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We rejoin Mrs. Galbraith (Book 2, Chapter 8) with the advanced state of distress we were expecting already in progress. She finds out in short order that Mr. Galbraith has been unconscious since Mr. Tompson left, and that Jane was hesitant to disturb him. “I do not believe you could have disturbed him,” Helen answers portentously. Duhn-duhn-duhnnnnnnnnnn.

“Alex! Alex!” She put her lips close to his ear as she spoke these words. She commenced to rub different parts of his body, but the only sign which he gave was to breathe a little more heavily, as if a dim consciousness stirred in him.

“Alex! Alex!” But the faint echo of her own words died away without response.

“There is nothing we can do, Jane. Go for William Johnston and send him at once into Newark for a doctor, the best one he can find.

When Helen was left alone she paused for the first time since coming into the house to give herself some attention. She took off her hat and coat and threw them upon the center-table; in doing so she noticed several ends of cigarettes in the ash receiver, evidently left there by Tompson that afternoon. He smoked them so incessantly, especially when he was talking with Galbraith, that the mere sight and odor of them seemed to bring his bodily presence before her. She turned away in disgust, and going over to Galbraith kneeled beside him. Removing his shoes, she commenced to stroke his feet, which seemed to her cold and lifeless beyond all restoration.

“So Andrew Tompson was here!” she said reflectively. “He and Alex talked a great deal—had hard words over something.” (pp. 287-8)

And as she is left alone, we are reminded that she spent the day cutting ties with her old life so she could return to her older life, the one that's disintegrating in front of her at the moment. “She was part of no one's life and no one was a part of hers.” Well, except for Jane, but seriously, are we counting the hired help in that number now? I mean come on, we might as well count the parlor piano or the hall tree if we're counting the maid! Right?

Into the midst of this lovingly hand-crafted misery comes a messenger boy with a note from Evil Andrew, unapologetic as ever, but really, what happened to that rolling boil he was working up? The letter sounds like a pitiful attempt at reconciliation. “[W]hile I condemn heartily the course you have chosen to pursue, especially since a very different course was open to you, I still have a full confidence in your large powers of perception and penetration. I believe in time you will be able to do me justice, and to look upon me in the light of the true friend I have aimed to be, both to you and Galbraith.” Our boy Tompson, unafraid of his conduct and unreflecting on its consequences, is making a supreme sacrifice by hanging behind in the “abominable” resort of Atlantic City so that if the Galbraiths came to their senses—fat chance of that happening now, bub—they can come down to the Boardwalk. But one week is all he can bear to wait with all those grubby middle class tourists and their sticky hands. Naturally, Helen tells the messenger boy “no answer.”

Saying aloud to no one in particular that Andrew killed her husband triggers another breathtaking streak of self-flagellation. Gird your spirit and have your sackcloth and ashes ready.

“No, he did not do it!” a voice spoke to her. “Andrew Tompson did not do it. You did it! You, his wife,you, Helen Galbraith!”

“But he came here,” protested Helen, “and talked to Alex in such a way that he could only see my sin, but not my suffering. Ah, my sin is nothing, nothing to the suffering I have endured! If there is any power in the agony of a soul to wipe away guilt, mine should be wiped away!” She turned toward her dying husband, and throwing herself at his feet, all pride, all scorn went out of her. Her dejection and her humiliation became complete.

“My poor boy! My poor boy!” She stroked his limbs with hands which had become almost as cold and rigid as his own feet. “I was so mistaken, sweetheart! I have loved you so much! To keep you with me and make you comfortable and happy during your last days, no sacrifice seemed too great! This has been my only wish—this has been all!”

