TO make a long story short, this sort of thing went on, at longer or shorter intervals, through all that winter and summer and winter again. My husband, in the simplicity of his nature, could see nothing but—
“The child is out of sorts; we must take her abroad for a month or two; she wants change of air and scene.”
The children were quicker-eyed; children are always quick to resent unevenness of temper in those about them. A single angry outbreak, harsh word, and you may lay yourself out to please them
for months before they will believe in you again. George was the first to let the cat out of the bag.
“Dorothy is in a sulky fit again, mother; I wish she wouldn’t!”
Elsie, who has her father’s quick temper, was in the room.
“You naughty, ungrateful little boy, you! How can you say such a thing of Dorothy? Didn’t she sit all yesterday morning making sails for your boat?
“Yes, said George, a little mollified; “but why need she be sulky to-day? We all liked her yesterday, and I’m sure I want to, to-day!”
Now that the mask was fallen and even the children could see what was amiss, I felt that the task before me must not be put off. I had had great misgivings since the first exhibition of Dorothy’s sullen temper; now I saw what must be done, and braced myself for a heavy task. But I could not act alone; I must take my husband into my confidence, and that was the worst of it.
“George, how do you account for Dorothy’s fits of wretchedness?”
“Why, my dear, haven’t I told you? The child is out of sorts, and must have change. We’ll have a little trip up the Rhine, and perhaps into Switzerland, as soon as the weather is fit. It will be worth something to see her face light up at some things I mean to show her!”
“I doubt if there is anything the matter with her health; remember how perfectly well and happy she is between these fits of depression.”
“What is it, then? You don’t think she’s in love, do you?”
“Not a bit of it; her heart is untouched, and her dearest loves are home loves.”
My husband blew his nose, with a “Bless the little girl! I could find it in my heart to wish it might always be so with her. But what is your notion? I can see you have got to the bottom of the little mystery. Trust you women for seeing through a stone wall!”
“Each attack of what we have called ‘poorliness’ has been a fit of sullenness, lasting sometimes for days, sometimes for more than a week, and passing off as suddenly as it came.”
My dear husband’s face clouded with serious displeasure; never before had it worn such an expression for me. I had a sense of separation from him, as if we two, who had so long been one, were two once more.
“This is an extraordinary charge for a mother to bring against her child. How have you come to this conclusion?”
Already was my husband become my judge. He did not see that I was ill, agitated, still standing, and hardly able to keep my feet. And there was worse to come: how was I to go through with it?
“What causes for resentment can Dorothy conceivably have?” he repeated, in the same cold judicial tone.
“It is possible to feel resentment, it is possible to nurse resentment, to let it hang as a heavy cloud-curtain between you and all you love the best, without any adequate cause, without any cause, that you can see yourself when the fit is over!”
My voice sounded strange and distant in my own ears: I held by the back of a chair to steady myself,
but I was not fainting; I was acutely alive to all that was passing in my husband’s mind. He looked at me curiously, inquisitively, but not as if I belonged to him and were part and parcel of his life.
“You seem to be curiously familiar with a state of feeling which I should have judged to be the last a Christian lady would know anything about.”
“Oh, husband, don’t you see you are hurting me? I am not going through this anguish for nothing. I do know what it is. And if Dorothy, my poor child, suffers, it is all my fault! There is nothing bad in her but what she has got from me.”
George was moved; he put his arm round me in time to save me. But I was not surprised, a few days later, to find my first grey hairs. If that hour were to be repeated, I think I could not bear it.
“Poor wife! I see; it is to yourself you have been savagely cruel, and not to our little girl. Forgive me, dear, that I did not understand at once; but we men are slow and dull. I suppose you are putting yourself (and me too) to all this pain because there is something to be gained by it. You see some way out of the difficulty, if there is one!”
“Don’t say ‘if there is one.’ How could I go through this pain if I did not think some way of helping our daughter would come out of it?”
“Ah! appearances were against you, but I knew you loved the child all the time. Clumsy wretch that I am, how could I doubt it? But, to my mind, there are two difficulties: First, I cannot believe that you ever cherished a thought of resentment; and next, who could associate such a feeling with our child’s angelic countenance? Believe me, you are suffering under a morbid fancy; it is you, and not
Dorothy, who need entire change of scene and thought.”
