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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Web Of Life - Part 1 - Chapter 11
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The Web Of Life - Part 1 - Chapter 11 Post by :Melvin_Ng Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :February 2011 Read :2353

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The Web Of Life - Part 1 - Chapter 11

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 questioning eyes as he delivered this unprofessional opinion.

"Meantime you must protect yourself. The least harm his outbreaks will do will be to make a scandal, to make it necessary for you to leave your school."

"What can I do?" she asked, almost irritably.

"There are institutions."

"I have no money."

"And I suppose they would not do, now, while he is apparently getting better. They would not help him, even if we should get him confined. His is one of those cases where the common law prescribes liberty."

There was nothing further to say in this direction. Sommers seemed to be thinking. At last, with an impulsive motion, he exclaimed:

"It should not have been! No, it should not have been."

He paused. Her eyes had lowered from his face. She knew his unexpressed thought.

"And more than that, if you and I and the world thought straight, he _would not be here now_."

"No, I suppose not," she acquiesced quietly, following his thought word by word. "Well, as it is, I guess it's for life--for _my life, at least."

"If one could only love enough--" he mused.

"Love!" she exclaimed passionately, at this blasphemous intrusion. "Does one love such as that,--the man who betrayed your youth?"

"Not you and I. But one who could love enough--"

Her disdainful smile stopped him.

"I followed him to the hospital. I took him here, I don't know why. I guess it's my fate. He was once mine, and I can't escape that--but as to love--do you think I am as low as that?"

"You have no duties except the duties love makes," the doctor suggested. "He is no longer even the man you married. He is not a man in any sense of the word. He is merely a failure, a mistake; and if society is afraid to rid itself of him, society must provide for him."

"Yes, yes," she murmured, as if all this were familiar ground to her mind. "But I am the nearest member of society--the one whose business it is to attend to this mistake. It's my contribution," she ended with a feeble smile.

"Society has no right to expect too much from any one. The whole sacrifice mustn't fall where it crushes. I say that such a case should be treated by the public authorities, and should be treated once for all."

She rose and looked into his eyes, as if to say, 'You _were society, and you did not dare.' In a moment she turned away, and said, "Don't you believe in a soul?"

"Yes," he smiled back. "And that poor soul and others like it, many, many thousands, who cannot grow, should be at rest--one long rest; to let other souls grow, unblasted by their foul touch."

"I have thought so," she replied calmly, taking his belief as an equal. "To let joy into the world somewhere before death." Her wistful tone rang out into the room. "But that would be murder," she continued. "We should have to call it murder, shouldn't we? And that is a fearful word. I could never quite forget it. I should always ask myself if I were right, if I had the right to judge. I am a coward. The work is too much for me."

"We will not think of it," Sommers replied abruptly, unconsciously putting himself in company with her, as she had herself with him. "We have but to follow the conventions of medicine and wait."

"Yes, wait!"

"Medicine, medicine," he continued irritably. "All our medicine is but a contrivance to keep up the farce, to continue the ills of humanity, to keep the wretched and diseased where they have no right to be!"

"And you are a doctor! How can you be?"

"Because," he answered in the same tone of unprofessional honesty that he had used toward her, "like most men, I am a coward and conventional. I have learned to do as the others do. Medicine and education!" Sommers laughed ironically. "They are the two sciences where men turn and turn and emit noise and do nothing. The doctor and the teacher learn a few tricks and keep on repeating them as the priest does the ceremony of the mass."

"That's about right for the teacher," she laughed. "We cut our cloth almost all alike."

Unconsciously they drifted farther and farther into intimacy. Sommers talked as he thought, with question and protest, intolerant of conventions, of formulas. They forgot the diseased burden that lay in the chamber above, with its incessant claims, its daily problems. They forgot themselves, thus strangely brought together and revealed to each other, at one glance as it were, without the tiresome preliminary acquaintanceship of civilization. It had grown dark in the room before Sommers came back to the reality of an evening engagement.

"You can get a train on the railroad west of the avenue," Mrs. Preston suggested. "But won't you let me give you something to eat?"

"Not this time," Sommers answered, taking his hat "Perhaps when I come again--in a few days. I want to think--what can be done."

She did not urge him to stay. She was surprised at her boldness in suggesting it. He had assumed the impersonal, professional manner once more. That precious hour of free talk had been but an episode, a relaxation. He gave directions as he went to the door.

"The patient will sleep till to-morrow. It will take two or three days to get over this relapse."

Then he took a pad from his pocket and scribbled a prescription.

"Should he grow unmanageable, you had better give him one of these powders--two, if necessary. But no more; they are pretty strong."

He placed the leaf of pencilled paper on the table. The next minute his rapid footsteps crunched on the gravel path. Even after he was gone and she was left quite alone in her old condition, the dead, nerveless sense of despair did not return. An unreasonable lightness of spirit buoyed her--a feeling that after a desolate winter a new season was coming, that her little world was growing larger, lighting indefinably with rare beauty.

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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
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