Chapter IV



“MRS ELMORE is quite right; this is no morbid fancy of hers. I have observed your pretty Miss Dorothy, and had my own speculations. Now, the whole thing lies in a nutshell.”
          “Can you deal with our trouble, doctor?” I cried out.
          “Deal with it, my dear madam? Of course I can. I am not a pupil of Weissall’s for nothing. Your Dorothy is a good girl, and will yield herself to treatment. As to that, you don’t want me. The doctor is only useful on the principle that lookers-on see most of the game. Once understand the thing, and it is with you the cure must lie.”
          “Please explain; you will find me very obedient.”
          “I’m not so sure of that; you know the whole of my mental property has not been gathered in Midlington. You ladies look very meek; but directly one begins to air one’s theories—which are not theories, by the way, but fixed principles of belief and conduct—you scent all manner of heterodoxy, and because a valuable line of scientific thought and discovery is new to you, you take up arms, with the notion that it flies in the face of the Bible. When, as a matter of fact, every new advance in science is a further revelation, growing out, naturally, from that we already have.”
          “Try me, doctor; your ’doxy shall be my ’doxy
if you will only take us in hand, and I shall be ready enough to believe that your science is by revelation.”
          “Well, here goes. In for a penny, in for a pound. In the first place, I want to do away with the sense of moral responsibility, both for yourself and Dorothy, which is wearing you out. Or, rather, I want to circumscribe its area and intensify its force. Dorothy has, perhaps, and conceivably her mother has also, inherited her peculiar temperament; but you are not immediately responsible for that. She, again, has fostered this inherited trait, but neither is she immediately responsible for the fact.”
          “How do you mean, doctor? That we can’t help it, and must take our nature as we find it? But that is worse than ever. No; I cannot believe it. Certainly my husband has done a great deal to cure me.”
          “No doubt he has. And how he has done it—without intention, I dare say—I hope by-and-by to show you. Perhaps you now and then remark, What creatures of habit we are!”
          “And what of that? No one can help being struck now and then with the fact; especially, no mother.”
          “Well, and what does this force of habit amount to? and how do you account for it?”
          “Why, I suppose it amounts to this, that you can do almost anything once you get into the way of it. Why, I don’t know; I suppose it’s the natural constitution of the mind.”
          “The ‘natural constitution of the mind’ is a conversational counter with whose value I am not acquainted. That you can get into the way of doing almost anything, is simple fact; but you must add, of
thinking anything, of feeling anything, before you begin to limit the force of habit.”
          “I think I begin to see what you mean. We, my child and I, are not so much to blame now for our sullen and resentful feelings, because we have got the habit of them. But surely habits may be cured?”
          “Ah, once we begin to see that, we are to blame for them. We must ask, How are we to set about the cure? What’s to be done. What hopeless idiots we are, the best of us, not to see that the very existence of an evil is a demand for its cure, and that, in the moral world, there’s a dock for every nettle!”
          “And then, surely, the sins of the fathers visited upon the children, is a bitter law. How could Dorothy help what she inherited?”
          “Dorothy could not help it, but you could; and what have you two excellent parents been about to defer until the child is budding into womanhood this cure which should have been achieved in her infancy? Surely, seventeen years ago at least, you must have seen indications of the failing which must needs be shown up now, to the poor girl’s discredit.”
          I grew hot all over under this home thrust, while George looked half dubious, half repentant, not being quite sure where his offence lay.
          “It is doubly my fault, doctor; I see it all now. When Dorothy was a child I would not face the fact. It was too awful to think my child would be as I still was. So we had many little fictions that both nurse and mother saw through: the child was poorly, was getting her second teeth, was overdone. The same thing, only more so, went on during her schoolroom life. Dorothy was delicate, wanted stamina, must have a tonic. And this, though we had a governess
who tried to convince me that it was temper and not delicacy that ailed my little girl. The worst of deceiving yourself is that you get to believe the lie. I saw much less of the schoolroom, than of the nursery party, and firmly believed in Dorothy’s frequent attacks of indisposition.”
          “But, supposing you had faced the truth, what would you have done.”
          “There is my excuse; I had no idea that anything could be done.”
          “Now, please, don’t write me down a pagan if I try to show you what might have been done, and may yet be done.”
          “Doctor Evans!”
          “Oh, yes, ’tis a fact; you good women are convinced that the setting of a broken limb is a work for human skill, but that the cure of a fault of disposition is for Providence alone to effect, and you say your prayers and do nothing, looking down from great heights upon us who believe that skill and knowledge come in here too, and are meant to do so in the divine scheme of things. It’s startling when you come to think of it, that every pair of parents has so largely the making of their child!”
          “But what of inherited failings—such cases as this of ours?”
          “Precisely a case in point. Don’t you see, such a case is just a problem set before parents with a, ‘See, how will you work out this so as to pass your family on free from taint?’”
          “That’s a noble thought of yours, Evans. It gives every parent a share in working out the salvation of the world, even to thousands of generations.—Come, Mary, we’re on our promotion! To pass on our
children free from the blemishes they get from us is a thing worth living for.”
          “Indeed it is. But don’t think me narrow-minded, doctor, nor that I should presume to think hard things of you men of science, if I confess that I still think the ills of the flesh fall within the province of man, but the evils of the spirit within the province of God.”
