“—other children, doctor?”
“You must have no other children, Mr. Cresswell.”
“Because the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.”
Slowly, softly, she crept away. Her mind seemed very clear. And she began a long journey to reach her window and chair—a long, long journey; but at last she sank into the chair again and sat dry-eyed, wondering who had conceived this world and made it, and why.
A long time afterward she found herself lying in bed, awake, conscious, clear-minded. Yet she thought as little as possible, for that was pain; but she listened gladly, for without she heard the solemn beating of the sea, the mighty rhythmic beating of the sea. Long days she lay, and sat and walked beside those vast and speaking waters, till at last she knew their voice and they spoke to her and the sea-calm soothed her soul.
For one brief moment of her life she saw herself clearly: a well-meaning woman, ambitious, but curiously narrow; not willing to work long for the Vision, but leaping at it rashly, blindly, with a deep-seated sense of duty which she made a source of offence by preening and parading it, and forcing it to ill-timed notice. She saw that she had looked on her husband as a means not an end. She had wished to absorb him and his work for her own glory. She had idealized for her own uses a very human man whose life had been full of sin and fault. She must atone.
No sooner, in this brief moment, did she see herself honestly than her old habits swept her on tumultuously. No ordinary atonement would do. The sacrifice must be vast; the world must stand in wonder before this clever woman sinking her soul in another and raising him by sheer will to the highest.
So after six endless months Mary Cresswell walked into her Washington home again. She knew she had changed in appearance, but she had forgotten to note how much until she saw the stare—almost the recoil—of her husband, the muttered exclamation, the studied, almost overdone welcome. Then she went up to her mirror and looked long, and knew.
She was strong; she felt well; but she was slight, almost scrawny, and her beauty was gone forever. It had been of that blonde white-and-pink type that fades in a flash, and its going left her body flattened and angular, her skin drawn and dead white, her eyes sunken. From the radiant girl whom Cresswell had met three years earlier the change was startling, and yet the contrast seemed even greater than it was, for her glory then had been her abundant and almost golden hair. Now that hair was faded, and falling so fast that at last the doctor advised her to cut it short. This left her ill-shaped head exposed and emphasized the sunken hollows of her face. She knew that she was changed but she did not quite realize how changed, until now as she stood and gazed.
Yet she did not hesitate but from that moment set herself to her new life task. Characteristically, she started dramatically and largely. She was to make her life an endless sacrifice; she was to revivify the manhood in Harry Cresswell, and all this for no return, no partnership of soul—all was to be complete sacrifice and sinking soul in soul.