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   Chapter 11 THEREAFTER.

The Man-Made World; Or, Our Androcentric Culture By Charlotte Perkins Gilman Characters: 27077

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


If I do right, though heavens fall,

And end all light and laughter;

Though black the night and ages long,

Bitter the cold-the tempest strong-

If I do right, and brave it all-

The sun shall rise thereafter!

The inaccessibility of Dr. Hale gave him, in the eye of Mrs. St. Cloud, all the attractiveness of an unscaled peak to the true mountain climber. Here was a man, an unattached man, living next door to her, whom she had not even seen. Her pursuance of what Mr. Skee announced to his friends to be "one of these Platonic Friendships," did not falter; neither did her interest in other relations less philosophic. Mr. Dykeman's precipitate descent from the class of eligibles was more of a disappointment to her than she would admit even to herself; his firm, kind friendliness had given a sense of comfort, of achieved content that her restless spirit missed.

But Dr. Hale, if he had been before inaccessible, had now become so heavily fortified, so empanoplied in armor offensive and defensive, that even Mrs. Pettigrew found it difficult to obtain speech with him.

That his best friend, so long supporting him in cheerful bachelorhood, should have thus late laid down his arms, was bitterly resented. That Mr. Skee, free lance of years standing, and risen victor from several "stricken fields," should show signs of capitulation, annoyed him further. Whether these feelings derived their intensity from another, which he entirely refused to acknowledge, is matter for the psychologist, and Dr. Hale avoided all psychologic self-examination.

With the boys he was always a hero. They admired his quiet strength and the unbroken good nature that was always presented to those about him, whatever his inner feelings.

Mr. Peters burst forth to the others one day, in tones of impassioned admiration.

"By George, fellows," he said, "you know how nice Doc was last night?"

"Never saw him when he wasn't," said Archie.

"Don't interrupt Mr. Peters," drawled Percy. "He's on the brink of a scientific discovery. Strange how these secrets of nature can lie unrevealed about us so long-and then suddenly burst upon our ken!"

Mr. Peters grinned affably. "That's all right, but I maintain my assertion; whatever the general attraction of our noble host, you'll admit that on the special occasion of yesterday evening, which we celebrated to a late hour by innocent games of cards-he was-as usual-the soul of-of--"

"Affability?" suggested Percy.

"Precisely!" Peters admitted. "If there is a well-chosen word which perfectly describes the manner of Dr. Richard Hale-it is affable! Thank you, sir, thank you. Well, what I wish to announce, so that you can all of you get down on your knees at once and worship, is that all last evening he-had a toothache-a bad toothache!"

"My word!" said Archie, and remained silent.

"Oh, come now," Percy protested, "that's against nature. Have a toothache and not mention it? Not even mention it-without exaggeration! Why Archimedes couldn't do that! Or-Sandalphon-or any of them!"

"How'd you learn the facts, my son? Tell us that."

"Heard him on the 'phone making an appointment. 'Yes;' 'since noon yesterday,' 'yes, pretty severe.' '11:30? You can't make it earlier? All right.' I'm just mentioning it to convince you fellows that you don't appreciate your opportunities. There was some exceptional Female once-they said 'to know her was a liberal education.' What would you call it to live with Dr. Hale?"

And they called it every fine thing they could think of; for these boys knew better than anyone else, the effect of that association.

His patients knew him as wise, gentle, efficient, bringing a sense of hope and assurance by the mere touch of that strong hand; his professional associates in the town knew him as a good practitioner and friend, and wider medical circles, readers of his articles in the professional press had an even higher opinion of his powers.

Yet none of these knew Richard Hale. None saw him sitting late in his office, the pages of his book unturned, his eyes on the red spaces of the fire. No one was with him on those night tramps that left but an hour or two of sleep to the long night, and made that sleep irresistible from self-enforced fatigue. He had left the associations of his youth and deliberately selected this far-off mountain town to build the life he chose; and if he found it unsatisfying no one was the wiser.

His successive relays of boys, young fellows fresh from the East, coming from year to year and going from year to year as business called them, could and did give good testimony as to the home side of his character, however. It was not in nature that they should speculate about him. As they fell in love and out again with the facility of so many Romeos, they discoursed among themselves as to his misogyny.

"He certainly has a grouch on women," they would admit. "That's the one thing you can't talk to him about-shuts up like a clam. Of course, he'll let you talk about your own feelings and experiences, but you might as well talk to the side of a hill. I wonder what did happen to him?"

