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Chapter 24
Day after day, with only short intervals1 of rest, Janet kept her place in that sad chamber2. No wonder the sick-room and the lazaretto have so often been a refuge from the tossings of intellectual doubt—a place of repose3 for the worn and wounded spirit. Here is a duty about which all creeds4 and all philosophies are at one: here, at least, the conscience will not be dogged by doubt, the benign5 impulse will not be checked by adverse6 theory: here you may begin to act without settling one preliminary question. To moisten the sufferer’s parched7 lips through the long night-watches, to bear up the drooping8 head, to lift the helpless limbs, to divine the want that can find no utterance9 beyond the feeble motion of the hand or beseeching10 glance of the eye—these are offices that demand no self-questionings, no casuistry, no assent11 to propositions, no weighing of consequences. Within the four walls where the stir and glare of the world are shut out, and every voice is subdued—where a human being lies prostrate12, thrown on the tender mercies of his fellow, the moral relation of man to man is reduced to its utmost clearness and simplicity13: bigotry14 cannot confuse it, theory cannot pervert15 it, passion, awed16 into quiescence17, can neither pollute nor perturb18 it. As we bend over the sick-bed, all the forces of our nature rush towards the channels of pity, of patience, and of love, and sweep down the miserable19 choking drift of our quarrels, our debates, our would-be wisdom, and our clamorous20 selfish desires. This blessing21 of serene22 freedom from the importunities of opinion lies in all simple direct acts of mercy, and is one source of that sweet calm which is often felt by the watcher in the sick-room, even when the duties there are of a hard and terrible kind.
Something of that benign result was felt by Janet during her tendance in her husband’s chamber. When the first heart-piercing hours were over—when her horror at his delirium23 was no longer fresh, she began to be conscious of her relief from the burden of decision as to her future course. The question that agitated24 her, about returning to her husband, had been solved in a moment; and this illness, after all, might be the herald25 of another blessing, just as that dreadful midnight when she stood an outcast in cold and darkness had been followed by the dawn of a new hope. Robert would get better; this illness might alter him; he would be a long time feeble, needing help, walking with a crutch26, perhaps. She would wait on him with such tenderness, such all-forgiving love, that the old harshness and cruelty must melt away for ever under the heart-sunshine she would pour around him. Her bosom27 heaved at the thought, and delicious tears fell. Janet’s was a nature in which hatred28 and revenge could find no place; the long bitter years drew half their bitterness from her ever-living remembrance of the too short years of love that went before; and the thought that her husband would ever put her hand to his lips again, and recall the days when they sat on the grass together, and he laid scarlet29 poppies on her black hair, and called her his gypsy queen, seemed to send a tide of loving oblivion over all the harsh and stony30 space they had traversed since. The Divine Love that had already shone upon her would be with her; she would lift up her soul continually for help; Mr. Tryan, she knew, would pray for her. If she felt herself failing, she would confess it to him at once; if her feet began to slip, there was that stay for her to cling to. O she could never be drawn31 back into that cold damp vault32 of sin and despair again; she had felt the morning sun, she had tasted the sweet pure air of trust and penitence33 and submission34.
These were the thoughts passing through Janet’s mind as she hovered35 about her husband’s bed, and these were the hopes she poured out to Mr. Tryan when he called to see her. It was so evident that they were strengthening her in her new struggle—they shed such a glow of calm enthusiasm over her face as she spoke36 of them, that Mr. Tryan could not bear to throw on them the chill of premonitory doubts, though a previous conversation he had had with Mr. Pilgrim had convinced him that there was not the faintest probability of Dempster’s recovery. Poor Janet did not know the significance of the changing symptoms, and when, after the lapse37 of a week, the delirium began to lose some of its violence, and to be interrupted by longer and longer intervals of stupor38, she tried to think that these might be steps on the way to recovery, and she shrank from questioning Mr. Pilgrim lest he should confirm the fears that began to get predominance ............
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