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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 9
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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 9 Post by :Grant Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Herrick Date :February 2011 Read :2921

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The Web Of Life - Part 2 - Chapter 9

Part II Chapter IX

Webber had a well-developed case of typhoid, and Sommers had him moved to St. Isidore's. The doctor accompanied him to the hospital, and once within the doors of his old home, he lingered chatting with the house physician, who had graduated from the Philadelphia school shortly after Sommers had left. The come and go of the place, the air of excitement about the hospital, stirred Sommers as nothing in months had done. Then the attention paid him by the internes and the older nurses, who had kept alive in their busy little world the tradition of his brilliant work, aroused all the vanity in his nature. When he was about to tear himself away from the pleasant antiseptic odor and orderly bustle, the house physician pressed him to stay to luncheon. He yielded, longing to hear the talk about cases, and remembering with pleasure the unconventional manners and bad food of the St. Isidore mess-table. After luncheon he was urged to attend an operation by a well-known surgeon, whose honest work he had always admired. It was late in the afternoon when he finally started to leave, and then a nurse brought word that Webber was anxious to see him about some business. He found Webber greatly excited and worried over money matters. To his surprise he learned that the foppish, quiet-mannered clerk had been dabbling in the market. He held some Distillery common stock, and, also, Northern Iron--two of the new "industrials" that were beginning to sprout in Chicago.

"You must ask the brokers to sell if the market is going against me," the clerk exclaimed feverishly. "Perhaps, if I am to be tied up here a long time, they'd better sell, anyway."

"Yes," Sommers assented; "you must get it off your mind."

So, with a promise to see White and Einstein, the brokers, at once, and look after the stock, he soothed the sick man.

"You're a good fellow," Webber sighed. "It's about all I have. I'll tell you some time why I went in--I had very direct information."

Sommers cut him short and hastened away. By the time he had found White and Einstein's office, a little room about as large as a cigar shop in the basement of a large building on La Salle Street, the place was deserted. A stenographer told him, with contempt in her voice, that the Exchange had been closed for two hours. Resolving to return the first thing in the morning, he started for the temple. He had two visits to make that he had neglected for Webber's case, but he would wait until the evening and take Alves with him. He had not seen her for hours. For the first time in months he indulged himself in a few petty extravagances as he crossed the city to get his train. The day had excited him, had destroyed the calm of his usual controlled, plodding habits. The feverish buoyancy of his mood made it pleasant to thread the chaotic streams of the city streets. It was intoxicating to rub shoulders with men once more.

At Sixtieth Street he left the train and strode across the park, his imagination playing happy, visionary tunes. He would drop in to-morrow at St. Isidore's on his way back from White and Einstein's. He must see more of those fellows at Henry's clinic; they seemed a good set. And he was not sure that he should answer the Baltimore man so flatly. He would write for further details. When he reached the temple, he found the place closed, and he thought that Alves had gone to see one of his cases for him. The key was in its usual hiding-place, and the fire looked as if it had been made freshly. He had just missed her. So he filled a pipe, and hunted along the table for the unfinished letter to the Baltimore man. It was blotted, he noticed, and he would have to copy it in any case. As he laid it aside, his eyes fell upon a loose sheet of note-paper covered with Alves's unfamiliar writing. He took it up and read it, and then looked around him to see her, to find her there in the next room. The letter was so unreal!

"Alves!" he called out, the pleasant glow of hope fading in his heart. How he had forgotten her! She must be suffering so much! Mechanically he put on his hat and coat and left the temple, hiding the key in the pillar. She could not have been gone long,--the room had the air of her having just left it. He should surely find her nearby; he must find her. Whipped by the intolerable imagination of her suffering, he passed swiftly down the sandy path toward the electric lights, that were already lamping silently along the park esplanade. He chose this road, unconsciously feeling that she would plunge out that way. What had the Ducharme woman said? What had made her take this harsh step, macerating herself and him just as they were beginning to breathe without fear? He sped on, into the gullies by the foundations of the burnt buildings, up to the new boulevard. After one moment of irresolution he turned to the right, to the lake. That icy sea had fascinated her so strongly! He shivered at the memory of her words. Once abreast of the pier he did not pause, but swiftly clambered out over the ice hills and groped his way along the black piles of the pier. The vastness of the field he had to search! But he would go, even across the floes of ice to the Michigan shore. He was certain that she was out there, beyond in the black night, in the gloom of the rending ice.

Suddenly, as he neared the end of the pier, the big form of a man, bearing, dragging a burden, loomed up out of the dark expanse. It came nearer, and Sommers could make out the uniform of a park-guard. He was half-carrying, half-dragging the limp form of a woman. Sommers tried to hail him, but he could not cry. At last the guard called out when he was within a few feet:

"Give me a hand, will you. It's a woman,--suicide, I guess," he added more gently.

