Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Bird of Paradise

Chapter XXXI. Fallen, The Great and Mighty Gould!

page 241

Chapter XXXI. Fallen, The Great and Mighty Gould!

"The sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing shadow spread below;
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas! pain, pain ever, for ever!"

In the midst of the simmering turmoil between the two medical partners, ere the vague suspicion of impending trouble had firmly established itself in the mind of Eugene, the little discrepancies between Marvel's attitude towards him while they were holiday-making at Florida Bay and the defiant bearing which she now deliberately assumed, he passed over as only varying phases in the modes and peculiarities of his wife's demeanour, while she carefully suppressed all reference to the secrets between his partner and herself.

One evening after an important operation, the performance of which had occupied two hours, he returned to the house by the evening train from one of the suburbs, and arrived about seven in the evening to find his wife had gone. On inquiring from the servants, they informed him that she had left a note for him in the surgery, and that she had said she was coming back the next day. Upon opening the note in the surgery he found its sole contents to be a telegram which Marvel had received from her aunt to the effect that her father was dangerously ill, and asking her to go to Maconville at once.

"Did Mrs. Whitworth go away by herself?" he inquired of the groom, who had followed him from Sabinnia.

"No sir," replied Frederick, "Dr. Peck, he comes in his buggy for her, and his groom, old Donald Hooligan, he drives both on 'em to the railway station right enough."

He gnashed his teeth as he read the telegram again; but could not resist the belief that the message was genuine, and that her father was indeed seriously ill. His first thoughts were that it was a canard to hoax herself quietly away to Edenhall, and, once there, to remain there until such times as it would suit her pleasure to come back. Contenting himself with the comforting reflection that she had not taken the children away with her, and that he would be happy in their company alone, he at once determined to send for Miriam to attend to the children for the time being. Miriam arrived nest day, laden with cakes, fruit, and all the drums, bugles, and dolls she could carry. They created quite a scramble in the house for ownership or joint partnership, and Miriam took her protegèes in hand in the fulness of her bounteous love and overflowing tenderness.

page 242

Strange, he though to himself, that they had not sent for him if it was a case of sickness. He remembered the time when, after resisting all other modes of treatment by the fashionable doctors of the city, his own remedy for diseased back of the great man had succeeded; and had earned for him the gratitude of the coal-king himself.

Two days had elapsed and there was no sign of his wife's return, or any further explanation of the cause of her leaving so abruptly. On the third day in a hansom cab she drove to the door, and furiously ringing the bell she demanded in excited tones if the doctor was at home, and where were the children. When she was informed that her husband was out, but that the children were in the dining-room playing with their grandmother, she peremptorily ordered the servant to bring the children upstairs into the bedroom, while the bird of Heaven flew upstairs holding up her skirts at the knees, as if the place was on fire and she wanted to save some treasure. As the children followed the servant upstairs and she returned without them, Miriam sat in the dining-room, wondering whatever was going on in the hurry and skurry upstairs. Before she stirred to inquire from the servant, Eugene entered the front door from the street, and as he walked upstairs he was astonished to see Marvel and the children all dressed and ready to leave the house. Check-mated in the little dodge, she civilly asked him if he had not read the telegram, and when he replied that he the point of death and that he wanted to see the children before he died.

"I am grieved to say, Marvel," he began, "I don't know whether to believe you or not. You have taken the children away before on a mere pretext, and kept them away in spite of my remonstrances and entreaties. For all I know, this may be a ruse in an attempt to do the same thing over again, and I don't intend to let them leave me any more."

Flint and steel and red-hot fire flashed out of the fierce black eyes of the incensed but heavenly bird, heaping up reprobation on the head of Miriam for neglecting to mind the children properly; pulling the coverlets off their cots and shouting that they had not been properly made; slamming the doors of the wardrobe and impetuously dragging the drawers clean out of the chest till they fell on her toes to the floor, and inciting the timorous and innocent Pearly to cry and the frightened Valentine quickly to follow suit in wild and wailing screams.