How should I convince him? And how again run the risk of his even momentary aversion? But if Dorothy were to be saved, the thing must be done. And, oh, how could he for a moment suppose that I should deal unlovingly with my firstborn?
“Be patient with me, George. I want to tell you everything from the beginning. Do you remember when you wooed me in the shady paths of our old rectory garden, how I tried hard to show you that I was not the loved and lovely home-daughter you pictured? I told you how I was cross about this and that; how little things put me out for days, so that I was under a cloud, and really couldn’t speak to, or care about anybody; how, not I, but (forgive the word) my plain sister Esther, was the beloved child of the house, adored by the children, by my parents, by all the folk of the village, who must in one way or other have dealings with the parson’s daughters. Do you recollect any of this?”
“Yes; but what of it? I have never for a moment rued my choice, nor wished that it had fallen on our good Esther, kindest of friends to us and ours.”
“And you, dear heart, put all I said down to generosity and humility; every effort I made to show you the truth was put down to the count of some beautiful virtue, until at last I gave it up; you would only think the more of me, and think the less kindly of my dear home people, because, indeed, they didn’t ‘appreciate’ me. How I hated the word. I’m not sure I was sorry to give up the effort to show you myself as I was. The fact is, your love made me all
it believed me to be, and I thought the old things had passed away.”
“Well, and wasn’t I right? Have we had a single cloud upon our married life?”
“Ah, dear man, little you know what the first two years of married life were to me. If you read your newspaper, I resented it; if you spent half an hour in your smoking den, or an hour with a friend if you admired another woman, I resented each and all, kept sulky silence for days, even for weeks. And you, all the time, thought no evil, but were sorry for your poor ‘little wife,’ made much of her, and loved her all the more, the more sullen and resentful she became. She was ‘out of sorts,’ you said, and planned a little foreign tour, as you are now doing for Dorothy. I do believe you loved me out of it at last. The time came when I felt myself hunted down by these sullen rages. I ran away, took immense walks, read voraciously, but could not help myself till our first child came; God’s gift, our little Dorothy. Her baby fingers healed me as not even your love could do. But, oh, George, don’t you see?”
“My poor Mary! Yes, I see; your healing was brought at the little child’s expense and the plague you felt within you was passed on to her. This, I see, is your idea; but I still believe it is a morbid fancy, and I still think my little trip will cure both mother and daughter.”
“You say well, mother and daughter. The proverb should run, not, ‘a burnt child dread the fire,’ but ‘a burnt child will soonest catch fire!’ I feel that all my old misery will come back upon me if I am to see the same thing repeated in Dorothy.”
George sat musing for a minute or two, but my
fear of him was gone; his face was full of tenderness for both of us.
“Do you know, Mary, I doubt if I’m right to treat this effort of yours with a high hand, and prescribe for evils I don’t understand. Should you mind very much our calling our old friend Dr Evans, into council? I believe, after all, it will turn out to be an affair for him rather than for me.”
This was worse than all. Were the miseries of this day to know no end? Should we, my Dorothy and her mother, end our days in a madhouse? I looked at my husband, and he understood.
“Nonsense, wife, not that! Now you really are absurd, and must allow me the relief of laughing at you. There, I feel better now, but I understand; a few years ago a doctor was never consulted about this kind of thing unless it was supposed to denote insanity. But we have changed all that, and you’re as mad as a hatter to get the notion. You’ve no idea how interesting it is to hear Evans talk of the mutual relations between thought and brain, and on the other hand, between thought and character. Homely an air as he has, he is up to all that’s going on. You know he went through a course of study at Leipsic, where they know more than we about the brain and its behaviour, and then, he runs across every year to keep himself abreast with the times. It isn’t every country town that is blessed with such a man.”
I thought I was being let down gently to the everyday level, and answered as we answer remarks about the weather, until George said—
“Well, when shall we send for Evans? The sooner we get more light on this matter, the better for all of us.”
“Very well, send for him to-morrow; tell him all I have told you, and, if you like, I shall be here to answer further questions.”