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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 10
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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 10 Post by :Cheryl Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :February 2011 Read :825

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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 10

Part II Chapter X

Mrs. Ducharme returned to the temple at an early hour the next morning. Sommers saw her mumbling to herself as she came across the park. Before she knocked, he opened the door; she started back in fear of the sombre, bearded face with the blood-shot eyes that seemed lying in wait for her.

"Is the missus at home?" she murmured, drawing back from the door.

"Come in," the doctor ordered.

As soon as she entered, Sommers locked the door.

"Now," he said quietly, pointing to a chair, "the whole story and no lies."

The woman looked at the doctor and trembled; then she edged toward the inner door. Sommers locked this, flung the key on the table, and pointed again to the chair.

"What did you tell her yesterday?" he demanded.

Mrs. Ducharme began an incoherent tale about her head hurting her, about the sin which the "healer" commanded her to rid her conscience of. Sommers interrupted her.

"Answer my questions. Did you threaten _her_?"

The woman nodded her head.

"Did you accuse her of drugging her husband?"

She nodded her head again reluctantly; then cried out,--"Let me go! I'll have the police on you two."

Sommers stood over the woman as if he were about to lay hands on her.

"You know the facts. Tell them. What happened to Preston that day?"

"He'd been drinking."

"You got him the liquor?"

She nodded.

"Then you gave him a powder from that box in Mrs. Preston's room?"

The woman looked terrified, and did not answer.

"If you don't tell me every word of truth," Sommers said, slowly drawing a little syringe from his pocket, "you will never see anything again."

"Yes, I gave him a powder."

"One?"

She nodded, her hands shaking.

"Two?"

"Yes," she gasped. "I was afraid Mrs. Preston would find out what I had done, and one powder wasn't enough, didn't keep him quiet. So I put two more in--thought it wouldn't do no harm. Then I guess Mrs. Preston gave him some, when she came in. But you can't touch me," she added impudently. "The healer said you had done a criminal act in signing that certificate. You and she better look out."


Sommers stepped across the room and opened the inner door. Mrs. Ducharme gave one glance at the silent figure and shrieked:

"You killed her! You killed her! Let me out!"

Sommers closed the door softly and returned to the shrieking creature.


"Keep quiet," Sommers ordered sternly, "while I think what to do with you."

She held her tongue and sat as still as her quaking nerves permitted. Sommers reviewed rapidly the story as he had made it out. At first it occurred to him, as it had to Alves, that the woman had been drinking. But his practised eyes saw more surely than Alves, and he judged that her conduct had been the result of mental derangement. Probably the blow over the eye, from which she was suffering when she came to Lindsay's office, had hurt the brain. Otherwise, she would not have been silly enough to go to Alves with her foolish story. It was possible, also, that the night of Preston's death she had not known what she was doing. His resentment gave place to disgust. The sole question was what to do with her. She would talk, probably, and in some way he must avoid that danger for a few days, at least. Then it would not matter to Alves or to him what she said.

Finally he turned to the miserable, shaking figure, and said sternly:

"You have committed one murder, and, perhaps, two. But I will not kill you _now_, or put out your eyes, unless you get troublesome. Have you any money? I thought not. You are going with me to the railroad station, where I shall buy you a ticket."

He unlocked the door and motioned to the woman. She followed him to the station without protest, fascinated by his strong will. Sommers bought a ticket to St. Louis and handed it to her with a dollar.

"Remember, if I see or hear of you again,"--he put his finger in his waistcoat pocket, significantly. "And there are other powders," he added grimly.

"Ducharme has gone back to Peory. I s'pose I can stop off there?" she asked timidly, as the express arrived.

"You can stop off anywhere on your way to hell," the doctor replied indifferently. "But keep away from Chicago. There is no quicker way of making that journey to hell than to come back here."

Mrs. Ducharme trembled afresh and bundled herself on board the train.