Perplexed as to what he should do and disconcerted by the consternation of the children, he stood facing his wife and said—"If I consent to your taking the children, will you promise me that you will bring them back in a week?"

Grasping her opportunity with the intuitive perspicuity with which she had always conceived some mischievous idea, "I swear to God," she declared "that my father is dying and wants to see the children, and that if you let me take them I will bring them back as soon as he is dead."

Venturing the opinion that he did not perceive what good the children could do to a dying man, he dried the tears of Pearly and Vallie with his page 243pockethandkerchief and left the room, while little Pearly cried out between her lingering sobs—"Pearly come back puppa: Pearly not f'ightened gee-gees: Pearly b'ing Vallie back home," and Vallie avowed that he would come back by himself. They followed him down the steps of the staircase while Valentine skidded down along the rail of the bannister, when their mother, holding them by the hands and whisking them past the dining-room door, behind which their poor old beneficent grandmother sat wondering why they didn't come to see her, hurriedly hustled them down the passage, almost lifting them off their feet, and bundled them into a hansom cab waiting outside to summarily whirl them away.

When the doctor re-entered the dining-room he explained to Miriam all that had transpired and heard her candid opinion that he had made a grievous mistake in believing what Marvel had said, and in allowing her to take them away, insomuch if the great and mighty man died, he might say good-bye to comfort and peace with Marvel altogether. Impressed by the warning, he hailed a passing cab, met them again on the railway station and procured tickets for Marvel, who was all smiles and light-heartedness, albeit her father was on the eve of his death. Putting her head out of the window, "Pearly come back puppa: Pearly b'ing Vallie," the little child cried out again, when the engine blew her whistle and slowly drew the train out of her dock.

Amongst all his marriage relations, the great coal-king himself was the only one who had been in concord with Eugene. His father-in-law had made bushels of promises which he never fulfilled, but he had shown a moral sympathy for the doctor and had often upheld him against the calumnies of his wife and his mother-in-law. "Why should I stay away?" he said to Miriam, "even if I haven't been asked to see him, if I can do him any good," and Miriam approved of the idea.

There was a special additional train that night—it was the eve of Thanksgiving's Day—going to Augusta with a party of base-ballers, who had been playing a match against a metropolitan team. The doctor embraced the opportunity. In the van of the train he was permitted to travel by the guard, who was an old friend of his and whom he had known ever since he went to live in Augusta, and as in the middle of the night he peered out through the high narrow windows of the raised rear of the van the reminiscences of his earlier wedded days, the flood, Sunnyside, the training of Moss Rose and the cavalry parade-ground came vividly before his mind again. While he felt his heart warming at the sight of the oft-trodden scenes, he alighted from the van in Augusta once again.

It was too late to catch the train to Maconville—it had struck twelve and the hotels had closed. His memory took him back to the nights when, with Marmaduke, he had played till daybreak in the little card-room, and, feeling assured that other benighted gamesters would still be sitting al the little square table, he bent his steps thither accordingly. There was a light at the back, and, as of old, he gave three distinct knocks at the window-pane, when he heard a bustle in the card-room, and soon had the page 244front door opened by his old friend the landlord of the Seven Stars Hotel. They drank a glass of wine together, and Eugene, unfolding the object of his visit, was provided by the proprietor with a horse to ride to the colliery field.