Sommers walked forward and took the limp form. The drenched garments were already frosting in the cold. He turned the flap of the cape back from the face.

"It is my wife," he said quietly.

"I saw her from the pier goin' out, and I called to her," the guard replied, "but she kept on all the faster. Then I went back to the shore and got on the ice and followed her as fast as I could, but--"

Together they lifted her and carried her in over the rough shore ice up to the esplanade.

"We live over there." Sommers pointed in the direction of the temple. The man nodded; he seemed to know the young doctor.

"I shall not need your help," Sommers continued, wrapping the stiff cape about the yielding form. He took her gently in his arms, staggered under the weight, then started slowly along the esplanade. The guard followed for a few steps; but as the doctor seemed able to carry his burden alone, he turned back toward the city.

Sommers walked on slowly. The stiff cape slipped back from Alves's head, revealing in the blue electric light the marble-white pallor of the flesh, the closed eyes. Sommers stopped to kiss the cold face, and with the movement Alves's head nestled forward against his hot neck. Tears rose to his eyes and fell against her cheek; he started on once more, tracing carefully the windings of the path.

* * * * *

So this was the end! The little warmth and love of his cherishing arms about her cold body completed the pittance of happiness she had craved.

The story was too dark for him to comprehend now--from that first understanding moment in St. Isidore's receiving room to this. Here was his revolt, in one cold burden of dead love. She had left him in some delusion that it would be better thus, that by this means he would find his way, free and unshackled, back to the world of his fellows. And, perhaps, like a creature of love, she had blindly felt love's slow, creeping paralysis, love's ultimate death. Even now, as he staggered along the lighted avenue of the park, in the silence of death and of night, that pregnant reproach oppressed his heart. He had not loved her enough! She had felt a wall that was building impalpably between them, a division of thought and of feeling. She had put her arms against his man's world of secret ambition and desire and had found it cold.

She had struggled for her bit of happiness, poor, loving woman! She had suffered under her past error, her marriage with Preston, and had endured, until, suddenly relieved, she had embraced her happiness, only to find it slowly vanishing in her warm hands. He had suspected her of grasping this happiness without scruple, clamorously; but her sweet white lips spoke out the falseness of this accusation. It was bitter to know that he had covered her with this secret suspicion. He owed her a sea of pardons!

So he labored on into the dark stretches of the park, among the debris of the devastated buildings, up the little sandy hills, out of the park to the lonely temple. Already his self-reproach seemed trivial. He knew how little his concealed suspicions had to do with bringing about this catastrophe. That misunderstanding was but a drop in the stream of fate, which was all too swift for her strength. He paused at the last turn of the road and rested, settling his burden more closely in his arms, drawing her to him in the unavailing embrace of regret. Another kind of life, he said,--some average marriage with children and home would have given her more fully the human modicum of joy. But his heart rejected also this reproach. In no other circumstance could he place her justly. She was so amply made for joy--so strong to love, to endure; so true to the eternal passions. But not mere household love, the calm minutes of interlude in the fragments of a busy day! They would not satisfy the deep thirst for love in her heart. He had given the best he had--all, nearly all, as few men could give, as most men never give. He must content himself there.

He started again and strode on to the end of the journey. Within the temple he placed her on their bed, taking off her stiff clothes and preparing her for sleep. Then he remade the fire, and opening a window for the low night wind to draw across her face as she liked to have it, he sat down for his vigil.

Yes, it was the end! It was the end of his little personal battle with the world, the end of judging and striving, the end of revolt. He should live on, strangely enough, into many years, but not as they had tried to live in self-made isolation. He should return to that web of life from which they had striven to extricate themselves. She bade him go back to that fretwork, unsolvable world of little and great, of domineering and incompetent wills, of the powerful rich struggling blindly to dominate and the weak poor struggling blindly to keep their lives: the vast web of petty greeds and blind efforts. He should return, but humbly, with the crude dross of his self-will burnt out. They had rebelled together; they had had their wills to themselves; and that was ended. It could not have been otherwise. They could never have known each other in the world; they had to withdraw themselves apart. He looked at her afresh, lying on the pillow by his side, her hair twining carelessly about the white arm. She was infinitely greater than he,--so undivided and complete a soul! She had left him for the commoner uses of life. And all the stains of their experience had been removed, washed out by the pure accomplishment of her end.

Already so cold, so sweetly distant, that face,--so done with life and with him! He leaned over it and burst into tears. The dream of the summer night had passed away.

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Part II Chapter VIII One still, frozen winter day succeeded another in changeless iteration. The lake was a solid floor of gray ice as far as one could see. Along the shore between the breakwaters the ice lay piled in high waves, with circles of clear, shining glass beyond. A persistent drift from the north and east, day after day, lifted the sheets of surface ice and slid them over the inner ledges. At night the lake cracked and boomed like a battery of powerful guns, one report starting another until the shore resounded with the noise. The perpetual groaning of
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