Sommers returned to the temple, feeling assured that the next few hours would not be disturbed by the ill-omened creature. This vulgar, brutal act had to be performed; he had been preparing himself for it since daylight, when his mind had resumed the round of cause and effect that answers for life. It was over now, and he could return to Alves. There were other petty things to be done, but not yet. As he came across the park he noticed that the door of the temple was open. Some one had entered while he was away. At his step on the portico a figure rose from the inner room and came to meet him. It was Louise Hitchcock. The traces of tears lay on her face.

"I knew this morning," she said gently. "I thought you might be alone--and so I came."

"Sit down," Sommers replied wearily. In a few moments he added, "I suppose you saw it in the papers--the guard must have told. Strange! that even in death the world must meddle with her, the world that cared nothing for her."

"I am sorry." Miss Hitchcock blushed as she spoke. "I will go away--I didn't mean to intrude--I thought--"

"No, don't go! I didn't mean you. I wanted to be alone, all alone for a little while, but I am glad now that you came, that you cared to come. You didn't know Alves."

"She wouldn't let me know her," Miss Hitchcock protested gently.

"Yes, I remember. You see, our life was peculiar. I think Alves was afraid of you, of all the world."

"I knew how you loved her," Miss Hitchcock exclaimed irrelevantly.

Sommers tried to answer. He felt like talking to this warm-hearted woman; he wanted to talk, but he could not phrase the complex feeling in his heart. Everything about Alves had something in it he could not make another, even the most sympathetic soul in the world, understand. It was like trying to explain an impression of a whole life.

"There is so much I can't tell any one," he said at last, with a wan smile. "Don't misunderstand--you'd have to know the whole, and I couldn't begin to make you know it."

"Don't try," she said, tears coming to her eyes. "I know that it has been noble and generous--on both sides," she added.

"It has ended," he answered drearily. "I don't know where to begin."

"Can't I send for some one, some friend?" she suggested.

"I haven't any friend," he replied absently. "And Alves wouldn't want any one. She would have done everything for me. I will do everything for her."

"Then I will stay here, while you are away," Miss Hitchcock replied quickly. "Don't hurry. I will wait here in this room."

Sommers thought a moment and then answered gently: "I think not. I think Alves would rather be alone. Let me go back to the city with you. I have some errands there."

Miss Hitchcock's face expressed her disappointment. She had triumphed impulsively over so many conventions in coming to him unasked that she felt doubly hurt.

"Very well. Only you will not always put me outside, in this way?" she implored, bravely stifling her pride. "It will not be so easy to say it later, and it will hurt if you refuse to have anything to do with my father and me."

"_I shall not refuse," Sommers responded warmly. "I am grateful for what you want to do."

"You know--" She completed the sentence with a sigh and prepared to accompany him. Sommers locked the door, putting the key in the usual hiding-place, and together they crossed the park to the railroad station. There they separated.

"I shall not come out to-morrow," Miss Hitchcock said, as if she had arrived at the decision after some wavering.

He did not urge her to come, and they shook hands.

"Remember," she said hesitatingly, "that ideas don't separate people. You must _trust people, those who understand and care."

"I shan't forget," he answered humbly.

On the train he remembered Webber's business, and as soon as he reached the city he went to the brokers' office. The morning session of the Exchange had just closed, and Einstein was fluttering in and out of his private office, sending telegrams and telephone messages. Sommers got his ear for a moment and explained his errand.

"I don't know anything about the stocks," he concluded. "But I think you had best close his account, as it will be some weeks before he should be troubled with such things."

"Damn shame!" Einstein remarked irritably, removing his cigar from his mouth. "I could have got him out even this morning. Now, it's too late."

As Sommers seemed ignorant of the market, the broker went on to explain, meanwhile sending a telegram:

"Most of his is Consolidated Iron--one of Carson's new promotions. Porter is in it, and a lot of big men. Splendid thing, but these new industrials are skittish as colts, and the war talk is like an early frost. Yesterday it was up to ninety, but to-day, after that Venezuelan business in the Senate, it backed down ten points. That about cleans our friend out."

"He doesn't own the stock, then?" Sommers asked.