Mounted, again he rode at a swinging gallop along the pine-tree bordered road, and he heard again in the solemn night the call of the wild wawa. Nearing the bend of the road, he reined in the horse which he was riding and dwelt abstractedly upon the memory of the brook with whose waters he had bathed the face of his paradisal bride on the evening of her betrothal. Pushing on again after a pause, he ran through the memories of all that had occurred since that eventful night—his joys, his triumphs with Moss Rose, his unrequited attachment to his wife, the births of the precious Pearly and Valentine, and the death of his apple-checked child, while from over the glamorous blue mountains the big yellow moon emerged on a level with the nocturnal horizon. Walking the horse slowly on again, he had come to within a short distance of the house of the great and mighty Gould, whose moans and contorting and distracting groans of agony he could hear issuing from the old house, and disordering the quiet solemn coming of the moon. Pain-racked and stretched on a bed of suffering, the great man writhed with increasing paroxysms of torture shaking his burly frame, and his cry was the cry of a soul in pain. Nearer and nearer came the pain-inflicting wailings of the soul of the great man in torment. Not a sound besides could be heard. In quickening succession they fell jarring upon his ears as he dismounted, and leading the horse inside the goat-yard of his mother-in-law, he tied the bridle to the fence inside and passed down the narrow path from the paddock to the house. He tapped softly at the back door and listened to the cries of torture, as the mighty man battled against the arch-enemy of all. The door was silently and reluctantly opened, and the form of the ugly dwarf, who had hailed with delight the betrothal of Marvel and joined with his ducks in the tableaux on the verandah, appeared in the murky light and stuck his nose through the chink between the door and the doorpost.

"Is that you, doctor?" said the voice from below, sounding like the reflected voice of a ventriloquist at a punch-and-judy show.

"Yes," said Eugene: "I came to see if I could be of any use."

"Better not come in," said the voice. "come again in the morning, if he lives till then," and the door was closed again.

In doubt and hesitation as to what he should do, he stood dumbfounded and chagrined at not seeing his old friend his father-in-law, and seemed to have made up his mind to loiter outside, imagine the contortions of the coal-king, and listen to the moaning and the groaning inside the house until he could hear its horrible sound no more. Suddenly, as by an inspiration, he remembered that one of the medical men of the town lived near, and surmised that Dr. Seymour would probably be in attendance on his suffering father-in-law. Chancing his being at home, he walked to the page 245medical man's house, about half-a-mile away near the town, followed by the sepulchral groans. He vehemently rang the bell.

"Who's there?" replied a voice. Eugene knew it was the doctor himself.

"Whitworth: I come to see about Mr. Gould," he said.

The doctor came down and opened his door, which was barred, barricaded and chained like the door of a jail, the residence of the doctor having at one time been the watch-house—a double-storey building plaistered in front, standing flush with the footpath. The door being opened, the disturbed doctor stood with a candle in his hand. His garments were such as he had hurriedly put on when awakened from sleep—the braces of his trousers hanging down at the hips in loops, like the sword-straps of a mounted commissioner of police.

"Come in Whitworth," he said, "in here; into my consulting-room: I'll just put on my slippers and be there in five minutes."

"What is the matter with Mr. Gould?" said Eugene when he returned.

"Well, I told him two years ago and warned him often since," he replied, "that if he didn't pull himself together he would soon be in his grave, and my words have proved to be true."

"He is not there yet." remarked Eugene: "what is the disease?"

"Well, to begin with," went on the doctor, "he has had for years a hob-nailed liver2, caused by excessive drinking; but, strange to say, there are no signs of anasarca3 or dropsy4 about him. I have never treated him for any other malady myself."

"Medicines would not be of much avail for cirrhosis of the liver," remarked Eugene.

"No," said the doctor, "and they are not much use now. About three weeks ago he complained of a pain and a swelling in the foot; the swelling and throbbing pain increased and extended up to the inner surface of the thighs. Mrs. Gould suggested that they should send for Dr. Hardiman of West Broadway, New York. He came up three days ago, and after creating great alarm he made a small incision in conjunction with me. The smell was enough to choke a Kentucky nigger. It nearly knocked us over: so we threw up the windows and came away."