They made no inquiry, however. It was reported that a minister's wife, a person of determined character, had had the courage of her inquisitiveness, and asked him once, "Why is it that you have never married, Dr. Hale?" And that he had replied, "It is owing to my dislike of the meddlesomeness of women." He lived his own life, unquestioned, now more markedly withdrawn than ever, coming no more to The Cottonwoods.

Even when Morton Elder left, suddenly and without warning, to the great grief of his aunt and astonishment of his sister, their medical neighbor still "sulked in his tent"-or at least in his office.

Morton's departure had but one explanation; it must be that Vivian had refused him, and she did not deny it.

"But why, Vivian, why? He has improved so-it was just getting lovely to see how nice he was getting. And we all thought you were so happy." Thus the perplexed Susie. And Vivian found herself utterly unable to explain to that happy little heart, on the brink of marriage, why she had refused her brother.

Miss Orella was even harder to satisfy. "It's not as if you were a foolish changeable young girl, my dear. And you've known Morton all your life-he was no stranger to you. It breaks my heart, Vivian. Can't you reconsider?"

The girl shook her head.

"I'm awfully sorry, Miss Orella. Please believe that I did it for the best-and that it was very hard for me, too."

"But, Vivian! What can be the reason? I don't think you understand what a beautiful influence you have on the boy. He has improved so, since he has been here. And he was going to get a position here in town-he told me so himself-and really settle down. And now he's gone. Just off and away, as he used to be-and I never shall feel easy about him again."

Miss Orella was frankly crying; and it wrung the girl's heart to know the pain she was causing; not only to Morton, and to herself, but to these others.

Susie criticised her with frankness.

"I know you think you are right, Vivian, you always do-you and that conscience of yours. But I really think you had gone too far to draw back, Jimmie saw him that night he went away-and he said he looked awfully. And he really was changed so-beginning to be so thoroughly nice. Whatever was the matter? I think you ought to tell me, Vivian, I'm his sister, and-being engaged and all-perhaps I could straighten it out."

And she was as nearly angry as her sunny nature allowed, when her friend refused to give any reason, beyond that she thought it right.

Her aunt did not criticise, but pleaded. "It's not too late, I'm sure, Vivian. A word from you would bring him back in a moment. Do speak it, Vivian-do! Put your pride in your pocket, child, and don't lose a lifetime's happiness for some foolish quarrel."

Miss Orella, like Susie, was at present sure that marriage must mean a lifetime's happiness. And Vivian looked miserably from one to the other of these loving women-folk, and could not defend herself with the truth.

Mrs. Pettigrew took up the cudgels for her. She was not going to have her favorite grandchild thus condemned and keep silence. "Anybody'd think Vivian had married the man and then run away with another one!" she said tartly. "Pity if a girl can't change her mind before marrying-she's held down pretty close afterward. An engagement isn't a wedding, Orella Elder."

"But you don't consider the poor boy's feelings in the least, Mrs. Pettigrew."

"No, I don't," snapped the old lady. "I consider the poor girl's. I'm willing to bet as much as you will that his feelings aren't any worse than hers. If he'd changed his mind and run off and left her, I warrant you two wouldn't have been so hard on him."

Evading this issue, Miss Orella wiped her eyes, and said: "Heaven knows where he is now. And I'm afraid he won't write-he never did write much, and now he's just heartbroken. I don't know as I'd have seen him at all if I hadn't been awake and heard him rushing downstairs. You've no idea how he suffers."

"I don't see as the girl's to blame that he hadn't decency enough to say good-bye to the aunt that's been a mother to him; or to write to her, as he ought to. A person don't need to forget all their duty because they've got the mitten."

Vivian shrank away from them all. Her heart ached intolerably. She had not realized how large a part in her life this constant admiration and attention had become. She missed the outward agreeableness, and the soft tide of affection, which had risen more and more warmly about her. From her earliest memories she had wished for affection-affection deep and continuous, tender and with full expression. She had been too reserved to show her feeling, too proud by far to express it, but under that delicate reticence of hers lay always that deep longing to love and to be loved wholly.

Susie had been a comfort always, in her kittenish affection and caressing ways, but Susie was doubly lost, both in her new absorption and now in this estrangement.

Then, to bring pain to Miss Orella, who had been so kind and sweet to her from earliest childhood, to hurt her so deeply, now, to mingle in her cup of happiness this grief and anxiety, made the girl suffer keenly. Jimmie, of course, was able to comfort Susie. He told her it was no killing matter anyhow, and that Morton would inevitably console himself elsewhere. "He'll never wear the willow for any girl, my dear. Don't you worry about him."

