THE DOCTOR’S STUDY.
Paul Faber’s condition, as he sat through the rest of that night in his study, was about as near absolute misery as a man’s could well be, in this life, I imagine. The woman he had been watching through the first part of it as his essential bliss, he had left in a swoon, lying naked on the floor, and would not and did not go near her again. How could he? Had he not been duped, sold, married to——?—That way madness lay! His pride was bitterly wounded. Would it had been mortally! but pride seems in some natures to thrive upon wounds, as in others does love. Faber’s pride grew and grew as he sat and brooded, or, rather, was brooded upon.
He, Paul Faber, who knew his own worth, his truth, his love, his devotion—he, with his grand ideas of woman and purity and unity, conscious of deserving a woman’s best regards—he, whose love (to speak truly his unworded, undefined impression of himself) any woman might be proud to call hers—he to be thus deceived! to have taken to his bosom one who had before taken another to hers, and thought it yet good enough for him! It would not bear thinking! Indignation and bitterest sense of wrong almost crazed him. For evermore he must be a hypocrite, going about with the knowledge of that concerning himself which he would not have known by others! This was how the woman, whom he had brought back from death with the life of his own heart, had served him! Years ago she had sacrificed her bloom to some sneaking wretch who flattered a God with prayers, then enticed and bewitched and married him!
In all this thinking there was no thought but for himself—not one for the woman whose agony had been patent even to his wrath-blinded eyes. In what is the wretchedness of our condition more evident than in this, that the sense of wrong always makes us unjust? It is a most humbling thought. God help us. He forgot how she had avoided him, resisted him, refused to confess the love which his goodness, his importunities, his besieging love had compelled in her heart. It was true she ought either to have refused him absolutely and left him, or confessed and left the matter with him; but he ought to have remembered for another, if ever he had known it for himself, the hardness of some duties; and what duty could be more torturing to a delicate-minded woman than either of those—to leave the man she loved in passionate pain, sore-wounded with a sense of undeserved cruelty, or to give him the strength to send her from him by confessing to his face what she could not recall in the solitude of her own chamber but the agony would break out wet on her forehead! We do our brother, our sister, grievous wrong, every time that, in our selfish justice, we forget the excuse that mitigates the blame. That God never does, for it would be to disregard the truth. As He will never admit a false excuse, so will He never neglect a true one. It may be He makes excuses which the sinner dares not think of; while the most specious of false ones shrivel into ashes before Him. A man is bound to think of all just excuse for his offender, for less than the righteousness of God will not serve his turn.