"That doesn't seem so bad as I expected," said Eugene, "I should esteem it a favour if you would come down with me to the house and let me see him; they don't seem to care about letting me see him, and unless you pilot me through to the bedside I am afraid I shall not see him at all:" whereupon the doctor replying that he would put on his coat and hat he steamed away with Eugene in tow.

It was then after four o'clock. The iridescent queen of night was at her full height in the dome of the skies, eclipsing the primitive signs of the awakening lord of the day, when they entered the old man's little wooden gate, and Eugene was marshalled into the house of his father-in-law by Dr. Seymour.

page 246

Ten million microbes in one mass had manifestly come amongst the wakeful inmates of the old house, for all his married relations shunned Eugene. Passing by, in the rear of the portico, his mother-in-taw, the old auntie and the snub-nosed Sukey who had come from Augusta and Sabinnia, respectively, and taken up their quarters in the old house upon the first alarm about their relative's illness, and who disdained to take the slightest notice of Eugene and seemed anxious to shirk his presence, it was as much as the microbes could do to find standing-room in the building, while the sands in the hour-glass of the old man's life were quickly running out in the adjoining room. In the passage he met the man who had poked his nose through the chink of the door on his first arrival, and the distant relative smarting under the sobriquet of "the wet nurse" assigned him by Eugene. Augustus and Simon both held aside and surlily down their heads while he followed the piloting doctor past them into the same room where little Cyril had lain at the gate of death for more than a week—the room whence the moaning and lamentation proceeded.

There he met another relative whom he had never seen before—a red-faced man with a straggling imperial brown beard, with tears trickling through it and hanging like dew-drops on the uttermost hairs. The stranger to Eugene was a good-looking, intelligent, affable man. He was Marvel's only brother, and had some days before his father took ill come from Minneapolis in quest of his father's signature as a promoter of a tin mine which he had discovered in North Dakota. The old man had had enough of tin, so his prayer had not been granted.

"Dr. Whitworth, I presume," said the too late rival of Brick Bore: "I'm your wife's brother, Reginald." They shook hands, and Eugene turned to the bedside, which was surrounded by a peacock-blue Japanese screen.

"Holloa dochther," said the prostrate Julian Gould, and he moaned a stupendous moan.

Eugene grasped his outstretched hand and retained it while he felt his pulse—small, rapid, feeble and dicrotic5. His face was ghastly white, his eyes glassy, wild and staring—overshadowed with the anxiety of impending death. Dr. Seymour removed the counterpane, the blankets and the sheet, the gauze bandages, the dressings of boracic wool6, spongio-piline and lint, displaying to the gaze of the mortified Eugene a cadaverous, dull, purplish, greenish-black mass, mottled in patches with reddish-brown spots, evolving a sickening odour of putrescence, and crackling under the fingers from the effusion of gases into the tissues of the part attacked with a fatal moist gangrene. The pain was suddenly leaving, but the hiccup, vomiting and tympanitic distention of the abdomen superadded to the symptoms and told of the mischief that had occurred within. Eugene felt the crackling, foetid, putrid mass with his finger and made the remark that the surgeon should have made several free incisions early instead of only one. He looked knowingly at the medical attendant, and fixed his eyes in a forlorn long look on his doomed father-in-law.

page 247

"Are there any hopes dochther?" said the old man; "I wanted you to come at first, but they didn't send I suppose."

Eugene shook his head, turning away from the lingering gaze of the old man and stood leaning over the fool-rail of the bed. He held out his hand again to Eugene, whose deep regard for his father-in-law was greater by far than the more natural love of his son Reginald, his only daughter and his savage-looking cross-grained wife. Two trained nurses had been engaged and were alternating duty attendance for a week. One brought in some champagne, which the old man greedily swallowed out of an old-fashioned feeding-cup like a broken teapot, and, while Eugene remained leaning over the rail of the bed, the local doctor and the only son retired from the room. Soon, however, they returned in company with a very tall man—a stranger to Eugene. He had on many occasions mixed himself up with the business of the departing king in his Welsh and American speculations, although in business he was a wool-merchant and a man lolling in wealth. He was a bald-headed man, with no moustache but a long white beard.