Einstein looked at the doctor pityingly.

"He's taken a block of two hundred on margins. We hold some Baking Powder common for him, too. But he owns that."

Sommers lingered about, irresolute. He didn't like to take the responsibility of selling out Webber, nor the equal responsibility of doing nothing. Miss M'Gann's hopes, he reflected, hung on this stock trade.

"What is the prospect to-morrow?" Sommers asked timidly. He felt out of place in all the skurry of the brokers' office, where men were drinking in the last quotations as the office boy scratched them on the board.

"Dunno. Can't tell. Good, if the Senate doesn't shoot off its mouth any more."

"How much is Webber margined for?"

"Say, Phil," Einstein sang out to his partner, who came out from another cubbyhole, "how much has Webber on Iron?"

"Six points," White replied. He nodded to Sommers. The doctor remembered White as one of the negative figures of his early months in Chicago,--a smiling, slim, youthful college boy. Evidently he was the genteel member of the firm. Sommers thought again. He could not wait. "Will you carry him five points more?" he asked.

"Can you put up the money?" White replied indifferently.

"No," the doctor admitted. "But I will try to get it at once."

Einstein shook his head. But White asked, good-naturedly, "Are you sure?"

"I think so," the doctor replied.

"Well, that'll tide him over; the market is sure to go back next week."

Sommers escaped from the heated room with its noise and jostling men. He realized vaguely that he had made himself responsible for a thousand dollars--foolishly, he thought now. He had done it on the spur of the moment, with the idea that he would save Webber from a total loss, and thereby save Miss M'Gann. He felt partly responsible, too; for if he had not lingered at St. Isidore's yesterday, he could have delivered the order before the reaction had set in. He wondered, however, at his ready promise to find the thousand dollars for the extra margin. As he had told Miss Hitchcock, he had not a friend in the world to whom he could apply for help. Even the last duties to Alves he must perform alone, and to those he turned himself now.

As he passed the Athenian Building, he remembered Dr. Leonard and went up to his office. The old dentist was the one friend in Chicago whom Alves would want near her to-morrow. Dr. Leonard came frowning out of his office, and without asking Sommers to sit down listened to what he had to say.

"Yes," he replied, without unwrinkling his old face, "I saw it in the papers. I'll come, of course I'll come. I set an awful store by Alves, poor girl! There weren't nothing right for her in this world. Maybe there will be in the next."

Sommers made no reply. He felt the kind old dentist's reproach.

"Young feller," the dentist exclaimed sharply as Sommers turned to go, "I mistrust you have much to answer for in that poor girl's case. Does your heart satisfy you that you have treated her right?"

Sommers bowed his head humbly before this blunt speech. In the sense that Dr. Leonard meant, perhaps, he was not guilty, but in other ways he was not sure. It was a difficult thing to treat any human soul justly and tenderly. The doctor took his silence for confession.

"Well," he added, turning away and adjusting his spectacles that were lodged above his watery blue eyes, "I ain't no call to blame you. It's enough blame anyway to have hurt _her_--there wasn't a nicer woman ever born."

As Sommers left the Athenian Building, his mind reverted to the talk with the brokers. He was glad that he had undertaken to save Webber from his loss. Alves would have liked it. Miss M'Gann had been kind to her when she was learning how to teach. Probably Webber would lose the money in some other venture, but he would do what he could to save the clerk's little capital now. Where could he get the money? There was but one person on whom he could call, and overcoming his dislike of the errand he went at once to Miss Hitchcock.

The house was pleasantly familiar. As he waited for Miss Hitchcock in the little library that belonged especially to her, he could detect no changes in the conglomerate furnishing of the house. He had half expected to find that it had yielded to the younger generation, but something had arrested the march of innovation. The steel engravings still hung in the hall, and the ugly staircase had not been reformed. Colonel Hitchcock came into the house, and without looking into the study went upstairs. Sommers started to intercept him in the hall, but restrained the impulse. Miss Hitchcock appeared in a few moments, advancing to greet him with a frank smile, as if it were the most natural thing to meet him there.

