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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Wheel Of Life - Part 3. Disenchantment - Chapter 9. Of The Fear In Love
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The Wheel Of Life - Part 3. Disenchantment - Chapter 9. Of The Fear In Love Post by :Teresa Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :2330

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The Wheel Of Life - Part 3. Disenchantment - Chapter 9. Of The Fear In Love

PART III. DISENCHANTMENT
CHAPTER IX. OF THE FEAR IN LOVE

When Laura reached the sidewalk she was seized by one of those reactions of feeling which are possible only in periods of unnatural and overstrained excitement.

"I would rather you didn't come with me now," she said, "I've promised Gerty to go to her this afternoon, and I'd honestly rather go alone."

"But I've seen nothing of you at all," he urged, "put Gerty aside--she won't mind. If she does, tell her I made you do it."

She shook her head, shrinking slightly away from him in the street. "It isn't that, but I want to be alone--to think. Come this evening and I'll be quite myself again. Only just now I--I can't talk."

In the end he had yielded, overborne by so unusual a spirit of opposition; and with a reproachful good-bye he had returned to his rooms, while she went slowly up the street in the pale autumn sunshine.

The impulse in which she had gone to him had utterly died down; and she asked herself, with a curiosity that was almost indifferent, why, since the reconciliation she had longed for was now complete, she should feel only melancholy where she had expected to find happiness? Kemper had never been more impassioned, had never shown himself to be more thoroughly the lover--yet in some way she admitted, it had all been different from the deeper reunion she had hoped for; there had come to her even while she lay in his arms that strange, though familiar sense of unreality in her own emotion; and beneath the touch of his hands she had felt herself to be separated from him by the space of a whole inner world. Though she appeared to have got everything, she realised, with a pang of resentment directed against herself, that she had wanted a great deal more than he had had the power to bestow. Could it be that the thing she had missed was that finer sympathy of spirit without which all human passion is but the withered husk where the flower has never bloomed?

"Is it true that I must be forever content with the mere gesture of love?" she thought. "Is it true that I shall never reach his soul, which is surely there if I could but find it? Has it eluded me, after all, only because I did not know the way?"

This longing for the immortal soul of love seized her like an unquenchable thirst, until it seemed to her that all outward forms of expression--all embraces all words--were but dead earthly things until the breath of the spirit had entered in to raise them from mere trivial accidents into eternal symbols.

Then suddenly she understood, for the first time, that she had humiliated herself by going to his rooms, and she felt her cheek burn in remembering a step which she had taken, under the stress of feeling, without an instant's hesitation. It seemed to her now, when she looked back upon it, that it would have been better to have lost him forever than to have lowered her pride in the way that she had done--but before seeing him her pride had been nothing to her, and she realised that if she felt his affection slipping from her again she would be driven to the same or even to greater lengths of self-abasement.

"But I did wrong--I have lowered myself forever in his eyes," she thought, "he can never feel the same respect for me again, and because I have lost his respect I have lost also my power to keep him constant to me in his heart."

With the confession, she was aware that a spiritual battle took place within her, and she thought of her soul, not as one but as multiple--as consisting of hosts of good and evil angels who warred against one another without ceasing. And she felt assured that presently the good or the evil host would be vanquished and that henceforth she would belong to the victorious side forever--not for this life only, but for a thousand lives and an eternal evolution along the course which she herself had chosen. A passage she had once read in an old book occurred to her, and she recalled that the writer had spoken of God as "the place of the soul." If this were so, had she not filled that place which is God with a confusion in which there was only terror and disorder.

"Why has it all happened as it has?" she demanded almost in despair. "Why did I love him in the beginning? Why did I humiliate myself in his eyes to-day?" But her motives, which appeared only as impulses, were still shrouded in the obscurity of her ignorance; and the one thing that remained clear to her was that she had struggled breathlessly for the happiness she had not possessed. Was it this desire for happiness, she asked, which had returned to her now in the form of an avenging fury?

At the corner of Fifth Avenue, while she stopped upon the sidewalk to wait for the stage, she was joined by Mr. Wilberforce, who told her that he had just come from her house.

"I was particularly sorry to miss you," he added, "because I brought a book of poems I wanted to talk over with you--the work of a young Irishman with a touch of genius."

"Yes, yes," she responded vaguely, without knowing what she said. Literature appeared to her suddenly as the most uninteresting pursuit upon the earth, and she longed to escape from the presence of Mr. Wilberforce, because she knew that he would weary her by ceaseless allusions to books which she no longer read.

"I'm on my way to Gerty's--she made me promise to come this afternoon," she explained hurriedly, recalling with surprise that she had once found pleasure in the companionship of this ineffectual old man, with his placid face and his interminable discussions of books. Feeling that her impatience might provoke her presently into an act of rudeness which she would afterward regret, she held out her hand while she signalled with the other to the approaching stage.

"Come to-morrow when I shall be at home," she said; and though she remembered that she would probably spend the next afternoon with Kemper, this suggestion of an untruth seemed at the time to make no difference. A moment later as she seated herself in the stage, she drew a long breath as if she had escaped from an oppressive atmosphere; and the rumbling of the vehicle was a relief to her because it silenced for awhile the noise of the opposing hosts of angels that warred unceasingly within her soul.

When she reached Gerty's house in Sixty-ninth Street, she found not only her friend, whom she wished to see, but Perry Bridewell, whom she had tried particularly to avoid. At first she felt almost angry with Gerty for not receiving her alone; but Gerty, suspecting as much from her chilled look, burst out at once into a comic protest:

"I tried my best to get rid of Perry," she said, "perhaps you may make the attempt with better success."

