The Author Kate Chopin

A Mental Suggestion

by


“When you meet Pauline this morning she will be charming; she will be quite the most attractive woman in the room and the only one worthy of your attention and consideration.”

This was the mental suggestion which Don Graham brought to bear upon his friend Faverham as the two were making their morning toilet together. Graham was a college professor, a hard working young fellow with a penchant for psychic research. He attended hypnotic séances and thereby had acquired a hypnotic power by no means trifling, which he sometimes exercised with marked success, especially upon his friend Faverham. When Faverham, getting up in the morning discovered that his black sack coat had assumed a vivid scarlet hue, he did not lament the fact or hesitate to put it on and present himself in public wearing so conspicuous a garment. He simply went to the telephone and rang up Graham:

“Hello! there – you blamed idiot! Stop monkeying with my coat!” Sometimes the message ran:

“Hello! This is the second morning I haven’t been able to stand my bath-“ or “here’s my coffee spoiled again! By thunder! I want this thing to stop right here!” Whereupon a little group of professors at the other end of the “phone” would be moved by a current of gratification hardly to be understood by those who have never known the success of a scientific demonstration.

Faverham himself was not a hard worker. With plenty of money and a good deal of charm, he dispensed both lavishly and was a great favorite with both women and men. There was one privilege which he assumed at all times; he persistently avoided people, places and things which bored him. One being among others on earth who thoroughly bored Faverham, was Pauline, the fiancée of his friend Graham. Pauline was a brown little body with fluffy hair and eye glasses, possessed of an investigating turn of mind and much energy of manner in the pursuit of mental problems. She “went in” for art which she studied with a scientific spirit and acquired by mathematical tabulation. She was the type of woman that Faverham detested. Her mental poise was a rebuke to him; there was constant rebuff in her lack of the coquettish, the captivating, the feminine. He supposed she and Graham were born for each other and he could not help feeling sorry for his friend. Needless to say Faverham avoided Pauline and, so far as his instinctive courtesy permitted, snubbed her.

He and his friend were down at Cedar Branch where a number of pleasant and interesting people were spending the month of October. On that particular October Monday morning, Graham was returning to his engagements in the city and Faverham meant to stay on at the Branch so long as he could do so without being bored. There were a number of jolly, congenial girls who contributed somewhat to his entertainment, and beside the fishing was good; so were the bathing and driving.

As Graham stood before the mirror tying his cravat, the disturbing thought came to him that his little Pauline would have a dreary time during his two week’s absence. With the exception of a German lady who collected butterflies and stuck pins through them, there was not a thoroughly congenial soul to keep her company. Graham thought of the driving, the sailing, the dancing in all of which Faverham was the leading and moving spirit and the temptation would convert Pauline from an object of indifference in Faverham’s eyes to a captivating young woman. Under some pretext he approached and laid his hand upon Faverham who was lacing his boot. “When you meet Pauline this morning at breakfast she will be charming; she will be quite the most attractive woman in the room and the only one worthy of your attention and consideration.”

There were a number of people assembled in the large dining room when Graham and Faverham entered. Some were already seated while others were standing chatting in small groups. Pauline was near a window reading a letter, absorbed in its contents which she hastened to communicate to her friend, after a hurried and absent-minded greeting. The letter was from an art-dealer, and all about a certain “example of Early Flemish” which he had obtained for her. Pauline was collecting facsimiles of the various “schools” and “periods” of painting with the precision and exactitude which characterized all her efforts. The acquisition of this bit of “Early Flemish” which she had been pursuing with unusual activity, settled her into a comfortable condition of mind. Graham sat beside her and they brought their heads together and chatted psychology and art over their oatmeal. Faverham sat opposite. He kept looking at her. He was talking to the Tennis-Girl next to him and listening to Pauline.

“Miss Edmonds,” he said abruptly, leaning forward so as to arrest her attention, “you must have Graham bring you around to my apartments when we’re all in town again. I have a few pieces by the Glasgow men which I picked up last summer in Scotland and a bit of Persian tapestry that seems like a Hornel with the color toned down. Perhaps you would like to look at them.” Pauline flushed with surprise and pleasure. The Tennis-Girl drew back and stared at him. The Golf-Girl threw a pellet of bread at him from the far end of the table and Graham smiled and chuckled inwardly and took some mental notes.

