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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Web Of Life - Part 1 - Chapter 10
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The Web Of Life - Part 1 - Chapter 10 Post by :Amar_Mehta Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :February 2011 Read :3359

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The Web Of Life - Part 1 - Chapter 10

Part I Chapter X

After giving the invalid his breakfast, and arranging him on his couch where he could see the cars pass, Mrs. Preston hurried over to the Everglade School, which was only two blocks west of Stoney Island Avenue. At noon she slipped out, while the other teachers gathered in one of the larger rooms to chat and unroll their luncheons. These were wrapped in little fancy napkins that were carefully shaken and folded to serve for the next day. As the Everglade teachers had dismissed Mrs. Preston from the first as queer, her absence from the noon gossip was rather welcome, though resented.

The recess hour gave Mrs. Preston enough time to carry upstairs a cold meal, to take a hasty nibble of food, and to hurry back across the vacant lots before the gong should ring for the afternoon session. At the close of school she returned to the cottage more deliberately, to finish her house work before taking her daily walk. Occasionally she found this work already performed; Anna Svenson's robust form would greet her as she entered the cottage, with the apologetic phrase, "My fingers were restless." Mrs. Svenson had an unquenchable appetite for work. The two women would have a silent cup of tea; then Mrs. Svenson would smile in her broad, apathetic manner, saying, "One lives, you see, after all," and disappear through the oak copse. Thus very quickly between the school and the cottage Mrs. Preston's day arranged itself in a routine.

Three days after the unexpected visit from the doctor, Mrs. Preston found on her return from the school a woman's bicycle leaning against the gate. Under the arbor sat the owner of the bicycle, fanning herself with a little "perky" hat. She wore a short plaid skirt, high shoes elaborately laced, and a flaming violet waist. Her eyes were travelling over the cottage and all its premises.

"Miss M'Gann!" Mrs. Preston exclaimed.

"My!" the young woman responded, "but they did send you to kingdom come. You're the next thing, Alves, to Indiana. I do hope you can get out of this soon."

Mrs. Preston sat down beside her in the little arbor, and made polite inquiries about the school where they had taught together, about Jane M'Gann's "beaux," the "cat," and the "house" where she boarded.

"It was good of you to come all this way to see me," she concluded.

"I wanted a ride. We had a half day off--infectious disease in Rosa Macraw's room. Besides, I told the girls I'd hunt you out. How _are you? You look rather down. Say, you mustn't shut yourself off here where folks can't get at you. Why don't you live up town, at the house?"

"I can't," Mrs. Preston answered briefly.

"Do you know the news? The 'cat' has gone up higher. They made him supervisor, 'count of his sly walk, I guess. And we've got a new principal. He's fine. You can just do what you want with him, if you handle him right. Oh, do you know Rosemarry King, the girl that used to dress so queer, has been discharged? She lived in bachelor-girl apartments with a lot of artists, and they say they were pretty lively. And Miss Cohen is going to be married, ain't coming back any more after this year. Some of us thought we could work it so as the new principal--Hoff's his name--would ask to have you transferred back to one of those places. There's just a chance. Now I've told all my news and everything!"

At that moment a man's figure appeared at an upper window. He was in a dressing-gown, and unshaven. Miss M'Gann's keen vision spied him at once.

"You'll get queer, if you stay here!" she said falteringly. "I guess I am queer already," Mrs. Preston answered with a smile. "Let us go inside and have some tea."

Miss M'Gann looked the room over critically.

"You must come down to the house some night soon and meet the principal. He rides a wheel, and we girls see considerable of him. If you are nice to him, he'll do anything--he is one of the soft kind, sweet on all women, and likes a little adoration."

"No, I don't believe I can." Mrs. Preston listened. There was noise in the chamber above. "Besides, I like it out here. I like the quiet," she added.

Miss M'Gann looked at her incredulously, as if she were waiting to hear more. As nothing came, she went on:

"We are having high times over the new readers. The 'cat' has done a set of readers for the fourth and fifth. McNamara and Hills are bringing 'em out. The Express Book Co. has a lot of money in the old ones, and they are fighting hard to keep the cat's out of the schools. They're sending men around to get reports from the teachers. There's a man, one of their agents, who comes over to the house pretty often. He's a college man, was a professor at Exonia."

"Excuse me," Mrs. Preston interrupted. The continued noise in the room overhead had made her more and more nervous. She had not heard Miss M'Gann's story, which would probably be the preface of a tender personal episode. "I will be back in a moment," she said, closing the sitting-room door carefully.

Miss M'Gann sat forward, listening intently. She could hear the stairs creak under Mrs. Preston's quick steps; then there was silence; then an angry voice, a man's voice. Excited by this mystery, she rose noiselessly and set the hall door ajar. She could hear Alves Preston's voice:

"You must not come down. You aren't fit."

"Thank you for your advice," a man's voice replied. "Who's your visitor? Some man? I am going to see. Don't make a scene."

There was the sound of a scuffle; then the cry of a woman, as she fell back exhausted from her physical struggle.

"P'r'aps he's murdering her!"

Miss M'Gann opened the door at the foot of the stairs wide enough to detect a half-clothed man trying to pry open with one arm a heavy door above. She hesitated for a moment, but when the man had shoved the door back a little farther, enough for her to see Mrs. Preston struggling with all her force, she called out:

"Can I help you, Mrs. Preston?"