Also, Mr. Dykeman comforted Miss Orella, not only with wise words, but with his tender sympathy and hopefulness. But no one could comfort Vivian.

Even Dr. Bellair seemed to her present sensitiveness an alien, cruel power. She had come like the angel with the flaming sword to stand between her and what, now that it was gone, began to look like Paradise.

She quite forgot that she had always shrunk from Morton when he made love too warmly, that she had been far from wholly pleased with him when he made his appearance there, that their engagement, so far as they had one, was tentative-"sometime, when I am good enough" not having arrived. The unreasoning voice of the woman's nature within her had answered, though but partially, to the deep call of the man's; and now she missed more than she would admit to herself the tenderness that was gone.

She had her intervals of sharp withdrawal from the memory of that tenderness, of deep thanksgiving for her escape; but fear of a danger only prophesied, does not obliterate memory of joys experienced.

Her grandmother watched her carefully, saying little. She forced no confidence, made no comment, was not obtrusively affectionate, but formed a definite decision and conveyed it clearly to Dr. Bellair.

"Look here, Jane Bellair, you've upset Vivian's dish, and quite right; it's a good thing you did, and I don't know as you could have done it easier."

"I couldn't have done it harder-that I know of," the doctor answered. "I'd sooner operate on a baby-without an an?sthetic-than tell a thing like that-to a girl like that. But it had to be done; and nobody else would."

"You did perfectly right. I'm thankful enough, I promise you; if you hadn't I should have had to-and goodness knows what a mess I'd have made. But look here, the girl's going all to pieces. Now we've got to do something for her, and do it quick."

"I know that well enough," answered her friend, "and I set about it even before I made the incision. You've seen that little building going up on the corner of High and Stone Streets?"

"That pretty little thing with the grass and flowers round it?"

"Yes-they got the flowers growing while the decorators finished inside. It's a first-rate little kindergarten. I've got a list of scholars all arranged for, and am going to pop the girl into it so fast she can't refuse. Not that I think she will."

"Who did it?" demanded Mrs. Pettigrew. "That man Skee?"

"Mr. Skee has had something to do with it," replied the doctor, guardedly; "but he doesn't want his name mentioned."

"Huh!" said Mrs. Pettigrew.

Vivian made no objection, though she was too listless to take up work with enthusiasm.

As a prescription nothing could have worked better. Enough small pupils were collected to pay the rent of the pretty place, and leave a modest income for her.

Dr. Bellair gathered together the mothers and aunts for a ser

ies of afternoon talks in the convenient building, Vivian assisting, and roused much interest among them. The loving touch of little hands, the pleasure of seeing the gay contentment of her well-ordered charges, began to lighten the girl's heart at last. They grew so fond of her that the mothers were jealous, but she played with and taught them so wisely, and the youngsters were so much improved by it, that no parent withdrew her darling.

Further than that, the new interest, the necessary reading and study, above all the study hours of occupation acted most beneficently, slowly, but surely steadying the nerves and comforting the heart.

There is a telling Oriental phrase describing sorrow: "And the whole world became strait unto him." The sense of final closing down of life, of a dull, long, narrow path between her and the grave, which had so oppressed the girl's spirit, now changed rapidly. Here was room to love at least, and she radiated a happy and unselfish affection among the little ones. Here was love in return, very sweet and honest, if shallow. Here was work; something to do, something to think about; both in her hours with the children and those spent in study. Her work took her out of the house, too; away from Susie and her aunt, with their happy chatter and endless white needlework, and the gleeful examination of presents.

Never before had she known the blessed relief of another place to go to.

When she left The Cottonwoods, as early as possible, and placed her key in the door of the little gray house sitting among the roses, she felt a distinct lightening of the heart. This was hers. Not her father's, not Miss Elder's; not anybody's but hers-as long as she could earn the rent.

She paid her board, too, in spite of deep and pained remonstrance, forcing Miss Elder to accept it by the ultimatum "would you rather make me go away and board somewhere else?" She could not accept favors where she was condemned.

This, too, gave her a feeling hitherto inexperienced, deep and inspiring. She began to hold her graceful head insensibly higher, to walk with a freer step. Life was not ended after all, though Love had gone. She might not be happy, but she might be useful and independent.

Then Dr. Bellair, who had by quiet friendliness and wise waiting, regained much of her former place with the girl, asked her to undertake, as a special favor to her, the care of a class of rather delicate children and young girls, in physical culture.

