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The epigraph is a particularly cheerful Bible verse: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) My own epigraph follows: “I am utterly doomed.”

At the open of Book 1, Chapter 1 (yes, books and's one of those stories), we're presented with something of a New Jersey pastoral.

The northeastern and central portions of the State of New Jersey consist of a vast plain. Following the route of the Pennsylvania Railroad from Jersey City to Newark, the Palisades are left behind, and one comes upon a scene of little variety. Between these two towns the entire surface of the country is seemingly one broad sweep of meadows, stretching away in a serene, unbroken expanse beyond the range of the human eye, and finally losing themselves in the picturesque Jersey shore at the mouth of the Hudson river. Outside of their commercial and industrial activities Jersey City and Newark possess little interest, and the nine miles of monotonous meadow-land lying between the two places offer nothing to the observer unless he has a fondness for fresh, green nature, without other adornment or diversity. (p. 7)

Little variety, monotonous, without adornment...yep, that's Jersey alright. With this enticing scene-setting, we're ushered to an inconspicuous cottage on a plateau, one with an immaculate garden (“a thing of genuine beauty in the landscape”). This has been the home for the past three years of Alexander Galbraith, an invalid artist who never goes outside but likes looking longingly out the window, and his wife Helen, “reported by her neighbors to be a young woman of exclusive and haughty manner, yet really admired, and possibly envied by them for the quiet dignity of her life and the exceptional beauty of her person.” Helen got into town very rarely, and they happily received friends from New York, but apart from that, their social life doesn't exist. Theirs is a life of quiet and solitary despair, as we will soon find out in soul-crushing detail. Yes, it most definitely is going to be one of those books.

And with that, let us go back twenty-five years...wait, a flashback already? But we just got here!

Some twenty-five years before the time of which we write, a small boy lay one summer afternoon in the long, lush grass, which grew exuberantly in an old garden, and lying there he became conscious for the first time of the sweetness and richness of nature. An overpowering sense of the vast suggestiveness of the world about him had seemed to awaken his soul; it was as if a revelation of things wonderful and mysterious had been made to him; the very odors arising from the warm, pulsing earth upon which he lay filled him with delicious sensations, new and startling to one of his years. While the boy thus for the first time felt the charm of nature enter into his being, his sense of beauty was still further aroused by a brilliant and glorious sunset, which made the sky and all the vision before him a scene of transcendent radiance. A magic touch, in an instant, had transformed the familiar and the commonplace, and wrought it into such a dream as only the heart of youth can experience. That afternoon the sense of beauty was born in the boy; the natural world became a thing real and comprehensive to him, and with a sudden childish impulse he sprang to his feet, expanding his chest with a strong, deep inhalation, his eyes looking all the while fiercely about, straining their every nerve to the utmost in order to see more and more of what was lovely and surprising in this great, new world just revealed to him. Once born, the sense of beauty grew in the child. The love for color became a passion with him, the desire for harmony dominated his being, and so, without direction, by purely natural selection in its truest sense, he developed from a sensitive, imaginative boy into a man of strong, healthy artistic temperament. (pp. 9-10)

That paragraph runs another page and a half, by the way. I didn't think you'd want it all. There are quite a few of them in this chapter, too.

Galbraith's love of nature and color led him on a single-minded road to become a landscape artist, and he devoted his skill and willpower to mastering his chosen field, which of course he did. “Not one of his comrades of that time would have said that he was over-confident, or wrongfully sure of success.” On the continent, he achieved critical acclaim and a showing in the Paris Salon, and everybody—oh, just everybody!—said he had the promise of great things.

It was in that first blush of being totally frickin' awesome and everybody knowing it that Galbraith met his future missus.

The circumstances and conditions of these two young people were, in many respects, similar. Both were Americans—both were parentless, and free from any close family connections—and both had means sufficient for their special interests in Paris, where they had met and become deeply and passionately attached the one to the other. Their marriage was really one of the most natural and proper things, and seemed to all their friends to have been divinely arranged. Galbraith was a magnificent type of finely developed manhood, his personal charm was great, and his earnest aspiration for beauty and purity had developed in him certain perceptions and sympathies seldom to be found in men, except when long experience of life has taught them to draw their distinctions both wisely and compassionately. Exhibiting such qualities as these, Galbraith's nature was yet distinctly passionate; it could be said, he was thoroughly and vigorously a man; but his passion was of that kind which transports the mind to spiritual altitudes—his earnest, manly soul had mounted upward in its quest after the ideal. (pp. 11-12)

Well damn, after that thunderous build-up for Marvelous Mr. Galbraith, who bestrides the narrow world like a colossus, the description of Helen that follows (“her form and face were not the only beautiful inestimable gifts that had been bestowed upon her”) is downright anticlimactic. But hark, this is his symphony we're playing, let's back off for a moment.

