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We rejoin our miserable couple in the middle of February (and in Book 1, Chapter 8)...well, actually we first rejoin Alex Galbraith, who once again finds himself alone in the Jersey cottage, since it was now necessary for Helen to be at the newspaper offices all day for at least one day a week. On some of those days, Alex was attended to by Andrew, but on the day in question he was alone apart from an occasional check-in from Jane (whom we've never been properly introduced to, but since she's entirely invisible for story purposes, I'm not going to sweat it). In what would definitely be a bad sign in any other story, but is just part of the chapter checklist in this one, Alex is thinking of his life in retrospective. Yet since his nobility of suffering is rising to an alarming degree, we can be assured he's as good as dead.

Take a deep breath now, because even at 150 pages in, our author can't stop compulsively devoting endless pages to introducing us to the awesomeness of Alexander Galbraith as if for the first time...

[...]Galbraith's splendid head was bowed low, his boldly proportioned chin resting on his bosom, and against the firelight his profile stood out like those of the Lotos-Eaters.

Galbraith's figure was now very drooping, but still retained, despite its mutilation, much of its original magnificence of design; it altogether still appeared so noble and powerful, that even thus, he seemed a man in whom Michel Angelo (sic) might have delighted. His physical charm was less, of course, than it had been in the perfect, strong days of his youth. There were heavy lines about the heavy, clean shaven, sensitive mouth; and the lofty, massive brow, once so smooth and marblelike, cut in fact with the fine sweeping lines of Greek art, had become somewhat shrunken and furrowed by the constant thought of pain that passed there. However, youth and beauty had not altogether disappeared from Galbraith, and his lustrous brown eyes were full yet of a dreamy light, and able still to flash with sudden fire. It was not difficult to infer from his appearance what kind of a man he was—how earnest, and noble, and large-spirited. True, he had his limitations; a strong individuality cannot cannot escape the reactionary force of its own nature. But everything about a man like Galbraith is important and suggestive. Body and face, in his case, were both more than ordinarily so. Physically he had been truly grand when in perfect health; yet he seemed still grander as he sat in his exile patiently mastering the agonies of a great suffering. In his countenance was to be seen the rare combination of sweetness with intellectual vigor. Never was carved a finer head or more imaginative brow.

As to character, Galbraith's friends found that the nearer they came to him, the more they saw in him to consider and honor. If on a slight acquaintance a certain restlessness in him made itself felt, a closer acquaintance showed that restlessness to be of a kind which may be called godlike, since it signifies that the human soul in which it dwells is capable of growth[.](pp. 150-1)

And “godlike” is where I draw the line regarding this dollop of drivel. Not only is he godlike, he was Christlike earlier in the book (complete with a metaphorical crown of thorns)...when is he going to die so he can be the Holy Ghost, too? Of course, all of this has been told to us at relentless length throughout the book so far, so while his thoughts drift to works done and undone, you'll have to forgive me if I blow off the whole ridiculous section with a few Let's-Just-Get-This-Over-With bullet points:

  • “His ideal of work had not been to paint so much what the public wanted, but what he wanted[.]” Yes, you already mentioned that. Can we move on to something new, please?

  • “More than is usual with artists, he had aimed to make his intellect broad, to feed it on the holy things of this earth, in order that the revelations of nature and of the spiritual world might flow through it as their rightful channel. To accomplish this he acquainted himself with the best in literature as well as art.” Astounding! Some artists know how to be well-rounded people and think about things besides art! This is another signifier that he's extra-special, forgetting for a moment that a significant number of paintings from the previous centuries were inspired by literature and myth (that's even true if you don't count the Bible as literature). Not all of them, granted, but enough of them to be meaningful. (Apropos-of-nothing sidebar: It's mentioned that he had a “very personal grief” for the death of Tennyson “during the past few months,” which (for the anal-retentive lit geeks) would place this part of the narrative at the beginning of 1893. Not that it makes any difference. It just feels like filigree for its own sake.)

  • Thinking back to the death of Ernest Renan—in the same month as Tennyson, but again, that won't bail you out at all—he pondered how Renan lacked the “sincere moral earnestness which for Galbraith was so essential to every man,” and that he didn't possess the character "to interpret the moral and spiritual life of man." Since Renan was a notorious antisemite with some pungent views on race, this proclamation is one of the easier ones for a modern reader to take, but does all of this really feed the narrative or the general atmosphere? Or is it, as I suspect, a case of "Blah blah blah I know stuff and things! You want to know what I'm talking about, get an encyclopedia..."?

And finally, we drift back to Helen.

Poor Helen! He almost spoke the words aloud, so distinctly did they repeat themselves in his own mind. What cares, what disappointments had his affliction brought to her! The thought of this give him more pain than any of his disappointments had ever done. He loved her as he had never loved any other human being; his love for her had entirely possessed him as nothing else had ever done. From the very first, love was the one influence which had purified and rescued him from all selfish desire, and led him out into a large, free, exalted state of existence. It had given him faith and courage when everything else failed to do so. He knew beyond questioning that Love is the one great thing—the great need of despairing, hopeless, erring human lives—that it above all other possessions signifies vitality and strength—and is the measure of a man's real life. (pp. 156-7)

Which is pretty high-minded talk from a man who hasn't left the house for three years just because he had his arms amputated, and is content to quietly atrophy in his sitting room because it's all too much for him. Seriously, do we have any indicator that Galbraith is dying from anything other than self-pity and broken pride? Because God forbid the author actually tells us something useful instead of burning off another eight or nine pages telling us what a noble victim of the fates he is...again. I have a theory about what might be going on, but I'll save it for the halftime report.