"Of course, Johanna Johnson is perfectly reliable and an excellent teacher. I don't know a better; but their mothers will feel easier if there's someone they know on the spot. You keep order and see that they don't overdo. You'll have to go through their little exercises with them, you see. I can't pay you anything for it; but it's only part of two afternoons in the week-and it won't hurt you at any rate."

Vivian was more than glad to do something for the doctor, as well as to extend her friendship among older children; also glad of anything to further fill her time. To be alone and idle was to think and suffer.

Mrs. Pettigrew came in with Dr. Bellair one afternoon to watch the exercises.

"I don't see but what Vivian does the tricks as well as any of them," said her grandmother.

"She does beautifully," the doctor answered. "And her influence with the children is just what they needed. You see there's no romping and foolishness, and she sets the pace-starts them off when they're shy. I'm extremely obliged to her."

Mrs. Pettigrew watched Vivian's rhythmic movements, her erect carriage and swinging step, her warm color and sparkling eyes, as she led the line of happy youngsters and then turned upon the doctor.

"Huh!" she said.

At Susie's wedding, her childhood's friend was so far forgiven as to be chief bridesmaid, but seeing the happiness before her opened again the gates of her own pain.

When it was all over, and the glad young things were safely despatched upon their ribboned way, when all the guests had gone, when Mrs. St. Cloud felt the need of air and with the ever-gallant Mr. Skee set forth in search of it, when Dr. Bellair had returned to her patients, and Miss Orella to her own parlor, and was there consoled by Mr. Dykeman for the loss of her niece, then Vivian went to her room-all hers now, looking strangely large and empty-and set down among the drifts of white tissue paper and scattered pins-alone.

She sank down on the bed, weary and sad at heart, for an hour of full surrender long refused; meaning for once to let her grief have its full way with her. But, just as on the night of her hurried engagement she had been unable to taste to the full the happiness expected, so now, surrender as she might, she could not feel the intensity of expected pain.

She was lonely, unquestionably. She faced a lonely life. Six long, heavy months had passed since she had made her decision.

"I am nearly twenty-seven now," she thought, resignedly. "I shall never marry," and she felt a little shiver of the horror of last year.

But, having got this far in melancholy contemplation, her mind refused to dwell upon it, but filled in spite of her with visions of merry little ones, prancing in wavering circles, and singing their more wavering songs. She was lonely and a single woman-but she had something to do; and far more power to do it, more interest, enthusiasm, and skill, than at the season's beginning.

She thought of Morton-of what little they had heard since his hurried departure. He had gone farther West; they had heard of him in San Francisco, they had heard of him, after some months, in the Klondike region, then they had heard no more. He did not write. It seemed hard to so deeply hurt his aunt for what was no fault of hers; but Morton had never considered her feelings very deeply, his bitter anger, his hopelessness, his desperate disappointment, blinding him to any pain but his own.

But her thoughts of him failed to rouse any keen distinctive sorrow. They rambled backward and forward, from the boy who had been such a trouble to his aunt, such a continuous disappointment and mortification; to the man whose wooing, looked back upon at this distance, seemed far less attractive to the memory than it had been at the time. Even his honest attempt at improvement gave her but a feeling of pity, and though pity is akin to love it is not always a near relation.

From her unresisting descent into wells of pain, which proved unexpectedly shallow, the girl arose presently and quietly set to work arranging the room in its new capacity as hers only.

From black and bitter agony to the gray tastelessness of her present life was not an exciting change, but Vivian had more power in quiet endurance than in immediate resistance, and set herself now in earnest to fulfill the tasks before her.

This was March. She was planning an extension of her classes, the employment of an assistant. Her work was appreciated, her school increased. Patiently and steadily she faced her task, and found a growing comfort in it. When summer came, Dr. Bellair again begged her to help out in the plan of a girls' camp she was developing.

This was new work for Vivian, but her season in Mrs. Johnson's gymnastic class had given her a fresh interest in her own body and the use of it. That stalwart instructress, a large-boned, calm-eyed Swedish woman, was to be the manager of the camp, and Vivian this time, with a small salary attached, was to act as assistant.

"It's a wonderful thing the way people take to these camps," said Dr. Bellair. "They are springing up everywhere. Magnificent for children and young people."

"It is a wonderful thing to me," observed Mrs. Pettigrew. "You go to a wild place that costs no rent; you run a summer hotel without any accommodations; you get a lot of parents to pay handsomely for letting their children be uncomfortable-and there you are."

"They are not uncomfortable!" protested her friend, a little ruffled. "They like it. And besides liking it, it's good for them. It's precisely the roughing it that does them good."