The next step for the newlyweds was a return to America and New York, where Galbraith set up a studio with the design to make American art awesome singlehandedly. Ah, youth.

And then came (ominous music) the tragedy. I was prepared for some nondescript Movie-Of-The-Week disease to strike him, one whose weakly-defined symptoms make you look more noble and brave as you waste away. Therefore, I read on with an almost perverse sense of relief when instead, author Winston lowered the boom with a faint twinkle of literary irony.

It is not surprising, then, that Alex Galbraith had never taken calamity into account, and that his prognostics of life had included no great misfortunes. In the light of such facts, if, after the blow came, he had remained ever a helpless, hopeless, dying man, who can find it in his heart to blame him? Certainly, a misfortune like his was exceptional and irreparable. Galbraith felt that no such fate as his had ever been meted out to man. What was a blind Milton, a deaf Beethoven to him, a painter without hands! The victim of a terrible railroad accident, Galbraith, in making an effort to escape, had fallen between two cars just as a sudden lurch brought them violently together. As if by miracle his body escaped being crushed, but his arms were so broken and torn, that, without any kind of consultation and while he remained unconscious from pain, they were both amputated just below the shoulder-joint. In this way Galbraith had lost those strong, well-shaped hands of his, hands that had been so carefully, skillfully trained to do an artist's finest, most dexterous work. (pp.13-14)

There's a slightly exasperated footnote smelling of a complaint letter to the publisher (possible, since our text is a third edition) that says yes, the author is aware that people have learned how to paint with their feet or mouths, but not when they were trained to use their hands first. Get off my case, people. Do you want to hear this story or don't you?

The studio had to go, of course, and while his wife and friends tried to ease him into a career in lecturing or writing art criticism, Alex was unequipped to deal with translating his talents into anything but paint and canvas. So instead, he sat around his Jersey cottage, broken in spirit and eventually broken in health, and making halfhearted stabs at the writing thing with his wife's assistance. (Boy, that last part sounds familiar. Except the thing about having a wife. HAHAHAHAsob...)

Helen, meanwhile, suffered in silence, having given her entire body and soul over to taking care of her man. “Compassion, infinite compassion, it might be said, had always been one of the strongest qualities of her nature, and the distress of her present life had so increased and developed the quality in her heart, that at times now she felt herself to be all pity.” This has been the state of affairs for three years when we're brought back to the present.

When we rejoin our couple of misery, they've spent the morning making their most concerted push yet at translating Alex's thoughts into something resembling a sellable article. Unfortunately, Alex's opinions butted harshly against popular tastes and the inability to temper earnestness of his views with anything resembling a dash of humor. That wouldn't be as insurmountable of a problem now, since there's a mini-industry dedicated to turning out contrarian jerks in all fields, but in the world of our current book, it was a big issue. His big issue was with the recent “extreme” varieties of impressionism which rendered the forms of nature into undetailed, unrefined blobs of color, which makes me think the 20th century's gonna be a blast for him.

Helen had been toying with the idea of doing a bit of original writing herself, since she has the qualities that Alex lacks in the written word. She has to do something, since his inheritance went into his education, and hers, which was running the household, was getting woefully thin.

But before we get to that “something” she has to do, what do you say we twist the knife just a little bit more? Oh yes, let's just wallow in it.

Galbraith threw his head back against his cushioned chair in which he sat, half reclining. He looked out upon the calm, peaceful scene surrounding the cottage—then he looked down upon his wife.

“Read me some of those sonnets, sweetheart, if you like,” he said, adding: “Poor Heine! what a fine fellow he was, with all his cynicism!”

Helen opened the book, which she held now in her hand, and read in a clear, sweet-toned voice some of the sonnets which Galbraith liked so much. That death-in-life existence which Heine so long endured had come to have a certain fascination for Galbraith, and he liked at times to surrender himself to Heine's poetic contemplation of suffering. His own artistic nature found satisfaction in this; and the crown of thorns which he was called upon to wear seemed to press less heavily upon his brow, when he thought of how in poor Heine's case a similar crown of sorrow had been transformed into a lyric one of greatness and splendor.

