A Marriage Below Zero/Chapter XIX
There is one malady dear to the heart of modern novel-writers. It is helpful, pleasantly dangerous, and yet to be vanquished. Of course I allude to brain fever. Once get your hero into some scrape from which there is no outlet, and you are forced to call upon brain-fever for help. He lies dangerously ill for weeks, months; makes, several delirious confessions; arises once more the ghost of his former self, and in the meantime, what? All difficulties have been smoothed away, and the eager interest of the unsuspecting reader has been relieved of its keen edge. Brain fever is a boon to the novel writer, and like all cheap boons it has been wofully abused.
Brain fever, however, is not nearly as frequent in real life as it is in novels. It is fiction's way out of a climax.
I have jotted down these thoughts because I remember they occurred to me during the days which followed the events described in the preceding chapter, when time hung heavily on my hands, and I could settle to nothing.
When we reached Tavistock Villa on that important night, Arthur retired to the rooms he had fitted up for himself, and I went silently to my own apartments. We attempted no explanations. We had no word to say. There was not even an uttered "good-night."
Next morning my husband sent for me, and I went at once to his room. He told me he had not slept all night, except for a few minutes at a time, when he had been awakened by alarming dreams. His face was flushed and his eyes moved constantly. It was easy to see that he was ill.
"Elsie," he said, "if people should call to-day, t-tell them that I—I am indisposed—th-that I cannot see them. You will do this?"
"No one shall disturb you," I promised. "We will have a doctor, presently, for I am afraid you are indeed indisposed."
"Do not send for a doctor," he said, excitedly, "I do not need one. I do not, indeed, Elsie, I assure you."
"You are mistaken," I said, coldly. "I insist upon sending for Dr. White. Perhaps you will allow me to have my own way for once."
He looked at me reproachfully. I felt guilty—as though I were hitting a man when he was down. Dr. White came. He said that Arthur must have been subjected to some long-continued mental anxiety, and that £e needed careful nursing. I was not to be unnecessarily alarmed if at times he had hallucinations, such as imagining himself surrounded by enemies, or suspecting that people were plotting to do him harm. His nervous system was run down.
"Your husband has not been living as quietly as he might have done, I infer, Mrs. Ravener?" Dr. White asked rather hesitatingly.
I crimsoned. How could I tell this man that my husband's pursuits were unknown to me? He noticed my confusion.
"Dr. White," I said at last, deliberately, resolved to tell as much as I could, "I see no use in concealment. A medical man must receive strange confidences. The truth is that I know little more about my husband's life than you do. All I can tell you is that during the last year he has spent most of his time out of the house."
"Exactly," with significance. "I thought as much," with sapient consideration; then, "Well, Mrs. Ravener, if you will take my advice, you V will forgive everything, and make no allusion whatever to the past. What your husband needs is complete rest and change, and a few months' devotion to him on your part will restore him to you. My dear young lady, this is not an unusual case—"
I started up. "Not unusual?" I interrupted. Then I reflected that all he knew of the case, and all that I intended he should know, might not be unusual.
"Not unusual," he said. "Young men of fortune like your husband, marrying at an early age, cannot break suddenly from old associations, from bachelor friends, from—ah! how do I know? That is why I always say to friends who I hear are about to wed: 'Reflect well, my boy. A wife is exacting. She will call you to account for yourself. All your gay doings must be renounced. A woman gives herself up to you. You must reciprocate.' You love your husband?" he asked, suddenly jerking his voice from an anecdotal crooning to a professional tone.
"Yes," I said in a low voice.
"Then, Mrs. Ravener, it is a case of plain sailing. Try to forget your injuries. Leave this country as soon as you conveniently can, and take your husband with you. What would you think of a trip across the Atlantic to America? It would be the making of you both. If," stammering, "as. y-you suspect, and—as—I—suspect, Mr. Ravener—er—has—er—ties—er—here, which he should not have—er—what better means of breaking them could you possibly discover?"
He was right, the scheme was an excellent one. All this time I had been giving way to my indignant anger at my husband's cruel treatment, but I had never thought of attempting to remove him from temptation. Here was I planning separation, divorce and other scandalously revengeful proceedings, when, in reality, perhaps all my husband wanted was a change. He was weak, and he was under the influence of a man with an iron will, I felt sure. Perhaps I might be a little too submissive, but Arthur was my husband and I loved him.
"Dr. White," I said, rising and taking the old man's hand, "I—I thank you, your suggestion is a kind one—so kind and good that—that—it would not have occurred to me."