"No, no, go back! Go out of the house!"

"Well, I never!" Miss M'Gann ejaculated, and retreated to the sitting room, leaving the door ajar, however.

The struggle ended shortly, and soon the man appeared, plunging, tumbling over the stairs. Wrenching open the front door he stumbled down the steps to the road. He was hatless, collarless, and his feet were shod in slippers. As he reached the gate he looked at himself as if accustomed to take pride in his personal appearance, drew a handkerchief from his pocket and wound it negligently about his neck. Then, gazing about to get his bearings, he aimed for the road. Just as he crossed the car tracks, heading for the saloon with the big sign, Mrs. Preston entered the room. Her face was pale and drawn. Miss M'Gann was too embarrassed to speak, and she pretended to look into the kitchen.

"You will see now why I don't want a transfer," Mrs. Preston began, to break the awkward silence. "I must look after my husband."

"My!" Miss M'Gann exclaimed, and then restrained herself. She nodded her head slowly, and crossed to where Mrs. Preston had seated herself.

"But it's terrible to think of you here alone," she remarked gently. She had intended to put her arm about Mrs. Preston's waist, but something deterred her. "I wish I could come out and stay right on. I'm going to spend the night, anyway. Father was that kind," she added in a lower voice.

Mrs. Preston winced under her sympathy and shook her head. "No, no! I am better alone. You mustn't stay."

"You'd ought to have _some woman here," the girl insisted, with the feminine instinct for the natural league of women. "At least, some one to look after the house and keep you company."

"I have thought of trying to find a servant," Mrs. Preston admitted. "But what servant--" she left the sentence unfinished, "even if I could pay the wages," she continued. "Anna comes in sometimes--she's a young Swede who has a sister in the school. But I've got to get on alone somehow."

"Well, if that's what getting married is, it's no wonder more of us girls don't get married, as I told Mr. Dresser."

There was a knock at the outside door. Miss M'Gann quickly barricaded herself behind the long table, while Mrs. Preston opened the door and admitted the visitor. Miss M'Gann came forward with evident relief, and Mrs. Preston introduced her visitors, "Dr. Sommers, Miss M'Gann."

Miss M'Gann greeted the doctor warmly.

"Why, this must be Mr. Dresser's Dr. Sommers." The young doctor bowed and look annoyed. Miss M'Gann, finding that she could get little from either of the two silent people, took her leave.

"I'll not forget you, dear," she said, squeezing Mrs. Preston's hand.

When she had ridden away, Mrs. Preston returned to the little sitting room and dropped wearily into a chair.

"_He has just gone, escaped!" she exclaimed. "Just before you came."

The doctor whistled. "Do you know where he's gone to?"

She pointed silently to the low wooden building across the neighboring avenue.

"If he makes a row, it will all get out. I shall lose my place."

The doctor nodded.

"Has it happened before?"

"He's tried of late. But I have kept him in and barred the door. This time he forced it open. I was not strong enough to hold it."

The doctor hesitated a moment, and then, as if making a sudden resolve, he took his hat.

"I'll try to bring him back."

From the open window she could see him walk leisurely down the lane to the street, and pick his way carefully over the broken planks of the sidewalk to the avenue. Then he disappeared behind the short shutters that crossed the door of the saloon.

For some reason this seemed the one thing unbearable in her experience. The bitterness of it all welled up and overflowed in a few hot tears that stung her hands as they dropped slowly from the burning eyes. It was a long time before the little blinds swung out, and the doctor appeared with her husband. Preston was talking affably, fluently, and now and then he tapped the doctor familiarly on his shoulders to emphasize a remark. Sommers responded enough to keep his companion's interest. Once he gently restrained him, as the hatless man plunged carelessly forward in front of an approaching car. As the pair neared the house, the woman at the window could hear the rapid flow of talk. Preston was excited, self-assertive, and elaborately courteous.

"After you, doctor. Will you come upstairs to my room?" she caught as they entered the gate. "My wife, doctor, is all right, good woman; but, like the rest of them, foolish."

And the babbling continued until some one closed the heavy door at the head of the stairs. Then there was noise, as of a man getting into bed. In time it was quiet, and just as she was about to make the effort of finding out what had happened, Sommers came downstairs and signed to her to sit down.

"I have given him a hypodermic injection. He won't trouble you any more to-night," he said, staring dreamily out into the twilight.

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Part I#chapter XI "This is too much for you," Sommers observed finally. After his meditation he had come to much the same obvious conclusion that Miss M'Gann had formed previously. The woman moved wearily in her chair. "It can't go on," the doctor proceeded. "No one can tell what he might do in his accesses--what violence he would do to you, to himself." "He may get better," she suggested. Sommers shook his head slowly. "I am afraid not; the only thing to be hoped for is that he will get worse, much worse, as rapidly as possible." Mrs. Preston stood his
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Part I Chapter IX Long after the horse's hoofs had ceased to beat in the still evening, Mrs. Preston sat by the open window in the bare cottage room, her head resting on her arms, her eyes peering into the soft darkness in the path of the shadowy figure that had passed down Stoney Island Avenue into the night beyond her ken. She had not asked him to return. But he had promised to. Indeed, he did not seem to be far away: she could feel his gentle eyes, his imperious face, his sympathetic voice. It was not much that she
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