"Je continue a me porter beaucoup mieux. Les nuits sont bonnes.
"A bientot, puisque vous avez la bonne pensee de revenir.
"Bien cordialement a vous."
The rules of work had been, perforce, relaxed lately, and almost all the working time had been devoted to writing the "Quest of Happiness," and an article on "Formative Influences" for the "Forum," besides the concluding articles for "Scribner's Magazine."
A decided and rapid improvement in health had taken place, and when, at the beginning of October, Miss Betham-Edwards came to see us, she found my husband much as usual—though looking older—as she told me afterwards.
A few days after she had come to dejeuner at Clematis we went to lunch with her at her hotel, and spent the whole day together, visiting the Musee Carnavalet, and having a long walk the whole way back to the Rue d'Alger. We crossed the Cour du Louvre, where my husband explained in detail the various transformations and changes in the architecture of the palace at different periods of time. Then, in the fading twilight, we had a look at the magnificent and poetical vista opened by the removal of the Tuileries, before saying goodbye; and when we reached Clematis for a late dinner, Gilbert told my mother that he had enjoyed the day and did not feel tired in the least.
On the following Sunday we had a long walk in the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne with some friends, and near the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile we happened to espy the doctor, when my husband remarked cheerfully, "Doctor B——, who was to see me again in two months, would be surprised to hear that I am cured already."
On October 17, a fire was lighted for the first time this autumn in Gilbert's study, and before the flue became heated and a good draught produced, the smoke was considerable. I warned him not to remain in the room, the air being so bad; he answered that as soon as the work he had begun allowed of it, he would go out. I left the door open on purpose, and begged him not to close it; but when I went up again with the letters—two hours after—I found him still at work, in an atmosphere of dense yellow smoke, without possible escape, the door having been closed again. As usual, when writing, my husband became so wrapt in his work that he was not conscious of anything outside of it.
I became alarmed for him, as I could hardly breathe, but he felt no inconvenience just then.
In the afternoon he had a walk, but in the evening he went up again to the study, and remained there over an hour, giving a lesson in English pronunciation to one of his nephews. The smoke had, however, subsided, and the fire burned steadily.
At half-past one I was awakened by a sensation of chill on the forehead—it came from my husband's lips—he was giving me, as he thought, a last kiss, for he murmured faintly, "J'ai voulu te dire que je t'ai bien aimee, car je crois que je vais mourir."
He was deadly pale, but quite collected. I helped him to dress, and we managed to reach the garden for purer air. He wrote afterwards in his diary that his sufferings had been horrible, and lasted in full two hours and a half. I tried to encourage him in the struggle for life, by saying that it was asthma, and that I had witnessed a dear relation of ours struggling successfully through several similar attacks. I felt certain now that it was asthma, and I said so to the doctor on the following day. He answered, "It is cardiac asthma, then."
It was freezing hard outside, and as soon as he recovered breathing power, I led my husband to the drawing-room sofa, which I wheeled in front of the chimney, and the wood being piled up ready for a fire, I made a great blaze, and opened the windows wide at the same time. Once stretched on the couch and wrapped up in blankets, facing the leaping flames, he soon regained vital warmth, and his breathing became more regular.
Altogether the crisis had lasted five hours, during which I had remained alone with him without even calling a maid, for fear of making him worse through annoyance. I affected entire freedom from anxiety as to the end, merely expressing sympathy with his momentary sufferings, and I was thankful to succeed in deceiving him.
As soon as he felt well enough to be left for a short time, I hastened to the doctor's, but went first to tell Mary and her husband of the sad occurrence, that they might go to their father while I should be away.
The doctor attributed the attack entirely to the effect of the smoke, and said it had nothing to do with my husband's malady—"he had been asphyxiated;" it would have no lasting effects, except as to retarding the cure; the ground gained since the beginning of the regimen had been lost, and it was all to begin over again.
I did not attempt to disguise from him my anxious fears nor my feelings when I had witnessed my husband's tortures without any means or hopes of alleviating them; "for," I added, "I have been told there is no help in cases of acute asthma." "There was not," he answered, "till a quite recent discovery; but now immediate relief may be given by injections of serum."
Though he assured me that there would be no other attack of the same kind if we took care to have only wood fires and no smoke, I insisted upon being recommended to a reliable doctor, not far from our house, who would promise to come at any time of night if we needed him, and who would always have serum in his possession—the great specialist being himself at too great a distance from us to be fetched in an emergency. The very doctor I wanted happened to be this very day sharing, as he often did, the labors and studies of the specialist. He was called in, and, after listening to an explanation, gave me the promise I desired, and said he would follow me immediately to Clematis to see the patient; and if he should see the necessity for it, would ask his friend to join him at our house for a consultation.
As he noticed the distress under which I was laboring, the physician kindly said before I left him: "I repeat, that I do not apprehend a recurrence of what happened last night—but, si par impossible une autre crise semblable survenait, rappelez-vous bien que, meme suivie de syncope, elle ne serait jamais mortelle."
