Dr. Heidenhoff's Process

by Edward Bellamy

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Chapter VII

A search, continued unintermittingly for a week among the hotels and lodging-houses of Boston, proved finally successful. He found her. As she opened the door of the miserable apartment which she occupied, and saw who it was that had knocked, the hard, unbeautiful red of shame covered her face. She would have closed the door against him, had he not quickly stepped within. Her eyelids fluttered a moment, and then she met his gaze with a look of reckless hardihood. Still holding the door half open, she said--

"Henry Burr, what do you want?"

The masses of her dark hairs hung low about her neck in disorder, and even in that first glance his eye had noted a certain negligent untidiness about her toilet most different from her former ways. Her face was worn and strangely aged and saddened, but beautiful still with the quenchless beauty of the glorious eyes, though sleepless nights had left their dark traces round them;

"What do you want? Why do you come here?" she demanded again, in harsh, hard tones; for he had been too much moved in looking at her to reply at once.

Now, however, he took the door-handle out of her hand and closed the door, and said, with only the boundless tenderness of his moist eyes to mend the bluntness of the words--

"Madeline, I want you. I want you for my wife."

The faintest possible trace of scorn was perceptible about her lips, but her former expression of hard indifference was otherwise quite unchanged as she replied, in a spiritless voice--

"So you came here to mock me? It was taking a good deal of trouble, but it is fair you should have your revenge."

He came close up to her.

"I'm not mocking. I'm in earnest. I'm one of those fellows who can never love but one woman, and love her for ever and ever. If there were not a scrap of you left bigger than your thumb, I'd rather have it than any woman in the world."

And now her face changed. There came into it the wistful look of those before whom passes a vision of happiness not for them, a look such as might be in the face of a doomed spirit which, floating by, should catch a glimpse of heavenly meads, and be glad to have had it, although its own way lay toward perdition. With a sudden impulse she dropped upon her knee, and seizing the hem of his coat pressed it to her lips, and then, before he could catch her, sprang away, and stood with one arm extended toward him, the palm turned outward, warning him not to touch her. Her eyes were marvellously softened with the tears that suffused them, and she said--

"I thank you, Henry. You are very good. I did not think any man could be so good. Now I remember, you always were very good to me. It will make the laudanum taste much sweeter. No! no! don't! Pity my shame. Spare me that! Oh, don't!"

But he was stronger than she, and kissed her. It was the second time he had ever done it. Her eyes flashed angrily, but that was instantly past, and she fell upon a chair crying as if her heart would break, her hands dropping nervously by her sides; for this was that miserable, desolate sorrow which does not care to hide its flowing tears and wrung face.

"Oh, you might have spared me that! O God! was it not hard enough before?" she sobbed.

In his loving stupidity, thinking to reassure her, he had wounded the pride of shame, the last retreat of self-respect, that cruellest hurt of all. There was a long silence. She seemed to have forgotten that he was there. Looking down upon her as she sat desolate, degraded, hopeless before him, not caring to cover her face, his heart swelled till it seemed as if it would burst, with such a sense of piteous loyalty and sublimed devotion as a faithful subject in the brave old times might have felt towards his queen whom he has found in exile, rags, and penury. Deserted by gods and men she might be, but his queen for ever she was, whose feet he was honoured to kiss. But what a gulf between feeling this and making her understand his feeling!

At length, when her sobs had ceased, he said, quietly--

"Forgive me. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

"It's all the same. It's no matter," she answered, listlessly, wiping her eyes with her hand. "I wish you would go away, though, and leave me alone. What do you want with me?"

"I want what I have always wanted: I want you for my wife."

She looked at him with stupid amazement, as if the real meaning of this already once declared desire had only just distinctly reached her mind, or as if the effect of its first announcement had been quite effaced by the succeeding outburst.

"Why, I thought you knew! You can't have heard--about me," she said.

"I have heard, I know all," he exclaimed, taking a step forward and standing over her. "Forgive me, darling! forgive me for being almost glad when I heard that you were free, and not married out of my reach. I can't think of anything except that I've found you. It is you, isn't it? It is you. I don't care what's happened to you, if it is only you."

As he spoke in this vehement, fiery way, she had been regarding him with an expression of faint curiosity. "I believe you do really mean it," she said, wonderingly, lingering over the words; "you always were a queer fellow."

"Mean it!" he exclaimed, kneeling before her, his voice all tremulous with the hope which the slightly yielding intonation of her words had given him. "Yes--yes--I mean it."

The faint ghost of a smile, which only brought out the sadness of her face, as a taper in a crypt reveals its gloom, hovered about her eyes.

"Poor boy!" she said; "I've, treated you very badly. I was going to make an end of myself this afternoon, but I will wait till you are tired of your fancy for me. It will make but little difference. There! there! Please don't kiss me."

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