          “I’m not sure but that I’m of our mind; where we differ is as to the boundary line between flesh and spirit. Now, every fault of disposition and temper, though it may have begun in error of the spirit in ourselves or in some ancestor, by the time it becomes a fault of character is a failing of the flesh, and is to be dealt with as such—that is, by appropriate treatment. Observe, I am not speaking of occasional and sudden temptations and falls, or of as sudden impulses towards good, and the reaching of heights undreamed of before. These things are of the spiritual world, and are to be spiritually discerned. But the failing or the virtue which has become habitual to us is flesh of our flesh, and must be treated on that basis whether it is to be uprooted or fostered.”
          “I confess I don’t follow: this line of argument should make the work of redemption gratuitous. According to this theory, every parent can save his child, and every man can save himself.”
          “No, my dear; there you’re wrong. I agree with Evans. It is we who lose the efficacy of the great Redemption by failing to see what it has accomplished. That we have still to engage in a spiritual warfare, enabled by spiritual aids, Dr Evans allows. His point is, as I understand it, why embarrass ourselves with these less material ills of the flesh which
are open to treatment on the same lines, barring the drugs, as a broken limb or a disordered stomach. Don’t you see how it works? We fall, and fret, and repent, and fall again; and are so over-busy with our own internal affairs, that we have no time to get that knowledge of God which is the life of the living soul?”
          “All this is beyond me. I confess it is neither the creed nor the practice in which I was brought up. Meantime, how is it to affect Dorothy? That is the practical question.”
          Dr Evans threw a smiling “I told you so” glance at my husband, which was a little annoying; however, he went on:—
          “To be sure; that is the point. Poor Dorothy is just now the occasional victim of a troop of sullen, resentful thoughts and feelings, which wear her out, shut out the sunshine, and are as curtain between her and all she lives. Does she want these thoughts? No; she hates and deplores them on her knees, we need not doubt; resolves against them; goes through much spiritual conflict. She is a good girl, and we may be sure of all this. Now we must bring physical science to her aid. How those thoughts began we need not ask, but there they are; they go patter, patter, to and fro, to and fro, in the nervous tissue of the brain until—here is the curious point of contact between the material and the immaterial, we see by results that there is such point of the contact, but how or why it is so we have not even a guess to offer—until the nervous tissue is modified under the continued traffic in the same order of thoughts. Now, these thoughts become automatic; they come of themselves, and spread and flow as a
river makes and enlarges its bed. Such habit of thought is set up, and must go on indefinitely, in spite of struggles, unless—and here is the word of hope—a contrary habit is set up, diverting the thoughts into some quite new channel. Keep the thoughts running briskly in the new channel, and, behold, the old connections are broken, whilst a new growth of brain substance is perpetually taking place. The old thoughts return, and there is no place for them, and Dorothy has time to make herself think of other things before they can establish again the old links. There is, shortly, the philosophy of ordering our thoughts—the first duty of us all.”
          “That is deeply interesting, and should help us. Thank you very much; I had no idea that our thoughts were part and parcel, as it were, of any substance. But I am not sure yet how this is to apply to Dorothy. It seems to me that it will be very difficult for her, poor child, to bring all this to bear on herself. It will be like being put into trigonometry before you are out of subtraction.”
          “You are right, Mrs Elmore, it will be a difficult piece of work, to which she will have to give herself up for two or three months. If I am not mistaken in my estimate of her, by that time we shall have a cure. But if you had done the work in her childhood, a month or two would have effected it, and the child herself would have been unconscious of effort.”
          “How sorry I am. Do tell me what I should have done.”
          “The tendency was there, we will allow; but you should never have allowed the habit of this sort of feeling to be set up. You should have been on the
watch for the outward signs—the same then as now, some degree of pallor, with general limpness of attitude, and more or less dropping of the lips and eyes. The moment one such sign appeared, you should have been at hand to seize the child out of the cloud she was entering, and to let her bask for an hour or two in love and light, forcing her to meet you eye to eye, and to find love and gaiety in yours. Every sullen attack averted is so much against setting up the habit; and habit, as you know, is a chief factor in character.”
          “And can we do nothing for her now?”
          “Certainly you can. Ignore the sullen humours; let gay life go on as if she was not there, only drawing her into it now and then by an appeal for her opinion, or for her laugh at a joke. Above all, when good manners compel her to look up, let her meet unclouded eyes, full of pleasure in her; for, believe, whatever cause of offence she gives to you, she is far more deeply offensive to herself. And you should do this all the more because, poor girl, the brunt of the battle will fall upon her.”
          “I see you are right; all along, her sullenness has given away before her father’s delight in her, and indeed it is in this way that my husband has so far cured me. I suppose you would say he had broken the habit. But won’t you see her and talk to her? I know you can help her most.”
          “Well, to tell you the truth, I was going to ask you if I might; her sensitive nature must be gently handled; and, just because she has no such love for me as for her parents, I run less risk of wounding her. Besides, I have a secret to tell which should help her in the management of herself.”
          “Thank you, Evans; we are more grateful than I can say. Will you strike while the iron’s hot? Shall we go away and send her to you, letting her suppose it is a mere medical call?”

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