"I have come to ask you to do something for me," Sommers began at once, still standing, "because, as I told you, I have no one else to ask for help."

"You take the bloom off kindnesses in a dreadfully harsh way," Miss Hitchcock responded sadly.

"But it's something one doesn't usually ask of a young woman," Sommers added. He told her briefly the circumstances that led to his visit. "I haven't literally any friend of whom I could properly ask five cents."

"Don't say that. It sounds so forlorn!"

"Does it? I never thought about it before. I suppose it is a reflection upon a man that at thirty-three he hasn't any one in the world to ask a favor of. It looks as if he had lived a pretty narrow life."

"Hard, not narrow," Miss Hitchcock interposed quickly. "I will send the money to-morrow. John will take it to the brokers, if you will write them a note."

As he still stood, she went on, to avoid the awkward silence: "Those horrid industrials! I am sure Uncle Brome will lose everything in them. He's a born gambler. Mr. Carson has got him interested in these new things."

"Is his picture still on exhibition?" Sommers inquired, with a faint smile.

"I don't know. I haven't seen much of them lately." She spoke as if Carson and his kind were completely indifferent to her. Her next remark surprised Sommers.

"I think I can see now why you felt as you did about--well, Mr. Carson. He is a sort of shameless ideal held up before such people as this young man who is speculating. Isn't that it?"

Sommers nodded.

"Uncle Brome, too? When he makes several hundred thousand dollars in Consolidated Iron, every clerk, every little man who knows anything about it has all his bad, greedy, envious passions aroused."

The doctor smiled at the serious manner in which the young woman explored the old ground of their differences.

"But," she concluded, "they aren't _all like Mr. Carson and Uncle Brome. You mustn't make that mistake. And Uncle Brome is so generous, too. It is hard to understand."

"No," Sommers said, preparing to leave. "Of course they are not all alike, and it is hard to judge. No man knows what he is doing--to any great extent."

"What will you do?" Miss Hitchcock asked abruptly.

As Sommers's careworn face flushed, she added hurriedly,--"How cruel of me! Of course you don't know. That will settle itself."

"I have had some notion of trying for a hospital again. It doesn't take much to live. And I don't believe in a doctor's making money. If it isn't the hospital--well, there's enough to do."

Miss Hitchcock thought a moment, and then remarked unexpectedly, "I like that idea!"

"About all my kick over things has come to that point. There are some people who should be willing to--no, not willing, who should _want to do things without any pay. The world needs them. Most people are best off in the struggle for bread, but the few who see how--unsatisfying that end is, should be willing to work without profits. Good-by."

As they shook hands, Sommers added casually: "I shouldn't wonder if I went away from Chicago--for a time. I don't know now, but I'll let you know, if you care to have me."

"Of course I shall care to know!"

Miss Hitchcock's voice trembled, and then steadied itself, as she added,--"And I am glad you are thinking of it."

* * * * *

With a sense of relief Sommers found himself alone, and free to return to the temple, to Alves, for the last time. The day had been crowded with insistent, petty details, and he marvelled that he had submitted to them patiently. In the chamber where the dead woman lay it was strangely still-- deserted by all things human. He locked the doors and sat down for his second night of watch, reproaching himself for the hours he had lost this day. But when he looked at the cold, white face upon the pillow, that already seemed the face of one who had travelled far from this life, he felt that it had been best as it was. He kissed the silent lips and covered the face; he would not look at it again. Alves had gone. To-morrow he would lay this body in the little burial plot of the seminary above the Wisconsin lakes.

Already Alves had bequeathed him something of herself. She had returned him to his fellow-laborers with a new feeling toward them, a humbleness he had never known, a desire to adjust himself with them. He was sensitive to the kindness of the day,--White's friendly trust, Leonard's just words, Miss Hitchcock's generosity. As the sense of this life faded from the woman he loved, the dawn of a fairer day came to him. And his heart ached because she for whom he had desired every happiness might never respond to human joy.

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