Faverham maintained a lively conversation with Pauline across the table during the entire repast, while inwardly he was thinking: “How wonderfully that soft brown suits her complexion and eyes! And what very sweet eyes she has behind those glasses. What depth! what animation! Could any thing be more captivating than that unstudied, spontaneous manner? and what a bright intelligence! By Jove! it puts a fellow on his mettle.” Graham had reason to congratulate himself upon the success of his experiment.

Great was his astonishment however upon leaving table to see Faverham saunter away in company with the Tennis-Girl, evincing no particle of further interest in Pauline.

“How is this?” thinks Graham. “Ah-ha! to be sure! I suggested that he should think Pauline charming and captivating when he met her at breakfast. I must renew and qualify the suggestion.”

When he went away, carrying his valise and things, Pauline accompanied him to the gate which was a good stretch from the big, rambling house. He maintained a peculiar and rigid silence as they strolled down the gravel path that was already covered with fallen leaves. Pauline looked questioningly up at him.

“I wish, dear,” he said, “you would abandon your thought to me; project all your mental energy into mine and let it follow and help the direction of my suggestion.” The Golf-Girl might have doubted the sanity of such a speech; not Pauline; she was used to him. As he withdrew to go and shake hands with Faverham who was near-by; she converted her mind, so far as she was able, into a vacuous blank, abandoning it to his intention. The mental suggestion which Graham rapidly formulated as he held Faverham’s hand, ran somewhat in this wise:

“Pauline is charming, intelligent, honest, sincere. She has depths in her nature that are worth sounding.” He and the girl then walked silently together down to the gate and parted there with a mute pressure of hands.

He looked back as he went down the road. Pauline had turned and was regaining the house. Faverham had abandoned the tennis group and was crossing the lawn to join her. Graham took some fresh mental notes and patted himself metaphorically upon the back.

II

In a letter which Pauline wrote a few days letter to Graham, she said:

“I have not yet begun my notes on the Renaissance and I should have finished them by now! I deserved a scolding and hope you will spare me. The truth is, I have been an idle girl and am quite ashamed of myself. You must have asked your friend Mr. Faverham to pay me a little attention. Were you afraid I should be bored? It was a misdirected kindness, dear, for he causes me to waste much time; he wanted to read Tennyson to me this morning out under the big maple when I had gone to begin those everlasting notes! I prevailed upon him to substitute Browning. I had to save something from this wreck of time! He is a delightful reader; his voice is mellow and withal intelligent, not merely musical. He was amazed at the beauty, the insight, the philosophy of our dear Browning. ‘Where have you been?’ I asked him in some surprise. ‘Oh! in good company,’ he avowed, ‘but you will take me on a voyage of discovery and make me acquainted with the immortals?’ But enough – If you have not yet seen Lilienthal about the Tintoretto” &c &c.

After a short interval she wrote:

“I am growing frivolous. I positively danced last night! You did not know I could dance? Oh! but I can; for I learned some pretty steps two winters ago when our ‘Manners and Customs’ class took up the history of dance.”

It was a week later that she said in a letter:

“I am distrustful of pleasures and emotions which reach one through other than intellectual channels. I received a singular impression a night or two ago. The evening was warm for October, and as there was a big, bright moon shining, Mr. Faverham, who had taken me for a sail, ventured to remain out longer than his usual hour for turning in. It was very late and very still. There was not a sound but the lapping of the little wavelets as the boat cut through the water, and the occasional flapping of the sail. The aromatic odor of the pines and firs wafted to us from the shore was very acute. I someway felt as if I were some other one, living in some other age and some other place. All that has heretofore made up the substance of my life seemed far away and unreal. All thought, ambition, energy had left me. I wanted to stay there forever upon the water, drifting, drifting along, not caring - I–recognize that the whole experience was sensuous and therefore to be mistrusted.”

Near the end of the two weeks there was a queer, rambling little note that seemed to Graham wholly out of character and irrelevant:

“You are staying away very long. I feel that I need you, to interpret me to myself if for nothing else. I fear there are forces in life against which the intellectual training makes no provision. Why are we placed at the mercy of emotions? What are the books for after all if we can snatch from them no weapon with which to meet and combat unsuspected and undreamed of subtleties of existence? Oh dear! Oh dear! Come back and help me disentangle it all.” Graham was puzzled and uneasy.