"I've caught a beastly cold," responded Perry, from the cushioned chair on the hearthrug, where he sat prodding the wood fire with a small brass poker, "it's stuck in my chest, and the doctor tells me if I don't look out I'll be in for bronchitis or pneumonia or something or other of the kind."

That he was genuinely frightened showed clearly by the unusual pallor on his handsome face; and with an appearance of giving emphasis to the danger in which he stood, he held out to Laura, as he spoke, a glass bottle filled with large brown lozenges.

"He remembers his last illness," observed Gerty seriously, "which was an attack of croup at the age of two--and he's afraid they will bandage his chest as they did then."

As he fell back languidly in his easy chair, resting his profile against the pale green cushions, Laura noticed, for the first time, a striking resemblance to Kemper in the full, almost brutal curve of his jaw and chin. Ridiculous as her annoyance was, she felt that it mounted through her veins and showed in her reddening face.

"Since you are ill I'll not take Gerty away from you to-day," she said, rising hastily.

"Oh, don't think of going on my account," replied Perry, with a pale reflection of his amiable smile, "a little cheerful company is the very thing I need." Then, as a servant entered with a cup of tea and a plate of toast, he sat up, with his invalid air, to receive the tray upon his knees. "I manage to take a little nourishment every hour or two," he explained, as he crumbled his toast into bits.

"I've racked my brain to amuse him," remarked Gerty, while she watched him gravely, "but he can't get his mind off that possible attack of pneumonia, and he's even made me look up the death rate from it in the bulletin of the Board of Health. Do you think Arnold would come if I telephoned him? or shall I send instead for Roger Adams? I have even thought of writing invitations to his entire club list."

"Oh, I'll send Arnold myself," rejoined Laura, "he got back just last night, you know."

"I saw him coming up at five o'clock when I went to the doctor's," returned Gerty; and this innocent chance remark plunged Laura immediately into a melancholy which not only arrested the words upon her lips, but seemed to deaden her whole body even to her hands which held her muff. An intolerable suspicion seized her that they were aware of the return of Madame Alta, that they blamed Arnold for something of which they did not speak, that they pitied her because she was deluded into an acceptance of the situation. Though her judgment told her that this suspicion was a mere wild fancy, still she could not succeed in driving it from her thoughts, and the more she struggled against it, the stronger was the hold it gained upon her imagination if not upon her reason. In the effort to banish this persistent torment, she began to talk fast and recklessly of other things, until the animation with which she spoke rekindled the old brilliant fervour in her face.

She was still talking with her restless gayety, when Adams came in to ask after Perry, but with his presence a stillness which was almost one of peace, came over her. At the end of a few minutes she rose to leave, and a little later as he walked with her along Sixty-ninth Street in the direction of the Park, she had, for the first time in her life, a vague intuition that the secret of happiness, after all, might lie for her, not in the gratification but in the relinquishment of desire.

"I saw Kemper a while ago," he remarked, as they crossed Fifth Avenue to the opposite sidewalk which ran along the wall under the bared November trees. "He seemed very much interested in some mining scheme which Barclay has gone in for. I never saw him more enthusiastic."

"Was he?" she asked indifferently; and she felt almost a resentment against Kemper because he could pass so easily from the reconciliation with her to the subject of mining. Since the evening before, when she had received the news of his absence with Madame Alta, her attitude to her lover had, unconsciously to herself, undergone a change; and her critical faculty, so long dominated by her feeling, appeared now to have usurped the place which was formerly held by her ideal image of him. But this awakening of her intellect had no power whatever over her love, which remained unaltered, and the one result of her clearer mental vision was to destroy her happiness, while it did not lessen the strength of her emotion.

She glanced up at Adams as he walked beside her in the pale sunshine, and the smile with which he responded to her look, awoke in her the impulse to confess to him the burden which oppressed her thoughts. Realising that it would be impossible to confide these things to any human being, she changed the subject by asking him a trivial question about Trent's play.

"There's no doubt of his success, I think," he answered, "but just now his mind is absorbed with other things. He's as deep in his love as he ever was in his ambition."

"So he has found her?" enquired Laura, with but little animation. She was glad that Trent was happy at last, but she could not force herself to feel an interest in this love affair which was so unlike her own.

"Well, he didn't have to look far," rejoined Adams, laughing, "he discovered her, I believe, in the same apartment house. Some of us," he concluded a little sadly, "go a good deal farther with considerably less success."

"It does puzzle one," said Laura, thinking of Kemper, "that some people should find what they want lying on their very doorstep, while others must go on looking for it their whole lives through."

He smiled at her with a tenderness which seemed, somehow, a part of his strength. "But yours was the easier fate," he said.

"Is it the easier? I hardly know," she answered, and the note of pain in her voice entered his heart. "I sometimes think that the best of life is to go on wanting till one dies."

"Not the best--not the best," he responded, with a touch of his whimsical humour. "I have had my share of wanting and I speak of what I know. It all comes right in the end, I suppose, but it's a pretty tough experience while it lasts, and, after all, we live in the minute not in eternity."

Her gaze had dropped away from him, but at his words she lifted her eyes again to meet his look.

"I wonder what it was you wanted so," she said--for he impressed her suddenly as possessing a force of will which it would be not only ineffectual, but even foolish to resist. The aggressive bulk of Perry Bridewell, the impetuous egoism of Kemper showed, not as strength, but as violence compared to the power which controlled the man at her side. Where had he found this power? she wondered, and by what miracle had he been able to make it his own?

"If I told you, I dare say it wouldn't enlighten you much," he answered. "Isn't it enough to confess that I've done my share of crying for the moon?"

"And if it had dropped into your hands, you would have found, probably, that it was made only of green cheese," she replied.

For an instant he looked at her with a glance in which his humour seemed to cover a memory which she could not grasp.

"Oh, well, I'd have risked it!" he retorted almost gayly.

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