, and could not put forth my
hand to touch her, for I thought of how we parted, and it seemed my
heart would break.
But she said,
Why, my dear Love! Oh, my poor Love! Did you think I would remember
And I felt her sacred tears upon my face, and she crept to meoh,
not royally, not royally, like a wife who was wronged, but like the
sweetest woman in the world, who clung to me because she could not help
it, and would not if she could....
But when we turned our footsteps toward the light, and came out
together, hand in hand, there was our little boy, at play upon the bed
of crimson moss, and smiling like the face of joy eternal.
So his mother held out her arms, and the child ran into them. And
when we came to ourselves, we blessed Almighty God.
Perceiving that inquiry will be raised touching the means by which I
have been enabled to give this record to the living earth, I have this
reply to make:
That is my secret. Let it remain such.