III

He returned to the Branch with the full intention of reclaiming his own. He was gratified with the success of his experiment, which at the same time had been the means of procuring for Pauline a period of diversion such as he believed would benefit her. His intention was to remove the suggestion he had put upon Faverham when everything would, of course, be as it was before.

If his love for the girl had been of the blind, passionate, exacting sort, perhaps he would have done so, even against the odds of changed conditions which met him.

“It may be a passing infatuation,” she admitted with pathetic frankness. “I do not know; I have never felt anything like it before. If you wish – if you think it best and wisest to hold me to my promise you will find me ready to fulfill it. But as things are now, I must tell you that my whole temperament seems to have undergone a change. I – I sometimes – oh! I love him!” She did not hide her face upon reaching the climax of her confession as most girls would have done, but looked out straight before her. They were sitting under the big maple where Faverham had read Browning to her; and the day was already beginning to fade. There was a light in her face that he had never seen there before; a glow such as he had never been able to kindle; whose source lay deeper in her soul than he had ever reached.

He took her small hand and stroked it quietly. His own hands were cold and moist. He said nothing except:

“You are quite free, dear; entirely free from any promise to me; don’t bother; don’t mind in the least.” He might have said much more, but it did not seem to him worth while. He was letting go of things as he sat there so quietly: of some hopes, a few plans, pictures, intentions, and his whole being was undergoing the wrench of separation.

She said nothing. Love is selfish. She was tasting the exultation of liberty and shrank from inflicting the panacea of conventional phrase or utterance upon a wounded soul.

There were more things than one to trouble Graham. How had his suggestion held and how would it hold? There was no doubt that Faverham was still under the influence of the spell, as Graham detected at once upon first meeting him. The suggestion seemed to have got beyond the professor’s control. He shuddered to think of the consequences; yet no course presented itself to him as acceptable but one of inactivity. There was nothing to do but hold off and let the experiment work itself out as it would. Faverham said to him that night:

“I’m going away in the morning, old fellow. I’m a devilish nice sort of friend if you only knew it. Spare me the shame of explaining. When we meet again in town I hope I shall have pulled myself sufficiently together to understand a certain aberration of mind or morals – or – or- hang me if I know what I’m talking about!”

“I leave in the morning myself,” returned Graham. “I may as well tell you that Pauline and I have discovered that we are not of that singleness of thought and that oneness of heart which offer the traditional pretext for two beings to cast their lots in common. We might go up to town together in the morning, if you like.”

IV

A few months later Faverham and Pauline were married. Their marriage seemed to mark the culmination of a certain tourtuous doubt that possessed itself of the young professor and rendered his days intolerable. “If, if, if!” kept buzzing in his brain: during hours of work; while he walked or rested or read; even throughout the night when he slept.

He remembered Faverham’s former dislike for the woman he had married. He realized that the aversion had been dispelled by means of a force whose limitations were as yet unknown; of whose possibilities he himself was wholly ignorant, and whose subtleties were beyond the control of his capacity. “How long will the suggestion hold?” This was the thought which preyed upon him. What if Faverham should awake some morning detesting the woman at his side! What if his infatuation should fade by degrees, imperceptibly; leaving her wrecked, stripped and shivering, to feed upon bitterness till the end of her days!

He visited them often during the first months of their marriage. People who knew them said their union was an ideal one; and, for once, people were right. Unconscious impulses were tempering, acting, counteracting each other, inevitably working towards the moulding of these two into the ideal “one” of the poets’ dreams.

Graham, when he was with them, watched them stealthily, with a certain cat-like intensity which, had they been less occupied with each other, they might have noticed and resented. It was always with a temporary relief he quitted them; a feeling of thankfulness that the lighted fuse had not yet reached the dynamite in the cellar. But the torture of uncertainty became almost unbearable and once or twice he went to them with the full intention of removing the suggestion; to see what would happen, and have done with it. But the sight of their content, their mutual sympathy, palsied his resolution, and he left as he had gone to them, the prey of doubt and sharp uneasiness.