Her head fell upon his body. For a long while, it seemed to her, she remained thus, unable to rise, or to protest further. As she lay there, she could feel distinctly each beat of his heart, and every moment the beats became fewer and fewer, fainter and fainter. Had she possessed the whole world, she would have given it to bring him back to consciousness, if only for one hour, that she might pour out her heart to him and make him understand. It was useless to upbraid or hate Tompson. No matter how contemptible his conduct had been, it lessened in no way her own responsibility; and the voice speaking in her, resting the sin principally upon her, was right and truthful, she knew. Yes, she had done it—had killed Galbraith—and she alone! It was foolish to cry out against fate. This cup of bitterness she had prepared for herself, and she had no right to ask that it should pass from her. To drink it to the very dregs was now all that remained to her, and to do this submissively rested upon her as a final and supreme obligation! To lie still and suffer—to accept the uttermost justice of God's wrath—to achieve a supreme renunciation of self—these things now alone remained to her. (pp. 293-4)

“To lie still and suffer.” At no point is the book of Job epigram that gives the book its title more appropriate, because there's a dark, vengeful, fatalistic Old Testament tone to that phrase that I just couldn't get on board with. Maybe my understanding of redemption through Christ is a bit off, but I thought that was something you do to avoid God's wrath, not to wallow in it. It's a jarring enough transition from “lie still and suffer” to modern mainstream Protestantism, but try going from there to Prosperity Gospel and see if you don't get spiritual whiplash.

(Of course, that was my second thought on “lie still and suffer.” I'm sad to say that my first thought was "A guy looks for a phrase that perfectly describes his experience with a book and the moment he gives up looking, one hits him square in the face...")

And from here, we spend a few pages working Helen's misery into a high froth, but frankly I'm so disgusted with the process that you'll have to forgive me if I mow all of that down to get to The Main Point of all this.

“Fair and pure spirit! Fair and pure spirit!”

Something moved her to repeat the words.

“Fair and pure spirit!”

Earnestly she looked a Galbraith, still holding his face in her hands. Oh, that he could open his eyes, only once again, and looking into her face with full consciousness, could read there her entire love for him! Oh, that he might be able to listen, only once again, to her words, as she made to him that full confession which she so longed to make! Her hands clasped themselves more firmly about Galbraith's brow. Her lips touched his.

The solemn stillness of his beautiful features seemed to bring some kind of peace to her troubled spirit. Her thoughts went back to the events of the morning just passed. She stood again face to face with the vast possibilities of womanhood. She saw again to what heights it may rise—to what perfections it may attain, provided the heart be pure and subject to the law which must be obeyed. (pp. 297-8)

At last the doctor arrives, whose suggestions for Mrs. Galbraith's comfort are ignored. She's there until the bitter end, which we're assured won't be long now. Helen is also told that last window of consciousness she was hoping for, to make a clean breast of everything, isn't going to happen, either. The doctor gradually leads her into conversation, and she gives him at least a taste of their history, “the beauty and the charm, and also the sadness and the tragedy.” He figures if he can't do anything for the husband, he can do at least that for her.

At dawn, Galbraith's breathing becomes very faint, and when Helen realizes this, her voice breaks the silence.

“Alex! Alex! do you hear me? It is I—Helen. Look at me—speak to me—one word only! Can you not, my love, can you not? Alex! Tell me in some way, that you understand—that you know—that you forgive me! I have loved you only! Alex! do you not hear me?”

The features of the dying man moved—moved for the first time since he had been stricken. Slowly a subdued form of life seemed to come over them. Once again his features moved—then his eyes opened—the light of the new-born day came through the window and shone full upon his noble face. For a moment he looked into the eyes of his wife who in response could only cry “Alex!” His countenance relaxed, a smile played about his lips, and in a moment he was gone.

A sob of anguish, then a cry of despair. The doctor sprang to his feet. Helen lay upon the floor. The doctor moved forward to lift her; as he did so his glance fell upon Galbraith, and he was astonished at the radiant expression upon the dead man's face.

Without a divine miracle had been wrought. The glory of the sun spread a mantle of royal splendor over the fields, the meadows, and the woods. The atmosphere was luminous with serenity and a limpid clearness. It was the first day of summer, and the whole earth seemed to have been made anew under the cover of night. Surrounded by the darkness one had felt the world to be sorrowful and worn and dull; but now that a new day had touched it, hope returned to it as the tide returns to the shore, and out of the unseen depths a new life appeared to break. (pp. 300-1)

Next: Something resembling atonement, I'm sure, since it's the last chapter. Something resembling a resolution? I'm not quite as sure about that...


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