I believed him, though my heart was still heavy at the thoughts of the sufferings that the future might bring to my husband. I felt greatly relieved in being able to give him the doctor's assurance that there was no danger for his life.
I was happy on entering the drawing-room to see him quietly talking with Mary and Raoul, and eating grapes. He said that, with the exception of fatigue, he felt very well indeed. He had taken some broth, and partook of a light dinner with pleasure.
The doctor delegated by the physician, after an examination, merely confirmed what had been said to me, and saw no necessity for a consultation with his friend.
On the morrow we arranged a temporary study to avoid fresh troubles with the stove, and kept up good ventilation with a bright wood fire and frequent opening of windows looking out on the garden.
Gilbert resumed his ordinary work with great moderation, taking care to interrupt whatever he was doing every hour by a short walk in the open air, according to medical advice. Four days later I find this entry in the note-book: "October 24. Walked in the Bois de Boulogne towards evening in an enchantment of color and light; beautiful autumnal color on trees."
One of my husband's last satisfactions in life was a letter for Mr. Burlingame, about the work lately done for Messrs. Scribner. Here is a passage out of it:—
"I have long had in mind to say, a propos of the conclusion of the series, how much of a success I think our last plan proved, and how cordially we all appreciate the very valuable and punctual fulfilment which you kindly gave to it. All our relations during its progress were a great pleasure to me; and I hope it will not be long before the Magazine may have the benefit of your help again. It will always gratify us very much to know of any suggestion or papers that occur to you which you might be inclined to send our way.
"Mr. Scribner and Mr. Jaccaci are back again; and we all often speak of you with pleasant recollections of your kindness in Paris."
Although Messrs. Scribner's pecuniary arrangements were very liberal, my husband's satisfaction in his dealings with them was mostly derived from their courtesy; for though he was obliged to take money into consideration, it was almost the least weighty of considerations with him. He often said he did not like money; he looked upon it as the indispensable means of providing necessaries, and thereby affording the mind sufficient peace to apply itself to study in freedom from anxious cares. He never desired riches or luxury, and hated to have to think about money matters or to talk about them, even to me; and aware that the subject was more than disagreeable,—painful,—I avoided it as much as possible.
After the first terrible attack of suffocation, Mr. Seeley had been reluctant to ask for my husband's help; still, as he had recovered so soon, and had resumed his ordinary avocations, he was willing and able to do several urgent things for the "Portfolio," and Mr. Seeley wrote:—
"You have done, before receiving my last letter, exactly what it asked you to do. What a good thing when editor and publisher are in such perfect rapport.
"I hope you have not had any more attacks."
No, he had not; and his nights were quiet again, though he got up very early, at four or five in the morning, and had a nap in the afternoon. The only thing he complained of was a sensation of weakness unknown to him before. It was not sufficient to be called painful, but still he felt it to be there, and hoped to get rid of it when allowed a little beer or claret. He so much disliked drinking milk at meal-times that it quite spoilt his appetite, until the doctor said he might have water during his repasts, and milk in the intervals.
On account of the diminution in strength, I was afraid of the effects that fatigue might produce, and did not like to see him go so often to Paris as he had lately done, especially to the exhibitions; but when it could not be avoided, I managed to go with him, under the pretext that I was interested in them myself.
On November 4 he asked me if I should like to go with him to the Louvre, where he had to see the Salle des Primitifs. I said yes. He spent an hour there, enjoying heartily the best pictures, and extolling their merits as we were coming back. According to his habit, he was reading in the tram-car on his way home, and I noticed that it was a volume of "Virgil," and in looking up from the book to his face, I observed that he looked paler than usual. I inquired if he felt tired. He answered, "Not in the least." And when we reached home he went up straight to his study, and wrote till the bell called him to dinner. We had a pleasant talk about the pictures he had just studied, while he was eating with a good appetite.
After dinner, as usual, he took up his newspaper and read for about ten minutes, when he suddenly threw it aside and told me the action of the heart was unsatisfactory. I proposed at once to go to the garden, but the suddenness and violence of the attack did not allow him to reach it. When in the open air, just above the few stone steps, he had to stop and grasp the railing till the last anguish deprived him of breath and of life, long before the arrival of the doctors, whom I had sent for as soon as he had felt oppressed.
He had never feared death, whatever might await him after—conscious of a useful and blameless life. He died as he had desired to die, standing alone with me under the moonlit sky, unconfined, escaping from the decrepitude of old age, still in the full possession and maturity of his talents, and in the active use of them.
Two hours before his death he had been writing these last words for the "Quest of Happiness":—
"If I indulge my imagination in dreaming about a country where justice and right would always surely prevail, where the weak would never be oppressed, nor an honest man incur any penalty for his honesty—a country where no animal would ever be ill-treated or killed, otherwise than in mercy—that is truly ideal dreaming, because, however far I travel, I shall not find such a country in the world, and there is not any record of such a country in the authentic history of mankind."
Let us hope he may have found this ideal country in the unknown world.