When Helen had read several of Galbraith's favorite sonnets, she laid aside, at his request, the book from which she had read, and opening the one which lay in her lap, she read from it the pathetic account of that last visit which Heine had paid to the outside world. To do this was a sad duty for Helen, but Galbraith especially requested it, and so she read:

“It was in May that Heine took his last promenade in the Boulevards. Masses of the populace rolled along the streets of Paris, driven about by their tribunes as by storms. The poet, half blind, half lame, dragged himself on his stick and endeavored to extricate himself from the deafening uproar, and finally escaped into the Louvre close by... Ere long he found himself in the room on the ground floor in which the ancient gods and goddesses stand.

“Suddenly he stood before the ideal of Beauty, the smiling, entrancing goddess, the miracle of an unknown master, the Venus of Milo, who in the course of centuries has lost her arms but not her witchery. Overcome, agitated, stricken through, almost terrified at her aspect, the sick man staggered back till he sank on a seat, and tears, hot and bitter, streamed down his cheeks.”

As Helen read, Galbraith's gaze had strayed from her own beautiful face, and rested upon the broad, silent meadows opposite his window. Nothing in all literature had ever so touched him as did this incident, which Helen had just read to him; nothing had ever been so personal and suggestive to him. For a time he could not speak. His gaze continued to rest upon the meadows below, but tears blinded him. His heart was full. Poor Helen. She had ended her reading with a sob, the strain of the morning would have its revenge! Letting her head fall upon her husband's knee, she no longer tried to restrain her feelings. Outbursts of any kind were very rare with her, and Galbraith turned eagerly toward her as he felt her trembling body quiver against his own. (pp. 21-3)

This moment is Helen's tipping point, since it vividly highlights how utterly screwed the two of them are. She had been ruminating over what she considered a distasteful plan of attack, but one which was all too necessary. The time had come to act before she got cold feet again.

Turning toward Alex, she saw that he was observing her.

“I think I will go out, dear,” she said. “Can you manage a few hours without me?”

“Why yes, little girl,” replied Galbraith, “but are you not very late in starting?”

“Well, yes, I am,” said Helen, drawing near to the window, and looking out to see where the sun was in the heavens. “I want some exercise, though, and then ,--” she hesitated before she added, “I have in this last half hour just taken a resolve. I am going to see Mr. Westmore about that newspaper work of which I have sometimes spoken.”

She twirled her wedding ring nervously about her finger as she spoke, then walking rapidly over to the fire she threw a fresh log on it, before Galbraith could reply. He looked at her very earnestly as she did this; he waited for her to brush her hands free of the trash which the wood had left upon them, before he spoke; and when he did so, his tone was very quiet, but there was a decided protest in it:

“I wish you would not go—you know, I do not like Westmore.”

“Nor do I, dear,” she replied. She came over and stood by him, with her hand resting upon his shoulder. Then she continued:

“But you must admit, Alex, the necessity for some kind of practical step. We cannot go on repeating this morning. I have been thinking it all over, and this is the only possible thing—it seems to me. This afternoon it has come to me as the immediate course to take. I have thought of it before, as you know, but this is the first time I have felt myself capable of doing it, and I am sure, that it is better for me to go while I am in this frame of mind.”

“Could we not write?” asked Galbraith, hoping that he might find some other way for her.

“Yes, we might,” she replied. “But it would mean delay, and finally I should have to go to him, or he would have to come to us, and so it is far better, I am sure to have it all over now while I feel myself capable of going through with it.”

“Well, I suppose you are right,” replied Galbraith. He was annoyed, but he knew that it was unjust in him to be so, for helpless as he was to better their fortunes, he felt that he had no right to stand in Helen's way of doing what she thought was wise, and simply, too, because of an indescribable prejudice which he entertained against the one man who might possibly help her to a satisfactory career. Helen knew just how he felt about it, and nothing but the great necessity of the case could have made it possible for her to act in opposition to his views.

“You must remember, dear,” she said sweetly, hoping that by being just she might make it easier for Galbraith and herself also, “that we know nothing against Mr. Westmore; we only do not like him.”

“Yes, that is true,” said Alex, “and he has undoubtedly always seemed to wish to be kind and helpful. But he is an offensive man,--he suggests unsavory things, no matter what his successes.”

“In that case, we will hope,” said Helen with a laugh, as she stooped to kiss her husband, “that he is not as black as he is painted.” (pp. 27-9)

And with that, she departs and in spite of the brave face they both put on, Galbraith feels alone and helpless. “It was the first time, since he had known her, that she had turned from him to someone else for help and advice.” As the orchestra swells, the camera crane draws into the heavens looking down on our dejected husband as we head for the chapter break. Ladies and gentlemen, I am trapped in a Lifetime Movie.

Next: Mr. Westmore. Does anybody want Meredith Baxter's autograph?


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