Yes, when he lingers on her, a poem (a truncated stanza from Tennyson's “Maud”) bubbles up from his subconscious, and yes, I have to include it:

The long continued silence of the room was broken by a faint musical sound, almost monotonous at first in its measured chanting; then a voice, soft and low, broke and fell like the sobbing of waves on the beach, intoning the words—

“Comfort her, comfort her, all things good,
While I am over the sea!
Let me and my passionate love go by,
But speak to her all things holy and high,
Whatever happen to me!
Me and my harmful love go by;
But come to her waking, find here asleep,
Powers of the height, Powers of the deep,
And comfort her tho' I die.” (p. 157)

Which would be a suitably melodramatic death scene...if he had the dignity to get it over with and die just then. Instead, we're told “the beginning of the end was here,” which means absolutely nothing, since the beginning of the end has been anticipated since shortly after Chapter 1.

And with a heavy sigh of relief mingled with dread, it's back to Mrs. Galbraith in New York, where through the courtesy of Westmore—to the mild surprise of Mr. Elliott—Helen has been provided a small furnished room in the newspaper building to rest and recharge during the day. Mrs. Elliott, who has become a fast friend, is a frequent visitor, and Mr. Elliott occasionally sticks his nose in when some editorial business requires it. Helen's only other visitor is Westmore himself, and while he seems to have changed his nature, it's merely a change in strategy.

His visits had been made very regularly, though he had not remained very long at one time. He generally chose the hour when he knew Helen would be preparing for her homeward trip, in order that he might go with her part of the way, and so prolong his own pleasure. It is very doubtful whether he thought or cared about Helen's feelings in the matter. She had not been able to entirely overcome her natural dislike of him, yet, despite her coldness and indifference, he continued so universally thoughtful of her, that she could not disregard him. He had in the past few months done so many kind things for her, and in so delicate a way, that it was only natural she should come to look upon him as an unusual man, and even at times to value the attentions and the regard which he bestowed upon her. This could not have been the case, however, had not Westmore controlled himself in the most remarkable manner. Realizing that at first he had made his admiration of Helen too plain for her, he set himself to work to correct this mistake, and did it so well that now he stood on just the natural ground with her which he desired. He came to her retreat whenever he knew she was there; he openly brought her flowers; he talked with her freely of his own plans and schemes; he gave her to understand that he was a restless, unhappy, dissatisfied man; in short, he did everything to arouse her interest in him, and to appeal to her sympathy. One thing only remained to him to do; to get her to accept the fact that she and she only was essential, indispensable to his happiness. What, he sometimes asked himself, if he failed in this? He would not fail, though! He was not the kind of man to fail at the supreme moment. (pp. 160-1)

On the night in question, Helen's desire to flee to the waiting mercies of her husband was overruled by sheer exhaustion, and soon she plopped down on the couch for ten minutes' rest. That was when Westmore, with a “peculiar, glad smile” when he saw her (and a creepy, stalkerly swagger in his step, I'm sure), let himself in and, by way of a solitaire game of musical chairs, cautiously approached his sleeping angel.

For some minutes he sat there, again very still, yet near enough to touch her had he but reached forth in his hand. Then he remained watching the sleeper, whose even breathing was the only sound to be heard in the room. At last the sleeper herself stirred; just a little, as one in a dream. Mr. Westmore left his chair and crept to the side of the couch, kneeling over it, breathless. She stirred again, this time reaching upward her right arm. The man kneeling over her caught the extended arm between both of his hands, holding it tightly for a moment against his breast.

“Darling!” He whispered the word, leaning towards her. Again the sleeper stirred, and again the word was whispered over her, yet more intensely. Then, as a woman often does in her sleep, when she has the habit of holding some loved one in her embrace, Helen lifted her arms and placed them about the man by her side.

Somehow, two or more hours later, Helen got back to the cottage in Jersey; but she could never remember just how she had come, or who came with her. The only thing that lingered in her memory of that night's journey was the impression that the meadows below the cottage were all mist and music. The frogs seemed to have set up a general chorus. As the February moon shown forth, she remembered to have thought, that winter, no doubt, was well-nigh over—that this was the promise of a change. Yes, the beginning of the end. (p. 163)

Um, it was just a hug she gave him, wasn't it? In her sleep? The disconnect of a century's divide must be working against me, since I read this passage several times and I'm still having a little trouble decoding what Miss Winston's flipping out about here. I'm sure all will be discreetly explained once I work up the nerve to start the second half.

“The beginning of the end”? No, we don't get that lucky this time. This is only the end of the beginning. Hoo. Ray.

Next: The Waters That Pass Away Halftime Report! Don't miss it! If you do, it'll happen anyway! Only you'll be somewhere else, and I'll be laughing behind your back!


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