"I have the will in my house in the city," Eugene heard him say as he came with the other down the passage: "if you are sure there are no hopes, Dr. Seymour. I had better tell him so:" when in silence they entered the room stealthily, and the only son, stooping down over his dying father's pillow, queried if he felt any better.

"Go away: go away out of my sight," roared his father with a rattling and choking throat and motioning his son away from the bed: "Go away: go home away:" when they all withdrew but Eugene and the nurse. The death-scene was prolonged and terrible. With a strained and anxious countenance, his lips and tongue covered with sordes7, he lapsed into a maniacal delirium, roaring and raving, absolutely distrait; calling out for the will, clamouring for the will to alter it; browbeating the nurse for not producing the document and yelling out hoarse and coarse oaths and imprecations on his wife and every member of his family. Twitchings of his hands at the bedclothes, a low muttering delirium and a stertorous respiration brought on the invasion of coma; but for a few minutes he became more rational, when the lanky wool-merchant entered and asked Eugene how long he thought Gould would live. The suave and affable wool-merchant was a stranger to Whitworth, but he introduced himself as Mr. Grieve. "About an hour," said Eugene; when the moaning and groaning that had jarred on his ears since he first heard it in the saddle on the road till now it was ten o'clock on Thanksgiving morning, came to a sudden full-stop. The stalking wool-merchant stole out and quickly returned with the old woman, Sukey Bubtitt, Simon Ernest, Augustus Hornblower, the chronic broncho-asthmatical auntie in great pulmonary distress, and Marvel, whom Eugene had not seen since she left town with the children.

The struggling, dying old coal-king seemed to brighten up a little, but it was only an ephemeral and transitory flash of consciousness, as Marvel came in calling out hysterically—"Oh! father! oh! father!" but as with page 248the only son—"Go away, go away out of my sight!" he cried, throwing his arm back spasmodically, supine over his head in rage upon the pillow, from which none of the muscular power of the mighty man's arm was left to remove it of his own accord. After the penultimate shuddering pangs of disease the coma deepened and deepened to its unfathomable profundities, and the eyes of the great and mighty Julian Jasper Gould set in the eternal repose of death.

Finished at last—that desperate struggle with the universal invincible conqueror! Supine he lay with his glassy spectral eyes wide open, vanquished, demolished, lifeless. Gone out of the sinful and beautiful world, whose pleasures he had but two years before begun to enjoy, after spending nearly fifty years in the discovery and upheaval of coal, and the absorption of fortunes by new inventions in machinery. Fallen the great and mighty Gould! he whose energy, headstrong determination and unyielding zeal had bored the vast depths into the womb of the earth, and whose throbbing prodigious engines, forcing along and round and round their unending driving-belts rolled on, on, on, while in disease he lay, levelled with the poor whom he had crushed—levelled by the hand of the Almighty on the same dead-level with the pauper and the peasant, the homeless waif and the stray!

When Eugene retired from the presence of the dead, he made his way down the passage, where, in the portico at the back, an animated discussion was being held as to when the will should be read and when the funeral should take place. There seemed to be a consensus of opinion that it was optional for Theophilus Grieve, the wool-merchant, who had the will in his possession and was the sole trustee of the estate, to read its contents out to the assembled beenficiaires either before or after the funeral. A resolution was carried at the post-mortem meeting of the much-interested relatives and the keen-eye-to-business man, together with the eleemosynary8 old wool-merchant, to the effect that there was not the slightest occasion for any delay whatever in the funeral obsequies, nor any special reason for postponing the reading of the will until after the body was buried.

