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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 1
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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 1 Post by :theniche Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :February 2011 Read :2763

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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 1

Part II Chapter I

"Next week Monday is the tenth," Alves announced, glancing at the calendar that hung beside the writing-table.

"Well?" Sommers answered. He was preparing to make the daily trip to the post-office on the other side of Perota Lake.

"The Chicago schools open this year on the tenth," Alves continued slowly.

"What difference does that make?"

For reply Alves took from the drawer of the table the old leather purse that was their bank. The mute action made Sommers smile, but he opened the purse and counted the bills. Then he shoved them back into the purse, and replaced it in the drawer.

"I don't know why I haven't heard about my horse," he mused.

"That would only put the day off another month or two," Alves answered. "We have had our day of play--eight long good weeks. The golden-rod has been out for nearly a month, and the geese have started south. We saw a flock yesterday, you remember."

"But you aren't going back to the school!" Sommers protested. "Not to the Everglade School."

"I got the notices last week. They haven't discharged me! Why not?" she added sanely. "You know that it will be hard to build up a practice. And Miss M'Gann wrote me that we could get a good room at the Keystone. That won't be too far from the school."

"I had thought of returning to Marion, where my father practised," Sommers suggested. "If we could only stay _here_, in this shanty three miles from a biscuit!"


Alves smiled, and did not argue the point. They went to the shore where their little flat-bottomed boat was drawn up. Perota Lake, on which the tiny frame cottage stood, was a shallow, reedy pond, connecting by sluggish brooks with a number of other lakes. The shore on this side of the lake was a tangled thicket; the opposite shore rose in a gentle slope to fields of sun-dried grain. The landscape was rich, peaceful, uneventful, with wide spaces of sun and cloud and large broad Wisconsin fields. The fierce west wind came cool and damp from the water. Sommers pulled out of the reedy shore and headed for a neighboring lake. After rowing in silence for some time, he rested on his oars.

"Why couldn't we stay here? That is what I want to do--to keep out of the city with its horrible clatter of ambitions, to return to the soil, and live like the primitive peasant without ambition."

The Wisconsin woman smiled sympathetically. She had grown strong and firm-fleshed these summer weeks, sucking vitality from the warm soil.

"The land is all owned around here!" she laughed. "And they use herb doctors or homeopaths. No, we should starve in the midst of harvests. There is only one thing to do, to go back where we can earn a bit of bread."

Sommers started to row, but put down the oars again.

"Do _you want to go back?"

"I never think about it. It is so arranged," she answered simply. "Perhaps it will not be always so."

"Which means that we may be more fortunate than our neighbors?"

"I don't know--why think? We have until Monday," and she leaned forward to touch his hand.

Why think! That is what she had taught him. They had sloughed off Chicago at the first, and from the day they arrived at Perota they had sunk into a gentle, solitary routine. Sommers had been content to smoke his pipe, to ruminate on nothings, to be idle with no strenuous summoning of his will. There had been no perplexity, no revolt, no decision. Even the storm of their love subdued itself to a settled warmth, like that of the insistent summer sun. They had little enough to do with, but they were not aware of their poverty. Alves had had a long training in economy, and with the innate capability of the Wisconsin farmer's daughter, adjusted their little so neatly to their lives that they scarcely thought of unfulfilled wants.

Now why, the man mused, must they break this? Why must they be forced back into a world that they disliked, and that had no place for them? If he were as capable as she, there would be no need. But society has discovered a clever way of binding each man to his bench! While he brooded, Alves watched the gentle hills, straw-colored with grain, and her eyes grew moist at the pleasant sight. She glanced at him and smiled--the comprehending smile of the mothers of men.

"You would not want it always."

They landed at the end of the lake; from there it was a short walk over the dusty country road to the village. The cross-roads hamlet with its saloons and post-office was still sleeping in midday lethargy. Alves pointed to the unpainted, stuffy-looking houses.

"You would not like this."

At the post-office they met a young fellow wearing a cassock, a strangely incongruous figure in the Wisconsin village. "Are you coming to vespers?" the young priest asked. His brown, heavy face did not accord with the clerical habit or with the thin clerical voice.

"I think so--for the last time," Alves answered.

"Guy Jones will be there. You remember Guy, Alves? He used to be quite sweet on you in the old days when your brother was at the seminary."