One day Graham reasoned it all out with himself. The state of worry in which he lived had become unbearable. He determined to that evening, remove the suggestion which he had fixed upon Faverham six months before. If he found that he could do so, then it would easily follow that he could again renew it, if he thought best. But if the disillusion had to come finally to Faverham, why not have it come now, at once, at the outset of their married life, before Pauline had too firmly taken the habit of loving and while he, Graham, might still hold enough of the old influence to offer a balm to her intellect and her imagination if not to her heart. Graham, that night, realized more keenly than ever the change which Pauline had undergone. He looked at her often as they sat at table, unable to define what was yet so apparent. She was a pretty woman now. There was color in her face whose contour was softened and embellished by a peculiarly happy arrangement of her brown hair. The pince-nez which she had substituted for the rather formidable spectacles, while depriving her face somewhat of its former student-air, lent it a piquancy that was very attractive. Her gown was rich as her husband’s purse could buy and its colors were marvelously soft, indefinable, harmonious, making of the garment a distinct part of herself and her surroundings.

Graham seemed to take his place and fit into this small ménage as an essential and valued part of it. He certainly felt in no trifling degree responsible for its existence. That night he felt like some patriarch of old about to immolate a cherished object upon the altar of science – a victim to the insatiable God of the Inevitable.

It was not during that pleasant moment of dining, but later in the evening that Graham chose to tempt once more the power which he had played with and which, like some venomous, unknown reptile had stung and wounded him.

They sat drowsily before the remnant of a wood-fire that had spent itself, and glowed now, and flamed fitfully. Faverham had been reading aloud by the light of a single lamp, soft lines whose beauty had melted and entered into their souls like an ointment, soothing them to inward contemplation rather than moving them to speech and wordy discussion. The book yet hung from his hand as he stared into the glow of embers. There was a flurry of rain beating against the window panes. Graham, buried in the cushioned depths of an arm chair, gazed at Faverham. Pauline had arisen and she walked slowly to and fro in the apartment, her garments making a soft, pleasant rustle as she moved in and out of the shadows. Graham felt that the moment had come.

He arose and went towards the lamp to light the cigar which he took from his pocket. As he stood beside the table he rested a hand carelessly upon the shoulder of his friend.

“Pauline is the woman she was six months ago. She is not charming or attractive,” he suggested silently. “Pauline is not the woman she was six months ago when she first went to Cedar Branch.” Graham lit his cigar at the lamp and returned to his chair in the shadow.

Faverham shivered as if a cold breath had swept by him, and drew his lounge a little nearer the fire. He turned his head and looked at his wife as she passed in her slow walk. Again he gazed into the fire, then restlessly back at his wife; over and over. Graham kept his eyes fixed upon him, silently repeating the suggestion.

Suddenly Faverham arose letting the book fall unnoticed to the floor. Impetuously he approached his wife and taking her in his arms as if he had been alone with her, he held her close, while passionately, almost rudely, he kissed her flushed and startled face, over and over, hungrily. She was panting, and red with confusion and annoyance when he finally released her from his ardent embrace.

“Polly, Polly!” he entreated, “forgive me,” for she went and hid her face in the cushion of a chair; “don’t mind, dearest. Graham knows how much I love you.” He turned and walked towards the fire. He was agitated and passed his hand in an unmeaning fashion across his forehead.

“I don’t know when I’ve made such an ass of myself,” he said apologetically in a low tone to Graham. “I hope you’ll forgive the tactless display of emotion. The truth is, I feel hardly responsible for it myself; more as if I had obeyed some imperative impulse driving me to an emphatic expression. I admit it was ill-timed,” he laughed; “over-mastering love is my only excuse.” Graham did not stay much longer. A sense of relief – release, was overpowering him. But he was baffled; he wanted to be alone to puzzle the phenomenon out according to his lights.

He did not lift his umbrella, but rather welcomed the dash of rain in his face as he strode along the glistening pavement. There was a good bit of a walk before him and it was only towards the end of it, when the rain had stopped and a few little stars were blinking down at him, that the truth finally dawned. He remembered that six months ago he had suggested to Faverham that Pauline was charming, captivating, intelligent, honest, worthy of study. But what about love? He had said nothing of that. Love had come unbidden, without a “will you?” or a “by your leave”; and there was love in possession, holding his own against any power of the universe. It was indeed a great illumination to Graham.

He gave rein to his imagination. Recalling Faverham’s singular actions under the last hypnotic suggestion, he hugged the fancy that the two forces, love, and the imperative suggestion had waged a short, fierce conflict within the man’s subconsciousness, and love had triumphed. He positively believed this.

Graham looked up at the little winking stars and they looked down at him. He bowed in acknowledgement to the supremacy of the moving power which is love; which is life.


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