In pursuance of this Christian determination, the ceremonial was fixed for the following day, provided the coffin could be obtained in time; like-wise a resolution was unanimously carried to the effect that the reading of the will should take place as soon as it could be procured from the warehouse of the wool-merchant, independently of the funeral ceremonials altogether. The warm glow of the glorious sun irradiated the little portico where the solemn conclave was sitting; outside in the neglected garden, where everything seemed rank and gone to seed, feeling convinced that all the relatives excepting the son were uneasily apprehensive lest one of the ten million microbes might shift from him upon them, Eugene lingered during the confabulation. All Nature was gay. He listened to the chimes of the old village bells and thought of the supernal day of days when the old man quailed before the altar.

page 249

Had Julian Jasper Gould died the day before, there would not have been half the trouble and botheration over the reading of the will—it could have been telegraphed for and obtained the same day; but Thanks-giving day was such an awkward day for business, as all the telegraph offices and post-offices were closed, and the only train had gone. The gimlet-eyed Simon as a sort of ninety-third cousin in the gathering suggested that they might chance a telegram finding one of the operators at the metropolitan office, and, further, that if one were sent to the wife of the merchant she could get the document out of the warehouse safe and send it by special train to Maconville. This, from his private knowledge of the banking account of his deceased kith-and-kin, he felt certain there would be ample means to afford. The idea was snapped at with avidity, but the suggestion fell very flat when the wool-merchant recollected that he had the key of the iron safe in his pocket; that it would be necessary to send somebody whom he could trust, as there were letters therein which he did not want his curious wife to see. Thus it so happened that the will was not read till the following day and after the body had been committed to the grave.

From all these private disquisitions Eugene held himself aloof; indeed, he could not help feeling that he was regarded as still affected with typhoid fever or peradventure the germs of Cyril's diphtheria, and generally looked upon as a nuisance in the sanctuary of his relations. He had always evinced a strong liking for his father-in-law, and seemed to feel a silent sorrow at his death which none of the others appeared to experience. It would certainly have been more gratifying to them had he handed over the money and still lived on, even had it been for the rest of his days in the suburban retreat at Don Juan house; but now that he was dead he was dead, and it couldn't be helped: all they could say or do would never bring him to life again. Soon after, two women came to wash and dress the old man's corpse, when Eugene, anxious about his little children, walked up to Edenhall. He found them playing among the long grass of the paddock. Marvel's expressed motive for bringing them there was false—they had not been taken to see their old grandfather at all. For some hours he waited amusing himself with them, when Marvel, her cousin and the elated Simon came loaded with armfuls of fruit, cakes and a bottle of raspberry vinegar, while Simon himself was critically examining a new brand of feeding-bottle which he had never seen before. The children were invited to walk inside, and as they did not seem inclined to go without their father, he accompanied them into the dining-room, where they all regaled themselves with the cakes and raspberry vinegar, and Marvel, her cousin and her cousin's husband made attempts at simulating grief, which looked infinitely worse than if they had shown no sorrow whatever.

The cog-wheel of Marvel's gaiety machine was irretrievably gone altogether. There was none left in the house of Gould to check her reckless buoyancy and self-will. It was plain to Eugene that her wantonness and flippant department had received a mighty impulse. After the death page 250of her father, she openly rebelled against her husband, and planned her hostilities with such consummate tact and intrepidity that her future relations with Eugene Whitworth were incessant acrimonious recrimination and perpetual intestine war to the knife, and no quarter—war à outrance9, without truce or mercy.

1 Percy Bysshe Shelley. Prometheus Unbound, Act I.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

2 A cirrhosed liver, studded with projections. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

3 Swelling of the subcutaneous cellular level of a limb or other large surface of the body due to retention of liquid. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

4 A morbid condition characterised by the accumulation of fluid in the body. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

5 Exhibiting a double beat or wave. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

6 Abrasive wool treated with borax. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

7 Feculent matter collecting on or in the bodies of persons or animals, esp. feverish. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

8 Charitable; dependent on alms. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

9 To the uttermost. Jones 1963:190.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]