It did do them good; the group of young women and girls who went to the high-lying mountain lake where Dr. Bellair had bought a piece of wild, rough country for her own future use, and none of them profited by it more than Vivian.

She had been, from time to time, to decorous "shore places," where one could do nothing but swim and lie on the sand; or to the "mountains," those trim, green, modest, pretty-picture mountains, of which New England is so proud; but she had never before been in an untouched wilderness.

Often in the earliest dawn she would rise from the springy, odorous bed of balsam boughs and slip out alone for her morning swim. A run through the pines to a little rocky cape, with a small cave she knew, and to glide, naked, into that glass-smooth water, warmer than the sunless air, and swim out softly, silently, making hardly a ripple, turn on her back and lie there-alone with the sky-this brought peace to her heart. She felt so free from every tie to earth, so like a soul in space, floating there with the clean, dark water beneath her, and the clear, bright heaven above her; and when the pale glow in the east brightened to saffron, warmed to rose, burst into a level blaze of gold, the lake laughed in the light, and Vivian laughed, too, in pure joy of being alive and out in all that glittering beauty.

She tramped the hills with the girls; picked heaping pails of wild berries, learned to cook in primitive fashion, slept as she had never slept in her life, from dark to dawn, grew brown and hungry and cheerful.

After all, twenty-seven was not an old age.

She came back at the summer-end, and Dr. Bellair clapped her warmly on the shoulder, declaring, "I'm proud of you, Vivian! Simply proud of you!"

Her grandmother, after a judicious embrace, held her at arm's length and examined her critically.

"I don't see but what you've stood it first rate," she admitted. "And if you like that color-why, you certainly are looking well."

She was well, and began her second year of teaching with a serene spirit.

In all this time of slow rebuilding Vivian would not have been left comfortless if masculine admiration could have pleased her. The young men at The Cottonwoods, now undistracted by Susie's gay presence, concentrated much devotion upon Vivian, as did also the youths across the way. She turned from them all, gently, but with absolute decision.

Among her most faithful devotees was young Percy Watson, who loved her almost as much as he loved Dr. Hale, and could never understand, in his guileless, boyish heart, why neither of them would talk about the other.

They did not forbid his talking, however, and the earnest youth, sitting in the quiet parlor at The Cottonwoods, would free his heart to Vivian about how the doctor worked too hard-sat up all hours to study-didn't give himself any rest-nor any fun.

"He'll break down some time-I tell him so. It's not natural for any man to work that way, and I don't see any real need of it. He says he's working on a book-some big medical book, I suppose; but what's the hurry? I wish you'd have him over here oftener, and make him amuse himself a little, Miss Vivian."

"Dr. Hale is quite welcome to come at any time-he knows that," said she.

Again the candid Percy, sitting on the doctor's shadowy piazza, poured out his devoted admiration for her to his silent host.

"She's the finest woman I ever knew!" the boy would say. "She's so beautiful and so clever, and so pleasant to everybody. She's square-like a man. And she's kind-like a woman, only kinder; a sort of motherliness about her. I don't see how she ever lived so long without being married. I'd marry her in a minute if I was good enough-and if she'd have me."

Dr. Hale tousled the ears of Balzac, the big, brown dog whose head was so often on his knee, and said nothing. He had not seen the girl since that night by the arbor.

Later in the season he learned, perforce, to know her better, and to admire her more.

Susie's baby came with the new year, and brought danger and anxiety. They hardly hoped to save the life of the child. The little mother was long unable to leave her bed. Since her aunt was not there, but gone, as Mrs. Dykeman, on an extended tour-"part business and part honeymoon," her husband told her-and since Mrs. Pettigrew now ruled alone at The Cottonwoods, with every evidence of ability and enjoyment, Vivian promptly installed herself in the Saunders home, as general housekeeper and nurse.

She was glad then of her strength, and used it royally, comforting the wretched Jim, keeping up Susie's spirits, and mothering the frail tiny baby with exquisite devotion.

Day after day the doctor saw her, sweet and strong and patient, leaving her school to the assistant, regardless of losses, showing the virtues he admired most in women.

He made his calls as short as possible; but even so, Vivian could not but note how his sternness gave way to brusque good cheer for the sick mother, and to a lovely gentleness with the child.

When that siege was over and the girl returned to her own work, she carried pleasant pictures in her mind, and began to wonder, as had so many others, why this man, who seemed so fitted to enjoy a family, had none.

She missed his daily call, and wondered further why he avoided them more assiduously than at first.

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