"Yes, I remember Guy," Alves answered hurriedly. She seemed conscious of Sommers's bored gaze. The young priest accompanied them along the dusty road.

"Guy'll be glad to see you again. He's become quite a man out in Painted Post, Nebraska--owns pretty much the whole place--"

"We shall be at vespers," Alves repeated, interrupting the talkative young man.

When his cassock had disappeared up the dusty road between the fields of corn, she added,

"And that, too, you would not like, nor Guy Jones."

After beaching the boat in front of the cottage they walked to the seminary chapel by a little path through the meadows along the lake, then across a wooded hill where the birds were singing multitudinously. The buildings of the Perota Episcopal Seminary occupied the level plateau of a hill that lay between two lakes. A broad avenue of elms and maples led to the rude stone cloisters, one end of which was closed by the chapel. To Sommers the cheap factory finish of the chapel and the ostentatious display of ritualism were alike distasteful. The crude fervors of the boy priests were strangely out of harmony with the environment. But Alves, to whom the place was full of associations, liked the services. As they entered the cloisters, a tiny bell was jangling, and the students were hurrying into the chapel, their long cassocks lending a foreign air to the Wisconsin fields. Only one other person was seated on the benches beneath the choir, a broad-faced young American, whose keen black eyes rested upon Alves. She was absorbed in the service, which was loudly intoned by the young priest. The candles, the incense, the intoned familiar words, animated her. Sommers had often wondered at the powerful influence this service exerted over her. To the training received here as a child was due, perhaps, that blind wilfulness of self-sacrifice which had first brought her to his notice.

"The remission and absolution of sins--" Alves was breathing heavily, her lips murmuring the mighty words after the priest. Was there a sore hidden in her soul? Did she crave some supernatural pardon for a desperate deed? The memory of miserable suspicions flashed over him, and gravely, sadly, he watched the quivering face by his side. If she sought relief now in the exercise of her old faith, what would come as the years passed and heaped up the burden of remorse!

* * * * *

The service ended, and the three lay participants sauntered into the graveyard outside the west door. The setting sun flooded the aisle of the little chapel, even to the cross on the altar. The tones of the organ rolled out into the warm afternoon. The young man approached Alves with extended hand.

"The boys told me I could find you here. It's real good to see you again. Yes, I'm back to have a look at the old place. Wouldn't return to _stay for worlds. It's a great place out there, where a man counts for what he is. Won't you make me acquainted with your husband?"

Sommers felt instinctively the hesitation in Alves's manner. She turned to him, however.

"Howard, this is my brother's old friend, Mr. Jones,--Dr. Sommers."

The young man shook hands with great warmth, and joined them in their walk home, talking rapidly all the way. When he left the cottage, he extended a cordial invitation to Sommers to establish himself in Painted Post. "We want a good, live, hustling doctor, one that is up in all the modern school theories," he explained.

After he had gone, they sat in silence, watching the deepening twilight in the cool woods. The day, the season, the fair passion of life, seemed to wane. Like the intimations of autumn that come in unknown ways, even in August, surely in September, this accidental visitor brought the atmosphere of change.

"The struggle begins, then, next Monday," Sommers remarked at last.

She kissed him for reply.

To love, to forget unpleasant thoughts, to love again, to refrain from an ignoble strife--alas! that it could not be thus for a lifetime.

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Part II Chapter II The Keystone Hotel was in full blast when the doctor and Alves returned from Wisconsin. Miss M'Gann met them and introduced them to the large, parlor-floor room she had engaged for them. The newcomers joined the household that was taking the air on the stone steps of the hotel. The step below Miss M'Gann's was held by a young man who seemed to share with Miss M'Gann the social leadership of the Keystone. He was with the Baking Powder Trust, he told Sommers. He was tall and fair, with reddish hair that massed itself above his forehead
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Part I Chapter XXIV At the gate of the cemetery he fled from the little company. Dr. Leonard wanted to return to the city with him, but he shook off the talkative dentist. He must escape all sense of participation in the affair. So he made the long journey in the cable train, thinking disconnectedly in unison with the banging, jolting, grinding of the car. The panorama of his one short year in Chicago rose bit by bit into his mind: the hospital, the rich, bizarre town, the society of thirsty, struggling souls, always rushing madly hither and thither, his love
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