I buried my face in my hands. Yes, I was too vindictive. Even this morning, when I had seen Arthur feverish and oppressed, I could not forget the past few months. I thought only of my own wrongs. Who knew but that Arthur was as much sinned against as sinning? In this world too much charity is impossible.
"Mrs. Ravener," said Dr. White, pretending not to see my tears, "I have left a prescription on the little table in your husband's room. See that it is made up. I will look in again. You have nothing to be alarmed about. Your husband will recover, and—my dear—I hope that you will both, like the good people in the fairy tales, live happily ever after. Now, now—no tears," he said, placing his hand on my bowed head. "Be as cheerful as you possibly can. I always say that my prescriptions should be diluted with cheerfulness. Ah! it is a wonderful thing."
While he was talking, I rose and dried my eyes. By the time he had finished, I could smile at him. He was satisfied and left me. As he went from the room, James entered with a card. "The gentleman is waiting," he said, with a quick look in my face.
The card was that of Captain Dillington. I tore it up savagely, forgetful of the servant's presence, and flung the pieces into the empty fireplace.
"Tell Captain Dillington," I said, "that Mr. Ravener is ill this morning and cannot be seen. If he calls again, tell him the same thing. James," approaching him, "do me a favor—it will indeed be a great one. Never permit Captain Dillington to set his foot within this house again. You will do this?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said, pleased at being asked to confer a favor, "I will. The Captain tried to brush past me this morning, but I heard the master tell you not to let people see him. I was in the room at the time, you know. So I just pushed the Captain back. He gives me a terrible look, but looks don't hurt any one. 'I'll take your card,' says I, and when he sees that I mean it he hands me one."
"You have done well," I said.
I was determined that Captain Dillington should see Arthur no more. Exactly what was the understanding between them, I did not know, but that the elder man was partly accountable for the delinquencies of the younger, I was perfectly I persuaded. At any rate I would be on the safe side. I would refuse Captain Dillington admittance every time he applied for it, without consulting Arthur.
During the next few days I was constantly in my husband's room. As Dr. White led me to expect, he had hallucinations. He seemed to fancy that some one was pursuing him, but it was impossible to shape his incoherent utterances into any intelligible form. They lasted but for a short time, and left him weak, but entirely rational.
"Arthur," I said on one of these occasions, "I have a proposition to make to you. We have never taken any journey together"—I was going to refer to the lacking honeymoon, but determined to avoid any allusion to the past—"and I should like to go away very much. Suppose we were to take a trip to America?" I watched his face. His eyes fell. He turned away his head.
"It is very far," he said vaguely.
"Yes," I assented cheerfully, "that is why I am so anxious to take the trip. I think a little sail on the herring-pond would do us good," I continued, with an abortive attempt to be funny, "Dr. White said you needed a change."
"When would you want to go?" he asked uneasily.
"Any time, dear" I said. Then, as if the idea had come to me suddenly, "I think it would be best to start at once. Suppose that as soon as you are able to go out, your first ride be to Liverpool?"
He was embarrassed. "I will think it over," he said weakly. He never alluded to my threats of divorce. He seemed to have forgotten all about them. Since he had been ill, I had been kind, and as much like my former self as I possibly could.
Two days passed. Arthur's health was improving rapidly. We could start now at any time he chose to name, but he seemed in no hurry to refer to our American trip.
On the third day, when I tried to enter Arthur's room, I found the door looked. I was alarmed and knocked until my knuckles complained very painfully. I stopped suddenly, arrested by a noise I heard in the room. It could only have been the opening or shutting of the window, but it sounded strangely to me. I knocked again. Arthur hastened to the door and opened it. His face was red, and he seemed agitated. I looked at him in surprise.
"Why did you lock the door?" I asked, not! sharply but curiously.
I "Why not?" he said with a nervous laugh, "is there any law against it, Elsie?"
"None that I know of," I said, still rather uneasy in my mind. "Were you out in the garden, Arthur?"
"I thought I heard the window open?"
"My dear Elsie," he said, "why should I go into the garden by the window? You forget I am not strong enough yet to jump. If I wanted a walk, I should suggest an airing in a proper way." Arthur's manner was by no means reassuring.
"Then the window was not open?" I asked carelessly.
He hesitated a moment. "No," he replied, "it was not."
The matter was certainly not worth pursuing any further, I could have sworn that I had heard the window shut, but then perhaps my imagination, stimulated by a locked door, may have led me into error.
That night Arthur informed me he would accompany me to America any time I chose. I was delighted, and thought of nothing but the probable success of our journey away from scenes fraught with so many painful associations.